Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am the Champion, My Friends...

If you want to do well in LRC's rankings, just make sure "Ron Paul" is in your article's title.

Gene, does this mean my article is 1/52 as cool as your Fascist America one?

Tough Times for the Big Guy

God has been going through some Cambridge changes, man.

(Hat tip to Roderick Long.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Fish Tales

My wife said, "I'm thinking of getting beta fighting fish."

I told her she should wait for the release version.

Rousseau on Rawls

John Rawls is most famous for his "veil of ignorance," which, in short, says that a just polity is one that everyone would choose if they had no idea of whom they would be in that society. As Anthony de Jasay has pointed out, this basically says, "If you make everybody the same person, we'll agree on political matters!" But, giving more evidence of Rousseau's genius, he anticipated and answered John Rawls 200 years before Rawls wrote:

"If there were no differing interests, we should scarcely be aware of the common interest, which would never meet any obstacle; everything would run by itself, and there would no longer be any skill in politics."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day One in Iowa

Yesterday marked the start of eight days of Ron Paul Christmas. I met three fellow Ron Paul supporters in Chicago and we drove together to Iowa, through farmland and five hours later, into Des Moines. Aside from bumper stickers on out of state vehicles, the first candidate signs to be seen where the Huckabee and Paul campaign office signs, side by side. Inside the Ron Paul office, right now sprawling and very busy, at least 20+ volunteers were doing various things. After grabbing a bite to eat, I joined in and helped stuff literature (which we'll be handing out door to door in the coming days. Everyone was in good spirits and the talk around the office everywhere was surprisingly intellectual. No shortage of nerds at Ron Paul HQ, as it should be.

At 8 PM we headed over to the Marriot where Ron Paul greeted us and gave an inspiring speech. There were hundreds of students in attendance. When Ron Paul told us that this movement would outlast the election, regardless of the final outcome, he was given a fiery, standing applause. When he gives a speech you can tell he feeds off the enthusiasm and attention of the audience, and gets better and better as he goes. Afterward, Ron Paul shook hands and took a photo with every single student. He looks tired, but energetic despite it. We are being split into camps and we will be canvassing throughout Iowa in the coming days. I have some photos, but I'm not able to upload them until after the trip. I'm not sure how consistently an internet connection will be available, but I'll do my best to update what's happening on the ground in Iowa.

Six days and counting until the vote and a lot of work remains to be done.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The "Conservative" Response to Paul on Slavery

OK kids, let's walk through this. In the past, I've heard "conservatives" get furious over the suggestion that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. Rush Limbaugh once was talking to a kid who called in who was a history buff, and Rush said, "What was the Civil War over?" The kid said slavery, and Rush commended him on a job well done. After all, Rush explained, it was revisionist leftists who tried to blame everything on "economic forces" and who couldn't just accept the fact that Americans were willing to go fight and die for moral principles.

Now, in an effort to criticize Ron Paul, people (some who are conservative, though I don't really know about the Morning Joe crowd) are ripping him for allegedly blaming the war on slavery. (That's asinine, by the way, since Paul follows DiLorenzo's take on this issue closely. I.e. Paul was saying that Lincoln didn't need to fight a war to free slaves; he wasn't saying Lincoln went to war to free the slaves.)

This video of the Morning Joe show is a great example of what I mean. At one point the guest host (I think?) says something like, "I will be willing to move on, Dr. Paul, if you will admit..." and I thought he was going to say, "...slavery would not have ended without a war." But that's not what he said, he said, "...that Lincoln went to war to save the Union." Holy crap. Thank you, that's what many of us have been saying all along, that Lincoln went to war to crush the political self-determination of the South.

Finally, pay close attention starting around 6:30. The other guy chimes in to be a tough guy, and when Ron Paul says, "You don't have the courage to read DiLorenzo!" he retorts something like, "You're talking to the wrong guy!" I.e., "you thought you were messing with a non-scholar, but you just slipped up, my friend. BAM!"

However, since that moron a few seconds earlier had said that every other historian agreed with him and not DiLorenzo, I think we know what kind of avid reader he must be. (And I don't mean because I agree with DiLorenzo, I mean what kind of idiot thinks that every single other academic could disagree with one lone wolf on a major issue?)

And then the grand finale, this nincompoop says to the others, "Did you say he was a crackpot?" Ah what a thinker this man is. I bet Socrates is glad he had that drink so he doesn't have to call in and face this giant of debate.

Ron Paul and the Economics of Slavery

Wow, this was a hot button one. I got the usual email about not fighting Hitler, of course. I always love that argument, since I don't think the US should have fought World War II.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fish Tales

My daughter said to me today, "My goldfish are turning white."

I responded, "What do you expect? You moved them out of Brooklyn to Milford, PA. Of course they're turning white -- they can't dance anymore, they want mayonnaise with their fish food, and they watch ice hockey instead of hoops."

Only for readers over 18

Kids, don't try this. But for those with the legal authority to make life-altering decisions:

I have had a cold for a good two weeks now; it's really annoying. Anyway, I mentioned to my wife that I have a hard time swallowing big pills, and that I chicken out and have to hold the NyQuil gelcap in my mouth for a few seconds while I build up the courage to swallow it. She asked, "Aren't you worried it will start to dissolve in your mouth?" and I scoffed.

Well one thing led to another, and before you know it she has out her cell phone to act as a stopwatch while I hold a NyQuil in my mouth with some water. After 7 minutes I decided just to bite the thing to see how bad it was.

I kid you not, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. You know how if you take an aspirin or something with a chipped edge, you can taste it and it's a bit gross? That is like a shower compared to a fire hose, when you try my NyQuil experiment.

Incidentally, if you are now curious, I think it's important to hold it in your mouth for a few minutes. The warmth of the contents made it that much more disgusting. I actually thought for a second that there was some chemical reaction and it was eating away my tongue.

Go ahead and guffaw at this blog post; your scorn doesn't bother me, after I have lived through the horrors of tongue-to-NyQuil-gelcap-interior contact. The next time you have to take a NyQuil gelcap, go ahead and do the experiment. You won't believe how disgusting it tastes.

English Analysis of Financial Situation

This is pretty entertaining, but mostly because of how much more "outrageous" British TV is. This show would be canceled if it were American because of the frequent references to mortgages for an "unemployed black man" as the foundation of the subprime crisis.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tim Russert Shows He's a Dolt

By using two of the worst weasel terms in our political vocabulary: "Islamic fascists" and "moral equivalency."

Folks, there's no such thing as "Islamo-fascism," and "moral equivalency" is used to smear anyone who criticizes anything America does, by saying any criticism at all is the same as saying "America is just as bad as X," where X can be "the USSR," "the VietCong," "Castro," or "al Qaeda,"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ignorant American

I was reading a WSJ story today and was stunned to learn that Afghanistan has a larger population than Iraq. (It's 31.9 million compared to Iraq's 27.5 million.)

Umm, does this shock anybody else? I guess I kinda pictured Afghanistan as a few dozen goatherds and opium growers. And Taliban.

Dana Perino Slips Up in Responding to Helen Thomas

What's amazing in this exchange is that the White House spokeswoman, in mere seconds, switches from saying that the very idea that the US kills innocents is an offensive falsehood, to the fact that the US deeply regrets its killing of innocents. It's similar to when Giuliani said he had never heard of Ron Paul's theory of blowback, and then elaborated that it reminded him of the Saudi prince and Democrats who hold the same theory.

Just to be clear, I understand that these two and their supporters would clarify and evade any "gotcha" from me; Perino obviously would say, "I meant that if Thomas were claiming that the US intentionally killed innocents, it was offensive," and Giuliani would say, "I meant that I never expected to hear that from a fellow Republican, especially one seeking to be Commander in Chief." But it still disappoints me that people on YouTube can think "Giuliani schools Ron Paultard" or "Perino ownz Helen Thomas" when they so obviously botched their comebacks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

My first dramatic role, in a US Government production

This is a great documentary about American patriotism. I have a guest appearance at around 45 seconds. I know some of you will think I sold out, but the money was too good and I have a kid to feed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You Gotta Love This Stuff

In his article "Down With Primitivism: A Thorough Critique of Polanyi," Murray Rothbard first writes:

"Let us never forget that the existing primitive tribes are precisely the ones that didn't progress and remained in their primitive state. To infer from observing them that this is the way our ancestors behaved is nonsense and apt to be the reverse of the truth, for our ancestors presumably behaved in ways, which quickly advanced them beyond the primitive stage thousands of years ago. To scoff, therefore, at the idea that our ancestors among primitive tribes engaged in barter, and then in monetary exchange, etc., on the basis of the magic and games indulged in by present-day primitives, is a blunder of the highest order."

Rothbard is rejecting trying to figure out ancient hunter-gatherers by looking at how modern hunter-gatherers live. Now, that would seem to be one of the best ways to make progress here, and Rothbard's reason for rejecting seems capricious ("they are the ones that didn't advance" -- yeah, maybe because they live in the center of the Amazon rain forest, hey?), but let's grant him his point for a moment. What is Rothbard's alternative? He goes on to write:

"Secondly, the primitive's life is a life of almost constant terror. Terror of the world about him, which he does not and cannot understand, since he has not engaged in any sort of scientific, rational inquiry into its workings. We know what a thunderstorm is, and therefore do not fear it, and can take rational measures against lightning; the savage does not know, and therefore surmises that The God of the Thunder is displeased with him..."

You see, rather than doing the best you can by studying modern, primitive tribes, the right way to understand our roots is to just make up whatever shit you want off the top of your head, based on nothing at all!

Man, am I glad Rothbard cleared up that methodological confusion!

Notes on Rousseau

I've been reading Rousseau's The Social Contract. First of all, in only a few pages, it is clear that Rousseau is a brilliant political thinker. Right away, he knows to whom he's talking -- Hobbes and Locke. And he shows why the theories of the social contract presented by the two of them cannot be quite right -- very successfully, I think.

His argument against being able to voluntarily place oneself in slavery is wonderful. To be a slave means to cease being a moral agent -- if the master says, "Eat those schoolchildren," the slave is obliged to do it. But this is impossible -- the slave's moral agency cannot be alienated, no matter how much he wants to do so. I believe Rousseau is right. Libertarians should not interfere with "voluntary slavery contracts," but they should treat them as nonsense -- as if you agreed to sell me "all of the galaxies that will never be reached by humans." Two people can clown around and claim they have this agreement, but no one else should help them enforce it, or even allow them to enforce it violently.

For someone who I have often seen presented as "the anti-libertarian," Rousseau has two positions that are largely libertarian:
1) One of the major selling opints of the State for Rousseau is that it serves to secure private property. (Whether he is right that it can do so is doubtful, IMHO, but if it could that would be a good thing.)
2) He makes it clear that only unanimous consent can justify the State, and there is no justification for the, "Your ancestors were conquered, now shut up and obey," explanation of legitimacy put forward by conservatives.

More to come.

More Gregynog Photos

Click for a larger image:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My new favorite blogger: Glenn Greenwald

I became aware of him when he had written some very fair Ron Paul articles, along the lines of "the guy has extreme views, but he's not a nutjob." If you're looking for someone who is very big on backing up his claims, and who appears to be very meticulous, you've found your man. Check out this recent post on what "winning" in Iraq looks like--make sure you read the stuff at the bottom about permanent military bases. I love when people dig up quotes from years ago to confirm my suspicions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Didn't We Win That War in 2001?

Our ally, Australia, announces that we are currently losing the war in Afghanistan. Six years later. How long did it take the USSR to give up? (By the way, the USSR was trying to defeat the 'Afghani freedom fighters', which is what we called them when they were fighting someone else, with over 108,000 soldiers [at maximum strength]. We're trying to do it with 33,000.)

How to Handle, 'He didn't lie -- it was bad intelligence!'

Over at Unqualified Offerings Doug writes:

'Now, it might be possible that the US Congress were all in on Bush and Cheney’s lies before they made them, but I find it much more likely that the the current administration, like the previous one, was relying on imperfect information provided by poor intelligence work.'

I respond:

Fine, let's grant that for the sake of argument, Doug -- they still lied! Why? Cause what they should have said was, 'We're very suspicious that Iraq is continuing their weapons programmes.' In the face of many conflicting intelligence reports (e.g., Scott Ritter saying, 'Nope, no WMDs') that is the strongest thing they were entitled to say. Instead, they said, 'We know for sure Iraq has WMDs and WMD programmes'. That's called lying, Doug.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- Psychic?

Giant rat of Sumatra discovered!

(Don't know the rat?)

The Really Amazing Aspect of Paul's Campaign

"In what has amounted to an unprecedented, spontaneous emergence of supporter generated revenue and public relations, Paul’s campaign now has millions of dollars to spend in early states--and all the Congressman had to do was sit back and watch Sunday’s online counter creep upward."

Read the rest.

McCain Legend Debunked

Matt Welch does a gretat takedown of the McCain legend. My favourite: the Des Moines Register says that, although McCain was imprisoned and tortured for five years, he 'never talked'. Well, it turns out that, rather than holding out for five years, it was actually four days before McCain broke. And where do we find that obscure bit of information? Is it slander by some McCain opponent? No, it's in books written by John McCain!

Collingwood on the Immeasurability of Feeling

Collingwood notes (I'm obviously having a 'Collingwood Week') that the problem with trying to quantify feelings is not just that we can't stick a ruler or scale in our minds, but is even worse: As you move along a range of feeling the feeling changes in kind, not just in degree. You can add four times the heat to a substance and measure four times the temperature (if you are starting your scale at absolute zero). But if at the first temperature you had a nice toasty feeling, at the second you won't have a feeling four times as nice and toasty -- you will have the agonizing feeling of being roasted alive. And if you halved the original temperature, you wouldn't get a nice, toasty feeling that was only half has intense as the one you had to start, you'd get an entirely different feeling of freezing. No reducing the amount of 'warm, toasty feeling' will ever arrive at the feeling of being cold.

"Who is the Master?" Frank Caliendo

Of impressions, that is. I used to think Kevin Pollak was the best, and I still like his Captain Kirk and Christopher Walken, but Frank Caliendo (below) has got to be the best of all time. This collage is a bit too quick in the beginning, but just give it a few minutes, it gets really good. Also, this excerpt is probably at least a few years old; he's gotten better since then, especially his George Bush.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This post is for real--anti-Ron Paul bias

In contrast to my mock outrage below (regarding Yahoo!'s spam filter), here I am truly amazed. Ron Paul broke his own Republican single-day fundraising record hours ago, and yet CNN doesn't see fit to mention it on their front page. I even went to their politics page, and it's not there. Instead they feature stories on Sonny Bono's widow getting married, and oh yeah, a story about "Debate viewers to be 'dial-tested.'"

Yeah, that's more significant than someone raising $4.75 million in one day. I can see why they wouldn't even mention it on their political coverage page.

Willful Blindness

I was talking with someone the other day who said to me, 'I know al Qaeda says they attack us because we have troops over there, but that seems implausible to most Americans.'

'Why, then, do you think they attack us?'

'I think they want to return to the 8th century.'

I see. It's plausible to think that al Qaeda members believe they can reverse 13 centuries of history, but implausible to think that they believe guerilla warfare might drive off foreign troops! And it's not like al Qaeda has done this before or anything! It's not as if they spent a decade in Afghanistan fighting the USSR, or anything like that.

This is immoral, willful blindness. Now, we all have our shortcomings and blind spots. (Well, not Wabulon, but you get my point.) However, it's one thing to overlook the fact, say, that your son breaks antennas off of cars. But it's quite a bit different when this blindness has alreay gotten a million people killed.


Just back from the 2007 British Idealism Conference at Gregynog. (No, it's not said 'greg-EE-nog', it's said 'greg-u-NUG'.) How was the conference? Ideal, of course!

Some photos courtesy of Chris Rolliston (I will shrink them to fit soon!):

I have dinner with Colin Tyler, James Connelly, and Chinatsu Kobayashi. The bloody Brits wouldn't give me one of their funny hats!

My dissertation advisor, David Boucher, chats with Stamatoula Panagakou. Colin told David, 'That's the ugliest jumper I've ever seen.' David replied, 'It's not ugly, it's festive'.

A view of the grounds.

Whoa! Did I just hawk up a sidewalk oyster or what?! Steve Buckel is clearly disgusted.

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Worse...

Your country has been invaded, occupied, and even though it's still occupied... now someone else is attacking it. Pretty soon, we'll just turn Iraq into a place any country can practice military maneuvers.

Steam Engines and Scholars

I saw a show about steam engine enthusiast Fred Dibnah on the telly today. A couple of things struck me in the commentary:

1) Someone being interviewed talked about Victorian times being the era of 'well-built buildings.' Maybe that's true -- but you're sure can't determine it by just looking around you at the buildings built now and those built then. That's because your samples aren't the same. For today's buildings your sample is essentially 'all buildings,' while for Victorian buildings your sample is 'the best constructed victorian buildings.' A little Welsh miner's shack built in 1850 just ain't around anymore!

2) These folks were waxing all nostalgic about the beauty of steam presses, etc. Of course, for the sentimentalists of the 19th century, those were the dark Satanic mills! (The site linked to capitalizes 'Mills', perhaps thinking that Blake meant James and John Stuart.)

More mainstream bias against Austrian ideas!

I am working on the study guide to Human Action. Before I send in the chapters, I email them to myself just in case my computer blows up (or my son decides it's thirsty).

Last night I emailed myself the attachment with the subject line "ha sg chap xvii". And can you believe, that Yahoo! routed it to my spam folder?! When will the mainstream start taking us seriously?!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Could've Predicted Fama Would Say Something Dumb

In an effort to broaden my horizons, I've started perusing the blog Marginal Revolution. (For the record, the reason I personally don't get too high-falutin here on Crash Landing is that that's what God invented for.)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the interview with Eugene Fama to which Cowen linked. But Fama says something pretty dumb, in commenting on the alleged "irrational exuberance" of markets:

Well, economists are arrogant people. And because they can’t explain something, it becomes irrational. The way I look at it, there were two crashes in the last century. One turned out to be too small. The ’29 crash was too small; the market went down subsequently. The ’87 crash turned out to be too big; the market went up afterwards. So you have two cases: One was an underreaction; the other was an overreaction. That’s exactly what you’d expect if the market’s efficient.

Huh?! I hate when really sharp proponents of a worldview talk like this; you see Darwinians do it all the time. Contrary to Fama, if the market were efficient, then the underreaction of 1929 would have nothing to do with whether the response to the 1987 crash were too high or too low. Ex ante the response would be expected to be just right, and ex post there's no reason to think it would've been more likely to be an overreaction. (Well, strictly speaking, if it weren't symmetrically distributed about the mean of zero, even so that would have nothing to do with the underreaction in 1929.)

If Fama were right, that would mean from 1935 onwards, people who believed in an efficient market would say, "The next time the market crashes, there will be an overreaction. So let's buy halfway into the plunge and we'll make money for sure."

Does that sound like an efficient market?

NB: I am not saying that an efficient market implies no over- or underreactions. What I'm saying is that the errors aren't correlated. What Fama has done is say that equivalent of, "The roulette wheel came up black and then red, which is exactly what we would have expected from a fair casino."

Finally, it occurs to me that it's getting late, and I have been dealing with a cranky toddler. So maybe I shouldn't be so quick to lecture Fama on the EMH. Oh well, "prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong."

Bad News

Global warming is real!

Notes from across the Pond

* I passed a strip joint that was offering Christmas specials! Celebrate the birthday of Jesus with a lapdance!

* OK, British laddies: If you go out with messy hair, that's cool -- you were in a rush, you care about other things more than appearance, you forgot, etc. But if you spend a half-an-hour every day to make your hair look messy, you are a twerp.

* I don't get cricket! I walk to the lounge, and the score is 99-1. I go out again an hour later, and the other team is up 428-99.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Locke the Room?

My friend had left the research students room at EUROS in Cardiff without telling me if he was coming back. I was going out, and didn't know the custom: would he have his keys with him or not? Should I locke the room? Well, if men in the state of nature are still governed by natural reason and law, then that's OK. But what if they are in the war of all against all? Then, I would have to hobbes the room -- probably triple lock it and plant a mine by the door. But if they all feel mutual compassion, maybe I should just leave it open and 'rousseau the room'.

Life in a politics department is full of dilemmas.

Murphy Twin Spin

An article reviewing Peter Schiff's Crash Proof, and an op ed on privatizing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mighty Aphrodite

'[The Greeks] habit of representing their gods in vividly realized human form was not a piece of theology, it was a piece of poetry. When they described or portrayed Aphrodite, for example, they did not think they were describing or portraying a magnified and non-natural woman who, by the exercise of something like will, but a superhuman will, brought about the various events which together made up her realm, namely, the events connected with sexual reproduction. They did not think they were describing or portraying a person who controlled these events, they thought they were describing or portraying these events themselves, regarded generically as natural events, or events not under human control, and specifically as sexual events. The human or quasi-human figure of Aphrodite is merely the poetical way in which they represented these events to themselves.'

-- R.G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Permutations, Derivative Hierarchy


1 2
1 2 3
1 2 3 4
1 2 4 3
1 4 2 3
4 1 2 3
1 3 2
1 3 2 4
1 3 4 2
1 4 3 2
4 1 3 2
3 1 2
3 1 2 4
3 1 4 2
3 4 1 2
4 3 1 2
2 1
2 1 3
2 1 3 4
2 1 4 3
2 4 1 3
4 2 1 3
2 3 1
2 3 1 4
2 3 4 1
2 4 3 1
4 2 3 1
3 2 1
3 2 1 4
3 2 4 1
3 4 2 1
4 3 2 1

Does this have any important mathematical significance? Well, no, not really. Yes, it shows clearly why there are n! permutations of n, but you knew that already. So why bother with it? Because, think of this list, not of 1-4, but 1-infinity. Can you visualize it? It is infinite in a rather complex way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Minor Inaccuracy

'Instead of being arrested, as we stated, for kicking his wife down the stairs and hurling a lighted kerosene lamp after her, the Revd James P. Wellman died unmarried four years ago.'
(Correction in a US journal quoted by Colin Dexter.)

All aboard!

I think Gene's piece is an excellent representation of the bare reasoning underlying the pro-life position. This analogy captures the moral dilemma well, in my opinion. Bob is not so sure. He writes in the comments:

I realize this was an LRC piece, and not a submission to the Journal of American Philosophy, but I still think you made this way too blunt.

First, the extreme libertarian position probably IS to have the legal right to kick the guy off your ship. I'm virtually certain that's what Walter Block (of non-Crash Landing posting privileges) would say.

Second, let's make the analogy closer. Suppose the person coming aboard was certain to go around ripping up the sails, or was so heavy that the ship couldn't get to the original destination. Or suppose the owner of the ship had just watched that early Nicole Kidman movie and was afraid the guy coming aboard was a nutjob.

There are plenty of scenarios where even intuitively, most people would think it OK for the ship owner to kick the person back into the ocean. So then the issue is, is Gene's ideal court going to get inside the person's head and second-guess those motives?

I.e. if you agree that if the owner truly feared for his/her life--maybe the person climbing aboard just had a weird look about him, or kept muttering stuff under his breath--then that makes refusal to bring him aboard OK, then I think you're stuck. Because then everyone can just claim that that was the motivation, and it would be hard in practice to prove otherwise.

If you're just trying to prove most cases of abortion are immoral, that's one thing. (I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing.) But I don't think you've come close to proving that it would be illegal in a just world.
Firstly, I don't think Bob's invocation of the "extreme libertarian position" is relevant, unless he means by this the pure (and thus correct) moral position a consistent libertarian would hold. Libertarianism is about total respect for life and property, but it is not clear how a baby dropped by a stork onto Gene's ship has violated any property rights. It doesn't seem the Reason/Cato/Blockian position on this is a logical extension of a libertarian moral framework in any coherent sense.

Bob's next point is, I think, his most constructive. Bob's week Nicole Kidman-watching captain scenario aside (how do irrational fears factor into an objective moral assessment of abortion?), Gene's point that the new passenger cannot "compel you to go anywhere you were not going before" is not perfectly analogous to pregnancy. The handling of an unruly passenger whose presence may tear down sails is less clear than the originally framed situation. And of course a pregnancy might lead the mother to have to change the destination if, say, she intended on pursuing a modeling career but would have to "sail elsewhere" if she had the kid. Per Gene's original framing, a weak case for throwing the passenger off (using the "bugger off" clause) could be made if the very presence of the passenger changed the destination of the ship.

I think such points are ultimately an abuse of a metaphor that is much more subtle. The point is that if you have a human being, you have a reasonable obligation to protect him if he finds himself with no other place to go but your ship. Gene suggests that while you don't have to do whatever the passenger demands, you must at least make sure if you do let him off, you make sure he is safe. That's the essential point. Yes, a baby may "tear up sails", may necessarily rule out certain navigation routes, such as a modeling career in the short run, but a baby is only implicitly asking to live, and after all, it was not actually floating in the ocean, it was borne of the ship itself.

The "all aboard" shout was heard, and a baby heard it and got aboard. It's not that a man's ship sunk exactly, but a man was welcomed on board. The captain may not have intended the welcoming of the passenger, but it is not the passenger's fault he was so welcomed. There may be some inconveniences to the captain, but there must be every reasonable attempt to save the life and balance the danger to the ship and the gravity of the loss to the captain as a result of a possibly different course.

This is almost the same as the policy before Roe v Wade in many states, incidentally. Abortion was outlawed, but there were some special cases in which it was allowed, including when the mother's life was at risk.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A couple video links

1. NPR brings a bar into a studio and gives Stephin Merritt a picture and phrase for inspiration, locks him in for two days and makes him write a song. Video here. Song here. Very cool stuff. (hat tip to Julian Sanchez)

2. A couple of blogs are posting the latest philosophical attack ad, this one against Immanuel Kant, who is getting hit hard in this election. It remains to be seen whether we have free election or a deterministic one.

An English Grandmaster in Tehran

Nigel Short, former challenger to the World Chess Championship title (against Garry Kasparov) writes a very interesting article about his experience coaching the Iranian national team.

Unfortunately for Iran, the most qualified, moderate people are the ones most likely to emigrate. They do so in massive numbers. Several friends have left the country and many others will follow.

It is not only the lack of freedom (on the internet, even social networking sites such as Facebook are banned) but also the lack of good job opportunities that drives them away. With weak private enterprise and a large state sector, jobs are created by such inane expediencies as tearing up parking meters so graduates may write out tickets. How very Soviet.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, I Solve the Abortion Question


Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Do you have Prince Albert in a can?"

"Then better invade his country!!"

Or something like that. A teenage kid calls Bush and gets threatened by the authorities.


Cooperation in the Trenches

From Browning and Zupan's microeconomics textbook:
"The situation along the Western Front of World War I can be represented as a repeated-game prisoner's dilemma. In any given locality, opposing units could either "cheat" (shoot to kill) or "cooperate" (withhold fire or shoot in such a way as to miss). Cheating was the dominant strategy for both sides. This is so because weakening the enemy through cheating increased the cheating side's chances of survival. Cheating by both sides however, resulted in an outcome--heavy losses inflicted on both sides for little or no gain--that was inferior to the one produced by cooperation. And opposing units interacted with each other for what appeared, at least to them, indefinite periods of time.

The diaries, letters, and reminiscences of the trench fighters testify to the "life-and-let-live" (that is, cooperation) equilibrium that eventually emerged. One British staff officer touring the trenches was "astonished to observe German soldiers walking about within rifle range behind their own lines. Our men appear to take no notice." A soldier commented: "It would be child's play to shell the road behind the enemy's trenches, crowded as it must be with the ration wagons and water carts, into a bloodstained wilderness...but on the whole there is silence. After all, if you prevent your enemy from drawing his rations, his remedy is simple: he will prevent you from drawing yours." Another British officer recounted: "I was having tea with A Company when...suddenly, a [German] salvo arrived but did no damage. Naturally, both sides got down and our men started swearing at the Germans, when all at once a brave German got on to his parapet and shouted out "We are very sorry about that; we hope no one was hurt. It is not our fault, it is that damned Prussian artillery [behind the front lines]"

Believing that tacit truces would undermine troop morale, the high commands of both sides began rotating troops and ordering raids (whose success or failure could be monitored by the headquarters staff) in an effort to destroy the "live-and-let live" system."

American Gangster is Awesome

If you are on the fence about this movie, I heartily recommend it. Some day I may write a review for LRC, so for here I'll just say, it's awesome. I don't know how anybody can support the Drug War after watching this.

Sign at the Cardiff U. Graduate Centre

'Fancy walking, making new friends, and keeping fit?'

I would like to take up this 'fancy walking' business, I think.

In a Cardiff Pub

The Polish barmaid was befuddled by my American accent. Behind me, sitting at a table, a fat Welshman sang along to a traditional, Welsh song. The Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' came on the jukebox. I marveled as the crooning of Farrokh Bulsara, a gay Zoroastrian from Africa, filled equally the ears of a confused Polish exile, a lonely, wandering American, and a fat, singing Welshman.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ominous... For Us

From BBC News, after news that Iran has halted its nuclear programme:
"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the programme, they halted the programme," Mr Bush told a news conference. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Yes, it would be a precondition of restarting something to first stop it, wouldn't it?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Triple Twirl

Select an object having approximately uniform density throughout and in the shape of a rectangular solid with no two sides equal. Almost any hardcover book will do nicely.

Let the three axes between the centers of opposite pairs of faces be labeled X, Y, Z: the X-axis is the longest, the Z-axis is the shortest, and the Y-axis is intermediate.

Pick up the object in both hands along one of the axes and toss it gently into the air, twirling it about the axis. About the X-axis it will rise, fall, and twirl stably, and about the Z-axis likewise. About the Y-axis it never will, no matter how carefully you toss it. Try it if you don’t believe me. It’s quite mind-boggling to experience.

Now, come back here and explain, please.

Secret Sex Tips

Who else thinks this blog is sorely lacking in the advertised sex tip department? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately I'm not a sexpert, but at least I can offer links, which will make us somewhat honest. Here's what I'm getting the sex toy friendly folk on my Christmas list this year:

The iBuzz vibrates in time with your music, and includes attachments for men and women.

Merry Christmas. And now, back to Ron Paul posts.

Gotta Love Internecine Warfare

This article about the in-fighting among libertarians made me laugh out loud. I realize every partisan must think this way, but I was pleased to see that even the insults from "my side" were much more accurate than vice versa. For another thing, Justin Raimondo had the courage to use his name, whereas the "Rockwell is the devil" guy was a wuss. More proof that I picked the right team.

Ron Paul's Christmas Vacation

I don't know all the details yet, but it looks like I will be spending 9 days around New Years (December 27th to January 4th) in Iowa fighting on the ground for the Ron Paul campaign's "Christmas Vacation", going door to door and asking people to join their ballots to the cause of liberty. I will blog the trip here.

Classic sketch: "Argument to Beethoven's 5th"

(hat tip to Lew Rockwell)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Apple Falling Down on the Job?

Apple's reputation rests on building 'user-friendly' systems. But of late I've been very annoyed with the poor quality of Apple error messages. I was trying to send an e-mail yesterday and the Mac mailer complained 'One or more of the "To" addresses appears to be invalid.' 'One or more'? How about telling me which 'one or more'?! The programmer who wrote the message generated because a specific address parsed wrong. So let the user know where the problem is!

Similarly, I was backing Garage Band files up to a CD and got the message 'The total size of the files you have selected exceeds the capacity of the target CD.' (I quote from memory here.) The programmer who wrote that one had just done a subtraction of the total size of the selected files from the CD capacity to see if they would fit. In other words, he had the precise amount of the excess sitting right there in his code when he wrote the error message. So, is it a proprietary secret, or could the user be informed as well? It really would have helped to know if I was over by 1%, 10%, 100%, 1000%, or whatever. Instead, I had to de-select one file at a time and try to burn the CD again, until at last it worked.

And those aren't the only two messages of their ilk. 'A modem error has occurred' comes to mind at the moment (which error?!), and I know I've seen others.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excellence in Balderdash

Lately I've been listening to talk radio whenever I'm in the car, so that means during the day I hear Maha Rushie. He was talking about the faddish health kicks etc. and how they are based on the desire to live forever. He waxed philosophical and said something like:

'Folks, we are all going to die. No one has ever disproven this.'

If you've listened to Rush, you can imagine how he said this, too. It was sort of a "let me make it 'mathematical' just as icing on the cake, because I'm both a master of wisdom and of formal argument."

But of course this is nonsense. Rush thought he was saying "there has yet to be someone who has lived forever" but the strict wording he used (which I may not have reproduced perfectly above) made a more accurate test, "Is there anyone who hasn't died?"

And of course, there are over 5 billion people who are pending counterexamples to Rush's empirical claim that everyone dies.

BTW, of course I get Rush's point. But I'm just saying that he was trying to be super anal about it and make it "scientific," when he wasn't really testing his hypothesis at all. He believes in the theory that everyone is mortal, and that's fine; so do I. But he doesn't add anything to the analysis by implicitly invoking Popper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick

The mainstream right in America is more fascist every day. Take a look at this thread. The New Republic carefully fact-checked their Scott Beauchamp stories once questions were raised about their veracity. (It was difficult to fact check at all because Beauchamp was an anonymous writer serving in a combat zone.) They finally decided that, while they had good evidence that Beauchamp's stories were at least partially true, they couldn't be sure, and they retracted. Good, honest journalism.

The wingnut brigades descended on the comment section of the stories like flies, slandering and insulting the TNR staff in every way possible, accusing them of publishing "obvious falsehoods," "slandering the troops," etc. And realize, these are the same people who had decided the stories were false the day they appeared, with NO FACT CHECKING AT ALL.

This is fascism at work, folks. There is no attempt at discussion, just vicious bullying of anyone who departs from the party line.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Religious Points

Two quick points:

(1) I may have said this before; I can't remember. In any event, I think perhaps the single goofiest argument for atheism is when they list some implications of the existence of God (whether it's his allowance of the Holocaust or whatever), and then conclude, "I don't want to believe in a God like that."

They say this with self-righteous huffery, as if they've just blown up their silly theist opponent. In any other argument, this would be such a childish stunt that it wouldn't even occur to anyone to try it. "You think if the US hadn't entered World War I, then Hitler wouldn't have come to power!?! Well I don't want to believe in a historical narrative like that. QED."

(2) The Catholic Church has been responsible for some terrible stuff, I grant you that. (BTW I was raised Catholic but am no longer one; I'm simply trying to correct a common simplification.) And then there's all the Galileo stuff; maybe Gene can give us a good link as to why the typical Dawkins-esque story here is wrong too. But I bet a lot of people don't know where the term "devil's advocate" comes from. It's from the old Church practice of appointing someone to argue against canonization, to make sure the nominee was deserving.

Now he's gone too far!

I watched Mike Huckabee's phone call with God stunt (see below) very closely, but I don't think he crossed the line. (If he hadn't said that God didn't take sides in the election, it would have been clearly inappropriate. As it was, I think it was just a bad joke.)

But LRC linked to a statement in which Huckabee said Jesus must endorse capital punishment because He didn't argue against it while on the cross. By the same logic, Jesus must not only agree with capital punishment for murderers, but also for religious heretics.

The fact that Huckabee is so flippant about our (meaning his and mine--I'm not trying to convert all Crash Landing readers) Lord while He was bleeding to death... I have to agree with Lew Rockwell that "this guy gives me the creeps."

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

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