Monday, December 01, 2008

The benefits? of losing the presidency

By the time Mr. Obama is finished, every major Democratic politician will be in his cabinet. Already there are 2 openings in the Senate, 2 governorships, and a House seat. In Arizona, where hour Democratic governor will be leaving to serve in the Obama administration, her replacement will be a Republican.

I think the impact is greater because President Bush has served for so long. It means there is a backlog of good people to serve, since all the stars in waiting have been in holding patterns. I think Mr. Obama may very well suck all the Democratic talent into his administration. It isn't much, but it is something.

I wonder how much of an impact it has on the national picture over the next few years when this happens.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanksgiving in Alaska

Have you seen this yet?

More wonderful is the hysterical commentary on the video, brilliantly summarized here.

I wouldn't expect the editorial board of the NY Times, or LA Times, which have yet to realize that no one reads paper any more, to understand that this image is not so horrible. And MSNBC still can't figure out why no one watches.

I just want to say that I am thankful that the turkey I will eat this Thanksgiving was once alive (actually, we are having Turducken). You may choose to put your head in the sand if you wish (but I would avoid the little funnel behind Governor Palin if I were you), but this is the reality behind most of our protein in the world. I love it that the Governor (oh that she were VP-elect) does not find this disturbing - she's clearly more of a man than anyone at The Times or MSNBC.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dow plummets 500 on news of Obama win

The Dow was down 500 points today, giving back all of its gains from yesterday.

This surprised me. Normally the markets have expected news built into them; and while I was hoping McCain would win, I figured there was a better-than-average chance that Obama would. I expected the market to drop a little at the start of the day, then move up again as the uncertainty of an election went away.

What this tells me is that the market expects Obama to be very, very bad for business over the next 4 years, and so yesterday's rally was little more than wishful thinking. If Obama is indeed a socialist at heart (and Europe sure seems to think so), then the market is right. An Obama administration is going to take money away from anyone who produces it, and give it to every slacker that they think will vote for them in 4 years. This could be a very, very difficult time to make money.

The good news here is that it appears that the Republicans will have enough votes to filibuster the worst atrocities, assuming they have the strength of character (I am thinking a much more colorful term) to do the right thing in the face of a hysterial lefist media. Given that congressional republican gave us this mess by acting like democrats in the first place, I am not too hopeful in the long term.

There's always the 2010 mid-terms.

The Arizona propositions

Hey, I was 8-for-8.

President Obama


I did not vote for you, but in January you will be my president. I will pray daily for you, not that you do what I want, but that what you do succeeds. Because, although you do not have the same letter (R or D) after your name as I, you are the president of my country, which remains a shining light for all the world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A civic duty

John Stossel, my oldest child's hero, has a new article arguing that it is some people's civic duty not to vote; because they haven't a clue what is actually going on. As you can guess, he took a lot of flack for taking such a position.

Of course, what people really have is a civic duty to inform themselves. It's not hard these days. But if you haven't bothered, then I guess I would have to agree with Mr. Stossel: stay home next Tuesday, don't send in your early ballot. You can try again in 2 years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Voting for judges

This article proposes willful sabotage of the current system of voting for judges, not by doing anything illegal or unethical, but by intentionally underming it. Do not read on if such an approach does not appeal to you.

In Arizona, we vote every 2 years on the sitting judges in the District and county courts. The vote is a straight up-or-down vote. They run unopposed, and presumably are replaced when voted out. I do not remember having such an opportunity in the 12 or so years I have lived here, but there may have been one or two.

On my ballot (which I just filled out today) there were at least 60 judges. Now, I consider myself a conscientious citizen, so I went to the trouble to find the performance reviews on the state site (you can find them here). For each judge, we given a review by a panel of 30, along with comments on the jurist by the lawyers and jurors who have worked with them.

All of this gives the impression of a lot of information, but is it? Let's examine the three sources. First, we know nothing of the biases, motivations (and in the case of the 18 citizens, qualifications) of the 30 members of the review panel. If they vote against a particular judge, was it because they were really incapable, or was it because they did not like how the judge ruled in some particular case. John Grisham has made me paranoid of the hidden workings of our judicial process. Second, how many of us really trust the opinions of the lawyers who appeared before these judges? Lawyers do their thing to win, and their judgment of a judge is likely to be colored more by past and pending cases than by any objective sense of the judge's qualifications. Finally, we are given the opinions of those who sat on juries in cases where the judge presided. Not to be too cynical, but you know the only people who serve on juries are those people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty. I know it's not exactly that, and I myself would love to serve some day, but the stress that this would place on my life means that my goal, at least for now, is to not serve. Further, what basis do we have for expecting that the jurors' opinion is anything more sophisticated than a personal like or dislike?

In the end, there may be a great deal of data, but very little information in these judicial review packets.

Is there a better way to select judges? I don't know. None comes to mind. But in the meantime, I am devoted to sabotaging the current system by voting NO on every judge on the ballot. I have done so in the last 3 elections, and will continune doing so into the forseeable future. I invite you to join me. Let's get rid of the current system, and make them devise another. It may not be better, but I doubt it will be worse.

Term limits do come to mind...

Arizona Proposition 300 - NO

Prop 300 is a pay raise for Arizona legislators.

I am not always against such pay raises. In general, I believe that not paying a legislature guarantees that only the wealthy can serve, because of the time involved. But as several of the comments in the Secretary of State booklet point out, the only real job given to the Arizona legislature by the constitution is the passing of a budget. This is technically true, and if you have read my initial comment on this subject, you know that I am not a big fan of the way that they have used the initiative process to avoid making politically difficult decisions.

Of course, we do get what we pay for, but it has been a long time since I felt we even got that from this group.

I recommend voting NO on 300.

Arizona Proposition 202 - NO

Prop 202 is a promoted as an initiative for further cracking down on the hiring of illegals by increasing penalties for identify theft (the means many illegals use to obtain jobs) and by revoking the licenses of business that knowingly or intentionally hire illegals. These are laudable goals, but the initiative is so convoluted, and makes so many changes, that at a minimum the law of unintended consequences should warn us about voting for it.

But there are more serious issues with prop 202 than that. First, it overturns Arizona's E-Verify program, which by all reports has been very effective in reducing the number of illegals even looking for a job. Why would the writers of this proposition seek to eliminate such an effective program. Second, the new penalties proposed only apply to businesses which are licensed by the state. My fear is that, in an effort to increase the reach of this law, the state would expand the definition of "licensed" further eroding our liberties. Finally, the law requires that the state wait to act until the Federal government has itself acted. But isn't that what we are complaining about - that the Federal government is not acting?

Taken together, these issues cause me to have no problem at all recommending that you vote NO on 202.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arizona Proposition 201 - NO

Prop 201 calls itself the "Homeowner's Bill of Rights."

Rather than include an outline of its content, I will make my recommendation right up front. Vote AGAINST 201. The proposition forbids home builders from recovering attorney's fees from buyers who sue them. This removes all incentive to mediate or find a mutually acceptable resolution to a dispute over flaws in a new home. If this proposition passes, lawyers will troll new neighborhoods looking for clients to sue the home builder over the smallest of flaws. No risk to the purchaser, but a massive risk (read cost increase) for the builder.

I am for massive lawsuit reform, including loser-pays. This is the very opposite.

I recommend voting NO on 201.

Arizona Proposition 200 - NO

Prop 200 is a massive re-write of the laws that regulate the deferred-presentment industry, also known as "payday loans."

The proposition actually does 2 things: first, it extends the law that permits payday loan businesses in Arizona. Currently, the law that regulates this industry is set to expire in 2010, at which time it would be illegal to operate a payday loan business. Secondly, the proposition adds significant new regulations to the system.

The gist of the regulations is to make these businesses less profitable and to make the loans more difficult to obtain. Such a policy has great appeal - the people who generally need these loans tend to be at the margins of society, and the costs of these loans can appear excessive (at much as a 400% interest rate, depending on how you calculate it).

However, I am passionately against this proposition, not because I would like to see the end of payday loan businesses, but because I believe that this law would reduce the options for the many people who already have few options. Let me give one example. The law would reduce the fees that these stores can charge to a level below what banks can charge for returned checks. This seems compassionate. But fees reflect the risk that a business assumes in a transaction. If you reduce the fee, then it becomes riskier to provide the service, and there will be fewer options. I despise predatory lending, and want the best for those people who do not have access to the funds they need to meet their obligations; but reducing the number of options they have does not help them. If there is a market for lower-cost payday loans, then eventually someone will come in and fill that need. I assume, absent evidence to the contrary, that the fees charged by this industry reflect actual risks.

The state legislature should simply extend the authorization for these businesses, then have hearings to understand specific issues surrounding them, adding reforms as needed. A massive re-structuring like 200 is likely to do more harm than good.

I recommend voting NO on 200.

Arizona Proposition 105 - NO

Prop 105 would require that any tax or spending-increase ballot proposition be passed, not by a majority of the votes cast, but by receiving a number of votes exceeding 1/2 the number of registered voters.

The libertarian in me loves the thought of this. All the arguments against note that this would make it effectively impossible for such an initiative to pass. I cannot imagine a tax proposition that I would want to pass, and this prop would reduce the number of propositions on the ballot.

However, to be consistent, I need to note that I am in general against ballot propositions because of the law of unintended consequences. While voting for this might reduce the number of overall propositions, I cannot in good conscience recommend voting for this proposition. I am against real, current propositions, not potential future propositions.

I recommend voting NO on 105.

Arizona Proposition 102 - YES

Prop 102 would amend the Arizona constitution to define marriage solely as the union between one man and one woman.

A similar proposition was on the ballot 2 years ago, prop 107, and was voted down. At that time, I went back-and-forth on the issue, ultimately voting against it (in spite of what I indicated in my blog). My reason for this was described in this post.

I am going to vote for this amendment. My primary concern with 107 was the exclusion of benefits for homosexual partners. I believed then, and believe now, that it is wrong to write that language into law. With that gone, I believe that it is reasonable to offer the population the option of specifying the "sense of the people" on what marriage means.

This amendment will not limit the rights of homosexuals in this state. They can still be in relationship, find companies that will allow them to share benefits, and press for clarification of how assets can be shared.

I still believe that the best, ultimate solution to the issue of gay rights is for the government to simplify the tax code, allowing individuals more say in what they do with their money. Such a change would eliminate nearly all of the issues that are supposedly at the core of this question. But I do not expect that to happen any time soon.

I recommend voting YES on 102.

Arizona Proposition 101 - NO

Prop 101 prohibits any government in Arizona from passing laws that criminalize health insurance decisions. Like nearly everything having to do with health insurance, the comments about the initiative confuse health insurance and health care. Be aware, this proposition speaks only about health insurance, it says nothing about obtaining health care.

The arguments against Prop 101 are all focused on the fact that this proposition would prevent the state from creating a mandatory state-wide health care plan. There is also an argument that future government decisions shouldn't be restricted in this way.

Let's take the second issue first. It is the nature of constitutional amendments to restrict the governments actions. You may disagree with any particular amendment, but no one who believes in the governmental approach of the United States can be against the concept of amending the constitution, although obvious care must be taken in this process (which is why I am against using the initiative process to amend the constitution in general).

Which leads to the first issue. I am against, as a matter of principal, the very notion of government-mandated health insurance program. Such programs are failing around the world, and I do not believe that the government has the solution. I believe that some regulation, along with an increase in the options people have, and a decrease in the tax regulations around health insurance, has a great chance of making real in-roads in increasing the availability of affordable health care for most people.

All that being said, I do not know if this proposition is a good idea. Again, I am hesitant to make changes to the constitution in the absence of a crisis. Since I do not see a crisis, I am inclined to vote NO on 101, although I can understand why someone else may vote for it.

Arizona Proposition 100 - YES

Prop 100 prohibits any state or local government from enacting a tax on the sale or transfer of real estate.

The principal argument against the proposition is that it would be irresponsible to exclude any form of potential income when the economy may be slowing down.

I reject any such argument. The truth is, we the people should put as many restrictions on the sources of income our beloved government has access to. The money belongs to those who have it, that is one of the truths that has made America great.

I recommend voting YES on 100.

The Arizona Ballot Initiatives

I am in the process of reviewing the various ballot propositions, and decided I should use my blog (which I neglect far too often) to spell out my thoughts. I will be posting over the next day or so my thoughts on the various initiatives.

But I gotta say that I find the whole thing so indicative of the failure of leadership in our country. We have so many ballot initiatives in part because our legislature refuses to make hard decisions. They leave it to the initiative process, where good information is nearly impossible to find. See my post from 2 years ago

If you are an Arizona voter and want more information, here are 2 very good resources:

Center for Arizona Policy
Arizona Secretary of State

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Stem Cells - An analogy

With the discovery that Governor Palin is against embryonic stem cell research, the hysterical left is clouding the issue by misrepresenting the stand of those of us who are against such research. For example, I just saw Joy Behar on Larry King (talk about an echo chamber) complaining - what are we, in the 1800s? Come on, let's do what we can to help people! A correspondent from CNN complained likewise that people like Governor Palin are trying to prevent everyone else from getting better just because she doesn't support embryonic stem cell research. The problem is that both of those complaints miss the point. Perhaps an analogy will be useful:

Suppose that tomorrow we awoke to hear that researchers at the Mayo Clinic have discovered that certain cells in the body of women nearing menopause can be harvested and used to treat any cancer that results from a degradation of DNA. In this press release, the researchers note that to be most effective, the cells must be gathered from a living woman. However, here's the kicker. While the cells in one woman's body can provide a cure for as many as 20 different cancer victims, the process of harvesting the cells, even to treat one person, will result in the death of the donor. So, should we begin rounding up pre-menopausal women and killing them, given that one woman's life can save 20? I cannot believe any sane human being would agree to such a plan.

Here's the rub - I believe (as do millions of my fellow Americans) that the life of a viable embryo is of equal worth to a pre-menopausal woman. It is therefore to me as unthinkable and immoral to destroy the embryo as it would be to kill pre-meopausal women.

You may disagree with my value system - so be it. But let's not pretend that the disagreement is about anything other than the relative value of a human embryo. And if I am right, and the life of the embryo is in fact as worthy of protection as that of any other human, then it is immoral to destroy it, no matter how many people would potentially be helped.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The "Montauk Monster"

If you haven't seen the story, there is a photo of a supposed monster that washed up on a beach somewhere. The really weird thing a bout this is that it is unbelievably easy to demonstrate that this is a fake. If you take the original image from Gawker, zoom in on it using something like Photoshop, you can see any number of places where the image is clearly constructed. Here are two examples:

Here is a zoomed in image of the area around the monster's neck. There is a hard edge at the left of the neck. Such edges are almost never present in real photographs, especially in situations like this where there is a smooth transition from one surface to another.

The second shows two areas of the monster. The section on the left is from the body, the one on the right is from the head. Notice that the image from the head looks blurrier than the one on the body. That's because the image of the body was taken with a higher resolution camera than was the one from the head. No camera can do that.

Finally, I think the author of this picture left us a message. Take a look at this zoomed in image of the "hand" of the monster:

I think it's flipping us off!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Amazing adult stem cells

There is a story today that a boy born with a rare genetic disorder that renders him extremely susceptible to infection has been cured using the combination of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to create for him a new immune system. You can read the story here.

In case you didn't know, a bone marrow transplant is a transplant of adult stem cells. I am a huge fan of stem cell research. Adult stem cell research. Because it saves lives without sacrificing them.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A good predictive theory

It is my observation, nothing more, that Darwinian evolution has proven a poor source of predictions about the actual world. The obvious predictions: that we would in time find a wide range of transitional fossils, that the processes of life could be developed in iterative steps, these need not be addressed. I have a more interesting case of the theory's poor predictive behavior, in two different examples.

I have a friend who suffers from horrible back problems. She has been subjected to innumerable surgeries (I'm sure she knows how many, but it's a lot). Many of her early surgeries were intended to remove some of the curvature from her back; as it was reasoned 3 decades ago that the amount of curvature in our spine is an evolutionary holdover, and in her case, reducing it would be advantageous. Of course, we now understand that the curvature of our spines is not a "holdover," but the very way they need to be shaped to support our bodies during upright locomotion, and her most recent surgeries have been to re-introduce the curvature. Oops.

Second, there is an article in National Geographic from several months ago (I am way behind) about the push to develop man-made analogues to some of the more remarkable naturally-occurring materials like spider silk. The article observes that scientists work from the assumption that the systems that produce these remarkable materials are constructed "accidentally," or piece-wise, and so try to find those parts that are "essential" for manufacturing. The problem is this is not working out so well. They are having little luck in simplifying the manufacturing processes, for the natural processes themselves exceed in every way our modern design capabilities. The article even admits that it appears that many of these processes may in fact be entirely essential, a counter-intuitive result when step-wise evolution is assumed to be the design force (their point, not mine).

I would like to see what would happen if a group of scientists and engineers started with the assumption that these systems were designed - would they have any greater luck in understanding and reproducing them? Maybe not, but we couldn't do any worse that the evolutionists have done so far.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Pet Peeve

I cringe every time I hear something like: "Savings of up to 50%, or more!"

This sort of redundancy is becoming more prevalent. The phrase is used even in promos done by talk radio hosts who ought to know better.

If it can be more than 50%, then it is not accurate to say "up to 50%." Either the "up to" is redundant, or the ceiling ought to be raised. That is, it is either:

"Savings of 50% or more"


"Savings of up to 75%."

Just a pet peeve.

Monday, May 26, 2008

One nation

Today is Memorial Day. Before I do anything else, I want here to express my gratitude to those men and women who have given their lives for my freedom. I never served in the military, though for no nobler or baser reason than that it never came up. I had an invitation to West Point, but chose another path. It is a decision I sometimes wish I had made differently, if for no other reason than to have given myself to this great country.

But my post is not about today. I was reading the Gettysburg Address today, and noticed that Lincoln ended with "that this nation, under God..." And I wondered if this is the origin of the phrase, and if the addition of "under God" to the pledge was motivated simply by a desire to commemorate that brilliant turn of a phrase by Lincoln. I don't know, and unfortunately, no one reads my blog who could likely confirm or deny.

Maybe I'll call Dennis Prager on Friday.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Life is hard

It is a shame that we live in a country where people can enjoy such abundance and still complain about what they don't have.

The following comic really says it all. When I went to Tibet several years ago, I found myself appreciating the simple fact of toilet paper as well. Every now and agan, it's good to remind myself of that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

They missed the obvious solution

My boys and I were watching a show on National Geographic Channel called Naked Science (not sure why it is called that). This episode covered the entire lifespan of the sun. After tracking the past 5+ billion years since it was formed, the show goes on to discuss what happens in the next billion as the sun continues to warm and expand.

The show observes that conditions on the earth will change dramatically as the temperature rises some 60 degrees in this time. The voice concludes that only a handful of humans, possibly living underground, will survive this long. My oldest boy looks over at me and asks the question that had just popped into my mind: "Don't you think, if they really believed in evolution, that they would just assume that life would evolve? One billion years is a long time."

He's right, you know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


This is my 100th post.

The Masters

Golf fascinates me, because I cannot play the game consistently. However, I also cannot watch it on television for very long. Except for the Masters. I look forward to the tournament every year, and watch every minute of it that I can. I think it is because there is, on this course, the potential for so much drama. The layout is stunningly beautiful, the holes so unforgiving of mistakes, and the greens so treacherous, that you never know what is going to happen. Yet, if you play well, you can conquer the cource. I remember watching Greg Norman futilely attempting to keep his ball in the green on 15 (I think), watching two straight pitches spin back off the green, along with his chances of winning this tournament. I remember watching Tiger Woods so dominate the course that they had to redesign it before the next year.

This year, it was a pleasure watching Trevor Immelman hold up under the pressure of knowing that Tiger Woods, while not playing very well, was still managing not to give up strokes like everyone else. Now I love watching Tiger win, don't get me wrong; but watching Immelman make the shot, even after dropping one in the water on 16, not caving when you could see the tension in his shoulders; that was great drama. And it proved that Augusta National is not impossible - he won, not because he got lucky, but because he played solidly. He lead the field in driving accuracy and putting. If you don't make mistakes, Augusta doesn't punish you. That's a better deal than you get in life.

Even if you never watch golf, you should watch the Masters. If you don't know the game, watch with someone who does. Then, after watching Saturday, go to a driving range and hit a few balls, then putt on the practice surface so that you understand just how difficult the game really is. Then sit back on Sunday and watch as everyone struggle not to make a mistake under the pressure of knowing that every mistake will be magnified as you strive for the dream of everyone who has ever picked up a golf club - the green jacket of a Master's winner.

Not that he'll ever see it, but congratulation Trevor. You deserve it, and you were a pleasure to watch.

From whence cometh it?

After two days, I remain satisfied that my moral framework provides adequate coverage; that is, it outlines the broad strokes of what I believe to be a moral standard that men and women can live their lives by. I hope to track down some of the finer details as I go along, but today I just want to investigate the possible origin of this code.

Obviously, at one level it comes from Porter Stansberry. But Stansberry's original point is that he sees his version of the moral code as self-evident. I even think, given the caveats in my second post, that he would believe this of my extended version as well. But is it self-evident? Is it, in his words, truly "objective?"

There is at least one way in which this standard is undeniably objective, and I believe it is probably the reason Porter felt confident in his original assertion. It is clear to me that every human being on the planet would want this standard of behavior to apply to those with whom they have a business relationship. They might not expect it to actually happen, but if they did expect" fair play," they would expect this very behavior. Things get more complicated in other relationships; but in business dealings, we all certainly desire, even if we don't anticipate, this sort of fair dealing.

Now, why would business relationships have this interesting characteristic of serving to clarify moral dealings between humans? I contend that it is because there is the expectation that a business deal is supposed to be entered into by two parties that want to maximize the benefit each receives from the transaction. That is, when I enter into a business deal, my goal should be to maximize my benefit; and I expect the same from my partner. Business works best when both parties believe that they have received maximum value from the transaction. If it turns out that each party feels this way, then there is an incentive to repeat the deal again in the future. Thus, a fair business deal maximizes long-term benefit by reducing the work of finding a good deal in the future. Once you have found a good partner, you no longer need to search for one.

Thus, it is the case that business relationships have the clearest incentive for mutual benefit.

Please note that I am not saying that every business deal redounds to the shared mutual benefit of both parties. Nor am I saying that no one tries to take advantage of the other party in business. What I am saying is that there is a powerful incentive in business dealings to find a place of mutual benefit and fair play consistent with the morality I outlined. And so it is in this arena that we can most clearly believe that such a moral code is in some real way "objective."

But that's not really true, is it? Let's be honest, what we really want in a business relationship is one in which the benefit clearly accrues to our side, with a partner that simply doesn't recognize that they are at a disadvantage. Then, we get our share, and part of theirs as well. If you don't believe me, think of some area where you have great passion. Then imagine having to enter into a partnership with someone who stands in opposition to you passionately-held belief. If you must be in this partnership, you are going to want to have the maximum benefit to your side, and you do not care whether the other side gains anything at all, as long as they believe they are gaining benefit, so that you can continue to take advantage of them for as long as possible. See?

So even here, where the advantages of a mutually beneficial pact are clear, most, if not all people will choose an unequal relationship if one presents itself. Nonetheless, we all know that we desire such behavior be exhibited towards us. Where does such an expectation and desire come from? Does it arise from an evolutionary advantage, or does it come from somewhere else?

I just wish enough people read my blog to generate comments. Oh, well.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Micro and Macro

Dennis Prager, one of my heroes, speaks of the distinction between micro and macro in issues of ethics and morality. What this means is that there must be a difference in our behavior with regard to individuals versus larger groups. To quote the greatest movie of all time: "You use different moves against groups than you do against just one person." Similarly, the correct, or moral behavior of an organization is necessarily different in many cases than the expected, appropriate behavior of an individual.

The example Prager gives is pacifism. It is popular for people to quote Jesus' call for his followers to turn the other cheek in support of the notion that war is anti-Christian - that Jesus would have been against whatever war the speaker is also against. But this confuses two very different types of ethics - what Dennis refers to as the micro and the macro. In the micro level, that is, in interpersonal relationships, Jesus' demand provides a model for a more civil society. It is inaccurate, however, to try and apply this statement to nation-states. While we may differ on whether any particular violent action by a nation is moral, very few believe that all violence is inappropriate at all times.

As I have thought more about the 3-part morality that I developed in my last article, I am beginning to see that some of this very confusion crept into my own thinking. In the macro level, when dealing with organizations, Stansberry's original 2-part morality is probably adequate. It is only in interpersonal relationships that we should require positive action, or kind behavior. There are, I believe, several reasons for this.
  1. Organizations exist for a specific purpose. If they are businesses, they exist to provide a product or service and make a profit. If they are governments, they exist for the purposes outlined in their founding documents.
  2. Organizations which do not focus on fulfilling their purpose are inefficient. Inefficient organizations eventually fail. Admittedly, this is a very capitalist interpretation, but I'm a capitalist. In the last several years, there have been countless books devoted to the notion of focusing an organization on fulfilling their "Primary Purpose." Likely, this is because of the constant pull within our culture for organizations to be more "socially aware." The only reason for an organization to be socially-aware is if not doing so would affect their bottom line.
  3. There is a class of exceptions, if you will, to this rule: charitable and public-service organizations. Except that they aren't really an exception, as their purpose is to provide positive service to society. So they are doing the right thing when they are "kind," that is why they exist.
Two conclusions fall naturally from these observations. First, the great distinction between the morality of a person and that of an organization is that individuals should be pro actively kind. More on that on later (as in another post). Second, organizations that attempt to be "kind" run the risk of failing at both their organizational purpose and at being kind, leaving nothing behind.

One great place to see that this is true is in the pages of Reader's Digest. They have a frequent section on "Everyday Heroes" in which they laud the kindness of some individual or another. They also run stories on organizations which have a positive reputation. If you look closely at the stories of the organizations, you will find that there is always a single person, or at most a very small group of people, who's individual actions are the source of the positive organizational action. And you never find that the everyday heroism of the individuals is ever motivated, and rarely even facilitated, by an organization. For it is people who are kind, not companies.

I stand corrected.

Final note: The quote in the first paragraph is, of course, from The Princess Bride.

Liberty and Morality

I subscribe to an investment research service from a group called Stansberry and Associates. I have received many of their newsletters for the last year, a small investment to see if their advice is worth following. I think it is, and beginning very soon I will be investing my money in part based on their recommendations. But that is not my point today.

The founder of the company, Porter Stansberry, is a die-hard practical libertarian (I don't know how he votes, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't vote at all). Today, in his Digest, he makes the following statement:
[T]here is an objective standard of morality in the world: First, do not aggress against another person or their property; and secondly, do all that you have contracted to do.
Is it really that simple? It may be. To look at a couple of other examples. the Ten Commandments outline the rules of human relationships in commandments 6-10 on the same 2 principles. Jesus summarized personal morality in the famous Golden Rule: Do to others exactly what you would want them to do to you. Stansberry is simply applying this principle to the realm of personal property and liberty. For his purposes in his newsletter, this is a very effective summary.

But when I read it, I find it feels somewhat lacking. I think the problem is this: Stansberry's formulation is entirely negative - it only defines what we cannot do, but makes no statement about what we ought to do. If there is an objective standard of morality, does it only limit my behavior? Does it not also compel me to actions of a positive sort? Is this not at least implied in Jesus' formulation of the Golden Rule, one which seems to require some sort of positive action on our part towards those with whom we come in contact?

This is a reasonable question, and reasonable people may disagree with my answer. I believe that a moral life is one that not only limits its actions where they would impose upon another, but is also one that causes us to treat others in a positive and uplifting manner. That is, it is not simply that we do not hurt people, we also actively look to help them. I believe then that this three-fold pattern defines a moral life:
  1. Do not aggress against another;
  2. Do all that you are contracted to; and
  3. Practice kindness and courtesy.
Like all moralities, this is more simply stated than lived. But until I read Stansberry today, I don't think I had ever bothered to even try and state what I meant by a moral life. Here's to my first effort.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Unintended consequences

Check out this story: Smoking Laws Threaten Drivers.

There is this principle known as the Law of Unintended Consequences, which states that any action taken in a complex system will inevitably have consequences which no one foresaw, and which are frequently more serious than the problem which the original changes were designed to fix.

It is this reason, more than almost any other, that I am a small government conservative. There is no way a group of about 500 people (the size of our Federal government), no matter how capable they are (and that is a subject open for much debate), can possibly anticipate the effects of their actions. It only follows then that they should be restricted from acting in as many areas as possible.

That's what the Constitution says. It's just not how we are governed.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Isn't it cute when atheists try to think logically?

I have, as of late, come to find it not so much irritating as it is amusing when atheists attempt to use reason and logic. Not necessarily because they have proven to be particularly inept at it, but because it is against all reason for them to do so.

By definition, an atheist is not only one who doesn’t believe in God, but who is also a materialist. And here is where reason falls apart. If the mind truly is nothing more than mechanistic processes acting on chemical compositions known, for convenience, as cells, then there is no particular reason to believe that the process of reasoning and thinking has any meaning at all. The thoughts of such a brain are nothing more than the determined outcome of chemical processes. So, there is no reason to place any weight in such thoughts, certainly no reason to expect that any one set of thoughts have any more validity than any other set of thoughts. Even the thoughts about the thoughts have no inherent meaning to recommend them over any other collection of thoughts.

I am aware of how many times I used the word “reason” in the last two paragraphs. Because the truth is, we all know our thoughts are meaningful. That’s why it’s so amusing, even cute to watch atheists think. They are like the little child who insists that he is “Helping” daddy carry the heavy board. The child’s input is of negligible impact, but he is convinced of efficacy of his efforts, all the while failing to even notice the simple fact that he could accomplish nothing if it weren’t for daddy.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I wish life was simple.

I really do. I wish that the bad guys were always the bad guys, and that the good guys never stumbled. I wish those on my team were always right, and that the other team always cheated for every gain that they made. I wish that fatal flaws were only the province of someone else, and that trust, once earned, could be counted on forever.

I wish that I could know everything about someone solely from the group in which I placed them. I wish that all members of every group with which I disagree could be reliably counted on to kick their dog, hit their wife, and cross in the middle of the road.

Unfortunately, life is never that simple. The good guys aren't perfect. Some of the bad guys have really redeeming qualities. Most of the time, members of a groups are as varied as those outside of the group. And unfortunately (for this idyllic, simple view of the world) there are a lot of really good people who differ with me. Or with you.

I just finished John Grisham's The Appeal. the world isn't as simple as he would make it. Last week, Michael Medved interviewed Jim Wallis, author of the book The Great Awakening. Mr Wallis wants to believe that every fundamentalist of every stripe has a secret, violent nature just under the surface. Ignoring the question of whether his mistake is narrowing the field too much, this simply isn't true. If you know me, you know that I am a serious political conservative. It would be comforting to believe that every liberal in this country is an evil demagogue who only wants to grow the size of government so as to increase their temporal power, and that there is no real idealism behind their stands.

But it isn't so. And I know it isn't. I can only hope and pray that more people come to understand this. About those they disagree with.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Grisham's "Contradiction"

John Grisham's new book, "The Appeal" is his first legal thriller in 3 years (according to the press release). I'm a big fan, I look forward to each new effort.

There is a section in this book that reflects a meeting at a large Family lobbying group in Washington. Grisham observes that this mythical organization is both pro-life and pro-death penalty, then wonders that no one see the contradiction.

Of course, we don't see the contradiction. There is none. The pro-life movement is interested in protecting the right to life of innocents. This is the same motivation behind support for the death penalty. To call the two positions contradictory is to make the mistake of morally equating an innocent unborn child with a convicted murderer. I cannot believe that John Grisham actually considers the two categories morally equivalent.

The correct equivalence, of course, is to equate the unborn to the victims (current and future). They are the ones that the pro-life and pro-death penalty seek to protect. For wholly non-contradictory reasons.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's looking hopeless

You know, it's kinda disappointing. I was listening to Dennis Prager interviewing a religious leftist. Their conversation was very congenial; they disagreed often, but did not degrade to ad hominem attacks or yelling. Still, on topic after topic, it was as if they were talking about different things, even though they both were discussing the same subject.

Makes me wonder if we will be able to get past the extreme partisanship of the current era in any short time. Not that we have to get along, but there is so little discourse right now, and I had hoped that perhaps a revival of listening would raise us back to a modicum of discourse. But when two extremely intelligent men cannot even manage to talk to each other on a single subject and agree, not on content, but on the nature of the discussion, it does not bode well for the rest of us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Am I going to answer him?

I was asked by a commenter if I intended to answer the last comment to my post The Premise of God (a follow up). The short answer, before the question was asked, would have been "no." There was nothing in the comment that required an answer, as there was nothing new that was not already in my original post. Further, I did not figure anyone else cared, and so I decided to let it go. Now, someone cares, so I will respond.

It is a mistake common to modern atheists to require that even God be subject to natural explanations. Hence, my questioner's insistence on God being "more complex" than His creation. This is a logical fallacy. It is inappropriate to make any statement concerning the "necessary" nature of God based upon natural law - if (as I assume) He exists, He, of necessity, must stand outside of natural laws. We can assume nothing about the nature of God, as He is totally outside of our experience. This, by the way, explains the need for revelation. If God exists and desires that we know something about Him, He will have to tell us, and choose the analogies He deems most appropriate.

I will not even comment on the assertion that my knowledge of evolution is in some way deficient, except to point out that in my role as defender of the faith, not only for myself but also for the hundreds who have heard me teach on the subject over the years, I am confident that I understand the subject as well as any layman, and perhaps as well as most graduate students in biology.

Considering the kalam argument for God's existence, I should have looked it up rather than relying on my (now aging) memory. My bad. The argument actually states "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." It is again, an argument based on natural regression. Since theists assert that God does not begin to exist, He stands outside the argument and is therefore sufficient as a first-cause.

My equating of the design hypothesis to the dark matter hypothesis is invalid only if we assume that all knowledge is achievable using just our 5 senses. This is not true. If God exists, and He designed the universe that we see, then He is absolutely a reasonable explanation. If He does not exist, then He clearly would not be. However, to exclude Him a priori and then assert that He cannot be used as an explanation is meaningless. If one chooses to not believe in God, that is a faith statement, not a statement based on any collection of facts. I choose to allow for the possibility that the universe is created, and on that assumption, I also find that the evidence supports that conclusion. That is all. The faith is only in allowing the assumption, it is not in landing on the conclusion.

Finally, we come to the silliness of the last paragraph. I would pay it some mind if we were comparing jelly-bean unicorns to the myths of the Greeks and Romans. But we are not. We are talking about the stories of the Bible, which for all the cultural shifts that have occurred since, have proven to have a greater impact on the actual life and behavior of men than any other set of teachings in all of human history. Yes, some of the stories seem out-of-date in our modern world, but they did not take place in our modern world. In spite of this, even today, the real lives of real men and women all over the world are transformed based on these ancient stories and teachings. I have read some of the detractors, I have read many of their commentators, and I am singularly unimpressed. There is more reason to believe today that the Bible is what it says it is than there ever was in the past. When someone devises a jelly-bean unicorn mythology that has that sort of transformative power, then I will give it credence. No one believes in these unicorns; I believe, with a massive quantity of reason and experience behind me in these very stories.

Clever apothegms are no substitute for sound logic. They are, unfortunately, the purview of the modern atheist, who finds himself disarmed in most battles of wits against believers who know what they believe. If you haven't seen the debates between Dinesh D'Souza and several atheists, you should take the time to watch. They can be found in YouTube and at In both cases, just search for dinesh.