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Archive for January, 2006

SOTU

January 31, 2006 Leave a comment

Ho-hum. I refuse to listen to the talking heads on the networks discuss this. I just don’t need Blitzer’s opinion on how Cheney and Hastert look in their suits. Sorry.

Also, can I get one of those human-animal hybrids? Is Bush seriously worried that someone will create a mermaid?

Is this a misleading statistic?

In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs – more than Japan and the European Union combined.

A proper comparision would have to adjust for population size and growth, correct?

Bush is living in some sort of budget deficit fantasy world. In half by 2009? This looks like an awfully straight line to me.

UPDATE: I’m over here thinking about mermaids, while other people point out that Bush’s comments do actually mean something.

Also, this is a better SOTU.

Categories: Bush

How pathetic

January 31, 2006 Leave a comment

Staffers for Burns have been editing his Wikipedia entry.

Wouldn’t want all the information out there for everyone to see, would you?

He’s also apparently in the business of employing people who aren’t concerned with grammatical/typing errors:

Burns has been an[sic] true advocate of the agricultural community. Given the fact that over 64% of Montana is used for farming or ranching, Burns has worked hard to secure federal funds to aid cultivation.[I don't know that this sentence is wrong, but it's very awkward] He has also dome[sic] his part in supporting the trade imbalance that harm[sic] many ranchers and farmers.[Isn't that a negative?]

Whoopsy.

Categories: Montana

Good God

January 30, 2006 Leave a comment

What the hell is wrong with Alternet?

Homeopathy is a joke. It’s based on the idea that something that gives a person certain symptoms will cure a disease with similar symptoms and that water can remember whatever remedy was in it before being diluted into oblivion.

Completely ridiculous.

(via Skeptico)

Categories: Skepticism

Questionnaire

January 30, 2006 1 comment

Matt and Wulfgar have put up posts answering a questionnaire for Democrats posted over at Rabid Sanity. I thought I might give it a shot as well.

1. What is going right with our country right now? This question is necessary because if we all agree on what is working, we won’t have to reinvent the wheel and waste time.

Generally, things are going fine. Our system of government is works well enough, civil liberties are generally respected, most people are getting by, etc. I don’t think there’s really a need to agree on what’s working, as there are fewer things that aren’t, so fleshing them out is easier and less time consuming.

2. What are the top three issues that need to be addressed in order of priority. You can’t say everything, because then nothing is a priority.

1. Our current war on terror strategy. This includes things like the war in Iraq, the Patriot act, the NSA spying conundrum, etc. Iraq is obviously the biggest part of this. It’s costing us trillions and has rolled back some of the gains made by the war in Afghanistan (which could have been prosecuted better in places, but we can’t underestimate the value of depriving al Qaeda of essentially their own country). A lot of blood has been shed already there, with the potential for more. The potential for success (defined as a stable and democratic regime) seems low, but I still have some hope left. At home, civil liberties are being sacrificed in the name of the Patriot act (as a caveat, the whole act is not bad, but has quite a few worrying provisions) and warrant-less wiretaps.

2. Our national discourse. I’m young, so I can’t really say if it’s always been like this, but our national discourse is pathetic. The media is a major part of this. Being more concerned with making money than informing us, they put vacuous pundits on television to scream at each other and demonize the other side. When they aren’t doing that, they’re doing pointless horserace coverage or engaging in unenlightening he said-she said reporting. Don’t get me wrong, there are good reporters (print, mostly), but we’re steeped in these worthless human interest stories and mind-numbing pundit shows that get us nowhere. To get more, we can turn to ideological opinion magazines, but the content is uneven. It’s not all the media’s fault, though. There’s obviously a market for this crap. Too many people just don’t care. Voter turnout is pathetic. How many people can name their Congressional representatives? The people that do vote have problems as well. Rather than voting based on policy, they’re swayed by looks, emotion, or appeals to a shared faith. Some think their religion is a sound basis for policy. Perhaps worse, some lazily vote for whatever party they decided they were a part of long ago. No one’s perfect, but it’s not that hard to educate yourself. It’s not that hard to learn about how politicians manipulate voters and try to correct for it. Then there are the partisans of both sides. Godless hippies who hate America vs. corrupt corporate fatcats bent on turning this country into a theocracy? I don’t think so. Oh, but I can’t blame the people who have turned off politics for doing so. Look at who they have to vote for. Politicians who care about their special interest checks more than the people they serve. Cynical manipulations of the voting public. The belief that they should intervene in private family tragedies. Principle thrown to the wind to get elected (or the misguided belief that it will get them elected). This is something of a catch all, but it’s all related and it’s something we need to fix (of course, I don’t have the answers).

3. Health care. I hesitate to put this here because I have recurring philosophical questions about this side of liberalism. Still, our current system is bloated and inefficient. It works for the rich, but leaves out the poor. Whether this means getting government completely out of it or moving to a system of universal government care, I’m not entirely sure. Something has to change.

3. We have been fighting the War on Poverty for 40 years. Have we made any progress? A follow up; What is working, and what isn’t working?

I’d say we have. As Wulfgar pointed out, our definition of poverty is much higher than third world definitions. That’s excellent. We still have many homeless and others who are struggling. I honestly don’t have strong opinions here. Things like unemployment insurance, welfare, etc are good programs, but they won’t pull people out of poverty on their own. I’m still unsure of exactly how much help we should give to people, but I think helping people who want to make a better life is a noble goal.

4. Is terrorism (as identified with Osama bin Laden) a threat to this country? What should we do about it if it is, and if it is not, why not?

In the sense that it could cost us a significant number of lives, yes. I can’t recommend Dying to Win enough. I think we have solutions, but they’re not simple to carry out. We need to get out of Saudi Arabia and stop pointless ventures like the one in Iraq. To do this, we need to be energy independent. The current generation of al Qaeda isn’t going to be swayed by those remedies, but it’s creating more terrorists that’s our biggest problem. Like Matt said, keeping them away from more destructive weaponry than commercial aircraft is a priority. It’s also pretty clear that we need to engage the people of the Middle East and explain ourselves better. Debate, not propaganda, can help them understand us and hopefully get them on our side.

5. Are there any Republican programs that you agree with? If so, which ones?

Opposition to gun control and affirmative action are generally Republican ideas and I agree with those to a certain degree.

So, there we have it. For all I write about religion on here, you might think I put something to do with that in my top three issues. Science policy, too. Certainly I think secularizing our political discourse is good and that fits in number 2. Global warming and science policy in general are probably number 4.

Petty

January 28, 2006 Leave a comment

I have to say, the Barnes & Noble Current Events section is a mess. Have you ever noticed that customers sometimes put books of a certain political viewpoint in front of books with the opposing political viewpoint? Well, there were around seven conservative (-ish, The Case for Israel isn’t conservative, but the point of view is found more on the right than the left) books placed in front of liberal (again, generally – James Yee’s memoir was covered up) books. I’ve seen this done before, by both sides, but not quite to this extent. I don’t understand the motive. I’m quite convinced whoever did this is a moron. I’m not looking at those books and saying “hmm, this book about Bush is in front this book by Jimmy Carter, Bush must be better than Jimmy Carter.”

For whatever reason I now have another fairly long book to read. It’s not like I don’t finish these 450+ page (I’m not counting footnotes) books, but it can easily become a chore. One of the few books I’ve bought and not finished, The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, is in this category. It just got too boring (sorry Wulfgar!) to finish. You’d think it’d be more interesting than books about Nazi Germany, but no dice. This one’s on the Constitution, so there’s potential, but I’m fairly sure I’ll finish it.

Categories: Personal

Dennett and religion

January 27, 2006 Leave a comment

This interview has already been trashed quite nicely here, but I have another comment:

Traditionally, evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould insisted on keeping a separation between hard science and less knowable realms like religion.

He was the evolutionist laureate of the U.S., and everybody got their Darwin from Steve. The trouble was he gave a rather biased view of evolution. He called me a Darwinian fundamentalist.

Which I imagine was his idea of a put-down, since he thought evolutionists should not apply their theories to religion.

Deborah Solomon’s comments are in italics, Dennett’s are normal.

It sounds like Solomon is saying Gould called Dennett a “Darwinian fundamentalist” for applying evolution to religion. Anyone who knows anything about that label of Gould’s knows it was used as a criticism of their devotion to natural selection:

In this light, especially given history’s tendency to recycle great issues, I am amused by an irony that has recently ensnared evolutionary theory. A movement of strict constructionism, a self-styled form of Darwinian fundamentalism, has risen to some prominence in a variety of fields, from the English biological heartland of John Maynard Smith to the uncompromising ideology (albeit in graceful prose) of his compatriot Richard Dawkins, to the equally narrow and more ponderous writing of the American philosopher Daniel Dennett (who entitled his latest book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea).[1] Moreover, a larger group of strict constructionists are now engaged in an almost mordantly self-conscious effort to “revolutionize” the study of human behavior along a Darwinian straight and narrow under the name of “evolutionary psychology.”

Some of these ideas have filtered into the general press, but the uniting theme of Darwinian fundamentalism has not been adequately stressed or identified. Professionals, on the other hand, are well aware of the connections. My colleague Niles Eldredge, for example, speaks of this coordinated movement as Ultra-Darwinism in his recent book, Reinventing Darwin. Amid the variety of their subject matter, the ultra-Darwinists share a conviction that natural selection regulates everything of any importance in evolution, and that adaptation emerges as a universal result and ultimate test of selection’s ubiquity.

The question remains:

So that’s the world’s best newspaper – assigning a clueless hack to ask questions on a substantive subject. What on earth is the point? Why not either do it right or refrain from doing it at all?

As an aside, Dennett’s book looks sort of interesting. I doubt it can match Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust, though.

Categories: Religion, Science, The media

Music Randomness

January 27, 2006 Leave a comment

Pink Floyd – [Animals #05] Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)
Atheist – [Elements #09] Fractal Point
Radiohead – [Pablo Honey #09] Prove Yourself
Dark Tranquillity – [The Mind's I #02] Zodijackyl Light
Killswitch Engage – [The End of Heartache #09] World Ablaze
In Flames – [Jester Race #10] Dead God in Me
Pain of Salvation – [Remedy Lane #05] This Heart of Mine (I Pledge)
Andrew Bird – [The Mysterious Production Of Eggs #13] Tables And Chairs
When Day Descends – [Transcend #04] Suppression
Dead Can Dance – [Aion #03] Mephisto

Categories: Music

A Question!

January 27, 2006 3 comments

Why is Firefox’s built-in download manager so damn slow? I don’t mean downloading speeds, I mean opening and closing the actual manager.

I don’t really need a full-featured download manager, so I’ve been using it instead of FlashGot and LeechGet (for example). I’ve decided that was a silly thing to do.

Categories: Tech

Hamas wins

January 26, 2006 1 comment

So, yeah. Not good.

Time says they’re not going to focus on Israel at first:

Dealing with Israel—in either sense of that term—is not a priority for Hamas right now, nor will it be for some time to come. Instead, the radical Islamist group that won a landslide victory in Wednesday’s Palestinian Legislative Council election, taking 76 seats to the 43 of the ruling Fatah party in the 132-seat parliament, will focus on its stated priority of “cleaning the Palestinian house.” What this means, concretely, is ridding the Palestinian Authority of rampant corruption, and establishing law and order on the chaotic streets of the West Bank and Gaza. Ironically, that means that a Hamas government, despite its opposition to previous peace efforts by the U.S. and Israel, may nonetheless end up carrying out precisely the reforms in the PA long demanded by the the U.S. and Israel—ensuring accountability and transparency in government, and reining in the militias.

I don’t really see how this was going to be avoided in the long run. Fatah was pretty pathetic, though not as hostile to Israel as Hamas. Eventually they were going to have to go and Hamas was positioned to replace them. Given that Hamas is a terrorist group, what do we do? Marc Lynch says we can’t turn our backs now. Mike says we can’t negotiate with terrorists.

I don’t see how we can’t support democracy here. We’ll figure out soon enough if Hamas will take peace seriously in their new leadership position. As much as we dislike it, I don’t see how we can’t accept them for now. There’s no chance for peace without it.

UPDATE: This is about right:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — The Bush administration, reacting uneasily to Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today to stay in office to steer a moderate course and warned Hamas that the West will not deal with it unless it disarms its militias, renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel.

But in a news conference, President Bush also struck a conciliatory note, saying that it was clear that Hamas’s performance was a triumph of democracy, among Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general, and a rebuke to “the old guard there.” It was striking that his tone was less one of confrontation than of inviting Hamas to change its ways while the world watches.

Categories: Israel/Palestine

Not so reasonable

January 25, 2006 1 comment

This story has been making the rounds.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

“None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged,” Westen said. “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”

Not surprising, but not exactly great news.

On the other hand, it explains these two comments.

Categories: Science
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