Thanksgiving. Sandwich. Weight.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Stopping by Powell History Recommends this morning, I encountered blog postings from around Thanksgiving with the above three words in them. Yes, they have a common theme, but no, the posts do not discuss a loosening of the belt after a prolonged Thanksgiving feast on sandwiches of leftover turkey. In other words, the posts aren't about the Battle of the Bulge in a figurative or even a historical sense.

But just as overindulgence during the holidays can result in extra poundage, so can the past events of history result in weight (of the psychological variety) for those who live in the present, shaped as it is by those past events. That is the valuable insight Mr. Powell offers us in these posts.

To start with a simple example, Powell considers the controversies (inspired by religion and inflamed by the taunts of multiculturalism) surrounding the holiday America just celebrated in "Happy Thanksgiving!":

The real problem with America's traditional Thanksgiving is not, however, that the Indians don't get enough credit for giving corn and fowl to a few starving Protestant zealots, or that eventually, as growing numbers of Europeans arrived, they engaged in various means–some odious–of taking over "Indian land." That's a complex question that can't possibly be answered in a one-line rebuttal, but again, it's just not the issue.

By the time Thanksgiving became a regular, national observance, and President Lincoln issued his "Proclamation of Thanksgiving" it was already obvious that the source of America's copious abundance–including the disproportionate "bounty" enjoyed by the North over the South–was human productivity (made possible by political freedom), not some divine bestowal. [bold added]
My regular readers already know, even if only from yesterday's post, that I agree with Mr. Powell on the significance of Thanksgiving. But note that when one considers the origins of the holiday in their full historical context that additional facts supporting our point of view become apparent.

A knowledge of history here has two benefits. First, one has more intellectual ammunition to use against America's obvious detractors on the left and her false friends on the right. Second, one is more certain about the justice of the holiday and so is better able to enjoy it free from the guilt that these modern-day Puritans would have us feel about celebrating anything. You can better defend and enjoy a great value.

But knowing history is far more valuable than just getting to enjoy a guilt-free holiday. Powell demonstrates the full extent of the power of knowing history in two other posts about the dealings of the West with the Middle East. Yesterday, in "The Weight of History", he considered the Palestinian "peace" process, which has gone on for four decades since UN resolution 242:
The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the "peace process." [bold added]
Not to discount the role of philosophical ideas in guiding the actions of men, but if more people would only put two and two together in a historical sense, we'd have stopped playing this deadly game decades ago. Terrorists belong at the business end of a gun, not at the negotiating table. Ignorance of (or a failure to learn from) history can be -- and is -- deadly.

Powell's further exploration of this failure to evaluate historical events over time in "Middle East Milestones: The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich" shows that our present actions in the Middle East are just one small example of a kind of approach to foreign policy that has been tried and failed for ages, and that really ought to be questioned by now as a matter of civilizational survival.

Not only that, but in addition to hampering the West whenever it confronts the Islamic world, failing to learn from history, and so to be better able to avoid the mistakes of the past has shaped the character of countless individuals across an entire continent over vast stretches of time:
As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German "Weltschmerz" ("world weariness")? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the "sense of life" of a culture.
History as taught by Mr. Powell is not just fascinating. It is powerful stuff!

-- CAV

PS: General registration for Scott Powell's next course, "The Islamist Entanglement", is now open.

Quick Roundup 278

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Watching the debates so we wouldn't have to, ...

... Myrhaf was okay with the Republican YouTube debate, but appalled by the debaters:

The Republican Party is in trouble. The candidates are all mixed economy mediocrities, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, who is out in left field. None had specific, courageous answers about what Thompson called the "entitlement tsunami" headed our way. By all indications, the presidency of any Republican except Paul will be an extension of Bush's policies. [A Paul presidency would be both different and worse. --ed] Some made general statements about cutting spending, but only Paul gave specifics. The rest are too terrified of offending the legions of Americans who now suck off the federal teat.


The only two candidates who sounded like they had integrity were the libertarian antiwar candidate and the Christian big government candidate. The rest are the kind of middle-of-the-road hacks you would expect among Republican politicians. The candidates are in a welfare state bind: the only way to look principled is to risk angering some pressure groups full of voters; but being controversial is the quickest way to marginalization. It is impossible in today's America to be honest and principled about getting the government out of our lives and remain a serious candidate. I don't think I've ever been so depressed after a debate.
Given Myrhaf's previous analysis of what makes Hillary Clinton a weak candidate, the "Huckabee vibe" (to capture the superficiality of many of the voters to whom he will appeal) frightens me.

Tara Smith's "Why Originalism Won't Die" Online

I think she published the article a while back, but via Dithyramb, I learned that Tara Smith's article, "Why Originalism Won't Die -- Common Mistakes in Competing Theories of Judicial Interpretation" in the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, is available on the web:
While each of these reasons may help to explain Originalism's appeal, none of them captures the heart of the issue. The deeper reason that Originalism will not die, I think, is that it has staked out the moral high ground, championing the objectivity of interpretation that is essential to the ideal of the rule of law. Anything other than fidelity to the written words, it seems, surrenders us to the rule of mere men (the individual justices on the bench).

Or so things would appear.

What I will suggest is that the very objectivity which explains Originalism's appeal is misunderstood by Originalists themselves. And part of the reason that criticisms have not inflicted more crippling damage is that the leading alternatives also suffer from confusions about appropriate standards of objectivity in the legal domain -- which many people sense, I think, and which sends them back to the apparently safer harbor of Originalism. [bold added]
I have heard Dr. Smith speak on this topic before. This is a very interesting and important issue.

(As I revise this post, I get the nagging feeling that I've linked to this before, but I'm leaving it in anyway.)

Saying Justice by Giving Thanks

Galileo Blogs posted an excellent Thanksgiving piece by Dr. Michael Hurd.
Most are thankful to God. I am thankful to man -- specifically, to those individuals who (over the centuries) have created the countless things I need for survival and enjoyment: automobiles, plumbing, mass produced food, medicine, electricity, computers, televisions … the list is endless. I know who many of those inventors are, and I can see, feel and enjoy the benefits of their inventions in my daily life. There are many inventors whom I don't know about -- some of them unsung heroes who never obtained the credit they deserve -- but whose contributions to the wealth and comfort around me are evident all the same.
This is an excellent example of what Craig Biddle has called "saying justice".

Good News

I figure that most of my readers have probably already seen this, but if you value the work of the Ayn Rand Institute and haven't already stopped by Noodle Food, you ought to read this.

In Telluride this summer, I reconnected with a friend who'd moved from Houston about a decade ago. One of the first things out of his mouth was that he'd attended Yaron Brook's "State of the Institute" presentation.

"I needed to hear that," he said.

So go there -- especially if you watched the Republican "debate"!

-- CAV

Huckabee's No Bargain

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dick Morris, writing at RealClear Politics, argues that although Huckabee is a strong religious conservative, he is also a fiscal conservative. Too bad this doesn't mean that Huckabee wants the government's hand completely out of your pocket, and too bad his idea of keeping the government theft to a minimum involves ordering people around:

A recent column by Bob Novak excoriated Huckabee for a "47 percent increase in state tax burden." But during Huckabee's years in office, total state tax burden -- all 50 states combined -- rose by twice as much: 98 percent, increasing from $743 billion in 1993 to $1.47 trillion in 2005.

In Arkansas, the income tax when he took office was 1 percent for the poorest taxpayers and 7 percent for the richest, exactly where it stood when he left the statehouse 11 years later.


But Huckabee's strength is not just his orthodoxy on gay marriage, abortion, gun control and the usual litany. It is his opening of the religious right to a host of new issues. He speaks firmly for the right to life, but then notes that our responsibility for children does not end with childbirth. His answer to the rise of medical costs is novel and exciting. "Eighty percent of all medical spending," he says, "is for chronic diseases." So he urges an all-out attack on teen smoking and overeating and a push for exercise not as the policies of a big-government liberal but as the requisites of a fiscal conservative anxious to save tax money. [bold added]
So this guy did nothing to eliminate taxation -- or even to reduce the tax burden. In fact, on that score, he looks good only because everyone else is so bad. And to top it all off, he plans to pretend he's saving you money by limiting your freedom. How the hell is that supposed to be "exciting"?

Here's an exciting idea: People don't get medical care if they don't make their own arrangements to pay for it. Not only would that respect my individual rights, it would prevent me from paying taxes to bail out smokers and it would give them incentive to quit, not that the government would any longer make their foolishness my problem any more.

Dick Morris sounds like he is reassuring us about Mike Huckabee when in fact he should be sounding the alarm! Since I therefore doubt he has read "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism", let me pose the following question: What good does a steady (or even declining) tax rate do me if I lose my freedom? How is it really "my money" if I cannot spend it as I please -- say on a pack of cigarettes?

The various elements of "fiscal conservatism" have all become over time mere bromides in our sloppy political discourse thanks to the fact that so few understand the nature of individual rights, and so fail to see each freedom as part of an indivisible whole. We have seen "privatization" come to mean "fascism", "law and order" come to mean unnecessary restrictions on immigration (motivated largely by non-citizens using social services whose very existence depends on massive government looting), and "libertartian" to mean Big Brother making personal decisions for you).

It is in this same Orwellian sense that Mike Huckabee is a "fiscal conservative": He makes lots of noise about not raising taxes, but he challenges not one single solitary premise of the welfare state. As a result of not challenging the welfare state, he accepts its methods and goals, so long as they don't interfere too much with his ability to purchase votes from suckers by not raising tax rates.

Before you vote for Mike Huckabee, you should first consider becoming my do-boy!

Why not? I'll never raise your taxes!

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 277

Not One to Monkey Around

En route to a different point, Andrew Dalton touches on one I've made here before, but with greater word economy and some laughs thrown into the bargain.

No Voice Mail from the Big Guy

Commenting on a sign in front of a Baptist Church that reads, "YOU'LL NEVER GET VOICEMAIL WHEN YOU CALL GOD," Johnny Virgil -- who set up God's voice mail a while back -- says the following:

God's kinda old-school, though, and by that I mean He isn't very technical. Put it this way - his VCR has been blinking 12:00:00 since 1975. Yeah. It's Betamax. I was over there last week and we watched Spiderman 5. Where he got that on beta I'll never know. The small miracles amuse him.

The problem with the voice mail thing is that it only rings 4 times before going to VM, so He always turns it off when he's going to just be hanging around. Unfortunately, he's not great at remembering to turn it back on when He goes out, so I can see how the church people may have been under the above impression. Seriously, most of the time when you call, it just rings off the hook.
Read it all. It's hilarious! (HT: Adrian Hester)

Ron Rosenbaum: Stanley Fish Does Starbucks

It's a little old, but I remember coming across it and intending to blog it, only -- with Google as my witness -- not to do so. In any event, this article is a classic:
It seems that professor Fish is a real man of the people who has been getting his coffee served to him amidst the regular folk for years, at the kind of place where you could order your coffee and cheese Danish, and "twenty seconds later, tops, they arrived, just as you were settling into the sports page."

You can tell he's a down-to-the-earth guy, not some pointy-headed intellectual, because he uses phrases like "twenty seconds later, tops" and reads "the sports page."

But our professor seems to think he has encountered a brand-new cultural phenomenon: coffee places that are disturbingly different from the lunch counters of yesteryear.

Well, I did a little Googling, and it turns out he's right! There are hosts of these coffee chain stores, including one with the improbable name Starbucks, infiltrating our cities. I don't understand why the Times' cutting-edge "Styles" section hasn't done something on this before. Wake up and smell the coffee, "Styles" section editors!
Enjoy! (HT: Adrian Hester)


There's a roundup of some positive blog posts over at Mike's Eyes. Mike N kicks off with a link to a Joseph Kellard piece about a 79-year-old businessman that starts off with a bang in the form of this priceless one-liner: "They have a cure for old age now[:] Die young." I haven't gotten to read these posts yet, but am looking forward to it.

And speaking of positive, commenter Dismuke notes that even Hugo Chavez is good for something!

-- CAV

Is Chavez in Trouble?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There is an interesting editorial over at Investor's Business Daily that alludes to a couple of points I made when considering the recent lesson in etiquette publicly administered to Hugo Chavez by the King of Spain.

One of them is that Hugo Chavez does not behave like a truly powerful man, but more like a child trying to see what he can get away with. Although I was thinking about him in an international context, it seems that his weakness extends even beyond the fact that his entire foreign policy is based on civilized nations doing nothing when confronted by his barbarism, threats, and meddling.

Apparently, Chavez may now have problems at home. Chavez, it seems, has threatened to help overthrow the government of neighboring Columbia, since being fired as "mediator" for talks between Columbia and rebels holding hostages.

"You seek continental domination" Uribe said, and "a Marxist FARC government" to replace Colombia's elected one. He also pointed out that it was prime time for Chavez to be trying this, with the Venezuelan's public support at home flagging just one week before a constitutional referendum to grant him absolute power.

What better way to make Venezuelans forget their problems than to whip up populist sentiment against Colombia. It also is noteworthy that he's rousing military support against the neighboring state, something he may really find use for as rebellion grows at home.
And about that "flagging support"....

Prompted by the good example of intolerance for childishness set by the King, I said of Chavez that, "For a lunatic like Chavez to hold any measure of power is possible only because so many tolerate him." Not to underestimate the power of having the apparatus of the state at one's disposal as Chavez does, but it seems that perhaps the King has helped a few people here and there grow spines:
Weekend polls showed that ever since the king of Spain publicly told him to "shut up" in Chile two weeks ago, support for Chavez's move to seize absolute power in Venezuela has fallen below 50%.

Student protests have engulfed Caracas and other towns in protest against his dictatorship. Chavez has denounced them as "rich spoiled brats." But in reality, they often are a pivotal political force, particularly since they include young people from Marxist and lower-class backgrounds. [bold added]
I suspect that the widespread dissemination of the King's good example has struck a nerve, and it is gratifying to see a little intolerance down there. But Chavez has already had his thugs open fire on the students.

A little more intolerance from abroad would be really nice right about now.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 276

Qwertz on Blue Laws

Just before I broke for Thanksgiving, I posted on Blue Laws, quoting some of the Software Nerd's thoughts on the subject. After wondering aloud how "a constructionist like Scalia would rule on something like this", he ended with, "What say, you lawyers out there?"

He's not a lawyer yet, but Qwertz has written a very interesting post on the subject, even considering near the end how Antonin Scalia would rule on the laws:

If I had to guess as to how Scalia would decide this kind of issue, I would say he would uphold Blue Laws because of his (rightful) disdain for "standards" as opposed to "rules," and his (wrongful) view of the power of the states under the Constitution.
Read it all.

The Clintons' Biggest Helpers

Dick Morris takes note of how much help the Clintons have gotten from George W. Bush over the years and can't quite figure out why:
Is President Bush deliberately helping Hillary to win the nomination because he feels she would be the easiest one of the Democrats to beat? If he is, he's making a serious mistake. She is the only Democrat who can bring 10 million new single female voters out of the woodwork to sway the election.
Morris, often a consummate political handicapper, is somewhat out of his league here because, like so many other commentators today, he does not grasp the importance of philosophical ideas in guiding men's actions, including when the men in question are supposedly interested only in political power.

Earlier in the article, Morris comes as close to an important part of the answer as he ever gets when he remembers one of Bush's lifelines to the Clintons:
After they left the White House, both the former president and the new senator had low ratings in the polls. Beset by scandal -- the White House gifts, the pardons-for-sale, the payments to Hillary's brothers for pardons, the Hasidic vote-for-pardon scandal, and Bill's nolo contender [sic] plea to obstructing justice -- Bill and Hillary were sucking wind.

But, Bush swept in for the rescue, picking the former president off the ash heap of history and elevating him to parity with his father in a two-former-president effort to raise funds for the tsunami victims. By giving him a respected place alongside a former president of unquestioned integrity, Bush gave Clinton a tremendous way to climb out of disgrace and into the limelight. [bold added]
Morris should have asked himself the question, "Who was picking up whom, and from which ash heap?"

Recall that the tsunami relief effort was a massive federal giveaway fully sanctioned by conservatives, who normally pose as advocates of limited government and capitalism. But who normally calls for massive government government aid programs? The same people -- the left -- who were going to go after the Republicans no matter what they did. If they did not freely lend such massive aid, Bush and his party would have been blasted as "selfish". And if they did, they'd be attacked for not "doing enough".

Bush's answer was in part to pragmatically sweep all the contradictions between his professed semicapitalistic political stands with his morality under the rug by bringing Clinton on board, in effect saying, "We are all altruists. There is only one response our government can make here, and it is to enforce sacrifice to the needy." His response also reflected his actual morality. He does agree with Bill Clinton, and not just when push comes to shove.

What sacrifice could feel better to such a person than helping the unfortunate? Turning one's cheek and helping one's enemy at the same time. (Come to think of it, much of Bush's conduct in response to the war the Islamic totalitarians have been waging against the West throughout his term follows the same pattern.) Bush helped Clinton politically and, in return, Clinton helped Bush maintain a high estimate of his own virtue. Morris does not appreciate the second part of this exchange.

I am not discounting the idea that Morris rightly entertains that multiple motives are at work here, but I do think he completely misses the importance of Bush's altruism. Here, the sometimes blatant impracticality of Bush's helping the Clintons puzzles Morris. But it makes perfect sense when one remembers that to an altruist, moral concerns trump practical concerns when that morality inevitably conflicts with practicality.

Five Ways to Profit

It's a business-oriented post, but "5 Ways to Profit from Good Ideas" strikes me as much more generally applicable.

-- CAV

What's Burnin': Freedom

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pursuant to a recent thread in the comments, I was drawn to this article ("What's Smokin': Water Pipes") on the emerging trend of hookah smoking -- and then stunned by how much of it was devoted to making the activity seem as forboding as possible.

As if nobody knows by now that regular smoking is an unhealthy activity, much ink is devoted to parroting stern government warnings about the ill effects of smoking. And then, because some results of the studies on cigarette smoking may not necessarily apply to hookah smoking, the article drones on and on about the scientific evidence on the subject and what aspects of it are under dispute. The reporter goes out of her way to consider both sides of the emerging controversy.

Interestingly enough, as with other health-related issues that our mixed economy transmogrifies into public policy controversies and as with the global warming debate, this article perseverates on a scientific question (the consequences of whose answer need concern only those individuals who choose to smoke hookahs) at the cost of completely ignoring another question: Should the state be telling people whether (or how) they should smoke at all?

Interestingly enough, the question which is being ignored has ramifications for all of us, smoker or not, and reader or not. The media get away with this partly because so many people no longer understand the actual purpose of the government (protection of individual rights) or regard it with the proper degree of suspicion when some propose its new or continued misuse for other purposes.

In fact, so many regard the role of the government as "protecting the little guy", including from himself, that I am sure that Janet Cromley will score brownie points for being so thorough about presenting the dangers of smoking yet again to hookah smoker and meddlesome activist alike. She will be regarded as thorough and good, even as through neglect or malevolence she sells them and the rest of us down the river of an ever-expanding nanny state.

-- CAV

Wilson and "Scientific Humanism"

Entomologist E.O. Wilson of Harvard has written an essay on the religion-inspired controversy concerning evolution in which he touches on a very important aspect of the dispute:

In the more than slightly schizophrenic circumstances of the present era, global culture is divided into three opposing images of the human condition. The dominant one, exemplified by the creation myths of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - sees humanity as a creation of God. He brought us into being and He guides us still as father, judge and friend. We interpret His will from sacred scriptures and the wisdom of ecclesiastical authorities.

The second world view is that of political behaviourism. Still beloved by the now rapidly fading Marxist-Leninist states, it says that the brain is largely a blank state devoid of any inborn inscription beyond reflexes and primitive bodily urges. As a consequence, the mind originates almost wholly as a product of learning, and it is the product of a culture that itself evolves by historical contingency. Because there is no biologically based "human nature", people can be moulded to the best possible political and economic system, namely communism. In practical politics, this belief has been repeatedly tested and, after economic collapses and tens of millions of deaths in a dozen dysfunctional states, is generally deemed a failure.

Both of these world views, God-centred religion and atheistic communism, are opposed by a third and in some ways more radical world view, scientific humanism. Still held by only a tiny minority of the world's population, it considers humanity to be a biological species that evolved over millions of years in a biological world, acquiring unprecedented intelligence yet still guided by complex inherited emotions and biased channels of learning. Human nature exists, and it was self-assembled. Having arisen by evolution during the far simpler conditions in which humanity lived during more than 99 per cent of its existence, it forms the behavioural part of what, in The Descent of Man, Darwin called "the indelible stamp of [our] lowly origin". [bold added]
I set aside my major criticism of Wilson's essay -- that it makes the common error of mistaking science for rational philosophy (on whose foundations it depends) as the fundamental alternative to faith-based religion -- to focus on the crucial fact that it identifies: Man's conception of himself does indeed depend upon his most fundamental beliefs, be they based on evidence and reason or on faith.

This fact certainly accounts for much of the emotional nature of the "debate" over evolution, although Wilson does not elaborate enough on his own position to allow me to divine whether it has merit or offers any guidance for an intelligent being with free will. Is Wilson a determinist? Does he pooh-pooh any and all human aspirations as cultural relics of our primitive religious past? Would he smirk at the notion that man can lead a purposeful life and that he must break the chains of religion to do so? I strongly suspect that Wilson's "scientific humanism" is very thin gruel.

I have touched on what religion attempts to offer man quite a bit here lately, and it is not just such airier notions as reverence and awe. Many people, when confronted with a challenge to their religious beliefs, really feel on a visceral level not just the fear of others that Dostoevsky's saying, "If God is not, everything is permitted," captures, but also a chasm of emptiness that comes with a lack of purpose. Religion has taken from them the idea that their life is their own and convinced them that without its framework, life is not worth living. (And it does not help matters that when one's mind is atrophied through the life-long practice of taking the shortcuts of faith, one naturally has little confidence in his own mind.)

While I suspect that, were the philosophy of Ayn Rand only better known, many intelligent people would accept much or all of it, many others would (as many already do) still strongly oppose it on very powerful emotional grounds. It takes time to digest and appreciate an argument, but an emotion, even if a consequence of mistaken beliefs, is felt with the same immediacy and strength as a perception.

This presents a serious difficulty, but addressing such a difficulty begins with identifying it.

-- CAV


: Minor edit.

Quick Roundup 275

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Family Time

This is likely my last post until next Monday as I'll be dividing my time over the next few days between driving and enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday with relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana. Having been quite busy lately, I'm looking forward to the break.


Thanksgiving is about more than just dozing off to a football game -- not necessarily to knock something that my very busy schedule is making me really look forward to doing at some point!

For example, I really enjoyed this post by Rational Jenn in which she talks about her fond memories of making rolls with her grandmother on Thanksgiving.

The rolls sound really good, and she includes the recipe!


Ari Armstrong
and the Software Nerd write about Blue Laws, something that when I was a kid I thought was a dying remnant of Southern Baptist influence in the South. The laws keep certain kinds of businesses from operating and prohibit the sale of certain types of goods (usually and most notably, alcohol, but even things like milk) at certain times (usually Sundays).

As I was growing up, many of these laws were rolled back or repealed in my home state, which I'd had drummed into my skull was perhaps the most backwards part of the country. Imagine my surprise when, years later as a naval officer in Connecticut for training, I learned that Connecticut had more such restrictions on the sale of beer than Mississippi!

Apparently, the laws remain on the books in many states (including 16 that prohibit the sale of liquor on Sunday), although there are calls for their repeal in Colorado. I don't know how this effort will fare, but I found the Software Nerd's questions about the subject intriguing:

This got me thinking: how might a "constructionist" like Scalia rule on something like this? Since blue laws have been around ever since the constitution, wouldn't he take that as proof that the founders could not have meant to disallow them? And what of the slightly older, but still post-Constitution versions that were more explicitly religious but still hung around? Wouldn't those be upheld on the same basis?

What say, you lawyers out there?
These laws clearly violate the separation of church and state. Their persistence can only make it even easier for the religious right to continue attacking this separation as it grows in power.

And while you're visiting the Software Nerd's blog, get a load of the Flat Earth Q&A he found!

Retire Social Security

Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute writes against "saving" Social Security:
Those who wish to devote their wealth to saving the irresponsible from the consequences of their own actions should be free to do so through private charity, but to loot the savings of untold millions of innocent, responsible, hard-working young people in the name of such a goal is a monstrous injustice.

Social Security in any form is morally irredeemable. We should be debating, not how to save Social Security, but how to end it--how to phase it out so as to best protect both the rights of those who have paid into it, and those who are forced to pay for it today. This will be a painful task. But it will make possible a world in which Americans enjoy far greater freedom to secure their own futures.
This is a problem that is only going to loom larger as more "baby boomers" retire.

Is there such a drink?

Here's what I pop up as from two fun quizzes I found over at Spark a Synapse and Rational Jenn:
You Belong in the UK

A little proper, a little saucy.
You're so witty and charming...
No one notices your curry breath
You Are an Iced Coffee

At your best, you are: hyper, modern, and athletic
At your worst, you are: cheap and angsty
You drink coffee when: you're out with friends
Your caffeine addiction level: medium

Put 'em together, and I guess that makes me an "English Iced Coffee"!

And speaking of drinks, this video is hilarious, even if it is fictional!

With that -- and perhaps a little comment moderation here and there -- I leave for the long weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-- CAV

Who's Scary? Or What?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In the Los Angeles Times is an interesting article by Jonah Goldberg which considers a question I barely began to scratch the surface of this morning.

Who is scarier: The Reverend Mike Huckabee, or Ron Paul?

My answer was that Ron Paul is scarier in some respects:

The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.

And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.
The only qualification to this that I would add is that Huckabee is, of the two, more likely to get elected, and so more likely to find himself in a position to do some damage with the help of the government. In that sense, he is the scarier.

But this shorter-range question is mooted by the fact that the Republican Party is a coalition between economic conservatives who favor limited government and religious conservatives who favor a theocracy. In practice, this has led down the slippery slope of compromise to the current situation -- in which the religionists are entrenching themselves and co-opting the apparatus of the state for their own purposes, aided in the enterprise by the votes and moral sanction of the fiscal conservatives. In other words, Paul and the Reverend Huckabee, as members of this alliance, are both aiding the descent of our nation into theocracy.

Goldberg sees my qualification and understands on one level why this is the case:
Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

For example, Huckabee has indicated he would support a nationwide federal ban on public smoking. Why? Because he's on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.


As for Huckabee -- as with most politicians, alas -- his personal preferences matter enormously because ultimately they're the only thing that can be relied on to constrain him.


Huckabee is much closer to the mainstream [than Paul]. And that's what scares me about Huckabee and the mainstream alike. [bold added]
Unfortunately, while Goldberg is correct that Huckabee's views are close to the mainstream, he gets things completely, disastrously wrong when he considers the stated political philosophy of Ron Paul:
And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.

Whatever the faults of the man and his friends may or may not be, Paul's dogma generally renders them irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles. When asked what his position is, he generally responds that his position can be deduced from the text of the Constitution. Of course, that's not as dispositive as he thinks it is. But you get the point. [bold added]
First, the notion that a libertarian can even be principled (i.e., an "ideologue") is a contradiction in terms. The whole premise of the libertarian movement is that there is no need to defend individual rights on any particular grounds of political philosophy, or indeed even to define the term! Paul's appeal to a document (that can be amended) in lieu of stating his position is in part a manifestation of this approach of evading intellectual arguments.

Second, Paul's views on such matters as abortion and national defense not only cannot be deduced from the Constitution, they are inconsistent with an advocacy of individual rights. Furthermore, they are not mere "personal preferences", but represent implicit philosophical ideas that he does wish to implement politically. (And religion, the source of his stand on abortion, is, numerous conservatives' wishes to the contrary, an ideology.)

Third, not only is Paul not really an "ideologue", his position on abortion and his willingness to ally himself with what amounts to a religious party reflect a willingness to enact Christianity into law, limited only by his (admittedly more secular) personal preferences.

This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)

Thus while in Huckabee, we have a threatening, but at least identifiable enemy, in Paul, we have a turncoat who blends in with secularists and advocates of limited government!

So neither of these men deserves my support, and both are scary. But when someone as perceptive as Jonah Goldberg can be fooled by a Ron Paul, that is scary.

The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 274

Richard Cohen on Mitt Romney and Rev. Mike Huckabee

This piece by Richard Cohen illustrates perfectly a point I made long ago about concerns that Mitt Romney's religious beliefs might affect his actions as President, should he be elected. Way back in February, I said:

On the one hand, we should generally want to know whether any candidate expresses a desire, through word or deed, to force us to live in accordance with his religious dictates. On the other hand, what difference does it really make what particular religion a candidate espouses if we answer the first question? To sum up my views on the question: I don't care which sect of Christianity Mitt Romney belongs to, so long as he is not committed to using the government to expand the role of Christianity in my life.
Cohen's tack is to note that all the attention being focused on Romney is distracting everyone from another candidate for whom this issue definitely should be a major concern -- ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.
[The Rev. Mike Huckabee's] Web site forthrightly declares that he does not distinguish between his faith and his politics. "I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives," he says.

But a president should do exactly that. When Huckabee says he favors the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, he's taking a distinctly religious position. Intelligent design has no basis in science. And when any issue, any question, becomes a matter of faith, it means it cannot be argued. That's not what we do in a democracy. We argue about everything. (This column is my modest contribution.) [bold added]
Cohen hits the nail on the head with that passage in the bold above, although he should have also noted that since the government has a monopoly on the use of force, Huckabee would not only get to circumvent an open debate about his views, but make the rest of us abide by them.

I have plenty of other reasons not to back Mitt Romney (including some concessions he has made to the religious right), but Huckabee is perhaps the worst candidate in the Republican field in terms of purposely endangering the secular character of our republic. (But see below.) I would suggest that as a bare minimum along the lines of intellectual activism, one always refer to Huckabee as, "The Reverend Mike Huckabee".

Charen on Paul

Mona Charen's latest column attacks Ron Paul along many of the same lines I have. Interestingly, she notes that Paul is popular among various elements of the lunatic fringe, and has made multiple appearances on the kooky Alex Jones radio program. One thing Charen misses, being conservative, is that Paul is also anti-abortion.

The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.

And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.

Deep-Six the Law of the Sea

Thomas Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute has published a must-read column against the Law of the Sea in the Wall Street Journal. [Update: Valda Redfern informs me that the article can now be read in its entirety here.]
Despite the treaty's allusion to seabeds as the "common heritage of mankind," mankind as a whole has done exactly nothing to create value in the deep ocean, which is a remote wilderness, virtually unexploited. Under the proposed treaty, however, the ocean mining companies -- whose science, exploration, technology, and entrepreneurship are being counted on to gather otherwise inaccessible riches -- are treated as mere servants of a world collective.

In practice, under the treaty's explicitly socialist approach, mining companies operate as mere licensees who must render hefty application fees as well as continuing payments (read: taxes) and obtain prior approval at every stage of work, under regulations that emerge sluggishly from multinational committees.

Licensees must also enrich a U.N.-operated competitor called, spookily enough, "The Enterprise." For every square mile of ocean bottom a licensee explores, half must be relinquished to The Enterprise, free of charge -- and the Enterprise gets to pick the better half.
In a time when mankind desperately needs better access to natural resources, the last thing we need is st choke off efforts to exploit them. Read the whole thing.

Every Sperm Egg is Sacred

A Monty Pythonesque proposal is now closer to becoming law in Colorado.
The Colorado Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for an anti-abortion group to collect signatures for a ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person.

The court approved the language of the proposal, rejecting a challenge from abortion-rights supporters who argued it was misleading and dealt with more than one subject in violation of the state constitution.

If approved by voters, the measure would give fertilized eggs the state constitutional protections of inalienable rights, justice and due process.

"Proponents of this initiative have publicly stated that the goal is to make all abortion illegal -- but nothing in the language of the initiative or its title even mentions abortion," Kathryn Wittneben of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado said in a statement. "If that's not misleading, I don't know what is."

Wittneben and others said the measure would have would hamper in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research and would effectively ban birth control.

Proponents of the measure disagree.

"It doesn't outlaw abortion, it doesn't regulate birth control," said Kristi Burton, 20, of Colorado for Equal Rights. "It's just a constitutional principle. We're laying a foundation that every life deserves protection.

Burton said the initiative would simply define a human.

"It's very clearly a single subject," Burton said. "If it's a human being, it's a person, and hey, they deserve equal rights under our law."

Colorado for Equal Rights must collect 76,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Supporters have six months to gather the necessary signatures — a deadline that began with the collection of the first signatures Tuesday, said Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for the secretary of state.

Anti-abortion activists said similar voter-led initiatives or legislative efforts are under way in five other states, including Montana, Georgia, Oregon, Michigan and South Carolina. [minor formatting changes, bold added]
Unfortunately, while the proposal is laughably absurd in the abstract, its consequences for the daily lives of anyone it effects will be anything but pleasant.

-- CAV


: (1) Corrected an error. (2) Added hypertext anchors.
11-26-07: Added link to Bowden article at ARI.

The Pro-Malaria Left

Monday, November 19, 2007

Paul Driessen calls for "all-out war against malaria" at Spiked Online, and describes how such a war ought to be waged, but not before he makes the following observation -- and comes closer than any other mainstream commentator to saying outright that environmentalism is anti-man:

If an accident kills wildlife or people, punishment is meted out and restitution made. A host of regulators, lawyers, judges, activists, journalists and politicians help bring the wrongdoers to justice.

But when it comes to policies and programmes that sicken and kill millions of parents and children a year, these ethics cops and eco-warriors are not just silent. They refuse to hold government agencies and activist groups to the same honesty and accountability standards they apply to for-profit companies. They even oppose programmes that would reduce disease and save lives.
This is a direct result of the altruistic morality espoused by these "ethics cops", who see the sacrifice of human beings to nature as a moral ideal, and this omission weakens the piece, because it is this morality which must be challenged before significant progress against environmentalism can be made.

Nevertheless, unlike so many similar pieces, usually by economists or libertarians, that fail to even attempt to make a moral argument against socialism, this piece at least tries. Many people do implicitly value their own lives, and feel sufficient good will towards others that they will find the sacrifice of children to wildlife unconscionable. For that reason, the piece conveys a level of indignation missing from similar pieces, which will make the facts therein speak more forcefully than is usual for such pieces.

This is a must-read, particularly for those of us who do understand the immorality of self-sacrifice.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 273

Socialized Medicine vs. Freedom of Movement

Via Matt Drudge over the weekend, I learned of the following:

A British woman planning to start a new life with her husband in New Zealand has been banned from entering the country -- because she is too fat.


When the couple first tried to gain entry to the country they were told that they were both overweight and were a potential burden on the health care system.
Not only, as we have seen in England, will government interference in the personal habits of its citizenry be an inevitable consequence of the government paying for everyone's medical care, government interference will slowly encroach upon all other areas of their lives.

Here, we see that freedom of movement is being denied to a couple who, if only the government would butt out of the medical sector, would cost nobody but themselves if they fell ill. What's next? Fines or imprisonment for people who don't comply with the government's dictates regarding medicine?

Oops. Too late. America beat the Kiwis to that.
Parents in Prince George's County have been ordered to appear at a special court hearing today where they will be given a choice: Get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail and fines. [bold added]
Once again, the government is running roughshod over our freedom in the name of promoting our welfare. The fact that so many people fall for this ruse reflects the fact that too many fail to understand the nature and importance of freedom, without which good health, prosperity, or a good life are impossible.

There is a saying that a well-fed prison is still a prison.

So is a "healthy" prison. And yet all the political momentum of the moment seems to favor turning the West into one such prison.

Chavez too Late with "Warning"

Journalists have been repeating with thug-worshiping glee Hugo Chavez's threat that oil prices will double if, "[i]f the United States is crazy enough to attack Iran or commit aggression against Venezuela."

Too bad so many of them are too hell-bent on "changing the world" by promoting socialism to bother with a little investigative reporting.

Not only do the nations of OPEC -- which fence property stolen from American and British firms over half a century ago -- live by inflating the price of oil as it is, but look at how much oil-funded mischief already costs the West every year around the globe! Leaving aside whether we should be in Iraq, would we even be there now (at such great costs in life and treasure) had we protected American property rights long ago? Would we even have to worry about Iran building a nuclear bomb and achieving even more leverage over our interests in the Middle East? Would there be Saudi money to fund terrorist factories throughout the Middle East? I'd love to see a dollar figure attached to these expenses and factored in to the present cost of oil!

Yes. The official price of oil probably would go through the roof if we (finally) acted to protect American freedom, but that would be in the short term. In the long term, we would save enormous amounts of money from the actual cost of oil and protect something even more precious: the freedom that makes the creation of wealth possible in the first place. And the official price of oil would no longer be artificially manipulated to serve the purposes of overseas tyrants.

Good Discussions

I really enjoyed seeing some of the discussions that took place on this blog last week. Among them were threads ranging from simple pleasures (e.g., coffee and smoking) through more abstract questions (i.e., about the propriety of engaging irrational opponents in public debate).

Also notable: Rational Jenn pointed to some interesting links about "helicopter parents" that pertain to the sub-post on "Millennials" and Dismuke had some interesting things to say on the question of whether the nihilist left's promotion of sexual promiscuity is inconsistent with its crusades against smoking and eating. (The latter question arose after he made an appearance here with some hilarious "advice" for Starbuck's.)

And speaking of good discussions, I am pleased to see that Burgess Laughlin, author of The Aristotle Adventure, has started his own blog, Making Progess as "a place devoted solely to the discussion of certain ideas". I have enjoyed his contribution to the discussion here (and hope that continues), and look forward to following his blog in the future. It's linked in the sidebar.

Note to Self

One day, when the wife and I have kids (and the excuse not to travel on Thanksgiving that they will provide), I hope to try this recipe for "turkey breast with oyster stuffing". I'm ordinarily a dark meat guy, but I'd like to give this a go.

-- CAV


: Corrected third-to-last paragraph of first section.

Koranic Quagmire

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rather than killing as many of our enemies as possible and making sure that the rest know that so much as laying a finger on a single hair of an American citizen is completely unacceptable, our military is beginning to opt for a "faith-based" alternative to waging an actual war:

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — The men crouched on the floor of the carpeted tent listen attentively to a cleric seated on a wooden bench in front of them, some leaning forward so as not to miss a single word.

Be patient, he tells them. Follow the prophet's example. Forgive those who wronged you.

Islamic teachings have been passed along at such gatherings for centuries. But this is no religious madrassa.

The tent is surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire, soldiers stand at its entrance and the students wear the yellow overalls of detainees at U.S. facilities.

The "enlightenment" class that took place one recent morning at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad's international airport, is part of a radical overhaul of a detention system still tainted by the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.

"The travesty, the failure in leadership that led to Abu Ghraib can never be allowed again," Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone said in a recent interview.

Since May, when he took charge of U.S. detention operations in Iraq, Stone has opened internment facilities to greater outside scrutiny and given inmates a chance to discuss their cases with military authorities.

He also has introduced a battery of programs aimed at turning suspected insurgents into model citizens.

Teachers, clerics, psychologists and other specialists use the Quran to moderate inmates' views. They provide counseling and basic education to rehabilitate the mostly poor, uneducated detainees, some of whom have been exposed to extremist indoctrination.

Stone said he aimed to overturn the notion of detention as "warehousing" for insurgents.

"It is the battlefield of the mind," the general said.

The task has taken on new urgency as the number of detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq has soared. About 25,000 people are held at Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca, near Basra, the two primary U.S. facilities in Iraq.

Many adults wait years before being tried or cleared, leaving them prey to recruitment by extremists housed with them.

In a bid to restore the credibility of the system, Stone has allowed representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Iraqi government, military and other agencies to visit Cropper and Bucca.

Similar efforts have been made in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Singapore. But, until recently, there had been no comparable effort in Iraq.

Some analysts say there isn't enough data to gauge the effectiveness of such programs.

Stone said that none of the more than 1,000 detainees who had been through his programs had been arrested again.

But he acknowledged that it was too soon to tell whether that would remain the case. [bold added]
General Stone, when he says that this is "the battlefield of the mind", clearly understands his words about as well as a parrot comprehends the human voices it imitates. Otherwise, he would realize that he is wasting his time (and our money) by making use of the exact same faith-based method and the exact same content that turned our enemies into brutes in the first place -- to attempt to civilize them or render them less hostile in the very least!

This activity by our government is so wrong on so many levels I barely know where to begin. About the best I can come up with at this instant is to say something like, "Damn straight this is a battle of the mind -- and you're on the wrong side!" Our nation was founded on the notion that man has the inalienable right to live his own life as he sees fit. To protect that right from foreign and domestic enemies was the explicit purpose of its government, no more and no less.

I don't give a damn whether some fool in the Middle East kowtows towards a rock and mumbles prayers five times a day, so long as he can't harm me. Our government's job isn't to provide him (or anyone else) religious instruction. It's to make him unable to harm me or at least afraid to try.

Over two centuries of American success in self-defense have shown that bullets are cheaper and more effective for this purpose. But apparently, our leaders have chosen to act by blind faith instead, and hope that by some miracle, Koranic teachings will suddenly lead to a different result this time.

Our government appeared to be far closer to acting properly with respect to the Koran when it was rumored to be flushing it down the toilet.

-- CAV

Coming in February!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Historian Scott Powell will be starting his next history course for adults, The Islamist Entanglement, in February, and provides a very intriguing preview over at his blog, Powell History Recommends.

One theme Powell discusses is how the West has repeatedly hampered itself in its encounters with the Moslem world through short-range thinking:

The Crusades are a famous example of the violent conflict that characterizes the interface between Western civilization and the Middle East throughout history. In that series of religious wars stretching from 1095 to 1291, the powers of Western and Central Europe, then the most progressive elements in Western civilization, attempted to claim the Holy Land for Christianity. This is, of course, the basic storyline that most people are familiar with.

An episode from the Crusades from 1204 that I suspect most people don’t know about, however, demonstrates another long-running, trend in East-West relations, namely "West-West" backstabbing. Too often in the history of Western civilization, its own leading representatives have demonstrated a disturbing and tragic failure to grasp the unique virtues of their own Civilization, to see the fundamental values they share, and defend them. Instead they have acted to secure short-range benefits, usually at each other’s expense.

In 1204, this is exactly what happened. The Venetians, upon whom the Crusaders were relying for passage to the Holy Land, refused transport to the Western army because the Crusaders could not meet their price. Then, finding a convenient excuse in a contested succession at Constantinople, they convinced the knights to take the city on behalf on one the claimants, and by this means derive their desired profit. [bold added]
Powell goes on to explain how this left Constantinople ripe for its eventual Moslem takeover, as well as to point out how such behavior has continued even to the modern day.

But even when the West overall has been at its most short-sighted, there have also been examples of individuals whose work has greatly aided the continued advance of Western civilization, as you'll find when you read the rest of this post. And be sure to return to Powell History Recommends over the coming weeks: This post is just the first of a new, and very interesting-looking series!

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 272

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coffee Shops and Women

Over at Slate is commentary on a study (PDF) of several Boston-area coffee shops which concludes that women have to wait about 20 seconds longer for their orders than do men, even when their tendency to place more elaborate orders is accounted for. (But a hump at nearly 200 seconds in their graph of wait times for females with "fancy orders" makes me wonder about this.)

The commentator at Slate, although he admits that the study is unclear as to whether this difference is due to male employees flirting with female customers or because they feel "contempt" for them, thinks that the difference is more likely due to "contempt".

From the study, another possible explanation arises for the increased wait times: A general impression that men tip more than women. This would easily account for the fact that longer wait times for women remain even when the shops are busy.

The study also suffers in translation from academic discussion to popular journalism because it defines "discrimination against" strictly in terms of the added time cost for female customers. This will easily lead most people into the "contempt" explanation when in fact wait times can increase for two completely different reasons: (1) male employees will spend more time interacting with women they feel an attraction for, but (2) they'll speed things up for that rich-looking guy who seems like he's in a hurry and will show appreciation for better service by leaving a nice tip. (Furthermore, I suspect that with the definition of "attractiveness" the study used, that the perceived likelihood of leaving a good tip drops with lower "attractiveness".)

The study admits to being small, but I think it also suffers from the fact that there are too many variables at work to conclude that there is discrimination against women, even by the study's rather more delimited than common definition.

But I still think that Starbuck's discriminates against good coffee! You shouldn't need to throw a stinking sundae into your cup in order to cover up the burnt taste....


Boy! Just when the phrase "Generation X" had finally lost its ability to annoy me, the media cook up a term even better for the purpose....

Mostly, this is the typical smarmy MSM piece that comes out when some aging journalist looks up from his typewriter long enough to notice that some of the kids he last saw in diapers are now joining the work force and decides to deal with it by pigeonholing all of them. Furthermore, elders have worried that the younger generation doesn't quite have what it takes to carry on since ancient times.

But not all such worries stem from the normal concern of elders for the young. Some can come from manifestations of bad cultural trends. For example, this one bothers me:

They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it.
And lots of "them" went to schools like Duke University and the University of Delaware. To top it all off, the same baby boomers who caused the sense of entitlement so many young people seem now to feel are catering to it rather than letting the School of Hard Knocks recalibrate those who need it:
[C]orporate America is so unnerved by all this that companies like Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young, Disney and scores of others are hiring consultants to teach them how to deal with this generation that only takes "yes" for an answer.
Some hand-wringing by the elders will always occur, but it will increase when the results of a failure to transmit the culture start becoming evident. Morley Safer's generation seems intent on consummating its failure to transmit.

The Greenspeak Dictionary

Over at NRO is a short list of green euphemisms for greater government control of the economy that imply that the environmentalist agenda is compatible with capitalism:
In Michigan: Consumer Choice Coalition Director Barry Cargill, who represents a consortium of business, government, and green groups, says "the evidence is clear that competition is the best way to encourage renewable power for our future electric needs."

But . . . the CCC is calling for passage of a Renewable Energy Standard that would require all electricity providers to obtain 10-percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015.
Well! I'm glad that somebody else has started to notice such things. Too bad conservatives do exactly the same thing when they see a chance to control the economy!

-- CAV

More on Sharia "Investments"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A few weeks ago, I noted Caroline Glick's expose of shari'a-friendly investments. Today, there's more on the topic at Front Page Magazine.

AAOIFI's members and shari'a board include Saudi Arabia's Dallah Al-Baraka Group, al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation and Kuwait Finance House--all implicated in al Qaeda and other terror funding, according to former national counter-terror coordinator Richard Clarke. Other board members are the Islamic Development Bank, also known as the Bank of the Intifada for funding families of suicide bombers, whose principal owners are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lybia and Egypt, and not one, but two U.S.-sanctioned terror states, Sudan and Iran. Islamic finance experts consider AAOIFI fatwas standards to which all shari'a banks and products, even in the U.S., must adhere. But UAE’s showcase Bourse on Oct. 22, 2007 denied its Islamic "purity" to the Partnership for New York City.


Imposing shari'a--by proselytizing (da'wa) or jihad war--is obligatory.

U.S. banking and investment laws guarantee individual property rights, require full disclosure, and prohibit criminal or terrorist activities. Western bankers and businessmen, however, oblivious to shari'a and financial jihad history, clamor for Muslim petrodollars (supposed surpluses from overextended Middle Eastern exchanges) pouring into U.S. markets.
That last passage reminds me -- for more than one reason -- of something Leonard Peikoff noted that we could have done over a half-century ago that would have prevented this from existing as an issue to begin with: protet American property rights.
The first country to nationalize Western oil, in 1951, was Iran. The rest, observing our frightened silence, hurried to grab their piece of the newly available loot.
This failure to protect the rights of our citizens consistently in the first place is now feeding on itself in the form of tempting investments that pragmatic businessmen will not resist -- or craven politicians dare to oppose.

-- CAV

Win the Battle, ...

There is a long article about the pervasiveness of multiculturalism in academia over at National Journal that is well worth the read. The following passage is particularly relevant in light of the recent apparent victory against the left at the University of Delaware, which ceased a dorm-centered multiculturalist indoctrination program after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education exposed it to national scrutiny (and outrage):

Despite a succession of court decisions striking down university speech codes, they re-emerged thinly disguised as rules to prevent and punish "harassment," defined to include any speech deemed offensive by minorities, women, gays, or other preferred groups.
It is exactly as I said upon first learning of FIRE's success:
I see this victory as temporary. UD will doubtless let the heat die down and reinstitute as much of this as they feel they can get away with when they can.

FIRE is watching this and this will slow them down, but the real way to stop this is to get more and more academics to oppose multiculturalism.
Just as we are learning abroad that one cannot force people whose fundamental ideas are incompatible with individual rights to adopt Western forms of government in any meaningful way, we are learning it here. The multiculturalists see American society as "racist" and its institutions as tools of oppression, which they will attempt to subvert or destroy outright in the name of their code of morality. And in the meantime, they are attempting to make more of themselves by using our educational institutions to indoctrinate the young.

Far be it from me to detract from FIRE's outstanding work, but there is also an intellectual component to the war for freedom that we ignore at the peril of making their heroic efforts ultimately futile. Opposing the actions that the bad ideas of the multiculturalists inspire them to do is not enough. Those of us who value freedom have no choice -- if we are to gain more of that value or keep what we have -- but to work to understand and promote the ideas that make freedom possible. Otherwise, who will understand what freedom is, or why it is good, or even that there is an alternative to egalitarianism?

-- CAV

Elegant Destruction

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ever since seeing a documentary on the subject several years ago, I have been amazed at the skill it takes to cause a building to collapse without damaging nearby structures. The demolition shown below required me to take a detour last weekend because the property is adjacent to Main Street, which I would have normally taken.

From How Stuff Works:
Sometimes ... a building is surrounded by structures that must be preserved. In this case, the blasters proceed with a true implosion, demolishing the building so that it collapses straight down into its own footprint (the total area at the base of the building). This feat requires such skill that only a handful of demolition companies in the world will attempt it.
I witnessed a different demolition live several years ago. That dust cloud at the end definitely makes me appreciate seeing this on video instead!

Incidentally, I stayed at that very hotel when I interviewed for grad school over a dozen years ago.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 271

My belated thanks...

... go to Karl Martin Mertens for his support in last week's blogging contest.

I don't speak the language, but ...

... according to this quiz, ...

Your Inner European is Spanish!

Energetic and lively.
You bring the party with you!

The food questions did it. Of the choices, I liked seafood best as an entree. And then there's dessert....

I lost my sweet tooth ages ago and generally don't do dessert. Flan was simply the one I found least repellent. I prefer my sugars fermented, in beer. But since I like the taste of beer, I prefer not to have it with meals, which excludes one of the otherwise obvious-looking dinner choices.

But if I interpret the dinner question more liberally, and select that obvious choice (the "meat, potatoes, and beer"), I pop up Irish.

Except for that blurb about "drink[ing] everyone under the table", I like that outcome much more. After all, my wife is Irish!

Notable Quotables

Myrhaf beat me to the punch, but I like these so much I'm going to repeat them here anyway.

First, Rick "Doc" MacDonald shows the following quote from Benjamin Franklin on the upper portion of his blog's sidebar:
The Declaration of Independence only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself!
And then, Joe, commenting on a particularly asinine remark by Ann Coulter, quotes Thomas Jefferson on religion:
The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites...

I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth... [bold added]
This quote reminds me a bit of a turn of phrase that someone near and dear to me in my youth would sometimes use to describe Southern Baptists. (I was born and raised in Mississippi.) They weren't "practicing Baptists", but "practicing hypocrites".

A Fitting Tribute

I see that the "Palestinians" recently honored the memory of Al Gore's fellow Nobel Laureate, Yasser Arafat, in the most fitting way possible:
At least six people have died in gunfire at a rally in Gaza City organised by Fatah to mark three years since the death of Yasser Arafat.

The violence occurred when Fatah supporters began taunting Hamas police and throwing stones, witnesses said.

The Hamas security forces reportedly responded by firing towards the crowd.
The only sympathy I have here is for the innocent children who were in attendance.

Heinlein Archives and Concordance

Ian Hamet: "This is what the internet was created for!"

-- CAV


: Corrected two typos. (HT: Adrian Hester)

D'Souza's Confession

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is Dinesh D'Souza making a boast here -- or confessing that his position, irrational at root, could use some more propping up?

Dawkins is in some ways a terrible representative for atheism, which I'm glad about because a bad cause deserves a bad leader. He is also a terrible advocate for science, which I'm sad about because science deserves all the support it can get.

Having debated Christopher Hitchens, I'd like the opportunity to debate Dawkins. I think I can vindicate a rational and scientific argument for religion against his irrational and unscientific prejudice. When I wrote Dawkins to propose such a debate, however, Dawkins said that "upon reflection" he decided against it. He didn't give a reason, and there is no reason.

In his writings on religion, Dawkins presents atheism as the side of reason and evidence, and religion as the side of "blind faith." So what’s he afraid of? How can reason possibly lose in a contest with ignorance and superstition? I have written Dawkins back offering him the most favorable terms: a debate on a secular campus like Berkeley rather than a church, with atheist Michael Shermer as the moderator, and a donor ready and willing to pay both our fees. [bold added]
If D'Souza is so confident in the reasonableness of his views, why not aim higher than a lightweight such as Dawkins? Perhaps it is because, as I have discussed here recently, D'Souza's own position can, by its nature, look rational only with a clown like Dawkins as an opponent.

Science does not offer a comprehensive worldview as does religion, although its implicit philosophical foundation is rational, and there is at least one rational philosophy I can think of that does offer a comprehensive worldview that can compete successfully with religion: Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

D'Souza knows that it is rational philosophy, rather than science, which is really the proper basis for atheism, but he isn't interested in unearthing the truth. If he were, he would scour the earth for someone who could really test the soundness of his arguments, and he would make a lot less noise about it in the process.

The boasting and the hounding of a pushover opponent reveal D'Souza's real objective: to find a stooge to help him look good as he pulls the wool over the public's eyes. His urgency is also belies his fear of others making up their own minds: He wants to fool them before they figure out that there really is an alternative to religion, and that it isn't coming from Dawkins or his ilk.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 270

History Repeats Itself

Mona Charen's most recent column reminds me of journalism meant for children and young adults from my youth except for a few particulars:

The Oct. 1, 2007, issue featured a cover story titled "Iran: The Other Side of the World?" The piece begins by introducing Mohammad Reza Moqaddam, a 15-year-old resident of Qom, who "speaks quietly and respectfully" and prays five times a day. "A lot of young people these days have distanced themselves from religion," he relates. "I would like them to be much closer to it." Mohammad pays close attention to the news though, and offers the view that "Even if Iran wants nuclear weapons, it's none of the other countries' business. Some of them have nuclear weapons themselves."

Okay, so when do we get to the part where it is explained that even if young Mohammad wants a neutral take on the news, he cannot get it in Iran where the press is rigidly controlled by the regime? Nowhere. Where does it explain that Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil supplier and therefore scarcely in need of "peaceful nuclear power"? You won't find that either.

The article (written by Roxana Saberi, a reporter for National Public Radio) explains that Iran has been "at odds" with America since the revolution of 1979, which forced out the "U.S.-backed Shah" and brought to power a government "based on strict Islamic principles." But she doesn't mention that Ayatollah Khomeini and his mobs denounced the United States as the "great Satan" and chanted "Death to America." The hostage crisis, in which armed militants, possibly including the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, held 52 American diplomats for 444 days, goes unmentioned until a glancing reference at the end of the article under Iranian history.
All you'd need to do to complete my sense of deja vu would be to replace all references to Iran with references to Soviet Russia, and replace admiration of the religiosity Islam with praise for the collectivism of communism.

The altruist-collectivist press is once again attempting to exploit the innocent good will of children by ignoring the fact that there are fundamental differences between the West and its collectivist enemy of the moment.

The schtick is all too familiar: (1) Emphasize some banal and inconsequential similarities between ordinary people there and ordinary people here to create empathy. (2) Tout the moral "superiority" of the others, based on their more consistent adherence to the altruistic portion of the inconsistent mixture of egoism and altruism most Americans live by. (3) Ignore anything the enemy might have done (or be planning to do), while treating any American suspicions or plans for self-defense (such as they are) as evidence of the malevolent nature of America.

This is not to say that there aren't good people living in nations which threaten the United States. However, to fail to oppose tyranny is to endanger our own freedom and lives as well as to fail to protest the fact that people who really are "just like us" are living under tyranny. Such reporting is thus doubly obscene.

Oil Meets Socialism

In a comment, Dismuke pointed me to a long, but very interesting article from The International Herald Tribune about how Hugo Chavez is in the process of running his state's main industry into the ground. Among other things is the following tidbit:
Almost $14 billion is spent at the sole discretion of Chavez. Much of the money goes to the Fund for National Development, or Fonden, an offbudget fund controlled by Chavez, which also takes foreign reserves from the Central Bank. Fonden's Web site in July listed 130 projects - infrastructure, foreign aid, some social projects like health clinics - as well as the purchase of helicopters, submarine technology, assault rifles and plants to build other munitions. The list was taken off the Web site shortly after it drew notice in the press and was replaced by a list containing no arms purchases. What Fonden actually buys, for how much, from whom and through what process is a mystery. [bold added]
This revelation comes along with much more additional evidence that Chavez is not investing enough in the state petroleum company for it to continue growing, or perhaps even to maintain its operations at their current levels. Dismuke notes that the reporter is clearly sympathetic to socialism, and yet does deserve credit for reporting that this is a disaster in the making.

Bad Joke in the New York Times

If you want to save money at the barber, this bit of leftist hand-wringing over research into genetic differences between the races will help you along in your endeavor by making you want to pull your hair out!
No matter that the link between I.Q. and those particular bits of DNA was unconfirmed, or that other high I.Q. snippets are more common in Africans, or that hundreds or thousands of others may also affect intelligence, or that their combined influence might be dwarfed by environmental factors. Just the existence of such genetic differences between races, proclaimed the author of the Half Sigma blog, a 40-year-old software developer, means "the egalitarian theory," that all races are equal, "is proven false."
I haven't followed the link, but it is clear from the article that some racists will employ any genetic differences that come up as "evidence" to bolster their views if they haven't done so already. That's predictable and ultimately uninteresting.

What is interesting is how paranoid the left is about this, and ironically, the answer is right there at the end of the paragraph in the quote from the blog: The left is not fundamentally in favor of individual rights, but it is egalitarian, and dogmatically so, to boot.

I have considered this question before, so I won't belabor the point again, but what difference would it really make if, say, genetic evidence indicated that blacks, as a group, were less intelligent than whites? None. The concept of individual rights is based on the fact that individual human beings possess the faculty of reason (as distinct from a given IQ) and need to be free from the initiation of force by others to act on the conclusions of their minds and so to live. Differences in IQ within broad limits do not affect the question of whether someone is a rational being. Furthermore, justice demands that we evaluate individuals as individuals, not as members of groups.

But the left abandoned such principles long ago in favor of egalitarianism at the expense of justice (e.g., by condemning "racial" profiling, even of people with specific ideologies) and individual rights (e.g., by such discriminatory measures as race-based hiring quotas). Part of its justification for doing so has been that all races are equal (whatever that means) and that any difference in, say the percentage of races in a profession vs. that in the general population is due at least in part to racial discrimination. (This goes along with demanding that we ignore how one's character or cultural background might have affected one's occupational choices or educational attainment -- by asserting that all cultures are equal as well.)

Any evidence that might point to blacks being genetically predisposed to having lower IQs will thus shake to the foundations whatever semi-plausible rationale the left has for violating individual rights in the name of "equality". I suspect that rather than asking themselves whether egalitarianism and hiring quotas are really good ideas, most leftists would prefer to suppress such findings, or at least open discussion of such findings.

That would be a shame, for frank discussion would lend support to the concept of individual rights, in part by showing that it's not how big your brain is, but what you do with it that counts. The white kid in the punchline of this very bad joke inadvertently demonstrates this:
One white-skinned student, told she was 9 percent West African, went to a Kwanzaa celebration, for instance, but would not dream of going to an Asian cultural event because her DNA did not match, Dr. Richards said. Preconceived notions of race seemed all the more authentic when quantified by DNA.
IQ is not just not equivalent to reason. It is also not the same thing as culture.

Well. I guess multiculturalism is achieving equality in one respect: It's working to make differences in IQ irrelevant, after all!

To end on a more serious note, paranoia about research that might unearth genetic bases for intelligence that are not equally distributed among races betrays at best a failure to appreciate the foundations of the concept of individual rights. At worst, it is a symptom of a fundamental opposition to same.

-- CAV


: Added clarifications to first and last sections and fixed some typos.