Prohibition Ends in Chicago

Friday, May 30, 2008

Via WOPSR comes news of a battle won against the left. Fois gras is now legal again in Chicago! The era of the "duckeasy" is over, at least for now. The ban that inspired this updated version of Carl Sandburg's "Chicago" from yours truly has been lifted:

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the repeal had been made in "a secretive, rushed bow to special interests that benefit from the cruel treatment of animals".

But Didier Durand, one of the Chicago chefs who formed a movement to end the ban, called the decision "fabulous".

"All of us are so excited," he told reporters outside his restaurant while holding his duck Nicolai - named after French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Durand acknowledged that his restaurant had been a "duckeasy", getting round the ban by serving foie gras for free.

"Duckeasy" is a play on Chicago's "speakeasies", illegal bars that operated when the sale of alcohol was banned during the American prohibition. [bold added]
Qwertz notes that he only learned of this through foreign media. At least part of the reason can be found in the very last sentence of the BBC report, when a restaurateur who was fined under the ban told a reporter that, "There are real important issues in this city. This is certainly not one of them."

Consider this statement for a moment. Here is a man whose very livelihood was under attack from people who would use the government to give orders to you and me rather than protect our freedom -- and indeed, his ability to earn a living had been partially compromised by such an attack. And yet, he dismisses this "issue" as unimportant!

On the face of it, he is chiding the animal "rights" activists for being silly busybodies, for sacrificing time from their irreplaceable lives for a foolish cause. In so far as the lives of ducks and geese are not of equal or superior value to human life Doug Sohn is absolutely right, but on a more abstract -- and dangerously practical -- level, he is dead wrong.

There is a very faint whiff, too, in Mr. Sohn's words of an old saying that could stand a revival: "Mind your own business." This is also on the right track, but misses something about the nature of his opponents.

Animal "rights" activists are meddlesome, and they look like clowns because most people implicitly realize that animals are not human beings, and do not have rights. But that understanding is only implicit, and -- after decades of manufactured "rights" (e.g., to medical care, or a "livable wage") that really violate man's actual rights -- most people do not really understand the nature of the rights possessed by individual human beings -- by rational animals.

This is a shame, because as the rational animal, man must exercise his mind to survive. Barring accidents of nature, the only thing preventing him from doing so is other men, specifically men who would initiate physical force -- be it by threat, constraint, fraud, theft, or murder -- in order to prevent him from enjoying the fruits of his hard-won knowledge and careful thinking.

Whether a man wants to build a clubhouse for his children or a bridge -- travel for a vacation or build a railroad from coast to coast -- pour a bowl of cereal for himself in the morning or prepare fois gras for paying customers -- that man must be free from the forcible interference of others to do so.

Man's most fundamental right is to his own life, but since his life depends on the use of reason, the various manifestations of his ability to act upon his best judgement to further his own life (so long as they do not harm the lives of others) are derivative rights. It follows that a man must have the liberty to go about as he pleases and make his own calls about what to do. What man produces to further his own life is likewise his property -- by right. And in all cases, a man must be free to communicate with others to increase his knowledge or correct errors. Freedom of speech is also a right.

(By contrast, there is no "right" to free medical care since providing it against a physician's wishes would involve violating the physician's rights. And the concept of "rights" is inapplicable to animals, which do not reason and will not respect the rights of men.)

While we all have the right of self-defense, the benefits of trade we can realize in a society would be impossible were we not to delegate this right (except in dire emergencies) to the government, whose sole proper purpose is the protection of individual rights, and whose distinction as a social entity is its ability to wield retaliatory force.

This is because honest disputes, even between citizens who would respect one another's rights, can and do arise, and because the less time we spend looking over our shoulders in fear (or having to fight off enemies), we have that much more time to go about our own business, our pursuit of happiness. A proper government subordinates our right to the retaliatory use of force to objective standards.

And this -- the nature of individual rights and the proper role of government -- is what is actually at stake here. Thanks in part to generations of abysmal failure by a socialist education system to transmit our nation's cultural heritage, and thanks in part to that heritage being under active attack by generations of intellectuals since Immanuel Kant, the American man on the street -- like Mr. Sohn -- can see the utter absurdity of animals having "rights", but is intellectually blinded to the real agenda and effectively disarmed against it.

Many people like Mr. Sohn will not see this won battle for fois gras as a part of a larger battle -- being lost so far -- for individual rights. Many will be blindsided by the next advance gained by the anti-individual rights activists, be it a new fois gras ban or some new intrusion on the rights of a group of people as yet complaisant or unaware. Many will fail, like Mr. Sohn, to see that all these battles are part of the same war.

This will go on and on until more people become able again to understand how to think in terms of principles, to see the essential similarities between apparently disparate events. A ban on foie gras in the name of animal "rights" and a ban on fast-food chicken restaurants in the name of good health are both by nature attacks on the individual rights of human beings -- as are many other things the government is now doing and has been doing for a long time.

No, Mr. Sohn. This -- your freedom to live your own life as you see fit -- is a big issue. It is the biggest issue you and I face today. It is way bigger than a bunch of clownish activists in Chicago, and it is way bigger than Chicago.

When you get an off-taste during a meal, you don't spit it out and then eat the rest. You stop to figure out whether you're about to poison or sicken yourself. This fois gras ban has left a bad taste in your mouth for a reason. You might want to send the whole plate of government meddling back. You need and deserve better than that.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 331

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Of Chemicals and Epistemology

Monica has some further thoughts on the BPA backlash in particular and on epistemology in general over at her blog, Spark a Synapse.

First, despite some similarities to past environmentalist scares, she is not so sure that it necessarily is one:

The claims that BPA is an estrogen mimicker are somewhat concerning, as it has been pointed out that even natural phytoestrogens (isoflavones) in the soy products hyped by the vegetarian and environmentalist communities as healthy may alter sexual development. And because of that, I don't see clear evidence that BPA is a specifically environmentalist scare tactic. While I’m skeptical of any impending doom from minute amounts of a chemical in plastic, I’m also skeptical of blanket assumptions of the safety of synthetic or natural products....
And her look at BPA causes her to consider the question of how people arrive at decisions that rely on input from "trusted sources".
They see person A claiming C, and then they personally validate information C. A thus becomes a trusted source. Then, when person A or person B (who is associated with person A) claims D, they believe D simply because they already believe person A who said C. In other words, a person’s beliefs are often based in the “authority” of someone else -- this can occur with or without some mix of their own process of validation. Furthermore, when persons A or B attack person E as being pseudoscientific, the facts at this point are often not even investigated by the observer due to their reliance on persons A and B as authorities.
She also discusses non-objectivity among scientists. Very interesting.

Great Britain's New State Religion

Via HBL is a article about how multiculturalism and the lack of separation of church and state are helping to impose Islamic law in Britain. The web site of Church of England News appears not to have functional archives, but another web site has reprinted the article. I excerpt from there:
If recent reports of trends in religious observance prove to be correct, then in some 30 years the mosque will be able to claim that, religiously speaking, the UK is an Islamic nation, and therefore needs a share in any religious establishment to reflect this. The progress of conservative Islam in the UK has been amazing, and it has come at a time of prolonged decline in church attendance that seems likely to continue.

This progress has been enthusiastically assisted by this government in particular with its hard-line multi-cultural dogma and willingness to concede to virtually every demand made by Muslims. Perhaps most importantly the government has chosen to allow hard-liners to act as representing all Muslims, and more liberal Muslims have almost completely failed to produce any leadership voices to compete, leading many Britons to wonder if there are indeed many liberal Muslims at all, surely a mistake.

At all levels of national life Islam has gained state funding, protection from any criticism, and the insertion of advisors and experts in government departs national and local. A Muslim Home Office adviser, for example, was responsible for Baroness Scotland's aborting of the legislation against honour killings, arguing that informal methods would be better. In the police we hear of girls under police protection having the addresses of their safe houses disclosed to their parents by Muslim officers who think they are doing their religious duty.

While men-only gentlemen's clubs are now being dubbed unlawful, we hear of municipal swimming baths encouraging 'Muslim women only' sessions and in Dewsbury Hospitals staff waste time by turning beds to face Mecca five times a day -- a Monty Pythonesque scenario of lunacy, but astonishingly true. Prisons are replete with imams who are keen to inculcate conservative Islam in any inmates who are deemed to be culturally 'Muslim': the Prison service in effect treats such prisoners as a cultural block to be preached to by imams at will. Would the Prison service send all those with 'C of E' on their papers to confirmation classes with the chaplain?! We could go on.

The point is that Islam is being institutionalised, incarnated, into national structures amazingly fast, at the same time as demography is showing very high birthrates. [bold added]
The hospital scene, aside from being patently absurd, reminds me of the following Ayn Rand quote: "When I say 'capitalism,' I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism -- with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."

How much easier would it be for Britain to stem this tide were its economy more free from the state?

Epstein on High Gas Prices

The next time you hear someone complaining about how the gas companies have us over a barrel, drop everything and send him over to Alex Epstein's latest:
Americans deserve to know the story--in all its gory detail--of what their government has done and is doing to cause high prices at the pump, and to make gasoline--indeed, all energy--more scarce and more expensive in the future. A congressional investigation of Congress would be a great public service.
That's how he closes. Go there now and see how he builds up to it.

Objectivist Carnival

C. August has posted this week's edition of the Objectivist Carnival over at Titanic Deck Chairs.

-- CAV


: (1) Corrected missing hyperlink to article about Islam in Britain. (2) Minor edits.

Is BPA Really Safe?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

As one who remembers the Alar scare of the late 1980s, I am hardly surprised that for all the government- and media-fanned panic about it, Bisphenol-A (BPA) is actually safe. Nancy McDermott of Sp!ked reports:

The Canadian ban and the subsequent panic has an almost Orwellian feel for anyone who actually follows scientific discussions of BPA. To appreciate fully the gulf between the public perception of risk and the reality, it is worth knowing something about the discussion of BPA among scientists. Scientists have been studying the chemical intensively for the better part of a decade since it was first suggested it might pose a risk to human health by Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri at Columbia. More than 4,000 studies and several major risk assessments later, scientists in the US, Japan and the European Union have exonerated it.
That sounds like old hat. McDermott also makes some interesting observations about why scientific evidence is getting short shrift in this latest panic:
It is of course very tempting to put these distortions down to journalists' predisposition for sensation, or perhaps to an environmentalist bias among some parents - but the story's grip on the public imagination suggests that there's more going on here. It is not that the facts are unavailable or that parents and journalists are incapable of grasping them. It’s more that it never occurs to them to be critical. They are blinkered by a mistrust of the fruits of modernity and by deep pessimism about the future. [bold added]
McDermott is on to something here, but she's not being hard enough on journalists -- or others on the continuum of intellectual occupations. Consider the following from some past commentary about environmentalist "safety" scares by Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute:
Environmentalists got the pesticide DDT and the apple preservative Alar off the market with claims that each causes cancer--based on studies using mice fed the equivalent of over 100,000 times normal human consumption. To "prove" that fossil fuels cause cataclysmic climate change--first, global cooling in the 1970s, now, global warming--environmentalists cite the predictions of wildly inaccurate computer models that, according to climatologist Dr. Patrick Michaels, perform "worse than a table of random numbers when applied to U.S. temperatures."

The environmentalists' proclamations of danger and doom are not honest errors based on an overzealous concern for human safety and well-being--they are a dishonest scare-tactic to make their anti-industrial policies appealing to those who do not share the environmentalist belief that nature should be preserved at human expense. [bold added]
The "blinders" of which Ms. McDermott speaks are both the unfortunate long-term result of several generations of "progressive" education mixed with propaganda and the shorter-term effect of the overwhelming overexposure such environmentalist scares get in a news media dominated by altruist-collectivists -- who know, by the way, that the best way to stir panic is to imply that infants and children may be in danger.

In the long-term, we see the epistemology of the general public becoming less rational, and in the short-term we see that this is opening the public up to the active evil of environmentalists.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 330

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ration Cards in Britain?

I have occasionally referred here to the "carbon credits" pushed by global warming alarmists as "fuel rations", thinking that if that proper name ever caught on, many would have a better chance of seeing the true nature of such silliness as "cap and trade" schemes, and reject them.

Perhaps we'll soon see whether my approach would work in Great Britain, where a politician is actually proposing that all adults carry ration cards.

Every adult should be forced to use a 'carbon ration card' when they pay for petrol, airline tickets or household energy, MPs say.

The influential Environmental Audit Committee says a personal carbon trading scheme is the best and fairest way of cutting Britain's CO2 emissions without penalising the poor.
Unfortunately, if the rest of the article is any indication, this approach, of naming the true nature of "cap and trade", would not work well in Britain, for it depends on the public rather commonly holding the premise that individuals may acquire and dispose of property by right rather than by government permission, that people are generally individualists.

It is a very bad sign when the biggest "objection" to such a scheme is that it is "ahead of its time".

There is no substitute for upholding the correct philosophical fundamentals when making arguments in favor of individual rights. Granted, you can't even outline the full case for individual rights every time, but if you don't make it clear that morality (and the facts) are on your side, people convinced that they are "doing the right thing" will not shrink from your pointing out what they are really doing.

What's Wrong with the Libertarians, Part 873,004

Recently, I saw the following short news story in the Houston Chronicle, which I reproduce below. Its title was, "Libertarian Party fest lacks one element: mainstream", which a subtitle elaborated upon with, "Delegates don't even have to part with their dollars to see strippers".
It's the strippers who give it away, the not-very-well-kept secret that the Libertarian Party Convention is a little different.

At the average mainstream major party convention, such things as adult entertainment are off campus, left to delegates to find themselves. At the Libertarian fest in the basement ballroom of a Denver hotel, the strip club has its own booth.

And why not? Libertarians detest the idea of the government regulating morality.

Shotgun Willies occupies prime turf in an exhibit hall booth outside the convention meeting room.

The club shares a divider with the campaign booth of presidential hopeful Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia who gained fame by helping press the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying under oath to conceal an affair.

It's just around the corner from the Marijuana Policy Project, which fights to make marijuana legal for medical use -- and for nonmedical use.

And Shotgun Willies sits across from the Liberty Dollars booth, where Joby Weeks of Denver sells a nongovernment form of money that boasts, "in just eight years, the Liberty Dollar has become America's second most popular currency."

Before you can ask why it took eight years -- was there another No. 2 currency ahead of it? -- consider Weeks' pitch about how silver retains its value while the government's money has lost its value. (Libertarians hate the Federal Reserve.)

"An ounce of silver bought five gallons of gas in 1950, it bought five gallons of gas in 1970, and it buys five gallons of gas in 2008," says Weeks. "The price of gas hasn't gone up. The purchasing power of a dollar has gone down."

But the best reason? "The strippers take silver," he offers.
Notice the complete confusion here. I oppose the government legislating morality, but the last thing I'd permit at a political conference where, presumably, people were gathered to discuss issues of personal and national importance, is a stripper booth.

Forget about the personal moral and psychological issues that patronizing a stripper might bring up. Have these people any inkling of setting priorities? Of professionalism?

And notice how that silly quip about using silver to pay a stripper removes all seriousness -- or sense of being in the right -- from what might have been the start of a halfway decent argument against fiat currency.

You can't dumb down an intellectual argument and drag a moral cause into the gutter and expect to ever attract the mainstream. For all the faults of American culture, most people do still have an ounce of sense and a modicum of self-respect.

Obama's Latest and Greatest Gaffe (So Far)

Not especially to defend President Bush, but Power Line reports something I bet you won't hear the Bushism calendar set laughing about:
On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong. [bold added]
So do the people who ridicule Bush on a daily basis, and yet let 57 states fly under their radars not see a problem here? Or do they really believe that, in addition to declaring peace and plenty, Barack Obama can raise the dead?

-- CAV


: (1) Corrected typo. (2) Added hypertext anchors.

Beyond SEEDy

Monday, May 26, 2008

Glenn Reynolds reminds us that Google has, once again, ignored Memorial Day. Recall its recent and unfortunate commemoration of Earth Hour.

The New York Times sees Google's hypocrisy and raises them a carbon indulgence by featuring on its main page a link to a story about college kids who are incorporating "sustainability" into their daily lives without quite giving up all the carbon-dumping conveniences of modern life, or even taking a plunge into the dumpster:

Lucas Brown, a junior at Oberlin College here, was still wet from the shower the other morning as he entered his score on the neon green message board next to the bathroom sink: Three minutes, according to the plastic hourglass timer inside the shower. Two minutes faster than the morning before. One minute faster than two of his housemates.

Mr. Brown, a 21-year-old economics major, recalled the marathon runner who lived in the house last semester, saying: "He came out of the shower one morning and yelled out: 'Two minutes 18 seconds. Beat that, Lucas!' "
This brings to mind a recent piece by Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, who noted the candy-coated, but no less deadly premise behind Earth Hour:
... [Earth Hour] sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off our use of fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! ...

The participants of Earth Hour spent an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, but all the while they remained safe in the knowledge that the comforts and life-saving benefits of industrial civilization were just a light switch away. This bears no relation whatsoever to what our lives would actually be like under the sort of draconian carbon-reduction policies that global-warming activists are demanding: punishing carbon taxes, severe emissions caps, outright bans on the construction of power plants.

What is really needed is greater awareness of just how indispensable carbon-based energy is to human life. Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month, without any form of fossil fuel energy? Let those who claim that we need to stop emitting carbon dioxide try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible. Those who claim that we must cut off our carbon emissions to prevent an alleged global catastrophe need to learn the indisputable fact that cutting off our carbon emissions would be a global catastrophe.
You will note from the image that the residents of Oberlin College's featured SEED (Student Experiment in Ecological Design) residence house illustrate Lockitch's point perfectly, if by accident, by means of the holier-than-thou note posted on the door of one of their refrigerators.
DON'T PUT FOOD IN HERE! This fridge is not plugged in! Refrigerators are one of the top energy suckers in a household. We decided to turn ours off and share a fridge with the other side of the house.
Why hasn't this "energy sucker" been removed from the premises and recycled -- along with that piece of paper -- by now?

At this point, most conservative commentators would be content to declare the case at Oberlin open and shut because of the blatant hypocrisy, which is underscored at the end of the article:
"Sometimes, [Brown] said, "on a Friday after a long week of finals, I have to have a bath and a beer."

What about the shower timer? He laughed, sheepishly.

"I hide it on the floor," he said.
Yes, hypocrisy is a great moral flaw, but conservatives, like environmentalists, also espouse altruism, which conflicts with the requirements for human life. As altruists, the conservatives miss or evade the fact that the very conflict of a consistently-applied code of morality with life or with enjoying life -- Why isn't our boy, Lucas Brown, treating himself to a fast, bracing cold shower? -- should be cause to examine whether that moral code is correct and whether a better one actually compatible with life exists.

In failing to do those things, many nominally pro-capitalist conservatives fail to offer moral opposition to movements like environmentalism. Instead, they merely shout, "Hypocrisy!" -- which just challenges its adherents to commit suicide more rapidly, while making it appear to the rest of us that we must choose between morality and life. That is too bad.

As for me, after a half-day at work and some more moving preps, I plan to combine a commemoration of those who fought on the battlefield for the worthy cause of individual rights with a celebration I had to postpone this year: Life on Earth Day!

Have a happy Memorial Day! As I have said before, "Our fallen would have done so, and they would wish the same for you." A feast with your loved ones and a toast is exactly the right way to remember our defenders.

-- CAV

The Spring Cleaning from ...

Friday, May 23, 2008

... Massachusetts

This weekend, Mrs. Van Horn's folks are visiting with us and helping out with some of the preparations for our moves to the Land of the Puritans.

As many of you know, she's getting ready to start her residency, which is the next stage of her medical career. The assignment to Boston was random within the set of medical schools that interviewed her. She starts on July 1, so we're moving her up there in mid-June. I move up there once I find a job up there and tie up some loose ends down here.

Perhaps the most striking thing about our move so far has been something I've alluded to before: the cost of living difference between Houston and Boston. As I noted earlier, "[If] the median cost of living in the United States [is] 100, it is 83 in Houston and 126 in Boston." That's somewhat abstract. Here's a concrete example: My wife is temporarily renting a studio apartment smaller than our bedroom for about $400 a month more than the three-bedroom house we presently call home. (Gulp!)

Part of this reflects location as she does need to be relatively close to her hospital, but not much. Our old commute was only ten to fifteen minutes in Houston. By car, not public transit, and without much walking.

Depending on what I end up doing, we could end up renting a two-bedroom apartment or buying a house a little farther out, but even if we swing the latter, we will still have roughly a year of not having room for our things. (I see the job hunt as taking months, and I don't want to buy anywhere until I've been there awhile.) We will have to get rid of some of our things and store others.

We're both feeling a little sentimental. But at the same time she's excited about finally moving forward with her medical career, I face massive uncertainty. I want to keep writing, and think I finally know how to move beyond blogging. But writing at that level takes time.

And that is the main thing I am worried about in this move. The higher cost of living is partially compensated by higher pay -- if I leave academia, which remains my current plan. But it is only partially compensated with higher pay, and moving away from the center of town could cost me in terms of (commuting) time. Beyond that, I don't really feel free to discuss my possible career moves any further here....

Instead, I'll move back to what originally got me to this post, the huge "spring cleaning" type of opportunity this represents. We're pack rats (and ended up with things from her family after Katrina hit), but even at our most sentimental, we both see this as a chance to drop down to a more sane level of material accumulation. After this weekend, we should have a much better idea of what we'll move, what we'll get rid of, and what we'll store.

If it were all up to me, we'd get down to a two-bedroom apartment level pretty easily, but some of the Katrina stuff has real significance to my wife. We have a baby grand piano among other things. I want to sell it, but I may have to settle for storage on that one. Whatever the outcome, as I see it, there will be that much less uncertainty after this weekend, and that will be my big payoff.

The randomness of the move, and learning about it when I did have left me flat-footed and facing a huge blob of uncertainty about many aspects of my future life. And these ramblings have helped me identify the uncertainty as what I really hate about this move.

The first step of knowing how to deal with a problem is always defining parameters. Sometimes, you find that you have a smaller problem than you thought, and sometimes you don't. But you always end up with a better idea of what to do. And that, gentle reader, is what I am really looking forward to this weekend.

And it will be my strategy beyond that. Thank you for your indulgence.


Even though it doesn't really fit in with the rest of what has turned out to be a rumination about uncertainty, I'll end with a top ten list, which I'd promised myself I'd do, and which is what I'd intended to do here in the first place.

Although uncertainty is the worst of the move, I regard Houston as my second home town, and I am really going to miss it. But I won't miss all of it! In the vein of easing myself out of here, I will compose a list of ten things -- in no particular order -- I will miss about Houston which I shall balance with things I either won't miss, or will get to enjoy instead in Boston.

I'll miss ...
  1. ... grilling in my back yard, but I won't miss mowing it.
  2. ... good Mexican food and especially Ninfa's, but I'll get to enjoy some really good seafood.
  3. ... the freedom of driving my own car most of the time, but I do like to walk, and (Wow!) perhaps Boston really is cheaper in a category!
  4. ... the flexibility of the schedule of my old job, but I will not miss its unpredictability.
  5. ... the independent sense of life of Texans and the dynamism of Houston, but I'll get to drink in lots of American history. (My thanks to the correspondent who reminded me of this.)
  6. ... the lack of pervasive influence of leftists in Texas, but I'll enjoy the fact that Boston offers more opportunities to participate in intellectual pursuits.
  7. ... my friends in Houston, but I'll get to make new ones in Boston and ... oh yeah, about half of my old friends in Houston have already moved up there!
  8. ... the fact that I basically get to skip winter every year, but I won't miss the high humidity at all.
  9. ... the subtropical springtime, which teems with life, but I'll enjoy seeing what the season known as "fall" that I keep hearing about looks like.
  10. ... the ability to travel cheaply and easily to visit relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana, but now, they all want to see Boston, so maybe I won't have to travel so much! And we're closer to some of my wife's relatives now.
I'm glad I did that. I feel better already.

-- CAV

Minnesota Madrassa Update

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I know, it's a Madrassa like Islam is "peaceful"....

The following video clip should provide an interesting follow-up to my April post about allegations by a substitute school teacher that Minnesota is financing the teaching of Islam with public funds.

Several things are worth noting about this video and the circumstances that led to my finding it.

As Ayn Rand once said (at second occurrence of search term "faith and force" -- why don't they have hypertext anchors for individual quotes?):
[F]aith and force are corollaries, and ... mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible. Why do we kill wild animals in the jungle? Because no other way of dealing with them is open to us. And that is the state to which mysticism reduces mankind -- a state where, in case of disagreement, men have no recourse except to physical violence. [bold added]
Thanks for the demonstration, there, Mo!

But what's really striking is how I found this -- from a blog hosted at the online version of the late theocrat William F. Buckley's National Review. Thank God the people who want Christian prayer in the public schools again are on the lookout for separation of (the wrong) church from state! And thank God the infidels -- I once heard a Catholic priest say, "That was our word!" -- set themselves up so well as foils to Christian "tolerance"!

For its objective merits in showing faith in action, this video also, conveniently for Christian theocrats, allows them to smear non-Christians in general, by sloppy comparison.

The sloppiness lies in ignoring the essential similarity between Islam and Christianity -- reliance on faith as a means to knowledge -- while focusing on superficial differences -- like how thoroughly integrated into one's life an individual's rejection of reason actually is.

As Greg Perkins so astutely pointed out yesterday when noting how one prominent Christian apologist likes to lay the blame for Communist atrocities on atheism:
[S]uch a comparison is fundamentally confused. Recall that atheism is not itself an ideology and therefore doesn't lead people to do anything in particular -- good or bad. So again we need to approach the issue in terms that will actually shed some light. The illuminating question to consider is: What does reason offer humanity over faith?


[L]ong-standing Christianity only accommodated the relatively recent changes that unleashed minds brought while its overwhelming authority eroded. We were delivered from the Christian Dark Ages despite Christianity, not because of it.
Does the author of the Phi Beta Cons post at NRO himself want Christian prayer back in public schools? I must admit that I don't know. But he is working for a publication animated by the malevolent spirit of William F. Buckley. At best, the author is making a theocrat's legacy look better than it should.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 329

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Meditation on a Japanese Parrot

What did he know, and when did he know it?

A. A sequence of sounds, and all along.

A Japanese family has been reunited with its pet, thanks to having taught it a sequence of noises that they knew other human beings would interpret as a name and an address.

"I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura," the bird told the veterinarian, according to Uemura. The parrot also provided his full home address, down to the street number, and even entertained the hospital staff by singing songs.

"We checked the address, and what do you know, a Nakamura family really lived there. So we told them we've found Yosuke," Uemura said. [bold added]
This episode reminds me of a discussion of the epistemological status of the arbitrary, in which Leonard Peikoff likens arbitrary pronouncements to the squawkings of a bird:
The arbitrary ... has no relation to evidence, facts, or context. It is the human equivalent of [noises produced by] a parrot . . . sounds without any tie to reality, without content or significance.
Note that the police didn't just take the parrot at his "word".

This parrot didn't know its address as an address any more than a mailing label does. For all we know, it had finally escaped its tormentors only to be foiled by its instinct for mimicry.

Remember this the next time you hear someone citing this as an example of animal intelligence. (And you will.) Some birds do display remarkably sophisticated behavior, but this isn't even an example of that.

Sue the Bastards!

This reads like a story straight out of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices, but the White House threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would subject OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, to the same antitrust laws that U.S. companies must follow.

The measure passed in a 324-84 vote, a big enough margin to override a presidential veto.
Let me count the things that are wrong with this bill!

First, it passes the (highly inflated) buck on the real source of rising prices. (It's not just oil, and for oil, it's not just that we're printing money.) Second, short of the United States taking military action well in excess of what it should have done decades ago when foreign tyrants started stealing the property of American citizens, this bill will have only symbolic import. Third, and what will this bill symbolize? American spinelessness. Fourth, ....

That's enough for now. Only obscenities could adequately describe this defiant shaking of the fist from behind the robes of the judiciary, which Congress seems to be confusing with a mother's skirt.

I wish this were merely pathetic.

Sue Noel Keenlyside!

Perhaps while Congress is feeling litigious, Heidi "Lysenko" Cullen can persuade it to sue for the removal of European climatologist Noel Keenlyside's scientific credentials. After all, he is flirting with a sin on a par with Holocaust denial:
Climate scientist Noel Keenlyside, leading a team from Germany's Leibniz Institute of Marine Science and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology, for the first time entered verifiable data on ocean circulation cycles into one of the U. N.'s climate supercomputers, and the machine spit out a projection that there will be no more warming for the foreseeable future.
And Tom Knutson....
Global warming isn't to blame for the recent jump in hurricanes in the Atlantic, concludes a study by a prominent federal scientist whose position has shifted on the subject.

Not only that, warmer temperatures will actually reduce the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic and those making landfall, research meteorologist Tom Knutson reported in a study released Sunday. [bold added]
So "the science" isn't settled that we will have global warming or, that if we do, it will be all bad.

And the fact remains that whatever the scientific conclusion might be, it still doesn't justify the leftist agenda being pushed on account of "climate change".

-- CAV


: Corrected name of Noel Keenlyside. Where on earth did I get "Neely"?

The First High-Def Election?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There is an interesting article posted over at Slate that touches on John McCain's role in forcing television manufacturers to plunge into digital technology before the market warranted and how this might lead to his own political undoing.

For all I know, McCain is in fine physical condition. If he appears older than his chronological age, that probably has something to do with the torture he endured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam; nine years ago the Arizona Republic reported that he continued to experience "orthopedic limitations" related to his imprisonment, including pain in his shoulders and right knee. But TV is unfair, as Richard Nixon learned when his perspiration and five o'clock shadow helped give John F. Kennedy the edge in the first-ever televised presidential debates. Had HDTV been available eight years later, I'm not sure Nixon could have won the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.


The prevailing cliche about 2008 is that it's the first YouTube election. But it may turn out to be, more saliently, the first high-definition election. If that's the case, then McCain -- more precisely, McCain's political ambition -- may play the unfortunate role of Dr. Frankenstein, whose lifeless body at the end of Mary Shelley's novel is wept over by the demon he created. ... But doesn't Obama look fabulous? [links dropped]
Only Hillary Clinton prevailing over Obama might keep us from the cold comfort of seeing, perhaps, McCain being killed by the monster he helped create. The man who so despises freedom of speech as to hinder it during elections would lose in part on appearances (not that his ideas have any merit or substantive difference from Obama's). The man who could not leave the world's most innovative and productive economy alone would succumb due to the very results of his meddling. The man who so likes giving out orders would be foiled by an army of too-obedient machines.

This would be mere poetic justice -- the only kind available in this year's elections. This result cannot head off tyranny, for these candidates are fundamentally the same despite appearances. But in terms of America's long-term future, perhaps technology and McCain's inopportune power lust might be the kind of break we can take advantage of.

It will only be by using every break we get to make the case for individual rights -- and yet not depending on dumb luck -- that we who value freedom can stop the advance of tyranny.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 328

Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama's Altruism

If he gets elected, no one can say he didn't warn us:

Pitching his message to Oregon's environmentally-conscious voters, Obama called on the United States to "lead by example" on global warming, and develop new technologies at home which could be exported to developing countries.

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK," Obama said.

"That's not leadership. That's not going to happen," he added. [bold added]
Political candidates have long expressed sentiments that mean, "You have no right to use your own property for your own enjoyment," but I do not recall anyone ever putting such demands for human self-sacrifice so explicitly in terms of their consequences.

And speaking of SUVs, ...

... I do appreciate their value as annoyances to the global warming alarmist crowd, and I fully support the right of anyone who wants one to own one, but I have never really liked them myself.

So I was glad to see that my favorite "High Life Man" commercial has finally made it to YouTube! The whole series of these commercials, directed by Errol Morris, is indexed here. Which is your favorite?

Military Field Research Finds Use for Korans

This news story shows that the American sense of life is alive and well, but that even in the military, our leaders are succumbing to leftism:
An American soldier used a Quran, the Islamic holy book, for target practice in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad, prompting an apology from the U.S. military, a spokesman said Sunday.
Were it not for the incitements contained in that book, our boys would have no need to be over there (although they would be done by now were they properly unleashed). We owe no apology to anyone who takes those rantings seriously.

Roundups Galore

Rational Jenn posted the latest Objectivist Roundup last week, and Bo has posted a huge roundup of posts from submariner bloggers.

Also, it's not in roundup form, but Rational Jenn found three neat quizzes. My answers? 10/10, Rubik's Cube ("You are engaging and popular. People are drawn to your colorful personality.As much as they try, people can't stay away from you. And while you seem easy to understand, people can't figure out what direction you're coming from."), and Ham Sandwich:
You are quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends.
Over time, you have proven yourself as loyal and steadfast.
And you are by no means boring. You do well in any situation - from fancy to laid back.

Your best friend: The Turkey Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich
No time to fiddle with HTML today....

Diana Hsieh on Marriage

I found this short post on the right to marry very insightful since it rather efficiently touched on many of the aspects of that question that I have seen make discussions on the topic difficult.

Joe Kellard's Writings

Fans of Joe Kellard, who blogs at The American Individualist, will be happy to know that he now also has a blog devoted to his professional writings.

-- CAV

Brooks on "Neural Buddhism"

Friday, May 16, 2008

New York Times columnist David Brooks comments on a trend that hardly surprises me, given today's near-universal intellectual sloppiness and confusion: The embrace of mysticism by scientists. Indeed, although he fails to integrate the progression correctly (or particularly well), he does outline it in the way it unfolded.

Let's follow his outline, but in the vein of understanding how this progression follows from some of the philosophical errors common among today's intellectuals.

In the following, Brooks' comments are in plain text, and mine are in bold.

  • To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. So far, so good.

  • Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are "hard-wired" to do this or that. Religion is an accident. Most scientists are determinists and, to my knowledge, regard the idea of free will as inherently mystical. Determinism flies in the face of the evidence that man has volition, but to my knowledge, only Objectivists have entertained the idea of volition as being a form of causation inherent to intelligent beings, and arising from their material nature. On top of that, few understand that it is philosophy that sets the terms of the debate about epistemology, the nature of the mind, and indeed, what constitutes science. So they study the mind philosophically half-cocked and end up attempting to make pronouncements of a philosophic nature based on their evidence, when what they desperately need is a correct understanding of the nature of the mind in order to interpret this evidence properly.

  • In this materialist view, people perceive God's existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems. That does follow from materialism, if you mistake the widespread existence of religious belief for evidence that it confers an evolutionary advantage.

  • If they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy, they will show signs of hyperreligiosity, an overexcitement of the brain tissue that leads sufferers to believe they are conversing with God. Religion is a tangled knot of horrible philosophical premises and legitimate aspirations -- and the emotions that go with them. Imagine the insights we could have if scientists better understood what religion and emotions were when they were studying them! Instead, we have determinists ignorant about both looking at this. Brooks' hero, Tom Wolfe saw where this would go.

  • The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it. The scientists are wasting their time here. Like I said, science does not set the terms of philosophical debates. It can eliminate some of the "gaps" in "god of the gaps" types of arguments, but this just proves my point.

  • And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going to end up challenging faith in the Bible. This follows from the nature of faith and the beginning of that slippery slope was the original concession: to "debate" the faithful at all.

  • Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development. The false reason-emotion dichotomy pays off in spades for the religionists as scientists, disarmed in the face of (1) evidence that emotions might (gasp!) have a survival role for human beings, (2) their own ignorance of the nature of emotions, and (3) their own implicit acceptance of the reason-emotion dichotomy, find "evidence" of the supernatural.

  • Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment. If altruism is everywhere, and a material being cannot have free will, widespread philosophical errors and their consequences must be instinctual!

  • Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real. What did I say a while ago about having a grasp of the nature of emotions and of religion before attempting to study what goes on in the brain during religious-types of experiences?

  • This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism. See Sam Harris.

  • If you survey the literature (and I'd recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion. Yeah. The beliefs that already saturate our culture like a sponge left to soak in a sewer.

  • The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It's going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

  • In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. Unexpected -- only to the philosophical victims of Immanuel Kant....
Many of these scientists see philosophy as impotent, and themselves as coming to the rescue of humanity by offering hard facts and evidence on the "big questions". And yet it is their own ignorance of philosophy that is causing them to bolster the very enemies of reason who might ultimately undo the scientific revolution.

This scientist disagrees.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo from a quote. Evidently, I managed to change "hard-wired" to "hard-wire" after a cut-and-paste without realizing it. You can't sic 'em for being right!

Quick Roundup 327

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Must-Read on "Islamist Lawfare"

Via HBL, I learned of this interview in FrontPage Magazine, in which attorney Brooke Goldstein discusses "Islamist Lawfare", a tactic used by more and more Islamic totalitarians to implement sharia through the abuse of Western legal systems.

Islamists with financial means have launched a "legal jihad", filing a series of malicious lawsuits, in American courts and abroad, and against anyone who speaks out against or writes about radical Islam and its sources of financing and support.

This type of lawfare is often predatory, filed without a serious expectation of winning, and undertaken as a means to intimidate, demoralize and bankrupt defendants. The lawsuits are often based on frivolous claims ranging from defamation to workplace harassment to plain Islamophobia, and have resulted in books being banned and pulped, in thousands of dollars worth of fines and in publishing houses and newspapers rejecting important works on counter-terrorism out of fear of being the next target.


Though American courts have proven less friendly to Islamist lawfare and have for the most part ruled to protect the exercise of free speech within this country, notwithstanding that fact, defendants who have been victimized by legal jihad in US courts, even if they end up winning their case, in the end they lose in time and money spent protecting their rights when they could have been doing and accomplishing much more productive things. [bold added]
Read the whole thing, and recall that although this tactic is all but the official government policy of some Moslem states, our own government has failed to make a principled stand against it.

Taking the Long View

In a comment to a post at Myrhaf, Kyle Haight puts forth very succinctly how one should weigh McCain vs. the Democratic candidate in the impending presidential election:
I too will probably pick the lesser of two evils. Where I differ from Mr. Conlon is in my assessment of which outcome is less evil. My political values are already defeated in this political cycle. All choices will launch massive assaults on freedom across a wide spectrum. But a McCain victory has broader ramifications. It isn't a choice between a totally socialist government and a slightly less socialist government. It's a choice between two parties whose orthodoxy is totally statist versus two parties one of which is totally statist and one of which is mixed. [bold added]
This is because McCain, as he said earlier, would "redefine the political landscape" -- in exactly the opposite way we need.

Interesting Historical Note

Last year, I marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court overturned laws that forbade interracial marriages. Yesterday, the New York Times published some interesting historical background on the case, noting that, "By the time that Richard and Mildred had begun to date in the 1950s, they had lived their whole lives in a community that had made an art form of evading Jim Crow restrictions on relationships."


I've only read about two-thirds of it, but I have found this essay about the concept of dignity very thought-provoking, and not just because of how conservatives want to misuse it in their quest to impose religious restraints on medical technology.

Call me ... erm ... punctual!

I found a quiz over at Dithyramb this morning, and I took it. Did everything ... come out okay? Let's see....

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven. You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched. You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice. (But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Call me what you want, the description is mostly correct -- but let me explain why you should welcome my being right all the time....

-- CAV

McCain's Instability

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And no, I'm not talking about John McCain's infamous short fuse.

I'm talking about the danger a McCain Presidency can pose to our system of federal government above and beyond McCain's own bad policies, his opposition to freedom of speech, and the possibility that he will aid America's descent into theocracy by placing Mike Huckabee on his ticket.

The Software Nerd, some time ago, wrote a very interesting post about how a large coalescence of political power near the "middle" can result in an end to the "gridlock" our Founding Fathers engineered into the federal government, but which so many foolish "moderate" voters bemoan:

I have a hypothesis though: even though the center-of-gravity remains unchanged in the middle, the more people there are crowding around the middle, the faster and more likely such policies will get enacted at all. As long as enough people from both sides are far from the middle, they will delay and fight changes, and government is slowed down a bit.
I was reminded this morning of one important check against the irrational passions of the electorate that I haven't heard discussed much so far: The Supreme Court. (I just love how the short primary season has gutted what little deliberation was left from the process of vetting presidential candidates....) By the time our next President -- and we are all but guaranteed a horrible one this time around -- takes the helm, he will probably have the opportunity to appoint more than one new Supreme Court justice since five of the nine will be more than 70 years old. John Paul Stevens is 88 now.

And if we are to believe Jeff Jacoby, McCain thinks "Supreme" means "really big" and "Court" means "legislative rubber stamp":
The senator emphasized the importance of judicial modesty and deference to the elected branches of government, lamenting that "federal judges today issue rulings and opinions on policy questions that should be decided democratically." He criticized Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for not being concerned "when fundamental questions of social policy are preemptively decided by judges instead of by the people and their elected representatives." [bold added]
Great. McCain already buys into the bipartisan Bad Idea of the Day, massive economic regulation inspired by global warming hysteria. He's too leftist (and eager to curry favor with a leftist media) for us to hope that he will reign in a Democratic Congress. He's too much of a Pragmatist to offer any real opposition to the Religious Right, if he isn't really one of them already.

And now, we might get to see him monkey around with the composition of the Supreme Court. The next four years looks uglier by the minute. (For the record, I do not regard the comments at this link as either reason to vote for McCain or a sufficient argument against voting for a Libertarian. Neither voting for McCain nor voting Libertarian is an acceptable option.)

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 326

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Curious Figure

Scott Powell has found an example of penetrating insight in a most unlikely place. Here's one quote:

It is philosophy that makes man understandable to man, explains human nobility, and shows man the proper road. The first defect appearing in any nation that is headed toward decline is in the philosophic spirit. After that deficiencies spread into the other sciences, arts, and associations.
I was about to bold parts of this for emphasis, but stopped when I realized that basically, I'd have to bold the whole thing. As the Resident Egoist says, "[P]repare to be shocked."

Privatize the USPS

C. August has a very good post up about privatizing the postal service which I found fun to read, and which only got better when he reacted to a comment. The following is an excellent point (pursuant to the fact that the Constitution mentions the Postal Service) you may have missed yesterday:
[I]f the predominant culture in America still understood and respected the ideas of the Founders, not just as a wispy sense of life but as valid, defensible ideas, then we could actually propose a Constitutional amendment, support it with facts, and pass it. There were 15 amendments within the first 100 years, when the first generation of revolutionaries and their immediate successors chewed over the new ideas of a government of laws and not of men, and for the most part, made them better. What does it say now that trying for an amendment about gay marriage seems more feasible than one to get rid of the Postal Service? [bold added]
And we also wouldn't have the problems evaluating potential Supreme Court justices that we do today.

Sowell and Cultural Activism

I was catching up on Thomas Sowell over at Capitalism Magazine this morning when I came across an article of his from early April. His article is about how the Republican Party blows it when attempting to court the black vote, but the principles he discusses apply more generally than just to blacks, hold true for ideas more fundamental than politics, and would be most effective for correct ideas.

Here are a few bullets, with some added comments [in brackets] pertaining to cultural activism by Objectivists:
  • Why should they listen to Republicans who act like imitation Democrats? [Not that Republicans really do fundamentally differ from Democrats, but the point is: Don't act like your opponent, and then try to sneak your own ideas in under the radar. Fight for your ideas on their own merits.]
  • Trying to reach blacks through civil rights organizations that are totally hostile to your message is like a quarterback trying to throw a pass to a receiver surrounded by opposing defenders. [Don't waste time working with libertarian organizations -- or any other group that only pretends to value freedom. They will no more aid the cause of freedom than today's civil rights groups will advance the welfare of black individuals.]
  • The truth is something that can attract people's attention, if only for its novelty in politics. [Hell, it's not just in politics anymore that the truth is a novelty....]
  • There is plenty to talk straight about, including all the things that the Democrats are committed to that work to the disadvantage of blacks.... [Show how various ideas people mistakenly accept actually have consequences that harm them.]
  • Black voters also need to be told about the tens of thousands of blacks who have been forced out of a number of liberal Democratic California counties by skyrocketing housing prices, brought on by Democratic environmentalists' severe restrictions on the building of homes or apartments. [Concretize -- and appeal to the rational values of your audience.]
I have often noted my simultaneous admiration for Thomas Sowell's rich insights and frustration with his tendency to leave off at economics and politics. This column is an excellent example, and he should have ended it by emphasizing that blacks are individuals whose fundamental need for freedom is no different than anyone else's. For historical and cultural reasons, it will be harder to reach blacks in general with rational ideas, but in the end, we're just talking about more individuals who would profit from a more rational culture.

-- CAV

Why She Lingers

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dick Morris pens a very interesting column about why Hillary Clinton doggedly remains in the race for the Democratic nomination despite -- and I feel like I'm being generous here -- the near-inevitability of her defeat at the hands of Barack Obama.

Morris ticks off a variety of reasons the Clintons are staying in: They see themselves as above "the rules", Hillary feels a nearly-metaphysical sense of entitlement to the nomination, and they (she and Bill) have learned over time that persistence can pay off. Morris then goes on to slam Hillary for "an uncharacteristic absence of a reality base" in her thinking, but on this, I see him as half-redundant and half-missing a broader point.

In so far as Morris is being redundant, the fact that he slams the Clintons for waiting for yet another lucky break is a little silly. Their whole political career shows that patience can pay off. Like he just said....

And in so far as Morris is missing a broader point, he is dead wrong to say that Clinton has no "reality base" in her thinking. Part of this, again, we could put as "fortune favors the persistent" and part lies in the Clintons' uncanny political acumen. They understand on a gut level that America has been intellectually gutted by generations of pragmatism and altruism.

When they left the White House in utter disgrace over their ethical lapses and greed [sic], they were under attack from even the friendliest of liberal media. But years of keeping their heads low, working hard at getting along with people in the Senate, turning to charitable works (with a little help from George W. Bush) and helping the party regulars erased the sordid images. Memories of pardons sold for campaign and library contributions, their scoundrel lobbyist brothers, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of 'gifts' that were solicited from people who wanted favors from the White House disappeared. Once again, time healed all. [bold added]
This aspect of the Clintons' thought process seems irrelevant to the current situation, but I see it as highly relevant. Without pragmatism to make Americans dismiss principles enough to regard the Clintons' criminal behavior as not that important after a time, and without the insurance of their altruistic "good deeds", Hillary wouldn't even be around at this point.

And yet, the American sense of life is strong enough -- as they learned on their own hides -- that in the immediate aftermath of something sufficiently contemptible, there will be loud cries of indignation and calls for heads to roll.

In the short span of a political campaign, should something sufficiently bad come to light about Barack Obama, he will have no time for the public to forget, and Hillary will be waiting in the wings, and made to look relatively more worthy than she deserves. (And without firm moral principles to guide one's judgement, appearances are effectively everything. She will have effectively been "cleansed" in the eyes of many by Obama.)

And the Clintons, having the requisite moral turpitude to make it as politicians in today's culture have a firm basis in reality to hope that Obama has another yet-to-be revealed skeleton in his closet. He is, after all, one of them under his skin.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 325

Friday, May 09, 2008

Well! Looking forward to a (relatively) light weekend, I was feeling frivolous going into this post. I figured on a joke I got in the mail yesterday, maybe a meme, and something interesting.

But then, before I could really get going on the meme hunt, I realized that I was seeing too much good stuff to go with the original plan.

I'll get the joke out of my system first....

I didn't know what I was getting into!

This comes from my father-in-law:

The first man married a woman from Georgia and told her that she was going to do dishes and house cleaning. It took a couple days, but on the third day he came home to a clean house and dishes washed and put away.

The second man married a woman from South Carolina. He gave his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking. The first day he didn't see any results but the next day he saw it was better. By the third day he saw his house was clean, the dishes were done and there was a huge dinner on the table.

The third man married a girl from Louisiana. He told her that her duties were to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry washed and hot meals on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything, but by the third day some of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye, enough to fix himself a bite to eat and load the dishwasher.
I am in fact much more "domestic" than my wife.

But that's a coincidence.

It is!

Take Care of Yourself, First

Flibbert makes an excellent point about taking care of oneself in one's relationships when commenting on a scene from House:
Many, if not most, people would have said, "Do what you want" and mean "Do what I want," but she didn't. She told him precisely and plainly without hint of manipulation that she wanted him to do what he wanted.
Yes. "He" is oncologist James Wilson, but you don't need to be a House fan to get Flibbert's point.

And there's lots of other good stuff up where that came from, so stop by and start scrolling.

Quote of the Day

Paul Hsieh brings up a quote from Richard Ralston of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine that perfectly sums up the correct approach to cultural/political activism:
Don't worry about changing the politicians. The politicians will wear their fingers to the bone sticking them in the air to test which way the wind is blowing. Instead, work on changing the wind. If you change the wind, the politicians will follow.
And stop by there, if you haven't already, to see what "changing the wind" looks like.

Obama's Ideas

Myrhaf offers an interesting insight on how Obamamania might cost the Democrats yet another presidential election:
The attacks [on Obama] are just name calling? This is the kind of self-serving delusion that keeps the left from realistically assessing the American electorate. Voters are smarter than the Democrats think they are; they understand that there are ideas behind the names and the labels.
And on top of his terrible ideas, there is either a remarkable lack of sophistication or an incredible degree of cynicism going on in his head:
CNN showed a clip of Barack Obama this morning in which he said that the Gas Tax holiday is a sham because -- and I'm paraphrasing -- "every time we've tried to do that, the oil companies just raise the price to where it was with the tax." [minor edit]
Hmmm. Before I read the whole post, I would have leaned towards the former, but now it's at least equally the latter.

Iron Man

Jennifer Snow has a good, short review of Iron Man that I am glad I saw.

Objectivist Carnival

This week's Objectivist Roundup has been posted by Rational Jenn.

Caption Contest

This is too good! (And I get to end my roundup on a frivolous note, after all!)

-- CAV

PS: A couple of the Boston bloggers have posted reviews of last night's Ford Hall Forum lecture by Yaron Brook.


: Added a PS.

Better than a full-sized laptop, too!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Two weeks and a day ago, I ended a month and a half of fence-sitting and took the $500 plunge on an ASUS Eee PC (Scroll down and refer to leftmost column in table here). The prospect of a week of lugging around our heavy Dell laptop at the conference I would be attending was the straw that broke the camel's back, but I had plenty of other reasons for wanting to get one anyway.

Some of those reasons I outlined here and others were related to the fact that I will be living apart from my wife for a few months this summer. Not only will she be using our main laptop during that time, but I will be traveling each month to see her. Having a good traveling laptop will be imperative during that time if I am to be able to make decent use of travel time to work, job-hunt, and generally keep in touch.

So now that have I basically lived and breathed the ASUS Eee 700 for a week, how do I like it? Let me understate this:

A lot.
I knew that, during the conference, I would often want to do such things as look up papers and check my email. I was also finishing work on a project that I would be unable to work on at all without a computer and a decent Internet connection. After being insanely busy ever since learning that we would be moving, I knew that I'd want to -- finally -- start my job hunt.

On top of all that, I would be flitting about between presentations of professional interest on site -- and frequently leaving the convention center for various functions related to the conference. Without a good laptop, I would be in serious jeopardy of getting nothing accomplished that week -- except attending the conference.

My new ASUS Eee PC didn't just save the day. It saved all seven of them! The tiny size and thirty-second boot time meant that even if I had only five spare minutes, I could use them. This happened just before I was due to present and I remembered something I needed to look up. Done.

When I was about to fly home, my wife called to tell me I needed to send something time-sensitive to her. Done within five minutes from me relaxing in a chair with my laptop in the bag.

Nowhere to sit? No problem. This thing is so light that when a question about some conference guidelines arose and I realized I'd left my printed copy at the hotel, I held the PC in one hand while we kept talking and looked it up within a minute.

Its keyboard, although small, even proved to be less of a problem than I thought it would be: I never touched the normal-sized keyboard I packed in case my typo rate never dropped down. Controls for such things as display brightness, speaker volume, and wireless were ridiculously easy to use. The software suite, while not as extensive as I would like (but I'm an odd type of user), was perfectly adequate for everything I needed to accomplish during that week, and more. This worked, as advertised, right out of the box.

And I haven't even had time to play around with its limited voice command capabilities or its webcam, other than to prove that it works! I did get a few questions from others about the computer at the conference, but not, luckily, so many as I was afraid I might. (Yes. This is my idea of a toy, but I did need to work....)

This thing is the best $500.00 I've spent in a long time. And the entertainment value of watching other laptop users fiddle forever with their computers was pure gravy. I found myself thinking things like, "Have fun putting that contraption away!" as seminar times approached and they had to shut down and disassemble things while I kept on going. (Did I mention that my power supply is about the size of a cell phone charger?)

Its main drawback is that the particular Linux installation makes it hard to add new programs, although there may be ways around this. Installing Windows XP is also an option for those who need Windows-specific programs -- or who, unlike myself, do not normally use Linux.

Its other "drawbacks" for me are mostly a result of how I may try to use this computer, and so do not really apply to a sub-laptop. (I may save myself the hassle of buying and moving a new desktop until I'm done relocating by simply attaching my flatscreen monitor to this one at home.) One of these drawbacks does bear mentioning, though: While the Eee 700 does have a "full desktop" mode for use with external displays, it cannot take full advantage of the screen resolution of the one I own.

Besides my own experience, there is little I can add to the uniformly glowing reviews this marvel had garnered over the past year, so I'll close with two excerpts that pretty much say it all.

One review I recall as saying that this laptop "lives up to the hype", and I agree. And Ars Technica ends a very thorough review with this:
The Asus Eee PC offers outstanding value for Linux enthusiasts and good value for a mainstream audience. The laptop brazenly defies the conventional standards of portable computing and delivers extreme mobility at an appealing price.

The basic mode user interface has some weaknesses and lacks visual consistency, but it largely meets the requirements of mainstream users and offers a high level of usability that make it appropriate for an audience that includes students and children. The IceWM and KDE environments are also flexible enough to please Linux enthusiasts who are looking for a cheap platform for developing software while on the go. Asus doesn't attempt to lock anything down, which makes the platform very easy to customize.

The hardware is impressive for the price, and the sheer portability of the system is mind-blowing. Despite the quality of the hardware, the cramped keyboard will be a deal-breaker for many consumers. Potential Eee owners with big hands should try it in person to make sure that they are comfortable with the keyboard before they buy. ... [I don't have big hands, but I did this anyway. -- ed]
And another, by a Mac user who tried the 4 GB version for five days, pretty much shares my sentiments:
If you're on the fence about purchasing an Eee PC, don't be. It's a marvelous little device that will fit excellently into your mobile lifestyle. Let's raise a glass in unison to the low-cost ultra-portable revolution.
Hear, hear!

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 324

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Best of the Best

Close to a year ago, I noted with glee that, as measured by carbon emissions, Texas ranked as our nation's most productive state.

But who is king of Texas? H-Town and its ... (chortle!) ... environs!

I saw this a week or so ago in a report from the Houston Chronicle that is no longer online, but another source has the gist of it:

Harris County in Texas emitted more than 18.6 million tons of CO2 [Boo-ya! -- ed] in 2002, the latest year for which data was available, according to Vulcan, a three-year project funded by NASA and the US Department of Energy. The county is home to oil and natural gas plants and Houston, which has about 2 million people.
The bad news is that this also makes the Houston area -- and its energy customers nationwide -- prime targets for the new taxes on energy use that are all the rage with the global warming crowd.

It was nice to see that this point did not go unnoticed by one of the sources I checked when getting ready to post this morning. The Arizona Republic notes as much regarding an Arizona county that ranked high on the same rogues list for the crime of generating copious amounts of electricity.
Because a decent portion of Phoenix electricity is generated up there at the Four Corners Power Plant run by Arizona Public Service Co. And the rural county gets a double hit from nearby San Juan Generating Station, run by Public Service Co. of New Mexico.

Phoenix energy thus is one of the big contributors to global-warming emissions, and few experts doubt that those emissions will soon be taxed or traded or otherwise made more expensive.

That means buying electricity in Phoenix will get more expensive.
Too bad the editiorial comments in that article stopped with that. These new taxes will, I supect, remain somewhat popular as long as enough people feel that they are "doing the right thing" in accepting them as a means of stopping global warming and remain ignorant or forgetful of the proper purpose of government. And so long as they do not see that altruism, the morality used to push global warming hysteria, is wrong.

The only way to successfully oppose global warming hysteria is to reject altruism, which enables it, at its root.

Wrong Metal

Flashbacks seem to be my theme this morning.... Here's another.

Back in March, a report that the steel penny was about to make a comeback caught my eye.

Now, with each new nickel costing more than seven cents to manufacture, our government is talking about doing the same thing with the five-cent piece:
Surging prices for copper, zinc and nickel have some in Congress trying to bring back the steel-made pennies of World War II, and maybe using steel for nickels, as well.

Copper and nickel prices have tripled since 2003 and the price of zinc has quadrupled, said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., whose subcommittee oversees the U.S. Mint.
The story errs in calling this conundrum evidence that "times are tough" without considering why. High commodity prices across the board are evidence that the government has been inflating the money supply.

The fact that they're calling steel a "more economical composition" for the coin oozes irony. This whole problem is a direct result of our government's insistence on an inflatable fiat currency, which has no actual value. So long as the government can print more and more money, nothing can remain "economical" for long.

In addition to numerous interesting charts of commodity prices in gold at Priced in Gold, there is a morbidly interesting pair of charts depicting the price of the U.S. Dollar in gold that should make the point.

(As an aside, I like the following line from a discussion of postage prices in gold: "[U]nless you foresee a strong US Dollar in the future, I suggest that you forget the 'Forever Stamp' and stick with the 'Forever Metal' - GOLD.")

Are all the cons "crunchy" now?

We'll end on a double flashback. Think "crunchy conservative" meets "Newt the Statist".

Via HBL comes news of an advertisement that features Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson joining forces to promote global warming hysteria. Here it is:

And if you're a real masochist, you will find more where that came from, including an ad mentioned by Harry Bisnwanger that stars none other than Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi!

-- CAV