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Saturday, November 06, 2004::

Intellectual Activism: The Revolution will be Philosophic 

Here's the week's Broadside column:

According to Edison/Mitofsky Research’s exit polls from last Tuesday’s election, the leading issue on the mind of Americans was not the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq or the state of the economy. Instead, the leading issue was “moral values,” a seemingly odd choice for a nation in the throes of a polarizing war. Of the 22% of people who considered moral values to be the primary issue motivating their vote, 80% chose to re-elect President Bush compared to only 18% for Senator Kerry. Yet of all the issues ranked as important by voters, morality is the most central issue—the one issue that shapes all the others.

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.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:20 PM | donate | link | |

The Culture: Your Government at Work 

This USA Today report is awe-inspiring:

Star Trek fans may be happy to hear that the Air Force has paid to study psychic teleportation.

But scientists aren't so thrilled.

The Air Force Research Lab's August "Teleportation Physics Report," posted earlier this week on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Web site, struck a raw nerve with physicists and critics of wasteful military spending.

In the report, author Eric Davis says psychic teleportation, moving yourself from location to location through mind powers, is "quite real and can be controlled." The 88-page report also reviews a range of teleportation concepts and experiments:

• Quantum teleportation, a technique demonstrated in the last decade that shifts the characteristics, but not the location, of sub-atomic particles at great distances.

• Wormholes, a highly theoretical possibility whereby the intense gravitational field near black holes could rip open entrances to distant locales.

• Psychokinesis, or psychic teleportation. In support of the idea, the report cites UFO reports, Soviet and Chinese studies of psychics and U.S. military studies of spoon-bending phenomena.

[. . .]

Davis, a physicist with Warp Drive Metrics of Las Vegas, couldn't be reached for comment. The Air Force paid $25,000 for the report, part of a $20.5 million advanced rocket and missile design contract. The report calls for $7.5 million to conduct psychic teleportation experiments.
So the Air Force just paid $25,000 for a report that has zero scientific value.

"The views expressed in the report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government," says an Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) statement sent to USA TODAY. "There are no plans by the AFRL Propulsion Directorate for additional funding on this contract."
The report does not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Air Force. Oh, the humanity.

This is what happens when people who have the power to tax you do not understand the nature of the arbitrary and why they must refuse to deal with it.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:10 PM | donate | link | |

Wednesday, November 03, 2004::

The Culture: Understanding the Election 

I came across an article (reg. req.) in the New Republic by Tom Frank on the US Senate race between perennial losing candidate Alan Keyes and now senator-elect Barack Obama in Illinois. Writing on Keyes’ performance in a debate against Obama, Frank observes:

As people know, Keyes is candid, eloquent, and intellectually consistent. He argues rather than spins, allowing his logic to take him where it will. He panders to no (earthly) constituency. And he may well have pulled off the impossible last night: lowering his poll numbers even more. Obama is an unconventionally gifted politician, but even an incompetent one--let's go farther, actually: even a dolphin or trained seal--could have done better last night than Alan Keyes. All Obama had to do yesterday was play the Earthling card; Keyes took care of the rest.
Yes. Alan Keyes is a moon bat, albeit an internally consistent one. Frank’s essay goes on to explore just how funny it can be to see a moon bat in flight. But it’s the cashing-in paragraphs where Frank address Keyes' consistency that his essay gets interesting:
[K]eyes is [a] vital contributor to social cohesion in America, because, somehow, he makes us realize we are all--regardless of our political beliefs--Obama. It's not because we disagree with Keyes, or even because we find stridency inherently suspect. Most of us have used our reasoning to reach unexpected conclusions once in a while. Sometimes the results are weird--"It follows, therefore, that we should abolish bricks and live in trees!"--and we reexamine our premises or toss the thoughts altogether. Other times they may be logically valid--"Stubbing my toe hurts, and being burned at the stake hurts, so, actually, both Joan of Arc and I have experienced pain"--but so likely to give offense that we keep them to ourselves. In other words, we recognize that life among other people often requires applying the brakes. Alan Keyes, to his credit, does not. This makes him more courageous, more consistent, and more interesting than most of us. Fortunately, it also makes him unelectable.
Franks is not saying reason requires a commitment to reality that is impossible in a man animated as Keyes is. He’s saying think what you will, but remember that “life among other people often requires applying the brakes.” That’s why you don’t see Objectivists running for office. How could one hope to win?

Religious intrinsicism vs. philosophic skepticism: that was what this election--both in Illinois and nationally--was about this cycle. And that is not a choice. President Bush won his election last night and to the degree it was an affirmation of the American sense of life over the nihilists, I can find comfort with the outcome. That said, the lesson I take from this election is that if Objectivist values are ever to triumph, we have a long, hard road ahead of us.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 5:16 PM | donate | link | |

Monday, November 01, 2004::

The Election: Some choice for president 

Diana Hsieh is pulling for the turd sandwich.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:50 PM | donate | link | |

The War: Iran's Endorsement for President Bush 

John Lewis notes that Iran has endorsed President Bush:

President Bush received a new endorsement this week: from Hasan Rowhani, head of Iran's Security Council. This should give pause to those who think that Mr. Bush is viewed everywhere as an enemy by America’s enemies, and Senator Kerry as their friend. In fact, many Middle Eastern leaders will prefer to stick with President Bush.

Rowhani said that a Bush victory would be good for Iran, because, he claims, Democrats have often hurt Tehran more than Republicans. “We should not forget that most sanctions and economic pressures were imposed on Iran during the time of Clinton,” he said. “Despite his hard-line and baseless rhetoric against Iran, he didn't take, in practical terms, any dangerous action against Iran,” said Rowhani.

Iranian political analyst Mohsen Mofidi said that "Democrats usually insist on human rights and they will have more excuses to pressure Iran." In other words, since he knows that America under Bush will not act against Iran—only talk—he sees Kerry as more of a threat. Kerry might actually get international sanctions passed, and at least bring economic pressure to bear against Iran.

But what about the destruction of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein?

In terms both of regional politics and Islamic beliefs, Iran has always viewed those regimes as enemies. Iran spent years—and thousands of lives—trying to destroy Saddam. It took our help to make the dream a reality. The Iranians were similarly happy when the Taliban fell.

Mofidi said that getting rid of the Saddam and the Taliban was the "biggest service any administration could have done for Iran." Bush has ended the most direct regional threat to Iran, creating a power vacuum—and a more porous border—that the Shiites are struggling to fill. Hopefully the Iraqis will fill this vacuum, since Mr. Bush has chosen not to allow the American army to win.

Iraq has also made it more difficult for Bush to make the choices needed to use military force against Iran. "The experience of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the responsibility Bush had, will make it a very remote possibility for him to risk attacking a much bigger and more powerful country like Iran," Mofidi said.

By all indications, Mofidi is right, although not because Iran—which could not beat Iraq—is as yet any great power. But to attack Iran, Bush will have to overcome massive opposition at home, confront his friend Putin of Russia, convince an international coalition—central to all of his actions to this point—to join us, and counter Iran’s claim that they, like us, have a right to nuclear weapons. The Iranians know how hard this will be.

"It's not an endorsement we'll be accepting anytime soon," said a Bush campaign spokesman. "Iran should stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons and if they continue in the direction they are going, then we will have to look at what additional action may need to be taken including looking to the U.N. Security Council."

American troops in Iraq should be a huge deterrent to the Iranians. But, if the mullahs think we lack the will to act against them, then that force will be no threat. To Mr. Rowhani, economic boycotts and human rights condemnations are more dangerous than any potential American military attack. He obviously thinks that Kerry will be more dangerous at the UN than Bush.

Rowhani is not alone in his endorsement. The Middle East Media and Research Institute, which monitors the Middle Eastern media, presents many reports in which the leadership in the Middle East prefers Bush to Kerry. To cite one commentator, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and director-general of Al-Arabiyya TV:

"Regarding Bush, the truth is that he is the only president who publicly undertook to support the establishment of a Palestinian state … And perhaps he is [also] the only one who can do this in the next four years, [as he will be] less subject to pressure – as was done by his predecessor Bill Clinton . . ..”

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dahlallah told Al-ManarTV: "Whether it is Bush or Kerry, he will present the Israeli solutions and the Arabs will have to take it." "The question is not who will be president of the United States. This isn't important. "

Raghida Dughram wrote in the London Arabic-language Al-Hayat:"Most of the Arab governments have decided [to bet on] George W. Bush for a second term . . . The motivation to host conferences [with the U.S.], and daring to cooperate and tighten ties between [their] intelligence [apparatuses and those of the U.S.] are the Arab governments' 'vote' for Bush in the U.S. presidential election . . . These governments have reached the conclusion that they prefer to 'aid' Bush in the elections, so that maybe Bush will then exempt them from the change of [dictatorial] regimes that he wants.”

Galal Dwidar, editor of Egyptian state newspaper Al-Akhbar: "Bush and Kerry – despite the claim of a dispute between them – stressed that the war in Iraq sought to defend Israel's interests. In order to avoid losing any Jewish or Zionist vote, the two made sure not to discuss in any way [the issue] of advancing towards the solution of peace in the Middle East . . . After the Bush-Kerry debate, there is no place for optimism. We must realize that the solution to our problems as Arabs and as Muslims is in our hands only, and that Arab solidarity is the only path to salvation . . .."

Columnist Radhwan Al-Sayedwrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal: "Most of the Arab regimes think that it is in their interest to stick with Bush Jr., even if they are somewhat concerned by his administration… The Arab public, on the other hand, despairs greatly of America in general, and of Bush's administration in particular . . . But this trend is not the trend of the Arab regimes in general . . . Most regimes today, even if they do not explicitly declare it – except for Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar – think that it is better for them to stick with President Bush for another four years.”

It is of course true that many Arab intellectuals—especially in the US—favor Mr. Kerry. But this is far from unanimous. Arab governments increasingly realize that the person in the White House is less important than their capacity to influence policy through lobbying. In this regard, many are siding with Mr. Bush—for he is the one that will strengthen their own political positions, in the name of the “war on terror.”

Sources: Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, “Bush Receives Endorsement From Iran,” 10/19/04.
Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI), Inquiry and Analysis series #194, “Arab and Iranian Media on the U.S. Presidential Election” by Y. Yehoshua. 10/29/04.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:46 PM | donate | link | |

Intellectual Activism: Drafts--Real and Imagined 

Here's the week's Broadside column.

If you are John Kerry, how do you strike fear in the hearts of twenty-somethings—a demographic that typically leans left but is notoriously unlikely to show up at the polls on Election Day? One way is to hint that your opponent plans to draft them into the military. Fanned by Internet speculation and MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, draft rumors have a lot more legs on them then they should.

Truth be told, neither side is seriously considering a draft to meet the manpower needs of the armed forces. In 2003, two bills to reinstate the draft were introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC), and Rep. Charlie Rangal (D-NY) on the grounds that the armed forces should have a “more equitable representation of people making sacrifices," but these bills were resoundingly defeated in the Congress when Pro-Kerry partisan activists tried to link them to the Bush administration.

Even more tellingly, the military itself does not want a draft. The switch in the 1970’s to an all-volunteer force in the crown jewel of today’s modern military. There’s an old saying in the Marine Corps that one volunteer is worth ten impressed men—a righteous cause and effective leadership does more to compel men to act in defense of their freedom then a draft board. Military commanders know this, and they understand that a military draft will lessen standards, destroy moral and make it harder to defend America, not easier.

That said, we still need to be concerned about press gangs: there are those on both the right and left who still pine for a draft, not to serve a military need, but a spiritual one.

In 1997, proponents from both sides of the aisle, including all of the then-living ex-presidents, joined Colin Powell in his call for “mandatory volunteerism” for high school students. This summer, Kerry included a “volunteerism” plank in his presidential platform, only to remove it when rumor of a military draft began to circulate. A military draft may be unpopular, but “volunteerism” isn’t.

The idea behind the “volunteerism” movement is that young people today are too self-involved and that in order to have better communities, we need to teach our young the value of service to others—not by choice, but by compulsion. Service requirements would be added to all high school curriculums and students would be held to them in order to graduate. By this thinking, the teenager who chooses to use his spare time for work so he can pay for his college would be better served by having his time allocated for him by the government in the name of those in need.

Why? Because many people today consider selflessness and not selfish interest to be the moral ideal. Even though we are a nation dedicated to protecting the life, liberty and happiness of the individual, too many Americans are nagged by the problem of the “greater good” and how best to sacrifice to it.

Yet an individualist sacrifices for no one. He rightfully lives for himself, and to appeal to him, you must appeal to his values. To convince men and women to serve in the military, for example, you need to impress upon them of the gravity of the threat today and the manner in which it impacts them. You need to convince them of the benefits of the martial lifestyle, and pay them enough so that the cost of their service is not the derailment of every other aspect of their lives. And lastly, you must keep the promise that if they are wounded or fall in battle, they and their loved ones will be cared for by a grateful nation.

No values are appealed to by the proponents of either the draft or “volunteerism”; instead a different message is delivered: your life is ours and you’ll do with it what we tell you. The idea of the draft or “volunteerism” should be anathema to any person dedicated to human freedom.

Yes, we have a host of threats and challenges arrayed against us. We do not answer them by betraying our core values, or sacrificing our freedom. It will take men and women of substance to successfully build our communities and defend our nation. Such men and women will not be found by a draft board.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:06 PM | donate | link | |


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