Monday, June 23, 2008


The current debate over acquisition of foreign intelligence takes many things for granted, so much so that many key concepts are neglected. Aong these are:

1.) The nature of privacy. The notion of privacy is given great deference in national security debates, so much so that it nears divine reverence. What is lost in this treatment, is the fact that privacy has a purpose. Citizens of a free society need to have some measure of control over their own reputation. It is necessary for the orderly interactions that are necessary to living with one another. This is why English common law allowed actions for libel and slander, and why the common virtue of minding ones own business has survivied as an element of good manners. A reputation is no small matter in any community, and respecting privacy makes it easier for one to defend against scurrilous acusations or other stains upon an individuals honor. Society should therefore respect privacy because it benefits the society to do so, not because it is an absolute virtue. A society is not required to allow plots, even by its own citizens, to advance in darkness, simply because "privacy" is beneficial in other respects.

There is no benefit to American society in allowing non-citizens outside of national borders to transact any business, no mater how innocuous, in secrecy. Respect for the privacy of such transactions is not a matter that affects the orderly business of this society, and there is no infringement on any right by simply slistening on on what there is to hear. The right of privacy inherent in the fourth amendment is a compact between a government and the free people that consent to it, not a capitulation of a universally recognized human right.

2.) "Expectations of privacy." Even in American criminal law, privacy rights are subject to the common sense limitation that there is no privacy where none would be expected. Two non-citizens outside of the United States cannot reasonably expect that a communication that passes through the U.S. would not be scrutinized by a government that is trying to protect its people from nefarious schemes and terrorist atrocities.

3.) The concept of penetration in terror attacks. When terrorists plot an operation, one of the most difficult elements is to determine how to penetrate the vigilance of the target to accomplish the deed. This is an element of all terrorist operations, from the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, to the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher, to the attack on the USS Cole, to the attacks of 9/11. Penetration is the most tenuous element in a terrorist plot, as can be seen in foiling the Millennium plot. Thus, this is where terror plots are most vulnerable, and where surveillance is most useful. Surveillance is a very efficient way to defeat the ruses and stealth used by terrorists to penetrate their targets.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I believe that the current controversies regarding "intelligent design" are best understood in light of Aristotle's theory of the four causes. He concluded that there are 4 types of cause: formal, material, efficient and final. The formal cause of something is the pattern, design, or archetype that determines the final form of the thing. The architectural plan for a house or blueprint of a machine are examples. The substance that actually makes up the thing, the bricks and mortar of the house or metal of the machine is the material cause. The efficient cause is the factual production of the thing; the building of the house or assembling of the machine, and the final cause is the reason why the enterprise was undertaken in the first place, e.g. somebody needed a house or the machine was thought to be useful.

The contemplation of the biological origin of man also demonstrates each of Aristotle's four causes. Genes are the formal cause of homo sapiens, ribonucleic acids are the material cause, evolution or natural selection is the efficient cause. These observations seem to involve little controversy. The issue arises when people consider the final cause, the "why?"

The final cause (in the Aristotelian sense) creates contention when included in scientific thought because it is not science. It is irrelevant to understanding the other three types of causes, and is not amenable of scientific investigation. Those who wish to introduce an "Intelligent Designer" as the final cause of man conflate philospohical and religious yearning with scientific empiricism, ending up with something that is neither intellectually or spiritually fulfilling.

People search for a final cause of their existence, not because it is scientifically necessary, but because it is emotionally comforting. Piety would be so much easier if the objects of our devotion could be accessed by more familiar forms of reasoning. Faith would be much easier if it didn't require so much faith.

Ultimately, intelligent design will be found irrelevant to both the science of biology and the destination of a true spiritual journey.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


It seems to be common sense that most objections to free speech that someone finds "offensive" are complained of simply because someone's feelings are hurt. The real objection to speech is that it may be potentially pursuasive and contrary to the broader interests of those who take offense.

One of the notable aspects about the rhetoric of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and others who "speak truth to power" is that they seldom speak anything controversial apart from cheering and sympathetic crowds. One suspects that those such as Rev. Wright speak as they do, not because of the change they seek, but because of the reaction they receive. Not all showmen are courageous.

A better example of someone who exercised her right of speech out of conviction is Sacheen Littlefeather, who was booed at the Academy Awards for explaining why Marlon Brando was refusing the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather. As to why Brando didn't explain in person...

Friday, June 06, 2008


The present political fixation with the allegedly unique attributes of Barack Obama is merely another instance of the human trait of seeking out supermen, masterminds and saviors. This activity actually happens every year in national sports, and the phenomenon is particularly prevalent in college football. Every year coaches resign and are fired, and fans of the affected team denigrate one candidate or another, thinking that merely accomplished mortals stand in the way of the team finding teh "wizard."

Presently, there are a few coaches that bear the Wizard mantle, with Pete Carroll being the most obvious. Larry Coker, Bob Stoops, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban and Jim Tressel have also ehld the title at one time or another. The fact is though, that there are no wizards. There is no one who has figured out something or who has some intangible gift that delvers success beyond that which can be explained by competence, experience, hard work and a little luck. Agood football coach will lose one out of every five times he takes the field. An exceptional coah will lose one out of every six. And that is not one out of five or six games against top ten opponents; it is against all-comers.

Every coach gets outcoached, has bad days and is beaten by inferior opponents. There are no Wizards in college football, or in world leaders. Great men like Churchill and Lincoln had their blunders, off days and fiascos. Every year some anointed coaching mastermind, who has let expectaions rise to an undefeated national championship, will lose a game that leaves fans wondering if maybe it's not time for a change. We can expect the same thoughts about our political leaders every election as well.