Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Meta Blog

  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


Posts posted by Meta Blog

  1. By Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

    Gideon Reich has reviewed Brian Simpson's Markets Don't Fail!:

    When I finally got around to taking basic micro- and macro-economics in graduate school, it was in many ways a disappointment. I was certainly not an expert, but by this time in my life, I had been exposed to many ideas about how economies ought to work. However, the class I took was nothing like the few books I had previously read. Those books argued for
    laissez faire
    capitalism and criticized government intervention. The instructor and the textbook were united in believing that actual markets are "imperfect" and break down and government intervention is required to keep order and safety. At the time I had some trouble coming up with arguments against market failure since aside from large economics treatises that I did not have time to read, there were seemed to be no concise refutations of such supposed circumstances.

    Today the situation is quite different thanks to Brian P. Simpson, Assistant Professor in the School of Business and Management at National University, La Jolla, California. As its name implies, Simpson's book,
    Markets Don't Fail!
    (Lexington Books, 2005) provides an antidote to the almost universal college economics textbook assertions about market failure. In that respect, it's an excellent resource for those who want to understand the issues behind these claims.

    In his text, Simpson addresses some of the most common claims of market failure, examining issues such as monopolization, externalities, environmentalism, and public goods, just to name a few. In each example, Simpson lays out the strongest case of the interventionist side--and then proceeds to utterly demolish it. An illustrative example is his coverage of externalities. He begins by clearly defining the term "externality":

    An "externality"... is a cost imposed, or benefit bestowed, on people other than those who purchase or sell a good or service. The recipient of the externality is neither compensated for the cost imposed on him, nor does he pay for the benefit bestowed upon him. These costs and benefits are labeled "externalities" because the people who experience them are outside or external to the transaction to buy and sell the good or service. (P.85)

    After further describing the difference between positive and negative externalities, Simpson explains why it is claimed that markets fail in this instance:

    The alleged failure of the market occurs because, it is claimed, the market provides too many goods that produce negative externalities and too few goods that create positive externalities. Too many goods that create negative external effects are allegedly produced because the costs imposed on those who experience the negative externalities are not taken into account in the production of the goods creating the negative side effects. Remember, these costs are imposed on people who neither buy nor sell the goods. If these costs were accounted for in the production of such goods the cost of producing them, and therefore the price needed to purchase them, would be higher. Hence, fewer of them would be produced and purchased.

    The "solution" ... is government intervention into the market. ...It is claimed that the government must take some action to restrict the production of these goods by, perhaps, imposing a tax on the producers of such goods so that these will experience the effects of all the costs they impose on others. (P.86-87)

    Finally, Simpson proceeds to analyze and refute not only the economic arguments behind both positive and negative externalities, arguing that acting on "externality theory in a consistent manner and implement[ing] policies based on it . . . would lead to economic stagnation, a much lower standard of living, and thus a much lower level of individual satisfaction in the economy" but going deeper and arguing that the entire concept of "externality" is philosophically invalid and absurd.

    He concludes the chapter by writing that "[t]he externality argument does not provide any evidence of market failure. The only evidence of failure this argument provides, as with all the arguments against the market, is the failure of contemporary economists and other intellectuals to embrace sound concepts and ideas."

    Markets Don't Fail! is about more than just economics. Just as in the case of externalities above, Simpson presents a multiple level refutation of each of the market failure claims. In a separate chapter he also provides a good review of the positive case for capitalism, showing in detail how capitalism is the only moral social system and rests on an ethics of egoism. Simpson rewards the reader with a wealth of arguments that will help him understand the issues involved--and students of economics will finally have a resource with detailed answers to the false claims so often made in their textbooks.


  2. Originally posted by Jennifer Snow from Literatrix

    This little book by Steven Johnson posts an interesting hypothesis: is it possible that modern popular culture is actually making us smarter? According to Johnson, there's a very good chance that it is.

    In a world where prophetic warnings against the dumbing effects of popular culture are rampant, Johnson's view seems more than a little crazy. However, he points to a number of trends that seem to support his viewpoint, trends he refers to as the "sleeper curve". One of the most intriguing is his mention of the Flynn Effect: an unusual and unexplained rise in IQ scores over the past 30 years.

    Across the board, irrespective of class or race or education, Americans were getting smarter. Flynn was able to quantify the shift: in forty-six years, the American people had gained 13.8 IQ points on average.

    The trend had gone unnoticed for so long because th eIQ establishment routinely normalized the exams to ensure that a person of average intelligence scored 100 on the test. So, every few years, they'd review the numbers and tweak the test to ensure that the median score was 100. Without realizing it, they were slowly but reliably increasing the difficulty of the test, as though they were ramping up the speed of a treadmill. If you looked exclusively at the history of the scores themselves, IQ seemed to be running in place, unchanged over the past century. But if you factored in the mounting challenge presented by the tests themselves, the picture changed dramatically: the test-takers were getting smarter.

    What in popular culture could possibly be responsible for this shift in intelligence? Why attribute it to popular culture at all?

    The real problem is that the Flynn Effect doesn't correlate to anything else. After all, during the same period educational performance has been very obviously decreasing, as evidenced studies of SAT scores and other performance indicators too numerous to mention. If Americans are performing less well as students, (and, in my opinion, being taught increasingly poorly at the same time) how on earth are we getting smarter?

    Johnson's answer: video games. Well, not just video games, but a number of forms of popular entertainment: television, movies, even Dungeons and Dragons. As a gamer, I found this section particularly amusing (bold emphasis mine):

    Once you released your Dwarven fighter into the world, the calculations involved in determining the effects of his actions--attacking a specific creature with a specific weapon under specific circumstances with a specific squad of comrades fighting alongside you--would leave most kids weeping if you put the same charts on a math quiz.

    Which gets to the ultimate question of why a ten-year-old found any of this
    . For me, the embarrassing truth of the matter is that I did ultimately grow frustrated with my baseball simulation, but not for the reasons you might expect. It wasn't that arcane language wore me down, or that I grew tired of switching columns on the Bases Empty chart, or that I decided that six hours was too long ot spend alone in my room on a Saturday afternoon in July.

    No, I moved on from [the baseball simulation] <strong>because it wasn't realistic enough.</strong>

    Does that seem bizarre? Most of the gamers I know have gone through precisely this experience, and decided to design their own system to fix what they perceived as the problems with the existing ones! Remember, also, that we're talking about ultra-complicated hobbies that once only ultra-geeks pursued at all . . . D&D is now huge!

    The trend towards more complicated, and thus more intelligence-raising entertainment can be found everywhere. Yes, appalling junk still exists, but as he says, "even the crap is getting better."

    The book is an interesting read, although Johnson doesn't prove that pop culture is making Americans smarter. He says that a lot more research needs to be done, a fact that only adds to his presentation. How often does some pseudo-scientist notice a correlation between two facts and immediately announce that this necessarily indicates causation as well? Here, at least, we have someone that is willing to say "I have two facts that run roughly parallel, maybe they're related?"

    As for me, I'm hoping this means that, in the future, there will be some TV shows I might actually want to watch.

    Rating: 3.5

    Cross-posted to the Objectivism Metablog


  3. By Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog

    In case anyone needed reminding that social conservatives are not interested in a free economy....

    An attorney with a prominent conservative Christian group says he is troubled by the recent announcement that the popular Internet search engine Google has
    news sites criticizing radical Islam.


    "[users are essentially saying] 'I'll do the decision-making -- the discriminating, if you will -- as to which articles I want to read and which ones I don't,'" says [steve] Crampton [, chief counsel of the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy]. "But when you retrieve only left-leaning articles or only articles that are favorable to the religion of Islam, you're not really providing news. You're providing a slanted view of the world." [one link dropped, one added]

    So far so good -- except that he's not done yet.

    When you consider how large this entity has become, you start to get into a realm where an argument could be made that perhaps this entity now becomes sort of like a public utility

    to the extent that the people rely on Google and Google alone," the attorney states. "
    There may be an argument that the government can step in and regulate Google in a way that it couldn't otherwise regulate a private entity
    ." [bold added]

    And what argument is that? "That obedience to precedent trumps a long-overdue changing of the ways?"

    Here's a news bulletin for Mr. Crampton: Google didn't become big by giving incomplete search results and it won't remain big by earning a reputation for doing so. Aside from the fact that the problem will take care of itself in an unregulated Internet, it is wrong for the government to be regulating (or running) utilities in the first place. Government intereference with any business, large or small, violates everyone's right to production and trade, prevailing practices to the contrary.

    And besides. Considering all the "hate speech" laws and other multiculturalist legislation, the end result of the government getting into the act of deciding what constitutes a "good search result" would probably be even worse than anything Google would dare, boot-licking accomplice of totalitarian regimes that it already is. And once in the business of dictating standards for search results, the government would not be content to tell Google alone how to filter them. And then we'll have a de facto monopoly in place, just like we did in the business of news and commentary over the airwaves in the bad old days of the "Fairness" Doctrine. And remember how "unbiased" and "useful" that was? (Even some conservatives still do.)

    As much as Google deserves to have a pack of Steve Cramptons unleashed upon it, we should oppose such a move for the sake of our economic and intellectual freedom.

    -- CAV


  4. In case anyone needed reminding that social conservatives are not interested in a free economy....

    An attorney with a prominent conservative Christian group says he is troubled by the recent announcement that the popular Internet search engine Google has
    news sites criticizing radical Islam.


    "[users are essentially saying] 'I'll do the decision-making -- the discriminating, if you will -- as to which articles I want to read and which ones I don't,'" says [steve] Crampton [, chief counsel of the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy]. "But when you retrieve only left-leaning articles or only articles that are favorable to the religion of Islam, you're not really providing news. You're providing a slanted view of the world." [one link dropped, one added]

    So far so good -- except that he's not done yet.

    When you consider how large this entity has become, you start to get into a realm where an argument could be made that perhaps this entity now becomes sort of like a public utility

    to the extent that the people rely on Google and Google alone," the attorney states. "
    There may be an argument that the government can step in and regulate Google in a way that it couldn't otherwise regulate a private entity
    ." [bold added]

    And what argument is that? "That obedience to precedent trumps a long-overdue changing of the ways?"

    Here's a news bulletin for Mr. Crampton: Google didn't become big by giving incomplete search results and it won't remain big by earning a reputation for doing so. Aside from the fact that the problem will take care of itself in an unregulated Internet, it is wrong for the government to be regulating (or running) utilities in the first place. Government intereference with any business, large or small, violates everyone's right to production and trade, prevailing practices to the contrary.

    And besides. Considering all the "hate speech" laws and other multiculturalist legislation, the end result of the government getting into the act of deciding what constitutes a "good search result" would probably be even worse than anything Google would dare, boot-licking accomplice of totalitarian regimes that it already is. And once in the business of dictating standards for search results, the government would not be content to tell Google alone how to filter them. And then we'll have a de facto monopoly in place, just like we did in the business of news and commentary over the airwaves in the bad old days of the "Fairness" Doctrine. And remember how "unbiased" and "useful" that was? (Even some conservatives still do.)

    As much as Google deserves to have a pack of Steve Cramptons unleashed upon it, we should oppose such a move for the sake of our economic and intellectual freedom.

    -- CAV


  5. There are many small private schools opening up around Charlotte. Here is the latest. I am friends with the owners and am excited about this:

    Charlotte, NC, June 2nd, 2006 --- Athena Montessori School announced today that it has started accepting enrollments for the Fall for its new Elementary school located at 6151-B Sharon Road (behind the Pilgrim Congregational Church near the Harris YMCA).

    "Although our location is new, we are pleased to be offering Charlotte families the expertise of an experienced and highly trained elementary teacher as our Education Director," states Cynthia Roeth, School Director for Athena Montessori. Roeth is talking about Steven Kreisman, an AMI-certified teacher who has taught at a Montessori school in Charlotte for the past six years and holds a Masters Degree in Education from Loyola College.

    "Mr. Steve (as he is known to children throughout Charlotte) has been a much loved by the many children who have had him as a teacher," Roeth relates. "The common theme I keep hearing from families about him is that he always demonstrates a high degree of respect for the children, which effects the child's self esteem in a most positive manner."

    Athena Montessori School is now accepting applications for children ages six through twelve (grades First through Sixth) for very individualized instruction. "We are intentionally keeping the class size to approximately ten students our first year so that we can truly meet each child's unique learning needs," explains Roeth.

    "Parents should look into Athena if they are concerned that their child may fall through the cracks or not be properly challenged or supported in a larger school setting," Roeth says, "because as the city of Charlotte continues to grow and classrooms become more populated, well, bigger is not always better," Roeth asserts.

    "This is especially true for gifted students or for kids who may be challenged in some way. Their needs can go unmet in a larger classroom."

    Steven Kreisman received his Elementary diploma from the Association of Montessori Internationale and supports Maria Montessori's view that education is a preparation for life and not just an accumulation of information to be tested on and then easily forgotten. "A Montessori learning environment combines the physical, emotional, intellectual, and moral development of the child," explains Kreisman.

    "Our curriculum is rigorous yet respects the context of the child," Kreisman continues, "It offers the essential contents of a classical education from the Ancient Greeks through modern times presented in-depth in a historical, logical, and hierarchical manner."

    For more information on Athena Montessori's curriculum go to www.athenamontessori.com. Contact Cynthia Roeth at 704-840-7501 to register for Athena Montessori's Open House to be held in July, 2006.

    Those who continue to find a "fix" for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools are only delaying a system of rational and politically-free education. In many ways, conservatives who support initiatives to prop up CMS are more dangerous than the liberals who create the CMS mess.

    School such as Athena Montessori are the future. The future can be now, if we just begin the transition from public to private education.


  6. Commenter D. Eastbrook brought the following insulting bit of Islamist sympathy to my attention.

    Today's gym culture seems like the perfect vehicle for nurturing the combination of narcissism and loathing of the masses necessary to carry out a terrorist suicide mission. If some of these attackers viewed their own bodies as pure instruments, and everyone else as wasteful and deserving of punishment, they could just as well have come to that conclusion through absorbing the healthy-living agenda of the gym as by reading the Quran. At the gym, Atta, Khan, and the others could focus on perfecting the self, the body, as a pure and righteous thing -- and hone their disdain for others.

    So, should we shut down all gyms in the name of fighting terrorism? Of course not. It's a ludicrous idea. But no more ludicrous, perhaps, than the infiltration of Western mosque
    s. [bold added]

    Thank heavens we have the stalwart Brendan O'Neill to brave the great government-, media-, and blogosphere-wide conspiracy of silence designed to avert suspicion from Charles Atlas as the originator of the notion that Western infidels deserve to be killed! Had we all but known about the bodybuilding literature that keeps popping up among the Korans and bomb-making materials every time some Afghan cave or Canadian flat gets raided, we'd have known the error of our ways long ago.... Of course keeping an eye on a mosque is a silly an idea as closing a gym!

    It has been nearly five years since the atrocities of September 11, 2001. The murders committed or attempted by terrorists in the name of Islam before, during, and since have been so numerous that there can be no reasonable doubt that Islam plays a role in motivating terrorists. And yet we have a constant parade of leftists telling us that if we're not simply excusing ourselves for waging a senseless war, we are somehow not being intellectually rigorous enough when we settle upon Islam as an animating ideology. In the Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand described this tactic, the argument from intimidation, as follows.

    [it] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: "Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X's argument is false." (139)

    Here, O'Neil is saying something between, "Only the bloodthirsty would insult my intelligence by keeping an eye on a harmless mosque," and "Only someone too happy to jump to conclusions would do a thing like that." Indeed, on that latter score, there is perhaps even more than the argument from intimidation going on, as I will elaborate shortly.

    The goal of such writers is to sap our resolve, by attempting to shame or gaslight us into doubting something that is plainly true, and so to make us less willing to act upon that truth by fighting even the limited war we have waged to this point with the Islamists. The shame is accomplished by the argument from intimidation.

    The gaslighting is an attempt to take advantage of the decades of inflicted upon millions of children in the West. Most people are unable to defend their opinions past a certain point, if at all. O'Neill and his ilk hope to cash in on that fact. Their concern is not debate as a means of reaching truth, but the raising of unwarranted objections in an effort to make Westerners doubt their own conclusions. Want to see some more? Consider the following comment by someone who recently visited my blog.

    I wish to quote you:

    "Islam, which has no strong tradition of rational inquiry or of religious toleration, and which incites violence and murder against unbelievers."

    May I enquire as to the facts on which you base your confidant claim that Islam 'incites violence and murder against unbelievers. Although not a member of the faith myself, I would encourage you to do your homework before resorting to such seemingly authoritative but baseless and misinformed claims.

    You will note that, without having bothered to see how I reached my conclusions about Islam -- or offering one scintilla of evidence to the contrary -- he has already decided that my "claims" are "baseless", and yet that I somehow owe it to him to spoon-feed him all the facts upon which I have reached said conclusion.

    My response is more than this deserved. The relevant part I reproduce below.

    [N]o. I am not going to reproduce this all in detail here, for you, personally. Why? Because if, in the years since September 11, 2001 you really haven't noticed a theme by now, you never will and nothing I can say is going to change your mind. And if you have, and are still asking questions like this, interrogating me as if I am some sort of war criminal, then you are no better than a terrorist yourself. In either case, I am wasting my time.

    I do not owe you an explanation for my views, and I do not intend to give you one. I am finished with this conversation.

    At this point, to ask me to name the facts behind my conclusion about something that the terrorists themselves constantly admit -- that they are moved to act by their faith -- is about as intellectually honest as to demand that I give a detailed description of the entire inventory of events I witnessed that led me to the "seemingly authoritative, but baseless and misinformed claim" that "What goes up must come down."

    By that same line of reasoning, the recent of seventeen bomber wannabes in Toronto was a mistake. The cell phone, batteries, soldering iron, voltmeter, and handgun in this picture being no more instruments for a contemplated murdering spree than the three tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer the group bought. These are just a bunch of talkative electronics enthusiasts who were getting ready for a nice trip to the firing range before a round of intensive gardening. And they just happened to be Moslems. The outrage!

    So let's stop our racist persecution and start banning a few more things already. Clearly, stopping at and model rockets (HT: David Veksler) as we have in America hasn't been enough to protect us from the wild machinations of materials that seem prone to self-assemble into bombs and explode in the near vicinity of piety-mouthing Moslems and myriad unfortunate others denounced as "infidels", coincidentally by other Moslems.

    On a serious note, the hysterical overreaction of our public officialdom to the ability of American citizens to procure certain substances, which I have blogged about before, plays into the hands of the likes of O'Neill, by making the war effort, such as it is, look absurd. And this is aside from the fact that such steps, accomplishing nothing of their stated purpose, are open-ended abridgements of our freedom, made without even the sunset provision a declaration of war would provide.

    -- CAV


  7. We will start a petition against the crazy suggestion to label every computer at a café as a gambling machine. We have a couple of computers for our guests / club members that are designated for educational purposes, e.g., learning how to use different Microsoft software programs. But, theoretically speaking, every PC, laptop, mobile phone, is a potential gaming / gambling machine according to this new court case. What will be the next step?

    From The Register:

    An internet café in Örebro in Sweden has been closed after the local council argued that its twelve PCs were occasionally used for gambling and it therefore needed a gaming permit.

    When protesting didn't help and both the country administrative board and the administrative court ruled in favor of the cafe, the case was taken to the administrative court of appeal in Jönköping, which yesterday ruled that a PC - even in an internet café - automatically becomes a gaming machine if someone plays games with a financial stake on it. (theregister.co.uk, 06/01/06.)

    I ask the same question as The Local: When's a computer not a computer?


    Blue Chip Café, Gothenburg, Sweden.


  8. In response to the mountain of criticism it received for its definition of racism which included having “a future time orientation” and “emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology” [blogged about at ROR ], the Seattle Public Schools has issued the following statement:

    In response to the numerous concerns voiced regarding definitions posted on the Equity & Race website, we have decided to revise our website in a way that will hopefully provide more context to readers around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing to address institutional racism. The intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, our students. Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an “us against them” mindset, nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality. It is our hope that we can explore the work of leading scholars in the areas of race and social justice issues to help us understand the dynamics and realities of how racism permeate throughout our society and use their knowledge to help us create meaningful change. This difficult work is vital to the success of our students and families. Thank you for sharing your concerns.

    Warm regards,

    Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D.

    Director of Equity & Race Relations

    Seattle Public Schools

    I love how the Hollins’ apology still manages to make a muck of it, this time attacking the “unsuccessful concept” of the “colorblind mentality.” Yeah, you know, that old chestnut that leads one to actually believe that race is immaterial to what one thinks or does. And I also love the ode to “open dialogue” and the desire to avoid an “us against them” mindset. Sure, your mentality may be failed, but we still can talk about it.

    I take the above as proof that one can be an utterly flaming idiot who attracts national attention through their buffoonery and still not get fired from the government’s public school system.


  9. Via (HT: The American Thinker) comes the following news from Pakistan.

    The same Islam that pronounces death for conversion to another religion, forces women married to Muslims to become Muslims too. Forced conversions figures reach between 500 to 600 people a year in Pakistan, although "national media report only 100 such cases" that police and the courts "treat prejudicially". This was the most significant conclusion of a meeting on "Forced Conversion of Women and Minorities Rights in Pakistan" held on 26 May in a hotel in Lahore.

    In reading the article, I was at first struck by the fact that no one at this conference roundly denounced this barbaric practice or its close cousin, execution for apostasy, which, if it is not actually legal in Pakistan, apparently might as well be legal. The following passage makes both of these points.

    In Pakistan
    we do not have any law against forced conversion
    and c
    onverting from Islam to any other religion means death
    . To change this state of affairs,
    we must
    consider the issue as a struggle for democracy and
    invite Muslims as well to these meetings
    , so they can help us to better understand all points of view of the argument. [bold added]

    What is there to understand? That the followers of Mohammed are all about telling other people what to do, their rational conclusions and actual wishes be damned? What else would a forced "convert" do for the unholy cause of Islam, but to have the scimitar for "apostasy" hanging over the "convert's" head? Islam is as much as a movement against the free exercise of the intellect as it is an intellectual movement.

    But a possible explanation for this reticence, not to mention at least some of the the reluctance of the government to do anything about the problem comes later in the article.

    Kalyan Singh, a Sikh participant said one of the toughest challenges to overcome was the "subjection of judges to Islamic clerics.
    Judges do not manage to deal with such cases neutrally because they are scared of the revenge of religious extremists

    Joseph Francis, of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement took up this argument. "Our organization has dealt with hundreds of forced conversion cases. Not even the judges of the High Courts deal with such cases objectively. Parents are not allowed to talk to their daughters and many forcibly converted girls are made to be prostitutes."

    In conclusion, participants "forcefully and unanimously condemned forced conversions" and called on the government to "abolish personal laws and to punish those who indulge in such practices". [bold added]

    Hmmm. Makes me wonder about the veracity of this recent claim, by an official of the Pakistani government. You know, the one "allied" with us against the Islamist Axis.

    With this context, the attendees of this conference strike me as quite brave under the circumstances.

    -- CAV


  10. Recall the following from Robert Tracinski's spot-on analysis of the man-made disaster Hurricane Katrina uncovered in New Orleans last year.

    What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. And they don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

    But what about criminals and welfare parasites

    ? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything.

    Do they worry

    about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting?

    But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them

    . [bold added]

    The story goes on, and, sad to say, in the same vein. Nicole Gelinas of City Journal the following reason why New Orleans failed to elect a mayor who would spearhead a much-needed reform of its criminal justice system.


    New York Times

    unwittingly summed up the attitude of the candidates and of New Orleanians in general in its election wrap-up: "Mostly unspoken was the larger reality: that the federal money destined for the city, as much as $10 billion that would perhaps arrive by late summer, would have far more influence on its recovery than the actions of any mayor," the paper noted Sunday.

    Gelinas, whose reporting on Katrina has been superb overall, then misses making a profound point, saying, "New Orleans needs that federal money of course." Yeah. Like I need another hole in my head.

    With the unprecedented, humongous federal bailout of New Orleans in the offing, the federal government is going to do to all of New Orleans what it previously did only for a significant portion of its poor: It is going to debilitate the city even further by insulating it from the consequences of its past mistakes and future actions!

    This is already happening now. The criminals who have been giving Houston such headaches are beginning to return, tired of being arrested and actually doing time for their misdeeds.

    When one is protected from the consequences of his own stupidity, one fails to learn from said stupidity. New Orleans was effectively told by the feds that it need not learn from past mistakes in order to survive. And so it isn't learning.

    All living things -- and it is useful to think of New Orleans as a living thing here -- are confronted with life or death at all times, and must do certain things to achieve the former and avoid the latter. Just as an overindulgent parent fails at child-rearing by cheating a child out of the opportunities to learn that his inevitable mistakes represent, so is our federal government failing New Orleans.

    There is no way to prevent another major hurricane from hitting New Orleans again -- but why should it worry about at least blunting the effects of such an event with better storm protection or if Uncle Sam will cover for it? And there is no way to prevent all crime -- but why should New Orleans prevent barbaric behavior from compounding the tragedy of a storm when the feds will ship its criminals out wholesale, and release them on other unfortunates without warning them first? The feds have done all of these things in the past and have just promised to do them again.

    Our great federal bailout of New Orleans, far from bringing it back, is a hindrance to any meaningful recovery in the same way decades of welfare made its poorest citizens even more destitute rather than raising them from poverty. The government cannot live a citizen's -- or a city's -- life for it. It can feed and sustain it physically to some degree, but in the process, it will destroy its soul -- and in this sense, the government takes its life.

    -- CAV

  11. By Nicholas Provenzo, cross-posted from The Rule of Reason

    I was recently asked about my thoughts on the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha last November. I think we all can agree that current US policy is not to target non-combatants, and certainly not wantonly as is alleged here (I for one think justice demands the investigation be concluded before flying off the deep end).

    Nevertheless, here are a few observations:

    1.) There is no charge of a cover-up, like there was in My Lai during the Vietnam War. The top Marine commanders seem resolute in finding out exactly what took place in Haditha, determine if it was a crime, and prosecute those responsible.

    2.) What does bother me, is if the charges do prove true, this incident indicates a severe loss of moral in at least one Marine unit in Iraq and a general disrespect for the commander's intent. No one has authorized the massacre of civilians as retaliation for the death of American forces. Marines must understand what their commanders seek to achieve and follow their lawful orders to the letter, even if their rage and contempt for the enemy gets in the way.

    3.) That said, I deeply disagree with the idea of an enemy "non-combatant" under the so-called "law of land warfare;" that is, a policy that separates the enemy's fighters from the civilian population that makes the war against us possible. The insurgents don't exist in a vacuum; they move freely in the towns and villages and are given comfort and aid by the local populations. Why then should the Iraqi "non-combatants" who support them be exempt from the full effect of this war, if by targeting them, the war would end sooner, and American lives would be saved? If the Iraqi people are guilty of action against the United States, why shouldn't they pay for it until they chose to surrender? I can think of no honest reason--except the view that the US must sacrifice its men to utter savages.

    4.) And that's why although I would disagree with the actions of the accused Marines if the charges against them prove true, I can understand why it happened. One can only suffer savagery (and the seeming indifference to savagery) to a point. Beyond that point, one does become susceptible to rage and the unjustifiable conduct that comes from rage. If there was a practical plan for victory in Iraq, I don't think men would be driven to massacre innocents. I wonder then if this alleged incident indicates a sense of hopelessness on the ground in Iraq, and if that's the case, I hold that it would be us back home who would be to blame for that.

    At root (and I've said this several times before), the population in Iraq that opposes our troops should feel as much of the horrors of war as did those Southerners who opposed the Union during the American Civil War. I believe America ought to let lose a modern day General Sherman to break the back of the civilian population that supports the insurgents. Let the jihadists come to learn that fighting against the US equals death to everything they hold dear--and a pointless, futile death at that. The men we ask to fight on our behalf deserve nothing less.

  12. By Martin Lindeskog, cross-posted from the Egoist blog

    Why of the Western world? Here is an excerpt from Andy Clarkson's post, Diplomacy With Iran.

    Now that is an interesting offer -- we will talk, if they end uranium enrichment. What's in it for Iran? Nothing. Is this a ploy so that the Bush Administration can say they wanted to be diplomatic while at the same time making an offer Iran would refuse? We'll see. (CharlotteCapitalist.com, 06/01/06.)

    Here is an quote from Robert Tracinski's commentary, Appeasing the Appeasers:

    Within a day of Condi's proposal, the international debate is not--as she had planned--over whether Iran should suspend its enrichment. Instead, as I suspected, the debate is over whether the Bush administration should drop its preconditions for talks with Iran. In other words, having appeased Iran's European appeasers, we are being asked to make even more concessions.

    To their credit, both the
    Wall Street Journal
    and the
    New York Sun
    have identified the proposal as a crucial error. The other good news, according to a
    New York Times
    on the internal White House debate, is that President Bush approved this proposal
    he expected it to fail, allowing him to "check off the box" of diplomacy before he can "confront Iran." (
    , 06/01/06.)

    In the news:


  13. Forbes says that bird flu is waning:

    It may be too early to arrive at a conclusion, but the region where the deadly avian bird flu first erupted in 2003 has had no new human cases reported this year, leading health officials speculate that the virus may indeed have an end point.

    But the bird brain pandemic rolls on...

    Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, a made-for-TV film that experts say played fast and loose with both biology and reality, has prompted U.S. health officials to note that the production was little more than a flight of fancy in the Hollywood tradition.

    According to ABC, which broadcast the movie Tuesday night, it was a dramatization of a worst-case scenario. "It is a Hollywood account that exaggerates and condenses events to create an exciting story", the network said in a statement. Scenes of dead bodies heaped in trucks as terrified survivors huddled together under quarantine undoubtedly alarmed many viewers. [progressive U]

    The good news is that the movie had no effect on those who can think. The following is a live graph from InTrade on the Bird flu (H5N1) to be confirmed in the USA ON/BEFORE 31st December 2006 contract.


    That is what they call a downtrend -- from 80% to 50%. And it is going to keep on going.

    As I said back on March 29:

    I am totally unconcerned about bird flu. I am not denying its existence or that it has in fact killed some people. I am just not buying into the pandemic hysteria.

    I lump bird flu (or avian flu) right in with Alar, global warming, DDT, and other baseless, unscientific scare stories. Claton attempts to invoke fear by alluding to the plague, the 1918 flu, scarce groceries, and battles over food. But he offers no evidence that a pandemic may occur.

    That was very close to the peak. I obviously can't take credit for the peak. But I think a lot of credit goes to the International Herald Tribune articles I quoted which appeared at the peak.

    UPDATE: Bird flu spin.


  14. By Gus Van Horn, cross-posted from the Gus Van Horn blog

    Over at Jewish World Review, the Medicine Men reminded me that a story that has been developing over the past couple of years in Houston is making the rounds again. They summarize what a former nurse-turned-Federal Judge in Corpus Christi found when more than 10,000 silicosis cases from Mississippi ended up in her court.

    Judge [Janis Graham] Jack, a former nurse, couldn't understand how a disease that caused fewer than 200 deaths annually in the entire United States could have resulted in 20,000 claims in Mississippi and surrounding states.

    The diagnosis of silicosis was made in 99% of more than 9,000 plaintiffs by the same nine doctors. One admitted that he didn't even know the criteria for diagnosing the disease, but had simply included a paragraph supplied by the screening company in each of his reports. One doctor had his secretary fill out patient diagnoses on blank forms, while another analyzed 1,239 patients in 72 hours.

    The judge also found that more than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had also been plaintiffs in a previous asbestos suit, with the diagnoses made by the same doctors. She stated that statistics alone should have shown the lawyers that their case defied "all medical knowledge and logic," and that by bringing the suit they had shown a "reckless disregard of the duty owed the court."

    Not that you would necessarily have had to be a nurse to become a little suspicious of the above....

    One news story detailed the litigation factory that had been cynically assembled:

    How were so many "victims" found so quickly? The answer lies not in luck or previous medical oversight but in a well-oiled litigation machine run by an aggressive band of entrepreneurial lawyers. Operating in the shadows of the civil justice system, the machine's sole purpose is to turn people like Carl Thomas into case numbers.

    Like the best machines, the marvel of this one is its simplicity. The law firm hires a medical screening company. The screening company hires a doctor. The two go to work, one bringing people through the front door, the other stamping them as sick. At the end of the day, a clerk at a law firm fills in a few blanks, punches a button and produces a lawsuit.

    It's the job of the screening company to connect with workers. It owns a mobile van, maybe several, that shows up in parking lots to conduct X-ray sessions. By the time the van arrives, thousands of potential claimants have been reached by direct mail, fliers put up in union halls and ads placed in hundreds of small-town newspapers and occasionally on television.

    The X-rays are done at no cost, with the understanding that the results are given to lawyers for the purpose of litigation. The screening company receives a set fee per person tested, as does the doctor who receives the X-rays along with a brief work history of the potential client.

    The goal is volume. In May 2003, Lloyd Criss, owner of defunct screening company Gulf Coast Marketing in La Marque, sent a promotional letter to lawyers that emphasized one thing.


    Our marketing efforts have brought thousands of new cases to plaintiff law firms

    ," the letter stated. "Prior to the year 2000, Lloyd Criss was employed by the Foster and Sear law firm, and in a one-year period approximately 7,000 new cases were added to that firm's inventory." [bold added]

    To the corporations whose pockets were about to be rifled, the enormous number of cases looked like "asbestos all over again". Is it any wonder that Judge Jack took the unusual step of one law firm in Houston, or that she wrote the following blistering rebuke as part of her 249-page decision?

    This small cadre of nontreating physicians, financially beholden to lawyers and screening companies rather than to patients, managed to notice a disease missed by approximately 8,000 other physicians -- most of whom had the significant advantage of speaking to, examining and treating the plaintiffs ... In the majority of cases, these diagnoses are more the creation of lawyers than doctors. Conversely, virtually all of the ... diagnosing doctors seemed to be under the impression they were practicing law rather than medicine.

    We could use a few more Judges like Janis Jack on the bench!

    -- CAV

  15. By Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist ™

    Yaron Brook:

    IRVINE, CA-- "The House's decision to keep a 25-year-old moratorium on oil and gas drilling off much of the nation's coasts is a disgrace," said Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute.

    "At a time when oil and gas prices are hitting record highs, our politicians should be removing, not entrenching, obstacles to oil and gas production.

    "Politicians say keeping the moratorium is justified because oil and gas drilling off the coast would ruin the view and threaten the beaches with oil spills. But there is no such thing as a "right" to an unobstructed view of the horizon.

    Moreover, oil spills are rare events against which oil companies take reasonable and effective precautions. As long as oil companies are held financially responsible for any property damages their activities may cause, we should let them drill at will."

    Jason Lewis at WBT reports that Senators Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole supported keeping the moratorium in place. If you are unhappy with gas prices, blame them. If you agree with the moratorium, then blame yourself -- and not oil companies or politicians.

  16. By Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist ™

    Steven Brockerman has part two of his posts on the life of Ken Iverson of Nucor:

    Iverson's company, now renamed Nucor, opened its first mini-mill in Darlington, South Caroline in June, 1969. Nucor's mission--recall--was to produce good, inexpensive steel for use in making Vulcraft joists and steel grates. But because of Iverson's business plan--lean and mean at every level, non-union workers, performance bonuses and high tech cost efficient production methods--Nucor suddenly found its low-cost, quality steel in great demand. Ken decided that Nucor could--and would--meet that demand.

    Part one here.

  17. Cross-posted from Truth, Justice, and the American Way:

    Wired news is carrying a story on how an out-of-control Consumer Product Safety Commission has made chemistry sets illegal in an orgy of terrorist paranoia. This is a sad development indeed, as many of America's great inventors got into technology experimenting with chemicals and home-made fireworks.

    The chemophobia

    that's put a damper on home science has also invaded America's classrooms, where hands-on labs are being replaced by liability-proof teacher demonstrations with the explicit message
    Don't try this at home
    . A guide for teachers of grades 7 through 12 issued by the American Chemical Society in 2001 makes the prospect of an hour in the lab seem fraught with peril: "Every chemical, without exception, is hazardous. Did you know that oxygen is poisonous if inhaled at a concentration a bit greater than its natural concentration in the air?" More than half of the suggested experiments in a multimedia package for schools called "You Be the Chemist," created in 2004 by the Chemical Educational Foundation, are to be performed by the teacher alone, leaving students to blow up balloons (with safety goggles in place) or answer questions like "How many pretzels can you eat in a minute?"

    The same political idiocy afflicts model rocketry.

  18. Thomas Sowell at Capitalism Magazine on the Duke lacrosse/stripper case:

    The smoking gun is the decision of District Attorney Michael Nifong to postpone a trial until the spring of 2007.

    That makes no sense from either a legal or a social standpoint, whether the players are guilty or innocent. But it tells us something about District Attorney Nifong.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the


  19. by Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist™

    The Capitalist Daughter hooked me on the Harry Potter series. I just finished the fourth book "Goblet Of Fire". I originally thought I would not like the series because of all the spells, ghosts, and other mystical aspects.

    Oh, contraire. The books are a lot of fun and they focus upon Harry Potter's heroic efforts against evil.

    One of Harry's tools is his invisibility cloak. By placing the cloak over his body, Harry is able to move where he chooses without anyone seeing him. The cloak allows others to see completely through itself and Harry as if they weren't there. It is a lot of fun in the book and I can understand why kids would like the idea of such a cloak. Didn't you want the power to be invisible when you were a kid?

    Now, along comes an article from The National Geographic which says that scientists are near to developing an invisibility cloak:

    The theoretical breakthrough is made possible by novel substances called metamaterials.

    Invented six years ago, the man-made materials are embedded with networks of exceptionally tiny metal wires and loops.

    The structures refract, or bend, different types of electromagnetic radiation--such as radar, microwaves, or visible light--in ways natural substances can't.

    "[Metamaterials] have the power to control light in an unprecedented way," said Sir John Pendry, a theoretical physicist at England's Imperial College London.

    Sorry, I am not buying into this. In fact, their analogy is way off-base:

    Schurig likens the effect to a rock in a stream. The rock symbolizes a metamaterial cloaking shell. The water plays the role of electromagnetic radiation flowing around the cloaking shell.

    "Downstream you can't necessarily tell that there was an object distorting the flow," he said, adding that, even from the side, the disturbance is hard to discern.

    When you perceive something visually, say a table, one of your senses (sight via the eyes) is picking up reflected light rays, interpreting them, and sending signals to your brain. If you take a step in another direction, the table will look slightly different to you because your eyes are picking up light which is reflected differently than the light you were seeing before you moved.

    For an invisibility cloak to work, that is, an object would appear not to exist and you could see what is behind is undistorted, would require at least the following:

    1. The cloak would have to be able to re-reflect the light which is coming from behind the cloaked object in an undistorted manner. It would have to be able to act almost like a computer program and manage incredibly small "pixels" so that they are arranged in a way that copies the objects behind the cloak.

    A cloak is of course soft and if the person or object under the cloak moves, then the cloak would have to interpret all of those movements in order to keep the pixels properly arranged and then reflect them out instantaneously and without distortion.

    2. The invisibility cloak would have to know not only where the perceiver and his eyes are, the cloak would have to also track the movements of the perceiver because again, as you you move, you see the reflected light from an object differently.

    Thus, the overall process for the cloak would have to be to "read" reflected light from objects which would normally be blocked from the perceiver if the cloak did not exist. Track those "pixels" of light, take into consideration movements in the cloak, perceive the position of the perceiver's eyes and re-reflect the light out to the perceiver in the exactly "pixel" formation. In the end, the meta-materials of the cloak have to track 1. the object in the distance behind the cloak, 2. the cloak and the object it is covering, 3. the position of the perceiver and what his eyes are perceiving.

    The water analogy is faulty because one drop of water looks like another. As a stream of water rushes by a perceiver, it makes no difference if one molecule is in place of another. But with reflected light if a "pixel" is out of place, then what the perceiver perceives is distorted.

    The above, I believe, is an objective way of looking at this issue. There are several non-objective ways of looking at the cloak.

    An idealist would simply say, "The cloak is a gift from God. God works in mysterious ways including using miracles. The cloak is a miracle." I can't go for that, no-oh-oh.

    The materialist approach would be to say, "Consciousness is a myth anyway. So whether you see something or say it is invisible is irrelevant. We can't really know anything."

    Now, there may be some value to these meta-materials. My guess this whole thing is a publicity campaign for these guys to get funding. But for a magazine such as National Geographic to go along with this cloak hokum is embarrassing.

  20. by Nicholas Provenzo, cross-posted from The Rule of Reason

    You know the oft-repeated conservative meme that the family is the foundation of society (implying that individuals are not)? Here's an example of how that mentality attacks the freedom of people to choose their own relationships. It seems the regulatory overlords of Black Jack, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri have legally defined a family, and if you don't fall into that definition, you are not allowed to chose who you live with.

    The city council has rejected a measure allowing unmarried couples with multiple children to live together, and the mayor said those who fall into that category could soon face eviction.

    Olivia Shelltrack and Fondrey Loving were denied an occupancy permit after moving into a home in this St. Louis suburb because they have three children and are not married.

    The town's planning and zoning commission proposed a change in the law, but the measure was rejected Tuesday by the city council in a 5-3 vote.

    "I'm just shocked," Shelltrack said. "I really thought this would all be over, and we could go on with our lives."

    The current ordinance prohibits more than three people from living together unless they are related by "blood, marriage or adoption." The defeated measure would have changed the definition of a family to include unmarried couples with two or more children.

    Mayor Norman McCourt declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that those who do not meet the town's definition of family could soon face eviction. [

    Has McCourt ever heard of the Declaration of Independence? Has he ever contemplated what it means when ti says that people have a right to their life, liberty and the freedom to pursue their own happiness? Where does he and the five petit dictators of the Black Jack, Missouri planning and zoning commission get off interfering with people and their property? How does the mere fact that an group of unwed people live together in the same house with their children violate the rights of others?

    Stories like this one offend me to the core. They remind me that America has deep problems grasping the principle of individual rights--and if this problem is left unaddressed, it will only grow worse.

  21. By Gus Van Horn, cross-posted from the Gus Van Horn blog

    Via Arts and Letters Daily, I have encountered an interesting analysis of the popular cartoon series, The Simpsons called, "The Simpsons as Philosophy". Julian Baggini, its author, makes several very good points in his essay, but his overall picture is fundamentally flawed.

    I have always been ambivalent about The Simpsons. On the one hand, the cartoon is often brilliant satire. On the other, I have always found its portrayal of the Simpsons insulting because the family is clearly meant to portray the fundamental nature of its audience. The general feel I get from this is not even the occasionally appropriate message, "Don't take yourself too seriously." Instead, it's "Never take yourself seriously at all." Why? Because we're all a bunch of incompetent boobs, and our ideals are nothing better than rationalizations for our true, and very banal, motives. Sorry, but I refuse to think of myself as Homer Simpson.

    On the points that the Simpsons is sometimes brilliant philosophical satire, and that its message is that we are an absurd species living in an absurd world, Baggini fully agrees with me. He states these points in reverse order early in his essay, because he is hoping to make the latter point himself.

    We now know we're just a bunch of naked apes trying to get on as best we can

    , usually messing things up, but somehow finding life can be sweet all the same. All delusions of a significance that we do not really have need to be stripped away, and nothing can do this better that the great deflater: comedy.

    The Simpsons does this brilliantly, especially when it comes to religion. It's not that the Simpsons is atheist propaganda;

    its main target


    not belief in God or the supernatural, but

    the arrogance of particular organised religions that they, amazingly, know the will of the creator


    For example, in the episode Homer the Heretic, Homer gives up church and decides to follow God in his own way: by watching the TV, slobbing about and dancing in his underpants. [bold added]

    Where Baggini and I differ is on this point: He agrees that life and humanity are absurd to the point of reveling in the absurdity, whereas I disagree.

    The origin of this difference of opinion lies in the fundamentally different philosophical outlooks Baggini and I hold. And while I have never heard of Baggini before, and would not have been able to say anything at all about his philosophical views off the top of my head, his essay is unusually frank for something from the popular press. Baggini very conveniently spells out his epistemological beliefs for us!

    Baggini's views on epistemology become apparent when he attempts to explain what he calls a "rich philosophical worldview":

    Revealing simple truths about simplistic falsehoods is not just a minor philosophical task, like doing the washing up at Descartes' Diner while the real geniuses cook up the main courses.

    For when it comes to the relevance of philosophy to real life, all the commitments we make on the big issues are determined by considerations which are ultimately quite straightforward.

    Pointillist paintings, such as this by Seurat, use thousands of tiny dots
    . A rich philosophical worldview is in this sense like a pointillist picture

    - one of those pieces of art in which a big image is made up of thousands of tiny dots (see Seurat image, right). Its building blocks are no more than simple dots, but the overall picture which builds up from this is much more complicated.

    Yet we need reminding that the dots are just dots, and that errors are made more often not by those who fail to examine the dots carefully enough, but those who become fixated by the brilliance or defects of one or two and who fail to see how they fit into the big picture. [bold added]

    This will sound very reasonable to most readers because it assumes and alludes to the inductive nature of human knowledge, that we can neither just make baseless, arbitrary statements to the effect that we know the will of God (or that there is one), nor deduce the whole of an objective worldview from first principles. (These are the two most common fundamental philosophical errors out there, and many, including perhaps Baggini, seem convinced that we are forced to choose between these two false alternatives.)

    However, "commitments" on "big issues" are not insignificant parts of a greater whole, like the dots on a Seurat painting. A consistent thinker will see that the implications of any such "commitment" will affect his notions on other things. An inconsistent thinker will not -- but he has already decided a fundamental issue for himself: that he does not have to think in order to live. The rest of his life will be lived on the whim of the moment or based on premises absorbed passively from those around him (really the same thing, in effect). The pieties he mouths, consistent or not, will not really count as parts of a "worldview" since he will not really understand what they mean.

    The butchers of September 11, 2001 made a "commitment" on the "big issue" of whether there is a God, and on what he thought they should do. They were consistent and they acted on it because the answers they reached on fundamental issues affected the whole picture for them. On the other hand, slothful bumblers like Homer Simpson appear to be inconsistent. They muddle through on whim and on premises absorbed passively from others. Fundamentally, the murder-bombers and Homer Simpson represent two fundamental types: someone who seeks knowledge through faith, and someone who views knowledge as unattainable at all. Both fail to ground their worldviews on objective reality. And both see the entire course of their lives affected by their "commitment" on the "big issue" of epistemology! Some dot.

    The notion that the various and mutually contradictory views the Homers spout represent a rich -- much less coherent -- picture is wishful thinking at best. As Ayn Rand pointed out in
    Philosophy: Who Needs It
    , whether one chooses to be consistent or not, he will live in accordance with a philosophy -- and whether he can explicitly name his fundamental premises or not.

    And so, in stating the point that answers to major philosophical issues are irrelevant, Baggini has stated his allegiance to a subjectivist viewpoint, and to the notion that systematically considering ideas is irrelevant. Unsurprisingly, this leads him to the following nihilistic conclusion.

    Another reason why cartoons are the best form in which to do philosophy is that they are non-realistic in the same way that philosophy is.

    Philosophy needs to be real in the sense that it has to make sense of the world as it is, not as we imagine or want it to be

    . But philosophy deals with issues on a general level. It is concerned with a whole series of grand abstract nouns: truth, justice, the good, identity, consciousness, mind, meaning and so on.

    Cartoons abstract from real life in much the same way philosophers do

    . Homer is not realistic in the way a film or novel character is, but he is recognisable as a kind of American Everyman. His reality is the reality of an abstraction from real life that captures its essence, not as a real particular human who we see ourselves reflected in. [bold added]

    Note that Baggini "richly" contradicts himself in the first two sentences of this quote. According to him, this should not make us doubt that his philosophical conclusions about reality, even though he himself regards philosophy as "non-realistic". And what does he regard as "non-realistic"? Abstraction, which is what man's conceptual faculty does. If you wanted a more explicit rejection of man's ability to reach the truth through reason, you just about couldn't ask for one.

    But Baggini is on to something when he says the following.

    The satirical cartoon world is essentially a philosophical one because to work it needs to reflect reality accurately by abstracting it, distilling it and then presenting it back to us, illuminating it more brightly than realist fiction can.

    This is, in fact why Ayn Rand presented much of her philosophy in the form of novels. Man's mind does not exist in a vacuum, nor does he live in one. To reach objective truth, even -- the adverb is for Bagginis's benefit -- in philosophy, requires a process of abstraction, integration, and the formation and testing of further conclusions against reality -- of induction. And so, as a presenter of a philosophy, Rand did not merely present arguments. She provided examples in support of these arguments.

    So Baggini is correct that this cartoon is good at presenting philosophical ideas to an audience by concretizing them. But then, it is a cartoon, where each episode is independent of the others, and the long-range and real-world consequences of much of what goes on do not obtain. Instead, we "reset" with each new episode, just as Wile E. Coyote would get up every time he fell off a cliff or blew himself up chasing the Roadrunner every Saturday morning when I grew up.

    In other words, if you want to convince someone that they can't think, make fun of brazen mistakes day in and day out -- to generalize the notion that all "commitments" on "big issues" are absurd -- but magically bring the Simpsons back as they were before on the next week to keep your viewer from wondering how these boobs manage to remain alive at all -- to see why they must think. Compare this to the time scale of years in another work of art, Atlas Shrugged.

    And so art can be used to make a philosophy easier or harder to understand (to the extent that it does or does not name principles honestly and explicitly), and easier or harder to absorb (via induction) for its audience. Ayn Rand's novels explain and make it easier for their readers to understand and absorb Objectivism, a philosophy that champions reason as a means of truly understanding the world and of leading one's life. Matt Groening's The Simpsons foists nihilism on its audience by explicitly lampooning specific beliefs, but implicitly lampooning man's rational faculty.

    I found Baggini's essay both thought-provoking for its insight into the ability of art to communicate abstract principles and fundamentally flawed for its own support of the incorrect ideas implicitly advanced by The Simpsons. Baggini seems to argue that philosophical ideas should not be evaluated like points ripped out of context, but yet this is precisely what he argues we should do, as evidenced by his anaology of Pointilism.

    A more accurate analogy would be that certain "big issues" are not single points, but the materials -- like canvas, paint, and the artist's own effort -- that make the art possible at all, and that a bad decision about any of these can ruin the whole picture. Indeed, Baggini's own decision to use this analogy, far from being a little dot in an otherwise good essay, trandforms his essay into a monstrous attack on reason disguised as a puff piece on a popular show. In the process, he has inadvertently demonstrated that his overall point is completely wrong.

    The bigger lesson is that in the marketplace of ideas, as in any other, Caveat emptor.

    -- CAV

  22. By Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist ™

    We are often judged by the company we keep. Sometimes it is fair, sometimes not. In this case I think it is fair.

    A looter in Venezuela:

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will raise taxes on foreign oil producers, grabbing a larger share of windfall profit from companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

    Looters here in the U.S.:

    Senator Trent Lott in The Olympian: "The message to the oil companies is, 'Hold down your price of gasoline and it better start sliding back the other way,' " said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. "If they don't control it, and if they continue to have prices go up, profits go up and salaries go up, Congress will do something that might not have the beneficial long-term effect," Lott told CNN's "Late Edition."

    Senators Arlen Specter and Carl Levin at WFRV: Lott's comments came a week after Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoed the Democratic call for a windfall profits tax when oil prices top $50 a barrel.

    Senator Carl Levin appeared on CNN's "Late Edition" with Specter. The Michigan Democrat said he believes gas prices "would come down within a matter of days" if President Bush told oil companies that he was going to support a windfall profits tax.

    Senator Chuck Schumer at ABC News: Schumer also supported a windfall profits tax on the oil companies making record profits as drivers pay more at the pumps.

    A bunch of looters all.

  • Create New...