Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ahem! A stranger / rather manages

Paradise is a despair. Paradiso is nothing but arid soap.

Purgatory is an Arty Group. (Alternately, Purgatorio is a poor guitar.)

Inferno? You'll find no finer place.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hink Pink

In AP Physics in High School, I sat in the back doing crosswords. When a test happened, I'd just deduce all the identities I needed. Eventually, the crossword's more inspired answers led to word games. Now, I've been reminded of this by:

1) the discovery that this game has a name


2) the rediscovery of a few of these I wrote down.

Some examples:

a measurer of Ceres's distance - a Demeter odometer
brief poem about blindness - Magoo Haiku
reduced shine - dimmer glimmer
former up-and-downer - elevator abdicator
inflammable currency - expungible fungible
sight gag - visible risible
the cost of clothes - raiment payment
a ruler's taunter - Caesar teaser

See if you can get some of these:
public water
elementary dent
church musician who turns people to stone
spirited primate
snooped on Neptune
Grain-grinder's bane
seems like food
legendary imbiber
good-luck snacks
farmer's sign
internet access repair
chat about drums

Or come up with some of your own.

Speech Qua Speech

The term "absolute" only harms my argument if my definition of freedom of speech does not already exclude the sorts of cases MotJuste and I agree should be punishable. My contention is that free speech can be reasonably construed in a way that does already exclude those cases. I think that the "absolute" issue is a red herring here. MotJuste responds to my argument about accidental impedement of speech:

The above all seems both obvious and irrelevent. How do they support the point
of your beleif in absolute speech, or the statement that "free speech does not
mean you can say whatever you want"? Unless your point is 'you can't say what
you want if you're mute/dead' which, duh. You also cannot say what you want if
you're too stupid to express it, or don't know the language you wish to speak
in, or are unconcious, or are a potted plant, etc. Irrelevent.
Perhaps I should have qualified the term and said I believe in absolute legal freedom of speech. (i.e. congress shall make no law...) I had assumed that we were using the term as shorthand for something like the 1st amendment.Anyhow, I hope an example will clear up what I mean by speech as speech.

MotJuste writes:

The will to perform a violent act is not punishable by law. It is the physical
action taken-- speech-- that is punished. Speech which is an incitement to
violence is a kind of speech and therefore if it is limited, speech is not
absolutely free.
This is false. Unless I've somehow missed the point. If I hold a large knife up to someone and say "I will kill you with this now," the law recognizes this as grounds for intervention. However, if a theater actor on stage says the exact same words to another actor, this is not grounds for intervention. But I can also be arrested for attempted murder if I swing a knife at someone and am stopped before it kills that person.Case 1: speech and punishmentCase 2: speech and no punishmentCase 3: punishment and no speechClearly, speech is not the criterion here. In case 1 and case 3, assuming no actual physical wound is made, what is being punished is clearly the will to act. If we somehow knew that the assailant meant to run up to someone with a knife, swing, and then stop the blade before it touched the other person, attempted murder would not be the appropriate charge. At the same time, freedom of speech does not protect us from actions that accidentally -- that is, with some other goal in mind -- impede speech.Otherwise, we could not punish people on the basis of confessions or guilty pleas.To put it simply, freedom of speech means that there must be no restriction that simply states "you may not say [x]."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In response to Support Censorship by MotJuste:
MotJuste writes:

I don't believe in free speech. Anyone you ask will say they do and mostly they're lying, because free speech means anything, means you can say absolutely anything with no legal consequences, including slander, libel, plaigarism, etc. And people will then go "Well obviously not slander" but then, that's censorship. There's that famous Voltaire quote "I might not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I disagree with that, but I admire him for it because he really understood the principle. Most people who advocate freedom of speech and no censorshipnhave no idea what they're talking about.

And then, oh, the artists. Censorship of art. I love artists and the arts and part of my censorship support is for them: I believe that people don't have the right to violate others' rights to life, liberty or property, and that it is possible to do so with words. Plaigarism is a violation of the victim's right to property. Lying about someone ina court of law can get them injustly imprisoned-- liberty. And if you have information about a te year old girl, where she lives, what her daily routine is, and you put that information up all over the web for any crazy to see along with easy step-by-step instructions on how to kidnap, rape and murder her, that's a violation of her right to life and it shouldn't be allowed.

These sound extreme and I know tha tthey're exceptions, not the rule. And usually I support freedom of speech, but any exception at all means I support censorship, so the standard goes like this:

"We have the right to freedom of speech, to be limited if and only if said speech constitutes a clear and present danger to the fundamnetal rights of others, is slander, plaigarism or libel, or would falsely incite a reasonable person to violence or panic."

It isn't perfectly worded, of course.

It's either that or I support total freedom of speech, in which the victim could retaliate by mailing detailed accounts of how to get into the perp's home to every psycho who might try it but honestly, I'd rather just have everyone protected.

And, there's a real life example.

There's a little college in Canada. Around the campus there were Missing Women posters. They detailed that these women were missing and had probably been abducted from the campus. Women were urged to watch out, be safe. This sort of thing isn't uncommon-- violent crimes against women are an unfortunate but very present reality in most modern womens' minds-- and a lot of people were very angry and afraid. A rally was organized, people met at a certain place and time to go looking for these women. But instead of going looking for them, the search party was lead to the concert of a new band. The posters had been a publicity stunt to raise buzz. The man who thought it up, named Edwin Booth, also directed the band's music video-- which pictured them abducting and beating their old ex-girlfriends and advocated those actions. Booth, when criticized, claimed that people were trying to censor him for his art. He claimed to be a supporter of total free speech. (Later he complained that people were slandering him.)

By my standards, Edwin Booth should go to jail.

By his standards, someone should be allowed to to find out all of his personal information. Where he lives, when he's home and when he isn't. What the easiest way is to break into his house. That person then finds out an easy way to kill Edwin Booth. Shooting him, say. This person then finds out places where you can buy guns, and how to get rid of one afterwards. How to cover forensic evidence and where to run to when you've finished. They then find someone-- say, a man, somewhat deranged, who's daughter was kidnapped and beaten, raped and killed, who is very angry and has nothing left to lose. They give this man this information. They sit down with him and convince him that Edwin Booth has to die. The man uses this information to kill Edwin Booth, get away with it, is never found. Or maybe he is found, or he dies in the process, or whatever. The person who provided him with the information is entirely public about doing so. Makes the public statement, "Edwin Booth deserved to die and I saw to it that he did. The only thing I didn't do was pull the trigger." That person can't be arrested.

Wherein lies justice?

Okay, here we go.

I believe in absolute freedom of speech.

I also agree that in the abuses MotJuste describes, people should be punished?

I can believe these two things because free speech does not mean you can say whatever you want. Other laws still apply.

It should be understood that free speech means freedom from government interference with speech. Obviously, owners of private property may make institute whatever rules they wish on their property.

Moreover, this does not empower people to say things that would otherwise be beyond their ability. Mutes and illiterates still have freedom of speech.

Finally, and crucially, freedom of speech does not affect laws with the accidental effect of supressing speech. A man who has been executed by the state for multiple murders can no longer speak. Yet this execution is not a violation of his right to freedom of speech. Why? Because speech was never the issue.

So when a constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, or freedom from governement laws infringing on freedom of speech, what it means is not that speech will not be impeded, but speech will never be punished as speech. You cannot simply ban a viewpoint. "Because I say so" ceases to be a justification. As a certain American lawyer argued against the Crown shortly before the revolution, truth is a defense against accusations of libel.

Freedom of speech does not conflict with laws against fraud -- you would be allowed to say those things, provided you were not being fraudulent about it too.

Freedom of speech does not conflict with laws against incitement to violence. The state is punishing the will to perform a violent act. In no way is this morally different from punishing physically attempted murder.

Violations of privacy are violations of property, or at least something strongly analogous to property.

The qualification "when no one's rights are violated" is a good sentiment, but at least in understanding the meaning of laws, the identity and extent of rights is bound to be highly controversial when you get down to more complicated specifics.

Hooray. My two target piano skills have finally begun to materialize.

1) I can now improvise flexibly. It's not just set fingering exercises in the chords I'm playing anymore. I can integrate that with improvised tunes. I gues the goal is to ultimately be as good with the piano as I am with my own voice. That'll still take some time, as the piano involves chords, but I'm getting there.

2) Playing music fast enough to make it mostly coherent on the first read. Of course, this is far from sight reading, but I think I've turned the corner on this two.

What's weird is that these gains have come at a time when I haven't been practicing very intensely at all. Once or twice a week, 20 minutes or so at a time.

So there is some hope that I'll eventually get around to becoming a master pipe organist in my spare time. Of course, then I'll need to get a pipe organ, but that's a comparatively minor problem. Maybe I'll steal one? Sneak into a church and stuff the full pipe organ into my pocket?

Like that far side cartoon. If you know the one I mean, you get 2 cultural literacy points.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Why Think?

So, I've just read The Birth of Tragedy, and I'm pretty sure now that Nietzsche poses, as I suspected, the only serious challenge to the examined life.

The difficulty is this:

It is not too hard, on the grounds of reason and truth, to commit oneself to the examined -- philosophic -- life. To value reason over faith, and logic over feelings as a source of knowledge.

But while we should value logic over emotions as a means of achieving the truth, it does not necessarily follow that we should value logic over emotions as a means of achieving happiness. The second, implied premise in the syllogism is that truth is always the best way to achieve happiness.

Of course, this ends up being true -- empirically, obviously true -- when we are talking about external goods. Truth is useful in getting stuff. But what about emotions? What about the value of believing certain things? It is conceivable that believing a true thing, while leading to external efficacy, could be so deeply disturbing as to not be worth it. Or believing a false thing might cause a good far greater than its practical harm.

For this reason, any way of thinking about the world, at its root, must have what Nietzsche calls an aesthetic justification. We need to be able to tell ourselves a compelling and appealing story about out worldview. This is not only a tool for self-deception. No, the man of reason cannot afford to ignore this need. If the life of reason is in fact the best, it too needs an aesthetic justification -- gods and myths of a sort.

This inquiry, of course, carries grave risks for rational philosophy. After all, we can't presuppose that our current way of life is correct when examining it. But all life carries risks.

We are surrounded by a thousand fates. Let us enter the fight. -Homer

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya 'bout the raising of the wrist. -Monty Python

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Instapundit points out Michael Totten's photo-fisking of Juan Cole. Totten responds to Cole's assertion that "We are not at war" with a series of photographs of the awful deeds of the terrorists. But I think this misses the point. Cole was commenting not on the magnitude of the threat we face, but the kind of threat.

Cole writes:

You have to think about terrorists as units of hardware, on which software has
been installed. The software is a world-view, a set of premises about the world,
which then make sense of the terrorist's actions. How does the software get
installed? The potential terrorist meets the installer socially and falls under
his spell. The terrorists don't have a social background in common. They aren't
lumpen proletariat or working class or middle class or bourgeois. Or rather,
they have in their ranks persons from all these backgrounds.The terrorists don't
have an ethnicity in common. Richard Reid and Lindsey Germaine were Caribbean.
Others are Arabs. Some have been Somali or Eritrean or Tanzanian. Others have
been South Asia (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh). Still others have been
African-American or white Americans. They don't even have to start out Muslim.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was particularly proud of an al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan
who had been an American Jew in a previous life. Ziad Jarrah, one of the
September 11 hijackers, appears to have been a relatively secular young man
right to the end. It isn't about religion, except insofar as religion is a basis
on which the recruiter can approach his victim. Islam as a religion forbids
terrorism. But then so does Christianity, and that doesn't stop there being
Christian terrorists. They are a fringe in both religions.If you try to
"profile" the terrorist using such social markers as class or ethnicity, maybe
even religious background, you will go badly astray.What then do they have in
common? They got the software installed in their minds. Why? Because they met
the installer, and were susceptible to his worldview. That's all they have in

In other words, the threat is too amorphous to fight by war. After describing an allegedly typical situation in which a young Muslim man might be lured into the ideology of radical Islamist terrorism, Cole concludes:

So how do you fight this form of terror? You disrupt the installation of the
software in more and more minds. You adopt policies that make the story the
software tells implausible. And you reach out to make sure people hear the

The error he makes is not an error of degree. It is far more obvious than that, and I'm surprised that this wasn't Totten's primary objection as well. The fact is, the terrorists, in international organizations such as Al Qaeda, operate training camps -- they did in Afghanistan -- and coordinate their support activities under the protection of large nations, such as Iran and Syria.

The reason we are struggling to democratize the Middle East is not jsut a direct attempt to alleviate poverty and hopelessness; these aren't identical with terrorism. Rather, it stems from the realization that terrorism will always be in the interests of tyranny, and never in the interests of liberal democracy. To eliminate safe harbors for terrorists, we must eliminate the regimes that naturally wish to encourage or tolerate terrorism, and replace them with regimes that by nature oppose it.

Ah, but you see, those places of safe harbor and institutions of international coordination don't exist to Cole:

I can't figure out who they think they are fighting a war against. It sure
isn't the Muslim world. Morocco as a country couldn't be more friendly and
cooperative, and we have good trade relations with it. Algeria likewise.
Tunisia? A topflight relationship. Even Libya is coming around. Egypt? A
non-NATO ally. Palestine? We give them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Jordan? A closer friend you couldn't find. Lebanon? Very friendly except for
Hizbullah and even they haven't hit American targets any time in the past
decade. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan,

It is incredible how good the relations are between the United States and
almost all the countries of the Muslim world. They provide us with a NATO ally
(Turkey) and 4 of our five non-NATO allies! The only sour notes are Bashar
al-Asad in Syria (who hasn't done anything to us as far as I know) and Iran,
with which our relationship needn't be different from that with Venezuela under
Chavez (leaders of both countries badmouth the US, but don't seem actively to
harm us in ways that are visible to me). It will be argued that Iran is trying
to get a nuclear weapon. But a) we don't know that for sure; and b) even if it
were to succeed in doing so, how would it be different from the Soviet Union,
which hated us much more than Iran does and which had thousands of warheads
pointed at us? So far no two countries, both of which have nuclear weapons, have
fought a major war with one another, and the reason is clear. This is not to say
it could not happen, but it is unlikely. As for the Mad Cheney scenario whereby
a state gives nuclear weapons to terrorists to use on the US, puh- lease. Even
my five year old niece wouldn't believe that whopper. States don't share nuclear
bombs with terrorists; and it is not as if a bomb's provenance could not easily
be traced.

That we have acted as if friends to the Palestinian Authority in no way necessitates their acting in a friendly way towards us. To talk about Libya "coming around" without acknowledging the role the Iraq campaign had in that seems to me disingenuous. The idea that the Saudis are our friends -- which ones? How many? Certainly not all. Saudi Arabia does not have a unified government; it is clearly split between the terrorists' side and ours.

And as for the alleged reluctance of states to give terrorists nukes, it bears repeating that we are not fighting entirely sane and rational people right now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A few weeks ago I was invited to giv a d'var Torah -- a little talk about a portion of the five books of Moses. The portion for that week was Numbers, ch. 13-15. Here it is, with slight modifications:

We approach the Bible with certain prejudices. Some see it as a historical document, stitched together from other accounts, a cul;tural text with no one author.

Mark Twain is supposed to have told a preacher he had just heard, "that was a fine speech,"

"Thank you," said the preacher.

"I have a book at home that contains every word of it," said Twain.

"That's quite impossible."

"I say that I have it."

"I should like to see it, then."

"I'll send it to you," said Twain.

A few days later, the preacher received in the mail a package containing an unabridged dictionary. So even if the torah were shown to be stitched together from previous sources, someone did the stitching. Moreover, it reads as if it were written with intention.

Others come to the study of the Torah with religious bias, certain philosophical, theological ideas about how God should be, and what He should say. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. He supports the virtues we value, and condemns what we consider vicious. and He always tells the truyth; indeed, He is truth.

The problem with the theological bias -- the philosophic religous approach to the Bible -- is that it is constantly under attack by a simple reading of the text.

"And the Lord spoke thus to Moses: Send for yourself men that they may scout out the land of Canaan..." (Numbers 13:1-2). Why? Is god unfamiliar with the terrain? Moses, the man who the torah tells us knew God best, sees this as military reconnaisance and strategic information-gathering. clearly, God is not simply acting as an omniscient, omnipotent commander. Moreover, if we unserstand this story at face value, it's a debacle. The Children of Israel refuse to enter the land, until God orders them to go back into the wilderness for 40 years, at which point they try to enter the land and ar vanquiched.

But perhaps this is not meant to be taken at face value. After all, the so-called spies or scouts are not selected on the basis of competence or willingness, but as distinguished leaders within each tribe, "heads of the Children of Israel" (13:2-3). Perhaps they were selected as twelve witnesses, to inform not God or Moses, but the Children of Israel.

Representation of each group in a society means two things in a modern context: deliberative assembly (cf. for instance the American Senate), and symbolic full participation, as at local events at which all community leaders, even those not directly involved, are present. Both apply here.

First, since each tribe is represented, all the tribes -- the tribes, not just the leadership -- are entitled to a report. Second, Israel functions as at least a partial democracy, or at least responsive to popular pressure: popular sentiment often is the impetus for an action. Soon, Korach's rebellion against the privileged elite almost wins, and is not put down by centrally organized force, but when the earth splits beneath him. In other words, he falls out of touch with his base of support.

Also, notice that the ten wicked spies are not wicked for spreading scurrilous, false rumors. They are punished though they tell the truth. The land is filled with milk and honey -- as they say. They did, in fact (the torah's fact) encounter the offspring of Giants -- as they say. And it is true that without some miracle, the children of Israel were at that time unable to contend with the Aamalekites and Canaanites, and got, in the Torah's word "pounded" -- as they correctly predicted.

So what was the problem?

(Aside: A friend later pointed out that part of the problem was that they attributed their own view of things to the giant's sons: they say, "we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and in theirs. I don't have much to say about this, but it's worth pointing out.)

The problem is that they were being unhelpful in undermining Moses's and God's ability to lead effectively, while Joshua and Caleb, who understood what was expect3ed of them from their commander, accentuated the positive.

so far a literal understading will take us.

But if God shows us by His actions that it can be wrong for men to be forthoming, might He Himself dissemble, or at least likewise not tell the whole story?

The God of the Torah is not the God of philosophic truth, of theology. But it can't be wrong to talk about God in anthropomorphic terms, since this is God to us, i.e. how He affects our world. The God of the Torah gets angry, experiments, and is affected by and changes in response to our world. It is no accident that at the sea where the Egyptians drowned, horse and rider, the Israelites exclaimed not "Zeh Hael," "This is God," but "Zeh Eli," "This is my God." The Torah is a teaching text and its God is a teaching God.

God's command serves two purposes. First, Israel cannot successfully invade Canaan without a willingness to proceed even knowing the dangers ahead. Second, God shown what is expected of the subordinate, tribal leaders. They, not having been privy to God's thoughts, acted inappropriately in doing what they thought defied Him and Moses.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bylines Matter

The New York Times's Sarah Boxer has written an atrociously condescending and snobbish attack on a beautiful statement against the terrorists, We're Not Afraid.

So I thought: Sarah Boxer? Where have I heard that name before? Something to do with Iraq... Oh, that's right, the one who wrote a condescending, snobbish, and outright irresponsible article about one of the bloggers at iraqthemodel, in which she insinuated that he might have been a CIA agent. That's right. She suggested that an Iraqi blogger, in the midst of a sea of terrorism and Islamofascist hysteria, might be a CIA agent. I don't know about you, but I sure appreciate it when reporters from the New York Times don't endanger my life. Oh, and she also failed to represent the facts accurately. But that almost goes without saying for the Mainstream Media.

More info on the past debacle at Jeff Jarvis, Chrenkoff and at iraqthemodel.

Speaking of CIA agents, y'know Judith Miller? The one who's in jail for refusing to reveal her source who may have outed "undercover" CIA agent Valerie Plame?

Well, the name rings a bell to me. You see, the woman has some history at the NYT.

She's famous for her enthusiastic coverage of WMD claims. Jack Shafer writes about this at Slate, here and here (and elsewhere).

But that's not all! The excitable and adventurous Ms. Miller allegedly commandeered the combat unit she was embedded with to serve her own agenda.

Actually, I think this is kind of neat. I feel like I'm getting to know the wacky cast of the New York Times Reporters. Sarah Boxer -- elitist snob. Judy Miller -- gung-ho gal. Nicholas Kristoff -- sane. Paul Krugman -- no Nick Kristoff.

Don't you just love the sense of community this small world allows?

But seriously, what kind of a circus is it at the New York Times, hat these people are still employed there? A poorly edited one, I say. will boost your web site traffic by 50%. Starting tomorrow. For as long as you like. No purchase necessary. 100% totally free. No kidding!

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