Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fire Him?

Bobby Bowden, head football coach at Florida State, is under pressure to fire his son who his offensive coordinator.

Ouch. The Bowden family must have had a fun gathering at Thanksgiving.

How about this for gay dinner table repartee? Pass the turkey, Turkey. Or, son, you're supposed to move the ball forward, not backward.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fear, Guns, God, Oil, and Shamelessness

Here are a few excerpts from Seymour M. Hersh’s article, Up in the Air, in the New Yorker.
Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

. . .

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an ncreasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

So the Iraq war is about religion too. What’s the war really all about?

* Fear spilling outside the bounds of reason
* The efficacy of preemptive war
* The egos of political leaders
* Religious zealotry on all sides
* Big business and big oil
* Preserving an untenable U. S. economic infrastructure
* Diverting funding for domestic programs to mass destruction
* Combat viewed as strength
* Diplomacy and negotiation viewed as a weakness

The reasons for the war defy the imagination’s magnificent powers to make sense of it all.

What really exacerbates the issues is that the United States is such a rich and powerful country.

Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war seem a drop in the bucket, and something easily paid off twenty or thirty years from now.

A few thousand dead and wounded on the American side still pales in comparison to some of America’s bloodier wars. The small number of families impacted by the war get a lot of press, but it’s all abstract political point scoring. Virtually everyone in America can go about their business each day without a care about Iraq.

The rich get their tax cuts. A few million more impoverished families don’t matter much when there is a war to be won.

World opinion doesn’t matter. If America listened to world opinion, and signed international treaties, America could not get everything it wants. When you are the big bully on the block, there is no reason to be concerned about anyone else’s interests--to heck with altruism and morals.

America feels no sense of shame because it can drown or silence any voice through sheer volume, banality, and little white lies that attempts to shame it.

Shame? That is what a lot of the war is about too. Why feel shame and remorse when you can put the cost on your credit card and hope the whole thing goes away before it gets too expensive or one your own gets killed or wounded?

You hear a lot of lamenting about how polarized and partisan politics has become in Washington D. C. How terrible for those in the seats of political power. They no longer enjoy the polite society to which they had become accustomed. How terribly inconvenient for them all. It is getting so they cannot even enjoy a nice lunch with their favorite lobbyist anymore.

Let’s not forget the frustration caused by all those interrupted prayer meetings.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The End of Faith

I started reading Sam Harris's book, The End of Faith, this evening. Here is the blurb on the back of the cover.

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. He offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs--even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to deliver a call for a truly modern foundation for ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic.

As you can probably guess I am already enjoying the book.

I am still much under the spell of Pascal Boyer's book Religion Explained. He claims that religion is a by-product of evolved cognitive systems and processes. He also claims that because of this religion will not fade away soon. One can draw the gloomy corollary from this that the more extravagant, dangerous, and false religious beliefs people hold will be with us for a long time. That means I'm stuck with a reality I don't find agreeable.

Sam Harris does not believe in compromise with religion and Pascal Boyer does.

For myself, I am beginning to find it more than irritating to listen to people say foolish things about mundane matters and justify it by their religious faith. I used to think of it as cute idiotic nonsense, but I am beginning to see it as symptomatic of much of the current ignorance about science, politics, and morals. Too many people use their faith to justify the relativity of truth. Beliefs are true just because they have faith they are true. Many people are insulted when you call them on a bit of their foolishness. Too bad for them. Calling it your faith, Boss, doesn't make it true or right.

I was reading a blog at the beginning of Hurricane Katrina. The author, who is very religious, related a story about how one man heroically rescued another man from drowning in the flood. The author said it was an example of god's grace. When the death toll from the storm began to mount, I was tempted to ask her if that was an example of god's grace too. I didn't.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Matthew 7:6

Damnable Oil

The United States needs lots of oil if it would live in the style to which has become accustomed. The damnable thing is the United States does not have much oil. The U. S. must buy it from some people who do not hold much affection for the U. S.

Oil has nothing to do with the Iraq War. The U. S. is doing god’s handiwork by spreading freedom and democracy around the world. The large oil reserves in Iraq are merely coincidental as to why the U. S. picked Iraq as the place to begin its noble and sacred duty.

“What about all the oil contracts oil companies are negotiating at favorable terms in advance of the next Iraqi elections?,” someone asks. “Shut up, and write freedom and democracy on the blackboard 100 times,” I reply.

The Draft?

Several times I have discussed the military draft at the local bar with a guy who was in the service about the same time as me. He always starts these things. I drink to forget.

My friend wants compulsory military service for all people. I try to interject practical considerations such as how we will house, feed, and arm all these new arrivals to the military forces. My friend, who has always had a few too many when this discussion begins, doesn’t care about that. He believes compulsory service would be a good character builder for younger adults. Killing somebody most likely will change someone’s character. Being killed will end someone’s character issues.

Policy makers and military leaders universally agree that a new rotation policy for troops in Iraq is needed if we are to continue our extended military adventure. A new draft of the fair citizens of the United States does not get discussed much. Pay raises for our service men and women so as to attract new recruits doesn’t get discussed much either. The poverty line for service families seems just fine in the minds of many of the good citizens of this fair country.

I am agnostic on the draft issue. All I know is that if the foreign policy of the country is to engage in preemptive wars around the globe, the military must find the bodies to fight those wars from somewhere. Some people are already on their third tour of duty in Iraq. It seems the only two options are coercion or financial incentives.

A return to a draft should not be like the shameful draft of the Sixties Vietnam era. We need something a little more equitable. How might that work?

Recruits would be selected by random lottery drawing. Everyone of military age would be required to sign up for the lottery. I mean everyone: man, woman, brave, coward, rich, or poor. If someone is a blind paraplegic, they must still sign up for the lottery. There is always the chance they might be cured by the time their number comes up.

The only deferment allowed would be a medical deferment. Everyone selected in the draft must report to their induction physical. A doctor’s excuse would not suffice to get a person out of the physical. The induction physical would determine who was able to endure military duty.

Again, there would be no deferments. It would not matter if someone’s induction day was the same day as the their final exams of their final senior semester in college. People would need to hand their induction notices to their professors and hope for some makeup exams down the road.

That would be it. Able bodies would be harvested from the fields of humanity like so much wheat or corn. The virtue of the scheme is its simplicity, fairness, and equity. Nothing is more fair than chance. It happens to all.

Welcome to the wonderful world of eternal preemptive war. Just remember doing right has no end while there are evil doers in the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Football: Happy and Sad

I lost my wager this week on football. My season totals are 10 wins, 10 losses, and 1 tie against the spread. I have won 1 and lost none against the money line. That's the sad news. Well kind of happy too. I am ahead by a paltry sum for the season. I'll bet lots of folks who wager on football games wish they could say that.

The really happy news is that my beloved Iowa Hawkeye football team has reached the number 25 spot in the football polls. Just number 25? Give me a break. It's better than nothing.

The Limits of Speculation

Until there is a complete science of human nature, it seems we must observe and gather empirical evidence to make sense of it. That is one of the reasons I like both Hume and Marx.

Hume was much impressed with the Scientific Revolution and tried to apply its empirical methods for moral studies. Marx was an acute observer of history and the conditions of his time. He used the empirical evidence he gathered for his devastating critique of capitalism and blind egoism.

Hume, who many claim is one of the first apologists for unfettered capitalism, was too much the skeptic and acute observer of human nature to seriously found a just society on categorical and absolute egoism.

Hume and Marx shared a belief in the virtues of altruism over the vices of egoism. It seems, in an overly simplistic way, that is the opening to reconciling the two philosophers if one admires them both. For Hume, egoism is worthless to society if it is not useful to society. Marx lived through the disastrous consequences of societies built upon unrepentant egoism.

Both men advanced the understanding of human nature, yet both knew the limits of their speculations about human nature. They did not try advance beyond those boundaries.

Both saw the goodness of humans as the place to start when speculating about morals.

Our Endangered Values

I started reading President Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis last night. The book is quick, elegant, and no nonsense. From the introductory chapter:

Americans cherish the greatness of our homeland, but many do not realize how extensive and profound are the transformations that are now taking place in our nation’s basic moral values and political philosophy.

Our people have been justifiably proud to see America’s power and influence used to preserve peace for ourselves and others, promote economic and social justice, raise high the banner of human rights, protect the quality of our environment, alleviate human suffering, and cooperate with other peoples to reach these common goals.

We have learned the value of providing our citizens with accurate information and treating dissenting voices with respect. Most of our political leaders have attempted to control deficit spending, preserve the separation of church and state, and protect civil liberties and personal privacy.

All of these historic commitments are now being challenged.
He does not shy away from identifying who is challenging those historic commitments.

The most important factor is that fundamentalists have become increasingly influential in both religion and government, and have managed to change the nuances and subtleties of historic debate into black-and-white rigidities and the personal derogation of those who dare to disagree. At the same time these religious and political conservatives have melded their efforts, bridging the formerly respected separation of church and state. This has empowered a group of influential “neoconservatives,” who have been able to implement their long-frustrated philosophy in both domestic and foreign policy.
President Carter characterizes the fundamentalist movement like this.

  • Almost invariably, fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.

  • Although fundamentalists usually believe that the past is better than the present, they retain certain self-beneficial aspects of both their historic religious beliefs and of the modern world.

  • Fundamentalists draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others, convinced that they are right and that anyone who contradicts them is ignorant and possibly evil.

  • Fundamentalists are militant in fighting against any challenge to their beliefs. They are often angry and sometimes resort to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda.

  • Fundamentalists tend to make their self-definition increasingly narrow and restricted, to isolate themselves, to demagogue emotional issues, and to view change, cooperation, negotiation, and other efforts to resolve differences as signs of weakness.

  • To summarize, there three words that characterize this brand of fundamentalism: rigidity, domination, and exclusion.
    President Carter’s credentials as an international statesman and tireless worker for his evangelical Baptist faith are unassailable. He has studied philosophy and theology all his life. President Carter said he was hesitant to write the book during a C-Span interview several weeks ago. He shows a rare humility in taking his moral stance in the book.

    I am glad he did write the book. I disagree with his positions on certain issues, but I think he identifies the moral issues that are at stake with the rise of the fundamentalist movement. Those on the right will not like the book. Those on the radical left will consider it the smoothing over of a fundamentally flawed system.

    There is a residue that rings true.

    Some people believe that tolerance of others, justice for all, basic human rights, respect for science and the environment, and world peace are the preeminent goals of politics. Others don’t.

    Everyday we see policies proposed and implemented that take America farther away from the decent values that the majority of Americans hold and that have served the country well. Everyday we see the disastrous consequences of the loss of basic values. We know who is leading the country astray.

    Defeating the opponents of morals and progress has never been easy. The hope is that one day those opponents will realize they are the opponents of the moral values that found the good life for everyone. However, there will always be a small vocal and active group of white fundamentalist conservative males whose goal is to dominate and tyrannize those who are not with them.

    That is why they must be contested everyday with an iron political will. The United States must not be ruled by a minority dictatorship whose values are not the moral values of America.

    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    Tired and Confused

    Portrait of David Hume at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

    I fell asleep at 9:30 last night. I woke around 3:30 in the morning, got out of bed for a few minutes, but went back to bed and slept until 9:30 in the morning. I must have been tired.

    I am still tired. All I want to do is read David Hume for the rest of the day and watch the snow melt in the streets below.

    I feel like fighting this natural inclination of my soul. However, my soul might be telling me something to which I should listen.

    I get so confused over simple things.

    The Entertainment Value of Passion and Prediction

    My favorite thing to do in Las Vegas is hang out at one of the spacious sports book parlors. I like to study the racing forms and the facts and figures on the sports teams, bet $2 to win on the horses in the races, bet one or two baseball, football, or basketball games, watch the races and games on TV for several hours, and take advantage of the free drinks.

    That’s what I call the gambling life—betting on the performance of different species of athlete. Even when the bets are the bare minimum, it’s fun to see what happens.

    Life can be like that sometimes too. I find an emerging event that stirs a small passion inside me, make a prediction, then I watch and wait to see the result.

    This Week's Football Wagers

    I only placed one wager this week. I have remained confused since the opening of the line. I based my wager on pure intuition.

    Oakland -7 home vs. Miami.

    Friday, November 25, 2005


    They say all good things must end. And the reason they say it is because they do.

    I am back in Chicago and no longer in Iowa. We had a light snow fall. The streets and sidewalks are already dirty.

    I am watching Last of the Mohicans. I have seen that movie many times because I like it. I love the music even though you are not suppose to love things, but only people.

    Iowa, Chicago, or even Katmandu, you must have easy going fun while doing your own thing in your own time as best you can.

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Thanksgiving morning with Hume

    I woke to find I am still in Iowa. Oh, blessed day.

    I did not sleep as soundly as I hoped. The strange matress did a number on my back. Yet I drink cofffee, am cozy in my little space, and look expectantly toward a wonderful meal at my beloved sister's house in Mt. Vernon, Iowa which some of you may know as the home of Cornell College. She lives two blocks from campus.

    I brought along Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature to read. I leave you with a passage from the last section of Book I curtesy of
    But before I launch out into those immense depths of philosophy, which lie before me, I find myself inclined to stop a moment in my present station, and to ponder that voyage, which I have undertaken, and which undoubtedly requires the utmost art and industry to be brought to a happy conclusion. Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escaped shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances. My memory of past errors and perplexities, makes me diffident for the future. The wretched condition, weakness, and disorder of the faculties, I must employ in my enquiries, encrease my apprehensions. And the impossibility of amending or correcting these faculties, reduces me almost to despair, and makes me resolve to perish on the barren rock, on which I am at present, rather than venture myself upon that boundless ocean, which runs out into immensity. This sudden view of my danger strikes me with melancholy; and as it is usual for that passion, above all others, to indulge itself; I cannot forbear feeding my despair, with all those desponding reflections, which the present subject furnishes me with in such abundance.

    I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expelled all human commerce, and left utterly abandoned and disconsolate. Fain would I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side. I have exposed myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declared my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surprized, if they should express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; though such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.

    A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section VII, David Hume

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    In Iowa

    I'm in Iowa. And why not? It's god's country.

    I left at 4 PM at the height of the rush hour traffic. It took me over an hour and a half to get outside of Chicago proper. I am not smart. When I do it right, I can get here in a little less than 4 hours. It took over 5 hours today.

    I found a good Sixties oldies radio station during the drive. I sang along with songs like Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison, Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Garden Party by Ricky Nelson. My singing reached a frenzy when Amy by Pure Prarie League came on. I don't sing well, so driving through Iowa alone in the dark gives me a rare chance to let it all out.

    I did book a nice room at a cheap price off of Priceline last night. I have free DSL too.

    So here I am in Iowa, snug as a bug in a rug, happy as a pig in slop.

    Don't be too jealous. Remember the famous line from Othello. "Jealousy m'lord, it is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on."


    I will travel to Iowa this afternoon, and traverse about 250 miles of empty corn fields in the dark. The emptiness of the land will cause me to rethink my life--what I should have done differently, and what I might still do differently. My imagination will run wild to no practical effect. Nothing will change.

    I do not despise my imagination just because it is often impractical. It has worked well enough through the years to keep body and soul together. My imagination and the good people I have known are the history of my life. I often forget it was the benevolence of others made my life well worth living. I am thankful even though I don’t say it much.

    I can already see the little farm towns, products of the benevolence of the land and the imagination, sprinkled along highway 30.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005


    I am reading Hume's An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.

    I have always liked Hume and Marx. Hume died in 1776 at the dawn of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Marx lived through many of the worst excesses of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. It would seem impossible to reconcile Hume, who helped found liberal democratic ideals, with Marx. My admiration of both philosophers forces me to try.

    Hume understands justice to be that which is useful to society. That might be a key to a partial reconciliation. I don't know.

    What if Hume had the same empirical evidence as Marx about the consequences of unfettered capitalism?

    The Week's Final Results

    I won 3 and lost 1 against spread this week. I have 10 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie against the spread for the season. I have won 1 and lost 0 against the moneyling for the season.

    Darn! If only I had not bet on the stupid Vikes vs. Packers game last night.

    Onward and upward.

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    The Holidays

    This is my plan for the holidays:

    • Write, write, write
    • Read some Hume, Hegel, and Marx
    • Think about a whole new theory of political economy
    • Have easy going fun while doing my own thing in my own time

    Not necessarily in that order.


    Yes, I admit I am harsh in my criticism of the Bush Administration. I offer the following in the spirit of making productive and practical suggestions.

    The question arises each day as to the mixed signals we are sending to the enemy about our resolve to stay in Iraq until the job is done. Thus we say there will be no timetables for the evacuation of troops from Iraq.

    Maybe, that is not the right way to put it though. Many military and political experts have estimated that the occupation of Iraq will take ten to twenty years if we intend to win the war. Why not just say that?

    One, it shows the enemy there will be no easy and quick victory. Two, it gets all those pesky war critics who want a timetable off your back.

    Just an idea.

    Cheney at the AEI

    Vice President Cheney just gave a short speech about the Iraq War to a small audience at the American Enterprise Institute. He praised Murtha. He recognized the right to criticize the Iraq War and its conduct. He did not fire any unpatriotic or disloyal to the troops salvos. He made a few brief unremarkable remarks about progress in Iraq. He asserted that the Bush Administration did not lie about prewar intelligence.

    Instead he concentrated on one of the prewar justifications for the war. If we leave Iraq, then al Qaeda will take over the country. After watching Richard Perle on CNN yesterday morning, it seems that will be the argument the neo-cons will temporarily use during the holiday season to diffuse the current volatile political situation. Cheney used the word terrorist instead of insurgent to characterize our military opponents in Iraq. That is consistent with resuscitating the terrorist rationale for the war.

    Making fine distinctions about the political and religious makeup of Iraqi society was not in vogue before the Iraq War began. The lyric from the Alan Jackson Country Western song about 9/11 encapsulated a lot of the thinking: “I’m not sure I can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran.” Some people were perversely proud of that ignorance.

    The argument I heard very often before the Iraq War was “9/11, Q. E. D.” (I know. I say that a lot.) President Cheney and the neo-cons would like to take us back to those days three years ago. Ask them if you do not believe me.

    The American Enterprise Institute is a neo-con think tank and neo-con intellectual bastion. The faces of the audience for the Cheney speech were tense and grim. Inquiring minds abound and abide in all quarters.

    Like any revolution the neo-con political revolution must temporarily win the hearts and minds of the citizen. After the revolution is won, the citizens’ opinions can be easily discarded. The neo-cons need some good creative and imaginative talent infused into the Bush Administration to help the cause. The stuff coming from the White House is very boring.

    Speaking of creative, how about this? After the December 15 Iraqi elections, the neo-cons could say that Iraq is now a free country with scores of trained Iraqi battalions to secure the country from terrorists. Therefore, we are bringing the troops home at a measured and prudent pace. Q. E. D.

    Long live the revolution. It will not be televised due to technical difficulties such as its boring message.

    Sunday, November 20, 2005

    Income Inequality

    The Tax Policy Center always has good stuff to look at such as this short report on Income Taxes and Income Inequality Since 1979.
    Following decades of relative stability, income inequality has risen sharply in the United States since the 1970s. Data from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that between 1979 and 2002, the share of pretax income accruing to households in the top quintile increased by almost 15 percent, from 45.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The increase was greatest for those with very high incomes: The top 1 percent earned 9.3 percent of pretax income in 1979, and 13.4 percent in 2002 — a 44 percent increase. Pretax income shares declined for each of the bottom four quintiles, with the decline sharpest among those making the least: The lowest quintile saw their pretax income share decrease from 5.8 percent to 4.2 percent, a reduction of more than 27 percent.

    By design, progressive federal taxes offset some of the disparity in pretax incomes. Analysis of estate and income tax returns among the very wealthy indicate that progressive taxation played a significant role in the decline of income inequality during the mid-20th century (Kopczuk and Saez, 2004). At the end of the century, however, the distribution of after-tax incomes is growing more unequal too. In fact, the changes in after-tax income shares for the highest and lowest quintiles display not only the same trend as that for pretax shares, but the trends are of about the same magnitude.

    Partial Results

    I won three and lost none against the spread in today's football wagering. I still have a wager on the Monday night game, but regardless of the result I will finish the weekend ahead for the season.

    I am well on my way to reaffirming that betting against the spread is like flipping an unbiased coin. A couple of weeks ago I felt it might be worse.

    Relevance: Roger and Me

    Even the most humble, such as I, are sometimes forced to express opinions about economics. Such is the case with this post.

    Michael Moore made his mark with the movie Roger and Me. Moore documents the economic demise and aftermath caused by the relocation of the auto industry from his home city Flint, Michigan. Moore’s humor and satire often override the dark side of the story.

    Flint was a prosperous city economically based upon the auto industry. The rise of foreign competition convinced companies like General Motors that they could no longer base their operations in cities like Flint. The consequences were catastrophic for the citizens of Flint. High unemployment ensued. No new enterprises located themselves in Flint to revive the economic fortunes of the city. This sets up the premise of the movie. Michael Moore attempts to interview Roger Smith, CEO and Chairman of General Motors and the architect of moving GM’s operations from Flint.

    Moore interviews prominent national religious and political leaders who visit Flint. These leaders tell the citizens of Flint that if they keep a positive attitude, then god and good fortune will eventually provide. Moore never editorializes these interviews. The interviews stand on their own regarding the absurd notions of his interviewees.

    Moore interviews the Flint civic leaders who have plans and schemes to restore Flint to its former vitality. The plans seem hopeless to repair the economic disaster the city has suffered. Moore never editorializes.

    As for Moore’s confrontation with Roger Smith, I won’t spoil the movie by saying anything about its resolution.

    At the center of the movie is the grim reality of economic dislocation. One can do worse than watch Roger and Me to learn a bit about the global economy and its vicissitudes. You might even call it relevant.

    That leads me to enquire into the reality and relevance of economic teaching in general. I am reminded of the first year introductory economics course I took in college back in the early Seventies. The textbook we used for the first semester was a mainstream text. The book we used for the second semester, which concentrated on microeconomics, was Hunt and Sherman’s Economics: an introduction to traditional and radical views. This was not mainstream. A list of its four major parts gives an idea.

    * part one - property and prophets: the evolution of economic institutions and ideologies
    * part two - prices and poverty: a radical introduction to microeconomics
    * part three - unemployment and waste: a radical introduction to macroeconomics
    * part four - socialist economic systems: a radical introduction to comparative economics

    I think the Hunt and Sherman textbook ran through about six editions and went out of print in the early nineties.

    A survey and reading of the most popular college introductory economics texts shows more homogeneity than heterogeneity. The interesting thing about these textbooks is their common source. Here are a few relevant points from the Hunt and Sherman text.

    Economic concentration and wealth was at its height during the 1870’s. Commerce and markets were not regulated. There was a ruthless drive by capitalists of the era to concentrate economic wealth into a few monopolies and oligopolies that were ruthless in their treatment of smaller firms, each other, and the public.

    During the 1870’s, three famous economic texts were published: William Stanley Jevons’s The Theory of Political Economy, Karl Menger’s Principles of Economics, and Leon Walras’s Elements of Pure Economics. The texts taught the following theory:

    * An economy made up of many producers makes it impossible for any one producer to set prices.
    * Producers maximize their use of the factors of production and maximize profits
    * Consumers maximize the utility of the goods they purchase to reach an optimal level of overall utility
    * Because of the above there is an equilibrium point where production and consumption reached a socially optimal level.

    This theory says nothing about the distribution of income. The theory makes extreme simplifying assumptions to get the mathematics to work. The theory was totally irrelevant to the conditions of world capitalism at the time.

    That's my summary from Hunt and Sherman.

    Today’s economic models in their most pristine and pure form are the mathematical models of Jevons, Menger, and Walras. These models are the basis of today’s economics education at the introductory level through the graduate level. The mathematical sophistication by which they are taught varies depending on the mathematical sophistication of the student.

    The interesting thing about these models is that they say as little about the reality of today’s world economy as they did when they were first proposed. Make enough simplifying assumptions and you can make just about any mathematical model come out right. If you want an example of dogma, look no farther than the neoclassical economic model.

    During the past thirty years since the Hunt and Sherman text was introduced, economics has changed. Soviet Communism no longer exists. Countries around the world have bounced between liberal and conservative economic policies. The rise of global capitalism has made conditions different and more extreme in their consequences. The neoliberal consensus dominates the world view.

    The neoliberal consensus dominates the economic worldview to such an extent, I doubt if we ever see a textbook like Hunt and Sherman’s ever taught again at a U. S. college. Economics teaching has been reduced to a paltry mathematical exercise based on unrealistic assumptions, avoids discussing important issues and controversies, and is pretty much useless when thinking about the big political and social issues that attend economic issues.

    You could do worse than watch Roger and Me to get an economics lesson. You could do worse than read a used copy of Sherman and Hunt.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Hook 'Em Hawkeyes

    Iowa leads Minnesota 52-21 in the fourth quarter. I will immodestly declare victory for the Hawkeyes. Iowa finishes the season 7-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. The season was somewhat disappointing since they were supposed to challenge for a spot in the top ten. They lost a few close games they could have won.

    Let's not dwell on the negative on this bright sunny day. Iowa will get a bowl bid at a good place to play. That will give the Iowa fans something to do over the holidays. If they win a bowl game over a ranked opponent they will finish in the top twenty-five.

    Artillery Battle

    This won’t be theoretical as you know I am not good at that kind of thing. I have a Murtha/Hunter hangover. I watched too much House debate yesterday about the Iraq War. Well, it really was not a debate about the war. It was a set piece artillery battle. Republicans lobbed patriot shells at Murtha and the Democrats for not supporting the troops. Democrats lobbed smear tactics shells at Republicans for trying to besmirch Murtha’s reputation. Someone would jump in for a few seconds and actually say something relevant to the conduct of the war and its future direction. If you were at the fridge, you were sure to miss it. The sad result is that only three Representatives resolved to immediately leave Iraq. I just have to find out the names of those magnificent three.

    Oh well, now that the new episodes of Battlestar Galactica are over I need a new space opera to watch on Friday night.

    The Republicans have decided to use the 2004 campaign tactic of calling into question the patriotism and willingness to support the troops of anyone who believes that the Iraq can no longer be won militarily. When the Republicans cast that net, they haul in all kinds of folks who are uneasy about the military occupation of Iraq. Some of the folks they catch are the generals fighting the Iraq War. It is no top secret that the generals recognize the war must be won politically and can’t be won militarily. They actually say these things on televised briefing sessions.

    What about Congressman Murtha? Could there be anyone more hawkish than he on military affairs? No. Could there be a stronger advocate for military families and a bigger sponsor for aiding them in their hardships and tragedies? No.

    I don’t see much hope for the Republicans to convince the public that Murtha is some limousine liberal soft on war. He wants to take the money we would save by pulling out of Iraq and spend it on new weapons systems for the next war. Sure, that fact will bounce right off the heads of the true St. Bush believers, but how many of those are left?

    The Iraq War, which has now become unpopular, will spawn its own withdrawal logic from the Republicans during the next year as midterm elections approach. It would seem prudent that the Republican House would fire one last artillery barrage using the last of the patriot shells left in their arsenal. Soften up the enemy before the charge. From now on it is going to be over the top bayonet charges until the next election--the classic war of attrition World War I style. Should the inferior force of Republican sentiment for President Bush be charging the firmly entrenched force of public sentiment against the war? Do Republicans in Congress really believe their own words? Will the mere will to win carry the day against overwhelming odds?

    How many more rounds of the patriot and traitor shells does Vice President Cheney have left in his arsenal? He seems to be firing a BB gun these days.

    And where is President Bush? He goes to Asia to discuss the potential bird flu pandemic and his Republican House cuts the spending for his bird flu proposal. Do those folks talk at all anymore now that Tom DeLay is in court? Do they even watch each other on TV?

    Can anyone say lame duck? Can anyone say lame?

    I propose we give those three folks who voted for last night’s resolution an honored place in the history books.

    Friday, November 18, 2005


    Only three people in the House voted to immediately withdraw the troops from Iraq.

    The harvest moon has disappeared behind the tall buildings that surround me.

    Harvest moon over the House

    I am watching the debate in the House over immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

    The Republicans have made it an issue of supporting the troops.

    I see a large harvest moon through the window.

    Somebody is on the C-Span call-in segment saying that she does not want terrorists in the U. S. streets. I agree. Traffic is bad enough as it is.

    I drink a diet 7-up. I look at the moon.

    I wonder what it be like if at the end of tonight’s proceedings, it was resolved to withdraw troops from Iraq.

    I look at the moon. I really am drinking diet 7-up. I’m stone cold sober. I drift and dream too.

    I wonder if President Bush ever imagined a day like today before he decided to go to war.

    This week's football wagers

    Dallas -7.5 home vs. Detroit

    San Diego -10.5 home vs. Bufffalo

    Denver -13.5 home vs. NY Jets

    Green Bay -4.5 home vs. Minnesota

    I arrived at this week's choices by extensive analysis, then flipping last week's coin.

    Playing politics and war

    I was nineteen when I arrived in Vietnam in November of 1967. My body was strong and my mind was sound. I was the product of a good Iowa high school education and rigorous Marine Corps training.

    I had political views about the war. I felt those views were based upon my own reasoned evaluation of what the war was about. It does not matter what those opinions were. It only matters that they were mine.

    Thinking about politics did not occupy a large amount of my time while I was in Vietnam. The Stars and Stripes and Armed Forces Radio were our main news sources. The United States eventually became an imaginary place compared to daily life in Vietnam.

    If I had been told that stifling debate and dissent about the war was necessary to protect my morale, I would have found it personally insulting, condescending, manipulative, laughable, and chicken shit.

    Come on. Who’s fooling who?

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Cuts like a knife

    I get depressed when the days grow short and day light savings time ends. I wake early each morning. The additional early morning light does not console me.

    Today is the first cold day in Chicago. The high temperature is predicted to be around 29 F. I don’t like the cold air either.

    Why do I live here? Inertia. Inertia has been one of the controlling forces of my life. Newton’s first law of motion applies to the psyche too for some people like me.

    Summer in Chicago enchants me. I tell myself I will break the spell the next time summer returns. I am powerless to do it.

    Two months ago the bright blue sky was a warm embrace. It cuts like a knife today.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2005

    Politics, Religion, and Debates

    People of religious faiths mobilize and organize to enter politics to pass laws based on their faith. If you disagree with the laws they want enacted, the question is how to oppose them.

    If the religious faith of a political group does not permit that group to entertain arguments against the positions they hold, then the question of oppositional strategies becomes even more complicated. It would seem that there is no point in debating people whose religious faith does not permit them to change their mind. People of religious faith who believe they are enacting the will of god will only change their mind on pain of damnation.

    The first thing to realize is that you are dealing with a political opponent and not a religious opponent. Getting tangled up in obfuscating and obscurantist rhetoric about how you are persecuting their faith and values is a waste of time. You have to smack your political opponent down each time they attempt the persecution move by reminding everyone they are playing the political game, not the religious game.

    The second thing to realize is that most people of religious faith are not committed to one political agenda. The trick is to identify those opponents who will not change their minds because of their religious faith. Just about everybody who has ever lived has believed in god and a religion. Some religions claim the right to rule politically because the religion is the one true way. They do not have that right. Don’t give them that right.

    The third thing to realize is that it is a waste of time to debate opponents whose faith does not permit them to change their mind if your intent is to argue them into your position. You must be sure you apply the basic litmus test of what their religious faith permits them to do before you get into a time consuming and wasteful debate with them.

    The fourth thing to realize is that you will be eventually forced into debates with these types of political opponents. That means that you must tailor your arguments to the unconverted. You must force your opponents at the beginning of the debate to admit they will not change their minds because of their religious faith. The rules of informal logic and rational discourse will only work to convince the open minded.

    The fifth thing to remember is that everyone uses more than old fashioned logic to arrive at conclusions. Everyone holds many opinions based on highly complex conceptual frameworks and world views. It is very difficult to do, but people who debate and are ignorant of their opponent’s and audience’s conceptual frameworks, do so at great risk.

    The sixth thing to realize is that certain people are obstinate and dogmatic whether it is based on religious or secular views. The religious dogmatist presents a more unique challenge because they use the god is on my side argument in its various forms. Those forms are not always obvious.

    The seventh thing to realize is that one of the founding principles of the United States is the separation of church and state. There are people who disagree with that principle. They are taking a political stance, not a religious stance, when they would deny and destroy the principle.

    The eighth thing to remember is that it is useless to play the political game if you don’t intend to win.

    That is the best I can come with right now.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005


    I just finished watching a wonderful show on NOVA about Isaac Newton. We know Newton from his Principia Mathematica, Optiks, and his invention of the calculus. He was also an alchemist and extensively studied the Bible and other religious texts. His secretly wrote more on alchemy and theology than on science. He believed that he had disproved the Trinity. He also felt he had discovered the date of the second coming of Christ, 2060.

    Newton wrote his Principia long after he discovered its propositions. He did not use his calculus in the Principia even though he had invented the calculus decades before. He instead wrote the Principia using the ancient Greek mathematics of Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius.

    Even if one knows the Greek mathematics Newton used to write the Principia, the book is hard going. Newton left many gaps in his proofs the reader must fill. How to fill those gaps are far from obvious.

    I have made several attempts to master Newton's Principia. I have never succeeded. Many of the gaps in his proofs have befuddled me even though I have spent a lot of time on them.

    I have a feeling that I will never understand the Principia in Newton's terms. That makes me sad. Oh well, I suppose it is just another failure in my life.

    ID: one more time without feeling

    The idea of intelligent design has a long and proud tradition. Its roots go back to the time when the human intellect first became developed enough to ask general and abstract questions about the cosmos. Great philosophers have argued in favor of it. Many incredibly intelligent people believe it.

    From a pragmatic viewpoint I don't have much emotional attachment to the idea of intelligent design one way or the other. I don't believe that a supernatural intelligent designer intervenes in the the natural world on a regular basis, but that is merely because I believe that science provides better evidence and proof as to how the natural world works, and have yet to find an explanation of how the intelligent designer goes about her work. Should someone ask me how everything began, I can sincerely and honestly reply, it beats the heck out of me.

    As far as philosophical and theological questions go, intelligent design questions don't currently rank high on my list.

    I do feel passionately about the political issues surrounding intelligent design being taught in science classes.

    During the past several hundred years science has refined its methods and practices to achieve an incredible expansion in human knowledge about the natural cosmos. Scientific findings have been used to create a better life for humans. These wonderful results of the scientific method, however, do not mean that the scientific method says anything of import about philosophical issues like intelligent design. If someone believes that science and its methods speak against an intelligent designer, then that person is taking a philosophical or religious position. Belief in god and scientific knowledge is not necessarily an inconsistent set of beliefs. Many people believe in science and god. I expect most do.

    Every art, craft, and science has generally accepted methods and practices it uses to pursue excellence in its particular field. Those methods and practices may change over time as people learn better ways to do things, but method and practice should not be denigrated just because of that. Part of the goal of education is to pass along those methods and practices with the body of knowledge under study. Educating this way seems to give good results so we continue to do it. Educating this way does not make any claims to philosophical hegemony for any one body of knowledge, method, or practice.

    The generally accepted methods and practices of the sciences do not use hypotheses and theories that postulate supernatural beings as explanations for natural phenomena under study. Scientists have practical chores to do and they have decided that supernatural hypotheses don't help them get along with their work.

    Intelligent design is a belief in supernatural beings and as such it has elements of religious belief. The Constitution has been consistently interpreted as forbidding the teaching of religious belief in public schools. Separating church and state in the United States has helped the country avoid many of the evils and disasters of states who do not do it. It protects the polity and religion. As ideals go, this has been one that the United States can rightfully be proud of.

    When I went to high school we did not have a philosophy class in our curriculum. I wish we had. I love philosophy. Learning and debating about philosophical issues such as intelligent design and the existence of god would have been great sport for me. The key here is that the issues should be taught in philosophy class and not as received religious belief.

    I have no emotional investment in who believes in intelligent design or why they believe it. I do have a lot of emotional investment in the Constitution of the United States and those rights which it guarantees. Teaching intelligent design in a biology class is a violation of the separation of church and state. Presenting the philosophical issues surrounding the idea of intelligent design in a philosophy class is not.

    The question remains as to whether that is a productive use of class time given the constellation of philosophical ideas and issues to choose from. One could imagine a lot of relevant philosophical issues such as feminist issues, theories of political philosophy, etc. vying for a place in a high school curriculum. I know the curriculum is already jam packed.

    When I oppose teaching ID in biology class, I am simply defending the first amendment to the Constitution. It is a good amendment and I really like it.


    The preamble to the Constitution of the United States begins, "We the People of the United States ...." What does that mean?

    Some people have interpreted it to mean that all the citizens of the United States are the sovereign rulers of the country. All elected and appointed public officials are merely the instrumental administrators of the sovereign rule of the citizens. As an example, President Bush works for me; I don't work for him.

    OK, you are laughing at me at this point. You think I'm hopelessly gullible. So, lets call the idea of citizens ruling a country an ideal and goal that has not always been realized in practice.

    Well, Mr. Smarty Pants, how gullible was I when I doubted that Saddam Hussein had the weapons programs the President and Congress claimed he had before the Iraq War? Why did I wonder why international inspectors could not find any tangible proof that he had those weapons? Why did I feel that Secretary Colin Powell looked like a guy trying to pull off a big bluff in a poker game when he presented the so called evidence to the UN? Enough whys for now.

    I'll be polite and not accuse anyone of lying about the WMD intelligence. I won't be polite about the incredible stupidity and recklessness of the Senate and the President. Now, they all admit that the intelligence was badly flawed. No shit!? That is not good enough for an explanation.

    Honorable members of Congress and Mr. President you were the ones who were supposed to use your intellects and perform the intelligence task. You are accountable. I don't want to hear any bullshit story about torturing more prisoners to get it right. And just in case you didn't hear it the first time, you work for me. I don't work for you.

    I have an idea, Honorable members of Congress and Mr. President. Why don't you all try to get one thing right before you leave office? Now, get the Hell out of my office before I get angry.

    Good writing about oil

    Every week Jim Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation writes an article about oil and energy issues. Whether you like what he says or not, his articles are always witty and biting. This week's article is another example. He asks why Americans are in denial about the future energy crisis. Here is the link: True Blue.

    Back in the Saddle

    I won two out of three football wagers this past weekend. That leaves my season record against the spread at 7 wins, 8 losses, and 1 tie. I have won 1 and lost none on the moneyline.

    I flipped a new coin last week to make my choices. I'm sticking with it until I use all its luck.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Economic Rights

    The notion of economic rights has always been a precarious proposition. At one time they belonged only to the crown and the landed aristocracy. Then they were given to the capitalists who owned private property. Those rights have remained rock solid since their first invention. Later, the idea was floated that economic rights were universal. Everybody should have decent housing, food, health care, education, and the right to have one's labor rewarded with a living wage and considered an asset as valuable as the private property of the richest capitalists.

    Ideas go about their work of persuading. Crisis and disaster are also the mother invention and recognition. The Great Depression brought about the immediacy of recognizing the economic rights of all citizens. The predictions of marxian theory had come close to the reality. The pure liberal capitalist system was rescued by economic thinkers such as Keynes and political leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt neither of whom were marxists by any stretch of the imagination. I have always found the reviling of Keynes and Roosevelt by the liberal capitalist thinkers as rather odd. Why do they want to shoot the guys who saved the system they adore?

    This is the age of erosion of economic rights for the impoverished and the worker whose labor is her only economic asset. The economic statistics show it and the laws passed during the last 25 years explain it.

    Things were going better for a larger segment of the population when economic rights were considered under their broader definition. How bad things will need to get before the idea comes under consideration again?

    What will it take to guarantee economic rights? What methods will be required to accomplish it? Just voting rights in or out depending on the current crisis does not seem to be working.

    What is Enlightenment?

    I read Kant’s Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment last night. The opening paragraph is a famous manifesto.

    Enlightenment is man’s exit from his self-incurred minority. Minority is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such minority is self-incurred if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence! is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
    Kant goes on to explain how this manifesto should be applied to religious scholarship and toleration. He states his case for why the state, the sovereign rulers of his time, should not intervene in religious affairs because it stifles the admirable goal of perfecting the intellect. Kant himself had been coerced to stop writing about religion during a period of his career.

    You find echoes of Kant in Amendment I to the Constitution of the United States of America.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of 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.
    From this amendment arises the idea of separation of church and state. Following from this are the many judicial rulings that religion should not be taught in the public schools.

    The most prominent case before the courts about teaching religion in schools is Intelligent Design. Is Intelligent Design a religion?

    The Intelligent Designer is a supernatural being. One of the distinguishing characteristics of religious belief is the belief in supernatural beings and their powers to intervene at will in the natural world and change the course of natural events. From that standpoint Intelligent Design qualifies as a religious belief.

    I have not met anyone who believes in Intelligent Design, and who upon pain of being branded a liar, did not admit that the Intelligent Designer was the god of their religion. The Christian who believes in an Intelligent Designer who is not god must explain why that does not violate god’s commandment to not worship false idols. I leave it to the imagination as to whose opinions are more deserving of respect: the Christian Creationist or the Christian who espouses agnostic belief in an Intelligent Designer who is not the god of his religion.

    Let us turn to the flip side of the Kantian enlightenment coin. We know Kant as one of the supreme philosophical geniuses who tried to reconcile metaphysics with science and its methods. That leads into questions about what science is and what are the methods of science. Regarding the law and trials in courts, science is considered an enterprise whose characteristics are observation of natural phenomena, evidence, testable hypotheses, induction, conformation and refutation, explanation, persuasion, and evaluation. At the boundaries of philosophy of science there are many fascinating issues, but in a court of law these are the criteria that have precedent in deciding when a set of beliefs and methods of inquiry are scientific. ID besides possessing the characteristics of a religion also suffers from its inability to meet these criteria. It takes more than being critical of a scientific theory for a hypothesis to be a scientific theory itself.

    Kant was one of the profound thinkers about the human intellect. His philosophy has been the embarkation point for much of the profound philosophy of the past 200 years. Let me propose another idea that I think fits with Kantian ideas about the human intellect.

    At some point in human intellectual evolution and development humans became imaginative thinkers. Humans build complex conceptual systems and blend those conceptual systems to create new conceptual systems. This free play of intellect is natural to humans, and occurs as much or more at the unconscious level as it does at the conscious level.

    Trying to legislate against this natural inclination and distinguishing characteristic of human intellect will do no good. Laws and culture have coerced and stifled the intellect, but the intellect keeps coming back for more. That is part of the nature of the intellect. How much more evidence must history provide to prove it?

    The United States is a country begun during the Enlightenment and partially built upon several good Enlightenment ideas. The recognition that philosophy, science, and religion are different dimensions of knowledge was a long time in coming. As bodies of knowledge they all have their gaps and disputes. The genius of the idea of separation of church and state is that it is based upon the recognition of religion and science as different dimensions of knowledge and methods of inquiry.

    It seems as though students in high school should be taught what science is, what religion is, and how they differ in their subject matter and methods of inquiry. They should also be taught why separation of church and state is a good idea whose progress towards fulfillment has created many martyrs along the way. That is not a subject matter for biology class or any other science class.

    Who wants to play those eights and aces
    Who wants a raise
    Who needs a stake
    Who wants to take that long shot gamble
    And head out to fire lake

    Fire Lake, Bob Seger
    How many people really have the courage to lay the issues of philosophy before the imagination of the ninth grader? Will Kant and the Constitution of the United States be part of the course? Who wants to move the children from their minority to their majority?

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    The Iraq War and Cosmopolitan Intent

    I watched the McLaughlin Group last night. The idea was floated that the whole point of the Iraq War was to destabilize the Middle East so that it could be rebuilt. The gruesomeness of the idea depressed me slightly.

    I also reread Kant's Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent with its interesting propositions such as:

    Eighth Proposition

    The history of mankind could be viewed on the whole as the realization of a hidden plan of nature in order to bring about an internally--and for this purpose also externally--perfect constitution; since this is the only state in which nature can develop all predispositions of mankind.
    Kant imagined the enlightenment of humanity would accomplish the goal. Less enlightened methods might be at work than he imagined. Nature sometimes operates by strange and odious methods when implementing its grand design.

    Washington Consensus and South America

    South American productivity growth since 1951

    The Economic Policy Institute has an interesting snapshot article on stagnate economic growth in South America since those countries embarked upon economic policies recommended and mandated by the Washington Consensus beginning about 1975. Since 1975 the average growth rate has been a paltry .37%.

    I wonder if that had anything to do with the riots at the recent Summit meeting in Mar del Plata?

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    Intelligent Design and Leninist Intolerance

    When Lenin said, "The Marxian doctrine is omnipotent because it is true," everything depends on how we understand "truth" here. Is it a neutral objective knowledge or the truth of an engaged subject? Lenin's wager-one that is today, in our era of postmodern relativism, more relevant than ever-is that universal truth and partisanship, the gesture of taking sides, are not only not mutually exclusive but condition each other. In a concrete situation, its universal truth can only be articulated from a thoroughly partisan position; truth is by definition one-sided. This, of course, goes against the predominant doxa of compromise, of finding a middle path among the multitude of conflicting interests. If one does not specify the criteria of the different, alternate narrativization, then this endeavour courts the danger of endorsing, in the politically correct mood, ridiculous narratives like those about the supremacy of some aboriginal holistic wisdom, or those that dismiss science as just another narrative on par with premodern superstitions.

    A Plea for Leninist Intolerance, Slavoj Zizek
    Intelligent design has returned to the news this week: the Dover, Pa. school board election, the Kansas School Board vote, and the lovable Pat Robertson’s latest diatribe. I tell myself not to think of intelligent design ensuring that intelligent design is what I am thinking about today.

    One can pretend that Intelligent Design is not about politics. However, the demand for specifics about the nature of the Intelligent Designer and how She operates is greeted with embarrassed silence, or answers to different questions. The political nature of Intelligent Design forces itself upon the imagination after a serious inquiry into the Intelligent Designer. Politics is the irreducible remainder of such inquiries.

    Those who want Intelligent Design taught in public schools come from Fundamentalist Christian organizations. They proclaim their ideas as agnostic when speaking publicly, yet speak of god when lecturing before Fundamentalist Christian groups. They admit that Intelligent Design is about teaching Fundamentalist Christian religion in the public schools.

    Many have noted that Intelligent Design founders politically because it is religion and violates the separation of church and state.

    Since the issue is political, what decides the issue? Let’s face it, part of the confusion or plain lack of curiosity in the issue is based upon intellectual laziness. I can believe that god created everything as it is 5,000 years ago, grab a beer from the fridge, and watch the game, or I can do some heavy lifting by learning how Darwin organized and set the research agenda for modern biology. It is easy to stand aside and say it does not matter if a statement is read to high school classes about Intelligent Design and let it go at that.

    The core issue is politics though. The Fundamentalist Christian movement wants way more than Intelligent Design taught in high schools. They want the Fundamentalist Christian world view taught in high schools. I say world view because it is about more than religion. They want everyone in the United States to share their values. The Fundamentalist Christian values are often antithetical to the values of people who seek a society which promotes the interest of other classes and not just the interests of a small and powerful ruling class. The Christian who embraces enlightened social values that are not Fundamentalist is every much the foe as the atheist when it comes to this clash of values.

    One of the interesting demands of the Intelligent Design devotee is requiring philosophic scientism from its opponent's arguments while claiming that Evolution is too rationalistic and is itself blatant scientism. The boundary between two separate spheres of knowledge, science and religion, is hopelessly blurred by their faith that something other than evolution is true. Yet this blurring should not be excused as a mere philosophical confusion because at the heart of the Intelligent Design argument is a desire for dictatorial control by the Fundamentalist Christian, whose dogma is necessarily linked to all spheres of life. The ideology is insatiable in its appetite to control all cultural, political, economic, and religious beliefs. Democracy can as easily aid and abet this process as old fashioned fascism. All an Intelligent Design devotee needs to do is convince me to grab a beer and watch the game until the whole thing blows over. When it does not blow over, I can say, “well, there was really nothing I could do about it anyway.”

    Are the fish biting? It appears in Dover, Pa. they are not.

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    This week's wagering

    Here are this week's football wagers:

    Pittsburgh -7.5 home vs. Cleveland
    Seattle -6.5 home vs. St. Louis
    New York Giants -9 home vs. Minnesota

    Veteran's Day

    One more Li Po poem as translated by Sam Hamill in his Crossing the Yellow River.


    We cross the river narrows
    and continue deep into the land of Chu.

    Soon the mountains drop onto a plain
    the river crosses, flowing into Heaven.

    The moon reflects the wide, blank sky;
    clouds rise into terraces and towers.

    Good-bye. You ride the waters of our home
    though you sail ten thousand miles.

    Marine Corps Birthday

    Yesterday was the Marine Corps birthday which I celebrated. Today is Veteran's Day. In honor of both occasions here are two poems by Li Po translated by Sam Hamill in his Crossing the Yellow River.

    Blue Water

    He drifts on blue water under a clear moon,
    picking white lilies on South Lake.

    Every lotus blossom speaks of love
    until his heart will break.

    Mountain Drinking Song

    To drown the ancient sorrows,
    we drank a hundred jugs of wine

    there in the beautiful moonlight. We couldn't
    go to bed with the moon so bright.

    Then finally the moon overcame us
    and we lay down on the empty mountain:

    earth for a pillow
    and a blanket made of heaven.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    Torture, combatants, and a universal law

    The idea of enemy combatant has always been rather slippery to grab hold. History teaches us that soldiers slaughter and maim civilians, and civilians slaughter and maim soldiers. The honor codes of warriors are easily broken. Trying to make fine distinctions and classifications about those who feel compelled to kill another human being seems a waste of time when it comes to punishing and interrogating a prisoner.

    Torturing a person should be universally condemned and punished. It seemed at one point that humanity had derived this universal law from a reasoned categorical imperative. Now certain parts of humanity want to take a step back into barbarism. Classifying a person whose intent is to kill does not count when it comes to torturing that person because the law is a universal law. A person forfeits the right to have their moral claims taken seriously when they claim the right to torture someone

    President Bush in a recent speech said Americans do not torture people. So, why does he have a problem with signing a bill that condemns torturing prisoners, and why does he still claim the right of selected individuals to torture people? What am I missing while immersed in my grand stupidity?

    The debate over torture by Congress and the President is a disgusting sight to behold. Could we display a more corrupt and morally hypocritical face to the world?

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Life at the top

    From Forbes:
    The heads of America's 500 biggest companies received an aggregate 54% pay raise last year. As a group, their total compensation amounted to $5.1 billion, versus $3.3 billion in fiscal 2003. We define total compensation as salary and bonus plus "other" compensation, which includes vested restricted stock grants and "stock gains," the value realized from exercising stock options during the just-concluded fiscal year.
    The top of the heap:

    Terry S. Semmel, Yahoo, $231 million
    Barry Diller, InterActive Corp., $156 million
    William W. McGuire, United Health Group, $125 million

    I won't comment.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Reflection on the passing of John Fowles

    The art of losing isn't hard to master;
    so many things seem filled with the intent
    to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
    The art of losing isn't hard to master.

    Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
    places, and names, and where it was you meant
    to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

    I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
    next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
    The art of losing isn't hard to master.

    I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
    some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
    I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

    --Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
    the art of losing's not too hard to master
    though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

    One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
    The NYT reports John Fowles, 79, British Postmodernist Who Tested Novel's Conventions, Dies. I am saddened by the news.

    The first John Fowles novel I read was The Magus. A friend, whose name I unfortunately do not remember, gave it to me in 1968 in Vietnam shortly before he rotated back to the United States. The book was a dog eared paperback. I trusted my friend's reading instincts. I quickly became absorbed in the book. I, too, was about to rotate back to the United States. The Magus made feel there was an entire world I had not experienced. I needed that at the time since I had grown melancholy and reclusive. I could not connect with anyone or anything.

    We didn't have many books in Vietnam. Most of the books passed around were cheap paperback pornography. Every now and then I would get my hands on some good crime fiction such as John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books, or scintillating bestsellers such as Valley of the Dolls and The Carpetbaggers. I am a book person. I needed The Magus, but did not know it.

    Anyway, it was at that time in 1968 that I became a John Fowles fan. I have read all his novels (some of them several times) and two years ago I read his collection Wormholes.

    I wish I still had that old paperback copy of The Magus from Vietnam. It, like the name of the friend who gave it to me, are as lost as the places I planned to go and the things I planned to do.

    Ecclesiastes and Wagering: full disclosure Tuesday

    I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

    Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version
    I must get this horrid report out of the way, for I will not enjoy the more pleasing aspects of the day until I do.

    I won no games, lost 3, and tied 1 against the spread this weekend. The bright spot was that I hedged my bet on last night's Colts vs. Patriots game and won a moneyline wager.

    That brings my season total to 5 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie against the spread. I have won 1 and lost none against the moneyline.

    I remain defiant in the face of this ignoble adversity.

    Monday, November 07, 2005


    The supernatural world, the natural world, the beings that populate them, and how they interact with each other can be confusing at times. Here is an example.

    I once read a post in Blogland by a woman who claimed that god had brought it about that she met a friend in the grocery store. I remarked to her that since she and her friend lived in the same neighborhood and shopped at the the same grocery it may not have been all that remarkable that they met there after work.

    I have always been curious as to how people who claim that supernatural beings intercede in worldly affairs actually recognize when that has happened. I'll have to admit I've never experienced an event that I could reasonably attribute to a supernatural being.

    If I believe in free will as an attribute of human beings, things become even more confusing. How does supernatural intervention square with the idea that I choose my actions from my own free will? I am reminded of the old Flip Wilson comedy character Geraldine. When challenged to explain her actions she would reply, "the devil made me do it."

    There are a lot of people who believe that supernatural beings cause changes in the natural world on a regular basis. Some of the instances they cite don't seem all that remarkable to me to warrant their belief. Both the science and epistemology of these interventions remain rather sketchy in my mind.

    I suppose it is like the old cartoons when it comes to my actions. A devil sits on one shoulder whispering in my ear, and an angel sits on the other whispering contrary advice. I am still free to make my choice between good and evil. Exactly when that happens and how to recognize it remains somewhat foggy in my mind.

    Don't bother saying it. Everything is rather foggy in my mind.

    I have to go. An angel is telling me I have to drink a couple of beers and read some Kant during lunch. Or is it the devil? If only these supernatural folks would show themselves in their true dress.

    If I meet you in the grocery store tonight, let me know how god maneuvered us there at the same time.

    Tonight's Colts @ Patriots

    I just bet the moneyline on the Colts (-200) to win tonight's game. If the Colts win by less than 4, then I'll win on the +4 Patriots bet and the Colts moneyline bet. The Colts have a better chance of coming up big than the Patriots. I see it as a reasonable hedge.

    If I had not gotten a haircut on yesterday's wagering, I would not have thought to do this.

    The realist persuasion

    The Boston Globe has an interesting article, The realist persuasion, on the realist perspective in international relations by Andrew J. Bacevich. I got the link via Art & Letters Daily.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Partial Disclosure Sunday: a haircut

    I got a haircut this Sunday. I have lost two and tied one on my football wagering. I still have my wager tomorrow night, which if I win, will get me to even for the first four weeks of the football wagering season.

    Given that the whole enterprise is a coin flip situation, I feel fortunate should that happen.

    I think I'll make some totally random picks next week and hope I get lucky.

    The Religious Fundamentalist, and Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Bush

    There are certain obvious problems with religious fundamentalism. The religious fundamentalist views the world and the supernatural world as constructed in a hierarchy. God, angels, men, women, children, nature, and the devil. This means that the religious fundamentalist considers women inferior to men. It also means that nature is considered inferior to men. Men have a paternalistic duty to dominate women and nature.

    The religious fundamentalist also believes that those who do not share their beliefs are inferior to themselves, and thus the religious fundamentalist cannot and should not respect opponents’ beliefs and life styles.

    Living in the United States creates a problem for the religious fundamentalist, for the United States is founded on the separation of church and state. The religious fundamentalist is forced to deny and manipulate evidence that is contrary to their view.

    The Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution document an often violent and erratic progress towards human rights. These rights run contrary to the religious fundamentalist world view. The religious fundamentalist man does not receive what he feels is his due. He is prevented from dominating and controlling women and other groups he sees as inferior to himself.

    I think of President Carter and President Clinton, two devout Christians in their own way, and how they oppose religious fundamentalism. You find their Christian faith inclusive and respectful of human rights. I cannot help but contrast them with President Bush, Representative Tom Delay, Senator Bill Frist, and other Republicans politicians who pander to the religious fundamentalist. That pandering is completely different from the religious beliefs of President Carter and President Clinton.

    I have come to suspect every position the religious fundamentalist takes. The “right to life” is a mere slogan to mask the need to dominate women and their control over their lives and bodies. Compassionate Conservatism guided by the Federal Government is a mere subterfuge to mask a massive giveaway program to the elect. I quite simply distrust every motive of the religious fundamentalist, for I know he will not respect any belief other than his own. He will not be separated from his felt duty to dominate others.

    Shakespeare, Pastiche, Imagination, Intellect, and Dogmatism

    Reading Shakespeare creates several problems for me. He jogs my imagination from its lethargy. I want to write fictions that are feeble copies of his. I excuse myself by saying a paltry imagination is better than none at all. Even the meanest sort such as I have the desire to create something.

    I also find it difficult to stop reading him once I have begun. The hours pass quickly before I realize it has grown late.

    To call a piece of writing pastiche condemns the work in a not so subtle way. That is unfortunate since pastiche is how the imagination works. And the human imagination makes the human intellect.

    Where does Shakespeare stand in terms of pastiche? I know some of the works that inspired his plays such as Plutarch’s Lives. He acutely observed his time and place and merged it with historical perspective. His vocabulary and mastery of blank verse did not arrive completely by itself without sources of inspiration. I think of Wittgenstein’s Private Language argument when I say this. I conclude he was one of the all time great masters of pastiche. Thus, I consider him a vast intellect.

    The core issue with the intellect revolves around when the imagination has guessed aright about the answers to the questions with which it troubles itself. That is the central problem with dogmatism and how to decide whether the intellect has locked itself inside a stuffy room.

    New problems present themselves to me unbidden. My imagination will work on these problems at the unconscious level even if I suspect I know the solutions from previously entrenched beliefs. I can run, but I cannot hide from my imagination. Affirming a dogmatic view at the expense of using my imagination creates a miserable psychic tension, for the imagination will not be denied.

    How many conundrums of human nature would be resolved if we recognized the primacy of imagination and the power of pastiche that makes it go?

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    President Carter and Values

    President Carter was on BookTV earlier this evening discussing his book Our Endangered Values. His opinions are always interesting because of his intellect and his broad experience in public and international affairs.

    His book, which I have not read, is about how the current Conservative movement with its neo-con and Fundamentalist strains have endangered America’s traditional values: separation of Church and State, tolerance of diversity, prudence when engaging in war, respect and support for international human rights, fiscal responsibility and direction, fair taxation and economic opportunity for the poor, and protection of the environment from ecological disaster. The interview piqued my interest in his book.

    One of the things I must guard against is being distracted by the incompetence and corruption of the current Republican administration. Behind the incompetence are serious issues.

    The Merchant of Venice, the Moral Economy, Dogmatism, and the Human Imagination

    Attending a performance of the Merchant of Venice has driven me to reread the play. The play has me thinking about political economy. The Merchant of Venice is a complex play. One part of it is about economic systems, how they function, and how they can be manipulated.

    Antonio and Shylock are two rich and powerful merchants who ply the global economy of the time. Fortunes are won or lost in a high stakes and high risk game of international trade.

    Antonio borrows money from Shylock to assist his friend Bossanio in Bossanio’s suit for the fair Portia. Antonio has several ships at sea and soon expects them to return and make his fortune, so he feels he can easily pay the loan to Shylock on time. There is bad blood between the Christian Antonio and the Jew Shylock. Shylock demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh should he forfeit the loan.

    Antonio’s trading fleet runs to ruin, and he must forfeit the bond. Shylock takes him to court to publicly extract the pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast. Portia supplies the funds to Bossanio to pay Antonio’s debt, but Shylock wants his pound of flesh. Shylock double clutches when it comes time to do the cutting.

    Portia and her maid Nerissa dress as solicitors and arrive at court. Portia uses the strict letter of the law to outwit Shylock. Shylock is denied his pound of flesh, the repayment of the loan in money, and he forfeits his estate.

    One can take sides in this dispute between Antonio and Shylock as one pleases. However, in the Christian society that controls the economic order of Venice we see the operation of not just a political economy, but also a moral economy.

    Every economic system ever devised has been erected on a set of moral values. Those values ultimately determine who is rich and poor. One can take a dogmatic approach to political economy. The dogmatic approach will always fail because of ever changing natural events and the ever changing events caused by the seemingly limitless human imagination.

    Dogmatic political economy is always based on a utopian myth. The great myth of capitalism is that its success does not depend on huge resources from the society in which it is embedded. The completely self made man does not exist.

    The nature of the moral economy is that issues of fairness, equity, rights, and justice will always arise because of contingent events. The success of political economy is based upon the continued reevaluation of its moral foundations in light of ever changing conditions and events. That sucks, but when and where have things ever been easy?

    The U. S. economy is increasingly based on crony capitalism. If you are not connected and a crony, your chances for success are extremely low. From a moral standpoint, it seems an easy system to attack on moral grounds. One of the problems in attacking it though is the widely held myth of the self made man.

    One of the more interesting campaign slogans used for getting support for tax cuts to the rich says, “it’s your money.” Nobody can own a business or work in the current economy without the massive resources society provides to make it possible. It is more accurate to say, “it’s society’s money and society is letting you have it.”

    The more I think about it, the more I feel that dogmatism in the economic sphere, as in any sphere of human endeavor, cannot work. The human imagination, the basis of our intelligence and evolutionary success, will not rest idle long enough for it to work.

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    You can run, but you can't hide

    President Bush seems to have found himself in the midst of another shit storm. Protesters rioted today close by the Summit of the Americas meeting. Hugo Chavez says, free trade agreements go to hell.

    Meanwhile, back at the Senate discussion begins again about making torture and prisoner abuse illegal: a moral no brainer if there ever was one.

    Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez goes on CNN to put more lipstick on the pig otherwise known as the Bush Economy.

    A new WaPo poll reports that only 40% of Americans trust President Bush. I am left wondering what that number will be if the Senate gets off its ass, does its job, and finishes part two of its investigation into pre-war Iraq intelligence.

    The preliminary reports of some of Judge Alito's quirky judicial opinions seems tailor made for Democrats to drive down President Bush's approval numbers by careful and vigorous questioning about them during his hearings.

    The interesting thing is that President Bush could help himself by appointing some new people to help him out, but seems loathe to do it. At this point, anyone who knew anything about formulating and implementing policy might not be interested in signing on as crew member on a ship that is sinking fast.

    Picking on President Bush has always been easy for me. It's getting easier by the day.

    Full Disclosure Friday

    There were so many opportunities in this week's pro football wagering it was difficult to choose. I bet four games this week. I couldn't resist the temptation to bet the extra game. Here are the wagers.

    Detroit 0 away vs. Minnesota
    Chicago -3 away vs. New Orleans
    Tampa Bay +1.5 home vs. Carolina
    New England +4 home vs. Indianapolis

    I consider the New England bet the weakest wager, but I am supremely confident. I hope I win.

    Merchant of Venice

    I saw Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice last night at the Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. I had the best seat in the house--a chair on a platform along the wall close to the side of the stage.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Drifting through Lynnland

    I have been trying to write for almost four hours. The words won’t come. I think it’s the unseasonably warm weather and the blue sky that has me drifting and dreaming. I am sojourning in Lynnland and can’t find a way to return to Earth. Maybe, I’ll write something later.

    I do have an admission to make. I started reading the Bill Clinton autobiography this week. Write it off to curiosity.

    I hope you have a good day, everybody.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    Fitzgerald and the Iraq War

    One of the interesting things Special Prosecuter Fitzgerald said during his press conference last week about the Libby indictment was that people who wanted to relate it to the Iraq War were going to be disappointed whether they were pro or con. The indictment was not about the Iraq War. Some people people failed to listen.

    More's the pity for them who failed to listen. They are wasting their breath trying to relate it to the Iraq War unless Libby's trial proves otherwise.

    Lots of people have their opinions, whether pro or con the Iraq War, including me, but it's all about Libby's statements to the grand jury. You can like it or lump it, but that is what the trial is about.

    Valerie Plame Wilson's husband has nothing to do with it.

    Keep Moving and Jabbing

    I'm a bit of an economic numbers junkie. The Internet provides an inexhaustible supply of numbers to support my habit. Plus, there plenty of great economics blogs out there to read that span the range from Far Left to Far Right interpretations of what is happening in the economy and what should be happening.

    The Economic Policy Institute does an excellent job of lifting the sheets to find out what is really going on in bed. Lee Price's The Boom That Wasn't: The economy has little to show for $860 billion in tax cuts gives irrefutable proof of the failure of the economic recovery tax cuts were supposed to spur. The current recovery cycle is the worst on record as measured across a wide range of economic indicators.

    The tax cuts that have dragged the U. S. economy to its worst business cycle performance since World War II will soon expire. The President and the Republican Congress will be spewing the same tired old cliches and rhetoric that have been disproved many times in the past to get those tax cuts for the wealthy approved.

    Don't get sucker punched. Keep moving and jabbing. If you stand flat footed, you'll land laid out on the canvass again. The best defense is a good offense.

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    Sis boom bee, kick 'em in the knee; sis boom bass, kick 'em in the

    . . . other knee.

    I was fortunate to be watching C-Span 2 live when Senator Harry Reid called for a closed session of the Senate to discuss the intelligence leading to up to the Iraq War and why the investigation has not been vigorously completed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. I was glad to see it happen since I had just been whining here the other day about how ineffective the Democrats have been.

    The tactic seems right on given the Libby trial has put the Iraq War close to top of mind again.