Sunday, May 27, 2007

First Posted Sunday, July 09, 2006; With Further Comment on May 28, 2007

Believers and Non-believers on the Left Must Unite For the Common Good Part One: in which I come clean

It would suit me if this blog didn't have to deal with the divisive, complex and extremely personal topic of religion but the fact is most Americans believe in a God and belief has a profound impact on our politics. Religion can't be ignored or dismissed. The participation of both non-believers and believers is essential for the left to succeed politically in the United States.

I don't think that the left would come out the loser in an honest religious fight. Make that an HONEST fight, not one assuming that the imperial religion the Republican right promotes is the alpha and omega of "faith". It's not even the alpha, they, themselves, don't believe most of it but that's for later. Before going on I'm going to let you know where I'm coming from on the issue.

About religion, nothing can be objectively known. Science deals with the physical world as observable and measurable phenomena. No measurements, no science. Science is plainly the most successful way of knowing about the universe. Religion doesn't deal with what is knowable in an objective way. Religion is belief of something beside what can be physically known. Real religious belief can't be objectively passed on by reason or repeatable observations, it has to be experienced personally. Remember, I'm talking about authentic religious beliefs, not about fundamentalism or organized, dogmatic religion. This isn't an encyclopedic survey of asserted beliefs.

I believe in God. I can't tell you what that means. Again, religious belief is an experience not a logical argument that can be transferred. The experience didn't really happen to me until I'd studied non-theistic Buddhism and saw that not surviving death held no terrors. If you are gone after death then there will be no suffering and all you need to worry about is what happened while you were alive. A single life contains as much of the universe and eternity as you can experience. What is outside that life effectively doesn't exist for you. I felt very comfortable with that idea, it gave me a profound sense of peace. The Buddhist doctrine of the end of pain put me at peace with the fate of all those I knew and loved and I expected that to be the end of the search.

But something unexpected happened on the way to where this would lead. I suddenly believed in God, not the God of my youth but an indefinable though deeply felt experience. I also believed in universal salvation, of continued conscious existence, eventually beyond pain, for every sentient being.

If you want to challenge me to account for this belief I fully admit that I can't prove any of it. Anyone who pretends that they can prove it is lying. You are entirely within your rights to reject it. You are within your rights to suspect that it's a psychological aberration, an odd ball quirk of personality or some weakness. Though I hope that you couldn't find anything in my actions to support those accusations.

I don't think the worse of you if you don't believe and don't think that disbelief is a sign of moral failing. Several of the people I have respected and loved most were complete and aggressive atheists who I refuse to believe are suffering in any way due to their honest disbelief. I don't believe that honest atheists enjoy less divine favor than I do, in fact, I seriously suspect that my belief might indicate that the deity doesn't trust me to be a decent person without it. I fully accept on the basis of observable actions that complete non-believers are sometimes fully as moral or even more moral than some religious believers.

I will, however, object if you are rude or rudely dismissive while you are being skeptical of someone's belief on the bases of discourteousness and impracticality.

The practical implications of religion and the left are the subjects of this uncharted and irregular series. The belief is personal and so prone to being entirely wrong, the actions resulting from the political agenda of the left are real. As the Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki might say, they are real in every sense of the word. Their reality makes them morally imperative in a way that personal belief cannot be. Religion like political philosophy and economic theory should be judged on the actions and results that arise from it, not from the idealized descriptions and assertions of it.

There, that's about all of that and you shouldn't have to put up with much more first person in this series.

Update: May 28, 2007
How naive I was. It is impossible to talk about these things, even with rigorous attempts to avoid becoming the focus of the discussion, even with this kind of pre-emptive explanation and assurance and to avoid people looking for motives beneath what was said. In what was to become the second of this series, posted here to huge controversy before the fall elections, I tried again.

I am bringing this up because I suspect there is an effort to stir up these questions just now. Articles in MSNBC-Newsweek and elsewhere might indicate an attempt to kick up a religious fight before the fall election. My interest in this is entirely in its effect on practical politics, I want the left to win this election, winning is the most important thing for the next two months. We can live with a certain level of atheist-religionist animosity, we cannot win an election with leftists falling for the bait the Republican right puts out for it. Leftists can be counted on to come to the defense of atheists who are targeted for discrimination. If atheists are in danger of life and limb, we must do that. But this all too timely row has nothing to do with life and limb. It is not pressing.

That piece was attacked by a prominent, anti-religious blogger. Her distortion of it at times resonates within the atheist blogosphere today. It has affected my efforts. I still mean everything I wrote in that post and believe that subsequent events, involving some of those who attacked me before the last election, prove some of it to have been accurate.

These issues are important in politics, that is the reason I bring them up. The subsequently dealt with auxiliary issues in the behavioral sciences and scientism are also important because they have an effect “on practical politics”.

There is a mind set in some materialists that reflexively rejects all ideas that could conceivably imply the existence of a God or anything supernatural, leading, sometimes, to quite tortured effects*. The remarkable and at times uncharacteristically emotional content of many of those rejections leads me to believe that it is more a matter of personality than it is of following scientific evidence. There are some things I don’t care if they reject, organized religion among them. There are things they can reject personally in the most derisive and bigoted language which won’t have any negative impact on the world, those also aren’t worth bothering with.

But I have to confess that there are also ideas that, likewise, cause me to become quite emotional, perhaps for personal reasons. I’m not alone in that. On one occasion Barbara Jordan shocked people by saying that she would be willing to “shed blood” to preserve the right of The People to cast a vote. Barbara Jordan didn’t say so without good reason. She wasn’t prone to empty histrionics on important issues. I will do more than just defend the basic assumption of individual rights, inherently possessed by people simply because they are people. The exercise and extension of those rights were bought at too high a price by people throughout history.

I will not ignore an intellectual attack on personal rights, freedom of thought, freedom of belief and absolute equality before the laws. Not even attacks dressed up as science. If science is incompetent to find these freedoms, history and human experience demonstrate them to be there and fully worthy of cultivation and protection. If you doubt that those are valid mechanisms to find the truth you should consider that science is also based in human experience treated in a very specialized manner to establish a specific type of reliability. Science doesn’t answer all questions. Those freedoms, unless they impinge on the freedoms of others, are absolute. They extend from the most rigorous and brilliant thinker with the greatest of hearts to the most humble of us too caught up in the struggle for sustenance to enjoy an education or a life of the mind. Absent actions that harm other peoples’ exercise of their freedoms, those ideas and the expression of them are theirs.

I will not ignore attacks on those freedoms and allow them to go unanswered. I will not follow any fashion that would lead to their endangerment or that might lead to their necessary precursors being hollowed out or undermined. That kind of fashion will get as rigorous a critique as I have it in my abilities to make.

* This excerpt from “The Atheist Ethicist” might be illustrative:

What we are looking at reasons for action that exist for and against a prohibition on pornography. Yesterday, I ruled out reasons for action that do not exist. Intrinsic value and divine rights are reasons for action that some people bring into this debate. However, these reasons for action do not exist. Desires are the only reason for action that exist.

I also ruled out desires that cannot be fulfilled. A “desire that P” (for some proposition P) is a reason for action for bringing about a state of affairs in which P is true. If P can never be true, then the desire that P cannot be fulfilled in any state of affairs, and does not serve as a reason for any action. Even if P can be true in some states of affairs, but action A will not help bring about that state of affairs, the desire that P is not a reason for action A.

I used this to throw out desires to do God’s will and desires to realize something of intrinsic value (since these desires cannot be fulfilled under any real-world states of affairs).....

Also illustrative of the wider point.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University known for his staunch opposition to teaching creationism, found himself in the unfamiliar role of playing the moderate. “I think we need to respect people’s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong,” he said.

“The Earth isn’t 6,000 years old,” he said. “The Kennewick man was not a Umatilla Indian.” But whether there really is some kind of supernatural being - Dr. Krauss said he was a nonbeliever* - is a question unanswerable by theology, philosophy or even science. “Science does not make it impossible to believe in God,” Dr. Krauss insisted. “We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.”

That was just the kind of accommodating attitude that drove Dr. Dawkins up the wall. “I am utterly fed up with the respect that we - all of us, including the secular among us - are brainwashed into bestowing on religion,” he said.

There are many people who would utterly reject what Krauss, quite reasonably, said if he had been a religious believer but who might not since it says he doesn’t believe. What he said would have not been different, his “personal preference” would be used as proof that the reasoning and honesty of what he said was tainted. They don’t subject the rantings of Dawkins et al to the same rule of evidence.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Shield Against The Power Rangers Of Occam
or Just a few random ideas as a late birthday present to the late Bertrand Russell

Occam is best known for a maxim which is not to be found in his works, but has acquired the name of “Occam’s razor.” This maxim says: “Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.” Although he did not say this, he said something which has much the same effect, “It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer.” That is to say, if everything in some science can be interpreted without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it. I have myself found this a more fruitful principle in logical analysis.

Bertrand Russell: A History of Philosophy

In order to apply the “razor” to a difference of belief between two people or to find the truth or untruth of a general idea you first have to have an agreement on the definition of the problem, without that you can’t exclude things from the solution. Exclusion is the purpose of this “razor”. And it can exclude only those aspects of a problem you know about. You wouldn’t be able to deal with any unknown aspects. If you doubt that one, please explain to me how you would exclude something you didn’t know about. While logical analysis is very useful and sometimes impressive it doesn’t encompass the entire universe of possibilities, it can’t include those unknown to it but which, nonetheless might be there, and it can’t include those which could contribute but which aren’t known and necessary to the immediate solution of the problem at hand. And unskilled use of the razor, rampant in some of its make believe masters, runs the risk of cutting out things that are relevant and even necessary.

A fun thing to think about, but which we don’t know to be of much practical use, are the extra dimensions of the universe which are being examined. How many of these dimensions exist? Are they really there? What qualities do they impose on existence? Do they impinge on our universe of sense? Could their effects permeate our lives unknown? Perhaps there are aspects of our lives too subtle for us to have discovered yet but which are understandable only through the added, as yet unknown, qualities of these extra dimensions. Just to throw one in for the entertainment of the atheists in the audience, maybe one of them has a quality that bridges the physical universe and the non-physical. Notice I said “maybe” before you fly off the handle.

For most of the problems we deal with those aren’t important considerations, we might cut out their consideration but that’s only a matter of the necessities imposed by contingency, not a definitive exclusion. As the math and perhaps someday the science done with these develops maybe that will change, though I doubt it will turn out to be a closed matter. The difficulties of dealing with just the equations might outstrip the efforts of the entire body of scientists and mathematicians to discover them before the species goes extinct. Maybe some of the less “knowable” aspects of human experience really are impinged on by these dimensions. Consciousness, for example. Maybe that’s why it escapes those would be-scientists who attempt to work around it. Who knows?

You’ll notice that Russell said, “if everything in some science can be interpreted.” That great master of logic used a conditional construction, he certainly would have known the implications of doing so and would have done that for a good reason. Science is a very specialized activity, many things in life can’t be discovered through science. My favorite example this week is to try to find “the separation of church and state” with science. To start with, there isn’t a discreet “thing” , defined and bounded, that is “the separation of church and state”. Just the lack of unanimity of the legal definitions of it clearly demonstrates that to be true. You would have to have a “discreet thing” there to do real science about it. “The separation of church and state” is there, or at least I hope it is, it has an impact on our lives and I hope it is preserved and strengthened but it is entirely outside of the reach of science.

I’m not sure if he meant to imply it, but Russell’s endorsement of this mainstay of modern materialist fundamentalists seems more of a conditional endorsement than a final requirement. You’ll notice Russell called it a maxim, not a foundation of logic. I’m guessing he meant it less as law and more as tool. The “razor” is really more of a convenience than an infallible tool, it doesn’t do everything necessary. And it might have been called a “razor” by people with painful experience that those tools are often not sufficiently sharp and prone to go farther than they should. He also endorsed it as a tool of logical analysis, formal logic reduces the complexity of real life to analyze the form of the problem. It can be useful but the possible solution of many real life problems are too complex to fit into its forms.

The kind of pop-materialists, cultists of scientism, etc. who are always ready to pull out the old chestnut “Occam’s razor” often mistake their wielding of pat assertions of prejudice and dismissive bigotry for this tool. That is an advertisement of their fundamentalism, not their mastery of logic. They often can’t get to step one of the use of the razor, finding out if it is useful in the question at hand.

A less than honest use of the form of the razor popular these days is to apply it to a question beyond its ability, the question of the existence of God. “The material world is most simply explained without a God so the idea of a God is false”, or some such construction. This begins by assuming that our knowledge of the physical universe and the methods we know to analyze it are effectively comprehensive, when they certainly aren’t. It also assumes that a God, by definition supernaturally outside of the physical universe, would be susceptible to the known limits of the physical universe and answerable to its laws. They do this even on those occasions when they assign qualities to “God” such as “all powerful” “all knowing”, etc. Just the first of these “all” qualities would include the ability to surpass the known laws of nature.

It compounds those follies with the assumption that only a yes-no answer is possible when neither are. The only honest answer to the question of God’s existence is “I don’t know”. You can go on from there to believe, not believe or abstain from voting on the existence of God. But belief isn’t considered to be the same thing as knowledge.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dear Austin Cline,
You distorted, not only the meaning of what I wrote, but also pretend that it was addressed to "atheists". This might have fit into the theme of your blog but it is clearly a lie. I assume, since you quote one of “Whispers” comments from the thread at Echidne's blog, that you would have seen the answer I gave to a lie “Whispers” wrote about what I had written, on that same thread. I don’t believe you could have missed my answer. I pointed out that the word "atheist" appeared nowhere in the piece*. I highlighted the same exact point in the follow up post at Echidne’s the next day where I corrected some of the incorrect comments the day after the first piece was posted. Yet you pretended it was a piece in which I targeted atheists well after that lie was corrected in a place you couldn’t have missed it if you had bothered to find out what I meant.

You might have been concerned since I used Richard Dawkins as an example of how Skeptics hold themselves to a different standard than they do the targets of their activities. I thought that might be your misunderstanding until I looked at your blog bio. You have connections with Paul Kurtz through at least two positions you've held. I must say that Kurtz seems to be cropping up a lot in different places in my researches of pseudo-“Skepticism”, I’ve never researched organized atheist-fundamentalism so I don’t know about what connection he might have to that. - I would think that what I’m about to point out might be interesting to anyone with the time and resources to do so.

You certainly know about CSICOP, in which Kurtz has a prominent position. It isn’t credible that you didn’t know about CISCOP. Dawkins is also involved with CSiCOP, last time I checked. Beyond doubt the most glamorous of its current stars, CSICOP is an organization that is star driven, ironically enough.

If you knew anything about the other people mentioned in the post, also hard for me to imagine though perhaps you don’t research your pieces, you would have seen that they were all involved with CSICOP and other 'Skeptics" organizations. Since I identified the piece as having been inspired by a flaming e-mail about a gentle jibe I made about the phony "Skeptic" Penn Jillette I don't see how you could possibly have missed that the target of the piece was organized “Skepticism”.

You pop-atheists are big on the charge of "cherry picking" this season, if I'm not mistaken its a charge you have leveled, yourself. Yet you distorted the clear intention of the piece by leaving out the entire first section containing the necessary argument to understand my conclusions. I think a reasonable person looking at this situation could conclude that your only reason for leaving that out was to distort the conclusions I reached in favor of the freedom of people to believe what they wanted to. I have always favored diversity of belief knowing it to be essential for freedom. CSICOP is an organization dedicated to frat-boy style coercion, and on one occasion a farcical coverup, to wipe out freedom of belief in order to enforce a quite narrow-minded materialism. Fortunately, they are bunglers and have been able to produce little but bigotry. Even their own magazine and their frequent come-ons have commented on the rise in belief in the things they hope to suppress during their three decades existence. Since I didn’t exclude atheists, or anyone else from the freedom of belief I support, my argument clearly applies to everyone. That inclusive freedom doesn’t suit your purpose so you ignore my support for it.

You claim to have understood my piece, yet you left out the part that was essential to my argument. Cherry picking? That would be too polite a way of describing what you did. You lied. You distorted my piece to turn into one of what your achieve proves to be an endless series of tedious whines. You not only lied, you didn't have the courage to inform me that you were doing it. If an agnostic I knew hadn't told me about your piece last week I probably wouldn't have ever found out about it.

I don't know what kind of ethics they pretend to follow at the Kurtz organizations, though my research into CSICOP and just a few of his holdings has been quite an eye opener. I’ve yet to brave Kurtz on “Exuberance” though the excerpts I’ve seen are sugary, philosophical frippery. I do know that what you did was dishonest and I will be writing a full account and posting it on line. I asked for you input, though your note seems to imply that you wouldn’t welcome me sending you an advance copy for your comments and possible corrections. I suppose a retraction is too much to expect, it certainly was for two other similar incidents of pop-atheists lying about what I wrote. If I am wrong, please tell me.

You have too thin a skin for a hatchet man. If you expect to continue in your line of bigotry, I’d advise you to grow a thicker one. I think I’ve got a rather good look into your character through researching my planned piece. I take someone lying about what I wrote quite personally. As to my comments, please be more specific in what your objections to those are. If I find I’ve lied about you I will, of course, issue a correction.

yours truly,

P.S. Since I don’t have any reason to trust you I am posting this on my own blog instead of taking the risk of sending it to you in case you tried to misuse it. It contains no lies and I’m not ashamed of anything I say here. I will defend myself.

* From the comment thread of the post you misrepresented:

Also, essentially calling all atheists liars is a good way for you to look like a hopeless jackass in our eyes.

If you want to clean up your philosophical meanderings a little bit, I suggest finding a way to differentiate between "belief" and "faith". Whispers | 01.28.07 - 1:05 pm | #

Also, essentially calling all atheists liars is a good way for you to look like a hopeless jackass in our eyes.

Ok, quote where I said this or its equivalent? I'm looking and don't even see the word "atheist" in this post. This is a lie and I do ask you to retract it as soon as you confirm that it is not true. The piece isn't even strictly about atheism, it's about skepticism. How do you know I wasn't slamming professional magicians and social scientists, if there's much of a difference in come cases.

As to "belief" and "faith", on the Online Thesaurus, it comes fourth in the list of synonyms. olvlzl Back and Blogwhoring | Homepage | 01.28.07 - 5:52 pm | #

From your piece:
“Whispers" posted comments to this post which explained the problems with Olvlzl's use of "faith" here.....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It was brought to my attention earlier this week that Austin Cline of About Agnosticism and Atheism, as well as a prominent part of a number of atheist groups, presented some views as being mine which I do not hold a while back.

Wanting to discuss the matter with him I have repeatedly tried to make contact with him, he could hardly have failed to notice but seems to think that I am not worthy of his attention. If anyone reading this knows Cline please ask him why he refuses to discuss the correction of his misrepresentations, made in a rather prominent place. If someone told me I had misrepresented the views of someone, I’d be very interested in correcting myself out of respect for the other person’s rights and because not making the correction would turn a mistake into a lie.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looted From A Thread At Echidne's

Republicans are about 9/11.
Democrats are about 7/4.


Composing For Beginners

Forget theory, forget everything about paper. Paper and theory will just keep you from composing at this stage. Never forget that music is sounds, not a recipe for making a cake and not the symbols drawn on a page.

If you play piano, choose any five finger position, five notes. If I might suggest, don’t begin with c,d,e,f,g. Start with d,e,f,g,a or the five white keys up from e or f. Play with those trying to find melodies, harmonies, etc. that please YOU. You must please yourself first, if you try to please someone else you might as well let them write that music because it won't be your music. Make some of your pieces start and end on the same note some of them start and end on different notes. Use all of the notes of the five, for the last note in different pieces.

Watch out for repeating yourself, if you find a figure, rhythm, etc. that you keep coming back to, try to avoid it for a while. Write down those things you find that you really like, work on those. If you know what it means, watch out for 6/8 and 9/8 rhythms, getting into a lilt is alright on occasion but it’s a banality trap if you don’t watch out for it. Don’t be afraid to change meters either. Don’t be afraid to try anything because it’s too far out or too far in.

When you've had enough of those five notes, find another five notes with a different pattern of half and whole steps (different mode) or add another note to the five you had in the beginning. Proceed as above until you gradually add more notes.

Virgil Thomson advised composers with writers block to compose one piece of music a day. One whole piece a day. He said eventually you would find the music you wanted to keep.

And if your instrument isn't piano, use what you have. If you don't have anything, get a plastic recorder that plays in tune and use that. Use recordings of second parts if you want harmony.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Écrasez l'Infâme

I can't find a quote but I agree with Gore Vidal, we have got to destroy the health insurance industry. They have a strangle hold on the American People, their stolen booty corrupts our government, their advertisements buy off the media.

Retraction By Request

I mentioned last week that an agnostic had e-mailed me to request that I continue writing about things of a vaguely religious nature. I am reluctant because they are only important to me in so far as they have in impact on the politics necessary to move the government towards the left and to put items in the left’s agenda into law. Religion does interest me, its diversity and range, from folk lore to imposing systems of thinking are an important part of human culture. Atheism and the organized form of Skepticism were interesting the first time I read their ideas but it’s been a long time since they’ve provided the diversity of perception necessary to sustain interest over repeated repetitions. But then, I did, early on, read Thomas Huxley*. The current crop are at best forth generation echos of his brilliant sarcasm. It would seem that I’m not the only one who has found that to be true. Talking a while back with an atheist I know, he remarked that he didn’t find the topic of atheism at all interesting. He was more interested in more important things.

My new, agnostic friend apparently found what I wrote useful to her or his side of things. There is a growing intolerance for agnostics in the culture of non-belief. You are apparently required to give up free thought and honesty about what you don’t know in order to be sufficiently non-believing among the “Free thinkers”. If you dare to suggest that things other than rude intolerance for religious believers might make more sense, you will be accused of appeasing the Nazis, quite literally.

My decision to stop talking about the current culture of atheism was in the interest of talking about real life. I’d rather talk up single-payer health insurance and environmental protection than how to prevent the tiny minority of impractical, romantic Dawkinsites from losing us elections. My friend’s e-mails say that it’s brave to attack them, I’ve never suspected that I was in danger from them. Though sometimes prone to lapses of judgement through wishful thinking, I never expected to become popular with what I wrote and have resisted the temptation to write down to try to attract a larger audience. Though a lot of that was out of sheer laziness on my part.

I will point out that I am an agnostic only in that I agree that it is impossible to know with reliability anything about the existence of God or any other entity outside of the physical universe. It is impossible to objectively know anything about anything that isn’t physical. In that the subject matter of religion is like most of the physical universe, unknown. I think it’s entirely possible to be such an agnostic while holding beliefs in any range of things, physical and non-physical. The best proof of that isn’t in a tortured line of attempted reasoning, it’s in the fact that there are people who have told me that is THEIR personal experience.

This blog has never put up a sign saying that it will not take requests. It’s seldom someone asks for one. My new friend was so gracious in making theirs that fulfilling it will be attempted.

* While I thoroughly enjoyed Huxley on religious topics and some of what he had to say about biology he was also a particularly odious racist. The experience of reading some of the recent pop-atheists has, however, led me to wonder if their arrogance and dismissive rudeness is also copied form Huxley. It’s Huxley’s knowledge of his targets that make up for the fact that he could be a real jerk sometimes. Unfortunately that’s not something shared by his heirs. Apparently the idea that you should know what you are talking about is a failed “meme**” of the atheist fundamentalists.

UPDATE: I just got an e-mail that one of PZ Myer's devotees just accused me of listening to James Taylor. See, flapping their lips before doing research. I hate James Taylor's music, Just last month I nominated his and Carly Simon's cover of "Mocking Bird" as the worst cover of all times. This might have gone too far.

** I don't believe in "memes". Though the topic is too boring to explore my suspicions that Dawkins invented them in an attempt to cover up the defects in his theories.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Remembering Arthur Berger The Week of His Birthday.
for Tristero
There is a certain slant of light, springtime afternoons, flooding through the large, open window with a fresh, cold wind that brings Arthur Berger’s Duo for Cello and Piano(1) to mind. Arthur Berger was sometimes described as an “intellectual composer”. Whatever that means. He was a composer, writer, analyst, critic, and a part of any intellectual scene wherever he happened to be. Perhaps closer to the point, Virgil Thomson, a fellow composer, critic and one of his friends, talked about his “sidewalks of New York charm”. So, here we already have a dichotomy, or at least two things usually considered as opposites. Maybe the strong sun light and cold spring wind should count as a third point of view. What’s the truth? Having played some of his pieces and studied more of them, I am happy to testify to the intellectual brilliance and the charm, he had both in abundance. Beauty of sound, the ability he shared with Luigi Dallapiccola(2) to find exactly the right note, tone color and expression, and to put it in exactly the right context, might stand in for the primary witness above.

Someone asked me why I don’t write more about music, since that’s clearly something I know more about than evolutionary psychology or cognitive science , about which I’ve spent enormous numbers of skeptical words. While music is what I got my formal training in, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t think anything more is known about music than the technical aspects of how to produce it. Music is an order of sounds (3), it is possible to learn how to produce musical orders intentionally to attempt an effect. On that level music is a skill instead of a collection of theories, observations, measurements and speculations. That I could talk about easily, though it makes for rough reading and it really doesn’t contain any information useful to non-musicians. It’s only in the sense that it is a skill to be practiced that someone can “know” something about music. In that sense, it is entirely like speculations about the mind, only with a practical component.

I could tell you that roughly measures 25 through 31 of the first movement of Berger’s Duo move me to an all encompassing state of ecstacy every single time I hear it or play through the piano part. Just remembering how that passage sounds can take me out of myself. I could try to think of further metaphors or write a formal technical description, to give a partial explanation of what happens at that time in the music and then guess why it produces that effect. All of that might be entirely true, in part, and entirely useless in total. Any elucidation that someone reading that description might think they’ve received would be deceptive. It would tell you nothing useful, it might endanger your own experience of the music. I would have to motivate you to experience the music, to listen to it, complete and in its entirety, to have any hope that you could know what I was talking about. No one who had not heard the music would know the first thing about it.

The culture of scholarship, text and reflection, is all well and good but it carries danger when it is placed in supremacy over actual life. Life, the whole stream of experience and action as lived, not arbitrarily cut into segments to be digested and published. Scholars dwell on their publishable and teachable work, the materials of their careers, jealously guarding its repute, hardly ever admitting to their intentional selection out of the entire body of possible information. Actual, direct experience is not susceptible to scholarship. It is by its most basic nature, personal, the experience of a single person, invisible and variable, in its deepest essence indescribable. That is something that the aforementioned behavioral scientists(4) should keep in mind, something that a composer could tell them, something such a musician should never forget.

The very selective, partial view of life, which makes up the work of a scholar, can be very useful, it can produce things and objects that enhance health and increase life-span, it can enrich experience. But when those things are ideas about real life, their entire effects, good and bad are often not able to be apprehended. Sometimes the added component of history proves that ideas thought good or innocuous in the abstract are deadly. Far from just being the plaything of a dreamer or a brick in a scholar’s career, an idea can’t be viewed as an end in itself, it has to be seen in as full a context as possible. Unconsidered in the full context, ideas can carry the danger of overtaking the whole of life.(5)

1. Also Hear: An Arthur Berger Retrospective New World Records NW 360-2
Joel Kroskick, cello Gilbert Kalish, piano and others.

Almost all of Berger’s works are or have recently been available on CDs. I have heard and would recommend all of them. If you can find it I would also recommend the old CRI recording of Berger’s music in the American Masters collection. The recording of his Chamber Music for 13 Players, conducted by Gunther Schuller, is particularly wonderful. I've seen three dates in different places of when his birthday was but they were all in this coming week. This week would have been his 95th birthday. I loved Arthur Berger and his music very much.

2. Talking about your neglected composers. John Harbison made this observation about Dallapiccola’s ability as a composer.

3. Susan K. Langer: An Introduction To Symbolic Logic. Langer’s several simple observations about music in this book stand as the most insightful general statements I’ve ever read by someone outside of the profession.

4. It is exactly this selective feature of these reductionist schools practice that makes me very suspicious of them and alarmed about the resulting conclusions they seem to demand. Those who insist that only one mechanism of evolution, the crudest part of natural selection, is the supreme guide for understanding practically everything , strikes me as too likely to produce a superficially appealing mannerism (6.) instead of a view of reality. It closes off too many possibilities of real life from consideration, even, at times, substituting fables with no known real life evidence as possible explanations.

5. If music was an area of life that could produce life and death consequences, a danger to freedom, it would be dangerous. Hearing, quite involuntarily, Les Preludes by Liszt the other day, the story of its association with the invasion of Poland and the suspected motivating force of Wagner’s work might be noted here. I do so without prejudice, as a suggested supplement to the observation.

6. I’m fully aware of the irony, I read Perspectives in Music Theory too.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Comment Shill
just posted this response at Eschaton.

The only real journalists are reporters who dig for the news, get two independent confirmations, submit it to a competent editor who will check the facts and then send it to be published in some way. Real reporting, reporting the facts, not opinions, not the fact that anyone can find to people to give "opposing" opinions, is the only real journalism.

Columnists may have been reporters but once they stop doing what is mentioned above, they stop being journalists. Some of them are truly great and useful most of them a lying slags.

Bloggers can be any of the above and more or less. To talk about blogs is akin to talking about paper. It can contain great reporting or it can be worth less than used toilet paper. And a lot of what the corporate media picks up and waves around is exactly used toilet paper.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Paperless Anniversary

My greatest and heartfelt thanks to you who do and have done me the honor of reading what has been posted here. Some of you have been pretty heroic as the word count reached a thousand and the reasoning or lack of it, got pretty tortured. I hope that the quality has gotten better as I've learned on the job. I hope you will find things worth reading here.

Here are the promises I made my first blog post. You'll notice the gap I gave myself was rather large. Anyone who goes back and looks at my archieve will notice that the date there is May 13. That's because I screwed it up so badly on May 10th I had to redo it three days later.

To start with, there are two things about the Code of Liberal Ethics that bother me. One, that we are supposed to be entirely fair to everyone and especially in instances when that would put us at a disadvantage, will be dealt with later. The one I will deal with first is the assumption that liberals must get it right every time, not only right but correct. That liberals and leftists, such as myself, must be purer than pure or relegated to the tip, is something I'd better address right now in this first post.

I have no intention of getting it right every time. I begin with no expectation of getting it entirely right a plurality of the time. No guarantee of such is given or offered. I will not allow considerations of the possibility of failure from keeping me from action. On occasion I'll plow straight ahead if conditions seem to warrant it. I, friends, am the thoroughly bad sort and claim as mine, as the sacred possession of every liberal and leftist, the absolute right enjoyed by the rest of humanity to get it wrong. And not only this but I claim as the birthright of leftists to present our side of things to the advantage of our side. I have absolutely no intention to be fair to fascists either, but that's for another day and I hope that Nat Hentoff doesn't die before I get to it.

The Code of Liberal Ethics is a standard operating setting required in every organ of the media. It is applied without consideration, without thought, as a matter of habit. It is a solid state component of the minds of far too many liberals. It is a weapon used exclusively against liberals and leftists and is applied to no other segment of the political spectrum. Everyone, from mushy moderate to rabid fascist is allowed their failings and their biases. But not liberals. Certainly not leftists.

No more. Here, today, I issue our own manumission, my fellow leftists. We have shaken off the chains of perfection, we are free of the lash of faultlessness. We claim our right to consider our own opinions superior and worthy of dominance. Never again will we present the arguments of conservatives as if they merit equal treatment. We will scorn their folly and expose their lies and their entertaining hypocrisies without apology. We will get off our knees and kick every fascist where it counts. In all seriousness, our lives, the lives of our loved ones, the life of the biosphere absolutely depend on it. We must crush out of ourselves and our kind the remains of these mind forged manacles and wipe their residue from every voice and their assumed existence from every ban. Friends, we have nothing to fear. We are free.

Disclaimer: I make no pretense of being a journalist. At best, if someone wanted to insult me, they might claim me as a columnist, an unskilled occupation of which I do not claim to be a part. I would never want anyone to assume that I pretend to be a real journalist, a reporter.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

An Agnostic Questions
my decision to not do posts about the religion wars. He requests that I continue, pointing out that between religious fundamentalists and Dawkinsites he’s feeling beleaguered. He says my posts are some of the few on the leftist blogs that support his position.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Children Given A Death Sentence By Morality

here is really bad news for anyone who cares about the health of adolescents today, there is a jump in the number of new infections with Hepatitis C in injection drug uses as young as 13. The increase, even if it is due in part to better reporting is alarming.

BOSTON— The number of hepatitis C infections among teenagers and young adults in Massachusetts has risen dramatically in the past few years at a time when the abuse of intravenous drugs has also been on the rise, health officials say.

Confirmed and suspected cases of the blood-borne liver disease among people ages 15 to 25 climbed from 254 in 2001 to at least 784 in 2005, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The increase may be at least partially attributable to more diligent reporting of the disease by doctors.

"I suspect there is a direct correlation between the increase in hepatitis C among younger people and the increase in injection drug use and heroin use, in particular," said Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach. "It is terribly tragic, but it is very consistent with the pattern of risk that goes along with injection drug use."

I’ve got a personal interest in this one. About twenty years ago my father contracted liver cancer. A month before he died testing showed that he had a chronic case of Hepatitis C. In the short time there was to discover how he had contracted a disease then little known, it was concluded that he must have gotten it from a transfusion he was given at at a battle field hospital during the Second World War. The effects of the disease lay dormant for about forty years before manifesting itself in liver cancer. It wasn’t an easy, quick and painless way to go. No one who watched someone die that way could read about the rise in cases and not know that for some of those children, the price of their folly will be a death sentence and a means of execution as gruesome as any ever devised by the twisted mind of the medieval inquisitors. Some of those who contract the disease don't have to wait that long to die, very unpleasantly.

When will the moralists of the drug industry be over-ridden, their long, long history of unrealistic, ineffective crusade give way to reality? How many people will have to die before the simplest, effective means of preventing untold pain and death overtake the prissiness masking the highly lucrative money-making “morality” machine. Their cure for the disease of drug addiction has proven over decades of failure, billions of dollars of cost and countless lives to be snake oil and the effects are worse than the disease.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Weekend,

don't ask.

Friday, May 04, 2007

pssst! I’m Going For The 48 Hr. Beauty Rest Treatment

and so won’t be at my usual weekend blog gig at Echidne of the Snakes. Echidne has some interesting things lined up, gardening magazines and, well, it’s always something different at Echidne’s.

I’ve been going through old posts to take stock and might post a couple of those here later tonight. Some of them seem so dated, some I’m having a hard time remembering having written them.

Note: The difference with a blogger I respect, which I had posted about below, is settled on friendly terms so I removed the post. I wish her the best in the future.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Life Is Real
Early Anniversary Post

May 10th will be the year mark of my blogging effort. Looking back over a year of posts, both here and at Echidne of the Snakes, I notice some serious lapses in following my original intention. That intention was to focus on the practical, on those things that would win elections for the left. That means trying to figure out which are the candidates closest to the left who have a real chance to win the election and hold the office, nominating the one with the best chance, protecting them from lies and smears from the right and impractical, posing jerks allegedly on the left. It means once they are elected, working with them to try to find those positions of the left that they can support in a way to keep the office out of the hands of worse people. Only a position that has a hope of being adopted during the present term is worth that level of effort and risk. Other issues aren’t ripe for prime time yet, they need to build grass roots support first.

There was that big diversion that started last September with my pre-election post advising that the left couldn’t hope to win elections if it could be tarred with the charge that it was anti-religion. A string of elections had proven that to be an effective tactic of the Republicans and their kept media. The things said about that post by another blogger of much greater readership than myself were false but that didn’t keep them from both damaging my credibility and starting a stream of attacks that continue to this day. That has lead to many posts which, perhaps, held their own in the arguments they made, had rather pitiful practical results. I tied up a few threads on those subjects here the other day and am going to end detailed consideration of them for more important matters.

I will, however, fight like hell any futile or trivial trend or practice of the left that will damage our chances with the voting public and I don’t care how strongly I have to make that case. Winning elections, making laws that improve lives is more important than any hurt feelings of people who are being jerks. If they insist on their right to be jerks, they are asking for it. They are not the center of the universe, none of us are. The goal of improving lives is more important than anything, certainly more than whatever credibility or popularity is lent me. While I am grateful for that and find it gratifying, I am ready to sacrifice it to achieve political progress.

Politics is the art of making compromises. But it is an art only worth doing in an effort to move things in the right direction. Everything I’ve got is on that bargaining table except reality and justice. Those are non-negotiable for one simple reason. Life is real. Nothing is more real than the biosphere. Nothing is more important than real living beings. Nothing is more important than the real lives of people starting with the most common sense meaning of that phrase. Beginning with their physical well-being, their education and their spirits. Reputation is a bubble which is about to burst, life is real.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

In a book, The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said, Peggy is cited for the following pearl:

"I first saw [President Reagan] as a foot, highly polished brown cordovan wagging merrily on a hassock. I spied it through the door. It was a beautiful foot, sleek. Such casual elegance and clean lines! But not a big foot, not formidable, maybe a little frail. I imagined cradling it in my arms, protecting it from unsmooth roads."

From "Peggy, We Hardly Knew Ye" a memoir by Monica Finch and Gloria R. Lalumia of the young Peggy Noonan as they knew her in high school, college and beyond. But not nearly as far into the ether as she got.

That’s Why I’m Leavin’ It All Up To You
My Final Word On This Subject
A lot of the talk about discrimination against atheists is kind of petty, the offense taken when they happen to be subjected to displays of religion not involving government and not directed at the atheist. To these all I can say is, well, ain’t life tough sometimes. You can try to avoid them. I try to avoid hearing rock and roll which, I can guarantee you, is a lot more ubiquitous and generally a lot more intrusive. With the advent of moron mobiles it’s portable too. Short of a violation of noise control or other legal provisions, you’re stuck with them.

As to those religious or other displays targeting atheists, those are a form of harassment and are a legitimate complaint. The displays involving government in some way are entirely appropriate things to which you can try to get legal relief. The only thing to add to that is the political and social outcomes of complaining or bringing actions in matters not involving actual harm, should be considered. If the results could be worse than the offense, is it wise to spend your political capital on them?

Anything which involves the denial of a public accommodation, even joining the Boy Scouts, is grounds for action. It is a stronger offense and requires being taken seriously.

Even stronger are physical threats and attacks. Those cannot be tolerated. With these things we are getting into discrimination of the real kind, the kind that can get people killed. When children are the victims swift and very strong action has to be taken to protect them. Even bullying of children should be considered the most serious kind of offense*. But, and never forget this, your relief will be through an appeal to the courts on the basis of violations of The Bill of Rights and the right to due process. That is sometimes essential and it is all well and good but it isn’t enough. It has been one of the most short-sighted mistakes of civil rights efforts that the courts have been relied on instead of building grass roots support.

The pseudo-discrimination most on peoples’ lips these days is the “ atheist electability” issue. That, I am sorry to tell you is not an issue of legal discrimination. An atheist doesn’t have “a right” to be president. No other member in any other minority group or in the majority has “a right to be president”. The only person who has what is constantly mislabeled “a right to be president” is the person who The People have elected to fill that office. In the United States it is the person who has won the majority of the electoral vote - which I would love to get into but I won’t here. To win an election you must win the most votes, it is as simple as that. No discrimination law exists which allows relief from any prejudice of The People in the election of the president**. Atheists who really care about correcting that prejudice instead of whining about it, won’t call the majority of the voting public superstitious, Spaghetti Monster worshiping, idiots. Anyone who does indulge their inner child in this manner and then whines about the entirely predictable results is the real idiot, an irresponsible jerk, a problem which any real civil rights movement will have to deal with if they ever hope to win an election or make progress.

Wasting time and good-will on lesser matters, pretending that occasions when you are subjected to nothing more than an affront to your aesthetic sensibilities and mislabeling those as “discrimination” will make your legitimate complaints in matters that require action less effective. They have the potential to lose you allies you will need for those serious fights. I can tell you this from going on forty years of being a witness to and participant in the struggles for gay rights. You have to be realistic and you have to be smart. You also have to be mature and ready for a lot of work. And you will fail unless you have strong alliances within the wider population. If, as atheists seem never to stop pointing out, you are that few in number and that hated, insulting potential friends is the stupidest thing you can do.

* Children’s first and most important right is their right to be protected by adults. Without that right none of the others will matter.

** The possibility of redistricting to enhance the chance of an open atheist being elected to lower office is a theoretical possibility but don’t count on it now. The ability to ensure minority representation by drawing district lines is being slashed to death in the courts as you read this.

Note: I have grown tired of the issues surrounding these issues. I will point out that this is the point I began, advising atheists that they should find out what will get them what they say they want instead of making enemies. I am quitting this field and going back to what I really am interested in, politics and music. Anyone who wants to read what I think can go to the top of this blog, put the word "atheist" into the search box and find what I've already written on the subject. Rational atheists of good will, I wish you luck in getting your civil rights. Idiots of all kinds, don't bother writing again. I'm not even going to bother reading it.

Thinking About Solipsisms While Planting Onions

Dear E.
You flatter me with the charge of having constructed a philosophical position out of some pretty simple and clearly true assertions. But I haven’t. Every single thing which an individual knows is based in their experience, including those things which an individual learns which are based in other people’s experience. It is beyond doubt that things outside of an individual’s experience are things unknown to them. There are various facades of intellectual life which ignore this simple fact, enough to make a city of false fronts masking shaky foundations. That isn’t my fault, I didn’t build them, sell them or suggest you rent them. Don’t blame me for pointing out the termites or the rotten sills.

It is sometimes forgotten that math derives from human intelligence. So far as we know there are no other species that practice math. Math is founded in human’s experience of the physical universe. Even those simple matters Plato’s Socrates attributes to an inherent knowledge of the universe are impossible to observe in someone who has no clear experience of the physical universe. Math, which is based in the experience of the physical universe, is the absolute science.

As a comment on something I once put kind of awkwardly pointed out, math does have the methods to make solid proofs which, once solidly made and tested, can’t be refuted. This alert commenter noted that apparent contradictions between different proven points are assumed to be part of a larger unity as yet undiscovered. I think this is largely true because math limits its field of investigation to only the simplest of things and the most reliable extensions of those things. Even physics must deal with more complex matter and, perhaps for that reason, doesn’t achieve the finality of math.

Logic as well, through which the physical experiences are extended into more sophisticated math as well as science, is not observed outside of the experience of the physical universe. Though there is some evidence that it might not be species specific to humans, in at least its primitive forms. Logic can’t avoid dealing with even the most complex objects. While its methods are solid, it’s application is all over the charts.

Science uses math and logic to explain other experiences of the physical universe. Once it gave up the appeal to classical authority - largely based in story telling of a kind startlingly revived in some of the behavioral sciences today- and started dealing with the organized observation of nature, science came of age. Like all young adults, and way too many old ones, it forgot or denied the fact that its achievements are reliant on the most basic facts of its infancy. That denial often doesn’t impinge on the science or it’s place in the political world of human activity. But sometimes the facts of it’s intellectual basis do matter. When dealing with matters of human consciousness, behavior etc. the limits inherent in the acts of observation and logic force themselves into the scientific discourse. And I won’t go into the use of mathematics to cover up the deficiencies in observation and other sins of the behavioral sciences. There is no way they can be avoided since they are basic to the matters the “science” deals with. They are an inherent part of the debate.

Your charge of solipsism is only apparently close to the truth but it’s not much more than an appeal of the “Neville Chamberlain Atheist” kind made against some pretty reasonable and pleasant atheists. That is an attempt to change to an emotionally charged subject, the tactic most commonly seen in people who feel themselves in danger of losing an argument.

Three Answers From The Blog Threads
Selected, revised and expanded upon.

Unfortunately, I'm on a connection too slow for You Tube, but I'd expect it's pretty funny.

I'm not a scientist, though I did do more math than is normal for a music major. The "framing" issue is what brought me here since it astounds me how the side with all the arguments, the evolution side, is so incredibly stupid about the simple necessity of selling your message to the general public. It's very simple, evolution is science, the idea of a designer isn't. There isn't any reason for science to have to deal with it unless some try to foist the phony science onto 1. the schools, 2. the public funding system. 3. misc.

Mixing the message for evolution with other misc. such as the war against belief is too big a burden for science to carry. If you doubt that might be true, look at the mewling when you just suggest to scientists that scientists are the best people to make the case and that if they want to explain themselves to non-scientists they are going to have to speak the language that the voting public will understand. All the nonsense accusing people with a realistic view of what will be effective with the public "you want us to support creationism" is just nonsense UNLESS that has actually been proposed.

If the goal is actually to protect the teaching and funding of science then that should be the matter or most importance. Snark will not help, it has been and is counter-productive.

Let me suggest to you, friends, that you will find more useful material to plan your battles with from Ogilvy on Advertising than the pseudo-skeptical literature so much in vogue at present. I assure you that even if the present course wins you something, better and clearer explanations to the people you want to win over to science are not only a good idea, they are the only one that will work.

This sounds like standard Solipsism to me. I reject it for the same reason I reject Solipsism.

You are free to reject anything. But you will notice that I am not the one who is trying to find either objectivity or proof. It is the fetish of these things that my comments com, from which you are trying to discern some larger philosophical position. There might be one, I don't know.

In so far as it's possible to absolutely know something with anything like certainty, math is about the only intellectual field that provides that. And a lot that is known in math isn't known in its full implications. In all else, all knowledge is contingent. In any area of science in which a direct observation can't be made, studied, measured, analyzed, the knowledge becomes strikingly contingent and fraught with the possibilities of being over-turned. Sociobiology morphed into evolutionary psychology and E.O. Wilson sensibly turned to protecting biological diversity. Evolutionary psychology is a choice of words I've got great reservations about since I think it appropriates the real science of evolution in an attempt to keep it's speculations alive a bit longer than it's forerunner schools. I suspect that it's version of "science" which relies rather stunningly on making up stories, quite often in the total absence of physical evidence, in order to come up with something like an explanation for very complex phenomena, which it assembles into "behaviors", is a prelude to extinction at a rate not much less rapid than it's ancestors. I suspect that the avocation of Richard Dawkins might be his golden parachute from the anticipated wreck.

No, I don't think that we should forget that very little of what we rely on has been proved and that much of it isn't able to be proved now, and much of it ever.

I hope you didn't find that too standardized.

Listen, Sonny. I got into disputes defending evolution against Biblical literalists when Sam Harris was in training pants. One thing that you can still count on coming up is “well, they’ve never been able to find THE MISSING LI-INK”. That friggin’ missing link, or should that be missing friggin’ link? The problem wasn’t that the stupid idea couldn’t be refuted, it’s that it’s refutation, depending on the history of a science that the fundamentalist is even more ignorant of than the science itself and a long explanation of science they don’t have a clue about, is a practical impossibility within a real-time argument. That is except in miraculous instances of seeming instant enlightenment, rare and not replicable in controlled conditions.

Not helping is the fact that generation upon generation of scientists hadn’t found it a true, beautiful and worthy expenditure of their veddy, veddy, precious, time to eradicate the dumb idea from the vulgar public’s consciousness or even in the press. One could be forgiven for suspecting that some of them found it quite useful in their public careers. Piltdown? The really sensible thing would have been to stomp it to dust back in the early 20th century. Perhaps some of them, instead of finally forcing the punctuation to the end of the pseudo-evolutionary belief, thought that it would evolve into reality very gradually in accordance with the best classical tradition of their chosen heterodoxy. Maybe some of them feared that correcting anything about evolution risked adding force to the arguments of the enemies of science, their version of the most ingrained Vatican insider’s “giving scandal to the simple people”.

I suspect that clearly idiotic condescension is still a large part of the more impractical reaction to creationism today. No. Either you believe in honesty and telling the entire truth or you don’t. You don’t get to keep the whole truth about evolution within professional science. That is one of the biggest problems that science faces today, it has been believed that it could get by without effective missionary work among the backward rabble. Well, the rabble are at the gate to the compound and they’ve been told some stories they don’t like one bit. Telling them the truth on their own terms is the only thing that’s going to avoid ruin.

Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good indication of why the great war to eradicate religion is such a stunningly stupid idea. They can’t even get rid of an massively erroneous myth about evolutionary science yet they want to take on the entire range of entirely non-scientific religious belief and grind it into dust? Um, hum. I see.

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