Saturday, December 13, 2008

Intellectual Honesty

Anyone who engages in public commentary and debate is often tempted to color facts to better fit his position, to overstate his case, or to do something which might be intellectually not-quite-honest. In a post titled Ten Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty Mike Gene lists ten good rules to follow when participating with others in an exchange of ideas.

Here are three of the ten with his explanation:

Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak. Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have great difficulty with this point and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points.

Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong. Those selling an ideology likewise have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as this undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being sold. You get small points for admitting to being wrong on trivial matters and big points for admitting to being wrong on substantive points. You lose big points for failing to admit being wrong on something trivial.

Demonstrate consistency. A clear sign of intellectual dishonesty is when someone extensively relies on double standards. Typically, an excessively high standard is applied to the perceived opponent(s), while a very low standard is applied to the ideologues' allies.

My own experience has been that even when I think I'm doing the best I can to abide by the rules Mike describes I sometimes find myself teetering close to the boundary nonetheless. Luckily, I have friends and students among my readers who are not shy about calling me on it when they think I've transgressed. Sometimes I think they're wrong, but sometimes not.

I think it's wise to keep in mind that none of us is perfect and to watch carefully how we express ourselves in discussions on matters we feel strongly about. I've printed out Mike's Ten Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty and have them posted over my computer. Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to do that.



Bill shares this video of economist Peter Schiff being made the object of scorn and derision two years ago by cable talk colleagues for predicting exactly what has come to pass in our economy. I hope Obama appoints this guy as one of his economic advisors. I also wonder how much money his antagonists have lost since those financial markets they were so high on collapsed.

I wonder if Mr. Schiff has this video playing in a continuous loop in his home and office. I hope he mailed a copy of it to each of the pompous critics he appeared on these talk shows with. In a just world those shows would play this clip every night. As it is few will remember how right poor Mr. Schiff was and how terribly and foolishly wrong his detractors were.


Obama's Prescription for Nuclear War

There's not much confidence in this little corner of the blogosphere in Barack Obama's ability to launch a successful foreign policy, and this story in Haaretz does little to bolster our sagging hopes that we might be underestimating the incoming President:

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's administration will offer Israel a "nuclear umbrella" against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran.

But America's nuclear guarantee to Israel could also be interpreted as a sign the U.S. believes Iran will eventually acquire nuclear arms.

What this seems to mean is that Obama will do little of consequence to prevent an Iran determined to develop nuclear weapons from succeeding. His policy appears to be to leave himself with only one option if Iran employs its weapons against Israel, as it has strongly indicated it will: nuclear war. This strikes most sober observers as a strategy right out of Dr. Strangelove.

It can be summarized this way: Use diplomatic means and sanctions to deter Iran from building nukes, but this will fail, so threaten Iran with nuclear war - which, for religious reasons, they welcome - if they use their nukes against Israel, which, they have assured us, they will.

Of course, to be effective as a deterrent the threat has to be credible, and Iran knows it won't be. Once the Iranian mullahs have nukes they could simply respond to Obama's bluster by informing Washington that nuclear bombs have been smuggled into America and will be detonated in several major cities in the event of an attack on Iran. Whether such bombs have in fact been planted in our cities won't matter. We'd have to assume they were, and there'd be very little enthusiasm in this country for trading Chicago, L.A., and New York for Tehran just because Israel had been destroyed.

Another gambit the Iranians could employ to defuse the threat of American retaliation against Tehran for an attack on Israel would be to send a nuclear missile aboard a ship off our coast and detonate the missile a couple of hundred miles high over Kansas. The resulting electro-magnetic pulse would destroy the United States as a nation, driving us back to the 19th century and creating utter chaos in our social fabric (Use our search feature (search EMP) to view previous posts on the effects such a blast would have).

Given the Iranian options, Obama's threat to nuke Tehran if Iran uses nuclear force against Israel seems either naive or dumb.

To make matters worse, Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, not only wants to place a "nuclear umbrella" over Israel she wants to extend it to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states as well:

Clinton also proposed that the American nuclear umbrella be extended to other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, if they agree to relinquish their own nuclear ambitions.

Is this administration serious? Who in their right mind would be willing to risk any American city just because Riyadh has been destroyed? Most Americans would regard an attack on Saudi Arabia, the spawning ground of most of the 9/11 terrorists, as condign justice. They certainly wouldn't think we should risk an EMP strike to avenge the deaths of the same people who had been squeezing us at the gas pumps until just last month.

It would be far wiser to avoid all this empty posturing by preventing Iran, by whatever means necessary, from getting nuclear weapons in the first place, but nowhere in the article is this viewed as an option. Ironically, the Obama team seems to have no appetite for the use of military force unless it's catastrophic force.

Meanwhile, our major media seems utterly uninterested in this problem. We're too busy being titillated by reports of scandal in Illinois and the discovery of a murdered child's bones in Florida to bother ourselves with debating how best to avoid nuclear war.