Google's icon for the past several days has linked to a video commemorating the Apollo 11 mission that put the first people on the moon on July 20th, 1969. Mike Collins, the crew member who remained in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the surface, narrates this terrific summary of an amazing accomplishment. I remember my mom and dad getting my sister and I out of bed to come watch the landing live. There is nothing we cannot do when we work together! Click to watch the video.
I am a bit of a Star Trek nerd. I've watched every episode of the original series, the "Next Generation" series, and all of the movies. I like the franchise because, like all good fiction, it weaves some powerful messages about common aspects of the human condition into its very uncommon settings. If you pay attention, there are some good lessons to be found in the adventures of the starship Enterprise and its crew. One of my favorite episodes of all is "The Day of the Dove", which aired the first week in November, 1968.
For those of you who didn't live that time, let me provide a bit of historical context. The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union (Russia) was at its height, with both sides armed to the teeth with enough nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons to destroy the world many times over. Proxy "hot wars" were being fought in places like Africa and South America. The Vietnam War was at its height. At home, the Civil Rights Act was just a few years old, and the conflict between the federal government's enforcement of the new law and some state and local efforts to resist it was one source of violence in American cities. Just a year earlier, during the "long hot summer of 1967" racial violence had led to so much violence in Detroit that the government deployed the 82d Airborne Division and the National Guard to help restore order. There was also conflict between those who were protesting against the war in Vietnam and those who insisted we had to support our military. In a span of just over two months 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis (April 4) and Bobby Kennedy (the Democratic nominee for the 1968 presidential election) was assassinated in Los Angeles (June 6). The episode of Star Trek I am referencing in this blog aired 4 days before the 1968 presidential election.
If I were to summarize the lesson of "The Day of the Dove", I would say it is simply that hate and violence warp our ability to accurately perceive facts and reality, and that cycles of violence are "vicious cycles" where negative behaviors can reinforce each other and perpetuate--even magnify--the cycle. I'm attaching a link to the youtube trailer for this episode. I wish everyone in our country would take 45 minutes and watch the whole episode (you can download it from Amazon and probably other places as well). I wish everyone would familiarize themselves with the history of this turbulent time in America. Spoiler alert: the crew of the Enterprise join forces with their arch-enemies, the Klingons, to defeat a hate monster. They do it by recognizing that hate blinds us, and that we can overcome it if we work to find common ground.
We have a lot of common ground in America. Things are nowhere near as bad today as they were in November, 1968. But we have to make an effort to celebrate the goodness in our country and what we have in common, even as we work through our disagreements over how to make it even better. We have to focus on facts rather than on blind loyalty to this faction or that faction. Beware of any group that tries to prevent you from seeking common ground and understanding with others. Any others. Even the Klingons.
Live long and prosper!
But an Officer on Duty Knows No One... mueller Embodies the Impartiality of Duty in Service of Our Constitution
At West Point, they spent a lot of time teaching us about duty. One of the ways they did that was by having us memorize something called Worth's Battalion Orders, which goes like this:
"But an officer on duty knows no one. To be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offenses in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible Soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated; the other detested as a satire upon Soldiership and Honor.”
–Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth
Robert Mueller nailed it. Well done, sir.
In this blog, I make five points in bold text that are my conclusions from the report, with extracted quotations from the report that support my five points. Then I provide the link to the report so you can, if you wish, read enough of it to come to your own conclusions. Here's the survey (five easy questions!).
I think all Americans should read the redacted Mueller report, or at least the executive summaries, or at least my excerpts from the executive summaries. I am sorry for those of you who feel I am calling you "bad people" if you do not or will not read the report. I believe it is important for our republic for citizens to care enough to inform themselves when 45 percent of Americans believe we should impeach the President. It's go time. If you have ever said "thank you for your service" to a veteran, or opined piously on the sacrifice of our fallen on Memorial Day, then I would tell you this is the part of the story where you get to do your part, to put a little something on the altar of our republic. I don't want to tell you what to think. I share with you my conclusions, and the excerpts that support them, below. There is a link to the National Public Radio (NPR) site where you can get the redacted report for yourself. Inform yourself.
Point 1. Mueller states he was guided by DOJ policy that you can’t charge a sitting president:
Volume II, p. 1 “We determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that ‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’ in violation of ‘the constitutional separation of powers.’ Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel regulations, see 28 U.S.C. Section 515; 28 C.F.R. Section 600.7 (a), this office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction.”
Point 2: Russia interfered in the election effectively to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Senior Trump campaign members knew about the Russian efforts. Mueller could not or would not establish that there was an agreement in place regarding cooperation between the campaign and Russia. There is evidence to that effect, but Mueller concluded it was insufficient (perhaps because of Point 1, he felt Congress should make that call with decision whether or not to impeach?—Congress should hear from Mueller on this point):
Volume 1, pp 1-2 “As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Point 3: Mueller never says there was no collusion. He says collusion is not a legal term so he applies the higher legal standard associated with conspiracy (“coordination”) and his “understanding” that proof of an agreement is needed to establish that coordination occurred:
Volume 1, pp. 1-2: “In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’ “
“…collusion is not a specific offense… found in the United States Code…. For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law. In connection with that analysis, we addressed the factual question whether members of the Trump Campaign ‘coordinated’… with Russian election interference activities…. We understood coordination to require an agreement… between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests. We applied the term in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Point 4: Mueller is pretty clearly punting this (appropriately in my view) to the Congress for decision.
“A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”
Point 5: The President knows he is guilty. He understands Point 4. That is why he is refusing to comply with subpoenas and trying to block further congressional investigation.
Volume II, p. 78: “On May 17, 2017, Acting Attorney General Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller, III as Special Counsel and authorized him to conduct the Russia investigation and matters that arose from the investigation. The President learned of the Special Counsel’s appointment from Sessions, who was with the President, Hunt, and McGahn conducting interviews for a new FBI Director. Sessions stepped out of the Oval Office to take a call from Rosenstein, who told him about the Special Counsel appointment, and Sessions then returned to inform the President of the news. According to notes written by Hunt, when Sessions told the President that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh, my God. This is terrible This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f*ck*d.’”
Here is a link to the Mueller Report provided by NPR (National Public Radio): https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=5955997-Muellerreport
Please click on this link to take a short and anonymous survey on border security and immigration reform:
5 Questions on Border Security and Immigration Reform
We Were Close To a Bipartisan Bill to Double the Size of the Border Patrol, Fully Fund Border Barriers, and Overhaul Immigration Laws... But Congress Failed Us.
Specifically, the Members of Congress who failed us were those who put their party loyalty in front of their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, passed the Senate by a roll-call vote of 68-32. The bill authorized a doubling of the size of the Border Patrol, directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to prepare a comprehensive strategy on border security, and funded the barriers (walls, fences, and whatever was required in the strategy) necessary for the implementation of that strategy. The bill also provided a much-needed overhaul of immigration laws. And on top of all that, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office "scored" the bill as reducing the federal debt by more than $100 million.
Why would any Member of Congress vote against that bill? In fact, as shown in the attached copy of the Senate's roll-call vote, 32 Republican senators voted against S.744, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. But the traitor who really sold us all out was former House Speaker John Boehner. Facing a split among Republican Members of the House that could have passed the legislation and sent it to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner used the power of his office to prevent the bill from ever coming up for a vote in the House. He told journalists that, not only would the House not vote on the bill, but they would not even meet with the Senate to try for a compromise.
Contrary to what President Trump likes to claim, it was the Republicans who stopped the last, best proposal to significantly enhance border security. And they did it with a procedural maneuver that, arguably, blocked a bill representing the will of a majority of Americans that would otherwise have become a law.
If you think that one party is always right and the other is always wrong, you should reconsider the facts. Blindly supporting one political party is certainly not the best thing for our country. None of us should follow that policy. And we most certainly should not tolerate Members of Congress who cannot put their loyalty to our country ahead of their loyalty to party. It's time to get people like Mitch McConnell and Mike Lee out of Congress.
In Part 1, we pointed out where Plato describes the wisdom of Socrates as knowing that he knew nothing at all. We also described how Rene Descartes' got around this skepticism about knowledge by noting that, even if all of our experience is a deceptive illusion, that illusion has to be presented to something. I remember how confused I was when I first read about Descartes, so I will present his reasoning--where we left off in the last blog--once more here, using a slightly different approach. Descartes said, "I am thinking, therefore I exist." In other words, even if all experience is an illusion, that illusion is like a movie, and there has to be something onto which the illusion is projected. We--each of us--are experiencing thought, and so we can be certain of one thing: our own existence as the thinker.
So we know we exist. Beyond that we start making choices. We are confronted with experiences that we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. We can all agree that our individual perceptions of experience are imperfect. Those perceptions are sufficiently warped by emotion and bias in many cases to prevent agreement on the content and meaning of any given experience. We need a standard for truth that we can apply together to help us make decisions. How can we leverage what we know to determine what is truth and what is illusion, to differentiate between facts and fake news? I want to answer that question. To do so, I will return to Plato and Aristotle briefly, first to highlight the twin traditions of idealism and empiricism they handed down to western civilization, and then to explore how their common roots in the Pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras give us our modern foundation for truth.
The history of philosophy emphasizes the difference between the idealism of Plato's Theory of Forms and the empiricism of Aristotle. Plato believed the only real things were Forms that existed in a realm that we could not perceive with our senses but that we could access through reason. According to Plato, the objects we experience with our senses were not real in themselves, but only to the extent that they were reflections or copies of the ideal, unchanging Forms. After Plato's death, Aristotle left Athens and became the tutor of Alexander the Great. He abandoned Plato's Theory of Forms, adopting the philosophy that things we experience are real in themselves--a fusion of form and matter. Aristotelian forms were more like our common notion of DNA--internal blueprints that drive our growth. An oak tree is a good oak tree to the extent that it manifests the characteristics of oak trees--growing from an acorn, reaching a characteristic size with a certain kind of bark and leaves. A human is a good human to the extent that she manifests the characteristics of the human form--that of a social, rational animal. There are indeed significant differences in the philosophies of the master and his student. But, from the perspective of a theory of knowledge and a standard for truth, the important focus is not on how the two men differed, but how they agreed.
The views expressed by Plato and Aristotle agree in an interesting way. Both men believed that knowledge is not only possible, but that it is important to living a proper human life. This tells us something about what Plato and Aristotle believed regarding the nature of knowledge and truth--it implies they believed knowledge and truth correspond with or are coherent with the world in some way. If this was not true, there would be no way that knowledge and truth could be important to living a good human life. If things we can know to be true do not correspond with the world of experience, or if they are not coherent with the world of experience, then attempting to use knowledge and truth to live a better life would be like trying to use a street map of Pittsburgh to get from point A to point B in Salt Lake City. Things we can know to be true help us to live better lives only if knowledge and truth have the attributes of correspondence to the world we experience or coherence with the world we experience or both. And with correspondence and coherence comes the power to predict--we can use things we know to be true to calculate the effects and consequences of our actions.
Plato and Aristotle did not arrive at the relationship between truth and world of experience on their own. They inherited their concepts of knowledge and truth from a tradition that went back at least 300 years to Pythagoras of Samos--a tradition deeply rooted in mathematics as the purest form of knowledge and the language underlying the observed universe. Pythagoras had taken the ancient set square, used to true up the perpendiculars in the construction of temples and palaces for thousands of years, and had proven a universal relationship existed in the proportions of the lengths of the sides associated with the right angle. He had proven that the sum of the areas of squares constructed with the two shorter sides always equalled the area of the square constructed using the hypotenuse. The Pythagorean Theorem was the archetype of knowledge and truth. Here was a product of reason deeply tied to the world of experience and nature that we all share. Here was a fact consistent with every observation, from the crystalline structures of naturally occurring elements to the tools used to construct the pyramids. Here was a theorem revealing--through correspondence or coherence or both--eternal relationships in the structure of the universe that could be used to predict and build. By the time of Plato, Euclid had expanded on Pythagoras' work and published his system of geometry and geometric proofs. 
A common modern definition of knowledge is "justified, true belief." There are three elements to this definition. To qualify as knowledge, a proposition has to be something in which we believe. Mere belief is a pretty low bar. We all have beliefs. We disagree with each other about whose beliefs are better or more true. Knowledge must rely on something more. Another element in our definition of knowledge is that it must be justified belief. That is somewhat better than belief alone--by adding the requirement for justification, we have to be able to offer reasonable grounds for our belief. But even this is not enough, as we can all offer reasons to believe things that are different from and inconsistent with what others have reason to believe. There must be a stricter requirement to differentiate knowledge from belief, and that leads us to the requirement for truth. When we say that something qualifies as knowledge because it is justified true belief, the assertion of truth is a claim about the relationship between the proposition we are considering and the world of experience that we all share. We are asserting that the proposition corresponds with the world of experience or is coherent with the world of experience, or both, in the same way as the Pythagorean Theorem.
Things are not true because we want them to be true, or because someone we like tells us they are true, or even because we all agree that they are (or should be) true. Things are true if and only if they stand in a certain relationship to the world of experience we all share. True things correspond to the world of experience, or are coherent with the world of experience, or both. Since the world of experience, as I am using that term, is a world we all share, then true things are also independently verifiable through their effects, or predicted effects.
 The description of Pythagoras' work is taken from Jacob Bronowski's book The Ascent of Man, and from the BBC television series based on that book.
Benjamin Franklin's excellent statement on the final day of the Constitutional Convention, which we considered in the last blog, reflects a healthy humility and respect for the views of others. In Apology, Plato describes Socrates as holding that the greatest wisdom was to know that you know nothing. With all due respect to Socrates, I think he takes things a bit too far. We can know things. We do know things. How do we differentiate between what we know and what we merely think we know? How do we apply the lesson of humility without taking it to the Socratic extreme?
Rene Descartes was a French philosopher, soldier, mathematician, and scientist who lived in the first half of the 17th century (1596-1650). In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes offers a powerful, simple argument to start us back on the path to establishing what we can know. Descartes set about a thought experiment, examining everything he thought he "knew", and imagining whether it was possible that some powerful wizard was simply deceiving him about this knowledge. He determined that there was one fact about which the wizard could not deceive him--the fact of his existence. Descartes reasoned that, even if everything in his experience was simply an illusion, he himself--the entity that was experiencing the illusion--had to exist. Stated another way, the powerful wizard had to be deceiving something with his illusions, and that something had to exist. Descartes summarized his conclusion with the famous statement, "I am thinking, therefore I exist." 
There is more we can do with Descarte's first step, but it is a powerful first step, so I will leave our reflection there for today.
 Rattle, Allison, and Alex Woolf, 501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy, Metro Books, New York, 2013, p. 54.