March’s Happy Totals

I won 20 and lost 7. That put me 8.27 wagers to the good for the month, a nice comeback from last month’s frivolity.

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Published in: on March 31, 2006 at 2:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Now Playing at the Shattered Globe

I saw Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice at the Shattered Globe Theater last night. The play is about a poker game that takes place after hours in a London restaurant. The real game, however, is how each of the players deal with their gambling addictions. Excellent performances by the Shattered Globe ensemble make this a riveting “all-in” story as it builds to its emotional climax.

If you are looking for Chicago Theater at its best, you won’t go wrong with Dealer’s Choice at the Shattered Globe, recognized as one of Chicago’s brightest ensembles in a theater rich city.

Published in: on March 31, 2006 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Chopping Block

I don’t get to TPM Café much. This is the first piece I found when I went there this afternoon. Nathan Newman writes about how Trade Talks Put State Powers on Chopping Block.

Every state and local official should be paying more attention to the global trade talks at the World Trade Organization, since local power to regulate services such as health care, mass transit and a range of other public services are on the chopping block.

New proposals in a part of global trade law known as the General Agreement on Trade in Services could give global corporations the right under international law to challenge a host of state and local regulations …

Some international agreements are binding; others aren’t.

Published in: on March 30, 2006 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

An idea for a new treatise

Here is an idea for a new treatise on economics.

Download from the Internet a copy of Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Marx’s Capital Volume I. Copy from both books those passages you find agreeable. Paste them into a new document. Reorder the passages according to taste and preference. Stop when you have mined all the passages you like.

This idea—some have surely thought it before—arises on a warm bright Spring morning. It refers to nothing and has no meaning. It merely asks how pastiche might be relevant to the way we think?

Published in: on March 30, 2006 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Capitalism vs. democratic republican ideals

Michael J. Thompson writes about the conflict between early nineteenth century American democratic republican ideals and capitalism. From What’s the Matter with Capitalism? in the Logos Journal, which I found via the ever eclectic and fascinating wood s lot.

The early nineteenth-century saw the emergence of a robust critical account of capitalist economic relations. What these critics saw was the incongruence between the emerging relations of market capitalism and the supposed promises of America’s “republican civilization.” What they saw was that the new forms of economic life that were emerging were creating relations of dependence and servitude that would, in time, erode America’s democratic republic. What was central to their concern was the erosion of democratic life, the emergence of inequality, and the demolition of public life in favor of private interests. This has been a concern of western political thought since the days of classical Greece, and the concern for republicanism was always premised on the notion that political power should be in balance and not fall into the hands of the minority who would, in time, exploit the public for their own ends.

This concern gave an insurgent flavor to western political ideas, from Aristotle through Machiavelli, Locke, Kant, Jefferson, and Marx—and early nineteenth-century social critics saw the emerging capitalism for what it was. Reflecting on the emergence of wealthy industrialists and their newly found political power, John Vethake noted in the New York Evening Post in 1835 that “relatively considered, it is now precisely as if all things were in a state of nature; the strong tyrannize over the weak; live, as it were, in a continual victory, and glut themselves on incessant plunder.”5 Theodore Sedgwick, writing in the same year in his book What Is a Monopoly? was resolute in his analysis: “It must necessarily follow, to every person whose mind is cast in that republican mold, the die of which is not yet, thanks God, broken, that the principle of corporate grants is wholly adverse to the genius of our institutions; that it originates in that arrogant and interfering temper on the part of the Government which seeks to meddle with, direct, and control private exertions. . . Every corporate grant is directly in the teeth of the doctrine of equal rights, for it gives to one set of men the exercise of privileges which the main body can never enjoy.”6

Published in: on March 29, 2006 at 11:09 am  Comments (5)  

Time to skedaddle

President Bush does not want interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as permanent Prime Minister. Quite frankly, if I was an Iraqi politician who had been openly currying President Bush’s favor, I’d skedaddle to a safer place rather than ride the whirlwind of his approval.

Published in: on March 29, 2006 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Charles G. Taylor: three cheers for lip service

Former Liberian dictator Charles G. Taylor was found trying to cross the Nigerian border into Cameroon. He is now on his way to Liberia to be prosecuted for war crimes.

The United States has pressured Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to bring Taylor to trial. On the surface, zeal for prosecuting bloody dictators seems admirable. However, one remains curious as to what is going on below the surface.

The call for justice by Western powers always happens after the train has run spectacularly off the tracks and hundreds of the thousand of innocents have died. Interventions to prevent the tragedy never receive much attention.

In another odd coincidence, trials for war criminals have an uncanny way of mitigating against those who are not Westerners. “Countries such as the U. S. do not torture people or kill innocent civilians unless they really deserve or need it,” some say. Oh well, let’s move on.

We did breathe some fresh air this week. The West seems to have rescued the apostate Rahman from the clutches of Afghani Islamic law. The event coincidentally scores a nice public relations coup while obscuring the heroic struggle for human rights by dissidents in the Muslim world, those dissidents who happen to be less than friendly to the West’s globalization agenda.

The West scores a hat trick. The current Afghani government appears enlightened, the West proves its commitment to human rights, and the West avoids dealing with another group of rowdy uncontrollable dissidents.

However, I have grown cynical and maudlin while mucking around in this issue. A hat tip to and three cheers for international justice.

Published in: on March 29, 2006 at 8:16 am  Comments (1)  

The beautiful game

Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World, despite its grandiose title, fascinatingly blends politics, culture, religion, race, crime, and history. It definitely works as a travelogue too.

In the last chapter of the book he mentions this tidbit.

Not just pundits buried in the C Section of the paper, but people with actual power believe that soccer represents a genuine threat to the American way of life. The former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, one of the most influential conservatives of the 1980’s, a man once mentioned in the same breath as the presidency, holds this view. In 1986, he took to the floor of the United States Congress to orate against a resolution in support of the American bid to host the World Cup. Kemp intoned, “I think it is important for all these young out there, who someday hope to play real football, where you throw it and kick it and run with it and put it in your hands, a distinction should be made that football is democratic, capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialism [sport].”

Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Silvio Berlusconi, who owns AC Milan, or Rupert Murdoch, whose SkySports broadcasts it to the world, refute the socialism assertion.

I watched my first professional game on television in 1966. England beat Germany in extra time in the World Cup final at Wembley Stadium. One of my best friends turned me on to it. I was mightily glad he did.

Eight years after Kemp made his statement, the United States hosted the World Cup. I saw two games at Chicago’s Soldier Field. I learned why people call soccer the beautiful game. Too bad the world in which it lives cannot reflect more of its beauty.

Published in: on March 28, 2006 at 9:03 pm  Comments (6)  

Consistency and Imperfection

Writing something and publishing it for public scrutiny offers the chance to display the consistency of one’s beliefs and thoughts. People who publish much and remain consistent deserve admiration.

What about the other folks who don’t always display rigorous consistency in their beliefs as expressed in their writing? Well, events and times change. Ideas and arguments change along with changed circumstances. Consistency fetters creativity and thought in this case. Fairness requires we forgive inconsistency.

Human nature causes problems with consistency. We say we believe something in all honesty, for we consciously do believe it. Nonetheless, our unconscious beliefs, the ones to which we have no direct access, cause problems with consistency. We say things without knowing we do not really believe them. We would all be dead should we consciously process all our beliefs and the actions deriving from them. Thinking and acting swiftly has survival value.

Unconscious beliefs do not make liars of us. However, they have a nasty habit of making us inconsistent. That is merely to say human nature is not perfect. But we already know about the imperfection of human nature in all its glorious aspects.

Published in: on March 27, 2006 at 12:37 pm  Comments (7)  

Confessions of a rube

President Bush signed the new and improved(?) Patriot Act into law. Later, President Bush immediately issued a signing statement ordering the Justice Department not to obey the Patriot Act’s new Congressional oversight provisions.

The Congress and the President play a bait and switch game with the American public. Congress writes a law that assuages its conscience. The President disobeys the law. They all move on to the next confidence game.

I, much to my shame, have been a notorious rube believing as I have that the Constitution still means something.

As for the future, the 2006 and 2008 elections look dismal. The front runners for the 2008 Presidency leave me feeling agnostic with a queasy stomach.

What takes decades to screw up, is not easily fixed. Grand agendas to fix everything at once always fail.

What needs fixing first? The Iraq War and its mentality seems a good place to start. Nothing will go right until the United States gets out of Iraq, and gives up the notion that multi-trillion dollar wars are tenable policies and practices.

The war destroys any chance of meaningful social change. And forget about civil rights until the Iraq War is over.

Published in: on March 27, 2006 at 10:59 am  Comments (1)  

Terri Schiavo one year later: a memoir of the event

This is the first anniversary of the controversy over the death of Terri Schiavo on March 31, 2005. I did not have much to say about the controversy while it raged across the nation, for it struck a very deep and sensitive emotional nerve. Even though I had a strong opinion about it, I could not write much that was not emotionally laden. After one year, I will venture an opinion about the event if only to discover whether my emotions have subsided.

I was once faced with making the decision on whether to keep a beloved family member alive or not—someone condemned to spend the rest of her days on life support in a brain damaged vegetative state. There are few more gut wrenching and soul searching experiences. My heart goes out to all those who are confronted with the same terrible decision, regardless of what they decide.

Everyone, it seemed, had their opinion about what ought to be done with Terri Schiavo. It is a so called free country.

The President of the United States and Congress should have maintained cooler heads than the rest of the country. Instead they responded with demagoguery. They interrupted their holidays to take a side in the case. Some, like Tom Delay, rejoiced in exciting the nation’s passions. Tom judged Michael Schiavo an evil man willing to kill his wife for money. Tom knew the Schiavo case was why people murdered judges in cold blood.

Tom Delay was later discovered to have taken his father off life support in a situation similar to Terri Schiavo’s. I have no words to explain the joy I felt when I learned he was not only a demagogue, but an unrepentant hypocrite. And as for all the others who participated in the despicable enterprise, I wish someone would find skeletons in their closets too.

While this was happening, medical care spending was cut for children living in poverty. So much for the right to life. An autopsy showed that half of Ms. Schiavo’s brain tissue was dead and she was blind. It was shortly before those same people would remain on holiday during one of the nation’s greatest natural disasters, one claiming thousands of lives and creating untold suffering.

I would become a true believer again if someone convinced me they would burn in Hell for eternity. But that is just my passions getting the better of me even after a year has passed. Yes, I took the President’s and Congress’s behavior personally. The President and the Congress invaded the most intimate parts of our lives. Incompetence and corruption reached a new zenith in an atmosphere resembling that of a three ring circus. I was enraged.

In my more sober and reflective moods, it doesn’t bother me much. I know I am a better person than they are. I would never sell my soul for a few votes and a couple of points in the opinion polls.

The irony is that the event started public resentment against the disaster known as the Bush Administration.

I’m not angry anymore. The Hell I ain’t. I hope their opinion poll numbers drop to zero, and they never hold public office again. As for their place in eternity, I’ll leave that to the capable hands of their god.

Published in: on March 26, 2006 at 10:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Religion and State

First, I admit to proselytizing for an idea about religion as I have done in the past. I am not proselytizing for any particular religion nor atheism. However, I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state. Today as yesterday, the struggle continues all over the world to reach this ideal. With that preliminary out of the way, permit me to proselytize a little and argue a point.

Pascal Boyer has done some of the most exciting recent work regarding the nature of religion. He grounds his ideas about religion in research coming from the cognitive sciences. Two of his short articles give a nice summary of his research and conclusions: Why Is Religion Natural?, in the Skeptical Inquirer, and Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function (link to PDF document) in the journal TRENDS in Cognitive Science. Both articles cover much of the same territory. His book Religion Explained is not only a break in the traditional discussion of the nature of religious belief, but also a masterful exposition of research in the field and his conclusions from this research.

I will not attempt to summarize his position since has he has already done that in the two short articles I cited. I do want to discuss his conclusion. In Why Is Religion Natural he concludes:

Taking all this into account, it would seem that the “sleep of reason” interpretation of religion is less than compelling. It is quite clear that explicit religious belief requires a suspension of the sound rules according to which most scientists evaluate evidence. But so does most ordinary thinking, of the kind that sustains our commonsense intuitions about the surrounding environment. More surprising, religious notions are not at all a separate realm of cognitive activity. They are firmly rooted in the deepest principles of cognitive functioning. First, religious concepts would not be salient if they did not violate some of our most entrenched intuitions (e.g., that agents have a position in space, that live beings grow old and die, etc.). Second, religious concepts would not subsist if they did not confirm many intuitive principles. Third, most religious norms and emotions are parasitic upon systems that create very similar norms (e.g., moral intuitions) and emotions (e.g., a fear of invisible contaminants) in non-religious contexts.

In this sense, religion is vastly more “natural” than the “sleep of reason” argument would suggest. People do not adhere to concepts of invisible ghosts or ancestors or spirits because they suspend ordinary cognitive resources, but rather because they use these cognitive resources in a context for which they were not designed in the first place. However, the “tweaking” of ordinary cognition that is required to sustain religious thought is so small that one should not be surprised if religious concepts are so widespread and so resistant to argument. To some extent, the situation is similar to domains where science has clearly demonstrated the limits or falsity of our common intuitions. We now know that solid objects are largely made up of empty space, that our minds are only billions of neurons firing in ordered ways, that some physical processes can go backwards in time, that species do not have an eternal essence, that gravitation is a curvature of space-time. Yet even scientists go through their daily lives with an intuitive commitment to solid objects being full of matter, to people having non-physical minds, to time being irreversible, to cats being essentially different from dogs, and to objects falling down because they are heavy.

In a sense, the cognitive study of religion ends up justifying a common intuition, best expressed by Jonathan Swift’s dictum that “you do not reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into.” The point of studying this scientifically is to show to what extent we can expect religious notions to be stable and salient in human cultures, not just now but for a long time to come.

Should something approximating Boyer’s theory be true, it has very important things to say about the struggle for the separation of church and state.

The United States, which claims to uphold the ideal of separation of church and state, criticizes and battles fundamentalist Islam over this issue. Yet in the United States many religious fundamentalists do not hold that ideal and actively subvert this American tradition. Many would introduce religion and supernatural explanations into the teaching of science, while maintaining the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in science education. Public funding continues to increase for faith-based organizations which discriminate in their employment practices, and also in the distribution of their aid based upon religious belief and personal lifestyle. The United States intervenes for Rahman in his legal fight in Afghanistan based on the principle of separation of church and state, while its leaders, such as President Bush, push for an increasing role for certain religions in governing the country.

Taking Boyer’s advice to heart, that religious belief will be around for a long time, we see the war for separation of church and state will not be won by debating the truth of religious belief. The war will be won by convincing everyone that respect and tolerance for all religious belief via the separation of church and state is the better and safest course for everyone.

The rise of weapons of mass destruction has made this a struggle between life and death. If the United States wants to be a leader for making this ideal universal, it must embrace that ideal at home, and clean up its house before anyone will take it seriously.

Some forces supporting religious bigotry and intolerance in the United States will not be convinced by persuasive argument. That makes protection of the separation of church and state all the more imperative. The cost of defeat will be destruction, tyranny, and death.

The primary issue is not over the truth of religion, but religion’s role in governing the state.

Published in: on March 26, 2006 at 8:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Kick a Little

Two wins and a postponement in today’s Premiership. Since beginning my new strategy for picking winners, I am absolutely smoking.

Who said this game was hard?

Published in: on March 25, 2006 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  

A Coffee Mug

One Christmas, several years ago, a girlfriend gave me a tall stainless steel thermal coffee mug—the kind you can sip from while driving to work. I have tried to drink my morning coffee from cups and other mugs since then. But the coffee tastes better and stays warmer in the mug she gave me.

We have not contacted each other in four years. I should send her an e-mail telling her what a great gift she had given me. I might also mention how I think of her fondly each morning while drinking my morning coffee. I probably won’t though. She was only was my girlfriend for a short time. And then there is that small matter of her not liking me very much when she said goodbye.

Published in: on March 25, 2006 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Just another Friday night

Friday night. This time I play it sneaky–just for a goof. I get to the local bar about two hours after all the other folks who drink there regularly. I plop my geezer ass amongst them. In a magnanimous gesture, I buy everyone a round. After that, everybody buys me rounds—including the bartenders. This goes on all night, so I save a lot of money.

A woman sits across the bar with her boyfriend. He must be about my age. He watches the basketball game. They don’t talk. She obviously does not want to be sitting in a dark smoky bar on Friday night while being ignored. It looks like one of those deals where he would rather be out with the guys getting drunk and watching the basketball games without her.

I occasionally glance at her. We make immediate eye contact each time because she is already staring at me.

I love her haircut. It fits her face very well. I’m slightly smitten.

The whole exercise means nothing. She is with the guy she loves. She knows she is being treated like shit, but that is just the way it goes sometimes.

I will wake in the morning and the first image in my mind will be her.

Everybody I know leaves in a drunken stupor. I have spent relatively nothing on drinks. I drink one more beer and a shot of Maker’s Mark before I leave.

Now, I’m home blogging. Sigh.

Published in: on March 25, 2006 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Outside the Flock

Afghan citizen and former Muslim Abdul Rahman has converted to Christianity. He could be sentenced to death under Shariah law provisions contained in the Afghan constitution. The Afghan constitution is built on an uneasy alliance between secular freedoms and religious laws. Shariah law mitigates against Rahman in this case.

One can interpret what is going on in Rahman’s case by reflecting on the nature of religious belief. Let us grant, for argument’s sake, Pascal Boyer’s claim that religion is a by-product of mental processes that evolved for other purposes.

Large organized religions require and demand the social commitment of their believers on pain of death or extreme social ostracism. Social cohesion and commitment, regardless of religious practice, creates survival value. Religion piggybacks upon this natural human tendency toward social cohesion. Keeping believers inside a religion would be tenuous at best if an extreme punishment did not fit the extreme crime of leaving the fold.

Rahman’s case has fueled the same debates as the Danish cartoon events. As people try to score political points, they skip over the tricky questions about religious belief with its grounding in human nature.

Because religious belief is grounded in evolved human nature, it will be with us for a long time. Religion will also transcend political categories. The question remains as to whether persuasive logic about religious issues will change opinions arising from the strong social bonds that religions provide its members. Everyone’s fate hinges partially on this question.

Secular atheists are not popular people. (Evidence for this point can be found in Edie’s excellent article, Thoughts on Atheism, at Annotated Life.) Religious belief does not lend itself to classical persuasive argumentation; it is not that kind of thing. However, is there anything else we have to rely on?

Published in: on March 24, 2006 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Theft

I finished reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, a book about his life long obsession with the Arsenal football team. Now, it’s on to Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: an unlikely theory of globalization.

Football, as you can tell, has stolen my mind. The theft pleases, yet also instructs. Sports tend to parallel and intensify modern economic, political, and cultural issues such as racism.

My time watching football and learning about it is not entirely wasted while I admit I lack rigorous justification for it.

Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 5:37 pm  Comments (2)  

FA Cup

I won 3 and lost 1 in the FA Cup this week. I picked the 0-0 draw between Charlton vs. Boro today, which made all the difference.

I’m 14 wins and 6 losses so far in March and a shade over six picks to the positive.

Now, if the Premier games would only go according to form this weekend, it is going to a honey of a month.

Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fantasy Life

I didn’t play fantasy baseball last year even though I have won my fantasy league in years past. Blogging took its place by replacing one fantasy with another.

This year, I signed up for one of the Yahoo leagues: the easy to play Rotisserie version. I have no desire for anything more time consuming.

The Chicago Cubs don’t appear as if they will win anything this year, although they might be a better team than last year. However, Wood and Prior are once again injured, and have not participated in Spring Training. It’s hard to win without a complete starting rotation.

The fantasy baseball team might take a little of the edge off the situation. I live a fantasy life. Why not play fantasy baseball?

Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 12:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Iraq and Emotions

I was talking to a guy last night who from the beginning of the Iraq War until now has been a vocal critic of it. He surprised me by saying we should not immediately withdraw from Iraq.

When you look at the polling statistics, that is the general sentiment of a majority of Americans. The reasons people feel that way seems the more interesting question though.

The reasons are many; two seem interesting. I have written in another article that the Iraq War is a blood sport that anyone can view from a safe place and distance. I’m not accusing people of being ghouls. However, I have heard too many people talk about Iraq as if they were spectators at a gladiator event in the Coliseum. This emotion is operating at some level in many minds.

The other reason I find fascinating is fear of the unknown. When I question people who are against the war, yet still believe we need to stay in Iraq, I see a lot of hand waving, but do not hear much sound argument. I’ve yet to be persuaded by the hand waving. What prompts this fear? I won’t bore the reader with my many pages about these reasons, but focus on the obvious.

We are in Iraq is because a majority of Americans, for whatever reason, wanted to fight in Iraq. They had no desire to go and fight themselves, nor pay for it, but they wanted to see someone do it. If public reaction against the war had been as swift and decisive as the Dubai ports deal, we might not be there. If all had gone as well as the Desert Storm war, think how popular President Bush would still be.

I wonder if those who oppose current U. S. policies should start taking into account these deep American emotional responses. Should they infect minds with different emotions—even new fears? This might work better than reasoned argument ever could. The opposition knows how to manipulate emotions, and they have had their way for too long.

Published in: on March 22, 2006 at 9:44 am  Comments (1)  

A sad loss

This is not what I want to write about, but it’s midnight, and I am tired. This seems the easiest thing.

Liverpool routed Birmingham 7 – nil today at Birmingham in their FA Cup game. Birmingham, who appears on their way to relegation, probably deserved to have a better result than having 7 goals put up against them. It might have salved a few wounds.

I won some pocket change on the game, but I sure wish it had been a little more seemly, rather than watch the losing side stripped of their dignity.

Published in: on March 22, 2006 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Memorize your General Orders before you get to boot camp

President Bush has made it official. The next President and the 2009 Congress will have to see to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

You should memorize your General Orders before you get to boot camp. That’s about the best advice I can give you at this time. If I can think of any other useful tips, I’ll pass them along.

Published in: on March 21, 2006 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Late Lunch

When I woke this morning, I admitted to myself I would be watching the Birmingham City vs. Liverpool FA Cup game this afternoon. After all, I wagered on Liverpool. So, here I am eating a late lunch in front of the television.

Liverpool has scored in the first and fourth minute. BC is really up against it now. I can hear the extra coins jingling in my pocket already.

Published in: on March 21, 2006 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

What’s up with Blogger?

I have been having a devil of a time publishing on Blogger the past several days. My blog disappears after I publish a posting. When I attempt to republish the whole blog, I get a write/out of space error message. When I hit the republish index only button, things seem to return to order. It appears I am doomed to a multi-step process if I want to publish anything.

I’ve written the support group a couple of times, but it seems they are real busy, for I have not heard back from them.

Sigh.

Published in: on March 21, 2006 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Make sure you are covered before you go

I found these headlines on the NYT home page this morning: Iraqi Insurgents Storm Police Station, Killing 18 officers, and New Business Blooms in Iraq: Terror Insurance.

Who says we are not rebuilding the Iraq economy and that things are not getting better all the time?

I’m curious. How many Americans plan to take their families on vacation in Iraq this year? Have they discussed their plans with their insurance agent to make sure they are covered?

Published in: on March 21, 2006 at 8:52 am  Leave a Comment