Monday, June 27, 2005


Remember that phase of the 2004 presidential elections when Senator John Kerry was promising that he would restore America's relations with Europe? Now it's a year later and there are signs that Europe might be looking for new leadership to restore their relations with America. An interesting example is this Fox News report about German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to the White House:
The two leaders also discussed Germany's campaign for its own seat on the U.N. Security Council. Bush suggested that the United Nations needs to adopt broad reforms before dealing with the Security Council. The United States has been noncommittal about the idea of a German seat, although Washington is supporting a seat for Japan. "We oppose no country's bid for the Security Council," the president said.

Schroeder said there might be differences between the United States and Germany on the timing of expanding the Security Council. But he said he was "happy to hear there was no opposition to Germany, as such" becoming a permanent member of the council.
Given that the United Nations is in the middle of the most damaging scandal in its history, Bush's position of "let's wait for broad reform at the U.N. first" sounds like diplomatic shorthand for "no frickin' way, dude". On the other hand, support for a permanent German Security Council seat would make a nice present for the relatively pro-American conservative opposition that is leading Schroeder by 17 points in the latest polling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The teaching of American History

An amazing op-ed by David Gelernter (hat tip: Instapundit) expresses his amazement about the prevalence of students with a systematic ignorance of American History.

Unfortunately, this deficiency in education is much more systematic than just American History. A personal encounter that I had with historical ignorance began when I was discussing a book on medieval Anglo-French history that I had read with an undergraduate coworker during dinner. I happened to mention the Magna Carta at one point, and after a few moments I noticed that a look of deep puzzlement had managed to break through her usual emotionless, Vulcan-esque poker face. Here I had mentioned one of the most important written documents in Western History that had laid the basis for the development of the Rule of Law and Constitutionalism for centuries to follow, and she literaly did not have the slightest clue that such a thing had even existed until that moment.

It was time for a test. The next day I pigeonholed another undergraduate coworker and asked him to tell me what the Magna Carta is. His reply was something along the lines of "Does that have something to do with Charlemagne?" After thanking heaven for not making me a History Teaching Assistant with a heavily grade-inflationary professor, I asked undergrad number three and this time I got a pretty reasonable, accurate answer. After asking all three undergraduates where they went to high-school so I would know which state school systems to avoid if I ever have children someday, I called my friend Alex who been out of school for a few years and asked him about the Magna Carta.

The response was like something out of an encyclopedia article.

"Alex, that was amazing", I responded. "What high school did you have to attend to learn that?"

"Actually Joe, I didn't learn that in school. I went to the capital to see President Reagan lying in state and got stuck in line next to the actual Magna Carta for an hour!"

Monday, June 20, 2005

A better art through chemistry

The latest art atrocity to hit the attention of the American mass media: soap made from the suctioned fat of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Of course it's not bad art because of the gross-out factor. And it's not even bad art because it shamelessly mimics a plot point from the movie Fight Club. What makes this really bad art is that the creater simply sold it to the first art collector to pass by with some spare thousands in his bank account.

Think about it. Monarchs and emperors of ancient times who burnt their hair and toenail clippings weren't afraid that the local artists would try to sell them for a quick gold piece or two. They were afraid that some enemy sorcerer would use those clippings to cast some kind of evil magic spell. A really gutsy artist with a double-handful of Berlusconi fat lying around could have done all sorts of cool, trangressive, magic hocus-pocus to impress the Left-wing avant-garde. But instead, this guy just pockets his $18,000 for a bar of soap and walks away from it.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Remember the good old days...

when liberals used to condemn show trials instead of performing them.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Another Syracuse University blogger

I discovered a new blog being written by a faculty member here at the Physics Department at Syracuse University: Orange Quark.

Solipsism: It's not just for breakfast anymore

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, solipsism is (author's italics):
the doctrine that, in principle, 'existence' means for me my existence and that of my mental states. In other words, everything which I experience - physical objects, other people, events and processes, in short, anything which would commonly be regarded as a constituent of the spatio-temporal matrix in which I coexist with others - is necessarily construed by me as part of the content of my consciousness.
My personal objection to solipsism has always been that it is a doctrine with essentially no meaning. You may, if you wish, choose to believe that reality exists purely as an artifact of your own mind, but all this allows you to do is, for example, to rename physics or chemistry as branches of psychology instead of physical sciences. What a non-solipsistic physicist would call "new physics" would just be relabelled as "previously subconscious thoughts" by the solipsist, and so on.

An argument that seems to fall into the same trap as solipsism is nicely illustrated in the article "Science of Theology, the Religion of Physics: Part I", in which the author writes:
In the re-emerging debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution, much has been made of the need to keep religious faith out of the classroom. If this were accomplished, it would, of course, be a great loss, for if religious faith is removed from the classroom, physics, chemistry, and biology will have to be dispensed with and the hard sciences will be completely lost to us. This is a point that is lost on most of the people in the debate.

Take, for instance, the foundational premise of physics: reality exists. As members of a Christian Western culture, we often have a hard time understanding how fully those two words represent a specific religious viewpoint. To assert that reality is not an illusion, but is, in fact, substantial, is to take sides in a long-standing religious debate.
The author may, if he wishes, decide that the philsophical foundations of physics or even all of physics is religous, but that still involves nothing more than relabelling physics as a form of theology. The author, by adopting this stance, is merely obliging his opponents (those that believe that physics is allowed in public schools but religion is forbidden) to rename their stance to allow what they might call "physical theology" but to forbid what they might call "invocatory theology".

Friday, June 17, 2005

Paranoia, or mind control?

A blogger discovers that the innocent government-installed radio in her apartment might actually be a weapon used to produce sinster, mind-controlling propaganda rays.

The Sarcasm of Scott and I always suspected that something like this would happen. But it's all just fun and games until the voice on the radio orders that this man must die.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Blogging: Now 50% more banal!

Slashdot has a forum posted today about the rise and fall of blogs including a link to Blogging Burnout which argues that banality and mass production are destroying the blogosphere. Just hit the "next blog" feature of the Blogspot toolbar and you'll probably see what I mean.

I think that the real objection here is that blogging is becoming progressively less trendy with time amongst the avant-garde now that the inevitable cultural counterattack has been triggered. Welcome to the modern era.

But obviously the American people are also being grossly underestimated in this analysis. The average American simply has a much greater tolerance for banality than Blogging Burnout assumes. We live in a country where broadcast journalism can make enormous profits whenever it replaces serious news with an endlessly replayed snippet of juicy security camera footage. Our nation's political leaders have built careers, lifestyles, and in some cases personalities around projecting an aura of total blandness to the public. Spam and pop-up ads wouldn't exist if there wasn't someone, somewhere, who was made better off by a timely reminder that, yes, viagra can improve the quality of your erection.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

There's a reason they call it dope.

This reporter hits the target dead center: Never Legalize Pot!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Chairman Dean keeps up the momentum

Unfortunately, he's been building negative momentum for weeks. Captain's Quarters provides a brief synopsis about the 2004 Dean implosion and a current update of the Dean phenomenon.

Obviously suffering a level of press scrutiny usually reserved for Republicans is not a good sign, but I wouldn't write off Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee Chairman quite yet. Very few politicians are able to generate the intense, near-psychotic levels of political support that Dean managed to create in late 2003. That ability may come in handy for Democratic candidates in 2006. And removing Dean as chairman today will practically guarentee that he will be planning another November surprise during the 2008 primaries.

On the other hand, a bad year for Democrats in 2006 would sink Dean's chances in 2008 and clear the way for you-know-who to capture the 2008 presidential nomination unopposed.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Judith Christ, Showgirl

A new edition of the Gospels (as originally edited by Thomas Jefferson) is being published in which all references to Jesus are replaced by Judith and all pronouns referring to God are feminine instead of masculine.

Just think about that for a second. Here is a contemporary artistic work about the life of Jesus that doesn't involve homosexual intercourse, evacuated human or animal waste, or hidden conspiracies spanning continents and centuries. It does not appear to have a political agenda beyond a simple empowering recognition of the existence of women. It is content to restrain itself to correcting what it identifies as a systematic oversight in the original edition and absolutely nothing else.

It is, in short, a brilliant literary work of art.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


From a AP story on Ted Turner's recent speech to CNN employee's:
Turner, an outspoken media mogul who started CNN in 1980 but no longer controls the network, said he envisioned CNN as a place where rapes and murders that dominated local news wouldn't be emphasized, but he's seeing too much of that "trivial news" on the network he created, now second in ratings to Fox News Channel.

"I would like to see us to return to a little more international coverage on the domestic feed and a little more environmental coverage, and, maybe, maybe a little less of the pervert of the day," he said in a speech to CNN employees outside the old Atlanta mansion where the network first aired.

"You know, we have a lot of perverts on today, and I know that, but is that really news? I mean, come on. I guess you've got to cover Michael Jackson, but not three stories about perversion that we do every day as well."
As someone who could not care less about the Michael Jackson trial or the Runaway Bride, I have to agree.

The New Yorker profile of Dan Rather a few months ago also inadvertantly illustrated how sensationalistic news coverage is the crack cocaine of contemporary news broadcasting. As powerful as the mighty Dan Rather was before his recent fall, even he was trapped with such brain-damaged broadcasting trends as the ad nauseum repitition of video-footage from tabloid-level news stories. And remember, a big portion of Dan Rather's work day as lead anchor for "CBS Evening News" was consumed with choosing a heart-warming but otherwise completely irrelevant segment to end each broadcast. This guy is the head of a serious national news program on one of the most-watched broadcast networks in American society and he thinks that a story such as a 90-year-old lady who brings her 10 cats to church every Sunday is a great way to fill 15% of his daily broadcast time!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Entropy and Evolution

A couple of items related to the idea that evolution is somehow prohibited by the second law of thermodynamics popped up the radar screen lately. The first is an Evolutionblog critique of such an argument defended by mathematician Granville Sewell. The second is a new article posted by Babu G. Ranganathan at

The general argument begins with a demonstration that disorder, as measured by the thermodynamic entropy, must always increase under certain sets of conditions. Once this point is established, this increase in disorder is contrasted with the apparent increase of order with time observed in the history of life on Earth. The apparent contradiction is resolved by asserting that Darwinian evolution in some or all respects is false.

As you might have expected, these arguments have led to mass levels of discussion about the thermodynamic properties of various systems, usually distinguished from one another in terms of whether they are isolated or "open" to their environments. The properties of such systems aside, it seems to me that there is an extremely serious error with these entropy arguments against evolution, namely that the thermodynamic entropy is only defined for equilibrium states of a system. Life forms such as cells that are generating a steady flow of heat into their environments through the metabolism of food are not in thermodynamic equilibrium. Arguments about the entropy of such life forms cannot contradict theories of evolution because an entropy cannot be defined in the first place.

More on McCain

In my previous post, I mentioned some reasons why Senator McCain is likely to lose a Presidential bid in 2008. One of my arguments is that Senator McCain is something a political chameleon who uses his media reputation as a conservative to cover up some of his liberal policies. An illustrative example of this process is a set of statements that McCain made in a recent interview:
As president, McCain said his foreign policy would greatly mirror President Bush’s: "I believe we have a unique opportunity, particularly now, to spread democracy and freedom throughout the world.”

He continued that domestically, "one thing is to expand opportunities for national service – the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, neighborhood and community organizations. You see, I think after 9/11 we had a golden opportunity to call all Americans to serve the country – not just to tell them to take a trip and go shopping. And I think they would have responded. I think they will still respond.”
The interesting point for conservatives is not that McCain essentially agrees with the Bush foreign policy or that McCain believes that voluntary national service can be a good thing for citizens to perform but that he doesn't view taking a trip or going shopping as worthy components of national service in themselves.

A state's military strength, at least since the sixteenth century, has depended upon a state's economic potential as well as the size of its military forces. The most effective means for a state to expand its economic potential is the capitalist economy which relies upon the individual's sometimes selfish economic motives. The normal American citizen's productive work, self-improvement, saving, and spending are themselves a benefit to the nation and a form of national service.

For conservatives, McCain's "first servant of the state" position sounds like a premonition of a President McCain's welfare-statism; the notion that only personal sacrifice counts as national service is something one would expect from Bill Maher-style liberals, not people who call themselves small-government conservatives.