Radically Inept
Saturday, November 13, 2004
  More points I'm pondering, and a little admin

I guess the first point I want to raise is not all that philosophical, but rather a political question. I heard it raised on a radio program broadcast on WREK Radio, I think it might have been a RadioNation program, though I'm not positive since I can not find a transcript of the show I was listening to at their web site. Anyway, it might have been Gore Vidal: Beyond the Voting.

Regardless, somewhere during the second half of the program I was listening to, one of the commentators raised a very interesting point - Why didn't Kerry raise The Abu Ghraib Prison controversy during the debates?

Well as soon as it was stated, I found myself thinking, "Hey, yeah. Why didn't he raise the torture scandal? Why didn't he say, perhaps in one of his ads, without stating it as a 'fact', that 'during my administration we will not torture, and we will most certainly never torture children in front of their mothers'.

But then I found myself wondering how it would have played. If 51% of Americans think waging a holy war in the Middle East is a good thing, they might well think torture is acceptable. Hell, christianity has a long history of torture, so maybe raising the scandal would not have helped. That thought saddened me. Going to war based on the choice of someone who hears voices and think god speaks to him directly is bad enough, but that god would support this stuff...Well, I have always thought that the christian god is bipolar, anyway. Or there are two of them - one from the old testament and one that appears in the new testament. If it is the same god, he bears a remarkable similarity to Saddam. I mean the old testament god ordered entire tribes slaughtered for his chosen people. The new testament god loves and forgives everybody and everything. So, if it is all one god, maybe he's off his medication and midst of a major depressive episode.

Anyway, that's one of the points I'm pondering: Do my fellow citizens support torture and sexual abuse in the prosecution of this war?

The next point that I'm pondering is 'point spreads' - Can the methodology, and especially the information communication system, be used in risk communication?

I mean, when you look at it, the odds makers add gambling houses are extremely accurate. When you look at a football (American) parley card, the point spreads and the over/unders are usually about dead on. And point spreads are easy to read. You know, "Florida + 8 against NC State", or "Georgia + 4 against Auburn", or the over/under is 45 points in the Pittsburgh vs Green Bay game. That is a very simple way to sum up risk. Why can't the FDA, NHTSA or whoever, provide us with such a simple way to communicate risk. For instance, if you are obese your over/under on life expectancy is, say, 50 years old, or whatever. Or maybe this SUV has a + 5 rollover.

Side Note: I can find a lot of sites commenting on Parley Cards, but I can't find a simple definition or example of one on the web. Of course, I only did a quick search, but maybe one of you readers would be interested in putting together a section for Wikipedia on Parley Cards?

I know part of the reasons for the NHTSA risk communication dilemma, and it involves politics and money. The car manufacturers don't want you to have an easy way of understanding their vehicles dangers (unless their vehicles are the best of the bunch) for fear of the informed consumer making knowledgeable choices. The politicians are scared to screw with the auto manufacturers, but their is also a serious amount of politics in play amongst the statisticians and other academics, and professionals. Everyone wants their pet system to be used.

At school, one of my professors was involved in the NHTSA rollover study, and she had us read their initial report and write a memo on the contents [An old school memo on vehicle rollover ratings posted at Rogue Analyst]. In the end, my answer was just to provide the consumer a simple ratio based on the historical data: Of the so many vehicles of this make, model and year on the road, this many had rollovers PERIOD. It is simple.

Regardless, can we get the bookies involved in the 'at-large' risk communication game? They do a phenomenal job of assessing and communicating the financial risks of a lot of wagers, and I bet their expertise could make a valuable contribution.

The last two points which I'm currently pondering are intertwined - What is the purpose of government, and why to people go to war when their government calls upon them?

I think they fall in with my usual ponderings on info/value (See All information is free). Nation states and national armies are a relatively recent development. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who truly started the ball rolling on national militaries, and I think the same period can roughly be cited as the rise of the nation state. Prior to this period, monarchies and city states were the 'norm'. Hell, it wasn't until Otto von Bismarck that Germany became a nation (empire).

None the less, what intrigues me now is the purpose on the nation state/government? While we can trace government back to city states, tribes and clans, what roles does the US government retain in relation to what might be argued as having started as a form of organization based on survival? Do we really need a 'national' government to survive? I know there is debate on the subject, but as usual, I find my mind wandering amongst the various arguments of which I am aware, and not really finding a good answer. Certainly there exists a huge gulf between what libertarians, socialists, anarchists and the 'average' American thinks about what should be governments role, especially as it relates to the individual.

So, the related question I am pondering is - Why would individuals go to war at the direction of their government?

I don't mean 'national defense', which is based on reacting to an aggressor, but rather why do individuals decide to support the aggression by their nation of another nation. Why are people willing to put their lives on the line? What is patriotism?

First, let me say that I am aware that many serve and are willing to serve in the military and in war zones for reasons unrelated to patriotism i.e. personal gain, adventure, etc. But it is those that serve in the aggressive capacity out of patriotism that I wondering about. For instance, why did so many Germans voluntarily fight for Hitler, and here the key term is voluntary? What is the connection between patriotism and the government? Is it similar to being a Vikings or Falcons fan? Is there much difference between the two? Is it really just a matter of group identification?

Anyway, I haven't really worked very far on these questions, hence the pondering as opposed to researching, literature reviews, and an attempt at comprehensive analyses, and though I do have several books on the subject, I've been distracted on other topics as I have alluded to in previous posts. Between quantum theory, the Mayan prophecies, the definition of truth, the value of credibility, the definition of value and the value of information...Well, there is only so much I can try to get my head around at one time.

That, and I still need an 'f'n job. On this topic, I had an interesting conversation this week on the topic of me going back into the Army. According to the individual with whom I was speaking, the fact that I am combat arms qualified, and that the army is hurtin' for qualified officers, it might be possible for me to go back in and on active duty. That really intrigues me, especially since at the start of the war, I volunteered to continue to serve, and was informed that that would not be necessary. But I guess at the time, the politicos in charge were operating under the assumptions that many of us recognized as false at the time, and now most Americans realize, that war in Iraq was going to be a cake walk.

Oh, if you are wondering about my motivation for going to war in the face of all I have previously said about this fiasco, rest assured it is not based on patriotism. I was patriotic about Afghanistan, and going after Al Queda, but this war of choice...Well, I guess I want to go for no reason that most of you will understand. I'd just like to go...

Enough for now. Expect sporadic postings for a while, but please to check back if so inclined. 
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