Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Quietly waiting for Fitzmas

All my blogging time is going to following the Plamegate speculation, which is about to blossom into either a bust (though that now seems very unlikely, given the indictment rumors) or, hopefully, busts. There are many posts available (some from former CIA agents) explaining why this matters, but this is the best I've seen so far.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Science of Homeopathy

This is an excellent sentence:
It’s about time we had a global military strategy that takes into account the science of homeopathy.
In context (see under Headliner) it's genius.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Prussian Blue, Russian Blue, Prussian Blue

In a continuing effort to help readers distinguish confusing terms:

Prussian Blue, "the first of the modern pigments".

Russian Blue, the breed of beautiful double-coated cat.

Prussian Blue, the neonazi pop duo.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Differing views of prop 77

I endorse prop 77 here.

This Daily Kos diary doesn't present a coherent argument but does lead to the questions: are there more reasonable redistricting algorithms? Should we wait for one? Would the proposed algorithm lead to concentrated safe Democratic districts as well as poorer overall representation? The last question depends, I think, on n_district and the distribution of density center populations; but the self-interest argument in my earlier post suggests the safety issue is unlikely to be worsened.

In correspondence, Mark Kleiman points out to me that more contentious local elections (including primary elections) will sap California's ability to send money out of state to affect the national balance. I don't naively see why this would apply more to state Democrats than Republicans, though. And if 77 is likely to spread to red states, then whatever primary effect there is should cancel.

A counter-argument might be that this is a particularly important moment to be partisan - with responsible Republicans in power, we could afford to think long-term, but the Bush revolution must be stopped asap.

Dunno. Still planning to vote yes, but I'll keep looking for reasons not to.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

In defense of Judith Miller's veracity

Judith Miller says she can't remember just who it was who leaked Valerie "Flame"'s name to her. At first I thought, how could she not know? She had learned the name a couple of weeks before Novak's column blew up in his face, and surely she realized how important the leaker's identity was, and surely she can't have forgotten since. But a sort of "Orient Express" explanation might be at work: she had conversations with multiple WH officials who might well have leaked the crucial bit of info to her while selling the general smear and she couldn't remember which one or more it was. She wasn't approaching this information as a journalist, after all, but a participant, and what Libby said or Rove said or even Tim Russert said on the matter was more important than which one it was.

Vote yes on California proposition 77

CA-77 would establish* a 3-judge non-partisan panel to draw congressional districts. Currently this is in the hands of the legislature, which is inclined by its political nature to gerrymander in order both to favor the party in power as well as to make the districts of the two parties safer. There is an argument to be had about whether California, a strong blue state, should give up the power to balance the DeLayed Texases on the red side. Even Kevin Drum, an instinctively moderate and sensible and smart liberal, has been on the fence about this. And the instinctively stupid Andrew Sullivan approves, saying it will "break the back of the Democratic Party special interests". But I think the marginal short-term loss will be more than made up for by the strengthening of democracy in California and by the greater chance that DeLayization will be defeated in other states. And while normally I think the proposition process is awful and "no" should be the strong default, in this case the new law is the right and important thing to do, so I urge California voters to vote "yes" on prop 77. If you don't care what I think, try reading Kos.

*For Athenian democracy junkies, the process calls for choosing the judges by lot. Kinda cool.

Sports bars don't even get C-Span

Mark Kleiman, a central source for clarity on the Plame flames, is on the new NYT articles. I feel like I should be in a bar cheering and high-fiving my friends. The ninth is still a long way away but this looks like a good inning.

Phase transition ahoy?

The NYT online just published 13 pages on or by Judith Miller. For weeks now the pressure has been rising slowly - I wonder if we're about to see a phase transition - say from an disorderly state to an orderly one. For a while though I'd expect things to be non-analytic.

From the New Yorker world

Stolen from Unfogged.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Brad DeLong discovers something amazing

Brad DeLong discovers that tv shows have commercials and credits.

Mrs. R. and I continue to watch season 3 of BtVS on dvd. I find that the missing commercial breaks throw off the episodes' timing. On tv, someone tells a joke, or something surprising or scary happens, and the screen goes black; then there's a commercial break, which functions as a beat; then the show returns. The dvd really ought to have about 5 seconds of black space to provide that beat. As it stands, the joke isn't given time to resonate, suspense isn't given time to build - the show's construction as n little acts ceases to make any dramatic sense.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Atrios links to this under the above title. The public editor of the NYTimes says the paper has to come clean on the Judith Miller story starting now. Then he explains why he can't report on it for the next 10 days.

One of the fascinating things that come out of relativity is the fact that the news of an event occurring now has to travel to you at the finite speed of light. I feel as if a star has gone nova and I'm sitting at my desk in ignorance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

P.S. Dear Lord

A prayer

Dear Lord,

You don't hear from me often, the last time being the votive candle I lit in one of Your churches in Galway about ten years ago, and the girl in question never came around, so it's not like I've been burning up credit. Ok, so that was not just the last but also the only time I've called on You, and no doubt I've spent my whole life comparing You to Santa Claus, but still I've been a good man by most reasonable standards. So could You see Your way clear to granting me one small wish?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Walter Savage Landor's hard perfection

Ah what avails the sceptred race,
    Ah what the form divine!
What every virtue, every grace!
    Rose Aylmer, all were thine.
Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
    May weep, but never see,
A night of memories and of sighs
    I consecrate to thee.

Rose Aylmer is a famous little poem by a great poet of the narrowest possible accomplishment and the best possible middle name. The top google search for the poem contains an error - "A night of memories and sighs" (842 hits) instead of "A night of memories and of sighs" (102 hits). When I saw Joan Didion misquote the line in the same way here, my ears pricked up, because I remembered the main character in Vikram Seth's _A Suitable Boy_ making the same mistake in a graveyard on a date with a poet, who unhelpfully notes the essential extra "of" without saying why it matters. The line is easier to say (and recall) as pure iambic tetrameter, like the rest of the poem, but as written the nouns (esp. the latter two) are emphasized; the sudden heavy emotional weight causes the rhythm to stumble; the reader is forced to pause and consider the relationship between the latter two nouns and then back to "night" - just "a" night. It's a small and subtle point, but as good an example as any I can think of of the difficulty and rewards of reading poetry.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The looming presence of Yeats

I note this essay by John Drexel on Dana Gioia's Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry because it's interesting as well as amusingly obsessive, but mostly because Drexel writes "Yeats was a looming presence" from Ireland. Did Yeats loom? Here's what a looming presence looks like. Here's what the dictionary says about (the new-to-me noun form of) "loom":
A distorted, threatening appearance of something, as through fog or darkness.
[Perhaps of Scandinavian origin.]

(Note to self: based on the evidence of that essay, you don't know squat about Contemporary British Poetry - and you're not catching up at this rate, having not even read Hughes's last twenty years of work. Maybe in twenty years the important English writers of today will be winnowed enough to face...)


Monday, October 03, 2005

Little Boots and Bush

"The good news on Miers: It's not as bad as Caligula putting his horse in the Senate." - Rick Brookhiser at (the very conservative) National Review Online.

Actually, the Senate in Caligula's day was an institution of no importance, whereas the SCOTUS is of immense importance to Americans and the world. Assuming her nomination isn't scuttled by conservatives, Miers may turn out to be a less-than-stellar but not awful justice, in which case I guess you'd have to say it's a toss-up. A somewhat more likely scenario is that she's a poor justice who will acquiesce to Bush's desire to seize war powers at the expense of civil liberties, in which case the horse appointment will turn out to have been comparatively benign.

Update: see Mark Kleiman's take on Caligulan cronyism.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Watergaw by Hugh MacDiarmid

Ae weet forenicht i the yow-trummle
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi its chitterin licht
Ayont the on-ding;
An I thocht o the last wild look ye gied
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i the laverock's hoose
That nicht - an nane i mine;
But I hae thocht o that foolish licht
Ever sin syne;
An I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then.

Something like:

The Unclear Rainbow

A wet early evening
In a cold July after the shearing,
I saw that rare thing,
A faint rainbow in the shivering light
Beyond the downpour;
And I thought of the last wild look on your face
Before you died.

There was no smoke in the lark's house that night -
and none in mine;
But I've thought of that foolish light
Ever since then;
And I think that perhaps at last I know
What your look meant.

The business about the lark is apparently an expression for stormy and cold, and I gave up on the full translation of "yow-trummle", which means "a cold spell in July after the sheep shearing". Not knowing Scots (or Synthetic Scots [of which this poem is the first example] for that matter), I suspect that "yon" in line 2 suggests the speaker is seeing a watergaw as he says the poem. And I'd guess that "foolish" means (or is intended as) "deceptive" or "unimportant". Anyway, the poem is readable in the original after learning a few (wonderful) words (the discovery of which by the poet were a large part of the poem's genesis), so go back and try it.

I came across the above in Seamus Heaney's collection _Finders Keepers_, in the essay "A Torchlight Procession of One". Heaney's prose is not streamlined - I rather suspect that he likes to relax and bloviate after the tight craft of his poetry - but the collection has its moments.

Update, 25/3/06, from the comments: the poem read by the author.

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