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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chrome, You Are the One

Just started using Google Chrome as my web browser.

I had no idea it was possible for the browser to speed up one's Internet experience so much.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ooh, My Head Hurts!

Driving home from teaching my class today, I heard an ad on CBS News Radio from the Rent Stabilization Association. The purported speaker in the ad was a "small" landlord, who, with her husband, owned a 16-unit building in New York City. She noted how hard she and her husband worked to maintain their building, how they employed many local contractors, and how people like her were vital to the NYC economy. Then she mentioned a bill intended to freeze rents for... I can't quite remember... the unemployed? The underemployed? But something like that. So, I thought, coming up will be a pitch for how this rent freeze would punish small landlords like her.

But no! The next thing she said was (I quote from memory, probably nothing close to verbatim, but I think with the gist correct), "And this bill is vital to the well-being of both me and my tenants."

OK, I thought, this must be a ruse of some sort, put forward by some tenants' advocacy group, because clearly, any landlord who wanted to "freeze rents" could simply, all on her own... not raise the rent!

However, after arriving home and looking up the RSA on line, this group actually does appear to be some sort of landlord advocacy organization. So, now I'm totally befuddled. (I admit that my research into what's going on here has been relatively minimal, but still...) OK, is there a group of landlords significant enough to buy time on a major New York radio station who are worried that their insatiable desire to self-destructively raise rents can only be checked by a city ordinance preventing them from doing so? Have I fallen down the rabbit hole into Justin Raimondo's "Bizzaro Universe"? What the heck is this about?

Are Childhood Vaccines Dangerous?

The researcher who perhaps did the most to promote this idea seems to have been almost entirely discredited.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pride (In the Name of Happiness)

Alasdair MacAIntyre makes a very interesting point in an essay entitled "Is a Science of Comparative Politics Possible?" He cites a paper that contends that Italians "are less committed to and identified with the actions of their government than are Germans or Englishmen..." The evidence the authors present is survey answers as to how much "pride" the respondents have in the actions of their governments... to which the answer, it seems, is much less for Italians.

But, as MacIntyre notes, the words for "pride," although somewhat translatable, just do not mean the same things to Italians, Germans, and Englishmen. In particular, Italians are most fiercely proud of things that it would not even occur to the other folks to be proud of.

I think "happiness" surveys are largely worthless for the same reason -- happiness just does not mean the same thing across cultures. If you doubt this, think of what an ancient Greek would say about happiness -- "One does not know if a man was happy until he is dead."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Those Idiotic Ancients!

Over at Reason.com, Tim Cavanaugh writes:

"As surely as Earth rests at the center of a finite series of interlocking crystalline polyhedrons within the compass of a benevolent prime mover, so Ben Bernanke will clear all challenges and have his woeful career extended by the U.S. Senate."

Tim is clearly trying to mock the stupidity of pre-Enlightenment views of nature, but it seems all of philosophy and science before the Enlightenment (TM Voltaire) is mushed together in Tim's head as an undifferentiable swamp of falsehood, because:

1) The idea of "interlocking crystalline polyhedrons" was put forward by Johannes Kepler, who was a pioneering advocate of heliocentrism, not geocentrism (so the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the center of those polyhedra), and Kepler is supposedly one of the early heroes of "modern," scientific thought.

2) The idea of the "prime mover" came from Aristotle, who certainly did not see that mover as "benevolent."

But hey, those dumbasses came before the Enlightenment, so who can even be bothered to get their stupid ideas straight?

Greenwald on Obama's "Legal Black Hole"

Democrats kept complaining that Bush had sent Guantanamo detainees into a "legal black hole" where the evidence against them would never be weighed in court. But now that a Democratic president has adopted the same policy? Fugedaboudit! It's all hunky-dory!

Adam and Elijah in the big shorts contests













Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oh Stimulus, Oh Stimulus!

When the most recent stimulus bill was being touted as being a life-or-death measure, some of Obama's advisors claimed that unemployment might rise as high as 8% unless it was passed.

Given that unemployment is now at 10%, can we taken it as given that we were sold a bill of goods? (Non-partisan note: the Bush bills were probably even worse. But both parties "efforts" were just ways to pay off political supporters with our money.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Oh Paul, Ye Were Great When in the Opposition!

Now if we could just get yer nose dislodged from Obama's bum, ye might be great again!

(For some reason, I hear the above being spoken by Ewan McTeagle:
Eric Idle's Shakespearean performance is apparently a spoof of Ian McKellan!)

Any Guesses?

I just received an e-mail on a list I'm on reading:

"Dear Colleague

"We are now finishing an application for a European numismatic network European monetary unification, from Antiquity to modern times (EMU)."

Man, I can't read the phrase "an application for a European numismatic network" in any way that makes sense to me. Are they writing a software application that will run on a European numismatic network? But what's a 'numismatic network'? Or are the applying for a grant to work on a "a European numismatic network"? But if that's the case, I think they're a little late -- the Euro has been in place for a number of years now.

So what could they mean?

OK, Bob...

so now is the truce over?

I mean, really, the reason you wouldn't agree to my proposal was that you knew it would only be a matter of days before the rabid dogs of LRC were attacking other libertarians, wasn't it?

ADDENDA:
1) Boaz's comic intention was so obvious here that it's pretty hard to believe Block and DiLorenzo could have missed it. No, I think they just thought, "Hey, I haven't attacked a 'Beltway libertarian' in a week or two -- let me find something to go after."
2) And yes, neither of them agreed to the "truce." But Rockwell published Mario's peace offering, implying he supported it. He certainly could say, "Guys, not on my blog." After all, he squahed one of my articles for LRC, after he had accepted it, when he noticed it contained a very mild criticism of Rothbard. So, he certainly does exercise editorial discretion. But no, what he meant by peace was "Let's get them to stop attacking us!"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Aristotle, Augustine...

Abelard, Aquinas, Anselm, Albertus, Anaxagoras, Avicenna, Archimedes, Averroes, Albert Einstein, Anaximander, Aristarchus, Anaximenes...

Does it help to be really smart to have your name begin with 'a'? Was it because these people all got called on in class first?

(Yes, yes, I know 'Avicenna' and 'Averroes' are Latinizations -- it's a joke, OK?)

Smokey Robinson on 'Black'

Wonderful:


(Hat tip to Wilton Dale Alston.)

The Stray Dogs of Moscow

Have learned to ride the subway. (Well, at least about twenty of them have. And no, that doesn't mean randomly -- they got off at particular stops.) Hat tip to John Goes.

Dumbest Interview Question?

"Please tell our viewers, what exactly is an enlarged heart?"

A: "...which means the heart is bigger than usual..."

Who could have guessed?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

OK, So Then What?

Listening to sports radio yesterday, I heard a former football coach (didn't catch his name) say, "The Cowboys and the Vikings are such great defensive teams, I think they should just let the two defenses go out and play, and keep the offenses out of it."

OK, clearly he didn't mean that the two defenses should play and one of them should get the ball, because then you'd have one great defense and one really crappy offense on the field, not two great defenses. So, then, there's no ball involved at all. What then? Is there some way these two defenses can play some sport? Please discuss.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Summing Up

OK, so Stephan has now come around and declared: "Gene, is it supposed to be news that the idea of aggression depends on and is informed by a particular view of property rights?"

So here's the way the non-aggression principle (NAP) is used:

1) Assume a libertarian theory of property rights;
2) Invoke the NAP; and
3) You get a libertarian polity.

What's odd is that this argument has the same force:

1) Assume a libertarian theory of property rights;
2) Note that Socrates is mortal; and
3) You get a libertarian polity.

In fact, we can shorten things to:
1) Assume a libertarian theory of property rights;
2) You get a libertarian polity!

(The last argument, of course, assumes something like "Rights should be respected," but that seems to be part of the definition of a right.)

So, in our first argument, the odd thing is the NAP is doing no work at all. It is there for rhetorical purposes only, so that everyone knows the person so arguing is against aggression!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

John Gray on Rawls and Buchanan

"Given such manifold singularities, what is the justification for modelling the person in a way that will inevitably screen out much of the variety of personal life? The answer, of course, is that unless the variety of personhood is ironed out, there will be no agreement on principles and so no upshot of contractarian deliberation. On the other hand, any abstraction from the particularities of persons already begs every important question in favour of liberalism. Behind the veil of ignorance, we are no longer ourselves, but ciphers, constructed expressly for the purpose of grounding liberal society. The derivation of liberal principles is then circular, since it works with the artificial persons of liberal theory and not with the varieties of personhood we find in the real world… The fact that an abstract or artificial person, screened by an imaginary veil of ignorance from that knowledge of his own life that is constitutive of any real person. Would choose a specific set of moral or political principles, if he were able to choose anything at all, has no force for any real person. For any real person, only the values he in fact upholds, the projects and attachments he actually harbours, can generate reasons for action." -- Liberalisms

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Three-Legged Stool

Alasdair MacIntyre convinced me of why modern approaches to ethics are broken and contemporary ethical debates interminable. Classical ethics, to paraphrase him, was part of a three-legged stool: the actual, current human state, the human telos (or the proper goal of human life), and ethics, which was guidance on how to move from the current state towards the goal.

With the Scientific Revolution, however, the Aristotelian baby of ethical teleology was thrown out along with the bathwater of Aristotelian physics. As a result, we were left with a current state, and a set of instructions. Instructions for what? Hmm, no one quite knew. How do we tell if those instructions are working? Again, it wasn't clear.

Thus, we experienced an onslaught of attempts to make sense of those instructions, to revise them according to some novel interpretation of what they were for, and so on. It's as if we were in the situation of a people whose ancestors had left them detailed instructions on the best ways to get to New York, which they still held to be very important, even though it had become an article of faith for them that there is no such place as New York!

And this analogy explains why it is true that morals are both relative and objective, and why it is so off target to accuse anyone who points out the contingent, situated nature of ethics as holding that "hey, anything is as good as anything else!" After all, the way in which it was best for an ancient Athenian to try to reach New York (involving heading west, sailboats, a gradual exploration of the Atlantic, etc.) is very different from the best way for a current resident of Tokyo to get here, perhaps by booking a plane ticket. And yet that doesn't in the least mean that we can't say that lying down in bed, or burrowing towards the center of the earth, are very bad ways of heading towards New York, and the ways mentioned previously are objectively better.

And so, when I was noting the culturally situated character of all ethical reasoning, it was not only uncharitable but also rather obtuse for a critic to say, "So, you think there was nothing wrong with the Holocaust, since that was OK per the Nazis culture!" Well, no, son, the Holocaust was a lot more like burning down all the vehicles in the area, killing the drivers, hacking off one's own arms and legs, and then screaming in rage that the drivers had betrayed you.

And that, we can see objectively, is not much of a way to get to New York.

Wanna Play a Game?

Let's do this: We'll define a principle, let's call it "the Non-Evil Principle" (the NEP). We'll declare that our political ideology is in favour of doing things that are good, and is against doing things that are evil. Then, unbeknownst to others, we'll define good to be "political policies we like" and evil to be "political policies we don't like."

Once we're done with that, anytime we meet someone who recommends a political policy we don't like, we can taunt them with, "You're in favour of evil! You're in favour of evil!"

This will be fun!

Ah, Naturalism...

So blissfully free of prejudice and contradiction!

Here's Robin Wright being interviewed by Tyler Cowen (my own transcript, not guaranteed accurate down to the 'um' level, hat tip to Murphy):

"The human mind is designed by natural selection to have a very narrow focus, to do a very narrow set of tasks that were related to getting genes into the next generation, and it's nothing like an objective view of the actual world, and unfortunately one of the things we're inclined to do is place our value judgments on almost everything we see... the judgment subordinate to our self-interest... you see a guy, he's a rival... and you start attributing all these negative qualities to him, it may turn into intolerance of his religion... they're just in your head, they're not the objective truth... although Buddhism as practiced in Asia has a lot more supernatural gobbledygook than Americans realize..."

Man, those durned religious folks! They believe what it is in their interest to believe (like natural selection designs things?!), they can't see that their view is nothing like an objective view of the world (such as seeing that, if this view of the human mind is true, it totally undermines the case for believing our scientific theories, since they, too, are just in our self interest and are nothing like an objective view of the world), and they wind up criticizing the other fellow's religion because he is a rival ("Buddhism as practiced in Asia has a lot more supernatural gobbledygook than Americans realize").

UPDATE: Oops, that's "Robert Wright."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mega-mushrooms

That shit will get you wacked!


Criminalizing Non-Violent Behaviour?

Over at Rad Geek People's Daily, Rad Geek Writes:

'Of course, the main thing to say here is really that “maintaining our [sic] culture” is not a good enough reason for criminalizing nonviolent people. If your culture can only be maintained at the point of a gun, then your culture sucks, and the sooner you stop “maintaining” it on the backs of harmless pot-smokers, the better.'

Now, I agree with Rad Geek, that Grabar is a bit whacked on pot (the topic, not the drug), but the above argument isn’t going to wash, because:

1) To maintain property rights involves “criminalizing non-violent people”, otherwise I’m able to very peacefully and non-violently wander into your house and get a nice sandwich and beer from your fridge. That’s not violent. What’s violent is when you try to throw me out. Now, that may be an OK use of violence against a non-violent person, but don’t pretend it isn’t criminalizing non-violent behavior!

2) If pot smoking would destroy our culture, then that would be a damned good reason to criminalize it. Humans aren’t humans without a culture, and those living in one have a right to defend it (but not, of course, an unlimited right to do so), since it is central to their lives and identities.

WE ARE AT WAR! Why Are They Fighting Back?

Glenn Greenwald:

'So we've spent the last decade screaming to the world that WE ARE AT WAR!, that we're a War Nation, that we're led by a War President. That we are "at war" -- not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but generally against Islamic extremists -- is an absolute bipartisan orthodoxy that must be affirmed by all Serious people. And we are currently waging some form of actual war in no fewer than five predominantly Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia); are threatening Iran with "crippling" sanctions and -- from our more deranged quarters -- war; and continuing our unbroken devotion to Israel's causes.

'Yet even in the face of all of that, it is bewilderment and confusion that reign when our media stars and political figures talk about attempts to attack Americans. Why would they possibly want to do this? They must be crazy, or drunk with religious fervor, or consumed by blinding, inhumane hatred. Much of that is probably true for individuals willing to blow themselves up in order to slaughter as many innocent civilians as possible. But it's equally irrational to think that you're going to spend a full decade bellowing WE ARE AT WAR! to the world, send bombs and troops and all forms of death to multiple Muslim countries (both directly and through Israel), and not have that directed back at us. That's what happens when a country is "at war" -- it doesn't just get to blow up things and people in other countries, but its own things and people sometimes get blown up as well. That's how "war" works.'

Saturday, January 09, 2010

(Neo)Conservatives Do Support Abu Ghraib

As my fellow Oakeshott-dissertation writer Andrew Sullivan points out.

I Can't Give It Away on 7th Avenue

My Mac laptop wasn't playing any sound, and when I tried to turn the volume up or down, a little circle with the line across it graphic came up, like it was telling me "No sound allowed."

So I searched Google for 'mac laptop "no sound"', and the very first hit recommended: "i stuck a head phone plug in the jack and smacked it a couple times and bam it works".

I tried this method and, bing-badda-bing, "it works"!

Two lessons:

1) Google is the best tech support desk ever, way better than doing something dumb like calling the manufacturer.

2) Smacking electronic devices: the fix that never grows old!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Need lessons in overacting?





Breast Cancer Awareness You Can Put to Use

"Since mammographic screening was introduced, the incidence of a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) has increased by 328 percent. Two hundred percent of this increase is allegedly due to mammography. In addition to harmful radiation, mammography may also help spread existing cancer cells due to the considerable pressure placed on the woman's breast during the procedure. According to some health practitioners, this compression could cause existing cancer cells to metastasize from the breast tissue.

"Cancer research has also found a gene, called oncogene AC, that is extremely sensitive to even small doses of radiation. A significant percentage of women in the United States have this gene, which could increase their risk of mammography-induced cancer. They estimate that 10,000 A-T carriers will die of breast cancer this year due to mammography

"The risk of radiation is apparently higher among younger women. The NCI released evidence that, among women under 35, mammography could cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 it identifies. Another Canadian study found a 52 percent increase in breast cancer mortality in young women given annual mammograms."

Here.

Yum, breakfast

Grits, chili, and knockwurst:




If You Just Pay $6000 for This Treadmill...

You could move forward by running!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Oh Boy, Here We Go Again

Just like Rich Lowry, Victor Davis "Give Me More War" Hanson simply ignores the reason terrorists themselves give for the actions, and replaces those with his preferred explanation:

"All of this has not been lost on Islamists. In general, al-Qaeda interprets our outreach as a sign of moral weakness. Since 9/11, more than one-third of all terrorism-related incidents in the United States occurred in 2009 alone. Maj. Nidal Hasan’s murderous rampage at Ford Hood, and al-Qaeda’s foiled Christmas Day effort to blow up a jet over Detroit, are just precursors of what to expect this year."

But, as I pointed out in another blog, the terrorists themselves were very clear why they did what they did. The jet bombing was retaliation for our attacks in Yemen. Hasan was outrages that Obama wasn't pulling out of Afghanistan. These reasons don't justify terrorist attacks, but I see no reason not to believe they were the real motivation behind the terrorists actions.

Consider what we would think if Hanson tried to give this kind of spin to an ordinary crime. Let's say a man shoots his wife, and then confesses, "I did it because she would get drunk and hit me, and I couldn't take it anymore." And let's assume there is plenty of evidence, say, previous police reports and so on, that she did assault him. Now, that doesn't justify the shooting -- he should have just left. But what would people think if Hanson came along and said, "See, the problem is she stopped beating him so much, and her display of weakness emboldened him"? Well, we would think he was a crackpot, right? And so he is, but he's a crackpot who gets a national stage from which to declaim his crackpot views.

And in the case of terrorism, there's even more reason to believe the criminals avowed motives than there is in an ordinary crime. After all, the terrorist is committing his crime in order to get the other side to stop doing whatever it is he wants them to stop. So it defeats the whole idea behind terrorism to lie to the other side about what your grievances are.

Come on folks, it's time to grow up and stop using embracing these childish fantasies about what's going on.

Game day





Ummm, Popeye's after the game.




Div I Ball

10 dollar tickets, and our seats:










St. Francis College, Brooklyn

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Think for Yourself!

The other day I heard someone lecturing a religious person on how "Religion is just for conformists who can't think for themselves!"

I had to laugh: Is it possible to have a more trite and conformist opinion than the one this fellow was expressing about religion?

Seen Any Bees?

Please contact:




Murphy Proposes $100 / Ton Carbon Tax!!

Holy shit! Details here.

Any Suggestions?

OK, so I'm teaching a course called "The Great Transformation" at SUNY Purchase this spring, dealing with the rise of "capitalism," where that is taken to mean, roughly, "the economic structure of the West since the late 19th century."

Here's my current reading list. Any further suggestions?

Books

Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times, Beacon Press Books.

Schumpeter, Joseph A., Can Capitalism Survive? Harperperennial.

Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Routledge.


Readings on Moodle (These will be excerpts put up on our online system called "Moodle.")

Aquinas on Usury

Aristotle on Merchants

Chesterton, G. K. “The Common Man,” http://chesterton.org/gkc/Distributist/The%20Common%20Man.htm.

Collingwood, R. G. on mass-produced art.

Hayek, F. A., “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html.

G. W. F. Hegel, from The Philosophy of Right.

Kirzner, Israel, “Finders Keepers,” from Discovery, Capitalism, and Distributive Justice.

MacIntyre, Alasdair, “” from After Virtue.

Oakeshott, Michael, “The Masses in Representative Democracy,” from Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays.

Smith, Adam from The Wealth of Nations.

Taylor, Charles, from The Sources of the Self.

Veblen, Thorstein, from The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Frenglish

I set m'y iPhone language to french to send someone a message in that lingo. I set thé language back to English, and the buttons and menus went to English, but thé durned thing kept spell-checking me as if i hadn't changed it. Now, after resetting thé language several times, it seems m'y spell checking is done half in English and half in French, and while m'y menus are English, thé text on thé buttons is all French.


-- Post From My iPhone

So, Is the Truce Ended Now?

Does the fact that Lew Rockwell is allowing Karen DeCoster to simply make shit up to smear Robert Poole mean that the truce is over?

Bob?