5-21-11 Hodgepodge

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Colbert Intort?

Via HBL, I recently got wind of a high-profile prank gone awry.

Comedy Central funnyman Stephen Colbert, like most of his friends and allies on the left, thinks that last year's Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC is, literally, ridiculous. To make his case that the ruling invites "unlimited corporate money" to dominate politics, Mr. Colbert decided to set up a political action committee (PAC) of his own. So far, though, the joke's been on him.
Steve Simpson and Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice are dubious about "[w]hether Mr. Colbert understands that he has made the Supreme Court's point," so I'm glad they made that part of it clear for everyone else.

Weekend Reading

"Finally, a U.S. public debt ceiling is wholly improper because it permits Washington's spendthrifts and prodigals to periodically devote a few months to loudly and undeservedly proclaiming themselves paragons of fiscal rectitude, when in truth they are complicit cohorts of the bipartisan gang that sunk the nation into so much debt in the first place, those whose morals aren't elevated enough to preclude them from cheating their own grandmothers, let alone the vast, faceless U.S. creditors populating the rest of the world, if they could, by a nefarious expediency, get away with it." -- Richard Salsman, in "Don't Raise the Debt Ceiling, Raze It" at Forbes

"[B]ecause it isn't flashy like insider trading or high-turnover like selling options, this fundamental truth tends to be forgotten." -- Jonathan Hoenig, in "The Golden Rule of Investing Still Works" at SmartMoney

"Don't let procrastination and indecision turn into regret. Forever is a very, very long time." -- Michael Hurd, in "Confronting Death is Difficult" at DrHurd.com

"The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Let's get the Naval Academy to act to fully support and defend it -- not defy it." -- Talbot Manvel, in "Naval Academy Puts Tradition ahead of Constitution" at The Baltimore Sun

"A person might wish to support a cause anonymously to avoid possible legal, political, or criminal retribution. ... Yet Colorado's campaign laws can require financial supporters of ballot campaigns to report their personal addresses as well as the addresses of their employers." -- Ari Armstrong, in "Public's 'Right to Know' Can Clash with Right to Free Speech" at The Colorado Springs Gazette

My Two Cents

I become a bigger fan of Michael Hurd by the week, as evidenced by the fact that I probably end up commenting on his columns the most, even with all the other good material I find out there. Regarding the painful dilemma he discusses this week, I experienced both sides of it when I was younger, and found that reading his column helped me greatly in understanding why I and others acted as we did under those difficult circumstances. Also, by considering his column from a different perspective, I see that procrastination itself can indicate the need to introspect.

One more: The Manvel piece reminds me of my Sundays at Naval Officer Candidate School over twenty years ago. We officer candidates were given the "choice" of attending a Catholic or a Protestant religious service on Sunday. There was, however, no option that I knew of for atheists like myself to not attend a religious service of some kind.

Zombie Language

Following a link after answering a comment yesterday, I came across the following account and question, regarding the finding of a parrot which turned out to be the last "speaker" of a language.
Humboldt managed to record phonetically 40 words spoken by the parrot, and in 1997 artist Rachel Berwick painstakingly taught two Amazon parrots to speak them. Can a language be said to survive if no one knows its meaning?
I suspect that Ayn Rand would say not:
If a wind blows the sand on a desert island into configurations spelling out "A is A," this does not make the wind a superior metaphysician. The wind did not achieve any conformity to reality; it did not produce any truth, but merely shapes in the sand. Similarly, if a parrot is trained to squawk "2 + 2 = 4," this does not make it a mathematician. The parrot's consciousness did not attain thereby any contact with reality or any relation to it, positive or negative; the parrot did not recognize or contradict any fact; what it created was not truth or falsehood, but merely sounds. Sounds that are not the vehicle of conceptual awareness have no cognitive status.
The commenter had reminded me that Ayn Rand had said something like this before, and the historical oddity finally caused me to look it up.

-- CAV


Objectivism Online said...

On parrots, are you familiar with "Alex", the parrot who seemed to actually understand stuff, at least according to his researcher? (Critics claim it was not so.)

Gus Van Horn said...

No, but from a quick look at Wikipedia, the findings sound similar to things I've heard about regarding other bird species, such as ravens.

I don't have much trouble with the idea that a bird could understand a small vocabulary and use it to communicate very simple things, but this is still a far cry from what even school-aged children can do.

Also, assuming for the sake of argument that Alex is as smart as advertised, it's important to remember that most parrots are NOT given the kind of training he was when they are taught to imitate something somebody has said: They're STILL just imitating a string of meaningless (to them) sounds.

Gus Van Horn said...

Oh, and one more thing. If parrots were capable of, say, "picking up" human language very easily (i.e., without a huge amount of training), there would be strong evidence of that. For example, it might be common for owners to be able to ask simple questions and get reliable answers. I don't specialize in avian intelligence, nor do I even own a parrot, but it says something that it ISN'T common knowledge that parrots and their owners have conversations of any kind, no matter how simple.

pilot said...

When I was doing basic training in the Canadian military, I too was presented with a similar Catholic vs. Protestant "choice". I had to make quite a fuss to get out of it but I still had go to church but I could sit outside. I was by myself but I was quite proud of what I had accomplished.

One factor was probably the greater degree of flexibility in Canada for this kind of thing. I have not been in the US military so I can't comment from personal experience but I'm pretty sure Canadians are not as hung up e.g. you can be openly homosexual in the Canadian military without any issue.

Gus Van Horn said...

For a variety of reasons -- less assertive then, strongly doubted I'd get anywhere, was very concerned it would get me kicked out of the program I was in -- I didn't press the issue. I wish I had, even though I doubt I would have gotten your result.