What bokononists whisper whenever they think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.



By Elton Beard

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide people into two kinds and those who don't. I don't.



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03/29/02 02:40pm link

Someday the game of chess will become obsolete. The number of unique games that can possibly be played is very large, with estimates starting around 1040 and ranging through 10120 and beyond (for comparison, there are only 1080 protons in the whole universe). That keeps the game interesting, for now.

However, chess is fully deterministic and so with sufficient computing power it will eventually be possible to traverse all possible games and to compute the outcome of the perfectly-played game of chess. It may be that that black invariably wins, or the advantage may be with white, but once the map of all possible moves and counter-moves is known then we will know which of the two is the guaranteed winner of any well-played game (unless the inevitable outcome is a draw). In any case, once the outcome is predictable, the game of chess will become pointless.

Pointlessness is also the defining characteristic of the brutal and tragic game now being played in the Middle East. Everybody knows what the ultimate resolution will be - a compromise involving two states, divided along the pre-1967 borders with some adjustments, Palestine mostly de-militarized, the settlements mostly removed, some partitioning or sharing of Jerusalem, payments in lieu of right of return for most displaced Palestinians, etc. etc. etc.

Everybody knows this, but the carnage continues.

This is ridiculous. This is not a game played for advantage, it's a series of mindless conditioned reflexes - hit me, hit you. Neither side can afford to show weakness. Neither side can stop retaliating. And neither side can win.

Everybody knows the end game, but no-one knows how to get there.

Maybe the cycle of violence is more than just a cliché. Maybe the repeating sequence of retaliation and revenge is really the underlying dynamic, eclipsing reason. Whether or not that's the case, it seems pretty clear that the leaderships of both sides as presently constituted cannot find the way to a settlement.

Everybody knows the solution, so why is the problem not being solved?

The lunatics are running the asylum.

03/28/02 05:10pm link

Zacarias Moussaoui
There is at least one practical reason for not subjecting Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker", to the death penalty. Mr. Moussaoui is a French citizen and like all civilized countries, France no longer practices punishment by death. Since Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected a plea from the French Justice Ministry to not seek the execution of Mr. Moussaoui, France may now withhold information from his prosecution, per the NY Times:

The French Justice Ministry sent a letter to Mr. Ashcroft this week, officials in Washington said, pointing out that an agreement between the two governments allowed France to end cooperation in a case in which a French citizen faced execution in the United States.

Legal analysts have said that if the French decide to withhold evidence it could be a serious blow to prosecutors, since French intelligence agencies are said to maintain a voluminous file on Mr. Moussaoui and his possible ties to Al Qaeda and other militant Muslim groups.

And it's not just the prosecutors who would be dealt a serious blow, per Reuters:
French Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu has said France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, would not accept the death penalty for Moussaoui and that it might not cooperate with the September 11 investigation.
In other words, the U.S. may have to give up valuable intelligence information if it insists on subjecting Zacarias Moussaoui to the death sentence. Apparently, the Dept. of Justice places a higher value on revenge killing than on obtaining intelligence that could potentially save innocent lives.

. . . . . . . . . .

John Ashcroft
Do you think this is justice, not revenge? Mr. Ashcroft put his argument in favor this way:

Following my instructions, the United States attorneys have filed a notice of intent to seek a sentence of death. In the notice we have alleged numerous reasons, called aggravating factors, which we believe indicate why the death penalty is appropriate. Among these reasons is the impact of the crime on thousands of victims. To that end, we remain committed not only to carrying out justice in this case but also to ensuring that the rights of the victims are fully protected.
If this is justice as distinct from revenge, why does "the impact of the crime on thousands of victims" matter? A bad act is a bad act regardless of consequences, and justice for a given bad act should not depend on incidental factors such as the eloquence of the survivors. And the victims surely have a right to be made whole when possible, but Mr. Ashcroft is not talking about suing Mr. Moussaoui for damages. He's talking about giving the victims the satisfaction of knowing that maximal harm has been inflicted on Mr. Moussaoui, and he thinks that this is a good thing.

Maybe it's a good thing or maybe not, but it's a thing that's indistinguishable from revenge. By equating justice with revenge, and by indulging the essentially atavistic urge to kill, Mr. Ashcroft manages to at once diminish the difference between us and our opponents, and forgo significant intelligence information. And that's not a good thing.

. . . . . . . . . .

But what about sovereignty? Well, that is a problem now. We certainly don't want to show weakness by accommodating the feelings of our NATO ally France (as opposed to the gentle way we treat, say, our really good friends Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). But it's only a problem because Attorney General Ashcroft, knowing the French position full well in advance, decided nonetheless to put on a capital case. Given the circumstances of the case -- Mr. Moussaoui was in jail at the time of the crime - Mr. Ashcroft could easily have chosen a different penalty. But he didn't, and here we are.

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Busy, busy, busy.

What bokononists whisper whenever they think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.



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