Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hopefully, a new trend

So Georgiana Preskar has responded in comments to Dave Rattigan's review of her book Seeds of Destruction, which seemed to be a standard born-again screed against liberalism, modernism, and puppies. All jokes aside, I must say I'm surprissed and pleased that she's responded. I'm usually not one for trumpeting either blogosphere triumphalism or authorial virtue, but Ms. Preskar has certainly impressed me of the significance of the latter.

So, before I start taking issue with the specific points raised in her response, a hearty "good job!" is due. Good job, Ms. Preskar (the Ms. indicating my solidarity with bra-burning, man-hating feminists, of course).

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Swung on and missed

William Demski, proponent of intelligent design, badly misunderstands the role of religion in the ID/evolution debate:
The other side is just as happy to press their cause in churches. By the way, check out the staff directory of the National Center for Selling Evolution (NCSE)....The first photo you’ll see is of Josephine Bergson in a white clerical collar. In the caption we are told that “audiences appreciate her ability to demonstrate the compatibility of neo-Darwinism and Christianity.” The point to appreciate is that this debate is anything but religion-neutral for the other side.

This is a pretty bad reading of the role of religion in the debate. What's going on is that various proponents of ID (not Demski, but the lay folks in this debate) have claimed that Christians have a positive duty to support ID, because it's the only thing consistent with a literal reading of the Bible, or with the Bible generally. The evolutionist counter is to say that, to the contrary, evolution is consistent with the Bible. Note what the evolutionist isn't saying: s/he isn't saying that Christians have a positive duty to adhere to evolutionism; rather, since both sides are consistent with Christianity, we ought to evaluate the evidence without reference to religion.

In other words, the evolutionist counter is merely to rebut the original ID claim and return the debate to, y'know, science. Which is the terrain on which the debate should be taking place.

So why would Mssr. Demski so badly misread what's going on? I'd imagine it's because it fits in neatly with the whole "evolution is a religion!" slogan that ID'ers love to screech to anyone that will listen.

[edited for clarity - as Ultimate175 notes, the original wording suggested I meant that Demski himself had claimed Christians have a positive duty to adhere to ID]

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The relativism industry I: Moral objectivity & facts

As I was trawling through right-wing Christian sites, I came across this post about abortion. It's a well-written description of how people may rationalize the decision to have an abortion. Here's the part that caught my eye:

In our current “dictatorship of moral relativism,” it is entirely possible to convince ourselves that obvious fallacies such as this can be true.....Thinking in this manner creates complete anarchy in the psyche. If there are no absolutes, then I cannot find my way.

The majority of the post is oriented toward rationalization, which is a different beast from relativism altogether. The author discusses rationalization as a mode of thinking wherein the agent tries to blur clear black and white lines. In doing so, the agent makes the decision a hard choice, with the result that the agent is able to grant her/himself a greater margin of error. If it's a hard choice, the agent can't be blamed for making what turns out to be the wrong case.

This doesn't really have anything to do relativism. Instead, it turns on "situational ethics," or "moral particularism," which, roughly, is the idea that moral principles aren't useful. There is a wrong or a right decision in any given situation, but we can't discover which action is right simply by recourse to moral principles. For example, we all probably agree murder is wrong. What about self-defense? Well, there's an exception to the principle in that case. And as we keep going through different scenarios, we start seeing that there are so many exceptions that the principle, by itself, isn't determinative of the correct answer. When every case is an exception, it's hard to see how a principle even exists, or if it does, how it is useful. That's the gist of it (a full defense of this philosophy is outside the purview of this post, by the way).

As should be clear, it isn't relativism: moral particularism presupposes that there is a right action in any given situation, and the rightness of the action is wholly independent of the agent. By contrast, relativism is the thesis that the rightness of an action or principle hinges on the belief of the agent. It's the direct opposite of moral particularism, then, in that the truth of morality is agent-dependent.

As moral particularism highlights, many moral arguments turn on factual disputes. Abortion is the clearest example of this. The moral acceptability of abortion turns on the personhood of the fetus.

In the comments to that post, grannygrump writes: "the whole idea of declaring that some human beings are not "persons" is moral relativism in action. It's saying that each person can choose which other human beings constitute "persons" or not...." If this were an accurate depiction of the pro-choice position, it'd be correct, but it isn't an accurate depiction. The truth of the proposition that a fetus isn't a person is independent of the agent that believes it. In other words, I don't get to "choose" whether a fetus is a person, no more than I get to choose whether Rome is in Italy. The disagreement is factual.

Strangely, not even the recognition that many disputes are factual, rather than moral, stops the "relativism industry" (a term I'll use to designate the organizations and individuals that keep droning on about the evils of relativism) from claiming that factual disputes are actually part and parcel of relativism:
An interesting feature of Cultural Relativism is that it seems to indicate that the moral disagreements between cultures are not actually moral disagreements, but are disagreements of fact. Again, let’s take the issue of abortion. The Pro-Life position argues that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. The Pro-Choice position actually agrees with the Pro-Life position on this essential point.

From the foregoing, we can take a stab at one way the relativism industry defines relativism: relativism is disagreement over relevant factual issues when both sides agree that the moral principle at issue is objectively true.

Maybe there's a way that isn't totally incoherent, but I don't see one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

But Bunny....I loved you!

I can feel a massive Morrissey phase creeping up on me. Morrissey, springtime, the new cut that lets me pomp my hair, new combat boots (finally...thanks matt!*), best girlfriend in the universe. Yep. Despite the stress I'm under,** I can tell everything's gonna be a'ight.

* I've got that song, but...this is ridiculous...I don't have a double cassette deck, and I don't know anyone in the new hood, so I can't boost someone else's.

** Enormous, enormous stress.

On Relativism: Intro

I've never given too much thought about moral relativism. Its conclusions never struck me as even remotely plausible (how can murder be right?), and there really haven't been many forceful defenses of what I'd call brute relativism (which would be the simple proposition: "murder is right if the actor thinks it is," without caveats and qualifications). As a result, I was never curious about its intellectual foundations, and assumed there was some perfect demolishment out there which I'd get around to reading someday. There is, and I did.

Christian culture, however, has created something of a thriving cottage industry out of chalking up every evil in the modern world to the scourge of relativism. This hyperventilating and borderline pathological tendency seems to have become practically Pavlovian, so there's a lot of questionable thinking out there. Because relativism is being used as the scapegoat for everything from hangnails to starving children in Africa, its use probably merits some kind of investigation. I suppose you could say that, rather than being roused from my dogmatic slumber, I've been poked repeatedly with a sharp stick and forced to wake up and take notice.

Following will most likely be a boring interrogation on how the concept is used and why it's gotten that way (I expect the answer to the latter can be summed thusly: follow the money).

Seeds of awful writing

I love it when people shred awful writing, movies, etal. An excellent and most amusing example is Slactivist's on-going (and interminable) reading of Left Behind. Here's how his reading opens:
Pages 1-3.

The first words of Left Behind are "Rayford Steele," the protagonist's name.

It sounds like a porn star's name -- and in a sense it is. The Left Behind series is dispensational porno, but it's more than that. One of the most disturbing things about this book is the way LaHaye and Jenkins portray men, women and the relationships between them.

Note that Tim LaHaye's wife is something of a professional misogynist. She runs the 500,000-member "Concerned Women for America" -- jokingly referred to by its critics as "Ladies Against Women." For years, while Beverly LaHaye's husband pastored a church in San Diego, Mrs. L. spent most of her time 3,000 miles away, in Washington, D.C., running a large organization committed to, among other things, telling women they should stay at home and sacrifice their careers for their husbands. She is not an ironic woman and doesn't seem to find any of this inconsistent. (Nor, as I found out firsthand, does she appreciate jokes about the Freudian implications of the view from her L'Enfante Plaza office window. Sometimes the Washington Monument is just a cigar.)

Our porn star hero, Rayford Steele, interacts with women just like any porn star does -- minus, of course, the sex. It's all about dominance, exploitation, titillation and the stroking of -- in this case -- egos.

The character Rayford Steele is, like the authors, no longer a young man. Younger authors might not have been compelled to give their protagonists names -- "Steele" and "Buck" -- that seem such a blatant assertion of male virility. Bev is apparently not the only LaHaye who seems oblivious to phallic imagery.

If you're thinking I'm reading too much into all this, that this theme isn't really as present in the text as I'm making it out to be, consider the opening lines:

Rayford Steele's mind was on a woman he had never touched. With his fully loaded 747 on autopilot ...

That's more than just subtext.

I'm anxiously awaiting Fred's review of the movie, but at his present pace it may be a few decades.

In this vein, I've found Dave Rattigan's series on a book called The Seeds of Destruction, yet another book in the burgeoning Christian culture-war industry. Here's his thesis:

At the heart of it, if I can put it crudely, is this: Someone is pissed as hell that after years of the media and society being the guardians and evangelists of their political, religious and moral agenda, someone else is being given a crack of the whip. The issue isn't control or brainwashing or agendas. In so far as those terms offer fair and accurate descriptions, they've always been with us. The issue is that certain conservative Christians like Preskar had it good for so long, they're damn well pissed that they're not the ones doing the brainwashing any more.
Sounds about right. What about awful writing and naive regurgitation of suburban ideology? Oh, it's in there:
Our little white house with its large back yard, Mom baking apple pies, Dad coming home from work, a dog and cat, riding horses, playing Cowboys and Indians and dolls are many of my recollections of childhood.
I always find it interesting when the message of the Gospels is conflated with suburban idyll. At any rate, I'm sure the rest of Dave's series will be equally good.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Smarter than I: II

This carnival is living up to its name. The posts received blew me away so much that any pithy summaries I could come up with were utterly inadequate to the task at hand. Some of these were gut-bustingly funny; some incredibly thought-provoking; and some just unbelievably beautiful. It's amazing the depth and the breadth of talented prose on the net. One thing I know is that there are many people smarter than I both past and present. So here are the latter in terms of the former.

Kant: We call sublime what is absolutely large ...That is sublime in comparison with which everything else is small. (popular demand)

Sun-Tzu: To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. (from Mark at Pseudo-Polymath)

Freud: But this uncertainty disappears in the course of Hoffmann's story, and we perceive that he intends to make us, too, look through the demon optician's spectacles or spy-glass - perhaps, indeed, that the author in his very own person once peered through such an instrument. (from Bora at SciencePolitics) [Ed: this post is long, but so very worth it]

Bertrand Russell: This enlargement of Self is not obtained when, taking the Self as it is, we try to show that the world is so similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admission of what seems alien. The desire to prove this is a form of self-assertion and, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth of Self. (check out A. Rickey's comment, too) (from Sanctimonious Hypocrite)

Kant (again): Which restriction is an obstacle to enlightenment, and which is not an obstacle but a promoter of it? I answer: The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. (from Jim at Decorabilia)

Roland Barthes: If one wishes to connect a mythical schema to a general history, it is the reader of myths himself who must reveal their essential funtion. How does he receive this particular myth today? (scroll down to Septimus's comment) (from Jim at Decorabilia)

Ralph Waldo Emerson: There is properly no history; only biography. (from Mark at Pseudo-Polymath)

Paul Ricoeur: To bring about the economy of the gift in a modern context. Should this not be the challenge and joy especially for those who know about the strange economy of God and have received the economy of salvation? (from Rana at Frogs and Ravens)

Found randomly on the web cuz I know nil about science: The new science of virus molecular systematics is shedding a great deal of light on the distant relationships of, and in some cases on the presumed origins of many important groups of viruses. (from PZ Meyers at Pharyngula)

Alexander Pope: Satire or sense, alas! Can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? (from Brian Thompson)

Juvenal (who didn't even have the benefit of our asinine headlines): It is difficult not to write satire. (from Ferdinand at Conservative Cat)

Last & late but not least:

Homer Simpson: Mmmmm......sacrilicious...... (from John of Locusts and Honey)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kerry & military benefits: a long record

Kerry is currently soliciting stories about hardships faced by military families that stem from inadequate benefits. He'll then read those stories into the congressional record to support a bill to boost benefits. Polipundit's response:
John Kerry is now professing an interest in helping the members of the military and their families. As the wife of a Marine Corps veteran, I am all for that. For the past several decades, however, Kerry has not exactly been known for his support of military spending.

See, if I were writing at Polipundit, I probably would've searched Thomas for support of my contention that Kerry is only recently interested in benefits for veterans and military men and women. And if I had, I would have found that my statement is completely unsupported. If there's been one consistent supporter of benefits for servicemen and women, it's been Kerry.

I would think there are enough reasons to criticize Kerry without having to make stuff up.

At any rate, some examples of bills he sponsored or cosponsored:

S.205: A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to equalize the treatment of members of the Armed Forces of the United States and former employees of the Federal Government for purposes of eligibility for payment of unemployment compensation for Federal service. (102nd Congress)

S.334: A bill to provide child care services to families of members of the Armed Forces of the United States who are serving on active duty, to provide eligibility for certain health benefits for members who are released from active duty in connection with the Persian Gulf conflict, and for other purposes. (102nd Congress)

S.347: A bill to amend chapter 171 of title 28, United States Code, to allow members of the Armed Forces to sue the United States for damages for certain injuries caused by improper medical care provided during peacetime. (100th Congress)

S.2120: To amend section 3104 of title 38, United States Code, to permit certain service-connected disabled veterans who are retired members of the Armed Forces to receive compensation concurrently with retired pay, without deduction from either.(100th Congress)

S.1334: A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to establish a demonstration project to evaluate the feasibility of using the Federal Employees Health Benefits program to ensure the availability of adequate health care for Medicare-eligible beneficiaries under the military health care system. (105th Congress)

S.2358: An Act to provide for the establishment of a presumption of service-connection for illnesses associated with service in the Persian Gulf War, to extend and enhance certain health care authorities relating to such service, and for other purposes. (105th Congress)

Yeah, that Kerry. What a bandwagon jumper.

Health care

Here's Angry Bear:

The data very consistently shows that the US does not have a very good health care system when measured in terms of the health of its people, or when measured in terms of how its citizens feel about the health care they get... and it has a horrible health care system when these mediocre outcomes are juxtaposed with its astronomical costs.

But this is just a sample; there's virtually no metric in which the US health care system provides better care than those of other countries, other than in care for the very rich. The reality is that the average person in the US receives mediocre care that is extremely expensive.Here's some anecdotal evidence from commenter Lucian K. Truscott IV at Political Animal:
I have a conservative Republican friend who got a diagnosis of colon cancer recently. He had very poor but quite expensive HMO insurance and looked into what the treatment and cost would be. Answer: surgery which would have left him on a colostomy bag, expensive co-pay, and over the max coverage he had.

His sister lives in Paris, so he flew over there. Upon landing in France, he became eligible for health coverage. He was afforded the very best and most up-to date treatment for colon cancer -- it gets technical, but it involved shrinking the tumor with radiation and then surgery, which meant he didn't need a colostomy bag. He was treated over a period of almost a year, and has been back a couple of times for check-ups to make sure the cancer hasn't come back. Cost: about $1000. To his credit, he thinks the American way of health is insane.

There must be some downside to switching to a French model, or else one would expect we already would have done so. What is it? That's an honest question, as I have no idea about this stuff.

Coming soon: smarter than I

The deadline is approaching for the upcoming Smarter than I. You've still got time, so hop to it! Send a link to a post you dig, plus a brief description, to smarterthani [at]

Here's Jim on what this whole deal-y is:

I'm gearing up for the second installment of smarter than I, the carnival where you submit other bloggers' work. I'd like to include a new category: superior commentary. Often the best thing about a particular post is the witticism, ingenuity, or rhetoric it inspires. So, this time around, you'll be allowed two entries--your link to a posting and a comment of genius.

smarter than I is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult carnival out there. It's rather easy to send a link--and that's all you have to do. It's hard to choose just one, especially if, like most bloggers, you're addicted.

Send them to smarterthani at hotmail dot com by Wednesday, April 13, 3:00 pm PST. And thanks in advance to all those who will help spread the word.

Read the very first smarter than I here, and a statement of purpose here.

Bookmarks, I hardly knew ye

I love Firefox and all, but it's got some glitches that kill me. I turned the computer on this morning, and no bookmarks. None. After some rooting around, I guess this has happened to a handful of people - the bookmarks just vanish. What I didn't know was that when you close Firefox, it backs up your bookmarks and overwrites previous backups. So when I closed it to do a system restore, *poof* there went my backed-up bookmarks.

So, if there any passing computer folks out there, am I right about what happened? And what should I do? I'm not going back to internet explorer, but Firefox's glitches annoy me to no end.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Via Pandagon is this head scratcher of an opinion piece:

One of the most frequently offered arguments by proponents of same-sex marriage is that it is not gays wanting to marry a member of the same sex that threatens the institution of marriage, it is the high divorce rate among heterosexuals.

One reason this argument is so often made is that it appeals to the religious as well as the secular, to conservatives as well as liberals. This is too bad, because the argument is a meaningless non sequitur. First, while divorce ends a given marriage, it does not threaten marriage as an institution.

All I can say is: huh. Somehow, divorce isn't a threat to marriage, but gays.....huh. As it turns out, it's the standard "we can't redefine marriage because then I'll have to buy a new dictionary, this one not being updated since 1859 and marriage being the only word I look up, which I do daily to assuage my fears that incredibly high levels of divorce haven't changed the definition from 1859" style argument.

Seriously, what a nutter.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Two columnists I loathe.

Maggie Gallagher. She's really annoying. Every college newspaper has that one wiener conservative that moans and complains about how hard it is to be a conservative on campus. And then they write something that isn't about how everyone thinks they're stupid because they're conservative, and you learn that people think they're stupid because they're stupid. And conservative. But mostly stupid.

I'd bet anyone reading this (except Gallagher, who may or may not read this after I email her the link) that she was that person. The wounded but self-righteous tone still comes through clear as a bell in her columns.

Danny Pipes. He seems not-retarded, but then he goes and makes the strangest and most colossal errors. For example, his column the other day began thusly:
With the passage last week of a budget bill in Israel, the government of Ariel Sharon appears to be ready to remove more than 8,000 Israelis living in Gaza with force, if necessary.In addition to the legal dubiousness of this step and its historical unprecedented nature (challenge to the reader: name another democracy that has forcibly removed thousands its own citizens from their lawful homes)
Gosh, forcing people out of their homes must be unprecedented! Why, that could never happen in a place like A-mur-i-ka!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Why my girlfriend thinks I do a shitty job washing the dishes when I'm actually harnessing the secret interiority of soap

What happens when we wash dishes? If I remember my junior high science class correctly, the soap emulsifies the fat clinging to the bowl (the same process that makes milk). Making soapmilk is a physical change, not a chemical change, so it requires a lot more scrubbin'. I don't know about you, but I find it a more plausible idea that the soap kills dirt on contact, as a kind of chemical transformation. Add a little heat, and the the magic inside the otherwise harmless soap is unleashed.

That makes a lot more sense than soap milk.

In theory, it allows me to leave food particles on the dishes, since that food becomes clean non-food itself simply by dint of coming into contact with the magical properties of dish soap.

What do soap experts have to say?

A: "The implicit legend of this type of product rests on the idea of a violent, abrasive modification of matter: the connotations are of a chemical or mutilating type: the product “kills” the dirt. "

B: "Roche in Boulder Colorado interviewed me for job. They knew I was the inventor of the Electric Windmill Car and knew I would come up with some innovative ideas on memory pills for total recall and I would gain immense insight into drugs for a cancer cure working on their assembly line in Boulder Colorado but they did not hire me on Orders from Bush and Kennedy etc who want to stifle my inventions."

C: "I require the implementation of my intellectual data regarding the concepts of "0" and its' copyright dollars paid so as to finance this fusion project in Australia with international involvement. Mathematicians become very upset when confronted with my dividing and multiplying by 0. Seeing and hearing mathematicians and physicists tearing their hair out over my concepts of "zero" is to believe it."

Objections to the nomination of John Bolton

Jay Nordlinger responds briefly in The National Review to Barbara Boxer's criticism of John Bolton's nomination as UN ambassador (provisionally, I'll observe that it's a response in the syntactic sense. It is structured to look like a response; whether it actually is a response is an entirely separate question):
And here's Sen. Barbara Boxer, on John Bolton, Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: "He's been very contemptuous of the U.N." Well, no sh**, senator. And you haven't? You weren't contemptuous when Saddam Hussein's government chaired the nuclear-disarmament committee?....Liberalism used to mean something — e.g., opposition to tyranny and lies. And now? Opposition to George W. Bush seems most important.
There are two lines of counterobjection here: the first is the hippie objection (Republicans are all about peace and flowers, and the UN hasn't been helping the world in either of these areas). As an objection to Boxer, this misses the mark. One of Boxer's main objections to Bolton was his opposition to various peace-and-flower-maximizing treaties (notably, those treaties banning chemical weapons and nuclear weapons). As a general counterobjection, though, it could be said to be the objection from corruption: to the extent that the UN is corrupt and/or impotent, it is unable to maximize the peace and flowers that patchouli-wearing Republicans have come to see as the primary goal of foreign policy ("freedom, man!").

If Bolton's criticisms have tracked this line of reasoning, that'd be great. Clearly, corruption is a huge problem at the UN, and a strong proponent of reform could do much good.

The problem, though, is that the antecedent of that proposition is patently false

Bolton isn't a critic of the UN's effectiveness per se; he's ideologically opposed to the very existence of all forms of internationalism and international law. As a sovereignty fetishist, he's committed to opposing treaties and international organizations on principle. What is crucial to note is that this opposition is independent of any concerns about effectiveness or corruption.

In short, his problem is with sovereignty, and not UN corruption: "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law...because...the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States." The concern evinced here turns on the issue of constraints on future US action. In fact, it is this ideological opposition to internationalism that opponents of his nomination hone in on: "Mr. Bolton has never made secret his disdain for the United Nations, for multilateralism and for consensus-seeking diplomacy in general."

The general counterobjection from corruption is clearly misplaced. What bothers opponents to Bolton's nomination isn't that he will fight corruption, it's that he will fight the very existence of institutions that have been accused (correctly) of corruption.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Marriage for some; miniature american flags for others

Remember how, in the wake of 9/11, everyone was wearing flag pins and ribbons, or putting flags on their cars and all that? That irked me to no end. I hate ribbons and pins. If there were a ribbon to signify that beating children is wrong, and everyone wore one for "Don't beat children" day, and I worked at an anti-child abuse non-profit (as opposed to one of those slick, well-funded pro-child abuse non-profs), I still wouldn't wear it.

Anyways, what made it all the more insufferable was that, since I was a teller at a bank, I was constantly being asked by customers and coworkers why I wasn't wearing a ribbon. "Where's your ribbon?" they'd ask, as if I'd been clutching it to my heart while thinking about how much I love America, and accidentally dropped it behind the desk. "Here, have another one, dear." I'd just smile and say thanks. I didn't want to be that guy that starts ranting about how stupid ribbons and pins are. You know who I mean: the guy on the corner handing out Lyndon LaRouche flyers ("In such matters as those, there are apprentice game-masters, and there are also what is merely human wreckage reprogrammed as virtual devil dolls.") The one who thinks ribbons are a tool of the Illuminati to subvert 4-day simultaneous rotations of the cubic Earth.

The thing that really got me was that these same people that were putting miniature american flags on their cars were people that didn't vote; didn't register for jury duty; and didn't bother to read about local referendums. No, their civic duty was fully discharged when they sang "God Bless the USA" at the 9/11 prayer vigil.

That explains why I just shake my head when states pass one of those toxic marriage amendments, as Kansas did yesterday.

As a good federalist, I'm of the opinion that if the voters of Kansas want to ban gay marriage, it's their prerogative. I wouldn't if I were them, but whatever. The problem, though, is that the language of the marriage amendments doesn't just ban gay marriage: it bans civil unions, and probably bans a host of partnership benefits (the ability to put one's partner on one's insurance plan, for example) that could accrue to any non-married couple.

There's a double unconscionability: first, the drafters of the amendment know that the amendment goes far beyond the prohibition of gay marriage, yet they lie to the people and claim it just bans gay marriage. That's totally counter to responsible governance. The people, though, have no less an obligation to try to understand a law before they vote on it. In that sense, the citizenry and the media blew it. A responsible citizen should have asked, "What am I being asked to pass? What will its effects be?" Instead, they just waved their miniature american flags and voted for whatever.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Who'd have thought it possible?

Some people are smarter than I.

We all have times when we read posts and think they just captured a subject perfectly. It's fitting, and past due, then, that we have a carnival of those posts that make us reel with their insight and ingenuity. Mad props to Jim over at decorabilia for the idea, and mad props for his great presentation of a great idea. Although it is a little disconcerting that, in addition to being hit with bloggers smarter than I, I have to deal with a blogger more clever than I in the process.

(I spent all of my smoke breaks at work reading and rereading the Perry Mason post, by the way. Totally brilliant stuff going on at chicago boyz)

Sally gets a blog!

I'm not keen on capital-R Romanticism, but there are some people that have a real gift for beautiful prose. When I have to write beautiful prose, I have to labor over it, continually editing and rewriting, dropping in some alliteration here, some internal rhyming there. The end result....usually doesn't quite match my ambition, unfortunately.

My girlfriend, though, has some innate feel for the language that charms the hell out of me. Plus, she cracks me up. Hopefully I'm not setting the bar too high. At any rate, here's a snippet (or the majority, actually) of the inaugural post from The Sleeper Car:

After approximately 2 and a half years living in Greenpoint, I have moved to Bay Ridge. To sleep. A good one year of Greenpoint was spent devoid of sleep. A haze that I was partly to blame for but mostly the fault of others. The insomnia haze called my old apartment was ripe with the worst neighbors ever.

Nightime has now bestowed upon me a new blessing. The blessing of quiet. I can sometimes hear my naughty cats scampering around at 4 in the morning. But mostly I can my hear my boyfriend dream. Or I can listen to my own.

Although I escaped from a tiny railroad aprtment we now live in The Sleeper Car.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I [Heart] Matt Taibbi

It's true, and that despite the dead pope column, which just wasn't that funny. The man occasionally flashes true genius, though, a rare enough thing and even rarer in newspaper/newsweekly columnists. I was reminded of this as I was perusing righty blogs, and came across this woefully misinformed Vodkapundit post:

Tom Friedman needs to stop using poker analogies:

And this poker hand is seven-card stud, no-limit Texas Hold 'Em.

If you don't know, in Seven Card Stud, each player is dealt seven cards. Two down, then four up, then one down. There is betting after each card is dealt, starting with the first up card.

Texas Hold'em is an entirely different beast.

As Taibbi observes, though, mixing metaphors is Friedman's stock in trade:
The hallmark of the Friedman method is a single metaphor, stretched to column length, that makes no objective sense at all and is layered with other metaphors that make still less sense. The result is a giant, gnarled mass of incoherent imagery. When you read Friedman, you are likely to encounter such creatures as the Wildebeest of Progress and the Nurse Shark of Reaction, which in paragraph one are galloping or swimming as expected, but by the conclusion of his argument are testing the waters of public opinion with human feet and toes, or flying (with fins and hooves at the controls) a policy glider without brakes that is powered by the steady wind of George Bush’s vision.

Another gem:

"The Long Bomb," March 2. On the eve of war, Friedman puts us in a special kind of movie theater, one that has movable chairs instead of seats: "If this were not about my own country, my own kids and my own planet," he writes, "I’d pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and pay good money just to see how this drama unfolds." (Is there a place in the world where one can pop one’s own popcorn and then "pay money" to watch something?) But as it turns out, we’re watching not a movie, but a crap game; Bush is about to undertake a "shake of the dice." By the third paragraph, Bush has abandoned dice for football: he is about to throw "The Long Bomb." We then find out that Friedman’s wife is opposed to the war, but soon go back to the crap game and the "audacious shake of the dice." In the end, we find out that this has not been craps or football all along, but shop class:

"So here’s how I feel," he concludes. "I feel as if the president is presenting us with a beautiful carved mahogany table–a big, bold, gutsy vision. But if you look underneath, you discover that this table has only one leg. His bold vision on Iraq is not supported by boldness in other areas."

This must be derived from the popular expression: "He sure has guts. Like a mahogany table." Only in this case, the guts only have one leg.

I was assigned Friedman's book The Olive Tree and the Lexus this semester, and lemmee tell ya: Taibbi ruined it for me. I couldn't actually read the book; I was way too busy trying to figure out how the electric herd could build a mass transit system to download the supernovas of ingenuity. I almost got whiplash from constantly shaking my head in exasperation.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A radical realignment

At Topmost Apple, bls points us toward this article by John Coleman, writer of the always-thoughtful blog Ex Nihilo, on libertarianism. Bls conjectures that John at Ex Nihilo is working towards a distinctly Christian libertarianism, and, as I read him, notes that the time is ripe for democrats to harness the libertarian disaffection with the Republican Party.

To put it plainly: I think bls is dead-on. For a while, democrats have been stumbling in this direction through some of their positions: support of gay rights is easily and frequently cast as a question of personal autonomy, and the Clintonian democrats' fiscal conservativism as a decision not to be put at the mercy of foreign treasury bond holders. Both of these are classically libertarian, in that they favor greater, not less, self-determination. It's high time that Democrats' rhetoric explicitly foregrounded this.

I'd like to point out that this libertarian movement on the left is met by an equally counter-intuitive movement to Marxism on the right. John notes that libertarianism "is a political philosophy designed to protect personal philosophies." This, then, is the source of the notion that libertarianism is a non-political political philosophy: it carves out spaces from which politics are exiled.

Being a good marxist (in the sense of fidelity, rather than skill), this is the part where I observe that the decision to exile politics from a given sphere is itself a political act. In fact, as the constitutive moment of politics, it may actually be the political gesture sine qua non. Interestingly, the Christian Right has picked up on this, and used the analytical tools of Marxism quite effectively. As good marxists do, they've pointed out that there is no such thing as a depoliticized space. For example, the vanguard of the Religious Right, homeschoolers, have made a huge stink about the absence of God from public schools. While people say that this simply maintains neutrality, the newly-minted marxists of the Christian Right counter that the pose of neutrality is itself a deeply political decision. ("Failure to adopt an explicit world view in a philosophic position is in itself a world view.")

Neutrality also comes under attack in the sciences. Picking up where Thomas Kuhn left off, they theorize that science isn't a neutral method by which Truth is attained. Rather, science is a vast repository of values and politics. Just as feminists, post-structuralists, and marxists before them, the Religious Right collapses the difference between the "order of justification" (methods of attaining truth) and the "order of discovery" (the institutions in which science occurs). Why is evolution true? Because, the ID proponent tells us, evolutionists control the institutions - the tenure track committees, editorships at journals - that generate truth.

Roles have reversed in truly weird fashion. When one man decides to marry another man, it's the Religious Right outside the church with placards, screaming "The personal is the political!", while people on the left object that, no, the personal is just the personal, and the political machine shouldn't be brought to bear on another's personal decisions.

These are strange times.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The limit of the law

L'affaire de Schiavo had made me think about the curious relationship between the law and its exceptions. Since the law qua Law is, by necessity, a generalizing system, there will always be cases that fall through the cracks. In other words, because law is a set of rules, it will inevitably either capture too little or too much in its logic. For example, the high standard of proof for criminal cases ensures that some guilty people will be found innocent. The Schiavo case could be construed as proof of the law; it's the miscarriage of justice that constitutes the law as law. After all, for the law to be law, there's gotta be a miscarriage of justice. As you can see, I haven't found a clear way to articulate this. But, at a minimum I figured there was some interesting stuff about law we could ferret outta this.

It was good to find this article U.Chicago theorist Eric Santner, who hooks up l'affaire with Gitmo in a pretty nifty fashion:

With respect to Guantanamo Bay, to cite the most obvious example, the Bush administration has argued that the detention centers there effectively occupy a lawless zone, a site where a permanent (if undeclared) state of exception or emergency is in force. The prisoners have been stripped of all legal protections and stand exposed to the pure force of American military and political power. They have ceased to count as recognizable agents bearing a symbolic status covered by law. They effectively stand at the threshold where biological life and political power intersect. That is why it is fundamentally unclear whether anything those in power do to them is actually illegal.

If places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay represent sites where life, lacking all legal status and protection, stands in maximal exposure to Pure political power, then the case of Terri Schiavo—and here I am thinking of the law passed by Congress that was intended to keep her alive—offers us a strange reversal. We find here the paradox of an intrusive excess of legal “protection” that effectively serves to suspend the law (the judicial process running its course in the Florida courts) and take direct hold of human life. A law designed to lift a single individual out of an ongoing judicial process is essentially a form or caprice, law in its state of exception (a sanctioned suspension of legality).
(HT: Charlotte Street)

See ya in hell!

Cuz that's where I'm headed after cracking up over this: Terri's blog.

Oh man.....words fail me.

[HT: The Liferaft of Love, who will doubtlessly be joining me in eternal punishment]