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

    There is an in the New York Times by self-proclaimed ex-skeptic of global warming and former used-car salesman Gregg Easterbrook that proclaims that global warming is no longer scientifically controversial. (Yes, his past life is irrelevant here, but I couldn't resist delivering a well-deserved cheap-shot.)

    This (non-climate) scientist begs to differ. Consider Easterbrook's idea of a definitive argument in favor of man-induced global warming.

    That research is now in, and it shows a strong scientific consensus that an artificially warming world is a real phenomenon posing real danger:

    The American Geophysical Union and American Meteorological Society in 2003 both declared that signs of global warming had become compelling.

    In 2004 the
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    said that there was no longer any "substantive disagreement in the scientific community" that artificial global warming is happening.

    In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences joined the science academies of Britain, China, Germany, Japan and other nations in a joint statement saying, "There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring."

    This year Mr. Karl of the climatic data center said research now supports "a substantial human impact on global temperature increases."

    And this month the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush administration's coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."

    Case closed. [link added]

    So the liberal media, already known as a giant echo chamber, has now adopted, to bolster its appeals to authority, the argument, "If it weren't true, it wouldn't be so loud."

    A layman can be forgiven for taking the word of a scientist or, in this case, a bunch of organizations that purport to speak on the behalf of so many scientists.

    But someone who hangs a shingle out as an expert on "global warming" cannot. He has a responsibility to determine whether there really is such a consensus and on what scientific facts that consensus is based. He should furthermore report these very things, laundry lists of organizations with impressive names be damned.

    And if there is not a consensus, or it is not based on scientific fact, such an "expert" risks becoming part of the real story -- a massive fabrication -- by failing to report that.

    I haven't time to investigate every last institution and person in the above litany, but I know offhand that the AAAS, as the parent of a prestigious journal, Science, is, as such, suspect when it says anything about global warming. I blogged about this awhile back.

    (One question: If a view is
    backed by 1% of all papers and is implicitly backed by a third, how is it a "consensus" view?) So Peiser contests findings published in
    . Fair enough.
    should at least give him a hearing, right? And if he's right, shouldn't these results be published?

    Dr [benny] Peiser submitted his findings to Science in January, and was asked to edit his paper for publication - but has now been told that his results have been rejected on the grounds that the points he make had been "widely dispersed on the internet".

    Let's grant that the findings could be described as "widely dispersed on the internet." But the other results have the credibility of publication in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal, while Peiser's can be dismissed as "junk from the internet" until they are subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny. Furthermore, since scientists generally depend upon data vetted by their peers rather than "junk from the internet," rejection of this study on such flimsy grounds is a disservice to those scientists who read the contested article in Science. They will remain under the mistaken impression that Oreskes is correct until Peiser is published.So at least one of Easterbrook's authorities is probably not quite being honest. Would it be too terribly surprising if other major associations of scientists have also placed political goals over objective truth? How many non-leftist scientists, exactly, are there? (Creationists do not count. They're not scientists.)

    And as to Easterbrook himself, consider that just yesterday, I blogged about how ABC shouted from the rooftops that, "[A]ll but a handful of hurricane experts now agree this worsening bears the fingerprints of man-made global warming," while a real live expert calmly laid out facts and arguments plainly to the contrary. Would it be too far-fetched to believe that Easterbrook is doing basically the same thing? Not to me. Not when his "evidence" consists of appeals to authorities of whom at least one is known to be non-objective about the very issue he is writing about.

    -- CAV

  2. By Gus van Horn, cross-posted from the Gus van Horn blog

    RealClear Politics
    , I have learned of a timely article about the depth of the Saudis' self-proclaimed friendship with the United States. Reporter Nina Shea of The Washington Post reports that, promises and a publicity campaign to the contrary, the Saudis have not cleaned up the numerous incitements to religious persecution for which their textbooks deserve to be famous.

    Saudi Arabia's public schools have long been cited for demonizing the West as well as Christians, Jews and other "unbelievers." But after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis -- that was all supposed to change.

    A 2004 Saudi royal study group recognized the need for reform after finding that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' " Since then, the Saudi government has claimed repeatedly that it has revised its educational texts.

    Well, there's no need to use the scare quotes on my account, but since anyone who dares question Islam "enrages" Arabs, I'm honored to be included with the Christians and the Jews nonetheless.

    In any event, the Saudi embassy, which has shouted proclamations of friendship with the Great Sat-- I mean, the United States from the virtual rooftops, must really be serious this time. It " is also distributing a 74-page review on curriculum reform to show that the textbooks have been moderated."

    As it turns out, this bout of bragging on the part of our Saudi friends amounts to screaming, "'F' is for 'Fantastic'!" So let's take a peek inside some of those nice, new textbooks, shall we?


    " Every religion other than Islam is false." [Remember: This is a


    school. --ed]



    "Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives."

    "It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

    "A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion."


    "Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God."

    "Activity: The student writes a composition on the danger of imitating the infidels."



    "Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him." [Contrast this with the cultural relativism many children in the West grow up with. Or compare this to the fundamentalism others are getting. --ed]


    The 10th-grade text on jurisprudence teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a "free Muslim male." Blood money is retribution paid to the victim or the victim's heirs for murder or injury:



    "Jihad in the path of God -- which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it -- is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."

    And there are plenty more samples where these came from....

    So tell me again why we're supposed to pretend that it was coincidental that so many of the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities were from Saudi Arabia, where Islamic studies in the public schools take up something like a third of the time. Unless, of course, it's because the Saudis have a death grip on so many Islamic schools worldwide....

    Saudi Arabia also distributes its religion texts worldwide to numerous Islamic schools and madrassas that it does not directly operate. Undeterred by Wahhabism's historically fringe status, Saudi Arabia is trying to assert itself as the world's authoritative voice on Islam -- a sort of "Vatican" for Islam, as several Saudi officials have stated-- and these textbooks are integral to this effort. As the report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks observed, "Even in affluent countries, Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools" available.

    And we can count the United States among the "affluent countries" where Wahhabis control a large proportion of Moslem schools.

    This is what most children in some Islamic countries (and some even in America!) are being fed on a daily basis. And it should come as no surprise that the violent ideals of Islam are taught by instructors who are violent themselves.

    Our Urdu teacher was once talking to a few students in the front of the class. A few rows back, a student was causing a ruckus. The bearded teacher told him to shut up and he piped down for a few minutes. The teacher called him by name the second time and again he was quite for a short while.

    Finally, the teacher had had enough. He got up. The entire class went silent. He went over to the student and started slapping him. The student covered his face. The teacher started to slap and punch him on the neck and the back with each hit more forceful than the last. The kid sitting next to the student got up from the desk. The teacher kept on brutally beating the student. The student started crying and fell to the ground within the desk. The teacher grabbed the front of the desk with his left hand and the back with his right. He now started to kick the bawling student. He kicked the student for about 20 seconds. He then went to his desk while swearing. No one said a word.

    It amazes me that anything even remotely human could emerge from -- or, more accurately, in spite of -- such a system. [Note: I do not definitely know that the above account is about a Wahhabi school, although it was in Saudi Arabia, and it was a Moslem school. Narrator Isaac Schroedinger continues, "It is no secret that Muslim parents themselves hand out medieval punishments in the home. ... A teacher could be cruel to his pupils for decades without as much as a telephone complaint." Update: See below.]

    Clearly, a society engaged in such a thorough campaign of mental and psychological mutilation of its own children cannot remotely hope to win against the West -- unless we in the West doubt the superiority of our culture and, in so doing, allow them to win. Such a victory can only come if we fail to them with the choice to reform or die, and if we fail to transmit our culture successfully to our children. Both failures can be averted only if we rediscover our greatness as a civilization, and its root, reason.

    -- CAV


    5-23-06: Issac Schrodinger emails the following.

    For the record: I went to a Pakistani school in Saudi Arabia. The curriculum in that school was roughly based on the material that kids learn in the Province of Punjab, Pakistan. Thus, it wasn't a Wahhabi school.

    In Saudi Arabia, the Arabic term for a school is a madrassa but in the West we only refer to a purely Islamic / Islamist school as a madrassa. In that sense, I went to a non-madrassa.

    My education (I use that term loosely) was relatively tame compared to the brutality that visits the students who attend an authentic religious school


    Note that students in a madrassa are told to memorize the entire Quran. Most of these student, such as the ones in Pakistan, don't even understand Arabic. The Quran is often beaten into them. [my bold]

    I thank Isaac for the clarification. In addition to my gratitude, he has my sympathy and my respect!

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

    Reader Hannes Hacker sent me a link to an amusing of the effects of dropping samples of various alkali metals into water. I won't spoil it by describing the last such demonstration, so I'll describe the second to last by quoting from the clip: "Imagine the effects of dropping a hand grenade into a bath tub."

    This video clip reminded me of a memorable footnote I encountered while reading Oliver Sacks's Uncle Tungsten a couple of years ago. Sacks quotes from an autobiographical account by Linus Pauling, in which he describes how he was able to purchase potassium cyanide as a lad from the druggist:

    Just think of the differences today. A young person gets interested in chemistry and is given a chemical set. But it doesn't contain potassium cyanide. It doesn't even contain copper sulfate or anything else interesting because all the interesting chemicals are considered dangerous substances. Therefore, these budding young chemists don't have a chance to do anything engrossing with their chemistry sets. As I look back, I think it is pretty remarkable that Mr. Ziegler, this friend of the family, would have so easily turned over one-third of an ounce of potassium cyanide to me, an eleven-year-old boy. (86)

    For crying out loud, we have to worry about what adults might do with such substances these days! That's an important point I'll return to shortly, but not before I relate a few more vignettes.

    In parallel with the above story, fellow submarine blogger Bothenook relates that it used to be fairly easy for kids to get guns and ammunition.

    You've all heard the "When I was a kid...." lines.

    Here's one of my own: when I was a kid, nobody in town (Burns Oregon, pop. 1400) even thought twice about seeing two 11 year olds walking down the street with side by side shotguns or 22s slung over their shoulders. I used to go to old man Wentzl's store, buy a box of #4 shot 20 gauge shotgun shells, and John would buy a box or two of 22 long rifle hollow points (Hey, those were the best dammit. We knew that hollow points were the bullet of choice of shooting writers in field and stream, so that's the best, no questions asked!) Hell, jackrabbits were just a couple of feet outside city limits.
    As long as you didn't point the guns back into town, nobody cared
    . That's what kids were supposed to do! [i guess Bo ran out of real "caps" and resorted to busting the ones from this passage, so I've slipped a few in here. My bold, too.]

    Note two things about the passage in bold. (1) Our young gun fanatic knew what safety precautions to take, and I am sure this went well beyond not pointing the gun towards other people. (2) More importantly, he observed these precautions. Part of why he did is nicely summed up by the last two words, "Nobody cared." In other words, the gun-toting kids knew full well that someone would care if they did not act responsibly, and that they'd pay for it. Until (and unless) children become independent adults, it is crucial that adults make it clear to them that the irresponsible actions will have bad consequences.

    Bo's wrote the above passage in reaction to a news story from which he quotes:

    Police closed off most of the Golden Triangle and blocked highway exits to Downtown while they investigated reports of an armed man atop a building on Wednesday afternoon.

    After about two hours of frenzied police activity, officials held a news conference on Penn Avenue and said that they had determined that the man seen by witnesses had only been shooting a pellet gun at pigeons.

    In this day and age, such stories of overreaction on the part of public officials are commonplace. Still, something about that post stuck in the back of my mind, only to be jarred back, so to speak, by the explosive video above and by a story about -- of all things -- how city slickers are moving to the country only to learn about septic tanks the hard way.

    "It's a big frustration," said Tom Miller, an agricultural extension agent who has spent 15 years teaching Maryland residents about septic systems. "This state has half a million households on septic, and many have no idea how to use it."

    Teaching people to use their septic tanks properly doesn't mean they'll do it
    , according to a report last year in the Journal of Environmental Health. After canvassing Ohio counties, the authors found that "at best only a handful of residents" pumped their tanks in response to education about septic systems.

    The solution, the report said, may be more aggressive regulation
    . After systems are installed, few local governments require that they be inspected, pumped out or maintained. [bold added]

    Consider this story in relation to Bothenook's post, and you will see that only a few decades after kids could often be trusted to behave responsibly with firearms, adults cannot reliably be trusted to keep from having to pump human waste from their own property or presumably facing lawsuits for the fact that their negligence can contaminate their neighbors' wells. What's going on here?

    Surely by now, I thought, if the consequences of letting a septic tank overflow were dire enough, there would already be laws on the books and court precedents to take up the slack where a homeowner's desire to keep up his property left off. But then, I realized that there are probably a million ways a negligent homeowner would be able to get off the hook.

    A quick disclaimer before I move on: Much of the following is speculation. I have not researched property rights issues pertaining to septic tanks, but I have a hunch I'm probably on the right track here....

    And when the government does not protect the rights of its citizens, by holding the negligent or the criminal to account, you see both an increase in noncompliance with social norms and the law, and, in response, calls for more preventative action by government officials.

    Our new rural homeowners probably know they'll get a slap on the wrist at most if they let their tanks overflow, and they can just pay someone to clean up the mess anyway, so they skip the common-sense maintenance. Probably, most septic tank overflows are not a big deal when the rights of nearby property owners (vs. the false standards of environmentalism) are considered, but they can be. And when a well does get poisoned enough to sicken someone else, I am sure that every excuse is made to call it an "accident" so the negligent homeowner can escape being made an example of. This will obviously fail to encourage others to be more vigilant about their own tanks.

    And so many of the same people who fight for criminals to be excused from responsibility will support the government taking an ever-larger role in making sure that what ordinary adults and even children used to be trusted to do will get done. A government official will inconvenience you at your own home to make you pump your tanks whether or not you would do that already. And law enforcement will overreact to reports that someone might have something remotely like a gun. And our lawmakers will get closer and closer to banning the possession of firearms outright.

    And if I sound like I am being alarmist, consider some real-life symptoms of our society's failure to transmit its cultural norms to its children. As our society stops holding individuals accountable for their own actions, we see the apparent paradox of more government intrusion into our lives coupled with its less effective protection of our individual rights. This seeming paradox arises because we are attempting to have the government do the impossible: assume the responsibilities its citizens abdicate daily. It is no more possible to have a "centralized morality" than it is to have (the more widely-discredited) centralized economy. Why? For the very same reason: In large part, because no government bureaucracy is all-knowing or omnipotent, which is what would be required to replace the countless decisions made by individuals on a daily basis.

    And so we have stories like this about drivers "refusing to buckle" their seat belts -- as if the government's job is to protect some bumpkin in a truck from his own foolishness (or pay his medical bills) at my expense.

    "Those who still don't buckle up need to know that police officers will be aggressively enforcing seat belt laws throughout the country and that violators will be ticketed," said Phil Haseltine, executive director of the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.

    I submit that someone who worries more about getting a ticket than protecting his own life is not a free man and is unfit to continue living anyway. He is a second-hander focused on what others think rather than on what he should do to live his own life.

    And then we have stories like this.

    An investigation by the
    Los Angeles Times
    found that in the past four years, nearly 16,000 inmates released without serving their full sentences were rearrested, including 16 men who were charged with murder.

    More than a quarter of those were charged with violent or life-endangering crimes such as robbery and drunken driving.

    Some inmates were freed early -- sometimes spending only days in jail -- despite judges' orders that they serve their full terms, the newspaper said.

    A sheriff's department analysis of booking statistics since 1999 found that inmates released early were
    no more likely to be rearrested
    than those who served full terms, the
    said. [bold]

    "No more likely to be rearrested, eh?" If the government were more concerned about protecting its citizens than making sure the criminal element were comfortable in jail, or out of jail altogether, the crimes committed by such should-be inmates would be taken as an argument that they (and perhaps the ones not released early) weren't being held long enough. But in today's responsibility-free society, this is taken to mean that our lousy criminal justice system can continue conducting business as usual. This will encourage crime, not deter or prevent it.

    Our society is failing to transmit the cultural elements necessary for civilized existence to the next generation. If we continue to do this, we will find out that government control of our lives is no substitute for responsible behavior on the part of most citizens.

    -- CAV

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

    Joseph Kellard was kind enough to offer RoR his article recaling his mother on Mother's Day.

    My late mother, Rita, showered lots of love on her children, and she expressed her love to me best in a lesson capsulated by the saying "Be your own person."

    My individuality sprouted at age 7, when the seeds of my atheism were sown. My Catholic school teacher taught that Jesus walked on a body of water, but I doubted this "truth." Years later, I questioned why the equally unrealistic tales of Greek gods were called "myths," but an immaculate conception and a parted sea were "miracles" to be taken on faith

    By 13, I'd rejected religion, refused to make my confirmation and stopped attending church. While my mother voiced her disapproval, she ultimately respected my decisions. She never imposed her beliefs on me. Her unstated yet invaluable lesson was that it's good to think for myself.

    Nonetheless, my mother wielded a strong influence on me throughout my adolescence. Intellectually, through her example as a voracious reader, she instilled in me a life-long love of learning. Morally, she shrewdly dissected people's beliefs and behavior, and fearlessly criticized them when they acted unjustly. Politically, she was a devout liberal of the FDR variety. Her positions seemed well reasoned, and she exemplified how to passionately stand up for your beliefs.

    The more experienced and well-read I grew, however, the more the independent, reasoning mind she'd cultivated in me challenged her beliefs. We often had some heated debates.

    For instance, my mother, a switchboard operator, believed the relatively low wages workers like her made was due to business owners collaborating to pay below what their employees should earn. If true, I asked, then why didn't employers conspire to pay all operators even lower wages? Because, I argued, when employers pay workers below what the free market demands for any labor, other employers will attract those workers with higher salaries, thus raising average wages.

    During such arguments, my mother often stubbornly repeated her positions. She clung to her beliefs -- her faith. And I'd stood by the truth, just like she'd taught me to do.

    While we eventually grew apart, my basic love for my mother never ceased. In part, I always admired her for teaching me, as I eulogized at her funeral, "how not to just passively accept what most people hold as true, but to question them to find the logic in their beliefs."

    Today, this lesson serves as the basis of my philosophy, one of rational inquiry and integrity toward my conclusions. If, instead, my mother had scornfully crushed my independent, individual beliefs early on, I¹d have been robbed of the opportunity to achieve the much greater happiness I've enjoyed since adopting my reason-based ideas. This achievement alone makes a parent's respect for a child's individuality a crucial part of parenting.

    I agree. Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers who teach their children well.

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

    Investor's Business Daily recently ran an interesting editorial on the price-gouging legislation before Congress. The following is an excerpt:

    To an economist, there's no such thing as "gouging" in a market that is free and efficient, and the oil and oil-product markets meet that standard. They have been probed often for collusion and other forms of manipulation, and they have come up clean. Charging the going rate under such conditions is inherently fair. The price is right as long as it's determined by the free market.

    Economists don't call the shots in a democracy, of course, and public anger over high prices can force even the most sensible politicians into a corner. Do they try to educate the public -- and risk losing office in the process -- or do they go with the flow and try to do as little damage as possible? If it's the latter, they can limit the market interference by making sure any price-gouging rule is limited in time and place to some short-term crisis, like a hurricane.

    Unfortunately, the House bill is not designed to fade away. If it were put on the books, it would eventually create price rules of some kind, with stiff penalties for violators and potentially rich publicity for prosecutors. The net effect would be a new price-control regime, and millions of American motorists remember how the last such regime went.

    It's a fundamental rule of markets that setting an artificially low price for something will lead to less production -- an artificial shortage. We don't have gas shortages. We'll have them, as in the 1970s, if oil companies, refiners and station owners are forced through regulation or threat of fines to sell below the market price.

    Even if Congress thinks it's not serious about price controls, it's already done some damage by endorsing the idea that something -- or someone -- other than supply and demand may be to blame for the gas-price spike. In effect, it's drawing attention away from the steps that should be taken and blaming the usual suspects instead.

    I agree with most of the economic analyses, but there is point this article misses that is critical in my mind: it is not knowledge or ignorance of economics that prompted the House to pass anti-"price-gouging" legislation; economics has nothing to do with it. The House voted to outlaw "price-gouging" on moral grounds--animated by the view that profit itself is immoral.

    Consider the argument against "price-gouging" during a disaster--an extreme situation that is often used to highlight the alleged evils of capitalism. Let's say that a disaster strikes an area and the municipal water supply is put out of service. In the absence of the normal supply of water, there will be entrepreneurs who will drop what they are doing, fill up trucks with water, drive to affected area and sell that water for a premium, motivated only by the profit that they will receive. Anti-"price-gouging" would criminalize their profits on the grounds that these entrepreneurs are exploiting those who need water.

    But are the entrepreneurs immoral? Before the entrepreneurs, there was no water to be had. The entrepreneurs chose to reconfigure their lives in an emergency situation to provide a critical good. In exchange, they set a price for their time and energy that would allow them to profit--that is, they sought to get something out of the work that they performed. To force the entrepreneurs to charge less than the price that they would freely choose is to mandate that they be robbed under the aegis of the law. Furthermore, such action prevents others from buying water at a price that they would freely pay given the circumstances.

    Could the victims of the disaster choose not to by water at disaster prices? Of course. Entrepreneurs do not put guns to people's heads saying, "buy from me or else." They say instead, "these is my price; you are free to take it or leave it" and no one has a right to outlaw such terms. Why? Because even in a disaster, one does not have a right to upend an individual's right to live his life for his own sake.

    Now I know that to many people, the above scenario sounds cruel and unfeeling. These people will ask what about charity and human kindness. Charity and human kindness are wonderful things and there never has been a shortage of them to people who have been hurt though no fault of their own; think of the millions of dollars of donations made on behalf of the victims of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Yet charity is not a right and when it is coerced, it is no longer charity. It is human cannibalism--and that's precisely what the House seeks to instill through its anti-price-gouging legislation.

    Thus the "price gouging" debate ultimately hinges upon a moral argument. Furthermore, note that the free-market economists, for all their practical defense of the market, are unwilling to justify their position with a moral argument. They will offer economic truth after economic truth but they will never challenge their opponents directly by simply stating that the market works because people have a moral right to pursue their self-interest. These free-market economists can never win against the advocates of state power--not when their opponents claim that morality is on their side and continue to remain unchallenged.

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

    As promised, here is my report on The Objective Standard's debate on eminent domain between Jeffrey Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council (arguing to preserve eminent domain), and Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute (arguing to abolish it).

    On one level, one has to admire Jeffrey Finkle for chutzpah. Given the massive backlash against the Kelo decision that enshrined the use of takings for private economic development, one would think that here is an issue where one would wish to tread softly, if only out of fear of being tarred and feathered by angry homeowners. Not so with Finkle; for him, eminent domain is a failing community's tool of choice so it can provide the needy with services such as Meals on Wheels.

    I'm not kidding. Meals on Wheels was among the central moral justifications for taking of property--and I use the term "property" loosely. When I asked him for an explicit definition of what he thought the word meant, Finkle outright evaded a question. And in a statement that would make Mussolini proud, Finkle argued that he would not sacrifice the needs of an entire community to some obstinate property holder. At root, Finkle believes that need is virtue.

    It was intriguing to see how Finkle arrived at his position. Individuals acting out of self-interests are usurious slugs; as an example, Finkle argued that grocery stores avoid the inner-city while simultaneously overcharge their inner city customers. Yet put those same people into groups and give them power over other people's lives and they become omni-benevolent. At root here, Finkle believes that selflessness is a virtue.

    And all the while, Finkle battered the audience with package deals. Houston is a disaster because it doesn't have zoning; families are forced to live next to chemical factories. New Orleans could never be redeveloped without eminent domain; abandoned property would remain titled to its last owner forever. No highway would exist without eminent domain; a minority of one could squelch every new avenue and no alternatives save for the takings power exist.

    In contrast, Yaron Brook simply argued that individual rights matter. The right to property is a corollary of the right to life and no less important. People should deal with one another though persuasion and voluntary exchange; not to is to enshrine force as a means to an end and threaten all rights accordingly. The desire for growth is not license to usurp the rights of others. Brook's arguments were clear, they flowed logically, and they explicitly addressed the fundamentals of the debate.

    And in the debate's most telling moment, Brook expanded Finkle's claim that he supported a Quaker's right not to serve in the military (don't ask me what made Finkle mention this; it seemingly fell out of nowhere) to the right of a property holder not to give his property to others. Where Finkle disintegrated, Brook integrated. That's what Objectivists do.

    So in the end, score one for the Objectivists and the debate host The Objective Standard (and its editor Craig Biddle). In my view, The Objective Standard is proving to be everything an Objectivist publication should be and more and I look forward to more events of this caliber.

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

    Need more proof that the Republican are clueless? Then read on . . .

    A top Republican senator on Monday called for Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration more power to review drugs after they are approved for the public, citing a government report that found lingering safety concerns at the agency.

    The report, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, said there is no clear process for the FDA to monitor products once they are sold and that the agency should have the authority to require additional, post-approval studies from drug manufacturers.

    "This report identifies the kinds of problems I've been tracking and investigating for the last two years," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, who released the report. "The FDA needs to make big changes."

    The Iowa Republican requested the GAO review in late 2004 after Merck & Co. Inc. recalled its arthritis pill Vioxx because of links to heart problems.

    The FDA has also been criticized for its handling of other safety issues, including antidepressant use among children and teenagers amid evidence it may cause suicidal behavior.

    "FDA lacks a clear and effective process for making decisions about, and providing management oversight of, postmarket drug safety issues," the GAO report said. "We observed that there is a lack of criteria for determining what safety actions to take and when to take them."

    The FDA sometimes approves products under the condition that companies later provide more data, but it lacks the authority to require such studies in most cases. The GAO said longer trials after approval could "answer safety questions about risks associated with the longer-term use of drugs." [
    Susan Heavey, Reuters

    Great--the freedom to make medical choices for one's self now looms even more distant.

    I have a bold idea: why not simply recognize that people must be responsible for their own choices, including what medicines they are to take? One suspects that such a view runs counter to Sen. Grassley's theory of government; after all, Iowa is a state so fat off of government subsidies to agriculture (which are predicated upon the idea that the American farmer is incapable of running a profitable farm and thus must be rescued from both himself and the market) one wonders if Grassley and his electorate had an independent brain cell between them all.

  8. The Enron case is fraught with belief (in the sense of faith) from one end to another. Alex Epstein noted a few months ago in Capitalism Magazine:

    Most of its executives believed that Enron was a basically productive company that could be righted. This is why Chairman Ken Lay did not flee to the Caymans with riches, but stayed through the end....

    ...Observe that Enron's problem was not that it was "too concerned" about profit, but that it believed money does not have to be made: it can be had simply by following one's whims. The solution to prevent future Enrons, then, is not to teach (or force) CEOs to curb their profit-seeking; the desire to produce and trade valuable products is the essence of business--and of successful life.

    Kenneth Lay's defense team seem to be heading down the same dangerous path. They believe, or at least want the jury to believe that Lay is a good guy. Why believe that? Well, just believe:

    May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Defense lawyers at the fraud trial of former Enron Corp. executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling rested their case in Houston federal court after a Baptist preacher testified in support of Lay's character.

    The Reverend Edwin Young, pastor of Houston's Second Baptist Church, said today that he believed Lay's civic generosity stemmed from the poverty of his youth.

    I'll leave it up to the jury to make the final decision. I haven't heard the evidence. I just hope that they look at the evidence, and don't allow any part of their decision to be based upon believing what a Baptist preacher has to say about a defendent. Lay is either guilty or not guilty. Whatever "civic generosity" in which he may have indulged is irrelevant.

    By Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist

  9. Fannie Flono of The Charlotte Observer liked John Kenneth Galbraith:

    The ideas in that book continue to reverberate in today's discussion of social and economic policy. Economists and politicians differ over the Keynesian ideas Galbraith espoused -- that government intervention is necessary at times to help the economy, particularly during crises.

    But the notion of an America obsessed with consumerism, one where the rich get richer and the working class gets poorer in money and in social services, still resonates. The gap between the rich and poor is wider than it's ever been, and it's getting wider every day. Couple that with an ever-shrinking middle-class and many have found a fresh take on Galbraith's old tome.

    "Government intervention is necessary at times?" "At times" would actually be refreshing compared to the constant breath and life-crushing intrusions. And what is wrong with the rich getting richer? Nothing, if they earned it. Please tell me Fannie, what country are you talking about where the poor get poorer. Surely, not the United States of America. You must be refering to some dictatorship in Africa or South America or Asia. Not in America.

    Get the straight scoop on Galbraith here.

    By Andy, cross-posted from The Charlotte Capitalist

  10. Joe Klein of Time Magazine starts his editorial in the same way that any con man softens up his mark: with flattery.

    A wonderful thing happened in Washington last week. Both political parties tried to bribe the American people past their anger over high gasoline prices, and the public response was a collective guffaw. The Republicans' $100- rebate bribe ... received most of the ridicule. But the Democrats were equally craven, proposing a two-month "holiday" from the 18(cent)-per-gal. federal gasoline tax. This is not to suggest that we have suddenly become a nation of policy connoisseurs with a well-honed sense of energy wonkery. But Americans do have a well-honed sense of baloney when they hear it. Which suggests that there might be an opportunity for political honesty, and for leadership, on this issue.

    Having congratulated his readers for their willingness to listen to honesty, does Klein ask why neither party spoke of an outright repeal of the federal gasoline tax? No. Does he ask why both parties are pushing the notion that it is the government's job to regulate prices? No. Does he ask why nobody is preparing Americans to expect the government to give out fewer handouts in return for lower taxes? No.

    Instead, Klein offers his vision of more government interference with our daily lives as the solution -- and not even to the increased price of petroleum products, but to our "addiction" to the use of fossil fuels -- and hopes you "Americans" will fail to notice that he's grabbing at your freedom.

    Well, I noticed, and here are a few quick questions I have regarding Klein's high-tax "answer".

    [W]e've had a tripling of the oil price per barrel, from about $20 when George W. Bush took office to more than $70 now, and U.S. driving habits haven't changed significantly. Gasoline at $4 per gal. might get the job done, but that could have a very disruptive effect on the economy. How to minimize the disruption? By sending every last penny raised through new energy taxes right back to the public.

    Why hasn't Klein bothered to examine -- American has -- any of the foreign or domestic reasons
    for this price increase, and whether anything -- like fighting our current war more ruthlessly, protecting foreign assets of American energy companies, or abolishing environmental regulations -- might be done about it? Why does he treat this price hike as if it is a bolt from the blue, a message from God, as it were, that more taxation is needed?

    What's even more absurd about Klein's proposal is that he simultaneously offers it as a means of discouraging fossil fuel usage and as a means of "cutting" other taxes. But if his plan succeeds, won't other taxes have to be raised -- since, apparently, every government program is sacred and cannot be cut? He does basically admit this later on, but almost as an aside.

    So why does he even bother to write this editorial? We get the motive and the explanation in one paragraph.

    If we use taxes to discourage antisocial behavior like smoking, we could also use taxes to discourage driving

    a Hummer at 90 m.p.h. on the interstate.

    If we use tax breaks to encourage positive social behavior

    like contributing money to charity,

    we could use tax breaks to encourage energy conservation

    by softening the impact of new energy taxes for those who can least afford to pay more at the pump.


    ranging from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman

    on the left

    to N. Gregory Mankiw -- former head of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers --

    on the right have endorsed the general concept of a revenue-neutral tax shift

    . In 1999, Mankiw suggested lowering income tax rates 10% with the proceeds from a 50(cent)-per-gal. gas tax. His argument was that middle class people do most of the driving and income tax paying, so the tax shift would be a fair trade. [bold added]

    If your sunglasses and your wristwatch are worth about the same amount of money, is a mugger who "shifts" to stealing the glasses instead of the watch giving you a "fair trade". I didn't think so, either. The same goes for "tax shifts".

    Klein is a leftist, and the left is fascinated with the idea of the government as an agent of social engineering. The left likes taxation no less, but since Republicans have stopped being the party of small government -- except for not wanting to be caught raising taxes -- Klein knows that both the left and the right agree that the government is entitled to your money. So he packages his brilliant idea in such a way that numerically dominant, but ideologically bankrupt Republicans can see it was a way to charge higher taxes while not appearing to. He tosses the bone of social engineering to his pals on the left, not that they really need to be told to back this one.

    So Klein correctly sees that our rights are ripe to be violated in an impending orgy of de facto bipartisanship in Washington, but this is only part of why Klein makes his pitch. Yes, the paragraph appeals to politicians, but remember whom he flatters at the beginning (and again at the end) of the article: us, the "Americans". Note that Klein cites a behavior that most of us disdain, smoking, and one that most value, donating to charity. And note that the government already discourages the one with taxes and encourages the other through tax breaks. Note further that most people, if they do not actually support such government action, fail to take it seriously enough as a threat to their rights. The only "trade" Klein proposes to us is that we stop thinking of the money that the government is taking from our pockets and the freedoms it is steadily eroding, and start thinking -- like him -- of what we want other people to be doing, and how nice it would be if Uncle Sam could make them do it.

    Back in the earliest days of our nation's independence, the motto "Mind your own business" was popular. Meddlesome social engineers like Joe Klein are hoping that you will forget it, and the fact that when you support government interference in the affairs of others, you are visiting government interference upon your own. In other words, Joe Klein flatters you as an "American", but hopes that you aren't really an American after all.

    The energy debate has revealed to Americans the fact that politicians in both parties are out of ideas. People like Klein are hoping to capitalize on this revealation by pretending that there is no alternative to a paternalistic state, that there are no other ideas to be had. But this country was founded upon an alternative idea: that man has inalienable rights which the government should protect. We can take Klein's advice and fail to notice, as he hopes we do, that it will make us even less free than we are now. Or we can decide to quit asking the government to do everything for us by forcing others to do our bidding. We can become a nation of aspiring dictators or a nation of free men. That has always been our fundamental choice. I prefer the latter.

    Mind your own business, Mr. Klein.

    -- CAV
    By Gus van Horn, Crossposted from the Gus van Horn blog

  11. That is, why don't they recommend books? After re-reading my post on IP, it dawned on me that while the history of property law is important, I personally don't know much of that history. Wouldn't it be nice if an Objectivist put out a reccomend reading list of good books on the subject like Objectivist and Ph.D. student in economics Isaac DiIanni does on his website for texts on economics? Wouldn't it be nice if every Objectivist scholar listed five essential texts for his field so if you needed to get your bearings on a topic, you would have an easy resource to call upon?

    After all, how long does it take to write a handful of 100-word book reviews of texts that are useful and important in your field of study?

    Update: I hear Scott Powell plans to offer such a list as his website as part of what he calls "A First History for Adults." I've heard nothing but raves about Scott's telephone course on history, so I look forward to seeing his list (and taking his course myself).

    Update II: Art historian Lee Sandstead now has recomendations online too.

    Posted by Nicholas Provenzo, cross-posted from Rule of Reason

  12. Here's another bill (S. Res. 458) that takes the cake. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has proposed a non-binding resolution that says the Senate thinks all American patriot songs, poems and oaths should be recited only in English. (Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) has proposed parallel bill (H. Res 793) in the House.)

    Here's the part of the bill that gets me:

    Whereas the people of the United States are united not by race, ancestry, or origin, but by a common language, English, and by common belief in the principles prescribed in the founding documents of the Nation, especially the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

    That's a strange grammatical construction. The phrase places "English" before the principle of individual rights and constitutional government; while the "and" attempts to make the two equal, there's simply no way one's language can be made co-equal with one's agreement with individual rights. It is like saying the most important thing in life is clean teeth, and freedom.

    If every American and American immigrant really agreed with the principle of individual rights, I wouldn't care one lick what language they chose to sing the nation's hymns in. I don't know about you, but I am of the mind that the Star-Spangled Banner would sound great in Arabic.

    Update: Graig at The Primacy of Awesome pretty much thinks the same way.

    Posted by Nicholas Provenzo, Crossposted from Rule of Reason

  13. Stay tuned for a phone interview with Allen Forkum of . [Editor's comment: Don't touch that dial!] More information will be available at Egoist Solid Vox radio podcast homepage and Thinker To Thinker blog in the near future.


    Ego preparing for the radio podcast show. Photo from Blue Chip Café. The framed image is Cox & Forkum's editorial cartoon, Bar Codes, 12/22/01, p. 110, Black & White World.

    UPDATE 05/27/06:

    Here is a to the interview at Egoist.SolidVox.com and here is the MP3 audio file. Read Allen Forkum's . If you want to comment on the show, please go to Egoist.ThinkerToThinker.com.

    Posted by: Martin Lindeskog, Crossposted from EGO

  14. American supply of energy is being strangled by the policies of U.S. federal and state governments.

    By Andrew Bernstein

    With American consumers currently paying the highest gasoline prices in recent history, and after another winter of high heating costs, many Americans are properly concerned about America's energy future. Predictably, many politicians and commentators blame the "greed" of U.S. energy companies for the soaring prices. The truth, however, is that prices rise when demand increases relative to supply, and that the American supply of energy is being strangled by the policies of U.S. federal and state governments.

    A prime example of such strangulation is the moratorium on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas imposed on 85 percent of America's coastal waters for the past quarter century. Last week, when the House rejected an attempt to lift the moratorium, it sent a powerful message that the strangulation will continue.

    Let us examine some of the other policies that have brought America--a country blessed with abundant natural resources and possessing the technology to produce energy more efficiently than ever--to a state of energy poverty.

    In addition to the moratorium on offshore drilling, the federal government repeatedly refuses to permit oil drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Geologists claim that ANWR holds seven billion barrels of oil, enabling it to add significantly to American energy production. Further, in large measure due to environmental restrictions, America has not built a new oil refinery for more than 25 years, meaning a diminished ability to refine crude oil into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, and other petroleum products. Our refineries run at capacity constantly, making repairs difficult, leaving them more susceptible to breakdowns and fires, and--with most centered in the Gulf of Mexico--leaving the country's supply of refined oil vulnerable to such natural disasters as Katrina.

    Additionally, regulations have made building new nuclear power plants economically uninviting--despite the fact that nuclear plants, operated in free countries, where top minds are liberated to create advanced technology, have proven their reliability and safety. In France, for example, nuclear power provides roughly two-thirds of the nation's electricity. American nuclear plants have had, and continue to show, a superb safety record--and this includes Three Mile Island, whose 1979 partial meltdown led to no deaths or injuries.

    Finally, environmental restrictions also limit production of natural gas, which currently supplies 25 percent of the energy Americans consume, a figure that will rise in the future. Huge natural gas reserves in places such as the Rocky Mountain basins, Alaska, and the Outer Continental Shelf are either "off limits" or have their development severely restricted. These unnecessary restrictions endure despite the fact that the wholesale price of natural gas has quadrupled since the 1990s. As an example of the hurdles placed in front of natural gas companies, producers in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, which holds 39 trillion cubic feet of gas, several years ago saw the federal government suspend the issuing of drilling permits pending the outcome of a second "environmental impact" study. Is this kind of treatment going to encourage more companies to get into the energy business?

    The United States is a country rich in both energy sources and the technology necessary to develop them. But the policies of our own government are preventing such development from occurring. America needs to learn from the bitter experience of England. Last century, a popular expression "taking coals to Newcastle" (a center of English coal production) was coined to indicate the absurdity of taking a product to a place that was plentiful in it. But in the late 1940s, when the British government nationalized the coal industry, shortages and rationing resulted, and taking coal to Newcastle became a grim reality. Similarly, the United States today, with its enormous supplies of oil, natural gas, and other energy sources, is suffering high prices because of restrictions imposed by our government.

    If the U.S. government established freedom in the energy industry by removing environmental restrictions, we would witness a significant increase in domestic production of oil, natural gas, and electricity. This would do more than increase supply and lower prices for American customers. It would herald a new commitment by the U.S. government to economic freedom and capitalism. The relative freedom of the computer industry has led to an explosion of innovativeness and productivity. The same freedom in the energy industry will lead to the same result.

  15. By Alex Epstein
    Every Memorial Day, we pay tribute to the American men and women who have died in combat. With speeches and solemn ceremonies, we recognize their courage and valor. But one fact goes unacknowledged in our Memorial Day tributes: all too many of our soldiers have died unnecessarily--because they were sent to fight for a purpose other than America's freedom.

    The proper purpose of a government is to protect its citizens' lives and freedom against the initiation of force by criminals at home and aggressors abroad. The American government has a sacred responsibility to recognize the individual value of every one of its citizens' lives, and thus to do everything possible to protect the rights of each to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. This absolutely includes our soldiers.

  16. By: Yaron Brook:

    The Senate bill passed last Thursday boosting fines against media companies that violate "indecency" standards is an ominous attack on the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

    Just as the government doesn't fine newspapers that publish cartoons that some Muslims deem indecent, it shouldn't fine broadcasters that air shows that some viewers deem indecent. Viewers are free to change the channel or turn off their TV set if they do not like what they see. They can't be forced to patronize a station they find indecent.

    Moreover, it is the parents--not the government--who should be responsible for determining what their children are allowed to watch on TV.

  17. Crossposted from Literatrix...

    Businessmen are the symbol of a free society--the symbol of America. If and when they perish, civilization will perish. But if you wish to fight for freedom, you must begin by fighting for its unrewarded, unrecognized, yet best representatives--the American businessmen. -Ayn Rand

    This quote is truly appropriate for Harold Evans' new book, a fantastic journey through the history of American innovation over the past two hundred years. (Evans is also the author of The American Century.) Ayn Rand is actually mentioned in Evans' introduction, albeit briefly, so I thought I would start out this review with one of her insights.

    In great dramatic style, Evans tells the stories of dozens of people that have truly turned America into what she is today. They are not all inventors, although some, like Edison, are renowned for their inventions, but they are all innovators: people that had a new idea and through courage, canniness, and sheer unadulterated drive, used their idea to rattle the nation.

    The heavy, high-quality work is just about the right size for a history textbook. It's divided into three sections: Pathfinders of a New Civilization, America Takes Off, and The Digital Age, dealing respectively with three types of innovators.

    Evans first details the people who set the stage for America's emergence into manufacturing and industrialization when the Founding Fathers foresaw a society of landowners and gentleman farmers. His coverage includes everything from the opening of America's waterways for shipping to the quiet political revolution that turned semi-coherent ideas of economic freedom into a reality.

    One of the things that stood out to me most in the first section is the absolute need for good legislation of intellectual property. Government rulings on the matter seemed to segue wildly between refusing to protect a particular inventor's idea at all and handing a canny manipulator a government-enforced monopoly on anything even similar to his invention, choking off people that came up with their own approaches to the same problem. In the swamp of arbitrary and contradictory rulings, inventors could spend most of their time and most of their money just trying to get legal recognition for their work.

    He then tackles the businessmen of the newly formed culture of economic freedom and industrial progress, subdividing into three secondary sections: Inventors, Democratizers, and Empire Builders.

    Inventors is self-explanatory, including such greats as the aforementioned Edison and the Wright Brothers, but also less-famous individuals like Leo Hendrik Baekeland (plastic) and Garrett Augustus Morgan (the gas mask). Their technical achievements through trial and error make for terrific reading, Evans' descriptive style making each story exciting and uplifting. He has a talent for pulling the really essential points from a wealth of complexity.

    Democratizers are those who, while not necessarily being first on the mark with originating a product, came up with the idea of bringing that product to everyone, so that the man on the street could enjoy the benefits of his own car (Henry Ford), camera (George Eastman, Kodak), and bank account (Amadeo Peter Giannini, Bank of America). Some of their innovations have become so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine a day when it was almost impossible for the man on the street with some modest savings simply to get a bank account.

    Empire Builders includes the likes of Walt Disney, Estee Lauder, and Malcolm McLean (container shipping); individuals that leveraged a simple concept into a sprawling industry. In some cases their contributions may seem small, but they are responsible for turning America into more than just a country--into a culture. Some aspects of that culture aren't beloved by everyone, but welding a culture is still quite an accomplishment.

    The Digital Age isn't all computers: it covers the really cutting-edge advances and changes like biotech, and, weirdly, hip-hop culture. As I said, you may not like all of it, but you have to admit that it's had an effect on you, and even the maestro of hip-hop turns out to be a serious, dedicated businessman.

    The book does have some flaws; Evans is semi-liberal in his personal views. He spends a fair amount of time enumerating the charitable contributions of the various businessmen and talking about their altruistic goals, meaning that they weren't just in it for money: they loved their work and what they could provide for their customers. He makes some conclusions that I would consider off the mark, such as his enchantment with the mixed-economy "marriage" between government and business. Still, he does justice to every single one of the businessmen (and women!) that he profiles. So I have to say that despite some small flaws this book gets my complete approval.

    On a sad note, though, my copy of this book has fade-marks from sitting on a shelf in the sun for too long. I can't help but think it's an ominous warning.

    Rating: 5.0

  18. By David Holcberg:

    The House has approved a bill that imposes criminal and civil penalties (up to $150 million for refiners and $2 million for retailers) on any energy company found guilty of "price gouging." But selling at prices some people feel is too high violates no one's rights--there is no such thing as a right to cheap gasoline. Moreover, "price gouging" has no objective meaning or definition--it is in the eyes of the beholder. People who complain about "price gouging" merely want a product at a lower price than it's being sold for.

    Perhaps recognizing the unsolvable problem of objectively defining "price gouging," the House bill does not even attempt to do it, but delegates the task to the Federal Trade Commission.

    But as Jeffrey Schmidt, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition admits, "One of the problems with price gouging is that there are a lot of different definitions of what price gouging is."

    Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has his own "definition": "we know price gouging when we see it."

    "Price gouging" laws are like the sword of Damocles, hanging over the heads of businessmen, who at any time may be found guilty of the "crime" of selling at market prices that politicians deem too high. Businessmen should not have to live under this constant threat; as owners of the products they sell they have the moral right to set the prices.

  19. Originally posted by Nicholas Provenzo from the Rule of Reason blog.

    It seems a Roman Catholic cardinal is a little envious that Islam gets to squelch those who offend its tenets.

    In the latest Vatican broadside against "The Da Vinci Code," a leading cardinal says Christians should respond to the book and film with legal action because both offend Christ and the Church he founded.

    Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who was considered a candidate for pope last year, made his strong comments in a documentary called "The Da Vinci Code-A Masterful Deception."

    Arinze's appeal came some 10 days after another Vatican cardinal called for a boycott of the film. Both cardinals asserted that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that Christians should get tough.

    "Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget," Arinze said in the documentary made by Rome film maker Mario Biasetti for Rome Reports, a Catholic film agency specializing in religious affairs.

    "Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said.

    "This is one of the fundamental human rights: that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected, and our founder Jesus Christ respected," he said, without elaborating on what legal means he had in mind.

    [. . .]"Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you," Arinze said.

    This appeared to be a reference to protests by Muslims around the world over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. [
    Philip Pullella, Reuters

    Consider what is being asked here: Arinze seeks to prevent portrayals of Catholicism that he disagrees with, calling respect for his creed a "fundamental human right" and asking that Catholics take legal steps to prevent the showing of these portrayals.

    But why? How is the demand that the world respect the tenets of one's religious beliefs a "fundamental human right?" Where does this right draw its justification? Is it because God commands it? How is God's alleged commandment binding upon me, if I find no reason to believe in God? How is it that I am bound to genuflect before the mystical whims of others?

    And note that Arinze is not calling for religious liberty--he is not calling for his right to argue for his philosophy free from coercion. Instead, he holds that his faith gives him the right to silence others. So much for the oft-repeated notion that Christianity begat freedom. Arinze, just like the Islamsts who demand that no one blaspheme their prophet, is calling for nothing less than the (re)instillation of religious tyranny.

    Arinze's statement is disturbing; it indicates that even the more Westernized religious creeds are drawing inspiration from militant Islam in seeking to coerce belief. I count that as among one of the worst philosophic signs I've seen in years.

  20. Originally posted by Gus Van Horn,...

    Recently, via TIA Daily, 1I learned of two articles at MEMRI on Moslem reformist intellectuals. One of them, Malek Chebel, has proposed 227 propositions for reforming Islam based on the values of the eighteenth century European Enlightenment. Another, Lafif Lakhdar, proposes 3"religion within the limits of reason", and this Tunisian even goes so far as to say, of the Danish drawings of Mohammed, that:

    Culture should be free, and every artist and every researcher should be free to write about all religions without any restriction. ... [This]includes humor and satire.... That is a secular principle: separation between religion and politics, and between religion and artistic and literary creation, and between religion and scientific research. This is the greatest achievement of modernity. The clerics must not be allowed to intervene in these matters.

    While it is encouraging to see that such intellectuals exist in the Islamic world, my enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that they are a very small minority, and that we are not backing them up enough in the West because we are not doing enough in the current war to see to it that Moslems learn what kind of life their faith alone will cause them to have. (Although Hamastan's steady progress 4(HT: TIA Daily) towards civil war may do this despite our best efforts to prevent 5them from learning this lesson.)

    From what I can tell, the Islamic world is in a sort of intellectual paralysis-cum-awareness of life around it, which reminds me of the Parkinsonian paralysis (caused by the 1918 sleeping sickness epidemic) described by Oliver Sacks in his collection of case histories called Awakenings 6.

    At the end of my first meeting with Leonard, I said to him: What's it like being the way you are? What would you compare it to? He spelt out the following answer: "Caged, deprived, like Rilke's tiger"... .Again and again, with his penetrating descriptions, his imaginative metaphors, or his great stock of poetic images. Leonard would try to evoke the nature of his own being and experience. "There's an awful presence", he once tapped out, "And an awful absence. The presence is a mixture of nagging and pushing and pressure, with being held back and constrained and stopped -- I often call it the goad and the halter. The absence is a terrible isolation and coldness and shrinking -- a bottomless darkness and unreality." (205)

    If the efforts of the above two intellectuals, aided weakly by exposure of the Islamic world to the West, are the "goad", then the enormous burden of intellectual inertia represented by three vignettes I presented 7in a recent roundup, and by this article 8represent the "halter".

    The article is very long and rambling and is notable not just for mentioning the Ayn Rand Institute and Objectivist commentator Robert Tracinski by name, but also for (1) its demonstration of just how serious an obstacle to intellectual development Islam is and (2) some observations that show that the Moslems have a an understanding of the West that, while flawed, is still rather cunning. The article is "Mission reforming Islam" by Abid Ullah Jan. I am not sure whether the title alludes to the television series title Mission: Impossible, but such an allusion would be quite apt.

    The article is quite plainly an anti-reformation manifesto of sorts, as this early paragraph indicates.

    A specter haunts the world, and that specter is Islam. This is not the Islam discoverable in the pages of the Qur'an and life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but a mythical Islam that is the product of the new form of anti-Islamism that Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in the Los Angeles Times (December 4, 2002), says is "outdated domination theology" and that forms the subject of a Ayan [sic] Rand Institute's study by Robert Tracinski significantly entitled "
    A War Against Islam
    (2001). [1] It is an Islam that the New York Times assured us, way back on January 21, 1996, is nothing less than a "menace" to the world and itself. [2]


    Islam-bashing is anti-Islamism at its most radical and totalizing. Its goal is not to advise, but to condemn; not to fix, but to dilute and destroy. It repudiates every thought of reform in any normal sense; it sees no difference between Osama bin Laden and a person sitting in Washington calling himself [sic] "moderate Muslims." To it both are radicals; it views every Muslim action, both present and past, either opportunistic -- in waiting to strike at the right time -- or an act of deliberate aggression. It is not that Muslims went wrong here or there; it is that Islam is wrong root and branch. The conviction at the heart of those who engage in it is really quite simple: that Islam is an unmitigated evil, an irredeemable enormity. [link added, my emphasis]

    The fact that Jan chooses to call the desire to reform Islam "Islam-bashing" should pretty much tell you what to expect from him. But I find it intriguing that he sees something that many followers of reformed religions in the West do not: that such efforts are in fact a call for Moslems to ignore parts of their faith, meaning: a call to choose to ignore the dictates of faith when they interfere with daily life.

    While many religious people of reformed faiths only incompletely reject faith as a means of knowledge, Jan has a firm grasp on what reformation really means: the subordination of faith to evidence and logic when the demands of modern life make it clear that faith is "getting in the way". While most will accept this on some level in order to live their lives on earth, Jan does not.

    Jan, like the Palestinians marching under the banner, "Yes to starvation, no to capitulation", chooses the former, as indeed one who surrenders his independent judgement to what is written in a book must. He says this explicitly, in fact.

    Actually the basic premise and condition set for reformation of Islam negates the core of Islam. Contrary to what Abdou Filali-Ansary from Morocco may look forward to in the Muslim world -- a state of "disenchantment" with pure religious dogma in favor of the ethical principles that underlie it, such that "faith becomes a matter of individual choice and commitment, not an obligation imposed on the community"[4]-- there is no dogma in Islam.

    The choice is open to individuals as long as they have not come to the fold of Islam. The choice ends when one surrenders himself to Allah with heart and soul. Islam is not imposed on individuals. Once one submits his will to the Will of Allah, he has no choice but to obey the divine laws to the utmost and live fully by the prescribed way of life.

    The Qur'an enlightens. One does not come to the fold of Islam to enlighten and reform it. Instead, it is the individuals [sic] who enlightens and reforms himself by embracing Islam in real sense. [bold added]

    "In the real sense" means completely rejecting anything not prescribed by his faith. Obviously, one who defaults on ever thinking critically of Islam ever again cannot reform it. Jan is correct. And as one whose entire basis for judging something as "good" is based on faith, any attempt to reform Islam is wicked and threatening.

    And Jan, the cave-dweller, sees something many in the West do not, and he reiterates this when he says that "Western civilization has become a kind of ism that has to be defended and imposed on the Muslim world at any cost." I do not necessarily agree that we need to reform the Moslem world. A ruthless policy of bombing and isolation would remove it as a threat to my life far more effectively. But the fact remains that whether we take it upon ourselves to civilize the Moslems or threaten them with annihilation unless they do the work themselves, the Islamic faith demands its practicioners kill or enslave anyone who does not convert after being "invited" to join. It is the willingness not to do just this that is the "ism" of which Jan speaks. This "ism" is the notion that man has rights by his nature, and its clear implication is that religion is not a valid excuse to murder or enslave someone else.

    And Jan's cunning shows when he turns the tables on the "forward strategy" advocates. The West lacks a sufficient degree of confidence in itself to present his coreligionists -- the barbarians of the modern age -- with the same alternative it presented to savages in the past: become civilized (or at least stop harming us) or die. A major flaw with the "forward strategy" is that it too easily lends itself to the altruistic interpretation that we should reshape the Moslems for their sake rather than for our own protection. And when we allow the focus to shift to how we may best serve others, it becomes far less clear why it is, exactly, we should make the Moslems change. In fact, they need not reform or renounce their faith at all. But this is easy to forget in the context of the "forward strategy", and especially in Bush's altruistic interpretation of it.

    Jan even cashes in on this confusion by the way he frames the Moslem adoption of governments inimical by their very nature -- as founded on Islamic precepts -- to civilized countries. He couches the adoption of sharia in terms of self-determination, a concept rightly applicable only to a people that respects individual rights.

    [T]he question of whether it is Islam that is to define the state or the state that is to define Islam ... is irrelevant. It is up to Muslims to decide. But the first thing is to let them free from the never ending colonial bondage and interference in their internal affairs. [bold added]

    And Moslems have a very "Red Chinese" interpretation of the meaning of "internal affairs" as the events of September 11, 2001 showed. Nations like Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia do not have an inviolable right to establish totalitarian regimes. In fact, no totalitarian regime -- as a systematic violator of individual rights -- has rights at all.

    Jan also, more like a dog sniffing weakness than a philosopher recognizing intellectual rot, takes advantage of the prevalence of moral equivalence in the West to condemn its defensive war.

    To make the matter simple, we can say that no non-Muslim country is occupied by Muslim these days. Nowhere Muslims are imposing their faith and way of life on non-Muslims through the language of daisey [sic]cutters. [based on Iran's actions, it's a safe bet that this is only because they don't have them. --ed] The idea of Jihad, even in the most convoluted form, is better than the US "war on terrorism," which has infected not only Muslim understanding but also some strains of Western thought. Muslim web sites with titles such as "Azf al Rusas ("The Music of the Bullet") are not as evocative as the US title such as "Shock and Awe" and "Infinite Justice" for practical mass murder of Muslims in the name of freedom and democracy.

    So our use of violent means in answer to being attacked makes us no better than the Moslems. In fact, we are worse because we wreak more havoc! Noam Chomsky himself ghost-wrote this for all I know. The prevalence of moral relativism in the West both primes Moslems educated here to buy this garbage, and Westerners who hear them repeating it to be less likely to support their side in the war. And Jan knows this. Otherwise, his "prophet", the caravan raider, is an unspeakably evil man by the very same standard. That leaves only tactical considerations as a motivation for this utterance.

    Amit Ghate, in discussing the situation with Iran, has already answered this charge very well.

    [T]he key to morally evaluating a war is not by how devastating one side may be, but to decide whether it is fought as a war of aggression or a war of self-defense. The former is to be criticized as irrational and evil, the latter exhorted for its rational recognition of reality. Clearly any US attack on Iran would be one of self-defense, as Iran has been fighting and threatening us since (at least) 1979, and such an attack by the US would therefore be rational and moral, not a reversion to some savage latent tendency.

    Jan's article thus ultimately exposes his faith as the very caricature he claims the "Islam-bashers" make of it.

    [E]very Muslim action, both present and past, either opportunistic -- in waiting to strike at the right time -- or an act of deliberate aggression.

    Your book demands that you attack infidels. Your only case for not seeing that such attacks are acts of aggression is that you turn your mind off when it tells you to attack. And you present disingenuous arguments to disarm your enemy intellectually. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, .... Oh. Forget it. That's not in the Koran.

    Will the reformists or the fundamentalists win in the Islamic world? It's an uphill battle all the way, but the reformists deserve our support.

  21. ObjectivismOnline.net is participating in the new Gmail domain program.

    This means that you can get an @objectivismonline.net email address and use Gmail as your mail interface. Google will manage your mail and provides the storage, so you don't have to worry about the security or reliability of the service.

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    david @ objectivismonline . net

  22. To encourage contributions to the , I am running a simple competition: the person who contributes the most to the Objectivism Wiki during the month of May will receive a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate.

    The winner will be decided by a combination of quantity and quality. I will judge the winner. If no significant contributions are made, the winnings roll over to next month. If the contest is successful, I may put up another $25 next month.

    You don't have to write your own content: over a hundred of our members have allowed all their posts to be used, either with or without contribution in the Wiki. To find them, go to the members page, and click "Toggle More Options." Select "Public Domain" or "Must Attribute" in the "Copyright" dropdown.

  23. Originally posted by Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,

    With gasoline prices across the nation at $3 a gallon, one knows that American oil companies are easy targets for every regulator (and every potential regulator) in town. And when an oil-man-turned-president blames Americans for having an "energy addiction," it is only a matter of time before those that feed that "addiction" come under the gun.

    It's not surprising then that the US House of Representatives just passed one of the worst bills to control the price of fuel since the 1970's era of gas lines and odd/even gas rationing. H. R. 5253, the so-called "Federal Energy Price Protection Act of 2006" grants the Federal Trade Commission the power to define claims of "price gouging" by oil producers and impose criminal fines of up to $150 million dollars and two years in jail. Additionally, the bill would permit courts to award civil damages of up to three times the difference between the "gouging" price and the FTC-determined "fair" price.

    The bill was introduced by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM). Not surprisingly, after reading though the congresswoman's bio, despite the "Spirit of Free Enterprise" award bestowed upon her by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it seems Wilson's has zero background in economics. This is a telling omission, for it evidences that even a rudimentary understanding of economic principles did not drive Rep. Wilson to propose her bill to regulate oil prices. Morality did-and a corrupt morality at that.

    In the government regulator's alternate universe, the producers of things such as oil, healthcare, computer operating systems, or even staples as mundane as "super-premium ice cream" do not live for their own sake. Instead, these and other producers exist solely to assuage the needs of their customers-and it is need and not productivity that is the currency of this universe.

    In contrast, the free market is predicated upon the recognition that each person has a right to live for his own sake-including people who work in the oil industry. Each of us works because our lives and our happiness demands that we be productive. We seek profit for our endeavors, which is nothing more than the return on our investment of time and money after expenses are paid.

    Call the above seemingly obvious points the moral basis of the free market. The free market deserves to be fought for, yet it is precisely the market's moral basis that Rep. Wilson and her fellow would-be regulators seek to overthrow. These regulators say that they will permit producers to profit from their work-but only to a point. Pass that arbitrarily defined threshold and one becomes guilty of "price gouging."

    Yet price is nothing more than the intersection between supply and demand. To criminalize a price on the free market is criminalize our right to set terms for our work and our time. After all, when markets are free, every price is a negotiation and every purchase is voluntary; anyone can choose either to take a price or leave it. In the case of oil, when the price goes up, we can choose to conserve the fuel we purchase by using it in ways that are worth its price, seek substitutes by purchasing more fuel-efficient cars, or in the long term, develop other sources of energy that are cheaper than oil.

    But if high prices are outlawed simply because some regulator decides that too much profit would be made, the incentive to produce is destroyed (along with the inventive for any newcomers to enter the market).

    Additionally, if oil companies had the easy ability to squeeze their customers for usurious profits, one would expect that more people would enter the energy production market so they could get a piece of the action. Why don't those who think they have the expertise to claim the oil companies are price gouging simply drop what they are doing, form an oil company that undercuts the supposed fat cats on price and make a fortune for themselves in the process?

    The truth is, harvesting oil from the Earth and bringing it to market is a complex process requiring tremendous organizational ability and financial acumen. In blaming American oil producers for high oil prices, the oil industry's critics ignore the political situation in the world (such as Iran threatening to unleash atomic jihad or strongman Hugo Chavez's Marxist posturing over Venezuela's oil resources) which leads to oil prices being highly volatile. They ignore the increased worldwide demand for oil, such as from China growing economy. And they ignore the human cost of the weak American dollar, which makes imports more expensive and reflects the world's lack of confidence in America's economic and monetary policies.

    These critics also ignore the of government's other interventions in energy markets, such as the cost of gas taxes, Congress' decision to refuse to allow oil production in ANWR, as well as the cost of mandating 'boutique' fuels under the guise of reduced emissions. At root, anti-price-gouging legislation is nothing less than an attempt to get something for nothing, and shift the blame for America's oil woes from the supporters of government regulation to the men and women who actually work to bring energy to the marketplace. Such is way of those who enshrine need as a virtue.

    If Rep. Wilson's price-control bill passes in the Senate and is signed by President Bush, it guarantees that America will return to the gas crunch era of the 1970s. If energy producers cannot adjust their prices to market forces and are compelled to sell at artificially reduced rates, Americans will see gas shortages at the pump. No legislature on the face of this earth can suspend the law of supply and demand at their will. No legislature can criminalize production and still expect energy producers to keep to their work. It is immoral and it cannot work.

    30 years ago, Americans let Democrats under Jimmy Carter devastate the American economy by enacting their price controls on energy. The real crime will be that the American people might very well allow the Republicans to make the same mistake today.

  24. Originally from Gus Van Horn,

    Via the Protect Patients Now mailing list, medical liability reform will be up for a vote in the Senate next week. Somehow, I don't think they'd object to my reproducing the email here.

    After being postponed a week, today the U.S. Senate introduced important medical liability reform legislation and is scheduled to vote on it next week. Bill S.22,
    The Medical Care and Access Protection Act of 2006
    , includes reform provisions which have proven to be effective at the state level, including reasonable limits on non-economic damages.

    As you know, the U.S. House of Representatives has repeatedly passed reform legislation, only to be blocked in the Senate. That's why we need to make sure our voices are heard by every U.S. Senator -- right away.

    Please take the time
    contact your Senators
    and urge them to support S. 22 and pass the commonsense reforms needed to end medical lawsuit abuse. And please remember to
    spread the word
    to your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors and ask them to contact their Senators using the Protect Patients Now website.

    I'll be sure to keep you updated as this issue develops. Thank you for your continued support.

    I looked for whether Americans for Free Choice in Medicine had anything further to say on this at their web site, but only found a short statement in support of liability reform.

    Here is a PDF file of the entire bill from the link above. The summary sounds reasonable to me, but if anyone with some time and a legal turn of mind -- I only joke about being a lawyer! -- looks it over and sees problems, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

  25. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™,

    I really can't wait to see the Republicans get totally crushed in the fall elections. At one point, Republicans had at least a partial understanding of individual rights and of economics. Now, they are random spouters of the arbitrary. So here, are the Republicans from Fox News: Frist said Tuesday he changed his mind on his plan [to give a $100 per driver tax rebate], opposed by business ... (read more)

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