Monday, July 31, 2006


A Two-Dimensional Political Nomenclature

Libertarian, Liberal, Conservative, Authoritarian:
A Two-Dimensional Political Nomenclature

There are of course limits to such a one-dimensional classification scheme implied by such words spectrum, left, and right (as in my previous post). The Advocates for Self-Government, a Libertarian organization, have a useful two-dimensional classification scheme. To illustrate this, they have set up their World's Smallest Political Quiz, which is quick, easy, and fun. They set up two axes, one for "personal issues" and one for "economic issues." Thus liberals score in the left corner, conservatives score in the right corner, libertarians score in the top corner, and authoritarians (now called "Statists" in the new version of the quiz) score on the bottom corner.

The test has been improved in the past year or two. Older versions of the test consistently told me that I was a "left-liberal," while the current test has me hovering around the intersection of centrist, liberal, and libertarian. While this describes my own political evolution, I do not think my views have changed that much recently. Rather, I think this change reflects that some of the more radical libertarian statements ("End taxes", open borders) have been replaced by more moderate positions (cut taxes in half, "no national ID card").

Less extreme libertarian positions make it more likely that many individual test-takers (including your humble blogger) will score closer to the upper corner, and thus more libertarian. Since one purpose of the test is to help libertarians find each other (i.e. to help organized Libertarians recruit members), one might object that the test has been biased to attract more recruits. The Advocates themselves do a nice job of responding to this, but briefly, an accurate test best serves their interests. Any organization wants to recruit the right people; new members who actually disagree with the fundamental precepts of an organization are bound to do more harm than good. I welcome comments below on whether you regard the new quiz as an improvement.

A two-dimensional classification scheme remains a simplification, but this four-cornered scheme is nonetheless useful. However the traditional one-dimensional left-liberal-conservative-right scheme remains useful because a great many people find themselves on this axis. (I welcome comments as to why this is so; I hope to explore this in future blogging.) That is why we have (and need and use) both sets of terms.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Leftist, Liberal, Conservative, Rightist

Leftist, Liberal, Conservative, Rightist
American Political Nomenclature

I have noticed an asymmetry in much American political discourse. There's a big difference between liberals and leftists; this is recognized in the common and distinct usage of both terms. But there are also important differences on the right-side of the political spectrum that are not so recognized. Typically the word "conservative" gets modified into something like "arch-" or "ultra-conservative." I propose that we replace such terms with "rightist." This has a pleasing symmetry and recognizes that no important group is monolithic. I will endeavor to use this terminology in this blog.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Britt on Fascism in Free Inquiry

Britt on Fascism: An Open Letter to the Editors of Free Inquiry
By Douglas E. Hill © 2003
This was originally published on the Students for Science & Skepticism website.

In “Fascism Anyone?” (FI, Spring 2003), Lawrence W. Britt implies, but lacks the courage to state directly, that the United States has become fascist because it shows twelve characteristics of fascism that he lists. Yet he cites no examples, and an honest look will show that the U.S. simply lacks many of these characteristics.

Britt writes that fascists control the mass media (item 6). America has clearly not seen any such control regarding the war with Iraq. Criticism of the Bush administration’s policy was freely published, in major media such as the New York Times, not to mention smaller publications such as Free Inquiry. Large, freely held, anti-war demonstrations were covered in all the major media. Even the hawkish opinion sources reported and criticized the arguments and activity of those opposed to the war.

Britt claims that fascist governments show “rampant sexism” (item 5). (Britt fails to explain how much more sexist the fascist regimes were than those that preceded and succeeded them.) American women today have legal protections and opportunities unequaled in history; for example, the President’s National Security Advisor and four of his cabinet secretaries are women. One might wish for more, but this can hardly be called “rampantly sexist.” Compare this to the sexism of the Taliban regime that we destroyed.

He says that fascists “suppress or eliminate” the “power of labor” (item 10) as well as academic freedom (item 11). Yet here at the University of California, Irvine, my union (the Student Workers Union of UAW) and others continue to operate freely, and professors and students freely express their views. Many professors also enjoy the additional protection of tenure.

Britt also worries about “expressions of nationalism” (item 1); so let me ask him, what level of patriotism is appropriate in a democracy, especially after it has been attacked? Am I a fascist if I fly the flag on July 4?

Britt‘s last characteristic of fascism is “fraudulent elections” (item 14). Fascist regimes sometimes have indeed had non-competitive plebiscites but have also suspended democracy altogether under the guise of national emergency (which he ignores). But competitive American elections continue on schedule, even since 9/11. Britt complains of “turning [an election] to a judiciary beholden to the power elite,” perhaps referring to the Bush vs. Gore decision. Unfortunately he fails to criticize this directly or explain why this is similar to incidents in fascist countries.

Britt either has no appreciation of the freedom we enjoy in this country and no idea how bad fascism really is, or he is resorting to innuendo (it is not even clear enough to be called “name-calling”) in place of argument. Let him give examples of fascism, if he has any. If he is unhappy with Administration policy, let him criticize it directly, as your editors do in the same issue.

Yours in Reason,
Douglas E. Hill

When this letter was originally written and posted (2003), Mr. Hill was a graduate student in Logic and Philosophy of Science and Vice President of Students for Science and Skepticism at the University of California, Irvine. He is speaking for himself here. This letter was sent to Free Inquiry in May, 2003.


Albright's Blunder

Albright's Blunder
by Douglas E. Hill, © 2002, 2004

This was originally published in the December 2002 Irvine Review. Since then, Madeleine Albright, to her credit, has acknowledged this error in her autobiography (Madam Secretary, 2003, Miramax Books, pp.274-75).
Critics of U.N. sanctions against Iraq often claim that the sanctions have killed half a million Iraqi children, and offer as evidence Madeleine Albright's admission of this on “60 Minutes.” Yet Albright’s response proved nothing other than her incompetence as a diplomat by answering, rather than challenging, a loaded question. Diverse speakers and writers at UCI, including Najeeb Kahn in the New University (1999), Dr. Mark LeVine (Cross Cultural Center, October 24, 2002), and a speaker introducing a video on Iraq sanctions (in the Crystal Cove auditorium) have all cited her remarks. Given the frequency that opponents of sanctions cite her remarks, she has gotten surprisingly little criticism from sanctions supporters and others who suspect that Iraqi government policies have something to do with child mortality there. Here's the quote, from when Lesley Stahl interviewed then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright on "60 Minutes" on 12 May 1996:

Lesley Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died (as a result of sanctions against Iraq). I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

Stahl said, "we have heard." She did not say, "we have data," or even better, offer an outline of the data that allegedly shows this. It should not be surprising that in a totalitarian society like Iraq, learning the rate of mortality of its children, and the causes of that rate, is quite difficult. (Determining such causes is a difficult job for epidemiologists even in a free society.) In fact, this is a topic of no small controversy. David Cortright wrote in The Nation in 2001:

... [T]he 1999 report "Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children," by Columbia University's Richard Garfield, ... estimated the most likely number of excess deaths among children under five years of age from 1990 through March 1998 to be 227,000. Garfield's analysis showed child mortality rates double those of the previous decade.

(These numbers indicate a longer period with less than half of the numbers that Stahl cited.) Thus no one argues that there is problem of excess child mortality in Iraq, but the numbers and cause are a matter of controversy. But note what Stahl did: she did not ask Albright how many children had died, or what the cause was. She used an old interrogation trick: she asked a loaded question. This is a question, which like “do you use a club when you beat your wife?” incriminates you whether you answer yes or no. She asked if the price was worth it.

And Albright walked right into this trap. She did not dispute the numbers, or the cause. She just said, essentially, "yes" to a loaded question. If a lawyer is representing you, he had better not answer a loaded question in such an incriminating matter (and he had better not let you answer one either). But as an Ambassador, Albright was representing all Americans. A diplomat worth her salt would have known this. But apparently Albright did not.

It is a scandal that her response did not prevent Albright from becoming Secretary of State, and thus in charge of American diplomacy. It showed incompetent diplomacy for her to answer in the manner she did, even if the numbers and cause implied by the data in the loaded question were true. But while the numbers are in question, the facts do not support the sanctions as a primary cause. When Albright was Secretary, her own State Department refuted that U.N. imposed sanctions could be a cause of these casualties, when it wrote in a document released 13 September 1999 (and updated 24 March 2000):

Sanctions are not intended to harm the people of Iraq. That is why the sanctions regime has always specifically exempted food and medicine. The Iraqi regime has always been free to import as much of these goods as possible. It refuses to do so, even though it claims it wants to relieve the suffering of the people of Iraq.

Thus a stupid reply from Albright cannot be used to claim that the sanctions are the cause when a careful study from her department disputes this. A later report from the State department, of 26 January 2001, also supports the claim that it is Iraqi government behavior that is so hurting its citizens:

During this period [June to December, 2000], U.S.$7.8 billion were available to Iraq for purchases during this period, yet Iraq submitted purchase applications worth only U.S.$4.26 billion - barely 54 percent of the amount available for purchases to help the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. In key sectors of the Iraqi economy, Saddam's regime's disregard for the welfare of the Iraqi people is made plain.

As to what could be causing the increase in mortality, Cortright in The Nation cites a UNICEF study by Mohamed Ali and Iqbal Shah that seem to show that it is not in fact the sanctions that are primarily responsible for the increase in child mortality:

In south-central Iraq [under Iraqi government control], child mortality rates rose from 56 per 1,000 births for the period 1984-89 to 131 per 1,000 for the period 1994-99. In the autonomous Kurdish region in the north [subject to the same sanctions] … child mortality rates actually fell during the same period, from 80 per 1,000 births to 72 per 1,000.

Thus despite the sanctions, the mortality rate is higher only in the areas under Iraqi government control, suggesting that it is that government, rather than the sanctions, which bears primary responsibility. If the numbers are as grave has a quarter- to a half-a-million dead children, then there is a strong humanitarian argument to liberate Iraq from the tyranny holding Iraqi children hostage like this. And it is unfortunate that an American diplomat who was to become U.S. Secretary of State would aid those who wish to blame the U.S. by conceding that U.N. sanctions are responsible when the evidence does not support this.

When this was originally published (2002), Douglas E. Hill was a graduate student at UCI in Logic & Philosophy of Science, vice-president of Students for Science & Skepticism, and hosted "Campus Talk UCI" Mondays 4-5 pm on KUCI 88.9 fm.

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Skeptical Commentary won 2001 Pulitzer

Skeptical Commentary Wins Pulitzer Prize
By Douglas E. Hill, © 2001
This is a slightly corrected version of an article originally published in the September 2001 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.

The Pulitzer Prize Board awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary to Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal “for her articles on American society and culture.” Notable among the ten articles cited by the Board were five articles challenging questionable allegations of sexual abuse. (Four of the cited articles commented on the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and the remaining article discussed Rudolph Giuliani's recommending a pardon for Michael Milken.) A jury of seven journalists nominated Ms. Rabinowitz among four finalists, from which the Pulitzer Prize Board chose her as the winner. (She was nominated after the original three when the Board requested "a broader choice".)

Ms. Rabinowitz has long used her Wall Street Journal editorial page column to criticize dubious sex-abuse prosecutions and champion the falsely accused. She was previously nominated in 1996 for the Distinguished Commentary Pulitzer "for her columns effectively challenging key cases of alleged child abuse.” For “her journalistic achievements and … her writing on false sexual abuse charges” the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers awarded her its 1997 Champion of Justice Award. Ms. Rabinowitz was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 1995 and 1998 for her television critiques, and in 1993 the American Society of Newspaper Editors awarded her a Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary.

Of the five skeptical columns cited by the Board, two dealt exclusively with the Fells Acres day-care prosecution of Malden, Massachusetts, for which Gerald Amirault remains imprisoned. (He has been released since this was originally published.) One dealt with the difficult aftermath of those who have been released after long struggles to prove their innocence in these dubious prosecutions of alleged sex-rings that occurred in places such as Wenatchee, Washington, and Dade County, Florida. The freedom of Violet Amirault (Gerald’s mother) was short-lived, but others had to find jobs and deal with residual legal problems on long-depleted finances. Grant Snowden required an attorney to get his name removed from a list of sex-offenders. Carol and Mark Doggett fought to have their children returned. Cheryl Amirault (Gerald’s sister) made a deal with prosecutors for her release, and so must endure the indignities of probation while forbidden to speak with television reporters. They all must face the fact that no one will be held accountable for their prosecutions, or for tenaciously fighting against their releases (even when the technique used to build the cases against them--the leading and often coercive questioning of children--was discredited).

Another column cited by the Pulitzer Board details the case of New York City doctor Patrick Griffin. A patient accused him of oral sodomy after he refused to testify in a lawsuit filed against the patient’s landlord that her medical condition was caused by her landlord’s wrongdoing. The last cited column tells the story of David Schaer, and the lack of due process he received from Brandeis University when he was accused of sexual misconduct.

Ms. Rabinowitz is the author of New Lives: Survivors of the Holocaust Living in America (1976, Alfred A. Knopf, New York) and co-author, with Yedida Nielsen, of Home Life: A Story of Old Age (1971, The Macmillan Company, New York). Her prize-winning work can be read at the website: , and her continuing work can be read at: and on the editorial and television pages of the Wall Street Journal.

When this was originally published (2001), Douglas E. Hill, was a graduate student in Logic & Philosophy of Science and president of the Students for Science and Skepticism at the University of California, Irvine.


Orange Coyote blog

Welcome to my new blog, Orange Coyote. I’m an adjunct professor of philosophy in the Cal State System. I got my Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine, where I also founded Students for Science and Skepticism (SSS). (This club is now being restarted by some new students.) I also hosted Campus Talk UCI on KUCI 88.9 FM in Irvine, where I had the opportunity to interview many interesting guests. I intend to discuss some of those interviews in this forum.

My many interests include philosophy, politics, science, and skepticism, and I will use this forum to apply these to world, national, and especially local issues (here in Orange Country, California) as I have time and interest.

But I am going to begin by posting some articles I wrote that were originally published on other websites, but for various reasons are no longer available there. I welcome your comments on these older articles, as well as my more timely forthcoming posts. And although I’ve been on the internet for a long time, I’m new at blogging, so please bear with me.

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