30 January, 2008

Happy (Belated) Birthday Tom!

Like Chris, I meant to post on this yesterday, but time just got away from me.

Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The American Crisis pamphlets, was born January 29, 1737. His writings were instrumental in rousing the inhabitants of the British colonies in North America to take up the cause of liberty, declare themselves independent, and engage in the greatest experiment in democracy and freedom the world has yet seen. His reputation as a Founding Father has been unduly stained by controversy connected with his monumental indictment of Christianity (The Age of Reason) and today not a single monument to his memory exists in Washington, DC a city whose government he had as much a place in creating as Benjamin Franklin or John Adams.

In a similar post, Ed Brayton quotes from The American Crisis I:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
This is eloquence; this is rhetoric at its very best. How stark the contrast between these moving words, poetic in their composition, and the speeches and writings of today's political figures!

Paine stands as one of the paramount figures of not only the American revolution, but also of the Enlightenment in general. It's a genuine shame that he's not better known than he is.

Additional information can be found at the Thomas Paine National Historical Association website.

24 January, 2008

Amusing Diversion...

Who would win in a battle between God and Muhammad? Between Buddha and Jesus? Well, now you can find out! Try out Faith Fighter and you get to choose your deity and duke it out with other contenders for the title of Supreme Being!

HT: Pharyngula

The Ineluctable End of Collectivism

In his provocative and closely-argued book, The Road to Serfdom, Austrian economist Friederich Hayek lays out and defends his thesis that the logical and unavoidable end of collectivist economic systems is totalitarianism. This is so, in a nutshell, because such systems require centralized economic planning which, if it is to be effective, will require the acquisition by the State of more and more power over the lives of individuals until eventually liberty is extinguished.

While it is certainly true that there has yet to exist a State whose economic and political infrastructure aligns perfectly with Communist ideology, we can certainly see enough of the results of existing collectivist states to, at the very least, lead us to wonder if perhaps Hayek was on to something after all?

Welcome to North Korea
is a documentary which won an International Emmy award in 2001 and which shows a, for the most part, unexpurgated view of what life in the North is like under the rule of Kim Jong Il, the current "leader for life". The video is rather long (about 50 minutes), but well worth watching for a reminder of how precious is liberty and why our Constitution and Bill of Rights must be defended from enemies both without and within...

Side Note: the embedded video is hosted at YouTube, but you can find a downloadable copy at Archive.org, which is a veritable treasure-trove of public domain music, videos (including full-length movies!), and other assorted materials.

HT: Positive Liberty

Parody of a Loon

If you haven't seen Tom Cruise's Scientology spiel by now...under what rock have you been hiding? But just in case you've only recently crawled out, here's a link to the rather disturbing, albeit humorous (in a schadenfreude-istic sort of way), train-wreck of a video. It's engendered much discussion on the inter-tubes over the last week or so, but the take on it I much preferred was this one by actor Jerry Connell:

I think I was probably one of about five people who thought Joe's Apartment was actually kind of funny, but I've got a new respect for O'Connell now...

21 January, 2008


We live in amazing universe filled with astonishing and wonderful things. The last minute or so of this video is incredible evidence of the creative power of evolution.

16 January, 2008

How NOT to defend the Moral Argument

A comment at Debunking Christianity calls our attention to an article by William Hawthorne wherein he makes the following statement:
My view is that objective moral properties exist and that they would be unexpected, and indeed inexplicable, in a world in which atheism (or more precisely, naturalism) is true.
It's likely that's the view of many theists. I have certainly seen similar sentiments expressed by theists on blogs and in debates. But is it true? And even more to the point, isn't such an argument self-defeating?

In order to get around Euthyphro (and indeed to have any chance of alleged moral facts being "objective"), theists will seek to ground moral facts in God's nature. That is to say, to ground it in characteristics or essence that is NOT subject to God's whim or will.

Fair enough (and it seems to me that this is the only possible successful answer to Euthyphro's dilemma). However, in what way is this functionally different than a non-theist's claim that moral facts are grounded in the nature of existence? I.e., in brute fact (that's just the way things are)? The question "why is God as He is?" is functionally the same as "Why is existence as it is?" Moral facts grounded in the nature of existence would therefore seem to be ontologically equivalent to those grounded in the nature of God.

What therefore could serve as any relevant difference between "God" and "existence" that could satisfy Hawthorne's condition such that the existence of moral facts would be "unexpected" and "inexplicable" if God were NOT to exist? The only difference appears to be will or intent, yet that is specifically what we must rule out if we want moral facts to be objective. So doesn't it seem self-defeating to argue that "objective" moral facts only make sense if they're the product of will or intent, thus rendering them non-objective?

(Also posted as a comment at DC)

No Fair!!

According to Arno Widmann, Julia Fischer (a professor of violin at Frankfurt's Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Tanz) performed at a New Year's concert in Frankfurt in which she played Saint-Saëns Third Violin Concerto on the first half and the Grieg A-minor Piano Concerto on the second half! These are both rather difficult pieces of music, even for the professional and by all accounts, Prof. Fischer acquitted herself admirably. In fact, again according to Widmann, both performances were dazzling.

I can actually fumble my way through a Mozart or Haydn concerto and I've even played through the Beethoven First (appallingly, I assure you), but the Grieg is too much for my stupid fingers (although I could play parts of it with my younger, less arthritic hands) and yet here is a woman who, having mastered one instrument to the point of teaching others how to play it, takes on another and triumphs yet again. Oh to have even a portion of her "excess" talent!

HT: MPR's Classical Notes

15 January, 2008

Funny O' The Day

It's an interesting attempt...

...but I still think Huckabee's campaign is doomed.

P.S. I love Sinfest!

14 January, 2008

The Great Question

Great thinkers through the ages have pondered the many mysteries of life. Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing? Does God exist? What is the capital of Assyria? But none of these questions have come close to the ultimate question of our time: What if the Beatles were Irish?

09 January, 2008

Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1928-2007

I'm not sure how I missed this, but the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, often called "the father of electronic music" died suddenly at his home in Kurten on 5 December.

While I'm not a big fan of electronic music, it is impossible to deny or overestimate the impact of Stockhausen's work on the music of the 20th century. He began composing in the 1950s, studying under such luminaries as Frank Martin, Darius Milhaud, and Olivier Messiaen. With such teachers, it seems to me almost predestined that he would produce something completely novel. His composition Gesang der Jünglinge (1955-56) has been called the first electronic masterpiece and over the next forty years Stockhausen's output continued to be innovative and influential. At the time of his death, he was looking forward to a complete production later this year of Licht, a monumental cycle of seven operas dealing with "traits associated in various historical traditions with each weekday" (according to Wikipedia).

Stockhausen was the creator of an organization founded to advance his creative ideals which will carry on the work he began almost 60 years ago. Alex Ross discusses the composer and his impact here. One of Stockhausen's students attended the memorial service in Kurten and provides some thoughts here.