Saturday, January 31, 2004

Spirit sends first image since computer crash
12:44 30 January 04
NewScientist.com news service

First picture since computer crash

The Mars rover Spirit has made an almost complete recovery from its computer troubles and on Thursday sent back its first new images.

The prospects for its twin, Opportunity, which landed on the opposite side of the planet, also look good. It is now expected to roll off its landing platform onto the dark surface of Meridiani Planum early on Saturday or Sunday - about three or four days earlier than originally predicted.

Spirit suffered an almost total loss of communication with mission control due to an apparent overload of its computer's file system and managers had initially expected it to be out of commission for two to three weeks.

But it is now expected to be back in full operation by Sunday. The first post-recovery image returned picture shows its robot arm still poised over a rock called Adirondack, just as it was when the problem began.

Most of the important data that had been stored in Spirit's flash memory - the apparent problem area - has now been recovered, including data it had taken of Adirondack using its Mossbauer spectrometer and Alpha-proton X-ray spectrometer.

A Political Survey
Part 1 -
Comments on Methodology

Nick Smith and George W. BushToday I received in the mail a survey from the US Representative for the Michigan 7th District, Mr. Nick Smith.  Perhaps a little explanation is in order.  Corpus Callosum is listed as an Ann Arbor blog, but Nick Smith does not represent Ann Arbor.  I actually live in Lenawee County.  But I was born in the U Mich Hospital, lived in Ann Arbor until age 5, then again from ages 18 to 37, and I still work there.  My philosophy and polictitical tendencies and hairstyle are more congruent with Ann Arbor than Lenawee County.   Hence the Ann Arbor affiliation.

Anyway, I got this survey from Representative Smith.  Please read the survey before reading the rest of this article; otherwise, you won't know what I am writing about.  I expect that all of my comments will take two or three articles to get through, so bear with me please. 

The survey was mailed to my house.  There also is one on the website.  My first comment is that this survey, in the format as mailed, is different than the one on the website.  The mailed version inlcudes a cover letter.  In the cover letter, Mr. Smith expounds upon his beliefs regarding some of the topics that are in the questionnare.  This, of course, could bias the responses.  The cover letter is not seen on the website version.  The mailed version includes a picture of Mr. Smith shaking hands with Colin Powell.  Again, this is not seen on the webstie.  Another difference between the two versions is that item 8 on the mailed version asks respondents to rank five choices in order of priority.  The web version askes only for the most important priority.  Also, there is nothing to keep anyone who wants to from filling out the online survey.  So my results could end up aggregated with results from citizens of Mozambique, Uzbekistan, and Botswana.  I could fill out the form multiple times -- unless there is an IP address checking function, which I doubt  -- and stack the results any way I want.  Yet another methodological problem is that the online version permits the respondent to view the results that have been collected so far.  If the respondent loks at the resullts before taking the survey, it could influence the responses.  My final objection to the methodology is that the wording of the possible responses is, in some cases, going to bias the results.  For example:

8. In the Middle East, what should be the most important priority?
Establishing a democratic Iraq.
Reducing U.S. responsibility and control in Iraq by securing greater United Nations and international cooperation.
Withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible.
Continue aggressive U.S. effort to hunt down terrorists.
Securing peace between Israel and Palestine to reduce Islamic unrest.
Nick Smith in Antartica
Choices 1,3, and 4 each consists of a simple description of an action.  Choice 2 describes an objective, then specifies the means to that objective.  Choice 5 describes an objective and gives a reason for pursuit of that objective.  This inconguent wording can affect the choices.  I once read about a little experiment that demonstrated this point.  The experiment involved asking people for a favor using one method of phrasing in some cases; another in other cases.  The experimenter had people go up to someone who was using a copy machine and ask "May I use the Xerox?"  On other occasions, the question was "May I use the Xerox to make copies?"  These two statements are functionally equivalent, since the only thing you can do with a copy machine is to make copies.  Yet, the people who asked "May I use the Xerox to make copies?" were more likely to get a favorable response.  It is hard to know why this was the case, but it seems likely that the addition of the explanation makes the request seem more reasonable. 

These factors would seem to indicate that the survey is not scientifically valid.  I am sure that Mr. Smith knows this.  Whether the lack of validity is important depends upon what he intends to do with the results.  I intend to ask him, eventually.  First I am going to blog about my impression of the survey, make some comments in summary, then put the articles together as a letter to Mr. Smith. 

He said he wanted my input.

A Restaurant -
Comments on Food

There are no pictures of me with President Bush, and I haven't been to Antartica.  However, this afternoon, I had lunch with the Senior Editor of Die Niemandsblog.  We went to:

Lotus Thai
2803 Oak Valley (Oak Valley Centre) map

The link is from the Ann Arbor Observer.  The review on the Observer website is not a review of Thai Garden.  It is a review of Beijing Restuarant, which is the establishment that occupied the same building until recently.  The Ann Arbor News published a review on January 22, 2004, by Ana Wagner.  Her review is valuable for people who have a sense of taste.  The review that you are reading now is intended for the rest of us.  You see, I am homozygous for the gene that makes people like any food that someone else prepares.  I do not care if "Everything is strikingly presented, from the artfully arranged wedges of fried tofu to the diminutive dish of tamarind sauce decoratively sprinkled with crushed peanuts."  What I care about is: 1) Are the people nice? 2) Is the place clean? 3) Is it quiet? and 4) Am I still hungry when I leave?  Yes, the people are nice.  Yes, it is clean.  Yes, it is quiet.  And, no, they gave me enough food.  This is in contast to some Ann Arbor restuarants (eg. Amadeus, Old Siam) that serve very good food, but not enough of it.  Other amenities: plenty of parking.  Close to Media Play, Office Max, and Target.  The interior is very nicely decorated, too; much more tasteful than one would expect in a strip mall, and comparable to most of the places on Main Street.  Contrary to the findings of Ms. Wagner, I felt that the mount of spiciness in the food was just right.  Remeber, though, that this was food prepared by someone else. 

Evolution and creationism and Business 101

In was on 1/25/2004 that I made reference to evolution in an article about Utilitarianism and modern politics. Now, evolution is in the news (1 2 3). There actually are two articles at CCN.com. The second one there is a brief statement from Jimmy Carter, in which he says he is “embarassed. By this:

Carter slams Georgia's 'evolution' proposal

Friday, January 30, 2004 Posted: 3:46 PM EST (2046 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday he was embarrassed by the Georgia Department of Education proposal to eliminate the word "evolution" from the state's curriculum.

"As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," Carter said in a written statement...

An article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a nicely written article, adds some regional context. I hadn't known that five other states avoid using the “E-word.”

Georgia may shun 'evolution' in schools
Revised curriculum plan outrages science teachers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

...If Georgia approves the revised curriculum, the state will be among six that avoid the word "evolution" in science teaching, according to the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization that advocates for evolution instruction.

Many other states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, have adopted national standards that cover evolution in detail...

The National Movement of Resistance website also has a piece regarding an earlier maneuver, by just one of the Georgia school districts:..

Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible

August 23, 2002

Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible


After an angry debate among parents, Georgia's second-largest school district adopted a policy last night that requires teachers to give a "balanced education" about the origin of life, giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations.

The district, Cobb County, had already come under attack this summer for attaching disclaimers to all science textbooks, saying that evolution "is a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." On Wednesday, a parent and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the disclaimers be removed. Yesterday, they vowed to amend the suit to ask the court to reverse the new policy...

Bloggers are already getting into it. Chuck Tryon, at The Chutry Experiment, has two articles already. In the first, he states:

Do the Evolution, Georgia Edition

Or, as some Georgia educators prefer, "Do biological changes over time."

I'm a little too outraged to comment on this story in detail, but the Georgia Department of Education has decided that the best way to correct the state's educational problems is to no longer require teachers to cover evolution in detail (if they mention it at all) in their science courses. As one proposal would have it, the word evolution would be replaced with the euphemism, "biological changes over time," because, as one educator suggests, evolution conjures up the image of that whole "man-monkey" thing.

At this point, I will indulge in a little self-disclosure, something I normally eschew. When I was in high school, I dated a girl who was a fundamentalist. I was trying to be inclusive, open-minded, politically correct, whatever. This was one of those relationships in which little things kept cropping up that were clues that, “this ain't gonna work.” One such clue was her refusal to hear me say the e-word. She would not listen to any attempt to explain why she should stop and think for two seconds.

A second clue occurred when she invited me to her church. Actually, she invited me often, but I usually turned her down. One weekend, she said, excitedly, that they were going to learn how to interpret the bible. Ok, I thought, that might be interesting. After all, interpretation involves actual thought. So I go to the church, endure the service, then the Sunday school class starts. The guy hands out some booklets. Each page has two columns. On the left, there is a passage from the bible. On the right is somebody's interpretation. After about five minutes, I realized that we were NOT being taught how to interpret the bible. We were being taught what someone else's interpretation was. Big difference.

Some years later, in college, I attended a debate of the evolution-creationism issue. The professor was C. Loring Brace, Ph.D, representing the Anthropology Dept. at the University of Michigan. The other guy was Duane Gish, Ph.D, representing the Institute for Creation Research. As far as I know, there is no lasting record of the debate, but there is a transcript of a similar debate here , and a copy of an article from The Skeptic, here. There are some tidbits about Brace v. Gish here.

If you click on the Gish link, you will see his resumé. A note at the bottom states that it cannot be reproduced on any website, so I will oblige by not including an excerpt. I will wonder, openly, though, why the prohibition? One curiosity in his resumé is that his last academic appointment ended in 1971, and his last real-science paper was published in 1976. What happened to his career? And where was he working in 1976 when he published Orally Active Derivatives of Ara-Cytidine? He graduated phi beta kappa, got a Ph.D. at Berkley, then was a post-doc, then an assistant professor, then an assistant research associate, then a research associate, then...nothing? I assume that his new career was as a spokesperson for the ICR.

(I felt so sorry for the creationists after reading about their pathetic “Institute,” I almost gave them a hand by including a link to their on-line store. But they'd probable sue me for copying something from their website without permission. If you are interested, though, you can get the DVD of Grand Canyon: Monument to the Flood, for only $15.00. Regularly $19.95, that's a savings of $4.95!!!)

The Brace-Gish debate was heavily publicized. At least three church buses parked in front of the auditorium, thus packing the place with Gish's acolytes. (You may have noticed, I am giving up on the prospect of being fair and balanced here.) There were a few notable things about this debate. Gish's people called Brace's people, on the phone, before the debate. They said that Gish would supply the projection equipment, so Brace did not need to worry about that. Brace got on the phone and called a colleague who had debated Gish previously. The colleague informed Brace that Gish does provide a projector, but it only takes the rarely-used medium-format (60mm) film slides, not the 35mm slides that everyone expects to use. This is, basically, a dirty trick. An unsuspecting opponent could show up with a tray of 35mm slides, only to find that he or she will not be able to use them.

Well, turnabout is fair play. Brace talked to his colleague and learned that Gish presents the same arguments, in the same way, every time. Not a good debate strategy. Knowing ahead of time what Gish was going to say, Brace was able to counter Gish's arguments before Gish had even presented them. In my opinion, it made Gish look kind of foolish.

At the end, Gish proposed that the debate be judged by having the audience applaud each speaker, to see who got the most applause. The moderator shut this down immediately. The three busloads of acolytes probably would have drowned out the academics. The academics were too busy gagging to be able to applaud anything.

Is there anything useful to be learned from all of this? Yes. Definitely.  If natural selection kills your legitimate career, just ”create” your own! Learn how on the DVD! Only $15.00! That's a savings of $4.95...

Friday, January 30, 2004


A recent Corpus Callosum post made reference to the “recently-passed” Clear Skies bill. This was an error. I had seen a reference to “S 485, the Clear Skies Act of 2003.” Since this is 2004, I erroneously concluded that the bill had passed in 2003. It has not; more information on the status of this bill can be found at this www.congress.gov site. Advice for contacting your congresspersons regarding this bill can be found at this NRDC site.

Dick Cheney Credibility Gap
Tricky Dick the 2nd?

Some of the other bloggers have already picked up on this, but I would like to pull together a few sources to elucidate further the recent concerns about Mr. Cheney's WMD statements. This most recent controversy began on 1/22/2004 when an interview between Mr. Cheney and Juan Williams was broadcast on NPR. Mr. Cheney repeated the assertion that two purported chemical weapons trailers had been found in Iraq. You may recall having heard that, back in March 2003. Then the story sort of disappeared. Daily Kos picked it up again in August 2003, pointing out that there were some troubling aspects about the report. Now we hear Mr. Cheney again referring to this supposed proof of WMD related program activities (WMDRPA). As detailed in the NPR Ombudsman's report, some listeners complained about the interview, that is was not tough enough on Cheney; others later raised questions about the accuracy of Mr. Cheney's statements in the interview. One such article is on William Bowles' site. He repeats an article published on the FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) site:

FAIR  Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting     112 W. 27th Street   New York, NY 10001

Cheney's Iraq Deceptions Leave NPR Speechless

January 23, 2004

...Cheney reiterated the long-discredited claim that military trailers found in Iraq were Saddam Hussein's so-called mobile bio-weapons labs: "We know, for example, that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we're quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We've found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it's not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

In fact, the trailers are anything but "conclusive evidence" of an active unconventional weapons program. The London Observer newspaper (6/15/03) reported that "an official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs, as was claimed by Tony Blair and President George Bush, but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis have continued to insist." A British biological weapons expert who examined the trailers told the Observer, "They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were-- facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." The hydrogen-producing system, intended to fill balloons that help correct for the effects of wind on artillery, was originally sold to Iraq by the British firm Marconi Command & Control, the paper reported...

...Following up on Cheney's NPR appearance, the Washington Post (1/23/04) and Los Angeles Times (1/23/04) both raised questions about the accuracy of his comments.

I was not able to get the WaPo article to load properly, but I did view the LAT article.

LA Times Masthead

Cheney Is Adamant on Iraq 'Evidence'

Vice president revives assertions on banned weaponry and links to Al Qaeda that other administration officials have backed away from.

By Greg Miller
Times Staff Writer

January 23, 2004

...Cheney also argued that the main thrust of the administration's case for war — the claim that Iraq was assembling weapons of mass destruction — had been validated by the discovery of two flatbed trailers outfitted with tanks and other equipment.

"We've found a couple of semi-trailers at this point which we believe were in fact part of [a WMD] program," Cheney said. "I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

That view is at odds with the judgment of the government's lead weapons inspector, David Kay, who said in an interim report in October that "we have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile [biological weapons] production effort."...

Now, one could argue that we have no proof that this was a deliberate deception. Maybe he just did not know the details about the trailers. This is possible, but I consider it to be unlikely. There are two reasons for this. One, the NPR interview was just eight minutes long.  He allowed Mr. Williams only 10 minutes for the entire interview; eight minutes made the final cut. Thus, Mr. Cheney should have been pretty well-prepared for the interview.  If something came up in the interview that he was unsure about, he should have said that he wasn't sure. Then he should have had his staff get back to Mr. Williams with the correct details. Now that the questions have been raised again, he should have come out with ta public statement of clarification, either correcting his earlier statement, or providing more evidence to back up the statement. Two, Mr. Cheney provided an almost compulsive amount of detail about other things. As quoted by Brad DeLong:

...Cheney... said "there's overwhelming evidence" of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, citing "documents indicating that a guy named Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was part of the team who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, when he arrived back in Iraq was put on the payroll and provided a house, safe harbor and sanctuary." Cheney added, "I'm very confident there was an established relationship there."...

If he had that kind of detail at his fingertips, he probably did prepare for the interview. Again, this is an inference on my part. I can't prove that Mr. Cheney was being misleading deliberately; but if not, he at least was negligent in not setting the record straight, later, in a public forum.  If there are aritlces in the LA Times and the Washington Post questioning his veracity, it is his duty to be aware of that.  The American People should not be left speculating about the veracity of the Vice President; if he has made a mistake, he should own up to it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

If you do not already use an aggregator of some kind for sifting through the blogosphere, you might want to try using Bloglines.  It only works if the blogs you want to read has an XML feed.  Today I was using Bloglines, and ran across this post on the Volokh Conspiracy, written by Tyler Cowen.  Mr. Cohen refers to an editorial by Peter Feaver in the Washington Post, making the point that the editorial contains some “rare common sense.” Indeed, there is some common sense embodied in the editorial. Even so, I would like to take issue with one of Feaver's statements

Democrats have gleefully claimed that since the Iraqi WMD program was (apparently) not as advanced as the Bush administration claimed it to be, the neoconservatives in the Bush administration must have deliberately lied. Despite its popularity on the campaign primary trail, this conspiracy theory is so nutty Bush defenders have just as gleefully avoided tougher questions and contented themselves with knocking it down: How could even the all-powerful neocons have manipulated the intelligence estimates of the Clinton administration, French intelligence, British intelligence, German intelligence and all the other "co-conspirators" who concurred on the fundamentals of the Bush assessment?

Mr. Feaver's refutation actually misses the point. The point is not whether the intelligence assessments were correct or not. The point that Democrats make is that it appears that Mr. Bush distorted the intelligence reports when he presented the public with an argument for going to war. This is a matter of interest to me, but since it will be a long time before we know the truth, I will not belabor the point. There is, however, a point that I would like to make regarding this excerpt from Mr. Feaver's op-ed piece.

The question I would like to raise is this: is it “so nutty” to think that Mr. Bush might have “deliberately lied”? Let us take the hypothesis that Mr. Bush always tells the truth, then try to reject the hypothesis. If Bush always tells the truth, then there should not be evidence, from his statements and actions, that indicates a tendency to distort the truth. We should not find any evidence that he makes systematic efforts to repress the truth. We should find evidence that he has a value system such that he will not tolerate departures from the truth.

In looking for pertinent evidence, I came across an article on Newsday.com. The article originally came from the Washington Post.

Why Is HHS Obscuring a Health Care Gap?H. Jack Geiger
By H. Jack Geiger
Tuesday, January 27, 2004; Page A17
Over the past four years my colleagues and I have read and reviewed more than a thousand careful, peer-reviewed studies documenting systematic deficiencies and inequities in the health care provided for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and members of some Asian subgroups. The evidence is overwhelming. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Human Services seems intent on papering it over. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from HHS's recent treatment of the first national report card on disparities in the diagnosis and treatment for this country's most vulnerable populations. The department edited and rewrote the report's summary until it reflected nothing close to reality...
The AHRQ did its job well. Its draft report was a clear and massive presentation of the data on disparities in care associated with race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Its summary was blunt, noting that such disparities are "national problems that affect health care at all points in the process, at all sites of care, and for all medical conditions," affecting health outcomes and entailing "a personal and societal price."
After "review" by HHS, those truthful words are gone, as are most references to race and ethnicity, now described as problems that existed "in the past." Prejudice is "not implied in any way." Disparities are simply called "differences," and -- incredibly -- "there is no implication that these differences result in adverse health outcomes."
What of the thousand or more studies to the contrary? The new summary says: "Some studies and commentators have suggested that a gap exists between ideal health care and the actual health care that Americans sometimes receive." Worse, the new summary begins with a short list of relatively minor health areas in which minority and poor populations do slightly better than the majority (because, an AHRQ spokesman said, "Secretary [Tommy] Thompson likes to focus on the positive.")

Dr. Geiger's article does not tell us anything directly about Bush, but it does demonstrate that one of his agencies does engage in deliberate distortions of the truth. I interpret this as circumstantial evidence that Mr. Bush does not have a value system that opposes departures from the truth. If I am wrong about this, then Mr. Bush should, in the next few days, make a public statement addressing the distortions in the HHS report. He will come forth and announce that he is taking action to make sure that no such distortions occur again in his Administration. If he does not make such a pronouncement, it will reinforce the notion that he does not have a truth-based value system.

Is the any evidence that is contrary to this? What about the recent OMB Bulletin that address the possibility of misleading evidence being used in the formation of government policy? I read this Bulletin and at first thought that is sounded like a good thing. Then I came across an article on Rep. Henry Waxman's website. The article is short enough to reproduce in full:

Peer Review and OMB
Under the guise of promoting sound science, the Office of Management and Budget is advancing a far-reaching policy that will impede efforts to protect health and the environment and open the door to conflicts of interest in the regulatory process. Under the OMB proposal, agencies must develop a process for peer review of "significant regulatory information" and they must conform to an extensive prescribed peer review of "especially significant regulatory information" -- an unprecedented attempt by OMB to exert control over federal agencies.
On Dec. 15, 2003, calling the proposal a "wolf in sheep's clothing," Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Rep. John F. Tierney, Rep. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Eddie Bernic Johnson, Rep. Mark Udall, Rep. Brian Baird, and Rep. Michael M. Honda wrote OMB Administrator Joshua Bolten to urge the White House to substantially revise or drop this sweeping proposal to regulate scientific information.

Rep. Waxman

By the way, Rep. Waxman has many, many additional examples of systematic distortions by the Bush Administration. I was curious about the apparent discrepancy between my own reading of the Bulletin and Rep. Waxman's portrayal. I found a collection of reviews on this issue at the Center for Progressive Regulation website. Most instructive was an article by Sidney Shapiro, published in the January 2004 Environmental Law Reporter. The article shows how the OMB Bulletin actually weakens existing regulations pertaining to peer review of scientific reports. This can be taken as evidence that Mr. Bush, or at least the Administration that he leads, in fact does make systematic efforts to repress the truth.

In a previous article, I discussed Mr. Bush's many statements concerning regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Since then, I have encountered a press release from the Bush administration addressing the issue of “climate change,” which is the term he uses to avoid saying “global warming.” The odd thing about the press release is that, after reading it, I still have no idea what his position was (in 2001) on the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. Given the fact that carbon dioxide has been a hot topic for years, it is odd that he would release a paper on the topic of global warming, yet not state his position on the control of this greenhouse gas. It is a fair assumption that this is a deliberate avoidance of the issue. There are other instances of repression of the truth regarding environmental issues. The following article is from the REP America website; shortly after it was released, the New York Times published an article claiming the EPA would not analyze its own data on air pollution.

Withholding Environmental Information Getting to Be a Bad Habit
July 2, 2003Contact: Jim DiPeso, (253) 740-2066
Withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush administration, REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection said today.
REP America reacted to published reports that the administration withheld an analysis showing a Senate bill to clean up power plant pollution would be significantly more effective and cost only marginally more than the administration's "Clear Skies" plan.
"First, the administration watered down language about global warming in EPA's recent state-of-the-environment report. Then, the administration dismissed federal scientists' concerns in declaring that Yellowstone National Park is in no danger. Now, we see that senators were not given vital information about cleaning up unhealthy power plant emissions. The administration should treat the American people and their congressional representatives like adults and give them the unvarnished truth about the environment," REP America President Martha Marks said.

NATIONAL DESK | July 14, 2003, Monday
Critics Say E.P.A. Won't Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting With President's Policies
By JENNIFER 8. LEE (NYT) 938 words
Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 9 , Column 1
ABSTRACT - Critics say Environmental Protection Agency has delayed or refused to do analysis on proposals that conflict with Pres Bush's air pollution agenda; EPA employees say they have been told either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants; this has prompted inquiries and complaints from enviromental [sic] groups, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress; Sen Joseph I Lieberman says agency refuses to analyze bill that he and Sen John McCain sponsored to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, main greenhouse gas implicated in global warming; EPA spokeswoman denies charge

REP American spokesperson stated “withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush Administration.” Is there more evidence of systematic prevarication? How about the following two pieces. The first is from Sen. John Edwards; the second, from Rep. Edward Markey.

July 14, 2003
WASHINGTON-Senator John Edwards called Monday for the resignation of Jeffrey Holmstead, a top Environmental Protection Agency official who reportedly delayed scientific research on environmental proposals that conflict with President Bush's pollution agenda.
"Jeff Holmstead is an extreme example of this administration's problem with telling the truth when it conflicts with its political agenda," Senator Edwards said. "Instead of protecting the air, Mr. Holmstead is protecting the energy industry by hiding the truth. He needs to go."Sen. Edwards
The New York Times reported Monday that Holmstead, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, blocked studies of bipartisan clean air proposals because they would undercut support for President Bush's weaker Clear Skies initiative. Holmstead, referring to a study about competing legislation by senators Thomas Carper and Lincoln Chafee, reportedly told staff members, "How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?"
Senator Edwards clashed with Holmstead last year over Holmstead's refusal to provide scientific evidence that proposed rollbacks to the Clean Air Act would not harm human health. Holmstead, who has taken a higher profile role since EPA Administrator Christie Whitman stepped down last month, had championed the rollbacks which would make it easier for old factories and power plants to increase their pollution levels.
Turning Lead Into Gold
October 8, 2002Rep. Markey
...Rep. Markey said, “it makes you wonder, if the Bush Administration was seeking advice on whether the sun revolved around the earth or vice verse, would it take Galileo off the committee and replace him with the Inquisition? Since the key issue for this advisory committee is whether low-dose exposure to lead will adversely affect childhood development, I am concerned that noted academic experts are being replaced by individuals who have conflicts of interest that could prevent them from providing advice that will lead to the most protective health standards for our children.”

To elaborate on Rep. Markey's point, it turns out that the CDC rejected the reappointment of one pediatrician and the nominations of two others; all three have solid credentials. Instead, the CDC nominated four other scientists; three with known industry connections; the fourth already was on record as disagreeing with the current lead toxicity standard.

All of this evidence is well-documented in open sources. What bugs me the most is the last one. Now the Administration is proposing new rules regarding the peer-review process, yet it clearly engages in manipulation of the very process it supposedly is trying to improve. Although none of these bits of evidence provides direct proof that Mr. Bush has “deliberately lied,” which Feaver claims is a “nutty” idea, they do present a picture of systematic subversion of the truth. This is so pervasive, and has been reported so frequently in prominent sources, that Mr. Bush either does not read any newspapers at all, or he has heard of at least some of these incidents, and has failed to do anything about them.

Don't Forget the Environment

A couple of years ago, I was hopeful that environmental causes would turn out to play a significant role in the next Presidential election. That was before 9/11/01. It also was before the Patriot Act, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, widespread unemployment, and the soaring budget deficit. Now, it seems that financial and security concerns are going to eclipse the issue of environmentalism. With the economy in a precarious position, it will be easier for big polluters to argue that they cannot afford the cost of environmental controls. This is nonsense, of course.  As far as economic arguments go, there is no long-term benefit to foregoing pollution control. It always costs more to clean up a mess than it does to avoid making the mess in the first place. Expansion of environmental controls could create jobs, something sorely needed right now.  In addition to the economic issues, there is a serious ethical issue, too.  Everyone expects their neighbors to take care of their own trash. No one would tolerate a neighbor who routinely dumps his or her garbage over the fence into someone else's lawn.  Yet that is exactly what these big polluters are doing.

With this in mind, let us try to find out where Mr. Bush stands on environmental issues. Understanding that there are many such issues, let us focus on a single one: CO2 emissions. A summary of his statements, regarding environmental issues, can be found here.  Look at what he said shortly after he was elected:

Abandons campaign pledge to reduce CO2 emissions
Responding to President Bush’s decision not to support regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, US and European environmentalists said yesterday that one of his main arguments has been debunked. Bush said he would not seek to regulate so-called greenhouse gas because, in part, the Clean Air Act does not consider carbon dioxide a pollutant.
Environmentalists said Bush had ignored a finding by more than 3,000 international scientists who concurred that the gas is one of the main causes of global warming. Last week, satellite data showed evidence that greenhouse gases were indeed building up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
In New England, Bush’s abandonment of the campaign pledge to propose regulating carbon dioxide emissions probably will have limited impact, because the region is less dependent than elsewhere on power plants fired by coal or oil. Administration officials said Bush had made a mistake in the campaign by promising to regulate carbon dioxide.
Source: Beth Daley & Robert Schlesinger, Boston Globe, p. 3 Mar 15, 2001

In contrast, a more recent statement, now all but forgotten, is this:

President Bush has committed America to an aggressive strategy to meet the challenge of long-term global climate change by reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy by 18 percent over the next 10 years.
Source: Campaign website, www.georgewbush.com

This statement can be found via the Wayback Machine using this link. Notice that this link dates back to January 11,2003. Just one year ago.

If you think this is confusing, wait until you see what the Natural Resources Defense Council has to say about the recently-passed “Clear Skies” initiative. This is a set of amendments to EPA regulations that appear to set back the substantial progress we had made on air pollution between 1970 and 2003. I am old enough to remember what air pollution was like in 1970. I grew up in Ypsilanti, Michigan, near a few major auto plants and related industries. My brother and I used to sniff the air on the way home from school, and guess at what the AQI was. Then we would watch the evening news. They routinely reported the Air Quality Index, usually right after they gave us that day's body counts from the Vietnam War. After a while, we got to be pretty good at guessing the AQI just from the smell. I relate this anecdote just to remind people how serious the problem was. Although Mr. Bush must remember 1970 as well as I do, he seems to have forgotten the lessons from that era. This is illustrated in the following excerpt from the NRDC site:

5. How does the president's Clear Skies plan aim to combat global warming?
It doesn't. Despite mounting evidence of the urgency of this problem, the president's plan fails to include a single measure to reduce or even limit the growth of carbon dioxide, the chief pollutant causing global warming. This is a serious mistake that will have serious consequences. If new legislation is passed affecting the electric power plant industry, plant owners will use it as a blueprint for the type of investments they make in coming years. Failing to include reductions in global warming pollution in that blueprint now will only raise the cost and difficulty of achieving them later.

So, we see that, before the 2000 election, Bush initially promised to take steps to reduce CO2 emissions, then changed his position; after the election, he claimed he was going to take steps to reduce CO2 emissions by 18%, then a few months later, he submitted a plan that would have no impact on CO2 emissions.

Now, as is customary here at The Corpus Callosum, I will look at this specific, technical information, and try to connect it to a general concept. Politicians often are criticized for “flip-flops.” What is a flip-flop? A flip-flop is reported when some underpaid or unpaid staffers dig through old reports, trying to find some damaging material on he opposition candidate. If they look hard enough, they eventually will find that the candidate took a particular position on a topic at one point in time, then later stated that had a different position. A flip-flop is usually reported without any particular analysis of the issues. It is as though the mere fact that a person changed his or her mind is somehow evidence of something bad. Personally, I despise this kind of rhetoric. If you have an argument to make, you should spell it out. You start by presenting evidence, and end with a conclusion that is supported by that evidence. Just pointing out the existence of a flip-flop accomplishes nothing. In fact, if a person becomes aware of some new evidence, or constructs a different way of interpreting evidence, he or she can and should have a change of position. That is a sign of integrity; not a weakness.

Mr. Bush's positions on CO2 emissions did not exactly flip-flop. It was more of a flippedy-do-floppedy-da-floop. According to what I just said, though, that alone is not evidence for anything. If he were able to cite reasons for his change of position, backed up by verified evidence, I would have no quarrel with his shifting of positions. However, the evidence for global warming and the relationship between global warming and CO2 emissions is reasonably solid at this point. I will not belabor this point; Scientific American kindly posted an extensive review. Suffice it to say that the science pertaining to global warming has not done any flippedy-do-floppedy-da-floops in the past three years.  (Although a recent book by Bjorn Lomborg claims otherwise, his arguments are soundly rebutted in the SciAm article.)  So, although the existence of a Bush flippedy-do-floppedy-da-floop is not in itself particularly damaging, the lack of scientific support for these acrobatic maneuvers is, in my opinion, reason to question his veracity and his credibility.

 This is a weakness that can and should be exposed in the run-up to the next election.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I'm still waiting to hear from Dept. of Treasury about my FOIA request.

Me and Tom DeLay

In my last article, I tried to use an HTML table to format the article, picture, and caption the way I wanted. I couldn't get it to turn out properly, so I posted it knowing you would have to use the horizontal scroll bar to read it all. Tacky, I know, but it wasn't worth staying up late over it. If anyone knows a good, free, WYSIWYG HTML editor, please mention it in a comment. I use OpenOffice to draft the articles, because it has a spell checker (and is free); I use Netscape Composer for layout, because it is easy to insert pictures (and is free), then I cut and past the source into Blogger. It's cumbersome, but, hey, it's all free.

I have decide again to forgo all the heavy stuff; it's time for some light reading (for you) and light writing (for me). I was reminded the other day of an incident between me and Tom DeLay's office. I had gotten into the habit of saying (silently, if alone) 'he's a crook' whenever I hear Tom DeLay's name. That happened the other day, and I stopped to ask myself how I got into that habit; or, why do I think he's a crook?

In the interest of being fair and balanced (and avoiding a libel suit), I must say that I have no evidence that he is a crook, really. Crook is perhaps too strong of a word. Tacky is too mild, though. It's not just that he can't format an HTML page. It's not just that he has more home pages (1 2 3 4) than Imelda Marcos has shoes.  No, what bugs me about him is that he isn't exactly forthright in the way he collects campaign contributions. At least he wasn't, in 2001 and 2002. He didn't try me in 2003, nor yet in 2004.

In 2001, I think in the springtime, I got a message that I should call Washington DC because I had been nominated for a leadership award. I've never been a big fan of hanging pieces of paper on my wall; I already have lots of paper. So I didn't call back. The following year, I got the exact same message again. This time, I wasn't busy, and I was curious. After all, I generally am not recognized for my leadership qualities. Although I am a leader of sorts, I do it by trying to set a good example, quietly, and let others follow along if they choose. It's quite effective in my everyday life, but it doesn't attract attention. So, I was suspicious, vaguely; not of anything in particular, it 's just that it seemed weird.

So I call the number, and I do not get a person. I get a long tape recorded message (with bad sound quality) that goes on and on and on about this struggle and that struggle and how we need to change things. I don't remember the specifics, but it had something to do with getting government off the backs of businesses or something like that. Although the sound quality was bad, I did manage to discern the phrase “majority whip” somewhere amidst the bleatings. Remember, the message did not say who had called, just that I had been nominated for this award. So, I entered the phrase “majority whip” into Google. We had just gotten a fast network connection at the office, so I quickly got to one of Mr. DeLay's home pages. I was greeted by a page in which the proud face of Tom DeLay took up most of the screen, with an American flag in the background. At least that is the way my hippocampus remembers it. The Wayback Machine shows a much less garish, though hardly understated, design. Anyway, at least I knew who was behind all of this.

After a few minutes, a real human comes on the line. He congratulated me heartily for being such an important pillar of the community. He stated that I had won this award, and I could display it proudly on my office wall next to my other awards. He did not know that all of my awards were sitting in the back of my dressing room closet. [Since then, my wife got them framed --  just before my last birthday; she needed the closet space for shoes, so now they (the awards, not the shoes) actually are on the wall of my office.]

Some guy, whose name I don't remember, let's call him Mr. Enthusiasm, went on to say that I also had the opportunity to get my name on a full-page ad that they were planning to run in the Wall Street Journal.  All it would take would be a $300 campaign contribution. I didn't say anything. To fill the awkward silence, Mr. Enthusiasm piped up, “of course the money has nothing to do with the award.” They “needed” my support for this and that. I would be an honorary co-chair of the Business Advisory Council.  Odd, since my only business experience is that I had a paper route when I was in elementary school.

By then, I had gone to a few of the other Google hits, so I had an idea of the political position of Mr. DeLay. I told Mr. Enthusiasm that I did not agree with Mr. DeLay on anything. I offered to pay $300 to NOT have my name on the same page as Mr. DeLay's, especially if they promised to never call me again. Funny thing, I haven't heard from them since.

After I recalled this, I remembered also that there is an investigation regarding his fundraising practices, or at least an investigation that relates peripherally to him. It's hard to tell from the article:

AUSTIN, Texas — Authorities are conducting a criminal investigation into whether corporate money, including hundreds of thousands of dollars linked to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, improperly financed the Republican Party's takeover of the Texas Capitol...

DeLay, whose office did not respond to requests for interviews, long has been viewed as one of the most innovative and prodigious fundraisers in politics. He has not been accused personally of any campaign finance violations.

I decided to run a search to see if others have blogged about this. In fact, there are many references. Try “Tom DeLay Wall Street Journal leadership award” in your favorite search engine. One of my favorites is here (courtesy of Aggressive Voice.) Another, (Computer Bob). Rob Kall, another blogger, did some nice research into this and has some pertinent links to news articles, etc.   In my own research, I found an article showing me what illustrious company I had been nominated to join:

So just who gets to be a member of the Council?

Take the case of Mark A. Gethren.

In early February, the NRCC rescinded Gethren's invitation to its March luncheon and revoked his honors as Virginia Republican of the Year when they learned that Gethren had been sentenced to 26 years in prison. He had been convicted of six sex crimes the previous year...

Chris Hill, a Sarasota, Fla., businessman and honorary member of the Business Advisory Council, was a candidate for the NRCC's 2001 Businessman of the Year. But then he was charged by federal prosecutors in Iowa with distributing drug paraphernalia and, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Sorry, gotta run.  You know how busy us business leaders can be...

Sunday, January 25, 2004


This blog has evolved, ratherly quickly, into a collection of essays.  Most have a common theme: I take some facts, usually from news outlets, and use them to illustrate some broader concept.  My intent is to make the linkage between fact and concept in a creative way.  Of course, not all of the posts will follow this format.  Remember, I reserve the right to be unconventional. 

Today, the factual basis for the article is only partly from a news source.  The rest is from an essay first published in 1861, expanded in 1863.  The author was John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806 - May 8, 1873), an English philosopher.  The essay I am referring to is Utilitarianism.  It was unusual among Mill's works, in that it was not so much a cogent analysis of some important topic, as it was an explication of a topic that he had strong feelings about.  Utilitarianism, after all, is a branch of philosophy put forth by Mill's godfather, Jeremy Bentham.  The basic idea of Utilitarianism is that useful things are good; things that are good are good because they are useful.  At first glance, this might seem to be an unemotional, Spock-like philosophy; or, depending or your definition of 'useful,' an embrace of pure hedonism.  An important part of Mill's philosophy addresses this.  He was fond of saying, "It is better to be Socrates unsatisfied, than a pig satisfied."  The implication is that the virtues of Socrates are implicitly better than the virtues of bodily contentment. 

It is not my intent here to argue the merits of Utilitarianism; the various links above lead to expositions of that topic.  Rather, this article is intended to look at one of Mill's works, and see how that can be connected to modern political debate. 

I am now convinced, that no great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought. -- JS Mill, Autobiography

Excerpt from Utilitarianism:

... confusion and uncertainty, and in some cases similar discordance, exist respecting the first principles of all the sciences, not excepting that which is deemed the most certain of them, mathematics; without much impairing, generally indeed without impairing at all, the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those sciences. An apparent anomaly, the explanation of which is, that the detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first principles. Were it not so, there would be no science more precarious, or whose conclusions were more insufficiently made out, than algebra; which derives none of its certainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements, since these, as laid down by some of its most eminent teachers, are as full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as theology. The truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science, are really the last results of metaphysical analysis, practised on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots to a tree, which may perform their office equally well though they be never dug down to and exposed to light. But though in science the particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary might be expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or legislation. [emphasis mine]

I like to summarize this by saying, "experience always trumps theory."  Over the course of my life, I often have seen people try to refute some kind of observation by saying "that can't be, because (insert theoretical principle here.)  Or they will describe some atypical experience to me and then ask, "does that make sense? "I almost always say in response: "If it happened, then it must make sense.  If it doesn't seem to make sense, that means we just don't understand it yet."  Mills goes on to say:

All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the means, one would think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of having already ascertained it. [emphasis mine]

This excerpt is basically a refutation of ideology.  Here I am referring, not to the kind of idealism espoused by John Lennon ("you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one;") but rather the idealism of ideologues.  An ideologue is a person who holds so tightly to some kind of idea, that his or her behavior is determined almost exclusively by that one idea; competing ideas, and perhaps even common sense, are not even considered.  In modern political process, this kind of ideology leads to such things as unilateralism and promotion of a one-party state.  A biologist might say that this is the philosophical equivalent of inbreeding. 
Secretariat, oil on linen by C. Picavet
To follow through  with this analogy, let's say you start out with two fine horses, a mare and a stallion; both are bred from champion racehorses.  In your pursuit of further greatness, you might be tempted to breed a whole herd from just those two horses.  Indeed, the first generation might turn out a number of fine steeds.  But if you keep breeding this same small population, soon you will end up with nothing but a bunch of runts.  Indeed, you might very well end up with nothing but infertile runts. 

Now, let's look at the recent crop of Republican Presidents: Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, and now Bush 43.  Eisenhower, born in Texas, was by most accounts a good president.  He was a moderate.  He kept the budget balanced, and supported desegregation.  Nixon, although he left in disgrace, was considered to be intelligent.  He formed the Environmental Protection Agency, and ended the Vietnam War.  Ford, also had a reputation for being intelligent, and had the virtue of being rather benign, a welcome change from his predecessor. Reagan, although he did a number of bad things, was essentially a nice guy.  Bush, the 41st President, started a war.  At least it was a war that had popular support. 

If ideology is carried by a recessive gene, then Bush 43 is a homozygote.  (I know: don't ask, don't tell.)  To examine this point, let's look at the following quote  from an article by Roger Burbach (link from Counterpunch.opg):

Bush Ideologues vs. Big Oil

The Iraq Game Gets Even Stranger


Weekend Edition
October 3 / 5, 2003

Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) argues, "administration neoconservatives like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are dreamers driven more by ideology than by concrete material interests. They believe the United States is virtuous and has a mission to remain indefinitely as the world's sole superpower.

They don't really care about specific oil interests. Iraq became the focal point for their dreams so the United States could exert unparalleled power in reordering the Gulf, the Middle East and the world."

I was surprised to find the material quoted above.   A common perception is that one reason we invaded Iraq was to give a boost to the big oil companies.  This perception may be misguided, aided by the association between Bush, Cheney, and big oil companies.  The Burbach article goes on to explain that, big oil affiliation notwithstanding, the primary interest of the ideologues now in power is in the military:

Other analysts of the Iraqi war like Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies see the neoconservatives as tightly aligned with "unreconstructed cold warriors" like Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "They represent the interests of the defense industry and want to see ever expanding military budgets for the world's only superpower."

Indeed, the Pentagon has proposed a 7% increase in the military budget for next year.  This request is made despite the administration's public statements that we need a smaller, leaner, faster-moving military, with a new emphasis on special operations.  The connection between this, and the Utilitarian ideas explicated by Mills, is found in the next paragraph from the Burbach article:

The problem for the ideologues and militarists is that their dreams of forging a new world order by invading Iraq are contradicted by reality. As Toensing notes "the war planners thought they could simply lop off Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party in Iraq and install their own hand picked rulers." Ahmad Chalabi and other exiled Iraqi's grouped together in the Iraqi National Congress convinced the Pentagon that "liberated" Iraqis would welcome US troops with flowers and rice when they took Baghdad. Of course as we now know from the growing toll of US causalities in Iraq, Chalabi and his cronies duped the Bush administration into believing what they wanted to hear.

I happen to believe, that if the decision to go to war in Iraq had been preceded by a careful analysis of the situation, considering all sources of information, and gaining input from all sides of the issue, that we either 1) would not have started the war in the first place, or 2) we would have anticipated the current insurgency, and waited until we had penetrated the potential insurgents more effectively before starting the war.  In my view, the only possible justification for the was is that it was an humanitarian mission.  In Utilitarian terms, the horrors of the war could be seen as justified by the need to liberate the people of Iraq.  In order to best pursue this end, it would have been necessary to anticipate the political turmoil that followed the toppling of Saddam's statue.  Instead, what happened was that the United States started a war blindly, pursuing a misguided ideal, rather than a greater good.

Unocal Cleared -- or are they?
(...and why we need a liberal arts education)

I would not want to leave readers with the impression that I was unfairly bashing Unocal.  It turns out that, at about the time I was writing the original article, the Associated Press (here quoted from the Washington Post) was reporting on the case.  The second block quote is from the LA Times -- published today (Saturday).  The first block quote here, from the beginning of the AP/WaPo article, provides what initially appears to be the bottom line.  Later in the article, the key arguments from the prosecution and the defense are cited.  This gives the impression that it is a fair and balanced report.  Interestingly, the LA Times article includes some additional information...

Judge: Unocal Not Liable for Claims

The Associated Press
Friday, January 23, 2004; 8:51 PM

LOS ANGELES - Unocal Corp. cannot be held liable for claims against its subsidiaries in the construction of a natural gas pipeline that involved allegations of human rights abuses by the Myanmar military, a judge ruled Friday. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria Gerrard Chaney said Unocal had acted in good faith by setting up legitimate subsidiaries to undertake the project in the 1990s. The subsidiaries were not named in the lawsuit.

"Here there is no evidence of bad faith or wrongdoing by Unocal," she said during her ruling.

January 24, 2004

One Legal Attack on Unocal Denied

By Lisa Girion, Times Staff Writer

Judge says subsidiaries, not the parent firm, are responsible for project tied to Myanmar abuse.  Unocal Corp. won a round in a long-running human rights case Friday when a Los Angeles judge ruled that 15 Myanmar refugees sued the wrong corporate entity — at least under one theory — for abuses they allegedly suffered at the hands of government soldiers guarding a company pipeline.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria Gerrard Chaney held that five subsidiaries — not the parent company targeted in the case — were responsible for Unocal's share of the $1.2-billion natural-gas pipeline in the country formerly known as Burma....

By deciding that Unocal is not the "alter ego" of its subsidiaries, Chaney blocked one avenue by which the plaintiffs had hoped to take the parent company to trial. Still, the judge said she was not ruling out the possibility that El Segundo-based Unocal could face trial on other theories of liability.

"Unocal knew or should have known there were human rights abuses" in Myanmar, Chaney told a courtroom packed with Unocal lawyers and Myanmar activists opposed to the company's investment in the Southeast Asian country....

Plaintiffs' lawyer Dan Stormer said he was confident that the case, despite Friday's setback, would go to a jury trial. He said Chaney had ruled earlier that the plaintiffs' other theories of liability must be decided by a jury....

First, notice the difference between the headlines.  The AP/WaPo article states flatly that Unocal was found to be not liable.  The LAT article emphasizes that only one of the legal claims was denied.  The body of the LAT text includes a damning statement by the judge, plus some information regarding the possibility of other legal avenues toward prosecution.  Ms. Girion (LAT) makes it clear that the case has not been dismissed; the ruling handed down on Friday pertains only to one aspect of the case.  Reading the AP/WaPo article, you might conclude that the case is over.  To her credit, Ms. Wides (AP) does make it clear that there still is a case pending in Federal court, as opposed to the State court.  But you have to read the entire article before you realize that Unocal is not out of the woods yet.

There are conclusions to be drawn here.  Most obviously, if you want to have any chance of getting the whole story, you have to read from multiple sources.  We still do not know the truth about Unocal, but we have learned something about the media.  Second, reporting on legal cases is difficult.  This probably is similar to the challenges faced by reporters who are writing about science.  There are nuances that can be missed if you do not have a full understanding of the process you are witnessing and reporting upon.   Although you may think you understand the content, you can miss important facets if you do not understand the process

The distinction between process and content is critical.  I would like to take this opportunity to go back to one of my favorite themes: education.  In an earlier article (1/4/2004) I blogged about the "No Child Left Behind" initiative.  One point of that article is that the increasing emphasis on "teaching to the test" tends to emphasize rote recitation of facts.  This may lead to better test scores, but I would argue that it also produces students who know content, but do not understand process.  This brings me to my third and final conclusion from this little exercise: there is no substitute for a good liberal arts education, with a heavy dose of individualized interaction between teacher and student.  That is the only way to develop a citizenry who can understand what their leaders and corporations are doing.  

For some interesting background on the education issue, see these articles: 1 2.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I was poking around the web, looking for something to blog about.  Thinking of doing a follow-up on my post from yesterday, I went back to the Christian Science Monitor site.  There, I ran across a link to a story in Channel News Asia, about a US firm: Unocal (Union Oil of California).  Given the significance of this matter, I was a bit surprised that I hadn't heard of it before.  Also, it struck me as odd that I had to go to an Asian website to learn of it; it's almost as though mainstream news outlets in the US don't want to offend oil companies. (If you search for "Unocal" at LA Times, you get no hits.) 

Final arguments begin in groundbreaking rights case against Unocal
Posted: 22 January 2004 0738 hrs

LOS ANGELES : A US judge heard closing arguments in a trial in which US oil giant Unocal is accused of human rights abuses during the building of a disputed gas pipeline in Myanmar.

The groundbreaking case, brought by 15 Myanmar villagers, marks the first time that an American firm has been tried in the United States for alleged rights abuses and is being closely watched by legal pundits.

If the suit is successful, damages of up to one billion dollars could be awarded in the case.

The villagers claim in their seven-year-old lawsuit that Unocal turned a blind eye as junta troops murdered, raped and enslaved villagers and forced them to work on the 1.2-billion-dollar pipeline in the 1990s.

At issue in this first phase of the complex two-part trial, the phase that is now drawing to an end, is whether Unocal can be held liable for the conduct of its subsidiaries which invested in the pipeline.

A lawyer for the villagers claimed Wednesday that the California-based oil titan set up "corporate shells" to avoid liability for the enslavement of villagers by Myanmar's military junta when the pipeline was built.

"Unocal made all the decisions," lawyer Terry Collingsworth said. "It was a business choice. It's not illegal to have done that, but the tradeoff is if you go the corporate-shell route, you don't get limited liability."

"The subsidiaries had nothing to do with construction of the pipeline. They were simply paper conduits," he said. "They are tax shelters, they are cash pass-throughs, but they were not responsible for the pipeline."

But Unocal, which did not directly operate the field that was owned by the Myanmar government, strongly denies any involvement in abuses.

Of course, I do not want to post a one-sided article, so I went to the Unocal website. It is always good to get the other side of the story.  I was heartened to see that they take human rights very seriously.  So much so, that they have posted a copy of their Code of Conduct on their corporate intranet.  And, not content to rest on their laurels, they also issued a Statement of Guiding Principles.  (The Guiding Principles do not appear to have a direct link; they pop up when you activate a bit of javascript, so I can't insert a hyperlink here.)  As mentioned on their website,

In 2000, we updated and reissued our Code of Conduct to all employees. The Code of Conduct reaffirms Unocal's commitment to the ethical principles, laws and regulations that must guide all of our business decisions. Although laws and regulations vary from country to country, our Code of Conduct -- just like our Guiding Principles -- applies everywhere we do business. If we cannot do business within the requirements of our Code of Conduct, then we will not be involved in that operation. Compliance with the Code of Conduct is a condition of employment at Unocal. Every employee is responsible for understanding and following the code.

The Code of Conduct, which is posted on Unocal's intranet, contains new sections on e-mail and Internet usage...

After seeing that they have been accused of turning "a blind eye as junta troops murdered, raped and enslaved villagers and forced them to work on the 1.2-billion-dollar pipeline," I was relieved greatly to see that they now have a policy on e-mail and Internet usage.  Curiously, on another page, entitled Corporate Responsibility, they have the following section:

Corporate Responsibility at Unocal
2000-2001 Report
1999 Report
1996-97 HES Report
1995 HES Report
1994 Environmental Report to Stockholders (pdf format)

It appears that they stopped reporting on corporate responsibility in the year 2001.  I suppose with Mr. Bush in the White House, maybe corporate responsibility is not so important anymore.  Seriously, though, I do have to give them credit for withdrawing from the Afghan pipeline consortium.  They withdrew from this project in 1998, because of concerns about the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.  This article from World Press Review Online, outlines the events leading up to the decision. 

Another thing I learned is that the World Press Review Online has a nice page that provides links to newspapers from around the world, all in English.   Previously, I had been using Yahoo's list of news websites.  The World Press Review page is easier to use, since you don't have to wade through a zillion links, many of which take you to sites that are not in English.  Also, the WPR gives you a one-line description of the site's political bias.  For example, they tell you if the site is government-cotrolled.  This is a citation for a news outlet in Cambodia:

Koh Santepheap
(independent, pro-government), Phnom Penh

Today you got, not a cogent essay, but some miscellaneous information that I hope is useful.  I think we all still are in the process of learning to make good use of the Internet.  Being able to find news with varied international perspectives is a valuable skill.