Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Puzzler

For the theoretically minded I offer this nugget: The Universe is explained by a geometry with 248 dimensions.

You can read it if you wish, it is mostly Greek to me. But this quote seems a little puzzling:
ONE of the mysteries of the universe is why it should speak the language of mathematics.

Isn't that like being struck by the improbability that Lou Gehrig would succumb to Lou Gehrig's disease?

Thanksgiving day after thoughts

I hope all of the Daily Duck regulars enjoyed a happy Thanksgiving with family and friends. Joseph Epstein offered a few unique thoughts on this unique holiday in the Wall Street Journal:
Conventional wisdom has it that Thanksgiving is the best of all American holidays. As a contrarian, I'd like to put that wisdom to the test.

Thanksgiving does have the absence of the heavy hand of dreary gift giving that has put the groans in Christmas, the moans in Hanukkah. And no one has written treacly Thanksgiving songs, comparable to "White Christmas" and "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," which, I suspect, have helped make Christmas one of the prime seasons for suicide. Let us not speak of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," of whose travail we shall all have heard more than our fill as we ride up elevators and pass along the aisles of department stores.

For some time in America we have, of course, been living under Kindergarchy, or rule by children. If children do not precisely rule us, then certainly all efforts, in families where the smallish creatures still roam, are directed to relieving their boredom if not (hope against hope) actually pleasing them.

Let us be thankful that Thanksgiving has not yet fallen to the Kindergarchy, as has just about every other holiday on the calendar, with the possible exceptions of Yom Kippur and Ramadan. Thanksgiving is not about children. It remains resolutely an adult holiday about grown-up food and drink and football.

Well stated, Joe. Thanksgiving has always been the holiday where young children learned their true status in the pecking order through banishment to the dreaded "card table", so that grandparents, aunts and uncles could enjoy the esteemed chairs at the family table. It is one of the few remaining traditions where young children are taught to show some respect for age, and to accept some humility. I think it is a status that most children have always been happy to accept, as it removes them from the dreaded "center of attention". I don't think that today's children enjoy their elevated and unearned status as much as the Kindercrats imagine that they do. With elevated status comes elevated expectations, and as with all unearned honors, eventual disappointment.

Epstein takes a few parting shots at the militantly secular:
While secular in tone, Thanksgiving is also slightly religious in spirit. I am having Thanksgiving this year at the home of my son and daughter-in-law, and because of the slight religious nature of the holiday have asked them not to invite Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or any of the rest of the atheist gang, all of whom seem likely, if on the premises, to put a dampening spirit onto the proceedings.

Of course anyone who would interject partisan squabbles into a family celebration should not be welcome, but it is a stretch for Epstein to tar the rest of the "atheist gang" with the bad manners of a few. Maybe Dawkins should be seated at the card table with these guys:

A few years ago, some Christians began to sound the alarm about a "war on Christmas," alleging that schools, courts, and local governments were transforming a sacred holiday into a secularized winter festival. Now, much as the 24-hour Christmas music on the radio seems to start earlier each year, a few believers are voicing their worry about the secularization of our society in November instead of December. Concerned about the eroding religious dimension of Thanksgiving, they urge a return to a more sacred holiday. If the war-on-Christmas crowd asks us to put Christ back into Christmas, these Thanksgiving religionists urge us to celebrate Thanksgiving with the emphasis on thanking God. But complaints about a secularized Thanksgiving are even less convincing than the outcry over Christmas.

As holidays go, Thanksgiving has long suffered from an especially acute spiritual identity crisis. Even the most casually religious Americans say grace or otherwise offer thanks before Thanksgiving dinner—even if the thanking is done between pie-eating binges. On the other hand, it's not as common for us to attend a worship service on Thanksgiving as it is on more obviously religious days like Christmas and Easter. So, just how religious of a holiday should we consider Thanksgiving? Some seem to want to answer that question by telling us exactly how and whom to thank.

In Christianity Today's Leadership Journal, Eric Reed decried a "thankless society" that has forgotten the holiday's putative religious significance. R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called the secular vision of Thanksgiving "empty and false" on the Washington Post religion blog, On Faith. And conservative Web site WorldNetDaily offers up Thanksgiving-themed magnetic bumper stickers that counsel, "Remember to thank HIM"—perhaps an admonition to those who would merely thank their lucky stars.

Now there's a cheery bunch!

I belatedly thank my lucky stars for another year of stimulating, informative and gratifying conversation with the Daily Duck staff and regular contributors. Thank you all!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Geometry

Words to Live By

"... the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.”

-- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Attack of the Vapors

NASA withholding data from pilot survey on air safety

By Rita Beamish, Associated Press | October 23, 2007

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - An unprecedented national survey of pilots by the United States government has found that safety problems such as near collisions and runway interference occur more frequently than previously recognized. But the government is withholding the information because it fears the data would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits.

Rita, your blinkered, philistine, pig-ignorance is showing.

Just to start, the words "unprecedented" and "data" don't mean what you think they do.

In order for something to be unprecedented, that something must never have been known or done before. Had you undertaken an an investigation so cursory as to flirt with non-existence, scarcely anymore than that required to find your nostril with your index finger, you would have quickly learned about NASA’s 30-year-old and highly regarded Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS)—a voluntary, non-punitive program which collects data from pilots and other aviation personnel. The ASRS has several great advantages the methodology-free telephone survey that has you wishing to take a powder lacks:

  • Incentive Except in the case of criminal activity, submitting an ASRS practically ensures the FAA will not undertake certificate action, even if the submitter was at fault.
  • Immediacy In order to obtain immunity from enforcement action, the report must be submitted within 24 hours of the occurrence.
  • Being actual, you know, data. The ASRS submission process ensures incidents will not be double, triple, or quadruple counted.

  • Had you dug just a little deeper (not with your index finger), you might have contacted some airlines to see what reporting systems they have in place. Instead of nearly fainting, you would have discovered that pilots report virtually everything* even the tiniest bit out of the ordinary, and that all of this information is available to the FAA.

    Which might, just might, have led you to reconsider whether you used the word "found" in anything like its traditional meaning, thereby, perhaps, avoiding the dizzying lightheadedness of hyperventilation.


    When it comes to filling out your 1040 this coming April, when you list your occupation as journalist, make sure to use scare quotes.

    * For example, last week I had a tire blow on initial brake application during landing roll-out, due to an anti-skid sensor failure.

    One of 10 main landing gear tires.

    We filed a report.

    I get safety reports that are technically specific to my aircraft, and all operational reports. On average, I read roughly 20 per week.

    What's Wrong with this Picture?

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    What's so great about Christianity?

    That's the title of Dinesh D'souza's new book. Theodore Beale, aka VoxDay, interviews Dinesh on his blog.
    VD: What's So Great About Christianity isn't merely a response to the various atheist books, it's also a positive case for Christianity. What do you consider to be the three most important aspects of that case?

    DD: The first is a case that I try to make that Christianity is responsible for the core institutions and values that secular people and even atheists cherish. If you look at books by leading atheists and you make a list of the values that they care about, things like the right to individual dissent, the notion of personal dignity, equality and respect for women, opposition to social hierarchy and slavery, compassion as a social value, the idea of self-government and representative government, and so forth, you'll see that many of these things came into the world because of Christianity. My point is that even if an atheist is an unbeliever, he should at least acknowledge and respect that Christianity has done a great deal to make our civilization what it is, and is even responsible for many of the values that he cares about.

    Christianity is responsible for bringing compassion into the world? Really? No other society ever fathomed this most basic of human values until a man named Jesus made his appearance in the world? That's just outright ridiculous.

    As far as the right to individual dissent, this is hardly a uniquely Christian accomplishment. The Greco-Roman world prior to the adoption of Christianity allowed considerable latitude in the realm of personal religious beliefs. Certainly there was no inalienable right to freely express any belief, and Christians did suffer from persecutions under Roman rule prior to the adoption of Christianity by the emperors, but such persecutions were neither universally mandated or practiced. Generally the early Christians got into trouble for isolating themselves from the general society and for not declaring allegiance to the state, not for the particular content of their beliefs.

    Contrast that to the Roman world after Constantine brought Christianity into the fold of the state. The persecution of Christians continued, but it was now the case of different theological strains competing with each other to gain orthodox status and the official sanction of the state. The Christian followers of Arianism, Docetism, Manicheanism, Homoeanism and countless other heretical strains of the faith were systematically disenfranchised, denounced and suppressed as orthodox dogma became more narrowly defined through the Machiavellian politics of church councils.

    And one can hardly consider the bloodbath that was the Reformation and Counter Reformation and believe that individual dissent is somehow a first principle of Christianity. That Christians finally turned to religious toleration, after centuries of murderous intolerance can only be seen as a final surrender, an admission of failure in the attempt to structure society upon Christianity. The greatest oppressor of Christians throughout the ages has been Christianity.

    Secular government as we know it in the West today is the result of that failure and of the bloody history of suicidal intolerance inherent to Christianity. Many Christians participated in the formulation of this new foundation for society, but it is a lie to state that it was a strictly Christian affair, when such important thinkers and actors as Hume, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were not Christians.

    But one can credit Christians with finally developing a new synthesis of their faith that allowed them to reconcile it with religious tolerance and secular government. As an accomplishment it ranks as one of mankind's greatest. Christians had to go back to their scriptures and find new interpretations that aligned with the new political philosophies of the Enlightenment. For modern Christians like D'Souza those Christian values of the new synthesis worked out during the Enlightenment seem so natural as to imagine that secular government and religious tolerance were foreordained by Christianity from the start, and are the natural and inevitable products of it. But history does not support such a facile, self-congratulatory interpretation.

    Western Civilization is the result of several interacting influences: Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian and Pagan, and more recently, Skeptic. It is natural for anyone to over-emphasize the influence of their own personal religious tradition and under-emphasize or deny the contributions of the other traditions. It may be a satisfying exercise, but it doesn't yield much in the way of useful knowledge.

    VD: When you point out that atheist leaders have killed several orders of magnitude more human beings than Christian leaders, the usual rebuttal is that the atheists didn't commit their murders “in the name of atheism”. What is your response to that?

    DD: This is Richard Dawkins and it clearly shows what happens when you let a biologist out of the lab. It shows a gross ignorance of history. Communism was an explicitly atheist ideology. Marx was very eager to establish a new Man and a new society liberated from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality. Marx called religion “the opiate of the people” and he very much wanted to see religion removed from the face of the Earth, and he predicted it would be in the Communist utopia. Every Communist regime targeted religion, closed the churches, persecuted the priests, harassed the believers. This was no accident. So, for Dawkins to say that this wasn't being done in the name of atheism just defies rational belief. It's hard for me to believe an intelligent individual would even try to say that.

    When tallying the butcher's bills for various ideologies, I wonder why this item is so often left off the bill:
    The Taiping Rebellion (or Rebellion of Great Peace) was a large-scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing Government in China. It was conducted from 1850 to 1864 by an army and civil administration led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan. He established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Simplified Chinese: 太平天国, Pinyin: Tàipíng Tiān Guó) with capital Nanjing and attained control of significant parts of southern China, at its height ruling over about 30 million people. The theocratic and militaristic regime instituted several social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, suppression of private trade, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by a peculiar form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

    The Taiping areas were constantly besieged and harassed by Qing forces; the rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing army aided by French and British forces. With an estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million due to warfare and resulting starvation, this civil war ranks among history's deadliest conflicts. Mao Zedong viewed the Taiping as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.

    So Mao took his inspiration from a Christian revolutionary! I'm sure you won't read that in D'Souza's book.

    Update: Here's video of a recent debate between D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens.

    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Designer Victimhood

    There's no person more insufferable than the self-identified victim. Victimhood is the new cool. If you can contrive some rationalization for believing that you are being opressed by the majority culture, no matter how implausible the leaps and backflips of logic involved, you can tap into a wellspring of righteous satisfaction that once demanded some actual accomplishment to acheive.

    So it was inevitable that the proponents of Intelligent Design would play the victim card. How else to explain the lack of progress that this pseudo-scientific fairy tale has been able to acheive among the academic elites that rule this country? Its a conspiracy, of course, and those that recognize the truth are the victims of it.

    Just take a gander at this laughable web site set up by annoyingly talentless para-entertainer Ben Stein. On Ben's blog, he lets out this whopper of a diatribe:
    Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism. When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed–i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism “…outdoor relief for the upper classes?”)

    But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out,

    Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

    Now, we know that Imperialism had a short life span. Imperialism was a system that took no account of the realities of the human condition. Human beings do not like to have their countries owned by people far away in ermine robes. They like to be in charge of themselves.

    Imperialism had a short but hideous history–of repression and murder.

    But its day is done.

    Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life.

    Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process.

    Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be. Marxism, another theory which, in true Victorian style, sought to explain everything, is dead everywhere but on university campuses and in the minds of psychotic dictators. Maybe Darwinism will be different. Maybe it will last. But it’s difficult to believe it will. Theories that presume to explain everything without much evidence rarely do. Theories that outlive their era of conception and cannot be verified rarely last unless they are faith based. And Darwinism has been such a painful, bloody chapter in the history of ideologies, maybe we would be better off without it as a dominant force.

    Maybe we would have a new theory: We are just pitiful humans. Life is unimaginably complex. We are still trying to figure it out. We need every bit of input we can get. Let’s be humble about what we know and what we don’t know, and maybe in time, some answers will come.

    Dream on, Stein! If Darwinism was the biological paradigm for the Age of Imperialism, then Intelligent Design is obviously the biological paradigm for the Age of Therapeutic Narcissism. How could any child brought up to believe that he/she is the center of the universe and deserving of all things ever stoop to believe that he/she wasn't brought into the world by an act of divine decree?

    But Ben, you may be still trying to figure things out (and humility has nothing to do with it), but some things have been figured out. As far as its ability to explain the facts as we know them, Darwinism is one of the most successful scientific theories of all time. Although no actual speciation event has been witnessed (I plead ignorance on whether this is the case), the fact of common descent of all living species is so well supported by all fossil and genetic evidence as to make its denial an act of, well, denial.

    But enjoy your victimhood! I hope it is more satisfying than your entertainment career.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007

    From the "You Heard it Here First" file

    Back in May of last year I warned Daily Duck readers of the folly of Google's partnership with MIT to save the world by selling $100 laptops to African children (via their governments, naturally).
    Here is where, if Google were to challenge conventional morality, they should. Giveaways to Africa, that blighted continent of people who seemingly cannot deal with the challenges of life as independent moral agents responsible for their own fates as human beings, are seen nowadays as the sine qua non of humanitarian compassion. Live Aid made African famine relief a popular, if controversial, cause for the global Rock & Roll set. Bono took up the cause, and now demands debt relief for corrupt African governments. Even popular evangelists are not immune to dreaming up questionable schemes for saving Africans from themselves.

    I certainly don't want to disparage the impulse to offer a helping hand to the unfortunate, but Africa's problems are not amenable to giveaways. In fact, they are generally worsened by these giveaways. The first problem is that the giveaways fuel the thriving corruption trade. Whether it is the vainglorious demagogue and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, who has enriched himself while simultaneously benkrupting and destroying his nation, or the warlords of Somalia who enriched themselves on the relief supplies sent to prevent widespread famine, the abuse and misuse of international aid and compassion by corrupt local officials and warlords has defined the post-colonial period in Africa.

    The promise of relief can only foster a cargo cult mentality. The same social disasters that befell inner city communities as a result of widespread welfare programs in the US have been visited upon Africa tenfold. Sustained normalcy and prosperity in Africa will only come when African societies adopt the cultural reforms necessary to support entrepreneurship, democracy and capitalism. These things cannot be given to them, but their development can be thwarted by ill-conceived but well meaning relief programs.

    Again, Page and Brin's reasoning for the laptop giveaway are naive in the extreme. For someone who is too poor to buy a laptop, a gift laptop will most likely be traded or sold for food or money, if it isn't stolen first. Until a community is stable and prosperous enough to allow for normal market activity, the information that can be gained from surfing the internet will be of little use to anyone in the community. And why is Brin so keen to leave adults out of the loop? I think that, to the extent that a community could be strengthened by access to information, it would derive more benefit by giving adults the access before the children. This is obviously one of those "think of the children" impulses.

    But say that these laptops are given out in a community that is stable and prosperous enough to support an internet service provider. Such a community would probably contain a burgeoning entrepreneur community, small local dealers selling low cost computers. The giveaway will hurt their business, short circuiting a necessary business class in its infancy.

    The best thing that Google could do to help Africa would be to enter the market as a for-profit enterprise selling goods and services tailored to the needs of the consumers there. They could partner with the nascent entrepreneurs there, and maybe provide them with drastically discounted, or free laptops to give to customers as an incentive to sign up for an internet account. They'd maybe be criticized as profiteers by the conventional press, but they would truly be helping the Africans out more than they would under the existing scheme.

    The problem with the giveaway mentality is this: where noone is paying for a good, noone is making money. Cargo cults are disastrous for the formation of thriving economies. Why work when you can wait for the cargo gods to provide for you? Unfortunately, this is a case where it would be gooooood for Google to actually be as unconventional as they claim to be.

    It took over a year and a half, but finally the pundits are echoing my call to sanity on the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) crusade:
    Mass production will soon begin on the XO, the "$100 laptop" that MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte believes will change the world. Behind the dream of empowering children through technology, however, lies a reality more complicated and far less idealistic.

    Professor Negroponte believes his non-profit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) can help solve "whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty." Early reviews of OLPC's finished product extol its many innovative features. None of these reviews, however, mention what the XO fails to provide, such as a source of clean drinking water, abundant and nutritious food, or medicines for curable diseases.

    Clearly, Negroponte does not mean that his product will directly solve hunger or poverty, but rather that an advance in education will provide the tools to address these problems. This is a worthy goal, and by all accounts the XO is a worthy educational tool. If OLPC were a charitable organization distributing laptops to poor children, this would be a noble endeavor. But as it stands, the effort is bound to involve exploitation and corruption.

    OLPC's business model actually requires substantial investment from the governments of developing countries, diverting limited resources away from a population's critical needs. The "$100 laptop," which actually costs $188, can only be purchased at a minimum quantity of 250,000. OLPC targets countries like Nigeria, where one out of three children suffer from malnutrition. There a $50 million minimum investment could instead be used to feed more than a million children for an entire year.

    After unloading their product, OLPC relies on the naïve assumption that governments will distribute laptops free of charge to deserving schoolchildren. This blind trust in corrupt governments will deprive children and ensure the creation of a robust XO black market.

    Beyond exploitation, OLPC feels entitled to a monopoly. When Intel produced a rival low-cost laptop, Negroponte proclaimed that "Intel should be ashamed of itself." While he portrays himself as a humble idealist victimized by an Intel-Microsoft conspiracy to price him out of an emerging market, it is clear that Negroponte fails to understand a basic market concept.

    In a free market consumers enjoy the freedom to purchase those products that best suit their needs. When governments make purchasing decisions on behalf of the people, they rob the consumer of that freedom. If OLPC wished to compete in the free market, they would target their product directly to the consumer. By opting instead to lobby for government contracts, OLPC ensures that the XO remains immune from market forces.

    Negroponte speculates that Intel and Microsoft are punishing him for using an AMD processor and the Linux operating system, but the actual motivation is not personal. These companies recognize that consumers in the least developed countries currently have little demand for laptop computers.

    By donating more than 100,000 PCs and providing deeply discounted software, Intel and Microsoft are investing in brand recognition. When consumers someday acquire the means to purchase this technology, the hope is that they will choose Intel and Microsoft products. Ultimately, consumers, not governments, will make the choice.

    If OLPC cannot wait for a laptop market to materialize or distribute the XO exclusively by donation, there are viable alternatives for realizing the project's mission. The use of cell phones is skyrocketing in the developing world. By the end of next year, this market will include 50 percent of the world's population. Mobile devices are an inexpensive, tested technology, and increasingly offer access to the Internet.

    If the goal is to broaden children's horizons through connectivity, why must OLPC reinvent the wheel? Repackaging the XO as an inexpensive mobile device could excite significant consumer demand and make an immediate impact on education. The current plan will have a different impact.

    Children will suffer if governments divert scarce resources away from essential services. To avoid that outcome, professor Negroponte should channel his ingenuity into a product compatible with existing markets. Success will be achieved not by forcing technology on children, but by bringing children to technology.

    I'm hoping that the Intel and Microsoft plan nips OLPC in the bud. What is it about destitute African children that makes rich Westerners want to deny them the blessings of market economics and an experience of building prosperity on their own? And what is it about computers that makes same people all goofy with unrealistic expectations about what they can do in the classroom? Even Steve Jobs had to finally climb down from the heady expectations he had during his early years with Apple Computer that the PC would revolutionize education.

    Do-gooders would do well to heed the advice of Thomas Sowell:
    Among the many mindless mantras of our time, “making a difference” and “giving back” irritate me like chalk screeching across a blackboard.

    I would be scared to death to “make a difference” in the way pilots fly airliners or brain surgeons operate. Any difference I might make could be fatal to many people.

    Making a difference makes sense only if you are convinced that you have mastered the subject at hand to the point where any difference you might make would be for the better.

    Very few people have mastered anything that well beyond their own limited circle of knowledge. Even fewer seem to think far enough ahead to consider that question. Yet hardly a day goes by without news of some uninformed busybodies on one crusade or another.

    Even the simplest acts have ramifications that spread across society the way waves spread across a pond when you drop a stone in it.

    Among those who make a difference by serving food to the homeless, how many have considered the history of societies which have made idleness easy for great numbers of people?

    How many have studied the impact of drunken idlers on other people in their own society, including children who come across their needles in the park — if they dare to go to the parks?

    How many have even considered such questions relevant as they drop their stone in the pond without thinking about the waves that spread out to others?

    Maybe some would still do what they do, even if they thought about it. But that doesn’t mean that thinking is a waste of time.

    You can add "change the world" to Sowell's list of chalkboard-screeching phrases. The day that we stop feeding this line of drivel to our young people will be a happy day in my book.

    Sunday, November 04, 2007

    Home sale update

    Today I signed a sales agreement for my house. It was on the market for 10 days. For this market, I think that I got very lucky, even though I came down 9% from my asking price. I'll close on Dec 31st, and will be looking to find a job in the Phoenix area and move down there early in the year, to be near my daughter and wife.

    Thank you for your support.

    Saturday, November 03, 2007

    Metaphor Shmetaphor

    Is God a metaphor for an ineffable mystery, or is He really a bearded, imposing sky-stud with a wicked temper and a mean right hook? In past discussions of religion on this blog I've been accused by my religious co-debaters of positing a cartoon cutout strawman God who, I'm told, is not representative of the modern, sophisticated, rational Judeo-Christian believer, but is rather a throwback to some bygone day when wily churchmen indulged the wooly idolatries of their inbred pagan converts to speed them, and their descendants, into the saving graces of the Church. God's personal nature is merely a metaphor, I am told, a way for the human mind to approach the ineffable nature of eternal truth.

    Well I don't know if the wine-sipping New York sophisticates who write for Father John Neuhaus' magazine First Things are still in outreach mode for wooly, inbred pagans, but you would have to conclude so after reading this post from Neuhaus:
    In the pages of First Things, I’ll be coming back to Gerald McDermott new book, God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? (InterVarsity). Meanwhile, a comment on an appendix to the book in which he explains why he uses the masculine pronoun in referring to God. This, as you know, is a very big issue with some feminist or “womanist” theologians. Some of them simply switch genders, using “she” and “her, or using them alternately with “he” and “him,” but that results only in highlighting the gender-specificity that they want to overcome.

    As McDermott notes, others prefer expressions such as “Godself,” but this undermines the understanding that God is a person. “It is particularly important,” he writes, “to highlight God’s personhood when discussing religions that deny it. Philosophical Hindus and Buddhists, for example, insist there is no personal God because there is finally no distinction between God and the cosmos.”

    The Christian God is not “an amorphous essence” but the Father whose Son died on the cross. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “[These] are not human constructions in response to ineffable religious experiences, but names for God given to humans by God himself. The very names encapsulate the entire story of the triune God.” The names are not our “metaphors” but God’s self-revelation as Father, Son, and Spirit.

    So which is it? Hairy Thunderer or Cosmic Muffin?

    Right Bet, Wrong Year

    It appears that my bet with Oroborous that oil would hit $100/barrel by December of 2006 was a year too soon:
    NEW YORK (AP) -- The prospect of a stronger economy and word of possible new U.N. sanctions against Iran sent crude oil futures back above $96 a barrel Friday, while retail gasoline prices extended their own march higher.

    The Labor Department reported that employers boosted payrolls by 166,000 jobs in October, the biggest increase in months and double what economists had forecast. Meanwhile, October's unemployment rate held steady at 4.7 percent. Separately, the Commerce Department said factory orders rose 0.2 percent in September, better than the 0.4 percent decline analysts were expecting.

    "It suggests that concerns about the economy ... are overblown a little bit," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research Inc., in Winchester, Mass.

    Oil futures added to their gains late Friday when the British Foreign Office said the U.N. Security Council has agreed to draft a new sanctions resolution that could be passed in November if Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency does not improve. Investors worry that any conflict between the West and Iran would disrupt oil supplies from the Middle East.

    Light, sweet crude for December delivery rose $2.44 to settle at a record $95.93 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after rising as high as $96.05 earlier, short of a trading record of $96.24 set Thursday. On Thursday, oil prices retreated from that early record to close down more than $1, in part because of dismal reports on consumer spending and industrial activity that also factored into the Dow Industrial's 362-point decline.

    Crude prices are within the range of inflation-adjusted highs set in early 1980. Depending on the how the adjustment is calculated, $38 a barrel then would be worth $96 to $103 or more today.

    As they say, timing is everything.

    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Friday Morning Shades of Gray