Showing posts from July, 2007

Hedging Your Bets

Can a lawyer represent both sides in a divorce case? Can a coach manage each time in a ballgame? But, in some cases...

Civil Servant Civil War in Iraq

Even the humanitarian relief efforts serve an almost tragicomic illustration of the reality of the Iraqi Civil War: Tragicomic, were it not so horrifically real.

Is It Bishop Berkeley, or Is It...

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?" "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" -- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (By the way, I read it Monday -- highly recommended.)

Right Wing Blowhard on CSPAN this Weekend

Sunday afternoon and then at midnight. See here for details.

You Only Get What You Give

I'm reading a fascinating book that my wife discovered, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. At some point I'll probably review it for so no need for a big to-do right now. However, in the beginning he discusses why it's very odd that we try to imagine and provide for the desires of these other people, who are often very ungrateful. Those people are our future selves. This wasn't Gilbert's point, but it reminded me of one of my (countless) deep insights from my grad school years: If you are altruistic then it will redound to your happiness. There is much psychological truth behind the Golden Rule, but it's not (simply) that God will reward you in heaven or that people might reciprocate. Rather, if you orient yourself to catering to others' needs, then you will do the same for your future self. And hence you will be happier than if you selfishly look out for Numero Uno, and then wonder why you haven't lived up to your potential (an

The Government, Protector of the Environment

I saw a show on BBC before I left the UK last week on "tiger protection" efforts by the Indian government. At one "tiger preserve," state officials were reporting the presence of almost 30 tigers, but when independent researchers checked the park, they found that every single tiger had been poached from the preserve, from under the noses of 300 government employees. Another state-run preserve banned a researcher who questioned their population figures, but the researcher's figures were later proven accurate. Meanwhile, AM New York reports that the New York City government dumps about 27 billion gallons of raw sewage into New York waterways each year. Fixing the problem would be "too expensive."

Bob to Republicans: Ron in the Primary, Rudy in the General

No, I'm not voting for Giuliani--I don't vote, on principle. (And a Clinton victory might even be better in the long run, since people need to remember that a "liberal" can bomb foreigners too.) But this is unsolicited advice for Limbaugh fans.

The Subtleties of Sidewalk Etiquette

Early IT Troubles

First tech support call . (Hat tip to Rodercik Long.)

The Logic of War

Here's a chain of reasoning we see often today: 1) Famous pundit/politician A is against the Iraq War but was/is for intervention in Bosnia/Kosovo/Darfur. 2) This is inconsistent. (Let us grant 2 for argument's sake.) 3) Therefore, the case against the Iraq War is nonsense. See how 3) follows of necessity from 2)? What?! You don't? You must be a "Jew hater"!

Morality and Reason

Not trying to pick on D. Glen Whitman, but in our exchanges below he has made a point that others often do: And while God has allegedly given us an instruction manual with the moral truths written down, there is more than one such manual, and their contents are often ambiguous and inconsistent. That means that we have no choice but to use reason to try to figure out the best moral rules. As always, my point here isn't to change minds; obviously that's not going to happen. But I get the sense that there are many atheist readers of this blog who would think Glen hit the nail on the head here, and only moronic Christians could contort their minds and fail to see how crushing this point is. On the contrary, it's no more crushing to the Bible-thumper than the following analogous argument is to Glen: Rationalists allegedly tell us that reason can allow us to discover moral truths. Problem is, rationalists don't agree with each other. Even if we narrow the category down to

Morality and God

In the debate between Glen and Gene (a few posts below), they are arguing the timeless question of whether belief in God is necessary for morality. Let me first broadcast a portion of my comment: "...I think that God designed the universe and human beings, and thus He knows what will give us not mere pleasure, but joy. And thus when He warns us (through prophets, but also by giving reason to sociologists, economists, political scientists, and medical doctors who specialize in venereal disease) about the consequences of immorality (or sin, to use a quaint term) He is letting us know that we are going to be unhappy. It's like a parent telling a child not to go near the stovetop... What if it were the case that people felt unfulfilled because they were separated from their Maker, and that's what caused them to seek out drug use, affairs, bank robberies, etc.? (Granted they might be atheists and not realize the source of their unhappiness.) In what possible sense could you s

Norwegian Wood: About Arson?

(The following post is dedicated to John Goes.) I had always assumed the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" was about some PG-13 date that John Lennon had, and that the next morning he got the fireplace going. But try listening to the song (it's freakier if you actually listen to the song, rather than just googling the lyrics) and just entertain the hypothesis that Lennon is a really bitter guy and that the girl ("she once had me") is a tease. It puts the last line in a whole new light.

Morality for Neoplatonists, Part II

In honor of my birthday, Glen Whitman debunks the dependence of morality on the existence of God as follows: "Well, um, I’m an atheist, and I think it’s wrong to kill people and stuff. So there." Along the same lines, I can show that the fact that people do not float off the earth and into space does not depend on gravity: "Well, um, I don't believe in gravity, and I don't float out into space. So there." See, philosophy is easy, if you just don't give a crap what sort of argument you use!

The Stupidity of Modern Conservatives, Part II

I recall the trashing I would see Stanley Fish receive in various 'intellectual' conservative outlets. Having read about half of his Milton book, Surprised by Sin , I can testify that the man is a genius and great scholar. That doesn't mean I would agree with everything he's written (this is the first time I've read him at length), but he is certainly not the babbling moron these conservatives would have him. The anti-intellectualism most conservatives display is a good indication that what passes for conservatism these days is really... I'll give you a hint: it starts with an 'f'. And, it makes me re-think my re-action to Rudy Giuliani's assertion that he had 'never heard' the blowback explanation for 9/11 when Ron Paul brought it up. I now see that, in a sense, he may have been speaking the truth -- he had never heard it in that he had always refused to listen when it was brought up. In that sense, even the next time someone suggests it to

Doubting the Germ Theory of Disease

On a recent trip back from my parents' house, our 2-year-old engaged in very risky behavior in the airport and on the plane. He rolled around on the floor at the gate, and he rubbed his pacifier all over the food court table, and then against his bare feet. My wife and I were utterly grossed out. It has been several days and he shows no signs of illness.

Global Drying

After a dry spell in the UK, I saw an article in a paper saying that British gardeners would have to get used to the new climate they faced, and start planting desert species. Last month was apparently the wettest June here in recorded history. Those cactii and Joshua trees must be pretty water-logged!

Pining for Terror...

is Rick Santorum . (Hat tip to Jim Henley.) Not only is it sick to long for such attacks, people such as Santorum have taken a position where whatever happens proves them right: If there are no terror attacks, it shows how successful Bush’s strategy has been. But if there are terror attacks, it shows how much we need Bush’s strategy!

Murphy Op-Ed in Actual Newspaper

I make new inroads of propaganda , now reaching the poor masses without Internet access... (I.e. yes here I've given a link, but this article on student loans is in actual papers in NY.)

Modern Travel

I just arrived in Cardiff. The 3459 miles between New York and London took 6 hours to traverse. The 120 miles between Heathrow and Cardiff took two hours to cross. The mile between where I landed at Heathrow and the bus station? Three hours! (Taxiing, getting a bus to the terminal, getting through immigration, getting luggage, taking the Heathrow Express to another terminal, and walking to the bus station.)

Murphy interviewed on The Political Cesspool

Details here .

Democracy at Work

Machete sales crash after election . Sandy Ikeda reports a headline from his hometown paper, The East Valley Tribune : “Governor signs illegal immigration bill”

Nirvana and Kenosis

In response to the selection of a dialogue I quoted in my last post on Sam Harris' view of Christianity, Taisen called me out for selecting an equally weak passage with respect to Buddhism. I apologize if my introduction to the passage was lacking with better preface and tact, but I still basically endorse the passage as a more grounded ecumenical discussion. The quoted discussion does not intend to suggest that Buddhism is "impoverished". The rest of the essay tries to reconcile the Eastern view of the world with Christianity, concluding that Nirvana is quite close in many respects to the Christian concept of kenosis. Harris, on the other hand, is on a crusade to reveal the "wickedness" of religion and its supposedly bankrupt orthopraxis . Harris by no means should be considered an authority on Hinduism and Buddhism - to my mind he unknowingly slights them in the process of his crusade. By "more grounded", I intended foremost that orthodoxy

T-Shirt Slogans

Seen in Brooklyn: "Watch Out! I Had a Big Bowl of Bitchy for Breakfast." Nice to hear you acknowledge your personality defects. "Hot Stuff." Sister, either you don't need the t-shirt to point it out, or it ain't true.

Who's That Man?

No cheating!

The Stupidity of Modern Conservatism

This post over at the Lew Rockwell blog reminded me of the stupidity of modern conservatives. Time after time, modern conservatives have fought some "progressive" programme only to embrace it as their own a generation later. You now here conservatives talking as if human society would be impossible without the police, apparently unaware that professional police forces are a nineteenth century invention. The war on drugs, a stupid, costly, and civil rights crushing adventure that has made the drug problem far worse than when it was begun, is another progressive programme that conservatives now think we couldn't live without. I actually saw one conservative writing that opium "legalization" in the 19th-century was the first time drugs had ever been legal anywhere, apparently not realizing that they had almost always been legal almost everywhere. Public education is yet one more example. Is there any programme that conservatives think is so stupid and awful that f


Again over at Henley's place, there is an interesting discussion of "Left-Libertarianism." One poster argued: "From where I sit, and awful lot of libertarianism seems like an apologia for power, and a lot of the anti-government sentiment aligns all too well with the anti-democratic strain in conservatism." I responded: It is true that too many so-called libertarians try to justify, say, the power of multi-national corporations. But left-libertarians recognize that much of that power is tied into State power. Large corporations typically lobby for increased regulation of their industry, because the more red tape there is, the bigger their advantage over their small competitors. (A big company can much more easily afford full-time compliance staff.) They capture the bulk of export subsidies, get local governments to give them tax breaks and sieze the next site for their business through eminent domain. The elite rotate between government posts, lobbying firms, an

Treason in High Places

Jim Henley points it out .

I've Got a Hit!

I work up this morning with a surefire Hollywood seller: Flashdances with Wolves . Think about it: Flashdance , big hit. Dances with Wolves , big hit. Combine 'em, mega-big hit! I'm off to Tinsletown to pitch it.

Guilt the Socialists

I met three socialists selling "radical" literature in front of Starbucks, proselytizing to passersby. I didn't intend to get in a conversation with them, but I was perusing their books on a stand and before I knew it I was being interrogated by them about what I think is wrong with the world. It really cuts to the heart of the matter when you ask them what they have done for the exploited recently. The answer is almost always nothing. If you walk the walk, challenge them to act on their beliefs and dare to create the society they want from the bottom up, rather than futilely lobby for dictatorial top-down solutions. Federalism and local, concrete charity/mutualist-centered are their best chance to effectively change society in fundamental ways. They seemed to take this sourly, but it's good medicine. They can either be hypocrites and profit (socially or otherwise) from their ideological street fairs or get their hands dirty, maybe make a more efficient factor

Sam Harris' a priori Mysticism

Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith on the poverty of Western orthopraxy: "In fact, the spiritual differences between the East and the West are every bit as shocking as the material differences between the North and the South."... [...] ..."Mysticism , to be viable, requires explicit instructions, which need suffer no more ambiguity or artifice in their exposition that we find in a manual for operating a lawn mower. Some traditions realized this millennia ago. Others did not." So prayer, confession, attending Mass, almsgiving, fasting, chastity, and so on are not explicit instructions? Harris ends his book concluding that "[m]ysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reasons for what he believes, and these reasons are empirical. The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with