Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Four Letter Words

Hillary recently made the news for being critical of today’s young folk, for whom she says work is considered a four letter word. She then had to apologize to her daughter, who took umbrage at the notion that her generation considers work a four letter word. Hillary – a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley and a law degree from Yale. Chelsea – a bachelor’s degree from Stanford, and a masters degree from Oxford. Hatcher posed the question to his four-year old son Jake – how many letters in the word “work”?: W (1) – O (2) – R (3) – K (4) – four letters. Jake aspires to one day go to kindergarten, but apparently by the transitive property he is smart enough to have four prestigious degrees. If I can swing him a Swift boat purple heart for a scrape suffered from a fall, and push through an amendment to lower the eligibility age for President to 6 by 2008, he will be as qualified as any Democrat – both the geniuses and war heroes.

As an aside, I always find it funny when people have some sense of their identity tied up in their generation. But the funny thing here is the generation that proudly claims the woman dispensing the criticism. There has never been a more self-righteous, spoiled, and mediocre generation in American history.

I don’t know if Hillary and Chelsea have problems counting or problems spelling, but my guess would be they have problems with both. Beyond that, Hillary has a severe problem with trying to project an image that she is not completely humorless. No doubt she delivered the line to get some laughs, and hopefully the crowd of graduating collegians saw the humor in her inability to count or spell.

Of course, the Hatcher has his own history of spelling problems. In 8th grade, I was chosen to represent St. John’s parochial grade school in the Camden County Knights of Columbus spelling bee, where I first met and squared up against Kentucky John Wolf. The first word to the Hatcher, and this is a true story: “economics.” Of course it was pronounced with a definitive schwa sound on the first “o”, which I promptly turned into an “e.” I was in good company, though, because all but two of the dozen or so contestants choked on their first word. Kentucky John was one of the two still standing, but ended up losing to some kid from St. Rose in the end. Maybe the seed was planted then with my sense of Catholic-instilled guilt that I should punish myself for n long years studying economics in exchange for choking. I’m just glad the word wasn’t “proctology.”

Hatcher is off to Hawaii – the garden island of Kuaii – this Friday. No kids. Yeah for me. No blogging. Not that there has been much lately anyway.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Darwinian Fairytales

Darwinism has a closer affinity with National Socialism or Marxism than with Confucianism or Buddhism. Darwin told the world that a "struggle for life", a "struggle for existence," a "battle for life" is always going on among the members of every species. Although this proposition was at the time novel and surprising, an immense number of people accepted it. Now, will any rational person believe that accepting this proposition would have no effect, or only randomly varying effects, on people's attitudes towards their own conspecifics? No. Will any rational person believe that accepting this novel proposition would tend to improve people's attitudes to their conspecifics? No... Accepting Darwin's theory of a universal struggle for life must tend to strengthen whatever tendencies people had beforehand to selfishness and domineering behavior towards their fellow humans.

That is from Darwinian Fairytales, a book by David Stowe, formerly an Australian philosopher, now pushing up daisies. The book takes Darwinism to task for the grandiose claims that have been made and widely accepted in its name, and it does so in a very entertaining fashion. I know most of you are expecting that Stowe is some intelligent design nutcase, but in fact he was an athiest who had no sympathy for intelligent design explanations. His book more or less takes the written statements of Darwin right up to Dawkins, and demonstrates the absurd lengths you would have to go to in order to believe that evolution is a useful theory for understanding humanity. He doesn't deny evolution - he is quite happy with it for every species other than man - but he finds it severely lacking when applied to homo sapiens.

The quote above highlights an interesting point that I've often considered, quite aside from the debate over the scientific truth of evolution. I have argued before that failure to learn evolution in public schools doesn't imply that you will be a menace to society; and that learning sometimes does - scratch a eugenicist and you'll find someone wholly comfortable with spouting off about the survival of the fittest. Now, it may be an inconvenient truth, and because education is concerned with the truth independent of consequences, some would argue that the decision to include in curriculum should be independent from its effects.

And the theory may both be true and harmful to humanity. Many would retort that more people have been killed in the name of Christianity than for any other belief (not a sentiment I agree with). That contention doesn't negate the truth of Christianity, but it would pose the same dilemma - if the net effect on humanity is negative, should it be taught even if it is true? In the case of Christianity, of course, I would argue that much of the blood spilled (though certainly not all) is the result of a preversion of the truths taught by Christ. The sometimes tragic results of our failings in trying to grasp a truth don't impugn the truth.

But can the same defense be brought to bear with regard to evolution? Is a strengthening of tendencies to selfishness and domineering behavior the result of an incorrect interpretation of Darwinism? It is in the sense that any claim to the moral propriety or inpropriety of an act is unmerited based upon a scientific theory of natural phenonomen, which is amoral by its nature. But therein lies the rub - for many a belief in a God that has established a moral law written into the hearts of men which He expects us to adhere to, and a belief in evolution - are mutually exclusive. One can be true, but not both. (This is not the position held by everyone - the Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that evolution was the tool used by God to create a creature in His image).

If you hold that view, and you further hold the belief that evolution is true, on what basis can you even concern yourself with morality? If there is no universal moral law, than on what basis can you condemn the rapist, the murderer, the racist, or the Chartreuse alcoholic? The only basis for doing so is a recognition that your own strategy for personal gain coincides with that of many others, and part of that strategy is achieved by punishing the potentially harmful (to you) strategies chosen by others (i.e raping and murdering). You are no better than these people; you are using your collective might to foist unwanted restrictions on people who might otherwise use their individual strength to foist unwanted restrictions on you. It would not even be corrent to say that your moral claim for making rape illegal is thin; in fact, there is no moral claim. To the extent that evolution contributes to the notion that there is no God, as I think it can without being a botched interpretation, it contributes to amoralism as a direct consequence. You would advocate teaching it only if you thought your own interests would be served by living among a more amoral populace.

In contrast to the Catholic Church, I think there might be a problem with accepting both Christianity and evolution, for the following reason: evolution as an explanation of the emergence of humanity is extremely improbable, and I don't think any bioligist would deny this claim. So to believe that God chose the tool of evolution, without having a hand in its outcome, is tantamount to believing that God got extremely lucky. And if you claim that He loaded the dice in his favor, than what you are claiming is that he controlled aspects of the environment that were crucial to producing the right mutations at the right time in the course of evolution. I know the belief is that He works in mysterious ways - so maybe a God capable of willing the universe into existence, and concerned with the fate of the immortal souls of those He has shaped in his own image, is also willing to gamble in creating us in the first place. But still the thought makes me uncomforable - I have troubles picturing God like John Daley standing at a slot machine.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Blogger Fatigue, Gambling Losses, and Price Gouging

Here's the deal. I have severe bloggers fatigue. When I first started reading blogs, there were a few I read almost daily, thinking I'd never get bored of them. But within a year invariably I did. I am approaching 2 years of blogging, and most on my list have been here that whole time, so I can only imagine the fatigue on your end. But beyond that, I think I'm bored of my own blog - my opinions just don't interest me much anymore. So that is why the blogs have been very sparse of late. They may get sparser even still. I may just take up Chartreuse as my only habit with Snake.

Seems like a good week to admit I've lost close to $5 million gambling. Which is nothing compared to what I'll lose if hillary doesn't bring home the Democratic nomination. I saw the interview with Chuck Barkley on ESPN where he says he's probably lost $10 million. I love Charles. In the course of the interview, he says that he's already told people in his life that it's his money and he's going to go right on gambling, even though he admits he has to get it under control. You got a love a guy completely incapable of therapeutic-speak. Maybe he can't get it under control and do it in moderation, I don't know, but I've often thought that it must be possible, even though suggesting that is totally taboo. But not to Charles.

I attribute most of my $5 million in losses to investments in the Sean McCormick baseball mutual fund. I think the prospectus I received before investing in the fund, which consists of McCormick collecting money from people and betting it nightly on baseball, was misleading and I think I'm going to file a minority shareholder dispute. I had heard estimates of percentage returns north of 20 percent, and sure there was the usual fine print about past results being no guarantee of future performance, but the 2005 fund was wiped out, and the 2006 fund is well on its way to the same fate.


Not too long ago Ted Kennedy was expressing the concern during the Alito nomination over whether Alito was capable of administering justice fairly. Joe Kennedy Sr. made his fortune as a crook. Ted Kennedy is guilty of manslaughter. And now his son Patrick drives drunk into a barrier on the capital, nearly hitting a police car, stumbles out of the car telling the cops he is late for a vote on the Hill, and is escorted home without the usual sobriety test that you might think should be administered when a guy crashes his car at 3 am and claims he is late for a vote on the Hill. A cynic might say that he was handled by cops who clearly understood that the last thing Ted Kennedy wants is equality under the law, and that treating his idiot son like the usual suspect would likely lead to a far greater penalty for the cop than for Pat. Now Pat says he was on sleep medication. And apparently that is a pattern most insomniacs have - pop a couple sleeping pills and go out for a joy ride until the wee small hours of the morning. I don't if this guy is a father yet, but perhaps some legislation is in order to render him incapable of furthering this particular genetic strain.


My wife likes to watch the Today show, and today on Today they are interviewing the CEO of Exxon, and for a week they have been advertising this interview and inviting people to e-mail questions they'd like to see asked of the chief of Exxon. This would normally be right up my alley for parody, but I cannot even muster a list of questions I'd like to see good old Katie ask of the Exxon CEO. Oil is a commodity people. The economics of it don't get any easier. Their profits are up 17 percent, but they exert little to no influence over the price of gasoline. They've made investments in the past with profits made then so as to increase their stock of oil, and such investments are now getting their payoff. They are not price gouging anyone. If you think they are, ask yourself how much your home has risen in value over the last 5 years. The value of mine has gone up at least 50 percent in the last three years, and when you consider that the bank fronted 80 percent of its price, if I sold today I'd have a return in excess of 200 percent. Ditto for everyone owning in the DC metropolitan area, and in many other areas as well. If I invested my money in the price-gauging Exxon, no way I'd be doing as well.

If you have a problem with Exxon's profitability, invest in them and you'll feel better about it. Except that you might not. Bad things can happen in the industry -during one stretch in the 80s, the Houston housing market totally hit the skids because the oil business was a mess. Was the Today show organizing interviews at the time to seek out ways to keep Exxon executives and investors from defaulting on their million dollar homes? I suspect not, but nevertheless they feel it incumbent upon them now to ask 15 stupid questions. My only hope is that the guy accuses NBC of price gouging its advertisers, and indirectly consumers, as they most certainly are in order to pay the salaries of their phoney little cast.


Meanwhile, George Clooney has been in the news again with his effort to draw attention to Darfur, where the UN refuses to do anything, and the US has been the only country pushing for some action. But of course Clooney thinks we should unilaterally act to stop the genocide being perpetrated by the Arab Muslems on the African Muslems. Apparently if you are a secular Muslem dictator with a penchant for invading your neighbors and making assassination attempts on US presidents, as well as freely torturing and gasing certain portions of your population, and you like playing with chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, well then the US needs an extremely large coalition of countries, including all of those who were bribed by said dictator in order to subvert sanctions placed upon the dictator by the multilateral saving grace of the UN, to avoid being called an imperialistic war-bent violator of international law and the sovereignty of foreign nations, and a by-product of your fighting back is to produce more terrorists, who haven't had a whole lot of success lately in the US, but just you wait. How's that for a sentence. But Darfur is clearly very different. They pose no threat to us, so clearly we should jump into the quagmire. Will the left proudly and righteously count the dead U.S. soldiers then, pretending they serve no noble cause? I don't see

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