Heh heh, heh heh

I recognize what irresistible opportunity news organizations present to public intellectuals by way of free editorial space. And I well realize it may be expecting too much from the latter to exercise reflective self-restraint when The Gray Lady slips them an engraved invitation to her boudoir. Cometh the 'But,' part.

What I don't quite understand is why a figure of Paul Krugman's caliber needs to brow shift this low to pull off his 'entertainment' objective (see below) with popular reading audiences:

'The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.' --The New York Times, 2/25/09

I don't particularly mind that Krugman is picking on the GOP because I think all parties are fair game for All comers. What I mind is the apparent backpedaling from his earlier stated position in the introduction to _Pop Internationalism_ (1996), a collection of essays from Foreign Affairs, Science, Scientific American, the Wilson Quarterly, New Perspectives Quarterly, and the American Economic Review (excerpted here):

'I would have to write essays for non-economists that were clear, effective, and even entertaining--otherwise nobody would read them. . . . [T]he target reader was someone who might think he knew a lot about economics but had never been exposed to the real thing. . . . And finally, the essays would have to be right--no intellectual cheap shots, because after all, letting the world see what real economic analysis was like was the whole point of the exercise.' [Emphasis mine.]



The name of this blog ...

... refers not to the card game, but to an 18th century Edinburgh social club -- The Poker Club -- whose members included philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume. The moniker, attributed to Smith, meant to invoke an image of the pointy-hooked fireplace tool used to "stir things up." The club was like a Meetup for Enlightenment-era literary and political discussion (lubed with good food and alcohol , of course). My blog's title is a paean to the (original) Poker Club.

The blog's subtitle came to me while thinking about my reasons for unleashing Yet. Another. Blog. on the ol' Webnets. Alas, yetanotherblog.com was already taken and, besides, wasn't descriptive of my purpose for public writing. Since my intent was to post the more finished bits from my long-hand journals for further development and critical scrutiny, I wanted the stated theme to reflect something about the topics I tend to "poke" at or turn over in mind again and again,
id est, liberty, sovereignty and security in particular, and legal theory and political philosophy in general.

This being a modern, casual venue, not every entry will be primarily philosophical in nature (as the previous three entries attest). My aim going forward, though, is to use this space as a public sketch pad-cum-notebook. Like a set of figure studies for a painting or a logbook of lab experiments, this blog is meant for showing my working thoughts rather than my final statements. As Robert Nozick wrote:
One view about how to write a philosophy book holds that an author should think through all of the details of the view he presents, and its problems, polishing and refining his view to present to the world in a finished, complete and elegant whole. This is not my view. ... There is room for words on subjects other than last words. (Anarchy, State and Utopia, xii)



A new quotidian stop

Not that I miss journalism for a minute, but I sure do miss the full access to realtime news feeds that I once had in my former life. The sheer volume of what moved on any given day over the national and international wires was ungodly. Given that plus a twice- or thrice-weekly cruise through the op-ed and food (yes, I'm serious) wires, and who needed a subscription to anything else? (Except for Reason Magazine, natch.) I will say, however comma, that if I had to read just...one...more sports roundup with the phrase "bench-clearing brawl," I was going to spontaneously combust.

Nearly everyone at my former gazette had their wire-search and alert preferences set just so, and in a way that made Google News' customization options seem utterly kindergarten. AFAIK, there's still no equivalent on the web today that comes nigh close to what one can access with full membership in The Associated Press. (Someone recently asked me what that costs. "Um, beats me.")

Not that I have time to read much non-academic material these days.

I'm lucky to skim the entire front section of the Financial Times (print version) on my way to campus. But every few weeks I'll let my news junkie out for a romp. A tour through My Way News and WaPo's (buried) wire feed comes reasonably close to what my personal user keys (R.I.P., CSI) used to parse for me at The Big O - the "lede-writethru" flotsam and "strictly embargoed" jetsam from the must-do reading.

Even better, here's a site I was turned on to a couple of weeks ago that seems to scratch the itch for my dream homepage: Arts & Letters Daily. (Of course, with Firefox's tabbed browsing scheme, a mere homepage isn't just a singular homepage anymore ... it's a pluralist's wet dream!)

Two gems from the feed that caught my attention last week: The Claremont Institute's Encountering Islam, and The New Criterion's Hayek & the Intellectuals.



Flying Toilet Terror Labs

We've had a rash of inquiries lately in the forum I moderate at flyertalk.com about the veracity of last summer's so-called liquid bomb plot in London.

News wires were ablaze with analysis for weeks following the August 10th arrests of the 24 alleged conspirators. Once the dust settled, certain explications emerged to capture the imagination of commentators and the general public justifying the draconian carry-on rules pertaining to commercial air travel. Regulars of FT's Travel Safety/Security forum, however, generally rush to post this gem, courtesy of The Register (UK), as sufficient refutation to What Might Have Been.

Here's a teaser:
Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?
By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Published Thursday 17th August 2006 09:42 GMT

Analysis The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air;
And a loud voice came forth out of the temple of Heaven,
From the throne, saying, "It is done!"
--Revelation 16:17

Binary liquid explosives are a sexy staple of Hollywood thrillers. It would be tedious to enumerate the movie terrorists who've employed relatively harmless liquids that, when mixed, immediately rain destruction upon an innocent populace, like the seven angels of God's wrath pouring out their bowls full of pestilence and pain.

The funny thing about these movies is, we never learn just which two chemicals can be handled safely when separate, yet instantly blow us all to kingdom come when combined. Nevertheless, we maintain a great eagerness to believe in these substances, chiefly because action movies wouldn't be as much fun if we didn't.

Now we have news of the recent, supposedly real-world, terrorist plot to destroy commercial airplanes by smuggling onboard the benign precursors to a deadly explosive, and mixing up a batch of liquid death in the lavatories. So, The Register has got to ask, were these guys for real, or have they, and the counterterrorist officials supposedly protecting us, been watching too many action movies?

We're told that the suspects were planning to use TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a high explosive that supposedly can be made from common household chemicals unlikely to be caught by airport screeners. A little hair dye, drain cleaner, and paint thinner - all easily concealed in drinks bottles - and the forces of evil have effectively smuggled a deadly bomb onboard your plane.

Here's what I'd like to know, especially from any chemist types who'd care to weigh in (that would be you, KZach of PChem):
  • Is The Register's explanation of TATP accurate?
  • *Was* the plot feasible? (And if not, why not?)
  • And, for extra credit, where will the madness end?


Why airport ID checking is Kabuki Security

ABC.com: Web Site Lets Anyone Create Fake Airline Boarding Passes

Note the amazing strings of nonsense from the Transportation Security Administration's spokesperson, who completely tap dances around such significant threats to commercial airliners as:

  • The (literally) tons of unscreened, unaccompanied cargo aboard regular-carrier passenger flights;
  • Access to aircraft not through an airport terminal's "security" checkpoint, but via its sterile zone's side and back doors by concessionaires, terminal employees and groundcrews;
  • Miles and miles of unsecured airport perimeters.

The price tag for U.S. security theater: $6 billion for FY2007.

If you look up the ideogram for 'kabuki', you'll find that it translates as “song,” “dance” and “skill.” I guess for the TSA two out of three ain't bad.