Friday, June 30, 2006

The inconvenient truth

As you might guess from my previous post, I saw An Inconvenient Truth earlier today. The movie is basically the global warming slide-show lecture that Al Gore has been touring the US with (and the world) in an effort to raise awareness of this issue interspersed with clips where Gore talks about his personal life and what motivates him to devote his time to this topic.

After viewing it, I can see why Michael Shermer transformed from a global warming skeptic to a global warming activist after seeing the film which "shocked [him] out of [his] doubting stance." The movie is extremely compelling. The images of mountains and valleys once covered with snow and glaciers now dry and barren is visually shocking, while the data presented illustrates that we are unreaching unprecedented levels of CO2. And the potential consequences are deadly.

Gore also demonstates the political ploy of fomenting doubt that industry has engaged in to stall taking action on climate change, noting a leaked industry memo that explicitly states an intention to convince the public that warming is "theory not fact." He then shows that a survey of 10% of the climate change literature contained zero articles that argued the consensus on global warming, contrasting that to the popular literature in which around 50% of articles expressed doubt as to the consensus on warming. He draws a comparison to what the tobacco industry did with smoking and lung cancer, adding a personal note by admitting that his family had been in the tobacco industy until his sister died from lung cancer.

Its difficult for me to express how engaging this film is (Ebert does a better job, he's the professional, afterall.) There were moments during the film that you could hear the audience gasp in dismay or shock at various images. An image of an antarctic ice sheet breaking apart and falling into the ocean in a 30 day span - a phenomenon previously thought unthinkable by scientists - is one such image.

Gore speculates that one of the big reasons why we have failed to recognize the seriousness of climate change is because if we were to acknowledge it we would be faced with a moral imperative to take action. We have it within our grasp to affect positive change, what we lack is the political will, but (in what I thought the most powerful moment in the movie) Gore reminds that in this nation "political will is a renewable resource."

The end credits are mixed with bits of advice of what a person can do about climate change. Only one person in the audience did not sit through the entire roll of credits, and at the end, the crowd gave the film a standing ovation. It was a very moving experience, and I would recommend the film to anyone who cares about their planet.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quote of the day

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

This quote was used by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth to illustrate the danger of appointing Phillip Cooney, a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, to chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney resigned after the New York Times disclosed that he had edited offical reports on climate change in order to increase the amount of doubt expressed in the reports. One day later it was confirmed that he would be leaving to work for Exxon Mobil.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The end is near

I'm pretty sure that I've just witnessed one of the signs of the apocalypse. Plague? Floods? Fire? Earthquake? Fire? No, none of these.

I just heard the new Paris Hilton song "Stars are Blind". And I liked it. The end must be near.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On philosophy

"The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect." - Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy


Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Irony 1.
Michelle shows a racist WWII cartoon which reinforces Japanese stereotypes that played a role in Japanese Americans being interned in the first place (Malkin maintains that racism was not the reason Japanese Americans were interned. )

Irony 2.
Michelle (rightly) criticizes those who send her racist e-mails which make derogatory comments about her ethnicity. Some of the e-mails she has cited make comments about her appearance which are of a similar nature to the characterization of the Japanese shown in the cartoon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"The liberals"

In a post arguing that the New York Times is "at war with America" and its journalists should be prosecuted and placed in prison for this weekend's story about a classified anti-terror program to sift through bank records, "slammed [the Bush administration] for daring to attempt to catch terrorists using our NSA data mining program," linked to the post I wrote at Unclaimed Territory calling for having a reasoned discussion before we toss the freedom of the press under the bus of the "war on terror" as an example that "the liberals" are not concerned with catching terrorists.

Yet, one can find at Reason's Hit and Run blog a post today which makes the same points I did. Does that mean that Reason is also speaking for "the liberals"?

At about the same time that I noticed Maltzan's post, I saw that over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, it was curiously suggested that Ed Brayton was part of "the Left" which does not denounce astrology because Ed failed to speak critically of Jerome Armstrong, a Democratic advisor who has expressed a belief in astrology. I commented


Haven't you learned by now? If you take a political stance on an issue, that automatically means someone who disagrees with you gets to label and categorize you into an opposition camp.

You've criticized the President, so that makes you "the left." And since you're now "the left" you're responsible for everything, everywhere, that "the left" has said.

Myself, I just read a post where I was linked to while being identified as "the liberals" despite the content of my post being substantially no different than a post that was put up on Reason's Hit & Run blog.

The label doesn't really mean anything about political views, it's just a way of seperating "us" from "them".
I can understand the attempt to try to categorize a person's political beliefs (after all, categorization is how humans make sense of the world), but it often gets in the way of honest discussion. If we restrict our language to the issue at hand, it forces us to discuss the content of ideas rather than to paint people into broad either/or categories while concomitantly dismissing (and/or misrepresenting) an individual's views by merely citing his inclusion in a group.

People's views are too nuanced to be placed into black and white categories. I understand that there is some utility in using identifiers like "left", "right", "libertarian", "liberals", "conservative", etc. to characterize political positions, but the tendency to overcategorize/label a person at every point of discussion plays into the hands of demagogues who would use such a dichotomy to create some sort of Manichean divide in society, which is not in the interest of anyone other than ideologues. Ultimately, you agree or disagree with a person based on how persuasive their reasoning is or how sound their argument is; anything else should be superfluous.

Zimbabwe on Frontline/World

This Tuesday Frontline/World will be airing Zimbabwe: Shadows and Lies in which:

FRONTLINE/World goes undercover in Zimbabwe to reveal what has happened to a country once regarded as a beacon of democracy and prosperity in Africa. Posing as tourists, reporter Alexis Bloom and producer Cassandra Herrman find a population struggling with hunger and poverty, and living in fear of a government that has become a brutal dictatorship.
That brutal dictator is Robert Mugabe, who stole Zimbabwe's last election with the hopes of rewriting the nation's constitution to allow him to choose a dictator to succeed him, so that he can continue his ruin of the nation from beyond the grave. A ruin which includes years of succesive food crisis, the nation's residents having the world's shortest lifespan, demolishing homes and businesses leaving over 700,000 homeless or without jobs, arresting 30,000 in a 3 week demolition campaign, and an inflation rate projected to reach 1000% next year.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday morning art

La Grande Jatte (1884 - 86) - Georges Seurat

Friday, June 23, 2006

Quote of the day

"Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall compel thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything which needs walls and curtains: for he who has preferred to everything else his own intelligence and daemon and the worship of its excellence, acts no tragic part, does not groan, will not need solitude or much company; and, what is chief of all, he will live without pursuing or flying from [death]; but whether for a longer or a shorter time he shall have the soul inclosed in the body, he cares not at all; for even if he must depart immediately, he will go as readily as if he were going to do anything else which can be done with decency and order; taking care of this only all through life, that his thoughts turn not away from anything which belongs to an intelligent animal and a member of a civil community." - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I randomly opened up my copy of Meditations just now and this was the passage that caught my eye. It really is a wonderful book, as it's full of passages like this one.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kudos Senator Hagel

Well said, Senator Hagel.

Congress fails in its duty when we do not probe, when we fail, we do not ask tough questions, and we fail when we do not debate the gate issues of our day. There is no issue more important than war. The war in Iraq is the defining issue on which this Congress and the administration will be judged. The American people want to see serious debate about serious issues from serious leaders. They deserve more than a political debate. This debate should transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply retreat into focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like “cut and run,” catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war. War’s not a partisan issue, Mr. President. It should not be held hostage to political agendas. War should not be drug down into the political muck. America deserves better. Our men and women fighting and dying deserve better.
I'd have to add, ThinkProgress overlooks the Senator was chastizing both Democrats and Republicans. By narrowing his remarks, ThingProgress made his comments partisan.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Guess the quote

Via Americablog, this compliments the most recent post I've written at Unclaimed Territory. Here's a sample quote [Blogger's Note - please note the disclaimer at the "this" link regarding the quotes]

"We must study this vile [liberal] technique of emptying garbage pails full of the vilest slanders and defamations from hundreds and hundreds of sources at once, suddenly and as if by magic, on the clean garments of honorable men, if we are fully to appreciate the entire menace represented by these scoundrels of the press."

Hint: It wasn't Ann Coulter.

Also, Taner Edis at the Secular Outpost writes about the disturbing nature of the "slanderous" rhetoric of the Religious Right becoming more prevalent. This is extremely pertinent to the point I was making at U.T., as Coulter's new book is essentially recycled material from the Religious Right.

Update: Since I just accused Ann Coulter of being guilty of bigotry against "liberals" I don't want to act like a bigot, myself. In Taner's post, he lumps conservative Christians in with right-wing Christians (which I take to be the Religious Right) which is unfair. There most certainly are conservative Christians who do not live in a parallel insular reality, deny evolution and global warming, and believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (which is itself a misbelief that is not unique to the Religous Right). He should have been more explicit in drawing the distinction between the Religious Right and conservative Christianity, and probably should have written "There are right-wing Christians who live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience" rather than the more categorical statement that he made, so as to focus his point at those who actually hold those beliefs.

This is not me picking on Taner. The criticism is at much directed at myself as it is him, because I read that post and glanced over the overgeneralizations without noticing them, but Alonzo Fyfe got me to take another look at it.

Random knowledge of the day

I'm currently reading A.C. Grayling's Among the Dead Cities, an examination of the moral issues surrouding Allied bombing of civilian targets during WWII, which I've only gotten a little into so far. Last night, I happened to flip it open to the last page which contained some random knowledge that I found interesting. Here's what I accidentally turned to


The text of this book is set Adobe Garamond. It is one of several versions of Garamond based on the designs of Claude Garamond. It is thought that Garamond based his font on Bembo, cut in 1495 by Francesco Griffo in collaboration with the Italian printer Aldus Manutius. Garamond types were first used in books printed in Paris around 1532. Many of the present-day versions of this type are based on the Typi Academiae of Jean Jannon cut in Sedan in 1615.

Claude Garamond was born in Paris in 1480. He learned how to cut type from his father and by the age of fifteen he was able to fashion steel punches the size of a pica with great precision. At the age of sixty he was commissioned by King Francis I to design a Greek alphabet, for this he was given the honourable title of royal type founder. He died in 1561.

The man who saved the world

Click here to read a brief description in the new issue of The Humanist of Stanislav Petrov, who averted a potential nuclear war in 1983 when he decided to inform his Krimlin liaison that an alert in the Soviet Union's main command bunker south of Moscow warning that two Inter-Continental Ballistic missiles had been launched from the United States was a false alarm.

The alert was a false alarm, but Petrov had no way of knowing that for certain at the time. His instincts may have, quite literally, saved the world from a deadly nuclear war.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cool site of the day

Google Earth

Ok, technically it's not the site that's cool, it's the program you can download from the site. An interactive program which gives you access to 3-D satellite images (which you can zoom-in to the point that you can see houses and buildings) of the planet with all kind of nifty customizable features and info.

Right now I'm looking at Saint Peter's Basilica from an elevation of 195 ft.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sunday morning art

A Young Hare (1502) - Albrecht Durer

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Deconstructing Congressman Westmoreland

Wow. I mean, wow ... I was actually embarrased for him.

I'm guessing he regrets agreeing to go on the show, now.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Passion of the Christ

Ok, I finally saw this movie. I don't get it.

Don't get me wrong. It was well made, well acted, and surprisingly easy to follow for a movie in subtitles. But I didn't find it all that entertaining, as the plot is basically Jesus getting turned into the authorities after the Last Supper and then him being beat for the next hour and a half until he dies on the cross. The point of the movie seems to be nothing more than to graphically show that Jesus took a lot of abuse before he died.

I consulted Ebert to see what he thought.

The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.

I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done. It is clear that Mel Gibson wanted to make graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins.

The point Gibson seems to be making is that "this is what Jesus went through for you." If I set aside my skepticism that Jesus existed (that's a story for another post) and except the story on its face then where does it stand? It stands as a tale of an individual who suffered an unfair injustice for the sake of others. That's admirable, but it's not exceptionable. And besides, the emphasis in the movie is not the sacrifice, but the suffering. To see what I'm futilely trying to express, imagine if someone made a movie about a Jewish father who sacrificed himself to the Nazis so that his daughter might escape and spent 90% of the movie showing the father being tortured to death. The emphasis is in the wrong place.

The one part of the movie that I did find somewhat moving was when Jesus prayed that his tormentors be forgiven because "they know not what they do." But here Jesus is at odds with his belief/endorsement of the idea that unless one believes in him one will spend eternity in Hell.

I just fail to see the spiritual message. I find something like Jean Valjean's death at the end of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables do be far more spiritual, not to mention humanistic.

But let me provide a more religious specific example, an episode of Little House on the Prarie guest starring Johhny Cash. In the episode, Reverend Alden becomes sick while traveling and has to stop at a poor man's house to recover. The house is owned by Johhny Cash's character and his wife (played by June Cash). The Rev. tells them that he is on his way back to Walnut Grove to collect donations to take to another town, but he is so sick that he passes into delerium.

Johhny Cash hatches a plot to take the Rev's clothes and go to Walnut Grove to pose as the Rev's colleague and collect the donations to take to the other town. Once he gets the donations, he plans to steal them.

In the process of posing as a Reverend, Cash is forced to peform the duties of a Reverend. He befriends Mary Ingles, comforts an old widow who has lost the will to live, and councils a young girl whose puppy has just died. Along the way, the kindness of the town, the realization that he finds joy in helping others, and the guilt he feels over the thought of betraying Mary Ingles trust causes him to develop a conscience which won't allow him to pull the trigger on the theft.

At the end, Cash is standing before the town's gathered congregation when Reverend Alden, fully recovered and fully briefed by Cash's remorseful wife about their plan, storms in and announces he has something to say. Cash is afraid the reverend is going to denounce him as a thief, yet he doesn't. He praises him for his efforts to raise the money and for his work in the town.

Cash and his wife leave the town feeling happier than they've ever felt in their life.

That is a message worth emphasizing, and it doesn't require watching someone being beat to death to get it across.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cool site of the day

Seed magazine's Science Blogs

This is a host site host for a collection of the best scientific blogs on the internet. With a diverse range of science bloggers, covering all sorts of issues, there's always something interesting to be found by browsing the main page. The site also serves an important service at a time when science is under attack from various cultural forces and scientific literacy is abysmal, which I will let the site explain for itself, from their About Page

ScienceBlogs was created by Seed Media Group. Our mission is to change the way the world sees science from a separate island on the periphery of culture to the central driver of our times. We believe that science literacy is necessary for all modern societies. At a time when public interest in science is high but public understanding of science remains weak, we have set out to create media and entertainment products to improve science literacy and to advance our science culture.
The following blogs from the index are ones that I visit on a regular basis:

Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Framing Science
The Loom
The Intersection

Check 'em out, see what you think.

Winning hearts and minds ... by losing them

From the New York Times

As the war in Iraq continues for a fourth year, the global image of America has slipped further, even among people in some countries closely allied with the United States, a new opinion poll has found.

Favorable views of the United States dropped sharply over the past year in Spain, where only 23 percent said they had a positive opinion, down from 41 percent last year, according to the survey. It was done in 15 nations, including the United States, this spring by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Other countries where positive views dropped significantly include India (56 percent, down from 71 percent); Russia (43 percent, down from 52 percent); and Indonesia (30 percent, down from 38 percent). In Turkey, only 12 percent said they held a favorable opinion, down from 23 percent last year.

Although strong majorities in several countries expressed worries about Iran's nuclear intentions, in 13 of 15 countries polled, most people said the war in Iraq posed more of a danger to world peace. Russians held that view by a 2-to-1 margin.

A fundamental conflict of loyalty

"I think it's possible to be an honest journalist and be loyal to a cause. It's not really possible to be an honest journalist and be loyal to a person, a politcal party or a faction. Why do I say that? I think it relates to my basic belief that there is some relationship between journalism and one's perception of the truth. One can believe that certain things, ideas, proposals, would be good for America and can openly state that. But to be loyal to a politiical party, a person or faction means that you do not see your primary goal as commitment to speaking the truth to people who are your audience. There's a fundamental conflict of loyalty there." - Maggie Gallagher, discussing journalistic independence at a Commitee of Concerned Journalists Forum (1997)

Here's what she's done since then, from SourceWatch

On January 26, 2005, the Washington Post reported that Maggie Gallagher, a prominent advocate for the amendment to ban gay marriage as well as funding for marriage based health and social programs, had accepted a $21,500 contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to promote President Bush's marriage promotion initiatives. The contract included ghostwriting articles for department officials, writing brochures and briefing department officials.

While she was receiving federal funds to promote the Bush marriage initiative, Gallagher wrote in praise of it on National Review Online and dismissed criticisms of the initiative in her syndicated column as "nonsense." She wrote, "Bush plans to use a tiny fraction of surplus welfare dollars to fund marriage education services for at-risk couples." She also wrote about the marriage initiative for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard, in addition to speaking about it during interviews, including one with the Washington Post.

Gallagher also receieved a $20,000 Justice Department grant for a writing a report titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?" that was published by the private, non-profit National Fatherhood Intiative. Wade Horn, the Health and Human Services Department's assistant secretary for children and families who defended Gallagher's contracts as "not unusual," founded the National Fatherhood Initiative before entering government.
I've been aware for some time that Gallagher was one of the journalists paid off by the administration to write favorable stories, but I hadn't noticed that Gallagher had previously denounced the very thing she has done as being antithetical to journalistic ethics. It's one thing to be a shill, but it's quite another thing to betray your own principles. The former is deserving of derision, the latter is tragic.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Judge says "In God We Trust" is secular

From Yahoo

A U.S. district court judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a California atheist against the U.S. government for its use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on its coins and currency.


Judge Frank Damrell of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California held in his opinion that "In God We Trust" is secular in nature and use, and its appearance on coins and currency does not show government coercion on behalf of monotheism.
Judge Damrell apparently does not understand the definition of the word "secular". There is nothing secular about the phrase "In God We Trust." It is a prayer, plain and simple. It began appearing on our coins during the Civil War, with the hopes that "trusting" in God would preserve the Union. The phrase became a national motto in the 50's along with "under God" being added to the Pledge of Allegiance to separate us from the godless Communists. President Eisenhower stated that belief in God was our most essential weapon in combatting communism. God on our coins and in the Pledge was a charm meant to ward off the evils of communism, not to mention a McCarthyist means by which "patriotic" Americans who believed in God were distinguished from atheist communists.

That's what the phrase on the coins means. It means we pray to God that the United States will be preserved from harm. It also means that those who do not "trust" in God are not Americans. It means that those who do not "trust" in God are enemies of the country.

Just ask Ann Coulter.

The Scottish Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers

Julian Baggini of the always interesting Butterflies and Wheels website has written a short introduction to an upcoming BBC documentary on the influence of the Scottish Englightenment.

ASKED to guess who said, “It is to Scotland that we must look for our idea of civilisation”, I would assume it was a Scot. Not because the suggestion is absurd, of course, but simply because south of Berwick, Scotland is rarely seen as a paragon of things intellectual and cultural. The person who gave the country this accolade, however, was not Scottish but French: Voltaire. And the provenance of the compliment is apt for, while the Enlightenment is most closely associated with the salons of Paris, Edinburgh has at least an equal claim to be its true capital, and Glasgow was where most of its kings were crowned.

The Enlightenment was supposed to mark humanity’s emergence out of superstition, irrationality and ecclesiastical authority into a brave new world of rationality, progress and freedom. The Scottish Enlightenment, which was at its peak between 1740 and 1800, is an often overlooked high point in the country’s history. Recently, however, much has been done to correct this oversight. Two well-received books – James Buchan’s Capital Of The Mind: How Edinburgh Changed The World and Arthur Herman’s The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots’ Invention Of The Modern World – have helped revive interest in the era. Now, Andrew Marr is to present Age Of Genius, a BBC4 documentary on some of the key figures, which should go further to restate its importance.

The Scottish Enlightenment was an incredible intellectual flowering. Indeed, although Rousseau, Voltaire and Diderot are the figures most closely associated with the Enlightenment, their Scottish counterparts David Hume and Adam Smith arguably left a much deeper and longer-lasting intellectual legacy to the world. The French provided the Enlightenment with style, but it was Scotland that gave it its substance.
What is also overlooked is the influence that the great Scottish Enlightenment philosophers had on the birth of American democracy, something which I've just recently become aware of, myself.

For example, in Antony Flew's How to Think Straight, he makes a passing remark that David Hume was the intellectual father of secular democracy (as practiced in America.) Now, I had always understood that to mean that secular democracy was an outgrowth of the sort of skeptical scientific rationalism that comprised Hume's philosophy, and suspect this is what Flew meant himself, but what I did not realize was that Hume actually had a direct and pervasive influence on the founders.

This came to my attention when I picked up a copy of Gary Wills' Explaining America: The Federalist last week. Every chapter is framed by a quote from Hume, and Wills demonstrates that many of the ideas in the Federalist essays - both from Madison and Hamilton - are direct translations of the political philosophy of Hume. Even the style of the Federalist, says Wills, owes much to Hume.

Wills gives the following quote from Douglas Adair's 1943 doctoral dissertation as an example of the debt that America's intellectual formation owed to the Scottish Enlightenment

At Princeton, at William and Mary, at Pennsylvania, at Yale, at King's, and at Harvard, the young men who rode off to war in 1776 had been trained int he texts of Scottish social science ... Princeton, for example, where nine members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 graduated, was a provincial carbon copy, under President Witherspoon, of Edinburgh ... The great names in this sudden flowering of the Scotch intellect are David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Lord Kames, and Adam Ferguson. Their books formed the core of the moral philosophy course at Princeton, and it was in these works treating of history, ethics, politics, economics, psychology, and jurisprudence, always from the modern and enlightened point of view, that Madiosn received his "very early and strong impressions in favor of Liberty both Civil & Religious."
Wills also notes the influence of Dr. Witherspoon, the Scottish president of Princeton referenced above, who he says:

was probably the most influential teacher in the entire history of American education. His pupils included a president of the United States and a vice-President, twenty-one United States senators and twenty-nine members of the House, twelve state governors, fifty-six state legislators, and thirty-three judges (of whom three sat on the Supreme Court). His students were everywhere in the Revolutionary Army - in the ranks and in command (eleven captains, six majors, four colonels, ten lieutenant colonels). An equally prestigious list could be drawn up of college founders and teachers, Presbyterian ministers and successful authors, trained by him.
I wonder how many people are aware that David Hume should be listed as one of the primary influences on the Founding Fathers?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Literary quote of the day

"Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel" - Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

The anti-torture memos

A compilation of papers on the legal issues surrounding torture and interrogation. (h/t The Disenchanted Idealist)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Corporate free speech = ?

See here, for the answer. It's being able to disguise commercials as independent news reports. Having to disclose that fake news is fake news threatens the "the free speech rights of my corporate clients" says Kevin Foley, owner of KEF Media Associates.

In the comment of that entry linked above, Mr. Foley explains that it's a "free market." If people don't like fake news, they can go somewhere else for the news. For that to happen, Mr. Foley, they'd have to first know what the fake news is.

Which is why the Center for Media and Democracy is such an invaluable resource. Ethically challenged individuals like Mr. Foley defend lies and deception on the grounds that it's free speech. Mr. Foley, in resisting having to disclose fake news, admits that he makes money from deception, that not lying to the public would hurt his business.

Lakoff versus Luntz

Cognitive scientist Georg Lakoff (and Sam Ferguson) have written a short essay explaining the difference between what they do at the Rockridge Institute and what pollster Frank Luntz does. In short, Rockridge frames, Luntz spins. [Blogger's Note - For an introduction to framing, see here.]

The essay contrasts a public paper that Rockridge wrote on framing the immigration debate with a private memo Frank Luntz wrote for Republicans on how to speak about immigration. This illustrates an important distinction between framing a debate honestly, and framing it deceptively.

Luntz’s aim is to unify Republicans by pointing out which frames work to their political advantage — whether or not they serve the truth and whether or not they are moral. We use frame analysis coming from a cognitive science perspective to educate the public and help progressives to better understand and express their deepest values and to better serve the truth.

Luntz creates secretive messaging for political elites (his memo was leaked—all of our papers are public). We empower grassroots progressives by articulating our shared values openly, and hope that political leaders might be listening as well.

Luntz spins and creates slogans to sell right-wing policy to the American public and to keep hidden agendas hidden. We examine and critique political framing to expose implicit values and agendas.

Where Luntz suggests language for manipulating the public, we are interested in authenticity — in helping progressives say what they believe, in advancing traditional progressive values, and in framing important truths so that they can be recognized.

We take an honest look at our own beliefs as well as those of others. Our intentions are explicit and open.

We believe that you can abide by the deepest of democratic values, say what you believe, tell the truth, and win elections — and that deep and honest framing is essential to those ends.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Parody of the Day

Via Crooked Timber, a sample of the transcript of Meet the Press in Hell from World O' Crap.

Russert: Mr. Christ, what do you say to accusations that you’re opposed to fighting a battle to bring about the end of all life on Earth because you’re an Anti-Semite?

Jesus: Well, first of all, I’d like to point out that I myself am Jewish—

Ann Coulter: Yeah! Just like George Soros. Another Jew who somehow figured out a way to avoid crucifixion.


Michelle Malkin: Why don’t people ask him more specific questions about the nails in his hands and feet? There are legitimate questions about whether or not they were self-inflicted wounds.

Russert: What do you mean self-inflicted? Are you suggesting Mr. Christ crucified himself on purpose?

Michelle Malkin: Did you read the book by Barabbas and the Golgotha Veterans for Truth? Some of the thieves who were actually crucified have made allegations that these were self-inflicted wounds.

Jesus: I did not NAIL MYSELF to the cross!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

PR industy says being required to identify fake news is censorship

Via the Center for Media and Democracy

Be afraid, be very afraid! If television stations are required to abide by existing regulations and label the corporate and government propaganda they routinely pass off as "news," the First Amendment will be shredded, the freedom of the press repealed, and TV stations will collapse overnight!

At least, that's what the public relations firms that produce and distribute video news releases (VNRs) and other forms of fake news would have you believe. PR firms are banding together and launching lobbying and PR campaigns to counter the growing call for full disclosure of VNRs, the sponsored video segments frequently ired by TV newsrooms as though they were independently-produced reports.
Continue reading ...

Cool site of the day

The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert

It's a work in progress, with articles being added as they are translated, but this is a fantastic site. The Encyclopedia is the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment. It was designed to be a repository of human knowledge, but it was also a subversive polemic articulating the best humanist thought of the age with some of the greatest Enlightenment philosophers (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rosseau, etc.) contributing articles.

Here's a sample from the entry "prejudice"

Prejudice, a false judgment made by the mind about the nature of things after an insufficient exercise of the intellectual faculties, this unhappy fruit of ignorance thwarts the understanding, blinds and imprisons it.

Prejudices , says Bacon, the man who has meditated the most on this subject, are just so many spectres and phantoms sent to earth by an evil genius in order to torment men; but they are a kind of infectious illness which, like all epidemic diseases, primarily attacks the people, women, children, and old men, and which yields to nothing but maturity and reason.

Prejudice is not always a matter of judgment's being taken by surprise when shrouded in darkness or seduced by false gleams of light; it also emanates from the unfortunate inclination of the mind to go astray, which plunges it into error despite any resistance; for the human mind, far from resembling that faithful crystal whose surface receives rays and transmits them without alteration, is much more like a kind of magic mirror, which distorts objects, and reflects only shadows or monsters.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Advice for Ann Coulter: Don't mess with science

Believe me, I'd like for nothing more than to see Mrs. Coulter shred any remaining credibility she might have by continuing to opine on subjects she has zero knowledge of, but if I were to give her some friendly advice, I'd recommend she confine her hate-mongering to the realm of politics. Otherwise, she runs the risk of embarrassing deconstructions like this.

Coulter: "Darwinism never disappoints the liberals. They never say '‘Well, I'd like to have cheap meaningless sex tonight, but that would violate Darwinism.' They can't even say ‘'I'd like to have cheap meaningless sex tonight with a goat, but that would violate Darwinism.'"

PZ Meyers: "This is true. Neither does Coulter, though. She also doesn't get to refuse to screw goats because it would violate Boyle's gas law. Is this a surprise? Evolution doesn't pretend to be a set of moral rules. It's a description of how populations of organisms behave over time, not how individuals should behave.

Why, without Ohm's Law to restrain her, what's to prevent Ann Coulter from indulging her wanton, bestial lusts?"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The Texas GOP may as well drop E pluribus from the national motto, because they have declared that this is not a pluralistic nation, but a Christian one. Via Ed Brayton

At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, party leader Tina Benkiser assured them that God was watching over the two-day confab.

"He is the chairman of this party," she said against a backdrop of flags and a GOP seal with its red, white and blue logo.

The party platform, adopted Saturday, declares "America is a Christian nation" and affirms that "God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom."
And at The Wall of Separation they've linked to a report which details the extensive influence of the Religious Right over Texas politics.

US has less income mobility than UK and Scandinavia

The Lippard Blog notes that The Economist reports on two studies that find the US has less income mobility than than the UK and Scandinavia.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Quote of the day

"Skepticism is dangerous. That's exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that's why there is a great reluctance to teach it in the schools. That's why you don't find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don't have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? . . ." - Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism" (via Butterflies and Wheels)

Dismantling meritocracy

"I'm fascinated by the spectacle of elite support for this policy. How can the president and the abolitionists in Congress, who understand the tax and its details, possibly want to kill it? They all say they accept the principle that the tax system should be fair -- Bush officials are constantly claiming that their tax cuts are progressive. They all accept the principle that free trade and competition get the best out of American firms, so what about subjecting rich heirs to competition from ordinary Americans?

Repealing the estate tax is like erecting protectionist barriers around the hereditary elite. It is anti-meritocratic and unfair -- and antithetical to this nation's best traditions." - Sebastian Mallaby

Update: MoJo blogger Bradford Plumer on bizarre arguments against the estate tax.

Strange Brains

Watching for the first time, yesterday, The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's biopic of brilliant but exceedingly eccentric (and obviously obsessive-compulsive) aviator/engineer/movie producer Howard Hughes I was reminded of a fascinating book by one of my favorite authors, Cliff Pickover.

The book is Strange Brains and Genius, and if you found The Aviator interesting, then this book might also interest you. It covers a span of about two hundred years and details the link between genius and madness in some of our most famous minds. For instance, you might know that Nikola Tesla invented AC current and could run entire experiments inside his own mind, but did you know he was a virgin his whole life whose only true love was a pigeon?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Not APA endorsed

This video was sent to me via e-mail. First, let me just say that I can guarantee you the methods in this video are pseudo-therapy nonsense. Secondly, my response to the video is best described by the picture on the left, The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Senator Bill Frist demonstrates his ignorance of core American values

Guest posted at Unclaimed Territory, yesterday. It's about Senator Frist looking to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage and flag burning in order to protect traditional core American values. I take the contrary position, believing that these amendments contradict core American foundational values: that the Bill of Rights is meant to limit the government's ability to interfere with an individual's pursuit of happiness, that the Constitution "gives to bigotry no sanction", and that free speech is the bedrock of liberty and democracy.

Parody of the Day

How George W. Bush Sees the Constitution

Friday, June 02, 2006

Abstinence-only education hampering AIDS fight

Via The Independent

Abstinence is working for Isaac and Simon - and for tens of thousands of teens and twentysomethings proudly attending virginity rallies in Uganda. But Aids activists and development officials point to the 130,000 Ugandans infected with HIV last year alone - up from 70,000 in 2002 - and say the recent obsession with abstinence is handicapping the country's once-successful fight against the virus.

Health workers see the fingerprints of America's Christian right all over the chastity message and believe the Bush administration is using its financial might to bully them into accepting evangelical ideology at the expense of public health.
Bottom line

People on both sides of the argument agree that Washington is prolonging tens of thousands of Ugandans' lives through treatment - and that abstinence is crucial. "The evangelicals are absolutely right: abstinence is the best way of preventing the spread of HIV/Aids," says Sigurd Illing, the EU ambassador to Uganda. "But some people aren't receptive. We need an end to this bedevilling of condoms by people who take a high moralistic stance and don't care about the impact that this has on reality."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Quote of the day

"A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg." - Samuel Butler, Life and Habit (1877)

A new frame for the abortion debate

Eileen McDonagh argues in this month's issue of Free Inquiry that the case for legalized abortion should no longer be framed as a matter of choice.

We must turn to a new argument for abortion rights, one based on the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. This argument establishes that, even if the fetus "is" a person, a woman still has a right to an abortion, as based on what the fetus "does." As I shall argue, to combat legislation such as the South Dakota statute, the key abortion-rights issue must be reframed from a woman's right to make choices about what to do with her own body to her right to consent to the way a state-protected entity, the fetus, affects her body and liberty when pregnancy results from the presence of the fetus in her body.

Some self-criticism

One thing that appealed to me about starting a blog was that it would allow me to track the development of my thoughts, as well as to revisit them and re-evaluate them at some later date when I might be free from the influence of the passion of the moment. With that in mind, let's take a look at a couple of posts that I now regret.

First, my V for Vendetta entry. Ug. I cringe when I read that one. Not the part where I respond to Debbie Schlussel, but the part where I advocate seeing the movie to make a political statement. I hate it when other people do that, and I'm embarassed to have done it myself. If I could do it over again, I would write:

I saw V for Vendetta. It was fairly entertaining, as far as action movies go. The movie has been adapted from the original comic to serve as a parable about today's political climate, and I hope that its theme is one that will resonate with the public.

Or something to that effect.

The other post that bothers me is this entry on Halliburton. I let my outrage over the thought that the company is war-profiteering push me to write something that I now view as disturbingly demagogic. If I could do that one over, the header would be "Halliburton: Dishonest and Corrupt" and the body would have been nothing but the links, or the links with commentary on the Bunny Greenhouse whistle-blower story, which I believe is the one that had me upset in the first place.