Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rights and Reason: Google Conforms to Chinese Censorship

This is not a good sign.

Intellectual Activism: Alexander Marriot's Book

Alexander Marriot has a book. That's a pretty neat idea.

Rights and Reason: Scientists for State Science

Even a group of scientists have jumped on the 527 bandwagon:

While Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and other rock stars sing on a "Vote for Change" concert tour, another disgruntled group - this one of scientists - will crisscross the well-worn landscape of battleground states over the next month, giving lectures that will argue that the Bush administration has ignored and misused science.

The group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, another addition to the flood of so-called 527 advocacy groups that have filled this year's election discourse, announced its existence and plans yesterday in a telephone news conference. At least 25 scientists will give talks in 10 contested states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Among the headlining lecturers are 10 Nobel Prize winners, including Dr. Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor of physics at Stanford; Dr. Peter C. Agre, a professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins; and Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

[. . .]

The group has no direct ties to the campaign of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, but 9 members were among 48 Nobel laureates who signed a June 21 letter endorsing Mr. Kerry. Several of the scientists have also signed a statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists that accuses the Bush administration of manipulating scientific findings to support its policies. The union opposes the administration on numerous issues, including the environment and energy.

At the news conference, Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, one of the architects of the Internet in the 1960's and 1970's and current chairman of Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said, "Science counts, and it has not counted sufficiently in this administration."

Dr. Cerf said he was a registered Republican, but that he joined the group "in the hope that we bring debate, science and technology, into the political debate so that the electorate understands the importance that it has in our society."

Dr. Cerf said the United States was "at risk of losing the edge" in technology because the Bush administration was cutting basic research budgets at the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. [New York Times]
Manipulating scientific findings to support its policies? How about scientists who manipulate scientific findings to secure government grants?

The Bush record on science is certainly appalling, not because it allegedly cuts funding (it doesn't) but because it interferes with the freedom necessary to conduct science. The Republican’s attempt to squelch cloning science with the seeming support of the administration is a disgrace. That said, it look like "Scientists and Engineers for Change" are hardly any improvement.

The War: Taking the Nihilism of Islamifascism Personally

Ed Cline is, and I agree with him as well.

Rights and Reason: God save us from the Christians

Don Watkins is calling it the way he sees it and I like the way he sees it.

Rights and Reason: Doctor-Assisted Price Fixing?

Ex-CACer Skip Oliva takes an intelligent look at the Bush administration's contradicting policies with respect to physicians?calling for medical malpractice reform on the one hand, while simultaneously prosecuting doctors in record numbers for alleged antitrust infractions at the von Mises Institute.

Update: Skip also has a worthwhile review of the US Supreme Court's antitrust cases from last term here. See page 10 for his review of the case in which CAC filed an amicus brief with the court.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Culture: The Fake is Never Accurate

Note: Been pretty busy so not much time for blogging, but here's this week's column:

The feeling in the newsroom must have been exhilarating: in the face of blistering attacks questioning the heroism of John Kerry in Viet Nam made by supporters of President Bush, CBS News would offer damning evidence that would indict the president as a hypocrite. CBS’s report would reveal that George Bush avoided being drafted to fight in Viet Nam by landing a coveted National Guard spot through family influence, and then subsequently failed to live up to the terms of his enlistment.

The problem with this story is that the memos that CBS relied upon for its story are forgeries—and bad ones at that. Yet when confronted with evidence that it was duped, instead of admitting its error, CBS attacked its critics.

Jonathan Klein, a former executive at CBS News, assailed the Internet bloggers who brought attention to inconsistencies in the typesetting of the memos by claiming that, “You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at CBS news] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

CBS News anchor Dan Rather was equally contemptuous, dismissing what he called a “counterattack” from “partisan political operatives.” Then, the New York Times encapsulated CBS’s position in a headline that will go down in linguistic infamy: the documents in question were “fake, but accurate.”

Inaccuracy in journalism is not a new story. Even experienced reporters can make mistakes; they can get names wrong, misquote subjects and commit a host of other errors.

Yet none of these errors are necessarily damming. Instead, what counts is one’s loyalty to the truth. Mistakes are embarrassing, but owning up to them does not hurt one’s credibility—it enhances it. Reporting facts out of context, or fishing for facts that support a desired conclusion in defiance of reality is not so easily forgiven.

A journalist’s mission is to present concrete, objective facts based on their experience in judging what is important to their audience. A journalist presents facts that anyone would see if they could stand in the journalist’s shoes themselves. If the facts being reported are controversial, journalists are expected to report as much.

Yet it is not the job of the journalist to support particular beliefs. Journalists serve as the eyes and ears of their audience, but not their mind. It is left to the reader to draw whatever conclusions are appropriate from the news—not to the reporter.

It is interesting then to note how many journalists believe that their ability to report facts objectively is impossible—an ideal that can be approached, but never reached. Every communications professor I have studied under at George Mason has argued that facts are not observable aspects of the world, but instead are consensually agreed upon statements about it. By this view, the mere perception of facts distorts them. Truth is not determined by hardnosed perception, but by committee. Instead of objectivity, we are left with pseudo-objectivity.

This explains why so many journalists can claim with a straight face that they are not biased even when it is so plain that they are. Most journalists do not actively think and select, they simply reflect the conventions that have long ago imprinted themselves upon their minds. These conventions are dominated by a left-of-center world view.

A typical example: Reuters’ tortured attempts to avoid identifying the acts of militant Islamists as terrorist acts on the grounds that, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” The left holds that all cultures are equal: think of John Kerry arguing that the North Vietnamese communists were no different from the Americans in his 1972 Senate testimony. So an act of murder might not actually be an act of murder; after all, who are we to judge?

And if we did judge, we would not be objective. A journalist’s mind is a literal blank and he gives all claims credence, even those that are painfully false—and obviously dangerous to their audience.

Yet no one, not even a journalist or a communications professor can honestly defend dishonesty. The fake is never accurate. Objectivity demands an active mind that can identify facts, sort out extraneous noise, and present the truth in a useful way.

Yet if the last two weeks are any judge, CBS has failed in its responsibility to live up to this purpose.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Culture: Art Finally Comes to Mason

Note: Here's this week's column.

Controversial art historian Lee Sandstead will speak this Monday evening at the Johnson Center on something this campus hasn’t seen or heard about in decades—art.

What? How can I say this? Isn’t there art everywhere at Mason?

Well, yes, there is a lot of “art” on campus—but I wouldn’t call it that. Coming from University Drive, there is 25 foot tall, two foot in diameter rusty girder, bent at an angle and sliced out in parts named “America.” Despite its large size, this work speaks to nothing.

To the side of the Center for the Performing Arts, there is an upright, rectangular column of marble with the center cut out and angled to the side. This work is similarly mute.

Last year there was what appeared to be a 55 gallon fuel drum split in two, hammered flat and hung from a tree. On the artist’s website, she says her work was created in what she describes as “periods of clarity and lapses in judgment.”

Judging by the product, I would say it was less of the former and more of the latter. Add that almost any time there is an art “instillation” shown on campus, one can safely bet that it will be yet another offering made to the cult of the hideous.

But Lee Sandstead will not be speaking of this type of “art”—he will be speaking about an art-form long lost that once used images of man to uplift man. Art like that of Evelyn Beatrice Longman.

American sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman was once the most famous female sculptor in the world—yet her artwork has been forgotten by the common man and buried by academia.

First, a little bit of context. Last year, Sandstead gave a lecture at Mason where he described how a painting saved his life. When he was in college, Sandstead was like a lot of us: a boozer, a mindless skirt-chaser and an academic failure. The way he tells it, he was little more than a fool. Many of us are.

Yet this was before Sandstead happened across a painting by 19th century Frenchman William Bouguereau. The painting he saw portrayed two children in a moment of sharing. In that painting, Sandstead says he saw Bouguereau depict something that he had never observed before: human benevolence, with a sensitivity and depth that comes from the ability to see life for awesome thing that it is and recreate it in art.

From that moment on, Sandstead says he changed his life for the better. He buckled down, finished college and became an art historian and university professor—all that because of a painting.

Now Sandstead seeks beautiful art as a prospector seeks gold—and gold is what he found when he re-discovered Longman. Longman strove to portray the heroic because that is what she thought was most important about us. Her sculpture shows men and women at their best: she depicted scenes of intelligence, strength, and spirit.

One of her works, a winged man clad in gold, holding lightning bolts in his upheld hand celebrated mankind’s mastery over the power of electricity. It once crowned a great skyscraper.

Yet now, almost 80 years later, it stands lonely duty as the parking lot attendant of a nondescript telecommunications facility in a nondescript New Jersey town.

This did not happen by accident. Works of glory are not ignored and works of mediocrity are not enshrined by mere chance. Artists, whatever their school, focus on what they think is important—through their work they show us their sense of the world.

Once, artists gave us something to live up too. But now, the triumphant has been lost—lost to a blob, a pile of rust and vomit on a canvas.

And that’s where Sandstead comes in. He says we should reject the ugly and the meaningless. He says we can rediscover the lost masters like Longman and learn what they have to say. And like Sandstead did when he turned his life around, we too can apply these lessons to our own lives.

Can a work of art save the world? Lee Sandstead thinks it can. I, for one, agree with him.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The War: The Real Bush Doctrine

We all remember the "Bush Doctrine"--"you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists." Diana Hsieh points out the real Bush Doctrine at Noodlefood:

[T]he Bush Administration is floundering in its own moral fog. It refuses to identify its basic enemy as militant Islam. It defends Islamic values as morally equal to Western values. It often subordinates military victory to Muslim goodwill. It focuses on the violent methods of some militant Islamists rather than the more dangerous goals of the ideology. In order to avoid the charge of cultural imperialism, the Bush Administration is routinely lapsing into cultural relativism. As a result, America lacks a clear vision and purpose in this conflict -- and that undermines our capacity to eliminate the grave threat posed by militant Islam. The corresponding impression of weakness and self-doubt emboldens the militant Islamists' dreams of transforming America into an Islamist theocracy.
Unfortunately, well said.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Culture: Marion Barry wins primary for DC Council seat

What's that sound coming form DC? Is it the sound of the money leaving?

The Culture: Blaming Freedom

You might not know it, but economic freedom is to blame for Russia's recent turn toward authoritarianism, at least according to Lilia Shevtsova, cochair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Project at the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Center. Shevtsova writes the following in a book review of Periferiiny Kapitalizm (Peripheral Capitalism) by Grigory Yavlinsky:

In Russia, the pro-market economic determinism of the 1990s created the illusion that capitalism’s benefits would eventually produce a country of staunch democrats. Instead, Russia’s experience proved that economic growth can trigger nationalist nostalgia for a long-past superpower role. Derailed en route to democracy, Russia now sits idle in a way station where strength mingles with impotence, powerful bureaucracies constrain authoritarian leadership, and thriving private businesses uneasily coexist with state-run enterprises. [FOREIGN POLICY]
I have a more plausible explanation for Russia’s current position: Russia left communism, but it never truly left authoritarianism. The fall of communism in Russia did not mean the embrace of the principle of individual rights. After the communism’s collapse, the Russian mafia first filled the power vacuum. Now Putin is. Through all this, one thing remains constant: in Russia, might always makes right.

How then does Shevtsova come to blame “pro-market economic determinism” for Russia’s problems? Easily. While seemingly advocating for capitalism, she nevertheless equates the power of the businessman with the power of the gun.

[M]ost transitional societies are hybrids of some kind. (Just look at China.) But precisely what kind of hybrid is Russia? What path does President Vladimir Putin envision for the country in his second term? Will he find the courage to undo the bonds between power and business, between those who make the decisions and those who influence them? And what fate awaits Russia if he does not?
Who are these businessmen with their fingers on power in Russia? Isn’t it the other way around? Shevtsova gives us a hint:

Unlike its Soviet predecessor, the Russian economy is tied to world markets, but in Yavlinsky’s view it survives only on the most distant margins of the global economy. Despite Putin’s first-term pledge to dismantle the oligarchic economic system, entire swaths of the Russian economy remain monopolized by tycoons, many with insider ties to powerful bureaucrats who dominate sectors such as agriculture, defense, oil, and natural gas. Little has changed since the Stalinist era, Yavlinsky observes. Instead of planning the economy, the government now manages business.
So the Russian state grants monopoly power to some businessmen. That’s not capitalism. Shevtsova admits as much, but again, given what she wrote in her opening paragraph, she still ends up blaming the victim:

Russian society is suffering from chronic reform fatigue after enduring countless initiatives that produced many losers and just a handful of winners. Among Russians, stability and order are the preferred options, suggesting the possibility of yet another reformist experiment in Russia—this time, with harsh authoritarianism. Without institutional reforms, Russia is destined to remain on the periphery, growing more disenchanted and hostile toward the West.
But are Russia’s “many losers” the product of a culture of laziness, or are they held back by their government? Is hard work seen as the path to wealth? Do the Russians believe money can be made if they are left free to make it? Do the Russians accept the principle of individual rights? These questions go unasked.

Yet one fact is certain: if Russia favors the boot over freedom, it is unfair to blame freedom.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Culture: You knew it was only a matter of time . . .

. . . before some editorialist would blame the recent spat of hurricanes on global warming.

I love this new "science." It gets hot, it's global warming. It gets cold, it's global warming. It rains, it's global warming. It doesn't rain, it's global warming.

I may be out on a limb on this, but it ought to be academic that when everything and anything can be linked to global warming, the theory is wanting in explaining reality.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Culture: So which one is it?

"Chides" or "rips"?

Intellectual Activism: The Threat of GMU’s Faith-Based Crusaders

Since I bit the bullet and have gone back to college, I've been itching for an opportunity to be an intellectual activist on campus. To achieve my goal, I've taken on the job on opinion columnist for the George Mason University campus paper. Here's the text of my first column:

The Threat of GMU's Faith-Based Crusaders

By Nicholas Provenzo

There is a lot of faith on campus this semester. On the first day of classes, a gauntlet of recruiters for a Christian missionary group passed out flyers to students stating that while we may aim to improve our lives through education and hard work, such efforts are ultimately meaningless. According to this group, only one?s faith in God truly matters and only His grace can sustain us.

Another group, ".Cru" or the Campus Crusade for Christ was more covert about their beliefs. ".Cru" set up a table in SUB II where they offered students a school planner in exchange for taking a survey. Since nothing indicated to me that ".Cru" was even remotely a religious group, I took their questionnaire. I was little more than surprised when the first question asked me if I wanted a relationship with Jesus. Since I've been an atheist for over ten years, I filled in the "no" bubble and went about my business.

It was later that day that I had my "miracle" moment. I ran into an acquaintance of mine who has cerebral palsy. She used to use a motorized wheelchair for movement. Yet when I saw her, she walked. Yes, clumsily, but by the power of her own muscles and the strength of her own will. Seeing her walk left me speechless--I've never seen someone I know do something so astounding in all my life.

Think for a moment what it took to give this woman the ability to overcome her disease. It took years of painstaking research for scientists to understand the nature of cerebral palsy and outflank its effects. These discoveries were not made possible by faith in God. That's not how discovery works. They were made possible by the ruthless application of the scientific method.

Yet in the face of all years of excruciating mental effort that made this woman's reclamation possible, how many of us would describe her recovery as a "miracle"--an act of divine rather than human intervention? Even if not literally (the religious might argue that God moved the researchers, for example) there is more reverence in our culture for God's will than humanity's ability. I see this as our undoing.

It is no secret that the United States is engaged in a life or death struggle with the forces of Islamic totalitarianism. Like the Christian totalitarianists of the Dark Ages who suppressed reason and science, they too are unable to deliver "miracles" such as my friend being able to walk. As committed advocates for faith, militant Islamists hate our freedom and prosperity and the secular foundation that makes our world possible. Our nation is the living refutation of their faith. They detest us for it.

Yet as a people, we have not refuted the Islamist's indictment against us. Even as our solders engage this enemy on the battlefield, we have not made clear the impossibility of their faith over our reason in every field and in every realm. I think that is because most of us don't understand the difference ourselves. Too many of us are animated by the same core belief in the divine that animates our enemy--and in this kind of battle, it's the more consistent force that wins.

Universities such as George Mason are a home for ideas. All ideas, even those animated by faith are welcome, but for ideas to have true currency, we must be able to prove them. A university is a place for reasons. Yet faith, the cornerstone of every religion and every religious moral code is the exact opposite of proof. And of all the ideologies and worldviews that exist, it was the ones animated by faith that made the strongest showing on our campus last week.

I hate to say it, but that's not a good sign.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The War: A More Substantive Proclamation

President Bush has issued a proclamation on this, the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks:

On September 11, 2001, America was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty. We remember the tragedy of that day. We remember the images of fire, and the final calls of love, and the courage of rescuers who saw death and did not flee. We remember the many good lives that ended too soon. We remember the families left behind to carry a burden of sorrow; they have shown a courage of their own. During this year's National Days of Prayer and Remembrance, Americans join together to pray for those who were lost, and for their loved ones.

Since that day, our nation has waged a relentless war against terror and evil. We pray for the brave men and women of the United States armed forces who are serving our country on the front lines of this war. They have answered a great call, and our nation is grateful for their courage, love of country, and dedication to duty. We recognize the sacrifice of military families and pray that they find comfort in faith and in knowing that their loved ones are serving an historic cause— defending our country and advancing peace and freedom in the world.

On this third anniversary of September 11th, we feel the warm courage of national unity—a unity of grief and a unity of resolve. And we pray that God will continue to watch over and bless America.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Friday, September 10, through Sunday, September 12, 2004, as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance. I ask that the people of the United States and places of worship mark these National Days of Prayer and Remembrance with memorial services, the ringing of bells, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils. I invite the people of the world to share in these Days of Prayer and Remembrance.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-ninth.

All the prayers in the world will not move one grain of sand one inch. Rather than call for prayer and remembrance, I would prefer the president to commemorate this anniversary September 11th with bombs and riflemen loosed upon the agents of evil that initiated their attack upon our soil and our people. It’s our nation’s enemies who seek Islamic heaven over the value of this life. Let us resolve to do our best to deliver them to it.

The War: Terrorists, Period.

Score another one for Ed Cline, who has a letter in today's Washington Post:

Reading your paper's accounts of the butchery by terrorists in Beslan, Russia [front page, Sept. 5-8], I have been struck by your reporters' repeated employment of euphemisms for "terrorists," as though substituting the terms "guerrillas," "hostage takers," "militants" and "fighters" could whitewash the identity of these killers. Why can't your editors just identify these people for what they are: Islamic terrorists.

These killers executed 22 men who had been forced to build barricades. They shot anyone who exhibited defiance, such as a 14-year-old girl. One of them used a bayonet to kill a 5-year-old boy who asked for water. They allowed their captives almost no food or water. They rigged the building to blow up. The list of atrocities goes on.

And yet your reporters treat the killers as though they were "rebels" with legitimate causes or grievances who were only bluffing. That euphemistic terminology allows your paper to evade the fact that these were people who killed for the sake of killing. What terminology will your editors use if Islamic terrorists pull the same thing here in this country? Will you call them "dissidents"?

American journalism has become as contemptible as the legal profession.

-- Edward Cline

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Antitrust News: AMA Says Doctors Need Antitrust Exemption

After being appallingly useless in fighting the antitrust juggernaut facing physicians who negotiate collectively with HMO's, it seems the American Medical Association has had a change of heart and will now be only somewhat useless. This from the AMA’s newsletter.

What physicians are looking for is a fair fight.

That's why the AMA is continuing to look for support for the Health Care Antitrust Improvements Act of 2003. It's a House bill that would allow physicians to receive permission to negotiate collectively with insurers. It also would limit sanctions against physicians who were found not to be in accordance with antitrust statutes, but whose conduct was deemed to be in "good faith." Finally, it also would establish demonstration projects allowing doctors jointly to negotiate contracts with health plans. [AMA]
The the Health Care Antitrust Improvements Act of 2003 or H. R. 1120 was introduced by such stalwarts of capitalism as John Conyers and Charlie Rangel. As identified above, it would allow physicians to ask the government for permission to negotiate collectively with HMO’s and codify a “rule of reason” standard for enforcing antitrust against doctors.

I suppose we should be grateful that the largest lobby-group for doctors has finally seen that antirust is a pressing problem for doctors. Yet the AMA offers no explanation why doctors should have to ask the government for permission to do what any common-laborer has a right to do, nor does it offer any explanation why the AMA is not supporting an outright antitrust exemption.

If H.R. 1120 is the AMA’s idea of a cure, this patient is going to be sick for a long time to come.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The War: The Face of the Religion of Peace

This image is of one of the Beslan school terrorists taken from the Russian NTV channel.

In war, it is unfortunate when innocent children are injured or killed as a consequence of battle, but it is unforgivable when they are made deliberate into targets. Yet again, another outrage has been loosed upon the world by the adherents of the religion of peace.

A year ago when I visited New York, I was accosted at a nightclub by a Russian who claimed that I dressed like a Republican attorney. He then berated me with his global-political views, culminating in his position that the people of America were a bunch of cowboys who deserved the contempt of the world. Now that his country is in tears, I would love his explanation for it.