A life philosophy

“…you wouldn’t sing secrets to a butcher in the street, you know.”

“It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my remembrance…but I might do it. A man can’t say what he might wish to do some day or another”

(from Our Mutual Friend, taken slightly out of context)

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A picture from DC

This is on the Iwo Jima memorial:
Image hosted by Photobucket.com

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The Unstraight Flush at Newsweek

We’ve written previously about the Newsweek mess here, here, and here.

Thanks to Hugh Hewitt, I read this blog this morning.

Jay Rosen says many wise and interesting things, and you will want to read the entire post. He has some wonderful suggestions for improving reporting. I hope the right people listen to him, because I yearn to be able to trust mainstream news sources.

For my purposes, I just want to focus on two or three specific points from his post here. To begin with, read this excellent summing up of the recently discredited Newsweek report:

The very difficulty of summarizing what the faulty report said tells us something vital about it. To wit:

Newsweek, which I will call S1 for our first level source, and for which we have names (Michael Isikoff, Mark Whitaker, John Barry) said that it had sources (S2) without names, who in turn said that other sources (S3) also without names, working as investigators for the government, have learned enough from their sources (S4), likewise unnamed, to conclude in a forthcoming report for U.S. Southern Command (finally, a name!) that unnamed interrogators (S5) dumped the Qur’an into toilets to make a point with prisoners (S6) who are Muslims but also not named.

We’ll find out more about the ‘reliable sources’ without names in a moment.

He also says,

“That doesn’t mean a charge like desecration of the Koran should never be reported. If United States policy is to show scrupulous respect for holy texts, then it matters if American policy is being violated. I don’t agree at all with La Shawn Barber: “Newsweek should not have reported it, even if true.” But I do agree that the possible consequences in being wrong–and being right–should have been factored in, driving the need for reliability up, up, up. But nothing like this happened at Newsweek.”

I also did not agree with LaShawn when she said that NW should not have reported the story whether or not it was true- if it had been true and they had solid confirmation, they should have reported it. They also should have provided context, such as, is it just one interrogator who has since been relieved of his duties, what the U.S. military policies are for treatment of the Koran and other books holy to their readers. They did not do this with the recent prison scandal at Abu Ghraib, where the context is rather different than the reporting of the story would lead readers to believe.

But at any rate, while the U.S. Military does have strict orders for how to treat the Koran and how to behave with respect to the standards of a host country, the U.S. media does not have a policy of showing scrupulous respect for texts holy to believers of some stripes. The press, as The Anchoress points out, didn’t seem so disturbed when a picture of Mary was surrounded by elephant dung, or when a crucifix was displayed immersed in urine. Those two things were ‘art,’ and part of what made them ‘art’ was the fact that they offended the sensibilities of certain people, therefore, creating an emotional reaction. Apparently, artistic and creative may be defined as offending people- but only if the offense as an act of creation offends the right people- Catholics, for instance. Those stories were reported in such a way as to be about censorship, idiotic rednecks, and free speech.

Allegedly fushing a Koran down a toilet is not artistic free speech merely because it offends the wrong people. It offends Muslims (especially those who blow up church buildings, oppress Christians, and who beat women for not covering their faces). Offending *those* people by disrespectflly handling an inanimate object in front of them is ‘torture.’
As Glenn Reynolds points out, to include such acts under the heading ‘torture’ is to make a mockery of those who actually have been tortured. By this definition, Bible believers in America have been tortured for decades by our popular culture.

But let us return to Jay Rosen’s post. Exactly what kind of sources did Newsweek rely on?

It appears that one of them was not really a source for the allegation but a Pentagon official who was shown the report and didn’t disconfirm it. From the New York Times account by Katharine Seelye:

In addition, the reporters, Michael Isikoff, a veteran investigative reporter, and John Barry, a national security correspondent, showed a draft of the article to the source and to a senior Pentagon official asking if it was correct. The source corrected one aspect of the article, which focused on the Southern Command’s internal report on prisoner abuse.
“But he was silent about the rest of the item,” Newsweek reported.

That is the most revealing fact I have come across so far, because it is very clear how much weaker didn’t disconfirm is when compared to alternatives like “Colonel Jones said…”

Did he confirm it?
No, but he didn’t disconfirm it.

Oh, so is that confirmation?

Well, he would have warned us, I think.

Right, right. He would have warned us.

When I say “thin” that is the kind of thing I mean.

By this standard, any of us could have been a source for the Newsweek story because we could not confirm the story, neither could we ‘disconfirm’ it. Twenty thousand people work in the Pentagon. The Headmaster and some of our offspring took a tour of the Pentagon when we were in D.C. last week. They say it’s like a town, and you only would need to leave to go home to see your family- otherwise, all the amenities are available. It has a larger population than our county. An awfully large percentage of those 20,000 people must be unaware of everything that happens there and could also have been available for ‘not disconfirming’ the story. I have a friend who works in the Pentagon. I could ask him questions he couldn’t answer and then say that he didn’t disconfirm my story. When Jay says ‘thin,’ I think we should be picturing something wispy as an old cobweb. A tatty, dusty, dirty old cobweb.

Jay explains the situation behind each of these unnamed sources, S1, S2, etc. You’ll want, as I’ve said, to read the whole thing.

S2 is one who really interests me. He’s one of those 20,000 people working in the Pentagon:

Source Level 3 are the (unnamed) “investigators probing interrogation abuses.” They are the ones who will compile the report for U.S. Southern Command. What Newsweek’s sources “had” was simply a prediction about what these people would be putting in their report. (Whitaker in a piece Newsweek ran Monday: “Our original source later said he couldn’t be certain about reading of the alleged Qur’an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.”)

Newsweek knows who this is, and this is the only one of their sources that they can give a name to. I want S2 outed. I want to know his motives for passing on information he had so little knowledge of. I want to know who he is. I also wonder about his clarity of mind. I imagine he reads many reports. For all we know, he could just be an admin troop, a typist. Maybe he reads so many reports he gets the details mixed up.

I’m thinking of a report I heard on NPR yesterday. According to NPR, a review of the logs at Gitmo found only one incident of a Koran in proximity with a toilet- in that case, a detainee tore pages out of the Koran and flushed them down the toilet in a protest attempt to block up the toilets. Is it at all possible this S2 read that report and jumbled it in his mind with the SouthCom report?

S6 is also an interesting source:

Source Level 6, also unnamed, are the prisoners for whom the alleged action would have been intended– a special class of witness.

Yes, well, S6- hardly reliable, given the Al Queda Training Manual instructions for prisoners (thanks to Grayhawk):

IF AN INDICTMENT IS ISSUED AND THE TRIAL, BEGINS, THE BROTHER HAS TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING:

1. At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge.

2. Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison.

I say that this also makes another source a bit dicey, those defense lawyers and others representing the prisoners. All their information is hearsay, after all, and it all comes from S6- those prisoners who have been instructed to lie about being tortured and mistreated.

See Grayhawk of Mudville for more.

5. Are Newsweek’s reporters unaware of the Al Queda manual? They don’t seem to have exercised any scepticism about reports from prisoners.

4. Since when is an absence of ‘disconfirmation’ to be taken for solid confirmation?

3. Shouldn’t somebody at Newsweek have wondered about the liklihood that the interrogation process would include flushing a Koran in order to convince a Muslim witness to talk? Wouldn’t that have precisely the opposite result?

deuce. What happened to the vetting process we are assured distinguishes Mainstream Media from the heavyweights in the blogging world? We have here half a dozen unnamed sources, and the only one of them with whom reporters actually spoke to can only attest to reading something about a Koran, a toilet, and a flushing somewhere, sometime in some report, but he doesn’t remember for sure which report. Maybe he read it in Al Jazeera.

Ace. Torture is something done to one’s person. It is not something done to inanimate objects.

Looks like Newsweek is a straight flush to me. We already do not subscribe. What about you?

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The Equuschick’s Observations on DC

The Equuschick observed, during her sojourns, that the Enviromental Protection Agency takes up a ridiculous amount of enviroment. A very random observation, but one that struck her quite noticeably.

But let not us dwell on these small items.

The Equuschick observed,in the National Archives above Marbury’s petition to the courts, a plaque commemorating the decision as the defining moment when the court became a coequal of the execuitve and legislative branches. The Equuschick does not see why this is a cause for celebration.

“The question whether the judges are invested with exclusive authority to decide on the constitutionality of a law has been heretofore a subject of consideration with me in the exercise of official duties. Certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which has given that power to them more than to the Executive or Legislative branches.” –Thomas Jefferson

“The Constitution… meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.” –Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams

Also, the Equuschick saw the 9-11 Memorial at the Pentagon, and was reminded why she can’t stand people who berate the nation’s current leaders for changing policies in place for decades and ignoring international ettiquitte in place for just as long. President Bush, you silly people, must govern in a different fashion because we live in a different time and a different world. The world changed in 1776, and we changed the way that things were done. It changed during our Civil War, and the government changed and the people changed. The world changed in World War 1, the world changed at Pear Harbor and the people, and their government, had to change with their world. We didn’t ask the terrorists to change our world on 9-11, but the fact is they did. We didn’t want them too, but the fact is they did something never done before in the history of our nation, and we must change who we are, if we are to survive in this new world. This surprises people, when in reality there is no need for surprise, or even panic. Changes bring the new, but the change itself is nothing new. The world has changed before, it will change again, and its people will change with it. The Equuschick supposes this is what she has learned the most from her trip to DC. Our history is not, per se, a history of war. But our wars define the course of our history, and in doing so, defines our people and our government.

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A Question about Public Education

Are we asking too much of public education, more than it can deliver? If so, should we be trying something else?

I am a homeschooler, but I do not blame every problem our publicly educated children have on the public schools. I have often made excuses for public schools. I acknowledge that teaching in a public school is a tough job, and it’s much more difficult than what I do.

While I lean sharply toward the libertarian end of the political spectrum, I will even grant, for the sake of the larger point I wish to make, the assumption that if parents do not do their job properly with their children, then society in the form of children’s services or educational programs in schools must step in. Actually, I think that’s problematic, but again, let’s just concede this thought and carry it on to its logical conclusion.

If we need public schools because parents do not do their jobs and the schools must step in to make up the deficit, then the schools must accept responsibility for what happens in their watch. They must prove that they can actually fix the problems caused by parents not bringing up their kids to function in society. Can they? Have they proven that they are capable of doing this? If they base their right to intervene upon the failure of the parent, then they ought to be able to overcome the parent’s failures, right? If they cannot ‘fix’ the problems caused by parental failures, then they have also failed. In that case, how do we justify their intervention? Who steps in and intervenes for the children in this case? Maybe we need a different solution.

Parents do fail. People who earn their bread and butter from the public school system are well aware of this, in some cases, more aware than the rest of us, because they have to deal with the results of those failures on a daily basis, and it’s not easy. So they are well aware that parents do fail, and that some pretty tragic and abominable results of those failures are in the classrooms and halls every day. We know that the folks who work in and with and for the public school system are aware of this because they tell us so- anytime anybody talks about getting the government out of public schools, privatizing education, or any sort of significant change and reform, we hear some variation of “But what about the parents who can’t or won’t or don’t take responsibility for their own children? It’s so selfish to ignore those children. *WE* really care about them, and we are here for those kids whose parents are not doing their jobs for whatever reason…”

Well and good. Then make up for the parents who are not doing their jobs. I’m not intending to be harsh, ugly, or divisive. I simply want to take a hard eyed look at the reasons we say we have public schools, the results, and the discrepancies between what we say our reasons are and what the results are. The children matter more than adult egos. IN fact, I would not even say that it is the schools’ fault or the fault of teachers, hard working, diligently minded, and dedicated people, nearly all of them, when the students fail. It might be the fault of a system of institutionalized warehousing of children. I do not know.

My point is simply that you can’t use those hard cases as a justification for
institutional existence of public schools and then turn around and wash the institution’s metaphorical hands of any responsibility for those same cases when those hard cases continue to go wrong, when children in that institution harm other children in that same institution, when children graduate unable to read or do math or understand science.

If Public schools cannot, in fact, teach children to read in spite of poor or nonexistent parenting, then what is the justification for their existence? If they can, then why do we continue to excuse those educational lapses that do occur on the basis of bad parenting?

Children do graduate from public schools unable to read. Children are molested by other students on school grounds during school hours. Children do graduate from school with a diploma which ought to mean more than it does. Since public schools obviously cannot overcome poor parenting or protect the other kids from students who have been badly parented, they need to stop defending poor performances ‘because we have to educate everybody and private schools do not,’ and they need to stop blaming parents. If they are claiming that whenever parents fail to do “whatever is necessary to bring their kids up properly to function in society,” the school has the right to step in, well then, the school had better have the moral authority as well- i.e. had better actually be capable of doing something about it.

Instead, we have is an unchallenged state of affairs whereby those in favor of instutionalized schooling justify public schools because of the parents who don’t/can’t/won’t do their jobs (teaching children properly) and then when the school also does not produce well taught children, blame the parents again.

If/when public schools fail, they ought to be prepared to accept the same sort of blame and censure we direct toward parents who fail. A key difference is that parents who fail generally don’t get paid more to keep right on failing the kids in their charge. When parents fail, they don’t get to say, “Look, just give us more taxpayer dollars and we’ll do better…”

So if public schools can make up for the deficiencies of poor parenting and lack of parental involvement, I’m willing to grit my teeth and accept their continued existence in spite of my libertarian preferences. If they cannot successfully educate their students in spite of bad parenting, then we need to think of another plan. Sending the public schools more money is not the plan- we’ve already tried that.

Isn’t it time to seriously consider some other response to poor parenting than institutionalized schooling paid for by tax-payer dollars?

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