30 September 2006

Modus Ponens Gone Wrong...

Stale bread is better than nothing.
Nothing is better than a big juicy steak.
Therefore, stale bread is better than a big juicy steak.

Not in my book...but it's a fun trick used in by the "revolutionary re-educators" in Land of the Blind which I just happened to watch tonight. If someone can please explain to me what revolution this movie is supposed to be referencing, I'd be eternally grateful. It was definitely interesting, but incredibly confusing...and I think the best lesson I could pull out of it was the classic, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

27 September 2006

They Want Us Out

A poll recently conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org found that seven out of ten Iraqis want the U.S. to commit to a withdrawal plan and be out of Iraq within the year. The same study found that a vast majority of Iraqis feel that U.S. military presence actually provokes more insurgency than it prevents (something that doesn’t seem too farfetched to me) and that if the U.S. created a plan for withdrawal, the Iraqi government would actually be strengthened

Those are some very interesting findings that present some even more interesting questions. We’ll start with this one: since it’s pretty clear that the Iraqis want us to leave, should we finally come up with a decent plan and get the hell out?

The Bush administration would certainly say the answer to that question is no. We’ve made the mess and we’ve got to “stay the course.” We’ve got to see Iraq through its early stages of democracy like a parent walks behind a child just learning to ride a bike. Eventually, as the Bushies see it, Iraq’s going to be like that little kid on the bike: everything will click and the kid, err Iraq, will ride off into the sunset as a thriving democracy.

As valid as some of those points are, the people of Iraq want American troops out, so shouldn’t we grant them that wish and just leave? To this point, we’ve already messed things up pretty badly for them. Some forty thousand Iraqi civilians have fallen to American or insurgency fire. Countless more have lost their homes, and the fear of car bombs and suicide attackers has supplanted that of the unyielding dictator now facing trial for crimes against humanity. On top of that, the American death toll keeps growing. And while the administration says that there is unseen progress in Iraq, progress that the U.S. cameras don’t see and don’t want to see, it doesn’t seem like things are getting much better. So we can leave now, save some American lives, make the Iraqi people happy, and hope from afar that the prediction that American withdrawal will lead to a stronger central government comes true.

That leads perfectly into our next question: if we choose option two and pull out, if we pull the old cut and run (what’s that even mean?), and the situation in Iraq continues to worsen, who shoulders the blame? Would the U.S. be in the wrong simply because we made the mess and didn’t stick around long enough to clean it up? Would the Iraqis be at fault because they wanted us out, claiming that we actually did more harm than good and that they could do a better job themselves?

Looks to me like we're in a lose/lose situation.

26 September 2006

Pat Buchanan Strikes Again: Quote of the Day

Last night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, former Presidential candidate turned political pundit Pat Buchanan gave Americans yet another reason to be thankful he failed at his three attempts at the presidency. Plugging his new book on immigration, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, Buchanan told Stewart, look at the Indians, Jon, they had a liberal immigration policy. Look what happened to them.”

Wow... what more can be said?

20 September 2006

Are you ready for some football?

Apparently, the city of New Orleans is. In less than a week, the Saints will be back at home in the Crescent City, playing a real home game for the first time since Katrina ravaged the team’s playing field, the Super Dome, over a year ago. Having spent a year playing home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, the return home, the return to a sense of normalcy, is a much welcomed one for Saints players and countless football fans in New Orleans.

The National Football league seems to be quite excited about the return, as well. The league has scheduled the home opener in a prime-time spot on Monday night. And it’s attracted big-time musicians U-2 and Green Day to be a part of pre-game festivities that will benefit Music Rising, the group dedicated to bringing music back to the Gulf. For the NFL, getting the Super Dome rebuilt and football back to New Orleans was a huge deal, and this game represents the culmination of their efforts.

So fans are happy, players are happy, and the league is happy. The Saints will provide a much-needed rallying point for New Orleanians, an escape that takes their minds and energies of all the crap they’ve been dealing with. And the return of football will surely provide a little boost to New Orleans’ struggling tourism sector. Then what’s wrong with this whole situation?

It’s yet another example that government officials are, in a sense, turning the other cheek to the city’s poor and much of its former population. While the city’s tourism-rich areas have redeveloped, the ninth ward and other areas lay in ruin. While businessmen and women and many white-collar workers have returned to the city, thousands upon thousands of musicians, artisans, and people that made New Orleans so unique are displaced around the country because they have no homes to go home to. While the Super Dome, home to about 100 highly paid athletes and cherished by fans willing to shell out top dollar for tickets, is rebuilt, countless hospitals, schools, and other buildings that serviced the city’s entire population are things of the past.

Bringing football back to New Orleans is definitely a nice story. And when people watch the game on Monday night they will without a doubt hear some incredible tales of survival and perseverance. However, what they will not hear is that the return of the Saints and the rebuilding of the Super Dome has been used to overshadow the city’s real problems on the rocky road to recovery.

The New Guy

To my two or three loyal readers (I hope there are at least that many), I'd like to introduce a new cohort. Since it’s become glaringly apparent that I have trouble keeping up w/ posting on a regular basis I’ve invited a friend to join me at the Oxymoronic Philosopher. I’m excited to see a new perspective…and it should be interesting as he’s a current college student at a big university with a lot of interesting thoughts to put out there (no pressure, kid). His interests are in politics and sports…and anything else he decides to tell you himself. And, let’s not forget, he’s taking his first philo class ever this semester! So give a nice warm welcome to Ping when we hear from him sometime over the next few days.

19 September 2006

We Missed the Pontiff's Point

I’ve been wanting to comment for a few days now on Benedict’s comments at the University of Regensburg last Tuesday and the Muslim fallout that followed, but decided to wait until I had a chance to read the entirety of the Pontiff’s lecture (can always count on NPR and the BBC) before chiming in. While Benny probably should have been a little more careful with his choice of quotes, a charitable reading of the transcript conveys a hopeful message for true dialog and makes some very pertinent points.

What we’ve all heard…THE sound bite that seemed to escape from the context of the address:

…he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship of religion and violence in general saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and then you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached."

What we missed was the careful criticism of forceful evangelizing. Though he may have erred by focusing criticisms toward Islam and not looking back an acknowledging past wrongs of his own faith, the Pontiff espouses the central reason why faith must not be “spread by the sword.” From the Gospel of John: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was God.” Logos is the Greek used by the author in this passage and it means both Word and Reason. “In the beginning was Reason, and the Reason was God.” The nature of God is reasonable, Benedict claims, and to spread faith by force is not; therefore it goes against the very nature of the Divine. The claim he is really making is that God is not so all-powerful and all-knowing that we cannot even use the greatest capacities endowed on us to understand what is truly good. He is saying that we cannot expect killing and maiming one another to be a reasonable means to any good end, because it is against the very nature of God.

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.

Reason, not blind faith, is the way to God…a pretty extraordinary claim from a man of faith??? Not really, but that’s another story.

Benedict then goes on to make a call for dialog between Islam and Christianity, but more-so between Reason and Religion…or what he has seen Reason become. The Pontiff scolds the academia of the West not for becoming too reasonable (as Spaz claims) but for too narrowly defining what reason is. We are prone to defining reason, Benedict claims and I concur, as only that which can be defined with the “certainty resulting from the interplay between mathematical and empirical elements.” We have moved theology, questions of mysticism and divine experience, and even morality and social (soft) sciences to the fringes of reason or beyond. This narrow definition makes it difficult, if not impossible, for dialog to blossom. How are people of faith, mystics, moral thinkers supposed to speak if they cannot come to us with the scientific rigor we demand? They have tried, in the past to change their language to that of the sciences (Aquinas), but in doing so they lose their message and their heart and soul. The answer is on the side of reason. Reason must once again open her doors and welcome perspective from outside of the mathematic and empirical if we are truly to talk and, more importantly, listen to one another. Truth with a capital T is not only truth derived from scientific experimentation nor is it only truth derived from mystical experience. Truth with a capital T is Truth that arises out of a dialog of all human experience and Truth that leads us to acceptance and cordiality among one another. For what is it really that separates scientific knowledge from knowledge of faith but a simple decision of where one chooses to stop asking for verification of claims? The boundary of the games are different, the people playing the games must still live together.

18 September 2006

"It's unacceptable to think!"

QTime or WMV via Crooks and Liars

Another great "Special Comment" from Olbermann. Dubya is getting just plain scary... A CEO, when s/he gets out of control and loses sight of the big picture has a board to rein them in or throw them out...where's Congress when we need them...for that matter, where's the angry American public? A blowjob nearly costs a decent President his job, but continuous tantrums and endless wars...eh, we're ok with that. I'm not the first to say it, but I'll say it again. Somethin' ain't right here.

13 September 2006

If you haven't listened already...

Check out Frank Deford's commentary from morning edition this morning: Sports Obsession Holds Boys Back in College. It's poignant, but it's also a hoot.

Dolan May Need an Excedrin...

Big Pharma…I know it’s an old topic, but it’s in the news again today. Peter Dolan, CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, stepped down today amid a federal investigation into some shady business dealings undertaken to keep a generic version of big-seller Plavix off the market. The FBI even came knockin’ at (actually, knockin’ down) the door of his NY office. Here’s the background: Bristol’s biggest money maker is a heart pill called Plavix. Something like 1/3 of their profits are derived from this drug alone. The company expected its patent to remain safely in their hands for another couple of years, but recently a generic drug maker announced it would release a version of Plavix this year. Dolan scrambled and put together a deal to pay-off the generic drug maker to keep their version off the market. This, if you haven’t figured out, is not really the way the Feds like to see business run.

Drug makers are simply incapable of innovating (read finding new ways to dupe consumers) fast enough to beat the expirations of their big money patents. They can only invent new diseases…ehem, excuse me, drugs…so fast. I heard the argument made by a few analysts today that the problem is in the “old guard CEOs.” Drug companies, they say, need new blood…they need risk takers and innovators heading up the ranks. This makes sense from a market perspective; drug companies are profit driven. But does it really make sense as part of the big picture? We’re operating under the assumption, here, that markets are a sufficient and efficient motivator for the correct type of innovation…yet we see time and again that the innovation they motivate manifests itself as shady business and marketing ploys to sell drugs to people who don’t need them…not to mention creating drugs for diseases that no one really knew were a problem until the drugs arrived.

Why is the motivation misdirected? Why does the market, with so many obvious pressures toward profit, not guide drug makers toward the altruistic ends intended for medicine? It’s quite simple, really. The people who need the most help, who suffer from the most diseases, who have the highest death rates, who live with the most ailments are also the people with the least purchasing power. There is no profit to be realized in helping them. Profits are to be found in clever marketing to the middle and upper classes of society. Those with less ailments, but with money to pay to cure those lesser ailments. When a drug is developed that could help the downtrodden, it’s so outrageously priced that very few can find a way to afford it…of course, this is because R&D is so expensive and it takes so long to develop a new drug (i.e. – we must protect our profit margin and keep our investors happy…if the stock price falls, I’m out of a job). The simple truth is this: incentives of a free market align terribly with the altruistic goals that medicine should cling dearly to.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure really. Would non-profit drug makers more efficiently meet the needs of a wider range of consumers? Probably not, because some incentive is better than none at all…relying purely on charity and good-will is scary, and drugs still are expensive to make. Should drug companies be part of the government sector? Well, we’ve seen how good they are at R&D and providing for the common good…it’s questionable. Anyone have any ideas to bat around? We know it won’t ever happen, but it’s fun to think about…is there a more efficient incentive structure than the free market to drive drug makers to act toward the common good?

06 September 2006

The American Caste

This sad but oh so true commentary from Tuesday evening’s Marketplace:

BETH SHULMAN: At one time, education was our great equalizer. Children got an equal chance to rise based solely on their own potential, regardless of their family background. But today, education is deepening the economic divide.
Rising costs at public and private universities are outpacing student aid. Meanwhile federal tax breaks for college actually help wealthy students more than poor ones.
It turns out that families with incomes of at least $92,000 get more tax breaks for college than families making less than a third of that. Tax breaks simply don't help the poor the way they do the rich. They often don't make enough to qualify. And studies show that financial aid for college goes increasingly to wealthier students.
That doesn't bother institutions of higher learning. In fact, they're skewing their dollars towards helping affluent children on purpose. They want to show that they've bet on horses that win instead of helping people equally at the starting gate. This way, the gap between the educated haves and have-nots keeps growing.
Since 1980, the earnings gap between college entrants and high school graduates more than doubled. Enrollment rates of the rich at four-year colleges, the ticket to higher pay, increased by 20 percent in the last decade.
But poor students' enrollments are actually falling. Any increase in postsecondary education among the poor has been mostly at two-year colleges.
This shouldn't surprise us. Tuition's an expensive, up-front investment. Many students can't afford to borrow the amounts needed for higher education as costs go up.
If we want to claim education as the great equalizer again, we need to put our money where it needs to go, to the children of everyday working Americans.
If not, instead of giving every child a chance to excel, we face an America that simply keeps children in their economic place.
RYSSDAL: Beth Shulman is author of "The Betrayal of Work."

Coupled with this commentary on the disappearance of the “American Dream” from last Thursday this is just a recent representation of a scary but not-so-new trend of American society. Call it what you want…a caste system, apartheid, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat…there is and has been a growing gap between the haves and have-nots that has been ignored for far too long. Why is it ignored? Because America, despite all our checks and balances, our talk of meritocracy, our belief in the “common good,” our calls for personal freedom and responsibility, is a class society. In a class society, the ruling class, no matter it’s good intentions in providing for the good of all will not...cannot…give up its power.

There has always been a sort of ruling class in American politics, but the beauty of the system established from the very beginnings of Revolution out of principles of the Enlightenment is that it has always facilitated upward mobility. The ruling class was not a closed class (except to women those of a skin tone other than white…but that’s for another post). One could be born the son of a farmer in a one room log cabin and find himself President of the nation one day. The sons and daughters of coalminers and mill workers were given more-than-adequate educations in public schools and provided opportunities to go on to higher education. There was a time when you didn’t just hope and dream that your children would be better off than you yourself…you expected it. You expected to be repaid for your hard work and perseverance; after all…this is America.

But America, as these pieces illustrate, has failed her working class. One can no longer pick herself up by her bootstraps and fight for a better life. We make it impossible for the sons and daughters of blue collar labor to get a college degree. Not to mention the fact that the blue collar labor that once meant a hard working job in a mill or factory that provided the family with benefits and a pension now means a job flipping burgers or stocking shelves at Wallyworld for meager pay and little or no healthcare. But what has led us into these precarious waters? Is it a fault of the system? Maybe…if we look to Marx we find capitalism playing out in just this way: a growing proletariat becoming more dissatisfied by the day eventually overthrows the whole shebang. Is it a fault of the people? Most definitely, for we define the system and the institutions. We created the laws that now allow corporate giants to create the laws. We’ve allowed families to maintain fortunes far beyond necessity…because if you earned it you get to keep it, right? Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “What is the most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.” In this we have failed and failed miserably. We have allowed a class to emerge and now they act as any reasonable ruler would…they protect their power and hoard all other power available. They band together and grow their fortunes. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll trickle down, but I doubt it.