Friday, April 30, 2004

Kleiman on Newt

Newt Gingrich has co-written an imaginative historical novel that asks what would have happened if the battle of Gettysburg had gone the opposite way. As far as I can tell, the novel has gotten positive reviews thus far.

But Mark Kleiman says the following:
It would, of course, be offensively silly to blame contemporary white Southerners for the institution of slavery or for the Civil War that grew out of that institution. But whether the guys flying the Stars and Stripes are the good guys shouldn't be a matter of debate. Openly pandering to wish-fulfillment dreams about the defeat of the armed forces of the United States by the forces of a rebellion mounted in defense of slavery ought to be unthinkable for someone still active in American politics.

Just imagine the firestorm if a still-active Democratic politician had written a novel with Santa Anna as its hero. Yet the moral case for sympathizing with Mexico in the Texan succession fight or the Mexican-American war is far stronger than the case for sympathizing with the CSA.

That Gingrich can get away with it says something ugly about his section, and his party, and the tame press.
In email, Kleiman said to me that he had no evidence that Gingrich actually wished for a Confederate win "save his lifetime of political associations."

But he doesn't explain why Gingrich would suddenly take such an attitude after years of disparaging the Confederacy and segregation. Consider these instances:
  • Gingrich was asked in 1998 if the Contract with America resembled the Confederate Constitution. His response: "As a Pennsylvania-born son of a career soldier, the idea that I sat down late one evening and took out the Confederate Constitution (laughs more) . . . That's good. That's creative."

  • In a 1997 lecture, Gingrich said this: "This question of race is at the heart of America's darkest moments -- slavery, the Civil War, segregation -- and yet dealing with it in the public sphere also produced two of our most brilliant and influential leaders -- Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr."

  • In 1997, the Associated Press reported that Gingrich had said, "All too many conservatives were passive during the segregation fight or candidly on the side of segregation."

  • In a 1996 appearance on CNN, Gingrich said, "Segregation was a Democratic legacy. But I think it's fair to say the conservative movement was not angry. And I thought Ralph Reed showed tremendous courage in calling for a meeting in Atlanta on the churches and in saying bluntly that many white evangelicals were on the wrong side of the segregation issue and that there was a lot of atonement. I thought it was a very courageous act of leadership."

  • In 1996, the Austin American-Statesman reported:
    He was a high school and college student in the South during the height of the civil rights movement but didn't participate in it, though he has said he was appalled by the blatant segregation he discovered in 1960 Columbus, Ga.

    In speeches these days, Gingrich evokes an uncomfortable silence from predominantly white crowds when he declares that the failure of conservative Republicans to march beside King is ''a stain'' on their shared history.

    On affirmative action, he seems hopeful of avoiding a similar epitaph.

    In a recent television appearance, Gingrich said that instead of just criticizing affirmative action, the GOP should assure black Americans they will not allow the nation to ''slide back into segregation.''

    He said there is ''legitimate, genuine fear'' among blacks that GOP leaders are engineering a return to those days. The party could address those concerns by putting ''four times as much effort reaching out to the black community'' as they put into dismantling a high-profile program aimed at helping them, Gingrich said.
  • In 1995, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: "Gingrich said conservatives must accept some blame for not taking a more proactive role in ending legal racial segregation.

    "'It (the conservative movement) either opposed the effort to end legal segregation or it was passive,' Gingrich said. 'It sure as hell wasn't in there saying it's morally wrong to discriminate against people.'"

  • Also in 1995, the Jewish Bulletin reported: "Gingrich actively opposed racial segregation while living in the South in the 1960s and was a strong supporter of civil rights. Gingrich 'lived his commitment to civil rights at Tulane,' according to a recent Washington Post story. He sent one of his daughters to a mostly black Head Start program and invited Ernest "Dutch" Morial, who later became the first black mayor of New Orleans, to speak at a discussion group."

  • When Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1994, he praised liberal Democrats for their views on race: "No Republican here should kid themselves about it. The greatest leaders in fighting for an integrated America in the twentieth century were in the Democratic party. The fact is, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic party that ended segregation."
This doesn't sound like a closet Confederate sympathizer.

Gingrich is a former history professor, after all, and it sounds like he is merely satisfying a somewhat oddball interest in writing novels about how history might have turned out differently. Indeed, he has co-written imaginative historical fiction before. His novel 1945 examined what would happened if World War II had turned out differently. As Amygdala asks, does this mean that Gingrich wishes that "the Nazis had attacked the American mainland?"

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has a read the novel, and says that Gingrich was simply not trying to push the Confederacy as sympathetic. In a subsequent update to his original post, Mark Kleiman retracts his criticism.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


Congrats to my friends Rick and Nicole Garnett, who just had their third child. It seems like yesterday that their first was a baby.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Bush in the 1970s

Some more admittedly wild speculation about Bush being involved with the CIA in the 1970s:

When the Bush White House released records showing that he was suspended from the National Guard for missing a physical, they redacted the name of a fellow Guardsman who was suspended for exactly the same reason. As Salon tells it:
The records released by the White House last month . . . add one compelling fact to the story -- namely, that Bush was not the only man in his unit to be suspended for failing to take the physical, and that someone else at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston was suspended for exactly the same reason at almost the same time. However, in the documents, the second man's name was inexplicably redacted -- raising new questions.

. . . [T]he same document that was redacted by the White House had been the subject of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Marty Heldt, who was investigating the story before the 2000 presidential election. In the same document that the White House selectively censored for release to the public, the name of the man who was also suspended with Bush is clearly printed. His name: James R. Bath.
The Salon article says this about James Bath's early career:
A native of Natchitoches, La., Bath moved to Houston in 1965 at age 29 to join the Texas Air National Guard. In 1968, he was hired by Atlantic Aviation, a Delaware company that sells business aircraft, to open an office in Houston. He went on to become an airplane broker on his own. Sometime around 1974 -- Bath doesn't recall the exact date -- he was trying to sell an F-27 turboprop when he received a phone call that changed his life.

The man on the phone was Salem bin Laden, heir to the great Saudi Binladin Group fortune. Then only about 25, Salem was also the older brother of Osama bin Laden, then 17.

Bath not only had a buyer for a plane no one else wanted but also had stumbled upon an extraordinary source of wealth and power. Bath ended up befriending both Salem bin Laden and his close associate, Khalid bin Mahfouz, then also about 25 and heir to the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, the biggest banking empire in the kingdom.
The Salon article goes on to speculate that the White House redacted Bath's name because of a desire to hide the fact that Bath had connections to Middle Easterners.

But could there be another reason? Was Atlantic Aviation something more than it seemed? This could be completely untrue, but at least one site that appears to be something like a legal complaint says this:
Charter is a Lanier bank whose directors include E Trine Starnes, Barry Munitz, and Andrew Alexander of Weingarten Realty Inc. The shareholders include Jim Bath who was a trustee for Mahfouz and associated with the CIA's operations Atlantic Aviation, owned by Edward DuPont, and Summit Aviation, owned by Richard C. DuPont.
Was Atlantic Aviation a CIA operation? Who knows?

Summit Aviation, owned by the same family, turned out later to have had CIA connections. As the New York Times reported in 1983:
Both the Summit company, which was established in 1960 by Richard C. DuPont Jr., and Investair, which was organized in 1982, do classified military work for the Government and for the C.I.A., according to company officials and Congressional sources. Both companies also employ officials formerly affiliated with the C.I.A., according to published accounts.
Or as United Press International reported in 1984:
The CIA is secretly using commercial air cargo carriers to deliver tons of weapons and ammunition to Central America in a replay of similar operations carried out during the Vietnam War, it was reported.

CBS News reported Sunday night Southern Air Transport of Miami, Evergreen Air in Tucson and Summit Aviation in Delaware are part of a network of private air freight companies that ''runs guns, airplanes and people'' to aid American covert activities in Central America.
* * *
''There's no need to use private companies as a front, cover, for CIA activities there (in Central America),'' Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., said in response to the report. ''Everyone knows the CIA activities are going on. It puts a cloud over legitimate American business people operating in Central America.''

At the height of the Vietnam War, according to a Senate report, the CIA operated airlines worth more than $50 million with 8,000 employees.
Recall, if you will, that at the same time Bush was in the National Guard, he was traveling to Central America: A State Department website says, without naming the company, that "George's job was to travel around the United States and to countries in Central America looking for plant nurseries his company might want to acquire."

James Bath may have been connected to the CIA. As the Salon article says:
But exactly what he did beyond that, in the intelligence world and elsewhere, is shrouded in mystery. When asked about his career, Bath downplays his importance. By his account, he is merely "a small, obscure businessman." It has often been said that he was in the CIA, but Bath denied that to Time magazine. Later, he equivocated. "There's all sorts of degrees of civilian participation [in the CIA]," he told me. "It runs the whole spectrum, [from] maybe passing on relevant data to more substantive things. The people who are called on by their government and serve -- I don't think you're going to find them talking about it. Were that the case with me, I'm almost certain you wouldn't find me talking about it."
And another internet article -- which, to repeat, might be completely unreliable -- says this of Bath and the CIA:
“Bath told me that he was in the CIA. He told me he was recruited by George H. W. Bush himself in 1976,” when the elder Bush was CIA Director, according to Beaty’s interview with White.

White added further, “That made sense to me, especially in light of what I had seen once we went into business together. He [Bath] said that [CIA Director] Bush wanted him involved with the Arabs, and to get into the aviation business.”
Then the American Spectator reported in 1992:
In the late 1970s, George Jr. tried to emulate his father's business success in the Oil Patch by setting up a series of drilling partnerships. Called Arbusto '78, Arbusto '79, and so forth, they attracted capital from, among others, a Houston aircraft broker and financial manager named James Bath, who according to a former associate had acted as liaison between Saudi businessmen and the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976, the year in which George Bush, the elder, served as director of central intelligence.
All we have here are tidbits that, even if true, don't prove anything. Still, could it be that Bush and Bath were both working for the CIA in some capacity during the early 70s? They both were definitely connected to the CIA at some point, and they both missed time in the National Guard without ever stating a reason. It would explain their absence, their reticence to speak about it, and the holes that might exist in legitimate records.

Again, I don't know anything here. Just raising the question, that's all.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


I'm not much on blogging about one's personal life. In fact, I don't care much for chit-chat in real life. If I talk to an old friend on the phone, we're likely to spend 2 minutes catching up on personal details, and an hour talking about film reviews, or First Amendment doctrine, or politics, or whatnot.

Still, I thought I'd put up a picture of my two children thus far, Ethan and Eva:

Monday, April 26, 2004

Supreme Court to Decide Tax Fairness Case

Here's the Washington Post's article on the case.

Abolish Broadcast TV

My acquaintance Tom Hazlett makes an excellent point that is discussed in this article:
Two years ago, Tom Hazlett shocked and amused broadcasters by telling the government to abolish broadcast TV. The notion, circulated in his Financial Times column, was so radical that the economist's suggestion was dismissed as Ivory Tower ranting.

Nobody's laughing now.

The feds aren't doing away with free over-the-air television. But the philosophy underlying Hazlett's thesis?that making room on the airwaves for new wireless communications is more important to the economy and society than protecting free TV?is gaining cachet. FCC staffers are trying to sell Congress a DTV-transition plan that puts a priority on reclaiming old analog TV channels, not on ensuring that TV viewers get HD pictures or other benefits of digital service. And that would trigger broadcasters' reversal of fortune.

'Broadcast TV is a niche player,' says Hazlett, a former FCC economist whose iconoclastic theories appear in leading business journals. 'Ninety percent of households are lining up every month to pay significant cable and satellite fees just to escape free broadcasting. Nothing more powerfully demonstrates the tremendous misallocation of a massive swath of radio spectrum.'

The Supreme Court

Just a little shameless self-promotion here: The Supreme Court just granted certiorari this morning in case no. 03-184, Ballard v. Commission of Internal Revenue. I did a lot of the writing on the cert petition and reply. Exciting news.

The Eleventh Circuit that we lost (and appealed) can be found here. A article about the case (and a related Seventh Circuit case in which the Supreme Court also granted cert.) can be found here. And here's an article about a related 5th Circuit case that we won.

Sunday, April 25, 2004


From this article:
During the Iraq war, Saudi Arabia secretly helped the United States far more than has been acknowledged, allowing operations from at least three air bases, permitting special forces to stage attacks from Saudi soil and providing cheap fuel, U.S. and Saudi officials say.
Just a reminder that things are not always what they seem.

Money and Politics

An interesting point from this article on the role of money in the political process:
Scarborough recalls running into supporters four years ago who had contributed $100,000 or more to Bush or the Republican Party, but couldn't wangle invitations to the inaugural balls.

With that kind of donation 25 years ago, he says, "you'd have had the president's phone number in the Oval Office."
For what it's worth, one of my uncles raised at least $100,000 for Bush's election campaign in 2000. He was also one of a handful of people who lent (I believe) a corporate jet to the Bush campaign. At the time, he told me that all he asked in return was that he would get to go to the White House for lunch at some point during a Bush presidency. Just lunch. That's it. As it turns out, he hasn't even gotten that much.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


I don't understand how probability calculations are supposed to apply to real life, if at all. I also don't understand how probability applies after the fact, if at all.

1. The Real Life Issue: A CT scan might be 90% accurate at detecting a hemorrhage. Standard probability theory would just say, "Well, do two tests, and voila, you have 99% accuracy, rather than 90%." I.e., you multiply the 10% error rate of the first test by the 10% error rate of the second test. The end result: A 1% error rate.

But that assumes that all results are random. This cannot possibly be true. If a hemorrhage had happened that was of the wrong size or in the wrong place, the CT scan might not have a 10% error rate in the first place. In fact, it might be guaranteed that the CT scan would fail to pick up the hemorrhage, in which case the error rate would be 100%, no matter how many scans were performed.

This is just an example, and I might have the facts wrong. But the theory is correct. Another hypothetical: You have a 5% chance (I'm making up the number) of getting into an auto accident this year -- but that is an aggregate calculation that cannot possibly take into account the fact that you drive with exceeding caution, never speed or drink, etc. Your real chance is nearer to zero.

Or whatever. My point applies everywhere. Probability calculations depend on randomness. Yet -- even apart from the difficult issue of determinism -- nothing in the real world is really random.

2. The After-the-Fact Issue: How on earth does probability apply after the fact? You have a 5% chance of getting into an auto accident this year -- but in fact, you just had an accident this week. Does the 5% figure still even mean anything? Did you always have a 5% chance, and you were just unlucky enough to fall into the 5%? Or did you personally have a 100% chance (a chance that applies to only 5% of people ahead of time)?

Alternatively, you never have an accident this year. Did you have a 5% chance that left you in the 95% category? Or a 0% chance given that it never happened?

I'm sure someone has written on these questions in depth, but I don't know who.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

How Appealing

Time to change any links to How Appealing, Howard Bashman's superlative blog.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Weird Search

Someone got here by searching for ["teenage mutant ninja turtles" racial minorities]. I don't know what they were looking for, but I'm almost positive it wasn't here.

State Secrets

A very fascinating two-part series in the Los Angeles Times on the 1950s state-secrets case wherein the government lied to the Supreme Court in order to keep Air Force widows from being compensated. Go here for part one and here for part two.

Arguing About Slavery

A great post from Timothy Sandefur justly praising William Lee Miller's book Arguing About Slavery.

Friday, April 16, 2004

An Additional Team of Hijackers

What ever happened to these folks, I wonder:
Today, Ed Ballinger will speak to a roomful of strangers about the one subject he doesn't care to discuss: The first two hours of his shift as a flight dispatcher for United Airlines on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

* * *

Perhaps, but Kirk is adamant that Ballinger did save the passengers and crew of United Flight 23, which on Sept. 11 was about to depart from Newark, N.J., to Los Angeles. Kirk believes Flight 23 was going to be commandeered.

Thanks to Ballinger's quick call, the flight crew told passengers it had a mechanical problem and immediately returned to the gate.

Later, Ballinger was told six men initially wouldn't get off the plane. Later, when they did, they disappeared into the crowd, never to return. Later, authorities checked their luggage and found copies of the Qu'ran and al-Qaida instruction sheets.

"I felt good about that one," Ballinger said.

Kirk admits it's speculation, but said he believes "there are 200 people walking around today because of Ed Ballinger."

The suspect passengers were never found, and are probably still at large, Kirk said.

"When all we have is a photo from a fake ID," he added, "the chances of finding him in Afghanistan or Pakistan are rather slim."

Gas Tax

Ramesh Ponnuru takes on Andrew Sullivan's support for a gas tax. Ponnuru's opposition is rather tepid, and he says that a higher gas tax might be ok in some circumstances.

What it comes down to for me is that we're going to tax something to pay for what the government does. Why not a higher tax on gas if it could be done in exchange for a lower payroll tax? Income is generally preferable to gas consumption, after all. Not that I want higher taxes if all else is held equal, but that would be a good tradeoff as far as I can see.

Flat Tax

The main problem with the idea of a flat tax -- quite apart from the diminishing marginal utility of money and the implications that has for progressivity -- is that this sort of argument completely ignores the payroll tax, which already takes a flat 15.3 percent out of the first $87,000 a person earns. The effect of a flat income tax and a flat payroll tax that applies only the first $87,000 is obvious: Regressivity. Assuming that the flax income tax rate is 14.7 percent, the guy who earns $40,000 pays 30% in total federal taxes. The guy who earns $4 million pays just barely over 14.7 percent total, because so much of his income isn't subject to the payroll tax at all.

Without payroll tax reform, in other words, a flat income tax means that the very rich will pay about half the total federal taxes as people who earn under $87,000. (The richer someone is, the more likely that he will pay a lower percentage of his total income in federal taxes, because his income will exceed $87,000 by a greater margin.)

Of course, that's without taking into account the effect of personal deductions for a family of four. With personal and other deductions in place, the $40,000 person might not pay any more tax than the rich person. Still, a move to make the income tax rates flat (or flatter) is almost sure to be regressive in its impact. I haven't heard of any valid reason for this outcome.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


A tribute to Crick and Koch, whose work on the neural correlates of consciousness is widely known, at least among people who follow this stuff. The New York Times reporter said a couple of notable things, though:
Body and mind are the twin problems around which Dr. Crick's life has spiraled, much like the double helix structure of DNA that he and Dr. James D. Watson are famous for discovering half a century ago. Though his research on "the molecule of life" is what he is best known for, in his 28 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, his work has focused on the mind, and in particular the question of consciousness.

Until recently, that subject was viewed with deep suspicion in scientific circles, but Dr. Crick has led a campaign to make it acceptable. These days it is even fashionable.
Until recently? Huh?

Then there's this:
In tackling consciousness, Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch have reframed the central question. Traditionally the problem has been cast in terms of subjectivity. How is it, for example, that when someone sees red (which physically speaking is electromagnetic waves of a particular frequency) there is also a subjective feeling of redness?

The "redness" of red and the "painfulness" of pain are what philosophers refer to as qualia. The gap between the objectivity of material science (the electromagnetic waves) and the subjectivity of human experience (the qualia) has led some philosophers to conclude that this chasm cannot be bridged by any materialist explanation.

Rather than getting bogged down in the depthless ooze of qualia, Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch sidestep the issue. Instead of asking the philosophical question of what consciousness is, they have restricted themselves to trying to understand what is going on at the neurological level when consciousness is present.
That isn't sidestepping the issue; it is avoiding the problem. It may be that consciousness is attended by 40-hertz oscillations (as Crick and Koch have argued, though this isn't discussed specifically in the article). But that just shifts the real problem to another level: Why should 40-hertz oscillations create subjective experience? Why that, and not something else? Finding neural correlates of consciousness is a useful task, but it leaves the real mystery of consciousness totally undisturbed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Today's Hearing Before the 9/11 Commission

Interesting moments from the testimony today before the 9/11 Commission. First, Janet Reno generally praises the Patriot Act:
I have been asked about the Patriot Act and I have always said that the Patriot Act was, kind of, the umbrella that everything that everybody saw happen after 9/11 that they didn't like fell under.

But generally everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful I think while at the same time maintaining the balance with respect to civil liberties, except with respect to one matter. And there has been so much discussion about it -- one of the things that I hope we might be able to do is to build on what the commission does and have an opportunity to sit down in a thoughtful, nonpartisan way and talk about the details of the Patriot Act so that people will have a better understanding of them.

But one issue is with respect to FISA searches. I don't have all the details with me, but that would be one area that I would like to learn more about in terms of the administration's perspective.

* * *
GORTON: Now, are there things that you think would be helpful in promoting our national security that weren't included in the original Patriot Act that you would recommend in any successor act?

RENO: I can't think of anything off the top of my head.
Janet Reno explains her view that pre-existing law did not prevent the sharing of information between agencies, though without mentioning the contrary memo penned by her deputy Jamie Gorelick (who now sits in the 9/11 Commission itself):
With respect to sharing, one of the frustrations is that the bureau even when it finds that it has something doesn't share, and it says it doesn't share because the legal authorities prohibit it from sharing. But I haven't been able to find with respect to the one instance of the two who came into this country and how we just missed them, what prevented anybody from sharing.

Much of these issues -- many of these issues will or have been resolved by the passage of the Patriot Act or other statements. But I think it is extremely important that the director or whoever leads the FBI understands that you've got to repeat the message again and again.
Janet Reno faces some tough questioning on the above views:
THOMPSON: In your prepared testimony on page 5, I think it's worth repeating these few lines -- because you weren't able to do it in your opening remarks --
There are simply no walls or restrictions on sharing the vast majority of counterterrorism information. There are no legal restrictions at all on the ability of the members of the intelligence community to share intelligence information with each other.

With respect to sharing between intelligence investigators and criminal investigators, information learned as a result of a physical surveillance or from a confidential informant can be legally shared without restriction.

While there were restrictions placed on information gathered by criminal investigators as a result of grand jury investigations or Title III wire taps, in practice they did not prove to be a serious impediment since there was very little significant information that could not be shared.
THOMPSON: If you were to have used those words in a legal opinion directed to the members of the intelligence community and specifically to the members of the FBI and the CIA, according to a lot of what we have heard in public or in private, and certainly according to a lot of assumptions reported in the press, the members of the intelligence community would have been astounded. Or am I wrong about that?

RENO: I think some would have been astounded.

I think it's again very important to understand -- and I think I learned from this how important it is when you announce a policy, when you try to do something, that you make sure you train, you get feedback from people.

And I think one of the things that I failed to do was to get feedback from them to understand exactly what their problems were with it, try to accommodate those interests and proceed to ensure a full exchange of information.

THOMPSON: In your answer to an earlier question you said that, I think I'm quoting you correctly and please correct me if I'm wrong, that you did not say something like this or talk about this subject near the close of your administration because you had failed to achieve consensus within the department on the issue.

THOMPSON: What did you mean by that? And why would you, as the attorney general of the United States, have needed consensus within the department before you issued your interpretation of what the law did or did not demand?

RENO: This obviously was a very sensitive issue, and to make a decision that I thought that would be binding -- obviously, they could change it -- I should have great confidence it seems to me before delivering to the next administration a decision.

I chose to let the next administration make the decision because -- no, you're right, I don't have to have consensus, but I've got to have a pretty clear idea of what's the right thing to do. Harry Truman said doing the right thing is easy; trying to figure out what it is is much more difficult. And it was very difficult for me in that situation.

More Lewis Letters

A couple of hilarious stories from C.S. Lewis's letters:
  • To his Father. 22. Nov. 1923. I have got quite recently one pupil, a youth of eighteen who is trying to get a Classical Scholarship. . . . I fear we shall win no laurels by him. I questioned him about his classical reading, and our dialogue went something like this ---

    SELF 'Well, S., what Greek authors have you been reading?'

    S. (cheerfully) 'I can never remember. Try a few names and I'll see if I get on to any.'

    SELF (a little damped) 'Have you read any Euripides?'

    S. 'No.'

    SELF 'Any Sophocles?'

    S. 'Oh yes'.

    SELF 'What plays of his have you read?'

    S. (after a pause) 'Well -- the Alcestis.'

    SELF (apologetically) 'But isn't that by Euripides?'

    S. (with the genial surprise of a man who find £1 where he thought there was only a 10/- note) 'Really. Is it now? Then by Jove I have read some Euripides.'

  • To his brother. 13 April 1929.

    I am moved to write at this moment by the selfish consideration that I heard last night a thing which you of all people ought to hear -- you know how one classifies jokes according to the people one wants to tell them to -- and am therefore uneasy until I have unloaded. The other night an undergraduate, presumable drunk, at dinner in the George covered the face of his neighbour with potatoes, his neighbour being a total stranger. Whether this means simply that he flung the contents of the potato dish at him or (as I prefer to think) that he seized him firmly by the short hairs and systematically lathered him with warm mash, my informant could not say.

    But that is not the point of the story. The point is that, being haled before the Proctors and asked why he had done so, the culprit very gravely and with many expression of regret, pleaded in so many words, 'I couldn't think of anything else to do'. I am sure you will share my delight at this transference of the outrage from the class of positive to that of negative faults; as though it proceeds entirely from a failure of the inventive faculty or a mere povery of the imagination. One ought to be careful of sitting near one of these unimaginative men. The novel idea can be worked equally well from either end; whether one thinks of the mohawk bashing your hat over your eyes with the words, 'Sorry old chap, I know it's a bit hackneyed, but I can't think of anything better' --- or of some elderly gentleman exclaiming testily, 'Ah what all these young men lack now-a-days is initiative' as he springs into the air from the hindward pressure of a pin.'

Gifted Children

Via Geekpress, a story showing that gifted children are better at using both sides of their brains:
A recent study of adolescents with above-average math abilities found the right and left halves of their brains are apparently better able to interact and share information than the brains of average students.

"Giftedness in math, music or art may be the by-product of a brain that has functionally organized itself in a different way," said Michael O'Boyle, psychologist at the University of Melbourne and one of the study's co-authors.
* * *
Roth adds, "We have recently become aware of the striking ability of the brain to change its organization depending on experience. For example, people who are highly skilled string instrument players will have greater representation in the brain for the left hand, because special skills in the left hand are needed to play these instruments."
* * *
The authors also note other research claiming math-gifted children tend to be left-handed males who are nearsighted and have a higher than average incidence of allergy, migraine and other immune disorders.
As a left-handed male with allergies who plays a stringed instrument and who found calculus fairly easy, I can't help but like these results.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

More Lewis Letters

More Lewis letters of note:
  • To his brother. 1 Jan. 1940.

    I went to see ----, a professor of London, the same morning. Here is a man of my own age, who knew Barfield when he was up; of my own profession, who has written on Spenser. You'd have thought that there were all the materials for a good conversation. But no . . . every single time I tried to turn it to books, or life, or friends (as such) I was completely frustrated, i.e. about friends, he'd talk of their jobs, marriages, houses, incomes, arrangements, but not about them. Books -- oh yes, editions, prices, suitability for exams -- not their contents. In fact hardly since the old days have I had to endure so much irredeemably 'grown up' conversation. Unless I misjudge him he is one of those dreadful fellows who never refer to literature except during the hours they are paid to talk about it. . . . How small a nucleus there is in each liberal profession of people who care about the thing they are supposed to be doing; yet I suppose the percentage of garage-hands and motor touts who are really interested in motoring is about 95.

  • To Dom Bede Griffiths. 8 May 1939.
    * * *
    The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They cannot sound otherwise to those who have not had the relevant experience: that is why there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.

  • To his brother. 14 June 1932.
    * * *
    My own secret is -- let rude ears be absent -- that to tell you the truth, brother, I don't like genius. I like enormously some things that only genius can do; such as Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy. But it is the results I like. What I don't care twopence about is the sense (apparently dear to so many) of being in the hands of 'a great man' -- you know, his dazzling personality, his lightening energy, the strange force of his mind -- and all that.
    * * *

  • To his brother. 1 April 1928.

    Our father's conversation was singularly poor in those 'anfractuosities' which so delight us. The only item worth remembering was his curious contribution to the problem of venereal disease, to the effect that obviously it must have begun with women and spread thence to men. Being asked why, he replied, "Sure how could a man have given it to a woman if he hadn't got it from a woman himself?" This is unanswerable.

More Letters

More Lewis letters of note:
  • To Owen Barfield. 4 April 1949.

    Talking of beasts and birds, have you ever noticed this contrast: that when you read a scientific account of any animal's life you get an impression of laborious, incessant, almost rational economic activity (as if all animals were Germans), but when you study any animal you know, what at once strikes you is their cheerful fatuity, the pointlessness of nearly all they do.

  • To Owen Barfield. 10 November 1948.

    I wonder whether what you say about depressions does not really mark an advance in self-criticism and objectivity -- i.e., that the very same experiences which would once have led you to say "how nasty everyone (or the weather, or the political situation) is at present" now leads you to say "I am depressed". A Copernican revolution, revealing as motion in the self what in one's more naif period was mistaken for motion in the cosmos.

  • To a godchild. 3 April 1949.
    * * *
    Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1)Things we ought to do. (2) Things we've got to do. (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of these reasons, things like reading books they don't like because other people read them.
    * * *

  • To his brother. 21 April 1940.
    * * * I was going into town one day and had got as far as the gate when I realized that I had odd shoes on, one of them clean, the other dirty. There was no time to go back. As it was impossible to clean the dirty one, I decided that the only way of making myself look less ridiculous was to dirty the clean one. Now wd. you have believed that this is an impossible operation? You can of course get some mud on it -- but it remains obviously a clean shoe that has had an accident and won't look in the least like a shoe that you have been for a walk in. One discovers new snags and catches in life every day.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Possible Errors

This point isn't original with me, but a quote from this article highlights the problem. It's about the August 6 briefing that President Bush received:
The document said that "some of the more sensational threat reporting" -- such as warnings that bin Laden wanted to hijack aircraft to win the release of fellow extremists" -- could not be corroborated.
They couldn't corroborate the intel suggesting that bin Laden wanted to hijack planes. But we all know what happened a little over a month later.

This shows the hazards that necessarily accompany any attempt to rely on intel in taking political action. If a President doesn't do enough to prevent an attack that was predicted by dubious intel, he gets the blame. Yet if he relies on similarly dubious intel to act in order to prevent any possible attack by another crazy dictator in a hostile nation (Iraq), he gets blamed for that too.

It's child's play to issue blame in hindsight. The thing is, how would President Bush (or any of his underlings) know ahead of time which set of dubious intel requires action and which doesn't? Do any of his critics honestly have any better ideas about how to make decisions at the time?

Googling the Word "Jew"

I'm all in favor of the attempt to help Google turn up a pro-Jewish site when someone searches for "Jew," as opposed to the hate site that currently is the first result. The irony is that a possible reason that a hate site is the first result is because some anti-hate sites have linked to it, along the lines of, "Here's another hateful site that people should watch out for." (E.g., this this site on internet hate, or this syllabus for a course called "Nonsense in America.") That exposes a fault in Google, I suppose: It treats lots of links as a sign of approval, when some people might be explicitly disapproving the site in question.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Lewis Letters

Some excerpts:
  • To Mrs. Vera Gerbert. 17 December 1954.
    Would you believe it; an American school girl has been expelled from her school for having in her possession a copy of my Screwtape. I asked my informant whether it was a Communist school, or a Fundamentalist school, or an RC school, and got the shattering answer, 'No, it was a select school'. That puts a chap in his place, doesn't it? . . .

  • To Mrs. Edward A. Allen. 1 November 1954.

    * * *
    Do you know, the suffering of the innocent is less of a problem to me v. often than that of the wicked. It sounds absurd; but I've met so many innocent sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to God in Christ as part of the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, 'made perfect by suffering'. On the other hand I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem.
    * * *

  • To a lady. 18 Feb. 1954.

    * * *
    I know one doesn't even want to be cured of one's pride because it gives pleasure. But the pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch; but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither but have everything (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky) instead.
    * * *

  • To Miss Ruth Pitter. January 1951.

    What is the point in keeping in touch with the contemporary scene? Why shd. one read authors one doesn't like because they happen to be alive at the same time as oneself? One might as well read everyone who had the same job or the same coloured hair or the same income or the same chest measurement, as far as I can see.

  • To Mrs. L. 27 Sept. 1949.

    The moment one asks oneself 'Do I believe?' all belief seems to go. I think this is because one is trying to turn round and look at something which is there to be used and work from -- trying to take out one's eyes instead of keeping them in the right place and seeing with them. I find that it happens about other matters as well as faith. In my experience only v. robust pleasures will stand the question, 'Am I really enjoying this?' Or attention -- the moment I being thinking about my attention (to a book or lecture) I have ipso facto ceased attending. St. Paul speaks of 'Faith actualized in Love'. And 'the heart is deceitful'; you know better than I how very unreliable introspection is. I shd. be much more alarmed about your progress if you wrote claiming to be overflowing with Faith, Hope, and Charity.


For reasons that should be obvious, I have had a little time off lately. In fact, two entire weeks, which is the most time I've had off since the Christmas of 1996. So I've been able to do a little reading.

1. Atheism & Theism, which is a debate between J.J.C. Smart and J.J. Haldane. Informative as to most of the main arguments on either side. Smart can be subtly entertaining. For example, his footnote 1 on page 187 begins, "See two rather horrible articles of mine . . . ." Then there is the story that he repeats, also on page 187:
In my younger days it was possible in certain circles to win an argument by looking at the ceiling and saying in a plonking tone of voice 'I don't understand', where upon the opponent was supposed to feel a fool for having said something meaningless. I have a delightful memory of when a brash young Oxonian tried this on Russell and Russell replied 'I am not responsible for your intellectual deficiencies, young man'.
2. Saul A. Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Well-worth reading, as one would expect from Kripke.

3. C.S. Lewis's Letters, in a collection prefaced by his brother. Again, well-worth reading, for Lewis's humor, his writing, and the immensity of his learning. I'll post some excerpts.

Unpublished Opinions

I see no reason not to allow citation of unpublished opinions in federal court. Rather, I see no reason to have this entire class of opinions that are mostly written by staff and that are explicitly intended to be poor substitutes for the real thing. If federal judges have too many cases as it is, Congress should expand their numbers and their pay.

On this topic, I was interested to see Patrick Schiltz's 66-page paper commenting on the proposed federal rule that would allow citation of unpublished opinions. I was especially caught by this passage:
From page 25 [repeating an argument from the rule's supporters]:

A judge who claims that he sometimes needs to go through 70 or 80 drafts of an opinion before getting every word exactly right has confused the function of a judge with the function of a legislator. Judges are appointed not to draft statutes, but to resolve concrete disputes. What they hold is law; everything else is dicta. Lower court judges understand this; they know how to read a decision and extract its holding.
This must be referring to Judge Alex Kozinski, who is a famous opponent of allowing citation of unpublished opinions, and who has written on many occasions that he goes through many drafts (see here, here, here, or here).

With all due respect to Kozinski, one doesn't need anywhere near 50 drafts, let alone 70. After just a few drafts, the returns to further editing become quite marginal, and may even become negative, as one begins to second-guess sentences and paragraphs that were perfectly good to begin with. And at least some of Kozinski's many drafts are done for extra-legal purposes, such as humor. Consider the United States v. Syufy opinion, where Kozinski worked some 204 movie titles into an opinion that was about a film-house owner. This sort of thing is fun, but totally unnecessary, especially for someone who complains about being overworked.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Some Observations

Some observations about my experience:
  • It's a weird thing to pick up the classical guitar or piano, and to be an expert with one hand (or at least passable on the piano) yet to be somewhat of a beginner with the other hand. I imagine it's good therapy, though.

  • You don't want to rip out your IV while in your sleep. For one thing, blood gets everywhere. For another thing, they might have trouble finding another vein. It's not as if they are going to let you do a few curls with a fifty-pound weight in order to get the veins popping out.

  • You might also want to shave your arms prior to going to the hospital. Shaved arms look silly, but better to look silly than to have a bunch of tape ripped out when it is attached to hair.

  • An occupational therapist came by to see if I needed therapy. At 6 in the morning. I wanted to shake him, and say, "You're a doctor who is supposed to help people get better, right? Do you really think you get an accurate assessment when you wake people out of bed at 6 in the morning when they've hardly had any sleep to begin with? Huh?" But I was too groggy to issue this kind of statement.