Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I wrote a provocative essay for The Liberty Papers a while back that is entitled: Why progressives really aren’t. It begins with an acerbic, though not inaccurate, description of modern liberal philosophy.
The so-called progressives of whom I speak are actually collectivists, in that they abhor individualism and individual rights, insofar as such are symbolic of self-reliance. Generally, they think in terms of all-for-one and one-for-all. What’s more, they’re not satisfied with a mutual and voluntary communal arraignment. No, self-styled progressives seek to use the police power of the state to coerce others—those who cherish personal responsibility and freedom from tyranny—to fund their utopian welfare state.

Likewise, Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog riffs on progressive hypocrisy.
For while they talk the libertarian talk pretty well when they want to (abortion with its "I should control decisions over my own body" defense being the most obvious example), progressives also have a very strong streak of "we are smarter than you are and sometimes will tell you what to do because it is for your own good". As a result, for example, progressives support abortion because a woman should make decisions for her body without government intrusion, but oppose the legality of breast implants and vioxx because a woman should, uh, not be able to make decisions for her body without government intrusion.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Study Reveals the Obvious

The findings of an Emory University political bias study are interesting, but sadly not surprising.
Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

Was such a study really necessary? Presumably, the participants were self-identified “staunch party members”; or at least the rough equivalent thereof, which is quite telling. But anyway…about those findings:
"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," Westen [director of clinical psychology] said. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning.

The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.

The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.
Mental laziness may very well be intrinsic to the human brain; but it can, and should, be mitigated. Can challenging one’s pet beliefs be uncomfortable? Yes. Is introspection a chore? Yes, initially, but consider the reward versus the alternative: the brain is reduced to minimal operating status, the rational faculty atrophies, healthy skepticism is diminished and more.

Then there’s the inimitable Apesnake, who makes some astute observations:
I wonder if this study could be done with people who have received some actual instruction about reasoning, like what an appeal to emotion is and compare them to those who had not. Is there maybe a glimmer of activity in the reasoning sites? There are some people who are able to see (and are disgusted by) bad reasoning and false facts being used by people who's positions we agree with. It would be interesting to see what is going on when we are exposed to that situation. Well, you would need to find a large group of people who had been instructed in reason so the study will never be done.

Friday, January 27, 2006


The use of marijuana may be harmful.
In addition to interfering with normal brain development, heavy marijuana use in adolescents may also lead to an earlier onset of schizophrenia in individuals who are genetically predisposed.

The use of marijuana may be helpful.
[Daniele Piomelli, an associate professor of pharmacology at UCI] said: "Patients with schizophrenia and other diseases have reported that marijuana appears to relieve some of their symptoms, but scientists have never found a physiological reason why.

Here’s a novel concept: let’s allow individuals to live their own lives, make their own decisions and take responsibility for the consequences that inevitably follow.

Hey Drug Czar, are you having much success with your grossly immoral War? I thought not.

Update: Randall McElroy, of Catallarchy, discusses Preemptive Government and concludes with an interesting rhetorical question:
Defense against a specific wrong—great. Defense against vague possible future wrongs—morally muddy. And isn’t government an institution that necessarily defends against vague possible future wrongs?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Can’t buy me…Taste

A classic example of poor taste, despite abundant resources, is the sprawling pile that is Bill Gates’ house.

• Plot size: 5 acres
• Total sq. ft.: 66,000
• Estimated value: $53,392,200

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater it isn’t, though the architects were clearly influenced by Wright’s unorthodox style (scroll down for photos).

Wright’s popularity is well-known; but Richard Morris Hunt, famed designer and architect of Biltmore, Wright could never be.

h/t: Clara of LIBERTY BELLES

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Mess in the Middle East

Ilana Mercer, of Barely a Blog fame, has an interesting op-ed posted at World Net Daily. It begins as follows:
Israel doesn't lack problems. Iran's Ahmadinejad says the Holocaust never happened, but promises to remedy that by razing Israel to the ground. Or relocating her. He then accelerated Iran's nuclear-weapons program (all unrelated, he assures us).

She could have stopped right there, as far as I’m concerned. That is to say that I happen to believe that Israel, notwithstanding her itchy trigger finger, is not the cause of the historical and current turmoil in the Middle East. Seriously…when was the last time Israel—as a matter of national policy—worked toward the annihilation of their Arab neighbors? That’s right…well before the common era (BCE).

What’s more, it is rather hypocritical of garden-variety Leftists to compare neo-cons in general and Bush et al in particular to Hitler with amazing frequency, while radical Islamist groups that are actively working to achieve Hitler’s most notorious goal are praised as “freedom fighters” and the like.

That said however, I’m not a Zionist, per se. I don’t believe that ethnic (and religious) Jews are above reproach or that they have a “divine right” to any particular plot of dirt…or sand. Regardless, they do have a right to defend themselves from their enemies; and I for one hope they succeed.
The [Pat] Robertson episode demonstrates that Israel doesn't respond appropriately to its friends or to its enemies. Against the backdrop of Iranian incitement to genocide, with the hard-Left joining that seething cesspool of a Palestinian Street to rejoice in Sharon's fate; at the dawn of the Age of Hamas and insecure borders, and in the context of a world that has de-legitimized the Jewish state and defined it in much the same terms as Ahmadinejad has ("criminal Zionist entity, colonial occupier") – Israel still doesn't know Shiite from Shinola.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fun with Gay Cowboys

To the uninitiated, I can’t recommend The Enlightened Caveman too highly. Case-in-point: his review of Brokeback Mountain (aka the gay cowboy movie). Now, before you pass judgment on my alleged homophobia, see my comment on the aforementioned post; and while you’re at it, check out the caveman’s rendition of an old classic. See what I mean?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Sky Is Falling!

I would like to provide a link for the following text, but I don’t have one, as it was sent to me via e-mail without its url:
In its attempt to establish a world empire dominating every nation on the planet, the U.S. has exhausted its ability to finance the expansion and the country now faces imminent financial collapse. From all indications, it looks like 2006 will spell the end for America.

Consider these five important points:

Point #1 The U.S., Great Britain and Israel are preparing to attack Iran. As it appears the main reason for invading Iraq was to stop it from selling oil in Euros, likewise Iran has plans to dump the dollar come March 2006.

Point #2 U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow issued a warning recently that the U.S. Government is on the verge of collapse - as the statutory debt limit imposed by Congress of $8.184 trillion dollars would be reached in mid-February - the government would then be unable to continue its normal operations. Considering the current total U.S. debt stands at $8.162 trillion dollars, once the official debt ceiling ($8.184 trillion) is reached, the U.S. government's credit abroad (its borrowing power) is gone. Those countries (mainly China) who presently keep America afloat by holding U.S. Treasury Notes, will most likely no longer continue doing so.

Point #3 Bank Of America and Compass Bank managers (probably all other U.S. banks too) have been instructing their employees in the last few weeks on how to respond to customer demands in the event of a collapse of the U.S. economy - specifically telling the employees that only agents from the Department Of Homeland Security will have authority to decide what belongings customers may have from their safe deposit boxes - and that precious metals and other valuables will not be released to U.S. citizens. The bank employees have been strictly prohibited from revealing the banks' new "guidelines" to anyone. (however, employees have been talking to friends and family)

The next time you visit your bank, ask them about it - then ask yourself, why is this information being kept secret from customers and the public - what's really going on?

Point #4 FEMA has activated and is currently staffing its vast network of empty internment camps with armed military personnel - unknown to most Americans, these large federal facilities are strategically positioned across the U.S. landscape to "manage" the population in the event of a "terrorist" attack, a civilian uprising, large-scale dissent ,or an insurrection against the government. Some of these razor-wired facilities have the capacity of detaining a million people.

Point #5 The Patriot Act and the US Senate’s vote to ban habeas corpus (Nov 14th) - along with George W. Bush having signed executive orders giving him sole authority to impose martial law, suspend habeas corpus and ignore the Posse Comitatus Act, have together pretty much destroyed any notions of freedom and justice for Americans.

Summary: The U.S. economy is broken, the United States is bankrupt - the unchecked spending by this administration, the illegally waged wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the cost of unprecedented weapons and military build-up - have all contributed to an irreversible emergency which is threatening our nation’s existence and our very lives.

Hospitals are closing, major corporations are declaring bankruptcy and/or moving their companies overseas, the monopolized news media spews nothing but lies, and our fearless leaders have turned out to be only ruthless criminals hell-bent on destabilizing our country and robbing us all.

Be aware - we stand at the threshold of total ruin - the international bankers and war profiteers care little for our lives and families - these demons worship money and all things vile and evil - they have very much to gain from war, misery, disease, famine, chaos and death (our deaths).

We are right on the edge - the Treasury is already overextended - the U.S. government cannot (and will not) care for its own citizens’ needs, nor secure our borders against illegal aliens - plus, the whole "terrorist" thing is a cruel hoax perpetrated against a trusting citizenry - and only designed to instill fear and garner support for the genocide taking place in Iraq.

Should America (along with British & Israeli forces) launch a war against Iran, or another country, without yet paying for, or even recovering from the current losses in Iraq and elsewhere - the costs of such of an invasion will overwhelm an already crippled economy and push the U.S. over the edge into oblivion.

Question: Considering the U.S. Treasury Notes that China currently holds (which keeps the U.S. economy going)...

Do you think China will continue to support a country’s economy (the U.S.) whose military launches a nuclear strike against its neighbor (Iran) - thus delivering a blanket of radioactive fallout over western Chinese provinces - killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of its citizens?

I think not.

Factoring in the aforementioned points of "preparation" engineered by U.S. authorities, I’d say there’s a stinking rat in the woodpile...can you smell it too?

I’m not sure if it’s a satire or not, but I certainly hope it is, because it sounds like the ravings of a paranoid conspiracy theorist. In any event, feel free to comment on it as though it were a serious critique of “American Imperialism” and its prospects for the future.

Update: erica found the original article at Bella Ciao. So no, it was apparently not intended to be humorous, despite my initial impression.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why Atheism is Irrational

Philosophical propositions are routinely challenged, but perhaps none more than theism. By definition, theism is the proposition that God (or some supernatural being) exists, whereas atheism, quite obviously, rejects that assertion. Indeed, generally speaking, atheism would appear to be the natural result of education, while theism would presumably be attributable to relative ignorance. Atheism is just common sense…right? The so-called Atheist Manifesto certainly tries to make that case:
Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence…

It is obviously not possible to “present evidence”, i.e. empirical evidence, so that “obligation” is really no obligation at all. Furthermore, “religious dogma” is altogether separate from the concept of supernaturalism—from a phenomenological stand point. Regardless, I can, and will, demonstrate that atheism is, in fact, misguided and irrational; and conversely, that theism is inherently rational.

My intent here is not to prove the specific identity of the “supernatural entity”; my intent is to demonstrate that reason and logical inference dictate that an omnipotent, transcendent agent must have been responsible for the existence of the universe. Moreover, the entity in question must be a necessary being, as opposed to a contingent being. But before proceeding further, a definition of terms is in order:

omnipotent: possessing an infinite amount of power, ability, etc.

transcendent: that which is apart from the universe; other than matter and energy.

universe: the totality of matter and energy.

necessary being: a being that cannot cease to exist; it exists by virtue of its own power and had no beginning.

contingent being: a being that can cease to exist; it does not exists by virtue of its own power and had a beginning.

There are, primarily, three types of arguments for the existence of a supernatural entity: telological (think of “Intelligent Design”), ontological (Anselm, Descartes, et al—“arguments from a priori and necessary premises to the conclusion that God exists”) and cosmological (“It uses a general pattern of argumentation (logos) that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally referred to as God.”). In my view, the first two are rather weak and speculative, so I’ll focus on the third, which sufficiently makes the case for a “creator”.

Firstly, there’s the deductive argument from contingency, which Bertrand Russell cavalierly dismissed by claiming that the universe is "just there, and that's all". Such a statement ignores the (arguably) most primary philosophical question: what is the origin of the universe?

No serious thinker disputes the occurrence of Big Bang—the initial explosion of “the singularity” (the entire universe compressed into an “infinite density”) from which the universe leaped into existence, so to speak. That said however, there seems to be some reluctance to determine what, if anything, caused that event to occur.
Since the universe is expanding as the galaxies recede from each other, if we reverse the direction of our view and look back in time, the farther we look, the smaller the universe becomes. If we push backwards far enough, we find that the universe reaches a state of compression where the density and gravitational force are infinite. This unique singularity constitutes the beginning of the universe — of matter, energy, space, time, and all physical laws. It is not that the universe arose out of some prior state, for there was no prior state. Since time too comes to be, one cannot ask what happened before the initial event. Neither should one think that the universe expanded from some initial ‘point’ into space. Since the Big Bang initiates the very laws of physics, one cannot expect any physical explanation of this singularity; physical laws used to explain the expansion of the universe no longer hold at any time before t>0.

One natural, albeit novel, explanation for the Big Bang goes like this:
Paul Davies argues that one need not appeal to God to account for the Big Bang. Its cause, he suggests, is found within the cosmic system itself. Originally a vacuum lacking space-time dimensions, the universe “found itself in an excited vacuum state,” a “ferment of quantum activity, teeming with virtual particles and full of complex interactions” (Davies 1984, 191-2), which, subject to a cosmic repulsive force, resulted in an immense increase in energy. Subsequent explosions from this collapsing vacuum released the energy in this vacuum, reinvigorating the cosmic inflation and setting the scenario for the subsequent expansion of the universe.

An answer to Davies’ argument is as follows:
Craig argues that several problems face this scenario. For one thing, how can empty space explode without there being matter or energy? Since space is a function of matter, if no matter existed, neither could space, let alone empty space, exist. Further, if the vacuum has energy, the question arises concerning the origin of the vacuum and its energy. In short, merely pushing the question of the beginning of the universe back to some primordial quantum vacuum does not escape the problem of what brought this vacuum laden with energy into existence. A quantum vacuum is not nothing (as in Newtonian physics) but “a sea of continually forming and dissolving particles which borrow energy from the vacuum for their brief existence” (Craig 1993, 143). Hence, he concludes, the appeal to a vacuum as the initial state is misleading. Defenders of the argument affirm that only a personal explanation can provide the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe.

Other objections to The Causal Principle might arise from a quantum-mechanical perspective. An answer to that can be found here. Those objections notwithstanding, the fact remains that matter and energy (of which the universe is made) is contingent, i.e. there was a “time” when it did not exist; it is finite. But some have suggested that the universe is non-finite.
…since we cannot ”exclude the possibility of a prior phase of existence” (Silk 2001, 63); it is possible that the universe has cycled through oscillations, perhaps infinitely, so that Big Bangs occurred not once but an infinite number of times in the past and will do so in the future. The current universe is a “reboot” of previous universes that have expanded and then contracted (Musser 2004).

That sort of reasoning evades the question of origin. That is, the implication is that matter and energy has always existed; that there was never a point at which the material universe did not exist. In order for that to be true, the universe must posses necessary being. To be sure, the laws of physics dictate that “energy can be neither created nor destroyed”; but is that ultimately the case—as in at the inception of the universe?

Now, some hold to the notion of spontaneous generation (with respect to the origin of the universe). This, in essence, is the idea that the universe spontaneously came into existence all by itself (note: there is no entry for this at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). This concept is manifestly absurd, as the universe would necessarily have had to exist in order to create itself. Conversely, a Personal Explanation for the origin of the universe is far and away more plausible.
Personal explanation is given “in terms of the intentional action of a rational agent” (Swinburne, 1979, 20). We have seen that one cannot provide a natural causal explanation for the initial event, for there are no precedent events or natural existents to which the laws of physics apply. The line of scientific explanation runs out at the initial singularity, and perhaps even before we arrive at the singularity (at 10−35 seconds). If no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the explanation must be personal, i.e., in terms of the intentional action of a rational, supernatural agent. One might wonder how a supernatural agent brought about the universe, but acceptance of the argument does not depend on an explanation of the manner of causation.

In light of elementary cosmological phenomena, logical inference and reason, I am persuaded that the universe is not only finite, but indeed was created by an omnipotent necessary being that transcends it. I have not, at this time, endeavored to advance a particular theology; I have, however, shown that atheism is inconsistent with reality. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that atheism is irrational, whereas theism is inherently rational.

Update: A slight, though not insignificant, error was pointed out by my friend Apesnake:
"To be sure, the laws of physics dictate that matter can be neither created nor destroyed" Energy can not be created or destroyed. Matter (one type of energy) can be created along with anti-matter (with a seemingly slight asymmetry towards matter) from energy and is done so in particle accelerators when the energy of collision is converted into mass-containing particles. Energy can also be created if an equal amount of negative energy is created in the same system at the roughly the same time as discussed below.

The correction has now been made; and I highly recommend Apesnake’s response to those who are interested in this sort of discussion (and, of course, to everyone else).

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stupid Human Tricks

A new axiom for the digital age is: online chatting can be dangerous. I’m not talking about the obvious dangers (i.e. predators, pedophiles, etc.); no, internet communication can lead to…wait for it…marriage. Even worse, virtual marriage; as in: sight unseen.
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Rita Sri Mutiara Dewi's fiance could not get time off from his job in the United States. But that didn't stop the couple — who have never met in person — from tying the knot on Thursday.

And a Muslim cleric who witnessed the ceremony between the Indonesian lovers declared it legal, she said, even though they were on opposite ends of the earth.

What’s more: ”Dewi said Friday she plans to travel to the United States next month to meet her new husband.”

Who knows, perhaps those to two can make it work, but the odds are against him…er, I mean…them. Then again, I hear that loneliness is tough, but I wouldn’t know.

via: Fark

Friday, January 06, 2006

Road Trip

My Christmas bonus this year was an overnight in Ashville, NC; the main attraction is, of course, the magnificent Biltmore estate. The kids had a blast, but it’s like Mecca for me, since I’m an architecture geek and all.

If you’ve not seen the house, I can’t recommend it too highly. The best times are Christmas and Spring. Actually, it's always fantastic.

Here are some stats of the mansion, built in 1895:

70,000: Capacity, in gallons, of the indoor swimming pool fed by heated water.

1,600: Approximate number of etchings George Vanderbilt collected throughout his life.

900: Weight, in pounds, of the three slate slabs that top each game table in the Billiard Room.

375: Length, in feet, of Biltmore House’s front façade.

250: Lifting capacity, in pounds, of the electronic dumbwaiter (hoist for food trays from basement kitchen to first floor Butler’s Pantry).

102: Number of steps in the Grand Staircase.

100: Speed, in feet per minute, the Otis elevator could whisk guests upstairs (one of the oldest in the world that’s still in operation).

72: Number of light bulbs in the wrought-iron chandelier lighting the Grand Staircase.

65: Fireplaces.

43: Bathrooms.

34: Family and guest bedrooms.

6: Years it took to build Biltmore House.

3: Number of silk and wool tapestries in the Tapestry Gallery (woven in Brussels, circa 1530).

1: Rank, in size, of Biltmore House among privately owned residences in the United States.

*stats originally published in The Charlotte Observer Sunday, Nov. 26, 2000*