Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To the Hyper-Englightened Aliens of a Certain Class of Science Fiction*

i have wandered your pristine wonderlands
and i have marveled at your innocence.
and i have stood with my various protagonists,
shuffling our feet like underpaid public defendants,
and tried to tell you why our kind
has created sticks that throw death
and explain the mystical properties
of those little green bits of paper.

but pardon me if i seem underawed,
but i have walked the gossamer bridges
of conscience and of law.
and i have bent my shoulders
and done my daily duty, day by day.
and i have whistled in the dark-
miracles that your heavenly utopia
will never glimpse nor guess.

*C'mon, you know the kind. Stranger In a Strange Land. Out of a Silent Planet. Heck, the horse-people of Gulliver's Travels.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

International "Law"

After a course this semester in International Law (well, technically "The Israel-Arab Conflict", but from the perspective of an international law analysis) and another in Jurisprudence, I have more or less come to the following conclusion: Public International Law is the most utter load of malarky that I have yet encountered. Or, to put it in a slightly less incendiary way, it is all very well and good and bears absolutely no resemblance to "law" in its official senses.

Obviously, the question of what is law is a complicated and hotly debated one, which I would prefer not to get into for two reasons: 1)It would involve a lot of typing and 2)I haven't actually finished studying for the test that we have to know all that for. But if you look at some of the most basic modern thinkers on the subject, it's hard to see how exactly international law fits in.

Austin, for example, defines law as norms accompanied by sanctions. That which will be punished, is a law. International law, in contrast, is backed by no official group with any power. The UN, which might theoretically be viewed as the sovereign enforcing these rules, fails to do so under almost all circumstances. Furthermore, the UN Security Counsel, the only body with the authorization to employ force, may do so whenever it identifies a likely breach of international peace or some such, which means that it is not predicated on any violation of international law per se.

H.L.A Hart modified Austin's claim to define law as anything that is recognized as legitimate, legally, from the perspective of those subject to it; law that is not enforced may still manage to be law, as long as all or most of those to whom it is addressed regard is as binding. Just about no state of which I am aware has ever avoided doing something that they otherwise would prefer to do based simply on the logic that it is against international law. They may not want the sanctions that other countries may or may not impose, but again, such sanctions may and are applied without regard to whether the actions officially violate international law or are simply dangerous/annoying/immoral. International law, in and of itself, is not really regarded as authoritative by those to whom it applies.

My personal favorite definition of law is that of Holmes (and not just because the man rocks): Law is simply what the bad man would care to know- how likely is action x to lead to a negative consequence in the form of the state's wielding its power against me if I do it? I think that it is pretty clear from the reality that the bad men of international law- and there are plenty- are pretty relaxed about the legal consequences of their actions. International law does little to nothing to deter them and therefore, does not actually exist.

The above is perhaps a little harsh. It would be more fair to say that international law does not exist according to any modern definitions of law. In fact, it seems quite similar to more classic definitions, which failed to make the sharp distinction between morality and law. International law, as a vague systems of norms that are neither enforced nor defined by any authoritative body, but which are intended to reflect basic universal standards of morality, really fit well with Natural Law theorists. However, in that case, international law is nothing more than one attempt to define morality, as it relates to the actions of nations towards one another, and has no more (or less) force or authority than any other of a hundred attempts to define morality, including religion, philosophy, and just about any ism. (Nor is public international law necessarily incompatible with the very new schools of thought, which tend to believe that all law is simply an arbitrary collection of guidelines aimed at preserving status quo, crushing the lower classes, and so forth. To the degree that you accept such views, international law is no less "real" than any other form of law, except perhaps, in that nobody is real effectively crushed by it. But I kind of hate those particular theories, which is why they are left in smaller-fonted parentheses.)

If that is the way that international law wants to be- and it has every right to be like that- my only real objection is that it should stop calling itself 'law' and thus prancing about in the mask of objectivity, enforcability, authority, and certainty that the title denotes in modern parlance. If we only called it "Public International Morality", I think that it would annoy me a whole lot less.

Link to slightly fuller convention write-up

by Miri

Also: Oh, yes, there's controversy all right, over this article. My dreams of the J-Blogger convention are coming closer and closer to being realized. Life, sometimes, is just plain, fun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Just got back from the J-Blogger convention, which contained, if not all of the beautiful silliness that could be imagined, certainly enough of it to make me fervently hope, pray, and plead that it will transform into an annual tradition. Miri has promised to do all the work of a full write-up, so I will link to her in the proper time.

What I found interesting (among other things) was the generally focused nature of most of the featured bloggers. They all had agendas, perspectives, or at the very least motifs to their blogs. It made me think that I ought to get me one of those and then I looked at myself and I said, 'Really, Tobie? Is that really going to happen?" and I replied that no, of course not, that's just crazy talk.

But I so enjoyed being part of the community/demographic that I have vaguely resolved to ramp up the blog posting again- yes, to more than once a month. Which leads me to the point of this post, insofar as it has one: I'm kinda sick of my blog url (tobiesrandomrants is somewhere between cutesy and blah- alliteration is not a tool for the inexperienced) and not particularly crazy about the title line either (voices in my head is just cliche. and a little mean to schizophrenics.) And apparently blogger allows you to give your blog a new whatnot and have the old one transition directly, which would be nice. So if people have suggestions for more exciting and/or clever titles, they would be most welcome.

Peace out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The J-Blogger Convention

On Wednesday, Miri and I will be attending the First International NBN J-Blogger Convention. I am so psyched about it that it's simply ridiculous. I am so psyched that I have been randomly bursting into giggles thinking about the silliness that it might contain. I'm so psyched that I was actually moved to post, and I think we all know that how much that says.

I'm sure it won't actually be all that exciting. The topic is how to improve your blog traffic and whatnot, a subject that interests me very little, particularly because I think it's pretty clear that one principle way of increasing my traffic would be to post anything ever. But in my head, it has a beauty that words can only struggle to capture, complete with levels of meta that make even my head hurt a little.

The pre-conference mingling (over cold-cuts. I know. Cold-cuts!), for example, plays out in my mind thusly: A room, mostly empty. Along all the walls are arrayed j-bloggers, each a discrete unit, each hunched over the keyboard of his or her own laptop, furiously typing clever and snide things about everybody else, glancing up only to look at everybody else to think of more clever and snide things to be able to say about them. The camera zooms in on one computer. The text reads "This guy next to me keeps looking up and then turning back to his computer to write more clever and snide things about me. It's pretty funny." The camera shifts down the line of computers, just slowly enough to give you time to note that the same line appears on each computer.

Or perhaps- equally beautiful- the clumsy cocktails party chitchat enlivened by everybody pretending that of course they have read the blog of the person with whom they are talking- not only read, but are absolute fans- lurkers, one might even say, unless they have the guts and the brains to claim credit for an anonymous or two here and there.

Do you think they'll fight? Really get into the way that they do on the blogs themselves? Will they know how to handle conversations when you get the reply right away and can even- and this is crazy- talk that the same time? Will there be trolls? Will people talk in caps lock? Will random people make crazy and unsupportable statements and then duck away under the beverages table, never to enter the argument again? Will there be anybody there with a bucket full of opinions?

Do you think that groups and cliques will start to form- the photobloggers, perhaps, pulling out first, to stand in their own corner and discuss... composition or something? Will there be rivalry between the religious bloggers and the political ones? Ooooh, will somebody question the hechsher of the deli selection? Will there be blog-level drama and melodrama? Will it all be covered exhaustively via live-blogging on both sides of the issue? Will there be aggregate posts and round-ups collecting all of the posts regarding the big blogger convention fight? Will there be awards for the best live coverage? Could I possibly be a witness to the most analyzed, attacked, defended, recorded, re-recorded argument in the history of mankind?*

I'm so psyched!!

*No. Probably not. In fact, almost certainly not. But still.