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Truth is Important

Entry 1210, on 2010-08-04 at 20:12:23 (Rating 3, News)

How important is the truth? Should it be suppressed for reasons of convenience? What about to reduce the embarrassment of key public figures? Or national security... or how about to save lives? I mean is it OK to withhold information which directly interests many people because that information might lead to deaths?

The questions above arise from the Afghanistan war log leaks recently published by WikiLeaks. It seems apparent from those documents that a lot of what we have been told about the war in Afghanistan simply isn't true or at the very least vast amounts of information have been withheld by the military.

Recently, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the WikiLeaks web site is morally guilty for putting lives at risk. Of course he would say that because he was one of the people in authority who have tried to stop bad news leaking from the Afghanistan war zone. So his opinion needs to be treated with great skepticism.

They do say that the first casualty of war is the truth and there's no doubt that secrecy and distribution of propaganda are very important factors in any victory. I recently watched a really interesting TV series about World War II (yes, a TV program worth watching - what a shock) and one factor which arose many times was how information can often lead to success in battles. For example, the German's codes were broken by the British code cracking team which allowed the Allies to avoid surprise attacks, and the Americans also intercepted Japanese transmissions which gave them an advantage in the Pacific war.

So its obvious that information is important and there is a case for keeping certain facts secret. It would be unwise, for example, for the US to create a public web site posting the location of every patrol in Afghanistan! So I don't think anyone will deny that there is a case for keeping some information secret but how far should that go?

Ultimately its the government of the major powers, especially the US, who make decisions on how wars should be fought (and whether they should be fought at all). But those governments are ultimately controlled by the people of the countries concerned. If the people don't want a war to continue they can vote out a pro-war government or use pressure to have the fighting stopped. There are plenty of examples where this sort of thing has happened: the most obvious would be Vietnam.

So ultimately the people have the power but how can they exercise that power if they don't know the facts? It seems to me that the military has a duty to provide as much information about their activities as they can, and that should include failures as well as successes. Its a bit like the management of a company's obligation to its shareholders. No one expects every tiny sensitive detail but they do rightly expect a lot.

The information published by WikiLeaks seems to be in the category of the sort of stuff that the public have the right to know so I think WikiLeaks has done the world a real service by leaking the stuff they have.

Its actually an interesting example of freedom of information in the internet age. Its increasingly difficult to get away with the type of propaganda and subterfuge that large organisations have in the past. BP found this out when they grossly mismanaged the publicity around the oil spill and now even the most powerful organisation on Earth (the US military) has been defeated by free information on the internet as well.

Surely this is a warning to anyone who hopes to disguise the truth for their own benefit. Its just not worth the risk any more because there's a good chance the deception will be exposed and that will probably lead to a worse outcome than if they had just been truthful to start with.

So the truth is important and everyone should fight to keep the internet as open and uncensored as possible so that we at least have a chance to discover what the truth really is.

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Comment 1 (2775) by SBFL on 2010-08-05 at 10:32:30: (view recent only)

Truth is important, but you are happy to write-off the truth of MP's excessive personal spending at the expense of taxpayers as a mere frivolity.

There is in fact a left-wing blogger out there with some integrity. That would be the author of The Dim-Post": Danyl McLauchlin. In his current post he says "First the travel perks, now the leave entitlements. Iím excited to see what other MPís privileges Carter can find and exploit so shamelessly the national outrage forces wholesale reform of the system. Heís probably done more to reduce the abuse of parliamentary perks than any other politician in modern New Zealand history."

I used to see Danyl's witty comments on right-wing blog "No Minister" (before I was handed a lifetime ban), and while I didn't often share his view I will concede he often raised a valid point, a point that often outraged the hosts. He isn't tribal, he will criticise wherever he sees it it is deserved despite the political colours. This is a rare trait in the left-wing blogosphere, but he does garner respect from his opponents as a result, and that is an achievement in itself. Contrast that with "The Standard". Danyl has more influence than the combined lap-bloggers of "The Standard" as a result.

There is hope if a lefty can expose the truth.

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Comment 2 (2780) by OJB on 2010-08-05 at 11:47:38:

Get over it! I'm not ignoring any facts: the MPs did spend some money unwisely. What I am debating is how significant that fact is. The significance is more opinion than fact. Can you not just understand that and move on?

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Comment 3 (2781) by OJB on 2010-08-05 at 12:07:43:

I mean, let's get some perspective here: I'm discussing global distribution of information, wars involving millions of people, the US military, and the effect of the internet on humanity. You can't get away from some local MPs spending a few dollars on some trivial luxuries. Can you not see that it just doesn't matter that much!

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Comment 4 (2786) by SBFL on 2010-08-09 at 10:48:23:

OJB said: I'm discussing global distribution of information, wars involving millions of people, the US military, and the effect of the internet on humanity.

Oh dear, I didn't realise a Dunedin uni tutor was such an authority on such subjects. I must have missed the "conspiracy theory" tags!!

You argument on the MP expenses would hold a bit more strength if you took the same approach when National MP's strayed from the line, but in that case you come out with all guns blazing. So basically you have proved yourself to be a hypocrite....which I have known all along.

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Comment 5 (2789) by OJB on 2010-08-09 at 11:30:16:

This is a blog. Like most blogs I make my opinion known on various topics without necessarily being an expert. In other areas of my we site I am more careful, backup my thoughts with references, etc, but here its a "free for all"!

Not sure where this criticism of the right when spending taxpayer funds comes from. I found this entry from a few months back about Bill English, but it was hardly "all guns blazing".

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Comment 6 (2793) by SBFL on 2010-08-11 at 08:00:52:

Well fair point on this being a blog - the mad ravings of a regular person, much as my comments are mad ravings also. But you did try to downplay the thieving excesses of our politicians by comparing them to the (apparently) biggest issues facing humanity.

Bill English probably deserved your condemnation (though his housing benefits are much the same as the Greens extracting the most out the same rules), amongst others - and you did say "The Biggest Parasite?" (that's one gun blazing at least) - but my point is that you do not apply the same criticism to the egregious troughing of Labour MPs as you have of English. You will argue again that the $ value is not the same, but I will remind you again on the difference between principle/intent and money.

In other words Bill and the Greens with their housing shenanigans were doing what they were probably always doing and what they thought was part and parcel of their income benefits. This may well be misguided and the media made this clearer at the time you made the above linked post. But hotel porn, massages, and limousines just have no excuse whichever way you look at it. How can one trust a politician who spends our money this way to deal with the bigger issues facing our society?

Here's an idea - as voters - why not purge our parliament of the leeches (left, right or centre) and work towards better government by outing the scum?

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Comment 7 (2796) by OJB on 2010-08-11 at 09:14:27:

Well "mad ravings" might be a bit strong! Although I admit that I regularly offer opinions without specific references to sources, etc, I can back up my opinions with facts in most cases.

Notice that the title had a question mark after it? Notice that I didn't indulge in unsubstantiated hyperbole "sucking at the public's tit", etc. I think I treated the subject quite reasonably.

There will always be expenses which are unreasonable but I'm prepared to look at the big picture and judge the person's performance as a whole. I would trust someone who spends a few dollars on porn here and there more than I would someone whose whole world view is warped by libertarian ideology, for example.

I agree we should get rid of leeches. Now how do we decide who these leeches (and scum) are? Oh yes, isn't that what an election is for?

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Comment 8 (2797) by SBFL on 2010-08-11 at 09:54:49:

Your question mark mean nothing. What is your point? Are you saying you are backing off English now? It is no exaggeration to say "sucking off the public tit" when a politician uses our hard earn money you pay for their porn, booze, limousines and massages. In case the message wasn't clear before, that is: SUCKING OFF THE PUBLIC TIT. Right, got that?

I would like to capture that quote: OJB said "I would trust someone who spends a few [thousand] dollars on porn here and there more than I would someone whose whole world view is warped by libertarian ideology". So you trust people who spend taxpayers hard earned money on porn do you? Nice one. Sums things up nicely. Or do you only trust politicians who spend taxpayers money on porn when compared to libertarians? Meaning you do in general trust politicians who spend money on porn, as long as they are opposed to those who are have world views on libertarianism? Oh dear.

Why wait for an election when you and I (left and right) could put together an criterion for politicians to adhere to (or face the consequences)? I am sure your staff colleague (at Uni of Otago) Bryce Edwards would be interested...he is an electoral transparency freak bigger than WhaleOil and I put together (and he is a leftie).

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Comment 9 (2799) by OJB on 2010-08-11 at 10:20:19:

The question mark meant I was asking the question about whether English was the biggest parasite instead of making a statement that he was. That does seem to make a difference.

Actually you used the "public tit" thing in relation to scientists not politicians. I agree that there is a case to say that using public money that way is partly parasitic but everyone does it to some extent (not necessarily porn but many other things). It's really not a big deal to me.

Did he spend a few thousand on porn? I don't think so. Spending money on porn during his leisure time doesn't really affect me. Having your whole political life warped by a sick ideology does. That's why I'm more concerned with one than the other.

I'm happy to wait for an election. There is no fair and reasonable mechanism where a politician's alleged indiscretions could be judged adequately apart from that. Its anti-democratic and could too easily be manipulated by pressure groups.

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Comment 10 (2803) by SBFL on 2010-08-11 at 11:51:28:

Actually you made you point on English clear. You can hide behind semantics now if you wish.

Let me put it another way: If you "suck off the public tit" without adding value then you are "sucking off the public tit". If a uni professor adds value to society even via the public purse, then he/she has my support. Any fool (incl Labour politicians) who spend our money on porn, booze, limousines and massages, should be fired on the spot (sadly - as P Goff is finding out - politicians aren't subject to the same employment laws as the rest of us)...

OMG! Does it matter if he spent a few thousand or a few hundred of our hard earned dollars on porn? The point is you worked hard to contribute to society yet the very politicians you voted in are wasting that hard earned money away. Are you the only person in NZ who doesn't get this? Actually - sorry to say this - but you must be a bit of a thicko. You said "Spending money on porn during his leisure time doesn't really affect me." But it's YOUR MONEY. Don't you understand this?

Yes okay, lets wait. No bigger pressure group than the Electoral Finance Act (2007). That's a Peter Shirtcliffe wet dream.

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Comment 11 (2806) by OJB on 2010-08-11 at 13:44:28:

Thank you very much. I will! :)

So why did you say the university types are sucking off the public tit then if you admit they add value. Do you want to retract that statement? Well you think they should be fired. I don't. I prefer to look at the big picture.

You "corrected" my statement by adding "thousand". If you're going to do that make sure you're right first.

People like you seem to like to get all excited about small amounts of public money being used unwisely but you're happy to pay private companies a fortune for crappy services so their executives and shareholders can get rich at your expense. Which is worse?

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Comment 12 (2807) by SBFL on 2010-08-11 at 14:00:18:

"IF" being the operative word.

1's , 10', 100's, 1000's , 10,000's ...etc... it's still _your_ money. You may be happy to hand over _your_ money to pay for porn but the rest of us aren't.

At least with wasteful, excessive private companies I have a choice. With selfish politicians - left or right - I don't. You seem to lack that distinction.

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Comment 13 (2809) by OJB on 2010-08-11 at 15:11:59:

So since you claim they are indeed doing this sucking you must have some evidence they aren't making a contribution to society. So... what have you got?

OK, how many times do we need to go there. It doesn't worry me too much. I'm more worried about the big picture. Maybe I'm the exception. We'll just have to leave it there.

You don't have a choice with private companies because they are all the same... just like politicians. Do you begin to see my point now?

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Comment 14 (2814) by SBFL on 2010-08-16 at 05:19:01:

I don't just claim. It is proven and the guilty parties have admitted to their actions. If you are still in denial after all this then really your judgement must come into question.

Doing a good thing doesn't mean you can get away with doing a bad thing. It seems you have misunderstood some basic laws/concepts of our society.

As many times as it takes for you to realise that deliberate wasteful spending of our money is completely unacceptable.

No, you are just being silly by highlighting your flawed ideology with the "all companies are evil" nonsense. Give me a beak.

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Comment 15 (2816) by OJB on 2010-08-16 at 11:56:56:

So are we getting mixed up here? Remember your "sucking" claim originally applied to academics, not politicians. Do you withdraw that comment about academics or not?

Well to me it does. I'm prepared to excuse some minor indiscretions if the overall outcome is good. The end justifies the means, after all!

I was making a rhetorical point that any argument applied to politicians and the public sector can just as easily me made about the private sector. Of course you can't stereotype any of these groups: there are good and bad politicians, public organisations, and private companies. None of them can be simply characterised as more parasitic, more efficient, or better or worse than any other.

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