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103 posts from June 2004

June 30, 2004

Bowman on memory in film

Apropos of the recent discussions on philosophy and film...

James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a media critic for The New Criterion, and a movie critic for The American Spectator and The New York Sun. His essay Memory and the Movies appears in the latest issue of The New Atlantis.

Criticizing F-9/11

Here's a little background reading for anyone planning to see Fahrenheit 9/11. Michael Moore spends a lot of time enumerating the links between the Bush family, the House of Saud, and the Bin Ladens. Christopher Hitchens complains that Moore's implications are incoherent:

Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not. As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush's removal of it, or they did not. (They opposed the removal, all right: They wouldn't even let Tony Blair land his own plane on their soil at the time of the operation.)

Hitch is oversimplifying drastically. It all depends which Saudis we're talking about. Our good friends in the House of Saud, like Crown Prince Abdullah? Or his brutal fundamentalist Minister of the Interior, Prince Nayef?

Michael Scott Doran,Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations writes in Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, but its elite is bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of liberal reformers seeking rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow. Click here to read the full text

Some liberal pundits have criticized F9/11 on epistemological grounds, including Kevin Drum of Political Animal, and Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber. These commentators accuse Moore of intellectual bait-and-switch. Moore documents a lot of connections, i.e., financial ties, personal friendships, meetings, travel arrangements etc. But, as these critics note, Moore doesn't prove (or even articulate) any specific causal thesis about what all these connections had to do with 9/11.

Don't forget that Saudi Arabia is a secretive monarchy, a police state, and a sponsor of terror. The 9/11 Commission found no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia sponsored al Qaeda. But Saudi Arabia is known to sponsor Hamas and other anti-Israeli terrorist groups. We don't really know what goes on inside the House of Saud. But there's enough dirt in the public domain to show up the hypocrisy of American foreign policy towards it. It's important to separate the Bush's family's known conflicts of interest from the interest of the American economy as a whole. At the very least Moore shows why it's about the oil, even if he doesn't prove that it's about the Bushes' oil. ("It" being our foreign policy, the war, etc.)

It's fallacious to declare moral equivalency between Moore's rhetoric and that of the Bush administration. The Bush administration used elliptical rhetoric to justify a concrete action: war. Moore is relating a series of facts that ought to be relevant to overall assessment of Bush and his foreign policy. The burden is not on Moore to prove a specific theory about the cause of 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq. The movie is a litany of errors and compromises, almost any which is a compelling reason not to vote for Bush, regardless of whether you take Moore's more contentious speculations seriously.

Sneakiest monkeys have biggest brains

This just in, via the New Scientist newswire. Exciting new data on theory of mind in primates. Sneakiest primates have biggest brains.

Monkeys and apes who are good at deceiving their peers also have the biggest brains relative to their body size. The finding backs the "Machiavellian intelligence" theory, which suggests the benefits of complex social skills fuelled the evolution of large primate brains....[Click here to read the full text.]

Clarke reviews Imperial Hubris

Richard Clarke reviews Anonymous' new book Imperial Hubris in the Washington Post.

Clarke's review is lucid and collegial. He glosses over Anonymous' advocacy of genoicde, saying merely that Anonymous' doesn't urge us to reach out Arab friends.

In summarizing Anonymous' argument, Clarke clarifies makes the following critical point:

Anonymous has painted a detailed picture of that enemy -- and, despite the administration's ubiquitous phrase, it is not "terrorism," faceless and abstract. Terrorism is a tactic.

The enemy, Clark and Anonymous agree, is not terror itself, but rather:

an Islamic insurgency," a multinational movement to replace governments in the Islamic world with fundamentalist theocracies. Jihadist leaders believe they must eliminate the American presence in the region and U.S. support for existing governments there so that they can seize power.

Clarke and Anonymous agree that Islamic insurgents like Al Qaeda should be treated as revoluntionaries rather than criminals. I don't know exactly what this claim amounts to, but I think it deserves much wider debate. Clarke and Anonymous agree that it's misguided to have a war on terror as such, but they seem to support war against these terrorist groups. If "war" just means "the strongest possible opposition", then it's a no brainer. But it seems like there's more to it than that. Clarke and his camp owe us a more detailed explanation of how a war against Islamic terrorists differs from pursuit through international criminal justice. Maybe the war model is superior, but I'm still waiting to hear why.

[Via Ezra Klein of Pandagon.]

June 29, 2004

Ray Bradbury appears on Hardball to demand his title back

Andrea Mitchell interviews Ray Bradbury on MSNBC's Hardball

My favorite line:

RAY BRADBURY, AUTHOR, “FAHRENHEIT 451”:  Well, I’m very unhappy about it, because [Moore] borrowed my title six months ago and never called me.  I found out about it in “Variety” magazine.  And I called “Variety” and I said, what is this Michael Moore doing borrowing the title of my book?
 

Answers Shmanswers

Tom Runnacles offers an interesting critique of the values of analytic philosophy over at Crooked Timber.

Tom writes:

But what I also found, at graduate level anyway, were tremendous numbers of people, admittedly much cleverer than I, discussing what looked much more like shmanswers than answers, and being prepared to face down obvious objections by appealing to other shmanswers.

Judging by Tom's lively comments thread, everyone agrees that there are too many schmanswers, but there's no consensus as to which debates they belong to. Tom thinks that reductionism and eliminativism are hopeless cases that continue to be taken seriously only thanks to the rhetorical skills of their energetic defenders. Whereas I wish we'd all just accept eliminative materialism and enough with the zombies already.

Anxiety over the answer:shmanswer ratio usually touches off ruminations about professional decay. I think we need a less puritanical attitude towards shmanswers. Ted was frustrated that so much of philosophical life is taken up in relatively frivolous battles of wits. That's one way to look at it. But we can borrow another analogy for Dennett, that of flipping all the switches and pulling all the knobs. His advice to his grad students (the same seminar that became the guinea pigs for "The Higher Order Truths of Chmess") was to play out thought experiments to the fullest. Endless Twin Earth spinoffs are an example of this systematic approach. If you want to know what to think about Twin Earth, play it out in every possible variation: moral Twin Earth, Twin-Swamp-Earth....

I think we should take a more tolerant and optimistic view of schmanswers. They're what we toss back and forth, sharpening our skills and waiting for new inspiration to strike. They're a combination of play and basic research. They keep us in the game.

Poor taste


This cartoon adorned
Jean Brody's sensible column about the health risks of pregnancy in obese women.

The Atkins diet and the right to life

According to an article in today's Guardian:

Researchers in Colorado revealed at a European fertility conference that embryos from mice that had been fed a high protein diet showed a failure to implant in the womb. They believe the results should be a warning to women who want children.

The Atkins diet may be depriving innocent embryo-Americans to their right to life!

Canada's social democrats hold balance of power

In yesterday's Federal elections, Canadians gave the incumbent Liberal Party a minority government.

This is great news for the NDP, the Canadian social democratic party, who now hold the balance of power.

This is even better news for all sentient beings as such because it represents a humilliating defeat for the Torys and by extension, Bush-style "conservatism" in Canada.

Can I keep him?

Much depends on whether he followed you home. For further guidance, consult this handy chart by Aaron Swartz, summarizing the latest Supreme Court opinion on the subject, "When can I keep an enemy combatant?"

[Via Michael Froomkin and Brian Leiter.]