Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hillary, Crichton, O'Rourke, Coulter and GKC

Scott on Slate Star Codex sometimes posts a collection of links with brief comments. I thought I would try it.


According to
Bloomberg, the FBI has succeeded in recovering some of the emails on the server that was supposedly wiped before handing it over to them. The reason this is a news story is that it might provide evidence against Hilary, emails that should have been turned over and were not because they contained information she did not want to get out. But whatever is on the server, the fact that the FBI was able to recover it is relevant to Hilary's qualifications to be president. Anyone living in the modern world and using computers should know that erasing a disk does not guarantee that the contents cannot be recovered. Even if she does not know much about computer technology, she ought to have people working for her who do. If she does not, that is evidence of incompetence, not in wiping a hard drive but in hiring and managing subordinates—a large part of a president's job.


Aliens Cause Global Warming is an essay by Michael Crichton on the way in which he believes that science has become corrupted in recent decades. The obvious application is to current climate controversies but the more general problem is what he views as a shift of the enterprise from the search for truth to a way of convincing people of things you want them to believe. His best example is probably the Nuclear Winter campaign:
The first announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan in the Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized, high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear war was held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, the most famous and media-savvy scientists of their generation. Sagan appeared on the Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times. Following the conference, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so on. The formal papers in Science came months later.
This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold. 
Part of the reason I agree with his point was an article I read at the time, written by one of the teams whose work fed into the nuclear winter conclusion. They conceded that a criticism that had been offered of their work was correct, concluded that fixing the error would reduce the length of nuclear winter from years to weeks. But they also found another mistake in their initial work with the opposite effect. Fixing that got it back to years.

There is nothing surprising or disturbing about the fact that published scientific articles sometimes have mistakes. I am currently in the middle of redoing an old project, my research on Icelandic law, and have concluded that at least some details in what I published more than thirty years ago were wrong. But there is a problem with proclaiming something as scientific fact before other people have had a chance to look at your research and critique it.

One interesting thing about that particular case is that it might be defended as a case of justified dishonesty. I can imagine a reasonable person deliberately misrepresenting the evidence, claiming it was much stronger than he believed it actually was, on the grounds that almost anything that reduced the risk of nuclear war, honest or dishonest, was worth doing. The counter-argument is implicit in Crichton's essay—that treating science in that way converts it from a mechanism for determining truth to a tool of partisan debate, with very bad long-term results.

A recent piece by P.J. O'Rourke takes Ann Coulter to task for tweeting during the September 16th debate:
Cruz, Huckabee Rubio all mentioned ISRAEL in their response to: “What will AMERICA look like after you are president.” 
How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?
I am no fan of Coulter and enjoyed the essay, but with two reservations. The first has to do with the tweets. The reference to "f—ing Jews" is not about ethnicity. The implied point was that candidates focus on support for Israel to attract support from Jewish voters, and there aren't enough Jewish voters to make it worth doing. It is abrasively put, but it implies nothing about her view of Jews other than their numbers.

The point is, however, wrong—not because there are a lot of Jewish votes but because winning Jewish votes is not the reason the candidates talk about Israel. American conservatives are mostly pro-Israel for reasons that have nothing to do with their view of Jews, just as the American left is mostly anti-Israel for similar reasons. Republican candidates are trying to appeal to conservative voters; trumpeting their support for Israel is one way of doing so.

My other reservation had to do with O'Rourke's reference to Chesterton’s essay “The Problem of Zionism,” which implied that it was antisemitic. While it is possible to excerpt passages that sound antisemitic, it is also possible, perhaps  easier, to find ones that make Chesterton sound like a Zionist. For instance:
"It is our whole complaint against the Jew that he does not till the soil or toil with the spade; it is very hard on him to refuse him if he really says, 'Give me a soil and I will till it; give me a spade and I will use it.' It is our whole reason for distrusting him that he cannot really love any of the lands in which he wanders; it seems rather indefensible to be deaf to him if he really says, 'Give me a land and I will love it.'" 
For a more detailed discussion and defense of Chesterton, see the chapter on him in the second edition of my Machinery of Freedom.

Question: Would readers prefer it if I had posted this as three short posts instead of one long one?


Arthur B. said...

The truth is probably more boring, but perhaps Hillary did safely delete the *really* compromising emails, and then lightly deleted very mildly embarrassing ones. That way, it looks like the deleted emails have been recovered and there is nothing else to look for.

Rohan said...

If you posted every day, then aggregating these small links into one post would be good. But since you don't post every day, then it's really not necessary. You could have queued them up, one for the next three days.

Basically, 1 longer post is better than 3 short posts in a single day. But 3 short posts over 3 days is better than 1 longer post in 3 days.

Gil said...

Hillary may have not trusted any of her competent subordinates enough to involve them in wiping the disk drive. Or, maybe the one(s) she asked refused to commit what they thought was a crime.

Jonathan said...

I'd prefer three posts (they're not really very short) so that you don't get mixed-up comments on different subjects. Although so far, in this case, only one of the subjects seems to be attracting comments.

If it happens that you post three times in a day, I don't see that as a problem.

On the deleted e-mails, Mrs Clinton may not have given it much thought or felt the need of expert advice. "I'd better delete this stuff. Well, here goes, select folders, hit Del, job done." She's a politician; I don't suppose she has a deep knowledge of computers.

The passionate support that some Americans give to Israel has always rather baffled me. But then, I'm not religious; and, as far as I can tell, this phenomenon is basically religious.

James said...

Depending on your allocation of time, I would prefer the links as I find the Slate Star Codex links immensely interesting. I enjoy your commentary.

I recently read that no scandal really does much damage for the state. Perhaps it may destroy the individual; but its seems more often than not that the infamy helps their book deals, speaking gigs, and retirement. The recent emails, the hacks, the various "-gates" do nothing for potential recourse or restitution to the voter.

Fred Mangels said...

I'm with Jonathan, assuming the posts would be different enough to warrant it. If comments made to one post might apply to all, then it might work ok having just one post instead of three. Could get confusing with comments focusing on three separate issues, as I've found on my own blog. I generally try and make more posts if the subjects aren't closely related enough.

Oh, and another convenience about making multiple posts: If I don't feel like posting on a particular day, I can point to the two or three I made the day before and figure that should be enough. Eases the guilt for not posting.

Andrew Clough said...

I think the reason Scott uses this format is that he's putting out 40 links with a at most a paragraph of discussion each. In your case with three links and a somewhat more substantial take on each I think breaking it up into several posts would be better.

David Friedman said...

I don't think the support for, or opposition to, Israel has much to do with religion. For American Jews it's more ethnic identification, the same thing that makes blacks feel they have something in common with other blacks. I know that when I visited Israel, I felt more as though these were my people, family, than visiting other foreign countries.

For most American conservatives and liberals, I think something quite different is going on. Israel is a successful, developed, western country friendly to the U.S. sitting in the middle of a region of poor non-western countries. For people on the left who like to identify with poor countries in the third world, that looks like a modern equivalent of colonialism. To people on the right it looks like a success of our culture, evidence that the poverty of the third world is due to things they are doing wrong—it isn't as if Israel has lots of natural resources or similar advantages—not things we are doing to them.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I would say this is Chesterton being fair to middling anti-Semitic-- making a claim that if Israel were to exist, then Jews should mostly be excluded from other countries on the grounds of not being patriotic enough. I do wonder what his Jewish friends made of this, or if Nazism (after his time) would have changed his mind about anything.

"But whatever the Jewish nation might wish to do about a national shrine or other supreme centre, the suggestion for the moment is that something like a Jewish territorial scheme might really be attempted, if we permit the Jews to be scattered no longer as individuals but as groups. It seems possible that by some such extension of the definition of Zionism we might ultimately overcome even the greatest difficulty of Zionism, the difficulty of resettling a sufficient number of so large a race on so small a land. For if the advantage of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations, and to these I would give a special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws and exemptions; for instance, I would certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case. [Footnote: Of course the privileged exile would also lose the rights of a native.] A Jew might be treated as respectfully as a foreign ambassador, but a foreign ambassador is a foreigner. Finally, I would give the same privileged position to all Jews everywhere, as an alternative policy to Zionism, if Zionism failed by the test I have named; the only true and the only tolerable test; if the Jews had not so much failed as peasants as succeeded as capitalists."

Jonathan said...

Sure, I wasn't referring to American Jews: it's understandable that they feel some kinship with Israel.

I've talked online to American non-Jews who support Israel, and I got the impression that it was related to religion: the land is special because it's the Holy Land. However, it's true that different people usually have different motives for whatever they think and do, so I shouldn't generalize.

I've spent a short holiday in Israel myself, and to me it seemed another foreign country, speaking a foreign language, with its own different scenery, food, customs, etc. There are lots of countries in the world and it's just one of them. I don't feel love or hate for it, any more than I do for, say, Croatia or Denmark.

Yes, of course poor countries must have been doing something wrong (or failing to do something right) to be in that state. You don't need to point at Israel for a counter-example; you could point at Taiwan or South Korea or Singapore.

Go back further in time, and most countries were once poor. The USA is an exception; I think the settlers there were already quite prosperous and equipped with the latest technology at the time they declared independence.

Unknown said...

"According to a Time/CNN poll conducted in July 2002, 17 per cent of Americans believe 'that the end of the world will happen in their lifetime' and 59 per cent that 'the prophecies of the Book of Revelation will come true.'"( - sorry couldn't find a link to the original article in Time). Supposedly the Jews must be in control of Israel for the 'end times' to take place. Perhaps all those people waiting to be raptured want to make sure that everything is set for their big day.

David Friedman said...

Nancy: I don't think he is proposing excluding Jews from other countries but treating them as guests rather than citizens. As you may know, that was the situation through most of the diaspora. Christian and Muslim rulers subcontracted the job of ruling their Jewish subjects to the Jewish communal authorities. The result was that most Jews were under Jewish law for nearly two thousand years after the destruction of Israel.

As I commented in my chapter on Chesterton, the idea of viewing Jews as foreigners in the countries they live in seems odd to an American, but it seemed less odd to me because I first heard it from European Jews. Back when I was a grad student spending a summer in Europe, I got into a conversation, I think in a youth hostel, with a bunch of strangers. I asked them what countries they were from and got some implausible answers. They asked me, I said the U.S. They asked to see my passport, I showed it to them. One of them responded (by memory so not verbatim) "I'm French the same way you are American and he is Italian and ... ." His point was that we were all Jews, so not really of the nations we lived in.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

"Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations, and to these I would give a special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws and exemptions; for instance, I would certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case." --GKC

I'd say that's talking about exclusion.

Power Child said...

Thanks for doing a "link roundup" post. I hope you do them regularly, in this exact style. You could even share more links in one post and make your responses briefer, though I enjoyed your responses at their current length too.

Regarding Sagan and nuclear winter: I agree that it is not the job of science to publicize a threat, technological or otherwise. That is the job of practitioners, ethicists, and so on. Scientists can (and probably should) do it too, but not "in the name of science" or to disingenuously declare that science has reached a consensus. Science's job should be to analyze and elucidate the severity and likelihood of the threat--i.e. provide more information about it, which can then be fed back into the dialog.

Max said...

It's not as if scientists get to decide what science the public learns about. The influencing power of scientists is small compared to publishers, politicians, businessmen, financiers, etc.

David Friedman said...

In the Nuclear Winter case, as Crichton makes clear, there was an organized publicity campaign spearheaded by a couple of high public profile scientists.

Power Child said...

In a way, that makes the "science popularizers" even more dangerous. They have the credibility of scientists but the work they do is that of activists.

The worst is when there is misconception about the extent to which these people are more scientist or popularizer. For example, Sagan was actively involved in research science up through at least the time he was doing Cosmos. Neil Degrasse Tyson on the other hand hasn't done any real science since he was in school, and is now exclusively a popularizer. Yet Sagan is known more as the TV personality while Tyson is known more as a talking head scientist.

Bob Murphy said...

David, do you have a better suggestion for what Hillary Clinton should have done, assuming she found herself in a bad spot? After a while nobody cares about the latest allegation; people either like her or hate her, right? Krugman for example recently wrote (within last two months) something like, "There is not a shred of evidence that Ms. Clinton has done anything unethical--let alone illegal--nor is there even an allegation that she has done so. And yet the right-wing hate machine churns on..." (Not an exact quote but that was definitely the spirit of what he wrote.)

What was interesting is that he linked to another progressive blogger's analysis of a news story about the server situation, and if you clicked through to that news story, you saw that yes indeed, there *were* serious allegations being made. Perhaps they were wrong, but the idea that this was an invented smear campaign was crazy.

Yet I'm quite sure that Krugman didn't lose any fans over this post.

Tyler Kubik said...

What are the details on Icelandic law that you were wrong about?

David Friedman said...

Tyler: I thought that if you killed someone and were willing to pay wergeld you didn't get outlawed. It's actually more complicated than that, although the exact situation is complicated by the fact that our two sources of information disagree with each other.

One source is the body of sagas, including the Sturlung sagas which are considered very reliable--at least one of them was written by one of the people who participated in the events it describes. The other source is Gragas, a collection of legal rules from the end of the period. Its sources are not official statute books or the equivalent but, presumably, private accounts of what the law was, what the writers thought it was, or perhaps what they thought it should be--we don't know. Gragas is based on two substantial but incomplete accounts plus some fragments.

According to Gragas, if you committed a serious offense such as killing you got outlawed, you did not have permission to leave Iceland—helping you leave was itself an offense—and your property got confiscated. According to the sagas, that almost never happened--the usual outcome was either wergeld or setting one killing off against another. That outcome was normally reached by an agreement between the parties before the actual law case was resolved. According to Gragas, such a settlement was possible, but only with the permission of the Logretta, the law council—otherwise the full penalty was imposed.

I've now read through all of the family sagas and the Sturlung sagas and have not found a single case where a settlement was approved by the Logretta or where approval was denied by the Logretta. Many settlement happened when the Logretta could not approve them because it was only in session for the two weeks of the Althing. So I think that detail of Gragas is wrong.

My current view is that if the case went all the way, the penalty was full outlawry whether or not the killer was willing to pay wergeld. But the usual outcome in practice was a settlement with wergeld, outlawry being the punishment for not paying it.

Hope that helps. I should have the chapter written and webbed with the webbed draft of the book I'm working on sometime in the next month or so.

David Friedman said...


I don't know what Hilary should have done because I don't know what the actual situation is. It's possible that she is really hiding something that would destroy her campaign. It's also possible that she was arrogant, careless, and incompetent and there is nothing there that she needs to hide.

Tibor said...

For me, one long post is better than three short ones. Scott's articles tagged "long post is long" are sometimes really a bit too long and impractical to read in a browser (I sometimes read them on my Kindle but then when I want to reply to something in the comments section, I have to go to the website, so often I just read them in the browser anyway), but this is nowhere near that length.

Tibor said...

Going against the spirit of my last comment and separating it to two...

1) I watched this documentary by an Israeli film maker recently about the American Defamation League and its attitude to Israel and about trips of Israeli schoolkids to Europe. Of course, documentaries are made to be interesting, but it did not seem to me that something really funny was going on with the style of the director (he also interviewed some quite crazy anti-Israel -jewish- people too, so it was not even quite one sided). But what the kids went through could hardly be describe as anything but propaganda. For example, they were warned not to talk to anyone in Poland, because supposedly everyone is extremely anti-semitic there. When they visited Auschwitz the kids were feeling bad for not really feeling bad in an emotional way. They understood that horrible things happened there but could not relate to it emotionally (I think that is a normal reaction...most of the jewish part of my own family died in a concentration camps and I cannot feel very emotional about that either). They were told by the teacher that that is ok, that it will come with time and they were systematically made to "feel it". At the end of the trip pretty much all of them were crying and hugging each other. I also felt quite sad watching this - sad for seeing them being brainwashed like that. The country of Israel seems to live entirely the past. The US anti-defamation league seems to be sort of like a "jewish SJW" organization and again I could see them not being bad people in a sense, but so convinced that everyone is so antisemitic that if they don't stop everything that might possibly be anti-jewish (but is mostly harmless or not even really against jews), there will be another Shoa.

Of course, this does not quite explain the fondness of non-jewish conservatives of Israel. I also think that apart from David's argument there is also the fact that the easter communist block eventually lined up with the Arabs (for the most part, Czechoslovakia supported Israel with a lot of weapons in the early days, but then it was yet an ally of the US and with all the kibuces seemed like it was going to turn communist and then there is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), US with Israel with western Europe trying to stay somewhere in between. And even though the Cold War (given Mr. Putin's attitudes one should perhaps say 1st Cold War :) ) ended over 20 years ago, these attitudes stuck (also, countries like Syria and Iran are still more or less Russian allies and Russia, except for the brief period of Yeltsin's rule, never really stopped being a rival of the US entirely). Central and Eastern Europe supports Israel nowadays mostly because it goes against Russia (well and in case of Germany it is a bit more complex) and for the US, not because those countries are more right-wing than those in western Europe (if we define right-wing as economically liberal then there is no clear pattern east/west pattern in Europe or at least the EU). Western Europe stays divided in the stance towards Israel.

2) Iceland - I know it is hard to get any information about Iceland other than the Sagas...but would the Illiad give an accurate description of say 1000BC Greece? I am not saying it is void (after all, Schliemann found Troy simply by following the clues from Illiad), but how reliable are the details? Are there no excavations and other indirect evidence about Saga period Iceland that does not actually depend on what people wrote in the Sagas? Particularly the level of violence on Iceland could be probably best estimated by excavations rather than making estimates based on what is in the Sagas.

David Friedman said...

There are excavations. I read something, I think by Jesse Byock, about a particular excavation partly based on saga information about what buildings were where, which the excavation confirmed.

The sagas sometimes mention events outside of Iceland, most often in Norway but also Britain, the Byzantine Empire, and elsewhere. Those can be checked against historical information from those places and, I gather, check pretty well.

There's an old article by Byock, I think in Scientific American, on Egilsaga. He argues that lots of physical details of Egil, his father and grandfather fit Padgett's Syndrome, a hereditary disease first identified in the 19th century. The argument is that if the saga had been composed in the 13th century, three hundred years after it happened, it's unlikely that all those unrelated details would have stayed together to appear in it. Much more likely if it was composed shortly after the events and handed down in oral tradition thereafter.

In a correspondence with Byock, who was a colleague of mine long ago at UCLA (different department, of course), he mentioned that excavations show a low rate of deaths by violence. I don't know if that work was ever published.

So there is indirect evidence that some parts of the sagas are reliable. But that doesn't tell us what details of the legal rules are.

Betty Cook said...

Concerning Sagan and nuclear winter--I remember reading that Sunday supplement article at the time. I concluded that it was deceptive in several ways--it's long enough ago that I couldn't list them now--and that the authors clearly had a cause they thought was worth lying for. But once people are clearly willing to lie, even for a worthy cause, you can't believe anything such a person says ever again. Not that they will never say anything true, but sorting their truth from their lies is just not worth the trouble and aggravation. I've not read or watched Sagan at any time since that article.

js290 said...

For the climate models to be "scientific" they cannot violate the tools of science, mathematics. Math tells us coupled systems cannot be decoupled. The Earth's climate cannot be decoupled from the Sun nor the kinematics of the Earth about the Sun. That is to say, in order for these models to be scientifically correct and believable, there must first be an accurate model of the Sun's output.

Implicit in the term "climate change" is the notion that climate is constant, predictable, and controllable. The real questions here is what kind of society would tell itself that climate and Nature is constant and predictable and whether civilization is prepared for an unpredictable and changing climate?

Precisely about using science as marketing, "climate change" seems to be very much about doubling down on command and control.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

Seems to me that the term "climate change" implies recognition of the fact that climate is not constant. There's much argument about it because the changes are not easily predictable.

Failure to discuss climate change would imply that climate is constant and doesn't need to be worried about.

js290 said...

"The particular brand of stupidity on display also points to another signal vanity of our time: the conviction that if you measure things enough, you can control them." --James Howard Kunstler

In the context of civilization, the people talking about climate change are more worried about commanding and controlling the populace and resources, not about actually prepping society for a climate that may not support civilization as we know it. That is, most of the people talking about climate change have not rejected the notion of civilization itself.

Carl said...

DF, I enjoy this style of blogging. Please keep it up!

Anonymous said...

"In the context of civilization, the people talking about climate change are more worried about commanding and controlling the populace and resources, not about actually prepping society for a climate that may not support civilization as we know it."

So I guess all the folks pushing more sustainability via conservation, renewables and so forth are really just totalitarians in disguise.

Got it.

David Friedman said...


Possibly relevant.

Not so much totalitarians in disguise as people who are confident they know how other people ought to live, and see AGW as an argument for imposing their preferences.

Jonathan said...

When Anonymous referred to people "pushing for more sustainability", it's not clear whether he or she was thinking of coercive or persuasive pushing. I think persuasion should be acceptable.

Regarding the cartoon, in general the things listed in it seem attractive and desirable, though perhaps not at any price; and everything tends to come at a price. People want to live in a nice environment; but some of them have a struggle just to live, so the quality of the environment may not be at the front of their minds.

Godfrey Miller said...

Two more links to Crichton on the subject of environmentalism:

by Michael Crichton - San Francisco - September 15, 2003

2) Michael Crichton on Environmentalism as a Religion