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Making the News

This blogger is not just reporting on what the mainstream is reporting.

See Tuesday's LA Times Times here.

Hmmm. I need to lose some weight and get a haircut.

What I've Been Reading

 How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space

Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space
by Michael Belfiore. I just can't read it. I am too close to the action, in fact I'm in it! (Both the action and the book.) That is a rather weird feeling, even if I am just a brief mention. Someone from here should pick it up and let me know how it is.

Dennet, Dennet, and more Dennet. Then even more Dennet. Consciousness Explained, Freedom Evolves, and Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. Three excellent books, unfortunately I am having a tough time getting through them. I have just finished Freedom Evolves, and I highly recommend it. In fact I'll have more to say about it in another blog post shortly. I began Conciosness Explained, but got sidetracked on other things, so that has re-joined the "to read" pile. I got nearly halfway into Elbow Room and I still felt like he was writing the opening chapter rather than getting into the meat of his arguments, so I put it down and may or may not pick it up again. I just picked up Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenom, the first chapter is pretty good. Despite the fact that I am having difficulty getting through his books he is becoming my favorite contemporary philosopher, and gaining ground on the historical greats.

Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. Sorry, pamphlets this short do no not deserve the long subtitle. In fact I'm not sure the subtitled isn't longer than the book. 221 pages, double spaced. That said there are some interesting points within, though most of those can be found on his blog. I think the blogging has gotten to his book writing. Wait for it to go on clearance for $5. Tyler is a good guy, his blog is excellent, and he is a good thinker, which is why I picked up the book. But the book is just not worth $25.95.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. This one has been a constant travel companion for the last several months. This goes into the always reading, studying and re-reading pile with Penrose's The Road to Reality. Once again I'd like to point out to publishers - there is some serious math here, and that is a plus not a negative. This book is concerned with AI, conciousness, and so forth but he uses Escher's art and Bach's Fugues and Canons as excellent illustrations. This book is a steal at full graduate level textbook prices, but is only $22.95. The Dialogues alone are worth that!

The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations by John Haywood. Not a great book by itself, it is rather thin and only spends two or three pages on each of the great ancient civilizations. But for those of us that absolutely need pretty pictures, maps and graphs to make sense of things, it has been very helpful as I dig my way through various dry books on ancient Mesopotamia.

About My Personal Blog

With this whole new Distributed Republic thing being a combination of blogs, I need to decide how to place the various bits I blog about. I have often used Catallarchy as a sounding board to get crazy ideas out, and I will still do so. However, there are crazy ideas which I think deserve a more limited audience - or that I'm not sure on how or if to proceed. For that my personal blog will suffice. As always, if I post it I want feedback, but understand I am even less sure of what I post to the personal blog than I am to the main Catallarchy page, if that is possible. Also I will update the posts as I see fit and may or may not indicate any edits. Lastly I may not respond directly to comments, though you can be sure that I want them. As I said "If I post it I want feedback!". So thanks in advance for the feedback.

I guess then that my personal blog could be considered to be home for my "working blogposts".

One of the projects that I will keep to my personal blog for now is a "How to convince the religious to give up religion" project. There are a number of sub-projects to this, one being how (not) to argue for atheism. Another is my own travels from Christian by default to agnostic back to Christian by default, to Christian by choice, to agnostic and thence atheist. And lastly some history and pre-history of the Levant and Mesopotamia and the rise of Abrahamic theology.

Other projects to come.


Why Omnibenevolence Allows Bad Things to Happen

Or why the argumant that an omnibenevolent diety wouldn't allow tsunamis, terrorists, and other Bad Things is wrong.

Atheists have long put forward the notion that an ominpotent, omnibenevolent being would not cause so much death and suffering as the Christian god apparently does. But this analysis can only be right if benevolence is taken from materialist assumptions. One would be wise to consider that Christian death is not the same as materialist death. To the Christian, death is just a transition from earth to heaven (or hell). An early transistion is not necessarily bad.

The Christian apology for bad things happening on earth are as follows:


  1. Death is the transition from life on earth to life in heaven
  2. Being seperated from the deity is less good than being with the deity
  3. Life on earth means being seperated from the deity
  4. Life in heaven is being with the deity


  1. Life on earth is less good than life in heaven
  2. Death is good.*

Whoa! Why then would an omnibenevolent being have a life on earth then? Rather than a nice little sequence of logic statements, let us look instead at an analogy. When training for an athletic event, the training involves some pain and suffering, yet the athlete considers this as minor to the end good of participating and (hopefully) winning the event. Likewise, the Christian may view life as a sort of preperation, a learning phase where suffering and pain are building and improving the eternal soul.

So, the atheist makes two mistakes in arguing against a deity being omnibenevolent: first is the materialist premises, the second is the false dichotomy of good or bad rather than the continous spectrum of bad to good.

With so many *good* arguments against Christianity, and religions in general, why do atheists continue using this bad argument?

* Yes this is sick. There are also nuances and caveats that I do not go into here, and do not affect this argument, but may apply elsewhere.

Trust Is Economically Important

If you have not already done so, go read Constant's post.

"Trust" as a concept is not as simple as it first appears. What exactly is "trust"? Is the shopkeeper who leaves the coolers unlocked trusting me, or has she placed her trust somewhere else?

The answer to the first question is something along the lines of "a belief that given a set of circumstances, an actor will perform a given action". There are three concepts (or variables) within this definition. We have our estimate of a probability, we say we "trust" when we think the probabilities of an action by an actor exceed some threshold. Then we have the actor, which may or may not actually be a person; it may also be some set of people, an inanimate object, or an abstract concept. Finally we have the expected action, anything the actor might be capable of. And not only that, but trust can also be composed of other trust relationships.

For the second question, what is the shopkeeper trusting when she leaves the coolers unlocked? I seriously doubt she is trusting the particular individual Joe Sixpack who just walked in. More likely she is trusting a combination of inanimate objects, a large set of people, and some abstract concepts. She has placed trust in security systems, such as the store layout that encourages people to pass by the cash register on the way out, mirrors that allow her to see down many aisles at a time, and the securty cameras. She trusts that most people will not steal. She trusts the legal institutions - law, police, and courts to come to her aid and punish thieves. Finally, what she really trusts is that the interactions between the customers, security systems and legal system mean that the few theft losses she does incur are an acceptable cost of business.

Trust in specific people probably does not matter as much as having trustworthy institutions.

Health Care and Logic

Sad to say I expect this misuse of logic from CNN. But I do not expect to see Matthew Yglesias use it to buttress his argument:

CNN's SiCKO analysis concludes:

France . . . Canada . . . cheap . . . but does their health care suck? Well:

Like Moore, we also found that more money does not equal better care. Both the French and Canadian systems rank in the Top 10 of the world's best health-care systems, according to the World Health Organization. The United States comes in at No. 37. The rankings are based on general health of the population, access, patient satisfaction and how the care's paid for.

So, okay, it's not that hard to figure out. France and Canada both have two difference systems of health care delivery both of which are cheaper than the US system and both of which are more effective.

Let me repeat the key sentence with emphasis added:

The rankings are based on general health of the population, access, patient satisfaction and how the care's paid for.

Matthew - isn't that assuming your conclusion?

Taxicabs and Regulation

PZ - I am very sorry to read about you being taken for a ride in Boston. But why do you think there isn't much regulation of cab drivers in Boston? I am failing to think of a major city that does not have heavy regulation on cabs and cab drivers.

Amongst the unintended (at least unintended by the Baptist half of the Bootlegger & Baptist coalition) effects of regulation are increased barriers to entry and a reduction service levels towards the lowest common denominator. A heavy regulatory environment is effectively a legalized cartel granted and enforced by the government. Perhaps I am over cynical, but the cabbie took you for a ride. 'Mis-hearing' and 'asking for directions from other cabbies' was an act, and signaling to the other cabbies that he was having a good day, at your expense. In the best circumstances, the regulated industries work for the regulators not the customers. In the worst circumstances, the regulators are former industry employees and future industry consultants.

BTW, I love Friday's cephalopod. Kinda cute.

Celebrating 100 Years of Heinlein

On 7/7/7 Robert A. Heinlein would have been 100 years old. And if the series of seven's isn't enough coincidence, it is also a Saturday! Add up all the coincidences and you guessed it, there is one hell of a big party happening. Sign up, reserve your hotel rooms, and make your way to the event.

I will be on several panels speaking about spaceships and space business. Schedule permitting, I will be in the front row heckling asking pointed questions at the panels dealing with Heinlein's takes on revolution, economics, and politics.

If coming to see me hold forth on space flight is not enough - how about coming to see astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Brian Binnie, many great writers (including Sir Arthur C. Clarke), and many others?

See you at the Heinlein Centennial!

Busy, busy, busy

Rumor has it that MSS is about to fly a vehicle Any Day Now(tm). So instead of helping get DR up and running, I am going nuts getting XA0.1 up and running.

Random Observations

On "Card Check": The corporate stooge will threaten your livelihood. The union stooge will threaten your life.
This is purely from my own experience in a union shop and thus anecdotal. I am not sure how to collect data - how does one collect instances of "I'm concerned about your work habits and your safety"? Note to Megan - no need to invoke organized crime, the union is better off finding the one or two sociopaths in the company in question. Read more »

Riffing on a Footnote

Joe Miller writes in a footnote:

I’d be willing to bet that somebody is going to make the argument that everyone always behaves rationally. There will be some reference to the fact that individuals have their own sets of preferences and to the fact that they always act according to their own personal orderings of those preferences and thus always act rationally.

AGW - or I am confused.

I am sure you all have seen this 75 minutes of AGW denial by now. Typical half-truth TLC-type fair, but produced by an independent production company TV for BBC. Which is to say, not a single sentence is a lie, but be very skeptical of the inference they are trying to draw from the many short sentences cut together. Carl Wunsch of MIT (and the most credible of their interviewees) is not happy about the editing of his bits. Read more »

Random Observations

The extremely attractive Jane Galt wants to be even more beautiful - the perfect asking how to be more perfect?? Speaking of, anyone knowledgeable about Ubuntu want to give me a clue on getting to give me sound along with the video? As pleasing as Megan is to look at, I would like to hear what she has to say as well. Read more »

Opening The Frontier, and Tooting My Horn

Just in case anyone was not aware - founder Jeff Bezos' new venture Blue Origin did a test flight of a re-usable rocket back in November and posted videos and pictures recently. Additionally, SpaceX, has announced a launch attempt of Falcon I real soon now. Read more »

Holiday Readings

The Open Society and Its Enemies - I find Karl Popper to be one of the more readable of the influential philosophers, but I just can't seem to get into this one. Would it be accurate to summarize the first volume as "Plato is the source of all evil in political philosophy"? Read more »