Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Evangelism

I've been thinking about evangelical Christianity -- and particularly about deathbed evangelism. You know the sort of thing I'm talking about: a longtime athiest is dying in the hospital, and a Christian relative comes in at the last minute to try to bring salvation. My gut reaction is what I take to be the pretty standard liberal line; in the words of my friend Mandy:
Dude, I'd be PISSED if I were dying and some self-rightous idiot tried to convert me on my deathbed. If I had wanted to believe in something, I would have done it during my life and not tried to cheaply redeem myself at the last possible second. Someone tried to do this to my stepfather, an atheist, as he lay in a coma during his last days, and when I heard about it I felt violated for him because I knew he couldn't do anything to stop the person, which he would have if he hadn't been busy dying. It's like raping someone with religion.
Mandy says she'd be pissed off if someone hoisted religion on her on the deathbed. I'd feel the same way. But when I try to consider the Christian's point of view, I start to think that's not the relevant consideration. We liberals need to be careful about over-generalizing the principle that we shouldn't force our worldview onto others. *Sometimes*, it's appropriate to force things like moral beliefs onto others. For instance, we should *not* be tolerant of people who like to rape children. If a man likes to rape children, he should be stopped. Liberals will often try to explain away the significance of this obvious fact by claiming that we're doing something other than using our own moral beliefs to decide policy, and being intolerant of alternative worldviews -- but that's just what we're doing. And of course, in this case, that is exactly the right thing to do, because the moral beliefs in question are the right ones to have. How does this relate? Well, consider the point of view of the author of the deathbed evangelizer (or indeed, someone who evangelizes in other circumstances). She believes that when people die, they either spend eternity in torture in hell, or in bliss in heaven. And she also believes that the presense or absense of one particular action -- repenting and accepting Jesus -- in life is what determines which way we go. To me, this belief seems difficult to justify, but I recognize that lots of smart people believe things like this. I don't get it at all, but I'll set that aside. Given that a person has this belief, the type of rabid evangelism that so many of us view as an affront starts to look a lot less inappropriate. To see this, suppose that the belief is true; that evangelical Christianity correctly explains what happens after we die. I'm laying in the hospital, terminally ill, with days or hours left to live. Some relative comes in and trys one last time to convert me to Christianity. Since I'm not already a Christian, presumably, I do not believe in heaven, hell, salvation, etc. Since we're supposing that that IS the way the world works, that means that I'm just wrong about what happens post-death. So here comes the Christian relative, trying to save me -- and yeah, I'm annoyed. I tell her, you're not respecting my rational autonomy! You're not valuing me as an agent who makes his own decisions! I've lived my whole life as an athiest, and I have the right to die as an athiest! But it seems like none of this matters. If Christianity *is* correct, then once I'm dead, if I'm in hell, I'm going to be desperately wishing I'd listened. And if I'm in heaven, I'm going to be very, very grateful for the last-minute saving. I'd remember how upset I'd been at the time, but I'd realize that he was, in fact, acting out of love, and with my best interests at heart. If pestering me on my deathbed is the only way to send me to heaven instead of to hell, then by all means, pester me on my deathbed. And I think something like this argument will even go through on the assumption that evangelical Christianity is *false*. Suppose I walk down the street and see what appears to be a person lying on the street, covered in blood, writhing in agony. I ought to stop and help him. I should administer first aid if I know how, and I should call for help. Now fill out the story: suppose that the person was only pretending to be gravely injured, and that it was a fun game, and that my attempts to help him disrupted his concentration and ruined his afternoon. I'm not criticizable for trying to help him, since I had the reasonable and false belief that he needed help. In fact, it would be a horrible thing for me to just walk on by. That would be evidence that I don't care about the suffering of those around me. It seems to me that the evangelical Christian might be like I am in that story. She have false beliefs about what we need, and they try to help us accordingly. The problem is in the belief, not in the action. I would be hurt if I knew that someone who professed to care about me believed that by talking to me, she might've successfully saved me from eternal damnation, and didn't even try. What's the upshot of all this? I definitely do *not* want the evangelicals of the world to redouble their efforts to bring me to Christ. But I think what this sort of consideration shows is that it's not reasonable to just ask them to hold onto their beliefs, minus the going forth to all nations making disciples part. The problem is not that they're trying to force their beliefs onto others -- the problem is that their beliefs are wrong. I think this means that we athiests have to either gratefully accept the annoying but virtuous intentions of the evangelicals, or be willing to engage their religious convictions; willing to try to bring them around to our worldview. We liberals should have a knee-jerk reaction against this suggestion, but if we're serious about the unacceptability of this sort of evangelism, the way that we're serious about the unacceptability of raping children, then this seems to be the appropriate course. (I'm not committing to that last alternative. Maybe we should just put up with it all. But we should NOT continue to criticize the actions while holding the beliefs to be above reproach. The beliefs make the actions appropriate.)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Giving opportunities

I thought I'd pass on this couple of pluts from the radical leftist fringe group MoveOn.org, which hates America almost as much as it hates Christmas. Oh yeah, also families.
Dear MoveOn member, This is a cherished time of year, when we take time out from the workaday world to focus on our families and friends. Our thoughts also naturally go to those in harm's way -- the young American men and women who won't be with their families this holiday season, and the Iraqi refugee families that face a long, cold winter. That's why we're highlighting two opportunities for MoveOn members to reach out in the holiday spirit to the people who are paying the true costs of war. For the 160,000 men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, even a holiday call home can be prohibitively expensive. That's why the United Service Organizations (USO) has launched "Operation Phone Home" to provide phone cards to every soldier who wants one in time for the holidays. With just a few days left, the USO is still trying to hit its goal, and MoveOn members can make the difference. To send a phone card, just go to: http://www.uso.org/pubs/8_20_2733.cfm This is a great way of showing that those of us who didn't support the Iraq war still support and appreciate the sacrifice of the people who were called to serve in it. And this kind of small-scale giving can snowball into large-scale benefits for the troops. After MoveOn members and many others donated millions of frequent flyer miles to bring soldiers home during their leave, the Pentagon was compelled to fully fund all future flights themselves. Your leadership made the difference then, and it can do so again. War takes its toll on civilians as well as soldiers. Massive numbers of Iraqi families that have been displaced by the escalating violence. Because conditions are so dangerous, humanitarian relief organizations have withdrawn from Iraq, and the Iraqi winter is closing in. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is one of the very few international organizations still daring to bring vital services directly to Iraqi civilians. You can make your donation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and earmark it for Iraq, at: http://www.ifrc.org/helpnow/donate/donate_response.asp The IFRC is racing to help hundreds of thousands of refugees survive the winter by providing blankets, heaters, and basic medical supplies. In the face of increased insurgent violence targeted at government schools, the Red Crescent has mounted an effort to equip every school with first aid training and basic medical supplies. They've also been charged with maintaining the rapidly growing number of orphanages in the most war-torn parts of the country. Most of our holiday traditions revolve around the simple metaphor of bringing light into the darkness. For us here at MoveOn, you're the single greatest source of light we know. We're awed and honored to be working with you. Because of you, we know there are brighter times ahead. Have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A completely true story

FBC readers may have noticed that I've been thinking a lot about the philosophy of fiction lately. I saw Finding Neverland yesterday (very good), and it began with the caption, "Inspired by true events". In this particular case, the movie was inspired by actual events, but suppose it hadn't. I don't think that would've been an act of deception on the part of the movie makers. Suppose that the prologue to Star Wars went like this:
The following is the true story of what occurred a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.
In that case, the "this is a true story" line is a part of the fiction. In a movie inspired by events, the "this is a true story" bit is intuitively *not* a part of the fiction. So what's the difference?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Coolness

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. That's finals for you. Expect to find more content here soon, if you look for it, and expect me to start reading your blog again if you're one of the blogs I read. Briefly, now, before packing and then bed: I was poking around Southwest Airlines's web site, and discovered a cool feature -- flight status text messaging to cell phones! I entered in my flight number and cell phone number, and they'll text message me if my flight is delayed or something like that. It works for pagers, email addresses, and PDA's, too. Merry Christmas, everyone. My semester is finally over, and I'll have time to be back on the internet again starting very soon.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

My jaw is still hanging open

Is this really happening? Is Fafblog still satire? Here's an honest-to-God AP story (excerpted merely for brevity). My emphasis.
WASHINGTON - Under detailed questioning by a federal judge, government lawyers asserted Wednesday the U.S. military can hold foreigners indefinitely as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even if they aided terrorists unintentionally and never fought the United States. Could a “little old lady in Switzerland” who sent a check to an orphanage in Afghanistan be taken into custody if unbeknownst to her some of her donation was passed to al-Qaida terrorists? asked U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green. “She could,” replied Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle. “Someone’s intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention.” It would be up to a newly established military review panel to decide whether to believe her and release her. Boyle said the military can pick any foreigner who provides support to terrorists or might know of their plans. And the foreigners held on the U.S. naval base in Cuba “have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court,” Boyle told the judge. “That’s really shocking,” Thomas B. Wilner, attorney for 12 Kuwaiti detainees, told reporters after Green’s hearing. “People throughout the world will fear the United States is asserting the power to pick up little old ladies and men who made a mistake.” ... Green asked if a hypothetical resident of England who teaches English to the son of an al-Qaida leader could be detained. Boyle said he could because “al-Qaida could be trying to learn English to stage attacks there,” and he compared that aid to “those shipping bullets to the front.” Some detainees have been picked up in Bosnia and others in Africa. 'Where is the battlefield?' Noting the Supreme Court said detention was to keep combatants from returning to the battlefield, Green asked, “What and where is the battlefield the U.S. military is trying to detain the prisoners from returning to? Africa? London?” Boyle: “The conflict with al-Qaida has a global reach.” ...
Hat tip: Fafblog. I give money to Oxfam, which gives badly-needed aid all over the world. If some of that aid ever happens to indirectly benefit Al-Queda -- say, for instance, that Oxfam's aid saves childrens' lives in Sudan, and some of those children grow up to be terrorists -- will the government come after me? One thing is for sure: if the United States government ever subjects me to torture for accidentally abetting terrorism, I'm going in with a sense of righteous indignation.

Social Security explained

John Quiggan at Crooked Timber has a very nice post, laying out the complicated political issues having to do with Social Security. Good reading for those of us who don't know what all the talk is about quite as well as we ought to.

Stem-Cell Research

Jeremy Pierce has a post about a paralyzed Korean woman who has regained her ability to walk, thanks to spinal cord blood (not embryonic) stem cells. Jeremy says:
So does this vindicate the Kerry-Edwards proposal to expand government funding for embryonic stem cell research, which California has already now done with their own state funding? Well, look at the fine print. It turns out this wasn't from embryonic stem cells at all. These are cord blood stem cells. ... This is actually an important discovery for the pro-life argument against needing embryonic stem cells for this kind of thing. There's still greater potential for embryonic cells if the overcome the biggest obstacle to using them at all, which there's been no progress on, but cord blood stem cells do in fact work for this sort of thing, so I don't know how embryonic stem cell advocates can see this as anything more than a mixed result for them.
I heard about this story from Tony Perkins, at the Right-Wing Family Research Council. His response was, predictably, similar to Jeremy's:
In what will likely be a recurring theme, the pro-life community can say to supporters of embryonic stem cell research, we told you so. A South Korean woman paralyzed for twenty years is walking again after her spinal cord was treated with stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. Advocates of embryonic stem cell research can only dream about this type of result. The difference between the use of embryos and the use of umbilical cord blood is literally the difference between life and death, between cures and false hopes. The killing of human embryos for scientific research crosses an ethical line, but, as science proves, actual cures are to be found with stem cells obtained ethically. There is now walking evidence that there is no justification for destroying embryos for failed science, much less using taxpayer money for embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells obtained from cord blood and other ethical sources should be regarded as the hope of the future, rather than science that kills human life for the sake of some researcher's curiosity. The scientific world and the public officials who subsidize their work with taxpayer money should take notice.
Jeremy is right, of course -- this news doesn't particularly vindicate those of us who support embroyonic stem cell research. But Perkins definitely goes too far when he says this constitutes an argument against embryonic stem cell research. Why should progress in one area count as an argument against doing research in another area? I don't feel like embryonic stem-cell research is in particular need of vindication at all; embroyonic stem cells *might* cure important things, or might just lead to useful -- or even merely interesting -- scientific advancement, and that by itself is a perfectly good reason to use them. I guess arguments like the one that Jeremy aptly observes doesn't apply here, which I don't particularly care about, might be important for a supporter of this research who believes that embroyos have moral worth, and that destroying them is, ceteris paribus, morally wrong. That person would need to justify destroying embroyos with good evidence that in the end, more good will come of it. But I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone endorse that combination of views.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Critics call the bill censorship

You think? Lawmaker seeks ban on books with gay characters.
Allen said no state funds should be used to pay for materials that foster homosexuality. He said that would include nonfiction books that suggest homosexuality is acceptable and fiction novels with gay characters.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Cult of the Untrue

I've been working on revising a paper I wrote last spring. My two goals were to (1) make it a better paper, and (2) make it a length suitable for conference submission. I think -- mind I say, I think -- I accomplished both goals. I apply some of the work I've been doing in the philosophy of imagination to a fictionalism about normativity that can be found in Nietzsche. If you're interested in checking it out, I'd be delighted to hear comments, criticisms, suggestions, etc.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hell of a country

In case any of you think that maybe, things aren't quite as bad as they look, and this country isn't *really* regressing on tolerance and civil liberties, I direct your attention to this story in today's New York Times:
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit yesterday against a Missouri high school that twice admonished a gay student for wearing T-shirts bearing gay pride messages. The suit charges that the school violated the youth's constitutional right to free expression. By the account of the civil liberties union, the student, Brad Mathewson, a 16-year-old junior, was sent to the principal's office at Webb City High School on Oct. 20 for wearing a T-shirt that he said came from the Gay-Straight Alliance at a school he previously attended, in Fayetteville, Ark. The shirt bore a pink triangle and the words "Make a Difference!" Mr. Mathewson, the A.C.L.U. said, was told to turn the shirt inside out or go home and change. ... A week later, Mr. Mathewson was again admonished for wearing a gay pride T-shirt, this one featuring a rainbow and the inscription "I'm gay and I'm proud." Told once more to turn the shirt instead out or leave, he chose to go home and was eventually ordered not to return to school wearing clothing supporting gay rights. ... Mr. Mathewson began attending the school, outside Joplin, in September. In a statement issued by the civil liberties union, he said: "The school lets other students wear antigay T-shirts, and I understand that they have a right to do that. I just want the same right. I think tolerating each other's differences is a key part in teaching students how to become good citizens."
And if this isn't depressing enough, check out the latest from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:
"Did it turn out that, by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America? I don't think so."
There you have it -- seperation of church and state is worthless because it didn't prevent the Holocaust! These stories hit me hard after my day began with NPR's coverage of 'intelligent design' in public school science classes, where a woman explained how taking prayer out of schools leads to godlessness which leads to Columbine massacres. Take that, Michael Moore. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Monkeys!

This is the new greatest website ever. It's designed to test the old adage that "If you have enough monkeys banging randomly on typewriters, they will eventually type the works of William Shakespeare." I've used my computer to simulate 1.95 * 10^37 pages of random monkey-typing, and so far, the best string is this one:
King. So shaken as EHwtqcUcURFdhyih;BDXbSkh6Q8z;w(...
It matches the first 19 characters of The First Part of King Henry the Fourth! This is so cool... I'm determined to beat that record of 22 characters. Hat tip: Brian Weatherson.

Monday, November 22, 2004

I call it the "don't play defense" strategy

Adam Vinateri just kicked a field goal. There is 01:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots are kicking off, up eight points. The Chiefs, of course, will try to score a touchdown and two-point conversion, to drive the game into overtime. This seems like the sort of position where something really unusual might be the rational strategy. Suppose that the Patriots kicked the ball off and instructed all the coverage people to just sit down and let the Chiefs score on the kickoff. Chiefs get a free touchdown, bringing the Pats margin to two points. Now the Patriots play their very best defense against the two-point conversion attempt. If they can stop it, they get the ball back with a buck thirty left in the game and a two point lead -- pretty close to a certain victory. If they can't, then the game is tied and the Pats get that 1:30 to put together a game-winning drive. Fifty yards and a chance for Vinateri to be a hero yet again. You have to like the Pats's odds under those circumstances. Playing conventionally, the Patriots have to spend the last 1:42 trying to stop a drive. In this case, the Chiefs have a very explosive offense, and just finished putting up a 97-yard drive, and the Patriots's secondary is weakened by injury. It seems like my suggestion would be the rational course of action if the Patriots think they can more easily score than stop the Chiefs from scoring. I'm not sure the relative strengths of offense and defense were to that point, but it's not crazy to suggest they might've been. As it happens, during the time it took me to write this post, the Patriots stopped the Chiefs's drive and won the game. Still, though, my way would've been pretty cool.

Arthur Sullivan

Today is the 104th anniversary of the death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, one of the two men responsible for the best body of light opera in existence. Sadly, last night also marked the death of Jim Farron, the man responsible for the best internet resource for that body in existence. Thank you, Jim.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Split Brains

Brad Templeton runs a fun blog, absolutely FULL of cool ideas. In his really fascinating and exciting latest, Brad considers the surprising independence of the two hemispheres of the human brain. The left brain and the right brain are connected by a series of neural channels called the corpus callosum. In rare cases, usually having to do with severe epilepsy, the corpus callosum is intentionally severed, resulting in a fascinating dual-brain individual. the left and right brains are literally unable to communicate, and *know different things*. It's really fascinating and shocking and surprising, and challenges a lot of our assumptions about personal identity. Anyway, that's all background, and is known by anyone who's ever taken a course in human neurospychology. Now Brad's insight:
It seems plausible one could apply a temporary anesthetic to the corpus callosum, and temporarily split a person into two brains. Today that might require drastic steps like brain surgery. In the future it's not hard to imagine a specialized drug or highly targetted drug delivery or nanobots to temporarily numb and disable the zone, without too much shutdown of adjacent tissue.
Ever since learning about split-brain patients, I've been fascinated by the possibility, and wondered what it would be like to experience life that way. Brad's idea seems non-absurd. We could study the phenomenon in a much more controlled way, using Brad's suggested technique. Students would volunteer in labs to have their brains split. I sit here and wonder what it would be like for me to undergo that procedure, but I guess I should wonder what it'd be like for *us*. It boggles a mind. Maybe both.

Prudence

We've been discussing Nagel on altruism in The Nature of Morality lately. Nagel draws a parallel between prudence -- taking my own future interests as providing reasons -- and altruism -- taking others' interests as providing reasons. There's some question as to whether prudence in this sense is really partly constitutive of rationality; maybe it's just a contingent fact that we're presently interested in our own future well-being. I guess that's Calvin's view, here (link is to a bigger picture): Update: Spelled out more clearly what the hell I'm talking about in the comments.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Fasting

The fast has begun. If I'm rude or impatient with you Thursday, forgive me.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Global focus on hunger

Oxfam at Brown hosted a hunger banquet last night. Participants were randomly sorted into three groups -- high income (15%), middle income (25%), and low income (60%). The high income group had pasta and salad and a really nice meal at a table. The middle income group had beans and rice, with plates and silverware and chairs. The low income group sat on the floor and ate rice with their hands. There was some good discussion that followed -- people seemed really moved by the inequality in the room, which obviously was designed to mirror that of the world. We had a speaker come in after the meal. Janet Cooper-Nelson's talk, I'm sorry to say, rubbed me a little wrongly. It's possible that I just misunderstood her, but she seemed to be saying something like this: When we think about miserable people in third-world countries who live on less than one dollar per day and walk five miles to work in the rain with no umbrella and cannot afford a second meal per day or medicine for their children, and brush their teeth with ashes and their fingers because they can't afford anything more appropriate, it's difficult to imagine being that unfortunate. We have a hard time conceiving of ourselves falling to that level. But there are unfortuanate people who are much closer to us, too. People in Rhode Island with college degrees get a few tough breaks and end up unable to pay rent. We can imagine that happening to us -- it really could happen to us. Therefore, we should focus our energy on being good friends and support systems for the people around us. They need help, and we can make their lives better. I think that's pretty bad reasoning. It's true, as a matter of psychological fact, that it's difficult for us to imagine being as poor as most of the people in the world are. Why does that matter? We understand the important part -- that these people are miserable, and that therefore, if we can help them, then we should. I just don't see that the failure of imagination on our part tells in any way against the importance of helping these people, unless we think that the reason we should help people depends on something about our own thoughts. Now I'm no Kantian, but in this case, he'd be *right* to have a fit at that suggestion. The reason I should help relieve suffering in Sudan has nothing to do with me or what I'm capable of imagining -- it has everything to do with millions of suffering people who need help. Obviously, there is suffering at home, too, and helping people is good, period. But I think that a speaker who is advising us to focus on those around us *instead of* those far away (many of whom are much, *much* worse off than almost anybody in Rhode Island) is acting irresponsibly, and sends the wrong message for a group like Oxfam. Especially at the conclusion of an event with clear international focus. Every participant was assigned a name and a story along with an income group. Almost all were non-American. The *point* of this event was to raise awareness of global inequality with respect to food. At least, that's what I thought the point was. I've discussed this via email with a couple of Oxfam members, and I plan to bring it up at our weekly meeting tomorrow. It turns out, the more I think about it, the more strongly I find myself feeling about it. I'm nervous about shaking up a really important group, but I think it's also important that we're on the same page as to what we stand for, etc.

Imagination and Theoretical Inference

I spent the weekend at the Virginia Tech Graduate Philosophy Conference, where I presented my paper on dreaming and imagination. It went over well, I think -- it seemed to get people interested. It also got *me* interested in it again. Here's a question I've been focusing on for the past couple of days, largely thanks to insightful questions by Colin Klein and Jason Decker: how is it that imaginings can lead to beliefs? They clearly can and do -- I imagine one figure rotating and moving to the position of another and form the belief that they are congruent, or I imagine a fistfight between Al Sharpton and Al Gore and form the belief that Al Sharpton would win such a fight, or I imagine my apartment burning down and how I would react to it, and form the belief that I don't have a good enough evacuation plan. How does this work? I'd like to be able to tell a story about this on the model of theoretical inference, so the first step for me will be to figure out how plain old reasoning works -- I believe that p and I believe that p implies q, and I somehow manage to form the belief that q. I'd like to read up on how that works. Any suggestions? I know John Broome talked some about that here at Brown last year... pointers to published papers, online resources, etc. would be very welcome.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fast for a World Harvest

I will be participating in a thirty-hour hunger awareness fast next week, from 2:00 a.m. Wednesday night to 8:00 a.m. Friday morning. It is organized by the Brown University Oxfam group in order to raise money to combat poverty, starvation, and general misery in Sudan. More information on our fast is here. If any readers are willing to sponsor my fast, a few dollars can really go a long way to relieve suffering for the people who need it most. Drop me an email or a comment.

Go Google!

I got a rather mundane instance of "give me your bank account and credit card numbers quick before it's too late" spam today. But I noticed something new -- Gmail attached a warning to the front of it!
Warning: This message may not be from whom it claims to be. Beware of following any links in it or of providing the sender with any personal information. Learn more
Google explains their policy:
Google is currently testing a service designed to alert Gmail users to messages that appear to be phishing attacks. When the Gmail team becomes aware of such an attack, the details of these messages are used to automatically identify future suspected phishing attacks. The result: when a Gmail user opens a suspected phishing message, Gmail displays a warning. Gmail's phishing alerts operate automatically, much like spam filtering. Gmail's spam filters automatically divert messages that are suspected of being unwanted messages into 'Spam'. Similarly, Gmail's phishing alerts automatically display warnings with messages that are suspected of being phishing attacks so that users know to take care before providing any personal information.
That's a fantastic idea. I hope that other email services will follow Google's lead, here, and that far fewer people will fall prey to these ridiculous scams. It's absurd that spamming can be so lucrative. My only complaint: thanks, Google, for tagging the bad message -- by why not move it to the spam folder while you're at it?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Those tree-hugging moderates

So the Right is up in arms about some of its members not being Right enough. Here's Tony Perkins:
Yesterday, Senator Arlen Specter spent much of the day defending his comments saying that, if chosen to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he would establish a litmus test against pro-life judges. [NOTE: Sadly, this is not true. -Jonathan] The untold story in this battle is that he won reelection to the Senate last week directly because President Bush and Senator Rick Santorum, two decidedly pro-life men, came to his side during a tight primary race against pro-life challenger Pat Toomey. Rather than expressing support for the men who helped return him to the Senate, Arlen Specter is now opposing their pro-life values. This is the height of arrogance and ingratitude. President Bush and Sen. Santorum need to remember their role in reelecting Sen. Specter to the Senate. If they want to protect their values, and the values of the vast majority of Americans, they need to ask whether or not they want Sen. Specter in control of the confirmation process. The President and Sen. Santorum can provide much-needed leadership to this debate. If the Republican Party continues to support moderates who are out of step with the American people, we will continue to see the arrogance that Sen. Specter continues to flaunt. It is time for them to weigh in with Republican senators and offer another alternative to a Specter chairmanship.
My emphasis and added brackets. Mark down November 2004 as the date when "moderate" joined "liberal" as a pejorative.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Rules of Rooting

Matt Weiner has a fascinating post on the rationality of rooting for football teams in certain circumstances. The basic question, as I understand it, is this: suppose that I am a Cleveland Browns fan, and don't care about any other football teams one way or the other. My only football interest is in the success of the Cleveland Browns. Suppose that one week, the Browns play the Ravens, and defeat them. The next week, the Ravens play the Steelers. Should I root for the Ravens? Matt says:
Here's the argument for so rooting: You want X to be as successful as possible. The better X is, the more successful they will be (most likely). The better Y is, the more evidence X's previous victory provides that X is good. So if Y beats Z, you have more evidence that your goal will be achieved. The argument against rooting for Y is basically this: What happens between Y and Z has no effect on X's fortunes. All you care about is X's fortunes. So why should you care what happens between Y and Z?
Both arguments do seem somewhat compelling, which is why we have a genuine puzzle. Add for further consideration that many of us, I think, *would* root for the Ravens under those circumstances. I guess I consider that to be weak evidence that it's rational so to do. Following are a few random thoughts on the issue: Maybe we're not *only* concerned with the success of the Browns -- maybe we also care about *respect* given to the Browns. (Or *maybe*, and I'm getting more and more tenuous, I know, respect given to the Browns is partially constitutive of their success.) It's also worth noting that it's contingent on the way the NFL works that the Ravens' future performance does not affect the Browns' future success; in college football, 'stregnth of schedule' considerations affect BCS standings, so it is clearly rational to root for previous opponents of the preferred team. I guess these two points might be applied as attempts to 'explain away' the intuition that it is rational to root for the Ravens. Matt sets up the example, as I did above, with the preferred team having *beaten* the team we're now considering rooting for. I don't see that this is critical -- even if the Browns had *lost* to the Ravens, there is still exactly the same argument for rooting for the Ravens: the better the Ravens are, the less bad that loss looks. Maybe grudge factors come into play, but I suspect they're not rational.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Elegy for a Democratic Candidate

Savannah wrote a poem!
Now that November's nipped our bums With frost and desolation, And Bush and all his right-wing chums Have swept our mooing nation, When tears bedew my shining cheeks, I weep not for John Kerry, Who pandered to gun-toting freaks And would not let gays marry. I do not mourn for Howard Dean Despite his peacenik creds, And Sharpton was a drama queen, And Lieberman on meds. And Clark did tend towards mumbling, All plumed with hawkish feathers, And Edwards, well, he's stumbling, A vane for all our weathers. No, when I mourn the Democrats Who should wear Honesty And Moral Values and White Hats And Being Strong and Free And Peace and Civil Liberty And Eating All Your Spinach For all America to see, I weep for sweet Kucinich. Kucinich had a crooked smile That winked at all our whining. Kucinich walked a crooked mile With footsteps straight and shining. Kucinich was for Peace and Love And Hugs instead of Hitting, Kucinich was a cooing dove While all the hawks were spitting. Kucinich used his inside voice And loved his fellow man. And one state made the Kooch its choice At the con-ven-ti-on. But all the others lost their way And nominated Kerry, And with conviction Bush could stab, And John could only parry. So on this dark November day I mourn our country's fate, And hope that we can find our way And that it's not too late To find our lib'ral souls again, And learn how not to mooch, To stand up proud from 'mid our pain And win one for the Kooch.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Moral Issues

The general consensus seems to be that voters were more concerned about 'moral issues' than about war. And everyone seems to respect the dichotomy. How can anyone -- let alone everyone -- consider war not to be a moral issue?

...and the winner is...

...definitely the Christian Right. I think that John Kerry is right to hold off on conceding, just in case, but at this point it would take a miracle for him to win the election. It's time for me to gradually start reconciling myself with the idea of a second Bush term. There are a lot of things I'm afraid of, but I'll start facing them in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, I'm reeling. I invested a lot in John Kerry, in terms of time, energy, and emotional capital. And, for a poor grad student, a non-trivial amount of money. What a depressing night. For now, here's what I took from the election itself: the clearest thing to me is, 2004 represented a *tremendous* victory for the Religious Right. It turned out in droves, and it elected its man. (It also emphatically banned gay marriage in eleven states.) At one point in the evening, I heard the CNN people saying that Kerry won convincingly among moderate voters. In an election with record turnout, Kerry won convincingly among moderate voters, and did not convincingly win the election. The Christian Right demonstrated yesterday that it is powerful enough to determine a nation-wide election, more or less all by itself. This could change everything.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Trusting the Media

Emily points me to a poll at the San Francisco Chronicle online. Here's the version as of 10:00 Tuesday night:
And Jon Stewart's GOP correspondent just said, "The numbers? This is not a man who's going to let the numbers keep him from moving America forward. ... Waiting for election results is a sign of weakness."

Biggest lie yet from Focus on the Family

I haven't been this nervous in a long, long time. The latest thing that disgusts me is an email from my old friend, Focus on the Family. They say the following in their "Citizenlink email update" yesterday:
Bin Laden Threatens Those Who Vote for Bush The videotaped message from Osama bin Laden broadcast Friday threatens any state that supports President Bush in the election may be targeted for attack, the New York Post reported. Bin Laden refers to Bush as a "white thug" and is angry that the president chose to stand up and fight -- and those who are Bush supporters are considered as the enemy. The message, according to a new translation of it, indicated that states John Kerry wins on Tuesday will be seen as trying to make peace with bin Laden and his followers. The Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors and translates Arabic media, noted that bin Laden timed the release in order to divide the nation during elections -- hoping to tilt the vote toward Kerry.
In addition to being irresponsibly misleading, this statement is a blatant lie. Here is the transcript of the bin Laden address. Can you find the passage where bin Laden threatens Kerry states? It's things like this that make me think twice about free speech, because you just *know* a bunch of people are going to get this email and think, ooh, bin Laden's not going to scare me, I'm going to go vote for Bush!, who might not have otherwise voted. UPDATE: I may have spoken too soon. The National Review argues for the same conclusion that FOTF does, but they actually *argue* for it. I don't know if they're right or not, but apparently it's a position for which there actually can be arguments. Still, it's pretty bad of them to have plainly stated it as an uncontroversial fact.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Induction

Kieran at CT points to a new reason for optimism: in every election year in the seventy-one year history of the Washington Redskins, they've won their last game before election day when and only when the Presidential incumbant has gone on to lose the election. The Packers beat the 'Skins today -- if the winning of football games and of Presidential elections are natural kinds, and thus able to enter into law-like generalizations, this bodes well.

If there is a force for justice in the universe...

...it will work towards the Ravens' defeat of the Eagles, and especially of Terrell Owens, today.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Key Endorsement

John Kerry seems to have won the hamster vote. Hat tip: Shari.

Fake Barn CountryWe

Continuing TISTAT's access-denied theme, Fake Barn Country is having some issues. SPAM was up last week by more than a little, and since yesterday, we've been unable to log in to delete SPAM or write new entries. I've put in a request to Brown Web Publishing to see if they can figure out what's going on. In the meantime, advice is appreciated. When we try to log in, which we do by going to this site
http://cgi-user.brown.edu/cgi-user/opp/mt.cgi
instead of being prompted for a password and username, we get this error message:
Forbidden You don't have permission to access /cgi-user/opp/mt.cgi on this server. Apache/1.3.27 Server at webpub.brown.edu Port 80
Did some setting get assigned wrong? Has a clever SPAMmer/hacker managed to lock us out of our own site? I know next to nothing about such things... help much appreciated. I'll be updating FBC news here if there's more to report before we're able to post there. UPDATE, already (6:15 p.m.): I went to post a comment at FBC, pointing to this post, but it turns down that my ability to comment there, too, is now gone. UPDATE (Nov. 1, 5:00 p.m.): We don't seem much closer to a solution, although we have a hypothesis as to a cause. The URL we've been using references "opp", which was Brian Weatherson's paper's blog before he left Brown. His two blogs and FBC were all set up using the same stuff, it seems -- the working theory is that somebody deleted his old things, failing to realize that they were still being used by us. I'm still waiting to hear back from Brown Web Publishing for insight. UPDATE (Nov. 2): FBC is back online, finally. At the moment, it's even free of grossly offensive spam.

Friday, October 29, 2004

We must protect our youth. From ME!!!!!

Elsie teaches in a New York City public high school. She told me today that she tried to access my blog from a school computer, and got this message:
Access Denied The requested document, http://ichikawa.blogspot.com/, will not be shown. Reason: Found in Denied List (SexEd/Advanced). Entry causing block is ichikawa.blogspot.com.
Does anyone understand how things like this work? Does that last line mean that someone specifically entered my blog as objectionable? Or is some automatic filter picking up bad keywords? It's weird, because I don't really ever talk about vulvae or fellatio or waiting for marriage. I don't think my ideas are very dangerous...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Now that's some crazy shit

Exactly one of the following two columns represents intentionally incomprehensible, apparently-pointless rambling. Can you guess which? Is it Column A? Excerpt:
"It should be!" says [identifying name omitted]. "The signs mean things - great an terrible things! Omens an miracles an dogs marrying cats an goats born with two heads, stars an moons an green clovers! Dark things to come! There's a wolf at the door! There's a bear in the woods!" "Maybe the bear will eat the wolf," says me. "Then we can all settle down an get a pizza with the bear!" "Your commie bear cannot save you now!" says [identifying name omitted]. "Wolves are the pirahna of the forest. They can skeletonize a cow in under thirty seconds!" "And the bear is the cow of the forest," says me. "Which is why forest-farmers milk bears for honey - or as it is technically known, hunny."
Or is it Column B? Excerpt:
It is only now that the dinner party lion emerges to stake his claim to greatness. While others quiver with pre-election anxiety, their mood rising and collapsing with the merest flicker of the polls, he alone radiates certainty. He alone can read the internals, cross-tabs and trends, can parse Gallup and Zogby and emerge with clear answers. He alone can captivate a gathering, while men hang eagerly on his words and women undress him with their eyes. He begins his dinner party performance with a combination of impressive name-dropping and crushing banality: "I was talking to Karl the other day - Karl Rove - and he mentioned that winning the most electoral votes is the key to winning the election. And when I bumped into Tim - Tim Russert - at Colin and Alma's place, he agreed." By this point soup will be cooling in the bowls. His dinner companions will be waiting for him to validate their highest hopes or underline their fears. The lion must be careful not to utter a final prediction too quickly.

Farenheit 9/11 is Downloadable

I didn't see this film, even though I wanted to. Now it is available for internet download here. The site in question claims to have Michael Moore's permission to distribute the movie for free, and that therefore this is legal -- I haven't followed up to see whether that first claim true, and I also don't know if the argument is valid -- that his permission is sufficient to make this legal, given studio rights, etc., but I'm taking the web site author at his word unless I have reason to do otherwise. The high-resolution WMV version is about a fifteen minute download on my high-speed connetion. I'm about halfway done with downloading it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

And the upsetting email keeps coming

The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins tells me:
International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) arrived in Washington October 7 to prepare to monitor the U.S. presidential elections. The OSCE delegation, which was invited by the U.S. State Department, monitored the congressional elections in 2002. The initial request was made in a June 30 letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan by several Congressional Democrats. The United Nations declined, but the U.S. State Department, at the request of the same Congressmen, extended an invitation to the OSCE. This is equivalent to placing American troops in blue helmets! It undermines U.S. sovereignty and is uncalled for. U.S. elections are looked upon the world over as the best example of representative democracy.
How can any fair-minded person possibly object to having non-partisan observers to verify that due process is observed? Seriously, tell me how.

Asian = Good

I've been receiving emails for a couple of years now from a group called 80-20, an Asian-American interests PAC. In general, considerations of ethnicity do not figure much into my life, and I think the idea of an ethnic group favoring, for instance, one Presidential candidate over another is a little bit silly. (This didn't stop me from being happy to see 80-20's endorsement of John Kerry.) But today I think they've crossed the line from a little bit silly to very simple-minded and naive, possibly even offensively so. They were reacting to this NYT story, which identified an Asian-American, Harold Hongju Koh, as a possible John Kerry Supreme Court nominee.
A Supreme Court appointment like that, for Asian Ams., will mean (1) NO MORE risk of internment for us and our children, & (2) NO MORE selective enforcement of laws, e.g. enforcing E.O. 11246 for all Americans but not for AsAms. We’ll get a just hearing in the highest court of our land. Vote KERRY For A Brighter Future.
I don't know enough about the issues to know whether I should be upset about the enforcement of E.O. 11246. But I'm offended by the suggestion that just because he's a member of a certain ethnicity, he'll defend certain policies. If I were the potential nominee, I'd find these comments marginalizing and offensive. (If they're reacting to something they know about his *positions* other than his ethnicity, then fine. But they should say so. As far as I can tell, they're not.)

Fact versus Opinion

Brian Leiter links to a page entitled 100 Facts and 1 Opinion: The Non-Arguable Case Against the Bush Administration. The 'facts' are pretty clearly facts, at least if they're true, which they seem to be. Number one is "The Bush Administration has spent more than $140 billion on a war of choice in Iraq." But the 'opinion' is this: "If the past informs the future, four more years of the Bush Administration will be a tragic period in the history of the United States and the world." Is this really a non-fact? Are we committing to non-cognitivism about tragedy? That seems at the very least non-obvious.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Advertising I'd love to see

If fafblog's Presidential endorsements aren't enough hilarity for you, then check out this series of anti-John Kerry, pro-GWB ads. All three are very worthwhile, but the second one is my favorite.
When George W. Bush told the United States Senate that Saddam Hussain represented an immediate threat to the United States, John Kerry was foolish enough to believe him. John Kerry's gullibility placed thousands of brave American soldiers in danger.
Hat tip: Jeremy Pierce.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Well, the game part was good

Boston has hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of very good singers. Why don't the Red Sox ask one of them to sing the patriotic sentiments at the baseball games? Seriously, I've heard more bad singing in the past two weeks' worth of seventh innings than I did in three weeks at an amateur Gilbert & Sullivan festival. Good rules of thumb for singers in front of national audiences: (1) don't elect to go to notes that are out of your comfortable range. (2) breathe extra-deep when singing, so that you can sing more than one word per breath.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Faith

A Boston Red Sox fan, a Chicago Cubs fan and a NY Yankee fan were all in Saudi Arabia, sharing a smuggled crate of booze. All of the sudden Saudi police rushed in and arrested them. The mere possession of alcohol is a severe offense in Saudi Arabia, so for the terrible crime of actually being caught consuming the booze, they were sentenced to death! However, the extremely benevolent Sheikh decided to reduce their sentence to just 20 lashes each of the whip. As they were preparing for their punishment, the Sheikh suddenly said, "It's my first wife's birthday today, and she has asked me to allow each of you one wish before your whipping." The Cubs fan was first in line (he had drunk the least), so he thought about this for a while and then said, "Please tie a pillow to my back." This was done, but the pillow only lasted 10 lashes before the whip went through. The Cubs fan had to be carried away bleeding and crying with pain when the punishment was done. The Yankee fan was next up (he almost finished an entire fifth by himself), and after watching the scene, said "All Right! Please fix two pillows on my back." But even two pillows could only take 15 lashes before the whip went through again, sending the Yankee fan out crying like a little girl. The Red Sox fan was the last one up (he had finished off the crate), but before he could say anything, the Sheikh turned to him and said, "You support the greatest baseball team in the world, your supporters are the best and most loyal baseball fans in all the world. For this, you may have two wishes!" "Thanks, your most Royal Highness," the Red Sox fan replies. "In recognition of your kindness, my first wish is that you give me not 20, but 100 lashes." "Not only are you an honorable, handsome and powerful man, you are also very brave," the Sheik says with an admiring look on his face. "If 100 lashes is what you desire, then so be it. And your second wish? What is it to be?" the Sheik asks. "Tie the Yankee fan to my back."

Monday, October 18, 2004

It's like a nightmare

Sure, the Sox won awesomely, as did the Astros. But then the Rams ruined the perfection of my sports evening by winning. But that pain was nothing to this new pain. Jerry Rice. The Seattle Seahawks. *shakes head sadly*

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Important Event at Brown

The Human Face behind the Global Economy The Bangladesh Workers' Tour is coming to Brown tomorrow evening.
This presentation will include two women who are ex-sweatshop workers, two Bangladeshi activists, as well as speakers from the National Labor Committee. The workers are women who have struggled far below the poverty line surviving on wages as low as 14 cents an hour. Our goal is to raise awareness of this hidden issue that affects millions of workers, primarily women and children around the world. As US citizens we have the power and the voice to speak for the silenced workers. This is a rare opportunity to see them speak for themselves, and find out what we can do to advance the global campaign against sweatshop and child labor. For more information, please go to: http://www.nlcnet.org/campaigns/bangtour/
This event is sponsored by OxFam at Brown and, I believe, some other student organizations as well. This is a very exciting opportunity to better understand a critically important global issue. If you are like me in that you find this issue important and worth knowing more about and understanding better, and also in that you have relatively convenient geographical access to the Brown Campus, you should definitely come. If, for whatever reason, you're not going to come, at least read about the tour. I think it is important that this page be read.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Giblits for President

I have to admit, I've wavered in my support of Giblets for President. For instance, I'm not crazy about his 'Giblets will Destroy You' policy. Then again, I guess I have to weigh that against a dangerous criminal mastermind on one side, and a pessimist on the other. But as of tonight, Giblets pushed himself over the top in my book. The man is right on.
"Nooooo!" says Giblets. "The Yankees suck and shall be doomed - ONE DAY - by a RIGHTEOUS GOD in whom Giblets believes VERY DEEPLY - to an eternity of HELLFIRE!" "But Giblets how can the Yankees suck if they have beaten the Red Sox so many times?" says me. "That is not what sucking means!" says Giblets. "Sucking is a moral property Fafnir! It does not reflect what the Yankees have done but what the Yankees intrinsically are. And they are intrinsically evil and suck!" "I am not sure about your theory of sucking Giblets," says me. "I always believed sucking was reducible to natural properties such as double-parkin your car or stiffin your roommate on rent or leavin in Pedro Martinez for too long." "No!" says Giblets. "Sucking is an objective irreducible moral property an we can intuit when sucking is present! It is an objective moral truth that the Yankees suck!" "But Giblets why would so many sucky Yankees be beloved by so many New Yorkers?" says me. "An why would so many sucky Yankees be rewarded with so many pennants?" "There is no such thing as suckical subjectivity!" says Giblets. "The Yankees suck no matter how much society has approved of and rewarded their sucking!"
I don't know who write(s) fafblog, but if I knew me and weren't me, and also overestimated my humorous ability, I'd be tempted to think that I did.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Verdict: Not Funny, and definitely Not OK.

An annonymous commentor on my last post wondered about my take on this, a condemnation by the Traditional Values Coalition of Craig Fitzhugh, a Democratic Tennessee state representative, whose office has distributed a flier with the caption, "Voting for Bush is Like Running in the Special Olympics: Even if you Win, You're Still Retarded". I think that TVC is absolutely right to condemn Rep. Fitzhugh, and I sincerely hope that he gets condemnation from much more mainstream bodies as well. I'm not even sure how to start listing the problems I have with this ad. For one thing, it is offensive, in a particularly viscious way. A retarded-kids jab is, to me, quite a bit worse than a racist or homophobic one. Black people and gay people at least know how to stand up for themselves. So I think the flier is in very bad taste. If I saw someone using a slogan like that on the streets, I'd probably quietly disapprove. If I were feeling confrontational, I might say something about it. But from an elected official, this is nothing short of disgusting. (How 'bout that, I just agreed with a group called the "Traditional Values Coalition" on something.) MAJOR UPDATE: Joe informs me that all may not be as it seems. Here is discussion that, if true, suggests that it's just a plain lie that these fliers were distributed by Craig Fitzhugh, but rather that he was 'framed'. Fitzhugh's office is certainly denying responsibility. If he was framed, then this is an even more disgusting story than it used to be, and the bad guys are actually the ones on the Right. Thanks, Joe.

Baby Takes Political Stand

I love The Onion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

False and unjustified bigots' beliefs as reasons

I read in the Houston Chornicle this AP story about a teenager who was brutally assaulted in North Texas. There are lots of things wrong with this story in addition to the fact that it implies that a horrible event has occurred. It's being looked at as a hate crime,
because the three attackers made slurs derogatory to homosexuals, police Sgt. Amy Knoll said Tuesday.
Hate crimes are horrible, and the attackers were probably homophobic bigots, but the fact that they used words like 'fag' while attacking him really just doesn't constitute evidence that they believed he was gay. Rural teenagers in Texas say horrible things like that all the time. Even some of the decent, progressive, liberal-minded people I knew at Rice had to make a conscious effort to remove 'gay as derogator' from their vocabulary. It's everywhere. There's a philosophical point about reasons and normativity, too. I emphatically raised my left eyebrow at this quote:
"We have found no other reason whatsoever for the attack other than their belief that he was a homosexual," Knoll told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Wednesday's editions.
Sgt. Knoll, if she's to be read literally, seems to be committing to an extremely robust form of internalism here -- a belief can be a reason for an action even if (1) the belief is false, (2) the belief is unjustified, and (3) the content of the belief would not, even if true, justify the action! We might charitably read 'reason' as 'cause' here, but if we did that, then the utterance would surely be false -- I'm sure there are *many* plausible causes to be attributed -- they didn't like the kid, or he was looking at them funny, or they were drunk.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Association for the Study of Dreams

Did you know that there's a non-profit, international, multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming? And that their annual conference next June is in Berkeley, not far from where my parents live? And that a recent journal article they published finds it surprising and regrettable that philosophers have not focused as much on dreams in recent decades? I didn't know any of those things, but I do now...

Monday, October 11, 2004

In the genes

I'm woefully ignorant about my Japanese heritage. I just chanced across this start of a discussion of what I assume is my family. Aparently, the Ichikawa family is famous for producing kabuki actors. I've performed in two productions if The Mikado... does that count?

Prayer and Medicine

The New York Times carried a story yesterday about medical research into the effectiveness of prayer in healing. Apparently, there have been some interesting-looking correlations published, which has fueled more interest and study. Some naturalistic-leaning, non-religious types are displeased that the federal government is investing in prayer research. I think this is just closed-mindedness.
Critics express outrage that the federal government, which has contributed $2.3 million in financing over the last four years for prayer research, would spend taxpayer money to study something they say has nothing to do with science. "Intercessory prayer presupposes some supernatural intervention that is by definition beyond the reach of science," said Dr. Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard. "It is just a nonstarter, in my opinion, a total waste of time and money."
This is just a mistake. No one is presupposing anything that is "by definition beyond the reach of science". If they were, they wouldn't even know how to design the experiements. But they have designed the experiments -- they're really simple, actually. All you have to do is get a bunch of people who have some common illness or injury or disorder or whatever, and divide them into two groups, where the people in one of the groups gets prayed for and the people in the other are not. It might be especially interesting to run the experiment such that each person doesn't know which group he's in. Then, see if there's a statistically significant difference between recovery/improvement/whatever rates between the two groups. If there is, that counts as evidence that prayer makes a difference. That's science. It's one thing to dismiss the possibility as so unlikely that it's not worth studying. I have some sympathy with that point of view -- but to make an informed decision about it, one really ought to look at the data. I haven't looked at the data, and the summary in the NYT seems very confused and muddled. Suffice it to say that after reading the fairly long article, I'm still skeptical that prayer for people who don't know they're being prayed for helps people. But I don't think it's something to be rejected out of hand. Ordinarily, I'd say that we should let the qualified scientists look at the data and come up with an informed decision about whether this is worth looking further into, but said scientists seem to be rejecting the possibility before even really considering it, which is unfortunate.

Getting older

As of yesterday, I am twenty-three years old. It feels odd to have turned twenty-three, because I tend to think of myself as being older than that most of the time.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate Thoughts

Tonight I got to actually watch a debate for the first time. Speaking as a person with some limited experience in public and extemporaneous speaking, I am really, really impressed with John Kerry's performance and rhetoric. And, well, I'm not at all impressed with the President's. Lots of people were talking before the first debate just how good a debated George Bush is, but I just don't see it at all. A few scattered thoughts: Early on, President Bush argued that Saddam Hussain intended to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. The evidence he cited seemed to amount pretty much to "Saddam wanted to releave sanctions, therefore he intended to develop WMDs."
But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs.
Questionable, very. I'd've liked a whole lot more discussion of there not being any weapons of mass destruction or links to terrorism in Iraq. The draft came up, which I was glad of. Bush stated very, very clearly that there would be no draft, period. I've never heard language that strong from this administration before -- I think Cheney said a week or two ago that a draft would be a very extreme measure, but refused to rule it out absolutely. Bush did. And he went on to say that we didn't *need* such manpower any more, thanks to happily technological advances. John Kerry mentioned the current 'back door' draft with reserves. He didn't ask the obvious question: if we don't need the manpower, then why are we so short on troops?
Because they understand that our military is overextended under the president. Our Guard and reserves have been turned into almost active duty. You've got people doing two and three rotations. You've got stop-loss policies, so people can't get out when they were supposed to. You've got a back-door draft right now. And a lot of our military are underpaid. These are families that get hurt. It hurts the middle class. It hurts communities, because these are our first responders. And they're called up. And they're over there, not over here.
I'm not convinced that Kerry's equipped to save us from a draft either, I'm afraid. But look at how Bush bullied his way to not-responding to that one. Immediately following Kerry's point:
GIBSON: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute... BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this. GIBSON: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty... BUSH: Let me answer what he just said, about around the world. GIBSON: Well, I want to get into the issue of the back-door draft... BUSH: [interrupting] You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. [continues, never getting back to the draft]
I wish that John Kerry hadn't repeated Edwards's blunder about the percentage of casualties who are American. It'd be nice if at least *one* of our candidates appeared to care about Iraqi civilians. And the actual bad guys, for that matter. I'm less than completely comfortable with how callously -- proudly, even -- both candidates discuss killing our enemies. But, as I mentioned to Savannah, I guess a candidate who considered any killing to be regrettable wouldn't be strong-looking enough for the American electorate. It's a shame. I think that the President of the United States uttered the phrase, "battling green eyeshades" on national television tonight. I have no idea whatsoever what it means. One woman asked Senator Kerry how he would protect the American manufacturing industry against outsourcing. Here's another point where I was disappointed with the nature of politics -- politicans never bite bullets, even when they should. I would really, really respect a candidate who said "well, we can't be competitive in everything in a global market". Finally, two points where I thought Bush was really, really weak. First, his discussion of being a strong leader, willing to do things that are unpopular. He said:
I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge. I don't think we ought to join that. That was unpopular. And so, what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right.
He cut his sentence short before he had to finish it by saying, "...where our troops could be brought to trial for war crimes," because if he'd finished the sentence it would have been obvious that Bush's policy was tantamount to a declaration that U.S. troops are above international law. His *sole* point seems to be that he did something unpopular -- he did not in any way *defend* his position. As Savannah brilliantly put it, "He was like, this may SEEM like a bad idea, but actually, it's very unpopular!" Oh, how I wish Senator Kerry had chosen to focus things to that point. Second, President Bush really, really ought not to try to talk about Constitutional Law. He just really obviously had no idea what he was talking about, and Kerry let him get away with it. When asked what kind of person he would appoint to the Supreme Court, President Bush said he'd appoint someone who would literally interpret the letter of the Constitution, then went on to demonstrate that he didn't even know what was in said letter. Bush cited Dred Scott as a 'bad' ruling, which is obviously correct, but he seemed to think that someone who read the Constitution literally would have opposed it. That's not clear to me at all -- Bush seemed to *almost* claim that the Constitution explicitly decrees that all men are created equal. False.
I wouldn't pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn't be said in a school because it had the words "under God" in it. I think that's an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America. And so, I would pick people that would be strict constructionists. We've got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.
I really wish that Senator Kerry had taken a moment to explain to the United States just what a literal reading of the Constitution would amount to. All things considered, though, this Kerry-supporter is pretty pleased with the debate. (I will add quotations of what I'm talking about as transcripts become available online.)

Flip-Flops!

These are pretty brilliant. It's a regular, well, catalogue of Bush's flipflop flip flops.

Further evidence that NASCAR is lame

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a race on Tuesday, but during his post-race interview, he said the word 'shit'. Because this word is obscene and evil and makes one a bad race car driver, he was fined a, well, shitload of money and penalized a bunch of points. I don't really get NASCAR, but I think those points are the things that add up over the course of lots of races and let you become the super champion of the year or something like that. Anyway, he's not in first place any more, because he said a naughty word. Look, if you want to protect the kids of America from hearing the word 'shit' on television, that's one thing. Fine him for his lack of discretion, ok, fine. Actually, I don't think that's an ok fine, but I think it's a lot more ok than taking away his actual points. What he says in his interview has nothing to do with whether he's the best race car driver. And this at a time when Congress is thinking about cracking down on violations of broadcast indecency laws. Seriously, what harm has the word 'shit' ever done anyone? What possible harm can come of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. uttering the word 'shit' on television? Whose life becomes worse? Some people get really worked up over this sort of stuff. I have no idea why.

Monday, October 04, 2004

I'll self-promote if I want to

I just got accepted to my first philosophy conference! I'll be presenting my paper on the imagination model of dreaming at the Virginia Tech Graduate Philosophy Conference next month. Whee.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I love political satire as much as the next guy...

...but it has its place. Fafblog and The Onion are fantastic. But it doesn't even need to be said that it would be absurd for a non-satirical, mainstream news source to pass off a piece of satire as real news. (Imagine this being printed on the front page of the New York Times.) Well, that is, it shouldn't need to be said. FoxNews, what are you thinking? How can this sort of mistake possibly happen? Bold emphasis mine.
...Fox News ... [posted] a made-up news article on its Web site that quoted Mr. Kerry as gloating about his fine manicure and his "metrosexual" appearance. Fox News quickly retracted the article, saying in an editor's note on its Web site that the article "was written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast.'' It said, "We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice." The article, posted on Friday on foxnews.com, was written by Carl Cameron, the chief political correspondent for Fox News, and included several bogus quotes from Mr. Kerry, supposedly assessing his performance in the debate. "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" the article quoted Mr. Kerry, the Democratic candidate, as telling his supporters in Florida after the event. "Women should like me! I do manicures," the story also quoted him as saying. It also had Mr. Kerry contrasting himself with President Bush: "I'm metrosexual - he's a cowboy." ... He declined to say how Mr. Cameron had been reprimanded or whether action had been taken against others at Fox News who reviewed the article before it was posted. Mr. Cameron, who is well respected in news media circles, declined to discuss the incident when reached on Saturday. He is continuing to report from the campaign trail.
I find the last paragraph quoted to be particularly atrocious.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Monster Park!

I kinda like it.

Worst SPAM Ever

I find this really upsetting, and have received it four times in the past two days.
Subject: How one can become a terrorist? Welcome to our web site [deleted] Please use http://[IP address deleted] in case of our domain outage. You\'re invited to shop for large selection of bombs and different kinds of rockets such as surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and weaponry available at reduced price. With the following types of rockets you will be able to commit terrorist attacks, destroy buildings, electric power stations, bridges, factories and anything else that comes your mind. Most items are in stock and available for next day freight delivery in the USA. Worldwide delivery is available at additional cost. Prices are negotiable. Please feel free to inquire by ICQ # [deleted] or contacting us directly: [three phone numbers deleted] [list of weapons deleted] Our clients are well known Al-Qaida, Hizballah, Al-Jihad, HAMAS, Abu Sayyaf Group and many other terrorist groups. We are well known supplier in the market and looking forward to expand our clientage with assistance of Internet. Do not hesitate to contact us via ICQ # [deleted] Impatiently awaiting for your orders, ShadowCrew
I assume this is somebody's idea of a joke, but it's about the least funny thing I've ever seen. Is there somebody I can report this to?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Birthday Party

I've been blogging for one year today. This post is a birthday party. Come hang out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Swift, decisive action

You didn't think I'd let this situation remain, did you? For the curious, my new picture is from a 2002 Rice University production of Hair. And yes, that's really mine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Do I look like a Republican to you?

A majority seems to think so! I'm most alarmed. And check out the main site, too: votergasm.org. I'm amused. I may have to re-think my position.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Undefeated Rice!

Joe pointed out to me a fun piece of college football trivia. There are only two Division I games this coming weekend that feature two undefeated opponents. These are (1) USC @ Stanford and (2) Rice University @ Texas. Go Owls! You're still on course!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Ken Sandford, RIP

I was very sorry to hear, via Savoynet, that former D'Oyly Carte baritone Kenneth Sandford passed away today at the age of 80. Ken Sandford may very well have been my greatest DOC hero -- I've studied and idolized his recorded roles -- particularly, his Despard, his Pooh-Bah, his Grosvenor, and his Private Willis. I was already sorry that I was unable to attend his talk in Buxton this year -- now I am doubly sorry never to have met the man.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"Don't Cheat on Your Spouse" Day

If you live in Alaska, you should wait until tomorrow to have an adulterous affair.

Firing a Poston

I've never been more proud of a St. Louis Ram, not that that's saying much. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace fired his agent, Carl Poston. The Poston brothers are notorious for making rediculous demands on behalf of their NFL clients, and encouraging team-damaging contract hold-outs. 49ers fans are well aware of Postons' ill effect on football -- 49ers badass linebacker Julian Peterson held out almost the entire preseason this year, rejecting the biggest defensive contract offer in 49ers history, at the Postons' suggestion. Pace, who was in a similar situation to Peterson, did not state a reason for firing Poston, so far as I can tell, but I can only assume it's because he realized the hold-out was damaging his career. Neither Pace nor Peterson got the absurdly unreasonable long-term contract they wanted, and both had to settle for one-year contracts. All parties want to sign these players to long-term contracts, and the Postons were getting in the way. I can only hope that Peterson will follow Pace's lead, get a reasonable agent, and sign a long-term contract with the 49ers, giving him a stable and very wealthy life, and giving the 49ers a long-term, fair contract with one of the best linebackers in football.

Gmail

I was one of the initial users of the gmail beta, and I've switched my primary email to gmail. I'm a fan. I don't know if invites are still at a premium or not, but if you're looking for an invite, I've plenty to give away.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Brad Ideas

I've been reading this blog for several months now, and have kept forgetting to plug it. It's full variously of fun, cute, clever, and brilliant ideas. Here is the latest.

Disenfranchisement v. Watching People Marry

Christian Conservative Tony Perkins' Washington Update from today included discussion of one of the most important current issues in American democracy:
Making references to the results of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, Kerry said that Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise African-American voters by suppressing their vote. After his recent heart surgery, Clinton was making similar claims.
One might expect the conservative Perkins to dispute these very important allegations. Right-wing forces in Florida are being accused of illegally disenfranchising a group of mostly black, mostly Democrat, would-be voters. One would expect Perkins to disprove those allegations, or to claim that the liberals are the ones being bad, or to point out that the people raising the allegations did drugs when they were in college, or *something* to assure voters that conservatives in Florida are not the reprehensible criminals they're being accused of being. Instead, he says this:
Normally, this basic move out of the Democratic playbook works at this point in the "game". However, this time the odds that it will work have changed. The issue of marriage has opened up a tremendous amount of dialogue between white and black evangelicals in this country who are in agreement that marriage must be protected. When the focus stays on marriage, there is unity, so other issues have not been discussed. More and more black pastors are taking bold stands for marriage and refusing to support Kerry and other Democrats who refuse to protect marriage. This does not necessarily mean a windfall for Republicans, but it does create a turnout problem for Democrats.
So to summarize, Perkins' is telling us that although conservatives are allegedly attempting to illegally disenfranchise African-Americans, evangelical African-Americans aren't really very serious Kerry supporters. That kind of seems to miss the point a lot.

Richard Morrison

If this guy takes Tom Delay's job away, it'll be the best thing to come from the Texas political world since I've been paying attention to it. Check out blog coverage of Richard Morrison here and here, and his campaign page here. If you're able, go help out his campaign. And if you live in Sugarland, vote for him.

Monday, September 13, 2004

NFL, life, etc.

Blogging has been light because I've been busy. Schoolwork, you know. That was a hell of a show the Niners put on yesterday. It left me rather emotionally spent. Signs of life are good, though. Also, NFL congratulations are in order to former Forty-Niners Steve Mariucci, who led the Detroit Lions to their first road win since the Taft administration, and to Jeff Garcia, who pretty cleanly spanked the Ravens on behalf of his new Browns. Likely, I'll resume my discussion of politics, philosophy, and everything else sometime soon. In the meantime, it's time for me to go back to work, thinking about promise-keeping and Hume's Law. another FBC post on the topic is possibly imminent. Also, in case anyone's wondering, I'm TAing this semester for Jamie Dreier's The Nature of Morality.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Religion informing voting

I read today about a New York Times advertisement in reaction to rhetoric by the Christian Right. The advertisers are unhappy about statements by people like Jerry Falwell to the effect that lots of people have religious duties to vote for President Bush. I think they're right to be unhappy about that, but I don't know that I agree with the direction they took. The ad begins:
God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.
The idea, which is a popular one in some circles, is that religion and politics should be kept seperate. This quote typifies the attitude:
"We don't think God has become a Democrat," Campolo said. "What we want to make clear is that Jesus transcends both political parties."
Now I have to say, I just don't get this. Jesus *transcends both parties*? What does that mean? It might meant that God is indifferent between a George Bush administration and a John Kerry administration -- God considers them to be equally good outcomes. But given the sorts of things that God IS supposed to care about, this would be a surprising coincidence. Or maybe it just means He wouldn't vote, even though He knows one candidate is better than the other. But I don't see why that should be the case. The Presidential election is a moral issue. For people who's moral beliefs are informed by their religious ones (a practice that I think is mistaken), religion *does* have a place in determining whom to vote for. I've heard some great arguments that a Democratic administration would be likely to stand for Christian principles better than the current Bush one. And like everyone in American, I've also heard a lot of arguments with the opposite conclusion. I think those arguments *are* important. I wish they were more balanced (well, I wish they were balanced heavily in the opposite direction), but I don't think they should go away.

Fafblog!

I know I sound like a broken record here, but the latest Fafblog is the greatest thing ever. The super sneaky double-entendre is extra-clever today.
"Well we agree to disagree," says me. "Like we do whenever we talk about Coke™ versus Poison™." "It may taste bad an curdle my blood an kill me," says Giblets. "But at least I know where Poison™ stands."
Read it.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Rice Football Underway

I think there may be a few people reading this blog who both (1) at least slightly care about Rice athletics and (2) don't follow them terribly closely. For anyone who meets that description, the Owl football team surprised a lot of people by winning its season opener against the University of Houston 10-7, in what Ken Hatfield described as the best defensive statement his team has ever made. A Rice football fan's lot is, as a rule, not a happy one, but this was a very nice start to what I hope is a very nice season. Rice is 1-0 and undefeated. If the trend continues, the team will finish 11-0, and the sports pundits will be arguing about whether Rice deserves a BCS bid.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Google Roundup

Ok, this is just really, really weird. I noticed a number of Google hits coming into this entry from searches like "voting my values". I wondered how high I was on that list, so I ran the seach. I'm number one. Of one. I'm really, really confused by that. Am I overlooking something dumb? Am I accidentally limiting the search to my blog? Go to google.com and type in that phrase, with quotes, and tell me if I'm the first and only hit. In other Googly news, I'm the fourth hit for dreaming in color, between a Christian music song with that name and a discussion of ESP ("For both sexes, the incidence of color in dreams was generally associated with ESP success.") In other Jonathan news, I'm busy moving into my new apartment.

Fafblog! at the RNC

Fafblog! is back after a week's hiatus, and hilariouser than ever. Start reading their coverage of the Republican Convention here, and scroll up until you get to the top.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Vegetarian Recipes

If you have a favorite vegetarian recipe, I'd appreciate having it. Especially if it's pretty easy to prepare (I'm not a very experienced cook). Email is good, as are comments. Thanks!

Good women and bad women

Single women are more likely to vote for Kerry, while married women are more likely to vote for Bush. That's from a USA Today/Gallup poll. Focus on the Family (how I love them!) got ahold of this data and published the following proposed explanations for it:
Janet Folger, president and founder of Faith2Action, said unmarried women tend to be more focused on themselves. "Married women, on the other hand," Folger said, "are more concerned about their children and the future and what (that) future might hold." ... Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, said it may also be about a need for security. "When (a woman) doesn't have a husband to help her support the family," she said, "she looks to government to fill in the gap."
There you have it -- married women are properly dependent on their husbands and caring, and that's why they're Republicans, while single women are lazy and selfish (after all, why else would any woman be single?), and that's why they're Democrats.

Yeah, we vote values too.

I've been subscribing to several conservative email newsletters, including Focus on the Family's Citizen-Link since July, mostly because I'm interested in what kind of rhetoric is going out around the nation. I was actually kind of impressed by a setup they had yesterday. Here's what they sent:
Send an 'I Vote Values' Message to Your Elected Officials, Party Leaders Election Day is fast approaching, and as those running for office seek to secure your votes, there's an important message you can send them. This year, I'm voting my values. Don't underestimate the importance of this simple statement: Politicians need to know that when they look to line up your support, you're going to look past the slick advertisements and election-year promises and focus instead on how their values line up with yours. And that's going to be the criteria on which you cast your ballot. We've made it easy for you to send this message, loud and clear, to a host of people who need to hear it: your U.S. congressman and senators, your governor, your state elected officials -- and Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees.
They have a form on their web site where you enter your address, and they figure out which officials represent you and automatically send your message to all of them. The default message, which can be modified, is just the single line, "I'm voting this year -- and I'm voting my values." The Religious Right has really done a bang-up job convincing the public that to be moral is to be conservative. I do vote values, but my values are somewhat different from FOTF's. I used the form to send to my elected officials the following message:
I'm voting this year -- and I'm voting my values. I believe in honesty, liberty, freedom from religious tyrrany, respect for the rule of law, and consideration for all life. That's why I will vote against the Bush administration and the GOP at large this year. Sincerely, Jonathan Ichikawa
For anyone who may be interested, the form is here.

Winning the war on terror

I'd just like to announce that I find the current controversy about who believes that, and who is correct about whether, we can "win the war on terror", annoying. It looks like the closer we get to November, the more meaningless and inane the rhetoric will become.

Safe in Providence

In case you were wondering.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

8/04 Road Trip

I'm leaving Houston early tomorrow morning for Providence. My itinerary, with all times very approximate:
5:30 a.m. Friday: leave Houston late p.m. Friday/possibly early a.m. Saturday: Find a hotel hopefully somewhere northeast of Georgia. 12:00 noon Saturday: visit Savannah in North Carolina for lunch, hang out for a little while. 9:00 p.m. Saturday: Meet Paul and Marsha in D.C. Spend the night at their place. The day Sunday: Visit D.C., drive to Philadelphia, visit Philadelphia. 6:30 p.m. Sunday: Meet Tyler and Rebecca for dinner. 10:00 p.m. Sunday: Find hotel in New Brunswick. a.m. Monday: Visit Mandy. Possibly go to the beach, weather permitting. Monday evening: Get into Providence. Do paperwork with new landlord.
Obviously, I'll be driving a lot. Give my cell a call if you feel like chatting -- I won't be busy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Navbar

I noticed when I got back from my trip that Blogger had changed things around a little bit. Instead of a banner ad at the top of my blog, I now have the "Navbar". My initial response was one of annoyance -- it obstructed the top half of the title of my blog. This, of course, was easily fixed with a minor modification to my template. And once I started looking at its features, I started coming around -- it's smaller and more attractive than the old banner ads were, and the search functionality is something that I will actually use. I also thought it might be fun to use the "Next Blog" function to go visit random blogs, and maybe find some more sites worth reading. In that, I've been sorely disappointed. I've clicked through to dozens of blogs, and found none at all that interested me. Very few of them have anything substantive to say at all, and many are not in English, the only language in which I'm fluent. Blogger may be out of luck here; I'm afraid the random blog button will not be very useful to many -- it may be that bloggers just don't have all that much in common with one another (or, possibly, most of them just don't have much in common with me). But Google is good about associating pages and topics with one another -- couldn't the 'next blog' button send me to another blog that statistics suggest I'd be interested in reading? They can see what topics I'm writing about, what blogs I'm linking to, etc. I wouldn't think it'd be too hard to give me random targeted references. Then browsing new blogs really could be interesting and fun.