All right-thinking people of earth will grant that Ben Affleck has no charisma. But (isn't it interesting that contrarians can be contrarians because they're big jerks or from a surfeit of generosity?) I have to say this: I saw Affleck on IFC's "Dinner for Five" and the guy was funny. And well-spoken. And had a sense of humor about himself.
Now, unlike some people, I don't think he should be killed for wanting to remake Casablanca, but only because actually remaking it and being known for having done so would be so much crueler. Anyone who wants to remake it deserves to remake it. Much consternation could be avoided if this principle were applied more widely...
Kieran Healy has a great post that makes clear the extent to which the social sciences often simply reinscribe norms and prejudices in their own language and with their peculiar authority. This raises an ethical point, I think, about the status of the social sciences. The provisional, methodical nature of the scientific method is wonderful for questions of physics and chemistry, but the social sciences are, of course, not quite so rigorous as physics, but, more importantly in this context, they are of significant interest to the lay public. (I think it's an interesting question whether applying scientific methods to the social sciences actually produces better theories, but that's not the question I'm asking here.) Given the public's trust in "science" in general, do social scientists have an obligation to emphasize the provisional nature of their inquiry? Standard demurrals about "further research is needed" are fine, but imagine if each field of the social sciences had a board that certified certain facts as "well-established." Those could be presented to the public as such, the rest could be presented as what would effectively be "safe to ignore until further notice."
That sounds outrageous but, at present, don't the social sciences do active harm with their borrowed authority? Think of all the drivel that has been written about women's sexuality, particularly emphasizing the natural tendency of women to monogamy (a claim only fairly recently abandoned--and hilariously skewered in Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation).
How is the public supposed to think about the pronouncements of social scientists? And, if it really is outrageous to declare certain theories "well-established," then in what sense are the social sciences "science?"
So scientists writing about AIDS are warned not to include "controversial" words and phrases such as "homosexual," "needle exchange," and "anal sex" in their abstracts.
Look, I live in America. I know several Americans. There is no buttfucking way that anything approaching a majority of the people in this country support this kind of quasi-theocratic control of science by politicians.
And if that's not enough and anyone still doubts that "censorship" can exist without laws being passed, also check out this Michael Wolff piece about what happened to him after asking a question people didn't like at a press "briefing" in Doha.
You know, this seems like a perfect time in the history of our union to bring up a French anal-sex lover. Forget what you've been told at your nice universities, forget the people you associate his writings with, just go read some Foucault. Specifically, go read "The Subject and Power," which is short and accessibly written. For citations, go to this page and scroll down to "1982."
Via the Poor Man
Dating is the process by which people come to realize that everyone in the world is horrible, and that if you should ever come across someone who is even somewhat normal, and, for some reason, that person is willing to have something to do with you, you need to cling to them like Grim Death.
I hate to say this, because I consider it a "heh"-level annoying Instapundit posting tic, but read the whole thing.
Life, risk, war, death - all very important topics. But more important is this burning question: What are they putting in the beer down at U.S. Cellular (nee Comiskey) Park and why do they only put it in when the Kansas City Royals are in town?
Evidently, no fewer than four "fans" ran onto the field last night, with one actually attacking the first base umpire during the 8th inning.
The funny thing is, I've always figured Wrigley was far more likely to have these sorts of things happen. First, fans are much closer to the field than at Comiskey and there are far fewer obstacles to running on to the field. Second, its always struck me that the drunk jackass quotient was a lot higher at Wrigley that at Comiskey.
The other funny thing is that these incidents come on the heels of an even uglier incident that happened the last time the Royals were in town. What is it about KC that provokes these things? From a Chicago perspective, KC is a fairly inoffensive small city in the midwest with nothing to get you too riled up about. Of course, if these things were happening when the Yankees were in town, they would be both understandable and justified.
While the "left" and the "right" accuse each other of misunderstanding patriotism and duty, they've both succumbed to the one thing that's most likely to bring about their respective dystopias: the tyranny of the sanctity of life. The Patriot Act, the "rendering" of suspects to torturing foreign interrogators, opposition to a war welcomed by those on whom it's waged and the failure to safeguard the markers of our civilized birth are all justified by appeals to "saving lives."
But we make compromises with death everyday: when we drive, when we eat, even when we simply wake up. Of course there are distinctions to be made between "incidental" death and death by murder or terror or war, but ultimately the distinctions come to the same: we accept the risk of death because we value what we gain by taking the risk. Are we really willing to let our actions say that we value driving to work so much more than living freely that we are prepared to assume the massively larger risk of dying in our cars than the risk of being killed by terrorists?
The problem, it seems, is in the nature of the greatest goods. Freedom, dignity, liberty, honor, tradition: what are these things? Intangible and often ineffable, they let themselves be defined away. Were those a few "vases" that were lost forever or were they civilization's grounding in the double awe of its own perdurance and ephemerality? I don't feel particularly base and dishonorable when I silently acquiesce in the torture without trial of "unlawful combatants." But what can't be articulated can still be lost, and it is.
I like to think that someone on the national stage just needs to speak these words and we will suddenly remember who we are: "There are things so much a part of what it means to be us that life without them would be mere life and therefore we will risk our lives for them."
Let me be plain. The museum in Baghdad was worth defending, even if lives were put in danger; liberties should not be relinquished, even if lives are put in danger; lives saved by torture are cheap; the fact that innocent people will die is not by itself a good reason not to go to war. We pay homage to our soldiers for their willingness to risk their lives for honor and freedom. But their bravery does not relieve our burden. If we become a mean, scared, and suspicious people, we will all be dying, and living, for nothing.
Just about the only thing stopping me from buying an Xbox at this point is the nagging thought that I, holder of more than one advanced degree, subscriber to serious periodicals, and someone approaching 30 years of age, should be beyond video games. On the other hand, its really pretty cool. There's this game for Xbox called Halo and in it you get to kill lots of things with lots of different kinds of guns. I'm not sure that I can fight the urge to visit bestbuy.com. Would it be entirely pathetic of me to buy such a toy?
Eugene Volokh, Mark Kleiman and Matt Rustler all make excellent points on the descriptivism vs. prescriptivism language question. This is a fascinating debate, partly for what's being debated, but also for the way in which it's debated.
Insofar as descriptivism and prescriptivism are two opposing camps that stake out positions on the proper use of language, we have a normative meta debate. But, with regard to the actual evolution of language, descriptivism and prescriptivism are complementary tendencies, one constantly throwing forth innovations, the other acting as a filter, blocking the willy-nilly devolution of language into increasingly private regionalisms while yielding to those changes that are more efficient, colorful, or simply easier to say.
Once we separate the question into these two parts, we can let the fact of complementarity solve the normative question for us: descriptivism is the entropy of language; it doesn't need our help. Scoffing and snobbery are their own sins, but we should all be prescriptivists, because we'll lose anyway--we just don't want to lose too badly.
UPDATE: A good continuation of the discussion by Matt Rustler at Stop the Bleating. He's right about our electronic interconnectedness mitigating the effects of lax usage rules. Since I was trying to comment on the debate, rather than join it, I didn't mention earlier what I think is the most powerful argument for prescriptivism: immigration. We do immigrants a terrible disservice if we don't help them become comfortable with proper English, for precisely the reason Matt gives
how many good jobs is one likely to get if he can't communicate effectively with a very large proportion of the population?
(Not to mention the other benefits of "assimilation," like feeling at home). It may be fine to let native speakers be creative, but a lax usage culture handicaps immigrants.
Next up, Unfogged gets Instapundit to stop linking approvingly to xenophobic rants.
Rather than carping about the neocon influence driving us on to Damascus (which, granted, may be playing a part) read this piece in Haaretz about the Syrian's intention to "turn Iraq into a new Lebanon." That's a chilling phrase and one hopes Bashar Assad, by all accounts much less savvy than his father, understands when he will have gone too far. Of course, the very same can be said of GW Bush, as this story (shocking enough that I'm waiting for confirmation--and the inevitable back-tracking) makes quite clear:
If George Bush decided that he was going to turn the troops loose on Syria now, and Iran after that, he would last in office for about 15 minutes. You're talking to somebody who frankly wishes we could knock Syria around a bit because I think they have been absolutely outrageous for years in terms of their support for terrorism. But, because I happen to believe that, doesn't mean it's going to happen. If President Bush were to try it now, even I would feel that he ought be impeached. (via Atrios)
Who said it? Lawrence Eagleburger, Secretary of State under George HW Bush.
We now also learn that before Blair departed for the March 18 Iraq debate, Downing Street had drawn up contingency plans for the withdrawal of British troops from the build-up in the Gulf and also for Blair's resignation, should the votes have gone against him. That is how serious it was.
my first and powerful reaction is "what does Tony Blair know? Why was he willing to risk it all?" Of all the arguments I've heard for and against this war, I find this detail to be the most convincing evidence that Bush and Blair perceived some real and terrible threat in Iraq that had to be addressed. One could attempt to mitigate the importance of the passage by arguing that Blair signed on without realizing the anger he would provoke, but Blair is too savvy and, in any case, he knew what the reaction had been to the US stance. So, to those who read this situation cynically, what do you say to Tony Blair's gamble?