Pascal’s Wager: Place Your Bets

800px-6sided_diceEinstein famously said: “God does not play dice with the universe.” Centuries earlier the christian philosopher Blaise Pascal similarly ruminated on God’s connection to gambling. Pascal’s Wager simply put says:

  1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
  2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
  3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
  4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.
God exists God does not exist
Believe in God Infinite gain in heaven Insignificant loss
Disbelieve in God Infinite loss in hell Insignificant gain

(Above is from From Rationalwiki.org)

Pascal (1623 – 1662) was reacting primarily to the essays of Montaigne, the most popular skeptic of the day. Medieval theology was by then fading almost entirely from vogue, crushed on the shoals of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. For the religious set the trend was certainly in the wrong direction. In response Pascal crafted an apologetic for Christianity which is basically an exercise in managing on the margins of reason. Based on probability theory and game theory his Wager attempted to show that it is a no-brainer for someone to believe that God exists, even though this cannot be proved or disproved through reason. If one is willing to “bet” on the existence of God, even without certainty or proof, with no guarantee of winning the bet, that option still far outweighs the alternative with regard to potential gains. Makes sense…

But this assumes that God has taken the bet. After all, the Wager appeals to a base, some would say biological, instinct for self-preservation rather than to an ideal faith in some cosmic omniscient being. In fact, if God does exist, and is indeed a gambler, might not a person who is willing to take a big risk for his/her belief (or disbelief as the case may be) rate higher in God’s estimation than one who is just defaulting to the safest position to cover his bet (or rear-end)? Should one spend a lifetime collecting silver bullets on the off chance that there are werewolves bent on killing him? Or take a risk and ignore the wager? The answer: who knows?

BBC- A Brief History of Disbelief

BBC – Disbelief Exras

Einstein on God

Richard Feynman on God

George Carlin on God

Richard Dawkins on God

Why I Am Not A Christian – Bertrand Russell

Recommended: Latin Grooves From South of the Border (Mostly)

Enjoy!

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Studs_Terkel_-_1979-1The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded the creation of a publicly accessible digital archive which will stream nearly 5,000 oral history interviews conducted by the great Studs Terkel from his 45 years on Chicago radio. The site is active but currently only a fraction of the material is up. Much more to come. Check it out here:

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Listen to a sample: Studs interviews Alfred McCoy in 1971 about his book on the drug trade in Southeast Asia and it’s effect on American soldiers in Vietnam.

An Ode to Woody and Jack

Road Trip

Autobiography: back in high school I was moved to a new state and a new school. I didn’t take to it too well and ended missing the last half of my sophomore year. I just never showed up. The new school didn’t know who I was and never even bothered find out where I was!

Looking back, ironically, it was during that period that I acquired what turned out to be a most influential education–  I began reading what I wanted to read rather than what someone else wanted me to read. And some of the first books I picked up–  Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Dharma Bums and Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory– changed my life. After that all I wanted to do was hit the road, and so I did. I spent much of the next five years ramblin’, by thumb, by Hound, and with friends, traversing much of the country and western Canada. I made it to nearly every state, many of the national parks, and a ton of concerts and festivals along the way. With countless hours and miles of two-lane blacktop under my feet I learned what an amazing place this country really is– equal parts beautiful, intimidating, scary and awe-inspiring. So here’s to Woody and Jack:

Take it easy, but take it” — Woody Guthrie

Billionaires: Don’t Fear The Pitchforks, The Kansans Have Your Backs

640px-Pyramid_of_Capitalist_SystemIt’s not often that a member of the .01% leaves the comfy fold and commits heresy by adopting a populist message. It takes some guts after all to turn on the dapper fellows down at the country club. But that is exactly what billionaire capitalist Nick Hanauer has done. In fact Forbes magazine has gone ballistic over it, directing all sorts of derisive epithets his way, including “ignorant” and “insane.” So what he is saying, and who he is, must have them really spooked:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html#.U8HyMI1dVqp

But never fear you members of the leisure class, the fix is in for the suits in America’s board rooms. It’s not just those at the top of the wealth pyramid that stand in the way of leveling the economic playing field. In actuality the bulk of their firewall is comprised of millions of folks who will never come close to being well-off. So why do so many people, predominantly rural and struggling, consistently vote against their own economic interests? Why do so many of those who should be first at the gates of the plutocratic castles instead fight to languish in a version of modern day feudalism? How are they so easily relegated to second-class economic citizenship (at best)? What spell has been cast that possesses them to disregard their own wallets and instead spend their precious votes opposing things that barely affect most of them– gay marriage, abortion, immigration and assault weapon laws– and some things that are designed specifically to help them- Obamacare, welfare, food stamps, minimum wage and student loans?  A most interesting, and quite entertaining, account of how this all came about can be found in “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” by Thomas Frank:

http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Matter-Kansas-Conservatives-America/dp/080507774X

It’s a story about natural selection in reverse, survival of the un-fittest–  in fact, those “Kansans” who man the ramparts, millions of whom don’t believe in evolution, may themselves be the single best argument out there against the theory. But, as in the case of Nick Hanauer, the plutocrat with a heart,  it usually takes an inside job, a mutation from within, that causes an evolutionary leap. For instance, it was likely a mutation in the gene for the jaw in apes that forced them to switch to a less coarse diet, thus relieving the need for huge muscles for chewing, which allowed the skull to expand and the brain to grow. OK..so it might take millions of years to save those Kansans, but we have to start somewhere. Go Nick!

And this from NYT the following day…right on cue:

‘Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts’

Prelude to Freedom Summer – Hubert Humphrey 1948

Hubert_H_Humphrey--1948_Democratic_National_Convention--Watched “Freedom Summer” on TV the other night. It was based on Bruce Watson’s excellent book that came out a few years ago. Although the documentary didn’t break any new ground it is nevertheless a worthy treatment of a watershed moment in American history. And there was some footage that I had not seen before, from the personal collection of Richard Beymer, an actor from Hollywood who went to Mississippi with the students and filmed.* But like many other treatments of the civil rights movement, it left out a discussion of the many previous attempts to pass civil rights legislation in the US over the years, attempts that were always squashed by the southern dominated Senate. No civil rights legislation was passed into law in this country between 1875 and 1957! In fact, did you know that LBJ voted against civil rights legislation many times early in his career?

Arguably the most important early event in the chain that ultimately led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, now largely forgotten, occurred at the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. A young Hubert Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis and relatively unknown nationally, gave an impassioned and eloquent speech in support of a civil rights plank. He was pressured by the Democratic establishment not to give it, they said it would alienate the south and hurt Truman’s chances. But he was forward-looking and realized that, in addition to being the morally right thing to do, African Americans would soon be a powerful constituency in the north, and one day everywhere, and needed to be brought in to the Democratic tent. So he stood up and gave the speech. It is only 10 minutes long, but one of the great speeches I have ever heard. Much of the South walked-out, they formed the Dixiecrat Party under Strom Thurmond. But it turned out that they couldn’t stop the tide, they did carry a few southern states but not enough to save their cause, and Truman won. It was a turning point as the speech inspired many northern and western legislators who heard it. When Truman won the election, many realized that they could support civil rights and still survive politically.

“The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”

Read the text and listen to the speech here:

Humphrey Speech – Philadelphia 1948

* In addition to being a film maker, Richard Beymer was an actor of some renown. Among his credits are major roles in West Side Story and The Diary of Anne Frank, and a significant part in The Longest Day. He also starred in the television serial, “Twin Peaks.”

Who Spoke Up? – Voices of Protest Against the War in Vietnam

chicago68_blankfort_smallDuring the Vietnam War nothing got under the skin of the war managers– LBJ, Nixon, their generals, top cops and political cronies — more than public criticism from liberal, and sometimes moderate, members of the intelligentsia, college campuses and the media. The war pushers tried every dirty trick in the book, and then some, to shut these voices down– they labeled dissenters as traitors, commies and un-American; used the FBI to spy on them (Cointelpro) and the IRS to audit them; created laws to throw them in jail for protesting, or sent in ringers and police to start riots during peace marches; and in some cases even shot them dead.

But these tactics ultimately failed. Over time the chorus of voices demanding peace steadily grew in strength and in retrospect history has shown that the opposition interpretation of the war was not only more informed, but also much more honest, than that of the establishment. In fact, we know now that, from Tonkin to Cambodia, there was no lie too big for LBJ and Nixon if it served their purposes of continuing a failed policy in the hopes of pulling off a hail Mary pass late in the game–which of course did not happen.

A true turning point in modern American politics, the shady events of the war years marked the beginning of a damaging turn toward cynicism by the American public regarding the honesty and integrity of their government. Prior to Vietnam, people may have disagreed about politics, but they essentially believed their leaders were, for the most part, honest people, public administrators with honorable intentions. But the Vietnam War– with its phony after battle briefings, trumped up body counts, constant false optimism, secret bombing campaigns and duplicitous foreign diplomacy– shattered that glossy veneer. The trend was accelerated by Watergate and then officially codified into right-wing ideology by Ronald Reagan. The fallout from the war, the war at home, started the nation on the path that has left us deeply divided, and apparently paralyzed politically.

Listen to archival broadcasts from the period featuring those who stood up against the war:

IF Stone – Vietnam Day Protest UC Berkeley 1965:

 

Writers Against The War 1967:

 

MLK  Beyond Vietnam – April 1967

MLK Santa Rita Jail and Los Angeles 1968:

 

UC Berkeley Sproul Hall Sit-in 1968: 

 

Columbia University Student Strike 1968:

 

Chicago 1968:

 

Soldiers Against the War 1968:

 

Noam Chomsky on Draft Resistance 1968:

 

Dr Benjamin Spock – UC Berkeley 1968:

 

Seymour Hersh Exposes My Lai Massacre 1969:

 

The Complete Pentagon Papers 

List of Anti-Vietnam War Protests

Note: with the most recent national military debacle – the Iraq War – flaming out of control again, and the hawks circling above calling for US involvement, these recordings take on a renewed significance, if for nothing else than to remind ourselves that it is possible to speak out and influence events– it’s one of the only real powers “we the people” have.

Chavez Ravine: Ashes and Diamonds

Went to Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago for a ballgame. It’s a beautiful park in a beautiful setting. Had a great time with my mom. We had Dodger Dogs, heard Vin Scully and rooted for the home team. But I couldn’t help thinking about what had happened there in the years leading up to the team’s move from Brooklyn. I first learned of the struggle for what is now the “Home of the Dodgers” from the musician Ry Cooder when he put out his “Chavez Ravine” record about ten years ago. The music is excellent. The story…. 

Related Material:

Music: Thee Midniters – Chicano Power

Music: Lalo Guerrero – Los Chucos Suaves

Video: The Zoot Suit Riots

Video: The Battle For Chavez Ravine

Video: First Game at Dodger Stadium – April 10, 1962

Video: Barry Goldwater at Dodger Stadium 1964

Video: Club Scene from Criss Cross w/ Lancaster, De Carlo and Curtis

Link: Independent Lens: Chavez Ravine