Monday, December 29, 2008

Gabriel over the White House

I just started to read Jonathan Alter's "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope". I've always considered myself pretty informed when it came to history, even though my knowledge of American history is not as deep as European. Yet, as i read this book, I am amazed to find out how many truly disturbing things went on during this period that I was completely unaware of.

I guess partially this has to do with the reality that most of what happens to us during the present gets compressed into just a few pages of history. All the news that is filling the front pages of the press right now, Obama, Blago, Gaza, has to compete for shelf space as time goes on...

Anyway, one of the mind blowing points the book makes is the fact that there was a real possibility of Roosevelt becoming a dictator. And what is even more disturbing about this is that many in this country, from the elites to the common folk, were readily and enthusiastically willing to abandon democracy as a failed experiment, and were urging FDR to assume dictatorial powers.

It is clear that FDR considered this course of action a real possibility. Much like Mussolini in Italy, there was thought of mobilizing the WWI veterans into an "Army of the People", of circumventing the checks and balances system of government established by our Founding Fathers. While many of the working class were agitating for a Communist path, and the elites were pushing for a Fascistic style dictatorship, it was clear that the notion of the Democratic Republic was viewed as a failure. As crazy as it sounds today, the term "dictator" did not have any pejorative connotations. On the contrary, Mussolini was considered a hero for straightening out Italy, and while Hitler was seen as a bit of a bombast, he was also admired for turning around the German economy.

The other striking feature of this time period is the massive propaganda efforts that were used to manipulate the public. "Gabriel over the White House" was essentially a propaganda piece that was designed to prepare the common man for a dictatorship. A decade later, another movie, "Mission to Moscow", was filmed as part of pro-Soviet propaganda during the war, when the Soviets were allied with the US and Great Britain. The movie was crafted by Joseph E Davies, Ambassador to the USSR with full support of FDR. The movie whitewashed the Great Purges, the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, as well as many of Stalin's other atrocities.

These days much is made of the evils of dictatorship. And this country prides itself on "freedom of the press". Yet, it is both ironic and disturbing, of how little is said in history books and in our national memory of these threats to what we today consider to be the defining character of our nation and lifestyle. Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Randy Newman Music Monday - Sail Away

Monday, December 22, 2008

Blue Merry Music Monday

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Jews totally run Hollywood"

Hilarious article by Joel Stein in the LA Times:
I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe "the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews," down from nearly 50% in 1964. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.

How deeply Jewish is Hollywood? When the studio chiefs took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago to demand that the Screen Actors Guild settle its contract, the open letter was signed by: News Corp. President Peter Chernin (Jewish), Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey (Jewish), Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger (Jewish), Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton (surprise, Dutch Jew), Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer (Jewish), CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves (so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel), MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Jewish) and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker (mega-Jewish). If either of the Weinstein brothers had signed, this group would have not only the power to shut down all film production but to form a minyan with enough Fiji water on hand to fill a mikvah.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kosher Cinzano?

I understand you can get kosher Cinzano in Israel! How do I get me some in Chicago - I can't afford to ship it from Israel. Grrrr! I can't drink any more Kedem. That stuff is foul - sets my teeth on edge.

Gaijin Gorey

Monday, December 15, 2008

Devo Music Monday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Ridiculousness of the Anthropic Principle Argument

I have never understood how people use the Anthropic principle as a basis for arguing intelligent design. This principle seems tautological to me. If the universe could not support life, then there would be no intelligent life to recognize that the universe could not support it.

But even beside this point, the argument that the Universe had been 'designed' to support human life seems weak to the point of being ridiculous. The entire vast expanse of the Universe is completely inhospitable to Earthly life forms. Carbon based life cannot naturally survive outside of Earth, an insignificant planet of a minor star on the outskirt of one of the millions of galaxies in the universe. Additionally, no other intelligent or non-intelligent life forms have ever been detected anywhere else in the Universe. Does this seem like a place 'designed' for life?

Contrast this with Earth where anywhere you turn, life abounds. From the depths of the oceans, to the top of mountain ranges, from hot geisers to frozen tundras. Life is everywhere. Surely, if the Universe had been designed to support life, we would see the same throughout the entire Universe?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Trial by Jury

Found this quoted on Drew Kaplan's blog - from an article by Professor Wimpfheimer:
The practice of American law often operates within what I would call a fallacy of law as truth. What I mean by this is that despite the fact that all the participants in a legal drama are fully aware of the fact that American law is a construct shaped by precedents over a long period of time and subject to the whims of multiple authors and interpreters, lawyers and judges pretend that there is a single entity called “the law.” It is almost as if this law is personified and has agency such that a lawyer can say that “the law” demands that you side with my client or a judge can write that “the law” wants to be fair to all ethnic groups. Even legal academics are not above this fallacy; certain types of scholars will write articles articulating a uniform philosophy of law on the basis of many disparate cases even in different areas of law and different jurisdictions. Sometimes, American legal practitioners are aware of the fallacy under which they operate but employ it because it is productive value and sometimes they are unaware of the fact that it is a fallacy at all.
As a juror in a courtroom, though, one cannot but be affected by the fallacy. Within the courtroom, the jury is socialized to believe that the trial is about the pursuit of a single true and correct ruling demanded by “the law.” Each lawyer turns to the jury and attempts to convince it that the law requires the jury to find for their client or for the state.
In other words, each side presents its case as if “the law” compels the jury unequivocally to find for it. The presence of the presiding judge further socializes the jury into this notion of a single legal truth by occasionally interrupting the proceedings to decide on minor bits of procedure—sustained or overruled.
Thus when it comes time for the jury to reach a verdict, it is possible as a juror to think that the process is like a test in school: there is a correct answer which they are expected to try to figure out. The jury deliberates on the opposing narratives of what “the law” demands before deciding which one is the single truth.
If we reflect on these issues further, though, we can realize that the very process of the trial is evidence that the fallacy of a single legal truth is a fallacy. If each side can frame its case through an interpretation of the law that finds unequivocally for its interests it should be clear to us that the notion of a single legal truth in American law is always just a productive heuristic device.
In fact, if the purpose of the trial would be to determine the correct answer, the American system should eliminate the jury completely. Since the judge is better schooled and usually smarter than the aggregate juror, we would be more likely to get the correct answer if the judge figured it out on her own. If we had a math competition and needed to get the correct answer, would we have the expert teach a novice and have him answer the question or would we have the expert answer the question herself?
What is the purpose of a jury? One purpose is to dissipate some of the power that had historically been located in a judge’s hands. Now if law was just a computation, it wouldn’t so much matter that the law was in one person’s hands; but since determining a legal ruling involves subjectively choosing from among multiple options, there is a significant degree of subjectivity involved in such an act and that subjectivity is dangerously empowering. So the American system relieves the judge of the power to rule and hands that power to a jury of one’s peers. In the course of doing that, the structure of judge and jury makes manifest the distinction between the legal fallacy of a single legal truth and the reality of a subjective determination of a verdict from among multiple options. In other words, while the jury may think that its purpose is to figure out the one true legal answer, the very structure of a jury system testifies to the fact that they have more than one possible choice. Moreover, because the jury system relieves the judge of this subjective choice it places responsibility for that choice squarely on the jurors. This means that whereas the judge through her rulings from the bench contributes to the fallacy of a single truth and to justice as an exercise in figuring out what “the law” requires, the jury symbolizes the fact that a verdict requires someone to take responsibility for multiple options within the law. The trial jury embodies the taking of responsibility for a legal choice.
A juror’s responsibility is no light matter. Jurors must weigh the evidence and bear in mind that a decision to convict could ruin a man or woman’s life, while a decision to acquit could have disastrous consequences for the community. It is sometimes easier for jurors to think of their role as determining “the law” as truth so that they do not have to feel the responsibility of their choice. But when you issue a mixed verdict that puts worldly realities at odds with legal truths, the burden of one’s responsibility is often too much to bear. My fellow jurors turned to the judge because they wanted him to reassure them with the voice of law as truth that they had done good, but also because they wanted to share or dump the responsibility for their choice back on the judge.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I wanna be a rebbe - taken down?

YouTube reports: This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Chofetz Chaim

I wonder what this means?

Moving the Center

Read an article about Naomi Klein in the New Yorker. One thing she said that struck me as interesting was advocating the strategy of taking outrageously radical positions in order to "move the center". Meaning, by making outrageous statements, the "left" will move the center to the left by making previously "radical" positions seem mainstream by comparison.

I guess the thing that bothered me about this is that it confirms to me that everything that is said and done these days in the public forum is just demagoguery and strategy. Nobody says what they think any more. It is all a game.

Benny Goodman Music Monday

"These Foolish Things" - they don't make music like they used to...

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Dinesh D'Souza - What Atheists Kant Refute

Mr. D'Souza is on a roll with a second article in CSM.

Once again, though he attempts to point out a fallacy, I think another fallacy emerges. His main point rests on Kant's philosophy:

Kant showed that human knowledge is constrained not merely by the unlimited magnitude of reality but also by a limited sensory apparatus of perception.

Consider a tape recorder. It captures only one mode of reality, namely sound. Thus all aspects of reality that cannot be captured in sound are beyond its reach. The same, Kant would argue, is true of human beings. The only way we apprehend empirical reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that this five-mode instrument is sufficient? What makes us think that there is no reality that lies beyond sensory perception?

Moreover, the reality we apprehend is not reality in itself. It is merely our experience or "take" on it. Kant's startling claim is that we have no basis for assuming that a material perception of reality ever resembles reality itself. I can tell if my daughter's drawing of her teacher looks like the teacher by placing the portrait alongside the person. With my eyes, I compare the copy with the original. Kant points out, however, that comparing our experience of reality to reality itself is impossible. We have representations only, never the originals. So we have no basis for presuming that the two are even comparable. When we equate experience and reality, we are making an unjustified leap.

It is essential to recognize that Kant isn't diminishing the importance of experience. It is entirely rational for us to use science and reason to discover the operating principles of the world of experience. This world, however, is not the only one there is. Kant contended that while science and reason apply to the world of sensory phenomena, of things as they are experienced by us, science and reason cannot penetrate what Kant termed the noumena – things as they are in themselves.

Some critics have understood Kant to be denying the existence of external reality or of arguing that all of reality is "in the mind." Kant emphatically rejects this. He insists that the noumenon obviously exists because it is what gives rise to phenomena. In other words, our experience is an experience of something. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to see Kant as positing two kinds of reality: the material reality that we experience and reality itself. To many, the implication of Kant's argument is that reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human perception and human reason.

So powerful is Kant's argument here that his critics have been able to answer him only with derision, as though his arguments are self-evidently fallacious. When I challenged Daniel Dennett to debunk Kant's argument, he responded on his website by saying several people had already refuted Kant. But he didn't provide any refutations and he didn't name any names. Basically, Mr. Dennett was relying on the ignorance of the audience. In fact, there are no such refutations.

Although Kant's argument seems counterintuitive – in the way that some of the greatest ideas from Copernicus to Einstein are counterintuitive — no one who understands the central doctrines of the world's leading religions should have any difficulty grasping his main point. Kant's philosophical vision is largely congruent with the teachings of many faiths that the empirical world is not the only world. Ours is a world of appearances only, in which we see things in a limited and distorted way – "through a glass, darkly," as the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians. The spiritual reality constitutes the only permanent reality there is. Christianity teaches that while reason can point to the existence of this higher domain, it cannot on its own fully comprehend that domain.

Thus, when Christopher Hitchens and other atheists routinely dismiss religious claims on the grounds that "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence," they are making what philosophers like to call a category mistake. We learn from Kant that within the domain of experience, human reason is sovereign, but it is in no way unreasonable to believe things on faith that simply cannot be adjudicated by reason.

When atheists summarily dismiss such common ideas as the immortality of the soul or the afterlife on the grounds that they have never found any empirical proofs for either, they are asking for experiential evidence in a domain that is entirely beyond the reach of the senses. In this domain, Kant argues, the absence of such evidence cannot be used as the evidence for absence.

Kant's argument is certainly worthy or consideration and perhaps it can not be easily dismissed. However, where D'Souza's argument falls apart is in trying to use Kant's admittedly "secular" argument to apply to religion. It is quite possible that there is a true "reality" out there which cannot be perceived by humans. However, most religions do not admit to ignorance of this reality. On the contrary, they seem to know quite a bit about what will happen to souls in the afterlife. Whole treatises have been written about things which cannot be perceived by humans - from glimpses into Heaven to compendia of Angels and Demons. As soon as this extra-sensory world intersects with our world, there is a breakdown in the Kantian argument of non-perception and therefore D'Souza's argument falls apart.

Dinesh D'Souza - The best defense is a good offense

In his article "Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history" makes a convincing case that religion is not necessarily a cause of genocide. However, he immediately turns around and blames atheism, using essentially the same argument. Yet the argument, in my opinion, is flawed. We all know the old slogan, "correlation does not imply causality" and I think this is partially the falacy in D'Souza's argument. Just because Hitler and Stalin were atheists does not mean that their atheism was the cause of their genocidal atrocities. D'Souza never makes a cogent argument showing the causality.

Atheism was always a side-effect of both Communism and Nazism. Take Communism for example. The main doctrine of communism has to do with class struggle and economic equality. The initial Bolshevik terror had to do with killing of "class enemies". Stalin's purges had nothing to do with ideology at all, as is well documented. He was simply killing anyone whom he perceived as a potential threat.

So, what makes people commit genocide - religion or atheism? My suspicion is that it is neither. Mass killing is part of human nature. It is as old as humanity. Mainly it has to do with identifying the "Other" and then eliminating it. The reasons may be ethnic, religious, economic or social or all of the above.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears

T.B. Chullin 59b:
Caesar once said to Rabbi Yoshua ben Chananja "This God of yours is compared to a lion as it is written (Amos iii 8) 'The lion hath roared who will not fear?' Wherein consists his excellency? A horseman kills a lion." The Rabbi replied "He is not compared to an ordinary lion but to a lion of the forest Ilaei." "Show me that lion at once," said the Emperor. "But thou canst not behold him," said the Rabbi.
Still the Emperor insisted on seeing the lion so the Rabbi prayed to God to help him in his perplexity. His prayer was heard; the lion came forth from his lair and roared, upon which, though it was four hundred miles away, all the walls of Rome trembled and fell to the ground. Approaching three hundred miles nearer he roared again and this time the teeth of the people dropped out of their mouths and the Emperor fell from his throne quaking. "Alas! Rabbi, pray to thy God that He order the lion back to his abode in the forest!"

This is quite difficult to understand within the framework of modern science.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Best alibi ever!

"My son did not do this. I am sick of this. They need to focus on somebody else," Davis-Balfour said.

She said Balfour has a alibi, he was with one of his three girlfriends the night of the slaying.

"He was with Diana that night and with Kate in the morning," she said.


The Executioner

Reading the wikipedia entry of Johann Reichhart... Some highlights:
Johann Reichhart was born in Wichenbach near Wörth an der Donau into a family of executioners going back eight generations to the mid-eighteenth century which included his uncle Franz Xaver and his brother Michael.
How weird is that - what a family profession!
Despite the enormous workload he was asked to complete, Reichhart was very strict in his execution protocol, wearing the traditional German executioners attire of black coat, white shirt and gloves, black bow-tie and top-hat (or zylinder). His work took him to many parts of occupied Europe including Poland and Austria. His request to the German government for permission to exceed the national speed limit whilst on his way to executions was denied.
German efficiency! The trains and the executions must run on time (No, I don't want to discuss Il Duce!)
He claimed during questioning that, toward the end of the war, as the allied armies closed in, he disposed of his mobile fallbeil in a river.
A fallbeil is a guillotine - how do you chuck that in a river?

Following VE Day, Reichhart, who was a member of the Nazi Party, was arrested and imprisoned in Landsberg for the purposes of de-nazification but not tried for carrying out his duty of judicial executioner. He was subsequently employed by the Occupation Authorities until the end of May 1946, to help execute 156 Nazi war criminals at Landsberg am Lech by hanging.
Wow - the show must go on. Talk about just following orders!
Reichhart's office made him a lonely and disliked person, even after abolition of the death penalty in West Germany in 1949. His marriage failed, and his son Hans committed suicide in 1950 due to the association with his father's previous profession.
After eight generations, the chain is broken!
When, in 1963 there were public demands, during a series of taxi driver murders, for the re-introduction of the death penalty in West Germany, Reichhart was vocal in his support for this legislation.

His Royal Majesty?

Am I the only one who thinks that the "Raven Crown" of the newly coronated king of Bhutan seems a bit less than dignified?

Music Monday - Bobbi Gentry

As the YouTube comment sez - "You know the story. Billy Joe throws something off a bridge and later decides to go after it."