Atheists Who Believe In God?

This post over at Get Religion got me thinking, and very confused. Apparently, in a recently released Pew Forum poll, twenty-one of those who call themselves atheists stated that they believe in God. Eight percent of atheists are absolutely certain God exists.

Now, I always thought of the word atheist as meaning what nearly any dictionary will tell you it means, something like “one who believes that there is no deity” (Merriam-Webster). I do think, as many people argue, that we should include in the definition the person who does not believe there is a deity, yet has not consciously chosen either agnosticism or actively to deny the existence of a deity. That said, it appears based on Wikipedia’s entry that the term is being used by at least some people somewhat more broadly, such that rejection of theism counts as atheism. That is, rejection of belief is treated as synonymous with disbelief (a logical fallacy; “I do not believe X is true” need not equate to “I believe X is false”). Apparently, some people are redefining the term so dramatically as to see belief in a singular God as compatible with the rejection of belief in a god or gods.

I don’t understand. Anyone care to explain this to me? Are some people simply muddled? Maybe Steve Waldman at Beliefnet is right in saying [ed.: link updated to an archived link because the original was broken], “Atheism has become a cultural designation, rather than a theological statement. Some are likely declaring themselves atheists as a statement of hostility to organized religion, rather than to God.” Thoughts?

An epic Bill Gates e-mail rant

Techmeme linked me to this amazing Bill Gates e-mail rant. It’s gratifying to know that even the creator of the operating system finds it infuriating, especially when it just took me 10 minutes to reconnect my old laptop to my 802.11g (WiFi) network. I mistyped the WEP key, allegedly, either in the first box or in the confirmation box, upon which Windows repeatedly erased both entries and made me start over. Why hide my characters? I understand there’s a security value, but typing 26 hex characters blind is an error-prone activity; at least give me an option to show them. Why have two boxes? What possible reason there is that I would need to confirm a passkey when using it (as opposed to creating it), I don’t know. And the best question of all: why in the world did Windows forget the WEP key, in the first place? I did have to clone my PC’s MAC address to get my router to work with Comcast (thanks for making life that much harder, Comcast), but I didn’t think that affected the MAC address it uses internally to the network.

Obama, Burkeanism, and Chicago

Redstate has a post by Pejman Yousefzadeh, Barack Obama: That Burkean Chicagoan [ed.: link updated to an archived link because the original was broken], that I found very interesting and right on the money. I think Obama’s association with the University of Chicago has somehow been widely interpreted as a signal that he is actually somewhat conservative, or at least moderate, in a somewhat Burkean sense. This is ridiculous, for the reasons Pejman’s post illuminates, but for a few more, as well.

Part of the problem is the kind of thinking expressed by Cass Sunstein, soon to be of Harvard Law School. I have had one class taught by Sunstein, including Chicago’s famous “Elements of the Law” required 1L course, and have heard him speak many times. He is, of course, extremely intelligent and a very good teacher. Taking a class with him is like drinking from a firehose, but it is always informative, stimulating, and entertaining. His greatest flaw, however, and one I and many others have pointed out, is his tendency to rely on his own constructions of points of view and the corresponding arguments on an issue as though they are actually fair and correct. That is, Sunstein is very prone to say something like, “Imagine the following… Now, a conservative would say…” The problem is, he is very often wrong—and sometimes very badly so—on this type of construction. For example, when we discussed economic freedom (as in the freedom of contract principle from the Lochner era), Sunstein completely misconstrued both what conservatives at the time and today would say about it. At times, Professor Sunstein seems unaware that his ability to adopt another’s point of view and reason from it is imperfect, relying more on his constructions of a perspective than on direct statements from those who hold it.

As applied to the excerpt in Pejman’s post, I find this approach both telling and disturbing. If Barack Obama wanted the best possible arguments for and against the warrantless wiretapping of international phone calls, he could find a better debate at the University of Chicago Law School than Sunstein v. Sunstein. Nobody can fully understand the mindsets of both his kindred spirits and those he disagrees with; those who get even close tend to become legendary for their exploits. As much as I respect Professor Sunstein’s ability to summarize and analyze controversies, then, I have to say it disturbs me that Obama’s consideration of the counterarguments to his own position on such a hot issue is heavily informed by what a like-minded person says those counterarguments are.

Leadership is principally about making hard calls and inspiring others to enact them, occasionally getting one’s own hands dirty in the process. Making those calls requires managing scarce resources of time, manpower, and knowledge wisely. To the extent time allows, this means a potential leader – especially a man who would be President of the United States – must hear alternative viewpoints presented fairly and by those who have thought them through most carefully. In other words, a liberal President absolutely must have some conservative advisors, and a conservative President must have some liberal advisors. Relying solely on one’s political affiliates for insight into one’s philosophical opponents is terribly unwise – it’s unrealistic, leads to false confidence, and is likely to make the opposition feel entirely disregarded and disrespected in the caricatures that result.

This Is Stupid – And You Can Quote Me On That

The Associated Press wants to charge bloggers $12.50 to quote five words from AP articles. See this rate chart for the evidence. I’m not sure which is more frustrating – that the AP has so little respect for the value of a free exchange of information in a free society, that they have so little understanding of “fair use” in copyright law, or that at least some people, intimidated by take-down notices and the like, will actually pay for doing something they have a legal right to do. It’s kind of amazing.

Starve the Beast

Economics professor Greg Mankiw shares some interesting thoughts, citing Paul Krugman, on why Bush’s tax cuts may result in smaller government in the next administration than we would get otherwise. This is likely true, no matter which candidate wins. Krugman, however, calls this a “poison pill,” a way of sabotaging a takeover or transfer of control, lamenting that, “looking at the tax proposals of the two presidential candidates, it’s remarkable and disheartening to see how effective President Bush’s fiscal poison pill has been in restricting the terms of debate.”

As Mankiw points out, though, the situation is not “entirely negative.” Indeed, for those of us who are classical liberals or – gasp – conservatives, a restricted debate in terms of how and how much the federal government can spend is not necessarily a bad thing. Tax increases of the type Obama plans will not cure deficit spending. This is true both because of something called a Laffer curve (higher tax rates do not always equal proportionally higher tax revenues, since capital often goes elsewhere or stops working) and because governments are greedy beasts – the more food you give them to cure their shortages, the bigger they get. This is why despite tripling tax revenues between 1932 and 1940, that period saw not a reduced deficit, but a 33% deficit growth.

Killing the Economy – One Drop at a Time

Thankfully, the Republican party, for all its failings in the last few years, has still some concept of fundamental principles of economics. The Senate blocked a windfall profits tax on oil companies, a tax much like many of the taxes that prolonged the Great Depression in America long past its end elsewhere. Thank goodness for small blessings.

A Backup Solution that Works on Vista

I detailed here the problems I had trying to craft a script-based backup solution using vshadow and robocopy. I never did figure it out, even after a BIOS upgrade and hours and hours on various forums. I ended up downloading a trial of SyncBack SE, which has worked very well so far, even with open files like Outlook PST files. I am not thrilled about having to go with a commercial solution, but I have to say it is pretty cool and convenient.

(Hat tip to Brian Hinkle.)

Moving, the Bar, and Other Craziness

I haven’t been posting very often, since we just took finals, are trying to get ready to move, are studying for the bar, had to sublet our apartment, and have to graduate, still.

Finals: done! They went well enough – each of us ended up reasonably happy with the quarter, especially since the only thing on the line at this point was doing well enough to graduate (i.e., not failing anything, which is not a particularly high bar).

Moving: a huge pain. Shocking, I know. It will be happening, though, in less than two weeks. At that point, we become Texans indefinitely. We’re looking forward to being moved, not so much to moving

Bar prep: a huger pain. After one week, we have covered the introductory material, constitutional law, and contracts. We have a couple hundred flashcards, have already answered around two hundred test questions each, and have nineteen subjects left to cover, not to mention several practice tests (and probably another couple thousand individual questions) to take. So. Much. Fun.

Graduation: parents arrive in less than a week and things get crazy for a few days with all the events.

Life is busy. Feel free to drop me a line, especially if it’s because you’re in Chicago or Houston and want to catch up before or after the move.