Today's Blogs

The CIA’s New Black Eye

Bloggers are generally dismayed by a case of CIA mistaken identity. They also discuss yesterday’s pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong and a new book that questions the authority of so-called “experts.”

The CIA’s new black eye: German citizen Khaled Masri was wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA in 2004, the victim of mistaken identity in the agency’s vigorous pursuit of terrorist suspects. “The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls ‘erroneous renditions,’ ” the Washington Post reports.

“It is becoming obvious that 911 did change everything, for the worse,” writes retired engineer Ron Beasley at Middle Earth Journal. “The United States was once the beacon for freedom and justice but no more.” At OneGoodMove, Norm Jenson suggests the imprisonment amounts to a mark on the American permanent record. “You can’t take back torture,” he says.

“It’s really scarey when you have an organization as powerful as the C.I.A is running amok playing ‘Spy vs. Spy,’ ”  remarksHouston Conservative Will Malven, nevertheless optimistic. “Hopefully the ongoing shake-up within the C.I.A. will remedy such abuses,” he writes. Conservative Tom Maguire of JustOneMinute, pointing to an excerpt in which a covert agent is described but not named, thinks the story itself demonstrates agency dysfunction, a personal turf war cannibalizing the front pages. “Quick, subpoena Dana Priest of the WaPo - someone with a political axe to grind has leaked to her the name of a covert CIA officer!” he cries in mock outrage.

Others say such treatment of suspected terrorists impedes the war on terror. “Listen, in the long run, it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the world,” writes contributor Justin Gardner at Joe Gandelman’s The Moderate Voice. “And do any of you think that’s going to happen when we’re kidnapping innocent people because of so-called ‘actionable intelligence’ we got from torturing other detainees?”

At Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy, a professor of ethical philosophy, believes the lesson is equally clear. “This is why we have a legal system: because even with the best intentions, government officials make mistakes. People who are kidnapped and sent off … to some secret CIA prison … have no recourse at all.”

Read more about the report.

Chinese democracy?: Thousands of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Hong Kong Sunday, calling for the first general elections in the region since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. The march was widely considered to hold significance beyond Hong Kong in mainland China.

“The march today was somber, determined, and serious,” reports Yan Sham-Shackleton, a Hong Kong artist and activist, at Glutter. “It did not have the joyous atmosphere of some of the protests past, I kept feeling that everyone there had the same kind of feeling which is that we are in this for the long haul.” Of particular concern, she believes, was the underestimation of the crowd by police, who reported the turnout as 63,000. “I had my doubts that the march was going to be that large,” admits protester and American expatriot Tom Legg at The Eleven. “But if that march was only 63,000, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.”

“I am less interested in numbers, and more interested in meaning,” confides Sam Crane, an American professor of Asian studies, at Useless Tree. “We often hear that democracy is fragile in Chinese cultural contexts because of the lack of deep historical experience with electoral rotation of political leadership. Apologists for authoritarianism in Beijing and Hong Kong and Singapore will argue that not only is democracy culturally alien, but it is simply not necessary or wanted by Chinese people. … Hong Kong is at a point in its history where, I would bet, a majority of people would vote for direct elections. ”

Plenty of others agree the city is, presently, uniquely able to popularly demand popular government. “Hong Kong is like no other place on earth,” writesPublius Pundit Robert Mayer, a longstanding supporter of democratic movements worldwide. “It is an outpost of Western ideas on the flank of communism. … This march, and others like it, will serve as an example for activists in Beijing and elsewhere who are preparing — even now — to challenge the government and take their rights back.”

Read more about the rally.

The meaning of expert: In his new book, Expert Political Judgment, Berkeley psychologist Philip Tetlock examines the reliability of analyses and predictions made by specialists and experts. His finding? “The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge,” summarizes critic Louis Menand in a New Yorker review. “People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote.”

“The problem as I see it is that the market for punditry has skewed incentives,” opines Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information. “There is no reward for being boring and right, nor any punishment for being novel and wrong. But there are big rewards, in the form of book contracts and lecture fees, for being novel and right. Pundits are thus tempted to act like executives with fat option packages.”

“This is one of the (few) must-read social science books of 2005,” declares economist Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, adding this caveat: “Each new forecast or new theory is an example of individual hubris and in expected value terms it is stupid. But the body of experts as a whole, over time, absorbs what is correct. A large number of predictions creates a Hayekian discovery process with increasing returns to scale. Social knowledge still comes out ahead, and in part because of the self-deceiving vanities put forward every day. You can find that point in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.”

Read more about the book, and more about the New Yorker review.

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