Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Siege Begins

Crimes against American citizens.
The senseless Waco, Texas siege began on Sunday, February 28, 1993, and ended violently 50 days later on April 19. The siege began when the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), accompanied by several members of the media, attempted to execute a search warrant at Mount Carmel Center ranch, a property of the religious group Branch Davidians located in the community of Elk, Texas, nine miles (14 kilometers) east-northeast of Waco.

Shortly after the attempt to serve the warrant, a gun battle erupted when ATF officers reportedly fired the initial shots of a battle that lasted nearly two hours. In the exchange, four agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. Upon the ATF's failure to execute the search warrant, a siege was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The siege ended 50 days later when government authorities, including FBI, ATF, and members of the Delta Force destroyed the compound after a second assault was launched. Seventy-six men, women and children, including leader David Koresh, died in the fire that engulfed the Mount Carmel Center. The Waco siege also has been described as the "Waco massacre."

Military used against American citizens at Waco, Texas.
The operation was headed by then Attorney General Janet Reno who worked closely with White House authorities (the Clintons, Vince Foster). Why did this horrible example of government out of control have to happen? Easy answer here: to further the anti-gun agenda. Yes, children, the illegal push against second amendment rights has been going on for years. From what occurred at the Branch-Davidian Church, we know our government is capable of any action against its own citizens.

If you look closely, you'll see a number of the same political players railing against firearms today (Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton ("What difference does it make?"), Charles Rangel, and guess who? Rick Santorum, that's who -- as well as a host of other sanctified, elected government officials intent on concealing the truth from the American public.).

Wake up, Amerika.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fun with Ones

Multiplications using 1's:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Augustus Caesar (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD. The population of the Roman Empire under Augustus was about one hundred million people, of which more than one half were slaves!

Antimatter Mystery

According to those who know about such things, the Big Bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal amounts. If that was the case, though, then matter and antimatter would have canceled out each other. The universe would have disappeared almost as soon as it began. The fact that we are here to ponder the mystery tells us we are lacking in our understanding.

Experiments in particle accelerators tell us that for every 10 billion antiprotons present in the early universe, there were 10-billion-and-one protons. The same tiny imbalance also applied to other particles, such as electrons, too. In the early universe, matter and antimatter indeed met and annihilated one another. However, those extra particles eventually coalesced and formed the matter-filled universe we know today. But what created the initial imbalance?

The short answer is that we don't know. One possibility is that antimatter is still lurking out there at distant points around the cosmos. That's unlikely, though.

A better idea springs from the weak force, which governs certain nuclear processes, including radioactive beta decay. In 1964, physicists found that the weak force is not quite symmetrical in its dealings with matter and antimatter, resulting in something known as CP violation. This has led particle physicists to suggest that the laws of physics are lopsided. The trouble is that the standard model of particle physics says they aren't lopsided enough. "There is not enough CP violation to do the job," says Frank Close at the University of Oxford.

Other ideas to explain the imbalance of matter and antimatter in the universe include a hypothetical particle called the majoron, which is thought to have created neutrinos and antineutrinos, but not in equal amounts. That could eventually have led to an imbalance between matter and antimatter. "If we find majorons at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN," says Close, "then we could hope to study their decays." This would help us discover if they fit the bill.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Occam's Razor

"All things considered equally, the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation."

"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" or "plurality should not be posited without necessity." The words are those of the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349). Like many Franciscans, William was a minimalist in this life, idealizing a life of poverty, and like St. Francis himself, battling with the Pope over the issue. William was excommunicated by Pope John XXII and responded by writing a treatise demonstrating that Pope John was a heretic.

What is known as Occam's Razor was a common principle in medieval philosophy and was not originated by William, but because of his frequent usage of the principle, his name has become indelibly attached to it. It is unlikely that William would appreciate what some of us have done in his name. For example, atheists often apply Occam's razor in arguing against the existence of a god on the grounds that any god is an unnecessary hypothesis. We can explain everything without assuming the extra metaphysical baggage of a divine being.

William's use of the principle of unnecessary plurality occurs in debates over the medieval equivalent of psi. For example, in Book II of his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, he is deep in thought about the question of "Whether a Higher Angel Knows Through Fewer Species than a Lower." Using the principle that "plurality should not be posited without necessity" he argues that the answer to the question is in the affirmative. He also cites Aristotle's notion that "the more perfect a nature is the fewer means it requires for its operation." This principle has been used by atheists to reject the Abraham's-god-is-creator hypothesis in favor of natural evolution: if a perfect being had created the universe, both the universe and its components would be much simpler. William would not have approved.

The Truth will set you Free.
He did argue, however, that natural theology is impossible. Natural theology uses reason alone to understand Abraham's god [AG], as contrasted with revealed theology which is founded upon scriptural revelations. According to Occam, the idea of AG is not established by evident experience or evident reasoning. All we know about AG we know from revelation. The foundation of all theology, therefore, is faith. It should be noted that while others might apply the razor to eliminate the entire spiritual world, Ockham did not apply the principle of parsimony to the articles of faith. Had he done so, he might have become a Socinian like John Toland (Christianity not Mysterious, 1696) and pared down the trinity to a unity and the dual nature of Jesus to a single nature.

William was somewhat of a minimalist in philosophy, advocating nominalism against the more popular view of realism. That is, he argued that universals have no existence outside of the mind; universals are just names we use to refer to groups of individuals and the properties of individuals. Realists claim that not only are there individual objects and our concepts of those objects, there are also universals. Ockham thought that this was one too many pluralities. We don't need universals to explain anything. To nominalists and realists there exist Socrates the individual and our concept of Socrates. To the realist there also exist such realities as the humanity of Socrates, the animality of Socrates, etc. That is, every quality which may be attributed to Socrates has a corresponding "reality", a "universal" or eidos, as Plato called them. William might be said to have been skeptical of this realm of plurality called the realm of universals. It is not needed for logic, epistemology or metaphysics, so why assume this unnecessary plurality? Plato and the realists could be right. Perhaps there is a realm of eidos, of universal realities which are eternal, immutable models for individual objects. But we don't need to posit such a realm in order to explain individuals, our concepts or our knowledge. Plato's Eidos (Forms) are excess and unnecessary metaphysical and epistemological baggage.

It might well be argued that Bishop George Berkeley applied Occam's razor to eliminate material substance as an unnecessary plurality. According to Berkeley, we need only minds and their ideas to explain everything. Berkeley was a bit selective in his use of the razor, however. He needed to posit AG as the mind who could hear the tree fall in the forest when nobody is present. Subjective idealists might use the razor to get rid of any gods. All can be explained with just minds and their ideas. Of course this leads to solipsism, the view that I and my ideas alone exist, or at least they are all I know exist. Materialists, on the other hand, might be said to use the razor to eliminate minds altogether. We don't need to posit a plurality of minds as well as a plurality of brains.

Occam's razor is also called the principle of parsimony. These days it is usually interpreted to mean something like "the simpler the explanation, the better" or "don't multiply hypotheses unnecessarily." In any case, Occam's razor is a principle which is frequently used outside of ontology, e.g., by philosophers of science in an effort to establish criteria for choosing from among theories with equal explanatory power. When giving explanatory reasons for something, don't posit more than is necessary. Von Däniken could be right: maybe extraterrestrials did teach ancient people art and engineering, but we don't need to posit alien visitations in order to explain the feats of ancient people. Why posit pluralities unnecessarily? Or, as most would put it today, don't make any more assumptions than you have to. We can posit the ether to explain action at a distance, but we don't need ether to explain it, so why assume an ethereal ether?

Oliver W. Holmes and Jerome Frank might be said to have applied Occam's razor in arguing that there is no such thing as "the Law." There are only judicial decisions; individual judgments and the sum of them make up the law. To confuse matters, these eminent jurists called their view legal realism, instead of legal nominalism. So much for simplifying matters.

Because Occam's razor is sometimes called the principle of simplicity some creationists have argued that Occam's razor can be used to support creationism over evolution. After all, having God create everything is much simpler than evolution, which is a very complex mechanism. But Occam's razor does not say that the more simple a hypothesis, the better. If it did, Occam's would be dull razor for a dim populace indeed.

Some have even found a use for Occam's razor to justify budget cuts, arguing that "what can be done with less is done in vain with more." This approach seems to apply Occam's razor to the principle itself, eliminating the word "assumptions." It also confuses matters by confusing "less" with "fewer." Occam was concerned with fewer assumptions, not less money.

The original principle seems to have been invoked within the context of a belief in the notion that perfection is simplicity itself. This seems to be a metaphysical bias which we share with the medievals and the ancient Greeks. For, like them, most of our disputes are not about this principle but about what counts as necessary. To the materialist, dualists multiply pluralities unnecessarily. To the dualist, positing a mind as well as a body, is necessary. To atheists, positing a god and a supernatural realm is to posit pluralities unnecessarily. To the theist, positing a god is necessary. And so on. To von Daniken, perhaps, the facts make it necessary to posit extraterrestrials. To others, these aliens are unnecessary pluralities. In the end, maybe Occam's razor says little more than that for atheists any god is unnecessary but for theists that is not true. If so, the principle is not very useful. On the other hand, if Occam's razor means that when confronted with two explanations, an implausible one and a probable one, a rational person should select the probable one, then the principle seems unnecessary because so obvious. But if the principle is truly a minimalist principle, then it seems to imply the more reductionism the better. If so, then the principle of parsimony might better have been called Occam's Chainsaw, for its main use seems to be for clear-cutting ontology.

Today, we think of the principle of parsimony as a heuristic device. We don't assume that the simpler theory is correct and the more complex one false. We know from experience that more often than not the theory that requires more complicated machinations is wrong. Until proved otherwise, the more complex theory competing with a simpler explanation should be put on the back burner, but not thrown onto the trash heap of history until proven false.

Taken fm The Skeptics' Dictionary

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Do You Believe?

Do you believe what you see and hear on the evening news? If so, why? Have you ever considered that you accept what you're told simply because you always have? It's your habit to accept as the truth whatever comes across the airwaves. After all, the media wouldn't lie to us, would they? If they did, such lies would be for own good. Right?

If they do lie to us, I am certain it would be because they want us to believe something that would be good for us. Like, giving up our right to own and display firearms and, by extension, our ability to defend ourselves, as well as the threat an armed citizenry holds over those elected to govern. If the government wanted us to give up these rights, I'm sure they have a good reason. Why else would the media play along?

It does, however, call into question the veracity of any news report. I mean, if they'll lie about one thing, what not lie about another? Especially if those lies work to influence the general population.

Here are the characteristics of modern propaganda put forth by Jaques Ellul, who noticed the all-pervading conformist messages that we receive.

Propaganda is most prevalent in industrial societies where there is significant division of labor and expertise. In such complex environments, people not only may come up with dangerous ideas, they may also seek to persuade others to join their cause. Industrial societies also have greater connection between more people and thus enable ideas to spread more quickly.

In more feudal environments, where there are absolute rulers and simple class systems, the complexities of propaganda are not needed. When the peasants revolt, you simply put them back in their place. Generally, however, they know their place and quietly stay there. Propaganda is seldom just a simple method, such as making speeches or using posters. It is often a complex web of communications that seeks to reach people through all media and all situations. Disconfirming evidence or opinion can be very destructive for propagandists, so these must be removed, drowned out or discredited (which adds further to the complexity of the propaganda effort).

Propaganda happens in societies where people are depersonalized and forced into masses, where their sense of identity comes more from the group than from their own sense of mission or being. Thus people belong to religious, political, work and social groups, from which they take their beliefs and values.

If the propagandist can influence the leaders and fundamentals of those groups, then they will be able to convince and convert whole slews of people in a single go.

The purpose of most modern propaganda as used by controlling organizations is not to agitate people and make them feel unhappy. Its main goal is to integrate individuals into society through the use of such devices as peer pressure and social norms. These rules are set by leaders, who themselves may be influenced by the propagandists.

Integrationism can hence be seen as a numbing, dumbing process, where people become immured to disturbing thoughts and perturbations and are happy to live simple lives under a system of control that they do not even know exists.

Global propaganda tends to fall into a limited and small number of 'blocs' that often are aligned with particular ideologies. Politically capitalist and communist blocs have long used internal propaganda to demonize the other. The same thing happens through religion, and Christian and Islamic groups have fought in various ways and used much propaganda against one another for hundreds of years. Propaganda messages appear from all directions and virtually everything contains some element of messages that promote conformity of appearance, thought and action. In many modern totalitarian countries, people are the willing participants in their own containment, perhaps complaining at control, yet perceiving alternatives as worse.

An effect that propagandists seek is to make things seem far simpler than they really are. Good and bad are clear and polarized (enemies and friends are always clear). Social issues are simplified into limited issues (e.g. around abortion and gun-control). Public opinion is stereotyped and presented back by a media that prides itself on clarifying the issues (and who are themselves subject to propagandist messages).

Finally, the propaganda is everywhere, from TV shows to the nightly news to shopping malls to the things you keep in your bedroom. All aspects of everyone's life is invaded in some way, from the fashions (and limitations therein) that people choose and wear to the food (types, packaging, etc.) that is eaten, let alone the communications via the ever-present media.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

The front cover of Matterhorn, by author Karl Marlantes, announces its subject matter: A novel of the Vietnam War. Indeed, it is a war novel describing a fictional company of marine combatants in the jungles of Vietnam in 1969. The story is told from the viewpoint of Second Lieutenant Mellas, a young, green infantry officer, scared out of his wits and struggling to maintain his life and his sanity under extreme circumstances.

Marlantes has drawn from his own experiences as a marine combat officer during the southwest Asian war. The story rubs the reader's face into the horrors of war and leaves one with the notion that the major failure in Vietnam was due to the social consciousness of black troops insisting on turning the war into a statement on diversity and racism.

The black troops are shown to be separate and hostile to any authority, whether it be black or white. They adopt the racial politics of the day, even deep in the jungle, as a way to justify their hatred for perceived racial injustices. The climax of the book deals with (spoiler alert) the "fragging", i.e., the murder of a marine officer at the hands of radicalized blacks.

While Marlantes' book has a lot to say about racism in the marines, it fails to justify any of the arguments and those portrayed, radicalized marine characters are not illustrated sympathetically. One wonders how Mellas, the main character, could put up with such behavior during the day-to-day struggle to remain alive.

The novel sloshes through mud and blood and at times is reminiscent of Oliver Stone's Platoon, although without the platitudes. It is literally filled with combat details and does a fair job in describing how men can push themselves forward in the face of certain death while dealing with their own mind-numbing fear.

If you're looking for a feel-good story, you might want to pass on this one. On the other hand, if you're looking for realistic action and one man's view of combat experience, Matterhorn will not disappoint.

A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His debut novel, Matterhorn, was published in April 2010 by Grove/Atlantic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Which One?

A native American grandfather explains himself to his grand-children.

"There is a fight going on inside me," he says. "It is fierce and it is between two wolves. One is vengeful, angry, and violent. The other is loving, forgiving, and compassionate. The same fight goes on inside you, and inside every other person, too."

The children thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man replied, “The one you feed.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm–but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” -- T. S. Eliot

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mental Age

What is your mental age? Go here to find out. I scored a 44, which makes me mature, I guess.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

Materialism (Gimme My Stuff)

Materialism can refer either to the simple preoccupation with the material world, as opposed to intellectual or spiritual concepts, or to the theory that physical matter is all there is. The theory goes beyond a simple focus on material possessions. It is a belief that everything in the universe is matter, and there is no spiritual or intellectual existence. Materialism also refers to a mostly unspoken doctrine that material success and progress are the highest values in life. This belief appears to be prevalent in western society.

Individuals who hold to materialism as a philosophy see the universe as a huge machine held together by pieces of matter functioning in subjection to naturalistic laws. Since there is no known guiding spirit for the materialist, materialism is often disassociated with morality and ethics.

The first question the view of materialism should cause most of us is, "If all that exists is matter only, where did the natural laws that govern the universe come from?" New scientific discoveries in biological complexity, cosmological design, quantum physics, and information theory cast these materialistic assumptions into doubt. Evidence indicates that the universe and its material aspects are connected by a network of energy, design and information. We now see much more than matter.

At its simplest level, materialism involves the focus on material "things" as opposed to that which is spiritual or intellectual in nature. We live in a world surrounded by and composed of matter. It is natural, therefore, that we may become distracted from spiritual or intellectual pursuits by material possessions, but this is frequently where problems occur. We can become obsessed by a desire to obtain them, or simply frustrated by the need to maintain them.

And so we ask ourselves if material things are really more important than anything else? Is material success the highest goal? If my "stuff" is all there is to account for me, what's life all about? Why am I here at all? If life is really just about how much stuff we can purchase and pile up, why should I even try to live a moral life? What does it matter how I treat others or how I live, as long as I have what I want?

In a court of law, a conviction requires proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. Current theories of materialism face mounting skepticism; although, it isn't necessary to take a completely opposite view. As C.S. Lewis said, "God… likes matter. He invented it." It is perhaps more important to note that what you choose to believe affects how you live, for as Lewis also said, "different beliefs about the universe lead to different behavior." What we believe must either be true or false (this is where the relativists click their tongues and wag their fingers at us but, as shown in an earlier article, the self-defeating moral relativists won't last long in society.). Before settling on whatever position you choose, seek the truth in as honest a manner as possible. One never gets to one's destination if one lies to himself about the direction taken.