29 June 2006 - Thursday

Blogroll changes

I have finally updated my sidebar to reflect my reading habits. "Blogs of the Academy" is now more inclusively called "Blogs of the Mind." Under that heading are 100 sites, unless I lost count somewhere.

These days, of course, I monitor virtually all of my reading choices by subscribing to their RSS feeds.

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My ethical philosophy

According to the Ethical Philosophy Selector:

1. St. Augustine (100%)
2. Prescriptivism (90%)
3. John Stuart Mill (90%)
4. Jean-Paul Sartre (88%)
5. Kant (88%)
6. Aquinas (87%)
7. Ockham (81%)
8. Spinoza (52%)
9. Jeremy Bentham (51%)
10. Nel Noddings (49%)
11. Ayn Rand (44%)
12. Epicureans (43%)
13. Plato (41%)
14. Aristotle (32%)
15. Stoics (20%)
16. David Hume (16%)
17. Cynics (10%)
18. Nietzsche (9%)
19. Thomas Hobbes (0%)
Via Parableman.

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28 June 2006 - Wednesday

Pen pals

Ian Hacking describes "the pen-friend approach to the history of philosophy":

A few heroes are singled out as pen-pals across the seas of time, whose words are to be read like the work of brilliant but underprivileged children in a refugee camp, deeply instructive but in need of firm correction.

Philosophy in History, 103.

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27 June 2006 - Tuesday

Reading list

Sam Anderson profiles the paradoxical Garrison Keillor.

The blogger at Recollections suggests that "hate the sin, love the sinner" misses the point.

Christina Lamb traveled to Afghanistan to report on reconstruction there. She says we have abandoned the Afghans.

Timothy Furnish traces the history of democratic reform in the Ottoman Empire.

HNN debunks "the top 5 myths about the Fourth of July."

Ryan Sager believes the GOP is now losing its appeal among populists. I've been convinced for some time that brazen populism is the main reason for the Republicans' recent successes. In still thinking of themselves as champions of the common American, the Democrats have been deluding themselves. For the real American heartland, look to Wal-Mart.

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Carnival of Bad History VI

The sixth Carnival of Bad History has been posted at Frog in a Well: Japan.

This carnival, of course, comprises blog entries that examine histories that are somehow ... deferred successes, let's say. For example:

Holocaust Controversies is a blog dedicated to refuting Holocaust deniers. >>

Joerg Wolf et al. review an apparently anti-American high school history text created by a Franco-German committee (and note some astounding allegations about the French foreign minister). >>

Miland Brown lists eight rules for those who would like to run separatist movements of their own. >>

Grant Jones notes evidence that the U.S. State Department is reluctant to speak the truth about the Armenian genocide. >>

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26 June 2006 - Monday


Listening to the radio just now, I heard a news report begin: "A bomb has exploded" -- and my mind raced ahead of the report as I tried to guess where the bomb had exploded. "... In a crowded marketplace" -- the reference to a marketplace, of course, meant that the attack probably took place outside the West. So was it in Israel? Or Iraq? Or Afghanistan? Or Jordan or Syria, even? Maybe Somalia? Sri Lanka?

It occurred to me that a few years ago, listening to the same report, I could probably have assumed that the location would be Israel. Of course, that does not mean such attacks never happened elsewhere back then; our journalists simply didn't think we would care as much about the other places.

But a marketplace bombing would have been unlikely in Iraq or Afghanistan a few years ago. The people there had other forms of terrorism to deal with. Usually not when they went shopping.

The United States did not go to war to stop those forms of state terrorism that gripped Afghanistan and Iraq in the year 2000. We have coexisted with such terrorism, mostly out of necessity but occasionally out of convenience, for a long time, and we continue to do so. No, the U.S. went to war to stop precisely the kind of terrorism that happened today in that marketplace, because some of that sort of terrorist came after us.

The targets today were Shiites in Iraq. According to the Associated Press, at least 15 were killed and 56 wounded. Survivors began shouting, "Down with the police!"

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25 June 2006 - Sunday

An observation

It can be strangely difficult, even in the age of the Internet, to find intelligible explanations of certain concepts in historiography -- especially concepts that tend to go by longish German names. A Google search supposedly limited to English-language sites tends to return only German-language results -- and not particularly relevant-looking results, at that.

If even Google can't find it, how am I supposed to understand it?

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24 June 2006 - Saturday

Another smoking gun

Everybody is talking about Rick Santorum's big announcement: Iraq had WMD after all!

Except if you actually read his press release, it evokes my favorite argument against the invasion, the one that said that invading Iraq would put WMD in the hands of terrorists. Take a look:

* Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.

* Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for Coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.

* The most likely munitions remaining are sarin and mustard-filled projectiles.

* The purity of the agent inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives, and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

* It has been reported in open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.

Now, given the reported deteroriation, this particular kind of weapon is probably not very dangerous in the hands of most terrorists except in large quanitities. In fact, insurgents seem to have found a couple and tried to use them against coalition troops in 2004, with minimal success. A stockpile of Iraqi fertilizer would be about as exciting.

According to the Fox article linked above, furthermore, it looks like we knew about these particular weapons all along. We knew that in its report to the UN, Iraq failed to document 550 old chemical artillery shells and 450 chemical bombs. But we sent in weapons inspectors to do a little digging -- weapons inspectors who were still inside the country, and whose parent organization was asking for more time, shortly before Bush gave the order to start bombing.*

After the war, the Coalition's own Iraq Survey Group (PDF document, page 15) also knew about such weapons by 2005. This is its evaluation:

ISG assesses that Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along frequently and rapidly shifting battlefronts.

* All but two of the chemical weapons discovered since OIF were found in southern Iraq where the majority of CW munitions were used against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

* As the Coalition destroys the thousands of conventional munitions at depots around the country the possibility exists that pre-1991 vintage chemical rounds could be found mixed in with conventional munitions at these locations.

-- ISG identified 43 bunkers and depots where the Coalition is in the process of destroying conventional munitions and that were suspected of being associated with the pre-1991 WMD programs. However, ISG believes that any remaining chemical munitions in Iraq do not pose a militarily significant threat to Coalition Forces because the agent and munitions are degraded and there are not enough extant weapons to cause mass casualties.

Thus, here's what we know about the munitions described by Senator Santorum. (1) So far, the public has been shown no evidence that Saddam himself knew about these aging weapons at all, nor that they have anything to do with the massive weapons programs that the US alleged to have existed right before the invasion. (2) By the time of the invasion, according to the Coalition's experts, such weapons posed relatively little military danger to anyone. (3) As Santorum's press release might lead us to conclude, even if these weapons were relevant at all, the invasion seems to have made it more likely, not less, that such weapons will be used by our enemies in the war on terror.

How does that show that the invasion was wise?

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23 June 2006 - Friday

Patronizing our elders

In an essay collected in Philosophy in History (Rorty, Schneewind and Skinner, eds., 1984), Richard Rorty distinguishes among different genres of the history of philosophy. He argues that there are multiple valid ways to approach past thinkers. First, he notes that it is often helpful to avoid anachronism when reconstructing the work of a philosopher:

There is nothing wrong with self-consciously letting our own philosophical views dictate terms in which to describe the dead. But there are reasons for also describing them in other terms, their own terms. It is useful to recreate the intellectual scene in which the dead lived their lives -- in particular, the real and imagined conversations they might have had with their contemporaries (or near-contemporaries). There are purposes for which it is useful to know how people talked who did not know as much as we do -- to know this in enough detail so that we can imagine ourselves talking the same outdated language. [...] There is knowledge -- historical knowledge -- to be gained which one can only get by bracketing one's own better knowledge about, e.g., the movements of the heavens or the existence of God. (50)
That seems reasonable enough, although plenty of his contemporaries would object to Rorty's "better knowledge" about God's existence. But Rorty goes on to advocate an ahistorical approach in addition to the genuinely historical approach described above:
But we also want to imagine conversations between ourselves (whose contingent arrangements include general agreement that, e.g., there are no real essences, no God, etc.) and the mighty dead. We want this not simply because it is nice to feel one up on one's betters, but because we would like to be able to see the history of our race as a long conversational interchange. We want to be able to see it that way in order to reassure ourselves that there has been rational progress in the course of recorded history -- that we differ from our ancestors on grounds which our ancestors could be led to accept. The need for reassurance on this point is as great as the need for self-awareness. We need to imagine Aristotle studying Galileo or Quine and changing his mind, Aquinas reading Newton or Hume and changing his, etc. We need to think that, in philosophy as in science, the mighty mistaken dead look down from heaven at our recent successes, and are happy to find that their mistakes have been corrected. (51)
This is tangential to Rorty's purposes for the article, but I want to quibble. I see a problem here. Such "rational progress" in philosophical history is a fiction. I think Rorty implicitly admits as much, but I seem to differ from him by thinking that this fiction tends to be a harmful one. At least where prescription and spiritual matters (rather than empirical science) are concerned, we should not imagine that ignorance accounts for the differences between us and our predecessors.

The history of republicanism might be a useful illustration of the danger. There has been no sure progress in republicanism over the centuries. Generalizing grossly for the sake of convenience, I could say that the ancient Romans believed in republican government; so did the 15th-century Italians; so did the 17th-century English. But each of these groups faced opposition from viable philosophical opponents, even within its own ranks, and each favored republicanism for a different reason. Furthermore, the 20th-century Russians, claiming to represent historical progress, embraced a republican model that quickly turned into the most absolute autocracy ever seen. Me, I would happily swallow whole the worldviews of any number of medieval philosophers before I would adopt that particular modern philosophy. And I would disagree with anyone who claimed to see rational progress from the more ignorant Locke to the more knowledgeable Marx. Yet that is exactly what many Marxists claimed to see.

This is not to say that progress -- improvement of the ideas considered orthodox in a society or even considered correct by individual thinkers -- never happens; I simply believe that it does not happen reliably, and encouraging ourselves to believe in it is counterproductive. Progress is no more helpful a concept than degeneracy; both let us write thinkers off too easily. When we say that philosopher X was wrong about question Y, it is rarely wise to flatter ourselves with the notion that it was only because of ignorance of what we now know. Even if we do need such "reassurance," as Rorty says, I think we should resist the urge.

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21 June 2006 - Wednesday

Language, empire, and hope

Interestingly enough, Augustine's City of God includes a passage (XIX.7) that begins as a reflection on the diversity of human languages, and ends as an apparent condemnation of imperialism.

The passage falls in the middle of book XIX, which discusses "the opinions of the philosophers regarding the supreme good, and their vain efforts to make for themselves a happiness in this life." According to Augustine, the world's different languages produce political divisions that frustrate any efforts to achieve universal temporal peace:

And here [in the world], in the first place, man is separated from man by the difference of languages. For if two men, each ignorant of the other's language, meet, and are not compelled to pass, but, on the contrary, to remain in company, dumb animals, though of different species, would more easily hold intercourse than they, human beings though they be. For their common nature is no help to friendliness when they are prevented by diversity of language from conveying their sentiments to one another; so that a man would more readily hold intercourse with his dog than with a foreigner. But the imperial city has endeavored to impose on subject nations not only her yoke, but her language, as a bond of peace, so that interpreters, far from being scarce, are numberless. This is true; but how many great wars, how much slaughter and bloodshed, have provided this unity!
So Augustine says that peaceful intercourse (which he takes as the goal of human government) is impossible without a common language, but the Roman empire imposes a common language by force, which itself thwarts the cause of peace in the world. He continues:
And though these [wars of conquest] are past, the end of these miseries has not yet come. For though there have never been wanting, nor are yet wanting, hostile nations beyond the empire, against whom wars have been and are waged, yet, supposing there were no such nations, the very extent of the empire itself has produced wars of a more obnoxious description -- social and civil wars -- and with these the whole race has been agitated, either by the actual conflict or the fear of a renewed outbreak. If I attempted to give an adequate description of these manifold disasters, these stern and lasting necessities, though I am quite unequal to the task, what limit could I set?
So the imperial effort to impose peaceful government outside Rome is, paradoxically, producing new wars all by itself. This, to Augustine, is clearly an evil:
But, say they, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars. For it is the wrongdoing of the opposing party which compels the wise man to wage just wars; and this wrong-doing, even though it gave rise to no war, would still be matter of grief to man because it is man's wrong-doing. Let every one, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. And if any one either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling.
So even when war is just, it is never desirable; the fact that war is sometimes permissible should not make anyone feel better about it, since it is not actually a solution to human problems. Ultimately, war merely substitutes one problem for another, and the fact of just war should be a painful reminder of the world's evils.

These paradoxes, Augustine says (in XIX.1), show that it is "evident, not only from divine authority, but also from such reasons as can be adduced to unbelievers, how the empty dreams of the philosophers differ from the hope which God gives to us, and from the substantial fulfillment of it which He will give us as our blessedness."

Update: Nathanael Robinson provides a more nuanced description of the spread of Latin among subject peoples.

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20 June 2006 - Tuesday

Another Onion link

Life has been strange lately. I'm afraid the following article, as they say, "resonates."

I'm Not One Of Those Fancy College-Educated Doctors
By Dr. Mike Ruddy

I'm a doctor, and I'm damn good at it. Why? Because I learned to be a doctor the old-fashioned way: gumption, elbow grease, and trial and error. I'm not one of these blowhards in a white coat who'll wear your ears out with 10 hours of mumbo-jumbo technical jargon about "diagnosis" this and "prognosis" that, just because he loves the sound of his own voice. No sir. I just get the job done.

Those fancy-pants college-boy doctors are always making a big deal about their "credentials." But I'm no show-off phony with a lot of framed pieces of paper on the wall -- I'm the real deal. I got my M.D. on the street. These people think they're suddenly a "doctor" because they memorized a lot of big words and took a bunch of formal tests. But there's plenty of things about being a doctor they'll never learn in their ivory-tower medical school. ....

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19 June 2006 - Monday

Reading list

Jennifer Woodruff Tait provides a history of the pew.

Speaking of Christianity, Parableman refutes a defamatory Huffington Post article that shows, I think, just how ignorant and bigoted some critics of evangelical Christianity can be.

Speaking of that sort of thing, Matt Welch, who seems to have been the original "warblogger," waxes nostalgic for the heady days of December 2001, when the blogosphere was less polarized.

And speaking of warblogging, Madman of Chu takes on the complex specter of Vietnam.

John Quiggin also reflects on complex specters to point out that both supporters and detractors of the Iraq invasion had many different visions of what the war was going to be like.

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16 June 2006 - Friday

Disturbing news

Mad Lit Professor Puts Finishing Touches on Bloomsday Device

But, as I understand it, Bloomsday turned out to be pretty quiet in Dublin.

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So, three Guantánamo Bay prisoners recently committed suicide. Here's the official take on it, according to the AP: '"They have no regard for human life," Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris said, "neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."'

And here's the opinion of a right-wing columnist: "They gave momentum to an international campaign to shut Gitmo down which would mean the release of their comrades. To a committed jihadi, such an achievement would be preferable to spending years praying, watching television and playing volleyball."

Coordinated suicide as an act of war? Monty Python was all over this one years ago. Remember the Judean People's Front (or whichever group it was) and its suicide attack squads? A fearsome band of provincial terrorists chases off the Roman imperial garrison. Then each terrorist takes out a sword and stabs himself in the chest. Highly effective tactic -- in the world of Monty Python.

Of course, there can be little doubt that the prisoners were trying to send a message to the world. If they were terrorists, then they were presumably trying to discredit the United States. But it is also possible that they were innocent people trying to send exactly the same message. Having been held without charges (as far as I can tell) or hope of release for five years, an innocent person could be perfectly happy to embarrass his captors. He might even consider the suicide a form of legitimate "jihad," which contrary to popular myth covers many forms of activity other than terrorism. Non-terrorists have a long history of using suicide and similar tactics to highlight what they see as injustices.

The reason this possibility is significant is that we don't know whether or not these three men were guilty. Of the approximately 460 inmates at Guantánamo, as the AP article notes, only 10 have been charged with any crime. The mantra that everyone in Guantánamo is a terrorist is a totally unproven assertion, and furthermore is legally false under the laws of the United States, where individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Even if everyone in Guantánamo had been captured on a battlefield with a weapon in his hand (which is also false), then the relevant classification would be "prisoner of war," not "terrorist."

Let's illustrate the problem with the story of five innocent men who were recently released into the care of Albania:

Many of Guantánamo's prisoners proclaim they're innocent. What's different about these men, Muslims from China's Uighur minority, is that even American authorities said they were innocent, referring to them as "no longer enemy combatants" or "NLEC." Nevertheless, they remained imprisoned more than a year after their names were cleared -- after the U.S. government determined they did nothing wrong and posed no terrorist threat to America or Americans. ...

The following is a transcript of the conversation with Qassim, who spoke through a translator on behalf of the entire group.

Q: What was Guantanamo like?

A: Guantanamo is like a hell where there is no justice or respect for human dignity. Our life there was very, very miserable, especially the last one year after being told that we are innocent and still living behind wired walls. We feel confused, frustrated and tired. I would call the worst period of time of my four years incarceration in Guantanamo.

The saddest part of the whole thing is that after being cleared, no longer enemy combatants, or innocent. Being innocent people, we were told that we have no rights but shelter, food, water and a place to pray. Given that, that place is not the normal, usual prison. So I would say that it is a hell.

I recommend reading the whole thing. Remember, according to the rhetoric of the Bush supporters, everyone at Guantánamo is by definition a terrorist. Consider that as you read the words of this innocent man -- innocent of terrorism and "no longer" guilty of unlawful combat according to the United States, which imprisoned him for four and a half years.

This piece in the NYT by another former Guantánamo inmate is also interesting. It includes a direct response to Rear Admiral Harris' comment:

I am a quiet Muslim -- I've never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one. I wasn't anti-American before and, miraculously, I haven't become anti-American since. In Guantánamo, I did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. But the huge majority of the faces I remember -- the ones that haunt my nights -- are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.

I believe that a small number of the detainees at Guantánamo are guilty of criminal acts, but as analysis of the military's documents on the prisoners has shown, there is no evidence that most of the 465 or so men there have committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Even so, what I heard so many times resounding from cage to cage, what I said myself so many times in my moments of complete despondency, was not, "Free us, we are innocent!" but "Judge us for whatever we've done!" There is unlimited cruelty in a system that seems to be unable to free the innocent and unable to punish the guilty.

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15 June 2006 - Thursday

History Carnival 33

The thirty-third History Carnival is up at American Presidents Blog.

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12 June 2006 - Monday


Fortunately, David Davisson managed to do what I could not when I tried: he tracked down the text of the Florida education bill mentioned here. The fact-checking was badly needed, as Davisson discovered:

It turns out that Zimmerman's characterization of the new Florida law is somewhat misleading. The actual law, as signed by Jeb Bush says this -- "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence." The "revisionist or postmodernist" line was dropped before the bill reached Bush's desk.
The "as factual, not as constructed" phrase is still meaningless at best. But the rest of it could be worse. If I could, I would change "defined as" to "defined by" for the sake of accuracy and flexibility.

In fact, I'll quote more than that from the bill:

Members of the instructional staff of the public schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education and the district school board, shall teach efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy, following the prescribed courses of study, and employing approved methods of instruction, the following:


The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

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11 June 2006 - Sunday


Pixar's latest release has been getting mixed reviews. Most critics like it, but a few have been very harsh in their appraisal. I tried to keep an open mind when I watched it in the local theater yesterday.

I am not telling people not to see the movie. On the contrary, many people love it, and I agree that the film is fairly good in the middle and has lots of beautiful scenery. The problem is that the movie starts shallow and ends maudlin, and the characters mostly seem pretty flat.

In short, the problem is that Cars is an animated sports movie. It follows the traditional pattern of all sports movies, indulging in clichés throughout. Here is the plot: Lightning McQueen is a rookie racecar with a lot of star power and a ridiculous ego. En route to a career-defining race in California, he gets lost in the desert, winding up in a nearly deserted old town that lies on the legendary Route 66. There, he learns that respect and friendship are more important than glory, and that ignorant hicks can be wonderful human beings -- er, sentient automobiles. After that ... well, I don't want to give away the ending, but it has something to do with lots of cheering fans.

Let me explain in more detail the problems in this plot.

First, because the film opens in the middle of a race, the narrative gets off to a bad start. Our introduction to three of the main characters, including the protagonist, comes from the inane chatter of the television commentators at the racetrack. It takes a long time for the movie to dig any deeper than that into the Lightning's mentality; for much of the film, he is a depressingly two-dimensional automobile.

Second, what makes the poor start worse is the fact that Lightning is not a very sympathetic character. In fact, he is a manifest jerk. We know he's a jerk from the beginning, but he does not. So we really don't care for him much until he finally figures out that this is a bad thing -- about an hour later. Meanwhile, the only reason the filmmakers give us to care about him is the same celebrity aura that makes him so annoying in the first place.

Third, the protagonist is not the only character who could use more depth. Some of the other cars are stock characters from children's movies. We have the world-weary mentor -- two of them, really -- as well as the spunky young female with a crush on the bad boy. Still other characters are predictable because of their packaging: the VW van is a hippie, the Jeep is a drill sergeant, and the lowrider is Latino. That's about all we know about them. These cars are cute, but Pixar's greatest successes have been due to less predictable characters: paranoid monsters, sharks in rehab, unionized superheroes, cowardly tyrannosaurs, thrill-seeking turtles.

Fourth, a related problem: because every living thing in the movie is a car or some other form of transportation, the Cars ecosystem lacks the diversity it needs to sustain interest. There are only so many ways to spin puns from automotive work. Every character consumes the same things; each has roughly the same mission in life; each shares the same basic design. The film thus lacks the rich variety of the best Pixar productions.

Finally, Lightning's eventual moral transformation is too abrupt, and the end of the film is overdone. These scenes have occasional traces of originality, but not enough.

The film is very pretty, and it has a lot of clever bits. But with this film, I think, Pixar made the same mistake that George Lucas made when he started playing around with CGI: they let spectacle overwhelm verisimilitude. Cars is full of gorgeous scenery and exciting effects, but a lot of it is a distraction from the storytelling.

I do think the desert portion of the film was based on some great ideas, though. I fervently wish the execution were better; a sort of Finding-Nemo-meets-The-Last-Picture-Show story could have been brilliant.

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8 June 2006 - Thursday

I think I am becoming a god

According to the LA Times (get a login here if you need it), the state of Florida has ordered American historians to be infallible and omniscient.

"The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth," declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed."
Uh ... we'll get right on that. Just as soon as we figure out what the heck the "revisionist viewpoint" of history is.

Update: An important correction to the article is here.

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7 June 2006 - Wednesday

Creative solutions

So, members of Congress are claiming immunity to the search and seizure that can be carried out on us mere mortals. My solution: the FBI should have issued a national security letter instead, and then nobody in Congress would even be allowed to talk about what happened.

I mean, if bribery of members of Congress isn't "relevant to an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities," what is? Public library records? Well, OK, so maybe that's a stretch. But the fun thing about NSLs is that you have a beast of a time proving they're illegitimate, whether they actually relate to national security or not.

(Of course, national security letters wouldn't actually authorize the FBI to seize documents from somebody's office. They're of a much more limited scope. But bear with me for the sake of the cheap political point. If you actually want a serious discussion of the merits of the seizure, I suggest David Strauss at UChicago, who recommends that congressional offices be protected.)

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5 June 2006 - Monday

History Carnival 32.2

The second half of the thirty-second History Carnival is now up!

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No consideration

In the current national security climate, the following quotation seems to describe the opinion of some Americans -- possibly even some members of government.

So who wrote it?

... Where the ultimate decision concerning the safety of one's country is to be taken, no consideration of what is just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or shameful, should be permitted; on the contrary, putting aside every other reservation, one should follow in its entirety the policy that saves its life and preserves its liberty.
The answer is in the comments.

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2 June 2006 - Friday

Moving forward

Today I got a nice, shiny new university email account. I decided to celebrate by updating my AHA membership information so that it will be correct when the next directory gets printed.

It won't be long before I, swamped with work, will look back wistfully at this carefree summer and wonder why I was stupid enough to sign up for years and years of additional schooling. For now, however, the prospect of independence and access to university resources is what keeps me sane. A funny paradox.

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1 June 2006 - Thursday

History Carnival 32.1

The first part of the thirty-second History Carnival is up at Aqueduct. The loose theme for the presentation is "exceptional uses of academic technology."

Brian Ulrich explains that anti-Jewish sentiment in the Muslim Middle East was a European import. >>

Nathanael Robinson extols the virtues of digital photography in archival research. >>

Evan Roberts provides a more detailed guide to amateur digitization for historians. >>

Mirium Burstein discusses the teaching of controversial texts from canonical authors. >>

... And so on. Have a look.

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