Monday, 12 March 2007


Thank God not all scientists have become politicized. Some of them appear to care about describing the world, instead of prescribing behavior. See here.

Twenty Years Ago

3-12-87 . . . Woody Hayes, longtime Ohio State University football coach and dreaded foe of University of Michigan alumni and students, died today at the age of seventy-four. He was a militarist and a cruel disciplinarian, from what I hear, but his players loved him. I remember seeing bumper stickers reading “Woody is a pecker” and “What’s a buckeye? Some kind of nut?” This shows you how seriously Michiganians take their football. I also remember watching the 1978 game in which Woody blew up, striking a Clemson player on the sidelines. After that, he was fired from his job as coach. But Ohioans still love him. I understand that there is a movement under way to rename the football stadium in his honor. In America, where sport is king and football perhaps its best exemplification, those who produce winners (such as Wayne Woodrow Hayes) are heroes. This I take to be an indictment, not a virtue, of our society.


Is Hillary Clinton reinventing her past? See here.

Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

If you’ve been anywhere but in a cave for the past few days, you know that a Democrat presidential debate that was to have been sponsored by Fox News has been canceled. Many progressives thought the debate would “validate Fox News as a legitimate news source.” I have news for these pinheads: Fox News is a legitimate news source. They’re living in denial. Progressives can’t stand it that they no longer have a monopoly of television networks. The very idea that conservative views and values are being taken seriously on a major network outrages them. They thought conservatism, like cockroaches, had been killed dead. Ha! It’s alive, well, and, to progressives’ everlasting dismay, in the ascendant. Perhaps if progressives engaged conservatives, instead of calling them names and spitting on them, they’d become more adept at rational persuasion. I think they’d rather listen to each other than go outside their echo chamber for an alternative take on reality. Listening only to like-minded people is comforting, and goodness knows progressives want to be comforted. It’s why they favor cradle-to-grave social insurance, funded by society’s most disciplined, productive, hard-working, and creative members. By the way, I’m particularly well placed to evaluate Fox News. I was, for a long time, a progressive. Now I’m a conservative. I’ve been in both camps. I’m also a lifelong watcher of television news. Fox News is no more conservative than NBC, CBS, and ABC are progressive. It may, in fact, be less biased. Fox News simply refuses to view patriotism as jingoism. It respects religion, views a free economy as a good thing rather than a bad thing, and remains properly skeptical about the hysterical claims being made by the global-warming crowd. Fox News is popular not so much because it’s conservative (although it is), but because it’s not mindlessly progressive. Thinking is hard. Progressives loved it when they didn’t have to think all that much. Fox News denies them that luxury.

Agent Detection

Biologists who try to explain religious belief scientifically say that it’s a product of an evolved trait known as agent detection. In our ancestral environment, individuals who did better at detecting agents amid the flux of events tended to survive longer and pass on their agent-detecting genes. Biologists say that this ability explains belief in a supernatural being. Humans are genetically disposed to interpret events as actions, and if no human brought about earthquakes, plagues, typhoons, and droughts, then a superhuman—God—must have.

Read this (courtesy of Will Nehs). The global-warming crowd is doing the same thing biologists say religious people do! They notice that the climate is changing, but instead of interpreting this phenomenon as a natural process, about which we humans can do little or nothing, they insist on finding agency behind it. But they’re atheistic, so the agent can’t be God. It must be humans! Human beings are causing global warming! It’s hilarious, isn’t it? It’s also ironic, for the very people who belittle religion as a misfiring of the agent-detection module are misusing their own agent-detection modules.

Addendum: Here are the relevant paragraphs from the Times story:

Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among them the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to come up with causal narratives for natural events and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Psychologists call these tools, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind.

Agent detection evolved because assuming the presence of an agent—which is jargon for any creature with volitional, independent behavior—is more adaptive than assuming its absence. If you are a caveman on the savannah, you are better off presuming that the motion you detect out of the corner of your eye is an agent and something to run from, even if you are wrong. If it turns out to have been just the rustling of leaves, you are still alive; if what you took to be leaves rustling was really a hyena about to pounce, you are dead.

A classic experiment from the 1940s by the psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel suggested that imputing agency is so automatic that people may do it even for geometric shapes. For the experiment, subjects watched a film of triangles and circles moving around. When asked what they had been watching, the subjects used words like “chase” and “capture.” They did not just see the random movement of shapes on a screen; they saw pursuit, planning, escape.

So if there is motion just out of our line of sight, we presume it is caused by an agent, an animal or person with the ability to move independently. This usually operates in one direction only; lots of people mistake a rock for a bear, but almost no one mistakes a bear for a rock.

What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic. “The most central concepts in religions are related to agents,” Justin Barrett, a psychologist, wrote in his 2004 summary of the byproduct theory, “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” Religious agents are often supernatural, he wrote, “people with superpowers, statues that can answer requests or disembodied minds that can act on us and the world.”

It’s been said (by the likes of Michael Crichton) that environmentalism is a religion—the religion of progressives. This supports that claim.

Best of the Web Today


Richard Swinburne on Religion

If religion is false, it matters greatly that children should not waste their lives in prayer, worship, and evangelism, and in conforming to moral codes which derive their point from religion. If religion is true, it matters desperately that children should learn to practice it in order to attain deep and permanent well-being. Very little could, I suggest, override the obligation to ascertain the truth about religion and to hand it on to those whom we greatly influence, in particular to our children.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 101)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Makers of Sodas Try a New Pitch: They’re Healthy” (front page, March 7):

It is good to see that the two major cola companies, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, are taking a step toward offering a healthier choice to their consumers. But at best, the new products that the two companies are developing will be popular only in niche markets and will have a high probability of fading fast, as did 7Up Plus.

The idea of a healthy cola is somewhat oxymoronic. Colas are unhealthy. The addition of vitamins and minerals just makes them a little healthier, but they’re still an unhealthy choice when you consider what you could be drinking.

Jason Hellebrand
Newbury Park, Calif., March 7, 2007

Note from KBJ: I haven’t had a soft drink in years. Who drinks that rot-gut?


Two dim-witted guys (some would call them “morons”) need trans­portation, but have only $50 between them. They go to a used-car dealer. Alas, there’s nothing available for that price. The dealer has an idea. “Tell you what. I’ve got a camel out back. I’ll sell it to you for $50.” The guys are skeptical, but the deal­er quickly adds that the camel has been trained for the road. “It goes through green lights, slows for yellow, and stops for red.” The guys talk it over and decide to make the purchase. A couple of weeks later, they come walking back into the dealer­ship. The dealer sees them and says, “Hey, aren’t you the guys who bought the camel?” They explain that they are. “What hap­pened?” One of the guys says, “Things went well for a while. But this morning we were stopped at a red light when a car pulled alongside. The driver stuck his head out the window and said, ‘Look at the two assholes on that camel!’ We got off to look and the light turned green.”

A Year Ago


Climate Change

My friend Grant in Canada sent a link to this.

From the Mailbag

So how does a ticket of Newt for president and Fred Thompson VP grab you? I wish all the candidates were 5-10 years younger. They’re ALL looking kinda long in the tooth. There are big physical and mental deficits that begin to tug at us after 60. After 4-8 years in office presidents age twice their term(s). With age comes wisdom? And trips to the bathroom.