Monday, August 29, 2005

Amazing

Perhaps I haven't read the Los Angeles Times in great detail lately but I was under the impression that its editorial page, which is now edited by liberal ex-Crossfire host Michael Kinsley, was, well, liberal. However much to my great surprise I found today's editorial on the airline industry a breath of pro-capitalist free-market air. Here are some relevant quote:
MORE THAN A QUARTER-CENTURY after the deregulation of the airline industry, the nation's most successful airline is inexcusably barred by the government from flying to Southern California from its home base.
Wait, it gets better:
[The restriction]costs California hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which is lobbying for its repeal. It also illustrates a larger problem: government intervention that is hobbling the nation's dairline industry, which is projected to lose $5 billion this year. [emphasis added]
Admittedly not a moral argument but better than I've come to expect from the usually regulation supportive LA Times. The editorial continues:
Although the industry would be far healthier if some money-losing carriers simply folded, the federal government is overly protective of failing airlines. The abuse of bankruptcy laws, for example, is becoming routine in the industry — United now has been flying under Chapter 11 protection for nearly three years — but the government allows failing airlines to continue in operation without needing to pay all their bills.
And finally this:
Outdated restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. airlines are another impediment to needed consolidation, investment and innovation. Northwest is showing welcome signs of surviving a strike by its mechanics union, but there still is a need for Congress to consider changes to the Railway Labor Act that would make airlines less hostage to big labor.[emphasis aded]
A liberal newspaper supporting changes in government support for the unions. Simply amazing! Of course, if it were up to me, all those acts placing the power of government force behind union, would be abolished, since they constitute an initiation of force against employers. Still, it's great to see that at least some free market principles seem to be less controversial in some previously less than favorable quarters.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Today's briefing

I'll begin with the bad, very bad in fact. Early reports on the Iraqi Constitution are not very promising. Fred Kaplan of Slate, in an essay appropriately entitled Articles of Consternation, points out the various problems. One item stands out near the beginning:

The charter is vague to the point of vacuousness in its most basic proclamations. Article 2 reads:

Islam is the official religion of state and a fundamental source for legislation.
(a) No law may contravene the essential verities of Islamic law.
(b) No law may contravene the principles of democracy.
(c) No law may contravene the rights and basic liberties enumerated in this constitution.

Among the "rights and liberties" enumerated are:

There are noble things in this constitution as well. Article 7 forbids racism, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing. Article 35 guarantees "human freedom and dignity." Article 36 guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press. But, again, it's hard to square these provisions with the rest of the document. There is also the occasional silliness, for instance Article 22, which guarantees all Iraqis the right of employment.
It really is difficult for me to understand why, when we have such an excellent example in our own Constitution, the U.S.-supported government there does not try to emulate it as some more intelligent commentators have suggested.
As Fred Kaplan correctly points out in the last sentence:
...it is not at all clear—with or without this constitution—what kind of government, what kind of nation, this war and this process have wrought.
**
Those who are still confused on the issue of Libertarianism vs. Objectivism would benefit by reading this excellent post by Paul Hsieh at NoodleFood. Paul discusses academic libertarian philosopher Randy Barnett's views on the compatibility of Libertarianism with different moral foundations. Paul quotes Barnett:
Libertarians need not choose between moral rights and consequences because theirs is a political, not a moral philosophy; one that can be shown to be compatible with various moral theories, which as we shall see is one source of its appeal. Moral theories based on either moral rights or on consequentialism purport to be "comprehensive," insofar as they apply to all moral questions to the exclusion of all other moral theories. Although the acceptance of one of these moral theories entails the rejection of all others, libertarian moral rights philosphers such as Eric Mack, Loren Lomasky, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl on the one hand, and utilitarians such as Jan Narveson on the other can embrace libertarian political theory with equal fervor. (Page 6 of PDF file.)
The subjectivist foundation of Libertarianism is thus explicitly admitted to.
**

Finally, hat-tip to The Secular Foxhole for bringing to light the fact that there already a link on the Cambridge University Press website for Tara Smith's upcoming book Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. Despite the rather steep list price ($80 !!) for the hardback edition, I can't wait for it to get published.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Various annoyances around the web

The Anti-War Left
I didn't get a chance to blog on this article yesterday. Norman Solomon has the rather optimistic prediction that "the Bush administration may ratchet up the Iraq war" -- optimistic for any supporter of the war. Mr. Solomon, is of course, opposed. And if anybody has any doubt as to the left's desired outcome for this war, consider this paragraph:

A lot of what sounds like opposition to the war is more like opposition to losing the war. Consider how Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin concluded a piece on Sunday that disparaged Bush and his war policies. The column included eloquent, heartrending words from the mother of a Marine Corps Reserve member who died in Iraq early this year. And yet, the last quote from her was: “Tell us what it is going to take to win, Mr. Bush.” In a tag line, the columnist described it as a question “we all need an answer to.”

But some questions are based on assumptions that should be rejected—and “What is it going to take to win?” is one of them. In Iraq, the U.S. occupation force can’t “win.” More importantly, it has no legitimate right to try.


I dare say this is the kind of article that Dennis Prager would use to show the utter bankruptcy of the left and he would be right. It is difficult to imagine the profound evil contained in the above quote. If the present administration and much of the Conservative right are fighting this war inadequately, "progressive" intellectuals such as Solomon do not want any fight at all and consider all wars wrong.

Sullivan the Puritan
I generally respect Andrew Sullivan as he seems to try to think through political issues on his own and does not tow any particular party line. I didn't even mind his constant harping on the alleged torture and abuse of our various captured terrorists. I disagree with his conclusion -- that we should immediately stop the torture -- but I think we should prosecute this war with our eyes open because if we are going to win, it may take considerably more violence and mayhem than we have seen so far.

However one of today's entries in his blog was so corrupt that I have to comment. Sullivan agrees with Fareed Zakaria's point about the war on terror requiring greater energy efficiency. In addition he comments:
But what I didn't realize is how the curse of the SUV is so damaging. Fareed writes that 54 percent of today's U.S. fleet of cars are made up by these ugly, behemoth tanks that guzzle gas, and make life miserable for everyone not in them. My anti-SUV ire always goes up in the summer, when I see these vast, bloated symbols of excess bulldozing down the narrow streets of Provincetown, pushing every bicyclist, pedestrian or small child out of their way. My only solace is thinking of how many of these SUV owners are pouring money away to keep their mobile homes on the road. Pity that same money goes to finance Islamist terror. And please don't give me all this guff about how I don't have a car (hey, I'm not indirectly donating to al Qaeda), having to take kids here, there and everywhere, with all their stuff and the dogs and suburbs and soccer practices and on and on. All of this took place before SUVs; kids were just packed into back seats and trunks were stuffed full if necessary. Parents coped. Kids thrived. If all else failed, people could even have less stuff. Imagine that: less stuff. As readers know, I'd gladly put a dollar of extra tax on gas, insist on higher fuel standards for cars, make SUVs comply with the fuel standards of other cars and put a tax on SUVs on top pf all that. We are in a war. As far as I'm concerned, those people driving SUVs are aiding and abetting the enemy, and helping to finance the terrorists that want to kill us all. I'm well aware that the notion that the Bush administration has any interest in energy independence or taxing gas or deterring SUVs is about as likely as their demanding subsidies for sex-changes, but I might as well vent. We can always stigmatize these SUV-terror-enablers. How about bumper-stickers for non-SUVs that simply say: my car doesn't subsidize Saudi terror. Would that help? [emphasis added]
Sullivan has it wrong. We ought to be in a war, a war that destroys our Islamist enemies. We have had two wars and are now in the midst of fighting insurgencies of varying strengths in both countries we had supposedly defeated. The main sources of Islamic terror, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are untouched, and their main ally, Syria, equally so. So first of all it would be nice to have a real war, not a crusade for democracy.

Second, I don't happen to own an SUV but I completely reject Sullivan's argument. I don't accept the claim that the solution to the problem of the oil wealth going to
terrorists is to economize on gasoline and thus send less money to the Middle East. The solution ought to be elimination of the terroristic Islamist governments and elimination of the terrorists. I have no interest in eliminating the oil wealth or reducing the use of oil. The oil wealth properly belongs to the Western companies that originally discovered and developed the oil fields before they were nationalized by the local governments. After the relevant governments there are defeated, the ownership of the oil fields should be transferred back to the private hands that developed them.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Around the web today

Thucydides (aka Brad Malestein) of Contemporary History graces us with one of his rare but poignant posts. This one deals with what we should do with Iran and I couldn't agree more:

If, however, we went out tomorrow and declared war on Iran, and bombed their nuclear facilities and cities until they surrendered or were blasted into the Stone Age, the glorious struggle would be a lot less glory, and a lot more struggle. Iran would have difficulty supplying terrorists, for one. Enthusiasm for risky terrorist ventures and suicide missions would wane, since there is a difference between dying for a cause and dying for nothing. Also, rather than guessing that Iran may have nuclear weapons in ten years, we would have a better estimate: never.


Elsewhere Robert Tracy of Illustrated Ideas posts a piece by Jack Wakeland of TIA about Cindy Sheehan with which I am in substantial agreement. Here's the most relevant paragraph:

And - most of all - Cindy Sheehan's grief does not give her license to condemn American civilization. Her grief does not exempt her from being morally judged by the rest of us. There is no excuse for what she is saying. She hates America for its virtues. She's purposely acting to undermine political support for a war of necessity. She is attempting - through the political process - to impair our national defense during a shooting war. She's evil.
Finally there's some positive science news from Switzerland in this story:
Professor Hohlfeld concludes: “We have shown that fetal skin is a substitute for biological skin that can provide burned patients with a very high quality of skin in a short time with no additional grafting techniques . . . In view of the therapeutic effects of this technique along with the simplicity in application, fetal skin cells could have great potential in tissue engineering.”

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Book Recommendations

I'm rather depressed by the news from Israel at the moment, and I'm losing what little respect I had for the Bush administration as it pursues an alternatively altruistic or pragmatic (so-called "realistic" -- NY Times Registration required) foreign policy.

So instead of bemoaning the present world situation, I will offer some book recommendations of books I am reading or have read in the recent past.

Readers of this blog are aware that I'm presently reading and enjoying two books. Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Bernstein's The Capitalist Manifesto. Lincoln starts off slow but builds momentum as the story enters the 1850s and the issue of slavery becomes more prominent. Bernstein tells the story of the capitalism as it should be told, from the proper philosophical perspective (Objectivism) and with numerous interesting historical facts to buttress the case for capitalism.

Like millions of other fans I have recently finished J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I enjoyed it very much. Contrary to some reviews this book is not darker in spirit than the previous books in the series. The darkest of the Potter books remains Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

The Aristotle Adventure by Burgess Laughlin traces the journey of the works of Aristotle from the initial writings through the various cultures that studied and preserved it until they came fully back to the forefront during the days of Thomas Aquinas. Adventure is written for the layman and as the name implies is a lot of fun to read. In some respects it is similar to Aristotle's Children by Richard Rubenstein, who covers some of the same ground though Rubenstein's focus is on more on how Aristotle was rediscovered than on what exactly happened during the time his works were lost. Laughlin's book is very well organized and one learns about all the difficulties in preserving a set of writings over centuries, the many heroic individuals who studied, translated, preserved, copied and commented on Aristotle and thus helped pass it to future generations and a little about all the cultures that are involved, including Greek and Latin Pagan, Christian, and Moslem. It really is told as an exciting adventure because it is argued that with Aristotle's ideas goes the fate of civilization (with which I would agree).

Finally, earlier this year I read Richard Tarnas Passion of the Western Mind. The book does an excellent job of surveying Western ideas from the ancient Greeks to the present. I particularly liked the sections on Christianity and the details of Kant's Copernican revolution, in which Kant claimed that rather than attempting to have our ideas conform to reality, we should have reality conform to our ideas. On caveat though: As a result of Tarnas's sympathy for Freudian notions, the book contains an epilogue that is so absurd as to almost negate the value of the entire book. I recommend getting the book from a library and ignoring the epilogue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Noteworthy...

  • Don Watkins of Anger Management has announced plans to create "an online magazine, Axiomatic." Axiomatic is described as "a publication for Objectivists who wish to write seriously about Objectivist topics that are inappropriate for mainstream publications, and who do not wish to write for anti-Objectivist publications. " Giving the extraordinary high quality of Don's posts, this is something to look forward to. You can read the complete announcement here.
  • With the vocal conservative opposition to federally funded stem cell research, it is easy to forget that there are also elements on the left that are skeptical of this research. Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society, writes in TomPaine.com:
  • What’s perhaps most disconcerting about unrestrained enthusiasm for stem cell research are the undesirable doors it may open. Stem cells are a key component in developing technologies of human genetic engineering and enhancement. While stem cell research should be supported, we must acknowledge that it is laying the technological and social foundation for our worst nightmares of a society of “genetically enhanced” and “naturals.” In our market-based society, it is easy to see how a new technologically based eugenics could emerge.

    I fail to see what's wrong with with producing "genetically enhanced" individuals -- what exactly does Mr. Reynolds have against producing smarter, stronger and healthier individuals? Most of the false arguments in Reynolds's article are addressed in another essay at TomPaine.com by Susan Frank. She concludes appropriately, though naively:
    The critics of life-saving stem cell research technologies use false claims, an anti-technology bias and an alarmist view of sensibly and ethically practiced medical research. Instead, progressives and conservatives should join together and affirm that embryonic stem cell research holds great promise for those suffering from diseases; thank responsible and ethical scientists for their tireless efforts; and hope that, someday soon, cures will be discovered.

    I think Ms. Frank is naive because both conservatives and progressives have inherent ideological anti-science and anti-technology biases that cannot be easily overcome. Conservatives, to the extent that they are religious, will continue to appease religious opposition to scientific advance. Progressives, having some decades ago left their nominal pro-science attitude behind, are now opposed to any technological advance that will, in their mind, yield profits to corporations or affect the environment in any way at all.
  • Cox and Forkum's take on the Israeli Disengagement.



    I couldn't express it better myself.
  • Finally, the Ayn Rand Institute has announced the title of Yaron Brook's September 12 lecture that I mentioned here. It is entitled "Neo-Conservatives Vs. America: A Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy Since 9/11." I have heard a version of this talk on C-Span Radio this past weekend and he makes a good critique of the Neo-Conservative approach to foreign policy. I remember when I first got disillusioned with the Neo-Cons. I was listening to the Dennis Prager show. Prager had as his guest Bruce Herschensohn. This was after 9/11 but before the recent Iraq war. Herschensohn was discussing his foreign policy views and in addition to supporting the coming war on Iraq was, to my great surprise, going on about how the United States had a mission to actively liberate countries around the world. Prager agreed. I don't. The United States foreign policy should be focused on protecting its national interest as derived from its domestic policy, which ought to be laissez faire capitalism. We may support allies but our foreign policy ought not to be altruistic. For details see Peter Schwartz's recent monograph.

Monday, August 15, 2005

What's on the web today

Daniel Pipes writes the truth about Israel's Gaza withdrawal in his column entitled appropriately [The Gaza Withdrawal:] A Democracy Killing Itself. What Israel is doing here is quite sad and the repercussions will unfortunately be as bad or worse as the results of previous appeasements, whether by Israel or other countries.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lincoln on Slavery

More from Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln. Not surprisingly, Lincoln is at his best when he discusses the issue of slavery such in the fascinating reasoning below written sometime in the early 1850s in a private memorandum to himself.

"If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B., why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A.?--You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly?--You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you."
Lincoln on free trade and the role of government

I'm continuing with my reading of Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln. I'll have something positive to say about Lincoln in the next post but let me first get this out of the way. Sadly, Lincoln did not appear to have a clear understanding of the benefits of free trade and rather thought tariffs served a useful purpose as the following passage from the book illustrates.
From p.88 (emphasis in original):

"To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government." How could a government effect this? One remedy would be to "as far as possible, drive useless labour and idleness our of existence." For example, "Iron & every thing made of iron, can be produced in sufficient abundance, [and] with as little labour, in the United States, as anywhere else in the world; therefore, all labour done in bringing iron and it's fabrics from a foreign country to the United States is useless labor."...
Universal idleness should speedily result in universal ruin; ... and useless labour is, in this respect the same as idleness." Therefore, reasoned Lincoln, to abandon the protective tariff "must result in the increase of both useless labour, and idleness."


Lincoln seems not to have quite grasped how markets work. I claim to be no expert on this but I do understand this much. If a tariff has been imposed on imports, it is because the import is cheaper than the domestic manufacturer. If the imported items were consistently more expensive than the domestic ones, there would be no need for tariffs; the imports couldn't compete. But the very fact that the import may be cheaper than the domestic product serves to illustrate that Lincoln is wrong in his assumption that it makes no difference where the product is manufactured. If the import is cheaper then the foreign company is more efficient than the domestic and a cheaper alternative is provided to the domestic consumers of the product, some of whom may be businesses themselves that employ other people. Thus I don't see a danger of "idleness" when tariffs are abandoned. Instead, I see a tax that hurts both individuals in both countries. Of course, fundamentally if two individuals (or companies) have decided to trade with one another between two countries not at war with each other, no government ought to interfere. Any interference, such as tariffs, import quotas and the like would be a violation of their right to property.

In a separate passage on p. 115, Sandburg writes of Lincoln:

He wrote of the legitimate object of government being "to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves," such as "Making and maintaining roads and bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property." Military and civil departments were necessary . "If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncompliance with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it."

By the laissez faire standards of Objectivism this passage reflects badly on Lincoln and seems to provide the altruistic justification for all sorts of improper government functions. Still, I doubt his views were particularly revolutionary for his day and they are still a far cry from today's welfare state liberals and conservatives. In his own mind Lincoln did not seem to want expand government too much but ideas have consequences and the ideas the Lincoln supports in the above passages clearly point to a much more interventionist government.

Friday, August 12, 2005

VDH and Reason

In an otherwise typical column decrying the lack of attention paid by the liberal elites to the words of Islamic radicals, Victor Davis Hanson (VDH), includes this passage:

Throughout this war we have an understandable, if ethnocentric, habit of ignoring what our enemies actually say. Instead we chatter on, don’t listen, and in self-absorbed fashion impart our own motives for their hatred. We live on the principles of the Enlightenment and so worship our god Reason, thus assuming that even our adversaries accept such rational protocols as their own. [emphasis added]

Sometimes I really have trouble understanding what Conservatives such as VDH are talking about. To say that in this age of profoundly and explicitly irrational intellectual movements from the nihilist left such as environmentalism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism, and feminism and all the other Kant-derived absurdities, that we "worship our god Reason" and that this "worship" of Reason results in "assuming... our adversaries" are equally "rational" is really quite astounding.

Clearly, we are not living on the "principles of the Enlightenment," and Reason, as practiced during much of the Enlightenment, has in fact, left the building. Rather, we are living on the principles of 19th century collectivism, now fractured into multiculturalism, and 20th century pragmatism, as well as a seemingly growing religious revival, and various other irrationalities, in various forms, both left and right. And furthermore, how can anyone argue that as a result of reasoning we conclude that our enemies "accept ... rational protocols?" Our enemies are clearly bent on our destruction as they plainly say and VHD quotes:

“The day will come when everything will be relieved of the Jews — even the stones and trees which were harmed by them…The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew.”

and

“What you have you seen, O Americans, in New York and Washington and the losses you are having in Afghanistan and Iraq, in spite of all the media blackout, are only the losses of the initial clashes.”

Only someone profoundly irrational would pretend that the people behind these ideas "accept ... rational protocols".

What then is the rational response to someone bent on destroying you? Here, Conservatives do indeed have a problem because they accept Hume's "is-ought" dichotomy. For what one "ought" to do cannot be the result of a rational consideration of the facts because they alone do not tell us what do ... or so Hume claimed. Conservatives then turn to religion in order to find the "oughts" -- the moral guidance that enables them to decide such questions. Presumably, since VDH dismisses the "god of Reason," he just knows by faith what needs to be done. The results of seeking such guidance have historically not been particularly encouraging.

So what is rational action anyway? How do we apply reason to decisions about actions? Well, let's take a simple case. Is it rational to take a nap? How can we evaluate this decision? It depends entirely on the context in which one is planning to take a nap and what purposes one has in mind. If one is at home on the weekend and wants to relax after a tiring week at work, taking a nap can be very rational action. If one is at work and wants to continue to work there, taking a nap is a very irrational action. Rational and irrational, thus firstly relate to whether in a given context an action achieves the actors purpose. In order to evaluate actions as rational or irrational we need to know what the potential actor is trying to achieve. And furthermore, a purpose or end is also subject to evaluation -- thus actions are to be evaluated in two ways: By whether the action is likely to achieve the actor's purpose, and by whether the purpose itself is rational.

The rationality of a purpose can be evaluated only with respect to a more fundamental purpose. As a result, an ultimate purpose becomes necessary, otherwise there is an infinite regress. That purpose is one's life which one must choose to value in order for all of one's other purposes and actions to be evaluated as rational and moral. It is very relevant here to note that the Islamists open proclaim that they do not value their own lives and will gladly sacrifice them for Allah.

Contrary to VDH, if we were living on "Enlightment principles", worshipping the "god of Reason", we would be faring far better in this war. I conclude with a quote from the best of the Enlightenment thinkers, John Locke (Second Treatise, chapter III), discussing what one's rational reaction should be toward the likes that VDH mentions:

The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction; and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but sedate, settled design upon another man’s life puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defence, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction; for by the fundamental law of Nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred, and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion, because they are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as a beast of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power. [emphasis added]
We're running out of landfill space...Not!


The business section of today's NY Times has an informative story on landfills and the fact that contrary to popular opinion a few years ago dump capacity has been expanding, not shrinking.
Must Read...

Check out Caroline Glick's (who is fast becoming my favorite columnist) excellent Column One in the Jerusalem Post. Here are some choice excerpts.

...while in the wake of the London bombings the West is finally beginning to take the threat of suicide terrorism in its towns seriously, this newfound sobriety at home is occurring at the same time that the Bush administration is striking out on a policy of curtailing its war on terror abroad. This policy of curtailing US offensive actions against terrorism internationally is evident both in its handling of Iraq's rapid deterioration into a Shi'ite-ruled Islamist state along the lines of Iran and even more dangerously in the US's feckless handling of the rising Iranian nuclear threat.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A couple of items I noticed today

It is common to assume that the sciences whether natural or otherwise are "bastions of secularism" (as Dennis Prager would say). However a recent survey seems to suggest otherwise.

About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do.

The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion.

Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found.

This is not really a big surprise. The number of committed atheists in this country is quite small.
I think this is partly because most widely known secular philosophies are of the nihilist skeptical variety or of the communist kind. As a result, many intellectuals turn to religion despite their secular occupations because they must have an integrating point of view. As Dr. Leonard Peikoff put it in OPAR:

Philosophy is not a bauble of the intellect, but a power from which no man can abstain. Anyone can say that he dispenses with a view of reality, knowledge, the good, but no one can implement this credo. The reason is that man, by his nature as a conceptual being, cannot function at all without some form of philosophy to serve as his guide.


**
Jacob Weisberg of Slate has written a reasonably good essay on the incompatibility of evolution and religion. Here's an excerpt:

But the acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence. Post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, which can explain the emergence of the first bacteria, doesn't even leave much room for a deist God whose minimal role might have been to flick the first switch.

Weisberg is correct. A systematic application of reason and science to the issues of life completely eliminates God from the picture.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What's on the web today

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The missing alternative

In his weekly column today, Dennis Prager continues his series of articles on "The Case for Judeo-Christian Values." Today's column is chapter XX and is entitled, "There Is No Viable Alternative." Prager notes that he "contrasted Judeo-Christian values only with leftist values: secularism, liberalism, socialism, humanism, environmentalism" and has done so because "secular and leftist values are the dominant values of most of the world's elites" and "secular/leftist values are the only viable alternative to Judeo-Christian values."

Sadly, Prager misses the one alternative that does provide Viable Values -- Objectivism: The philosophy of Ayn Rand. In fact it is only Objectivism that can provide a objective basis for moral values as well as a systematic philosophy with views in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics. On the basis of her unique theory of concepts Ayn Rand argued that the concept value is hierarchically dependent on the concept life. It is life that makes values both possible and necessary. Man's life becomes the standard of value and rationality the primary virtue. Details can be found in the links above but the alternative exists. It's just a shame Prager chooses not to acknowledge it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pet Peeves...


Dictionary.com defines "pet peeve" as "a particular or recurring source of irritation." I have several philosophical pet peeves, specific views argued by today's intellectuals that to me are so blatantly wrongheaded as to be profoundly enraging. Two examples are below:

  1. There is no morality without God. This is of course an old one. Since I used to listen to Dennis Prager a lot, I would hear this refrain all the time but just about everyone on the Conservative side of the intellectual spectrum voices this view. And anybody who has seriously paid attention to what Ayn Rand has written in her novel Atlas Shrugged and her book The Virtue of Selfishness knows that morality is possible without God, in fact God makes an objective morality impossible.
  2. Free will and/or consciousness are scientifically impossible. For an example see this article. Usually such assertions of determinism or epiphenomenalism come from the Liberal side of the intellectual spectrum, from people who fancy themselves as having a scientific point of view and cannot be bothered with such mystical notions as volition or consciousness. Frankly, the level of dishonesty necessary to proclaim that free will is an illusion simply boggles the mind. The problem with their viewpoint is the very obvious fact that if it applies to them then they have no choice as to what views to accept or reject. They are determined to believe in determinism just as I am allegedly determined to believe in free will. Instead of accepting free will as a self-evident axiom the determinists pretend that scientific discovery begins in a vacuum without any underlying assumptions. As a result, atoms and molecules are a certainty but the faculties of man's consciousness that were required to discover them are a problematic phenomenon requiring explanation.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Capitalist Manifesto

In addition to reading Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln, I've just recently received Andrew Bernstein's The Capitalist Manifesto -- I have to say I am very much impressed. The book seems well organized and full of fascinating historical details. Right now I'm in the middle of chapter 2: The Pre-Capitalist Political-Economic Systems. Here's an excerpt from the Manifesto about what life was like before the Industrial Revolution:

Prior to the advent of industrial capitalism (in roughly the 1760s) the lot of the English working class was generally miserable. Utter destitution was rampant, literal starvation not uncommon and the country was overrun with paupers.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it. I've also ordered Brian Simpon's Markets Don't Fail! -- it's starting to be difficult to keep up with all the books Objectivist intellectuals are publishing. I think that's great!
Cox and Forkum hit one out of the ballpark...

Here's the permalink if the picture below is absent.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

What's on the web today

The NY Times reports today that some bombs used in Iraq are made in Iran, U.S. says. Here's an excerpt:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 - Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents.

American commanders say the deadlier bombs could become more common as insurgent bomb makers learn the techniques to make the weapons themselves in Iraq.

One hopes vain that someday this government will wake up to the fact that we are at war with Iran and act accordingly.

**

Victor Davis Hanson writes about the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Americans of the time hardly thought the Japanese populace to be entirely innocent. The Imperial Japanese army routinely butchered civilians abroad — some 10-15 million Chinese were eventually to perish — throughout the Pacific from the Philippines to Korea and Manchuria. Even by August 1945, the Japanese army was killing thousands of Asians each month. When earlier high-level bombing attacks with traditional explosives failed to cut off the fuel for this murderous military — industries were increasingly dispersed in smaller shops throughout civilian centers — Curtis LeMay unleashed napalm on the Japanese cities and eventually may have incinerated 500,000.

In order to win the present war it will be necessary to adopt the same attitude toward the country of Iran (and others) as was held during WWII toward Japan.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What's on the web today

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lincoln the fatalist

While I'm continuing to read Carl Sandburg's biography of Abraham Lincoln, I came across this interesting statement, published by Lincoln in response to attacks on him by Christian critics:

"FELLOW CITIZENS:
"A charge having got into circulation in some of the neighborhoods of this District, in substance that I am an open scoffer at Christianity, I have by the advice of some friends concluded to notice the subject in this form. That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular. It is true that in early life I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the "Doctrine of Necessity" -- that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control; and I have sometimes (with one, two or three, but never publicly) tried to maintain this opinion in argument. The habit of arguing thus however, I have, entirely left off for more than five years. And I add here, I have always understood this same opinion to be held by several of the Christian denominations. The foregoing, is the whole truth, briefly stated, in relation to myself, upon this subject.
"I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, or the community in which he may live. If, then, I was guilty of such conduct, I should blame no man who should condemn me for it; but I do blame those, whoever they may be, who falsely put such a charge in circulation against me." -- Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity, 31 July 1846 (copied from here)
So it would seem that Lincoln while not being particularly religious was something of a determinist. Of course determinism in the guise of predestination was always a feature within Christianity, which continues to struggle with the implications this poses to the existence of free will. One wonders if Lincoln got his determinism directly out of Christianity or out of reading some secular philosophers. It seems to be the former.
What's on the web today...

I browse several dozen news, opinion, blogs and other websites every day. Here's what I found of broader interest today:

Mark Steyn writes eloquently in a column entitled The etiquette of modern warfare in today's Jerusalem Post:

...an enemy folds when he knows he's finished. In Iraq, despite the swift fall of the Saddamites, it's not clear the enemy did know. Indeed, the western peaceniks pre-war "human shields" operation proved to be completely superfluous mainly because the Anglo-American forces decided to treat not just Iraqi civilians and not just Iraqi conscripts but virtually everyone other than Saddam, Uday and Qusay as a de facto human shield. Washington made a conscious choice to give every Iraqi the benefit of the doubt, including the fake surrenderers who ambushed the US marines at Nasiriyah.

In happier technological news Akio Namiki and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, Japan have built a Robot catcher grabs high speed projectiles, as reported by Newscientist. See the video (about 9 MB) -- it's pretty cool.

On the Ayn Rand Institute's web site I am pleased to see that a couple of new local (to Irvine, California) public lectures have been announced:

Monday, September 12, 2005, Free Public Lecture (title TBD) By Yaron Brook
Thursday, November 17, 2005, Creationism in Camouflage: The "Intelligent Design" Deception By Keith Lockitch
Time: 6:30 PM: Bookstore opens, 7:30 PM: Lecture, 8:30 PM: Q & A
Location: Hyatt Regency Irvine 17900 Jamboree Rd. Irvine, CA 92614

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More baby blues
Click on the Dilbert comic below for more detail.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

With the birth of a newborn comes sleeplessness. So far my son still mostly wakes up every 2 hours and that means my wife and I wake up as well. At least I'm only working half-days this week.

There are all sorts of books on my list to read, many of which I own already. Presently, I'm trying to finish Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln. I acquired it within the last two years when I noticed it among the special value hard covers at the local Borders Bookstore, but I've only started reading it recently. So far I'm about 80 pages into it. Lincoln's early years certainly make plain the humble background in which he grew up. He engaged in lots of manual labor. At one point he even was a wrestler. At this point in the book he is still a young lawyer with some political connections with the Whigs. I am not yet particularly impressed with him. He has so far supported legal measures that I would be opposed to such as tariffs. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to further reading and hope to acquire a more detailed knowledge of the Civil War period, of which I am ignorant in many ways.