Fahrenheit 451

by Henry on February 26, 2004

John Q. “talks about”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001403.html Britain’s addiction to Official Secrets. This reminds me of a bit from Margaret Levi’s _Consent, Dissent and Patriotism_, where she discusses the politics of military archives.

bq. More arcane is the account of a small fire that destroyed relevant materials from World Wars I and II in the Australian War Memorial. The representatives of the British government operate under strict rules of secrecy concerning a very large amount of military-related material, and they uphold those rules rigorously. The Australian government operates with a greater openness. The problem arose because in the Australian War Memorial were records that the British deemed secret and the Australians did not. The problem was resolved by the British, or so my reliable source tells me, by planting a mole archivist in the War Memorial. This mole lit a small fire in the relevant stacks and then disappeared.

On a more personal note, John also namechecks the novelist and politician Erskine Childers, who was executed under dubious circumstances in 1922 by the Irish Free State government, with only my and Maria’s great-grandfather, Eoin MacNeill, “dissenting”:http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m0FQP/n4297_v125/18629541/p1/article.jhtml from the decision. Today seems to be the “day”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001400.html for office-holding ancestors on CT.


by Kieran Healy on February 26, 2004

We continue to search for sources of insight into America’s geopolitical position in the Middle East. Following up on the “Pontius Pilate angle”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001394.html (which some people took “a little too seriously”:http://warliberal.com/mt/blog/archives/007670.html), we stick with the cinema. “PreReview”:http://homepage.mac.com/joester5/prereview reviews movies the reviewer hasn’t seen, usually because they’re not out yet. Here is a snippet of “a review”:http://homepage.mac.com/joester5/prereview/#Hidalgo of “Hidalgo”:http://hidalgo.movies.go.com/main.html, the forthcoming Viggo Mortensen disaster:

bq. Viggo Aragorn … goes to Arabia with Hidalgo, his horsey best buddy to race against a bunch of Arabs who are BOUND BY HONOR except when they are DOUBLE CROSSING

This summarizes the basic view of many neocons pretty well, especially the Huntingtonian ones.

Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail

by John Quiggin on February 26, 2004

The news that British spies bugged the office of Kofi Annan during the Iraq debate has a number of implications. First, for me, this is the point at which Tony Blair should go. The whole idea of going to the UN for authority to invade Iraq was his, not Bush’s, and now it’s clear that it was corrupt from the beginning. I won’t argue this in detail – no doubt a lot of people already thought he should go, and others still won’t be convinced.

The main point I want to make is that it’s time for Britain to get out of the spy game. More than any other democratic country, Britain is addicted to spies and their natural counterpart, Official Secrets.[1] From Burgess and McLean to the present day, the spies have been a constant cause of embarrassment and worse. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that they’ve ever found out anything that was both useful and sufficiently reliable to act on[2].

This isn’t a matter of bad luck, or even incompetence. Standard game-theoretic reasoning shows that, outside the zero-sum case of war, there’s unlikely to be a net benefit from actions like bugging offices. The problem is simple. If I bug your office and you don’t suspect me, I can gain potentially valuable information that you don’t want me to have. But if you suspect me, and I don’t suspect that you suspect, you can use my bugs to mislead me. As with all game theoretic reasoning, you can iterate this as many times as you like, but the end result is that the net value of information derived from bugging is zero. On the other hand, the costs of the activity are substantial. In an environment where bugging is routine, everyone learns to communicate in various forms of code, and decoding is costly and prone to error.

He’s often been dismissed as hopelessly naive, but US Secretary of State Henry Stimson was right when he shut down the State Department’s cryptanalytic office saying “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.”

fn1. This is a case where life imitates art. The spy novels of Erskine Childers and John Buchan were written before the rise of espionage as a significant government activity and before the passage of the first effective Official Secrets Act (1911)

fn2. In this context, I’m excluding wartime codebreaking, which is always useful since, at a minimum, it disrupts enemy communications.

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Gun case dropped

by Daniel on February 26, 2004

Hurray for the jury system, as all right-thinking people should be shouting. The Katharine Gun case has been dropped. And the best thing is, the reason for which it’s been dropped.

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The Enemy Within

by Henry on February 26, 2004

Like Chris and Daniel, I’ve been nonplussed at the nastiness of much rightwing US commentary on Europeans. If we’re not a clatter of cowardly Saddam fancying invertebrates, we’re a sinister cabal of jackbooted anti-Semites. While France’s behaviour over Iraq was unimpressive, and there are quite real problems of anti-Semitism, many of Europe’s critics have a rather transparent agenda. They seek to imply that any European criticism of the war or of Israel is automatically suspect, by virtue of its source. It’s the mirror image of Adbusters’ “insinuations”:http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/52/articles/jewish.html about rightwing Jews’ support for Israel, and not very much more intellectually respectable.

_Mirabile dictu_ a right wing pundit devotes a column today in the Washington Post to praising Europe. You might expect that I’d be pleased. Not on your life.

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Aunt Fancy is spinning in his grave tonight

by John Holbo on February 26, 2004

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

So much not to like. Yet our outrage is such – and rightly so – that we may flail about to find yet more holes through which to vent. Yesterday folks were pointing out that the proposed FMA would be the first amendment to exclude, rather than include – if you see what I mean. Thought about adding my voice to that choir. Then: nah, people are sinful. Ergo, someone proposed an amendment back in the 19th century that never made the cut but was way worse. We’ll read about it in the blogs tomorrow. And Jack Balkin does not disappoint. And, since President Buchanan is somewhere in Belle ‘Bucky’ Waring’s family tree (great, great, great grand-second-uncle or something?) – it’s all in the family. She’s not a direct descendant, mind you, because Buchanan never, erm, married. Ahem: “Buchanan’s long-time living companion, William Rufus King, was referred to by critics as his “better half,” “his wife,” and “Aunt Fancy”.”

But I digress.

I would be curious to know whether Bush can legitimately be deprived of this laurel: first sitting President to support a Constitutional amendment without knowing – hence without caring – what it says.

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Teaching Political Philosophy Right

by Harry on February 26, 2004

I hate to admit it, but Ed Felser may have a point about something, at least. In attacking the teaching practices in Philosophy departments he says:

bq. If, for example, a course in political philosophy is offered in which the readings comprise selections from the likes of the liberal philosopher John Rawls, the libertarian Robert Nozick, and various feminist and left-of-center communitarian critics of Rawls, with no conservative writers assigned at all and with Nozick treated as an easily-refuted eccentric whose views are not shared by any other contemporary philosopher worth reading, then students will — obviously — get the impression that the left-of-center views are the only realistic options. And this sort of thing is, I submit, extremely common in the contemporary university.

I observed this pretty much as soon as I taught my first upper-division political philosophy course. You start with Rawls, because you feel obliged to treat them to a proper, fully articulated, theory of justice, and also to give them a reasonably good sense of the field. You move onto Nozick, who is very clever but full of incomplete arguments, and intuitions that he passes off as arguments, along with apparently willful misreadings of his colleague. You use Dworkin, maybe Raz, and some commentators on Rawls, including perhaps Jerry Cohen. You might introduce some feminist work (easier to do now than 13 years ago). And you complete it with Sandel and a bit of MacIntyre (or MacIntyre and a bit of Sandel), which involves many of the same misreadings of Rawls.

Now, a course like that succeeds in the two main missions I feel obliged to carry out: giving a true sense of the nature of the field, and structuring the students’ learning so that they learn how to reason sharply and do political philosophy analytically.

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A True Story

by Belle Waring on February 26, 2004

I have posted an all-true tale from my youth in Dixie at our weblog. Old times not forgotten, even in the land of rice and indigo. Didn’t seem quite the CT thing, but you may read nonetheless.

Free Bloomsday!

by John Quiggin on February 26, 2004

If you want to see what’s wrong with copyright and the concept of intellectual property, it’s hard to go past the obstacles being put up by James Joyce’s grandson Stephen to recitations of Ulysses on the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday (June 16 2004) in Dublin. Thanks to the extension of copyright to 70 years beyond the author’s death by the European Union in 1995, Joyce has absolute control over his grandfather’s work until 2011. It’s hard to imagine any moral sense in which Ulysses belongs more to an obstreporous descendant of the author than to the city that inspired it.

The issues are completely obscured by the use of the term ‘intellectual property’ which makes it appear that ideas belong to an owner in the same way that a car or a block of land does. This term, enshrined in mountains of legislation and treaties, deserves about the same amount of respect as the contrary slogan ‘information wants to be free’ (if anything less so, since the latter is at least a half-truth)

In economic terms, the idea of copyright is to balance the interests of the public in the free dissemination of what is, once it is produced, a naturally public good (and therefore ‘wants to be free’), with the need to encourage authors to create works in the first place. The example of Ulysses shows how far we have got the balance wrong. Does anyone seriously believe that Joyce was motivated, even in the slightest, by the prospect of enriching a grandchild who hadn’t even been born at the time. (Of course, he would have needed extraordinary foresight to predict the successive extensions of copyright that would make this possible).

Even taking a forward-looking view, what kind of benefit do authors today get from the sale of copyrights extending up to a century after their death? For a publisher evaluating commercial investments of this kind, a 10 per cent discount rate would be on the low side, but this would be enough to ensure that royalties received 70 years in the future would be discounted by a factor of 1000. From the social viewpoint, on the other hand, the future costs of restricted access to copyrighted works should be discounted at a much lower rate, perhaps 3 per cent, which would imply that costs incurred 70 years in the future should be discounted by a factor of around 8.

All of this is particularly relevant to Australians, as we are one of the few countries still enjoying the benefits of the ‘life + 50 years’ rule, and have therefore been of particular value to public-domain exercises like the Gutenberg project.. Our government has just signed a so-called Free Trade Agreement with the United States. It does little or nothing to free trade, but a lot to protect monopoly rights, including an extension of copyright to life +70 years. Fortunately this needs legislation, which may be rejected. Given that the Irish have signed away their public domain rights, and we are still clinging to ours, the Bloomsday centenary would be an appropriate occasion for celebrating them.

Fidelity Pledges

by Micah on February 26, 2004

The “Rocky Mountain Progressive Network”:http://www.rmpn.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home has issued the following “challenge”:http://www.rmpn.org/content/index.cfm?fuseaction=showContent&contentID=53&navID=51 to those state politicians backing the Federal Marriage Amendment, including Rep. “Marilyn Musgrave”:http://wwwa.house.gov/musgrave (R-CO), who introduced the amendement into Congress:

bq. I, __________________________ (name of lawmaker), pledge to the People of _____________________________ (jurisdiction that lawmaker represents),  that as a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment I am committed to upholding fidelity in marriage. I firmly believe fidelity is essential to the institution of marriage and that each person who violates that commitment undermines this institution.

bq. Accordingly, as an elected leader in the State of Colorado I pledge my commitment to uphold fidelity in my own life in order to lead by example and to preserve the institution of Marriage.

bq. ________________ (Signature) ______________ (Date)

None of the named politicians have “signed”:http://www.rmpn.org/content/index.cfm?fuseaction=showContent&contentID=52&navID=50. “Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/2004_02_22_atrios_archive.html#107766485172375008 and Geraldine Sealey at “Salon”:http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/archive.html?blog=/politics/war_room/2004/02/25/fidelity/index.html (by subscription or day pass) think this campaign should go national. If conservatives are going to push the FMA, I couldn’t agree more. (Disclosure: the rabbi mentioned in the press release linked above is my dad. Go Dad!)

bq. *UPDATE*: meanwhile, “Oxblog”:http://www.oxblog.blogspot.com has a running “tally”:http://www.oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_02_22_oxblog_archive.html#107772059078594254 of those senators who are for and against the FMA. As others have been saying, looks like the amendment is already dead in the Senate.


by Kieran Healy on February 26, 2004

Just as an aside to “Belle’s post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001393.html, I think that once people have finished scrutinizing it for blood-libel, the relevance of Mel Gibson’s _The Passion of the Christ_ to current U.S. policy in the Middle East awaits detailed exploration. In fact, I’m surprised that commentators have yet to discuss the foreign policy lessons to be learned from Pilate and his occupying Roman legions. As I’ve “said before”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000344.html, for all his “failings”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontius_Pilate Pilate was at least attempting to bring a tradition of republicanism in politics, pluralistic tolerance of religion in civic life, and “heavy investment in public infrastructure”:http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/python/Scripts/LifeOfBrian/brian-09.html to a priest-ridden, monotheistic, intolerant Middle-Eastern troublespot. History might remember him better had he not had the massive bad luck to run up against a “blowback”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805062394/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ problem the size of the “Son of God”:http://ship-of-fools.com/Gadgets/Kitschmas02/01.html during his governorship.

Life of Mel

by Belle Waring on February 26, 2004

The Washington Post review of Mel Gibson’s Passion is basically a pan which concedes there is more than a whiff of anti-semitism about the whole thing. (Based on the visions of a 15th-century german nun who “sets out to clear Pilate’s name, describing the famously ruthless governor as a weak and unwilling pawn of Jewish blood lust”? Oh, that sounds good.) But for some reason the author backslides into the trap of “journalistic objectivity”, which quoted item differs from real journalistic objectivity in consisting merely of empty formal gestures towards balance. It can be seen most vividly in articles about Bush economic policies, in which sentences starting “critics claim…” or “some Democrats argue” are followed by incontrovertible statements of fact. See Brad DeLong’s “Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps” series, parts I-MMDCLXXIII. (And while I am digressing, I would like to encourage all readers to adopt the Poor Man’s pithy formulation of the current scandal, which he terms “WhatInTheNameOfAllThatIsHolyAreYouDoingToTheEconomyGate.”) The item I object to is here:

Gibson’s use of Aramaic and Latin is similarly helpful in grounding his story, although it’s been suggested that first-century Romans would more probably have spoken Greek.

Is there anything wrong with just saying “even though the characters in the film would actually have been speaking Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean”? (I realize that as a blanket statement about “first-century Romans” it’s false, but that’s what editing is for.) I mean, you’ve already accused Mel of a pornographic taste for violence, anti-semitism, being a hackneyed director (ooo, Judas tosses the thirty pieces of silver in slow-motion!), and trivializing the mysteries of the Christian faith. Is it necessary to bring out misleading qualifiers like “it’s been suggested” when accusing him of historical inaccuracy?