Showing posts from January, 2009

Stuff White People Like

Michael Oakeshott, RIP

Not "rest in peace," but "rationalism in politics." My new article on Oakeshott is up at the website of The Freeman

Crash Landing: Solving Your Coaching Problems

'""We're in a rut. We're in a bad situation right now," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "We have to figure how to get everyone in that locker room out of it."'

Try turning off the heat, John -- they'll leave.

Yeah, and I Gave Unto Them a New Commandment

Though shalt do as Obama has done:

Augustine the Genius

A dozen centuries ahead of his time, he rejects astrology in favour of environment and heredity as explaining human traits. From The City of God:

'Cicero says that the famous physician Hippocrates has left in writing that he had suspected that a certain pair of brothers were twins, from the fact that they both took ill at once, and their disease advanced to its crisis and subsided in the same time in each of them. 3 Posidonius the Stoic, who was much given to astrology, used to explain the fact by supposing that they had been born and conceived under the same constellation. In this question the conjecture of the physician is by far more worthy to be accepted, and approaches much nearer to credibility, since, according as the parents were affected in body at the time of copulation, so might the first elements of the fætuses have been affected, so that all that was necessary for their growth and development up till birth having been supplied from the body of the same mother, they mi…

Principal Agent Problems, Oh Boy

Embedded video from CNN Video

Jon Stewart Exercises His Brain

I am really not trying to be a crotchety old man, but this Obamania is really out of hand. I get it, you hated George Bush, and Obama is the opposite of George Bush.

Or is he? (HT2 "KRM")

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c Changefest '09 - Obama's Inaugural Speech Barack Obama Interview
John McCain Interview Sarah Palin Video
Funny Election Video

The Most Appropriate Post on This Blog Ever

GG Goes Off on FISA "Vindication" of Bush

I thought this whole story about the FISA "vindication" of Bush's wiretapping program sounded fishy. The way the WSJ editorialized about it, FISA basically said, "Yep, the president of the US has never needed to clear wiretaps with us, if he thinks national security is at stake." On the face of it, this is odd; why didn't FISA speak up 20 years ago and say it had been given unconstitutional power?

Anyway, Glenn Greenwald has cleared up my confusion:
[T]he court's ruling had nothing whatsoever to do with whether Bush acted legally or properly when he ordered warrantless eavesdropping on Americans from 2001-2006, when warrantless eavesdropping was a felony under FISA. To the contrary...the FISA court was addressing a totally different and much narrower question: namely, whether the warrantless eavesdropping which Congress authorized in the 2007 Protect America Act was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.
Ah, doesn't that ring…

Libertopia = Lebanon?

Chris Rolliston on why social conflict is likely to be greater, not less, in a libertarian polity.

Go have at him, ye libertopians!

Why You Should Check Your Kid's Homework

This is pretty funny. (HT2 Volokh Conspiracy)

Speaking of Historical Ignorance...

Remember this heated thread from November? I was listing some alternative to Jesus being the Messiah or a madman (CS Lewis's two options) when he claimed things like "The Father and I are one."

My first possible option was:

'1) Jesus claimed "to be God," but meant this in the way a Hindu would, where, if the acolyte says "I am God," the sage says, "You've finally figured this out, hey?"'

Some fellow David chided me, saying:

'1) Jesus was a Jew and not a Hindu. This is not a legitimate alternative, because God Almighty/Yahweh does not have alternative meanings to a Jew (at least in the first century AD).'

At the time, I noted that there had been Buddhist missionaries through the Near East by that time. But, I neglected a much more prevalent, possible source for such an idea in 20 AD Palestine: Stoicism. The Stoics taught that all souls are just sparks of the divine fire, and actually are parts of God. And Stoicism had tremendou…

How Is the Real Estate Market Like Teletubby Land?

Augustine's Proof of the Existence of God

Sometime ago, over at Unqualified Offerings, I plunged into a thread where some atheists were contending that suggesting there is some link between the existence of genuine moral standards and the existence of God is just absurd. I argued that they were, in fact, confused, because acknowledging the existence of universal moral principles already is acknowledging the existence of God, since, in the Western metaphysical tradition, that is what the word God means. I was greeted with howls of execration (what's that from?) and accused of just making definitions up to suit my purposes. I cited Collingwood in my defense, but this was unconvincing.

I now wish to call another witness to the stand. I've been reading Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will, in which he leads "Evodius" to acknowledge that the fact that we have rational standards by which we judge, say, that "2 + 2 = 4" alone is sufficient to show the existence of God, because the existence of such r…

DO NOT Go to This Guy for First Aid!

Here's why:

'"I told them, 'We've never beaten Boston College, and pretty soon you've got to say: Enough's enough,'" Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said Wednesday night after the Demon Deacons' first-ever victory over Boston College -- a year after they lost to BC by 39. "We rubbed salt in that wound this week."'

Apparently, he thinks rubbing salt in wounds is an anesthetic!

Near Cambridge...

on Feb. 16? Come hear me address the Cambridge Realist Workshop.

UPDATE: Fixed typo noted by Mr. Pickyedit.

Great Optical Illusion


Call for Papers II

Remember this one?

0) We'll define this binary sequence in stages, punctuated by periods for clarity. (The periods are cosmetic; they are not part of the sequence.)

1) The first stage: 0.

2) The next stage: 1. So far: 0.1.

3) The next stage: a copy of all previous stages except the last: 0. So far: 0.1.0.

4) The next stage: same as for (3): 01. So far:

5) Etc.: ...

6) Stripped of ".": 0100101001001010010100100101001001 ...

Remember my asking for the millionth digit of the "wine tasting sequence" 0110100110010110...?

OK, well, what is the millionth digit of this sequence? The answer is very cute. I'll include it as a comment to this very post, so no fair peeking unless you give up...

David Frum Has a Low Bar for "Anti-Semitism"

I was reading a Glenn Greenwald column on how much (most?) of the world--outside of the US--is growing increasingly concerned with the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza, whereas the US Senate just issued an incredibly non-neutral proclamation. (Really, I was surprised by unambiguously they said "Israel is right"--I would have expected them to give some weasely "both sides need to settle down" official verdict while giving Israel assurances behind the scenes, but that's not what they did.)

Anyway, GG linked to this David Frum piece, alerting us to the fact that Frum was bringing the claim of anti-Semitism into the debate. Well, I thought surely Frum wasn't going to explicitly say that, so I went to see. When discussing reasons that Democrats tend not to support Israel in this conflict, one (among several) of Frum's reasons is:
Fourth, Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideolo…

Chesterton on Politics

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

After BART Shooting: "We'll Reform Procedures"

You gotta love it. Remember when the Abu Ghraib horror pics came out, and the military said the guards should have undergone better training? ("OK guys, it's a common misconception that civilians have, to think that it's a good idea to put detainees in sexually compromising positions and then taking pictures. But believe it or not, that's not how we do things in the US military.")

Well a similar spectacle unfolded today, when the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) board listened to complaints about the fatal shooting of a passenger on New Year's Eve: "The public asked the BART directors, and they agreed, to set up a committee to review procedures. They also discussed the possibility of creating a civilian review board."

I have to ask: Is there an actual procedure on the books right now, that says when you and other officers have an unarmed guy face down on the floor, that it's acceptable to stand up, draw your weapon, and kill him?

Now I'm a pac…

The Plight of the Philosopher

As a philosopher, you're trained to pick apart arguments and spot their logical errors. To point those out, you use various techniques, one of my favorite of which is to construct an argument making the same error but where the error will be more easily spotted. So, when I saw this:

"Tyler Cowen is not an authority on Austrian economics because (hey, guess what!) he's NOT an Austrian economist."

over at The Curious Capitalist, I was tempted to post something like, "So, famed astronomer X cannot be an expert on flat-earth theory because he's not a flat-earth theorist?"

But then I stopped, because I knew I'd get two main reactions:

"Ah, so Callahan says Cowen is an authority an Austrian economics," or

"Ah, so Callahan admits Austrian economics is like flat-earth theories!"

Now, no trained philosopher would ever read my argument that way. She would know that the analogy is between the argument forms, not between Cowen and X or Austrians …

I Used To Be a Semiotician...

until I became a full otician.

But seriously, folks, I've been reading Thomas Sebeok's Signs this week, and am really enjoying dipping my toes in these waters again. Here's Sebeok:
"The phenomenon that distinguishes life forms from inanimate objects is semiosis."

How's that? Well, as I understand it, inanimate objects only display what Peirce called secondness: "It is important to understand what I mean by semiosis. All dynamical action, or action of brute force … either takes place between two subjects … or at any rate is a resultant of such actions between pairs. But by ‘semiosis’ I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a coöperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs."

And it is characteristic of the living world that this relation of thirdness occurs -- a bacterium swims up a chemical gradient beca…

Two Men Enter, 1.5 Men Leave

(Incidentally, I use the Mad Max reference a lot, so here it is in case you were up at night trying to figure it out.)

Gene and I were inspired by Steve Jobs to contribute to the economy, er, lose weight. Here is our arrangement as I understand it (subject to correction from Gene):

* The weight-loss period runs from 1/5/09 through 5/31/09. If I'm going to be on national TV promoting my new book, I want to look dead sexy.

* Since I have a large advantage, I am handicapping myself. I will pay Gene $5 for every pound he loses, whereas he will pay me only $4 for every pound I lose.

* As of the wee hours this morning, I tipped the scales at 222 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. (I know, you're wondering where I put it all, but remember that muscle weighs more than fat.)

We will update readers periodically. Obviously we have to rely on the honor system for the weigh-ins.

My Review of Bryan Caplan


A Profound Muddle

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

-- Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

What is so stunning a…