April 30, 2004

Music Blather Fridays

While going through my music collection I realized something a bit odd. I like Rock. A lot. But my very favorite artists aren't really Rock. I have five favorite artists at a time. Four of them are the same all the time with one rotating slot. I didn't plan it that way, but there you have it. My second tier favorites are almost all rock, but the top slots are held by Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Erasure and Depeche Mode. I think the things that they all share are passion, a dreamlike color in the logic of their lyrics, and a fairly profound oddness.

Tori Amos' lyrics are among the most cryptic, but I suspect she can get away with it because you can almost understand her stories from the music alone. A while ago I realized something very odd about her piano playing. It sounds left hand dominant. Many of the more intricate parts are played in the deeper tones of the music. That gives her music a very interesting but somewhat 'off' sound. It isn't what your brain expects after years of hearing the left hand of keyboard play background to the right hand. I'm not sure if she is left handed, but she really plays like she is.

It is tough to describe on a blog, but I'm not savvy enough to add a music clip. So I'll just pretend that you are familiar with her music, and those who are can follow, and those who aren't can find out when they buy her music. :)

In her first big song: "Silent All These Years", the song starts out with what sounds like a left-hand dark introduction. It is joined with her voice in melody and the right hand providing supporting chords--almost the precise opposite of what you normally find. Since the song is about a woman finding her voice against her oppressive boyfriend I suppose that a modern music critic might find the inversion especially meaningful, but I won't go that far. Suffice to say that it is unexpected.

In "Cornflake Girl", a song I take to be in part about the arbitrariness of religious groupings , she plays each hand about equally. The interplay between each side of the music gives the song kind of a rag-time feel. The lyrics in the song also jump back and forth like a choppy dream. The music follows (lead?) that feeling right along.

"Baker Baker" and "Jackie's Strength" both seem to spread our the themes across the whole staff.

Now this isn't to say that she doesn't ever play in the more traditional style. "Crucify" and "Winter" are two of her very popular songs that follow the more traditional format. But it she has enough left-hand dominant pieces to make it more than just a throw away.

Anyway, for all I know this is common knowledge among Tori-philes--I love her music but I'm not part of the cult. :)

But just in case it wasn't there is my take on a small slice of what makes her music very interesting.

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April 29, 2004

Spanish Withdrawal

In a previous post I suggested that the Madrid bombing and Socialist victory in the immediately following election was a victory for Al Qaeda because it allows them to plausibly claim to have enough power to change the outcome of Western elections. (Notice how the 'plausibly claim' lets us avoid getting into the hair-splitting and possibly impossible task of proving or disproving that claim). At the time Zapatero announced that he would order the withdrawal of Spanish troops in June unless a UN force took over.

I suggested that given that stance, Al-Qaeda was able to claim that it strongly (and from their point of view, positively) changed a Western country's foreign policy. At the time many readers suggested that this wouldn't be appeasement if Spain took strong steps elsewhere.

Which brings us to the present . Zapatero is now withdrawing the 1,400 troops immediately. He is no longer willing to wait for the UN. I suspect he isn't willing to wait, because the US is dealing with the UN and he needs to get the troops out before there is any chance of a UN resolution which might have fulfilled his stated position of leaving the troops in under UN auspices. His willingness to continue the war against even Al-Qaeda seems suspect despite his willingness to double the number of troops in Afghanistan. This is because it sounds impressive until you realize that Spain has 125 troops in Afghanistan now. Doubling to 250 is pathetic. That certainly doesn't signal to Al Qaeda that Spain is still serious about the war on terrorism. In fact it seems to do quite the opposite. And I note--again--that Afghanistan is supposedly the case where all of Europe agrees that the battle ought to be joined.

I also note that Bin Laden or whoever is impersonating his voice has offered the nations of Europe a truce if they withdraw from the Middle East. The window of opportunity for the truce was put at three months.

So, in short, the Spanish actions are much more plausibly appeasement than they were even when the Socialist Party originally made announcements when they won. Al Qaeda has more evidence for those in the Middle East who might be on the fence that the West has a glass jaw--just kill a bunch of civilians and the Muslim victory is at hand.

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Silly Inventory of Books for the 'Literate'

Via Mrs. Tilton I see this fairly arbitrary list of books that literate people ought to have read. Since I was once a reclusive teenager who read nearly every waking moment, I think I have finally found a contest that I can win:

Instructions are--
Highlight the ones you've read (as seen everywhere else.)

Author - Title

Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey

Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein

Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island

Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels

Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son

This list takes me back. I was especially fond of what I call the "Woman on the Edge" classics: House of Mirth, Doll's House, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Madame Bovary. Perhaps because I was gay but hadn't yet realized it when I was reading these novels, I appreciated the feeling of being trapped by society.

I hated, hated, hated The Sound and the Fury.

I always wanted to be Jonathan Swift. I may have picked up the sarcasm, but I'm not nearly as funny.

Orwell's Animal Farm was better than 1984, unless you hate allegories.

I also read Ibsen's "The Duck". I don't reccommend it.

The original Frankenstein is fascinating. Really one of the first novels to see the dark side of scientific inquiry. The implied gender conflict is also fun to look at. Interesting that Shelly may end up more influential than her husband.

In reality this is probably just a list of assigned books from some Literature major. Anyway, this list just caught my fancy and let me take a stroll down memory lane.

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April 28, 2004

Viagra for Babies

Today was the last day of trial prep, so longer posts should be forthcoming.

This LivingCode article had such a good title I just had to steal it. It also makes an excellent point:

People can and have made lots of jokes about Viagra but here is a nice story about a very important use for the drug, saving infants with chronic pulmonary hypertension, which is normally fatal. The thing is, Viagra would probably never have been developed solely to treat these infants. The market is too small to justify the huge expense for drug development. But once those costs are borne by something big, like ED, there is a trickle down approach that extends the use to other illnesses. I hope Viagra can keep these children alive long enough for their body to heal itself.

When he says the market is too small he really means that the incidence of these defects is too low to support much research. This isn't just true in a capitalist system, most utilitarian systems wouldn't spend many resources on this kind of research. But the fact that such huge profits can be made on things like Viagra allows advances to be made in saving these infants. Just another side effect of the work of the evil pharmaceutical companies.

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You'all probably didn't notice much difference, but my blog is fixed. I couldn't get into the main editing tools for the past couple of days. Hosting Matters seems to have fixed it. Apparently there was something corrupt in the indexing of the mySQL databases. Hmmm, could it be SA-TAN? Anyway, I'm much happier to be in control of my blog again.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:07 AM | Comments (491) | TrackBack

April 27, 2004

Not Comparable

Imagine I suspected that someone broke into a house by stealing a key from its owner. If you later showed that someone else broke into another house by smashing a window, would you think that this showed I was wrong about the first person stealing a key?


Then why is this considered a passable argument?

When a white person screws up, it ignites a debate on the screw up. When a black person screws up, it ignites a debate on race.

The subject, of course, is Jack Kelley vs. Jayson Blair, and Pitts' point is precisely on target. Don't the folks who loudly insisted that affirmative action was to blame for Jayson Blair's transgressions owe us an explantion for their relative silence about the far worse journalistic fabrications of Jack Kelley? Has it given them any second thoughts at all?

I like Kevin Drum, but this shows a serious lack of attention to the dicussion about Jayson Blair. First of all, I'm not aware of anyone who suggests that affirmative action is to blame for Blair's trangressions. Affirmative action didn't cause Blair to lie. The suggestion is that affirmative action allowed Blair to more effectively escape the consequences of his lies for a longer period of time than would be expected at a newspaper with supposedly high standards for accuracy. The suggestion is that Blair was underqualified for the position he was given. The suggestion is that affirmative action sensibilities allowed Raines to turn a blind eye to Blair's problems and made it more difficult for Blair's peers to voice their opinions about him.

Let's hear from his boss, Howell Raines:

“Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts he appeared to be a promising young minority reporter. I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities….Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”

San Jose Mercury News

This suggests that it is at the very least non-ridiculous to think that race played a factor in Blair's quick success.

This post does nothing to deny that racism exists in the US. This post does not suggest that black people are inferior. This post does not suggest Blair's journalistic crimes were worse than Kelly's. You could lie far more egregiously than Blair, and get away from it for longer, and so long as your method of evading notice did not involve affirmative action that would say precisely nothing about whether or not affirmative action played a large part in Blair getting away with lying as long as he did while getting promoted as quickly to as high a position as he did.

There are many different methods for evading detection of lies. Just because Kelly didn't use affirmative action to further his says precisely nothing about the high probability that affirmative action helped Blair with his.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:39 AM | Comments (444) | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Earth Day and Conservatives

I don't think it is actually Earth Day, but San Diego just had its hugemongous EarthFair in Balboa Park. It is billed as the "largest free annual environmental fair in the world". So I figure it offers a good excuse to comment on environmentalism.

Personally I think of environmentalism, by which I mean an idea that the preservation of a 'natural' environment ought to be one of the highest priorities, as a little bit like the Atkins diet. Both have useful insights which can make daily life much better, but both have quite a few followers who take things way too far.

I don't believe that there is any reason why conservatives ought to be anti-environment or even indifferent to the environment. We ought to respect the fact that human beings alter environments and like many complex systems the effects may not be obvious or direct. Conservatives are aware of this possibility in complex human interactions, and should be willing to extend the train of thought to complex environmental systems. That said, I don't believe that environmental purity (which I take to mean as the state of the environment if human beings didn't exist or did not effect an environment) is a particularly worthy goal for government involvement.

A better goal would be to reduce human impact while allowing human beings to do most of the things that they do. Take notions of clean air for instance. I think everyone can agree that air quality ought to be better than is found in Mexico City. And lots of improvements can be made. The catalytic converter offers a dramatic reduction in emissions for a moderate (thought not inexpensive) cost. As a result, LA has dramatically reduced smog levels (dramatically reduced not eliminated), while Sydney is still smog-infested. The problem comes when you fail to factor in diminishing returns. Trying to reduce smog levels by an additional 60% or 70% isn't going to come at the same moderate price. Like losing weight, making it most of the way to your target weight may be difficult, but it is no where near as difficult as the last couple of pounds. There are carcinogens which are already occur at such small levels that attempting to restrict them further is an exercise in throwing money away. For instance why all the fuss about arsenic when we aren't even dealing with lead paint effectively? We could spend hundreds of millions of dollars on reducing the arsenic levels and not impact as many lives as a couple of thousand dollars spent dealing with lead paint in one house.

The key insight of the environmental movement is that individual actions which are not a big deal of themselves can combine in large human groups to create a large problem. One person dumping a chamber pot into the ocean makes a negligible difference, but having all of Tijuana dump sewage into the ocean can cause problems as far away as Los Angeles.

The old environmental movement had a very conservative-like slogan: "Think Globally, Act Locally". It is a slogan which I entirely agree with. It turns the above insight into a method of correcting problems. There are probably 10-20 small choices that you make each day which if made by a large segment of society on a regular basis could make quite a difference. As an example, when purchasing one or two items at a store, decline to take a bag. You are just going to throw it away 1 second after you get home. Why use it at all? When purchasing your car, you could ask yourself "Am I going to use this for off-roading? Do I live in an area with heavy snow?". If the answers are 'no', you probably could avoid 4-wheel drive. You could turn off lights when you aren't in the room (why is my roommate glaring at me?). When going to dinner with nearby friends you could pick them up in your car instead of having everyone meet at the restaurant. You could use e-mail more frequently than mailed letters. You could make archived records on disc instead of printing out everything.

I think that if we put our minds to it, conservatives could come up with an excellent environmental ideology which is non-absolutist. It would contain elements of social pressure, an awareness of diminishing returns (especially in government action) and a willingness to really balance costs and benefits (as opposed to pretending to balance them while trying to allow a company to do whatever it wants). I'm not going to try to claim that I have actually done so in the above post, but I think it provides the kernel of thought for such a plan.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:35 PM | Comments (442) | TrackBack

April 25, 2004

This is Disturbing

I get a "Can't call method "description" on an undefined value at lib/MT/App/CMS.pm line 296." error when I try to go to the main editing menu.

What is up with that?

And my archives seem to have vanished. Yikes. I didn't do anything to change my MovableType recently. Does anyone know what happened?

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April 23, 2004

Music Blather Fridays

Still busy at work. Its like I'm running on ice, I only gain a little distance when I fall.....

So this will be a short blather:

This week I have been listening to 3 Doors Down, Tears for Fears and Avril Lavigne. Most of my Tears for Fears was on tape, so I purchased their Millennium Collection greatest hits album. I don't know how you have can have a greatest hits album for them without Pale Shelter or Mad World, but it is nice to be reminded of how much I really liked the group. I got out their "Elemental" album, and really enjoyed it again. I think I was reminded of them by the recent cover of Mad World. The cover version is an excellent example of how to take a song and make it your own.

I was thinking about Avril Lavigne's Complicated. In it she complains about a boyfriend who acts one way alone with her, and another way in public:

"Somebody else ’round everyone else
You’re watching your back like you can’t relax
You’re trying to be cool
You look like a fool to me
Tell me

Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
See the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else
Gets me frustrated ..."

My first thought was that one of the nice things about making it safely past the teenage years is that the kind of dramatic change she sings about doesn't happen so much. But my second thought was that many adults have adopted the purposefully public face that she doesn't like as their actual personality.

That wasn't as encouraging.

Tom Petty's Free Fallin is playing so I think I'll go listen. Have a great weekend.

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April 22, 2004

Please Hold

I'm preparing for my boss' trial so I don't have much time.

I want to talk about the Spanish decision to pull their troops out before June and before the UN resolutions. But I can't right now, so maybe you all should.

My quick note is that it is faster than initially promised, belies the concept that Spanish troops would be operating under the UN by rushing them out while UN talks just starting, does not come coupled with any other anti-terrorist measures, and in another PR fiasco comes immediately after bin Laden's offer of a truce to Europe.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:09 AM | Comments (398) | TrackBack

April 21, 2004

BBC Readers Respond to Bin Laden's Offer of Truce

Some of the European letter writers have scary responses to the Osama's offer of a truce (and yes I am cherry-picking the most disgusting responses feel free to follow the link for all of the responses):

I think we should take him on his offer - why do we want to bother with this killer? Let the Americans deal with their problem. We should make a peace with Al-Queda
Henri Talleuire, Paris, France

Why be so stubborn and not negotiate with him? We have a golden opportunity to make peace then why not seize it. If a terrorist can wish for peace so can we civilized people too.
Saqib Ali, Denmark

As has been said by many this is undoubtedly an attempt by Osama to separate the US and Europe. Divide and conquer. Does that mean that Europe should not consider it. Absolutely not. Leave the war-mongers out to dry.
Carlos, Caracas, Venezuela

If you don't negotiate with terrorists they remain terrorists
Bede, USA

To all the people here who talk about signs of "weakness" and the like, take a step back from your offensive, take a nap, maybe some coffee and relax. Then start thinking. The Man says "Stop spilling our blood so we can Stop spilling Your Blood". I really don't know if a more simpler statement can be made. Seize the moment.
Mohammed I, Birmingham, UK

Seize the moment, be fair to your self. They are not terrorists, they are rebels and they have a fair case
Sea Sea, Taiwan

Bin Laden can offer a truce, but those who want to control Iraqi oil will allow their people to die for the sake of Iraqi oil.
Fazal, Hyderabad Pakistan

If the offer proves to be authentic, then Europe should consider it. It turns out that the "hatred against the Western world" is really a hatred against the US and their allies.
Dominic van der Zypen, Berne, Switzerland

My favorite non-appeasement response is:

I'm flattered. He obviously thinks Europe is making a serious contribution to fighting terrorism. We should be encouraged by this to increase it.
Alex Swanson, Milton Keynes, UK

If you read all of them, you find that about half of the writers are for considering the proposed truce (apparently having never heard the term 'hudna') while half don't go the appeasement route. The BBC claims: "The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received..." I would really tend to hope that the above would only represent the views of total cranks. The idea that you can find 8 people who hold the above views and are smart enough to type on a computer is disturbing enough. The idea that they represent the views of half those who write to the BBC is frightening.

UPDATE: could 'the balance of the opinions' mean 'all of the opinions we received'? The use of 'reflect' makes me think otherwise, but maybe it is a British term?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:10 AM | Comments (401) | TrackBack

Bush Lied, or whaterver, oh nevermind....

Via this BBC report which indicates that shock of all shocks, other intelligence agencies thought that Saddam had WMD stockpiles and programs before the war.

Now of course it is very possible that the Danish intelligence agency fell prey to the problem of singular sources appearing to look like multiple sources when multiple agencies use them without being able to share their identities (which I have previously discussed here , but it still tends to show something that we know though many don't like to admit--intelligence agencies throughout the West believed that Saddam had these programs.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:02 AM | Comments (482) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

From a Bjørn Stærk post which turned into a discussion of the relative merits of the US and Europe in which someone has just said that Europe has a religious right, but that it is Muslim instead of Christian:

"Frankly I will take the American Religious Right over the European version as the American Version wants to put the clock back to 1950, while the European version wants to put the clock back to 650."

Now of course you shouldn't believe that you have to choose between just those two option.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:00 AM | Comments (426) | TrackBack

April 20, 2004

Facts on the Ground

A couple of weeks ago I heard some criticism of the Israeli security fence based on the idea that Israel was trying to create 'facts on the ground' which will allow them to dictate the border. While it was a while ago, and I haven't been able to track down the trigger article, I presume that the author meant this to be a criticism.

But this thought was triggered by new of the latest suicide bombing: How come we rarely hear of suicide bombing as an attempt by the PLA to create 'facts on the ground' which are intended to influence the final settlement? Isn't the point of the bombings to show that no Jew in Israel is ever safe until the Palestinians get whatever passes in their minds as 'justice'?

Or do 'facts on the ground' just refer to physical objects? Maybe I don't understand the phrase well enough, but with the understanding I do have, it seems like a kind of uncontroversial thing to notice that both sides try to put 'facts on the ground' to strongly influence the final settlement.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:47 AM | Comments (478) | TrackBack

Shouldn't You Know One Way or the Other?

So I'm looking at a law journal on trademark and copyright issues and under the table of contents I see this statement:


May be protected?

You guys are writing a freaking law journal on the topic but you can't tell me whether or not your work is protected by copyright? Sheesh.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:39 AM | Comments (607) | TrackBack

April 19, 2004

Frustrating Terminology

I like reading Mark A.R. Kleiman because he is a smart voice on the left. But sometimes he can be frustrating. Here is a substantive quote from this article :

Naturally, Wolfson nowhere mentions that all flavors of "conservative" wind up voting for politicians whose programs will, as a practical matter, increase the share of the national income going to the top 1% of the distribution and decrease the shares going to the bottom tenth, bottom quartile, and (in most cases) bottom half.

I would never claim that everything progressives support in the name of decreased income inequality is good policy; much of it (e.g., the corporate income tax, public-sector unionization) doesn't even decrease income inequality. I'd even be willing to listen -- admittedly, without much patience -- to arguments that decreasing inequality from its current level would not be a good, or would not be worth its costs.

But the pretense on the right that the left-right split is fundamentally about anything except what virtually everyone on the progressive side regards as its central issue gets old fast.

One of the key factors of the left/right split as it pertains to economics is on the treatment of the word 'distribution' in the phrase 'distribution of wealth'. The right uses its definition in the science of probabilities. A probability curve has a 'distribution' which is the description of where things fall upon it. Therefore when you talk about the 'distribution of wealth' you are talking about a description of where wealth can be found.

If you are on the left, you use the word distribution to mean something more akin to 'that which is doled out by society'. The sense of the phrase is that wealth exists and is actively distributed by society. As such, the fact that it is not distributed 'evenly' tends to suggest that it must be distributed unfairly. (If I don't get it exactly right, I apologize as I am not a member of the left).

These differing uses in terminology cause much confusion. On the right we are perfectly willing to admit that certain state actions might change the probabilistic 'distribution' in an unfair way. These types of actions are to be discouraged. However the mere existance of a probabilistic 'distribution' does not imply that the rules are unfair. That is to say that for the right, the fact that wealth is not equally owned by each individual is not troubling because it does not automatically imply that society is being unfair in how it deals with wealth. Furthermore, to a person on the right it is obvious (whether or not it is true is of course the crux of the debate) that in most cases wealth is not 'distributed' in the sense of being doled out, but rather is earned. This holds true for vast swaths of society (probably 98% of the people in Western societies). We don't deny that there is some luck in getting unusually rich (whether by being in the right place at the right time, or by being lucky in birth) but we don't think it is wise to pervert the whole system to correct for the extreme statistical outliers.

Basically we think that distribution of wealth is more of a statistical description rather than a literal description of what society does. Which is to say that we think the concept is less important than progressives do.

In other words, "But the pretense on the right that the left-right split is fundamentally about anything except what virtually everyone on the progressive side regards as its central issue," isn't a pretense. The whole problem from the leftist point of view is that we think the issue isn't that big of a deal. We aren't pretending that we don't think it is a big deal. We just don't think it is that big of a deal.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:08 AM | Comments (398) | TrackBack

Psychology and the Muslim World

Via Porphyrogenitus I find an interesting City Journal article regarding psychology and the Muslim world.

Dalrymple (a name I have trouble reading since "Thermopyle" the Gap series) offers an interesting parallel between the plight of Muslim girls and Juliet from "Romeo and Juliet".

He has a nuber of interesting insights which may not be new, but they are well formed:

Devout Muslims can see (as Luther, Calvin, and others could not) the long-term consequences of the Reformation and its consequent secularism: a marginalization of the Word of God, except as an increasingly distant cultural echo—as the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the once full “Sea of faith,” in Matthew Arnold’s precisely diagnostic words.

And there is enough truth in the devout Muslim’s criticism of the less attractive aspects of Western secular culture to lend plausibility to his call for a return to purity as the answer to the Muslim world’s woes. He sees in the West’s freedom nothing but promiscuity and license, which is certainly there; but he does not see in freedom, especially freedom of inquiry, a spiritual virtue as well as an ultimate source of strength. This narrow, beleaguered consciousness no doubt accounts for the strand of reactionary revolt in contemporary Islam. The devout Muslim fears, and not without good reason, that to give an inch is sooner or later to concede the whole territory.


Unlike Christianity, which had to spend its first centuries developing institutions clandestinely and so from the outset clearly had to separate church from state, Islam was from its inception both church and state, one and indivisible, with no possible distinction between temporal and religious authority. Muhammad’s power was seamlessly spiritual and secular (although the latter grew ultimately out of the former), and he bequeathed this model to his followers. Since he was, by Islamic definition, the last prophet of God upon earth, his was a political model whose perfection could not be challenged or questioned without the total abandonment of the pretensions of the entire religion.

Read the whole thing. He has an especially good exposition on the plight of girls with respect to arranged marriages.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:42 AM | Comments (580) | TrackBack

Killing Hamas Leaders: Not Against International Law

One thing that really bugs me in a discussion on foreign affairs is when people make vague appeals to 'international law'. This has most recently come up in the context of Israels decision to kill those who lead Hamas.

Hamas is a terrorist organization which is organized with the purpose of totally destroying the state of Israel. Its preferred methods include brainwashing young Palestinians into becoming suicide bombers so that they can blow themselves up and take as many Israeli civilians with them as possible. This method of warfare, as if anyone cares, is actually against international law.

Killing members of Hamas, including their leaders is not actually against international law. They are not civilians under the laws of war. They are ununiformed combatants. Unlike say the woman who runs the pizza shop in Israel and gets targeted by members of Hamas for being a Jew.

Both of these points are covered quite well on Pejmanesque . See also here .

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:26 AM | Comments (464) | TrackBack

Tough Steps

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post:

Indeed, I would say that the major flaw of American efforts at democracy-promotion is a failure to recognize that the bipartisan tradition of realpolitik was not some fifty-year long silly error. I think it's true that, some time ago, this ceased to be a viable strategy and that we ought to revise it. Still, there are many things to be said in its favor. People need to really think about that before they advocate abandonning it. If you're prepared to give up the gains of dictator-promotion (and I am) then you need to face up to what you're doing. What Bush has been trying to do is discover a cost-free democracy-promotion scheme. Thus you get the very odd Iraq bank-shot.

This is half-way to a really good point. The problem is that all sides use rhetoric implying that there is some sort of cost-free or super-cheap democracy promotion scheme. An uncharitable view of Bush's rhetoric would be that you invade Iraq and PRESTO you get a U.S.-friendly democracy right afterwards. Obviously he never says any such thing directly, but the fact that he never outlines the (rather significant) costs makes it an implication (perhaps a fair implication, perhaps not). Many of Bush's opponents, especially in Europe, seem imply that if only the U.S. would quit fucking up, PRESTO democracy or at least peace would come to the Middle East. This is closely related to the fantasy that if only the U.S. would apply pressure to Israel that peace would come to the Middle East. Obviously they don't say so directly, but the fact that they never outline steps about the significant changes that would need to come about other than the U.S. not fucking things up makes it an implication (perhaps a fair implication, perhaps not).

While each side may decide to tacitically deny the difficulty of the project, I think in their more candid moments each realizes that the Middle East has to be changed and that the changes are likely both to be very difficult to implement and very costly for the West.

But neither side wants to deal with difficult and costly, that doesn't sell well.

So many on the right act as if a quick war will bring democracy to the Middle East and the left act as if a lack of Western military action will bring peace to the Middle East. And any useful debate fails to occur.

Let me be clear in my views.

1) To ultimately deal with Islamist terrorism, democracy needs to come to the Middle East.

2) It won't come about on its own very quickly (within the next 50-75 years). And if it isn't fostered, it can quickly turn into despotism (see Iran).

3) We can't wait that long.

4) Therefore we are going to have to work to actively topple governments in the Middle East. Not all at once, but certainly in the medium term.

5) Sometimes that is going to require invasion.

6) Whether or not Iraq was a good second choice for toppling governments (after Afghanistan), it was going to have to be part of the project and now that we are there we ought to finish it.

7) Bringing democracy to Iraq (and the Middle East) is going to be both very expensive (like the Marshall plan) and will require a long term commitment (like the 40+ years of troops 'occupying' Germany).

8) One of the ways it is going to be expensive is in troops. We need more. Even if Rumsfeld is right and we don't need more for Iraq proper, there are going to be other fights in the near future (even if we don't pick them) and we can't just pull all of our troops out of Iraq anytime in the next 2-3 years. Therefore I suggest that in the next 2-3 years we raise taxes slightly for the specific purpose of raising troop salaries (for better retention) and allowing for many more troops to be hired. I say in the next 2-3 years not to avoid the election (I'm announcing the plan now) but to give the economy a bit of time to recover. I would also suggest that we cease farm subsidies, which would help third world farmers and free up a significant chunk of change, but why doom my proposal right at the beginning?

Doesn't solve everything, but this is my contribution to what I think ought to be a serious debate about the tough steps that need to be dealt with in the next 3-6 years.

(P.S. If you think it was stupid to invade Iraq, please comment in one of the other numerous posts on the subject. If you think the Middle East was on the verge of becoming peaceful and democratic on its own, please send me the drugs you are taking but don't mention the fantasy in the comments. The subject of this post is realistic but tough steps. If any lefties have some 'tough steps' that you think would be great, feel free to share. But if you idea of 'tough steps' is 'get international approval for everything' you are right that it would be tough, but it isn't much of a useful step. My question to you is, if you could get international approval to do stuff, what stuff would you do?)

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:09 AM | Comments (519) | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

Music Blather Fridays

This week I have been overplaying 2 new purchases and one oldie but goodie.

The two new purchases are from a genre which was called 'ambient' where I went to college. I'm not sure why you would call it ambient, it seems to me like it is the kind of music you would find in a 'chill room' at a rave. I think the modern label for the genre is 'Trance' though except in a Dervish kind of way I don't see it. The albums are Chimera by Delerium and Voageur by the Italian group which helped make Gregorian chanting famous--Enigma.

Chimera has a number of good songs, I especially like "Fallen", but as an album it doesn't feel as complete as many of Delerium's previous efforts. Delerium is an interesting band in that they do not have a lead singer, so they borrow people for vocals. They are probably most famous for "Silence" with Sarah McLachlan. They often use Leigh Nash (from Sixpence None The Richer). She sang for them in the excellent track, "Innocence" on their Poem album. Delerium is especially adept at weaving multiple songs together despite the fact that they have different singers on each song. But on this effort, they don't quite pull it off. Each song is individually quite good but they don't come together as a whole quite as well as I'm used to. (Which really isn't that much of a problem, they just didn't live up to my high expectations.)

The new Enigma CD is also quite good. They are really good with rhythm. I almost think that if you reduced them to two or three notes you could still listen to them. This album is a bit uneven. Amazing songs (Voyageur, Boum-Boum, and Following the Sun), are surrounded by songs which aren't bad--but which strike me as filler. Two songs in the middle (Total Eclipse of the Moon and Look of Today) may fall a bit flat because their lyrics are a bit odd. This is almost certainly an artifact of English not being the first language of the artists.

I was also listening to Depeche Mode's Ultra. I think it is the best of their later albums, but I want to go to sleep at a normal hour so I won't go too much into Depeche Mode. Interesting that this is probably the only album that has songs which could fit with the Trance albums. I especially like the slower songs on this album--Home and Insight really get to me every time.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:18 AM | Comments (461) | TrackBack

Bush Announcement on Israel

There seems to be some left wing freaking out over Bush's announcement that talk of the Palestinian 'right of return' will not be entertained by the US.

This is another instance of not liking direct speech.

A) This isn't a change in US position. Clinton told Arafat the 'right of return' was impossible to fulfill in a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, the objections over the fact that he couldn't get the 'right of return' was why Arafat publically walked out on the talks.

B) Pretty much no one expects that the 'right of return' will ever be part of a settlement. Bringing hundreds of thousands of Israel-hating Palestinians within Israel's borders would be an excellent catalyst for a true civil war. Everyone knows this. It isn't going to happen.

C) This doesn't preclude settlement for those who actually lost property. They just can't expect to get the physical property back.

D) Rhetoric surrounding the 'right of return' has been allowed to torpedo peace deal after peace deal. Better to finally put it to rest and let the Palestinians stop pretending.

Israel has had decades of negotiations. They have been bombed every time. It looks like they will now impose a unilateral settlement and leave the Palestinians to kill each other on their own side of the wall. If Palestinians want to venerate death so much, they are welcome to worship the darkness by sacrificing each other. I don't blame the Israelis for deciding to disengage.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:01 AM | Comments (372) | TrackBack

April 15, 2004

Short Entry

Not much time today. I'm doing my taxes. (Don't wait until tomorrow, procrastinate today!)

But I do have a question about realistic views of intelligence interdiction and terrorism.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, the Soviet Union penetrated a large number of America's most highly sensitive government positions with spies. Some of them would go undetected for decades, and would engage in continuous contact with their spymasters.

It seems to me that such spying is much more difficult to pull off than a terrorist attack.

We couldn't stop Soviet spying except by helping to get rid of the entire Soviet system.

Why does anyone think it likely that increased intelligence activity would be likely to stop terrorism in the long run?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:27 AM | Comments (479) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

Who Watches the Watchwomen

Wizbangblog has an interesting story on Democrat 9/11 Commission member Jaime Gorelick.

It turns out that she helped solidify the wall between terrorist counterintelligence operations and FBI criminal investigations. I don't think that the 9/11 attacks were likely to be stopped by traditional intelligence means. But for those who disagree, isn't it kind of bad to have someone who solidified the idea that such information should not be shared between investigations then investigating what when wrong in the intelligence gathering process? Unless of course she says that her previous position was wrong.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:53 AM | Comments (512) | TrackBack

9/11 And the Need to Prove Policing Can Stop Terrorism

Now that I have my angry post out of the way I want to talk about 9/11 and policing.

The US is a country with one of the largest unsecured borders in the world. It is also one of the most open large societies in the world. This has many advantages: an economy so excellent that people are willing to immigrate to become what counts as poor here, an intellectual culture so vibrant that we make an outsized number of the world's scientific discoveries, the freedom to move about a huge and varied land mass for almost any reason imaginable. But terrorism exploits this openness.

Let me first be clear about my understanding of 9/11:

I don't believe it could have been stopped by acceptable levels of increased security. I don't believe it would have been stopped by the current levels of security, and we are willing to put up with far more than we would have before the attack.

I believe it is highly unlikely that it would have been stopped by 'increased intelligence' in any level which we would have found acceptable before 9/11. One of the most intensive intelligence capabilities in the history of the world, employed during the Cold War, still missed Soviet moles in some of our most sensitive branches of government. Long-term undercover agents penetrating our most secretive branches ought to be somewhat easier to detect over decades than the relatively short-term (1-3 years) planning employed by the 9/11 attackers who merely need to get into the country. Yet still there were agents who went undetected for years and years.

But I understand why clinging to the belief that 9/11 'could have been stopped' is so appealing to the Democrats. They are certainly correct that 'if only we had looked at the right things' we could have stopped the attack. But it is quite a bit closer to saying 'if only I had picked the right lottery numbers I would be a millionaire' than they seem to believe. (See an excellent analysis of hindsight and data mining by Jane Galt.) But it is crucial to Democrats that 9/11 ought to have been stoppable by ordinary police work because the policing approach is their preferred method of operation.

We all know that the Middle East has to be reformed. The crucial question is, how much time do we have? Can we wait for it to mostly fix itself, or do we have to be agressive about trying to fix it? If policing is not particularly effective the Middle East needs to be reformed fairly soon, because we cannot count on policing to stop every terrorist attack (or for the sake of argument nearly every terrorist attack). If we can count on policing to stop almost all terror attacks, we can take our time and wait a couple of decades or a century for the Middle East to (hopefully) sort itself out.

If policing cannot stop most well-planned terrorist attacks, we are led to a more aggressive and overtly interventionalist stance. It might not be precisely what the neo-cons are suggesting, but it would be closer to that than the relatively hands-off approach which most on the left claim to prefer (usually because we don't want to be seen as hegemonic or imperial).

The policing question also applies to appeals about international 'cooperation'. Large international bodies are slow to react, slow to change, and slow to accept new realities. And that is slow even compared to governments in general. If policing is very effective against terrorism, we can spend a couple of decades hammering out the international response to it, because very few attacks will be able to get through. Internal policing is also what the international community has expressed the greatest willingness to engage in. They aren't much interested in dealing with the problem at its source in the Middle East. So going with policing doesn't take much political capital, and it lets the international community take as much time as it wants.

This is why it is so important for Democrats to use the 9/11 Commission to explain that BUT FOR mistakes made by the Bush administration, 9/11 could have ALMOST CERTAINLY have been stopped. It isn't just to attack Bush, though they relish that. It is because many of their ideas about international cooperation and soft power are threatened if policing isn't generally sufficient to deal with terrorism.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:04 AM | Comments (563) | TrackBack

April 13, 2004

Who is playing politics with 9/11?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Democrats are playing up the 9/11 investigation as a purely political game--which is to say not to find a better way of developing useful intelligence, but almost completely as a club with which to bash Bush.

This is illustrated by the fact that they allude to the amorphous idea that 'steps should have been taken' without giving much clue about what steps should have been taken. (This is also often paired with the 'more investigation should have been undertaken'. More than the 70 underway already?) See for example Kevin Drum (the normally quite understated Democrat) or Mark A.R. Kleiman .

Kevin's, "Granted, it still doesn't say airplanes, box cutters, World Trade Center, and 9/11, but it does seem like the kind of thing that ought to have grabbed President Bush's attention, doesn't it?" is cute but unhelpful. Mark seems to have wanted a pre-attack Presidential address about vague threats and generalized terrorists.

I can easily picture the words of the liberal commentariat in August 2001: "Bush's speech incoherent on 'terror'." "Bush trys to whip up a scare-fest." "How stupid does Bush think we are?" "Bush tries to distract attention from failed domestic agenda by scaring little old ladies with the spectre of terrorism at home."

Democrats! You are the people who were (are) freaking out about the Homeland Security Act AFTER 9/11 which so far as I can tell has significantly impacted precisely one US citizen, namely Mr. Padilla. And whatever you want to say about the justice of his current position, he was involved in plotting a dirty nuclear attack against a US city.

What steps should Bush have taken before 9/11? Agressively investigated mosques? Many of you resist that now. Rounded up illegal aliens with a special focus on Muslims? You still don't like that idea. Should he have invaded Afghanistan before 9-11 and toppled the Taliban? Perhaps, but I suspect that Easterbrook has correctly defined the reaction to a pre-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. In fact I suspect his impeachment scenario is underplaying things a bit.

What you really want is a fantasy world where there was some magic investigation that would have easily revealed the plot and thwarted it. Hell, I wish that were true too. But it isn't. And pretending that it is won't help anything.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:28 AM | Comments (356) | TrackBack

April 12, 2004


I'm afraid that Democrats are in fantasyland again. Here is Kevin Drum on Joe Biden's alleged plan for the UN in Iraq.

Biden's plan will supposedly get us 2,000 to 25,000 troops. Your first clue as to the bogus nature of this plan is in the number range. 2,000 to 25,000? That is quite a range. If you wanted to put a percentage distribution for available troops would it be closer to:

2,000 --15%
4,000 --15%
10,000 --40$
20,000 --15%
25,000 --15%

OR would it be closer to

2,000 --50%
4,000 --30%
6,000 --15%
10,000 --3%
15,000 --1.9%
25,000 snicker, silly Americans we were just kidding about that.....

Afghanistan is the easy case, right? Practically everyone in the world agrees that it is a huge part of the war on terrorism. Right? Yet last I checked at CENTCOM, the entire non-US contigent was right around 8,000. So in the easy case, the world can muster up only 8,000 yet on the more difficult to sell case I'm supposed to believe that the UN will be able to approach 25,000?

Not only was Afghanistan the easier political sell, but it also represents the easily available foreign troops. Even with equal political will, a ridiculous presumption, the next 8,000 troops are a lot harder to come by than the first 8,000.

So basically the Chirac is up to his old tricks. With a sufficiently vague promise, he can pretend to be cooperating while doing precisely nothing to help out. And apparently some people will be fooled.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:37 AM | Comments (508) | TrackBack

9/11 Navel Gazing

There has been much recent discussion about the presidential briefing and relating to 20/20 hindsight regarding 9/11. See for example Edward, Matthew Yglesias , and Kevin Drum.

Kevin almost gets it right with, "Look, I know there's a perfectly good case to be made that the PDB merely states generalities and doesn't warn of a specific, impending attack. That's fine as far as it goes, and it's the spin I'd expect the White House to put on it." This would be ok except for the fact that such an explanation wouldn't be spin. It would be the simple truth.

All of the talk about PDB misses a crucial fact about intelligence gathering. It is absolutely trivial to go back into the past, after a major event has taken place, and find all the evidence that would have suggested that the event was going to take place. The problem with such an exercise is that you already know what you are looking for. Before such an event occurs you have to sort out evidence from all the other 'useless' tips and leads that you have available to you. If you could go through all of the PDBs in the past ten years, you would certainly find dozens of terror warnings that didn't pan out and hundreds of general warnings that never turned into anything. You would find investigations that didn't turn anything up, and investigations that stopped problems from taking place. We aren't focusing any time on how we can make the sorting process better, instead we are playing stupid finger pointing games. Bush didn't know that Al Qaeda was about to attack. Not in any normal definition of the word know. If Bush had been Al Gore, he still wouldn't have known. Get over it.

If you want to do something useful, we should tackle what kind of intelligence gathering would get the kind of results we are looking for--while being fully aware that no intelligence system is going to catch all bad actors.


I hate to pick on Mark Kleiman, but he is really missing the most obvious flaw in hindsight games again in his post here . He proposes a scenario where Bin Laden calls Bush up and tells him that he is going to attack, and that there may be hijackings involved. Mark then says: "Is there any operationally relevant difference between bin Laden's message in Mr. Kramer's dream and the intelligence actually made available to the White House in the July 2001 CIA briefing and the August 6 PDB?"

The answer is of course, yes. The hypothetical is flawed because in order to be a valid metaphor for the actual situation, Bush would have to get calls every day from different potential threats, totalling in the hundreds. None of those threats materialize except Bin Laden, and Bush is supposed to be able to easily figure out which threat is the one that is actually going to occur.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:06 AM | Comments (474) | TrackBack

April 09, 2004


Steven DenBeste has an excellent essay on negotiations in international diplomacy.

Some interesting quotes for those of you who would rather tear out your own eyeballs than read one of his essays (which I understand to be a rather large number of my own readers):

In civil contracts, we need not threaten each other because the government threatens us both if we fail to live up to the terms of the contract. If you break a contract, I can threaten you with a lawsuit, which in turn means I can get the government to apply force to you in my favor. You can do the same to me. But each of us could only succeed in doing that if a disinterested party, a judge or jury, decides we're entitled to relief.

In international negotiations there is no such disinterested third party, and that means we have to have our own threats, and the willingness to carry them out.

If there is a fundamental disagreement, and negotiations lead to an agreement, then it means someone has given in. Most commonly both sides give up something, but it is quite often the case that one side gives up a lot more than the other does.

The idealist view is that it should be the "bad guys" who give up a lot, but that's not what really happens. Rather, the side with the weaker negotiating position will nearly always be the one to make the most concessions if agreement is reached.

That's why "fairness" has nothing to do with it. If the agreement happens to be considered fair by disinterested outsiders, it usually indicates that neither side had the upper hand.


Suppose that the Europeans actually are right. Suppose that we Americans really are unsophisticated, hot-headed fools. Suppose that our chosen path actually would lead to catastrophe. I don't believe it, but suppose that it's true. And suppose that the Europeans really are more wise than us, and that they truly have identified a better way.

Even in this hypothetical case, for the Europeans to lecture us and insult us, to talk down to us, is extraordinarily inept diplomacy. Even if it might be somehow satisfying to verbally put us in our place, it has little chance of making us change our policy or coming to agree with them. And since we can implement our policy despite their objections, then the only way they have to prevent that (which is one of their goals) is to convince us to change our policy.

Therefore, even if one grants that the Europeans are right and America is wrong, it is still ultimately their problem to get an agreement, and failure to do so is their botch-up.

Now I know that this particular facet of my personality doesn't show much here on this blog, but I actually have acted as a formal and successful mediator in legal disputes for a number of years earlier in my career. One constant, which I have verified as true with other mediators, is that an agreement which an outside and neutral observer would think of us 'the most fair' never happens. I've spoken to numerous mediators, and what we think of as the most fair agreement never happens--and if we bring it up we will almost certainly ruin our reputation as a mediator because the 'fair' solution almost never deals with the emotional issues which make up an important part of even the non-violent disputes which are so often a part of our court system. In fact one of the things that my mentor taught me was that you can try to lead the parties to what you think of as a fair solution, but you can't ever propose it.

Another thing I found out as a mediator is that the 'fairness' of possible solutions has little to do with the success of the negotiated agreement. While not required to, I chose to follow up on my mediations to see how the agreement held up. Strangely the few that failed in the long run seemed the most fair to me. They were early on in my mediations and I think I probably tried to focus too much on the legal issues instead of tying the legal issues to the emotional issues which so often form the real basis for legal action. (Ask any business lawyer and they will tell you that a huge number of business suits are really narrow legal slices of totally different problems). So the legal solution was 'fair' but didn't address the problem.

I think this is what happened with the horribly failed Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians. They came to a 'fair' agreement but they did almost nothing to address the underlying emotional issues: Israel wanted to be safe, Palestinians wanted all of the land in Israel (I call that an emotional issue, because it surely isn't a rational wish).

So I think that the idea that fairness has little to do with how negotiations actually work, is a bit counterintuitive (I didn't believe it myself until I had direct experience) but quite defensible.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:03 PM | Comments (535) | TrackBack

April 08, 2004

Couldn't Have said it better so I won't try

Via Pejmanesque I see that one of my favorite bloggers has hit it out of the park. Porphyrogenitus writes:

The daily news decided to go with an interesting headline, "Condi admits U.S. not on 'war footing' before 9/11". It's news that we weren't on a war footing before 9/11?
The implication there is that Bush's Liberal critics were all clamoring for a war footing then, rather than a "peace dividend". But it isn't news that the country was not on a war footing in the '90s or the first several months of the Bush Administration. What is more newsworthy is that half the country, with John Kerry as their standard bearer saying he's uncomfortable with describing it as a war, doesn't think we should be on a war footing now .

Very few people in the US realized that we were at war before 9-11. Some still have trouble with the concept.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 09:01 PM | Comments (395) | TrackBack

April 07, 2004

Rational Thought

Been slammed at work too much to do much of anything, but in the 10 pages of the Reppert book I'm reading I found a quote which sheds light on quite a bit of the way we engage in political discussions"

If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cognency for every position he held, you might on that account be inclined to consider him a very rational person. But suppose it turned out that on all disputed questions Steve rolled dice to fix his positions permanently and then used his reasoning abilities only to generate the best available arguments for those beliefs selected in the above-mentioned random method. I think that such a discovery would prompt you to withdraw from him the honorific title "rational". Clearly the question of whether a person is rational cannot be answered in a manner that leaves entirely out of account the question of how his or her beliefs are produced and sustained.

Incidentally this is part of the moral problem of working in law. Very often you are presented with the position you must defend (rational or not) and you must use your brain to make that position sound rational. But enough about my problems.

I think this quote has a lot to do with suspicion about the Iraq war. Proponents of the war suspect that their opponents don't believe that war is ever good (or believe that there is never too much negotiation or believe that the US can never really do good in the world) and that other arguments are just a way of hiding their true feelings from the public. Opponents of the war suspect that the US wanted to go into this war no matter what evidence was available (for reasons which are ususally left unsaid lest the speaker sound silly) which supposedly explains the multiplicity of reasons for the war as well as explaining the intelligence failures.

I think we often ascribe irrationality to our opponents because it means that we don't have to deal with their arguments. Notice that in the case of Steve his arguments were not said to have been refuted, they were merely shown not to be part of the method of selecting his positions. I think for the most part we would be better off not engaging as if our opponents were irrational, unless they prove themselves to be irrational in some generally understood way. (But that opens up a whole can of worms that I can't deal with today. So in the comments feel free to figure out how we could safely determine irrationality without being dismissive.)

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 10:52 PM | Comments (521) | TrackBack

April 06, 2004

Mind and Materialism

Serendipity strikes.

One day after engaging in a fun conversation at debitage regarding the Plantinga argument about strong materialism and the mind, my dad gives me a book on the subject by Victor Reppert. The short version of the conundrum regarding strict materialism is J.B.S. Haldane's version: "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true...and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

There are some valid criticisms to this form, which I'm working through in the book. Fascinating problem though. I'm not philosophically inclined to strong materialism anyway, but actually working through the critique is a fascinating mental exercise.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:43 AM | Comments (550) | TrackBack

April 05, 2004

Saudi Arabia

Mark Kleiman has an excellent article on Saudi Arabia couched in the form of a speech he wish John Kerry would deliver.

To it I would like to add only that Saudi Arabia is one of the toughest problems in the War on Terror because of the psychological dimensions of its place in the Arab world. Whenever threatened, Saudi Arabia retreats to its role as the Defender of Mecca and Medina. Since we don't want to ignite a war with all of Islam, we have to be exceedingly careful when trying to convince Saudi Arabia to change its ways. We have to be more careful with Saudi Arabia than with any other country. Which is not to say that we ought not apply pressure. Just that even those who prefer broadside attacks in general, ought to be especially careful in this case. Interestingly the charge for broad-brush action is being led by those who generally prefer subtle approaches.

But we already knew that we lived in a mad world.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:19 AM | Comments (451) | TrackBack

dKos Controversy--hopefully a different view

There is a little blog-tempest going around about the comments of highly popular left-wing blogger dKos. It is tough to link to the original comments because he is rerouting links to his pseudo-apology. I'll try to link here but I will reproduce the entire text in question in case this link also vanishes.
He wrote (speaking of the four men who were killed, burned, and had their bodies dragged across the city and then were hung from a bridge:

Let the people see what war is like. This isn't an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush's folly.
That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

He also has what I would characterize as a nonapology here . I would characterize it as such because it consists of six paragraphs of issues completely not pertaining to the men refered to when he said 'screw them', and ends with:

So not only was I wrong to say I felt nothing over their deaths, I was lying. I felt way too much. Nobody deserves to die. But in the greater scheme of things, there are a lot of greater tragedies going on in Iraq (51 last month, plus countless civilians and Iraqi police). That those tragedies are essentially ignored these days is, ultimately, the greatest tragedy of all.

He doesn't retract the 'screw them' and doesn't change his devaluation of their lives compared with other people working in Iraq.

He now has what amounts to a 'fuck you' to the people who called him on his callous dismissal. In this he seems to revel in the attention he brought to himself, without caring about the moral dimension of his statement. In effect he has turned this into a game where he gets to be a martyr rather than a story about someone who has any regrets about what he said.

But for me the interesting part is that his initial comment reflects an analytical failing which I have heard repeatedly from those who did not support the invasion of Iraq. Just because you didn't like the invasion, doesn't mean that what the US is doing NOW in Iraq is bad. It may be. It may not be. But it would really help to maintain perspective about the different sides of the issue.

1. Those who dragged the bodies around Fallujah are hoping to reinstall a Ba'athist regime like that of Saddam.

2. Those who were dragged were aiding an attempt to set up a stable democratic regime in Iraq.

3. If the UN hadn't been chased out of Iraq, it would be doing the same things that these men were doing. They would be getting paid to provide security and to deliver supplies.

4. If trying to establish a democracy in Iraq is a worthy goal it remains worthy even if the UN is unwilling to do it, and even if Americans are paid to do the same things that the UN would pay people to do.

5. If you believe it is not a worthy goal, you ought to be forthright about that belief, so that we don't need to engage in discussions which use that goal as a premise.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:04 AM | Comments (592) | TrackBack

April 02, 2004

Music Blather Fridays

Never did tell you about Minneapolis, in 6 different yet heart-breakingly close games we lost to the first place volleyball team, and ended up second in the tournament. I met some really nice people, and it wasn't cold.

This weekend, I'm off to my parents' house to help them get ready to move. So like last weekend, posting is likely to be light to non-existant.

Anyway, music.

This week has been all about music I've had lying around for years. I listened to Annie Lennox's Diva which is one of her best albums. I never get tired of the song "Why" which might indicate that I'm a two year-old at heart. And though it never got any air play whatsoever, I'm convinced that "Primitive" might be one of her very best songs. I'm not sure I could tell you why I think that, but I suspect it has something to do with resounding drums combined with Annie's voice which somehow ends up being throaty and airy in this song. (And yes I know those two descriptions are almost opposite.) Annie Lennox is one of those fascinating artists who has an excellent voice, but does many non-traditional thing with it.

This is in direct distinction with one of my very favorite artists: Tori Amos. Frankly she has a mediocre voice, but she works every angle on it and ends up making even greater beauty out of a flawed instrument. Comparing Tori with a voice like Annie Lennox woud be like comparing a harpsichord to a piano. No one would disagree that the piano had greater range and offered more control. But when an artist really works within the limits of an instrument (as Bach did with the harpsichord) you really see the potential for beauty which comes through taking a limited instrument and making more out of it than anyone would think possible. This is probably a great spiritual metaphor for working with flawed human beings. Tori Amos does that with her voice. Though I suspect much of her appeal is in her fascinating lyrics and her amazing piano arrangements. Oh did I mention I've been listening to her first album, Little Earthquakes.

I've also been listening to Collective Soul's Dosage. They are actually from the Atlanta area, yet for some reason whenever I hear them I think of Australia. I don't know why. They are exactly what I want out of a rock band with pop influences, nice hook, good guitars, and interesting lyrics. I think they are another in a long line of spiritually interested bands which address Christian themes (though like A Perfect Circle you wouldn't call them Christian). The big songs from this album were "Heavy", "No More No Less" and "Run". Though all of the album is quite good, I especially like the song "Needs". It was probably too slow for their label's image of them, but it is a great song nonetheless.

All around me I see what weakness has made
Too much tomorrow I think I'll take all today
Am I a poison, Am I a thorn in the side
Am I picture perfect subject tonight

I don't need nobody
I don't need the weight of words
To crash on thru
I don't need nobody
I just need to learn the depth
Or doubt of faith to fall into

Here I slumber to awaken my daze
I find convenience in this savior I save
Am I a prison, Am I a source of dire news
Am I a picture perfect reason for you

I don't need nobody
I don't need the weight of words
To crash on thru
I don't need nobody
I just need to learn the depth or doubt
Of faith to fall into

In this time of substitute
It's my needs I've answered to (All the while)
And the hope that I invest
Still turns to signals of distress (All the while)

I think the echo, "All the while" reinforces the fact that you just can't expect to easily get away from your human nature. I love this song. Besides I'm a sucker for violin bridge in the middle.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:13 AM | Comments (615) | TrackBack

If Al Qaeda Vanished Tomorrow

Michael Totten has an interesting post where he tries to define our enemies in the probably poorly named 'War on Terror'. I've tackled this topic before (see also here ) and will gladly admit that it is a fuzzy concept--much like the exact parameters of the Cold War. So lets put that aside for a second and reflect on his closing paragraph:

"If Al Qaeda ceases utterly to exist tomorrow, and if everything else in the Middle East is preserved exactly as it is right now, would it really be time to declare victory? I do not think so."

I think a comprehensive answer to this question would help me understand the point of view of the left. If Al Qaeda was completely gone, could we just pack up from Iraq and leave the Middle East alone? If Al Qaeda had vanished before Iraq was invaded, would we have any major work to do in the Middle East? If so how would we do it?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:00 AM | Comments (488) | TrackBack

April 01, 2004

Medieval Thought with Modern Weapons

Derek James makes an excellent point about the Middle East. It is a medieval culture which is gaining modern weapons. One could argue that our own culture is barely able to handle the responsibility of modern weapons and their awesome destructive capability. But the oppressive and strongly xenophobic cultures of the Middle East certainly cannot. This is one of the things that is alluded to by the concept that Middle East terrorists come from a culture that is not capable of creating a commercial aircraft, but can pervert its use to kill tens of thousands.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:22 AM | Comments (565) | TrackBack

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. Technically he is an economist, but his best works are a blend of philosophy with economic analysis. Anyone, on either side of the aisle, who wants to understand conservative thought ought to read his "Conflict of Visions" or his "Vision of the Annointed". Anyone who wants to understand how 'compassionate' and 'conservatism' could go together ought to read his "Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy". All three of these books are quite accessible, relatively short, and hugely informative.

The reason I mention it is this column of random thoughts. Here are what I think are the best ones:

Considering how often throughout history even intelligent people have been proved to be wrong, it is amazing that there are still people who are convinced that the only reason anyone could possibly say something different from what they believe is stupidity or dishonesty.

Wealth is the only thing that can cure poverty. The reason there is less poverty today is not because the poor got a bigger slice of the pie but because the whole pie got a lot bigger -- no thanks to the left.

The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his "basic rights."

The fish comment seems especially appropriate.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:12 AM | Comments (511) | TrackBack