Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Religious leaders automatically are moral leaders

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The truth is the truth

Predictably, some people are more upset about what follows than about institutional toleration and concealment of child molestation, but what can you do? Those types we will have with us always. For those, on the other hand, who aren't afraid to call a spade a spade, there's Richard Dawkins:
"Should the pope resign?" No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly—ideally—qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice—the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution—while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears. (link)

I've just about eco-had it

"How green is your love life? "Eco-sex" gets on it." Eco-enough, already. I must eco-admit, though, I'm eco-intrigued by the eco-future these people must eco-envision when they eco-suggest not having children in order to eco-protect the (eco-?)environment. I can see it now: a lush, geriatric eco-paradise, with lots of lonely priests. No, thanks. I'll take a scorched industrial wasteland, filled with efficient robots, any day. And you can take that to the eco-bank.

Eco.

H/T: Marginal revolution.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Darwin and the Future of Biology

I have just recently started to make my way through Arizona State University's Darwinfest podcasts, starting with E.O. Wilson's fine lecture on "Darwin and the Future of Biology." Wilson is a fine speaker: slow measured cadence, with an unexpected Southern drawl, and clear love of his subject. He kept me rapt, easily, for the full 53 minutes.

On a tangent, the MP3-player, coupled with podcasting, is a wonderful invention, so able to insert productivity into normally barren stretches of time. To be sure, like cellphones and computers, it can be a double-edged sword—you can fill it with time-wasting nonsense, and one must at times turn it all off, anyway, to ensure at least a few silent spaces for reflection—but, if one knows how to use it properly, I would say it is a radically life-enhancing piece of technology.

In case I wasn't clear

I repeat: Whooooo, doggie! Civil war, here we come! Well, I'm sure these guys are just a few scattered nuts,* and no reason for the top right to tone down the rhetoric, instead of exploiting it for political advantage or personal aggrandizement. I mean, that would be too much to ask. Have to win at all costs, don't we? After all, we can always pretend to backpedal every time someone is murdered—having watched apologists for al-Qaeda for such a long time, we should have the technique down pat by now.

H/T, first link: Pharyngula.

* You know, like suicide bombers, who appear to enjoy support from "only" about a fifth of the population overseas—but hey, they have a violent religion, right? No way any other large group of people could ever give a nudge and a wink to violence, right?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shermer's The Mind of the Market

Has anyone here read Michael Shermer's The Mind of the Market? I found it deeply puzzling, but perhaps I was primed to think it would be something other than it is. I expected a defense of libertarianism, but what I got was a very good book on the biological basis of decision-making, cataloguing some of the most interesting illusions and fallacies to which our cognitive faculties are subject. It reminded me very much of Tavris and Aronson's Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), a book to which Shermer refers several times.

Granted, all of the cognitive science is sandwiched between two thin chapters seemingly devoted to a defense of libertarianism, but not only is the defense transparently inadequate (not necessarily wrong, but far too quick and shallow), but the remainder of the book, while not irrelevant to economics, certainly is irrelevant to any case for libertarianism. It is almost as though the parts of the book defending libertarianism were intended as an elaborate joke—as a practical demonstration of some of the cognitive fallacies discussed in the bulk of the book.

With this said, I think Shermer has produced another fine book all-in-all, and perhaps the kind of thing I would like my future "Principles of Sound Reasoning" students to read.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Notes: Peter Singer, "All Animals are Equal"

I forgot to mention: I have posted to my main site a copy of the notes I have taken for my online applied ethics students on an early animal welfare article by Peter Singer. For online classes that use anthologies, I try to shoot for about this level of detail in my notes, since they stand in place of the lectures face-to-face and hybrid classes would receive.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who are the real conservatives?

After seeing Sam Tanenhaus in a panel on Fareed Zakaria's GPS, I had to go take a look at his latest book, The Death of Conservatism (New York: Random House, 2009). The book tends to confirm my impression that the ideology which today masquerades as "conservatism," bears as little resemblance to true conservatism as modern feminism does to classical feminism. From the last pages:

Once again the American Right must "face historical reality," as Whittaker Chambers advised half a century ago. So tightly wedded to the politics of protest, movement ideologues have missed the salient fact about America today: the nation has entered a conservative phase, perhaps the most conservative since the Eisenhower years. This is why Arlen Specter, a longtime Republican moderate facing sure defeat in a primary campaign dominated by movement conservatives, could abruptly switch parties without altering any of his important positions. It is also why David Souter, who in his nineteen years on the Supreme Court infuriated so many on the right by his refusal to advance the movement's pet judicial causes—instead immersing himself in the study of history, partly to uncover in the past "some relevance to a constitutional rule where earlier judges saw none"—may well endure as the most authentic conservative in the Court's modern history.

And it is why attempts to depict Barack Obama as a radical or socialist dissolve under the most rudimentary examination of the facts. The decision by his team of conservative, Wall Street-inflected economists to fortify the banking system and improve the flow of credit is patently an attempt to salvage the free market, quite as the economic conservative Roosevelt tried to do in 1933. Obama's plan to extend health coverage to the nearly fifty million Americans who lack it is pure Disraeli. And Obama's foreign policy, premised on diplomacy and multicultural concord, is as forceful a repudiation of the imperial presidency as we have seen in the modern era. All these are the actions of a leader who, while politically liberal, is temperamentally conservative and who has placed his faith the durability—and renewability—of American institutions.

Culturally, too, these are conservative times. The Right should revel in the emergence of a new generation of college students who have rediscovered the virtues of public service and volunteerism, and of business school graduates who are turning away from Wall Street, either to experiment with Internet commerce or to choose altogether different careers. What better evidence that the young are no longer alienated from our civil society and that the chasm between the "business elite" and the "adversary culture" is negotiable after all—and may someday narrow to extinction? So, too, conservatives should savor the embrace of "family values" by the nation's homosexual population, who seek the sanctuary—and responsibilities—of marriage and child-rearing, a development unthinkable a generation ago, when gays personified the excesses of the "alternative lifestyle" (pp. 117-118).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Michael Mann on Point of Inquiry

Although I'm still grieving the departure of the inimitable D. J. Grothe from the Point of Inquiry podcast, the new episodes still are worth listening to. The latest installment is one of the most interesting yet, featuring an interview with none other than Michael Mann.

Direct link to streaming MP3.