Friday, September 30, 2005

Good News

The set of periodicals written from the perspective of Objectivism continues to increase. First there's of course Don Watkins's "online magazine for Objectivists" Axiomatic. Axiomatic will deliver "a series of articles that analyze Objectivism, apply Objectivist principles to other fields of study, or help you integrate Objectivism into your daily life." Axiomatic's first issue is premiering on tomorrow October 1. I have already paid for my 1 year subscription.

Now, I have just found out (hat tip Capitalism Magazine's blog Dollars & Crosses) that a new quarterly is in the works. The Objective Standard is "a quarterly journal of culture and politics written from the perspective that man’s life on earth is the proper standard of morality" and will provide "a rational, principled alternative to the ideas of both liberalism and conservatism." The site states that "[c]ontributing writers include Craig Biddle, Yaron Brook, Alex Epstein, Elan Journo, John Lewis, Keith Lockitch, Larry Salzman, and Lisa VanDamme." I am a big fan of quarterlies as they allow for longer in depth articles that are not spread over several issues. The Objective Standard premier issue is expected in spring 2006. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Today's Tidbits

I'll start today with this brief review of why there's no reason to prefer organic produce over the regular kind. The author, Tomas Brandberg, a recent Ph.D. in bioscience writes:
By most definitions an "organic" product must not contain genetically modified organisms and its production must not involve synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. We are supposed to think that organic products are healthier and also better for the environment. However, there is little evidence to support either of those claims. It is true that farmers usually depend on toxic chemical substances in order to keep insects and weeds at bay and it is likewise true that traces of some of these compounds can be found in food and also in humans. However, there is no indication that the measured levels are harmful.
In addition, Brandberg makes the point that the amount of farming land necessary for organic farming is far greater than regular farming, due to the low productivity of organic farming.

In general, I try to avoid organic foods as there's a greater chance that it contains toxic natural bacteria that are absent from regular foods, particularly if the organics are not washed properly.


At FrontpageMag, Steven Plaut writes of "[l]eftists emerging from the shadows of the American intelligence community" and weaves a depressing tale of ex-CIA operatives turning to the Anti-American and Anti-Israel right and left. He recommends Angelo Codevilla's classic Informing Statecraft, to enlighten individuals unfamiliar with the fact that the CIA has a long history of left-leaning and politically correct policies. I've read that book many years ago and can also recommend it. Codevilla is presently a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute, a Conservative think-tank.


In today's Wall Street Journal op-ed page is an important article (unfortunately its requires a subscription) by Charles Murray entitled "The Hallmark of the Underclass." Murray writes:
Watching the courage of ordinary low-income people as they deal with the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, it is hard to decide which politicians are more contemptible--Democrats who are rediscovering poverty and blaming it on George W. Bush, or Republicans who are rediscovering poverty and claiming that the government can fix it. Both sides are unwilling to face reality: We haven't rediscovered poverty, we've rediscovered the underclass; the underclass has been growing during all the years that people were ignoring it, including the Clinton years; and the programs politicians tout as solutions are a mismatch for the people who constitute the problem.
As I assume many of you remember, Charles Murray was the author of Losing Ground, a masterpiece of social science research originally published in the 1980's, that investigated the welfare state in some detail and to his great credit concluded that the best thing to do would be to abolish all welfare programs.

In his op-ed piece Murray goes on to explain that the fundamental problems of the "underclass" is not lack of resources, or opportunities, or job training but a fundamental difference in attitude. He distinguishes between people who happen to be low-income but are trying hard not to be, including "the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city" and "the looters and thugs, and those ...women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass." He points out that the underclass has been growing; a fact which is evident from the statistics on criminality and illegitimacy. The prison population in 2003 was 2,086,000, the number of illegitimate births 35% for the entire population and 68% for blacks.

Murray concludes his piece by predicting the following for the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and inevitable onslaught of government programs to help them:
Five years from now, the official evaluations will report that there were no statistically significant differences between the subsequent lives of people who got the government help and the lives of people in a control group. Newspapers will not carry that story, because no one will be interested any longer. No one will be interested because we will have long since replaced the screens, and long since forgotten.
Murray is of course correct. The fundamental issue is philosophical and the people in the underclass lack the motivation to help themselves because they reject the better ideas that would support moving out of poverty. Unfortunately, the government over the last few decades has mostly reinforced the bad ideas. Conservatives frequently point to an increase in religious ideas as helpful but I think the self-abnegation that religions almost universally preach is no antidote to the irrational self-destructiveness of the underclass. Instead what they need is a philosophy that teaches rational egoism and the virtue of productiveness. Such a philosophy may be found in the works of Ayn Rand.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Around the web

  • I'm very happy to see Gus Van Horn has returned to blogging after leaving town to avoid hurricane Rita.
  • The Ayn Rand Society, "a professional society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division," and chaired by Dr. Allan Gotthelf, has posted an essay written by Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri, called "Ayn Rand and Objectivism: An Overview." The essay manages to condense a lot of technical information on Ayn Rand's ideas in a relatively small space.
  • The newly relocated blog Existence Is Identity has published a good analysis of the latest libertarian shenanigans.

I did finally finish reading Dr. Andrew Bernstein's superb The Capitalist Manifesto. I have briefly commented on it here. The book particularly excels in its historical analyses of various aspect of the pre- and post-capitalist world. For example, it analyzes in detail the idea that the Industrial Revolution led to a decrease in the standard of living of poor people and shows that the opposite is the case. This book is really a must read for anyone who wants to understand the true history of capitalism, including its intellectual origins in the Enlightenment and its materials results. The polemical sections are also a gem, as the idea that capitalism leads to imperialism, war, and slavery is thoroughly debunked. In addition, the book relies on Ayn Rand's Objectivism as a moral and philosophical framework within which to evaluate and understand capitalism. While the moral justification for capitalism will be familiar ground to Objectivists, Dr. Bernstein keeps the reader engaged with numerous concrete examples. Also, don't miss the appendix, in which the lives of the great industrialists are described in exciting detail.

Presently I am still trying to get through Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln. I am just passed the point where Lincoln got elected and the South seceded. However, war has not broken out yet. I haven't quite gotten as far in this book by now as I had hoped.

I am on the second to last chapter of The Abolition of Antitrust by Gary Hull. The book consists of a series of essays covering the economic, historical, legal, and philosophical cases for the elimination of antitrust law. Particularly noteworthy, in my opinion, was the chapter by Richard M. Salsman entitled "The False Profits of Antitrust" in which he traces the attitude of economics and economists to profits, capitalists, and entrepreneurs over the last few centuries. According to Salsman the attitude is largely negative and profits (and thus capitalists) are expected ideally not to be there. This obscene view appears to still be the norm today.

I have a long list of books to read that will follow the above. Perhaps I will detail them in a future post.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Latest Smear

While I have recently been quoted with a somewhat favorable view of the size of Commentary Magazine vs. the size of all other Objectivist publications so far published, I want to make sure that everybody reading this blog understands I am in no way endorsing the content of Commentary which is decidedly mixed and can be quite awful.

A recent example of the latter is found in an article in the September 2005 issue entitled "Who Needs Ayn Rand?" by Algis Valiunas. (The article is available on the Commentary web site, as well as on but a fee is required to read it. It may also of course be found in the print version of the issue in various bookstores). The short summary of the article below its title on the cover gives a clear indication that the author does not intend the question to be in the same vein as Ayn Rand's own book Philosophy: Who Needs it. It states that "[t]he work of the high priestess of reason continues to sell, but—with reason—her centenary has gone uncelebrated." Another hint of the author's attitude is that early in the article he writes that "Whittaker Chambers, in Buckley’s National Review,wrote a definitive takedown of her ideas."

Mr. Valiunas is of course referring to the so-called "review" of Atlas Shrugged published, as he mentions, in William F. Buckley's National Review. Enough has been written about Mr. Chamber's particular emotional outburst so I that will focus on the rest of the problems with Mr. Valiunas's article.

And there are numerous problems. To begin with it seems that in preparing this article Valiunas confined himself to three major sources: Barbara Branden's long discredited biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, and Ayn Rand's two major novel's, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The result is that he makes several factual errors that could easily have been corrected if he had spent the time doing a little more research.

Valiunas repeats Branden's mistaken notion of how Ayn Rand chose her name:
It was an unexpected letter from emigrant relatives who had settled in Chicago that propelled her westward like destiny’s guiding hand. Having inveigled an invitation to visit for six months, she embarked on English lessons, planning to write screenplays that would make her name and her fortune. In January 1926 she was off, with 50 dollars, a Remington-Rand typewriter, and a new name to go with her new country: Ayn Rosenbaum,soon to be further revised in the typewriter’s honor.
As David Hayes points out:
Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography of Ayn Rand has Alice Rosenbaum choosing the name “Ayn Rand” while in Chicago in 1926 and never telling her family in Russia about the new name. (pg. 71) However, letters from Rand’s family in Russia refer to the new name. Further, one such letter had been mailed from Russia before the family had yet received any mail from Ayn. Obviously, she had chosen the name before leaving and had told them what it would be. A 1926 letter by Ayn’s sister Nora with Nora’s hand-drawn illustration of the name “Ayn Rand” in theatrical lights, is reprinted in Michael Paxton’s companion book to his film Ayn Rand: a Sense of Life (pg. 71, remarkably the same page number as the Branden book).
Valiunas also seems to be confused about the Ayn Rand Institute's (ARI) history since he believes that:
Having realized her ambition as a novelist, Rand turned to philosophical essays detailing her Objectivist philosophy. These, too, sold phenomenally well. Her educational foundation, the Ayn Rand Institute, helped spread the word, as did her weekly column in the Los AngelesTimes explaining the news from an Objectivist standpoint.
As can be gleaned from checking the ARI's website, the Institute was established 1985, three years after Ayn Rand's death. Mr. Valiunas probably means the Nathaniel Branden Institute, but I am not convinced this is an innocent error. It seems to tie in too well with Valiunas's attempts to create an image of Ayn Rand as the narcissistic egotist.

This is evident when earlier he describes her transition to atheism thus:
She adored mathematics and logic, and at age fifteen she wrote in her diary: “Today, I decided to be an atheist.” Being anyone’s inferior was unthinkable to her, so God could not possibly exist.
I don't know if in the last sentence Valiunas is making an extemporaneous comment, or relying on Branden's biography, but I recall in the excellent biographical movie Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, a somewhat different reason was given. Namely, that it was unthinkable to her that there was something above Man, not her specifically. Put this way, it becomes a much more reasonable and less narcissistic proposition.

After Valiunas summarizes more or less accurately the plots of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, starts to evaluate Rand more explicitly.
What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails.
Freedom, individuality, achievement, reason: Rand takes these and other fine ideas and pursues them to the limits of sanity.
Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own: only mingy compromise with collectivism stands in the way of the society without flaw, in which heroic individuals, loosed from Judeo- Christian tyranny with its insufferable God and foul altruism, will create the capitalist paradise. In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as “subhuman creatures,” “looting lice.” Galt’s radio address to the nation—he has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magic—is positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained.
I always find it amusing to see Conservatives, otherwise so insistent on the need for morality, belittle and dismiss any genuine example of passionate moral evaluation. Apparently, Rand through Galt should have been more diplomatic when discussing the people who in the story are tearing the country apart and leading to the downfall of civilization. I'm reminded of a line from the movie Robocop 2, in which, when it is pointed out to the mayor that the people with whom he wants to bargain are criminals, cries out: "Why are you labeling people?" In Galt's speech, Rand lays out the fundamentals of her philosophy, including her understanding of the nature and origin of morality. That she then proceeds to call a spade, a spade should surprise no one.

But of course, the real enemy for Conservatives is not a rational morality but reason as such:
Everything in Rand’s thought depends on her faith in reason, her conviction that any question has a clear and definitive answer. This unlimited faith in reason damages her as a novelist—there are no mysteries in her world, including no mysteries of human character—and also severely limited her as a moralist and undid her as a woman.
"Faith in reason" -- a common refrain among Conservatives. But one that, if properly understood, is clearly a contradiction. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence or in presence of opposing evidence. Reason, as Ayn Rand put it, is "the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses." To base one's belief on the identification and integration of factual evidence is clearly the opposite of faith, which disregards such evidence. But what is the basis for accepting reason in the first place you may ask? Isn't the acceptance of the validity of reason itself an act of faith? These questions betray an ignorance some of the essentials of metaphysics and epistemology. The metaphysical essential relevant to reason is the axiom of the law of identity or "A is A". Its epistemological implementation is the law of non-contradiction that is A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same respect, which is the basic law of logic. Identity is a basic axiom of metaphysics and as such it is a fundamental identification of a basic fact of reality that all knowledge depends on. Thus, logic, which is the method of reason, is simply an epistemological recognition of the nature of reality. If one wants to succeed in reality, one must follow reason because only by following reason can one be in accord with the basic law of reality, the law of identity.

The last sentence of the previous quote is of course a reference to Ayn Rand's unfortunate affair with Nathaniel Branden. Valiunas proceeds to regurgitate the usual distortions from the Branden biography. One wishes in vain that he had taken a look at James S. Valliant's riveting The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, a book that gives quite a different view of some of the events that Valiunas describes. For example, Valiunas describes that the affair's result was that the "Brandens’ marriage collapsed and Rand’s husband swirled down the alcoholic drain." In his book, Valliant challenges both of these claims. He points out that both Barbara and Nathaniel Branden each had secret affairs from each other (the Rand-Branden relationship had been open and both spouses were consulted and gave their approval before any intimacy had been attempted) and that their marriage collapse was more likely a result of these dishonest dealings than the Rand-Branden affair. With respect to Frank O'Connor, Ayn Rand's husband, Valliant shows there is little real evidence to support the Branden's claim that he became an alcoholic.

Valliant also disproves conclusively the notion that Valiunas repeats, that as a result of discovering that Branden had a secret affair with a younger woman, "Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy." Valliant shows by examining Ayn Rand's personal notes at the time that Ayn Rand had long since given up on an intimate relationship with Branden and in fact was giving Branden, at his urging, psychotherapy sessions, in which she was trying to help him deal with his problems. In those sessions Nathaniel Branden continued to viciously lie to Ayn Rand (with the full knowledge of Barbara Branden) about his present feelings for her, as well as his secret affair with another young female student. It becomes clear on reading Ayn Rand's notes that the reason for Ayn Rand's complete break with Nathaniel Branden was not "insane jealousy" but the realization that Branden had been dishonest with her for years and thus on a scale she could hardly believe of someone whom she once referred to as her intellectual heir. Therefore, it ought to be no surprise that Branden's dishonesty and hypocrisy led Ayn Rand, upon her discovery of them, to completely disassociate him from herself and her philosophy, which considers these traits major vices. But one might mention that all of Branden's articles written during his association with Ayn Rand remain in Ayn Rand's books. Contrary to the implications of Valiunas, Ayn Rand did not rewrite history. The idea that Rand "destroyed [Branden's] professional reputation" is a myth. First of all, Branden is responsible for any destruction of his reputation via his own actions. Second, all Rand did was to severe the parasitical business relationship that Branden had developed with respect to Ayn Rand's ideas. Nothing less could be expected.

The fact is that Ayn Rand did not relish being the leader of an intellectual movement. That is why there was no Ayn Rand Institute during her lifetime, only a Nathaniel Branden Institute. While obviously she believed in the truth and importance of her ideas, as Leonard Peikoff has pointed out, she always wished there was a modern day Aristotle that would take her place. As a rational egoist she certainly believed in her own value but she was not a narcissist and did not run a cult. Unfortunately, with talent and fame came many admirers and fans, many of whom completely fail to understand and/or integrate her radical ideas. Among them was the biggest fraud Ayn Rand had encountered in her life but unfortunately she did not discover it for many years.

It really is a profound injustice that intellectuals continue to distort Ayn Rand's ideas and personal history. However, it is also a sign that Ayn Rand can no longer be ignored as she used to be. As the number of Objectivist intellectuals increases it will be come increasingly difficult to ignore Ayn Rand's ideas and eventually, I expect, to deny their truth. That is a time worth waiting for.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Science News & Controversy

There is a story in today's New Scientist about the advantages of embryonic stem cells (ESC) over adult stem cell in a particular research endeavor.
Embryonic stem cells from mice can patch up damaged heart muscle in sheep. With hopes of using less controversial, adult-derived stem cells now appearing shaky, the results could pave the way for effective treatments for heart disease in people.

“It’s clear now that adult stem cells are unable to become myocardial [heart muscle] cells,” says co-author Michel Puceat at the Macromolecular Biochemistry Research Centre in Montpellier, France. “This would have been the best cell population, because they come from the patient, but there is no doubt that embryonic stem cells are much better.”
Some critics of ESC research funding continue to insist that "[t]he case against ESCs is scientific" but it seems there appears to be more and more science to contradict them.

Of course, I too am a "critic" of ESC, just as I am a critic of all government funded scientific research. Scientific research is not a proper function of the government (except possibly indirectly for war and defense purposes). The government is the agency that has a legal monopoly of force in a geographic area. Force and mind are opposites. It's really no wonder that government funded science is highly politized and thus highly suspect. Nevertheless, while we have government funded science it behooves us to disregard religious (and thus irrational) objections to specific research proposals. We may be far from having complete separation of state and science but at least the separation of state and church ought to be intact.
Another news report from New Scientist discusses a recent paper in Science magazine which claims a connection between global warming and increasingly frequent stronger hurricanes.
A massive global increase in the number of strong hurricanes over the past 35 years is being blamed on global warming, by the most detailed study yet. The US scientists warn that Katrina-strength hurricanes could become the norm.
Dr. Patrick Michaels, research professor of environmental sciences, University of Virginia has written a critique of the paper that looks quite damning to my eyes. It's true that the data the Science paper looked at, which used satellite data from 1970 shows the trend and correlation identified as can be seen from the graph below.

Figure 1. (A) the total number of category 1 storms (blue curve), the sum of categories 2 and 3 (green), and the sum of categories 4 and 5 (red) in 5-year periods. The black curve is the maximum wind speed observed globally. (B) Same as (A), except that the numbers are presented as a percentage of the total annual storm count. (taken from Dr. Michaels article -- click on graphs to see original size image [GR])

Unfortunately for the Science paper's authors, Dr. Michaels points out that the correlation appears to break down when earlier data is added to the picture.

Figure 2. Same as Figure 1, except for the analysis is for only the North Atlantic basin and begins in 1945. (taken from Dr. Michaels article -- click on graphs to see original size image [GR])
As Dr. Michaels points out:
The conclusion many draw from papers such as these is that anthropogenic global warming from the burning of fossil fuels by humans is causing more lethal storms. A closer look, though, reveals not human actions but rather natural cycles are the primary cause.
And he concludes:
While the impacts of the currently active hurricane period are being felt especially hard in the United States, there remains no scientific proof that human contributions to an enhanced greenhouse effect are the root cause.
Today's Commentary (part 2)

On the domestic front there was an interesting editorial in today's Washington Post about the recent Vioxx lawsuit. The editorial describes the lack of science behind the recent judgment:
Unfortunately for Merck, scientific facts didn't play much of a role in the first Vioxx trial, which ended on Aug. 19. The Texas jury in that case awarded $253.4 million to the widow of a man who died of a heart attack triggered by arrhythmia, which is not a condition Vioxx has been proven to cause. The jury, declaring that it wished to "send a message" to Merck, decided to make an enormous symbolic award anyway. Besides, said one juror afterward, the medical evidence was confusing: "We didn't know what the heck they were talking about." Because Texas law limits the size of jury awards, the final cost to Merck is likely to be closer to $2 million. But the precedent set by the jury is ominous. Merck is facing about 5,000 similar lawsuits. If every one of those costs the company $2 million, the total price will come to $10 billion -- if, of course, a company called Merck is still around to pay it.
While the state of willful scientific ignorance in this country is depressing, it's certainly nice to see the generally liberal Washington Post take what amounts to a pro-business stance. The editorial proceeds to argue that since Merck, for the most part, practiced due diligence by going through the regulatory process and by pulling the drug off the market they don't deserve this kind of "disproportionate financial punishment." The Washington Post also points correctly to the consequences for consumers should the number of such lawsuits increase:
In the long term, using the courts to "send a message" to Merck isn't going to help consumers. If the result is an even more cautious FDA approval system and a more cautious pharmaceutical industry, that will keep innovative drugs off the market for much longer. More people will die waiting for new treatments. The cost of producing new drugs will rise dramatically. Already, there are whole areas of medicine -- women's health during pregnancy, for example -- that are made so risky by liability issues that companies may stop doing research in them.
This is good as far as it goes. But we can take the point to its logical conclusion. The FDA as such represents a formidable barrier to innovation, not to mention a violation of the rights of both pharmaceutical companies and individuals to trade freely without government interference. A company, particularly a company manufacturing drugs on which the life or death of its customers may depend, must build a reputation for quality. It is the importance of that reputation to the company that will best protect consumers, not government force.
Today's Commentary (part 1)

There seems to be quite a bit of interesting things to comment on today. Let's start with the inevitably depressing results of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza which are detailed by the insightful Caroline Click in the Jerusalem Post (free registration may be required) and on the Center for Security Policy web site. As Glick describes it:
In Gaza, now empty of all Jewish presence, the Palestinians lost no time in taking charge of events in their own special way. First came the firebombing of the synagogues. We were asked indignantly by such paragons of virtue as PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, "Well, what did you expect to happen?" As if it should go without saying that the Palestinians will exploit any opportunity to show us their contempt for all things Jewish.

After the firebombing came the looting of the destroyed Jewish communities. Then came the looting of the hothouses which had been bought for the Palestinians by wealthy Jews in the US who decided to buy them so that the Palestinians could reap what their expelled Israeli brethren had sown.

Sometime between destroying the abandoned synagogues, looting the destroyed Jewish villages, tearing apart the hothouses, throwing grenades at IDF patrols guarding Moshav Netiv Ha'asara and shooting mortars at Sderot, the Palestinians discovered Egypt. At the direction of Hamas, and with the help of PA militias and Egyptian soldiers, thousands of Palestinians crossed the wall separating Palestinian Rafah from Egyptian Rafah. Among the merrymakers, unknown numbers of terrorists crossed back and forth shuttling arms and reinforcements into Gaza in unknown quantities. IDF commanders looked on, and impotently stated that there is a high probability that al-Qaida operatives are among the newcomers. Oh well.
In addition we have this piece from World where the point about Egypt is elaborated:
TEL AVIV — Israeli military sources said hundreds of weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank rockets and bomb components, have been smuggled over the last three days from the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip.

The sources said Palestinian insurgents brought the equipment from Egypt in wake of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

So far, more than 10,000 Palestinians have crossed the Gaza border and made their way to towns in eastern and northern Sinai. The sources said they included hundreds of operatives from Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, some of whom directed the flow of Palestinians into Sinai.
It is really quite difficult to see what potential long term gains Israel achieved with the so-called "disengagement". It seems quite clearly to be a disaster and, as all of us who opposed this move pointed out, a completely predictable one.

Ms. Glick also describes the outrageous attempt to criminalize Israel's conduct of war:

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog tried to go to London. But once his El Al plane landed he was alerted by the Israeli embassy that if he alighted at Heathrow he would likely be arrested. An anti-Zionist British-Israeli "human rights" lawyer by the name of Daniel Machover, in cooperation with the Israeli group Yesh Gvul, filed a lawsuit against Almog charging him with war crimes in a British court. So alerted, Almog stayed on the plane and went home.

Triumphant, Yesh Gvul's spokesmen in Israel announced that in addition to Almog, they were in the midst of filing complaints for war crimes with British courts against eight other senior IDF commanders. Among them are former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon and current Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. Hearing this, Ya'alon cancelled his plan to fly to London next week.

And many of you probably thought that the left was bad in the US. Fortunately, the Almog arrest warrant was canceled; unfortunately, it was canceled "on technical and procedural grounds and it did not imply that Almog or others are immune from future legal proceedings in Britain." This is a very ominous development and not just for Israel.

I'll continue my commentary in a separate post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Around the Web

This will hopefully one day be a military transport. To find out more click here.
Elizabeth M. Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health had a torturous encounter with a person of hate. Ignorance of pharmaceutical companies is unfortunately far too prevalent.
Update 9/15/2005 -- fixed link to Walrus.
Four Years After 9/11 -- The Pessimistic View

Two interesting articles on the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have recently appeared and are available on the web. Both paint a rather pessimistic picture of the current war effort. Mark Danner writing in this past weekend's New York Times Magazine writes from what might be called a center-left perspective in his article Taking Stock of the Forever War, while Steven M. Warshawsky talks about the The Bush Doctrine, R.I.P. at (hat tip Gus Van Horn) attacking Bush from the right. As I am myself in a pessimistic frame of mind regarding the progress of this war I found much to agree with in both articles but also some disagreements.

Both Danner and Warshawsky point to reasons for disappointment in the present war effort. Let's look at some key excerpts from Danner first:
Today marks four years of war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.
Four years after the collapse of the towers, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. Terrorists have staged spectacular attacks, killing thousands, in Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Jakarta, Madrid, Sharm el Sheik and London, to name only the best known. Last year, they mounted 651 "significant terrorist attacks," triple the year before and the highest since the State Department started gathering figures two decades ago. One hundred ninety-eight of these came in Iraq, Bush's "central front of the war on terror" - nine times the year before. And this does not include the hundreds of attacks on U.S. troops. It is in Iraq, which was to serve as the first step in the "democratization of the Middle East," that insurgents have taken terrorism to a new level, killing well over 4,000 people since April in Baghdad alone; in May, Iraq suffered 90 suicide-bombings. Perhaps the "shining example of democracy" that the administration promised will someday come, but for now Iraq has become a grotesque advertisement for the power and efficacy of terror.
This is the picture we have seen in the news over the last four years. Perhaps I have not read enough of Chrenkoff's Good News from Iraq but that's pretty much my understanding of the situation as well. Meanwhile, Warshawsky takes the President to task for defaulting on his own doctrine:
In his recent speeches about the war on terror, President Bush has unmistakably backed away from the aggressively martial rhetoric he used after 9/11. He no longer speaks in terms of destroying “every terrorist group of global reach.” Or “pursuing nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.” Or “confronting the worst threats before they emerge.” The Bush Doctrine, as originally understood, is a dead letter. All the talk now is about Iraq, and why we should remain in Iraq despite a rising death toll that has eroded public support for the war. Indeed, Bush’s last four major statements on the war – his 2005 State of the Union address, his speech to the troops at Fort Hood in April 2005, his graduation speech at the Naval Academy in May 2005, and his national address from Fort Bragg in June 2005 – were devoted almost exclusively to making the case for remaining in Iraq. While I agree with the President on this issue, the fact remains that this is not the “war on terror” he spoke about after 9/11.
It is indeed very frustrating for those of us who have supported President Bush in the last election over the vocal opposition of the likes of Leonard Peikoff, Scott Holleran, Craig Biddle and others.

In the end Danner's criticism fails as he seems to think by adopting "rollback" rather than "containment" as our policy we have done too much already, and as a result are facing an continuously replenished supply of fanatics ready kill and be killed. But there is an alternative to this depressing scenario and that is to fight a real war, the kind of war hinted at by Bush in his early statements that Warshawsky quotes:

The second principle underlying the Bush Doctrine is that our enemy in this war is not just the “radical network of terrorists,” but “every government that supports them.” As Bush put it in his statement to the nation on 9/11:

"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

The President elaborated on the vital importance of this element of his anti-terror strategy in his State of the Union address in January 2002:

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."

Sadly, as Warshawsky points out, the President seems to have abandoned his own policies or perhaps we read too much into them in the first place.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Men vs. Women at Work

A fascinating op-ed in today's NewYork Times describes in some detail the reasons for the so-called "wage gap" between men and women. The author, Warren Farrell, wrote the book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap - and What Women Can Do About It. Here are some choice excerpts:

When I was on the board of the National Organization for Women in New York City, I blamed discrimination for that gap. Then I asked myself, "If an employer has to pay a man one dollar for the same work a woman would do for 76 cents, why would anyone hire a man?"
After years of research, I discovered 25 differences in the work-life choices of men and women. All 25 lead to men earning more money, but to women having better lives.
Is the pay gap, then, about the different choices of men and women? Not quite. It's about parents' choices. Women who have never been married and are childless earn 117 percent of their childless male counterparts. (This comparison controls for education, hours worked and age.) Their decisions are more like married men's, and never-married men's decisions are more like women's in general (careers in arts, no weekend work, etc.)
Don't women, though, earn less than men in the same job? Yes and no. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps together all medical doctors. Men are more likely to be surgeons (versus general practitioners) and work in private practice for hours that are longer and less predictable, and for more years. In brief, the same job is not the same. Are these women's choices? When I taught at a medical school, I saw that even my first-year female students eyed specialties with fewer and more predictable hours.

This article ought to be read by all who think that the wage gap derives from some kind of flaw in capitalism.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Brief Note

Scott Holleran
's latest column talks about New Orleans and the upcoming Atlas Shrugged movie. Well worth checking out. As a great fan of the book, I can't help looking forward to the movie, even if it is quite likely that I will be disappointed. Nevertheless, it will be nice if the movie (or TV mini-series -- no decision on that has been made) is finally made and perhaps some further publicity for the book results.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Today's Briefing

My heart goes out to the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas suffering from the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina. A list of links for aid donations can be found on Glenn Reynold's blog here. Also, blogger Gus Van Horn is asking his readers to donate to the Armed Forces Retirement Home, "whose facility in Gulfport, Mississippi took severe damage from the storm." I recommend donating through your employer if they have a matching funds program. That's what I intend to do.
Like Don Watkins of Anger Management I'm in agreement with Peggy Noonan's views on looting:

There seems to be some confusion in terms of terminology on TV. People with no food and water who are walking into supermarkets and taking food and water off the shelves are not criminal, they are sane. They are not looters, they are people who are attempting to survive; they are taking the basics of survival off shelves in stores where there isn't even anyone at the cash register.

Looters are not looking to survive; they're looking to take advantage of the weakness of others. They are predators. They're taking not what they need but what they want. They are breaking into stores in New Orleans and elsewhere and stealing flat screen TVs and jewelry, guns and CD players. They are breaking into homes and taking what those who have fled trustingly left behind. In Biloxi, Miss., looters went from shop to shop. "People are just casually walking in and filling up garbage bags and walking off like they're Santa Claus," the owner of a Super 8 Motel told the London Times. On CNN, producer Kim Siegel reported in the middle of the afternoon from Canal Street in New Orleans that looters were taking "everything they can."

George Will in his column today joins the view that Tara Smith has expressed previously that judicial activism is not such a bad thing. Mr. Will however is fairly mixed in quality. He begins by trying to convince Conservatives that "dogmatic majoritarianism" is not a good thing and sites historical examples from the Republican party's history to support this argument:
The conservatives' party, the Republican Party, was born in reaction against repeal of the Missouri Compromise -- against, that is, the right, established by Congress in 1854, of Kansans to own slaves if a Kansas majority approved of that. The first Republican president was propelled to greatness by his recoil against allowing popular sovereignty to decide whether slavery should expand into particular territories.
And he continues with this excellent paragraph:
Lincoln's greatness was inseparable from his belief that there are some things that majorities should not be permitted to do -- things that violate natural rights, the protection of which is the Constitution's principal purpose. As Chief Justice John Marshall said in Marbury v. Madison , the theoretical foundation of judicial review, "The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the Constitution is written."
However, he following this he deteriorates by relying on Daniel Farber's and Suzanna Sherry's book Desperately Seeking Certainty: The Misguided Quest for Constitutional Foundations, and claiming that "judicial review amounts to blocking a contemporary majority in the name of a past majority" but the founder amount to "an especially dignified majority" which is "owed special deference." True to his Conservatism, Will here shows a reverence for tradition. But the truth is that the Founders ought not to be revered because the reflected a majority at that time or because it was a special time but because, by and large, they were right. To the extent that they were wrong, their errors need to be corrected. Will concludes:
Even when the Supreme Court was most athwart public opinion -- striking down New Deal legislation -- voters sharply rebuked President Franklin Roosevelt for his plan to "pack" the court by enlarging it. So this is another powerful argument for the compatibility of judicial review with America's democratic values: the demos -- the public -- supports it.
Apropos FDR & the Supreme Court. I remember a long time ago listening to an abridged version of Judge Robert Bork's The Tempting of America. In the book Bork completely justifies Franklin D. Roosevelt's machinations against the Supreme Court. At the time Roosevelt was trying to invent new powers of government that the Constitution never allowed and the Justices were ruling one law after another unconstitutional. If memory serves me right, Bork compared the Conservative "activism" of the judges in the 1930s to the Liberal "activism" of judges in the 1960s and 1970s and thought both were wrong. I couldn't disagree more. (my memory on this is faulty -- see the Update and Correction below)

Judicial activism in the protection of rights is precisely what a Supreme Court justice ought to do as the quote above from Will about Lincoln also supports. Tara Smith in her article outlines the necessary qualifications a Supreme Court judge ought to have:
The salient question in assessing any nominee, then, is not whether a judge takes action, but the factors that guide his actions. To be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, a person must, at minimum, understand three basic facts: First, that individual rights are broad principles defining the individual's freedom of action. The familiar rights of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness subsume a vast array of particular exercises of this freedom, some explicitly named in the constitution (e.g., the freedom of speech) and some not (the right to travel). Second, he must understand that the government's sole function is to protect individuals' freedom of action. As Jefferson explained, it is "to secure these rights, [that] governments are instituted among men." Third, he must recognize that our government properly acts exclusively by permission. Articles I, II and III specify the powers of the three branches of government and the 10th Amendment expressly decrees that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved by the states or by the people. The government, in other words, may do only what it is legally authorized to do.

Update and Correction 9/2/2005
It has been pointed out to me that Judge Robert Bork did not in fact consider the New Deal court an example of judicial activism in his book The Tempting of America. I stand corrected on that. I was nevertheless correct that Judge Bork objects to what he terms "Conservative Constitutional Revisionism" as much as to "Liberal Constitutional Revisionism" and he has criticised conservative/libertarian thinkers such as Richard Epstein and Bernard Siegan for arguing that the Constitution do more than it should (according to Judge Bork) for economic liberties. He sympathizes with their ends but does not think the Court ought to be the means.