Friday, October 29, 2004
Speaking of the vote
Changes in voting practices and in the enforcement of voting rights are widespread. From the LA Times, registration required:
"Bush administration lawyers argued in three closely contested states last week that only the Justice Department, and not voters themselves, may sue to enforce the voting rights set out in the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 election.
Veteran voting-rights lawyers expressed surprise at the government's action, saying that closing the courthouse door to aspiring voters would reverse decades of precedent.
Since the civil rights era of the 1960s, individuals have gone to federal court to enforce their right to vote, often with the support of groups such as the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters or the state parties. And until now, the Justice Department and the Supreme Court had taken the view that individual voters could sue to enforce federal election law.
But in legal briefs filed in connection with cases in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the administration's lawyers argue that the new law gives Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft the exclusive power to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions.
. . .
In one case the Sandusky County Democratic Party sued Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, arguing that the county's voters should be permitted to file provisional ballots even if they go to the wrong polling place on election day.
The Justice Department intervened as a friend of the court on Blackwell's side.
Saturday's decision in that case, and in other recent cases from Michigan and Florida, gave the department a partial victory. On the one hand, the courts agreed with state officials who said voters may not obtain a provisional ballot if they go to the wrong polling place.
However, all three courts that ruled on the matter rejected the administration's broader view that voters may not sue state election officials in federal court.
Still, the issue may resurface and prove significant next week if disputes arise over voter qualifications. Some election-law experts believe the administration has set the stage for arguing that the federal courts may not second-guess decisions of state election officials in Ohio, Florida or elsewhere."
Machiavelli would've been proud, I'm just revolted
The large number of challenges by the Republican Party of registered Democrats based on undelivered mail appears to be based on, well, a sort of, er, truly disgusting anti-democratic tactics. (Via Crooked Timber)
"When Catherine Herold received mail from the Ohio Republican Party earlier this year, she refused it.
The longtime Barberton Democrat wanted no part of the mailing and figured that by refusing it, the GOP would have to pay the return postage.
What she didn't count on was the returned mail being used to challenge the validity of her voter registration.
Herold,who is assistant to the senior vice president and provost at the University of Akron,was one of 976 Summit County voters whose registrations were challenged last week by local Republicans on behalf of the state party.
She went to the Board of Elections on Thursday morning to defend her right to vote and found herself among an angry mob -- people who had to take time off work to defend their right to vote.
After hearing some of the protests, the board voted unanimously to dismiss all 976 challenges.
The move, ironically, came from Republican board member Joseph Hutchinson and was seconded by Republican Alex Arshinkoff after they determined that the four local Republicans who made the challenges had no evidence to back up their claims. [I'm glad to see that there are Republicans in Ohio who aren't willing to subvert the equality of the vote to gain power, but still . . . from the party of abolition to this?!?!?.]
. . . . .
The challengers, all older longtime Republicans -- Barbara Miller, Howard Calhoun, Madge Doerler and Louis Wray -- were subpoenaed by the elections board and were present at the hearings. Akron attorney Jack Morrison, a Republican, volunteered to represent the four.
Democratic board member Russ Pry suggested that the four could be subject to criminal prosecution for essentially making false claims on the challenge forms. The form states that making a false claim is subject to prosecution as a fifth-degree felony.
On Morrison's advice, Miller then refused to take part in any hearings after Herold's, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination."
Thursday, October 28, 2004
The Republic Will Survive
"When democracy turns ugly, it's good to take a deep breath and remember that the Republic has survived a lot worse than this."
From "The Blood Red Moon," by William Greider, at The Nation.
Anthony Hecht, 1923-2004
The American poet Anthony Hecht died on Wednesday, October 20th.
"Mr. Hecht, who was 81, had won the Pulitzer Prize and many other awards when he moved to Washington in 1982 as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress -- one of the nation's highest honors for a poet. In 1985, after his two-year term expired, he became a professor at Georgetown University, from which he retired in 1993. He continued to write poems until near the time of his death.
'Anthony Hecht is indisputably one of the greatest poets of his age,' said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and a respected poet. 'He wrote unabashedly in the high style, but he did so with such emotional force and exquisite musicality that his poems went directly to your heart.'"
A poem, in memorium:
Chorus From Oedipus At Colonos
What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful;
And as for pleasures, once beyond our prime,
They all drift out of reach, they are washed away.
And the same gaunt bailiff calls upon us all.
Summoning into Darkness, to those wards
Where is no music, dance, or marriage hymn
That soothes or gladdens. To the tenements of Death.
Not to be born is, past all yearning, best.
And second best is, having seen the light.
To return at once to deep oblivion.
When youth has gone, and the baseless dreams of youth,
What misery does not then jostle man's elbow,
Join him as a companion, share his bread?
Betrayal, envy, calumny and bloodshed
Move in on him, and finally Old Age--
Infirm, despised Old Age--joins in his ruin,
The crowning taunt of his indignities.
So is it with that man, not just with me.
He seems like a frail jetty facing North
Whose pilings the waves batter from all quarters;
From where the sun comes up, from where it sets,
From freezing boreal regions, from below,
A whole winter of miseries now assails him,
Thrashes his sides and breaks over his head.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Mind controlled robots
From Wired (via DeLong):
"If a monkey is hungry but has his arms pinned, there's not much he can do about it. Unless that monkey can control a nearby robotic arm with his brain.
And that's exactly what the monkey in Andrew Schwartz's neurobiology lab at the University of Pittsburgh can do, feeding himself using a prosthetic arm controlled solely by his thoughts.
If mastered, the technology could be used to help spinal cord injuries, amputees or stroke victims. 'I still think prosthetics is at an early stage ... but this is a big step in the right direction,' said Chance Spalding, a bioengineering graduate student who worked on the project."
And then one day, we can implant our brains into well-armed robots that can fight wars in outerspace.
Another branch to human ancestry found
A new species in homo tree reveals that the pliestocene period was characterized by signifcant diversity in humanity.
"Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world.
The new species - dubbed 'the Hobbit' due to its small size - lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.
The fact that little people feature in the legends of modern Flores islanders suggests we might have to take tales of Bigfoot and the Yeti more seriously.
Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature."
One apparent consequence:
"'The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find.' Dr. Henry Gee, Nature"
Is it common to attribute cognitive biases to others while being blind to our own?
The study of cognitive biases has come a long way since Francis Bacon began it. Since Bacon, Marx and his succesors gave an enormous amount of effort to the study of ideology, fetishes, local-global fallacies, and fallacies of composition and division. Despite their often illuminating insights, many of them came to suffer from what they analyzed. Some cognitive psychological studies suggest that this tendency may be itself a common cognitive bias.
"Psychologist Frank J. Sulloway of the University of California at Berkeley and I [Michael Shermer] made a similar discovery of an attribution bias in a study we conducted on why people say they believe in God and why they think other people do so. In general, most individuals attribute their own faith to such intellectual reasons as the good design and complexity of the world, whereas they attribute others' belief in God to such emotional reasons as that it is comforting, that it gives meaning and that it is how they were raised."
The Subway turns 100
Today is the 100th birthday of New York City's subway system. While I am snapped out of my occasional, OK regular, frustrations with the subway only by a recognition that it has held up well for its age, I do have a sense of comfort every time I stand on a platform late at night. For me, it's one of the city's true social spaces where some image of unity without conformity is played out daily.
"Paul Schneider, 24, a headhunter from TriBeCa, was getting off the 6 at Canal Street, along the route of the original subway line that ran from the old City Hall station through Midtown and up to 145th Street. Though his daily routine has blurred his appreciation of the great institution through which he travels, he grew almost patriotic when thinking about the landmark the subway would reach the next day.
'It epitomizes New York City,' he said, and then added, taking in the station, 'Look at all the trash people throw around. They wouldn't do that in an old church.'
As midnight approached last night at the Jamaica yard, a tower operator, Marianne Kreuter, was ending her shift. She was pulling the big levers in the room overlooking the yard, preparing to send trains out into a new century. 'It's like choreographing a ballet,' Ms. Kreuter said as she flipped the switches on the control panel. 'And you can call me Georgette Balanchine.'"
Hitchens flip-flops . . . back to a sort of saner position
"Subjectively, Kerry should be put in the pillory for his inability to hold up on principle under any kind of pressure. Objectively, his election would compel mainstream and liberal Democrats to get real about Iraq.
The ironic votes are the endorsements for Kerry that appear in Buchanan's anti-war sheet The American Conservative, and the support for Kerry's pro-war candidacy manifested by those simple folks at MoveOn.org. I can't compete with this sort of thing, but I do think that Bush deserves praise for his implacability, and that Kerry should get his worst private nightmare and have to report for duty."
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Daniel Barenboim remembers Edward Said
"Edward Said was many things for many people, but in reality, his was a musician's soul, in the deepest sense of the word.
"He wrote about important universal issues such as exile, politics, integration. However, the most surprising thing for me, as his friend and great admirer, was the realisation that, on many occasions, he formulated ideas and reached conclusions through music; and he saw music as a reflection of the ideas that he had regarding other issues.
"This is one of the main reasons why I believe that Said was such an important figure. His journey through this world took place precisely at a time when the humanity of music, its human value as well as the value of thought, the transcendence of the idea written in sounds, were, and regrettably continue to be, concepts in decline."
More here in Daniel Barenboim's original and moving appraisal of the life and work of Edward Said.
Eric Drexler: Techno-prophet Outcast?
What's happened to the godfather of nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler?
"[T]here have always been scientists who considered Drexler part of the lunatic fringe. Six months before the NanoSummit [held in June 2004 in Washington, DC], his critics landed what may be a decisive one-two punch. On December 1, the technical journal Chemical and Engineering News published a series of letters between Drexler and Smalley in which the Nobelist made his position clear: Molecular assembly is impossible. 'Chemistry of the complexity, richness, and precision needed to come anywhere close to making a molecular assembler - let alone a self-replicating assembler - cannot be done simply by mushing two molecular objects together,' Smalley wrote.
It was a public takedown from the man fast replacing Drexler as nano's leading light. But Smalley wasn't done. In remarks so overheated that they bordered on bizarre, he accused Drexler of terrorizing the world with the prospect that self-reproducing assemblers might escape the lab and devour everything in their path, turning the Earth into an inert, undifferentiated blob of gray goo.
'You and people around you have scared our children,' Smalley fairly shouted in print. 'I don't expect you to stop, but I hope others in the chemical community will join with me in turning on the light and showing our children that, while our future in the real world will be challenging and there are real risks, there will be no such monster as the self-replicating mechanical nanobot of your dreams.'"
An analogy to explain reforming Social Security
Issue 2 of The Economists' Voice is out. As would be expected, most of the articles address issues central to the election. George Akerlof, brilliant man that he is, offers this nice analogy to explain the Social Security crisis and the problems of privatizing the fund.
Sixty percent of seniors get almost all their income from their social security check. For the next thirty percent it is most of the income they receive.
The administration plans to take care of the problem by privatization. But once again we see a magic wand. Privatization won’t work. It won’t work because it can’t work.
Privatization begins with the necessity of paying the social security for a whole missing generation.
Consider an analogy.
Consider a family with 12 children. These children pass their clothes down as they grow out of them.
That’s exactly like how we pay for social security. Social security is on a pay-go system. In our current system each generation pays for the social security and medicare support of the next.
Let’s return to the analogy. If the 12-child family decides to privatize its clothes — if each child is allowed to keep her own when they grow out of them— then the kids will have nothing to wear.
Useful for explaining the dilemma to those who don't get it.
Columbia Pays Its Respects to Morgenbesser
One thing is for sure, Sidney Morgenbesser was much loved. The memorial at Columbia this past Sunday was touching, and it reminded me of his deep decency, humility and brilliance. Noam Chomsky told a story of his first encounter with Sidney. Chomsky, as a undergraduate, saw a flyer for a course on philosophy of the social science taught by the visiting Hillel scholar in residence at Swarthmore, a young Sidney. He described Sidney, I think accurately, as perhaps the most insightful thinker on the issue ever. The first lecture was apparently brilliant and left the young Chomsky riveted. He went back to the second class, where a morose Sidney walks in announces that he knows nothing about the issue and cancels the course. But most of what was said at the memorial was about how his mind and his compassion were so intertwined.
"'There can be no taking the measure of Sidney, there can be no putting one’s finger on him, not on this occasion not on any other,' said David Albert, after welcoming attendees on behalf of the Columbia philosophy department, describing him as too vast, deep, complicated, funny, and fast.
'Most of us are going to be talking about him for the rest of our lives. And other people are going to be talking about him after we’re gone. And I suspect we are never going to hear the end of him.'
Mr. Albert described Morgenbesser as a 'philosopher in the nearly gigantic, primordial sense of the word' who knew better than most that knowledge is hard.
Mr. Albert recalled how at Morgenbesser’s funeral, sociologist Allan Silver said that Sidney had raised embarrassment to a place of high moral dignity."
And it was a sight to see.
The Election and What to do About It
As we come down to the wire, take a look at the beautifully designed NYTimes.com 2004 Election Guide, which represents the best potential use of the web as a uniquely capable transmitter of information. Be sure to have a browse - if the scary closeness of the race worries you, channel that anxiety by doing some volunteer work, perhaps here (full disclosure: I work with them). You will feel much better, and will certainly make much more of a difference than if you simply vote.
Monday, October 25, 2004
Sympathy for the Devil
"The British Armed Forces has officially recognised its first registered Satanist. Naval technician Chris Cranmer, 24, has been allowed to register by the captain of HMS Cumberland, based at Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth. The move will mean that he will now be allowed to perform Satanic rituals on board the vessel."
Really? Huh. Read more from the BBC here.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Michael Jackson, Cult Stud
In an uncharacteristic move, the NY Times has printed excerpts from a Yale conference on Michael Jackson, with remarkably few snarky contextual comments. My favorite makes an understated but convincing observation of the similarities between the public sexual images of Michael and Ricky Martin. Another, more obvious excerpt analyzes the screwdriver held by Wesley Snipes' character in the video for 'Bad.' You'll never guess what it represents.
Friday, October 22, 2004
The temporary free access to Sage journals to expire on Halloween
For those who do not have access to a University account and/or things like JSTOR but do want to browse the academic journals, Sage publications free access to all its online journals ends on October 31st. So, go ahead and take a look while it's still convenient.
What to look for on election night, to start feeling anxious early
Via Crooked Timber, Contrapositive has a cheat-sheet for the Presidential election results, what's expected by each camp, what each needs, and what to look for by every half hour of election night. Illuminating; though, the bottom reads "Bush needs: 266" electoral college votes (269 for each candidate is a tie, and heaven help us if it goes to the House).
The first clear sign to look for:
But first and foremost: If Bush wins New Jersey, it's over. Find a bad movie on cable, break out the booze, and cry yourself to sleep.
And in Pennsylvania: If Kerry is down here, it'll be wise to at least keep the booze close at hand.
But it's really hard to imagine that New Jersey would go to Bush.
Another take on nature and normativity
Inspired by Giblets and Fafnir's debate on October 16th on whether "sucking" reduces to the natural properties of the Yankees and Lindsay Beyerstein's thoughts on the matter of naturalizing normative propositions, I thought I'd link to this review of Joseph Rouse's How Scientific Practices Matter: Reclaiming Philosophical Naturalism. (via politicaltheory.info)
Rouse. . . argues that the real problem isn’t the failure to show how the ontologically separate worlds of the normative and the natural interact, but the splitting of the two in the first place. According to Rouse, the split is indicative of a lingering Cartesian representationalism, and the only solution is to stop conceiving of the normative and the material as separate–the two are constitutive of each other. As he explains in one of those sentences that immediately call out for a sticky note: 'The articulation of what we are accountable to is inseparable from the practical process of holding ourselves accountable to it.' . . . What Rouse contributes to the debate is to argue the reverse point as well, viz., that the field of meaningful human activity is best construed as 'intra-active' with and constitutive of the natural world.
And he appears to try to defend the point through many challenges, Quinean indeterminacy, the sociology of science, science as convention and practice . . . you get the drift.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Howells on "The Philippine Problem"
"Yes, I think we should stop hostilities at once. Why not? I don't see why we can't order a truce, and then, when the President and his Commission have reported to Congress, let us make the Filipinos a final offer of a scheme of government, and abide by their acceptance or rejection of it."
From the American writer William Dean Howells on the U.S. invasion of The Philippines, originally published on October 17th, 1899, in The New York Evening Post. Read the whole essay here at Jim Zwick's archive of Anti-Imperialist essays from 1898-1935.
"The war in Iraq has become a costly trap from which the United States should extricate itself soon."
From Stanley Hoffman's essay "Out of Iraq" in the October 21st issue of the NYRB.
Memorial for Morgenbesser
For those of you who knew him and/or are interested, Columbia will hold a memorial service for Sidney Morgenbesser this Sunday (October 24th) at Low Library at 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Thinking about an American Imperium
Somewhere in The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso offered the observation that one day the United States woke up and discovered that it was an empire, but it didn't know what an empire was. So it ran its empire like a giant corporation. I don't think that's true, but the question--what, if anything, is the American empire--is one that a lot of people grapple with.
Tony Judt reviews some recent attempts and offers some things to ponder.
"The challenge facing American voters in the coming elections is not to find a president who can convince the world that the US isn't an empire—or else, if it is an empire, that its intentions are honorable. That argument has been lost and is now beside the point. Nor is it even a question of choosing between being loved and being feared. Thanks to America's performance in Iraq—and our evident inability to plan one war at a time, much less two—we are neither loved nor feared. We have shocked the world, yes; but few now hold us in awe.
. . . we should not be surprised that America has ceased to be an example to the world. The real tragedy is that we are no longer an example to ourselves. America's born-again president insists that we are engaged in the war of Good against Evil, that American values 'are right and true for every person in every society.' Perhaps. But the time has come to set aside the Book of Revelation and recall the admonition of the Gospels: For what shall it profit a country if it gain the whole world but lose its own soul?"
How some public figures are intending to vote
Speaking of evolutionary psychology, Reasononline surveyed some noted journalists, thinkers, and public figures on how they plan to vote. Some responses:
"Steven Pinker . . .
2004 vote: Kerry. The reason is reason: Bush uses too little of it. In the war on terror, his administration stints on loose-nuke surveillance while confiscating nail clippers and issuing color-coded duct tape advisories. His restrictions on stem cell research are incoherent, his dismissal of possible climate change inexcusable."
The one that surprised me:
[Supply-side guru] "Jude Wanniski . . .
2004 vote: Bush does not deserve to be re-elected, and Kerry does not deserve to be elected -- Bush because of Iraq and Kerry because his economics are dreadful. I’m leaning toward Kerry because I prefer recession to imperialist war . . ."
How quickly it all boils down to debates on evolutionary psychology
Quite often, I'm amazed how discussions of some topic become discussions of evolutionary psychology and (d)evolve into soci-odicy vs bi-odicy. Being Millian on these things, I think that these fights are by and large good, save the ad hominem attacks that spring up regularly.
Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber has a post on explanations of why one is more likely to find older and richer men married to younger women than older rich women married to younger men and on evolutionary psychology. The post evolved, so to speak, from a back and forth with David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy on gender and stereotypes.
"Relations between the sexes provide the most fertile soil for the proliferation of the MSU [Make Shit Up] branch of EP [evolutionary psychology]. Gender roles are deeply institutionalized — that is, they are highly scripted and chronically reproduced — and we like nothing better than to think of our institutions as inevitable or natural. I can see how very widespread trends — such as men being slightly older than women at first marriage, for instance — might be traced back to very ancient social arrangements, though even here there’s enough variation to make it a difficult sell. Neither am I opposed to the idea that there are very basic drives or predispositions that go back very far which might reliably generate patterns of social organization or culture. But it also seems obvious to me that ideas about the appropriate relations between the sexes — or races, classes, nations, or whatever you like — thrive best if they appear to be emanations from the mind of God or the structure of DNA."
Read the whole thing, threads included.
At heart I think is the periodic reconsideration of something else, the reductionism (of values and value terms to physical properties) that G.E. Moore sought to refute (by the 'naturalistic fallacy' argument). (Yes, I'm reading into all this my own thought and interest on intellectual, cultural zeitgeists.) Now seems to be such a moment; for example, Abbas, to out him on this, thinks that the naturalistic fallacy is itself wrong, at least globally on various stability criteria. (I'm skeptical.) In either case, the very open question nature of these positions make them reoccuring.
But read around back to the original piece, and you'll get a sense of how far EP has come in the popular consciousness.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
New Nigerian Fiction - Adichie
"The secret of Adichie's style is simplicity, rhythm and balance. She writes a poet's sentences. On the cashew tree outside the bedroom window, 'the bell-shaped yellow fruits hung lazily, drawing buzzing bees that bumped against my window's netting.' There is no wilful exoticism: no playing to the gallery of Western expectation; but surprising and elegant juxtapositions keep the reader's attention poised: 'Dust-laden winds of harmattan came with December. They brought the scent of the Sahara and Christmas.' She works through delicate insights and half-glimpses; despite the tough and intractable material, and her rigour in confronting it, the final impression of the novel is of gentleness, gravity and grace."
From "I have washed my feet out of it," Hillary Mantel's essay on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the LRB.