On a Wing and a Prayer

by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2004

A couple of people have emailed me about this story. In 2001, the _Journal of Reproductive Medicine_ published a study in which a group of women who wanted to become pregnant by in vitro fertilization were prayed for, without their knowledge, by others. Astonishingly, the paper found that being prayed for doubled your chances of getting pregnant. We all know that praying for _oneself_ can have positive medical consequences if it makes you happy, relaxed and gives you a positive outlook on life. But this paper got a lot of coverage at the time because, obviously, it went so far beyond this. The authors were Daniel Wirth, a lawyer and believer in the supernatural, Kwang Cha who directs a fertility clinic in L.A., and Rogerio Lobo, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Lobo is also on the board of the journal. This week, taking time off from his scholarly research, “one of the authors pled guilty to federal charges of fraud”:http://chronicle.com/free/2004/06/2004060801n.htm.

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Bremer’s last trick

by John Quiggin on June 8, 2004

Juan Cole is spot-on, as usual

The Guardian reports that US civil administrator Paul Bremer signed an order Monday banning Muqtada al-Sadr and his lieutenants from running for elective office for 3 years because of their membership in an illegal militia. Muqtada and his lieutenants rejected this decree and said that the CPA and the caretaker government had no right to make such decisions.

Bremer’s action in excluding the Sadrists from parliament is one final piece of stupidity to cap all the other moronic things he has done in Iraq. The whole beauty of parliamentary governance is that it can hope to draw off the energies of groups like the Sadrists. Look at how parliamentary bargaining moderated the Shiite AMAL party in Lebanon, which had a phase as a terrorist group in the 1980s but gradually outgrew it. AMAL is now a pillar of the Lebanese establishment and a big supporter of a separation of religion and state. The only hope for dealing with the Sadrists nonviolently was to entice them into civil politics, as well. Now that they have been excluded from the political process and made outlaws in the near to medium term, we may expect them to act like outlaws and to be spoilers in the new Iraq. (emphasis added)

I can only agree

Rights and costs

by Henry on June 8, 2004

“Eugene Volokh”:http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_06_07.shtml#1086708760 has a nice short piece on the incoherence of the distinction between positive and negative liberty. His main argument – that even negative liberties entail government enforcement – is reminiscent of the basic claim of Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein’s “The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393320332/henryfarrell-20.[1] It’s also a good reminder of why Volokh is a consistently interesting blogger and scholar – he’s willing to follow ideas where they lead him, even if they point in (for him) politically awkward directions.

fn1. See “here”:http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/cost-of-rights/ for a short review by Cosma Shalizi.

Perhaps you are unaware – but then you should be made aware – that, in addition to releasing one of the best albums of last year, Quebec, Ween has one of the best band websites on the net. Two of them, actually. Lots of free music and videos and goodies. Not to mention 24-hour a day ween radio. Setlists. Links to weird fansites. At some point even my interest starts to wane.

But before that happens to you …

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Yusuf Islam

by Harry on June 8, 2004

Daniel’s unfortunate comparison of the great David Icke with the dull and ordinary Yusuf Islam has ignited a bit of irritation from commenters. But Yusuf’s defenders are out-of-date about his doings. Contrary to popular belief he now does allow his old records to be released, donating the proceeds to a variety of charities (including the September 11th fund). I can’t find documentary evidence, but I have heard him retract his support for the Fatwah on Rushdie, and do so in an embarrassed and genuinely apologetic way. Perhaps more importantly, as a leading and respected voice within Islam in the UK he has, since September 11th, put his cards unambiguously on the table as an uncompromising opponent of terrorism, Islamic or otherwise, and is a leading voice for a modern, tolerant, Islam.

In this interview with Bob Harris (recorded before Sept 11th, and which, I now see, you can’t actually hear on the site) he comes across as a modest man who has had a lot of demons to conquer, and has sort of sorted his life out.

I post this just to update people, not to criticise Daniel. I certainly didn’t think the comparison was Islamophobic, just inapt. But the problem is that comparing Icke with just about anybody is inapt! I just thought he deserved to have people know what he’s up to.

Too many graduates, not enough jobs

by Daniel on June 8, 2004

In case anyone’s suffering a burst of Invisible Adjunct nostalgia, here’s a story about bright-eyed young things being lured into expensive an time-consuming graduate programs with unrealistic hopes of rewarding employment at the far end, and here’s the first rumblings of discontent from “the academy”. Yup, and pace a lot of grass-is-greener talk by commentors on the old IA site, MBA programs are subject to more or less exactly the same supply and demand economics as the fine arts brigade. I would be an avid reader, btw, of an “Invisible Associate” site if a lowly MBA-grunt at a managment consultancy were to set one up to gripe about the vagaries of consultant life and the difficulty of getting on the partner track. But I don’t think there is one … yet.


by Henry on June 8, 2004

Pejman Yousefzadeh has a “Flack Central Station piece”:http://www.techcentralstation.com/060704F.html that is quite remarkably at odds with the facts, even by Yousefzadeh’s usual standards. He criticizes Matt Yglesias’ comparison of warbloggers with German purveyors of the “Stab in the Back” legend, arguing that if Matt is not “actually accusing those who are critiquing the media of being Nazis, he is accusing them of stealing a page out of the Nazi playbook.”

Update: German spelling correction following comments

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Well I can’t think of one

by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2004

It strikes me that there is no antonym for “exceed.”


by Chris Bertram on June 8, 2004

bq. Well, the first thing I want to say is.”Mandate my ass!”

The demise of Ronald Reagan made me dust off my copy of the magnificent Gil Scott-Heron’s B-Movie/R-Ron (double-A-side-single). I’ve not managed to find even the lyrics to Re-Ron anywhere on the web, but B-movie is “here”:http://olrajtovics.atw.hu/nujazz.html (right sidebar) and you can download the music too (with what legality I can’t say).


by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2004

For a few years in graduate school I wrote a regular column for the “Daily Princetonian”:http://www.dailyprincetonian.com, Princeton’s main student newspaper. I got into a bit of trouble once or twice over it, notably for a “piece I wrote”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/files/columns/crusade.html out of irritation with the local chapter of the “Campus Crusade for Christ”:http://www.ccci.org/.

I was reminded of this when I learned, via “Billmon”:http://billmon.org, of the “strong Christian beliefs”:http://billmon.org/archives/001518.html of “General Counsel Mary Walker”:http://www.pwfsd.org/article.php?sid=238. She led the legal team that wrote the “recently leaked memo”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/08/politics/08ABUS.html?hp arguing that there were no legal considerations, domestic or foreign, that prevented the President from authorizing torture. She is also a co-founded of the “Professional Women’s Fellowship”:http://www.pwfsd.org/, an offshoot of the CCC. Philip Carter at “Intel Dump”:http://www.intel-dump.com has described the memo as “‘a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct'”:http://www.intel-dump.com/archives/archive_2004_06_07.shtml#1086610719. Here is Walker in an “interview”:http://www.pwfsd.org/article.php?sid=238 about her beliefs, followed by a snippet of her report:

bq. *Walker*: “Making moral decisions in the workplace where it is easy to go along and get along takes courage. It takes moral strength and courage to say, ‘I’m not going to do this because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.'”
*The report*: Officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders “may be inferred to be lawful” and are “disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.”

With just a little more effort here, we could push through to the world of “Jack Lint”:http://www.trond.com/brazil/images/brazil48.jpg, the character played by Michael Palin in “Brazil”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/.

*Update*: The Walker interview was yanked from the Professional Women’s Fellowship website, in a Christian act of covering up embarrassing stuff. But “Billmon”:http://billmon.org/archives/001524.html has a copy.

Alan Turing

by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2004

It’s “fifty years”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/3781481.stm since the death of mathematician, code-breaker and computer pioneer “Alan Turing”:http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/index.html. Turing committed suicide after being forced to take estrogen for a year to “cure” him of his homosexuality. I read Andrew Hodges’ “excellent biography”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671528092/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ of Turing when I was in College. I remember Hodges noting that from about 1935 to his death he had a new and basically unprecedented idea about every five or six years. A remarkable character.

Risk and Reagan

by John Quiggin on June 8, 2004

Since the obituaries and eulogies for Ronald Reagan have now been read, I think it’s reasonable to take a critical look at his historical contribution. It’s often argued that Reagan accelerated the end of the Cold War by raising US military expenditure, thereby forcing the Soviet Union to increase its own military expenditure and crippling its economy. I think this argument has some plausibility in relation to the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, though not in relation to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe[1].

So granting that this analysis is correct, should Reagan be praised? For the argument to work, the buildup must have raised the probability of nuclear war, unless you suppose (improbably) that the Russians were absolutely convinced of the peaceful intentions of the West and responded to Reagan purely to build up their own offensive capability[2]. Let’s suppose that the annual risk of war was raised by one percentage point. Then over the eight years Reagan was in office, there was a cumulative 8 per cent chance of a war that would certainly have produced tens of millions of deaths, probably billions and possibly the extinction of the human race. Against this, the early collapse of the Soviet Union produced benefits (mixed, but still positive on balance) for people in the Soviet Union, and perhaps also a reduction in the likelihood of an accidental nuclear war in the period since 1990. These benefits are small in relation to the potential cost.

As I’ve argued previously, if you think that a good policy is one which, in expectation, has good consequences, Reagan’s policy fails this test. On the other hand, standard accounts of consequentialism say that a good policy is one that has good actual consequences. If you accept this, and the assessment of the facts given above, Reagan’s historical record looks pretty good.

fn1. It had been obvious for many years that these governments were sustained only by the threat of Soviet military intervention. Gorbachev still had the military capacity to intervene in 1989 (in fact, on the argument presented above, the Russians had a bigger military than they would have had if Reagan had not been elected), but he chose not to do so. As soon as this became evident, the Communist bloc governments collapsed.

fn2. As an aside, in debate at the time, it was widely asserted that the Soviet government was actively planning an attack on the West, to be undertaken if Western defences could be weakened sufficiently. Has the collapse of Communism produced any archival or similar evidence on this? I would have thought that the Warsaw Pact countries would have had to have had a fair degree of involvement, and, since they are now in NATO, there would be no reason to keep any secrets.