Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New War

Anyone who has been watching the news over the past few days is aware of the recent conflict that has renewed itself in the Gaza Strip. For many people, including those involved (mainly in Gaza) this came as a surprise, but anyone who who had been following the events leading up to the Israeli attack and who understood basic military tactics, the Israeli attack comes as no surprise. What is notable about the western media news coverage of the event is the emphasis placed on reporting the Palestinian side and version of the story and almost ignoring the Palestinian response and provocation that lead up the the attack.

I have read many news stories about the attacks from both CNN and the BBC and in both cases they treat the Israeli attack as coming without any prior indication or reason. The way the news stories are being reported they make it seem like the Palestinians had a dispute with Israel, they fought over it, had a ceasefire for a while and when the ceasefire ended Israel attacked. They make it seem like these events happened in a vacuum and were unrelated previous events, or at most because of the failed peace talks. In other words the media is treating this like an event that hasn't been building up for years, they treat it as totally unexpected.

It addition to the views of the media it is interesting (or not) to find out the views of individual people, like me, who read the news, but aren't involved. When I went to read the comments left by the readers they ranged from the absurd to the rational, from the helpful to the hateful. They blamed everyone, from Hamas to Israel, to President Bush himself (and his dog too). The comments that were anti-Israeli were usually along the lines of (not a direct quote), "We think they are wrong and isn't it terrible that they are killing INNOCENT people" (the innocent, in all caps, is a direct quote). My favorite was (direct quote [sic]) "to be honest i'm quite shocked at the comments below especially by the Americans, claiming Israel has the right to defend itself." So the anti-Israeli position can be summed up as "Israel does not have the right to defend itself and/or they are the root and cause of all these problems, and because they are the cause of these problems they should not defend themselves."

The pro-Israeli position tends to be "They have a right to defend themselves and they should defend themselves, because Hamas was the one that did not want peace."

So the blame game happens and both sides blame the other and everyone else blames someone. It is easy to see that this is a touchy subject and many people feel strongly about this. I have my own feelings about the situation but I will not share them here at the moment, but I may do that in a later post. I thought that I would give a perspective on the situation, that not many people are noticing, and certainly very few, if any at all, news reporters are noting.

So here is the situation, and this is most likely the situation that will be given in the history books.

This conflict has been building for some time. Hamas has been severed from Fatah by being largely contained in Gaza. Fatah will not support Hamas to any great extent. Hamas has alienated just about everyone that could potentially help them. They even lost the support of Egypt. Their only main support comes from Syria and Iran, and that support is problematic, or limited to words (and a few covert operations). Hamas declared the ceasefire over and opted not to renew, which will cause legal (i.e. technical bureaucratic) difficulties in the UN and in the international community at large. If anything Israel (and the US) can use that technicality to stall UN resolutions, and other peacekeeping initiatives.

In Israel itself, they are getting ready for elections and the current party in power has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the rocket attacks. Their presidential candidate, Tzipi Livni, had been viewed as "too soft" on the Palestinian "terrorists" (hardly true, but oh well), while the main opposition poised to upset her bid to be president, is viewed as being even more "hardline" against Hamas. So when the two possible candidates for the presidency are "pro-action and armed response" it can be assumed that something will be done.

Furthermore, in the US George Bush has less than 30 days in office and can't really do much (it's a standard part of the last days of a lame duck presidency). Barak Obama is going to be president soon, but he is not president yet, so he can't do anything. France has the presidency of the EU until the end of the year, when it goes to the Czech Republic, whose president is one of the most outspoken critics of the EU and refuses to fly the EU flag over the presidential palace. Don't expect much action from him. No one else really has the clout, the initiative or the desire to get involved. Most of the world is more concerned about keeping their job and/or feeding themselves at the moment to try to do anything to help.

In short, Gaza has fallen into a political black hole at the precise moment when everyone else they have traditionally relied upon, is not in a position nor has the desire to help. They are in effect, between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go. They could not have picked a worse time to end the ceasefire, and Israel is taking full advantage of the situation. The only wild card in the whole situation is how the Arab world (not including the Egyptians, but including the Iranians) will respond. That is the only trouble. The Arab/Iranian world may respond with force, which will make things very complicated.

Despite the fact that there is a war going on, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I will follow the developments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mormonism is Truth

"Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft....The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same." -- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith p. 264

Monday, December 22, 2008

A $93 Computer Reboot

Recently I had a problem with the automatic locks on my car, they just wouldn't work. So I checked all the fuses and everything I could think of, but to no avail. Because I was going into the local Honda dealer anyway to get a new key made I figured I would have them look at it. So I took it in and they hooked it up to their computer and the car's computer was not responding properly. So they reset the on board computer and that fixed the problem. In other words they just hit the reset button on the computer, and then they charged me $93 for it.

So I wondering how they did that and if there is anyway for me to reboot my car's computer without having to take it into the Honda dealer to have them hit the reset button and then charge me $93. It seems like a fairly simple process and I am only impeded in carrying out my own trouble-shooting due to my lack of computer interface and know how. If a high school drop out, grease monkey can figure it out I think I could figure it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Movement: Not as Simple as it Seems

I remember reading a short story many years ago by Issac Asimov (I think it was in his book I, Robot). In the story there is a robot named Robbie that plays with a child. While the robot can play ball and many other things the one thing that it cannot do is talk. Apparently Asimov thought that talking was such a complex thing that when we did get around to building robots, like Robbie, that we would have an immensely difficult time getting the robots to talk, whereas all the other normal human functions such as walking would be easy and natural to reproduce.

Thus for the most part, actions such as walking, picking things up and the like are almost always presented as simple for a robot and usually the first thing they "learn" how to do, whereas talking and language in general is presented as being the hard thing to deal with. This attitude towards the complexity of language and the simplicity of walking and moving was not particular to Asimov's stories. There are many more examples of this way of thinking, such as Data from Star Trek, Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, the Terminator and others. With these robots they have an easy time moving about but they have an immensely difficult time learning how to talk (or at least talking normally) and communicate.

There are a few notable exceptions to this, but this usually happens in movies where they actually try to make a robot as opposed to having a person wearing makeup (for example, Jonny 5 from Short Circuit). In these cases the actual logistics of making a robot become apparent and the "simple" things such as walking and picking things up are no longer so simple, while the other thing, language, which authors and philosophers considered so difficult can easily be reproduced.

Lately there have been real attempts to make functioning robots, like they have in movies, and while scientists have been able to make computers talk and respond to speech for years, they are having an immensely difficult time with something so simple as walking. Even with all the combined brain power of a corporation like Honda the best they can do is to get a robot to walk up an incline (with the incline already programmed into the robot). Other groups at universities that are developing robots are running into similar problems, they can make them talk, but when it comes to moving and picking things up then it becomes much more difficult.

So it is ironic that authors and philosophers would consider language an extremely complex thing and difficult, if not impossible, for robots to master ends up being one of the easier things. This mistake is understandable because as we learn and grow we first learn to move and to walk and then we learn how to talk. While we learn how to walk fairly quickly, it takes us years to learn how to use language. Granted computers cannot use language to our level, but they can reproduce language in a fairly believable format, while they have difficulty with the simple things like walking.

I guess the reason why I am pointing this out is that I am amused by the fact that many people egotistically think that their words are so hard and complex to understand that surely a robot would have immense difficulty reproducing them, and for robots that is what they must struggle with the most, because that is what we struggle with the most. But when it comes down to it, our language is comparatively simple and it is everything else that is complex. Perhaps the complexity and problems of language are self-created and our inability to learn it does not come from our lack of intelligence, but our lack of intelligibility.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When Ideals Meet Practice

Quite frequently someone gets a great idea that would make the world a better place and they want to share that idea with others and get them to participate because they think that it will greatly improve the lives of all those involved. Unfortunately these great ideas meet the harsh trial of reality and fail because frequently what seems like a simple solution to a problem is just that, too simple a solution.

I used to teach beginning level lab classes in physics and invariably the students who were just getting used to solving problems in physics would encounter something that made doing the labs difficult. They would solve the equations given to them and do the experiment but in the end their results from the calculated equations and the actual observations did not match. The projectile did not fly as far as they calculated it would or something happened in the collision that thew off their data, and when they asked me why the equations did not match perfectly with the observations I would usually say it was because of friction (it was in most cases). It's just that the equations they were using did not account for friction.

When some students realized this they came to the conclusion that if there were no friction then the world would be a lot better. With their beginning understanding of physics they could conceive of perfect engines that were perfectly efficient, cars that could go for miles, easier travel and shipping and all kinds of things where friction decreases the efficiency of a process or where friction prevents us from doing something. Thus they come to the conclusion that a world with out friction would be better off.

Of course when they come to this point in their thinking I would begin to ask them a series of questions to get them to think about the implications of what they were proposing. I would point out the cases where it would be desirable to have less friction, but then I would ask them to think about situations where friction was not only desirable, but necessary. I would ask them about walking and say, "If there were no friction then how would your foot push you forward?" Or "Even if you had a frictionless engine in a car, what good would it be because the tires would just spin endlessly because they need friction to make the car move?"

When the students thought about these questions they would realize that friction was not something that was completely undesirable and just an inhibition to things we want to do, but it was something that was necessary for normal life. In the case of friction it was a simple matter to have the students see the potential problems of eliminating friction, but this is not always the case. There are some things that people observe and want to eliminate because they view them as undesirable, but all too frequently their idea fails one simple question, "How?"

Unfortunately there are even times when people see something they view as a moral and public evil and when they get into the actual practice of eradicating it their method of choice is simply a reclassification of the original problem or a completely new and troublesome problem. This is to say that when ideas meet practice they tend to either create new problems or at least replace the original problem with a very similar one.

If we apply this concept to the noble and worthy goal of ending discrimination and prejudice we frequently run into problems. I agree that this is something good to work for but all to often the methods chosen result in more problems rather than fixing the original one. If we consider racism there are very few who would not say this is a good thing to eliminate, but when it comes to the actual mechanics of identifying and eliminating racism then we very quickly run into problems.

I say this from personal experience as I was once accused of being racist. This happened while I was living in Argentina. I was at the time conversing with a native Argentine and we just so happened to be walking through a trash heap that existed in the middle of the city. While some of the larger cities did have proper rubbish disposal, the citizens of the particular city where I was at simply took their trash to a marshy area that could not support houses and dumped their trash there. The Argentine who I was with asked me if such things existed in the United States. I told him that I had never seen or even heard of this kind of thing in the United States. I went on to explain that the nearest landfill to my house when I was growing up was on the Pima Indian Reservation. Of course this landfill was nothing like the one we were walking though at the time, but in the mind of the person I was talking to he equated the sanitary landfill I was telling him about with the unregulated dumping of trash we were currently walking past. When I explained that it was located on the Indian Reservation he became indignant and called me a terrible racist for dumping on the poor defenseless natives and contributing to their demise. When I protested and tried to explain the truth he would not listen and insisted that he did not want to talk about my racism. With that the conversation ended.

Bringing this back to my original topic, if we are to eliminate undesirable things such as racism then we must first establish what it is we are eliminating, and how we are to do it. For how are we to eliminate racism if people are accused of being racist simply because of the location of a landfill near their house, especially one that was planned and begun when I was in elementary school? Should I be "reeducated" simply because I grew up in a neighborhood that that was predominately white? Am I automatically racist because I was born a White American (some people I have talked to seem to think this, ironically enough)? How do we eliminate racism? Do we discriminate against people because historically people that look like them discriminated against others? The questions could continue forever, but there is a simpler way.

As it is with my original example, that of friction, there is a way to solve the problems. In some cases we do not want to eliminate something altogether, such as friction, as that would make normal life impossible, and other things such as racism we may want to eliminate but are unsure of how with out creating problems, or implicating the innocent. The simple solution to the problem is not social, or political, or even cultural, it is personal. But this is the most difficult of all possible solutions because it requires the most individual involvement of all.

It is striking that almost all of the solutions proposed by politicians, activists and proponents of ideals involve the actions and responsibility of everyone except the individual. Even the movements that emphasize the individual and personal involvement somehow fail to require first personal change and/or require complete personal change throughout. There is nothing wrong with requiring others to uphold a standard as long as you yourself first hold to that standard.

This way when ideals meet practice it is backed by experience and knowledge which will prevent misunderstandings and mistakes. I would not ask others to live a principle I have not first tried to live.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who Really Supports You?

This post can be considered a follow up to a previous post I had where I asked the question "Who do you really support?" In relation to that idea I was thinking about the obvious corollary to that question, "Who really supports you?" As I was walking through a building at UNC-CH I noticed a flier tacked on to a wall advertising a rally that was to happen in a few days. The flier advertised a rally against Prop. 8 and in support of the "LGBT Rights Movement". As I was not going anywhere in a hurry I stopped and read the flier. It started out giving the time and place of the rally, why they were doing it etc., but then the emphasis of the flier began to change and it mentioned that the equal rights could only be won by "fighting for a democratic socialist future." At the end it finally stated who had written the flier and organized the rally, "Carolina Socialist Alternative". It then listed a couple of web sites about the organization and its afiliations ( and (

If you go and check out these sites you quickly realize what this is about. These organizations are the modern iteration of the communist party (though if you read their sites they very adamantly deny any association with communism. As they point out: "We believe the dictatorships that existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were perversions of what socialism is really about.") . As a matter of fact, despite what the flier advertised these organizations have little to do with the LGBT "rights" movement. You have to dig pretty deep into the sites before you find anything mentioning LGBT rights.

The point is these socialist organizations may say they support LGBT rights and even organize rallies in support of them (at least here in NC), but there are a few things that must be considered. Would the LGBT community really want the support of the socialists? They may agree (right now) on many things but this appears to be a political alliance of convenience more than anything else right now. It would appear that the socialists are taking advantage of the current situation and are voicing their support for the LGBT community so that they can get their support. In the end they (the socialists) may not be interested in preserving the "rights" of the LGBT community any more than they are interested in preserving the "rights" of religion. Situations and political alliances will change depending on the political climate.

While I have used this one example, this idea is not limited to this one situation. Many times a particular movement goes looking for support, and they find it, but sometimes that support may be more than they bargained for. Also they may find that even though they welcome the support initially, that means that they now become associated with that support and it may be detrimental to their movement later on.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Good Editorial

Today I happened to pick up the paper and read a good editorial that appeared in The News & Observer, a newspaper published in the Triangle area. The author of the editorial gave insightful comments about the differences between the original civil rights movement and the "new" civil rights movement. As he points out:

"A significant difference, they argue, is that sexual orientation, unlike race, is a choice. Homosexual orientation can be hidden; skin color can't. Black advocates point out that gays have not come close to suffering the historic economic, educational and social injustices that African-Americans have endured. The fight for the right to marry just doesn't measure up to the struggle to be recognized as a human being instead of a piece of property."

He goes on to explain that the original civil rights movement came out of the religious convictions of those involved and that "for many blacks, the pursuit of secular civil rights represents the fulfillment of Christian-based equality."

This new "civil rights" movement goes against this and focuses their protests against religions. In contrast the original movement had a moral and religious basis for their demands, the new movement has neither, since their lifestyle is a rejection of morality and all traditional religion. They argue that they are in the right and that they must be given their demands because it is constitutional, but to paraphrase a scripture, "what evidence have ye...? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Most Amazing Quote

I just came across the most amazing quote. I was reading a news article and after the article there were several reader comments. I found one that was an absolute gem.

"Voting to eliminate Constitutional Rights is ILLEGAL."

I also noticed that the user name of the person that posted this comment was "stupidityshouldhurt". Another comment in response to that comment said it all "you have to be in a lot of pain".

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Incomplete Definitions and Logical Fallacies

Recently I was reading some commentary on same-sex marriage and was intrigued by some of the comments made in defense of it (look in the comments in the link). The comments started out, "[Marriage] is neither an essential unit of civilization nor is its ‘main purpose’ to have children." So if this is the case then there must be another purpose to it, which is the "main purpose". Later on someone else made the statement, "Marriage, in this country at least, is a legally recognized union of two people committing to each other, to live together as a couple: shared home, shared hopes, shared finances, same aspirations, dreams, and goals. It is a commitment to be there for the other, through thick and thin, good and bad." And still later we have, "Anytime people join together, combine efforts of survival and work for common goals, they are healthier and more productive. They save more, spend more and accomplish more. It IS in society’s best interest that people pair up. Other than that, marriage holds no value to any community outside the value to the persons involved."

So let us look at these arguments in defense of same-sex marriage and find out what their logical argument is in defense of same-sex marriage. While others may have other arguments in defense of same-sex marriage these three statements are a fairly good summary of the basis of all arguments for same-sex marriage. While the argument for equal protection and freedom to act for one's self may require a separate analysis, those two arguments ultimately rest on these arguments.

First they make the argument that children are not the ‘main purpose’ of marriage. So if having children are not the main purpose then what is? The answer is very simply, marriage is a relation between two people, a relation where each partner cares for and has the interest of the other at heart. Marriage as such can also be considered an advantageous socioeconomic relation in which two people may enter to achieve a desirable economic and social outcome. Considering this definition of marriage it seems like a workable definition because it has suitable "good" and "desirable" qualities relevant to our culture such as: personal thrift and industry, compassion and selflessness, altruism and fiscal, social and moral responsibility. With this impressive list of desirable qualities it is hard to argue against marriage as an institution and as one person concluded "It IS in society’s best interest that people pair up." For the sake of this current inquiry I will call these feelings of commitment and selfless altruism philo. (While these things are definitely related to the Greek notion of philia they may not be the same thing but for this present argument it will be easier to refer to these things as philo).

The natural conclusion is that if any two people have these qualities, or philo, in their relationship then surely it would be a travesty and a miscarriage of justice to not allow them the right to express and live up to their commitment. Because philo is such a desirable thing the obvious conclusion that those presenting this argument wish us to draw is that we should not deny any two people the right to express their philo.

Herein lies the logical fallacies of their argument. First they claim that children, and having children are not the ‘main purpose’ of marriage. This immediately leads to the question, then what is? To which they respond, "Philo". Thus their argument is that the ‘main purpose’ of marriage is so that two people can have and express philo. This logical fallacy is known as the fallacy of division. While philo is (or at lead should be) a component of marriage, having philo is not marriage. If this were true then anyone could marry anyone and thus there is no need to even have the definition of "marriage". This conclusion is a classic case of a suppressed correlative in which the definition is modified to the point that it no longer useful. Thus if we define marriage as consisting solely of a basis of philo between two people then we run into the problem of not having an "edge" or "end" to the definition of marriage, and marriage is of no effect and useless.

The problem here is not that philo should not be a component of marriage, but that it is not the only component of marriage. One major distinction that separates relations of philo, or friendship, from the marriage relation is the ability to conceive, have and raise children. Thus making children the essential difference between relations of philo and relations of marriage. It would seem that having children really is the ‘main purpose’ of marriage.

An instant objection that would be raised by proponents of same-sex marriage is that homosexual couples, through modern techniques (or even not so modern techniques) or adoption, can have and raise children, thus making them a "family" where the "parents" should have the right to be married. The problem here lies not in the relative merits and/or abilities of the pair in raising the children, but again in a logical fallacy, resulting from an incomplete definition.

Because a lot of the groundwork has already been laid I will not reestablish it for this argument. The logical fallacy here is one of equivocation. If we look at the original definitions of what constitutes marriage given above, we see that they include or are equated with philo and at no point is eros, or romantic love (meaning specifically, sexual relations), mentioned or included in the definition of marriage. According to their arguments, including the arguments regarding the adoption or raising of children by same-sex couples, the necessary and sufficient conditions for having and raising children is the presence of philo, which according to their argument is equated with marriage. Even though they are correct in saying that those raising children need philo they immediately preform the fallacy of equivocation by equating philo (and even philia) with eros. They reason that because eros is a type of love and (at least in English) philo is also a type of love, then they must be the same thing. Again this way of thinking and this conclusion immediately leads to a fallacy of a suppressed correlative, because if philo and eros are the same thing then either we must have sexual relations with everyone we are friends with (that is we share a form of philo with) or we can only have philo with those we also share eros with.

In effect, they argue that their eros must be accepted solely because they also share philo. In other words, they argue that their homosexuality, and all the acts that they preform, must be acceptable simply because they have made a philo type commitment to another person. On this basis I can think of a good argument for accepting organized crime (as long as it is kept in the family, by marriage). Thus the true problem is not that two people have philo and wish to attempt to raise children (after all we let priests and nuns do that, and they usually do pretty well) but that in addition to their laying claim to philo, they wish to equate it with eros, and herein lies the problem, and why we cannot agree.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who Do You Really Support?

I recently read a news article about a Swedish Leftist who several years ago voiced his support for Pol Pot, who was the prime minister of Cambodia from 1975-1979. Apparently when he voiced his support for Pol Pot he was unaware of the atrocities being committed by the Khmer Rouge regime at the time. Now years later he expressed his regret for ever giving his support for such a man and such an organization. As this man said "I was at that time a member of a friendship association which was a remnant of the anti-Vietnam/Cambodia War movement in Sweden, which was very strong in the Western world....Of course we didn't want to believe that the liberators had become oppressors." In other words he gave his support for the government and the dictator because he viewed them as supporting the same ideals and type of government that he supported.

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia and over threw the "oppressive" government and "liberated" the people, this man and others voiced their approval of what was done, but it was only later they found out what was actually happening and who they were really supporting. So the lesson to be learned from this to think about who you really support.

My sister once told me about an experience she had when she was working on her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She told me about how some people she knew approached her as asked if she would like to support an international environmental group through a donation or by getting a subscription to their magazine. She looked over their literature and magazine to get a sense of the organization and when she did this she found that the organization supported and actively endorsed and worked for several things that she very much did not agree with. She said that even though their selling point was protecting the environment, which can be a noble and worthwhile endeavor, their methods and ultimate purpose were questionable, or down right immoral.

Many times there is a movement or ideology that many different groups of people will join and participate in but some of those supporting it are doing it for not so honorable reasons. One movement that has been gaining some news coverage lately is the opposition to Proposition 8 in California, even after it was passed. While some people who oppose Prop 8 may have legitimate concerns, others view it as an opportunity to attack a specific religion or religion in general. They are in effect using it as an excuse to oppress and attempt to disenfranchise those who have religious beliefs. So there may be some who think there cause is honorable and good, but they do not want to believe that "liberators" are about to become oppressors.

Herein is the Great Lie

Many people consider the recent movement to legalize same-sex marriage consider homosexuality to be something that is unavoidable for some people, and should be viewed as common and just as acceptable as heterosexual relations. All this comes from the idea that just because we have an inclination to do something then we must do it, and it is inevitable that we will do it.

I recently read the transcript of an interview regarding the LDS Church's stance on same-gender attraction and one quote I found particularly interesting was, "One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable." (Elder Wickman)

The reason why same-sex marriage is even an issue is because normal heterosexual relations outside of marriage are already considered to be acceptable. If this first were not considered acceptable then the other would not even have been considered as a serious issue of consideration. Those who have attempted to affect and direct society first taught us that these things were normal and that we have urges that not only should we give into them, but that it is inevitable that we give in to our urges and desires. Once that idea had been established in our collective forma de ser (way of being) then the other question, that of homosexuality was raised. Given the forgone conclusion of the former idea, the latter conclusion seemed natural.

The only reason why some people think, "I don't see why that is a problem, it's not that different and in some ways better than what 'normal' people do." is because they are so deep inside the Greatest Lie and Sophistry of our time that they cannot see it clearly for what it is. These people may realize that if homosexual relations are truly wrong then all other sexual relations outside of marriage are also wrong, but because that idea was banished years ago from our society they see no problem with allowing the next logical step. They see it as a logical progression from allowing one thing, to allowing another and finally all things. Unfortunately there is an inevitable end to all of this and it is precisely this end they wish to ignore, for it was because of this natural conclusion that these things were not allowed in the first place.

They deny that allowing these things (not just homosexuality, but also relations outside of marriage) will lead to a fracturing of society and will destroy the foundation, or that which perpetuates, our society. But those who actively preach this doctrine do not wish to promote the consequences, they only want to promote the idea that these things are inevitable, or that there is only one natural way of progression, and this is it. Herein is the Great Lie of our time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Civil Rights Movement: The Modern Pied Piper

In the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin the piper comes to the town of Hamelin and offers to rid the town of plague of rats. He does so by playing a magical pipe or flute that makes all the rats follow him. When the towns people fail to pay him for his services he then plays his pipe and leads the children of the town away into a cave where they are never heard of again.

In our modern society we also have a Pied Piper that has played his pipe and is playing it again. In the 60's and 70's the Civil Rights movement promised to rid our country of a plague of injustice that had been infecting our society. They played their pipe, beat their drum, rang their bell, and lead the country to reject the injustice and racism that demeaned human dignity. At the time the citizens cheered and welcomed the change. They celebrated, declared national holidays and taught the children in the schools that a great victory had been won, because of the music of the Pied Piper.

Now the Pied Piper has returned and while the melody is familiar the tune and beat are different. This time the tune is not about race or brazen discrimination, it is about marriage and family. But the proponents of this music say, "Is not this tune sweet and good? Was not the last tune a boon to our society? Why would you reject this new song to sing?" So they rejoice and celebrate this new tune to which they wish the citizens to dance, but like the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin this new tune is different enough to lead those that follow it to destruction. Those that follow the new tune want to see it as the same as before and in an effort to show this they use the same language that was used before. They make the same accusations but this time there are not the "rats" and the "plague" that there were before. This time the accusations are against what should be most dear to us. And if we let it go it will end with the same devastating result.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leyenda De Los Soles

This comes from an Aztec poem called the Legend of the Suns. It is about Quetzalcóatl and how mankind was made on the Earth. The version I have is in Spanish so the English translation is my own. If you think that there is a better translation from Spanish to English let me know.

Luego deliberaron los dioses, dijeron: --¿Quién habrá de morar?
>Then the gods deliberated [took counsel], saying: -- Who shall dwell therein?
Consolidóse el cielo, se consolidó la Señora Tierra,
>Be comforted oh heavens, [and] the Mother Earth was comforted,
¿quién habrá de morar en ella, oh dioses?
>who shall dwell in her, oh gods?
Todos ellos se preocuparon.
>they all wondered.
Pero ya va Quetzalcóatl, lega al reino de la Muerte,
>But then went Quetzalcóatl, [and] came to the kingdom of the Dead,
al lado del Señor y de la Señora del Reino de la Muerte.
>to the side [presence] of the Lord and Lady of the Kingdom of the Dead.
Al momento les dijo: --He aquí por lo que he venido.
>And he said to them: --Behold for what I have come.
Huesos preciosos tu guardas: yo he venido a tomarlos.
>Precious bones that you guard: I have come to take them.
Pero le dice el Rey de los Muertos: --¿Qué vas a hacer, Quetzalcóatl?
>But the King of the Dead said unto him: --What shall you do, Quetzalcóatl?
Y éste de nuevo le responde: --Preocupados están los dioses
>And Quetzalcóatl responded: --The gods are preoccupied
de quién ha de habitar la tierra.
>with who shall dwell on the Earth.
El Señor del Reino de la Muerte dice: --Bien está,
>The Lord of the Kingdom of the Dead said: --Very well,
tañe mi trompeta de caracol y cuatro veces llévalos en torno
>sound my trumpet made of a conch and four times carry them around
de mi redondo asiento de esmeraldas.
>my round throne of emeralds.
Pero como el caracol no tiene asa, llama luego a los gusanos.
>But as the conch does not have a handle, call therefore the worms.
Ellos le hicieron muchos agujeros por donde al instante
>They made for him many holes where suddenly
entraron los avispones y las abejas nocturnas.
>there went in the wasps and bees of the night.
Una vez más dice el Señor del Reino de la Muerte:
>Once again the Lord of the Kingdom of the Dead said:
--¡Bien está, toma los huesos! –pero dice a sus vasallos
>--Very well, take the bones! –but he said to his subjects
los muertos. --¡Decidle aún, oh dioses, que ha de venir a dejarlos!
>the dead. –Say unto the gods, that they must come to return them!
Pero Quetzalcóatl responde: --¡No, para siempre los tomo!
>But Quetzalcóatl responded: --No! I will take them forever!
Pero su ynahual le dijo: --Diles: ¡Los vendré a dejar!
>But his ynahual said to him: --Tell them: I will return them!
Y Quetzalcóatl va a decirles, y a gritos les dice:
>And Quetzalcóatl goes to say to them, and yells to them:
--¡He de venir a dejarlos! –Ya con esto subir puede,
>--I have come to return them! –With this you can rise,
ya toma huesos preciosos. En un sitio hay huesos de varón,
>and take the precious bones. In one site there are bones of men,
en otro sitio, huesos de mujer. Los coge, los hace fardo
>in another, bones of women. He collects them, and with them makes a tower
y luego los lleva consigo.
>and then carries them with him.
Pero otra vez dice el Señor de los Muertos
>But again says the Lord of the Dead
a sus vasallos: --¡Dioses, de veras se los lleva, los huesos preciosos!
>to his subjects: --Oh Gods, verily he does carry them away, the precious bones!
Venid y ponedle un hoyo. Ellos vinieron a ponerlo.
>Come and dig for him a pit. They came and dug for him a pit.
En el hoyo cayó, azotó en tierra consigo,
>In the pit he fell, and smote the earth,
lo espantaron las codornices, cayó como un muerto
>scaring the cultures, and fell as if he were dead
y con ello desparramó por tierra los huesos preciosos,
>and with that the precious bones were scattered over the Earth,
los mordisquearon, los picotearon las codornices.
>[and] the vultures gnawed and pecked them.
Mas pronto se recuperó Quetzalcóatl.
>But Quetzalcóatl quickly recovered.
Llora por lo sucedido y dice a su ynahual:
>Crying for what had happened and saying to his ynahual:
--Doble mío, ¿cómo será esto? – Y el doble dice:
>--Oh my Double, How will this be? –And the double says:
--¿Cómo será?
>--How will it be?
¡Pues cierto, se echó a perder, pero que sea como fuera!
>Of truth, you went to loose, but let that be as it was!
Y luego ya los recogió, uno a uno los levantó,
>And then he gather them [the bones], one by one raised them up,
y con ellos hizo un fardo, y los llevó a Tamoachán.
>And with them made a tower, and carried them to Tamoachán.
Y cuando a Tamoachán llegó, ya los remuele Quizastki,
>And when he came to Tamoachán, Quizastki took them and ground them [to powder]
en un lebrillo precioso echa los huesos molidos
>[and] cast the ground bones in a precious brick
y sobre ellos su sangre sacada del miembro viril
>and over them, his sacred blood from the living flesh
echa Quetzalcóatl, y luego todos los dioses hacen penitencia
>cast Quetzalcóatl, and then all the gods made obescience
y por eso dijeron pronto: “Nacieron los merecidos de los dioses,
>and for that they said: “Born are the just [deserving] of the gods,
pues por nosotros hicieron penitencia meritoria.”
>for for us they did worthy penance.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Parallels

Many people have already noted the parallels between the election of Barack Obama and the election of John F. Kennedy. To briefly sum up the parallels: both are young (for a president), both had a lot of support from younger voters, both are/were viewed very favorably by the international community upon election, both talked about and advocated change. Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected president even when people said that an Irish Catholic would never be elected president. Obama is the first black man to be elected president even when people said that a black man would never be elected president. In both cases Kennedy did not let his religion be the defining factor in his campaign, and Obama did not let race be the deciding factor in his. This is to say, in both cases each candidate never tried to fight against or even downplay their biggest respective possible liabilities. These are the standard parallels that the media are observing but let's look at other parallels that the media are definitely overlooking. Let's look at context.

Kennedy: Elected in 1960 (becomes president in 1961). This was 15 years after the end of World War II, and with it the end of the nationalistic era which came from the Age of Empires that had dominated world history for hundreds of years previously. While the Cold War had been building for a while, it was reaching its height and during his presidency would have some of its most dramatic events. It was a time of rapid social change and where a new medium of communication (TV) played an integral part in the election.

Obama: Elected in 2008 (becomes president in 2009). This was 18 years (17-19 depending on who you ask) after the end of the Cold War, which was created in the aftermath of WWII. The War on Terror had been going on for sometime and had already had a number of dramatic events. But like Kennedy in the Cold War, Obama is also at a key turning point. Obama was also elected in a time of rapid social change and a new medium of communication (The Internet) played an integral part in the election.

So with these parallels and with the assumption that history repeats itself, let's try to see what may be in store for us and for Obama. After JFK was elected the Cold War lasted another 30 years. Because the War on Terror and religious extremism is unlikely to go away anytime soon we can probably expect it to last another 20-30 years, in some form or another, and at the end there will be a drastic change in the world much like the one at the end of the Cold War or WWII. It is possible that the next few years could see similar social upheaval to that was seen in the 1960's.

So now that we have seen the parallels let us consider the key differences that Obama faces. The country and the world is on the verge of a global depression on the scale of the Great Depression. The United States is at the end of a long war in Iraq (hopefully) as opposed to the beginning of a long war in Vietnam. Kennedy was elected president in a bi-polar world dominated by two superpowers. Obama was elected in a time when the world was shifting from a uni-polar world to a multi-polar world, dominated by several different powers. So there are many key differences that differentiate the era in which Kennedy became president from the era in which Obama will be president.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Hopefully there will be some more differences (or less) and hopefully something will be done to shorten the time until the next world changing event. In any event we will watch and do our best.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Advice from a Philosopher

I know a philosopher who once told me, "Philosophy is like a disease. Once you catch it you just have to work it out and when you are done you can stop doing philosophy and get on with your life. But as long as you insist on doing philosophy something is wrong with you."

I must say I agree with him. I once caught the "philosophy bug" and I had to work my way through it by asking and answering all my questions, but when I was done I had answered my questions and that was it. I no longer had to do philosophy. Doing philosophy is like having cancer. You will either beat it and be stronger because of it, or it will kill you.

When my philosopher friend made that statement someone asked him, "Then why do you do philosophy." To which he replied, "Apparently something is still wrong with me and I was unable to work out all the problems and questions I have." So according to him, and I would have to agree from personal experience, as long as there is some drive to DO philosophy and to constantly question (your) existence then there is something wrong with your thinking, but fortunately it is possible to work your way through it, because by asking the questions it will reveal what is wrong with your thinking. Just beware of staying in the condition that Russell described, the perpetual philosophical state where the philosopher will always be asking questions and never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Also beware the completeness of the Early Wittgenstein and the incompleteness of the Late Wittgenstein.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Plan

I thought that I should layout my plan for research in the near future. Part of my research for my senior thesis included looking into a way of explaining flat rotation curves without including dark matter as a generating gravitational potential. I was looking into a claim that by using GR the flat rotation curves could be reproduced without including dark matter as a correcting term. While the particular method I looked into had some problems there was one paper that I stumbled across that showed that using GR they could give a slight correction to the rotation curves before they needed to include dark matter.

In conjunction with this there was a paper published by several astronomers giving a correction to the amount of normal baryonic matter present in a galaxy. They did this using surveys of the number of face of galaxies versus the number of edge on galaxies and saw that there was a discrepancy, there were more face on than edge on. Thus they concluded that there must be more dust in the galactic halo than they previously thought. This added another correction to the mass, and the assumed amount of dark matter, in a galaxy.

So my plan is to take all these corrections and add them up and see if it amounts to a significant correction to the amount of dark matter that must be present in a galaxy. If this holds then it will also add a correction to the amount of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters. This will additionally change everything else.

There is also a theory out there that attempts to explain dark energy in a new way. Essentially the argument goes that we might actually live in a "cosmic bubble" of low density space. If this were true then it would create the illusion of an accelerating universe. So it would be possible to explain what we see in terms of what we already know instead of making an appeal to some unknown type of matter. The idea that lead to the introduction of dark energy was the Copernican idea that the universe is for the most part homogeneous, that is, where we live does not have any unique properties that makes it different from the rest of the universe. This idea continues on with the statement that the universe is homogeneous on a large scale.

But what if there is some local inhomogeneities? This leads me to think of another guiding principle. Always try to explain what we see in terms of what we know, without making an appeal to some unknown stuff with unknown properties. What we know is stronger than what we do not know. A known is (almost) always a better explanation than an unknown. So if we make an assumption that leads us to conclude that there is something unknown governing the universe and determining what we see, then perhaps we need to rethink that assumption or how we are applying that assumption.

So I plan to investigate these things and see if I can't make sense of what we see in terms of what we already know without making an appeal to things unknown.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Stabilizing Influence

Many years ago when I was in Argentina I had the opportunity to hear a story about the settling of Paraguay by the Spanish. The Paraguayans that told me the story said that many years ago when the Spanish were first exploring the area that would later become Paraguay they came up with a method to conquer the local Guarani Indians. They brought over 1000-2000 (depending on who told the story the number varied, but the rest of the story was the same) men from Spain and when the boat carrying them reached the point on the Paraguay River where Asuncion now stands they disembarked and there by the side of the river were met by an equal number of Guarani women and there they were all married by a Catholic Priest.

This story is reminiscent of a similar act performed by Alexander the Great. After conquering the Persian Empire Alexander went on to invade India, but after his failed attempt to conquer India he came back and proceeded to consolidate his empire. To accomplish this he conceived of the idea of having 7,000 of his Greek troops marry an equal number of Persian women in the city of Babylon, and they married using Persian rituals. This act allowed the Greeks that came after Alexander to keep and form a cohesive culture that would affect many different societies around the world. So more than conquering kingdoms and empires by military might Alexander was able to win cultural and social battles long after he was dead by establishing the precedent of transmitting Greek culture through family relations. While the effect of Greek culture extended far beyond the literal descendants of those 7,000 it was that critical fact that those families were formed giving the basis through which the culture, values, knowledge and social practices could be given to future generations and societies.

Returning to my story of the 2,000 some odd Spanish men and Guarani women, they too represented the merging of two cultures, and through these unions the Paraguayan people got their sense of identity and social cohesiveness. Even to this day they are defined by that act. It is still tradition in Paraguay that the mother will raise her children speaking Guarani and the men when they are together will speak Spanish. Because of this Paraguay is officially and practically bilingual. The point is that these marriages, while they are not the romantic marriages of our "modern" world, nor were they the marriages of "equal partners" as defined by our contemporary society, but these marriages formed the basis of their society and gave them an extremely strong sense of national identity. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Paraguay and in particular the history of La Guerra de la Triple Alianza (The War of the Triple Alliance) then they are familiar with the nationalistic fervor that attended the defense of their country. Even though this cohesiveness did not solve all their problems it certainly allowed them to do more than they could have had they not received this defining trait through the family relationships that were established with the marriages formalized between the Spanish men and the Guarani women.

My purpose in mentioning these two examples is to showcase the idea that the fabric of our society is formed out of the family relationships made between men and women. If the Spanish men had not married the Guarani women then they would not have formed the strong national identity of the Paraguayan people. In effect the reason why the society still exists today is because of those strong family relationships that did so much towards creating that identity. It would not have mattered how strong a bond those Spanish men may have formed or held in some way, if they were unable or unwilling to transmit that identity, and the same goes for the Guarani women, then that national identity and society would not exist today. The same goes for the Greeks. Even if Alexander had conquered the whole world then his influence and Greek culture would not have been passed down to our day. They would have been like the Mongols who won many military campaigns but their cultural influence did not leave nor extend past the boundaries of their own lands. Whatever influence they may have had was swallowed up by the cultures they supposedly conquered.

In our day we are not confronted with threats of invading armies but we are threatened by a different destructive force. The concept of the family, which forms the basis of our society, and of all societies, is under attack. If it is destroyed by those who would see its end, if they accomplish their aims then there will be no mechanism to transmit our society, our values and our history. On the Eastern facade of the National Archives there are inscribed these words, "This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions." If we allow the foundation of our nation, our families, to be altered and destroyed in such a way that our identity and our national life cannot be transmitted to a new generation then our faith has been in vain and there will come a day when our national institutions will fail. Without the mechanism, the family, in place to transmit our national identity from one generation to another our society will lose its identity and will suffer the fate of all failed societies in history. But we can prevent this and we can overcome this destructive force. We do not have to give in to the "natural course" of human nature. Because we have God given abilities we can overcome the slippery slope of "modern thought" and not consider the current state of our nation, and our families and the given and common way that families must be. There is a better way and it does not have to be the fractured and weakened state of the modern family. If someone is sick you do not say, "It is human nature and that is the way it is." We do not have to accept the dysfunctional, the alternative, the nonexistent or partial family as the norm. We can rise above this and be strong.

The solution lies in the simple phrase "Husbands, love your wives. Wives, love your husbands. Husbands and wives, love your children." A family can be founded on love and respect and the children can be taught honor and virtue, and we do not have to accept a definition of marriage that only allows for personal gratification. Marriage is not and should not be defined as a means to gratify personal desires. We do not have to think or to agree with the current trends of our culture and our society. We do not have to accept the redefining of marriage to allow for personal freedom. Personal freedom can be had without attacking the foundation of our society. If we allow these trends to continue then the mechanism that worked for so long, the mechanism that brought Greek culture to the world, the mechanism that created Paraguayan national identity and the mechanism that gave us our national identity, will cease to function and our culture, our society and our national life will not be transmitted to a new generation and our history, our identity, will be lost.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mailbox Not Found

I recently got an email from a listserv that I am signed on with which read:

"You have been automatically removed from the PTFAVE list (PHYSICS TODAY FAVORITES) as a result of repeated delivery error reports from your mail system.

While you are obviously able to receive mail, your mail system has been regularly reporting to the PTFAVE list that your account did not exist"

and finally:

"- The last reported error was: 5.1.1 550 Mailbox not found"

Now what is odd about this is that I know that this account is disabled (hence the error message) but somehow I got the message. I had originally set up the now disabled account to forward to another account and it has been doing that, until the account was disabled several months ago. But apparently I can still get mail from it.

But wait there's more! I wanted to see if the account was still working so I sent an email to myself thinking that if it got forwarded then the account was still active and if it did not then it wasn't. So I tried and this is what I got:

" ----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----
(reason: 550 Mailbox not found)
(expanded from:

----- Transcript of session follows -----
... while talking to
>>> DATA
<<< 550 Mailbox not found User unknown
X-Actual-Recipient: RFC822;
Action: failed
Status: 5.1.1
Remote-MTA: DNS;
Diagnostic-Code: SMTP; 550 Mailbox not found
Last-Attempt-Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2008 09:17:59 -0600"

So my mailbox doesn't exist and it won't forward an email I send to it but gives me an error message instead, BUT I'M STILL GETTING MAIL FROM IT! Try and figure that one out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Five Red Apples

Suppose I wanted to eat some apples, say five red apples. How would I get them? I could a give my wife a list to take shopping and on it I could write "Five Red Apples", and she would come back with the five red apples. That's amazing! How does that work?