Friday, June 6, 2008

New Politics

Senator Obama has promised us a new kind of politics but as Powerline reminds us:

Earlier this year, three-fourths of the Senate voted in favor of a resoution designating the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization. Among those who voted for the resolution were Hillary Clinton, Richard Durbin, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer. Obama voted against it.

Yesterday, however, Obama told the AIPAC convention that the Iranian National Guard is, in fact, a terrorist organization. He attempted to explain his recent vote to the contrary by claiming that the resolution contained language about military action. But this is false, and transparently so -- if it had contained such language Clinton, Durbin, Reid, and Schumer would have opposed it.

Obama's change in position on the Iranian National Guard is mirrored in other flip-flops, with more likely to come. On the vital issue of the Iraq war, for example, Obama spoke out against it as a state legislator. But when running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he declared that there is little difference between his position on Iraq and that of President Bush. After his election, differences quickly reappeared, and Obama's position continued to evolve over the next several years. When it comes to Iraq, Obama makes the John Kerry of 2004 look constant.

Is Obama dishonest? I'm not prepared to say that, but it's troubling that much of what he says turns out to be inconsistent with the facts. Perhaps there are reasons for this inconsistency. If so, I'd like to know what they are.

HT: Ramirez

A big part of the problem Obama faces is that if he's forthright about where he stands on most issues facing the country, he won't have much of a chance of winning in November. He likes to say that a McCain presidency will amount to a third George Bush term, but Obama looks very much like he would give us a second term of Jimmy Carter.


Conservatives Are More Honest

Speaking of honesty, The Examiner's Peter Schweizer tosses up a column that'll shock liberals and elicit little more than a "we-already-knew-that" nod from conservatives. The point of his essay is that several studies have shown that conservatives have much more integrity than liberals. The article is so interesting (to me, at least) that I'm going to copy most of it here:

Is it OK to cheat on your taxes? A total of 57 percent of those who described themselves as "very liberal" said yes in response to the World Values Survey, compared with only 20 percent of those who are "very conservative." When Pew Research asked whether it was "morally wrong" to cheat Uncle Sam, 86 percent of conservatives agreed, compared with only 68 percent of liberals.

Ponder this scenario, offered by the National Cultural Values Survey: "You lose your job. Your friend's company is looking for someone to do temporary work. They are willing to pay the person in cash to avoid taxes and allow the person to still collect unemployment. What would you do?"

Almost half, or 49 percent, of self-described progressives would go along with the scheme, but only 21 percent of conservatives said they would.

When the World Values Survey asked a similar question, the results were largely the same: Those who were very liberal were much more likely to say it was all right to get welfare benefits you didn't deserve.

The World Values Survey found that those on the left were also much more likely to say it is OK to buy goods that you know are stolen. Studies have also found that those on the left were more likely to say it was OK to drink a can of soda in a store without paying for it and to avoid the truth while negotiating the price of a car.

Another survey by Barna Research found that political liberals were two and a half times more likely to say that they illegally download or trade music for free on the Internet.

A study by professors published in the American Taxation Association's Journal of Legal Tax Research found conservative students took the issue of accounting scandals and tax evasion more seriously than their fellow liberal students. Those with a "liberal outlook" who "reject the idea of absolute truth" were more accepting of cheating at school, according to another study, involving 291 students and published in the Journal of Education for Business.

A study in the Journal of Business Ethics involving 392 college students found that stronger beliefs toward "conservatism" translated into "higher levels of ethical values." And academics concluded in the Journal of Psychology that there was a link between "political liberalism" and "lying in your own self-interest," based on a study involving 156 adults.

Liberals were more willing to "let others take the blame" for their own ethical lapses, "copy a published article" and pass it off as their own, and were more accepting of "cheating on an exam," according to still another study in the Journal of Business Ethics.

Now, I'm not suggesting that all conservatives are honest and all liberals are untrustworthy. But clearly a gap exists in the data. Why? The quick answer might be that liberals are simply being more honest about their dishonesty.

However attractive this explanation might be for some, there is simply no basis for accepting this explanation. Validation studies, which attempt to figure out who misreports on academic surveys and why, has found no evidence that conservatives are less honest. Indeed, validation research indicates that Democrats tend to be less forthcoming than other groups.

The honesty gap is also not a result of "bad people" becoming liberals and "good people" becoming conservatives. In my mind, a more likely explanation is bad ideas. Modern liberalism is infused with idea that truth is relative. Surveys consistently show this. And if truth is relative, it also must follow that honesty is subjective.

Sixties organizer Saul Alinsky, who both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say inspired and influenced them, once said the effective political advocate "doesn't have a fixed truth; truth to him is relative and changing, everything to him is relative and changing. He is a political relativist."

During this political season, honesty is often in short supply. But at least we can improve things by accepting the idea that truth and honesty exist. As the late scholar Sidney Hook put it, "the easiest rationalization for the refusal to seek the truth is the denial that truth exists."

Yes, it is an easy rationalization, but if one believes that truth and morality have no objective basis it's foolish to accept their word on anything they tell you. Especially if he or she is a politician.


Zombie Bodyguards

Nature is certainly amazing, but this is almost unbelievable:

The parasitoid wasp Glyptapanteles lays its eggs, about 80 at a time, in young geometrid caterpillars. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the caterpillar's body fluids. When they are fully developed, they eat through the caterpillar's skin, attach themselves to a nearby branch or leaf and wrap themselves up in a cocoon.

At this point, something remarkable and slightly eerie happens. The caterpillar, still alive, behaves as though controlled by the cocooned larvae. Instead of going about its usual daily business, it stands arched over the cocoons without moving away or feeding. The caterpillar - now effectively a zombie - stays alive until the adult wasps hatch.

"We don't know exactly what kills the caterpillars, but it is fascinating that the moment of death seems to be tuned to the duration of the wasp's pupal stage," says Arne Janssen of the University of Amsterdam.

To test the manipulation hypothesis, Janssen's team allowed wasps to infect caterpillars in a laboratory setting. Once the larvae emerged and formed their cocoons, the researchers separated half the cocoons and the caterpillars. The separated cocoons were attached to a leaf next to an unparasitised caterpillar, which was prevented from moving away by a ring of insect glue around the stem.

When they added a stinkbug, a voracious predator of wasp cocoons, the team found that 17 of the 19 parasitised caterpillars thrashed their heads around in the direction of the bug. More than half the time, this knocked the bug off the branch or made it retreat. Unparasitised caterpillars barely noticed the bug, even when it climbed on top of them.

To see if the behaviour affected the survival of wasp cocoons in the wild, the researchers placed over 400 parasitised caterpillars in guava fruit trees one day before the larvae were due to break through their skin. Once the larvae had cocooned themselves on the nearby branches, the researchers removed half of their bodyguard caterpillars and watched what happened. The survival rate of "guarded" cocoons was twice as high as that of unguarded cocoons.

I wonder how many chance mutations must have occurred in both the wasp and the moth in order for this behavior to evolve. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this wonderful dance of wasp and caterpillar is not just a result of natural processes acting blindly over long eons of time. I'm not saying that stuff like this suggests that there must have been some kind of intention somewhere along the way. I'm not saying that lots of random mutations at just the right time, together with natural selection, can't all by themselves work miracles. I've read my Dawkins, and I'm sure they can, but still....