January 21, 2008

If you reject a teaching job applicant because he believes a crazy conspiracy theory...

... have you discriminated against him because of his political viewpoint?

I'm not saying that's what happened in this case. I don't know why the University of Wisconsin has not rehired 9/11 conspiracy believer Kevin Barrett to teach a course on the history of Islam. But if we know a person believes something truly nutty, are we not entitled to use that as evidence of his intelligence, judgment, and trustworthiness?

78 comments:

Telecomedian said...

Doesn't an employer have the right to not hire somebody due to notorious publicity surrounding the candidate? Didn't Monica Lewinsky face that after the Clinton affair?

john said...

TC -

I think the critical thing is what Monica was facing during the Clinton affair. lol

Ann Althouse said...

Remember that we're talking about the state and about speech.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It happens all the time in (so called) institutions of higher learning. I have a friend who is getting his PHD in History from Berkeley and was expressly warned by others not to reveal his ghastly political leanings or he would never be able to succeed or get a tenured position. He is a conservative. Surprised?

Many in academia have to keep their heresy to themselves or risk their careers.

Titan said...

Maybe. But you also have to remember that professors get tenure if you keep them. If they have shown that they are going to spend their time researching crazy conspiracies, then they are certainly going to be a waste of resources once they get tenure. I don't think it's his political beliefs that are the problem; it's his willingness to spend his valuable time and resources on a theory that has been widely debunked.

Kirby Olson said...

Sometimes a person can have bizarre beliefs in one area that doesn't have an effect on their area of competence. For instance, the chess master Bobby Fischer became a bizarre anti-Semite who hated America and liked the 9/11 attacks. And yet, throughout the 1990s he continued to play top-level chess. Within the realm of chess, he was fine. Outside of that, almost totally incompetent.

Ezra Pound thought the Jews should be slaughtered, and yet continued to write excellent poetry (although his anti-Semitic views filtered in via his views on usury which were a lance against the Jews).

I would think that if a candidate can separate their area of competence from whatever bizarre thing it is that they believe, then the state wouldn't have to worry about hiring such a person.

However, in this case, what this guy believes and what he's teaching are part and parcel of the same thing, or at least so directly inter-related that I think the state has to mind its own interests in the matter.

The state shouldn't hire people who want to destroy it, unless they can keep those beliefs entirely out of the classroom, which in a subject field like mechanical engineering or culinary arts might be possible...

Simon said...

As Justice Scalia once put it, "I agree with the proposition, felicitously put by Constable Rankin's counsel, that no law enforcement agency is required by the First Amendment to permit one of its employees to 'ride with the cops and cheer for the robbers.'" Rankin, 483 U.S. at 394 (Scalia, J., dissenting). An institution of learning does nothing wrong in refusing to hire a purveyor of ignorance, and ignorance, as Scott Adams equally felicitously put it, is not a point of view.

Titan said...

To provide a similar example:

Imagine that a geology professor spends all of his time trying to prove that the world is ~6,000 years old. He is motivated solely by his religious belief that this is, in fact, the case. He produces no convincing evidence for obvious reasons.

Should the University have to rehire this guy to avoid a religious-discrimination lawsuit? Can't they place their resources behind someone who is more likely to produce something worthwhile?

dbp said...

What about an organic chemist who thinks the world is 6,000 years old? It certainly won't effect her work, but doesn't it say something about her judgement?

Hoosier Daddy said...

have you discriminated against him because of his political viewpoint?

Is a crackpot theory such as 9/11 even in the same realm as a 'political viewpoint'? It's an event that happened not a policy position. Either one has proof or they don't. Kinda like the nut balls who think the moon landing was filmed on a soundstage.

Rather than political viewpoints, I'd liken them more as ramblings of a madman.

Paddy O. said...

What are the standards for "nutty"?

Outside of this, I think, important question is my thought that it's not about believing crazy theories but how such theories are used in the classroom and how the classroom is used to promote the crazy theories.

Barrett's theories were, it sounds, a distraction in the course goals and he used the fact Wisconsin gave him a classroom as validation for his theories.

Plus, it's a sign of impatience and not playing the game right. Barrett was clearly unsuitable because he didn't wait to have tenure before acting like he had tenure. There are rules to academic society after all. Barrett was a probationary member who kept getting into yelling matches in the smoking room. Utterly no decorum. Very gauche.

Titan said...

What about an organic chemist who thinks the world is 6,000 years old? It certainly won't effect her work, but doesn't it say something about her judgement?

Well, I think all religion is ridiculous, so we're on a slippery slope here. Therefore, I think we need to stick with judgments that affect people's work.

It's not clear if this affects the guy's work. He is teaching a class on Islam. Also, as I mentioned, if he gets tenure is he going to spend time on this? If so, cut him loose.

Maxine Weiss said...

Being Anti-Scientologist is the same thing as being Anti-Semitic.

Titan said...

Being Anti-Scientologist is the same thing as being Anti-Semitic.

No, it's not. (And I'm a liberal.) The idea that ideas should be respected just because someone deeply believes them is ridiculous and destructive. Your statement demonstrates a dangerous moral relativism.

Scientologists are people who believe patently ridiculous things. To be "anti-Scientology" is entirely different from being anti-Semitic.

I refuse to respect the idea that "75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft." This claim is false. Ridiculously so.

To point that out is NOT the same as stereotyping Jews, and you should be ashamed for claiming that it is.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Probably the main point is: that a teacher is welcome to believe any crackpot theory they want to as long as they don't let it bias or affect the courses that they teaching to students who are paying dearly for a quality (ha ha) education.

There is nothing worse than taking a class in one topic (English Literature for example) and getting a lecture about the Iraq War. Not only is it a waste of time for the student, it is out of place. If the teacher wants to demonstrate, write letters or blogs on his/her own time..... well, we have the right of free expression. Just not at the expense of others.

JohnAnnArbor said...

And, spaceships that look like DC-8s? Come on.

John Lynch said...

Just because you work for the state shouldn't immunize you from getting fired. This only seems to be a problem in academia- I remember a bunch of police getting fired on the basis of membership in the Klan, for instance.

The distinction is that the state isn't censoring the viewpoint. It's just not rehiring the man who holds it, in a job where viewpoint is critical. The state won't be censoring his speech. He can go on about it as much as he wants.

Parker Smith said...

Seems like we have a few people here who need their thetans cleansed.

I do that for a reasonable rate - with free hot waxing, too!

(Really brings out a deep shine, that way.)

JohnAnnArbor said...

Actually, the Scientology thing is relevant here. A university would never hire one as a professor of psychology, since Scientologists say that all psychology is bad and should be destroyed. (Really.)

JohnAnnArbor said...

parker smith, you are SO not clear.

Maxine Weiss said...

Well, I guess, then a School of Medicine would never hire a Christian Scientist.

It's legal to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

By the way, the City of Los Angeles renamed a public street L. Ron Hubbard Blvd.

Apparently, City Government approves and endorses the ideas of Scientology.

Jennifer said...

But if we know a person believes something truly nutty, are we not entitled to use that as evidence of his intelligence, judgment, and trustworthiness?

I don't think this would even have to be asked if Kevin Barrett's viewpoint happened to be something the University considered ugly. (And, of course the answer would be yes in both cases, IMO)

As for Scientology, if Judaism treated the mentally ill, children and people who'd like to leave the faith the way that Scientology treats them, I'd be an anti-Semite and proud of it.

Crimso said...

"he didn't wait to have tenure before acting like he had tenure."

You've hit the nail on the head. It is an irony that to obtain tenure, you must refrain from exercising what tenure protects. But that's the way it is, nonetheless. I was determined to keep my mouth shut and do what I was told, if only so that eventually I could tell a few people just what I thought of them with impunity. Some of my "colleagues" give me a very wide berth these days. It's their fault. It wasn't like I gave them any reason whatsoever to oppose me. They simply didn't like me (not my opinion, but that of my colleagues who aren't petulant assholes).

Maxine Weiss said...

I'm sure there are many people who think that an Angel appearing before a Virgin, and then inducing her to give birth by osmosis....

....is a ridiculous idea.

And yet that's the whole basis for Christianity.

Bodies levitating and rising, the parting of the Red Sea... very far-fetched.

Why is that any crazier than a space ship landing on planet Xenu ??

Maxine Weiss said...

Jennifer: Look at how Catholics treat people who leave Catholicsm.

You get excommunicated.

There's nothing more harsh than that!

Maxine Weiss said...

I've never once heard of Scientology performing exorcisms like those wacky Catholics do!

TMink said...

Maxine, you are just not the person to advocate for what is nutty and what is not.

Trey

And I thought Scientologists hate Psychiatrists, not us Psychologists. Some Scientologists ARE Psychologists. They make you hold coke cans.

Trey

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

But if we know a person believes something truly nutty, are we not entitled to use that as evidence of his intelligence, judgment, and trustworthiness?

No. Hasn't stopped UW (or any other university) before. Why should it now?

The school let him teach before, after they already knew all the facts about him. Nothing he did after he was hired was substantially different than what he did before he was hired. Sounds like the school now has a problem almost entirely of its own making. It was the administration's failure to properly oversee a completely dysfunctional department run by incompents that allowed him to be hired in the first place. It was the administration's failure to have anyone in the division that reviews such contracts with sufficient common sense to see where this could end up.

I realize it smarts because you are employed there, but I think it it is both funny and sad. Another highly politicized university administration hoist by its own petard. Law of unintended consequences. Imagine what the taxpayers (and legislature) are going to say. In the end, as there are undoubtedly even bigger idiots, tenured and not, all around you, one crank more won't make a difference. He'll be virtually untouchable once hired, though, even if it is only a lecturer's position. (No tenure, but "guaranteed job security" after a period of time, IIRC. He won't have to wait.)

JohnAnnArbor said...

They claim psychiatry and psychology is all a conspiracy from the CIA.

Maxine, I'm guessing the Scientologists paid for the street name. I mean, a STREET NAME? Who frickin' cares? I'd think it could lead to a lot of jokes, actually.

Elliott A said...

Please note that the following is the opinion of someone who knows little of the legalities involved.

I believe an important factor is whether the "belief" in question is what I call a public or private one. Is the committee involved acting on information they received from an overheard conversation, or did the individual shout it from the mountaintop? In the first case, the individual has not adopted their belief and worn it as a badge. If you are cynical enough, and have watched a lot of movies, nothing is impossible, so they are not loony for believing the possibility of an otherwise rediculous notion.
The individual who wears a conspiracy theory as a badge ("The Jews control the world through their control of world finance and commerce" is another example) is dangerous to an organization, especially a university. The students and their paying parents have a right to have professors in their state university who are held to the same standards the local high school would set for them. Vocal 9/11 theorists are not very well received by parents and school boards. This person clearly has an agenda and will color all his opinions in such a way as to make him unsuitable to subject impressionable young minds to, or force a department chair to worry about how much he will embarass the department. A student in a public university has a right to an objective presentation of course material and the "shouter" cannot be trusted to do that.

Maxine Weiss said...

Totem Poles.

I've counted at least 27 different Totem Poles on Government property.

A Totem pole is the most pagan symbol of idol worship. Yet, Government endorses this by allowing totem poles on public property.

JohnAnnArbor said...

I've never once heard of Scientology performing exorcisms like those wacky Catholics do!

Lisa McPherson was unavailable for comment.

Elliott A said...

L. Ron Hubbard was a superb Science Fiction writer, who early on was considered on par with Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc. He stopped writing for many years before returning with Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth both well written sci-fi satires. Mission Earth was 5000 pages in ten volumes and never got dull. (I have all the volumes in hardcover)

He got rich from Scientology which we can choose to view as more fiction, he had a creative mind.

Maxine Weiss said...

johnannarbor: Nobody was ever indicted in that case. There were no charges brought against Scientology.

If we are talking about committing crimes in the name of religion.....Christianity is where it's at !!

Of course Jews never commit crimes, especially the devout ones....right?

http://lukeford.net/blog/?p=1789

Jews just aren't capable of crime. No no, not them!

Cedarford said...

Simon had a pretty good post with his Scalia Rankin dissent and notation that ignorance, if it can be proven as ignorance is not a legitimate point of view.

Even under the most liberal advocacy of "academic freedom of speech".

You just don't want that to boil down to some teacher in 8th grade free to say whatever they want to say about Spaniards being genocidal evil people in the New World anymore than you would want every bit of curricula to come from a panel of mindless Stalinist drones dictating exactly what must be taught - only by their script - and questions answered only with atate-approved responses.

In a University setting, Trustees, the President, Accrediting Boards, Facukty Union, and Departments all have a say in matters of mission, what the teaching should accomplish, and what constitutes academic fraud and advancing theory to students not grounded in acceptable research.

Barnett crossed well over whatever lines existed, it seems.

AJ Lynch said...

You have the right to be a raving leftist loon only after being granted tenure.

You'd think a raving, leftist loon like Barrett would have known that.

Middle Class Guy said...

Does the University have a policy regarding their employees bringing ridicule, embarrassment, negative publicity, disgrace, or discredit on the institution? Would his conduct- in this case airing his views- violate that policy?

J said...

University professors believe all sorts of loopy stuff. I'm surprised at how many comments go cite the belief that the world is only 6000 years old - an idea considerably more rational than the (apparently quite common amongst professors) belief that collectivist economic theory has any validity whatsoever.

Regardless, it isn't the belief that is the issue - it's wasting students' time in a class on Islam talking about conspiracy theories instead of, well, Islam.

john said...
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john said...
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Synova said...

That's not a political viewpoint.

It's a factual viewpoint.

Politics are opinions. The events of 9-11 do not involve opinions. They involve facts.

Someone may have opinions of what this *means* or how we should respond to those events.

Would a university hire a Physics professor who... well they might or might not hire one who thinks string theory is true, but would they hire someone to teach nuclear physics who believed that nothing we know about nuclear particles is true and that nuclear accelerators don't accelerate anything and all the experiments are hoaxes?

I don't think so.

john said...

MCG -

You can ask your question to anyone at Duke, and the answer would be, obviously, "No".

Tibore said...

"If you reject a teaching job applicant because he believes a crazy conspiracy theory...

... have you discriminated against him because of his political viewpoint?



"Remember that we're talking about the state and about speech."

Here's a question: Can outside activities be used to judge his credibility? Barrett has made engineering, physical, and chemical claims in relation to 9/11 that are demonstrably false. He's also made claims that the Holocaust is a myth, and spoken positively about David Irving's historical revisionism. Furthermore, he's threatened people who've criticized 9/11 conspiracy theories and posted information such as their addresses on the internet. Can that information be considered?

James said...

J said...

University professors believe all sorts of loopy stuff. I'm surprised at how many comments go cite the belief that the world is only 6000 years old - an idea considerably more rational than the (apparently quite common amongst professors) belief that collectivist economic theory has any validity whatsoever.

Seriously??? A new earth creationist belief is more rational than thinking collectivism has "any validity whatsoever"? Not that collectivism is itself valid, but to believe that it has no merits? I think I'd be hard pressed to find someone other than a new earth creationist who seriously thinks that.

PatCA said...

It's a matter of judgment and degree--easy pickins' for the grievance monger mindset, which Barrett certainly possesses.

It's one thing to reject a candidate simply because he is of a certain political party and quite another to reject a candidate because his persona and teaching style and activism is generally thought of as nearly insane.

Smilin' Jack said...

Many people believe that by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a 2000-year-old carpenter, they can gain eternal life.

But if we know a person believes something truly nutty, are we not entitled to use that as evidence of his intelligence, judgment, and trustworthiness?

If we did, there'd be no one left to vote for.

Kirby Olson said...

Simon said it best. Nice going, Simon.

radar said...

It seems to me that the legal question about freedom of speech only exists because UW is a state operated institution. In a private institution there might be a policy question to be debated but it would no longer be a legal question (other than normal contract issues I suppose).

Instead of formulating some complicated series of tests to determine if the state institution is infringing on some individual rights, why not reformulate the institution? Make it private with public funding going directly to students and not to the institution.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It seems to me that the legal question about freedom of speech only exists because UW is a state operated institution

It seems to me that it is (or should be) more about is the teacher or other employee doing the job that they were hired to do? The teacher or employee is free to have beliefs on any topic and, on their own time, feel free to act on them (unless it is something illegal).

If you are hired to teach a class in Medieval History, do so without making up your own facts and alternate history of the middle ages. If you can't keep to your designated job duties, the employer has no obligation to keep you employed.

Kev said...

Maxine: By the way, the City of Los Angeles renamed a public street L. Ron Hubbard Blvd.

Apparently, City Government approves and endorses the ideas of Scientology.


Not necessarily. As Elliott pointed out, Hubbard was also a noted science fiction writer, and they have things named after them all the time. A quick bit of Googling showed me that Heinlein and Asimov have minor planets named after them, and Michael Crichton is even the namesake of a dinosaur!

Granted, the street runs next to the church's headquarters, so it's probably not a coincidence in this case, but absent that knowledge, it could have been named for him by fans of his books, not his religion.

Trumpit said...

"An institution of learning does nothing wrong in refusing to hire a purveyor of ignorance, and ignorance, as Scott Adams equally felicitously put it, is not a point of view."

Then why, Simple Simon, do you spread your global warming denial baloney around here and elsewhere? Keep it to yourself. Ignorance is not a point of view!

Middle Class Guy said...

Does one have more of a right to be employed by the state than at a private institution? Working in any cappacity for government, even in state run academia, is public service. Public servants can and should be held to higher standards of professional conduct than those in the private sector.

Trumpit,
Being a purveyor of the global warming hoax is ignorance. Ignorance is not a point of view.

Revenant said...

absent that knowledge, it could have been named for him by fans of his books

Fans of his book, you mean. :)

The only book he ever wrote that HAS any fans is "Battlefield Earth". His pre-Scientology work didn't even merit attention when he first wrote it 50 or 60 years ago, and certainly isn't remembered today.

Trumpit said...

Middle Class Guy,

You are the most ignorant thing to happen to the comment's section of this blog in a long time. How's your emphysema doing, by the way?

Blake said...

Rev,

I don't know about that. I've read most of Astounding SF from about '38 to '52, and I seem to recall LRH's name having more than one cover; since (IIRC) during most of that period ASF put exactly one name on the front, having a cover was a big deal. (He had some obviously well known pseudonyms running stories at the same time, too.)

I'm partial to this era and would have to rank "To The Stars" and "Final Blackout" up with "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," Lensman and others. Not so much "Automagic Horse" and "Can of Vacuum".

Most authors (sci-fi or otherwise) from this time period are largely unknown today. You could fairly say few have any fans. (Curiously, I got a few responses on my blog by mentioning Thorne Smith.)

Sturgeon's Law holds true: "90% of science fiction is sh!t. But then, 90% of everything is sh!t."

Maxine Weiss said...

The City of Los Angeles, to my knowledge, has never before dedicated a street to a writer, and certainly not changing the name of a recognized thoroughfare because someone wrote a book.

Clearly, City Government was paying homage to what they felt were advances in religion by a legitimate religious leader.

Maxine Weiss said...

L. Ron Hubbard Way. And, it's a public thoroughfare maintained by the City of Los Angeles, and City taxpayers.

Simon said...

Trumpit, you must have me confused with someone else: I'm not a "global warming deni[er]" and nor to I "spread ... global warming denial baloney around here [or] elsewhere." I just want someone to provide a serious and credible answer to the question - something which, to my recollection, I've challenged you to do, and which you either weren't able or weren't willing.

Now, I don't agree with Middle Class Guy's suggestion that climate change is a hoax, and I don't agree with the implicit assertion that those who believe in anthropogenic climate change fall within the Adams "ignorance is not a point of view" formulation. I think that people can believe sincerely and in good faith in that view. But I think that a lot of people who buy into what's sometimes termed (with the slight whiff of pejorative connotations) "AGW" do so on the basis of received wisdom and sheer faith, and I think that it is ignorant to take scientific or empirical questions on faith. I don't say that you have to reject anthropogenic climate change unless you have an answer to my question - indeed, I don't - but I do think that if you don't have an answer and you don't have and won't concede any doubt or skepticism while mouthing lip service to scientific standards, then that really is ignorant. It's ignorant of the basic tenets of scientific theory, which among other things include that a hypothesis must be falsifiable and it must conform with verifiable empirical data.

Simon said...

That is, if your theory contradicts empirical data, there are only three possibilities: (a) your theory is wrong, (b) your theory is incomplete (that is, basically sound; the mismatch between the data and the theory is being caused by a variable that the theory doesn't account for, and the theory can thus be fixed by integrating the missing variable(s), as Einstein did with the cosmological constant) or (c) the data is wrong. The gorethodoxy does contradict empirical data from the Vostokh and other ice cores. Nobody, so far as I know, has suggested that the empirical data is wrong, so that leaves only option (a) and option (b). Your burden - as someone wanting to implement public policy responses in reaction to your hypothesis - is to show why the gorethodoxy falls into category (b) not category (a), and to account for the gap between theory and data, either in an engineering or a scientific manner.

I'm not a climate change skeptic, I'm a skeptic of anything that is used as a premise for massive government action and abridgement of personal freedom. If it's justified, fine. But it'd better be scientifically watertight first, and I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the gorethodoxy is not scientifically watertight without a credible and cohesive answer to the lag-lead problem.

Revenant said...

Blake,

Hubbard enjoyed name recognition in science fiction circles during the era in which science fiction was a niche market. Unlike the actually talented writers, he did not make the transition to wider recognition.

From time to time you see lists of "100 Best Science Fiction novels". If he shows up at all it is for that literary abortion, Battlefield Earth, which was written well after he'd abandoned his science fiction career for a life as a filthy-rich cult leader. Not because people have forgotten the pulp era, but because they only remember the good stuff.

So I don't think you could say "Hubbard was a noted science fiction writer" -- unless you finish the sentence with "... back in the 1940s.".

AlphaLiberal said...

There are so many false ideas held as true in the popular culture that many tests of the limits of knowledge would be condemned as "nutty."

The question should be is he doing his job? Is he a good teacher? Does his side-interest distort the education he's providing?

I think two planes hijacked by Saudi's, Egyptians and other Arab non-Iraqi's were crashed into the buildings.

But why did Bush do nothing when he was warned on August 6 that OBL was determined to strike in the US?

I mean, I can accept that he's a lazy spoiled frat boy. But why didn't he care enough to take action when informed of an imminent threat?

That has not been adequately explained. And Barret takes an alternative explanation too far. But he's free to do so.

Zeb Quinn said...

Seems to me that an untenured/part-time teacher should be busily engaged in teaching the foundational 100 and 200 level courses in his/her field, and an occasional 300/400 level course too, but nothing too esoteric or out of the mainstream. Also s/he should be publishing as much as possible during this phase, and otherwise engaging in research in conjunction with another established tenured professor. Then and only then, after proving that s/he knows the material and has proven their mettle, is the untenured/part-timer ready for a full-time/tenured postition, and it is after doing all of that that s/he can be offbeat and kooky with aplomb and impunity. It appears that Barrett wants to bypass that vetting process and go straight to kooky.

Simon said...

Alpha said...
"But why did Bush do nothing when he was warned on August 6 that OBL was determined to strike in the US? I mean, I can accept that he's a lazy spoiled frat boy. But why didn't he care enough to take action when informed of an imminent threat?"

Because he wasn't warned on August 6th what was going to happen on September 11th. He was warned that Al Queda was determined to strike in the U.S. That's all. No details as to how, when or where. What action should he have have taken on receipt of that information that he could credibly have taken?

Middle Class Guy said...

Trumpit,
You demonstrate your lack of breeding and your ignorance once again. Intelligent people do not refer to their fellow humans as things, nor do they insult or deman them. Only a low class ignorant person does that.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

I mean, I can accept that he's a lazy spoiled frat boy. But why didn't he care enough to take action when informed of an imminent threat?

That has not been adequately explained. And Barret takes an alternative explanation too far.


Until now, I thought you showed glimpses of a functioning brain. My mistake - only light reflection in an empty cavern.

Kirk Parker said...

Alpha,

"I think two planes hijacked by Saudi's, Egyptians and other Arab non-Iraqi's were crashed into the buildings.

But why did Bush do nothing when he was warned on August 6 that OBL was determined to strike in the US? "

Oh, my yes, now we are on the same wavelength. On Aug 7 Bush should have grounded civil aviation. He did know of the Bojinka plot, and I'm sure he read that Tom Clancy novel, so that much would be obvious. Next, he should have deported everyone here on a Saudi passport, and--for good measure, anyone from Afghanistan. After that, he should have funded a major initiative to replace our petroleum dependency.

Then, after lunch, he could gotten serious our security...

Beth said...

I'm a skeptic of anything that is used as a premise for massive government action and abridgement of personal freedom.

Hi, Simon. I'm a fan of skepticism -- I take it then that you were a skeptic back in 2003 when we were being urged to support the US invasion of Iraq? And you're a skeptic now of the widening government power justified by the War on Terror?

Synova said...

"But why didn't he care enough to take action when informed of an imminent threat?"

"That has not been adequately explained."

Yes, it has.

The information wasn't specific. What should have been done?

There were warnings before Pearl Harbor as well. The reasons for not "taking action" then were *also* not a huge conspiracy.

AL, do you happen to know just how many "threats" are received by our government as a matter of course? Bin Laden had formally *declared war*. And knowing this, what should CLINTON have done? What should BUSH have done?

The entirely adequate answer is, "We didn't think that information was significantly more credible than other similar information. In hindsight, it was a mistake."

Revenant said...

I take it then that you were a skeptic back in 2003 when we were being urged to support the US invasion of Iraq?

I can't speak for Simon, but I was. But after considering the options, I became convinced that removing Hussein was the best choice to make. I still feel that it was. I have, thus far, not heard a convincing explanation of why we would be better off if Hussein still ruled in Iraq.

And you're a skeptic now of the widening government power justified by the War on Terror?

What power is it that you feel the government has now, that it didn't have on September 10th, 2001, that is so worrisome? As I see it, the major difference between now and then is that left-wingers actually started noticing what libertarians have known for decades -- that the federal government has a frightening amount of power.

Generally speaking, though, it was power the government already had before 9/11. The Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Drug Enforcement agencies were, and still are, far greater threats to the average American's freedom than anything the government has introduced to fight Islamic terrorists.

hdhouse said...

911 theorists aren't spouting a political theory. at the core they are just wierd and dumb. Would you hire a "flat earth" advocate who isn't a member because it is funny but truly believes it?

i think there is every right to pass over people who hold a belief that is just looney. they have the right but it signifies a serious intellectual defect and holding such silliness out for others to muse at (amuse as well) digs at the core credibility of an individual.

that this fellow appears to be so strident in this lunacy is, frankly, an appalling display of intellectual unhingement and i wouldn't let him in my house let alone want him training minds.

hdhouse said...

put another way, the state shouldn't be forced into the business of overlooking and by default condoning stupid.

Blake said...

Hi, Simon. I'm a fan of skepticism -- I take it then that you were a skeptic back in 2003 when we were being urged to support the US invasion of Iraq?

I dunno about Simon but I sure was. I was reading Hack at the time and he was concerned Saddam was going to use WMDs on our troops. I wasn't at all clear on why we were invading, though getting rid of Saddam seemed like a good idea.

In retrospect I've come to think it was a brilliant strategy. And the troops have impressed the hell out of me.

And you're a skeptic now of the widening government power justified by the War on Terror?

Always, always, always. And not just the War on Terror but the War on whatever.

If I thought the Dems might actually be interested in reducing government power, I'd be strongly inclined to vote for them. But it's just a club to beat up the Reps with, just as "the widening government power justified by" the War on Drugs was.

Clinton could've pushed to roll it back. No dice. And the consequences are far more nebulous than they are in the case of the War on Terror, which is why the Dems haven't rolled back squat in the past year.

The Reps bitch about government spending until they're handing the keys to the Exchequer. The Dems bitch about civil rights until they're handed the keys to the Gaol.

Simon said...

Beth - good point. I join Rev's reply; there's maybe a couple of distinctions between what he said and what I'd say, but nothing worth writing separately.

Tibore said...

"But why did Bush do nothing when he was warned on August 6 that OBL was determined to strike in the US?

I mean, I can accept that he's a lazy spoiled frat boy. But why didn't he care enough to take action when informed of an imminent threat?"



I fear the "imminent" part has been overplayed by the conspiracy fantasy crowd:

"The fact remains that the memo is not a convincing warning of 9/11, it does not suggest attacks might be imminent in weeks, and it suggests the FBI are already involved in detailed investigations of the situation. On the specific point of Bush’s reaction to the document (which is what we’re discussing here), there’s no evidence to show he should have done anything differently."

(Source: http://911myths.com/html/august_6_memo.html)

Another take:

"The four statements in the PDB hinting at al - Qeada future operations were these:

- CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in UAE in may saying that a group of OBL supporters was in the U.S. planning attack with explosives. (The 9/11 attack did not involve explosives.)

- We have been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [redacted] service in 1998 saying that bin ladin wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of blind shaykh umar adb at-rahman and other U.S. held extremists. (the 9/11 attack was not an attempt to ransom the blind sheik or any other muslim terrorists, which would have required taking live hostages, not just killing a lot of people by crashing the planes.)

- FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in NEW YORK. (the 9/11 attack did not target any "federal buildings" in NEW YORK)

- A clandestine source said in 1998 that bin ladin cell in new york was recruiting muslim-american youth for attack.(none of the nineteen hijackers were youths recruited from a bin laden cell in new york.)"


("PDB"="Presidential Daily Brief")

(Source: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=3352190)

Not trying to hit you over the head here, Alpha. I'm merely pointing out that there is a lot of misinformation out there as to the nature of the pre-attack intelligence, and the belief that the August 6th memo constitues a warning of an "imminent" threat is one of the mistakes.

Freder Frederson said...

But it'd better be scientifically watertight first, and I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the gorethodoxy is not scientifically watertight without a credible and cohesive answer to the lag-lead problem.

Simon, I don't know why you insist you are not a global warming denier when you so arrogantly display it. First, you call it "gorethodoxy" as though it is a religion created by Al Gore. Second, you pretend to have stumbled on this lag-lead problem which you claim no one else in the whole wide world has recognized or addressed. Next, you claim that no one has yet supplied a "credible and cohesive answer" to the problem.

But of course the "problem" you claim is bullshit as is the claim that no one has provided an answer to your invented dilemma. It was fully addressed on your website the very first time you raised it. Every time you have raised the issue here in prior threads numerous people have explained the flaws in your logic. Yet you continue to insist that your concerns have not been addressed.

You are either wilfully ignorant or lying. I don't think you are completely stupid so I assume it is the latter.

Tibore said...

"... Barret takes an alternative explanation too far. But he's free to do so."

You're right, he is indeed free to do so. However, I don't really think anyone's challenging Barrett's right to free speech here, despite Barrett's protestations to the contrary. Pointing out errors - impossibilities, really - in his statements doesn't rise to that level. If anything, it's a contribution to free speech, not a restriction of it.

Barrett's problem is his support for claims that are demonstrably false (BTW, as a digression: I think I need to refine my first post and draw distinctions between claims he did indeed originate - such as the "... no indigenous Muslim resistance" statement about bombings in Iraq - and claims he merely champions - such as Steven Jones' thermite claims. One class he truly makes, the other he merely believes in). Examples of such abound, from his support of Kevin Ryan's claims regarding Underwriters Laboratories' testing of World Trade Center steel (rebutted here: http://www.debunking911.com/fires.htm (specific info is more than halfway down the page) - as well as in other sources (page 28 of this document, for example)), to his support for David Irving's revisionist work denying the Holocaust, from his assertions that "thermite chemical signatures were found in the WTC dust (long refutation here, many other rebuttals locatable at http://forums.randi.org/forumdisplay.php?f=64) to his claims that World Trade Center 7 only had "two small fires" (rebuttal here, here, and here (last link is an MS Word document; pay particular attention to FDNY Chief of Operations Daniel Nigro's comments)). He continually chooses to advance ideas that have been shown to be untrue, yet he not only refuses to correct himself, but is unapologetic about pushing forth such distortions. Even on mundane issues, he refuses to bend; for example, he has yet to retract a claim that the owner of the WTC complex has yet to rebuild at Ground Zero (an "introduction" to a claim that the man has pocketed the insurance settlements; this is demonstrably false, as the new World Trade Center opened in May of 2006). He distorts so many issues to such a great degree, and is so unbending and dismissive of factual corrections that he forces observers to call into question his mental stability, nevermind his competence as an academic.

Note that none of that discusses his rights to advance his claims. I would never stand for his being arrested or persecuted by the government merely on the basis of his distortions. But I would hope that potential academic employers would take into account his continual support for claims that are not merely alternative, but have been demonstrated to be factually incorrect, and I'd hope they'd also take into consideration his inability to adjust to the presence of corrective data. This is my own opinion, but I'm not confident in an academic who is unable to acknowledge objective data contradicting present claims and modify his hypotheses appropriately.

Beth said...

As I see it, the major difference between now and then is that left-wingers actually started noticing what libertarians have known for decades -- that the federal government has a frightening amount of power.

I agree, absolutely, Rev (and Simon). The War on Drugs had me on that path, the War on Terror and Iraq pushed me further down it, and post-Katrina/levee failure life in New Orleans sealed the deal. I still believe there are things we require government to do because of its power to tax and to mobilize, but I'm much more inclined to believe government won't do them well unless forced to, and unless rigorously held to citizen oversight.

If you're on the look-out for new forms of government encroachment, in New Orleans the agency in charge of the process by which homes made unsound by the flood are destroyed is getting around property laws and emininent domain by using a little-known city "emminent health threat" ordinance. The board is supposed to be identifying abandoned buildings that cannot be restored, but there are people who come home to find a concrete slab where their house used to be.

If you're interested, here's a good summary:

Razing Private Homes

Original Mike said...

Sorry, Kevin, but one requirement for receiving a job offer from a UW department in that the department actually wants you. Now, if you were a member of a protected class, your case my have some merit, but I don't think loons are a protected class.