Sunday, February 29, 2004

Subway rats

So I have noticed that some subway stations have way more rats than others. The 103rd Stop (especially downtown) on CPW, actually all the CPW stops are pretty infested. The 23rd Street stop on the F train (also downtown) is also particularly bad. The Manhattan ones are generally much worse than the Brooklyn or Queens ones.

Last night I was alone with a whole rat family on the downtown 103rd Street platform at 3AM. It was very disturbing.

Arrgh. The MTA really has to do something about this.

Also, since they re-opened the Manhattan Bridge the subway service has improved greatly. But they still have a ways to go.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


So where are all the pundits on Haiti?

If we can spare the troops, they can really use the law and order.

It seems like a lot of Democrats are trying to make a race thing out of this. That is clearly dumb. But for some reason the Republicans are holding back. They really did learn their lesson from the last time they sent troops in to a foreign government. They had to deal with protest for months.

Apparently Aristide is not all that popular, and there are "baby doc" fans out there. And for some reason they can't wait till the next election to get rid of him because he squandered lots of their money. So there is an emerging civil war between the Aristide fans and the rebels.

France is calling for Aristide to step down, which leads me to believe that Aristide's stepping down is in the best interest of France. Of course, Aristide is the democratically elected leader. So is there no way to impeach him or something?

Perhaps we can send in troops and call for immediate new elections there. Haiti has a VERY long history of coups. It has had over 30 in its history. It is time for them to grow up as a nation and be mature about power.

Also, there is about to be a growing refugee issue here. All these Haitians wanting to escape the violence, will be washing up on our shores. Perhaps we ought to have a category of temporary asylum. There has got to be a reasonable way to do that.

And that Democratic congresswoman on CNN this morning who said that "Cubans get asylum as soon as they land on US soil, and Haitains do not. Therefore we are racist." is a real idiot, and ought to be impeached for being so stupid.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Ralf's running. . . Yawn.

I really don’t get the whole brouhaha over Nader running for president? Why would the Democrats want to censor him? (or whatever they want to do) Why would Democrats want so badly to see him not run? If they hate Bush so much, and all they care about is not a good president, but one who is not Bush, then they should just vote for the Democrat. Everyone by now knows what Nader cost Gore. Who in their right mind would make THAT mistake again and vote Nader.

This is like getting worried that Sharpton will take votes away from your favorite democrat. Please. Anyone who voted for him, had a second choice of staying home. It wasn’t like if he were not running Clarke or Dean would have gotten anywhere.

Of course, this all just goes to prove the one point of Nader’s of which I am very sympathetic. And that is that the US is and always has been a two-party Duopoly. Two parties take turns controlling the country. The two agendas, which are not the only two in the country (given our current way of thinking about things there are necessarily at least 4), have been in charge for a very long time. I happen to have an intense dislike for both parties. Right-wing religious lunatics, and left-wing quasi-socialists, are all fair game. Both parties suck. We need more parties. Unfortunately for me, Nader’s beliefs are the antithesis of my own, so I will have to pick the candidate who, come election time, more closely represents how I feel about the state of the war, the economy, and the union in general.

Also, and this ties in with the first issue, who is really all that mad? These media bullshitters say things like “thousands of democrats are angry that Nader is running. . .” Are they just making this up? Again, people who hate Bush enough all believe that everyone who is sane hates Bush enough, and will thus vote Democrat. Who cares if there is an additional name on the ballot. Nader would be about as famous as the communist or libertarian candidate if the media let him. For some stupid reason CNN has little else to do then to promote him.

But at the end of the day, Nader will end up with a few former disenchanted Deaniacs, but as a whole, who are we kidding, Nader could not look worse, and damn it, if I were the Democrat candidate, I really would not want the Nader voter.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Presidents and their military records

I find it so odd that all of a sudden a president's military record is important to the Democrats. Kerry and friends are attacking Bush for joining the National Guard, while Kerry, a "real American" was in Vietnam. When Clinton, a draft dodger, was running, the democrats were saying over and over how much the whole thing does not matter, and George Bush Senior's war-hero military record is completely irrelevant. The Republicans never played up the military angle, not even under Bush Sr. or Bob Dole. I wonder why. I guess that for them it is no big deal, or perhaps they really do not feel like exploiting it. Sometimes, like under W, it would work to their disadvantage.

I think that participating in the military is important, though not a vital asset in a president. I wish everyone can be consistent.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Review of Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained

Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained is a book worthy of its title. That is not to say I think that it makes a perfect case, but it certainly does attempt one. The book is essentially a long argument in favor of an evolutionary psychology account of why there is religion. Religion of course is not confined to our major religions, but rather religion in the anthropological sense, where there are beliefs, and practices, and the like.

The main argument in the book goes, if I may try to paraphrase, that we have various cognitive systems in our brain. These systems were "designed" to fulfill certain very useful and obvious functions, like separate prey from predator, and interact socially with others. Moreover, we are used to looking in the world in a very specific way where we assign certain kinds of roles to certain kinds of agents whenever possible. Explanations of events that fit in to the style of the accounts that we are predisposed to take seriously anyway are more likely to stick in our memories, and become believed.

So religion is a byproduct of all these little systems. We have psychological mechanisms that are conducive to forming religious beliefs, not because that is what the mechanism is for, but rather as a kind of epiphenomena of all of the other necessary and useful systems.

The book is long and tedious. That is not to say it was boring, but I think that next time he writes a book, I will look around for the executive summary. The book is a very carefully constructed argument, which each section adding another piece to a complicated puzzle. At times, especially at the end, the author speculates a bit, but does not go on to anything too implausible.

I liked the book. It did offer a plausible account of why people have certain beliefs. I suspect that there is or will be more neuropsychological evidence for more of this in the future, and I will read that when it comes out.

I did start to worry at some point. It is not clear to me what this book might mean for reasoned discussion about religion. There is a tiny bit of discussion on why there are some non-believers. But is philosophy of religion, as an endeavor to convince people to change their minds either way, an available option? What I mean is, if people believe things because that is how their minds work, it is possible to convince them that they might be wrong, or is the endeavor as muddle headed as trying to convince them that they kid brother is a screwdriver? Is is futile? I wonder.

Again, if you can spare the time, read the book. There is a lot in there for a lot of different people.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Advice from an undecided

Few people who are truly undecided in the upcoming presidential race are undecided because they think that both sides are so wonderful that they don't know who to pick. Undecided like myself firmly believe that we will make up our minds the day before the election, depending on how things look then. What will the economy look like, what will the war in Iraq look like, etc.

I hate politics and the major political parties. They really make me sick when I think about the stupidity that goes in to running our government. Neither party is really good.

That said, let me tell you what most of my conversations with these politics fans sounds like. (Most of my friends are Democrat fans, but I have discovered that this is absolutely true for both.)

Me: I am fairly undecided about who I am going to vote for.

Democrat Fan: You should vote for Kerry.

Me: Weren't you campaigning for Clarke last week?

Democrat Fan: Well, yes, but he isn't running, and he supports Kerry, so so do I.

Me: That is a reason to support a candidate?

Democrat Fan: No, the real reason is that Bush is Evil.

Me: Hmmmm. I sort of agree.

Democrat Fan: So you should vote for Kerry.

Me: But I don't really think Kerry or democrats are any better.

Democrat Fan: But Bush got us in to the war in Iraq.

Me: Well, I like the war in Iraq.

Democrat Fan: Yeah, but Bush is going to pull out in June, right before the elections, for political reasons.

Me: So why aren't you voting for Bush?

Democrat Fan: Because Bush messed up the economy.

Me: I don't know much about economics, but I do know that there is no reason to think that the Democrats will do a better job than the republicans.

Democrat Fan: But Bush spent Trillions of more dollars. And Who are we kidding We did great under Clinton.

Me: Clinton got lucky with the thing. Is there some reason to think that will happen again only if Kerry wins?

Democrat Fan: Clinton fixed the economy with his own bare hands.

Me: You have got to be kidding. I am not that stupid.

Democrat Fan: Well, Bush is just screwing everything up.

Me: I know.

Democrat Fan: So why vote for him?

Me: Because I am not convinced that Bush will be any worse. And who said I am voting for him?

Democrat Fan: Well then what is the problem?

And here is where the whole thing trails off. (Mind you, the same conversation can be had between me and a Republican Fan, I just do not have that many republican friends, being an overeducated academic Jew from New York.)

These types of conversations annoy the hell out of me. I do not need people to bullshit with me about how much they hate Bush. I am not his biggest fan. Marriage benefits, stem cell research, all that religious crap, I think they all suck too. I do not need to be told YOUR stupid reasons for hating bush. If they were good reasons I would hate him for those reasons too. But I don't. I don't think that he is any more evil than any other politician ever was, and I really am for any war that saves millions of people from being ruled and killed by a genocidal maniac.

So here is my advice: Stop this negative campaigning. I don't want to hear it. Tell me how and why the country will get better under Bush or Kerry. Tell me, in simple terms, how Kerry will improve the economy. If you have no idea how economics works, say that. Do not BS me with great stories of Clinton or Reagan, and assume I will just be stupid enough to think that because the economy improved with Clinton or Reagan, I will assume that it will improve under Bush or Kerry. Tell me how the Iraqi people will not get screwed by our pullout under your favorite candidate. Tell me how we will not have to put up with scientifically idiotic programs such that we ban everything related to important research because the people are ignorant of what stem cells are. Tell me how your candidate will lower taxes. Tell me how your candidate will preserve social security. Tell me how we will secure the country against terror. Tell me about how your candidate has a good plan for the environment. Tell me how your candidate will not get pushed around by the UN, but not appear like a bully. Tell me what your candidate will actually do for the planet. Tell me how my life will improve. That is all I want from a president.

Oh, and I REALLY don't care who is sleeping with who.

Spare me the diatribes. Spare me the hate. I have enough of my own. I am sufficiently cynical for a small neighborhood. I hate most people already. Tell me good things.

Why Valentine's day is a Republican holiday

I really hate Valentine's day. I do not think there are any numbers on what percent of Americans are in relationships, or what percentage of Americans do something "special" for valentine's day. However, given what I saw in Cafe Edgar, Cafe Mozart, Cafe Lalo, dive bar, and all sorts of other places I happened to visit on Valentine's night, there are plenty of people who are not celebrating valentine's day. I was not the only, nor the hundredth person I saw who "third wheeled" some couple, or went out with a friend of the same sex (who was not gay). The place was full of non-attached people. There were of course a lot of these kissy-kissy mushy-mushy types who were grossing the rest of us out, but I guess we should be tolerant. Given the poor state of couples these days , they really need some more mush.

Valentine's day reminds me very much of all these Republican marriage incentives. 1) Promote couplehood. 2) Make everyone believe that couplehood is great 3) Make non-couples feel bad 4) Make a national holiday promoting couplehood 5) Make sure there is no comparable holiday for single people. . . George Bush could not have designed a better holiday if he spent the whole billion dollars congress gave him to promote marriage. Bush is just upping the stakes by throwing in tax breaks for couples so they can buy even more expensive flowers on Valentine's day. Damned Republicans. Promoting a society that makes people feel bad because they are somewhat independent, or unfortunate, or something like that is just plain mean.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Religion, government, and what Freud would think

I am pretty sure that there is a relationship between someone's view on government (to the extent that one actually has a view on government) and their view on religion (same qualifier as above).

Freud has a view that if one has a psychological problem, and one tries to fix the symptoms, the problem will just manifest itself some other way. So if someone for example develops a nose-picking problem in response to some childhood trauma involving their nose, and they are cured of their nose picking without proper analysis, then the problem will just come back, but probably in a different form, say in scratching their hair too much.

For Freud, God is merely the solution to a psychological need. We need a big powerful father who can solve all of our problems. When we realize that our real father is really not as big and powerful as we initially believed in our formative years, we need to replace him with something else. Preferably this time, with someone omnipotent, and infallible. So our mind transfers the object of our need from our father, to our God. Our father's strength was the symptom manifested to the problem of our need for that kind of security. When that does not work well, we develop another symptom, namely religion. It just replaces the first.

So far this is straight out of Freud.

I think this can be extended. Imagine someone goes through college and realizes that there is no God. So now, Freud would predict, that one will attempt to replace this with something that will satisfy the same need. We can look around and see if there is such a thing. Well, what is big, and demands lots of sacrifice, and appears omnipotent, and to a large extent omniscient, and in theory omnibenevolent? Big government, of course. People who have tended to loose a lot of what religion gave them tend to want to believe in the ever good powers of big government. In America we call these people democrats.

Democrats are those who are politically aware and have a need for big governments. They need government to solve all their problems for them. They want the government to feel, shelter, clothe, and educate them. (Sound familiar so far?) They believe in a solution to most problems existing in government hands. They think that giving more taxes (read sacrifices) to the government will make things better.

Republicans tend to not need this because they already have a God that can do all this stuff. Why have a second God?

Democrats are just another type of religious phenomenon, equally without legitimacy. They are not more enlightened for giving up God. They have simply shifted the problem.

What Freud would probably want us to realize is that we have this dependence on something greater than ourselves. It is only this way that we can give up that need that we feel. That need is just a neurosis which, like religion, we need to rid ourselves of.


I have discovered that most women can resist a man in uniform.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

T"U BeShevat

Today was T"U BeShevat. I hope you all enjoyed some new fruit and stuff. I didn't. Actually the only natural thing I ate was some lettuce. Otherwise it was mostly reconstituted this and instant that. Bad me. I need more nature on my diet. not that I trust nature all that much - being fuill of bacteria and dirt and stuff, but still, some good old-fashioned apples or something can't hurt.

Thursday, February 05, 2004


The pressident is right now giving a speech in the port of Charleston SC about a whole bunch of things. Most of the speech is fluff and he is not saying anything anyone does not know. But somehwere in the speech he said something like ". . . and congress must renew the Patriot Act. . ." At that point the audience broke in to applause, and then the president continued.

Now, I am kind of agnostic on the Patriot Act. Perhaps law enforcement needs it temporarily to deal with some important terrorist threats. Perhaps there is a chance of abuse. Actually there is definitely a chance of abuse, and perhaps a non-trivial chance. But who knows. Maybe ist is just a way for our little-government Republicans to act like Big-government totalitarians.Who knows. Either way, no one I know has been affected yet. And I know some pretty scketchy people.

Regardless of how you feel about the Patriot Act, it strikes me as the oddest thing to break out in spontaneous applause over it. As an American is is either something I would oppose, or something I would sit through in silence while I reflect on the sad fact that we are in a state that we may need certain liberties suspended. When the president feels it must be extended, you sadly nod that we have to give away our valued way of life, even for only a few years, and in only a few ways. This is hardly a time for applause.

New Nephew

As of late last night, I have a new nephew. (Thanks Sis.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

What's the big deal with no WMDs?

I am still trying to figure out why the ENTIRE discussion of the war in Iraq is now focused on the intelligence "failure" that told us that WMDs would be waiting for us as soon as we entered Iraq. It seems like there were countless reasons to go in to Iraq, this weapons threat was only one of them.

Imagine we had to justify our entrance in to WWII on the grounds that the Nazis had WMDs, and all we found when we got in were gas-chambers that posed absolutely no threat to the US.

This is all a big red herring. It is attempting a post-hoc restructure of the whole debate on the war, making this WMD thing retroactively the sole reason for the invasion. This is of course easy now that the actual threats that Sadam Hussein and the Ba'athists posed are no longer there.