Archive for July, 2010

Monopoly Morality

30 Jul

Is it ethical to pocket money from a bank error in your favor?

Is it ethical to take advantage of affirmative action if you are opposed to it?

Is it ethical to file for tax credit incentives for home improvement projects when you don’t think the government should be raising taxes on everyone to give the money to those who can afford solar panels?

Is it ethical to win money from recreational gambling when that money comes from those addicted to gambling?

While it was always fun to get this card from Community Chest, the ethical questions are real.

Or do I just have an overactive conscience?


Posted in personal


How to Fail at Arguing #6: As others do to us

28 Jul

A 15 story mosque and Islamic community center has been approved within blocks of the site of 9/11. Naturally many New Yorkers and others are outraged because this is the site of a national tragedy and those who attacked civilians there did so in the name of Islam. Planting a mosque at the site seems incredibly insensitive and offensive to the memory of those who died on 9/11. The leader of the mosque project has said 9/11 was America’s fault and at least somewhat justified, refuses to call Hammas (not to be confused with hommus) a terrorist group, and the project is being funded from Islamic groups in Islamic countries. There’s a lot of reasons people are concerned.

That’s the story, here’s the argument I keep hearing:

We’ll let mosques be built anywhere when every Muslim country lets churches and synagogues be built freely.

Mosque at Ground Zero Protesters

Image from article on

Whatever the right thing is, it is not to lower our standards, as a country that champions religious liberty, to those of countries to not allow religious liberty.

By justifying your actions by those of another, you’ve walked away from your own principles. If the above argument is all you have, you’re saying you want to belong to an anti-freedom country, though you condemn them.

This failure in arguing happens frequently, thanks in part to the short length of political terms (though it isn’t limited to politics).

That Democrats manipulated Republican primary elections is not, in itself, reason for the Republicans who champion ethics and character to manipulate elections. That liberals expand government is not justification for “conservatives,” who champion smaller government to expand government.

If you violate the principles you claim as your own, you lack character. Your choices are not justified by comparing them to those who don’t claim to hold the same principles you do.

There are legitimate reasons for wanting this Mosque moved to another location. But the more conversations and airwaves are filled with poor arguments like this, the less likely real dialog is possible.

Edit: Added new image and fixed some typos. (8/18/2010 – Second Jon)


“Keep Changing The World” by Mikeschair

27 Jul

When I heard this song on Way-FM Denver, my ears perked up. I think this song bothers me because it’s both so vague to not be about anything “something here is wrong,” and self-condemning “But we just move along to take care of our own.”

It actually reminds me of a song by Flight of the Conchords: Think about it. Both videos with lyrics are below:

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Keep Changing The World by MIKESCHAIR lyrics:

Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along to take care of our own
There’s so much suffering just outside our door
A cry so deafening
We just can’t ignore

To all the people who are fighting for the broken
All the people who keep holding on to love
All the people who are reaching for the lonely
Keep changing the world

Take a look around
Before the sun goes out
What’s lost can still be found
It’s not too late now
It only takes one spark to make the fire burn
So reach inside your heart and let this be the start


I know you see the suffering
How they gone recover when people just look over like they don’t even notice them
Everyone whose focusing on ending all this hopelessness
You can change the world by changing who the world is hoping in

I see the sun coming up
It’s a brighter day
Let’s show the world that love is a better way
So lend a hand join the fight
‘Cause time is ticking away
Keep changing the world

I see you changing the world
Step up!

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Think About It by Flight of the Conchords lyrics:

There’s children on the street using guns and knives
Taking drugs and each other’s lives
Killing each other with knives and forks
Calling each other names like ‘dork’

There’s people on the street getting diseases from monkeys
Yeah, that’s what I said – they’re getting diseases from monkeys
Now there’s junkies with monkey disease
Who’s touching these monkeys, please
Leave these poor sick monkeys alone
They’ve got problems enough as it is.

Man’s lying on the street
Some punk’s chopped off his head
I’m the only one who stops
To see if he’s dead
Turns out he’s dead.
And that’s why I’m singing

What…what is wrong with the world today?
What is wrong with the world today?
(Jemaine mumbles)
What…what is wrong with the world today?
You gotta think about it
Think think about it.

Good cops been framed and put into a can.
All the money that we’re making is going to the man.
What man?
Which man?
Who’s the man?
When’s a man a man?
What makes a man a man?
Am I a man?
Yes. Technically I am.

They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers.
But hat’s the real cost?
‘Cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper.
Why are we still paying so much for sneakers
When you got them made by little slave kids
What are your overheads?

Well, at the end of your life, you’re lucky if die,
Sometimes I wonder why we even try.
I saw a man lying on the street half dead
With knives and forks sticking out of his leg.
And he said,
Can somebody get that knife and fork out of my leg, please?
Can somebody please remove these cutleries from my knees?”

And then we break it down.
This is where we break it down
This is where we break it down
This is where we do the whoa-o-o-o
Break it down
This is where we build it up now
We build it up now
We build it up now
We build it up now
We build it up now
Build it up
And then we stop


Jello is Racist Part 2: And so are you! (The Shirley Sherrod story)

26 Jul

Yesterday’s post, Jello is Racist, was a response to the name-calling frenzy of the NAACP, the White House, and Howard Dean. Here’s what happened. Later this week with what this means for US culture and politics.

Photo of racist jello

Part 1: NAACP overreacts without basis: calls tea party racist

  • July 14: The NAACP officially condemns “racist elements” within the Tea Party Movement and the “Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements.”
    Keep in mind that there has never been any documented bigotry or bigoted statements within the Tea Party movement. This was simply the NAACP, without evidence, calling a large segment of the US population racists. Meanwhile, the Tea Party members have never tolerated racism or bigotry, and routinely repudiate it.
  • July 14: Various groups of Tea Party members responded.  The “St. Louis group fired off to the NAACP the statement demanding the organization withdraw its “bigoted, false and inflammatory” resolution.”

Part 2: NAACP video released

  • July 19: Andrew Breitbart, conservative Internet journalist released a video he had on file of a woman being cheered on as she told a story of withholding help from a white man who asked for it, sending him instead to one of his own kind – a white person to help him. NAACP audience members cheer her on for what she did, but she goes on to say she later learned it’s not about race, it’s about class warfare. Here’s the video – you can skip to about the 1 minute mark:
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    She’s not the problem here. She went on to learn and change – now she’s a Marxist not a racist. I still don’t agree with her, but she’s not the one cheering for racism. It’s the NAACP members that are. While there’s no documented evidence that people associated with the Tea Party movement are racist, this is evidence that the NAACP’s charges are true of themselves!

Part 3: NAACP, White House overreact without basis: Fire & Condemn Sherrod

  • July 19: The White House decided that instead of reacting to the true story – the racism within the NAACP, they’d make Sherrod the fall guy, and their demanded her resignation.
  • July 19: The NAACP harshly condemned Sherrod. Here’s an exerpt

Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

Unlike the tea party, there was actually documented racist reactions from people in their organization. Did they condemn themselves and their continued tolerance of this? No. They said, “The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.” Their own actions pale in comparison to what they demanded the tea party do.

  • July 19: After the White House had fired Sherrod and the NAACP condemned her, Fox News Channel first reported on the story.

Part 4: NAACP, White House reverse course, overreact without basis: Blame Fox – They’re Racist too!

  • July 20: Glenn Beck first reports on the story on Fox News, and takes Sherrod’s side.
  • July 20: In a full reversal, the NAACP changed their minds. They say they were “snookered by Fox News.”
    The full video showed that she had learned over time not to be racist – but they already knew that, as they had written it into her condemnation the previous day. Also, remember – the condemned her after  the White House demanded her resignation. They acted BEFORE Fox News Channel reported on it.
  • July 22: The New York Times blames Fox News.
  • July 22: Shirley Sharrod blames Fox News, and says she was fired because the Obama administration was afraid that she might appear on Fox News.
  • July 25: On Sunday Howard Dean, former DNC chair, appeared on Fox News parroting the talking point: It was Fox News’ fault, and they’re “absolutely racist” too. When asked by the fox host Chris Wallace if he knew that Fox didn’t even report the story until after she was fired, he just pressed further, calling people racist.

Jello is Racist, Part 1

25 Jul
Photo of racist jello

A sample photo of the racist dessert.

The NAACP, the Obama administration and former DNC chair Howard Dean “wholeheartedly condemned” gelatinous desserts today*. The NAACP issued a statement calling on “Jello and Jello-salads everywhere to condemn the racist elements within Jello.”

Obama’s press secretary issued a statement that read in part, “We will not be bamboozled by Jello in this silly season of politics. All gelatinous foods have been removed from the congressional cafeteria since several Democratic congressmen clearly heard racist remarks spoken by Jello in recent weeks.”

Jello is “absolutely racist,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean charged on Sunday. “Not one gelatin-based dessert has apologized to me or the congressmen whose feelings were hurt, nor did they apologize for the video shown regarding the Shirley Sherrod controversy. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Jello lately. We’ve got to stop being afraid of Jello!”

The rest of the story tomorrow.

* This piece is entirely satirical. If there’s something about Jello that actually is offensive, I’m not aware of it, and you should probably get over it.

Posted in Politics


Ayn Rand Part 1: Ayn Rand, John Piper and Christian Objectivist Love

23 Jul

This is Part 1 of a 1956 Ayn Rand interview with Mike Wallace. This was, according to the Youtube video description, her first television interview.

I watched it for the first time today, and would be interested in your thoughts.

Below are some excerpts from the end of this video and related thoughts.

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Wallace: What’s wrong with loving your fellow man? Christ, every important moral leader in human history has taught us that we should love one another. Why then is this kind of love in your mind immoral?

Rand: It is immoral if it is a love placed above one’s self. It is more than immoral, it’s impossible.  Because when you are asked to love people indiscriminately, that is to love people without any standard, to love them regardless of the fact of whether they have any value or virtue, you are asked to love nobody.

Wallace: … isn’t the essence of love that it’s above self-interest?

Rand: Well, let me make it complete for you. What would it mean to have love above self-interest? It would mean, for instance, for a husband to tell his wife if he were moral, according to conventional morality that “I am marrying you just for your own sake. I have no personal interest in it, but I am so unselfish that I’m marrying you only for your own good.” Would a woman like that? … In love, the currency is virtue. You love people not ofr what you do for them or what they do for you. We love them for their values, their virtues which they have achieved in their own character. You don’t love causes. you don’t love everybody indiscriminately. You love only those who deserve it…

Wallace: … There are very few of us then, in this world, by your standards, who are worthy of love.

Rand: Unfortunately, yes. Very few. But it is open for everybody to make themselves worthy of it, and that is all that my morality offers them: A way to make themselves worthy of love, although that is not the primary motive.

But Rand’s illustration of a husband and wife does make sense. At minimum, many types – perhaps the strongest types of love are not devoid of self-interest. You’d be dead inside if you got nothing out of your love for a spouse, or a child. Per Rand, love isn’t love if you get nothing out of it.

This objectivist view of love stands in total opposition to the current political moves that declare love means each of us should make sacrifices of ourselves for “the common good,” even when we get nothing out of it. We are to be completely devoid of self-interest.

Is this love? Can love ever be devoid of self-interest?

My initial reaction is opposed to the objectivist idea – what about the good Samaritan? What about loving your neighbor as you love yourself? If people have to make themselves worthy of love, how can we love children? What about a child born with Down’s Syndrome? What about an elderly person with Alzheimer disease? This has always left me wondering if any form of objectivism can be merged with a Christian worldview*. Perhaps the answer is in the order of Jesus’ commands: Love God, and love your neighbor. Perhaps loving our neighbors is not the purpose in itself, but we love them because we love God. Loving strangers is, then, be part of loving  God.

But what about loving God? Is our love for God devoid of self-interest, or do you get something out of our love for God as we do from loving your spouse?

Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

This basic statement of the purpose of humankind declares we are purposed to get something from God – our own enjoyment.

John Piper builds off this in what he calls “Christian hedonism,” in his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and through his ministry.

Piper seems to agree with Ayn Rand! About Love for God, Piper writes:

Hebrews 11:6 teaches, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. Therefore, faith that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God.

Ok, what about loving our enemies? While we are to expect nothing earthly in return, Piper writes that “we are given strength to suffer loss by the promise of a future reward.”

Throughout the Bible we are in fact commanded to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. To seek God who will give us the desires of our heart – who rewards those who seek him.

Ayn Rand’s view actually aligns with the biblical idea of following God, loving our neighbors and even loving our enemies. The politics of socialism do not.

* Ayn Rand does state in this interview that she is opposed to the Judeo-Christian traditions and opposed to churches, but that doesn’t mean that everything she thinks is wrong or that everything she thinks is incompatible with Christianity. While I haven’t studied Rand at lengths, she believes that reality is objective, and our moral guide is to use reason. If objective reality is Christianity – if biblical Christianity has the most reliable truth-claims and is the most reasonable view of reality, then Christianity and objectivism could work together.


Popular Mechanics: “Green” Consumers more likely to lie and steal

22 Jul

Summarizing a March 2010 study, “Do Green Products Make Us Better People,” by Psychological Science, the August 2010 issue of Popular Science writes:

It turns out that just being exposed to green products-seeing a TV commercial or walking by an organic store-creates a “halo effect” that makes people more charitable and trusting. But actually buying green products was like ghetting a license for hypocrisy: After a purchase, the green consumers were more likely to lie and steal.

First, a practical tip: if you ever find yourself talking to people on the street, hang out near an organic store, but don’t bother talking to the people who actually shop there.

Perhaps the reason for the connection between buying green products and immorality is the exaltation of treating the environment as holier than humans. Ie, doing a good for the planet outweighs doing a good for a person. This way a person feels they stockpile righteousness to cover their sins against other people.

This certainly is the pattern. Evironmentalism is often linked to immorality toward people. Due to a junk-science film wrongly saying DDT could be bad for the environment, we’ve outlawed DDT and in effect killed millions of people whose lives would have been saved.

Posted from my BlackBerry.


How to Fail at Arguing #5

20 Jul

radioOn my way home tonight I heard Randi Rhodes of Air America. In her very loud rant, she kept repeating two lines for the duration of my 10 minute drive.

First, she was responding to charges that the Democrats under Pelosi and Obama have grown the size of government. She listed the dozens of government departments that were created under the 8 years of Bush, totaling hundreds! I agree Randi, Bush shouldn’t have grown government so much. And conservatives said so at the time.

How to fail: Take the 2nd grade “I am rubber you are glue” approach.

When someone says your party is growing government bigger, respond with, “Your party grew the government bigger!” Randi’s response didn’t deal with whether a bigger government is good idea or a bad idea. Presumably Randi is in favor of the bigger government that her party is bringing, so her response is meaningless. All someone has to say is, “I don’t like that Bush grew the government by so much either,” and her argument is totally deflated.

Here’s how the argument could have gone:

Obama is growing the government! That’s bad!

Bush grew the government by huge amounts!

Right. That’s one of the ways Bush wasn’t very conservative. I agree that Bush expanding the government so much was a problem. I said so at the time.

Then the conversation could have gone somewhere productive, like talking about what the government should or should not do.

I think this usually happens when someone knows the negative claim against their position is true. Instead of explaining or justifying where they’re coming from, they simply deflect and say, “You too, you too!”

Another example I heard recently was in response to concerns that Obama could use the oil spill for a government power-grabs, to enforce huge new government programs. The response?

What – like Bush’s illegal wars against countries not even related to 9/11?

The original concern is still valid, but what’s worse is the double-standard. It’s good when Obama takes sweeping action in response to a crisis, but bad if Bush does it? How can there be any logic with such inconsistency? To respond by insulting when Bush did it is to say that it is a bad idea. If a power-grab during a crisis is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.

Don’t say something is a bad idea when one person does it, but when another person does it, it’s pure righteousness.


American Moment #2

18 Jul

American Moment

Another moment where America feels like it should. Friends, families, kids hanging out, skateboarding, BBQing, playing. Just being.

Don’t get your impression of America from the agenda-driven politicians or agenda-driven news. Step outside and enjoy the greatness of America.

Don’t get you ideas about America from Michael Moore “documentaries” or a foreign government (no, we aren’t dying on the streets here due to guns or private health care).

This is America. It is great here.

Posted from my BlackBerry.

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Posted in Culture


American Moments

17 Jul

Sometimes walking by this part of the Platt River in Denver, Colorado, I feel like I’ve slipped into a Norman Rockwell painting, or some beautiful sidewalk chalk art (thinking of Mary Poppins here) of what America can be.

From the news, I’d never think this scene possible. Families and dogs hanging out together, umbrellas on the beach, the hot dog stand on the right. People of clearly diffent backgrounds hang out together on a lazy Friday afternoon, safely playing in the city.

America is great. Denver is great.

Posted from my BlackBerry.