Thursday, July 28, 2005


My blog traffic is way up in the past few days. Comments have been heating up, too -- see here, here, and here. (EDIT: and, most especially, here.) Unfortunately, instead of cultivating and building on that momentum, I'm leaving tomorrow to go spend three weeks singing at a Gilbert & Sullivan festival in England. I will have at least periodic internet access, but it's unlikely that I will spend much time with this blog until I get back August 22. I will be checking email and updating my G&S blog. Don't expect controversial liberal politics there. But if you want to argue with me about the merits and demerits of various interpretations of comic operas, Jonathan's Buxton Diary is the place for it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Paper on Dreaming and Skepticism

I've put together a new paper incorporating much of the work I've been doing with dreams, imagination, and epistemology. If anyone's interested in reading it and offering comments, I'd be very grateful. Drop a comment or send an email if you like, and I'll send you the paper.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Wacky New England Liberal Nutjob!

I received a comment today on this entry from two months ago, and I thought I'd bring attention to the exchange to the front. I had been reacting to a NYT story about Dustin Berg:

So what did Dustin Berg do? What is it that Mr. Hendrix thinks people are unduly criticizing about?
The soldier, Cpl. Dustin M. Berg, fired three times at his Iraqi partner, Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi, and killed him. As Corporal Berg ran away, he picked up Mr. Zubeidi's AK-47 and shot himself in the side. In the days that followed, Corporal Berg lied about what happened, saying Mr. Zubeidi was the one who had shot him. And for months he went right on lying, after he recovered from his wound, after he left Iraq, even after he received a Purple Heart he did not deserve with his parents watching at a solemn ceremony back home in Indiana.
I can't believe there's a controversy over criticism of this guy. But there is.
"In earlier wars, I don't think some of these homicide cases would be prosecuted at all," said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who prosecuted marines and has represented the Army reservist accused of being the ringleader of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. "We're second-guessing things we don't need to second-guess."
I wonder what sort of action would be worthy of second-guessing.
I received a comment from one Sgt. F. Emall, apparently an anonymous American university professor, who didn't at all take kindly to my remarks. Here's what he said:
Read the entire article from today's TImes and you will see what the controversy is about. The Iraqi officer, according to Berg, attempted to prevent Berg at gunpoint from reporting a suspected insurgent they had seen on the street. I.e., according to Berg, the dead Iraqi was an insurgent collaborator, minimally. But of course, to some Americans, it's easier to suspect fellow Americans than it is to suspect foreign nationals, especially when the former are in the military. Brown University in philosophy, eh? Why do I feel like I can predict most of what you think without having even read anything beyond your note on Dustin Berg? Some of us, and even some who've been through grad school ourselves, trust guys like Mr. Berg A LOT MORE than we trust philosophy grad students at Brown University. Go figure.
And here's my response:
Thank you, I have read the article, which is here. You suggest that this will explain to me what the controversy is about, but on the contrary, the article confirms that Cpl. Berg shot and killed his Iraqi colleague, then shot himself to cover the crime, repeatedly lying about the incident to his superiors. Furthermore, the article expresses Cpl. Berg's full admission of guilt and remorse: "I should have considered the Iraqi police officer to be an ally and not a threat," Corporal Berg said in court. "I believe I am negligent for the shooting. I should have used reasonable care. I should not have killed Mr. Zubeidi. I acted too quickly." Today's article shows that I was rigt when I wrote this post two months ago: Cpl. Berg's actions were deplorable, and it's absurd to complain about the fact that he's being criticized. Some of us, and even some who've been through grad school ourselves, trust guys like Mr. Berg A LOT MORE than we trust philosophy grad students at Brown University. My credibility is not at issue. I've made no factual claims; I'm interpreting the news as I read it. So whether you trust me has nothing to do with anything at all. But of course, to some Americans, it's easier to suspect fellow Americans than it is to suspect foreign nationals, especially when the former are in the military. Yes, it's quite easy for some of us to suspect fellow Americans who admit to having committed every element of the alleged crime. But yes, there are also Americans for whom it's difficult to suspect even dishonorably discharged American former soldiers who are serving prison sentences after admitting to grave misconduct. I'm comfortable in the camp I'm in. Brown University in philosophy, eh? Why do I feel like I can predict most of what you think without having even read anything beyond your note on Dustin Berg? Tempting as it is, I won't speculate as to the inner workings of your psychology, Sergeant.
Usually I let heavily-worded responses sit for an hour or two, to allow myself more time to carefully choose my words; this time I did not. I don't regret it yet, anyway.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Frame Error?

My job took me today to Texas Senate Bill 1458, a bill that does some standardizing of the building code for Texas municipalities. Pretty mundane stuff, on the whole, but I love the effective date language:
SECTION 6. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b) of this section, this Act takes effect January 1, 2006. (b) This section and Section 5 of this Act take effect September 1, 2005.
So the effective date's effective date is September 1. Cool. That means that as of September 1, the various changes to the Local Government Code will be effective January 1. Until September 1, presumably, the rest of the new law has no effective date. Awesome.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Look at the moon, look at the moon. Hey Diane, look at the moon! Be sure to zoom all the way in for the closest look.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Guest Blogging

I'll be guest-blogging at Philosophy, et cetra this week. I'll be doing philosophy there, and more of the same here. Fake Barn Country will get a reprieve from me for a little while.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Moral ambiguity!

Salon reports that a couple of years ago, the now-Pope warned us of the evils of Harry Potter:
In a letter sent two years before becoming pope, Benedict XVI expressed concern that the Harry Potter books "erode Christianity in the soul" of young people, a German writer says. Kuby argues in her book, "Harry Potter -- Good or Evil," that the Potter novels blur the boundaries between good and evil and impair young readers' ability to distinguish between the two. She also asserts that they glorify the world of witches and magicians at the expense of the human world.
I know few things in the world that 'blur the boundaries between good and evil' less than the Harry Potter books do. But then, I've only read them about five times. I'm unfortunately busy at a party tomorrow night, so I'll have to wait until Saturday morning to have the Christianity in my soul eroded.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Liberal guilt?

Everybody's favorite Pennsylvania Senator is at it again! Remember those Catholic priests who got into trouble a couple of years ago for raping children for decades? Like any reasonable person, I've spent the last few years trying to figure out who's fault it was that those clergymen used their positions of respect and authority to violate young children. Well, Rick Santorum has cleared it up for me. Who's fault is it? Mine! That is to say, it's the fault us New England liberals who support "sexual freedom" and "academic, political, and cultural liberalism".
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's ''liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's ''sexual license" and ''sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur. ''The basic liberal attitude in that area . . . has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol.

Religious Tolerance in Texas

I remember noticing this a couple of years ago, but I'd forgotten it until recently. Here's §4 of the Texas Bill of Rights:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
No commentary needed.

Anti-Bush U.S. media bias?

A favorite trick on both the left and the right is to accuse The Media of being biased to the right or the left, respectively. How does one provide evidence for such an accusation? The way to do this is to research what information is available, and compare it to what information is being reported. If we could establish that news corporations regularly under-represent news that would tend to, say, make conservatives look good, and over-represent news that casts liberals in a positive light, then there might be a case to be made about bias. If we could establish that news corporations regularly reported false stories on behalf of a political group, or reported obviously false claims without reporting that they're obviously false, that would be an even stronger case. So allegations of media bias require a somewhat involved set of evidence to back up. This is not a trivial matter, but it can be done. It's definitely, definitely not so simple as observing that a majority of stories reported are critical of the President, therefore the media has a liberal bias. An unbiased media would call things as they are; if most of the President's newsworthy actions are such that pointing them out would be politically damaging, then an unbiased media's reports will reflect this.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Global Warming and Poverty

Fox News explains why the London bombings were a good thing.
KILMEADE: And he [British Prime Minister Tony Blair] made the statement, clearly shaken, but clearly determined. This is his second address in the last hour. First to the people of London, and now at the G8 summit, where their topic Number 1 --believe it or not-- was global warming, the second was African aid. And that was the first time since 9-11 when they should know, and they do know now, that terrorism should be Number 1. But it's important for them all to be together. I think that works to our advantage, in the Western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together, just 500 miles from where the attacks have happened. VARNEY: It puts the Number 1 issue right back on the front burner right at the point where all these world leaders are meeting. It takes global warming off the front burner. It takes African aid off the front burner. It sticks terrorism and the fight on the war on terror, right up front all over again. KILMEADE: Yeah.
Yeah, we should let terrorists prevent us from fighting global warming and worldwide poverty. That'll show 'em. Happily, the early news is that the G8 is moving forward to do good things.
"We speak today in the shadow of terrorism, but it will not obscure what we came here to achieve," British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the summit host, said to close the three-day gathering.
And he backed it up by delivering a pledge to double aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010. (America is pledging less than Blair had hoped, but Europe seems to be on board.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Then away, we go

EDIT: Oops, I posted the latest update to my Gilbert & Sullivan life in the wrong blog. I meant it to go to my Buxton Diary, and I've moved it there. As a reminder: if you want to hear about my second life as an amateur singer, follow my Buxton Diary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Go team.

Focus on the Family is encouraging Americans to feel a sense of moral superiority with regards to worldwide philanthropy. Here's a "news brief" from their CitizenLink update yesterday:
U.S. Outgives the World The United States gives more aid to developing countries than any other nation, reported. In a recent study by the Hudson Institute, the U.S. gave 15 times more than its European neighbors. In advance of the G8 summit and campaigns by Make Poverty History and Live 8, the study shows Americans are more generous than many claim. Church collections, philanthropists and company giving amounted to $22 billion. That is compared to a European Union average of $1.6 billion in private-sector giving. The numbers get more impressive in light of the fact that 12 percent of the immigrant population sends more than $40 billion in aid to their home countries. President Bush has pledged to take African aid from $1.2 billion to $8.7 billion by 2010.
Go team. But this statistic represents the grossest, most blatant attempt to mislead available to presenters of statistics. It's talking about a gross number! The United States gives more money than EU countries do -- this is easily explained by the well-established scientific fact that -- drumroll -- the United States is bigger! FOTF didn't provide a link or any specific information about the article they refer to, but I managed to find it with a few targeted searches. Here it is. (Free registration, or bugmenot, required.) Sure enough, it does include this quotation:
Private American citizens donated almost 15 times more to the developing world than their European counterparts, research reveals this weekend ahead of the G8 summit. Private US donors also handed over far more aid than the federal government in Washington, revealing that America is much more generous to Africa and poor countries than is claimed by the Make Poverty History and Live 8 campaigns.
So FOTF's source does offer the same spin they do. But the source is at least slightly more honest; they include this critical passage as well:
The US is the largest overall donor with its $16.3bn in 2003. But this works out as 0.15% of its GNI - the lowest of any G8 member and less than half the 0.35% EU average. Britain stands at 0.34% and Norway is the highest, with 0.92%.
So, relative to the size of the economy, the U.S. is much, much less charitable than most EU countries. What about relative to population? Some rough and ready calculations: Twenty-five EU countries Average of $1.6 billion in philanthropy EU total: 25 * $1.6 billion = $40 billion EU Population: 456,863,000 Average EU philanthropy per person: $87. US total: $22 billion U.S. Population: 295,734,134 (I didn't know google could do that!) Average US philanthropy per person: $74. So the U.S. gives a bit less per capita, and a whole lot less per dollar in the economy, than Europe does. My point here is just that the "data" in question is presented ridiculously. None of this should underscore a more crucial point: the idea that the amount that other people and other countries give determines how much we ought to give would be laughable if it weren't killing so many people.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Redefining Marriage

So Spain has approved gay marriage, and right-wing groups are upset that they're "redefining marriage". But they don't speak English in Spain. Spanish actions are no threat to English words.