Quick Roundup 213

Friday, June 29, 2007

An Amusing Book Review

Maybe I'm in a strange mood, but this made me smile....

John McWhorter rips Dave Zirin to shreds for a book-length rant, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports, which seems intended as an indictment against racism in professional sports, but appears to be only tangentially related to either.

In addition, I found the following passage thought-provoking:

Not an easy man, this Zirin. Yet if all this invective were in the service of a coherent point, we could say he's full of the dickens but on to something, a la Christopher Hitchens. Instead, he is the man with a hammer to whom everything is a nail, sacrificing logic and consistency for recreational indignation.

Take his animus against major league baseball for bringing Dominicans to training camps with no concern for teaching them how to make a living if they do not end up having careers in the big leagues. Okay -- but then we get a whole chapter excoriating NBA commissioner David Stern's proposal that basketball players not enter the league until age 20, requiring that they spend their years after high school getting an education to fall back on if their careers don't pan out. While Stern is proposing exactly the kind of stewardship Zirin sees lacking for Dominican baseball players, somehow it isn’t good enough. Zirin fumes that no one has told Dakota Fanning not to act until she was 20. Faced with a choice between calling people racists and making sense, Zirin prefers the former. [bold added]
McWhorter actually lets off Zirin (and the left generally) too easy here. Yes. The left appears to be juvenile and given to "recreational indignation", but that's because full intellectual maturity requires a commitment at least on some level to rationality.

The essential problem with the left, though, is that it rejects reason in favor of emotions and social "consensus" on principle. Zirin's rage is not merely recreational, nor does the fact that he doesn't make (logical) sense really concern him. He feels that capitalism is an evil, racist system, and no matter what a capitalist does, there is something venal about it. He reached his conclusion prejudiciously, and like an old-fashioned Southern bigot, will point to any evidence that comes his way, drop any inconvenient context, and say, "See! I told you so!"

Not to pick on John McWhorter here, but this smiling dismissal of a leftist typifies a major problem with conservatives generally. They do not take philosophical ideas seriously -- as I recently noted when blogging Thomas Sowell on "adolescent intellectuals". They are right that leftist intellectuals tend to express adolescent sentiments and show an adolescent emotional makeup, but wrong to fail to consider why that is the case more deeply than they do.

As a result, they do not grasp the importance of fighting the anti-reason ideas floating about in our culture that make the left possible, and that therefore make it necessary to fight off its worst political ideas over and over again.

Yes. Zirin is, basically, an adolescent. This is funny in a way, and pathetic in another. But the underlying cause -- our culture's widespread lack of respect for reason and its importance to our lives -- is no laughing matter. And it won't go away if we refuse to acknowledge it.

"Fairness" Doctrine Dead ...

... for now.

I appreciate Charles Johnson for delivering what passes for good news in these unprincipled times ("The House votes 309-115 for a Mike Pence amendment barring the FCC from imposing it." A little bit more detail can be had here.), but .... When a measure as manifestly dangerous to our continued freedom as the "Fairness" Doctrine has determined supporters (URL unavailable as of this writing) on its side and evokes, not principled opposition, but taunts of "hypocrisy", you can bet your bottom dollar that the war is not over.

The "Fairness" Doctrine is about as "dead" as socialized medicine was in 1994. This is not the time for anybody who values freedom of speech to rest on his laurels -- or, far worse, to complain that the biggest problem with the "Fairness" Doctrine was that it wouldn't have been applied consistently, everywhere.

A "Fairness" Doctrine applied consistently through all news media is the last thing we need. More importantly, it is morally wrong, because it violates our inalienable rights to freedom of speech and to property.

It will kill innovation in drugs, too.

I have recently noted how John Edwards's recent drug patent "reform" proposal would kill off innovation by American pharmaceutical firms, and have pointed to recent catalogues of the failures of socialized medicine here and here.

Now, via Instapundpit comes a post mortem on how drug innovation has fared in Europe under socialism. Andrew Sullivan quotes the web site of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations on that score:
"Europe as a whole is lagging behind in its ability to generate, organise, and sustain innovation processes that are increasingly expensive and organisationally complex". The report underlines that the pharmaceutical market in Europe has been negatively affected by significant, excessive and uncoordinated government intervention that stifles competition and discourages innovation. This also creates significant inequity among European patients' rights to access of medicines.
For those of us who favor the life-saving capabilities of freedom, it is important to have facts like this at our disposal. But note how the word "uncoordinated" in the above excerpt sneaks in the idea that government interference can work, and how just looking at "facts" misses the whole question of whether the government should be intervening in any industry in the first place.

Such errors make it very easy for people like Edwards to say, "We'll get it right this time," as they prepare to lead our nation off the same cliff. In addition, the result of looking just at facts and whether something "works" misses the golden opportunity of attacking statism on moral grounds, which is what is needed to carry the day, anyway.

Fact checking is important, but without what Ayn Rand called "premise checking", it is not enough. I have always regarded inattention to the philosophical premises held by politicians and the public at large (which Ayn Rand argued drive history) as the biggest blind spot in the non-leftist blogosphere generally, and Instapundit in particular. Philosophical premises are very powerful and they are a class of facts. And yet he basically ignores them, when he isn't expressing disdain for them altogether.

CAIR Lawyer Demands "Privacy" for Agents Provacateur

At Power Line is a timely update on the legal proceedings stemming from the deliberate provocation of airline passengers on a United Airlines Flight:
[CAIR] prefers to prevent citizens from obtaining information on the basis of which they might say nasty things or think nasty thoughts about its actions, its objectives, and its clients. Next thing you know folks might not take seriously CAIR's holding itself out as a civil rights organization, or think it's some kind of a fraud.
Fortunately, Minnesota Federal District Court Judge Ann Montgomery introduced the goons to the concept of "freedom of speech" as she denied their request to hold the hearings in a closed session.

Comings and Goings

Marin Lindeskog and Andy Clarkson are blogging again.

Tom Rowland is on hiatus -- but doesn't leave without introducing a new blog, Creative Life, by a friend of his, who has posted a beautiful, but mysterious picture without telling us what it is!

And if you were wondering who would be teaching at Founder's College, stop by Rule of Reason.

-- CAV

PS: See this post over at The Dougout for a new low in American politics. As I said to Grant in the comments:
So did your "best" congressman not vote for the "Fairness" Doctrine because he couldn't, or did he just not care enough to have a strong position on it one way or the other?

Neither answer would speak well of him, so I guess it is "not a huge deal" that you didn't get an answer. Nor does his hiding behind what his legislative assistant recommended, now that I think of it.
This amendment was so important that for someone not to have a well-known position on it one way or the other demands a near-legendary degree of indifference towards his constituents -- or stupidity.


: (1) Corrected URL for Creative Life. (HT: Software Nerd) (2) Added PS.

Sick o' Socialism

Thursday, June 28, 2007

In the Wall Street Journal is an article that attacks the central theme of Sicko, namely the idea that socialized medicine will actually benefit patients. Although I would prefer to see, in addition, a little indignation at the idea that physicians deserve slavery for all their trouble along with a rousing defense of individual rights, the article does at least offer some food for thought. New to me was how common privatization has become in Europe:

Market reforms are catching on in Britain, too. For six decades, its socialist Labour Party scoffed at the very idea of private medicine, dismissing it as "Americanization." Today Labour favors privatization, promising to triple the number of private-sector surgical procedures provided within two years. The Labour government aspires to give patients a choice of four providers for surgeries, at least one of them private, and recently considered the contracting out of some primary-care services--perhaps even to American companies.

Other European countries follow this same path. In Sweden, after the latest privatizations, the government will contract out some 80% of Stockholm's primary care and 40% of total health services, including Stockholm's largest hospital. Beginning before the election of the new conservative chancellor, Germany enhanced insurance competition and turned state enterprises over to the private sector (including the majority of public hospitals). Even in Slovakia, a former Marxist country, privatizations are actively debated.
Although it is important to remember that such moves may fail -- because they are not necessarily moves toward actual capitalism -- the take-home message is unmistakable: If socialized medicine is so great, why are Europeans fleeing "paradise" in droves?

This will not save us in the long run. An uncompromising and proud stand for the individual rights of physicians and patients will ultimately be required for that. But such arguments might at least buy us some time to make the better ones that will carry the day.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.

The Impending Labor Crisis

From time to time, I have looked at the immigration debate and noted that one of the biggest "problems with immigration" cited by more xenophobic conservatives, the "strain on social services", is not properly part of the immigration debate at all. If we didn't have a welfare state to begin with, this problem would not exist -- if, that is, it really exists at all: The cost savings we realize due to cheap labor doubtless at least helps prop up our statism-crippled economy in more ways than one.

But all that may change in the next couple of decades. According to economist Robert S. Dunn, Jr. of George Washington University, our mass influx of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean may soon effectively stop altogether.

According to the World Bank's 2007 Annual Development Indicators, in 1990 Mexico had a fertility rate of 3.3 children per female, but by 2005, that number had fallen by 36 percent to 2.1, which is the Zero Population Growth rate. That is an enormous decline in the number of Mexican infants per female. The large number of women currently in their reproductive years means that there are still quite a few babies, but as this group ages, the number of infants will decline sharply. If this trend toward fewer children per female continues, there being no apparent reason for it to cease, the number of young people in the Mexican population will decline significantly just when the number of elderly is rising. As labor markets in Mexico tighten and wage rates rise, far fewer Mexican youngsters will be interested in coming to the United States. Since our baby boomers will be retiring at the same time, we could face a severe labor shortage. [bold added]
We will thus no longer be able to realize the savings of cheap, plentiful labor -- but all things being equal, we will still be saddled with a bloated welfare state.

The current immigration debate is thus shown to be worse than fruitless because both sides agree on the premise that should be under intense debate: whether we should have a welfare state at all. Instead, we are given a false alternative: fence out or expel these potential new welfare recipients -- or simply make them into citizens, hoping they will vote to perpetuate the welfare system they presumably came to take advantage of, and then pander to them.

The real immigration problem (i.e., which isn't really caused by the welfare state or a deficient foreign policy) is that we make it unnecessarily difficult for hard-working people who want and deserve a chance to prosper to come over here and work. The current massive influx of illegal immigrants is masking this problem at the moment, but it would seem that it won't be doing so forever. We should be discussing how to make open immigration possible -- not how to compound already overly restrictive rules.

-- CAV

Kerry Refutes Own Point

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Via Matt Drudge comes this YouTube video (which shows a still shot during a voice recording, at least for me) of John Kerry calling for a return to the "Fairness" Doctrine.

Note two things: (1) He is whining about the "squeez[ing] out and squeez[ing] down [of] opposing views" with the repeal of the "Fairness" Doctrine and Equal Time; and (2) His insipid opinion is available to all comers over the Internet at all hours, and for free. This is what he calls being "squeezed out"?

He is plainly wrong about "opposing views" being squelched, as the wide availability of his own remarks attests. And yet he (and numerous other Democrats) continue floating this proposal. If they are right that the American electorate is so dumbed-down that they will get away with this, we are all but cooked. (And thanks to generations of socialized "education", they may be correct.)

Plainly, the Left can be heard -- by those who want to hear them. Their desire for Equal Time is basically to force everyone to have to hear their opinions at all times. Consider the snidest, most obnoxious person you have ever wasted time "debating": Try to make a point and get interrupted mid-sentence. Actually succeed and get treated to numerous dishonest and wholly irrelevant objections. Convince any bystanders anyway and get personally smeared for your trouble. And on top of that, if they can get you into trouble with the authorities on some pretext, watch your back!

Most of us who understand the vital importance of free inquiry and actual debate learn to avoid such types whenever possible after some experience. We look for worthier opponents and more sophisticated audiences.

When I think of Equal Time, I think of some of the more acrimonious debates of my youth. This attempt to resurrect it and the "Fairness" Doctrine is essentially an attempt to force, by government fiat, anyone who isn't a leftist to have to talk past the kind of snide moron I just described any time he wants to be heard.

Under a renewed "Fairness" Doctrine, the Democrats hope to bring debate back down to the adolescent level they are accustomed to, thereby making it so distasteful and troublesome that it becomes an activity that few psychologically healthy people will care to undertake.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 212

The boy who cried "hypocrisy"!

[Update: A commenter raises the following point, which I should have been more clear about: "[H]ypocrisy is a serious moral defect if it encompasses basic principles." True, but focusing on the hypocrisy of someone who would be immoral anyway even if he weren't a hypocrite is a failure to address what is wrong with that person's moral code in the first place. More in the comments.]

I see that I'm not the only one who is unimpressed when someone points out merely that someone else is a hypocrite. Brad Eisenhauer considers a video he summarizes as follows:

If wearing a burqa is an act of self-respect, of not "engaging in a mating ritual in the public street," why are Muslim men not similarly covered? Do they have less self-respect? Are they publicly engaging in mating rituals?
He finds its argument to be thin gruel, intellectually.
I've seen atheists, even principled ones, often making this kind of argument, "cleverly" pointing out a contradiction or double standard in religious ideas. But here's the problem: It doesn't really make much of a point, and it comes off as a bit childish or arrogant.
What does he think should have been said? Stop by his blog to find out.

Terrible Bill Only Narrowly Defeated

Commenting on an interesting post by Monica on the automobile industry, the Software Nerd discusses the cataclysmic effect that unionization has had on this industry in America. This is morbidly interesting, but it isn't his main point. He saves that for last:
The real reason unions want to abolish secret ballots is that they know that while many workers are against unions, those workers do not have the philosophical arguments for their stand. When encountered by a persistent union organizer, spewing socialist theory at them, they often nod, express sympathy for the cause, and and go on with their life. Later, in the secrecy of the voting booth, they go with their real view and keep the unions out. Unions want the bully session to end with some type of signature that can be used just like a vote.

Write to your congressman and tell him to uphold secret ballots for unions. [The bill passed the house and was rejected 51-48 by the senate. Tell your congressman not to try again.]
I also blogged this bill some time ago. (It was mis-named "Employee Free Choice Act".)

It is very bad news indeed that we came this close to having such a bill passed. In fact, I would say that such a result almost guarantees that it will be brought up again soon, so this is good advice

Making Rational Ideas More Easily Available

Nick Provenzo argues that the Ayn Rand Institute should make its lectures more easily available than it currently does:
Now don't get me wrong. I honor the Institute for the excellent and valuable work it does advancing Objectivism (especially for making these lectures available in the first place), but come on--we live in the Internet age. If I can buy a book by an Objectivist thinker in the $10 to $40 dollar range, how can it profit anyone to charge hundreds of dollars for an audio lecture that same book is based upon? And whatever the price it decides to charge, why can't the Institute put the audio up on iTunes?

I for one would like to see the Institute revisit and rethink its bookstore strategy, and come up with a plan that makes it easier for an even larger audience to get access to Objectivist ideas.
Not only that, as I have argued, downloadable formats would make it far easier (and a lot quicker) for intellectuals sympathetic to Ayn Rand's ideas to conduct research for their own work.
Hmmm. I can't even buy this on-line and be sure of getting what I want! If I call and find this to be the case, my choices are down to: (a) a book I will have to think long and hard about purchasing, (b) a pamphlet I'll probably misplace, or (c) a whole bunch of pamphlets I can have fun keeping track of. Great.

But let's say the CD set had everything. There's still a problem. This was on a Sunday, and both stores are doubtless small operations. I didn't try, but I bet I would have gotten a phone message at either place informing me that the time to place orders is during normal business hours.

Furthermore, I am not sure when I'll have time to sit down and think about this topic at length again. The time I really wanted this article was yesterday. What I really would have liked is to be able to order the article electronically in PDF form, or otherwise viewed it online.
There's a saying, "Time is money." I disagree. Time is worse than money. It's irreplaceable and constantly going away.

Provenzo on Internet Radio

Nick also explores the webcaster side of the Internet radio royalty debate a bit further.

-- CAV


: Added note to hypocrisy section.

Nurse Gives Rectal Exam to Sicko

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Over at RealClear Politics is what I hope proves to be merely the first volley of an all-out carpet bombing of Michael Moore's latest agitprop, Sicko, in which he ignores the abject failure of socialized medicine everywhere it has been tried as he attempts to convince his audience that it will somehow "work" if tried in America.

The article is by Helen Evans, director of Nurses for Reform, an organization of European nurses "dedicated to consumer-oriented reform of European health-care systems". Its title is, "What Michael Moore left on the cutting room floor", and its first three paragraphs should pique the interest of anyone who has even the remotest concern for his health:

Michael Moore's denunciation of America's health-care system is about to hit the silver screen. In the film's trailer, a desk attendant at a British hospital smiles while explaining that in Britain's National Health Service, "everything is free." But for free hospital care, Britons pay an awfully high price.

Just ask the nearly 1 million British patients on waiting lists for treatment. Or the 200,000 Britons currently waiting merely to get on NHS waiting lists. Mr. Moore must have missed those folks.

Curiously, though, many American policymakers seem to think that a government-managed, NHS-style system is the answer to all of America's health-care woes. Before heading down that road, however, America's leaders ought to actually investigate Britain's experience with state-sponsored medical care. [bold added]
Miss Evans knows that for nurses everywhere to have a better shot at saving lives, she must first perform a post mortem on the system Michael Moore would foist upon his countrymen. And so she does, describing, among other things, the high rate of infections acquired by patients as a result of checking into hospitals, the results of shortages within the system, and rationing -- the final, predictable result of any attempt to provide necessities by government decree.

Her picture is very bleak, although even she had to leave out a few details, such as the fact that smokers in Britain will be denied certain surgeries altogether or made to wait longer for treatment they "still likely" may get if they do not quit. In addition, some physicians there are already also denying treatment to drinkers and the obese. Perhaps she ran into space limitations -- or maybe she wondered whether the full truth, being stranger than even Moore's most outlandish fictions, might strain her readers' credulity.

And then she necessarily also had to leave out Cuba, which Moore famously visited during the making of this propaganda piece in defiance of American law. I needn't discuss the Cuban system in any detail either, since the following news excerpt from The Chicago Tribune (blogged here) just about makes doing so at all unnecessary.

Medical procedures for show may be new to audiences in the States, but they're old hat in Latin America:
Some Cubans express resentment at the resources being poured into Mision Milagro, complaining that foreigners get better medical treatment than they do. Other Cubans seethe as they watch foreign patients driven to and from hospitals in new Chinese luxury buses while they wait for hours for scarce public transportation. [bold added]
Mision Milagro, by the way, is a program financed by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, which is being used to gain popularity for socialism by providing free eye operations to the poor throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Needless to say, their friends and relatives will see their improved vision when they return, but will remain blind to what life is really like for those who already live under socialism -- unless, of course, they succeed in imposing it upon themselves, at which point it will be too late for most of them.

Government officials want two things: (1) to have life and death power over others and (2) to appear to be all-powerful to everyone else. Is it any wonder then, that they universally ignore those they can take for granted, while pulling out all the stops for those not yet under their power? Specifically, is it really any surprise that Cuba and Venezuela are collaborating to put on Mision Milagro? Or that they do it at the expense of decent care for Cubans and Venezuela's coffers? Why the hell would anyone in his right mind accept what a medical system, run by a politician who doesn't govern him, does at face value? And, for that matter, why would he want a government official in charge of his medical care?

For all their disdain of capitalism, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Michael Moore don't just epitomize the very worst imaginable caricature of hucksterism any of them could possibly impute to capitalism: They remind us that snake oil salesmen, needing consenting victims, are harmless by comparison.

If Mision Milagro sounds like a bait-and-switch scheme, Sicko should sound like false advertising at best. Unfortunately, your health is at stake, and the funny thing about the government is that unlike in the case of a lousy business, you're not free to go elsewhere.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 211

More on the "Benevolent People Premise"

Dan Edge elaborates more on a post I linked to last week. In the meantime, Myrhaf has some further thoughts of his own, which he shares after linking to some discussions Dan's first post touched off. The following passage from Myrhaf I found interesting:

You get beyond superficial relationships when you talk to people more and find out their ideas. This is when disappointment enters. People quickly reveal themselves as mystics, cynics, buffoonish nihilists, gray ciphers, flattering sycophants (social metaphysicians) or some other type. I find two simple questions, asked with an unthreatening smile, most revealing: 1) What does that prove? And 2) Do you have any evidence? The answers to these questions are usually enough to tell you who you’re dealing with. By asking questions without lecturing or arguing, you find out people before they get angry and the defenses go up. First get the facts, then pass judgment. [bold added]
This reminds me of piece of a conversation I recall hearing about many years ago, when Gary Hart was a presidential hopeful. Someone asked a supporter why she liked Gary Hart. Her answer? "That's an unfair question." Can you imagine what a prolonged conversation with someone like this would be like? Would you want to find out? I didn't think so.

It's people like that you can find out without wasting too much time on them by following Myrhaf's advice -- which will leave you more time, energy, and intact goodwill for the rest!

What's Wrong with Peru?

Andrew Dalton makes the following observation about Cameron Diaz's recent fashion faux pas of accessorizing with a Maoist purse while visiting a region of Peru that had been terrorized by the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas not so long ago:
[I]s there a controversy because an American celebrity is using as a fashion accessory the symbol and slogan of an infamous dictator? Better still, is there controversy because she is tacitly promoting Communism, the most murderous ideology ever created? No; the objections are parochial and wrapped in the language of "sensitivity" and multiculturalism[.]
Andrew asks a very good question shortly after this.

The episode further reminds me of a book from a few years back titled What's Wrong with Kansas?, whose premise was that America, not having voted itself into socialist slavery long ago, had somehow been duped into voting against its own "self-interest". We see, once again, the distaste for the left's ideas (when put into practice) on the part of the very people the left professes to care about treated not as evidence that the ideas ought to be tested against reality, but as evidence that the people, on some level, don't know what's best for themselves.

This patronizing attitude is being displayed again here when the leftists pooh-pooh what was done to the Incas by dismissing their distaste for the Maoists as part of some quaint, primitive culture. This kind of thinking allows the left to (1) continue to fool itself into feeling morally superior about its political beliefs, (2) hold itself out as savior and protector of "the little people", and (3) ignore the fact that it is these very "little people" who are regularly crushed under the juggernauts of the left's various sanctimonious political crusades.

Diaz, in being asked to hide her purse from the Incas, is really being asked to help the left hide from itself the necessity of reexamining many of its longest standing -- and most deadly -- premises.

Global Cooling?

Reader Michael Gold pointed me to an article about a scientist warning that we may soon be in for a period of global cooling:
Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth. Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments. It is global cooling, not warming, that is the major climate threat to the world, especially Canada. As a country at the northern limit to agriculture in the world, it would take very little cooling to destroy much of our food crops, while a warming would only require that we adopt farming techniques practiced to the south of us.
Of course, I disagree that governments should be very involved in any planning for climate change. I'd be happy if they'd just get out of the way and let individuals and free markets make whatever adjustments prove necessary.

I hope that the few out there now who predict that global warming will prove to be a passing fad are right. Otherwise, the timing of this will be just right to "prove" that any global warming legislation still on the books is "working".

Save Internet Radio (by Saving) Capitalism

Nick Provenzo gives an excellent executive summary of the Internet music royalty dispute, its origins, and its proper resolution here.

-- CAV

Leftists vs. Freedom of Speech

Monday, June 25, 2007

This column by Jack Kelly is timely, coming on the heels of recent rumblings about restoring the so-called Fairness Doctrine on the part of the Democratic Party. The recurring theme is that anything that deviates from the leftist point of view -- even including their stereotypes of certain groups -- must be suppressed:

Canadian filmmaker Martyn Burke ... made a documentary. "Islam vs. Islamist," which was financed in part by a $675,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mr. Burke hired journalists who reported from Denmark, France, Canada and the United States. There are a great many moderate Muslims, they found, but they don't speak out because they are intimidated by threats of coercion, ostracism and physical violence from the Islamists in their communities.

Mr. Burke's findings are important, but this column is about why the Public Broadcasting System chose not to air his documentary.

PBS had two objections, Mr. Burke told Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The first was that Mr. Burke showed "favoritism" to those Muslims who don't want to blow up their neighbors.

"Basically, the attitude...was that the Muslims we were portraying as the moderates were in some way, in their view, not true Muslims because they were Westernized," Mr. Burke told Mr. Steigerwald. "They felt the Islamists somehow represented a truer strain of Islam."
Got that? If you're not ready to blow up the West, you're not a real Moslem! That reminds me of how you're likewise not really black, or gay, or female unless you're a leftist. And, of course, the PBS objected to the fact that two of Mr. Burke's partners were conservatives. I guess you're not really qualified to make a documentary or express an opinion either, unless you're a leftist.

(As an interesting aside, note that only Moslems don't have to be leftists! Apparently, wanting to destroy America is enough from them. Interesting confession, that.)

The column's main value is in its cataloguing of various recent events in the left's campaign against freedom of speech. A major weakness is that it merely attacks the left for being "hypocritical" in its complaint that talk radio is dominated by the right -- since it effectively controls television. This merely sets the left up to get itself off that particular hook -- and to look "fair" besides -- by proposing that the Fairness Doctrine also apply to television. At the same time, this conservative hypocrisy canard also results in them failing to stand up for freedom of speech, which is obviously under threat, and property rights, which any form of the Fairness Doctrine would also violate, and which could stand a little rediscovery anyway.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 210

Dismuke Fires Back!

During my last roundup, I noted that Darren Cauthon took issue with what he called the "webcaster side" of the Internet music royalty debate in a posting against Dismuke. Since then, there has been a vigorous debate in the comments of that post, which has spurred Dismuke into a rebuttal at his web site, as well as a presentation of a "Free Market Answer to Statutory Royalties" over at his blog. I have unfortunately not had the time to do anything other than scan any of this new material.

I will say one thing, though. The other day, when I complained about such spawn of the mixed economy as debates like this, I forgot one thing. On top of the fact that both sides in such debates often have mixed premises, there is also the matter of the crow epistemology. It is easy to lose track of the legal and political minutiae even while actively interested in such debates, and far more so to forget many of them a few weeks later.

Vaclav Klaus Q&A

If you haven't already seen Vaclav Klaus holding court on global warming hysteria, stop by the Financial Times right now.

President Klaus, I agree, so how do rational libertarians [sic] prevent the destruction of our culture by environmentalists? What’s the answer?
Nicholas Horvath

Vaclav Klaus: The "rational libertarians" (I don't mind being called classical liberal) [I would prefer to be called a "classical liberal", or almost anything else besides a "libertarian" for that matter. --ed] should stop being just a silent majority. They should speak out, as well as speak up. They should reveal the real dangers connected with environmentalism. As the subtitle of my recent book "What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?" suggests, I believe that it is freedom which is endangered. And freedom is more than eventual, relatively mild climate changes. [italics added]
Sure, I've been saying that all along, but he said it far more economically, and far more powerfully: "It is freedom which is endangered." (HT: HBL)

The Best Beer Commercial Ever!

Not only is this a really good beer commercial, ...

... it advertises something I can actually drink!

Feinstein Takes Aim at Freedom of Speech

The Democrats are now openly admitting that they want to bring back the "Fairness" Doctrine.
WALLACE: So would you revive the fairness doctrine?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

WALLACE: But the argument would be it's the marketplace, and if liberals want to put on their own talk radio, they can put it on. At this point, they don't seem to be able to find much of a market.

FEINSTEIN: Well, apparently, there have been problems. It is growing. But I do believe in fairness. I remember when there was a fairness doctrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people. [bold added]
And if they restrict freedom of speech on the airwaves, they will target the Internet next.

Psychological Projection by the Left ...

... on the subject of bumper stickers, of all things! Don Surber notes that the latest left-wing version of attacking something as "simplistic" is to say that it is a "bumper-sticker solution".
So, from the people who gave us "Buck Fush" and "Free Tibet" we get the ultimate bumper sticker:

"(Blank) is a bumper-sticker solution."

Let's see how that works.
It's also cunning in a way. Idiotically short-circuit debate as usual for the bumper sticker crowd, but use the Average Joe's justifiable contempt for bumper stickers to smear your opponent.

It's also right in another way: Since the Republicans abandoned principle long ago, they left themselves wide open to such attacks. (HT: Glenn Reynolds)

A Real Beauty

Amit Ghate has posted photos of his latest orchid blossom. Go check it out!

-- CAV

Faith Hijacked?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Barack Obama recently made the following short statement while on the campaign trail. I find it well worth exploring.

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

"Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.

"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version." [bold added]
I congratulate Obama for calling into question the moral authority of the religious right to defend capitalism in just three words. His point, of course, is that what is left of the pro-capitalist sentiment among the Republicans is, as I have noted here numerous times, inconsistent with the altruistic moral code of Christianity.

This is why I think it foolhardy for pro-capitalists to ally themselves with Christians who wish to inject their religion into politics. This is an error fatal to the cause of freedom on many levels, among them being (1) the fact that such Christians will gut freedom any time it conflicts with religion; (2) that freedom, whose value to men lies in allowing us to use our independent, rational judgement unfettered, is, by its nature, doomed to conflict with a belief system based on religious authority at the expense of any contrary evidence or logic; and (3) that doing so incorrectly and immorally concedes that capitalism is a necessary evil at worst and amoral at best, when in fact, it is the only moral political system in history. At least Obama, being a leftist, is an open enemy of freedom, unlike those on the religious right, who pose as advocates of capitalism. So, yes. I agree. Faith isn't compatible with economic freedom or individual rights. Thank you for making that clear, Mr. Obama!

However, having just identified Barack Obama as correct on one level, this pro-reason, pro-individual rights, hawkish, capitalist atheist feels the need to note that Obama is completely wrong on another level! Since even Obama would have to concede that words mean things, it might be useful to consider what "faith" and "hijack" mean.

Obama uses the word "faith" to describe how Christians claim to know what God wants everyone to do. And he uses "hijack" in the same sense that Moslems used passenger airplanes to commit atrocities (that, incidentally, faith "informed" them would please God). Thus, I think it fair to use the following definitions, as those most closely matched to the words that the Democratic Senator used in his sound byte:
  • faith -- Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
  • hijack -- To seize control of (a moving vehicle) by use of force, especially in order to reach an alternate destination.
Obama's metaphor means, then, that he thinks that the religious right has, by convincing voters to help them promote a political agenda he disapproves of, somehow misused faith!

This is a fascinating statement. Why? Because if man, the rational animal, survives through the use of his intellect -- which means, by carefully gathering evidence from the world around him and applying logic -- of what use period can a belief not based on the raw materials of knowledge possibly have? Such beliefs are useless at best, and can be lethal whenever they lead men to act in ways contrary to what facts and evidence would lead them to do.

So if there is no proper use for faith, how on earth can one even conceive of it being "hijacked"? To answer that question, we must ask, "Of what use can faith be, and to whom?"

The answer is simple. Someone who does not wish to live through his own judgement and effort can get others to do the dirty work of facing reality for him if he can convince them to take supposedly divine orders on faith. In other words, the only man who has use for faith -- as a tool for manipulating others -- is a parasite.

This is the underlying motive of the politicians of the religious right, who want to use the state to force everyone to live in accordance with their religion, and of Obama, whose policies might look different at first glance, but are fundamentally the same. It makes not one jot or tittle of difference to me if the government "feeds the poor" (and the egos of those in power) with money distributed through "faith-based" charities or government welfare programs if, in the end, my money has been stolen from me by the government in order to do so.

So the only sense in which one can even imagine that faith -- the means of getting others to do one's bidding -- has been "hijacked" is in the sense that other people are not doing one's own bidding. Barack Obama may have accidentally identified the truth about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, but in doing so, he has also invited us to examine the meanings of the words he used to do so and, in the process, to learn that he is not essentially any different from the parasites of the religious right, who also hate freedom.

Any politician who regards it as proper to mix faith and political power admits, in doing so, that he is unfit to govern. This is what Obama did when he opined that something so harmful to man was being misused.

-- CAV

Genetics and Reproductive Rights

Friday, June 22, 2007

Over at Arts and Letters Daily is an article that does just about as good a job as possible of discussing potential biological causes of homosexuality in today's context of politicized science, legislated morality, and the left's co-option of the issue of sexual preference. I highly recommend the article as a very interesting read, regardless of your sexual orientation. It is that good.

I wish here to focus on one issue that appears twice in the article: Although the area of research described in this article is in its infancy, one clear implication is that science could discover a biological basis for homosexuality and invent a way to allow a couple to prevent their child from developing as a homosexual.

The topic interests me because I am considering having children. I would love my children no matter what sexual orientation they ended up with, but homosexuality is not something I would necessarily want for them.
Because the science is young, it is academic to us whether my wife and I could do this, but if it were possible, I would seriously consider it.

Before I answer the obvious question the research brings up, which is, "Should a couple be allowed to implement such a medical technique?" I wish to consider two possible answers from the article. The first answer, which author David France and I both agree is completely unacceptable, is the one that certain religionists would give, namely that such a procedure would not only be acceptable, but should be required by law:

Some of this research may prove to be significant; some will ultimately get chalked up to coincidence. But the thrust of these developing findings puts activists in a bind and brings gay rights to a major crossroads, perhaps its most significant since the American Psychiatric Association voted to declassify homosexuality as a disease in 1973. If sexual orientation is biological, and we are learning to identify how it happens inside the uterus, doesn't it suggest a future in which gay people can be prevented? This spring, R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of a Southern Baptist theological seminary in Kentucky and one of the country’s leading Evangelical voices, advocated just that. "We want to understand why some persons will struggle with that particular sin," he explained. "If there is a way we can help with the struggle, we should certainly be open to it, the same way we would help alcoholics deal with their temptation."

That in part is why gay people have not hungered for this breakthrough. Late last year, Martina Navratilova joined activists from PETA to speak out against an experiment that sought to intentionally turn sheep gay (it failed, but another experiment successfully turned ferrets into homosexuals, and the sexual orientations of fruit flies have been switched in laboratories). Some 20,000 angry e-mails clogged the researchers' inboxes, comparing the work to Nazi eugenics and arguing that it held no promise of any kind to gay people. "There are positives, but many negatives" to this kind of research, says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I will bet my life that if a quote-unquote cure was found, that the religious right would have no problem with genetic or other kind of prenatal manipulations. People who don't think that's a clear and present danger are simply not living in reality."
I do not regard homosexuality as a moral issue, and, of course, recognize that homosexuals, as human beings, possess the same individual rights as everyone else, and that these rights should be protected just as strongly as the rights of all others.

Having said that, what, exactly, is wrong with making all couples adopt measures to have children who will not develop into homosexuals? It is wrong to do this, but it isn't because this would somehow violate the rights of any homosexuals who are alive at the moment, which is how I see the political activist above interpreting such an idea. What is wrong with the idea is that it violates reproductive rights.

I will elaborate a bit more on that last sentence in a moment, but not before I consider the second answer to this question which appears in the article, and which makes the very same mistake, but with the opposite objective!
The rush to declare a biological mandate is motivated by a political agenda, says [feminist biologist [sic] Anne] Fausto-Sterling, the author of Sexing the Body, who is married to a woman after a marriage to a man. "For me and for any feminist, I think it’s a pretty fragile way to argue for human rights. I want to see the claims for gay rights made on moral, ethical, legal, and constitutional bases that don't rely on a particular scientific view of sexual development."

Especially if that view invites the opponents of gay people to consider dramatic interventions meant to stop the development of homosexual orientation in a fetus. What if prenatal tests were able to show a predisposition to gayness? How long would it be before some pharmaceutical company develops a patch to regulate hormone flow and direct the baby’s orientation? [bold added]
The clear implication is that the likes of Fausto-Sterling would seek to ban any such measures -- violating the reproductive rights of a couple, and ironically enough, on the basis of a "scientific view of sexual development" that has been politicized.

To David France's great credit, he does quote someone else who does not make either error, but that person does not adequately explain his stand, only that "There's no reason to ban, or become hysterical about, selecting for heterosexuality," before making such a vague statement on the nature of parenting that I cannot express agreement or disagreement with it.

While I do not think a step that could affect the intellectual and psychological development of a child should be taken lightly, a woman has just as much right to determine the traits of a fetus she brings to term as she does to decide whether to complete her pregnancy. To require by law either that she prevent her future children from becoming homosexual -- or that she forgo an attempt to prevent them from becoming homosexual against her wishes -- is to make the same fundamental error as making abortion illegal, which is to violate the right of a woman to control her own body and thereby to exercise some rational control over the rest of her life post conception to the best of her ability and judgement.

Ayn Rand once said, "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." I completely agree. If homosexuals wish to see their rights respected by society at large (and protected as they should be by the government), they must work for the protection of the rights of all individuals within that society, including the reproductive rights of heterosexuals.

-- CAV


: (1) Deleted the word "other" from last sentence. (2) Ergo also discusses this article.

Quick Roundup 209

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Taking out the Trash

Be sure to claim your pickings in the Dumpster Queen competition at the end of my post on freegans! Currently, Ron Paul is tied for the lead!

Here's a First

One guy on my blogroll fisks another.

Darren Cauthon, commenting on a recent government decree that retroactively raised the rates that Internet broadcasters have to pay, threatening some with bankruptcy, makes many very good points, especially his central one:

If Dismuke was really concerned about the property rights of music owners and if he really believed that the free market was "honorable," he would advocate for the elimination of the CRB and the compulsory license for internet broadcasts.
I agree that in the murkiness, intellectual and political, of any such debate in the context of our welfare state, that one must be clear about where one stands in the grand scheme of things -- in this case, being an advocate of capitalism.

Where I think he is out of line is the tone he takes in his criticism of what he calls "the webcaster-side of the net radio royalty rate debate", which he states (through attribution) that I am on and sounds like he regards as anticapitalist. I will not attempt to speak for Dismuke on that matter, but I will start by saying that I plainly stated long ago in a PS to the first post I ever made on this subject that the government should get out of broadcasting altogether and that I had major reservations about the webcasters' side:
After examining the Live365 site, I must add a major reservation to this post. From the table at the top of the page, it appears that no rates had been set for 2006. Leaving aside whether the government should be involved at all in setting royalty rates, it seems foolhardy on everyone's part to have entered any kind of contract to broadcast anything without a preexisting, agreed-upon rate. If I am drawing the right conclusion from this table, then in this sense, the rate increases are not really ex post facto. (But then, if the government is "supposed to" set the rates, why hadn't it at least set a temporary one?) [Update: Dismuke elaborates further on this in the comments. Based on what he says, I have no problem with asking Congress to intervene on an ad hoc basis. Needless to say, Congress ultimately should not be setting rates.]

Also, for the record, I cannot fully support the aims of Live365, which are stopgap measures at best. Ultimately, the government must get out of broadcasting altogether, including auctioning off the airwaves, and act only to enforce mutually agreed-upon contracts between buyers and sellers of copyrighted works. I would be very interested in hearing more on the various subjects this episode is bringing up from others more knowledgeable than myself.
Having said that, I do think Dismuke should have clearly and explicitly stated his fundamental opposition to the CRB. Too bad that not a single one of the copyright owners that I know of did the same, either. True, some webcasters probably do want to use the government, as Cauthon puts it, to steal from copyright owners. But apparently, many copyright owners are more than happy to abuse the same tool for the sake of establishing a higher rate than they could get on a free market.

This debate reminds me of a comment I recall from an Objectivist intellectual about not wanting to get drawn into the Dubai Ports World controversy some time ago. The whole debate existed because we are establishing a welfare state abroad and a garrison state at home rather than fighting a war. In other words, whatever the merits of that debate, it basically amounted to a distraction from the central issue, which is: How do we defeat our enemy? Likewise, this debate exists only because our government is wrongly involved in setting broadcast royalty rates rather than simply enforcing agreements (and arbitrating them if necessary) between consenting parties.

A mixed economy inherently makes intellectual debates over political issues difficult by hiding black-and-white issues, like whether the government should be in the business of setting rates at all, behind skirmishes between factions of sometimes barely perceptible shades of grey. While I completely agree with Cauthon that this means that advocates of capitalism should be exceedingly diligent about where we stand on the issues fundamental to such debates, I found his tone unnecessarily combative considering the fact that he plainly seems interested in persuading like-minded people of his point.

When I first saw the comment about the Dubai Ports World controversy, I wondered why the Objectivist intellectual I was reading seemed so irritated. Now, I understand. (This is not intended as a slam of Darren Cauthon. My irritation is aimed squarely at myself for being too fast to jump into this debate.)

To Quote Eric Cartman: "Awesome!"

Via email:
Dear Subscribers and Friends of The Objective Standard,

The print version of the Summer issue has been mailed, and the online version has been posted to our website. Also, we've enhanced our website to enable the purchase of single and back issues online.

The contents of the Summer issue are:

From the Editor

Letters and Replies

The False Promise of Classical Education [Link is to entire article.] by Lisa VanDamme

Neoconservative Foreign Policy: An Autopsy by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein

"The Balm for a Guilty Conscience": Moral Paralysis, Appeasement, and the Causes of World War II by John David Lewis


Craig Biddle, Editor

The Objective Standard
[Some links dropped. Minor format changes. Short descriptions of all articles can be found by following the link to the contents. --ed]
I look forward to firing up the grill, sipping a beer, and kicking back with some very good reading any day now!

Politically Incorrect Indians

Reader Dismuke emails me a link to some interesting photos like the one shown here and makes the following comment:
Here are pictures of some windows in an Indian office of some sort that I came across in Okmulgee, Oklahoma on my way back from Tulsa. I think they are hilarious.

What is about the most politically incorrect substance that exists? Tobacco, of course.

And what is the most virtuous group of people according to the politically correct? Native Americans, of course.

So these pictures have to cause the politically correct who pass through Okmulgee to scratch their heads a bit.
Not only did they smoke, the Indians weren't exactly the "noble savages" of environmentalism the left would have us believe.

-- CAV


: (1) Added a parenthetical note. (2) Fixed a hypertext anchor.

More Freegan Entertainment!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

With Reader Poll after Article!

Almost exactly a year ago, I blogged an article about freegans, leftists who sanctimoniously provision themselves from dumpsters and thus come closest to realizing that lofty moral ideal of the left -- the cockroach.

Today, there is an article about them in the New York Times which is no less entertaining or ironic:

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants. [bold added]
Did I not say the following only three days ago, when blogging an interview about cockroaches? "I would have called them 'scavengers' rather than 'recyclers'." Except for the anticapitalist silliness, the above passage sounds almost like it could be a description of cockroaches.

At this juncture, it is worth noting the insights Ayn Rand had concerning the nature of the term "value" and its relevance to the survival of rational beings. With this understanding, the anti-reason, anti-value essence of this movement becomes inescapable when the information in this article is considered in the warm, life-giving, and illuminating light of reason.
"Value" is that which one acts to gain and keep., "virtue" is the action by which one gains and keeps it. "Value" presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? "Value" presupposes a standard, a purpose and the necessity of action in the face of an alternative. Where there are no alternatives, no values are possible. [from Galt's Speech in For the New Intellectual, p. 147, as excerpted by Harry Binswanger in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, p. 521]
We can see that even the freegans realize that all the "consumer goods" they take from the garbage bins are values, but then they turn around and complain that the society that produces them is "hostile" to their (moral) values:
"Once in a while I may buy a box of baking soda for toothpaste," [Adam] Weissman said. "And, sure, getting that to market has negative impacts, like everything." But, he said, parsing the point, a box of baking soda is more ecologically friendly than a tube of toothpaste, because its cardboard container is biodegradable.

These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream.


For freegans, who believe that the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice, usually in multiple ways, any interaction with the marketplace is fraught.[bold added]
Negative impacts? To whom? Injustice? How? Think about this for a moment. The freegans have all but said that for man to remain alive above the bare subsistence level of a savage, he must sin. This is, on the part of the freegans, both a damnation of man for acting in such a way as to ensure his own survival and a confession that their morality is anti-life.

The civilized world of capitalism may indeed be hostile to the demonstrably incorrect moral "values" of the freegans, but it provides the actual material values they need to live, thanks to the virtue of its inhabitants -- in the form of an implicitly-held rational code of moral values they follow when engaged in productive activity.

Not only do the freegans basically admit that they renounce reason, they psychologically project their own ritualistic, primitive, and quasi-religious approach to morality onto their less-consistent anti-industrial brethren, the "mainstream" environmentalists:
Environmentalism, Mr. Torres said, "is becoming this issue of, consume the right set of green goods and you're green," regardless of how much in the way of natural resources those goods require to manufacture and distribute.

"If you ask the average person what can you do to reduce global warming, they'd say buy a Prius," he added. [link dropped]
But ask a freegan what suddenly makes it acceptable to own an iPod and he'll tell you that it was cleansed of all commercial sin through a baptism in filth five seconds ago. Yeah. That's a substantially different way of looking at things.

-- CAV


Booty from the Bin! Cast your vote for "Dumpster Queen" today!

Now for the fun, and to put this movement back into its proper perspective as free entertainment, I shall hold a ... "booty contest", as it were. Please review the following items retrieved from the garbage and select your favorite in the poll below. (And don't be greedy! You may select only one.)

With apologies to Charles Johnson, I include Ron Paul as a choice.

And yes. I know. The table does look a bit askew. But what do you expect? I got it for free, fer Crissakes!

Autumn Brewster
"Cart Woman"
Darcie Elia
Madeleine Nelson
Ron Paul
Who is your choice for "Dumpster Queen"?
Autumn Brewster
The Cart Woman
Darcie Elia
Madeleine Nelson
The Ba-gal
Ron Paul
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Quick Roundup 208

Become a Standard-Bearer!

Via email:

Dear TOS Subscriber,

Since the inception of The Objective Standard, we have heard from many subscribers who are passionate about the ideas presented in the journal and who want to know what they can do to help promote it. Our primary answer has been "give people gift subscriptions," and numerous subscribers have done so. Some, recognizing the journal as a persuasive means of promoting their own values, have given liberally. For instance, one subscriber has given one hundred gift subscriptions to select non-Objectivist intellectuals; several subscribers have given multiple gift subscriptions to various universities or libraries; and others have purchased multiple subscriptions for themselves, to have extra copies for handing to friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. To encourage this kind of intellectual activism, we are now offering a new subscription called the Standard-Bearer.

The Standard-Bearer is a package of five print-edition gift subscriptions (which include online access). The subscriptions can be delivered to friends, relatives, business associates, politicians, intellectuals, universities, libraries -- or directly to you for personal distribution. The goal is to get the journal into the hands of active-minded people who might be moved by in-depth articles on important subjects from an Objectivist perspective. At $295, the Standard-Bearer is an inexpensive yet highly effective way to spread the ideas on which civilized society depends.

If you purchase a Standard-Bearer by July 15, we will send you your choice of either a 100% cotton polo shirt with The Objective Standard’s logo on the left breast -- or a 100% cotton T-shirt with our logo on the left breast and "The Rational Alternative to Liberalism and Conservatism" along with our URL on the back. [The polo shirt is available in Black, Wine, Navy, Natural, Sports Grey, and Putty. The T-shirt is available in Kelly Green, Red, Navy, White, Sports Grey, and Vegas Gold.]

Help fight for the future; become a Standard-Bearer today.


Craig Biddle
Editor and Publisher [minor format changes, link and image added]
One thing that immediately strikes me about this package is that it saves time. Those interested in providing gift subscriptions to university libraries, for example, now need not start a new subscription every single time they do this.

If you like Yogi Berra...

... read "Yogi's speech ain't over till it's over your head".

Heh. Who knew that Yogi Berra belonged to the Church of the Sub-Genius? (HT: Mom)

Thomas Sowell on Michael Nifong

I have not blogged the Duke Rape Fraud, but that doesn't mean I haven't been disgusted by it. Thomas Sowell says something that has needed to be said:
The sad and tragic fact is that the civil-rights movement, despite its honorable and courageous past, has over the years degenerated into a demagogic hustle, promoting the mindless racism they once fought against. [bold added]
The fact that the emphasis of the civil rights movement shifted from obtaining civil rights to demanding government favors for small ethnic collectives explains very much of this. The fundamental moral cause is that the bad premise of altruism drove out the good one of egoism.

But how did this bad philosophy gain political ascendancy? Because our government does not consistently defend property rights. This fact not only made this shift possible, it made it all but inevitable.

Were there no favors to pass out, the likes of Jesse Jackson quickly would go out of business for lack of a bill of goods to sell.

Easy Out?

An article at TCS Daily argues that new technology to make skin cells pluripotent (e.g., effectively turn them into stem cells) might make superstitious objections to stem cell research moot. It might, provided the Pope doesn't decide that the same treatment also imbues each cell with a soul or otherwise somehow constitutes "playing God". That remains to be seen.

What I find really interesting is the reaction to this news of some in stem cell research:
With an ethical solution looking quite plausible, the pressure will be on scientists to explain why therapeutic cloning deserves to be legalised and funded. Two years ago, Dr Janet D. Rowley, an Australian working in the US who is an implacable foe of the Bush Administration's policy, dismissed ethical solutions like Yamanaka's. "We have extremely limited research dollars, and to use them to study these alternatives is wrong," she declared. "That money should be available for actual research." But now stem cells derived from embryos are starting to look like dead-end "alternatives."
I haven't looked into this alternative technique deeply at all, but
no matter how you cut it, the adverse effects of government funding of science become apparent. If this new technique is a viable alternative, we have a cadre of scientists with a vested interest in diverting resources away from the study of this new technique. If not, many politicians will use the possibility of this technique becoming viable to rationalize their religious objections to existing stem cell research, making them feel justified in cutting off funding to it.

This question and the matter of allocating economic resources to the scientific techniques best-suited to fulfilling the promise of stem cell research would obviously be best left in the respective hands of (1) the scientists trained to evaluate the question and (2) the capitalists who produce the money needed for the research. Instead, we allow politicians, who know nothing and produce less, to determine the answers to both ends of the equation!

The Benevolent People Premise

Dan Edge has posted a very interesting discussion on a variant of what he calls the Malevolent Universe Premise:
Ayn Rand's "Benevolent Universe Premise" (referred to in various essays, letters, and journal entries) is her description of a rational man's fundamental psychological perspective on reality. Operating on this premise, one views the universe as a place where he can succeed and be happy. He has a generally positive attitude about life -- he expects to be happy. This does not mean that he is never sad or never experiences failure, but that he believes happiness and success are his natural state of being. He does not repress or ignore negative emotions, but neither does he dwell on them unnecessarily. He focuses on the positive.

Rand contrasts this perspective with the "Malevolent Universe Premise," in which one sees the universe as a place where failure and pain are the norm. One who holds this premise may live virtuously and enjoy continuing success in life, but he is always waiting for the other shoe to drop -- he expects failure and unhappiness. When things are going his way, he begins to experience happiness anxiety. When something bad finally does happen, he feels miserable -- but justified.

For years, I have watched (mostly young) Objectivists struggle with a specific form of the Malevolent Universe Premise. I call it the "Malevolent People Premise." One with a Malevolent People Premise expects the worst out of each new person he meets. He realizes that everyone has the capacity to be rational, but he expects those he meets to be irrational. While he may develop relationships with new people who seem virtuous, he always expects to find faults, and he carefully scrutinizes new friends or lovers for any evidence of irrationality. When he discovers a flaw in the person, he feels betrayed and angry -- but justified.
Now, go over there and see how he applies the Benevolent Universe Premise to interpersonal relationships.

-- CAV


: (1) Minor edits. (2) Added link to TOS ad.

Some Real Collectibles

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Atheist coin collectors, keep your eyes peeled!

The United States Mint just gave coin collectors a two-fer: They have, in one bold (if missed) stroke, created coins that not only honor our government's obligation to keep church and state separate, but which are also genuine instant collectibles -- due to the fact that they are irregular:

It looks like the U.S. Mint has struck again -- or not struck again, depending on how you look at it.

New dollar coins featuring John Adams are missing edge inscriptions including "In God We Trust," according to the Professional Coin Grading Service, a rare coin authentication company based in Newport Beach, Calif.

The company said people have found hundreds of Adams dollar coins without the edge lettering, repeating a previous mistake. In March, an unknown number of George Washington dollar coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint without "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus Unum" and the year and mint mark inscribed on the edge.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Mint said the agency is looking into the reports.

After the Washington "godless dollars" were discovered, the Mint pledged to more closely monitor the striking process.

But a Detroit collector received smooth-edged Adams dollars in sealed containers from the Philadelphia Mint. There also are reports of the opposite problem — Adams coins with edge lettering that has been double-struck, said Ron Guth, president of the Professional Coin Grading Service.

"It's too early to put a final price tag on the collector value of Adams presidential dollar errors because no one knows how many others will turn up," Guth said in a news release.

The Adams dollars, officially released into circulation May 17, are the second in a series of presidential coins slated to run until 2016. [link added]
I have found this rash of coins minted specifically to stimulate collecting over the past few years very annoying as it is, but this particular series of dollar coins takes the cake. Worthless as money to begin with, they aren't even aesthetically pleasing.

My reaction upon seeing one of these new dollars for the first time was, "I've seen subway tokens that look more like money than these!" Appropriately enough, I'd received the coin as change at a light rail platform.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 207

Slavery in China

Am I the only one out there who finds it ironic that officials from a Communist government are cracking down on slavery?

Authorities in northern China have arrested five people accused of starving and beating workers at a brick kiln to keep them enslaved, state media reported Monday.

The suspects were arrested for "illegally holding and deliberately injuring laborers ... and forcing them to do highly intensive manual labor," the official Xinhua News Agency said. [bold added]
Oh. That's right. If they had been legally holding laborers and forcing them to perform manual labor, it would have been okay. Silly me.

This is the same sort of context-dropping behind the various efforts to combat the retail purchase of votes in America through "earmarks" -- while ignoring such wholesale purchase methods as Social Security and other entitlement spending. What difference does it make if the commies halt some "illegal" slave operation when they're still running the world's largest slave pen. And so what if we halt the building of a "bridge to nowhere" if we still end up bankrupting the whole country through the Social Security system?

Mere skirmishes that focus only on the most egregious abuses of government power distract energy and attention from the war that must actually be fought, the war for the abolition of all government activities that do not protect individual rights.

The Chinese authorities know this. They know that they can say, "See. We are against slavery," and probably get away with it. The so-called "pork busters" are worse in the sense that they are helping perpetuate the frauds they should really be angry about.

Repeat after me: All slavery is wrong. All theft is wrong.

V1@gr/\ by Any Other Name...

Via Arts and Letters Daily, I found an interesting article about the arms race between spammers and email account administrators. I thought the analogy Brian Hayes drew between spam filters and natural immune systems was interesting, and think his conclusion is a good one:
Diseases tend to evolve from an epidemic to an endemic state. For the first population exposed, the infection is dire and deadly; later, everyone gets a little sick but survives. It's not really in the pathogen's interest to kill the host; and although the host might well like to exterminate the disease, that seldom happens. The future of spam may be a low-grade fever.
This eight-time winner of the UK NATIONAL LOTTERY and dabbler in sub-Saharan African finance certainly hopes so. I have better things to spend my millions on.

My joke raises an interesting issue beyond the scope of the article. Spammers exist because a small, but significant portion of the populace is so credulous or dishonest that all it takes to sucker them is to dangle under their noses for a moment the prospect of unearned wealth or some quick fix to "all their problems".

People like this never will go completely away, but to the extent that our culture encourages people not to think critically or long-range, it contributes to such annoying cultural phenomena as spam by creating a larger customer base than there might be otherwise.

Glenn Reynolds's Gorge-asm

I generally enjoy Instapundit and find the blog to be invaluable for keeping up with current events, but I never cease to be amazed at how its author immediately goes gaa-gaa the moment anything to do with "global warming" comes up. Take this short post:
A LOOK AT CHINA'S Three Gorges Dam. Hey, it's greenhouse-friendly power. Plus, it's easy to bomb so it's a hostage against war with Taiwan! Greenhouse-friendly power for peace!
Not only does this completely overlook the fact that the Chi-Comms forced over a million people to relocate for the project (destroying some of the world's most beautiful property in the process), it isn't even true that the dam is a "hostage against war with Taiwan".

This notion ignores how America has "fought" ever since the end of the second World War. Our leaders would not even consider bombing this dam for fear of harming "civilians", even if they realized that doing so to protect Taiwan would genuinely be in America's best interest -- not that America's best interest is really a major motivator for very many of them anymore.

And what of the notion that someone else might bomb the dam? Call me crazy, but I somehow doubt that the Chinese government would worry too much about the dam being bombed if it thought that it could increase the size of its pile of loot on balance by taking over Taiwan.

One thing is for sure: You can't accuse Professor Reynolds of not drinking the green Kool-Aid he sells.

America Underground

By coincidence, I received an email from reader Dismuke on an archaeological find of an 1870's saloon in Corsicana, Texas, on the same day I watched a TiVo-suggested installment of Weird U.S. about various underground historical sites in the United States:
The 1920s-style street front stores that line downtown Corsicana capture a portrait in time. Below the streets, there's a portrait in time that hasn't seen the light of day in quite some time.


After more digging, both in the dirt and through historical documents, Hocker found out that underneath his restaurant, the Black Jack Mccandless Steak House and Saloon on Beaton Street, was originally the Bismarck saloon in 1872 - it came in shortly after the railroad came into Navarro County.

Margarett Parsons owns an antique shop next door. She has an old picture of what the Bismarck may have looked like inside. She describes the black and white photograph with a man dressed in a bowtie, "That was my grandfather, and he was bartender at one of the bars that was in this block, but I'm not sure which building."

Young says the basement saloon predates prohibition. After some initial research, he believes the street-level floor of the Bismarck burned down, and the basement was filled in with dirt, and covered with concrete. Exactly when, he's not sure. He also says there have been rumors that there are other underground rooms just like this one, and that there are tunnels that connect the rooms, "We don't know what's here. We just touched the surface."
The episode of Weird U.S. (which is not listed in their episode guide) described several very old subterranean sites across the United States, all open to tourism, including: Portland, Oregon's Shanghai Tunnels; Seattle Underground; scuba diving at the abandoned and flooded Bonne Terre lead mine; and St Paul, Minnesota's Wabasha Street Caves, which housed a speakeasy during Prohibition and a night club to this day. Very interesting show. Look for it on the History Channel.

Mesmerizing Advertisement

Hand me the remote and wireless Internet and watch me waste my time twice as efficiently....

Curious about the Japanese candy advertisement that subliminally triggered River Tam in Serenity, which I watched on DVD over the weekend, I stumbled across this old Louis Vuitton ad, created by Takashi Murakami.

The commercial, which played in a loop in the company's Japanese stores a few years ago, tells a short, whimsical story about a little girl who ends up in a Wonderland-like world while waiting for friends in front of a store. I enjoyed the whimsical aspects of the story, but found the rather circumscribed ability of the little girl to act on her volition somewhat disturbing, even keeping in mind that this is a children's story. (The story starts out with what amounts to an abduction and ends rather magically.)

I don't have the time or inclination to lay out in full my thoughts on this ad (which aren't completely settled yet, anyway), but this piece helped me realize that truly benevolent fiction requires a level of volition appropriate to the context of its major characters. Otherwise, they are prisoners no matter how cuddly or spectacular their surroundings are.

Oh yeah. The candy ad. It turns out that I should've gone first to Wikipedia rather than YouTube. There, I learned about an "Easter egg" on the DVD that provides access to a short discussion about the making of the ad.

And now, I have to get that bloody jingle out of my head again!

-- CAV


: (1) Two edits for clarity in last section, one in the first. (2) Corrected a typo.