Why meditate?

By the question "why meditate?" I don't want to refer to the possible benefits of meditation, but rather what one does during meditation in the most abstract sense, the driving purpose for meditation as an activity. I have been in several meditation sessions (in Houston, Silver Spring, Jacksonville, and Freiburg) and have picked up a common thread by Western lay meditators that one meditates in order to "be in the moment." I believe that this is also a typical layperson's opinion, that meditation trains you or allows you to enjoy being in the moment. I never really bought that -- probably because I never really understood what it meant. So I was on the search for a different answer to this question.

I have now come to believe that meditation has a very different purpose, and I came to this idea through mindfulness of breathing practices. In life, you are controlled by your mind, or more specifically, your thoughts. Thoughts can be purely internal or can lead to action. In the practices by B. Alan Wallace I have been doing, he encourages meditators not to be pursued by thoughts, not to get carried away by imaginings, by the content, by the then and there. The lesson is: you may have a thought, for example, that you want to speak to someone about something later, but simply just don't go there. Don't start imagining how you would phrase something, or where would be a good place to meet. Don't get carried away. Meditation trains you to release these thoughts in order to return to the meditative practice, which is usually focusing on a "meditative" object like the breath or mental awareness (not to return to not thinking as a lot of people tend to believe).

The way I see it, much of one's day is getting carried away by thoughts. You have a thought, and now it has control. You can see this with new technologies as well. I've seen college students for whom, as soon as a question about a movie pops into their head, they are off to look up imdb or wikipedia. Or maybe they experience something and they just have to update their facebook status or write an email. Their thoughts have total control and carry them away, sometimes at an alarmingly high rate. In other words, the number of thoughts they reject to entertain is very low. This causes excitement, lack of concentration, lowered productivity, and a constant tension.

In mindfulness of breathing or any meditative practice, however, you do not get carried away by thoughts. You don't pursue them; you let them be. And when you truly don't pursue them, they disappear and you can return to the breath or other object. The main challenge is of course that it is hard to get carried away by your object; there is nothing interesting about the breath so you can only focus on it by settling the mind. So the important part is not getting carried away by involuntary thoughts. They are simply released, which in the practices I am doing is mainly by using the out-breath, and you return to the practice.

In fact, the main obstacle to concentration in general is the steady stream of involuntary thoughts not related to the activity you want to concentrate on. That seems to be a good definition of distraction: having unrelated thoughts, desires, and meanderings, which sometimes even lead to action. You may be sitting at the computer working, then think about something unrelated, and all of the sudden you are getting up out of your chair to do something else! Distraction in action! Distraction embodied!

It is very important to stress that most of our thoughts are in fact involuntary. While sometimes we choose to think about something explicitly, but most of the time thoughts happen to us. In meditation, this becomes so much clearer because you are sitting there, wanting to meditate, and you experience a rush of all kinds of crazy thoughts that take you away to the past events, hypothetical situations, various emotional states and urges, you name it.

But in mindfulness of breathing, you slowly let these thoughts pass without distraction and without grasping onto them, and the mind will eventually settle. At this point you can see why mindfulness of breathing can be used to enhance concentration. This is what I am using it for now in line with the book Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace and his guided meditations on iTunes. In line with what I have been saying, it should be no surprise that one of key components to concentration is in fact relaxation. Relaxation practice gives you the state of mind that is prepared not to get carried away at every moment.

But back to the central question: What does meditation do for you? What do people try to accomplish in meditation? What is the goal of meditation? I said that many people think of meditation as, in some form or another, related to "being in the moment." I think this means that either meditation trains you for it, allows you to enjoy it, or just allows you a chance to simply be in the moment during the day. My view is different. I would meditation is unique in life in that it allows you an opportunity not to get carried away by your thoughts. It gives a time during the day where you do not pursue thoughts, where involuntary thoughts do not have their bite, where you for once feel in control, relaxed, still, and peaceful. This is the path to discovering more about the nature of the mind, and therefore not primarily about "being in the moment."

Meditation in regards to concentration is for me also about being more autonomous as a thinking creature. You have the mental state to attend to what you want to. No doubt involuntary thoughts have some benefit (brilliant ideas can suddenly "pop" into your head), but meditation seems to me to only block bad, "unwholesome" thoughts (as Buddhist terminology would have it). I think if a brilliant or truly worthy involuntary thought does pop into your head, you will certainly notice it no matter what meditation practice you have been doing.

So the only advantage that there could be to being "natural" (i.e. untrained in meditation) where lots of involuntary thoughts are always bouncing around in your head is that somehow this way of being increases the chances of having good involuntary thoughts that are worth paying attention to. I doubt this is true. I think meditation calms your mind and only tosses out the bad.

From my personal experience, I can say that these past 7 months -- from the start of 2010 until now in which I have meditated every morning except for a handful -- have been a significant improvement in my daily internal mental experience and thoughts, the even-keel I feel inside, and, most importantly, how I actually behave.

P.S. I have made these types of arguments before, which are of the pattern: People say X, but I really think Y is what is going on. Often I get a frustrating retort, which goes like: I agree with you that Y is what is happening, but that is really just X anyway (or that is just implied by X).

Applied to this post, that means that not being pursued by thoughts is just a byproduct of being in the moment. Sounds plausible enough, but I think it's wrong. You wouldn't put so much weight on "not pursuing thoughts" just because you are trying to "be in the moment." These are just two separate ideas. Aren't your thoughts in the moment anyway? Why not pay attention to them?

One response is that being in the moment means something like listening to the sounds you hear or staring quietly at an object for a long time. But the problem is that these outside qualities give "being in the moment" an external emphasis, while "not pursuing thoughts" has an internal emphasis. And meditation is all about internal experience, so emphasis should be laid on that. So I would suggest that "not pursuing thoughts" is a much better goal to make clear to beginning meditators rather than the clich├ęd and misleading "being in the moment." What do you think?



Sacrificing animals

Tim Worstall says

The Gadhimai festival seems to be the latest thing to get the animal rights activist's panties in a twist.

Yes, tens of thousands of animals are being sacrificed in this once every five years festival honouring Gadhimai. But so what?

They're all animals that have been raised to be killed to be eaten, the carcases will all be taken home and eaten.

All that's happened is that the animals have all been killed in one place rather than back in hte home villages. And as to the argument that the methods are cruel: well, yes, they tend to be in poor rural areas.

Your point is what?

Three points: 1) Does he *know* that on net no more animals will be killed? Perhaps this festival leads some families to kill more than usual -- after all it is a huge festival that sacrifices animals to a goddess. Why not bring a couple more and please her? Maybe even some families eat no or little meat but think it's OK to sacrifice once every five years. Without knowing much about the festival or the people, I find it weak to say there will be no net effect on animals.

2) A collection of people together killing animals is in fact more valuable to activists than people killing them alone, for the simple reason that one can protest to all of them at once. If you have the choice to go to each of thousands of houses to try to make a statement or just one festival with thousands of people there, obviously you would go to the festival. At this time (during the festival) is the best time to speak up.

3) The festival is not just about animals, but the culture of killing animals. The festival implicitly affirms and reinforces their culture. It seems very similar to Thanksgiving. Consider two possible worlds, one in which the US has Thanksgiving and one in which it doesn't. It seems likely that it would be easier to convert everyone to vegetarianism in the one without Thanksgiving than the one with. Think on the margin. This is also reflected by the question that many new vegetarians get: "What are you going to eat on Thanksgiving?" Traditions are important to people.



A great post on the incompatilibity of science and religion.



One word

The winner for word of the year goes to... "grok"! I absolutely love this word. There is a whole wiki article on it. A succinct description is

"When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity."

I'm not sure about the identity part. Maybe someone could grok something without affecting their identity. From the use of the word elsewhere I feel like what people are after is when someone really internalizes something. They understand it through and through.

Anyway, I heard the word for first time while watching the Keith Devlin authors@google talk. A questioner from the audience asked why intelligent and educated people just cannot grok the idea of probability. Good question.



Idioms and Language

I took a class taught by a Hungarian economist whose English was not the best. Anytime someone would ask a question about a bit of text on the slide or in the reading, he would say This sentence wants to mean that... Naturally everyone in the class noticed it, but still understood what he meant. In English I suppose we don't usually make a "sentence" an agent, let alone an entity capable of intentionality. After all, sentences are not the most prototypical of agents (like an animate human being which actually performs physical actions all the time).

But what he was saying made sense. Yes, better would be I mean by this sentence that..., but after a while, I still got accustomed to his usage. And when I was doing the readings or studying with other people in the class, I had the urge to say This sentence wants to mean...

Although the phrase would probably strike a native English speaker as funny, since it made perfect sense to me, I thought it was fine. My standard English reaction changed. (Did my knowledge of English change? What if I forgot about the fact that what I was saying was non-standard?) There was no reason we shouldn't employ that usage anyway.

Then again, English speakers do say things like This equations means... and This argument shows..., so we do agentize concepts similar to a "sentence." That might be a reason for why The sentence wants to mean... is not so strange.



Sour Grapes?

In thinking about graduate schools and reading tips about applying, I often read some recommended requirement that I don't fulfill and that I don't really like. For example, one philosophy page preaches that "breadth is as important as depth" for philosophy course background. One should not just specialize in, say, philosophy of mind while having taken some logic, epistemology, and psychology courses only. One would also have to take moral or political philosophy.

That advice may be good for a lot of schools, but I keep thinking, why would I want to go to a school that would take "breadth is as important as depth" that seriously? It would be silly to assume that programs all equally weight it, therefore there is a difference among schools, so I want the ones that weight it less.

How little do some schools weight this? UC-Irvine has a Logic and Philosophy of Science department for which the "most natural undergraduate majors for graduate students [...] would be philosophy, mathematics, or the sciences." Carnegie Mellon has a Logic and Computation PhD program that barely offers moral or political philosophy at all. For these schools (and probably others), the popular advice is not true.

Sour grapes is deciding, in the event that you realize you can't have something, you don't really want it anyway. I hope I'm not doing that.




Numbers are good... and I was somewhat surprised by these.

"U.S. consumers expect prices to rise 7.7 percent in the coming year, according to the Conference Board, a research company. Investors expect inflation over the coming decade to average 3.4 percent based on bond market data analyzed by the Cleveland Fed. That is well above the Fed's unofficial target of about 2 percent."

The article is here.



The Atheists

An economist discusses the views of two prominent public atheists, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.



Farm Subsidies

I've written about farm subsidies before, so I figured I should share these two great posts from the Becker-Posner blog. Outlandish Farm Subsidies by Posner, and Farm Subsidies and Taxes by Becker.




I found a nice article by Karl Popper which I thought was worth it for this psychological point: If a theory is not falsifiable, then any piece of evidence "confirms" it, and so we may believe the theory has unbelievable insight and explanatory power. He mentions the fanatics of psychoanalysis, among others, but I could see it applying easily to mythology and religion. Here are his words.

"I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirmed instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still 'un-analyzed' and crying aloud for treatment."



Bare bones labor statistics

The article from which the following figures come is really not too related. It's about the history of political alignments in the US, but I thought these basic stats were good to know.

"According to 2006 US Government data, ‘whites’ — 198 million of a total of just under 300 million — earned on average $52,000 a year, compared to a national median of $48,000, and had an unemployment rate of 4 per cent, compared to a national average of 4.6 per cent. ‘Hispanic-Latinos’, the largest ‘minority’ at 43 million, earned $38,000 on average, with an unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent. ‘Asians’, another fabricated quantity, numbered 14 million, earned an average $64,000, and had a 3 per cent unemployment rate. ‘Black’ Americans, many of whom may trace their us ancestry to the time of the Founding Fathers or before, constituted 40 million, earned an average $32,000, and suffered an unemployment rate of 9 per cent."




Some environmental efforts can work at cross purposes. For example, the increased demand for biofuels has given even more incentive for deforestation of the Amazon. Article link.



Computers in Schools

I tend to think that the use of computers in schools is mostly a waste of money. I would agree with a computer lab, but not with laptops for students or more than a computer or two in most classrooms. I finally found an article agreeing with me.



Study Abroad Wisdom

Tip from Austria: never put a kilo of sauerkraut in your backpack.




By soaking in the readings in philosophy, I've realized how hard it is to come up with a thought that is coherent and important. The effect is that, strangely, I now value conversation hardly at all anymore. I almost feel like it's just too fast for me to say anything good.

I used to speak normally, I guess, expressing my opinion occasionally and adding a lot of socially expected leading questions and responses. Today, though, I was talking with someone and she said something completely false, but I just raised my eyebrows and glanced at some nearby object. No, this wasn't an argument. It would be equivalent to her saying, "It is raining outside," when I just walked in from outside and it was clear-skies.

It just didn't matter. Speech can get out of hand easily, and I didn't want to be dragged into anything for longer than the time it would take either to get me to understand what I want to know or to get her to understand what I'm trying to say.


Metro Rail

I used to give up my seat to women during my commute my commute to and from school on the Metro Rail. I kind of got tired of it since no other males displayed that behavior. I began to feel I was a part of a dying tradition. It does require energy, too. I've decided that it is much easier to become a feminist. That way I am being even more respectful!




Another worthwhile paper on economics with respect to its foundations. It explains how economics operates as a science, and meanwhile does a fantastic job in conveying the character of all of science. One must give the author allowance for explaining what may seem obvious about scientific methodology since the paper was written in 1953, a time when economics was relatively nascent (in terms of knowledge, not years), misunderstood, and hence not quite credible.



Popular conclusions

I want to dissect articles like this guy does. Check out another one by him. And what's up with that blog? They discuss etymology, linguistics, science, and legal issues(!). That is like, so my life.


Mind over matter

You ever read a passage that comes out of nowhere and just sticks, and you find yourself repeating its general idea long after reading it? That happened--and is happening--to me with the following passage from Concepts of Modern Mathematics. (The first paragraph sets up the flow.)

"A point lies on a line, geometrically, if it is a set-theoretic member of the line. So a point lies on two lines L and M if it is a member of L and a member of M, in other words, if it is a member of the intersection L & M. Set-theoretic intersection corresponds to geometrical intersection.

"Proceeding in this way, using coordinate geometry as inspiration, you can set up the whole of Euclidean geometry as part of set theory. From the way that you want geometry to behave, you can construct a purely mathematical theory. But now, instead of indulging in deep metaphysical arguments about the 'real' geometry, you can say: here is a mathematical theory. It deals with things which I call 'points' and 'lines.' I suspect that in the real world very small dots and very thin lines will behave in approximately the same way. And then people can go away and do experiments, to see if you are right. And even if it turns out that with very exact measurements you are wrong, you will still have a nice theory."



Creative Destruction

An interview about cultural exchange in the world.



Use of Knowledge

The Use of Knowledge in Society summarizes (beautifully, in my opinion) what I have been reading about the past couple weeks. It is a great article for an introduction to thinking about economics abstractly and fundamentally.




Stamps are a pretty bad idea. A letter to a distant rural area costs me the same as a letter to an apartment down the street in a big city, provided that they are in the same weight category. But does it cost the carrier the same? Isn't it more expensive to drive to the far away town than to drive down the street? Yes, I checked.

By working in the UPS store, I learned that UPS and Fedex do not go solely by weight, since that price does not reflect the difficulty of shipping a given package very well. They use a host of variables, including weight (naturally, since that is one legitimate factor), but also the distance of the shipment, bulkiness of the package measured by dimensions, speed at which the consumer wants it there, insurance on the item, and a couple others.

People cannot even pay the post office for some of these variables, but can pay for others. I can send a first-class letter or the faster "priority mail" through the Post Office, which tells me that they think speed is a variable which, if altered, changes the nature of the transaction. So they do admit that speed matters, but deny in practice that distance does, when really it seems that distance would be easier to guess the rates for.

I suppose the thought process is, "a letter is a letter, is a letter." Well, the very acknowledgment of speed destroys that. And anyway, that misses the whole point. We would never use the "an X is an X" in other circumstances. When I am at a restaurant, I don't say to the waiter, "Look buddy, a meal is a meal, and you want to charge me $14.95 for a steak, when the chicken is $11.95?"

The price of an items reflects the difficulty in offering it. It is not as if that information is good for its own sake. There is not some warm fuzzy feeling of aligning the price tag with its "true cost," which changes constantly anyway. It actually makes people operate more efficiently. If you are shipping an item through UPS with a box much bigger than the item so that there is extra room inside, and you see the high price due to the large size of the box, you might find it worth to invest in a smaller box. That leaves more money in your wallet and more room in the shipping truck. Maybe you will ship something that fits snugly in the big box later.

The real lesson is, businesses that allow prices to do their job will beat businesses that do not, since the latter is losing money (or making lower profit) when prices are lower than the cost to the business, and not attracting consumers when its prices are higher than other businesses'. But the US Post Office stronghold does not allow this system to work.



Buddhist prose

The prose of some buddhist writings has quite a systematic yet mystical feel to it. When defining concepts, it makes sure to point out not just when a property holds, but that it doesn't hold the opposite property at the same time. If I were to use it in conversation, I would say something like, "The sandwich is good, not bad. The bread is soft, not hard." Observe a real example:

"It's through living together that a person's virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning."

Also, it is often so mechanical in going through different situations as to use the same wording repeatedly. For example, read this passage or this one.

I love how the passages begin quizzically with reference to what will be said, then says it, then concludes. It is as if I tell my parents, "I am going to drive there. Where? The beach. And that is where I am going to drive."



Thomas Sowell expounds on writing and the book industry. This quote captures Sowell's way of thinking perfectly, true and bitter:

"I do not arbitrarily dismiss copy-editors’ suggestions. I usually consider them and find them to be stupid beyond belief."

There is also some great advice. It is the kind you know is right without even knowing much about the subject and which can be applied to other contexts. In talking about book reviews, he writes:

"In the print media, the author usually has an opportunity to reply to the reviewer, but it is a dangerous opportunity, because the reviewer has the last word in his rejoinder. Playing against these odds makes sense only when you can demonstrate conclusively, in a brief space, the utter fallacy or outright lie in what the reviewer has said—and when you can resist the temptation to add other things on which the reviewer was wrong-headed, but which can’t be nailed down so readily. If you cannot resist the temptation to include the more debatable issues, then be prepared to see the reviewer ignore all the points on which you caught him red-handed and devote his whole reply to making the debatable issues crucial, even if they were tangential before."




Cool, a hobby neighborhood.




This summer has seriously discouraged me from watching TV, mostly because my family watches a lot of news. I don't know what is worse, the local news that tries its very best to make a coherent, heartfelt micro-story, national news that wages massive crusades of investigative reporting based on fad science, or political news that does not even come close to real life, let alone analytical, discussion of events. As usual, someone can say it better than I can. The final insight about sports is spot on, too.



Open Source

Geeze, I finally realized why Open Source is important. First off, Open Source only means that the source code is published. The software is not necessarily free. But the kicker that suggests that Open Source should be the standard is that it makes software just like real, physical objects.

When I buy anything in real life, a chair let's say, I can freely fiddle with it, or polish it, or screw those cool little Homer Simpson posts to the back legs that prevent me from falling backwards. It would be ridiculous if I had to get permission from the manufacturer to mess with my own chair. Now, if I buy a word processing application, shouldn't I be able to modify its features in corresponding ways? Packaged software has the odd disadvantage that we cannot, by historical default, touch it or change its structure beyond the superficial options to suit our needs. We should restore that good feature of the physical world to the malleable world of software. The physical world automatically lends itself to Open-ness. The software world can, too.

I don't suggest that Open Source be required, only that we support it when possible.




An excellent article about international trade.




Lawrence Lessig announces that he is shifting gears in his career. I think he has inspired me in the same way that the figures he named in his post have inspired him. Lessig wants to work explicitly against a force, political corruption, that I see as nearly impossible to combat. Who knows, maybe I will join the fight alongside him. That would be a hard road. All I can say now is, I wish him luck. Oh yeah, read his book Free Culture if you haven't yet.



Agricultural subsidies have always bothered me. This article does not have nearly enough facts to describe the situation adequately, but the well-said point is that we should expect cancellation effects when government works for private rather than general interest in different areas. More facts really give it content, but we really need people to work out all the possible and likely implications of government actions. That is hard work. But if some of the accounts are only partially true, it is kind of scary, kind of disappointing.

EDIT: one more.



Blogging and Self

I like blogs and blog-style sites because the basic unit in written media ought to be the author, not the article, post, or some other grouping. I much rather see a page of one author's articles than a typical newspaper-style page. That way I can get a feel for authors' approach, assign credibility to them, see their interests, buy their books, mimic their writing style, etc. It is the same distinction at work when I look for interesting professors over interesting subjects in choosing courses. Searching for role models, I guess.


Please don't judge me

So, religion is important, eh? What I find most interesting about religion is the implicit desire to have morality embodied in the facts of the world. Next time you think about harming a stranger, remember that--if you are a Christian--you are both children of God. Next time you think about harming a stranger, remember that--if you are a Buddhist--in another life he or she was your spiritual teacher, or your mother, or your brother.

I like to note to myself that these relationships do have pretty wide appeal. Personally, I think people must unconsciously recognize that they could have been born into a different family, so they look for a way for reconciling that possibility with what actually happened to them (and what goes with it, e.g. deep love for their family).

To be honest, though, I wish morality were built into this world. The main difficulty with that, however, is that it requires one morality. Either a stranger is my brother or he is not. Either bad actions will always have repercussions (in this or another life) or they will not. Either I will have another life or I will not.

The factual devices that religion uses, however, are not really facts-of-the-matter. In one sense they are, which is whether a stranger is actually related to me, but in the sense that gives it force, which is the love I do have for the brothers that I actually grew up with, they are not. The relationships are general and shared across culture: facts, by themselves, do not tell. People must judge and assign values to them.

(We also share rational standards, and some religious believers value their religion in the same way as rational standards, based on the fact that they are both so prominent. It does make me wonder whether, since religion is so common throughout history and will continue to be so, some credence should be lent to religion based on its popularity alone. Consensus is not so outrageous. For this reason, I am no longer surprised at how people might rank religion and science as equally valid forms of obtaining truth, though I completely fail at understanding how that is so. I suppose someone who would regard inspiration, or love, or something like that as truth might regard their religion in a similar manner.)

A stranger being my brother as a point of fact should not truly matter in my decision to do something evil to him, should it? That seems a bit exploitative, and frankly only sounds good to me for a little while. Well, according to Christianity it is not just that we are children of God. It is that we are children of God. That is huge.

EDIT: Steven Pinker talks about this as a broader cultural attitude, perhaps stemming from human nature.




I enjoy Thomas Sowell's sober analysis in his many short articles.




A very good video about religion, with some unexpected bits of clever editing.



Free Speech

As soon as the words "free speech" enter my mind, I invariably let out a long, pitiful sigh.

EDIT: one more.




Hey look, the original Siamese twins. Why should you care? They had twenty-two children between them. Twenty-two. Siamese style. Think about it.



Politely remind your doctor on your next visit.




Just arrived in DC from Jacksonville. You know on every flight, there is always that one female that is both attractive and probably close to your age? You pray she has the seat next to you. Random luck of the draw, in your favor. Just like winning Free Parking in Monopoly. In any event, luck finally paid off. She was blond, blue eyes, black iPod. Although she slept the whole time, I was fairly confident she was dreaming of me.



Eye trick

It took me about 3 minutes to get it to work. Once it struck me, I felt I had justified my existence in the world.


Rip off

Didn't the exact same thing happen on an episode of The Simpsons?



Free video

For those of you who can't read but still are curious about "free culture," this video should suffice.



So, the terse Brian Lamb is the best interviewer ever, and the logorrheic Robert Wright is the worst.



Conservative Soul

More essential media from one of my internet heroes.




I have always loved commencement addresses, and John Doerr's for the 2007 class at Rice was the best serious commencement I have ever heard. For humorous ones, unfortunately this one does not have a video, but there is audio of David Brook's address (whose message is serious, however) on the right side of this page.

Edit: And probably the funniest commencement ever, Conan O'Brien's to his alma mater.


Summer Breeze

... makes me feel fine
Blowing through the JASMINE OF MY MIND.


A video with what sounds to be the original, not the performance shown.



Article link




The reliable Andrew Sullivan in my hour of need. (Democratic Debate June 4, 2007)

Still: she wins this one. It kills me to admit it. But there you are. And as it sinks in, a dreadful specter emerges. Think June 2008. Think Romney vs Clinton. Plastic vs Perma-Freeze. It could happen.



Hooray for homeschooling!

A home schooler, 13-year-old Evan O’Dorney, is once again the winner of the Scripps National [sic] Spelling Bee. In fact, home schoolers took fully one third of the top 15 spots in the Bee, utterly out of proportion with their share (about 1/40th) of the U.S. student population.


Minimum Wage

I constantly hear that minimum wage laws ensure the dignity of workers. The line of thinking is that workers should not be paid low, undignified wages but higher ones INSTEAD. That is the goal. The relationship is: if a person has a minimum wage job, that person receives a "dignified" wage. That is precisely what the law says and happens.. but there is a difference between that relationship and the intended goal. We must ask, what about the people who don't get jobs BECAUSE the minimum wage is higher? Do we have reason to believe that people are not hired because employers do not think their skills are worth the minimum wage?

Job article.



I thought I should point out different types of biases that I've started to verbally recognize. This may be relevant to the debates going on. I'll use that setting as an analogy.

The most important is the bias of understanding. People have different levels of knowledge concerning issues, and it becomes very important to them for the politician to make statements that agree with the issues people know the best. For example, I understand economic policy much, much better than I understand foreign affairs. I have read and thought quite a bit about national health care, education, and welfare, but I am not very informed about Iraq. Hence, I am less opinionated about Iraq, and hence, I care less about Iraq. Why? I don't know what to think about. I have no points of reference, no underlying theory to check against, no store of knowledge to check claims with. In theory, whatever that means, I do not care less about it. In practice, I do.

The second bias that is related to understanding is the bias of interest. It goes hand in hand with understanding when understanding is present, but continues when understanding fails. For example, my brother likes military history, generals, wars, and so forth. He is very adamant about his views on Iraq because closely related issues occupy much of his mind. This leads him to care more about those issues than others, even though it is obvious fallacy that simply because it is more important to him in terms of interest it is in fact more important for the country, Iraqis, or whatever else.

In each case, a mental inclination dependent upon the person is used to (unconsciously) justify importance independent of the person. I think that is bad. Also, I've only thought of these two.. which are really pretty similar. I'll have to think about it more. You should help!



Free Culture

More required reading: ch. 1-5 in Free Culture: a lawyer/law professor writes about copyright, intellectual property, and the internet.