From on High

I retort. You decide.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


A debate has emerged among readers as to the proper spelling of speal/shpeal. My search of does not recognize either spelling. Anyone care to provide proof of one or the other proposed spelling?

Monday, May 30, 2005

FYI: Shpeals

As a friend who has better knowledge of yiddish-originating words than I do points out, those speeches that mothers and others deliver from time to time are "shpeals", not "speals" as I originally said in my previous post.

The more you know [music with starry rainbow logo].

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Diablog

So Death in the Afternoon, has passed me a meme (I call them diablogs) about books. Here are my answers.

1. Number of books I've owned.

Probably around 150 or so. Strangely enough, I have never been much of a voracious reader of books beyond those assigned in my classes. I'm not sure why this is, and in fact, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it. At every point in my education, my mother gave me impassioned shpeals about how other kids would pass me by in verbal, reading, and writing skills if I didn't start reading more on my own. Either she was overreacting, or this whole Princeton/Yale Law thing was a big fluke [I'm not discounting the latter possibility].
In any case, I still wonder why I have an unexpectedly low number of pleasure-reading-books under my belt. I think one reason is my incredibly short attention span in certain areas. I generally have little patience for or interest in following fictional storylines unless the stories do something really significant for me, ie utterly depress, move, or excite me. Most of the books I actively seek out are non-fiction. This facet of my personality comes out with respect to movies and television as well. I honestly watch almost nothing on TV other than news and documentaries, and am highly picky when it comes to finding movies I enjoy.
I do voraciously read things other than books like newspapers, magazines, and opinion columns. I think a big part of my attraction to these media is that they are grounded in REAL events. They are also short. Sure, fiction is grounded in reality to some extent, but I simply find it hard to actively crave a good novel. It's weird, I know.

2. Last book I bought:

The Life of Pi - Read a few chapters and found it surprisingly good [given my whole diatrabe against fiction]. Haven't gotten back to reading it. Gee, maybe I should get checked for ADD?

3. Last book I read:

The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage, Frederick P. Hitz - Just finished it today. It is written by one of my undergrad professors and compares spycraft as it is portrayed in novels to the real thing as practiced by the likes of the CIA.

4. Five books that mean alot to me:

The Mind's Eye - This collection of essays on "philosophy of mind" delves into fundamental issues of consciousness, identity, and metaphysics. It epitomizes the type of reading I like most. It'll also make you think a lot about just exactly what it is that makes you think.

The Great Gatsby - I had a wonderful sophomore English teacher in high school whom I respect more than almost anyone else, and who made this book come alive for me. I think I would have liked it anyway (although to a lesser degree) were it not for this teacher. As a crafter of elegant prose, I don't think it gets much better than FSF.

Moby Dick - I read EVERY single page of it with same teacher mentioned above; This book I'm sure I would NOT have liked much at all were it not for his brilliant teaching of it and his lectures on how it helped him through some extremely trying moments in his life.

One L, Scott Turow - I read this book the summer before going to law school and it scared the S#$% out of me. I now frequently glance back at it and smile because it bears absolutely no resemblance ot my current life. For reminding me of how lucky I am, it makes my list.

The Federalist Papers - That's the lawyer and sappy patriot in me talking.

So there you have it. Those are my answers.

These vagabond shoes...

In just a few hours, I'll be moved in to the Big Apple for the summer. Watch out NY, NY.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cool Mind Reading Trick

Click here for a pretty neat magic trick. If you can't figure out how it's done after trying it and are dying to know, post a comment and perhaps I will tell. Or perhaps it really IS magic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Diplomatic Donald

Donald Trump has to get the award for provocateur of the week for his comments about the Freedom Tower to be built in New York:

"You take a look at a the roofs of those buildings, they're all at different angles, different shapes. It is the worst pile of crap architecture I have ever seen in my life."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


My recent post about Hillary/Newt has turned into a full-out contest, thanks to Death in the Afternoon. Send in those entries!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Clingrich '08

Clinton and Gingrich are reportedly getting chummy. Here are a few of my suggestions for a Newt-Hillary '08 slogan.

"It takes a Gingrich."
"Restore hollers and discrepancy to the White House."
"Cancel out the vote."
"Newter Hillary."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Keep an Eye Out

Anyone remember the movie Minority Report (one of my favorites)? May not be far from reality soon.

Gansta Judgin'

Check out the footnote on the second page of this appellate court decision.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chatter Up?

Before I say this, let me emphasize that my sources for this information are INDIRECT, ie at least two degrees from an actual person in the intelligence community. However, it seems that rumblings are beginning to emerge that officials in the United States government are once again deeply concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack in the near-term. Specifically, they point to recently uncovered information about planned attacks involving WMD using a variety of creative and unconventional delivery methods. According to these rumors, some of the information has suggested terrorists will seek to use, among other things, small or remote-controlled aircraft. That might help explain the massive reaction to today's Cessna incident. Potential targets include the obvious (New York and DC) and the not-so-obvoius (about two dozen other cities). The sources I rely upon (e.g., the one I linked to) are "private intelligence sources", ie people who monitor Al Qaeda communication but are not employed by the government. Some of them claim to know people within the intel community.

I will say that these sources have predicted past "Orange alerts" and other terror announcements days before they actually happened. Again, however, rumors are rumors. I probably would not have even posted were it not for the fact that the timing is particularly interesting, given today's incident and the recent capture of Al Qaeda's #3 guy, Al-Libbi last week. As the old homeland security paradox goes, "Carry on as normal. But be vigilant."

Sources say...

According to previously credible sources, Professor Michael Doran, who taught a class I took in college on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is Bush's likely pick to head up the National Security Council's Israel-Palestine desk. If that's true, I think he will do a fantastic job. As a teacher, he was unfailingly fair and even-handed in presenting issues, extremely sharp in his insights, and always attentive to practical realities. If anyone can handle the intricacies of the Mideast peace process for the NSC, he's the man to do it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Security or Stability?

Tom Freidman make an excellent point about Europe and China's stance via North Korea and Iran:

"At the end of the day, the Chinese would rather live with a nuclear North Korea than risk a collapsed nonnuclear North Korea, and the Europeans would rather live with a nuclear Iran - that Europe can make all kinds of money off of - rather than risk losing Iran's business to prevent it from going nuclear. The Chinese and the Europeans each assume that in the end, the U.S. will deter both the North Koreans and the Iranians anyway, so why worry...

Are the Europeans and Chinese behaving cynically? Of course, these are the very countries constantly complaining about U.S. "hegemony," and calling for a "multipolar world." Yet the only thing they are really interested in being a pole for is to oppose the U.S. - not to actually do something hard themselves to stabilize the global system.

The prevailing assumption in Washington is that if something really big is going wrong - like North Korea and Iran going nuclear - it must be because America messed up. Yes, the Bush nonproliferation policy has been pretty dysfunctional, but the real problem is that those parties with the leverage to make a diplomatic difference refuse to use it."

I can just hear Bush agreeing, "That's right, Tom. I keep tellin' em. Y'all are headin us for another Yalta."

For those in need of inspiration this exam period.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Grade Inflation

Princeton, the place where I spent my formative college years, recently instituted a unversity-wide policy whereby professors can award no more than 35% of A- grades or above. As much as I hate to admit it, I think this is a good and long-overdue measure to curb grade inflation. One professor, John Fleming disagreed in a recent newspaper article, saying:

"Everybody tells us that we take nothing but geniuses into the freshman class. It seems odd to me that these geniuses would get here and suddenly only a third of them would be A students."

The logic of this argument seems clearly flawed to me. It's like saying that because everyone at the Olympics is a superb athlete, all of the competitors should get gold medals. The point of having a grading system is not to rank students according to some national standard. It's to compare their work to that of their fellow students. I know first-hand that while most Princeton students are very smart, there is a fairly wide range of ability level and a very wide range of effort level within the student body. I know that getting a B or (gasp) C can be traumatic for an "organization kid"; but unless grades actually reflect differences, it's just not worth having an evaluative system at all.

Speaking of which, Yale Law School's famed system of honors/pass/low pass/fail is pretty much akin to the system at places like Princeton pre-grade infation. It effectively has become a system of "A's" and "non A's", since Low Passes and Fails are all but extinct. Because that system has been the main source of my relatively stress-free life over the past two years, I'm going to be completely hypocritical and say I hope Yale doesn't follow Princeton's lead (and my advice).

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Public Service Announcement

The other day I got a telemarketing call on my cell phone for the first time. Not long before that, I had received an email forward saying that cell phone providers were about to give their lists of numbers to commercial entitities. Although the research I did on the web suggested that the email was false, I'm going to go with experience and register my cell number with the Do Not Call Registry. You should do the same.


Angus makes a good point in response to my post about Bush's comments yesterday; namely, that FDR's only alternative to selling out Eastern Europe to the Soviets was a long and bloody war with Russia. It does certainly seem naive to expect (as Bush seems to) that FDR should have taken a hard line against the ally who suffered by far the most deaths of anyone in the war. And it does seem possible that a more hostile stance by the U.S. would have led to another horrific blood-letting. But I have doubts as to whether Russia would have really been willing to fight a protracted war for its territory in Eastern Europe. Whatever the case, I think it's fair to say that the world would have been hugely better off if the timing had been just slightly different. If only Yalta had occurred six months later, after the U.S. had the nuclear option up its sleeve, we would have been able to exercise far greater leverage over the Soviets, greatly diminshing their spoils and subsequent power.

Is Bush's statement pandering? I can see how one would say so. On the other hand, I think it was more likely an attempt to fit the administration's Iraq policy within a larger conceptual framework, and a radical one at that. Later in his speech, Bush clearly alludes to Iraq, saying the U.S. will no longer appease tyranny "for the sake of stability." His basic point seems to be "Look, in the past, we've been forced by pragmatic considerations and realpolitik to gloss over oppressive regimes and to sacrifice democracy for the sake of international order. I hereby give notice that we will no longer do so. We will not make peace with tyrants to preserve the status quo." In other words, he seems to be applying the U.S.'s "no negotiation rule" with terrorists to a nation-state level. It's a bold policy that flies in face of centuries of conventional wisdom about statecraft. Of course there is still reason to believe Bush is not really serious about it (See, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). Regardless, it will be interesting to see how much "stability" guides U.S. policy as we maneuver through the scary minefields of our policies towards Iran and North Korea.

Abu Faraj Al Libbi

Last week's arrest of Abu Faraj Al Libbi (which coincided with my dream mentioned in an earlier post) was, in my estimation, the biggest news story since the pope's death. The U.S. reaction, and particularly the response of the CIA and Homeland Security Department, bear very close watching over the next several weeks. While the potential exists that information gleaned from Libbi will lead to the capture or killing of OBL, I think the more likely and immediate result is a major breakthrough in the United States' knowledge about the state of Al Qaeda. The combined facts that Libbi was so close to the top of the network and that his captors managed to pick up his notebook make it all but certain that he will be a valuable intelligence asset for the U.S. Here are two possible government reactions and how I think we might interpret them.

1. Renewed worry among goverment officials about attacks in the U.S. - This is, I think, fairly likely. Look in particular for an Orange Alert similar to that which was issued over the summer. If that happens, I think we should take it as a serious indication that Al Qaeda is alive and well, and capable of striking the U.S. at home. The move would be a particularly ominous sign, given the fact that the government will likely be extremely wary of needlessly warning us of yet another non-materializing threat. If an alert comes out of this event, it is likely to be both more credible and more specific than previous ones. And so should our response.

2. No change in government's public posture - This would likely serve as a strong indication that Al Qaeda is seriously weakened and operating largely without the command and control of its top leaders. If the arrest of the #3 guy does not lead to any information about new attacks, after all, it seems hard to believe that Al Qaeda could be operating at anywhere near its former capacity. Of course, a lack of change in the government's posture could simply indicate Libbi's ability to resist interrogation and conceal information. But given the powers of the CIA to trace down the associates and hiding places of people they've captured, I'm willing to bet we'll get more than a little bit of useful information out of him.

Bottom line: what the government learns and does over the coming weeks is going to be very telling about where we stand in the war against Al Qaeda. Let's hope for option #2.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Chinese-English translator sorely needed.

Bleeding Heart Conservatism?

I'm constantly amazed by the way in which 9/11 has had such a disorienting effect upon the foreign policies of "liberalism" and "conservatism." We have our most conservative President since Reagan constantly being referred to by supporters and detractors alike as both Wilsonian and Trumanesque. His best friend across the Atlantic is Tony Blair, a domestic "Clintonian", who is criticized by opponents for being "Bush's poodle." The other day I saw a car with a smattering of "progressive" bumper stickers, including one that said "F$%# Iraq. Fix America." And finally today, President Bush, while in Eastern Europe, apologized for U.S. complicity in past atrocities. (Such "revisionist" talk is usually left to the other side of the political spectrum.) He said:

"V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

Of course, a cynic would say that Bush was making this apology to undercut FDR, a democrat. In my view he is simply proving his foreign policy to be a cohseive and highly principled doctrine. There's room to disagree about whether it will work out in the long run - it could prove either incredbly triumphant or tragically naive. But whatever you say about Bush, he's no novice as a foreign policy-maker and articulator of American principles. And he's certainly not your typical conservative.

Friday, May 06, 2005

First Weekly Deep Thought from the NYT Editoral Board

Ahh yes...the natural risks a fingerling faces.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Note to FBI: This is my best guess from the dream. In all likelihood, he's in the tribal region north of Hanover.

Psychic Dream?

Last night I had a dream. A very vivid dream. I never have dreams. It was that I personally captured Bin Laden in.....New Hampshire. Probably more accurately, it was in the rural, mountainous border region between New Hampshire and Vermont. The dream had many odd components, including the fact that I personally transported Bin Laden in my Ford Explorer to the local police station.

Then this morning I woke up to see that the U.S. has in fact captured Al Qaeda's #3 man, Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This can only mean one thing: the capture of Bin Laden is near. I think I should call the FBI and let them know - he is in the Granite State!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Letter

For the curious, here is a copy of the hoax letter, which I forgot to link to in my initial post.

Correction: Hoaxed!

So apparently, the press release blasting Laura Bush was a hoax and is NOT the work of the Coalition for Traditional Values. Read more here. My apologies to the Coalition for being duped, along with MSNBC and the Drudge Report. I'm surprised Dan Rather didn't do a story on it before it was found out to be bogus. The Coalition agrees with me that Laura was "hilarious." All is right again.

Lighten up, People!

Apparently, the Coalition for Traditional Values thinks there's an 11th Commandment: Thou shall not have a sense of humor. What else can explain this press release, in which they blast Laura Bush's hilarious performance at the White House correspondent's dinner the other night? How dare she not "submit to her husband at everything" when Bush's "manliness is already under attack." Scary.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


My recent post on pretentious naming has been picked up by an organization called WordLab, and is now featured prominently on their website.