Friday, November 30, 2007

Leftist Advocates

There is a great opinion piece on the silence of American feminist groups regarding the teacher who named the teddy bear mohammed and the rape victim by Tammy Bruce. Of course, I have talked about both NOW's silence and the fate of the Saudi rape victim. The problem, as I have stated throughout this blog, is that too many on the Left are merely anti-West in general, and anti-America in particular. All our liberal feminist groups like NOW have shown themselves to be is advocates for the Left. They do not advocate for women. They advocate for Leftist policies.

And they are not alone in doing this. My wife is a Mexican-American, and her grandfather, an American citizen, has decided he wants his passport. Because he was born to a midwife and did not get his birth certificate at the time, and because he cannot get am original certificate of baptism because the original is in a church book, and they didn't give out certificates back then, and because he was a migrant farm worker and did not get counted by the census and did not have many of the official work documents you need if you have these kinds of problems, the federal government won't give him his passport. So my wife decided to contact LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. This is what happened, in the words of my wife, Anna:

Based on my recent experience with LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), I believe an investigation into the practices of this organization to be necessary.

LULAC claims it "advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health, and civil rights of Hispanics through community-based progams run by more than 700 LULAC councils nationwide," so naturally, I thought they would be able to help me with an issue concerning getting my grandfather, Jesus Garza, who is an American citizen of Hispanic decent, his passport, which is currently being denied to him by the passport office. Yet when I called several numbers on the official website, they were not in service. I then called the local LULAC office in Richardson, Texas, and was told that I would have the director’s number texted to me. I have never received that text. This led me to contact the San Antonio office, where I spoke to someone who basically told me they don't provide any services or answer any questions, and that there was no one I could talk to there at that office -- though he quickly, and suspiciously, provided me with the number of an attorney. It seemed very scripted.

I was so upset I called the National Office and asked them, "What exactly does LULAC do? What services do you provide? What is the organization's focus?" I heard dead silence on the other end for several seconds before I heard, "uhh, we're an advocacy group."

This group says they are supposed to "advance the civil rights of Hispanics," but all I received was the run around and an inability on their part to even tell me what they do. Which sounds like a scam to me.

My grandfather is in a bad situation because of when he was born and the circumstances around his life. He was born in 1927, but only obtained his birth certificate in 1950. This was not uncommon at the time. He has no medical record of his birth because he was born on a Texas farm to a midwife. Most people during that time obtained their birth certificates as adults, when they were old enough to go and them them themselves, like my grandfather. This is the basis for the passport office to deny my grandfather his passport, even though I know several people in the same situation who received theirs. This rash of interests in passports has come about because of the combination of needing a passport to go to Mexico now, and the fear being generated with the news of increasing crackdowns on illegals. My 80 year old grandfather is afraid he will be deported if he doesn't get his passport, and this denial is only fueling those fears.

All of which means the passport office is demanding more documentation. However, to make matters worse, he is also unable to provide employment records because he was a migrant worker, which means he's probably not in a census count either. An American citizen will probably die, having been denied a passport, just because he wasn't born at the right place and didn't have the right kind of job in the U.S. Very soon he will not even be allowed to travel into Mexico. Or perhaps even be allowed to return. LULAC sure doesn't know, or seem to care.


So, as you can see, LULAC doesn't seem to be what they (eventually) claim to be: an advocacy group. I bet if it were some Left-wing cause, though, we could have gotten them to do something.

Style Over Substance

Today I was thinking about education for a work I plan to do on it, specifically one of the main problems I see with it: an emphasis of style over substance. More specifically, we are replacing content with so-called skills. And then I ran across this article here on the requirements CBS has listed for a potential reporter on ecological issues. They say they want someone who is "wicked smart, funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy. This position requires strong people, reporting, story telling and writing skills. Managing tight deadlines should be second nature." Lots of skills listed here. But do they have to know anything? The ad says, "Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement.” Please note that it says knowledge of the "beat," not of ecology or the environment or anything of the sort. Apparently, knowing about ecology is not at all necessary to cover it. And why not? After all, Lou Dobbs knows nothing about the economy, but he not only reports on it, but gives his ignorant opinions on it as well. Looks like we'll be getting the Lou Dobbs of the environment over at CBS soon. No wonder our schools don't teach anything if jobs like this don't require that anyone know anything.

What World Leader Am I?

This was cute.

Never really thought of myself as the Ghandi type. Can you be a plump Ghandi?

Fanatics vs. Moderation

The response to the jailing of the British teacher highlights the differences among fanatics, fundamentalists, and those who follow the middle way, as commented upon here. Those who call for "No tolerance" and for her being killed for letting her class of 7 year olds name a bear Mohammed shows they are fanatics.

This also highlights the problem we face. It is easy for the government of a country to fight the government of another country -- it's a top-down system vs. a top-down system. However, how do you fight against a bottom-up system? That is what we face with fanaticism. How do you change people's minds? Here, the blunt object of force known as government simply won't work -- and may in fact make things worse.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why Can't Men Abort Their Children Too?

Perhaps someone can help me to understand something. I'm not going to say if I am pro-life or pro-choice, because that will bring an irrelevancy to what it is I am asking about.

A fertilized egg is genetically half the father's, half the mother's. I don't think there is any dispute there. Why, then, is it legal for a woman to abort her child without the father's consent, but it is illegal for the father to abort his child without the mother's consent? I raise this question in light of the situation surrounding Manishkumar M. Patel, who is charged with first-degree murder of an unborn child after slipping his girlfriend RU-486. We will leave aside for the moment the other things he is otherwise charged with: "second-degree recklessly endangering safety, placing foreign objects in edibles, possession with intent to deliver prescriptions, stalking, burglary, possession of burglary tools, and two counts of violating a restraining order," the first three of which are clearly associated with the incidents in question. My question is: if it is not murder for a women to abort her child, why is it murder for a man to abort his? This seems like a double standard. If you are going to use the argument that for a women it is an issue of it being her body, then he still should not be charged with murder, as all the rest of the charges deal with that issue.

So my question is: why should it be either legal or, to go further, okay, for a woman to abort her child, even if the man doesn't want her to do so, but it is not legal (or okay) for the man to abort the child even if she wants to keep it?

I don't care about the details about this creep, who was apparently married to someone else, to boot. My question is not specific to him. I am only interested in the principle.


A few weeks ago, my brother mentioned that he had started taking a multi-vitamin and that it had helped him with his reading understanding and retention. So I decided to do the same and begin taking a multi-vitamin. I've noticed that recently I've been able to really focus on tasks. I generally try to eat well-balanced meals, but that's not always possible. My wife and I perhaps go out to eat more than we should, and typically restaurant food isn't the best for you. So the multi-vitamin helps.

As I've been thinking about the effects of my taking a multi-vitamin, I am reminded of studies done with problem students in alternative schools, where the typical school diet was replaced by a high-nutrition, high-vitamin diet. Something like 90% of all behavioral problems vanished. If you know the kind of garbage our schools serve our children, you probably wouldn't be surprised that they misbehave -- except that many people probably would be surprised, since the food they feed their children is even less nutritious. My guess is that the vast majority of ADHD cases would be eliminated with a proper diet, since lack of certain vitamins leads to hyperactivity.

Would it be too much to ask that our schools give each child a multi-vitamin every morning? Yes, I know that's not very libertarian of me to suggest, but if we're going to have public schools anyway, the least they could do is make sure children are prepared in as many ways as possible to learn. Besides, it would reduce the use of harmful drugs and keep many children out of trouble -- aside from the fact that they would now be ready and prepared to learn.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shame on NOW

The National Organization of Women refuses to take a position on the situation with Gillian Gibbon, who is going to be given 40 lashes for allowing her class of 7 year olds name their teddy bear Mohammed. I guess we now know that NOW is not in fact a women's advocacy group, but is merely an anti-West, anti-American, neo-Marxist, neo-fascist, postmodernist Leftist organization from which all women of conscience -- all women who do in fact stand for women's rights around the world -- should withdraw all support. Of course, this is the same organization who refused to take a stand against Bill Clinton's sexist behavior toward women. I guess it's okay to treat women as mere sex objects if you're a Democrat, or to punish women in such outrageous ways if you're a non-Western country. Their lack of comment on the rape victim in Saudi Arabia being punished also says volumes about them.


If we teach our children math by asking
Them what color they think that it should be,
If we graduate our high school students
Functional illiterates unable
Stringing words to made grammatically,
If we do not teach our students classics,
If we do not teach our students logic,
If we do not teach our students music,
If we do not teach them how to reason,
If we do not teach them good and bad and
How to tell the difference between them,
f we do not do away with envy
Taught as ethical belief by teachers
Who believe the best and brightest do not
Count and say that they will just have to be
Bored so we can reach the dumb and lazy,
If we think to hit the target that we
Must aim low as possible, to our feet,
If we do not hold ourselves and others
To a higher standard than we do now,
If we keep on denigrating all that's
Excellent and good, just and beautiful,
If we keep on going as we're going

Free Markets and the Environment

When it comes to the free market and the environment, I could have said it better myself than does Gene Callahan.

How You Use It Is How We Tax It

Apparently, you have to be careful if you decide to use alternative fuels -- you could find yourself fined, just like Bob Teixeira was when he converted his Mercedes to run on vegetable oil rather than diesel fuel. He was fined for not paying fuel taxes on the vegetable oil he used. Apparently, the states tax not the product, but what the product is used for (we saw this same nonsense going on in Iowa with pumpkins). If you plan to cook with your vegetable oil, it's good, and you don't get taxed. If you use it for fuel, you are supposed to send the state government your fuel tax (though did anybody else know you were supposed to do that? Ignorance of the law is no excuse, I know, but still, shouldn't the laws generally be known?). I suppose if I bought some oil and wanted to use it to oil my body up for wrestling, I would have to pay the regular sales tax by this logic.

I have said before that it is probably a bad idea to use food for fuel, but I would also say that it's none of the government's business if I do so. One can make the argument that we need these taxes to build and maintain our roads (oh, if only fuel taxes were only used for roads and nothing else!) -- so be it. It seems to me, then, that the proper response is not to fine the person the first time, but to give the person a warning citation, letting the person know he is supposed to be paying the fuel tax. If paying the fuel tax is indeed what they are after here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time, the Forgotten Variable

Here's an interesting set of statistics. We oftentimes hear of the top 1% and the bottom this and that percent. Well, this graph shows quite clearly that while politicians are always talking about them as monolithic groups, the fact of the matter is that people are moving up and down all the time. In fact, as we can see here, the bottom tend to move up at a faster rate than most, while those at the top are actually more likely to move down. More, we see that on average everyone's lot in life in the U.S. improved quite a bit in this ten year span. When we talk about poverty and wealth, we have to keep in mind that things change quite a bit -- indeed, time is the one thing we like to forget about when dealing with complex social issues.

Emergence or, This Is That Something

And then something arose in the space
That is time and the one became two
And the two became three and the three
Became multitudes speaking the one
To another so something'd arise
In chemical complexity ground
To the rising of life in the space
That it made and the space that it made
In between the chemically made
Paradox paradox of all life
Is resolved in the mind of humans
In which something arose in the space
Of the brain and the one became two
and the two became three and the three
Became multitudes speaking as one
Who can speak to each other to form
And inform a new form from inform
So that something arose in the space
So that something arose into time

Monday, November 26, 2007

Venezuelan Traitor Update

Hugo Chavez is now saying that anyone who votes against the proposed Constitutional reforms in venezuela -- reforms which would give him dictatorial powers, including the ability to seize land at will -- is a traitor, saying further that, ”He’s against me, against the revolution and against the people.” Now it doesn't take a brain scientist to figure out what he means by this. We all know what happens to traitors.

In many ways, this is truly remarkable. What we see happening in Venezuela is democracy at work to actively destroy itself. My God, is Nietzsche right about EVERYTHING?

Edwards' Advertising Ban Proposal (and mine)

Paul Jacob over at the Sam Adams Alliance talks about Edward's idea to ban drug advertising. While I like his suggestion for Edwards, let me suggest something else. Jacob observes that Edwards "also says the commercials imply that by taking the drug you’ll be skipping through fields holding the hands of your loved one. You’ll be conned into believing Nirvana is around the corner no matter what potential side effects the voiceover warns you about." This gives me several ideas.

One, perhaps we should make it a law that all political ads have a voiceover warn us about the potential side effects of whatever political proposal the candidate is making.

"Tax increases have been shown to result in recession in X% of all cases."
"Studies have shown socialist ideas like these to fail in most countries where they have been tried."
"Universal health care could result in lower quality and tax rates of up to 90% for most people."

Yes, I think I like that idea. I mean, isn't this what political commercials do? They try to con you into believing Nirvana is around the corner no matter what potential side effects of the politician's ideas?

Second, perhaps there should be a two year ban on anyone running for President speaking about it. Wouldn't that be nice? Perhaps the media could then spend that time learning facts about the candidates without having to worry about the politicians trying to spin what they find and report.

Or maybe I'm the one dreaming of Nirvana now. In the real world free speech works best for everyone. Even if it means we have to listen to John Edwards blather on about things he knows nothing about (which seems to be almost everything).

Anyone for Tea?

So far I haven't really said who I support -- or if it is a Republican, a Democrat, or an Other (though my readers may figure out which one it is probably not) -- for the Presidential nomination. That having been said, let me draw your attention to the following, recently released by the Ron Paul campaign:

If you thought Ron Paul's $4.2 million dollar day on November 5th was huge, just wait until December 16th! Pledge your support now and spread the word. Let's make $10 million in 24 hours!

"On December 16th, 1773, American colonists dumped tea into the Boston Harbor to protest an oppressive tax. This December 16th, American citizens will dump millions of dollars into the Ron Paul presidential campaign to protest the oppressive and unconstitutional inflation tax - which has enabled a flawed foreign policy, a costly war and the sacrificing of our liberties here at home.

Please join us this December 16th 2007 for the largest one-day political donation event in history. Our goal is to bring together 100,000 people to donate $100 each, creating a one day donation total of $10,000,000.

Please pledge via feedburner below to confirm your commitment to donate. Each day you'll receive an email with our total number of subscribers. In this way we will know exactly where we stand in our efforts. Our goal is 100,000 subscribers.

Please pledge now. Please spread the word. Thank you."

Join the Tea Party!

I don't necessarily agree with everything Ron Paul supports, but I do agree with him on most issues more than I do any of the rest. There are even a few things I want to disagree with him on, but refuse to let myself do so by reminding me of the Ben Franklin quote, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." More, as history has shown repeatedly, they will end up with neither. And this is equally political as economic security.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Abort All Your Babies to Save the Planet!

There are those of us who are greens, who think we should be good stewards of our planet, who see ourselves as gardeners of the planet, and that that is the best way of keeping the planet healthy. And then there are the Environmentalists for whom Environmentalism is a religion. Compared to the couples in this article here, though, Al Gore is an apostate.

The article is about two couples who decided to abort and become sterilized in order to save the planet. This is perverse. Certainly, I think people should be able to sterilize themselves if they want -- one could consider it Darwinism thankfully at work -- but that does not mean I should not be able to judge them. The question you may have is why I would judge them so harshly.

I judge them harshly because what these people are expressing is not concern for the Earth, but a deep hatred for human beings. They see human beings as the problem, and eliminating humans from the earth as the solution. They are starting with themselves to be examples to others. They hope others will follow their leads. If such an idea were simply genetic, I would say good riddance to them, knowing we would soon be done with such nonsense. However, the problem is that ideas are memetic, not genetic. They can spread and infect other minds -- and that is a cancer we need to treat right now.

Humans are the solution to the world's problems. More, we are the solution to the paradox of biological existence. We are perhaps, even, if we take James Lovelock seriously, the reproductive organs of the Earth. Humans are exponentially (10x) more complex than life itself; life is exponentially more complex than is chemistry; chemistry is exponentially more complex than atoms and quantum physics. When we add more complexity to the world, we add value and meaning, and thus greater good, to the world. Thus, it is moral to sacrifice less complex entities to the survival of more complex entities, but not vice versa. This does not mean we should exploit those things less complex than we are -- in fact, our greater complexity gives us greater responsibility for the care of those less complex than us -- but at the same time, to destroy a greater good for a lesser good is bad; to knowingly do so is evil. We should be working to make the world more complex, not less. This is why artists of all kinds are so valuable to the world.

Elaine Scarry in her book "On Beauty and Being Just" says that beauty causes us to want to reproduce it. When you see a beautiful flower, say, you want to make copies of it. You may want to take a photograph, paint a painting, write a poem -- or at least tell someone about it. The same is true of people. When you meet a beautiful person, you want to reproduce them. You want to add more of their beauty to the world. Beauty has complexity and,thus, the addition of more beautiful objects to the world adds to its complexity. I have noticed that many single, professional men and women are against having children -- until they meet someone they want to make copies of. My wife was against having children, or even of getting married, until she met me. Each of us wanted to make more copies of the other -- and the result was our little girl. And we want to make at least one more. We want children because we think the world would be greatly impoverished without each other in it. This is the beauty of children and of having children.

Now I'm not saying people should go out and have as many children with as many people they find beautiful as possible. My wife and I only want two children, after all. We have to balance all our desires, wants, and needs, after all. We think we will raise our children better and provide more for them, including a more complex environment that will develop their brains into more complex minds, if we limit ourselves to two. In the same way, while I love those tiny flowers known as bluets, I have only written a few poems about them. Everything in moderation. But I am saying that if you choose not to have children for something like "saving the environment," then your values are perverse. Personally, I find the people interviewed in the article to be horrifying monsters. Their ideas are literally rotten, putrid, and putrefying. So why do I draw anyone's attention to their vile ideas? Because, in order to fight off a potential infection, the body has to have its attention drawn to it -- only then will antibodies be produced to fight off the disease. And this kind of anti-human, indeed, humanophobic virus needs antibodies made against it now, before such vile ideas spread.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Off For Thanksgiving

Well, faithful readers, I will be off to visit my wife's family for the next several days for Thanksgiving. These kinds of things are typically all about complaining about this and that, and sometimes even suggesting solutions. But rarely do people say what they are thankful for.

I am thankful for my wife, Anna.

I am thankful for my baby, Melina, who is almost one.

I am thankful for my family -- my father and his wife, my brother and his wife and their new baby, Ben.

I am thankful for Anna's family.

I am thankful for all my friends.

I am thankful for the U.S. Constitution and the fact that our government does follow most of it most of the time. Most countries do not have a Constitution like ours, and we should be thankful that we had some very wise men to write it.

I am thankful that our Founding Fathers were real, flawed human beings and not gods -- they are hard enough to live up to as it is.

I am thankful for all the good things the postmodernists gave us -- I do complain about them a lot, and I do think they were excessive on a lot of things, but if we look at them through the eyes of moderation, they did correct a few things that needed correcting.

I am thankful I live in a country that lets me say the things I say on this blog.

Those are a few of the things I'm thankful for. What are you thankful for?

Dear Rosie O'Donnell,

So Rosie O'Donnell called President Bush a war criminal. We can add this to the list of complete nonsense that comes out of this woman's mouth. She has complained nonstop about this country that treats her incredibly well, even accusing the government of staging 9-11 (the first time steel melted by fire? Ever heard of the Iron Age, Rosie?) So, just for fun, let's see how Rosie would fare in other countries.

Homosexuality is a crime in 75 countries. 9 execute homosexuals. Rosie O'Donnell would be killed in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. The rest just fine, imprison, put to hard labor, and/or beat you if you're gay.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the primary legal concerns are marriage and adoption. (Though I did love the romantic reason Rosie married her wife -- to make a political statement. That does have to warm the heart. It would be like me saying I married my Mexican wife to make the white supremacists mad. My wife told me she would not be too keen on marrying me for that.)

She would also be in trouble in Germany for "Insult" -- a punishable crime, as is "defamation" and "hate speech." The latest outburst would have landed her in jail in Germany for at least the first two. She would have certainly faced at least imprisonment and probably death in places like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Cuba for saying the kinds of things she has about their leaders as she has about Bush. This is another thing for which she should be thrilled to live in the U.S. with George Bush as President (along those lines, you better stay on Hillary Clinton's good side if she become President -- I'm not expecting prison, but the Clintons are infamously nasty to perceived enemies).

In many countries, especially Islamic countries, she would have few if any rights as a woman, and would not be allowed to show much else than her eyes in places like Saudi Arabia.

In over half the countries in the world she wouldn't be fat, either.

So really, there are few countries where Rosie O'Donnell could be who she is: a fat, obnoxious, loud-mouthed lesbian married to her wife and raising her adopted children -- let alone be rich at it.

For that Rosie should show some thankfulness this Thanksgiving rather than being a jerk. It might be a nice change of pace for her too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Love and Good Faith

Is it okay for a Baptist church to refuse to let other faiths pray on its property?

In a time when everyone is desperately trying to find something to be offended by; in a time when people are up in arms over every little thing, we have an example of good faith and understanding by an interfaith group, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, in Austin Texas, when their Thanksgiving celebration had to move because the church who owned the property where it was being held learned that Moslems would be praying there. Their response can be seen here.

The celebration was taken in by a synagogue (the headline could have read: Moslems Kicked Out By Christians; Taken In By Jews). The response by the Interfaith group was absolutely correct. They showed complete respect for the beliefs of the Baptist church and in no way condemned their decision. Instead, they found another group that would let them hold their celebration, then turned around and invited the church leaders to come participate in the interfaith dialogue the Institute of Interfaith Dialog is involved in. I hope they go. But if they don't, no one should condemn them. That is their right as well, and we should respect it. Besides, from the Baptist perspective, shouldn't they want to go and make sure that people there hear the Word?

Personally, I recommend everyone read Frederick Turner's book Natural Religion.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Lure of the Hero

Beowulf was the top grossing film this weekend. The film version of an Old English poem was the top grossing film this weekend. Some may say that it had to do with the way the movie was made, with the special effects. Nonsense. Nobody goes to a film for special effects. People go to see a movie because of the story. And, while this version of Beowulf was not quite the story told in the original poem (some modern Hollywood sensibilities snuck in, which I will get into here in a moment), it is the kind of story not generally being told in Hollywood of late -- with some notable exceptions. And it is these notable exceptions which deeply interest me, because Beowulf is part of a trend.

There has been a recent rise in Heroic Epics, such as Gladiator, Troy, Alexander, 300 and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Beowulf and Troy are both based on ancient epic poems -- a genre nobody reads anymore in either high school or college (if you have or have had a teacher who assigned such works at The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, or Beowulf, count yourself lucky). This is a shame because recently there have been some excellent translations of these poems. Fagles' translations The Iliad and The Odyssey are masterpieces -- and I cannot wait to read his translation of The Aeneid. (Incidentally, don't ever read a prose translation of any poem -- prose translations miss much of the meaning of a poem, much of which is carried in the rhythms of the works.) But let us get back to the fact that we are seeing a spate of heroic epics on the big screen. Why are we seeing so many of these kinds of heroes?

I think it is because, in no small part, we are missing the heroes in our own culture. While Achilles can certainly throw a epic-hero-sized hissy-fit, I don't think anyone wouldn't want this man to be on his side in battle or to be his friend. Further, we see incredible leaders, facing down overwhelming odds (themselves, and not just sending others out to do the dirty work for them) in Alexander and 300. What we see in each of these movies is goodness and virtue standing up -- and being struck down. But notice too that in being struck down, the hero wins. Achilles knows he will die if he kills Hector, but he kills him all the same, making it possible for the Greeks to defeat the Trojans (Agamemnon dying at the end of Troy was annoying for several reasons -- not the least of which being that they stupidly prevented themselves from being able to do the Oresteian trilogy). The Greeks in 300 all know they will eventually die -- but they do so to let the Spartans know just how dangerous the situation is, so they will fight against the Persian invasion. Alexander, too, pushes himself to death to conquer the world, and bring Greek civilization to the world (while respecting the peoples he conquered -- something that was truly unique at the time). The common theme: these are all men whose fires burned too bright not to burn out quickly -- though without them, those they loved faced defeat. We see this too in Beowulf, where Beowulf arrives to defend an old ally of his father's, and later sacrifices his own life to protect his people.

The main problem I have with the movie Beowulf is the apparent need of Hollywood to give Beowulf a weakness. The first one is his falling in love with the queen -- something that was unnecessary, which made him appear weak right away (and a bit sappy), and which they really did nothing with. Then they had Grendel's mother tempt Beowulf with something that there was no indication Beowulf even wanted or cared anything about. As a prince whose father died, he was a king anyway. The fight with the mother was sacrificed in order to figure out a way to connect the third part, where Beowulf fights the dragon, to the first two parts. This of course follows more traditional storytelling, but I wonder if there could not have been some other way of doing so than to make the dragon Beowulf's offspring. In the places where they stick to the original story, Beowulf is an incredible hero. But the places where they deviate from the original story, Beowulf becomes, in my wife's words "a bit of a wimp." Which is a real shame.

But despite the weakening of these stories by Hollywood (except, thankfully, 300), they are still the most archetypal heroes we've seen in a long time, whether in film, plays, or novels. The usual postmodern attitude is that people aren't interested in these kinds of stories, that these kinds of stories aren't realistic, and that they are elitist. Nonsense. Beowulf was the top grossing film this weekend. People are interested. Next, there are different kinds of realism -- and why should art be "realistic" in the sense in which they are taking about? I'm with Aristotle on this: literature is more important than history because literature is more philosophical, speaking about what could and should have been, while history only tells us what was. Thus, art should not be realistic in the historicist sense. And finally, again, the fact that people seem to love hero movies says that they are not elitist. The same accusation is typically raised against rhythmic, rhyming poetry, despite the fact that children love this kind of poetry, and it was found in every culture, in every language, throughout all of human history. It is the Modernist and Postmodern poetry that has been incredibly elitist -- nobody even likes it, except pretentious Ph.D.'s in literature, who make their careers talking about poems only ten people have ever read -- and likely ever will read, they are so bad. This is not to say that I myself don't like many Modernists and even Postmodernists -- but there's a reason why if a contemporary book of poetry sells 50 copies a year it is on the "Best Seller's" list.

There is a strong disconnect between what intellectuals think people should be interested in, and what people are interested in. This doesn't necessarily mean the intellectuals are wrong (insofar as they encourage people to read classical literature over romance novels), but they should at least take pause at the fact that movie adaptations of The Iliad and Beowulf -- the kinds of works they denigrate and declare as elitist -- are so popular. When I taught 8th and 9th grade honors Literature, we did the complete Iliad and Odyssey (Fagles, tr.), respectively. They were incredibly popular. Boy and girls both loved it. African-Americans, Hispanics, and whites all loved it. The 8th grade boys were particularly interested in the ancient Greek gods, and would argue about who was the toughest. I remember one young man, an African-American, who was really into Zeus. One day he asked me if Zeus was white, or if he could be any color. I pointed out to him that we had read in the Iliad where Zeus and the other gods went to Ethiopia, and I asked him, "How do you think the gods appeared to the Ethiopians?" He thought for a second, smiled, and said, "Cool." So anyone who says these works cannot transcend race and gender either are not trying hard enough, or their anti-Western attitude is so entrenched that they will sacrifice the greatest works ever written just to tear down Western civilization.

And perhaps that is what this interest in heroes is all about. Heroes do have to destroy, yes. They do have to kill. But they do it, not for the sake of destruction, but to create. Or to protect what they value, or who is valuable to them (who is loved by them). People want to see virtue in all its glory. They want to hear stories of heroism. they want to know that there are people out there who are truly great -- which gives them hope of perhaps being truly great themselves one day. People need a model of greatness -- and that's what stories of great heroes give them. Hopefully, Hollywood will continue to give us these kinds of stories. Hopefully, they will cease giving in to the politically correct crowd who want to take away some of the hero's heroism for such nonsensical reasons as "realism" -- as though heroism isn't truly real.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Declining Dollar

Apparently Iran and Venezuela are pushing to depreciate the American dollar, as reported here: OPEC and the Dollar

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia decided that it was not in their best interest to damage the U.S. economy any more than the U.S. government is apparently doing that is resulting in the dollar's depreciation. So Saudi Arabia is the only country seeming to stand in the way of Iran and Venezuela declaring economic war on the U.S. How frightening is that? More, how frightening is it that countries like Venezuela and Iran are in a position -- created and perpetuated by our federal government -- to actually damage the U.S. economy by causing the dollar's depreciation?

China is also doing some rather stupid things in relation to the dollar -- they and too many other countries apparently do not understand that the economy is not a pie to be divided up, but is growing, meaning you don't have to tear down one economy to build yours up. What is worse, they don't realize if they do take down the U.S. economy, they will all be hurt far worse by the world depression that would ensue than we will.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Middle Way, Part 9 (Education)

For those wondering why education is so bad in the United States, Marinoff has a few ideas, all of which I agree with. Let us do an overview of what Marinoff has to say about education.

“The West’s greatest minds have been nourished, stimulated, and inspired by Euclid’s Elements, which (among other invaluable treasures) have been jettisoned by postmodernism. Not many university administrators, professors, or students still know the motto that Plato affixed above the entrance of his Academy, the model of our universities themselves: LET NO ONE IGNORNT OF GEOMETRY ENTER HERE. What would Plato or Aristotle say about an education system that is all but bereft of geometry, in which students gauge mainly their “self-esteem”? I leave it to your imagination for now. But I will take no chances, and will return to it later. Suffice it to say that the motto has been changed to: LET NO ONE COGNIZANT OF GEOMETRY GRADUATE HERE” (135).

I have a MA in English and a Ph.D. in the Humanities. Let me give you a list of the works I did not read while getting my undergraduate and graduate education (and which I have had to read on my own): The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Beowulf, Metamorphoses, any of Shakespeare but the tragedies, anything on the Arthurian legend, anything on the Faust legend . . . pretty much the reading list I made in my posting below about setting up a university. And even though I had taken many poetry writing classes, it wasn’t until I took poetry writing with Frederick Turner that I was made to read the Romantic poets or to write in any sort of form. Yes, even poetry needs GEOMETRY!

I have also had the misfortune of teaching the results of our focus on self-esteem. The result? An almost complete inability to take criticism. Now, it seems to me that the ability to take criticism is a sign that you have good self-esteem. So either this approach does not work, or they are not actually trying to teach students to have self-esteem. All they are teaching them to do is be weak. Marinoff explains the consequences:

“It’s a grand irony: Euclid’s Elements was the only prerequisite for entry into the West’s first and foremost Academy, because an understanding of geometry vouchsafed a foundation for understanding everything else, from poetry to physics, from philosophy to politics. By the late twentieth century, too many Western universities had not only abandoned Euclid as a prerequisite, but also eliminated prerequisites themselves. The result is inevitable: Their graduates’ horizons are narrowed instead of broadened. And so the intellectual edifice of Western civilization is imploding . . . . A dumbed-down and deconstructed mind politic cannot long sustain the vital functions of its body politic” (136).

The neo-Marxists who set this situation up know this. They know that only an ignorant population can be controlled. That is why they are working to make sure we are all ignorant. You don’t believe me? Marinoff points out that,

“the American professorate is 95 percent radical liberal, and the 5 percent who profess other views – even moderate, libertarian, or conservative, let alone extreme rightist – are gagged, censored, and persecuted by totalitarian university administrators that have as little regard for the Bill of Rights as did apologists or slavery in the antebellum South” (192).

Amen. Preach it brother!

The situation at the universities trickles down to lower education. Now here is an insight I think needs to be made more fully understood – we sometimes get cause and effect backwards (as Nietzsche once wisely observed), and I too was guilty of this until Marionff made it clear:

“As university education became a “right” to be conferred by quotas instead of privilege earned by scholarly achievement, the K-12 system also lost its incentive to educate. As the Russians say, “A fish rots from the head down.” And so the American educational system has rotted” (202).

Here was the problem made abundantly clear. I saw it all around me, and blamed it on the lower grades rather than on the universities. If universities returned to being a place where you earned what you got by scholarly achievement, how much better would the high schools become? Do you think middle classed moms would put up with their children not being able to get into a university because of the poor education their children were receiving in their middle and high schools? High standards in the universities would cause parents to demand high standards – while right now most parents think it’s other schools that are the problem, not theirs. They have to be made to see that it is their schools that are failing. Revolutionary transformation in the universities is the only way to do that.

What we need to do then is identify the problem: “the profane sacrilegious left, epitomized by the deconstructed zombies mass-produced on and graduated from the assembly lines of postmodernism’s totalitarian factories – the universities” (208). Groups who deny reality itself, and teach students that Western civilization and all its knowledge are bad, and that any story is as good as another (see my posting below on Saudi Arabia punishing a rape victim).

“The effects of deconstruction are pervasive and pernicious [in our universities]. It is not a coincidence that American students are performing increasingly poorly, by international standards, in mathematics and sciences, and not a coincidence that America is losing her global lead in sciences and technologies alike.. These cultural strengths of the West have been sapped by the cancer of deconstructionism” (241).

This same deconstructionism has turned our students into functional illiterates, unable to put together a grammatical sentence on paper. There have been moves against “normalizing” in writing, meaning anything goes. But if you cannot write clearly, you cannot think about anything clearly – but it is muddled thinking that the postmodernists want to push on our students.

Our universities “should be committed to discussing, researching, and clarifying issues, to testing hypotheses and discovering scientific truths, instead of censoring politically incorrect questions and promulgating politically correct ideologies” (294).

And education reform should not just occur at the universities:

“The best overall education involves a partnership between parents and schools. Parents are primarily responsible for their children’s cognitive development and good study habits, while schools are primarily responsible for curriculum and content, as well as for reinforcing good academic and social habits alike. Countries like Japan are educationally successful because both partners are expected to assume responsibility for their child’s learning; countries like the United States are in educational free fall because often both partners eschew that responsibility” (332).

Thus, the parents have to be responsible for their child’s education. We too easily put everything on the government, like it is the government’s responsibility to educate (and, increasingly, feed, discipline, and provide health care for) our children. Some of this involves the kinds of perverse incentives provided by our universities, but some of it is entirely on the shoulders of parents. Marinoff observes that the Jesuits said, “Give us the child until the age of seven, and we will answer for the man.”

I love that quote. It should be plastered on billboards around the U.S., with something emphasizing that all parents who have their children to the age of seven DO answer for the man, or woman. They are the ones responsible for how their children turned out. Marinoff points out that

“Indeed, the first seven years of life are critical. A child will be strongly influenced, emotionally and intellectually, by the values and prejudices instilled in him or her during this period. The music they hear at this point in their life remains most faithfully in long-term auditory memory; emotional attachments to religious or mythical beliefs ingrained during this period last a lifetime” (332).

Marinoff has much more to say about education, as do I, but let us leave it here for now. There is much work to be done if we are going to fix education. Are you ready to do something?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Age of Consent

Here is an interesting, well-reasoned article on age of consent. He points out that people tend to go through stages of development, starting with sexual maturity, then intellectual maturity, and then, finally, emotional maturity. He suggests that these should be taken into consideration when writing up age of consent laws. There have been a lot of news stories about adults having sex with teens, but nobody has really raised the question of why this is wrong. It seems so self-evident to us, now, that it is wrong. For that, we should thank the feminists for successfully convincing us that girls still in school should not be having sex (to keep them in school). But biologically, it doesn't make much sense. The question is, do we want to creat laws that go against biology? What are the social benefits and harms that come with such legislation? I suppose that few people would even want to raise such questions, let alone research them, for fear of being accused of being a pedophile. But in regards to sexual development, we aren't talking about children any more, are we? In any case, read the article above, then let the discussion begin!

Student-Centered Education

There is a very disturbing trend in schools today, from elementary school up through the universities. I have experienced it, my friends who are teachers have experienced it, and my wife has experienced it. It is this phenomenon of administrators assuming that whatever students say is the unvarnished truth, meaning the presumption of innocence is with the student and the presumption of guilt is on the teacher. And it seems that nothing the teacher says is believed or listened to in the least. No, the students are always right and pure and good; the teacher is always in the wrong and out to get the student and never doing anything right. Unless you are giving away A's without demanding the students do any work -- and absolutely do not criticize the students' work at all! No, we can't have that -- it might bruise their delicate egos.

What this is doing is undermining all respect for authority. The students learn that all they have to do to get anything they want is complain. They learn that those above the teacher will always go against the teacher, meaning the students end up not respecting the teacher's authorty. And why should they? The teacher doesn't have any authority. Neither do those who automatically give in.

The excuse is that they want to be more "student-centered." Well, what have schools been all this time? What they mean is they want the schools to be student-run and student-controlled. This is and has been a recipe for disaster. Students don't know what they need to know -- thus, they have no business being consulted on it. Being student-centered does not mean they get to decide anything regarding the way the class is structured, how the teacher teaches, what the assignments are or when or how often they are assigned. It does not mean anyone gets treated differently due to circumstances. It does not mean you give in to their whining. It does not mean you even put up with their whining. It especially does not mean you refrain from criticizing -- or, dare I say, even shaming -- the student. If you cannot correct a student, you cannot teach that student. Nowadays many students turn in work so bad that they need to be shamed, even embarrassed, at what they turned it. Especially when you have so many trying to get their papers done literally in the hour before class, when they had over a week to do the paper. Sometimes longer. With many college students, the writing is so bad that, to be honest, they should go back to their high schools and sue them for having let them pass when they could not write.

There is a reason discipline and disciple contain the same root: you cannot be a good student without discipline. Further, to learn, you have to have a teacher, a master who help you master what you need to know. But without authority, a teacher cannot teach. And so long as administrators give in to students (and parents), teachers will cease to have authority, meaning they will cease being teachers.

Your Punishment For Being Raped Is . . .

For those postmodernists out there who think that all cultures and their practices are equally valid and that Western civilization is the real problem in the world, please justify this: 19-Year Old Saudi Rape Victim Ordered to Undergo 200 Lashes

Go ahead. I'm waiting.

Good Riddance!

The worst thing to happen to the Republican party since Nixon, Dennis Hastert, is going to resign. He eliminated just about every Republican of worth from the House when he took over, and made the Republicans into such big spenders that they became impossible to differentiate from the Democrats. Now that the leader of the unprincipled Republicans is on his way out, can we get some principled ones? How about some people who never met a piece of un-Constitutional spending (almost all of the federal budget) he didn't hate? I mean, if we can't trust the Republicans with our money, why have them? (If the last election is any indication, the American people appear to agree with me on this.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not Stealing Is Giving

Gene Sperling, Hillary Clinton's chief economic advisor, recently said, "The question is, should we be giving an extra $120 billion to people in the top 1 percent?" What? Is there some new plan to give money to the richest in the country? Is there some new subsidy afoot that will benefit everyone in the top 1%? No, as it turns out, he was refering to cutting taxes. Now, last I heard, when you tax someone, you are taking money away from them; when you cut taxes, you are taking less money from them. Only a Democrat could think stealing less from someone is giving them something.

Let's Make a University!

I keep coming across organization after organization, national organizations and state organizations, which are interested in education reform. But is reform what we truly need? To reform something means that there is a substance there that has a bad form, and which we can fix by simply re-forming it. But what if the substance itself is no good?

Now most of the organizations I have come across of late have been libertarian and conservative in nature. They have all been pro-free markets (to my mind, being pro-free markets in economics is a lot like being pro-atomic theory in chemistry, but that's another post for another time) and, thus, have a fundamentally pro-Western, Aristotlean orientation. This is generally a good thing, as it promotes individualism and competition -- but what we need right now is competition's complement, cooperation.

What these groups need to get together and cooperate to make is a new university. Rather than attempting to reform a currently-existing university, what we need is an example. And what kind of example do we need to create? One that has extremely high standards -- standards that put Harvard and Yale to shame. These standards cannot be the ones currently available, though. SAT and ACT scores won't do it. It will have to be a test applicable only to that new university, and it will test such things as grammar, vocabulary, logic, geometry, arithmetic, and the sciences. Plato's Academy had a sign that read "None May Enter Unless You Have Mastered Geometry." That is the kind of entry requirement this new university should have. Further, there should be a written essay for acceptance, and none should be allowed in who have not mastered writing. That means, there cannot be a single ungrammatical sentence in the essay, let alone the kinds of word salads I have seen in student writing.

Once students are in, these should be the basic requirements:
1) literature -- no student should be allowed to leave who has not read The Iliad, The Odyseey, the Aeneid, Oedipus tyrranus, the Oreseteian trilogy, Hippolytus, Dante's Divine Comedy, something on the Arthurian legend, a significant portion of Shakespeare, something on the Faust legend, and significant representation of European and American literature from the 18th, 19th, and 20th Century.
2) religion -- no student should be allowed to leave who has not read The Bible, the Koran, and significant works from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
3) philosophy -- no student should be allowed to leave who had not read Plato's Apology, Symposium and Republic (at least), Aristotle's Poetics, Rhetoric, and Nicomachean ethics (at least), something from the Stoics, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hume, Locke, Adam Smith, Voltaire, Rousseau (know your enemy), Sun Tzu, Marx (again, know your enemy), Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger (enemy, again), and Sartre. Students should be required to take logic and ethics classes.
4) language -- everyone should be required to take classes on linguistics, grammar, and rhetoric/composition
5) math -- none may leave until they have mastered geometry -- with special emphasis on time series, complexity, and fractal geometry so students can be prepared for the future and won't make the mistake of thinking the world is mostly linear, predictable, and simple.
6) science -- all students should be required to take physics, chemistry, and biology, to have a full understanding of the world
7) social science -- all students should be required to take economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, to have a full understanding of the world and themselves.
8) arts -- all students should be required to take an art class and to learn a musical instrument.

Now, one may object that there would be no time for "major" classes. Perhaps. Perhaps we would have to change major requirements. In any case, those students would definitely receive something they would not get at any other university: a liberal education. And they would be prepared better than any other student to know what they want to do and to go to graduate school in whatever field they choose.

One thing this university would emphasize is that it is not a trade school. It is a liberal arts school. It is designed not to train up accountants, but to train the leaders of the world, leaders in various disciplines, but also social and community and perhaps even governmental leaders. And anyone who wanted to get in would have to be properly educated first. Which would result in changes in high schools and middle schools, because what person is going to put up with their child not getting into the best university in the world because of the bad education their child is receiving?

This also means that the teachers hired would have to have a certain kind of educational philosophy. They would have to believe that their job is to educate the best and brightest, not "everyone." They would have to have the strictest, highest standards of measurement. Therre would have to be strict discipline (along those lines, for the P.E. requirement, I would also require martial arts of everyone, for at least several semesters, if not the duration). There would be no political correctness, no anti-Western (or anti- anything except falsehoods) bias. This university would teach the best about the best -- regardless of race, sex, or religion. Virginia Woolf and Claude McKay and Andre Gide would be taught in literature classes, not Women's Studies or African-American studies classes or Queer studies classes, respectively. This university would be interested in the content of character -- and creating that content -- and not the color of skin (or variations in sex organs or sexual preferences or religious practices or lack thereof). This university would be interested in one thing only: excellence.

This is the goal. If I had the millions of dollars necessary, I'd do it myself.

On the Fractal Geometry of the Universe

One of the things I firmly believe is that the universe has fractal self-similarity regardless of scale. And now there is some more proof of my belief: Scientists See Universe in a Grain of Sand. There are ways in which the universe replicates itself at higher levels of complexity. We need to learn what these are. One good reason for doing so has to do with social issues. We are also part of the phsyical universe, and we should not be surprised if, when we try to go against nature, whether it be our behaviors that develoepd through evolution, or our ways of ordering and structuring based upon the fractal geometry of the universe, things don't turn out well.


So now it seems that Hillary Clinton's campaign didn't leave a tip for a waitress who Hillary Clinton refered to in a campaign speech after all -- why else would they have shown up at the diner to pay the women her tip? I haven't mentioned this issue until today because it didn't seem the facts were out yet. But now they are. The waitress got stiffed.

So Hillary Clinton surrounds herself with staffers who don't leave tips -- why should we care? We should care because this sort of behavior reflects on those who engage in the behavior. Democrats claim to be for the poor and for helping the poor. But when faced with a woman who is paid much less than the minimum wage because she's supposed to make most of her income in tips, the staff of a major Democratic contender for the White House don't bother to provide for the woman. I am not surprised. How can I say I'm not surprised? Well, there's the reason that I would not expect a group of people who think that you are being generous when you spend other people's money -- money you take awy by force -- to actually be generous with their own money. In fact, I would keep a close watch on my wallet if they were around. Second, there is the empirical evidence that Democrats in Washington, D.C. are far worse tippers than are Republicans.

So apparently the only way an elected Democrat will be generous is if 1) the person won't work, and 2) the money being given away has been taken from someone else. Theft and laziness -- the cornerstones of the Democratic party.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rising Tuition

The Dallas Morning News reports that UT-Austin plans to raise tuition by up to 22% over the next two years. If they are going to raise tuition that much they should at least raise their educational standards by the same amount. By raising their standards, the high schools will then have to raise their standards, so college-bound students will be able to get in, meaning middle and then elementary schools will have to raise theirs. The low standards we see in our universities, brought about by the anti-values and anti-standards of postmodernism, is what caused our high, middle, and elementary schools to become among the worst in the developed world. But if UT does not intend to raise its educational standards, then how can they justify raising costs? How is it that in education, as costs have gone up, the value of the education has gone down?

How Unfeminist of Her!

Now, why is it that Hillary Clinton can get away with accusing “the boys” of “picking on a girl”? This kind of behavior is what gives women a bad name, and undermines what feminism was supposed to be all about (well, until it became clear that it was all about supporting Leftist dogma and not women’s rights). How dare she or her campaign complain that she’s being treated like any male candidate would be treated!

See Cute Baby!!!

See cute baby here: Cute Baby

The article is about people taking their babies to the gym to exercise due to fears of childhood obesity. A few thoughts:

1) aren't babies supposed to be fat?

2) while I'm glad that parents somewhere are concerned with their children being fat, they should probably focus on having their children exercise once they can walk -- though I suppose one could make the argument that getting into the habit early is good . . .

3) my guess is that TV viewing has more to do with children being fat than anything. Everyone should restrict their children's TV viewing to just a couple hours a week -- for special occasions. This would result in:
a) less ADHD
b) more children exercising, because they will be playing and thus actually doing something phycially (and mentally)
c) more reading -- children love stories, and they should get it from books, not the boob tube

My own 11 mo. old baby, Melina, seen here at 7 mo., exercises all the time by playing and crawling around on her own, without the benefits of a gym -- or the costs ($800 for day care is more than enough, thank you). Incidentally, she will sit fascinated by the TV for long periods of time if you let her. I don't let her. More often than not I read poetry to her. She's a big fan of Coleridge (also one of my favorites). She can't understand the words, of course, but she seems to like his complex rhythms.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Engineering and Terrorism?

There is an incredibly interesting paper on the relationship between engineering and jihadist terrorism. It is even more interesting as it relates to the way people think in general, particularly in relationship to the mechanistic world view that came about during the Enlightenment and which resulted in scientific socialism. I learned about this paper from Arnold Kling at , who learned about it from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

The original paper can be found at:

Engineering and Terror

Razib also talks about it at Gene Expression where I left the following comments:

I recently read an article on student epistemological beliefs (that is, beliefs about how one gains knowledge) that points out some interesting facts about engineers (and other majors, of course). First, it seems that more "conservative" people have more naive epistemological beliefs. To be more accurate, those with less complex world views have more naive epistemological beliefs. An example of a naive epistemological belief is the belief that knowledge comes exclusively from an authority figure. Those with less naive epistemological beliefs believe that knowledge can be gained from numerous sources -- the more advanced the epistemological beliefs, the more sources are considered valid (but we also get into the danger of postmodern egalitarian epistemological beliefs, where all sources are valid, though the step beyond that is where you consider all sources, but are able to judge which ones are best. As it turns out, engineers 1) start off with the most naive epistemological beliefs, and 2) end up with even more naive epistemological beliefs. Every other discipline resulted in students having less naive epistemological beliefs, though some were better than others. The hard sciences moved students along the least, followed by the social sciences, with the humanities moving students along the most (though typically abandoning them at postmodern relativism, the next to least naive epistemological belief). So it seems that engineering makes people prone to totalitarian thinking even more totalitarian thinkers (insofar as they believe that there are absolute experts whose authority we have to defer to). This fits incredibly well into the spiral dynamics model as developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowen.

Happy Veteran's Day

Thank you to everyone who has fought to protect my freedom to say the things I do on this blog.

Shutting up Chavez

I'm no royalist by any stretch of the term, but you do have to love the fact that the King of Spain told Chavez to shut up. It's about time someone did.

Taxes! Taxes! Beautiful, lovely taxes! Ah-ha! Ah-ha!

Obama says taxes should be raised on him. That's fine by me. He should feel free to voluntarily send all the money he wants to the government or any other groupd or individual of his choosing. Except that Obama doesn't really want to do that. What he really wants is to be generous with your money. If somene wants to give your money away, whether you want to give it away or not, that person is NOT being generous. You can only be generous with your own money.

The issue is Social Security taxes. Obama wants to raise them. Perhaps, if we privatized social security and allowed people to invest their retirement money as they wished -- in, say, the stock market, which if we average out booms and busts grows at 10% a year -- rather than in low yield (at or below the inflation rate) government bonds (which is how the government has managed to squander all your social security money, BTW -- by loaning that money to itself at a low interest rate so politicians can buy votes from the electorate), then we wouldn't need to raise the SS tax. Hmm, I wonder if there's any reason why people like Obama wouldn't want to privatize social security, but would rather raise your taxes?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Middle Way, Part 8 (Life is Suffering)

It is not fashionable in philosophy to quote Eastern philosophers -- never mind that such pre-eminent philosophers as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both were influenced by Buddhism. Admittedly, Nietzsche's approach was one of embracing rather than diminishing one's suffering, but we can see the influence in his emphasis on practice -- thus his emphasis on where to live and what to eat and drink and the importance of exercise in being a good philosopher.

But Marinoff is not a fashionable philosopher, whether it be in his anti-neo-Marxism and anti-postmodernism or his embracing the idea that philosophy is, should be, and can be useful -- that its purpose is to help us live a better life. Thus, he rather unfashionably recommends that we know not only our Aristotle, but our Buddha and our Confucius as well.

Why Buddha? Everyone suffers -- and Buddha was quite concerned with the problem of suffering. On pg. 77, Marinoff lists some of the ways in which we all suffer: "strife, sorrow, grief, lamentation, despair, regret, sickness, death." On pg. 80, Marinoff challenges his readers to make a list. In that spirit, I challenge all my readers to make a list of all their sufferings and post them here. For those who are interested, I have posted before on how to remove regret:

No Regrets

For most people in the world, sufferings are mostly physical. Hunger and disease and homelessness and warfare, just to name a few. Most Americans don't have to face many of these kinds of things. In fact, most Americans have no real problems. While T.V. and film writers in the U.S. who make $200,00 a year or more doing what they love are on strike to make more money (I'm not disagreeing with them on why they are striking, since they do deserve to get paid a percentage of sales of their work), there are Indians facing deportation if they strike against a company in Dubai, yet are striking anyway. These latter have real problems, and are facing real hardships, including a real possibility of losing their jobs if they strike. The money they make could be a matter of life and death for their families in India. They are really suffering. The T.V. and film writers aren't. Neither are our poor suffering, if we compare them to the poor elsewhere. No emergency room in the U.S. can turn away anyone, while half the population of Africa is dying of AIDS. Americans have no real problems. So, naturally, we create problems for ourselves. Absent external causes of suffering, we create internal ones. We drive ourselves crazy over nothing. We raise our children in sanitized homes in sanitized conditions, worrying over their self esteem to such a degree that two members of the 15-member "Trenchcoat Mafia" killed 12 people because they were picked on and didn't have any friends. Apparently 14 friends isn't enough for our delicate children to have enough self-esteem to not go on a killing rampage. Oddly, you don't hear about such things in places where there is real suffering. Yet our children here in the U.S. are so delicate that you can't criticize them. It doesn't matter if they in fact can't do anything (of course not, since nobody ever criticized them, do they never learned they were doing anything wrong in order to correct it) -- the important thing is that you don't criticize them. Thus they turn into whine-bags who don't understand why everything in the world won't go their way, the way it always did when they lived with mommy and daddy. Thus, our culture, by trying to shield our children from suffering, creates suffering.

Which gets me to Buddha's four truths about suffering (80):

1) "life entails suffering" (80)
2) "suffering has causes" (80)
3) "suffering can be removed" (81)
4) there are eight ways to diminish suffering.

We have to first recognize the first three before we can move on to the last one. As for the last one, "These eight are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration" (81). Marinoff goes into detail, which I won't go into here. If you want to learn more, may I suggest that you (to use a line from an old commercial) "read the book"? It is my hope that by now my readers do want to read this book, which is full of uncomfortable truths (those are always the best kind if you want to grow as a person or a society). We as a nation are in desperate need to hear his uncomfortable truths. We need to hear them if we are going to discover the causes of our suffering. His book has gone a long way to helping me discover some of mine, simply by seeing that some of my recent experiences are shared, meaning I now know what the underlying cause truly is, meaning I now know what I need to do in order to remove the cause of that suffering.

Why I'm Not Posting About Hillary Clinton

I was going to post something about the Clinton campaign planting question at her public appearances, apparently in an attempt to emulate the popular and successful strategies of FEMA, but then I changed my mind. Nobody is going to care if she does that. If someone were to conduct a poll, you would find a majority of people saying they cared, but their reactions -- or lack thereof -- speak for themselves. We see the same thing with the issue of "negative campaigning." If you ask people, they say they are against it and that they want someone to give them a positive message. But the results of negative campaigning and positive messages says otherwise. I would guess that if you polled people they would also say that they want someone honest in office, but if we look at the people we elect, we see that isn't true either. People want to be lied to and, it seems, if you manage to lie to them about doing something good for them, but then turn around and do something bad to them, they are more likely to vote for you. It seems that people are more interested in electing people who will punish others; they will vote for bills that will result in laws that will harm more people than not; they will vote for people who promise to be generous with other people's money, but aren't generous at all with their own. So my suspicion is that if the American people learn that Hillary Clinton was having people planted in her audience to give her softball questions, that will make it more likely she will be elected. While she's at it, why doesn't she promise all the things Hugo Chavez is promising his people -- that she will take care of us all if only we will hand over our land and our money and our entire government to her. That will get her elected for sure. Then we will get Michael Moore as Minister of Truth.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Middle East Nuclear Arms Race

Why haven't we heard on the news the fact that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced last week that Egypt was going to start up its own nuclear program, or that Saudi Arabia has announced the same thing? Saudi Arabia ostensibly wants to do so to stave off the Iranian threat, but if I were, say, Israel, I wouldn't be too keem on any of these counries having nuclear weapons. Nor would I be all that thrilled if I were any European country. Game theory (mutually assured destruction) worked out well during the cold war to prevent the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. from going to war using nuclear weapons. However, if you have a peoples who are not afraid of death; if you have some of those people who not only aren't afraid of death, but welcome it; if you have a country led by a man who believes world destruction is necessary to bring back the 12th Imam -- game theory aproaches based on people as rational actors just won't work.

Muslim Woman's Poetic License Revoked?

The headline reads "British Muslim woman convicted of penning poems about beheadings" but if you read the article here:

Muslim Poet

we see that it wasn't the poems so much as the other materials she had in her possession. Had it been just the poems you would have read here about my outrage at arresting and trying someone for writing poetry. As a poet, I think poets should be able to write on any topic they want. I'm very pro-free speech that way.

Now, if you haven't looked at the article above, let me give you another reason to: it has two of her poems. And they are bad -- and I'm not talking about content, but aesthetically. Those two poems are terrible. I don't think there was any danger of them catching on with anyone. They might have even embarrassed a few potential terrorists into giving up on their plans. Terrible, amateur poetry. But if one went to jail over bad poetry, or even ill-advised topics, undergraduate poetry classes would be cleaned out.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Basic Mammalian Behavior Banned in High School

Touching is an extremely important psychological element for mammals, especially social mammals. If you want to cause severe psychological damage to someone, do not touch them as an infant. They will grow up with severe psychological, particularly anti-social, problems. Experiments with baby monkeys show that they are more interested in a soft, cuddly "mother" over one that provides food. Children should be hugged and kissed every day by their parents, and should probably be hugged by their teachers and friends every day as well. Touching releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Touch raises serotonin levels, which relieves depression, and stops the release of cortisol, a stress hormones. Touch turns on growth hormone, making children grow. And it causes the release of oxytocin, the love hormone. Thus, touch strengthens social bonds, makes us psychologically healthier, and makes us feel safer. Experiments in schools with massage have shown that massage (specifically, the touching involved) relaxes students, makes them less anxious, makes them more attentive, and thus makes them better students.

Thus, the ban against "public displays of affection" at Mascoutah High School in Mascoutah, IL that resulted in 13 year old Megan Coulter getting 2 days detention for hugging two of her friends is deeply troubling -- and, quite frankly, deeply immoral. The very thing that could solve many of the problems in our shcools -- appropriate touching, and especially hugging -- is being banned. Of course, this ban is merely indicative of where our society as a whole is going. We cannot touch one another for fear that we will be accused of sexual harrassment or, in our schools, of child molestation. This has resulted in our legislating against touching, in our undermining one of the most important socializing factors that evolved in mammals.

What our schools -- and our society overall -- needs is MORE hugging, not less. Perhaps we should go so far as to replace the handshake with the hug. And as for those who are responsible for such bans -- I suggest that everyone go up to them and give them a great big hug. My guess is that it is something they are and have been missing in their lives. They could use one.

At the very least, they will learn the difference between a hug and making out.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gunmen Fire on Venezuelan Protestors

After peacefully protesting Chavez's attempt to seize total power in Venevuela, students were fired upon by at least four gunmen. Whether Chavez is behind this or not, I think we can see what Marxism is all about with this incindent.

Atlas Shrugged Turns 50!

Has it really been 15 years since I first picked up Atlas Shrugged? I know it's been 15 years because I have the 35th Anniversary Edition of the work. It has been quite a 15 years for me. In recognition of this anniversary, I think I will continue the longstanding tradition of telling how I discovered Ayn Rand and how she influenced me.

In college I was majoring in recombinant gene technology and minoring in chemistry. One Spring semester I wanted to take a New Testament class with a particular, highly recommended Professor, Dr. Joseph Trafton. But his class was full that semester, so I signed up for another class that would fulfill the requirements I needed: Intro. to Philosophy with Dr. Ronald Nash. It turns out that Dr. Nash was a Christian libertarian philosopher, so in his class we read his book "Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism." I was only tangentially interested in the rest of the philosophy in the class (mostly Plato), but the economics fascinated me. I went to the university library and began reading everything I could find with the word "capitalism" in the title, and I read without caring who the authors were. However, I have a habit, when I read, of noting who the authors quote, and then using that to find other things to read. I found it curious that in one of the works I was reading, there was constant reference to a novel. Why would a work on economics talk about a novel? It must be quite some novel, I thought. And so I went out and found that novel, and read Atlas Shrugged.

I later figured out that the book that was recommending Atlas Shrugged was none other than Ayn Rand's book "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal." But that didn't matter. I was hooked by Atlas Shrugged at the age of 21. As a consequence, I went out and read everything by her I could get my hands on. She provided a clarity of vision, of ideas, of the world I had never seen before. She loved Aristotle, so I read Aristotle. She loved Spinoza, so I read Spinoza. She hated Plato, so I read Plato. She hated Kant, so I read Kant. She loved, then hated Nietzsche, so I read Nietzsche.

And then I read Nietzsche. The philosopher who drove me into the abyss and helped me back out of it. The philosopher who transformed me utterly from being a scientist to being an artist-philosopher. It was after reading Nietzsche that I dropped out of my Master's program in molecular biology to become a fiction writer, meaning I went to the University of Southern Mississippi to get my M.A. in English (where I was exposed to the postmodernists), and then went to the University of Texas at Dallas to get my Ph.D. in the Humanities, where I discovered, through Alexander Argyros and Frederick Turner, what lay beyond postmodernism. But I never lost touch with Nietzsche -- I in fact took several philolosophy classes at UTD on Nietzsche -- who I came to realize was the philosopher who showed the way beyond postmodernism even before the postmoderns came along (and misused and misunderstood him). I came to realize too how deeply Aristotlean Nietzsche was, partcuilarly in his ethics. He railed against the mutually exclusive "good and evil" to make way for the complementaries "good and bad." He purposefully erected severe oppositions as counterpoints to the weaknesses he saw in society, hoping to correct those weaknesses by dragging people back toward the middle way (he would have been severely disappointed at the way those extremes have been taken, and taken out of context, by Nazis and postmodernists). I suspect Ayn Rand detected this strong Aristotleanism running through Nietzsche's work, but since Nietzsche masked it well, and since Rand was an absolutist and did not believe people changed their ideas, as Nietzsche clearly did over his lifetime, she became disillusioned with him. She is, of course, neither the first nor the last philosopher to have partial blinders on in regards to another thinker.

So in short, I have a M.A. in English and a Ph.D. in the Humanities because of Ayn Rand. Well, truth be told, it's because of Ronald Nash, whom I took the last semester he taught at WKU only because the class I wanted was full. A philosophy of economics book took me from molecular biology to economics to literature to philosophy to the interdisciplinary studies of the humanities, where I used all of these to write my dissertation (which, btw, I am posting on one of my other blogspot blogs: Evolutionary Aesthetics). But Ayn Rand was a huge part of this development. It was because of her that I became a fiction writer (beginning with really bad political fiction, but evolving toward much better stories and even poetry -- good political fiction is hard to write if you're not an Ayn Rand).

I have come to realize too, in my reading, that Ayn Rand could, and perhaps should, be classified as an Existientialist (if we're going to throw Heidegger, Camus, et al into the mix with Sartre). Why would I do such a thing? We can start with her statement that "Existence exists," one of the most existentialist statements I have ever come across. And we can look too toward her agreement with the existentialists that humans don't have any instincts and that we are born as blank slates, without an essence. If it is agreed that she cold be classified as an existentialist, then we can see that existentialism is compatible with capitalism, fascism, and communism. Perhaps, too, this existentialism is why some are uncomfrotable with what they see as totalitarian streak in Rand and in her sexual libertarianism (similar to Sartre's). Even her certain eschewal of being put in with the existentialists, of insisiting that her philosophy is hers alone, would make her one of them. Not to mention the atheism.

I do agree with Ayn Rand that Objectivism is her philosophy, and hers alone. Yet, her thoughts undoubtedly make up one of the foundation stones of my own world view. There she joins the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, Epicurus, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Freiderick von Hayek, Walter Williams, Steven Piinker, Edward O. Wilson, Alexander Argyros, Frederick Turner, J. T. Fraser, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, Fans de Waal, Richard Wolin, Ilya Prigogine, and innumerable novelists and poets. She's a strong part of my DNA, and I will be forever grateful for all she has done for me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On the Importance of History

"If you do not know where you come from, you will always be a child." -- Cicero

In other words, you will be "without power, without authority, without the ability to act fully in the world or to understand properly how the world works" (Simon Goldhill, "Love Sex, and Tragedy", 4).

If you do not know who Cicero is, he is speaking about you.

Answer these questions, in the most fundamental way possible:

Who are you?
Where are you going?
What should happen?
What do you want to do?
Where do you come from?

If your notion of history only includes what happened during your lifetime, or even the lifetime of the United States, then you cannot answer these questions.

On the Langage of Theater

To practice is both to learn to do something, and to do something well (as in to practice medicine)

To "act" is to both do something, and to pretend to do something. If we act a certain way, after a while those actions can become actual. As Hamlet said to his mother, we should

"Assume a virtue if you have it not.
That monster custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on. Refrain [to-]night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence, the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either [curse?] the devil or throw him out
With wondrous potency." (Act 3, Scene 4)

To perform is both to do something, and to pretend to do something

The world is a stage on which we practice, perform, and act

"Theater" and "theory" related to each other through their Greek sources. The Greek ancestor of theater is theatron, "a place for seeing, especially for dramatic representation, theater." Theatron is derived from the verb theasthai, "to gaze at, contemplate, view as spectators, especially in the theater," from thea, "a viewing." The Greek ancestor of theory is theoria, which meant among other things "the sending of theoroi (state ambassadors sent to consult oracles or attend games)," "the act of being a spectator at the theater or games," "viewing," "contemplation by the mind," and "theory or speculation." The source of theoria is theoros, "an envoy sent to consult an oracle, spectator," a compound of thea, "viewing," and -oros, "seeing."

Merely a theory? How can you understand what you are seeing without one?

A Few Observations About Economics

There is a connection between ethics and economics

Economics is not about money

The core questions of economics are: what is value? and How is it created?

"Economics" comes from Greek words for oikos "home" and nemein for "to manage"

Thus, it is related to the word "ecology"

"Market" is related to the word "mercy." Both come from the Roman god of messengers and commerce, Mercury

The word "money" comes from an epithet for Juno, the queen of the gods in Roman mythology

Consider the different meanings of each word (economic and non-economic). Note how many are terms used in ethics:


The Middle Way, Part 7 (Liberty and Responsbility)

Before I begin my exegesis of another seciton of Marinoff's wonderful book, let me share something with my readers. As I've been reading Marinoff's book, I've been talking to my wife about it and sharing bits and pieces of it. Yesterday, as I was doing this, she expressed a great deal of frustration at the fact that "others are writing your books!" Indeed, I have found little in Marinoff's book that I have not already talked about with my wife or friends, or which I have not written about in various ways in various unpublished essays -- or here, on this blog. Maybe, if I can find both the time and the money (the two are intimately related, you know), I will be able to get back to work on my own book-length projects. In the meantime, it's good to know that i'm part of some kind of zeitgeist. Notwithstanding Nietzsche's observations to the contrary, even philosophers need society.

But that is an aside getting me away from the issue of the fact that, as Marinoff observes, "Liberty and responsibility go hand in glove" (83). I've already touched on this issue in other posts, talking about the difference between liberty and libertinage. True liberty exists on the borderlands of order and chaos, just as all complex, creative systems do. Marinoff explains that "As long as you are content to blame others for your discontents, as long as you refuse to accept the proper measure of responsibility for your unhappiness, you will not be liberated from your suffering. But as soon as you begin to understand the role that your own view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration play in the production of your suffering, then you become free to produce the next moment according to your willingness to suffer, or not to suffer" (83). We suffer to the extent that our world is chaotic. But trying to push yourself into some sort of rigid order also creates suffering. We must find that sweet spot between the two -- that spot of liberty rooted in responsiblilty for both ourselves and others.

One of the things I learned from reading economics is that people are typically in the situation they want to be in. You are either accepting of the situation you are in, or you are actively working to change your situation. If you say you don't like your job, but you are not doing anything to change jobs, then your actions belie your words. We hear people all the time saying, "I would do anything if X," but they aren't doing anything to achieve X. It becomes clear that they would not do anything -- and are not even doing much -- to achieve what they say they want. There's an old (and quite unfunny if you're not a hard-core economist) joke that goes thus:

Two economists are walking down the street and see a Lambourgini parked beside the street. The first economist says, "I want a Lambourgini just like that one." The other economist replied, "No you don't."

The point is that if the first economist really wanted one, he would either have it, or he would be working to get it. Much of our suffering comes about when we go on and on about wanting this or that when in fact we really don't want it, or else we would be working to get it. We need to be honest about what we want, about what we need, about what our priorities actually are. My father is a coal miner, and if he wanted to be something other than a coal miner, he would have done it. But for various reasons, he has chosen to remain a coal miner. But ultimately, it was his choice. Ultimately, we have all chosen our lives.

Obama vs. Colbert

So apparently the Obama campaign was an important factor in keeping Colbert off the ballot in South Carolina: Obama vs. Colbert

Here is the reason, given by former State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, an Obama supporter: ". . . I thought it could have taken votes away from a lot of people."

This argument infuriates me every time I run across it. I supposes that only certain people deserve to receive votes, and that those who are deemed undeserving by the powers that be should not get votes. Isn't this a democratic republic? I don't care if he's doing it for a joke, or what the reason is anyone wants to run. The bottom line for me is that candidates and their campaigns should not be able to have a say as to who is running against them. People complain that Perot "took votes away" from Bush Sr.. People complain that Nader "took votes away" from Gore and Kerry. Nonsense! They didn't "take votes away," as though those votes rightfully belonged to Bush or Gore or Kerry. Those were votes cast for someone and rightfully belonged to the person running.

How is it even legal for a candidate or his campaign to influence who they are running against anyway? Isn't that anti-democratic? And even if someone could make the argument that it should remain legal, it still isn't right.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Euphemisms and Metaphors for Taxes

I'm the kind of person who reads more than one book at a time. So, in addition to Lou Marinoffs book, I am also reading Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought." In it he talks about the use of metaphor in politics, leading him to discussing George Lakoff's recommendations to the Left on how to come up with metaphors to support their ideology. Thus, Lakoff recommends that "taxes" be reframed "as "membership fees" that are necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which we belong" (246). Let me suggest why this won't work by refering you to another of Pinker's works, "The Blank Slate." In it he talks about something he calls the "euphemism treadmill." That is where "People invent new words for emotionally charged referents, but soon the euphemism becomes tainted by association, and a new word must be found, which soon acquires its own connotations, and so on" (212). He then points out that we went from "water closet" to "toilet" to bathroom" to "restroom" to "lavatory." He then observes that "The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are primary in people's minds. Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name, at least not for long" (213).

In other words, no matter what name we give taxes, it remains a fact that when you are taxed, that means that someone with more power than you is taking money that you earned and using it for projects that benefit them and which my or may not benefit you and which you may or may not agree with, and threatening to do you harm unless you hand over the money. When a private citizen does it, we call it being mugged. It is theft, plain and simple. Calling it a "membership fee" isn't going to change that. It's just putting lipstick on a pig.


Interesting article over at Cato titled "Shattering Intelligence: Implications for Education and Interventions" by James R. Flynn. The site is Shattering Intelligence

I would comment on this article, except that I have already pre-commented on the article on this blog at On Intelligence

It is interesting to see how much Flynn agrees with what I posted. I have little doubt he's been working on intelligence longer than have I, but I haven't read anything by him before this, and it is interesting to see ideas converging like this.