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Sometimes I Read Things Out Loud

22 Feb

yak.jpgTonight is one of those nights. I’ll be reading poetry alongside talented fiction writer Rebecca McGill and the wry and incisive non-fiction stylings of Mike Scalise. It starts at 8pm at George Mason University: third floor, Meeting Room E in the Johnson Center. So if you’re around (and for some reason you read this blog), you’re welcome to come. I promise to read poetry about comic book superheros, famous physicists, and the occasional economist. So you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Yes, it’s probably as bad as it sounds, but look at this way: free drinks to lull the higher brain functions asleep while you listen to bad verse and funny stories.

Someone at The American Prospect Please Give This Kid a Job Already

8 Nov

I was going to write a post in response to Susan Faludi’s new book, The Terror Dream, but Young MZ did one better and got himself a spot at TPM Cafe’s book club discussion with Faludi herself.  His post is a strong rejoinder to the sort of weak socio-political analysis that tries to suggest causal relationships from nationwide events (in this case, 9/11 and the War on Terror as an excuse to advance the narrative of masculine strength at the expense of women everywhere).

And TAP better hurry, before someone pages Franklin Foer

Six Years Later, The Same Poem

11 Sep

A lot of people are linking to this poem today, which I think is fine, but I’ve always been partial to this Adam Zagajewski poem, which appeared in the September 26th issue of The New Yorker, the first issue after 9/11. It was written before the attacks, but it does what poetry does best, moving past the merely narrative to what consolation can be found after a tragedy has been documented:

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Against Torture?

22 Aug

I think Megan McArdle needs to define some of her terms in this post questioning the dismissal of torture:

One of the most facile dismissals of torture is that it doesn’t work, so why bother? That’s tempting, but it’s too easy. Torture seems to me very likely to work provided that you can verify the information, which I assume interrogators can in at least some circumstances.

As some of her commenters noted, if you can verify the information, why are you torturing in the first place? The much hypothesized “ticking time-bomb” scenario works on the premise that you won’t be able to verify the information (until, likely, it’s too late) so the “lie-detecting brain scans” McArdle posits are the most probable candidate. Again, though, Asymmetrical Information readers respond:

As for lie detecting brain scans…really, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. I find it hard to believe that “lying” is actually a category of activity that matches up to a discrete brain pattern; it’s too similar to “telling a story”. My 3-year-old’s lies and fantasies are mixed up with his accurate reporting in a totally indistinguishable fashion, and I’m not sure he even knows which is which.

The greatest problem with going Torquemada on terrorists is that 1) they may totally believe what they say (because of fanatical dogma or operational ignorance) and 2) given a time-sensitive scenario (like an A-bomb in New York set to go off in 24 hours), the same dogmatic extremist wins merely by holding out, not by never giving up information. At this point, verification, or even the effectiveness of torture, becomes a moot point.

The larger moral question (which may be of greater import) isn’t really clarified by the back-and-forth of utilitarian moral calculus. Once again (I’m still in English dept. meetings, so I’m leaning heavily on other people’s work) commenter and Unfogged contributor LizardBreath points us to the crux of the moral quandry:

The real problem with attempting to separate out the moral issues from any practical issues is laid out in Belle Waring’s classic post “By the power of stipulation”. You can get people to agree that they’d do any bad thing at all, say, torturing a three year old child to death, if you can stipulate that something much much worse will happen if they don’t do it. To talk about the question morally, you really do have to talk about the practical issues first.