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Recent headlines

UK Navy to end submarine goat experiments — because the Royal Navy had an urgent defense-related requirement for information that could only be obtained by squeezing goats.

Scottish Government drafts Cat Welfare Code — before the government set us straight we had never imagined that cats were carnivores who therefore required a diet rich in meat, and that if you keep an indoor cat you might have to play with it.

Diebold voting machine [master] key copied from photo at company's own online store! — because you know the security and integrity of your vote means a lot to us.

MySpace: No place for Atheists? — because if you read those teeny-tiny terms and conditions they say they're happy to discriminate against anyone they don't like. (MySpace is a safe haven for bigots. Boycott MySpace!)

Police find crack in man's buttocks — ignore the source; best headline ever.

I'm going to go and have a lie down, now.

76 Comments

1:

Sounds like the Royal Navy goats fared rather more poorly than those used by the CIA's attempts to dispatch similar critters by psychic means.
As detailed in The Men Who Stare At Goats, more than a few taxpayer dollars were spent trying to get a group of "psychics" to will the poor creatures to death.
Evidently no goats were actually harmed by these experiments...

NPR's Science Friday has had an ongoing series of shows on the many manifest problems with electronic voting, including on-air debates between a Diebold exec and a hacker...
The machine I used Tuesday had a generated "paper trail" that the voter could read before hitting the "confirm" button; a step in the right direction. (but still capable of being hacked)

We on the James Randi bulletin board have been commenting on the MySpace business; evidently this was a large and active group that was summarily deleted.

2:

You're right: Police find crack in man's buttocks is the Best. Headline. Ever.

3:

For some reason, when I see, "Draft Cat Welfare Code" from the corner of my eye, my brain parses it as Daft Cat Welfare Code. Twice I had to look twice to be sure I read it right.

Of course this begs the question of what is being done to benefit daft cats. I'm personally supporting one right now and some governmental support would be nice.

4:

"before the government set us straight we had never imagined that cats were carnivores who therefore required a diet rich in meat"

According to some vets I've heard venting on the subject, there are a number of vegetarians out there who *do* need to have this explained to them...

5:

When I learned to SCUBA dive (many years ago now) I was told that the decompression tables we used were worked out by the British Navy during WWII, and that initially they had used goats as they have a similar physiology to humans. Calculating dive tables basically involved taking a goat and putting it in a compression chamber, pushing up the pressure to the require depth equivalent and then letting the pressure out. If the goat got the bends then the pain in it's joints would cause it to lie down and the navy doctor would make a note. The trouble was that the goats soon learned that if they lay down as soon as they heard the hissing noise the experiment stopped and there was no pain. So the navy had to give up on goats and use sailors instead who apparently never worked this trick out.

6:

Note that the "Myspace: No Place for Atheists" article is grossly inaccurate. Myspace didn't delete the group, it got hacked *again* (this is at least the second time its gotten hacked) and deleted by whoever did the hacking.

MySpace restored the group after being alerted to the hacking. I'd link to it, but MySpace URLs are hideous.

7:

On the Diebold thing:

If your voting security relies on a $1 key, that's not your only problem...

8:

You might want to consider this one as well:

"Japanese astronaut to throw paper planes to earth"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/japan/story/0,,2253765,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

9:

The crack story is one that sub-editors dream of, the sort of perfect headline that gets handed to you only a couple of times in your career, if you're lucky.

10:

I actually have two mentally-ill cats, but I know how to take care of them, so I don't need the Daft Cat code. One of them is in the internal medicine vet's hospital now and he's probably not coming home. He has massive renal failure and we'll get a particular test back tomorrow, probably, and that will say if there's a chance he'll recover. If not, better to ease him out then instead of starving to death (it turns out that cats also can't bring themselves to eat when their renal serum values are too high -- it's been very strange having a cat follow me in disease).

11:

Anyone who's given away their personal details to myspace has bigger issues than some random group deletion afaik...

12:

With all due respect, there is nothing wrong with Myspace having the discretion to kick people off of their service. It is their property (Myspace) and I don't think Athiests are banned from Myspace anyway. Myspace wants to control the content because children are on Myspace and they want to keep questionable material, such as pornography, off of there as best they can. (Believe me, this doesn't work, my Myspace profile has a picture of Fred Flintstone and Betty Rubble pleasuring each other orally. I have not been kicked off yet.)

Ed

13:

Marilee, OMG, you have my sympathies. i've had two cats die from renal failure, one that had to be put down at diagnosis because he turned into a savage cat at the vet, the other, a sweetie who LIKED riding in cars (seriously, he was a dog in a cat suit) we were able to manage for about three years on medication/SQ hydration before we had to do the final grace for him.

14:

Ed Finlay #12-
This from Charlies link:

"Early this month, MySpace again deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group (35,000 members). This deletion, due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive, marks the second time MySpace has cancelled the group since November 2007.

What�s unique in this case is that the Atheist and Agnostic Group was the largest collection of organized atheists in the world. The group had its own Wikipedia entry, and in April won the Excellence in Humanist Communication Award (2007) from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Secular Student Alliance.

�MySpace refuses to undelete the group, although it never violated any terms of service,� said Bryan Pesta, Ph.D., the group�s moderator. �When the largest Christian group was hacked, MySpace�s Founder, Tom Anderson, personally restored the group, and promised to protect it from future deletions.�"

Well, looks to me like MySpace doesn't like atheist groups. I have no doubt they couldn't care less about individuals who happen to be atheist, but they seem to have rael problems with groups of them...

15:

Ed: on the subject of atheism, porn, MySpace, and children, as a friend of mine puts it: "if they're so young you can't fuck with their bodies, they're young enough that you shouldn't be allowed to fuck with their heads". MySpace should ban Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Scientology, and all other religions, in my opinion. But what would I know? I'm just one of those atheists who's sick up to the back teeth with people like you apologizing for bigotry.

16:

The Atheist and Agnostic group referred to is currently up and running on Myspace.

http://tinyurl.com/2wmurq

17:

So did they re-instate it, James?
Wikipedia says:
"Without any official comment on the part of MySpace, the group was restored on February 02, 2008. [5] Many of its members, however, remain banned.[6]"

So at the very least, we have some confused controllers at Myspace.

18:

Paula @13, the test results came back early this morning and he wasn't treatable. The assistants said he was lethargic and cold, so I let him go. Been crying all day, going to nap soon.

19:

There's this odd school of thought currently in vogue that religion is actually beneficial to young children. I kid you not. :)

20:

Charlie - You can't selectively pick on religion as seperate from other belief structures. You also have ban politics, capitalism, communism, sports celebs, etc.

Otherwise it's just another case of picking and chosing a group of memes which offend a certain group of people - and it's directly contrary to the entire concept of a tolerant society in which we can live together rather than apart.

21:

Andrew, politics, economics, etcetera all generally make predictions that are testable against observable reality, and can be falsified; the ideologies in question can be called to account and may change.

Religious beliefs don't accept challenge and deny all possibility of disproof. And that, I submit, is what is fundamentally wrong with them.

22:

Okay, then all sorts of philosophical and ethical systems - vegitarianism, many sorts of radical greens, anti-capitalists, etc. - they don't want numbers, they simply hold beliefs based on what they believe to be right.

(And it's no coincidence that the positive-historical school appeals to me - that examining the commitments and beliefs involved is a good thing...using modern philosophical tools)

Trying to look at a philosophical subject like religion with scientific tools works about as well as looking at science with philosophical tools. That is, you can look at only the results produced, not the inner workings and why's.

Sorry, subject I feel very strongly about - I feel if there's anything which is going to undermine modern society it's people like the BNP taking the expressed beliefs of people like Dawkins and using "the ends justifies the means" on them.

23:

Charlie @15

I agree with you on censoring any group. Unfortunately, Myspace is like a country club. They can pick and choose who they allow on their service. Do I think it's right? No, I think it sucks. ALL points of view should be allowed and considered, especially on something like Myspace. Just because they have the right to do it doesn't mean they should. I mean, really, I have photos on my Myspace profile that could get me booted off there automatically. Are they fucking with me? No they are not. They need to reinstate the Athiests. I may believe in God, but I certainly don't judge anyone. I totally agree, it's an outrage they got kicked off of there. But again, they want to run it like a country club and pick and choose who they want in or out. It may be there right, but it's still fucked up.

Ed

24:

The buttocks headline is hard to beat. Did the Police really find 15 bags of crack in his buttocks, though? I'd have thought his rectum would have been a more likely place for them to be - the buttocks are rather less accessible.

25:

Myspace is like a country club. They can pick and choose who they allow on their service.

Ed, in this country, a club that's open to the public would get the book thrown at them for discrimination if they tried to pick and choose who they allowed through the door on racial, religious, or sexual orientation. And MySpace isn't a club; it's a business. And we have laws about businesses that refuse to deal with people because of their ethnicity or gender. What you're doing is tantamount to apologizing for racists or segregationists. I suggest you stop digging ...

26:

Charlie, politics, economics, etcetera are NOT testable in the true and strict Popperian definition of science in that they are not falsifiable (even in principle).

27:

atlatl: they do, however, frequently attempt to make testable predictions, and we can judge the success or failure rate of their practitioners thereby. Whereas with religion it's all "you die, then you find out" or similar bullshit, which implicitly denies even the possibility of observing the outcome.

28:

Charlie @25

You're right, it is a business. However, it seems they run it like a club if they are picking on a certain group and that's not right. I'm not apologizing for them, I think it sucks what they did. I was not aware that they kicked the athiest group off of there. They should be reinstated if they have not been already. Again, ALL points of view should have a voice, especially on something like Myspace.

Ed

29:

Charlie, you can most certainly study the success of people who practice a certain religion. You can look at their salary's, their property, the areas in which they live and so on.

Yes, you're using science to study something better looked at with philosophical tools so you can't look beyond the externatlities, but it can be done.

If you want to discuss religion in terms of meta-ethics, now...certainly most religions claim moral realism as descended from a higher power - at least for their practicioners.

30:

My condolences, Marilee; my only comfort in similar situations is that we did our final duty to the one in question.

I, too, saw it as "Daft Cat". It _is_ nanny-statish, but I'm not completely unsympathetic: as the setting-forth of standards to be used in applying a pre-existing law ("animals must receive proper care" or some such) it's good to have. Example: you can't be hauled into the station for having Socialist (or Nazi) literature around your cat, this does _not_ constitute improper care (except maybe of the literature---I still have a copy of one of Hawking's papers whose first page was torn to shreds by a very good cat, even though the maths were all quite correct). The question of the fitness a law against improper care of an animal (or a child, or a handicapped family member) is a difficult one even in the presence of the Libertarian Algorithm.


I don't know much about the Talmud, but it's largely devoted to the same sort of explication. For example, there are well-known commandments against murdering and stealing...but what constitutes each? If a man lends you a cloak, then goes away without telling you, after how long can you assume he's not coming back, at which point selling it won't be theft? If someone comes to kill you, is it murder to kill them [sic] if you can't do anything else? We are commanded to 'be fruitful and multiply', but may one actively prevent conception? ('Three years', I think, 'No', and 'men can't, women can' [for complicated reasons].)

31:

would have been less weird if I'd not read that as "Cat Warfare Code".

32:

From the front page of that atheists & agnostics group:

"Thanks to Myspace for restoring our group.

***
IF you were banned last year by the hacker, send me an email or link to your profile. I have a contact person at myspace who will unban you
***"

That rather supports Brian Carnell's claim that MySpace never deleted the group or banned anyone, but that they were the victim of hackers.

33:

It is a very good headline. But I think I still prefer "Headless Body In Topless Bar".

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2b/NYPost.jpg

34:

Michael @30, thanks. :)

35:

Almost as good as the crack headline is the "suggested searches" below the article; each is a link:

"crack - man buttocks - illegal immigrants - prince george - chief wants"

36:

I'm curious. Why is myspace obligated to host any group in particular ? If they don't want a certain group (for whatever reason) to be hosted, surely they, as a _private_ institution, are free to take or reject anybody they want.

If you have a problem with it, go somewhere else or build an alternative. Whining about it though, come on.

And seriously, if Myspace was forced to accept a group they did not want to host (for whatever reason), are you sure you would be happy with the precedent that would set ?

37:

atatl@26: quite a lot of science doesn't fit strict Poplerian criteria. Anything involving a complex system isn't reproducible in an "if a, then b" kind of fashion. Weather is a classic example, as is anything involving life. There are several branches of science devoted to analysing those kinds of systems correctly, chaos theory being one of them.

38:

I agree with Chris, PhD, of Sydney, Australia in his #37 rebuttal of #26.

I suggest that those interested (Charles Stross knows about these already, I'm pretty sure) start at (google these for URLs, rather than have me get this comment stuck in a queue for having URLs in it):

New England Complex Systems Institute

[it's almost a self-serving conflict of interest for me to list officers and faculty there whose work I recommend, because of my years of involvement with this amazing entity, and duties performed in chairing sessions, chairing the plenary session, and being Con Chair once before and once forthcoming -- May 2009 -- for the A-list mini Science Fiction Con embedded in the international interdisciplinary science conference). But do check out their web site and wiki.

NECSI Complex Systems Wiki

New England Complex Systems Institute - as described on Wikipedia

Santa Fe Institute

Santa Fe Institute - as described on Wikipedia

"The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by George Cowan, David Pines, Stirling Colgate, Murray Gell-Mann, Nick Metropolis, Herb Anderson, Peter A. Carruthers, and Richard Slansky. All but Pines and Gell-Mann were scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory."

"SFI's original mission was to disseminate the notion of a separate interdisciplinary research area, complexity theory referred to at SFI as 'complexity science'. Recently it has announced that its original mission to develop and disseminate a general theory of complexity has been realized. It noted that numerous complexity institutes and departments have sprung up around the world..." [truncated]

Also google and read about faculty at Santa Fe Inst with whom I have have personal face-to-face time to better appreciate their amazing research [I'm not name-dropping, just extending the Network of Trust]:

J. Doyne Farmer, Murray Gell-Mann, John H. Holland, Stuart Kauffman, Christopher Langton, Brian Goodwin (hey, I'd like to, but have not actually met their faculty member Cormac McCarthy).

39:

Charlie: the description "don't accept challenge and deny all possibility of disproof" is more accurate when applied to Marxism, a wholly secular doctrine in the field of politics, than to Christianity. For instance, the statement that a preacher named Jesus lived in Judaea and Galilee while Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judaea is open to disproof by historical evidence; and if it could be disproved, that would collapse the Christian faith entirely. I don't know of any proposition put forth by Karl Marx which is so clearly exposed to empirical disproof, and which is essential to Marxist doctrine. Certainly capitalism's not turning into a cruel oligarchy or provoking a revolt of proletarians, as Marx predicted, hasn't been taken to refute Marxism.

Or do you count Marxism as a religion?

40:

Part of the problem with the MySpace issue is that (user agreements and "business rights" notwithstanding), MySpace is covered by (and regularly takes advantage of) a good-sized chunk of US law. This affords them a lot of protection against legal issues coming from the things their users post online. It's a subset of the "common carrier" laws which protect phone and internet service providers from being shut down for things their customers do through their systems. MySpace has already used this protection while fighting some government demands in information gathering. They relinquished the "we can do what we want" aspect when they did so.

If MySpace wants to have the full right to shut down any user or group of users at any time for no real reason (and no, "someone could be offended by it" doesn't count in this case), they're going to get slammed for the large number of users who use their service for (often) illegal acts.

As it stands right now, MySpace probably won't get in trouble for things like a 40 year old man trying to set up a date with a 12 year old girl - but if they start a "we can shut down anyone at any time" trend (by quoting their user agreement), they set themselves up for the government to step in and force them to control ALL content, since they took the first step. They shift from primarily being a service provider to a content provider. Yes, they do supply some content now, but the line has been fairly easy to define.

You can't say "we have the freedom to do whatever we want with our service" and then turn right around and say "but we don't want the responsibility that goes with it." If you step out from behind the shield, someone's going to take the opportunity to whack you on the head...

41:

Jason @36: congratulations, your defense of MySpace is also precisely the argument deployed in the pre-integration US South to defend businesses' right to enforce racial segregation.

If you don't know why this is a Bad Thing, I submit that you've either had a sheltered upbringing or you haven't read enough history.

Michael Brazier @39: yes, Marxist orthodoxy -- once you add the accretion of quasi-talmudic doctrinal interpretation added by Lenin et al -- does show a lot of the symptoms of a religion. (By the time you get to Trofim Lysenko the resemblance should be obvious.)

Note, however, that I do not have a problem with large chunks of Marx's original analysis, or the various social justice movements that base their policies on it; nor l nor do I have a problem with many of the statements attributed to one Jeshua bar Joseph of Samaria on subjects such as loving thy neighbour, not being the first to throw stones, etcetera. In other words, I reserve the right to cherry pick any belief system, including discredited or otherwise implausible ones, for useful left-overs.

For example, I strongly dislike cigarette smoke and I'm anti-smoking, but that doesn't make me a Nazi. And while I'm a self-employed businessman I'm no fan of American-style capitalism. Don't expect me to be consistent with your idea of how someone who espouses any particular ideology ought to behave: I embrace contradictions because I'm not some kind of ideologically programmed robot who is amenable to re-programming if you can just figure out a way of introducing some inconsistencies into his current script.

42:

#39 ...
Marxism IS a religion .....

It made certain predictions as to what would happen before the heaven & millenuim (Workers paradise) came to pass.
Among these was the prediction that "the revolution" would happen in the MOST DEVELOPED countries, with the most advanced technical progress and standards of living.

Dead wrong, but it doesn't stop the true believers from still being Marxists.
That sounds like a religion to me ......

As for Cat code ....
COME ON!
Dogs have owners.
Cats have STAFF.

43:

Don't want to get into any arguments over Marxism. Prefer the topic of Dogs versus Cats, where nobody has strong feelings;)

"Who loves me, will love my dog."
(Qui me amat, et canem moum.)
-- St. Bernard, In Festo Soneti Michaelis: Seermo Primus, 1150

"The law is a dull dog." -- Charles Dickens

"Only two animals have entered the human household otherwise than as prisoners and become domesticated by other means than those of enforced servitude: the dog and the cat."
-- Konrad Z. Lorenz, Man Meets Dog, 1953 (trans. 1954)

"There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog."
-- Konrad Z. Lorenz

"I had rather be a dog, and bay at the moon, than such a Roman."
-- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

"Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends."
-- Alexander Pope

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
-- Gandhi

"Dogs are indeed the most social, affectionate, and amiable animals of the whole brute creation.... "
-- Edmund Burke

"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."
-- Mark Twain

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you.
This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."
-- Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894

"Daschunds are ideal dogs for small children,
as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length
that the child cannot do much harm to either end."
-- Robert Benchley in Cold Noses and Warm Hearts

And finally, after seeing Ringo and Yoko at the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony (which ran longer than any Hugo Awards ceremony):

"It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog."
-- John Lennon, A Hard Days' Night, 1964

44:

G. Tingey: I think your reading of the success/otherwise of the Marxist program is somewhat coloured by the excesses of the Leninist church. Which is a bit like holding the Unitarians responsible for the Crusades. In particular, it can be argued that Marx's analysis is actually on course in the west -- after all, if you posit that the middle class is the productive class in the post-steam industrial era, and note that the largest capitalist funds kicking around (the funds which own the corporate shares that own the means of production) are mostly pension funds, then in the crazy mirror-world of Marxism, the [productive class] workers own [via their investment arms] the means of production.

45:

Clicking on "Main" or any link pointing to http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/ takes me to a blog whose last apparent entry was in 2007.

46:

Michael @39: How do you reconcile your statement with the fact that none of the contemporar documents (i.e. those written in the time of the rule of Pontius Pilatus) mention a Jesus of Nazareth, or a sect matching Christianity's description of itself? All the stories about Jesus and his life originate much, much later.

That is a historical fact, but today's Christians don't seem particularly troubled by it.

47:

Del @45: I suggest you clear your cache, then. (The blog's working fine.) Or are you going via an out of date proxy?

48:

That worked, thanks. I'm not used to MS Explorer's ways.

49:

the statement that a preacher named Jesus lived in Judaea and Galilee while Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judaea is open to disproof by historical evidence;

How, exactly? I can't think of a single piece of evidence that would disprove that. Even if you found a census which didn't list a single man of that name, censuses can be incomplete; maybe he was out of town that day, or entered under another name or something. It's impossible to prove a negative. You can say "well, there's no evidence that he ever existed", but that's not the same as disproving his existence.

50:

"Jason @36: congratulations, your defense of MySpace is also precisely the argument deployed in the pre-integration US South to defend businesses' right to enforce racial segregation.

If you don't know why this is a Bad Thing, I submit that you've either had a sheltered upbringing or you haven't read enough history."

I know that it is a bad thing. I didn't say MySpaces decision was a good one, I said they should be allowed to do as they please with _their_ private property. If restaurant owners on their private property don't wish to serve certain clientèle they should be allowed to do that.

Not because racism is a good thing but because once you start saying, "You must do as we say with your private property because we don't like your opinions and choices of how you use that private property" then very quickly, as is normally the case with government intrusion in anything, that power will expand and go further.

Boycott and complain about MySpace if you wish, such is your right, but it is foolish to want to see this behavior rectified by force (which all government exercise of power ultimately comes down to and is back up by). And besides, how much history do you know ? The sorts of powers that would be required to enforce this sort of "anti-discrimination" will eventually end up in the hands of those you don't agree with and they will use it as they see fit.

51:

I know that it is a bad thing. I didn't say MySpaces decision was a good one, I said they should be allowed to do as they please with _their_ private property. If restaurant owners on their private property don't wish to serve certain clientèle they should be allowed to do that.

Well, that's where you and I part company: because I hold that running a business as a company with limited liability is a privilege that society (that's us) grant them, and we are entitled to attach certain conditions to it, like doing business with everybody without discriminating against them.

Limited companies are not/do not own private property in the same way that human beings do. They "own" stuff because we've constructed an intricate bundle of legal rights that allow us to say they do -- but the intention was to make it easier to do business, not to facilitate racism, theft, or other kinds of anti-social behaviour. We've given them a bunch of privileges; they owe us something in return -- and that something is best described as "good citizenship".

Hint: I am not a libertarian. And I don't buy your "government is evil and always expands" thesis. Bluntly, I think it's rubbish. In this country, we've tried minarchism, and it didn't work -- that's why the UK has such a complex of public infrastructure projects.

52:

JvP@38: Calling me "PhD" might be tempting fate, I haven't heard back from the examiners yet.

53:

Charlie: "In particular, it can be argued that Marx's analysis is actually on course in the west"? Surely not; Marx's analysis predicted that the means of production would be taken from the actual producers and concentrated into a small class of monopolists, upon whom everyone else would depend for a minimal daily income. It's possible that Marx would recognize modern capitalism as an image of the communist utopia to come after the Revolution, but the growth of that image out of the capitalism of his day, without an intervening revolt of the working class, reveals a large fault in his analysis.

Matt: Your Biblical scholarship is out of date; every text collected in the New Testament has been dated to the late first century AD, by textual analysis and comparison to the archaeological record. That means the NT itself counts as contemporary documentation -- a document written within the lifetime of people who were present at the events related in it is close enough to satisfy any historian.

ajay: see Matt@46. A lot of ingenuity was spent in the 19th and 20th centuries finding ways to test the historicity of the New Testament ...

54:

Well, that's where you and I part company: because I hold that running a business as a company with limited liability is a privilege that society (that's us) grant them, and we are entitled to attach certain conditions to it, like doing business with everybody without discriminating against them.

Charlie, if you look into the history of racial prejudice in the American South, I think you'll find that the Jim Crow laws were passed because the companies with limited liability did not discriminate against blacks, thus giving offense to the voters in those states. You may also find that the burden Jim Crow placed on businesses was justified by an argument parallel to yours, namely, that doing business in a society is a privilege granted by that society, and society may require conformity to its norms from anyone desiring that privilege.

"Good citizenship" isn't enough; you need to show why a society may forbid acting on prejudice, but may not require it.

55:

53: my point was more that it's logically impossible to disprove the assertion in any case...

56:

Michael @54: you might have noticed that I'm not American; the history of racial prejudice in the American South is not one of my specialities. (Other than knowing that it still exists and is pernicious.)

I am not, at this time, going to get into a discussion on the ethics of discrimination and/or prejudice: I haven't got the energy or the time (because this time tomorrow I will be in Ireland, en route for Boston).

57:

You may also find that the burden Jim Crow placed on businesses was justified by an argument parallel to yours, namely, that doing business in a society is a privilege granted by that society, and society may require conformity to its norms from anyone desiring that privilege..

Which just goes to show that almost any argument can be used to justify almost anything if you're willing to use the right postulates to start with.
Especially if the argument can be Godwinized. Just because The Evil One® used a particular line of reasoning doesn't make it wrong.

"Good citizenship" isn't enough; you need to show why a society may forbid acting on prejudice, but may not require it.

Because prejudice is detrimental to the fair, just, and beneficial operation of a society. It prevents some classes of people from contributing to society in their own optimal way, and prevents some from benefiting from society in ways they have not abrogated through their own acts or omissions.

And Charlie's absolutely right; you can't run a successful society on rigid ideological principles; if politics isn't pragmatic at all levels it might as well be religion.

58:

"Well, that's where you and I part company: because I hold that running a business as a company with limited liability is a privilege that society (that's us) grant them, and we are entitled to attach certain conditions to it, like doing business with everybody without discriminating against them."

So be it. We don't have to agree to have a conversation. In fact they are boring when all parties do.

"not to facilitate racism, theft, or other kinds of anti-social behaviour. We've given them a bunch of privileges; they owe us something in return -- and that something is best described as "good citizenship"."

Fair enough. I see your point. As I said, I don't think there behavior was right, I just don't think it is an "injustice" that requires the use of force to rectify. If people want to be jerks and do something stupid with their private property they should be allowed too. That is where we disagree.

"Hint: I am not a libertarian. And I don't buy your "government is evil and always expands" thesis."

I don't think government is "evil". If anything, the thesis is much closer to the idea that "power corrupts". As for government "always expanding". That is just based on my experience of watching the behavior of governments down here in Australia.

"that's why the UK has such a complex of public infrastructure projects."

Hows the NHS working out for you ?

59:

Oh I should add Charlie, I'm not a libertarian either. I'm a conservative. Although I get on pretty well with libertarians at least in terms of economic policy ;)

60:

Jason: "How the NHS working out for you?"

In a word: splendidly. I've got relatives with private health insurance: as far as I can tell all they're getting for their money (that I'm not) is a private room with better food if they have to stay overnight in hospital.

This may be a function of me having a highly competent GP who knows how to work the system, and living in a capital city in the catchment area of a major teaching hospital; but then again, it may not. (I'd like to just note that horror stories make for good newspaper filler, and bad news propagates where good news goes unheard. Dissing the NHS also fits well with certain political agendas. But the vast, everyday experience is that it does the job well -- and if it's not the best in the developed world, there's a slight issue of it having been starved of resources over the 1979-1997 period. It still delivers outcomes better than the US system, on half the per-capita share of GDP, and with virtually zero bureaucracy and maximum flexibility at the end-user level.)

61:

"if politics isn't pragmatic at all levels it might as well be religion."

You've not noticed that for many "non-religious" types, political activity is the substitute. Even a cursory glance at much of the "climate change" and "environmental" movement should make this obvious. Not to mention the overly religious nature of so many of the -ism's of last century.

62:

As far as I can see, the -ism's of the last century are still around today, many in full swing.

63:

"How do you reconcile your statement with the fact that none of the contemporary documents (i.e. those written in the time of the rule of Pontius Pilatus) mention a Jesus of Nazareth, or a sect matching Christianity's description of itself?"

This is actually a popular misconception. Seriously, to make the argument you want to make you would need to produce a list of documents that we do have (which is limited to start with) and then show which ones that lack a mention of Jesus should reasonably be expected to have one.

Josephus' history of the time period does mention Jesus and the Christians as you would expect. On what grounds do you expect other writers of the time to make mention of a small jewish sect from a backwater roman province ? Christianity at its origin was this so you have to make a case in light of this reality.

"All the stories about Jesus and his life originate much, much later."

This is actually also false. The Gospel's themselves are dated (even by liberal scholars) to within the first century. A strong case can be made for pre-AD 70 writings of the gospels and a good case can be made for a pre-55 AD writing of Acts (and therefore Luke) based on its lack of mention of the execution of its principle character.

64:

"In a word: splendidly. I've got relatives with private health insurance: as far as I can tell all they're getting for their money (that I'm not) is a private room with better food if they have to stay overnight in hospital."

Fair enough. I'm down in Australia if you have an accident the public system is ok, but if you need anything deemed "elective surgery" you are screwed. Long waiting lists and delays. That is my experience of publically run health systems.

65:

"As far as I can see, the -ism's of the last century are still around today, many in full swing"

True, and plenty of them function as religion substitutes for the "faithful". Chesterton was right when he noted ""When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

66:

Jason, you'll not deny that there are many, many non-religious people who are not in the grip of an -ism?

67:

-isms?

"I can't understand why people are afraid of new ideas. I'm afraid of old ideas."

-- John Cage

68:

Jason Rennie: This is actually also false. The Gospel's themselves are dated (even by liberal scholars) to within the first century.

"Even by liberal scholars"? Oh, boy.

Oh, and if you want to continue pretending to be an Australian, Jason, you might be interested to know that they spell it "behaviour" with a U.

Also, they tend to start every comment they make with the words "Strewth, cobbers, as I was saying to me mate Bruce in Bungaree Junction..."
(nobody else tell him, this should be funny to watch)

69:

Communism works fine. As long as you're dealing with less than five hundred people. And the people involved can chose to leave at any time. See: Kibbutz.

70:

Shouldn't MySpace be boycotted anyway, because it's owned by Rupert Murdoch?

71:

Andrew: an interesting question is whether it can be made to work at larger scales by using appropriate communication technology to make an end-run around the scaling problem. (I'll note that communism is, the prevalent organizational form when you reduce the scale to the very small, that is, to a family -- parents don't charge their kids bed and board (at least, not unless they're old enough to hold down a job) and frequently share bank accounts, mortgages, and other financial arranges on a basis that has no limits to mutual liability. It seems to work progressively worse every time you increase the scale by an order of magnitude; which makes me wonder, why? I don't buy "human nature" explanations. I suspect it's more likely something to do with scale factors and information transfer within the group of participants, but I'm not sure. Hmm ...)

72:

I'd suggest it's both. Communications overheads obviously make it hard to come up with a communications method whereby millions or billions of entities could communally share, but biology has done it: metazoans (e.g. us) are a pretty good example of a huge number of cells doing just that. In fact the sharing is much more extreme than most communist systems, in that cells uncomplainingly die on demand.

(This was difficult to come up with, and is expensive; multicellularity is still the exception, rather than the rule, and many organisms can switch from one to the other as conditions demand.)

However, we have *not* been selected for similar communications on a large scale: we handle larger groups by analogizing them to smaller ones of the scale we evolved to handle. I suspect two causes: we've only been communicating on that scale for the blink of an eye in evolutionary time, and secondly, the world is too small for a large number of differing experiments on the general theme of communications to coexist without interfering horribly. (It's easy to try out a thousand variations on bacterial communication in a thousand stromatolites, but it's rather harder to try out a thousand variations on many-million-person-scale communications, especially when severe failures could lead to e.g. nuclear war.)

73:

Charlie - Perhaps. One major aspect is that of community, where things like the communal canteen are important aspects of social life. Another is that Kibbutz methods of child-rearing (not the practices for younger children, but the modern creche/apartment at 16) helps considerably in social integration.

The..political and ideological aspects which founded the Kibbutz movements have largely faded, as has the militancy which contributed considerably to the success of Israel's early days. More, most Kibbutz are not economically self-sufficient but rely on outside labour in some seasons.

They work only as part of a capitalist market.

(Incidentally, one of my housemates in the house I'm currently renting a room in is the late-teenage son of the owners, who live across the road...)

74:

Communism may not even work at the family level. The following was told to me by a pro-Chavez, pro-socialist, highly educated Venezuelan journalist:

In Venezuela, Chavez would take small groups, give them land to own collectively, give them supplies and training and advice, and they would create model farms.

I suspected this would not work at large scales. I asked her whether this arrangement broke down above a certain group size.

She admitted that even in in single families, family members would sometimes kill each other for a bigger share of the money.

So I don't think that group size is the only variable that influences how badly communism fails. And in at least some circumstances, even family ties can't make it work.

Chris

75:

Charlie, communication technology doesn't solve the scaling problems of centrally planned economies. The planner in such an economy has to analyze information, as well as collect it -- and the work of analysis scales at a factor considerably more than linear of the economy's size. Free markets scale better than central planning exactly because markets limit the amount of analysis any one actor has to do, by distributing the work across all the participants.

The papers of Ronald Coase are relevant to the question -- The Firm, the Market, and the Law collects the most important, including the seminal "The Nature of the Firm".

76:

@71 Charlie-- The scaling problem is easy to explain: if you massively screw over for your own benefit someone who is living in your own house, you have to put up with them, with a grudge, in close physical proxmity. If you screw over someone far enough away from you that their displeasure doesn't ruin your dinner, it's much easier.

For that matter, family economic organization probably isn't an optimum allocation of resources. It's not like the kid who does the most chores gets the biggest room and first choice of dessert, but that makes perfect economic sense to motivate lots of chores with little complaint.

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