Monday, September 29, 2003

[Will, 10:55 AM]
Moving Day:

At long last, Crescat Sententia has made its way to movable type. [This sentence deleted.]

Friday, September 26, 2003

[Amanda Butler, 9:45 AM]
Fax in your ballots:

This from the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar's mailing list (no, it's generally not a very interesting list, but they don't email things very often, so it's fine). What I want to know is, how often does this happen (and how easy is it for the dead to vote)?
California To Allow Its Citizens Overseas to Return Absentee Ballots by Fax

Due to the short time frame for the October 7th Statewide Special Election,California Secretary of State's Office has decided to allow faxed ballots from Citizens outside the United States who are covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) who are legal residents of California.

The order is effective for the October 7th Statewide Special Election only. It requires that the voter be informed of and agree to waive his or her right to a secret ballot. All faxed ballots must be received by county elections officials by the close of the polls (8:00 p.m.)on Election Day.

Citizens may receive the blank ballot via fax and return the voted ballot by fax. Citizens of California who desire to receive their absentee ballot by fax should provide their county election official with their complete commercial or DSN (military) fax number, including country codes necessary when dialing from the U.S. This can be done by faxing a Federal Post Card Application as a request using the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Electronic Transmission Service numbers listed below.

Citizens should be aware that by faxing the ballot they are waiving the right to secrecy of their vote for this election and must sign a waiver that will be included in the faxed ballot materials. A citizen returning the voted ballot by fax which was either received by mail or by fax should referto Appendix C of the 2002-2003 Voting Assistance Guide (located at http://www.fvap.gov/vag/pdfvag/appendix_c.pdf) for instructions and a cover sheet (which includes a secrecy waiver) for use when transmitting the voted ballot by fax. Citizens should be sure to fax the entire ballot including
any oath or signature required on the ballot-mailing envelope.

*See below for FVAP toll-free fax numbers. Voters must provide a return transmission fax number (including international prefixes) on all documents sent via fax.

Refer also to the August 21, 2003 FVAP News Release: "STATEWIDE SPECIAL ELECTION IN CALIFORNIA ON OCTOBER 7, 2003" located at http://www.fvap.gov/press/2003/06-2003.html.

[Will, 1:03 AM]
Strange Bedfellows:

In response to what he terms my "Libertarian yawp" Russell Arben Fox counters with a communitarian/authoritarian yawp of his own. Interestingly enough, even though our political views seem to be "near perfect opposites," we share a lot of agreement:
There is perhaps no crazier presumption out there than the "conservative" one which holds that the statement "economic laissez faire is good" and the statement "cultural laissez faire is bad" are compatible.

Of course, Mr. Fox believes that conservatives should be "willing follow through on their cultural beliefs to a demand for stability and equity in the fabric of the economic order," and that economic redistributivists should "understan(d) that achieving fairness in society requires a collective concern for the moral prerequsites for said society." I vigorously dissent from the idea that either of these philosophies are desirable. But here's the point (I think) that Mr. Fox and I both want to make about political realignments--

I suspect each of us would be a lot happier if the other's philosophy was our chief political opponent. If our partisan struggles were a battle of the Libertarians against the Communitarians, I wouldn't be nearly so dispirited about politics as I am now. And I think that the authoritarian/libertarian alignment makes a lot more philosophical sense than our current crazy divisions, where most people mysteriously hold economic activity to some bizarre standard (or lack of standards) much different than social behaviour.

So, oddly enough I feel an odd kinship with the "authoritarian" even though I'd much rather have a liberal or a conservative in power than a communitarian. At least the authoritarian understands what it is we're arguing about.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

[Will, 6:44 PM]
Proof Positive:

And while I'm math-blogging . . . those of you in the Chicago area should try to spot Gwenyth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins as they make a film of David Auburn's wonderful play Proof (which is wonderful even for those who aren't math-lovers). The movie is being filmed in Hyde Park.

Paltrow already played the same role in a production of the play in London last year, which I was very sad to miss. I don't know whether the movie will adapt the play well, but it will probably be worth a look in any case.

[Will, 6:27 PM]

(Via Ed Cohn) Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler are both really really smart U of C profs, so when they write something together, I know it's worth reading, even if it's a review of a book I've never read. As it happens, they might actually induce me to go out and read the book-- Michael Lewis's Moneyball, which has gotten plenty of blogosphere coverage.

It's a great blow for stat-addicts and numerophiles everywhere.
The problem is not that baseball professionals are stupid; it is that they are human. Like most people, including experts, they tend to rely on simple rules of thumb, on traditions, on habits, on what other experts seem to believe. Even when the stakes are high, rational behavior does not always emerge. It takes time and effort to switch from simple intuitions to careful assessments of evidence. This point helps to explain why baseball owners have been slow to copy Beane's approach. But at least they are starting.... Statistics can do a lot better than intuitions; and relevant statistics can do a lot better than irrelevant ones, which tend to take on lives of their own....

[Will, 6:10 PM]
Another Blow Against Literalism:

(Via How Appealling) One of literalism's brightest foes, Richard Posner, is at it again, in a decision on whether cash is "tangible" or "intangible" for purposes of a bankruptcy exemption:
Oakley makes much of the fact that currency is tangible in the literal sense: it can be touched (also tasted, felt, sniffed, etc.), unlike a bank account. Although the amount of money in a person’s bank account is evidenced by a piece of paper (if only a printout of a computer record— and anyway the electrons in a computer file are tangible in a conventional sense of the word), the money itself cannot be touched, tasted, etc. You cannot peek inside your bank account and see something any more that you can look under the hood of your car and see the torque or the horsepower. A bank account, a bond, a stock interest in a corporation, and other such financial assets do not have a physical or temporal site; they are to currency as an idea or a number is to a rock or an onion. They have, in short, a different ontology.... for what (very little) it is worth, Oakley has literalism on his side....

The distinction that we are emphasizing is between use value and exchange value. A napkin has value; you can wipe your mouth with it. Wallpaper has value; you can decorate your walls with it. People do not wipe their mouths with money or paper their walls with it. They value cash only because they can use it to obtain useful goods like napkins and wallpaper. They value money in the bank for the identical reason. Oakley points out that if you lose your checkbook, your bank account is intact, but if you lose cash, it’s gone. It may not be. If cash is stolen from your house, and you have burglary insurance, the insurance company will restore the money to you—but not in cash, instead by check, which you’ll be happy to accept in lieu of cash. If what was stolen from you was a $100 bill, you could not complain if the insurance company wrote you a check for that amount, rather than giving you a $100 bill; or if it gave you five $20 bills instead of one $100 bill—which shows that the piece of rag paper, the tangible embodiment of cash money, is no more indispensable than the stolen checkbook or credit card. In contrast, if your chair were stolen, the insurance company might replace the chair or give you a check for its value, but the one thing it would not do would be to give you cash equal to the value of the check and tell you, sit on this. And So On....

[Will, 5:51 PM]
A Fetus Wronged:

A New York Appellate Court has ruled that:
A woman born with birth defects can sue IBM and chemical manufacturers for fraud even though she was not even born when the semiconductor manufacturer allegedly lied to her mother about workplace safety, a divided appeals court has found.

The majority of a 3-2 panel of the New York Appellate Division, 2nd Department, said it did not matter that the woman herself could not, as a fetus, have possibly relied on allegedly deceptive statements made by IBM.

I'm told this isn't actually anything very new, that people often sue over medical malpractice involving their own births, but I thought I'd throw it out there for the curious. Maybe the anti-abortion gadflies at Diotima will have further thoughts.

[Will, 4:49 PM]
Slippery Slopes (not the Volokh kind):

The new Lemony Snicket book, The Slippery Slope is available in my Barnes & Noble. Lovers of this series of children's books (like yours truly) can rejoice.

[Will, 4:47 PM]
Kinda Neat (navel-gazing):

We're one of the top ten google hits for "'group blog'." Thanks to whatever reader found us by said search.

[Will, 1:17 AM]
Private Lives:

Oh it's the old dilemma. On the one hand, you don't think an author's sex life has anything to do with the quality of his work, and he's made plain that he doesn't want his sex life to have anything to do with his work either. On the other hand, you're blogging, and the guy's already made the news, and indeed decided to pre-empt the scoop. (Why let them do what you can do yourself?)

In other words, Chuck Palahniuk is gay, and who cares? (Here's Mr. Palahniuk telling everyone to calm down).

Link via bookslut.

[Will, 1:02 AM]
A Plague on Both Their Houses:

Steve at Begging to Differ has a post that's mostly devoted to making fun of liberals, but it has an intro that could be a (contentious) post in itself. Steve writes:
I am frequently confronted with a person who claims to be neither liberal nor conservative. While I understand the reluctance to take on a label that does not fit, I think the American political class divides itself into two large factions loosely representing "left" and "right." Regardless of the labels you prefer, when push comes to shove, most of us take a side. This is as it should be. As Mason said to Dixon, "You gotta draw the line somewhere." You can't just hang there in the middle like a philosophical scrotum.

Well why not? On the one hand, I care a lot about things like law, and the judges I most admire (keeping in mind, of course, that I am to law school as a fetus is to external life) tend to be conservative appointees. On the other hand, I like gay marriage, freedom from morality laws, and so on. On a third hand, taxes are bad. On a fourth hand . . . it's the old libertarian's lament, and Steve's dashed it in a paragraph. But never fear. He also offers those of us in doubt a test. Well all right:
I have a handy test for determining whether you're a "liberal" or a "conservative." It's easy. Just answer these questions: between liberals and conservatives, which group annoys you more? Which group do you find it most satisfying to ridicule?

But this begs the question. If one of the two groups annoyed me more . . . well then I wouldn't be having such trouble, or (as Steve puts it) be hanging in the middle. I'm not annoyed by either group qua group I'm annoyed by factions within them. For example, I'm annoyed by:
People who think that Judeo-Christian morality should be the foundation of Western Civilization.

People who think that communities have the right to control their membership, or the self-regarding activities of their members.

People who think that letting other countries trade freely with American citizens is a privilege granted to those countries.

People who think we should punish bad countries by not letting Americans buy things from them.

People who think that violating some biblical commandments (by, say, being a Hindu) shouldn't be punished by law, but that violating other biblical commandments (like, say, being a homosexual) should be punished, because the bible says so.

People who think that that the law should reflect the Bible.

People who think that the rule of law is a crock.

People who think that A Theory of Justice lays out a coherent proof of distributive justice.

People who support laws banning interstate wine shipments.

People who support marijuana prohibition.

People who think that inequality is inherently indicative of exploitation.

People who support rent control.

People who support price controls.

Gun prohibitions.

Anybody who bans books.

Maureen Dowd. (At least, ever since the end of June)

And so much more...

So what's a Libertarian to do? The simple fact is that a lot of us don't fall neatly on either side of the line. When I'm with liberal friends, I'm conservative (most of the time). With conservative friends, I'm liberal. With moderates, I'm an extremist. On any given issue, of course, I can almost always pick a side (except when I really don't care). Between any pair of people, I can almost always pick the one that most annoys me. But what if I were faced with the entire party platforms of both "the right" and "the left" (whoever Steve thinks they are)?

I'd abstain.

[Incidentally, for somebody who hopes to get involved in politics of one sort or another (the judiciary, one dreams?), this might seem dispiriting. It's not; it's sort of liberating. If I get associated with some party or another it will be because on some issue I've decided to care deeply about, there's a chance to make a difference, ceterus paribus-- whether that's protecting fake child pornography or attacking wine shipment bans.]

Which is to say that while the rest of Steve's post is very good and highly worth reading, I think he's simply wrong about how one has to take a side in the larger war. In the individual battles, yes, push often comes to shove. But on the broader question of which fundamentally flawed program for society to accept, I see no reason to take sides.

UPDATE: Russell Arben Fox posts here, I respond here, and Stentor Danielson weighs in here.

[Will, 12:13 AM]

Got a Jane Austen fix? Want to combine it with your blogging fix? You have two choices. You can visit Austentatious (now blogrolled), the blog devoted entirely to Jane Austen, or you can wait for my sister, who will be adding such things (I suspect) to the broad tent of this blog.

[Will, 12:04 AM]
Today's Recall Must-Reading:

Lawrence Solum is at it again, with the latest must-read post for all law nerds interested in the California recall. Read his post on Standards of Review and Transsubtantive Procedure.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

[Will, 7:43 PM]
A Brief Huzzah:

Sorry for recent blogging silence. This is the aforementioned catch-as-catch-can blogging. Just wanted to pat ourselves on the back for having been admitted to Oxblog's blogroll. We're "Alexis de Tocqueville," and in very good company.

Apologies, incidentally, for the trouble blogger's been giving our permalinks lately. But we have a scheme that should fix that.

[Amanda Butler, 5:39 PM]
Soon the year begins:

Oi... Chicago's fixing to start up again on Monday. Clumps of 1Ls in orientation have been asking me if I'm the comp tech guy; how many student run journals are on campus; if I'm on any of them; and if I know who designed the law school (no; 4; no; Eero Saarinen). Somehow I've managed to duck the new College students, though. In honor of the summer ending and Will heading off, here's what WFMT broadcast at 8:00am Monday morning. [Text lifted from Sudeep, but I doubt he'll mind.]
'Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming all alone,
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.
No flower of her kindred,
No rose bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one,
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go sleep thou with them;
'Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow
When friendships decay,
And from love's shining circle
The gems drop away!
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha is a wonderful arrangement of this Irish poem by Thomas Moore, sad and beautiful enough to prompt roommates who unfortunately are in the habit of being up at such hours in the summer (year-round, I fear) to go in search of it. [The library computer won't let me try to make sure this works, but apparently you can listen to it here]

Also -- When he wasn't writing romantic and nationalist poetry, Moore satirized economic concerns -- Corn Laws, the Public Dept, and such. They're not quite to my taste, but check them out, they may amuse you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

[Will, 2:45 PM]
The Recall is Back:

Don't bother reading the 9th Circuit en banc panel's Per Curiam decision reinstating the recall election. Lawrence Solum tells you everything you ever wanted to know. (And Rick Hasen also has valuable thoughts).

[Will, 2:37 PM]
In Memoriam:

Pablo Neruda, 1971 Nobel Prize Winner and brilliant poet, has been dead thirty years to the day. If you speak Spanish, here's a section of La Tercera, a Chilean newspaper, devoted to Neruda with all the relevant links you could want.

I've always had a fondness for Neruda, even though he was a rabid socialist. I never found his political poetry particularly appealling, but his love poetry, personal odes, and the like I find incredibly moving. Normally I have a strong preference for some sort of rhyme, form, or formal meter in my poetry, but for him I make exceptions. So in honor of Pablo Neruda, here are an assortment of Neruda related quotes and observations, and then a few poems.

T.S. Eliot accepting his Nobel Prize (in 1948):
Poetry is usually considered the most local of all the arts. Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, can be enjoyed by all who see or hear. But language, especially the language of poetry, is a different matter. Poetry, it might seem, separates peoples instead of uniting them. But on the other hand we must remember, that while language constitutes a barrier, poetry itself gives us a reason for trying to overcome the barrier. To enjoy poetry belonging to another language, is to enjoy an understanding of the people to whom that language belongs, an understanding we can get in no other way.

Robert Heinlein, in Friday:
French is quite suited to lyric poetry, more so than is English - it takes Edgar Allen Poe to wring beauty consistently out of dissonances in English. German is unsuited to lyricism, so much so that translations fall sweeter on the ear than do German originals. This is no fault of Goethe or Heine; it is a defect of an ugly language. Spanish is so musical that a soap-powder commercial in Spanish is more pleasing to the ear than the best free verse in English - the Spanish language is so beautiful that much of its poetry sounds best if the listener does not understand the meaning.

Richard Stern, in an interview with Euphony:
"As for Latin America and Spain, the poetic and narrative traditions are very different-- remove sangre, suerte, and muerte from the poems and they melt."

Czeslaw Milosz (Nobel 1980), in The Captive Mind:
Pablo Neruda, the great poet of Latin America, comes from Chile. I translated a number of his poems into Polish. Pablo Neruda has been a Communist for some ten years. When he describes the misery of his people, I believe him and I respect his great heart. When writing, he thinks about his brothers and not about himself, and so to him the power of the word was given. But when he paints the joyous, radiant life of people in the Soviet Union, I stop believing him. I am inclined to believe him as long as he speaks about what he knows; I stop believing him when he starts to speak about what I know myself....
Let Pablo Neruda fight for his people. He is wrong, however, when he believes that all the protesting voices of Central and Eastern Europe are the voices of stubborn nationalisms or the yelps of wronged reaction. Eyes that have seen should not be shut. Hands that have touched should not forget when they take up a pen. Let him allow a few writers from Central and Eastern Europe to discuss problems other than those that haunt him.

And here are a few Neruda poems. One a free verse poem that isn't nearly famous enough called "If You Forget Me," the others a few of his late sonnets. The first is translated by Donald Walsh, the rest by me. I won't reproduce the original Spanish here, but you can email me if you're curious.
If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.


When I die I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more:
to feel the smoothness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I, asleep, await you,
I want you to go on hearing the wind,
to smell the aroma of the sea we loved together
to go on walking the land that we walked.

I want what I love to go on living
and I loved you and sang of you above all,
so go on flowering, flower,

so that you reach all my love shows you
so that my shadow passes through your hair,
so that they know the reason for my song.


I thought I was dying, I felt cold closing in
and for all that I lived, I left only you:
your mouth was my earthly day and night
and your skin the republic my kisses founded.

In that instant, books ended
friendship, treasures unflaggingly amassed,
the transparent house you and I built:
everything ceased to exist but your eyes.

Because love, while life accosts us,
is simply a wave taller than the others,
but oh, when death comes knocking

there is only your glance to fill such emptiness
only your clarity to resist extinction
only your love to shut out the shadows.


One must fly nowadays, but where?
Wingless, planeless, fly doubtless:
Unfaltering steps have already fallen,
not lifting the feet of the traveler.

One must fly at every instant
like eagles, like flies, like days,
one must conquer the ring of Saturn
and establish new bells there.

Now shoes and paths are not enough,
now the ground does not suffice for wanderers,
now roots cross the night,

and you will appear in another star
relentlessly ephemeral
finally transformed into poppies.

[Will, 12:03 AM]
Confirmed Bachelor:

Much to my shock, I've just learned that the term "Confirmed Bachelor," is supposed to refer to gentlemen who are homosexual (though they may well be non-practicing). I say this is a shock because I've always loved the phrase, and use it all the time, but never having been aware of the connotations the term bore.

Monday, September 22, 2003

[Amanda Butler, 7:22 PM]
Minors! of the type not discussed below:

The University of Chicago has begun to offer minors, but currently only in Germanic Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Slavic Languages and Literature (see p. 8 of the pdf avaliable under I. Liberal Education at Chicago: The Curriculum).
Some concentrations offer minors to students in other fields of study. (Requirements will be avaliable online in September under descriptions of the concentrations noted above.) A minor requires five to seven courses. Courses in a minor cannot be (1) double-counted with concentration courses or with other minors or (2) counted toward general education requirements. They must be taken for quality grades and at least half must be taken in residence on the University of Chicago campus.

This is a shock. We've never had minors. Triple-majors in econ, poli sci, and law,letters,&society, yes (well, perhaps not plural, but I've met one), and we're fairly snobby about saying that the degree is granted in one with requirements fufilled in the others.

[Will, 7:09 PM]
The Recall:

Well I'm currently watching the streaming video of the 9th Circuit Recall Oral Arguments. You can join me and watch them here. You can also read Lawrence Solum's thoughts on the claim-preclusion here. You can also read Dahlia Lithwick's Slate essay here.

[Will, 7:00 PM]
A Few Corrections:

Template hounds will note that we have a new blogger, my sister Leora Baude who will be posting soon, and also that Lileks has been added to my (and Amy's) blogroll. His post today is after my own heart:
I’ve never understood why nations with great cheese don’t have better armies. Right now to my left I have a plate that contains six chunks of Stravecchoio Grana Padano, each wrapped in a gossamer-thin scarf of prosciutto. Any Italian worth his mettle would take one bite, contemplate the perfection this combination represents, and decide that his nation should - no, must muster the forces required to repulse anyone who would take such cheese from his countrymen. Cheese this fine would cause armies to cross the Alps to have it; surely they demand armies sufficient to protect it.

[Will, 12:00 AM]
Fetus Blogging:

An interesting post by Steve Dunn over at Begging to Differ about super-precocious kids, including a discussion of the youngest blogger. He notes several people who have been blogging since birth. He misses, though Maximus Stefanescu, who Kate Duree (who I met this summer in the Koch program) calls "The First Fetus with a Blog!!!". I haven't found any other blogging fetuses yet, and I can't verify Kate's statement for sure, but he looks like a strong contender to me.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

[Will, 11:49 PM]
20 Questions for Brian Weatherson:

This week brings yet another installment in our now quite recurrent feature-- 20 Questions. This week we've asked questions of Brian Weatherson at Brown University, who blogs both at Crooked Timber and at his own blog: Thoughts, Arguments, Rants. Below he answers questions about The Matrix, getting into graduate school, comments, the Boston Red Sox, and much much more. Enjoy.

1: What made you decide to start blogging?

I decided that it would be fun to put some of my sketchy thoughts online. At the first it was just reading notes, ideas for short papers and so on. It didn't really look like a blog at first, because it had hardly any links. Eventually I started writing comments about other blogs, political comments and so on, but the core idea - this is somewhere to write about what I'm thinking about - has remained.

2: Crooked Timber has javascript comments. The Volokh Conspiracy has none. Should all blogs have comments? How should a blog decide whether to have them?

I don't think all blogs should have comments. Some blogs just have one or two line entries, and comments don't seem that important in that case. But I think Volokh should have comments.

There's two bad things that can happen with comments. First there can be flame wars. I don't mind those too much. Occasionally good points can come out of those. What's worse is when you get a cycle of people trying to outdo each other for who can be the most over-the-top. I stopped reading Atrios's comments board when that kind of thing started happening too often. From what I hear about some of the right-wing comments boards they aren't much better, but I've never felt the best use of my time is to find out.

CT's comments are very good I think - I'd be very disappointed if we didn't have them.

3: Do you think it's accurate to describe Crooked Timber as the left's answer to The Volokh Conspiracy?

That's a bit grandiose, but I think Volokh was certainly part of the inspiration for CT. If people end up thinking of us as a lefty Volokh, I'd be pretty happy with how we're going.

4: You blog not only at Crooked Timber but also at your own blog-- Thoughts, Arguments, Rants. Why do you maintain a dual-blog presence, and how do you decide which of your posts to put in which place, and when-- if ever-- to duplicate?

I have this image of what kind of interests the readers of the two blogs have. TAR readers are usually philosophers, either grad students or professors, or occasionally undergraduates, so philosophy stuff goes there. CT readers (or at least some of them) are interested in ethics and political philosophy, and the important issues in other areas of philosophy, but they probably don't care too much about the details of where the variables go in various contextualist semantics for epistemic modals. So I'm probably not going to send posts on questions like that to CT.

Obviously there's some overlap there, not just about ethics and political but about issues relating to academic life generally. So those posts go to both.

I worry occasionally about lowering the tone too much on CT. I wouldn't use 'fcuk' as an illustration of the irrelevance of letter order to word interpretation on CT for that kind of reason. It's one of the things about a group blog - if you screw things up it affects other people so I'm a bit careful there.

5: Are group blogs the wave of the future?

They have some advantages. It's easier to take a week off without the blog collapsing. On the other hand, one big reason for TAR was to make sure I was constantly producing stuff, so having it be a group blog would defeat the purpose a little. Normally I could take a month or two off research without anyone noticing. That's a bit harder on a solo blog, so it's a good spur to work.

6: You admit to what some might call an unhealthy obsession with the Boston Red Sox. Why the Red Sox?

Don't know really. I was more interested in baseball than any other American sport because it's the only one I played as a kid (I was *really* bad by the way) so it was going to be some baseball team. I think I liked the romance of the stories about the Sox. And the fact that when I moved to the states the Sox had Pedro pitching for them didn't hurt either.

7: Following up on that, how well will the Sox have to do this year to preserve your emotional well-being?

Winning the World Series in 6 games would do. I don't think I'd really handle game 7 very well given the history.

8: How about how much jargon should philosophical writing contain? How should a philosopher balance his need for precision with the barriers jargon creates for the uninitiated but interested?

It depends on what you are writing for. If you're writing for other professionals then you should just use all the tools you've got. I wouldn't want economists to be backing off using complicated mathematical tools because economics needs to be accessible, and sometimes I think philosophy should be the same. On the other hand, and the analogy holds up well here, sometimes jargon can hide bad mistakes that you're making and clear writing can be useful in seeing that.

Some people can do innovative work while writing clearly enough that a mass audience can follow your arguments. Dave Chalmers's book on consciousness is probably the best contemporary example of that. But it's hard, and I think for most of us it's best to use everything you've got, including jargon, to get to the right answers and then try translating it back into accessible English without losing too much of the important detail.

9: What do you think of the philosophy in pop culture works with philosophical pretensions (like, say, The Matrix or Ender's Game)? Is learning philosophy from pop culture like trying to get water from a stone, or merely from, say, a sponge?

I don't think you're going to learn much philosophy from just watching or reading bits of pop culture. But I think those stories can be a really good way to see what's an issue in some philosophical debates. So some of the philosophy papers that are on the Matrix website are really good philosophical work, both in terms of quality and accessibility, because they show the reader some useful ways to think about what's going on in the movie.

It's interesting that the stories that seem to be the most useful don't go out of their way to be philosophical. In Matrix II there's all those philosophical speeches, which aren't really very good, and I suspect it will be much less useful at stimulating debate than the first movie. Once you start making speeches like that, you stop telling stories that can be interpreted in useful ways, and start telling people how to interpret them. That's much less useful because it's less flexible.

10: I'm going to pose to you a question your co-blogger Chris Bertram has asked; Is philosophy more like mathematics or like creative writing?

I think philosophy is *much* more like mathematics. I think most of the philosophical questions we try and consider have objective answers and collective effort can move us towards the right answers. Of course the areas I work in, especially semantics and philosophical logic, look more like mathematics than creative writing so take my views here with a grain of salt.

And we shouldn't think that philosophers don't need some of the same skills as writers. We obviously have to express our theories in writing, and there isn't a clear enough divide between form and content that we can ignore than fact when theorising. In some areas of philosophy, especially moral philosophy, you can't really do good work unless you have a decent understanding of human nature. And that kind of understanding is often associated with the very best writers. And the kind of imagination that leads to philosophical advance is also more of a writer's skill than a mathematician's skill. I still think the objective, truth-directed features of philosophy make it more like mathematical theorising than creative writing, but it's not like there's nothing in common with writing.

11: You're teaching a course on Time Travel; in your view, is time one-dimensional?

I think 'one-dimensional' was the wrong term for me to use in setting up the problems. Slightly more precisely, I think there is a single space-time continuum and there is a consistency restriction on time travel (if x is F at t then time travel can't make it the case that x is not F at t), which is what I originally meant by one-dimensional.

12: In your experience, are Australian universities appreciably different from American universities in any articulable way?

There's a bunch of little differences.

Australian students generally go to university in their home town, and they aren't required to live on campus, so dorm life is a much smaller part of the university experience than in America. (I think at Monash it's under 10% of the student body in dorms, but I'm not certain of that.)

The drinking age in Australia is 18, so there's *much* more booze on Australian campuses. Or, more precisely, there's much more overt drinking.

This isn't really striking about Brown, but many big courses in Australian universities have no distributional requirements, or very few distributional requirements. When I got to Brown and people were saying it's such a big deal that students can take whatever courses they want, I couldn't really figure out what the big deal was meant to be, because it's no different to what every Australian university does. But I guess it's very different to the American norm.

And the basic degree in Australia is 3 years. (Or at least it's meant to be 3 years. When I was going through people often took 4, 5 or 6 years. I hear it's more common to complete in regulation time these days.) The first year courses there are often as hard, I think, as sophomore courses here so the final result is fairly similar.

I'm not an undergrad here so I can't really tell, but my impression is that the combination of these facts means there is much greater sense of community over here. If you're taking the same courses, living together, moving through at the same time (the idea that you could specify your graduation date when you enroll in college would have struck most of my fellow students as an odd joke) you probably get to know people a lot better.

13: Having served on Brown's graduate admissions committee, what advice do you have for those who want to pursue an advanced degree in philosophy?

The four things I paid most attention to were GREs, grades in philosophy (I didn't pay much attention to grades in other areas), reference letters and the writing sample. The GREs and grades are used to make a first cut - separate out those you'll look at really closely from those you think are unlikely to make it. The sample and the letters are then used to split the good ones into who we accept and who gets left out.

One thing to look for, and it's hard to find this out discreetly, is some faculty will write glowing recommendations for absolutely everyone. Don't get letters from them, because people know what's going on and will discount what they say. There aren't many such faculty, maybe only a handful in the country, but letters do get calibrated to what the standard letter from Professor X says.

14: What do you think is the most persuasive objection to Logical Positivism, the claim that "a statement is meaningful if and only if it is either verifiable or tautological."

I think what positivism says about religious statements is just wildly implausible. If someone says "God exists" I think I know what they are saying, what the world would have to be like for their statement to be true or false, and so on. Positivists used to go around denying all of that. So Ayer would not say he's an atheist because atheists deny theistic statements and he didn't think they rose to the level of deniability. That's just very bizarre to me.

I also think it isn't clear that "a statement is meaningful if and only if it is either verifiable or tautological" is either verifiable or tautological.

15: Are there (true) a priori synthetic propositions?

I think some anti-sceptical propositions, like "I'm not a brain in a vat being deceived into thinking I'm writing an email" are synthetic a priori. The reasoning here's actually pretty simple. I know that proposition is true, but all my evidence seems to point towards it being false. (It's not like my evidence is as of watching a Sox game, which would conclusively show it is true.) So it must be knowable a priori. But it's clearly synthetic.

I should add that practically no philosophers believe in this kind of argument, but it looks pretty compelling to me.

16: There's a lot of (rather gloomy) advice out there for prospective graduate students in the humanities (I'm thinking here largely of Invisible Adjunct and those linked to her). How hard is it to get an academic appointment in philosophy, and is the risk generally worth the investment?

Compared to the horror stories, it's actually not that hard to get some philosophical job or other if (a) you're prepared to move far enough, (b) you are only looking for a single job, (c) you don't have excessively high standards for which kind of university you're going to, and (d) you went to a pretty good (top 20, or top 5 in your area) department. That might look like a lot of qualifications, but actually a lot of people meet those conditions. I think 80, 90 percent of people meeting those conditions get jobs.

Whether it's worth it depends a lot I think on how much you enjoy grad school. A lot of people I know love it, so it isn't really a high cost investment. If you're not enjoying grad school at all, it's unlikely you'll enjoy academia much more, after all what you do isn't that much different even though you get a bit more money, so you might want to reconsider what you're doing.

17: What sort of instruction, if any, do you think students should have in philosophy in high school (or elementary school)?

I think it would be good to start teaching ethical theory in high school. It's good to have students thinking about tensions between the different views they hold, and about how they could justify some of the foundational principles they accept. And I think a course in critical reasoning, some intro logic and maybe some intro probability stuff, would be very helpful. I suspect both of those kinds of courses provide just as much assistance for people wanting to be involved in civic life, as citizens in a democracy should be involved, as the kind of civics courses students actually take.

18: Philosophically speaking, what is vagueness, and why should people care about it?

Well, that's a contentious topic, but we can illustrate by examples. Yao Ming is tall. Danny DeVito is not tall. If you line up 10000 guys from Yao to DeVito in order of height, where is the first tall guy going to be? It's hard to say, because there's only 0.1mm or so between consecutive guys. It's easier to say who is the first guy whose height is above 1800mm, or at least it's just a measurement problem in finding out who that is. It's much harder to find the first tall guy is. We'll say in those cases it is vague where the boundary between 'tall' and 'not tall' is.

I think it's important because there are some interesting arguments that the existence of vagueness should make us reconsider what the right logic for natural language arguments is, and because it makes us reconsider what kinds of entities go into the semantics for natural languages. But generally I think most things to do with formal properties of languages are interesting, and vagueness fits into that category.

19: Do you read fiction? If so, what sort of fiction do you read?

Not as much as I'd like to. Recently I've been alternating between reading contemporary stuff (Zadie Smith, Chuck Palahnuik, etc) and classics (Homer, Cervantes, etc.)

20: When not blogging, what do you do for fun?

Watching the Red Sox! I like to travel a lot, but that's an expensive habit.

When not on the road I try reading and writing lots of philosophy, and the blog has been a great help in helping that habit along.

[Will, 11:28 PM]
Loose Ends (Old Friends?):

A fair warning to readers that blogging will be catch-as-catch can (at least from me) over the next week or so. I'll be hosting a friend from out of town, then making a trip to Chicago and flying from there to England for the year. I suspect that blogging will continue at my usual sporadic pace, but just in case a random weekday passes by, you'll know what's going on. I spent today learning to ride a bicycle (I know, I know) and this evening excavating my boxes of books from my closet and trying to get them on shelves or at least into neat stacks. I shipped about 300 pounds of books home from school at the end of the year and they were sitting in rather intimidating boxes in my closet. Now they can be in slightly less-intimidating piles.

In any case, in the process of doing that, I found two of my books of poetry that will give me the chance to tie up a few poetry-related loose ends from some of my recent posts. The first has to do with memorization, which I blogged on here in response to Kathleen's post here. I mentioned there a passage by W.S. Merwin from the introduction to his translation of Dante's Purgatorio. Here it is:
For in the years of my reading Dante, after the first overwhelming reverberating spell of the Inferno, which I think never leaves one afterward, it was the Purgatorio that I had foudn myself returning to with a different, deepening attachment, until I reached a point when it was never far from me; I always had a copy within reach, and often seemed to be trying to recall part of a line, like some half-remembered song.

The other poetic loose end is an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Last Wednesday I posted a very good villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop (which Eugene Volokh linked to!). While I think that poem is really, really, good, as is her "Sestina," I have always had a soft spot in my heart for another poem of hers, though it's not nearly as popular. Maybe it's some subjective emotional connection (gasp), maybe just something about the lilt and rhythm, or maybe it's because in less than two weeks I'll be leaving the country for much longer than I ever have before. In any case, I present Elizabeth Bishop's Questions of Travel:
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

[Amanda Butler, 10:14 PM]
Eesh, people:

Apparently, Northern Virginia/DC is still having problems getting things back together post-Isabel. 500,000 still without power; Fairfax County's recommendation to boil water before drinking has only now been lifted; 700 traffic lights, primarily in the district, still down. That wouldn't be a bad record, had they faced a hurricane, but this damage was wreaked by winds of 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph, combined with 2" of rain. That's not even barely a tropical storm (minumum: sustained 34 mph), much less a Category 1 hurricane (min.: sustained 74 mph). How is it that these folks could handle last winter's blizzards with only a few days of schools closed for incliment weather, yet they can't take this? [No sympathy, please, from those in NYC who not-long-ago congratulated themselves for not rioting during a weekend of no power. Right.]

Andrew: now that was a storm.

[Will, 2:38 AM]
Child Sex and Aged Wisdom:

Number 2 Pencil has a post about the rather unusual doings of a 13-year-old girl on her class field trip. The girl performed oral sex on one of her classmates on the bus, and her mother is now fighting the girl's expulsion on the grounds that the school wasn't clear enough in its policies that oral sex was not allowed.

This prompted Nick Blesch to retort with a pretty strongly-worded post called "Shame on Me? I Don't Think So." This, in turn, caused a bunch of the commenters to basically roast Nick over coals-- especially Daryl Cpbranchi, who wrote:
Performing a sex act in public is nothing to be ashamed of? Nick, when you grow up and have kids of your own, come back here and read what you just wrote. I promise you'll regret every electron.


Nick grew up in the Clinton years. 'Nuff said.

Of course, most of the criticism took the form of attacks on Nick's age and relative in-experience with life, rather than substantive disagreement with his original post, which was actually pretty interesting. This provoked another response from Nick on ad hominem attacks.

So I think there are three interesting questions for debate here. Firstly, is the mother's substantive point groundless? That is, what sort of anti-sex policies did a middle school have? Given how rare middle school sex is believed to be (regardless of whether middle school sex is good or bad) how explicit should a middle school have to make its policies? Of course, we don't have a lot of information on the school's policies, so it's hard to pursue the empirical inquiry very far.

Secondly, (and this is the point where Nick first got in trouble) is it a bad thing for 13-year-olds to engage in consensual sex acts with one another? Those interested in the topic should read Judith Levine's book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (I have a short review here). I think there's room for serious debate on this point, which I'm a little worried about rehearsing at length. The public nature of the acts here and the possible role of peer pressure make this a tough case for even a libertarian to love. On the other hand, I knew several people who had sex in middle school (on the field trip bus, in fact . . .) and while none of them are my close personal friends, I don't think early exposure to sex with their peers ruined their lives, or even affected their lives that dramatically. (Which is not to say that there aren't horror stories one could find . . .)

Which brings us to the third question. As Nick puts it:
Why do people fall back onto the "I'm older and so I know more" arguement? Why is it that someone would think my thoughts don't deserve a response beyond "he's a product of the times?" Telling me (effectively) that my thoughts are meaningless drivel is, to say the least, a cop out.

[Literary note: Here's Ayn Rand (from The Fountainhead)on the topic:
"When facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most, has the least say. It's taken for granted that he has no voice and the reasons he could offer are rejected in advance as prejudiced-- since no speech is ever considered, but only the speaker. . . though how in hell one passes judgment on a man without considering the content of his brain is more than I'll ever understand. However that's how it's done." ]

I'm particularly sensitive to Nick's complaints because I, too, am pretty young. Old enough to legally drink, but only barely. I try not to advertise the fact that I'm just an undergraduate student, because I find responses like the one Nick has met to be so unhelpful. Of course, sometimes "wait until you have children" just might be true. If so, of course, the proper response is "well, I guess I will, but I won't be convinced until then." (Turnabout being fair play).

I wonder, though, whether people are actually using Nick's age to dismiss his arguments, or whether it's the other way round. Maybe people read something provocative that they flatly disagree with, and then come up with a quick excuse for why the speaker can be easily ignored. I don't know any of the folks involved other than Nick, so I really have no idea whether I should cast aspersions on their intellectual honesty.

How does it end? With a few words to parties on either side of the age/ad-hominem divide. Dear Elders, please remember that being wiser and older than we are doesn't inherently make you more persuasive; arguments are won on the merits and not by fiat. The people whose opinions we most respect (and therefore the people we most respect) are those who judge our arguments by their quality and not their pedigree. Besides, if you really are older and wiser than we are you ought to be able to tell us why we're wrong rather than just insisting we'll agree with you in ten or twenty years. Dear Youngsters (myself included), please have some humility. Being older doesn't always mean being wiser, but neither does being young. A lot of people do change their minds about things as they grow older, think about them more, have more experiences and weather better and different arguments. You might be one of them. This is especially true where things like children and marriage are concerned. Remember that ten years ago you had barely discovered girls/boys. [Incidentally, this doesn't mean that what parents think about children's rights is entitled to more deference than what children think. But it does mean you should be mindful of the fact that you're no more of an impartial observer than they are.]

[Will, 1:30 AM]
Rhodes Scholars- Megalosers?:

Okay, so this Andrew Sullivan post probably doesn't really need much refuting:
To my mind, the most important thing about Clark is that he was a Rhodes Scholar. Almost to a man and woman, they are mega-losers, curriculum-vitae fetishists, with huge ambition and no concept of what to do with it.

But just in case you found that vaguely persuasive... here are just a few men and women who are Rhodes Scholars, yet aren't mega-losers, c.v.-fetishists, or ambitious people with no concept of what to do with it. Given that almost all of my readers have some political persuasion or another, and given that these choices cover the political gamut, I assume that none of my readers will agree with all of these choices, but surely they will find enough agreement to agree that Sullivan is being just silly.
President William Jefferson Clinton

University of Chicago Professor Dennis Hutchinson

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind)

U.S. Senator Russel Feingold (D-Wis)

Former Senator J William Fulbright, creator of the Fulbright scholarships

Blogger Josh Chafetz

Supreme Court Justice David Souter

Librarian of Congress James Billington

Astronomer Edwin Hubble

Robert Penn Warren, author, poet, and man of letters

I rest my case. Email me if you want more examples.

[Will, 1:01 AM]

So one of the great ironies of my anti-comment post yesterday is that I found a long retort (to me) in somebody else's comments. Your guess is as good as mine as to why the commenter, Beldar, didn't send me an email with these thoughts. Anyway, I reproduce them:
Thank you, I believe I will!

Will's more than just a little bit elistist, he's actually being very close-minded. I've been blogging less than two months, and I seriously doubt my blog is on his reading list. If he reads something interesting I've written in a comment on a blog he reads, he might click on the link to see what I have to say on my own bandwidth (which tends to be many, many times longer than what I ever leave in anyone's comments).

The bit about "I have to read fifty dumb comments to avoid looking stupid for not having found the three good ones" is easily answered. If you don't care how you look, don't read them. If you do, do. Nobody makes you read the comments. Skim. Skip. Study. Whatever butters your bread.

Which brings me to my last point: On his blog, it's his rules, including the decision whether to offer comments or not. On yours, friend Curmudgeon, it's your call, and on mine, mine. One of the things I like about TypePad, for instance, is that it lets me turn comments on and off on a per-post basis, which is handy. Tacitus runs ones "open thread" per day, on which the comments become insanely long, but that's another method for dealing with it. There are many paths to Nirvana, grasshopper. But only you can choose yours.

I have a thought in response to each paragraph. Firstly, I've got nothing against people who use a comments section to say "Hey, I've got a response over at "blahblah," take a look," Or even those who just reproduce their posts in comments-text as well. That's a way of tightening the web, and fairly unobstrusive, but also doesn't bury pearls amidst muck.

Second, here's the trouble with having to read fifty dumb comments to find the three good ones. I like good comments and feedback. I want to know what people think about my posts, and I want intelligent commentary. But it's hard to find intelligent commentary amid a hundred voices. So what I'd particularly like is for those who already have loyal readerships to make it easy for me to follow them-- to post responses to other people's articles on their own blog (like I'm doing now). As it stands, I skim a whole lot of comments. I'd really rather not, and my eyes hurt. Thus the plea.

Finally, yes each blogger's blog is his own fiefdom (though this blog, of course, is run by a semi-democracy). I'm not quarrelling with that, and I know that I can only affect my own blog. That's why I've framed this request as what it is-- a request. I'm telling you what I'd like to see people do, and giving all of my reasons why I'm much happier reading blogs without comments than those with, and why I'm happy that bloggers like Eugene Volokh seem not to use anybody else's comments at all. If you think my reasons are insufficient, more power to you. But if you've never thought about it before, or if you'd like a little feedback, well, I propose ditching your comments-- if on a trial basis only.

Friday, September 19, 2003

[Will, 9:00 PM]

(Via Oxblog): If I actually read The Corner on a regular basis, I would think about boycotting it just for these pro-Wonderbread comments.

Wonderbread is simply not "an often overlooked treat." I have no objection to people who eat it because it's cheap or easily available or useful for blowing one's nose, but this is one of those small areas of taste where there is a right answer.

[Will, 8:50 PM]
Losing Battles:

The New York Times, on copynorms.

[Will, 8:22 PM]
Enough Already:

[Warning. The tone of this post is just a wee bit less judicious than the tone the author usually tries to adopt. He apologizes in advance.]

All right already. I'm a little bit loathe to resurrect the comments war, but here's a recap for the blessedly benighted. Comments are those little links at the bottom of some people's posts (not on this blog) that let a whole bunch of people post their thoughts and responses to each post. Curmudgeonly Clerk has spoken against comments here and here. Begging to Differ has voted against them here. I have ranted against them here (and here(and here)) . Matthew Yglesias has tentatively defended them, and Jivha has done so aggressively, wondering whether anti-commenters were narcissists. Balasubramani's Mania and All The Sins of Mankind are pro-comment as well. CalPundit also threw in a few observations here and here. If you want to get my basic arguments, just read my posts here and here.

Why, you rightly ask, am I dredging up this painful topic? Because I want them to go away. That is, I'm asking bloggers who have comments to please consider getting rid of them. Please. Okay, I'm begging. But why?

I think comments-sections divided into two categories. Those that get a lot of comments, and those that don't. For those that don't get many comments, it seems clear that the benefits and the costs are both pretty slight. But I think that the costs outweigh the benefits. The benefits are close to non-existent. The occasional lonely poster could just as well email the author (who can use his editorial judgment to decide whether to update the post or not), or could post something on his or her own blog. I read a lot of blogs in a day (as do most bloggers, I suspect) and I like to respond to other people's posts, but I get tired of always clicking on the comments scripts to see what other people are saying-- I'd rather the blogger made the editorial decision him or herself. Further, I think comments are just plain un-aesthetic.

For big comments-sections the decision is harder. Some blogs, like Matt Yglesias's have basically developed self-sufficient communities of commenters (not unlike fungal parasites). But these upset me too. When I respond to a post on Yglesias's blog, or Crooked Timber, I don't feel that it's fair for me to post back to the post without reading the comments first. But because the comments are unedited and voluminous, wading through them is a great chore. I'm sure the Crooked Timberites get so much traffic that they don't care much about my links anyway, but there definitely have been posts I just didn't bother to write because the thought of reading 50 stupid comments just in case there were 3 good ones in there was too draining.

And what about the 3 good ones? Well, I've noticed that the most productive and useful comments are almost always from people who also blog, and interestingly, almost always from people whose blogs I already read. So if Jacob Levy hadn't made his comments about Mystique in Yglesias's comments section, I would have seen them anyway when he wrote a blog post about them. And the occasional non-blogger with great insights will probably be willing to send an email to the post's author (or to another blogger) happy enough to post the thing. I think the number of people who are both insightful enough that they have productive things to say (that is, things I want to read) and lazy enough that they wouldn't say them without a comments function is very small.

The whole reason I read Daniel Drezner rather than, say, jack schmo, is that I want to know what Drezner has to say. But then sometimes perfectly reasonable bloggers, like Kevin Drum or Jacob Levy or the Crooked Timber folks, go comment in Drezner's comments so I have to sift through the things for them. Why can't they just write in their own blogs, so that I don't have to wade through dozens of posts to find their insights?

I'm thinking back to J.H.Huebert's inaugural blog post, where he replied that blogs were nothing more than message boards. I disagreed:
Blogging brings the masses to the "message boards" precisely because it provides an easy way to filter out the wheat from the chaff (namely by typing in "http://volokh.com"). Sure the vast majority of blogs are dumb, but you don't have to read the vast majority of blogs. The trouble with old message boards is that it's WAYY too hard to read only the popular posts, or only the good posts, or even focus only on the posts by authors you truly respect. Blogs are better precisely because thread-following is made so much harder. Editorial judgment, ironically, is the watchword that helps keep the marketplace of ideas from drowning in its own spam.

Incidentally, a version of this argument is part of the root of my opposition to "comments".

I know this sounds terribly elitist, and-- well-- it is, at least a little bit. Blogging has an element of meritocracy to it, and that's part of what makes it work. Emails, updates, technorati and trackbacks do everything comments want to, only better. So I'm issuing a crusade. No, a request. No, an outright plea. If you have a comments section, please try deleting it-- just on a trial basis-- and see how you like it. And if you run a blog of your own, please stop posting interesting comments in other people's comments sections. Either double-post, by posting the comments again on your blog, or just post your thoughts on your blog and put a link to them in the comments section. Please.

My eyes have been hurting when I spend too many hours on the computer, so it would be really nice if I could stop having to read so many silly little javascript windows. And drop me an email to let me know what you think (or to let me know about your relevant blog posts).

[Will, 3:00 AM]
Committed to Memory:

Kathleen Moriarty blogs on memorization. Kathleen's basic question--
Memorisation of poetry is something that sort of went out with the druids. In our written world, is memorisation still necessary?

And her answer:
Maybe. For poetry, I think it can be easier to say it from memory rather than reading it. It makes it easier to ge tthe rhythm right when you don't have to think about saying it. "This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper." doesn't work when you read it.

On the other hand, memorisation also encourages the sort of rote reading that you hear so often, people droning on about poems that don't understand. Sometimes reading the poem makes the reader think about it a little more.

I have Kathleen's sympathies for poetry memorization, which might be related to the fact that like her, I think I'm pretty good at it. I memorized my favorite poem, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, two years ago, and still say it to myself on a semi-regular basis. (I've found, incidentally, that when walking the streets of Chicago's Hyde Park at night, if you babble T.S. Eliot in a moderately-loud voice people give you a comfortably wide berth.) But I think Kathleen's defense of memorization doesn't go far enough.

Memorization didn't just go out with the druids, it went out with the bards. Czeslaw Milosz writes that the bardic tradition lasted much longer in Eastern Europe ("In Central and Eastern Europe, the word 'poet' has a somewhat different meaning from that which it has in the West. There a poet does not merely arrange words in beautiful order. Tradition demands that he be a 'bard,' that his songs linger on many lips, that he speak in his poems of subjects of interest to all the citizens."). There, I suppose, it might have been more necessary and more important that words be able to travel from mouth to mouth without leaving a damning paper trail. I think the lack of bards in the western world is a serious loss, and that the various groups that take their social place-- rock stars, bloggers, lawyers, and novelists-- leave sadly gaping gaps.

And memorization of poetry is important, I think, even for poetry that isn't of great social importance. Poetry is often a quest for immortality, an attempt to (as Tom Stoppard says), "get the right ones in the right order . . .(to) make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead."

My feelings on this are grounded largely in subjective preference and experience more than anything else. When I write it's often by copying down various lines, turns, and phrases that have been fluttering about in my head. Sometimes I keep a pen and paper to write these things down. More often I just try to remember them. I used to write stories and essays by writing a first draft blind, then destroying it and writing it again from scratch, under the theory that all the lines and ideas worth keeping would be the ones that would stick. And the books and novels that I'm most attracted to are the ones that have lines, passages, and phrases that I simply can't help but remember. My favorite works are those that impress themselves upon me, that force themselves, unbidden, into me like a maddeningly addictive pop song.

And forced memorization, as Ed Cohn notes in Kathleen's comments, can be a terrible, terrible thing. Students should never (in my opinion) be forced to memorize a specific work of the teacher's choosing. That destroys the charm of memorization, the strange metaphysical resemblence it bears to possession and love. But if I were a high school english teacher (and you never know) all of my students would be required to memorize something, whether the opening passage to a book that had captured them, lines from a meaningul poem, or the Gettysburg Address. But part of the experience that makes memorization so valuable is the act of choosing what to memorize. [Sometimes, of course, students make bad choices. Like Kathleen, I memorized an e.e. cummings poem in school-- a nonsensical one about 5 derbies with men in them that I've thankfully forgotten. I did it mostly because I hated the assignment at the time and wanted to be contrarian by memorizing the worst poem I could. The activity filled me with a loathing of cummings for several years (until my love for him was reawakened by a high school girlfriend); I still think 75-90% of his poems are pretty terrible, but I now realize that I shouldn't have picked one of the terrible ones.]

Which is to say that for those who love words, and love trying to figure out how to get the right words in the right order, memorization is-- I think-- part and parcel of the entire package of reading and writing. Things you like will stick in your mind and then become a part of the way you write as well. And to the extent that poetry succeeds at communicating and shooting from heart to ear to heart, it's often because of just a few lines or fragments repeated at the right moment. (In the introduction to his translation of Dante's Purgatory, W.S. Merwin movingly describes the experience of sitting on a London train while a few cantos of Purgatory ran through his head; I'd quote the passage but it's currently buried among the hundreds of pounds of books in my closet.) The most poetic moments in life tend to occur when it's inconvenient or impossible to reach for one's copy of Dante or Neruda or Shakespeare.

Sure dry recitation from memory can be terrible-- but the people who drone on uncomprehendingly from memory will be just as droning and just as uncomprehending with paper in front of them, if not worse. Memorization isn't a sufficient condition for relating emotionally or intellectual to poetry, and it probably isn't a necessary condition, but it's definitely a helpful one.

[Will, 2:33 AM]
A Minor Hurrah:

Cryptic Elliptic Susan Ferrari has ditched her comments. A small victory for the forces of good and light.

[Will, 2:04 AM]
Darlington's Fall:

I've just finished Darlington's Fall (mentioned below), and I thought it was extremely good-- though I can't quite decide to classify it as one of my favorite poems or one of my favorite books, because I can't quite tell whether I like it more for its language or its story. In any case, as usual a bunch of my favorite quotes from the book are here (including the last stanza, which I think is excellent, but which I won't reprint here for fear of spoiling the book for any of you who might be thinking of reading it). A few choice (non-consecutive) stanzas ensue:
(You know you're a true entomologist
--if on those infrequent but
Not-rare-either occasions when your fingers climb
Down past the sealed door of your navel to form a fist
Around their brother-limb, you find yourself wondering
Sudenly, with dizzying fervor, exactly what
It would be like, like the dragonfly,
To mate and-- over riffled streams, over thundering
Flumes, over lily-pad-paved ponds, over high
Seas of silky corn-- to fly at the same time.)

When he can bear to think of her at all, he'd rather
Think of what he likes to think of
As the last time the two of them made love:
A pair of kids, nothing more, just a you and a me
(As the song would have it), a he and a she,
Rolling at night in a private sleeper car,
Bound for that ocean licking at the far
End of the continent (through woods where Kodiak bears
Waken to train whistles in their hillside lairs),
Two homesteaders in the land of each other.

(You know you're a true entomologist
-- if after some thirty, dirty years
Of digging into buggy lives, one day, rereading
Fabre, you come upon the phrase, "Still damp
With the humours of the hatching," and your every limb
Prickles anew, with longing, as when, when you were just
A little boy, you read, in The Three Musketeers,
"Milady let one of those looks fall upon him
Which make a slave of a king"--and yearned for the stamp
Of a glance so brutal, beautiful, overriding.)

(He often thinks-- can't quite manage to refrain
From thinking-- of all the coarse desire she must stir,
How raptly the males in town must lay eyes on her
During her daily rounds: buying a pork cop,
Or a few onions, or--indulging herself-- a day-
Old cinnamon bun . . . It's the closest he comes to a real
Hatred of his fellowman,
pondering the way
She rouses in them the longings she makes him feel:
The urge to touch her neck, drop his face on her breast, drop
Her clothes to the floor, one by one till none remain.)

[Will, 1:43 AM]
Publication and Privacy:

Venkat Balasubramani poses an interesting question for those of us (like me!) hotly interested in the intersection of blogging and etiquette. How private are emails, especially emails to bloggers? (Go to Balasubramani's blog for the controversy that sparks the original question). As my loyal readers might expect, I turn to Miss Manners for guidance on this.

As it happens, I think the blogospheric consensus gets this about right. On the one hand, Miss Manners rightly instructs that letters (and affairs) are the joint property of the two people engaged in them. Therefore to be strictly proper, one shouldn't reveal the contents without the consent of the other person involved. On the other hand, Miss Manners acknowledges that the publication of this kind of information is a distinct possibility, that it isn't a very serious offense, and that one should therefore be a little circumspect in who one says what to. As she puts it:
The only safe place to keep damaging letters is in the fireplace, between burning logs

And also,
People who unburden themselves freely cannot then become indignant when others allow this information to pass into their own conversation. With each passing, the obligations become weaker. At the very least, one should assume that one's confidants indulge in pillow talk, and these days it is hard to know how many pillows may be involved.

In other words, there's a balancing test involved, and the balancing decision isn't appeallable to a higher authority except in cases of clear error. The more intimate the connection, the less anonymous the publication, and the more public the forum, the less acceptable the telling is. Publishing love letters with names in a widely-read publication would probably be the worst offense. Forwarding an email from an unknown person to a close friend would be the most obviously acceptable.

And blogospheric practice seems to accord with this sense of nuance and blurry lines. I, for example, try not to post emails without asking the person who emailed me for their permission. But I'm more likely to ask permission from my close friends (partially because the blog-related and the private are more likely to become blurred) than I am from those who I know only in an online situation. I take the warning "Off the record" very seriously, and can't think of a case where I'd violate that admonition by posting the "off the record" information, but I might let a trusted friend read such an email over my shoulder.

In other words, proper men and women should try to keep their correspondents happy, if for no other reason that people are much more likely to speak freely to you if they think you're the sort of person to whom one can do safely. This doesn't mean absolute fidelity to the principles of secrecy-- bloggers are journalists after all, so a little muck-raking is okay, but it must be done with judicious discretion, and with the acknowledgment that anybody who you publish against their will is unlikely to say anything they don't want published to you again.

And on the other hand, we should all be realistic. This is the internet, and many bloggers don't even try to meet the aforementioned standards of proper men and women. So be aware that unless one attaches express disclaimer (and a little email signature isn't going to do it), and even with a disclaimer nothing is certain, that anything newsworthy, noteworthy, scandalous or scurrilous that one says is unlikely to remain private for long.

[Will, 1:22 AM]

Though the permalinks are broken, Southern Appeal has up excerpts from a recent speech by Alabama Attorney General and Filibustered Appellate Court Nominee William Pryor.

Now, I disagree with pretty much everything in the speech myself-- I don't "consider the Ten Commandments to be the cornerstone of law for Western civilization," (only three of which, at my last quick count, were currently illegal where I live). I don't believe I have "'a moral obligation to obey the commands of our government,' except when doing so would require us to 'violate a Christian duty or moral obligation.'" [I don't, for example, think it's immoral to smoke marijuana for one's own pleasure in the privacy of one's own home, but I also don't think it's a moral obligation or Christian duty to do so.] Of course, I also don't share the religious conviction that undergirds Pryor's speech. Nonetheless, it's interesting stuff, and an interesting insight, I think, into Pryor. Worth reading.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

[Will, 4:57 PM]
Excuse and Explanation:

Incidentally, I apologize for the slower-than-usual posting rate the past couple of days. I've been reading a book I just ordered off of Amazon-- no, I haven't gotten a pre-release copy of Quicksilver-- called Darlington's Fall.

It's really really good, but it's a little strange. I mean, how do you tell people (with a straight face) that you're reading this fascinating verse novel about a young lepidopterist in Indiana? I haven't found a way to do it without sounding really pretentious, which is unfortunate because the novel/poem is actually quite a smooth read. The author is my current obsession, Brad Leithauser (who John Updike regularly compares to that other lepidoterist's literary hero-- Vladimir Nabokov). Leithauser says in the introduction:
It's long, I know, for a poem (5,708 lines) but short for a novel (46,265 words, my computer tells me), and a novel's what I aimed to create here. I looked for dailiness and rootedness-- for verse with the firm calendars and solid place names, the ingrained habits and the incremental persuasions and erosions, which the novel has typically found congenial. I wanted specificity. Although all characters within these pages-- including the narrator-- are fictions, in nearly every case I've tried to get the science right. If the people are fabricated, I'd like to think the insects are genuine.)

A word about method, for those interested in verse mechanics. Having permitted myself rhymes that fall catch-as-catch-can, I vowed that nearly every line would have an exact, or perfect, rhyme. I 've eagerly made exceptions, though, for those irregular rhymes I often prefer to "perfection": especially rime riche (prays/praise) and pararhymes or rim rhymes (please/applause)...

And, what would a blog post about poems or books be without the obligatory Baude pull-quote? Here's one of the opening stanzas, where young (7-year-old) Russ Darlington is trying to catch a frog, "the jewel of the world":
Hands are hungry and with hungry hands
You must work extra hard to keep
Your wits about you, to be slow and quick
At once, as the situation demands.
(When you're so full of wanting, it's no small trick.)
Boil down all the trees in the forest until
They form a single cup of resin, still
You would never concoct a green
So bright, so dark, so dizzyingly deep
As this, the purest color he has ever seen

Even though I like the beginning of this stanza more than the end, and it's really two separate ideas, I quote the whole thing so you can get an idea of Leithauser's rhyme scheme. Every word has a rhyme-mate in the stanza[hands/demands; keep/deep; quick/trick; until/still; green/seen], but the order is, as he says, "catch-as-catch-can". It's a scheme he uses in quite a few of his poems, actually, though he's also been known to adhere to strict forms or ignore them altogether. (One of his more famous poems is a 14-syllable, 14-line, 13 word sonnet called "Post-Coitum Tristesse").

Anyway, just an excuse by way of explanation about the slower-than-usual posting rate. Things will pick up soon.

[Will, 2:15 PM]
A Fad Continues:

The online interviewing fad continues. Another Rice Grad has an interview with the CEO of Trupoker.com. Definitely worth reading for anybody interested in the game. (Incidentally for interviews with famous bloggers look to the 20 Questions sidebar on the right. For links to Howard Bashman's interviews with various judges, click here. Also, don't miss Kevin Drum's Paul Krugman interview.)

[Will, 1:39 PM]

So a few weeks ago, Dear Prudence egregiously suggested that wedding hosts could demand money from their guests. This is wrong, not only because wedding hosts shouldn't be asking for gifts (of any sort) from their guests (presents are supposed to be "emotionally motivated") but also because wedding hosts shouldn't be presuming the existence of these gifts at all. Luckily, Prudie recognized the error of her ways and issued a retraction.

Sadly, Prudie has received a rather sickening firestorm of counter-retraction email from her readers, all of whom strongly believe that it's okay to ask for cash in one's wedding invitation. As I've said before, it's not. It's just not.

[This is not to say that just giving cash is impermissible. Like so many things in polite society, it's perfectly acceptable to give freely, just gauche to ask for it.]

[Will, 12:07 PM]

Open call to readers. What drug policy blogs do you know about, or bloggers who blog about drug policy a decent fraction of the time? Please send me anything you can think of.

P.S. . . Keep your eyes peeled for an exciting entry into the blogosphere. That's all I can say for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

[Will, 2:52 PM]
Quote of the Day:

From Judge Alex Kozinski's opinion in United States v. Bonas:
(T)his is not a Harry Potter novel; there is no charm for making a defendant’s constitutional rights disappear.

[Will, 10:32 AM]
Words of Wisdom:

A few interesting thoughts about sex (based on a movie I haven't seen-- The Man From Elysian Fields)from Alina Stefanecu:
the charm of a one-night-stand or purely physical sex lies in its unintelligibility. We overestimate the extent to which ascribing meaning to all human interactions is a positive good. Some things are best left devoid of meaning. Perhaps this is because meaning adds aftertaste, or provokes nostalgia. There are moments and phases and moons in which the best memory is not inscribed on the skin as deeply as a scratch or scar; only lightly outlined. Love is the language by which we make sense of sex-- the grammar which turns nuance into shades of the describable. Maybe sex is better left unsaid or unread at times.

[Full Disclosure: Alina, a really awesome lady, was the head of the 2003 Koch Fellowship Program while I was a Koch fellow]

[Will, 1:09 AM]
A Minor Note on Links:

I troll pretty regularly (i.e., obsessively) using sitemeter and technorati to keep track of other blogs or websites that link to this site, but each of these sources is unreliable in its own way. If you write a post linking to any of my posts (or any of my co-bloggers' posts) and have the time to drop me an email letting me know, please do.

[Will, 12:11 AM]
Hey Y'all:

Much as I sympathize with Half The Sins of Mankind about the virtues of "Y'all" (a logism that's been creeping into my speech despite being born, raised, and educated in the midwest), I have to quarrel with two points in her latest post:
1: "Y'all" is a brilliant solution to the problem of the English language's loss of a second-person plural. Spanish has ustedes; French has vous; American English has y'all.

I actually think "vosotros" is a better Spanish equivalent to "Y'all". Granted "vosotros" is regional (local to Spain itself) but then, "Y'all" is regional too.
2: [On "You guys"]: Also, one should not address a mixed-sex group with a word that is solely for males.

"You guys" simply isn't a word that's solely for males anymore. [See, for example, Dictionary.com, Definition 2]

Sorry to quibble. Y'all probably don't care.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

[Will, 11:37 PM]
Art of Losing:

Incidentally, it's about time somebody combined A.O.Scott (Bill Murray's Art of Losing) with Elizabeth Bishop (One Art, below):
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


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