July 27, 2005


Please do read the entry just below, in which I ask for your help. I'll be reading the answers--but in the short term, I'm moving pretty soon, and it'll probably take a while to settle in once I get there. So no posts, at least no major posts, for a little while. I'll probably look in every so often to clean off the spam.

I'll leave you with this thought (such as it is) about the hearings on the 'academic atmosphere' in Pennsylvania public colleges and universities:

Though it's probably unfair to pick on a fellow who can't even get the title of Billy Madison straight (via TPM), it's still not encouraging to see them trumpeted with the statement "Left-wing professors... will soon be purged."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:49 PM | Comments (2)

July 26, 2005

The Economic Function of Accounting

In the fall, at Texas Tech, I'm going to be teaching ethics to accounting students. I have most of the philosophical part of the syllabus planned, but there's a bit of economic stuff I'm interested in for the intro, and I'd like specific suggestions for reading.

The question is this: What role do accounting and auditing have to play in a well-functioning capitalist system? I have an idea that it's something like this: For a market to allocate resources efficiently, there must not be too many informational asymmetries. If you don't know what you're buying, then you may wind up with something other than what you want--supply and demand then won't work as we hope them to--etc. This applies, for instance, when people are thinking of buying stock in a company, lending money to a company, or buying the company outright.

Now, the present management of a company inescapably knows more about its affairs than prospective shareholders, buyers, and lenders. Auditing, as I understand, ideally rectifies that informational asymmetry. An audit report gives people who are interacting with the company a picture of its finances without revealing its trade secrets. So they can know, perhaps, a picture of how good a credit risk it might be without industrial espionage. Ideally.

(The fact that it doesn't work this way is, I think, not unrelated to the surge in demand for ethics for accountants courses, especially in Texas.)

So that's the kind of issue I'm concerned with. I ask you: Have I got this right? Am I in the right ballpark? If I'm not, it's especially important that I get some reading on this. If I am, I'd still like some reading to assign.

The students will have no philosophical background. I'm not sure if they'll have much of an economics background, but I know I don't, so no hardcore economics either.

And I'd like the article (if this is true) to make it clear that this isn't about government reining in greedy capitalists or anything. As I think it works (as described above), auditing frees up people and corporations to act in their enlightened self-interest. It's not about interfering with the market at all.

Anyway, any suggestions for introductory reading?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:36 PM | Comments (3)

The Rumors Are Not True...

... that Matthew Barney is preparing a rap condensation of his pentology, under the name Cremaster Crash and the Curious Five.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:34 AM | Comments (3)

July 23, 2005

Cleaning Out the Office

1. Saw a stretch Hummer the other day. After I got done boggling, I thought--how is this different from a shrunken school bus?

2. An example that requires more attention: The Sock Sorites. You do a laundry containing 100 pairs of socks. Each pair is visually indistinguishable from the one next to it, but the first pair is clearly black and the hundredth pair is clearly blue. When sorting the socks, you pair each sock with a visually indistinguishable one; but after folding 99 pairs, you're left with one blue sock and one black sock.

[There was at least one other joke I meant to put in the original post but I forgot what it was. Herewith these additions:]

3. Last night I ate dinner at a restaurant called "Barossa." The bar it contained in did not seem to be called "Bar Barossa." What is wrong with these people?

4. On the same block: A bar called "Ces't La Vie." We could actually see how you'd arrive at that rule for placing apostrophes.

5. I think my big mistake in the online Law Rap Battle I recently took part in was that when I rhymed "heterosexist" with "Lawrence v. Texas," I failed to include a reference to Lexis-Nexis, thus going one better on Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Lexus/Texas/sexist" rhyme. Though the original context indicates that Snoop may not know what "sexist" means (actually his whole career indicates that he probably doesn't know what it means; and I see that he had "flexes" in there too, so never mind).

No, my real big mistake was not posting this. Wow.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:05 PM | Comments (4)

July 22, 2005

Why Truth Is the Primary Norm of Assertion

My previous long post about the norms of assertion concluded thus:

What I should say is that the norm that your assertions should be true, enforced by the loss of credibility, is defeasible. The defeater comes if the assertion can be shown to be justified or unjustified. As to why truth should be considered the primary norm--I think I can use that term--well, you'll have to read the paper. When I write it. Unless you've heard me give it as a talk, or want me to e-mail you the version I gave, or something.

But I can give this sneak preview: The question is, if an assertion that's known to be true but unjustified hurts your credibility, and an assertion that's known to be false but justified helps your credibility, then why does the loss of credibility enforce a defeasible norm of truth rather than an (indefeasible) norm of justification (on some conception of justification)? The answer is that it's usually much easier to figure out whether an assertion is true than whether it's justified. If you want to assess someone's credibility, you're much better off comparing their assertions with the facts than trying to figure out how justified each assertion was. It's just--usually--an easier judgment.

It also gives you a, well, talking point when an intellectually dishonest interlocutor tries to muddy the waters with talk about what was justified when. Though trying to sort that out is often useful, it really does concentrate the mind to focus on who was right and who was wrong.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005


This story, via no relation: At least he didn't dump her because she'd been blogging about their relationship, before he wrote an article about it in the Times. That seems to be the gold standard for indiscretion these days.

The moral, probably, is don't date a writer. If you've gone to the trouble of writing something, will you refuse to publish just because it violates someone's privacy? I think not.

(There's a good Alice Munro story about this sort of issue, "Material"; and an excellent one, in Hateship etc. I think, whose name I've forgotten. And Zuckerman Unbound is mostly about this, though much more vehemently taking the writer's side, I think.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:28 PM | Comments (1)

Burning Ears

What with one thing and another--vacation, getting ready to move, etc.--I haven't checked Certain Doubts in a long time. When I do, what should I see but a big thread about the distinction between primary and secondary propriety, as Keith DeRose and I invoke it to defend our respective accounts of the norm of assertion. Oops.

I have a couple of things to add to what Keith says there. First, my account of the norms of assertion isn't exactly the truth account--in "Must We Know What We Say?" I'm using the truth account in large part as a stick to beat the knowledge account with. (And I've changed my mind a little.) Though, given the way I argue in MWKWWS, it's a fair cop.

(I tend to write papers that are not quite consistent with each other. For instance, I often write as though 'knowledge' were a consistent concept, which in another paper I argue it isn't. But I don't want to explain what's going on with that every time I talk about knowledge--it would take too much space and also seem crazy. Maybe I will eventually have to write a book to explain My Official View. If I've worked it out.)

Second, and not unrelated, I think this argument shows that we need to do more than just specify the norms of assertion are. We need to specify what should happen to someone who violates them--blame, opprobrium, contempt, loss of credibility (my favorite!), forced sitting in the corner, fifty lashes with a wet noodle?

If we just say "An assertion is proper iff it is blah," then there's no room for saying that a non-blah assertion is somehow proper if the asserter believes it's blah. Propriety is propriety, full stop. But we also haven't said anything about the cash value of impropriety. It might be--to borrow Keith's example--that the person who doesn't know he's speeding should be fined for breaking the law, but shouldn't earn additional condemnation as a scofflaw.

And I think that lack of attention to what propriety amounts to can be a real problem for a theory. Without it, we can be left with vague intuitions about propriety--the philosopher's intuitions--and maybe a few loopholes about why we sometimes don't condemn assertions that are really improper. Used unscrupulously, this strategy could be used to defend any account of the norms of assertion (like Keith's observation that even the most hopeless semantic theory could be defended by unscrupulous deployment of the idea that true assertions aren't always warranted).

I'm working on a paper where I try to explain not only what the norms of assertion are, but what it means to violate them. Specifically, I want to talk about when an asserter can be blamed for an assertion and when an asserter can lose credibility for an assertion. These sanctions, I think, indicate specific norms. Those norms put some flesh on the bones of the idea that an assertion is proper or improper.

This is more or less what Jon means by "us[ing] some other normative notion to explain away problem cases," I think--except I'm just replacing propriety with other normative notions. Or, perhaps, saying that propriety by itself is just a placeholder for some normative notion with real teeth.

The discussion has been very helpful, though. In previous drafts of this paper I've argued that credibility depends primarily on the truth of your assertions; it's a reflection of secondary propriety that you can gain credibility with a false justified assertion, or lose credibility with a true unjustified one. I'm pretty convinced now that that's a bad way to think of it. What I should say is that the norm that your assertions should be true, enforced by the loss of credibility, is defeasible. The defeater comes if the assertion can be shown to be justified or unjustified. As to why truth should be considered the primary norm--I think I can use that term--well, you'll have to read the paper. When I write it. Unless you've heard me give it as a talk, or want me to e-mail you the version I gave, or something.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

Attempt to Drum Up Controversy

There was a lot of controversy in the 'sphere last week over whether Ducky should have got the girl, and whether Dobler is creepy. I couldn't contribute that much, since I haven't seen the relevant movies. So I will offer this attempt at a controversial assessment instead:

In Four Wedding and a Funeral, Hugh Grant should wind up with Kristin Scott Thomas. (Except maybe he doesn't deserve her.)

Discuss, if there's anybody still out there.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:18 AM | Comments (6)

July 15, 2005

Rove and the Philosophy of Language

It has been brought to my attention that Mark Liberman put up the batsignal for philosophers to analyze the Plame defense a few days before I did so. Well, it's an honor just to be nominated. The part already discussed has drawn the most attention, because it's the most laughable part of that particular defense, but Liberman may be right that there are other philosophical issues involved.

Buncha disclaimers first. We're largely talking about an issue of whether the law was violated. The language used in the law apparently sometimes gets defined in a way that doesn't quite correspond to its ordinary use, or to anything philosophers claim to illuminate either. I can't illuminate that; I'm only offering one philosopher's analysis.

Also, the assumption will proceed as though Rove's lawyer has been making true statements to the press. I don't actually believe that. For instance, Novak himself said that someone gave him Plame's name. That would pretty much moot a large part of the discussion.

Third, this deals only with the legal aspects. As for the moral and political aspects, read Ted Barlow; even if Rove's (latest?) story is true, the best that can be said for him is that he was hideously careless. Also Josh Marshall. And the Poor Man on Bush's indubitable moral complicity. If you think that it's a bad thing that everyone now knows that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent, you shouldn't be pleased with Rove and Bush. If you think it's a good thing, you should be. Either way the legalities don't matter, though they may determine if anyone winds up signing a contract with the federal rock-hockey league.

On to the philosophical issues.

Liberman points out that Rove's lawyer, Luskin, said ""he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA," and quotes Tom Maguire:

"[H]e did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA", may be a perfect non-denial denial - did Rove say, for example, that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but omit her name (which was available on the internet as part of Ambassador Wilson's on-line bio, now long gone)?

Luskin did indeed try out the "He didn't say her name" gambit. Now, even so, I think "He did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA" may come out false. There's a certain amount of play in indirect discourse reports--in some contexts, it's OK to substitute pretty much any co-referring term for the one originally used; in others you should stick pretty close. But it's very unlikely that we're in a context where it would be false to report an utterance of, say, "Joe Wilson's wife works for the CIA" as "Rove said that Valerie Plame works for the CIA."

Would this count as identifying Plame? It sure would. Anyone with half a brain (and, I think with access to public records) would be able to use this information to figure out the name of the agent, and everything that follows from it. As Yglesias said about the no-name defense, "I have a hard time imagining that will stand up in court unless the people who drafted the relevant law were really, really dumb, but that's outside my area of competence." If you can't identify a CIA agent, you can't say "Valerie Plame works for the CIA," you can't say "Joe Wilson's wife works for the CIA," you can't say "That woman works for the CIA," you can't say "The woman in the corner drinking a martini works for the CIA," and you can't say "Vizzalerie Plizzame izzizz ayzay Seeeyeayzay agizzent."

If there's a teachable moment here, it's about how epistemic properties don't always track modal properties.

And, given that the statute apparently says "any information identifying such covert agent," I think it's pretty clear that saying "Joe Wilson's wife" is a no-no.

Liberman raises a thornier question: "There's also the question of whether confirming a rumor is 'disclosing' the information involved; and if you tell someone something that you think they should already know, have you 'knowingly disclosed' it?"

I'd strike that 'should'--what's relevant is whether they do know it, or you think they do.

If you're charged with keeping information secret, it doesn't necessarily get you off the hook if you're confirming a rumor. Presumably you put the person in much better epistemic position than if they just had the rumor. I think I blogged a case in which Richard Clarke was told to take some passage out of his book, because it was classified, so he replaced it with a Village Voice article telling exactly the same story. (But I can't find the post.) The point being that, if the matter was properly classified, there might be some justification for telling Clarke not to quote the Voice either, since his doing so gives their story extra credence. (But in this case the story wasn't properly classified.)

I also remember an insider-trading case where someone said to someone with insider knowledge, "A little rabbit told me that [something the guy wasn't allowed to say]," and the insider said "Your rabbit has good ears." He was convicted of insider trading--the conversational indirection didn't help, nor did the fact that he was only confirming a rumor.

But would this count as disclosing information, and would it be illegal under the law? I don't know. It strikes me as unlikely that this is what happened, though, since it's been said that the case involves multiple Administration officials talking to multiple reporters.

[UPDATE: The Agonist--is he rehabilitated?--says "I spoke with a friend of mine in the intelligence profession recently about this topic and he told me, 'intelligence professionals cannot confirm information that is classified even if you receive that information from a non-classified source. Period.'"]

The $64 legal question is probably whether Rove can be shown to have known that Plame was a covert operative, which is necessary for a crime to have been committed. Josh Marshall's analysis of Novak's use of the word "operative" convinces me that someone told Novak that Plame was undercover. But that may not hold up in court. There's also the question of whether the CIA was taking "affirmative measures" to protect Plame's identity. I'm not sure what "affirmative measures" means, but it strikes me that as long as the CIA maintained a front company at which Plame was said to work, they were taking measures to conceal her identity. The statute also requires that Rove must have known that the CIA was taking affirmative measures, which seems harder to prove.

The drafters of the IIPA apparently deliberately made it hard to break. Mark Kleiman cites six components that must be fulfilled for the law to have been broken. If the current story is that Rove did identify Plame to reporters (with or without her name), it looks to me as though Rove hits 1-4. It seems to me likely that he did 5 and 6 as well, but it may be impossible to prove. But, as I said above, that doesn't affect the moral angle. (And, as Kleiman remarks, that's not the only legal angle.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

July 11, 2005

Never Mind

Disallowing HTML in comments retroactively stripped it from all previous comments, making some of them nonsensical. So it's back. Fortunately the old comments are restored. With luck making the comments show up in-line--thanks apostropher!--will confuse the spambots a bit.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

Words Fail Me, Too

When I wrote this, I didn't know about this. (via The Poor Man.) Gibson is right about one thing: He is a low life, pond scum.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)


It's a definite description, not a rigid designator. If the prosecution wants an expert witness to argue that that doesn't matter, I hereby offer my services. (Though I think Steven Boër and William Lycan, authors of Knowing Who, hold the same view and are more impressively credentialed.)

Site news: Comment and trackback spam has been incessant lately. As a result I've disallowed HTML in comments (and turned trackback off completely). If I can figure out how, or some nice person tells me, I'll make it so the comment box doesn't ask you for a web page. Apologies for the incovenience, but with luck this will drive away the spammers.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:19 AM | Comments (10)

July 08, 2005

Academic Freedom under Fire in Pennsylvania

via Fontana Labs, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has voted to create a special committee designed to investigate how courses are taught, professors hired, and students evaluated, at public universities (including Pitt, my grad school alma mater).

The bill was inspired by David Horowitz's so-called Academic Bill of Rights. Though David Velleman, in comments at the Chronicle piece, says that the bill does not contain the most controversial (i.e., worst) elements of Horowitz's campaign, I think the Republican Legislature will be using this committee to browbeat the universities over an imagined liberal bias--indeed, I imagine that's the purpose of the committee. It's not encouraging that the sponsor of the resolution waffles about the merits of evolution.

At Prof. B's place, Rep. Mark B. Cohen asks for help and explains the shoddiness of the case for academic bias. Unfortunately this doesn't seem like something Gov. Rendell can veto. Please go to B's place, read Cohen's request, and help him out.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:14 PM | Comments (4)

July 07, 2005

Fighting Terrorism

It may be that it's in bad taste to talk policy today [but]. I'm not entirely happy with this and the last post. But please click on these links tomorrow.

This post by Ivo Daalder I think is absolutely right about what we need to do in fighting terrorism with global reach. This global terrorism is diffused, and we won't be able to get very far by simply invading countries. What we need is, mostly, international cooperation.

But the Yglesias post I pointed to in the last post contains an important aside--nuclear terrorism is another matter. We may never be able to eliminate conventional-weapons terrorism completely, but we should be straining every sinew to make sure that nuclear terrorism never happens. And--I'm completely uninformed here, but this is how it seems to me--nuclear terrorism would require an international organization; Bin Laden rather than Bin Ladenism. Which makes it all the more urgent that we wipe out the remnants of the Al Qaeda core. (Though tipping nuclear-armed Pakistan further against us would be incredibly counterproductive. It's hard work.)

To descend to politics, all this makes the likes of this comment all the more disheartening. Democrats and liberals did (like conservatives) overwhelmingly favor the invasion of Afghanistan. The biggest criticism that, say, John Kerry expressed was that we didn't finish the job--we let Bin Laden get away, and diverted our attention to Iraq instead of stabilizing Afghanistan. (And a lot of liberals were making that latter critique at the time--it's not just hindsight.) The post below Daalder's, on the very site that was accused of not being fond of the Afghanistan invasion, calls for sending 100,000 troops to get Osama. And--to get nasty--I don't remember any major Democratic leader saying he wasn't that concerned about Osama.

We need to fight terrorism effectively; and to get rid of the perception that Democrats and liberals oppose effective terror-fighting measures. How to do the latter is a matter of politics (since we don't oppose them), and I'm even less qualified to advise on that than on the former. But it must be done.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:28 PM | Comments (1)

Political Point-Scoring

Atrios points to this piece about Fox News agents saying that today's horrible London attacks work to the Western world's advantage; JGolla at TPMCafe reports similar sentiment on Fox and Friends.

But what I find offensive isn't so much the tone as the sentiments Fox expressed, as reported in the Media Matters piece:

at the G8 summit, where their topic Number 1 --believe it or not-- was global warming, the second was African aid. And that was the first time since 9-11 when they should know, and they do know now, that terrorism should be Number 1.

Should it be hard to believe that the number one topic was global warming, which could threaten civilization as we know it and is likely to cause great harm to people in the most vulnerable parts of the world? Should it be hard to believe that the number two topic was aid to Africa, where--I don't like making this comparison, but--surely more people were killed and wounded in violence today than were in London? What arrogance, to say that terrorism should always have been the number one priority. What a sign of our leaders' successful campaign to infantilize us in the face of terrorism.

This Kenyan journalist, who has been personally affected by terrorism himself, does not think it obvious that the terror attacks should push Africa off the agenda. Matthew Yglesias reminds us that, to paraphrase a much better President, the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself. (See also this from a very well-named commenter.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:08 PM | Comments (0)

The Hole

Yesterday I bought a copy of The Stories of Stephen Dixon. Many of these stories are very harsh and hard to take. They often show human nature stripped to some of its basest drives--fear, anger, violence, pettiness. (And lust, but that's not so base--those stories are funny.) In some ways his concerns resemble George Saunders', though Dixon's distortions of language are much different from Saunders', and his view of humanity is accordingly even darker and much less funny.

One of the stories I read last night was "The Hole." Summarizing Dixon's plots is more or less criminal, but I'm going to do it anyway.

First sentence: "The City Planetarium blew up." The narrator, an off-duty policeman, is outside when it happens. A group of children is trapped in the basement cafeteria, with their teacher and the cafeteria workers. As the police and fire departments dig to a hole to let them escape, the teacher refuses to let anyone go until the hole is wide enough to let him out. "'Listen yourself,' he said. 'If I know anything about human nature it's that you men will dig a lot harder for me while the kids are down here than if they've all been released.'"

The people gathered around the hole threaten to lynch the teacher. When all the kids are out, and the hole is wide enough for him to emerge, he refuses to come out for fear for his safety. The narrator is told to go down into the hole with the teacher's son in order to coax him back up. They cannot find him. The other policemen go down to search the hole. When they come up they announce that the teacher has escaped. The crowd turns against the narrator, and when they discover that the boy with him is the teacher's son, they disarm the narrator and the other policemen, beat the son to death, and hang him upside down from a tree.

Last paragraph:

I cut the rope holding the son: he came down on his head. THe policemen put him in a canvas sack and that sack into the trunk of the squad car. No charges were brought against anyone for the son's death. The following day the newspapers said the sone had died from a fall inside the stairway hole while looking for his father, who was still being sought by the police. The police, the articles said, were still trying to determine the causes and persons responsible for the planetarium bombing and other related explosions. So far they've had no success.

I couldn't help but think of this story again when I heard today's news. But, as I said, Dixon's stories depict human nature stripped to its pettiness. The British reaction has been nothing like the mob in Dixon's story (via Ogged). But it was also hard to avoid thinking of a time when we responded to terrorist attacks by--eventually--lashing out at a country that, while ruled by a bad man, was not the real culprit.

(I'm sorry, Kevin, I think you're right but Digby is too. And I've seen something that makes me so angry I'm not going to be able to hold off on the political point-scoring.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

Sorites and Kelo

via Jim Henley, Julian Sanchez uses the sorites paradox to explain what's wrong with Kelo (the recent eminent domain Supreme Court decision) and Raich (the medical marijuana decision). But though the sorites paradox may--I said, may--provide some support for their views on one of these cases, I think it undercuts the broader libertarian views Sanchez and Henley favor.

Let us begin with a cheap shot.

Sanchez says of the sorites:

It's not a terribly deep puzzle, of course: It simply illustrates that some of our everyday concepts, like that of a heap, are vague or fuzzy, not susceptible to such precise definition. Try to define such concepts in too much detail and absurdity results.

I'll let others deal with the part after the colon. Actually I'll let them deal with the part before the colon as well. But it seems a tad presumptuous.

Now, Sanchez's application of the sorites is to say that many individually innocuous precedents have been strung together to reach an absurd conclusion. I just don't see that for Raich--I think the ban on medical marijuana is dumb, but it seems like the sort of thing the government should be able to pass. But it's reasonably convincing that in the Kelo case eminent domain was not applied for public use.

But then the moral of the sorites is that, even if this isn't public use, some of the steps earlier along the line clearly were. If you can't run the sorites forward, you can't run it backward either. Taking Kelo's home wasn't public use--I'm fine with that. And I think many previous instances of eminent domain were obviously public use, and should have been allowed; even if we can't draw a sharp line between the cases. I don't think Henley and Sanchez are fine with the previous uses of eminent domain, either. (As Unf pointed out.)

There's another problem here. The courts can't say, "Well, this is a borderline case." Either a use of eminent domain will be allowed or it won't. So, if you say there's a distinction to be drawn, there need to be some tests as to how to draw the distinction. (As I understand--not a lawyer.) And the most persuasive argument I've seen for Kelo is that we don't want the courts always trying to figure out what counts as 'public use' and what doesn't. I think it might be possible to arrive at more substantive tests that do distinguish some cases from others, but simple invocation of the sorites won't necessarily get us anywhere. At least under Kelo the local government, democratically elected agent of the public (such as it is), gets to decide what counts as public use.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:25 PM | Comments (1)


via Drum, Tyler Cowen goes in for a little Texas imperialism. Drum's covered the Steve Martin question, but Oklahoma has some real grievances against Cowen. Charlie Christian was born in Texas but moved to Oklahoma at age 2; and Woody Guthrie--Woody Guthrie!--was born in Oklahoma and, as far as I can tell from that link, didn't go to Texas until he was 15. I hope Tyler's flying home (actually, from El Paso he might not need to go through Oklahoma at all.)

For an honest-to-goodness son of Texas may I recommend Donald Barthelme? Frederick too, if you like that sort of thing. And Richard Linklater as a moviemaker, if you want to redress the bias to music and food.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2005


Here's one for the New Yorker's collection of ridiculous non-inverted quotatives:

“He’s a bit of a kochleffl”—the Yiddish term for a pot-stirrer, or meddler—Martin Indyk, who also served as Rosen’s deputy, and who went on to become President Clinton’s Ambassador to Israel, says.

At 17 words from 'Indyk' to 'says' it's shorter than the 20-word doozy Christopher Potts cites; but it has two parallel clauses intervening, whereas Potts only has one multilayered noun phrase. That should count for something.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

Tears of Rage

Busy, Busy, Busy points to, and accurately summarizes, this op-ed from Max Boot.

Boot begins with a technical truth that is so deeply misleading it's as bad as a lie: "The sum total of those killed at Gitmo is … zero." As far as I know that's true--no prisoners have been killed at Guantanamo Bay. But of course prisoners have been killed at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram, and elsewhere; and have been tortured at Gitmo and elsewhere. Boot's equivocation will probably succeed in confusing some people into believing that the U.S. hasn't killed or really tortured any prisoners. And I'm sure that's his intention. Whether that's something he ought to be doing is between him and his conscience, if he has one.

(I believe that so far the number of confirmed deaths in U.S. prison camps approaches the number of POWs who died in North Vietnam's camps. And North Vietnam was notoriously brutal. But I can't find the citation now.)

But regardless; "somone else did something worse once" wouldn't be an adequate defense even if it were true. Only a moral moron would think it does. Only a soulless wretch would try to minimize the crimes that have been committed in the name of the U.S. (And only a sick bastard would quote the description of the anti-Mau Mau torture with Boot's evident glee.)

This post is going to be dated on the fourth of July, America's Independence Day. (Because I'm editing the timestamp so it posts on Eastern time.) I love America not only because it is my home, but because I think it has been a force for good and an example of democracy, freedom, and human rights (with great flaws sometimes; no invidious comparisons are intended). It is best served by trying to keep it an exemplar of democracy, freedom, and human rights. It is not well served by pooh-poohing legitimate criticism as "Anti-American screeds," and by measuring us against the yardstick of other's crimes instead of our own ideals and morals.

The Poor Man, as usual, says everything better and several days ago. My scoring below:

Positive points: 0
(Boot does use 'torture' outside of quotes, but not to refer to anything done by Americans)

Negative points:
-5 points for pointing out ways in which Guantanimo Bay is not like a gulag
-5 points for pointing out that Amnesty International is biased against America
-10 points for noting that the US is better than the Soviet Union
-10 points for noting that the US is better than Nazi Germany

--that's just in the first sentence, with bonus Khmer Rouge
-5 points for each invocation of 9/11 as an extenuating circumstance ["fewer than the toll from 9/11"]
-5 points for any reference to lemon chicken ["three meals a day"]
-20 points for calling all detainees “terrorists” ["suspected terrorists," but even that isn't true]
-15 points for implying that a few bad apples are responsible ["unlawful conduct by U.S. service personnel"]
-10 points for denying that torture took place in Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan ["was not what passes for 'torture' in anti-American screeds today (e.g., stepping on a Koran). This was the real thing.]"
-10 points for noting that the US is better than the terrorists ["especially when they are battling fanatical mass murderers who make the Mau Mau look like Boy Scouts."]

I'm not going to take off any points for saying that there is 'no evidence' for things there are evidence for; or for denying that people have done things (e.g., kill prisoners) they have already pled guilty too; Boot does his best to make you think this, but doesn't actually take it.

Total score: -95. And there's stuff he does that doesn't count in his rating--buncha other irrelevant comparisons, and the 'impossible standards of perfection' line which echoes some toad's "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Once again, Daniel Davies:

In related news, I've seen operations that I consider to be 'perfect' and operations that I consider to be 'good', and neither of them included people tied up in their own excrement.

Happy Fourth of July. May future Fourths of July see the U.S. doing a better job of living up to our ideals.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

July 01, 2005

Neal Stephenson

Kieran Healy is thinking of ditching Cryptonomicon 100 pages in. If you must, you must--like commenter 10 I enjoyed the heck out of it, read the last 600 pages or so in one big gulp, but if you're not enjoying it reading it certainly won't make you a better person.

What I really wanted to remark was Henry Farrell's first comment:

"Quicksilver" and "The Confusion" are pretty well all authorial digression – they don’t work as novels, but they do work as something else (Annaliste fiction???). "The System of the World" is a bit of a mess.

I just don't understand the move from "all authorial digression" to "don't really work as novels." I mean, what is a novel supposed to be if not all authorial digression?

If I may quote Me on a couple of much better books:

I was unable to get very far into At Swim-Two Birds the first time I read it. The next time I read it pretty much straight through.
The trick is: You know how Moby-Dick is full of bullshitty little bits that your high-school edition cut out, and how those were the best part? @Sw2B is entirely bullshitty little bits. Read it in that frame of mind and you will enjoy.
But you might want to start with The Third Policeman first, which has a plot and is a little easier to read but equally delightful. This excerpt may give you a flavor of the non-plot parts. You should probably be thankful that I am not in a position to call you up and read you the entire part about "I still think there is an electric lift," 'cause I probably would.

(Henry is right though--System of the World is a bit of a mess. I don't know exactly why--I think I never recovered from my disappointment when it started with an authorial summary of twenty years--seemed like cheating--and by the end the baroque ways of putting the villains to death began to disturb me.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:27 PM | Comments (3)

Transitivity of Causation and Moral Responsibility

From Tim Noah's story about Fred Malek (more on why this is newsworthy below the fold; you'll be surprised to learn that it reflects poorly on Republicans):

A couple of readers have notified me that some editions of today's Times did manage to work in that Malek "was once ordered by President Nixon to investigate a possible 'Jewish cabal' in the Bureau of Labor Statistics." But that wasn't in my edition, and it isn't (as of this writing) in the online version of the story. Moreover, even the "complete" version of the article doesn't explain that Malek carried out Nixon's order, and that two BLS employees on Malek's Jew-list were demoted two months later. (Malek has denied playing any role in that.) [boldface mine]

Fred? If you prepare a list of Jewish employees in the BLS, and two of them are then demoted, you did play a role in the demotion. Transitivity of causation, y'all. And unless you thought the list was being prepared so Nixon could hand out Hanukkah presents, you're morally responsible for what happened to them.

via Yglesias.

Malek is in the news because he is trying to buy the Washington Nationals baseball team. So is a group that includes George Soros as a minor investor. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and other Republicans have threatened Major League Baseball with bad consequences if they let Soros' group buy the team. Davis's rhetoric has not failed to include anti-Semitic tropes. The GOP strongarm tactics are disgusting on a number of levels; it's just the icing on the cake that they're designed to benefit a man who saw nothing wrong with drawing up a hit list of Jews.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Because I Am So Well Placed to Make Fun of People's Names

When the New York Times' central Asia bureau chief has a lead that requires a lot of moxie to report, do you think s/he says, "This is going to take Carlotta Gall"?

Bonus shrillness: The top Google hit for Ms. Gall's name AOTW is this page from TimesWatch, linking to an article that complaining about an article Gall wrote about three 12- and 13-year old Afghani boys who were held in Guantanamo Bay for three years. Gall didn't emphasize that the boys didn't have a bad experience in Gitmo, but rather questions why three boys who weren't captured on a battlefield or carrying weapons were locked up for three years.

You know what? The U.S. shouldn't be locking up innocent juveniles for three years for no apparent reason even if it doesn't torture them. In fact, it shouldn't be newsworthy at all that some prisoners weren't tortured. It's not liberal bias to report this story without a happy-face spin.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

..and the Army Is Still Recruiting

I was listening to Der Kannonensong the other day, and I thought, "I bet I'll be using the last line as a post title some day." via Pandagon's Jesse Taylor, this (not the same link he has) brings it.

Does it need pointing out that it's hard to get people to sign up for the Army because we're asking them to serve in a gratuitous, dangerous war with inadequate equipment and planning--not because some people have pointed that out? The Republicans' equation of dissent--hell, of factual reportage--with disloyalty is old news, but it's still disturbing.

(Pandagon has been consistently fantastic lately and for a while--both Jesse and Amanda. Can't think why they aren't blogrolled.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:11 AM | Comments (1)