Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Turkeys Pardoned, Peta Unhappy, Democrats Suspicious

Bush pardoned two turkeys today, and the turkeys will go to a farm. PETA's response:
That drew an objection from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which said the turkeys would live in more humane conditions at an animal sanctuary.

The turkeys Bush pardoned last year died within three months after their "pardons," a result of drugs that make them grow excessively, the group said.

Bush responded by saying: "Fine. Next year we'll shoot 'em and eat 'em." At least, that's how my mom would respond if she were President. In fact, she would never pardon any turkey during her years at the White House.

Democrats responded to the pardon by questioning its timing:

"I question the timing of pardoning turkeys just before Thanksgiving. It's yet another example of Bush cronyism," said Al Sharpton, while holding up a large, roasted turkey drumstick.
Filmaker Michael Moore is making a documentary about the event called Gobble 11/17.

The turkeys had this to say: "Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble. Gobble!"

Well said.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Rall's Rage Against Red State Biscuits

One of the stranger things in Ted Rall's zing at Middle America is his claim that liberals eat better. Rall's reasoning is that liberals migrate to larger cities, and such cities generally have good food. It's no doubt true that large cities have a wide variety of good food, but that's hardly due to liberalism. Large cities attract immigrants, and immigrants establish lots of good places to eat. Ironically, these immigrants often hold the values that Rall so despises--some of them might even be, gasp, Bush voters.

Besides, large cities don't have a monopoly on good food. I just had dinner with a nice couple from Georgia, and we had beer can chicken, biscuits, grits, and pecan pie. That's good eats.

Intellectual Snobbery or Misology: A False Dilemma

There's an interesting discussion at Rational Explications. One of RE's bloggers responded to Jane Smiley's nasty article by making a distinction between people who make their living in the realm of talk (e.g. writers and teachers) and those who make their living in the realm of things (e.g. businessmen and engineers). The problem is that he comes a bit too close to endorsing misology, and that's not a good response to the intellectual snobbery of the left. A better response is to insist that the left live up to its vaunted claims of tolerance and rationality.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Unimposing Kinsley

Michael Kinsley suggests that the problem with Red Staters is that they want to impose their values on other people, whereas liberal Blue Staters do not want to impose their values on anyone:
But at least my values — as deplorable as I'm sure they are — don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?
This is a great example of what Ernie and I call the Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt-in-My-Mouth Fallacy: that’s the fallacy of pretending or thinking that your point-of-view doesn’t have any possible negative consequences, whereas your opponent’s point-of-view does. To see what’s fallacious about Kinsley’s point, consider the following:
But at least my values — as deplorable as I'm sure they are — don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to keep slaves or to recognize creationism as science, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?
What’s wrong with such reasoning is this. I may not be forced to keep slaves, but there is still the little matter that keeping slaves may be wrong in itself—and I have no problem whatsoever saying that you shouldn’t keep slaves. I doubt that Kinsley has a problem with this either. Likewise, I may not have to recognize creationism as science, but it doesn’t follow that I should allow it to be recognized in public schools.

The same goes for abortion and homosexual marriage. Abortion isn’t morally and legally permissible merely because it doesn’t impose on me. The “imposition argument” is a red herring, because there is still an open question about the moral permissibility of killing a fetus. Homosexual marriage involves an activity that doesn’t impose on me, namely, two men or women living together monogamously, but it doesn’t follow that I have to support the civil sanctioning of such relationships. There is still an open question about whether homosexual marriage is the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage. So I return the ball to Kinsley’s court: he does want to impose his values on other people. Unlike Kinsley, however, I have no problem with his wanting to do so. It can be rational for us to impose our values on people who don’t share them, as we did vis-à-vis slavery. The real issue is not who imposes what on whom; it is whether an action is morally permissible, morally impermissible, or morally neutral. If something is universally morally impermissible, e.g. torturing babies, then we shouldn’t quail at the thought of imposing a law against torturing babies.

Call me profoundly misguided if you want. Call me immoral if you must. But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?
I could be charitable and say something akin to: I’ll stop calling you arrogant and elitist if you stop calling me bigoted and ignorant, and can’t we just all get along? However, I do think that Kinsley is arrogant and elitist—his entire article reeks of arrogance. On the other hand, I’m neither a bigot nor ignorant, and neither are most “Red Staters.” That means, to put it bluntly, that the problem of uncivil political discourse lies on Kinsley’s side of the divide, not mine. The left found out a long time ago that it is better to demonize your opponent than to reason with him. Is there some schmuck who is against affirmative action? Don’t debate the merits and problems of affirmative action—just label him a racist. Is there some Neanderthal opposed to abortion? Well he obviously wants to oppress women and keep them barefoot and pregnant. On and on it goes.
We are, if anything, crippled by reason and openmindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?
Oh brother. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, and he could weep—weep—for a falling star. Unless the star has the nerve to vote for Bush.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Hawking on Iraq

Stephen Hawking offers his view of the war:
"The war was based on two lies," said Hawking. "The first was we were in danger of weapons of mass destruction and the second was that Iraq was somehow to blame for Sept. 11.
If Bush lied, then he (a) made false claims and (b) knew those claims to be false. So if Hawking is right, then all of the following propositions are true:
  1. Bush claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
  2. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.
  3. Bush knew that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.
  4. Bush claimed that Iraq had some connection to 9/11.
  5. Iraq did not have a connection to 9/11.
  6. Bush knew that Iraq did not have a connection to 9/11.

(1) is certainly true; (2) and (5) are arguably true. (3) is false. The belief that Saddam had WMDs was a global and bipartisan belief. The debate over whether the US should go to war hinged on whether or not it was necessary; the debate never hinged on doubts about Saddam’s potential to menace the world. (4) is questionable; its truth depends on what the Bush Administration claimed about putative connections between Iraq and 9/11. (5) is probably true in the strong sense that Iraq did not play an essential role in 9/11, but it is false in the sense that Saddam funded terrorism. Finally, (6) is irrelevant given that (4) is equivocal.

"It has been a tragedy for all the families that have lost members. As many as 100,000 people have died, half of them women and children. If that is not a war crime, what is?"
Even taking that number at face value, a war crime is not based on the number of people killed in a war; it’s based on how and why they are killed.
"Our message to the U.S. is that the war is illegal and unnecessary, and we want our troops to come home," said Andrew Burgin, a spokesman for demonstration organizer Stop the War Coalition.
For x to be illegal, x must break a law. So which law did the war break? I cannot think of a more legal war. First, Saddam was in constant violation of the cease fire agreement he had with the United Nations. Second, the US Congress supported the war. Third, the US, rather than going to war without global support, went to the United Nations and secured Resolution 1440—passed unanimously by the security council—which gave Saddam a final thirty days to comply. The US did this in deference to those who wanted the war to be a last resort, including France and Germany. The conventional wisdom is that the US defied the UN and initiated a unilateral war, but this is wrong. France and Germany defied the UN by not living up to Resolution 1440, while the US carried it out.

You Just Think Women Are Treated Badly in the Islamic World

Here's TurkishPress's take on murdered filmaker Theo van Gogh:
Van Gogh was widely known for his criticism of Islam and recently caused uproar with a short film linking domestic abuse with the perceived subservient position of women in the Islamic faith.
Perceived subservience.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Bill meant "Platonic dialogue" literally

Here's the definition: The arguments below are real, but the characters and setting are fictional (barely so, they really are here, we just don't waste our time talking to them, since Bill and I know about their imperviousness to reason).

He was using "platonic dialogue" literally, and not as a sarcastic comment on the quality of the interlocutors. Sorry for any confusion, folks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Bush is Hitler: A Platonic Dialogue

[Note: Some have thought that the following is an actual dialogue. It is not. The dialogue is a Platonic one, i.e., it is a fictive narrative in which I tackle real arguments. It is explicitly modeled on the first book of Plato's Republic. Despite its fictive nature, the positions are real and reflect what I have heard around campus.]

I was on foot and moving towards the philosophy department, when I inadvertently found myself walking through the middle of Speaker’s Circle, a spot set aside by the university for free speech. Ahead and to my right, a young woman was handing out a flyer to passers-by. I tried customarily to avoid her, but alas, she had spotted me. I accepted the flyer—I always feel compelled to accept literature from proselytizers of any kind, this being a university—and thanked her (another compulsion). Before I could go, she encouraged me to vote against Bush. A round of yeahs erupted from her comrades, and one young man, wearing a t-shirt designed on the flag of the Soviet Union yelled: “Bush is Hitler!”

“Bush is Hitler?” I responded.

“Well, you know, he’s like Hitler.”

“That’s quite alarming. I will surely vote against Bush if he is Hitler. But I’m afraid I have to admit my ignorance—I can’t quite see the analogy.”


“In other words, I’m not sure I understand how Bush is like Hitler.”

“He invaded Iraq based on a lie.”

“That makes him like Hitler?”


“So if a leader lies about the reason for invading a country and then invades that country, he is like Hitler?”


“Because Hitler did that?”


“What countries did Hitler invade?”

“I don’t know. But he did.”

“If two things are like in one regard, are they alike in all regards?”


“If two things are alike because they share something in common, then are they alike in every way?”

“’Course not.”

“So it is at least possible that Bush and Hitler share something in common, but aren’t much alike in other respects. For example, I’m wearing pants. I’m pretty sure that Hitler wore pants. But I’m not much like Hitler in other ways.”

“Yeah, but they both invaded countries that were of no threat—only fascists do that.”

“Is Bill Clinton a fascist?”


“Yet he took us to war against Serbia. Was Serbia a threat to the United States?”


“So a leader who starts a war against a non-threatening country isn’t necessarily like Hitler?”

At this point, the young woman who had given me the flyer broke into the conversation.

“What you’re forgetting is that Clinton went to war against Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing. So the war was just, even though Serbia was no threat to the United States.”

“So the essential difference is that Bush and Hitler did not have good reasons for going to war, but Clinton did.”


“Did Saddam Hussein ever engage in ethnic cleansing?”

“Yes … and I know what you’re going to say—Saddam is a bad man who killed tens of thousands of people and yada yada. No one denies that Saddam is a bad man, but that isn’t a reason for going to war. There are lots of bad leaders in the world—why don’t we go after all of them?

“You mean like Slobodan Milosevic?”


“The former leader of Serbia.”

“Yes … I mean … no. Look, I didn’t necessarily support the war against Serbia—I’m just saying that it was different.”

“It was different even though both Slobodan and Saddam were genocidal leaders? And Bill Clinton isn’t like Hitler, but Bush is?”

“I see your point, but let’s drop the ‘Bush is Hitler’ thing—I don’t go around saying that and neither do most of my friends. The real issue—the one you’re missing—is that Bush lied about Iraq. It’s one thing for a leader to lie about an affair, but it’s another thing altogether to lie about why one country should go to war against another country. Innocent people died because Bush lied, and that’s an unforgivable thing for a leader to do.”

Another round of yeahs erupted around us.

“Well said. But just to be clear: what is it that Bush lied about and how do we know that he lied?”

“Have you been living on Mars? He said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and it turned out that he did not. There weren’t any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So he lied.”

“So Bush said something that was false?”


“And saying something false is the same as lying?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this. Suppose I say that the food court has waffle fries, and you go to the food court in search of waffle fries. However, there aren’t any waffle fries there. Have I lied?”


“Yes, maybe. Why is it “maybe” and not “yes”?

“Because you might have really thought that there were waffle fries in the food court.”

“Right, and there even might have been. So lying is not merely saying something false; it is saying something false and knowing that it is false.”

“So it would seem.”

“So did Bush know that there were no WMDs in Iraq?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Really? So why did he lie?”

“It was all about the oil.”

“Whose oil?”

“Iraq’s oil. He wanted to invade Iraq to get its oil and to get Halliburton rich.”

“You do know that Clinton gave lucrative contracts to Halliburton after the Serbian …”

For several minutes, a student in a Che Guevara t-shirt had tried to break in to the conversation, but the quick responses of my interlocutor had stopped him. Now, however, he reared up like a wild beast and roared at me.

“Enough! I’m sick of this—I’m sick of your petty attempts to catch these people in a contradiction for thinking one thing about Clinton and another about Bush. Clinton was just as much a tool for corporations as is Bush, and the Democrats are just as corrupt as the Republicans. So don’t try your word tricks on me—they won’t work. And don’t go after just the ‘Bush is Hitler” people—that’s too easy. You don’t have to have believe that Bush is Hitler in order to believe what Bush really is—a corporate fascist, someone who uses military power to benefit the corporate state. And yes, I think that Clinton was a corporate fascist, so that little trick won’t work on me.”

After I regained my composure, I continued.

“I would never presume to play tricks on one such as you, and I beseech you to be patient with us. We are only trying to find out why I should not vote for Bush, but the answer eludes us like Proteus. Perhaps you are the Odysseus who can catch it.”

“You have to be told why you shouldn’t vote for a corporate fascist?”

“You might as well have said ‘don’t vote for a vermicious snozzwanger’—I have no more idea of what that is than I do a ‘corporate fascist.’”

“Look, Bush lied in order to invade Iraq … in order to get oil … in order to get oil companies rich.”

“Did that happen?”

“Yes, haven’t you seen Fahrenheit 9/11?”

“Seen what?”

“The Michael Moore movie?”


Michael Moore. The guy who documents all of this stuff.”

“I’m sure he is a very wise man, and if he were here, he could tell me why not to vote for Bush. But alas, we’ll have to search without him. So let’s continue.”

“Without your tricks.”

“Of course. Now, although you may have been no more than ten when the first Persian Gulf War happened, the one led by the elder Bush, I remember distinctly that the same criticisms were made of Bush senior. Namely, that we were going to war for the oil.”

“And we did.”

“Where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

“The oil—the oil that we stole?”

“I don’t know. Like you said, I wasn’t very old when that war happened.”

“Well, we didn’t take Iraqi oil and Iraq—I should say Saddam—continued to profit from oil sales.”

“Look, we didn’t have a good reason for invading Iraq, then or now; so there must have been some economic reason for doing so.”

“The first war occurred because Saddam invaded Kuwait.”

He smirked.

“That’s the excuse, the pretext for going to war. That’s not the real reason.”

“But what ulterior desire was actually fulfilled by the war?”

“I don’t follow.”

“We’re saying that there were two reasons for the first Persian Gulf War. One was the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam, an invasion condemned internationally and prompting the intervention of the United States, the United Nations, and a coalition of 39 countries, including France and Saudi Arabia. The other reason was Iraqi oil. One of these reasons, according to you, is a sham reason, and the other one is the real reason. So what I want to know is: did the United States satisfy its ulterior motive? And what was the ulterior motive of the other nations? And how about the United Nations?”

“Look, I told you I don’t know that much about the first war—and it has nothing to do with the current one. The bottom line is that Bush lied and he did so in order to invade Iraq for economic reasons.”

“All well and good, but the question is the same: how did the Bush administration and its so-called cronies benefit from the war?”

“Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky could …”

“But they’re not here.”

A voice I hadn’t heard before seemed to come from nowhere.

“No, they’re not; but we don’t need them. I think you’re missing the bigger picture.”

Students moved out of the way for a dapper middle-aged man, whom I presumed to be a professor.

“The bigger picture is that this war is a distraction. Instead of spending money on education and health care, we’re spending it on a failed war, whatever the reasons for the war are. So that’s your reason for voting against Bush.”

“So I shouldn’t vote for a leader who spends money on war but doesn’t spend money on education and health care?”


“Is Bush such a leader?”


“So he doesn’t spend money on education and health care?”

“Yes, of course, he does—I’m not claiming that he spends no money on education and health care. I’m just claiming that the money we’re spending on Iraq could be better spent at home.”

“What if a war is just?”

“This isn’t a just war.”

“I didn’t say it was. I said if it were a just war.”

“I don’t deal in hypotheticals.”

“Why not? Don’t we make a lot of decisions based on hypothetical scenarios? If that restaurant is out of fish, I’ll go have a hamburger at another; if that company’s stock continues to decline, I’m going to sell it. And so on.”

“Yes, sometimes we use hypotheticals.”

“So I’m asking: if a war is just, should we not spend money to wage it on the grounds that we could spend the same money on domestic programs? Does the need for butter always outweigh the need for guns?”

“No, but in this case, the war is unjust, and so we should spend money on butter instead of guns.”

“So the reason I shouldn’t vote for Bush is that he favors unjust military actions over just domestic spending?”

“Yes; that sums it up. That’s the big picture.”

“I do think your big picture is a much better kind of reason for voting against Bush than the ‘Bush is Hitler” kind of reasoning. Nonetheless, I have two concerns. First, I think the war is just. My reason in brief is that Saddam Hussein was in constant violation of the cease-fire agreement he made with the United Nations after the first Persian Gulf War. It is just to remove a regime that will not live up to a cease-fire agreement, especially when that regime is the aggressor in the war prompting the agreement. Second, I don’t think that it’s the job of the President to spend money on education and health care; the main purpose of the executive branch is to secure the liberty and security of its citizens …”

My interlocutor and I were both startled when the young man in the Soviet Union t-shirt burst out in anger and pointed at me.

“I knew it. That guy is a fascist—he believes in a police state. He probably even watches Fox News. Damn Republican!”

“Actually, I’m registered as an independent, and I’ve never voted Republican—yet. Nice t-shirt. Stalin is Hitler.”

With that, I continued on my way to the philosophy department.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Bill Maher and the False Barbarians

Some thoughts on the transcript of Bill Maher’s interview with the CBC.
[Maher] is a frequent guest on Larry King on CNN because of his no-holds-barred, politically incorrect style …
There isn’t anything politically incorrect about Bill Maher. Calling the American people stupid while lauding Europeans as deep thinkers is de rigueur for liberal elitists such as Maher. Moreover, the stereotype of Americans as ignorant rubes who don’t know a salad fork from a dinner fork is an old one—and it’s one we got over when Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “My Kinsman, Major Molyneaux.”

Maher is one of those people who get a reputation for being smart simply because they can fire off acerbic, but superficial criticisms of the Way Things Are, criticisms that often play to the prejudices of those who fancy themselves to be critical thinkers. Example:

This is a fear election. This is an election that has been framed along the lines of – elect this guy or you'll die. Don't, don't vote for the wrong guy. Or you'll be dead. Johnny Jihad will drive a car bomb into your house if you elect a Democrat.
This sounds great—except for the picayune fact that it’s a straw man attack on the Bush campaign. The claim is that the United States will be less safe from terrorism if Kerry is elected. That claim is plausible, because Kerry seems to be more inclined towards paper diplomacy than military action, more inclined to appease world opinion than to prevent future attacks. But the most damning evidence that Kerry will be lax on terrorism is that the terrorists want him to win. We can argue about this, but it is a far cry from fear-mongering.

Maher loses all credibility when the interviewer asks why Americans think that another attack is imminent:

Well, it did happen. It happened once and we didn't catch the guy who did it. We have only exacerbated the situation and made more people in the Muslim world want to do it. So I think they have every reason to think another one is coming. I think another one is coming. I just don't think we're taking the right steps to prevent it.
It happened once. Think about that. Maher accuses Americans of being ignorant on both domestic and foreign issues, and he is utterly clueless about the history of Islamic terrorism in the last two decades. Did he forget the first attack on the World Trade Center? Stranger still, he agrees that another attack is imminent, but blames it on us. We messed with the Islamic snake, so now we’re going to get bit.

What he fails to see is a pattern of Islamic terrorism. The second WTC attack was an attempt to kill even more people than the first one and easily could have killed tens of thousands of people, if not a hundred thousand. That indicates persistence and an intent to kill as many Americans as possible, and that is why we can infer that another attack is imminent. If Maher thinks we “exacerbated the situation” by going to Afghanistan and Iraq, what is his explanation for the two attacks on the WTC? What is his explanation for the plot to fly an airplane into the Eiffel Tower?

And you know, we're all about the feelings here. Thinking, that's for the Europeans.
Yep. Those Europeans took the thoughtful, rational approach towards Hitler, and we emotional barbarians went and messed it all up by kicking his tush.

Here’s Maher’s imitation of how Americans think vis-à-vis Kerry’s explanation of why he voted against one form of a bill but for another version of the same bill:

I'm not a Harvard professor. Stay the course. Now there is something I can understand. It's three words. If you go past three words, we're dead, you know. No new taxes. Read my lips. Where's the beef?
Yep. “Hope is on the way” is so much more complex, nuanced, and sophisticated—it’s got five words instead of three!

The interviewer gets in on the act when she says:

But say that liberals are, classic liberalism is, to have a high tolerance for contradiction.
To which Maher responds:
Well yes, life is complicated, and there are two sides to issues sometimes.
There just aren’t two sides when it comes voting for Bush or Kerry. People who vote for Bush are stoooooopid.

Here’s Maher on Bush’s “theft” of Kerry’s wartime bravery:

That's what I was telling you, it's all about marketing. It doesn't matter what the truth is. It's what the marketing is. Black is white, and up is down. And John Kerry, who went to Vietnam, not a war hero. John McCain, who was five and a half years in the Vietnamese prison, not a war hero. Max Cleland lost three limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam, not a war hero. George Bush? Stayed in Alabama, in Texas? War hero.
Well, Bill, life is complicated, and you have to have a high tolerance for contradiction.

Finally, Maher opines on religion:

To me, to me it's a real dividing line between people of intelligence and – not that there haven't been some intelligent people who are religious. I mean, T.S. Elliott [sic] was a great poet and he became a very devout Catholic. But I always call religion a neurological disorder. I really do believe that. I mean it's not criticizing. I'm just saying if you took religion out of it and somebody went to a psychiatrist and said you know I believe in you know this crazy, illogical thing, the shrink would say, well you have a neurological disorder. And you need to really get therapy or take a pill.
Oh no, he’s not criticizing. He just thinks you’re crazy and need to take a little pill if you believe in God—and not only are you crazy, you’re dumb to boot. You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny, too. We could point out that Maher’s thinking isn’t quite consistent; people who believe in x because they have a psychological disorder and people who believe in x because they’re stupid belong in different groups. That’s not to say that there are no crazy people who are stupid and vice versa, but we generally don’t label mentally ill people as stupid for holding pathological beliefs. So Maher needs to stick with one criticism or the other and not go for a twofer.

To wrap up, what’s wrong with Maher is that he is completely given over to what might be called the false barbarian fallacy. That’s the fallacy of misidentifying who the real barbarian is. To Maher and much of the left, Americans are the real barbarians, the real threat to world peace. Meanwhile, the real barbarians are at the gate, and they don’t like anybody; they don’t like Americans, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, women or blacks. They have declared their intent to kill as many Americans as possible, and they have succeeded. So we should worry less about supposed problems with our electoral college and worry more about the people who would destroy not only our electoral college, but our entire system of government.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Champions of "Media Democracy" yearn for Oligarchy

Well, it comes as no surprise to anyone watching the antics of the left in regard to the Swift Boat vets and the Rather phony "memo" that the bleating-hearts of the left who made moo-cow noises for years about the evils of corporate media dominance would besharny themselves to a high degree of stench over the fact that the "wrong" people are taking advantage of the Internet/blog phenomena and the liberalization of media control. Such noble exceptions as Nat Hentoff (whose book FREE SPEECH FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE is a further exploration of what I'm talking about) and Christopher Hitchens only show just how rancidly anti-liberal (in the traditional sense) the Left is these days, and the anti-reason and anti-humanistic garbage coming out of the "reputable" blogs like the Daily Kos and Kevin Drum's only highlight this.

Billy Beck had this to say about it 9 years ago:

From: Billy Beck ( Subject: Batch-Processed, Analog, Statism Newsgroups: alt.politics.clinton, alt.conspiracy, alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater Date: 1995/08/16


Millions of people don't even know how to grasp the *concept* of an "information model". Many of them will go to their graves never getting it, and never understanding how close they came to the biggest deal in communications in the past 500 years. (I think my father will be one of them. He sort of understands that something big is happening - but he's content to smile and let it slide by. My grandmother is absolutely flabbergasted when I tell her how many people *around the world* can look at her face on my web page. She simply cannot grasp visibility on a scale which was reserved only for movie stars when she was young...and still *is*, in her world view. She's 91 years old now, and she definitely won't get it.)

*Politics as we have known it will not survive this.*

The government goons need to get this straight. When Donna Shalala sits in front of the Nightline cameras (as she did last night - smoothing the prezgoon's cigarette game) grinning that square-frame grin which is the fading shadow of a 50+ year-old propaganda tool...she should bear in mind that people don't laugh at her *alone* any more. They get to elbow each other around the world and laugh right out loud: "Look at that *fool*" they hook up tobacco transhipments and re-arrange markets...

Of course, she doesn't get it. She can't afford to get it. Niether can the charade that she works for.

Their authority is burning down every time somebody logs on.

They operate from a presumption of "representation" which is rapidly becoming flatly absurd. They stand up in front of the old-time scribblers and talking heads, and tell us all about what "the people" want. Who needs that?

Any random sterno-bum can now find out what real people, with individual ethical systems, "want"....think...reason...argue...and become outraged at. Thoreau's "quiet desperation" is well on its way into the dim past. Shalala can never speak down to me again, like I'm a child with no recourse but silent submission to her remote authority of proclamation, batch-processed in a one-way channel.

I can now match the authority of my mind against hers. I get to tell her to go fuck herself, and why.

The coming challenge to civilization is implicit in the fact that the authority she poses is trained to respond to reason with force.

It will be very interesting.


Friday, August 06, 2004

All We Are Saying Is, Give Creative Tasks a Chance

Why do terrorists blow stuff up, and what might we do to stop them? The answers to these tough questions have been discovered by an expert on terrorism at our very own alma mater, the University of Missouri at Columbia.

First, why do they blow stuff up:

“People struggle to defend their beliefs to protect themselves from anxiety over their own mortality,” Assistant Professor of Psychology Jamie Arndt said.
People are afraid of dying, you see, and so naturally they lash out at other belief systems to stave off their anxiety about visits from the Grim Reaper. For example, the 9/11 hijackers were so scared of dying that they flew planes into buildings in order to stave off ... Oh wait--never mind.
“We may see this phenomenon, understood through Terror Management Theory (TMT), in a variety of beliefs, including religion, ethnicity, political preferences and even through sports team preferences. People can react to those ‘world view’ threats with prejudice, which can lead us to the world conflicts we find today.”
Sports team preferences? When was the last time a Yankees fan flew an airplane into a building or blew something up because somebody else was a Mets fan? Note how trivial Arndt's point is: people often don't like challenges to their beliefs, and some of them resort to violence. The only interesting claim is that they do so as a way to cope with anxiety about death, but this seems to be false, if not absurd, on the face of it. Islamic terrorists don't fit the hypothesis. They are quite willing to martyr themselves in hopes of an afterlife of conjugal bliss with comely virgins. Anxiety about their mortality isn't much of a motivator for them; killing jews and Americans is what drives them.

Second, what do we do about terrorism?

According to Arndt, one key to effective terror management is self esteem, and those with a higher self worth, particularly people whose self esteem comes from within and is not based on accomplishing certain goals, are less likely to attack people who are different.
I used to mock the self-esteem movement by joking that self-esteem advocates think that all Hitler needed was a hug. Little did I know that I wouldn't be far from the truth. Although to be fair, Arndt doesn't think that terrorists need hugs. Don't be silly. They need creative tasks:
“With higher self esteem, people have a stronger shield and are better able to repel the anxiety that comes with understanding their own mortality,” Arndt said. “We, and others, also have explored creative engagement and tolerance and found that giving people creative tasks may facilitate a more open-minded outlook.”
A little macrame perhaps. Some basket-weaving. Learn how to make those seasonal marshmallow treats shaped like bunnies and baby chicks.
OSAMA: You know, Mohammed, now that I am making sugary marshmallow treats shaped like bunnies and baby chicks, I don't want to kill Americans and jews anymore.

MOHAMMED: Neither do I! I want the infidels to taste the sugary goodness of my treats rather than the cold steel of Allah's blade.

OSAMA: And you know what else? I like me now, I really, really like me.

MOHAMMED: And I like me! And for no good reason, either!

I can think of a few creative tasks for the terrorists of the world.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

iBook and Safari Test

I've gone over to the Mac side, so this post is just to see if I can use Safari and my Apple iBook to post messages.

We're Coming Back

Ernie and I have not updated in quite some time, but I've been itchin' to blog again. Of course, I don't know if anyone still reads Saturn, but if you do, stay tuned.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

A Reply to Professor Brandon's Defense

Professor Brandon, Serious and mature discussion of an issue does not involve implying that one's opponents are "stupid," let alone by committing a gross logical fallacy (the distributive fallacy of composition [1]) as you do in your seriously intentioned "joke."

The graver fallacy that you're committing here is "red herring." The subject of this debate is not academic indoctrination (that is merely a potential negative consequence of what is being discussed), but diversity in the faculty being regarded as a -inherently- good thing for the academy, where -racial- diversity is seen to be a positive goal to be achieved while -intellectual- diversity is eschewed.* In its most gross and offensive form, this attitude assumes that diversity of skin color EQUALS diversity of thought, which is a patently racist attitude. Happily, your fallacious statements put you out of that class of arguers, since, for you, diversity of thought is "stupid" for "white" academics as well.

Finally, your comparison of the sciences and the humanities is fallacious on categorical grounds. For the sake of argument, I'll consider your red herring. While ideological indoctrination is not unknown in science (as your erstwhile colleagues in the English Department used to "bloviate" about), the subject matter of mathematics and its method is not a subject of debate -within its own discipline.- A putative Lysenko of mathematics would be put down by his own leftist "allies" as a destructive influence.

The same is not true in those disciplines which deal with the humanities, where discussions of values and political and philosophical positions have precedence. It is there that a diversity of views in the faculty about the pertinent aspects of the disciplines would have prima facie desirability. This is the substantive point at issue.

Yours truly,

Ernest Brown


* It has to be noted here that Horowitz and company are -not- arguing that since there is a lack of intellectual diversity on campus, there should be no racial diversity either. Rather, their argument is that the primary purpose of the academy is to inculcate ideas and critical thinking skills, and thus intellectual diversity exemplified by qualified faculty members of all races, creeds and beliefs should be the aim of academia.

Correction to my original post there, I am currently not in grad school, but I plan to return this fall.