This may amuse

Forget debate, now I totally want to take Dawkins on in the Octagon. With CHUCK NORRIS as a tag team partner, I have no doubt that we could take on all four New Atheists at once:

For proof on God’s existence I recommend Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator or Hugh Ross’s The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. Another recent great book is Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist, which defends belief in God against the militant atheism of antagonists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.
– Chuck Norris, Black Belt Patriotism, p. 226

Actually, before we kick their asses, we would totally debate them first for some metaphorical ass-kickery as a warm-up. We’d skip right past the whole religion thing in order to debate Dawkins in his area of expertise, because it will be a piece of cake to prove there is no theory of evolution, there is just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

Rosy Scenario II

The New York Times and various corporate economists also notice that Obama’s budget projections don’t sync well with the experts’ expectations:

2009 Budget -1.2 percent (-2.0)
2010 Budget +3.2 percent (+2.1)

A sense of disconnect between the projections by the White House and the grim realities of everyday American life was enhanced on Friday, as the Commerce Department gave a harsher assessment for the last three months of 2008. In place of an initial estimate that the economy contracted at an annualized rate of 3.8 percent — already abysmal — the government said that the pace of decline was actually 6.2 percent, making it the worst quarter since 1982.

In fairness to the White House, it appears my projections don’t sync well either, although mine are to the downside. First, I think it’s probable that the 6.2 percent contraction will be revised downward again when the BEA releases the Q4 Final report, since the agency all but announced that in the Preliminary report. Second, I anticipate that GDP contraction will not only be more severe than the -2.0 percent predicted by private economists, but it will be worse than the -3.3 percent being used for the worst-case “stress test” scenario. Third, I expect further contraction in 2010 in place of the growth that is unanimously projected, although it is entirely possible that inflation numbers will be fudged in order to conceal this contraction.

Note, however, that despite my general negativity I expect a considerable stock market rally to begin this spring, which should take the Dow back between 9k and 10k before it collapses again. Remember, nothing ever goes straight up or straight down. If you’ve been enjoying the ride down, it would probably be wise to take three-quarters of your chips off the table now and the rest if there’s another wave down to 6k in the next month.

Dennett: the insult comic sophist

In which the pragmatic philosopher reveals he has no clothes and no class in a debate with Alvin Platinga:

3:26 pm – Here comes the punch line – the theistic hypothesis can’t be refuted. But so what? It is independently unlikely. If we can account for evolution without the divine, then we should accept it. Even if we found user’s manuals in junk DNA, this wouldn’t show that natural selection isn’t the answer, as we could have been tampered with by naturalistic intelligence long ago.

3:27 pm – Contemporary evolutionary theory can’t rule out ID. “Except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy.” Is the punchline an insult?! I am concerned that Dennett is not yet addressing Plantinga’s argument.

3:29 pm – Sure, the intelligent theist can keep going on believing. He calls theistic belief a fairy tale. Now he’s getting explicitly insulting. He thinks theistic belief can corrupt our common epistemological fabric and involve theism into politics. He shows a slide mocking the eschatological views of Christians. He calls theism an unrespectable position, and compares it to astrology. He says it is irrational and doesn’t deserve respect. He gets laughs. He doesn’t look good to the theists. Once he got nasty, a cold pall covered the room. He compares theism to holocaust deniers and things have gone off the rails. This is outrageous. All Plantinga must do to beat Dennett now is to reply with grace. For Plantingian dry wit, this is easy.

3:32 pm – “Is Plantinga’s theism in any better position than these other fantasies?” He’s going to create a Plantinga-guided natural selection. It is hard to explain, but the argument basically mocks Plantinga. I am incensed. The response is a long string of insults, and little more. This is pathetic. I had more faith in Dennett. He is just making the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and getting laughs from real, intolerant jerks. It is going on and on….

3:55 pm – Plantinga begins. He claims that he isn’t clear as to how what Dennett said bore on Plantinga’s claim. This is true Plantinga. He first asks what the argument is. He is unphased and was clearly prepared for this. He is exposing the point that Dennett only told stories and really didn’t make an argument against Plantinga’s claim. This is a wonderful way to reply. Ignore the profound insults that culminated in a suggestion that we kill God to understand the universe. Appear unphased and focus on the philosophy. Dennett was classless. Plantinga is only focusing on the argument. A Goliath ad hominem attack is felled by the simple stone of careful analysis.

3:59 pm – It is not clear what the analogy is between God and Superman and other silly beings. He is just suggesting that there is no similarity between God and Superman, as Dennett claimed. Note that this strategy is very subtle. He is addressing the argument in simple terms and showing gradually that there was nothing to Dennett’s claims. Note that above I had trouble understanding Dennett’s arguments, but not Plantinga’s. I thought that was just me but now it is clear that Dennett built a house of cards….

4:02 pm – Plantinga thinks Dennett didn’t mention the argument. Dennett interrupts and says he mentioned premise 1. Plantinga says, “Yes, Dennett did mention premise 1, and I am grateful for that.” The room erupted in laughter. I added my own guffaw. Dennett is collapsing and is clearly furious. It is clear that Dennett just didn’t make any arguments.

Ah, philosophy dork humor, does it get any better than that? My sides, they ache…. Anyhow, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that Dennett didn’t respond directly to arguments put forth by an opponent. Avoidance and evasion are standard New Atheist tactics. And it’s obvious to anyone of sufficient intelligence who has read Dennett’s books that he isn’t capable of directly responding to counter-arguments because he’s nowhere nearly so bright as his fans, most of whom don’t understand his arguments, tend to think. Now, it’s true that unlike Harris, Hitchens, and to a lesser extent, Dawkins, Dennett seldom commits openly egregious howlers, as his story-telling snow jobs are well suited to conceal his baseless assumptions, naked assertions, factual errors, and outright logical blunders. This is why TIA featured an entire chapter dedicated to highlighting Dennett’s mistakes, most notably his logically quixotic attempt to justify a specific division of doxastic labor that he declares to be otherwise immoral.

GDP Watch: Q4 2008 prelim

As expected, the revisions are trending down. Remarkably, the US economy is declining in real terms, which, at 6.2 percent, is almost the same annual rate as the real contraction that took place from 1930 to 1931, 6.4 percent. A few of you may recall that after the last report, I wrote the following: Notice that according to the current Advance report on the fourth quarter of 2008, the economy actually grew 1.3 percent this year. I’m guessing that they just might revise that down a bit in the next report or two. So, it’s not surprising to learn that the 2008 figure was revised down to 1.1 percent today.

Quarter Adv Pre Final Rev Annual
2008 Q4 -3.8 -6.2 1.1 (1.3)
2008 Q3 -0.3 -0.5 -0.3 -0.5
2008 Q2 1.9 3.3 2.8 2.8
2008 Q1 0.6 0.9 1.0 0.9
2007 Q4 0.6 0.6 0.6 -0.2 2.0
2007 Q3 3.9 4.9 3.9 4.8
2007 Q2 3.4 4.0 3.8 4.8
2007 Q1 1.2 0.5 0.6 0.1
2006 Q4 3.5 2.2 2.5 1.5 2.8
2005 Q4 1.1 1.6 1.7 1.3 2.9
2004 Q4 3.1 3.8 3.8 2.4 3.6

UPDATE – By way of comparison, Roundtine points out the GDP growth assumed in Obama’s budget:
2009: -1.2
2010: 3.2
2011: 4.0
2012: 4.6

It will be interesting to hear an explanation of how the economy is supposed to enjoy such rapid growth when it did not reach such a pace even during the recent housing boom.

Farah on Medved

It seems I’m not the only one at WND the Gay Mustachio is less than fond of:

Think about this. With all the problems our nation is facing today – economic crisis, the breakdown of Judeo-Christian values, a government out of control – why is Michael Medved so angry about WND? Does that seem just a little strange to you?

I don’t know why Medved is bent out of shape about Farah, Corsi, WND, and me. Nor do I care. The guy is a movie critic, and while he’s probably perfectly competent at that, he’s in over his head when it comes to political commentary. I’ve never listened to his show, and after reading a column or three, never saw much need to read his writing either.

In feeble defense of IP

Stephen Kinsella summarizes the usual arguments in defense of intellectual property at the Economicon:

There are some decent arguments out there that argue in favor of a state, welfare rights, war, democracy, drug laws, and so on. They are all flawed, since libertarianism is right, but there are coherent, honest arguments that we libertarians have to grapple with. But it is striking that there are no decent arguments for IP…. One sees the same incoherent or insincere claims made over and over, such as:

1. It’s in the constitution (argument from authority; legal positivism)

2. Intellectual property is called property! (argument by definition?)

3. No movies would be made and kids would die without medicine (artworks and medicine have been produced for ages without IP law; and where’s the evidence?)

4. If you “create” something you own it (despite all the exceptions, and despite the fact that creation is neither necessary nor sufficient for ownership; despite the fact that you either limit these rights in scope or time arbitrarily, or you extent them to infinity, choking off rights in real things and forcing life and commerce to a screeching halt)

5. It generates net wealth–more value than its cost (no evidence, ever, for this contention–just assumptions; not to mention the problem of utilitarian summing of values)

6. IP infringement is “theft” (even though the owner still has his property and ideas, and even though IP infringement is just learning and emulating)

7. People “could” create variants of IP via private contracts… therefore artifical patent granting bureaucracies legislated by a criminal state are… justified?)

My only quibble here is that point 1 is somewhat incorrectly labled; to the extent that an appeal to the Constitution is an appeal to the law and therefore the government, it’s less argumentum ad verecundiam than argumentum ad baculum. A pure “appeal to authority” would be arguing that intellectual property is real property because Milton Friedman said it was.

To me, the most obvious flaw in the IP defenders’ arguments is the undeniable fact that very, very few authors of the tens of thousands of book published every year earn enough from their literary activities for it to be their primary means of support. The median SF/F advance is $13,750, and this doesn’t even account for the unpaid efforts of the much larger number of unpublished authors. This is the result of supply and demand; the supply of would-be authors far outstrips the demand. I theorize that if the median book advance was dropped to zero, the number of books being written would drop by a significant percentage, the number of books being published would increase, and the quality of books being published would also increase. The first two conclusions are obvious, while the rationale behind the third one rests on my belief that the new situation would disincentivize those who are writing primarily for pecuniary purposes and whose skills primarily lie in selling themselves to the publishing gatekeepers rather than in their writing talents.

There is empirical evidence supporting this notion, especially if one stops to consider the fact that most of the novels that are considered great were published prior to the modern IP era. People create things for a variety of reasons, and their primary motivation is very seldom financial reward. I’m pleased that five of my six books have sold well enough to be profitable and I hope my next book will do even better. But, like the countless legion of unknown writers whose works will never see print, I would write books even if I was not paid to do so. (On the other hand, I only not write for profit.) The mere existence of blog, and the existence of a million others like it, should suffice to conclusively prove that the prospect of financial gain is not an essential component of Man’s motivation to create.

It may be worth noting that even though copyright does not protect the titles of books or movies, one does not see quantities of publishers attempting to sell books entitled “Gone With the Wind” or “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Now, I don’t actually have serious a problem with minor patent protection and reasonable copyright; this is mostly an intellectual exercise for me. But I do take serious issue with the current system, which is abusive of both the consumer and the creator alike, and abuses them in the interest of non-creative corporations.

Mailvox: in defense of feminism

The Other Renee writes:

I read a couple of you posts about feminism a while ago, and it left me thinking a lot about things. For one thing, if the feminism movement never took place, do you think that women would have as much rights and opportunities as they do today? Do you think that they even belong in the workplace? Also, how do you feel about unequal wages between men and women; do you think that women deserve equal pay? I understand and agree that men and women are not biologically the same and should not be treated as such, but idealy and under the law, they do deserve the same rights and privileges. Now I know feminism isn’t perfect, but I kind of feel that it’s more the people than the actual idea of it. Like religion (stick with me here). Many people think Christianity is bad, but it’s some of the followers that make it bad, the religion itself isn’t bad. I REEEAALLY hope that made sense.

If feminism had never existed, women would have more rights, fewer opportunities, and they would be better off by numerous objective measures including health, wealth, and de facto ability to choose how to live their lives. To ask if women “belong in the workplace” is a misleading question, as lower class women have always worked. Feminism is a middle class phenomenon; upper- and middle-class women do not belong in the full-time workplace if they are going to marry and have children as their contributions are far less important in the workplace than in the home. About a third of the female population have to work for one reason or another and traditional societies have always accommodated that. I understand your last point and there are certainly no shortage of evil feminists, but unlike some other religions and ideologies, the inherent problem is not with the ideologues but rather with the ideology itself.

In the end, I feel that I am an egalitarian when it comes to equality in political, economic, social, and civil rights.

You’re obviously mistaking me for someone who gives an airborne rodent’s posterior. Equality is an utter myth and does not exist except in the imaginations of those who are insufficiently rooted in material reality. I find Nzambi Mpungu and the Labor Theory of Value to be more credible.

In “A feminist throws in the towel” back in October 2, 2008, you said this: The truth is that “sexism” is merely one of the many excuses that the incompetent use to justify their failures. Nobody gets a fair shake, even those who have massive advantages usually know what it’s like to not get a chance…. If you’re a loser of either sex, you complain about how everyone else is responsible for your failures, you come up with a label to justify them, and you wallow in the unfairness of it all. If you’re not, you just shrug, assess the situation, and take your best shot where you can. Life isn’t fair. There probably isn’t a single genuinely fair individual to be found anywhere in the world. So what? That’s the situation – what are you going to do about it? Change the world by force and government fiat? Yeah, that’s worked so very well so often in the past!

I admit, I don’t know how they decided who was sexist and who wasn’t, but something bothers me. There’s a difference between blaming people for your failures, and being denied promotions, advancements, equal wage, etc. based on your sex despite doing your VERY BEST and doing excellent work on your job (even performing better than some of the men). Of course no one gets a fair shake in life. But if I’m in the workplace and I’m being denied equal wage and potential promotions, all because I’m a woman, I’m not supposed to do anything about it? I should just accept it? Even if the guy does excellent work, if he’s genuinely sexist, then disciplinary actions must be taken even if he is at the top. I know that life isn’t fair, but in certain situations like unequality and discrimination on the job, I’m not going to critize someone for bringing to light what’s going on at that particular workplace and trying to make a difference.

Here’s an example. After many years of women being denied equal pay in the workplace despite doing the exact same jobs as men in many instances, the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, and the President has promised to sign it into law. After endless protests and hardwork to end unequal pay (or at least decrease the frequency of such cases), this happened.

Renee’s attitude is all too typical of the inherent liberal fascism that afflicts so many women. First, on what planet does the person doing the VERY BEST job have an inalienable legal right to anything? Does Renee seriously believe that if I walk in the door and can prove that I can do a better job than she does, she should be immediately fired and her job should be given to me? If not, then what on Earth is she complaining about. It’s no business of hers what metric the employer chooses to use to evaluate employees. It’s amazing, but entirely predictable that she thinks the only two options are to either a) just accept it, or b) institute a massive Federal bureaucracy applying pseudo-objective measures to every job in the country and watching over how closely employers are abiding by those measures. And note this ominous declaration: “Even if the guy does excellent work, if he’s genuinely sexist, then disciplinary actions must be taken even if he is at the top.

So, it turns out that despite her concerns about excellence in the workplace that’s just a red herring to disguise Renee’s real goal, which is the forced imposition of her belief in her nonexistent god on everyone. While she means well, the only difference between Renee and an Islamic Jihadist is that the jihadist is willing to use personal force in imposing his will on the populace, Renee prefers to use politicians to do her dirty work for her.

Furthermore, the “Fair Pay Act” isn’t about equal pay for equal work, it’s about equal pay for less work. The main difference in male and female compensation is that on average, women in the same job as men work fewer hours per month than men and are more likely to quit than men. This makes them less valuable to employers, and therefore worth less pay. There’s nothing to prevent Renee and her fellow feminists from starting their own corporations and running them however they want. But then, that would involve taking personal responsibility, making decisions and doing actual work, rather than simply whining at politicians and benefiting parasitically from the effort of others.