Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Almost reasonable'

In a wonderfully pompous conclusion to an otherwise good post, Volokh Conspirator David Bernstein says a quote by Katherine Cohen, CEO of IvyWise, a college-admissions consulting company in the New York Magazine is "the kind of thing that makes Objectivism look almost reasonable."

Heh. I almost care.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Recycling is BS?

So say Penn and Teller in this video of an episode of the comedic duo's provocatively-named Showtime series that is now propagating across the Internet.

What is remarkable about this video is that Penn and Teller actually track down and confront the federal regulator that is responsible for much of the pro-recycling hype, a one Dr. J. Winston Porter, PhD who was the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Porter was responsible for an 1989 EPA report that claimed that the US would run out of landfill space if it did not recycle at least 25% of is garbage waste—ignoring the salient fact that landfill space is cheaper and ultimately less polluting than the recycling craze he started.

The other refreshing angle is the unvarnished contempt Penn and Teller have for the irrational. They so utterly demolish the pro-recycling environmentalists, one almost feels sorry for the bastards—were they not behind wasteful and inefficient myth-making. Pretty compelling stuff for only a 30-minute program aimed at a mass audience.

NB: The language in this clip may be inappropriate for some viewers—discretion is advised.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving 2006

For something to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, visit art historian Lee Sandstead's stunning Croton-on-Hudson gallery. Lee writes:

For me, this gallery represents one of the greatest places that I have ever lived—filled with productivity, great memories and beautiful light.
Indeed. And lest I forget, all of Lee's images are available for purchase (and would make great gifts for your favorite capitalist bloggers :-P).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Eurabian Roundup

Scientology convert and couch-stomping actor Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes in a 15th century castle in Italy in front of celebrity crowd of 150 guests and the rest of the world. Going by the media coverage of the event and the bizarre adulation of the thousands of obsessed bystanders gathered outside the castle, you could have sworn Zeus and Hera were reaffirming their marriage vows on Mount Olympus in an epochal event that would resound through the ages.

In the meantime, Europe dithered.

Thomas Sowell, in a recent Capitalism Magazine column, "Where is the West?" (November 17) observed that the sixty years of European peace was "due to American nuclear weapons, which was all that could deter the Soviet Union's armies from marching right across Europe to the Atlantic Ocean." He also noted that

"Two generations of being insulated from the reality of the international jungle, of not having to defend their own survival because they have been living under the protection of the American nuclear umbrella, have allowed too many Europeans to grow soft and indulge themselves in illusions about brutal realities and dangers."

Sowell was remarking on European protests against Saddam Hussein's death sentence and the alleged torture of Islamic prisoners of war held by Americans. One wonders how contemporary "soft and squeamish" Frenchmen view the execution of Pierre Laval, who as premier headed the collaborating Vichy government during the Nazi occupation and was tried and executed in 1945 as a traitor, or the public humiliation of French women who had fraternized with German officers while Laval was sending their countrymen off to work as slaves in German war plants. Perhaps they would claim Laval deserved a light sentence and a chance at rehabilitation.

Europe has had a double run of luck since the collapse of the Soviet Union. First, it did not need to over-worry about the Soviet threat. The U.S. and its military sidekick, NATO, were sure to protect it. Then the "evil empire" collapsed of its own postponed contradictions, together with an inability to keep pace with American military armaments, and that peril vanished virtually overnight.

No European nation, however, has had to set aside as much tax revenue for military purposes, in proportion to its gross national product, as has the U.S. Thanks to the American outlay, most European nations could afford to earmark their own tax revenues to establish profligate welfare states, which Democrats and other statists here in the U.S. envy and itch to emulate. Point this out to a European politician or an American Democrat, and he will say that it's irrelevant. Welfare states, they would insist with self-righteous indignation, are a matter of social and economic justice, and have nothing to do with external enemies, imaginary or otherwise.

Welfare states, however, tend to go to war, chiefly out of the necessity to compensate for the wealth consumed in sustaining non-productive bureaucracies and growing populations of entitled dependents. Germany did it three times in the span of seventy years, beginning with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

France will not be outdone. Successive French governments, together with its press and intellectuals, have for decades nurtured a simmering animosity towards Britain for being too recalcitrant about surrendering its sovereignty, independence and identity to an amorphous but tyrannical European Union. But Britain and France are at present like oil and water. Compare just the nominally Lockean legal system of Britain with France's semi-Napoleonic system - or Britain's with the byzantine European Union legal system, and one can begin to understand why Britain has been dragging its feet.

"Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, wants Britain to choose between being a 'vassal' of the United States, and embracing a French-led drive for European integration, her adviser on Europe has revealed," reported the Daily Telegraph on November 20th ("Ségolène urges Britain to choose between Europe and America")

Gilles Savary, a French Member of the European Parliament and Royal's foreign affairs adviser, told the Daily Telegraph:

"Great Britain is absolutely indispensable to the European Union. It is a great nation, a global power. But the question the English have to answer is - do the English consider the English Channel to be wider than the Atlantic? We on the continent have the right to deplore the fact that Great Britain appears to consider the Channel is wider."

Rephrased: We have a right to envy Britain. Dices of roast beef are indispensable to our Continental bouillabaisse, for flavor and consistency.

And the Atlantic between Britain and the U.S. is narrower? So be it. In short, Britain must decide whether to remain a rhetorical "vassal" of the United States, or an actual vanquished "vassal" of European Union bureaucracy.

Such talk seems calculated to offend Britain and guarantee its alienation. If Britain has any pride, it should continue to regard the Channel as wider than the Atlantic, and refuse to accept the role of whipping boy for the U.S. France wants to eat Britain and have it, too. So does the European Union. Like any gang of bullies, the Continentals view Britain as a reproach and a nemesis that must be persuaded to join, or be conquered, or at least be humbled through political and economic ostracism. They cannot tolerate a stand-alone.

A Britain absorbed into the undifferentiated mass of the European Union would also destroy the "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. Britain certainly has problems - among other things, a Muslim population that wants to be separate but equal, a bureaucracy that rides roughshod in a demonstrably anti-Lockean manner over a variety of rights and liberties, a Scotland that wants to end its 300-year union with England - but it remains the most un-European of European nations.

In reporting the details of Royal's EU policies, Savary said that "Britain would be asked to sign up to the new treaty, but if it rejected calls for increased protectionism, an EU foreign minister, convergence on tax rates and moves to create a European army, then France and her allies [tentatively, Germany, Italy and Spain] would agree to a treaty among themselves."

The "new" treaty Savary spoke of would replace the EU constitution that was shot down by French and Dutch voters last summer. But, one must wonder: Protectionism - against whom? A convergence of tax rates - with what nation paying the most, because it is, among European nations, the freest and most prosperous? Is Royal's goal to guarantee the egalitarian impoverishment of all?

A European army? To defend what political entity against what enemy? And generaled by a bureaucracy, modeled, perhaps, on the Pentagon, which is no longer concerned with winning wars, but instead "hearts and minds"?

Meanwhile, from across the expanse of Eurabia, the long arm of President Vladimir Putin's SMERSH-like Federal Security Bureau has struck in London as well as in Moscow. Alexander Litvinenko, a former colonel of the Russian secret service and an outspoken critic of Putin, was poisoned with thallium in a restaurant while meeting an unknown female journalist who claimed to have evidence concerning the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building in October. The evidence, if authentic, probably pointed to Putin's FSB. If bogus, it was an element of an elaborate plot to exact revenge on Litvinenko, regarded as a traitor in Russia.

Complicating the assassination attempt on Litvinenko is that he is now a British citizen. Politkovskaya was the thirteenth Russian journalist to be assassinated. Her editor, Yuri Shchekochkhin, was poisoned with dioxin in 2003. In 2004 Viktor Yushchenko, a presidential candidate in the Ukraine, was poisoned with dioxin, as well. He survived the attempt on his life, won the election, but remains disfigured. It would be interesting to know how many individuals have been poisoned, shot, garroted, jailed, and kidnapped and never heard from again by Putin's agents since he rose to power.

Vladimir Putin is an incarnation of an Ian Fleming villain. His face is an icy mask of ascetic evil. In addition to directing the murderous projects of the Siloviki, his SMERSH-like faction in the Kremlin (staffed largely with former KGB colleagues) he could just as well be the head of SPECTRE, or the "Special Executive for counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion." Putin has practiced all those arts in his bid to consolidate power and to restore Russia as a major player in global politics, using oil as both a bargaining chip and a tool of extortion. Rivals in tyranny, such as the Muslim separatist movement in Chechnya, and free press and capitalists in Russia itself, have been crushed and scattered as efficiently by his brutality as was any opposition to the Czars in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In footage of Bush's recent visit to Russia (on his way to Hanoi) Putin, purportedly an "ally" in the "war on terror," welcomed the president with a pat on the back. It was the gesture that condescends to welcome a useful idiot.

In the Mideast, assassination is also a popular tool of repression, though less subtle than poison. Just this week, Pierre Gemayel, a Christian, member of the Lebanese cabinet, and critic of Syria's (and by implication, Hezbollah's) influence in Lebanon's affairs, was shot and killed outside of Beirut by three gunmen who used, appropriately, silencers.

And in the Gaza, the life of Mohammed Baroud, a leading Palestinian terrorist, was spared extinction by an Israeli airstrike when hundreds of Palestinians formed a "human shield" inside, in front of and atop his home. The Israelis, who have adopted the "humane" policy of warning "militants" that they are about to strike in order to avoid civilian casualties, in this instance telephoned Baroud with a ten-minute warning. Israel cancelled the airstrike. The Palestinians cheered. Baroud will live on to oversee continued rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. (Daily Telegraph, November 20).

In a militarily absurd explanation for the cancellation, a spokesman for the Israeli military said, "We don't want to hurt uninvolved civilians. The terrorists are using uninvolved civilians as human shields."

Uninvolved? Hundreds of Palestinian cretins rush to protect a killer, and they are considered "uninvolved"? Every one of them deserved to die in that airstrike. They are as much Israel's enemies as the gangsters of Hamas. Who do you think will swarm over the carcass of Israel in orgies of murder, rape and looting if Israel ever succumbs to Ahmadinejad's nuclear blackmail?

If Israel wishes to survive, it must abandon the U.S. warfighting policy of treating enemy populations as "innocent" and blameless, and treat "human shields" as weapons to be eliminated as ruthlessly as are tanks, rockets and gunmen.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Talking Jesus Doll Turns the Marines into Missionaries

The Marines have earned a reputation for standing firm, even when attacked on all sides. Apparently, this legacy no longer applies when the weapon used against them is a talking Jesus doll.

First, some context. For many years now, Christian activists have been fighting to regain Christmas, or more specifically, fighting against anyone who disagrees with them over how Christmas is to be celebrated. Rather ironically, these Christian activists have framed the debate as a war against them.

For example, if you run a business and you instruct your employees to wish your customers a "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" on the grounds that not all your customers are Christians, you are guilty of attacking all that these Christians hold dear. If you think that nativity crèches look great on private property, but violate the First Amendment when placed upon the courthouse lawn, you too are attacking these Christians.

Nether of the above scenarios impacts the ability of Christians to celebrate Christmas as they see fit—on their own property and within their own institutions. Yet what a Christian does in privacy is not the concern of the Christmas crusaders-it is what you and I do in our privacy, or what our public institutions do (institutions that by definition must represent all of us) that is the object of their crusade.

And now we come to our talking Jesus doll. The Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. manufactures a Jesus doll that is less a toy and more a tool with which to preach Christianity to children. For example, the toy quotes the Holy Bible with statements like "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." The doll's manufacturer offered to donate 4,000 of its dolls to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, founded by the Marines in 1947 to ensure that needy children received some toys for Christmas.

The foundation, supported today by the Marine Corps Reserves as part of its official mission, opted to refuse the Jesus dolls on the grounds that the Marines don't profess one faith over another, and that the doll was an inappropriate gift for a non-Christian family. And that's when all hell broke lose.

In responce to its decision, the foundation was peppered with so many calls of Christian outrage that The Washington Post reports that it became impossible for the foundation to perform its mission—which is simply to give some hard-luck kids something nice to play with on Christmas Day. Caving in to the pressure, the foundation reversed itself and agreed to accept the Jesus dolls, and will simply have to make an extra effort in addition to its already large commitments to ensure that these dolls don't go to families that don't want them.

How absolutely obnoxious—but typical of people who think they have the right to force their faith down the rest of our throats and that the government should help them do it. Never mind that our government must remain secular and be guided only by reason if it is to properly fulfill its role of protecting our individual freedoms. And never mind that there is no shortage of religious charities that would have been more than happy to offer scripture-quoting Jesus dolls to willing families. That apparently is not enough for the Christian activists who think that they need to hijack our government in order to deliver their Christmas message.

The last insult is that the Marines are at the heart of a great struggle overseas to keep America free from those who think that they have the right to impose their religious creed upon us by force. It is appalling that the Marines' valor and courage on the battlefield is being twisted by people back home who seek the same ultimate ends as the enemy, only substituting their religious creed for his.

"To men of goodwill, peace" it is not.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fretful Friendships

Revisiting one of my favorite satirical plays, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic, I was prompted to note a parallel between Sir Fretful Plagiary's anxious protestations against the charge that he is a talentless playwright (and a plagiarist, as well), and the anxiety of the Bush administration's stance on the Middle East, especially about its relationship with Israel. Lacking any first-hand knowledge of plot, dialogue, and dramaturgy, Sir Fretful rebuffs every criticism of his play by critics who are equally ignorant of dramaturgy, and leaves the stage in furious dudgeon, while his critics, Sneer and Dangle, snicker at his mortification.

Lacking any guiding principle, except that of pragmatism (if that can be called a guiding principle) and the court of "world opinion," the U.S. cannot decide whether to confront Iran, Syria, and their client terrorist groups (Hamas and Hezbollah) and stand without reservation behind Israel and its right to exist, or to force Israel to make concessions with the Palestinians in order to end the ceaseless conflict and tension in the Middle East. Israel, too, has lost its self-confidence; it was U.S. pressure on Israel that it fight Hezbollah on its own terms last July, and as a consequence Israel lost the war in Lebanon.

On November 10th, in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain gave a speech in which he verbalized what President Bush dare not say in public. His theme, centered on the ongoing chaos in Iraq and the U.S.'s inability to "stabilize" a country whose inhabitants are at each other's throats in a struggle for religious and political supremacy, was "constructive engagement."

It could only mean that while Bush has sworn never to deal directly with Hamas or any other terrorist group, he has effectively signaled to willingness to negotiate with them through third parties.

"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work and where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found." (The Daily Telegraph, November 14).
The essential point of his speech was that the U.S. should work to form a diplomatic coalition of the "moderate" Arab states to bring about the desired goal. The chief members of that coalition would be Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Never mind that there are no "moderate" Arab states on the question of Israel, and that the Daily Telegraph headline of the story which contained Blair's speech was "Iran Plotting to groom bin Laden's successor."

The thorny problem facing Bush, Blair, and others is: How to bring the antagonists together (Saudi Arabia and Iran are, on Islamic religious terms, mortal enemies) to achieve a lasting solution? That is, how to give the Arabs and Iranians everything they want except the eradication of Israel, and also secure Israel's shrinking borders?

The simplest solution to bringing peace to the Mideast would be to blast into oblivion the "roots where global terrorism are to be found" - that is, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. But to Bush, Blair and others, that is an unacceptable solution. It might, after all, enrage world opinion, especially Muslim opinion. So the solution they will settle on is to cobble together the antagonists in an alliance to work out a compromise.

In the Heraclitean, "realist" universe of professional pragmatists, there are no absolutes. Nor, apparently, should there be. And since they reject the necessity of absolutes - for example, of acknowledging that Hamas and Hezbollah are gangs of killers that should never be brought into any civilized discourse - all they can do is brood and agonize, interminably ponder the crisis, and fret over and over again: "What to do?" and settle for an indefinable "middle course" that itself is an elusive non-absolute solution.

The conflict is insoluble because the U.S. lacks the courage to acknowledge the existence of evil. Evil, presumably, can be cajoled into becoming a "good" through "constructive engagement."

An article by Steven Erlanger of The New York Times in the International Herald Tribune (November 14), underscores Israel's fretful dilemma and U.S.'s fretful vacillation.

"Many Israelis feel that the free world under the leadership of the U.S. is facing a similar situation to Europe in the 1930s, when they watched the rearming of the Nazi Reich," Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Israeli Parliament's foreign and defense committee, is quoted in Erlanger's article. "No one could predict the global catastrophe ten years later, and Iran may be the same."
Erlanger writes:

"Bush says his stance over Iran is unchanged: He will never accept a nuclear-armed Iranian state. Yet Israelis have been increasingly anxious about the Bush approach to Iran, seeing recently a tendency to delay confrontation through further negotiations. They worry that because of Iran's ability to further inflame Iraq, Bush is hesitant to take any steps that could lead to confrontation. And Israelis are worried about what concessions an administration seeking to build an anti-Iran alliance in the Arab world might ask of them on the Palestinian question in order to bolster that alliance."
The midterm elections were watched closely and anxiously by Israel and its Islamic enemies. Islamists abroad and in the U.S. hailed the Democratic sweep of Congress as a victory, especially since a Democrat and Muslim, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, was elected to the House, and also because the Republicans even boast of an "anti-Israel" representative, Darrell Issa of California, who is booster for Hezbollah.

Erlanger writes:

"No Israeli knows if the next American president will be as tough on Iran or as loyal to Israel as Bush. If Bush does not act, Israelis say, by the time the next president takes office in January 2009, Iran will be well on its way to a bomb, and Washington may not back Israeli responses."
It is news to me that Bush has been "tough" on Iran. "Tough" on Iran, in rational, practical terms, means destroying Iran's nuclear fuel-producing facilities and removing its theocratic government, and letting the Iranians sort out the mess, just as the U.S. should have removed Saddam and left the Iraqis to butcher each other. Bush's notion of "tough" is to lapse into a state of denial, coached by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other champions of compromise.

Erlanger cites Yossi Alpher, a former Israel-Palestinian negotiator, who said that if Bush succeeds in beginning talks with Iran, "we need to ensure that the U.S. doesn't sell us down the river.... [I]f the world solves it diplomatically, will it be at our expense?"

He can bet on it. History has taught us that postponing moral crises will only result in the crises blowing up in our faces. In the gnawing, fretful world of unprincipled diplomacy, nothing is surer than failure, betrayal, and catastrophe.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Intellectual Activist’s lost guide

Robert W. Tracinski, editor of The Intellectual Activist, has taken a public stand that makes clear the gulf between his thinking and the philosophy of Objectivism that he had previously claimed to espouse. He recently states in Part 3 of his position, "What Went Right?" that "every thinking man who does honest work in his own field is our ally and is helping to move civilization forward. The work of such men is not mere cultural 'momentum' from a previous era, but an active addition to human knowledge and achievement. And whatever their philosophical errors, in their professional work these men are creating valid and important ideas that do change the course of events."

Counterpoint: Such men are today working in a philosophical vacuum. Unless a philosophy of reason salvages our culture and civilization, civilization cannot move forward and the work of such men will be for nought. Their work will constitute the rubble of a civilization that committed suicide because it rejected a fully consistent philosophy of reason.

"But philosophy does not and cannot dictate the content of a specialized field."

Counterpoint: Yes, philosophy can and will dictate the content of any specialized field. Until men subscribed to reason - reason anchored to reality - they floundered for centuries trying to explain reality and the universe. Much of what constituted knowledge in antiquity was lost in the Dark Ages. It had to be rediscovered - by a philosophy of reason. This philosophy of reason was an incomplete system. Nevertheless, that incomplete philosophy of reason allowed men to abandon attempts to turn lead into gold and discover physics and chemistry. A philosophy of reason allowed them to discover the true properties of lead and gold.

To illustrate his claim that philosophy cannot sire all the "details" of specialized fields, Tracinski quotes Dr. Peikoff from p. 453 in the Epilogue of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand:

"Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes. The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines."
This is an incomplete, and dishonest quotation. The full quotation should have been:

"Objectivism does not deny that 'many factors' are involved in historical causation. Economic, psychological, military, and other forces play a role. Ayn Rand does not, however, regard all these forces as primaries.

"There is no dichotomy between philosophy and the specialized factors. Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes. If there is to be an explanation of so vast a sum as human history, which involves all men in all fields, only the science dealing with the widest abstractions can provide it. The reason is that only the widest abstractions can integrate all those fields.

"The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines.

"Philosophy determines essentials, not details...." (Dutton edition)
And without a determination of the essentials, details will be contextless, unintegrated, and random, as they were in the Dark Ages, and as they are to any modern child or adult until he grasps the role of reason. It was the discovery of essentials by men that allowed them to abandon alchemy and found the sciences of chemistry and physics. And the integrator of essentials is philosophy. The full quotation of Dr. Peikoff's excerpt blows Tracinski's assertions to pieces. Tracinski omitted those parts of the quotation that did not fit his thesis.

Tracinski follows his dishonest quotation of Peikoff with this assertion:

"This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history, while the public intellectuals and the men in the specialized sciences are mere transmitters and translators of those ideas."
How would one then explain the "trickle-down" intellectual influence of Kant and his successors in philosophy? Tracinski dwells on "fact-driven" knowledge in the sciences and in the headlines, but discards the ultimate philosophical causes of those facts. If men defy reality and pursue the irrational, regardless of the consequences in reality - such as the Democrats wishing to impose socialism on America or Bush refusing to acknowledge this country's foreign enemies - what will govern and explain the "new" facts of the impoverishment of Americans and Iran's Ahmadinejad developing nuclear bombs? What will explain suicide bombers, or the Amish forgiving the killer of schoolgirls? What would explain advances in stem cell research, or its prohibition by government?

Tracinski is on his way to rejecting Objectivism. The very first sentence of OPAR, in Chapter 1: Reality, reads: "Philosophy is not a bauble of the intellect, but a power from which no man can abstain." Tracinski is following a path of logic that will lead him to more or less state: "Yes, philosophy is a bauble of the intellect. It has its uses, but the true referent is reality and men can abstain from taking it too seriously."

Hailing the investigations and reporting of Internet bloggers versus the standard fare of the news media, Tracinski writes:

"Theirs is a career path with one healthy epistemological consequence: the work of these intellectuals is relentlessly fact-driven. Every day brings new events whose causes and consequences they have to explain."
Explain how? Are they the heirs of Aristotle, or of Kant? While it is not necessary for a journalist to be able to trace the ultimate origin of a fact, the fact remains that philosophy is the origin of facts. If the fact-driven epistemology of a 21st century American is healthier than that of a feudal serf (or of most modern journalists), what can explain the difference?

In trying to explain how philosophy is a kind of "adjunct" to reality, Tracinski writes:

"It is worth noting that the first great pro-reason philosopher, Aristotle, was also his era's greatest biologist and an inheritor of several centuries of progress in Greek science. Or, in a modern context, consider where the defenders of reason would be without Newton and Darwin, men who provided natural, scientific explanations for the nature of the universe and the origin of man, two questions that had traditionally been the exclusive domain of religion."
Counterpoint: Aristotle was a pioneer in his fields and applied reason to them (not always consistently, since, as Rand and Peikoff noted, there were still elements of intrinsicism in his thinking). And, it was the advocates of an incomplete philosophy of reason that allowed Newton and Darwin to accomplish what they did, advocates who lived and wrote before Newton's and Darwin's times.

As for the alleged dependence of the defenders of reason on the discoveries of "fact-driven" scientists such as Newton and Darwin, the philosophy of reason did not have a fully consistent defender until Ayn Rand, from the Renaissance to the 20th century. What validated Newton's and Darwin's discoveries? A philosophy of reason.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another post-election thought

No, it's not the big one, but . . .

Harold Meyerson is not a writer that I consider to be a particularly thoughtful. The Washington Post columnist mostly carries water for the Democrats in the tired manner of a typical ward heeler (for example, he writes in defense of things such as increasing the minimum wage, which is hardly the mark of someone who understands basic economics, let alone the morality of the free market). So while there is little to agree with in his most recent column, there is this following point:

Republicans generally and conservatives particularly have profited mightily from the rise and politicization of fundamentalism over the past few decades. The decimation of Republican moderates from the Northeast and Midwest in last week's elections came at the hands of centrist and independent voters who'd had it with the Southernized religious conservatism of the Republicans' base -- and with its moderate Republican enablers.
And that's a good thing, unless of course you are Jack Wakeland or Robert Tracinski, and then it's simply time to start cleaning your rifle.

'God-fearing' Literature

Islamists wish to besiege and destroy Western civilization, physically for certain, but also by taking a leaf from Vladimir Lenin and obliging the West to use the rope of multiculturalism to hang itself. That is proving to be a very effective strategy against a culture that proclaims pride and self-assertion as "imperialistic" sins. And when such a culture settles for paying Dane geld or tribute to the barbarian hordes outside its gates, all it can expect in the end is conquest and destruction.

Non-Islamic university professors of literature, as well, bear an animus for Western civilization. Under the postmodernist tie-dyed banner of deconstruction, feminist criticism, and other non-objective literary theories, they are responsible for having virtually banished the "canon" of Western literary classics from the curricula in middle and secondary schools, in community colleges up to the Ivy League schools. And where the classics haven't been banished, they are subjected to relativistic vivisection. Instead of instilling in students an appreciation of great literature, courses now mostly disparage "great" literature and uphold mediocrity.

Conservative literary "theory," however, has a unique "counter-revolutionary" color to it. I received via email an ad for a book being promoted by the Human Events Book Service, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, by Elizabeth Kantor. "What politically correct English professors don't want you to know," reads a boxed promo next to a picture of the book's cover. At first glance, the lead copy about the book looks benign and inviting.

"The study of literature is essential to preserving Western Culture and transmitting it to future generations. Yet today's English departments have come under the control of people who teach anything but the English and American literary classics. Even when the subject is Shakespeare or Faulkner, the professor's own politics - Marxism, feminism, or some other radical agenda - will be the real content of the course. Meanwhile, today's politically correct professors are busy replacing the 'dead white males' of the traditional literary canon with the authors of the 1980s bestsellers that hit all the politically correct themes."
The charges are indisputable. Kantor's book is a purported overview of the classics, what they are about and not about. A bulleted list of its value to readers, among other things, asserts that it "empowers you to see through every variety of politically correct 'literary theory,' such as 'deconstruction,'" and also "explains the real purpose of studying English and American literature."

Going by bulleted highlights of the contents, however, beginning with Beowulf and ending with Flannery O'Connor, the purpose of studying that literature is to discover or reaffirm its alleged Christian roots.

Of Christopher Marlowe: "Being 'transgressive' will take you only so far - in art, and in life." Marlowe, playwright and a contemporary of Shakespeare, was an atheist and something of a hellion who died in a tavern fight.

Of John Milton: "Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin." Milton was a Christian, but I doubt he would agree with that assertion.

Of the Romantic poets: "Intelligent radicals become conservatives when they grow up - if they grow up." There are a number of conservatives at large today in the intellectual and political world who were intelligent left-wing radicals, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens being two of the better-known "grown-ups."

Of the avant-garde and modernist literature: "Christianity trumps the edgy art world." This is a baffling assertion. Picasso paints a recognizable Virgin Mary? John Cage composes a melodic Mass? Ezra Pound writes a mystery play?

Of Evelyn Waugh: "Without religion, human beings are disgustingly selfish and shallow - and in abandoning Christianity, our culture will shrivel and die." I counter by pointing out that America is nominally Christian, and its culture is still shriveling and dying. So, there must be another explanation for its condition. Also, being selfish is not synonymous with being shallow, and selflessness can only lead to shallowness - and death.

Of T.S. Eliot: "Tradition is necessary to culture." But not thinking men? Leave it to a conservative to shill for tradition.

Of Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, and Twain: "Evil isn't 'back there' or 'out there'; it's in the human heart." To which I would reply: Speak for yourself. What is evil is the concept of original sin.

Of William Faulkner and Southern literature in general: "Civilization is valuable. A fatally flawed culture beats no culture at all." Such as the stifling religious culture that dominated the Dark Ages? It was such a flawed culture that the men of the Renaissance and Enlightenment escaped from or rose above.

Of Flannery O'Connor: "Even modern American liberals aren't immune to original sin." O'Connor, a devout Southern Catholic, wrote "Gothic" novels with pungently surreal religious themes as horrifying as "Nightmare on Elm Street."

I do not plan to read this book, but I am betting that Ayn Rand's "classics" are not discussed in it. A conservative, religious take on literature is as invalid, bizarre, and irrational as that of any deconstructionist's or postmodernist's.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Rise of the Atheists

Author Sam Harris takes on mysticism at Newsweek:

Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the Earth, more than half the American population believes that the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah's Ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the Earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God.

This is embarrassing.
I agree. I've noticed that in the past year or so, atheist views have taken on a much larger public profile than they have in the past. Even South Park noticed the trend in a recent episode (as it nevertheless tried to lampoon atheists as dogmatists who are no less ruthless than the religious).

Nevertheless, this overall trend is heartening, because it indicates a growing debate over the nature of truth and inherent conflict between faith and reason. Not all atheists are our allies on the simple grounds that the absence of faith does not necessarily indicate the presence of reason, yet if this larger debate is the fruit of their hands, it's a welcome opportunity for Objectivists to present their arguments to the public.

The Dalai Lama wants Saddam spared?

According to the Dalai Lama, Saddam Hussein deserves a reprieve.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has appealed for Saddam Hussein's life to be spared, saying the deposed Iraqi president was not beyond redemption.

"The death penalty is said to fulfill a preventive function, yet it is clearly a form of revenge," the Nobel peace laureate told reporters as he ended a two-week visit to Japan.

"However horrible an act a person may have committed, everyone has the potential to improve and correct himself," he said.

"I hope that in the case of Saddam Hussein, as with all others, that human life will be respected and spared."

An Iraqi court sentenced Saddam, ousted in a US-led invasion in 2003, to hang on November 5 for the deaths of 148 Shiites in an Iraqi village in 1982, after an attempt to assassinate him.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he expected Saddam to be hanged before the end of the year. [Agence France Presse]
Living in peace with others demands certain conduct. Fall outside that conduct (as in the case of Saddam, whose hands are drenched in the blood of thousands) and one makes one's self not only the enemy of one's specific victims, but of all mankind.

Why then should either Saddam's victims or mankind itself tolerate Saddam's continued presence on this earth? Saddam's departure punishes the man for his wicked acts, and relives the peaceable men of the world from having to contend with his further existence. If some future dictator is deterred by Saddam's demise, all the sweeter, but putting Saddam down by itself is its own reward.

So why argue against putting Saddam to death for his crimes? The Dalai Lama says that even a man like Hussein has potential. Perhaps he does, yet the Dalai Lama's hope of his potential nature in no way outweighs the demands of his actual nature. So vicious was this nature-so brutal and threatening were his crimes-that Saddam hardly deserved the pretense of the trail that he did receive. Saddam, as dictator of Iraq, was the weapon of mass destruction. America's declaration of force was all the due process he deserved. Once captured and his identity confirmed, Saddam should have been summarily executed, and his memory relegated to the ash heap of history. Sic semper tyrannis.

And thus we move to the question of justice for the Dalai Lama, who gets much better press than he deserves, in no part due to the infatuation of some in the West toward his brand of Buddhist mysticism. The Dalai Lama's supporters claim that he is a man of peace, yet how does calling for a murderer to go half-punished achieve peace-not of the spiritual kind that comes from spinning a prayer wheel all day-but the practical, this-worldly kind that comes from being free from those who think their mere existence gives them the right to subjugate and kill you? The Dalai Lama's fellow Tibetans have suffered brutally under the hands of the Chinese, and yet the experience has not make their spiritual leader more sensitive toward the plight of people who also have suffered equally at the hands of other nationalist regimes. In fact, the Dalai Lama's altruistic creed all but damns the victims of cruelty to continued injustice and misery.

At root, Saddam's many victims (including the families of every American killed in the effort to dethrone him) deserve the opportunity to move on with their lives knowing that one of the key leaders behind their suffering is no more, having been expunged from this earth by a firm and just people. Shame on anyone for standing in the way of this righteous justice.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Post election soul-searching—and the rise of censorship

The midterm elections are passed us, and the Democrats have swept back with an unbecoming vengeance into Congress and power over the U.S. They give one the sense that they are barbarian hordes riding into Rome with every intention of sacking it. They remind us why drooling and gloating are unsightly and repulsive. Objectivists and non-Objectivists alike know they are up to no good.

Many of them voted Democratic chiefly as protest against the failure of Republicans to properly prosecute a war against a dedicated enemy, for having waged a kind of fruitless "phony war" that is costing incalculable blood and treasure. It is doubtful that the Republicans will learn anything from the rejection. In search of an answer to why they lost, they will agonize over polls, demographics, income and gender brackets, but will never address fundamental ideas or principles.

And many Objectivists and non-Objectivists voted Republican in protest of the obvious agenda of the Democrats to renew its sacking of the country, and also because they believe that President Bush had the right "war-fighting" principles but was not competent enough to apply them.

Not an issue with them was that the Bush Administration has done just as thorough a job of sacking the country, in terms of the national debt and the expansion of the federal welfare state, as any Democrat. By some estimates, Bush in his six years in office has outdone Bill Clinton in his eight, and many commentators are beginning to realize that, even though they pose as defenders of freedom and capitalism, the Republicans subscribe to every tenet of the Progressive Party manifesto of top-to-bottom socialism, with a twist of religion to give it a moral flavor.

The Democrats offer socialism straight up, no ice, no lemon. Examine the agenda of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose prime movers include Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman of the People's State of California. The only difference between it and the Republican reactive "platform" is the speed with which the Democrats wish to impose top-to-bottom socialism.

Well, not so much "top" as "bottom." The elective oligarchies of both parties usually ensure that they are insulated from the consequences of legislation intended for the rest of the country. The salaries, perks, medical and other fringe benefits, exemptions and privileges all together rival the best compensation packages and golden parachutes of CEOs in the private sector. There isn't a Senator or Representative who isn't a millionaire - at taxpayer expense - but who has produced nothing but law and paper.

One favorite accusation of the Democrats is that Bush and Company are incompetent. Parenthetically, I find the charge of incompetence by either Party absurdly disingenuous, considering that it is made by career politicians who have never in their adult lives held a job that required competence or a fig of measured productive skill. So, one must contest that charge. In terms of abiding by and applying his moral beliefs, Bush has been eminently successful.

As Dr. John Lewis remarked to me recently, "Words mean what they refer to in reality. What the 'defense of freedom' means to Bush is the slaughter of our soldiers for the toilet needs of foreigners throwing bombs." Jesus is Bush's favorite philosopher, and he is as committed to Jesus' morality as the jihadists are to Mohammad's. Sacrifice has been the operating principle of Bush's military philosophy, in order to protect the "innocent" as an aspect of "humanitarian" war-fighting.

Ellsworth Toohey put it brilliantly and succinctly in The Fountainhead: "Fight the doctrine which slaughters the individual with a doctrine which slaughters the individual." That has been the sum of the conflict between the Republicans and Democrats at home and abroad.

All else is deliberate obfuscation.

The "British disease" is insinuating itself into American politics. The "disease" is a blinkered estimate of the influence of Islam. Bush regularly invites Islamic leaders to the White House for dinner, most recently to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Now it is the Democrats' turn to buddy up to Muslims. Minnesotans elected Congress's first Muslim representative, Keith Ellison, whose close ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Louis Farrakhan's racist and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam were not closely scrutinized or questioned by the news media, most likely because no journalist wants to be accused of bigotry. What is forgotten is that when criticisms are leveled against Islam, it is leading Muslim spokesmen who play the race card. Ellison celebrated his victory Tuesday night before a crowd that chanted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), which is what the 9/11 hijackers and killers yelled as they crashed their planes. Ellison will be a keynote speaker at CAIR's annual banquet on November 18th.

And, in Michigan, David Turfe, a supporter of Hezbollah and also a Muslim, was elected district court judge in Dearborn Heights' 20th district. (For details on his career, see debbieschlussel.com.) This is not the same as a Presbyterian or a Methodist donning robes to administer justice in a secular courtroom. If Turfe is a faithful, consistent Muslim, how can he reconcile Sharia law with infidel law? Fundamentally, he can't, but one supposes that his "spiritual" leaders will grant him dispensation (the colloquial term in Christendom would be "slack").

Turfe, founding chairman of a Muslim "cultural" center (surely an oxymoron), proclaimed to an enthusiastic crowd that "only a few thousand Jews will survive Armageddon." Armageddon is what Ahmadinejad of Iran is promising Israel and the West once he has an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

It is almost a certainty that both Ellison and Turfe will seek to expand the meaning of "hate crime" to include anything untoward said about Islam or Muslims. Which, of course, will sneak censorship into law under the cloak of "civility."

Yes, the "British disease." The British are trying to find an antidote to it and to counter decades of tolerance of harboring, under the cloak of multiculturalism, the growth of Islamic jihadism. MI5 chief Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller warned recently (the Daily Telegraph, November 11) that thousands of young Muslims are being recruited and trained by Al-Qada and other terrorist organizations in Britain's schools. But, even she doesn't get it. Terrorists are "extremists" who have little to do with "peaceful" Muslims. Never mind that the Koran advocates jihad. This fallacy has been discussed before.

In response to the recent acquittal of two British National Party members accused of stirring up racial hatred (the Daily Telegraph, November 12), Gordon Brown, Chancellor, stated that new race hatred legislation was needed. I do not know what else the BNP stands for, but all the two defendants were charged with was saying, in private party meetings (secretly filmed by the BBC and then broadcast), that Islam was a "wicked, vicious faith" - certainly not an exaggeration, but then, one could just as easily say that about Christianity - and that Muslims were turning Britain into a "multi-racial hell hole." The latter statement probably indicates an unsavory political premise, which I would not endorse.

Still, British speech law is nearing the state of outright censorship. The BNP episode reminded me of the trial of the Pippins in Book Two of Sparrowhawk, when a club of freethinkers in London is charged with and tried for "blasphemous libel," that is, over things the members said in a private meeting on private property about King George II, Parliament and religion.

There is no reason to think that British censorship by edict or by lawsuit won't infect American jurisprudence and further emasculate the First Amendment. The Saudis are particularly active in bringing suits against writers who dare expose their role in jihad. For example, American writer Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of an unpublished book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, faced a ruinous lawsuit in Britain by a Saudi because a chapter of her book appeared on the Internet and was downloaded by Britons.

"Writers are now subject to intimidation by libel tourists," reports Samuel A. Abady and Harvey Silverglate in The Boston Globe (November 7). "Little wonder that the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Association of American Publishers, and 14 other media groups have filed a 'friend of the court' brief to support Ehrenfeld's quest to raise her First Amendment defense now. Until she is able to do so, she will have problems finding American publishers willing to risk publishing her research and writing."

A judge of the Southern District Court in Manhattan dismissed Ehrenfeld's case, claiming he had no jurisdiction over it. "Ehrenfeld is filing an appeal and faces a daunting challenge of raising enough money to support a case that she believes will help determine whether or not American writers will be able to continue to expose America's enemies."

One of my unpublished novels, We Three Kings, features an American entrepreneur whose Constitutional protection against the murderous depredations of a Saudi prince is stripped from him by the State Department. In the current multicultural climate, it is not likely it will ever be published here. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, neither the brave nor the free are much valued anymore, in fact or in fiction.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Propagandizing religion

This has been an exceptionally good week for bloging at Noodlefood. Diana Hsieh posts an essay by Allen Farris chronicling his experiences growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household. To add to the discussion, I offer a different take, not of my childhood as a Catholic, but of one of my experiences as an adult Objectivist.

My ex-wife is an opera singer who grew up a fundamentalist Christian. Because churches are one of the few places where a classical singer at her level can make some money, she sang for several church choirs. I supported this choice as the extra income paid for continued voice lessons, which were the obvious priority.

At the same time, I detested having to play the role of the dutiful husband and listen to her solo in church, lending her voice to those whose goal is to make mysticism more palatable to the unthinking. In fact, I could do little to squelch my displeasure, even if I hardly spoke a word. I suppose if my ex-wife had been a lousy singer I wouldn't have minded so much, but as a good one, it was tough to endure.

Why? Because it was things like uplifting music, serene architecture and beautiful stained glass that kept me with that moldy faith far more than any doctrinal agreement. That's the vicious bait and switch with mysticism.

At least I had exposure to enough science as a young boy to eventually snap myself out of the trance (with a little help from the GW Objectivist Club). How many others fail—and rely on their "faith" to guide them when it counts? Are we not currently waging a faith-based, compassionate war for our very existence—and failing miserably?

When we were married, my ex-wife certainly could not see what all the hubbub was about. I have no idea what she thinks now, but at the time I knew her, she had rejected her religious upbringing for atheism. Nevertheless, she simply could not see how anyone could have an ax to grind with the church. Most of the religious people she knew were far from monsters; they worked hard, raised their families, showed concern for morality (even if their concern led them to do things like vote to outlaw abortion, or turn the other cheek to jihadists)—and they loved beautiful music. Who were we rude and overbearing Objectivists to damn their creed as immoral—after all, it clearly works for them? Which is easier for the intellectually uncurious—navigating though the pitfalls of pragmatism and a mixed premise, or simply accepting the Golden Rule? Live and let live, or wage an outspoken fight for your values because that's what's most important to you?

I obviously chose my path, and as far as I know, she still continues to propagandize for religious congregations. And in the end, I'm not surprised. Faith does promise certainly in uncertain times, and it offers magnificent alleluia choruses to help close the sale.

Veterans Day Pride

According to this report, Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson has asked veterans to wear their medals today in honor of Veterans Day. This is an excellent idea, and below are mine. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 and served until 1993, obtaining the rank of Corporal. I served at sea in the Mediterranean during Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort, and I also served aboard the American embassy in Monrovia, Liberia during the Liberian civil war.

My medals, ribbons and badges are (left to right, top to bottom):

  • Joint Meritorious Unit Award (A unit award given to 26 MEU for its work in Liberia)
  • Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (Awarded to me for not getting busted for 3 years)
  • Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal (Awarded to all who served with 26 MEU in Liberia)
  • National Defense Service Medal (Awarded to all who served in the armed forces during the first Gulf War)
  • Southwest Asia Service Medal with Star (Awarded to all who served in the area around Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey and Israel during the first Gulf War.)
  • Navy Sea Service Deployment (x2) (Awarded for 2 six months+ sea duty.)
  • Marine Corps Rifle Expert Badge (x2)
  • Marine Corps Pistol Expert Badge
I am proud of time with the Marines. I saw the world, learned a bit about how to be a leader from some of the best, and stood arm-in-arm with those who love their freedom and will not stand to see it sacrificed. And I have always loved Veterans Day, especially now that it is my day. To all my fellow veterans, may you also enjoy your day.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Coercion and torture in time of war

Blogger Paul Hsieh contemplates the ethics of torturing enemy prisoners at Noodlefood, sparked by a recent video in which Fox News reporter Steve Harrigan volunteered to undergo the controversial water-boarding interrogation procedure.

My view is that any form of coercion is not pretty, but is nevertheless often justified and necessary. I remember when I was in the Marines and had to play hostage in an abandoned jail cell for an exercise. Being locked up in a claustrophobic cage with nothing to do for several hours but count the seconds was seriously un-fun. I personally have spent untold hours in confined spaces without ever suffering any worrisome effect, but once that element of personal freedom is removed, even a short stint can be a trial.

In other Marine training, I had to endure several days of play as a captured prisoner of war where cold, damp, hunger and being commanded to sing a bizarre bar song were each used as a means of inflicting discomfort. At 3 AM when you are violently shivering from hypothermia and have to sing the same #$%% song that you've sang for the last 24 hours, life can feel pretty miserable. While I saw the exercise though to its end, I was shocked by the number of men in my unit who didn't. Even relatively mild discomfort can break down a man’s resistance.

Yet ultimately, if making the enemy feel scared, miserable, or even horrified for his life saves American lives and achieves victory, I say let the deed be done. There is only one thing that an enemy can do to save himself from our wrath, and that is surrender completely and totally. If he fails to yield in any way, he continues to wage war against us, and in my view, remains fair game for war to be waged back upon him.

Happy 231st, US Marines

From Tun Tavern to today, Happy Birthday, U. S. Marine Corps—Semper Fi!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Allen concedes, Democrats control Senate

It's official: the Democrats now control the Congress. And If ever there was an idiot in politics, it would now have to be George Allen.

Why? First, some back-story. When I was a student at George Washington in the mid-'90s, I worked for a man who would interview political figures for TV with a method of using syllogistic reasoning to more or less corner his subject into accepting his premise. (Unfortunately, it did not help that the host was simply one of the least telegenic people I have ever known, even for public access TV, where most of his shows ended up).

Nevertheless, since most politicians are utterly unfamiliar with their rational faculty, the results of the these interviews were usually quite amusing. (In fact, the host got one congressman to physically assault him and the camera crew, and got an utterly exasperated Nancy Pelosi to continuously repeat "Yes can mean no-and so what?!" over the many contradictions inherent in the minimum wage).

Perhaps one of the sole exceptions to the normal outcome of these episodes was when the show interviewed George Allen, then serving as governor of Virginia. Allen totally understood what was going on—and he totally embraced it. Here was a man who was unafraid to go were reason, logical and principled consistency led him. In the end of the interview, Allen evoked Jefferson, clearly denoting the proper aims of government, and it was simply one of the most fantastic moments I have ever seen in modern politics.

So years later, when I heard Allen was running for Senate, I thought excellent-we will finally have our voice. Somewhere along the way however, Allen allowed himself to get intellectually waylaid by the conservatives. Reason soon proved an alien friend, and Allen spend more time electioneering for a concrete-bound, myopic party that developing a legacy of thoughtful legislative achievement. Instead being a man of rational moral principles, Allen became a power-luster.

Add the fact that Allen at least appeared to harbor racial animus (who keeps a noose in his office and waves the confederate flag as a young man and calls a person "macaca" on the campaign trail and still expects to have the credibility to govern a people), and his whole advocacy of the gay-bashing "marriage amendment," and Allen become the A1 master-grade idiot of the election cycle.

I read tonight that Allen is just shocked that he lost his election, but I must say, I'm not. I think it's tragic given the hope he offered earlier in his career, but in the end, Allen got exactly what he deserved. I have no love for his successor, but as far as Allen is concerned, I'm not the least bit sad to see him go.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Andrew Sullivan takes both sides of a bad coin

Amit Ghate offers a probing examination a recent article by Andrew Sullivan in Time Magazine. Amit notes:

[A]ll I see is the same worn-out subjectivism and skepticism that has driven people towards religion, indeed in some ways it's worse than the standard fare because by operating under the mealy-mouthed guise of a moderate, Sullivan actually manages to combine the worst elements of the subjectivist and the (religious) intrinsicist.
This is dead-on analysis of the mind of a typical 'moderate'--be sure to read the whole thing.

The GOP's Just Desserts

Gus Van Horn offers ROR readers his guest analysis on the election:

In the first two elections since 2001, when thousands of my countrymen were murdered in the name of Islam, the war was the central issue. This year, thanks to an insufficiently aggressive, morally uncertain approach to this war, the Republicans, incredibly, succeeded in taking it off the table. This election marked the first time since those unholy atrocities I have felt almost indifferent to the outcome.

This last sentence speaks volumes coming from me. I am still outraged by these atrocities and would like to see relentless devastation visited upon the Islamic world until its inhabitants either give up on the notion of spreading their religion by the sword or they are exterminated.

Another fellow blogger, Noumenal Self, recently put into words what my gut was telling me today: "The war should be the essential issue in this election. It should be, but it isn't, because the choice between Democrats and Republicans will make little difference for the outcome...." Even granting the increasingly improbable premise that Bush has another move up his sleeve, he failed to campaign on the war other than to remind us that the Democrats stood for surrender. One party promised to bark loudly, the other to whimper; but we knew that neither would bite.

With Iran about to arm itself with nuclear weapons, there was no talk of toppling its fanatical regime or destroying its nuclear facilities. There was just talk -- the tyrant-enabling talk of European style diplomacy. And the precedent of North Korea. We were in Iraq, in a position to denazify that nation and to use it as a launching pad to knock out Syria and Iran, and thus Lebanon's Party of God in the process. Instead, we encouraged the formation of a regime there that had no separation of state and religion. And we had no discernible plans whatsoever to move against Iran or Syria, either.

As I write, the handful of projections I have checked generally show the Democrats gaining control of the House with the GOP possibly retaining the Senate. This is in the middle of a war which the Republicans failed to declare, failed to prosecute vigorously, and hoped would save them from having to differentiate themselves by their actions from the "Party of Defeat." They have only themselves to blame for this election loss.

And the war is only their most obvious sin. Recall that we are fighting a foe whose essential characteristic is that he takes religion more seriously than the requirements for man's life on this earth. This is why the Jihadits piloted planes into buildings. They were more concerned with what an allegedly holy text said than with the pursuit of happiness here on this earth.

And what did the Republicans do during this war against these religious fanatics?

They introduced "faith-based" initiatives, injecting religion into welfare instead of abolishing welfare. (I believe in 1992 they'd spoken of dismantling the welfare state "brick by brick." Converting it into a cheesy store-front church is not the same thing.)

The fanatics, all the way from the time of Salman Rushdie, to the Mohammed Cartoon Riots, to now, wanted to curtail our freedom of speech. The Republicans cooperated with the Democrats to pass McCain-Feingold, a huge step towards regulating American freedom of speech.

When Michael Schiavo attempted to allow his wife's body to die -- after medical evidence showed that she was brain-dead, in accordance to her wishes, and in accordance with the law -- the Republicans tried their best to trample over that evidence, her wishes, and worst of all, the law they swore to uphold. All in the name of imposing their religious dictates onto fellow Americans by misusing government force.

In short, the Republicans acted like a wimpy version of our enemies during a time in which they (ambiguity intended) waged war upon the American people. We wanted the Republicans to fight these bastards off, not growl at them for awhile and then turn on us.

One of the lingering doubts I had before going to the polls today was that an electoral defeat today might teach the Republicans the wrong lesson on the war. But the more I think about it, the more unfounded this fear is. The Republicans were already wrong. How else is Iran still playing with uranium enrichment? Why have we relented in cutting off aid to the "Palestinians," who elected terrorists as leaders? Why are we fighting in the name of "democracy" -- the alleged right of barbarians in the Middle East to impose unlimited majority rule -- rather than protecting our own freedom? If the GOP walks away from this defeat sounding more like the Democrats, well, at least they've become more honest. The Republicans began acting like them long before.

We, the American people want to win this war and get on with our lives. We want government-imposed religion out of our lives -- as the defeat of an anti-abortion measure in conservative South Dakota attests. We are not interested in being forced to improve the lot of willfully ignorant savages abroad or the lazy at home. The Republicans thought they could get away with mouthing empty homage to national security, personal freedom, and capitalism -- while acting like Democrats. They did not get away with it. That is what this election means to me, an American man with no fondness for either major party.

What it means to the Republicans is their business. I am no fan of the Democrats and dread the next two years. I still think that many of my fellow Objectivists are way too optimistic about what the Democrats will be like in power. But if, as a result of this defeat, the Republicans get serious about what they claim to defend and abandon the contradiction of injecting faith into politics, this will ultimately prove to be a good thing.

Rumsfeld out

This according to the AP. My first thought is that Donald Rumsfeld is now the new Robert McNamara of our era; intelligent, bold, willing to demand sweeping practical reforms of the services, but philosophically incapable of waging war in a way that secured an American victory. I doubt that history will judge him less harshly.

Our long national nightmare is over . . .

. . . to be replaced by our new national nightmare. Nevertheless, we are presented with a substantial opportunity to communicate our message given that the religious and pragmatic Republicans have been trumped, and the Democrats have no principled message, save for "not George Bush."

But before that can begin, we Objectivists need to examine our own house. The causes of our deep divisions must be addressed. This is not a debating game we are playing here; the choices we make and the public stands we take directly impact the health of our movement to change our culture and our ability to be persuasive beyond our own private voices.

Needless to say, I will have more to offer on this topic the coming days, but in the interim, it is time for some serious soul-searching among Objectivists.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So I voted . . .

My polling place was practically deserted, which surprised me, given all the interest in this election. There was a light rain, and we all know how even a minor impediment can turn people away from the polls.

My jurisdiction gave voters the option of voting electronically or casting a paper ballot (an electronic scanner form). Despite the ease of electronic voting, I opted for the paper ballot after I saw a report on how easy it was to reprogram an electronic voting machine. I looked over my ballot once, twice and a third time to ensure I didn’t make any errant marks, and put it in the machine. In a technological age, there simply needs to be a better means of lodging one’s vote and confirming its proper execution.

So there you have it. I have exercised my franchise. We'll see how it all ends tonight . . .

Update: I went back to the polls to stand outside for a few hours with a "Yes to Equal Protection, No the Marriage Amendment" sign that I printed up with Illustrator. It was an illuminating experience, for it yet again underscored just how much the right is animated by mystical faith. While chatting with the other activists standing outside the polls who supported the amendment, I put the question to them: "Why do you take your stand?" I got a very quick answer: "The Bible."

"The Bible?," I asked. "Oh yes," they said, all of them nodding vociferously in agreement. "We believe in what the Bible says, and the Bible says homosexuality is immoral."

I simply replied in answer that as much as they had a right to their own private mystical beliefs, they had absolutely no right to negate the judgment of others who disagree with their faith and seek to avail themselves of the law's protection, and that I stood for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" instead. Privately, I looked forward to the fact that their view would no longer control the majority in Congress.

Theocracy 'Lite'

In an excellent post, Noumenalself examines the arguments of the pro-Bush Objectivists, and finds their definitions and logic wanting. At root is a concrete-bound definition of theocracy, which one pro-Republican Objectivist argued is a "a totalitarian government enforcing religious rules of conduct and not merely a government with some religion-inspired laws."

I think this and similar definitions lets the theocrats off too easy. By enshrining faith and sacrifice, theocrats weaken the moral foundation our leaders need in order to properly limit government and protect our freedoms, and that is outrage enough not to support any party that includes them in its coalition. After all, why is it that the ostensive pro-war president refuses to wage a ruthless and uncompromising war against jihad? Because Jesus is his favorite philosopher—and the culture backs him up on it.

The theocrats need not create a totalitarian government to attack gays, outlaw abortion, preach creationism in the classroom, remake welfare into a faith-based initiative, or sacrifice our armed force to the liberty-hating people of the world. They can do damage enough with the power they enjoy now.

Jesus: Wrong for America

If only the Republicans were smart (and bold) enough to take the stand shown below.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Revolution will be Philosophic

I wrote this article in 2004 after the presidential election. It applies today just as much as it did then.

There are two competing theories of morality that dominate America today. The moral code that dominates the left is one of subjectivism. According to the left, no lifestyle (and no country) is better or worse than any other; there is no absolute right or wrong, save for one-the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of others.

Contrast the left's view with the religious code that dominates the right. Under this morality, the subjectivism of the left is repudiated and replaced with the certainty that comes from mysticism and adherence to God's revealed word. Under this view, the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of the Judeo-Christian God.

Of the two moral codes, it is the religious one that is gaining ground in America. It's not hard to see why. Rather than treat morality like a free-for-all, religion purports to take morality seriously. One would be hard pressed to find a person willing to tell a recovering drug addict that he needs more subjectivism in his life, but one could easily find a host of people willing to tell the addict that he needs to get right with Jesus. In the absence of a rational code, religion provides its adherents with a moral confidence that subjectivism can not provide.

Yet religion is nonsense on stilts. Instead of relying on rational principles, religion turns morality into an article of faith. After all, gays seeking the right to codify their relationships under the law is not a coercive threat to anyone, let alone an institution as old as marriage. Yet if the success of the anti-gay initiatives in the states is any indication, the religious think otherwise.

Religious nonsense also infects other realms. How many times have we heard President Bush make the moral case for freedom in the Middle East on the grounds that freedom is a gift from the Almighty, rather than a necessary (and rationally provable) requirement of human survival and prosperity?

And how does the president reconcile his argument with a Muslim whose own faith leads him to believe in submission to Allah, adherence to the Shari`ah, and global Islamic jihad? Rather than offer a compelling alternative, the president calls the philosophy that animates the murder of our people a religion of peace. President Bush is leader who makes faith-based arguments against a faith-based enemy. Such a strategy cannot hope to win.

We are locked in a contest between ourselves and the proponents of a new dark age-both foreign and domestic. If the left's subjectivist morality is impotent and will lead to our downfall, the right's religious morality is not far behind it. Yet choosing between the two was our only option this election day.

We need better. The answer is not to say all things are equal or all things are in the hands of God. The answer is to reject the past and embrace a new, pro-reason philosophy. The founders did as much when they rejected the divine right of kings and proclaimed that they had a fundamental right to their life, liberty and property. You say you want a revolution? Study philosophy from those who say it is in your power to perceive reality objectively, act according to the evidence before you and form a rational moral code and you will have it.
Today, after two additional years of experience living under a conservative governing majority, there is no doubt that the right is not only "not far behind" the left as I had orginaly put it, it is in fact the worse force, for while the left can only offer fear and uncertainty, the right attempts a promise of hope and certainty—albeit of the mystical (and utterly worthless) kind.

The Saga of Ted Haggard's Anti-Gay Bigotry

In watching evangelical preacher Ted Haggard's life implode amid his admission that he popped methamphetamines and had repeated homosexual sex with a prostitute, it suddenly dawned on me how the twisted logic in his mind must have worked. Prior to his public humiliation, Haggard was a key advocate for a Colorado constitutional amendment that seeks to deny homosexual relationships equal protection under the law (we in Virginia are also considering a similar "pro-marriage" amendment). As Haggard is a self-loathing homosexual who kept is true sexual identity under wraps, I wager he thought that the more legal prohibitions against gays there were, the easier it would be for him to reject his is "repulsive" and "dark" nature and remain faithful to his fundamentalist Christian creed.

After all, evangelicals argue that protecting homosexual marriage under the law threatens non-gay marriage; the implication being that if homosexuals are free to marry, men and women will suddenly quit their heterosexual marriages and abandon their children. Given the depths of Haggard's dishonesty and hypocrisy, perhaps that would be true for him. Yet it still remains that Haggard has no moral right to control what other consenting adults do with any aspect of their lives, let alone their sexual natures. Furthermore, the anti-gay marriage bigots forget the true purpose of marriage law, which is not to protect married relationships (most people do that well enough on their own), but to provide a means for establishing order when one of the marriage partners is incapacitated, or the marriage dissolves, be it by death or divorce.

Yet as a Republican and a Christian evangelist, no moral principle checks a man like Haggard from entering in the bedrooms of his fellow Americans in order to regulate their private and consensual behavior. Haggard could hardly control his own life, yet he actively sought to control the lives of others (in fact, he has not made any statement whatsoever renouncing his Christian anti-gay political agenda). I almost feel for his wife and children, who now must face the shock of knowing that their husband and father practices a despicable evil according to their chosen creed—were it not for the fact that their creed is irrational and morally repugnant.

At root, protecting homosexual relationships under the law is the natural progression of the principle of individual rights first codified by the founders. There is no rational reason to oppose this progression, just as there was no rational reason to oppose freedom for blacks, or equality for women. Yet the religiously-inspired Republican party has become so enthralled with lording over people's lives that on a road trip yesterday to enjoy Virginia's fall countryside, I could hardly escape being reminded by the myriad of campaign signs that it is the Republicans who are pushing the anti-homosexual agenda with all the political power they can muster.

It is wicked; it is immoral, and it deserves to be defeated.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Scientist and the Preacher: Disintegration v. Misintegration

I think this short clip of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and recently disgraced evangelical preacher Ted Haggard is quite revealing. It shows the conflict between a philosophically disintegrated advocate of science ("we live in a world of subtle shades and not sharp black and white") and a philosophically misintegrated advocate of mysticism ("we believe the Bible is the word of God") and in my mind, makes it clear which argument is the worse cultural force.

In the clip, Haggard claims that evangelicals embrace the scientific method as a means of explaining how God created the Earth. Dawkins confronts Haggard with the claim that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Haggard responds saying that Dawkins’ claim is just one view of many that people hold. Haggard then states that "intellectual arrogance" is the reason why those who dispute creationism have issues with people of faith.

In analyzing the material presented in the clip, I came to the conclusion that Dawkins is weak, but Haggard is vicious. Dawkins respects science (albeit with heavy dose of Humeian skepticism), but Haggard rejects science outright by reducing it to little more than the handmaiden of his faith. Haggard is the deeper philosophic threat, because he attacks the very means by which a person would crawl out of skepticism and irrationality—he attacks reason itself (and with some irony, even tries to employ skepticism to do it).

And lest we forget—it is Haggard and not Dawkins who has our President's ear.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Objectivist Election Controversy (and Its Causes)

Dr. Leonard Peikoff's "The DIM Hypothesis" is now available free of charge to registered users at the Ayn Rand Institute website. I am grateful that this valuable resource has been offered to the public, but its sudden release and all the intense back and forth debate among Objectivists on the upcoming elections underscores the problem with Dr. Peikoff's initial statement advising how one should vote: Dr. Peikoff did not sufficiently flesh out his position--he simply asserted it. That said, I do not think that merely asserting a point is the act of wickedness some people have made it out to be. It simply assumes that if you know a person and his general philosophy, you yourself can fill in the blanks in the presentation of their argument.

Yet in this instance, some people clearly need more, and thankfully others have filled in the void (primarily Diana Hsieh, Dr. John Lewis and Craig Biddle). I agree with their analyses that the Republicans are philosophically far worse than the Democrats and must be condemned and opposed. Nevertheless, I am torn over whether actively supporting for the Democrats earns us much of anything.

For example, in my congressional district, the Democrat running for office is a professor and Dean of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and the key architect of the Clinton plan to socialize medicine in the early 1990s. Voting for such a person is utterly repugnant to me. Because of its duplicity and moral failures, the Republican Party deserves to lose and I withdraw my support for it, but at the same time, I simply have a hard time actively helping the Democrats to win, even if only through my vote. (But then again, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet to serve your larger end, even if doing so is unpleasant).

This all said, I still maintain that the actual act of voting on election day has been overblown in its importance. Elections are one-time events that encompass a concrete, binary choice, and voting in them is hardly the only one thing a person can do to defend his values against irrationality. In fact, I think writing articles such as this one is far more valuable than even 10,000 votes cast one way or another. Our individual vote is only worth the chance that it can swing an election, but a well-reasoned essay has the power to impact the thinking of thousands of people for the better. Objectivist voters are not yet kingmakers, but we can be intellectual activists.

And thus, I come to the daily newsletter and sporadically-produced periodical The Intellectual Activist, the once-grand standard-bearer of the Objectivist movement. In my view, the only Objectivists who have been acting badly of late are the ones who actively support the conservatives (whatever their ostensive exceptions, caveats, or wishful thinking). These Objectivists would be primarily Robert W. Tracinski, editor of TIA and ex-chairman of the Center, and his cohort, Jack Wakeland.

Tracinski & Wakeland are the ones who have bombarded their readers with near-perceptual level reporting on the goings on in Iraq at the expense of Objectivist principles. They are the ones who have argued that Objectivists who fail to support George Bush are doing the enemies work, and that Objectivists who have criticized the "Just War Theory" that animates America's current war-fighting strategy are offering "bogus" arguments. And they are the ones who have argued that if we only "persist" with the conservatives' path in the war, we will have our victory; in fact, they have attempted to enshrine such misguided persistence as a virtue.

In my estimate, the pair's ideas and actions—their consistent unwillingness to understand the conservatives and offer principled opposition to them—have placed them far outside the good.

For example, consider Tracinski's op-ed "The Democratic Party Adds Nothing to the National Debate"—the real source of the current acrimony among Objectivists today. Tracinski writes:

Like many on the right, I have been deeply unsatisfied with the Republican Congress. The Republicans, I thought, ought to lose enough seats in the November congressional elections that they feel they've been punished for runaway federal spending.

But as the election gets nearer and I think more about what is at stake, I have come to realize that the best outcome is for the Democrats to lose.
Notice that Tracinski's frames his emotional state as being "deeply unsatisfied." He is not outraged at the massive increase in government spending under the Republicans or their failure to abolish any significant government spending program, nor is he appalled at the abject failure of the Bush administration to wage a ruthless war against the Jihadists, nor is he even offended that the conservatives are working to inject their mystical creed into public life. Instead, Tracinski is simply "deeply unsatisfied." Tracinski's emotional state is not an argument, but it is revealing. It makes me wonder what it takes to actually ruffle his feathers.

And why does Tracinski claim that a Democratic defeat in November is the best outcome? He argues that if the Republicans are bad, the Democrats are worse, and thus they deserve to lose more. In the process, Tracinski utterly fails to appreciate the nature of the ideas that have come to dominate the Republican party. He fails to grasp the degree that they are associated with capitalism, business growth, and a strong defense, and yet how their core philosophy actively betrays these values. Rather than punish the Republicans for their pale-faced betrayal of capitalism, Tracinski calls upon his readers to reward them at the polls (unless these Republicans are super-religious, and then it's OK to withdraw one's support).

Why? Why would an Objectivist ever seek to reward any Republicans in the face of their repeated failures (including the secular ones who nevertheless tacitly support the religious types)? The way Tracinski explains it, it is because . . .

[t]he more the left fades from the scene, the more the national political debate will be a debate within the right. The American system is not friendly to monolithic one-party rule. The moment one party begins to dominate, it tends to split apart along its internal fault lines. The more the Republicans dominate American politics, therefore, the more intensely they will debate among themselves.
I'd like to know what historical facts Tracinski relies upon to justify his position, for he doesn't offer any. In fact, history tells us that incumbent parties tend to lose mid-term elections, so if the Republicans win a unprecedented victory this term despite a wildly unpopular president, what makes Tracinski think these victors are suddenly going to open themselves up to an era of introspection and self-criticism? Intra-party challenges are caused by bold minorities choosing to assert themselves, and not by a majority's unprecedented victory on a "stay the course" platform. Yet Tracinski & Wakeland are no bold minority. They refuse to ruthlessly attack the Republicans for their faults-and their advocacy suffers for it.

And even more importantly, as Craig Biddle noted, Tracinski has enshrined the promise of mere chattering at some future date while simultaneously ignoring the substantive evil that animates the Republicans now. There are grades and styles of evil, and understanding these divisions and what animates them is crucial if we are to win converts and effectively fight against the irrational. Which force represents the greater threat to our lives: our clearly marked enemies, or the people who claim to be our friends, but turn around and betray us at every turn because they share our enemy's root premise?

The answer to this question is the fundamental issue of this election, and thus far, the question that Tracinski and his allies have failed to properly answer. In fact, I have come to conclude it is fair to ask the above question of both the Republicans, and of Mr. Tracinski and his allies. Egoism demands constancy.

I know it will upset some that I have explicitly targeted not just ideas that I disagree with, but also those who hold them (as well as people that some may hold in high regard). I simply do not see that it pays to maintain the pretense that these ideas do not have a source, and that this source deserves to go unnamed and not be examined for its faults.

Founders votes with its feet

It looks like my earlier angst was utterly for naught, for Founders College has outflanked its would-be regulators by moving its campus to a new location.

Founders College officials said Thursday they will pull out of their plans to purchase the Merritt Hutchinson estate in Lynch Station.

The college announced plans to purchase 660 acres from the Berry Hill Plantation Resort in South Boston. Founders officials cited the Campbell County Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the school’s rezoning request last week as the reason behind the decision. [Sarah Watson and Aaron Lee, Lynchburg News & Advance]
I love how one of the county planners cries that Founders doesn't have a lot of "integrity" for refusing to tolerate time-wasting regulation later on in the story.

If I was angry and disappointed before, I'm just loving it now. Bravo! I only hope that someone at Founders writes a letter to the editor of the local paper saying that this is what regulators should expect when they attempt to squelch the plans of people building a better life for themselves.

A Great Divide

Dr. Leonard Peikoff's announced position on the fall Congressional elections this coming November 7th has inaugurated a debate on various discussion lists and blogs between Objectivists. Some individuals have sided with Dr. Peikoff and agree with him that, in terms of ensuring the country's survival, and taking into account the expenditure of the Left's Marxist credibility, voting the straight Democratic ticket will serve to repudiate the Republican establishment and help to block its more perilous theocratic agenda. There is some substance to justify this fear. Virtually ever news item over the past two weeks has focused on the role of the evangelical bloc of voters, and President Bush solicits that bloc's support.

Others discount the religious threat and counter that helping the Democrats regain their hegemony in Congress will only encourage them to accelerate the pursuit of their Marxist, nihilist ends, such as a total welfare state, environmentalism and multiculturalism.

In reality, the triumph of either party, now or in the 2008 presidential race, will move the country closer to undiluted statism or dictatorship.

Ayn Rand, delineating modern politics in terms of fundamentals governed by philosophy, would probably interpret the conflict in what she characterized as one between Attila and the witch doctor, between the mystics of muscle and the mystics of the spirit. Dr. Peikoff asserted, quite rightly, that we are faced with a decision on which gang will do us the least harm in the short run. And, there is another gang of murderous witch doctors he neglected to account for in his projection, which are Islam and its jihadists.

During all this discussion, someone had the foresight to point out that there is a crucial link between the spread of Islam and environmentalism, e.g., that the Democrats especially, when they oppose off-shore drilling, advocate the expropriation of oil company profits, or block the construction of nuclear power plants, simply render the U.S. more dependent on oil supplies coming from countries mostly hostile to the U.S., such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The Saudis especially have as much a vested interest in the perpetuation and expansion of American environmental law as Prohibition Era gangsters had in the perpetuation of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Other blogs, such as Jihad Watch and Infidel Bloggers Alliance, have documented which persons in Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are in thrall to Saudi petro-dollars or susceptible to the lobbying of such Islamist organizations as CAIR and the Muslim Council of America.

But, this particular peril has been discussed before, and I do not believe any thinking Objectivist (or is that a redundancy in terms?) can question or dismiss the seriousness of the Islamist threat, especially when he is certain that President Bush will do nothing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or to stop North Korea from selling its nuclear weapons and delivery systems to Islamist terrorists. If the Republicans will not defend the country, how can we expect the Democrats to, when it is obvious that they hate it?

However, what I have not heard anyone mention yet is the prospect of censorship. Either party is capable of imposing it. In fact, both parties have held hands over the decades in passing legislation that violates the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has done little or nothing to declare such stealthily incremental legislation unconstitutional.

"Censorship," wrote Rand in "Have Gun, Will Nudge" in The Objectivist Newsletter in 1962, "in its old-fashioned meaning, is a government edict that forbids the discussion of some specific subjects or ideas - such, for instance, as sex, religion or criticism of government officials - an edict enforced by the government's scrutiny of all forms of communication prior to their public release."

We are approaching that level of censorship; that is, some officials and bureaucrats have proposed that the government have the power to make such an edict. Neither party, however, has the brazenness yet to move in that direction; they know they would not yet get away with it. Rand could not have predicted it, of course, but the Internet, which did not exist in 1962, is certainly scrutinized by the CIA, NSA and other federal agencies, not exclusively on the track of Islamist terrorists residing in this country.

Certainly if one sent an email letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling her (justifiably) delusional, anti-Semitic, and an appeasing enabler of Islamic terrorism, one could expect a knock on one's door, or at least strange things begin to happen to one's bank account or employment status. One cannot count on the demonstrable incompetence of the "security" agencies charged with defending this country, and be certain that nothing would happen.

That being said, Rand did forecast the possibility of de facto censorship. In that same article, she wrote:

"But for stifling the freedom of men's minds the modern method is much more potent; it rests on the power of non-objective law; it neither forbids nor permits anything; it never defines or specifies; it merely delivers men's lives, fortunes, careers, ambitions into the arbitrary power of a bureaucrat who can reward or punish at whim...."
One can count the ways in which such de facto censorship has been implemented in the U.S.: the PAC law; the Federal Election Committee; the ban on tobacco advertising over the airwaves, not to mention the regulation of print advertising of tobacco and other products, such as food; the Telecommunications Act of 1996; and so on, all of which, with more certainly to come whichever party dominates Congress, prove the pernicious effect of non-objective law on the freedom of men's minds.

What we are witnessing in the U.S. today is the indivertible implosion of over a century of irrationality in domestic and foreign policies. The irrational cannot make reality work; reality will not tolerate unreason. Most people with a nominal fealty to reason know that doing the Hokey Pokey or praying to Wantonka the Automotive God in front of one's car will not start it or fill it with gas. Too many of them, however, believe that going "back to God" or "back to nature" (and Rand dramatized both false alternatives in Atlas Shrugged), which are much the same things, will make all things right. Dr. Peikoff himself stressed this point years ago in a course, that ours is an age of pre-reason.

The country is coasting on the vestiges of the commitment to reason which founded this country, but which vestiges both Republicans and Democrats are working diligently in their special ways to eradicate. Reason is lost in a masking deluge of inconsequential and irrelevant issues. No one in public life - not in government, not in the press or news media, not in academia - is advocating a return to reason, or even its rediscovery (or, as someone pointed out, its discovery). Advocates of reason can be likened to some of the survivors of the Titanic, struggling desperately to avoid being sucked into the swirling vortex of a sinking giant.

It is difficult for an advocate of reason not to succumb to pessimism and doom-saying in these times. But, I, for one, am confident that in the end, reason and truth will out, if only enough of us will invest the effort to promote them. I have been doing my "bit" for decades, culminating in the epic of Sparrowhawk, and that has been at cost to me and with very little reward, pecuniary or otherwise, except in the volume of my fan mail. That particular reward is to have been proven right, that readers are receptive to ideas presented in the series, and that it is helping to point them in the right direction.