Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wingnut Spam
Soros Buying Up The Guns! Edition

My brother sent me this bit of wingnut spam one of his employer's distributors sent to him:

    Who is buying companies, manufacturing guns ?????
     For the last several years a  company called The Freedom Group has been
     buying up gun and ammunition manufacturers. Some of the companies are
     Bushmaster, Marlin, Remington, DPMS, Dakota Arms and H&R. Some  
     people worry that this Freedom Group is  going to control most of the 
     firearms companies in the United States. If you control the manufacturers 
     you can decide to stop selling to  civilians. What a perfect way to control  
     Now if you do some digging you will see that The Freedom Group is owned
     by a company called Cerberus Capital Management. A very large privately owned
     LLP with assets of $13 billion. The company is named after the three headed
     dog that guards the gates to hell. [Nice touch?]
     Guess who controls Cerberus??? GEORGE SOROS !!!!!!!!!  One of the  
     most evil men on this planet who wants to restrict or ban all  civilian guns.
     Please pass this on to all your freedom loving friends.  This needs to come
     out. Why have we not heard about this in the "mainstream" media? I would
     think this would be BIG news. (Soros also owns Progressive Insurance)
     If you don't know who George Soros is, you need to do some 
     research. He backed Obama with multi-millions of dollars and 
     Obama is often characterized as a puppet on a string, controlled by Soros .
     Send this to every gun owner in America.
Well, of course nobody knows this is happening. Knowledge is only of the true...and this is not happening:
 The wingnut spam phenomenon is just another clear sign that our friends across the aisle have lost their shit.

Monday, January 30, 2012

 Ditching the A-10
How Is This Not A Mistake?

This has been bugging me for years, and I'm pretty surprised that it hasn't gotten more attention. I do realize that I'm no expert on this, but I really just cannot see how ditching the A-10--especially in favor of the unproven and seemingly ill-suited-for-ground-attack F-35--could possibly make sense. I mean, can you stick a couple of JDAMs on an F-16? Uh, yeah. Is this an optimal use of resources? Sure doesn't seem to be... So now it looks like F-35s are supposed to take on the role of both F-22s and A-10s...and nobody thinks that it'll be terribly good at either one. I was in favor of not acquiring any more F-22s because the things--awesome as they are--were just too damn expensive. This cannot be said of the A-10, which is a bargain no matter how you look at it.

I guess the experts know what they're doing here...but it sure doesn't seem that way...
Is The GOP Not Even Trying To Make Sense Anymore?
Bad Analogies Edition: Captain Schettino and Obama???


It remains difficult to focus on the substance of policy debates when the GOP continues to act like a not-terribly-bright-even-by-the-standards-of-five-year-olds five-year-old. And an unusually petulant five-year-old, to boot...

Priebus is either an idiot or a partisan hack of (as it were) the first water. (Note: that's an inclusive 'or'...)

So...if we really need a nautical analogy here, we'd have to find one in which the current captain was given command of a foundering ship, with said floundering being the fault of the previous, radically incompetent captain. The current captain prevents the ship from sinking and--to semi-mix metaphors--gets it basically back on course...when a mutiny starts, led by supporters of the previous captain. Said mutineers prevent the current captain from taking measures that are required in order to fully rectify the situation that their faction caused...and they blame the current captain for the sub-optimal state of the ship.

So...anybody know of an actually accurate, real-life analogy?

Oh, and, uh, there is just no way to get the abandoning ship bit to make any sense whatsoever.

All in all, a shitty, shitty metaphor, entirely inapt, from a hack who will say absolutely anything to get his party back in power so that they can, er...scuttle the country. Or whatever.

Really, can these people get any more loathsome and annoying?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mitt and the White Horse Prophecy
Mormonism and Theocracy

Worth a read.

When I was a teenager I had Mormon friends, so I got to know a thing or two about Mormonism and Mormons. I found much to admire about them, including their dedication to hard work and learning, their generosity, and their tight-knit, supportive community. In the end, however, I concluded that they were more than a little cultish. I'm not a fan of religion in general, and less a fan of Mormonism than most other versions of Christianity. I'd like to say something really liberal here like "oh, a candidate's religion is irrelevant to..." etc. But I don't honestly believe that. For awhile I pinned my hopes on Romney being a bad Mormon, but that seems implausible...

I have to say, I'm a bit concerned about Mormonism in general, and in particular about their commitment to spreading their religion by the time-tested strategy of  out-reproducing their rivals. Overpopulation is, IMO, perhaps the most serious problem we face, and Mormonism is doing its damnedest to exacerbate the problem. Furthermore, ex-Mormons frequently have pretty scary things to say about their time in the church. The information at the other end of the link above does not exactly work to defuse my concerns about the religion. I can't find the exact quote, but if Romney does actually think that the Declaration of Independence is a theological document, that's obviously a big problem. On the other hand, this might be a kooky belief currently shared by a large number of Republicans...though that's cold comfort...

Liberal that I am, I can't help worrying that I'm just falling prey to some prejudice here...  Do let me know if that's the case.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is Sexuality A Choice?
And: Two Arguments About Same-Sex Sex


I actually think the answer is fairly clear, and it's: kinda.

Desires can be modified, tamped down, and cultivated. Anyone who has ever cultivated a taste for anything (e.g. beer, coffee, exercise, discordant music, hard work) can attest to this. There is no reason to think that sexual desire is sui generis. One could undoubtedly simply choose to have sex exclusively with any/a certain kind of person--say, men--so long as sex is broadly characterized. (I've known several "political lesbians" who claimed that their decisions to have sex with only females was a (political) choice. These were not the most sensible people I've ever known...so I'm no sure how heavily to weigh this evidence...but there it is.) Also, cases of people denying their sexuality for awhile are common enough...so there's no reason to think they can't do so for their whole lives.

However, there's also, rather obviously, a very strong component to sexual desire that is non-optional.*

I think that liberals, gay activists etc. tended and tend to emphasize the innate/non-optional aspects of sexuality because this constituted part of a seemingly iron-clad 'ought'-implies-'can' argument: sexual desire cannot be changed, 'ought' implies 'can', therefore it is not the case that one ought to change one's sexual desires. (Note: not 'one ought not,' but 'it is not the case that one ought/must.') As some of the folks Sully cites note, this type of argument is modeled on certain arguments about race, which is not changeable.

However, I've long doubted the first premise (for reasons gestured at above)...and this argument misses the real point. The real point is that there is simply not a damn thing wrong about same-sex sex between consenting adults (adding in all the peripheral caveats about informed consent and so forth).** Running this better, more centrally-important and more substantial argument forces us to directly address the permissibility of same-sex sex...but the fact of the matter is that there is not a single even vaguely plausible argument for the claim that such sex is impermissible. (Arguments about the teloi of the sex organs simply don't work--not, at least, unless we are willing to embrace conclusions to the effect that it's impermissible to e.g. wear glasses because the telos of the nose is not to support them.) The burden of proof in such cases, in which there is no prima facie harm, is clearly on those who argue for impermissibility. And, honestly, the arguments there are laughably, disastrously, head-spinningly bad.

Anyway, I understand the strategic, rhetorical reasons for relying on the first type of argument...but note that that argument does not actually get us to the conclusion that same-sex sex is permissible. Note that parallel 'ought'-implies-'can' arguments can be made about pedophiles who, apparently, don't have any more control over their desires than anyone else. The first type of argument only gets us to same-sex sexual desire/attraction is not impermissible--it doesn't get us any farther. If same-sex sex where impermissible, then, even if sexual desire were completely unchangeable, people with sexual desire for those of the same sex would simply have an obligation to resist their desires. That's the the case with pedophiles, for example, and for people who have sexual desire for people who don't desire them back. The difference between the pedophile case and the case of same-sex sex is obvious, however, and it's the crucial difference here: pedophilia is morally wrong, whereas consensual sex between consenting adults (typically) is not.

So the first argument--the 'ought'-implies-'can' excuse argument--is really irrelevant, since it needs to be supplemented by the second argument anyway. So--rhetorical/tactical considerations to the side--liberals should focus on the second argument, and go directly for the conclusion that same-sex sex is morally permissible.

* A little thought will show that the shift of focus there from "sexuality" (a broader, vaguer notion) to sexual desire is ok here.

** Note also that we shouldn't be wild about the use of the first type of argument in the context of race, either. For the implication is that we're saying something like "Oh...well...I mean...I guess if you can't stop being Asian (or whatever) it's ok then...."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Grover Norquist is Insane


As we know, it is permissible for Republicans to impeach Democratic Presidents for any reason whatsoever, including consensual sex acts; it is, however, impermissible for Democrats to impeach Republicans for any reason, including war crimes.

So Grover now thinks that allowing tax cuts to expire when they are scheduled to expire is an impeachable offense.

That guy is stark, raving mad.

[via Sully]
Shorter David Frum: Lying Is OK, As Long As There's Something In It For You


See, Frum doesn't like to say that Romney is a liar. He prefers to say that he has an "emotional distance from the facts." Ohhh....I get it now! 

I mean, Frum wishes Mittens would stick to the facts...but, hey, as Frum notes, Frum isn't the only GOP voter out there. So, Frum asks, waddayagonnado?

Frum is a professional liar. He sold his services as a sophist to the disastrous Bush administration, and helped them achieve their disastrous ends. Calling lies by another name doesn't change their moral status.

And, see, Dave...here's the thing: it's easy to tell the truth when its in your interest. The test is whether you'll tell the truth when you have something to gain by lying. Almost everybody is honest when it doesn't cost them anything.

Frum types:
...elections turn on more than facts, promises, and programs—especially this current campaign for the Republican nomination for president. More perhaps than most, this election turns on shared feelings. Many Republican primary voters have been sold a narrative or image of the Obama presidency in which a radical socialist alien president is seeking to wreck and overturn the American way of life and the free enterprise system. That narrative is nuts, but unless you signal that you share the nuttiness, your campaign goes the way of Jon Huntsman's.

Romney, having no interest in martyrdom, has sent his share of such signals. And it is those signals that I doubt he believes. Whatever else Mitt Romney may be, he's certainly no fool. So when he says something foolish, I assume there must be a part of his brain that knows better. What choice does he have? As he wrote to his father during his father's presidential run 45 years ago: "The rest of our [electoral] system I know pretty well—only one thing I can't understand: how can the American public like such muttonheads?"

Appropriately wary of the public's fondness for muttonheads, Romney takes appropriate precautions.

I like it best when Romney sticks to the facts and avoids impugning the president's motives. But I'm not the only voter in these primaries. Many Republicans voters are terrified by unfounded fears and are swayed by false information. The Romney campaign wooed those voters by deferring to some of their emotions. It's hard to see what other choice the campaign might have. Yet candidate Romney cannot always maintain the level of deference required. No fool and no hater, he sometimes shows his distance from the emotions of the Republican base. I think that distance is to his credit—and way more creditable than for example the racial dog-whistling on which Newt Gingrich has built his campaign.

But what I call emotional distance from the feelings of the Republican base, James Taranto calls "lying." That's a hard word and a strong accusation.
 Ah, so...Romney is acutely aware that he is representing falsehoods as truths...and he knows that's what he's doing...so....

So he's a liar.

You see, Dave, that's what lying is.

It's a "hard word" indeed, but an accurate one. Maybe it hurts your feewings, but it correctly describes what Romney does.

Frum then goes on to launch a blatant tu quoque against Taranto and the WSJ, which is actually informative. I mean, yeah, the WSJ editorial page is full of lies, too. But that doesn't make Mittens any more honest, now does it?

People like Frum have no real respect for democracy. It's merely a kind of pro forma democracy when the electorate makes decisions based on false information. If I convince a plurality of voters that everybody's going to die unless they relinquish all of their rights and give me all of their money, and they do so, they have not made autonomous decisions. Democratic decisions based on falsehoods are not really any better than non-democratic decisions. But the folks on Frum's side of the aisle care more--a lot more--about winning than they do about democracy.

You cannot defend your lies by pointing out that without lying you could not have gotten what you wanted.

C'mon, man. Surely, somewhere, deep down inside, you know you are spouting bullshit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012



Calculates how long it takes Mitt Romney to make your annual salary, how much money you'd save if you were taxed at his rate, and the amount you should offer to bet Rick Perry in a debate.

[via, like, I dunno...Metafilter or something...]
Carolina 74, State 55

Man, I feel sorry for State. They certainly have fallen on hard times. They're actually pretty good this year, though, and have a killer recruiting class coming in next year.

This game wasn't even as close as the score suggest. Roy is now 22-1 vs. State. Ouch.

Congrats to the Heels...and especially to Zeller for an awesome game, and to Stilman White for the 3!
Oklahoma Legislator Proposes Ban On Aborted Fetuses In Food

Not making this up.

(via TPM)

But...but...isn't this illegitimate government interference in the free market? Won't the Invisible Hand take care of this??? If people don't want aborted fetuses in their food, won't they buy less fetus-fortified food?

It's just so damned hard to find true conservatives anymore...
Is Politifact Wooing Wingnuts?

The sad tale of Politifact's convoluted analysis of Obama's claim that American businesses have created 3 million jobs in the last 22 months. Though it's true and clearly so--and 100% so--Politifact gave it a "half-true" rating. Now they're backing off of that, fortunately.

My guess is that they are afflicted by something I find in myself. When faced with a completely deranged right wing, I find myself nit-picking and spinning in an attempt to find something they are saying right, and to find things that Obama and liberals are getting wrong. It's not that the latter group is blameless or flawless...it's that the errors of the former groups so overwhelm those of the latter that one feels compelled to try to balance things out to at least some degree.

Still, a bad--even if somewhat understandable--job by the folks at Politifact. Of course they face the added pressure that they are concerned about their reputation, and that the right now accuses them of liberal bias. Though, as we know, everything that is not blatantly conservative will be accused of liberal bias. That's something Politifact is just going to have to live with.
Republicans Disrespecting Obama
Jan Brewer Edition

This stuff is getting ridiculous. The GOP has now decided that they don't even have to accord Obama the respect to which his office entitles him. You do not talk over the president, and, having been far enough out of line that he walks away, for chrissake you do not continue to squeak at him as he leaves. (Note that Brewer herself pointedly says that she has "all the respect in the world for the office of the president"--obvious implication: but not for the man who now holds the office.)

Presumably this was Brewer trying to score some points with the base. I wouldn't be surprised to see more and more JoeWilsonesque outbursts.

These people just plain suck. They have no actual respect for our democracy nor its institutions, but only for their own party.
Newt Gingrich is an Idiot
3-Hour Debate Edition

What a moron. Debates are for people who don't understand the issues anyway, and who think they can do so by watching a 90-minute-or-so, staged rhetorical contest. (Not that I don't watch them, because I do.) No one with two neurons to rub together and who gives the matter any thought can possibly think that a 3-hour debate is a good idea. It would be little more than an endurance contest for both the participants and the audience.

This is just another dumb-guy-who-thinks-he's-smart idea from Newt. Apparently this is part of his fantasy that he is a serious thinker, and Obama is not, and that he'll show these things by besting the President at the podium. Oh, Newt will have a certain advantage, as blowhards and bullshitters always do in debates. But Obama will shred him on substance, obviously. Newt is simply fighting out of his intellectual weight class against Obama. But a bombastic bullshitter of his caliber is a dangerous opponent in such a contest. Debates are about entertainment, not inquiry, and that is, indeed, Newt's territory.

Instead of debates, what we should have are documents or videos prepared by the candidates' teams, in which each team gets a certain number of words or minutes to present challenges and answer them. This would allow each side to craft its best response, marshal all the relevant facts, appeal to experts and so forth. A document or video of this kind would be extremely informative, and would minimize the effectiveness of bullshitting.
Anti-Obama Crap from David Frum


How does crap like this get published?

First, why focus on Obama's dumbest critics? Well, (a) the dumbest critics are the ones who are dominating the discussion, so their criticisms are, in a very important sense, the most important ones; and (b) if this crap from Frum is supposed to represent more sophisticated criticisms, then there's little difference between the dumbest critics and the other ones.

Obama is the "first president since Lyndon Johnson" to push for a "bigger and more interventionist government"?  People really need to stop letting conservatives get away with this crap. It's primarily conservatives who push for interventionist government--they are the ones who led the charge for the loathsome and loathsomely-named "Patriot" Act, they are the ones that have led the push for a war on drugs, they are the ones that lead the charge against state decriminalization of marijuana, and for federal regulations to prevent non-heterosexuals from marrying. It is conservatives who love government intervention. Every year they push to undermine the First Amendment by criminalizing flag-burning, and if they had their way there would be organized prayer in school. (Actually, there is organized prayer in school in Virginia.) If you love government interfering in your life, the the GOP is the party for you. And, as for bigger government, it's the GOP that takes the lead in giving us a bloated military. And this is not to mention the senseless intervention elsewhere constituted by the catastrophic Iraq war.

Frum, who helped the disastrous Bush administration achieve its disastrous ends, now apparently spends his free time sniping at the one guy who is doing the most to pull the country out of the ditch that Frum himself helped put it in.

Nice work, Dave.

Really nice work.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Right-Wing Working of the Refs Affecting Politifact?

'Calculation', Not 'Calculus'

Ever since the relatively generic use of the term 'calculus' (that is, to mean, roughly, a method or tool for calculating, as in "the propositional calculus") became more widely-known, people seem to be unable to resist it, probably because it sounds, ya know, technical.

Let me just point out that, when you write things roughly like "in response to new facts, the calculus changed" (as happens all over the place, e.g. here), probably what you mean to write is: "in response to new facts, the calculations changed." You probably don't mean to say that you developed an entirely new calculation apparatus; you probably just mean that you got some new inputs, and that changed the outputs, or you had to take some additional numbers into account, or you were wrong about one of the constants, or whatever. It's unlikely that the calculus changed, though calculations change all the time.

Obviously not a big deal, but I'm tired of seeing this, so everybody cut it out, ok?
Lizza: The Making Of a Post-Partisan President

I say this is really good, according to me. It's not that it's that surprising, not that it tells us much we don't already know...but it connects the known dots in a clear, evocative way. Obama, post-partisan President, arrives in the White House to find himself thwarted at every turn by a viciously obstructionist opposition.
Our Rhetorical Disadvantage

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Arkansas Democratic Campaign Manager's Cat Killed
'Liberal' Written Across Its Body

Disturbing pic of the cat's body prominent at the other end of this link.

There will always be isolated kooks. However, this sort of thing is not what you'd call unpredictable. Given the rhetoric that's come from the right over the past 20 years, such things are not only predictable, but, well, frankly I'm a little surprised we don't see more of this. We will, probably, over the next 10 months.

To review, opinion leaders in the fever swamps now routinely say that the President is a foreign national radical Muslim/radical leftist who is consciously trying to destroy the country. Democrats hate America and are intentionally aiding him in his anti-American jihad.

Now, if a bunch of heavily-armed, not-terribly-intelligent, and not-terribly-stable individuals really believed this, one would expect more than just the occasional dead cat, terrible though that is.

Fortunately for all of us, most of these people don't really believe the sh!t they spout. If they did, we'd have a much bigger problem than we already have.

Again, if this were isolated and unrelated to the massive propaganda campaign prosecuted by the right-wing noise machine, it wouldn't reflect on conservatism at all. But it isn't, and, so, it does. As it stands, it's a kind of a (very modest form of a) conclusion of a practical syllogism, the premises for which the Limbaughs and Coulters and their ilk provide every day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Now Liberalism's Job To Articulate Conservatism's Vision

O.k., so I've been thinking about this a long time, and mentioned it here and there, but can't get it right, so I'll just blurt out the idea:

Now that the American right has gone insane, it is the job of liberalism to try to articulate and defend their position(s) for them. Liberalism and liberals are, in general, just plain better at being objective than conservatism and conservatives. When our friends across the aisle are at their best, they're good to have around. When they're at their best, they're certainly better than we are much of the time. But they're not at their best these days, to say the least.

Now's not necessarily the time for this project...now's the time to be working for Obama with every fiber of our collective being...  But if/after we win in November, it's time to face this project in earnest. The probability that they are right and we are wrong about some things is 1. It's a certainty. They, currently sunk in their fever-swamp funk, can't clearly articulate even the sensible parts of their vision. If liberals were more like the far right or the far left, then we'd not be interested in figuring out the truth, but just in running with any advantage we could gain. But that's not us, is it?

So, fairly soon, we need to sit down and think hard about which parts of conservatism are the right parts.
David Frum Thinks Gingrich Is Too Loony To Be President

David Frum.

Damn, you gotta be one crazy-ass conservative to be too vile for David Frum. If you're losing true believers like that guy, you are way t.f. out in left field.

Right field, actually, I guess.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Newt Wins South Carolina
I Was Wrong

Whoa! Was I ever wrong.

As mac was quick to note first thing this morning! Thanks, mac! Ha ha!

Well, as Peirce says, there's nothing like a good, clear, unequivocal error to move inquiry along... So I prefer to think of myself as having advanced the discussion...

S. rex suggests that it might be because conservatives hate the MSM more than they hate adultery. That's pretty good. I've got no better ideas.

Or maybe...since the MSM reported it, perhaps conservatives think that it didn't really happen... I guess it doesn't count until it turns up on Conservapedia ("The Trustworthy Encycopedia").*

Admittedly, it seems to be he-said/she-said... I'm really just going on the fact that it fits into a Newtish pattern of douchebaggery.

But, anyway, the good news is that this will make the nomination longer and bloodier. I really want to see conservatism reap what it has sown, and see Newt and the psycho wing of the GOP put the party into a tail spin that ends in a burning heap of electoral rubble in November. It'd be poetic justice. Don't forget: without Newt, no Bush '43. Without Bush '43, no Iraq war. Without the Iraq war, good odds of a quick victory in Afghanistan We're talking about a guy who has harmed this country immeasurably. And we're also a party that will continue to use his destructive, scorched-earth tactics until they lead to electoral disaster. Policy disaster for the country has already happened, and won't do the trick. Until it leads to direct, prudential, political defeat, they won't eschew the strategy. And, hell, maybe not even then.

On the other hand, you see what my predictions are worth...

* Recent sidebar post on the front page of Conservapedia:

The Economic Collapse blog reports: "In an absolutely startling report, the World Bank revised GDP growth estimates for 2012 downward very sharply, warned that Europe could be on the verge of a devastating financial crisis, and declared that the rest of the world better 'prepare for the worst.' "[3]
Do you have the 4 G's? God, gold, guns and a getaway plan?[4] Please see: Resources on becoming a Christian
[Wow. Christianity requires guns and a getaway plan. I forgot that part from Sunday school...  That last link is kinda worth clicking on just for the head-shake factor. Wow. These poor people are sad.] 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Season 3, Episode 1 Edition

Wow. Well, that (season 3, episode 1 (the Burt Reynolds episode)) really sucked, didn't it?

We freaking love Archer--possibly the most hilarious tv show ever, IMHO. But the kick-off episode for season 3 was just awful. JQ said that it was as if someone who'd watched a bunch of episodes of the show, but didn't really get them, had written the episode. I wonder whether the Burt Reynolds schtick is what screwed it up.

At any rate, it sucked. Suuuuuucked. If you taped it, then, no matter how much you've been looking forward to it, I suggest you just delete it and watch an episode from season 1 or 2 instead.

I expect they'll bounce back...but this was an inauspicious beginning for season 3.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Strickland Out For Season
Heels Probably Out of the Running

Well, that's some enormously bad news for Dex, and for Carolina. Torn ACL.

Get well man--we're all pulling for ya.

Dex, as I'm sure you all realize, is Carolina's best perimeter defender by far, starting 2-guard, only serious back-up PG, and only threat to penetrate. Now we are seriously up the freaking creek.

Leslie MacDonald won't recover in time to play much, so he redshirted last week. We've still got Bullock and Hariston at the two...but this is a huge, huge blow.

Wow. We went from a team that was supposed to dominate on our way to the Final Four, to one that collapsed and lost by 33 points in Tallahassee, to one that is now in serious trouble.


Best of luck, Dex. Looking forward to watching you play next year.
Mitt Romney is Successful
Or: If You Question Mitt Romney, You Question America


Wow. At first I was so relieved that the likely GOP candidate did not come from the lunatic wing of the party that I really didn't notice how genuinely terrible that guy is.

So, in this clip, Romney repeatedly tells us how "successful" he's been. (He also claims to have done it on his own because he (allegedly) didn't inherit any money from his parents. (I wonder whether he put himself through his elite grade schools and prep schools? And Harvard law and business school? Wonder whether his father had any business or political connections? Wonder whether that stuff counts? The thing about the truly rich is that they swim in such an ocean of advantage that they don't even notice it.).

But the most awesome part comes at about the 5:15 mark, where Romney, is trying to sleaze out of releasing his tax returns. At that point he informs us that folks who want to see those returns "want to make it more difficult for a campaign to be successful."

So let's make this perfectly clear: if you want to know whether or not someone is spinning and sleazing their way to victory/wealth, you are "trying to make it more difficult" for them to be "successful." An attempt to discover whether or not someone is playing by the rules is an attempt to stand in the way of their success.

Of course, this is a guy who thinks that only envy could drive people to question the amassing of obscene amounts of wealth, largely by helping (in effect) to convert manufacturing jobs into retail jobs.

And, as DougJ says: props to King for pushing Romney on this bullshit. The part where King notes that Romney's own father established the standard, and explained why releasing just a few years' worth isn't sufficient was gold. Romney's sleazy response was astonishing, even by his standards.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prediction: Gingrich is Toast

More precise prediction:
Gingrich is toast not because he is an unqualified, possibly sociopathic nutjob who has done his harmed the country significantly and would like to do some more of that...nor because he left two wives as soon as they got sick, nor because he can't keep it in his pants, nor because he's a blowhard moron, nor because he's a hypocrite, nor because he perfectly represents a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like.


He's toast because he wanted an open marriage.

That the evangelicals are not going to tolerate.

The bad breaks just keep on comin' for us. If the GOP had counted the votes--not that they care about such things--Santorum would have been announced as the winner of Iowa when it mattered, and the race would have gotten far bloodier. If Newt's ex had waited a week, he might have won SC and, also, made it bloodier.

Newt's not done yet, though. There's some suggestion that he might latch onto Sarah Palin--one of the only people in the universe less qualified than himself--as a last, desperate lunge. Fortunately, he's loony enough to try to burn the GOP down on his way out the door.

Godspeed on that, Newt.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Marcia Angell: The Illusions of Psychiatry

Also at the NYRB, also very much worth reading.
Marcia Angell On The Epidemic Of Mental Illness
And Why Anti-Depressants Don't Work

At the NYRB.

Holy crap. And this is no kook writing. Apparently the effects of anti-depressants on depression are basically indistinguishable from the effects of "extra-strength placebos," i.e. placebos with side-effects. One hypothesis: there is simply no relevant difference in the drugs, but patients in studies with regular, inert placebos can tell whether or not they are getting the medicine, so the studies are not actually blind.

Overall, a really informative paper, marred by one minor apparent error. Angell writes:

When it was found that psychoactive drugs affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain, as evidenced mainly by the levels of their breakdown products in the spinal fluid, the theory arose that the cause of mental illness is an abnormality in the brain’s concentration of these chemicals that is specifically countered by the appropriate drug. For example, because Thorazine was found to lower dopamine levels in the brain, it was postulated that psychoses like schizophrenia are caused by too much dopamine. Or later, because certain antidepressants increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, it was postulated that depression is caused by too little serotonin. (These antidepressants, like Prozac or Celexa, are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) because they prevent the reabsorption of serotonin by the neurons that release it, so that more remains in the synapses to activate other neurons.) Thus, instead of developing a drug to treat an abnormality, an abnormality was postulated to fit a drug.

That was a great leap in logic, as all three authors point out. It was entirely possible that drugs that affected neurotransmitter levels could relieve symptoms even if neurotransmitters had nothing to do with the illness in the first place (and even possible that they relieved symptoms through some other mode of action entirely). As Carlat puts it, “By this same logic one could argue that the cause of all pain conditions is a deficiency of opiates, since narcotic pain medications activate opiate receptors in the brain.” Or similarly, one could argue that fevers are caused by too little aspirin.
Unless I'm missing something, that's a perfectly legitimate inference to a hypothesis, and in no way inconsistent with sound scientific practice. ("postulated" at the end of paragraph one probably means "hypothesized.") As Angell points out, there are plenty of objections that can be raised against how the hypothesis was tested--and that's where the action is in such cases. But there's nothing wrong with the hypothesis nor its formation--or, at least, none that's evident from the above. Also, the analogy with aspirin isn't a good one...unless the brain naturally produces aspirin.

But that's a quibble about an otherwise interesting--jaw-droppingly interesting--article.
Marty Lederman and Steve Vladeck:
The NDAA: Not As Bad As You Think

Very interesting (Via Balkinization)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Perils of Philosophical Ignorance
Too Big To Know Edition

Well, there's this.

Haven't read the book (by David Weinberger)...don't need to. This sort of nonsense happens over and over. This is a new manifestation of an old set of errors. Evgeny Morozov seems to have already hit the high points here.

Coupla points:

First, if you find yourself saying "the Postmodernists were right," or "Lyotard was right," then you've crashed and burned. Take this as a reductio, and start over. Morozov claims that there are significant similarities between Weinberger's book and Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. I've read the latter carefully several times, and can say, unequivocally, that it is a virtually unmitigated piece of crap. Weinberger does sound like he's in the same general vicinity, though I obviously can't say more than that.

Second, and more substantively, if you're going to make sweeping claims about knowledge and facts, make sure you are talking about, y'know, knowledge and facts. The common error here is to start talking about other, very different concepts, and then illicitly draw conclusions about knowledge and facts. The most common other concepts to deploy here are justified belief and widely-accepted belief. These concepts are, of course, importantly different. For example, a justified belief (like widely-accepted belief) can be false, but knowledge can't be. For another example, a proposition is a widely-accepted belief in virtue of, well, just being widely-accepted; but nothing can become knowledge simply in virtue of being widely-accepted.

Weinberger--so say the snippets--writes things like "knowledge consists of a network of people and ideas that are not totally in sync, that are diverse, that disagree. ... We are beginning to think of knowledge itself as having value insofar as it contains difference." This is as wrong as anything one could possibly write on the subject. Perhaps he's really confusing knowledge with evidence, and trying to say that "we" are beginning to think of evidence as being valuable insofar as it contains the relevant disagreeing evidence as well. That would at least make a little sense...though it doesn't mean anything like what he writes. Furthermore, note that "we're beginning to think that p" is a sociological/anthropological claim about our opinions, not a logical/epistemological claim about what is so. Perhaps lots of people are starting to think what Wienberger claims. All that shows is that lots of people are bad at epistemology. But it doesn't tell us anything at all about knowledge per se, nor about facts.

I know I haven't read the book, and I know I'm getting all snitty about this. I also realize that analytic philosophers are largely to blame for having intentionally become hermetic, and for ceding the field to crackpots like Lyotard and amateurs like Weinberger. But it's annoying that (a) philosophy is so often an object of ridicule, when (b) we actually do have at least a pretty good understanding of the basic terrain with respect to such questions, and (c) folks like Weinberger make pronouncements that clearly display a complete ignorance of even the best and most basic findings of 2500 years worth of philosophical reflection. You need to at least read an introductory epistemology book if you're going to write about epistemology. On the other hand, you probably ought to read a book if you're going to criticize it. So maybe we're even...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Conservatives Love Big Government
Conservatives Hate Pr0n Edition

Link.  [via Metafilter]

To review:
The right-wing (we don't really have many conservatives in the U.S. these days...) does not want small government...and the size of government per se doesn't matter that much. They don't even really want cheap government. The stuff about low taxes is really a stalking horse for what they're really interested in.

What the right-wing wants is...well, what the right-wing wants. They want to eliminate the programs they dislike--primarily social services. But oh, yeah, stuff like NPR, the Department of Education, the NEA, the EPA...anything, basically, that helps the poor or gets in the way of business.


They want a huge military. They're also fine with the war on drugs, militarized police forces, a government that favors some religions over others...no...actually: a government that favors Christianity over other religions...extending government's jurisdiction into the uterus...  All this they love...

And, of course:

The War On Pr0n

Remember: their anti-big-government mantra is a lie wrapped in a Red Herring. It's intrusive government--small or big--that's the enemy...and nobody loves intrusive government like the right wing. Regulating the amount of lead and mercury in the environment: unjustified interference in our freedoms. Sending the SWAT team into your bedroom to seize your contraceptives and porn: just dandy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Carolina Collapses Against FSU

Wow. Carolina looked so bad I can't even hypothesize about what happened. I honestly have no idea. They looked like they looked at the beginning of last season when they seemed incapable of doing anything right. It was like a different team out there...Marshall wasn't playing like Marshall, Henson was barely playing like Henson, Dex wasn't playing like Dex, and Barnes...sadly, just like last game...was not playing like Barnes.

Wow...losing to an unranked and, honestly, not good team by 33 points. We looked flat and out of sync from beginning to end. I do not remember one single good play. The Heels' shots were basically glancing off the side of the rim every time, while FSU was basically swishing just about everything they threw up. Anong the Heels, only Zeller looked as if he'd come to play. Some FSU guard who averages 6 points a game had like 27 points from the 3-point line.. Just a weird, unlikely, extremely messed-up game, and a really weird experience all around. Carolina beating FSU by 30 would have been unremarkable. Losing to them by, say, 1 would have made the front page of ESPN. Losing to them by 30...well, nobody on the planet would have thought there was a snowball's chance of that. And yet here we are.

Wish I had even some vague hypothesis about what happened...but it was so bad that I'd basically have to go with something like "magic" if absolutely forced to conjecture... It really was one of the weirdest basketball games I've ever seen.

Ah, well, Waddaya gonna do? Every time is up like crazy when the Heels come to town, and there's really no way for Carolina to be equally up for every single game they play. I guess it's just gonna happen sometimes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Drezner: Government Are Not Corporations

Actually, there's a whole bunch of sh!t that isn't corporations. In fact, all the non-corporations--that is, all the other goddamned types of organizations known to man are not corporations.

Oh...link. [Via Sullivan]

Reagan fired up business-worship in this country. It seemed to die down for a bit, but it never quite went away, and now its back in full force. One of the things ruining American universities is the view that they are businesses, that the faculty are employees and the students are customers. (Students are frequently referred to as "customers" at my own rapidly-deteriorating institution. A new sign at the check-out desk at the library says "blah blah customers should blah blah." As a friend of mine who works there pointed out to them, there is actually a perfectly apt, perfectly common term for people who use libraries, and it is not 'customers'. It is, of course, 'patrons.'

I expect that it would probably be a bad idea to try to run your business as if it were a university. I assure you that it is no better to try to run a university as if it were a business.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Aren't There More (")Liberals(") In America?


Not entirely clear what the question is, but it may very well be, at least in part: why don't more people describe themselves as liberals?

Hypothesis: because Reagan and the neo-Reaganites made 'liberal' a dirty word. Add to that that lots of liberals fled the fight and decided to start calling themselves "progressives" instead. That'll work until the next Reagan comes along and makes 'progressive' a dirty word.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Should Liberals Lie About Romney's "I Like Being Able To Fire People" Comment?

Drum asks the question, but thinks the answer is in the negative...er, that's my hypothesis based on reading him all the time...not his words. But I'm what you'd call sure about it...

Sullivan, peace be upon him, admits that it's a misrepresentation, which is good. Unfortunately, he then gestures at one of the slimiest defenses of such misrepresentations, the ol' he-should-know-better-than-to-say-something-people-like-me-will-misrepresent defense, writing:
...it's still a dumb statement for Mitt Bain Romney to be saying in this climate.
 No, no, no Sully. Bad Sully.You know better than that, dude. That's almost as lame as trying to pretend that he meant the bad thing that he didn't mean instead of the reasonable thing that he meant.

Should liberals misrepresent what conservatives say in cases like this? After all, they're doing it to us. They cannot win without doing so, and they do it all the time. It is their current default strategy.

And: in this case, we're right, they're wrong. We need Obama, we need non-Romney. And their only chance of winning requires them to misrepresent the facts. Shouldn't we do it too? Just enough, perhaps, to off-set their ill-gotten advantage. How about that? We don't have to say that Mitt Romney was born in Kenya or anything... Hell, dude really is a kind of robber-baron scumbag. Couldn't we just...y'know...this once...do to them what they do to us all the freaking time?

How about if I represent, at least right now, the side of our minds that says that the answer is no?

Our friends across the aisle didn't go crazy all at once you know... They went crazy step by incremental step...and there was no particular one that seemed all that, y'know, bad...

Just sayin'...
Noahpinion: Why Conservatives Can't Get People To Work Hard

Nice post.

A quote:
One basic idea is that hard work should be rewarded. Obvious, right? I mean, we're supposed to be economists here! People respond to incentives, and they are risk averse. A winner-take-all society is not very conducive to hard work; I'm not going to bust my butt for 30 years for a 1% shot at getting into The 1%. But I am going to bust my butt for 30 years if I think this gives me a 90% chance of having a decent house, a family, some security, a reasonably pleasant job, a dog, and a couple of cars in my garage. An ideal middle-class society is one in which everyone, not just anyone, can get ahead via hard work.

Liberals have tried hard to construct such a middle-class society. They came up with worker health and safety regulations, weekends, Social Security, labor unions, public schools, living wages, government-subsidized housing loans, grants and loans for college, earned-income tax credits, job retraining, and tax breaks for health care. Some of those ideas worked spectacularly, some failed. Many had mixed results. But the basic idea was sound: not just to give people handouts, but to make them feel as if they deserved what they were getting because of hard work.

I'd quibble with that last bit: the point was not to" make people feel as if they deserved what they were getting because of hard work;" rather, the point is to help people actually get what they deserve. Even ignoring points about fairness, people are good at figuring out things like this. Even if you're only worried about incentives and outcomes, people will figure out whether work pays off, and they'll work accordingly. They'll figure it out because it's very, very important to them, and it's not that complicated (in its gross outlines, at least.)

[Via...Drum, maybe?]

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Krugman on Romney on Jobs

I'm in no way knowledgeable enough about economics to speak on this, but I generally trust Kruman...and he's certainly right, at least, about the first part. His line:

Romney's record on jobs really looks like this: he helped to eliminate good ones (e.g. at steel mills) and replace them with bad ones (e.g. at Staples).

Interesting if true.

Goddamn it, enough with the rhetorical strategizing and mincing around.

The Dems should simply be gearing up to go at the GOP (that will mean: Romney) with the facts. Short, clear commercials with clear graphs--many are, after all, available--showing whose/which policies are responsible for most of the deficit, exactly what the stimulus did, what the various tax proposals would do, etc.

No more of those STUPID-ASS evil-sounding voice-overs, no more getting sucked into the idea that this is a debate or a public-speaking contest... Use this opportunity to educate people. Do it clearly. Do it honestly.

Notwithstanding the iniquity of the world, truth and justice are the most powerful forces in it.
Video: The History of U.S.-Iranian Relations Since 1953
And A Thought-Experiment

I've written about this history before--many have, of course. But here's a nice, 10-minute video beginning with the history of U.S.-Iranian relations since 1953. As we know--but most Americans don't--if you look at all the relevant information, and not just what happened since 1979, it becomes clear that the fault, historically speaking, lies primarily with us, not with the Iranians. That does not, of course, mean that the Iranian government isn't currently loony... But things would likely be a lot different if not for Operation Ajax.

The simple thought-experiment at the end of the video is great. It's the kind of thing that you and I do basically automatically--that is, imagine what judgment we would make if the situation were reversed. But our friends across the aisle these days seem to think that any measure of objectivity in such matters means that you "blame America first." The quasi-conclusion is very good, too: we started it, and we have the power to stop it. (Again: none of this means that Ahmadinejad and his ilk aren't terrible people.) But it's hard to deny the facts when you see them presented in a cartoon that is, in fact, like a little graph of the terrible things we've done to/caused to happen to Iran.

Something I learned from the video: Truman rebuffed Churchill's efforts to get the U.S. to help with the coup against Mosaddegh. Eisenhower, of course, went along with it. I have a high opinion of Eisenhower, but it's funny what a microcosm of recent American foreign policy this is: the Dem doing the right thing, minimally right though it might have been, and Republicans f*cking everything up.

I've often wondered why Carter helped the Shah. That was a Democratic error. Obviously he could not return him to Iran, if for no other reason than that the GOP would scream "cowardice!" and "appeasement!"...  But he shouldn't have helped the sonofabitch. The Shah deserved to rot in hell.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

People Don't Understand What Relativism Is
Rick Santorum Edition

Quoth Santorum:

"It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning 'private' moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."
That's him talking about Catholic Priests raping children, and the church covering it up, incidentally.

But what I'm going to write about is Santorum's not understanding relativism, and not understanding liberalism, and not understanding that the two have nothing to do with each other.

First, it does not even make much sense to speak of"sanction[ing] 'private' moral matters," though any sane person will, of course, think that there are matters that are private. What this idiot means, apparently, is that folks like you and me caused priests to rape children (and caused the Catholic church to cover it up) because we think that what consenting adults do in private is a private matter--that is, their business and no one else's. That's like thinking that those who think that it's ok to raise cotton and then hire people to freely come pick it for a fair wage caused slavery. It's bugshit crazy.

But the view that Santorum is railing against is not moral relativism. The view he is railing against is, apparently, civil libertarianism, the view that there is a large and inviolable private sphere, and that consensual sex falls inside it. Civil libertarianism is, here and now, primarily advocated by liberals. And it is, of course, liberals that Santorum wants to blame for the rapes in question.

However...and this is important:

liberalism and moral relativism have nothing to do with each other.

I cannot underline this boldly enough.

Here is what liberals typically think about these sexual matters:

It is objectively true that it is none of your goddamn business what I do with another consenting adult in the privacy of my own home...and it is none of my business what you do in yours.

Well, that's not precisely right, because it fails to put the emphasis on the objective permissibility of the acts in question. Rather, what liberals typically think is this: there is typically nothing wrong with consensual sex between consenting adults. Such sex is objectively morally permissible. For example, non-marital sex between consenting adults is--objectively speaking--typically morally permissible.* Sex between consenting adult men is typically morally permissible; similarly, sex between consenting adult women. Liberals do not think these matters are relative, say, to culture. Rather, they think that these are universal rights, and that people, e.g., in Iran have such rights even as we do. The government in Iran may not recognize these human rights...but that doesn't mean they aren't real. Rick f*cking Santorum may not recognize them, but that does not mean they are not objective. It means that he is a shithead in error. We are not saying that (in this case sexual) morality is relative--we are saying that there is nothing objectively wrong with consensual sex between consenting adults. We are saying that Santorum and the mullahs and their ilk are objectively wrong about these issues.

Now, I'm not going to go into why such folk are objectively wrong--I just want to point out that liberals do not defend a non-puritanical sexual morality on relativist grounds. They, rather, defend it on what they at least take to be purely objective grounds. That is: sex is fun, sex is awesome, sex that is predicated on sufficiently informed consent typically doesn't harm anyone, ergo, like anything else that meets the relevant criteria, it's permissible. Conservative fables about the harms of non-marital sex or same-sex sex are just that--fables. They invent harm where there is none, or pretend that atypical cases are typical, or whatever. Ok, so I guess I did just discuss why consensual sex is not typically wrong. So sue me.

The actual cultural moral relativist on the other hand, thinks that whatever the culture views as acceptable ipso facto becomes morally permissible. Now that's a crazy view. So non-marital sex is morally permissible here because we accept it, and it's impermissible in Tehran because most folks there don't (or so I hear). That is, the cultural moral relativist thinks that thinking that something is right magically makes it right. And that's nuts. That is not (orthodox, at least) liberalism. CMR entails that moral rights come and go with doxastic fashion. Those who call themselves relativists are typically really nihilists--they don't think that anything really is morally right or wrong...so they think all there is is acceptance and rejection. Almost no one is really a moral relativist. It is a crazy view. At any rate, liberals, who typically think that there are inalienable rights that, though they might be violated, can never be destroyed, are not cultural moral relativists.

And, yet again, we see that Santorum has no freaking clue what he is talking about.

* Why "typically"? Because liberals need not--and usually do not--think that all private sex acts between consenting adults are morally permissible. Smith may consent to have sex with Jones, but not know that Jones is married, or has some STD. In that case, the consent is not sufficiently informed. Or Smith and Jones may consent to have sex with each other though Smith is married and cheating on his/her boyfriend/girlfriend. That's sh*t, too, and everybody thinks it's reprehensible. But we don't care about that stuff now, so I hand-wave it away with "typically," which is exactly what we ought to do here.
Kevin Drum: The World's Most Annoying Man*

No, not Drum...this guy.

I'm calling it now. Dude's not real. Check to see if he's Sacha Baron Cohen.

Nobody's really that irritating...

Bonus annoyance: dude seems to be in love with the currently most annoying buzzword, viz. "brand."

*As noted by the NYT, it's Christopher Fowler who initial speculated about what's-his-name being "the world's most annoying man." Good call, Chris.
The End of the Two-War Strategy


Thank God. I've puzzled over the wisdom of the two-war strategy since I was in high school. I've always favored a strong commitment to national defense...and thought that, perhaps, in the days when the USSR and China might plausibly both be (independent) antagonists, such a strategy might make sense. But since the Bush/Cheney economic catastrophe, I've been inclined to think that the strategy should go. We simply can't afford it anymore; it simply doesn't make sense in our current, economically crippled state. (And in case you're tempted to make an employment argument here: defense jobs are low job-per-dollar jobs...that is, they tend to employ fewer, more highly-skilled people. You want jobs, build highways.)

1%ers might get frothy over this--of course they'll do so over anything Obama does--but such folk are not reliable indicators of reasonableness. As with most other such policies, we've got to make decisions on the basis of cost-benefit analyses. In our current economic predicament, the cost of being ready to fight two major wars is simply too high.

And incidentally, it's preposterous to prepare to do so when there aren't two major plausible enemies to fight. Even if none of our allies pitched in, exactly which two powers are going to take us out. China and Russia? It is to laugh.

A sane, big-d Democratic policy of having a strong but non-ostentatious military, engaging with our enemies and strengthening our allies is clearly the way to go.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Nice Nihilism at 3:AM

If I were to have written a popular piece reviewing a piece of popular philosophy, here's what I'd like to have written:

Nice Nihilism, by Richard Marshall

It's on Alexander Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide To Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.

I suppose I should note that I haven't read Rosenberg's book...so that's what you might call a complication.  On the other hand, I don't need to read it; I know the profile. That is: I know this type of position well. You do, too, if you've spent much time reading Hume. It goes like this:

Hey, we should all adopt my view! It entails that our deepest and most important views about ourselves, the importance of reason, freedom, and the significance of our lives is pathetic hogwash. But my view also entails that we can blithely ignore those entailments and pretend that everything's just like we'd like it to be! Cool, huh?

I'm someone who takes certain varieties of nihilism and skepticism very seriously. I believe that it might very well be true that we are squishy robots, that human reason is, ultimately speaking, of no more significant than a cockroach's ability to sniff out a rotted carcass, and that in fact, our very most cherished views of the universe and ourselves may all be not only false, but cosmic jokes. In my view, nihilism is a serious threat, not to be taken lightly.

Hume was, famously, a skeptic who thought that he could shed his skepticism at the door of his study. As a psychological point, I can't speak to that. Or, rather, I can say: if he could, then Hume was a very different kind of person than I am--and probably than you are. Me, I think that if it's true that my emotions are unjustified and unjustifiable itches and aches, and if morality comes down to nothing more than emotion, then we are relieved of any obligation to take it seriously. That is to say: if morality's a fiction, then we are entitled to treat it as such. Obligated, even, I'd say...but you can see where that would lead...

Folks like Rosenberg want to speak for atheists, though their view isn't really about atheism. It's scientism, really, that's afoot, as Marshall notes. Atheism's one more-or-less consequence of scientism...but they're separable positions. I'm an atheist (basically, though not by the lights of some), but not a fan of scientism. At this point things get terminologically murky, but scientism is, roughly, the view that a certain (I'd say: rather unsophisticated) view of science is correct. Such views are often said to be varieties of naturalism (roughly: the view that every real thing is a part of nature), and/or physicalism (the view that every real thing is a physical thing). As for naturalism: meh. Depends on your view of nature, notoriously. I, for example, could be said to be a naturalist...but that would be non-standard, because I'm happy with a fairly expansive conception of nature. Most "naturalists" are not.

But let me cut to the chase: what I think is really at issue here is final causation. The folks who enthusiastically call themselves naturalists are, in my estimation, what we might better call "efficient causalists." They don't believe in final causation, and, so, think that every true scientific explanation must be given (if in causal terms at all) in terms of efficient causation--that is, the push-me-pull-you causation of the type involved when one billiard ball causes another to to into the corner pocket. Me, I think there's probably final causation, and that makes explaining things like freedom, mind and meaning easier...though by no means trivial. I'm happy for the community of inquirers to issue a promissory note with respect to final causation, and to keep working away at trying to get an account of it. Naturalists, so called, usually are not.

This is the point at which the relevant interlocutors will ask me to start making with the theory of final causation--something I cannot do.

But note: something we also cannot do with respect to efficient causation. We do not know what it is. We will not know in my lifetime. We may know someday, but not soon. The interlocutors in question are o.k. with that.

We're all o.k. with different promissory notes, I'd say.

See, that's one of the things that Peirce thinks is interesting. We're in an epistemic position that basically forces us to take certain things on what we might tendentiously call faith. The question is: can some things be accepted on faith rationally? Or are all bets off once we have to take even a single step down that road?

Me, I suppose I'm currently--if anything at all--a kind of atheistic fideist. In my view, I accept certain things on a kind of provisional faith, and I think I'm probably warranted in doing so. But that doesn't mean that anything goes. And, in particular, faith in the Abrahamic God does not go--IMHO. And Jesus is right out. On the other hand, the vaguer and looser one makes one's conception of God, the more plausible it becomes. If you think that one is a non-atheist for thinking that there is something fundamentally mind-like about the universe...well, then Peirce isn't an atheist, and neither, perhaps, am I (being at least temporarily enraptured by/entrapped in the Peircean vortex...). Matter is effete mind and all that...

But the relevant point is this: in the current context, it's not my job to defend any of that. In this context, it's not my burden to prove to the Humes and Rosenbergs (and Dawkinses and so forth) of the world that any of that is true. Nor is it my job to prove to them that their scientism is false. Rather, it is their job to explain how it can be that, endorsing a view that they openly acknowledge to be such that it entails what is basically nihilism...they can blithely tell us that our lives can go on normally, unaffected. Move along! Nothing to see here! Everybody be a happy, Discovery-Channel-level science groupie...oh, and be a liberal, too, while you're at it... The weakest link over there has always been that one. Such folk, in effect, endorse skepticism/nihilism, but try to argue not only that this needn't affect our view of the meaningfulness of our lives, they also often urge us to be more humane. I'm all for that latter bit about humanity...but only if nihilism isn't true. My beef with them is--or here's one way of putting it--that they underestimate the importance of nihilism. I hope--and believe...but mostly hope--that nihilism is false. But I am fairly certain of this: if it is true we can't ignore it. If it's true, the consequences are universe-shaking. And we need to be honest enough to face up to that fact. If it's true, then, for example: Hitler made no moral error, since there is no such thing as a moral error, since there is no such thing as a moral obligation. Morality is a fiction. If nihilism is true, then the scientific enterprise is not noble, because nothing is noble. These are things which, if true, we should come to grips with. We cannot, with a straight face, stone someone to death for impiety while devoutly denying the existence of God. We cannot wax rhapsodic about the grandeur of science out of one side of our mouths while denying the coherence of the concept of nobility out of the other.

Not that God and morality go together--for, as the Platonic Socrates showed, they do not. And that's the biggest relevant error on the other side: to think that we have to believe in God in order to deny such nihilism. In fact, God doesn't help at all. That's the lesson we learn by reflecting on the Euthyphro--that gods don't help. The idea of justification--moral or epistemic--is the idea of something so conceptually difficult that even adding an omnipotent God to the picture won't help ground or explain it. Another thing won't help us make sense of what it means to be justified in believing or doing something. More objects just don't help. Not even an omnipotent object.God is a a minor philosophical puzzle compared to the problems at issue here. Even if he exists, and even if we knew he did, that would not move this particular philosophical ball a yard nor an inch down-field. God would only solve this problem if something like the divine command theory were true--but it isn't.

In short: scientistic atheists who embrace views that entail nihilism err by trying to have their cake and eat it too--or, rather, by accepting both of the following claims:

(a) Cake does not exist
(b) We all can and should eat cake

Theists of the relevant type err by holding that adding God to the picture solves the problems of value and meaning...and so they err by thinking that all atheists--rather than just narrowly naturalistic ones--face problems about value that they, theists, do not.

Folks like me think: there is no God, but that in no way means that the universe is not a complex place, perhaps containing real things like minds and values and final causes...whatever those might be. God is irrelevant here, hence being an atheist doesn't mean that you have to be a narrow naturalist, nor a physicalist, nor a nihilist. Folks like me still face all the relevant tough questions...but at least we don't think that God waves a magic wand--or magic word--and makes things valuable. Nor do we embrace a view that entails nihilism. Nor do we do the worst thing, which is: (i) embrace a view that entails nihilism and (ii) blithely say that it changes nothing about how we should think and act.

As noted, I haven't read Roenberg's book, so none of this carries any weight against anything specific therein. This is just a quick link pointing you to Marshall's review, after all! So who knows? Maybe Roenberg has finally cracked the nut that Hume et. al. found uncrackable...  Maybe he's shown why all can and should be, to use Marshall's phrase, nice nihilists after all. I'm going to be honest--I know the type of position well enough that, unless some consensus emerges that Rosenberg has cracked the uncrackable nut, I'm not likely to read his book. But for the reasons above, you might want to take that with an appropriate number of grains of salt, read the thing, judge for yourselves, and come back and set me straight if need be.