Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The Envelope, Please II

Andrew Sullivan has awards to give out. The runner up for the Von Hoffman Award (for spectacularly bad predictions) is a doozy:

"Diplomacy with North Korea has scored a resounding triumph. Monday's draft agreement freezing and then dismantling North Korea's nuclear program should bring to an end two years of international anxiety and put to rest widespread fears that an unpredictable nation might provoke nuclear disaster. The U.S. negotiator Robert Gallucci and his North Korean interlocutors have drawn up a detailed road map of reciprocal steps that both sides accepted despite deep mutual suspicion. In so doing they have defied impatient hawks and other skeptics who accused the Clinton Administration of gullibility and urged swifter, stronger action. The North has agreed first to freeze its nuclear program in return for U.S. diplomatic recognition and oil from Japan and other countries to meet its energy needs. Pyongyang will then begin to roll back that program as an American-led consortium replaces the North's nuclear reactors with two new ones that are much less able to be used for bomb-making. At that time, the North will also allow special inspections of its nuclear waste sites, which could help determine how much plutonium it had extracted from spent fuel in the past." - The New York Times, wrong yet again, October 19, 1994.

All you people in missile range, don't panic. All is safe. The Times says so.

Predictions For 2003

Courtesy of Tim Blair.

Update: Anne Wilson has predictions, too.

Update: Bjørn Stærk has the final say:

I predict that in 2003 a shot will be fired, a Frenchman will frown, an Imam will say nasty things about Jews, some stocks will go down, and temporary regional warming will strike Scandinavia. By 2503, upto several people will have died from war, famine, pestilence and death. I predict growth and decline in various sectors, shortage and surplus, the rising and falling of eras. New things will be invented, and proven dangerous. Bad pop music will be written, and in the end we're all going to die. They tell me I'm a loonie, but I haven't always been wrong in the past.

Monday, December 30, 2002

The Envelope, Please

Andrew Sullivan has a list of 2002's winners and losers (immediately follows "Man Of The Year" post).

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Cartoonist Art Imitates Blog Art

WorldNetDaily has a story about a controversial political cartoon that depicts a nuke-laden Ryder truck and the caption, "What Would Mohammed Drive?"

On November 23, Robert Prather posted this item on the Miss World riots in Nigeria. Two responses after making a bad prediction that somebody would find a way to blame Jerry Falwell for the riots (the American punditocracy virtually ignored the story), I made this catty remark: "Perhaps that columnist could tell us what kind of car Mohammed would drive - well, maybe he better not."

The columnist is a she, by the way; Nigeria turns out to be slightly less chauvinistic than I had originally thought.

Powell vs. Stephanopoulos

NewsMax reports an exchange between Colin Powell and George Stephanopoulos on North Korea:

Discussing the standoff over Pyongyang's decision to reopen old nuclear reactors at the rogue state's Yongbyon nuclear facility, the former White House communications director argued that Clinton forced North Korea to back down.

The exchange went like this:

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to show something that Senator John Kerry said the other day about the administration's policy. What he said [was]: "What happened in North Korea is predictable and totally anticipated based on this administration's complete avoidance of a responsible approach to North Korea in over a year and a half. It is the absence of diplomacy, it is the absence of common sense that has brought this on." How do you respond to Senator Kerry?

POWELL: Well, John Kerry is running for office. And I disagree with the senator as much as I respect him. The fact of the matter is that this [nuclear] program was not started during the Bush administration. It was started during the previous administration. Back in 1998 and 1999, the intelligence shows clearly that North Korea had embarked on a program of enriching uranium. And so, we inherited this problem.

This NewsMax story highlights Clinton's role in the North Korean nuclear program, namely, the foreign aid given for the construction of plutonium-producing light water reactors.

Update: NewsMax contributor Geoff Metcalf offers a brief history of North Korea's nuclear program.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Homework Assignment

Okay college students (that means you too, Josh), here's a few problems to keep those mental faculties humming during Christmas break:

  1. What is the average air velocity of an unladen reindeer (European)?
  2. How many days of Christmas would have to be added to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to double the length of the song? Triple?
  3. Briefly describe the evolutionary history of elves.
  4. What element on the Periodic Table most closely matches the density of fruitcake?
  5. Name all of the regulatory agencies under whose jurisdiction Santa would fall if he relocated his workshop to Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Monday, December 23, 2002

The Reasons For The Season

While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships - and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.

Best of holiday wishes to all my readers.

A Christmas Poem

(Courtesy of Inscrutable American, who is now on the blogroll)






















Sunday, December 22, 2002

Race Dialogues

On December 16, FrontPage Magazine contributor Felicia R. Lee posted her largely uninspiring interview with Carol M. Swain, author of The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration. Sadly, Lee and Swain pussyfoot around the nonwhite racism that provokes the white racist backlash. I decided to tackle the issue in the comments section:

On issues of race, liberals are divided into two groups. The Mainstream Left wants to solve the problem of racial division. The Far Left wants to prolong it. The former wants racial reconciliation but has a lot of wrong formulas for achieving it. The latter wants the descendents of former slaves to stand on the necks of the descendents of former slaveholders (and whites in general) at a table of eternal wrath. That's what multiculturalism is about - casting human history as a series of class wars in which one set of classes is blameless and another set is fully responsible for all that is wicked in the world.

The white separatist groups recognize this - but only to a certain point. They know that generalized criticisms of whites are unjust, but they counter the multiculturalist class warfare mindset with one of their own. Contrary to the leftist perception of a war between the many but disadvantaged good classes and the small but powerful bad classes, they believe that the few but disadvantaged good classes are at war with the many and powerful bad classes. (Is this the only difference between Far Left and Far Right?)

Class warfare assumes that all members of one group are inherently at war with all members of another - black vs. white, Western vs. non-Western, rich vs. poor, male vs. female, cultural conservative vs. cultural liberal, humanity vs. the rest of nature.

Class warfare is a myth. People are individuals, not Borg drones. Because each individual belongs to multiple classes, all classes overlap each other, revealing the tidy societal compartmentalization of the Far Left and Far Right to be a fraud. And since each class has its good and bad, no class has any claim to purity of goodness or purity of evil.

Later, "net observer" vented a little frustration:

This is why I will always maintain that we're all just human beings. In one era, a group of people were pushed to embrace a form of extremism, and those who pushed them were too myopic, parochial and careless to know that they were pushing anybody in any direction. Today, in a relatively tiny sense, we see the situation reversed.

How many times has this happened in human history?

Why we can't all rise above this circular madness and move forward remains a mystery to me.

I offered this bit of encouragement:

MEChA, Nation of Islam, and the Vanguard News Network [a white nationalist website - do your own search for the URL if you're that desperate] share the same basic mindset: one good race must oppose the many evil races. The only real disagreement between the three is over the identity of the good guys and bad guys. (And only MEChA has explicit plans for formal secession from the US, to carve a nation called Aztlan out of the Southwest - including my native Texas.)

The cycle of racist movements begetting racist movements will never be broken completely. There will always be David Dukes and Cynthia McKinneys out there. The question is whether such people will be plentiful.

White separatist groups were pushed to the fringes of society not by force or by vengeance but by everyday people demonstrating through their everyday lives that blacks and whites can live in harmony together, peacefully influencing others to come to their side. The racist anti-white backlash must be fought the same way.

Moving on to Brad DeLong's Website. Professor DeLong posted this excerpt of a recent screed by Aaron at (warning: profanity and general crassness). Aaron was responding to this John Derbyshire piece:

I've had a number of e-mails along the following lines, and I assume every other NRO staffer has, too. The following quote isn't one of those e-mails, it's a compound I've put together by distilling the essence of several. I don't say you have to like it; but it's a strong vein of opinion out there among NRO readers. Here you go: "I am sick and disgusted with all this hammering on Lott. What do we have to do to appease these race lobbies? How long shall we be expected to keep apologizing? We de-segregated--fair enough. Then we had to swallow Affirmative Action, MLK day, Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, and all the posturing, hypocrisy, and fake anger about 'racial profiling.' Still it goes on, and we are still supposed to be cringing, apologizing, beating our breasts and moaning: 'Guilty! Guilty! We are all guilty!' Black politicians can say anything they like about us--the most hateful, ignorant things--and nobody turns a hair. Yet when some white guy makes an ambiguous, incidental remark like Lott's, he's torn to pieces by a howling mob of white media liberals--every one of whom, if he had been living in the South in 1948, would have been a segregationist. Heck, every white Southerner was."

Derbyshire illustrates the growing rage against the race-baiting and outright racism of the Left - the very thing I addressed in my letters to FPM. Aaron sums up his response: "And possibly -- I can really only speak for myself, you know -- possibly, other Black people do as well, and this is the reason we avoid the f___ers like the plague. Not because of any great love of the Democrats, but because the Republicans are more openly, blatantly racist." Professor DeLong implicitly agrees, having stated elsewhere that Richard Nixon transformed the GOP into the "Party That Doesn't Like Black PeopleTM.

To date the Uppity-Negro/Derbyshire post has generated 65 comments (warning: more profanity and general crassness). The stars of the comments section were David Thomson, blogger and Cato Institute jedi Brink Lindsey, and Will Allen. The best quote, apparently in response to the belief among some that opposing affirmative action is racist, came from Tom Maguire: "Thomas Sowell is probably not a Klan member." Weirdest comment comes from DeLong himself: "[William F.] Buckley has a very ugly soul." Lindsey denounced attempts to paint everyone at National Review Online with the same brush because of one article that, er, whitewashed Strom Thurmond's segregationist record. (Can anybody out there tell me how I can find out what Thurmond did with his life after 1948?) Thomson addressed the hypocritical attitudes toward appeasement: "When is Brad DeLong going to take to task the Californian politicians like Willie Brown who recently kissed Fidel Castro's rear end?" Allen does likewise with this memorable comment:

A prominent Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, is openly contemplating a "favorite sons" campaign in several states, out of a desire to thwart the campaign of Al Sharpton, who she fears will otherwise gain considerable support. Since Al Sharpton is indisputably an anti-semite whose advocacy of violent terror against Jews, employing such charming codewords as "diamond merchants", has resulted in the murder, by firebombing, of innocent people, are we to take it, if Donna Brazile's concerns are correct, that a substantial percentage of the Democrats are jew-baiting advocates of violent terror? Will Prof. Delong be running a piece by a Jew explaining why he just can't trust those Democratic f___ers

Brad DeLong feeds the class warfare mentality with his unbalanced treatment of politically-motivated bigotry and with his sweeping generalizations of Republicans. A change of heart would help to discredit those sweeping generalizations people make about Berkeley professors.

Faith And Reason

Eve Tushnet blogged a series of posts on the subject of faith and reason, the most recent of which is here (post also has links to her earlier musings). The debate boils down to this: can faith play any role whatsoever in ascertaining knowledge?

Let's start with some definitions:

  • Faith: Discernment of that which cannot be physically observed.
  • Reason: Discernment relying partly or wholly on physical observations.
  • Science: Reason relying solely on observations of the physical universe. This incudes mathematics, which is merely the language for communicating quantifiable data about physically observations (this much asteroid + this much acceleration = this much crater, and so on).
  • Rational faith: Reason coupled with faith; seeks clues from the physical universe to discern that which cannot be physically observed. What are commonly known as "soft sciences" - history, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, sociology - employ some degree of rational faith, since each explores the past and/or human motivations, neither of which can be physically observed.
  • Occam's Razor: The form of logic applied to rational faith and to the formulation of scientific theories. Also called the principle of parsimony: "One should always choose the simplest explanation of a phenomenon, the one that requires the fewest leaps of logic."
  • Rationalism: As Eve puts it, "The belief that logic + sense perception are the only valid tools for understanding the world."
  • Existentialism: The belief that only subjective perceptions can be understood. The external universe is meaningless and cannot be rationalized. Other people are part of that presumably unfathomable universe; the individual therefore cannot understand the personal mental experiences of others and cannot communicate to others his or her own. The existentialist seeks to fulfill individual purpose simply by acting on the will; what choices one makes is irrelevant.

Imagine this scene. A nine-year-old girl is riding her bicycle in the park. A man, let's call him Albert, approaches her and knocks her down, injuring both her and the bike. A woman, Eve, witnesses the incident.

EVE: You pushed her!
EVE: It's wrong!
ALBERT: Prove it.

Albert is essentially asking Eve to prove the existence of objective morality. To an existentialist, there is no objectivity; the external world is absurd and all meaning rests in one's own mind. To a rationalist, all that exists is the physical contents of the universe. Morality is an idea. Since humans originate ideas, humans are the masters of their own ideas, not vice versa. If there is no basis for one to be subject to one's own ideas, why should one be subject to someone else's? In a rationalistic universe, objective ethics is a phantasm.

Right and wrong are valid concepts only in a universe where both faith and reason are truly informative. Discerning ethics begins with an observation of the physical universe: virtually all humans communicate a personal belief that certain things are absolutely right and that certain other things are absolutely wrong. Is this mass delusion, or is humanity obligated to some sort of overarching moral law?

The mark of sentience is the ability to think in terms of faith, to originate concepts about right and wrong and individual meaning, things that cannot be observed in the physical universe. What is the source of this ability? Naturalistic forces, or something external to the physical universe? By natural accident, natural design, supernatural accident, or supernatural design? "Natural design" means physical beings that existed in the timeline prior to humanity, like Pak protectors or time-traveling bioengineers (maybe the platypus was the Bill and Ted attempt to make a real-life Pokémon) - but that leaves us with explaining the origins of the first physical-universe life. I don't know if anyone really buys into the supernatural accident theory (except maybe Taoists and Buddhists?), but it is one of the hypothetical alternatives.

That leaves natural accident and supernatural design. Like many others, I believe that the former requires far more leaps of logic than the latter. In that psychology quiz dissection a few posts down I cited DNA as an example of a phenomenon that "is more likely to be created by an intelligent source than to have spontaneously generated." The necessary difference between adopting atheism or adopting theism lies not in reason but in faith. As a Christian, I believe that atheists have misidentified the option that requires the fewer leaps of logic.

Faith is not inherently irrational, but it can be under two circumstances. The first is the willful rejection of physical evidence. For instance, anyone who insists that building solar-powered cities on Pluto is a realistic goal even after presented with the scientific data on the limits of solar power cells is whacked. The second is inconsistency in beliefs. It exists because people either do not fully understand the logical conclusions of their assumptions, or they are emotionally averse to them and reject them simply by force of will, essentially rewriting the rules of logic when they don't like the outcome. That's why one can find in this world theists who believe that God created everything but hesitate to think of Him as authority, and atheists who believe in objective right and wrong.

Can a conclusion reached through rational faith ever be justly regarded as being true? Most theists and atheists say yes :-) The existence of God is a hotly debated topic that will not be settled anytime soon. But there are many other issues in which the application of rational faith is much clearer. Was Abraham Lincoln really President during the Civil War? One could postulate that all the surviving press accounts in America and overseas, as well as any other physical evidence, were created through some sort of vast conspiracy - and no one could scientifically disprove the claim. But since the odds of a conspiracy of such proportions actually succeeding (or being organized in the first place) are virtually nil, we can know "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that Lincoln was the Chief Executive from 1860 to 1865.

I could come up with fifty other places to take this train of thought, so I'll go ahead and quit now. I've got other posts I want to get out before Christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Early New Years Resolution II

WorldNetDaily reports that Trent Lott is dropping out as Senate Majority Leader!

The years of declining GOP presence in the Senate should have been enough to run Trent out of the leadership position. Ken Hitchcock was deposed from his coaching job with the Dallas Stars hockey team, and he had fewer losing seasons than Lott. Congratulations, GOP. Now get a better coach.

Early New Years Resolution

Switched over to Everyone's Internet in hopes of more reliable service, and for the free 100MB webspace that will come in handy for uploading image files to display on the blog. Note the new email address

If The WTC Is Replaced With Ugly Buildings, The Terrorists Will Have Won

New York City is under attack from architects.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Another Security Risk Posed By The Official Guardians Of Security

CNN reports an appeal mounted by the TSA:

The Transportation Security Administration appealed Thursday to travelers not to lock their checked luggage.

As part of the TSA's new bag-screening policy, security agents will sometimes do hand searches of bags that trigger alarms without the owner being present.

"We have no choice but to open any bags that raise concern," Adm. James Loy, TSA undersecretary of transportation for security, told reporters at Jacksonville International Airport, one of the nation's first to install the screening equipment.

Okay, fine. Sometimes baggage checkers are justified in searching baggage. There's nothing new about that. But NO WAY should they be allowed to check baggage without the owner present. The risk? Theft by airport security personnel. In this post I linked to Neal Boortz reports of the theft of cash from a purse at Atlanta Hartsfield and the apparent attempted theft of a passenger's credit card at LAX.

Here's my advice:

1) Make all the noise you can to get Congress to outlaw searches of baggage without the owner present.

2) Lock your luggage.

3) Carry an itemized list of everything you have packed. (I do that anyway just so I don't forget to bring anything.)

4) If security insists on searching your luggage outside your presence, insist on being present. If they don't budge, inform them about your inventory list.

5) Always check baggage contents after searches, even those done in your presence.

6) If something is missing, don't leave until you get it back.

Put Up Yer Dukes

Jay Manifold found a little game called Googlefight. Enter in two sets of keywords; the one that gets the most hits wins the match. Here's a few results I got:

Fight 1: George W. Bush (2,060,000 results) vs. Saddam Hussein (544,000 results)
Fight 2: Republican Party (1,330,000) vs. Trent Lott (184,000)
Fight 3: Glenn Reynolds (248,000) vs. Robert Fisk (152,000)
Fight 4: Emperor Misha (2980) vs. Pejmanesque Empire (14)
Fight 5: Godzilla (581,000) vs. Bambi (500,000)
Fight 6: capitalism (1,240,000) vs. communism (757,000)
Fight 7: Warmongering Americans (10,300) vs. Euroweenies (566)
Fight 8: blogosphere (21,400) vs. (0)
Fight 9: blogosphere (21,400) vs. (0)
Fight 10: the state (134,000,000) vs. the individual (36,200,000 results)

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Al Gore's Swan Song

Two years ago today the Electoral College representatives cast their votes in the 2000 election. Six days prior, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Florida Supreme Court's decision to continue the recounts in selected counties violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment under the United States Constitution, and ruled 5-4 that recounts must adhere to the State of Florida's official deadline. (One has to wonder about the mindset of the two justices who concluded that recounts in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Volusia counties violate the Constitution but musn't be stopped.)

In honor of this momentous occasion, I have a little ditty to the tune of "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" by Warren Zevon:

My Palm Beach supporters voted
The way I knew they'd do
But how was I to know
They voted for Buchanan, too

Went vote-counting in Dade and Broward
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, thugs and ballots
Judge, get me out of this

I'm the legitimate winner
But somehow I got stuck
By Kate Harris and the US Supreme Court
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck

Now I'm hiding behind Dave Boies
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, thugs and ballots
The chads have hit the fan

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Philosophers' Magazine Quiz

Pejman Yousefzadeh came across an interesting quiz. The answers I recorded are in italics. If you wish to take the quiz, I suggest doing so before reading the rest of this post.

Question 1: God exists. True.

Question 2: If God does not exist then there is no basis for morality. True.

Scientific observation can determine what is and isn't injurious to a person, but what determines that a person has any inherent value, that he or she must not be injured? The concept of morality assumes that there is a controlling legal authority over humanity. Only people can hold authority or grant value to anything; therefore there must be a Person who transcends and rules humanity if morality is real.

Question 3: Any being which it is right to call God must be free to do anything. True.

The correct answer is false. God is not free to do anything against His will (see Question 12) or to create anything that is self-contradictory (see Question 16). Self-contradictory is not synonymous with paradoxical. Paradoxes are realities that seem impossible only because their complexities are not readily understood.

Question 4: Any being which it is right to call God must want there to be as little suffering in the word as is possible. True.

Question 5: Any being which it is right to call God must have the power to do anything. True.

The correct answer is false. See Question 3.

Question 6: Evolutionary theory may be false in some matters of detail, but it is essentially true. False.

Evolutionary theory is essentially unproven. By "evolution" I refer to theoretical changes from one species to another (macroevolution) and theoretical changes from nonlife to life. Neither has been observed while in the process of occurring, and neither has been, er, recreated in the lab. Arguments pro and con are essentially Occam's Razor arguments, the evolutionists, young-Earth creationists, and old-Earth creationists divided over which alternative constitutes the shortest leap of faith. Then there's the question of whether or not some things evolved while others were created...

Question 7: It is justifiable to base one's beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, regardless of the external evidence, or lack of it, for the truth or falsity of these convictions. False.

You don't think that it is justifiable to base one's beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, paying no regard to the external evidence, or lack of it, for the truth or falsity of this conviction. But in the previous question you rejected evolutionary theory when the vast majority of scientists think both that the evidence points to its truth and that there is no evidence which falsifies it. Of course, many creationists claim that the evidential case for evolution is by no means conclusive. But in doing so, they go against scientific orthodoxy.

This is really a swipe at my answer to Question 6. The quizmeisters' argument is: if I don't believe that opinion sheltered completely from evidence should be the basis for belief, then I should believe in evolution. So what's the evidence? Does scientific orthodoxy constitute evidence? Not when the orthodoxy is scientifically illogical. According to PBS, "The extensive evidence in support of both fact and theory of evolution comes primarily from studies of the fossil record, molecular sequences, and comparative anatomy." The fossil record proves that certain life forms existed, not how they came into being. Similar structures and similar chemical sequences between different species can be explained by common evolutionary ancestry or common design specifications. Transitional life forms are evidence of either gradual evolutionary change or gradual intelligent redesign. (Did automobiles evolve? I see lots of transitional forms in junkyards.) This site claims that the fact that a lot of DNA doesn't do anything is better explained in evolutionary rather than creationist terms - but how do you prove scientifically that a Creator would or would not produce a lot of beings with excess "commented-out" code programmed into their DNA? I surfed many sites through the PBS link and the "evidence" is the same: such and such can be explained by evolution. The logical fallacy is that such and such can be explained only by evolution.

So you've got to make a choice:

Bite the bullet and say there is evidence that evolution is not true, despite what the scientists say.

Take a direct hit and say that this is an area where your beliefs are just in contradiction.

How about two other choices:

Bite the bullet and say there is not sufficient evidence that evolution has been proven, despite what the scientists (well, the pro-evolutionist ones) say.

Suck up to orthodoxy and believe that evolution is a proven fact, despite the orthodoxy's lame arguments to the contrary.

Question 8: Any being that it is right to call God must know everything that there is to know. True.

Question 9: Torturing innocent people is morally wrong. True.

Question 10: If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist. True.

Note that I did not say it is rational to conclude with certainty that the Loch Ness monster does not exist. (For the record, I am quite agnostic on that subject.) It is rational to disbelieve a proposition if insufficient supporting evidence has been presented. It is also rational to believe a proposition if supporting evidence is lacking but difficult to explain by alternative propositions. As an example of the latter, I know very little about the creation and management of currency, but the sole observation that Beanie Babies cost little when plentiful and a lot when scarce is enough to convince me that increasing the quantity of currency reduces its value and therefore causes price inflation. See Question 13.

Question 11: People who die of horrible, painful diseases need to die in such a way for some higher purpose. True.

Many people cannot accept what you have just accepted; namely, that a loving God - a God who possesses great power and insight - has created the world in such a way that people need to suffer horribly for some higher purpose. There is no logical contradiction in your position, but some would argue that it is obscene. Could you really look someone dying of a horrible flesh-eating disease in the eye, and tell them that their suffering is for the greater good of themselves or the world?

I was a hospice volunteer once. Hospice can be summarized as providing fellowship for the terminally ill. The search for meaning should not end when death is imminent, and human fellowship is one of the key means through which people discover purpose. When I read the phrase "die in such a way for some higher purpose" I thought of this - using what is left of one's time on Earth to find significance. What the quizmeisters appear to be asking - rather clumsily - is whether the death itself has some inherent purpose. The death itself may indeed be senseless, and may be the result of human senselessness. "It's in God's will" is one of those presumptuous things some people say to try to console the grieving, and it's one of the first things we in hospice are taught not to say.

Question 12: If God exists she could make it so that everything now considered sinful becomes morally acceptable and everything that is now considered morally good becomes sinful. False.

You claimed earlier that there is no basis for morality if God does not exist. But now you say that if God does exist, she cannot make what is sinful good and vice-versa. But if this is true, it means that God cannot be the basis of morality. If God were the basis of morality, then she could decide what is good and what is bad. The fact that you think that God cannot do this shows that things must be right or wrong independently of what God decides. In other words, God chooses what is right because it is right; things are not right just because God chooses them.

The conflict is with Questions 3 and 5. But if I answered true, I would be in conflict with Questions 4 and 9. God's determination of what is good and what is evil is not arbitrary; evil is the whole of that which maximizes human suffering, and good is the whole of what minimizes it. The conflict is resolved by concluding that my original answers to 3 ad 5 are wrong. Omnipotence doesn't mean the freedom and power to do anything. Omnipotence has two constraints. The first is that God does not act in violation of His moral code. See Question 16 for the other constraint.

Question 13: It is foolish to believe in God without certain, irrevocable proof that God exists. False.

Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist - absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

No I don't. First of all, a belief can be both rational and a matter of faith. Faith alone is mere opinion. The physical sciences do not address faith (except the faith that the physical universe that we perceive does indeed exist). Many other means of understanding - philosophy, history, psychology (read anything about Trent Lott lately?), sociology, etc. - employ both faith and reason, determining truth by taking the shortest leap of faith between alternative explanations of the situation in question. See my response to Question 17 for an example.

I suspect that the phrase "certain, irrevocable proof" means "certain, irrevocable, solely scientific proof," and I based my answer on that. As I stated in response to Question 10, rational people can disagree as to the conclusion to which Occam's Razor points. Reasonable faith is imprecise, and different people are exposed to different mixes of evidence. To believe that Nessie does or does not exist does not necessarily require stating with absolute certainty that Nessie does or does not exist.

Question 14: As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality. True.

The contradiction is that on the first occasion (Loch Ness monster) you agreed that the absence of evidence or argument is enough to rationally justify belief in the non-existence of the Loch Ness monster, but on this occasion (God), you do not.

Atheism is a matter of faith because the existence of Someone external to the physical universe cannot be determined solely through science; Occam's Razor must be employed. Whether or not atheism is rational depends on whether or not the individual is willing to support the logical conclusions of atheism - a purely mechanistic universe with no objective morality. (Being rational doesn't necessarily mean being absolutely right. People are perfectly rational when they predict Dallas Cowboys losses, for instance, but the troubled team does manage to pull out a win here and there.)

Question 15: The serial rapist Peter Sutcliffe had a firm, inner conviction that God wanted him to rape and murder prostitutes. He was, therefore, justified in believing that he was carrying out God's will in undertaking these actions. False.

If objective morality did not exist, Sutcliffe would not be justified or unjustified. "Inner conviction" is not sufficient to consider truth; without some sort of notarization from the Deity - a talking bush or a pillar of fire or something of the sort - Occam's Razor skews heavily away from Sutcliffe's claims.

Question 16: If God exists she would have the freedom and power to create square circles and make 1 + 1 = 72. False.

You say that God does not have the freedom and power to do impossible things such as create square circles, but in an earlier answer you said that any being which it is right to call God must be free and have the power to do anything. So, on your view, God is not free and does not have the power to do what is impossible. This requires that you accept - in common with most theologians, but contrary to your earlier answer - that God's freedom and power are not unbounded. He does not have the freedom and power to do literally anything.

This marks the other limitation of omnipotence (see Questions 3 ad 5): the ability to create self-contradictory concepts. "Square" and "circle" are mere words, symbols representing two different geometric concepts. A square has four sides equal to one another in length and four 90-degree angles; a circle has one side which is equidistant from its radius. The nonsensical equation brings an inherently incompatible relationship between the concepts that define one, seventy-two, plus, and equals; doubling the quantity of something cannot equal seventy-two times that something.

Question 17: It is justifiable to believe in God if one has a firm, inner conviction that God exists, even if there is no external evidence that God exists.

There is external evidence that God exists. Coded information exists in DNA and in brain hardware. The strong Occam's Razor argument is that information is more likely to be created by an intelligent source than to have spontaneously generated. Such a source must be external to humanity. Hypothetically, Earth life forms could have been engineered by extraterrestrial life forms, but that still leaves us with the quandary of where the first coded information in the universe came from. Logically it must have originated from an intelligent entity external to the universe.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Happy Anniversary, Wilbur And Orville

 photo FirstFlight.jpg

The airplane was born 99 years ago today.

Monday, December 16, 2002

A Lott Of Perspective

Those of Trent Lott's attackers from the Left have been attacked themselves for criticizing racially insensitive remarks made by Lott but not those made by people like Robert Byrd or Jesse Jackson. All fine and well, but those pointing out this discrepancy are missing others.

Trent Lott made the appearance of appeasing segregation. How many of his critics appeased the Los Angeles Rioters, blaming their vandalisms, thefts, assaults, and murders on a jury decision? How many appeased Communism, a movement that killed 100 million in less than a century? How many appease Palestinian suicide bombers, claiming that they are merely taking the only resort available to them to seek redress of grievances? How many appease al-Qaeda, blaming the 9/11 attacks on our Israeli policy and/or our alliance with the Saudi royal family? Feel free to add other examples, fellow bloggers.

NewsMax Scoop

Guess who else has ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens?

Sunday, December 15, 2002

The Hunt For A New 9/11 Investigator

Now that Henry Kissinger is no longer heading the task force investigating the 9/11 attacks (yay!), Sasha Volokh's dad thinks the job should go to Tom Clancy. I agree. Clancy's tremendous investigative abilities could be put to great use.

Why Bill Gates Does More Than The United Nations To Alleviate Poverty

Some believe that the Bible teaches two incompatible salvation doctrines: through grace alone and through works. This misperception is rooted in a failure to understand why James admonishes his readers to perform good deeds. Failing to live up to the obligations of a marriage does not automatically dissolve the union, although it creates dysfunction within that union. The same applies to salvation. The doctrine of grace defines the conditions to entry into the union; works is what God requires for keeping the union healthy. If we respect God, we respect His property, the most valuable of which is humanity. We must refrain from doing things that injure people, except in defense of self or others against threats from the unduly injurious, and proactively benefit people through the means available to us.

We must also keep in mind that the proper goal of assisting others is to promote their ability to support themselves; creating disincentives to self-reliance defeats the purpose. Charitable giving and "teaching a man to fish" are certainly important, but one other means of improving the human condition must not be neglected: success in one's own profession, whether as employee or as entrepreneur. Bettering our economic condition not only inspires others to follow our example, but also enables us to buy more stuff. Business owners and consumers provide more jobs directly and indirectly, respectively, when their incomes increase. So, for the sake of humanity do the best you can to get rich (through honest efforts, of course).

This sermon was inspired by responses to a post on Joshua Claybourn's Domain that dealt with the issue of charity and poverty.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Random Thought

Protectionism is the coward's way out of competition.

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Thursday, December 12, 2002

Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever

FrontPage Magazine contributor Joseph J. Sabia writes about the support that segregation receives on today's campuses.

Doonesbury once parodied this campus phenomenon.

(Link via comment #33 to this Charles Murtaugh post. LGF will now be added to my hyperlinks.)

More On Robert Byrd

Back in 1999, Media Research Center had a few things to say about Robert Byrd's legacy, quoting a New Republic article (that I can't find a hyperlink to - grrr) written by David Plotz:

"In 1964, [Byrd] demonstrated his growing mastery of procedure by filibustering the Civil Rights Act for more than 14 hours, one of the longest such delays in Senate history. Several years later, Byrd voted against the Supreme Court nomination of Thurgood Marshall.

Don't forget about Clarence Thomas. Then again, a lot of people think Bill Clinton is black but Clarence Thomas isn't.

"(Byrd briefly belonged to the Ku Klux Klan in his twenties, a misstep he has apologized for but never adequately explained. He has written that, at the time, he believed the Klan was ‘an effective force in the struggle against communism and in the promotion of traditional American values,’ which sounds more like a Klan advertisement than sincere remorse.)"

The Ku Klux Klan isn't the first group that comes to my mind when I think of worthwhile anti-Communist organizations.

"And, as a legislator, Byrd has accomplished little -- unless you count getting most of the state of West Virginia named after him. In 1988, he retired from the Majority Leader’s job to chair the Appropriations Committee. He used that position to uproot government agencies from D.C. to West Virginia, relocating parts of the Coast Guard, Treasury Department, FBI, ATF and other departments to the Mountain State...."

The Coast Guard? West Virginia doesn't even have a coast!

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Extortion In Malibu?

Actor William McNamara isn't looking for total information awareness, he just wants to find the formal complaint that led to his prosecution - if such a complaint was ever filed.

Trent Lott Roundup

It all started with this:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

(Found via Brad DeLong; his post illustrates Thurmond's rather objectionable political leanings at the time he ran for Prez.)

Professor DeLong is correct in expressing that Lott's statements are serious enough to warrant his removal from Senate leadership. (There's other reasons to do so, which I will explain later.) But I question the sentiment expressed in the title of the post: "Why I Could Not Be a Republican." Why should I choose to not be a Republican because of what one guy says? Or because its leadership hasn't come around to disciplining that guy yet?

Then again, maybe I should consider joining the Democrats, where members can't get away with making racially insensitive remarks without reprisal from their party.

"There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I'm going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much." - Robert C. Byrd, D-West Virginia (via InstaPundit)

Or maybe not.

Rand Simberg echoes my reasons for wanting Trent Lott to step down as Majority Leader:

I believe that he should resign for the same reason that I've thought that he should resign ever since he took the post six years ago--he's a politically tone-deaf idiot, a gutless wonder who presided over and enabled the sham trial in impeachment, and let the Democrats roll him time and time again. If he stays in power, he's quite likely to continue to do and say stupid things that will lose him the Senate, or at least more likely than most of his probable replacements.

Trent Lott is the embodiment of the Vast Right Wing Complacency. He and his ilk played political softball with the Democrats, alienating the Republican core from the polls in increasing numbers. And he rigged the rules of impeachment to make it virtually impossible for the House Managers to present evidence.

I fear that the GOP leadership will attempt to sweep this under the rug. If they do so, they will bear the ultimate responsibility, but the influence of the race-baiters within the Left must not be discounted. The Race-Baiting Left cries wolf so often that it is not readily believed (except by the rest of the RBL) whenever it complains about real race problems. The RBL spreads the bigoted notion that conservatism is inherently racist. Many Republicans are so scared of this label that they think the best way to avoid it is to avoid racial issues - which is precisely what the RBL wants them to do, since this reinforces its propaganda and gives them power.

LottGate has attracted an interesting variety of commentaries. Jay Manifold illustrates how Lott and Thurmond differ on risk management. Frank Sensenbrenner, now an occasional contributor to The Edge Of England's Sword, notes the audacity of Al Gore, who regards Lott's insensitive but legal act - but not Clinton's illegal act - as not worthy of censure. Robert Prather notes that this isn't the first time Lott publicly harkened back to Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat days, and wants Don Nickles to become Majority Leader. David D. suggests Rick Santorum for the post.

Update: Found this via Brad DeLong. Atrios of the blog Eschaton wants to know why more bloggers aren't reporting this:

Lean Left notes that Trent Lott has written 14 columns, from 1992-1998, for Citizen Informer, the newsletter of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

(Hey Atrios, maybe some of us bloggers haven't reported on it yet because we've never even heard about it until now.)

Kevin Raybould of Lean Left cites chapter and verse of each of Lott's 14 columns for Citizen Informer. The Council of Conservative Citizens is descended from the Citizens Councils of America, aka the "White Citizens Councils." Trent has some 'splainin' to do.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Tragical History Tour

Mike Antonucci of EIA dreads upcoming Hollywood film projects (see item 5):

You know it's bad when films starring Brad Pitt as Achilles and Leonardo DiCaprio as Alexander the Great are in the works, but they are not close to being the most preposterous. Another has Vin Diesel (of "The Fast and the Furious") playing Hannibal, the legendary Carthaginian general. Let me be the first to predict the first elephant chase and crash scene in movie history, with two pachyderms bursting into flames on impact.

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Lithuania, a former Communist vassal state to the Soviet Union, is doing everything it can to privatize its state-owned businesses. Since March 1998 this task is being implemented through the Valstybes Turto Fondas (State Property Fund - website in English is here).

On this side of the Atlantic, controversy rages in Fort Worth, Texas over city council plans to build a city-owned hotel.

Where Is It?

About two weeks ago I blogged this item about a poster parody I created for Samizdata, and asked readers to guess the location pictured in the background. I haven't received any guesses since the post. For those curious, the image used in the parody can be found here - left-hand side, seventh from the top.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Total Poindexter Awareness

Cryptome illustrates how Total Information Awareness might work.

(Found via Live From Brussels.)

Lokh And Load

Sasha Volokh has a theory about posts about him.

Meanwhile, Eugene Volokh has a lot to say about the Second Amedment on National Review Online and on his blog. The citations in the latter article of gun rights protections in states' Bills of Rights is especially poignant.

And A Day Of Lessons

I watched Tora, Tora,Tora last night. The tale of American unpreparedness is a major theme that boils down to two issues:

Surveillance. When the US established a base on Oahu, one of the first things on the menu should have been the establishment of observation posts at key locations on the island in order to keep an eye on all of the sea approaches. Had they been in place, every single one of our planes would have made it off the runway.

Communication. Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short weren't privy to intelligence data that were crucial to their comands. A radically new surveillance technology (radar) was installed without instituting any formal communication networks for reporting and confirming sightings. And vital messages were slowed in transit due to poorly-structured and overly-layered bureaucracies - Tom Ridge, take note.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Day Of Infamy, Day Of Hope

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese strike against Pearl Harbor. After 61 years, there is still division over that historical event between Japan and the United States and within each of the two countries. Books claiming that FDR intentionally provoked Japan into starting a war and that he had advance knowledge of the attack, notably Robert W. Stinnett's Day of Deceit and John Toland's Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, have attracted considerable attention. On the other side of the Pacific, Japanese remain divided over their nation's role in the war. (At the moment I am unable to find examples of this on the Internet.)

When I was in hospice training, I was taught that no one ever recovers fully from grief. There will always be times when memories of a loss, whether over someone's death or some other tragic event, will trigger feelings of remorse. What one who has suffered a loss must do is to recover to the point that the loss is manageable, when it no longer interferes with everyday normal life. Pearl Harbor, and WWII in general, provoke strong feelings - and strong disagreements - in both the United States and Japan, even among those who have no conscious memory of December 7, 1941. But this day has scarcely any effect whatsoever on relations between our governments or our citizens. The vast majority of us refuse to blame events of the past on those who weren't there.

Wars do not always end with such peaceful results. In many cases, virulent bitterness is passed from generation to generation. Such lies at the root of the current war we fight against terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are only the beginning. Terrorism will never go away completely, but if we fight this war right we will fight every government that willingly aids and abets our enemies and we will be victorious, and if we do our postwar job right as we did in Japan, today's enemies will be tomorrow's allies.

Yesterday, Kyodo News reported that the Japanese government will consider amending its law to allow its Security-Defense Force to support US troops in Iraq. If only more of our old WWII allies could be so cooperative.

Clarification: The title should be interpreted as a contrast between two different days: the December 7 of past war and that of current peace.

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Friday, December 06, 2002

The Religion Of Peace, UK Division

On November 19, WorldNetDaily reported some interesting remarks by Abu Hamza, a cleric based at the mosque at London's Finsbury Park:

If a kafir person [non-Muslim] goes in a Muslim country, he is like a cow," explains Hamza. "Anybody can take him. That is the Islamic law.

If a kafir is walking by and you catch him, he's booty. You can sell him in the market. Most of them are spies. And even if they don't do anything, if Muslims cannot take them and sell them in the market, you just kill them. It's OK.

An unnamed researcher secretly recorded these and many other statements by Hamza and other Muslims on videotape. They can be downloaded from this Internet site.

What If The Shoe Were On The Other Foot?

Victor Davis Hanson knows the answer.

(Found via A Voyage To Arcturus).

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Today's Health Tip

NewsMax has some useful information about the Norwalk virus that is behind the recent outbreaks on cruise ships.

The MiSTs Of Norway

What is Mystery Science Theater 3000? Imagine you are looking into a theater that's completely empty except for three guys (well, one human and two robots) sitting in the front row making catty remarks throughout the entire sci-fi B-movie they're watching. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's the main feature. More info about MST is available here.

Fans have found all sorts of ways to parody the banter of Tom Servo, Mike, and Crow T. Robot. Since "MiSTing" is really a form of fisking, it was inevitable that it would eventually come to the blogosphere. If he wasn't the first to bring it here, Vegard Valberg made dang sure it would stay. His first MiSTing goes way back to May 1. He later started a series of MiSTings that replaced Tom, Mike, and Crow with different characters; the latest of these deals with Taiwan Spam, the Pacific Rim variant of the familiar Nigerian Spam, which Vegard has also dissected.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

A Tale Of Two School Systems

It was the most paranoid of times, it was the most lax of times...

Perry de Havilland of Samizdata reports:

Sundon Lower School in Bedfordshire has banned video and digital cameras from its nativity play this year, because it is worried that the images may get into the hands of paedophiles.

On this side of the pond, and the opposite end of the child-abuse-sensitivity spectrum, Mike Antonucci reports in the latest EIA Communiqué (see item 4):

The headline in the Washington Post read, "Schools, Clubs Unwittingly Hired Man in Abuse Case.” It appeared to be an all-too-common story. A teacher whose license was revoked in one state for improper conduct with a child is found teaching in another state, and facing new charges involving sexual conduct with children.

No background checking system is foolproof, and it is an unfortunate fact of life that dangerous individuals will slip in under the radar. But what makes this case especially chilling is that the teacher involved didn't slip in; he was featured in a number of newspaper stories over the past four years and on the pages of the EIA Communiqué.

I'm glad I'm not a kid.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

The Reason For The (July) Season

British blogger Natalie Solent commemorates Thanksgiving by recalling how the history of the American Revolution debunks Michael Bellesiles' Arming America:

You know why I get so uptight about Michael [Bellesiles] of the Beautiful Islands trying to put it about that the American colonists didn't know one end of a gun from the other? Because if they weren't all crack shots then it would be - inconceivably - our fault that we lost the late unpleasantness of 1775-83 instead of, as everybody knows, the result being a regrettable consequence of the ability of those ungentlemanly persons to plink at us from miles away, rather than coming up close to fight as Real Men should.

Gun Policy 101

Taught by Professor Eugene Volokh. Here's the syllabus.

More Equal Than Others

In this National Review Online column, Rod Dreher illustrates one of the reasons that we must oppose hate crime and hate speech laws: they erode that indispensable pillar of both democracy and common civility that insists that all human beings are equally valuable.

(Found via Amy Welborn.)

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