an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.


error log

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$zwichenzug$ sell-out zone





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.

Union Label

Direct Action
Gets the Goods!


some folks I know

Mark Dilley
a daily dose of architecture
Safety Neal
January Girl
mimi jingcha
Hop, Skip, Jump
ambivalent imbroglio
Brooke & Lian


some blogs I read

strip mining for whimsy
It's Matt's World
School of Blog
Fall of the State
Dru Blood
Echidne of the Snakes
Colossal Waste of Bandwidth
Running from the Thought Police
Bionic Octopus


some philosoblogs

Fake Barn Country
Freiheit und Wissen


some labor blogs

Confined Space
Working Life
Dispatches From the Trenches
Labor Blog
Eric Lee


some A-list blogs

This Modern World
Matthew Yglesias
Andrew Sullivan
Political Animal
The Volokh Conspiracy


some other links

Rule 33
This Week in Chess
War Nerd
National Priorities Project
Bible Gateway
Internet Archive
A Weekly Dose of Architecture
Orsinal: Morning Sunshine
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Safety Sign Builder
Get Your War On


some philosoblogging

Six views about reasons
Seidman on reflection and rationality
And another thing
Tiffany's argument for strong internalism
Internalism v. Externalism
What do internalists believe anyway?
Rationalism and internalism
The experimental method in philosophy
Advertising to children
On moral skepticism
A linguistic argument
More on Williams
Williams on reasons
General and particular
Normativity and morality
Political intuitions
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
Objectivity and morality
Thinking revolution
Abortion and coercion
Moore on torture
On the phenomenology of deliberation
Even more Deliberation Day
more Deliberation Day
Deliberation Day run-down
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
Every shepherd is an abomination
Droppin' H-bombs
ad hominem

Sunday, July 31, 2005


As time goes by

Meanwhile, the erotic meaning of the kiss became increasingly central. In 1649 an English observer could write that the kiss was used “in salutation, valediction, reconciliation . . . congratulation, approbation, adulation, subjection, confederation, but more especially and naturally in token of love”. The mouth became more welcoming with the advent of more effective dentistry — which did something to diminish halitosis and produce gleaming white teeth — and the sexual connotations of the kiss became more apparent and its meaning more ambiguous. Eventually the ambiguity proved too much; and, for social and ritual purposes, the meeting of lips had to be replaced by other words and actions, less susceptible to misinterpretation. The English social kiss between men and women had been on the lips and therefore disappeared, whereas the French kiss on the cheeks was less blatantly erotic and accordingly proved more enduring. [source]

Emphasis added.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Ping! (a new fad sweeping the blogosphere edition)

I see that Matt has responded to Dru's music meme and even passed on a tag. I can't help noticing that Matt, like everybody else in the world, had better taste at a young age than I did.

Addendum: Dru has more to say about the whole people-who-mostly-listen-to-lyrics V. people-whom-mostly-don't-listen-to-lyrics issue.

Friday, July 29, 2005



[from Latin 'oleaginus', of the olive tree, from 'olea', olive tree]

Of or relating to oil.
2. Falsely or smugly earnest; unctuous.


Zwichenzug media watch, truth in advertising edition

I keep seeing a television commercial for the Chevy Silverado which includes the sentence, "The truth is, there's no word in Japanese for pickup truck."

My initial, snarky, reaction was that there's no word in English for pickup truck either, since 'pickup truck' is two words. I also wondered if 'pickup' was really a word. Turns out that 'pickup' is pretty well attested, by the way.

All and still, don't the Japanese make a whole lot of pickup trucks? Don't they have to refer to them from time to time? Surely they don't just say things like, "Hey Yoshihiro, this shiny vehicle with an open body, low sides, and a tailboard sure has an impressive power to weight ratio."



[English, from the phrase 'to pick up']

1. A light truck with an open body and low sides and a tailboard.
2. A warrant to take someone into custody.
3. Anything with restorative powers.
4. A casual acquaintance; often made in hope of sexual relationships.
5. The attribute of being capable of rapid acceleration.
6. Mechanical device consisting of a light balanced arm that carries the cartridge.
7. An electro-acoustic transducer that is the part of the arm of a record player that holds the needle and that is removable.
8. The act or process of picking up or collecting from various places.
9. The act of taking aboard passengers or freight.
10. The apparatus for transmitting a broadcast from an outside place to the broadcasting station.
11. The rotary rake on a piece of machinery, such as a harvester, that picks up windrowed hay or straw.
12. Previous journalistic copy to which succeeding copy is added.
13. In accounting, a balance brought forward.
14. The act of striking or fielding a ball after it has touched the ground.

Being, relating to, or involving a group of people assembled informally for a temporary purpose.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


It's a what? It's a what?

It's a music meme.

Since Dru has been so generous with the links and the kind words lately, seems like answering her newly created meme is the least I can do.


Number of records/tapes/cds I own
Difficult to say. I'm guessing about 300 cds. That may be an underestimate, but it surely includes dozens and dozens of cds I can't imagine ever listening to again. These days I listen to a lot of MP3s -- this even though I'm not one for illegal file sharing and don't have an MP3 player. My purchased music folder in iTunes has 262 tracks from 22 albums.

First record/tape/cd I bought
When I was three or four I bought a 45 of The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" at a garage sale down the street from my house. I don't know what was on the other side.

The first music I bought knowing what it sounded like was through one of those Columbia House 12-records-for-a-penny deals when I was eleven or twelve. My sister and I split the order -- she got eight records, I got four. My four, and I'm a little embarrassed about this, included two Kenny Rogers LPs, the soundtrack to Rocky III, and a Men At Work record. My sister ordered Loverboy, Survivor, Queen, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Rick Springfield, and ABBA. I fulfilled my Columbia House commitment with two cassettes: Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA and Sammy Hagar's I Can't Drive 55.

Last record/tape/cd I bought
At the beginning of the summer I bought a passle of cds. They were:
  • Jimmy Smith, Organ Grinder Swing
  • Thelonious Monk, Solo Monk
  • Thelonious Monk, Monk's Dream
  • Wes Montgomery, Ultimate Wes Montgomery
  • Dexter Gordon, Doin' Alright
  • Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

I had also ordered Stevie Wonder's Song's in the Key of Life, but it I hightailed it out of town before it arrived.

Last record/tape/cd I listened to
Um, it was either the Porgy and Bess record that Lois Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald made or a gospel mix that I put together for my pops. I'm not sure.

Recordings or songs that mean a lot to me (and/or changed my life)
This is a difficult question for me, because while I like music a lot I don't think I relate to it in the way presupposed by the question. I have a bullshit theory that music listeners fall into two broad categories - people who mostly listen to lyrics, and people who mostly don't. I mostly don't listen to lyrics. My suspicion is that folks who pay close attention to lyrics relate to music partly by incorporating it into the narrative of their lives, but what do I know?

If I had to choose a soundtrack of my life, what 5-10 songs would be on it
For the reasons stated above, this is a tough question for me. But rather than copping out entirely, here's a list of songs I totally dig:
  • Olé, John Coltrane
  • Bedside of a Neighbor, Dixie Hummingbirds
  • Glory of the Sun, Split Lip Rayfield
  • Blue Moon of Kentucky, Bill Monroe
  • Stars Fell on Alabama, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
  • Where the Soul Never Dies, Willie Nelson
  • Ghetto We Love, Poor Righteous Teachers
  • Do Re Me, Woody Guthrie
  • Bo! Bo! Bo!, KRS-ONE
  • Dust My Broom, Elmore James
  • Back in the Backseat, Evan Johns and his H-Bombs


And that's that. Except that every meme should have a tagging element. Lessee....howzabout Saheli and Matt for starters. If I have any other readers, maybe they'll chime in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


The curse of Jezebel

The following is from an article at the Demonbuster.com website, the offical web presence of the END-TIME DELIVERANCE MINISTRY of Crystal Springs, Mississippi.
Women scheme and connive to get their way. They want to control others. Women get into witchcraft so that they can manipulate others for their benefit. Some women despise their husbands when they become priest of the home and the woman is no longer the spiritual head.

Women use their bodies to sensuously attract men and to get their way. Women entice men with their words and exposure of their bodies. Women are afraid that other women will steal their husbands.

I found it, along with the pisseth against the wall verse blogged below, while trying to figure out what Jezebel had done to deserve being defined as, "A woman who is regarded as evil and scheming."[1]

As near as I can tell, what happened was that Jezebel convinced her husband King Ahab to worship Baal instead of Jehovah. This led to the oppression of Jehovah's prophets, which really ticked Elijah off. Later, she gave Ahab some advice about how to revenge himself upon one of Jehovah's sympathizers. Later still, she was thrown from a window, dashed to pieces, trod upon by a horse, and eaten by dogs.

Even Jesus was pissed. Revelations 2 had this to say to a church in Thyatira:
18These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.[2]

It all seems a little harsh to me, but I guess it just goes to show that what they say is true. Don't fuck with the Jesus.

1 Interestingly, it looks like what the name meant in whatever language was being spoken in Syria during the biblical era was chaste.

2 What do you suppose the chances are that Revelations 2: 23 is the first attestation of the phrase 'hearts and minds'?

Sunday, July 24, 2005



[French 'trocart' : 'trois', three + 'carre', side of an instrument (from Old French, 'carrer', to square)]

A sharp-pointed surgical instrument, used with a cannula to puncture a body cavity for fluid aspiration.



[Latin, diminutive of 'canna', reed]

A flexible tube, usually containing a trocar at one end, that is inserted into a bodily cavity, duct, or vessel to drain fluid or administer a substance such as a medication.


Paper comments

January Girl foolishly asked for my comments on a short paper she wrote for her Philosophy 101 class. Her paper is here, my comments are after the jump.

For what it's worth, the main difference between this and the comments I'd provide to one of my own students is that I (probably) wouldn't push my own views as much in comments to a student. Or maybe not. January Girl explicitly asked me to say how my views differed from hers, and if a student asked a similar question my comments would reflect that.

(A) It's not exactly clear what the arguments in the assignment are supposed to be. If there is a general form which the two arguments share, then it is something like the following:

1. With regard to subject S there is a diversity of opinion.
2. Hence, with regard to S there is no truth of the matter.

This argument is, at best, incomplete. In order to get from the premise to the conclusion, we need to fill in a suppressed premise. But what is the suppressed premise meant to be? Here are two possibilities:

3a. (suppressed) If there is a diversity of opinion with regard to any subject matter, then with regard to that subject there is no truth of the matter.
3b. (suppressed) If there is a diversity of opinion with regard to S, then with regard to S there is no truth of the matter.

Note that the truth of 3b will depend on the subject matter in question. So 3b might be true in both arguments, false in both, or false in one while true in the other.

(B) The strategy in the first paragraph of the response is to argue that, with regard to 'information about the nature of the universe' there is a fact of the matter which is entirely independent of our opinions. Such facts are said to constitute 'objective truth' and it is alleged that accepting the first argument represents a failure to recognize that the argument concerns a subject matter about which objective truth is available.

I have several reservations here. It seems to me the concepts of 'objective truth' and the 'natural universe' are themselves somewhat fuzzy. We can say that objective truth is just the sort of truth that facts about the natural universe have, but that leaves us with the problem of discerning which candidate facts are facts about the natural universe and which are facts about some other domain. In the present case, the obvious objection to your argument will be to deny that any matter about which we have opinions can be a matter about which we can know the objective truth. Put another way, this is to deny that our opinions are, in a strong sense, about the natural world.

It may well be that such an objection can be answered. The answer, however, will require a robust defense of the notion of the natural universe and, also, an account of how our sentences can be about anything at all. These are interesting philosophical questions, but it seems to me to be a mistake to think that our evaluation of the present argument depends upon the defense of controversial metaphysical theses. This leads me to think that there might be a strategy available for responding to the argument which doesn't appeal to such fundamental notions as the natural universe and objective truth.

(C) I'm somewhat troubled by the invocation of objective and subjective in the discussion of the second argument, but my reasons aren't too different from those articulated above, so I'll leave that aside.

The general strategy here is to treat aesthetic opinions as belonging to a particular sort of discourse. This discourse is such that there are rules for acceptable and unacceptable moves, which is to say justified and unjustified judgments, but isn't such that talk of truth and falsity is particularly useful. I worry a little bit that the description of aesthetic discourse treats aesthetic merit as merely success in meeting goals which are themselves beyond criticism (doesn't Tom Clancy have the wrong aesthetic goals?), but that worry doesn't implicate the underlying picture.

I think that this kind of strategy is basically right. What I want to call to your attention is that such a strategy doesn't rely on an appeal to any fundamental account of how things are. Instead, what you do is point to a well entrenched practice – the practice of making aesthetic judgments – and notice that this practice includes norms for distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate judgments. Moreover, this practice isn't merely well entrenched, it's well entrenched because it works well for certain projects that are important to us.

Now, what I would suggest is that something similar could also be said about the sorts of judgments discussed in the first argument. There is, as a matter of fact, a well-established practice of cosmological inquiry. This practice is not only entrenched, but also quite successful, providing both an ongoing research program and the resources to resolve numerous practical problems. Notably, this practice does not include the assumption that disagreement trumps truth, but, on the contrary, it is a practice which has developed norms for adjudicating between competing cosmological claims.

(D) I'm troubled by this discussion of competing standards of beauty. You're surely right that we can understand the rules for various standards and use that understanding to determine whether particular individuals do or do not meet a given standard. But does it follow from this that we must acknowledge as legitimate judgments that, for example, "super skinny, bleach-blonde, boob-jobbed, wall-eyed pop starlets flooding the big screen" are beautiful? To say that it does is to say that evaluative practices are themselves beyond the reach of rational criticism. In fact, though, it seems that each of the standards of beauty you mentioned are aesthetics that it's pretty easy to cite reasons to reject. In each case there is an ideal of feminine beauty which is not attainable by most women. At best the ideal can be approximated, and this only through the imposition of disciplines which are both unhealthy and intrusive. Moreover, each aesthetic seems to be driven by the idea that women are mere objects and are, as such, properly manipulated to fit to fit an aesthetic ideal, whatever it happens to be.

Obviously, not everyone is going to accept that line of reasoning. Be that as it may, the point is that it's the sort of thing we could argue rationally about and is, as such, well within the domain of rational criticism.

(E) This discussion of ethical disagreement may approach the point I was trying to make in D. The major stumbling block you're running into here, I think, is that you are tempted by the view that we can't really be committed by our evaluative judgments unless those judgments somehow match up to the way things really are (in some robust sense). The problem is that ethics seems to be like aesthetics (but not, allegedly, like science) in that there's no 'way things really are' for our judgments to match up to, and yet we want to say that we ought to be committed to our ethical judgments.

As suggested by what I wrote above in C, one way to handle this difficulty is to deny that there is any domain in which we can know that our judgments match up to 'the way things really are', at least not in any robust sense. Less ambitiously, one might argue that there is no domain in which our commitment actually depends on knowing that our judgments match up to 'the way things really are.' Instead, commitment is legitimate just in case a judgment survives the application of the appropriate evaluative norms.

The difficult question here is saying which evaluative norms are legitimate. So, for example, someone might object to what I said above about cosmology by asking why we should accept our contemporary cosmological practice rather than that of, say, Ptolemy. The beginning of the answer is to notice that we have no reason to suppose that Ptolemy would resist a heliocentric model of the solar system were he given access to contemporary astronomical information. In fact, we think that a fully informed Ptolemy ought to change his views. The point here is that the mere existence of a practice which differs from the one we accept doesn't constitute a threat to our practice. In order for there to be a threat, the competing practice must generate some kind of problem for us. Ptolemy's cosmology doesn't generate a problem for contemporary practice for the simple reason that contemporary practice developed, in part, as a response to shortcomings in the ptolemaic system.

The lesson here is that our commitment to an empirical belief doesn't require a demonstration that the empirical belief somehow corresponds to the way things are, robustly construed. It requires just that the belief be licensed by the appropriate norms and that we have no good reasons to reject those norms. Moreover, if empirical commitments can be explained in this way, then it would seem perverse to require something stronger for ethical and aesthetic commitments.

One final thought. There does seem to be more room for disagreement about ethical and aesthetic matters than about empirical matters. This is part of what explains the temptation to treat empirical matters as corresponding to some kind of objective reality. Let me suggest that part of what's going on here is that the ethical and aesthetic domains are much less well defined areas of inquiry than is the empirical. There may be a number of reasons for this, but one main reason, I think, is that aesthetics and ethics are concerned with balancing numerous incommensurable goods.


Another reason to rock the KJV

Compare these renderings of 1 Kings 16:11
  • It happened, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he struck all the house of Baasha: he didn't leave him a single one who urinates on a wall, neither of his relatives, nor of his friends. (WEB)
  • When he became king, as soon as he sat on his throne, he killed all those of Baasha's house. He did not leave alive one male, of his brothers or of his friends. (NIV)
  • And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he smote all the house of Baasha: he left him not a single man-child, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. (ASV)
to the gold standard:
And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. (KJV)

Friday, July 22, 2005


Zwichenzug culture wach, Million Dollar Baby edition

I'm in love[1] with Margaret Fitzgerald.

1 It was her smile in the emergency room that got me.


The return of dumb joke blogging

Q. How do you make an egg roll?

A. Push it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005



[from Latin 'eructare'; 'e' out + 'ructare' to belch]


To eject, as wind, from the stomach; to belch.


Zwichenzug culture watch, America's pastime edition

One of the features of my sojourn in Houston is unlimited access to digital cable television. Some tentative conclusions:
  • For the most part, the Tour de France is pretty dull. The sprints are exciting, and a few of the climbs have some drama, but that comes out to about six total hours of interesting television out of something like 70 hours of coverage. All the same, it's better than Regis and Kelly.
  • The Daily Show isn't nearly as good as people have been telling me. I mean, it's kind of funny some of the time, but for the most part only the first three or four minutes are worth watching.
  • There's no point in paying for HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz!, Encore, or any other movie channel.
  • My Hero is lousy, but somehow endearing.
  • Every episode of American Chopper is exactly the same.
  • There is no time of day at which some channel isn't showing some episode of some flavor of Law & Order.

Monday, July 18, 2005


More on gentrification

I'm slowly researching the gentrification issue, so maybe I'll come back with a long entry one of these days. In the meantime, let me say that the responses to this post are helpful, though still in the neighborhood of things I've heard before. My basic issue with the various anti-gentrification arguments is that they seem to say gentrification is the problem where it looks to me as if the problem is something else.

So, for example, the displacement argument (as it might be called) blames gentrification for pushing established populations aside in preference for more economically successful populations. But isn't the real problem here that certain established populations have been unable to compete economically? And doesn't that phenomena also explain how the relevant neighborhoods became so run down?

Or, to take another example, the aesthetic argument (again, my label) blames gentrification for promoting new development which is less attractive than the old neighborhoods. Here I would be inclined to say that the problem isn't gentrification, but is rather the fact that our contemporary aesthetic is bland and uninspired.

Maybe, though, my confusion here is merely grammatical. It could be, I suppose, that the term 'gentrification' is meant to refer to this range of underlying phenomena rather than to some independent thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Zwichenzug culture watch, nothing to see here edition

Two facts about the Dukes of Hazzard trailer
  1. None of the shots clearly show the confederate flag on the top of the Duke boys' car (though there is one where you can kind of see it).
  2. The only black face belongs to a jive talking jailbird who gets decked by a fellow prisoner seconds after he says that Boss Hogg looks like a pimp.


Fact, fiction, and forecast

At the tender age of 13 years and 22 hours my nephew, who is fond of owning facts but not too interested in earning knowledge, has already entered the strange and miraculous world of email forwarding. His favorite forwarded email this week goes by the inadvertantly accurate title, WEIRD THINGS YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW!

Perhaps you've been sent a copy.

Here is the third fact on the list, coming after one assertion about butterflies and another about ducks:
In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all of the world's nuclear weapons combined.

When my nephew announced this from across the room what I said was, "that seems unlikely."

"It's a fact," was his indignant reply. "It says so right here."

"You know," I said, "that's the sort of thing we could check out."

Not being acquainted with Fermi or his methods, my nephew was skeptical. I got to work, he continued his litany: A snail can sleep for three years; All polar bears are left handed; Thirty-five percent of the people who use personal ads for dating are already married.

It's surprisingly difficult to find out the total megatonnage of the world's nuclear arsenal -- surprising because I seem to remember seeing the figure thrown around in the press all the time back in the good old Cold War days. The Center for Defense Information (CDI) publishes a factsheet listing Current World Nuclear Arsenals, but it only provides information on the number of weapons, omitting any mention of yields. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has a handy chart of Estimated U.S. and Soviet/Russian Nuclear Stockpile, 1945-94. That chart lists total U.S. megatonnage, but withholds similar information about the Soviet/Russian stockpile for appropriately footnoted reasons.

The key fact from the CDI is that the world's nuclear stockpile contains roughly 15,672 strategic nuclear weapons. The key fact from the BAS is that the average yield of an American strategic nuclear weapon in 1996 was 300 kilotons. On the assumption that the average yield of the strategic nuclear weapons in the world's nuclear stockpile today is the same as the average yield of the strategic weapons in the American arsenal in 1996, the total yield of the world's nuclear arsenal is around 4,700 megatons.

I told my nephew, and asked if he thought that a hurricane produced that many megatons of energy every ten minutes. "Probably," he said.

The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) has a heck of a hurricane FAQ. Subject D7 is How much energy does a hurricane release? It turns out that there are a couple of ways of answering that question. Here's the one that gives the answer with the highest magnitude:
An average hurricane produces 1.5 cm/day (0.6 inches/day) of rain inside a circle of radius 665 km (360 n.mi) (Gray 1981). (More rain falls in the inner portion of hurricane around the eyewall, less in the outer rainbands.) Converting this to a volume of rain gives 2.1 x 1016 cm3/day. A cubic cm of rain weighs 1 gm. Using the latent heat of condensation, this amount of rain produced gives 5.2 x 1019 Joules/day or 6.0 x 1014 Watts.

It's unclear how the energy released by the average hurricane differs from the energy released by a really big storm, but let that pass. Simple math reveals that the average hurricane yields 3.61 x 1017 Joules/10 minutes.

I asked my nephew, who was by now sitting beside me, how many Joules he thought there might be in a kiloton. He didn't know.

This was a little more difficult to figure out than I anticipated, since Google's units calculator doesn't handle this particular conversion. If I'd had the wits to immediately consult wikipedia, all of my questions would have been answered in a straighforward way. Instead, I placed my trust in this geek1 and committed an unfortunate calculating error.2

Without getting into the details of my mistake, let me just say that it involved orders of magnitude (note the plural) and led to the conclusion that this particular weird thing you would never know was true, though it might not have been during the Reagan years. When I announced this conclusion, my nephew jumped to his feet and yelled, "BOO YA! I knew it!" We had a short and, he told me, boring discussion about the relation of justification to knowledge and then it was time for him to go home and for me to check my work.

According to Wikipedia's definition, a megaton is equivalent to 4.184 x 1015 Joules. The world's nuclear arsenal, therefore, amounts to something like 1.97 x 1019 Joules.

Not even close. Boo ya.
1 'geek' being, in my book, praise.

2 An error which was entirely my own, and for which the aforementioned geek bears no responsibility.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005



[French, from Provençal 'cadastro', from Italian 'catastro', alteration of Old Italian 'catastico', from Late Greek 'katastikhon', register, derived from 'kata-', by, + 'stikhos', line]

A public record, survey, or map of the value, extent, and ownership of land as a basis of taxation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


A different kind of applesauce

When I did the book meme a few weeks ago I emailed tags to five people, but also threw a couple of taggish links into the body of the text. I didn't really expect those link-only tags to take, but both Bionic Octopus and now Dru Blood picked up the meme. Pretty cool.

Ping or not, I'd been meaning to post something about Dru's blog. It's one of my favorites, and has been for awhile, though I'm not sure I can explain why. It has to do with the way Dru writes about politics -- or maybe it would be better to say that it has to do with the way in which Dru's blogging is a political act.

I tried to articulate this the other day, commenting on this post over at It's Matt's World. Matt was asking his readers whether they thought of his blog as a political blog after learning, to his surprise, that some of them didn't think that it was.

It has always seemed to me that Matt's blog is political, even though the overtly political content has thinned out over the last couple of months. Anyway, this is what I wrote there:
Here's a 60s cliche for you: the personal is political.

I think it's true, and I think that some of the best political blogs display their politics through their engagement with personal issues. One of the best examples of this is Dru Blood, who mostly blogs about getting by as a divorced single mother.

Saying that this kind of stuff is political requires us to expand our definition of politics so that it has to do with more than who holds which office when. But I think that's something we need to do, especially if we think that the established structures tend to marginalize the problems of many segments of society.

Even more so than Matt, Dru's blogging has to do with day to day life. Occasionally, Dru will explicitly link her life and her politics, but usually you have to read between the lines a little bit.

One of the oddities of the American way of looking at things, it seems to me, is that we tend to take it as given that economics is pervasive while simultaneously believing that politics has only to do with laws, offices, and elections. I don't really know how we convinced ourselves to believe such contradictory things, but I'm pretty sure that the effect is to insure that many of the institutions and practices that most affect our lives are insulated from political criticism.

That's not how things should be, and blogs like Dru's are part of the solution. I guess that's what I wanted to say.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Talent to spare

While nosing around the internets trying to find some actual real bowdlerized Shakespeare to post, I found out that Thomas Bowdler was a pretty fair chess player. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here's a Bowdler victory featuring some gutsy tactical fireworks:
T. Bowdler v. H. Conway, London 1788
1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 3. d3 c6 4. Qe2 d6 5. f4 exf4 6. Bxf4 Qb6 7. Qf3 Qxb2 8. Bxf7+ Kd7 9. Ne2 Qxa1 10. Kd2 Bb4+ 11. Nbc3 Bxc3+ 12. Nxc3 Qxh1 13. Qg4+ Kc7 14. Qxg7 Nd7 15. Qg3 b6 16. Nb5+ cxb5 17. Bxd6+ Kb7 18. Bd5+ Ka6 19. d4 b4 20. Bxb4 Kb5 21. c4+ Kxb4 22. Qb3+ Ka5 23. Qb5# 1-0



[After Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1818]

tr. v.
1. To expurgate (a book, for example) prudishly.

2. To modify, as by shortening or simplifying or by skewing the content in a certain manner.


There goes the neighborhood

From a recent post:
Another thing about Amtrak is that you see the ass end of America out the windows. Rusted out factories, the poorest quarter of every town, all kinds of garbage, and junkyards full to bursting with empty shells that used to be mobile homes.

In comments, Saheli wrote, "I wonder which came first, the train or the conditions."

I have a theory.1 Most of the small towns on the rail line (in the West and Midwest, at any rate) were originally built to take advantage of the railroad. Because the railroad was central to the economy of the town, it was a hub for economic development and the land near the railroad was more densely developed than outlying areas. Later, the development of automotive transportation made it both possible and preferable for economic development to move away from the rail lines, and it did. The evacuation of capital explains what can be seen now -- lots of old, broken down buildings, many of which have been abandoned for decades.

On a slightly different subject, here's a question that's been bothering me for awhile. What is it, exactly, that's supposed to be wrong with gentrification? Lots of my lefty friends talk about gentrification as if it were some terrible blight, but I can't quite get my head around the idea that there's something wrong with renovating a run-down neighborhood. I know I must be missing something, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it is.

1 For what it's worth, I had breakfast on the train with an architect from Long Island and this is one of the subjects that came up. I mentioned my theory to him and he said, "I dunno. Maybe."

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Thinking about hummus

A friend and I were talking about hummus and I mentioned that hummus stopped being kosher last week. My friend asked why hummus wasn't kosher and I said, "because some rabbi doesn't like arabs."

An irresponsible remark, of course, since I don't know anything about rabbi Mordechai Eliahu politics, but it got a laugh.1

Small jokes like this one depend upon a philosophical distinction that I've mentioned from time to time in these parts. The distinction I have in mind is between reasons and explanations. My remark purported to identify Eliahu's reason for ruling as he did, but really fixed on an explanation of that ruling which Eliahu wouldn't endorse even if it were true. The humor, such as it is, depends on the audience recognizing the incongruity.

1 It's all in the delivery.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Template fix

I've been meaning to post about this for a few days, but Matt's comment finally got me motivated enough to actually do it. As you may have noticed, the template seems to be fixed. The problem was that Blogger's new image posting functionality interferes with the float attribute in the template. Which is to say that it screws with blogs that use the kind of super sophisticated html technology we insist on here at Team Z.

On the upside, the fix is really simple -- all you have to do is change the settings to disable float alignment. The details are here.

Sunday, July 03, 2005



[from Latin 'cognomin', the third name, family name, or surname of a Roman citizen]

The circumstance of having the same name.



[From Late Latin 'sciolus', smatterer, diminutive of Latin 'scius', knowing, from 'scire', to know]

A pretentious attitude of scholarship; superficial knowledgeability.