Posts tagged ‘JFK’

Just Because We Elect Them Now...

Richard Conniff in the NYT:

But we need language to remind us that this is our government, and that
we thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 other
services that exist only because we have joined together. Instead of
denouncing taxes, politicians would do better to appeal to the
patriotic corners of our hearts that warm to phrases like "we the
people." "Taxation" is a throwback to the time when kings picked our
pockets. "Paying my dues," a phrase popularized in the jazz music
world, is language by which we can stand together as Americans.

I am confused as to what the substantial difference is between 1 king picking our pockets and 535 kings picking our pockets.   Just because I get the annual opportunity to cast a meaningless vote between the Coke and Pepsi party does not change my view of government. 

To my mind, this is the #1 incorrect perception people have about the American Revolution.  So many people, like this author, seem to think it was about voting and democracy.  Bleh.  The Revolution was about the relationship between human beings and government.  Voting was merely one tool among many the founders adopted to try to protect man from government.  Unfortunately, this intellectual battle is being lost. 

JFK was the president that first made it clear that those of us who love freedom have been losing this battle.  In his famous quote "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country,"  JFK defined the heads-statists-win-tails-freedom-loses choice that people like Mr. Conniff continue to try to present us with.   These collectivists define our relation to government as either the recipient of unearned loot or milch cow to the whims of the voters.  Neither part of JFK's challenge represents a relation between man and government a freedom-loving person should accept.

More on why voting is not what makes our country great here.

Rewriting History

I was watching the History Channel last night and watching a show on the nuclear arms race.  Interestingly, they described the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as happening before JFK took office, and then discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK's first interaction with Russia.  I find this to be really odd revisionism, and if it were not for Coyote's Law, I would ascribe this to the ongoing Kennedy family effort to polish JFK's historical legacy.  But, having written Coyote's Law, I will just assume the show's producers were ignorant.

Update: I take the point that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA plan in the Eisenhower presidency.  However, JFK was deeply involved in the planning and decision to go ahead, and in fact he and his advisers actually modified the plan, including the invasion site, in ways that hurt the probability of success (if there ever was any).

Update on Coyote's Law

Given all of the conspiracy theories bouncing around the net nowadays, I thought it would be timely to revisit Coyote's Law.  Coyote's Law states:

When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by

  1. A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people    -OR -
  2. Sustained stupidity, confusion and/or incompetence

Assume stupidity.

To some extent, Coyote's Law is a logical extension of Occam's Razor.  However, it seems to have consistent and frequent application in modern politics.  Here are a couple of examples, but I am sure the reader can think of more:

  • There are a number of revisionist historians that make the argument that Pearl Harbor was actually an elaborate FDR plot to overcome domestic isolationism and bring the US into the war.  They point to the many missed intelligence clues, the incredible unreadiness of the defenses at Pearl Harbor, and the missing US carriers as evidence of a conspiracy.  However, most historians have concluded that Coyote's Law holds, that our failure at Pearl Harbor we the result of mistakes and incompetence, not conspiracy.
  • The mother of all conspiracy theory subjects is, of course, the JFK shooting.  Many people simply refuse to believe that a lone gunman, and a fairly unimpressive one at that, could have pulled off such a killing.  He must have had help from the Cubans, or the Mafia, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the grassy knoll, or whatever.  Despite all the millions of hours of research into these theories, Coyote's Law still holds - it is much more likely that JFK was killed due to poor protection and the vulnerability of any one man to a sufficiently dedicated gunman who is not committed to getting away after the assassination (which, by the way, is still true).

To some extent, in both these cases it is a bit unfair to use the word "stupidity".  I am reminded of a quote by Frank Borman (as portrayed in the awesome mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon", I have not been able to find out if it was his actual words) in a committee hearing on the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts.  Under intense scrutiny for a set of conditions that in retrospect seemed ridiculously unsafe, Borman described the problem as "a failure of imagination".  To some extent, that is what happened both at Pearl Harbor and with the JFK assassination, and, essentially, with the 9/11 attacks.  What occurred was so new, so unprecedented, that no one could really make themselves believe in advance that it would happen.  But, none-the-less, it resulted in incompetence, not conspiracy.

Which brings us to the 2004 election.  Certainly, in this case, no one can claim a failure of imagination, as just about everyone half anticipated vote-tally screw-ups after Florida in 2000.  However, in their review of conspiracy charges regarding election counts, this Caltech-MIT report has a fantastic restatement of Coyote's Law:

Well, I don't want to write off legitimate questions about the integrity of the voting system. But turn the question around: Which is more likely -- that an exit polling system that has been consistently wrong and troubled turned out to be wrong and troubled again, or that a vast conspiracy carried out by scores and scores of county and state election officials was successfully carried off to distort millions of American votes?

UPDATE

EEEK!  Frank Borman is the astronaut.  I had Martin Borman, the Nazi.  Sorry.  (and yes, this mistake was due to my STUPIDITY and INCOMPETENCE, and not a Boys From Brazil conspiracy.