Jeremy Pierce: January 2004 Archives

New location

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I've finally finished transferring all the posts and comments to the new site:

http://parablemania.ektopos.com

Thanks to Matthew for setting this up and being willing to host this.

I haven't yet done much with format and template stuff, but eventually I want to get most of the stuff I've had here over there. I may not worry about changing the look much. From now on all posts will go directly there, and this won't be updated. I think I'm going to remove the comments also, to avoid any new comments showing up here without my knowing about it.

Anyone who's got me listed in your blogroll, I would appreciate updated links for the new site. People can still follow this here, so it's not urgent, but it would be nice.

Favorite husband and wife blogs

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Sam thinks the best thing about this is being mentioned on Evangelical Outpost. I appreciate the mention itself, but I think I appreciate the award a little more than the mere mention.

Of course, the suggestion that we have to fight over a computer is a good deal off. Having three computers on a high-speed connection makes for a lot less computer competition, though one is a desktop upstairs and the others are notebooks that can go anywhere the wireless signal will reach.

Update: The link for Sam's comment was wrong. It's now fixed.

A David Kay quote you won't hear on CNN:

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"Iraq was a very dangerous place. The country had the technology, the ability to produce, and there were terrorist groups passing through the country--and no central control."

A fair analysis of what Kay has been saying will take more sensitivity to complexity and nuance than most of the Democratic candidates seem capable of.

I had to miss another debate Thursday (why can't they pick another night?), but I'm looking at the transcript now. This one seems much shorter on substance and much more focused on serious sidestepping of questions and continued repetition of blithe campaign slogans, but there are some moments worthy of comment. I'll take the foreign policy elements first.

Household unions

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Thanks to a link by Andrew Sullivan, I've found a John O'Sullivan piece that makes the civil union/marriage debate even more complicated. He assumes first that traditional marriage will within ten years be gone. Given that, he proposes household unions, which can be formed by any group of people living together, whether they have any sexual relationship or not. These could be easily dissolved but would give tax benefits and penalties, health insurance benefits, and other things that currently go along with marriage. A gay couple could form one, but so could three college guys living together, a bachelor son with his single mother, or a family with their live-in nanny. This would be in addition to the possibility of civil marriage and religious marriage, something I've talked about before. The way he talks about religious marriage separates it more from the government than what I had in mind. I was assuming a religious marriage would entail a civil union also, but he seems to see them as independent. At some point maybe I'll think more carefully about how these options would change things, but I don't currently have much to say about it other than I recognize that it would make it much more complicated.

I had a thought today as I listened to someone on NPR discussing how tax cuts are the reason there won't be enough money to cover the growing programs Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as baby boomers start to retire. It's not worth mentioning that we've known about this problem for a long time now, and the Bush tax cuts are pretty insignificant in comparison. What occurred to me as I was thinking about this is how different things would be if the very generation that's going to have this problem hadn't killed so many of their children. Abortion-on-demand supporters often give population explosion as a reason to want to minimize our population, with abortion as one such means. I believe China explicitly requires it to the point of giving severe penalties for your family and the families of your neighbors and friends (e.g. no education for your kids). In the U.S. it's not so bad, but there does seem to be the idea that abortion has led to a lot of good in terms of population control. Interestingly, ecologists today say that the population worries of the 70s looked in the wrong direction. It's distribution of resources that we need to be careful about. We have plenty of room for more people in this country.

So I was thinking that the reverse is actually true. It's not just that abortion as a method of population control hasn't protected us from any great evil. I'm wondering if it's even harmed. On one level, it's obvious that it's harmed. It's killed off a large portion of 2-3 generations, depending on how you count generations. That in itself is a huge harm. But I think there are even more subtle connections to some of our more serious problems that don't seem related at all. For instance, what would have happened if we had all those other people contributing to the economy, paying into Social Security, paying taxes, and providing support for their baby boomer parents as they start to retire? Would there be as great a need for Social Security for as many people? Would there be as much need for the kind of taxes we have? Now it's true that some of these people would be on the government payroll and not doing any work, furthering the dependency and lack of contribution that FDR created and irresponsibly continued once the Depression was over. I'm wondering, though, if the greater numbers of people would have required more limits on these entitlements, and if that would have forced a work ethic among those taught to be dependent.

Now I have no idea what would have happened here. It's next to impossible to predict such complex matters. I can't help but wonder if this is just another way the boomers are reaping what they sowed.

Update: Tulipgirl has a link to an article by James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal suggesting that Howard Dean is doing so badly because the age group that gives him the strongest support lost 1/3 of its potential voters as victims of abortion. As Tulipgirl put it, this 1/3 "failed to show up at birth".

Moving

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I haven't been writing much lately because someone has graciously offered to host my blog at a new location with Movable Type, so I'm in the process of transferring everything over there. It didn't read the Blogger export information correctly, so I'm doing it by hand, which I would have had to do with the comments anyway. I've gotten to January 2 now, and I hope to have it fully transferred by the end of the week. I'll post the new link once I start posting new posts there, and I'll keep putting them here until I have all the old stuff there.

Andrew Sullivan has a new article in Time. It gives the basic anti-Bush argument from libertarian premises, and he really does make the same fundamental mistake libertarians tend to make.

Let's look at Sullivan's complaints:

"Where once education was essentially the preserve of states, school principals and parents, this President has expanded the federal role in unprecedented ways. The No Child Left Behind Act holds states and localities accountable for meeting educational standards in order to qualify for federal funds."

"States' rights? Only if the states do what the President believes in. How else to explain the vast expansion of federal power that the Partial Birth Abortion Act entailed, limiting the rights of states to regulate abortion as they see fit?"

"Want to lose weight using ephedra? You can't. Bush's FDA has banned the over-the-counter supplement. Steroids? You heard the Nanny in Chief."

"There has always been a tension in conservatism between those who favor more liberty and those who want more morality. But what's indisputable is that Bush's "compassionate conservatism" is a move toward the latter � the use of the government to impose and subsidize certain morals over others. He is fusing Big Government liberalism with religious-right moralism. It's the nanny state with more cash. Your cash, that is. And their morals."

It's one thing to be critical of the government in areas that the general populace would oppose (e.g. anti-sodomy laws that forbid all sodomy, including oral sex). It's quite another to say the government has no right to restrict partial-birth abortion. Hardly anyone who knows what's going on in this procedure will admit that they think there's nothing wrong with it. Those who resisted the ban did it on grounds that they thought a very small minority of cases were borderline morally ok and therefore shouldn't be restricted. The overwhelming support in Congress shows that most people really do see this as a moral evil, with some people still thinking it should be allowed legally. This is what I just don't get. If it's such an awful thing, why not prevent it with laws? Well, that would be legislating morality, and who are we to declare that our morals are the right ones?

If you're going to say that, you have to stop laws against murder, rape, stealing, perjury, pederasty, selling heroin to a child, etc. These are all moral issues. If we can't let the government decide which moral issues to pursue having laws against, then we're in big trouble. If something is a real moral evil, then the government has a responsibility to protect people from that evil. Partial-birth abortion certainly falls under that category. I would argue that allowing students to fall behind simply because we have no standards in our schools is in the same category. Ephedra has been shown to be extremely harmful, and an FDA ban makes as much sense as for any other harmful substance, no longer allowing sellers to take advantage of an unsuspecting public by promising good weight loss results without telling people the deleterious effects of long-term use. This just seems to me to be lack of a moral backbone.

This email discussion is continuing. I got a response back, I've sent off a response to that, and I've gotten another one back already. It's venturing into broader issues of interpretation and inerrancy. I've included it in the original file and in the Arguments About Sex and Sexuality collection.

Update: Now that I've got an extended entry feature, the second part of the file linked to above is here. The first part is in the previous post.

I received an email from someone who I assume would prefer to remain anonymous, in response to some of what I've said about homosexuality. His basic thrust was that he couldn't understand how I could take passages about homosexuality literally to conclude that there's something bad about homosexuality despite all the evidence against that view, especially when I wouldn't take other passages literally, e.g. Joshua with the sun standing still in the sky and Genesis 9 with its once-common interpretation that the curse on Canaan justified slavery of all blacks. There are so many things with this argument that I find mistaken that it wasn't easy to work through it step-by-step, but here's my response.

Update: I've added the response into the extended entry now that I'm on Movable Type and can do such things.

Realized millenialism

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That's the new name some people are trying to use for what has traditionally been called amillenialism, which is the view that I think does the most justice to the biblical accounts of the end times. I've seen at least two links to this piece in the last week or so (from Andrew Warnock and Discoshaman), and I've finally gotten around to reading it. People often ask me what they should read about the end times, and this is a great place to start. He explains all the terms well, and he gives reasons for the view he ends up taking. In other words, it's really good, despite the seven or eight minor inaccuracies in the first half that explains the differences between the views (though the people who hold those views might not consider them so minor). The reasons he gives are organized well, do justice to the texts he's looking at, and don't seem to me to be easily objectionable.

Head vs. heart?

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Discoshaman looks at Dean's "heart over head" comments as a symptom of a general trend among Democrats to favor policies that sound nice but end up disastrous.

"Sure, they destroyed the black family with inept social engineering, razed inner city neighborhoods and built unlivable human ant farms and created an incompetent public school monopoly. . . But their hearts were in the right place."

I do wonder, however, if Republicans can sometimes do the reverse, which I think is equally bad. Compassionate conservatism was supposed to be an attempt to combine head and heart, but I think in the end it often just involves doing one on some issues and the other on different issues.

I wish I had a good Jonathan Edwards quote at hand, because he had some nice thoughts on head and heart.

Inconsistency on states' rights

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Josh Claybourn has a nice snippet on Democratic candidates' views on states' rights at the end of his comments on Thursday's debate:

"It's interesting that the candidates will support States' rights when it suits them, but run from it when it doesn't. For instance Sen. Edwards was firmly in favor of letting States determine what constitutes marriage, and Dean was more than willing to let States determine their level of gun rights (in spite of the Federal 2nd Amendment). But these same Democrats despise States rights in areas such as abortion where it might harm their position.... These candidates are abandoning the formality in favor of their desired results."

President Bush seemed to indicate a desire that states work these things out on their own (but in the legislature, not in the judiciary), though he also seems to support the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for the states, though it does have the effect on not requiring any state to recognize any other states' laws on the matter. This is clearly so with civil unions. I keep hearing conflicting things on how it deals with a state that legalizes gay marriage under that name.

Al Sharpton had to chime in about how civil rights and human rights shouldn't be left to states. The states' rights mantra is for him a reminder of the pre-Civil War era, when black people weren't treated as legally fully human. I just don't see how that's even the same issue. It may be true that an amendment was necessary to give black people full rights, and therefore the Constitution needed revising. But you could just as easily argue that the Constitution needs to be amended to protect the unborn with rights that they don't legally have right now. Sharpton's comment cuts both ways. If rights need to be guarded at the federal level and not left to states, he thinks that shows an absolute right to abortion that states shouldn't tamper with, but he's also leaving the door open for someone to come in arguing that fetuses have a right to life that shouldn't be left for states to decide and should be enforced at the federal level. I doubt he wants that.

What is supposed to be so harmful about gay marriage? What turns out to be the main reason Christians should want to safeguard the term 'marriage' has to do with the biblical concept of marriage, and it's something almost no one I've been reading on the topic mentions. It's no wonder that Andrew Sullivan can't find any argument for why Christians are so opposed to gay marriage. The main biblical reason never shows up on his radar.

Blaming the wrong people

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On NPR today, Diane Rehm and Ken Auletta (media critic and writer for The New Yorker) were ganging up on the media for attaching the "angry" label to Howard Dean. Apparently they saw none of the anger that so many people have seen. Now I don't know who they've been following, but it's hard to watch and hear him when he says "George Bush" without noticing that he absolutely hates the guy. His face gets redder, the veins in his neck get more noticeable, his whole face tightens up, and his tone gets more menacing. Still, I'll let this go. There's something far more important at stake. Suppose this angry Dean thing is an invention. Why blame the media for it? Shouldn't they be giving credit where credit is due? The bloggers are getting stiffed on this one.

NH debate comments:

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The short of it: I wasn't able to watch this one, so I have more to say, given that I was looking at a transcript for this. Kerry, as in Iowa, seems presidential but seemed like he's back to the old-school liberal positions that Bush will have an easier time running against. Edwards' reason for voting against the $87 million for Iraq made sense. He looked like a fool on the questions about Islam or about the Defense of Marriage Act. Lieberman, as usual, was the best of the bunch, with only a few things I disagree with. Dean seemed his usually self from the transcript, so maybe the difference everyone is talking about is in his tone and demeanor. The false statements and na�vet� are still strong. Clark seemed to have no clue. He had no responses to the best questions against him, and the coherent things he said all sounded like Kucinich, who was coherent all the way but such a nut that he isn't much higher on my list than Sharpton, who wasn't coherent at all and changed the subject every time anyone asked him anything serious.

John Edwards on Iraq

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John Edwards is in the large group of Democrats who had the same evidence President Bush had and supported the military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, some of whom have strongly insisted that Bush knew there were no WMDs on the same intelligence they had while supporting him. I hadn't known how strong Edwards' support for this action was.

"We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today. He has used them in the past, and he is doing everything he can to build more. Each day he inches closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability � a capability that could be less than a year away.We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today. He has used them in the past, and he is doing everything he can to build more. Each day he inches closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability � a capability that could be less than a year away. believe that Saddam Hussein�s Iraqi regime represents a clear threat to the United States, to our allies, to our interests around the world, and to the values of freedom and democracy we hold dear."

"Almost no one disagrees with these basic facts: that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a menace; that he has weapons of mass destruction and that he is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons."

That, of course, was the old John Edwards. He seems to be less consistent now. He sometimes reminds us that he supported the President on this, with no further qualification. Yet he's also joined the bandwagon of those accusing President Bush of misleading everyone. Edwards had the same information, and he made just as strong arguments for the same conclusion. Aren't his more recent comments at best grossly dishonest? I was about to start liking the guy somewhat, too.

Pacifism

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I'm teaching on pacifism, war, violence, and related issues in my ethics class right now, and I've just finished a summary of the main arguments for pacifism and the responses to them.

Bush's spending

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Since I've been in the business of defending President Bush against conservatives, I might as well post a link to the conclusions of a non-partisan study of the Democratic candidates' proposed policies and how they compare to the current administration's. This looks as if people voting on this one issue should prefer Bush, despite the rhetoric of some of the Democrats to the contrary. I'm not trying to justify lots of spending, but when you have to pick between two people it's best to pick the one who isn't as bad, even if you're mad at him and want a change to send a message. Sending it by bringing in someone who would be worse is not the way to do it (even if your way of bringing in the Democrat is by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate).

Incidentally, here's the order of lowest to highest budget increases beyond what it is now, at least among those mentioned:

Joe Lieberman (169.6 billon)
John Edwards (199 billion)
Wesley Clark (220.7 billion)
Howard Dean (222.9 billion)
John Kerry (265.11 billion)
Dick Gephardt (368.8 billion)
Dennis Kucinich (1.06 trillion)
Al Sharpton (1.33 trillion)

They conclude that spending has gone up by 23.7% since Bush took office, but even Lieberman is 15% higher than that, and he's the lowest of the bunch.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has been one of many I had in mind when I wrote this. He's responded to Instapundit's link to this information by pointing out that even with these figures a divided government is better than a monolithic Republican control of both the legislature and the executive. I assume the unstated argument is that a divided government will have a harder time getting any of these agenda [yes, this word is plural] passed. Therefore, a Democrat in the White House with a huge budget still would get less passed if the House and Senate are still controlled by Republicans, and on this issue at least a Democrat would still look better.

I guess I have two things to say to that. One is that it assumes a really tight lead in the Senate and a slightly less tight lead in the House will stay that way or lead to an increase in Republican seats. It's not clear to me that we should assume that, even if it seems likely. Second, it's worth thinking about which policies these candidates are supporting with these huge budget increases. If we're going to be spending lots of money, I'd rather it be on what Bush wants to spend it on, then probably Lieberman and Edwards would be second and third on the list. I don't think we could trust Clark and Dean about what they say they would do, so I can't evaluate them, and I know Kerry's preferences are far from what I would want the money spent on, even if he does seem to be one of the more honorable and presidential-sounding candidates. Kucinich and Sharpton probably shouldn't even have been mentioned in this sentence.

My conclusion: the value of the policies the money would be spent on is inversely proportional to the amount of money that would be spent on them. That gives two reasons to support the Bush end of the spectrum over against anyone lower on the list. A divided government might lower the amount of money spent, but these other factors still get Bush my vote even considering this issue alone, which some conservatives are saying might cost Bush their vote.

President Bush has gotten in trouble with some of his fellow evangelicals. They don't think he's a real evangelical because of his comments about other religions. He says Islam is a good religion, that Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God, and that the beliefs of other good religions like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. will help contribute to a better society. Meanwhile, Christianity (at least any Christianity that takes the scriptures as authoritative) states quite clearly that there's no other way to the Father except through Jesus. It says that God is three persons in one being, a Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), while Islam and contemporary Judaism insist that God is one in every way possible and that Jesus, a mere creation of God, is not to be identified or confused with God. Islam does believe he's a prophet and will return. They don't believe he died, never mind that he was resurrected. Judaism (except for Messianic Jews, if you count them) don't even believe that much about him.

What do we make of this? I want to explain what I think President Bush means when he says these things and why I think it's not just consistent with evangelicalism but it's what evangelicals should say. What the evangelicals who resist saying these things want to avoid is the kind of pluralism that attributes one reality to the multiple beliefs systems in world religions. They're all getting at the same reality but in different ways. I don't think that's at all what Bush has in mind, and I think a careful look at the nature of the language will show that the many repeated claims against Bush�s statements are assuming an implausible view of how names function in natural languages like English.

Will Baude considers and rejects the arguments of Catherine MacKinnon and Melinda Vadas that pornography leads to actual treatment of women as objects. (I think it treats the actual women who were photographed as objects, but I assume he's ignoring that fact, probably because he thinks they consented to being photographed nude, though this response does underestimate the difficulty of determining consent or coercion.) The main idea he resists is that pornography is sex between people and things (pieces of paper). But if I treat things (paper) as women, then won�t I also treat women as things?

Baude says we don�t use pieces of paper as artillery when we read about military history. We don�t use a CD of Figaro as an abandoned wife when identifying with the plight of the Countess. Even if that was what was going on, he says, the parallel conclusion is that we�ll start using abandoned wives and cannons as pieces of paper. He�s right to say that the argument sounds really silly when you think about it this way.

I want to suggest that there�s something deeper to the argument that won�t allow these ridiculous conclusions. The sexual drive is a strong component of what motivates someone. It ideally involves relational interaction to a significant degree, and it�s (among other things) a kind of communication. MacKinnon and Vadas are suggesting that pornography removes these elements from the sexual equation and therefore creates a strong correlation between sexual excitement and pleasure on one hand and the absence of a two-way enjoyment and interaction on the other. Children who grow up with pornographic imagery as a sexual outlet can develop a sense that the pleasure goes along with the body they�ve been looking at without a clear sense of the relational and communicative aspects. This increases the likelihood of treating someone as just a means to sexual pleasure and therefore as a mere object. This could work on a much smaller scale than what the person could easily detect, just leading to a greater likelihood of sometimes seeing women as mere sex objects. I suspect this happens far more often and even more insidiously than we realize.

As for the analogies he gives, what follows isn�t as silly as it sounds. I don�t see how reading military history is treating a piece of paper as a piece of artillery. It�s a means of learning about and thinking about military history, just as pornography is a means of thinking about, and perhaps enjoying some of the physical pleasures of, sex. It doesn�t involve treating pieces of paper as cannons or treating cannons as pieces of paper, although I suppose it might lead to treating cannons and other military realities in a more removed way. As for Figaro, fiction does have some of the problems of pornography. After all, porn is a species of fiction. Someone might read a good Terry Brooks novel and treat that fantasy world as an object of interest, thinking about what it would be like to be involved in the story. The person�s desires and emotional responses while reading might be tied up with what�s going on in the book. A little more strongly, the story might even be a way to leave aside a boring life to experience some of the more exciting emotions that the characters in the story experience. My sense is that many people watch soap operas for exactly this sort of reason. Now I don't want to see anyone coming back with the claim that people don�t seek relationships just so they can experience certain emotions learned by proxy by watching soaps and teen movies. That�s exactly what happens with your average teenage relationship.

Update: Baude responds by saying that my argument requires saying that even fantasizing about someone is wrong because it objectifies someone. I agree that it has that conclusion, but I don't see why he would expect me to find that result dissatisfying. I already suggested something even stronger with the soap opera example. I do think it's generally wrong to fantasize about someone for exactly this reason. The mutual ownership that comes with marriage (in the Christian view, anyway) avoids the charge of objectification in the same way the desire to use my car is not like coveting my neighbor's car. Sexual longing for someone who willingly belongs to you (and to whom you willingly belong) is the only kind of fantasizing I can see being allowed by this argument, but that seems to me to be the right result.

Christian Carnival

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I've just gotten a post accepted to the Christian Carnival, and I was asked to post the following announcement to gather more entries for it:

Please send your entries in now to the Christian Carnival, hosted by Patriot Paradox. Here is how:

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

email the Carnival at this address

carnival@patriot-paradox.com

Provide the following:
Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

Cut off date is Tuesday at 5PM EST.

Abortion and violence

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Antioch Road on the report of two more deaths from abortion via medication:

"A drug is supposed to avoid invasive surgical procedures, which almost always carry risk. Aborting a pregnancy, resulting in the death of child being carried in the womb, however, will always be invasive, even if a pill is used. It will thus always be dangerous to the mother."

Yes, abortion is inherently a violent act, even if it's candied over by disguising it as medication. To view it otherwise is to ignore the severed biological connection between two organisms, one of whom is already biologically caring for the other, both nutritionally and environmentally. It also underestimates the hormonal imbalance and psychological damage to the mother herself, who in some ways is also a victim of the violent act, even if she initiated it herself (which is not always clearly the case, given the number of young women and even young girls who are effectively coerced by parents and/or boyfriends into such violence against themselves and their children -- often without realizing the presence of such coercive factors). It makes me wonder why someone like Joe Lieberman (who I still think is the best of the Democratic candidates, even on this issue) can continue the Clinton mantra about keeping abortion safe, legal, and rare. Clinton did nothing to make abortion more rare, but many of his comments and appointees have furthered the aim of promoting its legality as an absolute constitutional right, which would have shocked the founders. As for safe, that just baffles me. I don't see how such a violent act could be described as safe.

Normally I really appreciate almost every posting at Language Log, an excellent multi-author blog by linguists. An entry by Christopher Potts appeared today that seems to me to have disturbing implications.

He refers back to a post by Geoff Nunberg criticizing a September court decision that allowed the Washington Redskins to keep their name. The reason given was that on some uses of the term 'redskin' it's not intended to be offensive, and the team uses it in a respectful way. I'm not sure I disagree with anything in Nunberg's original post. I think I even agree with the spirit of Potts's first post, where he argues that you can't just make up a new definition of a word that has expressive content (i.e. roughly what you might call emotional content) and then think that it's no longer disparaging because you're using it to mean something new. The word still carries that expressive content in the mind of the hearer. I do have some hesitations about his thoughts on the 'niggardly' incident that his fellow linguist John McWhorter has examined with more sophistication and balance.

This new post is what really worries me, though. Potts suggests that the court's reasoning rests on the following principle:

(A) A word W is inappropriate as a name for a product or corporation in a speech community C just in case every speech community within C regards W as offensive on every meaning that W can have in C.

He's right that (A) is too weak. You could name a team any offensive term you wanted, even the n-word, as long as you said you were using the word in a positive sense and treated every black person with respect in all your offical outlets. That seems wrong. It still carries the offensive expressive content of the word, even if people didn't intend to convey that. Since (A) won't do, Potts suggests the next principle as the one they should have used:

(S) A word W is inappropriate as a name for a product or corporation in a speech community C just in case some speech community within C regards W as offensive on at least one of the meanings that W can have in C.

I understand what he's getting at. He's saying that the existence of one usage that some speech community finds acceptable doesn't mean it isn't still going have all the negative effects on the relevant community, the ones who take great offense. That seems right. However, (S) is not just describing what in fact causes offense. The 'niggardly' example and the other points he makes demonstrate only what turns out to offend people. (S) is supposed to be a basis for legal prohibitions on speech, and that leaves the realm of descriptive linguistics and starts specifying what's appropriate. (S) seems to me to be far too restrictive as a guide to what's appropriate.

It's true that 'niggardly' doesn't have any meaning that disparages black people, not in any community. So that isn't a good counterexample. The people in that case just didn't know what the word meant, and they made all sorts of ignorant and very foolish-sounding comments as a result. However, it doesn't take much to have a speech community that uses a word with a slang meaning, particularly when it comes to derogatory usages with expressive content. People make up these sorts of terms all the time, and they don't easily catch on at the larger scale of popular English usage, but it's quite easy for a small language community to have such special usages (e.g. the gangs in a particular section of a city).

So if a couple gangs start using the term 'Burger King' as a derogatory term to denote a member of another gang the Flesheaters, then there's a speech community within that part of the city that regards 'Burger King' as offensive on at least one of the meanings the term can have in the larger speech community of the whole city. What follows from (S) is that 'Burger King' is now inappropriate as a name for a product or corporation in that city. Then you can extend it. The smaller community of the gangs is also within the country. You can run the same argument and say that it's inappropriate for anyone in the country to use that name that way. Then you can do it for the whole English-speaking world. Something has gone wrong here. I'm not sure what principle to replace (S) with, but it clearly won't do.

Update: As is typical of analytic metaphysicians, I came up with a fictional example that does in fact do the job of illustrating that this principle is false. All it takes is a possible example. However, it's much better to have an actual example to show that a term in current use is inappropriate according to (S). I found one. There's a band (or is it just one person?) called Tool. That's a derogatory term for someone who isn't very smart. At least one speech community in the United States recognizes that term as disparaging on at least one of its usages in that community. That community, part of the general community of English speakers, satisfies the conditions of (S) so that it's inappropriate for Tool to use that name. Examples from the music world (or what passes for it, in some cases) abound. Now I think some of these, e.g. NWA, WASP, The Dead Milkmen, The Dead Kennedys, and many other groups do in fact have inappropriate names, not that I'm advocating the government to step in and force a name removal, but I do think it's morally wrong to use those names. However, the name 'Tool' is certainly not one of these.

Will Baude has a nice discussion of a tough legal issue that would come up if vampires turned out to be real. If I were a vampire, would I have the right to make my own kid a vampire? One of the reasons this does have a point is because it deals with what parents have the right to do that they believe is in the best interests of their children but most people think is against the child's best interests. We know that I can't deliberately make my child dead and give such an excuse, but making a kid a vampire doesn't make the kid dead. It just makes the kid undead, which is to say not alive. Not alive doesn't mean dead. Remember that the binary opposites of alive/dead are not the only possibilities anymore if there are vampires. Baude concludes that a state does have the right to outlaw this, given the constitutionality of assisted suicide bans, but he also thinks a state would be able to allow it.

Maybe this should go in the forthcoming The Undead and Philosophy, in the same series as the esteemed Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book About Everything and Nothing, The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer, The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real, and apparently other forthcoming ones on The Sopranos, Bob Dylan, and The Onion.

I recommend none of these. It only sounds fun. A quick browse of the three volumes already out led me to believe fairly quickly that there wasn't much philosophy of value being done in these. Only a few of the philosophers in here were people I'd heard of, also, and that's not a good sign, though some of them were big names, a couple even people I like. It still didn't seem to me to be worthwhile philosophical work.

Even worse was a growing sense that most contributors had little connection to the pop culture item they were supposedly commenting on, often oversimplifying, or in some cases even misunderstanding, what was going on in the show or movie. This isn't true of all of them, but it's true of enough to discourage me from wanting to spend much more time or any money on this series. If they do Babylon 5 or Stargate SG-1, that might be harder to resist, but at this point I'm not too thrilled about the series.

Legalized stealing

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Venezuela is considering decriminalizing stealing in situations where it can be determined that the thief was "motivated by extreme hunger or need". I understand the motivation to want to help those in extreme hunger or need, and Venezuela certainly has plenty of that. I even understand the notion of showing moral deference because of the impossibility of complete understanding of the other person's subjective experience. That might lead someone to show some mercy in terms of a lower punishment for such stealing. However, making the action no longer criminal seems to me to misunderstand the whole notion of moral deference. It's not a justifying reason. I'm not even sure we should count this as an excuse (though even that would acknowledge that a crime had been committed). It's certainly a reason to show some mercy, but you can't show mercy if you pretend the action wasn't wrong. It was wrong. It's just that you choose to spare the person from the fullest consequences due to the unfortunate circumstances that led to their doing that wrong thing.

Thanks to Walloworld for the link.

New low for racist left

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'Racism' can be defined in two ways. The more common understanding of the term among white people is that a racist is someone who has a demeaning or hateful attitude toward someone of another race. This is called personal racism. The problem with this definition is that it doesn't capture attitudes, policies, or practices that don't stem from personal racism but do have a negative impact on a racial group, particularly one that's been historically demeaned, hated, or harmed. So 'racism' is then used more broadly to include what's called institutional racism, which is any attitude, policy, or practice that does in fact have such negative effects, even if not intended. Now I don't agree with Howard Dean that this kind of racism is the only kind of racism worth talking about (in fact, I think it's less important for racial issues today than some other issues that don't get their fair share of time). However, I do think these are an issue, and I think we need to spend more time thinking outside the Democratic box about which attitudes, policies, and practices do this. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about (from Matthew Stinson):

Yes Virginia, there is left-wing racism.


Apparently the idea is the Condoleeza Rice is an Uncle Tom. Maybe there's more going on here than just that, but that's at least part of the idea. It strikes me as odd that anyone could even think this, given two facts: A. She is incredibly smart. Her thoughts on many issues of foreign policy have been widely cited as innovative, unusual, and not just towing a conservative party line. In fact, her arrival at conservative views was a later-in-life move. She was convinced of it by arguments. B. She has voiced her disagreement with President Bush or other Republicans on a number of issues. One is on affirmative action. I think she takes the wrong view on the issue, though I'm not sure Bush has the right reasons for the right view, but the fact that she voiced her disagreement signals something about her thought that is independent of the Bush Administration (even if it's dependent on so-called black leaders' rhetoric). Additionally, she was one of the key figures to chime in calling for Trent Lott's resignation. She's certainly not a "defend the Republicans in spite of my own convictions" type. Now why all the introductory comments on racism? This ad is racist. It's not racist in having a negative attitude toward black people per se. The negative attitude is toward one black person who serves in a Republican administration. What seems racist about this is that it's in a long line of such actions. I've had students tell me in a philosophy class that Colin Powell isn't black. Clarence Thomas, J.C. Watts, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, and other prominent black thinkers who have sided with conservatives on key race issues all face this sort of name-calling. Why is this racist? I have numerous reasons for this. 1. Steele and McWhorter, among others, have given some very good reasons for thinking affirmative action is very harmful to black people. The Supreme Court conservatives on this issue say that it's unconstitutional because it's unfair to white and Asian students. These guys have more sophisticated (and I think better) reasons to oppose it, and those reasons come right out of the desire to see black students do well in school. If affirmative action holds black students back, then of course it's not being an Uncle Tom to suggest that it should be gotten rid of. Thomas Sowell has also argued for more general points about cultural issues behind the disparity between blacks and whites in the U.S. and directs people to focus on those to move toward progress. The attitude that these people are Uncle Toms prevents looking at whether these arguments are good and therefore will continue to harm black people if it turns out that their conclusions are correct (as I think they are). 2. The assumption behind this ad is that black people can be Democrats if they care about black people. If they side with the Republicans, then they're Uncle Toms. This assumes that black people can't think for themselves and decide whether the Democrats' policies are helping black people or holding them back. Saying that someone is only truly black or only truly seeking black concerns if they toe some party line is more like an encouragement to Uncle Tommish behavior, except it's Uncle Tomming the Democrats and not the Republicans. 3. One assumption of this sort of labeling is that there's some "white culture" that black people need to be separate from. The idea is that anything true of mainstream culture is non-black. This fails to recognize the significant impact black people's achievements have had on mainstream culture. It is not therefore a white culture but a culture that's been influenced by many cultural backgrounds, including those of black people (and I do mean the plural here). This robs black people of the credit for the hand they've played in American culture. 4. Perhaps even worse is the effect that this has on black people's attitude toward that society that they are very much a part of. There's a tendency that I have observed first-hand to blame this fictional white culture on any slight or harm, since after all it is not a mainstream culture that black people are part of. It's then seen as white people against black people. This turns into a negative attitude toward the fictional white culture and therefore toward the average white person. When the average white person then has to interact with someone who is antagonistic and separatist for what seems like no good reason, it often leads to negative consequences. When people then make hiring decisions based on how well they got along with those they interviewed, this antagonism is often noticed, and it's often blamed on white racist hiring policies or attitudes, when it's just as easily explained by an illegitimate bad attitude on the part of the job candidate. 5. The idea that anything true of mainstream culture is non-black has led to a separatism has in turn led to the desire not to achieve in school, since that is a "white" thing. Therefore it has led to anti-intellectualism among black people, as much an Uncle Tom feature as anything else. The peer pressure that results continues the low achievement in school among black people, and it even leads to silliness among those who do reach graduate school and can't bring themselves to do serious work that might be viewed as mainstream out of the perception that it would be doing white Uncle Tom work. This holds back black intellectuals from doing good work and having their hands in elements of society important to us all simply because they don't see how it will help black culture in terms of its relation to what they think of as white culture. 6. The particular wording of the ad is worth noting. "I'm fighting for Whitey! He trusts me to take charge on the front lines!" Aside from the racist assumptions of white culture I noted above, this seems completely counter-productive. President Bush has the most diverse cabinet in history. What's especially interesting about this cabinet is not just its ethnic diversity but that some of the people who aren't ethnically like Bush are also not necessarily like him in their views. It's true that Elaine Chao and Spencer Abraham, both minorities, are more traditional conservatives, at least on the issues their departments deal with. Rod Paige is more complicated than that, though he does tend to be more Bushlike. His differences with traditional conservatives are one of the main differences between old-style Republican policies and the new compassionate conservatism. I've already noted Rice's differences, and Powell's aren't that different on race issues, though both emphasize personal responsibility and drive to achieve on the part of blacks, which most Democrats won't bother to include as legitimate issues. Powell also has been the odd man out when his realist foreign policies have lost out to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld's more neoconservative ideas (though the extent to which this has happened has, I believe, been overstated). Mel Martinez is apparently worrisome to many conservatives, who seem to prefer Katherine Harris as a senate candidate. Then we get to Norm Mineta, who of course is a Democrat and served as Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton. Given the diversity of this cabinet, both ethnically and in some important ways ideologically, I think President Bush should be commended for doing exactly what Howard Dean says is the only thing we need to do. Dean thinks the main problems with race in this country have to do with insitutional racism, which in his mind includes the serious problems black people have in getting into positions of power and influence. President Bush has made far more efforts in that area than any of his predecessors, including President Clinton. The tactic of belittling Condoleeza Rice for being part of a Republican administration is putting Republicans in a catch-22. If they don't appoint minorities to these positions, then they're contributing to institutional racism. If they pick thoughtful, intelligent minorities who are somewhat like-minded but even have significantly independent views, then these people get labeled as Uncle Toms. The fact that President Bush picked these people shows that he does in fact trust them, and isn't that a sign that racial problems are diminishing? To reframe this in the opposite direction is moving race relations backward. For these reasons and probably a number of others that aren't immediately coming to mind, I see the attitudes behind this poster as a serious harm to black people in the United States today. Therefore, according to the definition of 'racist' that liberal intellectuals like to use so frequently, the ad is quite racist.

The biggest complaint I have about social liberalism is not the libertarian attitude about social issues. It's that it's often adopted inconsistently. A true libertarian doesn't necessarily have this problem, and social liberals who don't believe in genuine morality aren't subject to this particular criticism. The problem here is when someone takes liberal views on sex, abortion, drugs, tobacco, etc. by saying that you can't legislate morality while also saying that we need to have strong laws against murder, rape, other violent crime, etc. The reason for taking the second attitude generally has to do with protecting people from these criminals. That sort of action is wrong, and we need to stop it. The problem is that this is legislating morality. Dennis Miller illustrates this inconsistency very well in a New York Times story today:

"If two gay guys want to get married, it's none of my business. I could care less. More power to them. I'm happy when people fall in love. But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it, instead of having him do it and punishing him after the fact. If that makes me a right-wing fanatic, I will bask in that assignation."

Then he follows it up with: "I think abortion's wrong, but it's none of my business to tell somebody what's wrong. So I'm pro-choice. I want to keep my nose out of other people's personal business. I guess I fall into conservative when it comes to protecting the United States in a world where a lot of people hate the United States."

If abortion is wrong, why is it wrong? If we should protect the United States from those who hate us, shouldn't we also protect what are at least undeniably human organisms who have no voice and who are continually killed by those who don't care much about them, something currently tolerated by a country that turns a blind eye and changes the subject by talking about some absolute right to do whatever you want with your body regardless of whether it affects anyone else as long it doesn't affect anyone else who's been born, as if the Constitution gives any such right. Surely the argument Miller uses about protection with the foreign policy issues should also apply here, if indeed he's right that abortion is wrong. Why say one is urgent and needs immediate attention, including the death of the killer, whereas the other just is something that's wrong but shouldn't be prevented. If Miller wants to be consistent, he needs to wonder whether those who perform and commission abortions should be stopped (not that it would require killing them in this case) before they do something wrong also.

There may be more sophisticated ways to avoid this problem with some socially liberal views (e.g. on sex, though look through some of my earlier discussions for some hesitations in this concession), but the pro-choice view doesn't seem to me to subject to that once you admit that abortion is wrong.

War of the Blogs

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I just discovered that there's a major war between blogs that support Instapundit and those who want to dethrone him from first place in the Ecosystem at Truth Laid Bear. Truth Laid Bear includes a section on alliances, and two of them have formed on each side of this war. The Alliance of Free Blogs sounds like a nice, independent sort of organization until you discover what's required to be part of it. In addition to declaring war on an insightful commentator, members must have a fake quote attributed to Glenn Reynolds. Members are required to vote in Truth Laid Bear's weekly New Blog Showcase, guaranteeing maximum support from their side. Other dishonorable activities are encouraged, including direct lies about Instapundit (although at least these lies are required to be listed as lies).

On the other hand, those who actually support the fine commentator can join The Axis of Naughty by doing nothing other than posting something in support of Glenn Reynolds and making sure those in charge of the Axis find out about it. When I first saw the lists of alliances, I thought this one must be about those willing to align themselves with some sort of sexual impropriety, so I was surprised to find out it was simply those committed to supporting Instapundit. After comparing the two groups, and given all the insights I've gleaned from Reynolds, I see no choice but to side with the ill-named group over the ill-conceived group.

Update: It's come to my attention that most of the Alliance are conservatives who just want to get Instapundit more attention but do it in a funny way. Still, I don't like the deceit. I just had a strange quote attributed to me falsely, but I won't link it. Apparently Instapundit himself joined the Alliance, but that doesn't surprise me. He thinks he's overrated and often links to other people rather than saying something himself just so his readers will read other blogs. This is totally in character. I still support him.

Dean cheating?

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This is a little worrisome. According to David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, Dean supporters are talking about rigging the Iowa caucuses to put Dean in a better position in NH. How?

"There's talk in his campaign of trying to help Kerry win second place here. The gambit goes like this: Once Dean sees he has won the most delegates at a caucus, any extra Dean supporters will be shifted to Kerry's preference group to help Kerry beat Gephardt for second. The idea is that an unexpected second-place showing for Kerry in Iowa would help boost Kerry against Wesley Clark for second place in New Hampshire, and Clark is the guy Dean fears most in the contests down South."

Well, according to the latest poll Kerry is already tied for second place. However that turns out, I don't think this sort of move would help Dean's overall image. I don't know if this strategy is technically illegal, but it's certainly dishonest, and this isn't the first time in the Iowa campaign that Dean's supporters have been rumored to be trying to cheat. He does strike me as the kind of guy who would cheat if he thought he could get away with it, and he also strikes me as the kind of guy who would deny that he has anything to do it if his followers got caught doing it. Now that doesn't mean it's really going on, but that fact that it's so plausible is revealing.

Thanks to Antioch Road for the link.

Scientists have discovered that feelings of eeriness and religious experiences can correlate with very sounds lower than we can hear. According to NPR today, a man working on a house alone saw what looked like a ghost. The next day he discovered an electric tool buzzing on its own. He investigated and found a fan operating at a very low frequency. When he turned it off, the tool stopped. Apparently this was also the reason for his ghost sighting. British scientists have investigated the effects of infrasound at musical performances. Parts of the music with infrasound notes correlated with experiences of "sorrow, coldness, anxiety and shivers down the spine". The NPR story described a different experiment. There was a strong correlation between those in an audience who near infrasound projectors and those who reported strange or spiritual sensations during the performance.

What do we conclude? Those who are quick to dismiss any reality to spiritual claims say: According to The Guardian's story, "natural sources of infrasound - wind, air conditioning systems and traffic for example - could possibly explain why there were persistent reports of hauntings in some buildings." That doesn't bother me. At atheists.about.com, however, we find a stronger stance. "It disproves that old idea that there are some things that science cannot and will not ever be able to explain, one of which is often the strange sensations people have in some circumstances. Religious feelings are not immune to careful, scientific investigation - we just need the right sorts of things to look for, first."

This is doubly fallacious. First off, you can't disprove the idea that there are some things science can't explain by showing that one such thing is now explained. There still may be lots of other things science can't explain, for all this argument has shown. Second, as one of the people interviewed on the NPR spot this afternoon pointed out, all this shows is a correlation. This gives us one occasion for religious experiences. It doesn't show that it's the cause. I can think of a number of possible scenarios for this. He suggested that maybe we're always unconsciously having religious experiences, and this just brings it into our conscious awareness. Another explanation would be that these infrasound effects bring us into a connection with spiritual realities that we're otherwise not aware of. A third possibility is that this is an effect that leads to a similar sensation to those caused by spiritual realities. One way or the other, the conclusion doesn't follow. It's a possible explanation for some religious experiences, as the Guardian story said, but it's a bit beyond the evidence to say much else for sure.

Stay-home dads

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I'm not a stay-home dad, but we've considered the possibility of my wife going back to work and me staying home with the kids, wondering whether that would help me make more progress on my dissertation (and my dad was a stay-home dad for a little while when I was in middle school, eventually forming a home-based business and always being around anyway, as I often am because of a university teaching schedule). Anyway, I was talking with a colleague today who said he'd been a stay-home dad for a few years because his wife has a good tenure-track position, and I thought these were interesting enough observations that I might as well get a blog entry out of it.

I hadn't thought about the issue much, but he said there were at least two things that make it harder to be a stay-home dad than a stay-home mom:

1. Additional societal attitudes against a man staying home with the kids. It's true that women who stay home to raise their own kids rather than having someone else do it for them are seen as being anti-feminist, particularly in terms of not seeking a life for oneself and letting social pressure get in the way of a career. I've commented before that this undervalues one of the most signicant tasks any person can set out to accomplish -- the raising of children. Somehow one's self-centered personalistic goals are supposed to be morally superior to the role someone can play in the life of her own children. I just don't get this. Well, what my colleague pointed out to me is that it's even worse for men. Those who are more conservative might view it as not being manly (i.e. not being willing to support one's family). Those who are more liberal might view it as forcing one's wife to do all the hard work while staying at home and being lazy (which makes the same mistake as I mentioned above in addition to ignoring the amount of work that goes into maintaining a household).

2. This is the one I hadn't thought about at all. Women who stay home with their children often have peer relations with other women who do the same thing. Stay-home moms would go insane if they had no adult contact for too long. They tend to meet up with other women at playgrounds, gather in home for play groups, etc. Imagine being a man at the playground with your child, and a woman comes up to you asking you to come over for coffee. There are just all sorts of uncomfortable things about that kind of situation. Not quite so bad but still not as good would be the peer groups that mothers form. My colleague, after two years, found a group of moms and kids who gathered for play dates and welcomed him as a man, even though their name had 'moms' in the title, and he clearly wasn't one. It took him two years to find such a group, and it also took two years to find another man who had a similar schedule, with his wife working during the week and him working on weekends, so he seemed as if he was a stay-home dad.

I don't know many stay-home dads, and these reasons probably contribute to I haven't met many. This probably wouldn't be the reason I wouldn't do it. That would more be a reason related to how much more work I really would be able to do and how much harder it would be to do it without my wife around, though I'm still not totally ruling it out.

Update: I'm not sure what to make of this, but according to The New York Times 25% of married couples with children have a stay-at-home parent, while 26% of male gay couples with children have a stay-at-home parent, and 22% of lesbian couples with children have one staying home. So gay couples, if male, are more likely to have one partner staying home than do heterosexual married couples.

"Sociologists, gender researchers and gay parents themselves say that because gay men are liberated from the cultural expectations and pressures that women face to balance work and family life, they may approach raising children with a greater sense of freedom and choice."

Translation: Feminist ideals of women having to be just like men don't apply to gay men, so they're free to have one partner stay home and act maternal, something unsurprising for someone who embraces traditional femininity. "Conversely, feminism's legacy may leave lesbians more ideologically committed to equality in their relationships."

"That staying at home constitutes the just and noble course of parenthood was a sentiment echoed again and again in more than a dozen interviews with gay fathers." Too bad the paleo-feminists don't recognize this.

Yet another news item I'm not surprised I haven't been hearing about even though the news is on all day around here. I certainly remember people trying to soften the excitement of Saddam's capture by saying it would lead to increased attacks against U.S. soldiers. They seem to have been quite far off in their predictions. Let me reiterate this, even though I've said it with each of these posts. Fox News has been just as lacking in reporting these things.

Gay gene?

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There's an excellent discussion going on right now at Josh Claybourn's blog on whether homosexuality is determined or made likely by genetics and whether that's even significant for moral issues. Unfortunately, the direct link keeps closing my browser, so I've just linked the main page, and you'll have to scroll down.

I generally don't like to link to things without having anything to say myself, but this is a great discussion, and I do chime in a little bit over there.

This is the absolutely funniest thing I've seen in a long, long time. Discoshaman lists some highlights, though I don't think he picked all the funniest ones. It's not just that it's brilliant. It's obvious this guy spent a long time working on this.

Blackburn: Lust is a Virtue

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Simon Blackburn thinks lust should not just be removed from the vice list but be added to the virtues.

"According to the Sunday Times, Prof Blackburn has defined lust as "the enthusiastic desire for sexual activity and its pleasures for its own sake". The philosopher says that if reciprocated, lust leads to pleasure and "best flourishes when unencumbered by bad philosophy and ideology... which prevent its freedom of flow". He points out that thirst is not criticised although it can lead to drunkenness and in the same way lust should not be condemned just because it can get out of hand, the paper says."

I read this to my friend sitting next to me, and before I even finished, he said, "Oh, that's just winning the argument by definition! It's a shame that a professional philosopher like Blackburn would take the low road."

Blackburn apparently knows nothing of the frequent comments by evangelical Christians that sexual desire is a good thing created by God and that lust is when people act on that desire by dwelling on it too long or too much when lusting after someone or some mental image that isn't the proper object of such desire (which for a Christian would be one's husband or wife only). It seems fairly clear to me that the people he's calling puritanical aren't using the same definition of 'lust' at all and are in fact agreeing with him on his main point, though probably differing a bit on the details. The point both agree on: there's nothing wrong with sexual desire any more than there's something wrong with appetites for food. When it becomes sexual lust or gluttony is the problem.

Maybe he's ignorant of evangelical Christianity. If so, yet another philosopher demonstrates that he knows nothing of what he's talking about in criticizing Christianity. That's bad. But maybe he's just deliberately framing the debate differently. If so, then he's being unfair. Redefining 'lust' to make it sound like you're making a radical claim and then taking the moral high ground over Christians really is taking the low road.

The Reveler vs. Mad How

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Another Democratic presidential debate is on now. Howard Dean just got reamed by Al Sharpton. I have really mixed feelings about this, because it was so fun seeing Dean look so uncomfortable by the things Sharpton was saying about him, but it was such a bad argument. Sharpton's earlier criticism of Dean was that he had no place talking about race because he comes from a state with such a low percentage of minorities. Apparently the issue is that he can't understand problems of black people if he doesn't know them, and he can't know them since there aren't very many. It turns out he did have a few black people on his staff (which wasn't a large number of people to begin with).

Well, now Sharpton's criticism is that Dean didn't have any minorities in his cabinet! Dean's cabinet had six people. As Sharpton well knows (because he used it in his first criticism), the low percentage of minorities in Vermont is part of the reason Dean doesn't have as significant experience and interaction with minorities. That's part of why it would have been a lot more difficult for him to have gotten a more racially diverse cabinet than it would be for a governor of a more racially diverse state. Will Democrats in Iowa buy this argument? The black ones may well, unfortunately for them, because this is how people like Sharpton have taught them not to think. It might be nice to see Dean this uncomforable for a bit, though. He doesn't wear it well.

Wow! As I was writing this up, Carol Mosely Braun laid into Al Sharpton for criticizing Dean on race without himself having anything positive to say about how to bring people together racially. She's right. He has absolutely nothing to say on that. Unfortunately, she doesn't either, so I'm not sure what she thinks she's doing.

Update: Closing statements usually have some of the best examples of unsupported falsehoods, but I was only able to catch a few this time around:

Dick Gephardt: George Bush has declared war on the middle class, and good men and women are losing ground. [Declaration of war sounds awfully explicit for something that he's supposed to have been doing deceptively.]
Joe Lieberman: Too many people have seen Dr. King's dream slipping away from them. [So had they achieved it or almost achieved it and yet have lost it and all opportunity to gain it back? When did this happen, and who are these people?]
Carol Mosely Braun: When the Constitution was written, I was not included. Poor people weren't in it, women weren't in it, blacks were considered 3/5 of a person... [This sounds familiar. Didn't she try to tell us she was poor in last Sunday's debate? I don't need to repeat myself, so see my comments there.]

Update 2: Lester Holt just asked Howard Dean after the debate about what black people have gotten for their loyalty to the Democratic party. His two answers: The Civil Rights Act (1964) and The Voting Rights Act (1965). Then he changed the subject and said racism is still alive and needs to be addressed. [Nice way to dodge the question! I think it's fair to conclude that Howard Dean doesn't think Democrats have done anything since 1965 to earn the black vote. I never thought I'd agree with him so strongly on something related to race, but he's right, even if he had to change to subject to signal that he thinks this.]

Then Holt said something about the middle class tax cut, and Dean repeated his charge that there was no middle class tax cut. Holt said some middle class people perceive there to have been one. Dean: "I don't think so." [How out of touch can he be? We paid negative taxes last year, getting a refund out of something we never paid to begin with! His continued attempts to make it sound as if the tax cuts were only for Bush's rich friends is just insane. He did make an interesting argument that Bush's policies have required higher taxes at the local level. I'll have to look more at that, but I know whatever we pay at the local level is easily paid for by the money the IRS just plain gave to us.]

Update 3: A friend pointed out to me today that what I said above isn't quite right. Sharpton's argument is a bad one, but I think he scored a hit against Dean. The reason is that by Dean's standards of what must be done against racism it isn't clear at all that Dean has done a thing in the direction he says we need to go. Sharpton, of course, hasn't either, as Mosely Braun pointed out, but of course neither has she. All those two have done is make it worse. Still, what he said about Dean was correct, and what she said about Sharpton is also correct. They just have no right to say it and not mention that it's also true of them. Now I suppose they would point out what they have done, but I would ask how those things they've done are supposed to have gotten rid of the institutional racism that they think is the only or primary race problem in the U.S. today. I don't see how it does, and I'm not sure they want to admit that things have gotten better, or they'd have to soften their victimology rantings.

Da Vinci Code review

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Here's an excellent review of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code by Craig Blomberg, one of the most responsible of contemporary evangelical biblical scholars. It challenges a number of the claims made in the book that even the most liberal biblical scholars would agree are simply invented by Brown. If you're going to read the book, read this review first (and probably again when you're done, perhaps even referring to it as you go). In the process, Blomberg gives some useful information about the current state of historical work on Jesus and gives some worthwhile corrections to numerous falsehoods that are commonly repeated but aren't supported by serious research. It's worth reading even if you don't intend to read the novel.

I haven't seen this [Update: the original article has been removed, but here is the content of that article] described so nicely before. It's been common knowledge among most philosophers of race that our American concept of race has no scientific basis. That doesn't mean there's no reality to race, but it's a social phenomenon, not a scientifically discoverable division within the species. The work on the human genome project has not only confirmed this but given hard numbers to back it up.

Two little bits as a sample:

"Gray wolves split into subspecies, scoring 0.7 on Wright's scale. Even Ozark mountain lizards living on ridges less than a mile apart differ from each other by an Fst score of 0.4. But human groups score only about 0.15 on the statistical scale. That's a worldwide total measuring all human variation. When scientists try to measure differences between only two groups of people, they usually find a lower score, on average about 0.08 -- only 8 percent of the genes examined have more than one allele. The most disparate human groups barely make the 0.25 mark, far below the diversity seen in lizards."

"For instance, the Pygmy people living in Zaire and the Central African Republic, and people from Melanesia, such as people from the island of Fiji, are among the darkest-skinned populations in the world. A racial classification based on skin color would likely group them as members of the same race quite distinct from fair-skinned Europeans. But genetic analysis reveals that both African Pygmies and people from Fiji are more closely related to Europeans than to each other."

Update: I should explain what's going on with the comments on this one. I was involved with a discussion on Kwanzaa at World Magazine's blog. Someone there co-opted the discussion toward some pet issues, basically arguing for a thesis something along the lines of what The Bell Curve is usually used to demonstrate -- that standardized test differences between racial groups are explainable only through genetic predispositions for certain levels of intelligence. (See the Thomas Sowell discussion I linked in the comments for a more balanced view of that book.)

Independently of that discussion, I found this article and thought it relevant to some of my own thoughts on race that I've been posting here, so I posted it on my blog. Then I decided that it would also be relevant to that discussion and posted it there. Instead of continuing the conversation there, the person who had been trolling there rudely decided to continue the discussion here, thus giving readers of my blog absolutely no sense of where this is coming from unless they'd already been following that discussion.

My policy on trolling is that I will address any real arguments that I think are worth discussing, even if the general tone of the message is trolling, as long as I haven't already addressed them. Any posts that are pure trolling will be deleted.

People often support liberal views on sexual behavior by saying that whatever two people consent to do together is ok. Theodore Dalrymple has evaluated the case of German cannibal Armin Meiwes, according to this principle. Unsurprisingly, this principle gives no reason to oppose Meiwes's seemed to guide the sodomy ruling last summerbehavior, since his victim had responded to an internet ad asking for "a young, well-built man who wants to be eaten". So if there's something wrong with this, then that principle is in need of work.

Of course, some people revise the principle: sexual behavior is wrong only if it's non-consensual or if it harms someone. Some may try to argue that having your sexual organ cut off and sharing a meal of it with the person who cut it off, who then proceeds to kill you, does not harm you if you wanted it to happen. I have trouble understanding such a move. People can certainly want things that harm them, so wanting it doesn't make it not harmful. The less liberal principle to guide liberal sexual morality thus is able to handle this case (or one like enough to it if it turns out that this wasn't truly consensual in all the details). The more liberal one that does not.

Clark: Life by Maternal Fiat

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Wesley Clark takes conventionalism about personal identity to the extreme. Many philosophers think what makes someone a person are complex social practices, including language use and moral views. If we used language diferently and had different moral views, we would have a different concept of personhood, and the word 'person' would mean something different.

A new kind of conventionalism has been endorsed by General Wesley Clark. Most philosophers in the abortion debate realize that the debate is about personhood and not life, since life certainly begins at conception, as anyone with a basic Biology 101 class should know. So I'm going to assume that Clark means personhood and not life. If he really means life, he's more of an idiot than I thought.

Anyway, Clark said, "Life begins with the mother�s decision." If he's right, then whether a fetus is a person depends not on anything scientifically or philosophically discoverable. It depends merely on the decision of the mother. This is a kind of conventionalism but an extreme one. The only convention that matters is that of one person. How can one person's choice make the difference between whether something is a person? (You can see how it would be worse if her choice determined even if it was alive.)

Now there's a view in philosophy called divine voluntarism, basically that God's choice determines something. You could be a voluntarist about morality (Ockham's view that God determines what's right and wrong) or about mathematical truths (Descartes' view that God decides whether 2+2 is 4 or 5). You could be a divine voluntarist about persistence through time (Jonathan Edwards' view that God decides whether something is the same thing as some earlier thing). Professor Jose Benardete at Syracuse University, where I'm working on my Ph.D., was at one point (unsuccessfully) trying to convince Dean Zimmerman (once at Syracuse but now at Rutgers) to argue for divine voluntarism about where the line between bald things and non-bald things occurs (in terms of number of hairs, location of hairline, etc.).

Voluntarism makes sense for some human decisions. If we need a name to call something, it's perfectly appropriate to stipulate that we name it after the person who discovered it. Human choice then determines what sound we will use to refer to that newly discovered thing. We have a congressional voluntarism (or a sort) about laws. It makes absolutely no sense for some person to have the ability to determine, all by her lonesome, whether something is a person. This position will henceforth be known as maternal voluntarism about personhood (or maternal voluntarism about life, if you prefer to discuss the absolutely moronic view that he literally espoused, but I'm trying to assume that he only meant the relatively moronic view that I've been discussing).

See other good criticism at Outside the Beltway, Matthew Stinson, and Balloon Juice. Apparently his view is far more extreme than Roe v. Wade, which allows states to restrict abortion after viability (which at the time was 25 weeks but now has moved to 20-21 weeks). Clark doesn't think the government should restrict abortion until birth, which presumably would allow an abortion during active labor. So it's legal for a state to prohibit abortion in the second half of pregnancy, but Clark wouldn't appoint a judge who agreed with that. So he inconsistently says both that he couldn't appoint a pro-life judge, because a pro-life judge is somehow incapable of rendering a decision consistent with precedent, while also saying something himself that's inconsistent with precedent -- that abortion shouldn't be restricted at all, even up to the moment of birth. So much for following precedent.

Bigoted

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I looked over the last entry on Schwarzenegger, and I think my use of the term 'bigoted' needs some explanation. I don't think Trent Lott is a bigot. I may be wrong. I don't think he would have said we'd be better off if Strom Thurmond had been elected president if he'd realized the implications people later drew out of that statement. It would have been political suicide to say such a thing while aware of how people would hear it. He only later realized this, and then he had to apologize to avoid looking like he intended something no one in his position would have dared to try to say. I do think he doesn't consider race issues to be all that important, or he wouldn't have said what he said. If he'd been thinking of race as a key issue on the agenda, he would have thought about his words more carefully, and he would have remembered that many black people see Strom Thurmond as the epitome of white racism. While this was all going on, John McWhorter argued quite cogently for exactly what I'm saying here.

I also don't think Hillary Clinton is a bigot. She recently made a racist joke. She apologized even more quickly than Lott did. She realized the inconsistency of her holding others to standards she herself doesn't meet and had to take it back. Lots of people make racist jokes without really thinking ill of the people who are the brunt of their jokes, and I have no doubt that she has respect for people from India, including Gandhi. I don't think she has Indian concerns at the top of her agenda, but that's perfectly ok for someone who probably doesn't interact with Indians on a daily basis. It's less ok for the senator "from" New York to have racial issues low on her agenda, but Indian concerns aren't even at the top of racial concerns in the U.S., given where the majority of racial problems in this country and in this state tend to lie. What she did was a mistake, and it reveals some level of hypocrisy, but she apologized. Only future comments will reveal if she has repented.

Gray Davis, however, is another story. He deliberately said something demeaning about an immigrant, and it isn't even true. His comment was insensitive toward those who learn English to a degree far better even than the average native-born American yet still have accents that they wish they could overcome. Linguists have shown that the sounds distinctions we are able to hear and reproduce are determined fairly early in our language learning. My 17-month-old right now is babbling in sounds that occur in all sorts of languages but never occur in English. It won't be long before he settles down with English sounds and will have a very difficult time with German, Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, or Hindi sounds that aren't in English. Schwarzenegger learned English as a foreign language and did an incredibly good job of it. Davis' comment reveals that one of two things is true. Either he has a low view of immigrants who haven't developed a perfect American accent, or he was trying to appeal to voters who have such a low view. So he's either a bigot himself or he was pandering to the bigoted vote. I don't mind identifying him with those he wants to act like, so I don't mind attaching the name to him.

Governor Schwarzenegger's English

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Linguist Geoff Pullum confirms what I've been saying for a while now. It's not just that Gray Davis' bigoted comment about Arnold Schwarzenegger's English was false. His English is excellent and far better than most American native English speakers could even hope to have. He even said he'd strangle a kitten to be able to speak a foreign language as well as Schwarzenegger speaks English. He has a German accent, but that has absolutely nothing to do with his command of the language, and people understand him just fine even with the accent. "Any further attempts by politicians and journalists to accuse Schwarzenegger of being a pidgin-speaking inarticulate foreigner will do nothing but exhibit the ignorance of the accusers."

Collected posts

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I've decided to collect my posts about sex and sexuality into an ever-expanding file on my website. Each post will still appear here, but new posts will also end up there to have them all in once place. This will help with searching for particular items and with seeing the overall flow of the whole discussion from start to finish. Posts like the immediately previous one that are really just links to longer discussions will enter the collection as they are on the blog, with just the link and the teaser to the longer piece.

Update: I've now got three such files. The other two are on issues somewhat related to political theory (with a more careful explanation of what I mean by this at the top of the file) and on posts related to race. I've also included these with my Lord of the Rings movies post in the left menu bar. Since that bar is technically my blog description, I don't know how long it can be. I had problems before with it getting too long, which is why the right bar is as long as it is. We'll have to see if I can maintain this list on that side if it gets longer.

Update 2: I've given up. The left column deletes everything beyond a certain number of characters, so I've moved it all to the right column except for my website and Sam's blog.

I've been thinking about an old moral dilemma recently, from Ezra 10, in conjunction with the recent case of the woman who became a Christian, left her lesbian relationship, and then was told by a court that her former partner, who hadn't been in a legal relationship with the now-Christian woman's adopted daughter, had joint custody and that the now-Christian woman can't expose her daughter to homophobia. This court decision makes no legal sense, but it does raise some very hard choices for Christians in slightly different but certainly very possible situations. (Note: the extended entry is taken from what was originally linked to from my other blog that didn't have extended entries, so it may repeat some of the above.)

Stem cells without embryos

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This came out two weeks ago, and it's huge news, I've been spending a lot of time in the internet lately, and this is the first I've heard of it. Scientists at Scripps Research Institute in California have found a way to turn differentiated adult cells into stem-cells using a newly discovered compound called reversine. The primary argument for scientific research on embryos, which many pro-life people believe are fully persons and therefore have the rights of persons, was to procure stem-cells for research without having to take cells from aborted fetuses. In the mind of the pro-life person, this solution wasn't much better. President Bush's mediating proposal was not to create any embryos for this purpose but to be able to use cells from embryos that had been created but didn't survive. Now there seems to be a new way to get these cells. Why do the major news outlets (and even the minor ones, from what I can tell) not consider this immensely important?

The party of the elite?

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I don't know how many times I've heard that the Republican party is the party of a snobbish, elitist minority who think condescendingly of everyone else. This article is one piece of evidence among many demonstrating that elitism among liberals, at the very least, is no better. This guy just can't fathom that so many people would like President Bush without being quite stupid. It's really a testament to the division in this country. I'd love to know the numbers on how many Democrats who hate Bush don't even listen to people who like him and how many Republicans who love him don't even listen to people who hate him. It's amazing how many very intelligent people I know (even professors and graduate students of philosophy) hate him for reasons that I think are absolutely stupid, and they just seem like fools when they say some of the things they say. I don't, however, chalk it up to stupidity, as this guy is doing.

I'm certainly against anti-intellectualism, but that doesn't mean I should call everyone I disagree with stupid simply because I don't agree with them. It doesn't mean I should ignore the likelihood that people who don't think a lot about why they believe things might well believe the right things anyway but just without the careful reasoning. Those who aren't careful thinkers are nearly equally likely to be in either party, as far as I can tell. Most people are more affected by rhetoric and emotionalism than they are by argument, but it goes back to their deeper values and which policies they see as tied to those values, not to stupidity

For example, pro-life and pro-choice people both start with the same fundamental values. It's not as if pro-choice people don't appreciate the right to life, and it's not as if pro-life people don't appreciate freedom of choice. It's just that pro-life people generally have a view, that a fetus is a person and deserves the same treatment as a newborn infant, and pro-choice people generally have a view, that the fetus isn't a person and doesn't have such rights or that when there's a conflict of rights between two people the rights of the one who is more morally developed trumps the rights of the other. The same values are at work, and which view people have (if they're not basing it on arguments) generally comes from what others around them think. That's not stupidity. They have the ability to reason about such things, as I can see every time I teach the issue in an introductory class. They just hadn't thought about the careful arguments for either view, but that doesn't mean stupidity is why they held their view.

To summarize: Most people who hold views without having carefully evaluated the arguments still have an explanation for why they hold them, and that explanation is not simply because they're stupid. I really do get the sense from my colleagues that they think stupidity is the only reason most Republicans hold their views. That's not just insensitivity to the psychological issues involved with how people arrive at their beliefs. It's elitism, it's condescending, and it's flat-footed moral and political snobbery.

Andrew Sullivan has a nice, short explanation of something I've had a hard time getting across to most conservatives. Civil marriage as it exists right now has nothing of what conservatives seem so hard-pressed to preserve. Britney's so-called marriage (which now legally never happened) is just an extreme example of this. What conservatives don't seem to see is that the general attitude most people have toward marriage is that it isn't any different from what the homosexual community wants when they call for civil unions.

I feel really conflicted on this issue, as I do on the use of racial terms. On one level, racial terms seem arbitrary and inappropriate, given the scientific reality that we're all one race. On another level, real injustices can't be addressed, and real cultural trends and attitudes can't be measured and evaluated, without them, so they're necessary. In an ideal world, there would be no need for such terms.

The conflict I feel when it comes to marriage is between two principles that I think are both true (and derive from Christian views that other people will likely find totally implausible). On one hand, I believe two people are married when they have sex. I think it's best if they make that marriage explicit with vows before God before they go ahead and really get married. Thus many more people are polygamists, polyandrists, and adulterers than think they are. My recent discussions with Will Baude of Crescat Sententia have more information on why I think this. Consent to sex, as I see it, is the deepest kind of commitment anyone can have to anyone else. People often engage in it without having the less significant commitments of agreeing to be with the person for the rest of your life, but most people don't see this and wouldn't agree that that's what they're doing. Still, I think they've basically married the person physically and are backing out on that agreement once they've moved on to someone else. For some biblical arguments for this view, see Gordon Hugenberger's FAQ on this issue.

On the other hand, most civil unions (called marriages) reflect so little of what marriage is supposed to be. Marriage, for most, involves nothing of a spiritual union, nothing of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the gathering of believers, nothing of reflecting the relationship between the Father and the Son, nothing of the desire to raise children in a godly environment to love and serve God, etc. Given this, I wonder if it's worth calling them marriage anymore. This, as I said, creates a real tension with the other point, since any civil union is marriage as long as sexual union occurs. Many other relationships are also marriage in that sense. Then how could we go so far as not just to deny that someone who has had sex is married but even to deny that someone legally married is married? In one sense, they're certainly married, but in another what they have is so far short of the ideal for marriage that it's hardly worthy of the name. I don't know what to think of this tension, but it's there.

Now how should the Christian who takes this view respond to the current situation? The only thing I can think of is to have two levels of discourse. On one level, I think Christians need to continue to make the case that sexual union is a much deeper commitment than secular society thinks it is, and people who take it lightly and move from partner to partner are really harming themselves and their relationships, not that they can see this. On another level of discussion, I think we need to emphasize that whatever Britney Spears had for these couple days, and indeed the average secular union, is not marriage. One way to do this would be to have something like the distinction between covenant marriages and civil marriages, as Louisiana does. I'm not sure this goes far enough (but then again it also seems to go too far, because of the other issue). It doesn't go far enough because it only addresses the issue of divorce and not all the other elements of marriage missing in a mere civil union. However, I'm not sure how you could get away with adding religious elements to a legal marriage that goes beyond civil unions, at least in the current era of obsession with separation of church and state (which isn't in the Constitution and wasn't ever intended to be a removal of all religious language from anything remotely connected to the government but more just a prohibition of a state religion).

The moral of the story (and why on one level I strongly agree with what Sullivan is saying): What the homosexual community wants to do is slightly further along this line than the Louisiana law, since it distinguishes between marriage as some sort of religious union with at least a desire for eventual procreation or childrearing (which LA's covenant marriages don't do, since they just disallow the option of no-fault divorce). Civil unions need no such connection to religion or to procreation and/or children. So on one level I really would love to see the civil union thing come in, because it will demonstrate the difference between a mere civil union and a marriage. If there's such a big difference between what I have with my wife and what Britney Spears had for these couple days, why is it such a bad thing if two men or two women want whatever she had for a longer time? I just don't get the insistence against such civil unions. Won't it strengthen the notion of marriage, separating it from the weakened notion of marriage that allows such frivolous things as her activity this past weekend to be called marriage?

Incidentally, I think Sullivan's own more extended arguments (from conservative premises) for full-blown marriage (and not just civil unions) are some good arguments why someone coming from a biblical perspective would want to resist the fuller notion of gay marriage. For now at least (but perhaps not permanently) I'll leave it to the reader to figure out what I mean by that.

[Concluding Unrelated Postscript: The link above is slightly higher on the page than it should be, but that was the closest link he included in his page. Besides, the dictator/doctor thing on Howard Dean is interesting too. I have the same sense about most doctors, and Dean doesn't seem any different. I don't get that from Bill Frist from observing him and hearing him speak, but what he's being accused of doing recently with the medicare legislation makes me wonder. (I should say that the two doctors in my congregation don't seem like this.)]

Update (on the doctor thing): Someone at the Washington Post beat Sullivan to the punch on Dean's doctor personality. I should say while I'm thinking about it that our family doctors and the doctors who have delivered our children aren't like this, but virtually every other doctor (besides the aforementioned ones in our current congregation) that I've seen in a professional context fits this profile very well.

No I'm not talking about the lottery. This would be more a outright tax for the poor. The Democratic debate is on right now, and the idiocy is going at full pace. Howard Dean just said "There was no tax cut for the middle class."

I make somewhere in the $20,000-$30,000 range. Since my wife has graciously been handling finances in the last few years, I don't have any idea what the actual amount is. There's no question that we made enough income for the recent tax refund, and there's no way I qualify as one of George Bush's rich friends, who Dean claimed were the only ones to get the tax cut. In fact, we didn't even pay any federal taxes last year, and we still got a ridiculously high refund from other people's taxes! When Democrats insisted on doing it that way, the Republicans were incredulous that they wanted to refund money that had never been paid, but the Dems won the argument by proclaiming hysterically that it would have been a tax cut for the rich otherwise. Dean says it was a tax cut for the rich even with the free handouts to non-taxpayers. The man looks like his nose is growing by the minute. He wants to tax the poor and then call it a repeal of a tax for the rich.

Updates along the way: Dean: "I am going to balance the budget, and I'm going to do it in about the sixth or seventh year of my administration." Is he planning to wait until then so he doesn't have to do it if he only gets one term? Is it so people won't get mad at him for cutting programs and not re-elect him? This may not be a lie, but it's certainly suspicious-sounding.

Dick Gephardt: "They [the Bush Administration] tried to put more arsenic in the water. We stopped them." That must have been an interesting sight. Did the Democrats discover this plan and run out there to intercept them before they could pour the arsenic in the water supply?

Carol Mosely Braun was asked what she would do to close the racial gap for SATs. Her only way to do this would be to beef up funding for schools in poor areas. How is this going to solve a problem to which income has been proved to be irrelevant? The SAT gap is about as wide for rich and middle class blacks as it is for poor blacks, and it's also independent of parents' education level. Whenever this is pointed out, people who take her view change the subject. She didn't come out and say that blacks' SAT scores are low because all black people are poor and poor people can't do well on SATs, but that's the implication.

Joe Lieberman called the Bush Administration the most secretive administration in the history of our country and said Bush has been the worst environmental president in our history. Lieberman must not know his history. Whatever you think of Bush's policies, I don't know how any honest evaluator could think the secrecy of this national-security-centered administration holds a candle to Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon's. As for the environmental question, I think the senator needs to revisit the turn of the previous century.

Dennis Kucinich: "I'm electable if people will vote for me." That was funny. I suppose that's vacuously true and therefore not a lie, but I had to include it.

Carol Mosely Braun wants us to think she's poor: "When the Constitution was written, I wasn't included. Black people couldn't vote. Women couldn't vote. Poor people couldn't vote." I think the implicature would be that she's in all three categories. Does she want to continue the stereotype that all black people are poor badly enough to expect us to think a former senator and ambassador is poor?

Linguist Mark Liberman, no Bush supporter, has some surprising negative remarks about the campaign to make President Bush look like an dunce through overexamining his speech to find any possible regional accent, slip of the tongue, or nonstandard use, then calling it a Bushism. (I remember when they did the same sort of thing to Dan Quayle while ignoring everything positive that he did. He may have been the hardest-working and effective Vice-President of the entire 20th Century, but the media, and I'm using this term loosely, successfully ruined his political future through their twisted quest to portray him as an idiot.)

From what Liberman says, I get the impression that most of these Bushisms are as unreliable as a hung-over college student's memories of the previous night out on the town. The ones they do find are not surprising when people are poring over everything he says to find such things. He gives a good example of a reporter presenting Bushisms himself but with three downright embarassing misspellings (e.g. "agregious") that if Bush were to submit to a newspaper would be called Bushisms. So it's not just overly picky for the political purpose of undermining the man's public image. It's outright hypocrisy. Everyone does this.

Liberman: "You can make any public figure sound like a boob, if you record everything he says and set hundreds of hostile observers to combing the transcripts for disfluencies, malapropisms, word formation errors and examples of non-standard pronunciation or usage. It's even easier if the critics use anecdotes based on the perceptions and verbal memories of equally hostile listeners. And the whole thing has crossed some kind of line when you can make the AP wire by citing him for using a widely accepted pronunciation..."

This is more of a sign that Bush really is in many ways more like the average American than those who think of him merely as a jingoistic child of privilege (as a friend of mine recently described him) would want to think.

Two more ethics tests

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This was an interesting test. It basically told me what I already knew. I think something can be morally wrong even if it doesn't harm anyone, but I think most things that don't appear to harm people but are wrong do in fact harm someone -- the person doing them -- simply because doing something wrong harms you. It suggested that there was a tension here, but I don't really see it. It also told me that I don't have a strong tendency to need to see such behavior legally enforced or punished in this life, but it read that as not having a desire that people not do these things. It's worth thinking about the ways our moral intuitions interact with our explicit beliefs about morality, and this test helps do that. It also might expose potential conflicts within your belief system.

This one tests how parsimonious your moral thinking is, i.e. how many independent principles are at work in your moral reasoning. My score was 47%, much lower than the average 66%. That means I think some factors are crucial for the moral status of an action when most people think they're irrelevant. It isn't fine-tuned enough to detect exactly which principles make the difference for me. The ones it suggested weren't quite right, but they were at least in the right direction. The way the questions were worded actually prevented me from answering correctly in at least a couple questions that affected their results.

There were a couple other things at this site that were less interesting. At first I thought their God test was good, but it makes a couple huge logical blunders by excluding not just possible views but in some cases popular views among theistic philosophers and then saying such people contradict themselves out of not understanding what the view really says. So that one I don't recommend unless you're an atheist. As far as I know, it doesn't have the same problems for missing the fine nuances of atheistic views. If it does, then at least it's consistently insensitive to significant but fine nuances.

This is hilarious. A British historian has argued that Queen Elizabeth is illegitimate, and so is every monarch since Edward IV (1461-1483), who was fathered by a French archer. During the five-week period that Edward could have been conceived, the man who was supposed to be his father was at war and nowhere near Edward's mother. Therefore, Edward's younger half-brother, the Duke of Clarence, should have been the legitimate king, and the rightful king now is Michael Abney-Hastings, a forklift driver in Australia. The royal family at the time had been aware of this and tried to avoid the scandal by suggesting that the conception date was earlier, which would have led to an 11-month pregnancy!

Update: For those who aren't inclined to look at the article, go to it at least to see the picture of the guy, whose whole demeanor and physical shape stand in stark contrast to the in-bred, uptight, sickly royalty who have now been shown to be illegitimate after over 500 years. Terry Pratchett is probably enjoying this.

Almost a year ago, Michael Crichton gave a heated condemnation of the scientific community for beefing up low-standard research with rhetoric, computer models based on equations whose variables we can't even guess at in an educated way, and conducting heresy trials against those who challenged the research. The targets? Carl Sagan's claims about the certainty of extraterrestrial life, the probability of serious nuclear winter in the event of a nuclear war, and now global warming.

What amazed me throughout the whole thing is how much he sounded like Philip Johnson or Michael Behe in their criticisms of neo-Darwinism. I doubt he'd allow the comparison, but his language is about the same, saying that consensus is a ploy when there's no argument, that those who question the consensus are belittled and called unscientific (note: I have seen Daniel Dennett do both these things), etc. To those who know anything about philosophy of science: How well does this comparison hold up? Are there crucial differences, or has Crichton given the intelligent design movement more ammunition?

Amazon.com has a feature today on J. Michael Straczynski, best known for Babylon 5, the best show in the history of television, but also more recently for his work in comic books, especially The Amazing Spiderman. Unfortunately, it says nothing about the new B5 project that he's working on and won't say anything about, but it does have a new short story by him that raises some very interesting ethical questions.

Update: JMS has informed his readers that Amazon moved the story after the first day. I've updated the link. In the event that anyone tried it after the move and therefore missed it, you can now read it at the new location.

Mickey Kaus has some interesting comparisons between Bill Clinton and Howard Dean on the issue of race. Apparently Dean is using the tired old line that race problems are merely a matter of educating white people about unconscious racism. The far left will hate this classic liberal attitude (that had been drilled into me during freshman orientation at Brown) because it ignores institutional racism that isn't a consequence of unconscious attitudes. Anyone who is at least as far right as Bill Clinton will hate it even more for ignoring problems from within the black community.

A couple of Dean's comments about white practices and attitudes were surprisingly insightful for someone from Vermont, I have to admit. Kaus, unfortunately and probably deliberately, avoids talking about that. Even so, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone who has really spent any time with black people could think the American black culture is innocent of perpetuating race problems. It's not always conscious, but it's certainly there.

I never knew it about Clinton, but the quote from him rightly directs some harsh criticism toward both whites and blacks. Maybe I'll have to rethink my impression that Clinton never really cared about black people and only said things about race to continue getting Democrats the black vote without a desire to do anything to earn it. (I don't think he really did much, and I'm not sure he would have done the right things, but maybe he had some desire to do so after all.) I don't think this will change my general impression that Democrats as a whole are like that, but maybe Clinton moves closer along the scale toward a balanced outlook on race issues.

Thoughts on LOTR movies

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Now that I've had a couple weeks to think since having seen the third episode in Peter Jackson's visualization of the best novel in history (Tolkien saw it as one novel), I've finally put together my thoughts on the overall project. I haven't seen every extended scene in The Two Towers extended edition yet (but have seen all the completely new scenes), and the final version of The Return of the King isn't done yet, but here's what I've come up with.

I should say that almost all of what I say in this is a critical evaluation of what I didn't like, focusing on the more deep and meaningful things Jackson left out or ruined. I haven't focused as much on things I did like (which I should probably do at some point just for balance, though that sort of thing is much harder for an ISTJ inspector/troubleshooter), so it might be easy to get the impression that I didn't like these movies. That would be a mistake. I enjoyed them thoroughly. The Two Towers was the most disappointing of them all, and I still look forward to going through the special features of the extended edition with a fine-toothed comb when I get it, as I did with The Fellowship of the Ring.

I also haven't bothered as much with things I was just disappointed not to see. The important stuff that really should have been there is my focus in these reflections, including significant character-twisting, huge Tolkien themes that were ignored or contradicted, and major plot points that were dismissed as unimportant but were in fact crucial to the storyline. As always, feedback and evaluation are welcome.

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