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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Counter-Intuitive Science

Surveying the Internet, one can find many posts such as this one that contend that modern physics -- specifically relativity and quantum mechanics -- defy "common sense." In the place of such non-sensical physics, they promote Newtonian physics -- the physics with which they grew up. These "realist" or "objectivist" natural philosophers don't seem to realize how contrary to "common sense" was Newtonian physics. The earth is in motion: nonsense -- if one was moving, one could feel the motion; whether walking, riding a horse, or sailing on a ship, one could feel one was moving. Bodies in motion, unless disturbed, tend to remain in motion: again, nonsense, because clearly every motion in the terrestrial realm tends to dissipate, and the body comes to rest. The sun exerts some sort of mysterious force over the planets that acts instantaneously at a distance: the Cartesians were utterly dismissive of that notion, terming it "spooky action at a distance."

In fact, General Relativity was to some extent a return to an earlier, "common sense," notion of gravity, in attributing gravitational effects to the space in which they occur, the difference being that Aristotle assigned the Earth a unique role in gravitational attraction, whilst GR gives the same role to any massive body. Today's common sense is only yesterday's physics made popular.

It's Not the 1600s Anymore!

We had just seen Bob Weir and Ratdog, and my friend, on arriving back at his bar (he owns it) he shouted out "Bob Weir rules!"

A friend of ours was smoking on the sidewalk and responded, "Oh, please, it's not the 1960s anymore."

Just so. When someone tells me they have just watched Hamlet, I always respond, "Good God, it's not the 1600s, you know!"

Why Are We Counting Backwards?

I've been reading a lot of Roman history lately, and you run across things like, "The consul Tiberius Gracchus was murdered in 133 BCE. A decade later his brother, Gaius Gracchus, was himself murdered while serving as consul, in 123 BCE."

Man, I would think it would have driven them crazy, wondering, "Why are we counting the years backwards? And, hey, just what are counting backwards to? Just what's so special about 123 years from now, anyway?"

(Oh, and I always love the name of the period from the mid130s to the late 120s: the time of "the Gracchi brothers." It sounds like a shady Brooklyn trash-hauling company was in charge of Rome during those years.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Here, There, Anywhere

Towards the end of Casino Royale, the female led tells Bond, "I'd love you anywhere, in anyway."

My son Eamon immediately piped in, "I'd love you in a house, I'd love you with a mouse. I'd love you in a boat, I'd love you with a goat."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Morality for Neo-Platonists

Glen Whitman criticizes Al Sharpton for his theistic explanation of morality.

Yes, Sharpton's version of this is pretty bad. So why not debate someone serious, like Plato?

It is obviously just to act justly. But God is the greatest justice, the eternal form of justice itself. And it is absurd to claim that it is unjust to have to obey the highest realization of justice. Therefore, it is not unjust to have to obey God.

The argument often used against a theistic basis for morality, "I'm an atheist and I act morally" has no force against this form of theism: Of course, even someone who cannot see the pure forms beyond the cave mouth still can see a distorted image of them in the shadows they cast.

The Absurdity of Consequentialism

Here I found the remark that "The consequentialist [in ethics] is concerned with outcomes..." And only outcomes!

And thus consequentialism is no moral system at all. Because to judge actions by outcomes we already need to have some way to judge the outcomes good or bad, which implies some prior morality. (E.g., Benthamite utilitarians would argue that we should work towards the consequences that produce "the greatest good for the greatest number." But why should that be our goal? We shouldn't it be the greatest good for me I work towards, or my family, or my tribe, or the people of Uzbekhistan? Consequentialism gets us absolutely nowhere, because it can't tell us what consequences are good!)

Terror Alert!

Cops on the loose.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Smoking Redux

How could this change possibly have occurred if the government didn't pass a law compelling it?

Miss Stinky-Bottoms

Look at this program from Sheryl Crow.

If you have a date with her, make sure to bring along some wipes and persuade her to use them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

We Won!

The Michigan GOP, rendered unable to function for two days by the overwhelming number of calls and e-mails from Ron Paul supporters after their chairman sought to ban him from the presidential debates, officially folds.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New Definition of Spamming

Many anti-Ron-Paul web sites are complaining that Paul supporters are "spamming" Internet polls. What is that supposed to mean? These people admit that Paul supporters, as far as they can tell, are not voting multiple times. Nor are they sending Viagra ads to the pollsters. No, what these people mean is that way too many Paul supporters are showing up to vote for him, in other words, "spamming" now means "voting for someone we don't like"! They may protest that, no, they mean that there are organized efforts on the Internet to send Paul voters to the polling site. Granted. But so what? Isn't that what campaigns do, you know, organize people to support their candidate? If the Paul campaign is doing that particularly well on the Internet, that means they should be silenced?

Ron Paul Moves Up

He's now up to fifth in the NH Republican presidential poll, and up from 1% in January to 3% now. Three percent may not seem like much, but it means someone who started out as a total unknown has tripled his support while spending very little money. (Hat tip to Lew Rockwell.)

Also, the move by Michigan party GOP chairman Saul Anuzis to ban Paul from future debates has been crushed! The Michigan GOP party headquarters could not function to do anything except answer calls from angry Ron Paul supporters, so the chairman caved -- when I called today I was told "Mr. Anuzis, after discussions with the RNC, has decied to take no actions against Congressman Paul."

LGF to Paul Voters: Stop!

Little Green Footballs, one of the premier hate sites on the Web, warns Ron Paul supporters to stop voting for Ron Paul. When they keep on doing it, LGF removes him from the poll.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Closing of the American Society

Wendy McElroy on Naomi Wolf on how to close an open society.

(By the way, if I seem to be blogging in bursts these days, there's a reason -- when in Pennsylvania, my version of Safari can't access Blogger properly -- the "publish" and "save" buttons do nothing. And I have to drag the machine baack to Brooklyn to upgrade it, because we can only get dial-up in PA; well, "only" unless we want to pay $10,000 to run cable to the house.)

A Roman Mind

Check out J. Rufus Fears selling Rome to a bunch of neocons: "Whenever you’re talking about Rome, you must fight against the nonsense of a movie like Gladiator. You must fight against the nonsense of this program called Rome, some degraded spectacle on HBO."

No, none of that decadence or violence or corruption you've heard about! Except here's someone writing at that time:

"XXXI. Sulla now began to make blood flow, and he filled the city with deaths without number or limit; many persons were murdered on grounds of private enmity, who had never had anything to do with Sulla, but he consented to their death to please his adherents. At last a young man, Caius Metellus, had the boldness to ask Sulla in the Senate-house, when there would be an end to these miseries, and how far he would proceed before they could hope to see them stop. "We are not deprecating," he said, "your vengeance against those whom you have determined to put out of the way, but we entreat you to relieve from uncertainty those whom you have determined to spare." Sulla replied, that he had not yet determined whom he would spare. "Tell us then," said Metellus, "whom you intend to punish." Sulla said that he would. Some say that it was not Metellus, but Afidius, one of Sulla's flatterers, who made use of the last expression. Sulla immediately proscribed eighty persons without communicating with any magistrate. As this caused a general murmur, he let one day pass, and then proscribed two hundred and twenty more, and again on the third day as many. In an harangue to the people, he said, with reference to these measures, that he had proscribed all he could think of, and as to those who now escaped his memory, he would proscribe them at some future time. It was part of the proscription that every man who received and protected a proscribed person should be put to death for his humanity; and there was no exception for brothers, children, or parents. The reward for killing a proscribed person was two talents, whether it was a slave who killed his master or a son who killed his father. But what was considered most unjust of all, he affixed infamy on the sons and grandsons of the proscribed and confiscated their property. The proscriptions were not confined to Rome; they extended to every city of Italy: neither temple nor hospitable hearth nor father's house was free from murder, but husbands were butchered in the arms of their wives, and children in the embrace of their mothers. The number of those who were massacred through revenge and hatred was nothing compared with those who were murdered for their property. It occurred even to the assassins to observe that the ruin of such a one was due to his large house, another man owed his death to his orchard, and another again to his warm baths. Quintus Aurelius, a man who never meddled with public affairs, and thought he was no further concerned about all these calamities except so far as he sympathised with the sufferings of others, happened to come to the Forum and there he read the names of the proscribed. Finding his own name among them, he exclaimed, Alas! wretch that I am; 'tis my farm at Alba that is my persecutor. He had not gone far before he was murdered by some one who was in search of him."

Book Review of The Vanity of the Philosophers

By me. Here.

Look at Those Numbers!

Of course, Internet polls are not scientific, but, still, have a look at Ron Paul's numbers. In a ten candidate field, he's getting as many positive votes as almost every other candidate combined. The press is going to have to start taking him seriously. And Andrew Sullivan has said that, as far as he is concerned, there are only two candidates, McCain and Paul.

Quentin Tarantino's Ego Goes Berserk

Here.

Why Libertarians Should Be Concerned with the History of Political Thought

The standard libertarian solution to how people best can achieve the obvious benefits of mutual cooperation whilst maintaining respect for the dignity and autonomy of the individuals comprising any social group possesses the virtue of being the readily comprehensible consequence of accepting a small number of intuitively appealing principles. However, what proponents regard as admirably simple readily can appear simplistic if libertarian apologists display little awareness of the location of their ideas within the great currents running through the history of European political thought, a history incorporating much profound contemplation of human nature and social reality.

If prominent proponents of libertarianism appear to be ignorant of the great themes of Western political theory, then its opponents can plausibly dismiss libertarianism as another naïve attempt to deal with the complexity of political life with a set of simplistic slogans. That may not matter in terms of motivating those who are already libertarians, but for anyone attempting to broaden the appeal of libertarianism, and especially for those addressing academic political theorists, it is a significant problem.
To illustrate my point, I will present a handful of topics from the history of political thought that, it seems to me, are relevant for libertarian theorists. My sample is far from exhaustive, and I make no claim that I have not overlooked examples of significantly greater importance than those I address. Nevertheless, I believe that the cases I have chosen are sufficient to demonstrate that the problem I am noting here is not merely hypothetical.

Read more...

Absurd Explanations Indeed

From MSNBC.com:

"On defense for much of the evening, Giuliani switched gears nearly an hour into the debate, challenging Rep. Ron Paul’s suggestion that the U.S. bombing of Iraq had contributed to the terrorist attacks of 2001.

"As mayor of New York at the time of the attacks, Giuliani said sternly, 'I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations.'”

Giuliani must not listen very well, because bin Laden himself has cited that as a major reason for his jihad against the US.

The Two Anarchies

I've been thinking about the need to distinguish between two very different sorts of anarchy. The word comes from the Greek an archon, or no leader. The first type of situation in which there might be "no leader" gives us the common usage of anarchy: in a social order dependent (in some sense) on there being a leader, there suddenly isn't one. Thus, we get "Baghdad is in a state of near anarchy."

The second type of situation occurs when there is no leader, but the social order has evolved or been designed to function that way. That of course, is what most people who call themselves an "anarchist" mean to advocate. And that is why it is absurd to try to refute their position by saying, "Oh, you want anarchy? Just move to Baghdad."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Brit-Speak

Getting off the Brooklyn Bridge today, I saw a sign, in fading paint, on the wall of a building: "Flats to let / So-and-so Realty." Were "flats" and "to let" really once common American lingo? If so, when? And what process banished them from our vocabulary? (I had an English friend vigorously complain to me one pub night that contemporary American English does not distinguish between the function of a landlord, who in England has a flat "to let," and that of a potential tenant, who wishes "to rent" that flat.)

Giuliani's Abortion Stance

This afternoon I heard a commentator on CBS News Radio discussing Rudy Giuliani's recent re-affirmation of his pro-choice stance regarding abortion. The commentator noted that, while the position would probably cost Giuliani a shot at getting many votes from Republican evangelicals, the presidential candidate had most likely calculated that he could make up for that with support from moderate Republicans, especially with California having an early primary.

What struck me was that the commentator never entertained the possibility that Giuliani might have determined what to say about this issue based on what he really believed. We have reached the point in the decline of our polity that the notion that politicians might be adopting a stance based on principle is not even considered plausible.

Playland Bans Smoking

Playland Amusement Park in Rye, NY has banned smoking at the park starting this season. They did it because it's a family park and their customers preferred not to expose their kids to smoke.

Isn't that funny? The customers wanted a no-smoking policy, and the business implemented it! How could that possibly have happened without the government getting involved?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Police and Thieves

I heard a telling conversation between a cop and a bartender the other day in Brooklyn. The cop was complaing about a bicyclist:

"My partner and I were in an unmarked vehicle, going the wrong way over the Union St. bridge. This guy on his bike starts screaming at me for going the wrong way. I stopped the car and told him, 'Don't ever talk to anyone in this neighborhood that way. For all you knew, I could be some nutcase.'"

Note:
1) The cop never tried to justify his own lawbreaking, saying, for instance, "It was an emeregency call." Law-breaking by the police needs no justification in his eyes. The Brooklyn police routinely violate traffic laws to, say, get a slice of pizza.
2) Far from its being the job of every citizen to help enforce the law, as it has been for centuries in the common law tradition, citizens better just mind their own friggin' business. Of course, it has been decisively demonstrated that without norms against and public disapproval of lawbreaking, the law becomes impossible to enforce. And notice that, the harder the law is to enforce... the higher will be the perceived need for professionals to enforce it!

The idea that the same laws apply to both citizen and state official has been a bedrock principle of republican liberty for over 2000 years. And once that condition ceased to hold, republican theorists have stated clearly that the relationship between the goverenment and its subjects had become on between masters and slaves. The American founders based their justification for revolution on such a distinction existing. (Parliament could tax them without the tax applying to its own members.) They would have been outraged at the attitude of my local "law officer." (Of course, they would have been pretty puzzled by the idea of a professional police force itself: Despite being something the state "obviously" must provide, professional police had never existed anywhere in the world at anytime before the early nineteenth century.)

I was at a funeral recently, riding in a car with my aunt and uncle. She mentioned that at the funeral of her son-in-law's father, who is from a police family in a large, American city, hundreds of on-duty cops blocked traffic all over the city for the funeral motorcade to proceed. This was in no way authorized by the city government: they did it because they could. "And good for them," my aunt added.

So the police were stealing maybe tens of thousands of dollars from the taxpayers by doing jobs other than those they were being paid for, declaring themselves to be, not subject to the law, but the law themselves! And this was good why? Well, because I come from a law enforcement family, I guess, and we stand to benefit from making everyone else bend over and take it. (My father, who was a state's attorney, was wonderfully free of this tendency to use his position in every way possible. But he was such an exception that people court officials would be shocked that I had come to court to dispute a ticket rather than just getting him to "fix" it for me.)

The same aunt's-son-in-law mentioned above once took two family members on a ride through that big city escorted by police cruisers, lights flashing, forcing cars to pull over, etc. Why? He wanted to take them to a ballgame, and they were running late! Imagine trying to get out of a ticket using that excuse when he pulled you over.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Winning Combo

My favorite store near Milford Pennsylvania offers fireworks, tobacco, and gasoline. What a day you could have! Load up the trunk with fireworks, start pumping some gas, light a smoke, and watch the fun begin!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is in trouble in Europe. The Independent reports: "But several European provincial governments have already taken action to ban, or limit, its use in the classroom, and Stowe School has partially removed it after a teacher became ill."

A teacher became ill! That had never happened before the school had installed Wi-Fi, and, of course, post hoc, ergo propter hoc and all, so Stowe was clearly right.

Fire the Manager

Sports Illustrated reports that the Yankees are considering firing Joe Torre. These decisions often seem to me to defy any probabilistic understanding of a sport like baseball. I mean, in ten seasons, Torre has won four World Series and made the playoffs most of the other years. This year he has a horribly injured pitching staff, and the team has not done well for one month. What are the odds that some other manager could do better? Is there any other major league manager with a better record than Torre over the last decade? But a few bad weeks, and his job is on the line. Well, the fans want something done, and Steinbrenner sure isn't going to fire himself!

Spring Comes to Brooklyn

Click for a larger image:



(Notice the man on the right who, oddly, is walking straight at a brick wall.)