Monday, January 30, 2006

Must Follow Advice....

"The enemy of a good plan is the search for the perfect plan." - John C. Bogle

The Biochemical Basis of Love

"Anthropologist Helen Fisher...has devoted much of her career to studying the biochemical pathways of love in all its manifestations: lust, romance, attachment, the way they wax and wane...(In her studies) when each subject looked at his or her loved one, the parts of the brain linked to reward and pleasure,--the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus--lit up...Love lights up the caudate nucleus because it is home to a dense spread of receptors for a neurotransmitter called dopamine...which creates intense energy, exhiliration, focused attention...(thus) love makes you bold, makes you bright, makes you run real risks, which you sometimes survive, and sometimes you don't...

"Researchers have long hypothesized that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a serotonin 'imbalance.' Drugs like Prozac seem to alleviate OCD by increasing the amount of this neurotransmitter available at the juncture between neurons. (Researchers) compared the lover's serotonin levels with those from the OCD group and another group who were free from both passion and mental illness. Levels of serotonin in both the obsessives' blood and the lovers' blood were 40 percent lower than those in normal subjects...Translation: Love and mental illness may be difficult to tell apart...

"Why doesn't passionate love last?...Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine...cocaine users describe the phenomenon of tolerance: the brain adapts to the excessive input of the drug...From a physiological point of view, (couples move) from the dopamine- drenched state of romantic love to the relative quiet of the oxytocin-induced attachment. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes a feeling of connection, bonding."

Lauren Slater, Love: The Chemical Reaction, National Geographic, February 2006, pp. 35-45

Saturday, January 28, 2006

So isn't arguing for a flat tax kinda redundant?

Bob Herbert from 6 June 2005:

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is not growing fast enough. An analysis by The Times showed the following:

"Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes - a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data - now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000. Those earning more than $10 million a year now pay a lesser share of their income in these taxes than those making $100,000 to $200,000."

About as equal opportunity as admission to Augusta National Golf Club

The analysis shows:

  • in total, the donations of Abramoff’s tribal clients to Democrats dropped by nine percent after they hired him, while their
    donations to Republicans more than doubled, increasing by 135 percent after they signed him up;

  • five out of seven of Abramoff’s tribal clients vastly favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones;

  • four of the seven began giving substantially more to Republicans than Democrats after he took them on;

  • Abramoff’s clients gave well over twice as much to Republicans than Democrats, while tribes not affiliated with Abramoff gave well over twice as much to Democrats than the GOP -- exactly the reverse pattern.

“It’s very hard to see the donations of Abramoff’s clients as a bipartisan greasing of the wheels,” Morris, the firm’s founder and a former investigations editor at the Los Angeles Times, told The Prospect.


The Economist - 1 December 2005

"Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, jumped on [Cunningham's] mea culpa, calling it “just the latest example of the culture of corruption that pervades the Republican-controlled Congress, which ignores the needs of the American people to serve wealthy special interests and their cronies.” In one way, this is partisan claptrap: the last congressman to leave under a similar cloud was a Democrat: James Traficant, who was expelled from the House in 2002 after being convicted of bribery and tax evasion. On the other hand, Republicans, conscious of their Christian evangelical base, tend to preach a sterner morality, which means they are more open to accusations of hypocrisy."

Evangelical christians preach a "sterner morality." Right... oh... I forgot....non-evangelical christians and non-christians tolerate corruption.

What about your patients, Mr. Schultz?

Lawrence M. Schultz, a Rite Aid pharmacist in Maryland, was paid by Novo to identify diabetics from databases in Rite Aid pharmacies, according to the three former Novo sales representatives.


Mr. Schultz confirmed that he had "pushed Novo Nordisk" products. He refused to give details, but said: "Everything I did was done completely ethically. The one thing I would never do is put my job, or Rite Aid, in jeopardy."


Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, said marketing deals between drug companies and pharmacy chains had often misled doctors and hurt patients. .

"We are opposed to plans where the financial interest of the manufacturer takes precedence over the patient's health," Mr. Catizone said. "To call a physician and say that we're changing a patient's medication and make it seem as if it's on behalf of the patient when it's actually part of this marketing deal is not right."

Tony Montana: You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!

Capitalism: A system that efficiently transfers money from the masses to cheaters.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The incidence of news stories that make me want to cry increases daily

"Forced to impose a sentence he deemed unjust, a Northern District of New York judge took sharp aim last week at a federal statute that required him to impose a life-without-parole term on a 32-year-old "relatively small-time drug dealer" with an IQ of 72."

""The increment of harm in this case bears no rational relationship to the increment of punishment that I must impose."

"There is something terribly wrong with a system in that you, a drug dealer, are imprisoned for life without release, while a defendant who crosses state lines and actually rapes and sexually abuses a very young child may be free in less than 13 years," Hurd wrote. "The harm you caused cannot compare to murder, torture, arson, rape, child abuse, manslaughter, embezzlement of millions of dollars by corporate executives or even the San Diego Congressman who took over two millions dollars in bribes."

A glimmer of hope: "Additionally, in an August 2003 speech at the American Bar Association's annual meeting, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy urged the ABA to speak out against mandatory minimum sentences."

The So-Called Liberal Media

Is Katie Couris a member of the so-called Liberal Media Establishment? She sure seems like a Republican spokesperson to me. She begins with false ("It's been widely reported. And that makes it fact-esque.") assertions and ends with a horribly leading question.

I always knew footnotes were scary

The Boston Globe today reports on a footnote in Alberto Gonzales' speech:

A footnote in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's 42-page legal memo defending President Bush's domestic spying program appears to argue that the administration does not need Congress to extend the USA Patriot Act in order to keep using the law's investigative powers against terror suspects.

The memo states that Congress gave Bush the power to investigate terror suspects using whatever tactics he deemed necessary when it authorized him to use force against Al Qaeda. When Congress later passed the Patriot Act, Bush already had the power to use enhanced surveillance techniques against Al Qaeda, according to the footnote. Thus, legal specialists say, the administration is asserting that Bush would be able to keep using the powers outlined in the Patriot Act for Al Qaeda investigations, regardless of whether Congress reauthorizes the law.

Mr. Foucault. He was a smart man.

"Foucault could see how the experience of deprivation, loneliness, and anomie made many Muslims in urban centers turn to rather than away from Islam; how there was little “protection” for the millions of uprooted Muslims except in “Islam, which for centuries has regulated everyday life, family ties, and social relations with such care.” Foucault could also see how, in the absence of any democratic politics, Muslims used Islamic themes of sacrifice and martyrdom to challenge despotic and corrupt rulers who claimed legitimacy in the West as modernizers and secularizers.

"Foucault also managed to see that this Muslim revolt was unlikely to be confined to Iran. The West had deemed modernization and securitization as the highest aim for Muslim societies ever since it began to dominate them in the nineteenth century. But the process, now advanced by westernized postcolonial elites, of uprooting people from their traditional cultures and forcing them into Western-style cities and occupations was only likely to produce more converts to political Islam. It was why Foucault believed that “Islam – which is not simply a religion, but an entire way of life, an adherence to a history and a civilization- has a good chance to become a gigantic powder keg, at the level of hundreds of millions of men.”

"Islamic Fundamentalists or radical Islamists had long existed in such countries as Pakistan, Egypt and Algeria; they often articulated popular opposition to Western imperialists in the Middle East and South Asia, and then acquired greater support as post colonial elites claiming to be nationalist and socialist proved to be corrupt and despotic. But it was the experience of training and fighting together during the decade long anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan that bound the Islamists together into an international community. It defined their enemy more clearly than before--the materialist and imperialist civilization of the West in which both Communists and capitalist were complicit--and stoked their fantasy of a global Muslim ummah (community)...The eruption of jihad rage and hatred in New York and London--in what appeared to be serenely self-absorbed worlds until September 11, 2001--seems to bewilder many people in the West, especially those unaware of the roots of present-day jihadis in the cold war."

Pankaj Mishra, "The New York Review of Books", November 17th, 2005, p. 15.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Picture To Go With Below Post.

As trite as it sounds, it is nevertheless true and bears repeating: Our country is being torn apart.

Smart Comment at Unfogged

"Not to mention obsessing about what is and isn't "hott."

That's not obsessing. It's covering by affirming one's allegiance to norms, and affirming the rightness and naturalness of those norms."

Scary Shit

A provision in the "PATRIOT Act" creates a new federal police force with the power to violate the Bill of Rights. You might think that this cannot be true, as you have not read about it in newspapers or heard it discussed by talking heads on TV.

Go to House Report 109-333 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and check it out for yourself. Sec. 605 reads:

"There is hereby created and established a permanent police force, to be known as the 'United States Secret Service Uniformed Division.'"

This new federal police force is "subject to the supervision of the Secretary of Homeland Security."

The new police are empowered to "make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence, or for any felony cognizable under the laws of the United States if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such felony."

The new police are assigned a variety of jurisdictions, including "an event designated under section 3056(e) of title 18 as a special event of national significance" (SENS).

"A special event of national significance" is neither defined nor does it require the presence of a "protected person" such as the president in order to trigger it. Thus, the administration, and perhaps the police themselves, can place the SENS designation on any event. Once a SENS designation is placed on an event, the new federal police are empowered to keep out and arrest people at their discretion.

The language conveys enormous discretionary and arbitrary powers. What is "an offense against the United States"? What are "reasonable grounds"?

You can bet the Alito/Roberts court will rule that it is whatever the executive branch says.

The obvious purpose of the act is to prevent demonstrations at Bush/Cheney events. However, nothing in the language limits the police powers from being used only in this way. Like every law in the U.S., this law also will be expansively interpreted and abused. It has dire implications for freedom of association and First Amendment rights. We can take for granted that the new federal police will be used to suppress dissent and to break up opposition. The Brownshirts are now arming themselves with a Gestapo.

Many naïve Americans will write to me to explain that this new provision in the reauthorization of the "PATRIOT Act" is necessary to protect the president and other high officials from terrorists or from harm at the hands of angry demonstrators: "No one else will have anything to fear." Some will accuse me of being an alarmist, and others will say that it is unpatriotic to doubt the law's good intentions.

Americans will write such nonsense despite the fact that the president and foreign dignitaries are already provided superb protection by the Secret Service. The naïve will not comprehend that the president cannot be endangered by demonstrators at SENS at which the president is not present. For many Americans, the light refuses to turn on.

In Nazi Germany, did no one but Jews have anything to fear from the Gestapo?

By Stalin's time, Lenin and Trotsky had eliminated all members of the "oppressor class," but that did not stop Stalin from sending millions of "enemies of the people" to the Gulag.

It is extremely difficult to hold even local police forces accountable. Who is going to hold accountable a federal police protected by Homeland Security and the president?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


7. Thomas Friedman

Charges: The worst of all creatures in the political opinion jungle: a cretin who thinks he’s a genius. Friedman’s intolerable knack for converting irreducibly complex geopolitical/socioeconomic situations into simplistic, tin-eared insta-clichés makes him one of the most dangerous people on the planet, arming people even stupider than him with the illusion of knowledge in the form of a crude vocabulary of badly mixed metaphors and ill-conceived flashcard images, thereby having a negative net effect on the nation’s intellect. India and China are “like a bottle of champagne” which someone has been “shaking for 40 years;” the modern economy dictates that “you need to be at a certain level to be able to claim your share of a global pie that is both expanding and becoming more complex;” and the threat of terrorism is a "bubble” that threatens to "undermine" open society. Friedman’s disorienting literary ineptitude is nearly enough to distract us from the indisputable fact that he has no fucking idea what he’s talking about. For this dolt-friendly parlor trick and a slavish devotion to globalization and technology as abstract, almost mystical tenets, Friedman has achieved iconic status. Exhibits the easy smile and benevolent smugness of an unjustly celebrated man who has never thought very deeply or rigorously about anything at all.

Exhibit A: Despite his constant exaltation of the internet as some kind of global cure-all, Friedman had to actually fly to London to discover that European newspapers were having misgivings about Guantanamo Bay.

Sentence: Column outsourced to Bangalore, where there is some difficulty in finding a peasant ignorant and ineloquent enough to please his audience. Compelled at gunpoint to write a 500-page retraction of his recent best-seller, called No, Actually the World is Round.

Funny as Hell

14. Elisabeth Bumiller

Charges: The ultimate Bush hagiographer, Bumiller is responsible for unearthing such essential information as Bush’s iPod playlist and how he always makes his bed time. Bumiller’s weekly presidential throat job in the rapidly declining New York Times, the “White House Letter,” reads like transparent ad copy for the president. Her unabashedly moist, worshipful tone would seem a little over-the-top at an RNC convention. Bumiller revealed the secret of her success to her alumni magazine at Northwestern: doing the very least that her job description requires. “At every press conference I stand up every time and ask a question,” Bumiller said. “No matter what.” Wow.

Exhibit A: “You can’t say George Bush is wrong here. There’s no way you can say that in the New York Times…You can’t just say the president is lying. You don’t just say that in the… You can’t say the president is lying—that’s a judgment call… What is wrong with that? What is your problem with that? What? Why do you all object to that?”

Sentence: The Times’ reign as the “paper of record” is finally brought to an end when the paper’s headquarters are demolished by readers upon publication of Bumiller’s final dispatch, “Bush’s Taint: Sweet Like Honey.”

I agree.

15. Karl Rove

Charges: A greasy pig whose only distinction in life is his total lack of decency. Rove is decidedly not a genius; he is simply missing the part of his soul that prevents the rest of us from kicking elderly women in the face. His admirers have elevated fanatical, amoral ambition to the status of a virtue, along with lying, cheating, and negligent homicide, all in the name of “values.” Quite possibly the worst person in the worst White House in American history.

Exhibit A: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.”

Sentence: Lowered head first into oil refinery smokestack.

We know Bush does not read books, but does he read men?

"While Lyndon Johnson was not, as his two assistants knew, a reader of books, he was, they knew, a reader of men--a great reader of men. He had a genius for studying a man and learning his strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears, his deepest strengths and weaknesses: what it was that the man wanted--not what he said he wanted but what he really wanted--and what it was that the man feared, really feared.

"He tried to teach his young assistants to read men--“Watch their hands, watch their eyes” he told them. “Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it’s not as important as what you can read in his eyes”--and to read between the lines: more interested in men’s weaknesses than in their strengths because it was weakness that could be exploited, he tried to teach his assistants how to learn a man’s weakness. "The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he isn’t telling you,” he said. "The most important thing a man has to say is what he’s trying not to say.” For that reason, he told them, it was important to keep the man talking; the longer he talked, the more likely he was to let slip a hint of that vulnerability he was so anxious to conceal. “That’s why he wouldn’t let a conversation end." Busby explains. “If he saw the other fellow was trying not to say something, he wouldn’t let it (the conversation) end until he got it out of him.” And Lyndon Johnson himself read with a genius that couldn’t be taught, with a gift that was so instinctive that a close observer of his reading habits, Robert G. (Bobby) Baker, calls it a “sense”; "He seemed to sense each man’s individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin.” He read with a novelist’s sensitivity, with an insight that was unerring, with an ability, shocking in the depth of its penetration and perception, to look into a man’s heart and know his innermost worries and desires.

Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, p. 136

Good Advice I Need to Heed

"A good plan is essential but don't fiddle around trying to make a perfect plan, that will only delay implementation of a good plan."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Funny and Insightful List of 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005

48. Larry the Cable Guy

Charges: The absolute nadir of the American South’s baffling cultural hegemony. A middle-class Nebraskan, raised in Palm Beach, whose parents sent him to private school, masquerading as an Appalachian mutant and making millions off the nine-toed cyclopes in his audience by calling his material “blue collar,” when it’s really just a celebration of proud ignorance. The latest in a long line of “entertainers” propagating the lie that real talent is elitist. The South has risen again—just long enough to grab the rest of the nation by the legs and pull it back down to its Lovecraftian depths. Isn’t even “bad funny.” Makes Jeff Foxworthy look like Chris Rock.

Exhibit A: Ostensibly ‘humorous’ catchphrase translates into “complete the task.”

Sentence: Sent back in time for the sole purpose of having Mark Twain’s cigars extinguished on his face.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pre-fab green houses

I don't know much about architecture, but these buildings are impressive.

Michael Jantzen
Andrew Maynard

Data on New Orleans

Lots of data for anyone doing research. Here are some highlights (lowlights?):

Most schools and hospitals in Orleans Parish remain closed. Only five percent of the schools are open in Orleans Parish, for instance, and only 32 percent of the city's hospitals are now open.

Buying food is still difficult to do in the metro area. Only about one out of every three retail food establishments (e.g., grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores) is open in the metropolitan area.

Personal income in Louisiana dropped 25 percent between the second and third quarter of this year, and increased by nearly 1 percent in Mississippi. Among other effects, this means Louisiana's state budget likely shrunk even while the need for the state's services substantially increased. Alternatively, Mississippi's budget was likely not affected by a change in personal income.

Do Republicans Look Like Thugs?

Take the test and see if you can predict party affiliation based on appearance! I went 9 for 12. I based it on smile, eyes, glasses, and weight.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Excerpt of the Day

"Typically for Turing, work on his computable numbers was completely original rather than a derivative of someone else's groundbreaking result. In fact, it was so original that...American logician Alonzo Church...invited him to come to Princeton University to study with him...

"After (World War II), von Neumann (at Princeton) and Turing each worked on projects to develop the first real computer. They each envisioned a computer containing stored instructions. But that is where the similarity ended. Von Neumann had intended that the instructions stored in the computer could not be modified...Turing went much further. He suggested that computers store a set of instruction tables that could be called as desired with the desired inputs...

"In 1952...the authorities charged him with the crime of 'Gross Indecency' (homosexuality)...Following his conviction, Turing chose to submit himself to estrogen therapy rather than a two-year prison sentence...The estrogen therapy led to impotence (as intended) and severe depression.

"Turing committed suicide in 1954."

Stephen Hawking, God Created the Integers, Running Press, 2005, 1123-1126

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I blame it on the media.

Arianna writes that yesterday's speeches by Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, both of which criticized the Bush Administration, are like coming attractions to the 2008 Democratic presidiential nomination.

Arianna notes that while Hillary has been a terrific Senator, it's hard to go from sitting Senator to President (she lists John Kerry as a prime example) and says right now, she thinks Gore has the edge.

We'll see how the race develops, but right now I'd put my money on Gore. He didn't just get rid of the beard, he also got rid of the mitigating, the qualifying, and the equivocating that plagues sitting senators.

I'll give the edge to Gore for another reason. Half the country thinks the 2000 election was stolen from him, and they will want to right the wrong that was done to him. Had Gore been elected in 2000, he'd be on his second term. There would have been no war in Iraq, no John Roberts or Sam Alito on the Supreme Court and there would be a lockbox on our social security.

On the other hand, we'd still have mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty. But Hillary supports those too. And the Clinton-Gore Administration pushed new wiretapping powers and habeas restrictions in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. (See my 1996 article for more on this.) I'm not ready to pick either one right now.

Every few weeks or so I imagine what the world would be like if the media hadn't smeared Gore and given the Presidency to Bush. Every few weeks or so I cry.

The Average American Day

"There are really two kinds of flicks--what we now call generic Hollywood movies, and what we now call Independent films. Hollywood films--and this is crucial to screenwriters--all have in common this: they want to tell us truths we already know or a falsehood we want to believe in.

"Hollywood films reinforce, reassure.

"Independent films, which used to be called 'art' films, have a different agenda. They want to tell us things we don't want to know.

"Independent films unsettle.

"Famous cartoon from fifty years back. A couple are at the original run of Death of a Salesman. The man turns to the woman, here's what he says: 'I'll get you for this!' The point is that most of us work all day, often at something we don't love much anymore but we do it till we drop. At the end of our average days, we want peace, we want relaxation, maybe a bite of food, a few kind words. We do not want to watch Willy Loman's suicide...Most people want to be told nice things. That we really are decent human beings, that God will smile on us, that there is true love and it is waiting for you, just around the corner. That the meek really will inherit the earth."

William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Pantheon, 2000, pp. 274-5

Death Row and Newark, NJ

"Largely lost in this debate, however, are two important facts (Katz, Levitt and Shustorovich, 2003). First, given the rarity with which executions are carried out in this country and the long delays in doing so, a rational criminal should not be deterred by the threat of execution. Despite increases in capital punishment in recent years, the likelihood of being executed conditional on committing murder is still less than 1 in 200. Even among those on death row, the annual execution rate is only 2 percent, or twice the death rate from accidents and violence among all American men. Among the subsample of individuals engaged in illegal activities, the death rates are likely to be much higher. Levitt and Venkatesh (2000) report a death rate of 7 percent annually for street-level drug sellers in the gang they analyze. Kennedy, Piehl and Braga (1996) estimate violent death rates to be 1–2 percent annually among all gang members in Boston. It is hard to believe the fear of execution would be a driving force in a rational criminal’s calculus in modern America."

There's a good chance I'm misreading this quote (anything I write past midnight is suspect), but I will venture an interpretation anyway. Because the death rate is actually higher for street-level drug sellers in gangs than the annual execution rate of those on death row (7% versus 2%), if a rational drug dealer's sole goal were to stay alive, he would preferably go to death row than to the dangerous streets of Newark, NJ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dangerous Idea? Maybe

Let's all stop beating Basil's car

Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give "satisfaction' to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as "atonement' for "sin'.

Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?

Concepts like blame and responsibility are bandied about freely where human wrongdoers are concerned. When a child robs an old lady, should we blame the child himself or his parents? Or his school? Negligent social workers? In a court of law, feeble-mindedness is an accepted defence, as is insanity. Diminished responsibility is argued by the defence lawyer, who may also try to absolve his client of blame by pointing to his unhappy childhood, abuse by his father, or even unpropitious genes (not, so far as I am aware, unpropitious planetary conjunctions, though it wouldn't surprise me).

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

Professor Dawkins is brilliant. Besides this "dangerous idea," I would recommend watching his documentary "The Root of All Evil" about religion.

PS: I don't like the question: "What is this year's most dangerous idea."

The Manufacture of Consent

The mass populace that appears on Maury and Jerry (both on stage and in the audience) is more than merely unfit to rule. It is a modern-day embodiment of the wretched, unruly, and childish “mob” – the dangerous and all-too “masterless” and “many-headed monster” – that aristocrats have always claimed to see when they describe the common people. It is proof of the classic authoritarian and self-interested ruling-class idea that the ordinary citizenry is unqualified for freedom and must always be checked, coerced, and manipulated from above. It is evidence for the venerable bourgeois thesis that “human nature” is essentially nasty, violent, disagreeable, and brutish. Especially at the bottom of the supposedly merit-based socioeconomic pyramid, this thesis maintains, civilization’s majority is composed of ignorant and boorish louts. That thankless rabble must be controlled for their own good and the good of society by benevolent, far-seeing masters, who are supposedly less tainted with humanity’s inherent inner savagery.

To be sure, it’s hardly just on the daytime freak-shows that these viciously hierarchical ideas find modern media expression. These oppressive notions are ubiquitous in various forms (especially in crime dramas) across the spectrum of America’s corporate-crafted “popular culture,” with authoritarian consequences that deserve serious consideration by progressive media critics and activists. They color the content of numerous situational dramas and comedies as well as pseudo-documentarian law-enforcement shows like the dangerously repression-friendly broadcast “COPS.”

Specific shows aside, the “manufacture of [mass] consent” to the shocking concentration of American wealth and power takes place just as significantly in the entertainment media as well as in the news and public affairs media that preoccupies most left media critics and activists.

I basically agree. The average American wakes up, eats, works, eats, watches television, and sleeps. There is no "free time" for critical thinking. The programs the average American watches on television amount to thought-control. I cannot think of a single show on broadcast or regular cable that is intellectually stimulating besides some PBS shows.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Remembering Dr. King

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]

What I want to know is how does this country honor and remember one of the most influential men of the century by giving kids the day off or giving kids half-days of school? The rich white kids in Short Hills, NJ were given a half-day on Friday. How does this make sense? Does one honor the man by going to shop at the Short Hills Mall or Kings or to relax at the Short Hills Hilton? Why can't we actually remember a person by the only way we can: reading and listening to his works.

A Game

Anyone know what this is?

Nice Picture.

It must have been pretty surreal to watch or play in the Agassi/Federer tennis match on the helipad at over 200 meters high.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Constitutional Revelation a Figment of Imagination.

"Some argue that the Constitution must be a "living, breathing instrument" and that it is right and proper for a majority of the Supreme Court to decide when, where and how the Constitution needs to be changed so as to be "relevant to modern times."

These folks operate on the premise that the Supreme Court is infallible and omnipotent, and that once the Supreme Court has spoken, there is no way to change its ruling."

No, Judge Demoss Jr., it is the originalists and intentionalists who naively believe that the Supreme Court is infallible, omnipotent, and final. You are the ones who believe that a judge through a close reading of the Constitution can somehow divine the intentions and meanings of long dead men. You are the ones who believe that judges reveal fixed and dormant meanings of the Constitution. In fact, since the meaning of the Constitution is entirely immanent and, hence, not subject to any outside influence, you are the ones who believe that "once the Supreme Court has spoken, there is no way to change its ruling." To be more correct, it might be better to say that "once the Constitution speaks through the Supreme Court," because the original meaning of the Constitution has been there for more than 200 years waiting for revelation.

That said, I'm not opposed to a Constitional Ammendment re-asserting a right to privacy.

[Crude section] God, I hate Christianity's influence on law. I hate the idea of a fixed original meaning and a fixed original creator. I hate the idea of God. [end Crude section]

Excellent Essay

"Democracy is the thing we do together, if it is to be done at all." - Bill Moyers

No Room For Death in Society

The other reason why i put the dedication is that I think there's no room for death in society, and this fact adds to the pain of people who've lost someone. What I mean is that there is no time and place in everyday life where you can just go "oh by the way my brother died when i was 18", it's just not the done thing, and yet the consequence is that you find yourself bang in the middle of a dinner at someone's place and they ask you if you've got any brothers and sisters and you think (or at least that's what i think) "oh shit, well i'm not going to lie about this one" and you tell them the truth, and the meal is spoilt for everyone.

Alternatively no such dinner ever happens and it's even worse, because you can see people for years and if they're not curious about your life then they never learn something which is more often than not one of the most essential facts of your life. so I'm pleased as well because this dedication is a bit like coming out in a way.

Finally i think that you're only really dead when no one thinks of you. Last summer, I saw a concert of Bach's suites for cello in a church in Paris and at the end I almost felt like Bach was with us. I don't mean with us in the church, but that in a way his music was so incredible that he wasn't really dead, he was alive through the music. I hope this doesn’t sound too dodgy or that I don’t sound like a mad woman, I think that people who really love music will understand what I mean by this. And then I thought of how the reverse was also true: if no one knows that you exist and no one cares about you then I suppose you could feel as if you were dead already. So in a way I think that each time someone reads the dedication to my brother, they learn that someone named Frederic lived from 1973 to 1994. He happens to be the brother of the person whose record they've just bought, but the dedication is not about me, it really is about my brother and how he has lived and how he is no longer alive and how his life shouldn't be completely forgotten.

I will write more about this later. I want to connect it with my favorite theorist Walter Benjamin's "The Storyteller."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The old lab shortcut.

Draw curves first.
Then plot data.

This makes me laugh.

Diversity and Affirmative Action Yield Benefits.

"In exploring (relations among different groups), one often encounters a pessimism built around the notion that humans...are hard-wired for xenophobia. Some brain-imaging studies have appeared to support this view in a particularly discouraging way. There is a structure deep inside the brain called the amygdala, which plays a key role in fear and aggression, and experiments have shown that when subjects are presented with a face of someone from a different race, the amygdala gets metabolically active-- aroused, alert, ready for action. This happens even when the face is presented 'subliminally', which is to say, so rapidly that the subject does not consciously see it.

"More recent studies, however, should mitigate this pessimism. Test a person who has a lot of experience with people of different races, and the amygdala does not activate. Or, as in a wonderful experiment by Susan Fiske of Princeton University, subtly bias the subject beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group, and the amygdala does not budge...

"The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility."

Robert M. Sapolsky, A Natural History of Peace, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2006, pp. 119-120

A Presidential Lie.

While in Buffalo, N.Y., for his reelection campaign in April 2004, in one of those chatty "conversations" -- this one about the Patriot Act -- that he had with various well-vetted groups of voters, the president said the following:
"There are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

By that time, as he has since admitted, the president had not only ordered the warrantless NSA wiretapping and surveillance program and recommitted to it many times over, despite resistance from officials in the Justice Department and even, possibly, from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, but had been deeply, intimately involved in it. (No desire for classic presidential "plausible deniability" can be found here.) So this, as many critics have pointed out, was a lie. But what's more interesting -- and less noted -- is that it was a lie of choice. He clearly did not make the statement on the spur of the moment or in response to media questioning (despite the claims in some reports). He wasn't even "in conversation" in any normal sense. He was simply onstage expounding in a prepared fashion to an audience of citizens. So it was a lie that, given the nature of the event (and you can check it out yourself online), had to be preplanned. It was a lie told with forethought, in full knowledge of the actual situation, and designed to deceive the American people about the nature of what this administration was doing. And it wasn't even a lie the president was in any way forced to commit. No one had asked. It was a voluntary act of deception. Now, he is claiming that these comments were meant to be "limited" to the Patriot Act as the NSA spying program he launched was "limited" to only a few Americans -- both surely absurd claims. ("I was talking about roving wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from the N.S.A. program. The N.S.A. program is a necessary program. I was elected to protect the American people from harm. And on Sept. 11, 2001, our nation was attacked. And after that day, I vowed to use all the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people, which is what I have been doing, and will continue to do.")

In other words, by his own definition of what is "legal" based on that "obscure philosophy" (and with the concordance of a chorus of in-house lawyers), but not on any otherwise accepted definition of how our Constitution is supposed to work, the president has admitted to something that, on the face of it, seems to be an impeachable act -- and he has been caught as well in the willful further act of lying to the American people about his course of action. Here, however, is where -- though so many of the issues of the moment may bring the Nixon era to mind -- things have changed considerably. Our domestic politics are now far more conservative; Congress is in the hands of Republicans, many of whom share the president's fervor for unconstrained party as well as presidential power; and the will to impeach is, as yet, hardly in sight.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


A federal appeals court has upheld a 55-year prison term imposed on a Utah man with no criminal record who was convicted in 2003 of selling several hundred dollars worth of marijuana on three occasions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

There's No Czar in US Politics (the beginning of a series)

"How has Bremer reached his advanced age without realizing that the cossacks work for the czar, not for themselves?"

Although this is fun to personalise the problem on Bush, in fact the difficulty is with a political system where small organised groups can so strongly influence decision-making and impose externalities on the rest of the country. It's not Bush that's the problem, the problem is a political system which persistently generates incentives (from oil and Israel lobbies) to take advice from those who advocate a colonial approach for US policy towards the Middle East.

There's no Czar in US politics. Or rather, the Czar works for the interest groups. At your advanced age, you should know that.

I like the phrase "There's no Czar in US politics" so I'm going to start a series about this.

Do Cars Get Drunk on Ethanol?

"After nearly three decades of work, Brazil has developed a cost-effective alternative to gasoline... (and ) expects to become energy independent this year (down from importing 80% in the 1970s--the U.S. imports about 60% currently)...Brazil can make ethanol from sugar cane for about $1 a gallon, according to the World Bank. That compares with the international price of gasoline of about $1.50 a gallon. Even though ethanol gets less mileage per gallon than gasoline, in Brazil it's still much cheaper per mile driven."

"Using carbohydrates instead of fossil-fuels to run cars is not a new idea. Henry Ford's first car was made to run on ethanol...During World War II, the U.S...and other nations relied on ethanol to extend gasoline supplies. In the postwar period, gasoline was so plentiful and cheap that ethanol lost its allure.

"India and China have sent a parade of top officials to see Brazil's program..."

David Luhnow and Geraldo Samor, "As Brazil Fills Up on Ethanol, It Weans Off Energy Imports", The Wall Street Journal, Monday, January 9th, 2006, front page

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Colonization of the Mind

"And, curiously, he felt that he was something, somebody, precisely and simply because of that cold threat of death. The terror of the white world had left no doubt in him about his worth; in fact, that white world had guaranteed his worth in the most brutal and dramatic manner. Most surely he was was something, in the eyes of the white world, or it would not have threatened him as it had. That white world, then, threatened as much as it beckoned. Though he did not know it, he was fatally in love with that white world, in love in a way that could never be cured. That white world’s attempt to curb him dangerously and irresponsibly claimed him for its own.” - Richard Wright.

I should read this book.

"Daniel Bell's words of 1963 remain true today: 'What the right wing is fighting, in the shadow of Communism, is essentially 'modernity'--that complex of beliefs that might be defined most simply as the belief in rational assessment, rather than established custom, for the evaluation of social change--and what it seeks to defend is its fading dominance...over the control of social change. But it is precisely those established ways that a modernist America has been forced to call into question.'

"In the mid-nineteenth century, the nativist 'Know- Nothings' dreamed of a return to an earlier Protestant America without the growth of the new capitalism. In the early twentieth century, a complex of Protestant nativist tendencies dreamed of an America without a whole set of new immigrant groups and also without the automobile (or at least its backseat) and its corrosive effects on sexual morality. Today much of the White middle class (including, of course, Irish and many other ethnicities and mixtures) dream of an idealized version of the Eisenhower years of the 1950s..."

Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong, Harper Collins, 2004, pp. 91-2

Word of the Day

"I love mankind. It's the people I can't stand." Do you ever find yourself
repeating those words of cartoonist Charles Schulz? Maybe you feel surrounded
by persons described in this week's AWAD. There are times when everyone
around us seems less than charming. But remember, just like the fingers of
your hand, it takes all kinds to make this world.

fussbudget (FUS-buj-it) noun

One who is fussy about unimportant things.

[From fuss + budget, from Middle English, from Old French bougette,
diminutive of bouge (bag), from Latin bulga (bag). Ultimately from
Indo-European root bhelgh- (to swell) that is also the source of
bulge, bellows, billow, belly, and bolster.]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

A synonym of this word is fusspot. Usually we dislike fusspots and
fussbudgets but sometimes we wish there were fussbudgets among our
elected leaders who cared enough to fuss about the budget of this

The word budget is a marvelous example of how the language goes around.
French bougette (little bag) came to English, developed a new sense:
budget (a financial estimate), and then went back to French in its new
avatar. Most living languages are mongrels and that's what makes them
richer. Why fuss about keeping them "pure"?

-Anu Garg (

"[Nathan Lane] has shone in period pieces and as Bette Midler's fussbudget
husband in Isn't She Great."
Ryan Gilbey; 'I Don't Know What Goes on in Their Heads Out in Hollywood';
The Guardian (London, UK); Dec 15, 2005.

Wolf Blitzer is a Republican Robot!

News at 7.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Alito's Nomination

This makes it essential, obviously, that every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Spector, grills Judge Alito in the hearings. He must be probed on his views of Article II, including the Commander-in-Chief Clause and, for that matter, the Oath of Office, given that University of Minnesota Law Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen reads the Oath to license the President essentially to do whatever he wishes so long as there is a good faith belief that it is “defense” of the Constitution. Quoting Lincoln, Paulsen argues that just as one can amputate a limb in order to save the life of a person, so can a President in effect ignore any given part of the Constitution, including, of course, any of the protections of the Bill of Rights, in order to save the Nation. To put it mildly, this theory of the “amputated Constitution” should give us all pause, and we should find out what kind of constitutional doctor Samuel Alito would be on the Supreme Court.

Had Alito been nominated two years ago, many of these questions might have sounded “academic.” In the aftermath of the disclosure of memos written within the Department of Justice justifying the President’s “inherent” right to torture and then, more recently, of Bush’s own public claims to almost limitless executive authority following the NSA disclosures, there is nothing at all academic about them. They go to the heart of whether we can maintain ourselves as a constitutional republic.

Some observers are throwing around the idea of impeaching George W. Bush. For a variety of reasons, that is unlikely to happen. We are almost certainly be stuck with Bush until 2009. But we are not stuck with having to ratify the would-be-king’s choice of his courtiers. Samuel Alito is undoubtedly very bright, and he is probably as pleasant a person as many of the stories make him out to be. But there is also a very high likelihood that he has been chosen to assist in the overall project of executive aggrandizement, and no senator should vote to confirm his nomination unless he or she is absolutely assured that that is not the case. The stakes are simply too high to allow any deference at all to this president (and vice-president), whose hunger for power, if tolerated, will transform us into a country that none of us should wish to live in.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Do you hear that? 2 Trillion? Wishhhhhhhh.

Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes plan to present this week a paper estimating the cost of the Iraq War at between $1-2 trillion. This is far higher than earlier estimates of $100-200 billion.
Here is their statement:

Jan 05, 2006 -- 11:05:10 AM EST


A new study by two leading academic experts suggests that the costs of the Iraq war will be substantially higher than previously reckoned. In a paper presented to this week’s Allied Social Sciences Association annual meeting in Boston MA., Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes and Columbia University Professor and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz calculate that the war is likely to cost the United States a minimum of nearly one trillion dollars and potentially over $2 trillion.

The study expands on traditional budgetary estimates by including costs such as lifetime disability and health care for the over16,000 injured, one fifth of whom have serious brain or spinal injuries. It then goes on to analyze the costs to the economy, including the economic value of lives lost and the impact of factors such as higher oil prices that can be partly attributed to the conflict in Iraq. The paper also calculates the impact on the economy if a proportion of the money spent on the Iraq war were spent in other ways, including on investments in the United States

“Shortly before the war, when Administration economist Larry Lindsey suggested that the costs might range between $100 and $200 billion, Administration spokesmen quickly distanced themselves from those numbers,” points out Professor Stiglitz. “But in retrospect, it appears that Lindsey’s numbers represented a gross underestimate of the actual costs.”

The Allied Social Sciences Association meeting is attended by the nation’s leading economists and social scientists. It is sponsored jointly by the American Economic Association and the Economists for Peace and Security.

The Sublime

I think this is what Kant meant when he talks about the sublime in the Critique of Judgment aka the Third Critique.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Another possible definition of Communism (re: Althusser)

"Guard within yourself that treasure kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness." - George Sand

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Comments, Criticisms, Concerns Forwarded To...

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

—Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, 1918, in his essay “Lincoln and Free Speech”. (The whole essay is available in his collected works, published in 1926 by Scribner.)

Obvious yet novel and insightful

"Speaking lies for power pays so much better thant speaking truth to power."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Comedy or Lack Thereof

" 'On most shows nowadays,' he said, 'almost all the characters are stereotypes, or they embody one basic trait and very little else. And you have shows where all seven characters talk exactly like comedy writers. All the characters seem to be constantly cracking jokes--and, specifically, jokes meant to injure other people. My old girlfriend Maria once said that if anyone ever said to her even one of the things that people on sitcoms routinely say to each other she would probably burst into tears and go running out of the room.

" 'When you and I were kids, the average TV comedy was about a witch, or a Martian, or a goofy frontier fort, or a comical Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. That was the mainstream. Now the average comedy is about a bunch of people who hang around in some generic urban setting having conversations and sniping at each other. I remember watching, in the sixties, an episode of 'Get Smart' in which some angry Indians were aiming a sixty-foot arrow at Washington, and Max said something like 'That's the second biggest arrow I've ever seen,' and I thought, Oh, great, shows are just going to keep getting nuttier and nuttier. I never dreamed that television comedy would turn in such a dreary direction, so that all you would see is people in living rooms putting each other down.' "

David Owen, Taking Humor Seriously, The New Yorker, March 13, 2000, p. 75

I kind of like the put-down comedy that David Owen is putting down. Of course, one can only take so much. I get enough put down comedy from working at a bike shop, so I have no desire to want to watch it on television. But I can understand why watching people make snide jokes at each other is funny. It can also be depressing and sad to watch though. I agree with Owen's girlfriend's sentiments - sometimes in the bike shop I have been insulted so much that I have wanted to cry.

On the other hand, I don't really like nostalgia. I don't think the "good ole days" of comedy were that good. Although I certainly do not assume that history is progress, I also do not assume that history is regress. In general, I think the good ole days were crap and there's no need to relive them.

Just heard on Fox Affiliate News

Woman Anchor: "It's the oldest trick in the book."
Man Anchor: "Someone tries to lure a little girl with candy."

Violence in the 14th Century

"In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal's claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it. The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the pleasure of seeing him quartered.

"Violence was official as well as individual. Torture was authorized by the Church and regularly used to uncover heresy by the Inquisition. The tortures and punishments of civil justice customarily cut off hands and ears, racked, burned, flayed, and pulled apart people's bodies. In everyday life passersby saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls."

Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, the Calamitous 14th Century, Ballantine Books, 1978, p. 135

Monday, January 02, 2006

So there's this thing going around about the worst 10 Americans ever...

"The ten worst Americans, ever? Whatever their names, their crimes were plantation slavery and genocide of an entire continent. But revival of torture in the 21st century is close."

The answer isn't limited to 10, but I think it fits the bill.

That, and Edward Teller, Grover Norquist/Robert Mellon Scaife, Robert Moses, Bill O'Reilly, Ronald Reagan, James Inhofe, Ray Kroc, Hugh Hefner, Sam Walton.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Heck of a Job, Yooie"

Prof. Yoo is worthy of study as a master of the non sequitur defense. When challenged, he talks and talks but studiously avoids any substantive response. His book is in large part a defense of his "torture" memos, but its index reveals no mention of "torture," "war crimes," or any such inconveniences. At a recent debate in Berkeley with Prof. Peter Irons and Prof. Gordon Livingston, and again on NPR this week, Prof. Yoo blithely ignored direct challenges to his role in legitimizing torture, instead bloviating on abstract principles and dubious precedents. Neither the word "torture" nor any of its cognates ever passed his lips. Lawyers do this when their client's behavior has been indefensible: the murderer's advocate never talks to the jury about "the murder." He mentions it, if at all, as little as possible, and then only as "the incident."