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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Not Anti-Bush

I don't really like Bush all that much. However, there is so much anti-Bush hysteria that I feel comfortable occasionally excerpting somethings that puts him in a positive light. The following excerpts from an article by Fouad Ajami indicate that Bush may be less hated in the Middle East than is generally thought:
"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. "Everything here--the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle--came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception." A Jordanian of deep political experience at the highest reaches of Arab political life had no doubt as to why history suddenly broke in Lebanon, and could conceivably change in Syria itself before long. "The people in the streets of Beirut knew that no second Hama is possible; they knew that the rulers were under the gaze of American power, and knew that Bush would not permit a massive crackdown by the men in Damascus." [...]

To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. ... They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future. [,,,]

As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that "springtime" in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk--frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.
The interesting thing is that by the 2008 election we'll have more insight into whether or not little tidbits like this one have any substantial truth to them.

Friday, May 27, 2005

I Hope They're Joking

But, apparently they're not:
LONG, pointed kitchen knives should be banned as part of a concerted effort to reduce the terrible injuries and deaths caused by stabbing attacks, doctors warned today.
I would cry, but the commenters at BrothersJudd Blog have made me laugh instead. First, a new constitutional amendment:
A well regulated kitchen, being necessary to the cuisine of free-range Steak; the right of the people to keep and bear cutlery, shall not be infringed. (Hat tip: Ed Bush)
And, someone else pointed to this old, old Monty Python skit (Hat tip: Mike Earl) which is suddenly looking plausible:
Sergeant: ... Right. Now, self-defence. Tonight I shall be carrying on from where we got to last week when I was showing you how to defend yourselves against anyone who attacks you with armed with a piece of fresh fruit.

(Grumbles from all)

2nd Man: Oh, you promised you wouldn't do fruit this week.

Sergeant: What do you mean?

3rd Man: We've done fruit the last nine weeks.

Sergeant: What's wrong with fruit? You think you know it all, eh?

2nd Man: Can't we do something else?

3rd Man: Like someone who attacks you with a pointed stick?

Sergeant: Pointed stick? Oh, oh, oh. We want to learn how to defend ourselves against pointed sticks, do we? Getting all high and mighty, eh? Fresh fruit not good enough for you eh? Well I'll tell you something my lad. When you're walking home tonight and some great homicidal maniac comes after you with a bunch of loganberries, don't come crying to me! Now, the passion fruit. When your assailant lunges at you with a passion fruit...

Just keep in mind, "pointed" sticks will probably be outlawed soon as well...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Anti-Gay?

Due to discussions at Left2Right, I've ended up contemplating what it means to be anti-gay. Since the topic is highly charged in the current political environment, I'd like to discuss it with a metaphor outside the realm of homosexuality.

Consider the following potential statements that might be made by an individual regarding persons of ethnicity x (represented below by Eth(x)).
  1. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), I think ρ should be killed.
  2. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), I think ρ should not be killed, but should be a slave.
  3. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), I think ρ should not be a slave, but should be segregated.
  4. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), I think ρ should not be segregated, but may be discriminated against.
  5. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), I think ρ should not be discriminated against, but I don't feel comfortable with ρ, so I have no friends who are members of Eth(x).
  6. I have no prejudice relative to members of Eth(x), I have good friends who are members of Eth(x), but I have never been romantically or sexually attracted to any member of Eth(x), though I don't mind if others of my ethnicity are involved with or married to members of Eth(x).
  7. Same as (6) except I am attracted romantically and sexually to members of Eth(x) and I would certainly consider being, or already am, married to someone who is a member of Eth(x).
  8. ∀ persons ρ ∈ Eth(x), ρ is superior in every way to all persons α ∈ Eth(y), where I am a member of Eth(y) and y ≠ x, and I worship the very ground that ρ walks on.
This list represents a spectrum of thoughts and feelings regarding Eth(x). Virtually everyone can make a statement somewhere between (1) and (8) that more or less expresses their belief. Each individual can be more or less accepting of members of Eth(x), and conversely, less or more anti-Eth(x). If you define someone as anti-Eth(x) who would make any statement less than (8), and you consider anyone who is anti-Eth(x) by this definition to be hostile, then that definition would find a lot more hostility toward Eth(x) in the general population than would a definition that considered only those people who would make statements less than (7) or even (6) as anti-Eth(x). By raising the bar (i.e., raising the statement number corresponding to the dividing line between anti-Eth(x) and neutral), suddenly people are defined as being anti-Eth(x) and hostile, when those same people, to the population in general, don't seem all that hostile.

Another thing to consider is that the distribution of the above statements that individuals who are not members of Eth(x) would choose as most closely representing their viewpoints forms an important context for what constitutes anti-Eth(x) and what doesn't. For example, in past centuries, depending on which ethnicity is being considered, making statement (3) might, on average, have been considered pro-Eth(x), not anti-Eth(x). At those places and times, the context might have made statement (5) incredibly enlightened and utterly unfathomable by most people of that time and place.

Right now, in the United States, regarding all races and ethnicities, the median person would probably pick something between (6) and (7) as best representing their views. Because we've evolved as a society to be getting closer to non-racist (statement (7)), we can discuss this particular spectrum pretty calmly.

If, instead of considering ethnicity, we consider homosexuality, the discussion seems to become far more charged. The spectrum for anti-gayness is different than for anti-Eth(x)ness with somewhat different categories (which I'll let someone else define). More importantly, the distribution of views across the spectrum is, at this point in the evolution of American society, far more spread out, with lots of people at both ends of the spectrum. But, that sort of spread happened for race during the civil rights movement, and we've made slow, not so steady progress toward racial equality. Another few generations and we may actually achieve true color blindness, both in heart and thought.

My guess is that gayness will also one day be a non-issue. At that point, we (or our descendents) will not even notice the difference between a man and woman getting married and two men (or women) getting married. Perhaps babies will be grown in beakers by that time so there won't even be a difference in family structures. But once again, I think we are at least one, and possibly many more, generations away from that point.

In the meantime, I'm hoping that the advocates for Single Sex Marriage (SSM) do understand, at this point in time, even if the government were to recognize SSM, most of the people would not. In other words, gay people still won't be married in the eyes of most people, even if they are in the eyes of the State. This is analogous to prejudice against blacks continuing for generations after Jim Crow laws were overturned. I've seen a number of statements indicating that SSM advocates are hoping that by having the government recognize SSM, gay people will become accepted by the general population. If that's the main motivator, I'm afraid there's going to a lot of disappointment for a long time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Justice

Benjamin Franklin thought "that it is better [one hundred] guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." For "one hundred", substitute N, and probably everyone can find some N, between 0 and infinity, that they feel comfortable with. As one rather amusing essay points out, lots of people over time have put forth different values for N, with the current mean value being approximately 59.72. In other words, in the United States, we believe that on average, it is better for 59.72 guilty persons to go free than to have one innocent punished, but better to have one innocent punished than to have more than 59.72 guilty people go free. Note that an N of 0 means we would have to round up an imprison everybody and an N of infinity means that we should never punish anybody because we can never be absolutely, one-hundred percent sure of guilt. In the latter case it would be pointless to even bother to arrest anybody since we wouldn't end up punishing them. In that case, we could close down the courts, fire all the policemen, and with the expenses saved, we could cut taxes. The point is that it doesn't make sense to insist that innocent people are never punished - it will simply happen some of the time if anybody is ever punished, and indeed, in some ratio to the number of guilty who go unpunished.

I know someone who was a Public Defender for several years and a fantastic story teller. The stories she told of how she helped numerous guilty crooks escape justice were captivating and enjoyable. She saved the guilty from serving countless thousands of years of time in jail. She was proud of it too, because these guilty people were, in her opinion, the downtrodden of the earth, to be protected and kept free at all costs in that horribly oppressive and unjust society that is the United States today. We can imagine that her N is quite a bit higher than the 59.72 average. I can also imagine that she and her colleagues pushed the actual N well past the 59.72 ratio desired by the people of the United States.

Of course she also helped the innocent avoid punishment. I'm sure that was a good thing. But even here, some of the stories gave me pause. For example, a drunken homeless guy finds an unlocked parked car and crawls inside and goes to sleep. The owner (a woman) finds this guy in her car and freaks out and calls the police. The police arrests the guy and he's charged with breaking and entering a vehicle. But he was clearly innocent of breaking and entering because the vehicle was unlocked. The owner claimed otherwise, but there was no sign of breaking and entering. The guy, defended by the Public Defender, goes free and justice is served - sort of. What about the poor woman who had to deal with the rather scary situation of finding some guy in her car? I guess no real harm done, but still, I'm left with this nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right.

One of the results of hearing these stories is that it is going to very hard for me to buy into any proposal that we increase the number of Public Defenders since it's clear to me that more Public Defenders will mean yet more criminals avoiding punishment. That being said, stories like the one a of a woman in Gulfport, Mississippi who was in jail eleven months before a lawyer was appointed, was in jail two more months before the lawyer came to see her, and was in jail one more month before they went to court and pled guilty to time served, all for shoplifting merchandise worth $72 does bother me a lot. So there are a few things I might try and change.
1. Shorten trials: this would have the benefits of freeing up Public Defenders for other clients and reducing the strain on the courts of having to recruit jurors. I don't know exactly how to do this. However, having recently received a jury duty summons for a four month trial, I've thought a lot about it, and I don't see how I personally could absorb four months worth of information and make a better decision than if I had just received one month of information. I'm not a walking encyclopedic computer that can utilize all of that information. The last three of the four months would basically be a farce.

2. Make bail easier to get for non-violent criminals: the alledged shoplifter should have been out on bail (unless she had previously skipped bail). The government should pay the interest on the bail bonds when the system is too slow. Perhaps the government should even guarantee bail bonds for the poor. I realize this doesn't solve the problem regarding the right to a speedy trial, but that concept becomes a lot less important if one is free and presumed innocent. I suspect that most of those out on bail would just as soon their court date be postponed forever. Those that did want a speedy trial could be given priority. Those waiting in jail for a trial should certainly be given priority.

3. Use fines instead of jail for punishments wherever possible: the resulting revenues could be used to hire more Public Defenders or to cut taxes. Drug possession and prostitution could easily be punished by hefty fines instead of jail time.

4. Use the punitive damages portion of tort settlements to fund the court system instead of having the money go to the plaintiffs.
I'm sure that there are better ways to enhance the system, and I'm all ears. But any politician who suggests spending more money for more Public Defenders will definitely not get my vote (all other things being equal).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Jonesing for Janice

I would be thrilled to see Janice Rogers Brown sitting on the bench of a high federal court. This speech which is heavily excerpted below demonstrates that she has tremendous historical perspective. Her judicial tendencies are well leavened by a respect for precedent. Finally, she is highly competent. Lovers of liberty should strongly support her, all others should fear her!


"One cannot maintain forever one's language and judgment against the pressures of a world that works in different ways," for we are shaped by the world in which we live.2

Writing 50 years ago, F.A. Hayek warned us that a centrally planned economy is "The Road to Serfdom."3 He was right, of course; but the intervening years have shown us that there are many other roads to serfdom.

Big government is not just the opiate of the masses. It is the opiate. The drug of choice for multinational corporations and single moms; for regulated industries and rugged Midwestern farmers and militant senior citizens.

It is my thesis today that the sheer tenacity of the collectivist impulse — whether you call it socialism or communism or altruism — has changed not only the meaning of our words, but the meaning of the Constitution, and the character of our people.

Government is the only enterprise in the world which expands in size when its failures increase.

America's Constitution provided an 18th Century answer to the question of what to do about the status of the individual and the mode of government. Though the founders set out to establish good government "from reflection and choice,"6 they also acknowledged the "limits of reason as applied to constitutional design,"7 and wisely did not seek to invent the world anew on the basis of abstract principle; instead, they chose to rely on habits, customs, and principles derived from human experience and authenticated by tradition.

Collectivism sought to answer a different question: how to achieve cosmic justice — sometimes referred to as social justice — a world of social and economic equality. Such an ambitious proposal sees no limit to man's capacity to reason. It presupposes a community can consciously design not only improved political, economic, and social systems but new and improved human beings as well.

The great innovation of this millennium was equality before the law. The greatest fiasco — the attempt to guarantee equal outcomes for all people. Tom Bethell notes that the security of property — a security our Constitution sought to ensure — had to be devalued in order for collectivism to come of age.

Intellectuals visualized a planned life without private property, mediated by the New Man."12 He never arrived. As John McGinnis persuasively argues: "There is simply a mismatch between collectivism on any large and enduring scale and our evolved nature. As Edward O. Wilson, the world's foremost expert on ants, remarked about Marxism, 'Wonderful theory. Wrong species.'"13

"Socialism concentrated all the wealth in the hands of an oligarchy in the name of social justice, reduced peoples to misery in the name of shar[ed] resources, to ignorance in the name of science. It created the modern world's most inegalitarian societies in the name of equality, the most vast network of concentration camps ever built [for] the defense of liberty."17

Of course, given the vision of the American Revolution just outlined, you might think none of that can happen here. I have news for you. It already has. The revolution is over. What started in the 1920's; became manifest in 1937; was consolidated in the 1960's; is now either building to a crescendo or getting ready to end with a whimper.

There were obviously urgent economic and social reasons driving not only the political culture but the constitutional culture in the mid-1930's — though it was actually the mistakes of governments (closed borders, high tariffs, and other protectionist measures) that transformed a "momentary breakdown into an international cataclysm."22 The climate of opinion favoring collectivist social and political solutions had a worldwide dimension.

Protection of property was a major casualty of the Revolution of 1937.

Something new, called economic rights, began to supplant the old property rights. This change, which occurred with remarkably little fanfare, was staggeringly significant. With the advent of "economic rights," the original meaning of rights was effectively destroyed. These new "rights" imposed obligations, not limits, on the state.

It thus became government's job not to protect property but, rather, to regulate and redistribute it. And, the epic proportions of the disaster which has befallen millions of people during the ensuing decades has not altered our fervent commitment to statism.

Has the constitutional Zeitgeist that has reigned in the United States since the beginning of the Progressive Era come to its conclusion? And if it has, what will replace it? I wish I knew the answer to these questions. It is true — in the words of another old song: "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."27

Friday, May 20, 2005

Newsweek and violence

I've said and written statements like the following many times: "I just don't trust the media - any of it." So it was completely unsurprising to me that Newsweek published a false report "claiming that US guards at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center desecrated the Koran, including an incident in which the Muslim holy book was flushed down a toilet, in order to provoke detainees into talking." Newsweek later retracted the statement saying:
"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay."
The problem with the report (other than the fact that it was false), was that:
"Local Muslim leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan seized on the article and called for anti-U.S. demonstrations. Over a four day period last week at least 16 people died, a United Nations compound in Afghanistan was attacked and crowds burned American flags and effigies of U.S. president George W. Bush."
Many people, such as Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, are attributing a substantial part of the responsibility for the violence and deaths to Newsweek. I disagree completely. A magazine printed something in error. It then retracted it. Even if I loved the media and had a high degree of confidence in it, mistakes would still happen from time to time. There is nothing wrong with making a mistake and then fixing it. That is what Newsweek did.

On the other hand, there is something wrong with violence and murder. But I lay the responsibility for such actions directly at the feet of the perpetrators. That such people claim they were incited by some fact, mistaken or not, printed in a magazine half way around the world, in no way justifies their actions. We must not allow them to even think that we think it justifies the violence. Indeed, I think we need to desensitize these people. I personally am going to start flushing Korans down my toilet. Well, or at least I would, except for the minor detail that the Korans won't fit down my toilet. Nonetheless, I think the U.S. military should build a giant toilet and begin flushing Korans down it. Indeed, what a simple and gentle way to get the Guantanamo detainees to talk. That's not torture. I don't even think it qualifies as abuse.

At the same time, the message to the Muslim world is that if they're going to riot and murder because of such things, we're simply going to increase the occurrences of those actions until they learn to restrain themselves.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Back to Deflation

Well, that's what I get for posting my concerns regarding the economy a couple of weeks back before really letting the data accumulate adequately. Basically, starting the day after that post, there's been nothing but good economic news (for the United States). First, that ever so important commodity, oil, is dropping significantly in price, which should put a damper on inflationary forces:
Oil prices continued recent heavy losses Thursday as dealers focused on a glut of U.S. stockpiles, which have grown to the highest in six years. Weakness was curtailed, however, after OPEC's president said the cartel could rein in output if inventories rose too fast and after an oil workers' strike forced shut several refineries in France.

U.S. light crude for June delivery ended down 33 cents to $46.92 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after falling as low as $46.80, its lowest since mid February. U.S. crude is now nearly 20 percent below April's all-time high of $58.28 a barrel as a tide of imports fills storage tanks in the world's largest energy consumer to levels not seen since 1999.
Another sign that inflationary pressures have dissipated is that long term interest rates are gently drifting lower:
Mortgage rates fell last week, reaching a low not seen since February, despite incremental interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 5.71 percent this week, with an average 0.7 point payable up front, from 5.77 percent last week, the government-chartered mortgage company Freddie Mac said.
Last year at this time, the rate on the 30-year fixed-rate loan stood at 6.30 percent.

I'd say Greenspan has done a more than adequate job controlling inflation. It may be time to start worrying about deflation again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Lone Voice Among Historians?

The vast majority of those in academia are critical of the Bush administration. During a recent lecture, John Lewis Gaddis, a professor of history at Yale, was no exception. His many criticisms of Bush included the following:

[Bush] had failed miserably in getting United Nations support for the invasion of Iraq.

The phrase “axis of evil” originated in overzealous speechwriting rather than careful thought.

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had diminished, in advance, the credibility of whatever future intelligence claims Bush and Blair might make.

The so-called “coalition of the willing” there had been more of a joke than a reality.

Within a little more than a year and a half, the United States had exchanged its long-established reputation as the principal stabilizer of the international system for one as its chief destabilizer.

Nonetheless, Gaddis concludes the following:

"This historian is also leaning, somewhat more controversially, in the direction of acknowledging that George W. Bush is likely to be remembered as the first great grand strategist of the 21st century."

"Somewhat more controversially" is a stunning understatement in that as far as I can tell, he is the only one (of any stature) who thinks that. Indeed, Gaddis acknowledges that "he is ... somewhat ahead of most of his faculty colleagues ... in this respect".

We'll see if he's right.

The transcript of the entire lecture can be found here and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Having fun at the expense of the academy

Rather than bemoaning how ridiculous some ideas emanating from college professors are these days, this blogger has some fun. Here are some snippets from "Academic Cavemen."

Two years ago [in March], Alan Lowenstein, associate professor of philosophy at Harvard University, came to a fateful conclusion. "I suddenly realized that the oppression of western technology extended to my own life," he explained. "That's when I got rid of my computer, threw away my Brooks Brothers suits, changed my name to Grok and moved into a cave."

A passionate critic of Euro-American "linear thought," Grok is one of a growing number of college professors around the nation who have relocated to caves, mud huts and makeshift sweat lodges to demonstrate their disdain for western culture and technology. For Grok, 44, the move to a cave was a natural step in his intellectual progression.
The shocking realization lead Grok to a new stream of research that unveiled the oppressive nature of western civilization. He immersed himself in the writings of third world revolutionaries Franz Fanon, Rigoberta Menchu and Ted Rall. With CUNY professor Leonard Jeffries, he documented NASA's theft of earth-orbiting satellites from the K!ung bushmen of sub-Saharan Africa.

While it has been tough at times, Grok says he has no regrets. "Western culture is a cancer, and I'm committed to wiping it out. Plus, the whole cave-dwelling thing should help with my promotion case and journal articles."

I don't think Jared Diamond is anywhere near this bad, but perhaps he has aspirations!


Everybody Makes Mistakes

Even Warren Buffett:
The stubbornly resilient dollar has cost Warren Buffett a lot of money this year and has disappointed many other investors who thought that a weaker dollar would be their friend.

Buffett's bet against the dollar resulted in a $307 million loss for his company, Berkshire Hathaway, in the first quarter.
I was quite surprised to hear he had bet so heavily against the dollar. As a hedge I would understand it, but as speculation it surprised me. The dollar could certainly go lower from here relative to the Euro, but I don't think it's a great bet with the weak economic conditions in Europe and tighter monetary policy in the United States. But we'll see.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What was he thinking?

Jared Diamond is a college professor and author of the book "Collapse:...." During a college lecture, a student asked him what he thought was going through the mind of the Easter Island native who cut down the last palm tree. (Deforestation allegedly made the continued habitation of Easter Island impossible.) Diamond now thinks it was one of three thoughts:
1. More data are needed before I can be sure that cutting this tree will cause a problem;
2. Big-chief government needs to get off my back and let me use my property as I see fit;
3. Technology will soon produce a substitute for the palm tree.
John

Friday, May 06, 2005

More Good News

Tax Receipts Exceed Treasury Predictions:
After three years of rising federal budget deficits, a surge of April tax receipts brought unexpected good news to fiscal policymakers -- the tide of government red ink appears to be receding.

The Treasury Department this week reported there would be a $54 billion swing from projected deficit to surplus in the April-to-June quarter, after an unanticipated gush of tax payments poured into the Treasury before the April 15 deadline. That prompted private forecasters to lower their deficit projections for the fiscal year that ends in September.

Coupled with solid job numbers, it seems like the economy is still rolling along nicely.

Economic Strength Continued

I wrote recently that "[t]he economy seems to be pulling back a little", but the latest jobs data contradicts my belief:
The latest employment report marks 24 straight months of positive job creation in the U.S. economy – more than 3 million jobs’ worth of good news. [...]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 6, 2005, report, about 3.3 million jobs have been created in the past two years. The latest numbers showed 274,000 new jobs were created in April and the report also added 93,000 jobs to previous totals. Unemployment also held steady at the low figure of 5.2 percent.
Not bad!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Consequences of Lack of Faith

The philosopher J. David Velleman at Left2Right posted an essay today titled "people of faith". Janice Rogers Brown is reported to have said "These are perilous times for people of faith." Regarding this statement, Velleman muses in his post: "I cannot resist wondering what people mean by calling themselves 'people of faith'."

His musing defies belief (which I guess means that I have no "faith" that Velleman was serious when he wrote it). In English (especially American English), "usage is king" (as my sister, the linguist, is very fond of saying), and it simply cannot have escaped David Velleman's perceptual abilities and great intellectual capacity to notice that a substantial majority of Americans use the phrase 'people of faith' to mean those with faith in monotheism in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So I assume that what Velleman really means (though it's hard with philosophers to know what the meaning of "meaning" is), that he wonders why, given that everybody has faith in something (and that something can, in his opinion, lead to a moral existence), people should care whether or not that the faith is a Judeo-Christian faith.

Why indeed? Well, perhaps that's because when people have veered away from Judeo-Christian beliefs in the past, really terrible things have happened: facism and communism to name a couple, each of which contributed to the wars and geno/politicides than killed many tens of millions of people. Indeed, an anthropologist once told me that the wars and geno/politicides of last century killed more people than had been previously killed by such conflicts since the beginning of time.

Further, I hypothesize that if the United States had not had strong Judeo-Christian beliefs in the early part of the last century, we would have ultimately embraced communism (it was, after all, a very powerful and compelling idea), and without the United States and other countries that stayed the course with us producing new technologies that the whole world, including the communist block, benefitted from (and survived because of them), the world would have been plunged into a new Dark Age, from which, judging by the economic and ecological disasters in the communist block such as Chernobyl, might have, by now, led to the extinction of homo sapiens (but don't worry, cockroaches would've survived, so life would've continued on).

I'm sure J. David Velleman is a profoundly moral person with the best intentions. But, it seems to me he is incorrectly projecting his own six sigma capabilities in the area of reasoning, intuition, belief, etc. onto a species (that'd be us homo sapiens) where such capabilities are extremely rare. In other words, if we all had his capabilities and hung around and studied philosophy all day, the world would be a better place.

But we don't.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Few Holes in the Peer Review Process

Published papers, especially those presented at scientific conferences, are supposed to go through a rigorous peer review process. Unfortunately, there are a few holes in the process:
An MIT student has had a paper consisting of computer-generated gibberish accepted by technology conference WMSCI. The pretentious gathering bills itself as "an international forum where researchers and practitioners examine Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics key issues" [...]

Stribling's paper consisted of randomly generated buzzwords munged into complete English sentences by a madlib-like program, so they were grammatically correct but meaningless [...]

The paper, entitled Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy, and contained such wonderful claims as -

"We can disconfirm that expert systems can be made amphibious, highly-available, and linear-time."

And -

"One must understand our network configuration to grasp the genesis of our results. We ran a deployment on the NSA’s planetary-scale overlay network to disprove the mutually largescale behavior of exhaustive archetypes. First, we halved the effective optical drive space of our mobile telephones to better understand the median latency of our desktop machines. This step flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but is instrumental to our results."

You can probably guess the moral of the story: don't believe everything you read.