Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Where the Heck Were You?

We missed you....

(nod to Renan)

Review of Playmakers "Copenhagen"

COPENHAGEN REVIEW (Playmakers, Chapel Hill)

Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is a risky play. The apparent subject, the fearsome ethical burden on the scientists who created the technology of killing, risks preachiness. And the matter of the play is difficult. You have to want to pay attention. It’s as if “The West Wing” were being filmed in the physics department.

The play itself, as Frayn has acknowledged, is based on Thomas Powers’ book, Heisenberg’s War. Sympathetic readers have called Powers’ book a “shadow history;” historians have called it worse. Some have objected that the matters presented as “facts” in the play are too kind to Heisenberg, and that the truth is rather darker. My own view is that, if you go to a play thinking you will learn history, you might want to stay home and watch Biography on A&E.

The play’s central conceit is that we can see Heisenberg's visit to Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1941. The two men described this reunion very differently after the war. The two, along with Max Born, had revolutionized atomic physics together in the 1920s with the “Copenhagen Interpretation.” Bohr and Heisenberg sometimes worked, or argued, together, but more often finished their work apart and published it separately.

Still, whether you see it as collaboration or antagonism, their work shook physics to its core. Their work on quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and Bohr’s complementarity theory, were profoundly unsettling. Quantum theory introduced what seemed like randomness into Newton’s deterministic world, uncertainty sharply circumscribed what we can know about world, and complementarity resurrected the ancient controversies about dualism. An electron could be absolutely a wave, and yet equally absolutely a particle. A man might be entirely good, and yet be something else entirely. The perspective of the observer literally affects the world being observed.

Quantum mechanics challenges our imagination. It violates common sense, denying cause and effect as we understand it. The idea that “everything can be understood and explained by reason” has been the headwater of science since the Renaissance. Quantum mechanics is disturbing, both because it violates the idea that everything is Newtonian, and because it is unreasonably useful in making predictive statements about subatomic particles.

Frayn depicts Niels Bohr, accurately, as having seen Heisenberg's 1941 visit as hostile, maybe even a try at picking his brain on fission research, or a spy mission to discover the status of the Allied research on atomic weapons. Heisenberg later claimed that he simply came to ask a question, to ask Bohr as the “Pope” of science an ethical question: Does "a physicist have the moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy." In fact, in the play Frayn even allows Heisenberg to claim that he offered reassurance that Germany was not building an atomic bomb. But Bohr misunderstood his intentions and became alarmed and angry. These two versions of the facts are presented in the play, and conceived by the players, as “drafts” of history, which must be rewritten by the players before our eyes until they reach a satisfactory, publishable conclusion.

It is a mistake to see the repeated flashbacks, or “drafts” as more and more accurate history. The play is about modernity. Humanity wriggles in a cleft stick of its own creation. We are entrapped by awful powers, waging increasingly desperate wars. These wars are not just fought among nations, but against the elements, the environment itself.

We are left to wonder about the place of mankind in this world. Bohr starts the query: "If people are to be measured strictly in terms of observable quantities...," only to be interrupted by Heisenberg: "Then we should need a strange new quantum ethics. There'd be a place in heaven for me. And another one for the SS man I met on my way home."

Playmakers’ Copenhagen rewards study, and reflection. This production, with only the three characters, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe, is challenging and satisfying. All three characters are strongly acted; each viewpoint crucial to the outcome.

Greg Thornton’ Bohr is persuasive, charismatic, and effective. We have to believe that this person is capable of being the world’s leading physicist, of being a good husband, and yet being able to forget the names of his own children. Thornton brings this off without visible effort, and carries the play’s exposition easily, often speaking his thoughts without seeming awkward or stilted.

Ultimately, the success of the play comes down to the Heisenberg character, the flawed prodigal whose welcome is such a problem for Bohr as father. Todd Weeks, as Heisenberg, has to touch our sympathies without grabbing for them. His performance got stronger and stronger as the play went on, as the successive drafts are rewritten. Weeks’ Heisenberg, under Drew Barr’s direction, engages us without losing his enigmatic quality.

We are told over and over again that the most important perspective here is that of Margrethe; the physics must be explained “so that Margrethe can understand.” In the end, it is clearly true that Margrethe’s understanding is the most important. But it is not her understanding of the lectures and fulminations of prickly scientists that matter. She has listened to those all her life. She is the real voice, and the sensibility, of the play. Nicole Orth-Pallavicini does a wonderful job in the role, making us see her admiration for her husband, and yet revealing that she alone fully understands his flaws.
In fact, she delivers the line that defines the central moment of the play. In Drew Barr’s direction, the line is delivered quickly, almost as an aside, and the conversation immediately turns to something else. But her insight strikes like a hammer, cutting through the ethical webs and justifications Heisenberg has built to salve his conscience.

The line is delivered after another discussion of the accidental death of the Bohr’s son, Christiane. Three separate times, at different places in the play, we are told of the tragic death on a sailing outing. The tiller comes over hard, knocking the boy into the frigid ocean water. The desperate attempt to save him, bringing the boat around and flinging the life ring towards him. Just a few feet from the life ring, such a small thing, the boy falters, and drowns, with his father looking on unable to help.

We think we understand the metaphor, the random strike of natural forces, the killing powers unleashed but not controlled by man. The boy is a sacrifice; we get it. But that’s not it, or at least not all of it. In the final draft, we learn that Bohr had to be held back. In his desperation to save the boy, he would have jumped into the water, probably sacrificing his own life. Bohr had to be held back. As Margrethe murmurs, not really to Heisenberg but to the audience: “You held yourself back.” Heisenberg may well not have been able to have stopped the study of bomb. But he held himself back. Don’t we all?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Gun Control Nazis

I wrote two blog entries earlier, but deleted them, because things just didn't add up. Glad I waited. JMPP didn't.

'Cause, there was this Fox News story about Michael Moore's bodyguard being arrested for trying to carry an unlicensed gun onto a plane.

That is not exactly what happened. Here appears to be the accurate story.

Some observations, now that I have thought about this.

1. Michael Moore thinks that we should not have guns. At least, not handguns. But he employs a guy who has a handgun. Does this mean that only people who are rich enough to have some caddy, who is also armed, should have access to the means of protecting themselves? This is actually a side issue, though, at least in my opinion.

2. The real deal is that...The security guard did NOTHING wrong, not a firetrucking thing. The gun is licensed and fully registered, and he is correctly documented for concealed carry. He just didn't happen to have a license in New York. But he was trying to leave New York, and anyway airports are now federal territory. The gun was locked, unloaded, and in his checked baggage, not carry on. Further, on presenting himself at the check-in counter, he immediately informed the agent (in accordance with the law) that he had the gun.

BOTTOM LINE: There is an excellent chance that some cop, after after asking some questions and finding out that the poor guard worked for Michael Moore SOMETIMES, decided to be a jerk and arrest him. Apparently this Dickhead Tracy (or someone) also immediately called Fox News, who equally immediately wrote a misleading and nearly libelous story.

This is what happens when you have laws that intrude on personal liberties, including those guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. (And this wasn't even a private weapon. The guy is a professional security guard). Cops, with nothing to do and a sense of personal importance, get to pursue their own little political agendas (in this case, conservative: "Arrest him! Call Fox News!"). It's tempting to think that the real bad guy here is the cop, but in fact it is the law. End the increasingly sticky web of laws and rules that are designed to "help" us, but are really just mechanisms of discretionary and arbitrary social control. You may think you want gun control, and racial epithet control, and bugger all control, but police discretion will always be used to punish the least powerful in society. Life-arrangers always say, "Gosh, that is not what I meant to have happen," but that is what always happens. If you don't want to go to Chicago, don't get on that train.

Michael Moore should be embarrassed. Not because he employs a man with a gun; I'm sure there are actual threats against Moore, and he has every right to protect himself. No, Moore should be ashamed that a man with a legitimate need for a gun got jerked around by people enforcing regulations Moore avidly supports. It's not an accident, it's not an abuse, it is the thing itself.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Inauguration Highlights

On Bush 2.0...

Biggest Bush speech component:

Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.

You know, I believe in the freedom thing, but that "burns those who fight its progress" thing... that's a little aggressive than I'm happy with. Fire is not always good. I'm not buying the Bush/Hiter comparison, I'm just saying that you shouldn't play with fire.

Best protest highlights:

Houston: We have an equation: W+Ahnold=disaster. I bet this guy thinks he supports democracy. The problem is that so many people are too stupid to hold the correct views. Democracy means, "Do what I say." My advice? Throw in an intercept, and some elasticities (what is the disaster responsiveness of W, compared to Ahnold? Surely not equal, right?) Should be something more like A+m1*W+m2*Ahnold=disaster; might need to use some MLE technique, since disaster is a qualitative variable, and the effects are likely to be nonlinear.

At least this guy knew what he was doing; trite, perhaps, but it's a real protest. I have always liked people who angrily burn the American flag, since they apparently hate the only country that allows this kind of protest, and support other nations where such a display would get them imprisoned. Here, they are having a little trouble with the flame of revolution. There are plenty of Sunnis who would be happy to help. Of course, then they'd burn YOU, and hang you from a bridge. That's not a problem, is it?

The upside down flags are a sign of distress. But then what does this upside down drum mean? Distressing music, and costumes? And what is going on with the dancers? Usually, when I see someone make that kind of move, it's a woman, and she's holding on to a pole. (I've actually NEVER seen that; Mrs. Kgrease would not approve).

Best smirk: GWB, for pretty much the whole day. I know, he can't help it, but good lord. When he smiles, he looks pretty good. But that crooked smirk is so obnoxious. It's an old problem; check this from 1999.

Best line: Overall, the best moment was when Paula Zahn, on CNN, summed up the atmosphere as she saw it: "So many balls, so little time." The other people on camera just stared at their shoes. In a way, she's right, of course. Hey, hey, Paula.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What the Heck?

What is Shujaat on about with this?

Things I liked:
1. The most excellent soundtrack.
2. The butt cracks of the American soldiers. Very realistic.
3. The disembodied foot trying to vote. Very Fellini.

But, what is going on here? The poor guy trying to vote is killed by the Americans, showing their ass. They kill him twice. Then he gets nailed by the insurgents. After they cut him up, the foot goes to vote. Is democracy gaining a toehold?

Won't you help me? I'm a simple professional wrestler. I don't understand deep stuff.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Moonves Does NOT Rule Out Mungowitz to Replace Rather

CBS poobah Leslie Moonves apparently did not specifically rule out hiring Jon Stewart to replace Dan Rather. Drudge ran a picture, suggesting this means that Stewart might be hired.

But, here is something everyone appears to have missed. NOWHERE did Moonves specifically rule out hiring K. G. Mungowitz to replace Dan Rather. (See?) Coincidence? I think not. This means that I have about the same chance as that preening dickhead Stewart of getting Rather's chair. I can't wait.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I wanna be a cowboy, baby....

I don't read Dem Underground much, but (see #10) they did nail this.

Hard to tell that story from something on "The Onion." BTW: Today is Kid Rock's birthday. Martin would be so pleased.

Speaking of Democratic Underground--here is IMAO's description:
DU is actually a digital bulletin board and not a blog. It was started by Shannon Daughty of the University of Georgia as psychological experiment of what happens when a number of people suffering for diagnosable paranoid delusions interact online. So far, results are inconclusive.

Q-o'-d-w-III: Sophie's Choice...Not

"On the subway, Peter asked, 'Shouldn't we consider having triplets?' And I had this adverse reaction: 'This is why they say it's the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That's easy for you to say, but I'd have to give up my life.' Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It's not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it." -- Amy Richards, an abortion rights advocate, describes her decision to kill two of her babies, leaving her with a single baby, instead of having triplets

(From John Hawkins' quotelist)

I think when people talk about "the life of the mother" as a justification for abortion, they don't mean that going to Costco is the same as death. I don't often find Michelle Malkin interesting, but here is some follow-up.

BONUS: A new definition of liberal, from Steve Margolis, through Newmark's Door. That Steve...

Tough Act to Follow. Apparently.

Remembering MLK.

Jesse Jackson does the fire and brimstone thing.

Excerpt from the AP story:

"You can be out of slavery and out of segregation and have the right to vote and starve to death without access to capital and industry," Jackson said.

He added, "You got the birthday. But do you have the legacy? The legacy is to fight for jobs, justice, health care, education and end to war."

"It's easy to admire Dr. King," Jackson told the 650 people at the church. "It's a challenge to follow him."

Apparently actually following the good Dr. is in fact such a challenge that the Rev. gave up some time ago. Running a "Pay me or I'll call you racist" extortion racket is a full time job.

Bill Cosby, by contrast, is angry. Angry at Detroit.

Cosby urged Detroiters to "march against" the problems facing the city.
"Get up. Do something," urged the 67-year-old Cosby. "Get up. Remove this reputation. You've got a reputation and it stinks."

Cosby has been traveling across the country in the past few months, speaking to predominantly black audiences about the need for personal responsibility and better parenting skills in African-American homes.

"The poverty and victim pimps will tell you, you don't have time to go out to the schools" to demand a better education for your children, Cosby said.

"Poverty and victim pimps"? I think he means Jesse Jackson.

What is the legacy of Dr. King? What should we do?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Q-o'-d-w-II: our weapons!

"Despite all of this stupid bullsh*t that the Republican National Committee, or whatever the f*ck they call them, that they were saying that they're all angry about how two of these ads were comparing Bush to Hitler? I mean, out of thousands of submissions, they find two. They're like f*cking looking for Hitler in a haystack. ...George Bush is not Hitler. He would be, if he f*cking applied himself." -- Margaret Cho at a MoveOn Award Ceremony

This was at an awards ceremony, mind you. And, notice that after saying there were only two quotes comparing Bush to Hitler, she immediately added a third. At a public awards ceremony. I like everything about that.

(From John Hawkins' quotelist)

Bonus: bluechristmas video. You will laugh. I think. Margaret Cho has an excellent part. And Santa sees Moby when he's sleepin'.

Wal Mart: When Employment Costs $$$

You probably don't have to be an idiot to write for the NYRev of Books. But it apparently helps. Read this:

With its deliberate understaffing, its obsession about time theft, its management spies, and its arbitrary punishments, Wal-Mart is a workplace where management's suspicion can affect the morale of even the best employees, creating a discrepancy between their objective record of high productivity and how they come to regard their performance on the job as a result of their day-to-day dealings with management. This discrepancy helps keep wages and benefits low at Wal-Mart.

One of the most telling of all the criticisms of Wal-Mart is to be found in a February 2004 report by the Democratic Staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee. In analyzing Wal-Mart's success in holding employee compensation at low levels, the report assesses the costs to US taxpayers of employees who are so badly paid that they qualify for government assistance even under the less than generous rules of the federal welfare system. For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for children's health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates that a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million US employees.

Wal-Mart is also a burden on state governments. According to a study by the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2003 California taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Wal-Mart employees. In Georgia ten thousand children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in the state's program for needy children in 2003, with one in four Wal-Mart employees having a child in the program.

That is an excerpt from Simon Head's review of Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century Capitalism? edited by Nelson Lichtenstein (Papers presented at a conference on Wal-Mart held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, April 12, 2004.) New Press, forthcoming in 2005.


Here is what I said, before.

Now? I say this:

The criticism seems to be that WalMart pays less than the "market" price for workers. ARE a market price.

So, you can't depress wages below their market price. it makes no sense to say that, unless you are big enough to be a monopsony employer, and WalMart is hardly a monopsonist. Baseball was a monopsonist, under the reserve clause. But how could you monopsonize the market for unskilled retail employees?

Whatever wages are, that is the market price for labor. that is what a wage is.

Now, you *can* depress wages below a wishful thinking level of pay, which we call the poverty line. But literally thousands of people, from all over the world, try every day to enter the U.S. to get a piece of that "poverty". The fact is that our poverty level is set very VERY high by world standards. I'm not talking about small, homogeneous countries with tiny little educated populations like Sweden or Denmark. I mean big countries, China, India, Russia. Our wages are very high, even for poor people.

If you liberals want to pile on a lot more welfare payments, as a matter of political choice, then okay. But don't tell me that this is a "cost." We make a political choice to subsidize poor people, perhaps to ensure that there will be lots of poor people who might vote Democrat, since apparently no employed person can bring themselves to pull the D lever. (Sure, that doesn't count college profs. I meant "gainfully employed.")

The wage thing is self-correcting. We built a welfare system that pays people for not working. then we prop up wages. then we allow "illegal" immigration (nudge, wink) that drives wages down. Then we BLAME COMPANIES FOR PAYING THOSE MARKET WAGES. Why not blame the immigration policy, and the welfare system? Companies are just doing the rational thing. Why would they pay more than market wage? WHY WOULD ANYONE PAY MORE pay more than market price, for a car, for example?

The allegations about unpaid overtime are a bit much: enforce the law. But there is no logical connection between enforcing an existing law (overtime) and the point that people think they are making about WalMart, that market wages are somehow "too low," and that this is then an indictment either of the market, or WalMart. Sure, Marx thought there was a connection, too. But there is no logical connection. Only an emotional one, created by academics and life-arrangers who, having never themselves worked, think that working must be icky.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Democracy is a Means, Not an End

You can find a longer than usual examination of the issues of democracy on Liberty Fund's EconLib.

Enjoy. But don't flame me. I'm in Key West for ten days, and I'm already a little burnt.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Division of Labour

I was asked, and happily agreed, to join the Division of Labour stable. So I'll be writing one or two longer pieces per week for them.

My first post over there is on a familiar subject.

Why is it that Americans don't seem to trust government? We have less regulation than most countries, and the argument "private citizens know better than government what to do with their money" seems persuasive to many. Why? Why not shining, happy people?
The answer is very old, and it involves answering a question with a question, or maybe two: As Jouvenal, in his sixth satire, asked, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians?)." Plato, in the Republic, has Socrates and Glaucon give this exchange, "Surely the guardian is the last man in the world who should be allowed to get drunk and not to know where on earth he is!" "That would be ridiculous. A guardian to want a guardian himself!". My other question/answer, then is this: why is it that people on the left, and many people in other "developed" nations, DO trust government?


As a bonus...some gentle readers suggested that "you can't blame a politician for being a prostitute" would be better than the dog and garbage thing. But I think that's wrong. For one, the comparison defames prostitutes. Politics is the oldest profession. Second, in prostitution, it is the hooker who gets screwed. In politics, it is the customer.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Quote-o-de-week: week 1

I'll try to come up with best quote I can, most days. Not necessarily topical, but meaningful in some trivial way. That's what quotes are for.

From John Hawkins' quotelist:

"Not only are we going to New Hampshire ... we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York! And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House, Yeeeeeaaaaaargh!" -- Howard Dean in the Iowa concession speech that was the final soliloquy in a farce of many acts.
(BONUS: The "Crazy Train" remix, and others....)

Canada's Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse

In preparing for some radio work in Canada (okay, it's a mercy appearance, with Charles Adler, who feels sorry for me), it struck me that this has been a big year for Canadian women. It struck me after reading Linda Williamson, actually. So I picked the four women who have had the biggest impact on Canadia politics. One could quarrel with my choices, of course, but...

So, here are Canada's Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse for 2004....

Carolyn Parrish: She stomped a George Bush doll, with boots (she had the boots, not the doll). On TV, on CBC-TV, in fact. Of course, the Missasauga (That's west of Toronto, just west of Etobicoke, actually) MP also critiqued the "coalition of idiots" Bush was leading in Iraq. Linda claimed that CP's real achievement was not getting ink for pounding Bush, but rather for finally getting Paul Martin (who kicked her out of caucus after much "Oh, my-ing") to make a decision on something. HE FIRED HER. I would say that this is a real achievement, but there is a deeper achievement to credit Ms. Parrish with. She hates Americans, but she sometimes talks to one, like Dorothy here. It seems clear that Carolyn Parrish is a loud-mouthed, impolite, unscrupulous self-promoting cretin. In other words, her real achievement is that SHE HAS BECOME an American, in spite of claiming to hate them.

Judy Sgro: Canadian Immigration Minister. Ms. Sgro's chief of staff, Ihor Won, who is now on "stress leave" (I think this is like the Witness Protection Program, but for government officials), apparently offered "special access" to several owners of strip clubs when he met them at their establishments to discuss the importation of foreign exotic dancers. One of the club owners, Terry Koumoudouros, president of the House of Lancaster in Toronto, had donated $7,928 to the Liberal party. This is a terrible embarrassment for trade and immigration-conscious Canada, because it means that either (1) homegrown Canadian women are so cold that they won't take off their clothes, or (2) if they do, customers wish they hadn't. I predict a new "strip at home" initiative in the Parliament, with special emphasis on keeping out those cheap foreign strumpets.

Sheila Fraser: Canadian Auditor General and national hero for the investigation breaking open the Adscam scandal -- she is having second thoughts! When she released her November audit, Fraser worried her quest to expose government waste may have had the "unintended consequence" of tarnishing some hard-working, honest public servants. As Linda Williamson put it, "C'mon Sheila, don't waffle on us! We have politicians for that!" As Kgrease would put it, "C'mon, Sheila, don't go all Canadian on us! You don't HAVE to be nice all the time! Those rat bastards deserved it. And, won't you please, PLEASE run for MP from the Missassauga riding?"

Adrienne Clarkson, the "Governor General." Americans, of course, are asking "What is a Governor General"? Of course, Americans also often ask, "How can I find my bum with both hands?" The Governor General represents the "Queen's interests" in Canada (in the U.S., there are some who would say that this is done by Key West, but I'm not one of them, of course). Ms. Clarkson's lavish "cirumpolar" trip caused outrage in cost-conscious Canada: it cost $5.3 just for a ...well...a circumpolar trip. Plus, Clarkson's budget had nearly doubled since she became Governor General in 1999, going from $11 million to $19 million. Madame Clarkson did make matters a bit worse for herself when she stridently resisted efforts to trim her budget. Kgrease's thoughts? This woman is supposed to represent the Queen's interests in Canada, and now you are mad at her for spending like the Royal Family? You ought to congratulate her, and encourage more inbreeding in the GuvGen's 1 Sussex Drive mansion (though I'm not sure that more inbreeding is possible).

Prime Minister Paul Martin: You've had a tough year with the ladies, man. Hope it goes better in 2005. Maybe you could get a testosterone transfusion from Carolyn Parrish, who seems to have more than she needs.