Holiday concerts at the Met

I highly recommend seeing Chanticleer perform, for the Christmas holiday, in the Medieval Hall, where the beautiful creche is displayed every year (
 It is not to be missed.
Anonymous 4 is also quite good.

Time for that trip to New York City yet?

A non-ambush ambush

A Non-Ambush "Ambush":

Here's a third example to round out our series on so-called 'guerrilla' tactics in politics. This is an "ambush" interview only in the sense that it wasn't scheduled. It happened in a Congressional office building, following a meeting on the subject, by someone who was plainly identified as a reporter from a new media outlet with a known political agenda.

This kind of thing is perfectly OK with me. It's not an intrusion into the private lives of the individual; it's not a use of 'the rules' to undermine the system. And indeed, unlike the other two examples, we can see that our national dialogue is being advanced here.

So, here's the limit case for "what right looks like." You don't have to get on the Congressman's schedule. By all means any citizen should be able to ask their Congressman a question at town halls and through normal dialog, and new media reporters should also be free to talk to Congress in professional venues. This doesn't require jumping people on their way back from lunch, or traveling under the false flag of 'students working on a project,' when you're really acting as political operatives in the opposition. It's great to use your First Amendment rights to advance the discussion, not good to use them to shut down someone else's First Amendment rights.

The Congressman here is still a bit testy, but I think both he and the reporter are doing just fine. Politics is not a tea party, even when it's a Tea Party.


Now This Is Exactly What I'm Talking About:

Andrew Sullivan cites this video, saying, "Finally, a way to respond to holy rollers, tea-partiers, Larouchies, Code Pink, Mormon missionaries, Farrakhanites, HRC fundraisers, at al" [sic].

I don't even know what political message was being advocated in the video, and I genuinely do not care. I do know that, far from being encouraged, this kind of disruption of civic free speech is an aggressive abuse to our democracy. Frankly, to put it in the words the President used just this week, I think this is the kind of thing that ought to put you in danger of having your ass kicked -- and kicked, not to charges or threats of charges of simple battery, but to the wholesome and wholehearted applause of the American people. The law should not oppose such kicking, and neither should we.

Any single gentleman who wished to escort this young man aside for remedial education would enjoy my approval -- so long as he took reasonable precautions to ensure that the harm done was passing, while the education was lasting.

Neo-Platonism & TV Analogy

Plotinus and the Television Analogy:

In our recent discussion on faerie creatures, T99 suggested that she had a Platonist model of consciousness. I was reading from Plotinus' fourth ennead today, in which he talks about the unity of all souls under his theory. Plotinus was the founder of Neo-Platonism, in the third century A.D. Here, for ease of reference, is the 'television model' for consciousness.

There's an alternative model of consciousness -- which I may have invented, although it's highly likely that someone else has achieved it separately -- that thinks about consciousness as a kind of signal that is part of the universe. This is opposed to the standard view of consciousness arising from chemical activity in the brain (a highly problematic concept: these same chemicals exist everywhere, but produce the experience of consciousness as far as we know only when arranged as a brain, and possibly only as a human brain).

In this sense, the brain is not creating consciousness, but interpreting something already present. The brain can be thought of as like an old-fashioned television, the kind that pulls TV signals from the air. Two such sets, tuned to different channels, will give you a completely different experience -- one of a football game, the other of a soap opera. Yet they are pulling from the same signal.

If a set grows old, the picture it offers begins to alter in certain ways; but it is interpreting the same signal. If it is damaged, the picture may become quite distorted -- but the signal is unharmed. If you unplug it, or it dies of age, or you bash it with a baseball bat hard enough, it may cease being able to interpret the signal at all. The signal is still there. You just have lost your means of interpreting and understanding it. (And even when you had that means, you were only seeing a small part of what was really there -- the one channel.)

On this model, then, what culture is doing is helping to "tune" our minds in certain ways. That would explain (for example) why a child who hasn't read 1,000 year old books might make a claim about an event (say a fairy) that harmonizes with those books. No one told her that story; she has simply been tuned, by genetics and culture, to interpret consciousness in certain ways.

That is compatible with the Platonic model you are suggesting, I think.
Now, Plotinus is not talking about a unified consciousness, but a unified soul -- indeed, consciousness poses a problem for him. How can two souls actually be one thing, if one is consciously experiencing pain and the other is not? He has an explanation for this which is similar to, but different from, the television analogy (which was obviously unavailable to him).
Now to begin with, the unity of soul, mine and another's, is not enough to make the two totals of soul and body identical. An identical thing in different recipients will have different experiences; the identity Man, in me as I move and you at rest, moves in me and is stationary in you: there is nothing stranger, nothing impossible, in any other form of identity between you and me; nor would it entail the transference of my emotion to any outside point: when in any one body a hand is in pain, the distress is felt not in the other but in the hand as represented in the centralizing unity.

In order that my feelings should of necessity be yours, the unity would have to be corporeal: only if the two recipient bodies made one, would the souls feel as one.

We must keep in mind, moreover, that many things that happen even in one same body escape the notice of the entire being, especially when the bulk is large: thus in huge sea-beasts, it is said, the animal as a whole will be quite unaffected by some membral accident too slight to traverse the organism.

Thus unity in the subject of any experience does not imply that the resultant sensation will be necessarily felt with any force upon the entire being and at every point of it: some transmission of the experience may be expected, and is indeed undeniable, but a full impression on the sense there need not be.
The concept of 'tuning' was not available to him, but he is in some sense reaching for a similar concept, especially when he speaks of how one body may not be conscious of all its sensations at the same time. Apparently the view of the soul he suggests was influential with Freeman Dyson, and Schrödinger.

Another place of harmony with Plotinus is the idea we often discuss that aesthetics underlies ethics, which in turn underlies politics. As the Stanford Encyclopedia puts it, "Plotinus' chronologically first treatise, ‘On Beauty’ (I 6), can be seen as parallel to his treatise on virtue (I 2). In it, he tries to fit the experience of beauty into the drama of ascent to the first principle of all. In this respect, Plotinus' aesthetics is inseparable from his metaphysics, psychology, and ethics."

Of course, in thinking of beauty as being directed at something like a Platonic form (in fact, toward God), he is suggesting that the underlying root of beauty is the same for everyone. We appear to differ on particulars because, he says, we get hung up on sensible beauty; we ignore the inner beauty that we can see when we ignore mere physical beauty.

As to that, it's a principle that reminds me of our discussion of The Knight's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Guns: A Tale of Two Traditions

Guns: A Tale of Two Traditions

For a special day at school, a Rhode Island 8-year-old decorated a hat with patriotic themes, including camouflage, an American flag, and tiny plastic toy soldiers. The school banned the hat. “Why? The toy soldiers were carrying tiny guns.”

Hey, I'm just surprised they didn't object to the flag.

The Rhode Island principal explained that "the hat would be fine if the boy replaced the Army men holding weapons with ones that didn't have any." (Post-modern soldiers, holding copies of U.N. sanctions, are available at enlightened toy stores.) The school felt that the toy soldiers were the equivalent of wearing images of marijuana leaves on t-shirts.

The director of the Rhode Island National Guard gamely stepped in and tried to talk some sense to the school: "The American soldier is armed. That's why they're called the armed forces," he said. "If you're going to portray it any other way, you miss the point." I imagine him speaking very slowly and calmly.

Here’s another approach to guns, inspired by news reports of a Presidential Internet “kill-switch” to be triggered by an “emergency measure or action" announced by the Department of Homeland Security. Glen Reynolds responded: “If they shut down the Internet, I’m getting out my gun. And I think everyone should take it as a signal to do the same — because one way or the other, it means the country’s under attack.”

My solution to the boy’s hat? Use a razor blade to cut the plastic weapons loose, and replace them with tiny nerf bats. But as Bruno Bettelheim noted, the reason boys play with tin soldiers is that it’s not much fun to play with tin pacifists.

Update: Once again, embarrassment works. This gives me hope for November.

How about a Complete Rollover?

How About a More Complete Rollover?

Sally Quinn's article making the rounds suggests that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden switch jobs. It's not impossible, if Congress were to confirm the swap.

Why stop there, though? The arguments for her being Vice President are better arguments for her being President. Or we could simply move everyone one spot over: Joe Biden to President, Hillary Clinton to Vice President, and Obama could resign to pursue other opportunities. A stint as Secretary of State might give him some actual experience that would improve his odds if he wanted to run for a second term as President when he was really qualified for the office; or, he could follow his heart and move on to become Secretary General of the United Nations.

I'm not sure I see the benefit to the nation of swapping the two lower jobs without addressing the core of the problem. If we can get some agreement on that, though, I'll be happy to support the move.

Great Headline of the World

Great Headlines of the World:

From Reuters today:

"Global Organized Crime Becoming New Superpower: U.N."

It's good to see some honest reporting about the U.N. for a change! And the first phrase of the article is also insightful. It quotes the "U.N. crime chief," who says:

"Governments must smash markets..."

The truth will out! What?

Parzival Entrance

What An Entrance:

I'm reading Parzival, as I mentioned. One of the striking things about it is the German High Medieval sense of the aesthetic. It's not the understated, somber German sense you might know today! For example, here is how King Gramoflanz prepares for a ritual combat with Sir Gawan (or, as you better know him, "Gawain").

Now the king was armed. Twelve damsels took a hand, mounted on pretty palfreys. They were not to be negligent -- that lustrous company -- but each was to carry by a shaft the costly phellel-silk beneath which the king wished to arrive. Two little ladies, none too feeble -- indeed they bore the brightest sheen there -- rode with the king's stout arms about them.
Now, this is an entry that would do David Lee Roth proud. The king arrives on horseback, with twelve mounted damsels bearing a giant silk tarp above him, and two more in his lap.

Somehow, no artist has thought to render this image, which seems to me a striking omission! I can't think of anything else quite like it in Medieval literature -- but Wolfram is an interesting writer all the way around. He is also remarkable for how he insists that love and marriage be unified, as other Medieval writers did not always do. He does it consistently.

States v. Feds

The States v. the Feds:

Eric has occasionally remarked that we should be of peacable mind about about the state of the union, until we started to see state efforts to organize against the Federal power. We are not quite there yet; but clashes between Federal and state officials are beginning to become common.

Two items from today.

Item one: Coast Guard halts oil-sucking barges for 24 hours over Governor Jindal's objections, while disrupting rescue efforts elsewhere.

"These barges work. You've seen them work. You've seen them suck oil out of the water," said Jindal.

"The Coast Guard came and shut them down," Jindal said. "You got men on the barges in the oil, and they have been told by the Coast Guard, 'Cease and desist. Stop sucking up that oil.'"


In Alabama today, Gov. Bob Riley said that he's had problems with the Coast Guard, too.... The governor said the problem is there's still no single person giving a "yes" or "no." While the Gulf Coast governors have developed plans with the Coast Guard's command center in the Gulf, things begin to shift when other agencies start weighing in, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It's like this huge committee down there," Riley said, "and every decision that we try to implement, any one person on that committee has absolute veto power."
Item two: the Secretary of State says that the Federal government will be suing Arizona of its immigration legislation.
[The Arizona governor] said in a statement that "this is no way to treat the people of Arizona."

"To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous," she said. "If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation."
All three complaints are essentially the same. The Federal government is asserting veto power over state actions; it is reading that power in the broadest possible way, even in emergency situations. It's unresponsive to the needs of the people of the state; but every piddling regulation ("How many fire extinguishers do you have on that oil-sucking barge?") is put ahead of doing something about the emergency at hand. They are more interested in the questions of precedence and propriety than they are in the disasters that are lapping at our shores, or storming across our borders.

I'd say we're starting to see the friction. Heat follows.

Demi-God, Eh?

"Demi-God..." I Like the Sound of That:

It has a certain ring, doesn't it?

If you’re a 30-something dude and this doesn’t describe you, congrats! You’re likely one of the other generalized types I mentioned—somewhere on the spectrum between single d*****g and taken demi-god.
Why should one wish to be congratulated for being on that spectrum? I would think any man would like the idea of being seen as a demi-god.

Apparently the standards for admission are fairly low, too. It's achievable!

More on Diplomatic Betrayal and Duplicity

More on Diplomatic Betrayal and Duplicity

If this isn’t a story made for a screenplay to rival “Lawrence of Arabia,” I don’t know what is.

Douglas Mackiernan (1913-1950) was the first CIA officer to be killed in the line of duty, though he was not honored until 2000, and then in a secret ceremony. In 2002 a journalist began to break the story, which was largely acknowledged by the CIA in 2008.

Just the story of the effort to pierce the veil of secrecy and honor Mackiernan's service would make for a bestselling potboiler, but the story of the service itself makes the cover-up thriller look pedestrian. The brilliant MIT-dropout misfit born to a Scottish whaler/explorer in Mexico City, the dawn of the Cold War, the Westerner engulfed by the East, the nuclear secrets, the abandonment of the U.S. embassy/spy station in remote northwest China upon the surrender of Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949, the wife's last-minute escape overseas to bear twins, the husband's desperate 1,000-mile trek by camel and foot across the Taklamakan Desert and the Himalayas fleeing the ascendant Chinese Communists, the tragic death at the Tibetan border crossing resulting from bureaucratic sloth and duplicity, the U.S.’s later abrupt betrayal of Tibetan freedom fighters upon re-establishment of diplomatic ties to China in the 1970s – and believe me, I’ve barely touched on the high points of suspense and irony.

Thomas Laird’s 2002 book about Mackiernan, “Into Tibet,” is about to join a pile on my reading table that’s getting way out of hand. Despite the CIA’s belated confirmation of many parts of the story in 2008, there remains controversy about Laird’s accuracy and partisan bent. I can’t begin to judge that side of things yet, but what a yarn! This guy is T.E. Lawrence, James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan rolled into one. It’s a Le Carre novel as re-imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Ridley Scott? Russell Crowe?

I stumbled across Mackiernan because I was surprised by reports in the morning paper that newly released information indicated the CIA was caught flat-footed by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Wasn’t that common knowledge – the January 1950 Acheson flub and so on? I’m no Korea buff. Quickly reading the Wikipedia summary of the Korean War that's linked above, I saw Mackiernan mentioned as the source of advance intelligence of the North Korean invasion, which he was trying to get across the Tibetan border when he was killed. In reading other accounts of Mackiernan’s exploits I can’t be sure that’s right; if so, it’s such a minor part of the saga that it doesn’t rate a mention in other summaries. Either way, I’m motivated to read the Laird book now.


Iran, A Year Since:

Former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes about the Iranian protests: how they came about, why they didn't succeed, and how the US failed to follow through where it should have. It cites the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper's work as the foundation.

It's an amazing case: the Clinton administration's policy toward Iran seemed hopelessly optimistic at the time they adopted it, but the Bush administration largely saw it through in spite of the challenges of the war on terror. The internal revolution that the policy hoped we would see -- if only we avoided giving the Iranian government a conflict they could use to convince the young that we were their enemies -- actually arrived!

Unfortunately, we did nothing; for now there was a third administration in place, one that viewed stability and engagement of the mullahs as its goals. The moment, so long hoped for both here and among the Iranian youth, arrived and passed.

See what Mr. Gerecht has to say; but also remember this piece, not from a case officer (or "operations officer," as I believe they call the position now) but from a long time agent of the CIA within the Revolutionary Guards.

The Art of Euphemism

The Art of Euphemism

The Net is abuzz, including at Cassandra’s place, with the sad spectacle of a blogger threatening a series of critics with libel actions. I’m not familiar with the blogger and haven’t the patience to figure out what she’s on about, but I do have some helpful advice on how to avoid lawsuits of this kind. Truth is a defense, of course, but beyond that, let euphemism be your friend.

I haven’t any entertaining euphemisms on this specific subject, beyond the possible “leak in the think tank,” but I did find an entertaining column the other day about euphemisms for drunkenness. If you’ve never tried “The Word Detective,” now would be a good time to start. I ran across this recent column about the origin of the expression “snootful.” The Detective points us toward last year’s book by Paul Dickson, “Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary” (Melville House, 2009), which lists and explains thousands of synonyms for that blunt accusation, including “not quite himself,” “overwrought,” “outgoing,” or “ruddy-faced.”

The Detective admired “full of loud mouth soup,” but the example most helpful for our purposes today has been employed by British journalists to protect themselves against strict libel laws. The tradition may have begun in 1967, when a press agent for Labour Cabinet Minister George Brown explained one of his notorious public displays by saying he was “tired and emotional.” The phrase proved useful for decades afterward.

The British seem to have a special flair for this kind of thing. One of their expressions, new to this writer, is “pissed as a newt.” A Foreign Office official, informed of Brown’s press agent’s explanation, suggested that Brown had been “tired and emotional as a newt.”

Alas, PC evasions can ever be only temporary. Once the meaning becomes well understood, even the euphemism can land the writer in trouble. An expert writing in 2001 suggested that the phrase “tired and emotional” might expose the writer to liability even if it was meant literally. It must remain the job of restless wordsmiths to expand the boundaries of gentle evasions in every generation.

Minnie the Moocher

Minnie the Moocher:

Georgia is not among the top states when it comes to mooching.

Bad Medicine

Bad Medicine:

“His aides from the Senate, the presidential campaign, and the White House routinely described him with the same words: ‘psychologically healthy,’ ” writes Jonathan Alter in “The Promise,” a chronicle of Obama’s first year in office.
That should have been a warning. If any collection of people who deal with you regularly "routinely describe" you using the word "psychologically," there's a problem.

And it's a bigger problem, if they're at such pains to prove your 'psychological health' that they set up an organized response among your aides.

I'll take that bet

The Challenger:

So, here's a commercial for the poor man's Mustang.*

This is one of those silly counterfactual things, with modern technology introduced into historic settings. Guns of the South is a classic example, with the AK-47 being introduced to the Confederate army during the Civil War. (I haven't read more than the jacket of the book, but I remember the concept.)

The thing is, I'd take the bet being proposed in the commercial. A few unarmored Dodges versus an infantry unit armed with .75 caliber muskets? Yeah, you'd break the line in a few places, but your drivers would be dead, and the line would re-form.

Besides, I'm sure General Washington would prefer the Mustang.

* Yes, I realize that the Challenger is actually more expensive than the baseline Mustang. I still don't see why anyone would buy the Dodge instead.

No Harm, No Foul

No Harm, No Foul:

I've waited a bit to speak to this, and at last I am going to do so on the other side from what you may expect. Although, I suppose, some of you who have been paying closest attention may have seen it coming.

One thing I have often argued is that the law should not ban a fair fight. Is two-to-four young men accosting an old man in the street an invitation to a fair fight?

This may well be assault and battery by current law. Current law, though, is no friend to what I think is right. A man ought not to be subject to harassment as he walks down a public street. If he feels that a swift kick in the rear will best speed on those who are keeping him from his business, well, I'm likely to endorse him in rendering them aid in finding their way.

I'm sure I should be against this fellow just because he's a Congressman; but really, I'm more against jerks. Let a man walk down the street. And if you won't do that, don't complain if you find that he hands you part of your anatomy to wear as a decoration once he lets you go on your way.

Or let me put it this way: arresting a man's passage on his normal business is not a neutral action. If this were a Marine Colonel or General on his way to work, being accosted by a handful of SEIU thugs, we would think differently. Whether we read it as "assault" or "kidnapping" or whatever else the law might prefer, it is an affront. If you bring two or three young men against a single older man, you've tripped the standard called 'disparity of force.' If he felt the need to draw a firearm, I would probably still be on his side, even though he's a Congressman; certainly, if he were a Marine against union thugs.

Good for the gentleman from North Carolina. Let's just not complain when someone from 'our side' does the same thing.

Some Music for Ivanhoe

Music for Ivanhoe:

Sometime during the future, we will need to read Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe for the GHBC. It was a book of tremendous importance to American history, because of its extraordinary popularity in the South. It may have done more than any other work of fiction to shape Southern ideas of what it was to be a gentleman. Mark Twain thought it was responsible for the Civil War.

Here is some music that reminds me of some of the scenes in the novel where the Templar travels with Saracen slaves. Much of the book turns on the interaction between Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures. Here Rebecca, a Jewish maiden, is stolen away by the Templar with the aid of his Saracen slaves, and in defiance of King Richard the Lionheart and, well, Robin Hood.

Scott was no expert on Muslim culture -- although his treatment of Saladin in The Talisman is interesting -- but he was highly sympathetic to the Jews. Remind me, after we do the Vikings in the next few weeks, and perhaps we'll take a look at it. It would be an ideal book for the fall, when the weather cools and it becomes easy to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors again.

Ich bin ein Gulf Koaster

Ich bin ein Gulf Koaster reports that our President is marginalizing the oil spill as "Other" in a way he'd never dream of for the peace-loving nations of Iran or North Korea. He gave a speech promising to "fight back" against the oil spill that is "assaulting our shores," and made a bunch of servicemen stand behind him while he said it.

Winners Never Prosper

Winners Never Prosper

A story that was making the rounds in the Internet this week seemed too ridiculously entertaining to be true. Several locations, including this one, reported that the Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer League put a new spin on the fairly traditional “mercy rule” that sometimes halts one-sided children’s competitions when the score gets too lopsided, awarding the win to the team that’s hopelessly ahead and cutting the game short. However we may feel about the message this sends to the losers about the possibility of rallying in the face of early signs of defeat, it’s surely an improvement on the Gloucester Dragons’ brilliant innovation: the team that behaves so boorishly as to get more than five goals ahead is actually declared the loser. The team that’s ahead, apparently, should start milling around aimlessly, taking cigarette breaks, for fear of scoring the fatal goal that will lose them the game. Meanwhle the other team presumably squirms in public humiliation far worse than anything that could be inflicted by a more lopsided loss.

Not to worry. They’ve already rescinded the rule, effective yesterday. Sometimes embarrassment works.



A little late, but things are changing after all.

By any measure -- favorability ratings or job approval -- Americans by a sizable margin have warmer views of the secretary of state than they do of the president. This is of little use to Clinton beyond bragging rights, but among Hillary '08 fans there is some satisfaction that the woman Obama once cut down as "likable enough" is now more liked than he is. Depending on the measure and the poll, she leads him by roughly 10 to 25 percentage points.
I always liked her better, even if I didn't like her much. That's not the real issue, though. I thought she was both more qualified, and more likely to approach things from a centrist position. I would say, " her husband," but really I suspect she and he were more or less equally involved in the earlier administration. Thus, " she was before" might be the right way to phrase it instead. This was not because I didn't think she was a partisan by inclination, but because I thought she was the sort of politician who would avoid difficult things and simply do what wasn't too hard. That implies a limited agenda, and limits are just what the Federal government needs.

She's a partisan in her own way, of course, and doubtless she is a politician through and through. I wonder if she takes any pleasure in today's news.

Investing w Adams

Investing with Scott Adams:

Some advice:

When I heard that BP was destroying a big portion of Earth, with no serious discussion of cutting their dividend, I had two thoughts: 1) I hate them, and 2) This would be an excellent time to buy their stock. And so I did. Although I should have waited a week.

People ask me how it feels to take the side of moral bankruptcy. Answer: Pretty good! Thanks for asking. How's it feel to be a disgruntled victim?...

Apparently BP has its own navy, a small air force, and enough money to build floating cities on the sea, most of which are still upright. If there's oil on the moon, BP will be the first to send a hose into space and suck on the moon until it's the size of a grapefruit. As an investor, that's the side I want to be on, with BP, not the loser moon.
It's true that capitalism offers you an unprecedented chance to be on the winning side. You just have to buy stock.


A Generous Interpretation:

Richard Fernandez writes:

The saga of Dr. Jayant Patel is that of a man who concealed his incompetence by never staying in one place long enough for consequences to catch up to him. But though he buried his true track record, Patel took care to bring with him enough social proof to persuade a new set of victims to trust him. As long as he could stay one step ahead, he was gold. It wasn’t as if nobody suspected Patel wasn’t all he claimed to be. One gets the sense that many of his patients had doubts even as they looked up to him from the operating table, but never enough to challenge him openly; to impel them to say the one thing that would have saved them: ‘I don’t want this doctor, get me another’. And yet the truth was that he was probably trying; trying hard to be a doctor. One of the charges against him was that he treated patients that’s weren’t even his. Maybe he figured he needed practice. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But that didn’t help him because the basic problem was that Patel was incompetent. He should have been something else.
You can guess where this is going. Dr. Patel killed dozens of patients, because he wasn't man enough to admit that he was unfit for his office.

Naturally, an analogy follows. What is important, though, is that this is the generous reading. This is the reading whereby the man is a well-meaning incompetent, who wants very much to do what is right, and is just unable to admit to himself that he isn't competent.

The less generous reading is that he's destructive on purpose. This is a reading that I encounter more and more.

On Sheepdogs

On Sheepdogs

My previous post about oxytocin mentioned the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” game that figured in some recent oxytocin research, and included a link to an article about Anatol Rapoport, the game theorist whose winning entry in a cybernetic “Prisoner’s Dilemma” tournament employed a combination of clear-sighted retaliation and sweet-natured trust and forgiveness. If the Prisoner’s Dilemma forces players to decide whether to be sheep or wolves, Rapoport’s winning strategy could be said to convert its player into a sheepdog: someone who never hurts the sheep but is primed for ruthlessness against the wolf. But how to know for sure which one your opponent is? What if he might be either one, at different times, or even depending on how you treat him?

Before Rapoport’s contribution, people were drawing sour conclusions about human conflict from the established fact that the optimum solution to the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” from the point of view of one player in a single game was to choose a betrayal (wolf) strategy. This was a frustrating conclusion, given that the optimum solution from the point of view of both players considered together was mutual trust (sheep). The problem, of course, is that one player has no way of knowing whether the other player will take the first player’s well-being into account, a welcome development that would convert the two players into a cohesive unit for which the game’s results can be optimized.

Rapoport’s genius was to consider that people don’t always engage in single, isolated conflicts with strangers. More often (unless they’re engaged in a species-ending paroxysm) they need strategies for addressing repeated conflicts with people about whom they can learn something, and to whom they can impart information about themselves. They live in a world where each party to the conflict may learn from mistakes, build a reputation for trustworthiness, and use effective sanctions against predatory behavior: become sheepdogs.

Rapoport was a man with many generous tools for conflict-resolution in his box. According to Daniel Dennett, he

once promulgated a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent’s work. First, he said, you must attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Excellent advice, not (unfortunately) followed by its admiring but irritable quoter. Dennett’s review left me thinking that some books promise to be so unpleasant in their style of argument that I can do without buying and reading them. But this Rapoport guy – he looks like someone worth knowing more about.

His winning “tit for tat” strategy is said to be an “exceptionally effective sanction” for selfish behavior, in that the punishment lasts only as long as the selfish behavior lasts, whereas cooperative behavior is rewarded immediately in kind. Rapoport’s “tit for tat” strategy can yield even better empirical results in the "tit for tat with forgiveness" variant, in which the first play occasionally, and unpredictably, “turns the other cheek” by declining to respond to a betrayal in one game with his own act of betrayal in the next. This promises both players an exit from a disastrous vicious cycle of retaliation without exposing them to permanent exploitation by dyed-in-the-wool predators. In other words, if the early work on the Prisoner’s Dilemma suggested Leviticus 24:19-21, the work of this mathematical Russian Jew suggested an empirically successful fusion of that hard old law with Matthew 18:22.

Socialism & Responsibility

Democratic Socialism & Corporate Responsibility:

British Petroleum is not just a corporation. It has deep ties with the government in the UK. For example, we've all read about how the investment of pension funds in BP stocks is creating significant nervousness in the UK as they look on the Obama administration's rhetoric about squeezing every dime out of the corporation that it can.

We've talked about how BP will likely seek the protection of British courts. How much will the courts be sympathetic to them? It changes the picture quite a bit to hear that the British government's attempt to help was refused by the administration.

A court might well look at this and say, "It's fine to ask for damages; but since you refused to accept the help offered that would have limited those damages, we'll also limit the liability." That's even fair, is it not? After all, to the degree that the Obama administration is making things worse, there's no reason that BP should be the ones footing the bill. Insofar as they have decided it is more important to have the paperwork in order in Washington than the beaches in order in Louisiana, they're the ones -- not the British -- who should pay the cost of that decision.

Of course, that means that the US taxpayers foot the bill. Alas, they were the fools who voted for this crew.

Double-headed Dragon

The Double-Headed Dragon:

This one's for Eric, mostly. A group called Roman Army Talk asks about a symbol being used by the Serbian Orthodox priesthood, which also appears on some early Roman shields.

An early commenter gets "Thulsa Doom" out of the way as a possible origin; what follows is an interesting discussion, with plenty of photographic evidence as well.

Oxytocin -- the Meanie Hormone?

This week's Mark Steyn column about people with and without loyalty to their homelands is an interesting counterpoint to some new research about group bonding. Pointy-headed experts have published the alarming news that that oxytocin, the happy love hormone, has a “dark side” in which its “niceness breaks down.” It seems that warm bonds between human beings may lead to their joint aggression against outsiders, particularly in defensive mode. (If only we could dissolve all those uncontrollable bonds among individuals and transfer their unconditional loyalty to the World Government! Then people would stand by while their comrades were under attack.)

The researchers used the “Prisoner's Dilemma” game to test the effects of oxytocin. In this game, the reward that each player can expect will range from highest to lowest in the following three scenarios:
(1) the first player betrays the other while the other is loyal;

(2) both cooperate; and

(3) each betrays the other.

The optimal solution for a single player is betrayal, while the optimal solution for the two players considered together is cooperation. When the game is played only once, betrayal is the winning strategy from the point of view of that player, even though it is not optimum if you consider both players. The researchers used this aspect to judge the effects of oxytocin on the decision whether to betray.

What the researchers didn’t look at, apparently, is another and more interesting aspect of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. If the game is played repeatedly, the long-term winning strategy is not simple betrayal but tit for tat,” in which a player begins by cooperating, then responds to the other player’s betrayal or cooperation in one turn with the same choice in the next. A slight variation, which can prevent both players from getting trapped in a cycle of defections, is “tit for tat with forgiveness,” in which the first player very occasionally (and unpredictably) responds to a betrayal in one move with cooperation in the next. The “tit for tat” game strategy tends to result, over time, in the players’ learning to trust each other and to behave themselves.

In other words, they form a bond. Probably reeking of oxytocin – and they’ll be ready to join forces to kick the butts of the next group of strangers who show up threatening to use the short-sighted betrayal strategy.

Put Mr. Grumpypants in Charge

New evidence that having an "Eeyore Day" can make you smarter:
An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.

In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.

Evidently the best way to win an argument, then, is to be really glum about it, or at least take some pains to appear to be in the worst mood in the room.

On the other hand, “positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, co-operation and reliance on mental shortcuts.”

So as long as the people you’re talking to don’t care how you got there, you’re more likely to win them over by being jolly. Maybe the rule is to be grumpy when you think you’re right and jolly when you suspect you’re full of it.

My better half could not be suspected of a sunny disposition even by his friends. From now on, when he’s morose, I’ll simply observe that he seems unusually persuasive today.

H/t Dan Riehl



This fellow apparently wrote this tune himself, before recording it for free distribution on Youtube. Eric sometimes mentions the advantages we have arising from this easy access to communication and technology; here is a clear example.