Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
His loss. Our gain.
I remember when Eric Clapton lost his son in that tragic accident, and a friend of mine at college remarked, "Well, at least we know he's going to be putting out a kick-ass blues album soon." Which he did. Now, I certainly wouldn't put Stephan Jenkins' break up with Charlize Theron on anywhere near the same level of traumatic experience as what Eric went through. Still, I think we can all agree: it's got to be tough. Good thing he got a kick-ass album out of it. It took me a few listens to get into, but it hasn't left my CD player since. It's the kind of album that becomes the soundtrack of your summer, that makes you want to drive around with the windows down and the stereo blasting. Which I've been doing. And as with their first album, some of the best songs are the ones you won't hear on the radio.

So, my condolences Steve. But thanks for sharing.

How I know I must be old.
My son turns ten today. And what does he ask for for his birthday? The boardgame version of Civilization and some Art Tatum CD's. Poor kid. He never had a chance to grow up normal.

Update: As an extra surprise, I got him this too. He was way excited. Pejman would approve. As for the Civ game, it's got over 700 freakin' pieces and a board larger than many families' dining tables. I anticipate getting all the pieces off the plastic frames by some time in late October.

Monday, July 28, 2003
Bunraku ping pong
Ever wonder what it would look like to play ping pong in the Matrix?
Here's an amazing live performance from some Japanese TV show.

Friday, July 25, 2003
Think Pink.
I knew she'd be back.

I just don't give a pluck.

I have no idea whether this is true or not. It came to me in one of those circulating emails. But if it's not true, it's still to be admired as a fine specimen of the art of balderdash.
Giving the Finger

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous weapon was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew"). Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew!


Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used w/ the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird." And yew thought yew knew everything.

Update: My good friend the Argentine wrote in with an opinion on this:
Read your post with amusement. I think it's balderdash, at least in part.
First, the English flip the bird somewhat differently than do we. The
English version is to show the back of one's pointer and middle finger, both
slightly curled (a sort of limp-dicked, backwards version of Churchill's
victory sign) to the offender, whilst waving the hand away from oneself.

The custom did, though, have its origin in the Battle of Agincourt, and the
unsuccessful French attempt to disable England's bowmen (if my English
friends are to be believed, that is).

The linguistics lesson is pleasingly playful, but given the plethora of
English words -- not even counting their plurals -- employing the "difficult
consonant cluster," I wouldn't plan on plying the story further. Indeed,
were I you, I'd pledge not to.
I think he's right. Plainly not plausible.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
That's my boy.
I spoke to Lucas on the phone the other day from Italy. He's been reading Madeleine L'Engle. I had obliged him to read and write a report on Wrinkle in Time as a prerequisite to obtaining the latest Potter installment (how's that for coercive tactics?), after learning that he had blown off a similar assignment during the school year. When he left for Italy he had both sequels in tow to keep him occupied on the plane. No longer as assignments, mind you--just for pleasure should he be bored. So he gets on the phone with me and what does he have to say? The following:

In this fateful hour,
I call all Heaven with its power,
the sun with its brightness,
the snow with its whiteness,
the fire with all strength it hath,
the lightening with its rapid wrath,
the winds with their swiftness along their path,
the sea with its deepness,
the rocks with their steepness,
the Earth with its starkness.
All these I place,
by God's Almighty help and grace,
between myself and powers of darkness.

From memory. He just memorized it, without any suggestion from anyone that he do so. For his own pleasure. Because he thought it was cool. And suddenly I had tears on my face. Because I had forgotten, but I did the same thing when I read Swiftly Tilting Planet at about his age.

Take that, Felipe.

Saturday, July 19, 2003
More on Lincoln
The amazing thing about blogging is that once in a while a total stranger will take the time to respond thoughtfully to something you've dashed off. I recently got such a message from a guy named Rich Rostrom, who gave me some good food for thought.

It seems to me (and I think most Civil War experts would agree)
that you've misunderstood what Lincoln did and why.

To begin with, at no time did Lincoln wage war for the purpose
of freeing slaves, or for any other humanitarian end. He himself
said this many times.

He made war to preserve the Union.

Well, I certainly don't claim to fully understand Lincoln. I'm only now starting to grapple with this history in a serious way, and until I've digested at least the volumes by Lincoln and Calhoun that I've got on my shelf perhaps I should just keep quiet. But this much at least I -had understood--in fact, my earlier post said precisely this: that Lincoln disavowed ending slavery as a justification for war and based it solely on preserving the Union.

Now, you state that the Constitution does not explicitly
address the issue of secession. This is true; but Article Six
does address secession implicitly, in the Supremacy Clause.

The laws made by Congress, as authorized by the Constitution,
are the supreme law of the land, "anything in the laws or
constitution of any state notwithstanding".

If you read that literally, then it doesn't matter whether a
convention in Georgia or Texas has passed a declaration of
secession - the laws of the United States remain in force in
all the states. It was Lincoln's sworn duty to enforce
the laws in every state.

If he had failed to do so, he would have permitted serious
and probably fatal damage to the idea of democratic self-

The Supremacy Clause argument is a fair one. The only textual counter argument I can think of at the moment would be to point to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and argue that among the rights and powers retained by the people and States must be those fundamental ones invoked in the Declaration of Independence, namely to withdraw consent from a government that has become oppressive and institute a new one. Consent that can't be withdrawn isn't real consent. So one might accept that as long as a state remains in the Union, it is subject to the supremacy of federal law, and yet hold that states can exit the Union if they so choose.

There is, I suppose, the wrinkle that technically the constitution wasn't entered into by the states but by the people, in ratifying conventions organized by state. So arguably to secede you needed not a vote of state legislatures but the holding of deratifying conventions parallel to the earlier ones. Whatever formal niceties we decide to require however, is there any doubt that the popular sentiment for secession was overwhelming?

In his First Inaugural, Lincoln made this point:

If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority
must, or the government must cease. There is no
other alternative; for continuing the government,
is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a
minority, in such case, will secede rather than
acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn,
will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their
own will secede from them whenever a majority
refuses to be controlled by such minority. For
instance, why may not any portion of a new
confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily
secede again, precisely as portions of the present
Union now claim to secede from it?


Plainly, the central idea of secession,
is the essence of anarchy. A majority,
held in restraint by constitutional
checks and limitations, and always
changing easily with deliberate changes
of popular opinions and sentiments, is
the only true sovereign of a free
people. Whoever rejects it, does, of
necessity, fly to anarchy or to
despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the
rule of a minority, as a permanent
arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so
that, rejecting the majority principle,
anarchy or despotism in some form is all
that is left.

(Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln :

Lincoln believed he was fighting for something even more
important than the end of slavery (even though he cared
very much about ending slavery): the future of democratic

If the authority of a legitimate democratic government
could be undone at will by any regional majority, then
democracy was doomed to failure.

This is an interesting argument, too. Not sure I buy it, though. It seems to be based on the premise that you can only have functioning democratic government if everyone in sight belongs to the same one. States always think that any lessening of their sphere of power is a step toward inexorable anarchy. I say, what's wrong with a little competition between regional democratic governments? What's wrong with a picture in which, say, 20 states stay in the Union, 12 form a separate Confederacy, a few strike off on their own, and maybe a few break up even further into sovereign city-states? Each of these entities could be thriving democracies. Or some could fail and wind up joining back up with one of the bigger ones. I still don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to try. Now one might posit all kinds of practical difficulties that might need to be worked out. If, for example, these various political entities couldn't get their acts together to cooperate on defense, the region might become vulnerable to foreign invasion. But there's no reason in principle why they couldn't swing that. The Greeks did pretty well against Xerxes, thank you. As long as each of these political entities recognized the others' rights to self-determination, they could compete and get along and form ad hoc conventions as to those matters on which cooperation was important. Why would this necessarily spell the end of democracy? I need to hear more.

Lincoln was determined that the government should be
preserved and all its powers maintained. In this he was
supported by nearly all Americans outside the South,
including many who were not opposed to slavery.

(After Fort Sumter, when Lincoln issued a proclamation
calling for 75,000 volunteers to put down rebellion,
he first asked his old adversary Sen. Stephen Douglas
to look it over. Douglas told Lincoln he shouid call
for _200,000_ men.).

And my understanding is that few people would have been willing to fight a war whose purpose was to end slavery.

Oh, and the story about Lincoln arresting state legislators
in Maryland is neo-Confederate hooey. The Maryland
legislature voted 53-13 against secession in early 1861,
with no Union troops in sight. Later that year, several
Maryland legislators _were_ arrested, but for activities
such as fundraising and recruiting for the Confederacy.

Lincoln (and his subordinates) did many things which
would appall civil libertarians today. Thousands of
people were held prisoner without charges. A newspaper
was suppressed (the Chicago Times). An opposition political
candidate was arrested and thrown out of the country
(Clement Vallandigham).

Not to mention the deliberate civilian destruction inflicted by the Union in the South. Is there any doubt that by today's standards the North was guilty of war crimes?

Considering the gravity and insidious character of the
threat to America today, the restraint shown by Bush
is remarkable. The measures taken by Bush are mild compared
to the actions of such liberal icons as Franklin Roosevelt
and Woodrow Wilson.

No argument there. But believe it or not, my purpose in writing that last post wasn't necessarily to defend Bush. I said we can't hold him in opprobrium without holding Lincoln doubly so. But I take quite seriously the possibility that we should so hold Lincoln. It may be that of the two, Bush is less blameworthy. We should still blame him when necessary, but also keep our perspective.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
Following referral links can be a humbling experience. I am but one among a large constellation of Chris Newmans, many of whom are far more accomplished than I. Oh, well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
It all depends on what the meaning of "knows" is.

Alright, here's my take on Yellowcakegate.

I start with the premise that we're entitled to assume that when a president makes a representation of fact to the nation about a matter of public importance, he is representing that his administration and the various information gathering agencies under its control have reviewed evidence of that fact and judged it to be reasonably reliable.

What representation did Bush make?

If I say, "Tony believes X," I am making a representation only about Tony's state of mind. Likewise, if I say "Tony told me X" or "I have a report from Tony that says X", I am making a representation only about the contents of Tony's statement or report and not about the veracity or reliability of the matters asserted therein.

But what if I say, "Tony has learned X"? We're on the edge of an pit of epistemological quicksand here, but without getting too philosophical I think we can all agree that the product of "learning" is "knowledge," and that "knowledge" means more than mere belief. It means belief that is supported by sufficient evidence to be regarded as true, whatever we believe that standard to be. If I say "Tony has learned X," I'm not just saying he believes it, I'm saying that Tony has direct evidence that X is true, such that there's really no reason for him to doubt X short of belief in a Cartesian demon intent on deceiving him.

So now the question arises: How can I, as a responsible president, make a judgment as to whether my statement "Tony has learned X" is sufficiently reliable to offer to the public as part of a discussion of national interest? There are only two approaches I can see.

Option One is to just take Tony's word for it. But in that case, it seems I really ought to be up front that that's what I'm doing. I really ought to say something like, "Tony has told me he has learned X, and I have no reason to doubt him." Because the fact is, I don't have any basis on which to directly evaluate whether Tony's views on X are knowledge, belief, or mere speculation. I'm staking my belief entirely on my trust in Tony's judgment, and my opening premise dictates that I ought to say so.

Option Two would be for me to obtain access to and evaluate the same evidence that forms the basis of Tony's knowledge. Of course, once I did this it would become superfluous for me to talk about Tony's having learned something anymore. At that point, I could just talk about my having learned it. In fact, once I had done this, it would be very strange for me to limit myself to talking about Tony's having learned it. If anything, you'd expect me to say, "I have learned, though Tony, of X."

So when you think about it, in the context of a discussion about whether evidence exists to support a proposition, the sentence "Tony has learned X" is logically suspect from the moment it's uttered. If I know the basis of Tony's knowledge, then it's my knowledge too. If I don't, then I have no basis for asserting he has knowledge.

In other words, this is clearly a weasel phrase. It suggests that there is knowledge out there we can rely on, but simultaneously distances the speaker from vouching directly for that purported knowledge. It is clearly intended to make listeners believe X to be true, yet preserve the ability to say, "Hey, I never claimed X was true." Kind of like saying "we never had sex" but reserving the right to say, "well, I did come on her dress, but she didn't get any pleasure so I didn't consider it really sex."

The record indicates that the CIA told Bush it didn't have reliable knowledge of X. Then it relented and okayed the weasel phrase, because it read it as following Option One. Bush wanted the phrase in the speech because he wanted people to understand it as Option Two. Instead of being scrupulously precise about what we knew and didn't know, he tried to have it both ways. Did he lie? Well, it's hard to say because the phrase was deliberately worded in a way that leads you into logical circles in order to evaluate its veracity. There's an adjective in our political lexicon for this sort of calculated word play. Clintonian.

Which is precisely why the Dems are making such a big deal out of this, and why they have every right to. Whether it really helps them much in the long run I don't know. But they endured how many years of smug sneering attacks from Bush and the Republicans about how they're the kind of straight talking morally upright people who would never think to cavil about what the meaning of is is. Maybe what Bush said was not really a lie. But the very fact that it requires so much parsing to explain why not is what condemns him.

Now. I understand all the various arguments that this isn't a big deal. Yes, it was just one small part of a long speech and a longer argument. The decision to go to war didn't really turn on it. This whole brouhaha has little to do with the merits of the war. It has to do with Bush's credibility. Now in the grand scheme of things, as presidential misrepresentations go, this was pretty minor league. But having pilloried Clinton relentlessly for this kind of thing, the Republicans should have held themselves to a higher standard. They asked for it.

A lot of Bush's support is based on the perception people have of his character. Sure, he's not a flashy intellectual, he doesn't have high falutin' pretensions, he's just a decent man who's made his mistakes in the past, grappled with his personal demons, found God, and finally achieved a strong though humble moral compass. He's a common sense, down-to-earth, call-it-like-he-sees-it kind of guy. The very opposite of the condescendingly self-righteous yet cynically manipulative Clinton crowd. Right? So the question for us observers is this: Was this slip up just a momentary lapse of judgment, or actually a slip of the mask? If the Dems can present a clear, non-shrill case that it was the latter, if they can effectively show that Bush's supposed character is just a façade, they might throw enough doubt into his ranks that a compelling alternative (if there were one) would have a fighting chance. I somehow doubt they'll succeed at this, but you can't blame them for trying. The conservatives have always said character is relevant.

And even though I reluctantly thought this war was justified, I think it's absolutely essential that presidents be held accountable to the highest standards of probity when making and justifying such decisions. I don't care that the Dems are doing it for purely partisan reasons. Partisanship is to politics what competition is to business. It can be unsavory, but it provides the well-needed kicks in the pants that keep us all in line. We all need to be reminded to watch like hawks the justifications governments give for war. And government leaders need to be put on notice that they will have to answer for everything they tell us.

Is this the kind of thing that justifies impeachment? No. Clinton committed perjury and probably obstruction of justice. Bush didn't. Even if you regard his statement as an out and out lie, mere lying is not a crime, even if the subject matter is of far more import than was the use and abuse of Slick's Willy. If every president who lied got impeached, we'd have had more administrations than Italy by now. Sad, but probably true. But is this a hit to Bush's credibility?

Absolutely. It may or may not be a very big hit. But that will depend on whether in retrospect it winds up looking like an exception or the rule.

Sunday, July 13, 2003
On rationales for war
I've been watching Ken Burns's Civil War while riding the exercise bike. Pretty amazingly engaging for something that consists mainly of panning over still photographs. And what an amazingly horrific war that was. Can you imagine what would happen if Bush lost 10,000 troops in a single battle? Lincoln did that several times. Thinking about that war I continue to find myself torn, even more than I am over the present one. What was the justification? Let's apply the antiwar position taken now against going into Iraq to the question whether Lincoln should have waged war on the Confederacy. The most compelling justification, of course, is the humanitarian one. Anyone would be morally justified in trying to help the slaves gain freedom. But the argument that there were means for doing this short of war had at least as much force there as here. Why not let them secede, stop sending their fugitive slaves back to them, and encourage would-be John Browns to go in and try their luck? I'd say there was a much better chance of that working than there would have been of getting rid of Saddam by similar strategies. But of course, Lincoln disavowed freeing the slaves as a justification, saying if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave he'd do it. So if we take him at his word and leave slavery out of it, what was the moral justification for slaughtering hundreds of thousands to hold onto sovereign states for invoking the same principles we did when we split from England? The Constitution doesn't address secession one way or another. One can argue either way from that, but Lincoln couldn't point to any indisputably violated obligation the way Bush could with Saddam. Nor could Lincoln claim that the Confederacy was likely to invade the Union or seek to directly harm its citizens. (On the other hand, he might reasonably assert that armed conflict was inevitable as both nations vied to expand westward.) And if you think Ashcroft is bad, check out the stuff Lincoln did. You can analogize these indefinite detentions to Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus perhaps, but last I checked Bush hadn't jailed any legislators to keep them from voting against him. And no doubt there were people who felt Lincoln just wanted to keep his hands on that valuable natural resource the South had so much of. It was all about cotton! Clearly, Bush is no Lincoln. Not by a long shot. You can't read Lincoln without being in awe of his intelligence and humanity. Whereas you can't read Bush at all, because he doesn't write and it's hard to imagine him penning an essay that would be worth it. But when it comes to the way they each responded to what they understood to be a mortal threat to the future of the nation they believed it their duty to protect, I'm not sure I see how anyone can condemn Bush's conduct without holding Lincoln in at least as much opprobrium.

I need to go to bed.

A few more freebies like that and I'll be broke…

Well, I'm stag for a fortnight. The loves of my life are in Italy visiting the family. Fain would I be with them, but this was a spur of the moment trip at a moment when the wheels of justice simply can't turn without me. So here I am, spending what free time I have doing guy stuff like working out, renting all the war movies I know Paola would never watch with me, and reading the proofs of Randy Barnett's new book on con law, something I had been anticipating in a manner usually associated with scar-browed pubescent magic-users. Yea verily, I am a party animal. Actually, tonight I was.

It was quite an interesting evening. It started with this film, which a friend wanted to go see. This is a disturbing film. How disturbing? Remember Silence of the Lambs? Se7en? This one is similar, except that it makes those look like Disney flicks by comparison. I think it could only have been made by Germans. And I think the review in the link gets it wrong. They're not trying to set up a sequel, they just don't have that American law which says movies are required to have tidy happy conclusions. That would be so banal, so bourgeois. Now ees ze time on Sprockets ven ve dance. Don't get me wrong; the movie is very well done. But don't go see it if you're remotely squeamish. I spent half the time averting my eyes, and it's gonna be real interesting trying to continue my fling with Atkins induction now that I'm not sure I can face red meat for a while. Nuff said.

Right after the movie I sped off up the 10 to attend the Justice Ball. My firm had bought a number of tickets, one of which I obtained after someone else cancelled. That's one of the perks of working for an L.A. firm—if you work with the right people occasionally you get to go to stuff like this. For free. Of course, these private benefit performances are never as good as going to a regular concert, even though you get to be closer to the performers than you'd normally be able to get without camping out for a week to buy your tickets. Why? Because benefits are fundraisers, and the tickets are sold to people with lots of funds. Who generally aren't the kind of people that do a lot of roof raising, if you know what I mean. I'll bet artists hate playing these gigs, even when they think it's for a good cause. In fact I'm sure they do.

Anyway, I got there about ten, and my timing was perfect. I had just time to grab a drink and breeze into the concert hall where Camryn Manheim was just getting ready to introduce Macy. There weren't any seats in the Wiltern, just various tiers of open space. I made a beeline for the floor right in front of the stage, and was surprised to find the crowd there sparse enough that I could get quite close with no problem. I kind of suspect that only people with VIP tix were supposed to be down there, cause I can't explain the lameness of the crowd any other way. But if that was the case no-one ever challenged me, and there I was, like five feet from the stage. I haven't been up that close since slamdancing to the Violent Femmes at the Aragon Ballroom during my misspent youth.

But as I've already intimated, this was no mosh pit worthy of the name. It was rather annoying, actually. I went there fully intending to make this a calorie burning event. I mean, come on—this is Macy Gray we're talking about. Ms. Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak herself. Why on earth would you go to see Macy Gray and plant yourself on the dance floor within brushing distance of her afro if you have no intention of getting your freak on? Yet there was this whole row of stiffs standing there, some even talking to each other during the performance. One guy was resting his head on his elbow on the edge of the stage with a bored-looking smirk on his face the whole time. I kept wishing Macy would come up and kick him in the teeth or something. It just struck me as rude. She's up there putting out (and yes, this is an appropriate term), the least you can do is give her some energy back. Or go stand in the lobby and collect business cards if you want. But how the hell is she supposed to funkify with some piece of front and center deadwood flaunting the level of excitement lawyers usually reserve for document production?

Well, she did. And I didn't let it stop me any more than it stopped her. I was into it. I don't know why I wasn't more self-conscious given the zombies between me and her, but apparently I've progressed beyond the stage where I need to be drunk to dance. And mind you, I'm by no means anything to brag about on the dance floor. I'm your basic white guy, the kind black comedians like to make fun of. Only in a mosh pit full of Jewish lawyers could I wind up feeling pretty motherfucking fly. I just let loose, and had a great time. When Macy wanted me to jump, I jumped. When she wanted me to shake my ass, I didn't ask how wide. When she demanded increasing numerical sets of pelvic thrusts (yes, she really did), I made sure the air would wake up sore tomorrow. I tried to say goodbye, but I choked.

When it was all over, I was drenched, I was forming a blister on my right heel, and I was very happy. Until. On my way into the lobby I reached into my shirt pocket to retrieve my glasses, which I had put in there just before the show. That's how close I was to Macy—I didn't even need them to see her clearly. When I put the glasses in my pocket, I remember noticing that my sunglasses were also in there. since I had unfortunately forgotten to remove and leave them in the car. Now in the lobby I found to my dismay that my pocket was empty. I never felt them come out. It's not at all surprising that they would have, given all the jumping I was doing, but I had completely forgotten about them. I went back to the dance floor and made an effort to look. Strangely enough, now the dance floor was much more active even though they were only playing records. Where were all these ambulatory people when we needed them during the show? I peered around, trying to make use of the intermittent blasts of house light that were punctuating the dance beat, expecting with dread that I would find mangled bits of plastic and metal in worse shape than the poor schmucks who'd been mutilated in that movie I'd watched earlier.

I found nothing, of course. I checked twice at the lost and found, but no luck. I left them my number and a description of the lost items. My hopes are not high, but I had to try. Between the two pairs we're talking about 500 dollars of eyegear here. Like I said, a few more freebies like that and I'll be broke.

Thursday, July 03, 2003
Europe v. Italy: I think the self-deprecating Italians who made this are giving the rest of Europe too much credit, but it's still pretty funny. And fairly accurate.

Big G, little g.... Thanks to the Name Conspirator, (and a heads up from The Democrat) I learned that the lecture/article on copyright law that I had way too much fun co-authoring with Judge Kozinski is now available online. Check it out, if you're interested in fair use, the Juice, or gratuitous misuse of Dr. Seuss.