Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ending the Embargo on France

I'm still recovering from Thanxgiving -- and still in a period of heavy seminar-paper overload -- but I'm glad that Sarkozy is President of France. Since Eurasia /i/s/ /n/o/w/ has always been allied with Oceania, I can enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau again with a clear conscience. I got into the habit almost twenty years ago of drinking Beaujolais Nouveau with Thanxgiving turkey and I don't care what Mike Steinberger says.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Burning Man

Shouldn't this be prosecuted as a hate crime??

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A man accused of prematurely torching the Burning Man festival's namesake effigy in August has been arrested on suspicion of trying to set fire to a mosque, police said.

San Francisco performance artist Paul Addis, out on bail in the Burning Man charges, was taken into custody on the top steps of the Mosque of the Light of Allah around 11:40 p.m. Sunday, a police spokesperson said . . .

Addis had an ammunition belt of small explosives strapped around his waist, he said.

Police were tipped by a caller who said they overheard Addis talking about a plan to set fire to the local landmark. No fire was set and there was no damage to the mosque.

(Whoops, my typo, it wasn't a mosque.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I just submitted a couple of comments on Liz Seymour's blog which are awaiting moderation. Here they are:

1. I am shocked and appalled by the comments of the woman who said the law is more important than feeding the hungry. I think it should be perfectly legal to salvage food (or anything else) from the trash. (In fact, it's a low-tech and immediate form of recycling!)

2. I think the almost everyone who disapproves of dumpster diving believe that food from dumpsters is probably either spoiled ("Why else would anybody throw it out? And if it wasn't spoiled before, it's been sitting there for days, just rotting.") or else contaminated -- almost as if it had been retrieved from a portable toilet. These facts may be wrong but given their (presumably mistaken) beliefs, their visceral reactions are perfectly appropriate. Have you tried explaining how/why the food is still fresh and sanitary? I think that will help eliminate, or at least reduce, people's reactions.

3. "Surely it’s not as parasitic as making a profit off of minimum wage workers, using up the world’s resources and leaving it to our children to pick up the tab..." I don't want to justify any of the other actions you mention, but I believe that employing and paying workers -- even at minimum wage -- is clearly productive, which is exactly the opposite of parasitic! After all, the alternative to employing them is leaving them unemployed, which means they would be getting *nothing* rather than something. Salvaging food doesn't harm those workers but it doesn't help them either. If you meant that employing people is good and you think it would be even better if they were paid more, that's not what you said or how it came across.

Hat Tip to Stephen "Freakonomics" Dubner's post "Anarchist Mom" by way of another post at City Comforts, whom I hope to convert to libertarianism /R/e/a/l/ /S/o/o/n/ /N/o/w/ Sooner Or Later.

Update: My comments have been posted!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Oughta Be In Pictures

Daniel Drezner explains, using small words, why films about Iraq don't do well at the box office
There's not a whole lot of escapism in films about Iraq. Anyone who sees a well-crafted movie on Iraq will feel angry. Why would anyone who supports the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumptions challenged? Why would anyone who opposes the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumption -- that the war is a mess -- confirmed?
and concludes that "The only way I could see an Iraq war movie doing well would be if it was, like M*A*S*H, a very black comedy."

Ironically, I'm writing such a film right now, inspired by the New Republic articles of Scott Thomas Beauchamp; its working title is Shock and Awe.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sue Me, Sue Me, What Can You Do Me?

I see that Dan Rather is suing CBS News for $70 million ("one million dollars for every year of his life after age five") while Brendan Sullivan and Barry Scheck are suing the city of Durham (North Carolina), former DA Mike Nifong, several police officers, and other individual defendants for $30 million, plus a wide array of procedural reforms, on behalf of the three Duke University lacrosse team members who were, quite bluntly, framed for rape.

Best of all, it looks like the other 44 members of the Duke University lacrosse team are contemplating suing the members of the "Group of 88" (Duke faculty) who libeled them in print, slandered them in class lectures and at rallies, and deliberately gave them unfairly-low grades in classes after the incident.

Thanx to Instapundit and The Volokh Conspiracy respectively for mentioning those two stories.

Update: There are some nice videos on about the Duke lacrosse rape frame-up on YouTube, here and here and here. The first of those calls it a "hoax" but I prefer the term "frame" in the popular meaning of "hide the real evidence and make up fake evidence."

Also, the witty Roger L. Simon has an excellent post mocking poor Dan Rather at Pajamas Media (and only partly reprinted on his own site).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why Conservatives Are So Cruel, Mean, And Heartless

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an example of a law which was advocated mostly by left-wingers as a way to help those who were disadvantaged through no fault of their own, and was opposed mostly by right-wingers. The left-wingers *claimed* this was because right-wingers were selfish and/or cruel, i.e. they didn't want to help poor (unfortunate, not necessarily in poverty) people. The right wingers *claimed* that wasn't true, it was because the ADA was going to be an "undue burden" on businesses which were going to be forced to wait hand and foot -- perhaps literally -- on people with imaginary disabilities. The left-wingers *claimed* that wasn't true, it was only going to help people who really needed and deserved help.

Here's a quote from Hacklawyer's blog:
complaints by the traditionally disabled - the deaf, the blind, the paraplegic - have accounted for only a tiny share of these kind of ”accomodation requests.” The overwhelming majority of them comprise those who claim such dubious disabilities as ADD, visual and oral processing diabilities, dysgraphia (really bad handwriting), ”phonological processing,” dyscalculia (math disability).
Personally, if I had been hired by either side, I would have advised them to MAKE LOUD ANNOUNCEMENTS AT THE TOP OF THEIR VOICES IN ALL THE NEWS MEDIA THEY COULD REACH that *they* were willing to compromise and it was all the other side's fault for being stubborn, fanatic extremists who were demanding something really unreasonable. And to actually make an offer that looks reasonable to the general public, with something in it that's toxic to the other side.

Of course, I usually advocate that tactic on *any* issue. For example, Matt Miller suggests that advocates of school vouchers offer huge increases in school funding, and huge increases in teacher salaries, in return for the "minor concession" of vouchers; the educationalist lobby (such as the National Education Association) has promised to oppose *any* legislation which includes vouchers, so this makes *them* look like the Bad Guys (which they are) because it puts *them* in the position of opposing school funding and raises for those poor, poor teachers.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Engage *This*

"Men journey together with view to particular advantage, and by way of providing some particular thing needed for the purposes of life, and similarly the political association seems to have come together originally, and to continue in existence, for sake of the general advantages it brings" Aristotle, Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 9

"Organizations can therefore perform a function when there are common or group interestsm and their primary function is to advance the common interest of groups of individuals." Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary." Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X

"By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community...As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed...The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government." James Madison, The Federalist No. 10

"Special interest politics is a simple game. A hundred people sit in a circle, each with his pocket full of pennies. A politician walks around the circle taking a penny from each person. No one minds; who cares about a penny? When he has gone all the way around the circle, he throws fifty cents down in front of one person who is overjoyed at the unexpected windfall. The process is repeated...After a hundred rounds everyone is a hundred cents poorer, fifty cents richer, and happy." David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom, Chapter 27.

Before Mancur Olson published "The Logic of Collective Action" it was generally taken for granted that it was relatively easy to form groups (the "factions" mentioned in The Federalist) based on common interests, and to take collective action to further those interests; and also that the biggest (internal) problem facing a democracy was how to prevent the tyranny of the majority. In particular, the Federalist Papers assume that minority interests will be unable to control the legislature because "If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote." On the other hand, "When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens." Hence the reason the Founders wanted a republic with checks and balances rather than a democracy, and a Bill of Rights, to reduce the possibility of tyranny by the majority.
As far as I can see -- and I'm certainly open to the possibility that I'm misinterpreting or simply overlooking something -- Olson's point in "The Logic of Collective Action" was that all collective action is subject to the free-rider problem and therefore subject to the Prisoner's Dilemma. This is true virtually by definition; if "collective action" means "action taken for collective benefit" then by definition it's a public good (at least for some particular group), i.e. it's non-exclusionary; and if it's non-exclusionary, then it's subject to the Prisoner's Dilemma because it will benefit someone to "defect" (i.e. refuse to contribute/cooperate) if he can get away with it (i.e. still receive the benefits). This all makes perfect sense to me! And as he points out, "the concept of public goods is one of the oldest and most important ideas in the study of public finance." (And to quote The Federalist again, "To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of...faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.")
Olson then suggests that one characteristic of states or governments is that they deal with public goods by means of coercion; that is, they force people to pay taxes and follow the law -- supposedly for the benefit of all -- by using force to compel obedience and/or punish dissent. He also discusses the possibility that other groups can use forms of coercion against members who "defect" and refuse to contribute to efforts made for a common goal.
This leads, of course, to the civics-textbook claim governments exist (at least partly) in order to provide public goods and that coercion is necessary in order to remedy the "market failure" that would exist due to the free-rider problem, e.g. people refusing to pay their share of the costs for things which benefit everyone in the public -- things like highways, schools, health insurance (in Canada), television and radio stations (in Britain) nuclear weapons, prisons for nonviolent drug addicts, customs agents whoo confiscate lesbian-rights literature (in Canada), police officers assigned to hang around public restrooms and arrest homosexuals, and all sorts of other wonderful things we could never pay for privately and just could never live without. (I also find it ironic that Olson uses corporate lobbying as an example of a "public good" that is underproduced -- in economic terms -- due to the free-rider problem.)
Many economists have pointed out the practical disadvantages to providing public goods through coercive means. Such goods might be produced even when the benefits to the public are not worthwhile, if they benefit the politically powerful. Later in his book -- although not in the article we're assigned -- Olson talks about how the free-rider problem allows concentrated interests to overcome diffuse interests, i.e. tyranny of a politically-powerful (because well-organized) minority over the unorganized majority.
Garrett Hardin's point in his classic essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" is that any commons suffers from the free-rider problem and Prisoner's Dilemma, because everyone has an incentive to grab as much as possible -- which is more than their fair share -- because if they don't grab it, somebody else will. John Locke recognized this over three centuries ago and came up with the "Lockean Proviso" in the Second Treatise of Government. Hardin explains how the commons' lack of ownership means a lack of enforcement of the Lockean Proviso to everyone's detriment, with specific examples.
Hardin recommends several alternatives to an unregulated commons. He advocates individual ownership when possible, otherwise (in cases such as air, flowing water, and public parks) government ownership with impartial regulations. He recognizes the state awards benefits to the politically powerful ("Bureau administrators...are singularly liable to corruption") which was Olson's point, so he recommends impartial regulations ("a government of laws and not men") based on price, merit, or equal shares for all rather than administrative fiats, and of course I agree! Bruce Ackerman's Social Justice in the Liberal State discusses how to determine whether private or communal ownership is the most economically efficient way to control a resource, and how to allocate it justly, including compensating those who are disadvantaged by whatever method is chosen; and William Blinder's Hard Heads and Soft Hearts discusses specific proposals for market-based environmental protection including emissions fees/taxes versus "cap-and-trade" permits. Currently there are many such proposals and even the Kyoto Protocol is somewhat market-based because it allows emissions trading. The biggest problem with such proposals is how to allocate allowed emissions for each nation.
Hardin also suggests that overpopulation is an example of the tragedy of the commons, because couples who have children are free riders, and therefore childbearing needs to be regulated. This argument is reasonable but mistaken, as David Friedman demonstrates in his article "Laissez-Faire in Population: The Least-Bad Solution," at least to the extent that there are no subsidies or externalities involved in raising children.
Finally, Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone, which inspired Meetup.com, and Better Together) has an article that talks about ways to overcome the Prisoner's Dilemma, and thereby overcome the Free Rider Problem. He analyzes evidence from local governments within Italy and finds that private "civic ties" provide a sense of community and trust (what Tom Wolfe calls a "favor bank" and Stephen Covey calls an "emotional bank account") so that people are willing to cooperate. Participants with civic ties believe it's worth the risk to trust someone else; they think the likelihood of cooperation is great enough to cooperate themselves. Putnam also found a breakdown of civic ties due to distrust in communities that are more diverse, which causes such problems as ethnic strife in the United States and, in extremis, in places such as Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and of course Iraq. Another reason for lack of trust is official corruption and "kleptocracy": insecure property rights and government intervention in favor of the politically favored, which in endemic in both the developing world and former communist countries -- and, to a lesser extent, in the United States as well.
In another article, "Reviving Community: What Policy-Makers Can Do to Build Social Capital in Britain and America," he suggests that governments can "rebuild social capital by subsidizing community organizations, through civics education, by instituting a scheme of voluntary national service, and through structural reforms." These may be useful, but I believe he is overlooking the vital information provided by Robert Axelrod's work on "the evolution of cooperation" which provides an experimental proof that the Prisoner's Dilemma is solvable if it's iterated. By breaking down social interactions into a series of smaller interactions, the risk is lower and non-cooperation or "defection" can be punished. Therefore people are more willing to risk trust others more than they would in an all-or-nothing gamble, and are also better able to build up trust.
In Starship Troopers Robert Heinlein asserted that a government (or other system) works as long as authority and responsibility are linked. There are several American political institutions which serve to break down this linkage via "rational ignorance." One of them is our weak party system which prevents voters from easily knowing the exact positions taken by their representatives on each issue. Another is the Presidential system rather than a parliamentary system, which prevents parties from being held accountable for the results of their platforms. A third is the "first past the post" or "winner take all" electoral system which emasculates minor parties. Finally, the ability of the state to enact programs which provide benefits to a single class or group, such as subsidies to farmers, is perhaps the single worst flaw in our system.
I believe the single greatest problem facing liberal constitutional democracies is the ability of concentrated minority interests to enact legislation against the common good. Strong parties, a parliamentary system, and proportional representation would go a long way to overcoming the causes of "rational ignorance" while a Constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from transfers or other programs unless they are universal (possibly with a means test) -- suggested by Charles Murray in In Our Hands -- would eliminate its effects.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No Gun? No Funeral! No Problem!

Apparently there's a minor scandal brewing in the Great White North about a website for a group called "No Gun, No Funeral."
Some people think the group wants to ban handguns in Canada but I think that's a myth; instead, I assume they want to encourage handgun ownership by having funeral homes refuse to organize funerals for people who refused to own handguns.
So I signed their petition. In fact, I wanted to help them so much I signed it twice!
My spelling was a little bit off. In fact, the second time I signed it, I wrote
I am many times the rappist and want to help sure that no womyns have gun for stop me! Thank you for your helps! I visit you soon to thanks you!

Of course, what I meant to say was "I have been a therapist many times and want to make sure no hysterical women (or men) have guns because they might shoot me during a therapy session. Thank you for your project, and I hope to visit you soon to thank you in person!"
I'm sure no one could construe my comments as a threat. And even if they did, why, since I don't own any guns (as far as they know) they don't need guns to defend themselves, do they??

Feat of Clay, or Blowing the Whistle in a Glass House

(Sorry for the corny puns in the title of this post; I'm ill and can't think well.)
The New Republic is one of my favorite publications, and one of my goals in life is to contribute to them. I am so upset over the Scott Thomas Beauchamp scandal that I'm physically sick, with intestinal problems.
David Thomson has an interesting post on Pajamas Media. Money quote: "Why does TNR continuously have this problem? Why don’t these incidents ever seem to occur in more conservative publications? This is a very simple question to answer: left-wing writers are far more inclined to lie and slime."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What are the consequences when the powerful are impervious to justice?

Bernadette Atahuene's post at Blackprof poignantly asks "

What are the consequences when the powerful are impervious to justice?"

I oppose the Occupation of Iraq, and I am in favor of equal justice for all.

BT posted: Iraq - Genocide of entire religious sects.

I agree with you: the world should definitely demand that the Sunni and Shiite terrorists who are slaughtering civilians be punished for those crimes.

Mwafrika posted: Bush and Co. will never answer for the more than 0.6 million Iraqi (according to some estimates) and 3600 American soldiers.

That's true, because the 600,000 Iraqi civilians were killed (deliberately) by insurgents, and not killed by Coalition forces.

According to the Iraq Body Count project, Allied forces killed about 9,000 Iraqi civilians in the two years from 2003 to 2005. So I agree that Dubya and his gang should be held responsible for those deaths and punished, while the insurgents should be held responsible for the remaining 591,000+ deaths and punished proportionally.

Mwafrika also posted: Presidents Mugabe, Chavez, Castro get away with human rights abuse and dismantling of democratic structures in the guise of fighting imperialism.
Their "fighting imperialism cred" win them massive support among the oppressed people in their respective countries and the world, hence imposible to dislodge from power.

I agree that Mugabe, Chavez, and Castro are guilty of crimes against humanity and should be brought to justice as soon as possible!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Political Pigfight: Death to the Corrupt and Evil (Young and Stevens)

TheHill.com has a heartening article about principled opposition to two of the most corrupt and evil men in Congress, Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens, both Republicans from Alaska. Both of them are evil because they helped lead the fight, during the GOP's control of Congress, to maintain and increase "pork" spending, i.e. spending for special interests, such as corporate welfare and "earmarks" -- a term which means, very simply, "giving money to special interests."
I'm an active and registered Republican but these two, like are corrupt and evil in a way which makes me embarassed to admit my political affiliation these days. In fact, they would make me proud to be a Democrat instead! As Noam Schriber pointed out in The New Republic,
"When small-government conservatives abandon their principles and become big-government conservatives...scandal is a predictable result. The reason is that people ideologically predisposed to doubt the effectiveness of government don't see much practical difference between running programs in the public interest and running them as vast kickback operations, in which they spread government lucre among their favorite interest groups. If government won't work either way, you might as well make your friends happy."
To quote Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), "The Republicans didn’t do what they said they were going to do. They deserve the wrath of the voters.”

Update: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2007/aug/17/i75_blog_fight_over_10_million/?breaking_news


Update: Ace of Spades HQ says
"When your own partisans (such as myself) are actively rooting for Republican Congressmen to be arrested, you've got a problem. Deal with the problem. Eliminate all earmarks. All of them."
He expresses my sentiments perfectly. Hat tip: Instapundit.

Update: Fred Barnes in the WSJ says "the road to political recovery...for Republicans is to stop acting like, well, Republicans--that is, Republicans of recent vintage." Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan, who gives Barnes the Yglesias Award for Political Honesty!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Political Catfight

I feel as strongly about this conflict as I do about the one between Hamas and Fatah! Please check out the "America Held Hostage" .gif on the header of my blog to see one of the several reasons I have no respect for Nancy Pelosi, and for another reason you can check out my post about the Democrats voting for additional powers for Attorney-General Gonzales when it's clear that he suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease and can't be trusted with them. Of course, her support for corporate welfare (especially for farmers) and her opposition to school reform are the main reasons I dislike her, but I'll support practically anyone who is against Pelosi.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

On his blog The Agitator, Radley Balko points out something that I use to show -- or rather remind -- my conservative friends why the so-called "Patriot" Act is such a bad idea:
the Democrats want to fire Alberto Gonzalez, but then voted to give him new eavesdropping powers (because) they believe Hillary Clinton will be president come 2009.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

3 Laws (of War) Safe

Kenneth Anderson's Law of War and Just War Theory Blog has an excellent article on applying the laws of war to robots. At this stage of development military "robots" are just remote-controlled armed fighting vehicles but Anderson makes it explicit: "That post was about machines with the capability to act independently, independent of human control." He also quotes an article in The Economist.
For me, of course, the money quote from Anderson's post is this:
The most striking part of the project is that I do not see that the attempt to translate ethical decisionmaking into machine terms involves genuinely novel questions of ethics as such. On the contrary, what we seek to do is not to establish novel ethical principles, but rather to create, or re-create, hypothetically ideal or perfect ethical decisionmaking and conduct as we would imagine it for a hypothetically ideal or perfect human soldier but do so within a machine, a robot. The problems are in translation, not the creation of new problems or new solutions. In that sense, one could say that however interesting or important a task of ethical translation, it poses no new tasks in fundamental ethical theory. (Italics mine.)

He then goes on to provide an interesting and well-thought-out discussion of the current state of just-war theory...which (surprise, surprise) hasn't advanced in any discernable way since I first read Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars thirty years ago.
ObCit: "3 Laws Unsafe" by the Singularity Institute, and a "Prognosis: Terminal" by David McDaniel, may God rest his beautiful soul!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Would You Like Freedom Fries With That?

Eurasia is allied with Oceania.
Eurasia is at war with Oceania.
Eurasia is at war with Oceania.
Eurasia is at war with Oceania.
Eurasia is allied with Oceania.
Eurasia is at war with Oceania.
Eurasia is allied with Oceania.
Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania.
Eurasia has always been allied with Oceania.
Eurasia will always be allied with Oceania.
Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania.
Eurasia has always been allied with Oceania.

...And I Wish For A Pony, Too!

Bruce, who blogs at Pink Sheets, has posted a comment (in response to "It's Not the Paper, Stupid!") on Jack Lail's Random Mumblings which gives some good suggestions:
Imagine someone opening up a news agency whose highest priority is providing information without judgement. If a big news event happens, they just roll the cameras and show the scene, without commentary, without speculation, without moral lessons.

Imagine they create a culture of extreme objectivity, firing anyone for the least infraction. Where a photoshopped picture would not only result in firings, but would also provide years of open ridicule. Imagine a news organization that not only admits its errors, but places them on page 1 if they were regarding page 1 stories. What if they had a detailed introspective followup explaining how they would avoid similar errors in the future, what changes they would make?

What if they had active elements within the organization continuously seeking out any and all biases, no matter how small?

What if they allowed their customers an open forum, easily viewable by their customers, for pointing out errors, commenting on the stories, making suggestions, etc.?

Some might think this is overly optimistic, but I am an idealist and I really think it's possible, with some effort, for the MSM to rise up to the level of quality now provided by the blogosphere. I don't think it's likely to happen, but at least it's possible.

Update: this article on "Augmenting the Pros by Linking to Them" at Classical Values, and this one from Knoxnews.com. Hat tip to Instapundit, of course!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sousveillance is a Juvenal Activity, and an Enema of the State

David Brin calls for a "transparent society" in which everything will be known to everyone. Here is a step in that direction, a website of sousveillance i.e. "inverse surveillance" -- the poor and disadvantaged spying on, or at least monitoring, the rich and powerful. (That's why I call it "an enema of the state.")

ObLitCritCit: Lots of contemporary literary theory deals with the "panopticon"; M. Foucault's Discipline and Punish is a prominent example.

And the issue of how to prevent the authorities from being corrupt and/or tyrannical goes back at least as far as Aristotle and Juvenal. As James Hughes put it, new technology (e.g., cloning, cyborgization, A.I., nanotechnology) doesn't require new ethics, it only requires the application of old (and valid) ethics.

Update: Radley Balko has a devastating pro-sousveillance article at that hotbed of left-wing anti-authoritarianism, FoxNews.com.

Update: "Jimmy Justice" is videotaping NYPD officers breaking the law. Hat tip to Instapundit, of course!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Disclose *This*

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Market *This*

"Having to learn a new system every time you pick up a new role-playing game is like having to learn an entirely new operating system every time you buy a computer."

My strong suggestions for anyone considering creating RPGs for a living are:

1. Don't quit your day job yet (unless you can afford it, and maybe not even then) and

2. Start out by designing a scenario or other supplement for an existing RPG like D&D/d20, GURPS, White Wolf/World of Darkness, or Champions/Hero System.

After all, if you can't sell your scenarios or game-world for a system that people already know and enjoy, what makes you think you can sell them for a system they will have to learn from scratch?

It's perfectly reasonable to add new rules, or change existing rules, to achieve your vision within the basic framework of the games that I listed. For example, there are horror supplements for D&D/d20 that have new rules for fear, insanity, and taint!

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Support the Palestinian Armed Struggle/s/! Twice As Much As Anybody Else!!

As the Socialist Workers' Party has pointed out, Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. As such, I strongly support their revolutionary struggle to take power in both Gaza and the West Bank. Long live the glorious martyrs of Hamas, and death to all the evil, reactionary members of Fatah!

As NewerLabour points out, "Fatah, the social-democratic/nationalist party of Yasser Arafat in Palestine...needs to protect itself and its activists from the murderous clerical fascists of Hamas." Of course I strongly support their efforts to defend themselves and to kill as many murderous clerical fascists as possible!

Update: According to Associated Press,

Electricity in Gaza on Monday became the latest battleground in the struggle between the coastal strip's Islamic Hamas rulers and their Fatah rivals...The losers are hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have been plunged into darkness as European donors cut off key electricity aid.

I call on both sides to redouble their efforts to slaughter each other in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, the Eternal, and in the name of liberation from imperialism and colonialism! Hat tip: Roger L. Simon!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Axe This

I agree that the most important priority is to reduce the total amount of taxation.

The second priority is to replace property taxes with consumption/sales taxes, as much as possible.

The third priority is to make property taxes as fair (equal) as possible, instead of giving exemptions to some people and not to others.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Gonna Wash That Business Right Out Of My Hair?

I just used the "Contact Us" form on the Clairol Herbal Essence website to send the following message:

"This is the third time I've tried to contact you, and I have not received any reply so far. I have no idea whether this is because your webmasters are idiots, or whether your customer service department is being deliberately rude, or merely grossly incompetent. Either way, if I don't have a satisfactory reply in one week I am going to post on my blog -- which is fairly well-read here at the university -- an extremely nasty, cutting review of your company, particularly your web site *and* your customer service. I am also going to send a snailmail letter to your corporate HQ, explaining *why* I have done this, and why you are losing me as a customer."

Basically, I used to use Clairol Herbal Essence clarifying shampoo, because I'm a pretty sweaty guy. Recently, Clairol completely changed their shampoo names, and they set up a page for people to try to figure out what shampoo to use now. That's fine, except they ask all sorts of offensive, flaming-stereotype questions that I don't even understand. For example, here's the first one:

"My friends say I'm:
A. the girl next door.
B. far from perfect.
C. a diva, baby."

Guess what, Clairol: I'm a guy, and you're practicing discrimination. I think this may be grounds for a lawsuit.

Here's another one:

"I'm more likely to:
A. gossip with my friends than about them.
B. sing in the elevator than the shower.
C. I'll never tell."

I'm a fortysomething-year-old guy from Brooklyn. I could guess, or ask some of my colleagues in Queer Studies here at FAU, but why should I have to jump through hoops in order to buy something from someone who presumably wants to sell it?

So, it looks like, after fifteen years, I'm switching from Clairol to Equate or Suave, who don't try to get cute at their customers' expense.

At Large

1. How did Quinones win as a Republican in a heavily Democratic
district? We need to figure out what he did so we can emulate
it whenever possible.

2. It's ironic that the Voting Rights Act, a law generally supported
by liberals, was used to elect a Republican. "Those who live by
the /s/w/o/r/d/ State shall die by it."

3. The unfairness wasn't that the elections were countywide,
but that they were "winner take all." If the elections had
used Proportional Representation of some sort, then a group
with 38% of the voters would get 38% representation (on average).

Saturday, March 24, 2007


The incredibly distinguished Saul Levrmore, Dean of the University of Chicago Law School, has a post on the UC Law Faculty Blog about primary reform. As usual, he explains all the important points of the issue in a very clear manner without taking sides. My own position on this issue is pretty clear, although I'm sure it's colored by my own perspective -- as an activist, and as someone who lives in Florida. (BTW, when the flig is Blogger going to learn to support Trackback? I'm starting to wonder whether I'll need to migrate my blog to another site in order to be able to use Trackback...)

Duke W. Nukem, Part 2

Brian Reynolds Myers -- whom I was familiar with only through his brilliant polemic "A Reader's Manifesto" -- has an article at OpinionJournal explaining why the South Koreans aren't particularly happy with our efforts to "protect" them from North Korea. This lends even more support to the policy (which I support) that we should disengage from the Korean situation: withdraw all our military forces immediately, with a clear statement that we have no further commitment to giving military (or other governmental) aid to South Korea.

It is absolutely insane to have military forces to "protect" or "help" people who do not want our protection or help, whether in Korea or Iraq. Anyone who espouses such a policy is either an idiot or a liar, depending on whether or not he believes what he says. (And it is immoral to use military force for any reason other than to protect people.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Transgressing the Boundaries: Whoring for Peace

Baron Bodissey writes: "Now, this is the kind of transgressive antinomian empowerment that you expect from a top-of-the line state college. It makes me proud to pay my son’s Student Activities Fees when I know they go to fund such worthy causes."
"After all, the cross in the chapel was controversial because it offended people — well, one person, according to President Nichol — so it had to go. But a 200-pound (90 kilos, for our European readers) stripper in a G-string and pasties — why, no one could possibly be offended by that! Ask the Muslim Students Association — I’ll bet they really dig that sort of thing."
"It may be a pig gussied up in a transgressive silk dress with postmodern lipstick, but it’s most emphatically still a pig."

I couldn't say it better than he did.

And speaking of that second quote, about the Muslim Students Association -- on the Independent Women's Forum, Charlotte Hays says "It’s so interesting that radical feminists would rather attack the U.S. than defend women’s rights in the Middle East. I suspect that the reason is Islamofascists hate the West—just as our own homegrown radicals do deep down."

Personally, I would love to see the femocrats get into a feud with Islamofascists, and (as a staunch defender of Political Correctness) I will try to do everything I can to promote that. At the very least, I strongly advocate giving burkas to Katha Pollitt and Barbara Ehrenreich, since they sympathize with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Great God Panopticism Is Dead

Thamus Pan-megas Tethnece!

(This week's readings for T.A.R.D.I.S. are Philip K. Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Michel Foucault's essay "Panopticism.")

"Panopticism is a method of organizing that places several parties under
the eye of one or more supervisors. This is apparent in the roots of
the word, with its prefix of pan, meaning all or whole and optic, meaning sight. The parties being observed are however isolated/restricted to some degree or another from each other. They are not aware of if and when the supervising party/parties is observing them. Thus, they are spurned on into self-regulation by the paranoia being caught not behaving properly or performing adequately. This phenomenon of panopticism is a result of the advent of industrialization and empirical/utilitarian thinking. It is found in the institutions arising during its era of its inception and is still with us today. It can be seen everywhere. Examples of it can be found in places ranging from prisons, to factories, to classrooms.
[...]panopticism works in theory because power and knowledge are entwined[...]
And look at the most rigid and supposedly sternest use of the panoptic: prison.
Prisons are awash with crimes being committed by people already
convicted of a crime and are now put there supposedly to stop them from
committing further crime until their debt to society is paid. Drug
distribution, sexual assault, bribery: you name it, it goes on. You
have but to watch the TV show OZ or read the book In the Belly of
the Beast to see examples of this. Now, take these individual
examples of knowledge not being power's shadow and quantify them
across entire societies and indeed the entire world. You start to get a
more accurate reflection of reality then.[...]The phenomenon of power and knowledge growing together is called economy of scale and the point at which they begin to grow apart is called diseconomy of scale."

Philip K. Dick was obsessed with several themes, including epistemology and metaphysics. Given his particular psychological disorders, he seemed to be experiencing the literary phenomenon of the unreliable narrator in his own life, his own psyche. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch deals with aspects of these themes; for example, the epistemological problem of how we can know something is true rather than a hallucination (courtesy of Chew-Z or Can-D) or a virtual experience (courtesy of Perky Pat), and the contradiction between predestination (or precognition) and free will. (Dick's story "Minority Report" discusses this as well.) Dick was also interested in religion, or rather in God; hence the obvious parallels between the eucharist -- or neolithic sacred rituals involving hallucinogenic mushrooms -- and Palmer Eldritch's Chew-Z. Finally, the phenomenon of precognition is related to Foucault's theory of panopticism. The precogs (in both book and story) can see the future, but their power to control it is quite limited, unlike the Observer in Foucault.

Panopticism is modernism par excellence, or perhaps reducto ad absurdum. For Foucault, knowledge equals power equals control equals order. What Foucault didn't realize is that there is a difference between each of these terms. Knowledge without will is powerless; power without ethics, or at least finesse, causes rebellion and disorder. In microeconomic terms, the phenomenon of power and knowledge growing together is called economy of scale and the point at which they begin to grow apart is called diseconomy of scale.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Duke W. Nukem

Daniel W. Drezner pleads, "I'm going to Los Angeles for a UCLA conference entitled 'Nuclear Weapons in a New Century: Facing the Emerging Challenges.'

"As I have to say something about this in 48 hours, readers are strongly encouraged to proffer any bright ideas they might have about how to deal with this issue."

I'm pretty ignorant of international relations theory, but I offered my two cents' worth on his blog, along with a plug for my favorite IR proposal, from Joe Haldeman's Tool of the Trade.

Haldeman's proposal (in simplified form) is that the five "Nuclear Weapons States" which have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China -- should each commit reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to a level no greater (according to both number of weapons and total megatons) than the largest stockpile of any nation which does not have such an agreement. (The details include rules for inspection and verification, reducing stockpiles by 10% per year over 10 years, and so forth.)

This would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world from about 20,000 to below 2,000 and probably below 1,000; in other words, more than 90% and probably more than 95% of nuclear weapons would be eliminated. (The percentages are even higher for reducing total megatons, rather than number of weapons!)

Over 90%, and probably over 95% -- I give this plan an A.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bourdieu Saved From Drowning: Supertoys, Cyborg Theory, and Cultural Capital

This week the readings for LIT 6932 are Brian Aldiss' "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" (better known as the film A.I. -- which still makes me cry like a river whenever I see it or even think about it too much -- or as Walt Disney's Pinocchio), Walter Jon Williams' "Daddy's World," and Pierre Bourdieu's "Postscript: Towards a 'Vulgar' Critique of 'Pure Critiques,'" from Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. The title of this essay is a parody of Boudu Sauvé Des Eaux (Boudu Saved From Drowning), a classic 1932 film by Jean Renoir which was remade in 1986 as Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and again in 2005 as Boudu.

1. MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN: In "Supertoys" David asks the question "How do you tell what are real things from what aren't real things?" "Supertoys" and "Daddy's World" are all about the distinction between the mechanical and the natural, of which the latter is traditionally supposed to be more "real." That's a bogus decision, of course. As Heinlein pointed out, whatever humans do is as natural as, say, beavers building a dam. (Lewis also discussed the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" as part of his discussion of "natural" vs. "supernatural" in Miracles.)

Donna Haraway's "cyborg theory" also relates to this. The point is, everyone from Heinlein to Lewis to Haraway agrees, "mechanical" or "artificial" is not necessarily "wrong" or "bad." And there's no reason why a cyborg, mutant, alien, robot, or A.I. shouldn't have the same rights as a human being, and vice versa.

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the dividing line between human and replicant is based on empathy; but I am sure that plenty of replicants and other artificial life forms possess more empathy than many natural-born humans.I also find it ironic that David displays emotions, and is afraid of his mother because she seems so cold and distant. Even more ironically, Teddy tells David "We're both real. You're as real as I am," and both Teddy and David lie to Monica.

2. GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE: "Daddy's World" is also about living in a virtual world. Please see Nick Bostrom's "Are You Living In A Simulation?" http://www.simulation-argument.com, and Robin Hanson's "How to Live in a Simulation" http://www.transhumanist.com/volume7/simulation.html as well as his article "If Uploads Come First: The Crack of a Future Dawn" http://hanson.gmu.edu/uploads.html. (Of course, as a Christian I already believe this world is just the moral equivalent of a simulation; but that simulations are also the moral equivalent of true Reality.)

3. NOBODY KNOWS WHAT "REAL" REALLY MEANS: "Supertoys" is also about alienation from others as well as from self (for being unreal). The world is overcrowded but people suffer from loneliness, so they want robotic companions. Henry also says that people will be linked to the Ambient (i.e., the Internet). The Internet gives me the equivalent of three billion people I can speak with on the phone, i.e. have a realtime conversation with. And most of them can pass the Turing test. I'm not trying to say we don't need plenty of human contact -- I love giving and getting hugs and backrubs. (I don't list sex in there, since sex seems to be masturbation plus hugs and backrubs, and it's easy to masturbate over the Internet.) But I don't see any reason to consider email or IM inferior to letter-writing or phone calls.

4. I GOT YER VULGAR CRITIQUE RIGHT HERE: Bourdieu is the fellow who invented the ideas of cultural capital and social capital, and appropriated -- how ironic -- the idea of intellectual capital from economics. In economics, remember, capital is different from ordinary property because it is *productive* -- in other words, it can be used to produce additional quantities of ordinary property, and possibly additional capital as well. One presumes that cultural capital is what allows one to produce ordinary culture, and so forth; however, one should never expect consistency from /F/r/e/n/c/h/m/e/n/ philosophers.

"Daddy's World" shows the use of virtual reality as (primarily) intellectual and cultural capital, by educating Digit; "Supertoys" shows the use of artificial intelligences as intellectual and social capital. The humans in "Supertoys" control intellectual and social capital, as well as controlling the society and its definitions of humanity.

Bourdieu's other key idea is that "where you stand depends upon where you sit," i.e. that taste is determined by culture and more specifically by sub-culture, which includes class, gender, religion, etc. Pseudo-intellectuals scorn popular culture just because it is popular, a form of reverse-fetishization. C. S. Lewis' essay "Good and Bad Books" is about why genre fiction and alternative media should be treated the same as "real literature." One of my ongoing projects is to do this by applying critical theory to roleplaying games.

5. FANTASY GAMES UNLIMITED: Just a reminder that Walter Jon Williams was in a roleplaying group with several other sf/fantasy authors including George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass; and Williams himself wrote game rulebooks as well as paperback novels for the games Privateers and Gentlemen (from Fantasy Games Unlimited) and Cyberpunk (from R. Talsorian Games). In fact, the virtual world in "Daddy's World" has many of the same characteristics as a roleplaying game-world -- interesting, colorful characters, intelligent puzzles, and striking scenery.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Analyze *This*

I sadly recommend "Right Slight: Why Did the GOP Lose the Election?" at TNR:

There are two very unpleasant truths that we have to face,
in order to change them:

"While the publicly-available election data can't answer this
question definitively, everything we know about public opinion
suggests there isn't a majority constituency for economic
libertarianism. (Tax cuts, perhaps, but not the smaller government
that goes along with it.)"

"When small-government conservatives abandon their principles
and become big-government conservatives--usually because voters
demand more government (as in the case of Bush's prescription
drug entitlement) or revolt when they try to cut it (Social
Security privatization)--scandal is a predictable result. The
reason is that people ideologically predisposed to doubt the
effectiveness of government don't see much practical difference
between running programs in the public interest and running them
as vast kickback operations, in which they spread government
lucre among their favorite interest groups (e.g., the
pharmaceutical industry). If government won't work either way,
you might as well make your friends happy."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


My first paper for LIT 6932 (Time, Space, and Science Fiction) is called "Alien/Nations: Cyborg Politics in Lafferty's 'Slow Tuesday Night' and Pohl's 'Day Million.'" As usual, I picked a couple of stories so obscure that there has been absolutely no scholarly research done on them since the year 2000.

On the other hand, I also picked a contemporary critical theorist, Donna Haraway, who is (in)famous for her works "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" and "The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others." I'm using Haraway's ideology, generally known as "Cyborg Theory," as a springboard for a more general discussion of transhumanism. That brings me out of the postmodern wilderness and back to more familiar territory: political ideology, especially social justice, which is my primary specialty in political science.

Here's my outline:

A. Transhumanism and Cyborg Theory
1. What is Transhumanism?
2. Cyborg Theory = Transhumanism + Feminism + Socialism
B. Significance of the Cyborg Manifesto
1. Feminism (but Transhumanist)

2. Socialism (but Transhumanist)

3. Transhumanism (but Socialist)
4. Very popular, famous, critical theory (anthologized in Norton)
C. "Slow Tuesday Night" and "Day Million" as responses to the same phenomena that engaged Haraway

A. Romance vs. Enlightenment (Brin)
1. Neophobia vs. Neophilia
2. Third Axis of Political Spectrum
3. Luddites vs. Transhumanists in all camps
B. Transhumanism
1. Definition and Camps
2. Significance: All Your Luddites Are Belong To Us (dustbin of history)
3. Post-Scarcity and Distribution of Goods (quote Ackerman and Friedman)
4. Identity Crisis; Property Rights Over One's Own Body (quote Friedman and Locke)

A. Transhumanism
1. Extropianism (Libertarian Transhumanism)
2. Democratic Transhumanism
3. Technoconservatism (Anti-Transhumanism)
B. Cyborg Theory as a branch of Transhumanism
1. Primary aspects
2. Relationship to Feminism

3. Relationship to Socialism

4. Relationship to Transhumanism

A. "Slow Tuesday Night"
1. Postmodernist (critique of Modernism), and Romantic (prefers good old days);
2. "playful and sarcastic" "ironic political fable" like Haraway
3. Critique of Capitalism (Postmodernist)
a. Alienation of Labor
b. Fetishism of Commodity
c. Financial insecurity (giant roulette wheel)
4. Critique of Sexism
5. Critique of Consumerism/Materialism

B. "Day Million" -- A Transhuman Future!
1. Description/Classifications
a.Modernist (Pohl is an old-fashioned Social Democrat)
b. Enlightenment (pro-future)
c. Not ironic about self (Modernist, not PoMo)
d. Humanist
e. Socialist by Interpolation (from Pohl's views)
f. Uses colloquial language, friendly attitude, dialogue with the reader

2. Cyborgs With A Human Face
a. Fits all of Haraway's definitions of Cyborgs (three transgressions), and all her other characteristics as well. These folks are literally cyborgs as well as being genetically engineered.
b. Alienation of Reproduction from Sex (Sulva) -- it's a Cyborg Sex Story!
c. Individualist Transhumanism, plus Socialism, and Feminism

A. Romance vs. Enlightenment (been around since ~1800)
D. These Two Stories Showcase All This!

Viscus: The Problem with Legalizing Drugs

Viscus suggests that Ilya Somin's article in favor of drug re-legalization (at the Volokh Conspiracy) misses the point when it apparently claims the main benefit would be reducing prison rapes (by reducing the number of people in prison). Instead, Viscus asks "Would it make cases like, People v. Bell, more or less common?"

I completely agree with Viscus on that -- I support drug re-legalization because I want to reduce (actually, I want to eliminate) the murders of (and other harms to) innocent bystanders.

If legalizing drugs means more people will use more drugs, quite frankly, I think it's absolutely worth it AS LONG AS IT MEANS NO INNOCENT PEOPLE GET HURT BY DRUG ADDICTS ANY MORE!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Iraq and a Hard Place

Obviously the most important issue in American politics is the Iraq War, just as from 1965 to 1975 the most important issue in American politics was the Vietnam War. Casualties since the 2003 invasion include over 3,000 gallant Coalition soldiers, civilians, and contractors (about 3 every day) and somewhere between twenty and two hundred times that many Iraqis, depending on which figures you believe.

My views on this issue are simple and clear:

1. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was a good act that was justified by international law for several different reasons: because of his crimes against humanity (war crimes and genocide), his violations of human rights, and the fact that he wanted to get and use more weapons of mass destruction. (Remember, Saddam had used poison gas and biological warfare, which are both WMDs, against Iranian soldiers and against Iraqi civilians. His nuclear weapons program was not active, but if he could have gotten away with building or buying a nuke he absolutely would have. I assume even the most extreme left-winger agrees with those facts.)

2. As a libertarian, I understand that there are many good actions which still should not be done by government for moral reasons, practical reasons, or both. For example, libertarians and conservatives believe it is wrong to force people to pay money to finance government welfare programs that they don't agree with; libertarians also understand (and so should conservatives) that it's just as wrong to force people to pay for government warfare programs that they don't support.

I assume almost all the liberals out there believe it should be legal, or at least moral for people to practice nonviolent civil disobedience by refusing to pay taxes to support things like the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, or the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. I agree, and would ask them, in order to avoid being hypocrites, to extend the same privilege to those who want to practice nonviolent civil disobedience concerning other government programs.

3. I also think the occupation shows that our government, like all governments, is inherently short-sighted and incompetent. I am continually amazed -- although I shouldn't be -- that conservatives who complain about the inefficiency of government bureaucracies like the post office and welfare system seem to overlook that the Pentagon is the biggest and most inefficient bureaucracy of all.

4. If our invasion of Iraq was justified on humanitarian grounds because it helped innocent Iraqi dissidents and other civilians, this means our occupation cannot be justified unless it is still helping them; and that is best measured by whether the local population wants us to stay or leave. And obviously a majority of the locals want us to leave everywhere in Iraq except Kurdistan and perhaps one or two other places.

5. To summarize everything so far: I agreed with getting rid of Saddam Hussein and making sure that Iraq had no WMD's, although I think an assassination or coup would have been better than the invasion, because there would have been fewer innocent casualties, which is always the supreme moral imperative for judging a war. After the invasion, we should have left immediately, except in those areas (such as Kurdistan) where the local population wanted us to stay for either protection or reconstruction. I wish that President Bush had made this (unfortunately imaginary) speech long before the 2004 elections; but we should do it now, better late than never.

6. In addition to withdrawing from Iraq (except for those areas where the local population actually wants us to stay), we should also offer asylum for those Iraqis who would be in danger after we leave, such as Christians, Iraqis who actively worked for human rights, and those who actually helped us. Specifically, we should allow them to immigrate to the U.S. without any limitation on numbers, as long as they have evidence (in each individual case) that they are in danger because of their pro-western, pro-Coalition, pro-human rights political or religious beliefs or actions.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Viscus: Eminent Domain, Libertarians, and Consent

Viscus: Eminent Domain, Libertarians, and Consent is disappointed that "from the libertarian perspective, just about any dignitary harm foisted on another is justified if there is consent. That is, using people and disregarding their dignity is okay if they consent. [...] It seems the primary factor driving libertarian opposition to takigns (sic) is lack of consent."

He then explains to the unenlightened that "A superior ethical view would be that one does not violate another person's dignity, regardless of whether 'consent' is forthcoming."

I look forward to seeing Viscus' support for efforts to legally prohibit such offenses against human dignity as, hmm, consensual BDSM (which obviously violates the dignity of the sub); consensual heterosexual intercourse outside of a loving, stable (presumably married, but at least committed) monogamous relationship (which violates the dignity of the woman who is used for physical pleasure and then discarded); and, well, a whole host of other behavior which social conservatives dislike because it offends their traditional religious values.

It looks to me like Sticky has to either support the right-wing fundamentalist agenda (at least in part) or else explain the difference between prohibiting things *he* thinks violate human dignity, and prohibiting things the vast majority of people (not just conservatives, but even moderates and many liberals) think violate human dignity.

Libertarians (and most liberals) don't want to use force to prohibit things just because we dislike them or find them personally offensive, or even think that they violate human dignity. "I may be disgusted by what you two do, but I will defend to the death your right to do it, as long as you don't involve anybody without their consent."

Apparently Sticky is more "enlightened" than Voltaire and Jefferson.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Gernsback and Forth; or, Future's So Bright We Gotta Wear Shades

This week in LIT 6932 (Time, Space, and SF) we're discussing Bruce Sterling's "The Gernsback Continuum," John Varley's "Air Raid," and R. A. Lafferty's "Slow Tuesday Night," plus Edgar Allen Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition." Herewith some comments:

1. "The Gernsback Continuum" is definitely postmodern according to the simplest definition, because it is a critique of and reaction to modernism -- specifically, the modernism of pulp sf courtesy of Gernsback and John W. Campbell (whom Isaac Asimov described, in The Early Asimov, as wanting "big men solving big problems with big ideas and big machines"), illustrated by the alternate universes of Earth-Tesla and Tom Strong; and the postwar era, like Donald Fagen's beautiful album The Nightfly, particularly the songs "New Frontier" and "I.G.Y." and

I'm a fan of modernism, because I was raised an Enlightenment liberal by Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke. I remember the good old days before the defeats in Vietnam and the War on Poverty; back in 1950-1965 when we were actually making progress on civil rights and eliminating poverty and reducing inequality; back when people worried that the government's biggest problem would be figuring out how to spend the surplus. I wouldn't have a problem with someone telling me "John, we've forgotten to take our food pills." :-D

2. "Air Raid" was made into the movie Millennium. It takes a very dystopian view of the future, and there is sort of a colonial/exploitive relationship between the time travellers and our present; on the other hand there is a similar-but-opposite relationship between the pollution and waste of our time and the problems of the future. (Another paradox concerns the film itself as a product -- one reviewer described it as "smart and moronic at the same time.")

This would be a great text to pair with "Vintage Season," and the fact that the latter story was also made into a film is just icing on the cake! (In fact, I'm not sure why we're not reading them both during the same week.)

3. "Slow Tuesday Night" gives yet another view of the future, by simply extrapolating present trends the same way Heinlein did in 1950 (and again in 1965 and 1980) in "Pandora's Box" and "Where To?" I am working a paper comparing it to two similar works by Fred Pohl -- The Age of the Pussyfoot and "Day Million" -- and Edgar Allen Poe's "Mellonta Tauta." All these works extrapolate present-day trends and try to project a future that is radically different from the present at least quantitatively. "Slow Tuesday Night" shows us a world moving at breakneck speed; "Day Million" depicts a society of genetically-engineered immortals, each of which has gigawatts of power and dozens of artificial intelligences at their casual disposal; The Age of the Pussyfoot depicts a society with somewhat less advanced A.I.'s and biomedical technology, but still significantly advanced over our own, and with the consequences of centuries of relatively "mild" inflation; and "Mellonta Tauta" simply emphasizes various aspects of strangeness and discontinuity between the future world of 2848 and the past/present world of 1848.

4. Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" is a classic explication of narrative fiction, particularly short-story writing, just as Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder" is for the detective story (and Dr. Gideon Fell's lecture in Chapter 17 of The Three Coffins is for locked-room stories). Poe says that the story-writer must first figure out what sort of effect he wants to produce, and then bend every effort, use every trick that will fit, and calculate every phrase in the story, in order to produce the maximum of that effect upon the reader. (H. Bruce Franklin claims that Poe's stories fall into two categories: those in which the effect is an emotion, and those in which the effect is an idea.)

Well, /d/u/h/ of course! This is good practical advice. And the three pieces of fiction for this week all do that. As a formalist and structuralist, I look at the elements of style in the prose of each one; it's part of my job.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


David Brin's New Year's Day post discusses (among other things) "'tech-refusniks' who - for many reasons - seem prone to reject the benefits of high technology in an onrushing scientific age":

Some who despise this era relish a return to lifestyles that were less democratized or flattened by the "great equalizer" of mass access to tools. [...] At another extreme are neo-feudalists, who don't mind technology and comfort, but resent the fact that the masses are getting almost as many toys and rights and privileges as aristocrats, nowadays. How much better to have an old-fashioned pyramid of privilege, with a few on top lording it over many, below. But that won't happen if the masses are technologically empowered. Hence, much of the propaganda of fear, trying to promote refusnikism on a very broad scale.

From another angle, consider the effect of labor saving devices in the home. Today, a vast majority of Americans can avoid drudgery in ways that - formerly - only the very rich knew. Human servants used to perform the tasks now done by refrigerators and cars and microwaves and vacuum cleaners, etc. All of thistechnologically-driven equality seems to rob all our advances of their sense of wonder. This is prime territory for romantics. If everybody - the masses - has something, then it cannot be good or beautiful or worthwhile.

At the opposite extreme are folks who worry deeply about the COST of over-dependence upon technological crutches. This includes people who are concerned with the ecological damage done by wasteful-wastrel masses who seem bent on consuming simply for consumption's sake.

I don't know why Brin seems to have overlooked what seem to me to be the single largest group opposed to technology: leftists who believe that increasing technology means less social/economic equality, possibly even a lower standard of living for those at the bottom. For example, they worry about workers losing their jobs because of automation, and poor children who (because they are uneducated, thanks to government schools) will be at a greater disadvantage in a higher-tech society.

There are a number of rational ways to deal with these issues, including reforming public education and reforming welfare and the rest of the "social safety net." The solutions are relatively simple (although politically difficult, of course). But my confusion is why Brin didn't mention this concern. The only possibilities I can think of are that he either considers it part of the "folks who worry deeply about the COST" or else that he is doesn't realize that some people don't share his belief that technology helps level society.


Right now I'm only taking two courses for credit. One of them is LIN 6107: History of the English Language, known universally as H.O.T.E.L. The other is LIT 6932: Time, Space, and Science Fiction, which I have dubbed T.A.R.D.I.S.

The dynamics of the sf/fantasy program at FAU are rather curious. Professor McGuirk (who teaches TARDIS) specializes in science fiction and modern (post-1900) critical theory, while Professor Martin specializes in fantasy and early (pre-1900) literary theory. Anyone who knows me at all will realize that I have a vast knowledge of the texts of the entire genre (both sf and fantasy), and that my knowledge of post-1900 literary theory is very limited. (This is one reason I'm auditing Professor McGuirk's undergraduate course on literary criticism: I want to be able to hold my own at MLA conferences when people babble about "the radical indeterminacy of the text" and "post-colonial hermeneutics.")

This week our readings for TARDIS are Ted Sturgeon's "Thunder and Roses," Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds," and Jean-Paul Sartre's "What is Literature?" We're asked to do a response paper every week, so here are my thoughts:

1. "Thunder and Roses" made me cry, and it also made me think of Mordechai Roshwald's horrifying Level 7 as well as Arthur C. Clarke's "The Last Command" Then I thought of On the Beach and Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon and "Solution: Unsatisfactory."

I can't think of much else to say about the story; the death of humanity, or even a large portion of it, overwhelms me and I can't think clearly. The only way I can see out of this emotional pit is to re-commit myself to activism, specifically to my project to promote the nuclear disarmament program suggested by Joe Haldeman in Tool of the Trade.

2. "Speech Sounds" -- the depiction of Los Angeles after the breakdown of civilization reminds me of Butler's The Parable of the Sower. (Could Butler have sued herself for plagiarism?) The discussion of gender relationships reminded me of the work that's been done in /s/o/c/i/o/b/i/o/l/o/g/y/ evolutionary psychology.

3. "What is Literature" -- Whenever I hear the word "existentialism" I reach for a copy of "De Futilitate" by C. S. Lewis. I'm not a fan of continental philosophy -- my specialty is classical and analytic philosophy -- but here are Sartre's points as I understand them:

1. Why write, as opposed to do something else (like start Fight Club)? Of course, as an existentialist, Sartre points out that all meaning ("relationship") comes from human existence, and then explains that "One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world." This is a clearly existentialist statement, dealing with the drive to give meaning to our lives.

2. Sartre next deals with the subject-object dichotomy. Writing (like running a roleplaying game) involves a curious relationship with the text: "The writer cannot read what he writes, whereas the shoemaker can put on the shoes he has just made." "The operation of writing involves an implicit quasi-reading which makes real reading impossible." The writer must try to imagine the way the reader will encounter the text, but he will never encounter the text that way himself, because he always knows what comes next. "There is no art except for and by others."

3. Reading involves the reader in a relationship with the text; it must be active rather than merely passive/receptive. "Reading seems, in fact, to be the synthesis of perception and creation." (You get out of it what you put into it.) "Reading is a pact of generosity between author and reader. Each one trusts the other, each one counts on the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself." Therefore the reader must be free; therefore there can be no truly great art that promotes tyranny, oppression, racism, and so forth. (Obviously he's overlooking works such as Birth of a Nation.)

Red Queen's Race

I just found out this week that I will need to take another graduate-level course in English, American, and/or multicultural literature for my M.A. in English. No worries, this summer I'll take ENL 6305, Professor Martin's course on Spenser.

Of course I'd like to do my research paper for that class on Spenser's influence on roleplaying games, but I don't know of anything beyond a single article in Dragon magazine, so I will probably do either his influence on later fantasy (primarily DeCamp and Pratt's Harold Shea story "The Mathematics of Magic") or else his use of political allegory.

I'm guessing this last theme is pretty much mined-out, though.

Maybe something about the various ways the word "faerie" was used in Elizabethan times, as Lewis discusses in The Discarded Image.

"[W]ithin the same island and the same century Spenser could compliment Elizabeth I by identifying her with the Faerie Queene and a woman could be burned at Edinburgh in 1576 for 'repairing with the fairies and the 'Queen of Elfame.'"(M. W. Latham, The Elizabethan Fairies (Columbia, 1940), p. 16, quoted in Lewis, The Discarded Image, p. 124.)

Or the various versions of magic according to Renaissance literature, including demonology and academic magic. "In his volume of the Oxford History of English Literature, he explains the difference between magia, high or "white" magic, such as we encounter in Merlin or Bercilek, which is associated with the world of Faerie, and goeteia, black magic, associated with witchcraft and Faustian contracts with the devil. But having made the distinction, Lewis adds that most sixteenth-century writers, including King James himself (who published his Demonology in 1597) condemned all kinds of magic as a snare, warning that even "white magic" was a danger to the soul (7-8)."

Or maybe something about David Lodge's novel Small World...

Regardless of what I do my Spenser paper on, I'm still on track to get my M.A. at the end of 2007 -- or whenever I finish my thesis, whichever comes first. And I'm also on track to teach undergraduates starting this fall.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Interesting Times

This is the "Letter of Intent" that I submitted to the Department of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University.

You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you?” -----Jon Stewart

At first glance it seems incongruous that I want to get my Master’s degree in political science at Florida Atlantic University, since my primary interests are in political theory (especially ideology) and American politics and I take a qualitative approach, while FAU’s political science department emphasizes international relations and comparative politics, and quantitative methodology, but the incongruity is perhaps more apparent than real.
Based on my experiences so far, I believe graduate work at FAU offers me an opportunity to learn the most in those areas where I am weakest while still pursuing my primary specialties, particularly through independent study. In addition, I appreciate FAU’s balance of emphasis between research and teaching, since I enjoy doing both of these equally. (I also intend to pursue a Ph.D. in political science; my first choice is the University of Chicago.)
But my interest in political science is far more than strictly academic, if you will pardon the pun. I want to have a major positive impact on the world. With all due respect to research and teaching, my aspiration is become a “public intellectual” -- my role-models are Thomas Friedman, James Fallows, George Lakoff, Matthew Miller, Charles Murray, and Bruce Ackerman: people who write popular columns, host political discussion shows, or write books such as Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant, Losing Ground and In Our Hands, and The Stakeholder Society and Before the Next Attack. These are bold visions of radical change. Like Robert Kennedy (and George Bernard Shaw) I don’t just want to see things as they are and simply ask why; I want to see things that never were and ask “Why not?”
We live in “interesting times,“ to quote the ancient Chinese witticism. The “public intellectuals” Ph.D. program is a recognition of the fact that an article in Atlantic, Harper’s, or The New Republic will have more influence on policy than will one in a peer-reviewed academic journal; I’m not sure if it recognizes the fact that more people get their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report than from The New York Times or any broadcast network, or the political influence of fiction such as South Park and Borat. Even the government’s own threat-assessors are “channeling Tom Clancy.”
FAU is the only university in North America which offers a graduate degree in English with a specialization in science fiction and fantasy literature, and I intend to pursue that degree as well as one in political science. But speculative fiction has been used to address political issues since long before H. G. Wells worked with the Fabians; depending on how one defines it, the tradition of political science fiction and fantasy goes back to either Thomas More’s Utopia or to Plato's philosophical fables of Atlantis and the Ring of Gyges. When truth becomes stranger than fiction, shouldn’t fiction return the favor?


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