Saturday, July 27, 2002Klaatu Barada Nikto
Friday, July 26, 2002
Here's a good analysis of the Shehada debacle from the Jerusalem Post. It quotes Hebrew University Professor Yaron Ezrahi, who gets it exactly right:
The strike was a colossal error. Our leaders have failed to understand that creating symmetry between the terrorists and us legitimates them and delegitimizes us. Legitimizing terror is their greatest victory, and represents our greatest loss.
If you have the spare cash, go sponsor Meryl Yourish, who's blogging in the Blogathon to raise funds for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where victims of suicide terrorism are cared for.
Dhimma or not dhimma
I read Off the Pine's reflections on Nick Denton's concept of a Western dhimma (via Matt Yglesias), and, while I agree with some of his reasoning, have to disagree with his conclusion.
Denton argues that Muslims in the West should explicitly be required to accept "Western Humanist values" as the price of their existence as a tolerated minority in Western society. This would have the effect of turning their religious practice into "a diluted Episcopalian version" of Islam.
Pine begs to differ. Pointing to Southern Baptists and Hasidim, he maintains that there is a "wide spectrum of religious observance that resides between the tokenism he supports and fundamentalism." I can agree with this.
He also argues, however, that what we should require of Muslims "is not an acceptance of liberal values, but of secular legal authority." It is here that I think he misses the point. When it comes to personal and private religious conviction and observance, there is very little tension between humanist values and religion.
The tension arises when those values conflict with religious direction on how we should act toward others and toward society. Here, we have the problems of the nature of the parent-child relationship and the husband-wife relationship, as well as the question of self-imposed ghettoization.
I think we can expect more of the deeply religious, of any faith, in our society than a grudging acceptance of "secular legal authority." We have the right to expect acceptance of the principle that when religious prescription is in conflict with liberal social norms regarding our actions toward others, those liberal social norms are ascendant. If this acceptance leads to a limp Episcopalianism, so be it.
Does anyone think the proposed Department of Homeland Security is a good idea? Can anyone even articulate a good reason for its creation?
Felix Rohatyn says the fundamental issue underlying the various financial crises in the U.S. is fairness.
And, of course, this is why the crises hit the president so hard. No one can honestly maintain that George Bush the lesser got his through hard work and native talent. As someone said about his father, he was born on third and thinks he hit a triple.
Both Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias write about the president's disingenuous attempt to undermine the civil service system under the pretext of strengthening our ability to defend the fatherland, er, homeland.
My question is: Why is anyone surprised? This, after all, is the same president who told us that the best way to fight the terrorists was to pass a tax cut.
The Bush Doctrine: Speak stridently, and use uncertainty and fear to slip your political agenda in through the back door.
Update: Atrios thinks that Matt Yglesias misses the point regarding the president's desire to strip civil service protection from employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Citing the president's desire to see FOIA and Whistleblower requirements done away with as well, he believes, perhaps, something more sinister is the point?
Thursday, July 25, 2002Yourish on Shehada
Meryl Yourish comments on the Shehada assassination, and gets it quite wrong:
I think, N.Z., that ultimately the moral responsibility lies with the fact that Israel has been in an undeclared war since Oslo. I read recently that we should stop calling it the intefadeh and just call it the Oslo War. And as such, in wars, it is an unfortunate fact that civilians get killed.
Since Oslo? Since 1993? I don't think it's been that long. Hyperbole aside, "moral responsibility" can't lie with a fact; it lies with people, in this case the IDF.
Ms Yourish's argument boils down to: Hamas does bad things that kill innocents on purpose. The IDF wasn't trying to kill innocents. If the IDF kills innocents in the process of killing members of Hamas, so be it.
Sorry, but I can't sign off on that. The IDF has a moral responsibility to carry out its operations in such a way as to minimize civilian casualties.
I read N.Z. Bear's comments (via Matt Yglesias) on Eric Alterman's weak attempts to justify the IDF missile attack on Hamas leader Shehada, as well as the InstaPundit's equally weak defense of Alterman.
Both Yglesias and Bear point out that the IDF bears the moral responsibility for its actions.
Reynold's, however, seems to think that, while the IDF does bear moral responsibility, "Hamas and its supporters won't be heard to complain about those actions," under the theory of estoppel. Now, I don't have the fine legal mind that Glenn does, but I think that only a party to a case can be estopped from raising arguments. So, even assuming that Glenn's right that estoppel provides the relevant legal analogy, only Hamas, and not "its supporters" would be barred from making arguments.
Let's take a closer look at the InstaPundit's line:
Here, Hamas wanted a war, so while the IDF may be morally responsible for its actions, Hamas and its supporters won't be heard to complain about those actions.
In other words, the act on which the estoppel is predicated is "wanting a war." Hard to say that that wouldn't apply to the Israelis too, now. Maybe Glenn means "Hamas started it." Lots of people would argue to the contrary. Given this, it would be easy to turn the analogy on its head to argue that Israel should be estopped from complaining about suicide attacks.
Ultimately, the InstaPundit's legal analogy doesn't lend a whole lot of clarity to the issue, which makes it a pretty bad analogy. When the legalistic bafflegarb is stripped away, it boils down to: Hamas deserves anything it gets; if innocents are hurt in the process, too bad; if you think otherwise, you're a Hamas supporter and we don't need to listen to your sniveling moralizing.
Bay of Goats
This essay in the Guardian shatters the illusion of supposed European sophistication in matters of sovereignty. Never chary of hopping onto their high horses to denounce American unilateralism and lack of nuance, the Europeans (read Spanish) just couldn't wait to send the gunboats in to resolve the "crisis" over Perejil. Of course, they had to call the U.S. to sort it when it threatened to get out of hand. Makes you think the Europeans fail to be brusque unilateralists simply for lack of opportunity.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Demosthenes rightly calls Andrew Sullivan for dissembling about the reasons for the war in Afghanistan, a fairly common practice among the president's apologists these days. The war to liberate Afghanistan, indeed.
I guess I have to join Brian Linse and Matthew Yglesias in having mixed feelings toward Mr Sullivan's recent work. I have appreciated many of his views, even when I have disagreed, but lately he just seems more and more like a pro-Bush polemicist.
Man Meets Dog
Since Andrew Sullivan is discussing a book about a dog in his book club, I thought I'd post a short review of one of my favorite books about dogs, Konrad Lorenz's Man Meets Dog. Imitation is supposedly the most sincere form of flattery, and I've been a little hard on Mr Sullivan lately.
So, down to business.
Man Meets Dog is a brilliant synthesis of theory, observation and sentiment. Beginning with a vividly imagined, seemingly plausible scenario of the first steps toward the domestication of canis familiaris, Lorenz, a zoologist and Nobel laureate, proceeds to examine, with a naturalist's trained eye, the behavior of dogs and their interactions with their human companions. He writes about training dogs, picking dogs, playing with dogs and living with dogs.
Most importantly, though, Lorenz has a true affection for man's best friend. His anecdotes of life with his many canine companions are touching and true to life. What comes across most powerfully is a sense of Lorenz's connection with his many dogs. To read Lorenz is to realize that it is possible to stand in a personal relationship with a dog, a relationship based on trust and loyalty on the part of both dog and human, certainly, but also rooted in an understanding and deep appreciation of the qualities of the dog on the human's part alone. Here's a sample:
The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift demanding no less binding moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being. The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth can ever be, a fact which should be noted by anyone who decides to acquire a canine friend.
The only criticism that springs to mind involves Lorenz's theory, now disproved, that domestic dogs descends from both the wolf and the jackal. But this is a quibble. The book is a joy for anyone who lives with dogs, or just likes them.
Oh, and he writes about cats, too.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002It's a big ass sky
The BBC reports that preliminary calculations of the orbit of a newly discovered asteroid put it on a collision course with my apartment. Well, on a collision course with Earth, that is. Close enough.
With a width of 2 km, the asteroid is big enough to devastate a continent, according to the Beeb.
Don't move to a cave yet, though. ETA is 2019, and astronomers expect more detailed orbital calculations to indicate that this rock will miss me, uh, us.
Warren Buffett excoriates his fellow C.E.O.s in an op-ed piece in today's NY Times. Arguing that "legal, but improper, accounting methods" cast a far greater pall over the reliability of reported corporate earnings, Buffett calls for expensing options and rationalizing assumptions about pension-fund returns. In the final analysis, he blames C.E.O.s who " talk principle" while their real "motive is pocketbook," their pocketbooks. Here's a sample:
For these C.E.O.'s I have a proposition: Berkshire Hathaway will sell you insurance, carpeting or any of our other products in exchange for options identical to those you grant yourselves. It'll all be cash-free. But do you really think your corporation will not have incurred a cost when you hand over the options in exchange for the carpeting? Or do you really think that placing a value on the option is just too difficult to do, one of your other excuses for not expensing them? If these are the opinions you honestly hold, call me collect. We can do business.
Buffet doesn't think, though, that the solution to these problems is to be found in new laws. Rather, he thinks that Congress should allow the Financial Accounting Standards Board to set standards as it sees fit, backing off its disastrous 1994 decision to push the Board, and then S.E.C. chief Arthur Levitt, not to mandate expensing options.
What's more, and more important, Buffett thinks that C.E.O.s should take these actions on their own initiative, "[f]or their shareholders' interest, and for the country's."
I couldn't agree more. Too bad we couldn't have heard something like this from the president.
A few words about this article in the NY Times. It would seem that some universities are chary about publicly defending research involving, and researchers involved in, animal testing. Protests by animal rights activists, vandalism and harassment by animal rights extremists, negative stories in the press and alienation among the folks opening their checkbooks all contribute to a culture of silence in which universities do the research, but try to keep it quiet.
This strikes me as wrongheaded.
Enquiry into the ethical legitimacy of animal testing is just as much part and parcel of a university's mission as the experimentation itself. Of course, such enquiry brings with it the factions that tend to form around positions in ethical argument. Of course, these factions will spin to the press and public to further their own ends. Of course, and regrettably, extremists will push the enquiry beyond the bounds of discourse.
None of these factors, however, provides any justification for sidestepping the debate. If a university is going to sponsor the research, they should at least foster an environment in which the propriety of the research can be debated.
This New York Times piece got me to thinking. First thought was: What an incredible blunder by Israel. Then I though I'd blog it; then I though I'd blog it stream-of-consciousness.
I support Israel's right to self-defense. I think Israel is mostly the put upon party in the conflict. Suicide bombings of civilians are an atrocity that shouldn't be rewarded.
But shooting a missile into a house in a densely populated area? Killing some kids along the way? What was Sharon thinking?
Doesn't Israel have crack commandos who could have shimmied down ropes from helicopters at night to infiltrate the house, putting a bullet into Shehada's head?
But maybe that would have led to more casualties than the missile strike.
Does taking Shehada out achieve anything? Don't think so. There's got to be another fanatic waiting in the wings to take his place. And now they're all hetted up and out for revenge.
But Hamas is hardly more out for killing Jews now than they were before. So maybe it's a wash.
All-in-all, it seems to me that low intensity conflict gets nowhere. What's the answer. Damned if I know.
What a muddy stream.
Monday, July 22, 2002If it's Monday ...
... it must be Sullivan Market Watch. Last week, Homeobox noted that investment guru Andrew Sullivan had made a buy recommendation. How's Andrew doing? One week from the day, last Friday, the Dow stood at 8019, down 665; NASDAQ 1319, down 54; S&P 848, down 73.
I appreciate that it's hard to handicap the markets. Even more reason not to offer buy recommendations for polemical reasons. Tune in next week.
It's cold out there
Cryonics gets front page treatment in the Washington Post today. Ever since Ted Williams' burial arrangements became news, cryonics has been getting a lot of play. Articles I've read, albeit cursorily, leave a lot to be desired, however, running from contemptuous write-offs to fluff pieces. The Post's treatment, a sympathetic look at members of a D.C. area cryonics supporters organization, falls to the latter end of the scale.
It seems to me that there are two practical issues raised by cryonics, and neither is getting the media treatment necessary. The first relates to nanotech, the second to entropy.
As to the first, Glenn Reynolds has posted a link recently to an article on the limitations faced by nanotech as a consequence of the short time scale reversibility of the Second Law. I seem to recall Wigner's clock size limits are also a constraint. In any event, the success of cryonics is critically dependent on the development of nanotech sufficient to repair whatever killed you, plus the damage caused by taking your body down to liquid nitrogen temperatures.
What's the likelihood of nanotech like that ever being developed? Who knows. Is it going to happen any time soon? Don't bet on it.
Even so, the cryonicist will maintain that technology does move forward. If nanotechnology sufficient to do the job is ever developed, is not theoretically or practically impossible, one day you'll be revived. Isn't it worth taking the chance?
Which brings me to the second issue, entropy. Even if nanotech sufficient to repair what ailed you is on offer, repairing the freezing damage is no easy row to hoe. At least one cryobiologist, Arthur Rowe, is on record saying that bringing a corpse frozen to liquid nitrogen temperatures back to life is like recreating a cow from hamburger.
Now, cryonicists don't like this too much, but their responses strike me as less than forthright. The arguments boil down to: 1) Freezing isn't grinding and 2) Single cells make it through freezing OK.
Nevertheless, if freezing an entire mammal, or a mammal head, leads to irretrievable information loss, it's as good as being ground up. Even the best nanotech in the world can't repair something if information about the state to be recaptured is lost.
Sunday, July 21, 2002It all depends ...
... on the meaning of "is." In response to a question about releasing SEC's Harken records, the president replied, "the key document said there is no case."
Of course, with Bush this isn't reflective of a slick facility to twist the language to his purposes. Is it?