Wednesday, December 5, 2007


George Will writes about Curveball, the Iraqi defector to Germany -- I almost said West Germany -- who gave us all that phony information about Saddam having mobile bio-warfare labs. Colin Powell used Curveball as a primary source in his well-known address to the UN Security Council -- the one that got us into this quagmire of a Vietnam to end all First World Wars.

When CIA analysts were evaluating Curveball's "intel", one pointed out that "we can validate a lot of what this guy says." Another responded, "Where did you validate it?" "On the Internet." "Exactly, it's on the Internet. That's where he got it, too!" There was, then, no independent corroboration. When we find perfect accordance among testimonies, it's not because the witnesses are all honest, it's that they all cribbed the same single source. Some of what I write here is just me riffing on some internet article; you'll notice I usually cite it -- when I don't it's because my dependence on it is slight. Curveball did the same thing, only without giving the links. One of the CIA agents figured that out. Only one.

The Germans doubted Curveball, and so did the Brits. We went with him, even though we weren't allowed to interview him. If we had, perhaps we might have discovered what Curveball's hometown family and friends back in the old country knew so well: he was a "congenital liar." Perhaps a very few basic chemistry questions would have determined his expertise or deficiency as a bio-weapons scientist. It might have been discovered that he was, in actuality, a taxi driver.

It has to do with critical, with clear thinking. It has to do with intellectual integrity and a grasp of the fundamentals of logic and the nature of evidence. That would be the theoretical purpose of education -- especially "higher" education. Primary grades are about elementary things, like the shapes of numerals and letters and the solving of math problems and the constructing of grammatical sentences. After that, the task is to "lead forth from within" -- educare, in the Latin. The thing to be led forth is not a feeling. The thing is the discipline to use facts to arrive at truth, the capacity to discern the difference between fact and truth, and the wisdom to give allegiance in proper proportion to both.

As long as schools are about handing out condoms and providing daycare for all the babies' mamas' babies, we will have second-rate hacks listening to their feelings instead of putting hard questions to the data.

That's why education matters. Because lives are at stake. That can't be too abstract a concept to understand, can it? It's not an idea out of left field, is it?


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