Thursday, August 31, 2006

Whigs and wigs.

Ezra Klein has a brilliant post in which he argues that it is a bad idea to make most people pay medical expenses out of pocket, because most people will skimp irrationally. As an aside, he even argues that people should not be free to buy health insurance that doesn't pay for wigs (if they have chemotherapy).

Klein's main target is Aaron (update: Arnold) Kling who represented the pro-market right in a debate, but he spares a barb for Sebastian Mallaby in the role of hypoteneuse.

"A good example of this came from Mallaby, who mocked Minnesota's insurance climate for mandating coverage of massage and wigs. (Minnesota, incidentally, has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation.) Ho, Ho, Ho. He had a good laugh over that one, I'm sure. Except the wigs are for chemotherapy survivors..."

Klein's claim is that no rational woman would risk having to go around bald in order to save the expected cost of a wig should she need chemotherapy (he is quite explicit on the gender dimension). However, real world women will not think of that (who wants to think of that) and so their future scalps must be protected from their present selves.

To me it is obvious that health insurance should be regulated so that insurance companies are required to pay for reasonable care (which certainly includes wigs for chemotherapy patients who want them). Why do some people disagree ? I present possible explanations in reverse order of respectfulness

0) They don't really and are being dishonest. The wig and massage line is effective. Even people who understand the issues might use it to trick those who don't.

1) They think it is right and just for foolish people to suffer. I strongly suspect that this is true of many libertarians. I don't have proof. Obviously this has nothing to do with Mallaby.

3) They are clueless. It is possible that Mr Mallaby has never thought of how desperately he might want a wig if all his hair fell out (judging by his photo this is extremely extremely unlikely for reasons which have nothing to do with chemotherapy, which Klein is too young to have experienced and which are all too clear as the sight of my scalp in the mirror to me). Thus he thinks that the choice imposed by Minnesota is the wrong choice and he is against it. This is cluelesness because I'm sure he thinks it is reasonable for women who have had chemotherapy to wear wigs and that economic risk is, other things equal, bad. This is the most likely explanation.

4) They assume people have rational expectations. If one assumes that everyone makes perfect choices, limiting their feasible set can only reduce their welfare. This assumption is so crazy that no one takes it literally (I met one guy named Adriano once who claimed to but I think he was joking). Professional economists take it seriously when at work, but Mallaby, for all his faults, is not one of us.

5) they are liberals and hold by the creed that we should always act as if we believe that people are the best judges of their own interests.

Here I refer to liberalism it's own self. Not the modern English usage in which it means left of center but right of socialism. Not "classical liberalism" which means "libertarianism" which means pro-market rightism.

Another way of putting 5 is that some people are opposed to paternalism on principle even if they recognise that it can sometimes be a useful means towards the end of maximising pleasure minus pain.

I have some respect for 5, so I want to understand why I find it unconvincing. As for me, I am not reliably anti paternalistic (and I wasn't even before I became a pater).
I think we should protect peoples' future selfs from their present selfs. I have always thought this. I will try to pretend to be a more reliable liberal and think more.

I think that a liberal argument for all sorts of regulations is adverse selection. Generous medical insurance which is good for everyone is very good for those in ill health. All economists know why the market will provide less generous insurance than is optimal. This holds even if people have rational expectations, that is, know and understand everything that is knowable.

I also think that if people are free, they are free to delegate responsibility. I don't want to have to read the fine print on an insurance policy. I certainly don't want to have to demand to read the fine print on an insurance policy during a job interview. I don't want to learn enough epidemiology to know which treatments are cost effective (I personally haven't bothered to get a medical check up which was not mandatory since I became an adult but I am trying to pretend I am a good liberal). Once one chooses to delegate responsibility one has to worry about the self interest of the delegate. It is optimal to choose a delegate who does not have compelling interests competing with the desire to honestly serve you (always weak).

Legislators and bureaucrats are such delegates. They are not to be trusted, but they are obviously easier to discipline than insurance companies who are on the other side of a market transaction. We can trust them to handle the paper work (for a huge cost) but it would be crazy to trust their advice on what policy to buy. We can verify by checking what has happened to clients of various companies, but I just assumed that we are too busy to do stuff like that.

There is a key case for public sector involvement when all private sector agents have strong incentives to act badly.

This point is due to Nancy Zimmerman who asked the question with only one possible answer "do you want a private cost minimizing profit maximizing contractor to service Air Force One" (this was when Clinton was president).

Her husband and a friend made an economics article out of it.

Why can't the market handle this ? Well first of all adverse selection.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "8/31/2006 05:38:00 AM":

Can you provide a link or citation to the econ article by that Zimmerman feller?

Nancy Zimmerman is not a professional economist. The article was written by her husband Andrei Shleifer and two friends. It is modestly titled "The Proper Scope of Government: Theory and an Application to Prisons" with O. Hart, A. Shleifer and R. Vishny). Quarterly Journal of Economics, November, 1997. pdf here

The authors are each well known for being very smart.

Max has left a new comment on your post "8/31/2006 05:38:00 AM":

Arnold Kling.

Thanks Max. Sorry Arnold.
Keith Olbermann Slanders Neville Chamberlain While Comparing Him to Donald Rumsfeld

via Atrios.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

This is slander

Neville Chamberlain became prime minister on 28 May 1937 . When the Chamberlain government was first formed, Germany had re-armed and re-militarised the Rhineland . It was clear to all including Chamberlain that Germany had re-armed and was a threat to Europe.

The Baldwin government make have been wilfully blind in the way Olbermann describes.

I am not defending Chamberlain. He certainly made a mess of things.

However, Olbermann has not bothered checking the facts.

I used Wikipedia and one minute of my time. Why didn't Olbermann ?

Furthermore, when Chamberlain took office he faced terrible painful choices. His response to Hitler was mistaken. However, he didn't make a disaster out of nothing. Furthermore, I think it safe to say that if an English city had been flooded, he wouldn't have argued against sending troops to help relief. Now that I'm at it he is not known to have approved the use of torture.

I'd say that Keith Olbermann owes Neville Chamberlain an apology. He was a truly aweful prime minister but comparing him to Donald Rumsfeld is going too far.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "8/31/2006 04:20:00 AM":

I used Wikipedia and one minute of my time. Why didn't Olbermann ?

I'm sure the first source Keith consults is Wikipedia, doing a show four or five times per week. After all, it's always accurate and even the fact-checking staff at MSNBC must have it on their bookmark list.

One other point: Whatever you're smoking, send some fumes my way. Must be fun.

Robert replies

I assume Wikipedia is reliable on matters of public record such as when did Neville Chamberlain become prime minister and when did Hitler remilitarise the Rhineland.
In any case a Wikipedia claim that a fact is false should be enough to check in an authoritative source.

Of course I exagerated when I said it took me a minute to decide that Olbermann had slandered Chamberlain. I thought so instantly, because IIRC Chamberlain was not prime minister for most of the 30's including the period when the Nazi military buildup was not yet openly flaunted. My recollection plus Wikipedia is plenty for me.

I understand that anonymous' point about the 4 or 5 shows a week is that, since Olbermann has no staff at all to help him, it is unreasonable to expect him to spend all of 4 or 5 minutes a week checking the facts he uses in his historical analogies.

Also I quit smoking and am sucking on a nicotine tablet.

And thanks for the real non spam comment.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Amateur Psycho Linguist
attempts to explain why an interpretation of a newspaper article which respects the dictionary definitions of words is, nonetheless, plainly dishonest.

Atrios sends me to this controversy

Very briefly a Kos diarist (Stark) objects to an article written by a journalist (Graham) describing his actions and does not reach agreement with a journalist. I think that elementary semantics shows that the journalist is arguing dishonestly. Sad to say, I don't know elementary semantics. Sadder still, I never let my own ignorance stop me.

To briefly summarise uncontested facts: Stark challenged George Felix Allen Jr with some tough questions. Stark claims that he requested and received explicit permission to ask questions before asking them. Senator Allen said he would answer the questions after a press availability. A campaign aid asked Stark to leave the hotel where Allen was. The manager of the hotel asked Stark to leave. Stark left. Note that it is agreed that Allen did not answer all of Stark's questions.

Reporting Graham wrote "Allen at first requested that Stark wait to speak with him until after he had addressed questions from the members of the media who were awaiting the start of the press availability. Allen campaign aide David Snepp then asked Stark to leave after he became combative" (this is actually a rewriting. Graham removed the claim that Stark had been escorted out in response to Stark's objection).

Stark objected to the use of the phrase "after he became combative" (among many other things) "...Sixth:I've got this entire sequence recorded and I just listened to it on my IPod. I defy you to show me any point at which I became "combative". Yes, I asked difficult questions, but there was no point at which I raised my voice or otherwise acted ignobly....

Graham replied "6: ..."Combative" is another word whose definition would seem to be pretty clear. The wording of your opening question to the senator was "combative." Your resistance to the overtures from the senator and Mr. Snepp to allow the senator to proceed with the Q and A session that had been prearranged - obviously outside of your realm of knowledge - with members of the local media was also "combative."..."

Stark replied "... the audio of the exchange is here: ...
As you can tell by listening to the tape, I agreed to wait for the Senator. I never became "combative" after that."

Note that Stark makes audio publicly available. Graham, in contrast, wrote "5: My tape recorder was running at the early part of your conversation with the senator. I have played it back, and could not detect the answer to your question as you noted."
Thus journalists feel it is sufficient to report their impression of their audio recordings while Kos diarists make the audio publicly available. The point at issue is whether Allen said "no" audibly. Click the link above.

To me the intersting point is that Graham argues "The wording of your opening question to the senator was "combative." " as justification of the statement "Allen campaign aide David Snepp then asked Stark to leave after he became combative." I think this argument is consistent with the dictionary definitions of the words involved and with the standard rules of English grammer. It is also an argument that any reasonable person would find patently false and dishonest. Why ?

I'd say that there are other rules of communication than those found in dictionaries or grammer texts. These rules are not taught in school, because almost everyone finds them obvious and applies them instantly and effortlessly. They have something to do with Gricean attribution theory which Ehud Reiter briefly attempted to explain to me about 17 years ago.

Graham proposes that "combative" could be interpreted as "asked an opening question which was combative". Does anyone believe that Graham could have written what I put in parentheses

("A University of Virginia law student and self-identified supporter of Democratic Party Senate candidate Jim Webb was asked to leave a George Allen campaign event in Staunton today after interrupting the start of a local press availability with the senator to ask him a series of questions that included a racial slur."Have you ever used the word `nigger'?" the man, who later identified himself in a Web log posting as Mike Stark, a first-year law student at UVa., asked the Republican incumbent after Allen had finished up speaking to a local chamber of commerce group.

After repeating the question, Stark then asked Allen about a Confederate flag and noose that he keeps in his office.

Allen at first requested that Stark wait to speak with him until after he had addressed questions from the members of the media who were awaiting the start of the press availability. Allen campaign aide David Snepp then asked Stark to leave after he" asked an opening question which was combative).

Such words in such an order could not be written in a newspaper or uttered by a human being. It is absolutely implausible that someone would describe a combative opening question, then describe other events, the write "after Stark asked his opening question" then describe still other events. Such an article would not include a false claim of fact, but it would be absurd, since the qualifier "after Stark asked his opening question" is plainly redundant, the question itself having been described previously. When writing and speaking we avoid redundant statements and qualifiers. The reason isn't just to save breath or ink and paper or the time of our listeners or readers. We do so also because such statements are very very confusing.

Since people don't repeat themselves when writing or speaking without interruption, we assume that a statement (or qualifier) which can be interpreted so as to be redundant is not correctly interpreted so that it is redundant, and that it must have some other meaning. The rule "don't add totally pointless words" is usually applied automatically and effortlessly, that is, without concentration or concious concern about the rule. The rule "when interpreting something you hear or read do not interpret statements or qualifiers so that they are totally pointless" is, similarly, applied automatically and effortlessly by all reasonable people.

No normal person would interpret "after he became combative" as a reference to the combativeness which had already been explicitly described.

Another rule of semantics is that one does not qualify only one of two statements when the same qualifier applies to both. Thus if "after he became combative" applies to everything that happened after Stark asked his opening question, then one would normally apply it also to "Allen at first requested that Stark wait to speak with him until after he had addressed questions from the members of the media ". No reasonable person would imagine that the qualifier could have been applied equally to both clauses given that it was applied only to "Allen campaign aide David Snepp then asked Stark to leave".

Finally (and this is very obvious) the words "then ... after" strongly suggests that the time of the event (asking Stark to leave) is characterised by coming after (he became combative) in contrast to the immediately precedent events (Allen says he will answer after the press availability softened by Graham to Allen asked to answer after the press availability).

I think it is clear that Graham's argument is patently dishonest. He interpreted his article in a way which is consistent with the dictionary definitions of the words in it and with the rules of English grammer, but which is not consistent with the rules of human communication.

When thinking of Graham think of the following stupid joke "Why does the fireman wear red suspenders ? To keep his pants up." It is not funny, but the reason it is a joke is that the qualifier "red" is irrelevant. Thus the interpretation of the question as "why does the fireman wear either suspenders or a belt" is consistent with the dictionary meaning of the words, but is clearly not at all reasonable.
They Write Letters. Johnny Carrera writes a letter to the Globe. I don't know if they published it, but I sure will.

The sad statement by Dick Cheney equating Ned Lamont with AlQueda got me thinking about F.D.R.'s famous words that "The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself." If former legal council to Richard Nixon, John Dean, is correct; Fear is what causes a nation to fall into the clutches of Facism. And Fear seems to be all that our Administration is peddling. If our goal is to stop terrorism, perhaps we should take a step back and remember the big question after 9/11: "Why do they Hate us?" You know what? They sure have a lot more reasons after a hundred thousand civilians lie dead around the Middle East because our administration thinks War is better business than Peace. What if George Bush had followed up on the notion that we would all have to sacrifice after 9/11? A fireside chat reassuring us that we are still the safest, most priviledged country in the world would have made sense. How about suggesting getting to know our neighbors is part of doing our part to make our country safer - wouldn't that be preferrable to having our goverment wire tap our phone lines? We are such a strong nation - we could have afforded to be seen as the good guys. Yes, finding Osama Bin Laden would have been a good idea, but starting a War that Dick Cheney is purported (acording to Seymore Hirsch) to want to expand into Iran is not the solution. Next time let's remember "Speak softly but carry a big stick."

he might have published it himself at

Johnny is my brother in law. Actually this link is major cool too. I especially like the headline "go back to work" but stress that "like" and "obey" are very very different concepts.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Matthew Yglesias Hits the Nail on the Head as Usual.

As usual he convinces me he is very smart by stating the blindingly obvious. It looks easy, but I would be glad to do the same and haven't learned his trick for finding blithering idiocy in respectable publications.

Today he argues that a war can be against the interests of both combatants. Guess we better not invade Canada.

But to me, the striking sentence in the post is the following "It sounds sufficiently dippy that I hesitate to express the view, but the simple fact of the matter is that going to war is rarely a good idea." I have no doubt that Yglesias' perfect ear correctly infers that the statement sounds "dippy" in Washington today. We have reached the point that a self proclaimed liberal hesitates to say that "war is rarely a good idea." This is a grim situation. I don't know how long it will last, but I do hope that Washington, the city, survives the view that it sounds dippy to say war is rarely a good idea.

I can usually identify Yglesias from the prose before reading the byline (the guess who wrote this game is one of the reasons I love Tapped). Often the post I guess is his was written by Greg Sargent. This time I read to the end imagining that Josh Marshall was writing (maybe the photo of Marshall tricked me).
A Glimpse of a possibility that a bitter conflict might, some day, be resolved.

A margin of hope, a light in the dark forest, the first sign of a better tomorrow in this article in the Post.

"Bloggers from both sides of the border . . . have been providing live updates, commenting on one another's blogs and sometimes linking to posts by bloggers on the other side of the border," wrote Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli blogger and journalist, on her site On the Face six days into the war. "Will this turn out to be the first time that residents of 'enemy' countries engaged in an ongoing conversation while missiles were falling?"

I'm sure it is a false dawn but I was amazed to find someone saying something good about some bloggers at

Monday, August 21, 2006

Media Mutters for Murica: The AP on the NSA

Hard to predict 6th Circuit's NSA ruling

The program monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspects have terrorist links. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the government says it can't always wait for a court to take action.

Note that anonymity is granted to "the government." Any executive branch employee with a name attached would not be eager to demonstrate dishonesty or ignorance by failing to mention that, according to FISA, the government doesn't have to wait for the FISA court to take action, since it can start surveillance immediately and request a retrospective warrent. The argument ascribed to "the government" and not refuted by DAN SEWELL, is based on the false claim that FISA requires court action before surveillance begins.

Today no government employee was forced by DAN SEWELL to demonstrate that he or she is either shamefully ignorant or shamelessly dishonest or both, since DAN SEWELL is willing to demonstrate that he DAN SEWELL is either totally incompetent or totally dishonest or both. I am sure that ap affiliated newspapers have many readers who are just as ignorant as DAN SEWELL is or pretends to be, so that these readers will be deceived by DAN SEWELL and believe that the Bush administration had to chose whether to obey the law or take action without waiting for a court.

Since this is a crucial fact vital to understanding our President's total contempt for the concept of the rule of law, DAN SEWELL has demonstrated total contempt for the truth and the profession of journalism and should quit pretending to be a journalist.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Some new words and phrases which may be useful for discussing debate withing the Democratic party

to metastupise: v practice of responding when one's claim is proven false by arguing that what you really said is that most Americans appear to believe that claim so the party is doomed unless every Democrat accepts it as truth.

metatestes: n the imaginary male reproductive glands that some people seem to think they acquire by sending other people off to war.

concern orcs: n Right wing Democrats (or Independent Democrats) who are concerned that if the party doesn't do whatever they want it will never win elections. This is a variant on concern trolls, who are Republicans who warn Democrats that if the Democrats don't roll over (again) regular Americans will perceive them as being weak. A lesser breed as orcs are less powerful than trolls in Middle Earth (not to be confused with middle America). When concern orcs become childish like Martin Peretz they become concern goblins. Those who are so pathetic they make you cringe such as Mickey Kaus are concern Gollums.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gina Kolata Via Brad DeLong

I would like to present an alternative hypothesis. The article basically makes a claim of fact -- that people develope Arthritis, heart disease and chronic lung disease at a much older age -- and presents a hypothesis -- that this is due to better health in early childhood, infancy and in the womb. The natural experiement of the Spanish flu provides direct evidence.

The basic reason for the long delayed costs of ill health very early in life (or just before) is that the diseases are not prevented by medical interventions (such as vaccination) and are not believed to have an infectious cause which could be blocked before we know about it by sanitation including water purification, sewage treatment etc. (I really did just delete two ceteras for space)

All very interesting, but I think the diseases in question might have infectious causes so the explanation might be sanitation.

Consider an example: stomach cancer. Over the past century, deaths due to stomach cancer have declined as dramatically as deaths due to lung cancer have increased. This was a mystery until it was discovered that stomach ulcers and stomach cancers are largely caused by helicobacter pilori, an infectious agent. Better sanitation thus explains the decline in stomach cancer (in developed countries).

Rheumatoid arthritis was unknown in the old world before 1492 (they had osteo arthritis but these are different syndromes and the diagnosis can be made from bones). It is very possible that it has an infectious cause brought from the Western hemisphere (syphillis in contrast is definitely an old world disease even if it was introduced to Europe from North Africa about then).

Heart disease can be caused the Streptococcus. More generally, heart disease seems to have something to do with inflamation which might have something to do with an infectious agent.

If the causes are infectious, it is at least possible that the agents will be found implying an even more dramatic improvement in the future.

This is just an effort to provoke thought. I don't really hope to take a heart disease vaccine before I die.
I hope this translation makes my blog clearer.
Can John Fund afford internet access ?

Media Matters quotes John Fund claiming "We have the same -- we have almost the same number of troops there [Saudi Arabia] that we had five years ago, about 16,000. Look it up."

Atrios is shocked by his ignorance. From the partial transcript it seems that Fund brought the issue up.

Well I knew that one minor motivation for the invasion of Iraq was the desire to redeploy out of Saudi Arabia, but I wasn't sure we had actually done so.

Let's ask google. First search for US Troops in Saudi Arabia. No need to click the links, the headlines are enough to show that Fund is full of it. Elapsed time 10 seconds (max).

How can anyone go on the air without googling a bit in the green room if necessary ?

Why doesn't Hardball have real time fact checking. There was a disagreement about a very public fact. It took 10 seconds for me to find proof that Green was right and Fund was wrong. Why doesn't Hardball have a staffer or two googling for facts ? I mean the disagreement should have been settled (by Matthews) on the air after a commercial break. In this case no need for a break.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Do Blogofascists Have More Integrity than Republicans ?

Sadly No ! At great personal risk your intrepid correspondent discovered the paintbrushed version of this image at Sadly NO

They are not currently displaying this crude sexist and unacceptable version

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Which can still be found in the Googleplex Stash.

Camper boy has left a new comment on your post "8/12/2006 12:43:00 PM":

Cute blog. Not really great. Just cute. Nice pic, though.
Primary Colors

Michael O'Hare is worried about being stuck for hours in O'Hare because of insane new flight security regulations and argues "A book is a low-tech object that can be X-rayed and riffled to confirm that it's what it appears to be;". I believe he is referring to the act of running the book's pages past your fingers like shuffling cards. The English word for this act is "to rifle" not "to riffle" which would be what a breaze does to still waters.

Hmmm remember the book "Primary Colors" written by Anonymous who turned out to be Joe Klein ? How did it turn out ? Seems Klein used "riffled" for "rifled" (IIRC the context was exactly riffling the pages of a book). Makes me wonder if anyone has ever seen Michael O'Hare and Joe Klein in the same room at the same time.

Naaaah. Michael O'Hare is an extremely thoughtful and intelligent commentator. Klein is a wanker. But wait didn't people read "Primary Colors" from cover to cover. The status of Roman a Clef without a Clef could have gotten people past page 10, but evidently, the author is someone who can write. Now Klein eventually admitted to being "anonymous" causing a great scandal, a 3 week leave of absence, and a huge lift for his career.

hmmmmm. Anyone know where O'Hare was in 1992 ?

update: I admit that, since the "Primary Colors" took place in the 20th century way back in the age of the dinosaurs, the only evidence I found was in comments on blogs. Thus I am guilty of Nutpicking and, for all I know, "a book is a low-tech object that can be X-rayed and riffled" is correct English. My google search.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Separated at Birth ?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Technological Progress in Ventriloquists' Dummies


Eugene McCarthy '68 Charlie McCarthy '06


His Lips Move but Karl Rove is Talking


Separated at Birth ?


Joe and Charles McCarthy

(last one no good. Joe ... McCarthy is fighting words where I comes from).

Image courtesy of The Institute for Contemporary Music. I don't know if it is public domain.

Please Please continue the caption suggestions in comments.

On 8/11/06, Joe wrote:

You should have it end like this:


Joe and Charles McCarthy



Robert tries

"Now we know why Dick Cheney talks without moving his lips"
Lost in Cyberspace

Lieberman concedes primary to Lamont. He also says he is running as an independent
. I think it is obvious that no honorable person can participate in a vote then decide that the outcome doesn't matter. Liberman could have honorably chosen to not contest the primary and to run as an independent. No person with any respect for democracy of fair play can play heads I win tails we flip again.

The sad sad story of Joe Lieberman meets the 21st century had a very very appropriate twist when his campaign's site went down. The lieberteam decided that this fit the narrative of blogofascists attaching the last civil and honest man and claimed that the site was hacked. They also admit they were paying "a bit more" than $15 a month for their partial share of a web server. Now one of those things about elections is that interest tends to peak around the day of the election. A site which had barely adequate capacity for months will crash soon before the election.

The Blogobarbarians are laughing at Lieberman's expense.
and laughing and laughing and laughing

The last is the best. Life is made of priorities and, it seems, that Lieberman's internet consultant doesn't have time to figure out what happened (or get the site up again) because he is too busy making unsupported accusations

Lieberman's internet consultant Dan Geary, who oversees, says he's still sure that their site suffered a "malicious attack." But when pressed, he said that they weren't sure that it was a "Denial of Service" attack, as he'd said earlier. He didn't have any more information about the nature of the supposed attack. "I've spent 99% of my time speaking [to reporters] about the story," he said.

Maybe could save some time with "I don't know. I'll get back to you when I know something. What is your e-mail address ?"
Jonathan Zasloff asks I answer

The answer to your question depends on what you mean by "Europeans". Western European governments were on board for Kosovo and Afghanistan so they did not denounce the bombings (except for bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade which caused the prime minister of Italy to say too many mistakes were being made). European commentators and journalists were IIRC quite enthusiastic about denouncing NATO bombing of Serbia to the extent that I found the voices pointing out that they had been calling for the USA to do something about Kosovo quite lonely.

I live in Italy. My sense was that public opinion was strongly against the Clinton administration on Kosovo.

As to Afghanistan well 9-11 changed everything for a while. Certainly civilian deaths due to US bombing were reported and many people thought the US should have done better in, for example, not bombing more than one ICRC warehouse in Kabul. My recollection of the war certainly includes recollection of extensive coverage of the US bombing a village tucked into a ravine that looked to someone like a terrorist camp and, of course, extensive extensive discussion of the US bombing red cross buildings (with huge red crosses on their roofs) in Kabul.

If people relying on US news sources have the impression that no one was denouncing the USAF for bombing neutral embassies, civilian targets, and the red cross in both wars, then my concern about the US MSM just turned into panic.

update: Also Matthew Yglesias has a body count and notes that 500<10,000.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Accidental Realist

I define a realist as someone who believes that true statements are statements which correspond to reality, that is, people who accept that there is an external reality and objective truth. I do not assume that a realist thinks such truths must be knowable, that is a realist must believe that ontological objectivity is possible but may believe that epistomological objectivity is mythological like, say, pegasus.

I think everyone is a realist. I don't think it is humanly possible to get away from it. This doesn't mean we are right (or that we exist outside of the feavered dreams of your brain). I think that basic principles of Quantum mechanics are undeniable but just won't fit in a human brain, so that the claims of physicists seem to be logically inconsistent and definitely false even when they are just describing the results of experiments.

In any case, many people who claim to reject realism fail to do so. Let me consider the case of Prof Stanley Fish (again). He is a smart guy. He claims he is not a realist. He writes in English not in semi translated French. He has a weird view about what a professor may and may not do

it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the [snip] agenda it may be thought to imply.

[big snip]

Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy.

Here Fish seems to say that a fair and balanced professor must teach as if all theories are created equal. He makes no exceptions. In particular he makes no exceptions for natural sciences. His view is that realism has no place in the academy.

However, professor Fish falls into a contradiction. His argument is general. It is not restricted to particular fields of inquiry. It applies to all fields of inquiry and, therefore, it applies to the particular field of inquiry called "intellectual history". When a professor discusses the "structure, history, influence and so forth" of an idea he or she takes a stand on potentially controversial debates in the study of the history of ideas. When the professor claims that the history of this idea is x, the professor makes many claims about the real world. For example the professor typically assumes that books do in fact exist outside of the professors mind and that they were written by people who are more or less the same sort of thing as the professor and the students.

You can't escape from talking about the real world by talking about the world of human ideas, because human beings are part of the real world. You can't discuss the history of the idea that there is no objective reality without implicitely conceding that there is such a history and therefore there is an objective reality.

For some reason, some people seem to think that the particular atoms that are ink on paper are different. The aspect of human history which is classified as intellectual history is different. That a professor can't propound a theory of what happened on September 11 2001, but can propound a theory on what happened when the rev Berkeley drank a bit too much pine water.

Fish is deliberately provacative, but the view is shared by someone who is deliberately not provacative -- Isaiah Berlin. It is clearly nonsense. Why do smart people believe it?
Brad DeLong makes peace with Tom Ricks first by telling people to listen to him on the radio and now in this interesting post. I thought I had something useful to say about it, but I don't so I won't pollute Brad's comment thread with my comment which I dump here.

I remember reading Hicks's explanation years ago written by Michael Ignatieff (sp? google wont show it to me) about how reporters didn't report the truth on Iraq because of their "professionalism" which requires them to present views that range from the main stream of the Democratic party to the [main stream of the Republican party] loony right.

Evidently Kucinic and and the love one another caucus aren't main stream enough to count (Drew agrees and so do I) and Harkin etc aren't either. This is, as has been noted by many people, absolutely aweful. If the press is obliged to accept the conventional wisdom (of politicians most ordinary people weren't on board yet) then they are worthless.

Hicks actually puts it a different way. He says his editors said there was no need to inform a debate about whether Iraq should be invaded, because it was going to happen anyway, so the debate didn't matter. The slogan appears to be "don't speak truth to power". This is also what Drumheller claims he was told when he expressed doubts about curve ball. This definitely has nothing to do with finding and reporting the truth. Also it shows (again) that the Post's editors do not see their job as informing their readers but rather as influencing politicians. Only powerful people count. If they agree the matter is decided. The public doesn't matter.

Also interesting is the dread Kurtz line about "objective". I think that Auros puts it exactly right "Kurtz has -- like most media figures -- confused "objective" and "impartial". If one has a liking for -- a partiality towards -- actual, factual truth, then it is difficult to remain impartial in the face of lies and stupidity." Yes that's it. "Fair" and "objective" are used to mean "balanced" and "impartial". It is not enough to refrain from drawing conclusions without proof, it is necessary to draw no conclusions even if there is proof. This reminds me of Stanley Fish who wrote that it was unacceptable for a professor to advocate any theory (including one assumes the germ theory of diseases).

However my point, such as it is, is about Ricks' reply. He interprets the question as one about being frozen out by the defence department, or maybe he interprets as an accusation that he is not supporting the troops. Now, given the awefulness of the question answering the question that Kurtz should have asked might be a diplomatic way to avoid accepting Kurtz's premise, but I think that there is a third meaning of "objective" as in "one should be objective" = "one should reach no conclusions even with proof beyond reasonable doubt" = "one should maintain access". It seems to me that they have become confused leaving reporters vulnerable to the Rovian technique of giving access only to people who would write "opinions about shape of earth differ."

Hmmm access. Once I mentioned this as a case of failure of the invisible hand (which guides the marketplace of ideas as well as the marketplace). Typically the selfish aim to be a top reporter is useful, because typically the way to be a top reporter is to report interesting and important news. However, some reporters (and newspapers) are prominent because they get the top leaks. Thus when the administration of the day wants to get a theme out but doesn't want their names attached, they leak to reporters from a few top newspapers. This makes the newspapers and reporters important to people trying to figure out what is going on in the White House. However, the reporters have not done anything socially useful. The White House will get its line out and will leak to another reporter if they are mad at those who used to get the good leaks. The effort to get the leaks serves the selfish aim of the reporter who wants to be important but it adds nothing to the information available to readers. Reporters who put a pro-administration spin on the leaks they get are serving their own interests at the expense of the public interest.

Now it should be possible to change this, because a lot of what reporters are after is bragging rights. The condemnation of source buffing reporting on the web might alleviate the problem. On the other hand, the proper use of carrots and sticks is to whack those who misbehave and give carrots when they reform. The Brad and Billmon approach has been to remind the reformed of their past misdeads. This does not creat useful incentives, so I am very glad that Brad has made peace with Ricks.


brad has left a new comment on your post "8/08/2006 08:51:00 AM":

I think this is insightful and interesting...

Auros has left a new comment on your post "8/08/2006 08:51:00 AM":

A fantastic post. And really, I'm not just saying that because I appreciate the citation. :-)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Searching for Cyber Space's worst kept secrets I look at the Technorati popular blogs list.

They are ranked by the number of technorati members who select them as their favorit blog. As expected techno geek blogs outnumbered political blogs at the top.

Showing my conventional tastes I actually really like this blog (assuming it is authentic).

But I am horrified that Michelle Malkin is the favorite of 3 more members than Kos.
Being singular I can only go 1 third of the way towards solving this problem

Also che cazzo fa Beppe Grillo soppra Atrios.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Via Michael Berube who is brilliant as always, I learn of an op-ed by Stanley Fish in some obscure journal

I will quote it with ruthless snips aiming to make it sound idiotic without being at all unfair.

KEVIN BARRETT, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has now taken his place alongside [another academic] of the University of Colorado as a college teacher whose views on [topic] have led politicians and ordinary citizens to demand that he be fired.


Rather, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to study anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis [insert to academics do anything other than interrogation and analysis with material].


In short, whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content — a crackpot theory may have had a history of influence that well rewards scholarly scrutiny — but of its availability to serious analysis [insert are the subjects of academic study all theories or are there other subjects of study such as "golf tees" which are not theories]. This point was missed by the author of a comment posted to the blog of a University of Wisconsin law professor, Ann Althouse: “When is the University of Wisconsin hiring a professor of [theory 2]?” The question is obviously sarcastic; its intention is to equate the [theory 1] with believing in the predictive power of [snip] and to imply that since the university wouldn’t think of hiring someone to teach the one, it should have known better than to hire someone to teach the other.

But the truth is that it would not be at all outlandish for a university to hire someone to teach [theory 2] — not to profess astrology and recommend it as the basis of decision-making (shades of [snip]), but to teach the history of its very long career. There is, after all, a good argument for saying that [snip], [snip] and [snip], among others, cannot be fully understood unless one understands [theory 2].

The distinction I am making — between studying [theory 2] and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the [snip] agenda it may be thought to imply.

And this is where we come back to Mr. Barrett, who, in addition to being a college lecturer, is a member of a group calling itself [group on the web] an organization with the decidedly [snip] agenda of persuading Americans that [theory 1]

Is the fact of this group’s growing presence on the Internet a reason for studying it [snip]? Sure. Is the instructor who discusses the group’s arguments thereby endorsing them? Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur.


I have removed most of the op-ed but I don't think I have done any violence to Fish's argument at all. In particular he does not in any way rely on the two exact theories he is discussing. His argument would be equally valid, I think, if theory 1 were the ory of evolution by natural selection and theory 2 were the theory of special relativity. Fish very clearly says that professors should not "embrace and urge" any particular theory.

He also assumes that all academics study theories developing theories of theories. Some do, for example he does, but others study things. For example biologists might want to confront the theory of evolutionary biology by disecting worms. Worms are not theories yet they are a suitable subject for academic inquiry. When considering the theory of natural selection biologists to not consider only its "structure, history, influence and so forth" but also the relationship of this biological theory to worms.

Fish is able to explain why one might wish to discuss theories which are totally false and do not correspond to reality. He seems to assume all theories are such theories. Evidently he does not wish to be subjected to people whose professors in medical school chose to "embrace and urge" the theory that penicillin kills bacteria.
I'm sure he would only go to a doctor who had been taught to keep an open mind about the germ theory of disease, that is, if he is not both a hypocrite and a pompous ass.

I think that not all theories are equally valid. To live we have to choose among them, to make a decision, are we to consider theories of theories and debates about debates or are we going to observe the world. What is worthy of our attention ? I choose cut bait over Fish.
At this rate I'll be a chicken dove before I turn 46

As Satchell Paige said "don't look back something might be gaining on you"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hirohito Watch

The theory that Iran stands "alongside all oppressed nations" seems less plausible.

Matthew Yglesias
I wonder why Hillary Clinton Doesn't look worried

Her opponent, KT McFarland, when arguing that her husband (Bill you know) was responsible for 9/11 said "

McFARLAND: Tell that to 2,000 people who died.

OK she didn't say "tell that to the 2,000 people who died on September 10th 2002 while Bill Clinton was president," but I think she did as much as is humanly possible to help the Clinton campaign.

I know numbers can be tricky things but I wonder if 2,000 New Yorkers are going to vote for this McFarland person.