December 2005

2005 12 26
Aspiration, perspiration

Posted by in: Anecdotal

In a move that captures well the basic tension in my life between aspiration and reality, I remembered to pack the condoms but not my deodorant.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 12 20
Light posting ahead

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

Yoon, the dog, and I are heading back to Ottawa for a few days tomorrow. After that, the American Philosphical Association is meeting in NYC and I’ll be consumed for a few days by that wild orgy of speculatin’ and talkin’. So, few posts, or even no posts at all, until the end of the month. I think I’ll close comments too, since I just know I won’t be able to relax if I know that evil spammers are defiling my site. Damn it, defiling the site is my job.

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2005 12 18
Praise and blame

I have an enormous backlog of comments to make about Normblog, but no time or energy to do much about it. Plus, I have a pretty serious conflict of interest since Norm bought me a coffee on his last trip to NYC and I’m angling for another if he ever returns. Still, here’s a quick point about this:

Through gritted teeth:
Opponents of the war in Iraq may be irritated at the triumphal notes emanating from Washington and London after Thursday’s peaceful election. George Bush – who mentioned the word “victory” no less than 15 times in a recent speech – called the event “historic”. Tony Blair went for “extraordinary and inspiring”. The adjectives are not incorrect.

Not incorrect. Naturally, however, amongst the many qualifications that follow there’s one to the effect that if there were to be a good outcome not much credit would be due to those who cleared the way for it by removing the Baathist regime. Funny how the discredit for everything that has gone wrong does seem to be wholly theirs. It’s called making a balance sheet, you know.

I’m not sure if I understand Norm correctly here. For one thing, the “wholly” makes the position that Norm is arguing against quite extreme, and obviously indefensible. Indeed, I doubt very much that many people actually believe that the Bush/Blair crew is literally wholly responsible for everything that has happened, even if they tend for various reasons to save most of their energy and scorn for the Bush/Blair crew. So perhaps the position I want to defend isn’t a position that Norm is trying to argue against.

But anyway, what I’m interested in here is the idea – if Norm means to suggest it – that we ought to give Bush credit for positive results of the invasion as much as blame for the negative results, since by being responsible for the invasion he’s responsible for both sets of consequences. Sometimes we do indeed hold people equally to the good and bad consequences of their actions. But if there’s a valid general principle lurking somewhere around here, it’s application is going to be tricky business.

Suppose I maliciously shove John, and he accidentally falls into the path of Jane, putting her attempted bank robbery to an end*. In that case we’re not likely to heap praise on me for stopping Jane but blame me for maliciously shoving John. That’s because, whether we’re thinking about my character or about the character of the action, our praise and blame typically take into consideration my intentions, as well as the consequences of my action.

Pragmatic considerations may also guide our decisions about praise and blame, apart from any considerations about character or intention. Suppose that I am a well-meaning guy, but also so clumsy that my attempts to help others often end in their injury or death. Suppose that this leads to my having a reputation. Bystanders have seen me guide a little old lady unwittingly into the path of a bus while attempting to help her across the street; they have seen me drop a baby down the stairs in the subway while attempting the good deed of carrying a baby cart for someone; etc. But one day, although I am growing discouraged with my good samaritanism, I actually succeed in helping someone across the street without his being injured. Now, in this case, it would be reasonable for people to be cautious about praising me much at all. Everyone can see that I’ve finally managed to do something right, no one regrets it, and everyone can see that my intentions have been good all along. But given my track-record it would be reckless to praise me: praise at this point might encourage and empower me to “help” even more people, and it’s probably best for everyone, or almost everyone, in the long run if I just stop trying.

Now, I’m trying to make a few really basic and general points about the logic of praise and blame here. I’m not going to bother to tie them back again to the question of Iraq and the Bush/Blair crew. To do that, I would need to say a lot about the relevant characters, intentions and effects. But of course I do think that a clear view of the relevant characters, intentions and effects would support our giving no, or very little, credit to the Bush/Blair crew for any good that comes of the Iraq war, and an awful lot of blame for the bad effects. And there’s nothing necessarily inconsistent about that. Moreover, while I would try to give credit where it’s due if I thought much credit were due to Bush, I wouldn’t want to dwell on it much. He’s done so much harm already, and the last thing I would want to do is encourage him to “help” even more people.

* Assume for the sake of argument that robbing a bank is morally wrong.

UPDATE: Norm is not convinced that the cases I’ve given apply to the Iraq War. That’s understandable, since I haven’t given him any reason to think that they do. My only ambition in this post was to make the point that it isn’t necessarily inconsistent or incoherent to withhold praise for the good consequences of an act or policy while laying on the blame thick – as I thought Norm might be suggesting, and as I thought Norm might have suggested in the past but couldn’t be bothered to double-check. At any rate, I think the point I’ve made in the post was worth making since it blocks any quick and easy criticism of the Bush/Blair critics who do this, since the quick and easy criticism seems to rest on the (false) general principle. Of course, the Bush/Blair critics have their work to do too, since sometimes it is inconsistent to withhold praise and direct blame in this way.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 12 18
CNN Breaking News

Posted by in: Political issues

I get breaking news email alerts from CNN, and this one just plunked into my email:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is wheeled into a hospital where he is described as being conscious but confused.

I know it’s in bad taste to poke fun at someone else’s health problems, but . . . I can’t help pointing out that I’ve been describing Mr. Sharon in that way for years.

Update: Ah, I see it was a minor stroke. So, yes, yes, I’m a bad, bad person. Even worse, I think I hurt my back reaching down for the low hanging fruit.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 12 17
Judith Miller still alive and well at NYT

Posted by in: Media criticism


Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

Via Atrios, Bill Keller on why the Times held off on publishing the domestic spying story:

Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions.

First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood.

Some tumors, they grow back.

UPDATE: It’s worse than you thought.

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2005 12 16
Just in time to remind me why I left that frozen hell

Posted by in: Anecdotal, Canada

In a few days I’m returning to Ottawa for a few days, the site of almost all my early suffering – excuse me – growing up. But, it seems, Ottawa is already opening its snowy arms to embrace me on my return. Fuck you, Ottawa. No, seriously. No place should be that cold and snowy.

Howls of outrage (5)

2005 12 15
Prolegomena to any future post about philosophy book recommendations

Posted by in: Books, Philosophy

Everyone once in a while – usually at a party, it seems – someone – usually someone drunk, now that I think about it – asks me – probably just to make small talk, I guess – to recommend books to satisfy his or her interest in philosophy. I usually manage to rattle off a book or two, but recently I’ve gotten it into my head that I could be giving more useful and systematic advice – because what’s sadder than giving earnest, systematic advice to a drunk person who’s only trying to make small talk? To that end, I thought I would write a post here naming a few books and briefly describing them, and then I could just point people to this post instead of actually, you know, having to talk to them. But before I do that, I thought I would ask our ginormous readership for its advice. (If crowds are wise, I figure, how much wiser would a wise crowd be? The mind boggles.)

So, what books meet the following criteria?

— Interesting, and so not consumed by minutae about X’s (minor!) modifications to X’s position in the light of Y’s (mostly misguided!) criticisms of X’s previous (trenchant!) responses to Z’s criticisms of X’s advisor.

— Accessible, or at least, reasonably accessible, to the non-philosopher.

— Challenging. Cause deep thoughts are hard.

I’m looking for recommendations in both historical works of philosophy as well as contemporary stuff. And I’m looking for recommendations across a range of topics.

Any thoughts?

Howls of outrage (23)

2005 12 13
The Lancet Report in the news

Here’s a passing mention of the Lancet Report in the WaPo today:

An epidemiological study published in the British journal the Lancet last year estimated 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months since the invasion based on door-to-door interviews in selected neighborhoods extrapolated across the country, an estimate that other experts and human rights groups considered inflated.

I’m really not up on all the debates about the report, but that strikes me as a pretty misleading presentation of it. Three quick points.

1.The WaPo piece seems to misrepresent what the 100,000 figure stood for: excess deaths above the ordinary mortality rate, whereas the author of the WaPo piece has just been discussing studies of casualties directly caused by the war. True, many of the deaths noted in the Lancet Report were violent ones, but the studies still measure different things. (Also, the WaPo piece seems to suggest that casualties are best calculated using the methods of the Iraqi Body Count. But those methods must surely grossly undercount the dead, since they rely on incidents reported in the media and human rights reports.)

2. Second, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the 100,000 figure, which has been bandied about quite a bit by both sides (either to discredit the report or the invasion). The range of excess deaths specified by the report actually went from 8,000 to 200,000, with the 100,000 figure falling between these extremes. But as Daniel Davies never tired of pointing out, that is consistent with the number of deaths being much higher than the 100,000 figure, as well as lower.

3. The author of the WaPo piece goes out of his way to make the Lancet Report sound thoroughly discredited by every sensible observer on the political scene. That’s complete bullshit, of course. I haven’t examined the report. Indeed, I wouldn’t know how to do that. But I do know that sensible, credible people found the report solid and mainly convincing once the dust had settled. If it’s failed to move the experts that the WaPo author respects, I suspect that’s better explained by a psychological or a sociologist than an epidemiologist.

True, the author of the WaPo piece had to compress a vigorous debate about the Lancet Report into a single paragraph in a longer piece of writing. That can’t be easy, and it makes #2 understandable, if unfortunate. But even a short paragraph was enough to reveal that the author surely hasn’t read – or at least understood – the report and the debate surrounding the report. Since the piece is about Iraqi deaths, you’d think that would be a priority.

Further reading: Tim Lambert’s posts on the subject.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 12 12
Cory Maye

Is getting a very raw deal. Spread the word.

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2005 12 10
Recent eating

Posted by in: Food

Well, you clicked all the way over here, so the least I can do is send you away hungry.

Three characters from the sidebar were over for dinner this evening: Nick, Brad and “A”. I made fresh pasta for the occasion. Here’s the pasta after I put it through the press and right before I stuck it into the fridge to settle.

Yummy huh? But how about a close up?

And just two hours later, it was all in our bellies.

Alas, when they got here I forgot to take a picture of the full meal. I made pasta sauce with meatballs. I find the trick with pasta sauce is to use things that are roasted, so that you get a nice smokey flavour: fire roasted red peppers, fire roasted tomatos, and then I roast some garlic in olive oil and squeeze it out into the sauce. (Then I blend it all with a hand blender.) The other trick: Use beef broth in your sauce. The meatballs were baked separately first. Tonight, I used a blend of turkey and beef.

I also served a salad of baby spinnach and lettuce with a dressing which contained: anchovies, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, dijon mustard, and sherry vinegar. It’s nice to grind the anchovies in with the other ingredients using a mortar and pestle. Wait until the last minute, and then throw the dressing on the salad, and sprinkle freshly grated parmesian cheese.

I forgot to blog our meal last Sunday. It was the first day it snowed in NYC, so of course everything had to grind to a halt to celebrate Snow Day properly. We made duck again, this time using a very simple mushroom and red wine sauce. The salad was thrown together using: lettuce, an anjou pear, tomato, gorgonzola cheese, and other stuff I’m too lazy to remember. Here it is:

Howls of outrage (5)

2005 12 07
Heh. Bleh.

Posted by in: Political issues

You thought he was going religicize. He rejects that:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Christmas Pageant of Peace. Laura and I are so honored to join you all. The lighting of the National Christmas tree is one of the great traditions in our Nation’s Capital. Each year, we gather here to celebrate the season of hope and joy — and to remember the story of one humble life that lifted the sights of humanity.

Santa, thanks for coming. (Laughter.)

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2005 12 06
The Colbert Report

Posted by in: Pop Culture, Pundits

I went to a taping of The Colbert Report yesterday evening. It was reasonably entertaining. He does a fantastic O’Reilly impersonation, though I imagine that’ll get old soon, if it hasn’t already. Maureen Dowd was the special guest. In the very brief interview, she managed to say things that were even stupider than I expected, which is quite an accomplishment. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 12 04
Not a light or funny post, and yet it’s about balls.

Posted by in: Health

My friend Jeremy, age 30, happened to go to a medical talk last week. The speaker urged everyone in attendance to do regular self-checks of the testicles most dear to them. So Jeremy went home, and what the hell, checked. He found a lump. Went to the doctor the next day, it was a malignant and fast-growing tumor. He had surgery to remove the cancerous testicle two days later. Doing the self-check saved his life. (Going to the talk saved his life… how many talks can you say that about?)

I spoke to him today, and he asked that I spread the word to everyone I could, so here goes. I have never given testicular cancer much thought, and neither had he. He’d never routinely done self-checks before.

Apparently ages 25-35 (plus a few years on either end) are the prime years for it. The treatment is very successful if you catch it early. But the tumors are incredibly, incredibly aggressive. The doctor thinks if Jeremy had found his tumor only a couple of weeks later, it would have already spread — but the doctor also told him the tumor probably only started within the last month.

So check. Every 2 weeks.

Howls of outrage (6)

2005 12 02

Posted by in: Food

One, two, three.

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2005 12 01
Choi and Sacks at the 5C Cafe

Posted by in: Music

Looking for Friday night fun? Come to an early show at the 5C Cafe.

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

The Restless Music Series
Yoon Sun Choi and Jacob Sacks with special guest, Ben Monder
Venue: 5C Cafe
Location: New York, NY
Time: 7:00pm-9:00pm
Cover: $8

This has been another completely disinterested announcement from the staff here at Explananda.

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