Quotes of the day, helping us better see our world


I.  See the seeds of inflation sprout and grow!

II.  Blood libel of the week

III.  A statement by General Petaeus  of the seldom said but blindingly obvious about occupying foreign nations

The quotes and links

I.  See the seeds of inflation sprout and grow!

Inflation Dynamics“, speech by William Poole, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, at Truman State University, Kirksville, MO (20 February 2008) — Excerpt, bold emphasis added:

My general approach is to think about all the things that might happen, as best I can, and then try to determine what is actually happening.  My analysis includes my understanding of lessons from history.  With regard to inflation, we know that inflation is a more slowly moving process than is unemployment, but also more persistent and more difficult to turn around.  The seeds of an inflation problem are sown several years in advance, and it is not always easy to see the seeds as they sprout.

It is not always easy to see the seeds sprout, but it is getting easier every day.  I suspect Poole sees them quite clearly.

II.  Blood libel of the week

Rosie O’Donnell on the “Today” show, hour four (5 May 2008) — Audio available here.

O’DONNELL: Here’s what I think. There is a place in the world, an inspirational, liberational kind of preaching that Reverend Wright does that when you read something that sort of- I was not as offended as the people in the polls that I read. I listen to him, and frankly, it made sense to me. I totally understood what he was saying.

GIFFORD: Which part makes sense to you?

O’DONNELL: It made sense that-

GIFFORD: That we introduced AIDS into the black community?

O’DONNELL: But Kathy you know what it’s like for someone to pull one quote out of context for you. He was comparing it to when the government did give syphilis to black Americans for 40 years. What he was saying is in his history, in his genetic memory, he knows what it’s like for the government to infect his own people. Because he lived through those Tuskagee experiments.

The government’s deliberate failure to treat them was a terrible crime, but this is more than a gross exaggeration.  The government did not inflect African-Americans with Syphilis in the Tuskegee study.  See the Wikipedia entry for details (follow the links for documentation), some of which contract the usual narrative of this event.  How astonishing that this pernicious lie is so widely believed, and that Americans listen so politely to such lies.

III.  A statement of the seldom said but blindingly obvious about occupying foreign nations

King David“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent (6 May 2008) — Fifth in a Series: The Rise of the Counterinsurgents.  Quoting General Petaeus:

“Every army of liberation has a half-life after which it turns into an army of occupation,” he said. “You can extend that half-life by being considerate of the population, respectful of the population, understanding of it, doing what are clearly good deeds, being sensitive to the conduct of operations, and try to limit very, very much the collateral damage and so forth. But over time, again, you are not one of them. And inevitably there will be some friction as a result of that and some resentment as a result of that. No country wants, again, an occupying army on their soil.”

Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please. Too long comments will be edited down (very long ones might be deleted). Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

13 thoughts on “Quotes of the day, helping us better see our world”

  1. I have a very serious outlook on epistemology. I am a skeptic. As a skeptic, with my right hand to Sextus Empiricus, I solemnly argue that no person known to the public can prove that HIV did not originate as a bioweapon. Possibly it could be proven if the USA were willing to open up its huge vaults of classified information.

    But no skeptical, rational person can trust a government that fabricates WMDs, babies pulled from incubators, etc.?
    Fabius Maximus replies: A pose as a skeptic can also work as a mental filter, a bias towards theories that match your beliefs. There are thousands of stories peddled by conspiracy-mongers on the left and right. Cutting oneself loose from the anchor of evidence risks flying off into fastasy.
    Give us a call when there is serious evidence supporting such a horrible theory. Until then I suspect most Americans will consider such beliefs to be markers of the unserious — whackos on the margins. Perhaps there is a club where such folks can swap stories. He reads Reverend Wright’s claims about AIDS; she reads from the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

  2. I think the Americans who “listen politely to such lies” are a smaller margin than believed, and that there is an equally large margin that thinks the whole thing is a liberal conspiracy. There’s plenty of morons on both political extremes.

    I think people accept the narrative of Tuskegee (which is wrong) because I don’t think there’s much the government could do anymore to really surprise anyone. Secret prisons? Concentration camps? Domestic spying? We have/had them all, and the joke that the government is somehow different now than it used to be is laughable. Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Espionage and Sedition Acts and Manzanar. We’re not seeing anything new, just government 3.0. The passivity with which people accept the current abuses in light of them being widely reported is a much greater issue, in my opinion.

  3. judasnoose: While I agree that extreme skepticism of this or any other government is mandatory, I would think that an equal does of skepticism is required for any “consipracy theories.” Short of any evidence, we are left with speculation and probability.

    In the case of synthetic HIV my vote is against, because:

    1. I believe that the genetic techniques required to engineer the required changes in SIV would have been beyond the capabilities available in the period preceding the first noted cases (if you go back to the sporadic 50’s – 60’s cases it’s impossible). Trying to restrict infection to certain “races” would certainly be beyond such capabilities, and probably couldn’t be pulled off now, since at the molecular and genetic level we’re just too similar.

    2. Such an action would have to be by nihilistic actors since one couldn’t guarantee that the plague would not infect your chosen group (white elites, presumably, in this theory?) as well. I wouldn’t put a lot of things past the government but I balk at believing a large-scale research program designed to infect it’s own people.

    KSR: Agreed. The problem is that history is so full of actual nefarious conspiracies that it’s easy for people to believe anything that comes along. Witness the 9-11 “truthers.” Personally I think such things are a phenomenon that arises in reaction to (perceived or real) political powerlessness. Conspiracy theories are apparently quite popular among the subject populations of Arab dictatorships.

    I don’t think it’s hard to understand why the the Tuskagee-syphilis-infection meme won’t die when you have so many cases of government programs doing similar things, like injecting black men with plutonium, irradiating the mentally handicapped, etc. as summarized here:


    For most people they probably all run together at some point . . .

  4. The fact is, the longer Israel carries on its oppression of Palestinians and manipulation of American foreign policy thru agents like Feith Perle and Wolfowitz, the more people are going to take seriously the spirit if not the letter of the Protocols.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Amazing how for a thousand years every generation of the west has found some reason to hate the Jews. Perhaps some genetic defect, a mutation in our ancestors.

  5. Chase Metcalf

    I am a active duty Army officer and was in Iraq in 2003 right after the fall of Baghdad. General Petearus is exactly on target with the description of a half-life for army’s of liberation. The Iraqi people were ready for a change and were willing to work with the US. The population seemed divided, 10-25% willing to actively support US forces, 60-80% neutral waiting to see what was going to happen, and 5-10% actively resisting US forces and attempting to undermine the ability of the US to improve conditions on the ground. The US military performed many good deeds, many uncovered by any media outlet, to extend that half-life. Examples include: school rebuilding, clinic construction, medical treatment of civilians, employment programs, and more. However, the poor condition of the infrastructure and the successful attempts by the minority of opponents managed to create a situation that resulted in the problems you saw up to the recent surge operations.

    I have not been there recently but many of my friends who were there in 2003-04 and are back there now say that the situation is increasingly favorable for the US and given the time a sort of victory is possible. In sum my humble opinion is that General Petreaus is correct in that an army of liberation only has a certain amount of time before it becomes an army of occupation.

    The appropiate question now becomes can an “army of occupation” regain the populations confidence (diffidence?) that provides the opportunity to achieve strategic objectives or support a local government in achieving a “victory”? Subsequently, if this is possible can the US maintain the national will necessary to allow achievment of a desired endstate?

    Chase Metcalf
    U.S. Army

    *The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government*
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for this update from someone who has been there! First hand evidence is always valuable.

  6. Duncan Kinder

    Re: “Every army of liberation has a half-life after which it turns into an army of occupation,

    While the United States military definitely has this problem in Iraq, so does Al Qaeda. Many of the setbacks it has experience have resulted essentially because it also has become regarded as an occupier rather than a liberator. Therefore Sunni tribes have turned on it.

    Note that this comment applies only to Al Qaeda and not to other insurgents – either Sunni or Shia.

  7. “A pose as a skeptic can also work as a mental filter, a bias towards theories that match your beliefs. ”

    Fabius, if you can formally specify *any* pose which *cannot* work as a mental filter, publish it and you’ll be swimming in Nobel prizes. If you can do it, you’ll have cured human subjectivity, and we shall be omniscient, objective gods.

    If you are bothered by the “conspiracy theory of history” you’ll only make it worse by dismissing it. The kind of people who do read the Protocols will use your posts to gather more converts. Contemptuous dismissals kill debate and inquiry. If you want to foster inquiry, debate, and rationality, you can’t afford to dismiss the claims with which you disagree.

    Ken Hoop made the allegation that Feith, Perle, and Wolfowitz are loyal to Israel, not America. That’s not proven; it’s an accusation of crime. If you want to deal with it, don’t call him a hater: deal with it as you would deal with any accusation of criminal conduct.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the offer. It is called relying on evidence. It does not make mental filters disappear, but provides a counter-balance. Please tell when I should make my reservations.

  8. KSR:”We’re not seeing anything new, just government 3.0. The passivity with which people accept the current abuses in light of them being widely reported is a much greater issue, in my opinion.”

    Two factors are noteworthy:
    a) A lot of folks are speaking out and getting responses similar to the response Fabius made to Ken Hoop.
    b) A lot of folks are shocked to realize that they don’t have money for food this month and thus are too distracted to speak out.

    Beyond those two factors, I agree, there is a lot of passivity.

  9. “I solemnly argue that no person known to the public can prove that HIV did not originate as a bioweapon”.

    Sorry, but the evidence is in, we can trace HIV to SIV (monkees) even to the cat version. We have the genetic mechanisms to do it. Plus, there is reasonable evidence that HIV has been around a lot longer than most people think, maybe back to the ’20s, but in a limited population group in the west. Do a search on the New Scientist magazine.

    Like many diseases of its type it simmered away for a long while, in local areas, until social conditions became conductive to its spread (e.g cheap, mass travel)

    Yes and I’m a card carrying member of the Skeptics Society (and even have met James Randi, wonderful man by the way).

    That does not mean that conspiracies do not exist, of course they do. Here in Australia we just recently had 2 major corporations done for conspiring to fix prices. You get people you get conspiracies. However usually, but not always, the ‘stuff up’ theory is more accurate.

  10. Judas,

    We know for a fact that a lot of the rise in food prices is caused by turning farmland over to fuel production. So where are the calls in Congress to end mandates and subsidies for this stupidity?

    The only candidate even speaking out on moving in that direction is the guy who will not accept a genocide in Iraq as the price of American withdrawal.
    Fabius Maximus replies: See comments #20 and #21 in “Higher food prices, riots, shortages – what is going on?” Diversion of crops to biofuels is a factor in rising food prices, but probably not responsible for “a lot” of the rise. As that post explains, temporary supply factors, rising demand, and years of underinvestment in agriculture are also factors. Although we do not have sufficient data to make a firm evaluation, in this I explain why inflation may be the major factor.

  11. OldSkeptic: I’m glad the evidence is in. Now I’d like you to cite *real* sources, not New Scientist, so I can pick apart all the flaws in your arguments. (You could start with journals on the Science Citation Index.) Until then, you’re no more scientific than Randi — who is, incidentally, an expert at sabotaging research, not at conducting it, which is why CSI no longer even tries to do research.

    M.Simon: I’m afraid the U.S.A. election process has been taken over by the lobbyists and the big money interests. The absence of Congressional action is due to Congressional corruption, AFAICT.

  12. Fabius, I told you to formally specify a position, and you snarked back “It’s called relying on evidence.” That statement can scarcely be called as formal as (e.g.) the Zermelo-Frankel axioms.

    When I wrote “formally” did you read that in the context of formal logic? Publish and buy your ticket to Sweden. Don’t publish, don’t buy ticket.
    Fabius Maximus replies: OK, so I will not win a Nobel. Unfortunately my background in formal logic and philosphy of science is minimal, far too slender for this. Still, I think my point has some relevance. Evidence is the key to these things, and provides a basis for debate.

  13. Fabius, you should consider yourself to have won this rhetoric-contest — it’s not dialectical enough to be called a debate.

    I committed myself to the position that New Scientist was not SCI.

    Apparently it was in 2006, and it had an impact factor of .193 — good enough to be counted for tenure in many departments.

    OldSkeptic wins, I lose — which serves me right for letting my logical pedantry get the better of me!

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