:: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 ::
Minding the mindless
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:31 AM
I am a member of a Internet community group for Marine veterans. Needless to day, there has been a lot of discussion about the alleged war crimes perpetrated by a squad of Marines in Iraq. That's not to say that the discussion has been helpful. For example, there was this discussion thread started by Eddie Murphy, a enlisted Marine veteran who served in the early 80s.
Title: Marine Hero Speaks Truth The rest of Mr. Murphy's post is a reprint of a AP article that alleges the new scandal is "worse that Abu Ghraib."
Mr. Murtha is certainly one of the most honorable men actually standing up to the tyrants and dungeonmasters [sic] of the Bush Cabal.
How much more of Bush's disastrous foreign and domestic policies can America survive? Not much I am afraid, this country is in very grave danger of reaching the point of no return. Impeach the traitorous and cowardly Bushies now!
Have a nice day y'all!
Let's take Murphy's position at its best; the Marines are facing some big problems as a result of the immoral conduct of a few of its members, and that these problems reflect the larger problems with the war in Iraq and the competency of the Bush administration. This is a serious charge to make at a stressed, confused time in our nation's history and if it is true, it deserves to be said. Such a position however cannot be advanced by a mere one sentence declaration and a repost of a wire service article-one would have to go much deeper and show just what kind of mistakes are being made in Iraq, how these mistakes are the inevitable product of the administration's thinking, and why that thinking is flawed on a fundamental level.
Murphy does even attempt to make such an argument. He does not explain his reasons for thinking as he does. He provides his readers with zero reasons to identify with him or his position. He simply asserts that the President is a "cabalist" and leaves it at that. As a punctuation to his remarks, he tells his readers to "Have a nice day."
This statement is the dead giveaway that Murphy does not respect his audience one iota and doesn't care about convincing it of anything. Murphy has to know that his remarks are caustic and yet he makes zero attempt to justify them. In fact; he merely asserts them in the form of an "F you" to his readers.
Now I know that some readers of this post will think themselves why is Provenzo minding the mindless. The thing is, I see this kind of debate-all vitriol and zero substance-from both the right and the left and I see it with increasing frequency. When I talk to the proverbial "man on the street," I rarely find thoughtfully constructed arguments in defense of one's position (regardless of whether I agree with it or not). Murphy could just as easily be arguing for the war and against the left; the actual position he takes is immaterial.
What is material is the clear inability to communicate rationally-to identify facts and present them to others in a structured presentation. And that's troubling to me-deeply so. Why? Because matters of life and death for the nation have to be discussed and debated-clearly, coolly and logically-or the nation and the freedoms it exists to protect won't stand.
And then I can't help but think-isn't that what the public schools are supposed to provide? After all, the best argument in favor of these schools is that the nation needs an institution that teaches its citizens about the intellectual and moral requirements of self-governance and how to contribute thoughtfully to the civic debate. That said, find me one in ten out of the graduates of the public schools who understand these things on even a rudimentary level. Instead, we get the likes of Mr. Eddie Murphy and the millions of people like him-and are forced to pay for the privilege.
Needless to say, there is a better way, but I am becoming more and more convinced that one must aim pretty young to get it. After all, how can you ever hope to reason with the mindless?
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:: Saturday, May 27, 2006 ::
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:54 AM
It would seem that the actual effectiveness of a federal law enforcement program is besides the point for US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
A program that targets violent gun crimes in nearly two dozen cities and has been touted by the attorney general has yet to demonstrate that it works, the Justice Department inspector general said Friday.No shocker here. It’s not like the local police officials are going to attack free federal money—ever. It gets even better though.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has made faulty comparisons and drawn on insufficient data to conclude that the program is succeeding in driving down violent crime in cities that have Violent Crime Impact Teams, inspector general Glenn A. Fine said in a report.
ATF strongly disputed Fine's conclusions, saying the program was in its pilot stage when auditors reviewed it. Several local police officials also came to the defense of a program that has brought additional money and investigators to their cities to take on trouble spots where homicides and other violent crimes have increased despite a 30-year low nationally in the crime rate. [Mark Sherman, Associated Press Writer]
Announcing the newest team in Atlanta in March, Gonzales said gun crimes dropped almost immediately in the other 22 cities. "We know this program works ... Almost across the board, gun crimes have been reduced in those areas where VCIT has built upon the successes of the President's Project Safe Neighborhoods program," he said.Of course, all this information can only serve to show that the initiative needs even more tax dollars to achieve its mission.
Yet Fine said his auditors have seen erratic use of statistics and he questioned why the agency looked only at homicides instead of all violent crimes committed with guns. For eight of the original 15 cities, ATF reported city-wide data on homicides, rather than just the parts of the city where the anti-crime teams were working.
A startling 50 percent decrease in homicides in Albuquerque, N.M., actually reflected a drop from four to two, a small change that makes "it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative," Fine said.
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:: Friday, May 26, 2006 ::
The Trolls of Drollery
Posted by Edward Cline at 10:10 AM
On May 21st, the New York Times Book Review published the results of its survey, "What is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?" Accompanying the dismal list of "winners" was an essay by A.O. Scott, "In Search of the Best." With the typical absence of passion, criteria, and commitment that characterizes modern criticism and especially that of the New York Times, Scott, a film critic for the Times, neither applauds the survey results nor condemns them.
Scott describes the "Great American Novel" as a "crossbreed of romance and reportage, high philosophy and low gossip, wishful thinking and hard-nosed skepticism." His nattering, gossipy article snickers at the subject of "best", striving to assure its readers that the author could never be accused of valuing anything, not even the rubbish heap that passes for modern literature. It is just there, beyond judgment or comparison.
"...Late 20th century American Lit comprises a bustling menagerie, like Noah's ark or the island of Dr. Moreau, where modernists and postmodernists consort with fabulists and realists, ghost stories commingle with domestic dramas, and historical pageantry mutates into metafiction. It is, gratifyingly if also bewilderingly, a messy and multitudinous affair."
How can one judge? Should one judge? Scott asks but evades answering those questions, and abstains from judging the "best" works, twenty-two of them, just as he abstains from faulting or praising the over one hundred judges -- "prominent writers, critics, editors, and other literary sages" -- for their choices. Little is communicated in his essay but a contempt that percolates through an amused scorn for the whole subject. Comparing the "Great American Novel" with the yeti, Loch Ness monster and sasquatch, he notes, "The Times Book Review, ever wary of hoaxes but always eager to test the boundary between empirical science and folk superstition, has commissioned a survey of recent sightings."
Focusing on the "winner" of the survey, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Scott merely reports on the judges' consensus:
"When the book first began to be assigned in college classrooms, during an earlier and in retrospect much tamer phase of the culture wars, its inclusion on syllabuses was taken, by partisans and opponents alike, as a radical gesture. (The conservative canard one heard in those days was that left-wing professors were casting aside Shakespeare in favor of Morrison.) But the political rhetoric of the time obscured the essential conservatism of the novel, which aimed not to displace or overthrow its beloved precursors, but to complete and to some extent correct them."
"Enshrine mediocrity," Ellsworth Toohey told Peter Keating in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, "and the shrines are razed." Reading Scott's comments on the winning and neglected authors and their works, one is immediately certain that the idea of literary shrines is alien to him. He is a product of his age and education, a subjectivist/relativist who does not presume to venture beyond the perceptual and the visceral, or to question others' appraisals. If his object is more demolition work, he is unaware that his literary and critical predecessors have already razed the shrines and that he is wandering through ruins overgrown by weeds, infested with vermin, and tenanted by vagrants. The great or notable literature of the past, to him, is a mirage. Who is he to hold himself or other writers up to a higher standard? Or to any standards? To Scott, the dishwater gray culture he sees before him is the norm.
"The American masterpieces of the mid-19th century...were compounded of precisely these elements [what he calls earlier realism, allegory, folk tale, Gothic and romance], and nowadays it seems almost impossible to write about that period without crossing into the realm of the supernatural, or at least the self-consciously mythic."
Given the novels chosen by the Times judges as the "best" in the last twenty-five years, one might understand why Scott would consider the masterpieces of the 19th century an unattainable mirage. But Scott is not an innocent party; he helps to perpetuate the grayness. Not one of the survey novels deserves extended critical attention here; they all echo the common charge, as critics never tire of pointing out, that America is "mythic," founded on violence, illusions, hypocrisy, racism, shallowness, and angst. It is a country based on fraud, and populated by trolls and gnomes.
Scott himself apparently does not aspire to anything greater than the stature of a troll. He writes effusively and with nagging drollery about modern literature in Harvard-taught patois, but devotes not one word to what "might and ought to be." The concept is impossible to him. It is not a treasure trove of values that he seeks or regrets the loss of, but the chamber pots of modern American writers. What they have produced, is there. To Scott, nothing else is conceivable.
Against what literary or esthetic criteria does he measure modern literature? None. Such criteria do not exist, according to Scott. It is a "myth." He might have redeemed himself had he attempted this kind of appraisal: "As modern France is no longer the France of Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand, America is no longer the America of Hawthorne and Whitman." But that kind of observation requires a perspicuity and intellectual honesty based on the knowledge that one is confined in a suffocatingly dreary, boring, bankrupt culture.
Scott, previously a book reviewer for Newsday, is also a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books. He is representative of the modern profession of criticism, virtually indistinguishable in his philosophy and style from his colleagues who write for other major publications. He cannot take literature seriously enough to approach it with any passion or conviction. How could he or anyone stoke up a passion for the drearily undifferentiated trash the subjects of his essay? One holds a conviction about a truth. How could he have a conviction about anything when he claims there are no absolutes and no measures of value?
The measure he does employ is not esthetic or literary, but sociological. Scott calls it "cultural importance." How does a particular work of fiction "reflect" its time, how well does it succeed in revealing the foibles, absurdities, dishonesty or hubris of society at this or that particular period of history? If one must portray individuals, they must be "types," or symbols, or transparently neurotic or confused or helplessly miserable or oppressed, and readily identifiable by the random reader as a satirical mirror image of himself as victim or victimizer, or as a helpless, inconsequential cipher in a deterministic milieu.
Heroes? Achievements in the face of terrific odds? The larger-than-life? Happiness? Don't make Scott laugh. And he will laugh, in chorus with the rest of the literary establishment.
"Every man to his taste," goes the proverb, and it is claimed that "taste" cannot be accounted for. But, "taste," or a hierarchy of specific literary and esthetic values, can be accounted for. One can reject the corrosives of naturalism, subjectivism, and nihilism, for which critics like Scott constantly shill in book reviews and essays, and instead measure or formulate literary and artistic values by an "ought." It was done in the past; it can be done again.
Those who value literature, especially benevolent, heroic, Romantic, life-affirming literature -- literature, Ayn Rand once wrote, that serves as live-saving emotional or spiritual fuel to fight one's own battles and that can propel one to accomplish one's own goals -- in turn cannot take the likes of Scott or anything that passes for literature today seriously. Scott and his ilk cannot, on their premises, fight for or advocate anything of literary or artistic value. All they can do is gloat, and chant in their reviews and essays, "Such is life."
All we can do is yawn, and work to stage a revolution in literature.
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:: Thursday, May 25, 2006 ::
No justice for short people
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:36 AM
This is amazing . . .
A judge said a 5-foot-1 man convicted of sexually assaulting a child was too small to survive in prison, and gave him 10 years of probation instead.So now we have two standards for justice; one for short people, and one for all others--on the grounds that short people can't hack their punishment. You know what I say when it comes to child molesters: you commit the crime--you do the time.
His crimes deserved a long sentence, District Judge Kristine Cecava said, but she worried that Richard W. Thompson, 50, would be especially imperiled by prison dangers.
"You are a sex offender, and you did it to a child," she said.
But, she said, "That doesn't make you a hunter. You do not fit in that category."
Thompson will be electronically monitored the first four months of his probation, and he was told to never be alone with someone under age 18 or date or live with a woman whose children were under 18. Cecava also ordered Thompson to get rid of his pornography. [AP]
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:: Friday, May 19, 2006 ::
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:19 AM
According to the Seattle Public Schools, if you’re an individualist, you’re a racist (HT: Volokh Conspiracy). On a web page that lists various forms and definitions of racism, the school system defines “Cultural Racism” as:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers. [Emphasis added].This definition is racist itself; it ascribes racist thinking to white people only—if one “overtly and covertly attribute[s] value and normality” to black or Asian races, one falls outside its definition of racism. More fundamentally hoverver, this definition attacks the very notion of treating individuals as individuals. In her 1963 essay Racism, Ayn Rand observed that
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage—the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.So why then are the Seattle Public Schools smearing the antidote to collectivism as racist? At root is the Marxist theory that history is nothing more than group struggle, and according to such a theory, we are always defined by the group.
Racism claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman's version of the doctrine of innate ideas—or of inherited knowledge—which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.
Of course, Marxism is patently false; if we are all connected via our collective memberships, every time I had a glass of water, you would stop being thirsty, and every time I had a idea, it would pop up in your head as well (at least if you were the same race as me). Marxism refuses to acknowledge that we are each separate individuals and that we deserve recognition as such—a premise the Seattle Public Schools seems to share.
So count the Seattle Public Schools’ definition of racism as yet another article of evidence against the public schools, which mandate that we must pay to spread of ideas we deeply oppose.
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:: Thursday, May 18, 2006 ::
An example of why zoning laws (and conservatives) are evil
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:08 PM
You know the oft-repeated conservative meme that the family is the foundation of society (implying that individuals are not)? Here’s an example of how that mentality attacks the freedom of people to choose their own relationships. It seems the regulatory overlords of Black Jack, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri have legally defined a family, and if you don’t fall into that definition, you are not allowed to chose who you live with.
The city council has rejected a measure allowing unmarried couples with multiple children to live together, and the mayor said those who fall into that category could soon face eviction.Has McCourt ever heard of the Declaration of Independence? Has he ever contemplated what it means when ti says that people have a right to their life, liberty and the freedom to pursue their own happiness? Where does he and the five petit dictators of the Black Jack, Missouri planning and zoning commission get off interfering with people and their property? How does the mere fact that an group of unwed people live together in the same house with their children violate the rights of others?
Olivia Shelltrack and Fondrey Loving were denied an occupancy permit after moving into a home in this St. Louis suburb because they have three children and are not married.
The town's planning and zoning commission proposed a change in the law, but the measure was rejected Tuesday by the city council in a 5-3 vote.
"I'm just shocked," Shelltrack said. "I really thought this would all be over, and we could go on with our lives."
The current ordinance prohibits more than three people from living together unless they are related by "blood, marriage or adoption." The defeated measure would have changed the definition of a family to include unmarried couples with two or more children.
Mayor Norman McCourt declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that those who do not meet the town's definition of family could soon face eviction. [AP]
Stories like this one offend me to the core. They remind me that America has deep problems grasping the principle of individual rights--and if this problem is left unaddressed, it will only grow worse.
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Moving towards freedomless speech
Posted by Edward Cline at 9:30 AM
It is not so curious that in the wake of the Danish cartoon conflict, during which the American press and news media revealed their tepid commitment to freedom of speech and the inviolacy of the First Amendment, incidents of assaults on that freedom would not only multiply, but assume odd but no less ominous forms.
In 1996, in "The Ghouls of Grammatical Egalitarianism," a review for The Social Critic of the American Association of University Press's Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, I noted:
"Thought orthodoxy is not synonymous with thought control. There is no Federal Board of Language Usage to which publishers must submit their books and journals to be tested for discriminatory or disparaging language before they can be put on the market for sale to the public. However, while no official agency of control exists, there is a kind of interlocking directorate of semi-public institutions and organizations which accomplishes the same purpose by presenting a united front against freedom of expression and imposing orthodoxy on our culture's intellectual and literary pacesetters. 'Say what you please, we're not censors!....But say it our way, or do not bother to say it.'
"Short of overt government repression, I cannot imagine a more insidious form of thought control than this, which is to thrust independent minds of whatever professional suasion or degree of ability into a purgatory that is not quite freedom and not quite slavery."
And, in discussing the ramifications of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in my entry on "Censorship" in the 2002 edition of The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (Vol. 70), I observed:
"All the provisions regarding 'obscenity' are ostensibly for the sake of protecting children. An early precedent for this particular ruse was the Rubbish and Smut bill (or the Schund und Schmutz law) of May 1927, enacted by the Weimar government in Germany, in which children under the age of 18 were similarly 'protected' by controls from plays, literature, art, and especially nightclub performances that might corrupt their moral fiber. The act took the form of a ban of all under 18 years of age from proximity to these 'evils.' It also gave the police the unlimited power to enter private residences to enforce the law, and even prohibited young adults from attending art classes that employed nude models. The Rubbish and Smut law was an overture to wholesale Nazi censorship six years later."
Germany was prepared for Nazi rule in more ways than one -- chiefly by its philosophy -- and the Rubbish and Smut law was passed and enforced in the name of "decency." In the U.S., such laws are enacted on federal and state levels for the same reason, and also in the name of "fairness," "balance," and "sensitivity." Not to mention that Trojan horse of all regulations, bans, and controls: children.
"Speech codes" have established stultifying purgatories of expression not only on college campuses, but in other venues, as well, such as business and even tourism. In how many numberless places of business would one now risk a sexual harassment lawsuit by paying a colleague a compliment on his or her appearance, and probable dismissal by one's employer, who would likely be named a co-defendant for not having enforced federal and state "guidelines"?
And what better way to ensure that college students become "responsible" citizens than by creating lists of "protected" and "unprotected" speech, and even linking academic success to the degree to which students adhere to them? Establish in their minds the habit of observing arbitrary parameters of speech and thought, and they won't give the authorities much trouble. They will be too busy "giving back to society" to discover how much liberty that society has surrendered and taken from them.
And, just the other day, browsing through some Colonial Williamsburg teachers' brochures that offer literature on how to introduce students to the American Revolution, I encountered the term "tradespeople" in lieu of "tradesmen." What the first term conveys is that the men who made the Revolution possible were androgynous "persons" who wore strange clothing and practiced odd customs. But the employment of sanitized terminology is not the worst offense committed by Colonial Williamsburg. Its acceptance of federal grants disqualifies the foundation from teaching anything about why the Revolution occurred, for with the grants come the requirements of political correctness, which can only influence how it represents history.
To return to thought control. The "control" that enforces "orthodoxy" in speech by individuals is simply fear of retribution, reprisal, or financial and personal ruin. To work, thought or speech control relies exclusively on self-censorship. The instances of operable thought control are as ubiquitous and innocuous in our culture as countless drops of water falling on one's forehead in a Chinese torture.
Now, there's a "disparaging" analogy! Could it be construed as an ethnic slur, or a cultural slur? A sleazy lawyer could make a case for both and take me to the cleaners. Wait! Now I'm offending lawyers! And cleaners! Well, how about saying that thought control is much like the embrace of an iron maiden? No, that wouldn't sit well with maidens reading this, either. Not that any girl or woman today wouldn't feel offended by being called a "maiden." How about risking being hauled before a Spanish Inquisition for speech heresy? Or for playing Russian Roulette with one's mouth? Nope. I might offend Hispanics, Catholics, or the Moscow Mafia. And perhaps Italians.
A friend remarked to me, referring to the disgraceful behavior of our government and press during the Danish cartoon "outrage," that "Mohammed was only the beginning." Rather, Mohammed is only the capstone of an edifice otherwise known as an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, under construction in our culture for the last half century.
I trust I have made my point. The Mohammedan enforcer of politically correct speech is ready with his scimitar, watching your every movement and listening to your every word, eager to behead unrepentant infidels of the First Amendment. "Slay them wherever you find them." Or take them to court.
And if we are tempted to speak out of turn -- that is, to endorse or criticize a candidate for political office and consequently violate the time strictures of the Campaign Finance Law and an arbitrary ruling of the Federal Election Commission -- we must not think that law is an abridgement of the First Amendment, but rather as a gag for the "public good."
In Boulder, Colorado, for example, citizens concerned about the "decency" of their neighbors, coworkers, or strangers may have the chance to snitch anonymously to the authorities if they believe a "hate crime" has been committed.
The Denver Post reports that "the Boulder City Council will take up the matter of allocating public funding for a 'hate hotline,' which would giver residents an opportunity to report incidents in which Boulderites use tactless language."
As though that were not bad enough, try to unravel the illogic of a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union. The Post reports him as saying, "Our concern -- and there are many -- is that there is no confidentiality, no legal confidentiality," explains Judd Golden, chairman of the Boulder ACLU. "So it's potentially chilling if people think they are providing this information in confidence and then that information were provided to the government or the government sought access to it. That would chill free speech."
Here is that gibberish unraveled. Golden is not concerned about the power of the government to punish someone for speaking his mind and asserting his freedom of speech. That it has such power, or is seeking it, is the given he sanctions. He is concerned about the jeopardy in which informants might find themselves if the government knew their identities. It is not the principle of the First Amendment that he is worried can be chilled, splintered, and melted away, but the contextless "freedom of speech" and "privacy" of petit Nazis and would-be gauleiters.
The Boulder Council, flailing about in its own shrunken epistemology, believes it has a duty to protect tattletales from any consequences of their "public spirited" actions. Its resolution would not only condemn "the usual individual or collective acts of racism and bigotry," writes the Post, but those who attack, disparage, or denigrate "personal beliefs and values."
Sound familiar? This is Mohammed in the guise of any random soccer mom, public school teacher, community activist, or other endorser of the idea of "hate crimes."
The criminal code and justice system were once legitimately concerned with determining and punishing criminal actions in order to protect or uphold individual rights. The concept of "hate crimes," however, extends and sanctions the power of government and our courts to punish thought, as well, that is, for why a crime might have been committed.
It is but a short step from linking an actual crime with "hate" to making it a crime to "hate." One need not act on that "hate" to be pilloried by a law or society, except to express one's opinion or position, no matter how rational or irrational it might be. The Boulder Council seems to want to take that step. One can only imagine in how many other American cities that willingness exists in the minds of "stewards of the public good and safety."
On a fundamental cultural level, it is no coincidence that the introduction and gradual acceptance of the concept of "hate crimes" paralleled the stealthy and de facto imposition of politically correct speech. Politically correct speech, in turn, has established the grounds for punishable "tactless language."
In May of 1765, Patrick Henry urged the Virginia General Assembly to adopt the "tactless language" of his Resolves over the "politically correct" style of his time to protest the Stamp Act. When other colonial Americans read that language, deemed by the fearful as "disrespectful," "insensitive," "disparaging" and "offensive" to the majesty and prerogatives of the British Crown, it moved them to unite for the first time to oppose and resist Parliamentary power. That was the true beginning of the American Revolution.
The growing silence you hear now is a cowed nation exercising its freedomless speech.
* * * *
Other articles by Edward Cline on censorship:
"Here Comes a Chopper to Chop Off Your Head: Freedom of Expression vs. Censorship in America" Essay: The Journal of Information Ethics (St. Cloud State University, MN/ McFarland & Co., Publishers, Jefferson, NC), Fall 1995
"Patrick Henry: Not Merely an Orator" Essay: The Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Winter 1995
"The Ghouls of Grammatical Egalitarianism" a review of Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, ed. Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language, The Social Critic, November/ December 1996
"Censorship" Entry: The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, ed. Allen Kent, Marcel Dekker, New York, Vols. 62 (1998) and 70 (2002)
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:: Friday, May 12, 2006 ::
How to Deter the United States
Posted by Edward Cline at 11:44 AM
In the May 9th New York Sun, Daniel Pipes, in "How to Deter Tehran," listed and discussed three options open to the U.S. in its face-off with Iran.
The first option is to accept without reservation Iran's assertion that it is only processing nuclear fuel for "peaceful" purposes, and that in time President Ahmadinejad will be muzzled and constrained by Iranians who don't share his confidence that he is the new "Mahdi," destined to set the world straight. Pipes rightly dismisses this as an exercise in fantasy.
The second option is a military one, to destroy Iran's nuclear fuel processing capabilities so that it could not produce nuclear weapons. "Military analysts," writes Pipes, "posit that American airpower, combined with good intelligence and specialized ordnance, suffice to do the needed damage in a matter of days; plus, it could secure the Straits of Hormuz."
Pipes qualifies the logic of this option by citing two "unfavorable consequences": outraged Muslim public opinion against the U.S. and the effect it would have on the world oil market. Aside from moving the "now-alienated Iranian population to rally to its government," he paints another "unfavorable consequence," as well: "Globally, air strikes would inflame already hostile Muslim attitudes toward the United States, leading to a surge in support for radical Islam and a further separation of civilizations. News reports indicate that Tehran is funding terrorist groups so that they can assault American embassies, military bases, and economic interests, step up attack in Iraq, and launch rockets against Israel."
"Even if Western military forces can handle these challenges, air raids may cause Iranians and their supporters to withhold oil and gas from the market, engage in terror against the energy infrastructure, and foment civil unrest, all of which could create an economic downturn rivaling the energy-induced recession of the mid-1970s."
The third option Pipes lists is international cooperation to put pressure on Iran, either through the United Nations or by persuading other countries that it would be in their best interests to "convince Iranians of the terrible repercussions for them of defying the international consensus."
Pipes asserts in his article that the political leadership of Iran is "divided, with important elements dubious about the wisdom of proceeding with nukes....Other influential sectors of [Iranian] society -- religious, military and economic in particular -- also worry about the headlong rush." "A campaign by Iranians to avoid confrontation could well prevail," writes Pipes, "as Iran does not itself face an atomic threat."
Two questions must be posed here: Is the Iranian "oligarchy" so splintered and concerned about international "isolation" that it could gag Ahmadinejad and put its West-hating mullahs on leashes? And why shouldn't Iran be faced with an "atomic threat"? It is, after all, posing that very same threat to the West, and in particular, to Israel, which Ahmadinejad and his underlings insist should be wiped from the map of the Mideast.
Pipes rightly dismisses the first option as wishful thinking. He concedes that the second option, immediate military action, is a step in the right direction, but agrees with Senator John McCain of Arizona that it is less worse an option than a nuclear-armed Iran.
But his preferred third option would require the diplomatic equivalent of a conga line, necessitating the willingness of Russia and China to join it. But the "terrible repercussions" of international isolation and economic sanctions, presumably administered by the U.N., do not ring with promise, if the sanctions and isolation imposed on Saddam Hussein's Iraq are any guide.
Further, Russia and China are not likely to agree to anything harsher than a slap on Iran's wrist. Russia is supplying Iran with the very technology that would help Iran create nuclear weapons (with dictator Vladimir Putin assuring President Bush that he continues to be an ally on the war on terror), while totalitarian China has just signed a trade pact with Iran that includes what might be characterized as an "oil for vetoes on the U.N. Security Council" deal.
There are several things wrong with the last two options.
If it is true that military strikes against Iran might cause the Iranian populace to "rally to its government," should such a possibility act as a brake on U.S. policy and action? No. If that populace is so fickle, why should we care how it might respond to the U.S. acting in its self-defense? During World War Two, German and Japanese populations "rallied" to their governments. Our policy then was to bomb them into submission and bring home the repercussions of supporting tyranny and sanctioning aggression. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were subsequently and roundly defeated. The ultimate deterrence of aggressive tyranny is its destruction.
If military strikes would raise the level of Muslim "public opinion" against the U.S., should that act as a brake? No. Why should we care about what the Muslim world thinks of the U.S.? The U.S. is already hated and isolated. Should a rise in the emotional intensity of hatred be a factor in formulating a proper policy for dealing with our enemies?
Pipes provides a clue to his own perspective in his article. He writes:
"...Air strikes would inflame already hostile Muslim attitudes toward the United States, leading to a surge in support for radical Islam and a further separation of civilizations."
Islam is by its nature "radical"; it can neither be tamed nor made "moderate," no more than communism, Nazism, or Bushido can be modified to "coexist" with their political antipodes. It is fundamentally a creed of conquest. The notion of a "peaceful" Islam is as ludicrous as expecting a Doberman to behave like a Pekinese. It cannot be coaxed into passive "tolerance" of ideas and institutions it is compelled to oppose and destroy.
As for worrying about a further "separation of civilizations," the further apart they are, the better. The West, if it seeks to preserve its identity, has nothing to gain from Islam. The only way they can be brought closer is for one or the other to submit: either the West submits to Islam, and no longer is the West but a gigantic theocracy, or Islam submits to the West, and would no longer be Islam, if it began imbibing the ideas of freedom, individualism, and capitalism.
But the West is not advancing freedom, individualism and capitalism. Or even reason. It has virtually abandoned the values that define it and distinguished it from the rest of the world. It is seeking rapprochement with an ideology that is dedicated to their final eradication.
It is a philosophical conflict that exists, not merely a geopolitical one. However much one might wish for reconciliation between the West and Islam, it will not change the fact that they are mortal enemies. It is an issue of reason versus faith allied with force.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran seems to know this. It would explain the smugness that colors his sneering pronouncements about the U.S. and his confidence that it can be stared down in a contest of chicken. It is the root of his hubristic, mocking certainty, that, morally, the U.S. is a paper tiger.
The only practical, realistic option open to the U.S. to resolve a crisis of its own making -- to prevent the crisis from becoming even more "complex" and untenable, tangled as it is in economic and "humanitarian" considerations -- is to bite the bullet, attack Iran and destroy it. Only then will that "now-alienated" Iranian populace seek to overthrow the government responsible for inviting such devastation to be visited upon it. Islam would be discredited throughout the Muslim world, which would begin to collapse into itself.
While the West, in particular the U.S., wrings its hands over how to deter a nuclear-armed Iran, Iran can count on a more lethal weapon of mass destruction to deter the West and the U.S from annihilating it and Ahmadeinejad's agenda of destruction: philosophical bankruptcy and a commitment to unprincipled pragmatism.
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Mom's invaluable lesson
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:01 AM
Joseph Kellard was kind enough to offer RoR his article recaling his mother on Mother's Day.
My late mother, Rita, showered lots of love on her children, and she expressed her love to me best in a lesson capsulated by the saying "Be your own person." I agree. Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers who teach their children well.
My individuality sprouted at age 7, when the seeds of my atheism were sown. My Catholic school teacher taught that Jesus walked on a body of water, but I doubted this "truth." Years later, I questioned why the equally unrealistic tales of Greek gods were called "myths," but an immaculate conception and a parted sea were "miracles" to be taken on faith
By 13, I'd rejected religion, refused to make my confirmation and stopped attending church. While my mother voiced her disapproval, she ultimately respected my decisions. She never imposed her beliefs on me. Her unstated yet invaluable lesson was that it's good to think for myself.
Nonetheless, my mother wielded a strong influence on me throughout my adolescence. Intellectually, through her example as a voracious reader, she instilled in me a life-long love of learning. Morally, she shrewdly dissected people's beliefs and behavior, and fearlessly criticized them when they acted unjustly. Politically, she was a devout liberal of the FDR variety. Her positions seemed well reasoned, and she exemplified how to passionately stand up for your beliefs.
The more experienced and well-read I grew, however, the more the independent, reasoning mind she'd cultivated in me challenged her beliefs. We often had some heated debates.
For instance, my mother, a switchboard operator, believed the relatively low wages workers like her made was due to business owners collaborating to pay below what their employees should earn. If true, I asked, then why didn't employers conspire to pay all operators even lower wages? Because, I argued, when employers pay workers below what the free market demands for any labor, other employers will attract those workers with higher salaries, thus raising average wages.
During such arguments, my mother often stubbornly repeated her positions. She clung to her beliefs -- her faith. And I'd stood by the truth, just like she'd taught me to do.
While we eventually grew apart, my basic love for my mother never ceased. In part, I always admired her for teaching me, as I eulogized at her funeral, "how not to just passively accept what most people hold as true, but to question them to find the logic in their beliefs."
Today, this lesson serves as the basis of my philosophy, one of rational inquiry and integrity toward my conclusions. If, instead, my mother had scornfully crushed my independent, individual beliefs early on, I¹d have been robbed of the opportunity to achieve the much greater happiness I've enjoyed since adopting my reason-based ideas. This achievement alone makes a parent's respect for a child's individuality a crucial part of parenting.
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:: Thursday, May 11, 2006 ::
The missed debate over 'price-gouging'
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:38 PM
Investor's Business Daily recently ran an interesting editorial on the price-gouging legislation before Congress. The following is an excerpt:
To an economist, there's no such thing as "gouging" in a market that is free and efficient, and the oil and oil-product markets meet that standard. They have been probed often for collusion and other forms of manipulation, and they have come up clean. Charging the going rate under such conditions is inherently fair. The price is right as long as it's determined by the free market.I agree with most of the economic analyses, but there is point this article misses that is critical in my mind: it is not knowledge or ignorance of economics that prompted the House to pass anti-"price-gouging" legislation; economics has nothing to do with it. The House voted to outlaw "price-gouging" on moral grounds--animated by the view that profit itself is immoral.
Economists don't call the shots in a democracy, of course, and public anger over high prices can force even the most sensible politicians into a corner. Do they try to educate the public -- and risk losing office in the process -- or do they go with the flow and try to do as little damage as possible? If it's the latter, they can limit the market interference by making sure any price-gouging rule is limited in time and place to some short-term crisis, like a hurricane.
Unfortunately, the House bill is not designed to fade away. If it were put on the books, it would eventually create price rules of some kind, with stiff penalties for violators and potentially rich publicity for prosecutors. The net effect would be a new price-control regime, and millions of American motorists remember how the last such regime went.
It's a fundamental rule of markets that setting an artificially low price for something will lead to less production -- an artificial shortage. We don't have gas shortages. We'll have them, as in the 1970s, if oil companies, refiners and station owners are forced through regulation or threat of fines to sell below the market price.
Even if Congress thinks it's not serious about price controls, it's already done some damage by endorsing the idea that something -- or someone -- other than supply and demand may be to blame for the gas-price spike. In effect, it's drawing attention away from the steps that should be taken and blaming the usual suspects instead.
Consider the argument against "price-gouging" during a disaster--an extreme situation that is often used to highlight the alleged evils of capitalism. Let's say that a disaster strikes an area and the municipal water supply is put out of service. In the absence of the normal supply of water, there will be entrepreneurs who will drop what they are doing, fill up trucks with water, drive to affected area and sell that water for a premium, motivated only by the profit that they will receive. Anti-"price-gouging" would criminalize their profits on the grounds that these entrepreneurs are exploiting those who need water.
But are the entrepreneurs immoral? Before the entrepreneurs, there was no water to be had. The entrepreneurs chose to reconfigure their lives in an emergency situation to provide a critical good. In exchange, they set a price for their time and energy that would allow them to profit--that is, they sought to get something out of the work that they performed. To force the entrepreneurs to charge less than the price that they would freely choose is to mandate that they be robbed under the aegis of the law. Furthermore, such action prevents others from buying water at a price that they would freely pay given the circumstances.
Could the victims of the disaster choose not to by water at disaster prices? Of course. Entrepreneurs do not put guns to people's heads saying, "buy from me or else." They say instead, "these is my price; you are free to take it or leave it" and no one has a right to outlaw such terms. Why? Because even in a disaster, one does not have a right to upend an individual's right to live his life for his own sake.
Now I know that to many people, the above scenario sounds cruel and unfeeling. These people will ask what about charity and human kindness. Charity and human kindness are wonderful things and there never has been a shortage of them to people who have been hurt though no fault of their own; think of the millions of dollars of donations made on behalf of the victims of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Yet charity is not a right and when it is coerced, it is no longer charity. It is human cannibalism--and that's precisely what the House seeks to instill through its anti-price-gouging legislation.
Thus the "price gouging" debate ultimately hinges upon a moral argument. Furthermore, note that the free-market economists, for all their practical defense of the market, are unwilling to justify their position with a moral argument. They will offer economic truth after economic truth but they will never challenge their opponents directly by simply stating that the market works because people have a moral right to pursue their self-interest. These free-market economists can never win against the advocates of state power--not when their opponents claim that morality is on their side and continue to remain unchallenged.
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The intelligent design 'debate'
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:14 PM
This story on intelligent design was grabbed by one of my news filters:
A Christian author and TV host whose latest book, "Intelligent Design Versus Evolution: Letters to an Atheist," debunks Darwinism has challenged fellow television personality Bill Maher to a public debate on the origins of the Earth. I wonder then how these chicken evolutionists keep winning their court cases, if they are so afraid to pony up against the creationists. It’s also amusing that Comfort seems to think Bill Maher is the ultimate defender of science and rationality; after all, if one seeks to debate the philosophy of science, it follows that one would seek out a comedian as an opponent.
Says Ray Comfort: "Mr. Maher, like all believers in the theory of evolution, simply has a blind faith in a theory-tale that can't be substantiated. It's just another opiate of the masses – a religion called 'Darwinism' that piously robes itself in what it thinks is 'science.' It is true science fiction."
Comfort hosts "The Way of the Master" with actor Kirk Cameron.
"I am beginning to suspect that some men may have evolved from chickens, or at least that's the impression I get when it comes to evolutionists standing up for their convictions," notes Comfort. [WorldNetDaily.com]
I also love the irony in Comfort’s statement that evolution (and by definition, the scientific method that identified it) is the “opiate of the masses.” I guess that’s technically true—I, for one, consider myself to be quite high for science. Science is the process of observation put to the task of explaining the facts of nature. I wrote this back in January.
To explain facts, scientific theories rely on observation for support. For example, to explain the origin of species, evolutionary biology draws upon field data from the ongoing changes that occur among populations of organisms, fossil data from plants and animals that no longer exist, data regarding the temporal and geographic distribution of genetic markers, and experiments that attempt to replicate the conditions of species-change in the laboratory. Some facts have yet to be explained fully. For example, we are not yet sure how some of the simplest parts of living things originated nor precisely how spoken language evolved. It’s amazing that the proponents of intelligent design don’t see this, but then again, blind faith does require its users to put on the blinders.
Admitting the unknown facts regarding human origins, however, doesn’t mean that the explanations aren’t out there, waiting to be identified. The unknown is the unfinished business of evolutionary biology, a business in which today’s most promising grade school students might one day play a part in completing. Properly speaking, evolution is a “theory,” but it is entirely based on evidence, and an important part of scientists’ jobs is to identify how what is known can be used to discover what is not yet known.
Contrast the theory of evolution with the theory of intelligent design. The proponents of intelligent design argue that the world is simply too complex (or too “perfect,” implying that there could be an imperfect reality) to explain the origins of life and human intelligence. These proponents argue that ultimately only the intervention of a creator can explain man’s existence. Thereafter, there is no unfinished business for the researcher because an intelligent designer is not subject to further observation and experiment.
To evaluate this idea, it is useful to draw a parallel: imagine a scientist trying to find a cure for cancer through such reasoning. Like the origins of life and language, cancer is complex; it behaves strangely, and its nature is hard to pin down. Should the scientist then conclude that only God’s intervention causes cancer? Obviously, no real scientist would draw that conclusion, and it would be absurd to teach an intelligent design theory of cancer. Instead, researchers assume that the cause of cancer is ultimately caused by the interaction of the materials that make up our observable physical world, and they are working to discover what those interactions are so that they can control them and thereby discover a cure for the disease.
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:: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 ::
William F. Buckley Jr. smears Ayn Rand (yet again)
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:08 AM
Here's a snip from Buckley's latest missive, this time contemplating the philosophy of our Evangelist in Chief:
[P]robes into Bush's political servitude to Christian dogma aren't conclusively damaging. The critic in question says of Bush that he is a capitalist to the exclusion of "other civilized values, (and) treats the national parks as a playground for snowmobiles. Bush is the first president to insist on drilling in the Arctic wildlife reserve."I think Buckley depicts the conservative political position quite admirably. Capitalism and mysticism do not mix; capitalism is egoistic while mysticism demands sacrifice. Those who “worship” capitalism—that is, those who worship voluntary exchange for mutual benefit—are anti-Christian and thus “unholy.” Only faith in the divinity of Jesus and the truth of religious law keeps us moral; absent that faith, anything goes.
Well, that is not so. Reagan's Interior Department recommended drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President George H.W. Bush explicitly recommended it. If one is looking for extra-conventional sources of authority, one is attracted not to those who want to drill for oil in Alaska, but to those who do not. Their refusal to countenance drilling is in the nature of a taboo whose sanction is all but religious in nature, Big Chief Greenhouse no touchum Arctic refuge.
And of course Mr. Bush can hardly endorse unrestrained capitalism and pursue the grace of Christ. Those who worship capitalism to sacramental lengths are defiantly anti-Christian, like Ayn Rand and her utterly unholy Objectivists, and that branch of libertarianism which acknowledges only the market as authority, practical or moral.
Stem-cell research is a question correctly demanding moral, not purely instrumental, discrimination. If a president lists the factor of human life as one consideration to be weighed in making policy on stem-cell research, he should not for that reason be dismissed as superstitious.
Mr. Bush faces a lot of problems, and some of them are correctly informed by religious understandings. For example, Why not permit infanticide? Well, let me explain: Jesus wouldn't approve.
So at root, conservatives are mystics who eschew self-interest, embrace altruism and damn anyone who disagrees with them as heretics. I know what you are thinking: who knew. Nevertheless, Buckley’s article underscores yet again that the conservatives must be challenged and ultimately replaced as a cultural force in America. I think its telling that Buckley doesn’t even attempt to define, let alone defend the morality of markets—it's faith in Jesus that is primary. And all the while, it is the conservatives who are perceived as capitalism’s premiere defenders. My view: as long as this perception exists, Objectivists' efforts to change the culture will continue to remain on the fringe. We have to treat the conservatives as our most dangerous enemy.
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:: Tuesday, May 09, 2006 ::
'Da Vinci Code' movie sparks Catholic censorship envy
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:01 AM
It seems a Roman Catholic cardinal is a little envious that Islam gets to squelch those who offend its tenets.
In the latest Vatican broadside against "The Da Vinci Code," a leading cardinal says Christians should respond to the book and film with legal action because both offend Christ and the Church he founded.Consider what is being asked here: Arinze seeks to prevent portrayals of Catholicism that he disagrees with, calling respect for his creed a "fundamental human right" and asking that Catholics take legal steps to prevent the showing of these portrayals.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who was considered a candidate for pope last year, made his strong comments in a documentary called "The Da Vinci Code-A Masterful Deception."
Arinze's appeal came some 10 days after another Vatican cardinal called for a boycott of the film. Both cardinals asserted that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that Christians should get tough.
"Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget," Arinze said in the documentary made by Rome film maker Mario Biasetti for Rome Reports, a Catholic film agency specializing in religious affairs.
"Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said.
"This is one of the fundamental human rights: that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected, and our founder Jesus Christ respected," he said, without elaborating on what legal means he had in mind.
[. . .]
"Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you," Arinze said.
This appeared to be a reference to protests by Muslims around the world over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. [Philip Pullella, Reuters]
But why? How is the demand that the world respect the tenets of one's religious beliefs a "fundamental human right?" Where does this right draw its justification? Is it because God commands it? How is God's alleged commandment binding upon me, if I find no reason to believe in God? How is it that I am bound to genuflect before the mystical whims of others?
And note that Arinze is not calling for religious liberty--he is not calling for his right to argue for his philosophy free from coercion. Instead, he holds that his faith gives him the right to silence others. So much for the oft-repeated notion that Christianity begat freedom. Arinze, just like the Islamsts who demand that no one blaspheme their prophet, is calling for nothing less than the (re)instillation of religious tyranny.
Arinze's statement is disturbing; it indicates that even the more Westernized religious creeds are drawing inspiration from militant Islam in seeking to coerce belief. I count that as among one of the worst philosophic signs I've seen in years.
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:: Monday, May 08, 2006 ::
Rule of Reason joins the 100,000 club
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 7:35 PM
Today, at 7:30:54, the Rule of Reason received its 100,000th recorded visit. I set up RoR’s sitemeter on April 25, 2003 and included the year and a half that I was back in school and posts were infrequent. I didn’t put a sitemeter on the CAC website until the release of the latest style update in February. Since then, CAC’s main site has received almost 15,000 visits and 27,000 page views.
In context, blogs like Instapundit get over 125,000 vistis a day, so I’m not too excited about making 100,000. RoR doesn’t post as frequently as top level blogs, our ideological blog network is smaller than these bogs and our positions are often far from the mainstream.
At the same time, this milestone for the blog is still an achievement and one I hope to build upon. So here’s to 200,000 by the end of 2006!
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America's cowardice only emboldens her enemies
Posted by Edward Cline at 11:07 AM
"They smell the fear," a friend of mine once remarked in an email about current events, most of which were directly connected to the incoherent, irrational foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. and of the West in general. To which I would add, "And they relish the retreat."
"They" are all the enemies of the U.S., of the West, and of civilization. And the fear they smell is the natural effervescence of panic, vacillation, and indecision in the face of a dedicated enemy, exacerbated and made more potently detectable by an absence of confidence, self-interest, and principle. In nature, the odor of fear invites the attention of alert carnivores and emboldens them to stalk and attack. It is no less so in international relations.
Read history. Appeasement and unprincipled pragmatism can explain the seemingly unstoppable advancement of barbarism. Ayn Rand enunciated the principle of evil's "potency" in her essay, "The Anatomy of Compromise": "The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles." The snarling predators, parasites and religious moralists of a variety of inimical suasions are circling in ever tightening circles for the kill. And few things are more disturbing than watching rival predators fight over a carcass. One should hope that it is not too late for the U.S. to act and spare itself that fate.
The minor whiffs of surrender are almost laughable. Former President Bill Clinton, posing as a globetrotting humanitarian and apologist for the West, just like Jimmy Carter -- he condemned the Danish cartoons of Mohammed and was paid a lot of money to excoriate American policies in speeches he gave in Riyadh and the U.A.E. -- helped to arm-twist beverage companies into agreeing to withdraw their sugary soft drinks from public schools in a fascist "fight against fat."
Well, what's a retired anti-American embezzler, liar, and philanderer, living the high life under the umbrella of a tax-exempt foundation and collecting a presidential pension with full benefits, to do but pitch in to make sure that Uncle Sam's future tax-cows are fit enough to submit and serve and pay for their own slavery? Their bodies are no longer their own, but the government's or the nation's. If they won't voluntarily abstain from soft drinks, they must be forced to.
Not for Clinton to oppose the fat that burdens American taxpayers, such as pork barrel legislation, federal and state taxes collected at the gas pump, or the frauds of Social Security and Medicare. No, those forms of obesity are sacrosanct.
Does anyone recall the full-page photograph in the New York Times over a decade ago of 18-year-old Bill shaking hands with President Kennedy? It is no accident that Bill Clinton revered Kennedy. I still have that page. I call it, "Passing the Torch of Totalitarianism." Clinton in his own political career may not have been as "idealistic" about it as was Kennedy, but then an amoralist is not particular about the brand of collectivism he adopts, so long as he is seen promoting it and stands to gain something from it. For the relevance of this comment, see Ayn Rand's various articles on American political trends, particularly "The Fascist New Frontier."
Not representative of Hillary's favorite reading material, to be sure. She went through her superficial Rand "phase" to marry Bill, and, in a classic instance of the selflessness of power-seekers, clung to him and his White House ambitions despite his debauchery. Bill was her ticket to power. She always had her own dominatrixic plans to whip the country into shape. If you think this is a gratuitous characterization of her obvious power-lusting persona, I recommend that you put Adolf Hitler on the psychiatrist's couch and compare the notes you take from his confessions with the ones you take from hers. Apart from differences in stridency and form, they'll match. He was a man-hater, too, and enjoyed breaking and enslaving men in a quest to realize his own conception of a "global village." Gender is irrelevant.
Truth, however, neither retires nor ages. It would be interesting to speculate on the distinction between the various forms of treason committed by Bill Clinton, such as when he chose not defend this country when he should have (see Leonard Peikoff's "Iraq: The Wrong War," on Capitalism Magazine, from January 28, 1997), and that committed by Jane Fonda, who gave aid and comfort to the enemy during the Vietnam War, when she shouldn't have. Her autobiography, "My Life So Far," ought to be retitled, "My Life So Far from the Truth," chiefly because it also lies and poses the question of what is "is." Or, rather, of what was "wasn't."
Apart from the omissions and memory lapses, her life story, as she or her ghostwriter tells it, is otherwise a narration of blameless determinism. She couldn't help but pose on an anti-aircraft gun, read communist-written speeches, dine well with her hosts while American POWs starved, and contribute to the defeat of America at the hands of collectivist paupers. She claims to be a victim of circumstance and an exemplar of cluelessness. She just went with the flow, not meaning any harm, acting as Tom Hayden's Barbarella doll.
But, the French, who pioneered determinism in nature and in man, did it to us again. Fonda's most recent reward for moral irresponsibility and culpability came in the form of a $700,000 contract from the Paris-based cosmetics firm L'oreal to promote an anti-ageing cream.
The American press and news media must be breathing a collective sigh of relief, now that the Danish cartoon imbroglio is no longer newsworthy. Thanks to the Internet, however, Americans can learn that Islam hasn't dropped the matter. The most recent episodes of the Islamic jihad against freedom of speech occurred at Michigan State University, where a professor of engineering posted a letter that, among other things, urged Muslims to move to a country where Sharia law is supreme, instead of demanding its acceptance in the U.S., and was roundly criticized for it. And at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Saudi students protested a letter in the local Times Leader written by a dentist, Stephen M. Lawrence, who in it blasted Saudi Arabia, the role of Saudis in 9/11, honor killings, and the treatment of women and Christians in Islamic states.
"It is said we are having a clash of civilizations," wrote Lawrence, "but as we can plainly see, only one side is civilized."
Europe continues its spasmodic "civilized" submission to Islam, that is, to the demands of its resident Muslims that it accommodate and integrate with minority aliens whose theocratic premises are antithetical to Western ideas of liberty. Observing Europe's conversion into a caliphate is as unsettling as observing the reverse metamorphosis of a butterfly into a lowly worm. Denmark apologized for the Mohammed cartoons, and Sweden is diligently shutting down websites that carry any images that might be offensive to Muslims.
Muslims in Sweden and Germany are demanding that Sharia law be granted equal status with those countries' secular legal codes. One must wonder when Europeans will grasp that "separate but equal" moral codes inevitably prove to be incompatible, and that one must eventually absorb the other, that is, the more assertive, consistent and uncompromising one must nullify the less assertive and more accommodating one. Very possibly many Europeans now regret having invited so many "guest workers" over the decades to perform menial labor, but one will never hear them curse the welfare states that necessitated inviting them to perform it. They'd rather riot and destroy property than give it up, as they did recently in France over the proposed labor law that gave employers some control over their employees.
In the meantime, the Danish cartoonists are still in hiding, and the Muslim Brotherhood, based in Egypt, has issued its own fatwahs on Arab intellectuals who implicitly question Islamic values by upholding some Western ones, including one on Wafa Sultan, who bravely repudiated Islam in its entirety on Al-Jazeera television. To question the validity, veracity or morality of the Koran or the Hadith, of course, is to commit apostasy, whose penalty is death. Islam tamed and made palatable, Islam gutted of its numerous jihadist imperatives and injunctions, would no longer be Islam.
How many Arab intellectuals will live long enough to reach that logical conclusion, if ever, remains to be seen. But you won't hear their dilemma reported on the national news; bird flu and the latest Kennedy car accident are deemed more newsworthy. Note the news media's hypocrisy of gleefully reporting the legal troubles of Rush Limbaugh over his painkiller addiction, and offering sympathy and understanding over the Rhode Island senator's affliction.
Dictators who last long enough in power begin to grow bizarrely senile and increasingly irrational. Witness Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Less frequently, they become lucid. Muammar Qadhaffi of Libya is a case in point. On April 10th, on Al-Jazeera, sniffing the West's confusion, and forgetting that he admitted that it was his regime's terrorist agents who were responsible for the bombing of a fully-loaded 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, and for which he paid compensation (but not with his life), proclaimed that Europe and the U.S. ought to just consent to become Islamic, or declare war on Islam. Would that Western leaders, such as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, suffer from such episodes of either/or.
But the public polls of those two leaders are plummeting. Liberal and collectivist pundits and news anchors smell the defeat and are snapping at their heels.
Other predators smell the fear from as far away as South America. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is preparing to stick it to the U.S. by nationalizing all oil production in that country and by supplying oil virtually free to communist Cuba, while Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, will nationalize that country's natural gas production in the name of "the people." The U.S. had a chance to oust Chavez and his Gestapo when Venezuelans protested his dictatorial presidency, but passed it up in favor of equivocation and paper admonitions. It was too busy fighting the wrong war and promoting democracy in countries whose citizens wished to vote themselves their preferred brands of religious tyranny. And insisting that God was one of the Founders, his invisible signature is evident on the Declaration of Independence, and only an infidel couldn't see it.
One must wonder just how dumb are the likes of Chavez and Morales. Surely they know that nationalized, government controlled industries invariably fail and require the eventual reintroduction of hated foreign technicians to maintain the value of their loot. The record is quite clear. Perhaps they do know it, and this is their way of deliberately destroying values in order to destroy a greater value, such as the U.S. Perhaps, like James Taggart in "Atlas Shrugged," they want to hear us scream.
And President Ahmadinejad of newly nuclear Iran continues to give the U.S. and the West his version of the Bronx cheer.
The howling, yelping and growling you hear in the darkening night are the signals of creatures of the West's own making. We daren't hunt for them or even think of setting traps. That might upset PETA, the Animal Liberation Front, and environmentalists in the persons of Al Gore and the terrorists of Earth First.
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Another inane bill out of Congress
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:25 AM
Here's another bill (S. Res. 458) that takes the cake. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has proposed a non-binding resolution that says the Senate thinks all American patriot songs, poems and oaths should be recited only in English. (Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) has proposed parallel bill (H. Res 793) in the House.)
Here's the part of the bill that gets me:
Whereas the people of the United States are united not by race, ancestry, or origin, but by a common language, English, and by common belief in the principles prescribed in the founding documents of the Nation, especially the Declaration of Independence and the ConstitutionThat’s a strange grammatical construction. The phrase places "English" before the principle of individual rights and constitutional government; while the "and" attempts to make the two equal, there's simply no way one's language can be made co-equal with one’s agreement with individual rights. It is like saying the most important thing in life is clean teeth, and freedom.
If every American and American immigrant really agreed with the principle of individual rights, I wouldn't care one lick what language they chose to sing the nation’s hymns in. I don’t know about you, but I am of the mind that the Star-Spangled Banner would sound great in Arabic.
Update: Graig at The Primacy of Awesome pretty much thinks the same way.
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:: Sunday, May 07, 2006 ::
Sunday Capitalist Café
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:10 PM
I'm going to start posting a "Sunday Capitalist Café" for stuff that touches the lighter side of life. I was recently reminded of a website that allows you to make a map of all the countries you have visited--here's my map:
create your own visited country map
Many of these countries were visited when I was in the Marines; not too many Americans make to Senegal or Liberia on their own, so I was glad to have had the opportunity to visit. Barcelona and Rome are my two favorite European cities—Barcelona for its Rambula and Rome for its antiquities. Israel was interesting. I was still a Catholic at the time and when I toured the various holy sites I couldn’t help but conclude that the whole of religion was a bunch of nothing. After all, how could Jerusalem be holy compared to New York?
Here's my map of US states I've visited:
create your own personalized map of the USA
My next big travel goal is to road-trip out west to Seattle and back. There's something about driving across America that speaks to my soul—something about seeing America as “see level” that makes me feel as if I know the place by virtue of having been there and seen it myself.
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:: Friday, May 05, 2006 ::
Anti-'price-gouging' regulation not worth the cost
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:01 AM
With gasoline prices across the nation at $3 a gallon, one knows that American oil companies are easy targets for every regulator (and every potential regulator) in town. And when an oil-man-turned-president blames Americans for having an "energy addiction," it is only a matter of time before those that feed that "addiction" come under the gun.
It's not surprising then that the US House of Representatives just passed one of the worst bills to control the price of fuel since the 1970's era of gas lines and odd/even gas rationing. H. R. 5253, the so-called "Federal Energy Price Protection Act of 2006" grants the Federal Trade Commission the power to define claims of "price gouging" by oil producers and impose criminal fines of up to $150 million dollars and two years in jail. Additionally, the bill would permit courts to award civil damages of up to three times the difference between the "gouging" price and the FTC-determined "fair" price.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM). Not surprisingly, after reading though the congresswoman's bio and in spite of the "Spirit of Free Enterprise" award bestowed upon her by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it seems Wilson's has zero background in economics. This is a telling omission, for it evidences that even a rudimentary understanding of economic principles did not drive Rep. Wilson to propose her bill to regulate oil prices. Morality did-and a corrupt morality at that.
In the government regulator's alternate universe, the producers of things such as oil, healthcare, computer operating systems, or even staples as mundane as "super-premium ice cream" do not live for their own sake. Instead, these and other producers exist solely to assuage the needs of their customers-and it is need and not productivity that is the currency of this universe.
In contrast, the free market is predicated upon the recognition that each person has a right to live for his own sake-including people who work in the oil industry. Each of us works because our lives and our happiness demands that we be productive. We seek profit for our endeavors, which is nothing more than the return on our investment of time and money after expenses are paid.
Call the above seemingly obvious points the moral basis of the free market. The free market deserves to be fought for, yet it is precisely the market's moral basis that Rep. Wilson and her fellow would-be regulators seek to overthrow. These regulators say that they will permit producers to profit from their work-but only to a point. Pass that arbitrarily defined threshold and one becomes guilty of "price gouging."
Yet price is nothing more than the intersection between supply and demand. To criminalize a price on the free market is criminalize our right to set terms for our work and our time. After all, when markets are free, every price is a negotiation and every purchase is voluntary; anyone can choose either to take a price or leave it. In the case of oil, when the price goes up, we can choose to conserve the fuel we purchase by using it in ways that are worth its price, seek substitutes by purchasing more fuel-efficient cars, or in the long term, develop other sources of energy that are cheaper than oil.
But if high prices are outlawed simply because some regulator decides that too much profit would be made, the incentive to produce is destroyed (along with the inventive for any newcomers to enter the market).
Additionally, if oil companies had the easy ability to squeeze their customers for usurious profits, one would expect that more people would enter the energy production market so they could get a piece of the action. Why don't those who think they have the expertise to claim the oil companies are price gouging simply drop what they are doing, form an oil company that undercuts the supposed fat cats on price and make a fortune for themselves in the process?
The truth is, harvesting oil from the Earth and bringing it to market is a complex process requiring tremendous organizational ability and financial acumen. In blaming American oil producers for high oil prices, the oil industry's critics ignore the political situation in the world (such as Iran threatening to unleash atomic jihad or strongman Hugo Chavez's Marxist posturing over Venezuela's oil resources) which leads to oil prices being highly volatile. They ignore the increased worldwide demand for oil, such as from China growing economy. And they ignore the human cost of the weak American dollar, which makes imports more expensive and reflects the world's lack of confidence in America's economic and monetary policies.
These critics also ignore the of government's other interventions in energy markets, such as the cost of gas taxes, Congress' decision to refuse to allow oil production in ANWR, as well as the cost of mandating 'boutique' fuels under the guise of reduced emissions. At root, anti-price-gouging legislation is nothing less than an attempt to get something for nothing, and shift the blame for America's oil woes from the supporters of government regulation to the men and women who actually work to bring energy to the marketplace. Such is way of those who enshrine need as a virtue.
If Rep. Wilson's price-control bill passes in the Senate and is signed by President Bush, it guarantees that America will return to the gas crunch era of the 1970s. If energy producers cannot adjust their prices to market forces and are compelled to sell at artificially reduced rates, Americans will see gas shortages at the pump. No legislature on the face of this earth can suspend the law of supply and demand at their will. No legislature can criminalize production and still expect energy producers to keep to their work. It is immoral and it cannot work.
30 years ago, Americans let Democrats under Jimmy Carter devastate the American economy by enacting their price controls on energy. The real crime will be that the American people might very well allow the Republicans to make the same mistake today.
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:: Wednesday, May 03, 2006 ::
Why don't more Objectivist scholars do this . . .
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 2:02 PM
That is, why don't they recommend books? After re-reading my post on IP, it dawned on me that while the history of property law is important, I personally don’t know much of that history. Wouldn’t it be nice if an Objectivist put out a reccomend reading list of good books on the subject like Objectivist and Ph.D. student in economics Isaac DiIanni does on his website for texts on economics? Wouldn’t it be nice if every Objectivist scholar listed five essential texts for his field so if you needed to get your bearings on a topic, you would have an easy resource to call upon?
After all, how long does it take to write a handful of 100-word book reviews of texts that are useful and important in your field of study?
Update: I hear Scott Powell plans to offer such a list as his website as part of what he calls "A First History for Adults." I've heard nothing but raves about Scott's telephone course on history, so I look forward to seeing his list (and taking his course myself).
Update II: Art historian Lee Sandstead now has recomendations online too.
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The first part of property is production
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:32 PM
Greg Perkins applies the Objectivist theory of property to intellectual property and contrasts it with the libertarian view of IP at NoodleFood. Among his arguments, Perkins' makes the following identification:
[C]ontrary to the view of libertarians opposed to intellectual property, the essential basis of property is not scarcity -- it is production. Their complaint that intellectual property is an oxymoron because ideas are not scarce in the same way as apples has no merit, for the concepts of property and ownership lie fundamentally in the need for men to produce and enjoy values in support of their lives -- not merely in the narrower and subsidiary need to avoid conflict with one another in that enjoyment.I think that's an important statement; basically it says one must put the horse before the cart. If we don't clearly establish why a man creates values in the first place, we undercut the subsequent case for property and property protection.
Read the whole article. IP rights have often been turned into a deeply confusing issue, and Perkins' does an excellent job of bringing light to the key points of the issue.
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:: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 ::
Eminent domain debate recap
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:13 AM
As promised, here is my report on The Objective Standard’s debate on eminent domain between Jeffrey Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council (arguing to preserve eminent domain), and Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute (arguing to abolish it).
On one level, one has to admire Jeffrey Finkle for chutzpah. Given the massive backlash against the Kelo decision that enshrined the use of takings for private economic development, one would think that here is an issue where one would wish to tread softly, if only out of fear of being tarred and feathered by angry homeowners. Not so with Finkle; for him, eminent domain is a failing community’s tool of choice so it can provide the needy with services such as Meals on Wheels.
I’m not kidding. Meals on Wheels was among the central moral justifications for taking of property—and I use the term “property” loosely. When I asked him for an explicit definition of what he thought the word meant, Finkle outright evaded a question. And in a statement that would make Mussolini proud, Finkle argued that he would not sacrifice the needs of an entire community to some obstinate property holder. At root, Finkle believes that need is virtue.
It was intriguing to see how Finkle arrived at his position. Individuals acting out of self-interests are usurious slugs; as an example, Finkle argued that grocery stores avoid the inner-city while simultaneously overcharge their inner city customers. Yet put those same people into groups and give them power over other people’s lives and they become omni-benevolent. At root here, Finkle believes that selflessness is a virtue.
And all the while, Finkle battered the audience with package deals. Houston is a disaster because it doesn’t have zoning; families are forced to live next to chemical factories. New Orleans could never be redeveloped without eminent domain; abandoned property would remain titled to its last owner forever. No highway would exist without eminent domain; a minority of one could squelch every new avenue and no alternatives save for the takings power exist.
In contrast, Yaron Brook simply argued that individual rights matter. The right to property is a corollary of the right to life and no less important. People should deal with one another though persuasion and voluntary exchange; not to is to enshrine force as a means to an end and threaten all rights accordingly. The desire for growth is not license to usurp the rights of others. Brook’s arguments were clear, they flowed logically, and they explicitly addressed the fundamentals of the debate.
And in the debate’s most telling moment, Brook expanded Finkle’s claim that he supported a Quaker’s right not to serve in the military (don’t ask me what made Finkle mention this; it seemingly fell out of nowhere) to the right of a property holder not to give his property to others. Where Finkle disintegrated, Brook integrated. That’s what Objectivists do.
So in the end, score one for the Objectivists and the debate host The Objective Standard (and its editor Craig Biddle). In my view, The Objective Standard is proving to be everything an Objectivist publication should be and more and I look forward to more events of this caliber.
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:: Monday, May 01, 2006 ::
Justice for Anna Nicole Smith . . .
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 2:51 PM
. . . would mandate that the ex-stripper and Playmate model never be heard from again. Unfortunately, that was not the case at bar in Marshall v. Marshall, decided today by the US Supreme Court. At root was a procedural matter conserning whether or not federal courts could hear a tort suit arising from probate law, which in this instance involved Smith’s allegation of fraud in the handling of her late husband’s multi-million dollar estate. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held that federal courts do in fact have jurisdiction, arguing “Trial courts, both federal and state, often address conduct of the kind [Smith] alleges” and that “state probate courts possess no “special proficiency” in handling such issues.”
My view: I suppose I could get excited about the 10th Amendment aspect of the Court's ruling, but quite frankly, this is a case that only garners attention because of who it concerns, not what it concerns. Now Smith’s case will go back to California, where hopefully they have the attendant experience (and stomach) for dealing with ex-strippers and their octogenarian husband’s estates.
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Enshrining the arbitrary
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:26 PM
I’ve never understood how antitrust regulators get away with their arbitrary product and market definitions. Consider this report on the Microsoft antirust case in the EU.
On Monday and Tuesday, the panel [the EU Court of First Instance] heard a discussion of the [EU antitrust] Commission finding that Microsoft illegally bundled in its Windows Media player to damage rival makers of streaming audio and video, such as RealNetworks Real Player.If Microsoft can’t add functionality to its OS, what else does it have left? Nada. Yet for how long has it had to do this dance, and prove that it has a ‘legitimatize’ reason to make its products better, as if profit itself isn’t reason enough?
Judge John Cooke, who led the inquiry and will write a draft decision, questioned the reasoning and conclusions of the Commission.
"Is it correct to (say) that Microsoft's action was necessarily abusive?" Cooke asked at one point.
Commission lawyer Per Hellstrom argued that Microsoft should have sold Windows Media Player as a separate program, competing on a level playing field with other streaming audiovisual software such as RealNetworks Real Player.
But Cooke probed the wisdom of that approach.
"The Commission appears to have taken a policy stand that it wants to separate the operating system from the applications market," he said to Hellstrom. [David Lawsky and Sabina Zawadzki, Reuters]
I think the whole Microsoft case underscores the futility in attempting to debate the arbitrary on its terms. As long as the law allows arbitrary definitions, it can be interpreted to mean anything. Yet when has Microsoft ever made this point in court or with the public? The only possible outcome to such a failure is to let the enemy define his terms, and leave the possibility of those terms being overthrown to whim.
My take: antitrust must be fought on fundamental moral terms first; not to is to leave your firm to the hand of fate.
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The fruits of 'faith' in markets . . .
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:14 PM
This op-ed by Jay Bartlett, a student at Loyola College reveals how many Americans perceive the redistribution of wealth.
Economic liberty is undeniably at the bedrock of America, but having a few programs that help the less fortunate among us is certainly not "the road to serfdom."“Economic liberty” means the freedom to keep the fruits of one’s productive endeavors by virtue of creation, which Bartlett concedes is the “bedrock of America.” So why then does a simple majority get to usurp that liberty, and how is that not tyranny? Bartlett gives us a hint when he calls the market a “Holy Grail,” i.e. an article of faith. That’s the effect of the conservatives, who justify freedom not as a rationally provable requirement for man’s prosperity, but simply as a gift from God. So on one hand, we have the moral basis of the market reduced to faith, yet on the other hand, we have the keenly palpable needs of the sick, lame and lazy. Which do you think is going to win out over the other? Which do you think is going to give voice to a "different understanding of freedom"? I read this essay and I see a student in need of a rational understanding of freedom. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more voices to offer the arguments for such an understanding?
The claim that any governmental impediment to a free market is a form of enslavement by the state seems kind of ridiculous. We are a democratic society in which the laws of the land reflect the will of the people - "a government of the people, by the people..."
So this means that any laws we pass that put some restriction on the functioning of the market are acts self-inflicted slavery; that we have enslaved ourselves…this is like saying you imprison yourself when you lock your door at night.
It really comes down to a question of priorities -- viewing the market as some sort of sacrosanct Holy Grail not to be sullied with any form of restraint just seems myopic. Using resources for the benefit of as many people as possible, so that everyone has the opportunity to go to school, not be stricken by poverty in old age, and simply to eat to survive appears more logical in my eyes. Isn't this more important than building skyscrapers or protecting a software company's bottom line?
Just because I don't get sexually aroused talking about free markets doesn't mean I'm a socialist. It simply means that I think there's more to life than maximizing the return on shareholder investment.
That I recognize shortcomings of unfettered capitalism does not reflect an antipathy towards liberty, it instead evinces a different understanding of freedom, one that holds that all people should have a realistic opportunity to thrive as a member of society.
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Another wrong answer on the FDA
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:43 AM
Need more proof that the Republican are clueless? Then read on . . .
A top Republican senator on Monday called for Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration more power to review drugs after they are approved for the public, citing a government report that found lingering safety concerns at the agency.Great—the freedom to make medical choices for one’s self now looms even more distant.
The report, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, said there is no clear process for the FDA to monitor products once they are sold and that the agency should have the authority to require additional, post-approval studies from drug manufacturers.
"This report identifies the kinds of problems I've been tracking and investigating for the last two years," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, who released the report. "The FDA needs to make big changes."
The Iowa Republican requested the GAO review in late 2004 after Merck & Co. Inc. recalled its arthritis pill Vioxx because of links to heart problems.
The FDA has also been criticized for its handling of other safety issues, including antidepressant use among children and teenagers amid evidence it may cause suicidal behavior.
"FDA lacks a clear and effective process for making decisions about, and providing management oversight of, postmarket drug safety issues," the GAO report said. "We observed that there is a lack of criteria for determining what safety actions to take and when to take them."
The FDA sometimes approves products under the condition that companies later provide more data, but it lacks the authority to require such studies in most cases. The GAO said longer trials after approval could "answer safety questions about risks associated with the longer-term use of drugs." [Susan Heavey, Reuters]
I have a bold idea: why not simply recognize that people must be responsible for their own choices, including what medicines they are to take? One suspects that such a view runs counter to Sen. Grassley’s theory of government; after all, Iowa is a state so fat off of government subsidies to agriculture (which are predicated upon the idea that the American farmer is incapable of running a profitable farm and thus must be rescued from both himself and the market) one wonders if Grassley and his electorate had an independent brain cell between them all.
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Dutch 'Scientific Council' Praises Islam
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:26 AM
This story takes the cake:
The Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) in the Netherlands, advising the government with the reports it prepares, acknowledges that Islam is "in perfect dynamism" with democracy and human rights.Once one gets past the beheadings, of course. If these clowns are an actual 'scientific council,' we’re headed back to the stone age.
The council, covering relations between Islam and democracy in its latest report titled "Dynamism in Islamic activism," stresses the frequently used statement that in principle Islam conflicts with democracy along with the cliché "clash of civilizations" leads to blocked dialogue among cultures.
A new opening is needed, the Council diagnosed, giving the following advice to EU countries: "Instead of exporting democracy to Muslim countries, democratic attempts harmonious with their own traditions and cultures must be supported."
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More on 'moderate Islam'
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:21 AM
One gets the feeling reading this USA Today article that these people need to read Ed Cline’s RoR posts.
It was an image of Islam that might have startled many Americans: a young Muslim woman wearing a traditional head scarf standing in the center of a chandeliered banquet hall singing the U.S. national anthem. Except there haven’t been any lynchings.
"It saddens me," Denise Hazime, a 25-year-old, Muslim American law student remarked after watching the woman sing to kick off an Arab student fundraiser. "The way things are now, I bet the average American would never think of the image of a covered girl singing our national anthem."
The way things are now is this: American Muslim leaders say they are facing an increasingly tough public relations battle as they fight to portray their faith as non-violent.
Some Muslims say conveying a peaceful image of Islam is tougher now than it was after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they blame a daily barrage of negative media images.
They are referring to stories such as a Christian convert being threatened with execution in Afghanistan, coverage of thousands of Muslims expressing outrage at Danish cartoons and shouting anti-Western threats, and daily bloody images from Iraq.
"We say we're peaceful people, but it doesn't matter what we say," said Irfan Rydhan, 31, a spokesperson and organizer for the South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose, Calif.
"They see these violent images on TV, and those people look like us."
American views of their Muslim neighbors had been improving. A Pew Research Center poll released in July 2005, after the London terrorist bombings, showed that 55% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in March showed that a majority of Americans have a negative view of Islam.
'It's really hard right now'
It seems as if extremist voices "have taken over," said Rana Abbas, a 26-year-old Muslim American who is deputy director of Michigan's American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a nationwide civil rights group based in Washington, D.C. "It makes your struggle so much harder. It makes it seem as if all your efforts are in vain. It's really hard right now for moderate Muslims to get their message out."
A large part of the public relations problem is that most Americans do not have a basic understanding of the turmoil that exists in parts of the Muslim world, said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, a political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Zogby said that many heavily Islamic regions have been destabilized by war.
"The problem is not the nature of the religion; it is the dislocation and disruption of normal society brought on by the trauma of war," he said. "It's similar to what happened in our own country during the post-Civil War period where you had lynchings and the emergence of extremist currents that lasted for decades."
I wish the reporter would have asked Zogby about Wafa Sultan. In my mind, the acid test of “moderate Islam” is the deference a Muslim is willing to giver her. If a Muslim recognizes the right of an Islamic apostate to their beliefs, whatever contradictions they may hold are no longer my concern, for that Muslim will have finally entered civilization. Until them, Muslims must take ownership of the negative perceptions they face.
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Atheists sue to stop public grants to Detroit churches
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:08 AM
Here’s an example of the kind of litigation I like to see:
An atheist group and a Detroit man are suing the city of Detroit and the Downtown Development Authority, demanding they recover about $690,000 in fix-up grants awarded to two downtown churches when the city was sprucing up for the Super Bowl.Amen to the atheists--this is a case where you hope that someone will eventually have the courage to extend the logic to all redistribution of wealth.
American Atheists Inc., a group headquartered in New Jersey that promotes the civil rights of atheists, and Steve West of Detroit filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit, alleging the public grants to the churches violate both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions.
The Detroit News reported in December that Central United Methodist Church on East Adams and Second Baptist Church on Monroe were together approved for seven grants totaling $690,000 under the Lower Woodward Fagade Improvement Program.
The churches were to combine the grants with money of their own to fix up their building exteriors and parking areas.
"Such direct subsidies of religious organizations from taxpayer-derived funds violate the plaintiffs' rights to be free of taxation for the support of religious organizations," says the complaint filed April 7.
The lawsuit cites the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," and Article 1 of the Michigan Constitution, which says "no money shall be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies." [Paul Egan / The Detroit News]
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DuPont (and the rest of the Republicans) miss the big picture
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:43 AM
In another Wall Street Journal article that I’ve had on my desk all last week, former Delaware governor Pete DuPont says it’s the spending, stupid.
Splitting up the swag ("booty, money, valuables") seems to be what the congressional Republican Party is about. That’s plain ridiculous. How can an entity be something different than the sum of its parts? This administration didn’t just miracle itself into spending orgy.
The Heritage Foundation reported last week that this sixth year of a Republican Presidency and Congress will see government expenditures of $23,760 per household--$6,500 more than when they came to power in 2001 and the highest inflation-adjusted annual spending since World War II. Excluding homeland security, domestic discretionary spending has increased 7.6% per year. Education spending is up 139%; energy spending has doubled, and the Bush Medicare prescription drug bill will add $33 billion a year to federal expenditures.
A Republican House enacted all this spending, a Republican Senate approved almost all of it (Democrats did control the upper chamber for a little under two years in 2001-02), and a Republican president signed it all. Congress has appropriated a cumulative $350 billion more than the president requested in his annual budgets, but none of that additional spending was disapproved by him--indeed, President Bush is the only president since John Quincy Adams (1825-29) never to use his veto power in a full term in office.
Last week's Specter swag grab--a $7 billion addition to domestic spending through an appropriations subcommittee that Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter chairs--was an addition that the senator says was "not sort of a gimmick; it is a gimmick." It was supported by every Democrat and a majority of the 55 Republican senators, which led Sen. Specter to conclude that the Republican party of the 21st Century is "now principally moderate, if not liberal."
Mr. Specter is pretty much on the mark about the Washington world, but he's dead wrong about America's Republicans. The national majority are neither moderate nor liberal but believe in conservative economic values: lower tax rates, controlled spending, and a market- as opposed to government-oriented economy. It is not Republicans who are liberal, it is the current Republican government that is fiscally liberal and the biggest budget-busting federal spenders since the 1960s.
DuPont is simply unwilling to admit that there is no compelling voice within the Republican Party for capitalism. How else is it then that a plainly bankrupt redistribution of wealth scheme such as the Medicare prescription drug plan sees the light of day were it not that the Republican Party embraces altruism and rejects egoism? And the inability to catch this point is what makes DuPont’s plan to restore the party fall flat. Dupont writes:
So how can Republicans get their identity back? The current Congress is unlikely to fix itself from the inside--would a Congressional majority ever want to give up authority to do anything?--so it will be up to the American people to fix it from the outside.I agree with each of the points in this technical program, yet nowhere in DuPont’s article does he address the moral reason the Republican Party has become the party of big government. This moral falling isn’t a minor issue--it is the central issue. If a representative can’t properly identify the right to life, liberty and property, how can a party of many of these representatives reverse the tide of government paternalism? It can’t, and that’s exactly what we have with the Republican party today.
First, the president must be persuaded to reduce congressional spending. He must use his rescission authority to force the Congress to vote on rescinding some $15 billion, about the average of what presidents have requested since the rescission process began in the 1970s. The president has proposed one rescission of $2.3 billion, but he must be far more aggressive.
Second, when Congress enacts legislation exceeding the president's requested budget spending levels, he should veto those spending bills. Legislators need to be forcefully reminded that spending requires executive as well as legislative approval.
Third, the president needs line-item veto authority. Most of the states governors have it and use it to control spending, and so should the President. When President Bush recently suggested a line-item veto, Mr. Lewis said the legislative branch of government had the spending power and to give any veto power to the president "could be a very serious error." But the opposite is the case: the line-item veto is a very serious improvement that the president and Republicans should pursue.
Next, Congress needs to clean up its earmark spending process. As a start it should adopt the proposal from Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) that each earmark's sponsor be identified in the text of spending bills, and that a vote be allowed on specific earmark proposals. Congress should also establish term limits for Appropriations Committee members so that the congressional political establishment cannot go on swag-splitting forever.
The question then for Objectivists is what do we do? Good ideas, just like bad ones, don’t miracle themselves into existence. Again, I say we must be loud, articulate voices for capitalism and capitalism’s moral base, and if we elect not to be, we simply sanction our own victim-hood out of quiet default.
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What the mid-term elections will tell us
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:16 AM
This article by University of Chicago doctorial candidate Jay Cost in the Wall Street Journal has been sitting on my desk for over a week and in my mind it underscores the need for an alternative voice within the Republican Party. Cost believes it likely that the Republicans will keep control of the Congress this November.
At best, many facts of importance, like 2004's 98.8% incumbent retention rate or 2006's incredibly low 4.6% incumbent retirement rate, are mentioned only to be unceremoniously dismissed. This is the sign of poor argumentation. It is not enough to proffer one's case by rallying the supporting facts. One must also handle the opposing facts. Cost’s premise passes the initial sniff test and it my mind, underscores the larger issue that there is no organized, credible voice for both secularism and lassie faire within the Republican Party. That needs to change, or Objectivists will have to simply get used to living under a governing party that is animated by evangelical Christianity and altruism. Yet again, the larger threat to freedom comes from the right.
One of these ignored items has to do with the Senate. It is, according to most, out of the Democrats' grasp. I strongly agree with this estimation. For the Democrats to take the Senate, they would have to defeat incumbents in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, Missouri and Rhode Island; win the open seat in Tennessee; and hold seats against strong challengers in Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. This amounts to a sweep of all 10 of National Journal's 10 most vulnerable races. Most would thus admit that the Senate is not on the table; those who make no such admission usually grow silent when asked to explain why they refuse.
The consensus on the Senate is actually a major problem for the consensus on the House. Historically speaking, the House switches only when the Senate switches. In other words, the improbability of a Democratic capture of the Senate is a sign that a capture of the House is improbable. Consider the following.
The 17th Amendment, which mandates the direct election of senators, took effect prior to the 1914 election. Since then, the Senate has changed hands 10 times due to the biannual congressional election. The House, on the other hand, has changed hands only six times due to the biannual congressional election. (A seventh switch occurred in the middle of the 72nd Congress. The 1930 elections left the GOP with a slim majority. However, 14 representatives-elect died before the 72nd Congress convened, and the Democrats won enough of the subsequent special elections to take the House. This capture was "ratified" in the 1932 elections, which would have delivered Congress to the Democrats even if this tragedy had not occurred. So, let us henceforth identify 1932 as the seventh time that the House has switched since 1918.)
Of these seven times the House has switched, the Senate has also switched. Not only does the Senate switch more frequently, it always switches with the House. A switch in the Senate, therefore, seems to be a necessary, but insufficient, condition for a switch in the House. Conversely, a switch in the House is a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for a switch in the Senate. Thus, historically speaking, three scenarios are possible: both House and Senate stay the same, the Senate alone changes, or both the House and the Senate change.
Is this simply historical coincidence, or is a causal logic driving the correlation? A pattern that holds over 46 observations without exception is probably not random. Most important, however, is that this sort of pattern coheres with what we already know about Senate and House elections--namely, House elections are much less susceptible to national trends than Senate elections. This is the case for several reasons.
First, senators lack the ability to draw district lines to minimize opposing partisans. Second, Senate challengers tend to be more qualified and better funded than House challenges. Third, these challengers can use campaign resources more efficiently. Many House challengers cannot efficiently spend money on television advertisements because it is wasted on voters in other districts; however, with Senate elections, there are efficient ad markets. Fourth, senators are less able to cultivate close relationships with constituents--they lack the requisite geographical proximity. Fifth, senators are much more visible to the public; whereas House members can operate in the Capitol without much scrutiny, constituents tend to be more aware of their senators' activities.
Thus, Senate elections are contests where the partisan division is more equal, the average voter has a more balanced view of the candidates, and he has more information about the issues in the race. Like House races, they tend to be referendums on incumbents; Senate incumbents are simply less favored. It is thus no surprise that senators' re-election rate is consistently lower than representatives'. It also no surprise that control of the Senate is more susceptible to change. If individual senators face enhanced competition, so does their partisan caucus.
Why, then, does the Senate always switch when the House does? National political moods do not usually translate into changes in party control in the House. The reason for this is that individual members of the House are fairly invulnerable to that mood. However, they are not perfectly invulnerable. If the mood is sufficiently strong or sufficiently directed against one party, the House incumbency advantage is not enough. Since the House incumbency advantage is greater than the Senate advantage, we should expect the Senate to switch when the House switches. If the mood is strong enough to change the House, it will be strong enough to change the Senate. On the flip side, we can expect relatively milder political moods to change the more competitive Senate, but not the House.
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Washington, DC debate on Eminent Domain
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:55 AM
If you're in the DC area, the Objective Standard's debate on eminent domain looks very interesting. I plan on going, and I'll do a post-event write-up.
DEBATE TONIGHT: “Eminent Domain: To Preserve or To Abolish”
WHO: Jeffrey Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council (arguing to preserve eminent domain), and Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute (arguing to abolish it). Frederick Thomas of MHz Networks will moderate.
WHAT: A formal debate on a subject of great importance to every American
WHEN: Tonight, Monday, May 1, 2006, 7:00 PM–9:00 PM
WHERE: National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.
The public and media are invited. Admission is FREE.
THE ISSUES: In the wake of the controversial Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, some legislators are moving to place limits on the government’s power to seize citizens’ property for use by private enterprises. Is it appropriate under certain circumstances for the government to use eminent domain for the purpose of transferring a citizen’s property to a private business—or is this practice wrong in principle? Moreover, while the government is constitutionally authorized to take citizens’ property for “public use,” the question remains: Is this policy moral—and is it practical? Does the government have a moral right to take citizens’ property under certain conditions—or do citizens have an absolute right to their personal property? Does robust economic development require the occasional use of eminent domain—or would economic progress be greater if property rights were upheld as truly inalienable? What are the moral issues involved in eminent domain? What are the practical issues? Are the moral and the practical necessarily at odds—or can they be reconciled? Mr. Finkle and Dr. Brook will present the facts in support of their respective positions.
THE DEBATERS: Mr. Finkle became the president and CEO of the International Economic Development Council in August 2001, following IEDC’s birth through the merger of the Council for Urban Economic Development (CUED) with the American Economic Development Council (AEDC). Prior to the merger, Finkle served for 15 years as president and CEO of CUED. During that time, he oversaw the vast expansion of that organization’s membership and influence, as well as strengthening its financial footing. Dr. Brook is the president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. As a recognized expert on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Brook has been interviewed extensively by the print, radio, and television media for the Objectivist position on current events. Among his recent interviews have been appearances on Talk Back Live (CNN), Your World with Neil Cavuto (Fox News Channel), The O'Reilly Factor (Fox News Channel), and Closing Bell and On the Money (CNBC).Finkle and Brook will be available for interviews after the debate.
CONTACT: Craig Biddle, 804-212-7025 (mobile)
SPONSORED BY: The Objective Standard, a new journal of culture and politics
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