Battlepanda: July 2005


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Let me join Matt Yglesias in asking this: Why do libertarians and other free-trade cheerleaders feel the need to give CAFTA their (infinitely reluctant) backing when it is nothing more than a trojan horse bearing monopoly-extending intellectual property rules ignominiously rushed pass a dracula session in congress by bribing reluctant congressmen with porktastic protectionist measures that favor their home states?

Is it just because the bill has the words "free-trade" in it? C'mon folks. This is the Bush Administration we're talking about here. Don't take the bait so easy. The tree-huggers weren't fooled by the "healthy forest" intiative, you know. You didn't hear of any environmentalists sighing "well, the Clean Air Act is complete bullshit, but I gotta support it to keep the pro-environmentalism ball rolling."

Being pro-free-trade does NOT mean being pro-CAFTA. If CAFTA is a bad bill likely to do more harm than good, then don't support it just for the sake of appearances. I'm looking at you, Tyler Cowen. In the long run you will be doing more harm than good to cause of free trade.

Filling the dumb pundit gap

With NY Times about to take away free access to Friedman et. al., what's a blogger to do when news are slow and the urge to stomp on some stupidity builds?

I have a feeling the L.A. Times op-eds should fill gap more than nicely. Here's David Gelernter:
Equality doesn't mean you get a pass or special privileges just because your skin is dark or you appear Middle Eastern.

You might argue that dark-skinned people are a special case, given the way the United States has treated them. I agree — we have treated them so solicitously, and worked so hard to suppress racial prejudice, that dark-skinned people owe their country the benefit of the doubt.
The emphasis is mine. "We" versus "them". Light-skinned versus dark-skinned. Americans versus people who live here.

I suppose "dark-skinned people" ought to be so grateful for getting treated almost as well as the white folks around here that it would take a special kind of impertinance to ask for the privilege of being allowed to go about their business without being singled out for harrassment.

As for Gelernter's astonishing assertion that the U.S. government "worked so hard to suppress racial prejudice" that non-whites ought to cut them a little slack when it comes to civil rights infringements, that is shamelessness on par with a wife-beater justifying slaps to the face on the grounds that he has "worked so hard" to suppress his urges to land punches that would put her in hospital. I don't want to deny Americans the good feelings that accompanies progress -- the abolition of slavery, the repeal of Jim Crow laws. But behind the justifiable pride must lay the acknowledgement that those improvements has been a long time coming. The fact that the British abolished slavery before the Land of the Free will forever be besmirch our history, as does the continuation of segregation well into the 60's. Is it too much to ask of crypto-racists like Gelernter to lay off the self-congratulation for how "solicitous" the treatment of colored people have been in this country?

Thanks to Brad Delong for pointing out the utter stupidity.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A gentle plea for caged fights

Majikthise is disgusted by them. The New York Times tut-tuts. But is Ultimate Fighting just misunderstood? Did you know that nobody has ever died from sanctioned mixed martial-arts matches while boxers die every year? Did you know that the cage that makes the fight seem so apocalyptic actually prevents deadly whiplash injuries by supporting the head? Did you know that fighting bareknuckle actually discourages repeated hits to the skull since the uncushioned knuckles tend to get broken before brain damage occurs?

Ultimate fighting is not just less barbaric than boxing. It seem like a much more interesting sport too. Don't tell me you've never wondered what will happen if you pit a tiny kung-fu master against a monster fridge-type linebacker. What's more important? Power or technique? What kind of technique is superior? Mixed martial-arts fights allows a tantalizing hint of the answer. In general, boxers, Karate and Tae Kwon Do masters gets their butts kicked by ju-jitsu and kickboxing practitioners. Wrestlers do OK, but have to pick up kickboxing moves to survive. Big mean brawlers gets floored fast while real street fighters are in their element. Sumo Wrestlers need not apply.

I mean, it's not something I'd go all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to see. But damn you, John McCain, for keeping it from my cable.

UPDATED: After reading a few comments, it became clear that a line has to be drawn between Ultimate Fighting Championship and other sanctioned mixed martial art events like Pride, and the kind of backyard wrestling type involvement of rank amateurs that the Times article was talking about. People do get killed during those. Then again, they would if they climbed into the ring with a boxer. All the more reason to keep Ultimate Fighting in the open and respectable because more dumbass amateur fights is a trend that happened as Ultimate Fighting was cut off from legitimate venues like pay-per-view cable.

Friday, July 29, 2005

To be strong and wrong...

Are we over Vietnam yet? Publius of Legal Fiction argues 'no'.
It’s one of the great puzzles of contemporary American history – why are the people who were right about Vietnam shunned by so many (including the political majorities of their day)? Why aren’t they celebrated the same way the abolitionists are celebrated? After all, they were right - demonstrably so. And as for “excesses,” the protestors weren’t “excessive” enough if you ask me, and I suspect that a few ghosts whose names are etched on a black marble wall on the National Mall would agree.
But anyway, my larger point is that America is still suffering from a “Vietnam syndrome,” but not the one you’re thinking of. The original “Vietnam syndrome” referred to the reluctance of Americans to send troops to war after the fall of Saigon. The critique that many conservatives and hawkish liberals made was that this reluctance morphed into irrational knee-jerk hostility to the use of any and all military force. What I call the “other Vietnam syndrome” is precisely the opposite. It refers to the mindset of those who are so anxious to distance themselves from the anti-war movement of the 60s that they have developed an irrational and knee-jerk acceptance of any and all exercises of military force. [snip] matter how bad Iraq gets, and no matter how convinced Americans are that it was a mistake, I’m certain that no anti-Iraq candidate has a prayer in 2008. To be “credible” on the national level, you had to have supported the invasion.
It's read-the-whole-thing material. As a progressive, you will be chilled. As an American, you will be saddened. How raw the wound of Vietnam still is. Sometime it seems like we've surely had enough time, distance and buddie-movies to have come to terms with it. But the sting of defeat is still there, right beneath the surface. Perhaps the more Iraq resembles Vietnam, the harder it is not to think of it as a second chance to do things right. Eventually the sheer magnitude of Bush's blunder will convince (nay, is convincing) the American people that Iraq was a mistake. But the greater the hurt, the harder it will be to say 'I told you so' without becoming a traitor in American hearts.

Organic farming for efficiency

When people think 'organic' they probaby think of a chi-chi yuppie lifestyle choice. But is it possible that organic farms are, in the long run, more efficient than conventional farms? This is what a 22-year study by Cornell University suggests.
The study compared a conventional farm that used recommended fertilizer and pesticide applications with an organic animal-based farm (where manure was applied) and an organic legume-based farm (that used a three-year rotation of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat). The two organic systems received no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. [snip]
"First and foremost, we found that corn and soybean yields were the same across the three systems," said Pimentel, who noted that although organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years of the study, over time the organic systems produced higher yields, especially under drought conditions. The reason was that wind and water erosion degraded the soil on the conventional farm while the soil on the organic farms steadily improved in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality indicators.
An organic farm, the study found, required 15% more labor input as well as more rest between productive years. But the payoff is a 30% decrease in fossil fuel imputs and decreased environmental externalities such as fertilizer runoff. Given the surfeit of agricultural land in the U.S. and the increasingly high costs of oil, it seems that environmental and economic factors are converging to make organic farming in corn and soybeans an inevitable trend if sanity prevails. That's a big if...

(Via Dymaxion World. By the way, we're talking cereal and legume crops here, not grapes or apples or other intensive crops. Organically farming those prima donnas seems to involve a lot of coddling and heartache, from what I can gather.)

Friday Schnauzer Blogging [crafty panda edition]

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I don't know if I'm going to bring back Friday Schnazer Blogging as a regular feature...but this one is too adorable not to put up. Notice the DodoHammock. Yep. I made it myself from PVC pipes and an old blanket.

"Self-esteem takes practice"

Click your way to confidence!

When authoritarian rule meets free-market economics

Tyler Cowen ponders the curious case of Singapore. I tried to approach the same question with China (but less coherently) not long ago. The question: Can authoritarian governments ultimately become better hosts for free-market economies than democracies? Here's Tyler:

Yes Singapore has developed rapidly through the use of market incentives, but there is much government planning here as well. Every food stall gets a letter grade for its cleanliness, which must be displayed prominently. More significantly, land planning has been extensive, and yes the government decides where the food stalls (and just about everything else) will go.

But why do we call this government? Let us say that way back when, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had homesteaded the territory of Singapore in proper Lockean fashion. He then wrote a contract welcoming people (all subsequent migrants, but not everyone) to live there, provided they agree to various rules and regulations, including of course Singaporean land planning, not to mention the ban on oral sex. This would then count as "the market," presumably.

Should we then think that such planning is more (or perhaps less) efficient, because it is now "the market" instead of "government"? But why should our evaluation depend on the murky details of past history? What is really the difference between market and government anyway? Can we in any case think of Singapore as a very well planned corporation, albeit with some uptight morals at times?

When we do public choice theory, is it really the government we are criticizing? Or is our true target something like "excessively large land parcels," regardless of their historical origin?

It's like a bad romantic comedy, this curious dance between authoritarian governments and free-market economics. When they first met, they hated each other! One is a control freak, while the other needed room to grow. For years proponents on both sides traded barbs and insults. Yet they say that opposites attract, and before long a whirlwind courtship resulted in beautiful children like Singapore (and more controversially China) with a whipped and docile citizenry AND meteoric economic performance.

The Authoritarian Capitalist Paradise -- It's a happy ending that those of us who would prefer to think that political freedom is inextricably tied to economic success does not like at all.

No Hillary in '08

-- Because we need a liberal with mainstream appeal, not a centrist with a flaming-left reputation.

-- Because dynasty democracy is bad for America and incompatable with our spirit of risk-taking and openness.

-- Because everything she's done to position herself for '08 has smacked of triangulation and detracts from her role as a senator.

And because in 2008, the Bush brand will surely be tarnished and depleted. There will be nothing the Republicans will love more than a Hillary candidacy to give them an excuse to drag out the old Clinton routine and take attention off Bush's failures. We need a fresh face with no baggage.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Gratuitous degradation

Has environmental degradation become an intrinsic good to Republicans?

Because how else do you explain
the fact that local politicians have convinced the Interior Department to block a deal where an environmental group will buy out grazing permits from ranchers at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park in Utah? The environmentalists will be returning a scenic area to native vegetation. The ranchers are only too happy to sell. The only people who are not happy are the Republicans.

And all I want to know is...why? What do they get out of this? Is this purely spite? Or are they so used to screwing the environment that they now do this reflexively and dogmatically?

(Via Erik at Alterdestiny)

Democrats: The party of Hayek?

I've always thought of F.A. Hayek as extreme libertarian dude. But this well-argued post by Lawrence Krubner, liberally larded with quotes from The Road to Serfdom, convinced me that, like Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek was a more reasonable and compassionate man than modern day Hayekians have caused me to believe. He was for the free market, but also for the "state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance" for hazards like sickness and accident. How positively Clintonian.

UPDATE: Whatever his political position, Paul Krugman thought that Hayek's economic stance was bunk. Krugman sounds convincing, but then again, he always sounds convincing, even when he's contradicting himself.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

GM genes escape from crops

I've always been cautiously optimistic about GM crops. After all, human beings have been modifying plants genetically ever since we became agricultural simply through selection. However, this latest news is worrying:
Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed", the Guardian can reveal.

The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape, a brassica, and a distantly related plant, charlock, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists with the environment department. It was found during a follow up to the government's three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago.
We've been told over and over again that this sort of thing could not happen. Except it did. Hmmm. The good thing is, corn and soybean, the two most common GM crops at the moment, do not have weedy close-cousins. But rapeseed, known as canola in the U.S., and many cereal crops do, leading to the possibility that their cultivation will lead to the inadvertant creation of pernicious weeds.

(Via Nathan Newman)

Paid to booze

My boyfriend is getting paid to drink alcohol and play video games. Cool, huh?

Well, not really. The alcohol is varying amounts of Everclear distributed among three cups of tonic water, the "video games" are computer tasks designed to test how the alcohol is affecting him, and he has to get a needle jab every day so they can do blood tests. Oh well. Anything for science (and $70 a day).

I signed up to be a subject in the same study, but was rejected because I did not drink enough alcohol (I told them I took 6-8 drinks a week!) to qualify. The good thing is Gene's mom is putting me to work wallpapering instead, so I don't feel like quite as much as a bum around the house.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Puppies against the National ID card

Oh my goodness puppies are cute!

Despite the utter futility of arguing against puppies, I have to say I can't get into too much of a lather over the National ID card proposal in Britain. These is an identity card scheme in Taiwan, and it hasn't been a terrible invasion of my privacy. It's a useful document to prove one's identity. Much like a driver's license is in the U.S., except you don't have to be a driver. But since the Brits have been getting along fine without such a document, I don't really see the point of implementing it now at great expense either if people don't want it. As for getting all high-tech and inserting chips that store massive amounts of information in the card, I can't blame the authority for wanting to spend a little more to do that. Civil libertarians worry, and rightfully so, about giant information databases to be sold to businesses. But wouldn't it be helpful, to have your medical history right there in your ID card if you're rushed to the emergency room, for instance?

UPDATE: In case the puppies don't convince you, Eclectech (who made the animation) has more against the ID cards in this post.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The real China threat?

A mystery disease has killed 17 farmers in China after they handled animal carcasses. Hot on the heels of bird flu and (earlier) SARS, this might make a trifecta of new and deadly diseases to have sprang recently from South China. Like the previous two scares, the suspected cause for this newest infection is a previously animal-only disease making the leap to humans through close proximity contact/improper handling. Although both SARS and bird flu seems contained (or is it?) without causing a feared pandemic, the way the Chinese government handled those crisises displayed a propensity for cover-ups that does not inspire confidence. Looks like they're up to the same ol' tricks of stonewalling the global health organizations.

Meanwhile, speculation continues. Is it a bacteria, as widely reported? Recombinomics suspects it's likely to be viral in nature.

Let's hope this story gets no bigger than this.

(Hat Tip: The Peking Duck)

" If we're going to be terrorized by police, what the hell is the point?"

By now we've all heard of the guy who was mistakenly shot as a suspected terrorist in a London subway station, but turned out to be a catholic electrician from Brazil. Was the guy stupid? There's certainly a case to be made that tearing into the subway away from 20 armed police mere days after a terrorist attack was a Darwin-award worthy thing to do. But then you hear details that lead you to contemplate that he was at least equally unlucky. Was he challenged after he jumped a turnstile, therefore giving him a motive to run? The police were plainclothes, and followed him from his home. Why didn't they arrest him as soon as he left the house? Why did they shoot him execution style AFTER he was pinned down on the floor?

This is an inauspicious beginning indeed for the "shoot to kill" policy. As Simbaud snarks: "The threat of summary execution serves as a powerful deterrent to suicide bombers, who might think twice about blowing themselves to smithereens if they knew that police were prepared to shoot them for it." Meanwhile, Avedon Carol asks: "If we're going to be terrorized by police, what the hell is the point?"

Another thought struck me: the poor schmuck who got shot 8 times in the head wasn't even Muslim. But if this policy of 'shoot to kill' persists and more mistakes are made, the victims are more likely to be young, Muslim men. In addition to the loss of innocent lives, we are looking at deaths that will incense the Muslim community and possibly radicalize more British Muslims.

Ebert and Asshole

It seems to be lets-indulge-in-sexist-jocularity week over at Richard Roeper's Chicago Sun-Times column. First, he goes off on a jaunty little anecdotal riff about how exasperating us daffy girls are:
How come women can't get the message: Listen!
You call a friend's cell phone and you get her voice mail, so you leave her a message containing all the information she needs for the evening. What time you're coming by, the dress code at the event, who else will be there -- the whole game plan. She calls back and says, "So what's the game plan for tonight?"
"Didn't you get the message?" you say. "I just called you and gave you all the details."
"I didn't listen to the message," she says. "I saw that you called and figured I'd just call you back. Do you want me to hang up and listen to the message? I'll call you right back! Or you can just tell me everything that's on the message."

Argh. Why is this happening all the time? And why is it only women who do call back instead of listening to the message first?
I hope my friend Matt does not mind me porting this to the blogisphere, but his response to the above is too good not to preserve for posterity.
Anyone who starts a sentence, written or spoken, with the phrase "How come women can't..." should be kicked in the shins, after his shins have been pried off and stuffed up his anus like an apple in a Christmas pig's mouth. There should be a small, elite unit of the armed forces to rove the streets in civilian clothing and perform this procedure. We will be a nation of shinless bigotry, and we will be better for it.
Amen to that. But the overgeneralization is just the appetizer. Next, Roeper really gets into the heavy-duty bigotry sandwich, with a side of entitlement hiding under the limp parsley of "being anti-PC":
Chunky women in their underwear have surrounded my house.

Billboards of chunky women, that is. If you've been downtown lately, you've no doubt noticed the ads for Dove soap, featuring regular-sized women in bras and panties. It's part of a nationwide "Campaign for Real Beauty," and it's drawing waves of attention from the media. [snip] There's no doubt the ads are attention-getting. Let's put it this way: this is the first time in 3,000-plus columns that I've ever mentioned Dove soap.

Now here's where I'm supposed to say that I find it refreshing to see "real people" on billboards, given that our culture is so obsessed with youth and beauty, and that most billboards feature impossibly gorgeous, ridiculously thin women who have been airbrushed to a level of perfection that 99.9 percent of the population can never reach.

But the raw truth is, I find these Dove ads a little unsettling. If I want to see plump gals baring too much skin, I'll go to Taste of Chicago, OK? I'll walk down Michigan Avenue or go to Navy Pier. When we're talking women in their underwear on billboards outside my living room windows, give me the fantasy babes, please. If that makes me sound superficial, shallow and sexist -- well yes, I'm a man. And I'll have to point out that most of the men who appear on billboards and in magazines and on TV commercials are just as genetically blessed as their female counterparts.
Of course. Adverts selling soap to women should be designed with Mr. Roeper's viewing pleasure in mind. We wouldn't want him to choke on his kibbles by confronting him with this hideous sight first thing in the morning.
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Hatemongering begins at home

Tom Friedman has a great idea! Lets name and shame the hatemongers by issuing a State Department Report! What a practical concept with resounding real-world consequences!
We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears. The State Department produces an annual human rights report. Henceforth, it should also produce a quarterly War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others.

I would compile it in a nondiscriminatory way. I want the names of the Jewish settler extremists who wrote "Muhammad Is a Pig" on buildings in Gaza right up there with Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis[.]
In case he's having trouble padding out his list, I would like to nominate Doug Giles of
I’m kind of thinking we are failing to appreciate the millenniums of unmitigated murderous madness that’s behind Islam. In addition, I think we think that we can easily move them away from their destructive bents and thus, pull us (the belligerent infidels) out of their cross hairs. Two words for that type of sentiment: Yeah, right! How naïve. Pollyanna, it ain’t gonna happen . . . at least not with this crew. [snip]

You know in your gut it is going to take Churchill-like action to stymie, stomp and stop these terrorists and their progeny. Nothing less will stop this mess.[snip]

If they don’t obey, then the planet goes to war with them and turns their houses of worship into grease stains with an historical marker memorializing their stupidity. The memorial would read, “Here lies the remains of a people who thought they could believe whacked stuff and kill innocent people, all the while thinking that they were doing god a favor. We thought differently. Let this be a sign to all would-be imitators of these highly confused monsters to be afraid . . . be very afraid.”
Wait a minute! I'm almost done with this blog post and I still haven't heard a vocal and unequivocal condemnation of Doug Giles from Tom Friedman. What's up with that? Why has the moderate Christian community of which Tom Friedman is one failed to expose the hatred in their midst by specifically condemining Doug Giles' clearly hateful comments? The village has been derelict! Tom Friedman had better watch out before Tom Friedman write a NYT column all about it.

The Experience machine, again

Julian Sanchez offers a round-up of the responces illicited by his article on parentalism. I have contributed an awful lot of wasted pixels over this so I'll endeavor not to waste too many more.

Just to remind y'all: I don't believe in an absolute morality. Now, that does not mean I don't think morality is necessary or that I am an immoral person. It means that, epistemologically speaking, I think ethics/morality systems have more in common with the rules of the road than with the laws of physics. Stop signs are a good thing. Just because they are not rooted in some fundamental universal constant does not make them any less of a good thing. Now, we all agree with what's good on the road (although there are conflicts even in those simple goals)-- less accidents, speedier traffic, easier access to the places we want to go . What about in life in general? Is it greater material wealth? Greater harmony? Less stress? Less poverty? Everybody's needs and desires are different. Just like in a marketplace.

Just like money is required to facilitate exchanges in goods and services, we need a token against all the "good" (cleaner air, greater GDP) we can generate in our society so that we can compare and make choices. Utilitarians call this token (duh!) 'utility', and instead of trading it, we seek to make decisions that maximize it. There's a factory pumping out smog. Should we close that factory? How about if 1000 people gets asthma and ten jobs are saved? What if 10 people gets asthma and 1000 jobs are saved? The choices are tough, and I would trust it more to a utilitarian than to someone who thinks "economic growth should always come first" or "the health of our children should always come first."

The Experience Machine that generates utility is no more dangerous to utilitarianism than an indiscriminate printing press that spews out money/credit every which way is to libertarianism, as long as both those machines remains in the abstract.

Those who have followed the argument thusfar will see that I have parted ways with my fellow utilitarians, Werewolf and Jew, who thinks that utility really is an absolute good. Luckily, this difference in theoretical position tends not to have many if any practical ramifications.

Now it's time for me to turn the table on Julian:

1) You have seeked to undermine the maximization utility/happiness as a basis for morality on the grounds that it is not an absolute good. Now tell me why freedom is an absolute moral good even divorced from the fact that it causes people to be happy.

2) Question One might seem unfair, since I've already stated that I'm someone who is skeptical that there is such a thing as an absolute moral good (though do answer because I'm curious to hear your argument.) So here's another. Lets say that the Experience Machine really does prove what it goes out to prove -- that happiness unaccompanied by reality is empty. How does it then follow that a libertarian viewpoint is superior? We all come up against physical limitations on our freedom without losing our agency. Why should limitations imposed by society put a qualitatively different drain on our sense of reality? A peasant's life under the rule of a king is unjust and undesirable for any number of reasons, but we can hardly argue that it's bad because his life somehow isn't real.

As for the objection that it is only natural to break down limitations, not to erect them. That too is untenable from a libertarian point of view. Libertarians are all about establishing societal barriers that forsakes the freedom of the individual for the welfare of the whole, as long as they are rules and law that enable and facilitate financial exchanges. Even *gasp* taxation is begrudgingly accepted by many libertarians when it is necessary for defense. You can't argue against rules in general while insisting that your rules alone must be instituted.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

What's my motivation?

Rarely is the question asked: Why do pandas learn?

Believe me, I've went through some of the most hideously expensive secondary schooling known to mankind, much of it when I was in the U.K. Oh yes, they tried their darndest to teach me European geography for years. My brain simply refused to absorb it. I know because I discovered this website (via The Liberal Order) where you can test your knowledge of European geography by dragging and dropping the outlines of the countries onto a blank map. I got a paltry 60% on my first try. It was clear that I couldn't tell my Luxembourg from my Liechtenstein. Take that, Mrs. Robinson. My laziness and insouciance overcame everything you ever tried to do.

The funny thing is, I kept playing. I was like a pigeon in one of Skinner's experiments, constantly pecking at the tab until a kibble rolled out. A momentary dose of accomplishment when I managed to correctly place Belarus in the blank interior of the continent. A little jolt of annoyance when I confused Slovakia and Slovenia (again!). The rush of trying to beat my previous high score, if only by a few percentage points, kept me going until I got to the point where I can draw a serviceable-if-misshapen schematic map of Europe with all countries in their relative positions freehand, an unthinkable task just a few hours ago.

So what did I learn, really?

1) Where everything is in Europe (duh!). You can argue that I haven't really put the map into my long-term memory just by playing a game. But little observaions such as "Huh, I never realized that Denmark is so small compared to Norway and Sweden" or "Whoa! There's a chunk o' Russia that's randomly lodged between Poland and Lithuania!" will never leave me.

2) What a waste it is to spend good money on the education of ungrateful kids who just don't wanna learn.

3) So this is why I like blogging. Constant feedback. A little jolt of excitement when something I write is linked elsewhere. Instant humble pie in the comment section when I write something stupid. Frequent visits to sitemeter to check on traffic. How can such trifling incentives drive my behavior to such a large degree? And why am I learning more about politics, economics and American history through blogging than I ever could have with more important goals as "being an informed citizen" and "getting an 'A' in Econ 11" in mind?

4) What does my inability to respond to long-term goals portend? Will I never be able to do anything meaningful without the incentive equivalents of gold-star stickers cheering me along the way? Isn't a big part of education supposed to be teaching one to be disciplined and independent? Oops.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Overheard in Mt. Airy, NC

Overheard in a coffee shop:
Young Lady: 'Then he said "Can I have your number, 'cause you done make mah trigger go off."'
Are standards for pickup lines lower in the South or something?

Things I didn't want to know #6128347

Did you know that Whole Foods Market (also known as "Whole Wallet" around these parts) is anti-union despite its enlightened, hippy-dippy, corporate image? If you care about good labor practice, you're better off shopping at Safeway.

Having said that, I really don't like the tone of Julie Powell's op-ed criticizing the Wholefoods phenomenon:
What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more insidious is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but also with good ethics. Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There's nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.

When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality. The milk at Whole Foods is hormone-free; the milk at Western Beef is presumably full of the stuff - and substantially less expensive. The chicken at Whole Foods is organic and cage-free; the chicken at Western Beef is not. Is the woman who buys her children's food at the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother

It seems that Powell find the very fact that people buy organic for ethical reasons disagreeable. She complains of the 'wedding of money to decency.' What would she prefer, that we give no regard to the ethical ramifications of the money we spend? By that standard, she would consider us sanctimonious prigs if we chose a hybrid car for environmental reasons, because not everybody can afford to make that choice. She needs to understand that those who choose to spend our money with our ethics in mind do so to make our world better, not to make Samantha Powell feel guilty. Different families have different budgets, and different priorities. So of course we end up making different choices. I make it a point not to shop at Walmart because I don't like their corporate practices. That does not mean I pass judgement on people who do shop at Walmart. I don't currently recycle. That does not mean I think those do recycle should stop because they're making me look/feel bad. Let's face it. We live in a consumerist society, and what we do with our dollars are one of the most meaningful choices we can make. We can't give that up because not everybody can afford the most ethical choices all of the time, especially if the argument is being made by a NYT columist who probably won't be bankrupted by farmer's market veggies.

The funny thing is, I agree with Powell that there is too much of an obsession with whether something is 'organic'. Generally that word is bound up with a basket of assumptions about the healthfulness, ecologically-friendliness and worker welfare associated with the product. And those assumptions are often misplaced. If Powell is chafing under peer pressure within her own circle to buy organic, then she should say so. I would have a lot more respect for her if she simply argued "for me, the advantages of buying organic is not worth the price," and not dragged the hypothetical working-class mother into it. Nobody. I repeat, NOBODY is castigating the poor for not buying organic microveggies from Wholefoods.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Introducing Armchair Capitalists

I've been tracking their blog for a little while, and not entirely sure what to make of it. Are they libertarians? Or not? Or what? I don't know. I do know that they writes excellent posts like this one that probes policy and the fundamentals of economics in a intelligent manner. For now, I'm filing Armchair Capitalists under "Econ Wonks".
Let's consider economics in the Ec 1 sense for a moment. The standard Ec 1 course has two general themes. One is that markets work pretty well: perfect competition and so forth. The other is that markets don't work very well: monopoly, externalities, public goods, etc. Importantly, each of the market failures come with a government solution. You regulate the monopoly, tax a negative externality, have government explicitly provide public goods.
If you stopped after the first half of the course, you'd probably become a libertarian. If you stopped after the second half of the course, you'd probably become a technocrat. But I think both of these responses are wrong. The first doesn't recognize the failings of markets and the second doesn't recognize the failings of government. Markets aren't always efficient and policy isn't always optimal. The failings of government I'm talking about here have nothing to do with price controls or central planning or anything of that sort. Those sorts of "failures" are absolutely considered in the technocrat framework. Rather, I'm talking about the inability of government to separate itself from politics and enact ideal or near-ideal policy. There may also be some doubt as to whether we can formulate ideal policies for the real world.
So, libertarians and technocrats, step back from your views a bit. Consider the world in its total imperfectness. Use caution when embracing both markets and government policies.

You get two economists in one blog at Armchair Capitalists -- Henry and Issac.

Art can be freaky

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Find more at PostSecret.

For more freaky, but oddly moving, art. Click here. (H.T.: Dadahead)

Get yer econ here

Brad Setser's blog is all snazzified.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Heard on the Stephanie Miller show

Q -- "How many supreme court justices does it take to change a lightbulb?"

A -- "None! The founding father never intended for us to have light bulbs."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"You win again, Reality"

A clutch of of shiny-happy news-niblets from Dymaxion world. Maybe the way the world responds to a cosmic downer like of (in all likelihood) getting poopy supreme court justice like Roberts is lots of little positive changes as people (and elephants) learn to adapt.

-- Super-duper LED streetlights that only needs to be charged every 12 years.
-- Jewish settlers who want to take on Palestinian citizenships so that they can stay in Gaza.
-- Cheaper plastic solar cells.
-- The increasing prevalence of tuskless elephants confounding poachers and creationist alike.
-- Superefficient electric cars that look like cowfishes.
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Why I hate John Irving

April Bernard articulates what's not to like about John Irving better than I can.

He's one of those writers, like Anne Tyler, that I'm not really crazy about, yet manages to consume one after another of their books. Well, they're dependably entertaining, and often the best best at airport bookstores. Thick enough to absorb the tedium of long flights. Yet is it really worth the vaguely pissed off feeling I get everytime I am reminded of his stuff?

Thank you, Ken Livingston

(Hat Tip Nathan Newman)
It seems like they are having an "the emperor has no cloths" moment in England. Two third of Britons see a connection between the Iraq war and the bombings in London. Ken Livingston, Mayor of London, said what needed to be said.

"A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what happens in (U.S. detention camp) Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't a just foreign policy," he said.

Police say they believe there is a clear link between bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the four British Muslims who blew up three underground trains and a double-decker bus on July 7.

"You've just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of a Western need for oil. We've propped up unsavory governments, we've overthrown ones that we didn't consider sympathetic," Livingstone said.

"I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s ... the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians to drive them out of Afgahnistan.

"They didn't give any thought to the fact that once he'd done that, he might turn on his creators," he told BBC radio.

Take a lemon and make some lemonade

Of course Tradesports did badly in predicting the Bush nomination to replace O'Connor. It's smart of the Bush team to pick a relative unknown (Roberts has only been a judge 2 years!). It allows them to keep things ambiguous, which is always useful in maintaining tenuous coalitions. A chorus of approval from the conservatives. A whole bunch of, I mean, caution from the liberals.

This is what The Jew thinks we should do about Roberts. I am assuming, of course, that a filibuster is worthless at this point because there's nothing to stop Bush from naming one Roberts clone after another. Eventually we will have to cave, and look like whining ninnies doing it. Instead, for once let the left act as one, take a lemon, and extract some lemonade. I changed the order around and expanded a little, but basically this is the Jew's scheme:

1) Clamour loudly demanding his pro-abortion bona-fides prior to confirmation. Do whatever we can to drag the "moderate" Republicans into it. Is he totally for sucking out embryo brains with a surgical vacuum? Or is he going to take away 'Roe v. Wade'? Which is it? Any ambiguity will allow Roberts to cruise to his nomination having it both ways. Clarity will hurt him, and the administration that nominated him, either way.

2) And when Roberts is confirmed, praise the administration loudly and mellifluously for picking a candidate that will respect a woman's right to choose. Roberts said in 2003: ""Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." No matter what he say since then, keep pounding that quote. Roberts will then face a choice -- if he does nothing, an active wedge will rive the fragile bond between the Christian right and the Bushies. But if he does try to overturn RvW, the bulk of the electorate will recall that he was singing a different tune before his confirmation.

Dadahead will probably be appalled
by how hard I'm biting this bullet -- basically, I'm accepting Roberts as a done deal. Yes, I do know that he'll be serving until they have to carry him off the bench. But ultimately, the only way we get to choose who sits in the highest court of the land is by taking back the White House, something we're not likely to do if we keep blowing political capital on futilities like a filibuster on Roberts.

(Note how I did not say that all filibusters are futilities -- if they nominated "That Torture Guy" Gonzales or Janice Brown, we'll have a lot to work with on the public relations front as we blocked them. Not so with Rogers.)

"Not worth the energy"

(Via Professor Yin)

Yep. We knew it all along, but here's yet another study showing that corn ethanol production uses up more fossil fuels than it replaces. Damn you, Big Corn!
[R]esearchers at Cornell University and the University of California-Berkeley say it takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent.

It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found.

"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment," according to the study by Cornell's David Pimentel and Berkeley's Tad Patzek. They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy.

No comment. None.

(Via Majikthise, who's a much better source of panda-news than I)

Sex film help panda get pregnant

Temping prospect

Sigh. No England for me for at least two months while visa gets sorted out. This means getting off my butt and getting to the temp agency.

Temping up north means sitting in an office for $8/hr. Temping in Mt. Airy likely means folding socks in a factory for $5.25/hr. What the hell does 'light industrial' mean anyhow?

'06 starts right now

Elaine, at the indispensible Culture of life II blog, alerts me to a snap election for district 2 in Ohio. Let's see, Our guy is a straight-talking ex-marine family man just back from Iraq. The gal they're putting up is cookie-cutter big-pearls wearin', under ethics investigatin' Republican reeking of the worst kind of politics. How can we not be 100% behind Paul Hackett?

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"For the red, white and blue."

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Lobbyists are my bitches.

Need more convincing?

Watch this commercial from GrowOhio.
Ann Driscoll from MyDD is on the case (scroll down).
Stephen Yellin from DCCC is on the case.
Swing State project is all over it.
Atrios and the atriots raised $3250 already.
Here's a blog all about the race.

NOTE: Updated to reflect my misconceptions over the circumstances under which the incumbant left the post. Bush appointed him to be US trade representitive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The transporter and the limits of empathy

Dan of the Duck of Minerva agrees with me: there is no travelling done with transporters, just annihilation and reconstitution. If we ever achieve Star Trek levels of technical advancement, I will be one of those sad sacks doomed to putter around earth growing stuff that they can make in replicators anyhow while y'all travel the stars. Pathetic and technophobic? Perhaps. But also, as I endeavored to show below, perfectly rational. Consider this scenario...

You're on the way to a sunny holiday in Hawaii, via transporter. Full of happy anticipation, you step on the pad and await materialization on the Waikiki shore. Seconds later, you open your eyes and realize that you're still on the transport pad.

An embarrased operator informs you that there's been a little glitch. They've successfully read your pattern and reconstituted you with every atom and memory in its place in sunny Hawaii, but unfortunately they did not simultaneously disperse the original...i.e. you. And since there's only room for one of you in the world, would you mind stepping into the vaporizing chamber? Sure, the memory you accumulated since the blotched transport would not be transferred, but we can hardly argue that a few minutes of bureaucratic hassel would be an irredemable loss to the world or to you.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that nobody would meekly submit to the vaporization. Yet isn't the substance of what is happening exactly the same as any routine transport? In each case, you are annihilated. In each case you know that there is going to be an almost exact copy of you taking your place. So what's the problem?

Descart said "I think, therefore I am." I say, "I feel, therefore I think I am." This is the closest I can come to articulating why I will never get on a transporter, even assuming that such a thing can be built at all. My knowledge that "I am" does not lie in the abstract notion that a pattern continues to exist, but in the very physical feedback I continue to get from my body. This is how I am sentient. I will be able to feel the maximum amount of empathy with a transporter twin, I think. But by definition there is a difference between 'empathy' and 'feeling'.

This is an interesting point to ponder so close on the heels of the Experience Machine debate. In both cases, the logical course from the utilitarian point of view is stymied by a pesky sense of what is real. I feel like my reality would be as violated, if not more, by the transporter as it would be by the reality machine.

Medicine, same as cocaine.

(Via Lindsay @ Washington Monthly, who pointed me to the NYT column by John Tierney)
The latest casualty of the War on Drugs is Richard Paey. A sufferer of chronic pain and multiple sclerosis, he was persecuted as a drug dealer for possessing more than twenty-eight grams of Percocet, which he could not prove he did not get legally.
Mr. Paey said he had refused the deal partly out of principle - "I didn't want to plead guilty to something that I didn't do" - and partly because he feared he'd be in pain the rest of his life because doctors would be afraid to write prescriptions for anyone with a drug conviction.

If you think that sounds paranoid, you haven't talked to other chronic-pain patients who've become victims of the government campaigns against prescription drugs. Whether these efforts have done any good is debatable (and a topic for another column), but the harm is clear to the millions of patients who aren't getting enough medicine for their pain.

Mr. Paey is merely the most outrageous example of the problem as he contemplates spending the rest of his life on a three-inch foam mattress on a steel prison bed. He told me he tried not to do anything to aggravate his condition because going to the emergency room required an excruciating four-hour trip sitting in a wheelchair with his arms and legs in chains.

The odd thing, he said, is that he's actually getting better medication than he did at the time of his arrest because the State of Florida is now supplying him with a morphine pump, which gives him more pain relief than the pills that triggered so much suspicion. The illogic struck him as utterly normal.

"We've become mad in our pursuit of drug-law violations," he said. "Generations to come will look back and scarcely believe what we've done to sick people."
Yep. A family man who needs opiates to curb his pain enough to go to his children's recitals is the same as a cocaine dealer. Right.

Blog to the top

As commenter (and professional film critic) Josh pointed out, not all blogging leads to one being turned out barefoot into the snowy wilderness. Of course, I expect that there are many Tesses for every Kevin Drum.

Rude Pundit shows the way to do it. He's launching a one-man comedy show in NYC using his blog for material and pumping his readership for advertising dollars. All while remaining anonymous. Good on him.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Holodeck as Experience Machine

Julian Sanchez introduced me to Nozick's idea of the Experience Machine. After a few back and forths, it struck me that the purest approximation of the experience machine in pop culture is the holodeck on Star Trek: TNG. A couple of the episodes are great meditations on this theme. In one of my favorite episodes of all times, "Hollow Pursuits", the daffy and clueless Lieutenant Reginald Barclay allowed himself to become addicted to holodeck programs where he was the darling of all the women, decked out in renaissance costumes in a romantic forest, and bested his superior officers in swordplay. Eventually, he was persuaded that he was needed out in the real world, and erased all his programs (but one!) at the end of the episode. So far, so conventional. Reality trumps fantasy pleasure, which has no value.

However, the cookie crumbles much more subtly in another great episode -- "Ship in a Bottle". A holodeck character, Professor Moriarty to be precise, has somehow gained consciousness despite the fact that he is a program. Like the character he is based upon, Moriarty is devilishly clever. He soon manipulates and blackmails the crew into scrambling to find a way to make him, and the woman he is in love with, real. Despite the fact that Moriarty is amoral, we sympathize with his struggle to attain reality along with the love of his life. The ending is clever and curiously moving -- Moriarty and the Contess are convinced that they have been beamed off the holodeck and into the real world (through "uncoupling the Heisenburg compensators" -- ha!), but what the crew really did was luring them into another set of programs that mimicked the world, with a lifetime of experience so that they would stay blissfully aware of their unreality until the end of their "days". It is clear by the careful way that Lieutenant Barclay (curious that he is also in this episode) handled the little chips that housed Moriarty's world that their experience, although entirely consisting of zeros and ones, is considered no less precious than any others. Questions for the class:

1) As Moriarty's violent actions demonstrated, he eschewed a holodeck existence to the point where he would take a big risk of complete annihilation to attain reality. Why, then, would it be morally wrong for the the chip he now resides in to be destroyed?

2) As utilitarians, if it is our responsibility to maximize happiness, why would it not make sense for us to manufacture a whole bunch of chips with happy sentient characters blissfully aware of their unreality? Or even sentient characters that embrace their unreality?

3) I have now outed myself as a trekkie. Will you ever respect me again?


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BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 17 - Even in Iraq, where shocking killings have become part of daily life, some acts are so profoundly violent that the country seems to pause, trying to fathom what happened.

Iraqis gathered Sunday at the scene of an explosion in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber ignited a fuel tanker on Saturday.

Several shops in Musayyib were destroyed by the blast on Saturday.

That was the case on Sunday, after a suicide bomber appeared in Musayyib, a poor town just south of Baghdad, and blew himself up under a fuel tanker on Saturday night, igniting a fireball that engulfed cars, shops and homes. At least 71 people died; 156 were wounded. Some bodies were badly charred, making identification difficult.

Everyday seems to bring more of the same bad news from Iraq. More suicide bombers, kidnapped soldiers, dead children. Their stories all seem to blend together in one neverending loop of human suffering. Stalin said that a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. But the dead of Iraq don't even make it as a statistic, because we don't count them. They become static. Background noise. Something your newscaster dashes through in a serious-but-matter-of-fact voice before moving on to the news items that actually hold our attention.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Bloggers beware

As soon as I read this post by Kevin Drum on the perils of blogging under one's real name, I thought to myself "Crrrrappppp." Subsequent horror stories that have emerged out of the woodwork built on the sinking feeling that I made a mistake when I started blogging under my real name without thinking anything of it.

Helaine Olen revealed herself as a detestably small-minded woman with a lot of personal issues. But how would we know how many other employers (and even just people in general) are not thinking the same things? Because they don't have a NY Times Style Section op-ed, we'll never know.

One small chink of comfort: eventually, under the merciless memory of google, we are all bloggers. I mean, even those who do not blog will eventually accumulate a substantial google history. It will be harder to compartmentalize yourself with different sides available to different people. One can only hope that when we reach that point employers would learn to tolerate a little more humanity in their nannies.

[Oh, and hey: Welcome those who just came in from Atrios. Look around. Make yourselves at home.]

Moneymaking schemes of the damned

I often find myself contemplating unexploited niches in the market, along with my boyfriend's mom Shirley, who is also a dreamer. Of course, I am much too lazy/unskilled/lacking in chutzpah to actually go out there and be an entrepreneur, but hey, it's fun to pretend. Here a a few of our wacky schemes.

1) Credit goes to my boyfriend's mom for coming up with this idea. We purchased the domain name "" in early 2004 in anticipation that it will be valuable after the Red Sox win the World Series that year. Most improbably, they did, breaking a 86 year-old drought in the process. Alas, neither of us had any idea how to sell a domain name, and so even though we still own the website, we've probably missed our opportunity to unload it. "A+" for faith, "F" for business acumen.

2) A website/service that allows you to rate your ex, and also to see how your significant other has been rated by his/her exes. Kind of like CNet, but for people.

3) A mess of "inventions" with silly names and meant to be sold on the home shopping network:
-- The "S.T.I.A.A.P", short for stud-finder-that-is-also-a-pencil. Press a button and the location of your stud is marked by a hidden graphite wheel built right in your stud finder!
-- The "chork", short for chopstick-forks. Imagine a pair of chopsticks connected like tongs. Use them as learner's chopsticks, or lock the tong mechanism to use them as a two-pronged fork!
-- "The Second Rail" (another of Shirley's). Have kids that need a little help climbing stairs? The Second Rail hangs right off your first set of handrails and provides a handhold at whatever height your kid happen to be at!

As you can imagine, I've gotten my fair share of scepticism. But even I am flabbergasted by the sheer audaciousness of the latest "concept" in greeting cards. " The "Secret Lover" line of cards cater to the hitherto untapped market of illicit lovers. A whole 'nother set of of anniversaries, birthdays, and even breakups will now have their own occasion cards. (Via Marginal Revolution)

Ah, American ingenuity. One's mind boggles. How many other occasions hallmark did not deem worthy are just crying out for their own cards?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Saturday night is all right for template overhaulin'

I never liked my template.

Never, not even from day one. I chose it because it was the closest to what I had when I blogged with Typepad. Ever since then I've hated its tiny font, too-wide borders, stupid borders and too-wimpish colors. But I was too afraid/lazy to mess with it.

Well, thanks to inspiration from Dadahead and the Werewolf, I'm finally taking the plunge. And in typical Battlepanda style, I'll be trying to do it all at once. Expect the old blog to be all messed up/constantly in flux for the next few hours as I try things out. Not that anybody's really paying attention on a Saturday night. I'd like to think that my blog readers have slightly more of a life than I do.

Chang and Eng

We drive past the Chang and Eng memorial bridge all the time on our way to Mount Airy. It's not much of a bridge. More like a tiny stretch of highway with a muddy creek running through it. Still, I was intrigued. Still, I was intrigued. What is a bridge named after the original Siamese twins doing in Mt. Airy? Why are there posters advertizing a musical about their story in town?
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Well, it turns out the twins had a more astonishing life than my dim impression of their career as travelling freaks suggested. They tired of the constant touring, settled in this part North Carolina, married Southern belles, and became gentlemen farmers. They lost their fortune in the civil war (they considered themselves Southerners and owned slaves), went back on tour to recoup their losses, and died each with their own property and twenty-one children between them. There are now more than 1000 Chang and Eng descendents, and many of their people still live in the area. Counterintuitively, despite the fact that they must have been freaks twice over by the standards of those day, they seemed to have found acceptance here, in life and in posterity.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Nozick's Machine and the Caveman

According to Julian Sanchez, Nozick's Experience Machine thought experiment is one of the big reasons he no longer think that happiness is the only rational things to pursue. As a pretty hard-core utilitarian, I had to investigate. Here is Nozick's Experience Machine in a nutshell. It's like the Matrix, man!
"Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life's desires?...Of course, while in the tank you won't know that you're there; you'll think it's all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there's no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?"
We recoil instinctively from Nozick's machine. Our sensory perceptions (and eventually, our emotional states) evolved from the need to respond to the outside world and to survive in it. It seems meaningless to assert that our pleasures and pains can have any value outside of reality. It's like painted masterpiece which will never be seen, or a perfectly executed symphony that will never be heard...moot. On the face of it, Nozick's machine sounds like a powerful exhortation to stay hold on to our joys and reject utilitarianism based on maximizing happiness. Yet howsoever compelling this argument seems to be, it is essentially an emotional appeal to our luddite, technophobic side rather than a sturdy philosophical argument. Let me explain with an imaginary dialog...

PHILOSOPHY STUDENT FROM THE 31st CENTURY: Please, sir. Carry on skinning your rabbit.
CAVEMAN: Okay. What do you want?
STUDENT: Just to get to know you, really. So, life is pretty hard in the ol' hunter-gatherer days, eh?
CAVEMAN: Tell me about it, man. It's hot and buggy all the time, I'm always on the lookout for the sabertooth tiger, and I'm working at least three hour days.
STUDENT: Well, you'll be happy to know that your descendents have overcomed two of those three hardships.
CAVEMEN: How do they manage to stay cool?
STUDENT: They stay in big boxes where its nice and cool inside even if it's really hot outside.
CAVEMEN: But then how do they hunt animals?
STUDENT: They don't need to. They just swap it with little pieces of pressed tree-fibre they earn moving other pieces of pressed tree-fibre around for 8 hours a day. It's called an 'office.' Then they go back to their own box.
CAVEMEN: Do they have berries?
STUDENT: Sure...but most of the time they just drink this sweet water that kind of tastes berry-esque.
CAVEMEN: What's there to do inside the box all day?
STUDENT: Well, typically they watch other people doing stuff on another box.
CAVEMEN: You mean they can see what other people are doing from far away?
STUDENT: Yeah, well, mostly what other people are pretending to be doing.
CAVEMEN: Do they never gather around a fire and tell stories?
STUDENT: Perhaps once a year or so...mostly they like looking at squiggles on pieces of pressed tree-fiber better for stories.
CAVEMEN: But how do they have conversations? Swap information?
STUDENT: Well, there's another kind of box where you can exchange squiggles with another person, even from really far away! It's more convenient that way.
CAVEMEN: That sounds really empty and meaningless.
STUDENT: Well, you see that sharpened rock you're skinning the rabbit with right now?
STUDENT: That's where it all begins.
CAVEMEN [dropping the rock]: Ack! Well, it's a lot more work, but I guess I'm back to skinning critters with my teeth.
STUDENT: As you wish.
CAVEMEN: Thank the God we just started worshipping last Tuesday that you're here to tell me all this.
STUDENT: Yeah, about that "God" thing...nevermind. You don't want to know.

Rights come with boundaries

I think John of Dymaxion World just articulated everything I wanted to say the ethical issues surrounding putting screws on the journalists in the Plame case:
Some have compared the Plame/Miller affair to the Skokie case, where Illinois Nazis had their right to assemble defended by the ACLU and the Supreme Court.[snip]

That said, I think the Skokie analogy is wrong. Rather, a better example would be the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York. Police, like journalists, are afforded certain legal protections to do their jobs, because society recognizes that their jobs serve a greater purpose - cops are allowed to use lethal force in certain situations, reporters are allowed to keep sources anonymous. But what do we do when those legal protections have obviously been misused?

If you think the proper response to the Diallo shooting (or any example of police misconduct) is to let the police responsible go without any investigation, or to allow the police to interfere and refuse to cooperate with an investigation, then I can see why you might think Miller deserves to go free. She almost certainly has information pertaining to this crime, and is refusing to cooperate. Like journalists are doing today, police have regularly warned that any prosecution of their crimes will lead to their jobs being poorly done - i.e. less law enforcement. Those threats have been hollow. Honest journalism will continue.

It's also worth noting that, like the Diallo case, people have almost certainly died because of Robert Novak's actions. This was a gross misuse of a reporter's privilege, as bad as any police shooting. I can honestly see why some journalists are worried - this affair will change the way reporting is done in the US, and I hope for the better. If it leads to journalists being less giddy about getting anonymous leaks used to smear political opponents, I won't shed a single tear.
In addition, I would just like to add that a blind insistence that journalist/source priviledge be completely above the law is a sure way to lose that priviledge in the long run. It would not take many more Plamegates for the public to turn hostile towards the entire practise of anonymous sources, and rightly so, if the culprit goes unpunished.

How do you translate "Purity of Essence" into Chinese?

(Hat Tip - Elaine)

LONDON (Reuters) - A senior Chinese general has warned that China was ready to use nuclear weapons against the United States if Washington attacked his country over Taiwan, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Friday.

Zhu Chenghu, a major general in the People's Liberation Army who said he was expressing his own views and did not anticipate a conflict with Washington, nevertheless said China would have no option but to go nuclear in the event of an attack.

"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," he told an official briefing for foreign journalists.

Zhu said the reason was the inability of China to wage a conventional war against Washington.

"If the Americans are determined to interfere ... we will be determined to respond," he said.

"We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds ... of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese," he added.

Can anyone assure me that this Zhu guy is just a doddering old man with no power and no influence despite his rank? Or that he's speaking from an insane asylum somewhere? That would make me feel a whole lot better. Thanks.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Foot in mouth disease

A USAF spokeswoman at Mildenhall in Suffolk said: "The order was made in a battle staff directive from our wing commander.

"Military members are not allowed to go to London until further notice. They are not being allowed to go anywhere inside the M25.

"Family members who are US civilians and are not subject to orders are also being highly encouraged to stay away from London.

"The main reason is because the security of our people is our top concern."

Nice. Very nice. Just as the Londoners are trying to get back to normal and convince tourists not to stay away. Simon Jenkins said it best: "London must be one of the safest cities on Earth. The only conceivable purchase the terrorists can get is by sowing fear, a fear which is statitistically irrational - Americans are more at risk on the roads round their bases than in the capital. Yet Washington handed Al-Qaeda a free publicity coup on a plate." [Via James Wolcott]

Meanwhile, our commander-in-chief is certainly displaying a deft touch in addressing the subject of terrorism in the wake of the latest London bombings when he gave a speech at the FBI academy at Quantico yesterday:

"We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home." [Bush said.] [snip]

What does Bush's statement mean? Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, said that the war in Iraq attracts terrorists "where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London."

[Via Praktike, who adds " It's unclear whether Townsend believes that Iraqis are in fact people"]

Free to jump off any bridge he wants

Brad DeLong's head explodes when he reads this piece of libertarian mind-wankery by Julian Sanchez:
Classical liberals have become good at explaining how the market order they favor promotes freedom and happiness. They have been less adept at explaining why—at least past a certain point—people ought to want that freedom, which when genuine is always at least a little frightening. In the face of the parentalist impulse, we may need to develop the case that our bad choices, the choices that make us unhappy, are as vital and precious as the ones that bring us joy.
So lets see. Any collective restraint of private action, even if it will make more people happier in the long run, are bad. Unless they are market maintaining mechanism, presumably. Why ought we want that freedom? The Libertarians says so. Hmm.

The funny thing is, I probably agree with Julian Sanchez on a mess of social issues. Euthanasia? Check. We do that kindness for our loved pets, so why not for ourselves? Legalizing marijuana? I'd be first in line to get legally high. But the starting point for advocating all those freedoms is that having those freedoms would ultimately make people happier because they know better than the state what's right for them. But Sanchez is arguing that even if we have a hypothetical situation where people don't and are 100% certain to get hurt by their own faulty choice, the state should still not step in to prevent them from that choice because, you know, it's "vital and precious."

This kind of blind worship of individual freedom (and only individual freedom) above every value is so sophomoric. Like a teenager shouting "I can jump off any bridge I want!" before slamming their bedroom door and reading some Ayn Rand. Commenter Dave Johnson said it well over at Brads:
Libertarians seek to remove people from the benefit of the institutional memory of civilization, making them easy marks for hucksters. They call the accumulated wisdom "collectivism" and ridicule it. But civilization is based on reigning in negative human traits.

Choice quips from the blogs

"Now that we know the London bombers came from Leeds, I guess we should root out terrorism at its ugly heart and bomb Leeds back to the stone age.

It worked in Afghanistan, didn't it? Then we should go invade Scotland. Yeah, that should do the trick."

-- What do I know?

"Here's something to remember; only fascists believe that will, courage, and testosterone win wars. Sensible people think that it requires better weapons than the other side.

-- Robert Farley

Chip market dysfunction

I am in the process of jumping through all the official hoops so that I can take my beloved schnauzer, Dodo, with me when I move to London. As England, understandably, is really serious about staying rabies-free, every animal entering the country must get, microchipped, vaccinated against rabies, pass a 6-month waiting period and get wormed, in that order, before entering the U.K.

"At least the first part would be no problem" I thought to myself. Dodo already has a microchip. Au contrair, my vet informed me. Dodo has a chip by the "Avid" company, which is not ISO compatible, which is what the Brits want. They carry "home again" chips, which are ISO compatible, but putting two chips in one dog could result in interferance. I called Avid, who told me not to worry, because they have an Avid brand scanner at Heathrow airport. But then we found out that my vet down here in North Carolina does not have a scanner that read Avid chips, meaning we'll have to make a trip to another clinic. I think it's all sorted out now, but it has certainly been an aggrevating episode. The vet told me that the microchip market is a mess, with different companies producing proprietary chips and scanners that are totally incompatible with each other because it is the goal of every company to squeeze everybody else out. "Just about the only thing they agreed on is to make the chips visible X-ray, so we can at least see if the animal has got a chip," he said.

My question is this: When the main object of microchipping animals is to identify them and return loved pets if they get lost, how can the companies justify deliberately sabotaging the usefulness of their products? Not every vet or shelter have the ability to purchase every scanner (they are expensive) and it is easy to imagine pets languishing in shelters, perhaps even put down, because a rival-brand scanner did not pick up their chip.

It seems like in "competing network" scenarios like this, the free-market does not deliver the optimal solution. I don't mean competition between formats, such as DVD vs. VHS, are bad. I'm talking about companies deliberately making their technologies mutually incompatable in the effort of creating monopolies.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Best food writing ever

This intestinal grab bag is probably enough to make you lose your bbq pork buns. The truth is though “bowl of guts” is really good. This hodgepodge of innards is patiently braised with ginger, star anise, soy sauce, and rice wine until all the sinew melts into a delicious and gelatinous joy ride of entrails. Sweet is the lead vocals in this funky flavor band. A savory saltiness, a licoricy lilt and a minutia of muskiness backs up the sweetness with such bliss you forget, albeit for a nanosecond, you are chewing on bovine stomach lining.
If you feel grossed out rather than intrigued, obviously you are not ready for Deep End Dining.

Omnigraffle coolness

It was Brad Delong who first turned me to Omnigraffle. It takes a couple of hours to learn and allows you to creat cool flow charts and diagrams. If you need convincing of its powers, behold this chart.
Any tool that allows the Valerie Plame mess to be summerized clearly in one page clearly deserve kudos. And kudos too, to Vanessa Bertozzi, who created the chart. More here.

Broken Biscuits

Lindsay's post on "nice guys" (of the type best illustrated by these two comic strips one of her commenters linked to) was scathingly hilarious. Amanda's follow-up comparing and contrasting the 'nice guy' trope versus the 'Cinderella' in pop culture was insightful and satisfying. This being the internets, there was no short supply of men who sprang up to defend the nice guy in the comments, only to get mercilessly slammed by fed-up women, and rightly so, for the most part.

So why do I still feel bad for nice guys?

Perhaps it's because I too was spectacularly mal-adjusted in my school days. In fact, I literally cannot think of another female in my high school who was as socially clueless as I was. (Or still am. I don't know.) And I kind of assumed that most people who are here with us, typing away at two in the morning on the ins and outs of Plamegate, share this affliction to some degree. It's natural to feel sympathy for those guys because because I was their female counterpart, yet it in a way it makes their insensitivity and self-pity at how badly treated they are by the females of the species doubly galling because they behave as if girls like me simply didn't count. And so we come to the real title of this post:

Advice for nice guys from a nice girl:
( Take with an open mind and a pinch of salt.)

1) If you are shy/awkward/lacking in self-confidence, dating will be hell.
Trust me on this one: this is a gender-neutral phenomenon, not the women's fault. Nice guys often act as if they have a tougher row to hoe than nice girls because they have to be the one to make the first move. What they don't realize it is equally agonizing not to have the perogative to make the first move, especially in under a system where women often feel their self-worth ebb and flow according to the amount of male attention they recieve.

2) Realize that the movies are sweet, sweet poison.

As Amanda noted, it is one of the 6 master plots they have to use for every movie to have the One Hot Girl realize that the flashy guy is a jerk and come to appreciate the Nice Guy for the beautiful human being that he is. But when was the last time the sweet, average-looking girl got her man in a movie? It is rank hypocrisy for men to expect women to love them for their souls when they are only interested in paying attention to the One Hot Girl.

Corollary 2a) Becoming the shopping buddy/shoulder to cry on/homework slave for the One Hot Girl will not get you any closer to being considered boyfriend material.

3) Resist self-pity or the temptation to blame women.
There is nothing wrong with being a genuinely nice guy. It is when shy, mild-mannered men who lack confidence think that because they are so nice it is an injustice that they don't have the woman they want that they become the despised "nice guy", quotation marks necessary.

4) Try hard to treat women just like you treat men.
That way, you don't have to beat yourself up figuring out what women want, or what the acceptable bounds of behaviors are. This would require some self control, but not clairvoyance, since you already know how to act around your buddies. You're also forced to relax around women since you're hanging out with them all the time. As a bonus, women appreciate being treated like just another human being, believe it or not.

"But I don't want to be just a buddy!", you say. Well, unless the whole nice-guy thing is just a ruse, more female buddies should be a good thing. Besides, as long as you respect 2a), eventually, you will find a girl-buddy you have so much in common with and feel so comfortable with that a minimum amount of gumption/alcohol/special occasions frisson would be required to get you guys together.

5) Finding a nice girl will set you free from dating hell.
Nice girl/nice guy combinations are often happy and stable. Perhaps it is because they are (wild generalizing here) frequently based on having stuff in common and mutual respect. Perhaps it is because the thought of being out on the block again strikes fear into both their hearts.

It is my belief that for every nice guy out there there is an equivalent nice (but not stunning/confident) girl. The pressures they face from society are different, but they're fundamentally in the same predicament. The potential for happiness is there, people. Go out there and find a misfit just like you.

Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits.
Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh we don't look the same as you
We don't do the things you do, but we live around here too.
Oh really.
Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, we'd like to go to town but we can't risk it
Oh 'cause they just want to keep us out.
You could end up with a smash in the mouth just for standing out.
Oh really. Brothers, sisters, can't you see?
The future's owned by you and me.
There won't be fighting in the street.
They think they've got us beat, but revenge is going to be so sweet.
We're making a move, we're making it now, we're coming out of the side-lines.
Just put your hands up - it's a raid yeah:
We want your homes, we want your lives,
we want the things you won't allow us.
We won't use guns, we won't use bombs
We'll use the one thing we've got more of - that's our minds.

Pulp, "misshapes"

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Can good liberals wage wars of mercy?

Commenter Lawrence Krubner has some questions for me regarding my post on the motivation of terrorists. I think they are important enough to pull out of the comments section and into a post of their own.
Do they have a right to ask us to leave their countries? I've been trying to find something in the great texts of the best known liberal writers on the subject of national sovereignty. I'm surprised at little there is. Locke, Smith, Mill, Bentham and others seemed mostly focus how the citizens should treat their government and how their government should treat them. It's hard to find much on the subject the peace of nations. [snip]

It seems to me that from the point of view of the liberal tradition, there are two possible views regarding the peace of nations:

1.) People have certain basic, inalienable rights and when a government violates these rights it becomes an illegitimate regime which needs to be overthrown.

2.) Nation-states themselves (not the people in them, but the nation states) have certain inalienable rights, and among these are the right to peace.

3.) The people in each country have the right to go unmolested by any government, therefore no government has a right to attack their country, except in self-defense.

#1 makes the most sense to me, but I think #3 is the one that appeals to most of my friends. [snip]

The problem I have with #2 or #3 above is that they don't explain how the liberal democracies might have stopped the early phases of the Holocaust. Most of us, I think, would like to believe that had we been around in 1938 we would have been in favor of taking action to stop the early phases of the Holocaust, and saving the Jews. But what, other than #1, would have justified the liberal democracies in taking action against Germany?

I'm having trouble imagining a really liberal foreign policy that isn't able to justify war against the really, trully horrorific regimes. Are liberal democracies not allowed to make war to expand liberal democracy? If not, what part of liberal theory disallows such wars?
Having read nothing by Lock, Mill and Bentham and only one book by Smith, I cannot address the theoretical framework you seek to understand. All I can tell you is that of all the liberals I've ever come across, none is likely to fail your test and sit by while the holocaust occured because they respect too much the sovereignty of Germany. Why go back to 1938 for such an example? Are we not all of us ashamed of the inaction of our governments in modern day genocides, first in Rwanda, and now in Darfur? You seek to ascribe to your liberal friends viewpoint 3), because we are against the war in Iraq (and for many of us, Afgahnistan), yet our objection to those wars are not based on an ideological aversion to all wars (that are not wars of self-defence), but to the particularly thin moral justification for those particular wars and, more importantly for me, the overwhelmingly likelihood for disasterous outcomes.

The decision made to invade Iraq and Afgahnistan are made independent of the human rights sins of Saddam and the Taliban. The victims of those regimes are only roped in afterwards, much as a sprig of parsley is heaped on chopped liver. Lets not forget that long before 9/11, I was already getting passionate emails decrying the treatment of Afgani women from my liberal friends, calling for awareness and intervention.

I had to get that out of the way first, but if you read my post again, you'll see that it's actually not written from an ideologically liberal point of view at all, but from a pragmatic point of view. I believe the 'coulds' should be established before the conversation can move productively onto the 'shoulds'. The choice before us in not between emancipated Iraqis showering us with rose petals versus rape rooms. It is between living with a brutal but stable regime for the time being and unleashing war and chaos on the very people we say we're liberating. Even if our intentions are impeccable, which I don't think they are, our action ought to be judged not on those fine intentions, but on the foreseeable consequences of those actions.