Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ontologies of Knowledge, A Quote Not By Will Rogers, and a Dash of Politics
or: John Kerry, Get Out!

Donald Rumsfeld has been widely quoted saying:
" we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." (original link)
He's right, of course, but he left out the last, perhaps most important set of "knowns" - "the stuff you know that just ain't so." (This quote is usually attributed to Will Rogers, but if you search for it, you'll see dozens of variants, implying strongly that there's no canonical original. It might have been said originally by Josh Billings.) Rumsfeld's failure to acknowledge that is a typical blindness of the Bush administration; the entire Iraq operation has been informed by a sad lack of questioning the "facts" that they considered as "known knowns."

To turn around and punch the other party, too, let's consider John Kerry. Kerry is particularly fond of criticizing the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq, and I'd suspect that he'd strongly agree with the above paragraph. So it's time that he show more evidence of leadership than Bush. He needs to face up to an unpleasant truth for which he's been in self-denial: he will not be president. He won't win a single state in the Democratic primary. There is no scenario in which he becomes a contender. He has two choices now. He can stay in, get trounced by Dean in New Hampshire, and become instantly irrelevant, and Dean marches to victory. Or, in a statesmanlike move, he can get out of the race now, endorsing another candidate. If he endorses Clark, Clark is likely to place a strong second in New Hampshire, which in turn will give him a shot at first place in South Carolina. To sum up, Kerry's choices are to stay in and let Dean have the nomination, or get out and give Clark a shot.

And people say that ontologies of knowledge aren't useful.