"A sharp example of bottom-feeding riffraff"
- Ted Barlow

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Friday, September 06, 2002
Cause for hope?
Demosthenes is feeling hopeful as a consequence of this poll (available in PDF format from Search for Common Ground) conducted by the Program on International Polling Attitudes showing that "80% of Palestinians would support a large-scale non-violent protest movement and 56% would participate in its activities." Additionally, "a strong majority (62%) of Palestinians thinks that a new approach is needed in the Intifada and overwhelming majorities (73-92%) approve of Palestinians using various methods of nonviolent action."

Now, these results aren't bad news, but I think I'll wait for a poll that indicates that a majority of Palestinians reject suicide terrorism before I get my hopes up. Unfortunately, the same poll finds that "concurrent with their high support for nonviolent methods, Palestinians show equal levels of support for violent methods. Majorities express a desire for retribution and do not think violence is harming their cause internationally."

Barlow on Homeobox
Ted Barlow likes my take on Norah Vincent and calls Homeobox a "sharp example of bottom-feeding riffraff." Thanks Ted!

The Independent reports that an aide to the Taliban Foreign Minister, on the Minister's instructions, warned the U.S. consul general in Pakistan, David Katz, in late July, 2001, that Osama bin Laden planned a massive attack on the U.S. Accounts are unclear, but "U.S. sources" say the warning was never passed on. An unnamed "diplomatic source," however, says:

We were hearing a lot of that kind of stuff. When people keep saying the sky's going to fall in and it doesn't, a kind of warning fatigue sets in. I actually thought it was all an attempt to rattle us in an attempt to please their funders in the Gulf, to try to get more donations for the cause.

Now, unless the "diplomatic source" is Katz himself, who reportedly has declined comment, the message obviously got passed on to somewhere. It would seem that some ass covering is going on.

Ultimately, I think that it's pretty clear that massive failures of intelligence allowed the attack to take place.

Culture of lies
Josh Marshall slams NRCC Chairman Tom Davis over his disingenuous attempts to "bully reporters out of using the term 'privatization' to describe Republican policy on Social Security reform, claiming the label was a misleading slur concocted by Democrats, when in fact it was the term all Republicans used until a few months ago."

Combine this with Paul Krugman's take on the issue, which has a wider focus on the Bush administration's general tendency to doublethink and newspeak, and you have a pretty sorry picture of a political party mired in a culture of lies.

Remember when the bright idea on the right was to lay blame for corporate malfeasance at president Clinton's, well, feet? It was his moral failings that corrupted business culture.

I think the charge that the Republicans are the party of mendacity whose willful lies are corrupting our national culture and political dialog is much harder hitting and capable of changing people's minds.

And it has the virtue of being true.

Impeach John Ashcroft
Atrios calls our attention to yet another Justice Department bungle. Homeobox has already called for an Impeach John Ashcroft movement. Seems to me that Ashcroft's incompetence (and grandstanding) creates a much bigger threat to U.S. security than Norm Mineta's. Where are the bumper stickers?

Thursday, September 05, 2002
Carter's Middle East record
David Yaseen reminds the InstaPundit that Carter's "abject record of humiliating failure" in the Middle East includes the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. You tell him, David.

More on blogs
Meryl Yourish is happy with Andrew Sullivan's response to her critique of the Slate discussion on blogging.

Can't say that I am. Both Sullivan and, to a lesser extent, Yourish, seem to view blogging as the anteroom to a career in writing. It can be that, for some, but I don't think it defines the medium. In fact, it seems that Sullivan defines "blogging well" in terms of satisfying an audience. I think just the opposite is true. A "good blog" is one that satisfies the blogger.

Indeed, Sullivan projects his hit fixation onto others, expressing his dislike of those who view him with "hit envy." If hits are what float your boat, go for it. But not every blogger sees hits as the goal, or even a goal.

So, I think the whole discussion is wrongheaded, focused as it is on blogging-as-profession, with heavy reference to big media blogs. A better discussion would focus on blogging-as-avocation.

By way of conclusion let me say that I do like hits. So link to me.

On Norah Vincent
Both The Rittenhouse Review and Atrios have comments up on Norah Vincent's reaction to the criticism her new blog's been receiving around the blogosphere.

Apparently, the criticism of her "reads like a snot rag." But Norah's going to rise above it, and ignore her critics from now on. After all, her critics are snakes who should heed Norah's command and go "back to the swamp . . . and the deserved obscurity from which you slithered."

First thing is that Norah's got pretty thin skin. The main points of criticism against her have been: 1) Her writing sucks; 2) She plagiarized a Jackson Browne tune; 3) She's begging for money under false pretenses.

As to the plagiarism, I think the charge is overblown, but Norah's reaction was overwrought. As to the begging charge, that one sticks. We all know blogging is free, Norah. Best to change the tag line on your tip request. As to her writing, I find it often over the top and exaggerated, but there's no accounting for taste.

In the end, though, I think Norah needs to grow a tougher hide. None of the criticism she's receiving is that harsh. People are going to bash you, and if your first taste of overblown criticism causes you to post a harsh "fuck you" to your critics, you're in the wrong line of work. Just wait until someone gets the idea to start NorahVincentWatch.

UPDATE: Alex Frantz also has some trenchant commentary on the Vincent flap. Here's a sample:

Ms Vincent wants to have it both ways. Although she makes regular appearances on the editorial pages of the largest and most respected paper west of Chicago, she likes to think of herself as an oppressed Conservative rebelling against the overwhelming power of the ominpresent Liberal Media Establishment. At she same time, she is insistent on the privileges of her position. As a paid journalist, her opinions Matter. Insignificant amateur bloggers are permitted to admire, but only if they have the decency to know their place and not insult their betters. Clearly, Vincent's only regret for the nasty attacks she makes on bloggers who dare to criticize her is that she has been forced into the unpleasant position of publicly acknowledging their existence, an act which she vows not to repeat.


Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Where's Osama
Paul Orwin is pissed off. While I don't agree that capturing or killing Osama bin Laden should be the number one priority of the administration, I do think that the administration made it a clear goal, failed to achieve it, and then tried to convince us all that Osama wasn't really that important anyway.

What's in a blog
Meryl Yourish disses the Slate discussion of weblogs between Andrew Sullivan and Kurt Anderson. While I agree with most of what Meryl writes on a gut level, I suspect there's something ironic in a claim to "get blogging."

If your idea of blogging is similar to Meryl's, you'll likely say, right on sister. If it's not, you'll likely think she's full of it.

And, ultimately, that's as close to "getting blogging" as I'm likely to get. If you don't care how many hits you get, fine. If you want to write a "disembodied, disassociated murmuring blog," fine. It's your call.

So, I can't say, as Meryl does, that the "next time Slate wants to have a discussion on blogs," they should "use two people who have an understanding of the medium." I would, however, like to see a discussion of blogging with more voices than the two Slate has given us, perhaps a table discussion with 5 or 6 people from various continents of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Even more on the Anthropic Principle
Over in Matt Yglesias's comments section, Iain Coleman (sorry about the Ian, Iain) adds a follow-up to the Anthropic Principle discussion, responding to my assertion that complexity is what's important. Here's Iain:

There is no generalised theory of complexity such that one can plug in the parameters of a hypothetical universe and calculate how much complexity can arise in that universe. In the absence of such a theory, this assertion about the consequences of changes in the physical constants is just so much handwaving - which was the basic point of my post. And as for life being impossible in two dimensions, tell it to John Conway.

Again, I'm forced to wave my hand around. A "generalized theory of complexity," as Iain defines it, isn't necessary. That is to say, we don't need a formula that tells us parameters x, y and z produce complexity factor A. For the anthropic principle to be a useful concept, we only need to ask if a system is complex or not. The vast majority of changed parameters produce non-complex universes.

As to John Conway's Game of Life, while it is interesting to see what kinds of patterns can be produced from simple rules, I don't think that the "Life Universe" has given rise to anything like the BBC, yet. And, by the by, the "Life Universe" has three dimensions.

In any event, for those interested in the Anthropic Principle, let me suggest some further reading. For those with some technical background, Tipler and Barrow's The Cosmological Anthropic Principle is a must read. For a more popular approach, try Martin Rees's Just Six Numbers or Paul Davies's The Mind of God.

Sunday, September 01, 2002
More on the Anthropic Principle
There are many flaws in Ian Coleman's assessment of the Anthropic Principle, not least of which is: It's bollocks.

To begin with, Coleman offers us a straw man. The conclusion of the anthropic principle, he tells us, is that human life is perhaps the purpose of the universe. Uh, no Ian. The anthropic principle, name notwithstanding, rest on the fact that certain physical constants are so finely tuned that small changes wouldn't permit life of any kind.

Coleman regales us with visions of "an intelligent race of wave structures in a quark-gluon plasma" forming "vast empires" and contemplating philosophy and the concept of the divine. All very well for the science fiction novelist, but hopelessly idle speculation for those interested in the question: Why do the physical constants of this universe have the values that they do?

The point that Coleman misses is that changes in the values of the constants don't rule out life because they render biochemical life impossible. They rule out life because they rule out complexity. Imagine a universe with only two dimensions, to take the most obvious example.

Or to take a harder example, imagine a universe in which the nuclear resonance that permits the creation of carbon were different. You'd be imagining a universe that contained only hydrogen and helium. Too simple a chemistry to give rise to anything like life.

Or again, imagine a universe that expands so quickly that each particle in it is irrevocably isolated from all the others. Or one that collapses in a second. Not a lot of room for life there.

But wait, says Coleman, how can I possibly know that universes like those couldn't give rise to life. Well, because they don't have the structure or the time to produce complexity.

Ultimately, his conclusion is as much a straw man as his introduction. One need not be able to "derive the existence of planets, DNA and the BBC World Service from first principles" in order to be able to say, from first principles, that our kind of universe allows complexity.

Poll problems
Eugene Volokh takes issue with Patrick Ruffini's poll of attitudes in the Blogosphere. Volokh points out that, because the respondents to the poll are self selected, the data gathered will be worthless.

Frankly, that's not the only problem with the poll. The questions themselves are biased to produce an outcome that Ruffini favors. The following is only a slight exaggeration:

I like:
  1. crack

  2. honest American stuff

The only charitable way to characterize Ruffini's poll is as a joke. Which makes it hard to understand why Volokh and Glenn Reynolds take it seriously.