Thursday, May 31, 2007

SIRC and Arpad Pusztai

When I searched for Arpad Pusztai to do some more research I quickly stumbled on this article: Pusztai Published!. It comes from the Social Issues Research Centre, which sort of sounds like an academic, unbiased source. Here is their page on GM foods. Here is their page on funding.

It's interesting to note that while they are a non-profit organization, they still have clients such as "Masterfoods", "GSK" (GlaxoSmithKline), and other very biased organizations. One must be very careful not to confuse "non-profit" with "non-biased". (In fact, most of the lobbying groups are "non-profit", because the individuals inside the group keep all the profits to themselves.) I doubt you will ever hear SIRC referring to the GM pea which caused allergic damage to mice or refuting Pusztai's claim as of 2001 that "no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects exist". Anyone disagree with me there?

What it comes down to is the science, and notably SIRC doesn't spend much time talking about the science. Then again, neither do I. Neither of us really know biochemistry all that well. You might break us into people who believe that the risks are worth mentioning and the people who think that the risks aren't worth mentioning, because they "scare people." Or perhaps people who wish to present all possibilities and people who don't. All of their stories make the same essential points, using very few citations or empirical facts. They are a typical special interest group.

Sourcewatch has a good page on them. It covers one shady campaign where they were hired by a lobby group to campaign for an estrogen for postmenopausal women -- their coverage of the treatment didn't include the pharmaceutical funding.

What's scary is that this group "has played a central role in advising the government on the development of a "Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication" for communication science issues to the media."

Some economists like to believe that we can outsource lots of knowledge-gathering activities. People are "rationally ignorant". I don't think the average citizen can afford to be rationally ignorant -- there are too many people spinning half-truths in all areas. People who have something to hide will try to make things either overly complicated or overly simple, when the truth is probably somewhere in between, and likely accessible. (SIRC: "a GM tomato is just a tomato" - no, a GM tomato could have genes which are not even in the same genus as a normal tomato, which is impossible to attain through cross-breeding.)

At the very least, if these people are interested in helping consumers, then they should increase the amount of information available to consumers and support the labeling of GM products. Currently we don't even have that, and I see no reason why -- except that it could potentially hurt the profits a biotech company.

Reply To a "Science Debunker"

I wrote this as a comment in reply to this post. It really irritated me, especially with all the posts expressing vacuous agreement.


You'd get along well with Steven Milloy (the founder of -- in fact, I wonder if you've been influenced by him.

Check him out:

A choice quote:

"In 1993, Milloy dismissed an Environmental Protection Agency report linking secondhand tobacco smoke to cancer as "a joke". When the British Medical Journal published a similar study in 1997, Milloy said, "it remains a joke today." When another researcher published a study linking secondhand smoke to cancer, Milloy wrote that she, "…must have pictures of journal editors in compromising positions with farm animals. How else can you explain her studies seeing the light of day?"[4] While at, Milloy continued to attack research on the harms of secondhand smoke.[5]

During the time that Milloy was attacking the credibility of secondhand-smoke research, his website was receiving editorial oversight and content directly from the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.[6] Milloy's supposedly independent organization TASSC was funded and coordinated by Philip Morris[7] with the goal of "utilizing TASSC as a tool in targeted legislative battles."[8] A confidential 1994 Philip Morris memo listed Milloy's organization under "PM Tools to Affect Legislative Decisions".[9] Milloy himself was listed on Philip Morris' payroll, being budgeted over $180,000 in payments in the years 2000 and 2001.[10]

On June 27, 2006, summarizing over 10 years of scientific research, the United States Surgeon General issued a comprehensive scientific report concluding that secondhand smoke is a carcinogen with no risk-free level of exposure, refuting Milloy's claims.[11] The Surgeon General's report also stated that secondhand smoke exposure is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children.[11]"

There are plenty of other similar examples. You would also be a global warming denier, I'm betting, who believes that the synthetic chemicals pervading our environment are getting a bad rap and hurting business.

Mind pointing out some real examples besides alluding to some book with a flashy name?

What's interesting is that in the past "science" (influenced by government) scammed the public into believing things like something like marijuana is harmful and things like DDT are not. Today we've got scientists telling us the opposite.

Today we also have the irrational Christians on the defensive. Coincidence? I think not.

When you discount the danger of synthetic chemicals (enjoy your Teflon fumes and volatile plasticizers with a good dose of cadmium, I'm guessing?) and drugs you serve as a corporate apologist, just like Milloy.

Today health problems are rampant among the masses, yet people who cook their own meals and avoid chemicals tend to go to the doctor sparingly, if at all. That should be encouraged. Many of the chemicals we use today are not actually very necessary, and the more information that people have about their risks the better.

Health effects is one of those areas that we say in economics is dominated by imperfect information, which leads people to make bad choices. If you care more about your health, choose juice instead of soda. The only people you'll be hurting really is the soda companies.

Parkinson's has been linked to pesticides. This is simply a strong statistical correlation. Take of it what you want.

Genetically engineered foods pose significant health risks. Many people are unaware of that, and at first glance it would seem that genetically engineered foods pose little risk. After all, genetic changes happen naturally. But these major changes can produce unexpected side affects. The most blatantly unhealthy modifications get caught in the lab (GM peas cause allergic lung damage in rice), but the others can have slower, long-term, insidious effects, as the researcher Arpad Pusztai has shown.

In conclusion, you are very wrong. The new millennium calls for a different kind of science - but that science should be more cautious, not less, when it comes to potential health effects. After all, what do we have to lose? A few less cans of soda, or rice with human proteins in it?


I'll add something that isn't on the comment: of course, there is potentially more to lose than the lost opportunity to taste human-rice. There is an argument that GM (genetically modified) foods are necessary to food the world's growing population. I think that's false; we can obviously more than feed the world right now. The poor in developing nations right now don't even accept GM foods (they refuse to take much of that food anyway), and when they do accept GM foods, their farmers are forced to pay pharmaceutical companies. The poor need money and livelihoods. That would be best served by helping them sell their own food; that means we need to reduce trade barriers and food subsidies in the US, as well as do what we can to build basic infrastructure (water and energy) and put pressure on despotic governments.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Working Recently

As I forewarned in some earlier post, I don't post as much when I'm not getting high every other day. I'm more inhibited, neurotic, and frankly less insightful. When I read books and I'm not high I find myself skipping over lines, but when I'm high I tend to dwell on passages for way too long.

I sat around the house for a while upon coming back home after school, but now I'm back at work -- if you can call it that. I work for the government and get to sit around reading all day. So I visited the library. Here's what I checked out:

    Basic Writings of Nietzsche translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann
    The Shadows of Power: The Council on Foreign Relations and American Decline by James Perloff
    Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart
    Remember Everything You Read by Stanley D. Frank
    Master The GRE 2005

Other books that I own and have been reading are:

    Explaining the Atom by Selig Hecht
    The Most of S.J Perelman
    Play Poker Like the Pros by Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

The nice thing about my job is that I basically sit around outside for long periods of time, and get paid over twice the minimum wage. Gives me plenty of time to read, even if it can get cold.

All of these books (with the exception of Remember Everything You Read and Master The GRE) are pretty interesting, but the most interesting has been The Shadows of Power. It is a well-researched and thoroughly incriminating look at the organization founded by J.P. Morgan which, up till 1988, produced "14 secretaries of state, 14 treasury secretaries, 11 defense secretaries, and scores of other federal department heads" since it was founded in 1921. According to Perloff, every Secretary of State since 1949 has been a member of the Council, although one joined the Council after being appointed.

The other very interesting book was Explaining the Atom. I never realized that chemicals were so interconnected, or that atomic chemicals had been so necessary for further research into the atomic particles. (I never took chemistry!) For example:
...consider spot 32 in the fourth horizontol coil of the Periodic Table. This element lies in the vertical column between silicon and tin, and is now called germanium. Medelejev in 1871 predicted its existence and called it eka-silicon. He said it would be grayish-white in color, and would give a white oxide when burned, and would not be affected by acids and alkalis. Moreover, he gave definite values for its atomic weight, its density, its atomic volume, and even its boiling point. Fifteen years later ... found Mendelejev's predictions almost perfectly fulfilled.
The book has inspired me to memorize the the periodic table and get the basic gist of every chemical on the list. (Up to number 26!) The last half of the book is all on the atom bomb, and I don't remember a whole lot of the details.

I hardly feel like I can do justice to an overview of these books, but I'll probably attempt to do an overview of the Shadows of Power. Really, I recommend that one out yourself, though.

Another Philosophy Graduate

I mentioned that I met a philosophy major working at Safeway here, and I thought I'd mention another that I found today: Carl Icahn. Admittedly, he graduated from Princeton. Today he's worth billions. Philosophy-type people should do well in investing. They can look at the big picture rationally, have the patience to read SEC filings, and, if they study economics, can easily grasp the fundamental concepts of sunk cost and marginal benefits. Then it's buying companies when they're cheap (support) and selling them when they're high (resistance).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Saving Democracy

A computer scientist named Don Lindsay has an idea that could fix democracy. I imagine it's been on his website for a long time, but it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

It's a pretty simple idea. When you vote, you put down a first choice and a second choice. If your first choice isn't in the top-two, your second choice is used instead. This would allow people to vote for third-party candidates without absolutely wasting their votes.

It might not fix things immediately, but even I am sometimes reluctant to vote for the third-party (although I always want to) because I know that I need to add my vote to the real tally or else very bad things could happen, like the Bush reelection.

If you like this idea, please pass it on.

By the way, this guy also publishes the longest list of informal fallacies I have ever seen.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Prizes, not Patents

Although I have heard many criticisms of the patent system from computer scientists or, occasionally, politicians, I had yet to hear one from an economist - until recently. Perhaps that is because I have not looked for them. Your average economist will spend plenty of time arguing for patents, and most often they will defend them for one particularly disturbing industry - the pharmaceutical industry.

The story goes that pharmaceutical companies need patents (along with price discrimination and advertising freedom, among others) in order to pay for the exorbitant research costs that are required to produce new drugs. The drugs are a huge fixed cost, but producing pills costs pennies, if that. Therefore a pharmaceutical company can maximize profit by charging people exactly what they can afford to pay - in the United States, that is fairly high, but in the rest of the world (or even Canada) the price is lower. In order to cover their investment they must run tons of advertisements to get more and more people to take the pill. All these things are required to cover investments, many economists say, and to drive the research of new "important", "lifesaving" drugs.

Liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, who's book Globalization and Its Discontents I flipped through earlier this year) points out in an article in the May PAER that:
drug companies spend far more money on advertising and marketing than they do on research, far more on research for lifestyle drugs (for conditions like impotence and hair loss) than for lifesaving drugs and almost no money on diseases that afflict hundreds of millions of poor people, such as malaria. It is a matter of simple economics: companies direct their research where the money is, regardless of the relative value to society.

In a related issue he notes that:
companies raced to beat the human genome project in order to patent genes such as that associated with breast cancer. The value of these efforts was minimal: the knowledge was produced just a little sooner than it would have been otherwise. But the cost to society was enormous: the high price that Myriad (let me pause to see if this is a public company - it is, MYGN), the patent holder, places on genetic tests may well mean that thousands of women ... will die.

The good news is that there is a simple and effective solution, which immediately rewards the researchers: prizes for cures, similar to the past Ansari X Prize and the current Archon X Prize. He notes that "since governments already pay the cost of much drug research directly or indirectly, through prescription benefits, they could finance the prize fund." It would probably end up saving governments money.

He says that the prize funds would only complement the patent system, which could remain in place to research important things like Viagra and Propecia. I suppose the developers who received the prizes couldn't patent their drugs - though they might not want to anyway, since the drugs he has in mind mainly afflict the poor.

Anyway. Good idea.

Monday, May 21, 2007

PAER and the Dialogic Form

I referred to the PAER a couple months ago here. It's the only academic journal I've been reading, although sometimes I flip through others. It was started by a group of French graduate students who were tired of the narrow, mathematical rather than empirical approach of neoclassical economics, which is the only economics taught in most schools. I'm not going to comment too much on that - I don't know standard neoclassical economics deeply enough to say that it is fundamentally flawed. It all depends on your professor - some try to show you the big picture and the flawed assumptions, and some don't.

The first article is written by three economists: Diedre McCloskey (formerly Donald) of the neoclassical capital University of Chicago department, Arjo Klamer, and Stephen Ziliak. They say they are writing a textbook in the dialogic form, a form which has fallen out of favor in the modern age. They say that it used to be popular "before Newton", and quote some pages from a book by Galileo to prove it. They say the non-dialogic form was "perfected by Gauss", who "gave none of the indications natural to dialogue of where his ideas came from or where they were going."

Already I feel that they are being somewhat dishonest. They make the case that the dialogic form was very popular up until the 19th century - but, after reading plenty of historical philosophy, I know that I haven't read a book in the dialogic form since Plato. That doesn't meant that the form isn't helpful. I enjoyed Plato. But they could be overstating their case. Gauss is not a good example, as this was a mathematician who knew numbers so intuitively that, according to legend, he came up with the (n)(n+1)/2 trick for summing up numbers when he just a kid - it seems possible that there was no "dialogue" preceding his insight.

Still, those are just nitpicks. The dialogic form could be effective, especially when complemented by standard exposition, which it presumably is.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nerds, Popularity, and High-School

This essay captures all the factors which combined to make high-school a hell-hole.

In almost any group of people you'll find hierarchy. When groups of adults form in the real world, it's generally for some common purpose, and the leaders end up being those who are best at it. The problem with most schools is, they have no purpose. But hierarchy there must be. And so the kids make one out of nothing.

We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools. Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank depends mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank. It's like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another's opponents.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Gluten Poisoned

I may not have mentioned it on here before, but I do not eat gluten. That makes life difficult for me - I cannot eat out at restaurants and I have to cook all my own food, despite not being a very good cook. Because I always live with (messy) people, I usually get gluten contaminations anyway. The result is that I am constantly sick - that's no exaggeration. You can't really understand what it's like to be severely gluten intolerant unless you are gluten intolerant. However, some days are worse than others, and it can take weeks to recover from the damage of one bad day.

Today I went to an organic supermarket which claims to cater to gluten-free people and had a meal. There were signs proclaiming "wheat-free", but the problem is that I, like all wheat-allergic people, am allergic to wheat, rye, barley, and oats. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 really fuckin' ignored the people who were allergic to wheat. It's really astonishing, and it would be so easy for food manufacturers to put down whether there is any gluten containing ingredients.

For some reason they abstained from that in order to clarify the rules on labeling products "gluten-free." The problem with labeling something gluten-free is that it is very expensive to test, and nearly everything has some amount of gluten in it. The rest of the world fixes this by having two standards: one stating that there is "less than a certain amount of parts per million" (Codex is 200, Canada is 20, ect) and one for products which have zero gluten (I think). The FDA is looking to allow producers to label their products as gluten free if they have "less than 20 parts per million."

That dishonesty sickens me. It should be criminal to label your items as gluten free if they are not assuredly gluten free. But I suppose that should just remind me not to ever eat out or buy packaged foods. (Although I do like this authentic little Mexican place down the street from my house - real soft corn tortillas! I can't even buy those things in the supermarket!)

Today I was glutenated by either that deli meal (a wok bowl made with "wheat-free sauce"), the trail mix that I bought, or somehow the mashed potatoes, rice, crab, and applesauce I had for dinner. Ugh.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What do we know about volunteering?

I commented on good ol' ADHR's post saying something to the effect "everyone knows that volunteering is increasing." Perhaps I spoke too soon. This illuminating article says that our volunteering statistics are very crude.

I know that I read that more and more people have been signing up for the Peace Corp and AmeriCorp, and it looks like more people are donating. Web activism is very high. I read somewhere that the number of 501(c)(3) organizations is increasing. But I haven't been able to find an easy picture of the data, in numbers of hours worked or people who volunteered, yet. If anyone finds something, let me know.

I should update the section at Wikipedia...oh well

The Murder Experiment

I thought this was a fascinating story. I have no idea what drove the kids to do it, but I honestly think a lot of people would feel little guilt - they are just too afraid.

Does the fact that many people would do something like that but feel no guilt mean it's not wrong? Of course not. (Though I wonder what it would feel like, too.)

I laughed

Q: What did Adam say to Eve?
A: Stand back, I don't know big this is gonna get!

Mathematics and the Real World

Is it very surprising that advanced mathematics describes the real world so well? We live in a world which has volume (l*w*h), rounded edges (circles), definite proportions (constants), and rates (derivatives). There is nothing logical, however, with the way that transcendental numbers exist all around us. If anything these strange numbers support the idea that our universe is nothing but a freakish accident; a product of some natural processes which happen rather than a self-conscious, purposeful Creator.

The constancy and consistency of math is frustrating to someone like me, who's always thinking that the answer must be a little more complicated than simply punching a few numbers.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fixing Windows

I wish Windows did two things: 1) Keep the installed programs separate from the system programs, and 2) kept careful track of what programs do in the registry when they're installed, and make sure they change it back.

Simple enough requests.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Logical Flowering of Western Metaphysics

When searching the tag metaphysics on Technorati I came across this nice post. Although I have never read Heidegger, it's nice to run across someone who has and is able to eloquently describe what he's saying - that is a rare find. Even if he (Peter Rohloff) is eloquent, it's hard to understand exactly what he means when he talks about Being with a capital B. Eloquence does not necessarily imply clarity - probably because clarity is impossible when it comes to Heidegger. Does he mean existing, as in existentialism? I'm not familiar with Heidegger enough to know, but it makes me want to read Heidegger. I can empathize with the statement that "nihilism is the logical flowering of Western metaphysics."

Philosophy has sometimes ignored what is staring it in the face for what it can analyze abstractly - past, present, future. When philosophers discuss metaphysics they cam go into great lengths on the nature of time, God, matter, and other things without discussing consciousness and time from the perspective of a human agent and life itself - at least, that's been my impression. It also continues to reason and judge in the face of obvious paradoxes (for example, determinism - nobodoy is morally blameworthy for any action, and the fact that philosophers continue to this day to cast "moral" blame on people is a testament to the fact that they are in blind denial and just don't get it. Note that I did not say that people are not causally responsible for actions which they cause).

Rohloff finishes with Heidegger's amusing reply to Leibniz' old sayind:

"Nihil est sine ratio" : nothing is without reason.

"Nichts ist—ohne grund" : nothing is - without grounds.

Though I don't completlely understand the latter sentence, anyone who's read Leibniz' philosophy knows that the man was deluded (through math, perhaps) enough to assert the former.

I can easily feel like I'm venturing off into silly land when I discuss vague topics like "Being" - the fact is that sometimes the most fundamental philosphic truths may not be so easy to analyze. The real truth is probably like quantum mechanics - completely bizarre and unapproachable through the formal dichotomies and theories of our grammatical logic. Thus the approach of Zen Buddhism and other "Enlightenment" religions, which probably have similarities, at their core, to Heidegger's approach.

Philosophers have always said they are interested in one thing, and one thing only: truth. But what if the truth is in conflict with life? Philosophers have also been interested in goodness. Socrates proclaimed that "the good life is the only life worth living", according to Plato, and he said that was the truth. But what if it isn't the truth? Ultimately philosophers may need to make a choice between the two.

If one believes in practical philosophy, as I do, one can easily question all this nonsense. Did Socrates ever do much to help people while he strode around arguing from his high horse? Did Diogenes? Did Nietzsche? Did Heidegger? Did Buddha? What's the point of all these vague philosophical people? Why should we take cues on living from losers like these rather than hyper-analytical types like Leibniz (who developed calculus) or Aristotle, who laid the foundations of science (and who's philosophy arguably slowed down its progress)? What's the point, really?

First of all, it is probably wrong to say that the former did not believe in practical applications of hard logic (especially Socrates, of course, even if he never wrote down anything and devoted his inquiries mainly to justice and how to live life). They have different natural abilities, and promote different things - they have been the greatest spiritual advisors for our race. Diogenes and Nietzsche have the right message: don't be afraid to contradict your betters and blaze your own path. Seek the truth even if it hurts, and if the truth doesn't exist than create a truth that you like. Or something like that. I don't know, and I've rambled on long enough. I guess I enjoy thinking like this, even if it amounts to nothing and distracts me from practical pursuits, so if you don't enjoy reading it, you can bite me. :)


Finally downloading OpenOffice. I am done with Microsoft Word's insanity.

Eating Raw Meat

Last night I had a dream in which took several large bites out of a raw T-Bone steak. Then I suddenly realized what I'd done, and walked around asking people if I would be OK.

I was reminded of this dream when I checked out this article on Wikipedia again: toxoplasmosis. Read it. This disease is actually quite scary. Some scientists suggest that it increases your risk of a car accident dramatically, decreases intelligence and novelty-seeking in males, and increases promiscuity and perhaps intelligence in females. One study found that it roughly doubled or tripled your chance of a car accident. Some scientists think it causes schizophrenia.

What's even scarier is that some evidence suggests that 1/3 of US citizens have it.

Cook your meat thoroughly and put your goddamn cats to sleep.

Right now we have two kittens and a cat, and I can't force my roommates to get rid of them. If you have a cat, don't let wander outside. Considering that I've been around cats all my life, most likely I have this disease, and I'll be looking to get rid of it someday - even though there is no real treatment.

People As Means

One of the foundations to Kantian ethics is the idea that "people should be treated as ends in themselves, not means." We should not use people, in other words. But it is impossible not to use people. Parents use children for genetic longevity, happiness, and distraction. Friends use friends for support and pleasure. Employers use employees, obviously - even saints use people to express their saintliness.

The moral question, then, is whether you are using people parasitically, symbiotically, or the opposite of parasitically - benevolently, perhaps? The latter does not exist in nature - probably because it's impossible. Even those who give benevolently are dependent upon the giftee. We respect those who give without ado because they are satisfied with pleasure that giving gives to them rather than the public support that accompanies giving.

Giving out of a sense of duty alone is impossible, and it wouldn't be good even if it was possible. Humans should not be robots. Their fundamental duties are theirs to decide. And who really is imposing this duty - is it oneself, or is it the herd?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Google Alerts and Bilderberg

A search for Bilderberg in Google News brings up only 7 results. One of them is from a commenter. So I subscribed to Google Alerts for Bilderberg and today I received one of my first stories (surprising for a word which is printed so seldom). It is on the trial of Conrad Black, wealthy media mogul and owner of Hollinger International (and also, of course, a long-term member of Bilderberg). He is now facing criminal charges for corporate crime - cooking the books and colluding with competitors, I gather, to add another dozen million to his personal fortune.

Statistically, I wonder what percentage of corporate criminals get caught - of course, some libertarians will tell you that they all do, but such a position is inconsistent with their belief that the government is incompetent. Catching corporate criminals is exceedingly difficult.

Hollinger International owns the Chicago Sun-Times and used to own many more newspapers.

Microsoft Word 2007

I despise it. It automatically wants to triple space pages. When I hit tab it indents half the page. It saves in a .docx format which normal Word can't even open. What bothers me the most is that lots of people think this piece of shit is an improvement. @$&!!!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Soren Kierkegaard - Compilation

This is a fantastic set of Kierkegaard quotes. I had to get stoned and read them. Some good ones:


"Most people are really only sample copies. Of them it may be said: They derive benefit out of living, but the world has no benefit out of their having lived."

"If one would describe the confusion of the modern age, I know of no more descriptive word than: it is dishonest. Young people, even children, are aware of how fraudulent everything is and how everything depends on clinging to their generation, following the inconstant demands of the age. Thus the life of each generation hisses and fizzes uninterruptedly. Although everything is a whirlwind, a signal-shot is heard, the ringing of the bells, signifying to the individual that now, this very second, hurry, throw everything away – reflection, quiet meditation, reassuring thoughts of the eternal – because if you come too late you will not get to go along on the generation’s next whirling expedition, which is just pulling out – and then, then, how terrible!

Ah, yes, how terrible! Everything, absolutely everything is calculated to nourish this confusion, the unholy taste of this wild hunt. The means of communication become more and more excellent, but the communications become more and more hurried and more and more confusing. And if anyone dares, either in the name of originality or of God, to resist it – woe unto him! Just as the individual is seized by the whirlwind of impatience to be understood immediately, so this generation domineeringly craves to understand the individual at once."

"True individuality is measured by this: how long or how far one can endure being alone without the understanding of others. The person who can endure being alone is poles apart from the social mixer. He is miles apart from the man-pleaser, the one who manages successfully with everyone – he who possesses no sharp edges. God never uses such people. The true individual, anyone who is going to be directly involved with God, will not and cannot avoid the human bite. He will be thoroughly misunderstood. God is no friend of cosy human gathering."


"In order to swim you must take off all your clothes. In order to aspire to the truth you must undress in a far more inward sense, divest yourself of all your inward clothes, of thoughts, conceptions, selfishness. Only then are you sufficiently naked."

"Whereas objective thinking is indifferent to the thinking subject and his existence, the subjective thinker is essentially interested in his own thinking, is existing in it. Whereas objective thinking invests everything in the result and assists all humankind to cheat by copying and reeling off the results and answers, subjective thinking invests everything in the process of becoming and omits the result. The subjective thinker is continually in the process of becoming. The objective thinker has already arrived."

Since Descartes, sceptics don’t dare express anything definite with regards to knowledge. Yet they dare to act, and in this respect are satisfied with probability. What an enormous contradiction! As if it were not far more dreadful to do something about which one is doubtful (thereby incurring responsibility) than to assert an idea. Or is it because the ethical is in itself certain? But then there is something that doubt cannot reach!

"No one can be the truth; only the God-man is the truth. Then comes the next: the ones whose lives express what they proclaim. These are witnesses to the truth. Then come those who disclose what truth is and what it demands but admit that their lives do not express it, but to that extent still are striving. There it ends.

Now comes the sophistry. First of all come those who teach the truth but do not live it. Then come those who even alter the truth, its requirement, cut it down, make omissions – in order that their lives can correspond to the requirement. These are the real deceivers."

"All existence-issues are passionate. To think about them so as to leave out passion is not to think about them at all. It is to forget the point that one indeed is oneself an existing person. To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is aesthetic enough for his life to have aesthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, passionate enough in thinking to master it."

"Let us be honest about it. We are more afraid of the truth than of death."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ten Economic Myths

Great article here on the history of economics from an Austrian Economic Historian.

Complement that with "Why I Am Not An Austrian Economist" for some substantial learning.

I am currently reading Bureaucracy by Ludwig von Mises.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What Matters

Intuitively some people think that if they as conscious individuals are not around (either in heaven or Earth) then what exists does not matter. Thus we should not care overly much about the future if we won't be around to see it.

I think this is flawed. I can exist in another form (in one's child, perhaps, or the species) and I should maximize the opportunities for that derivative form because through it I continue. If I have invested time into something while alive, then it is better that it continues while I am dead...

These arguments seem feeble. Ah, nihilism.

Two Thoughts

It is better to act for the sake of love than for the sake of duty.

Treating people as a means is completely unavoidable.

The Conspiracy Chain

It looks like this: Knights Templar ---> Bavarian Illuminati ---> Freemasons ---> (Skull And Bones) ---> Council On Foreign Relations ---> Bilderberg Group ---> Trilateral Commission

The Freemasons have an "Order of the Knights Templar" and supposedly incorporate their symbols, but there is a 400-year gap between the two. That link is iffy. Do I really believe that some organization has managed to continue its quest for world domination from the 1300s? No. But it is a fact that a very large number of powerful, intelligent men have belonged to these groups in the past. Today it is even more worrying - look at the membership lists of the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission at Wikipedia, and read the link that I posted earlier from the Guardian, especially the third page.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Should we protect dying industries?

One deceptively simple economic insight tells us that firms cannot sell things for below they cost to produce and expect to remain in business for long. Yet there could be cases when it is beneficial to society for "firms" to do that - scientists, for example, did not in the past sell much of anything and incurred enormous costs. There is an external benefit to their work, as there is in the work of all of us, especially academics.

I'm wondering whether these arguments could be used to justify supporting a dying industry in a national economy through tariffs or subsidies. It seems to depend upon the industry, but what industries really have that much external value beyond their capacity to produce? (I'm assuming that we can get whatever they produce at the exact same quality somewhere else for cheaper - a major assumption). Does working at a factory really make a man a better thinker? Does the factory improve the environment? Are these people happier and better citizens when they have a decent blue-collar job?

It seems hard to decide, but I think that on the net a low-tech manufacturing firm does not produce external benefits. The money that is saved by allowing them to go under through the market can be funneled back to them while they look for new work. They are now free to retrain themselves as well as perhaps enjoy more leisure (sit around on the internet?).

What about high-tech industries? Again, I think on the whole the external benefits don't justify protecting the industry - but we should be able to compete in the high-tech industries, and we do. We have a high-skilled labor force, lots of capital, and a fair amount of innovation. But we won't necessarily have the most high-skilled workers in the future. Wages will begin to equalize across the world - wages are already skyrocketing in India. Outsourcing won't be cheap forever. By the time this happens we may as well have one world government.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Mr. Sammler's Planet

There is something crude, dirty, and empty about literature which is deliberately philosophical. It does not appeal to the emotions. There is no pull to it. After reading the first paragraph of Mr. Sammler's Planet I was already annoyed and bored:

"Shortly after dawn, or what would have been dawn in a normal sky, Mr. Artur Sammler with his bushy eye took in the books and papers of the his West Side bedroom and suspected strongly that they were the wrong books, the wrong papers. In a way it did not matter much to a man of seventy-plus, and at leisure. You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanation. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history, the structure, the reasons why. For the most part, in one ear out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly."

This was written by a man who won the Nobel Prize of Literature, Saul Bellow. Perhaps literature is so starved for writers who reference philosophy that they'll accept even shoddy philosophy/literature.

Needless to say, I won't be finishing this book.

"People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned."
- Saul Bellow

The Wild Goose - A Symbol

The Wild Goose
A Symbol
Everyone who knows even a little bit about life in the bird world is aware that between the wild goose and the tame geese, different as they are, there is a sort of understanding. When the flight of the wild geese is heard in the air and there are tame geese on the ground below, the latter are aware of it at once; up to a certain point they have an understanding of what it means; so they too get under way, flapping their wings and cackling as they follow along the ground for a short distance - then it is over.

Once upon a time there was a wild goose. In the autumnal season when the time for migration was near he took notice of some tame geese. He conceived an affection for them; it seemed to him a shame to fly away from them, he hoped to win them to his side so that they might resolve to follow when the flock took flight.

To this end he sought in every way to get in touch with them, trying to allure them to rise a little higher, and then a little higher, with the hope that possibly they might be able to follow the flock, liberated from this pitiable life of mediocrity, waddling on the ground as respectable tame geese.

In the beginning the tame geese thought this very entertaining; they liked the wild goose. But soon they grew tired of him, so they gave him sharp words and derided him as a fantastical fool, without experience and without wisdom. Alas, the wild goose had so deeply committed himself to the tame geese that they had power over him; their words counted with him - the end of the story was that the wild goose became a tame goose.

It can be said in a certain sense that what the wild goose wanted to do was very pretty, yet for all that it was in error; for -- this is the rule -- a tame goose never becomes a wild goose, but a wild goose can very well become a tame goose.
If what the wild goose did could in any way be accounted praiseworthy, he should have attended above all to one thing: self-preservation. As soon as he observed that the tame geese were in any way acquiring power over him -- then away, away with the flock!

This applies to genius -- the rule is that a tame goose never becomes a wild goose, but on the other hand a wild goose can very well become a tame goose -- therefore, be on the alert.

This rule does not apply to Christianity... (continued)

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Believe it or not, I hadn't read this when I wrote on domestication - that was inspired by a domesticated elephant on TV.

Simple Wants

Quite simply - I want honesty. I am not, as one man with the best intentions has desired to represent me, I am not Christian severity contrasted with Christian leniency.

Not at all. I am neither severity nor leniency - I am... mere human honesty.

I want honesty. If that is what this race and this generation want, if it will uprightly, honestly, frankly, openly, directly rebel against Christianity and say to God, "We can, but we will not subject ourselves to this authority" - but observe that it must be done uprightly, honestly, frankly, openly, directly - well then, strange as it may seem, I am for it; for honesty is what I want. And wherever there is honesty I can take part.

- Soren Kierkegaard, as written in A Short Life of Kierkegaard by Walter Lowrie.

Friday, May 04, 2007

First Republican Primary Debate

I've been hunting around for the entire Republican debate and so far this is the best that I can find. The setting is exactly the same as the Democrats background: a huge American flag. Such art demonstrates the vast creative power of our political leaders and media machine. The questions in Democrat debate were bad. The only information of substance that I remember getting out of it was that the Iraq war should be stopped and that Hillary and Barack want universal healthcare (a policy I vigorously disagree with, but that's for another post).

SO I loaded up this clip and had to laugh when Matthews asked Romney what he hated the most about America. Romney, of course, chased the hardcore right by responding that he "loved American" and "loved most of all its people", who are the "best people in the world and always will be." And more nationalistic blather.

You know, when I was a young child people always used to tell me that politicians were dirty slimeballs. I always figured it was on some level untrue - that politicians must be smart leaders. These days I've begun to realize how wrong I am. How can we reconcile the competence and character of our past and current leaders with rational choice theory, the idea that people make rational decisions? Why wouldn't rational populations choose the most qualified, intelligent individuals rather than people who build their careers through their ablitiy to schmooze and slander?

Rational ignorance is often cited as the reconciliation between the two. To put it simply, it says that the cost of education is higher than the benefit. What most economists don't tell you but is quite implicit is that the perceived cost and benefit rather than the true cost and benefit is the one which influences people's decisions. We live in a world of imperfect information and the only hope of improving that is to educate people into the importance of the issues today. That change seems to be happening.

The other claim is somewhat more interesting and perhaps linked in how the situation appears to voters. When I go to vote, I don't really influence the result at all in most cases. I don't encourage other people to go vote simply by voting. Even if I promote voting, my actual vote doesn't do anything. The system instead works through the aggregate of people arriving at the decision to vote independently. The game is the classic prisoner's dilemma: the group as a whole would be better off if everyone voted (and, most importantly, researched), but each individual can be better by not spending the time on voting. (The problem is that these people are worse off in the long-run when they don't vote, but even if they had voted it wouldn't have made them less worse off - their vote makes no difference.)

UPDATE: Here is the debate. The idiots running MSNBC didn't build it to run in Firefox.


When species become domesticated, are they weakening themselves? Certainly. Is that necessarily a bad thing? All biological things seek to exist for as long as possible - but is sacrificing longevity for weakness a good trade-off? For all those biological things which lack consciousness, the answer seems to be an unequivocal yes. But for humans the answer is not so certain.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Religion is on the decline

While commenting on this post I discovered something that I knew but hadn't verified: religion is on a major decline in the United States. And it's about goddamn time. From 1990 to 2001 non-religious people doubled to 15% of the population.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Almost Cliches

People who half-forget cliches may be better than those who always repeat them.

Another Amazing Internet Show

If you want to understand college life (at least for a certain subculture) and laugh your ass off, check out out Underexposed from SPG Productions. These guys are gonna be huge. The main character (Jimmy Barker) reminds me of myself, but perhaps more pathetic and humorous. I think the main writer (Sean Cruser) is a philosophy major.

You may have to download the Divx software and codec, but it is worth it. That site is like a higher-class Youtube, which comes at a price of slightly longer load times and technical hang-ups.