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Movies I Might Love (But Probably Won’t)

August 22, 2010

When I used to blog awhile back I always did this as a regular segment, usually in the fall and sometimes in the summer. For the most part there are few films during the summer months that interest me and even fewer during the spring. It is in the fall and winter that films for adults actually are released and only then because the studios hope that an Oscar nomination will make them some money off of that film that got the green light despite the fact that it does not contain one explosion or fart joke. This is the only time of year that I really go to the movies so I make it a point to see what movies might actually be worth my time. This is a list of forty films that I might love but probably won’t.

The American (September 1th)
Plot: An assassin (George Clooney) has a job go wrong and decides to retire but finds it harder to get away from the life than expected.
Why I Might Love It: Clooney has a track record of doing smart grown up movies and may be the only current movie star not willing to do summer movie crap for a big paycheck. The film recalls some of the best thrillers of the 70s with its trailer and poster.
Why I Probably Won’t: Director Anton Corbijn has no feature experience and has been doing music videos since the 80s. This does not always translate into being a good feature director. Also Clooney has been in dogs like Leatherheads and Men Who Stare at Goats these past few years. His judgment, while good, is not perfect.

Machete (September 3rd)
Plot: A “renegade” Mexican federal agent gets mixed up with a plot over illegal immigration in the United States.
Why I Might Love It: Made in the style of a violent 1970s exploitation film this movie is loaded with kitsch while also possibly being a potent satire of the illegal immigration debate. The cast, including both Robert DeNiro and Stephen Seagal, is a brilliantly absurd collection of actors for one movie.
Why I Probably Won’t: Writer-Director Robert Rodriguez is great with style but bad with characters and plot. Of his films, only Sin City (co-directed with Frank Miller), was able to be more than a diverting B-movie. I have serious doubts about his ability to say anything of substance about the immigration debate.

A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop (September 3rd)
Plot: A cuckolded husband hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover.
Why I Might Love It: A remake of The Coen Brothers Blood Simple by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) this comedy-thriller looks to be the rare remake that is better than the original. The trailer is like nothing I have ever seen.
Why I Probably Won’t: Some critics who saw the film at the Berlin film festival have complained that the comedy doesn’t cross cultural boundaries very well but there are few who have outright hated the movie.

The Heartbreaker (September 10th)
Plot: A man whose job is to break up relationships is hired by an entrepreneur to break up the engagement of his daughter and her fiancé before the wedding.
Why I Might Love It: This is a great premise for this French romantic comedy and the film itself has done great business in France and been highly praised by critics.
Why I Probably Won’t: The American trailer seems to include every romantic comedy cliché known to man. This may just be bad marketing but these scenes still have to be in the movie. Hopefully, it is more clever than the marketing campaign implies.

I’m Still Here (September 10th)
Plot: A camera crew follows actor Joaquin Phoenix on his attempt to become a rapper.
Why I Might Love It: People thought that Phoenix had lost his mind when he announced that he wanted to be a rapper. Apparently it was all an act for this mockumentary directed by Casey Affleck. I have no idea what this movie will be like.
Why I Probably Won’t: The movie looks so weird that even if it is good it will probably only be a cult hit at best. It is far more likely to be an unwatchable mess.

Never Let Me Go (September 14th)
Plot: Three friends who came of age in the same English boarding school confront the real world as adults for the first time.
Why I Might Love It: The movie is based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro with a screenplay by Alex Garland. The cast includes Keira Knightly, Carey Milligan, Andrew Garfield and Sally Hawkins. There is a great deal of talent involved including director Mark Romanov who did the creepy One Hour Photo.
Why I Probably Won’t: This one looks really strong but great novels rarely turn into great movies.

The Town (September 17th)
Plot: A professional thief (Ben Affleck) falls for a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) after a dangerous heist.
Why I Might Love It: Affleck directed this as well and after doing well with Gone Baby Gone this movie looks much more ambitious. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner is also in the movie as part of the gang of bank robbers and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is the FBI agent in pursuit. Nothing new but the trailer looks awesome.
Why I Probably Won’t: Affleck is still green as a director. Otherwise I can’t imagine why this won’t rock.

Catfish (September 17th)
Plot: A young man gets involved in a long distance internet relationship and then….
Why I Might Love It: This was the most buzzed about film at Sundance and is supposed to be a documentary but many have accused it of being staged. Others describe it as a thriller. All those who have seen it agree that you should see it knowing nothing about it and that watching the trailer might reveal too much.
Why I Probably Won’t: Something about this film reminds me of The Blair Witch Project. From what I have read and interviews with the filmmakers I’m pretty sure it is staged and not a documentary but whether the film holds up without its gimmicks remains to be seen.

Jack Goes Boating (September 17th)
Plot: A man whose life is going nowhere (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is set up with a woman by his married friends. As he starts to flourish in his new relationship he watches his friends’ marriage disintegrate.
Why I Might Love It: This one might have slipped past me but it is Hoffman’s directorial debut and was a play that he and most of the rest of the cast originally performed on Broadway. That alone is enough to make me interested.
Why I Probably Won’t: Play to film can be as difficult as novel to film sometimes and Hoffman has never directed before and has a personal history with the material. It is easy to see this going wrong.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (September 22th)
Plot: This is the new Woody Allen movie so it is about what Woody Allen movies are usually about, neurotic people trying to find love.
Why I Might Love It: You never know when Allen will make another great film and as usual this one has a great cast including Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin.
Why I Probably Won’t: This looks like average Allen at best. His best recent films have all been more dark than comedic and this film seems like a return to light romantic comedy.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (September 24th)
Plot: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gets released from prison and attempts to patch things up with his daughter (Carey Milligan) and mentor her fiancé. (Shia Lebeouf)
Why I Might Love It: The first trailer was hilarious and director Oliver Stone seems to be embracing a lighter touch to his filmmaking of late. This should at least be as good as his surprisingly well made film W.
Why I Probably Won’t: This is Oliver Stone we’re talking about. Who knows what kind of movie he made. He is kind of a nutbar.

Buried (September 24th)
Plot: A truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself buried alive in a coffin with no memory of how he got there.
Why I Might Love It: Novice director Rodrigo Cortes wowed everyone at Sundance with this claustrophobic thriller. The gimmick is an enticing one.
Why I Probably Won’t: But it is still just a gimmick. I can’t wait to see how they sustain this premise but I don’t expect this movie to have much more than a gimmick to sustain it.

Enter the Void (September 24th)
Plot: A drug dealer in Tokyo dies and comes back as a ghost to protect his sister.
Why I Might Love It: This is the new off-the-wall film from off-the-wall French director Gasper Noe. Whatever it turns out to be there won’t be anything else like it out there.
Why I Probably Won’t: Reviews were very mixed when the film premiered in France and at Cannes last year. The UK and American versions of the film are going to be heavily cut down from the three hour running time and this might make the film better or worse.

Howl (September 24th)
Plot: The story of Allen Ginsberg (James Franco) and his obscenity trial after the publication of his poem Howl.
Why I Might Love It: Great subject for a movie and a cast that includes Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Mary Louis-Parker and Jeff Daniels. Franco looks surprisingly perfect as Ginsberg and could be Oscar bait.
Why I Probably Won’t: Many films have been made about the “Beat Movement” and most of them are pretty bad. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman have a background in documentaries. This means they might choose factual accuracy at the expense of storytelling in this fictional retelling.

Let Me In (October 1st)
Plot: A lonely, bullied boy befriends a girl in his apartment complex who turns out to be a vampire.
Why I Might Love It: This movie is based on the Swedish novel Let the Right One In which was brilliantly made into a movie in Sweden just a few years ago. The American version seems to have added more character development and has acclaimed child actress Chloe Moretz in the role as the vampire girl as well as an excellent supporting cast.
Why I Probably Won’t: Let the Right One In was one of the best horror movies ever and there is little chance this movie is going to top it. Director Matt Reeves is best known for Cloverfield and has promised to make this film more accessible to a wide audience than the Swedish version. So apparently everyone will like it except for Swedes and people with taste.

The Social Network (October 1st)
Plot: A college student (Jessie Eisenberg) turns an online yearbook into a billion dollar idea only to be accused of stealing the project from other students.
Why I Might Love It: This film has an A-list director in David Fincher, a script by Aaron Sorkin and a talented young cast. This looks like it could be a break-out role for Eisenberg.
Why I Probably Won’t: The fact that this movie is about the creation of Facebook makes many people regard it as silly. I don’t think that is the case but this kind of film is not exactly Fincher’s wheelhouse. That said this is one of the better bets to be a really good movie on this list.

Barry Munday (October 1st)
Plot: A habitual womanizer (Patrick Wilson) who loses his testicles finds out that he had impregnated one of his conquests. (Judy Greer)
Why I Might Love It: Both Wilson and Greer have been cast way against type and in the trailer seem to be pulling it off brilliantly. Plus the film has a great supporting cast.
Why I Probably Won’t: If it wasn’t for the cast I might not give this a second look. It seems like one of those movies desperate to prove how quirky and original it is. This movie could be either an unexpected gem or a complete dog.

Stone (October 8th)
Plot: A convicted arsonist (Edward Norton) tries to get out of prison by having his wife (Milla Jovovitch) seduce a parole officer. (Robert DeNiro)
Why I Might Love It: Director John Curran has two good films under his belt and the last one The Painted Veil starred Norton. Watching DeNiro and Norton together after The Score could be great and Norton looks as good as he has ever been in the trailer.
Why I Probably Won’t: The plot seems to be one of the most contrived and far-fetched that I have ever heard. If this is supposed to be a thriller it could accidently become a comedy if handled badly by Curran.

Red (October 15th)
Plot: When an assassin tries to kill him a retired CIA agent (Bruce Willis) assembles his old team (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovitch) to help him survive.
Why I Might Love It: Based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis action movies don’t get more tongue- in- cheek than this. The cast alone would make it worth a look and we haven’t even gotten to the smaller roles yet.
Why I Probably Won’t: Director Robert Schwentke is a shameless hack but he might have lucked into material even he couldn’t screw up.

Conviction (October 15th)
Plot: A woman (Hilary Swank) goes to law school solely to help her brother (Sam Rockwell) who has been wrongly convicted of a crime.
Why I Might Love It: There is a reason Swank has two Oscars but Rockwell is the one who looks Oscar worthy in the trailer. In some scenes, that must take place later in the movie, he looks like a completely different actor.
Why I Probably Won’t: Director Tony Goldwyn is undistinguished behind the camera so far and this kind of TV movie plot needs a strong director to make it work. Still, I expect Rockwell to get Oscar buzz.

Hereafter (October 22nd)
Plot: Three stories about people dealing with death.
Why I Might Love It: While the plot description won’t get many excited this is a new film from Clint Eastwood and the script by Peter Morgan was written on spec, implying this is a very personal work to him. Matt Damon plays a character that is psychic in one segment.
Why I Probably Won’t: The film has heavy supernatural elements which makes it an odd choice for Eastwood. Not much is known about the film because Eastwood keeps his projects top secret until release.

The Company Men (October 22nd)
Plot: We follow three men (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper) and learn the effects on corporate downsizing on their lives.
Why I Might Love It: This is a hugely relevant topics and first time writer director John Wells gathered an amazing cast.
Why I Probably Won’t: I think it is safe to say that even if this film is awesome nobody is going to see it. It is like last year’s Up in the Air but without the laughs and we can all use those laughs right now.

Due Date (November 5th)
Plot: A father to be (Robert Downey Jr.) must travel cross country with an eccentric (Zach Galifianakis) to be there for his child’s birth.
Why I Might Love It: The two leads are the best reason to see this.
Why I Probably Won’t: Does any other movie have a flimsier premise than this one? Director Todd Phillips is an okay director but not a comedic genius.

Fair Game (November 5th)
Plot: The story of Ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her outing by the Bush administration in retaliation to her husband (Sean Penn) criticizing the Iraq invasion.
Why I Might Love It: This is a story of vast corruption in our government that nobody really seemed to care at the time.
Why I Probably Won’t: This is heavy stuff for director Doug Liman whose films have never been very deep and whose last film, Jumper, was a huge failure.

The Next Three Days (November 19th)
Plot: A husband (Russell Crowe) attempts to break his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison when she is charged with murder.
Why I Might Love It: While I didn’t care for Crash by director Paul Haggis I loved his follow up The Valley of Elah. This could be a good vehicle for Crowe.
Why I probably Won’t: This is the third movie on this list that involves a plot to get somebody out of prison. This movie is also yet another remake which shows more lack of originality.

Black Swan (December 1st)
Plot: A ballerina (Natalie Portman) begins to psychologically unravel when she gets a new rival. (Mila Kunis)
Why I Might Love It: With the exception of the incomprehensible The Fountain director Darren Aronofsky has never made a bad movie and even counting that one he hasn’t made a dull one. This seems like a great role for Portman who might win an Oscar if she is good enough.
Why I Probably Won’t: Actually I probably will. All of Aronofsky’s films are about people falling apart at the seams but this one looks interesting enough for one more trip.

The Warrior’s Way (December 3rd)
Plot: A Japanese samurai flees to the American West where he has to save his new town from a dastardly villain.
Why I Might Love It: The similarities between westerns and samurai movies are so obvious that it is amazing nobody has done this before. This movie looks certain to become a cult classic.
Why I Probably Won’t: But while it gets points for originality the trailer looks like a video game. It may be all style and no substance.

Miral (December 3rd)
Plot: A young Palestinian girl’s coming of age after the first Arab-Israel war.
Why I Might Love It: Few stories could have more potential to make you think and make you feel.
Why I Probably Won’t: I have always found director Juilian Schnabel’s movies to be pretentious and boring. Meanwhile they are usually highly praised by critics. Maybe he just has a style that I find impenetrable.

Night Catches Us (December 3rd)
Plot: A former black panther in 1976 returns home after the party has collapsed.
Why I Might Love It: Leading man Anthony Mackie is underrated and this is another chance for him to shine. It seems that few good films made by blacks find an audience and this one might deserve it more than most.
Why I Probably Won’t: I have a hard time finding a flaw with this one. The first time director Tanya Hamilton had nothing but praise at Sundance.

The Fighter (December 10th)
Plot: The true story of professional boxer Mickey Ward. (Mark Wahlberg)
Why I Might Love It: Director David O. Russell has gotten two of Wahlberg’s best performances out of him in Three Kings and I Heart Huckabee’s. With Wahlberg in the lead this time they might bring out the best in each other.
Why I Probably Won’t: Russell can be incredibly flakey. His last film Nailed never even got released.

How Do You Know (December 17th)
Plot: A love triangle between a professional soft ball player (Reese Witherspoon) a major league pitcher (Owen Wilson) and a corporate executive. (Paul Rudd)
Why I Might Love It: Director James L. Brooks is a master at balancing a tone between comedy and pathos. As well as his talented main cast Brook’s favorite actor Jack Nicholson appears in their fourth film together.
Why I Probably Won’t: The movie’s premise has little original going for it and the last film Brooks directed was the horrible Adam Sandler movie Spanglish.

Tron: Legacy (December 17th)
Plot: Sequel to the cult classic in which the son of the original film’s hero journeys into the game Tron to find his father.
Why I Might Love It: I probably saw the original Tron about twenty times as a kid. (It was on television constantly.) Anything with Jeff Bridges is usually worth a look.
Why I Probably Won’t: A sequel 28 years later? It is rarely a good idea to do a sequel to a beloved cult film. Add to that an inexperienced director and it could all go horribly wrong.

Somewhere (December 22nd)
Plot: An irresponsible Hollywood actor (Steven Dorff) has to change his ways when his 11 year old daughter comes to stay with him.
Why I Might Love It: From director Sofia Coppola this movie recalls her success with Lost in Translation.
Why I Probably Won’t: Coppola’s last film was the nearly unwatchable Marie Antoinette and whether she has real directorial chops remains to be seen.

True Grit (December 25th)
Plot: An alcoholic US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) agrees to help a young girl avenge her father’s death in the American West.
Why I Might Love It: The Coen Brothers remake of the John Wayne classic has been promised to go darker like the novel upon which it is based. Plus the Coens reunite with “The Dude”.
Why I Probably Won’t: The last remake the Coens did was the horrible The Ladykillers with Tom Hanks. That said, these guys have rarely made a bad film and this might end up one of their best.

The Debt (December 25th)
Plot: Three agents go on a secret mission to kill a Nazi war criminal in 1965.
Why I Might Love It: Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), written by Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass) and starring Helen Mirren this has a good chance of being a great film.
Why I Probably Won’t: Madden has been in decline since his Oscar nomination. Most of the films he has directed have been bland.


Why can’t people learn to argue?

August 16, 2010

Okay, I lied. One more blog because I couldn’t sleep.

Something interesting is still going on is that my last blog that I wrote on myspace on July 27th is still getting comments and emails. The comments and emails usually go like this, “you are wrong.” My responses to these usually go like this, “where is your evidence?” Then at that point they start calling me names. Those who read me on myspace know that my last three blogs were about conspiracies. This is not a good subject to broach on the internet.

I got equally frustrated over “proofs for God” and wrote two blogs here about it. Proofs for God come in one flavor. This flavor is that God is self evident. These arguments basically say there is no other explanation can explain the universe except for God. The real truth is that no current explanation can explain the universe. The answer is, “I don’t know.” That is the answer. These attempts on explaining God are based on a priori knowledge but a priori knowledge only works for things like “all bachelors are unmarried men.” You aren’t going to be able to explain something as complex as the universe or God that way. Sorry, you just can’t.

But explain that to Steven. Steven didn’t get the memo in the 19th century it was decided that most knowledge was based on empirical evidence or a combination of empirical evidence and a priori concepts. We have the philosopher Immanuel Kant to thank for that when he synthesized the beliefs of empiricists and rationalists. It is over and we are done with it. This isn’t to say that there aren’t philosophers still doing it but the vast majority of philosophers are now atheists. This is just a fact. It doesn’t prove that there is no God but it does prove that the philosophical arguments for God are not convincing the majority of philosophers.

Steven seemed like a smart guy and an educated guy. That was why I just gave up when he asked me why people’s personal experiences with God didn’t count as evidence. Empirical evidence is supposed to be something I can check. Science counts because other scientists can repeat the experiment and analyze the data. What Steven was talking about was anecdotal evidence. I can’t check anecdotal evidence. If I say my grandmother was a werewolf then that does not prove that werewolves exist. Telling a story from your personal experience is not proof unless you can back it up. This clip illustrates my point.

This is a congressman and a former judge who believes his “proof” is things like guys on the web named Tony posting stuff in support of his argument. This is an educated person screaming like a lunatic and not providing evidence.

And some people don’t even understand the principle of non-contradiction. If you can’t make your case without contradicting yourself that should tell you that there is something wrong with you case.

What this guy says about the tax credit isn’t true. Only if you make more than $200,000 dollars the next year or you receive substantial benefits will you have to pay the tax credit back for 2008.

Here is S. E. Cupp who claims to be an atheist but has written a book about how Christianity is under attack by the liberal media. She is unable to defend a single one of her claims with evidence and many of them don’t make sense on purely logical terms. The last claim she makes is that the movie The Golden Compass got much better reviews then The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Not only is it stupid to use movie reviews as evidence of bias but if you head on over to Rotten Tomatoes The Golden Compass has a 42% rating. The christian movie that is being “attacked” has a 76% rating.

There also is a video on youtube where S. E. Cupp claims that women like her and Sarah Palin are attacked because the liberal media can’t handle “pretty conservative women.” So it isn’t their brains it is their looks. Now, you will find liberals that are like this too but very seldom on TV. There are a few idiot liberals on TV and two of them have been on that obnoxious show The View. (Joy Behar and Rosie O’Donnell) But when you see stupid liberals on TV they usually aren’t politicians or supposed intellectuals, they are usually entertainers. This is not to say that liberal politicians don’t put their foot in their month it is just rare that you see them scream some kind of ultra radical viewpoint and then get mad because somebody demands evidence. The last example is Ken Blackwell on The Daily Show.

Notice that Blackwell is unable to defend himself at all and Stewart isn’t even going after him hard. In fact, he kind of kisses his ass. But Blackwell can’t defend his position. Probably because it isn’t worth defending.

The law and morality

August 15, 2010

This will be my last blog for a while. I wanted to rattle some quick blogs off right away to just experiment with the wordpress format. This last one will be on a subject that I have been thinking about a lot, which is the relationship between law and morality.


You often hear from Libertarians and many people on the left that the law should not legislate morality. This is not really true. There is a relationship between law and morality in the sense that certain laws against rape and murder are definitely based in morality. In fact, many laws are based on morality while a few others are based on issues of negligence and safety that one could stretch to include under the blanket of morality. What people mean when they say this, is that morality should not be the only criteria for deciding when something should be legal or illegal.

The objection is to the idea of morality conflicting with liberty and the idea that “popular morality” (majority rules) should be the template for what is and is not legal. The reason we have the judicial branch in the United States is partially to protect individual liberty from the “tyranny of the majority.” They don’t always do this but that is what they are supposed to do and that is why the people on the right who whine about activist judges and ignoring the will of the people are dead wrong when it comes to issues like California’s Proposition 8.

Many people claim that the basis of law in the United States is religion based and specifically based on the ten commandments. Of the ten commandments only murdering and stealing are clearly illegal and another commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness, could be seen as legal. The first five are about how to worship God and are obviously in no way enforced by law. The one that is left, that pretty much everybody agrees is immoral, is adultery. Adultery is not illegal even though nearly everybody believes that it is immoral. So we obviously don’t believe that everything that is immoral should be made illegal.

One of the problems with a theocratic basis for law is it violates everyone else’s right to freedom of religion. If we were going to choose a theocratic basis then banning Gay marriage would be great for some groups but religions that allow gay marriage and the non-religious would be discriminated against. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison also made a theological argument for separation of church and state based on free will. They claimed that excluding atheists and Jews from public service was fundamentally unchristian because it resulted in coercion from the state. This made a person’s decision to become a Christian meaningless because the person was not free to choose this.

Also if we are going to go this far why not use the law to enforce diet? Pork and shellfish could be made illegal if a biblical basis is all we need. Also practices such as killing “a witch” and even vigilante justice could be made legal by a theocratic basis for law. In fact, they have been historically.

Philosophical Justifications for Law

Thomas Hobbes: Hobbes based his justification for the State on the need of humans for security. He advocated the idea of a monarchy where a sovereign ruled over the populace. The sovereign would have absolute power except that he could never instruct a citizen to harm himself or commit suicide. Citizens submit to this arrangement through a social contract that is made in order to avoid “the state of nature” where life is “nasty, brutish and short.” The basis for morality is argued to be this social contract. Hobbes argued that morality exists in order to help us accomplish our goals in society by making agreements between ourselves.

John Locke: Locke replaces Hobbes’s monarchy with a Democratic Republic. The reason people form the social contract is to have greater liberty. Locke places a heavy emphasis on consent and while he thinks Democracy is important he doesn’t trust the people not to strip away minority rights and advocates a system with checks and balances. A devout Christian, Locke believed that morality came from God but doesn’t think human laws should be based on God’s laws. Locke stated that the more laws that a society had the worse off they would be. If he was alive today he would probably advocate legalization of gay marriage, drugs, prostitution, pornography and any other “vices” that he saw as being victimless crimes.

Jean Jacques Rousseau : Basically the same as Locke but instead of accepting Locke’s liberty Rousseau claims that government was formed to give greater social autonomy and social mobility. In this way Rousseau is like the communitarian version of Locke whose views were closer to libertarianism. Rousseau also did not trust Democracy. He based legal rights on what he called “the general will” which was meant to assure equality. The general will was established by throwing out extreme viewpoints in favor of the general consensus. For instance, because there are people in the United States who question marriage for certain people but nobody questions marriage itself on its own terms Rousseau would advocate marriage for everybody who wants it.

John Stuart Mill: Mill rejected the social contract theory in favor of Utilitarianism, a moral belief that advocates the greatest good for the greatest number of people. But Mill didn’t think Utilitarianism alone would do it and it had to be tempered with liberty. Mill argued that by respecting everyone’s personal liberty to pursue happiness as they saw fit it would lead to the greatest happiness. Mill was also an advocate for gay rights way back in the 19th century.

John Rawls: Rawls based his idea for societal justice on fairness. He borrowed social autonomy from Rousseau and based his moral component on Immanuel Kant’s second categorical imperative that states that human beings should always be treated as end onto themselves and not merely as means to an end. This means that it is moral to respect another person’s goals and ideals even if you do not share them. Rawls also invented “the original position”, a thought experiment in which society is formed by a social contract by individuals who are unaware of any advantages or disadvantages they will have in life. (In other words religion, gender, race, social status etc. is unknown.)
It is important to note that these five political theories, as different as they are, have a few things in common.

1. They all reference ethics but not as the only basis for law. They all use ethics and something else.
2. None of them uses religion as a basis for law.
3. All of them, with Hobbes as the weakest example, make allowances for equality and do not base justice on “the will of the people.”

Objections to Gay Marriage

After Prop 8 was overturned in California I have read a bunch of blogs that were very upset about it and opposition breaks down in three main categories.

1. Homosexuality is unnatural
This argument is irrelevant. It neither helps nor hurts either side. Organ transplants are “unnatural” and some religions have objections to them but there is no push to make them illegal. Part of this argument is that homosexuals shouldn’t be grouped together as a single group like a race. They have a point. Japanese, Greek and Roman cultures saw homosexuality as a recreational activity between men. Sex with women was for procreation but sex between two men was for pleasure. But do they really think that kind of arrangement is better than gay marriage? Even if homosexuality is voluntary so is religion. What religion you are is completely voluntary so by the same logic discrimination based on religion is completely justified.

2. No such thing as gay rights

People who advocate this basically say that homosexuals have no right to marriage and like to point out differences between this and discrimination against African Americans. They also say that marriage for gays is not equality but treats them “special.” First off, it is different than discrimination against African Americans but there was a time when interracial marriage was illegal and that is a pretty spot on analogy. Secondly, heterosexuals can marry the person they want. Homosexuals want the same right. How is that different or special in any way? The answer is that it isn’t.

3. Gay marriage will hurt society.

I could go through statistics but instead I will post an episode of the Showtime series Bullshit! It isn’t an ideal source because they use hyperbole, ad hominems and a lot of dark humor but they also back everything up with statistics and experts.

Marijuana Legalization

Just as I was preparing this I came across this blog:

It was written by a Muslim in opposition of Marijuana legalization and makes a completely theistic argument. It is also full of logical fallacies. I will go through each major point and at the end I will post a video from the group LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) as my source. Like the other videos this keeps me from having to constantly link sources when anybody can just use Google and look it up for themselves.

1. “First of all, legalizing marijuana will inevitably lead to a massive increase of its use. You can pretend that “everybody already smokes it,” but the fact of the matter is that the only thing holding back a LOT of people from doing drugs is the fact that they are illegal. Sadly, people don’t respect themselves enough to look past the law.”

He backs this up with nothing but opinion. This is a common complaint of opponents of legalization but there is no evidence to back it up. (see video)

2. “The increase of pot usage will radically affect people’s everyday lives. Think for a moment about the effect of, say, alcohol in society. Alcohol, like cannabis, is an intoxicant that inhibits mental and bodily function, causing people to not behave the way they normally would under a sane mind. Think about how many lives alcohol affects right now. Think about the broken households, the abandoned children and abusive relationships it causes. Think about the catastrophic social failure that is drunk driving.
Now, consider the fact that alcohol essentially discourages consumption because you can overdose on it and die. Compare that to marijuana, a drug that you can not literally overdose on. Don’t you think people will end up intoxicating themselves more over longer periods for that reason alone? The fact that you can’t overdose on pot should be greater reason to prohibit it!”

The things he says are pretty true about alcohol but nobody is rushing to bring prohibition of alcohol back. As the child of an alcoholic I do not blame my parent’s actions on the drug itself but on the person. The idea that this will cause some kind of massive social problem is once again based on nothing but opinion. He is making a slippery slope argument. This is a fallacy because he is saying that something will have inevitable consequences without anything to back it up.

3. “Again, consider the differences between alcohol and pot. Alcohol is drunken, while pot is smoked. Pot is therefore capable of inflicting second-hand smoke and alcohol does not. I’d hate to see the kind of households the children of pot smokers grow up in.”

This is a good point in some respects but abusing your children would be a crime regardless of whether pot is illegal. He goes onto say that pot is potentially more dangerous than alcohol based completely on second hand pot smoke. He really underestimates how destructive alcohol can be.

4. “If, for medical purposes, marijuana is absolutely necessary, then I can see a valid argument there. However, if there is a less harmful and less addictive substitute, why not use that instead? If the true purpose is medical, then we should strive to find the best solution that causes the least amount of side effects. If such a substitute does not work in all cases, then I don’t see a problem using cannabis in a controlled environment only for the most extreme conditions. After all, more dangerous drugs are used medicinally.”

Marijuana is not habit forming. It is also cheaper than most drugs that cancer patients use and has fewer side effects. Once again, Google it. He obviously knows very little about medical marijuana. The main benefit is that it reduces the nausea of cancer patients allowing them to be more comfortable during chemotherapy and helps them to eat without vomiting.

5. “But honestly, what percentage of legalization promoters are doing it only for the sufferers of diseases? Get real.”

A rhetorical question. Most of the rest of the post he refers to anybody who advocates marijuana legalization as “pot heads” which accounts for two fallacies. The first is an ad hominem attack and the second is a fallacy of motive. Just because somebody may have a motive to support some cause doesn’t mean their argument is bad.

6. “Okay, let’s move on to the economic incentive. Maybe the monetary gain that the government would receive will somehow outweigh the social harm? To me, such money is dirty money. Because it has been earned through underhanded and dishonest means (it exploits and promotes corruptness), any good the money does is automatically canceled out. Morally and ethically speaking of course. As long as you’re feeding off of people’s addiction, thereby enabling it, no real good can result from it.”

He is talking about money you would get from taxation. Never mind that legalization might save us 100 billion dollars a year that can be used for more worthy programs. Never mind that it would reduce violent crime and slow the trade of more harmful drugs that piggyback on the marijuana trade. Also once again, Marijuana is not habit forming. It also can never be seen as dishonest since people voluntarily use the product.

7. “The real source of the crime and corruption is not the law itself, it’s that people want the law to be broken! That’s what needs to change: people’s attitudes and acceptance of drug usage. THIS is why Prohibition failed. People wanted to break the law. This doesn’t mean the law was wrong, just that people were not ready for it.Again, Islam has the answer! Masha’allah. Intoxicants were hugely popular among the Arabs before Islam. This is what is referred to as the the Age of Ignorance. People didn’t see the extended consequences of their alcohol consumption. They just saw the immediate benefit. They were ignorant.

Then the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to them with the message of Islam. But alcohol was not prohibited at once. No no no! At first, Allah told the believers that alcohol was bad for them. After a period, Allah prohibited being in a state of drunkenness during prayer. Then finally, alcohol was prohibited outright. The believers, upon hearing the verses of prohibition, literally spit their drinks and some even caused themselves to vomit! The streets were flowing with wine. Nowadays, Muslims are the largest group of non-drinkers in the world, by far. This was achieved without any amount of force.
The secret? True belief in Allah and having a strong spiritual connection with Him. Once the population has this or something resembling it, then after a gradual process true prohibition will be achieved. Society would no longer demand such drugs because the individuals would feel terrible deep down if they did them.”

So in other words give up all your civil rights and then we’ll be better off. He basically argues for a theocracy. I don’t know how he gets that prohibition of alcohol isn’t due to force. Many Muslim countries ban alcohol but I’m willing to bet it isn’t completely voluntary.

8. He then goes on to post this video:

The purpose is to make fun of the video. He misses the point of the video. I now present the LEAP video and another video for your entertainment.

Dear God are you there? It’s me Steven

August 14, 2010

So within hours of posting my blog about proofs for the existence of God my new best friend Steven posted a blog where he attempts to refute me.  He was arrogant and condescending in his response and seemed kind of pissed at me despite the fact that I spent the entire first section of my blog defending religion from “militant atheism” and my entire thesis was that debating this kind of thing was a waste of time.  I responded to Steven’s blog in comments which made me feel bad since the entire thing was just a transparent ploy to get a fight going.  (fights equal more views and comments as any blogger knows.)  I was unsatisfied with my comment to him so I find it necessary again to do a follow up.

Steven’s blog:

What is it about me that makes people want to fight with me?  My last three myspace blogs were all about conspiracy theories because I made the mistake of calling people who thought the government wanted to enslave white people paranoid.  This resulted in repeated flames on my blog where I was called a series of names and attacked relentlessly.  In this case Steven seems much more intelligent but he finds the idea that I don’t have any imaginary friends so threatening that he wants to pick a fight with me over it.  He did have a few good points but most of his arguments were really laughably bad.  Here are the main points.

1. Steven took offence with the idea that philosophers don’t really care about proofs for God anymore.  He took this to mean that all philosophers don’t.  That is obviously not true.  Theologians care a great deal about them and they have every right to.  Analytic philosophers however consider them irrelevant and even a great number of continental philosophers don’t really care anymore.  This is just true.   A recent poll showed that 85% of analytic philosophers consider themselves Atheists.   I was just stating a fact of the profession and apparently Steven finds this highly offensive.

2.  Steven claims that it is easy to prove that something doesn’t exist.  He uses the example that there are no square circles.  This is an example of a priori knowledge and God cannot be proven or disproven a priori.   If something contradicts itself it can’t be true either.  Everybody knows this.  Steven then goes on to make an empirical claim.  He uses the example of proving that there are no elephants in his bedroom by going to check.  This is a posterori knowledge.  I have never seen God nor seen any shred of evidence of him.  Nor Have I heard a compelling argument for God.  So why is it any less valid for me to believe that there is no God then for Steven to believe there are no elephants in his room?

3.   This one confused me.  Steven said that a claim that I cannot prove that something doesn’t exist is bogus.  Meanwhile he claims he can easily claim that there are no elephants in his room due to lack of evidence.  (He should check his refrigerator though.)  Lack of evidence is why I dismiss the idea of God.  I pointed out that in a court case it is the prosecution who the burden of proof lies on.  Steven tried to give a counter example by saying that a solipsistic person who doubted the existence of other minds could say that the burden of proof that I exist and that other people exists is on me.  Well, there is a mountain of empirical evidence that tells us that other people exist.  If we assume that everyone we encounter is automata it is possible but highly unlikely.  If somebody wants me to try and prove I exist or that I am a thinking being I could never prove this 100% but there is evidence.  For God there is no evidence.  Not even a little tiny bit of evidence.

4.   Steven takes exception that my arguments as presented are not as complex as those given by the actual philosophers they come from.  Well, they aren’t mine they were Joe’s arguments.     I just recognized them as having their roots in arguments made by different philosophers.  I did say in the blog that Joe really didn’t know what he was talking about.  I actually made them more intelligent and complex then Joe presented them because otherwise I would have nothing to talk about.

5.   Steven takes issue with the fact that I mention that the idea of an “uncaused cause” doesn’t prove a Christian God.  He says it still proves a God.  No, it doesn’t.  It proves that there is a question we cannot answer.  He also gets pissy when I mention scientists don’t agree about whether there is a finite or infinite universe.  For some reason Steven thinks I’m using this as proof of something.  No, because I stated before that both a finite or infinite universe make God’s existence make equal sense.  My point was just because we don’t know the answer we just can’t throw God at the problem and declare it fixed.  Why one God?  How about  multiple Gods?  Why not instead of God we declare that magic exists?  We could make up any number of fanciful explanations that would be equally as valid.

6.   Steven takes exception with how I interpreted Descartes’s argument.  What Descartes actually says is that God is a being that contains all perfections.  Existence is perfection so God must exist.  So you see that makes so much more sense than the version that I presented.  I am willing to admit that my version of Descartes was one that not everybody would agree with but my objections to his logic still stand.  Steven also doubts many other claims I make about Descartes views and keeps referencing Descartes’s Meditations.  He is right.  Many of the things mentioned weren’t in Descartes’s Meditations.  So since this is the only book Descartes ever wrote….wait, no it isn’t.  So Steven accuses me of not knowing what I’m talking about because he hasn’t read as much Descartes as I have.

7.  Steven gets mad at me for not addressing whether intelligence in human beings means that there must be a more intelligent creator.  I find this to an arrogant assumption by humans to make them feel more important in the universe.

8.   Being a dick, Steven starts mocking whether my counter examples actually come from David Hume.  (They do.  They are paraphrases of arguments Hume made.)    But even if they didn’t come from Hume and I made them up you would still have to judge them on their own merits.  Hume refutes intelligent design by simply saying that we cannot know design unless we have something random to compare it to.  He says that we know the difference between a stone fence and a pile of stones because we have compared the two.  Not only does Steven not get what Hume is saying but he tries to refute it by simply repeating the same thing over again.  He says that he knows what a fence is because he has seen fences before.  No shit!  That was what I just said.  He goes onto say that all somebody needs to know design is to be aware of design itself and doesn’t need to make comparisons.  This is of course why people see Jesus in their toast and one person sees a Jackson Pollack as great art while another thinks it is just random splashes.  It takes experience to know if something s intentional or random and Hume’s point is that we could only claim to know that our Universe was designed by an intelligent creator if we had a chaotic universe to compare it to.  I have no idea why Steven finds this so hard to understand.  Is anybody else having problems with it?

9.   Steven refers to Leibnitz’s “best of all possible worlds” as a strange argument.  I find this weird because it is hugely famous and as I mentioned was in Voltaire’s Candide.      I assumed that this guy knows theology so he should know Leibnitz better than me.  (I definitely don’t know Leibnitz as well as I should.)

10.   Then we have to talk about whether religion is a justification for morality.  I point out that Hume, Kant, Hobbes, Mill and others got along fine without using God in their moral theories.  I also pointed out that there are moral religious people and immoral religious people.  Whether someone is moral or not seems to have nothing to do with religion.

An Argument Not Worth Having

August 14, 2010

If there is one argument that is completely not worth having it is whether or not God exists.  This subject was a hot topic in philosophy during the Enlightment era because science was finally starting to intrude on the areas that religion had always had locked up.  By the 19th century it was decided that the argument could never be solved and God was purely a matter of faith.  Then somebody, possibly Al Gore, invented the internet and every stupid argument that had already been resolved was given new life.  When I was blogging on myspace it seemed like this was the only topic that the philosophy blogs ever addressed.  Part of this is because of writers like Christopher Hitchens (who is ill right now) and Richard Dawkins who have done more to fuel Christian paranoia here in the United States then any American ever has.  (Thanks, England.)

Hitchens and Dawkins aren’t content simply to dismiss religion but take it to the extreme of calling religion fundamentally immoral, blaming it for vast amounts of social injustice and suggesting that anybody who could possibly believe in God must be mentally ill.  Now that they have found some common ground for us how about we have a nice conversation on the subject?

I have read both Hitchens book God is Not Great and Dawkins The God Delusion and found both books to be puerile and glib.  Neither author seems to have read much philosophy or intelligent theology.   Dawkins in particular is an unbearable asshole and his biggest fans are like cult members.  Their thesis seems to be that the best way to handle religious intolerance is through more intolerance toward all religions.  Fight fire with fire!  Yeah, that usually works out well.  Keep in mind I’m an Atheist and have even experienced discrimination because of my Atheism but I much prefer Keith Ward’s rebuttal “Is Religion Dangerous?”  a balanced look at religion and faith’s relationship with reason.

Just like anything else the bible can have a bad effect on people predisposed to antisocial behavior.  If you are an asshole and read the bible you might focus on the “eye for an eye”, gay bashing and violence and totally miss the compassion, helping the poor and parts about love and acceptance.     There are people who misinterpreted Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene to be an endorsement of moral egoism.  By his own standards he is completely morally responsible for this.

Recently I allowed myself to be drawn into an argument about whether God exists on the internet.  Somehow this guy named Joe found me and struck up a friendly conversation in an effort to convince me that God exists.  If he had started with this I would have ended the conversation immediately but because he waited until I had already been talking to him for quite some time before springing it on me I felt it was necessary to be polite.  (Damn, my manners.)  He started off by informing me that it was “intellectually dishonest” to doubt the existence of God without one shred of evidence.  I pointed out that the burden of proof was on him because it is impossible for me to prove that something doesn’t exist.  He told me that I was “turning his argument on its head.”

Well, no I was not.  In a criminal court the burden of proof is on the prosecution.  They must prove that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is responsible.  Imagine a legal system that works the other way around.  It would be like Kafka’s The Trial.  You would have to prove that you didn’t do anything even if there was no evidence to suggest that you had done something illegal.  Nobody in a system like this could ever hope to get an acquittal.

My new friend Joe then went on to tell me that Atheism is irrational.    I blame this on guys like Dawkins.  When you start telling people that their belief system is irrational then you get in a “no you are irrational” type of fight and it becomes a death match.  I personally think certain religious beliefs are irrational but I have a hard time rejecting them all and every single religion.  Joe’s whole argument for atheism being irrational was basically that it was dogmatic.  (Ha!)  I have met stupid atheists and the Richard Dawkins fans strike me as being dogmatic followers so I understand this viewpoint.  But I was not raised an atheist.  My mother believes in God and my father has never expressed one way or another any beliefs on the point.  I went to church as a child and I read the bible extensively as a teenager.  I was never religious but I was well into my twenties before I felt comfortable calling myself an Atheist.  Can I prove this is not dogmatic?  No, somebody would have to observe me for a long time to see if I based my decisions on ideology or evidence.  The only way to know is to watch how I argue.

Joe presented a series of arguments that are older than dirt and have already been picked apart.  He presented them as if they were some shocking secret knowledge.  It was as if he had just delivered some kind of Mortal Kombat style finishing move on me and there was nothing I could do to refute these arguments.     I will now go through the three main arguments.

The Prime Mover Argument

I don’t know if Joe knew he was ripping off Aristotle or that Aquinas took this same concept into his philosophy because Joe did not use the term “Prime Mover.”   Basically Joe said that because of cause and effect something had to create the universe and that something apparently has to be God.  Even if we accept that this argument proves “a god” exists I don’t see how it gives any more credence to a Christian version than any other version.  But that is already making a huge leap.  Joe’s arguments were structured as logical syllogisms so either he took them from somewhere else or he knows something about how logic works but many of the syllogisms were logically unsound.    I would like to recreate them here but Joe took three pages just to establish cause and effect and I don’t want this blog to be anywhere near that long.

Basically, Joe’s whole argument is that a finite universe had to be created by something so it had to be God.  If the universe is infinite then there must be an “uncaused cause” in which something came from nothing.  Since something cannot come from nothing the only explanation is God.  Most physicists believed that the universe was infinite until the Big Band Theory was first proposed by Georges Lemaitre, who was both a scientist and a Catholic priest.  Despite the general acceptance of this theory it is still argued whether the universe is finite or infinite but it is really a semantic discussion because it is speculated by some that there was a previous universe that imploded before this one was created.

Joe’s argument is a pretty typical argument from religious people.  It basically goes like this.  There are things in the universe that we don’t understand.  Because we don’t understand them they must be impossible.  Only God can do the impossible so God must exist.  Have fun with that one.

Descartes and the Ontological Argument for God.

Joe really fucked up with Rene Descartes.  He presented Descartes argument like this:

1) If something exists, then nothing does not exist.
2Something exists.
2(a) The “Cogito, ergo sum” Argument
2(a)  [i] “Cogito, ergo sum” [Latin] / “Je pense donc je suis” [French] / “I think, therefore I am” [English]—René Descartes.
2(a) [ii] “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” [Latin] / “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am” [English].
2(a)[iii] “Ego cogito, ergo sum” [Latin] / “‘I am thinking, therefore I exist” [English].
2(a)[iv] “I am, I exist” [René Descartes].
3) Therefore, nothing does not exist.

Seriously, this is what he sent me.  I’m not even sure what this is supposed to mean but I know this is not Descartes argument for the existence of God.  Descartes did not say, “Hey, if I can prove that just one thing exists then God must exist.”  That seems to be what this argument is saying.

Basically, what Descartes actually said was that senses are faulty and we can never be sure of any knowledge that is gained through the senses.  He continued to strip through all knowledge until he got down to the one thing that he could be sure of which was his own existence.  (I think therefore I am.)  From that Descartes said that we could know things through reason alone and he argued that any concept that is “clear and distinct” must be true.

  1. Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.
  2. I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

So what Descartes was actually saying was that God is a necessary concept for the universe to exist just like a triangle is a three sided figure.  Descartes also based a lot of his reasoning on the idea that more complex things have to come from something more complex.  Joe also makes this argument to me by saying that because there is intelligence that intelligence must have come from something more intelligent.  This concept flies completely in the face of everything we currently know about biology and evolution but was widely accepted at the time.  I can hear the religious people calling foul already at the mention of evolution so I will simply use David Hume’s objections.

Hume refuted “intelligent design” way back in the 18th century though he called it “the watchmaker fallacy.”  Hume proposed that design of the universe was impossible to know simply because we only have one universe to judge.  He gave an example.  We can tell the difference between a fence made of stone and a random pile of stones because we have comparisons to make but in the case of our universe we can never be able to know what happened by chance and what happened by design.  He also pointed out that Descartes idea of God was not a “clear and distinct” concept but was made up of a bunch of different concepts of what constitutes perfection.  Hume used the example of things like Mermaids that don’t exist but we are able to imagine them by taking our concept of a woman and our concept of a fish and putting them together.

The Problem of Evil

Joe then uses an argument from Gottfried Leibniz that wasn’t really intended to prove God but to give an explanation of how God could possible exist and the world still be so filled with evil.  Leibnitz explanation is famous.  He said that good could not exist without evil and that the world we live in is the perfect balance.  Our world is, “the best of all possible worlds.”  To try and prove God by using this argument results in circular reasoning but that doesn’t bother Joe.  The argument as Leibnitz presented it was satirized in Voltaire’s novel Candide with the character of Dr. Pangloss representing Leibnitz.

Joe goes on to say that in order for morality to exist there must be a moral judge.  In other words people will all be immoral if they don’t have God to punish them.  This is a horrible thing to say to an atheist and is pretty easily refuted.  Some pretty great immoral acts have been done in the name of God and continued to be done every day.

Despite how much Joe messed up these arguments they are more or less the best arguments ever made to try and justify God’s existence.  That’s right, these three arguments that it took me a few paragraphs to refute are the best arguments that the greatest minds who have ever lived have come up with to try and prove God existed.  Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes and Leibnitz were all geniuses who made contributions to science, logic, mathematics, ethics, political philosophy and many other fields.  Yet, this is the best they were able to come up with on the subject of God.

Should we extend the Bush tax cuts?

August 13, 2010

Anybody who knows anything about my views on politics will know that there are few policies that have pissed me off more than the Bush tax cuts.  A president who was at war and planning to get us involved in another one makes it his priority to give a tax break to the wealthiest Americans while asking a huge sacrifice from one percent of the population who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This is showing a disconnect from reality.     That said the fact that the Bush tax cuts were going to expire this year while the economic situation is so precarious gave me pause.  While conservatives seem to view cutting taxes as a cure all for economic woes, and I find this viewpoint both childish and wrongheaded, it would be stupid to think that taxes have no economic impact whatsoever, especially during a time that we are recovering from a deep recession.  In this way I think that extending the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $200,000 a year is a good thing but even within the Democratic party there are voices that say that these cuts should be extended for the very wealthiest Americans.

Unlike most of those people who make a living at political punditry I am not blindly ideological so I didn’t let the idea just wash over me.  I looked up what the experts had to say on the issue and found that voices as disparate as Paul Krugman  and Alan Greenspan called for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and not just for the wealthiest Americans but all Americans.  The logic is as follows: tax cuts for the rich will be saved and not spent and anything the fed does with the money to stimulate the economy will be better than anything the rich do with it.  This seems in line with my own research about taxes that I have used in past blogs and have found huge opposition from conservatives on the issue in the past.  Supply side economics or Reaganomics or “voodoo economics” as it was called by George H. W. Bush isn’t taken seriously even by conservative intellectuals anymore but it is one of those ideas that just won’t die, like ethical egoism or the idea that Boondock Saints isn’t an unwatchable piece of shit.

I have written on this subject before but since I am starting over here at wordpress and have a different audience, to a certain extent, I do not feel bad about cannibalizing past blogs.  If one looks at unemployment there can be no direct correlation between lower taxes and unemployment.  This is more obvious now since so much of the country has very high levels of unemployment.  While arguing with conservatives I was given Texas as an example of their arguments.  When I would point out that several blue states had lower levels of unemployment than Texas despite the fact that they have significantly higher taxes I was told that those states had too low a population to make comparisons with Texas.  I was told to compare Texas with California.

The problem with this comparison is that California has over 12 million more people than Texas has which makes Texas population only 2/3 that of California.  In addition while California has much higher income tax and corporate tax than Texas (taxes that put the burden on the rich) they also have significantly higher sales taxes than Texas (taxes that put the burden on the poor.)   I suggested that a much better comparison would be the state of New York whose population is five million less than Texas but also has much higher corporate and progressive income taxes while having lower sales tax.

When I first wrote my blog on the subject in March, New York had a 8.8% unemployment rate while Texas had a 8.2% employment rate.   Now they are both even at 8.2% according to the department of labor statistics for June.  These states have close to the same population and New York has 7.5% higher rate of corporate taxes, a 7.5% difference in bank taxes and a 8.97% difference in income tax for the wealthiest tax bracket.    With these significantly higher taxes you would think that the state of Texas would have a lower unemployment rate by a significant amount but this is not the case.  The hike in federal income tax that will occur after the Bush tax cuts expire is only 3%.

In addition to showing no difference in unemployment New York is ranked higher in education than Texas.  Texas also has a significantly higher murder rate then New York and nearly twice the number of violent rapes.  Texas is currently fifth in teen pregnancy and second in live births.  I imagine that conservatives will want to blame some of this on illegals but that just isn’t true either.  If anything undocumented workers help the Texas economy by providing them with cheap labor.

Currently the tax rate for the highest income bracket in the US is 35%.    Most single people have 30% of their paycheck taken out for taxes.  Many are able to get a large chunk of that money back.  I have had many conservatives claim that the rate for the rich is actually higher.  They claim that there are a bunch of “hidden fees” that the rich pay that the rest of us don’t.  If they are talking about bank taxes and corporate taxes I say, “duh,” what is your point?  We are talking about progressive income tax here.  Those taxes are as separate an issue as sales tax would be to the conversation.  I don’t take all the deductions that the rich could get into account either.  There is a long standing argument from conservatives that US tax rates are excessively high and are a drain on our economy.

Before the great depression the top tax rate was 24%.  It was common practice that during war time taxes would go up.  During World War I  the highest tax rate rose to 77% but by the end of the 1920s it had hit a rate lower than our current one.   Then of course the economy collapsed so the fed must have lowered taxes, right?  Nope, after the depression taxes on the wealthiest Americans rose to 63% and as the New Deal accelerated grew to 79%.  But everybody knows it wasn’t the New Deal that ended the Depression but World War II so taxes must have gone down then, right?  No, because taxes go up during war time.  In 1944-45 the wealthiest Americans were paying an income tax rate of 94%.

When Ronald Reagan came into office the tax rate was 70% for the most wealthy Americans but he lowered it to 28% by his final year of office.  He also increased the deficit by 189% far more than any other president in the history of the country.   George W. Bush couldn’t even do that with two wars, only coming in at 89% increase.  (In his defense the deficit was much higher then and he had to squander a surplus too.)   My point is that we won’t ever get this deficit under control until we get over this fear of taxing the wealthy.  Greed is what got us into this.  It isn’t what is going to get us out again.

A beginning

August 12, 2010

Well, previously I was writing a blog on myspace and this had not been a very productive enterprise.    First of all myspace does not offer much of a chance to reach an audience.   In order to get read you have to spend more time selling yourself then actually writing.  This is not a good position to be in and I did not enjoy it.

Previously my blog concerned itself chiefly with politics but I think that is too narrow a subject for me to not get bored with.  Much of this blog will be concerned with politics but it will be more about philosophy in general and applied philosophy in particular.  I may blog about subjects as varied as aesthetics, religion, ethics, epistemology (which the basics of Americans seem unable to grasp) and even about the sciences.

I will try and keep these blogs accessible but I have found that I am a bad judge of what is and is not accessible to a general audience.  Unlike most blogs I will neither placate my audience nor talk down to them.  I may repost a few of my myspace blogs here in order to get some content going but I intend to post my first blog of original material this weekend.  Thanks to anybody who followed me here.