Monday, February 28, 2005

So you think learning logic is boring?

Maybe you have the wrong teacher. Try learning from Beavis and Butthead.

Learn Logic with Beavis and Butthead!

A work in progress, where our two friends exemplify logical fallacies, types of causation and other cool stuff. Quotations are from memory, and so may not be entirely accurate, e.g. I may have substituted "buttmunch" for "buttknocker"....

Circular definition

This is where you include the concept you are defining in the definition of that concept.

Butthead: Shut up, bunghole!
Beavis : What's a bunghole?
Butthead: A bunghole is what you are, bunghole!

Fallacy of Accident

Assuming that a generalisation will hold in every case.

Butthead: They must be cool, they're from Seattle.
Converse Fallacy of Accident(?)

Making a generalisation from insufficient evidence.

Storekeeper: Hello, Maximart. We've got a robbery in progress
Police : Are they armed?
Storekeeper: Er...of course they're armed. Aren't all kids armed?


Equivocation means many things, but is often taken to mean using a word in a different sense to that which was intended. In fact the word "equivocation" is pretty equivocal.

(Beavis, under the influence of a music video, is "dancing" on the sofa.)

Butthead: Get down, Beavis!
Beavis : I am getting down!

Circular causation

A chicken and egg situation. Not always the result of faulty logic, of course - life is often like that, as Butthead demonstrates here....

Beavis : How come Tom Petty's on TV?
Butthead: Coz he's famous, dumbass.
Beavis : Yeah, but how come he's famous?
Butthead: Coz he's on TV, buttmunch!
Beavis : Yeah, but how come he's on TV?

and so on....

Beavis on the philosophy of language

Words suck.

Learn How to Argue

This was actually first written by Dave Barry the columnist. We can learn a lot from him. Find it all here.

Argument 101*
by David Barry

I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me. You too can win arguments. Simply follow these rules:

1. Drink Liquor. (JD)

Suppose you're at a party and some hotshot intellectual is expounding on the economy of Peru, a subject you know nothing about. If you're drinking some health-fanatic drink like grapefruit juice, you'll hang back, afraid to display your ignorance, while the hotshot enthralls your date. But if you drink several large shots of Jack Daniels, you'll discover you have STRONG VIEWS about the Peruvian economy. You'll be a WEALTH of information. You'll argue forcefully, offering searing insights and possibly upsetting furniture. People will be impressed. Some may leave the room.

2. Make things up.

Suppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you're damned if you're going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON'T say: "I think Peruvians are underpaid." Say: "The average Peruvian's salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level."
NOTE: Always make up exact figures.

If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up, too. Say: "This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon's study for the Buford Commission published May 9, 1982. Didn't you read it?" Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say "You left your soiled underwear in my bath house."

3. Use meaningless but weightly-sounding words and phrases.

Memorize this list:
# Let me put it this way
# In terms of
# Vis-a-vis
# Per se
# As it were
# Qua
# So to speak
# well, anyhow
You should also memorize some Latin abbreviations such as "Q.E.D.," "e.g.," and "i.e." These are all short for "I speak Latin, and you do not."

Here's how to use these words and phrases. Suppose you want to say:

"Peruvians would like to order appetizers more often, but they don't have enough money."

You never win arguments talking like that. But you WILL win if you say: "Let me put it this way. In terms of appetizers vis-a-vis Peruvians qua Peruvians, they would like to order them more often, so to speak, but they do not have enough money per se, as it were. Q.E.D."

Only a fool would challenge that statement.

4. Use snappy and irrelevant comebacks.

You need an arsenal of all-purpose irrelevent phrases to fire back at your opponents when they make valid points. The best are:

You're begging the question.
You're being defensive.
Don't compare apples and oranges.
What are your parameters?

This last one is especially valuable. Nobody, other than mathematicians, has the vaguest idea what "parameters" means.

Here's how to use your comebacks:

You say: As Abraham Lincoln said in 1873...
Your opponent says: Lincoln died in 1865.
You say: You're begging the question.


You say: Liberians, like most Asians...
Your opponent says: Liberia is in Africa.
You say: You're being defensive.

5. Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.

This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: "That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say" or "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler."

You now know how to out-argue anybody. Do not try to pull any of this on people who generally carry weapons.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Philosophy, Thought Experiments and Abortion

Philosophers love thought experiements. They might ask you to imagine an odd scenerio and then use it to prove a certain point. How do you know, for example, that you are not a brain in a vat -- that last night scientists from the local university drugged you, removed your brain from your body and hooked it up to some super-computer. The computer screen you are looking at right now is just part of that program. That is a very famour thought experiement about the limits to what we can know.

Judith Jarvis Thomson imagined a different scenerio back in 1971. I have reprinted some of her famous thought experiement here. The whole article is available here.

Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion

From Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971).

(Reprinted in "Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics," 5th ed., ed. Ronald Munson (Belmont; Wadsworth 1996). pp 69-80.)

...I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother's right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.

It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

In this case, of course, you were kidnapped, you didn't volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn't come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn't turn on the question of whether or not you are a product of a rape. And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.

Nor do they make an exception for a case in which the mother has to spend the nine months of her pregnancy in bed. They would agree that would be a great pity, and hard on the mother; but all the same, all persons have a right to life, the fetus is a person, and so on. I suspect, in fact, that they would not make an exception for a case in which, miraculously enough, the pregnancy went on for nine years, or even the rest of the mother's life.

Some won't even make an exception for a case in which continuation of the pregnancy is likely to shorten the mother's life, they regard abortion as impermissible even to save the mother's life. Such cases are nowadays very rare, and many opponents of abortion do not accept this extreme view. All the same, it is a good place to begin: a number of points of interest come out in respect to it.

The whole article is available here.

Abortion Laws, Honduras and Term Papers

Many students wrote a term paper on the topic of abortion but how many of them actually know what the current abortion laws are in Honduras? Some who argued that abortion should be illegal perhaps did not know that it already. In such a case they should argue that it should remain illegal.

This website gives a brief description of various country's abortion laws. In Honduras, abortion is illegal in all cases except when the life the mother is in danger. In neighboring Nicaragua, a case involving the rape of a nine year old girl has caused much debate. From the BBC...

Abortion ruling splits Nicaragua

By the BBC's Nick Miles
Central America correspondent

The Nicaraguan authorities say that the parents and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who received an abortion two weeks ago will not face criminal charges.

The girl, who became pregnant after being raped, received an abortion in a private clinic - an operation that the health minister considered a crime.

But the Nicaraguan Attorney General, Maria del Carmen Solorzano, said the abortion did not break any laws because it was carried out to save the life of the girl.

Child protester
Child protester

The family was supported by women's and children's groups
This is a case that has brought Nicaragua's stringent abortion laws into the spotlight.

They only allow abortions when the mother's life is in danger, or when the foetus has severe deformities.

It's the type of law that is common across much of Catholic Latin America.

A panel of three doctors was set up two weeks ago to decide whether the nine-year-old girl, known only as Rosa, could legally have an abortion.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Philosophy in the News...

...and if you thought that philosophy was not practical in your daily life, just wish that you are never put in a position where you must make a decision as described below. To get the full story, see the CNN site or read on.

Judge Orders Florida Woman's Feeding Tube Removed

CLEARWATER, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida judge on Friday cleared the way for the husband of a severely brain-damaged woman to remove her feeding tube next month over the objections of her parents.

Reuters Photo

AFP Photo

Fifteen years to the day since a heart attack put Theresa "Terri" Schiavo into what some doctors call a persistent vegetative state, Circuit Judge George Greer ordered that the feeding tube that keeps her alive should be removed on March 18. The date was set to give her parents time to appeal the ruling.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Religion and Philosophy

Many of my students write their philosophy papers on topics of religion. In doing so they argue from a particular religious point of view, usually Christianity or Roman Catholicism. When trying to persuade another person of the same religion no problems may arise but if a writer wishes to convince a person of another religion or no religion, then trouble brews.

How can you convince an atheist that what the Bible or Koran says is correct if that atheist does not accept that God exists in the first place? If is just as difficult to convince a Sikh, Jain or Zoroastrian that Christianity is the only acceptable religion when they feel identical about their religion. As a philosophical argument, an appeal to a specific religion or religious book simply does not work. You only end up convincing those who already accept your own beliefs or religion. Avoid such arguments.

This is not to say that religious arguments or appeals to God or specific religious books have no place in a theology class but in a class in philosophy such arguments are not convincing. "Because the Bible tells me so," can not be a convincing argument. Always make sure that your ideas are backed up by fact independent of your beliefs.

Imagine the following conversation:
Christian: You should go to church on Sundays and worship Jesus.
Jain: You should not eat meat nor kill any other living thing.
Christian: But the Bible allows me to eat meat except pork or cloven hoofs.
Jain: But I do not accept your Bible. To me it is just a book of stories.
Christian: But it was written by God!
Jain: Which god? Are there not many?
Christian: No, only one?
Jain: How do you know that?
Christian: Because my Bible tells me.
Jain: How convenient. My religion tells me not to hurt any living thing. We follow the teachings of Vardhamana.
Christian: Not Jesus?
Jain: Who?
Christian: Jesus! The Son of God.
Jain: God? Which god. Are there not many?
Christian: Arghhhh. You are impossible.
Jain: I'm sorry you feel that way. Maybe you should cut down of the meat and you will feel less anger.
Christian: Maybe you should go to Church on Sunday.
Jain: Maybe you will be a Jain in your next life.

Children and young people still in danger in Honduras

  • Approximately 700 children and youths have been murdered in Honduras since February last year. In the past six years just 14 cases have led to charges. The Honduran government has recognized that police have been involved in many of the killings. However, to date only two policemen have been convicted. On 6 September 2002 the Honduran government created the Special Unit for Investigating Violent Deaths of Children (Unidad Especial de Investigación de Muertes Violentas de Niños) within the national police.
  • After nine months without results, the unit was restructured in June 2003 to give it more autonomy. While it has made some progress in investigating a small number of cases, only a handful of those responsible for killing children have been brought to justice. The Special Unit has only looked at 400 relevant cases out of more than 2,300. It has sent only 79 – just 3.4 per cent of the total – to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
  • Despite claims by the government that hundreds of cases have been "resolved", only three cases have resulted in a conviction, a success rate of just 0.13 per cent.In 50 cases allegedly involving policemen that the children’s rights group Casa Alianza has passed to the Special Unit, no police officers have been convicted. Witnesses and family members are reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation by gang members or police officers. Those who do, often pay the price.
  • Sara Sauceda Flores, mother of 16-year-old Darwin Roberto Flores who was killed in February 2002, has been intimidated and threatened after she filed complaints against two police officers she believes murdered her son.
  • In April 2004 she received an anonymous letter saying, "your days are coming to an end, you will end up worse than your son". The previous month, the taxi in which she was travelling was hit by a car carrying two people, one of whom had harassed her earlier from another vehicle. In January she found three bullet casings in her locker at work.Three days before Darwin Roberto Flores’ body was found, he had been arrested and beaten by a police officer and held for two days. He had previously been detained for "illicit association" with gangs and had been beaten at least twice. The year before, a policeman had told his mother that he would arrest her son every time he deemed it necessary, and that he would eventually have to kill him.
  • On the second anniversary of the creation of the Special Unit for the Investigation of Violent Deaths of Children, AI is reiterating its call for an end to the killing of children in Honduras. See Honduras: Zero Tolerance for Impunity: Extrajudicial executions of children and youths since 1998 (AMR 37/001/2003).
  • For more information contact[Picture caption: Antonio Ramón Calero Díaz, aged 17, in his hospital bed after being shot four times in the back while trying to escape from police in November 1999. He died a few days later. The police officer accused of his murder has been released on bail and nearly five years later the case is still pending resolution.]

25 year sentence for indigenous activists

(Amnesty International) gravely concerned that, in Honduras, the judicial system appears to have been misused to target environmental and indigenous activists and those who support them, in order to prevent them from carrying out their work on behalf of their communities claiming rights to communal land titles. The actions of community representatives and social activists, like the Miranda brothers, pursuing land and environmental protection initiatives are frequently viewed as an impediment by those involved in land and environmental exploitation. The harassment through the judicial system of environmental and grassroots activists, including indigenous people, is part of a pattern of human rights abuses against those involved in defending the environment in Honduras. Amnesty International has documented killings, death threats, as well as the targeting of activists through spurious criminal charges.

On 8 January 2003, brothers Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, indigenous leaders of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares, (COPINH), Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organisations, were taken by 21 armed police officers from the Policía Nacional, National Police, and armed civilians wearing ski masks, from the indigenous Lenca community in Montaña Verde, municipality of Gracias, Lempira department. According to reports the two men were tortured in front of their relatives, who were also threatened, during the arrest. The torture reportedly continued as the two men were taken to prison in Gracias municipality. At the prison, the police officers reportedly stabbed Leonardo Miranda in the head with a knife and threatened to kill him and his brother in their cells. Marcelino Miranda was forced to sign a confession under torture for unknown charges. They have reportedly been tortured further while in prison by Cobra officers from an elite group in the National Police force. Leonardo Miranda was reportedly threatened with death unless he signed a piece of paper accepting the charges brought against him.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Were 9-11 victims efficient Nazis?

Politicians vs. professors
Battle heats up post-September 11

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- Academic freedom has never completely protected professors who make unpopular statements. One was fired in 1960 for suggesting that premarital sex among students could be a good thing. Three decades later, a department chair was demoted for saying a Jewish conspiracy denigrated blacks in the movies.

Now experts say the September 11 attacks have put new fire in the battle over just where academic freedom ends and misconduct -- or even treason -- begins.

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill could be fired pending an investigation prompted by his 2001 essay suggesting some World Trade Center victims were toiling away like efficient Nazi bureaucrats.

There are no exact figures on attempts to fire or discipline professors since September 11, but experts say they have probably increased. The fight is especially fierce at state universities, where some question whether taxpayers must pay the salaries of professors they find unpatriotic or outrageous.

Read the rest of the article here.

Buster and the Lesbians


Commentary: 'Buster' and the lesbians

TV critic asks: What's the big deal?

By Frazier Moore
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- If the tape from WGBH had come in a plain brown wrapper, I wouldn't have been surprised. The fuss over this episode of "Postcards From Buster" -- you know, with the lesbian mothers -- had me nervous it might be a junior version of "The L Word."

You must have heard. Last month U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings upbraided PBS for spending tax dollars to make the episode, titled "Sugartime!" Then PBS, while denying it was caving to her pressure, displayed all the signs of caving with the announcement that it wouldn't distribute "Sugartime!" to its 349 stations.

But thanks to series producer WGBH (which is providing the episode to any PBS stations that want to air it) I had scored a copy. I popped it in my VCR, pulled down the shades and took a peek.

Go figure! This episode is pretty typical of "Postcards from Buster," a gentle, informative series about a camcorder-toting cartoon bunny who explores different cultures and communities, then reports back to his friends at home (as well as to his 4-to-8-year-old audience) through live-action video "postcards" showing the people he meets. (Check local listings for airtime.)

For "Sugartime!" (which refers not to sex, gay or straight, but to maple sugaring), Buster went to Vermont. There he visited a group of cute kids who ride bikes, jump in the hay, make chocolate chip cookies, cozy up to a bonfire, and show him how syrup begins as sap from maple trees.

As usual, this episode, filmed last March, centers on youngsters. But glimpsed as well are the parents, two couples who seem altogether unremarkable. Except they're all women.

This detail scarcely escapes Buster's notice. When one little girl refers to her mother and stepmother, Buster remarks, "That's a lot of moms!"

Nothing more on the subject is said or done, however. And no one breathes the L Word.

But by daring to include two of the nation's 168,000 gay-parented households (joining Pentecostal Christians, Muslims, Mormons and Hmong among those represented on the series) "Buster" was busted.


Read more about it here.

New generation blasé about old freedoms

By Susan Llewelyn Leach | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Quick quiz. Can you name the five freedoms of the First Amendment? If you're stumped, you're in good company - 99 percent of American adults can't either.

That lack of familiarity with one of the cornerstones of American democracy has now found its mirror in a recent study of high school students. The largest survey to date of more than 112,000 students in ninth through 12th grades reveals basic misconceptions and a disheartening lack of interest in what it means, what it protects, and why it matters.

For instance, 75 percent of students think flag burning is against the law (it's not); and 49 percent say the government can legally restrict indecent material on the Internet (it can't). Add to that the students' surprisingly restrictive view of First Amendment freedoms - more than one third think the Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees; and only 51 percent think newspapers should be allowed to publish stories without government approval - and the land of the free starts to sound like another country.

Although educators and rights advocates say the results are alarming, few seem surprised.

Kids skip class - and parents go to jail?

Read more here.

from the February 17, 2005 edition

BUSTED: Truancy officers in Richmond, Va., talk with students off campus during school. Last year one in four Richmond students had 10 or more unexcused absences.

Kids skip class - and parents go to jail?
As federal law spurs schools to curtail truancy, some use a get-tough approach with parents.
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The headlines read like a version of "Scared Straight" for adults: "Parents arrested over truant kids." The roundups in the past six weeks - 11 arrests in Detroit, four in New Mexico, and 19 in Knox County, Tenn. - are the most eye-catching aspect of a get-tough approach to school attendance. But the goal is to get students back to school, not to put their parents behind bars, school and law enforcement officials say. While some parents have served short jail terms for contributing to their children's truancy, most are sentenced to perform community service or pay fines if they fail to respond to less-punitive measures.

Former US ambassador to Honduras named new Director of National Intelligence

Intelligence Test

Former US ambassador to Honduras named new Director of National Intelligence

By billmon on Human Rights

"I'm pleased to announce my decision to nominate Ambassador John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence . . . John brings a unique set of skills to these challenges."

George W. Bush
Nomination Ceremony
February 17, 2005

Among his more recent assignments, Mr. Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras (1981-85)."

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Biography of John D. Negroponte
Date Unknown

The DNI [National Directorate of Investigation] maintained a secret unit - the Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army (ELACH), a rightist paramilitary organization which conducted operations against Honduran leftists. According to DELETED, during the period ELACH operated (1980-1984), ELACH's operations included surveillance, kidnappings, interrogation under duress, and execution of prisoners who were Honduran revolutionaries.

CIA Inspector General's Office
Selected Issues Relating to
CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s

August 27, 1997

Intelligence Battalion 3-16 was also created in the early 1980s with the help of the CIA. Together with the DNI, Battalion 3-16 is blamed for the repression, capture, interrogation and disappearance of about 180 people, generally popular movement leaders.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
October 14, 1998

Battalion 3-16 counter-terrorist tactics included torture, rape, assassination against persons thought to be involved in support of Salvadoran guerrillas or the Honduran leftist movement. Information available to the United States Government in the 1980s indicated that named individuals were abducted and killed by Battalion 3-16 and the FUSEP Special Unit.

CIA Working Group Stipulations
Released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001

"We did a search of all the cables that were written during the time that I was Ambassador to Honduras, from 1981 to 1985, and we could not find any references to the 3-16th Battalion."

John Negroponte
Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001

DELETED reported on November 5, 1983 that DELETED had killed Reyes Mata. DELETED review this report on November 21, 1983 and reminded DELETED of the two October 1983 reports DELETED that indicated that unnamed Honduran Army officers had executed prisoners.

The Ambassador [Negroponte] was particularly sensitive regarding this issue and was concerned that earlier CIA reporting on the same topic might create a human rights problem for Honduras. Based on the Ambassador's reported concerns, DELETED actively discouraged DELETED from following up the information reported by the DELETED source.

CIA Inspector General's Office
Selected Issues Relating to
CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s

August 27, 1997

"I think it is important to stress there was no effort on the part of myself or others serving the U.S. Government at the time to stifle reporting about human rights in Honduras, to cover up any credible evidence of human rights abuses which came to our attention, or to misrepresent the general picture with respect to the human rights situation in the country."

John Negroponte
Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001

In September 1983, Ambassador Negroponte requested additional analytical assistance from the U.S. Government about the Olancho guerrilla movement, including U.S. participation in the debriefing of deserters and captives."

Stipulations From the CIA Inspector General's Office
Released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001

There were no exhumations of clandestine graves during the year; however, on January 23 the Public Ministry took samples for testing exposed bodies found in the department of Olancho. Human rights organizations believed that more uncovered graves do exist; however, they need to have sufficient evidence to identify the buried bodies in suspected graves to improve the likelihood of successful prosecution."

U.S. State Department
Country Report on Honduras
February 25, 2004

Barrera . . . recalled how he nearly suffocated people with rubber masks, how he attached wires to their genitals and shocked them with electricity, how he tore off a man's testicles with a rope. "We let them stay in their own excrement," he said, his gold front tooth reflecting the dim lamplight. "When they were very weak, we would take them to disappear."

Battalion 316 member Jose Barrera
Quoted in the Baltimore Sun
June 13, 1995

"I responded to the Economist, I also responded to the committee in 1989, in good faith and to this day, I did not believe that death squads were operating [in Honduras]."

John Negroponte
Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001

A former commander of Battalion 316, General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, might have made an informative witness at Negroponte's confirmation hearing, but although he has lived in Florida for several years, he is suddenly unavailable. He left the United States in February after his residence visa was canceled . . . When an American reporter asked about the notorious battalion, he demurred, saying he wanted no more "problems with the United States" because "your country is too powerful."

Stephen Kinzer
Our Man in Honduras
September 20, 2001

"I did a lot in the area of quiet diplomacy. I think that is acknowledged and I think that is demonstrable in the record."

John Negroponte
Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 13, 2001


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

JP II and the death penalty...

With so many Hondurans contemplating who to vote for in the upcoming elections, do you not wonder what the Pope has to say about the subject? Read on...

From this EBSCO website.
Remember the username is s3033459 and your password is 'password'.

"Although [the Pope] does not hold that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, his deep respect for human life inclines him to reject capital punishment in practice. He allows for it when there is no other way to defend society against the criminal, but he also holds that in advanced societies today there are alternatives more in accord with human dignity. When convicts on death row are about to be executed, the pope regularly sends messages to governors asking them to grant clemency.

Earlier official teaching, up through the pontificate of Pius XLI, consistently supported capital punishment. Catholic moral theologians regularly quoted St. Paul to the effect that secular rulers do not bear the sword in vain; they are God's ministers or instruments in executing his wrath upon wrongdoers (Rom 13:4). Thus the authority of the state to put criminals to death does not conflict with the maxim that God alone is the master of life. But John Paul II, to the best of my knowledge, never quotes this text. Why not, I wonder. Does he believe that governments in the modern democratic society still rule with divine authority or that they enjoy only the authority given them by consensus of the governed? Can retributive punishment be a valid reason for the death penalty? Some Catholics interpret John Paul II as opposing the mainstream Catholic tradition and therefore as perhaps teaching unsound doctrine..."

Psst.... Need an Idea for a Term Paper?

How about the debate over Intelligent Design (ID) verses Darwin's theory of evolution? Check out this recent article in Newsweek, but make sure you do more research than just reading this article. Look up the pro-ID Discovery Institute and the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education. And do not forget the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who argue strongly for the seperation of church and state. These are just a few links and ideas. Find out what else is out there, but remember to get both sides of the issue. It is interesting to note, as pointed out at the end of the Newsweek article, that the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church "finds no conflict between Christian faith and evolution."

More on the Evolution Debate...

This Reason article is from:

February 9, 2004

Evolution in the Blackboard Jungle
An intelligent design for a solution to the debate

Evolutionary biology has been much in the news of late. A federal judge ordered the Cobb County school board in Georgia to remove stickers from its high school biology books that declared evolution was just theory, not fact. The Dover, Pennsylvania, school board wants to order its biology teachers to instruct their students on the theory of intelligent design. The Kansas State Board of Education is considering a proposal that would change the definition of science, drawing a distinction between an allegedly dogmatic "naturalism" and "following the evidence wherever it leads." This shift in language accommodates intelligent design theory, because the "evidence" may point to a supernatural designer.

Intelligent design theory got a hearing earlier this week in the New York Times with an op-ed from biochemist Michael Behe, author of the ur-text of the movement, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Intelligent design is a revival of the idea propounded by the Anglican divine William Paley in 1802 in his Natural Theology. Paley famously offers the example of walking across a heath and coming upon a watch. Unlike a stone, we would note its complex mechanism and, he argues, "the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker." Because biological organisms too are complex and well fitted for their environments, we must inevitably conclude that biology points to the existence of a supreme watchmaker God.

In the Times, Behe's first two arguments simply repeat Paley's assertions: We see apparent design in nature, and biological organisms are complicated machines like watches. Behe's third claim is that "we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence." The "foundation" at which Behe is pointing are the tiny molecular machines that lie within living cells, which he claims are "irreducibly complex." In his book, Behe writes: "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

He further argues that such irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve over time since the lack of any one part means that the whole cannot work and that the organism would die (or never come into existence in the first place). He cites many examples of biological systems he regards as being "irreducibly complex," including the operation of bacterial flagella and blood clotting in vertebrates. Behe flatly claims that "there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell."

First, it's curious that Behe limits the force of his argument regarding design to the irreducible complexity of cellular machinery. He clearly accepts that the fossil record shows the development of species over vast stretches of time, and that this proves that evolution of bodies of plants and animals certainly occurs. But what could make a peach, a parrot, a pterosaur, and a panda different from one another, except that the molecular machinery inside their cells operates differently? It's not as though they are made up of the same irreducibly complex cells that are simply arranged to look like peaches, parrots, pterosaurs, and pandas.

So how can Behe account for such variations unless it is the case that molecular machinery can evolve step by step in order to produce the diversity of organisms that exists in the world? Behe even agrees, "Homologies among proteins (or organisms) are the evidence for descent with modification—that is, for evolution." Behe evidently believes that proteins and cellular machinery can evolve a little bit, but not a lot.

Behe seems to be demanding that every step in complex molecular cascades must be worked out—and then justified somehow with empirical evidence—or else they are irreducibly complex. Fine as far as it goes, but he rules out empirical evidence such as gene duplications, interspecies gene homologies (such as the fact that the same master control gene for producing eyes is found in flatworms, fruit flies, frogs, and mice), and less complicated cascades operating in less complex organisms.

For example, molecular biologists have worked out a plausible testable hypothesis for how such a blood clotting sequence has evolved by natural selection. Behe replies that the proffered explanation is inadequate to explain the irreducibly complex blood clotting in vertebrates. But Behe's objections are in turn refuted. Recent studies comparing vertebrate genomes finds molecular evidence indicating that blood clotting has evolved over the past 450 million years after tetrapods (four footed critters) diverged from bony fish.

Behe would likely respond that the blood clotting system was already irreducibly complex 450 million years ago-what happened before then? His evident conclusion is that the intelligent designer intervened at that point. But if you cut an invertebrate, does it not bleed? And more to the point, does its blood not clot? Indeed it does, and precursors of the proteins involved with vertebrate clotting can be found in them. All of the steps of how blood clotting may have evolved have not been worked out to Behe's satisfaction yet, but what if one day they are?

Behe might then reply, all fine and well for blood clotting. But what about the bacterial flagella? This kind of response invites an infinite regress of demanded explanations: If the bacterial flagella are explained, what about the optic nerve, the Krebs cycle, and so forth? Behe's intelligent designer becomes uncomfortably trapped in the ever-smaller gaps of biology that remain to be explained.

Behe's fourth and final claim in his New York Times op-ed is "in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life." When push comes to shove, Behe's objections seem confined to Darwinian natural selection. As he writes: "EVIDENCE OF COMMON DESCENT IS NOT EVIDENCE OF NATURAL SELECTION" (emphasis his). But natural selection is an awfully good explanation not only for the origin of species, but also for things like aging and disease resistance (which are also governed by the operation of tiny cellular machines).

But enough evolutionary biology. Why not let children in public schools hear arguments for intelligent design in biology classes? After all, if one goes to the Internet, one can readily see that the hardy band of intelligent designers has sparked an immense debate. Biologists would retort by asking, "So it's OK with you for high schools to teach astrology, phrenology, mesmerism, psychoanalysis, water witching, and so forth, too?" And that's a good point.

Intelligent design theorists and their claims to scientific legitimacy aside, the only reason the vast majority of people who want intelligent design taught in high school want it is because they believe it will undercut the corrosive effects of evolutionary biology on the religious beliefs of their children. They don't know and couldn't care less about the scientific details of the evolution of blood cascades—they just want Darwinism kept away from their kids. However, the fact that Pope John Paul II doesn't have any problem with evolutionary biology is a pretty good indication that religious belief and biology can co-exist.

So what to do? It is not the role of public schools to confirm the religious beliefs of their students. Parents who want their children to benefit from the latest findings of science would reasonably be irked if evolutionary biology were expunged from the public school curriculum. There is another way around this conundrum. Get rid of public schools. Give parents vouchers and let them choose the schools to which to send their children. Fundamentalists can send their kids to schools that teach that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Science geeks can send their kids to technoschools that teach them how to splice genes to make purple mice. This proposal lowers political and social conflict, and eventually those made fitter in the struggle for life by better education will win. At least that's my theory.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His new book, Liberation Biology: A Moral and Scientific Defense of the Biotech Revolution, will be published by Prometheus Books in 2005.

Le Moyne College Dismisses a Student—and Free Speech

And this from

Perhaps it is just that FIRE is becoming better known and we are receiving more cases, but it seems to me that the climate for free speech is actually getting worse on campus. In the last 12 months I have seen many of the worst cases of my career. Take, for example, today’s press release: Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., dismissed an education student for writing a paper recommending strict (and some would say “traditional”) discipline for younger students. He got an “A-” on the paper, but then was dismissed from the program by another administrator who cited a “mismatch” between his views and those of the college. How could a college that claims to respect academic freedom not realize that dismissing a student for dissenting is an outright and total rejection of free speech and academic freedom? Are colleges so terrified of debating that they would rather dismiss a student than challenge his opinions?

FIRE intervened on behalf of the student to demand that the department restore the student’s matriculation. Le Moyne officials do not want to talk about their college’s remarkably draconian action, but we plan to keep on them until they do. Readers should tell Le Moyne what they think of its hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness.

February 15, 2005

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Do you really believe..... magic, psychics, ghosts, mystical healing, UFOs or other unexplained phenomena? Then you just have to read the Amazing Randi's website and weekly bulletin. He is a famous magician and debunker of the paranormal -- as was Houdini. It takes one to know one. Read more about it here.

And if you want to win 1,000,000 $ US, all you have to do is demonstrate real psychic ability. Even Uri Geller -- the famous spoon bender -- has not taken up the bet. Actually, no one has ever won.

So the next time you see a psychic and he asks, "Do you want me to read your future?" Say to him, "Why don't you tell me? After all, you are the psychic." If he is unable to answer, he must not have been such a good psychic after all.

One final thought -- if any real psychic existed, would you not think that at least one would have used his powers to predict the lottery?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Friday, February 04, 2005

Talk about playing with your food...

You just have to read this article.

From the New York Times...

When the Sous-Chef Is an Inkjet
Published: February 3, 2005

HOMARO CANTU'S maki look a lot like the sushi rolls served at other upscale restaurants: pristine, coin-size disks stuffed with lumps of fresh crab and rice and wrapped in shiny nori. They also taste like sushi, deliciously fishy and seaweedy.

But the sushi made by Mr. Cantu, the 28-year-old executive chef at Moto in Chicago, often contains no fish. It is prepared on a Canon i560 inkjet printer rather than a cutting board. He prints images of maki on pieces of edible paper made of soybeans and cornstarch, using organic, food-based inks of his own concoction. He then flavors the back of the paper, which is ordinarily used to put images onto birthday cakes, with powdered soy and seaweed seasonings.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Philosopher's Song

You asked for it, you got it...

The Bruces at the department of philosophy at the University of Walamaloo bring you the Philosopher's Song. More about Monty Python's Flying Circus and this song in particular can be found here.