Let the truth prevail
12/21/15 Filed in: Political System | Essays
SAFE’s reports often make for somber reading, and if this one were about the “bipartisan” spending/tax package (H.R. 2029) that was signed into law on December 18 it would be no exception. But what’s done is done, and we plan to systematically review “the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016” before offering an assessment.
Meanwhile, this being the holiday season, our final blog entry of the year will honor three extraordinary people and many others who are hopefully following their example.
Freeman Dyson, Sharyl Attkisson, and Thomas Sowell operate in different spheres, but all of them serve as champions of truth. What this entails, basically, is challenging generally accepted ideas and rejecting answers that don’t make sense.
Many people would rather accept the intellectual status quo. As the late John Kenneth Galbraith observed, “the conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” It may also earn rewards or avoid criticism. But without champions of truth in the mix, intellectual progress would grind to a halt
At times one wonders whether rigorous intellectual inquiry will continue to flourish given the pressure for intellectual conformity on college campuses today. This entry ends with a brief note about the younger generation.
A. Heretical scientist – Freeman Dyson joined an operations research unit of the RAF bombing command in 1943, at the age of 19. It was serious business. Two days later there was a firebombing raid on Dresden, which some saw as a strategy for quickly ending the war on German (although things didn’t work out that way). Gray-sky thinking, Jeremy Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 11/25/15.
After the war, Dyson completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge and then came to the United States. His talents were quickly recognized, and he has been working at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, for over half a century.
Dyson’s scientific contributions are highly regarded by his colleagues, and at last count he had been awarded honorary degrees from 21 universities. Not content with “unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory” (we won’t pretend to know what that means), he’s weighed in on many other topics, including space travel and string theory.
When Dyson began offering skeptical comments about the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT) a few years ago, some observers suggested that the aging scientist had “lost it.”
Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind.
Even Dyson’s wife has doubted him at times, as shown by a conversation as they emerged from a showing of “An inconvenient truth” (Al Gore’s alarmist film).
[She] looked at her husband out on the sidewalk and, with visions of drowning polar bears still in her eyes, reproached him: “Everything you told me is wrong!” she cried. “The polar bears will be fine,” he assured her.
Questions about whether he has taken leave of his senses don’t faze Dyson a bit. He is convinced that much work remains to truly understand the causes and implications of climate change, and that global warming alarmists (e.g., James Hansen of NASA) are relying on grossly inadequate computer models. The civil heretic, Nicholas Davidoff, New York Times, 3/25/09.
Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still “a relatively cool period in the earth’s history.” The warming, he says, is not global but local, “making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter.” Far from expecting any drastic harmful consequences from these increased temperatures, he says the carbon may well be salubrious — a sign that “the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse,” because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields. “Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now,” he contends, “and substantially richer in carbon dioxide.” Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend “cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes.”
Six years on, Dyson’s views on global warming haven’t changed – and if anyone wants to argue with him, they should be well prepared. In his view, the MMGWT falls in the category of irrational beliefs; it can be partly explained by financial self-interest (“green” cronyism, etc.), but also reflects the attraction to apocalyptic visions that has been manifested periodically throughout human history.
Could it be that Dyson is being led astray by his political leanings, i.e., is he a right wing global warming denier? Evidently not! Top physicist Freeman Dyson: Obama has picked the “wrong side” on climate change, James Dellingpole, breitbart.com, 10/13/15.
I’m 100 per cent Democrat myself, and I like Obama. But he took the wrong side on this issue, and the Republicans took the right side.
Who is right about the MMGWT? Time will tell, and Dyson admits that he could be wrong. The point is, though, that a great deal of work remains to find out.
In sum, Freeman Dyson has provided the type of testing that the scientific method requires – it’s not an exercise in consensus building but rather a search for truth.
B. Bulldog investigator - Sharyl Attkisson is an award-winning investigative journalist. Her reports have often put prominent public officials and corporate special interests in a bad light, leading to ferocious pushback. She left CBS in 2014 after claiming that her efforts had been marginalized. Media career path: Cry “media bias,” Dylan Byers, politico.com, 3/20/14.
There is “increasing obfuscation, obstructionism and intimidation,” Attkisson told POLITICO. “The images that the public sees every day, in many forms, are influenced and manipulated by political, corporate and other special interests through orchestrated and well-financed campaigns.”
It later came out that Attkisson’s computers had been hacked under circumstances suggesting an interest in her information and sources for stories she was working on rather than, say, her Social Security number and bank accounts. These stories included Fast and Furious (government gun running operation), Solyndra (green energy), and the Benghazi terrorist attack. Investigators determined that the intruders used highly sophisticated equipment and methods, which pointed to the conclusion that government operatives were involved. Confirmed: Sharyl Attkisson’s computer was hacked, heavily monitored by the federal government, Katie Pavlich, townhall.com, 10/27/14.
Attkisson says the source, who’s “connected to government three-letter agencies,” told her the computer was hacked into by “a sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency.” The breach was accomplished through an “otherwise innocuous e-mail” that Attkisson says she got in February 2012, then twice “redone” and “refreshed” through a satellite hookup and a Wi-Fi connection at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Attkisson’s book about the computer hacking - Stonewalled: My fight for truth against the forces of obstruction, intimidation, and harassment in Obama’s Washington, 11/4/14 - has received over 1,000 customer reviews on Amazon (average rating 4.8 out of 5 stars).
Attkisson herself has been subjected to “opposition research” efforts and spin campaigns. These tactics increased their intensity as she relentlessly pursued stories that the Obama Administration dismissed. Stonewalled is the story of how her news reports were met with a barrage of PR warfare tactics, including online criticism, as well as emails and phone calls up the network chain of command in an effort to intimidate and discourage the next story. In Stonewalled, Attkisson recounts her personal tale, setting it against the larger story of the decline of investigative journalism and unbiased truth telling in America today.
Did the government really hack Attkisson’s computer? The claim has been stoutly denied, but her court case is proceeding. Ex-CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s battle royale with the Feds, Lloyd Grove, thedailybeast.com, 1/9/15.
The Obama Justice Department and the United States Postal Service have issued carefully parsed denials that they hacked her phones and computers, but Sharyl Attkisson remains unconvinced. “Unfortunately, the government doesn’t always provide truthful information,” the former CBS News correspondent told the Daily Beast this week. “We can’t just take the word of the government when it says something. I wish we could.”
Given the propensity of powerful people and special interests to shade the truth, or even resort to outright lying, there is a crying need for journalists who will see through the smoke and ferret out the truth. Now operating as a freelancer, Attkisson seems intent on doing just that. The slogan posted on her website is “untouchable subjects, fearlessly reported.” She produces a weekly broadcast called “Full Measure,” which is carried by many television stations on Sunday mornings and may also be accessed on YouTube.
As an example of Attkisson’s work, consider her “fictional account” of a cholesterol-fighting drug being promoted to an unsuspecting public and ensuing rundown on techniques used in misinformation campaigns. The video of her talk to a roomful of students at the University of Nevada is a bit long (10:36), but well worth watching. Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson exposes how media corrupts and manipulates, Tim Brown, freedomoutpost.com, 12/1/15.
After going through the various means of doing one's homework concerning said drug, Attkisson asked an important question, "What if all isn't as it seems? What if the reality you found was false, a carefully constructive narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion . . . ?
In sum, Sharyl Attkisson has shown what it means to be an investigative journalist by declining to automatically accept official statements and parrot them to the public as fact.
C. Rational economist – Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he remains active at the age of 85. Quiet and unassuming, he calls issues the way he sees them and explains his conclusions in plain English. Over the years, he has written a host of books, articles and columns about economics and many other topics. See his website for a partial listing (e.g., the archive of his columns only goes back to 2000).
Dr. Sowell is Afro-American, and racial references often crop up in his writings. This is not his major theme, however, or at least he isn’t seeking to justify (indeed argues against) special treatment for blacks. We were struck by one of the reviewer comments on A Man of Letters (collection of Sowell’s letters, published in 2007):
Dr. Sowell and I are but five months apart in age yet, when I was a little boy, I would not have been allowed to play with him. Ironic, as throughout my adult life I have hung on his every word, believing him to be the brightest man I have ever known. These letters, over a span of forty-seven years, are a treasury of insight and reason. My only complaint is that he chose not to include any from earlier than 1960. – G. Gordon Liddy
#Economists say “on one hand this and on the other hand that,” Harry Truman famously complained, so what he wanted was a “one-handed economist.” That’s not a bad description for Sowell, whose views on economic issues are characteristically both logical and clear-cut. Consider his take on demonstrators around the country demanding mandated pay increases so US workers could earn a “living wage.” Mob rule economics, townhall.com, 9/13/14.
[These demands misconstrue] the whole point of hiring someone to do work. Those who are being hired are paid for the value of the work they do. If their work is really worth more than what their employer is paying them, all they have to do is quit and go work for some other employer, who will pay them what their work is really worth. If they can't find any other employer who will pay them more, then what makes them think their work is worth more?
Sowell’s latest economics book rejects claims (by economists like Thomas Piketty & Paul Krugman, not to mention the president) that income inequality is the defining issue of our time. Wealth, poverty and politics: An international perspective, 2015.
Pundits and politically motivated economists trumpet ambiguous statistics and sensational theories while ignoring the true determinant of income inequality: the production of wealth. We cannot properly understand inequality if we focus exclusively on the distribution of wealth and ignore wealth production factors such as geography, demography, and culture.
In a column on books or DVDs for Christmas gifts, Sowell rattles off some of his favorites. The list includes “books on serious subjects,” such as “Life at the bottom” by Theodore Dalrymple. Christmas gifts, townhall.com, 12/1/15.
This is an insightful account of the dire consequences that the welfare state has led to among low-income whites in England. Many will recognize striking similarities to problems among low-income blacks in America -- problems often blamed on "a legacy of slavery," but which have followed in the wake of the welfare state in England, among whites with no legacy of slavery.
#As a political observer, Sowell has been unsparingly critical of President Obama. Mitt Romney was a weak candidate, he warned in early 2012, and the GOP needed to nominate someone who would articulate a clear vision in the general election and sell it to the American public. The “inevitability” vote, townhall.com, 3/19/12.
The question is not which Republican looks better against Barack Obama in the polls today, before the general election campaign begins. The question is which Republican can take the fight to Barack Obama, as Reagan took the fight to Carter, and win the poll that ultimately matters, the vote on election day.
Four years on, Republicans are engaged in a somewhat similar contest – but this time the “front runner” is Donald Trump, a potential candidate that Sowell warned against in 2011. The issue was not “articulation skills,” said Sowell then, but Trump’s “brash irresponsibility,” which would make him a certain loser in the general election if he sought and won the nomination. The Trump card, townhall.com, 4/26/11.
It’s unclear who Sowell favors as the Republican nominee in 2016, except that it’s clearly not Trump, but his point about the need to craft and sell an agenda still applies. In addition, we applaud Sowell for debunking the idea that a huge turnout at the polls is necessarily desirable.
•One of the biggest voter frauds may be the idea promoted by Attorney General Eric Holder and others that there is no voter fraud, that laws requiring voters to have a photo identification are just attempts to suppress black voting. Voter fraud and voter ID, townhall.com, 11/14/14.
•An election is not a popularity contest, or an award for showmanship. If you want to fulfill your duty as a citizen, then you need to become an informed voter. And if you are not informed, then the most patriotic thing you can do on election day is stay home. Otherwise your vote, based on whims or emotions, is playing Russian roulette with the fate of this nation. Why have elections? Townhall.com, 9/16/15.
What about the wave of student protests this fall? Sowell deplores the “storm trooper” tactics of protestors, and the readiness of college administrators to cave in. If parents and donors started withholding financial support, he suggests, things would get straightened out in a hurry. A resurgence of intolerance, townhall.com, 12/1/15.
In sum, Thomas Sowell has been a brave and tireless advocate for sensible economic policies and rational political discourse.
D. The younger generation – We share the concerns of many observers about the stifling of free speech and expression on college campuses around the country, all for the stated purpose of creating a “safe space” in which no one will ever be offended. Speech codes – trigger warnings – no invites for conservative speakers – ban on the use of divisive language such as “illegal immigrant” or “male” and “female” – rejection of “white privilege” – solidarity with marriage equality and racial justice – no flags or 9/11 ceremonies. Really, where and when do the taboos stop?
At Yale, for example, the target was allegedly offensive Halloween costumes. Racial tension and protests on campuses across the country, New York Times, 11/10/15.
Weeks of simmering racial tension boiled over this month in a debate over whether the administration was sensitive enough to concerns about Halloween costumes seen as culturally offensive. Many of the students who met with Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, said they did not believe the university was attuned to the needs of minority students.
Princeton students challenged the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, a former president of both Princeton and the United States, on grounds that Wilson was a racist whose name and likeness should be expunged from the campus. Black Justice League protestors occupied the president’s office until Christopher Eisgruber met with them and promised that their complaint would be seriously considered. (Disclosure: Your faithful scribe attended Princeton, where he majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.) Princeton University students protest Woodrow Wilson’s “racist legacy,” David Lawler, UK Telegraph, 11/19/15.
Subsequently, another group of Princeton students expressed their desire to meet with President Eisgruber. In addition to decrying the BJL tactics, they suggested that many students were being pressured not to express their true thoughts about the anti-Wilson protests.
This dialogue is necessary because many students have shared with us that they are afraid to state publicly their opinions on recent events for fear of being vilified, slandered, and subjected to hatred, either by fellow students or faculty. Many who questioned the protest were labeled racist, and black students who expressed disagreement with the protesters were called “white sympathizers” and were told they were “not black.” We, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, refuse to let our peers be intimidated or bullied into silence on these — or any — important matters.
The second group also rejected the notion that students needed to be insulated from challenges to their ideas and beliefs. Princeton student group: We stand for academic freedom and open dialogue, Princeton Open Campus Coalition, National Review, 11/24/15.
We firmly believe that there should be no space at a university in which any member of the community, student or faculty, is “safe” from having his or her most cherished and even identity-forming values challenged. It is the very mission of the university to seek truth by subjecting all beliefs to critical, rational scrutiny.
How about that, maybe there is hope for the younger generation yet!
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Our next blog entry will be posted on January 4th. In the meantime, happy holidays everyone!