Saturday, February 27, 2010

Yeah, that's what it's like.


H/T:Leiter Reports.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Maybe we need a nationwide prescription for Seroquel

I'm taking a break to watch Fareed Zakaria's GPS (you can subscribe via iTunes), and, as usual, he hits the nail on the head:
Everyone agrees Washington is a mess. In a poll released last week, two-thirds of Americans were angry at the way Washington works, and there's plenty of blame to go around. Washington is blamed for partisanship, dysfunction, paralysis, problems are never honestly addressed, we kick the can down the road, et cetera, et cetera. You've heard it all.

But, in one sense, Washington is delivering to the American people exactly what they seem to want. In poll after poll, we find that the public is generally opposed to any new taxes, but we also discover that the public will immediately punish anyone who proposes spending cuts in any middle class program which are the ones where the money is in the federal budget.

Now, there is only one way to square this circle short of magic, and that is to borrow money, and that is what we have done for decades now at the local, state and federal level. At the root of this problem, writes Jacob Weisberg, the editor of "Slate" magazine, is our national ambivalence towards government. We dislike government in the abstract, but we love government in the particular.

Strong majorities don't want any more stimulus spending, but 80 percent of the public wants unemployment benefits extended, and more money put into roads and bridges. Another term for that, as Weisberg notes, is stimulus spending.

The lesson of the polls in the recent elections is that politicians will succeed if they pander to this public schizophrenia. So, the next time you accuse Washington of being irresponsible, save some of that blame for yourself and your friends. (From the transcript.)
This is what I have been saying all along, whenever people cast stones at the government. Sure, the government is (and always has been, and always will be) packed with lying, thieving, self-righteous, hypocritical idiots. But this is exactly the government we want, and therefore the government we deserve—truly, a government of the people.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I have been wanting to use LaTeX for a long time, but have been unable to navigate the tangled web of installation procedures, which seem generally to be geared toward UNIX users. Likewise, many of the compilers themselves seem to require an understanding of UNIX. Finally, though, I have found TeXnicCenter, where there is an essentially one-click download and installation, and what you get out of the process are two good Windows editors and compilers that can be set to give you PDF previews. The TeXnicCenter editor itself has many bells and whistles, most of which I do not understand, but is very useful if you prefer to click icons rather than remembering LaTeX commands. The other editor, TeXworks, which comes packaged with one of the components bundled with TeXnicCenter, is much more streamlined, has better font options, and is generally more useful once one has mastered the language.

Oh, and yes, it's all freeware, like most of the software I use.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Was Descartes poisoned?

In considering the claim that "the father of modern philosophy was poisoned with an arsenic-laced communion wafer by a Catholic priest because his metaphysical position is inconsistent with the Transubstantiation doctrine," Bill Vallicella asks, "Isn't a Catholic priest's commission of murder by desecration of the host far worse than a philosopher's holding of heretical views?"

But, there's no substance to that. It was an accident.


No? Well, that's what Wikipedia is for, brain stem—first line. Really, it's quite funny. I know, you think I'm a nerd. Well, all I can say is, if crafting delightful witticisms reliant on Aristotelian distinctions in Catholic theology makes me a nerd, then nerd me up, baby, because it ain't gonna stop.

Google Buzz

Setting up some slapdash social networking system to integrate all of your Google activity? Not my cup of tea, but whatever. Introducing it unannounced? Bad idea. Having the system automatically trawl for every account you have ever sent mail to, and connect you randomly? Very bad idea. Making it an opt-out deal instead of opt-in? Very, very bad idea. Firing squad bad idea. Permanently disable all of your accounts and walk away from Google forever bad idea.

I appreciate the many free services from Google. But this crosses a line that should have been obvious, and that feels threatening. One more like this, and I shut it all down: Gmail, AdSense, Blogger, Picasa, GoogleDocs, and all of the myriad services I probably don't know I have been automatically subscribed to.

What's next, GoogleIdentityTheft? "We automatically share all of your bank and credit transactions with everyone you have ever e-mailed! If you don't want this service, you can always turn it off! Hurrah!" Please, Google, think it through. We like you, and don't want you to be evil.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Weekly questions

If you ever teach a philosophy class, require your students to submit a question every week about something related to your course material about which they are confused, uncertain, puzzled, or even just curious. When the questions are all in, don't go the standard route of having them write responses to one another's questions—respond to all of them yourself, and collate them for everyone to see. Your students will have you scurrying down little-explored alleys, and brushing the dust off of forgotten tomes, much to your own benefit.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

September 11 aerial photos

Just heard about the new September 11 photos. Don't give the wrong people a blank check because of it, but never forget what we're up against, either. Too many people have already forgotten.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This gentleman is going to have to brush up on his pop culture

Because after this, it's going to be a non-stop cat-and-mouse game with pranksters. No way they're going to leave him alone, now.

He seems like a nice guy with a good sense of humor, and I think it's much to his credit that he's unfamiliar with the opening lyrics to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Not recognizing Star Wars, on the other hand, is a violation of basic cultural literacy, but I'm not one to cast stones, what with my own obliviousness to the wider culture around me. For instance, I have, of recent, become dimly aware that there was some kind of big football game or something not too long ago? I hope the better team of sportsmen put the ball in the basket the most times.

The moral argument for the existence of the traditional God

In a nutshell: There must be a god, because only a god could account for the moral facts which you and I both know are true, as surely as we know anything else—except that all of the moral facts you know (such as, that it is wrong for an all-powerful being to sit around on its cosmic behind, watching a child get raped and murdered) are actually false, and must be replaced with all of the moral facts I know.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is the 201st anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Although nothing like last year's bicentennial extravaganza, it's still a good time to take a leisurely stroll on a sandwalk (or a concretewalk, as circumstances dictate), think a few thoughts about the nice man and his cool discoveries, and maybe even open up that copy of the Origin, if you're one of the unfortunate few who hasn't yet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why I accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change: deluxe edition

I promise you, I haven't stopped paying attention to creationism. However, since I have one or more close friends who is/are becoming increasingly vocal in his/her/their rejection of anthropogenic climate change (not enough for Bingo, but nearly there), that particular brand of anti-science has been on mind more than usual of late.

Anyway, I have felt the need to update my old post on why I accept the scientific consensus position on anthropogenic climate change, and migrate it over to a spot on my parent website. I may have to create a whole section on all of this in the science spot of my site, if this keeps up. What was it that Newton said about equal and opposite reactions?

Will it make a difference? No. Do I care? No. I'm in it for the epistemology.

Link: Why I accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

There is no hope.

What Republicans believe, apparently. Almost makes me want to register as one again, so I can try to help pull the party back from this insanity. On further reflection, no: this is just too interesting to watch.

H/T: Pharyngula.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Awareness in patients diagnosed in PVS state

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports surprising findings related to patients diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state:
Of the 54 patients enrolled in the study, 5 were able to willfully modulate their brain activity. In three of these patients, additional bedside testing revealed some sign of awareness, but in the other two patients, no voluntary behavior could be detected by means of clinical assessment. One patient was able to use our technique to answer yes or no to questions during functional MRI; however, it remained impossible to establish any form of communication at the bedside.
More grist for the euthanasia debate mill.

H/T: BBC News.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fibroblasts to neurons

I missed the news: Nature reports that a team at Stanford has figured out how to directly convert (mouse) fibroblasts into functional (mouse) neurons. The process is far more efficient, and poses less of a cancer risk, than the most promising alternate process to date, which gets one from point A to point B only through an intermediate stage of induced pluripotency. Science Daily and Discover explain it so even you can understand.