Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, April 23, 2004

So why don't I hear any freedom around here?

Q (Through interpreter.) Ibrahim Hassan (sp), from an organization of Family Kurds. A group of families have recommended me to give you a message that is in form of a question, so please be so honest in answering this question.
The helicopters who are flying a low profile in the areas where they are fully populated, in different times and different circumstances, so that also has just scared the children and the innocent people and the families, and also consequently so some of those members of the families have been inflicted and they just were scared, and there have been so many diseases -- psychological diseases, skin diseases also, due to these -- I mean, illegal flying low profile helicopters in those areas. So they are just seeking for a solution. If it is possible, please find a solution to save the lives of those people who are -- who were harmed and inflicted with harm because of these actions.

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, number one, the low-profile helicopter flights have a purpose. It allows our helicopters to fly low and fast. It allows them to conduct their operations to provide security to the people of Iraq.
Having spent most of my adult life either on or near military posts, married to a woman who teaches in the schools, you often hear the sounds of tank firing. You often hear the sounds of artillery rounds going off. And she seems to be quite capable of calming the children and letting them understand that those booms and those bangs that they hear are simply the sounds of freedom.


Not a Chain Letter

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open to page 23.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the sentence on your blog along with these instructions.

(via Pharyngula)

They posessed no weapons, they had probably not mastered the use of fire, and if they had language of any sort it must have consisted of no more than a few cries.
Bertrand Russell, new hopes for a changing world, 1951


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Commonplace Book


Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen

With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men

And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee:

"Come forth. Come forth, my Borderer, and ride the March with me!"

I said, "Oh! Wind of Lammermoor, the night's too dark to ride,

And all the men that fill the glen are ghosts of men that died!

The floods are down in Bowmont Burn, the moss is fetlock-deep;

Go back, wild Wind of Lammermoor, to Lauderdale -and sleep!"

Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, "We know the road right well,

The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell.

There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine

But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne!

The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,

The riders swung them to the South full-faced to their desire;

"Come," said the Wind from Lammermoor, and spoke full scornfully,

"Have ye no pride to mount and ride your fathers' road with me?

A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far,

A snorting roan that tossed his head and flashed his forehead star;

Then came the sound of clashing steel and hoof-tramp up the glen.

And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men!

I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet!

I know not if the stirks grew tired before the stars were set!

I only know that late last night when Northern winds blew free,

A troop of men rode up the glen and brought a horse for me!

Will H Ogilvie


Commonplace book

I Wish I Were In Love Again

The sleepless nights
The daily fights
The quick toboggan when you reach the heights
I miss the kisses and I miss the bites
I wish I were in love again

The broken dates
The endless waits
The lovely loving and the hateful hates
The conversations with the flying plates
I wish I were in love again

No more pain
No no more strain
Now I'm sane
But I'd rather be punch drunk

The flying fur of cat and cur
The fine mismatching of a him and her
I've learned my lesson but
I wish I were in love again

The furtive sigh
The blackened eye
The words I love you 'til the day I die
The self-deception that believes that lie
I wish I were in love again

When love congeals
It soon reveals
The faint aroma of performing seals
The double-crossing of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again

No more care
No more despair
Now I'm all there
But I'd rather be punch drunk

Believe me sir, I much prefer
The classic battle of a him and her
I don't like quiet and I wish I were
In love again
In love again



Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Rats in the ship

Ray says (over on Pandagon) "it is quite possible to be an agnostic, believe that the existence of God cannot be disproven, and yet believe that it could, conceivably, be proven -- by example.

Sort of like the mathematical distinctions between things like np-complete, np-complex, and so forth: Knowing that you can't prove that a solution of type [x] exists doesn't mean that one won't come up; it just means that you can't know in advance, and that failure to find such a solution doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. Or, as Zen Master Rumsfeld would have it, there are your known unknowns, and your unknown unknowns...

I think that if you asked most agnostics, "Can you conceive of any set of circumstances which would convince you that God exists?" that they could, indeed, do so. Carl Sagan's "hidden messages in the digits of Pi" is a fun and subtle example; the sudden announcement, by a thundering and disembodied voice from the sky, that "I AM GOD, AND FROM THIS POINT FORWARD ALL PEOPLE NAMED 'DAVE' WILL HAVE BLUE EYES," followed by the discovery that such a thing had, in fact, transpired, would be a somewhat less subtle proof-by-example. I would submit that either anyone who could emerge from such a demonstration with their doubts intact would have to be considered an atheist, or that the term "God" would have to have lost all meaning."

I can't see that the second of these - the eyes thing - would have any proof value at all. It would prove that a being existed who called himself God who had power to change eyes, but it wouldn't prove that that entity had any resemblance at all to anything that had previously been known as 'god'; and as 'god' is a noun as well as a name that would mean that he might be 'God' but wouldn't have any better claim to be 'god'.

If the digits of pi did indeed spell out the text of the old and new testaments, correcting a few obvious typos, that would be more telling, but still not decisive. The point is, as Kiekergaard said, the kind of 'god' we've invented is over and above humanity to the extent that we don't really have any point of contact. If an infinitely wise and powerful being could speak, we couldn't understand him, because our 'minds' touch at no point. There is, correspondingly, no chance of proving his existence. K moves from this to existential faith, I go the other way, but I accept his argument that it's faith or nothing.


Monday, April 19, 2004


At least half the headlines in the morning's paper could be replaced with one of the following;


Land o'Goshen, Scrooge

novelist Charlie Haas writes the following poignant letter:

"Dear Sir: Can you help me? I read in the newspaper recently that a large number of ejaculations may offer protection from prostate cancer.

"So far today I have used 'Egad, sir!' ' 'Sblood!,' 'Crimminy!,' 'Oh my God!,' 'For Pete's sake!,' 'Man oh man!,' 'You go, girl!,' 'My stars and garters!,' 'Dadgum it!,' 'Amen!,' 'Land sakes!,' 'Get out!,' 'Ay, caramba!,' 'Jeepers!,' 'Jump back!,' 'I'll be a monkey's uncle!,' 'How dare you!,' 'Outta sight!,' 'Dang!,' 'Gosh!,' 'Lord have mercy!,' 'I swan!,' 'No way!,' 'Land o' Goshen!,' 'Tuff!,' 'Bitchin'!,' 'Cold for days!,' 'Wizard!,' 'Dig!,' 'Sheesh!, ' 'Hoo boy!,' 'Jumping Jehoshaphat!,' 'Great Caesar's ghost!,' 'Ay que vida!,' 'Did you ever?,' I never!,' 'Right on!,' 'Dog my cats!,' 'Sufferin' succotash!, ' 'Oy vey!,' 'I'll be damned!,' 'I'll be switched!,' 'Tell it!,' 'The nerve!,' 'Sure and begorra!,' 'Holy cow!,' 'Son of a gun!,' 'Word up!,' 'Far out!' and 'Hell's bells!'

"Do you know if I can use these again tomorrow, or do I have to think of new ones? It's not easy working all of them into normal conversation, but I guess it beats chemo."


Plan of Attack

The title of Woodward's new whitewash does bring up some echoes.

The General
‘GOOD-MORNING; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967)
Counter-Attack and Other Poems. 1918.

All he missed was the turkey.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Proposed new constitutional arrangements

It is now generally accepted that
• The majority of Australians want an Australian to be head of state:
• The majority of Australians are averse to any very large changes in our constitutional arrangements;
• The web of accumulated, derived, and developed constitutional roles and functions of the crown in Australia cannot be transferred from the royal family unless they can be defined, and any attempt at definition brings forth such disagreement as to split the parties into mutually repugnant and uncooperative camps.

This being the case, only the arrangements I propose can square the circle and allow Australians to have what they agree they want.

1. Australia shall be ruled by a titular monarch.
This permits all existing constitutional structures, understandings and conventions to be carried on unaltered, with the governor-general standing in for the monarch and his or her powers and duties to remain as they have been, whatever that might be, with all existing ambiguity and uncertainty retained unaltered.

2. The monarch shall be chosen by computer by random selection from all persons on the Australian electoral roll born on a randomly chosen day .
This ensures that
a) the monarch will be an Australian citizen and
b) the election or appointment of the monarch will not cause divisions among the populace.

3. The identity of the chosen monarch shall remain in the custody of the computer, neither the governor-general, the government, the public, or the person concerned being informed.

This means that
a) every Australian could not only aspire to being King or Queen, but every 365th Australian could believe that they might already be King or Queen – producing that pleasant tickle existing at the back of the mind in the time between buying a lottery ticket and the draw, only indefinitely prolonged for no expense
b) the person chosen would not be stressed by sudden fame or corrupted by unexpected power.

4. The only possible objection to this plan would be that as the law now stands the monarch cannot be tried in his or her own courts, and unless appropriate arrangements were made every 365th person brought into court could plead that as it could not be proved they were not king or queen the matter would have to be dismissed; this defect could be cured, however, by introducing a constitutional fiction – the only significant change in the constitutional fabric required by my scheme – to the effect that Australian citizenship involves the waiving of any rights under this head.

Any nation that can give a real Queen an imaginary birthday should have no problem giving a real birthday an imaginary Queen.

While it might be objected that this proposal is ludicrous, its great merit is that it is considerably less ludicrous either than the existing system of privileging the heirs of Guillaume le Conquerant or the alternative proposal of going through all the trouble and expense of electing a president empowered to do no more than open fĂȘtes. I look forward, in the first instance, to its immediate adoption by the Senate Committee.


It's funny because it's true

"The lesson of Vietnam is that once you make the initial mistake, little you do afterward is right."
linked from Atrios

This has been put even better in Higgin's crime novel "Digger's Game", where the hitman says of his victim (from memory)
"He made two mistakes. The first mistake was knocking over the craps game, and the second mistake was making the first mistake, the way it always is."


Quis custodiet?

The trouble with paying judges large sums is that there is no valid basis for setting performance criteria. In any given case, either the plaintiff or the defendant will think justice has been done - one of of two people. With judges of particular wisdom and authority, this ratio can rise as high as 50%; if the judges are venal and stupid, it can fall as low as one-half. Perhaps we could save some money by hiring people who look good in wigs and giving them an unbiased coin.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

It's funny because it's true

"Of course it's natural for those who favored invading Iraq to see mostly good news from there, because bad news suggests that they might have been wrong. Contrariwise for opponents of invading Iraq.

There is no more destructive force in human affairs -- not greed, not hatred -- than the desire to have been right. Non-attachment to possessions is of trivial value in comparison with non-attachment to opinions."

Posted by Mark Kleiman



Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A smaller splash

God was walking around the world, the old Mexican story goes, along the road to Saragossa. He met an old lady, and asked "Where are you going?"

"To Saragossa, God willing." she said.

"Go well!" God said. He met a priest, and asked "Where are you going?"

"To Saragossa, God willing." he said.

"Go well!" God said. He met an old man, and asked "Where are you going?"

"To Saragossa." the old man said.

God turned the old man into a frog and threw him into a nearby puddle and left him there for a day and a night to think about things. Then he turned him back into his former shape. The old man started walking again. "Where are you going?" God asked.

"To Saragossa." the old man said. "Or, back into that puddle."

Words to live by.


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