Quasi-Realism about Morality?

Philosophically, the most absurd view I hold is a sort of quasi-realism about morality that's grounded in a thoroughgoing nominalism about everything else.|Bellman|
Ok, you're going to have to unpack this for me a bit.

I see the contrast between nominalism and realism (and Platonism) from reading the Wikipedia entry on nominalism.

So you think most categories and ontologies are arbitrary, but that categories of morality are more real and true somehow? Is that a fair reading?

So what's wrong with amnesty?

One of the silliest arguments against some of the immigration reform proposals is that any kind of amnesty for existing undocumented workers "rewards them for breaking the law."

For conservatives, this just makes intuitive sense--in the same way, "not negotiating with terrorists" makes sense to, well, everyone. But there's a real difference between lifting a law and negotiating with terrorists: We absolutely can't have people thinking they are going to get much of a reward from terrorism, while having other sorts of laws lifted carries with it no such serious consequence.

I am not suggesting that granting amnesty to all existing undocumented aliens is the right policy. All I'm saying is that the fear that we will somehow encourage lawbreaking is not a valid argument against it.

Furthermore, I would suggest that for folks of a liberal bent who are looking to reduce the growth of the prison-industrial complex by releasing those incarcerated for certain drug crimes, this is a meme worth crushing.

Yet another facet of the immigration debate

Chupacabra to Congress: Without Us, Who Will Drink the Blood of Your Goats?
I am so tired of hearing American citizens talk about how the illegal immigrants are coming in and taking their jobs from them. Come on! If we weren’t illegal, you wouldn’t be able to get away with paying us next to nothing. And do you really want to have those jobs? Do you really want to clean toilets, or wash dishes, or maul livestock all night long? I mean, can you imagine your typical New York stockbroker having to sneak onto a farmer’s property in the middle of the night and quietly drink the blood of five goats? Forget about it! First of all, he wouldn’t possess the dread gaze of the Chupacabra, a gaze which makes all animals freeze and succumb to my vampiric embrace. Secondly, he wouldn’t want to get his fancy suit all dirty.

The Simon Magazine

Friday dumb game blogging open thread

I got nothing.

Update: Lisa B suggests How Much. I dig it. -Jason


The Politics of Withdrawal

Bring Them Home Now is an organization advocating peace and an end to hostilities in Iraq.

I'm conflicted on whether to pull our troops out. I agree that this would create a power vacuum in Iraq. On the other hand, I don't trust this administration to make the situation better. There's a Russian military axiom that you don't reinforce failure.

The US has spent nearly $300 billion on Iraq so far. |Cost of War|

While the administration seems to have realized some of their most egregious mistakes and are doing better. Past failures cast a long shadow and the spectre of civil war cannot be ignored. This administration surrendered any pretense of credibility long ago.

So, I think a total withdrawal from Iraq by the US would be bad, why aren't other options being explored?

I've suggested elsewhere that partitioning the country is a solution worth exploring.

Or what about bringing in peacekeepers other than US soldiers? Especially soldiers from other Arab nations like Turkey, Pakistan, or Egypt, our ostensible allies?

Oh yeah, the current administration is totally hostile to the UN and has alienated all of our allies to the point where they won't commit troops to Iraq. I almost forgot.

Well, what if the US asked our allies to play a larger role in Iraq in return for surrendering Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to the Hague to stand trial as war criminals?

Related to these points, there's a great deal of speculation on whether the next US President will be forced to pull out of Iraq.

Amir Taheri indicates that the popular view in the Mideast is that America will cut and run as soon as Bush steps down.
According to this theory [of American cowardice], President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no [last] helicopter [fleeing Iraq] as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the [fleeing] helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand..."We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister....

But how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"? It was to find answers that this writer spent several days in the U.S., especially Washington and New York, meeting ordinary Americans and senior leaders, including potential presidential candidates from both parties. While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.

The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today.|WSJ Opinion Journal|

James Kunstler's take on our involvement in Iraq is as cynical (and perceptive) as ever based upon the global politics of petrochemicals.

I'm not sure that his position is internally consistent. Americans refuse to accept the reality of the situation with regard to oil and war. Why shouldn't they continue to make incredibly poor decisions in using oil, selecting presidents, starting wars casually and ending them prematurely?
[T]he war-weary public has done, and continues to do, nothing to change its habits of profligate oil use which have driven us to project our military into the Middle East.

We...expect to keep running American society exactly the way it has been set up to run -- as a nonstop demolition derby, with hamburgers and fries between laps around the freeway....

In the absence of [changing our energy dependent ways], our presence in Iraq is not optional.|Clusterfuck Nation|

Here's a fun game

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen asks, "What is the most absurd claim you believe?"

(Via America's most read basketball blog)

The main explicit rules here are that it has to be something you actually believe and it has to be the sort of claim that most other people think is crazy. I think Cowen was also looking for philisophicalish views, but I say we open it up a little bit.

My most absurd claim is almost certainly the one I made a little while back to the effect that it's not in America's interest to oppose nuclear proliferation. Philosophically, the most absurd view I hold is a sort of quasi-realism about morality that's grounded in a thoroughgoing nominalism about everything else.

The newest look in mind-control fashion

Mind-control helmets for mice!

Experts at the robot research centre in Shandong Technology University controlled white mice by stimulating micro-electrodes on their heads.

The mice obeyed computer-generated commands to, in succession, "turn left", "turn right" and "move forward".
| Ananova |

Two years of The Bellman

Sad but true. Also, it's been over four months since we last experienced a catastrophic archive existence failure. Got to be some kind of record.


Spam, Email Fees & Free Markets

Slashdot has an interesting post on pay-per-email schemes and AOL's Goodmail service, which is designed (at least in part) to help decrease phishing attacks.

In related news, Peter Suber's SPARC Open Access Newsletter for March identifies three new Internet governance proposals that threaten to impede open access projects, as well as altering the democratic nature of the Internet.

The threats identified are the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) proposed Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations, the two-tier Internet access proposal favored by Internet Service Providers (ISP), and the proposed two-tier email system suggested by Yahoo and AOL.

"...if you kill the dragon, it's dead forever."

The pop culture time machine that is my living room has lately been inhabited by The Aristocrats, The Sopranos (season one), and Firefly. Yesterday I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill all the way through for the first time. So I can't really claim to be on the cutting edge.

Still, the premise of this article strikes me as wrong. Or maybe confused is better.
Two decades ago, games played by one person at a time, in which the player's character navigates a high-fantasy world of goblins and elves, constituted the best-selling state of the art. But today, fantasy role-playing games that can be played by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of players at once, all meeting in cyberspace and navigating the world they collectively inhabit, have become vastly more popular. And in the process, single-player fantasy swashbucklers have been relegated to dustbin status, an afterthought, if any thought, for most game makers.
By focusing the action on an individual character — a stand-in for the player himself — a single-player game can often deliver a more emotionally compelling experience than games in which countless numbers participate. And if, by chance, that individual character is charged with saving civilization from some terrible evil, well, all the more so.

There are actually two aesthetic impulses at work here, but the author mashes them together. One has to do with solo-gaming itself, and the other has to do with dragons and goblins and orcs (oh my!). For all I know the author is right that there are fewer single player goblin epics than there used to be. It's a mistake, though, to think that this is tied to a decline in the solo-gaming genre itself.

For example, on my antiquated playstation II the game of the moment is Bode Miller Alpine Skiing, though I've also been spending some quality time with GTA: Vice City, Splinter Cell, and one of the sixteen thousand Medal of Honor games. None of those games has a multiplayer option, and each of the last three are story driven to at least some extent. The solo-gaming genre, then, is going strong. Moreover, it's strength has at least partly to do with the fact that solo games are able to offer more robust narratives than their multiplayer counterparts.

What's in decline, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings notwithstanding, is the cultural cachet of fantasy epics. When I say cultural cachet, it may be that what I mean is geek cred, but I'm not sure. Maybe today's true geeks are still into monsters but are a much smaller piece of the video game pie than they used to be. Or maybe the mainstreaming of fantasy archetypes has caused them to lose resonance among geeks. All I know for sure is that ninjas aren't very cool anymore either.


From the benefits book for my health insurance:
3.29 Whenever used herein, a masculine noun or pronoun is deemed to include the feminine, and a singular noun or pronoun is deemed to include the plural unless the text involved indicates the contrary.


A supposedly interesting post that I'll never write again

In a fit of pedantry, I decided to put on my critical thinking cap and try to figure out what's up with those two sets of memos from my last post. The results are after the jump. Read on if you dare!

First, neither set of memos comes from an unimpeachable source. In the case of the British memos, we don't have any guarantee that the events transpired as the British chronicler says that they did. For all we know, in fact, the story was leaked by Blair's cronies to give him political cover. In the case of the Iraqi memos, they emerged years after the invasion through the auspices of a national security apparatus that none of us have any great reason to trust. But let's assume that both sets of memos are genuine.

Another thing to notice is that neither set of memos really supports the most provocative readings that they have been given.

Here are two options: (a) George W. Bush seriously considered painting a spy plane in U.N. colors and deliberately arranging for it to get shot down; or, (b) George W. Bush made a joke about such a plan. It strikes me that b is much more plausible, and not so much because a is batshit crazy, as because b is strongly in keeping with what we know about George W. Bush's unserious approach to the presidency and a is batshit crazy.

Nor do the Iraqi memos show that Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship with Al Qaeda. In fact, the memos include a bald statement to that effect, though the anonymous author seeks to minimize that admission by noting ominously that Al Qaeda engaged in terrorist operations eight months after Al Qaeda representatives met with Iraqi represnetatives. Those of us who know about causal fallacies will not be fooled.

What, then, is a critical thinker to think?

From the British memos it is clear that the diplomatic posturing in the weeks before hostilities began was just that, posturing. The U.S. and its British allies had decided that there was going to be a war and there was nothing the Iraqis could do to stop it. Moreover, it is clear that neither Bush nor Blair foresaw that significant difficulties would remain even after their forces triumphed on the battlefield. None of this is a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention, but it's always nice to have documentation.

From the Iraqi memos it is clear that Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and intelligence services spent years planning and training for exactly the sort of insurgency that we're seeing on the ground in Iraq now. It's also clear that Saddam Hussein was a pragmatist who was willing to consider an alliance of convenience with Al Qaeda. Again, none of this is a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention, though you have to wonder if this documentation won't force the folks over in Rightyville to admit that the insurgency -- or whatever it has metastasized into -- isn't the sort of thing that's likely to be "in it's last throes" any time soon.

A tale of two cities

In Leftingrad, the news of the day is from the New York Times:
The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein. |link|

Meanwhile, in Rightyville they read The Weekly Standard:
The publication of the Joint Forces Command study, called the "Iraqi Perspectives Project," coincides with the release by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of several hundred documents captured in postwar Iraq. There are many more to come. Some of the documents used to complete the study have been made public as part of the ODNI effort; others have not.

It is early, but the emerging picture suggests that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated Saddam Hussein's interest in terrorism. One U.S. intelligence official, identified only as an "IC analyst" in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on Iraq, summarized the intelligence community's view on Iraq and terrorism with disarming candor: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks. It wasn't until we realized that there was the possibility of going to war that we had to get a handle on that." |link|

Addendum: I see that Jerry at Milblog quoted the same passage from The Weekly Standard. Shoulda given him the link. His blog is certainly a better read than RedState.

Even the most radical will quickly become commonplace

|The Economist|

Now, that power-law curve predicts 14-bladed razors by the year 2100, but that’s not the interesting curve. The interesting curve is the hyperbolic one, for two reasons: One, it matches the real-world data. And two, it goes to infinity in 2015. And how are you going to get an asymptotically-accelerating number of blades onto a razor? Why, you’d need godlike super-technology to do that.

Right. There it is, proof of the approaching Vingean Singularity, sooner than anyone expected it, clear as the chin on your face. |agrumer|



[Alteration of earlier 'tidivate' : perhaps 'tidy' + '(ele)vate']

tr. v.
To make neat, smart, or trim.



Democrats continue to run away from Feingold's censure proposal, but Arlen Specter, Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has announced that his committee will hold hearings on the issue.


Here's a link to the NY Times article on the topic. The print version is a little more extensive and includes the information that Specter has also announced that he will postpone hearings on the legality of the president's wiretapping scheme. Anyway that's what I remember reading this morning -- I don't have the print copy with me at the moment.


Why yes, I will have fries with that

Finally, a third[1] advantage to being moderately overweight (and male)!
A team at the Injury Research Center of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has found that being obese increases male drivers' risk of dying in a car crash, as does being very slim. However, being moderately overweight might help cushion the blow.
The researchers suggest that the unexplained reasons for the gender difference in BMI and motor vehicle fatality might be, in part, the difference in body habitus or body shape between men and women, and should be studied further. Their findings may also lend credence to the theory of a "cushioning effect" for slightly overweight men that might protect them from fatal injury in a crash, according to Dr. Zhu. |link|

(Yes, I heard about this on Car Talk)

1 The other two advantages are that a few extra pounds can supply the human body with valuable energy reserves in case of a minor famine and that your ass is less likely to hurt when riding public transportation.


Our kind of guy

My beloved alma mater has high ethical standards. That's just how things go in Godly Kansas. And it's why they've hired Bob Huggins to coach the basketball team.
Bob Huggins is returning to college basketball as Kansas State's coach after 16 years at Cincinnati, where he turned the Bearcats into a national power but was ousted following a drunken-driving conviction and a clash with the school's president.
Cincinnati cited the arrest as the culmination of many problems. He also had been criticized for a low graduation rate and for several off-court incidents involving players.

"We expect our coaches to be role models, and we expect our students to be role models," Zimpher said after his firing. "We make no apologies for setting high standards." |link|

He'll win.


It's all about trust. When I read over at the Aardvark's place[1] that Dick Cheney demands that hotels pre-tune all TVs to FOXNews, I figured that she was propagating an amusing hoax. Nope. And now the story is all over the lefty blogosphere.

You know what jumped out at me though? The list of newspapers hand scrawled at the bottom of the list. As near as I can tell, Cheney's reading requirements include:
  • The New York Times
  • USA Today
  • the local paper
  • The Washington Post
  • The Wall Street Journal

That's just not a list that fits with a preference for FOXNews. Seems to me that if Cheney's reading habits matched up to his viewing preferences you'd expect him to drop the NY Times and the Post and replace them with the Washinton Times and the NY Daily News. Guess there's still room for a little bit of reality in the VP's daily routine.
1 How sexy I must be to know about that blog!

Then blam, Erich Fromm

Are there actual real people who pay to have the New York Times home delivered? For themselves, I mean?

I get the paper every weekend because a very thoughtful former tenant in my building failed to forward her subscription. The landlord says that this is very much in character and is exactly the sort of thing that led to her eviction. My co-worker here at the big bad grad union also gets the New York Times, but for her it's an annual Christmas gift from her parents.

Anyway, I mention this because this afternoon I finally got around to reading last Sunday's New York Times Magazine and I wanted to share a couple of paragraphs with assembled Bellmania.

This is taken from an article about Liberty University's powerhouse debate squad:
O'Donnell and his coaches scout the other teams. Liberty knew that one of its opponents in Annapolis would probably argue that the Chinese should be pressured because they discriminate against their Muslim minority. In the van on the four-hour drive there, debaters rehearsed responses, using a special lingo.

"They pull the genocide card," one said, "we come back with Heidegger."

"Then blam, Erich Fromm."

"Right. Setting up an accusation of Holocaust triv."

"Holocaust what?" asked O'Donnell."

"Triv. Trivialization."

"Don't use shorthand," O'Donnell said. "Judges don't like it."

In case you missed the article, the thing to know is that Jerry Falwell throws money at the debate squad in hopes of germinating a cadre of argumentative Christian conservatives to carry the movement forward. Note that O'Donnell is passing on a key lesson: work the refs.

Beyond that, I can't parse the argument. And not because I don't get the lingo or don't have a passing familiarity with the Heidegger and Fromm.

Come to think of it, manufacturing confusion through argument sort of reminds me of something else in the right wing playbook. Falwell may be on to something.


For the record

Since our unreachable archives are unreachable, I thought I'd state something again for the record:

People aren't scared weapons of mass destruction. People are scared of nukes.

Biological weapons are potentially very scary, but nobody has successfully deployed these in a massive way--and nobody really thought Hussein would be the first to crack that nut--so there we are talking about WD, not WMD. And as for chemical weapons... come on, was anybody worried about a deadly mustard gas attack?

Nope, in as much as people were truthfully worried about Iraq, they were scared of nukes. So if Hussein turns out to have buried or shipped to Syria a few truckloads of the height of WWI technology, it's hardly going to make people think that ousting Hussein was critical to ensure our national security.

It depends on what the meaning of 'accurate' is

Vice President Cheney said Sunday that his 10-month-old claim that the insurgency was in its "last throes" was "basically accurate" and reflects reality. |Washington Post|


As long as I've got my media critic hat on...

...let me say that I think the top story should have been the anti-war protest Sunday afternoon. I was working down by campus when the protesters paraded past on the street and was astonished by how many of them there were. I mean, I know that Ann Arbor is a college town, but geez.

Also, the paper's estimate of 1200 seems low to me. Better than the local NPR's station's estimate of 'several hundred', but low.

Slow news day I guess

Here are the opening paragraphs of yesterday's front page (above the fold!) story in the Ann Arbor News:
Forty years ago today, for a brief but interesting time, Washtenaw County became the flying saucer capital of the Midwest.

It started when a Dexter farmer named Frank Mannor and his 18-year-old son, Ronald, told the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department that a strange flying object appeared and landed in a swampy area at Quigley and Brand roads. |link|

Interesting stuff, sure. News? Maybe forty years ago. My favorite part of the article comes at the end, when the reporter quotes Harry Willnus, one time director of the Michigan state chapter of the Mutual UFO Network.
Willnus has a copy of the police report from that night, and said there's no way that it was swamp gas.

"For instance, it mentions that the object was observed to rise to an altitude of approximately 500 feet, and then return to the ground," he said. "Swamp gas doesn't do that. It only goes off the ground a few feet. It mentioned when it took off, it sounded like a rifle shot in a canyon. Again, swamp gas doesn't do that."

So what was it?

"We can't be sure," he said. "It was, I think, either a craft that came from off the earth, an extraterrestrial, or some kind of one-dimensional device. And I'm starting to use the word multiverse rather than universe ... Some kind of one-dimensional craft, perhaps, that came into our realm and then left."

Clearly, Willnus is no crackpot. I mean, he knows about the multiverse.


Link of the day II (not a twice daily feature)


Link of the day (not a daily feature)

Golly was it a good idea to put Balkinization on the blogroll. Go read Conservatives Still Don't Get It: Their Mea Culpa on Iraq.

A Policy Built on Sand

To augment Zwichenzug's earlier pro-proliferation post, I ran across this editorial today in the Financial Times that makes his point even more strongly in the context of discussing the Bush Administration's newly-released (but essentially unchanged) National Security Strategy.
[U]nlike Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran has never in modern times launched an aggressive war against a neighbour and for a decade now has not been credibly accused of sponsoring a terrorist attack. As to the [National Security Strategy] criticisms of Iranian “tyranny”, this exemplifies the hypocrisy that undermines US claims to be spreading “democracy” in the Middle East – for along with its elements of theocratic authoritarianism, Iran also has more elements of representative democracy than any of America’s key Muslim allies in the region.

Preventive war against Iran would therefore be a monstrous act by any standard. The right to pre-emptive war against visibly imminent attack has always been asserted by the US and every other state. Preventive war against possible future dangers represents a deeply menacing revolution in international affairs. It is also ridiculous to suggest, as this NSS does, that the US should claim this right, without other states following suit.

In rejecting proposals for preventive nuclear war against the Soviet Union and China in the early 1950s, President Harry Truman put it well: “The only thing you prevent by war is peace.” ....

But now Washington and Tel Aviv want it both ways. They want simultaneously to possess nuclear deterrents and to prevent other states from developing the nuclear forces they are supposed to deter. It is impossible to base any legal, consensual or stable international order on such an intellectually and morally incoherent foundation.|Financial Times Editorial|

Annotated Powerline, on Iran

Paul from Powerline advances the conservative case for war with Iran:
Last week, the Bush administration agreed to talk with Iran about Iraq. Iran has been arming Iraqi Shiite militia and some insurgent groups.

I've been following Iran news closely for the last couple months, and I have seen no indication that there is any proof of this. Note also that Pajamaline folks will typically say things like "Iran is doing x" when in reality there are some elements, perhaps not even elements connected to the government, within Iran who are doing x. "So let's bomb the mother f*ckers." The same conflation practices applied to the U.S. could result in sentences like "The United States is actively trying to trying to assassinate Hugo Chavez," based on some crazy statements by one Christofacist who does not hold any governmental position.
The administration's objectives will include bringing an end to that practice and, more broadly, ending sectarian violence by Iranian-supported militia. My sense is that such talks are a bad idea. Iran is involved in Iraq because it perceives an interest in supporting our enemies there.

This last sentence is accurate, but misleadingly phrased. Iran's alleged interest in supporting Shiite militia may or may not be related to them being the enemies of America, although that is the impression this sentence leaves. Furthermore, I doubt the Shiite militias consider themselves as enemies of America.
To talk Iran into changing course, we would have to offer it an incentive larger than the one that's pushing it to cause trouble now. The only such incentive I can imagine is backing away from our efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

This man lacks imagination if this is the only incentive he can imagine.
But a nuclear Iran would have far more ability to cause mischief in the region than Iran has now. Our top priority, even ahead of curbing current Iranian mischief making in Iraq, must be to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Well, at least he's clear about what he believes. But note Zwichenzug's post on this very subject, as well as this post about the new fatwa against nuclear weapons.


[from Italian 'irredenta', unredeemed]

Any doctrine advocating the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to a nation but now subject to a foreign government.

Another pro-proliferation post

I can't link to it, but Sunday's NY Times editorial by David E. Sanger, Suppose We Just Let Iran Have The Bomb, covers ground that is usually assumed out of existence by the ground rules of American public debate. A taste:
"The reality is that most of us think the Iranians are probably going to get a weapon, or the technology to make one, sooner or later," an administration official acknowledged a few weeks ago, refusing to talk on the record because such an admission amounts to a concession that dragging Iran in front of the United Nations Security Council may prove to be an exercise in futility. "The optimists around here just hope we can delay the day by 10 or 20 years, and that by that time we'll have a different relationship with a different Iranian government."

A roll of the dice, for sure. Yet is the risk greater than it was when other countries -- from the Soviet Union and China to India and Pakistan -- defied the United States to join the nuclear club?

And could deterrence, containment and cool calculation of national interest work to restrain Iran as it worked to restrain America and its competitors during the cold war? Or is that false comfort?

Sanger's column explores the idea that the consequences to the U.S. of stopping an Iranian bomb are more severe than the consequences of a nuclear Iran. It's good stuff, and if you can get your hands on a print copy of the Times I'd recommend reading it in full.

But I want amplify Sanger's argument by bringing up a favorite point of mine that Sanger overlooks. Namely, that the technology for manufacturing nuclear weapons is sixty years old. Preventing Iran from acquiring the technology to produce nuclear weapons is like preventing them from adopting black and white television, jet propulsion, and the transistor radio. Get real.

Stopping nuclear proliferation is a nonstarter. Delay, obviously, is possible. The crucial point here is that once it's admitted that delay is the real goal it becomes illicit to rely on a cost/benefit calculation that includes the destruction of the American way of life on the cost side of the equation.

Edited to include a link to Sanger's editorial.


Pardon the lucubration

One of the rationales sometimes offered in justification of civil disobedience -- and it's a rationale that I find more than a little plausible -- is that those engaging in civil disobedience are seeking to transform an unjust society by forcing the executors of that society's laws to to confront the contribution that those executors make to an unjust regime. Thoreau, in the following passage from "Civil Disobedience", seems to be offering this sort of justification.
My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with--for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel--and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well that he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he will treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborlines without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action.

There is a pragmatic problem that threatens to undermine this justification. The problem is that the act of breaking the law tends to cede to the law's enforcers a psychological license to assume the moral high ground. From the point of view of a law's enforcers the civil disobedient's concrete transgression of that law is going to swamp any abstract considerations of societal justice. Which is to say that a police officer responding to an anti-war sit-in is likely to blame the protesters for trespassing, and that the presence of that moral judgment is going to block the kind of transformative reconsideration that the protest was meant to bring about.

So: On the profferred justification civil disobedience intends to bring about change by provoking a crisis which causes citizens to reconsider their support for unjust practices. But, there is a serious worry that civil disobedience might be self-defeating, since its methodology will tend to block just the sort of reconsideration that disobedients seek to bring about.

Where does this leave things? It seems to me that there's something right about the idea at the core of the justification I've been discussing here. Achieving any kind of radical change is going to require just the sort of thing that civil disobedients are aiming for, namely, a crisis which forces citizens and officials to confront the nature of their government. The question is, are there ways to create such a crisis without simultaneously arousing the kind of reactionary sentiment that blocks change?

Remote control insects

Robo Roach.

Laser-guided fruit flies.


Big balls?

There are any number of important questions that might be asked about the latest Crooks and Liars clip to sweep through the blogosphere -- these for example -- but here's what I'm wondering about: Didn't the actor playing the judge do a nude scene in season two of Dead Like Me?

Good news from Iran

Barkley Rosser:
The Vilayat-al Faqih, "Supreme Jurisprudent" Ali Khamein'i, has apparently issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons. This is serious. He is not only the leading theologian in Iran, he is the supreme commander of the armed forces and in effect the Head of State as well. It was he more than any other, through the Council of Guardians whose members he appoints, an equivalent of the Supreme Court, that the more moderate President Khatami was undermined. I am not a fan of the Iranian theologians, but I take Khamein'i's religiosity seriously enough to take seriously his fatwa. I would find it hard to believe that Iran would actually develop nuclear weapons with such a ruling in place while he is in his position.

Electoral Misprognostication

The idea of a McCain vs. Hillary race is already making my stomach hurt. Hopefully the Republicans have somebody better to offer. And good god I hope we do, too. I'm with Molly:
I will not be supporting Senator Clinton because: a) she has no clear stand on the war and b) Terri Schiavo and flag-burning are not issues where you reach out to the other side and try to split the difference. You want to talk about lowering abortion rates through cooperation on sex education and contraception, fine, but don’t jack with stuff that is pure rightwing firewater.

(found at the panda)


[Latin 'tergiversari', from 'tergum', the back + 'versare', to turn]

intr. v.
To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate.
2. To change sides; apostatize.


Republicans piling on, just as I predicted:
But Feingold's maneuver isn't just problematic for Hillary in '08. At a time when Democrats were beginning to score points over the ports issue, in one fell swoop, Feingold has put the Democrat Party back on the wrong side of the national security issue. This is the work of either a very selfish politician, or a very naïve one.  
Matt Lewis

Weakening our national security is their agenda. Is it yours? Sign the petition to tell the Democrat leaders to stop undermining the War on Terror with cheap political stunts.
Ken Mehlman

Feingold's maneuver Monday was a bit of a Thelma & Louise moment in politics: he slammed the gas pedal to the floor and set Senate Democrats heading straight for the edge of the Grand Canyon. Liberals stood on one side cheering it as an act of heroism, Republicans stood on the other cheering it as a stunt of monumental stupidity and hoping the car would actually catch air. And poor Senate Democrats were left strapped in the vehicle, with eyes bulging and mouths wide open, as they scrambled to find the brake.
Tom Bevans

Complete horseshit. These guys are scared. They know that this is a losing issue if they can't get ahead of the frame. All this bravado is just to bluff the democrats who can be scared into running. And, also as predicted, that's working too. Dianne Feinstein could find her way to introduce a censure for President Clinton, but she can't support this?
As an aside, it's interesting to note that those who supported DiFi's censure bill are many of the same folks who did nothing to stop Alito. Just another reason to get rid of 'em.
Sean-Paul Kelly

But Feinstein and company are idiots, apparently. The reason the republicans are so shit-scared of this is because they know it's a loser for them. The polls are with Feinngold, and even Pat Roberts' home town papers in Kansas are against Bush and the Republicans on this:
Pat Roberts made it clear again last week that he puts loyalty to the Bush administration ahead of everything else, even his responsibilities as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Instead of beginning a probe of President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, as critics demanded, Roberts announced that he'd reached "an accommodation" with the White House - creation of a subcommittee to monitor the operation, just as the Bush administration wanted.
. . . .
Roberts put Bush's re-election ahead of an informed electorate when he delayed phase two of the pre-war intelligence report. He placed loyalty to the Bush administration ahead of Americans' civil liberties when he foiled an investigation of domestic spying.

To Pat Roberts, the Senate Intelligence Committee exists for one reason - to validate the policies of President George W. Bush.

The Hutchinson News

Meanwhile, here's a good question:
When will it be fair to say that Congress has tacitly approved of the President's surveillance program?

Insect Cyborgs and Swarmbots

Swarmbots are a new way of thinking about robots.

Lots of small, cheap robots that can spread out and search an area quickly and are controlled through a hive mind.

Along similar lines, DARPA is also investigating implanting electronics into insects.

Wouldn't it be cheaper and more-effective to bio-engineer the insects from scratch? The problem must be that the Bushies don't like anything that smacks too much of playing God.

They have no problem with killing people by the boatload, but the whole bioethics thing makes them queasy.
The Pentagon is trying to develop "insect cyborgs" able to sniff out explosives, or "bug" conversations by lurking unseen in enemy hideouts with micro-transmitters strapped to their bodies.

The cyborgs - half insect, half robot - would be created by inserting tiny devices into the bodies of flying, hopping or crawling insects while in their larva or pupa stage, so that the mechanisms become part of their bodies and ultimately allow them to be moved by remote control.|Guardian|


With an excerpt like this, of course you'll read the whole thing

I leave it to others to make the fairly obvious applications to our general situation. But might we might say that the seeds of the present constitutional crisis were laid by spineless Democrats who refused to take seriously the prospect of impeaching Ronald Reagan and who refused to raise a ruckus when President George H. W. Bush engaged in his infamous Christmas pardons of 1992 that effectively shut down the investigation of Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh into the culpability of Secretary of Defense Caspar Winberger and Bush himself? And, of course, Bush pardoned Abrams as well, who is now back in service in George W. Bush’s administration.
|Iran-Contra and our Present Constitutional Discontents|

BREAKING NEWS: Courageous white reformers restore "equal" opportunity

Last year, in response to a legal threat from the Education Department, Washington University in St. Louis modified the standards for an undergraduate scholarship that had been open just to minorities and was named for the first African-American dean at the university. This year, the first since the change, 12 of the 42 first-year recipients are white. |link|

Real Clear Psycopathy

John McIntyre in RCP writes some odd sentences. For example:
With Bush’s poll numbers returning to post-Katrina/Harriet Miers lows, most Democrats seem to understand the political stupidity of Feingold’s move to censure the President.

Um, what? I think there's a step missing in there somewhere.
Republicans, on the other hand, should use the opportunity that Feingold has provided them and hammer Democrats mercilessly on this issue. If played right, this could be like the Jack Murtha episode where Democrats will have to turn off their non-stop Bush bashing and vote against Feingold or risk appearing to be on the Michael Moore fringe of the debate.

Yep, it wasn't that long ago that a majority of Americans believed Bush should be impeached over this, but now it's the "Michael Moore fringe of the debate" to slap Bush on the wrist with a censure. It would be comical if a bunch of Democrats and Republicans weren't about to fall for the swift-boating of Sen. Feingold.

Ooops! Our bad!

from the fine people at married to the sea.


Corrupting Young Minds?

In discussing when it is appropriate to use profanity in class, the Axis of Evel Knievel draws the line at religous blasphemy.

[W]hile I carry no water for anyone with strong religious beliefs, I acknowledge the historical significance of religion and devote a lot of time in my classes to its social and political dimensions over the past few centuries. For that reason -- and because we have a lot of students (mostly Christian) who haven't yet been demoralized by the random, cavernous void that comprises human existence -- I avoid statements that will be interpreted as overly blasphemous (e.g., "Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick, World War I was a depraved waste of life"), or insulting to anyone's strange metaphysical beliefs (e.g., "[insert religious denomination here] are fucking crazy.")|Axis of Evel Knievel|

Since the assembled Bellmen have taught far more classes than I have, when do you think it's appropriate to swear in class?

Hating on moderates

Meanwhile, because sensible moderates like Saletan won't do the hard ground work of preserving abortion rights -- he's not "a member of the movement," he assures readers -- the task has fallen to a smaller and smaller segments of the left. Of course such people seem strange to Saletan, though the picture he draws of "earnest" women with "backpacks or spiky hair" who are "absolute relativists" and could use a dose of "humor" is hardly one that's uncommon in anti-feminist writing. But who did Saletan expect would still be maintaining choice as a fact rather than a word game at this point in history, when even moderate pro-choice supporters feel that the best use of their faculties is to try to convince an American public that already considers abortion to be taboo that it's "bad"? |Garance Franke-Ruta|

If you only read one article about the world of competitive chess today

Read this one:
After two days, the casino was thick with the smell of man dork. Enthusiasts road-tripped from around Europe to smoke, play and watch. Downstairs in the basement, a makeshift bookseller hawked paperbacks including "Genius in Chess," "Black Is Still OK!" and "Mastering the Najdorf." Upstairs in the main auditorium, Nakamura had his quarter-finals opponent, an 18-year-old Georgian woman named Nana Dzagnidze, right where he wanted her, backed against the wall. In this, and other chess tournaments, games are time-limited. For that reason, playing the clock is a big part of the game. And few masters play it better than Nakamura.


Someone must have been telling lies

U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy's "classified" order leaves secret his reasons for also turning down defense requests to suppress any evidence acquired from warrantless wiretaps or force authorities to disclose whether they were used in the Albany case.
Defense attorney Terence Kindlon said Saturday he is researching possible appeals of the ruling. "My sense is, this can't be right. This has to be wrong," he said. "The question is, how do you even argue it when you don't know what the basis is?" |link|

In related news, I rewatched Bob Roberts last night. I sort of remember it being an over the top roll in the aisle laughfest when I saw it in the theaters, but somehow it just doesn't seem so funny anymore.

I don't think Joe Hill would approve

Andy Stern has a knack for making labor news interesting. Check out this trial balloon:
"If workers are ready to go on strike in the United States, and we are ready to pay them to strike, it would be very costly," Mr. Stern says. "But paying workers in Indonesia or India or other places to go on strike against the same global employer isn't particularly expensive."

Such a strike, if it disrupted the global shipping of goods manufactured overseas but intended for sale in the United States, could be extremely effective, he adds. |link|

(that link is to a NY Times article, but if you want to read the whole interview and are willing to put up with a registration requirement, go to: The McKinseqy Quarterly: Shaking up the labor movement)

I've mentioned this proposal to three or four of my lefty friends since I read about it yesterday and the consistent reaction is visceral disapproval. I think, at bottom, that what motivates my lefty friends here is a feeling that if American unions follow Stern's plan then they will be joining their corporate opponents in a project of exploiting cheap foreign labor.

It's a reaction that I share, but I also think that Stern is grappling with a real problem. Modern corporations have global reach and vast resources. If unions are going to struggle against those corporations, then the unions must use their own (limited!) resources efficiently. Refusing to use cheaper methods of disruption when available is inefficient and serves to increase the boss' advantage. Pragmatically, then, it seems that unions must do something along the lines of what Stern suggests.

Still, it leaves a bad taste and I'm not at all convinced that this is a place where principles ought to give way to pragmatism.

Maybe I should add that a lot depends on how the foreign picketers are recruited. Elsewhere in the interview, Stern talks about building a global federation of labor unions. That's certainly something that my lefty unionist friends and I favor. Stern just seems to think about it in an overly mercenary way.


[from Latin 'fulgens', to flash, shine]

Shining brilliantly; radiant.

Noted without comment

Many drivers now bend long rods over their motor bikes, attaching them at the front and back, hoping that any stray kite strings will slide along them and spare their necks. |link|


Truly, a sore bone

The Sorbonne: university of choice for agitating students since May 1968.

This image and others can be found here.


Friday dumb game blogging, bubblewrap edition

Eventually I will save the world... with my thumbs

Since we are talking about the vidya games this week, via Instapundit here are some real world applications (with emphasis added by my thumbs):
The U.S. Army has discovered a remote control gun turret that works, and cannot get enough of them. The army wants over 9,000 CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations), but is only getting 15 a month. There should be about a thousand CROWS in service by the end of the year. . . .

But there's another reason, not often talked about, for the success of CROWS. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements, and any firepower the enemy sends your way. But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger.

In the perfect world of blogs, I would have a video clip here of the Futurama episode where Frye saves the planet from space invaders. Instead, I'll have to quote the alien general's main strategy:

Descend, and reverse direction!


Because the only thing dumber than solving a problem with a gun is failing to solve a problem with a gun

For Safety Neal: Gunfight Rulez

(found via this unsavory character)

Despite myself, I thought this one was funny:
21. Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

It's a triple.

Gather around the geek machine

And rejoice.

Update: I think Ludlow was trying to put his card in the comments, but that's just a little bit more than the law will allow. So here he is. He doesn't even own Burnout yet, and he'll never achieve my lofty ranks.

Not so dismal science

Economists start collecting data about "life satisfaction" as "measures of utility." Let me just say on behalf of non-economists... "You wern't already doing that?"

Anyway, the first result is that good government makes people happy:
Looking at the scatter plots, the correlation between life satisfaction and quality of government is remarkably linear. One interesting and seemingly robust result is that "countries with some element of proportional voting do have higher levels of life satisfaction."

No wonder we've all been so miserable of late.


That's when Russian space officials decided to pack a sawed-off shotgun aboard every spacecraft

Because of the wolves.

Does that include mormonism?

And what about those dangerous unitarians and (gulp!) deists? I think we better narrow this shit down:
State bill proposes Christianity be Missouri’s official religion

The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

Props to the show-me state. I am sick and tired of the majority being oppressed in this country!

(KMOV, found via my new favorite blog, Posthuman Blues).



[French 'cortège', from Old Italian 'corteggio', from 'corteggiare', to pay honor, from 'corte', court, from Latin 'cohors', throng]

A funeral procession.
2. The group following and attending to some important person.

The politics of cybernetics

"Go on," Smythe urged. "How strongly does she equate cybernetics with Communism?"

I looked at him in surprise. "She quotes Nemchinov pretty strongly on that," I said. "Her argument--I suppose she was carrying the Nemchinov philosophy--is that only the Communist system gives sufficient room to apply the combination of mathematics and cybernetics to the national economy. Pretty dry phraseology, but not the way it sounds when Tamara is talking." I grinned self-consciously. "Okay, okay, so I've got a thing about the girl."

He waved me on to continue.

"Well, according to Nemchinov," I said, "public ownership--the Communist system--is essential to setting up a single electronic network. I mean, a net that includes cybernetic systems for industry, commerce, agriculture--the works."

"And capitalism?"

"Nemchinov--according to Tamara--has it thumbs down on private enterprise."


I shrugged. "Something about there being an inherent barrier in private enterprise to creating the true cybernetics system on a national scale. The framework of companies, corporations, syndicates--all these spell out unacceptable interference from conflicting interests. The way Nemchinov puts it, you need almost the equivalent of ant society to create a really meaningful cybernetics system."

"Do you think his point is valid?"

I thought that one over for several moments. "Not really, I suppose. I haven't made any effort," I added, "to weigh the pros and cons of one system against the other, Tom. In the cybernetics sense, I mean."

The quoted passage is taken from chapter five of the science fiction novel The God Machine by Martin Caidin. It was published in 1968 and isn't all that good.


Pure evil or good business

Logicians know, of course, that the truth conditions for the disjunct are such that the titular sentence will remain true when both clauses are satisfied. This is often a source of confusion for students, who are inclined to think that 'or' implies exclusivity, but there you go.

Last night at about 3am I headed out to Meier to buy some necessities: blanket, pillow, toothbrush, toothpaste, aspirin, hot pockets, and antacid. On the way out of the parking lot I noticed that right across the street -- where there had been an empty field a few months ago -- a Wal-Mart had popped into existence.

This struck me as odd since I knew for a fact that there was another Wal-Mart less than a mile away. Curious, I drove by to see if the other store was still open for business. Yup.

So, basically, what's happened is that Wal-Mart has opened a new store for no other reason than to draw shoppers away from the only remaining competition in town.[1]

Still only one Starbucks.

1 Said town being Champaign/Urbana where I happen to be this weekend, not Ann Arbor.


Don't even think about trying to cancel your card

They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted.


Eventually, his and his wife's money was freed up. The Soehnges were apparently found not to be promoting global terrorism under the guise of paying a credit-card bill. They never did learn how a large credit card payment can pose a security threat.


Friday dumb game blogging, dumb game edition

Pixel Dash


What pizza has wrought

A relgious businessman is to spend £250 million building a porn-free town where contraception will be banned.
Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who was raised by nuns, says it's 'God's will', reports the Daily Mirror.
Ave Maria will be run on strict Catholic lines, with no selling of porn, condoms or birth control pills, and a ban on X-rated cable TV.

There have already been 7,000 inquiries about the 11,000, homes in Florida - next to a Catholic college also built by Monaghan.

But civil liberties groups predict big legal battles over the bans.

| Ananova |

Won't anybody think of the children?


[From Latin 'abstemius', 'abs-' away + 'temum' liquor]

Eating and drinking in moderation.
2. Sparingly used or consumed.
3. Restricted to bare necessities.


Uninformed legal prognostications

I have two predictions:
  1. The Supreme Court will uphold the 2002 gerrymander that the GOP pulled in Texas.
  2. Tom DeLay will go to jail for shenanigans related to the 2002 gerrymander that the GOP pulled in Texas.

Or don't.

Superman couldn't see through it

NPR reported today on toxic levels of lead and other toxic materials in the soil in New Orleans. But wait! Katrina only stirred up the mix that was already there. Ya think? The city only sits in the eastern arc of Cancer Alley.

All that lead paint what been scraped off by gentrifying white hipsters in the Upper 9th isn't helping, either.

Ahimsa my ass

In contrast, grazing ruminants such as cattle produce food and require fewer entries into the fields with tractors and other equipment. In grazed pastures, according to Davis, less wildlife is lost to the mower blades, and more find stable habitat in untilled fields. And no-till agriculture also helps stabilize soil and reduce run-off into streams.

"Pasture-forage production, with herbivores harvesting the forage, would be the ultimate in 'no-till' agriculture," Davis said.

Davis proposes a ruminant-pasture model of food production, which would replace all poultry, pig and lamb production with beef and dairy products. According to his calculations, such a model would result in the deaths of 300 million fewer animals annually (counting both field animals and cattle) than would a total vegan model. This difference, according to Davis, is mainly the result of fewer field animals killed in pasture and forage production than in the growing and harvest of grain, beans, and corn. |link|

Two quick links

  • Garance Franke-Ruta has written one heck of a take down of John Tierney. Signature passage:
    The one thing that unites these two perspectives is a commitment to male irresponsibility. Gender neutrality, in Tierney's world, could be a good thing if it allowed men to have sex without consequences and abandon their pregnant girlfriends, but is bad thing when it requires men to clean up after themselves.|TAPPED|

  • Nathan Newman takes former Clintonite Donna Shalala to task for union busting at the University of Miami.

Read 'em both.
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