General – Page 10 – God of the Machine
Oct 282002

Radley Balko finally unburdens himself about war with Iraq. He’s against:

Id say yes if I could see definitive proof that Iraq had nuclear capabilities and had plans to put them into action. Id say yes if I could see definitive proof that Saddams own sense of self-preservation and survival were overwhelmed by his hatred of the United States.

In other words, to support war with Iraq, he would have to be certain — I assume that’s what he means by “definitive” — that Saddam had nuclear weapons and planned to use them against an American city, because, presumably, his “sense of self-preservation [was] overwhelmed by his hatred of the United States.”

Certain. Is he sure? If Radley thought the probability were 90%, that wouldn’t suffice? How about 50%? I think even a 10% risk of such a catastrophe would justify war with Iraq, but hey, that’s just me. War has serious costs. But surely the threshold probability, when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of American civilians dying, lies considerably south of “definitive.”

Oct 272002

From The Sum of Life

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes,
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash ’tis gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to sing but songs;
Ah well, alas, alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

–Benjamin Franklin King Jr.

Oct 262002

Title: Those Evil Warbloggers
Stardate: 20021026.1025
Word Count: 2,247
Impetus: Some Brit blogger who’s upset that actual conservatives use the Internet too. And that whole Little Green Footballs vs. Anil Dash MSNBC hate speech thing.
Thesis: If speech is unrestricted, truth will out.
Historical Reference: Justice Holmes’ 1919 dissent, in Abrams v. U.S.: “The best test of truth is the power to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Evaluation: I doubt it. And “the marketplace of ideas” is a lousy reason to defend free speech anyway. If said marketplace failed to disseminate truth effectively — and there can be no denying that certain false ideas, like astrology, have made considerable market headway — would that be a good reason to restrict speech? Holmes’ jurisprudence indicates that he would have answered that question yes. What would Den Beste answer?

Oct 252002

Senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash this afternoon, was a professor of political science at Carleton College in the early 1980s, when I went there. Even then he was a charismatic figure, with a cadre of student followers, the “Wellstoners,” who tried to stir up the usual lefty trouble, organizing the local farmers into coops or persuading the cafeteria ladies to strike.

Wellstone’s introductory poli sci course was the most popular on campus. Its core text was Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, and it was agitprop. This bothered me more then than it does now. Wellstone did openly what other professors did snarkily and on the sly. With him you knew where you stood.

In the Senate he was much the same way. Anti-corporation, sure; but he also refused corporate campaign contributions. Never saw a tax cut he liked. Advocated a seven-year freeze on defense spending. Voted the true-blue AFL-CIO line. Opposed war with Iraq. Always wrong, in short; but forthright too, and incorruptible. Few on the left or right were like him, and I’m sorry he’s dead.

Oct 252002

Now that “meta” and “fisk” have been removed, one hopes, from discourse by Stephen Green and Colby Cosh, respectively, can we lose “meme” too? “Meme,” like “meta,” is a useful technical term. It was coined by Richard Dawkins and it means “cultural information transmitted by imitation,” like bird songs or dolphin whistles. It does not mean “cool shit on the web that you can link to.”

This has been a public service announcement.

Oct 232002

Colby Cosh is irked, faintly, quaintly, that the Booker Prize was awarded this year to some nonentity, instead of Muriel Spark, Anthony Burgess, J.G. Ballard, Martin Amis, or Peter Ackroyd. Since some people apparently still take this stuff seriously, let’s go straight to the top. The following authors never won the Nobel Prize for Literature:

Leo Tolstoy
Henry James
Yevgeny Zamyatin
James Joyce
Ernest Hemingway
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mikhail Bulgakov
Vladimir Nabokov

That’s just American, British and Russian novelists. (Don’t even get me started on poetry.) But you can only give out so many Nobels, after all, and you have to make room for Rudolf Eucken and Rabindranath Tagore and Pearl Buck and Odysseus Elytis and Dario Fo and Günter Grass and…so many mediocrities, so little time.

Colby commends the Booker committee for putting William Trevor on its short list, remarking that a “stopped clock is right twice a day.” It was another stopped clock, the poet-traitor Ezra Pound, who wrote, “Prizes are always a snare.”