Tuesday, February 28, 2006

True Confessions

Lately I've spent a lot of my online persona arguing two main things: On LRC I've been questioning the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy in biology, while on Mises.org I've been defending the free trade / globalization orthodoxy in economics.

To be honest, I have indeed experienced some cognitive dissonance. Don't get me wrong, I still think the ID critics are on to something while the trade critics are misguided; I wouldn't keep writing these respective articles if I thought otherwise. But I can certainly appreciate the structural/rhetorical (for lack of a better term) similarity between some of my own defenses of free trade and the mainstream biologists' defense of evolution.

The one thing in particular that worries me is this: It is possible that the hysterical warnings of people like Paul Craig Roberts (who says the US will be a Third World economy by 2024) are right, but that the cause of this catastrophe is something other than "free trade." In that case, my own critiques of PCR et al. would still be valid, but they would be largely a waste of time. It would be akin to people warning on Sept. 1 2001 that Al Queda was going to attack airplanes with armed men, and the CIA or somebody confidently assuring everyone, "Don't worry, we are quite certain that no Al Queda can get on our airplanes with loaded guns."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Friends of Firefly

Well I wasn't as hooked as quickly as with the show 24, but nonetheless I am now a big fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly. How to describe the show? Well, imagine that the rebels had been crushed by the Empire, but that Han Solo lived and returned to smuggling.

Incidentally, if you do decide to give it a try, don't you dare rent the movie first. You need to watch the television episodes in order (there are four total discs--the evil capitalists cancelled the show in the first season) and then watch the movie, Serenity.

Pick and Choose Naturalism

"Naturalism," as far as I understand it, simply means taking one idea and making a fetish of it. (In this case, the idea of "nature.") As R.G. Collingwood put it, you can tell materialism is a religion because if you just substitute "God" for "nature" in a talk by a materialist, you'd have a perfectly good Christian sermon.

But I've never even found a consistent naturalist. A friend of mine at LSE told me, "I try to practice a naturalistic attitude towards sex." What he meant was that he wanted to sleep with lots of women. What he didn't want was the natural consequence of that activity, getting lots of women pregnant. That sort of naturalism he worked studiously to avoid, but whatever artificial means were efficacious.

Similarly, I've been reading The Beauty of the Beastly, a very entertaining book by Natalie Angier. She pitches a similarly "naturalistic" attitude towards sex. But she certainly doesn't take the same angle on dealing with other species. "Naturalistically" speaking, we should just wipe out any species that annoys us, the same way that lions wantonly kill cheetah cubs. That sort of naturalism must be firmly supressed.

I Knew My Past Would Catch Up with Me!

Callahan has been banned from Yahoo! mail!

(Another hat tip to Rob Dodson.)

In related news, my friend Walter Bloch told me that he often hunted for the shortest string that uniquely found a person in his phone file. The string for me was 'allah.'

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Looks Like Bad Weather

Does anyone know who are these "Wintry Micks" they keep talking about on The Weather Channel? And why do people feel so free to slur Bob and my people, anyway?

Friday, February 24, 2006


OK, somebody please tell me that it was a parody commercial I saw advertising a drug to treat "Restless Leg Syndrome."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I'm from the Government...

and I'm here to help. Radley Balko continues his great work on abusive police practices.

Also, see David Henderson on why going to war with Japan in WWII was a stupid decision. One thing to note: Henderson teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School.

UAE Port Deal

"Bush and his aides have argued that the United Arab Emirates is an anti-terrorist ally and that the company would have no security role. But even Bush allies, like South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, have called the deal "politically tone deaf."

"With Republican and Democratic lawmakers drafting legislation to block the port deal, Bush vowed on Tuesday to use his veto for the first time should any such law reach his desk, drawing the lines for a high-stakes political battle."

You know, you just want to pass a campaign-finance-reform law that Bush had declared unconstitutional, and that's no cause for him to use his veto. But if you try to nix a deal with his family's oil buddies, now them's fightin' words!

(And note: I'm not saying the deal should be scrapped -- I'd have to study the issue a lot more before I had a definite opinion. I just think it is interesting what sort of issue finally calls for the use of Bush's veto power.)

More Heresy

I've been reading about this guy Duesberg in Tom Bethell's Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. Back when I was debating a certain Anonymous (on this very blog) regarding evolution, perhaps his single best rhetorical jab was saying, "With all due respect, [your position] is like saying, 'I don't believe in the germ theory of disease; I need to study it more.'"

Well, I don't know if I subscribe to the germ theory of AIDS. I would need to study it more before having an opinion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Don McLean's "Vincent"

Most people just know his "American Pie" song (no, not the soundtrack to the sophomoric movie, but rather the really really long one about driving a Chevy to the levy), but I think "Vincent" is far cooler. (It is a tribute to Van Gogh.) Check out these lyrics:

Now I understand
what you tried to say to me,
and how you suffered for your sanity
and how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.
For they could not love you
but still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
on that starry starry night,
you took your life as lovers often do.
But I could've told you, Vincent,
this world was never meant
for one as beautiful as you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Debate on Capital Punishment

My most prolific student, Gennady Stolyarov II (who incidentally just had an article on Mises.org), wrote a piece advocating the death penalty for those anti-cartoon Muslims. I then wrote this response, to which GS wrote this. My quick response:

(1) GS has still just asserted that someone forfeits his right to life when he murders another. I still maintain that I don't find this assertion compelling. GS adds a little bit I suppose with the non-contradiction stuff, but I can walk around thinking, "I don't have any mass." Nonetheless I do. By the same token, even if by his actions a murderer shows that he doesn't believe people have the right to life, nonetheless they do.

(2) GS hasn't taken up my cases of torture or a blind man blinding a sighted man. Does he think "two teeth for a tooth" applies there too? E.g. if someone tortures another, do we have not only the right but the moral duty to torture him back?

(3) GS oddly says that the aggrieved party, Y, can take any goods that "as judged by Y" are of "equivalent" value to the television set. Isn't this a bit dangerous? What if Y thinks the SUV in the driveway is equivalent?

(4) GS incredibly argues that I don't have the right to prescribe mercy for my murderers, because someone who kills me isn't just harming me, but GS himself (since *blush* I'm his favorite economics teacher). It seems that this ignores the basic libertarian point that people don't have property rights in conditions, but in things. For example, even though in a sense I harm my competitor if I open a business next door, I haven't trampled his rights. In the same way, if someone kills me, under libertarian theory my rights have been violated, but not those of my friends (who are now deprived of my razor sharp wit and stunning good looks).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Being Bob's Wife

This morning, I signed onto the Internet to see what songs are being done in the early and later services at church. Almost the instant I signed on (on Bob's computer), a Yahoo IM window popped up. Here is the conversation:

noanthraxvaccine: Dr. Murphy!
bob: who is this?
noanthraxvaccine: I agree with your commentary on free trade
noanthraxvaccine: my name is Mark
noanthraxvaccine: but I think a couple lines you used when repudiating Paul Craig Roberts were misplaced
noanthraxvaccine: when is employment worse than unemployment?
noanthraxvaccine: when it is misemployment, where not are only are they non-producers, but they are siphoning resources away from productive outlets, i.e., government and government subsidized employees
noanthraxvaccine: so your statement about school teachers and health industry jobs was misplaced, I think
bob: mark, this is Rachael Murphy, Bob's wife. why don't you just send him an email?
noanthraxvaccine: okay, sorry
noanthraxvaccine: i love Bob
noanthraxvaccine: i read his commentary a lot
bob: me too
noanthraxvaccine: im a fellow disciple of the Austrian school of economics
bob: ah

It was just so funny how this guy seemed so excited Bob signed onto IM, and then we wound up talking about how we both love Bob. Ah, me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Homeland Insecurity

Today's papers are reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is being castigated by Senators for the "late, uncertain, and ineffective" government response to Hurricane Katrina. It is quite possible that Chertoff could have been more on the ball, but I suggest that a larger factor was the fact that Homeland Security is an enormous, cumbersome bureaucracy.

Consider that, in the case of Katrina, Homeland Security was dealing with an "enemy" that announced the general time and location of its "attack" days in advance, and that the form the assault would take was known and well understood. Katrina made no attempt to deceive or misdirect officials, nor did it study the likely defences in an effort to work around them.

Human enemies are unlikely to be so considerate. If Homeland Security could not do an adequate job coping with a threat like Katrina, what are the odds it will do better when faced with an intelligent, scheming foe?

More Dark Matters

Friend and reader Rob Dodson sends in a link to an interesting story on some astronomers proposing a new model of gravity, prompted by the anamoly of that orbital speed of many stars is much greater than the currently accepted theory predicts, the same puzzle I described several posts back.

I suggest that this story nicely illustrates the point I was making: it often is not obvious whether to regard some observation(s) out of line with a particular theory as refuting it, or as simply indicating the presence of some as yet undetected factor influencing the situation(s) that will be seen to fit the theory once it is recognized. There is no automatic procedure for correctly deciding between devoting one's (limited) time and energy to searching for a way to explain the anamoly within the current theory and the alternative of attempting to supplant it. When faced with such a situation, a scientist is always forced to rely on her intuition as to which course is more promising. In doing so, I think it is quite sensible to take into account the extent to which the existing model is supported by other evidence -- in other words, positive results should lend a theory added weight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

US Populace Jealous of Power?

I can't remember the exact train of thought--maybe Rachael Anne can supplement the record--but we were talking about various countries and I said something to the effect that it's surprising how limited our government is in the US when our citizens (relative to every other populace in the world, I dare say) are very naive about their own rulers. I.e. (and I think I got this notion from a Rothbard story about him hanging out with Polish dissidents) I think Americans trust their government far more than, say, a French or Swedish person trusts his. And yet, paradoxically, those governments have far more power.

Rachael suggested that this might be due to the simple fact that the US government is relatively young. Now it depends how you want to measure it, of course: E.g. the French Revolution happened after the American. But certainly France is older than the United States of America. So even though the French (we assume, and maybe this is wrong) are more cynical about their politicians, nonetheless they've had government around for so much longer (in their cultural history) that c'est la vie when it comes to various programs and powers.

Faith, Science, Etc.

This is a pretty neat site I found on Slate. I was particularly amused by the scientists who want to be spiritual (cool) but not monotheists (uncool).

Also, this is a piece from David Wolpert, the mathematical physicist (I think?) at NASA who co-authored the "No Free Lunch" theorems. These theorems basically say that averaged over all possible search spaces, no algorithm does any better than another. William Dembski has cited these theorems to argue that we have no reason to suppose the evolutionary mechanism should be more successful than blind search, unless some intelligence explicitly designed the background environment for this purpose. Anyway, Wolpert in the above piece responds to Dembski's claims; neo-Darwinist fans will like it. But Wolpert's take on the defenders of orthodoxy is also amusing:

[B]iologists in particular and scientists in general are horribly confused defenders of their field. When responding to attacks from non-scientists, rather than attempt the rigor that the geometry of induction and similar bodies of statistics provide, they fall back on Popperian incantations, trying to browbeat their opponents into acceding to the homily that if one follows certain magic rituals---the vaunted "scientific method"---then one is rewarded with The Truth. No mathematically precise derivation of these rituals from first principles is provided. The "scientific method" is treated as a first-category topic, opening it up to all kinds of attack. In particular, in defending neo-Darwinism, no admission is allowed that different scientific disciplines simply cannot reach the same level of certainty in their conclusions due to intrinsic differences in the accessibility of the domains they study.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Okay I Finally Get It

For some time now I have thought Shakespeare was overrated. It's not that I thought he was terrible, just overrated. But I at least had the humility to defer to people like Joseph Sobran whom I greatly respect; as with poetry, I conceded that I "just don't get it."

But now that we've watched Merchant of Venice with an absolutely fantastic performance by Al Pacino as Shylock, I get it. Shakespeare is the man.

(Incidentally, for an-cap theorists who haven't dabbled in the finer things, there are some extremely interesting legal/economic issues in this play.)

Processed Basketball

"It's been a process," [Seton Hall coach] Orr said. "You never get from one stage to the next without it being a process. Our confidence has grown with every victory. Our poise has grown with late-game successes, being able to execute, making plays toward the end of games. ... It's been a process.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Patrick Hughes...

goes to a Renaissance Faire. (A puzzle: a couple of photos from the bottom, to the right side, is what looks like a hill. In Florida? Did they build it for the fair?)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Government Logic

Bob's article on long gas lines (see below) inspired the following thought: When the US wanted to punish Iraq, they applied sanctions, i.e., forbid Iraq many imports. But many of the same people who implemented that policy, when they want to strengthen the US economy, forbid various imports (i.e., impose tariffs and import quotas).

New at Mises.org

Economics as an a priori science.

Dark Matters

Last week I was reading a book on recent advances in astronomy. It seems that astronomers detected that stars in the outer arms of spiral galaxies are moving "too fast" -- in fact, way too fast -- and should just proceed on their own into space instead of orbiting the galaxy, when their velocity is compared with the amount of matter currently known to be in such galaxies.

Here is a classic case of Popperian falsification. The current theory of gravity is falsified, and "bold conjectures" should be forwarded for its replacement. So is that what scientists did? Not at all! Instead, they saved the current theory with an unfalsifiable, ad hoc assumption: galaxies are full of dark matter, which, by its very definition, escapes detection! (That doesn't mean that one day we might not detect it, but it does mean that failures to detect it will never "refute" the theory -- it can always be maintained by assuming the stuff is just really, really hard to detect.)

And what's more, the above is good science, and following the Popperian formula would be bad science. The current theory of gravity is so well confirmed that it would be silly to abandon it without taking a good, long time trying to save it. Now, if in 30 or 40 years, no one has found the dark matter, then it might be time to consider looking at gravity.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Catching Up With Mises.org

Here's a piece about some wacky NRO article (it's not just foreign policy or even the Fed anymore--it's openly Keynesian!!), and one about gas lines that must have been amusing since so many people complimented it. Also Rockwell's piece today about the math and science "shortage" is great.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Adding Insult to Injury

Just about every time one of us leaves the house, our 14-month-old cries. Naturally, the remaining parent (or babysitter) assures him, "Oh it's okay! Mommy will come back!"

It occurred to me the other day that this is rather insulting to our son's powers of induction. Maybe he knows Mommy or Daddy is coming back, but he's still mad about the absence in the meantime. Imagine if I started whipping you and said, "Stop whining! I'll eventually stop!"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sundry Curiosities

1) I saw (yet another) sign in the Northeastern US about "Here was Washington's Camp -- August Something, 1780." Wasn't he supposed to be leading the revolutionary forces? What was he doing going around camping all the time?

2) In Brooklyn last night, the restaurant I ate at had a sign at the door reading, "Drinking During Pregnancy May Cause Birth Defects -- By Order of NYC Local Law 603." Does this mean that before that law was passed, drinking during pregnancy was innocuous?

3) A while back I wrote about the unusual "combo businesses" one finds in New York City. I'm typing this in an Internet Cafe / Beauty Salon.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Suicide Bombers

As one who thinks pacifism "works," I've tried to think how I would argue with an Iraqi who is convinced that blowing himself up (and perhaps taking out some coalition troops or police recruits) is the best thing he can do to get the US out of his country. (Obviously just saying that he might kill innocent people won't persuade such a person; he'd sneer and point out that his enemies do it all the time.)

I still don't know enough about the situation to give a plausible recommendation for alternative, peaceful strategies--in contrast, I am quite confident that the official US objectives, such as reducing terrorist attacks against Americans, would have been better achieved by not engaging in massive violence against Iraqis--but one obvious consideration is this: If you blow yourself up in a suicide attack, you no longer contribute to your cause. But if you stay alive, you can contribute to your cause for the rest of your natural life (unless you get killed by your enemies, of course), and even perhaps bring up several children who will be predisposed to your worldview.

Yes, staging a sit-in or talking to an Amnesty International reporter won't do much, but you get tens of thousands of chances to do such "inconsequential" things if you stay alive. If you blow yourself up, thinking that's the best use of your life, you don't get to reevaluate that decision later on.

Friday, February 03, 2006


The elaborate internal structure of cells was overlooked for thirty years because the fixing agent scientists were using for electron microscopy, osmium tetroxide, destroyed that very structure!

(See here.)

Consciousness and Evolution

As Margulis and Sagan (1995) observe (echoing similar, earlier thoughts by Erwin Schrödinger), " If we grant our ancestors even a tiny fraction of the free will, consciousness, and culture we humans experience, the increase in [life's] complexity on Earth over the last several thousand million years becomes easier to explain: life is the product not only of blind physical forces but also of selection in the sense that organisms choose. . ." (Scott, 1996).

From here.

This Can't Be Happening

We don't have a TV (well, we have a TV but only use it for DVDs--we seriously don't get any TV reception) and no newspaper; all of my news is filtered by Big Brother Rockwell. Somebody please tell me that the US isn't going to war with Iran because our intel says they have nuclear weapons. Right? That couldn't possibly happen. Surely the American people would never allow it. (Right? *wince*)

Old-fashioned excuse: "The dog ate my homework."

Modern excuse: "Dual-factor authentication ate my ability to do my homework."