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  1. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Last weekend, I read a couple of fascinating stories on the recovery from Katrina in New Orleans. In one of them, the reopening of a famous restaurant is announced. The economic disarray of New Orleans is, like much else about it these days, morbidly interesting. My in-laws are trying to sell a house there. You'd think they'd make a killing, what with the housing shortage... Except that there's also a "buyer shortage". Meanwhile, en route to other things, I found the following tidbit. Presumably, then, there are enough high-value bottles there to justify the added time and expense, on the part of the insurer, of a "painstaking process that ... will take years". Wow! Recovery Efforts in Lakeview While there is no doubt that the apocalyptic devastation of the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans will require it to be rebuilt from the ground up, the fate of another area, Lakeview (which I recently <a href="http://gusvanhorn.blogspot.com/2005/12/nolas-future-big-easy-or-big-museum.html">photoblogged), sits on a razor's edge. I was really glad to read this story the other day. Catina Street is the same street from which these striking before, during, and after slide shows come, just to give you an idea of what the Schmolkes were up against in terms of damage to the structure and psychologically. One New Orleanian mentioned in the above article put the latter quite well when he described his cleanup efforts in this manner: "[Y]ou take your entire life and put it on the curb."
  2. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, Ari Armstrong recently posted a nice review of Craig Biddle's Loving Life. His concluding paragraph really captures the value of the book: All true! Also, Ari's article "The Season for Reason" contains an excellent lengthy discussion of the false alternative between religion and subjectivism. (I'm delighted to see Ari making good use of the insights from Leonard Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis, since it was my pleasure to lend the course to him! I hope he continues to find the ideas illuminating in his political activism. Certainly, the course added a rich new layer to my philosophical understanding of the world -- and I'm sure that I have much more to mine from it. I'm particularly glad that both Paul and I have heard it, since we can now condense a vast array of judgments about some idea -- often one commonly found in TOC circles -- into the mere statement of "Oh, that's just so D1.") Ari's Colorado Freedom Report is well worth reading, more so all the time. (Many of the articles are not specific to Colorado politics.) If you'd like to subscribe to the e-mail alert (with quick summaries of and links to new articles), just send Ari an e-mail with a request to join. If you like what you read, please consider a donation.
  3. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, Over the last 500 years, and in particular over the 200 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Man has increasingly filled the once wild and free lands of the United States of America with roads, suburban sprawl, airports, etc. It is time to stop this menace against nature before all the land is gone! Do you realize that: Roughly 5% of America's 2.3 Billion acres are...
  4. Originally posted by Paul from NoodleFood, This was an interesting article about liberal gays opposed to the upcoming San Francisco handgun ban. As these gay female NRA members have correctly observed, gun laws like this have the most severe effect on those who are physically weakest and otherwise least able to defend themseves. Some excerpts:
  5. Originally from Gus Van Horn, This long, somewhat fawning article on Markos "Kos" Moulitsas Zuniga reminded me of this Politburo Diktat post on "Statist vs. Libertarian Blogging" and Myrhaf's reaction to it. Myrhaf summarizes the Commissar's contention and his own disagreement with it. In the Commissar's own words: Perhaps I read Myrhaf wrongly, but I think that he is too hasty to disagree with the Commissar. I would say, instead, that the Commissar made a very good observation on the structural differences between of the left and right sides of the blogosphere, and even on the general "inclinations and personalities" of their respective bloggers, but that he didn't go far enough to explain how these differences arose. Why is the structure of the port side of the blogosphere generally more rigid than that of the starboard? What leads to "statist inclinations" (e.g., a tendency towards control-freakishness by the head honchoes on the left)? Myrhaf provides the underlying cause: Their general epistemologies differ. If you want "to stay comfortable within the liberal cocoon," (i.e., to be comfortable with a given set of illusions), you will spend all your time with the like-minded. All things being equal, those among the like-minded who are most interested in power will gladly take charge, and to keep that power, they will quash dissent. Why? Because dissent threatens the basis of their power, which is the ability to insulate their fellow travellers from having their beliefs tested against reality. With apologies to Ayn Rand, I would put it this way: Where there are people looking to be taken care of, there are those willing to "take care" of them. Where there are proles, there will be leaders. This paragraph from the Kos article should make my point. Note the difference between how "promotions" occur in each side of the blogosphere. A "rightie" blogger, with a good post and a little luck, can get Instalanched, but it's up to him to take advantage of the attention, to cultivate a larger audience as a result. A "lefty" gets promoted as if he's a member of a political party. (And stay with me, that part gets better.) Note also that Kos's idea of "be[ing] the intellectual" isn't really being an intellectual. (The article makes the point numerous times that Kos is not interested in abstract ideas so much as tactics for political power.) Rather, it is the intellectual equivalent of driving a bunch of reliable Democrat lever-pullers to the polls on election day. Any extra attention is at the direction of the higher-ups and so is earned by how well his posts have toed the "party line" (and are perceived to be likely to do so in the future), and therefore how well they help the "cocoon-tenders" maintain the insulating quality of the cocoon. You, the small blogger get attention to the degree you help the head honcho maintain power. And so Kos hand-picks "outrageous" diarists -- the ones who will dutifully spin silk for the cocoon. This is in contrast to having the many eyes of a vast audience of critical readers "voting with their feet" by becoming their regular readers through a process akin to natural selection or a free market. (And someone like Instapundit remains big only so long as those readers find his recommendations reliably useful. Note that I do not think that "the right" is uniformly individualist. Part of it is, but the movement has many strands. This lack of ideological uniformity forces a certain amount of objectivity on the movement as a whole that the left seems to lack.) While it is fun to laugh at the liberals bundling up in their cocoons, and to dismiss them (and their leader Kos) as cranks, the whole phenomenon reminds me of the following quote. Take the Commisar's tongue-in-cheek "Kostria" analogy somewhat literally for a moment. I suspect that most on the left and many on the right would agree with that sentiment. And it certainly seems to describe how Kos runs his blog. Someone else once widely dismissed as a crank, Adolf Hitler, is the author of that quote. As I read the article on Moulitsas, who sounds like a power-luster, and I recalled the posts by Myrhaf and the Commissar, I was struck by the sheep-like quality of many on the left today. These are people ripe for the right dictator to come along. They do not wish to think for themselves, but want to be reassured instead. The question is this: How much are they willing to give up to get this reassurance? After having read The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff, I suspect that the answer might be, "quite a bit". For one thing, if you seal yourself off in a cocoon, you have forfeited your independent judgement. *** The following are a few other reactions I had while reading about Kos, who sounds to me like a villain in an Ayn Rand novel. They are beside my main point, but I wanted to record them anyway. Before putting them down, I want to stress that I do not regard Kos or any other one man as particularly threatening to the cause of liberty. This is a republic, and such men become dangerous only when enough people give them power. I note the following about Kos mainly because he stikes me as the type of man who would rise to power in a sufficiently sheep-like nation. Like Hitler, Kos has a tendency to go into monologues. The article also mentions Kos's public speaking style, which vaguely reminded me of my own very limited impressions of Hitler's style, which I admit could be way off. But if he has the energy and the ability of inspire crowds, he seems not to be as well-rehearsed. Finally, I note that, unlike any comparable figure from the starboard side of the blogosphere, Kos is regularly consulted by the Democratic Party. If Glenn Reynolds had "a standing phone call" from Dennis Hastert, I don't think I would have found out about it only by trudging through a magazine-length article. It would have been all over the mainstream media by now, and there would be a major effort to make such interactions illegal. (Oh wait, but Senator McCain has already taken care of that. Far from this "gotcha" showing why we "need" McCain's bill, it should illustrate just how much danger our freedom of speech is in. If Kos wins a victory for the Democrats, I guarantee that some Republican partisans will enthusiastically revisit restrictions on bloggers.) While I do not think it should be illegal for a political blogger to be involved with party politics, I find it noteworthy that Kos is driving such a huge bus of dependable Democratic voters to the polls. Part of the self-image of many Democrats that I know is their intellectual pretentions. They "think for themselves" and are "nonconformists". But what kind of nonconformist hops onto a bus and lets someone else drive them around without at least looking out the window now and again? As the article puts it so well in closing: This is one bus driving itself off a cliff regardless of the fortunes of the Democratic Party, which has not, so far, fared too well when following his advice
  6. Originally posted by David from Truth, Justice, and the American Way, On my daily drive to work, I am greeted by a crawling, sprawling traffic jam on the other side of the freeway. I can’t imagine what it must be like to spend an hour or more of one’s life every day in the ridiculous drudgery of a traffic jam – I would go insane if I had to get up at 5 am for the commute, like some of my coworkers. (Luckily, I was able to find an apartment that allows me to be at work in six minutes.) The sight of thousands of victims inching forward in mind-numbing drudgery reminded me of a similar scene from my childhood in Soviet Ukraine. A few times a month, I would go visit my grandmother in the city, and we would spend a day buying groceries. A day was necessary, because much of it was spent in line for bread, fish, or the rare “exotic” foods like plums or oranges. Once, we waited four hours for some dried figs, only to find that they had all been sold to the revered yet much-reviled war veterans. I remember someone yelling at the store vendors and accusing them of keeping some figs for themselves and of their apathy towards our fig-less plight. The vendors shouted curses back with the same enthusiasm. Their apathy was indeed obvious, though I would not realize why until many years later. Why should have Soviet bureaucrats care about how long we had to wait for non-existent figs? Why should the bureaucrats in charge of the Dallas roads care about the lives squandered away in the daily commute? I know who did care about our plight: the bazaar merchants who sold us chickens and potatoes. They were tough bargainers, but they were very interested in meeting the wants of their customers. The American supermarket is a bazaar on a grand scale, where I can not only find dried figs 24/7, but a dozen other fruits I have never heard of. We trust entrepreneurs with our bread, so why don’t we trust them with our roads? To a politician, each traffic-plagued driver is a liability, to be appeased by a some highly visible but most likely useless project. How might an entrepreneur look at a traffic jam, if the State did not monopolize transportation? To an entrepreneur, each tired and miserable driver is a goldmine, an income opportunity waiting to be exploited. The misery of the driver is an unmet need, a value waiting for the right mind to come along and provide it. The idea of a traffic jam would be obscene in a free market: millions of unsatisfied consumers are an irresistible magnet for the right investor. Are our roads really as bad as Soviet bread lines? They certainly get far more funding (from money taken from more productive enterprises), but the incompetence can be staggering. I tried to go the bike shop across town today, and ended up stuck in traffic. The lane on the right of me was a HOV lane. It was created by city politicians with good intentions, I’m sure, but since the vast majority of drivers ride alone, it only ends up constricting the lanes available for traffic. Once the volume of cars per lane reaches a critical mass, the traffic slows to a crawl. Do you think political pressure or a calculation by a traffic expert made that decision? Federal funding regulations require new city highways to dedicate an HOV lane, despite studies (from the very highway I was driving) that indicate “a 41-56 percent increase in injury accidents.” Does anyone care? On the right side of the highway, several lanes on the left were closed for an accident earlier in the day. It had taken most of the day to clean up, and the roads were still closed several hours after that. A hundred thousand drivers were delayed in traffic, but who cares? Certainly the police in cars blocking the roads didn’t, and neither did the road workers. Why should they – they are stuck at work, so why should commuters get of any easier? Maybe they were waiting for someone in dispatch to wake up, or perhaps they preferred to wait till traffic died down to drive home themselves. By the time I made it to the bike shop, it had closed, so I stopped by to meet some friends at a sandwich place. It was getting late, and the barmaid looked busy and tired from long day, but when I walked in, she walked over, smiled, and asked, “How can I help you?” Sure beats waiting in line for figs.
  7. Originally posted by Don from NoodleFood, If you have ever debated the issue of limited government versus anarchy with an anarchist, you have undoubtedly run into this argument: "Every government in history has violated individual rights, so what grounds do you have for believing there could be a government that doesn't?" In fact, our own Stephan Kinsella raised this point in his current discussion with Dave Harrison. He said, "All of our experience and history shows all states to ride roughshod over citizens' rights." (Dave's response was perfect: "To some extent or another, depending on the state. And therefore what?") What I want to note is the epistemological error in the anarchist's argument. Specifically, the false view of induction. To take the standard example, suppose I observe a hundred swans, all of which are white. This by itself would not justify concluding that all swans are white. Induction does not work by enumeration. To generalize, you would have to know why all swans must be white -- what in their nature causes them to be white? In the same way, you cannot argue that because all governments have violated individual rights, that all governments must violate rights. You would have to be able to identify something in the nature of government that necessitates the violation of individual rights. Never has an anarchist succeeded at this task. The closest anyone has ever come was Roy Childs, who famously argued that in barring other individuals and organizations from the use of retaliatory force, a government is initiating force. But, as I have argued elsewhere, Childs' argument shares the fatal flaw that plagues almost every anarchist argument: the complete evasion of the requirements of objectivity. In one of her Ford Hall Forum speeches, Ayn Rand read a quote so horrific and illustrative of the point she was making that the audience burst into applause. Rand paused for a moment and explained to the audience that their applause was non-objective, since she had no way of knowing whether they were agreeing with the quote or with Rand. Rand's point is that objectivity imposes requirements, not only in a person's mind, but in how they express themselves in a social context. Each audience member knew why he was applauding, but his applause was non-objective because the person he was trying to communicate with, Ayn Rand, had no means of knowing what his applause was attempting to communicate. The same principle applies to the issue of retaliation. In his open letter to Ayn Rand, Childs disputes Rand's claim that, "The use of physical force -- even its retaliatory use -- cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens." He writes: Morally, a man has the right to retaliate against those who initiate force. In fact, as Ayn Rand pointed out, assuming he is able to do so, retaliation is a moral imperative. Refusing to retaliate against an aggressor is to sanction his aggression -- and to welcome more of it. Yet, if he is living in a society of other men, it is not enough that an individual determine in his own mind that his use of force is retaliatory. Since whether an act of force is initiatory or retaliatory is not self-evident, and since a man who initiates force is by that fact a threat to society, any man who engages in force that has not been proved by objective means to be retaliatory must be considered a threat. This is the deepest reason why the use of retaliatory force must be delegated to the government: an act of retaliation that isn't first proved to be an act of retaliation is indistinguishable from an act of aggression -- and must be treated as such. What, then, are "objective means"? To determine that an instance of force is retaliatory, men must know what the act of force was, the general standard by which guilt is to be determined, and what evidence was used to meet that standard in a particular case. Every member of society must have access to this information. And, of course, each of these elements must be objective (the laws, standards of evidence, and the evaluation of whether the evidence in question meets that standard). By its nature, then, objectivity in retaliation cannot be achieved without a government (assuming we are speaking here of a society of men and not individuals or isolated tribes). If an individual uses force, by that very fact he is an objective threat to other members of society and may properly be restrained, even if he was responding to another man's aggression. He has no grounds for claiming his rights are being violated. Imagine you are walking down the street and a man walks up and punches the person next to you in the face. The anarchist would argue that if you use force to restrain that person, you are initiating force if it turns out that the man he punched hit him first. Yet that is pure intrinsicism. It is non-objective in the same way that the audience's applause was non-objective. He may be retaliating but you don't know it. Contrary to Childs, the point is not that individuals are unable to make objective determinations of what constitutes retaliatory force -- it's that objectivity demands they prove it to every other member of society. Only a government can provide such a mechanism. (The anarchist would of course dispute this last claim as well, but the point here isn't to make the case for limited government -- merely to demonstrate that government is not inherently aggressive.)
  8. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Since Katrina hit New Orleans in August, causing nearly its entire population to leave, only about one sixth of its residents have returned. Least likely to return are the poor, including much of the city's criminal element, many of whom ended up in Texas. This comes as no surprise to me. In fact, a local minister of the Nation of Islam seemed to agree around that time, saying of Houston's large refugee population that, "[T]he ward wars that take place in New Orleans have now moved to Houston." I'm not sure that the "ward wars" have moved to a new arena, but it looks like plenty of other criminal activity might have. While New Orleans has seen its crime rate plummet (Its first post-Katrina murder took place in November.), Houston has just reported a 24% increase in its murder rate. While the refusal to comment on the origins of this increase could simply reflect lack of knowledge, it could also reflect political correctness. In any case, Houston, which recently had to stop taking additional refugees, has added about 100,000 apartment-dwelling refugees, many lured (even from other evacuation destinations) by vouchers for a free year of housing. I have heard several fellow Houstonians complain of an increase in crime and suspicious activity in their neighborhoods since Katrina, and there was recently a large melee, involving arrests, between refugees and native Houstonians in a high school here. (300 of said school's total student body of 2500 hail from the Big Easy.) One reader sent me an email, which I excerpt here, that sounds ... suspicious. While the particular state on the plates was not specified, there are a ton of Louisiana plates on the roads here in H-Town these days. I have my guess for which state's plates were on the Suburban. And while kick-in burglaries were not unique to New Orleans before the storm, it is notable that this email describes the third such burglary since Katrina in a small subdivision that was relatively crime-free beforehand. It is also interesting that a rather notable (and similar-sounding) kick-in/ransack-style burglary also occurred recently in Baton Rouge, another magnet for the New Orleans diaspora. While it is premature to claim that any of these kick-in burglaries has been committed by New Orleans refugees, it is true that Baton Rouge police have had their "hands full since Katrina", having already made 29,000 arrests this year as opposed to 25,000 last year. However, that same report claims that crime in that city is actually down, a contention echoed by the first story I linked to, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram . So the jury's still out on the question of whether Houston has suffered an increase in crime due to its influx of hurricane refugees, but it doesn't look good. -- CAV PS: On this evening's news were two pertinent reports. First, the jump in Houston's murder rate again. Hmmmm. A 70% increase since Katrina, and HPD sounds like its going out of the way to avoid stating what looks almost like a foregone conclusion. Second, there was this unusual crime, which will be hard not to attribute to a Katrina victim. Something's fishy. They mentioned that he's a Katrina evacuee! There must be a catch. Oh yeah.... How will hey manage to blame Bush for this? I'm waiting for that "other shoe" to drop.
  9. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, I recently received the following inquiry by e-mail: I must admit, I wasn't exactly impressed with referenced post from Rod Long: I was particularly annoyed by Rod Long's claim that Ayn Rand "tended to be rather cavalier with questions of casuistry," since if anyone was careless on this issue, it was him in this very blog post. So here's what I wrote to my e-mail correspondent: I think that much more could be said on this difficult topic, but that's enough for me for now!
  10. Originally from Gus Van Horn, At RealClear Politics, there is a John Stossel column about the enormous negative financial impact the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is having on businesses in America. And just what is Sarbanes-Oxley? This comes from Wikipedia. And here's a glimpse at how the government "protects" investors -- at least from their companies expanding too easily or keeping too much of their own profits. Those wishing for more information on this major intrusion of the government into our economy should stop by The Evils of Sarbanes Oxley, a blog on the subject by Thrutch coauthor Amit Ghate.
  11. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Froma Harrop is in a lather because the "blue states", whose residents favor big-government programs and high taxation, have a "disproportionate" number of middle class residents who face the alternative minimum tax. In other words, she's unhappy that the biggest fans of the welfare state get their just deserts at tax time! Wah! And about the higher cost of living in these blue states.... It's largely self-inflicted. These states saddle themselves with additional taxation and regulatory burdens. Unions make labor costs artificially high. And, as Thomas Sowell points out, the blue-staters themselves are responsible for legislating themselves out of affordable housing -- or into massive appreciation, as the case may be. But lest you get excited about seeing Froma Harrop calling for an actual tax cut, read on. I'll pass over whether Harrop includes "those in the middle class who were subject to the AMT" among her "plutocrats" suddenly relieved of part of their federal tax burden. She just wants a different set of legalized criminals passing out the loot after it is confiscated as taxes. I don't know what's more galling here. Is it Harrop's definition of "self-interest" that seems to apply, not to our federal government, but to smaller state and local governments -- but yet not, mysteriously, to individual human beings? Or is it her chauvinistic altruism, which somehow regards wealth transfers okay -- as long as they don't go to "flyover country"? Is it Harrop's collectivist notion that the sin of earning money is to be punished by taxation, or is it her capricious assignment of who gets to be the leech and who gets their blood sucked out? If government redistribution of wealth is so good, why not tax those wealthy blue staters more? (Aren't the blue states better places to live anyway? If so, shouldn't those of us in the red states, poorer by that measure, reap the largesse?) And if taxation is so bad, why not eliminate it for everyone? Harrop either does not know or does not care that she is contradicting herself here. What, Mizz Harrop, is wrong with eliminating taxation entirely so individuals in the blue states can spend money "on their own priorities", "totally without guilt", even if it means those in the red states would, alas, be able to do the same? Haven't the wealthy been "carrying the load far too long"? By what right do we plunder anyone's wealth? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of what I'd like to ask Froma Harrop and her fellow travelers, whose thinking is so disorganized they nearly can't string together three sentences without contradicting themselves. The only things one can count on when reading such screeds is that one's intelligence will be insulted, and that the insult will be far exceeded by one's astonishment at the degree of presumptuousness required of someone who would divide the human race into the looters and the looted. The mind boggles.
  12. Originally from Gus Van Horn, My recent mention of Morgan Freeman's annoyance with Black History Month reminded me indirectly of an article (Scroll down to Joel Kotkin's "A Tale of Two Cities".) I encountered about Houston. It is notable first of all for its succinct comparison of the two Gulf Coast cities that starred in this year's months-long hurricane miniseries, and second for its mention of the way that Houston succeeded in integrating peacefully back in the early 1960's. The following paragraphs tie both of these themes together. That bit about Houston desegregating (and mostly peacefully) because segregation was "bad for business" reminded me further of a very well-done documentary I saw several years ago about that very story. Back when I was in grad school, I was lucky enough to see one of the first public screenings of The Strange Demise of Jim Crow at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. This capsule summarizes it well enough, though it does not do the film justice: "Eldrewey Stearns and other participants reveal the behind-the-scenes compromises, negotiations, and the controversial news black-outs which helped bring about the quiet desegregation of commercial establishments in Houston, Texas between 1959 and 1963." The entire film can be viewed over the internet from the site I link to at the movie title. I highly recommend it because it is very interesting and because it provides a concrete example of capitalism helping to cure racism, as George Reisman might put it.
  13. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, A while back, I listened to Gary Hull's five hour introductory seminar on Objectivism. (It's available for free from ARI's web site.) Although I obviously wasn't its intended audience, I listened to it because I like to see the approach taken in these introductory presentations. I was struck by one interesting tidbit on egoism versus altruism in the second lecture. It's an obvious point in retrospect, but I just never thought of it in such terms. Here's my summary of Hull's basic point, with some additions from me. The basic contrast between egoism and altruism concerns the beneficiary of action. The egoist aims to benefit himself, whereas the altruist aims to benefit others. However, it's not merely self-made benefits that are morally significant, but also self-made costs. Under egoism, if a person makes a mistake (innocent or not), then he ought to pay for it, clean it up, make it right. Each individual person is responsible for his own life, including remedying his errors. So if egoist John mismanages his finances, then it's entirely just and proper for him to lose his house or car to pay his creditors. In contrast, if a person makes a mistake (innocent or not) under altruism, then others ought to pay for it, clean it up, make it right. Other people are morally obliged to help those in need, even if that need is due to the person's own ignorance, poor judgment, or outright vice. So if altruist John mismanages his finances, then the rest of us ought to forgive his debts, donate to charity to help him, pay taxes for his welfare benefits, and so on. In other words, altruism does not merely forbid a person from enjoying the tasty fruits of his own success, but also requires him to eat the rotten fruits of others' failures! At least for me, this perspective on altruism versus egoism clearly highlights altruism's utter rejection of the virtue of justice. Another person's need is all that counts in altruism, regardless of the source of that need. His moral character is completely irrelevant to our supposed obligations to serve him. That's why the whole distinction between the worthy and unworthy poor is treated with such contempt by altruists. (I remember not understanding the presumed wrongness of that differentiation in high school history discussions of early government welfare programs.) Moral judgment is an impediment to altruistic virtue, so it is deemed a sin. Volition is similarly undermined, since the serious altruists are determined to go a step further by denying that people are responsible for the course of their lives at all. They leap upon all manner of silly varieties of determinism (e.g. that his genes or mother or culture or friends made him do it) to hide the fact that a vicious person is morally responsible for his crappy life. I wonder how much other bad philosophy is little more than a rationalization for altruism.
  14. With atheists like Robert Camp, who needs theists? By Keith Lockitch In his Dec. 2 Op-Ed, "Atheists can't prove it, either," Robert Camp criticized my Nov. 17 lecture in Irvine on "intelligent design" creationism, though without mentioning me by name. Camp was unhappy that, in addition to discussing the flaws of "intelligent design," I also criticized religion in general. The creationism controversy, he feels, is a "scientific and pedagogical issue," not a clash between reason and religion. But the view that "intelligent design" is a scientific position, to be answered with scientific arguments, is--as I explained in my talk--precisely the view its promoters are desperate to convey. Though they have no data supporting their claims, their arguments are carefully calculated to appear scientific and non-religious. Why? In hope of skirting the constitutional ban on religion in public schools. This is why the title of my lecture (which Camp also failed... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000522.html
  15. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, Somewhat to my surprise, listening to Edith Packer's Nine Lectures on Psychology and the Mises Institute's Home Study Course in Austrian Economics of late has inspired some thinking about basic relationship between philosophy and those two special sciences. My preliminary view is that the epistemological relationship is basically the same in both cases, but substantially different from the relationship between philosophy and biology, chemistry, and physics. With the sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics, philosophy establishes the basic method of inquiry, namely the logical processing of empirical facts. Philosophy does offer some substantial detail about that practice, including the need for integration and reduction. Yet it offers no detailed instructions for scientists, not even the need for and value of experimentation. (That's too specialized, I think.) Philosophy can also veto certain scientific theories for contradicting established philosophic truths, usually the axioms. However, within the general metaphysical and epistemological framework offered by philosophy, these sciences largely proceed based upon a wealth of empirical observations, such as apples falling to the earth, salt dissolving in water, and plants growing toward the sun. In contrast, both psychology and economics heavily depend upon a wide range of philosophic principles, including those in ethics (for psychology) and politics (for economics). Psychology relies upon a philosophic understanding of the nature and purpose of consciousness, including the survival value of reason, the source of emotions, the basic capacities of consciousness, the locus of free will, and so on. Economics relies upon a philosophic understanding of the nature and purpose of production and trade, including the harmony of rational interests, the role of reason in production, and life as the standard of value. In other words, the foundational principles of psychology and economics, not just its methodology and boundaries, are established by philosophy. A basic task of both psychology and economics is to elaborate upon those foundational philosophic principles, sometimes with the help of empirical research. Yet the major value of the field seems to be negative -- in the sense of considering aberrations from the ideals set by philosophy. So psychology is largely focused on identifying, explaining, and treating defects such as defense mechanisms, neuroses, phobias, etc. Similarly, economics is largely focused on understanding the effects of forcibly preventing individuals from freely producing and trading, such as by price controls, government monopolies, and regulations. Thus philosophy sets the proper normative standards for both psychology and economics, but then the good specialists in those fields offer us a far richer understanding of how to achieve those normative standards -- and what to expect if we don't. This understanding of the different relationship between philosophy and the special sciences explains some interesting differences between the "empirical sciences" of biology, chemistry, and physics and "philosophic sciences" of psychology and economics. The empirical sciences are much older (as distinct disciplines) than the philosophical sciences -- perhaps because they require less in the way of philosophic foundation. Perhaps the philosophic sciences are more susceptible than the empirical sciences to the lunacy of philosophy for the same reason. (Obviously, the empirical sciences can and have been corrupted by philosophy. My point is simply that they were not so quickly corrupted.) The differences between these kinds of sciences also explains why the divisions between philosophy and economics and psychology are less clear-cut than those between philosophy and biology, chemistry, and physics. So that's my preliminary account. Tear it apart, if you please!
  16. Updated: While it is not clear whether these riots have anything directly to do with terrorism, it is plain that multiculturalism and Islam factor in. In that respect, I see the events developing in Australia as part of the larger clash between Islam and the West, and of the "civil war" within Islam as it grapples with modernity and the need for reform. Upon first hearing about the riots in Australia, my initial reaction was, "This is probably an inappropriate, but understandable reaction to some kind of provocation." This seems to be the case. This timeline describes how events unfolded. A bunch of Muslim Lebanese jackasses start the ball rolling by standing-over, frightening, assaulting at law, a bunch of skippy whitebreads at Cronulla beach. "She's not worth 55 years" says one leering jackass to another, standing over a skippy teen in a bikini and her friends, blocking the sun... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000519.html
  17. The Economist reports that mainstream corporate America has recently discovered the immense market clout of Evangelical Christians and is starting to pay more attention to this hitherto neglected market segment. A couple of interesting facts from the article:Christian radio has seen its market share expand from 2.2% in 1999 to 5.5% today. The Association of American Publishers reports that the market for religious books grew by 37% in 2003. The definition of religious books is vague--but religious publishing is undoubtedly growing much faster than the industry as a whole.Even if the religious bit of the media industry is still relatively small, it accounts for a disproportionate share of the "mega-hits". The Left Behind series of novels on the end of days has brought in $650m. Bantam Dell, a mainstream publisher owned by Germany's Bertelsmann, has reportedly paid Tim La Haye an advance of $45m for the next series. The... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000516.html
  18. Originally from Literatrix, David Veksler, the owner of Objectivism Online, recently made me an administrator, which requires that I get more involved in policy decisions. As a result I've had occasion to do some thinking about management in general. I remarked in one ongoing discussion that I've found it's best for institutions to avoid creating rules in an effort to solve problems, and that de facto situations should be made into rules if you want to keep them in place. The reason for this is that organizations like the forum evolve. They start out as the owner and a few people that all know each other. Gradually, as the number of participants grows, there are increasing difficulties maintaining the organization, conflicts over what the "real" purpose of the organization is, disagreements, and sometimes even outright fights. The management's response is frequently to make ever-more-draconian rules and regulations in an effort to control the situation. It works, sometimes, but it engenders so much hostility that something important is lost: the benevolent atmosphere. I've seen it so many times that I'm beginning to despair. Cliched old people are often seen complaining that it's "just not like it used to be around here". Or that "people were friendlier in the old days." Well, this is why. The really sad fact is that it's usually all the result of one jerk, and everything snowballing from there. So how do you solve this problem? Good policy. And the first step to making good policy is the recognition that it has to be flexible. Policy depends on particular personalities, on particular methods, on particular situations; it is immensely context-dependant. This distinguishes it from rules (or laws, when you start talking about government), which are general principles that admit no context, because they are supposed to apply in any context. The answer to a policy question is and should be "ask the boss". There are two corollaries to this answer: if the boss isn't around to make the decision, he has to understand that something he might not necessarily sanction might be done as a stopgap, and the non-boss needs to understand that the boss reserves the right to reverse stopgap decisions. Even the government has policy; that's the primary difference between administrations, for instance. I have noticed, however, that people (a LOT of people, many in positions of power!) make the mistake of failing to distinguish between the two. If you ever want to see policies that became a disaster because they were made into law, look at anti-trust legislation, or anti-obscenity legislation. It is perfectly legitimate for, say, the president to use the prestige of his position to encourage businesses to "play fair", or radio jockeys to refrain from cursing. Those are all matters of policy, and individuals remain free to dissent; no one's rights are being violated. Conversely, it is not legitimate to denounce the president for holding a policy with which you personally disagree. The fact that you voted for him (or didn't) doesn't mean that you can dictate his ideas, either. Drawing the distinction between policy and law helps clear the way to better management of almost any interpersonal relationships.
  19. America's oil companies have earned every penny of their profits. By Alex Epstein Politicians and pundits claim that oil companies' recent quarter of higher profits is mostly a "windfall"--which should be "given back" to society via a proposed $20 billion tax. As Representative Dennis Kucinich and others say, they seek "to tax only excess profits, leaving . . . reasonable profits unaffected." Such taxation is justified because the recent low supply and high demand that led to higher profits, explains economist Dean Baker, "is kind of [the oil companies'] good luck. They didn't do anything to earn it." But America's oil companies have earned every penny of their profits. To characterize any portion of them as an unearned "windfall"--like manna dropped from heaven--is a vicious smear. It is to evade what is truly responsible for their profits this and every quarter: the great value they create and the tremendous thought,... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000514.html
  20. California governor Arnold Schwartzeneger is, as of this writing, weighing clemency for former Crips leader Tookie Williams, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in California. I find the following pair of quotes rather provocative when considered together.First, from a report that there may be riots if Williams is executed:With less than four days to go before Williams' scheduled Tuesday execution, sporadic-yet-credible threats of civil unrest have prompted the council members and representatives from the city and county human relations commissions to ask religious leaders to emphasize a message of peace during weekend services."We picked up information that led us to believe that there were some planned and intentioned acts of violence that could occur in the wake of the decision or the execution planned for Stan "Tookie" Williams," Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, said during a news conference at... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000513.html
  21. The Objective Standard is a quarterly journal of culture and politics written from the perspective that man’s life on earth is the proper standard of morality. According to this principle, that which supports or promotes an individual’s life is good, that which retards or destroys it is evil. The purpose of the journal is to analyze and evaluate ideas, trends, events, and policies with respect to this standard. The Objective Standard is premiering in the spring of 2006. More here including mailing list.... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000512.html
  22. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, In response to to this post linking to this op-ed from Charles Murray on the underclass revealed by Hurricane Katrina, I received the following e-mail. I first read this e-mail as a sort of criticism of my views. Certainly, I'm not one to lament "the plight of the poor" -- certainly not when the poverty, misery, and chaos of a life is the direct result of a person's own moral failures. In fact, the whole point of the label "underclass" is to differentiate those unworthy people from the respectable and self-responsible poor. The people that constitute the underclass are not the victims of injustice or bad luck, as some impoverished people may be. They have created their own misery -- and deserve to wallow in it until they choose to live better. Those who do grow up in such an environment but choose to live better deserve our respect and admiration. Those who do not deserve nothing but contempt. However, when I wrote the author back, I received this welcome clarification: That's an excellent point. I'd like to see more writing on the accomplishments of those admirable people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, rather than on the pathetic misery of those who refuse to act as life requires. In general, it's all-too-easy to pound on evils, particularly given the current state of the world. It's harder to find and admire the good, but the rewards are so much greater. [Note to self: Remember that, dammit!]
  23. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, The proposal would have had Steve Ditko (an Objectivist, who as illustrator was the co-creator of Spiderman) draw the story. The Ayn Rand Estate agreed with the condition that it be drawn by Ditko, who would have been in his late sixties at that time. Unfortunately, according to Todd, Ditko refused because he “didn’t want to be responsible for creating the likenesses of the now-legendary characters of the book as every reader obviously has a different idea of how they would look.” Jim Woods has more here on Steve Ditko and Atlas Shrugged.
  24. Originally posted by Felipe from d'Anconia Online, "History is philosophy and policy teaching by example--every history must be founded in philosophy and some policy." I've been rereading John Adams & the Spirit of Liberty by C. Bradley Thompson, and I'm again hero-worshiping this incredible man, this mind behind the revolution. One of the most important, if not the, most important things I've learned in the past two years is that one's philosophy of life must be learned through induction. That is, on sense-perception and inferences based on sense-perception. In my high school and early college days, I had wrongly found Objectivism to be a justification for having (implicitly) built the foundation of my philosophy of life with "I want" rather than "it is." That is, Objectivism was my justification for my rationalized view of the world. In rereading Thompson's book, I caught something about John Adams that I hadn't caught before: his stubborn insistence on an inductive approach to political science. This approach struck a chord with me, so I wanted to share the relevant passage (p. 119): Simply amazing. In addition to this excellent book, I've been reading Polybius's The Rise of the Roman Empire. Perhaps I will have some comments on his work later.
  25. Tehran, Iran, Nov. 28 – A senior Iranian cleric boasted on Monday that Iran’s uncompromising stance regarding the international deadlock over its suspected nuclear weapons program forced the European Union to retreat over its threats to refer Tehran’s nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council for possible trade sanctions. From Iran Focus. It looks like the EU should start reading Dr.... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000489.html
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