Sadistic Angels and Knowledge

by Brian on September 17, 2004

“Daniel”: has been worrying about sadistic angels with infinitary choices. But we can get puzzles in the ballpark of probability 0 problems without worrying about infinity. Just thinking about bets on things you (take yourself to) know gets the troubles started.

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Acquis fiction

by Henry Farrell on September 17, 2004

A few months ago, when I was doing research interviews in Brussels, I thought about doing a post on EU official art. Nearly every corridor in every building of the Commission, Council and Parliament has two or three examples along its walls – spectacularly bland and uninteresting prints and photographs, always with the twelve stars on a blue flag in there somewhere. The art is contentless and affectless because any strong statement, or even conveyed sense of geographic location, would probably offend somebody in one or another of the member states. There’s something about the EU that seems completely inimical to lively cultural expression.

Not for much longer perhaps. Bruce Sterling, gonzo science fiction provocateur and joint father of cyberpunk, is “getting excited”: by the unlikely subject of the EU’s “acquis communautaire”:

bq. What if there were two global systems of governance, and they weren’t based on control of the landscape? Suppose they interpenetrated and competed everywhere, sort of like Tory and Labour, or Coke and Pepsi. I’m kind of liking this European ‘Acquis’ model where there is scarcely any visible ‘governing’ going on, and everything is accomplished on the levels of invisible infrastructure, like highway regulations and currency reform.

This sounds like an unlikely subject for sf, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Sterling. At least two-thirds of his “Distraction”: is one of the wildest and funniest sf novels about politics ever written (the final section peters out pretty badly). If anyone can make regulatory international bureaucracy sound exciting, it’s going to be Sterling. And he’s onto something – there’s something deeply weird about the EU. It isn’t (and will probably never be) a fully featured state, and instead is, as Sterling says, for the most part a vast body of transnational semi-visible regulation. It’s incredibly boring on the face of it (partly because most of the regulation concerns dull matters like phytosanitary standards), but there’s something quirky and strange about the fact that it exists at all, and that it operates in the way that it does. I’m going to be interested to see whether Sterling manages to get anywhere with this.

You’ve all done very well…

by Harry on September 17, 2004

I had a surreal day on Wednesday. I drove to Milwaukee for an appointment at the newly re-organised USCIS to get my green card renewed for another 10 years. I forgot my BBC7 tapes of London Particulars, so instead spent the whole drive there listening to my favourite 1970’s boxed set.

The appointment was odd enough — it lasted 10 minutes, and not only was everyone charming to me, but they were charming to the other 3 immigrants (who weren’t white, and didn’t have mock-posh English accents) too. A general reticence about these matters precludes me from publicising the interesting things that happened there. Anyway, that wasn’t the really surreal bit.

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Status syndrome

by Chris Bertram on September 17, 2004

I’ve spent the past couple of days at the latest in a series of conferences under the name “Priority in Practice”: , which Jo Wolff has organized at UCL. I don’t think I’d be diminishing the contribution of the other speakers by saying that “Michael Marmot”: was the real star of the show. He’s well known for the idea that status inequality is directly implicated in health outcomes, a thesis that he promotes in his most recent book “Status Syndrome”: and which first came to the fore with his Whitehall Study which showed that more highly promoted civil servants live longer even when we control for matters like lifestyle, smoking etc. Even when people have enough, materially speaking, their position in a status hierarchy still impacts upon their longevity. One interesting other finding that he revealed was that being in control at home (as opposed to at work) was massively important in affecting women’s longevity, but didn’t really impact upon men. There’s “an excellent interview of Marmot by Harry Kreisler of Berkeley”: in which he outlines his central claims.

Fun with maps

by Eszter Hargittai on September 17, 2004

The people behind this Web site are smart. Attract people with a fun quiz, show them what they don’t know and offer them toys to help improve their knowledge. You can take a little geography quiz on the site. I scored 9 out of 10, but was fairly lucky by having gotten this group of countries : Colombia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Samoa, United Kingdom, and Vietnam. I know I would have done worse depending on the region of the world most represented among my randomized list. Can you guess which one I missed?

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Sui Generis

by Kieran Healy on September 17, 2004

“Jim Lewis has a piece”: on _Slate_ about the photographer “Jacques Henri Lartigue”:, who is famous for candid shots of “fashionable French people”: in the early 1900s. The stock story about Lartigue was that he “achieved late-life fame as one of the first masters of the medium, an unschooled amateur who achieved genius entirely by naive instinct.” But there’s plenty of evidence that, in fact, this is rubbish:

His father was a camera buff, and the son was given every possible advantage: the newest equipment, lots of leisure time, and a thorough education in the ways of the medium. Moreover, it was an era when amateur photography was all the rage, when magazines and books were full of instruction, debate, and example.

Still, Lartigue presented his work as the innocent expression of a wonderstruck boy amateur, and MoMA was happy to promote it as such.

I recently came across a nice discussion of this phenomenon in Alan Bennett’s superb Writing Home:

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Another sadistic angel problem

by Daniel on September 17, 2004

Imagine that one day, a big bloke with wings taps you on the shoulder. It’s OK, he says, Brian sent me. To offer you this potential wager, on behalf of God, who has more or less given up on the human race except as a subject for philosophy conundrums.

In the envelope in my left hand, he says, I have a number, called X. At some point in the recent past, X was drawn by God from a uniform distribution over the real numbers from 0 to 1 inclusive. You can have a look at it if you like.

In my right hand, he says, I have a mobile telephone which will allow me to receive a message from God with another number, Y, which will also be drawn by God from a uniform distribution on the line 0 to 1 inclusive.

The wager is this; if you accept the wager, and X and Y are equal, then every human being currently alive on the planet earth will be horribly tortured for the next ninety million trillion years and then killed. If you accept the wager but X and Y are not equal, then a small, relatively undeserving child somewhere, will be given a lollipop.

So, do you take the wager or not?

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Don’t They Know There’s a War On?

by Belle Waring on September 17, 2004

I think the Instapundit must still read Andrew Sullivan’s site. Does he just skip the parts about how our venture in Iraq is a total disaster? (Honesty compels me to mention that I was a supporter of this invasion, and so am either a) uniquely qualified to pronounce on its disastrousness or b) a certified idiot who should be mumbling apologies at all my anti-this-war-now brethren rather than parading my original bad judgment as a badge of honor. You decide.) I mean, the US military can’t guarantee security in the Green Zone?

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone’s perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound’s defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety. The Green Zone, in Baghdad’s centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it.

I’m very sorry to say this, but we are f%$#ed. I don’t mean particularly to pick on the Instapundit, but he is both a big name and representative. Where is the pro-war blogosphere on this? Is it really all about the pseudo-kerning? Can Hugh Hewitt honestly not think of anything, anything at all the US Congress might better do with its time than hold hearings on “Rathergate”? This is becoming surreal. John comes home from work, not having had time to read the news yet, and asks me over dinner, “what happened in the world today?” Admittedly, I do say, “those memos were fake.” But mostly I say things like, “lots and lots of people got killed in Iraq today and things are looking very very bad.” From Christopher Allbritton:

I don’t know if I can really put into words just how bad it is here some days. Yesterday was horrible — just horrible. While most reports show Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra as “no-go” areas, practically the entire Western part of the country is controlled by insurgents, with pockets of U.S. power formed by the garrisons outside the towns. Insurgents move freely throughout the country and the violence continues to grow.

I wish I could point to a solution, but I don’t see one. People continue to email me, telling me to report the “truth” of all the good things that are going on in Iraq. I’m not seeing a one. A buddy of mine is stationed here and they’re fixing up a park on a major street. Gen. Chiarelli was very proud of this accomplishment, and he stressed this to me when I interviewed him for the TIME story. But Baghdadis couldn’t care less. They don’t want city beautification projects; they want electricity, clean water and, most of all, an end to the violence….
In the context of all this, reporting on a half-assed refurbished school or two seems a bit childish and naive, the equivalent of telling a happy story to comfort a scared child. Anyone who asks me to tell the “real” story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America’s making.

Could we please have a national debate about this war?

UPDATE: In Hewitt’s defense, I wrote this last night. Now there is one sentence on his blog about Iraq. Of course, it points to this post explaining how all the casualties the US suffered this month were the right sort of casualties, the kind that indicate how little the situation in Iraq is descending into chaos.

SECOND UPDATE: Henry rightly pointed me to these posts by Orin Kerr, Volokh conspirator, who is bucking this trend.

THIRD UPDATE: if, like some commenters, you want to hear at length about how I was totally wrong on Iraq, and what I should have thought instead, then you can read about it here.