None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Saturday, August 02, 2003
 
The Nightmare Is Upon Us

Well, upon me anyway. This is the weekend of the move to Indianapolis. We'll be loading up and actually leaving on Tuesday the 5th, but it promises to be a busy weekend anyway. So, blogging will have to suffer.

Naturally, this hurts me a lot more than it hurts you. Stay tuned.



Friday, August 01, 2003
 
Impervious to Parody

As a wise man once said:

Heh.

UPDATE: I failed to credit Samizdata.net for the link when I posted this. Sorry, guys and gals.

 
Laugh-Out-Loud Ridiculous

That's how I'd characterize Nature magazine's "study" indicating that...well, I'll let Steve Hayward tell it:

Last fall Nature magazine carried a news story explaining that conservative rule makes more people want to kill themselves.

“Suicide Rises Under Conservative Rule,” read the September 20 headline on nature.com, the website of Nature magazine. “A nation’s suicide rate increases under right-wing governments according to two studies that have looked at Australia and Britain over the past century.” The story was based on two refereed articles in the British-based Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. One of the articles is entitled: “Mortality and Political Climate: How Suicide Rates Have Risen During Periods of Conservative Government, 1901-2000.” The subhead tells it all: “Do Conservative Governments Make People Want to Die?”


Whatever the methodological problems with this might or might not have been, I would simply retort the following:

"Historians: Genocide, Famine Rises Under Leftist Rule".

 
Preaching Capitalism, Practicing Socialism

It's a familiar theme. A good exposition of the tensions at work here is available at Lew Rockwell, courtesy of James V. Schall. A snippet:

So, if I were to answer the question about why I, even though a “practicing socialist,” am an advocate of a free market, it is because I think it is really the only way that the poor will be helped or the only way in which a rich society can remain free to deal with things beyond politics. We are in an anti-growth, ecologically oriented ideological world that is not based on the idea of the real abundance of nature and of the effects of mind with regard to things. The real enemies of the poor are those who maintain ideas or institutions, including governmental ones, that do not work.

I got this via Catallarchy which, incidentally, you ought to be reading without any prodding from me. Bookmark it.



 
Really Good Review

Tech Central Station has a good review of Steven M. Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. In it, Kenneth Silber takes a fair but skeptical look at Barr's defense of "intelligent design" theories of the universe. I would emphasize that this is an uncommonly balanced review of a book whose thesis does not command the reviewer's assent. So, even my readers inclined to accept the existence of a divine creator will find the article of interest, if for no other reason than because it sells the book as a worthwhile read.

I haven't read Barr's book, but I found this counter-point downright charming in its elegance:

Barr rightly distinguishes between two types of design arguments: cosmic design arguments that focus on overall features of the universe; and biological design arguments that focus on characteristics of organisms. He propounds cosmic design, but also asserts that scientists have been too dogmatic in rejecting biological design. Yet what Barr, like many other design theorists, fails to recognize is that these two types of design are in tension with each other. If the laws of physics are fine tuned for life, then it is no surprise that life will evolve without further intervention. If intervention in biology is needed, that suggests the original fine tuning was inadequate in some way.

I don't like arguments from design, though my own faith in God is pretty dependent upon a variant of the cosmological argument. In any case, as compelling as it might be to think so, the unlikelihood of the existence of intelligent life strikes me as a very, very unsound argument for God, even if it is admitted to be only probable.

Why?

Well, because it can be used by substituting any present-day condition for intelligent life, without affecting the argument. Suppose we calculate the statistical probability that conditions in the early universe would be precisely such that human beings would exist as they do today, and find that they are approximate to a monkey sitting at a typewriter and hammering out the complete works of William Shakespeare. What follows from that?

Only that, of all possible worlds, ours is an exceptionally unlikely result. The problem with proceeding from here to an argument for intelligent design seems obvious:

ALL possibilities in our formula would be similarly (if not equally) improbable. Using this variant of the intelligent design argument, one could say that any event--when one considers the exceptional unlikelihood that the universe would have proceeded just so as to bring it about--is an argument for God's existence. My hair color, indeed my very existence, are themselves contingent upon an incalculably large number of prior events happening just as they did. The fact that I am typing this blog, the fact that you are reading it, the fact that it rained this weekend, the fact that the sun is yellow, the fact that Jupiter is a large gaseous planet rather than a star, the fact that tigers have stripes--all these things are extremely unlikely to have happened, when measured against the number of things that could have prevented them.

So, in a certain sense, every event one can point to is really unlikely, and only a fool would have bet on any one of them happening if he had had the chance one hundred billion years ago. No lotterly has odds so low as one that would have predicted, a thousand years ago, that I would exist and would be wearing a watch today--but here I am. What if the universe had been totally different, because of some slight variation in the temperature of the primordial cosmos? Would that then support the likelihood that God exists? After all, it too would be only one of an infinite number of possibilities.

So this version of the argument from design is, in my view, akin to pointing at an orange lying on the floor and asserting that its having fallen proves there must be a God.

I find this reasoning unpersuasive, to put it charitably.

 
James Woods--The Salon Interview

Woods appears in one of the most obnoxiously smug dens of leftist journalism on planet earth, Salon.com, and does a real fire-breather of an interview. Worth a look.

 
A Little Morning Politics

Charles Krauthammer on the media's reaction to the deaths of the Brothers Hussein:

That deadness [of Uday and Qsay] offended the sensibilities of a few, most characteristically, the supercilious British reporter who confronted Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Baghdad (who announced the killing of Uday and Qusay), with the charge that the United States should have taken them alive, not just to produce more information but to provide war crimes trials. Why did you not just wait them out, he asked?

The question was as astounding for its stupidity as for its audacity. The obvious answer is that waiting would have opened the unacceptable possibility of escape. One might add: Imagine what would have happened had a siege been declared, and days spent waiting for the food and ammunition inside the house to run out. The world media descending on the scene would have made Camp O.J. look like a Cub Scout barbecue. Mediators representing everyone from Putin to the pope would have fallen over each other to negotiate the terms of surrender.


But Charles, that's exactly the point. That self-same supercilious reporter missed the story of a lifetime and, as they so often remind us, it's all about the media.

Also, I watched Paul Gigot on C-Span for a few minutes this morning. What always strikes me about shows like Washington Journal is the unremitting fury in the voice of every caller. They must be deliberately screening for embittered smart-asses.

The caller who caught my attention was (of course) an older man who, after his introductory salvo of humorless sarcasm, proceeded to drill Gigot on why exactly there was no readily available definition of the phrase "weapon of mass destruction" on the internet. After all, he mused with Howard-Zinn-like hateur, a B-52 loaded with 50,000 lbs of bombs might be accurately described as a weapon of mass destruction too. He concluded that the phrase was, you guessed it, "invented by the neocons" as a way of advancing their agenda.

You might think responding to one random phone call on my weblog a total waste of effort and time, the mental equivalent of kicking a puppy. I can tell you from extensive experience, it's nowhere near as fun as kicking a puppy. I feel obligated, though, since there is the outside chance one of NTW's readers was unsatisfied with Gigot's answer. Or lack thereof.

I've heard this same "argument" formulated a thousand different ways, so let's just say I'm responding to an entire genus of leftist thought on the subject.

The problem is that it's not an argument, properly understood. It's a semantic point, good for a little "tee-hee, I'm so clever" moment but not much else. Nothing actually follows from it. The term "WMD" is a bit elastic, but so what? Nobody wants Kim Jong Il in possession of ten fully-armed B-52's bristling with guidance technology either, and nobody is arguing that it would be just fine if he were. If what the caller means is that conventional weapons can, in the aggregate, have similar destructive force to a single atom bomb or chemical warhead, he's right. North Korea's artillery battery is designed to approximate exactly this effect. That's why they are a problem. So again--what's the point?

After all, we have nuclear weapons already, so if the point is simply to impeach the United States for possessing awesome firepower, well, no Air Force bomber need enter into it. Unless your case is to make the point that the U.S. Air Force is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the Republican Guard.

(It's more likely that this line of thinking is related to the leftist's vision that it's the gun that kills, rather than the shooter. One can see where the gun control mentality touches on so many other issues here. A person who points to our own military arsenal is missing the point in a very, very big way. Moral equivalence, anyone?)

In any case, if you really want to play semantic games, let's have a little fun with it: A B-52 is a delivery system, just as an ICBM or a Scud might be. We aren't worried about how many missiles or bombers Saddam might have had, so much as what he might have put in them. The warhead is the weapon, not the missile.

A 20,000 lb bomb is terrible, but it isn't a nuke and neither is it a bug or a gas that can wipe out an entire town. Put it on a B-52, and it's still just a ballistic explosive. So if you want to get cute, a B-52 isn't a weapon of mass destruction, it's a plane. And we, at least, do not use planes as "weapons" per se.

All this is pretty stupid, of course, since the point isn't the actual words "weapons," "mass," and "destruction," but rather the context in which they are used. In conjunction with a regime like Saddam's or the Iran's, they were (and, in the latter case, remain) a really serious problem. Safely tucked away in the Nevada desert, protecting our shores from even the remotest possibility of foreign invasion, they are a blessing.

Lastly, let's turn this around: Is there a strictly workable and universally-applicable definition for "neocon" on the internet? Or is it just a word advanced by the left to advance their agenda?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003
 
A Sad Farewell

None the Wiser's club-wielding blogfather, Clubbeaux, will be signing off as of today. He and the rest of the Harp Seal Clan will be flying to Antalya, Turkey, to take up residence and toil the days away at Paul's Place, a little coffee shop on the Mediterranean coast. I truly envy him the opportunity, and I'll be praying his journeys go well.

I can picture him now, writing his next novel on that incredibly gorgeous beach (scroll down for a nice picture).

Dave, you'll be missed around these parts. God bless you, friend.

 
Joining the Cacophany

Let me be about the fiftieth right-libertarian blog to recommend one Oliver Kamm to all my loyal (ha ha) readers. The best thing about him: he's leftist, Keynesian, and none the worse for it.

Oliver is a self-described "Scoop Jackson Democrat." His blog is one of the very few left-of-center corners of the blogosphere that hasn't completely degenerated into frothing insanity since the election of George W. Bush. (It's of anthropological interest, then, if nothing else.)

Seriously, Oliver's a very, very bright customer and his site is a source of that increasingly rare delicacy in today's world: non-poisonous political discourse. It's every bit as refreshing as it sounds, so go check him out.

 
Partisanship vs. Bias: A Crucial Distinction

Now this is interesting. Neil Cameron, at the National Association of Scholars weblog, responds to an article by Greg Yardley which insists the government step in and "do something" about the pervasive bias in history departments across the country. I think Neil has this exactly right:

Partisanship is what historians, and scholars in other liberal disciplines, are bound to display as a simple feature of their individual character. The approach made to documents is bound to be different for the religious or the secular, the radical or the conservative. Some of the most intellectually and morally instructive history has been written by passionately partisan scholars.

[...]

Bias literally means "slant," and what is typical of the awful stuff produced by contemporary academic radicals is that it is so slanted as, at a minimum, to suppress the whole truth, and in many cases propagate outright lies. In the Cold War years, this charge could sometimes be justifiably brought against those historians who were actual communists or fellow travelers, since it was impossible for them to give an honest account of the countless historical topics on which the Party had a "line." But the causes of appalling bias by the radicals of the last two decades have been somewhat different.

He also points out that any government "fix" for this problem would be an unmitigated disaster, and that the mere suggestion is entirely unrealistic in the first place. As a student of history, I found this response enlightening, but anyone interested in the academy will probably glean a little insight from it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
 
Teknomusik: eine Sache von besonderer Bedeutung

(OK, so that heading might be completely nonsensical, but so far as I can discover it's technically correct.)

This week I've been busy packing for the move. Still.

Fortunately, my latest excuse for failing to update NTW consistently has also set me to thinking about my love affair with electronic music. That makes this as good an excuse as any to ramble about one of my favorite topics.

I've been making some tapes for my sister, also a person who develops and subsequently nurtures deep emotional connections to musical artists and styles. Almost everyone, of course, loves music of some sort or other, but for some of us that relationship is more intimate than it is for others.

I am a member of that all-too-common breed of music fans who can fairly be described as a "fanatic" (I have no idea whether "fan" shares some etymological roots with "fanatic," and don't care); I am thinking of that definition of the word that comes to us from Churchill. That is, "a person who cannot change his mind and will not change the subject." Once the conversation wanders to music, both my passion and my ignorance take complete control of me.

So, when my sister allowed a recent discussion to land on the topic of electronic music, she ought to have known that a few tapes were in her future. In any event, I've been spending hour after hour listening to and recording various tapes and CD's, trying to compose a collection that accurately reflects my own early influences.

It's often remarked by people inside the electronic music scene that one really does become infected by it. Once you've been bitten by that rave music bug, all other musical inclinations evaporate completely, at least for a time. And while I've flirted with the idea of abandoning it--sometimes, like all other forms of art, it all sounds the same--I've discovered that my conversion to electronica has been so total as to disabuse me of any lasting enjoyment of acoustic musical performances. Even my beloved Velvet Underground has been reduced to the status of an occasional and temporary change of pace. Before long, an actual malaise sets in and I feel guilty and depressed, if I allow my dance records to sit too long.

I don't care overmuch why this is. Others--my friend Billy comes to mind--will probably tell you that the fascination with electronic music is as artificial and synthetic as the music itself. Elvis fans, rockabilly diehards, the nostalgic--all these exhibit a visceral loathing for what they perceive as electronic noise masquerading as music. I couldn't disagree with them more, for a lot of reasons, but in any event I and many like me have as blind a loyalty to electronic dance music as all the blackfooted legions of Deadheads have to that greatest of rock bands. Yes, I was a Deadhead once too, and even toured the east coast more than once.

(God, please accept this, my weblog, as a humble offering of penance.)

Anyhow, whether a person considers electronica--which I generically, if inaccurately, refer to simply as dance music--"authentic" or not, its roots are little appreciated by its critics, as is its broad appeal. Not since the Beatles have so many, in so disparate and far-flung a collection of places, danced to the same tune. Many young people are oblivious to the fact that the tracks they hear on Saturday night can be heard in London, Berlin, Sydney, Prague, Ibiza, and Rome. But just as many aren't.

Indeed, many are drawn to dance music precisely because of its power to unite people in celebration of their existence. In spite of its determined and at times repugnant hedonism, it is my view that the global dance music scene is the most life-affirming and anti-nihilistic "youth culture" phenomenon available in the contemporary world--a real diamond in the rough, since virtually every aspect of Western pop culture has become the very opposite. It is in this sense counter-cultural in all the right ways. What destructive elements it does contain are largely borrowed from the wider landscape of Western society, and these are not essential to it (whether Senator Biden is willing to accept this or not).

The "rave" scene is in fact a cultural mongrel. Sometimes presented as a fusion of German electronica (think Kraftwerk) and American rap/hip-hop (think Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambata), dance has in fact come to encompass a bit more than that. My view is that what we're seeing is a lot like the disco club scene, and a huge amount of the music itself is nothing more than disco riffs and samples set to synthetic 4-4 percussion.

Combine that with the outrageous clothes most notable for its incredibly large pants, the aesthetic fixation with flashing lights and neon, and the omnipresence of designer drugs, and what you have is a reworked disco scene perfected in its essentials by Gen X, for Gen X. It has a "retro" kind of appeal, to be sure, but it's as unique as anything before it. I should also say that even the youngest among the current crop of dance music fans is deeply aware of this borrowed identity, and recieve too little credit for the extent to which they acknowledge and celebrate the early influences to which they owe an artistic and stylistic debt. In fact, no community of fans and artists that I am aware of has done so much to give the originators their due.

(That very eccentricity has led many to dismiss it as a passing phase, and they may be right--although now in its twelfth year the scene shows no signs of weakening, in spite of constant predictions it is about to implode.)

What I adore more than anything, though, is what a testament to people's ability to get along, and to combine their own preferences and influences into a single aesthetic, that the dance scene really represents. Turntablism, smart production, a strong sense of harmony--all these things make the fusion of very different tastes into a single funky product possible.

It's a thoroughly libertarian affair, whether people realize it or not. The idea that we can exchange things that are valuable to each of us for different reasons--and become wealthier in the process--is the unspoken mantra of the dance music ethic. Some say money drives the scene, and it is for this reason a Good Thing Ruined By Greed. I call bullshit on this line.

Dance music is driven by a nexus of black markets--and it's good for this reason alone. Love of "the music" isn't primary, nor can it be. The music itself exists only because of the desire by some to succeed, and success isn't free. The record stores, producers, DJ's, promoters, and record labels all have a part to play in making the thing work, and the average raver's attachment to the "authenticity" of the scene, the extent to which it's really "underground, is just evidence of a lack of understanding.

Without the motive for worldly achievement, DJ Micro could never make a living entertaining crowds that number in the thousands--not because he wouldn't want to do it for free, but because he couldn't. If you hate paying a gang of faceless hoodlums running an illegitimate "production company" $30 for a ticket, then you need to get your happy ass back to the basement, where you and your friend DJ No Talent can enjoy all the "free" music you want.

Sadly, the average age of the dance music enthusiast has dropped steadily since, I would estimate, 1996. The music's association with drugs, like that of the hippie movement, has made it the target of Concerned Citizens everywhere; but since "the drug problem" isn't unique to electronic music, there must be something else at work. That dynamic is, I'm sorry to say, the number of very young people attending dance parties these days. I've witnessed kids as young as twelve skipping around raves, and I can tell you, they have absolutely no business there without an adult.

Most people whom I have spoken to, who are over 18 and are blessed with any amount of experience on the subject, agree wholeheartedly. The image of the reckless raver, nefariously seducing little boys and girls with the promise of late nights and loud music, is a total fabrication. A few responsible DJ's in the UK (John Digweed comes to mind) have taken to setting serious limits on the types of events they will play, complete with dress codes and age restrictions.

Of course, parents who allow their adolescent children to raise hell--totally unsupervised--until five o'clock AM should not be surprised to find that their little darlings have landed at the bottom of a pile of drooling clubheads. They should, however, have their damned heads examined (right after they finish watching the latest John Stossel report to find out what their kids are up to).

The last thing that's going to fix the problem of baby boomer inattentiveness is an act of Congress like the RAVE Act, since there is literally nothing happening there that cannot--and does not--go on at private residences every day. In typical baby boomer fashion, however, they are quick to absolve themselves of what "society" hath wrought and march straight to their local voting booth or city council meeting to ensure that the rest of us are properly ordinanced and legislated into submission.

Eventually, dance music will either wither for lack of inventive ways to please and accommodate its core audience while avoiding excessive attention from the government, or it will become a more mainstream phenomenon. Moby and car commercials notwithstanding, it has thus far avoided this fate, but not for long. At some point, the twin pressures of regulatory government and financial incentive will act to make dance music a more standardized affair, filling auditoriums courtesy of Ticketmaster. While almost to a person dance enthusiasts shudder at the mere mention of such a possibility, it is one than cannot be discounted, so long as young people continue to be recruited into the screaming, throbbing masses of partygoers that grow larger and more visible with every passing Saturday night.

A third possibility is that dance music will remain underground, but take a major hit in popularity, causing the scene to shrink to its pre-1996 size. After all, it happened to disco. That's what most of the real heads say they want, anyway. Punk, ska, surf, and the like have all been able to maintain a respectable existence on that level for as long as they've been around, unmistakably influencing popular culture without becoming one of its most visible manifestations. Perhaps electronic music has sold out to the extent that it can, and its eclectic style really will inhibit rather than promote its shift toward the center of the pop-culture stage. So far, it remains mostly absent from the All-Mighty Pop Charts, and I admit to hoping it stays this way.

We'll find out just how popular its appeal is in due course. Whatever the case, the heart and soul of dance music will remain those weekly resident DJ's toiling in relative obscurity, like Hipp-e in Colorado or DJ Garth in San Francisco. They are, and will probably always remain, my real inspiration every time I step to my own set of second-rate, mismatched turntables. As for initiates like my sister, I envy them that first knowing grin, that moment the bug bites them and the music clicks just right, when everything they thought they knew about electronic sound evaporates in a brief spasm of excitement, and they realize that rhythm, crescendo and decrescendo retain their mystical power in any medium--and that there is nothing so captivating, no emotion so pure, that it cannot be sublimated, at least in part, by the raw power of human art and ingenuity.

[WARNING: This post was composed under the influence of uncut, dirty beats.]

Sunday, July 27, 2003
 
A Procedural Note

A lot of bloggers have a lot of different takes on what constitutes good form in the blogging biz. By that I mean that different people have different opinions about what constitutes honesty, or truth in advertising, where blogging is concerned. After all, it's a little like traditional journalism, and certainly aspires to the same level of importance in the cultural and political scenes.

A lot of bloggers, I have noticed, are meticulous about leaving their posts exactly as they first were typed, and refuse to edit them later. On matters wherein the alteration in question might actually affect the outcome of a relevant dispute, or change the meaning of something they are on record as having said, I can see that this is an honorable practice.

None the Wiser, on the other hand, pretends to no importance at all in the wider world of online journalism. It is, and will remain, a devoutly personal enterprise. Furthermore, I have absolutely no tolerance for spelling and grammatical mistakes that I discover in my own writing. So, I reserve the right to make such changes as are necessary, at any time, to correct technical or minor stylistic imperfections in NTW's content.

However, I also think it important, once a person is on record as having defended a position or articulated a point of view, that he not misrepresent the fact of the matter by deleting or otherwise attempting to hide the meaning of any post whatsoever. This is a matter of basic honesty.

So while I do attentively edit my own posts with respect to technical errors and minor stylistic flourishes, When you log on to my site you can be assured that you will find it exactly as you left it last in its essentials. And should anything here ever become a matter of any controversy (which I believe to be improbable in the extreme) it will be considered by me etched in stone, forever fixed, until the Blogger Archive Gnomes have away with it.

 
NFL to Millen: No Attempt to Follow Rules Too Sincere to Ignore

Clubbeaux makes an interesting point about the Detroit Lions.

For those of you not up to speed, the Lions have been fined $200,000.00 by the NFL for not interviewing any minority candidates for their newly available head coaching job. Not that they didn't try.

See, Steve Mariucci wanted the job, and Detroit wanted to give it to him. Considering that he is the best unemployed coach in the sport, and a Michigan native, there was never any doubt he was the best man for the job. So, of the five minority coaches offerred interviews, not one accepted. They weren't stupid, and they knew that in GM Matt Millen's position, they wouldn't hire anyone but Mariucci either.

Since none of the prospective candidates physically attended an interview, the Lions organization was found to have violated the NFL's "diversity requirements." Meaning that even though they made the requisite show of wanting a less-qualified candidate than Mariucci, the candidates themselves were too sensible to dignify the gesture with a trip to lovely Detroit, and stayed home.

So the Lions are being fined for something that someone else did. Or rather, for something someone else didn't do.

OK.

So Clubbeaux asks,

If GMs are required to interview blacks shouldn’t blacks be required to attend interviews? Or would that make too much sense and piss off the racists who currently run the NFL?

Good question.

UPDATE: I almost forgot to link to Scott Ott's widely-linked Scrappleface bit on this. Which is, quite naturally, hysterical.

 
More Random Thoughts

One of my favorite regular contributions to the realm of internet commentary is Thomas Sowell's Random Thoughts. This week, we have a pretty decent lineup, with this being the best of the lot:

As long as human beings are imperfect, there will always be arguments for extending the power of government to deal with these imperfections. The only logical stopping place is totalitarianism -- unless we realize that tolerating imperfections is the price of freedom.

Sowell is more conservative than I am. He also happens to be one of my personal heroes. Go figure.