Monday, December 31, 2007

On the New Year

The New Year is soon upon us (and is in fact upon us in much of the world as of my writing -- and is likely upon us all as of most of your readings). And what will there be "new" from me this year? As an interdisciplinarian, my momentary interests are always shifting. I am presently reading "Complex Adaptive Systems," which shows how this concept can be used to moe accurately model sociological systems, "The Sociology of Philosophies," which shows how philosophical ideas spread and change, and "Narrative Theory and Cognitive Science," which is a collection of essays discussing the connection between the two fields. This latter is really getting m creative juices flowing. If only there were enough time to write everything I want to write. I have books and novels, short stories (I just finished one and am starting another), plays (a new idea has emerged), and poems. Then, there are essays to write as I think of ideas. And revisions of works in all of these areas that need to be done. I need a team of me to get it all done (including one to get a paying job -- since so far none of this work pays -- unless someone knows of a way to get paid to just sit around and write creative and philosophical works all day long).

And then there is the blog. A nice place to hash out new ideas, to get them out there where they can be thought through. Blogging on news events helps to keep me grounded in the real world, to see how and if my ideas can in fact fit in where they have to fit in. The Left (and most on the Right as well) do not think that their ideas have to fit into reality. Too bad for them and their ideas, since reality is awfully unforgiving. Just try to insist on the social construction of gravity and walk off a building and see what happens.

So what can I promise that will be new? Everything. And nothing. "There is nothing new under the sun." And yet, "Time goes marching on." Everything is new, always. Change is the only constant (and, it seems, even change changes). But the change is always consistent, of a particular pattern, and built upon what already is and has been. One cannot grow without solid ground in which to root oneself -- one must be conservative. And one cannot grow without new space into which to freely grow and branch and blossom -- one must be liberal. This isn't to argue for some sort of mediocre moderatism as too many "centrists" call for. No -- one must be a radical for growth and freedom, and insist on those things that allow for both. Not cancer and libertinism, but true growth and freedom. That is the true middle way.

So, yes, there will be some continuation. I will continue to essay forth on Marinoff's book, until I have exhausted what I want to say about it. Yet, there will be new things yet to come. World events will affect some of this. My changing interests, fate, and fortunes will affect some of it. My love for knowledge and ideas, though, will drive it all. My New Year's Resolution in regards to this blog will thus be to continue it as I have, to continue to be who I will become, and to make the blog reflect that.

Happy New Year everyone!!!

On Patrons

Prior to the 20th Century, artists and writers were more often than not supported by patrons. Since the advent of the 20th Century, though, most artists and writers have been supported by their wives and girlfriends. And this is supposed to be an improvement over traditional patronage. People make arguments for government patronage, but show me one famous artist or literary writer who was supported by the government? True, many of the artists and writers of the past were supported by kings and other members of government -- no doubt with tax money -- but the patronage was still personal. Chretien de Troyes was not supported by the French government as a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic entity, but by the King of France personally. His works stand as a testimony to that patronage. The reason why no great artist has been supported by our government, or by any government like ours, is precisely because such governments are bureaucratic. No one is making the decision, and thus no judgement can be made. No values are involved, and thus good artists and writers cannot be chosen. This is why our government now funds art indirectly. In fact, much art funding occurs through foundations and involve committees, which inevitably choose whatever is "safe," meaning, nothing interesting or challenging or great. Great art is not selected by committee.

What the world needs is a return of personal patronage. There is and will be resistance to this precisely because of such nonsense as "selling out," something many artists get accused of anyway. Well, de Troyes was a sell-out, and literary writers only wish they had written works as wonderful as his.

On Shameless Behavior and Hannah Montana

And now for the most disgusting item of the week: the mother who got her 6 year old daughter to lie in an essay about her father's death to win Hannah Montana tickets.

The mother is making the excuse that the contest rules did not specify that the story had to be true. However, the essay was supposed to be about "Why you deserve to win these tickets." Thus, when the essay says that her father died in Iraq, the girl was implying that she deserved the tickets because she was sad because her father died in the war. For that reason, the company holding the contest was right to take the tickets away. Naturally, the mother, being a completely shameless hussy, has threatened to sue.

A few thoughts:

This woman's address should be made public, and the children of fathers who actually did die in the war should all write her and her daughter telling them what it feels like to actually lose a father. Is it actually possible to shame the shameless? Perhaps not, but I do believe we should try our hardest to do so.

Along those lines, let's assume the woman does sue, and some immoral judge or jury give the girl the tickets. The company should then tell them that they will give the tickets in a ceremony, and when they show up for the ceremony, they should have the entire room filled with the children of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, who will then take turns introducing themselves to the woman and her child, and tell them their stories -- all before they can get the tickets.

All efforts should be made to shame this woman for what she did -- teaching her child that it is okay to lie and cheat to get what she wants. If I had the woman's address, beyond knowing that she lived in Garland, Texas, you may rest assured that I would post it here, so that people could do exactly what I recommend above. You might be able to get something to her if you address it to "Priscilla Ceballos," though "Conniving Bitch" might do. Does that violate her "right to privacy"? Not at all. I'm not the government.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas Story

Once upon a time there was a young man who grew up in his society to question the justice of his society. Through his life and through his words he told of a society that would and could be better -- more just, more fair, more beautiful -- than the one in which he lived. His mind was one beyond where his society was at the time, and he tried and tried to communicate his vision. He failed to do so, but triumphed when he died. The way he taught did not become exactly the way he taught, but soon the world he lived in grew to get to where he was, and he became revered by many.

Jesus changed the Roman world. Socrates changed the Greek. Buddha changed the Eastern world along with Confucius. Each moved their societies into different expressions of the same level of complexity. We celebrate the birth of Christ because he transformed the Roman world from Egocentric to Authoritative, from Roman to Medieval, making European society more complex. Even non-Christian WEsterners should celebrate that transformation, because without it, the West would not have been what it was, missing a vital thread of its DNA. The struggle between Athens and Jerusalem, between Socrates-Plato-Aristotle and Jesus-(-John-Peter-Paul), made the West what it was, and made us who we are. For making us who we are, we should all celebrate Christmas.

The Christians need no argument for Christmas -- but it's clearer with every passing year that other people do.

Merry Christmas everyone! This will be my last posting for the year. See you in the New Year!

Farshid's Art

Everyone should go check out my friend Farshid's artwork. He does beautiful work in copper.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stripper Tax

Not that I buy the 1st Amendment arguments against this tax, I must still, nonetheless come out against the proposal here in Texas of a $5 per person tax at strip clubs. We will start with my general statement of being against each and every new tax proposal that will ever come out anywhere at any time. That having been said, let's look at what politicians are using to try to sell this tax. A few years ago, they tried to pass this same tax, with the promise of using the money for education. It was rightly ridiculed as "tassels for tots." Now they are saying (most of) the money will go to victims of sex crimes. A few things to note: 1) it is obvious that someone is just looking for an excuse to pass this tax, with the mistaken belief that this will "clean up" Texas or some such nonsense; 2) the promise of using the money (they say "most of the money") for sex crimes victims is bogus -- 10 to 1 if this tax is passed this money eventually ends up in the general fund.

What this really is is an attempt to implement yet another "sin tax." There are people out there who think that the nude body is evil, and that nobody should see a nude woman ever. Nude women in art is bad enough, let alone strippers! And don't even get them started with sex, which is evil in all cases except for in a marriage (and for some, that too can be evil if the sex isn't meant for reproduction). This attitude has created all too many psychoses, and is undoubtedly the cause of the high number of sex crimes in the U.S. Our schitzophrenic attitude toward things like sex is what causes problems.

400 Global Warming Skeptics

Here's an interesting report on 400 global warming skeptics (all scientists) who reported to the Senate.

Some Thoughts on Christmas

Certainly, Christmas needs to be defended for what it is: a celebration of the birth of Christ, the Christian Messiah (the Koran also says Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was born of a virgin, and that God placed Jesus in the womb of Miriam -- but Moslems then get uptight about whether or not Jesus was the Son of God). Without Jesus having been born, there would be no holiday to be happy about. So I agree with the author of the above link, Roland Martin that all this political correctness is annoying. However, let me point out a few things that I find annoying about the author's opinions as they developed in the piece.

First, he complains about the use of "X-mas," which only goes to show his complete ignorance of Christian history. It is not an English letter X, but the Greek letter chi. You will note that "chi" sounds a lot like "Christ," or, to use the Greek, "Christos." Further, you will note that the X looks a lot like a cross. Thus, the Greek letter chi has been used from the beginning to signify Christ. Thus, chi-mas, X-mas, is perfectly acceptable and historically quite ancient.

The second annoyance comes from his pooh-poohing on the giving of gifts. I love what Ayn Rand -- no Christian, she -- said about why she loved Christmas. She said that Christmas was a wonderful season precisely because you gave gifts. More, Christmas was the time when you gave gifts to those whom you valued most. Let me go a bit further, and say that one can learn much about your values and who you value based upon your giving. I have given of my own time and money to help the needy -- but I have never done so, as Martin suggests we should do, at the expense of those whom we should value most: our family.

Along those lines, I will post today and tomorrow, but on Sunday I will be driving to Kentucky with my family to see my father. I'll be gone a week, but I'll be back after the new year just full of opinions. :-)

Is That a Hair I See? You Must Die, Evil Temptress!

An Iranian cleric had said that women who do not wear the hajib should die. I expect to hear the same kind of outrage, along with organized protests, that we saw from NOW and other American feminist organizations.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Baby's First Word (and it's not ma ma nor da da)

What is a word? A sound that has an appropriate meaning in an appropriate context. Therefore my baby said her first word today -- twice -- when she said, "Bye-bye" to two ladies at two different times at the day care.

Replacing Property Taxes (I Hope)

Here in Texas there is a proposal by a Republican legislator who is suggesting that we replace property taxes with a sales tax. Naturally, it has met with resistance. The author of the opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News misses an important point about property taxes, which is the fact that when you tax property, you essentially make the government into the real property owner. If you don't believe me, try not paying your property taxes and see what happens. You will find yourself in the same situation as you would find yourself if you didn't pay rent to your landlord: evicted. Property taxes essentially turns the local government into your landlord, meaning you do not, in fact, own your land. With property taxes, there is no such thing as property rights.

I pay my property taxes with my house payments. That means that my combined payments are about $1200, only $800 of which is for the house payment. That's $400 per month in taxes, equal to 1/2 of my house payment. So over the year, I pay $4800 in taxes. And that's just for the house. And I have to pay it if I want to keep the house.

The author of the opinion piece argues that the $0.05 sales tax increase we would need to offset the property taxes would hurt the poor. Nonsense. How many more people would be able to afford houses if their house payments were 2/3 of what it is now? The elimination of property taxes would also affect the property of landlords, making it cheaper for them to own their property. Competition among landlords would result in prices dropping for those who rent, making rent for the poor (and others) cheaper. The author of the piece assumes that nothing would change except the increase in the sales tax, which is patently false. Prices of many things would go down precisely because the property tax burden was lifted. This is aside from the fact that Texas would become a very attractive state for businesses, since they would not have a property tax to pay. The combination of a lack of property taxes and our lack of income taxes would cause an economic boom in Texas, more than offsetting the sales tax increase. In fact, with such an influx of income, one would expect to see revenues from the sales taxes to increase.

All of this is aside from the fact that America spends more per student than any other industrialized country, and does so to provide our students with the worst education among industrialized (and even a few third world) countries. We could probably stand to cut back a bit, since the more money we have thrown at education, the worse our educational system has gotten. I would also love it if the money collected with the sales tax were used to give parents vouchers to spend on whatever schools they want to send their children to. The competition among schools would improve education for our students, giving the state even more of an edge long-term. The opponents of vouchers have to ignore the fact that competition creates the kinds of products people want to consume, and better products for that reason, while government has always created the kinds of products nobody wants to consume, and worse products over time, since nobody has any choice but to take the product. It is no coincident that our educational system has gotten worse and worse with every passing year since it became public education. Free markets work; communism doesn't -- in education as well as the economy.

You Are(n't) What You Do

My father is a Kentucky coal miner with an 8th grade education. During the 80's, the coal mining industry experienced some troubles, and my father was laid off (with some temporary work here and there) for 6 years. During this time, he tried to get jobs outside of coal mining, but nobody would hire him, telling him that they didn't want to hire a coal miner, since they believed that coal miners would go back to the coal mines at the first opportunity. My dad objected that he wanted to get out of the coal mining industry and do something else, but nobody would believe him. He was a coal miner, and nobody would let him be anything else. At the end of the six years, he got a good coal mining job, but in that 7th year, he lost his left hand and half his forearm in a mining accident. He's still a coal miner.

Twenty years later, I have a Ph.D. in the humanities, a M.A. in English, and a B.A. in Recombinant Gene Technology. I have taught at the middle school, high school, community college, and university levels. I want to get out of academia because 1) I am in disagreement with the educational philosophy prevalent in our schools, particularly that of the universities, and 2) I am a libertarian humanities scholar, so what university department is really going to hire me (when 90% of humanities departments are postmodern leftists)? I recently interviewed for a non-academic position with an organization whose world view I agree with (if I get the job I will share with you who it is). The interview was going very well, right up until the head of the foundation expressed some concern that I would not be happy working there, as I seemed to be an academic.

My father encouraged me to get an education because it would give me more opportunities in life. He didn't have many opportunities because of his education. Once he became a coal miner, that's all he was allowed to do. So now here I am, with the highest level of education, and I too am not being allowed to become anything other than what I am at the present time. I'm having a hard time finding anyone willing to hire me because of my education. And it's all because people expect you to continue to be what you are.

I told the gentleman that I would be more than happy to continue to be a scholar on my own time, but that I specifically didn't want to be an academic -- that that was what I was trying to get out of and away from. He looked like he may have become convinced, and I hope I am right.

Still, my job search has been quite annoying. I can't find anyone who seems to know what it is I do. Everyone thinks that the only thing I can or should do is academic work. Part of this is because Americans all too often identify others with their occupations. WHen we meet someone, what is the first thing we ask them? "What do you do?" In college we ask the similar question, "What is your major?" But isn't what we do only part of who we are? I'm also a husband and a father, a son and a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandson. I'm an orchid lover and a bird watcher. I'm a traveler. I am a poet and a storyteller and a philosopher and a scholar as well. What else can I be? I would love to find out.

Man of the Year

I agree with Bill O'Reilly that General Patraeus should have been Time's Man of the Year precisely because of what Paatraeus has done in Iraq. As Winston Churchill said, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, once they've tried everything else." Even if you don't agree that we should have invaded Iraq, I think you do have to agree that, once we did decide to invade, we should have tried to win it and stabilize the country as quickly as possible -- to save the lives of the Iraqis as much as our own soldiers. Indeed, the surge has resulted in fewer deaths on both sides. Had we had a stable Iraq years ago, we could have been out of there by now. Patraeus has brought us closer to making that a reality, and for that reason alone he should have been made Man of the Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Becoming an Adult

Several years ago a liberal friend of mine and I had a discussion about responsibility. She, of course, thought it okay that people blame others for their situation in life. I, of course, thought people should be responsible for their own actions. We focused in particular on the role of parents. Certainly, she said, I could not deny the role of parents. Of course. But at what point could we say that you can no longer blame your parents for the situation you are in? At what point was it your responsibility for the situation we are in? Well, the two of us did eventually come to an agreement on that. We decided to settle on the age of 25. We decided that after 25, you could no longer blame your parents for whatever problems you may have, that by then you had to be mature enough to have dealt with your problems, and that if you had not, then that was your fault and nobody else's.

It seems we are not alone in thinking this. It turns out that many people, children and parents both, think you are not really mature until you are 25. I have already mentioned the fact that humans seem to mature in stages: sexually at about 12-13, mentally at about 16, and emotionally at about 25. For me 25, plus or minus a year or two, was a major transition stage. This was the time when I went from working on a Master's degree in molecular biology to dropping out and taking undergraduate English classes and getting in to a M.A. program in creative writing. During this time I was dealing with taking responsibility for my life. I had to break the shackles of my past to create my future.

I think one of the reasons for this delay that doesn't seem to have existed in the past is the lack of rituals for transitioning children to adulthood. This leaves people wondering if and when they are adults. Many don't learn they are adults until they are 25. I thought I was an adult much earlier. It turns out I was merely taking the world seriously. As Aristotle says, the man who takes the world seriously is an unserious man. The two -- seriousness and unseriousness -- will be balanced out. The lack of ritual -- which is a kind of play, an unserious thing done seriously -- has left many people remaining children for longer than they should, not knowing they should now be adults. We also don't tell our children what it means to be an adult. Of course, this kind of information comes along with the ritual that lets you know you are an adult now. The Jews still have this kind of ritual, and I think we can see the positive results of that. But we have to be careful too, as the Hispanic quinceanera, which was the ritual for 15 year old girls to become adult women, has been mostly turned into a meaningless party. After such rituals as the quinceanera, parents should expect their daughters (and sons, for similar rituals) to act like adults and to take on more adult responsibilities. When they don't, the ritual becomes meaningless. In fact, my wife (who is a Mexican-American) didn't want our daughter to have a quinceanera, but I told her that Melina should have one, but only if we treat it as the ritual to transition her from childhood to adulthood that it was originally. And if we have a son, we should have a similar ritual for him, so he knows that he is a man.

Perhaps another reason for this, though, lies in the fact that people in more complex societies like those found in the West have more stages to go through, and that takes time. The aforementioned ritual would be a good way to encourage development from 2nd stage to 3rd stage, which would solve all kinds of social problems. But perhaps we should also adopt rituals to move people into even higher stages of development. This would aid in and encourage these transitions, but this is only assuming the life conditions are appropriate for such development. I think it would be particularly helpful for those few who emerge into the second tier to have some kind of guide to help with such a drastic and (often) traumatic emergence. unfortunately, our society does not have mentorships anymore like we had in the past, to help identify such people -- but perhaps we should work to do just such a thing. It would help in the fuller and healthier development of our society and culture overall.

What a Drag!

Here's another reason to be against licensing. The only reason anyone complained was because it was drag queen bingo. If it was a bunch of little old ladies nobody would care. THe only reason such licensing requirements exist is so people can harass whomever they want whenever they want.

Injustice Masquerading as Justice

This is why rules and laws should not be absolutist. Without mercy to lubricate them, the wheels of justice grind to a halt and result in injustices like this one. Don't tell me you didn't have a choice in having an innocent 10 year old arrested!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sex! It Does A Body Good!

In case you needed more reasons to have sex, how about these. I made my own recommendations a few years ago in my own poetic way.

Now Where Did I Put That $45 Trillion Dollars I Had?

In a shocking new revelation (not shocking to us libertarians, of course), the U.S. government has announced that (assuming the government doesn't create a single new government program -- ha!) it will fall short $45 trillion (yes, that's trillion, with a T) over the next 75 years. Unless we decide to add in the gap in funding social insurance programs, in which case the gap jumps up to $53 trillion (yes. Trillion. With a T).

Now, who here expects to receive their Social Security money? Anyone? Anyone? I don't expect to receive it. Haven't for years. Less certain I'll receive it now. Now, we could privatize Social Security, which would definitely save it, but the communists in Congress won't let that happen. Can't trust those volatile markets that on average grow at a 10% rate every year (averaging out for booms and busts). No, got to keep that money in low-yield bonds so the government can spend the money. As Hillary Clinton said for her entire party, and most of the Republicans, they can't trust the American people. Can't trust us to invest that money wisely (though if you put your money in mutual funds you would have invested far more wisely than the U.S. government has). Perhaps we should make a law that requires all members of Congress to have every last dime of their savings and investments in the same exact things they invest our Social Security money in. I wonder what they would do with the money then? Probably put the money in something with interest rates above the inflation rate at the very least.

I suppose you liberals out there will now be saying, "See, it's those evil tax cuts that did this to us." But how, then do you explain this: " "The 2.6 trillion in record-breaking revenues that flowed into the Treasury this year reflect a healthy economy," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in a statement accompanying the new report."

What? Tax cuts resulted in an increase in revenues? How could that happen? Well, you may not have heard, but when there is more money in the economy, the economy grows (please don't go Keynesean on us now and think we need to print more money -- that will just give us the 1970's stagflation all over again), and when the economy grows, that results in more taxes being paid, and, thus more tax revenues.

What's the answer then? CUTS!!! We need to cut these programs. Cut them deep. Don't make cuts in the rate of growth -- those aren't cuts, that's an increase. No, make actual cuts. I know: why don't we eliminate everything our federal government does that is not allowed by the Constitution? That should get us down to a budget of about $500 billion or so. Wouldn't that be nice? Again, I can hear the liberals: "But what about the poor?" There's a passage in the New Testament that goes, "He who does not work shall not eat." That works for me. (My wife used to be a social worker -- oh, the tales she can tell! In summary, she said maybe -- maybe -- 10% of those on welfare actually need it. All the rest have full time jobs working the system.)

My expectation: nobody in Congress is going to cut a thing. We will simply have to go bankrupt, the economy will tank, the government will collapse, and it will all be because of the selfish power-grabbers in power that we idiotically won't throw out. But don't worry, because that will happen in, what? 75 years? Let the next generation deal with it.

The Enemy of My Enemy

There is a new report that Iran is now making inroads into Central America through Nicaragua. It seems Daniel Ortega has foolishly allowed himself to be influenced by an even bigger fool, Hugo Chavez, to let the Iranians into his country. This friendship bodes well for neither the U.S. nor Nicaragua nor Venezuela. The danger to the U.S. is obvious. It has been known, albeit not mentioned by the U.S. press, that Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard have both set up camps in South America (though my wife did see a report in the Spanish-language news a few months ago). I did, however, manage to find this article on MSNBC from May on Hezbollah in Paraguay. Paraguay is frightening enough, but Venezuela and Nicaragua -- with both countries supporting Iran -- is even more so. Indeed, they do seem to have set up organizations in both Venezuela and Argentina and most likely elsewhere.

The danger to Venezuela and Nicaragua and anyone else foolish enough to deal with Iran is the fact that Iran is only dealing with these countries because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." These countries are being cynically used by Iran, and when Iran is finished with them, Iran will turn on them. After all, these countries are not Islamic, and the Qu'ran makes it rather clear that you do not have to deal honestly with non-Islamic countries. (This is one of those parts of the Qu-ran that could despireately use some more moderate if not downright liberal interpretation.) I fear Chavez and Ortega (and the people of the countries they lead) will what's coming to them for having dealt with Iran.

Some Thoughts on Global Climate Fluctuations

It seems that a variety of factors have now been shown to have contributed to the massive melting this summer of the Arctic ice cap. There is the counterclockwise current in the Arctic Ocean that brought in more warm water since about 1990, resulting in the trend toward more and more melting each year. They are predicting a return to the clockwise pattern soon, which could make for a cooler current and thus a retention of more ice.

Further, there is a report that fewer clouds meant more sunlight got through, which contributed to the melting.

In the meantime, NatureNews reports that, "Increased snowfall over a large area of Antarctica is thickening the ice sheet and slowing the rise in sea level caused by melting ice. A satellite survey shows that between 1992 and 2003, the East Antarctic ice sheet gained about 45 billion tonnes of ice." Why is this? Well, increased global temperatures have increased water vapor, which falls as snow in cold climates such as the Antarctic. The Antarctic is usually pretty dry, but more snow has been falling lately, causing the ice sheet to expand. This is the kind of feedback one would expect, but which Leftist environmentalists won't talk about. This expansion is important because it could be balancing out the albedo loss in the Arctic, keeping the reflectivity of the earth overall the same.

And then there is the issue of the sun (you know, that place where all our heat comes from in the first place). It seems that we were in an exceptionally high sunspot cycle there for a while, and, well, high-sunspot cycles mean more energy output from the sun. It seems that in most of the 20th century was in this cycle, and now we are looking at a sun with almost no sunspots. Now, the last time this happened was between 1645 and 1715, when "sunspots were rare. About 50 were observed; there should have been 50,000." The result? The "Little Ice Age" that resulted in the "Year Without Summer." While it resulted in some spectacular literature -- such as the writing of Frankenstein -- I don't think it's really something most people would look forward to, especially farmers.

On the other hand, the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, is questioning the motives of the Greens as well, suggesting that"The movement against global warming has turned into a new religion, an ideology that threatens to undermine freedom and the world's economic and social order." If anyone knows what "an ideology that threatens to undermine freedom and the world's economic and social order" looks like, it's the Czechs.

Spiral Dynamics

In "Spiral Dynamics," Don Beck and Christopher Cowen expand on an idea developed by the psychologist Claire Graves that humans go through psychosocial stages of complexity, and that this happens both historically and personally. They say that people go through two tiers of complexity, and that the first tier has 6 stages, while the second has only two so far. The first stage of the first tier sounds a lot like how chimpanzees act, so I typically see the first tier as having 5 stages. The first stage if that of tribalism. The second stage gives you the kind of society and people you see in The Iliad and the Odyssey. The third stage gives you the kind of society and people found in Medieval Europe, though it includes thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. The fourth stage gives us the kind of society and people you find in the Enlightenment, including the foundation of America, the Founding Fathers, Voltaire, Adam Smith, etc. This is a fundamentally libertarian level. The fifth stage is that of egalitarianist postmodernism (if we think of postmodernism as post-Modern Era), including people like Rousseau, Marx (two early founders), Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, etc. That ends the first tier. They describe the second tier as being at an exponential level of complexity above the first tier thinkers. The first stage of the second tier includes Nietzsche as a founding thinker, and probably includes people like E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Cosmides and Tooby. We get a return to libertarian thought -- really, a sort of neolibertarianism. The next stage includes people like Frederick Turner, J. T. Fraser, Claire Graves, Don Beck, Christopher Cowen (how else could they have recognized a stage they weren't in?), and, I would venture to guess, you. These people also tend toward a kind of neolibertarianism. The second tier thinkers are the ones who developed complexity science, systems, science, emergence, fractal geometry, etc. You will also notice that the stages advance in complexity while going back and forth between individualism and communitarianism, with stages 1, 3, and 5 in the first tier, and the second stage of the second tier being communitarianist. Stages 2 and 4 and the first level of the second tier are individualistic. At the same time, each level contains the levels below it, though the first tier people tend to be exclusionary toward other levels, while the second tier people are deeply inclusionary and seek to create a healthy relationship among all the levels -- in themselves, others, and in society. The levels are open-ended, meaning that though there have been two levels in the second tier, there will be more as society becomes more complex. The idea of spiral dynamics is one I find to be very persuasive, not the least of which being because it fits so well with the emergentist metaphysics I already embrace, particularly as developed by J. T. Fraser.

I said all that to say this: there seem to be a few levels in which a libertarian ethic takes over -- during the 4th stage of the first tier, and then quite strongly in the second tier overall (though I have no doubt that there are still people in the second tier, especially when we get to the second tier, that are a little closer to the Left than others at that level, I do also think that they are less likely to lean Left rather than libertarian precisely because second tier thinkers are more likely to see the world in its full complexity, and come to the conclusion that controlling it is all but impossible, though it can be influences in interesting and unpredictable ways through bottom-up procedures like individual action and scholarship). So it seems that a certain kind of libertarianism comes about precisely when thinking becomes complex enough. Early libertarianism comes about after moralistic, authority-controlled ages like the Medieval period, and before postmodern egalitarianist thinking. But then, with the exponential leap in complexity of thinking, we get a kind of neolibertarianism, developed from more fully understanding how complex the world is, to such an extent that it creates humility. The postmodernists are at the top level of complexity of the first tier, and they unconsciously know it. They see themselves as being the most complex thinkers of all people (and they are -- among first tier people), which breeds a kind of arrogance in them. This makes them fundamentally atheists (notwithstanding politically-driven claims to the contrary among postmodernist politicians), since they cannot imagine any one or any thing being greater than they are. Being greater, they naturally assume they should be in charge and that they know what is best for everyone. They see people in the second tier as being 3rd and 4th stage, first tier thinkers, since they cannot properly recognize those whose thinking is more complex than theirs.

You will notice too that I said that people develop through these stages. In the U.S. (a fairly complex society), we see people going through each of these stages. Young children are of course at the chimpanzee and then first stage. At pubescence, they enter the second stage (gang members and many artists stay at this stage). By late teens, most people are in the third stage. Those who enter college and remain at this stage tend to become engineering or religion (their own) majors. Early college, people are in the fourth stage. Probably most science majors and business and economics majors exit college at this stage. The social sciences and the humanities especially tend to get people to stage 5, and graduate them at that stage. And then there are the handful who emerge on the other side, who for whatever set of reasons reach a level of much higher complexity, and see the world in its complexity and understand the importance of each of the levels within the human mind and within society. My suspicion is that it occurs primarily in those of us who are full-scale information junkies.

Saudi King Pardons Rape Victim

It seems there is some justice in the world. Yes, it takes pressure from good people to make sure that justice does prevail -- but that's how it oftentimes is. For, you see, the Saudi king has pardoned the woman who was gang raped and then sentences to 200 lashes. No thanks to NOW or other Leftist American women's rights groups, justice prevailed for this woman. Let us hope that now local cultural injustice won't result in her being harmed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country For Old Men

My wife and I went to see "No Counry For Old Men," a Coen brothers adaptation of a work by Cormac McCarthy. Before I get started, let me just say that I won't be surprised if there are a few Oscars for this film, as it's the kind of film the Academy loves to reward. That having been said, the Coen brothers and their brilliant cast did the best they could to rescue it from being a work by Cormac McCarthy, but they didn't quite pull it off.

I read McCarthy's novel "Blood Meridian," and found it to be one of the worst, most ridiculous novels I've ever had the misfortune to have read. I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't had to have read it for a novel writing class. This novel takes place in the late 1800's, but he talks about a "Skiffle-like band" playing when there was no such ting until 1905, and it was used to describe jug bands in Louisville, KY (the band in the novel was playing in the desert southwest -- Mexico if I remember correctly). He talks about Harpy eagles in the desert southwest when no such eagles are found that far north. And probably I could have overlooked these things if he didn't use terrible metaphors -- the worst being his description of Indians "popping up like funhouse figures" from behind the rocks, which is a completely clownish metaphor in a serious scene -- and wasn't overly impressed with his muscular writing style. That style manages to bleed through onto the big screen, creating quite a bit of tension at first, but eventually becoming tiresome over the length of the film.

Like I said, the acting is quite good, but you reach the end of the film and feel quite unsatisfied with it overall. It doesn't end -- it just sort of stops. It ends with the recitation of a dream the sheriff had, which I'm sure is meant to be symbolic or metaphorical, but which is so bash-you-over-the-head supposed to be symbolic that it's just annoying.

McCarthy says he was greatly influenced by William Faulkner. I love Faulkner, but Faulkner is such a brilliant experimentalist that his works tend to be combinations of success and brilliant failure. If McCarthy is influenced by Faulkner, one can sum up his style this way: imagine if you took all the failures of Faulkner and eliminated all the successes -- that would give you McCarthy's style. If you did the opposite, and took the successes and eliminated the failures, you'd get Toni Morrison. I suppose that's why it's she who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Climate Models Wrong

Shortly after the Nobel Prize Committee gave out one of the most questionable Peace Prizes ever, a report is now in that says we cannot trust the results of the same 22 models that were the basis for giving out the Prize. In each of the other Nobel Prizes, the people who receive the prizes have to have shown a significant contribution to their field, with actual results resulting in growth of knowledge. Shouldn't the Peace Prize be given to those who have produced actual peace? I don't suppose that those who received the Peace Prize with Al Gore will offer to give it back, though. The Left is shameless that way.

In the meantime, the U.S. is in Bali getting ready to agree to a climate change agreement based on these same models that have proven unable to predict anything. Before anyone decides to do anything, we need to have models that come closer to predicting reality.

I have said before, and I will say it again: the Left are not interested in the environment. Leftist environmentalists are Red, not Green.

Unrest in Bolivia

Well, it looks like there are some in South America willing to fight against the rise of socialism there. Four districts in Bolivia have declared autonomy from the rest of Bolivia. That's 35% of the population. The President of Bolivia is trying to make it a racial issue, but in fact it's a freedom issue. His attempts to redistribute the wealth will do nothing to help the poor -- it will harm the poor and make his countrymen less free. But what else would you expect from a friend to Hugo Chavez?

Sniveling Coward Shoots Unarmed Old Woman When She Opens the Door

This is nothing more than a gang initiation. A woman was murdered at her front door for one reason: so that cowardly punk could join a gang.

When these sorts of things happen, people need to start saying that the people who did it are nothing but cowards. Who shoots an unarmed old woman when she opens the door? A coward, that's who. A pussy, a pansy, a weak, pathetic coward. If the rest of society starts characterizing these people this way, this kind of activity will stop. We have to let them know that nobody's impressed, that we think of them as weaklings and cowards. We need to shame them -- shame them terribly if we want this sort of thing to stop. And if we really want to make it stop, we have to aim at changing the world views of the women in their neighborhoods. This is the kind of thing that gets them laid. What would happen if we convinced women that this is not the kind of thing you should find sexually attractive? What would happen if women started turning up their nose at such behavior? If we can take away their social status and the possibility of getting laid from such despicable behavior, then it will stop. Permanently.

Teaching Evolution Under Attack in Texas

It seems the teaching of evolution will be up for review in Texas. This has been prompted by the following, according to The Dallas Morning News: "Former science director Chris Comer says she resigned from the Texas Education Agency to avoid being fired after officials told her she had improperly endorsed evolution. She had forwarded an e-mail announcing a speech by a prominent scholar on evolution, which the state requires schools to teach." The TEA "in disciplinary paperwork {...} stressed that she needed to remain neutral in what was becoming a tense period leading up to the first review of the science curriculum in a decade." Why should she remain neutral when it comes to teaching facts?

Yes, evolution is a fact. It happens. It has been proven to happen. However, there are various theories of evolution, including but not restricted to Darwin's theory of natural selection, Darwin's theory of sexual selection (he in fact had two theories of evolution), and the theory of punctuated equilibrium. What is at issue are the mechanisms by which evolution occurs. It is likely that there are many mechanisms, as biological systems are highly complex.

There are some who may suggest that we don't necessarily have to teach evolution in biology. After all, many argue, it's "only a theory." Well, let me ask you this: how on earth would we teach most of our sciences, both hard and soft, without theory? Could we teach physics without Newtonian theory? Or quantum theory? Or the theory of relativity? Could we teach chemistry without teaching atomic theory? Could we teach economics without the theory of supply and demand? Or game theory? Could we teach psychology without Freudian, Jungian, Piagetian, or various other theories? And where would modern science be without information theory, complexity theory, systems theory, emergence theory, dissipative structures theory, the theory of self-organization? Just theory? It would be impossible to understand anything without theories. Theories are how we organize and make sense of a pile of facts and information. Without theories, there can be no science at all. The various theories of evolution are the theories that make sense of biology. Without them, there is no science of biology.

When religious people attack evolution, all they are doing is saying that their beliefs cannot stand up to the ideas inherent in biology. This is a sad state of affairs. But their lack of faith, their inability to continue to believe in Christianity in face of what biology shows does not mean they should undermine the teaching of biology -- but it does mean they have to seriously review their own faith and beliefs. If their faith is so weak that it cannot stand up to the facts of nature and the universe, then they have no faith to speak of anyway. They are lukewarm Christians and, as it says in Revelations, God spits out lukewarm Christians. And why shouldn't He, since those who claim to be His followers refuse to believe in nature as God created it in the name of God? Jesus had a name for such people: hypocrites!

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Tax I'm In Favor Of: A Thief Tax

After having had my van burglarized last weekend, I would very much be in favor of there being a 100% tax on thieves. Any thief who gets caught should have to give up every last one of his possessions, and from that the victim should be paid back 200%.

I bet too that the police would be much more interested in solving property crimes if this were the case. Not to mention that this would act as a great disincentive to steal.

I have a whole other set of complaints about the "insurance' that won't pay because there's no evidence of a break-in. I guess if the burglars use a slim-jim to break into your car, that's a license for the insurance companies to steal from you as well.

A Change of Consciousness

After seeing this story on the news on NBC, I just had to write about it. People at a Starbucks in Pomano Beach, FL, have been paying for the drinks of those in the car behind them -- all day long. An act of kindness that simply spread? Not quite:

"Employees said the chain of kindness started with anger. Arthur Rosenfeld said the man behind him on Thursday morning was honking and yelling at him, so Rosenfeld, a Tai-Chi master, responded with a bit of Zen.

"It wasn't an idea to pay anything forward, nor was it even a random act of kindness, it was a change of consciousness," he said. "Take this negative and change it into something positive." "

This is the kind of thing Lou Marinoff recommends in his book The Middle Way in advocating a change to Buddha-consciousness and Taoist balance (Tai Chi is, after all, the martial arts of Taoism, with come Buddhist practice thrown in). Try to understand what happened here. Rosenfeld had ordered a coffee and was pulling through to pay for it. The man in the car behind him was honking and yelling at him. So Rosenfeld paid for the man's coffee. Faced with someone acting like a complete jerk, Rosenfeld responded with kindness. Now here's the interesting thing -- how did the chain of people buying coffee for the car behind them get started? The man Rosenfeld bought the coffee for HAD to buy the coffee of the person behind him. Can you imagine how the man behind Rosenfeld (we'll call him Mr. X) must have felt to find that the man he was being so rude toward responded to that rudeness with generosity? He had to have felt ashamed of himself. That feeling of shame caused him to buy the person behind him their coffee. And the chain of coffee buying was off. An act brought about by shame resulted in a beautiful act that lasted the entire day, making many more people's days happier and more beautiful. The philosopher-poet Frederick Turner says that beauty is rooted in shame. What happened in Florida is certainly supporting evidence for that belief.

Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone reacted as Rosenfeld did -- as Marinoff recommends? Can you do it? Can I? I can only say that I will certainly try.

Suicides Up Among Middle Class

In a culture where people are told by the postmodern Left that the world and their lives have no meaning, we should not be surprised at this report that suicides among the middle aged population is up. The report doesn't say, but I would not be surprised if most of the suicides are among the college educated, as they are the ones most exposed to the postmodern Left's nihilistic ideology. This is only one of the symptoms of what I have been talking about lately, particularly in light of Lou Marinoff's book The Middle Way. This is evidence that there is something poisonous in our culture. There is little doubt in my mind what, exactly, that something is. We have to believe our lives have meaning, and that we crate value in the world. But how can you do that if you don't believe in either meaning or value?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Whoopi on Double Taxation

Who knew Whoopi was a fiscal conservative on taxes? Good for her!

The Middle Way, Part 11 (Nature, Culture, Geometry)

There is a relationship between the way nature is ordered and the way human societies are best ordered. This is one of the lessons Marinoff wants to teach us in The Middle Way. I have previously discussed what Marinoff says about the relationship between geometry and the Middle Way, but let us revisit the issue. No doubt Marinoff points us in the right direction with the geometry of fractals, as it is increasingly obvious that the universe is fractal and/or biotic (bios is a kind of creative fractal that, instead of staying around the same strange attractor(s) in the same phase space, leaps to new attractors and creates new phase space) in nature. A healthy society is one that maps well onto nature (though we must also be careful not to falsely assume with Rousseau that the natural is necessarily good in and of itself in such a way that it means that that which is uniquely human is bad), and if nature is fractal and bioltic, then so should our societies be. Bios in particular points to the fact that growth and creativity -- making new things, and more complex things -- is natural.

The fractal also shows us something interesting about the nature of things, including ideas and truth itself. When Marinoff suggests that the Mandelbrot set looks remarkably like a Buddha statue, he raises an objection to that idea by observing that there are "those that assert that the Mandelbrot set is nothing but a fractal inkblot, not full but rather devoid of meaning" (162). He then goes on to observe that that for Buddhism this is no objection, since all things, even chaos, are both full and empty. But how is this possible? It's in the nature of the fractal itself. A fractal has a finite space circumscribed by an infinite border (a border created by a time-series, meaning finite space is circumscribed and complexified by time). One will notice something else about a fractal, and that is that its center(s) is/are empty. There is an absent center which creates the meaningful border, and it is meaningful precisely because it is repetitive -- that is, it repeats the same images over and over regardless of scale. Magnify a section of the border, and you will get the same Buddha shape. Keep magnifying, and you will get it over and over, infinitely. I have suggested in my dissertation that words patterned in a self-similar pattern are the meaningful words (with some preliminary support from Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure). Patterned repetition is meaningful -- or, at least, humans give such patterns meaning. And if, as Nietzsche suggests, it is humans which give meaning, then it is no objection to say something doesn't have meaning if meaning is given something by people.

The idea of meaning is very important, because the Left tells us that we do not have "a meaningful place in the grand scheme of things" (170), which has led to "increases in mass consumption of psychotherapy and prescription drug use" (171) as we try to fill that void. So what should be do? I don't think this means we should return to The Great Chain of Being or rigid interpretations of Confucius, but I do think it means we need a new understanding of the comfort and power of hierarchies. We are a social mammal, and social mammals are hierarchical, so we cannot and should not have thrown our hierarchies as such so easily or quickly. Nature shows us that fluid hierarchies, where individuals can move up and down in them, are most natural. But the hierarchy itself works to show us where we fit in with society -- it thus gives us roles and, thus, meaningful social lives. This is precisely why Nietzsche saw democracy and socialism as leading inexorably toward nihilism. Deprived of a place in society, where we do not know what role we play, we see our lives as meaningless. Thus we are overcome by a stifling nihilism. This is dangerous because people need meaning in their lives, and without healthy versions of meaningfulness, we will accept unhealthy versions.

Truth works the same way, as we can see if we look to Plato's Phaedrus. In the Phaedrus, Socrates observes that his first speech, which occurs before noon, when nothing happens, is the same as his second speech, which occurs after noon. Now, the two speeches appear to contradict each other. They are in fact complementary opposites. Each speech approaches the truth (represented by noon, when everything is "enlightened" by the sun, though Socrates and Phaedrus are at the time in the shade of the plane (Platon) tree), but neither in fact reaches the truth. In the dialogue, nothing happens at noon. There is an absent center. truth is thus like the border of a fractal -- it is always approaching the strange attractor of truth, but never quite reaching it. As the system seeks out different trajectories around the strange attractor, the fractal image emerges. Thus, we must always seek after truth if we are going to come closest to it. The fact that we will never reach it is no reason not to try to discover it, for in the discovery, we get the beautiful fractal image -- and it is the image which is, perhaps, truth itself.

Confucius, in the Analects, observes that society itself has fractal self-similarity in a power law distribution (power laws simply state that there are many small things, fewer medium-sized things, and even fewer large things, that this is how complexity is distributed, and that the small makes the medium makes the large, and not vice versa): "To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order." And of course, for the family to be in order, the individual must be in order, whole, healthy, with integrity. "Persons of integrity contribute to an integral home, family, community, and humanity" (110). The person with integrity contains the Artistotlean virtues of courage, temperance, justice and wisdom (117) and the Abrahamic virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love) (117). But please note that all but charity (love) can be attained in isolation: "To exercise charity, you need beneficiaries" (118). Combine these with the Confucian virtues of benevolence, beneficence, goodness, love, respect, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, kindness, and propriety (right conduct in the right situation, depending on your relationship with the person) (118), and you will be a person with integrity. Note how with both Aristotlean and Abrahamic virtues, the focus is on the individual, but with Confucian virtues the focus is on the social relations. "So in Confucian ethics, only one in ten cardinal virtues can be practiced by the individual alone; nine of ten require a society of persons to be exercised. In classical Western ethics, six of seven cardinal virtues can be practiced by the individual alone" (119). We need to practice all sixteen, as we are both individuals and members of social groups. We must be good individuals and good members of society, family, etc.

All of this presumes tat order is to be preferred. This depends on your definition of order. There is the order of a salt crystal with its meaningless, noncreative repetition of Na-Cl -- and then there is the fractal order, which lies on the borderlands of order and chaos. We see that life emerges our of the flux of the universe in seeming opposition to entropy. Now, we typically think of entropy as increased disorder, or the decay of order. Seen this way, complexity seems impossible, even counterintuitive. The universe is getting more disordered over time, so where is this order coming from? However, information theorists define entropy as increased ignorance of the state of the system. With such a definition, complexity is allowed, as the more complex something is, the harder it is to understand it. Complexity is the name of the game, and it is what we need to understand if we are to understand the world. As Marinoff observes, "Living beings are much more complexly organized systems than nonliving things. Humans are more complex than other terrestrial beings, but for that reason are also more unstable, ever prone to cruise in entropy's slipstream toward unbalance and disorder. Human families and societies are more complex still, because they combine all the complexities of individuals plus the additional properties of relationships and groups" (109). It is work to keep ourselves together, let alone our families and societies. Disorder is easy; order is hard. Order requires constant attention and care. Order requires constant change. If you want to keep your house looking the same, you have to constantly clean and maintain it. You have to change it to keep it the same. Otherwise, disorder will take over. This is how self-organizing, dissipative structures remain organized -- and they are the origin of living order.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Father Kills Daughter Over Clothes

Let me tell you what, this is not what Muhammad had in mind when he came up with his dress code. It was supposed to protect women from men, NOT cause women to be murdered by their own fathers! Too many forget that Muhammad was reforming a culture that was even more oppressive toward women and was working to make things better for them with the dress code and the restriction on how many women a man could marry. The idea was to protect women and to make men respect them more. Muhammad did not fix the problem of course, but he intended that things would be better for women. How ironic, then, that too many Moslem men are going against the spirit of Muhammad and the laws he established and acting like brutes and thugs toward the very women they should be protecting -- or would be, if they were any kind of real men.

I have had Moslem women explain the idea behind the hajib. They tell me that they wear it because it takes the focus off of their physical appearance and forces men to deal with them intellectually. They see it too as an expression of modesty. Of course, such expressions only work when voluntary.

Immanuel Kant Attack Ad

On Equality

The word "equal" has been so abused that the few people who do believe in true equality have begun to disabuse themselves of the term. So let us look at the idea of equality and compare it with two ideas with which equality is confused: identify and egalitarianism.

To learn what equality is, let us first discuss what it is not. Equality is not egalitarianism. Which of course only begs the question of what egalitarianism is. "Egalitarianism" comes from the French "egalite," which means "equality." This being the case, how can I claim that egalitarianism is not the same as being for equality? Well, the French, much more so than does the English, carries with it the idea of absolute equality, or identity. Identity comes from a Latin word meaning "the same." If you share someone's identity, you are the same as them. Further, it has the kind of mathematical precision as our word "equal" carried when we use it in mathematics. When we say 1 + 2 equals 3, we are saying they have the same identity, that the set on the left is the same as the set on the right. The fact that our word "equal" does carry this meaning in it is where the problems occur. "Scientific" socialism (meaning 19th century science), looks to mathematical certainty, finds the term "equal," and applies that usage to human beings.

I reserve the word "egalitarianism" for this use of the term "equal." Egalitarianism seeks equality in the absolute sense, where everyone is identical economically, socially, and politically. This is the sense in which the Left uses the term "equal." We have accepted that use, and find ourselves opposing equality.

Perhaps we should abandon the word "equal" to refer to the idea of equality I am talking about. That would solve the problem we run into when we say things like "Equality is not equality of outcome," because after all "equality of outcome" is a kind of equality, even if a bad one, and thus the term "equal" contains this meaning. On the other hand, I don't want to abandon the term precisely because if we do, we abandon the interpretation of "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." to the Left's interpretation of equality. If we do that, we face justifications for socialist and social engineering policies which fly in the face of human nature, and nature itself.

So let us not abandon the term "equal," but rather recover its meaning, and place it in context with other social values and with human evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. From the latter two perspectives, humans aren't much interested in, and are in fact uncomfortable with, equality. We naturally construct hierarchies, which is why we find them in businesses, governments, schools, churches, and even circles of friends. This is part and parcel of being a social mammal, as anyone who has owned dogs knows. If you want a dog who is nervous, always barks at everything, and snaps at everyone, then let him think he's top dog. Worse, keep him confused as to where he fits into the hierarchy. Almost all problems people have with their dogs stems from the fact that they haven't dominated their dogs properly, putting them low in the pack hierarchy. The same problems occur with humans who do not know what their place is in society because of the Left's idea of egalitarianism, which has pervaded American society. Of course, by saying that people need to know their place, that does not mean they should stay in that place -- rigid hierarchies, caste systems, and class systems go against the idea of equality, and of natural hierarchies. The social organizations of social mammals are hierarchies, yes, but they are fluid hierarchies. The lowest in the hierarchy can one day become the alpha. Thus, rigid caste and class systems are just as unnatural as are egalitarian systems, and often result in very violent social reactions against them. This begins to get us to the idea of equality I am talking about, which is equality of opportunity. The lowest in a hierarchy has an opportunity to rise if they are willing to do what is necessary to rise to the top. In human societies, this means they have self-control, become educated, are hard workers, develop strong social bonds with the right people, etc. In a free society, those with the most virtues of this kind rise highest. In government-centered societies, those who know how to work the system, who develop strong social bonds with those in power, who can get laws passed in their favor, those who seek power above everything else, etc. are the ones who rise highest. In this kind o system, those in power stay in power, and are able to protect their power. Bureaucrats do not have to answer to you, and their jobs are not based on whether you are happy or satisfied or even treated well. Government bureaucrats are often nasty toward citizens because they can be, and because they know that they have the (unelected) power to do whatever they want. Those who rise high in a government-centered system typically think of themselves as better, smarter, wiser than everyone else, and thus deserve to be and remain in power. Since they have the power and also the ability to distribute ir (or not), their elitism is never challenged. To them, everyone is equal: equally dumb and incapable of taking care of themselves. Which is why they are needed. In a free society, you are always challenged, and always humbled by those who keep rising to show you who you are and to make you better. People are free to ruse up and challenge and even to, peacefully, overthrow you. Of course, just because someone is free to make more money than than Bill Gates and thus become the richest man in the world, it does not mean that Bill Gates has to lose a single dime -- or that anyone else has to either. Fluid hierarchies in free societies where growth and creativity create more things of value harm no one. Quite the contrary. But if you want to move up in a rigid hierarchy, you have to overthrow those in power. Violence begets violence. Force begets force.

Those who preach for the justice of egalitarianism are telling people not that they can move up in the world if they work hard enough, but that it is unfair that someone else has more than them. This causes people to aspire not to have the same kinds of things as Bill Gates, but to have the same things as Bill Gates. Egalitarianism is identity. Made dissatisfied with being in a hierarchy at all, the people low in the hierarchy are encouraged to steal from those with more, either directly through robbery and burglary, or indirectly through various welfare programs paid for by the government stealing the money for them. We should not be surprised when those who live off of theft are immoral in other ways. This is not justice, and we see again a misuse of the term by the Left. For the Left, justice is egalitarianism. Yet Elaine Scarry shows in On Beauty and Being Just that justice means fair, and fair means beautiful, meaning justice and beauty are related. Aristotle says too that virtue aims as the beautiful. We do not have beauty if we have an egalitarian distribution of color on a canvas. We get beauty through the unity of complementary opposites and with variety in unity and unity in variety. Beauty is in many ways the opposite of egalitarianism. A beautiful equality -- which is to say, a just equality -- is one where equality is placed in a yin-yang relationship with hierarchy to create the kinds of fluid hierarchies already mentioned. Bland sameness is not beautiful.

So let us look again at the complementary opposites of Confucius. In a real sense, each of the pair is necessarily equal to the other, in he sense of equality I am arguing for. Men are equal to women, and vice versa. This does not mean they are identical. Men and women do not share an identity. Men tend to be masculine; women tend to be feminine. Some women have some masculine traits; some men have some feminine traits. But the masculine and the feminine both contain strengths and weaknesses. As it turns out, these balance each other out -- that is, they complement each other. One approach to the world is not better or worse than the other; they are merely different. The feminine desire to just listen and be listened to is right, and the masculine desire to solve the problem at hand is also right. Men should temper their desire to solve the problem at hand with listening, so they understand the entire problem and bond with the person; women should temper their desire to be listened to with taking the solutions to their problems to hear and using it to solve their problems, and understanding that this is how men show that they care for you.

With old and young, we see a need to balance the two equally as well. The young bring enthusiasm, idealism, ability to learn new things quickly, and a liberal pressing into the future; the old bring temperance, wisdom, a knowledge of the past and of practical things learned in life, and a conservative anchor to the past. As Winston Churchill wisely (if mythically) said, "If you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative when your old, you have no brain." (It seems the actual quote was made by Fran├žois Guizot, who actually said, " Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head." All of which only proves that myth is a good source of truth.) If the old and the young are balanced, we get healthy growth in culture and society. If imbalanced toward youth, we get cancerous growth, leading to decadence and destruction; if imbalanced toward the old, we get fossilization, leading to rigidification and death. Thus, we need each equally, in equal proportions -- well, perhaps equally in golden mean proportions for proper growth.

For a final clarification, let us look again at the teacher-student complementary opposites. There is equality here, too, though again, not in an egalitarian sense. It seems obvious that the teacher and student are not equal, by definition, as the teacher has the knowledge, and the student is ignorant until taught. Recent moves toward teaching students how to find knowledge rather than teaching them anything have attempted to turn this relationship into a more egalitarian one, since the teacher cannot "colonize" the student's mind with what they know. In fact, this only puts off onto others the teacher-student relationship, as the student will still be taught content by those they read. Assuming they bother to look up anything. They won't, since this kind of deferment results in students who don't know what to look up, not knowing what is actually out there to look up and learn, or why they even should, having no foundational knowledge to build upon. So the ethical teacher is one who takes it upon himself to teach content to the student, to develop their knowledge and to show them why this is interesting enough to learn more about. But as any good teacher knows, when you teach something, you come to learn that subject better. Thus, to teach is to learn. The student too comes to the teacher with questions, pushing the teacher to learn more and more and to come to better understand what he knows and understands and why. Thus, the teacher and the student grow together in knowledge. Each needs the other, equally. They are complementary opposites, the student containing a bit of the teacher, the teacher containing a bit of the student. Egalitarianism undermines this process, preventing the teacher from growing, remaining unchallenged, having given the student nothing to work with.

These same kinds of harmonious equalities should also exist in friends (your friends should complement and balance you as an equal), ruler-subject (we should have a government where the ruler is subject and the subject is ruler, each having bits of the other), and parents-children (a relationship that allows each to mature properly and healthfully). The balance makes us bette, more complete human beings. And being in these relationships, and on both sides of each relationship, contributes to our own growth, improvement, and creativity, meaning for healthier individuals, cultures, and societies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Birthday Melina!!!







Today is my baby's first birthday. Happy birthday Melina!!! Here she was almost a year ago. And below, we have some more fun pictures of her.

Quarantining

I'm probably not going to be defending Mike Huckabee too often on this blog. I disagree with him on most social and economic issues. He raised taxes repeatedly in Arkansas, he has denigrated the rich in such a way as to show himself to be a redistributionist, and I don't care much for his views on many social issues, particularly homosexuality. However, I must defend is statement mad 15 years ago that those with HIV probably should have been isolated. We will ignore for the moment his attempt to defend the position by saying he didn't mean quarantining. He did, no matter what he says, and that is exactly what he should have meant. Had there been an active campaign worldwide to quarantine those infected with HIV once we learned what was causing AIDS, it likely would have been stopped. At the very least, it wouldn't have spread like it has. And then one of my wife's close friends wouldn't have it. Quarantining is probably not even physically possible now, so that approach is off the table. Huckabee too acknowledges this. Fortunately it seems that drugs are being developed that are working better and better. But when we are faced with a deadly, communicable disease, we have to do away with political correctness fin order to protect people. This is an issue where I am decidedly not libertarian. I'm sorry, but you do not have the right to go around and put people in danger of dying from a deadly infectious disease. It may not be your fault that you have it, but the fact is that you have it, that it is communicable, and that people will die if they get it. Along the same lines, I also do not think you have the right to prevent the eradication of a disease by refusing to allow your children to get vaccinated. We are talking here about preventing the deaths of thousands if not millions from disease. You do not get to make the kinds of decisions that will knowingly result in the deaths of people. We won't allow you to do it with a gun or a bomb -- why should we let you do it with a virus or bacteria?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whiny Bitch Shoots Up Church and School Because He's a Wimp

Another day, another shooting by someone who had so few problems in his life that he made some up and then took it out on others. The shootings in Colorado Springs and Arvada and the earlier shootings in Omaha were both done by whiny little brats whose lives were so devoid of problems that they took the tiniest slight and mushroomed it into catastrophe. The people of the church Matthew Murray shot up are to be commended for forgiving him, but I think it's time too that we started calling these things what they are, and recognizing what is causing them. Our everyone-is-a-victim culture is what is responsible for these shootings. If you have any kind of problem, it's not your fault, you poor dear. It's other people's fault. Well, if it's other people's fault, then it makes sense to lash out at those other people, now doesn't it? It implies too that it is the responsibility of others to make and keep you happy. And then schools (though Murray was home-schooled, so we can't quite blame the schools for him -- but it is hard to believe that his parents weren't nonetheless influenced by the culture around them that said that self-esteem is what is most important to a child's upbringing) are so concerned with teaching self-esteem, though they do nothing to develop in students a self to esteem, and the actual outcome is whiny little crybabies who are all torn up if you criticize anything they do or say. You don't teach self esteem by telling kids how wonderful they are. You teach them self esteem by challenging them, disciplining them, making them proud of having accomplished something. You don't tell them they are wonderful unless they provide some sort of actual evidence that they are in fact wonderful. Our children need to be toughened up. Nietzsche was complaining about what wimps the Germans were 130 or so years ago -- he would be utterly appalled at the state of things in the United States now. We have raised a bunch of pansies that can't take the least criticism, then can't figure out why they come in, guns blazing, when they meet the least little resistance or have the least little disappointment.

So what do we need to do? A few suggestions:

1. Stop with the self-esteem education! This is destroying the nation more than any other single thing.

2. Let kids fight it out. We have gone too far in stopping any kind of aggression in our schools. The fact is, we are a social species, and we need to work out our place in the hierarchy of wherever we are. In schools, this gets worked out best in the younger grades, in schoolyard fights. Our anti-bullying campaigns have resulted in the weakening of many kids. Further, as with any social mammal, if you put off and put off and put off aggression, when it does finally break out, it will become even more violent, and even deadly. This is why stabbings and shootings are way up in our schools. In an ideal world there would be some sort of ritual where the students in a school could establish their places in the hierarchy, and that ritual would be set up by the school itself. Of course, so long as schools are run by Leftists, this will never happen, as the Left is anti-hierarchy to a fault.

3. Every child should be enrolled in martial arts. This would actually help with self-esteem, not to mention teach them self-control and responsibility. It also provides a ritualistic space to work out the hierarchy.

4. Children have to be given responsibilities. When children are old enough, they should be made to work around the house to earn an allowance. And it should be with that money, and that money alone, that they buy things they want, rather than having mommy and daddy buy them whatever they want whenever they want it. When children get everything given to them when they want it, the do not learn to delay gratification (thus our high credit card debt in this country), and they go out into the world thinking that that is how the world works. It doesn't, and then they are disappointed.

in short, we have to teach our children to be responsible for their own actions and to have self-control. Above are a few ways we can do that. In short, we evolved to live in a difficult world, and when our world becomes too easy, we create difficulties for ourselves. We drive ourselves crazy without problems. We can resolve this problem by not making the world easier, but by making it more challenging. Further, if we are going to expect our children to grow up to value life, they must first learn what it means to value anything at all.
________

Followup on Dec. 12. This incident suggests I'm right about the consequences of putting off aggression in our schools.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dopamine Receptor Allele Associated With Bad Behavior

In an article in the upcoming issue of Science, Genetically Determined Differences in Learning from Errors, German scientists show that there are people out there who literally cannot learn from their mistakes. There is a mutation in a dopamine receptor that is associated with such behaviors as inability to learn from one's mistakes, drug addiction, obesity, and compulsive behaviors. They report that this "suggests some insensitivity to negative consequences of self-destructive behavior. This might be linked to a general deficit in learning from errors. Here, we report patterns of brain activity underlying a reduced ability to use negative feedback for avoidance learning in carriers of the A1 allele. Our findings suggest a genetically driven change in the dynamic interaction of performance monitoring and long-term memory formation." Thus, these behaviors seem to be associated with problems with memory, and is related too with the brain's self-reward system. In this case, it seems the brain cannot reward itself properly.

All of which raises the question of what one is supposed to do when you have someone with this allele (mutated gene). Are we to just throw up our hands and say, well they can't help it. It's in their genes. Well, the brain behavior, and their relationship with the genes is not so clear-cut as that. The brain has many different pathways and subroutines that act as ways to bypass problems. What we need to figure out, then, is what sorts of stimuli will such people respond to? How can they be educated to restructure their brains to overcome these problems? That is what you do when you educate, after all: restructure brains. One hopes that these kinds of issues will be raised in light of this kind of research rather than falling on it as an excuse for bad behavior. These kinds of genetic differences only make some things more difficult for some people -- it does not nor should it excuse bad behavior. It just means we have to figure out how to educate such people to overcome these difficulties. It is possible, but it won't involve using the typical methods we see in education. Those fail regular people, let alone those with the dopamine D2 receptor gene polymorphism DRD2-TAQ-IA.

HIV/AIDS Epidemic Numbers Scaled Back by U.N.

Recently, two U.N groups revised their estimated number of people worldwide infected by HIV down 16%, from 39.5 million to 33.2 million. SOme -- the innumerate among us -- may see this as good news. But the fact is, the number of people infected has increased every year -- it is the guess at how many there would be that was wrong.

Why was the estimation wrong? And why by so much as 16%? Well, in complex systems, where we have to use statistics, we are going to often be off. In a case like this, better too many than too few. But 16% -- 6.3 million people -- is being off by a significant number. So what happened?



What happened is epidemiology studies a complex system. To completely understand the HIV epidemic, you have to understand the behavior,s especially the sexual behaviors, of people in many different cultures, plus migration patterns, plus politics in each region, plus education, plus logistics, plus various local medical practices, plus effects and effectiveness of medicines, etc. And that's just to understand what will happen assuming nothing changes except new people getting infected. THrow in the fact that cultural and religious practices, governments, and logistical capabilities can and do change, and throw in the development of new drugs that work much better than do older drugs, and that 16% doesn't look too bad. Most likely, the projections were made using linear models, which should never be used when dealing with complex systems. Indeed, if we draw a trend line on the graph from the Science article on this issue that includes the points from 1990-2000 or so, we see a linear growth rate to almost 40 million. What the data actually shows us a a flattening off. This is a more natural curve anyway, and it is what we would expect with the availability of new and better drugs. This shows what happens when you make linear assumptions about a nonlinear reality.

Africa in particular seems to be turning a corner, primarily due to education, which combatted risky behavior and various myths about HIV< including the myths that fat women are HIV negatives and that having sex with a virgin will cure you. The latter practice in particular no doubt contributed greatly to its spread in Africa. The results out of India, though, demonstrates the problems inherent in estimation, as the HIV rate of India as a whole was estimated based on samples from the cities. It turns out that denser population is correlated with higher concentrations of HIV infection, so those estimates could not be used to estimate the infection rate in rural areas. This would be like using the temperature readings from urban centers -- which are known to be heat islands -- to estimate global temperatures. In fact, I would only trust a temperature trend that excluded all cities, since we know that the larger a city becomes, the more heat it traps, meaning any trend that used city temperatures would naturally and necessarily trend upwards, or at least mask any downward trends, should they occur. In the case of HIV infection, cities must, of course, be used (that's where the people are), but care must be made to include rural areas as well. Thus, the estimate of 5.7 million in India dropped to 2.5 million as the number of sites that report HIV test results increased.

The lesson here is that when we are dealing with a complex system, whether it be the study of HIV epidemiology, ethology, an economy, the environment, the climate, or social behaviors, we have to expect that we will never have enough information to make accurate predictions, as we both won't have enough information about the state of the system now, and we can't take into consideration what will be created in the future to affect the system. This isn't to say we can't come to know something about the system, but it is to say that prescriptions to fix any system must be carefully thought through, and the models used must be nonlinear. With something like HIV, the system is a relatively easy one to deal with, since the goal is the complete annihilation of the system. But with any of the other systems mentioned, where the goal is to create a healthier system, the first thing we need to understand is what makes the system healthy. But if we can't even get it right when it come to a system we are trying to kill, what gives us the hubris to think we can know what to do to make a system healthy?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Burglarized!

Yesterday I drove my family down to San Antonio to attend my wife's best friend's graduation from University of the Incarnate Word with his MA degree. We arrived close to midnight, checked in to the hotel, brought sup our things, and went to bed. The next morning, I opened the back of my mini van to find the baby's stroller was missing. Also missing from the mini van: my wife's school computer (which she will have to pay for -- $3000), a bag with her school books and lessons, a baby bag which had in it things like diapers, binoculars (they dropped one pair, which were recovered) and several CD's -- we had many of my favorites in there, including all but one of The White Stripes, all The Raveonettes, a Weezer, a Killer's, Muse, and several others. Naturally, we called the police. They wrote down what was missing, checked my license and proof of insurance, and basically just walked around and looked at the van. We said we weren't sure if we had locked the van, but we knew the van was supposed to lock on its own after a while. There was no evidence of forced entry, which only means they could have used one of those tools you use to open locked doors, but seemed to mean for the police that it threw suspicion on us, if their lack of interest in the theft was any indication. Or maybe, they showed a lack of interest because this was just a small theft and wasn't in their minds that big a deal. Which is perhaps why there is such a high crime rate in the U.S., if police have this attitude toward "small" crimes. The criminals who burglarized our van will only be emboldened if they get away with this, meaning they will steal more and more stuff. How long before they break in to someone's home and find someone there and kill them? I believe in the "broken windows" theory of solving crime. If you get the people who are doing the small crimes, you will get the ones who are doing the big crimes (they're the same people -- or will be). But, no, the police seemed to have better things to do than to look for clues, or even fingerprint. I suppose someone will tell me that they don't fingerprint for such small crimes -- but if that's the case, then that's a crime as well.

The criminals did leave a few things. They left a dress my wife had bought for her best friend's niece to wear to the graduation. They left my wife's corduroy jacket in the front seat, and they left our books and my clipboard. I'm not surprised the illiterate bastards left the books. We're a bit flummoxed about the theft of the stroller. But what is most aggravating about the theft, and the reason why theft is and should be illegal (obvious property rights issues aside) is because by stealing our things, they reduced their value. Take for example one of The Raveonettes' CDs. Probably nobody has heard of The Raveonettes, but I had their first two albums when I met Anna, my wife. One of or early dates was to a Raveonettes concert, and there they were selling their newest album. So I bought it. When I see that CD, it reminds me of that time. Sure, I can replace the physical CD, but the new one won't be the one I bought when we went on our date. The pair of binoculars they made off with was a pair my grandparents bought me for a birthday when I was young. My grandfather is dead and my grandmother is in her 80's. When we would visit them in South Bend, IN during Christmas, I would accompany them on the Audubon Christmas bird count. They loved birds, and, knowing I loved birds and nature too, they wanted to buy me something I would love. And I have loved them. I gave them to my wife when she bought me a new pair for my birthday. Those are the binoculars they dropped and we recovered. These objects have more value than those crooks could ever get out of selling them. Thus, by stealing them, they have greatly reduced the value in the world itself. That is why stealing is such an important crime, and why the police should take far more interest in it than the ones we dealt with did. I don't blame the two police officers themselves for their attitude -- I would expect it from anyone on the force, there or elsewhere. It is the attitude overall, held by the police in general, that has to change. The crime committed against me is far more important than the crime of someone going 11 mph over the speed limit.

Friday, December 07, 2007

McInflation (or is it McDeflation?)

The next time you want to complain about how much something costs, find out how much it cost in the past, then put in the number here and see what the price would be today.

In 1955, a McDonald's hamburger cost $0.15, a cheeseburger cost $0.19, a shake cost $0.20, and fries and a soft drink each cost $0.10

According to the calculator, they should each cost $1.17, $1.48, $1.56, and $0.78 respectively.

How many of these are on the dollar menu? Or, combine them into a value meal or a kid's meal. Then they get even cheaper.

This is aside from the fact that above is the entire menu for 1955.

China's Zero-Sum Film Policies

The Chinese's almost complete lack of understanding of basic economic principles shows up even in the realm of films. The economy is not a zero sum game! Just because I have seen one film, that does not mean I won't go see another. In fact, there is a good chance that if I have a good film-going experience, I will want to go watch more films. The presence of American films does not prevent people from seeing Chinese films. The only reason one would want to restrict the number of films coming from someplace else is if your own films are so bad that nobody would watch them otherwise. Competition only works to make things better. And yes, this does include movies. If you don't believe me, just think about what kinds of films would be out there if one company were to be given a complete monopoly over film-making. You would have to watch whatever crap they wanted to put out. And there is little doubt that it would be mostly crap that they would put out. The Chinese HAVE to get out of this mentality that the economy is a zero-sum game. This belief explains many of their actions of late, and it also does not bode well for their future, as their economy will necessarily, after a while, stagnate as they continue to work against the economies of other countries around the world, thinking wrongly that that will help their own.

And now, for a moment of transparency: I do have a financial interest in the Chinese government changing its attitude, since I do own quite a bit of stock in Chinese companies, and I do want those stocks to grow.