Monday, May 30, 2005

surrealist music reviews

David Cross is a funny, yet bizarre comedian that appears on the Fox ‘sit-com’: Arrested Development. For your comedic pleasure, Julian Sanchez linked to a faux music review posted by David Cross. He gave his “Top Ten CD's That I Just Made Up (and accompanying made-up review excerpts) to listen to while skimming through some of the overwrought reviews on”. Here’s a taste of the irreverence:
While reading the review of Daft Punk's Human After All: "Ideally, the physics of record reviewing are as elegant as actual physics, with each piece speaking to the essence of its subject as deliberately and as appropriately as a real-world force reacting to an action," is a real albeit brief excerpt. May I suggest listening to Elegant Nuisance by ButterFat 100. With this, their second album since signing with Holive Records, ButterFat 100 return to their psychobilly/emo core roots. Let its volcanic rapture overwhelm you like a 19th century hand-woven blanket made of human hair might have done back in the days when they enjoyed such things. RATING: 5.5

escalating The War on Drugs

I have no doubt that those who favor the The War on Drugs have the best of intentions. The fact that such intentions pave the road to Hell is also not in doubt. This so called 'war' is as misguided, fruitless and counter-productive as The War on Poverty. A notable difference between the two is that the latter is a pet-project of Democrats, while the former is the Republican’s illegitimate brain-child. A sad similarity is that they both extract money from a third party and ultimately ensure the existence of the phenomena by failing to target the root causes. Throwing money at the poor is no more effective than incarcerating all levels of users and dealers, thereby perpetuating the very ‘black market’ that ever more laws purport to curtail.

Speaking of more laws, it appears that James Sensenbrenner is at it again. In addition to the atrocious power grab known as HR-1268 (Real ID), the Wisconsin Republican has set his sights on yet more of our individual liberties, the very freedoms that valiant men and women have bled and died to preserve. From totalitarianism today, here’s a link to Alter Net, a left-leaning site that features a Bill Piper article that is alarming to say the least.
Sensenbrenner, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has introduced legislation that would essentially draft every American into the war on drugs. HR-1528, cynically named "Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act," would compel people to spy on their family members and neighbors, and even go undercover and wear a wire if needed. If a person resisted, he or she would face mandatory incarceration.

Here's how the "spy" section of the legislation works: If you "witness" certain drug offenses taking place or "learn" about them, you must report the offenses to law enforcement within 24 hours and provide "full assistance in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution" of the people involved. Failure to do so would be a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence, and a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Regardless of one’s view of intoxicants or intoxication, recreational or otherwise, every sane person ought to be outraged by such a congressional overreach. After having ‘successfully’ criminalized non-violent personal behavior, HR-1528 would criminalize passive tolerance of such behavior. This flies in the face of the spirit of the 5th Amendment, if not the letter. What’s more, this would further erode the limited privacy that still remains. HR-1528 simply must not be signed into law.
Despite growing opposition to mandatory minimum sentences from civil rights groups to U.S. Supreme Court Justices, the bill eliminates federal judges' ability to give sentences below the minimum recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. This creates a mandatory minimum sentence for all federal offenses, drug-related or not.

H.R. 1528 also establishes new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses, including:

• Five years for anyone who passes a marijuana joint at a party to someone who, at some point in his or her life, has been in drug treatment;

• Ten years for mothers with substance abuse problems who commit certain drug offenses at home (even if their children are not at home at the time);

• Five years for any person with substance abuse problems who begs a friend in drug treatment to find them some drugs.

These sentences would put non-violent drug offenders behind bars for as long as rapists, and they include none of the drug treatment touted in the bill's name.
How many families are potentially in jeopardy of losing one or both income earners? If anything, HR-1528 is the enemy of the nuclear family. Would it not be more appropriate to mandate treatment instead of extended jail sentences? I would ask my conservative Republican friends to consider the correlation of the drug laws to the Left’s desire for ‘gun control’ laws. At its heart, the irrational fear of drugs and guns lay with what might happen, rather than measurable harm done to another. There are already innumerable statues that cover all imaginable acts of force and fraud. The demonization of some chemical compounds while receiving truck-loads of contributions (money and perks) from the pharmaceutical lobby for the approval of others is despicable.

Apparently, Republican constituencies appeal to emotion every bit as much as those of the Democrats. They both claim to support freedom, just not broadly defined. Both camps are micro-managers of the lives of individuals to maintain and increase government power. The ‘will of the people’ must be done...individual liberty be damned.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

gimmie, gimmie, gimmie...

In my formative years, the California punk band called Black Flag was one of my favorites. I really liked one of their early tunes entitled: gimmie, gimmie, gimmie. The chorus, such as it is, was “gimmie, gimmie, gimmie…I need some more—gimmie, gimmie, gimmie…don’t ask what for…1234… As a naïve kid that was raised by southern conservative Christian parents, I thought that those lyrics were facetious. I thought: “surely nobody expects to receive anything just by demanding it”. Well, I was wrong on both counts. Keith Johnny Morris, Black Flag’s original lead singer, who went on to form the Circle Jerks, another band I enjoyed, was/is quite a lefty. He was an outspoken critic of Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s.

I mention all that because of a new poll that Dada linked to via Sirotablog. The poll results suggest that a majority of Americans do in fact desire government "gimmies", which is unfortunately nothing new. Dada wrote this:
I've been saying for a while now that the electorate is there for the Democrats' taking, if only they would work toward being the party of a credible economic populism ('credible' as in, more than just populist rhetoric every four years--I'm looking at you, Al Gore). So much hand-wringing over how the Democrats lost rural voters has ignored the most obvious answer: rural, working class voters do not believe that the Democrats are looking out for their economic interests. And with good reason, too.
By “economic interests”, I presume that Dada means various government programs that take from Peter to support Paul. I simply cannot understand how populists justify such theft. Do they think that government ‘creates’ the revenue that it so liberally doles out? Or, does their hatred and jealously for the ‘rich’ (the definition of whose net wealth is constantly shrinking) lead them to construct a “moral code” that is anything but moral? It’s a bit of a stretch to claim that one citizen is morally responsible for another, which is altogether different from consensual assistance freely given…whether time, treasure, talent or any combination of the three.

The sad reality is that people on the left and the right have their hands out to be filled by the public treasury. This is by definition ‘tyranny of the majority’. When the layers of emotion are peeled back, populism clearly touts the use of government to plunder and pillage. At its core, it boils down to: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. This may be too much to ask, but can’t the voting public take personal responsibility and reject the opportunism of Washington’s parasites? I’ll be holding my breath…

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

consequences of socialism

As I was saying the other day, socialism is a flawed political construct. It simply runs counter to human nature and indeed individual liberty. The typical result is economic ruin that is driven by an egomaniacal autocrat or a gang of bureaucrats. Take Robert Mugabe for example. He’s the aging kleptocrat that rules Zimbabwe with an iron fist.
He will only step down when his "revolution" is complete. He says this means the redistribution of white-owned land but he also wants to hand-pick his successor, who must of course come from within the ranks of his Zanu-PF party. This would also ensure a peaceful old age, with no investigation into his time in office.
But of course, he expects everyone to trust without verifying. It’s for the ‘good of people’…right?
The key to understanding Mr Mugabe is the 1970s guerrilla war where he made his name. World opinion saw him as a revolutionary hero, fighting racist white minority rule for the freedom of his people.
Since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 the world has moved on, but his outlook remains the same. The heroic socialist forces of Zanu-PF, are still fighting the twin evils of capitalism and colonialism.
His opponents, in particular the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are labelled "sell-outs" to white and foreign interests and, as during the war, this tag has been a death warrant for many MDC supporters.
While I certainly appreciate the desire for independence from colonial rule, common sense dictates that capitalism enables wealth creation, but socialism stifles economic growth.
But Mr Mugabe's critics - and these days they are many in a country where he was once an untouchable figure - say that despite his socialist rhetoric, his rule has been one of state capitalism which has not materially benefited ordinary Zimbabweans.

The president's political cronies have meanwhile been given prime pieces of formerly white-owned land and lucrative state contracts irrespective of how they perform, and the economy as a whole has suffered.
You see, ‘state capitalism’ is acceptable because mere plebes just cannot be entrusted with their own lives.
As many others have found, it is far easier to find ways of sharing the national cake than to make it grow bigger. Professor Tony Hawkins of the University of Zimbabwe sums it up by saying that "whenever economics gets in the way of politics, politics wins every time".
I’m shocked….shocked, I say! OK, back to the present. According to a BBC article, Mugabe’s grand socialist scheme of central planning and land allocation is fading fast. Attempts of ‘ordinary’ Zimbabweans to flirt with free-trade has been met with force.
Paramilitary units armed with batons and riot shields have been smashing up stalls of street traders as they target the huge informal sector.

Police have destroyed 34 flea markets and netted some Z$900m ($100,000) in fines and seized some Z$2.2bn of goods.

Zimbabweans in Harare are said to be absolutely furious at the police operation codenamed "restore order".
Also, not surprisingly, last week the Zimbabwean dollar was devalued by 45%. The brutality and strict control that is part and parcel of socialism is not theoretical. These people have suffered for more than two decades under that misguided ideology. When individuals are prevented from engaging in free markets and indeed forbidden to own property, negative consequences are sure to follow. This is far from the compassion that the anti-capitalism crowd claims to advocate.

via: Café Hayek

Update: The new cause-celeb, signified by a plastic white wrist band is called Make Poverty History. Stphen Pollard has an excellent post that points out the backward thinking of spoiled, 'compassionate' Hollywood socialists…uh, I mean socialites.
Much Third World poverty is the result of governments taking the decision, in effect, to remain poor. The conditions under which they can prosper are known, and available, if those in power choose to avail themselves of them. As Hernando de Soto (who has done much to alleviate poverty, not least through his seminal book, The Mystery of Capital) points out, it is easy to make a country prosperous. It needs only security of life and property, and markets in which property rights can be valued and traded. The West’s prosperity is built on property rights and the rule of law; it is the denial of those rights which causes poverty and prevents growth.

via: Samizdata

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

economic equality

Via Will Wilkinson’s Fly Bottle:
"To the extent that people are preoccupied with equality for its own sake, their readiness to be satisfied with any particular level of income or wealth is guided not by their own interests and needs but just by the magnitude of the economic benefits at the disposal of others. In this way egalitarianism distracts people from measuring the requirements to which their individual natures and their personal circumstances give rise. It encourages them instead to insist upon a level of economic support that is determined by a calculation in which the particular features of their own lives are irrelevant. How sizable the economic assets of others are has nothing much to do, after all, with what kind of person someone is. A concern for economic equality, construed as desirable in itself, tends to divert a person's attention away from endeavoring to discover--within his experience of himself and his life--what he himself really cares about and what will actually satisfy him, although this is the most basic and the most decisive task upon which an intelligent selection of economic goals depends. Exaggerating the moral importance of economic equality is harmful, in other words, because it is alienating."

Harry Frankfurt, "Equality as a Moral Ideal," Ethics, Oct. 1987.
And this gem from it’s comment thread, via ‘monkeyboy’ (sorry, no blog): Silly poor people, yearning for medical care, decent schools for their children and not having to eat dog food in their old age.
Pay no attention to the rich people behind the curtain, look inside yourselves instead...maybe there's an organ you could sell!

It's like I always say…why argue with logic and reason when high emotionalism is so damn convenient!

Literary List

Again…? Yep, Eric tapped me to contribute to the meme continuum. This one is pretty good. I’m tasked with revealing my reading habits. Rather than list my ‘favorites’, I’m going to provide a time-line of sorts, one that tracks the milestones of the evolution of my thinking. The following represents the broad categories of my interests.

1. The number of books I’ve owned: Actually, I’m quite frugal, so I tend to avail myself of the public library. Since the inception of the Patriot Act, I may need to rethink that. More to the point, I currently have a few books that are of particular interest.

2. Last book I bought: As it happens, I killed two birds with one stone by purchasing the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S.Lewis, for my oldest son.

3. Last book I read: This is a little embarrassing, given that I waited so long, but it’s Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

4. Five Books That Mean A lot to Me: As I mentioned at the outset, I’m going to list my literary landmarks…as if you care.

A. I really didn’t develop a passion for literature until ‘junior high’, when I discovered Edgar Allen Poe. From there, I read two Clive Barker horror novels: Weave World and The Great and Secret Show. These seem lame in retrospect, but I enjoyed them at the time.

B. My emersion in the 80s punk culture led me to rethink and reject the religious indoctrination of my childhood. In my early twenties, I thought it prudent to examine, for myself, the history of Christianity. I read an exhaustive collection of the writings of the ‘early church fathers’ (Roman philosophers circa 300 A.D.) that was published by the Catholic church, so it was from the horses mouth. Also, I read the magnum opus of the Reformation, John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Then, I read an ‘encyclopedia’ of the history of American sects of Christianity (the title escapes me). In short, I learned quite a bit about the origins of modern Christianity.

C. Commensurate with the ‘punk scene’, I became interested in politics and by extension, philosophy. I embarked upon a layman’s study of the philosophical giants. I went from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle…to Descartes to Kant to Nietzsche. I have no formal training in this field, just an appetite for knowledge.

D. Being a terrible student, I barely scraped by. So, I really had an enormous gap in my scientific knowledge base. In an attempt to fill that gap, I looked to the 'pros' of theoretical physics. I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. Then I went on to a collection of Richard Feynman’s lectures to students at Cal Tech (don’t recall the title…my memory is shot [it's entitlted Six Easy Pieces...many thanks, Alice]). I absorbed some of it, but I’m far from an expert on the subject.

E. Last but not least, I must mention the Bible, as I would be lying if I said that it had no influence on my thinking. It may seem corny or even predictable, but it's a significant part my reading list. After all, this is my meme!

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog: I’ve never been accused of being particularly creative, so I’ll pass it on the same gang, with one replacement.


Update I: Alice, you’re welcome to participate if you want. I’m sure that you can make an appreciable contribution.

Update II:: There actually are comments, despite the 'Comment (0)' below.

Monday, May 23, 2005

my two cents

Taking a cue from Brad, I’ll offer my two cents to an important discussion that’s occurring simultaneously at two other blogs: Eric’s and Dada Head’s. The subject matter is at the heart of classical liberal philosophy; the origin, essence and definition of ‘natural rights’.

Alice, aka ‘welcome wench’, wrote:
The idea of "natural rights" has a mystical quality to it which I can't agree with. I don't believe that anything of that nature simply "exists". It is an idea, a great one, I'll agree, but only that an idea. It can only come into reality by the agreement and actions of the people in whose heads it resides.

You say that a right is something which no one has to agree to...that you exercise that right alone. I think the whole discussion has been about whether the right to property can be exercised alone and I say it can't. It must be agreed to or else it means nothing significant.
In another comment, jrj wrote:
But what if I choose not believe that. What if I choose to believe that the only "natural law" is survival of the fittest. So I kill this other person to stop them from breathing my air, eating food I might want, mating with a female, or perhaps I just didn't like the way they looked at me. How have I infringed on a right if I don't recognize that right in the first place?

I have to say I agree with whoever has been arguing these rights only exist because humans have agreed to respect them.
Those quotes, more or less, sum up the argument against ‘natural or inherent rights’. In one of my first posts, a few months ago, I offered my take on rights.
Rights ARE, by virtue of one’s existence. Right are by definition absolute and unalienable. That which is conditional is not a right, but a privilege. The alternative to individual rights is collective or government rights, where the individual may or may not do this or that depending upon the ruling authority. The US Constitution recognizes only individual rights and not government rights; the government may act only with the consent of the governed. The failure to acknowledge and preserve individual rights inevitably leads to tyranny…totalitarian, authoritarian or chaotic anarchy. There is no such thing as abridging rights a little or a little tyranny, as each cannot but increase after having been tolerated.

I fully understand that the concept of rights is abstract and subject to violation by thugs and looters. This is why a healthy civilization MUST revere the concept of individual liberty and acknowledge the right of citizens to self protect from a single brute [an angry mob…the majority] or an oppressive government.
Oddly enough, I think both sides of this debate have merit. While I certainly hold that inherent rights (life, liberty, property, et al.) exist without respect to popular consensus, such is a philosophical construct that is distinct from the more tangible laws of matter and energy. In my view, the root of the objection to inherent rights is that it’s philosophical rather than scientific. However, it’s no less of a universal verity.

That said, the concept of natural rights can be objectively and qualitatively compared to other competing philosophies such as collectivism or other types of privilege based political systems. Both history and moral intuition bear witness that individuals recognize the concept of ownership. Primarily, one owns one’s life and instinctively acts to preserve that life. In so doing, humans have explored and taken possession of land in the process of seeking habitation. Human nature being what it is, people have always fought over take possession. It matters not if one takes his neighbor’s property by force, or if one nation-state conquers another, the fact is that the ownership of property (land or material) is a fact of nature…intuitively. The difference between the barbarian and the citizen is that the latter respects his neighbor’s inherent rights, but the former does not.

Now, the fact that some will simply reject the premise of natural rights does not negate their existence. It’s true that they are abstract and require a degree of civilization to enjoy without violence. Nonetheless, rights are inexorably linked to the individual by virtue of one's very existence. Ultimately, one is responsible for self preservation. Ideally, governments are formed to provide a measure of security to protect the individual’s inherent rights, not to ‘create’ rights. But…as Jefferson so artfully wrote:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday Funnies

From the wacky and zany site called The Pain, here’s a few political cartoons that I think are funny, fresh and at times disturbing.

The Two Americas

irreverent Christian caricature

Nixon and Thompson, Hunter S.

Faith vs. Works

modern barbarian tribes

via: psybertron, a brilliant physicist. he sports the lower-case stylings of e.e. commings. Go visit and enjoy.
psybertron's manifesto says - real human enterprises succeed or fail through subjective, chaotic and seemingly irrational behaviour. management gurus have been emphasising this whilst proclaiming revolution, paradigm shifts and the like, ever since management mistook itself for a science. enterprise information models which continue to rely solely on objective "scientific" rationale "conspire" to misinform. What kinds of model are needed to communicate and exploit real business knowledge?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

alright already

OK, so I’m a procrastinator. A few days ago, Hammer tagged me. Then, Brad pulled my card. So, as a result of mounting blogispheric pressure, I’m jumping on the meme-go-round.

My mission, since I’ve chosen to accept it, is to list five things that I don’t ‘get’, but my friends and/or family does. After which, I must choose five other blogiteers to carry the torch. Here goes:

1. The traditional network news-cast: I’m a little too young to have been a devote of Walter Cronkite, but I’m familiar enough with those that started in the 80s to realize the utter banality of their ‘reporting’.

2. Pop-culture trends: again, growing up in the 80s, conformity to cliques and fashion trends were the stuff of pier pressure. If only it were trendy to be informed, tolerant, open-minded and a critical thinker.

3. Commercial Christianity: since the 70s, there has been a push to make Christianity ‘culturally relevant’. In the past decade, the ‘mega-church’ (thousands of members) has proliferated. My cynical side links this to my #2.

4. Tattoos: if this one offends anyone…deal with it. Led Zeppelin’s 1976 double-album is entitled “Physical Graffiti”, but it’s actually good. ‘Body Art’ seems like the epitome of poor judgment, since it’s virtually irreversible, absent severe scarring.

5. Partisan politics: perhaps this one is on par with rooting for your favorite team. Me…I don’t enjoy spectator sports, so my bias is self-evident. Regardless, following lockstep with a particular party seems odd, in that politicians literally affect one’s life. I certainly recognize the pragmatism that’s required by the voter on election day, but to be a blind cheerleader is asinine. I won’t mention any names…but…his initials are Rush Limbaugh.

I’ll now tap five more unsuspecting blogsters, who are the following:


Update: I’m like sooo popular (not really). T.F. Stern also passed me the talkin’ stick. Go check him out now, ya hear.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Deconstructing Socialism

In a recent and delightfully respectful post, Dada Head endeavored to engage Eric, Brad and yours truly in civil dialogue. In it, he referenced two of my posts, this one and this one. Eric and Brad are more than capable of defending their views, so I’ll have go at contrasting mine with Dada’s brand of socialism.

The premise set forth by Dada is that ‘libertarians’ mischaracterize socialism, in that they/we assume that socialists wish to use state force to redistribute wealth more equally…from rich to poor.
But I think that the conception of socialism here--i.e., state-enforced equality--is fundamentally mistaken. It seems to be using the wrong 'picture' so to speak: in the libertarian's view, everyone rightly owns their property, and an external entity--the state--comes a-knockin' and demands that some of that property (money) be forked over, because the Smiths down the street are in a bad way, while you are doing pretty well for yourself. In other words: the government is forcing you to help out the Smiths.

This isn't necessarily the way to construe the socialist idea. Let's say that you and I, and a hundred or so other people find ourselves for whatever reason on an uninhabited island. We have no hope at all of being rescued, so we begin to make plans to simply live out the rest of our lives on the island.
He goes on to describe a Gilligan, or “Lost” style microcosm of society. Essentially, in his view, the point of divergence between he and ‘we’ is the concept of property rights. According to Dada’s world-view, no single individual ought to be able to claim ownership of land…e.g. no ‘inherent right’ to private property. Further, interpersonal conflicts over property and disproportionate occupation of land ought to be corrected via democratic consensus.
This, essentially, is socialism. Property rights are an artificial construct, so we are free to sculpt them as we wish. What could be wrong with sculpting them in as democratic a way possible? Libertarians can even have their markets; we simply reserve the right to step in when the effects of those markets become unacceptable. Since this is built into the very concept of ownership, how can they complain? It is only because the rest of us recognize their property rights that they have them at all.
From my perspective, I’ve viewed socialism just as Dada explains it. I’ll try to point out the major flaws, as I see them. Socialists are collectivists and therefore, view society as a family, if you will. All for one and one for all. In such a familial construct, the decision maker, or ‘head of household’, is the majority. The goal is ostensibly an equal allocation of resources, so as to ensure a ‘sustainable society’. The problem lay in base human nature. Certainly, there are many that rise above and take personal responsibility. In a collective, however, there is inevitably a race to the lowest common denominator. Trade unions typically base productivity standards on their least productive members. Likewise, socialists devote much of their time and energy to ending poverty, or at least helping those in need. There are unintended consequences that follow from this. A useful example is found in Ayn Rand’s epic novel: Atlas Shrugged (pg.848)
…men had achieved the ideal of the centuries, they were practicing it in unobstructed perfection, they were serving need as their standard of value, as the coin of their realm, as more sacred than right and life. Men had been pushed into a pit where, shouting that man is his brother’s keeper, each was devouring his neighbor and was being devoured by his neighbor’s brother, each was proclaiming the righteousness of the unearned and wondering who was stripping the skin off his back, each was devouring himself, while screaming in terror that some unknowable evil was destroying the earth.
The context of that quote is the collapse of the economy after ‘well intentioned’ socialists confiscated the means of production and private property, all in an attempt to eradicate inequality, the gap between the ‘haves and have-nots’. While that is fiction, the disintegration of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is cold hard fact. Moreover, on the carcass of the USSR, nations are being built on the principles of private property and the rule-of-law.

As demonstrated in Atlas Shrugged, in graphic detail, when the rule-of-law and private property rights are replaced by bureaucratic micro-management, in the name of democracy, equality and indeed socialism, the results are disastrous. The beauty of free market capitalism is wealth creation; healthy, vigorous competition…with wealth as the reward. Private property ownership is an integral part of economic growth and progress. Without ownership, there is no commerce. Without commerce, there is no incentive to produce surpluses. When the incentive is removed, economies decline precipitously. To avoid mass starvation, totalitarian governments arise to ‘provide for the people’s welfare’. Such is not hypothetical, but exists even now…North Korea, for example.

On the other hand, let’s assume the best about human nature. Suppose that all the members of the collective (be it large or small) agree to abide by pure democratic rule…one vote per adult. In such a scenario, the minority loses, without fail. Suppose further that a majority converts to, say…Orthodox Islam. The minority is now subject to Shariah Law, mandatory theocracy, in which case any semblance of democracy evaporates. How about an American example or three? Slavery and Jim Crowe laws were both the will of the majority, to the detriment of the minority. How about eliminating the filibuster in the Senate, in the interest of majority rule?

As the saying goes: facts are stubborn. Political realities being what they are, coupled with copious amounts of historical data pertaining to human interaction in general and attempts at democracy and socialism in particular, I conclude that a minimal state, one that incorporates property rights, individual liberty and the rule-of-law, is the only practical and workable solution. My ideal society…Libertopia…allows all individuals the widest possible berth to pursue happiness in the fashion of their choosing, while recognizing essential boundaries that protect individuals from force or fraud.

Update: via Catallarchy, this article puts a face on the brutality of the more narrow view of Islamic ‘society’.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

filibuster flip-floppery

In the march toward pure democracy, the rhetoric and acrimony abounds. Both sides of the isle are no doubt posturing in preparation for 2006, and indeed 2008. Call me cynical, but I’m convinced that if the majority and minority were reversed, this power play would likely still occur. These pseudo-statesmen would sell their children for a few extra voting constituents. The various political journals tend to advocate for their team, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by National Review’s current stance. In fact, Jonah Goldberg deigned to point out a partisan 180 on the use of filibuster, with respect to Federal Judges.
Let's stir the pot nice and early. I'm not sure I understand NR's reversal on filibusters. In a December editorial -- titled "Let them Filibuster" -- the magazine said:
So we sympathize with those Republicans who have been proposing to change the Senate rules to make it easier to confirm nominees who have majority support. Nevertheless, we think the idea is a mistake.

And yesterday we said:

For Republicans to leave the filibusters in place now after months of demanding a change would be ignominious. The same pundits who are saying that the majority party should not insist on its prerogatives would turn around and say that the majority party is responsible and should be held accountable for everything the government does. More important, a surrender would tell everyone — conservative voters, Democratic senators and interest groups, and the White House — that Republican senators were irresolute in their support for judicial conservatism. It would thus set back the urgent cause of a reformation of the federal judiciary.

Here's what I don't get: Is NR's argument that ending the filibuster would be bad but now that GOP prestige is on the line it's necessary?
I say good for Goldberg. It’s refreshing to hear that hypocrisy can be revealed, even by those on one’s own side of the fence, much less by one’s employer. It makes it difficult to accuse W.F. Buckley & Co. of censorship. I may not always agree with NRO, but I respect them. Incidentally, my position on the matter remains unchanged.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

natural or supernatural

Julian Sanchez, a contributing editor to Reason, posted a bit about something that’s of interest to me. The post in question deals with a sticky wicket…supernatural phenomenon. Most intelligent secular folks dismiss it as fantasy, while many religious folks (certainly not all) embrace it without question. To the extent that I’m neither religious nor secular, in any conventional sense, I find it difficult to articulate the nuances of my position. Regardless, Julian’s take and the accompanying comment thread is interesting, at least in my view. Additionally, Ape-snake has a thoughtful post that explores this subject in detail, from a scientific perspective.

…give me entitlements, or give me death.

Think about the political landscape a decade ago. Newt and his merry band of freshman Republican Congressmen had won a majority in the House of Representatives. They were swept in on the promise of a new, New Deal, only in reverse. The so-called “Contract with America” was to trim the fat and whip our bloated government into shape. The medicine, of course, was methodical spending reductions and radical bureaucratic reforms. There was “welfare reform” and…uh…what else? Oh, that’s right, they’re politicians. What they say is typically worthless, but what they do is quite expensive.

Speaking of expense, those free spending slugs in Washington seem to be running out of conventional ideas for fiscal waste. I’ll let the dead horse of LBJ’s socialist legacy lay, because that piece of work is culturally embedded at this point, though I still hold out hope. What’s on the front burner however, is Social Security. SS has always been an entitlement and may well continue, as the “payroll tax” is undeniably Ponziesque. Charles Krauthammer has a good article that exposes the fraud.
As I have been writing for years with stupefying redundancy -- and obvious lack of success -- this idea is a hoax. There is no trust fund. The past Social Security surpluses were spent the year they were created. The idea that in 2017, when the surpluses disappear, we will be able to go to a box in West Virginia to retrieve the money we need to make up the shortfall (between what Social Security takes in and what it pays out that year) is a deception. There is no money there. It will have to be borrowed or garnered from new taxes.
But things are worse than that. The fiscal problem starts to kick in not in 2017 but in 2009. The Social Security surplus, which Congress happily spends every year, peaks in 2008. Which means that starting in four years (and for every year thereafter) a budgetary squeeze begins, requiring new taxation or new borrowing.
Ah yes, new taxes. Why, because of need. Politicians need votes. Another failed pension scheme that the government plans to procure, to cement future power, is in the form of a corporate bailout.
The government corporation that insures pensions for 35 million Americans is facing a serious financial shortfall of $23 billion. The deficit increased when United Airlines was allowed to transfer its pension obligations to the government. Now there's concern that taxpayers could face a costly bailout if other companies follow United's lead.
Not to worry, this will be an isolated case…I’m sure of it. So now the American tax payer will be fleeced to finance government pensions as well as private ones. Are “we” developing an allergy to personal responsibility and self sufficiency? Nah, surely not…our forbearers were rugged individualists that built the richest, most powerful and “freest” nation in history. Perhaps decadence has replaced resilience, the desire for the unearned has replaced the great American work ethic. People seem to think that, by virtue of existence, their neighbor owes them whatever can be construed as a need. One of the more absurd examples of this is found in the ridiculous Medicare prescription drug give away. According to the government, elderly erections are a necessity.
The federal government will spend nearly $2 billion in the next decade on male impotence drugs under its Medicare program, according to a new cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that is fueling some lawmakers' efforts to end that spending.
That’s surely a type-o…everyone knows that lawmakers never seriously seek to end spending. It must mean that they might conceivably try to slow the increase in spending, but certainly not eliminate it entirely. After all, old folks reliably vote for whichever candidate promises to keep the benefits coming, so to speak.

Update: Will Wilkinson posted a relevant quote: "There is no more justification for using the state apparatus to compel some citizens to pay for unwanted benefits that others desire than there is to force them to reimburse others for their private expenses."
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 250 (rev. ed.)

Acknowledgement: Catallarchy

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More on Morality

On a previous post, my friend Hammer commented thusly:
…It is certainly true that people will act out of their own self-interest (generally). Without addressing the exceptions, I would put forth that, barring allowing everyone to "do as he sees fit", we must change what is in someone's self-interests.

There are two ways to do that: 1) Make them value the good through their willful acceptance of it as such.

2) Have them fear the consequences of doing the "not good".

All laws are the second. "Legislating morality", the clarion call of the left, is not restricting evil. It would be punishing the failure to do good, like not saving a dying man.

I am not comfortable with people doing things "the way he hopes everyone else might". My problem isn't that it isn't a good mantra - the problem is that, for some reason, many do not, and hence, we must force them to do otherwise.
I’ll let Hammer speak for himself, but I would like to elucidate my view of morality, with respect to legislation. Firstly, I think it’s appropriate to define “morality”, which I attempted in a post a couple of months ago when I was an even more obscure blogman than I am now. Here’s an excerpt from that post:
Now, some assert that a particular moral code can be objective. That begs the question: on what basis? If on the basis of the respect for individual liberty, then I say it has merit. But the problem arises when a particular group consensually denies their own individuality in the name of communal living. This is certainly not what I desire, but there are those for whom codependence is "natural" and "good" in their estimation. For a one-size-fits-all moral code to be exclusively superior, the liberty to choose collectivism or some religious dogma must necessarily be suppressed. In such case, freedom is meaningless. As an individualist, I support the freedom of another to self destruct, as long as there are no other victims. Again, different moral codes can coexist as long as individual freedom and consent predominate.

I will say that the concept of morality in general is an objective verity, but I reject the notion that any particular moral code is objectively superior, because reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on the fine points of subjective ideology.
In essence, I’m arguing that morality, while an objective concept, comes in many varieties that are as divergent as philosophies and political ideologies. To be sure, I have a clear idea of what I consider to be moral and immoral. The problem lay in proving that I’m correct and everyone else ought to follow. Sadly, neither mine nor anyone’s moral code is self-evident…other than the most basic principles of non-violence. To demonstrate my point, take Dada, the wooden Head, who’s world-view is quite dissimilar to mine, in that he advocates a level of coercion to achieve his moral ends that I simply find unconscionable. As a “leftist”, he thinks that government ought to compel individuals to monetarily assist their fellow man…through force if necessary. Make no mistake, it’s always by force. Just try to inform the IRS that you plan to pay only what you think is justified to support the basic functions of government. The enforcement mechanism of the IRS is not exactly subtle or even lightly armed.

Another strong argument against compulsory moral behavior has been made by Eric the Grumbler, who articulates the folly of coercive “virtue”.
I'm sure that most folks on the left, Dada included, don't think of what they are doing as "coercion", any more than the right authoritarians pushing their social agenda think of it as "coercion". But if you want to use the power of government to require me to do what you deem to be right then you are "forcing me", "coercing me", "making me" do it. There's no getting around that.
To sum up my position, I’ll say that making the case for a particular moral code is very difficult, to put it mildly. This is why I advocate a minarchist-libertarian philosophy, which essentially allows individuals the freedom to pursue happiness without preventing another from pursuing their own. This is not unlike allowing one such as myself to enjoy a theist construct, while not acting to eradicate atheism. I simply ask for the same respect and liberty in return.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A defense of television?

Since the television all but supplanted the radio several decades ago, it’s become a driving force of “Pop Culture”. Sure, CDs and FM radio thrive, but the household that is devoid of a TV is extremely rare. Many homes have more than one set. It’s really been a major point of commonality for the "civilized world". The "boob tube" is quite versatile. It provides a platform for information, entertainment and to a lesser extent…the news.

The perennial criticism of TV is that it’s a “brain drain”, in that people tend to think and read less because of it. I’d say that has merit. But, is one not responsible for the wise allocation of one’s time? Should rational folks put their minds on “auto-pilot”?

Another important aspect is the amount of TV that kids watch. As with most things, children need guidance from their parents. To be sure, my kids tend to do what all kids do (and some “adults”)…avoid responsibility and have fun. This is where parenting comes in. My kids only watch TV after they’ve met their other obligations (homework and chores). Additionally, I constantly promote reading at home, in conjunction with that which they do at school. In fact, the accountability at my kids’ schools is quite good. There’s a great system of reward for reading. Every book in the library has a computer “comprehension quiz”. The children must demonstrate that they read and understood the book. The reward is a points-based system that corresponds to gradually increased levels of difficulty. This not only directs they’re development, it allows for competition among the students, who boast about the number of “reading point” they have. Currently, all of my kids read well above their respective grade level.

About TV…, Stephen Johnson has a piece in Slate (“E-mail debates”), in which he compares the content of today’s shows with that of the 1970s. Johnson points to the “complexity” of current dramas and claims that people are more likely to intellectually engage fellow employees or even post comments on television-related web sites.
Add all those factors up—more complexity, fewer ads, richer content, and more interactivity—and I think the trend is undeniable. Today's TV junkies are exercising their minds more than their predecessors did in the 1970s, and they're not just training their ability to multitask. Does that mean that I think people should watch 30 hours of TV a week? Of course not. Would I prefer to live in a culture where people read as much George Eliot as they watched Fear Factor? Absolutely. But I'm not describing what my ideal cultural ecosystem would look like; I'm trying to combat the tiresome idea that we live in age where cheap pleasures and instant gratifications are on the rise, and subtlety and complexity are growing increasingly obsolete. In fact, the trends all point in the opposite direction. That's not reason to give up on the novel or stop fighting the encroachments of banal advertising. But it is reason for hope.
In many ways I agree with that assessment. TV is less lame than it was in the past. This trend had better continue, because blogs are rapidly gaining market share, in terms of audience. I personally think it’s great and hope the vigorous competition goes unimpeded by our friendly neighborhood lobbyists…time will tell.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Yet more (back-handed) flattery…

Having had my say, or rather bitched at length about the unholy matrimony of religion and politics, I’ll now set my sights elsewhere. Not to worry though, as that phenomenon shows no sign of waning. I personally, have simply gotten tired of it…for now. What’s that? You have as well? Alright then, on we go to utter frivolity.

On the May 10 edition of the Daily Show, w/ Jon Stuart, a new segment was trotted out called “Blogisphere”. It seems that the major cable-news networks (excluding Fox News) now have “blog watch” bits as a small part of their political shows. For example, CNN features two attractive young ladies browsing and discussing various blogs. Chris Mathews, of MSNBC, now promotes his own blog…as do a few other talking heads. Sadly, Stuart and Co. couldn’t help but take the easy lay-up. Yes, he was compelled to mention that blogs are “unaccountable”, and without “editorial control”, although he failed to mention pajamas.

Mindles H. Dreck, Jane Galt’s other half at Asymmetrical Information, assails Adam Cohen, of the once prestigious news organ, The New York Times. Since registration is required, here’s the money quote:
Bloggers may need to institutionalize ethics policies to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the real reason for an ethical upgrade is that it is the right way to do journalism, online or offline. As blogs grow in readers and influence, bloggers should realize that if they want to reform the American media, that is going to have to include reforming themselves.
First of all, there’s the obvious pot-and-kettle problem. Beyond that, Mr. Cohen fails to recognize the impetus for the growing popularity of blogs. It’s really a microcosm of the free-marketplace of ideas. Speaking for myself only, this blog is my own little electronic pamphlet, of which I have sole editorial control. The new and fresh aspect that I enjoy most is the real-time criticism and analysis by whomever reads my stuff, by either ignoring it or engaging via comments. Dreck makes this point:
There is no institution to create or enforce rules or judge hypocrisy, and if there were a 'Bloggers Guild' millions of blogs would exist outside it, wax and wane in popularity and still occasionally create an enormous public outcry about certain public figures. Popularity and credibility will continue to be determined by individual market-type forces unless Mr. Cohen contemplates complete State or corporate control of our medium.
Well, there is that. I would love to think that the infallible, benevolent State would show a modicum of restraint, but really, that’s simply wishful thinking. One would do well to be mindful of the court ruling, not so long ago, that the FEC ought to regulate certain political content of blogs. Would the “cold dead hands” statement made by Charlton Hesston be inappropriate in this context? Perhaps something like “well worn finger tips” would be more accurate. Regardless, the First Amendment sufficiently covers every aspect of what I’m doing here, so Big-Bro can butt the hell out!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

communication breakdown

If you’ve read more than a couple of my entries, it’s clear that my core principles appear to be contradictory, or at least paradoxical. Namely, I’m a proponent of maximum individual liberty, but I’m not an anarchist; I find the Bible, Jesus, God’s sovereignty et al to be the Truth, but I don’t consider myself a “Christian”, in that I don’t attend any church (only because of it’s current connotation and many that assume that moniker; the same goes for “liberal”).

Scott Scheule, (who incidentally has excellent taste in templates) an illustrious and insightful contributor to Catallarchy, recently said: Why maximize freedom? Because I have no idea how you should live your life. Point of fact, I barely have a clue of how to live my life. Scott goes on to point out the difficulty of communicating certain issues in English, because of the heavy dependence upon context.

I'd probably opt for a definition of freedom as being free to use property derived from some sort of Lockean version of natural law without using that property to injure others or their ability to use that property in a similar sense (and that definition is of course circular--live with it). That of course makes the definition less clean--but I don't see any other option.

Nothing is indeterminate. Rather, some questions are just really fucking hard.

The same can also be said for my particular flavor of faith. I feel the need to qualify it because of my minority status…in spite of being a Caucasian American male. Given the actual diversity of thought processes, ideologies and biases (despite an ever increasing desire for conformity), tolerance, reason and open-minded discussion are essential for civilization and progress. Without question, I criticize popular religion and politics generally and modern Christianity and partisanship specifically. My primary motivation for this is to reveal the laziness with which too many of us would rather coast down-hill than think critically about life altering issues. More to the point, the two-headed beast, that is religion and politics, is a voracious consumer of the freedoms of unsuspecting people. Are you in its destructive path? Do you even care?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Our cultural evolution

Those of us in the US that are aware of our environment and at least moderately interested in politics and history can’t help but notice the influence of religion in general and Christianity in particular. It’s well understood that Christians were the majority of those that immigrated from Europe to establish the first settlements on the continent…well, after the natives of course. Regardless, the territory was under the control of European monarchs until the Colonists engaged in an armed revolt, after having declared independence. No matter the beliefs of the citizens of that fledgling nation, there was to be no state recognition of any particular sect, nor undo prohibition of the free exercise of any religion. But despite clear, documented history, many insist that America was intended to be a Christian country, by “manifest destiny”.

In the course of two centuries, the influence of religion has ebbed and flowed. From a token mention of “the creator” in the Declaration of Independence to perhaps its lowest point of influence in the 19th Century, when “higher criticism” gained popularity. Higher criticism was an effort to independently verify the claims made in the Bible, but some insist that its real goal was to discredit the Bible and indeed Christianity. By the beginning of the 20th Century, many Christian sects were formed around the idea of “experiential faith”, which was and still is the belief in a “tangible experience” with God. These so called Pentecostal sects stressed “feeling” God’s presence; I would argue that emotionalism is responsible for much of the “experience”. Some suggest that the shift was in response to secular skepticism of Biblical texts. In any event, the political landscape became increasingly secular and personal faith became increasingly private, with few exceptions.

By the 1970s, the “charismatic movement” exploded and began to put Christianity back on the political map. Arguably, the “moral majority” played a large role in the election of Reagan and to a lesser extent, Bush 41. While Clinton was hardly orthodox, he wore his Baptist credentials on his lapel. Then, like a gift to the “religious right”, he displayed poor self control (which is not criminal) and perjured himself (which is criminal) in a failed attempt to answer for other “alleged” trysts. Now it seems that religious morality is back in the seat of power and in the news. Syndicated columnist George Will wrote a good piece that examines the current climate.
The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans. In last week's prime-time news conference, he said: "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship."
Was that statement really necessary? In fact, one could construe that comment in such a way as to assume that, even though America is a Christian nation, we’ll tolerate secular folks. I’m not sure that Bush feels that way, but I’m inclined to say not. There are many however, that think precisely that.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Americans who answer "none" when asked to identify their religion numbered 29.4 million in 2001, more than double the 14.3 million in 1990. If unbelievers had their own state -- the state of None -- its population would be more than twice that of New England's six states, and None would be the nation's second-largest state:
California, 34.5 million.
None, 29.4 million.
Texas, 21.3 million.
It’s not as though believers are outnumbered by non-believers. George Will goes on to mention all of the success that Christian literature, music, movies et al. have enjoyed recently. Of the many things they may be, victims they are not. The last bit of Will’s article is especially noteworthy:
Religion is today banished from the public square? John Kennedy finished his first report to the nation on the Soviet missiles in Cuba with these words: "Thank you and good night." It would be a rash president who today did not conclude a major address by saying, as President Ronald Reagan began the custom of doing, something very like "God bless America."
Unbelievers should not cavil about this acknowledgment of majority sensibilities. But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."

Acknowledgement: Apesnake

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Weird Science

Caution: this entry deals with inflammatory material…consider yourself warned.

My interests run the gambit, as noted in this blog’s subtitle. This particular post will be a muddy mixture of each category. It may be offensive, absurd, funny or some odd arrangement of the three, depending upon your worldview. Regardless, there’s no need to shoot the messenger.

In Georgia’s public schools, as in a few other states, the Evolution v. Creationism debate is again being argued in court.

First, Georgia's education chief tried to take the word "evolution" out of the state's science curriculum. A suburban Atlanta county now is in federal court over textbook stickers that call evolution "a theory, not a fact."

Yes, we’re slow here in the south. I’m not criticizing what people believe about our origins, just the way in which they are inserting their view into the public sphere. Contrary to popular thought, Darwinian Evolution is not a “religion”, so it can in fact be taught as science. Conversely, Creationism can’t be divorced from the Judea-Christian construct. Such is therefore precluded by the First Amendment.

I’m not making an assessment of the merits of each philosophy, because I personally don’t have enough information. But from the perspective of rank-and-file Creationists, this is really about the existence of God. The same, in reverse, can probably be said of Evolutionists…generally speaking. Aside from the perceived subjectivity of mystical concepts in general, Creationists in particular lack the hard scientific data that one ought to expect to find in a grade school text book. As it happens, I’ve recently demonstrated the difficulty of defending theism.

Another aspect that baffles me about this issue is that Creationists seem to be oblivious to the public relations nightmare they’re “creating”. If the intent of Evangelicals is to evangelize, this isn’t exactly the path to popular acceptance. There is of course the urge to stand on principle, which is laudable. It’s just that, in the 21st Century, insisting that the Earth is flat (so to speak) is not likely to win friends and influence sinners.

In the final analysis, Creationists are obliged to train their children at home or in their church; the scope of their authority does not extend to the neighbor's children. Suppressing information that is “morally offensive” may be a time honored tradition (burning books, breaking albums, suing Larry Flint, etc) but it only serves to tarnish the very beliefs they espouse. In fact, such backward thinking all but asks for ridicule, such as this hilarious and irreverent comic strip. My suggestion to sincere, well intentioned Creationists is that they ought to be content with their beliefs and engage Evolutionists with civil discourse, and not use the force of Government to prevent secular folks from exploring all areas of science.

Update: To further “stir the puddin’”…here are two of the leading proponents of “Intelligent Design”.

1. Intelligent Design the Future
2. Uncommon Descent

From Uncommon Descent:
George Gale of the University of Missouri-Kansas City asserts that intelligent design has no long-term future: “[ID theorists] are very good at raising questions in areas of ignorance: ‘You can’t explain this, therefore its intelligent design.’ You can’t just put God into our gaps in knowledge.” What I find remarkable about this standing refrain by evolutionists is the presumption that their theory deserves the benefit of the doubt. The implicit image we are expected to buy is of a vast countryside entirely mapped out by Darwinian Theory and only a few pockets of resistance yet to be explored. But the opposite is true. If, for instance, the vast countryside is complex molecular machines (which are required for life to exist at all), then this countryside is completely unexplained by Darwinian and materialistic evolutionary theories …
Here’s the rub…both sides condemn the other for arguing with irrational presuppositions. I think they’re both correct in that criticism. However, the ID folks are guiltier of presumption, in terms of available evidence (or the lack thereof). The complexity of nature is not sufficient to prove theistic design. It’s quite a leap to go from general design to a specific designer; more data is required for proof. The sad thing is that otherwise bright people are substituting ideology for logic and doctrine for reason.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

1984: the new Ancient History

After reading this, this and this, I felt the full weight of the responsibility of rearing children in a climate such as this. This bit from the latter link is especially revealing:
A few days ago, while stationed in a corner at one of our local Starbucks -- as I am most afternoons -- I heard a couple of high school kids talking. Said one: "I have to wonder if this book is even relevant anymore. After all, 1984 was more than 20 years ago!"

These kids were talking about George Orwell's 1984. Honestly, I wanted to shake the little bastard and yell into his face. But I restrained myself. Just another victim, I thought, of the Ministry of Truth (i.e., government schools) and its program to rewire today's children, "our most important resource" (as Hillary might say).
The counter cultural shift of the 1960s is at least partly to blame for the current state-of-affairs. Among those that bought into the socialist tripe, perceived equality was the goal, despite measurable differences in ability and motivation. When objective facts are ignored in the interest of promoting self esteem, we end up with school systems marred by minimal academic standards and teachers (often the lower achieving college graduates) that emphasize effort over accuracy. Social relations are gradually replacing critical thinking skills; Ritalin is gradually replacing discipline.

By any reasonable accounting, American public schools are performing well below the potential of the children that they are funded (by excessive taxation) to serve. Even so, is this really the root cause of our relative national ignorance? The vast majority of the kids in question have at least one resident parent. Speaking as one, I recognize that the job of educating my children is ultimately mine to do. Sure, I allow the local school to deliver the basics. More importantly though, is the knowledge of how to think, which is a primary parental obligation. In addition to critical thought, self discipline/motivation and mutual respect are essential. Also, the encouragements to excel and to explore their curiosity are prescriptions for success that simply are not what public education is known to provide. Arguably, private schools are more attentive to their pupils’ futures, but they too are not parental substitutes.

The three Rs, the sciences and history are indeed must-haves. If I may be so bold…young minds must also be developed, so as to be receptive environments capable of dealing with information. Education is wasted without a cultivated intellect with which to process, evaluate and sift fact from fiction, truth from propaganda. Despite my own mediocre public education as a kid, as an adult and a parent I’m responsible for my own thought processes and for the development of my minor children. And if I’ve done my job, they will repeat the cycle and make contributions rather than become burdens.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Multitasking, the brain and societal evolution

As I’ve mentioned before, constant info-injections are the fixes that keep me sane and otherwise interested in this thing called life. Lately, the web in general and blogs in particular have predominated. Before I discovered the ‘sphere’, (and after) books and various “info-tainment” radio programs have done the trick, as I find that which television has to offer a bit lacking…to put it generously. Such radio shows run the gambit from political libertarian/right to NPR/left (no FM pop because I buy CDs of the music I like…oh, and there’s the GSU punk show and a classic Jazz show once a week).

On most Sunday evenings, I tune into NPR’s The Infinite Mind, a show hosted by and featuring prominent scientists, who discuss the nuances of the human mind. Since I have one that works some of the time, such a show peaks my interest. The topic of this week’s show was: Multitasking. Since I work from home creating and revising technical drawings for a prominent Atlanta designer of classical architecture, William T. Baker, I multitask as a matter of course. So when the host read:
“To do two things at once - is to do neither,” Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus wrote in 100 A.D., and modern science may just be proving him right. Between the cell phone and the PDA, wi-fi and lattes – in short, between getting wired and going wireless – we are supposedly doing more in less time than ever. In fact, some believe the more we have to juggle – the more we multitask – the better. But is that really true? A growing body of research suggests that our pursuit of increased productivity through multitasking actually results in diminishing capacity.
And when Professor David Meyer from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a research psychologist, suggested that:
multitasking, far from increasing our productivity, actually makes us less productive (see the experiment). Dr. Meyer also explains why driving and talking on the cell phone is a particularly bad multitasking combination. It’s as deadly as drinking and getting behind the wheel.
Then, at the close of the show, Author, Howard Bloom pitched his intriguing new book.
Says Elizabeth Loftus, past president of the American Psychological Society: "Howard Bloom's Global Brain is filled with scientific firsts. It is the first book to make a strong, solidly backed, and theoretically original case that we do not live the lonely lives of selfish beings driven by selfish genes, but are parts of a larger whole. It is the first to propose that sociality was implicit in the start of the universe--the Big Bang. Global Brain is the first book to present strong evidence that evolutionary, biological, perceptual, and emotional mechanisms have made us parts of a social learning machine--a mass mind which includes all species of life, not just humankind. It is the first to take this idea out of the realm of mysticism and into the sphere of hard-nosed, data-derived reality. And it is one of the few books which carry off such grand visions with energy, excitement, and keen insight."
I’m certainly no scientist (by formal training), but I am the curious sort and this stuff makes me think. Especially since I consider myself to be individualistic, the following gives me pause:
Global Brain presents evidence that the shared intelligence of humankind is part of a larger planetary mind, one that combines the learning of microbes, waterfowl, predatory cats, idealists, militants, religionists, and scientists. The book predicts that the great world war of the 21st century will take place between the collective intelligence of humanity and that of a world wide web 96 trillion generations old and billions of years wise-the global Internet between microbial societies.
At the very least, it’s something to ponder. This sort of content (not my standard fare) is discussed quite a bit by my blog buddies: The Enlightened Caveman and Apesnake. Do yourself a favor and visit those sites to further your education…or at least to be entertained.