Jul 17, 2014

Neal Stephenson on the Miracle of the Human Body

"The room contains a few dozen living human bodies, each one a big sack of guts and fluids so highly compressed that it will squirt for a few yards when pierced. Each one is built around an armature of 206 bones connected to each other by notoriously fault-prone joints that are given to obnoxious creaking, grinding, and popping noises when they are in other than pristine condition. This structure is draped with throbbing steak, inflated with clenching air sacks, and pierced by a Gordian sewer filled with burbling acid and compressed gas and asquirt with vile enzymes and solvents produced by the many dark, gamy nuggets of genetically programmed meat strung along its length. Slugs of dissolving food are forced down this sloppy labyrinth by serialized convulsions, decaying into gas, liquid, and solid matter which must all be regularly vented to the outside world lest the owner go toxic and drop dead. Spherical, gel-packed cameras swivel in mucus-greased ball joints. Infinite phalanxes of cilia beat back invading particles, encapsulate them in goo for later disposal. In each body a centrally located muscle flails away at an eternal, circulating torrent of pressurized gravy. And yet, despite all of this, not one of these bodies makes a single sound at any time during the sultan’s speech. It is a marvel that can only be explained by the power of brain over body, and, in turn, by the power of cultural conditioning over the brain." --Cryptonomicon

Jun 23, 2014

Jun 7, 2014

John Rawls and Race

I stumbled across this and thought it was wildly tendentious. Was Rawls really utterly unaware of the basic facts of American history?

But then I watched this, and it has a much more extensive, much more convincing discussion of Rawls, traditional political liberalism, and race; and trying to adapt the Rawlsian framework to include racial justice. Very, very good:

I reckon Mills just wanted to include that Chris Rock bit.

Jun 4, 2014

The Great Conservative Berg-versal

Matt Binder performs some Twitter excavation:

May 27, 2014

The War Crimes of the Bush Regime

Damon Linker: "No, Condoleeza Rice is not a war criminal."
They mean that leading members of the Bush administration are war criminals in the precise legal sense that they violated the imposing body of rules and regulations that have grown out of the post–World War II Nuremberg Trials and Geneva Conventions. These rules are known as "international law."
There's a reason I placed the term in quote marks — because I think it's inaccurate to describe these rules and regulations as laws. They are, strictly speaking, bilateral and multilateral treaties between and among governments.
Laws, by contrast, are written, enacted, and executed by governments, and they apply exclusively to those residing within territorially defined political communities (be they city-states, nations, or empires). Citizens of liberal democracies hold, moreover, that laws gain legitimacy — and become binding — only with the consent of the governed. And that standard is (tacitly) met only when the laws have been crafted by the people's democratically elected representatives.
"International law" fulfills none of these requirements.
The Constitution of the United States:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The UN Convention Against Torture, passed by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and signed by President Reagan:
Article 2 
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. 
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.