Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Time For Talks?

The Donald & Paula Smith Family Foundation hosted a debate entitled:

The Time for Talks:
Can and should the U.S. make deals with Iran and Syria?

Tuesday February 13th, 2007

Hillel Fradkin
Expert Working Group to the Iraq Study Group & Director, Center for Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, The Hudson Institute
Steven Clemons
Senior Fellow & Director, American Strategy Program, The New America Foundation
Justin Logan
Foreign Policy Analyst, Cato Institute
Yaron Brook
former Israeli Military Intelligence Officer & Executive Director, Ayn Rand Institute

Harvey Shapiro
Contributing Editor, Institutional Investor
If you scroll down just a little you can watch/listen here.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Standard That Doesn't Disappoint

Although my copy of The Objective Standard hasn't arrived yet through the mail, (like Diana's) I have managed to devour it just as fast. All four articles were highly enjoyable to read, although I didn't read them in the order presented by the journal.

Given the sense of urgency created by Bush's failed policy towards Islamic totalitarianism, the lead article was a must read and my first choice. "The 'Forward Strategy' for Failure" is by far the most clear and concise argument put forth for a true policy of self-defense. It explains why the Bush administration insists on pursuing contradictory goals of spreading democracy and defending American lives. That they need to delude themselves in saying altruism is the moral and the practical even though the results demonstrate otherwise. As to Bush's new solution to the problem by deploying some twenty thousand additional troops they write,

Although characterized as a change in strategy, this is just a change in means, not ends. Spreading democracy remains the unquestioned, self-delusional end, for which more troops and a push for security are the means. Before the war, Saddam Hussein’s regime was the obstacle that had to be removed so that Iraqis could have democracy. Now, it is the utter chaos of insurgency and civil war that obstructs the realization of an Iraqi democracy. In both cases, American men and women in uniform lay down their own lives for the sake of Iraqis. Amid the inevitable results of a democracy’s mob rule and the predictable sectarian war, the Bush administration looks on with purposefully unseeing eyes and rededicates America to a “surge” of senseless sacrifices. The multiplying evasions enable Bush and other advocates of the strategy to fool themselves, and any remaining Americans who still believe in the strategy.
Until Americans recognize the need to wage a real war, one in which our hands aren't tied behind our backs, the end result will be the death of our soldiers. If Bush continues to diminish American's view of self-worth, I would agree that the best course of action is to retreat. At least that way we'd be saving countless numbers of Americans lives that surely would have died as a result of Bush's policies. But of course it's easy to see the logic of such action. By removing ourselves from the battlefield we would be enabling future attacks on our soil. It would only be a matter of time. So given our current options it's either die now or die later. This doesn't seem like an inviting course of action. So why not dispense with the whole lot and fight a war by doing what is necessary. We should demand nothing less than victory!

After that I continued with Diana Hsieh's "Egoism Explained". This being Diana's first article from TOS, I was very eager to read her assessment of Dr. Smith's book, Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. I personally haven't gotten around to reading her book yet so I was hoping to get some interesting analysis to keep in mind when I do start. The article opens very strong as does its conclusion. The only problem I had while reading it was that it seemed more like a summary of the book itself with not much substance discussing Smith's ideas themselves. The only exception to this being her analysis of the status of productiveness as a virtue in a given context. Of course I'm willing to admit to "shooting the gun" in my judgment since Diana does explain in her previous post, "In editing my review, Craig did rightly excise some substantial discussions of side-issues." So it could just be that we weren't able to see the review in full.

Following along, I then read Dr. Mayhew's article, "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Greek Justice: Homer to the Sermon on the Mount". Mayhew starts out by describing two different murders, one in which the murderer was killed for his offense the other embraced with open arms by the victims relatives. What brought about such a perversion of justice? Mayhew argues that it was the introduction of Christian morality epitomized by the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In essence it tells us to not make moral judgments, which leads to rewarding evil because it is evil.

I left David Harriman's article, "Induction and Experimental Method" as something to look forward to as an ending. Given my background in science, I knew I'd enjoy a philosophic discussion on the subject. Harriman explains in simples words the essential experiments performed by such scientists as Galileo and Newton. Through analysis of their work and the resulting discoveries, Harriman identifies the unifying theme connecting it all: that man gains knowledge about the world using a conceptual framework of induction. Doing otherwise, by making arbitrary assertions, leads to intellectual stagnation and ultimately skepticism. My only question is, when do his books, The Anti-Copernican Revolution and Induction in Physics and Philosophy come out? They're definitely going on my shelf when they do.

All and all, the Spring 2007 issue was a great addition from the scholars at The Objective Standard. If you don't have a subscription to this journal, I highly recommend it. You can subscribe today and if you're a student they offer discounted rates.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mind-Body Dichotomy

Writing under a pen name, Sean Aqui recently pointed out a list, compiled by Human Events, of the ten most dangerous books in the last two centuries. The list itself is not much of note, demonstrating conservative disdain for communism and its appeal to religion. Some titles included are: The Communist Manifesto, The Kinsey Report, and Beyond Good and Evil.

What I found to be the most dangerous part of the article was Aqui's ignorance when it comes to the power of ideas:

Perhaps that's the lesson to be imparted here. Ideas are not harmful; applications are. We should hold Hitler, not Nietsche, responsible for the National Socialist movement. We should hold the Soviet authorities, not Marx, responsible for the compound disaster that was the Soviet Union.
While I won't disagree that the Third Reich or the Soviet Union were a plague upon the world, to dismiss out of hand the ideas that made them possible is an even worse injustice. What Aqui fails to recognize is that ideas are not floating abstraction divorced from reality but are in fact reality dependent. Without reference to reality ideas would have no meaning and would be as incomprehensible as baby talk. This is the very reason why Ayn Rand said that Kant was the most evil man in history. His ideas are the exact opposite to what is required if man is to live here on Earth.

In fact this very was subject was discussed by Dr. Leonard Peikoff in his essay "Fact and Value". In the essay he presents the argument that philosophers actively espousing irrationalism, though not legally guilty are in fact guilty in the moral sense. By actively putting forth ideas that are contradictory to man the philosopher in essence is at war with reality and urging that they be put into practice.

Is it any wonder why Hitler rose to power when the intellectuals in Germany were preaching against man before him? Ideas set the stage for action, it is up to man to choose the right ideas.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Indoctrinate U

To piggyback on Gus Van Horn's post, a new documentary on university indoctrination is coming out soon entitled, Indoctrinate U. It has also been making its way to special screenings across the country.

You can also view an interview with the filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney on Fox News' Hannity's America here.


Little Britain

If you haven't heard of it yet, let me be the first to recommend Little Britain. It's a hilarious British sketch comedy show put on by the creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Apparently it started out as a radio series but gained enough popularity and was picked up for television. You might describe it as Monty Python in drag.

The basic idea behind the show is to illustrate the many aspects of the "British people". They go around Britain looking in on certain character's lives and see where it goes from there. They've certainly amassed a roll of characters since its creation, but one of my favorites in Marjorie Dawes. She's the local chapter leader of a diet club called Fat Fighters:

Check out Marjorie visiting her mother in the hospital. Or have a look at this reformed church.


Monday, March 19, 2007

A Confirmed Non-Believer In Congress

Via Wall of Separation, a reported milestone as been reached as the first congressman, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), has come forward to confirm he holds no belief in a higher being.

“When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being,” Stark said. “Like our nation’s founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services.”
While this is no great leap towards a secular government, it is a starting point. Maybe if more congressmen were to confirm their non-belief publicly there would be more valid discussion on the corrosive nature of faith itself. But don't count on that happening anytime soon. A majority of Americans claim they wouldn't vote for an atheist so there's not much incentive for politicians to be so forthcoming.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wikipedia vs. Ayn Rand

Mike, over at The Primacy of Awesome, tells of his very ambitious undertaking of adding content to Ayn Rand related Wikipedia pages - specifically this one here. Judging from what it was previously, he seems to have added quite a bit of information. The real question now is: how much of what he wrote will last?

Some opinions of Wikipedia as a legitimate information source can be characterized as tenuous at best. Its popularity as one of the largest information sources can be well understood when trying to search for something. Everything you ever wanted to know, from peeps to Dutch literature, is at your fingertips. However, based upon the Wikipedia structure, information can be added and edited by anyone. The standards for validity appear to be open to interpretation, i.e. subjective. What one person writes one day, could be deleted the next. What appears to be the "truth", is in a way, simply truth by consensus, i.e. majority rule.

What is further troubling is, Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales' reported devotion to Objectivism. It seems counter-intuitive for a self-described Objectivist to set up a system whereby information is evaluated by a collective standard. Is it just me on that one? If I am right then it seems Wales would be doing more harm than good, in furthering the Objectivist movement.

So as more and more people perform searches for Ayn Rand on Wikipedia, they will at least get some basic "facts". Whether or not they realize they've only scratched the surface will be up to them. But if the Ayn Rand Institute keeps up with their educational programs maybe some will be encouraged to crack a book.


John Lewis At George Mason University

After having the first attempt to give a lecture on the defeat of Islamic totalitarianism canceled, John Lewis has been invited back (requires facebook) to the George Mason University campus for a second round.

On April 24th at 7:30pm in the JC Cinema the [College Republicans] will be hosting a lecture by Dr. John Lewis, Ph.D. Lewis is a history professor at Ashland University in Ohio. He will be discussing his article, No Substitute for Victory: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism. This talk was previously scheduled to appear at Mason, but because of its controversial content its original sponsors were no longer able to sponsor it. We have decided to hold this talk because, as a club, we value discussion and debate, both internally among our own members, and externally, with others on campus. We also believe that Dr. Lewis' ideas for winning the war are of interest to our members and the larger Mason community. This talk is being sponsored by the GMU College Republicans, GMU Objectivist Club, and the Objectivist Standard. Please mark your calendars for this exciting event! It will be Tuesday, April 24th, 7:30pm in the JC Cinema![bold and link added]
This is the first I've heard of an exact date for the rescheduled lecture. Let's hope this time around things go a little more smoothly. For others' coverage on the issue check out NoodleFood and Gus Van Horn, quoting George Mason himself.

Posted earlier today on the George Mason University Objectivist Club webpage is the official notice.

Updates: minor edit in quote, added link to GMU Objectivist Club


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pop Culture Spotlight

For my personal enjoyment, I find the time to watch certain tv shows. One of them being, Lost. Television shows like Lost are a welcomed retreat and a great alternative to any reality or game show to date. Its engaging plotline and characters keeps you coming back for more every week.

While their attempts to explore themes such reason vs. faith are trying at best, Lost doesn't reveal every detail, which leaves the audience wondering if a resolution is going to be presented. But I suppose so long as they remain "lost" such resolutions will be out of grasp.

However, in the closing moments on Wednesday's Lost episode "Par Avion", there is a passing clip of Josh Holloway's character, James "Sawyer" Ford, reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. I'm sure there's a better picture somewhere, but I make due with what I have. It's nice to see there is still such a cultural influence by Miss Rand.

Update: Replaced photo with shot of book cover.


Cultural Magnifying Glass

Yaron Brook is making the rounds across the country giving lectures on issues related to the Middle East and the Bush administration's complete failure to wage a proper war in self-defense. Past lectures include: The Morality of War, Neoconservatives vs. America: A Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy Since 9/11, and Democracy vs. Victory: Why The "Forward Strategy of Freedom" Had to Fail". This last one has become the basis of an essay by Yaron Brook & Elan Journo, as I linked to in my last post.

Related to this, via an Ayn Rand Institute Press Release:

The essay draws on a lecture presented by Dr. Brook at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston on October 22, 2006; an audio recording of that event is available as an MP3 download or streaming audio from WGBH Boston. [Links added]
Though I've heard Dr. Brook present the material in past lectures, I enjoy listening to him discuss the issue because it is so a radical alternative to the self-sacrificial doublespeak and evasion you hear in the news. For those of you not swayed by such an incentive, I offer that you can always listen to the Q&A that follows the lecture. Sometimes these periods, in general, offer interesting perspectives on issues brought up in the lecture and they're always well worth the response by the presenter. They allow for further elucidation and clarity, especially on complex philosophical premises such as: how is morality justified?, by what standard is sovereignty granted?, or are citizens of an enemy nation truly innocent?

While this Q&A was no exception, I found myself a little aggravated, not at Dr. Brook's answers but at the many disrespectful questioners present. I should preface this by mentioning that the lecture was forcibly interrupted, not once but twice, by protesters who were singing (what it was I do not know, it was inaudible).

Oddly enough, there was a presentation five months prior to Dr. Brook's at the Forum entitled, "Singing for Justice", supposedly looking at the impact of protest singing since the Kennedy administration. You can infer what kind of "justice" they were talking about.

What stood out about these questions, I would argue, was the acceptance of their validity in contrast to the Q&A periods given by Ayn Rand herself. Rand made it explicitly clear that she would not give moral sanction to such irrationality. Most of the "questions" asked of Dr. Brook's were of such a vile nature I was surprised he even took the time to answer what semblance of English they uttered. In contrast, Rand would refuse to recognize any person who explicitly or implicitly smeared, defamed, or bashed her. This is not to say that she was some raving dictator. In the context of a Q&A it is the responsibility of a questioner to form a legitimate question to ask of the speaker not a lengthy diatribe.

To extrapolate this event onto a cultural level in contrast with only one other person's experience would be irresponsible on my part. Although I can't but help think it to be a sign of our cultural decay due to anti-conceptuality. If our culture is progressively refusing to identify man's nature and accept that reason is his means of survival, it is the mind that will be destroyed as a result. Instead of a method of conceptualization it will be the anti-conceptual that will be advocated and every attack on reason stems from such irrationality. The attacks on Dr. Brook by such protesters demonstrates their refusal to even listen to what he had to say in his lecture and were simply attempts to get cheap attention. To Brook, I would say he was too lenient to such people. They deserve nothing but contempt.

But it is to the credit of Dr. Brook, when asked if he will voluntarily stop giving lectures because of their supposed impact on the Bush administration's failed policy (if only he could have such an impact), he responded noting that it was the Ayn Rand Institute who advocated attacking Iran from day one and by further saying, "I don't intend to stop and will never stop [speaking]" Let's all hope this is so.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Forthcoming From The Objective Standard

Patience is a virtue, or so goes the old adage. These are keen words to remember, especially after I read that the Spring 2007 issue of The Objective Standard will be coming out soon. It looks to be chocked full of goodies, as always. But for those who can't wait, like myself, they've made available their lead article by Yaron Brook & Elan Journo, "The 'Forward Strategy' for Failure".

As a personal aside, they appear to be recycling their color schemes for the covers. Each seasonal issue having its own corresponding color. (Spring = red, Summer = blue, Fall = yellow, Winter = green) I always wondered what color it was going to be next before each issue came out. And now that it's a whole new year, it makes sense to continue with the same colors instead of having to create a veritable rainbow. Obviously I haven't much experience with journal subscriptions and layout design, but I never claimed to be an expert.


The Great Global Warming Swindle

Via LGF, I came across this program put on by the British station channel4. It is by far the most concise presentation to the alternative global warming viewpoint I have seen.

Nowadays there seems to be little doubt about the validity that man-made carbon dioxide concentrations are affecting global temperatures. At every turn the MSM brings forth news of Earth's imminent demise. That's why it was a welcomed treat to see individuals actually bringing out science to show such doom-and-gloom don't hold water.

One of the experts in the film is Patrick J. Michaels, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. He is a prominent critic of the global warming theory and has written on the subject many times. I've read two of his more recent books, The Satanic Gases and Meltdown. I highly recommend both of them for their clarity and abilities to expose false myths related to climate change. Michaels is able to go point by point on key arguments demonstrating that the science just isn't there. I would say The Satanic Gases makes for a better read for those not too familiar with climate science, as it goes into more detail about specific global processes than does the latter book.

This is also a great time to point out a fascinating interview with Václav Klaus, second president of the Czech Republic. [HT: Rule of Reason]

Q: On Wednesday, the European Commission has approved carbon dioxide caps for new cars. One week earlier, the U.N. IPCC climate panel released a report that has described, once again, the global warming as one of the major threats for the whole civilization. The Stern report about similar threats was published before that. And you suddenly say that the global warming is a myth. Try to explain, how did you get this idea, Mr President?

A: It's not my idea. Global warming is a myth and I think that every serious person and scientist says so. It is not fair to refer to the U.N. panel. IPCC is not a scientific institution: it's a political body, a sort of non-government organization of green flavor. It's neither a forum of neutral scientists nor a balanced group of scientists. These people are politicized scientists who arrive there with a one-sided opinion and a one-sided assignment. Also, it's an undignified slapstick that people don't wait for the full report in May 2007 but instead respond, in such a serious way, to the summary for policymakers where all the "but's" and "if's" are scratched, removed, and replaced by oversimplified theses.

This is clearly such an incredible failure of so many people, from journalists to politicians... If the European Commission is instantly going to buy such a trick, we have another very good reason to think that the countries themselves, not the Commission, should be deciding about similar issues.

Q: How do you explain that there is no other comparably senior statesman in Europe who would advocate this viewpoint? No one else has such strong opinions...

A: My opinions about this issue simply are strong. Other top-level politicians do not express their global warming doubts because a whip of political correctness strangles their voice.

Q: But you're not a climate scientist. Do you have a sufficient knowledge and enough information?

A: Environmentalism as a metaphysical ideology and as a worldview has absolutely nothing to do with natural sciences or with the climate. Sadly, it has nothing to do with social sciences either. Still, it is becoming fashionable and this fact scares me. The second part of the sentence should be: we also have lots of reports, studies, and books of climatologists whose conclusions are diametrally opposite.

Indeed, I never measure the thickness of ice in Antarctica. I really don't know how to do it, I don't plan to learn it, and I don't pretend to be an expert in such measurements. However, as a scientifically oriented person, I know how to read science reports about these questions, for example about ice in Antarctica. I don't have to be a climate scientist myself to read them. And inside the papers I have read, the conclusions we may see in the media simply don't appear. But let me promise you something: this topic troubles me which is why I started to write an article about it last Christmas. The article grew in size and it became a book. In a couple of months, it will be published. One chapter out of seven will organize my opinions about the climate change.

Environmentalism and green ideology is something very different from climate science. Various findings and screams of scientists are abused by this ideology.

Q: How do you explain that conservative media are skeptical while the left-wing media view the global warming as a done deal?

A: It is not quite exactly divided to the left-wingers and right-wingers. Nevertheless it's obvious that environmentalism is a new incarnation of modern leftism.

Q: If you look at all these things, even if you were right ...

A: ...I am right...

Q: ...Isn't there enough empirical evidence and facts we can see with our eyes that imply that Man is demolishing the planet and himself?

A: It's such a nonsense that I have probably not heard a bigger nonsense yet.

Q: Don't you believe that we're ruining our planet?

A: I will pretend that I haven't heard you. Perhaps only Mr. Al Gore may be saying something along these lines: a sane person hardly. I don't see any ruining of the planet, I have never seen it, and I don't think that a reasonable and serious person could say that he has. Look: you represent the economic media so I expect a certain economical erudition from you. My book will answer these questions. For example, we know that there exists a huge correlation between the care we give to the environment on one side and the wealth and technological prowess on the other side. It's clear that the poorer the society is, the more brutally it behaves with respect to Nature, and vice versa.

It's also true that there exist social systems that are damaging Nature - by eliminating private ownership and similar things - much more than the freer societies. These tendencies become important in the long run. They unambiguously imply that today, on February 8th, 2007, Nature is protected uncomparably more than on February 8th ten years ago or fifty years ago or one hundred years ago.

That's why I ask: how can you pronounce the sentence you said? Perhaps if you're unconscious? Or did you mean it as a provocation only? And maybe I am just too naive and I allowed you to provoke me to give you all these answers, am I not? It is more likely that you simply present your honest opinion.
In the comment section, this is what I had said in response to reading the interview:
It's not very often that you hear (if you get to at all) voices such as Klaus'. The clarity of his response and his rejection of sanctioning his interviewer the high ground at the end was like a shot to the arm to me.

When he made mention that environmentalism was a "metaphysical ideology" you can see his mind integrating. Unlike american conservatives who mumble about "markets" all the while paying lip-service to their enemies, he's not afraid of absolutes: "A: ...I am right..."

It makes me wonder if he's cognizant of Objectivism since it is the only philosophy able to provide a rational defense against ideas like environmentalism.