Three Oracles

by Henry on December 4, 2003

I’m reading Michael Wood’s “The Road To Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles”: now; there’s a lot of meat to it. The book considers the fascination that oracles exert, and traces some of it back to their mixture of infallibility and ambiguity; they tell us the truth, but not necessarily in a form that we can recognize or use.

bq. Oracle-stories characteristically not only center on equivocation as part of their plot, the way they make the oracle come out right. They are _about_ equivocation. They need the oracle to be both right and wrong; they need more than one outcome to lurk from the start in the oracle’s utterance.

I imagine that this is not only fertile matter for literary criticism (Wood is professor of English at Princeton), but for philosophy too. However, my skills aren’t well-suited to these debates, so I’ll confine myself to recommending the book, admiring the catholicism of Wood’s choice of examples, and suggesting a few of my own. Wood draws on a remarkably broad selection of sources; not only Sophocles and Shakespeare, but Philip K. Dick’s _The Man in the High Castle_. Still, there are many literary oracles that receive no mention; here are three of my favorites.

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Fair and balanced

by Ted on December 4, 2003

Regarding Robert Bartley, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, you might be interested in this long, detailed article from the Columbia Journalism Review about the trustworthiness of the Wall Street Journal editorial page under his leadership. It’s well worth reading.

Just one example out of many:

In late 1994 (the WSJ editorial page) targeted Peter Edelman, then counselor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who was being considered for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. The Journal said that when Edelman was director of New York State’s Division for Youth in 1978, he ordered a one-week furlough for a seventeen-year-old who had knifed a girl during a robbery. While on his furlough, the youth was arrested on charges of raping, robbing, and trying to electrocute a sixty-three-year-old woman.

That the Journal’s charge was not true was eventually pointed out in a letter, published about three weeks later, written by J. Thomas Mullen, president of the Catholic Charities Services Corp. in Cleveland, who had worked with Edelman in New York. Under the structure of the agency, Edelman did not order transfers or furloughs, but he could override them, particularly when there was a concern about security, which he did in this case. But by the time he had ordered the boy picked up and returned to the facility, it was too late.

It was also too late for Edelman’s nomination. Under pressure from the right wing’s judicial attack machine, Clinton got cold feet, and Edelman’s name never went to the Senate…

“They were almost indifferent as to whether what they wanted to say comported with dispassionate factual reality,” says Taylor, who is now a senior writer at The American Lawyer.

Whose product?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 4, 2003

I am about to hire a programmer to write some code for me that will help collect data for my research. It suddenly occured to me that there will be a final product here and I have no idea who would have ownership of that product. I’m not trying to complicate things, I am just wondering. My preference would be to make the program available free of charge to other researchers who could benefit from such a product. But will I have the right to do that? What kind of agreement would I have to have with the programmer up front? Is she automatically the owner of the program? If I pay for all the time she spends on creating it and the program specifics came from me would it be mine to distribute freely? I suspect some of this might depend on what kind of agreement we come to ahead of time. Could I ask her to create the program under a Creative Commons license, for example Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0? I realize I can certainly ask her and she could say no, but I’m wondering if that sounds like a reasonable approach.

Get out of here

by Ted on December 4, 2003

This is one of those list-of-links posts. But first:

– Bush’s trip to Iraq seems to have driven a few good people insane. It seems likely that just about any President who had committed a large number of troops overseas would visit them over the holidays. This shouldn’t be much more controversial than lighting the White House Christmas tree.

Now we find out that Bush had his picture taken with a prop turkey that wasn’t actually served. Wow. I also have a confession- my third grade pictures weren’t actually taken in front of a sun-dappled woodland. The nice lady at Sears used a big poster as a backdrop.

It feels good to have that off of my chest.

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Selling body parts

by Chris Bertram on December 4, 2003

There’s an “interesting piece in yesterday’s Guardian”:,3604,1098522,00.html about a BMA debate on the sale of organs for transplant. Leading the charge for this is, predictably enough, John Harris:

bq. With the backing of some of Britain’s leading transplant surgeons, he will say thousands of lives could be saved by establishing “an ethical market” in live organs. Under current law the only organs used are those donated free of charge, usually by a relative, or taken from a cadaver.

Live donors running the risks of surgery to provide the organ or tissue should receive payment tax free and without consequent loss of state benefits, Prof Harris will say. They and their families should also have high priority for a subsequent transplant, should the need arise. (…..)

Prof Harris will argue that the NHS should be the monopoly buyer of donated organs….

Today the Guardian has a couple of interesting letters responding to the proposal and worrying about its social effects.

The Malt Whisky Yield Curve

by Daniel on December 4, 2003

This is a piece I’ve been thinking about for around a year and have now finally got round to writing up now that the Cardhu Scandal has made it arguably topical again. Basically it’s an idea for anyone who wants an easy way into thinking about capital theory. I’ve thought for a while that the booze industry ought to be used much more as an example for people thinking about time and production, because it allows you to abstract from considerations of technology and the production process; there are any number of ways to produce a chair, some more time-consuming that others, but there’s only one way to produce a cask of ten-year-old whisky[1]; start with a cask full of nine year old whisky and wait. The fact that time is intrinsically part of the production process for wine and brown spirits is why you see “capitalised interest” on the balance sheets of drinks companies; part of the economic cost of whisky production, and therefore part of the eventual sale price and the value of the goods, is the interest foregone during the process of maturation. It’s this interest element which I’m going to concentrate on.

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A name to my pain

by Ted on December 4, 2003

My friend Charles Kuffner has his list of the ten worst motion pictures that he’s actually seen. Here’s mine in no particular order, borrowing heavily from people who are funnier than me.

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Historians of the World, Unite

by Kieran Healy on December 4, 2003

A group of well-known history bloggers — including Timothy Burke, Robert ‘KC’ Johnson, and Ralph Luker — have banded together to form Cliopatria. Proof if proof were needed that group blogs are continuing their irresistable rise to global dominance. Or, as a historian would put it, proof if proof were needed that at least one, probably quite atypical, group of historians launched what we can loosely refer to as a group blog (with all the difficulties that amorphous term implies) in late 2003 or thereabouts, according to the best available sources (but see below for futher discussion on this point).