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Jay P

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  1. If somebody really doesn't care about man's nature and epistemology (that is, he doesn't care to understand how he can know what is true) then I don't think there's much you can do to reach him. He has tossed out his tool of survival - his mind, and will believe anything he feels like believing. Why would he be willing to consider any argument somebody made? If he has thrown out epistemology - no matter what you'd say to him, his response would just be some variant of "but I feel you're wrong." Others here have given a good summary of what's wrong with accepting Pascal's wager. That is: to live a life based on the fear that there might be some fairy-tale monster (God) ready to burn you for eternity if you don't believe in him, means you'd have to base your life on something that doesn't exist. You'd be giving up the use of your mind; your whole life would be lived in service to a lie. Living one's life in accordance with reality matters: it's how we gain values. Also, living in fear of eternal damnation if you don't do exactly what some God supposedly wants, means one would go through life thinking that the universe is a quite malevolent place. And all for no reason, because the universe isn't malevolent at all. Then there's the problem of which god to believe in. I honestly don't know how the various religionists answer this objection: how can they use Pascal's wager to advocate being a Christian versus a Moslem? (And more: look at all of the groups of Christians who consider the other variants to be not true Christianity. In the past these groups have quite literally created living hell for each other - such as burning people at the stake who don't subscribe to the right variant of superstition.) To whom would Pascal's wager appeal? A skeptic I suppose: one who goes through life thinking "well, you never know...." Somebody afraid to take a stand on anything.
  2. ARI is doing a great job spreading Objectivism and, most importantly, educating future Objectivist intellectuals. Today there are many books written by Objectivists who have been educated in ARI's academic programs; there are many high-school students reading Ayn Rand's books due to ARI's efforts; there are frequent Objectivist op-eds, TV and radio appearances; and then there are long-term projects like preserving all of Ayn Rand's papers. Best of all, they're doing all of this without watering down or compromising Objectivism; they're remaining absolutely true to the philosophy. For instance, they haven't chosen to de-emphasize controversial parts of Objectivism in order to attract, say, conservatives or libertarians. They do not hesitate to take a principled stand, even if other people will say it's unpopular - see for example their call for a vigorous prosecution of the war against the Islamic terrorists and their sponsors. In other words, they don't try to "get along with" their intellectual enemies. Contribute a minimal amount of money to ARI and you'll get their monthly newsletter; you can then read for yourself about all of the projects they're doing. All of this is quite exciting and I must say I'm a bit jealous of younger Objectivists today, because nothing like this existed thirty years ago when I was new to Objectivism. Back then, there was very little in print about Objectivism beyond what Ayn Rand herself had written; attending taped lecture courses was one of the few ways to learn systematically about the philosophy. Today, we have, for instance, good books on the Objectivist Ethics (by Tara Smith); a complete treatment of the philosophy (Peikoff's OPAR); books of essays examining Ayn Rands fiction works individually; AND an ambitious young person can get an excellent education in Objectivism, taught by the experts at ARI's Academic Center. A good, uncompromising defense of the necessary philosophical underpinnings of a free society is what ARI is providing. It's exactly what Western Civilization needs desperately now; nothing less will get the job done.
  3. But it sounds like these 1-3% taxes are levied against assets, as opposed to income - since it says they were levied against land, homes and slaves, for instance. This, then, would be more analogous to a property tax in today's culture, and not an income tax. And given that the value of an asset is much higher than the value of the income it produces typically, then a low percentage property tax is just as onerous as a higher percentage tax levied against income. And indeed, I think a 3% property tax would be regarded as quite high in the US today. Also, if a tax like this was levied against a productive asset, the owner would have to pay 3% of the asset's value. This could well be a very high portion of the income the asset produced. (If, say, the asset being taxed was producing income at a rate of 5%, then a tax of 3% of the asset's value would amount to the same as a 60% income tax - quite a lot more than we pay today.) One must be careful when comparing tax rates - the percentage of levy doesn't tell the whole story. To get an idea of the Roman tax burden, one could try to estimate the total GDP and see what taxes were as a fraction of that, and compare it to today.
  4. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, other Republican candidates, and prominent conservatives, have to say about Huckabee's desire to modify the constitution to make it compatible with Christianity. Will they criticize him, and speak out in favor of church-state separation? Or will these people just not say anything, perhaps out of fear of antagonizing potential voters? Also, how will these words affect Huckabee's popularity? Will he now gain, or lose supporters? That such a statement would be made today by one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination is a big indicator of how far that party has slid into the abyss of advocating Christianity in government. Forty years ago, a candidate could not have gotten away with such a statement and remained a viable contender for president. Peikoff was right a few years ago to identify the threat of theocracy posed by the Republican Party.
  5. If this plan passes, then this is exactly what will happen: private health insurance will become unavailable in California. A similar thing happened in Washington. For a while, it was the law in that state that a private insurance company could not refuse anybody coverage because of, or for, "pre-existing conditions." So if somebody who was already sick applied for a new policy, the company had to issue it. Finally, the insurance companies shrugged. It was either that or go out of business, for no company can make money if it's forced to insure for events that have already happened. The result was that for about 18 months - late 1999 until early 2001 - individual private health insurance policies were simply unavailable in Washington. The insurance companies just stopped writing them - they did renew existing policies, but would not issue any new ones. So if you wanted to buy health insurance then (pre-existing condition or not) you simply could not buy it from any private company - you'd have needed to get it via your employer or some other "group", or else buy it directly from the state government. Eventually, the legislature changed the law so that companies could exclude pre-existing conditions. However, the legislature is still up to no good, and seems to be always passing laws that force insurance companies to pay for certain kinds of coverage that customers may or may not want (such as mental-health coverage, birth-control pills, as well as coverage for "alternative medicine") with the result that premiums have gone up sharply as insurance companies just pass on, to the policyholders, the extra cost of the claims they now have to pay out.
  6. Good - I hadn't thought it would necessarily be easily available after all these years. As I remember, I found out about the book because it was offered by an Objectivist book service many years ago, so I decided to buy it. Otherwise, I would never have heard of it. (That's yet another benefit of being an Objectivist - finding out about new values.)
  7. Oh yes! There is a book written about this anti-Nazi group: A Noble Treason - The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler by Richard Hanser, 1979. I read it over 20 years ago and have never forgotten their story. I highly recommend it. I was quite moved that this group of students had the courage to do what so few people did in Germany: speak out against the Nazis. When asked why they had taken their actions to distribute these leaflets during their "trial" (by the Nazis), one of them (I think Sophie Scholl) replied "Somebody, after all, had to say something." (I might not have the words exactly right.)
  8. Where is "God" mentioned in the Constitution? I'm pretty sure it is not, which is a fact that undoubtedly bothered Christians when the Constitution was created. I agree that the religious connection to Xmas is non-essential. It has never been a religious holiday for me, and it is celebrated by many people I know who don't believe in a God, and by many others who do not in any way take religion seriously as a guide to their lives.
  9. Not only that, but many times, unions and their members initiate force (through violence) against their employers and against non-union replacement workers, and the government does nothing about it. For instance, striking workers often will block the entrances to a plant so that replacement workers can not come to work. I've also known of cases in which union workers on strike destroyed company property and shot at replacement workers and vandalized their cars, yet no action was taken against the striking thugs. In fact, I read once that a court had ruled that some kinds of union violence is even acceptable because it's part of a labor dispute. .... In addition to what's been pointed out already, if an employer tries to tell its side of the story - e.g. by explaining to its workers why joining a union would be bad, that employer risks being prosecuted for an "unfair labor practice." So an employer ends up not even having the right to free speech.
  10. It's indeed a good idea to be thinking about weather; marathons in hot weather are much more of a stress than when it's cool and cloudy. I remember that in the 2004 Athens Olympics, it was so hot in the women's marathon that a few of the top competitors ended up not finishing the race. (But the top American ran a good race and finished third.) And in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the temperature was over 90 degrees. So some people can do well when it's that hot, but I think most runners would much prefer cooler weather. Anyway, best of luck.
  11. Thanks for posting that. Indeed, I remember Ron Paul's favorable comments on Without a Prayer, and also his disparaging of Objectivism because it is atheistic, but I didn't have the quotations handy. I'm very glad that Ron Paul has no chance of being President of the United States.
  12. Of course there's no need for a government central bank. In fact, the unit of money should be left completely to the free market; government has no business doing anything to manage or manipulate the supply of money. Recall also, that the United States had no central bank from about 1837 to 1913. That was a period of rapid economic growth; it was also a period during which money had a stable value.
  13. When applied to people, I associate the adjective "cool" with being second-handed. In my experience, people who are always worried about how "cool" they are, are very concerned with what other people will think of them - to the point that they'll dress and act in a particular way because they think it will be approved of by others. This is like Peter Keating always trying to be what other people wanted him to be.
  14. If these are proven reserves, then to the extent they are owned by private oil companies, they're likely to be very conservative. First, a private company (assuming it has publicly traded stock) reports its reserves in its periodic financial reports, which are audited statements, publicly available. There are standard, accepted ways to calculate these reserves. If a company lied in order to inflate its reserves, it would be open to charges of fraud. Second, if a company owns a producing oil field, then of course that field will contain proven reserves. Suppose they have proven reserves there that will last 10 years at current rates of that field's production. That's enough that they know they aren't going to run out soon; there's no reason to spend money trying to prove more reserves in this field, if they wouldn't be getting around to producing from these additional reserves until 10 years into the future. In other words, a proven reserve is oil you're pretty certain is there; it's oil you can pump today; you've spent the money to ascertain this. Nothing is gained by proving way more reserves than you're going to be needing any time is soon. If the oil is in the ground, you'll get it out in due time. Look at the reserve figures of oil companies in their annual reports sometime. Often they don't have more than 10 years' worth. But then the next year, even though they've pumped some of that oil, they'll still have 10 years' worth, because they've also done the work to prove some new reserves. (The same comments apply to mining companies and their ore reserves.) On the other hand, these comments wouldn't apply to oil reserves of state-owned enterprises. They're under no legal requirement to be truthful about their reserves. In fact, probably there isn't even a public document you can read that would provide audited figures of oil reserves of a country like Saudi Arabia.
  15. Good for you! Running for miles and miles when you feel like quitting is a real accomplishment, any day. A marathon is long enough that it depletes one's reserves pretty thoroughly. Any plans to run another one?
  16. Good for you! I don't remember exactly what I wrote to get into graduate school, but I'm sure I didn't put any extracurricular junk on it; I just stuck to the facts that were relevant to convincing them that I would be a good student who would do well in their department. For employment, I've always kept my resume short, and described the essentials of my work experience. I've heard advice that job seekers should exaggerate past achievements, using big words to make it look like they accomplished more than they really did; I think this is terrible advice and have never followed it. And I can tell you that when I've been the one involved in trying to decide whether to hire somebody, I don't like it when I find out that a "skill" that he implied he had, is something he really knows next to nothing about. It's enlightening for me to concretize this by thinking about what Howard Roark's and Peter Keating's resumes would look like. Which one would stick to the facts that were relevant to the job? Which one would be full of all sorts of irrelevant second-handed fluff? Which one would be trying to enlighten the prospective employer with the truth? Which one would be trying to deceive its reader into believing that the job candidate was more capable than he really was?
  17. I don't think The Feminine Mystique belongs on a list of harmful books. It's been a good ten years since I read it, but what I remember is that it asks (and answers) the question of why, comparing 1920's to the 1950's, women in America were less likely to pursue a career or higher learning. (For instance, the proportion of college students that were women declined, and more women were quitting college early go get married.) And also where did the idea that women are less suited to things like "quantititative thinking" and "innovation" come from? Where did people get the idea (widespread apparently when the book was written) that women could not be fulfilled by developing and using their minds? As I recall, the author comes very close to making the case that, just like a man, a woman needs some kind of central purpose (the author does not use this term) in her life, and that filling her life with tasks just to "keep busy" (but which are quite below her capabilities) is not going to be satisfying. The last part of the book has some calls for various government interventions to help women, but advocacy of these does not follow from the earlier ideas Friedan discusses, so it's easy (especially for an Objectivist reader) to separate the good and bad parts of the book. There's a good review of The Feminine Mystique by Edith Efron in the July 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter.
  18. Here are some books that are well enough written that they could be profitably studied without the aid of a class: Calculus by Ross Finney and George Thomas. I have the 1991 revised printing. It covers about 3 or 4 semesters-worth of material. Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts & others. It would be best to have at least a little knowledge of chemistry to understand this one. A technical book can be a big investment, and it's hard to know before you read it if 1) it's any good and 2) it's level is appropriate for the knowledge you already have. For these reasons, I like libraries (and library used-book sales) as sources of books. If there's a college near where you live, you could go to their bookstore and see what books are being used as textbooks for the introductory courses.
  19. Jay P

    Steve Hanks

    Thanks for posting these! I have admired Steve Hanks's artwork for many years, but there are some paintings here I had not seen before. He is truly a master of capturing emotion in his art. Inexpensive prints of his paintings have been available for a while; I've found many for sale in local shopping malls. (I finally ran short of wall space to hang them on, so I had to cut back on my purchases.) The book The Art of Steve Hanks - Poised Between Heartbeats has over 100 pages of color reproductions of his work, and also the story of his development as an artist and how he came to decide to paint what he does.
  20. I was sorry to hear that it might not be available in the future, but at least now I know I need to buy one for myself before next March. (I already bought one as a gift to a friend, and have heard good comments from satisfied users of this CD; just never got around to buying one for myself...)
  21. I don't think that most religious conservatives would do this, however, especially if Hillary gets the nomination. Conservatives are so afraid of her being president that I think they'd vote for just about anybody in order to defeat her - even a pro-choice Republican. I'm very interested in seeing how Giuliani's candidacy progresses; I'd very much like to see a pro-choice candidate get the Republican nomination, as I agree it would empower more Republicans to not go along with the religious right. So I'm encouraged that he's the current front-runner. However, it's also the case right now that the anti-choice Republican voters have many candidates to choose from; the pro-choice Republicans have only one. In other words, the anti-choice Republican vote is divided among many candidates. As some of these candidates drop out over time, the anti-choice vote will tend to consolidate behind one or two people. It's early in the race.
  22. Jay P


    I enthusiastically second the recommendation of Infidel. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a remarkable woman. First, growing up in an Islamic culture, she was able to, on her own, figure out what's wrong with Islam, and then follow her mind wherever her thoughts led her. Few people have the courage to do this: question beliefs they've been brought up with (and have been taught that disobedience will lead to horrible consequences), and figure out the answers on their own. And then, to speak the truth, openly, when people who do this against Islam are reguarly threatened and worse, is a rare and admirable act. Second, it's clear from her writings that, though she (and many other people in her culture) has been the victim of quite a lot of unjust treatment (even physical abuse), her positive outlook and joy of living has not been broken. I got the feeling reading the whole book that here is a person who sees life as a wonderful adventure. Considering what she's had to go through, this is remarklable. Finally, she really does understand lots about what's wrong with the West's meek response to the threat of Islamic totalitarianism. She has not been taken in by multiculturalism at all, for example. A very inspiring book. I am sure we'll be hearing more from her.
  23. Really? The latter I find very hard to believe. Sweden's population is only about 9,000,000 - and he's saying 500,000 copies of Moore's book were sold there?? That seems way too high, especially considering that the number of people who read a book is much higher than the number of people who buy it. As for Moore's Stupid White Men, it does not seem to be holding its value very well in the US. This past year I was at a library book sale in Seattle (a liberal city if ever there was one) and saw five hardcover copies of this book for sale. The several-day sale was almost over, and nobody was rushing to buy them. They just sat there, going begging, for fifty cents each, even though the sale was quite well attended. (That means they're probably off to the shredder, recycler, or whatever they do with books that nobody wants. Many other books last decades before coming to this end, but for Moore's diatribe there is, alas, no market once the hype wears off. In 50 years, I suspect nobody will even remember who he was.) All of which makes me really wonder how the Swedes could have bought 500,000 of them, when like-new copies can't even be sold for a pittance in a liberal US city.
  24. First: if they wanted to explore for or drill for oil in Alaska, they had no choice but to deal with the government. They're only willing participants in the sense that they're paying the government protection money in order to survive. (This is like the property taxes I pay on my house. When I bought it, I agreed, as a condition of getting the loan, to pay the property taxes. I'm only willing to pay these taxes because I have no choice in the matter.) And as far as the environmental restrictions that stop the construction of new oil refineries, do you have any evidence that the oil companies are in favor of these regulations? If not, then they are the victims of these environmental laws, because the laws certainly hamper their ability to make money. (Oil refiners would like to build refineries today, but don't do it in the US because of the environmental restrictions, and all of the permissions they'd have to get in order to build one.) Second: by what right does the government own the land, or oil rights, or rights to collect royalties in the first place? Before anybody discovered oil there, that oil was, by right unowned. It didn't have any value before the oil companies discovered it and then built the infrastructure (at great cost and risk to themselves) to extract it. So the property rights in the oil, by right, belong to the company who discovered and developed the resource. It's similar to the airwaves. Today, the government claims ownership of all the electromagnetic spectrum, and radio stations have to get licenses to use this "public property." By right though, these resources should belong to whomever gave them value. That is: the developers of radio technology and those who supplied the capital to build the radio stations and use the electromagnetic spectrum have thereby established rights to it. But as in the case of the Alaska oil (and not just in Alaska), the government just assumes ownership over something that was previously unowned, and had no value. But they do not do this by right. And the oil company, or radio station owner, who is cooperating with the government and paying the license fee or protection money is cooperating, yes, but he has no choice.
  25. The rightful owners of natural resources are those who create value with them. So in the case of oil or mineral resources, the one who finds and develops them is the rightful owner. (Just as in the Mideast, before the oil was discovered and developed, that land had no value. The value was created when the oil companies spent their money discovering the oil fields and putting them into production. It's rightfully theirs.) But in this scheme, the citizens of Alaska are getting money from a value they had absolutely nothing to do with creating. They have done nothing to earn it. (For examples of the proper establishment of rights to previously unowned resources, see the 1872 Mining Laws, and also the Homestead Act of 1862.) And yes, I do argue that the government has no business owning this land, because owning it has nothing to do with the proper functions of government. The state and federal governments together have, and ought to have, sovereignty over the land, but that is not the same as ownership: it simply means that these governments have the function of protecting rights on the land. It most certainly is taken by force. The fact that they chose a course of action knowing that part of their wealth would be taken does not justify that taking.
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