Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dawkins' Editorial

Check it out. I frequently attempt to engage in religious arguments with my friends, but I'm not particularly articulate. Since Dawkins is a significant influence on my beliefs, reading his editorial is probably more fruitful (but probably not as fun) than listening to me blather on.

Tax Tuesday

There are a decent number of people out there who feel like the income tax is unconstitutional. I'm not one of those people. But they're out there, and they file law suits. Following is a blurb from the case Celauro v. US, which was decided on January 28. Taxpayer's argument is summarized as follows:

The Plaintiffs further assert... that the "IRS has repeatedly refused to show [Plaintiffs] where in the [Internal Revenue] Code it makes [Plaintiffs] 'liable for' the tax they claim is owed."... The Plaintiffs allege that it is "abundantly unclear" what the term taxpayer, as used throughout the IRC, means, and state that "when [the United States] can show where [Plaintiffs are] 'subject to' or 'liable for' a so-called tax, at that point [Plaintiff] will gladly pay the tax."

Compelling argument. Who does the government think they are?!?! But the court suggests the Plaintiffs do some reading.

The court points out that nowhere is it required for "the Government to answer the Plaintiffs' philosophical questions regarding the tax system. For a clear explanation of "where in the law subjects the Plaintiffs to tax," the court directs the Plaintiffs' attention to Amendment XVI of the Constitution and the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. ยง1, which is entitled 'Tax Imposed.'"

I highlighted my favorite parts in red.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Top five list

I think everyone is in agreement with me that lists are entertaining. So here's a list to contemplate on your Monday morning:

1. Justice Thurgood Marshall
2. Sleater-Kinney
3. Romantic Comedies
4. Federal income tax
5. Chinese food

Feel free to submit your own list. The only requirement is that the list contain about 5 spots.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A New Hope

Nell and I watched the first Starwars movie last night and it was quite a revelation. The revelation being that I had never seen the whole movie before. I had no recollection of seeing any part of the film prior to Obi-Wan and Luke meeting Han Solo in the bar on Tatooine! I was quite suprised. But I can now say I've seen every Starwars movie.

On a related note, the edition we watched was the newest edition with some added scenes and CGI thingies. I had heard a lot of criticism of Lucas for adding stuff to a film that's been in the can for decades, but having scene the results, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. The additions are very minor and fairly well done. The added scene where Han Solo talks to Jaba was quite good, I thought. Having seen Episode IV, I'm all for the tweaking of old movies, cineastes be damned.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lazy Day

I'm home from classes for the week and I'm a bit bored. Maybe I'll take a nap. Maybe I'll read some blogs. Maybe I'll do some dishes. I don't know.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Morality Monday

I was hoping just to get some feedback today on something I've been reading about as of late: assisted suicide. The Supreme Court ruled last week in Gonzales v. Oregon that an attempt by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent Oregonians from taking advantage of a law legalizing assisted suicide (in very limited circumstances) was unconstitutional. Ashcroft (believe it or not) overstepped his authority.

Regardless of this small victory to Right to Die supporters, the Court has consistently held that there is no constitutional right to end your life. This means only that the Court will not strike down on constitutional grounds a state statute banning assisted suicide. Likewise, the court has never (and presumably would never) strike down a state law legalizing assisted suicide. Incidently, only three states in the US DO NOT currently statutorily prohibit physician assited suicide.

Now I have always been on the side of the Right to Die. Not fervently so, but more so than most other issues (for instance my luke-warm support of abortion). Furthermore, I think the Right to Die is encompassed in the 14th Amendment's concept of "liberty." Lately, I've tended to side with the strict constitutional constructionists on issues like abortion and free speech (on which more in a later post), but I think Scalia and his cronies are dead wrong on this one. What does individual liberty mean if it doesn't include control over whether that individual exists at all? The right to decide the fate of your own being seems like the very fundamental concept on which other liberties should spring.

Am I wrong? What say should the government have in whether a person chooses to continue existing or not? I'm particularly interested to hear what opponents of the Right to Die have to say. I know a bit of the contrary arguments from reading some amicus briefs, but I would enjoy hearing from some real people. That might be a tall order considering my very limited audience, but I can dream.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Music Review

I just listened to a band that came very highly recommended to me from a couple of friends. After listening to about a third of the album, I can confidently NOT recommend They Might Be Giants to others. I was not at all impressed with their music and I'm very confused about the hype surrounding this band. The vocals were grating and the tunes went nowhere. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Friday, January 20, 2006

He made me do it

Hi! My name is Nell and this is my first post. Although I have been a 'contributor' to this blog for some time now, I have not yet contributed. Fishfrog, having grown tired of my laziness and freeloading ways, has threatened to kick me off (the nerve!). So here I am. Contributing. Yup... I'm here... sooooo........ uhhhhh, yup. Well, I just don't have much to say, so rather than stalling any longer I will tell you a poem instead.

Hi my name is Nell
It rhymes with hell and smell
But fear not - Don't fret!
Do not be upset
I smell like flowers
For all my hours
And I'm as far from hell as I can get
!

Blogger Monkey Returns



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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Morality Tuesday

Yesterday was a holiday, so I had no idea it was Monday. So to make it up to my readers, I'm holding the discussion today. Without further ado.

I was reading The Ancestors' Tale by Richard Dawkins last night, and in a chapter about race and ethnicity he stated he opposition to affirmative action, or "positive discrimination" as he called it. So how about it? Is affirmative action, as is currently applied in the US (i.e. slight favoratism to african-americans) a good thing or a bad thing? Is it as morally reprehensible as negative discrimination?

Before I go into my thoughts, I should disclose that I am a white male with an upper-middle class background, and as such I have the most to lose (financially) to affirmative action.

I think A.A. is a good thing. I rationalize it like this: If there are two candidates for a job, one white and one black, and both have the same college major with the same GPA, and following college both applicants worked in the same position in two identical companies. Both applicants, in other words, are indistinguishable on paper. It seems to me that even though both applicants have accomplished the same results, the black applicant has done so while working against the institutionalized and individual racism that is still prevalent in US society. As such, his accomplishments seem more impressive. In other words, factoring race into the equation is not a handout to minorities, it is just a recognition of the applicant's actual accomplishments.

Here's an analogy. Let's say you want to hire the faster runner you can. So you look at to runners' times for 40 meters. Both runners clocked in at 9.8 seconds. Now you're stumped. But then you find out that one runner actually ran the 40 meter hurtles, and clocked that time while successful jumping over numerous hurtles. Seems like you should hire the hurtler.

There are some flaws, of course. While my position may be fair for two individuals in identical situations, what if the black applicant was from a wealthy family and the white applicant was from a poor family? What if one applicant is a woman? It does seem to me now that I'm writing my thoughts out that the inevitable conclusion to my position would require an advanced calculation involving many aspects of every applicant's racial, family, and class background. That does seem a little unworkable.

OK. So now I'm uncertain. Maybe I don't support a.a. I guess I'm on the fence. Any attempt to sway me one way or another would be appreciated.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Economic Efficiency and Unionization

Judge Posner today posted about the inefficiencies in public sector job security and private sector job security achieved through unionization. He suggests that we should do away with job security at return to pure at-will employment if we want to maximize our efficiency. Here is a blurb from the post:

"If tenure is an efficient employment contract, employers will institute it without union prodding. The steep decline of unionization in the private sector is a convincing "Darwinian" refutation of the argument one used to hear that unions actually promote efficiency."

Unfortunately, the argument that the all-knowing market, if left to its own devices, will pump out the most efficient result is too often parroted without addressing some of its real-world defects. Lack of information (or worse, an ample supply of misinformation) is the most frequently ignored and perhaps most influential flaw with a truely efficient market. For instance, one possible influence on the steep decline of unionization in the private sector is best exemplified (as many things are) by WalMart.

When a manager gets wind of an inclination of the workers to unionize, the manager contacts HQ, and HQ sends out a team to talk to the workers about the dangers of unionization. In addition, when a worker first starts at WalMart, part of the training involves watching a video on the dangers of unionization. Everything the workers hear from day one about unions is negative. The employer has the resources to control the content of the message. Everything the workers hear about unions, if they hear anything, is about how unions make stores close down because the cost get too high.

Couple the one-sided information they get at work with the fact that the majority party in the US is anti-union (perhaps proportionally to amount of money corportions donate to the pols campaigns), and the fact that the minority party is every day retreating from their pro-union stance, and the worker is entirely deprived of easy access to information about the pros of unionization. The two party political situation makes matters worse. With both parties luke-warm or openly hostile to unions, the only advocates are painted as outsider extremists. Unions have become associated with extremist political positions (communism and socialism, mainly).

So the real marketplace where the decisions about unionization are made is the political marketplace. Access to the political realm is limited to those with money. Some unions have money and thus political influence, but those unions are forces to use their resources to battle for what meager scraps they have managed to tear away over the past eighty years. The majority of influencing power thus falls to the big businesses who find unions a distasteful trespass into their absolute control in the political and economic marketplaces. There is no voice for the workers.

The lack of accurate information and the lack of access to the marketplace mean that the steep decline in unionization is evidence of nothing more than decline in voice among the workers. That Judge Posner takes this as evidence that the workers don't want unions is a mistake.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oklahoma!

I saw the british stage production of Oklahoma last night (via DVD) starring Hugh Jackman. Going in, I kind of had the assumption that it was just going to be a classic wild west love story. I a sense it was, but it also contained some very disturbing material. The most disturbing was the character of Judd, who was a sociopathic hired hand who lived in the smokehouse of the female lead (Jackman's love interest). Judd was none for sitting in his "hole," looking at porn, and doing unspeakable things. The last eight minutes of the film were especially disturbing. Judd fell on his own knife while duking it out with Jackman. Jackman is briefly accused of murder at which time the townfolk coerce the local judge into holding an expedited trial (about forty seconds long, as compared to Laurie's forty minute long dream sequence earlier in the film) which results in a ruling that Jackman is not guilty. Jackman then runs off with Laurie.

Despite the plentiful and sometimes quite good musical numbers, I cannot recommend this film. It is very long, very disturbing, and ultimately unsatisfying. Instead, go rent the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Now that is a great film.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Interesting Post

Not on this blog, obviously. But I did run across this interesting experiment on Escapee From the Meme Machine. Interesting findings that coincide with my own experiences in my rather briefer travels through the blogosphere. I should note also (since I'm linking to other blogs) that I found Meme Machine via Freethought Mom, who is a recent commenter here (which is appreciated) and runs quite a good blog herself. Both are worth checking out as they do credit to the atheist blogosphere.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Alito Hearings

As a liberal and a Democrat, I expected to side with the Democratic senators in the hearing. However, when you ask someone a question, let them answer! If you have 30 minutes to question Alito, and the whole point of the hearing is to expose Alito's views, it seems like you would want Alito to do most of the talking. But Kennedy and Schumer (Two of my favorite senators) take up the majority of the time criticizing the judge without giving him a chance to explain himself. That's not very useful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Value of Blogs

So I was going to write a Tax Tuesday post about the relationship between the highest marginal corporate rate and the highest marginal individual tax rate and the effect that relationship had on supply-side economics, but I decided not to. Instead. I want to write about blogs and arguments.

It's actually something I've been thinking about for some time (since Christmas, anyway), but over lunch on Monday I was reminded of it. When you engage in a discussion or argument with one or more people about something that everyone involved feels passionate about, people tend to interrupt each other. Now I'm not saying I'm perfect. I frequently interrupt others just as they interrupt me. But it is not a good thing to do, and it is certainly antithetical to a productive and fun argument.

The major cause of interruption, and this is actually a very valid reason to interrupt, is that the listener hears the speaker state a proposition that the listener disagrees with, and the listener fears that if the speaker is allowed to continue, the disargeeable statement will be forgotten by the time the speaker finishes. This is an understandable concern. Since most of us don't carry around note pads to jot down points we want to respond to, it is also an unavoidable result of oral arguments.

This is were blogs come in. Blogs deal in the written word. They are the perfect forum for argument because they allow you to state you proposition in full at one time while also allowing participants in the argument to respond point by point. Of course, this feature is not unique to blogs, but is inherent in any written forum. However, you can hardly find lower transaction costs (measured by time, effort, and money) than commenting on a blog.

Anyway, the point is, we should all try not to interrupt each other as much as possible. And if that fails, we should all spend more time in the blogosphere.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Morality Monday

Let's get this week started right with what will prove to be my most controversial Morality Monday to date.

First some assumptions necessary for the question. (Note to readers: I am not claiming that any of these assumptions are true or that they have any basis in fact)
1. Assume that homosexuality has a genetic cause.
2. Assume we have the technology to modify, safely and without any side effects, someone's genes when they are in utero.

If you or you significant other were pregnant and the doctor told you that the fetus carried the gene that causes homosexuality, and told you that through some very simple and entirely safe process he could alter that gene to cause you child to be born a heterosexual, would you ask the doctor to do it?

As always, comments are welcome. However, if anyone comments and says anything to the effect of, "Homosexuality is not genetically caused!" or "But your assumptions are false!" I will delete your comment. I know that my assumptions are in all likelihood false. It's called a thought experiment.

Now for my take. Firstly, I have no kids, but it seems to me that a parent has an obligation to do everything in his or her power to enable the child to have the best life possible. Now I'm not saying homosexuality is in any way wrong, and in fact if it is genetically caused as it is here, it is on the exact same plane as heterosexuality. However, assuming that the societal mores regarding homosexuality remain the same (and there's no reason to think a little scientific evidence would change that), it seems clear that a heterosexual would have an easier life with fewer hurdles to overcome, and thus would be more likely to have a successful life (however you might define that). So my answer would be that yes, I would ask to doctor to do it.

Unfortunately, homosexuality is not the only trait that puts one at a disadvantage in America. This is also the land of prolific institutionalized racism. So if I said that I would prevent my child from being born gay, would I then also prevent my child from being born black or hispanic? And what about gender? Despite the great successes of the feminist movement, women are still at a marked disadvantage to men. So would I also change my child's gender? If you answered yes to the homosexuality question, try to grapple with these as well.

As for me, these secondary questions make me uncomfortable, and I'm not sure how to answer them. But I'll continue thinking about it and see if I can come up with something. Any help would be appreciated.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

What Does It Mean To "Hear?"

I was fortunate enough to be privy to a spirited debate about cochlear implants this evening. I'm not going to recount the controversy here, but it did make me think of a side issue that some might find interesting. Specifically, what does it mean to "hear?" Put another way, what is it about hearing a sound that is important to our understanding of the world around us.

So let's say we have two people, Dan and Hal. Dan hears normally (whatever that means) and Hal has a "defect in his hearing whereby he hears an extra syllable for every syllable actually spoken.For instance, if I were to say "Hello," Hal would hear "Helloba." And if I were to say "Bye," Hal would hear "Byeba." Hal has had this condition since he was old enough to start learning language. So when the teacher pointed to a picture of a dog and said "Dog," Hal saw the picture and heard "Dogba." When Hal repeated what he had heard back to the teacher, he said "Dog" by contracting his muscles and exhaling in a manner that he had discovered from experience sounded to him like "Dogba," which is just what Hal heard the teacher say.

So Dan and Hal are sitting next to each other at the symphony listening to some boring classical music by Chopin. Are the two men hearing the same thing? Well, they are receiving the same imput. If you were somehow able to get into each man's head, though, the tune would sound different. Does this matter? Is one man somehow better off than the other? No.

When the symphony plays the next song, Hal is able to tell that it is different from the last song they played. Likewise Dan is also able to distinguish the first song from the second. I think this highlights what is the fundamentally important quality of hearing: the ability to distinguish different sounds. It doesn't matter if Dan and Hal hear the exact same thing, only that they associate what they hear with the same source. It is differentiation between different sounds that is the key importance of hearing, not the "quality" of the sound.

On a somewhat related note, if your child suffered from leprosy and there was a readily available cure, would you take advantage of that cure, thus forever alienating your child from the leper community on Molokai, or would you cure your child, thus condemning the leper colony to an eventual extinction?

As always, comments are welcome and encouraged.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Thought to Ponder

Here's a quote from the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:
"The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market...."

I welcome everyone to post their thoughts on the quote or any related things the quote brings to mind.

As for me, this quote reminds me (as many things do) of the ongoing efforts of the intelligent design crowd to get their theory into public schools. ID proponents frequently analogize the current disfavor of ID with criticisms of the Big Bang theory. When the BB theory came to the intellectual marketplace, it was not immediately accepted. It took years of research, including making and testing predicitons, for BB to gain the favored status it has today.

The ID proponents cast themselves in the same mold, claiming mainstream biologists are trying to silence discussion of ID. However, there is an important distinction between ID and BB. When BB was initially disfavored, its proponents did not respond with massive lobbying efforts to try to force high school science teachers to teach the theory. Instead they went to their labs, their telescopes, and their chaulk boards. The theory they advanced came with some pretty big predictions. The most important prediction, in terms of the ultimate acceptance of the theory in the marketplace was the existence of a general background radiation which should have been detectable.

It took some years and ended up happening by accident, but the background radiation was detected. The BB theory had made a prediction, and scientists, using the scientific method and relying on observable phenomena, showed the validity of that prediction.

On the other side of the spectrum, the proponents of ID are not using their substantial resources to improve research in the field or to test the predicitons (are there any?) that ID provides. They are not trying to sell their ideas in the intellectual marketplace. Instead, the resources are going to lobbying local school boards, trying to convince laymen to disregard a theory that they don't understand (evolution) and embrace a "theory" that capitalizes on the fact that science is hard (ID).

Justice Holmes, I think, would not have been pleased with the actions of the Discovery Institute, the main backer of ID, in their attempt to circumscribe the marketplace of ideas.

Classes Start on Monday

And I couldn't be more excited. I've already started reading my tax assignment. Incidently, Tax is my first class on Monday; that's a good way to start the semester. I also started reading the material for a class I'm taking called "Speech, the Press, and the First Amendment." It contains some interesting material that I might share later today.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Intelligent Design Radio Documentary

I just listened to this documentary. It's pretty good at describing the history of the intelligent design movement and the current state of the controversy post Dover. I'm not going to take you through the show step by step but I do want to mention what the infamous Michael Behe says ID is and what it isn't. I think it is important to understand exactly what ID is arguing against and not create strawmen to tear down.

Behe divides evolutionary theory into three sections:
1. The idea that organisms change over time.
2. The idea of common ancestry.
3. The idea of natural selection.

Interestingly, Behe (and presumably ID) agree with 1 and 2. Where ID departs from eveolutionary theory is in step 3 only. As far as the implications of this bifurcation (or trifurcation) I need to think about it some. But I did think it was interesting to hear exactly what ID stands for from the horse's mouth. The program is worth a listen if you've got some time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Rest in Peace Titan

September 11, 2002 - January 3, 2006
I take some comfort in knowing that, in the last days of his life, he finally let me pet him on the head.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Titan Update

Back from the vet, and the prognosis is fair. I have to give Titan three different medicines a total of eight times a day. This will continue for at least the next seven days, maybe longer. It all depends on when he starts eating on his own. I'm hopeful, though. He comes from a tough family and I'm sure he will persevere. Thanks to all the well-wishers.

Our Long Scary Night



Last night around 7pm I was cleaning p the bunnies' room and I noticed Titan wasn't being quite aggressive as usual. In fact he was just sitting in the corner, not getting mad or stomping or lunging or anything. So I went to pick him up and he didn't run away. I held him in my lap and he didn't squirm. I even petting him on the head and he did not snort. Something was wrong.

I felt his ears and they weren't as warm as they should have been. I found a thermometer and took his temperature: 96.6 degrees. That's a problem. A rabbit's body temp is normally between 101-103.

Nell and I put Titan and Lily in their carrier and rushed to the emergency animal hospital. It took about 20 minutes to get there. They immediately put him in a towel and put warm water bottles around him to try and get his body heat up. The doctor also hooked him up to an IV to hydrate him.

The diagnosis was Gastic Stasis: a shutdown of his digestive system. Prognosis: 60% chance of recovery. Two hours later the doctor was handing Titan back to me with instructions to keep him warm and force feed him every four hours. So I spent last night and today looking after Titan.

He seems a bit better today, but he's not out of the woods yet. I'm taking him to the vet in about twenty minutes. Needless to say I'm a little on edge. I'll keep everyone posted.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Name the Movie

"The dishes are done, dude."

Incidently, I am also finished with the dishes, though not in the same way that the character in this movie finished them.

Why I hate Weekends

Work, work, work. All I want to do is play videogames and watch TV, but I have a kitchen full of dishes and a rabbit room to clean. The women libbers have brainwashed Nell into thinking she shouldn't have to take care of all the housework. The nerve! Damn liberals. Now I have to clean instead of play.