SocraticGadfly: 2013

December 31, 2013

Why not a 4-point line in the NBA?

Over at ESPN's Grantland site, Zach Lowe has a good, in-depth piece about how NBA teams (for the most part) are moving ever more toward 3-ball offense. And, it makes sense. The simple math says that a 3-ball at a 36-percent shooting accuracy is like shooting a 2 with 54 percent accuracy, and you have to be inside 17 feet, maybe a bit closer, to do that with a 2. So, shoot away is sound coaching, if you've got a team that can shoot the 3 that well.

But, not everybody likes this.

Lowe also notes some folks, like Stan Van Gundy and Billy King, are worried about this trend (as if Billy King actually has much idea of success in the NBA or how to get there), and how they and others are suggesting possible remedies.

One of them is to make the current field goal worth 3 and the current 3-ball worth 4, but Lowe notes that would diminish free throws and lead to Hack-a-Shaq late in games, at least if non-shooting fouls under such scenarios only got two free throws. (Or slow the game dreadfully if they drew three free throws, and make the whole process worse.

My alternative?

Don't make 3-pointers worth 4. Go one better.

Add a 4-pointer on top of the 3, and make Antoine Walker's dreams come true. Walker famously said "there are no fours" when asked why he jacked up so many 3-balls, a sentiment backed by actions that got him on Deadspin's NBA Shit List.

I'd consider moving the 3-line in from its current 23-9 if we did this. Probably not all the way to the 22-0, matching the corners, as the David Stern League did briefly in the mid-’90s, but maybe 22-6, or if not, 23-0.

Then set the 4-pointer at, say, 26-0. Maybe 27-0. But no further out. We want the 4-ball to have about 25 percent accuracy for top shooters, making it the equivalent of a 2-ball at 50 percent. Maybe a bit lower, but no lower than 22 percent. I don't want the 4-ball to become a temptation away from 3s, but I want it, if this seems wise, to be a halfway legitimate shot, and not just a lucky freak.

And Mr. Logo, Jerry West, is probably wishing he was balling in this league. If he played just with the 3 an option, he'd have scored 30,000 for sure. With this, and him actually chucking a few 4s, and having more room for 3s, he might have hit 35,000.

I mean, the league could at least try this in preseason for the next year or two and see how it flies, so to speak.

Man of the Year? #BarackObama

If Time Mag can do its Man of the Year, and make picks for interesting reasons at time, and some fellow Texan bloggers can nominate their picks for Texan of the Year, why can't I?

And, I did, and it's you know you.


First, to give credit where credit is due, he's the first Democrat to twice be elected president with a majority, and not a plurality, since ... Andrew Jackson.

But, that's not the real reason he gets this honor here.

What is?

In a word?


Its sign-up problems this year due to computer glitches at first, but now due to wariness among 20-somethings, will go far to defining its success, or failure, in 2014 and beyond.

Carl Gibson, a 20-something liberal activist, has a good article on why he's opting out of Obamacare. He's probably speaking for a lot of 20-somethings who have looked at the cost, even sniffing the federal exchange website, or the state exchange site if available, and making a rational decision to pass.
Would you pay $5 to save $1? I didn't ace Math in school, but I do at least know that a Lincoln is worth more than a Washington. If you were presented with this deal in a store, to buy a $5 item to get $1 off another, most people don't see that as a deal. Now, multiply those numbers by a thousand, and you may start to understand why the "young invincibles" of America aren't participating in the healthcare exchanges.
That doesn't stop a Kossack Obamiac from overstating Gibson's two visits to the hospital as an adult as "a propensity for accidents." And, Carl? If you're getting lectured by both Kossacks and Ezra Klein (for not being a good citizen) you're probably doing the right thing.

That said, the actions of not just one but many Carl Gibsons will, in turn, define the success of Barack Obama, and not just his second term, but, his presidency as a whole. And, no, not the computer problems, even though they will likely suppress enrollments into 2014. It's young, educated liberals like Gibson who make the rational, non-Kossack decision to opt out that are key.

Obamacare was predicated on getting a reasonable amount of Carl Gibsons to opt in as part of cost containment. Not only is he instead opting out, he's essentially telling his cohorts to do the same and feel good about it.

Hence, since 2013 is the year Obamacare hit the road (except for all the parts Dear Leader delayed a year!) Barack Obama is this blog's Man of the Year.

As for 2014? With the delays, and the under-enrollments? As 2013 Part Deux, it will further define Obama's legacy, and likely not for the best. (Even if the White House continues to be slow in providing hard data about things like enrollments, the degree to which the website's payments to insurers issue is fixed, etc.)

And, in 2014, we're all going to be guinea pigs on whether Obamacare can provide truly affordable coverage. That said, Obamacare says nothing about providing nightmare-free coverage. And, given the way the modern insurance world works, as documented in sad detail here, it likely won't change that a bit. (It's true that the person in question benefits from being able to get insurance via Obamacare; but, that's not the angle I'm focused on.)

So far, through the end of December, Gallup polling says the uninsureds still aren't impressed.

Could Obama have gotten single-payer passed in 2009 or 2010? Possibly, if he had wanted to, and had expended real energy to do so. But, he never wanted to do either one of those, as I see it. The federal exchange website problems testify to the "real energy" issue from where I stand.

In my personal "view from somewhere," to riff on a philosophy phrase, then to riff on Charles Pierce's C-plus Augustus description of George W. Bush, the man's a C-plus LBJ.

As for me, it's relative success or failure will define exactly where he ranks in U.S. presidents overall, and especially those since Teddy Roosevelt basically invented the modern presidency.

Currently, going from bottom up, chronologically, I rank him ahead of Harding, Coolidge, Hoover (while acknowledging Hoover's bad rap), Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes.

That's 12th out of 19 presidents since the start of the 20th century. Not fantastic. And, yes, I ranked both Taft and Carter ahead of him.

And, yes, I was ranking Shrub's place in history before the end of his second term. Barring some major new breakthrough, I don't see much of a rankings change likely.


As for Time's choice? It's more and more clear all the time that Pope Francis' "liberalization" is a mix of playing around the edges and the soft bigotry of low expectations when compared with Benedict XVI.

That said, I've long said that Bush's "soft bigotry" phrase explains well the continued romance many a neoliberal, and even a few liberals, continue to have with C-p lus LBJ. (Hey, Obamiacs? I could have called him C-plus Carter.)

December 30, 2013

THe #SJW #privilege backlash is how I know Chris Arnade isn't all wet

From  XKCD website. Added here because Atheism Plus and
Gnu Atheism types love to trot it out as a sort of shield, a
"no true Scotsman" claim that they're not annoying.
For those of you not too familiar with him, Chris Arnade is an atheist. Who used to work on Wall Street, with a Ph.D. Who now works with homeless people not too, too far from Wall Street.

And, via his work with them, and the seeming degree of attachment many of them have to religious belief, has led him to call atheism an "intellectual luxury for the wealthy." Which certainly isn't a life of "privilege" and, per the SJW hashtag of "social justice warriors," is working for social justice.

Here's the heart of his piece:
(The homeless) have their faith because what they believe in doesn't judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless. 

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners. 

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.   ...

I look back at my 16-year-old self and see Preacher Man and his listeners differently. I look at the fragile women praying and see a mother working a minimum wage custodial job, trying to raise three children alone. Her children's father off drunk somewhere. I look at the teenager fingering a small cross and see a young woman, abused by a father addicted to whatever, trying to find some moments of peace. I see Preacher Man himself, living in a beat up shack without electricity, desperate to stay clean, desperate to make sense of a world that has given him little. 

They found hope where they could.
I hadn't intended to write a full blog post about it. I thought it was interesting, but not something I totally agreed with, though I understood to some degree where he was coming from, or where I interpreted him as coming from.

I called it a version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In other words, after people get a stable, secure situation in regard to food and shelter, then safety, then social belonging, after that, they're going to feel comfortable — and have the mental energy — to question old beliefs and old values systems.

I agree with him, and against some, though not all Gnu Atheists, that H. sapiens isn't all that rational, even when we're higher up Maslow's hierarchy.

And, this is nothing new. Look at black slaves who adopted their owners' Christianity.

That said, it hasn't stopped the Atheism Plus junior subset of Gnu Atheists from jumping all over Arnade.

And, the one that has topped off the dogpile, all while insisting she's not writing about any one person?

Quelle horreur! It's Stephanie Zvan.

To refute just a couple of the hints she makes, even if at no one in particular, whether always to be believed or not:
1. Arnade never said that religion had no connection with predatory capitalism. That said, the claim of religion is usually just a fig leaf.
2. Unearned authority is a problem far outside of religious groups. Like Gnu Atheism. Besides, in many religious groups, the members of that group have no problem with believing their leaders have earned said authority.
3. I'm sure that if Gnu Atheism gets big enough, by the law of averages, it will have its own scandals. Only Gnu Atheists, even more than many an intensely inward group, will probably trot out "no true Scotsman" claims enough to earn themselves a listing in places like Skeptic's Dictionary under that entry.

Add to this somebody on Facebook using a compounded version of the magical word privilege in a post about Arnade's piece, and barf.

Meanwhile, let's ignore people like that and get back to people like Pamela J. Stubbart, with a more nuanced critique:
Frankly, Chris, I think that your piece has more to do with sig­nal­ing con­cern for the dis­ad­van­taged (and sig­nal­ing that you’re not a dick like Richard Dawkins) than it has to do with athe­ism per se. Not that these are bad things to do — but it doesn’t seem to me that your athe­ism was chal­lenged at all. As far as I can tell, you just revised your opin­ions regard­ing the dif­fer­ing value of truth in the con­text of var­i­ous kinds of people’s lives. (That would make a slightly less catchy title, how­ever). We can agree that it would be “cruel and point­less” to try to talk these peo­ple out of their the­ism. But label­ing athe­ism itself an “intel­lec­tual lux­ury” con­sti­tutes a near­sighted attempt to imbue athe­ism with the con­no­ta­tion that it’s unnec­es­sary and friv­o­lous. Please don’t for­get that in other con­texts, the non-religious do impor­tant work towards cur­tail­ing religiously-motivated harms (female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, any­one? allow­ing chil­dren with eas­ily cured med­ical con­di­tions to die?) At those times, it is keep­ing quiet about unjus­ti­fied reli­gious claims (“think­ing dif­fer­ently” from athe­ists!) which would be cruel.
I could largely agree with that. Unfortunately, I don't think most Gnu-type atheists, and certainly not the subset of them Atheism Plusers, would agree with Stubbart.

Knowing what I do about the world of addiction, I will say that, in part because these alternatives aren't recognized by the court system, and in part for other, more sociological reasons, secular alternatives to 12-Step addiction support draw a different crowd.

Plus, also indirectly back to Zvan, and others.

Yes, atheists/secularists donate food to food pantries, and other "street level" support. However, secularists don't have their own homeless shelters, at least not that I'm aware of. Not all shelters that do exist are run by religiously oriented private organizations, of course, but many are. And, even those that aren't, in working with alcoholics and addicts, offer up the religious nostrums of the 12 Steps, in part because, again, they don't know the alternatives. 

In short, to bring out another psychological phrase, if Arnade "confronts" the homeless he helps with the illogic, and lack of empirical basis, of their beliefs, he risks giving them a massive case of cognitive dissonance. As many of the homeless are not only alcoholics or addicts, but "dual diagnosis" folks, this is about the last thing they need.

At the same time, Arnade's piece almost makes it sound like he's "deconverting." I asked him that on Twitter, and I'm putting it in here now. 

Why do I say that? The middle section of the block quote from above:
In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.
Sorry, but you, without the burden of being on the first or second level of Maslow's pyramid, have just made a logical/empirical disconnect, as I see it.

First, sinners implies sin. Sin is normally associated with religion. It's a word with all sorts of connotative overtones. It implies either a theistic god or a an impersonal karmic metaphysical force judging sin.

And, it sounds like it was written deliberately, as a face-slap, especially with the addition of the phrase "Biblical terms." (Having done that at times myself, I know it when I see it.)

Second, it seems to imply all atheists are part of the "successful people." Commenters on Zvan's page point out that's not true. And, I know that myself. I'm a community newspaper editor with extra money in the bank, but I'm nowhere near rich, and I personally know secularists worse off.

Third, per what I said before about "dual diagnosis," many of the people on the street have been sinned against much more than being sinners. Without causing them cognitive dissonance, you could at least lighten the religious chains for them by giving them some version of understanding of that, even if you have to still fertilize it with some religious manure.

Fourth, related to Nos. 2 and 3, it seems to imply most atheists are more like this than like you are.

This all said, Arnade promises a more nuanced follow-up.

I'd love to see it. I'd also love to see a more friendly reception for him from the social justice warriors, too. And, yes, I would note that, too. See three paragraphs above.

"Secret atheists" are all around you, says David Silverman.

Grandma, before you say the Lord's Prayer over that Christmas turkey, be mindful of the secret atheist in your own family who may be sitting next to you.

That's the claim of David Silverman, president of American Atheists and quite possibly the most obnoxious atheist thought leader in the U.S.
We know that a large population of 'Christians' are actually atheists who feel trapped in their family's religion.
And, you know this how?

In the same way that Gnu Atheists assume all "nones" are atheists, I guess. Since they always assume that most if not all of the surge in "nones" is due to a surge in atheism, that's the most charitable assumption I can make.

So much for the superior reasoning and critical thinking powers of Gnu Atheists, eh?

(Note to hardcore Gnus: I can certainly make less charitable assumptions if you want, like the idea that Silverman is simply pulling something out of his ass.

And, speaking of pulling things out of his add, add to that his March 2014 lament that Democrats are too liberal.)

Meanwhile, that's not the only stupid claim of Silverman's. Zvan also points out this:
“The intent here is not to convert Christians. The intent here is to get atheists going through the motions and pretending to be religious to stop, come out of the closet, and be honest with themselves.” 
Really? Putting up offensive billboards across the country, and even less than 100 percent offensive ones, which are clearly designed to say "eff you" to Christians, followed by possibly converting some of them, has as its actual goal getting atheists to come out of the closet?


And, as for "saving the lost," there's other alternatives that Zvan overlooks or tacitly dismisses, like atheist/freethought equivalents to churches, which, at least in larger urban areas, even exist, already, right now, and even in red states. The North Texas Church of Freethought, in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, has been around 20 years.

Note that name: "Freethought."

Silverman's approach, if it is trying to convert believers (and given that atheists are still just 2 percent of the population, that's surely its focus and Silverman's lying out some orifice in all likelihood) reminds me again of the old "if you want to catch flies, honey is better than vinegar" approach.

(Speaking of, Peter Manseau has some good spreading honey thoughts.)

If you're trying to get closeted atheists to come out, they're probably not the people who want to explain to Grandma at Christmas why they're associated with a nutbar like David Silverman.

Heck, people who have been atheists for some time — many of us don't use the word "atheist" in part precisely because of people like Silverman. Call us secularists, metaphysical naturalists, or per the community in Dallas "freethoughters."

Speaking of, there's one other issue, about one other word in that place's title: "church."

I don't know about Silverman, but I do know that many a Gnu Atheist, no matter how much "atheist evangelism" power such places might represent, furiously reject the idea of anything even close to an "atheist church."

Fine. Suit yourselves. Keep spraying vinegar rather than honey in the air. Just don't moan in public about the lack of results, or lie about the results by claiming "nones" are all "atheists," because I'll smack you down in public.

And, speaking of, let's be more honest on Silverman's behalf about one other thing.

Ultimately, this isn't about getting secret atheists to come out of the closet. It's about getting the money of open atheists to come out of the wallet and head to Silverman. It's a PR scheme for fundraising.

December 27, 2013

Mu to free will vs determinism, part 2

I've had a bit of running discussion with philosopher Massimo Pigliucci about this issue for some time, with much of my original thoughts on this issue to be found in this blog post. He asked me to give it my best shot, as to why I reject free will in the sense of being associated with a unitary self, and also why I say mu to the whole dualistic issue of free will versus determinism, going beyond my original thoughts, with which he indicates he has some degree of sympathy.

What follows is what I said on a recent post at his excellent blog, Rationally Speaking, and further developed and edited. 

My best shot? Probably nowhere near perfect, but...

First, I'm a country newspaper editor, Jim, not a professional philosopher! (Cue old Star Trek music.)

OK, that said, let's build on the thoughts in that original piece and go from there.

A couple of baseline notes, first.

1. Traditional free will does have metaphysical overtones, so I reject it in part on those grounds.
2. Ditto for determinism. (Stoicism's Logos is just as metaphysical as John Calvin's double-predestinarian God.)

I am also a non-dualist in general. That's true not just about dualism of ontological categories, like body-soul dualism. Using dualism more generally, as a term for polarities, I generally reject them, too. I am not a big black-and-white person. In philosophy, this is especially true. I look for nuance. I question theories and ideas that seem to lack it, and more.

That, in turn, relates to my "mu."

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Zen Buddhism. There's no precise translation in English, but a good, direct one is that using the word "unasks" a question or idea stated immediately in front of it. In other words, saying "mu" to "free will vs. determinism" rejects the dualism, that these are the only two ways of looking at decision-making in human consciousness. Related to that, to the degree that these are ever useful terms, it rejects the polarity behind them, that is the idea that a particular action is either 100 percent determined or 100 percent of free will.

And, since Zen is pretty non-dualistic, I use the particular word "mu" to deliberately underscore that I'm rejecting a way of thinking as much, if not more, than traditional uses of two concepts.

The reason I say "mu" gets back to the ideas of subselves, multiple drafts of consciousness, and even Hume's "fleeting impressions." In short, I take Dennett one step further, in the same direction Daniel Wegner does. (And I'm sure you're familiar with his writings on free will.)

Update: Wegner's "The Illusion of Conscious Will" is reviewed by me here.

In other words, to use Dennett's language, if there is no "Cartesian meaner" in a "Cartesian theater," there's no "Cartesian free willer" there either. There's no unitary conscious self with a free will at the center of the controls.

Now, might our subselves, or whatever of the "multiple drafts" is in the driver's seat at any particular moment, be engaged in something that might be called quasi-free will, is another question. I think something like that does happen. But, it's as ephemeral as that particular subself, "draft," or whatever, is in the driver's seat.

So, in that sense, I'm not totally against all of the ideas that are lumped under the rubric "free will."

Reason No. 2 that I oppose the idea of "free will" linked to a single unitary conscious self is somewhat related. I do believe there's a fair amount of value to the Libet experiments and related, even if sometimes, some people have overstated them.

Here, I disagree with John Horgan, who in a new Scientific American column about free will and New Year's resolutions, says:

Libet’s clock experiment is a poor probe of free will, because the subject has made the decision in advance to push the button; he merely chooses when to push. I would be surprised if the EEG sensors or implanted electrodes did not find neural anticipation of that choice.
See, I don't understand Libet that way. I've always understood it, and his work to separate subjective feelings of, and belief in, personal volution, from a (theoretically) objective idea of something called "free will," as refuting the existence of any such objective idea.

And, per a reader, this take on Benjamin Libet's famous experiments is in general line with what I'm saying.

And hence, with Pigliucci, when he uses volition, I get the feeling that it is for something still akin to traditional versions of free will, and something he believes actually exists, not Libet's idea of a subjective belief.

That said, that veto power?

We may still have a "veto" over such actions, but even then, that veto may vary from subself to subself as to what a particular subself would veto or not, degree of veto power it has, etc. Beyond that, that veto itself may be at such a deep layer we wouldn't associate it with a quasi-formed subself, let alone a fully formed self. In short, Libet has some good ideas, but they need further developing.

In short, so far, part of what I am saying is that what's actually happening in the human mind is far too complex to reduce to "free will," too. It's another instance where the human brain's predilection for facile labeling of things draws us astray.

I think Libet's discussion of antedating and backdating, subconsciously, our understanding of temporal order of events, relates to that. His ideas here are certainly compatible with Dennett's multiple drafts theory of consciousness, for example, but Dennett chooses not to go down that direction, just as he chose not to go down Wegner's direction in rejecting a Cartesian free willer.

In short, ideas of consciousness in general, and volition in particular are far too complex, and our understanding today far too limited, to cram into a particular philosophical system.

(Sidebar: This is why I also talked about neo-Humean ethics. I'm in general an anti-system builder, and a neo-Humean ethics would be a variation on situational ethics based in some way on studying how different particular subselves constructed primarily for different predominant social relations, such as work life, family life, life with friends, etc., have different ethical values, and how said different ethical values are constructed.)

3. Without saying this is part of my answer for how the subselves that produce the appearance of a self act, there's also the question of how all this evolved. Is what appears to be free will an adaptation, or is it, shades of Dennett vs. Gould ... a spandrel? Or, at least, is our belief that we have a unitary self, with unitary free will, a spandrel? I side somewhat with Gould on this issue of spandrels in general, as it has some ties with issues of ev psych, and over-the-top claims in ev psych, etc.


Here's the biggie, now. I say "Mu" to the dualism that's part and parcel of the "free will VERSUS (emphasis needed) determinism" issue. Just because conscious, unitary-self free will doesn't exist, there's no need to believe any sort of determinism, whether Coyne's physical determinism, or somebody else's psychological determinism, exists.

A good way to further explicate this is per the post you just put up about the year in books, and namely, Susan Blackmore's new book. I'm sure that, were she to write in detail on this issue, she would have at least a few broadly similar ideas, above all, rejecting the whole **dualism/duality** present in traditional framing of this as a "free will vs. determinism" issue.

I feel the same. That's at the core of my "mu," and per Hofstadter first tipping me off on the word years ago, why I deliberately use that word in this situation. With your word "volition," or whatever, I think we have to see this whole issue of apparent intentionality in human actions in a non-dualistic way.

That said, per all of the above, I do see some degree of psychological determinism, on an action-by-action basis, somewhat related to more crude statements of this issue, based on MRIs, in legal defense in certain criminal cases.

That is, can something like, say, childhood sexual or physical abuse psychologically determine some of our actions?

I'd say yes, **to a degree.** Here, I'm rejecting not dualism, narrowly speaking, but something analogous, polarities.

In other words, Action X may be 23 percent psychologically determined and 77 percent volitional, or whatever word you prefer. Action B may be 42 percent psychologically determined and 58 percent volitional. Action C may be 8 percent psychologically determined, and 92 percent volitional.

If you don't like the word "determined," let's borrow a word from genetics and developmental psychology, and talk about "tendencies." That way, it sounds less like a classical version of psychological determinism. Just like we have a 90 degree heritable tendency to be tall, a 50 percent one to intelligence, etc., but this still has an element of environmental expression related to it, ditto on having Z degree of psychological tendency in Action X.

As for physical determinism, of the type that drives Coyne? It's not worth even bothering with. Among other things, how anybody in the modern quantum world can believe in a classical version of physical determinism is beyond me. (That said, I don't even come close to accepting Penrose's idea of consciousness arising through quantum effects in the brain!)


There's one more major reason I say "mu" to the whole issue.

Cognitive science, neuroscience, etc., are perhaps in the Early Bronze Age. Maybe the Neolithic. But, our knowledge curve here, if even from a low base, hints at exponential growth.

Within a decade or two, we will realize how little we have known about the mind, and to the degree that we have gained new knowledge, we will realize how anachronistic "free will" is, as well as seeing even more that "determinism" is not just anachronistic, it's out of the picture. 

I mean, ever since Hume's famous quote from "A Treatise on Human Nature," quoted above in the poster quote: 
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…. If any one, upon serious and unprejudic'd reflection thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu'd, which he calls himself; tho' I am certain there is no such principle in me.
The two ideas have been at least somewhat anachronous philosophically, long before Dan Dennett dressed up ideas originally from Gilbert Ryle (who, in turn, ultimately traced back to Hume).

At times, to be honest, I become a bit frustrated with professional philosophers who are forgetting that ideas related to "subselves," "multiple drafts," or similar, are more than 250 years old. The fact that free will, determinism, and the paired polarity of insisting that the guiding of human actions is one or the other is shown to be anachronistic in the history of Western philosophy by the man who was, arguably, the world's first professional psychologist. 

And, per searching my own blog, there's another, similar reason to the above. In fact, here, I analogized between current postulations of free will and the old "god of the gaps" idea.


Massimo, and others, hope this provides food for further thought.

Again, I want to stress once again that the "mu" is about rejecting the duality of free will vs. determinism, and that, rejecting ideas of free will associated with a unitary conscious self doesn't mean that determinism is therefore the only answer left to choose.


Meanwhile, as of early 2015, it's become time for a third installment on this issue.

Andrew Sullivan: fellator of #Yglesias and #MSM #BratPack punditry

Andrew Sullivan well deserves the Photoshopping I did at left, with the absurdity of some of his end-of-year awards.

The worst of them? Per the header, his Yglesias Awards, named after roving, self-branding Brat Pack inside-the-Beltway opiner Matt Yglesias.

Matty Y, along with Ezra Klein and other early 30-somethings, or however old they are, are right up there in my world, and I presume the likes of wordsmith Charles Pierce's, along with Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

But, no, not for Sully. 

Here's why he calls these awards what he does.
The Yglesias Award is for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.

And, when and where has that ever happened?

Matt, Ezra Klein, et al, are as reliable as a grandfather clock in striking the hourly virtues of inside-the-Beltway thinking on serious issues.

Now, Matty Y's bio on Wikipedia claims the award is tongue-in-cheek.

I actually doubt that. It seems seriously awarded in the name of a not-at-all liberal neolibera (Yglesias says he voted for Romney) who represents a whole genre of people trying to seriously prove they're not liberal. And, Sully's (Michael) Moore Award and  Dick Morris Award are both straight up. Plus, I checked a nominee on the Yglesias Award, and the quote was true, and the sentiment was properly captured.

That said, let's look at one of those other awards before I go too far.

Per the Morris description:
The Dick Morris Award (originally the Von Hoffman Award, until readers pushed for a name-change last year) is given for stunningly wrong political, social and cultural predictions.
Nobody who devoted a full issue of The New Republic, when he was editor, to touting the virtues of the original Bell Curve, has any business handing out Dick Morris Awards, either. Except maybe to himself.

But, as I said when I Tweeted Sully a copy of his Poseur Alert of the Year Award nominees, he's missing one obvious candidate there, too.


That all said, I've posted an edit to Yglesias' bio. We'll see if it sticks.

And, this is why I still don't trust Wikipedia to have correct information on living people, especially if they're at all connected to U.S. politics.

"Wilson" review: Wrong from the start — too much hagiography, not enough analysis

WilsonWilson by A. Scott Berg

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

At the end of this book, Scott Berg describes what propelled him to undertake this biography. He says he had read a number of biographies, and none of them captured Wilson's essence.

Well, now we can add one more to that list.

Berg has written, but not quite crafted, a tome that is clearly hagiographic, and in being such, also clearly lacks analysis and depth, despite some 750 pages of body text.

I found myself by the end of the first chapter questioning Berg's claims about the depth of Wilson's support for women's suffrage, and simply shaking my head at Berg's conceit that Wilson alleged wrestled all his life with issues of race.

And, it is on that subject, throughout the book, that Berg's hagiography is most apparent. While mentioning that Wilson grew up in the South, and that his father was briefly a Confederate Army chaplain, he nowhere explicitly talks about his father owning slaves.

He does mention that his Presidential cabinet was almost all Southerners, most of them unreconstructed, but doesn't mention how unreconstructed they were.

He tries to downplay Wilson's official segregation of Washington. And fails.

On women's suffrage, the proper analytical dots aren't connected. He doesn't ask if Wilson's refusal to support woman's suffrage on the federal level isn't due to his worry that this would make his failure to support black suffrage on the federal level — black suffrage already in the 15th Amendment — all the more hypocritical.

There's plenty of evidence Wilson was a racist by enlightened standards of his day, let alone ours. No, Scott Berg, not nearly every white person made "darkie" jokes, thought blacks were lazy, etc. And never did Wilson seriously "wrestle" with issues of race.

But, the lack of analysis doesn't stop there.

Wilson believed, overtly, he had been directly called to his office by god in a way no other president afterward did until George W. Bush. Berg, despite giving each chapter of his book a Biblical title like "Sinai" or "Gethsamane" (titles eyebrow-raising in and of themselves) never asks how this affected Wilson's domestic record. And, even when connecting it to World War I and Versailles and the League of Nations, he still doesn't go into a lot of detail.

Given that Wilson's religious background was not like Bush's, but was a traditional Calvinism theoretically including double predestination, unlike Bush's psycho-therapeutic evangelical Protestantism, I certainly would, and do, wonder: After the Senate defeat of the League, rather than pour out ire at Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, etc., did Wilson just once, for a moment, wonder if this meant he had been negatively predestined on this issue? Berg never asks.

More to the point, and also related to Wilson's belief he had been messianically chosen — why was Wilson such a "hater"? And, it's more than in modern social media buzzspeak. Once he started hating somebody, he kept on hating them. He cut his successor as Princeton president and Col. House, among others, permanently out of his loop after he started hating them. Berg doesn't take a look at the "why" of this at all.

And, the hagiography, combined with errors of omission, also doesn't stop there.

Berg almost totally glosses over Wilson's massive amount of interventionism in Central America. Oh, sure, several pages are devoted to Mexico. But the Caribbean? A couple of mentions, no more than a paragraph's worth.

He nowhere wrestles with the reality of Wilson's quote: "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men."

His discussion of the formation of the Federal Reserve is superficial. As part of that superficiality, Berg doesn't ask whether the Federal Reserve, as a solution to U.S. banking needs, really was that progressive. (The 2008 meltdown and the actions, or non-actions, of the New York Federal Reserve tell us "no.")

But, the hagiography is just warming up!

On page 328, he claims that Wilson's 1913 record of accomplishments, including the Federal Reserve, Clayton Anti-Trust Act, creation of the Federal Trade Commission, a new tariff and other things, was the greatest legislative outburst since the foundation of the Republic!


I'll take Lincoln's 1862 over that — Homestead Act, Morrill Act for land-grant colleges, transcontinental railroad legislation, first and second Confiscation Acts that were slowly setting the country on the road to emancipation in the Civil War, and the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation itself.

Wouldn't you?

But, we haven't gotten to the outright errors of fact yet! There's several related to World War 1.

First, no, Japan was NOT "forced" to declare war because of its treaty with Great Britain. Rather, said treaty gave Japan the legal cover to declare war and not be an aggressor. How Berg got this wrong is totally beyond me, and frankly, I don't even want to try to figure it out.

Second, on page 395, the torpedoing of the Sussex, as a ship traveling between two belligerents and not a belligerent and a neutral, had nothing to do with the United States needing to consider entering the war.

Which now leads us from errors of fact back to hagiography.

Berg talks about his hero worship of Walter Bagehot (along with William Gladstone), and his wanting to graft British parliamentary government onto the American tripartate system.

He never asks how this might have made Wilson un-neutral not just in heart, but how his heart expressed itself, from the start of the war. (Author Walter Karp details how it did.) For example, why did Wilson never protest Britain's blockade by extension, just as illegal under international law as the German submarine zones?

The Bagehot issue leads us back to analysis of Wilson as public policy intellectual. Why, if these ideas are so brilliant, have none of them been adopted? Even LBJ, for all his effort to be like a prime minister in some ways, didn't go that far.

Was it in part, in the early years after Wilson's presidency, the fact that he was seen as such a hater? Had that alone made these ideas that toxic?

We're not done with the errors of fact yet, though!

Why, if Wilson wanted "no part" of invading Russia, was the U.S. in Russia as long as all the other Western countries? Actually, Wilson overrode the Department of War to approve the Archangel campaign. That said, Berg also gets issues of Polish involvement, Versailles and post-Versailles (it was a Polish nationalist fight) and Japanese involvement wrong, too. Add to that something not strictly a factual error, like calling the Czech Legion "freedom fighters," and you can see how bad this section of the book is.

As for his coverage of Versailles? Margaret MacMillan's "Paris 1919" is far better.

The only interesting thing to the good is Berg covering Wilson's health and his apparently suffering several mini-strokes during Versailles and after, up to his major stroke in Pueblo. But, given that Wikipedia notes Wilson's first stroke may have been in 1895, I'm sure any good bio of Wilson does similar.

I had planned on two-starring this book when I started writing my review from my notes. But I can't. It's that bad, and needs a serious one-star review.

View all my reviews

December 26, 2013

Can Aaron Rodgers deliver for the Pack against the Bears?

By now, just about every hardcore NFL fan's heard that the Green Bay Packers think injured starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone is healed enough for him to start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, with the NFL Central Division title on the line.

And, why not?

The Bears have a crappy defense. A rusty Rodgers will still almost certainly be better than fill-in Matt Flynn for the Pack.

And, it might not stop there.

If the Pack want Rodgers to help in the postseason, they need to get him to knock off some of that rust in advance.

And, speaking of ...

In the Pack's luckiest break, the Cheeseheads could get the New Orleans Saints at home in the wild-card round. The Saints have been pussycats on the road this year. Give Rodgers the game against the Bears to start shaping up, hope Clay Matthews' thumb is good enough to go, and they could just take down Drew Brees and company.

After that, who knows? Add in that the Pack is currently seventh in the league in rushing, paced by Eddie Lacy, and the team could go a ways.

But stranger postseasons have happened.

I present Eli Manning. Twice. And Joe Flacco just a year ago. And Trent Dilfer from the wayback machine.

It will take a few lucky breaks, but, yeah, Rodgers could take them all the way to Met Life Stadium in February.

Technology hating, Heritage and #CFL and #incandescent lights

Traditional 60- and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs can no longer be sold in the U.S. after Jan. 1, though stores can sell what they have in stock until they run out.

And, this bit of government regulation, helping do a small bit of fighting global warming and saving consumers money, has wingnuts going bat-shit crazy, of course.

So, what else to do but respond to the lies and distortions behind the crazy-making?

I just had to do some quick blogging about a new level of technology ignorance, and even more, willful twisting of public policy, by the Heritage Foundation.

Here's what I replied to Nicholas Loris' inanity on this issue, and more.

Ohh, per your link to your previous column?

CFLs now work fine with dimmers. (But, I guess linking to a column nearly seven years old, without checking on how technological or other changes might have affected things, is par for the course.)

Here's the details on that:
Most screw-base CFLs do not work with dimmers designed for use with incandescent lamps. These CFLs will have a label on the lamp and/or the packaging stating "not for use with dimmers. However, certain special screw-base CFLs are designed to work with standard incandescent lamp dimmers. These CFLs will be labeled "dimmable" or similar language on the lamp and/or the packaging. However, due to small differences between different brands of dimmers, not all dimmable CFLs work with all types of incandescent dimmers. Some dimmable CFLs, however, will work with all major brands of incandescent lamp dimmers.
And, if they're still somewhat problematic?
You can change dimmer switches to CFL-designed ones, without doing entirely new wiring. Of course, given the anti-tech ranting of Loris, it's no surprise he doesn't mention that, either.

The idea of them working poorly in cold is overblown. And, since the average American runs heat on high and AC on low anyway, it's even more overblown. And, again, it's probably out-of-date information, too.

Beyond this, on these two issues, the future is LEDs, not CFLs, in all likelihood, anyway.

On the matter of choice and budget constraints for people on tight budgets, when was Heritage ever concerned about poor people? Oh, I forgot. NEVER!

(This one always makes me laugh, whenever a conservative individual or think tank trots out the "thinking about the poor" argument. I guess it's red meat for the followers, who think they:
A. Have to keep up appearances and
B. Are actually fooling somebody when they do this.)

Besides, at an estimated electricity savings of $6 per year per bulb, actually CFIs save families money. (And Loris has that story linked, showing how narrowly the wingnuts can cherry-pick.)

Ditto on his claims about CFLs destroying jobs. When did conservative (or neoliberal) free traders ever worry about a few hundred jobs being sent over to China? What a laugh.

And, of course, CFLs aren't the only alternative to traditional incandescents.

Finally, per your energy efficiency? Actually, wrong again. The EIA graphic he links to shows the rate of energy efficiency increasing after 1970, which is when government regulations started coming into play.

Of course, CFLs are really all part of the Agenda 21 plot to steal our precious bodily fluids and our golf courses, Mandrake.

#RGIII buys wrong game for teammates

Fox Sports reports that Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III bought XBox One games for his offensive linemen.

Given how much he's been dumped on his tuchis this year, shouldn't he have bought Madden 2014 instead, so they could see what NFL blocking and blocking schemes look like?

Fox's story kindly provides pictures of some of the worst of his hits, which all seem to have nary a Skins' O-lineman in them! A big, humongous tub of Stickum

That said, RGIII probably should buy a Madden 2014 for himself while he's at it. Many an NFL writer has noted that his inability to throw the football away as he need to do has contributed to these bone-jarring hits.

No word on what he got Mike Shanahan for Christmas, other than putting him on his "get fired" wish list.

Speaking of ....

Maybe Danny Boy Snyder can give the ax to Shanny, and, despite Jethro Jones giving all of his guarantees to Jason Garrett, he can do the same.

And then, the two teams can swap coaches!

Better yet, or worse yet, if possible, but certain to provide hilarity, maybe the two owners can swap teams for a year.

But, that's a whole separate piece right there! And, one that I may write in the future.

#Newspapers - how and why to make the digital-only leap

Note that I said digital-only, not digital-first, and especially not done in the dumb way by a company like Digital First Media, or the dumb plus half-assed way by Advance. That said, as of late November, DFM has seen the paywall light, in a move that must be giving the likes of Jeff Jarvis and Clay Shirky heart attacks.

I said digital-only, like Jeff Bezos (pre-Washington Post purchase) I guess expects papers to be when he predicted the demise of the (hardcopy) daily newspaper in 20 years.

The answer? Put out quality news. Put up that paywall. Stop treating digital and hardcopy as the same, and, like the Economist, start thinking about how to become digital first while still producing serious news. As "Newsosaur" Alan Mutter notes, newspaper ad sales continue to sag. And, per his eight-year timeline, the sag started before the housing bubble really started bursting except in a select few places, so can't even really blame that.

There's other reasons for separating digital and print, and preparing for a digital-first future. Online ads, more and more, look for not just different software skills, but different temperaments, focuses, and angles, for one thing.

And, if you want to be really radical, when you go digital first? Drop those wire service subscriptions. Until the news aggregators have to pay high enough for them to put up paywalls, you simply can't compete.

So drop AP and Reuters.

Now, that said, this would be a nightmare from their point of view. So what. If you're an individual paper, you're not here to subsidize wire services.

On the flip side, there is some truth to how going online only, and totally, not a hybrid like Advance Publications is doing with its major papers, frees up a lot of overhead. (And I'm talking about online-only as Net-HTML style only; no "e-editions" of PDFs of hardcopy newspaper pages.)

Obviously, pagination copy editors are gone. A small portion of them will be kept around for line-type copy editing, though I don't think it will be many; even larger newspapers will be cheap here. (And, with Adobe going to the cloud, on a subscription basis, including forced buys for updates, you escape having to have so many copies of InDesign, unless, of course, you dodge that by going back to Quark.)

As for a website? Teach the managing editor, sports editor and other guys who now paginate how to use Wordpress (the website version, not the blogging one). That way, you also dump TownNews or whoever else is providing your web services and likely overcharging you.

Printing press? If you're a daily of any size, you own your own. Well, now you don't have to pay pressmen, or press maintenance, or buy upgrades.

The rest of your "overhead" you lose?
1. No more paper and ink purchases.
2. No more maintenance on your printing press
3. No more maintenance on your press building
4. No more property taxes on the building or the press after you sell them, or ...
4A. The luxury of higher property taxes from renting a press building for something else
5. No more pressman salaries
6. No more delivery drivers, driver salaries, etc.
7. Reductions in your circulation department, as well as its overhead.
8. Reductions in copy editor staff. (If you care about editorial quality, you'll keep some, to copy-edit stories, do website content management, retrain for new website work, etc.)
9. No more hassles with delivery of hardcopy inserts to your press

For nondailies, some of this overhead still applies
So does:
1A. No more Postal Service hassles, including not having to be a USPS pawn played off against Valassis and other inserters
2A. No more customer service hassles with subscribers from deteriorating USPS service.
3A. If you're a liberal small-town paper publisher, the schadenfreude of largely whiter, tea partyish older folks having to get used to an online paper because their tea party Congresscritters were trying to kill the USPS via whatever financialization means possible so as to privatize postal service.

Advantages for media consumers
1. Possible elimination of the temptation to add debt by purchasing legacy hardcopy papers from old-school moguls
2. Reduction in the glitz factor of becoming a vanity newspaper owner

 Note 1: If you're a paper as big as the Dallas Morning News, and can't see fit to put a general-purpose "search" box on your home page, don't even think of coming close to going digital only. That said, when you're the Dallas Morning News and you're stupid enough to junk your paywall, and instead think you'll make more money off a separate "premium" website, again, don't even think of coming close to going digital only.

December 24, 2013

It's the #NSA Santa Tracker, far better than the NORAD Santa Tracker

From the site of Willie Colon,
The NORAD Santa Tracker is a lot of fun for parents to play with, whether with their children or on their own. But, in the spirit of remembering that NORAD stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command, we can do better.

In that spirit, I introduce the NSA Santa Tracker, run by our beloved National Security Agency.

So, parents and kids, use your National Security Agency Santa Tracker to see if (not "when") Santa's going to visit your house. See, by spying on your, your teachers, and your parents' cell phone, Internet and cable TV habits, Gen. Keith Alexander-Claus really knows that a lot of you have been naughty.

1. Yes, Charlie Smith, that was YOU cheating on that second-grade spelling test last week.

2. Yes, Destiny Jones, that was YOU texting your friends that evil gossip from BuzzFeed - Room 222.

3. Yes, Rodney Drucker, that was YOU staying up late trying to see nudity on Showtime.

4. Yes, Nathan Berg, that was YOU plagiarizing your Duke pre-pre-pre-SAT Talent Search essay from Jonah Lehrer off the Internet.

5. Yes, Violet Hernandez, that was YOU coloring outside the lines on your kindergarten picture.

No presents for YOU!

Of course, the NSA Santa Tracker knows when adults have been been bad, too. And since adults like to let their children believe in Santa in part for the second childhood fun of adults, they need to be part of this too. And President Dear Leader-Claus can punish them, too.

1. Rick Perry, you and George W. Bush just might, both of you two, might have been bad together in the Governor's Mansion in Austin in 1999 or so.  I mean, both of you were male cheerleaders. And, Gen. Keith has the goods. Your punishment? The state of Texas' quasi-official float in next year's Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco will be manned by the two of you. Enjoy the Castro!

2. Speaking of, don't Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz protest about gays too much? Gen. Keith knows JUST what's behind that word "dominionism." Your presents? An hour-long black Jesus Christmas greetings video from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

3. Dallas County DA Craig Watkins? Gen. Keith knows it's not nice to get some people off death row while at the same time you're still leading the state in executions. So, in the spirit of "Get Off My Lawn" blogger Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer, you get a whole set of Jim Schutze lawn jockeys, all with motion sensors triggering recordings of him reading all his columns about you.

4. Jerry Jones? Gen. Keith knows you've been very, very, very bad as Dallas Cowboys' "general manager" for about 15 years or so. About as bad as your fellow owner, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, or Daceys, as Bill Simmons calls them. So? You and Danny Boy get to change franchises for a year. Whether your respective fan bases will like that or loathe it remains to be seen. Oh, and as your first acts, you can fire Jason Garrett and Mike Shanahan at your new teams and have them hired at your old ones.

5. Wendy Davis? Gen. Keith not only has the record of you pandering to moderates, with a chaser of Texas exceptionalism, in Waxahachie, he's got the goods from your campaign office on what was behind that decision, and how it could play out in the rest of your campaign. So, Gen. Keith got you Brandon Parmer as your Green Party gubernatorial opponent, and nada from a certain blogger in your attempt to pair a campaign donation request with a survey.

Laplace is "the reason for the season"

Pierre-Simon Laplace/Wikipedia
This is the time of year when fundamentalist-type Christians wail and moan about a largely nonexistent “war on Christmas.” Even nonfundamentalists often talk about Jesus being “the reason for the season.”

Some atheists, respond that Mithra is the reason for the season, as the Persian sun god’s holy day was celebrated Dec. 25. Yet others refer to Saturn as the reason, with the Roman Saturnalia. And, there are other candidates, too.

The commonality, of course, is that all of these gods had their holy day, nativity or whatever commemorated on or around the winter solstice.

And that’s why I say “Laplace is the reason for the season.”

That would be Pierre-Simon Laplace.

That would be the scientific progenitor of the nebular hypothesis for the origin of our solar system, which, with modern refinements, explains angular momentum of our planet and others, which, coupled with axial tilt (caused in fair part by early solar system microplanetary bombardments and collisions) created — seasons!

In short, Laplace explained how Earth, Gaia, Tellus or whatever name you give it, came to have its currrent seasons, including the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. He explains the reason behind all of these religions having major celebrations around Dec. 25.

His thought was part of his larger work on classical mechanics.

And, he is sadly overlooked as the man who developed Thomas Bayes’ ideas into Bayesian probability as we know it today. In fact, we really should call it Laplacean probability. The idea as we have it today owes at least as much to Laplace as to Bayes.

So, Laplace is the reason for the season! And, per what I just wrote, someone who needs more "love" from popular science appreciators.

That said, it appears to be apocryphal that he bluntly told Napoleon, “I have no need for that hypothesis” when presenting his nebular theory, when Napoleon allegedly asked about god. Rather, more narrowly, Laplace was saying, contra Newton, he did not need to postulate god intervening at certain times and points to maintain the solar system in equilibrium.

That said, that was a bold enough statement. Post Reign of Terror, the equilibrium in France, and in general, was swinging back away from freethought in general and definitely from outright atheism.

Anyway, Laplace was a scientific genius who deserves more publicity.

And, starting with this point, from denizens of the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere possibly having SAD 2-3,000 years ago, just like today, there's good secular reasons to celebrate the solstice, and for taking a holiday for it, even if it's piggybacked as part of Christmas Day.

Besides Laplace, we can celebrate the technology that created light boxes to battle solstice-centered Seasonal Affective Disorder. Or the antifreeze the helps let cars run in winter. Or the human storytelling ability that developed narratives about gods, narratives centered on the solstice. Or, the historical-critical and  literary tools that show today how those myths developed. 

And, now, to tie celebrating Laplace into a bit of recent Gnu Atheist drivel ...

Or, you can be a Gnu Atheist Grinch about the idea of being even remotely associated with Christmas, as is Tom Flynn of the Center for Inquiry. But, to focus on Laplace here, I've got my thoughts about Flynn here.

And, per the commenter, the primary reason I edited the original end of this post was NOT because of "sniping." In fact, Flynn's blog post was in part what shaped some of the details of this one. And, if he doesn't even like our calendar because of how weeks and months are named, I doubt he will see any "light" in the future.

More thoughts on the Lakers, tanking, and "Riggin for Wiggins"

Now that Kobe Bryant is out six weeks (optimistically) with a broken leg, is it time for the Lakers to start tanking, and get some more Ping-Pong balls in next year's talent-heavy NBA draft? I say yes!

Given that Pau Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni recently had a spat, before a kiss and make up session, about how Gasol wanted to operate in the Lakers offense, that Jordan Farmar will probably still be out a bit and Steve Nash may be out for the rest of the year for all we know, and that at 13-16 as of Dec. 24, the Lakers are already probably out of the Western Conference playoff hunt, as Zach Lowe says in a Western Conference analysis ...

Why not tank?

Enter the Riggin' for Wiggins sweepstakes to nail down a shot at Kansas freshman star Andrew Wiggins?

Yes, it's hard to get veteran players to tank, as well as getting a coach worried about job security to do so.

But ... getting more of those Ping-Pong balls in front of the eyeballs of Adam Silver, replacing the lovely David Stern on lottery day, when you now know you're guaranteed to get a couple, is a no-brainer.

As for D'Antoni? Mitch Kupchak can offer him the appropriate guarantees of security.

What about the notoriously fickle fans, whom D'Antoni just told to take a hike if they can't back this year's team?

Well, first, that illustrates the stereotypical problem with many a Lakers fan — they're frontrunners. Second,  unlike Milwaukee Bucks fans actually encouraging their team to tank, and understanding why, it shows that many a Laker fan is kind of clueless about the fact their team should be playing this game, and why.

(So, in that sense, maybe the Lakers shouldn't tank. The rest of us can enjoy the schadenfreude of them getting the last playoff spot by some miracle, getting obliterated in the first round, then getting a crappy draft choice.)

Should D'Antoni and Kupchak sign off on the idea, though, it would be easy to do.

Keep Kobe on the injured list even after he says he's ready to come back.

Experiment with Gasol in new post positions. Get him to have some new back problems, while you're at it.

Keep looking for the ideal backcourt combo. (You were playing Kobe at point, so this is totally legit.)

Experiment with new zones on defense, even when they leak like a sieve.

See? This isn't hard to do.

It wouldn't be hard for the Lakers to fall behind everybody but Sacramento and Utah, at least, in the West, with the appropriate moves. With a bit of luck from the extra Ping-Pong balls, they could get one of the top 3 slots, even if not the top pick. And, in a draft as good as this one could be, even their expected No. 6 or so, in this case, would be a great pick.

Act now, D'Antoni! Per an interesting new Wheel of Drafting idea that's getting batted around the league, this could be your last year to benefit from tanking.

That said, players are slower to heal as they get older, even Kobe Bryant. That just signed two-year extension has to look like an albatross in Kupchak's mind now.

December 23, 2013

The Golden Rule vs. the Silver Rule and the War on Christmas

1. The small-town America background

I currently live in a small town in a small county in Central Texas. Indians run three of the motels here. I know at least one of them is not Christian, because the man has said so. I'll assume he's Hindu.

There's a Vietnamese family here. They could be Catholic, given that, especially in the earlier post-French governments of South Vietnam, Catholics predominated. There's still good odds they're Buddhist.

In the county, of 18,000, there's at least one Pakistani business owner. Presumably Muslim. And, even with a rural Texas discount from the national average, to just 0.1 percent, that would put 18 Jews in the count.

Hence, even in a smaller town in modern America, not everybody is a Christian. Per the Indians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese, and contra the likes of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, not everybody is a "cultural Christian," either.

And so, we should, at this time of year, think about the Golden Rule vs. the Silver Rule.

And, with that, the following several paragraphs are adapted from my most recent newspaper column.

2. How the Silver Rule shows itself to be better, often

One of the axiomatic moral guides of Christianity is, by many people, found in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not just Christian, as Jesus cites it as a summary of the Old Testament Law, or Torah.

That said, in Judaism and elsewhere, there’s also the flip side, often called the Silver Rule. This maxim, to be found in other religion and philosophy as well, says, “Do not do unto others what you don’t want them doing to you.” It too is ancient. For example, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the book of Tobit, part of the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, and the Protestant Apocrypha, says, “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.”

It’s arguably a little bit more live and let live, a bit more libertarian if you will, than the Golden Rule version.

Let me give you an example. I might love chocolate cream pie. So, if I follow the Golden Rule, I might think, I’ll bring you my neighbor a chocolate cream pie. How loving, right?

But, if you’re diabetic, that’s about the worst thing I could do for you. Instead, I should be thinking, what can I do to be nice to someone else that he or she likes, not what I like and think he or she should like.

In other words, it’s an invitation to step into another person’s shoes, or moccasins, or slippers, and walk a few yards, if not a full mile.

I think of it in light of alleged “War on Christmas” talk that ratchets up this time of year.
From where I stand, many people say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” for one, or more, of several reasons that have no spiritual warfare involved.

Speaking of Judaism, maybe they’re Jewish. Or Muslim. Or non-religious. Or, they don’t know what your beliefs are. Or, if it’s in the business world, they certainly don’t know the religious beliefs of John or Jane Customer. Or maybe it’s Christians who believe Christmas has become so commercialized they don’t want to utter the “Merry Christmas” phrase any more.

And, having given you a prologue to that column, which was small-town focused, I move beyond it to the big picture again.

4. How this should play out today, the Christian side

Besides Faux News and Rush Limbaugh throwing red meat to fundamentalist Christians, there's really no need for fundamentalists, or conservative evangelical types, to buy into this.

If anybody's conducting a War on Christmas, it's the likes of Walmart, with ever-increasing commercialization, including Christian Christmas items made in China, to boot.

Most people who say "Happy Holidays" aren't trying to overthrow your celebration of your holiday. But, because Christmas has become secularized, far more than Easter (setting aside the pagan origins of most ways in which Christmas is actually celebrated), those people are just trying to carve out a bit of space to observe Christmas their way.

In any case, the idea of pastoral tranquility, the end of shortening days, the sharing of joyousness with family, even "spirituality," if you will, is a message not just limited to Christians at this time of year.

So, per the Silver Rule, honor the intent. Even Joel Osteen says the "War on Christmas" claims are overblown.

4. How this plays out today, the secularist side, part 1

As for displays on public property?

Certain Gnu Atheists who want to fight fire with fire there, if a Christmas seen is too religious and hasn't been denatured into Supreme Court type civic religion enough with the addition of something from Hanukkah, could and should "fire away." And, in Oklahoma City, they're being joined by Satanists and Hindus. That's why I don't always offer up blanket condemnation of Gnus. Sometimes they are, to riff on a phrase, doing the secularists work in the secular vineyards.

And, Nino Scalia aside, "civic religion" still has the word "religion" in it, and in the 21st-century United States, government at any level ought not to be promoting it.

So, here, I split with some secular humanists who always want to condemn Gnu Atheists. Tis always the season for insisting that the state not foster religion by overtly religious displays.

And, to be honest, not everybody involved with this might, technically, even be called a Gnu Atheist. Some might be more activist than I am, but yet not be deliberately courting antagonism.

And, until Christians, municipal governments, and even some secular humanists separate out issues of Christmas on public (government) property vs. private property, no, this one isn't going to go away. And, it's not the secularists' fault. I now deliberately switch from "Gnu Atheist" to "secularist," per the section subheader, to stress that.

And thus, I can't agree with those who want to condemn secularists who insist on proper interpretation of the First Amendment in the public square. That includes standing up to some Christians who want to fight back.

As I posted on Facebook, look at Oklahoma City. There, it's not just secularists, but Satanists and Hindus who are also insisting on proper interpretation of the First Amendment in the public square.

For Christians who insists this is part of a War on Christmas, St. Augustine, already, distinguished between two cities. For secularists of a stripe who say the same, no, it's a defense of civil liberties.

3. How this plays out today, the secularist side, part 2

That said, there are some so-called Gnu Atheists, about whom I've blogged before, who do engage in a war on Christmas.

Tom Flynn of the Center for Inquiry, as I said in my blog post from a year ago about French astronomer Pierre Laplace being "the reason for the season," thinks Christmas should not even be a secular holiday. And, in shades of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, and more than just shades of outright cluelessness, he wants to rename the days of the week now named after pagan gods.

Other Gnu Atheists have put up deliberately in-your-face billboards, as much to put up in-your-face billboards, if anything else.

They seem to reflect and exemplify Albert Camus' idea in "The Rebel" that many an actual, or alleged, atheist, needs at least the idea of god to rebel against. On psychology of religion and philosophy of language grounds, one wonders whether this tar baby could not itself be called the god of such Gnu Atheists, and even more the ones who put signs on Christmas celebrators' lawns telling them to stop it.

They also seem to be clueless about Principle No. 1 of Marketing 101: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. (Actually, per what I just said, Gnus' claims aside, I suspect that the billboards actually have about zero to do with atheist evangelism.)

So, when it comes to public displays on public property, with First Amendment issues involved, I'm all for Gnus pushing the envelope a bit on civil liberties.

Even there, though, and certainly in all other cases, it's the season to ... don't be a dick.

Or, if you "have to" be a dick, find a more trivial cause for your dickery, at least.

Note: This is not a claim to be perfect at this myself.

Note 2: I'm not Chris Stedman, and don't have a massive "brand" to promulgate this, but you heard it from me first.