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
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
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
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.
Political Survey Part 1 - Comments on Methodology
Today 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?
a democratic Iraq.
U.S. responsibility and control in Iraq by securing greater United
Nations and international cooperation.
Withdrawal from Iraq
as soon as possible.
aggressive U.S. effort to hunt down terrorists.
peace between Israel and Palestine to reduce Islamic unrest.
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.
He said he wanted my input.
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:
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.
In was on 1/25/2004 that
made reference to evolution in an article about Utilitarianism and
modern politics. Now, evolution is in the news (123).
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:
Friday, January 30, 2004
Posted: 3:46 PM EST (2046
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN)
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
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
article from the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a nicely written article, adds some
regional context. I hadn't known that five other states avoid using
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.
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
By KATE ZERNIKE
After an angry debate among parents,
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
Or, as some Georgia educators prefer, "Do
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
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
, 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
”create” your own! Learn how on the DVD! Only $15.00! That's a savings
A recent Corpus Callosum post made reference to the
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 thiswww.congress.gov site. Advice
for contacting your congresspersons regarding this bill can be found
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
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:
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
112 W. 27th Street New York, NY 10001
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...
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.
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
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.
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
Is HHS Obscuring a Health Care Gap?
H. Jack Geiger
January 27, 2004; Page A17
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...
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."
"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."
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 OMBBulletin
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.
website. The article
is short enough to reproduce in full:
Review and OMB
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.
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.
By the way, Rep. Waxman has
many, many additional
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
shortly after it was released, the New York Times published an
article claiming the EPA would not analyze its own data on air
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.
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.
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.
Edition - Final , Section A , Page 9 , Column 1
- 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
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.
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.
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."
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?"
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 (1234) than
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.
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.
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
garish, though hardly understated, design. Anyway, at least I knew
who was behind all of this.
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
were sitting in the back of my dressing room closet. [Since then, my
them framed -- just before my last birthday; she needed the
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
would be a $300 campaign contribution. I didn't say anything. To
fill the awkward silence, Mr. Enthusiasm piped up, “of course the money
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
that I had a paper route when I was in elementary school.
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
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
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...
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
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
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...
This blog has evolved, ratherly quickly, into a collection of
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
the linkage between fact and concept in a creative way. Of
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
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
Game Gets Even Stranger
By ROGER BURBACH
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:
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
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
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.
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
By LAURA WIDES
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.
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
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
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.)
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
can't insert a hyperlink here.) As mentioned on their website,
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
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:
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
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:
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.