01 December 2005

A Letter to the Editor

Today's (1 December 2005) edition of USA Today included a column on Intelligent Design written by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. The entire column is objectionable, but Thomas' conclusion was by far the worst part. The rest of this post, which also appears at The Panda's Thumb, has been submitted in response as a letter to the editor.

Dear Sir:

On June 30, 1860 a famous (and perhaps fictional) encounter took place between the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. The occasion was a discussion of Darwin’s recently published book Origin of Species, and according to legend Wilberforce concluded his remarks by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father’s side or his mother’s. This bit of ancient history popped into my mind when I read Cal Thomas’ remark at the end of the column that he and Bob Beckel wrote on Intelligent Design in yesterday’s paper.

Unlike our understanding of evolution itself, which has advanced tremendously in the last century and a half, Thomas’ idea of a clever response seems to be on a par with the good bishop. Thomas’ remark, “Maybe we can offer [scientists] some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage,” does not have any more of a place in a reasonable discussion than did Wilberforce’s.

My reply to Thomas is more or less the same as Huxley’s reply to Wilberforce: if I had a choice between having a monkey as a grandfather or having as a grandfather someone who has great intellectual gifts and influence, but uses those gifts and that influence merely to inject ridicule into a serious debate, I would, without hesitation, choose the monkey.

Michael Dunford
Graduate Student,
Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Wow. That's all I can say. Just, Wow.

This guy's morning definitely falls into the "truth stranger than fiction" category.

Carnie Barking

Arrrghh!!!! A new Tangled Bank and a new Circus of the Spineless are up. They are both fantastic, and I forgot to submit links for both of them again! Oh, well. Enjoy them anyway.

30 November 2005

The "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Quotes, and Scholarship

The president made a speech today outlining what the White House calls a "strategy for victory in Iraq." Personally, I call it "more of the same," but hey, you say potato and all that.

In this speech, the president urged Americans to read a new document posted on The White House website. The document is titled, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," and was described by the president as, "an unclassified version of the strategy we've been pursuing in Iraq." Since he urged Americans to read it, I did.

OK, actually, I skimmed it. I might read the thing in more detail later, but as it stands the document struck me as being basically just a stump speech with a pretty red, white, and blue cover and the National Security Council imprimatur. Most of the document seems to be essentially content-less. ("Our comprehensive strategy will help Iraqis overcome remaining challenges, but defeating the multiheaded enemy in Iraq – and ensuring that it cannot threaten Iraq’s democratic gains once we leave – requires persistent effort across many fronts.") Other statements appear to be questionable (I think the boat's probably sailed on, "Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region – a historic opportunity lost.")

One of the things that struck me about this document is the way that it is sprinkled with quotes, mostly from the president. The point to these quotes is not entirely clear, but they seem designed to leave the impression that we have been following the same, successful strategy in Iraq the whole time. (Most people would agree with that statement, I suspect, if I eliminated one word.)

Quotes like that tend to catch my interest. They get me to wondering about things like why they were selected, whether or not they have been taken out of context, and if they are accurate. The quotes aren't part of the document per se, of course, but I think that looking at things like that can give you an idea about the overall quality of the scholarship that went into the document.

I decided that it might be fun to take a look at those quotes in more detail. Here's what I found:
First, all of the quotes themselves are in fact accurate. That is, the actual words were used in the same order on a previous occasion, by the person listed as the source.

Second, the dates given for the quotes are not all accurate. Two of the thirteen quotes have incorrect dates. In one case, a quote from a 2005 speech by the president is attributed to 2003:
"Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren."
In another case, a quote attributed to a general in the new Iraqi forces is dated August 14, 2005:
“My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now.
Saddam . . . it’s finished. He’s broken. Now is the new Iraq.”
This same quote, however, turns up in a news article dated March 21st.

Some may accuse me of being overly nit-picky with this - after all, they were able to successfully attribute 86% of their quotes, and a B is a very respectable grade - but I think there are a couple of things that make this worth noting. First, if you are drafting a document that the president is going to "urge all Americans to read," you should probably make sure it is entirely accurate. Second, if you can't figure out what year a quote about the war effort is from, it might be a sign that you aren't making dramatic progress.

The third thing that I noticed is that reading the full context for some of the earlier quotes can be quite interesting.

The leadoff quote for the document is from a speech that the president made on 26 February 2003, at the American Enterprise Institute. This was prior to the start of the conflict.
The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected. (Applause.)

Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.
That was the quote that was used. The speech continued:
America has made and kept this kind of commitment before -- in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom. In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home.

In this same speech, the president made a number of other statements that he's probably hoping wouldn't get too much attention right now:
And we are opposing the greatest danger in the war on terror: outlaw regimes arming with weapons of mass destruction.

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it. (Applause.) This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed. (Applause.)

The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East.

There are several quotes in the document taken from a speech the president made at Fort Bragg on June 28th of this year. Looking at the speech, the president says that we have a two part strategy for victory in Iraq:
So our strategy going forward has both a military track and a political track.
Yet the "National Strategy" document, which purports to articulate, "the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003," says that we are persuing a three-part strategy:
To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations.
Have we only just recently figured out that we need to have an economic plan for Iraq, or does the president think that he can say whatever he wants about our strategy in Iraq, whether or not it is actually accurate, when speaking to the American people? ("Both" is probably a valid answer here, too.)

A May 24, 2004 speech that the "National Strategy" quotes also explains what we are doing in Iraq: "There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom..." Let's see: five steps, two steps, three steps...yep. We've definitely been working from a single broad strategy since 2003. You know, it's not that I mind it when a politician lies to me. I just hate it when they do it so stupidly.

More from the May speech:
In the city of Fallujah there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force.

Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.
As I recall, we finally wound up using overwhelming force in Fallujah, which alienated the local population and increased support for the insurgency.


This document that the president wants us all to read doesn't appear to be worth the bandwith that it takes to send it. It is obvious and atrocious propaganda. It is another attempt to convince the public that the president has been in control of the situation the whole time, and that no serious mistakes have been made.

If the president wants to convince people that he has a clue, he is going to need to grow the f--k up and take some responsibility for his actions and inctions. Until that happens, he can expect support for his efforts to continue to wane.

29 November 2005

It's been a few days

since I've posted. Sorry about that. I'm in the middle of the end-of-semester rush. I've discovered one of the true joys of being a graduate student. Not only do I get to go absolutely bonkers trying to write several papers for my own courses, I also find myself submerged under a mass of papers that I have to grade.

And then there's my own research, which has ground to a screeching halt while I finish the rest of the academic stuff.

I think, more than anything else in the whole world, I'd like a 25th hour in the day.