That's the tricky thing about free will vs. determinism on the layman front (make that the secular-layman front). On the one hand, we believe scientific and material causes play out in predictable and usually necessary ways. On the other hand, we believe - and almost all the world's diverse systems of moral and legal responsibility assume - that people remain free to make both deeply deliberative and quirky, spontaneous decisions, and bear responsibility for them unless acting under "compulsion" - i.e., stripped of their freedom.

A discussion of free will and Daniel Dennett's new book, Freedom Evolves, from the Philly Inquirer.

Dennett, by contrast, argues that despite living in a deterministic world, humans enjoy cerebral freedom, an "evolved creation of human activity and beliefs," that amounts to a back-formation from human language and its unique communicative capacities. It's generated by our adaptive ability to bring self-reflective, deliberative attention to options before us, to talk with ourselves, and that's a perfectly respectable definition of free will in a scientific age. To Dennett's evolved mind, a definition of freedom as "the capacity to achieve what is of value in a range of circumstances" is "as good a short definition of freedom as could be."

As the enormity of what path we are about to embark upon (or more correctly, have already been thrust towards) I take some solace and a certain amount dread in the notion of free will. The choices we make today seem magnified by their significance. Let’s hope that free will turns out to be a gift rather than a curse.


Invading terrorism-sponsoring states, before they have formally attacked us - violates the basic principles of the international order we have understandably come to cherish. So we have a profound - and new - conflict between security and sovereignty, between a catastrophe-free world and international law.--The uneasy words of Andrew Sullivan after reading Lee Harris' essay on Our World-Historical Gamble. I've linked to it before, but the feedback has been so amazing that I'd point my readers to it again.
Slate offers a snarky but insightful guide to the pundits who chime in regularily on Iraq.
Christopher Allbritton is going directly to Iraq and reporting on the war via his blog. They always claim bloggers don't have reporters on the ground. We've got at least one following the kurds.


Recently there has been a great deal of lip service paid to accounting irregularities and the importance of transparency to a healthy democracy and functioning economy. A few months ago our President said "It is time to reaffirm the basic principles and rules that make capitalism work: truthful books and honest people".

There is little doubt that an erosion of trust in corporate accounting practices is a major factor in the continued decline of the US economy. Our first President with an MBA, Bush has promised to run government like a business. Apparently his drug czar didn’t get the memo.

After Sept. 11th we were told that law enforcement, most notably the FBI, would be shifting resources to focus on the War on Terror. At first glance it appears that this change in priorities is reflected in the numbers. Last year congress spent $19 billion fighting drugs, and this year just over $11 billion. Paul Armentano explains that this is mostly due to accounting changes that were hardly noticed but widely felt.

In a little publicized announcement last year, officials from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (a.k.a. the Drug Czar's office) revealed that they had developed a "new methodology" for reporting the federal drug budget—which had grown from less than $2 billion annually in 1982 to $18.8 billion last year. Under this scheme, only funding for agencies involved in so-called "primary" drug war activities is now tabulated in the national anti-drug budget. As a result, more than two-thirds of the agencies included in past years' budgets are conspicuously missing from this year's financial totals...To make matters even more confusing, the 2003 "National Drug Control Strategy" makes virtually no reference to the White House's new accounting procedures, and manipulates past years' budgets to retroactively reflect the Feds' latest "fuzzy math". As a result, the White House is now claiming that America's war on drugs has never cost more than $11 billion per year, even though the office itself previously recorded surpassing that spending milestone in 1991!

There are many possible explanations for this Eronesque maneuver. The War on Drugs has steadily been losing support in America. It's a policy that has had diminishing results under a number of administrations and dwindling support of the American people. This may be a way to continue to throw good money after bad while avoiding the growing dismay of the people. Perhaps the administration thinks no one is paying attention to the spending and growing deficit . Perhaps the ethics of business accounting don’t apply to the White House. Regardless, it’s shameful coming from the “CEO” of an administration that a few months ago proclaimed, “We're moving corporate accounting out of the shadows, so the investing public will have a true and fair and timely picture of assets and liabilities and income of publicly traded companies.” Some shadows linger longer than others.
Interesting read about the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Big time money, Echelon, and the work of the Pakistani intelligence agency.
The SFPD is having a rough few weeks . The obstruction of justice case against high level police officers seems to be unravelling but they now have another PR problem. Documents obtained from the Sunshine Ordinance has shown that the police have been spying on anti-war protestors.

They've been monitoring sf.indymedia.org, a leftist web site that advocates radical "black bloc" tactics. Furthermore, they've had undercover officers videotaping protestors. Apparently the order to surveil the protestors wasn't authorized by the Chief of Police, which is mandated by a decades-old guidelines.

The videotaped surveillance conducted at the anti-war demonstrations Oct. 26, Jan. 18 and Feb. 16 was done by five plainclothes officers -- including one wearing a pin of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in his hat.

The police claim this is standard procedure for large events where the threat of violence exists. Others see it as an ominous indication that dissent is frowned upon and possibly even an intimidation tactic.

The Violent Crimes Task Force usually investigates gang killings but now is working the protests. The head of the task force, Lt. Kit Crenshaw described "First Amendment activities" as a "guise" used by some radical groups to "conduct their contemptuous acts against corporate and government structures."

Standard operating procedure for the police, or a chilling sign of another erosion of our rights? Either way the Boys in Blue in San Francisco are losing the PR battle.
Chris Pirillo has pics from the Google Blooger party.


I can't handle it. So if you make your own power (i.e. solar) you may get charged by the California PUC. They are considering the fees in order to recoup some of the losses they've suffered the past few years. I swear, you think you've heard every stupid idea and they just keep coming.
Lee Harris writes about the "historical gamble" facing us today. Its long, nerve-racking, but worth reading every word.

The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be.
Pacific Gas and Electric, one of the largest combination natural gas and electric utilities in the United States, is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Their frontline workers, which make up roughly 2/3 of all employees, are currently operating without a contract, California just suffered through a summer of rolling black-outs, and the general perception of the utility is one of mistrust. A company in deep trouble and with no cash. David Lazarus of the San Franciso Chronicle found out they may have more cash than thought.

(PG&E) paid $57.4 million in bonuses to managers and other nonunion employees as part of its "performance incentive plan."

"Even Enron would be jealous of such brazen behavior," said Ross Mirkarimi, who served as spokesman for the Yes on Prop. D (Public Power) campaign.

Lazarus acquired the internal document of bonus payouts that including $323,250 for CEO Gordon Smith, the man who lead the company into Chapter 11. It makes one wonder if anyone believes in compensation in line with performance anymore? Is there a model for utilities that actually works? In the end it seems the rate payers are the real losers.
Andrew Sullivan faces the grim truth (e.g. super-empowered individuals, radical hatred for Western ideas and ideals). The new set of world realities leaves us between a rock and a hard place.
Which leaves us with very few good options. But the obvious one is pro-active pre-emption: going in and getting rid of such regimes and entities, destroying them, or occupying them. But doing so - invading terrorism-sponsoring states, before they have formally attacked us - violates the basic principles of the international order we have understandably come to cherish. So we have a profound - and new - conflict between security and sovereignty, between a catastrophe-free world and international law.


So the White House Office of Management and Budget wants to do cost/benefit analysis on new anti-civil rights legislation. Interesting idea but I believe the biggest obstacle is mentioned in the article, how do you quantify the value of "liberty"? Frankly, you can't. Its the most subjective of notions and they would be best served by keeping it a purely dollars and sense exercise. I don't know if I am heartened by the idea that they are seriously considering doing this or disgusted by the apparent fact that they didn't do this before they passed Patriot Act I.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey ruled today that Jose Padilla can meet with his lawyers.

"Lest any confusion remain, this is not a suggestion or a request that Padilla be permitted to consult with counsel, and it is certainly not an invitation to conduct a further `dialogue' about whether he will be permitted to do so. It is a ruling -- a determination -- that he will be permitted to do so," the judge said.

Damn that Constitution, always trying to endanger good Americans.


More from Bush Sr. Tuft's speech, this time from the London Times. In regards to the France/Germany/Conflict, “You’ve got to reach out to the other person. You’ve got to convince them that long-term friendship should trump short-term adversity”

"One of the tests of a leader is to convince your allies what's right and what's wrong. And that's what a leader does. A leader builds up alliances."-George Bush Jr. This quote from Bush the candidate highlights the difference between then and now, and between father and son. Very interesting piece describing the multilateralist Bush Sr.’s views vs. his son's apparent willingness to go it alone. Salon puts a pop-psychology spin on the alleged rift calling it the "ultimate act of rebellion". Really its nothing more than celebrity-f-ing (of the political sort) since Bush Jr. and Bush Sr. are two separate men, entitled to fully formed separate opinions. Interesting read nonetheless. The more brutal assessment from the piece with stark implications for Bush Sr. and the world at large comes (again, implicitly) from the neo-cons advisors who disapproved of the father. "Thus, his son is doing what needs to be done because his father was a fey anachronism with skewed priorities, a president who put too much stock in discredited ideals." Of course Salon is premium, but click through the ads and read this interesting piece.
An amazing tale about a Cuban delegation sent by Castro to persuade Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq on the eve of the first Gulf War. They aimed for a "Third World Solution" based on international law to head of an era of American dominance in geopolitics. History is full of missed opportunities, false starts, misguided intent, and simple bad luck. As we head into another war the more we know about the past, the better.
What are minds, exactly? Most of us, when first confronted with this question, find ourselves quickly drawn to a traditional philosophical picture. The picture represents the mind as a sort of private room: a hidden inner sanctum within which our mental lives are played out and to which others are necessarily denied access. Because these inner rooms are hermetically sealed off from each other, the only clue as to what's going on inside the mind of another must be provided by their outward behaviour

More in Stephen Law's review of "The Philospher's Dog" were we find out just what Wittgenstein's dog was thinking.
Bobby Knight gives up his $250,000 salary because he felt his Texas Tech team didn't live up to his expectations. Man, that guy is crazy but sometimes you have to love him.
Hmm...man on the lam from California for pot charges, goes to Candana and claims political asylum, sounds like a job for Ashcroft.
Sara Rimensnyder advocates pragmatism for the UN security council.
What criteria is used to elect the President of the United States? A new article from U.S. News and World Report claims it all comes down to "likability".

The likability of presidential candidates has been a big issue ever since 1987, when Maureen Dowd wrote on the front page of the New York Times: "Everywhere you look, the men who would be President are, as the poet Rod McKuen once put it, `listening to the warm.' " Dowd quoted pollsters, consultants, and academics about how Americans now wanted likable presidents

Stuart Rothenbeg, a political analyst, differentiates voters into two camps: "Issue voters are mostly ideological voters, but the voters in the center think first not about a candidate's stand on trade or abortion, but is he a windbag? Is he arrogant? How is his bearing? How does he carry himself?"

The piece profiles John Kerry and his ability to vibe with common folk and comes away surprised at how well he connects. Irish or not, Kerry seems to have the gift.

But is a glamorized popularity contest really the best way to chose the leader of one of the largest nations on the planet? Some maintain that issues still matter, and matter a great deal. Maybe a strong jawline and the ability to quip on cue isn't the hallmark of great leadership.
Time profiles Gen. Tommy Franks, seems like he's that rarest of Washington D.C. creatures, a high-level official who isn't self-obsessed, or a self promoter, and genuinely a man of decency.
Jacob Sullum decries "neoprohibitionist censorship" in regards to wine labeling laws.