Monday, March 31, 2008

Greed vs. Covetousness

When my wife was on spring break, we went to Kentucky to visit family. We went and had dinner with the pastor of my church growing up -- Maranatha Baptist Church -- and his wife more because I was close to them from having been a close friend with their son than the fact that he was my pastor. They were keen on seeing our 15 month old baby, Melina.

We had a lot of fun talking about how screwed up everything is, but then my pastor made a comment in regards to the problem of greed. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but it triggered me to insist upon differentiating greed from coveting. I think too many people mistake the two, conflating coveting with greed. We typically think of greed as wanting more and more and more and more of something(s). Humans are, of course, naturally acquisitive. What matters is how we acquire. I gave my pastor the following scenario:

Suppose there was a man who came up to you and told you that they really loved your wife and that they hoped to marry someone just like her some day. How would you feel about that? Wouldn't you feel pleased with the compliment?

Suppose there was another man who came up to you and told you that they really loved your wife and that they hoped to marry her some day. How would you feel about that? Wouldn't you be insulted, angry?

The first person is greedy, the second person is covetous.

If someone wants the same kinds of things you have, they are being admiring and, yes, greedy.
If someone wants the same things you have, they are being envious and covetous.

The first scenario will set someone out to better themselves or work hard to try to get the same kinds of things.
The second scenario can only have success if you seduce the man's wife away from him, or murder him then marry his wife, or (in the case of material objects, including money) steal from him.

The first assumes the world is a positive sum game, where everyone can have what they value -- where value is indeed created.
The second assumes the world is a zero sum game, where if I'm to have mine, I must take from you -- for me to have more value, your value must be reduced.

The first scenario is ethical; the second scenario is unethical.

But too many think greed and covetousness are the same. When you profit at the expense of someone else, you are working in an envy-covetousness mindset (even if you are rich and the victim is poor). We mistakenly call such people greedy, when the proper term is covetous.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Little Campaign Advice

I went to a Republican precinct convention today and got to hear several speeches. What struck me most was how effective one of the speakers was -- not because she was a good speaker per se, as her strong Chinese accent made that difficult at best for her, but because of her story. She had a fantastic story about why she was running and why she was a Republican. The story was so good that you didn't notice (except that I do notice such things, having taught rhetoric) that she never actually said anything about what she stands for and what she would do if elected.

Her opponent, on the other hand, made the stupid mistake of starting off his speech complaining. Now, he was right about his complaint -- but being right in an election isn't necessarily going to get you votes. But a good story will.

People need to understand that this is why Ronald Reagan was so effective -- he managed to combine being right with having a good story. Even if he did not always do right in office, he always said what was right and just and good. COmbined with a good story, that always wins. And it did.

If you want to run a bad campaign, combine being wrong with a bad story.
If you want to run a better campaign, combine being right with a bad story.
If you want to run a good campaign, combine being wrong with a good story.
If you want to run a great campaign, combine being right with a good story.

I'm still going to vote for Randy Dunning in the run-off election, because I like his idea of eliminating property taxes, but Angie Chen Button whooped him in her speech.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Literature as a Game

An update on an old paper: here's the new site of Literature as a Game.

On Macroeconomists

Well, I tried twice to post a comment at Freakonomics on the article they ran about macroeconomists, but neither one was allowed to be posted. Did I say anything offensive? I guess, if you're a macroeconomist, I did, as what I posted, to answer their question of where all the macroeconomists have gone, was the opinion that perhaps people have stopped listening to macroeconomists because they have proven time and again to be wrong about just about everything -- Krugman included (especially?). I would argue that microeconomist are generally right about how the economy works, but I have seen little evidence that macroeconomists understand a thing about the economy. They are typically concerned with how government affects things, and end up often siding with government and encouraging more government programs. Krugman's opinions have become increasing idiotic over the years, and another famous macroeconomist, John Maynard Keynes, is responsible for most of the economic ills of the 20th century, including thee stagflation of the 1970's in Europe and the U.S., and the inflation-driven collapse of economies throughout Central and South America and Africa. Keyne's suggestion to prevent a recession? Print more money! Putting the cart before the horse, he thought inflation caused economic booms (and not vice versa, as anyone with half a brain would know and understand). He also opined that deficit spending by government wasn't that big a deal and that it would help the economy as well. Never mind what happens when the bill comes due. With such stupidities coming out of the mouths of macroeconomists, is it any wonder nobody cares to hear what they have to say?

If macroeconomists were a kind of doctor, they would have been driven out of the medical field by now. The would have been driven out by lawsuits, and they would have likely not been allowed by law to practice anymore, having been identified as being, for the most part, quacks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It Could Never Happen Here . . .

"First, the long-standing socialist thinking behind [the] welfare programs, which had in the prior century encouraged [people] to prefer safety to independence and freedom, and to venerate big government; second the demagogic line preaching victimization . . . ; third, the scapegoat of racism" (Bill Greene, "Common Genius," 245).

Who is Bill Greene talking about in this passage? Liberals? The Democratic Party? Obama's pastor Rev. Wright?

While all of those could easily be correct answers, if we replace [the] with "Bismarck's" and [people] with "the Germans", and it should become clearer that he was talking about the groundwork that was laid in Germany for the takeover of Hitler.

America's Greatest Enemy -- Congress

For those of us who do not like welfare programs at all, the good news is that there is literally no way we will be able to afford even Social Security and Medicare by 2019, as pointed out by Glenn Beck. The bad news is: that insolvency will likely result in a complete economic collapse.

al Qaida should just sit back and wait -- our government is doing all the work for them.

And nobody cares.

How Obama Wants to Kill the Economy

Obama's solution to the slowing economy is tax relief and more regulations. The first one make sense -- more money in the economy = stronger economy. The second idea is pure idiocy. What sane person looks at a faltering economy and thinks "what businesses need is for government to make it even harder for them to do business"? If you add on more regulations, to make it harder for businesses to do business, which slows economic activity, which slows the economy even more.

Perhaps we shouldn't be trying to put people who have the dangerous combination of thinking they are smarter than everyone else and who have the psychpathology of wanting to control everything and everyone in office.

I do like this idea, though: "Streamline regulatory agencies to end overlap and competition among regulators." This could actually result in fewer regulations and could make the one we have less burdensome by having fewer regulators trying to regulate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Communist Death Squads -- A Redundancy

A response by a faithful reader to a posting about Correa I made raises some questions in my mind.

Lord knows, I'm about as nonviolent a person as one is going to come across. I love to talk ideas, especially with those with whom I disagree. But what are we to realistically do about any ideology that, when implemented, results in the deaths of literally millions of people? Here are some numbers for us to contemplate:

USSR (1917-1987) -- 61,911,000 people murdered
Communist China (1949-1987) -- 35,236,000 people murdered
Cambodia (1975-79) -- 2,035,000 people murdered (out of a population of 6 million -- making it far worse, percentage-wise, than any other Communist country)
Yugoslavia (1944-87) -- 1,072 million people murdered
Nazi Germany (1933-45) -- 20,946,000 million people murdered

The first four are all communist countries.

In the article from which I got these statistics, it is also noted that communism resulted in 55,000,000 people dying from famine caused by the implementation of communist ideas. In total, communist countries murdered over 100,000,000 of its own people. One can find another accounting of the murders of communists here that shows the number of murders by communist countries to be closer to 150 million.

We have instance upon instance of a communist government taking over a country, followed by mass murders and mass starvation. There is not a single instance of a successful communist country (from either an economic, or a justice POV).

So what should we do when faced with a group of communists either having taken over or trying to take over a government, knowing what we know about the results of communists taking over a country? Should we just stand by as millions more are murdered and starved to death? Considering the track record of communists around the world, it is insanity to believe that they will act any differently with each country they take over. Maybe I'm wrong to make such a cold calculation, but doesn't it make sense to kill a few hundred to save the lives of millions? I'm not talking about your university Marxist whose only sin (as dire a sin as it is) is to fill your child's head full of lies about how the world works. I'm not talking about people who merely believe in communism. I'm talking about those who fight to overthrow a government, or who have already seized a government. Do we not have the obligation to remove such people from power -- by any means necessary -- to ensure people not only can live lives of liberty, but are allowed to live at all?

Am I completely wrong about this?

Hugo Chavez's Anti-Endorsement

Good news for the Democrats: without outright supporting the Democratic party, communist-strongman-wannabe Hugo Chavez has suggested that relations with the U.S. may not improve if we elect John McCain. And we care what that thug's opinion is . . . why?

Just remember that Obama in his infinite naivete has suggested that we can and should talk with Chavez. I'm more of the opinion that we should just ignore the idiot. He's an embarrassment to not just Hispanics, but to human beings as a species.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The True Media Bias

With Dateline's "To Catch a Predator," reports of priests abusing everyone in sight, etc., one would think our children are just ripe for the pickings on any given day. Not so, according to to an article on eSkeptic that talks about the way we are manipulated by the news media.

According to the article, "in a given year there are about 88,000 documented cases of sexual abuse among juveniles. In the roughly 17,500 cases involving children between ages 6 and 11, strangers are the perpetrators just 5 percent of the time — and just 3 percentof the time when the victim is under age 6. (Further, more than a third of such molesters are themselves juveniles, who may not be true “predators” so much as confused or unruly teens.)"

5% of 17500 is 875, or 2.4 a day in the entire nation. Out of how many children?

The rest are molested by people in the home -- relatives, mostly. So if neither you nor your wife/husband are incestuous molester types, there is almost no chance your child will be molested.

Translation: it's okay to let your kids play outside.

A few other facts from the article:

"The current employment rate is 95.3 percent"

"Out of 300 million Americans, roughly 299.999954 million were not murdered today."

What would society be like of our news media reported the facts that way?

Moral Cowardice Online

There is a film titled Fitna that Moslem extremists don't want anyone to watch, and so are threatening everyone associated with it. YouTube too has removed the film from its site. You have perhaps noticed, by clicking on the above link, that has taken down the site due to "complaints." In fact, they took it down because they are moral cowards, just as the people are YouTube.

If the average person doesn't stand up for his own right to speak and express him- or herself, then we shouldn't be surprised when government stop doing so. Certainly these two sites have the right to have anything they want on their sites, but to take this movie down just because it offends a few whiny crybags makes them cowards. If there was content offending Christians, it would still be up. Are Moslems so delicate that they can't stand criticism? Certainly the radicals seem to be, though the Moslems I know are all made of much stouter material than are the crybaby radicals.

Correa's Challenge

Dear President Bush,

You should call Ecuadorean President Correa on his bluff and offer to send troops to the Ecuador-Columbia border. If nothing else, we would get to kill Communists at the invitation of a Communist -- something all liberty-loving people should embrace wholeheartedly, and not just because of the wonderful irony of it.

Race and the Election

It looks like race is going to be a significant factor in the election in . . . Malaysia. What? Other countries have issues with race? Why, I thought only in the U.S. -- or at least the West in general -- there were race problems. At least, that's what all the anti-Western postmodernist postcolonial Leftists keep telling us. I wonder what other LIES they are telling us to forward their own self-serving agenda?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Intellectuals and Professionals

I'm currently reading "Common Genius" by Bill Greene, and will be doing a review of it here on this blog when I'm done. To a great extent it is a sustained, well-reasoned attack on intellectuals and intellectualism. I wonder what Greene would think of professionals in light of Radley Balko's piece. Certainly I (and I am sure, he would) think that we need professionals -- but if you have to use the power of government to enforce your professional status, what are you really providing anyone that's of value?

This raises the following personal questions: as a scholar/intellectual, am I a professional or an amateur? Does my Ph.D. make a difference there? Am I even an intellectual (I will get into Greene's definition of an intellectual when I do the review of his book)? How does the blogosphere challenge such classifications?

As to the last question, I think that there's both a lot of good and a lot of garbage online. It would be nice if there were some well-respected gatekeepers that might browse the net and rate blogs and provide links through their site. This would both let anyone write whatever they wanted, but also lend credibility to the work many of us do here online. One of the good things about professional gatekeepers is that they help you separate the wheat from the chaff. It's hard to find everything online that's wheat, you know.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Global Warming

It looks like global warming has reached a tipping point.

Happy Easter

Today is a day celebrating resurrection and rebirth after painful death. Those who have not undergone such a process can only live superficial lives at best. Those who attain resurrection are able to experience the kingdom of God.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pope Benedict's Response to bin Laden?

On Thursday, Osama bin Laden accused Pope Benedict XVI of leading a new crusade against Islam. Bin Laden's implication: his followers should try to assassinate the Pope. Today, for Easter, Benedict XVI baptized a prominent Egyptian-born Italian Muslim, Magdi Allam, into the Catholic faith. Coincidence?

A Few Thoughts on the Morality of Markets

Free market economics is the only moral economic system ever developed by humans. Specifically, it is the only system which arose naturally, from the bottom-up, as all natural, self-organizing systems do. Top-down organization is unnatural and artificial and results in immoral behavior. Socialism treats human beings like they are parts of a machine. Free markets, arising naturally through the interactions of people voluntarily trading with each other, encourages people to act ethically and to act in the be interest of others even as they act in their own self-interest (this is, again, in opposition to socialism, where people act in their own self-interest as they claim to act in the interest of others).

Mamet's Political Conversion

Everyone should read David Mamet's piece on the transformation of his own political worldview at The Village Voice. After this, he will be one of the most reviled men in Hollywood or on Broadway.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Home Schooling Ruling II

A California appeals court had upheld the ridiculous ruling that California home-schoolers must be credentialed teachers. That means that for elementary school-aged kids, a year of college and a year of teacher training in a classroom (why would a home schooler need to know anything about classroom management?). For middle and high schoolers, the parents would have to be credentialed in each area they taught in. Now, if you want to understand the true range of stupidity of this, what this means is that if I lived in California, it would be illegal for me to home school my daughter (in a few years, when she's old enough) because I don't have credentials, even though I have a B.A., a M.A., and a Ph.D. More than that, I would not be allowed to teach her anything other than biology, chemistry, English, and the Humanities because those are the only areas in which I have a degree. But then, I wouldn't be allowed to teach her any of those things because I'm not credentialed. However, I could be hired at a university in California to teach composition, literature, creative writing, and/or literary theory. So somehow, I am qualified to teach adults, but not children. The knowledge I have is sufficient to teach adults, but not children.

One of the biggest issues opponents to home schooling raise is that of "socializing" children. But let's be honest -- the opponents are unhappy that they cannot indoctrinate these children with their own values, and find the values of most home schoolers to be abhorrent. They will object that they provide a "values-free" education, but that is impossible. The very selection of what should or should not be taught to a child implies that the thing being taught has value, and that not being taught doesn't (or at least is less valuable). If you want to know what the liberals who control our schools find to be of value, take a look at what they teach and don't teach our children.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Obama's Speech on Race

I'm back! But it's late. I loved Obama's speech. I just hope he believes everything he said and acts on it. If he does, then he cannot support affirmative action or welfare. If not, we had a great speech by a typical politician. Either way, we had something we haven't seen in a long, long time, which is, to quote John Stewart, a politician who spoke to America about race as though we were adults. That alone made it a breath of fresh air.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Will Be Away a Few Days . . .

I'm going to be away from any computer for a few days. I should be back posting by Thursday. So please don't stray far my good readers! I shall return!

In the meantime, consider a few questions regarding poetics: could one do an analysis to determine which forms (including free verse) are most creative? What would you use? I would think we would give points for use of images, use of metaphors (and similes), but count of for uncreative uses of cliches, platitudes, etc., and also count off points for abstractions unconnected to images and metaphors. What other criteria would be use to determine creativity in a poem?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Senecan Tragedy

I recently finished reading a collection of Seneca's tragedies. While these works have much to recommend, it was interesting to see to what extent Seneca had no idea what a chorus in a tragedy did or was for. He seemed to include them simply because Greek tragedies had them. Each tragedy had the chorus appear at the end of each act, sort of as an afterthought. So it seem that by the Roman times, the understanding of what a chorus in a tragedy did or was there for was already lost.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Newt Gingrich Q&A

There is a fantastic Q&A with Newt Gingrich on the Freakonomics blog.

Economic Ignorance Strikes Again

According to, "The House passed its $3 trillion budget plan by a 212-207 vote. It would provide generous increases to domestic programs but bring the government's ledger back into the black, but only by letting all of Bush's tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 as scheduled." This is utter nonsense. This makes the patently false assumption that if taxes are increased, it won't affect people's behaviors. It ignores the fact that the tax cuts, by leaving more money in the economy, helped the economy to grow and, thus, increased revenues. (We ran in the red not because of reduced revenues, but because of increased spending.) It also ignores the fact that when you remove money from the economy, it slows the economy down. The welfare socialists always argue that the money taken in by the government is spent in the economy, so it shouldn't affect the economy. This only goes to show how incredibly ignorant fools they are when it comes to understanding the economy -- of course they are socialists, so that's already proof positive of their ignorance of economics. These are the same people who argue that more broken windows helps the economy because it causes people to spend money in the window sector of the economy. They don't understand that wealth and value are the same, that with broken windows, there is a decrease in value (the broken window) and that the money could have been spent elsewhere (on something that added, rather than replaced, value). Government doesn't add value. It takes away value, and replaces what was more valuable with something less valuable. Thus, wealth is destroyed. And that is what's going to happen when taxes go up. Of course, the Democrats know for a fact that tax revenues went up when the rates were cut -- they too are capable of viewing facts and understanding reality. Why, then, do they choose to ignore it? What else do they have up their sleeves?

The bottom line of the line quotes, though, is this: It's utter nonsense. You can't have an increase in spending with an action that will result in a decrease in revenues, and run in the black. Could someone with some sort of knowledge of the world please start writing for the media?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Mind and Brain

I've recently been reading a few things on philosophical counseling and philosophical practice, and it has caused me to think about the brain and its functioning.

What affects brain function?

1. Nutrition
2. Physiological Health
3. Chemicals in the Brain
4. Neurogenesis
5. Brain Wiring
6. Mind Emergent from Brain Functioning -- in turn affecting brain structures

We could easily put neurogenesis in with physiological health, since aerobic exercise is what affects the amount of neurogenesis (creation and growth of new nerve cells in the brain) which occurs.

So what do we need if we want to be mentally healthy?

Certainly 1. requires a nutritionist.

2. requires exercise, and thus could require some sort of trainer and medical doctor which could recommend appropriate exercises for you

3. could require a psychpharmacists -- though personally I would wait until we saw if 1., 2., and 6. worked, and then turn to psychphrmacy as a last resort.

4. is affected by 2.

5. is affected by education -- constantly challenging the brain with new things, and training yourself to pay attention to more things.

Finally, we get to 6.

It seems to me that philosophical counseling would deal best with the emergent mind -- for precisely the reason that philosophical counseling necessarily assumes that there is a mind emergent from the brain's activity which can in turn act in a top-down fashion on the brain itself to change thought and behavior. Many psychological theories don't even believe in an emergent mind. At best they deal with the lowest-order emergent structures of mind: the emotions. Animals too have emotions. But what about higher order mental functions like reason, development of meaning, goals, etc.? Again, this is what philosophical counseling deals with. So it seems that if psychotherapy has any real role in the world, it is to deal with this primitive emergent structure -- emotions -- and to pretty much recommend that the patient go to someone who is more competent to deal with their real problems: a nutritionist, a trainer, a psychphrmacists, or a philosophical counselor.

My relegating psychotherapists to this minor role, it would also help us to get out of this mindset that everyone is mentally sick. Why shouldn't mental health be the rule? But we assume that everyone ha some sort of problem, and that we should medicate it away (indeed, therapists are increasingly handing over all their responsibilities to psychopharmacists, which is also not healthy).

Insofar as the actions of the brain result in an emergent mind which can in turn affect the functions of the brain, doesn't it make sense to first try to change the mind so that it can affect the brain and change such things as brain chemical balance? Proper education will help in this (meaning, not the way we educate nowadays), as will proper philosophical counseling. I suspect, though, that you won't find a lot of support from psychologists, who would find little to do if people were to become psychologically healthy from proper diet, exercise, education, and a balanced mind.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Support Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s 1st Amendment Rights Against the IRS!

Especially considering the Founding Fathers had originally made it illegal for the federal government to tax either property or income when they wrote the Constitution (something tragically reversed with the 16th Amendment -- the only Amendment to take away one of Americans' rights), it is highly doubtful that they would approve of the tax code that violates the 1st Amendment twice by making it illegal for preachers to support a candidate from the pulpit. Thus, I hope that Barack Obama's preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., fights anything that comes his way from the IRS all the way to the Supreme Court. He has the Constitutional right of freedom of speech, which cannot be violated even by an illegal law in the IRS code.

And don't give me that nonsense about separation of church and state. That works in only one direction: the government cannot set up a state religion and support it and it only. The 1st Amendment restricts the government from doing anything in regards to speech, religion, or freedom of assembly -- it does not mean that it works in the other direction. Any religious group has the Constitutional right to advocate anything and anyone they want, and should not face any kind of penalty from any government entity for doing so. Anyone who cherishes our 1st Amendment will stand up and defend Rev. Wright's right to preach anything he wants from the pulpit, including his support for Obama or anyone else.

Jean Baudrillard, Richard Rorty, RIP

It just came to my attention that the French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard died last year at the age of 77. He represented almost everything that was wrong with contemporary continental philosophy -- and yet his work was the stimulus for one of my own short stories. Which only goes to show that even those who oppose the very idea of value have their value. Dennis Dutton has an old review of one of Baudrillard's works that gets at many of the problems I too have with Baudrillard.

Also, a year ago, we lost RIchard Rorty, who was as bad for American philosophy as Baudrillard was for continental philosophy. So why do I draw your attention to these two deaths? Because of the absurdity that I have read these two philosophers, and their ideas have affected our culture and society (mostly negatively, in my opinion), and I have only just now learned of their passing. But all I hear about on the news are things like the Eliot Spitzer scandal -- something about someone nobody will know a thing about in 100 years. It is likely that this won't be the case with Rorty and Baudillard.

Can't Fire Bad Teachers? Buy Them Off!

Now this is a great idea. People should not only donate names but donate money so they can continue this program to get bad teachers to quit. I just hope they make them sign something agreeing to pay the money back if they get another teaching job.

People as Voters vs. People as Private Citizens

It seems to me that people act far differently as private individuals than they do as voters. While they would never, ever go to their neighbor and steal anything from them, they will turn around and vote for a law that allows the government to do just that with taxes. While we would personally never threaten to lock someone in our basement for using drugs or visiting (or being) a prostitute, we will vote for a law allowing others to do it for us. I think people are quite wise when they act in their own and their own family's self-interest, but act quite unwisely when they vote. Why do we feel comfortable voting to have someone else do something we find distasteful and uncomfortable to do ourselves? Shouldn't we have laws that reflect what we would ourselves be comfortable doing and enforcing? We would step in to stop a rape or a murder or a robbery or to let someone know they are being lied to -- but we wouldn't step in to do most of the other things government does.


When freedom is lost in the land of the free
Where will we all go who still wish to be free?
This was the last stop for the ships of the free
Who do not believe that their lunch should be free.

The wannabe rulers are taking this land –
They take all your money and take all your land
And hand it all over to cronies with land
To spare and whose money makes sure where they land.

They feed us the worst of ourselves back to us
And promise with lies that they’re really for us.
They fill us with envy and make all of us
To covet so they can then steal from all us.

Why won’t they all just let us be so that we
Can prosper and live in the world just as we
See fit? What is left in the world so that we
Who want to be free can embrace? Who are we?

Stand up! It is time that we fight the elite
Who don’t know a thing but believe an elite
Like them should control all our lives. This elite
Convince everyone just because they’re elite.

The farmer who plows, the inventor who makes
Our lives so much better with things that he makes,
And owners of stores whose prosperity makes
Us richer. We should just embrace he who makes.

This was the last stop for the ships of the free
Who do not believe that their lunch should be free.
When freedom is lost in the land of the free
Where will we all go who still wish to be free?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, Go to Jail!

Precisely because he ran on a platform of cleaning up corruption, and precisely because he busted several prostitution rings, New York governor Eliot Spitzer should go to prison. I do believe prostitution should be legal -- but I'm also of the opinion that any politician who violates any law (s)he is responsible for upholding should go to prison. If they want to stay out of prison, they should either keep clean or get rid of the laws for everyone. (Which reminds me: all laws, no matter that they are, should apply to politicians first and foremost. Better: any law passed should have 10x the consequences on a politician as anyone else.)

I suppose he would tell me (as he essentially told everyone in his press conference) to mind my own business . . . but why should I? When he was breaking up prostitution rings, he wasn't minding his own business -- he was minding everyone else's. The law he applied so vigorously should be applied to him just as vigorously. He needs to get a taste of his own medicine.

Son of the UMWA, Husband of the AFT

Today's blog posting may be found at The Prometheus Institute blog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This Is Your Brain On Jazz . . .

A fMRI study has shown that when jazz musicians improvise, the inhibition section of the brain shuts down. The researchers suggest that this is also the source of creativity, but I'm not so sure about that. The idea that a lack of inhibition is the same as creativity is a romantic notion that does not necessarily pan out. You can be creative with inhibitions, and you can be uninhibited and not be creative. I would suggest to the researchers (in case any of them happen across this blog) that they do fMRI studies of people writing poems in different styles. They should look at brains as people write in free verse, blank verse, and with more complex forms, like sonnets. I would be interested in seeing what happens.

Also, the jazz musicians are not working in a rule-less fashion, so it might be interesting to do a followup where the musicians are making noise on their instruments and see how that differs from uninhibited-yet-rule-following jazz.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

21st Century vs. 19th Century Science and Society

SOcialism was originally conceived of as a scientific approach to economy. In the 19th century, science was creating all sorts of technological advances. Nature was falling to man's powers with technology. Man was soon to rule all of nature. We could design precision clocks, engines, and factories -- why not design an economy, a society, a culture?

The science of the time was Newtonian physics (balls rolling down planes, explaining planetary orbits, making better telescopes and microscopes -- the kind pf physics many in the humanities, political science, and the soft sciences all still believe to be physics) and thermodynamics (engines, heat, and entropy -- which says that everything is going to die of heat death and that we should therefore abandon all hope). If this was science, then socialism made sense -- indeed, we have since learned that if we do try to plan/design an economy, it will succumb to entropy and run down like an engine. Marx said Communism would come after capitalism because the capitalists would provide the fuel for the engine of socialism. But he forgot one small thing: what will happen when you run out of fuel? It turns out that socialism really is scientific in the 19th century sense and understanding of science and the world -- it always succumbs to entropy.

In our arrogance, we tried to see the world as what we make. We made engines, so the universe was like an engine, running down. There's only one little problem with this, and that is it assumes the universe started off orderly and has become more disordered. It turns out that the opposite is true (but only if you believe in such things as the Big Bang and evolution). We thought the world was a simple, linear system, but it turns out it is a complex system with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent properties, where natural order arises from the bottom up, not the top down. In other words, the world is nothing like 19th century science says it is. Isn't it time that our ideas on economy, society, culture, and government caught up with what we know about the nature of the world, including human nature?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Slacker Homeboy Chimps

For those of you who have sons over 18 who have moved back in with you -- it turns out that the problem is deeper than you ever thought. According to the March 2008 Smithsonian Magazine, "When times are tough, male chimpanzees go home, according to a study of more than 30 years' worth of records from Tanzania's Gombe national Park. Males abandon social groups when food is scarce and return to territories where they were reared by their mothers" (12). Isn't it nice to know that your slacker son's behavior is explainable with evolutionary psychology? That still doesn't explain how to get him out of the house, though, now does it?

Home Schooling Ruling

A California court ruled that parents who home school their children have to have "credentials." Considering the kind of education our children get from those with credentials, this seems to me to be a completely arbitrary ruling by this court. One could just as rationally rule against schools for hiring people with credentials precisely because they don't teach students anything needed to survive in the 21st century.

In fact, we should go a step further. If a parent is home schooling their child (or sending their child to a private school), why should they have to pay property taxes? Property taxes are supposed to go to funding schools, and those who are teaching their own children at home or paying for private school are not using those facilities. In fact, they have to pay for their child's schooling twice -- the one the child is in fact getting, and the one the child is not getting. How is that fair?

Unfortunately, there haven't been any real consequences to the rotten education our children are receiving. The universities just lower standards and dumb down curricula. COmpanies have been providing extra training to cover what universities won't. The strong U.S. economy has benefitted us by attracting highly educated workers from other countries, but this isn't going to be true much longer as places like China and India liberalize their economies and become stronger. We will reap what we have sown -- and it's going to be very soon.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Learning and Regret

There's a very interesting article in the latest Science where the authors designed an artificial neural net with regret to make it more accurately emulate human learning in an economic setting. This itself raises an interesting issue: the role of regret in learning. We feel immediate regret when we discover that we did something wrong. We reflect back on our choices and look at what we could have done. This allows us to learn more rapidly. (In a much earlier posting, I talk about how letting go of regret is freeing and psychologically healthy -- but in that instance, I was talking about holding on to regret, not the immediate, transitory feeling we get in this instance.) This makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Suppose you have two students. Both miss the same question on a test. Student A looks at the test and shrugs his shoulder and goes "oh well." Student B looks at the test and regrets making a wrong answer, causing him to look at the question and his answer and to check what the right answer is. Do I really have to ask you which one of these students is learning? This suggests that we need to foster feelings of regret (in the immediate sense) in students if we want them to learn. Of course, we only regret if we care -- which perhaps only brings us back to the issue of how to make students care about learning in general -- including things they may not really be interested in learning. All of this nonsense about making learning "fun" is just that -- nonsense. The more fun we have made education in this country, the less our students seem to learn. So how do we get students to regret, in this healthy sense of the term?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Community, Big Government, and Libertarianism

On his blog, Jonah Goldberg brings up the issue of libertarianism and community, something which I have written about in an article that will appear March 13th at The Prometheus Institute. In the meantime, I would like to add a few comments here on libertarian communitarianism vs. state communitarianism.

The species Homo sapiens (a.k.a., you) is a social mammal. Big-government supporters love this fact because they think that it is proof that all their welfare state ideas (which are really socialism light) are proven and that libertarianism is thus disproven. This requires that we all agree that government is the true source of all community and that libertarianism is a destroyer of community. Well, I would argue that the opposite is true.

The source of all community is rooted in the family. A tribe is an extended family, and ethics too is based on our extending how we treat our families to others. This is why religions use the language that we use for families – including “family” itself. And this is why we hear proponents of big government beginning now to use this same familiar language. How could we go on if we didn’t hear some Democrat lamenting every child’s plight, as though only government could possibly protect the children? “We must take all your money so the children of the poor won’t suffer any more.” But please don’t pay attention to the fact that almost every person now on welfare works the system so that they can get more money and not have to work at all, or that they use their daycare as a place to dump their children off so they can spend the day with boyfriends, home, or shopping. Hope they’re home or shopping, since the former choice will just get them more children for more money. Should we be surprised that when we pay a person every time they have a child that they keep on having them? And never mind that fact a thousand generations of people worldwide somehow managed to raise children just find without fascism/socialism/communism/welfare statism around to dictate how to do so.

My wife was once a Left-wing Democrat and former social worker. She saw homes of people getting welfare with wide-screen T.V.’s, brand-new cars outside, and far more things than my wife and I now have – and these were people she was trying at the time to get more services and money. She saw almost everyone misusing welfare, and she told me that she thought that maybe ten percent of all the people that she helped were actually needy. Her best friend, another social worker who remains a liberal, said he thought it was more like five percent. And, worse than that, he said that the corruption going on in social work is unbelievable, that no one doing social work could do their job without their falsifying most of the required paperwork. They quit, unable in the end to keep on working in such places that were so corrupt in what they did and who they served, encouraging unethical behaviors in the clients with the very “help” they gave. But what about the children? Well, their children learn that work is something to avoid, that you should have a lot of children (out of wedlock if you can), and that the system can be worked – and all because of liberal guilt. And this is for the children.

Welfare, then, destroys the family – but that is what big-government supporters really want, for if you’re loyal to a family or group, then you will not show all your loyalty to government (at least, not nearly what the big-government worshippers all think you should). It also helps explain the reason why the Left is so against religion – they hate competition, after all.

A libertarian community develops from the ground up. They are self-organizing, self-assembling entities. Social bonds form naturally among the members of such a community. People are able to join into voluntary associations, like families, groups of friends, churches, clubs, etc. Such groups may split or join together -- but that is natural and healthy. Complex systems are made bottom-up in nature, and those complex bonds are maintained at that level. Complexity emerges from simplicity. When something is designed form the top-down, the system is always simple and simplified. A steel i-beam or other object is chemically much simpler than is iron ore. This is fine for the creation of simple objects like cars and buildings, but human societies are complex and are natural products. They cannot be engineered without the elimination of complex bonds -- meaning, social engineering simplifies communities and thus weakens them considerably. Thus, the most natural, most complex communities would be those based on libertarian principles. A libertarian country would have strong local communities with leaders who emerged naturally from that community and, knowing everyone in the community, would have a better idea of what is needed by them and it than someone elsewhere. As a result, higher-order governments (city governments, county governments, and certainly state and federal governments) should have increasingly less power to be natural and efficient. The most natural form of government for a large group of interconnected people would be one that is locally communitarian, and globally libertarian, with many levels of increasing libertarianism in between.

I guess the only people who would not be happy in a country such as this would be the ones who hunger for the kind of power which results from ruling millions and from telling people what to do. I think that we should sacrifice the happiness of this minority for greater happiness. I think that this is something which is more than worth the sacrifice. Besides, these people will not be without some power in the end – there’s always people ready, willing, and desirous to join any cult that comes along. Those people can be ruled off on their compound, far away from all the rest of us who wish to rule ourselves.

Hillary's Racist Tactic

A poster just brought up the issue of HIllary Clinton's campaign darkening a picture of Obama for one of her ads, so let me address this issue. The Clinton campaign is using the same tactic that was used by Time Magazine on O.J. Simpson, which uses the fact that people are more comfortable with lighter-skinned people than with darker-skinned people. By making Obama appear blacker, the campaign was trying to psychologically nudge people away from voting for Obama. Certainly one could say this is a racial thing, but in fact this is something that occurs among Africans and those of African decent as well, where preference is given to those with lighter skin over those with darker skin. It is something which Claude McKay develops thematically in his novel Banana Bottom, in which he portrays the hierarchy that exists among people on Jamaica based on skin color -- the lighter the skin tone, the more political and social power one has. Both Time Magazine and the Clinton campaign cynically used this fact to influence people's opinions about an African American. In the case of O.J., he was "more guilty" if he was darker, and Obama is "less worthy" of being voted for if he's darker. In this sense it certainly is a racist tactic.

In light of the posting left by Matthew Tabor, let's look at a series of pictures of Obama and compare and see if the picture has been darkened (the Clinton Camp is saying it was accidental, but what would you expect them do do? Admit it?).

The first picture is the controversial comparison. The rest I just pulled off the net. There is some variation, probably due to makeup, but still, the Clinton Ad picture is still the darkest by far.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Justification for Colombia's Action

Ecuador's Justice Minister Gustavo Jalkh said that Colombia's action to kill members of FARC 1 mile inside the border of Ecuador "cannot be justified by any arguments." Well, let's see if that's true.

Suppose that there was an active rebel group fighting in the U.S. We'll call them Marxists Fighting Against Reality (MFAR). Now suppose that they have been killing AMerican citizens on a fairly regular basis and that they have captured hostages. Now let us suppose that the U.S. government learned that a group of MFAR rebels had crossed over into Canadian territory and that 1) we knew Canada to be supportive of MFAR and 2) there was a narrow window of opportunity to attack the group before we lost track of them, meaning 3) we did not have enough time to inform the Canadian government of what we were going to do AND get their permission to do it (with the likelihood that they wouldn't approve of it anyway). Should the U.S. be able to attack the rebel group? I would argue that, yes, they can -- the U.S. has a right to protect itself from rebel groups. Not attacking MFAR in this case would endanger more American lives. Since the first duty of any government is to protect its citizens, the U.S. government has the duty to attack the rebels who have just crossed the border. Further, if Canada were to give safe haven to MFAR, they would be protecting an enemy of the U.S. How is it not an act of war to give protection to a group at war with your country? I would argue that Ecuador complaining as it is (other than a "we wish you wouldn't have done that -- could you call us first next time?") indicates that they support FARC, meaning they are supporting a group at war with Colombia and were giving them safe haven. Thus, Ecuador has tacitly declared war on Colombia.

Jalkh makes the specious argument that Ecuadoreans were endangered -- but we see that such an argument is specious precisely because the attack took place in the jungle. The only Ecuadoreans put in any danger would have been those helping FARC, meaning they were actively engaged in war with Colombia, making them a legitimate target.

As far as I'm concerned, the information coming out of the attack on FARC shows that both Venezuela and Ecuador have been supporting FARC directly. Such support is a tacit declaration of war on Colombia. I have little doubt the international community, being all too pro-Leftist, won't care one bit about this fact and only blame Colombia for all this. Nonetheless, I am of the firm opinion that Colombia is in the right if it wanted to declare war on both Ecuador and Venezuela over this, since clearly both countries have declared war on them.

Libertarian U.?

Libertarians with money really need to put their money where their mouth is and stop complaining about how bad the schools are and open up some schools that work. Stop complaining about the way universities are run and who's in charge and open up your own university and compete in the market, providing a real education. If we really believe in the market and really believe in our ideas in education, we would open up a libertarian university filled with libertarian staff. If we could make such a university successful, our model would be emulated. Financially supporting the economics department of George Mason University is not enough. We need a libertarian university that has libertarian offerings through and through. If I were a billionaire, I'd do it in a minute.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Venezuelan Price Controls

Here is an interesting article about what life is actually like in Venezuela. Who would have imagined that someplace like Venezuela would have a coffee shortage? Well, that's what price controls will get you.

The logic behind price controls, considering what happens when you implement them, is pure insanity. This is how it goes: "It's not fair that people have to pay $X for coffee. Therefore, we are going to set the price of coffee at $X/2, which will result in two things: 1) sales of coffee going up, and 2) production of coffee going down, since it costs more than $X/2 to produce coffee for most is not all growers. As a result, there will quickly develop a coffee shortage, meaning no more coffee will be available for anyone, rich or poor. Thus, both the rich and the poor will be worse off since neither will be able to have any coffee at all, which is fair, since both parties equally have nothing." At the point where you have created shortages of goods, the only way you can justify keeping price controls is with the aforementioned logic. For some people, it is more fair that nobody have any of a good than that poor people have Y good and rich people have 10Y. Better that everybody have 0, because that is fair, since everyone has the same amount. Sure, everyone is worse off, but at least everyone is equal -- equally poor, equally deprived. Anybody who would implement price controls -- or continue them after, yet again, they result in shortages -- are either incredibly stupid or just plain evil.

Chavez, FARC, $300 Million Dollars, and Uranium?

If Hugo Chavez gave $300,000,000.00 to FARC, doesn't that constitute a declaration of war on Colombia? Could this perhaps be what Chavez was afraid the Colombian government would learn? The possibility FARC bought some uranium is also very, very troubling.

Chavez should also be careful. George Bush invaded a country without provocation during his first term in office, when there was a real danger it could backfire and result in his losing re-election. Does Chavez really think Bush is going to care what anyone thinks now that he's in his last year? Especially since Chavez is growing all too chummy with Iran?

124,000 Roses

Finally, an Islamic country is standing up for women's rights! A jury in Iran has decided to stand up for wives neglected by stingy husbands by ruling that a man has to buy his wife 124,000 red roses. Looks like it's a good thing I sent a barbershop quartet to sing to my wife for Valentine's Day!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Chavez Puts Troops on Columbian Border

I think we can now see what Hugo Chavez was really doing in Columbia with the Marxist rebels FARC -- and it wasn't trying to release hostages (that was just a cover). The top FARC leader is gratefully killed, and Chavez puts Venezuelan troops on the Columbian border. Chavez is old school Left, a true Marxist -- which is why the fascist postmodern Left here in the U.S. don't take him seriously. That is one of the biggest problems with the postmodern world view: it doesn't take fanatics and true believers seriously. Anyone on the American Left who supports Chavez doesn't actually take him seriously. He has to know that. The problem is that such people take themselves seriously, meaning they will take advantage of the Left's naivete. Remember that when it comes election time and you plan to vote for Obama, who I have already shown twice has pictures of Che Guevera in his campaign offices. This is not the way you want to find common ground with your enemies (and yes, Chavez is an enemy -- by his choice, not ours).

Media Thought Out of Touch

Apparently 70% of Americans think the news media is out of touch. Out of touch with them, or out of touch with reality? There is little question about the latter, for certain. I haven't heard too many in the media who know a thing about economics, culture, society, government, the arts, or the sciences (hard or soft). Thus their reports are filled with their uninformed, highly ignorant biases. No wonder people go to the internet for their news.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Chimpanzees and Language

This report on chimpanzees and language is very exciting to me. In my dissertation I propose that chimpanzees will have all the elements of language in the brain that humans do, only in their brains they will be separated and specialized, while in the human brain there will be more overlap. Looks like my idea is being validated.