Friday, February 27, 2004

Civil Discourse

Some people call the period that we are entering a Culture War. Gay marriage, abortion, broadcast standards, all of these have come down to two phrases: "How dare you offend me," and "How dare you decide what is right for me." Both sides of the issue cling tightly to their principles, so tightly that they can not accept that other principles exist. So tightly that anyone who is not with them on their issues must be of some variety of stupid or evil.

People are even losing friendships over politics. This isn't right, and the way things seem to be going scares me at times.

I have written that the ability to judge others' actions and to grant or withhold one's company from people is a fundamental right. I stand by that. We've all heard "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Matthew 7:1. That is frequently used to attack any type of judgementalism. The passage continues, however, "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Matthew 7:2. I used to read that as if you judged harshly, you would be judged harshly; judge mercifully, and you will have mercy. Now, I see that it goes to other qualities, that how you judge others is more a reflection on yourself than on the one you judge. Are you harsh or merciful, tolerant or intolerant, do you value honesty or expediency? I don't give a damn what you say about yourself, show me by your actions and your judgments, and from that I will show you my values in my judgment of you. Then you may judge me by that.

The "friend" in the e-mail discussed in the link two paragraphs above has shown his character. If he is someone who calls himself tolerant, then he has shown the quality of hypocrisy.

And now for another point entirely. Back when I was in college, I had an Economics professor who discussed just about everything under the sun in class except economics. He said that everything was economics. At the time I thought he was just a windbag, but now I think that I am starting to see that he was right. The economy that I see in American society is not fundamentally based on money, but on rights. Forget about the government, the government in this country is merely the manifestation of the power of the society. Whenever I say society, you might just as well replace it with "everyone else", because that is the only thing society is. The economics come in when I want to have a mutual exchange of rights. In this country, we want a straight up, equal exchange. I want to do what I want to do within limits, while everyone else has the same rights and limits. But how do we determine what is a fair exchange. This exchange does not happen only once, but with every interaction we make as individuals, communities, and governments. There has to be some method by which we can say that the trade has been fair.

In my economic post below, I wrote that money typically fills in that gap for the trade of goods and services. It is the concrete middle ground that has to be agreeable to both sides for the exchange to take place. Despite what some would say, money does not provide that middle ground when it comes to the exchange of rights. In this case, we do not have a thing, but a process, a means by which the parties can measure the rights. In society, that has to be the Rule of Law. The knowledge that the rights and responsibilities you grant and receive will be measured in a consistent manner is the only way for individuals to predict the outcomes of the exchange. Without that predictability, informed decisions and moral choices can not be made.

That is why I am so worried about the course of events over the past few weeks. The process of Rule of Law is breaking down. We have state judges defying the decisions of judges placed above them, we have city officials defying state laws when they see fit, we have a president seeking to amend the Constitution out of distrust of the Courts that have sided against his fundamentalist Christian supporters time and again. Both sides are guilty of refusing to accept the system of Law when it suits their purposes to do so. Both sides are eroding at the stability of the common place where we must meet to engage in our exchange of rights.

I do not mean that the Law must never change. That type of stasis is ironically antithetical to the stability that freedom demands. What I say is that the means by which the Law can change, while providing the flexibility necessary for true stability, must not be changed itself. Is that method of change perfect? No. Can we find that perfect method? No again. The whole idea of a perfect system is dependent on the individuals' principles, and no system will satisfy all. All that is required is that the method of change be constant. The defiance of the Law and the Courts is a direct threat to the ability of people to have the exchange of rights in a society. Without it, no society. What happens after that, I don't know, but it won't be good.

Thus endeth the rant, pending some later editing

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Other Foot Test: Vol. II

Okay, so I'm doing some serious pilfering from Instapundit today. What can I say, the Professor is in good form.

Too bad there aren't organizations dedicated to stamping out this type of racism:

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown verbally attacked a top Bush administration official during a briefing on the Haiti crisis Wednesday, calling the President's policy on the beleaguered nation "racist" and his representatives "a bunch of white men."

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America.

It gets better:

Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.

Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.

Who expects to be hearing about this story come next week?

As a Service to Our Regular Readership...

You'll probably get a kick out of this one, Dad. Don't let anyone tell you you're not doing anything productive with your retirement.

TCS: Tech Central Station - The Knead for New Jobs

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Principled Consistency

Whenever I take stock of my position on an issue, I always measure it up against the principle of maximization of liberty. Sometimes it leads me to positions that I might not feel particularly good about, but by what I know is correct by the principle I stand for. President Bush, despite the good that he has done for the country in pursuing the war on terror, has lost my vote on his endorsement of an anti-gay marriage amendment.

I don't seem to be alone in this. Asparagirl (she's the one who picked the name, not me) is a Republican who has until now been a staunch supporter of the president. Her reasoning is very similar to mine, though much more concisely expressed (please pardon the language):

You cannot praise John Doe for voting for Bush because he wants to defend our pluralistic, tolerant, democratic way of life against crazy-ass (Islamic) fundamentalists and then condemn Jane Roe for not voting for Bush because she wants to defend our pluralistic, tolerant, democratic way of life against crazy-ass (Christian) fundamentalists. It's the same fucking issue, people. Either we can learn to live with other people who make choices that don't fit the contours of our particular religious structures--whether it's choosing to wear a burqua (or not) or choosing to spend your life with a guy or a girl (or not) or choosing to keep kosher or halal or vegan (or not)--or we can't. That's the advice we want to deal out to most of the Arab/Muslim world, but perhaps we should be listening, too.

For pretty much the same reasoning, I too shall, as she puts it, be sitting on my hands come election day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Count is Now: 45

I'm somewhat surprised at how much President Bush's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment has raised my blood pressure. More than President Bush, however, are many of the commentators that I have found at various sites on the internet. When it came to making fun of the media and Democrats, I was all with the crew at Scrappleface, but when it came to the vitriol aimed that the Courts, I found myself cold.

One of the refrains I read over and over is that the United States is a Christian country. The Scrappleface link includes several comments with quotes from various Founding Fathers supporting the concept. I agree that most of the Founders were deeply religious men. They probably believed that citizens who followed Christian mores would create a most stable Union. I'd even go so far as to say that they probably believed that Christian men would be the ones best able to lead the Nation, as they would best know the intent of God.

If that is true, then why would they deliberately write into the Constitution that religion was to play no part in the qualification for federal or state office?

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. Article VI, Clause 3

This is completely counter intuitive to the idea that the Founders wanted the country to run on strictly Christian principles. At no other point in the Constitution is God directly or indirectly referenced. If it was intended that God should be a central principle in the morality of the nation, then at the very least the preamble would have mentioned something like "In the Name of our Lord" or something similar.

When it came time to amend the Constitution, there was another opportunity for the people of the time to affirm their religious preferences. Again, there was only one reference to religion, and again it was a negative:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment

Two times, the issue of religion must have come up, and two times the Founding Fathers refused to address God as a central part of our government. Some would say, however, that they were taking for granted that virtually everyone in the nation at the time was Christian, and therefore nothing official had to written to establish that basis.

Let us then examine yet another occasion. This time, in an act of Congress, the matter was specifically addressed.

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. Article 11, Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary.

This treaty was negotiated under Washington's administration and signed by John Adams. Even to be ratified by the Congress, it had to meet the approval of many men who were instrumental in establishing this nation.

I am a deeply agnostic person. I have many problems with the idea of God and a Divine Plan for the world. There is still some faith in me, however, and this attempt to put religious doctrine into the supreme law of our land brings up an anger in me that stems from that faith. Naturally this is my opinion, I can't point to any passages to prove this, but I believe that the Founding Fathers were truly and deeply religious. So much so that they separated Church and State for the purpose of protecting the Church. The previous centuries had seen European conflicts in which hundreds of thousands died because one group or another did not believe in the proper Christianity.

They believed, as I believe, that God must never be used as a tool for oppression in this land. Religion is too precious a thing to be used in that way.

The Count is Now: 35

I was really hoping that he would not take this step, but President Bush has announced his support for a Constitutional Amendment barring gay marriage. If he really wanted to appeal to his base, he should have constrained federal spending and reduced the size of the government. Instead, he has taken the Bad Old Days brand of Conservatism approach by promising to maintain the privileged of the "righteous" against a minority that would never have voted for him anyway (Andrew Sullivan and the Log Cabin Republicans not withstanding).

The biggest issue I have with social conservatives is that they make no distinction between the individual and society when it comes to issues of morality and liberty. They would say that a person who commits immoral practices in private would harm society, regardless of any actual proof of that harm. In my view, harm must be proven before Liberty can be denied. That is where I break away from the Republican view and tend toward the Democratic. (More accurately, I'm keeping my values, and the parties move farther or closer to the principle.)

To those people who fear the idea of gay people being treated as well by the state as straight people:
1. Government is the basest of institutions created by humankind. It is given power, and it tends to draw people who would use that power to their own ends. If you truly believe that marriage is a sacred institution, then protect it by separating it from Government.
2. If you believe that God shall judge our society with Fire and Brimstone for violating his sacred commands, then pray that you yourselves shall be judged worthy and spared, while the rest of us take the responsibility and punishment that should come. We have chosen, and you have chosen, and God can tell the difference.

As for myself, I voted for Harry Brown, the Libertarian candidate, in 2000. He didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell a hot place, but at the time I believed that he was the only candidate I could vote for and not feel the need for a shower. At this point, it looks like 2004 is going to be the same.

Lesson Learned: Figurative vs. Literal

Setting your clock radio to classical music is not the way to figuratively hit the ground running in the morning. It is the way to literally hit the ground running in the who-the-hell-needs-coffee panic type of way.

Monday, February 23, 2004

I Might Have This Liberal/Conservative Thing Figured

Ever since I became aware of politics, I’ve been confused by the labels Liberal and Conservative. Just what do they mean? Are they anything other than labels that exist merely to say, “We aren’t them!”? I think I finally hit on the main difference over this past weekend.

Arnold Kling wrote an article in Tech Central Station making several points on one of my key topics: Freedom and Responsibility. He poses the following questions and analysis of the answers:

For each statement below, indicate whether you mostly agree, mostly disagree, or are uncertain.
1. I wish that the government in Washington would take more aggressive steps to provide health care and education to all.
2. I wish that the government in Washington would take more aggressive steps to punish pornography and recreational drug use.
I would answer "mostly disagree" to both questions. That also happens to be the libertarian answer.
Most of my liberal friends would answer "mostly agree" to more government provision of health care and education and "mostly disagree" to a war on pornography and recreational drug use. Conversely, the traditional conservative position is to "mostly agree" with a war on porn and drug use and to "mostly disagree" with government provision of health care and education.

I got to thinking about what principles would allow for the answers to fall out they way they do. What I realized is that there are two types of liberty, each implied in one of the above questions. The two types of liberty are liberty over one’s person and liberty over one’s property. Whichever one a person considers to be more worthy of protection will determine their Conservative or Liberal leanings. (It should go without saying that this is vastly simplified.)

The preference of Liberty over one’s Person is indicative of the Liberal position. Attitudes toward homosexuality, drug use, and gender/racial equality are defined by allowing each person to decide for themselves what is the best use of their personal freedom.

Government is best employed, in the view of the Liberal, to prevent any condition that would deny the individual full use of their Liberty of Person. These conditions include illness, want, and ignorance, thus the Liberal would be vastly in favor of Government funded healthcare, welfare, and education.

An individual’s Liberty of Person, to a Liberal, is superior to any individual’s Liberty of Property. All people should share such a view, and those who do not should still pay their fair share and be required to surrender property (in the form of taxes) for the good of society as determined by the Government.

The preference of Liberty over one’s Property is indicative of the Conservative position. Attitudes toward morality, law, and societal structure are defined by allowing each person to decide for themselves what is the best use of their economic freedom.

Government is best employed, in the view of the Conservative, to prevent any condition that would deny the individual full use of their Liberty of Property. These conditions include social instability, theft, and taxation, thus the Conservative would be vastly in favor of Government spending on the military, law enforcement, and little else.

An individual’s Liberty of Property, to a Conservative, is superior to any individual’s Liberty of Person. All people should share such a view, and those who do not should still live by the laws and be required to surrender liberties (in the form of prohibitions) for the good of society as determined by the Government.

As a Libertarian, I hold both Liberties as sacrosanct. Neither is more important and just as important are anyone else’s Liberties. That is reflexive, my Liberties are as important as everyone else’s. My Liberty of Property can not be negated merely because someone else has a need to fully develop their Liberty of Person. Similarly, my Liberty of Person can not be negated merely because someone else has a need to fully develop their Liberty of Property.

Later, I will go into why I think that Government should only be used minimally to ensure rights and that the majority of the power to defend rights should rest with individuals.

Belated Birthday

Just a quick reminder from one of the Founding Fathers, back in the day when the government was most decidedly not the friend of the people.

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master
- George Washington

Thanks to an American poster

Friday, February 20, 2004

Jumping into the Fray

I am a fan of Scrappleface, a humor website that does for print news what the Daily Show does for TV news. He publishes three or four "news" articles a day with a healthy eye toward phrasing the story so that the maximum irony is achieved. One of the best parts of the site are the comments, where a semi-regular crew of morons (Gang of Idiots is a registered trademark of Mad Magazine) make even more typically cogent points and jokes about the topic at hand.

One of today's offerings was ScrappleFace: Gov. Arnold Calls Mayor's Unlawful Acts 'Illegal' pertaining to the Mayor of San Francisco ordering his clerk's office to issue marriage certificates to any same sex couple that filed. I jumped into the crew with a comment regarding how Governor Schwarzenegger (hereafter referred to as "The Governator") as a highly advanced artificial intelligence has actually made a decision based on logical principle. I then went on to swallow my pride and say that Gloria Allred (note the spelling, it becomes important later) was tackling the issue in a more sound way than the mayor of San Francisco had.

A poster by the handle of SistersTalk responded shortly there after to my post agreeing with Allred. Note that she made the same spelling mistake I did.

Later a poster called The Great Santini got on SistersTalk and ranted on, less polite terms than here, about judicial tyranny. I gave him my opinion in a second post about 25 down. Look for Gamer.

What I'd like to do here is expand on my third thought in the second post. A lot of talk goes into how the Executive Branch has to act by the rule of law, and that the Judicial Branch has exceeded its scope over the years. On of the main points of libertarianism is the embrace of the irony of law, that freedom can not exist without law. In this instance, the law provides protection to the liberty of the citizens by limiting the actions of the government as defined in State and Federal Constitutions. Just because a law represents the will of the majority does not give it Super-Constitutional status. It is possible for the actions and wishes of the majority to be unconstitutional.

Living in California, I've seen propositions get approved with large percentages of the vote, only to be later struck down by the courts. The howls from the backers of the bills, be the of the Left or of the Right, are how dare these elite few judges throw aside the Will of the People. Well guess what? While one side is howling, the other side is thanking God, the stars, or whatever, that the judges were there to protect their rights. I've seen it enough times to see the same people howling and praising the decision from the other side than their previous go round. Neither side ever learns that they will someday be the other guy, the minority, at some point. Until that day comes, they will not know how precious it is to be protected from the whim of the majority. When they do, they all too often forget it when they are the majority whose whim is thwarted.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Okay, Maybe His Kung Fu IS Superior

There are few things in life more annoying than someone who talks the talk but can't walk the walk. In this instance, we see that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is not one of those people.

Maybe that's why Colin Powell didn't take my advice before the war to grab Rumsfeld by the neck and shake him while screaming, "Will you please SHUT UP?!!!"

Manners of Thinking

I came upon an interesting column at ABC news regarding the phenomena of synesthesia. That is where a person perceives stimuli from different sensory channels. Examples are seeing colors when reading a black word or hearing particular sounds. Rather than being seen as a handicap, it often allows the subject to process information in more efficient ways. I wonder if we tend to cultivate that type of capability with our phonetic alphabet, encouraging our minds to "hear" words when we read them on the page. Suddenly I have more respect for composers and music aficionados who hear the entire symphony when looking at the score.

The article describes people whose minds add colors to the images of letters and words. That would make reading poetry an entirely different experience, making the metaphor of a painting of words even more apropo.

I, on the other hand, tend toward the opposite end of the spectrum, so to speak. My normal perception of color, while not absent, is muted. I have a mild form of red-green color blindness referred to as protanomaly. The description of the experiences in the table on the site describe very well what I have perceived. It took me the longest time to figure out why people said that money was green, and the Big Can of Old Crayons we all had in elementary school was the bane of my existence. Note to teachers: if a child's coloring assignments have many parallel crayon marks on the back, that means that the child is testing the crayons to determine what color they really are and that a vision test might be warranted. My first grade teacher was not amused when I colored the flag pink, beige, and purple.

Over time I've learned to compensate. One can not go too wrong with blue jeans and solid T-shirts and sweats. It is said that color blind (drastic overstatement, but the common usage nonetheless) people are less likely to be fooled by camouflage. Perhaps there is something to that as I tend to have better luck than most at finding objects that have been misplaced.

For me, I tend to spot lines and regular patterns in my environment very readily. That skill has transferred to my other senses as well. My hearing may seem more acute than most people I know, but I think it is more of detecting the change in the pattern of the background noise. I enjoy classical music, not because of any images the sounds suggest, but because I can hear the patterns created in the melody and tempo. Also, my sense of timing with respect to timed events is sharp. I often get the urge to check on the microwave or some timed lab operation and arrive just as the duration is ending.

This compensation may be more general than just myself. It is said that color-blind soldiers were valued in WWII because they were less likely to be fooled by camouflage. Nature has extremely few straight lines or smooth curves, so when one appears, it stands out to one who looks for it rather than for color changes.

My habit of looking for patterns goes a long way toward my appreciation of math and science. Both are quests for pattern and predictability in the world. Events have patterns. Push an object off a table and it will fall to the floor. The regularity of one following the other indicates a relationship that can be measured and expressed. The danger of seeing false patterns is very real. To this day I can not shake the feeling that my game night die rolls are inversely related to the quality of the parking space I get on the pre-game munchie run (my parking karma). There can not possibly be any connection between the two, but whenever I have a run of bad luck, my friends inquire as to where I parked.

Experiments in synesthesia have shown that the brains of the subjects are stimulated in ways similar to the "real" perception of the colors, and I have had enough experience with finding patterns that I had hunches about to trust the feeling. What results from this is that the experiences of the world can be more subjective than many people can be comfortable with. The reality that we create in our minds can never be more than a model of what is outside of us. It is a combination of what sensory information we receive, the information that we extract from it, and our memories and opinions that come from previous experience. The sum total creation within our minds define our minds, and to a very great extent, who we are ourselves. A person who can turn a portion of their visual processing power over to their music will be better than those who can't. I believe that I am a better engineer because I can easily transfer back and forth between a physical system and the numbers that represent its behavior.

Which is the better way of thinking? That is a worthless question. Everyone in the course of growing up develops their own ways of processing data. While I can spot trends and patterns in lists of numbers, my brother has a good deal of spatial awareness and a knack for electrical systems that I envy. My sister has an amazing ability to connect with children that makes her a natural as a teacher. To ask "What is the best way of thinking?" is to assume that there is only one context to ask the question. The trick in life is to find the context that matches your manner of thinking. From that place, you will have the greatest understanding, and from that understanding comes your power.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Chaos Theory and Boundaries of Society

People like lines. They prefer to see clean edges and smooth surfaces in the things they create. When compared to the myriad of shapes in nature, even baroque stylings are straightforward by comparison. The aesthetic value of lines appeals even beyond the physical. We draw boundaries on our world that try to be straight lines dividing right/wrong, true/false, good/evil, moral/immoral.

Chaos Theory has emerged in the past three decades in an attempt to describe the uncertainty of natural phenomena. The link is an excellent first primer for those whose only exposure to the field was nattering of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, in the original Jurassic Park. Malcolm's pessimism about attempts to confine life do arise from Chaos Theory, but by necessity the basics had to be skimmed over for the purpose of feeding a lawyer to a T. Rex.

Perhaps the first realizations that lead to the development of Chaos Theory is that simple equations (rules if you will) can provide tremendously complex results when the equation is iterated, when the answer of the first application of the rule is then put back into the equation, then that answer is put back in, and so on. The Mandelbrot Set is the quintessential example. The linked article includes a description of the equation used to generate the image linked here. The black portions of the picture are points that belong to the set, while the rest are not. Things become interesting when one looks at the boundary of the set. The boundary is said to be infinite because the complexity of the curves and swirls never ends. This is a picture that was created by a simple mathematical procedure, yet the result is complex beyond all imagining.

I believe that we can take an analogy from this and apply it to our human experiences in society. Each of us makes decisions constantly about what is the best for ourselves practically every moment. Each moment, each scenario is different, much like the different points of the Mandelbrot Set. We then make a judgment of value and decide if each situation is good/bad for ourselves. When we come together in societies, we choose to accept common boundaries for that society, what the society considers to be part of the good set and that which is not. These decisions, when made by consensus or dictate, must happen beforehand, as there is no time to make a consensus when the situation arises.

However, these boundaries (rules and laws) must be of a simple form in order to be properly communicated. Simple communication implies a linear form. If one were to draw such a bright line along the boundary of our social Mandelbrot Set, one can not help but discover that there are many points are excluded that our moment-by-moment experiences would say belong in the set of "right" while other points are included by the law that should not be. A famous quote (by a Supreme Court Justice whose name escapes me for a moment) brings this dilemma into light: "I can't define pornography, but I'll know it when I see it."

When the line fails to include or exclude properly, we think of it as a miscarriage of justice. We try to keep track of precedents and exceptions and extenuating circumstances. The truth of human experience, however, is that the boundary between right and wrong is by extension of the mathematical analogy infinite. This is why I believe that individuals must remain empowered to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and to have the power to grant reward or exact punishment, even if in the slightest amount. Government and law will always be too clumsy, no matter how well intentioned.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Irony, thy Name is Blogger

Previously I gave you my opinion of the AD&D/D20 system. Something involving testicles and rats if I recall correctly.

Evidently, Blogger runs links at the top of the free pages linking to items mentioned in the posts. It would also seem that the algorithms do not catch on well to context, because ever since I wrote that entry, the links have always included AD&D. If the D20 system works for you, more power to you (computing power, you'll need it).

As for me, I think I'd have to set the number of rats to at least four before I would use D20.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

A Melange of Thoughts on Church and State

Sitting at a friend's house, discussing the various topics under the sun, we got into what is becoming a usual debate over philosophy. Today the topic got around to the discussion of the marriages underway in San Francisco. We agree that the Mayor is really trying to force the issue. By taking the action, the mayor is drawing out all sides so that everyone involved will have to show their true colors by reacting.

While we have differences in details, we both agree that there should a distinction in terminology and function applied. We don't mean between "Marriage" that heterosexuals can receive from the state and "Civil Union" that homosexuals can receive from the state.

What we think should happen is something that other of a libertarian bent on the web have already written about: The government should only be issuing Civil Unions while churches handle Marriages. The Civil Union, what is embodied in the Marriage License, defines the rights granted between the two (or more) people with regard to the state, while the Marriage defines the rights of the parties with respect to the church.

Truthfully, no new insight with respect to the blogosphere.

A realization Dave, the dear friend referenced in the post about basic economic theory, brought up was that there are already a number of religious sacraments that imply rights that the state does not recognize, instead granting those rights when it sees fit, without religious sanction. The recognition of adulthood is the greatest increase in rights and responsibilities a person receives. According to the state, this is divided between the age of 18 for voting rights, the right to enter into contracts, and sexual liberty, and 21 is the age for full ownership of one's body for the imbibing of alcohol.

Those ages make no allowance for the religious sacraments of Catholic Confirmation, Church of England/Episcopalian Confirmation, and Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah. All of these rites of adulthood traditionally took place at the age of 13. No one in this modern age would consider a 13-year-old as ready for legal adulthood. So we already have the precedent of separating legal and religious recognition of rights and that a religious ceremony needs the sanction of the state to be meaningful.

Religion in America is stronger for the separation of Church and State. I'm a cynical libertarian, I don't trust the Government not to corrupt anything that it touches. When the Roman Church was a temporal power, it was corrupted by those who used it for that desired temporal power. There were Borgia Popes for God's Sake. Religion loses meaning when it is tainted by Earthly power.

Friday, February 13, 2004

For What It's Worth

I'm probably not looking at enough of the right (wrong?) places on the internet, but I am feeling somewhat optimistic that libertarian ideals might catch on in the population in general. Hopefully the ideas of personal freedom and responsibility from both the Cop and the Nanny will build up a bandwagon effect.

In that hope, I want it down, in writing, that I was libertarian before being libertarian was cool. More importantly, I want it time stamped that this was written before being libertarian before being libertarian was cool was cool.

(What about that "Change Time & Date" option to the right of this new post window? - ed. sotto voce: "Shut up!" Out Loud: Please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Update: It just so happens that the Letter of the Day at Electric Venom is F. (Just so happens my Foot - ed. I need to get myself a new editor.) Be welcome in this quaint land where the Site Meter is still in single digits.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Fun With HTML

A quick experiment on blogging what I really mean Freudian slips.
Taking on a Life of its Own

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the issues raised in the post below. A point was brought up on the Larry Elder Show in Los Angeles. He was interviewing Steven Miller, a freshman at Duke University who had made a name for himself by bringing incidents of anti-conservative bias at Santa Monica High School to media attention. Steven was involved with the initial study and letter that lead to the article and quote below. Larry suggested that a similar study of the faculties of the hard science departments would give lie to the Philosophy Chair's assertion that liberals would naturally be disproportionately represented due to inherently greater intelligence. If true, then there would be a similar disproportion of liberal science and engineering professors. If not true, then the representation would be more similar to the population at large.

In my own personal experience, professors of physical sciences and engineering aren't too different from the rest of the community. I think that what may be at work here, obviously without recourse to any hard data, is the fundamental difference between physical sciences and social sciences. At the level of academic achievement represented by professors and PhD's, one's intelligence and smartness is shown by being correct.

In the physical sciences one may propose a theory and then perform experiments that isolate the effect one wishes to observe. If the data support the hypothesis, then one can make a claim as to being correct. If another scientist wishes to test the results, he/she may then duplicate the experiment and either verify or disprove the results. Another situation is where an experiment is needed, but not all of the extraneous influences can be controlled. Medical experiments are a clear example of this, the experimenter can not isolate their subjects for long enough so that differences in environment, diet, and other impacts of different lives can be removed. For these cases, large numbers of subjects need to be studied and statistically valid trends are sought. These tests also include a similar group, called the control group, not receiving the influence (drug, diet, etc.) that is being tested. That way, statistically valid can be determined by the difference in the two groups. In this case, methodology is much more important and is often the source of much controversy.

Regardless of constraints, the physical sciences demand that all theories be measured up against the world. Physical science can be said to have recourse to external validation.

Social sciences do not have that option. One can not go out and create new historical data. Archaeology may find new data, but the only hope for proving a historical theory is to discover artifacts that have survived. Sociology may come up with theories as to why things happened, but the field is short on control groups. When society covers everyone, who is left to show what would have happened otherwise? The only recourse is to consensus. Do the other smart people in your field agree that your theory has merit?

I'm tempted to read the quote more as the assumption that the intelligent person would choose the liberal viewpoint because it is self-obviously correct. However, if correctness is a matter of consensus, then the process of determining correctness becomes inherently political. What is correct is what the faculty believes to be correct. The selection process for joining the faculty is meant to determine who is the best suited, the most intelligent person available. Intelligence, for a professor, is determined by being correct. Correct as determined by the faculty. Therefore, intelligence is determined by the faculty. If the candidate has written papers that the faculty does not agree with, it is therefore incorrect and the candidate has failed to prove intelligence to the degree that another candidate who has written papers that the faculty does agree with. It then follows that the second candidate will be judged as more capable for the job than the first.

The tendency for social sciences, in which correctness is determined by consensus, thus falls into a self-reinforcing cycle. After a few repetitions, it is no wonder that we see so many faculties dominated by single viewpoints. When it comes to topics like Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Science, those viewpoints would be impossible to separate from party affiliation.

Update: First time around I mistakenly cited the professor as being the History Chair. That has been corrected to Philosophy Chair.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Count is Now: 25

I suppose having my intelligence insulted is a good way to kick the counter up by ten. The quotation below is in response to an open letter published in the Duke University newspaper by a conservative student group. The letter contained statistics showing the overwhelming tendency for members of the faculties of Duke's humanities departments to be aligned with liberal political parties.

The professor was quoted as the following:

"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."

Viewing my libertarianism as really old-school conservatism, I had to do the count to keep from writing complete gibberish here.

For now, I shall show why I despair that this professor is teaching anything that involves philosophy or logic. The statement, "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire," followed by, "Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too," implies that this professor believes that anyone of sufficient intelligence will come to adhere to a liberal viewpoint. More succinctly, a conservative viewpoint can only be held by the stupid.

The logical fallacy is glaring. I'll allow, for now, that stupid people may be more inclined to conservatism. The facto that doesn't ipso is the assumption that the relationship is reflexive, that conservatives are more inclined to stupidity. Mathematically, it is true that if A=B, then B=A. That only holds true, however, when speaking about discrete, individual entities. If we have multiple red balls under discussion, then both "the balls are red" and "the red things are balls" are both true. If we release the condition that a well defined set of objects is to be included in the discussion, then the reflexiveness is lost. While it may be true that "all the balls are red", it is no longer necessarily true that "the red things are balls" because we might have red shoes, red cars, etc.

Directly to that professor, please get your logic straight if you should have to try to teach it to your students.

(Link via Andrew Sullivan)

Update: Now that I have gotten the bile out and have had a few minutes to think about this, I can't help but get hit with the irony. Should I make some snarky comment about how the guy who hires for the Philosophy department can make such a ridiculously illogical statement? Probably not, stooping is bad for the back.

Update II: Kieran at Crooked Timber proposes that conservatives can not make an issue of liberal dominance in academia without falling into hypocrisy. He looks at saying that either institutional bias can exist (if it does against conservatives in academia, then it could against women or minorities in the rest of the world) or conservatives must admit that what the professor said is essentially true.

I believe that Kieran misses the point. Most universities promise a marketplace of ideas for students to create their own opinions. If one school of thought is completely lacking, then it would be impossible for the department to adequately communicate the ideas. I know that it would be impossible for me to speak without slight signs of disapproval about Marxist theory. People can pick up on that, if only in the teacher's tone of voice or other methods of delivery.

I do not propose any type of coercive action upon the universities to enforce balance. There are web sites available that provide information regarding university policies and faculty to the public. From there, students can decide the tenor of academic instruction in which they wish to immerse themselves.

Hopefully Geragos's Clue has GPS Attached

I suppose that a good defense attorney would do everything possible to benefit his client's case, even to the point of making oneself look like a fool. In which case Peterson defense counsel Mark Geragos is really going above and beyond the call of duty. His latest motion: Exclude all GPS data from the tracker placed on Scott Peterson's car during the investigation because GPS is not scientifically accepted as reliable.

I'll stop laughing any minute now.

Note to Mr. Geragos: Not only have there been numerous trials that have accepted GPS data as reliable, but there are also thousands of drivers, hikers, and civilian and military pilots who swear by the technology. Heck, there would even be hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who would attest to the effectiveness of GPS-guided munitions if only, well, GPS-guided munitions weren't so effective.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Avert Your Eyes From The Geekiest Blog Post, Ever

Blogging is all about the self and putting out what you have on your mind in the hopes of someone else reading it and perhaps coming up with a new idea. Since Game the World is about me, I'm going to write about what I want, so here it goes.

In various role-playing games, both table-top and on-line, on of the big difficulties is preventing the knowledge of the player from contaminating the knowledge of the character. Maybe the player has read the Tremere Clanbook and now his Order of Hermes mage just so happens to wander into the club where the city's Tremere haven is located. At the very least, just how aware is society in general that the Empire blew up Alderaan in Star Wars Galaxies?

A good role-player can keep setting information from influencing their behavior. What I have not seen discussed is how system information tends to influence character actions. I understand that the systems of damage and accuracy in combat will establish the tactics your character would use to come out on top of a fight. It is perfectly logical that your character would do that because training and experience will have shown what methods work and what don't. The way the rules and dice work in an RPG (role-playing game, not rocket propelled grenade, for you uninitiated) are the fundamental laws of physics in the game worlds.

I understand that people look for different things in role-playing systems. Some want maximum realism. The AD&D/D20 system is good for that. Personally, if given the choice between running a D20 campaign and having my testicles chewed on by feral rats, I'd need to know how many rats would be involved before giving my answer.

For my taste, I prefer a fast and loose, cinematic feel to my games. Let the characters pull of big stunts like Indiana Jones or face down well-nigh insurmountable odds like in the Lord of the Rings. My current favorite system for this is Savage Worlds by Pinnacle. My gripe has apparently crossed the minds of the guys there, but I still don't feel quite satisfied.

When I am running a cinematic game, I would like to occasionally have the characters in my clutches to put into the death trap from which they will inevitably escape. ("Do you expect me to talk?" "Why, no, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.") We all know those scenes, heck, in Stargate SG1 the characters have even mentioned having lost count and greet it with the been-there-escaped-that attitude. Unfortunately, players tend to resist that type of thing, putting up a successful fight to escape before even getting captured.

A little cooperation and trust in those circumstances would be nice, but there is another source to that problem in my mind. Oftentimes, the players will calculate "He is a standard thug with a low shooting skill packing an underpowered weapon that I can survive a shot or two from". I might prefer every so often the players acknowledging, for instance, that while the basic CDEF blaster in Star Wars Galaxies won't do one's character a lethal blow, to at least act like your character respects that it might just be a deadly situation.

Thus endeth the rant, for now.

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Tragic Collision of Comedy and Philosophy

Every so often, a song comes along and gets stuck in your head. You can't think about some things without it coming up. I completely ruins your concentration, clogging the neurons and making yoU WANT TO SCREAM FROM THE SHEER REPETITION!!!!!

I'm Ok, I'm OK. Just with the previous discource on John Stuart Mill (of his own free STOP THAT!) had this song from Monty Python playing in my head all day.

The Philosopher's Song
(Monty Python)

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am"
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed!

Thanks to

Hawkeye Pearce Didn't Have a Pair This Big

A list of things not to do was supposedly created by one Spc. Scwartz while he was stationed in the Balkans. How a person can have this many things counting against him and still get promoted is beyond me. Still, its funny. And for the love of god do not let this list get into the wrong hands.

Where John Stuart Mill Got it Wrong

I wrote below that I am probably one of a few people who thinks that John Stuart Mill was too restrictive of liberty. How is that possible, when Mill is considered to be the foundation of libertarianism?

Let's look at one of his quotes:

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.
From the Introduction of On Liberty (emphasis mine)

An argument of the above has it that this will result in an anarchy in which affronts to decency must be tolerated. I propose the flipside of the argument.

How is it possible to say that Mill unnecessarily limits liberty? I'll start my answer with a question: How many individuals are necessary to make up society? Whenever I see the word "society" in a discussion such as this, I replace it with the words "everyone else". The essence of my point is that it is impossible to influence everyone else simultaneously. When we consider the impact of a person's actions or words on the rest of society, we have to break it down to the instance of the first person to react to the words or actions. The Mill formulation above, particularly the emphasized portion, would dictate that the observer would have to carry on as if the actor had done nothing unusual. In order to maintain the liberty of the first person, the liberty to react of the second must therefore be limited. As more and more people are brought into this state by the actions of the first person, soon there shall be a large number of people whose liberty have been denied. This argument, it should be noted, is reflexive and that the first person shall be similarly denied the liberty to react to anyone else.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to peaceably assemble. However, a right is not a right if its practice is compulsory, therefore the right to assemble must include the right to not assemble. If I have the right to choose to associate with whomever I choose, then I have the right to choose not to associate. Since the person with whom I might choose to associate has that same right, I may not force my presence on another. Essentially, each person has the right to deny everyone else the pleasure of their company for whatever reason he/she may wish.

So as an individual, I have the right to exclude anyone that I may choose, for any reason. This liberty must be included in all levels of my associations. As a consumer I am free to shop at any store I wish. If I am a shopkeeper, I may sell to anyone I wish. If I am an employer, I am free to hire whomever I wish. All of these cases assume the willingness of the other party, of course.

Some people may be troubled by this, claiming that I could use racist or sexist or any-other-ist criteria. My answer to that is: Naturally. If I were to be evident in my -ist criteria, however, then I would have to accept the opinions of everyone else (society) and the impact of those opinions on the decisions to associate reached by those individuals. If I were a shop owner who refused to serve Asian people, for instance, then I would have to accept the decision of people of other races not to do business with me due to my racist attitude.

I have mentioned this loop before in this weblog. The feedback provides information as to the cost of actions and opinions. The value of actions and opinions can be determined by each individual in the cost of lost (or gained) associations.

We recognize the courage of people who accept the cost of negative public sentiment when standing up for what is right, because make no mistake, it is very possible for society to be wrong. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this type of feedback loop. By the use of non-violent resistance, they revealed the nature of those who opposed them, and thus that nature was brought to light for judgment by the rest of society. Every individual who saw what was happening had to make a moral choice and take their own measure.

If all people were truly rational, then the Mill formulation above would be assumed. Not all people accept that concept of live and let live, so change has to happen. No change that is imposed from above can succeed, it must happen from the ground up. Each individual that comprises society must accept that the change is right for himself. The process is typically slow, look at the kooks who still go running around in hoods and swastikas, but that change will be real. Without the pressure from society, that change can not ultimately be made real. The Klansmen and Neo-Nazis carry on, wearing society's disapproval as badges of honor. Then again, so did King. If we are to come to a time where is person is truly sovereign over themselves, we must not only allow but demand that individuals make moral choices and act upon them.