November 2004

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Friday, November 26, 2004

I Want To Write A Post About Meta-Statements 

Maybe I'll write one someday...

While driving today I heard the song Feliz Navidad, by José Feliciano, on the radio (Christmas songs already???).

It's a very nice song, but has an aspect that bugs me a little...

He sings "I want to wish you a Merry Christmas" which always makes literal-minded me wonder if he's ever going to actually wish me a Merry Christmas instead of just making a meta-statement about his wish to do it.

I know, I know...it's common usage to use "I want to" or "I'd like to" etc. as filler words in front of actual statements. I do it myself.

But, I can continue to think it's weird, dammit!


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

42 

That's the answer to the question of life, the universe, the Washington State gubernatorial election recount margin, and everything.

Wow! 42 out of 2.8 million.

Rossi (the Republican) has now won twice (first by 261, and then by 42 after a machine recount and some legal battles going against him).

Now it seems the the Democrat candidate, Christine Gregoire, will demand a hand recount in particular counties, and if that changes the outcome then a statewide hand recount will have to be ordered, costing the state about $700,000.

I think she should concede rather than drag this on and impose additional costs on the people, and the process. But, it's clear that she puts her own ambition above the interests of the people of the state.

What a horrible start to a term it would be if she gets this overturned!

It makes me wonder if having our votes actually, or even almost actually, count (meaning be decisive) is something we should even want let alone expect.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Polar Reactions 

I saw the movie The Polar Express yesterday and have some conflicting reactions to it.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed watching it. It's technically amazing and beautiful. I wasn't nearly as disturbed by the nearly-realistic human CGI characters as I was when watching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It's amazing what they can do with CGI these days, and I'm happy to support these movies with my dollars to encourage them to keep making more of them.

As time goes on and the tools improve, I can imagine great movies being made by lone, brilliant, writer/directors (or perhaps lone writer/directors with a small technical team) who control all of the characters' facial expressions, voices and actions as a great musician controls his instrument. That would be very cool.

On the other hand...

I really don't like the central theme of the film. It's about a child who is losing his faith in Santa Claus, and gets it back from a trip to the North Pole on The Polar Express. The film promotes the idea that it's a shame for children to stop believing in Santa Claus, and that it's a virtue to hold on to one's faith in unbelievable stories about reality in the face of strong, real, evidence and arguments to the contrary.

This idea sucks.

I think that children can enjoy the myth of Santa Claus without believing that it's literally true; much as they can enjoy many other stories and fairy tales. And, I don't think Christmas would lose its special flavor without this faith. We can enjoy the traditions of Thanksgiving without believing in magical Pilgrims preparing our meals.

I think that adults engage in the Santa conspiracy either to train children for unquestioning faith in God, or to control their behavior (he knows if you've been bad or good...) or some combination of the two. These may be traits that a prison warden might want to instill in prisoners to make them easier to control, but I don't think that they are good things to cultivate in people you care about and want to become independent and happy.

Finally, I really think that this idea that it's a virtue to have faith that's stronger than the evidence of reality is something that's going to make it very difficult for us to be successful at changing radical Islamists in the Middle East.

How can we convince people who think that it's good to resist those who try to convince them to reject their beliefs on the basis of arguments and evidence?

Don't we agree that this attitude that makes improvement difficult is bad?


Thursday, November 18, 2004

For The Sake Of Argument 

The last time I heard someone start a sentence with: "Just for the sake of argument…" I thought: "What an interesting expression!" What kind of a cause is "The sake of argument"? Why should an appeal to this cause encourage people to consider what we have to say?

Aren't we usually told that arguments are bad? Don't we get the message that we should be supporting each other's ideas rather than sniping at them? Aren't your ideas true and good for you, while mine are true and good for me? Shouldn't we be united rather than divided? Shouldn't we try to agree with received wisdom, all join hands, and sing Kumbaya?

NO!

"For the sake of argument" means "For the sake of exposing ideas to criticism". This isn't bad; it’s essential to improving our theories.

If we want to hold the best theories then we should welcome criticism. Criticism is how we test our theories and determine if they work, conform to experience, and might be true. If we don't want our theories exposed to criticism, then we don't want to improve them or even know if they are wrong. This is a fundamental issue of intellectual integrity.

Of course, there are inappropriate times and ways of arguing, and these should be discouraged. But argument itself should be valued. Respect for "The sake of argument" is a great indication that a culture is healthy, dynamic, and interested in improvement.

I'm very pleased to be living in such a culture.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arafat's Condition 

David Carr at Samizdata broke the news the right way:

Reports from Paris indicate that there has been a marked improvement in the condition of Yasser Arafat.
He's dead.

And, Max Boot has some thoughtful comments about Arafat and his enablers as well.

I remember touring Israel as a teenager. There were numerous stops at memorials where innocent people had been murdered by the PLO (including at least one busload of schoolchildren) acting upon the orders of Arafat.

I also remember the murders of the athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Arafat was human garbage.

I feel as if the world is significantly cleaner now that he's dead.

UPDATE: Solomonia has a good roundup of web reactions (Hat Tip: The World). Please do spend a few minutes at the Israeli Memorial Site for recent victims of Palestinian violence and terrorism. I think that reading about the victims and the attacks helps put what some are calling a great and courageous struggle into perspective.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Groan 

Since misery loves company, I had to pass along this pun from James Taranto at the the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal Best Of The Web (near the bottom of the page):

Friday's Las Vegas Sun carried the following obituary (ninth item):
"Mary Noonan Knight, 91, of Las Vegas died Tuesday in a local hospital. She was born Aug. 20, 1913, in San Francisco. A resident for 39 years, she was a retired property investor."
Wow, Vegas really is a 24-hour city. They're mourning Noonan Knight!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Arafat's Problem 

I'm seeing more and more speculation that Arafat is dying of AIDS.

I would normally frown on outing someone, but I make an exception for "the father of modern terrorism." I think he lost his right to privacy and dignity when he ordered his first murders many years ago.

If this is true, I doubt this will hurt his reputation among the French and other leftist admirers (after all, he stood up to the Jews), but it will really damage his legacy among his own people; and that's what he would have cared about more.

What a shame!

With Arafat out of the way, the Palestinians have a new opportunity to turn away from the policy of terrorism and choose a peaceful path that actually has a chance of success.

Let's all hope they take advantage of it.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Incredibly Fun 

I saw The Incredibles yesterday.

I highly recommend it. It was fun from start to finish. Great writing, cool animation.

An enjoyable time for people of all ages.


Friday, November 05, 2004

Election Analysis 

Lots of people are trying to explain exactly why the election went the way it did.

There are a lot of theories, and I'm sure that many of them explain part of what happened.

I don't claim to know what most people were thinking about every issue or how they decided the way they did.

The bottom-line, I think, is that more people felt more comfortable with Bush as president than Kerry. Not because of deep strategic planning, or because they thought that a complex function of all of the issue positions resulted in a stronger alignment with Bush; but because they just felt better about Bush as a person being more likely to do the right thing when it matters.

I think they were right about that.

I don't agree with some that there was never a chance of a Kerry victory, but it's gratifying to know that there are still a lot of sensible people here who aren't easily manipulated by celebrity endorsements or shrill attacks or terrorist threats.

Yay America!

UPDATE: I agree with this David Brooks Op-Ed. The "moral values" explanation has been overblown, and is mostly an excuse for liberals to evade their defeat on the real issues of the day.


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Thanks Guardian! 

Last month, the british newspaper The Guardian sponsored a letter-writing campaign to independent voters in Clark County, Ohio. Clark County was chosen because it was a well-known pivotal county in a pivotal swing state. The Guardian hoped to influence our presidential election by appealing to the sensibilities of american voters.

Among the most disgusting of the letters published was one by Richard Dawkins, whose idiotic politics I have complained about before.

Well, it turns out that Clark County went to Bush by 2% (the spread was 1% before the campaign; I'm not sure which way). I like to think that people in Clark County, and elsewhere in Ohio, moved over toward the Bush camp as a giant "Fuck You!" to the shoddy arguments of the anti-Bush crowd.


Four More Years  

As many of you know, I'm happy that Bush won re-election. Congratulations to him and all of his supporters.

Some say that he won by pandering to religious bigotry. While I'm sure that some of his success was due to anti-gay/anti-abortion sentiment, I don't think it was the major part. Most people who voted for Bush did so because they are significantly aligned with his other plans and policies.

In his statement today, Bush mentioned his commitments to reforming the tax code and Social Security. I'm looking forward to him taking advantage of his opportunity to make significant progress in these areas. He should know that many of his supporters took these promises seriously and expect him to follow through on them. I support these and other market liberalizations. I will certainly criticize Bush for failing in this area.

I'm also optimistic that Bush will nominate, and the strengthened Senate will confirm, good judges; especially Supreme Court Justices, during this term.

Mostly, though, people voted for Bush because they support his approach to the very real threats to our security. Many of us think that he and his advisors understand the threats, and how to deal with them, better than Kerry. Regardless of how much some people would like to pretend this isn't true, the American voters have exercised excellent judgement about this; the most important criterion for choosing a president.

Congratulations to all of us on our improved chances for progress.


Vote For Bush!  

Well, today is the day.

I can certainly understand those who decide that voting doesn't make sense to them because they don't think it's worth their time (since it's so unlikely that their individual vote will make an instrumental difference to the outcome).

But, for those who think that it's worthwhile to express their preference publicly via voting; and if they prefer Bush's approach to the War on Terror to Kerry's (whatever that is), and they prefer Supreme Court Justices like Clarence Thomas to those Kerry is likely to appoint, and they prefer Bush's Ownership Society reforms to increased socialism; you should probably vote for Bush.

If you don't, then you probably shouldn't.