What then is the philosophic meaning of New Year's resolutions? Every resolution you make on this day implies that you are in control of your self, that you are not a victim fated by circumstance, controlled by stars, owned by luck, but that you are an individual who can make choices to change your life. You can learn statistics, ask for that promotion, fight your shyness, search for that marriage partner. Your life is in your own hands. (Capitalism Magazine, 01/01/04.)
After reading Jean Moroney's newsletter, The Thinking Directions Occasional Update #19 ("To resolve or not to resolve"), I am not really sure that I am ready to make new resolutions until I have resolved more things on my old lists. You could test the resolution by asking the following questions:
Is the goal concrete and specific?
Which steps should you take in order to achieve the goal?
What do you have to cut from the list of old activities, replaced with this new goal?
The deeper problem was that I experienced a conflict between doing administrative work for the business, and doing intellectual work to develop my ideas, which is what really interests me. When I used willpower to do more administrative work, it generated even more administrative work—work which then took me away from thinking and development. (Thinking Directions, 01/19/06.)
I am still still struggling with cleaning my desk and going through my to-do lists. I will get that done, sooner or later...
Hobbies: Develop my blogging to a higher level, with regular talk radio shows. [Editor's comment: According to Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Weblog, EGO blog is at moment worth about $50,000. Time to monetize my blog! ;)] Try to do something with my interest in spicy stuff. In combination with a healthy dietary supplement, start to exercise more, e.g. taking long walks listening to inspirational speeches. [Editor's note: Do you have suggestions on listening devices and internet sources for audio material?]
Relationships: Keeping in touch with friends from my trips to around the world, e.g., Hungary. Down the road - when all the "pieces of the puzzle" are in place - searching for the right one... [Editor's note: Maybe I will find my future romantic partner on the dance floor? I have "two left feet," but I want to take dance lessons someday... I got very inspired by the documentary on Herräng Dance Camp.]
This New Year's, resolve to think about how to make your life better, not just once a year, but every day. Resolve to set goals, not just in one or two aspects of life, but in every important aspect and in your life as a whole. Resolve to pursue the goals that will make you successful and happy, not as the exception in a life of passivity, but as the rule that becomes second-nature. (Vernon County Broadcaster, 12/26/07.)
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Assassinated
By Dan Edge from The Edge of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was murdered this morning at a political campaign rally.She was shot in the neck by an assassin while a suicide bomber (possibly the same person?) blew himself up to claim 20 more casualties.
I don’t know much about Mrs. Bhutto, but I do know that she was the loudest voice in Pakistan opposing Musharraf’s dictatorial military rule.The crazy thing about this is that, while there is no evidence implicating Musharraf’s government in the attack, it’s quite possible that the assassination was carried out under his direct orders.That alone tells you what kind of people are our “strong allies.”Musharraf is the Saddam Hussein of Southeast Asia.Not that I advocate his overthrow -- just a recognition of the quality of man we are dealing with over there.
If Musharraf declares martial law to combat the eruption of protests that follow the assassination, then we’ll know he probably had a part in it.How clever to murder the leader of the opposition, then use the resulting public outcry as an excuse to seize more control.
What a sad, sad country Pakistan is. And how sad it is that they are our ally.
This post contains Part 10 ("The Dissertation") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
As this sketch of my main arguments hopefully shows, Nagel's problem of moral luck is neither easily solved nor intractable. However, the development and application of the broadly Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility I've outlined here promises to unravel and explain the various puzzling cases of moral luck in a way generally consistent with common sense moral judgments.
I plan to use the structure of the prospectus in the dissertation itself. At present, I imagine the following chapters:
Chapter One: The Problem of Moral Luck: I will outline the general problem of moral luck and explain the threat it poses to our ordinary practices of moral judgment. I may also consider the support it lends to egalitarianism. I will sketch my proposed solution to the problem of moral luck.
Chapter Two: Attempted Solutions: I will examine the most prominent global solutions to the problem of moral luck in the philosophic literature, exploring how and why they fail.
Chapter Three: Faulty Foundations: I will argue that a theoretical re-examination of the foundations of moral responsibility is required, particularly in light of Nagel's operative ideal of noumenal agency.
Chapter Four: Moral Judgment: I will examine the purposes served by and demands of normative judgments (in general) and moral judgments (in particular). Moral judgments, I will argue, must be limited to the voluntary aspects of a person. I will also survey the nature and epistemic grounds of various kinds of moral judgments, e.g., of actions, character, and products. I will develop a general account of the purposes and demands of moral redemption and atonement after wrongdoing.
Chapter Five: Moral Responsibility: I will identify and defend the basic standards for moral responsibility for actions, i.e., the epistemic and control conditions. In the process, I will offer a basic account of human agency, particularly focusing on the nature and limits of human free will. I will consider the effect of voluntary ignorance and incapacity on claims of moral responsibility. I will examine the various meanings of "responsibility," particularly whether any common features unify them.
Chapter Six: Luck in Life: I will examine the nature of luck and its general role in human life, particularly in morality.
Chapter Seven: Resultant Moral Luck: I will present the core cases of resultant luck (i.e., attempt, negligence, and uncertainty), then evaluate the common attempted solutions. I will explain and defend my conditions for moral responsibility for outcomes, then apply those conditions to the cases of resultant moral luck. I will also substantially expand on my account of moral redemption and atonement in relation to the cases of resultant moral luck.
Chapter Eight: Circumstantial Moral Luck: I will present the core cases of circumstantial moral luck, i.e., actions in circumstances, moral tests and dilemmas, and interrupted intentions. I will consider the noteworthy attempts to solve this form of moral luck. I will show that actions in circumstances are voluntary and worthy of judgment. I will consider the various ways in which moral judgments must take account of circumstances to be just, including in hard cases like action under duress and moral dilemmas. I will also critically examine the skepticism about global character traits engendered by recent work in empirical psychology to determine whether that lends credible support to the case for circumstantial moral luck.
Chapter Nine: Constitutive Moral Luck: I will present the basic forms of constitutive moral luck: entrenched moral feelings, genetic foundations of character, childhood influences on developing character, and accidental influences on adult character. Then, as before, I will consider noteworthy attempted solutions. I will argue that an adult is properly held responsible for his moral character so long as that that character is a voluntary product of his voluntary actions. I will then consider the particular complexities of each of the forms of constitutive moral luck to determine whether they undermine or limit moral responsibility for character. I will also consider the question of responsibility for emotions, including whether some emotions are properly considered part of a person's moral character.
Chapter Ten: Further Applications: I will consider the further implications and applications of my theory of moral responsibility, such as the justice of the felony murder rule, the responsibility of parents for the actions of children, responsibility for long-past actions, etc.
Although I have touched on many of these topics in the prospectus, I will only be able to consider them in adequate depth in the dissertation.
Paul and I just finished watching the movie 300 again. I disliked it as much as ever, if not more. I stand by my original objection that the loudly proclaimed ideals of reason, justice, and freedom were blatantly contradicted by the concretes of Spartan life. To that, I would add that the movie portrays the Spartans as much worse than they were -- for example, in their political system of hereditary kingship, in their ideals of blind duty and obedience, in their law against retreat, and most of all in their explicit worship of utterly pointless "glorious" death in battle. That's bad enough, but what's so much worse is that the film deeply admires the Spartans for those vicious qualities -- and expects us to do the same. Toward the end of the battle, the death-worship is so perfect and complete in both word and deed that I can't even enjoy it as an action film.
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
So how exactly do you choose a “Person of the Year”? Here’s more from Time’s Richard Stengel:
People tend to think that choosing the Person of the Year is a scientific process. It’s not; it’s a subjective one. There’s no Person of the Year measuring stick or algorithm…We have meetings…But in the end, it has to be someone or something that feels right, something that’s a little unexpected, someone our readers will be eager to know more about. [Read the full article here.]
This contradicts what was said in Stengel’s other explanation, which focuses on what is indeed a viable, objective criterion, namely historical significance. Of course, one can hardly expect modern journalists to be consistent, but what about an “algorithm” for choosing a ‘Person of the Year’?
Could there be such a thing? Is it possible to objectively assert that one person is the most important person in the world at any point in time?
I think it is, and I think the algorithm is in principle fairly straightforward. (The details, of course, are tricky!)
One element of the calculation that makes it seem daunting at first is that it is impossible to measure a person’s full historical footprint in the present. Although one can certainly anticipate the historical import of an event or action in a journalistic context, historical significance emerges gradually, and it is most easily measured from a distance, with the benefit of hindsight.
One reason for this is that the future does have a way of yielding the unexpected. Free will and unanticipated consequences mean that despite context, trends, and traditions, accidents do happen, and the truly unique or “sui generis” does appear. Both of these have affected the course of events at many junctures in history. For instance, when Corsica became a part of France in 1768 despite its close cultural ties to Italy, one could hardly have expected this minor transfer of European real estate to matter in the larger scheme of things. One year later, however, a certain Napoleone di Buonaparte was born there, whose subsequent entry into French military schools as a youth, rather than schools in Italy, changed the story of the world.
If one can see the “big picture” of history, one can absorb shocks like these, and still plot out a general course for events based on fundamental trends. Even in the context of the Napoleonic upheaval, for instance, one could have predicted that a longer term struggle between the new liberal socialism of the French Revolution and the traditional monarchism of Europe would extend for generations. Such a prediction would have been based on a variety of factors, including on the one side the success of the American republic, the moderate course of England’s constitutional monarchy and its prestige on the continent, the current shocks being dealt to the decaying structure of feudalism by the Napoleonic presence throughout Europe, and on the other side the sustained ideological alignment of Russia, Prussia, and Austria during that period.
Still, there’s no question that Napoleon would have been “Person of the Year” for a good 15 years running, which fact helps us to see the first basic principle that applies in the “Person of the Year” algorithm.
In a word, that principle is “preeminence.”
When one person occupies a place in world affairs that is incommensurably greater that all others, then the choice is easy.
Applying this principle, though one might like to choose, say, Thomas Jefferson in 1801, as third President of the nascent American republic and leader of that infant nation against the Barbary Pirates–or James Madison in 1812, the fourth President, standing up to Britain’s imperial might in defense of his people’s rights, I think that such choices would have been nearly impossible to make for even the best journalist at the time–though in the long run, one could eventually revise one’s choice. While Napoleon held sway over Europe, his actions and their apparent impact on the course of civilization swamped those of any other candidate, and even if these exceptions are allowed, they still serve to highlight the rule.
So preeminence trumps any other consideration, but what do you do when there isn’t a clear choice of the Napoleonic variety? What do you do when you live in a world without leaders–at least, a world without political leaders, as we do today?
This post contains Part 9 ("Constitutive Luck") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
Constitutive luck is luck in "the kind of person you are, where this is not just a question of what you deliberately do, but of your inclinations, capacities, and temperament." Nagel's particular concern is the propriety of moral praise and blame for moral dispositions and feelings given our lack of control over them. He observes that "a person may be greedy, envious, cowardly, cold, ungenerous, unkind, vain, or conceited, but behave perfectly well by a monumental effort of will."  Yet "to possess these vices is to be unable to help having certain feelings under certain circumstances, and to have strong spontaneous impulses to act badly." As a result, "even if one controls the impulse, one still have the vice." Although such feelings may be "may be the product of earlier choices" and at least partially "amenable to change by current actions," Nagel insists that they are nonetheless "largely a matter of constitutive bad luck," presumably because a person cannot simply will his dispositions and feelings to be otherwise. So in moral judgments of character, "people are morally condemned for [certain] qualities, and esteemed for others equally beyond the will: they are assessed for what they are like."
While Nagel focuses on a person's present lack of control over the moral dispositions and feelings for which he is judged, the problem of constitutive moral luck also concerns three influences of luck in the formation of moral qualities over the course of a person's life. First, children are born with the rudiments of a distinct personality likely to influence the development of moral qualities. So the person born with an anxious temperament might find the cultivation of the virtue of courage particularly difficult, whereas the habits of contingency planning would become second nature quickly. Yet a person has no control over that innate temperament. Second, a child's overall upbringing and particular experiences would matter enormously to his moral development, even though he exerts little control over them. Whether parents encourage, ignore, or correct a child's lies, for example, will likely impact his commitment to honesty as an adult. That child does not choose his parents and may not realize the effects of their parenting on him at the time or even later. Third, an adult's moral character will be influenced by the lucky and unlucky events, people, and opportunities that present themselves in his life. A woman might reasonably wonder whether she'd be as level-headed if she'd not met her now-husband in the park while walking her dog, whether she'd be more friendly toward strangers if not mugged two years ago, whether she'd be bitter and resentful if she took that well-paying but brutal job last year. In all these cases, a person does not deliberately direct his moral development, yet he is morally judged for the resulting character.
The proper analysis of those proposed cases of constitutive moral luck depends on the general case for moral responsibility for character. The key point is that moral character is not under a person's direct control but rather is the indirect product of his corresponding voluntary actions. A person cannot simply will himself to have an honest and just character; he cultivates that character by consistently acting honestly and justly. Consequently, a person is properly praised or blamed for his character in accordance with the three conditions of responsibility for outcomes outlined in the earlier discussion of resultant moral luck. First, he must act well or badly voluntarily. Second, those voluntary actions must be the salient cause of the corresponding moral character. Third, the resulting qualities of character must be voluntary, not the product of any involuntary incapacity or ignorance. Those three conditions are easily satisfied in ordinary cases of character development, as least for teenagers and adults. First, when a person acts honestly or dishonestly, he acts voluntarily. Second, by such actions, he cultivates the corresponding honest or dishonest character. Third, he has the capacity to develop an honest or dishonest character: he's not involuntarily incapable. He's also not involuntarily ignorant, as he can know by simple introspection that he's cultivating a certain characteristic mode of action, whether the virtue or the vice.
Unsurprisingly, this approach to moral responsibility for character is similar to that sketched by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. There, Aristotle argues that careless people "are themselves by their slack lives responsible for becoming men of that kind ... for it is activities exercised on particular objects that make the corresponding character." As a result, "it is irrational to suppose that a man who acts unjustly does not wish to be unjust or a man who acts self-indulgently to be self-indulgent. But if without being ignorant a man does the things which will make him unjust, he will be unjust voluntarily."
In light of this view of moral responsibility for character, what should be said about the problematic cases of constitutive moral luck?
First, as concerns a person's innate temperament, moral judgments of character must distinguish between natural and cultivated qualities. A person ought not be praised or blamed for natural qualities per se since those are given, not produced by voluntary action. In fact, since genuine virtue (or vice) requires the guidance of practical reason, natural qualities of temperament are not moral qualities at all. Moral responsibility only pertains to a person's cultivated qualities, i.e., those created by voluntary action under the guidance of practical reason. So Joan might be empathic by nature, but whether she becomes a kind person or not is up to her. She is properly praised for her cultivated kindness but not for her natural empathy. That's consistent with standard practice, as Aristotle observes in the case of vices associated with the care of the body. He writes, "while no one blames those who are ugly by nature, we blame those who are so owing to want of exercise and care. ... Of vices of the body, then, those in our own power are blamed, those not in our power are not."
In response, the advocate of constitutive moral luck will argue that no bright line can distinguish innate temperament from moral character for the simple reason that a person's moral character can only be cultivated from the given foundation of his innate temperament. Joan's cultivated kindness is, after all, rooted in her natural empathy. Since a person does not control his innate temperament, he does not fully control his moral character. So to judge that character as virtuous or vicious is to subject him to constitutive moral luck.
However, that a person's moral character might grow out of his innate temperament does not render that character beyond a person's control or immune from moral judgment. As discussed in relation to circumstantial moral luck, a person is properly judged for what he voluntarily does or not in the context of the given circumstances of his life, particularly in light of his available alternatives. Since a person's innate temperament would be one such given circumstance, he is properly judged for what he does control, namely what he voluntarily does or fails to do with that innate temperament. In practice, however, a person's innate temperament would seem to matter little to his ultimate moral character. A person can become kind whether naturally empathetic or not because he can cultivate feelings of empathy while also cultivating his practical judgment of the rational requirements of genuine kindness. Moreover, the ordinary range of innate temperament would not seem to offer any significant advantages or disadvantages in the cultivation of moral virtues or vices: the particular moral struggles would merely differ from one individual to another. In contrast, a person with serious mental illness like depression or bi-polarity may struggle more than most to live well. The common practice of praising and admiring such people more for overcoming extraordinary obstacles (or partially excusing them for failing to do so) exemplifies the proper practice of judgment in the context of given circumstances, particularly of taking account of an unchosen moral disadvantage.
Second, a person's moral responsibility for qualities of character rooted in childhood experience and instruction is based on the fact that a person gradually gains the requisite knowledge of and control over his character as he matures into an adult. A person cannot be morally praised or blamed for his dispositions cultivated in childhood per se. Even if the child is old enough to act voluntarily, the resulting character trait is not plausibly voluntary because children are not sufficiently adept at introspection to understand or monitor the ways in which their actions shape their character. For better or worse, children are subject to luck in their own character development.
However, that luck does not preclude moral responsibility by an adult for character traits rooted in childhood, as the advocate of constitutive moral luck claims. A person assumes responsibility for his childhood dispositions as he matures into an adult because then he becomes capable of shaping his own moral character. Except in cases of barbarically abusive upbringing that damage the capacity of the person to think and choose, an adult is not bound to his childhood. As he matures and forges his own life, he has ample time, opportunity, and capacity to reflect on and change his dispositions. The most basic action required to alter dispositions is simply to act in some new way, i.e., contrary to rather than consistent with his established dispositions. That's always possible, so long as a person can act voluntarily. So when an adult chooses to act in accordance with his childhood dispositions, he is not subject to constitutive moral luck. He is properly understood as endorsing those character traits, as well as further entrenching them, by his voluntary actions. Notably, the years-long process of shaping one's own moral character is one reason why people in their teens and twenties usually are not blamed so severely for character flaws as their older counterparts.
Third, the accidental circumstances of a person's life would seem to influence the development of that person's character, not just because circumstances shape actions and actions shape character but also because a person might draw explicit moral lessons from the particular events, institutions, and people around him. Undoubtedly, a person's character, personality, habits, and style are shaped to some degree by such accidental forces--although a person does also choose his own influences. Yet that does not undermine a person's responsibility for his own character, as actions in circumstances are still voluntary, as seen in the analysis of circumstantial moral luck. Whatever the circumstances, the person who acts voluntary has the capacity to act other than he does. Moreover, a person has the capacity to undo the effect of any action on his character by deciding that his action was wrong and acting differently in the future.
Finally, Nagel's particular worry that a person might be condemned for uncontrollable moral emotions like envy, even though the person acts rightly, is misplaced. To make this kind of constitutive moral luck plausible, Nagel implicitly draws on Aristotelian intuitions about the importance of proper feelings as motivators of moral action. Aristotle, unlike Kant and Mill, requires the fully virtuous person to feel emotions appropriate to the circumstances at hand. Yet Nagel implicitly rejects the elements of Aristotle's moral psychology necessary for moral responsibility for character by then suggesting that moral dispositions and emotions lie "beyond control of the will." If that were the case, then an Aristotelian approach would simply demand eliminating the practice of morally judging such states. Yet Nagel's proposed candidates for constitutive moral luck--dispositions such as greediness, envy, cowardice, coldness, stinginess, unkindness, vanity, and conceit--are not plausibly regarded as beyond a person's control. A person is not suddenly or inexplicably stricken with such moral feelings, but must cultivate those emotional dispositions by repeated voluntary action. So Nagel's basic error is that of grafting the Aristotelian responsibility for cultivated dispositions onto an incompatible psychology of mysterious emotions running amok in a person's psyche.
In short, the influence of luck in the formation of character is not a genuine obstacle to moral responsibility for character because a person's character is ultimately forged by his voluntary actions as an adult.
 I'm doubtful that complex emotional responses like empathy could be innate, but I've not yet reviewed the psychological literature on the subject.
 Aristotle NE, 1114a22-9. Aristotle's discussion of "natural excellence" versus "excellence in the strict sense" is also relevant (1144b1-17).
 Contrary to Hume, existing dispositions, no matter how well-entrenched, do not preclude acting out of character (Moody-Adams 1990, pp. 118-20). The honest person is capable of lying, for example, but chooses not to do so.
I've already done two posts on Christmas Eve. For any other blog, that would be enough, but is the 'Haf done? Not yet!
I watched two movies today over at my sister's place. First, I must remark that she no longer buys DVD's. She just orders movies through her cable company and they play. What is this new system doing to Blockbuster Video's business?
We watched one good movie and one great movie.
The good movie was Rescue Dawn, which was reviewed by Joe Kane. It is suspenseful and interesting throughout, but the plot, based on a real story, is one dimensional.
The great movie was The Lives of Others, a German movie about the Stasi in 1984. It is one of the best movies I have seen. I won't go into the plot. The movie deals with issues of freedom and power. I would say the theme is morality vs. totalitarianism. The story brilliantly concretizes the value-conflict every step of the way. This movie is great for the reason Rescue Dawn is not: the story of The Lives of Others is entirely made up and is more satisfying than real life, whereas the story of Rescue Dawn is limited to what really happened.
Do not miss The Lives of Others.
UPDATE: I would like to add, upon reflection, that the last line of The Lives of Others is the best last line in movie history. It is even better than the last line of Some Like It Hot, which is the funniest last line ever.
I should also add that the acting is excellent across the cast -- but then, I have always been impressed by German actors. Two of my favorite movies are M and The Blue Angel. Emil Jannings and Gustaf Gründgens are brilliant in those movies.
This post contains Part 8 ("Circumstantial Luck") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
The central problem of circumstantial moral luck is that a person's moral record can be powerfully affected by the unchosen circumstances of his life. A person's actions are "limited by the opportunities and choices with which [he is] faced"--yet "we judge people for what they actually do or fail to do, not just for what they would have done if the circumstances had been different." If that is right, then all moral judgments of a person's actions (and the outcomes thereof) are tainted by luck.
The core cases of circumstantial moral luck concern the way that luck affects a person's opportunities to display his moral character in action. So if John were ever carjacked with his young son in the back seat of his car, he might bravely confront his attacker or run away screaming. Yet as Nagel observes, "if the situation never arises, [John] will never have the chance to distinguish or disgrace himself in this way, and his moral record will be different." Similarly, Jane might save a drowning baby from a shallow pond if she weren't stuck in traffic on the far side of town; instead, the moral credit goes to Larry, who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. More ominously, Stanley Milgram's famous experiments on obedience to authority suggest that a majority of Americans would be as complicit with the evil schemes of a totalitarian government as were Germans in the Third Reich--meaning that they are protected from moral condemnation for the vicious acts they would commit only by the lucky accident of living in a more just political order.
Notably, the concern is not that circumstances will shape a person's character for better or worse, as when a man learns courage as a soldier in war: that is best understood as a kind of constitutive luck. Rather, the concern is that two people may choose two different courses of action, one morally better and one morally worse, not due to any difference in moral character but rather due to differences in the alternatives available to them in their particular circumstances. For example, an accountant might refrain from embezzlement solely due to his company's strict monitoring policies whereas his moral doppelganger working at a more lax company might steal millions. Only the latter is guilty of theft, yet that is the result of company policies well beyond his control, not to any moral virtues. This worry about the impact of luck on a person's moral record is substantially heightened if John Doris and other skeptics about global character traits are right that people's conduct is far more influenced by circumstances than by any supposed qualities of character.
Joel Feinberg develops the problem of circumstantial moral luck a step further with his cases of interrupted intent. In these cases, some outside force interrupts a person's wrongful intent before it is translated into action. So Joe might fully intend to kill his wife Sally in a fit of rage when a telephone call from his boss wipes that intention from his mind. Or Barry might fully intend to commit adultery with his co-worker Claudia, but he's prevented at the last possible moment by the sudden and unwelcome blare of the fire alarm in the motel. In those cases, the mere luck of intervening circumstances prevented Joe from murdering his wife and Barry from committing adultery.
In cases of circumstantial moral luck, the control and epistemic conditions confirm the standard intuition that that the actions in question are voluntary despite differences in circumstances. Voluntary action does not require control over all the factors influencing the action. Rather, so long as a person can choose to do or not do some action based on adequate knowledge of its nature, the action is voluntary. The fact that a person doesn't fully control the circumstances in which he acts and may face substantially different circumstances than others does not alter the basic nature of the action: the person knew what he was doing and could have done otherwise. So within any given circumstances, such actions are voluntary--and properly subject to moral judgment.
However, a person rarely finds himself thrust into morally significant circumstances substantially beyond his control. Rather, a person's present circumstances are often the voluntary product of his past choices. For example, the teenager who chooses hoodlums as friends voluntarily risks involvement in their criminal activities; the person who drops out of school voluntarily risks limiting himself to dead-end, low-income jobs; and the woman who ignores the need to save for retirement risks the deprivations of poverty in her old age. So if those circumstances arise, the person is properly held responsible not only for his voluntary actions in those circumstances but also for creating those circumstances for himself. A person need not desire the circumstances he creates for himself: a man who pursues and accepts a lucrative job across town voluntarily lengthens his commute, whether he enjoys that extra time in his car or not.
The fact that a person's actions may be voluntary whether his circumstances are thrust on him or of his own creation does not solve all the puzzles of circumstantial moral luck. Important questions linger about the justice of our ordinary moral judgments, particularly given that some people face difficult moral dilemmas and tests unknown to others. Yet such concerns are ultimately misplaced, not only because proper moral judgments must account for the circumstances of the action but also because moral tests and dilemmas reveal far less about a person's moral character than his actions under ordinary circumstances.
First and most importantly, Nagel's talk of a person's "moral record" suggests that a person is morally judged simply for what he's done, e.g., for lying to the police, betraying a friend's secret, grading papers fairly, etc. Yet in fact, actions in isolation do not morally speak for themselves. A person's actions can only be fairly judged as better or worse in light of the surrounding circumstances. As concerns moral responsibility, the basic reason is simple: since a person is not responsible for any involuntary incapacity or ignorance, moral judgments must consider the circumstances of the action, particularly the alternatives and information available to the person at the time. So in the movie Sophie's Choice, Sophie's moral record is not stained by the fact that she gave away her daughter to the Nazi officer since her only alternatives were equally bad (giving him her son) and worse (allowing him to take both children). Similarly, a doctor cannot be faulted for failing to offer his ailing patients potentially live-saving drugs in off-label uses if those findings haven't been published yet. In essence, moral judgments must be limited to a person's voluntary actions, yet those actions can only be understood and fairly judged when considered in the context of the surrounding circumstances.
Second, while Nagel's cases of circumstantial moral luck focus on a person's choices in terribly difficult circumstances, such choices may not be a good basis for our general moral judgments of a person. In the ordinary course of his life, a person has ample opportunity to display his moral character, whether for better or worse. A woman will remain faithful to her husband or not, a mother will smack her misbehaving children or not, a CEO will cook the books or not, a man will spend money within his budget or not. In general, such routine actions seem far more revealing of a person's true character than the painful choices required in moral dilemmas (e.g. between informing on your neighbor and dying of starvation in North Korea) or the quick decisions required in moral tests (e.g. between jumping into the dangerously cold water to rescue the child or running for help). In fact, although a person surely ought to act well when faced with difficult moral choices, he is far better off avoiding such dire situations by foresight and planning when possible. A person might display his character in moral dilemmas and tests but only at the terrible price of risking if not losing much of value to him. In some cases, the circumstances might be so dire as to exert "pressure which overstrains human nature," such that the action warrants pity rather than blame. Those are situations to be avoided, if one's goal is to flourish.
In short, proper moral judgments of an action should treat the particular circumstances of that action as a variable to be controlled. That's done in particular cases by consideration of the actual circumstances of the action, as well in general by largely basing moral judgments on actions taken in the ordinary circumstances of human life. If done well, that eliminates the effect of luck in circumstances from moral judgments.
 Doris 2002. Doris' thesis is largely based on recent work in empirical psychology. Annnas (2005) persuasively argues that Doris' skepticism about character is based on critical misunderstandings of the nature and demands of moral character in the Aristotelian tradition.
 The doctrine of double effect might be relevant to my claims here.
 Nagel seems to recognize that elsewhere (1986, pp. 120-1).
 Circumstances matter in other significant ways to moral judgments. A husband who conceals painful news from his wife on her deathbed should be judged better than the husband who does so as a matter of course--but not due to any involuntary incapacity or ignorance. The reason seems to be that circumstances affect what constitutes the proper means to our ends.
 In contrast, a deontological ethics like Kant's might regard moral dilemmas as the only way to reliably determine whether a person is acting from duty or merely in accordance with duty (Kant 1990, pp. 407-8).
Glenn Greenwald has attacked Romney, claiming the candidate wants a dictatorial presidency. I must admit, one attack from Greenwald raises my estimation of Romney more than 100 lickspittle encomiums from the Republican propagandist Hugh Hewitt ever could.
Romney answered questions about the limits of presidential power. Greenwald interprets Romney's answers to mean he wants to be a tyrant. But Greenwald's argumentation is more tortured than the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. See if you can follow what he is saying here:
In every area, Romney explicitly says that neither laws nor treaties can limit the President's conduct. Instead, displaying the fear-mongering cowardice that lies at the heart of Bush/Cheney Republican power, Romney described the root of his view of the world this way: "Our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive."
Romney recited that cowardly platitude -- what has now become the shameful flagship of the Republican Party -- in response to being asked whether the President has the power to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants even in the face of a law that makes it a crime to do so. At its core, the defining principle of the Republican Party continues to be a fear-driven repudiation of the American ethos as most famously expressed by Patrick Henry, all in service of keeping the citizenry in fear so the President can rule without limits.
Here is my interpretation of this passage: Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty or give me death." Therefore we should be more willing to accept death by Islamic terrorists than to allow the President to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. It is cowardly to allow ourselves to lose our liberties just because we might be killed by a foreign enemy waging war against us. The Republican Party uses fear to justify its power-lust.
Greenwald takes a slogan that was used to rouse a people to war and twists it to justify not fighting a war. Let the enemy kill us, because fighting back violates civil liberties!
These are just some of the powers which Romney -- and, among the respondents, Romney alone -- claimed the President possesses, either by explicitly claiming them or refusing to repudiate them when asked directly:
* to eavesdrop on Americans with no warrants, even if doing so is in violation of Congressional law (Question 1);
* to attack Iran without Congressional authorization, even in the absence of an imminent threat (Question 2);
* to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops (Question 3);
* to issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass laws enacted by Congress (Question 4);
* to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified where said treaties, in his view, "impinge upon the President's constitutional authority" (Question 8)
I'll let the legal experts set each specific point straight. Suffice it to say, I don't take the antiwar left's interpretation at face value. I believe their purpose in raising these legal issues is not to support civil liberties (as if they gave a damn about any liberties), but to stop America from fighting the war. I will concede that emergency war measures would be clearer if Congress declared war as is their responsibility. Furthermore, none of this would be an issue if the American government had fought the war seriously and destroyed all regimes that sponsor terrorism in 2001. The war could have been over in 2002 if we had actually fought it; instead we have settled for a state of "permanent war" that is disturbing, as the paleocons and libertarians argue. (But the reason is not warmongering or greed or Halliburton; it is altruism and appeasement, the fear of America asserting its national self-interest.)
At the heart of the liberals' and libertarians' elevation of legal side issues to the essence of foreign policy is their inability to take the war seriously. They don't see our war against militant Islam as anything near WWII or even Vietnam, but as more of a criminal justice matter. Let the FBI pursue these criminals who fly airplanes into buildings.
I don't support Romney, but he is absolutely right that we can't be free if we aren't alive. One of the few legitimate tasks of government is to defend its citizens from foreign aggression. And at the moment there is a totalitarian movement, Islamic fundamentalism or whatever the hell you want to call it, that strives to destroy America and the West and rule the world with Sharia law. It's out there. It's at war with us. Sooner or later it will strike again. This is not fear-mongering; these are the facts of reality.
Probably the greatest guitarists that many young people have never heard of are Alvin Lee and Johnny Winter. Lee's group Ten Years After has one hit that still gets a lot airplay, "I'd Love to Change the World." I don't think Johnny Winter gets much airplay at all.
This clip is good because, instead of using that annoying MTV style of constant fast cuts, the camera lovingly stays on Lee's guitar. You get a really good look at how a master Rock'n'Roll guitarist moves his fingers across the fretboard. Here is a second clip from the same concert.
Here is a video from 1969 of one of Ten Years After's most famous hits, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which has always struck me as a sinister song. The '60s psychedelia is silly.
Here is a live performance of Slow Blues In C. It is unbelievable how fluid his playing is.
Who is the best guitarist to come out of the great state of Texas? Stevie Ray Vaughan? Billy Gibbons? I'll go with Johnny Winter. Here he plays Johnny B. Goode. Dude can pick.
Finally, here is a killer version of Johnny playing Red House in 1991. There's a bass solo in the middle of this song, which reminds me of a joke.
An explorer was making his way in a canoe up the Congo with a native guide when drums began playing in the distance.
"What does this mean?" the explorer asked.
"Drums good," the guide assured him, "but when drums stop -- very bad."
For two weeks they paddled up the Congo with the drums playing. Then the drums stopped.
"What now?" the explorer asked.
"Very bad," the guide said. "Now bass solo."
Both Alvin Lee and Johnny Winter, like a lot of classic rock, are essentially Rockabilly with distortion. Both guitarists were big until the deluge, the New Wave/Punk/Heavy Metal change that hit music in the late '70s. After that I guess both guitarists sounded a little old fashioned. That was the end of the blues-rock era.
As fast as both men play, they never lose the emotion; they never sound like soulless guitar machines. That is because they both have their feet firmly planted in the blues.
If you liked the opening chase-and-fight sequence of Casino Royale, you'll probably also enjoy District B13, a French film chock full of the same kind of nimble chasing and fighting techniques. The technique used in both movies is "parkour": "an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body." It was invented by David Belle, one of the two main characters in the movie. He's phenomenal to watch in action.
The movie isn't profound, but it's enjoyable for what it is. It has a engaging plot, a non-horrible theme, and well-drawn characters. That's already better than most of what's produced today!
Also, the other main character in District B13, Cyril Raffaelli, also worked on Brotherhood of the Wolf, another French film I like enough to own. It's a well-done historical thriller with some kick-ass fight sequences.
Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.
The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.
Toshiba expects to install the first reactor in Japan in 2008 and to begin marketing the new system in Europe and America in 2009.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The F.B.I. Oath of Office:
I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
This post contains Part 7 ("Resultant Luck") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
Resultant moral luck is "luck in the way one's actions and projects turn out." Nagel's basic claim is that a person's moral record is influenced by the outcomes of his actions, yet those outcomes are not wholly of his own doing but often substantially influenced by factors outside his control. The proposed cases of resultant luck fall into three broad categories: attempted wrongdoing, decision under uncertainty, and negligent action.
In attempt cases, a person is blamed and punished more severely for the successful completion of some wrongful action than for a mere attempt--even when the difference between success and failure is wholly due to luck. This form of resultant moral luck is most easily found in the standard legal practice of punishing attempted crimes less severely than completed crimes. So As Nagel observes, "the penalty for attempted murder is less than that for successful murder--however similar the intentions and motivations of the assailant may be in the two cases." In such cases, the assailant's culpability might depend on "whether the victim happened to be wearing a bullet-proof vest, or whether a bird flew into the path of the bullet--matters beyond his control." Conversely, virtuous actions may be praised and rewarded more if successful (e.g., if John rescues the baby from the burning building) than if thwarted by luck (e.g., if John drops the baby from a fourth story window due to an explosion behind him).
In uncertainty cases, the agent knowingly takes some inherently risky action, such that the outcome cannot be predicted with any reasonable confidence in advance, and the agent is morally judged based on that outcome. For example, "someone who launches a violent revolution against an authoritarian regime knows that if he fails he will be responsible for much suffering that is in vain, but if he succeeds he will be justified by the outcome." Bernard Williams' famous case of Gauguin involves similar moral uncertainty: Gauguin's abandonment of his family seems justified if he succeeds in painting in Tahiti but not if he discovers his talents to be inadequate. According to the advocates of moral luck, the only moral judgment possible at the moment of decision in such cases is that the agent will be blamed if he fails and praised if he succeeds--because the outcome determines what the agent did, e.g., launching a glorious revolution or a failed bloody coup.
In negligence cases, a person is blamed and punished more when his careless action causes a worse outcome, even though forces beyond his control determine that particular outcome.  Imagine, for example, two identical truck drivers, both of whom are long overdue for a brake inspection. One drives safely home through uneventful traffic. The other is forced to brake suddenly to avoid a child darting across the street; when his brakes fail, he kills the child. The second driver blames himself far more than does the first, as do other people. Yet, Nagel observes, "the negligence is the same in both cases, and the driver has no control over whether a child will run into his path." Similarly, "if one negligently leaves the bath running with the baby in it, one will realize, as one bounds up the stairs toward the bathroom, that if the baby has drowned one has done something awful, whereas if it has not one has merely been careless." So the negligent person is blamed more or less based on an outcome beyond his control.
To resolve the apparent conflict between luck and responsibility in these puzzling cases of resultant moral luck, the control and epistemic conditions for moral responsibility must be extended beyond actions to outcomes. Moral responsibility for the outcome of some action requires more than just that the action be voluntary. The action also must be the salient cause of the outcome, and the outcome must be voluntary too. The application of those three conditions to cases of resultant moral luck yields surprising results; the agent is sometimes but not always responsible for the actual outcomes of his actions in those cases. So let us first briefly examine the three conditions for moral responsibility for outcomes, then apply them to cases of resultant moral luck.
First, to be morally responsible some outcome, the agent must be morally responsible for his original action: he must have acted voluntarily according to the control and epistemic conditions. So Joe cannot be blamed for missing a critical meeting at work if he's rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, as the action that caused his absence was wholly involuntary.
Second, moral responsibility for some outcome requires that the action be the salient cause of the outcome, i.e., the unusual factor operating against the background of ordinary causes. So the salient cause of the explosion in a machinist's shop would not be the commonplace sparks from welding that ignited it but rather the gas leak. The person responsible for the explosion would not be the welder but rather the person who cut the gas line. On a repair job for a leaky gas line, however, the gas would be the to-be-expected background condition, such that the careless worker who created the spark would be morally responsible for the resulting explosion. In general, a person ought to cultivate his knowledge of the ordinary causes that operate in his environment and affect his endeavors, as well as protect and expand his capacities to act on that knowledge. If he fails to do so, a person is properly blamed for voluntarily placing his projects, his flourishing, and even his life in jeopardy.
Third, moral responsibility for some outcome requires the outcome to be voluntary, even if not desired or intended. The agent must (1) be able to produce the outcome or not and (2) know that his action might plausibly produce such an outcome--or be incapable and/or ignorant voluntarily. In other words, for some outcome of an action to be voluntary, the agent cannot be involuntarily incapable or ignorant with respect to that outcome. So if a professor gives all his students Bs regardless of the quality of their work, then those students might be praised and blamed for their work in the class but not for the outcome thereof, namely their grades. Since they could not have done better or worse by their own actions, they were involuntarily incapable with respect to that outcome. Similarly, a woman cannot be blamed for her family's food poisoning absent some reason for her to suspect the ordinary-looking bag of spinach used for the dinner salad to be infected with E. coli. Her ignorance is involuntary--unlike the ignorance of the person who dismisses news reports of tainted spinach as mere scare-mongering by the carrot lobby. In short, this third condition precludes moral responsibility for outcomes that the agent cannot reasonably avoid or predict.
So what do these conditions for moral responsibility for outcomes tell us about moral responsibility in the cases of attempt, uncertainty, and negligence? As we shall see, the first condition (voluntary action) is satisfied easily, but the second condition (salient cause) and third condition (voluntary outcome) are only sometimes satisfied.
Applying the first condition, the action in cases of attempt, uncertainty, and negligence is clearly voluntary. The agent satisfies the control condition since he has the power to act or not: the hit man can squeeze the trigger or not, Gauguin can abandon his family for Tahiti or not, the mother with the child in the bath can leave the room or not. The agent also satisfies the epistemic condition since he's aware of the basic character of his action, whether malicious, risky, or negligent. So in the cases of resultant luck, the voluntary action satisfies the first condition for moral responsibility for outcomes. That shows that the person can be praised or blamed for his original action, even if ultimately not for the outcome thereof. Speaking generally, since an action is distinct from its ultimate outcome, it can and ought to be morally judged on its own merits, considering the information and alternatives available to the person at the time, regardless of the outcome.
The second and third conditions for moral responsibility for outcomes yield far more complex and interesting results than the first. In some but not all cases of resultant moral luck, the action is the salient cause of the outcome and the outcome is voluntary. In those cases, the outcome corresponds to the moral character of the action. To simplify the analysis of these cases somewhat, these two conditions will be applied together for each of the three kinds of resultant moral luck: first attempts, then negligence, and finally decision under uncertainty.
In cases of attempt, the second and third conditions are only satisfied when the attempt produces its intended outcome, not when the attempt fails. When a person deliberately pursues and successfully achieves some end, his actions are the salient cause of the outcome. For example, when the hit man kills his intended victim, his actions in pursuit of that end are the salient cause of her death. Similarly, when the firefighter rescues the child from the burning building, his efforts are the salient cause of that life's being saved. The outcome in such cases is also more than voluntary: it's actively, deliberately intended. So in cases of successful attempt, the agent is clearly responsible for the outcome of his action. In contrast, when the attempt fails due to some intervening factor, that factor is the salient cause of the actual outcome. So the bird that flies into the path of the hit man's bullet is the salient cause of the continued existence of the intended victim. And the explosion that rocks the burning building is the salient cause of the death of the child. Those outcomes are also not voluntary but rather directly contrary to the wishes of the agent; he will regret the outcome. Consequently, the hit man is not responsible for the good outcome of his attempted murder and the firefighter is not responsible for the bad outcome of his attempted rescue. The hit man can be thoroughly blamed for his depraved action, for putting his intended victim at great risk, for putting him in fear for his life, and more--but not for killing him (since that didn't happen) and not for failing to kill him (since he didn't cause that). The same basic analysis applies to praise for the firefighter.
In cases of negligence, the third condition (voluntary outcome) is satisfied whatever the outcome, whereas the second condition (salient cause) is satisfied only when the negligence produces its expected kind of harm. As concerns the third condition of voluntary outcome, by acting negligently, a person fails to act with the care required to ensure some particular outcome. Instead, he permits the outcome of his action to be determined by the random forces in his environment. Genuinely negligent action is voluntary: the person must know, even if only dimly, that he is acting carelessly instead of taking due care. As such, the outcome of negligent action is clearly voluntary, even if greatly regretted thereafter. The mother who leaves her child in the bath alone could ensure his safety by remaining in the room, so she's not involuntarily incapable with respect to the outcome. She's also aware that an unattended child might drown, so she's not involuntarily ignorant with respect to that outcome. In fact, the negligent person renders himself incapable voluntary: he willfully relinquishes control over the outcome of his action, allowing luck to determine what happens. As concerns the second condition of salient cause, the causal influence of luck in such cases does not automatically diminish the moral responsibility of the negligent person. When the negligence produces no disasters, as when the mother finds her baby alive and well in the tub, she deserves no credit for that outcome because her negligence is not the salient cause of the baby's safety. Then she can only be blamed for acting negligently, i.e., for needlessly risking harm to her child. However, if the baby does drown, then her negligence is the salient cause of that outcome. In that case, she would be culpable not just for acting negligently but also for the death of her child. For these reasons, the negligent person is responsible for the to-be-expected harms caused by his actions but not for the lucky avoidance thereof.
In cases of decision under uncertainty, the person is responsible for the outcome when he can succeed or fail and does so by his own efforts. The person satisfies the second condition when he is the salient cause of his own success or failure. So Gauguin could be responsible for becoming a world-class painter (or not) when due to his own choices and actions, but not when due to some external circumstances thrust on him. So if his move to Tahiti was critical to his development as a painter, then Gauguin can take credit for his ultimate success. Yet if he failed in Tahiti due to a devastating injury to his dominant hand during a random criminal assault, then he cannot be blamed. In either case, however, he could be blamed for the negative effects of his departure on his family. The application of the third condition of voluntary outcome is somewhat more complicated. The person acting in uncertainty satisfies the epistemic half of that condition: he knows the range of possible outcomes, even if unable to determine their respective probabilities. However, the agent may or may not be able to satisfy the control half of that condition: that depends on the capacities of the agent. Gauguin may well have the talent to make himself into a world-class painter, but he spends his time in Tahiti drinking his days away. In that case, he would be culpable for the outcome, i.e., for his failure to become a world-class painter. Yet imagine that Gauguin's talents are truly inadequate, such that the move to Tahiti can and does only marginally improve the quality of his work. In that case, he would not be responsible for his failure to become a world-class painter because he lacked the requisite capacity. That result is surprising but correct: he should not be blamed for failing to do the impossible. That does not render him exempt from blame, however. Depending on the wisdom of his decision, he might be culpable for a lack of good judgment concerning his own talents. Then Gauguin could be blamed for trying to become a world-class painter, particularly for the harms he inflicts on himself and others in the process of that pursuit, but not for failing to achieve that goal, since he's not capable of success.
So far, the development of the three conditions for moral responsibility for outcomes and their application to cases of attempt, negligence, and uncertainty seems to have confirmed that the problem of resultant moral luck is genuine. Indeed, the analysis shows that a person's responsibility for the actual outcomes of his actions may depend on the influence of luck. In fact, however, a person's moral responsibility for the actual outcome of negligent, attempted, and uncertain actions is wholly distinct from the proper judgment of that person's actions or character. Because the lucky person is not any less dangerous to our projects and interests just because the disaster that his actions might have caused was forestalled by luck, he cannot be judged morally better than the unlucky person. The significance of moral responsibility for outcomes, at least in these cases involving luck, is that it determines that for which the person must atone (if he acted wrongly) or that for which he may reap the rewards (if he acted rightly). In particular, the person who acted wrongly yet avoided disaster by luck has less damage to repair than his unlucky counterpart. That influence of luck is not morally problematic: no principle of morality dictates that people who do morally equivalent acts will have exactly the same effects in the world to remedy or enjoy. In addition, this distinction between blame and atonement promises to explain the seemingly problematic influence of luck in legal judgments, in that damages (e.g. for negligence) and punishments (e.g. for attempts) are (and ought to be) determined not only by the wrongness of the original act but also by the actual harms done by the defendant for which he must atone. As with moral judgments, the influence of luck in such legal judgments would not be unjust.
 Nagel 1993, pp. 62-3; Williams 1993, pp. 38-9.
 Negligent action involves some willful indifference of the agent to the risks of his actions. In contrast, the agent in cases of decision under uncertainty knows the risks but lacks the power to substantially mitigate them. So the original action in cases of negligence is always wrong; that's not true of decisions under uncertainty.
 Sartorio 2004, p. 329. Sartorio argues that a person is not responsible for some outcome just because he caused it. Rather, the person must be morally responsible for the action that caused the outcome.
 For similar views of causation, see Moore 1994, p. 255 and Feinberg 1970, p. 166. To its credit, this view of causation seems to avoid the problems of the too-broad and too-narrow "but for" test often used in law. Still, many details remain to be worked out.
 Such is why we can speak of what a person "knew or ought to have known." He ought to have known in the sense that the information was available to him and clearly relevant to his endeavors, yet he chose to ignore it.
 Malicious actions require conscious intent to do some wrong. Negligence requires some awareness of the care that could and should be taken in that situation. Decisions under uncertainty require knowledge of the risks of the action.
 Nagel and Williams deny that the action is distinct from its outcome (Nagel 1993, p. 62; Williams 1993, pp. 38-9). That is commonly disputed, e.g., by Athanassoulis 2005, pp. 272-3; Rosebury 1995, pp. 517-9; and Latus 2005, pp. 1-4. Those critics also argue that, at least in some cases, a better or worse outcome might suggest some virtue or vice in the agent's reasoning in retrospect. Of course, proper moral judgment of risky actions may be exceedingly difficult in practice. When information about the decision is scarce, people's actual judgments may be prone to hindsight bias, meaning that success or failure is wrongly regarded as proof of right or wrong choice, respectively (Royzman and Kumar 2004, p. 338).
 This analysis mirrors the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic luck made in Williams 1993, p. 40.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracyconsiders the interesting question of how the ignorance of the electorate might affect poll results. Somin cites some pretty staggering data and has some interesting thoughts of his own on the subject, which he elaborates upon in an academic paper. The level of ignorance of the average voter, even setting aside public policy minutiae, is certainly appalling.
Arguing that judicial review reduces what he calls the "information burden" of voters, Somin cites a difficulty posed by the enormous size of today's welfare state:
Obviously, the problems caused by the combination of a large and complex government and severely limited public knowledge of and attention to its activities cannot be solved by judicial review, nor should the judiciary even attempt a comprehensive solution. However, judicial review can sometimes alleviate the problem by limiting the scope of government activity. For example, if judicial review blocks government from undertaking content-based restriction of speech or from intervening in the internal affairs of religious groups, this means that voters need not devote time and effort to learning about government activities in these areas and can focus their severely limited attention on other issues. At least at the margin, the information burden on voters has been reduced, and their ability to pay adequate attention to the remaining functions of government increased.
... To take an extreme case, the information burden on voters would be vastly reduced and their ability to control remaining functions of government would be vastly increased in the unlikely event that the Supreme Court were to adopt Richard Epstein's position that most post-New Deal economic legislation is unconstitutional.
Although I would not hold that a favorable court ruling is necessarily cause for ignoring the government activities in question, this is an interesting idea which is true in one respect, but false in another.
It is true in the sense that if the state is going to attempt to run the economy (and be held accountable by the people), that the government (and hence the people) would have to be near-omniscient, because the government is attempting to do the economic planning of all individuals rather than allowing them to do so for themselves. Andrew Bernstein once quoted George Reisman on that score in The Capitalist Manifesto:
The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning. By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. (345) [bold added]
In short, to the extent that the government runs the economy, the information required of voters to have it run the economy properly is so enormous as to make that impossible. That early American saying, "Mind your own business," is revealed to be quite wise.
And the problem lies not just in economic affairs. Consider the ongoing debate about the so-called Global War on Terror, which is a needlessly complicated amalgam of military action, foreign aid, and appeasement. Even the binary choice between John Kerry and George Bush was complicated by the fact that while one was pacifist by inclination (but would be under public pressure to do something militarily), the other claimed to be pro-war, but had adopted a policy quite different from that employed by the United States when it fought the Japanese theocracy in World War II.
In the delimited sense that when government takes on tasks it has no business being involved in, choosing between candidates becomes more complicated than it ought to be, Somin is correct. But past a certain point, the value of more information diminishes.
For example, consider one issue listed on the poll posted at Volokh Conspiracy: Education. The state should get itself out of the business of education, and yet there will be no serious proposal to do so in any election any time soon. The various candidates will most likely offer proposals that differ only in unimportant ways. One will do well simply to make sure there is nothing horrendous, like a mandate that Creationism be taught in the public schools, then data dump the remaining minutiae. At the end of the day, the chance of substantially improving freedom in the field of education in the next election is nil, and time spent studying up on, say how much Mike Huckabee or Barack Obama want to throw down the rathole of public education is wasted.
So I suspect that I disagree with Somin on one thing: Being a "well-informed" voter -- at least in terms of the concrete details of every position in every political debate -- is is not inherently a good thing. Knowing what the proper role of government is, and thereby knowing which public debates aren't a complete waste of time is infinitely better -- although at the current level of agreement on all sides that education must be publicly funded, knowing that it should not be will not help one achieve his ends by voting.
And with that last sentence we begin to get to the heart of the matter. Substantive debate does not happen only during elections if it happens during elections at all. If one wishes to achieve lasting, meaningful change in politics, he needs more than one vote cast between two unacceptable choices. He needs others to be predisposed to vote as he does -- enough others that politicians notice the demand for a pro-freedom position on any given issue. As a genuine appreciation of freedom requires one to understand the nature of individual rights as the freedom of all in a society to act in accordance with their own best judgement, this means that to start having elections that don't require near-omniscience to make almost meaningless choices, those who appreciate freedom must work towards a more rational culture.
The energy bill that President Bush just signed into law is a significant victory for environmentalists, who have long pushed for such measures as expanded ethanol production. But the centerpiece of the bill--for which environmentalists have been agitating for years--is a major increase in automobile fuel economy standards, the first such increase since 1975.
The law forces auto manufacturers to increase the average mileage of cars, SUVs, and light trucks to 35 mpg by 2020. Currently, the standard is 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and light trucks.
It might seem obviously beneficial to decree that cars must use less fuel. But according to Dr. Keith Lockitch, resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, "The new mileage standards will make cars more expensive and more dangerous and will cause many more traffic fatalities.
"Compelling automakers to achieve higher mileage forces them to compromise automobile safety. To achieve fuel economy, they are forced to make vehicles lighter and smaller. But lighter, smaller vehicles are much more dangerous in an accident. Because the car absorbs less of the crash impact, the passengers absorb it instead.
"The original Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, imposed in 1975, have already led to a substantial increase in traffic fatalities--an additional two thousand traffic deaths per year, according to a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences. With the new standard, manufacturers will be forced to downsize even further all cars, as well as SUVs and light trucks. But these vehicles will still be sharing the road with buses, delivery trucks, and massive commercial trailer trucks. One shudders at the thought of how much greater a risk Americans will face. Nevertheless, environmentalists have continued to fight for higher fuel economy requirements, consistently and cavalierly dismissing the risks and the tragic consequences.
"Despite the drumbeat of constant assertions to the contrary, it is far from a settled scientific fact that we face catastrophic dangers from climate change. Yet, under the guise of protecting us from the alleged dangers of global warming, environmentalists force upon us the very real, provable dangers of increased auto injuries and deaths. Clearly, what they value is something other than human well-being."
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Time has crowned Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year, with Al Gore, J.K. Rowling, Hu Jin Tao of China, and General Petraeus as runners-up.
In making its selection, Time has offered an interesting justification.
TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. [Full text here.]
I agree with this basic selection criteria. As I often tell my younger history students, “Importantis the most important word in history.” Similarly, as I am wont to explain as well, when someone is known as “the Great”–as in Peter the Great, or Frederick the Great–it doesn’t necessarily mean “the Good” or “the Bad,” but it definitely means “the Important,” and that means that they deserve our attention.
I do not, however, agree with the choice of Putin as Person of the Year. I certainly do not think he is good, and I do not think he is great in a historical sense either.
Time proposes that he has brought “stability” to Russia, and this means that he is thereby shaping the world. The truth is, however, that Russia remains fundamentally unstable, as is plainly evidenced by the fact that the Putin regime requires constant upkeep by a corrupt and oppressive apparatus. The press is censored and dissidents are intimidated and jailed. However inconclusive, the Litvinenko case, is also indicative of the nature of the Putin system of dealing with dissent. As Time’s Richard Stengel admits, it is an “imposed” stability–which means it is no stability at all.
Russia remains in transition from full Communism to what, unfortunately, it remains uncertain. Nationalism is now the main driving ideology in the culture. Putin’s rhetoric is always colored with it. It is the basic reason for his various international frictions with the United States and concurrently high popularity ratings among Russians. Most disturbingly, it is the essence of the pro-Putin Nashi youth movement.
But nationalism–a collectivist ideology which upholds the reality and value of the “nation” above that of its individual citizens–always acts as a host for socialism or fascism, i.e. government control of citizens through the “national” machinery of the state. Consequently, unless there is a significant ideological shift in Russia (and I don’t see how), it will continue to be a fundamentally statist country for the foreseeable future.
I suppose that is a kind of “stability,” if by stability one means constancy. But it’s not impressive by any historical yardstick I can think of.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Robert Spencer opens a column about an "honor" killing in Canada at FrontPage Magazine by documenting several superhuman feats of context-dropping:
Aqsa Parvez was sixteen years old; her father has been charged with strangling her to death because she refused to wear the hijab. Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, declared: "The strangulation death of Ms. Parvez was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to colour or creed." Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, Ontario, agreed: "The bottom line is, it's a domestic violence issue." Nor was this denial limited only to Muslims. Lorne Gunter said in the Edmonton Journal: "I see nothing uniquely Muslim in her death. If, indeed, her father killed her, her death is his doing, not Islam's." [bold added, links omitted]
All of these people are correct that this was a case of domestic violence, but wrong to imply that identifying it as such closes the case. This is a homicide and an important part of solving such a case involves identifying any possible motives of the killer. That Islam might be important here is so obvious that the three commentators here could not possibly be missing the point by accident.
Robert Spencer understands this, and lays out how Islam predisposed this young woman's father to kill her. But he also understands what it means that so many seem -- fellow Moslem to the father, and leftist alike -- so content to hang him while ignoring crucial evidence.
[T]hink for a minute about what Muslim spokesmen in Canada could be saying. They could acknowledge that the divine sanction given to the beating of disobedient women by Qur'an 4:34 has created a culture in which such abuse is accepted as normal. They could call for a searching reevaluation of the meaning and continued relevance of that verse and other traditional material that reinforces it, and call in no uncertain terms for Muslims to reject definitively its literal meaning, now and for all time to come. They could acknowledge the prevalence of honor killing in Islamic culture, which has no sanction as such in Islamic theology but nonetheless enjoys enough Islamic approval that the Jordanian Parliament a few years ago rejected on Islamic grounds attempts to stiffen penalties for it. They could call for sweeping reform and reexamination of the status of women in Islam.
For any of this to happen, Muslim leaders in Canada would have to adopt an unfamiliar and uncharacteristic stance of self-criticism, and Canadian leaders would have to abandon their ongoing infatuation with multiculturalism. [link omitted, bold added]
Ideas cannot kill unless acted upon, but in the sense that they can guide actions, one can liken them to parties to a murder, and see that as possible motives, they can, in a sense, go on trial. To see a bunch of Moslems and multiculturalists so eager to comply with Western law is rather odd -- until one realizes that by doing so, they hope to stop the investigation of a murder before it becomes apparent that in the sense I just indicated, Islam is one of the killers, and multiculturalism an accomplice.
To refuse to demand a full explanation of the father's motives here is not merely unjust. It is to sanction the murder of this girl by letting evil ideas go unevaluated by others who hold them and may later act upon them.
This post contains Part 6 ("Moral Responsibility") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
As already noted, the basic purpose of a theory of moral responsibility is to determine that for which a person is properly moral judged. Since morality presupposes voluntary acts, a theory of responsibility must identify the essential qualities of all voluntary actions. Those criteria were originally defined by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 3, Chapters 1-5. Aristotle's explicit purpose in those chapters on moral responsibility is to aid proper moral judgment. He observes that properly bestowing "praise and blame" on "voluntary passions and actions" and "forgiveness and also sometimes pity" on involuntary passions and actions presupposes that we can "distinguish the voluntary and the involuntary." While wrong or incomplete in some details, Aristotle's control and epistemic conditions for voluntary action provide the basic outlines of a theory of moral responsibility consistent with the purpose of moral judgment and the nature of human agency.
In this section, we will consider only the requirements of voluntary action. Responsibility for products and character will be discussed with resultant and constitutive luck, respectively. So what does moral responsibility for actions require?
First and most obviously, a person must control his actions to be morally responsible for them. For Aristotle, that control condition means something very specific, namely that the action originates from within the agent himself, such that he has the power to do or not do the action. Voluntary actions cannot be forced upon an agent; they must be the product of the agent's own powers of self-direction. That control over actions is found in ordinary bodily movements, e.g., answering the phone or not, standing up or not, turning on the television or not. It is also found in cognitive processes: as a self-reflective agent, a person is capable of identifying, evaluating, and directing some of his own mental processes. For example, a person can choose to exert the effort of thinking or not, to think about some issue or not, to accept some argument or not, to confront painful facts or not, to trust gut feelings or not, and so on. Since actions originate in thought, that control over mental processes is the necessary foundation for control over bodily movements.
The most obvious cases of failure of control are movements produced by irresistible external powers, as in Aristotle's cases of the man spirited away by kidnappers or knocked over by the wind. A person's uncontrolled bodily movements also might be purely physiological responses, like the secretion of bile by the gallbladder or twitching caused by a brain tumor. Less obvious is the proper analysis of actions commonly described as "forced on a person by circumstances"--such as when a tyrant orders evil acts upon pain of death of one's family or when a ship captain jettisons his cargo in a storm to save the ship. As Aristotle observes, such actions are properly regarded as voluntary because they are "worthy of choice at the time when they are done" and "the end of an action is relative to the occasion." So the person's ultimate regret does not prove his action to be involuntary because the actions were chosen at the time from amongst the alternatives available at the time--and chosen rightly, in the case of the ship captain. In general, since a person's possible actions are always constrained by his particular circumstances, actions must be judged as voluntary or not within the context of those circumstances. So when a person must choose between two undesirable alternatives--like between total shipwreck and merely lost cargo--he selects his course voluntarily, even if regretfully. That's why Aristotle observes that the terms "voluntary" and "involuntary" should be used "with reference to the moment of action," rather than by any comparison to more favorable circumstances.
Significantly, the control condition sketched by Aristotle does not demand power over all aspects of an action--as does Nagel's control condition. Instead, the morally responsible agent must simply have the power to regulate his own actions, in the sense that he has the power to act or not. Moreover, that control condition is not an intuition from nowhere, as Nagel supposes. It is grounded in basic facts of human agency, particularly that people are capable of regulating some (but not all) of their bodily movements. Where such self-regulation is possible, a person can choose to do or not do anything physically possible to him. He is then justly held responsible for that choice: he can be praised for acting as he ought or blamed for acting as he ought not.
Second and less obviously, a person must act with adequate knowledge of his actions to be morally responsible for them. The agent must be aware of "the particular circumstances of the action," such as "who he is, what he is doing, what or whom he is acting on, and sometimes also what (e.g., what instrument) he is doing it with, and to what end (e.g., for safety), and how he is doing it (e.g., whether gently or violently)." So if Cindy slaps her friend Joe on the back, not realizing that his shirt hides a sensitive sunburn, her action is not voluntary due to her ignorance of that crucial fact. More precisely, she does voluntarily slap Joe on the back but does not voluntarily slap Joe on his sunburn. Given her ignorance, Cindy could not know that in doing the former she is also doing the latter. That's why she will be horrified to learn what she's done when Joe cringes in pain and shows her his sunburn.
The basic justification for this epistemic condition for moral responsibility is that when a person acts on the basis of a faulty understanding of the circumstances, his action is not what he supposes it to be. Since the person thought he was doing X when he actually did Y, he did not do Y voluntarily. While such mistaken actions may be evaluated, those evaluations would not constitute genuine moral judgments. Moral judgments seek to identify the basic principles and values by which a person governs his actions. Yet a person's actions also depend on commonplace beliefs about the particular circumstances of the action, e.g., whether the shaker contains sugar or salt, whether that's Joe or John across the room, whether Fanny enjoys or laments teasing about her name. When a person errs in those ordinary beliefs, his outward actions reveal little to nothing about his basic principles and values. Cindy's ignorance of Joe's sunburn, for example, makes her back-slap perfectly consistent with her claims of deep affection for him. The same cannot be said if she was aware of his sunburn at the moment of her slap.
However, a person's ignorance of circumstances does not always render his actions involuntary. That depends on whether the person regrets his action or not, per Aristotle's critical distinction between "involuntary" and "non-voluntary" acts. Aristotle describes mistake-based actions as "involuntary" only when contrary to the wishes of the agent, such that he regrets the action and would have done otherwise if he'd known the relevant facts.  However, often such factual errors are of little to no practical significance to the agent. If I carry a bag of dog food into the house, the fact that I might think it to be fifteen pounds rather than ten doesn't make my action involuntary. A person might even be pleased by an error due to some unexpected benefit, such as when a thief steals a silver goblet thinking it to be a tin cup. In such cases, the person does not act according to his particular intention (i.e. voluntarily) nor contrary to his general preferences (i.e., involuntarily), so Aristotle classifies the action as "non-voluntary." Aristotle never considers the question of responsibility for such non-voluntary actions. However, because the person's action does not substantially depend on his mistaken belief, the action is properly regarded as near-voluntary. The agent's lack of regret constitutes an endorsement of the action, so he is properly held responsible for it. Consequently, the epistemic condition should be understood as removing moral responsibility only when the agent is mistaken about some fact of significance to him, such that he would have acted differently if he had known it.
Moreover, the epistemic condition only requires that the agent know the particular facts relevant to his action; ignorance of the relevant general principles (or universals, to use Aristotle's term) or a mistake in their application does not render the agent's action less than voluntary. Contrary to the suggestions of Aristotle and Aquinas, the reason is not that ignorance of the proper general principles of morality is always culpable. A person could be innocently ignorant of or mistaken about some general principle relevant to his action, e.g., whether parents should stay in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children. Yet that could only make the action excusable or understandable. It would still be voluntary because the person would not be wrong about the nature of his action, as with ignorance of particulars, but only about the propriety or wisdom thereof. That a person is ignorant of or mistaken about proper moral principles is relevant to our moral assessment of him, even if not always blameworthy in itself.
Worrisomely, the control and epistemic conditions might seem to permit a vicious person to evade responsibility for any bad act whatsoever by deliberately rendering himself ignorant and/or incapable. So the woman who steadfastly refuses to hear her daughter's desperate hints for protection against the sexual advances of her new husband could not be blamed for leaving them alone together for a week because she wouldn't know what her husband would do to her daughter. Similarly, a husband might evade responsibility for picking the kids up from school as promised simply by drifting into a nap because he can't control when he wakes up once he's asleep. Thankfully, that seemingly straightforward application of the control and epistemic conditions is completely wrong. A person is properly held responsible for his actions when ignorant or incapable--when he voluntary places himself in that condition.
Although usually unnoticed, people routinely render themselves incapable or ignorant in various ways. Many cases thereof are morally blameless if not virtuous: the ignorance or incapacity is an insignificant side effect of the agent's pursuit of his legitimate ends or a means to those ends. For example, if Mary chooses to study economics rather than psychology, then she might never learn the difference between anorexia and bulimia. Similarly, if Jane doesn't buy ice cream at the grocery store, then she's better able to stick to her diet because she can't indulge in those delicious calories in the wee hours of the night. In these two cases, as in countless others, the ignorance and incapacity are voluntary. The control condition is satisfied because the person has the capacity to do otherwise, e.g., to study psychology, to buy ice cream. The epistemic condition is satisfied because the person knows the circumstances of his action, e.g., that not studying psychology will entail knowing less about the subject, that not buying ice cream will preclude eating it at home. Speaking generally, a person ought to be concerned for the possibilities for future action and for future learning foreclosed by the pursuit of one course rather than another. That's part of the active concern for the future required for flourishing.
A person's voluntary incapacity or ignorance can be morally blameworthy, however. For example, a father who breaks his promise to attend his daughter's basketball game because he chose to leave town on a last-minute fishing trip with his buddies is culpable for his absence, even though incapable of attending once out on the lake. Similarly, a student is properly blamed for his wrong answers to exam questions if he opted to sleep in class and party rather than study. In those cases, the person's incapacity and ignorance is of his own doing and damaging to his chosen ends--and that's why he's properly blamed for his current state and its results. Notably, this analysis of voluntary incapacity and voluntary ignorance parallels the proper understanding of responsibility for outcomes: if I throw a stone at a window, knowing that the glass will shatter if hit, I cannot rightly deny responsibility on the grounds that I was unable to stop the stone after it left my hand. The analysis is also consistent with Aristotle's understanding of the control and epistemic conditions, particularly with his discussion of culpable ignorance. Ultimately then, a person who voluntarily renders himself incapable or ignorant is responsible for his actions in that state, for better or worse.
Our discussion so far does not exhaust the complexities of moral responsibility. However, it provides a general framework for discussion of the proposed categories of resultant, circumstantial, and constitutive moral luck.
 Aristotle NE, 1110a13-4. This general principle will be critical to the proper analysis of circumstantial moral luck. Also, dire circumstances may influence the substance of our moral appraisals of actions and agents. So a man tortured by a tyrant may be praised for "endur[ing] something base or painful in return for great and noble objects gained" if he resists or forgiven for doing "what he ought not under pressure which overstrains human nature and which no one could withstand" if he succumbs (Aristotle NE, 1110b1-3).
 My analysis seems similar to the view that an action may be intentional under one description but not under other descriptions, as in Davidson 2001, pp. 43-51.
 Aristotle NE, 1110b16-24. Broadie uses the more clear term "countervoluntary" in place of "involuntary" (1991, p. 126).
 Bostock argues against the whole category of non-voluntary actions on the grounds that after-the-fact feelings are irrelevant to moral culpability (Bostock 2000, pp. 111-2). He claims that "if the act was due to ignorance, and ignorance which is not itself blamable, then clearly the agent cannot be blamed for it, whether or not he afterward regrets it" (Bostock 2000, p. 111). Yet that would render any action deviating slightly from the agent's plans involuntary and blameless, so long as the deviation was due to some non-culpable ignorance. For example, if a hit man's attempted strangulation of his victim caused a fatal heart attack instead of suffocation due to an undiagnosed heart condition, that would render the hit man blameless for the death of his victim. Like Urmson, I regard the "vexation" (1110b20) and "regret" (1111a21) felt after involuntary actions not as retroactively changing the nature of the action but rather showing that the action was directly contrary to (as opposed to merely inconsistent with) the motivating intention (Urmson 1988, p. 46).
The new energy bill (passed by Congress and just signed into law by President Bush) will outlaw the traditional incandescent light bulb over the next several years, requiring instead more expensive "energy efficient" bulbs as part of the fight against global warming. Of course, if these new bulbs are more cost-effective in the long run, then there's no need to mandate their use. And if they aren't, then this is just another burden on consumers. Either way, it's a violation of the individual rights of producers and consumers of those products.
This is on top of the recent shameful capitulation by the US on global warming policy at the recent international Bali conference, in which the US gave into the demands of the rest of the world.
Those who think that the Republicans and/or the religious conservatives will provide any kind of principled defense against the anti-reason and anti-human views of the environmentalists are in for a rude awakening.
Turn out the lights on traditional incandescent bulbs.
A little-noticed provision of the energy bill, which is expected to become law, phases out the 125-year-old bulb in the next four to 12 years in favor of a new generation of energy-efficient lights that will cost consumers more but return their investment in a few months.
The new devices include current products such as compact fluorescents and halogens, as well as emerging products such as light-emitting diodes and energy-saving incandescent bulbs.
...Under the measure, all light bulbs must use 25% to 30% less energy than today's products by 2012 to 2014. The phase-in will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, bulbs must be 70% more efficient.
(Disclaimer: I have no idea how the still-legal "energy-saving incandescent bulbs" differ from the forbidden "traditional incandescent bulbs".)
President Bush signed into law Wednesday legislation that will bring more fuel-efficient vehicles into auto showrooms and require wider use of ethanol, calling it "a major step" toward energy independence and easing global warming.
...The bill also calls for improved energy efficiency of appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers, and a 70 percent increase in the efficiency of light bulbs. It also calls for energy efficiency improvements in federal buildings and construction of commercial buildings.
...South Africa said that the US position "was most unwelcome and without any basis." Then Kevin Conrad, who headed Papua-New Guinea's delegation, rose and turned Mr. Connaughton's comment on its head.
...Confronted with the prospect of overwhelming isolation, [chief US negotiator] Dobriansky relented, saying, "We will join the consensus."
...Many longtime observers say it was the most stunning reversal they had ever seen at one of these meetings.
Religious groups in the United States and around the world have steadily adopted pro-environment positions. At Christmastime this shift has been particularly evident regarding global climate change.
...More than 100 influential evangelical leaders have signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) to fight global warming, the [Christian] Post article says. They're asking governments and individuals to reduce CO2 emissions.
The ECI concludes that global warming is real. The Post article quotes from the initiative's statement:
"Christians, noting the fact that most of the climate change problem is human induced, are reminded that when God made humanity he commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures.... Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better."
"The new mood reflects a generational change among evangelicals, says Andrew Walsh, a religion-watcher at Trinity College, Hartford [Conn.]. The younger lot wants to focus more on issues such as AIDS and the crisis in Darfur – a cluster of concerns that have more in common with climate change than with crusading against homosexuality."
Although I'm sure it's unintentional, I find it ironic that the environmentalists and the evangelicals are teaming up to extinguish Thomas Edison's traditional incandescent light bulb, the long-time symbol of reason and thought.
This post contains Part 5 ("Moral Judgment") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
The basic task of a theory of moral responsibility is to determine what is properly subject to moral judgment. So imagine that Mary bashes John over the head with a rock while out hiking, seriously injuring him. Why blame Mary for John's injuries, rather than John or the rock? What might excuse Mary from blame: a brain tumor, too many lollipops, a violent childhood, dehydration, raging hormones, John's unfunny jokes, ignorance of what rocks do to skulls? Is John's roommate partially culpable for the injury because he suggested the hike? Is Mary to blame only for injuring John--or also for her violent character, her malicious intentions, John's medical problems, and/or copycat crimes?
The answers to such questions about moral responsibility depend on underlying views about the demands and purposes of moral judgment, as well about as the nature of human agency. In this section, I will sketch my view of moral judgment. In the next section, I will develop a general theory of moral responsibility (with some remarks about human agency). Finally, that theory will be applied to the three kinds of moral luck. So let us begin with an examination of the purpose that moral judgment properly serves in human life.
A person's flourishing depends on his effective pursuit of a wide range of values: a career in advertising, a happy marriage to Joanna, a relaxing vacation in Montana, careful management of diabetes, and a good grade on a biology exam. The pursuit of such values primarily depends on the thought and action of the individual--on his choices, capacities, resources, knowledge, foresight, perseverance, moral virtues, and so on. When a person pursues values, however, his success also depends on factors external to him, such as available technology, natural events, social institutions, and other people. So the pleasure of a hike depends on the scenery and the weather, the effectiveness of treatment for breast cancer depends on access to advanced technology, and the profitability of a retail store depends on a slew of hard-working clerks. To ignore the possible impact of such external forces on our pursuits would put those pursuits in serious jeopardy. It would be foolish, for example, to fail to check the weather report before a day-long hike in the mountains or to leave all rain gear at home when downpours are forecasted. To protect our values, we must identify the state of the world, evaluate its likely impact on our plans, and act accordingly.
As concerns other people, such evaluations permit us to differentiate between those who will impede us and those who will assist us in the pursuit of our values. As Tara Smith observes:
Whatever the ends that individuals seek, their attainment of those ends depends on what they themselves as well as others do. Our values are vulnerable, since their achievement is uncertain. They must be carefully pursued, nourished, and protected. Whether a person seeks a house in the country, a career in journalism, or a rewarding marriage, other people's actions may affect her success. If a person simply wants to secure a ticket to the big game, she must evaluate the person offering to sell her one. Either through deliberate attempts to influence her fate or through actions which would indirectly aid or impede it, others can have a significant impact on a person's chances of attaining (or retaining) her values. Will a realtor mislead you about the house she is selling? Will a colleague fairly portray your work to others? Will a friend seek to sow distrust between you and your husband?
We need to judge other people because of their potential impact on our values. Those judgments are normative: they identify a person as in some way better or worse in his capacities, skills, intelligence, knowledge, talents, virtues, preferences, efforts, actions, and so on. Not only will they inform our choices about appropriate interactions with the person, but they may also shape the course and character of our projects themselves. For example, a graduate student might legitimately choose his dissertation topic in part based on the expertise of the professors in his department. Only by such evaluations can we act purposefully and intelligently to protect and promote the values that constitute our flourishing.
Evaluations of persons are governed by the demands of the virtue of justice, understood as "the virtue of judging other people objectively and of acting accordingly, treating them as they deserve." While all such evaluations are judgments of a person according to some relevant standard, they are not limited to a person's moral qualities. Sarah's lack of skill in playing the violin is not a moral defect, but if I want to learn to play the violin I should choose someone else as my teacher. However, moral judgments are properly distinguished from other kinds of assessments of persons in that they concern the principles that underlie and guide a person's voluntary actions, products, and qualities.
Moral judgments must be limited to a person's voluntary aspects for the simple reason that all normative claims, whether moral or not, presuppose an agent with the power to conform to the prescription or not. Absent that power, to assert that X ought to do Y would be senseless: even if Y is the best course, that fact has no bearing on X's course of action. That is why we don't condemn a hurricane, however distressed we might be at the damage it causes, or tell paraplegics that they ought to walk, however much that activity would improve their lives. Notably, the point is not merely that "ought implies can." Normative prescriptions from which one cannot deviate--such as "you ought to obey the law of gravity" or "you ought to die if shot through the heart"--are just as senseless as prescriptions that one cannot fulfill. The point is that "ought" presupposes the capacity to do the act or not, i.e. voluntary action.
Ultimately then, moral judgments identify and evaluate the principles (whether consistent or not) by which a person governs his own actions. They ask, for example: Does this person indulge his feelings without thought for the consequences? Is he willing to admit his mistakes? Does he vigorously pursue his goals or cave in face of opposition? Does he put off thinking about unpleasant matters? Does he act on the basis of clearly defined principles? Does he discuss problems as they arise or secretly nurse bitter resentments? Does he act on personal biases? Can he be trusted to honor his promises? Does he blame others for his failures? Does he lie, cheat, and steal--or deal with other people justly? Obviously, the answers to such questions are hugely important to our dealings with other people, particularly if we regularly interact with the person or substantially depend on him. Our most general moral evaluations of a person, e.g., that John is dependable but Mary not, will be relevant to most if not all of our interactions with that person, whatever the particular circumstances at hand. That is not true of judgments of skills, knowledge, talents, and the like. Moreover, a person's moral qualities determine the value of his other qualities. The low prices of a local grocer serve no good purpose if he sells tainted goods. Even worse, seeming strengths become liabilities when possessed by a vicious person. So a dishonest employee is significantly more dangerous if also charming and clever. For these reasons (and others), the importance of moral judgments to our own flourishing cannot be overstated.
 For an argument that flourishing is fundamentally self-created, see Smith 1995, pp. 67-9.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Thomas Sowell's most recent column will come as quite a shock even to many who are, like myself, well aware of the pervasiveness of leftism in academia. He discusses the fact that, although the '60's ended nearly 40 years ago, the basic, oft-romanticized, approach of backing demands with threats is alive and well.
It is so alive and so well, in fact, that The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article on the subject, inspiring Sowell to weigh in. (Sowell does not specifically name the article, but I suspect that it was "Fearing Our Students". [subscription required])
This professor has been advised, at more than one college, not to let students know where he lives, not to give out his home phone number and to keep his home phone number from being listed.
This is a very different academic world from the one in which I began teaching back in 1962. Over the years, I saw it change before my eyes.
During my first year of teaching, at Douglass College in New Jersey, I was one of the few faculty members who did not invite students to his home. In fact, I was asked by a colleague why I didn't.
"My home is a bachelor apartment" I said, "and that is not the place to invite the young women I am teaching."
His response was: "How did you get to be such an old fogy at such a young age?"
How did we get from there to where professors are being advised to not even have their phone numbers listed?
The answer to that question has implications not only for the academic world but for the society at large and for international relations.
It happened because people who ran colleges and universities were too squeamish to use the power they had.... [bold added]
One of the rare exceptions to academic cave-ins around the country during the 1960s was the University of Chicago. When students there seized an administration building, dozens of them were suspended or expelled. That put an end to that.
There is not the slightest reason why academic institutions with far more applicants than they can accept have to put up with disruptions, violence or intimidation. Every student they expel can be replaced immediately by someone on the waiting list.
But instead of punishing bad behavior, most institutions have rewarded it and thereby encouraged it.
It is true that appeasement encourages more bad behavior, but as Sowell points out, things weren't always this way. Why are they different now? On what basis did appeasement become so common in Western civilization that it has crashed the gates even of the ivory tower? It is because the philosophic basis of the Enlightenment has been attacked, with the result that those who should be defending our civilization are intellectually and morally disarmed or even fail to see a need to defend it.
Ayn Rand considered this very question long ago in "The Cashing-in: The Student 'Rebellion'", an essay she wrote in 1965, and which now appears in The Return of the Primitive. Rand concludes that the repleacement of reasoned debate with brute force in academia is the end result of the long playing-out of Immanuel Kant's philosophic attack on the validity of reason.
These "activists" are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry out to all the university administrations and faculties: "Brothers, you asked for it!"
Mankind could not expect to remain unscathed after decades of exposure to the radiation of intellectual fission-debris, such as: "Reason is impotent to know things as they are -- reality is unknowable -- certainty is impossible -- knowledge is mere probability -- truth is that which works -- mind is a superstition -- logic is a social convention -- ethics is a matter subjective commitment to an arbitrary postulate" -- and the consequent mutations are those contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything.
With rare and academically neglected exceptions, the philosophical "mainstream" that seeps into every classroom, subject, and brain in today's universities is: epistemological agnosticism, avowed irrationalism, ethical subjectivism. Our age is witnessing the ultimate climax, the cashing-in on a long process of destruction, at the end of the road laid out by Kant.
Ever since Kant divorced reason from reality, his intellectual descendants have been diligently widening the breach. ... [bold added]
Rand discusses such schools as Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and Linguistic Analysis, and continues.
It has been said that Kant's dichotomy led to two lines of Kantian philosophers, both accepting his basic premises, but choosing opposite sides: those who chose reason, abandoning reality -- and those who chose reality, abandoning reason. The first delivered the world to the second. [bold added]
Sowell is correct as far as he goes, but for college administrators and faculty to stop sympathizing with the students (a problem Sowell himself notes) or appeasing them, a real philosophic revolution is required, the one Ayn Rand herself has started with her defense of the validity of reason, her highly original approach to ethics (resulting in a morality of egoism), and culminating her moral and intellectual defense of individual rights.
Those who value the free discussion of ideas and the unstinting pursuit of truth that ought to occur in academia (and have, and can, once again), would do well to start understanding this problem by considering her thoughts on the subject, which remain relevant to this day, and to think about what she has had to say about the various issues leading to our current state.
Only then will one know what a real revolution looks like.
Today: Corrected several typos. Other minor changes.
By Edward Cline from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
For a change of pace, offered here is a movie review. Warning: there are no plot-spoilers in this review; there is no plot to spoil.
I am Legend debuted here in Newport New, Virginia, on Friday, December 14. I decided to see it and not The Golden Compass, which some people liked because it hovers around an endorsement of atheism and other virtues associated with reality and integrity. But, as a novelist who has set all his stories in the real world, stories set in fantasy or otherworldly realms, or that feature magic, witches, vampires, mutants, horror and the like, have had no appeal for me.
This is not to say that some of these latter stories have no literary or esthetic value. It is just that I see no point in settling for a fantasy world whose story depends on the suspension of the rule of causal-connection and the law of identity, when it could just as well be set in the real, recognizable world to accomplish the same end. I have written fifteen novels, including the six-title Sparrowhawk series; they are all plotted and set in the real world. Perhaps this has made me more fastidious and discriminating, or simply impatient. The Harry Potter movies and novels may be a few cuts above standard contemporary fare - But, no, thank you.
I chose to see I am Legend because I had some free time and only because there was nothing else in the newspaper theater listings that piqued my interest. Also, the previews of it on TV intrigued me; I had seen its predecessor, The Omega Man, in 1971, and wondered how the director and screenwriters would "update" the story now. Finally, I suspected this movie would be talked about and more or less given the critical imprimatur. However, it is a B movie inflated by modern film technology (chiefly CGI, or computer generated imagery) with the intention of making it a blockbuster. But, fundamentally, it isn't any better than Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.
The details or concretes one chooses to show or include in a story must have a purpose, that is, they must be integrated into the plot, they must have a demonstrable place or a role in the logical sequence of events. If they are included, but not explained, or are there just for "special effects" to impress or mislead a reader or viewer, or are included simply at the whim of a writer or director, then they violate Louis Sullivan's rule that form must follow function, or Ayn Rand's rule of essentialization. A plot itself, by Rand's definition, is "a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax."
I am Legend is a cinematic jigsaw puzzle most of whose pieces do not connect. There is a "climax," but no logic to it. Among its many other faults, it is an epistemological abomination, and the horrible thing about it is that I don't believe the film's makers consciously intended that. Its illogic reflects the state of their epistemology. And since their epistemology (and metaphysics) is a subjectivist shambles, to them logic and causal-connections are elective elements not absolutely requisite to solving the problem of the moment.
Let us examine the film story of I am Legend, based on Richard Matheson's 1954 science fiction novel of the same title.
The plague that wipes out most of the human race is man-caused, the result of a genetically engineered cancer cure that somehow mutates into an incurable killer virus. (In The Omega Man, at least it was the result of bacterial warfare.) Perhaps it was meant to be a metaphor for anthropogenic global-warming, perhaps not. Its discoverer explains the cancer cure, and her explanation is pure folderol. This anti-technology premise should be enough to condemn the story at the outset.
Actor Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist who remains in a desolate, unpopulated, decaying Manhattan to work on an antidote to the virus. He is inexplicably immune to the plague. (In the 1971 version, Charlton Heston, who played the character, injected himself with the antidote just in the nick of time.) He is apparently the last man living there, and presumably on earth.
The movie opens (after establishing the premise of the plague) three years after New York City was quarantined and all the bridges and tunnels leading into it were destroyed by the military. By day Neville ventures out to hunt deer, harvest corn, and collect supplies for his Washington Square townhouse/fortress. At night he barricades himself in the townhouse against survivors of the plague who have turned into predatory cannibals (or vampires, I couldn't tell which they were supposed to be, because the story isn't clear on that point).
His townhouse is powered by generators. In the basement is a fully equipped lab for virological research. Some scenes give evidence that he has been diligently at work over the years, ever since Manhattan was evacuated, to discover or develop an antidote or a cure. On one wall are rows of photos of cannibals he has somehow captured and experimented on with potential cures, using his own immune blood. There is also a row of cages with rats or guinea pigs that have also been subjects. Nothing he has tried has worked. In the course of the movie, Neville uses a sample of his own blood to lure and capture a female cannibal to experiment on.
Somehow, Neville has had time to fortify his townhouse windows and doors with steel shutters, which he closes at dusk, and to rig the approach to it with incendiary mines and blinding klieg lights. The cannibals, you see, are like vampires: they can only roam at night. Sunlight - or perhaps even artificial light, it isn't made clear - is their nemesis. They haven't found Neville yet, and show no evidence they know he exists.
Neville regularly broadcasts a radio message that he is alive, and that possible survivors who can hear him can meet him at the South Street Seaport.
Manhattan is also populated by lions and herds of deer. Possibly these came from the Central Park Zoo. There is no explanation for their presence. The cannibals have devolved into mindless, roaring carnivores with less innocence than wolves. At one point Neville remarks that their "Social de-evolution appears to be complete." One would have expected him to remark, instead, that their rational and cognitive faculties had undergone irreversible devolution or degeneration, but perhaps the screenwriters thought those terms would be over the heads of audiences.
Into the story, unexpectedly, come two other immune survivors, who rescue Neville from the near fatal folly of trying to run down the mutants at night in an SUV in revenge for the cannibals' plague-altered dogs infecting his healthy German shepherd, which he was forced to kill himself. This is Anna, a Red Cross worker, and Ethan, a young boy in her care. This whole scene is shot out of focus, so what happens isn't clear. They all wind up in his townhouse. Anna tells Neville there is a colony of survivors in Vermont, which is where she is going. She heard his broadcast and came into Manhattan to find him. She wants him to go with her.
Neville says there is no such colony. After ranting the numbers of people killed by the virus and the number of survivors who might exist, divided between the immune and the raging cannibals, he says there is no God, and how could she know about a colony of survivors? Anna more or less implies that God told her.
Anna is saved the trouble of explaining herself when the cannibals attack the townhouse. How they finally discovered it is glossed over by Anna. Neville turns on the klieg lights and detonates the mines, decimating the first wave. But the cannibals appear to be numberless and attack again. They invade the townhouse. Neville, Anna, and Ethan retreat to the basement lab. Seeing that their predicament is hopeless, and suddenly realizing that he has found a cure (the female cannibal, strapped to an operating table, is now lying in bed of ice, and shows signs of recovering from the virus), Neville draws blood from his arm and hands the vial containing it to Anna, then locks her and Ethan in a vault, instructing her not to come out until daybreak. Then he uses an incendiary grenade to destroy the cannibals and himself.
The story ends with Anna and Ethan driving through Vermont in the fall. They discover the fortified colony of survivors. The gates open, and Anna holds up the vial of Neville's blood to the guards, accompanied by the sound of the bell of an old New England style church in the distance.
The questions that occur to me, and which ought to occur to anyone in focus, are not answered by the story.
1. If Neville had the foresight to broadcast his existence to the outside world, why wasn't he listening for an answer? No answer. If the Vermont colony of survivors had the means to exist, why didn't it acknowledge his messages? If he is not shown listening for a reply, why would he (and we) assume that he is the last living human being? No explanations are given.
2. If the mutant cannibals are so demonstrably feral and non-rational, and reduced to the perceptual level of rabid dogs, how could they emulate Neville and set the same kind of trap for him? Further, Neville and his dog are attacked by a pack of plague-infected dogs, which are introduced by a cannibal who has them leashed. These actions, which necessitate a working intelligence at least as determined as a sly racoon's, contradict the initial premise that the cannibals are incapable of rational thought. No explanations are given.
3. How did Anna and Ethan get into Manhattan, if all the bridges and tunnels were destroyed? In the fuzzy rescue scene, she is shown driving a vehicle. In the dead of night, when it was dangerous to be out, she rescues Neville without being attacked herself, and somehow gets Neville back to his townhouse without incident. Neville is depicted as being in a traumatic fog; how was he able to give her directions? And how was she able to leave Manhattan, an island, to drive to Vermont? No explanations are given. (The only critic to ask the last question was Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun Times review of December 14.)
4. Why are the cannibals depicted as so strong, fast, and agile, when logically they ought to have been debilitated by the virus and doomed to extinction? How did they survive three winters in New York in such endless numbers wearing only rags, and living in the dank, dark recesses of abandoned buildings? Unless they consumed each other, what else did they eat? They apparently had no taste for the equally numberless deer that roam the empty streets. No explanations are given.
5. When they finally corner Smith in his lab, it is under its glaring bright lights, which contradicts the premise they are fatally light-sensitive. Did any critic notice this? Not that I am aware of. No explanation is given.
Finally, the plot-line of I am Legend is established in a confusing kaleidoscope of flashbacks. Also, the TV previews showed missiles taking out Manhattan's bridges, but no such scenes occurred in the film. So, in the story itself, no explanation is given for why the bridges are reduced to rubble.
You might ask: Why belabor the holes and contradictions in a patently bad movie? First, because, as a writer, they bother me. Second, because I suspected the film would receive critical acclaim, which it did not deserve, but which it has received. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to critique it.
Roger Ebert in his review asks several questions about the logic of the events, but adopts an attitude that echoes that of the film's producers: "Never mind! Details are irrelevant! It is important to like this movie, because it has a 'message,' even though it stoops to schlock at the end!" The Hollywood Reporter on December 10 also gives high marks to the movie, and, like other reviews, such as Variety's (December 14), reserves its criticism for minor points, such as the CGI-produced cannibals, which the Variety reviewer found "irksome." EntertainmentWeekly's review of December 12 also expressed the same reservation but lauded the movie, as did A.O. Scott in The New York Times (December 14).
Details are integral to any story, regardless of the genre, if they work to earn a place in it. But even extraneous details - and there are many in I am Legend - can be excused if they do not mislead or if they do not contradict a logical sequence of events, which the film cannot claim to have. Unexplained or inexplicably stressed details - and there are many of these, as well, in the film - are the mark of incompetence, carelessness, or just plain indifference to the workings of human cognition. Or, they might be symptomatic of something worse: a mind unable to distinguish between the essential and the extraneous.
That is why I find such films (and novels) so personally offensive: Their makers presume that my epistemology is as chaotically subjective as their own, that my willingness to temporarily suspend my disbelief is an invitation and sanction to abuse my mind as a matter of policy.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Atheism Equated with Religion
Well. The good news, such as it is, is that Ayn Rand finally gets mentioned in the debate about the "new atheists". The bad news is that she is confused with them.
Whatever you may think of David Sloan Wilson after reading this slapdash article (viaRandex), in which he misrepresents Objectivism and puts words into Ayn Rand's mouth, credit him for the following succinct confession that he feels that knowledge is not possible without omniscience: "As for the canons of rational thought, to the extent that brains evolved by natural selection, their main purpose is to cause organisms to behave adaptively in the real world--not to directly represent the real world."
This fundamental error in epistemology leads Wilson in turn to: (1) draw a false distinction between what he calls "actual realism" and "practical realism" (whereby delusions can have an evolutionary advantage); (2) conclude that scientific theories are often "purpose-driven" (in a cynical, underhanded sense) and "cannot be expected to approximate factual reality when they are proposed" since so many eventually are disproved -- I mean "become weirdly implausible with the passage of time" -- rather than being connected enough to reality to prove or disprove (But to admit that would be to admit that man can know things, which would defeat Wilson's purpose.); (3) misrepresent and then condemn Ayn Rand's philosophy for holding that certainty is possible.
He does this last by discussing how the "real world" is full of "messy trade-offs" (Does his mind alone directly know this?) as if Ayn Rand never considered such a problem once in her life. Wilson snidely derides Objectivism for "telling" the "believer" "what to do", but in addition to claiming that Objectivism can't offer guidance in "messy" situations, he both ignores the fact that the whole purpose of any ethical system is to provide some guidance for action (especially in such "messy" situations) and the fact that that in the course of living one's life, one can make choices within an ethical framework. Note also that Wilson is smuggling in unquestioned the religionists' premise that ethics is all about commandments.
Not only did Ayn Rand successfully argue against the premise (another that Wilson both assumes and shares with religionists) that ethics is based fundamentally on a consideration of how one's actions affect others, she weighed the risks and rewards of smoking and chose to smoke for a time. And she later changed her mind after receiving medical advice. And so we see both (1) that Ayn Rand did consider situations involving "messy trade-offs" and (2) that her philosophy, by her own example, was not just some inflexible set of marching orders. Rand chose to accept the health risks of smoking so she could enjoy doing it.
Wilson, for all his professed worship of "complexity", for all his blathering about interesting shades of grey, demonstrates through his simplistic caricature of Ayn Rand and her philosophy that he has hardly bothered to learn anything about Objectivism and probably would be unable to appreciate its subtlety even if he tried.
I was originally going to rebut Wilson's charge that we Objectivists accept everything Rand says without question, but upon further reflection, I do not think that this is necessary. How would one take marching orders from someone whose "orders" I would summarize as, "Use your own mind to grasp reality, and in particular, to understand and evaluate as true or false what I have said. Express agreement with me only if you really do agree."
So Wilson thinks that man knows nothing because his brain does not "directly represent the real world" and that people make stuff up as they go along in a "purpose-driven" way. All I can say to that is, "Speak for yourself, Mr. Wilson."
Except that he already has.
Parting shots aside, why is it that evolutionary psychologists never seem to consider whether there might be an "evolutionary advantage" to -- oh, I don't know -- an organism having a brain that supports a mind with the ability to grasp the world economically through concepts, and the ability to regulate itself through free will?
Instrumentalism and the Disintegration of American Tort Law by David Littel
"Gifts from Heaven": The Meaning of the American Victory over Japan, 1945 by John David Lewis
Here's a thought: Your Christmas shopping could be done in minutes --and it could change a worldview for life. A subscription to The Objective Standard is the perfect gift for your active-minded friends and relatives.
Out of curiosity, I randomly stopped by Post Secret yesterday and found a creepy note reading, "i [sic] plan on telling people that you died," attached to what looks like a jacket on a book by Ayn Rand.
What's up with that?
Walter Williams on Racial Hoaxes
After examining some recent instances in which "civil rights" groups roundly condemned an action as white racism, only for it to turn out that the "perpetrator" was black, Walter Williams sounds the following semi-optimistic note:
More and more blacks are seeing through race hustlers such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Doc Cheatham. An even more optimistic note is the financial decline of the NAACP. Declining black support is good evidence that the civil rights struggle is over and won. That's not to say there are not major problems but they are not civil rights problems.
Today, most civil rights organizations get their financial support from white businesses and foundations caving in to intimidation or seeking to sooth feelings of guilt. [bold added]
I would count the cultural climate that permits such charlatans to continue operating as one of these "major problems". And I would say that the struggle for individual rights is only beginning.
But there I go again, being simplistic!
Today: (1) Clarified section on smoking, added paragraph at end on evolutionary psychology, and made several minor edits. (2) Corrected link to Post Secret. (3) Corrected typo: "biologists" above should have been "psychologists".
Monna Vanna closed in Los Angeles. I was fortunate to have a small part in the play. I'm grateful to the Executive Producer Quent Cordair Fine Art, the Producer LizBeth Lucca, the Director Joel Marquez and everyone involved with the show. Without the initiative of the producers and director, I surely would not have had a chance to act in Maurice Maeterlinck's masterpiece.
I was asked by an audience member why this play is Ayn Rand's favorite. It is because the play dramatizes value-conflict in a good plot that leads to a climax. Like Aristotle, Rand held that plot is the soul of drama.
My only reservation about the play is the translation. On a line by line level, the play is difficult. The syntax is complicated and the sentences are long with subordinate clauses and whatnot. The dialogue is hard for the audience to understand, and several people told me they had a hard time following it. (And I know from the inside that it's hard to act.)
Here is one example from my lines. This is just the beginning of a long speech:
You know, Prinzivalle, the esteem in which I hold you. I have given you more than one example of it that you cannot have forgotten -- but there are others of which you are ignorant: for the policy of Florence that men call perfidious when it is but prudent, requires many things to remain hidden for a time, even from those who are most in her counsels. We all obey her deep-laid plans, and each man must bear with courage the mysteries that make the strength of his country.
Remember, an audience member sitting in the theater does not have the luxury of rereading a line or pausing to contemplate its meaning. A playwright must write with that in mind to help the audience understand clearly and vividly what is being said. Monna Vanna has line after line like the passage quoted above that I fear create a kind of haze in the audience's mind. They have a vague, general idea of what is being said, but not a clear one. Part of the comprehension problem lies with modern audiences that are not used to listening to classical drama. Movies and television are more visual, with brief dialogue that is often epigrammatic. But part of the problem is with the translation -- or maybe even with Maeterlinck's writing.
I would like to see a modern translation done by someone who understands 1) contemporary idiom; and 2) that the human mind can only deal with so much at a time before it loses understanding (the crow epistemology). If I were translating, I would find places to break up some of the monologues into dialogue (perhaps my translation would be an adaptation). Being monologue heavy, the play reminds me of the French neo-classicism of Corneille and Racine, which I believe is the hardest type of drama to act -- harder even than Shakespeare or Greek drama. I'm glad I got the opportunity to act such a difficult style, but I think the play could be more powerful in a better translation.
Now I'm happy to have some time off. In January I'll be auditioning for an interesting project: a local group is doing Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in repertory, with the same cast in both shows. I'll let you know whether or not I get cast.
This post contains Part 4 ("The Necessity of a Fresh Start") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.)
The Necessity of a Fresh Start
In light of the failed attempts to solve the problem of moral luck surveyed so far, the most promising course would seem to be a direct investigation into the nature and demands of moral responsibility, particularly a re-examination of the "intuitively plausible" control condition used by Nagel. Nagel denies the viability of such an investigation, claiming that when we consider the various cases of moral luck, we do not suspect that the control condition might be false. We do not persist in our original judgment that the person is fully responsible in spite of our new appreciation for his lack of control. Rather, we realize that the person's lack of control means that he isn't as responsible as we once thought. So by Nagel's account, the problem of moral luck "emerges not as the absurd consequence of an over-simple theory, but as a natural consequence of the ordinary idea of moral assessment, when it is applied in view of a more complete and precise account of the facts." As a result, philosophers cannot hope to solve the problem of moral luck by investigating the nature and limits of moral responsibility, such as by identifying "a more refined condition which pick[s] out the kinds of lack of control that really undermine certain moral judgments." For Nagel, that would be a fruitless quest: our responses to the various cases of moral luck confirm our agreement with the intuitive control condition at work.
Happily, Nagel is wrong to deny that a solution to the problem of moral luck might emerge from the philosophic investigation of the conditions of moral responsibility. If his version of the control condition were flawed in some subtle way, that flaw would not necessarily be revealed merely by its application to a few specific cases. Moreover, something does seem amiss in softening the condemnation of a drunk driver who kills a pedestrian because the presence of the pedestrian was bad luck for him, as Nagel's analysis demands. Our original judgments of severe blame reassert themselves when we consider that the drunk driver could have avoided risking the life of that pedestrian entirely by not drinking so much or not driving once drunk. Consequently, the possibility of some theoretical fault in Nagel's conditions of moral responsibility cannot be summarily dismissed, as he would like. Rather, the accuracy thereof can only be confirmed or denied by a detailed inquiry into the nature and demands of moral responsibility. In fact, we have good reason to worry that Nagel's understanding of the control required for moral responsibility is too demanding, in the sense that such control is neither possible to human agents nor necessary for moral responsibility.
Nagel begins his essay on moral luck by considering Kant's ideal of moral agency: that which is morally judged must be wholly within the agent's power, free from any external forces that might distort or mask the agent's pure act of will. While Nagel does not explicitly endorse that ideal of "noumenal agency," his standards for moral responsibility clearly show its strong influence. The "intuitively plausible" control required for moral responsibility is not simply the power to do or not do found in Aristotle, such that a person morally judged for choosing amongst the better and worse alternatives available to him. Rather, the control required by Nagel is all-encompassing: it must shield the object of moral judgment from all outside influences. That is why the negligent mother who puts her baby in the bath then leaves the room with the water running is morally unlucky if he drowns: even though she had the power to safeguard her child by staying in the room, she lacks control over the flow of water once she leaves the room. Similarly, the Nazi officer is morally unlucky for living during the Third Reich, despite his deliberate choice to support rather than oppose that regime, because he did not control the political events that made his choice possible. The control absent in such cases is basically that of Kant's ideal noumenal agent. Similarly, in View from Nowhere, Nagel speaks of genuine autonomy as requiring us "to act from a standpoint completely outside ourselves, choosing everything about ourselves, including all our principles of choice--creating ourselves from nothing, so to speak." While Nagel recognizes that ideal of autonomy as "self-contradictory" because "to do anything we must already be somebody," he claims that we cannot escape wishing for it.
In addition, Nagel understands luck simply as that which lies beyond the control of the agent--so even highly probable events (e.g., one's spouse buying milk as promised) and wholly causally determined events (e.g., the rising of the sun in the morning) are classified as matters of luck capable of diminishing (if not eliminating) moral responsibility. Once again, that shows that Nagel requires a person to exert an all-encompassing control, free of outside influences, in order to be fully moral responsible--even for that which he deliberately chooses. As Margaret Walker observes, "the view against which moral luck offends is that of pure agency: agency neither diluted by nor implicated in the vagaries of causality at all, or at least not by causality external to the agent's will."
With his control condition seen in this Kantian light, Nagel's case for moral luck can be understood as an indirect but extended argument that humans cannot satisfy the ideal of noumenal agency. We cannot satisfy that ideal because what we cause, what we choose, and even who we are depends too thoroughly on the vast range of uncontrollable causal forces in the external world. Upon reflection, we seem to be mere phenomenal objects buffeted about in a phenomenal world--yet we cannot rid ourselves of the contrary idea that we are noumenal agents, free and responsible.
The fact that Nagel's control condition depends on an ideal of noumenal agency raises serious questions about its suitability as a standard for moral responsibility, as well as about its consistency with standard intuitions. The former will be discussed in due course. As for the latter, ordinary discourse does not use the term "control" as Nagel does. For example, if I claim control over quenching my thirst, that would be understood as asserting the power to drink some nearby water or not--even though water flows through my tap thanks to the workers who maintain the pumps, sufficient annual rainfall, and so on. To lack control would be understood as some kind of here-and-now physical incapacity to quench my thirst--such as paralysis due to a blow to the head or a burst pipe upstream and no other beverages in the house. Similarly, toward the end of the NFL season, a team is said to "control its own destiny" if winning its own games is sufficient to secure a spot in the playoffs, regardless of the outcomes of games played by other teams. Yet obviously whether a team wins or loses its own games will depend on the performance of the opposing team. So Michael Moore is correct in his blunt observation that "Nagel's stringent idea of control--where to control a result is to control all factors necessary to that result, even the normally occurring factors--finds no resonance in the ordinary notion of control, nor in the ordinary notion of moral assessment."
In light of these doubts about the very foundations of the problem of moral luck, a fresh examination of the nature of moral judgment, of human agency, and of moral responsibility is in order.
 Nagel's denial of the utility of theoretical inquiry stems (at least in part) from his treatment of the control condition as a mysterious, unjustified intuition (1993, p. 58). In View from Nowhere, he plainly states that "we hold ourselves and others morally responsible for at least some actions," even though "we cannot give an account of what would have to be true to justify such judgments" (1986, p. 120).
 Nagel 1993, p. 59. This criticism has been developed in Latus 2003, pp. 465-6 and 2000, p. 167, note 5. Whether the causally-determined events would diminish or eliminate moral responsibility would depend on the nature and extent of their influence over the person's actions.
 From the preliminary research I've done, I'm doubtful of claims of purely psychological incapacity. For example, while long-time abusers of alcohol are often said to lack control over their drinking, psychological studies show that they can and do control their own drinking, when provided with incentives to do so (Fingarette 1989).
Humans, global warming vindicated as mammoth killers
By David from Truth, Justice, and the American Way,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The global extinction of megafauna –giant mammals such as mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, and giant sloths has been one of the great mysteries of paleontology. The classical suspects have been global warming (the end of the Ice Age) and over-hunting by humans. These causes are suspect as complete explanations for a variety of reasons, such as evidence that humans have been hunting mammoths as early as 1.8 million years ago, and the mid-Pliocene global warming that failed to cause a mass extinction.
Newly uncovered evidence offers a radical new theory – meteorites. Magnetic metal particles have been discovered in mammoth dusks, with compositions and impact patterns that clearly indicate un-earthly origins. There are no recorded instances of a human being killed by a meteor, so the discovery of meteor particles in at least eight animals from different time periods suggests repeated, devastating strikes. The scientists also found a black layer in the sediment, which may be “the charcoal deposited by wildfires that swept the continent after the space object smashed into the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Most people believe that nature operates by slow, gradual changes, which drive the extinction and formation of species. Yet the new evidence supports the view that evolution substantially operates by regular cataclysmic events. Furthermore, nature is not only well-adapted to catastrophe, but relies on crises to weed out fragile species which are over-adapted for specific environments – for example, the fangs of the saber-toothed cat, or the dietary requirements of panda bears.
A big problem with Christmas is that those of us who have no reason to celebrate it have to spend a month between Thanksgiving and New Year's dealing with Christmas at work. Christmas is the only religious holiday that everyone has to stop working for. It's the only religious event that offices have parties to celebrate. These practices alienate non-Christians.
This is classic multiculturalist thinking. The holiday celebrated by the majority excludes the minority -- it's inegalitarian! It has to go! With this sententious, victim-centric nagging coming from the left, is it any wonder people are turning to religion to get away from it?
She refutes arguments she hears in favor of Christmas, the first one being:
"Christmas is not a religious holiday."
The only people who think Christmas is not religious are the Christians. Everyone else thinks, "This is not my holiday." In fact, only a Christian would feel enough authority over the holiday to declare that it is not Christian.
Objectivists would agree with those Christians who say Christmas is not a religious holiday. In essence, Christmas is antithetical to the religious spirit. Christmas is a celebration of values and joy on earth. People equate Christmas with happiness, not misery. People say "Merry Christmas," not "Deny thyself and suffer as Christ did."
Christmas originated when the early Christians cleverly co-opted the Roman Saturnalia, a popular holiday at the winter equinox. In a brilliant marketing move, the Christians decided December 25 was when their God was born. For most of history Christmas was not the most important Christian holiday, Easter was. Christ's death and resurrection is more important to the Christian myth than his birth.
All the stuff of Christmas -- the tree, the lights, Santa Claus -- are either of pagan origin or come from capitalist merchants trying to make a buck. As Leonard Peikoff writes,
Even after the Christians stole Christmas, they were ambivalent about it. The holiday was inherently a pro-life festival of earthly renewal, but the Christians preached renunciation, sacrifice, and concern for the next world, not this one. As Cotton Mather, an 18th-century clergyman, put it: "Can you in your consciences think that our Holy Savior is honored by mirth? . . . Shall it be said that at the birth of our Savior . . . we take time . . . to do actions that have much more of hell than of heaven in them?"
Then came the major developments of 19th-century capitalism...
For the first time, the giving of gifts became a major feature of Christmas. Early Christians denounced gift-giving as a Roman practice, and Puritans called it diabolical. But Americans were not to be deterred. Thanks to capitalism, there was enough wealth to make gifts possible, a great productive apparatus to advertise them and make them available cheaply, and a country so content that men wanted to reach out to their friends and express their enjoyment of life. The whole country took with glee to giving gifts on an unprecedented scale.
Liberals worried about "diversity" should not get hung up on the religious connection to Christmas. The connection is vestigial and non-essential, like the mentions of God in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
If it helps, let them think of Christmas as Pretty Lightbulb Day. The gay lights we perceive through our senses are at least reality, unlike the mythical birth of a man who was supposed to be the son of a God for whom there is no evidence.
By softwareNerd from Software Nerd,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Recently, the U.S. government announced a 5-year "freeze" in sub-prime ARM mortgage rates. This is not a law. Ostensibly it is a voluntary decision of various private companies, with the government bringing the parties together. Whether government pressure was involved, I leave mostly to your imagination. [See, ARI's Press release] However, one way to guess, is to understand the terms of the deal, and to judge if it appears like a sound business decision.
Before going on to the details, it's important to point out two things. First, a deal like this would be legitimate if it were truly voluntary. Second, many firms had been calling for an industry-wide standard, voluntary compromise framework. The devil is in the details, though.
Legitimate if Voluntary: Some forum discussions have pointed out that giving poor borrowers a break penalizes the more reasonable borrowers. This is true. However, if the lenders make voluntary accommodations with borrowers, it would be perfectly legitimate. If this announcement was fully voluntary, one would not ask the government to stop it, even if it meant that there would be some consequences that would negatively affect others (e.g. by keeping prices higher than otherwise).
Was it Voluntary? The American Securitization Forum represents many companies in this business. They had previously been calling for industry-wide standards. They wanted standards to deal with the abnormally large number of sub-prime mortgages that will reset in the next two years. Servicers are allowed to act as agents for the investors. They may make accommodations with borrowers. However, they wanted to come to some industry-wide agreement on what types of accommodations would be reasonable. Part of the motivation is that, having such a agreement would reduce the risk that lenders would start suing their agents, either for being too lenient with borrowers, or for being too strict. [For more on mortgage securitization, see my earlier post.]
So, the companies involved in this business have been contemplating a standard. The government's role has been to push them toward a final framework, and -- I suspect -- to ensure that the framework is more lenient on the borrowers than it otherwise might have been.
The Framework: The new framework relates only to sub-prime loans. It is for borrowers who did not have great credit to start out. Either, their credit score was not in the top ("prime") range, or they could not document their income. Also, the framework only relates to adjustable rate mortages (ARMs) with current low "teaser" rates rising to a higher rate in the next two years or so.
Three segments: Broadly, the new framework classifies sub-prime borrowers with ARMs into three segments:
Good borrowers: Those who can afford to refinance or to pay the higher rate [e.g. they have enough equity in their homes, or their credit scores have improved since the time they took out their mortgage]
Bad Borrowers: Those who cannot afford to pay even the introductory rate [e.g., people who are already delinquent, even though they're on the low teaser rate]
Those in the "middle" ("Segment 2"): they've paid so far, but may not be able to pay the higher rate
The announcement does not apply to the "good" and "bad" groups. The "good" group will be expected to refinance of pay the higher rate, as agreed. The "bad" group will face regular servicing procedures: either foreclose, or an individual deal; no standards have been laid down. The group in the middle is large, estimated to be as high as 1.8 million borrowers!
Criteria: The group "in the middle" is identified as follows.
They have been able to pay their low teaser rates, thus far
They have credit scores of 660 and below,
Their credit has not improved much since they took out their mortgage.
They owe a large amount, relative to the value of their homes (they have equity of 3% or less), making refinancing difficult, and making it less likely for foreclosure to be profitable to the lender
So far, so good. As such, these are good enough criteria to start to identify borrowers whose ability to pay is in doubt. The next question is: what should be done about this segment?
The solution for "Segment 2": The framework says that these doubtful borrowers will see a freeze in their rates for 5 years. Servicers will not investigate each loan individually. Instead, the servicers will assume that these people, as a group, cannot afford to pay the previously-agreed higher rate. The servicers will freeze their rates at the teaser rate for 5 years. Anyone who is paying "interest only" will start paying principal as well; but, the interest component will remain unchanged.
A drink to the alcoholic: For some borrowers, this "solution" is like giving a drink to an alcoholic, or five more years of liquor!Yes, there will be some borrowers who will be shocked into reality, who will wake up and start to prepare for the day 5 years down the line when their payments go up.
However, it's my guess that many risky borrowers, will simply be in the same position 5 years from now. Some will be shocked out of their ignorance, many will not. The ones who were actually evading the fact that they could not pay, probably won't change.
I think a better solution would have been to start turning the screws. For instance, instead of a freeze, the borrowers could have been asked to pay rates that increased slowly, instead of at a single jump. Rates could increase over the next five years, reaching the agreed-upon rate in the sixth year. Or, freeze the rate, but insist that they pay something toward principal each year, increasing every year. (Those who are on interest-only could have had a slightly modified version.)
Five years of equity-building: The lenders do hope that home prices will stabilize in the next few years, and that 5 years from now, home prices would have risen. Hypothetically, suppose home prices go down 10% in the next year, then stay stagnant for a year, and then rise at 2%, 3% and 5% for the next 3 years. In the fifth year, the average home will end up 5% higher than today. With that, the average borrower will be in a slightly better position to refinance; also, foreclosure will be less of a loss for the lenders. Many of these borrowers had been counting on rising home-prices. So, from that perspective, it makes sense to wait out some period when one can reasonably expect some appreciation.
Inflation: Recently, there have been increasing fear of inflation. If the government ramps up inflation ever so slightly -- say by 1% or 2% a year -- the 5 year scenario will appear even "better". The 5% appreciation will end up closer to 12%. (Of course, this acts as a tax to everyone else in the economy.) Since the Fed is in the beginning of an "easing", slightly higher inflation expectations seem reasonable (even if one does not like it). So, keeping this in mind, it actually does make sense for lenders to wait things out a bit.
In summary: Servicing companies do have the authority to accommodate bad borrowers. In the current situation, it seems reasonable for lenders to clamp down on the truly bad borrowers, to let the good ones pay, but to tide over the next few years with the doubtful ones in the middle. I think a reasonable lender would have tried to separate the wheat from the chaff using a plan that ramped up rates slowly, or something similar. It is my guess that the government put some pressure on them to be more lenient in that regard. However, the framework is probably not way off from what the industry might have reached on its own.
However, just as a few pennies in gas tax is objectionable, having the government push lenders a toward a framework that is not what they would have come to voluntarily is also objectionable. The good guys do end up paying. Also, on the housing front, this framework is probably just one of many things the government will do. I've already mentioned increased inflation. Also, the Federal Housing Administration is touting some new loans for people with poor credit, and obviously there's a tax-payer funded subsidy hidden in there. Also, for tax-year 2007, a new law allows sub-prime folks who pay mortgage insurance (PMI) to deduct it, while they were not able to do so before. If the housing slow down drags on, Congress will likely pass more such laws. It is relief with a thousand band-aids for sub-prime borrowers, death by a thousand cuts for others.
Legal status: There is one more thing to add about the legal status of this new framework. Even though it is not a law, it does carry legal weight. Most servicing contracts allow a servicer to make accommodations with bad borrowers, as long as these are reasonable and customary. Suppose some Japanese holder of US mortgages tries to sue, this new framework basically details new rules that are now "customary". The framework says explicitly: "...upon adoption ... by a substantial number of loan servicers... the fast track ... will demonstrably constitute standard and customary servicing procedures... " (page 10 of the framework). As a non-lawyer I wonder how valid that is: could the Japanese third party expect the standards that were in place when he did the deal and reasonable changes to those, or can he be deemed to have agreed to any new standard as long as it is customary? As for "reasonable", it will be interesting to see what happens if someone sues. The servicers can be assured that the government will declare that they are being reasonable.
P.S.: Oh yes, if you happen to be a sub-prime ARM borrower, with a loan resetting in 2008/2009, do the opposite of what you did when you took out your loan. Where you tried to appear credit-worthy then, try to appear unworthy now. Make sure not to be delinquent. However, do not pay more principal. Do that and a "brother's keeper" will give you a break. [This last bit is tongue-in-cheek.]
The biggest problem with most history classes is that they are simply boring (as anyone who took history in high school can attest). Out of those that manage to be engaging or at least entertaining, the biggest problem is that you, the student, don't retain the material you have learned: you may remember a few individual facts, but not the material as a sum. These classes are little better than storytime.
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I'm thrilled with Scott's courses. They are what I have been seeking ever since high school: a way not just to hear about history from someone else who knows it, but to learn it for myself. [bold added]
There's more, and I have to say that I fully agree with this review.
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This post contains Part 3 ("Three Attempted Responses") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
Three Attempted Responses
If true, Nagel's conclusion--that most ordinary claims of moral responsibility cannot survive the consistent application of the principle that moral responsibility requires control--would be a bitter pill to swallow. Accepting it would spell the end of ethics as a practical discipline. If people aren't responsible for their actions and characters, the task of differentiating right from wrong and virtue from vice would be an intellectual exercise without further purpose. Consequently, most philosophers commenting on the problem of moral luck attempt to retain our practices of moral judgment in some form by developing alternative accounts of the relationship of morality and luck. That has proven more difficult than expected, in that neither the attempt to exclude luck from morality nor the attempt to include luck in morality seems to produce a plausible general theory of moral responsibility. Both approaches seem to work well when applied to some cases, then lapse into absurdity in others.
The standard strategy for eliminating the influence of luck in moral judgments is simple: remove any and all luck-based differences from moral judgments and punishments, so that cases differing only in matters of luck are judged and punished equally. The resulting moral equivalence is undoubtedly plausible in cases of attempted murder foiled after the attack, as when the rapidly exsanguinating victim of an assault is rescued from death by a neighbor who happens to be a trauma surgeon stopping by to return a borrowed garden hose at that very moment. Contrary to current legal practice, the fortuitous rescue of the victim doesn't seem to be legitimate grounds on which to weaken our moral condemnation of the violent act or its perpetrator, nor lessen his punishment. Similarly, the judge who would accept a bribe if offered seems worthy of equal condemnation (even if not equal punishment) as the judge who did accept such a bribe when offered. However plausible those analyses, the attempt to directly remove the influence of luck from all moral judgments yields the implausible conclusion that people with radically different moral records and moral characters should be blamed equally via a series of cases differing only in luck. Here's how:
Step 1: Eliminate differences in moral judgments due to resultant moral luck. Imagine that two people, Adam and Bonnie, voluntarily drive themselves home from a party, even though seriously impaired by alcohol. At various times, both drivers swerve into oncoming traffic, run red lights, and drive erratically--but only Adam strikes and kills a pedestrian. Since the presence of the pedestrian at the intersection was not in Adam's control, the death is a matter of bad luck for Adam. To eliminate the effect of luck, Adam and Bonnie must be judged and punished equally for their drunk driving alone, since that's what they did control.
Step 2: Eliminate differences in moral judgments due to circumstantial moral luck. Imagine a third party-goer Clive, who intends to drink and drive exactly like Adam and Bonnie, but who stumbles on a hidden rock while walking to his car, bumps his head, and passes out in the bushes. Since Clive's intended drunk driving was prevented by the mere accident of an ill-placed rock, Adam, Bonnie, and Clive should be blamed and punished equally, based on their equal intention to drive drunk. Next, imagine David: he would have drunk to excess and driven home but was precluded from doing so solely by his work schedule. Perhaps he even attempted to switch shifts with his fellow workers but found no takers. Since David's drinking and driving was precluded by the mere accident of his work schedule, he should be blamed and punished equal with Adam, Bonnie, and Clive based on a willingness to drive drunk. The only differences between them are the product of luck, so to judge them differently would be unjust.
Step 3: Eliminate differences in moral judgment due to constitutive moral luck. Imagine that Ernie would have driven home drunk from the party, had his best friend not been killed by drunk driver last year. Instead, he drinks club soda and lime then drives himself home safely. Ernie might seem to be a morally better person than the others since he refuses to drive drunk. Yet he would not always drive sober if his friend hadn't been killed--and that experience was purely a matter of luck. We can even imagine that Adam, Bonnie, Clive, and David would not drive drunk if something similar happened to them. Consequently, Ernie should be judged and blamed equal to Adam, Bonnie, Clive, and David.
In sum, the attempt to purge luck from moral judgments would require declaring Adam, Bonnie, Clive, David, and Ernie morally equivalent and treating them equally--despite the often-vast differences in the harms caused, the actions taken, the intentions formed, and the characters enacted by each person. Ultimately, the most vicious criminals might need to be judged morally equal to the most virtuous saints, on the grounds that some chain of purely luck-based differences connects them, just as Adam is connected to Ernie. Here, luck in the circumstances that shape a person's basic character is of particular concern. After all, the fiery abolitionist who helped slaves escape north to freedom in the 1850s might have defended and practiced brutal forms of slavery if unlucky enough to have been raised in a slaveholding southern family. And the 20-year-old thug who shoots a frightened bystander in a robbery might have been quietly studying in his college dorm if his parents had been more concerned with his education than with their next fix. If those counterfactuals are true, then the abolitionist must be judged the same as the slaveholder and the thug the same as the student in order to eliminate the effects of luck from our moral judgments. Even if those counterfactuals are merely probable or possible, then to praise one person and condemn the other seems to make the moral judgment unfairly dependent on luck. Yet equalizing the moral judgments to eliminate the effect of luck also seems deeply unfair, if not absurd.
In addition, the equalization of judgments renders the proper judgments and deserts of persons totally mysterious. Does justice demand excusing everyone on the grounds that they might have driven sober with Ernie's good luck or blaming everyone on the grounds that they might have killed a pedestrian with Adam's bad luck? Absent some luck-free baseline for moral judgments, any answer seems arbitrary.
Philosophers seeking to exclude luck from moral judgments deny that Ernie is the moral equal of Adam, however. They often accept that Adam, Bonnie, Clive, and David should be judged and punished equally given their equal moral character, meaning based on the counterfactual claim that all would have acted the same under the same conditions. The same cannot be said of Ernie, however. On this approach, moral judgments are not made of a person's luck-infected choices, actions, or outcomes; instead, only a person's character is subject to moral judgment. So then what is said of the problem of constitutive moral luck, i.e., of luck in moral character itself? Rescher offers the standard reply, arguing that very concept of constitutive moral luck is logically incoherent because a person must be someone in particular in order to be subject to luck. He claims that "one cannot meaningfully be said to be lucky in regard to who one is, but only with respect to what happens to one." That's why it's not sensible, for example, to ask what kind of person you'd be if you were unlucky enough to be born to starving Somali refugees, medieval Germanic peasants, or abusive drug-addicted celebrities. In such cases, you wouldn't exist at all; someone else would.
This attempt to avoid moral luck is subject to serious objections. Personal identity may well entail that some aspects of a person's character are essential to him, such that those aspects cannot be coherently attributed to luck. Yet the elimination of all luck in character would require the far stronger thesis that any and all aspects of a person's character are essential to his identity. Surprisingly, Rescher seems to endorse that strong view in describing "one's inclinations, disposition, and character," whether within one's control or not, as "a crucial part of what constitutes oneself as such"--without any qualification or distinction between essential and non-essential traits. That view of personal identity would render even the most minor changes to a person's character impossible, meaning that Ernie would be a different person before and after his friend's accident. In fact, such inessential changes are not only routine but also often inspired, influenced, or facilitated by accidental and unexpected external forces, i.e., by luck.
Worrisomely, the alternative strategy of abandoning the control condition so as to allow some role for luck in moral judgments is no more appealing in its general results. That approach would allow us to praise and blame a person based on what he actually does, causes, and is like--even when influenced by luck. So Adam should be blamed more severely than Bonnie because he caused more damage, while Bonnie should be blamed more severely than Clive and David because she acted wrongly while they merely intended and hoped (respectively) to do so. Far less plausibly, however, two equally vicious people with identical malicious plans executed in exactly the same way would be judged differently based on the unforeseeable intervention of random outside forces, like whether a bird flew into the path of the bullet intended to kill or whether the trauma surgeon attempted to return his neighbor's garden hose at just the right moment. That seems manifestly unjust, since the differences between the lucky and the unlucky wrongdoer had nothing to do with anything about them. Their choices, actions, and characters are the same, yet they are blamed unequally. As we shall see, that approach would frustrate the basic purpose of moral judgment.
Moreover, the most plausible substitutes for the control condition seem unable to adequately account for our ordinary judgments of responsibility. Presumably, a person's moral responsibility must be limited to that which he causes; otherwise, car salesmen leading quiet lives in upstate New York might be blamed for a shortage of tea in remote villages in China. That causal condition isn't sufficient, however, as people also shouldn't be held responsible for the myriad far-flung, improbable, and unforeseeable effects of their actions. A person shouldn't be blamed for telling the time to a stranger at the mall, for example, even if that knowledge helps the stranger kidnap a child. Such false claims of responsibility could be excluded by requiring the outcome to be foreseen or at least reasonably foreseeable. Yet that wouldn't preclude holding a person responsible for some event he foresees and causes but cannot act to prevent. So if clever terrorists kidnap Jack and securely rig him to a bomb set to explode after his heart beats a few hundred times, he causes and foresees the explosion, yet he is not properly blamed for it, most plausibly because he cannot control the beating of his heart. So notwithstanding the puzzling cases of moral luck, control does seem somehow necessary to moral responsibility, as Nagel claims.
For some philosophers, the failure of the attempt to eliminate luck from moral judgment shows that moral luck is inescapable. Yet as we've seen, the attempt to incorporate luck into moral judgments by rejecting the control condition creates significant problems for a general theory of moral responsibility, just as does the attempt to exclude luck from moral judgments by strictly applying the control condition. Nagel attempts a third approach: the problem of moral luck is the product of an irreconcilable conflict between the subjective and the objective perspectives on persons. He claims that we initially think of ourselves and others from a subjective (or first-person) perspective, i.e., as agents in control of and responsible for our own actions. Yet as we investigate the external forces that influence a person's choices, actions, and character, we are forced to assume the objective (or third-person) perspective according to which "actions are events and people things." Then we see the morally responsible agent as "merely... a bit of the world," such that "the alternatives that he may think of as available to him are... just alternative courses that the world might have taken." So ultimately, Nagel claims, "nothing remains which can be ascribed to the responsible self, and we are left with nothing but a portion of the larger sequence of events, which can be deplored or celebrated, but not blamed or praised." Nonetheless, we cannot abandon our original understanding of ourselves and others as agents, not "even when we have seen that we are not responsible for our own existence, or our nature, or the choices we have to make." Consequently, control still seems necessary for moral responsibility, even though the strict application of the control condition in the proposed cases of moral luck ultimately undermines all our standard attributions of moral responsibility. So for Nagel, the problem of moral luck is ultimately insoluble. Like other related problems of autonomy and responsibility, it has "no available solution."
This view of the origin of the problem of moral luck raises perhaps more troubling questions than the already-surveyed attempts to forbid or permit some role for luck in moral judgments. Nagel regards the subjective and objective perspectives on human agency as equally compelling and equally necessary--yet hopelessly contradictory. In particular, the identification of ethical values requires the assumption of an objective perspective, yet that very perspective precludes regarding ourselves and others as morally responsible agents. The implications of Nagel's willing acceptance of such major philosophic contradictions as beyond our power to resolve are disturbing, to say the least. Presumably, we are unable to rationally determine truth about the nature of human agency and responsibility either because humans are systematically deceived about our place in the natural world or because reality itself is contradictory. Either way, rational philosophy would be in serious peril, if even possible. In fact, however, the source of the Nagel's irresolvable conflict is probably more mundane: although Nagel repeatedly denies that his arguments presuppose any form of determinism, that is precisely what the objective perspective seems to demand. However, neither Nagel's understanding of moral luck as rooted in conflicting perspectives nor his seeming determinism is necessary to feel the force of his cases of moral luck; few (if any) other philosophers accept his account of the problem's origins.
 This general approach is found in Richards 1993; Thomson 1993; and Rescher 1993. It's often described as "the epistemic solution" because differential judgments are explained as the product of differences in others' knowledge of the agent's true character.
 The following set of examples is drawn from Greco 2006, pp. 18-20. Greco denies the moral equivalence of the cases by a distinction between "agent record" and "agent worth" (p. 23). As we shall see with Rescher, that strategy reduces all problems of moral luck to constitutive moral luck. Other versions of this step-wise reductio are found in Moore 1994, pp. 271-80 and Latus 2000, pp. 154-8.
 Kessler embraces that view in part, arguing that mildly reckless driving could be justly punished the same as manslaughter and extremely reckless driving the same as murder (1994, p. 2227).
 The idea that a person's moral character and record substantially depends on luck in basic circumstances is commonplace, as expressed in the phrase, "There but for the grace of God go I."
 Further criticisms can be found in Latus 2003, pp. 470-2 and 2000, pp. 158-60.
 Moore, for example, unconvincingly appeals to people's standard emotional responses to justify such differential judgments (1994, pp. 267-70).
 Even strict liability requires the liable party to be causally connected to the harm: if I fall off a ladder made by Bob's Ladder Company, I can't sue Joe's Ladder Company. General discussions of the role of causation in legal liability are found in Morris, ed. 1961, pp. 282-342 and Honore 2005. Notable advocates of causation-based approaches to moral responsibility include Moore 1994, pp. 254-5 and Feinberg 1970, pp. 195, 207-11. Sartorio (2004) criticizes such approaches.
 Honore observes that "if every causally relevant condition... is treated as grounding responsibility for the outcomes to which it is causally relevant[,] the extent of legal responsibility will extend almost indefinitely" (2005, sec. 3.2). Feinberg argues that causation is necessary but not sufficient for moral responsibility (1970, p. 195). Ripstein claims that no principled line can be drawn between what an agent causes and what he's responsible for (1994, p. 6).
 In the influential case on tort law, "Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company," the dispute between the majority and dissenting opinions hinged on the foreseeability of the explosion and injury caused by the attempt of two train guards to help a passenger on the train. The passenger was carrying well-concealed fireworks that fell on the tracks and exploded, thereby injuring a bystander (Appeals Court of New York 1961). Zimmerman argues that negligence requires not just foreseeability, but actual foresight at some point in the past (1986, pp. 206-10).
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
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By Edward Cline from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Just when one thinks that news of the world could not become more surreal, inane, and scary, the world ups the ante.
On December 3, the National Intelligence Council, in a transparent political bid to discredit President Bush’s Iran policy (not that he would need any help in discrediting it, since to him Iran is no longer a part of the “Axis of Evil,” but a potential “partner in peace” that just needs a good tongue-lashing and a spell of standing in the corner until it mends its ways), released its National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. Briefly, it alleged that Iran stopped pursuing the development of nuclear bomb material in 2003. It makes the allegation with a mixture of low, moderate, and high confidences.
Confidence is a one-hundred percent state of mind based on rock-solid evidence. Anything less than that is uncertainty. Which means that all sixteen of these billion-dollar funded intelligence agencies either do not know what Iran is really doing in the way of developing a nuclear weapon, or prefer to “defuse” concern about Iran and treat the whole issue as though Peru was about to out-produce the U.S in the production of Saturn cars and perhaps upset the trade balance between the two nations. Thus the laughable measures of low, moderate and high confidences, clothed in the gibberish of bureaucratese.
Under “Key Judgments” in the document is this knee-slapper: “We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” That kind of language dominates the entire document.
Imagine a cop spotting a human figure “doing something” over the skylight of a 7-11 store at 3:00 a.m. but having only “moderate confidence” that the figure intends to break into the store. The NIC apparently places little or no confidence in all the satellite photos of constant activity around Iran’s underground nuclear labs, Israeli and European intelligence, confirmed knowledge of Russia’s and North Korea’s complicity in building nuclear facilities in Iran, and so on.
The report could have been vetted and signed off by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, and was actually and principally written by three State Department bureaucrats who, according to an article in American Thinker by Ed Lasky (“The suspect provenance of the NIE report,” December 5), and quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial of the same date, wrote that they “favor endless rounds of negotiations and ‘diplomacy’ and oppose confrontation.” These three officials, Lasky said, according to the WSJ, “have ‘reputations as hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” And none of these bureaucrats has any expertise on Iran.
Well, they are State Department functionaries who traditionally believe that reality is malleable and so feel justified in putting their venomous hatred of Bush ahead of national security. They are loons. Or, as Daniel Pipes, who called the NIE a “shoddy, politicized, outrageous parody of a piece of propaganda,” concluded on his site on December 13:
“Thus have short-sighted, small-minded, blatantly partisan intelligence bureaucrats, trying to hide unpleasant realities, helped engineer their own nightmare.”
The Daily Mail (London) on December 12, carried this tidbit of lunacy. Pope Benedict XVI, head of a religion that propagates belief, without evidence, in the existence of a Supreme Ghost, recently chastised environmentalists on the occasion of “World Peace Day” for valuing plants and animals and Mother Earth higher than human lives and for accusing man of ruining the Earth by playing footloose with the evidence of the “crime.” His statement may be evidence of a clinging vestige of respect in the Vatican for reason and reality; or, it may be the complaint of a man who sees a new religion springing up that would compete with his own. Go figure.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wishes to add salt to the things it wants to police consumption of by Americans. “FDA officials say they view excess salt in the diet as a serious public health issue, but the agency is keeping its options open,” reports a November 29 Los Angeles Times article, “FDA contemplating crackdown on salt.” Its “options” are just various modes of force against the food industry.
As usual, the bureaucrats look to Europe for precedents. “Regulators in other industrialized countries already have begun grappling with the problem,” says the Times article. “In Finland, government and industry have collaborated to bring about a 40% decrease in sodium consumption since the late 1970’s, according to the AMA. In the United Kingdom, government regulators set voluntary sodium reduction targets for about 70 kinds of processed foods.” “Voluntary collaboration”? Or else?
Underneath all the FDA press release chatter about “public health” is the whispered message to Americans: “We own you. Collaborate, or else. You can make this easy on yourself, or hard….”
Speaking of Europe, The Scotsman on December 12 ran this startling story about the resurgence of Nazism in Germany, “Children caught kissing face jail.”
“Germany is poised to bring in a draconian law tomorrow that will effectively outlaw kissing and cuddling between children under 17 in public places….Broadly speaking, the law is aimed at the 14-17 age group, but some subclauses have far-reaching consequences. Parents who put a picture of their naked youngster in a bath or a paddling pool on the internet, for example, will leave themselves open to charges of disseminating child pornography.
“But it is the attempt to regulate – in essence – the raging hormones of teenagers that strike many as bizarre and unworkable. Under the law, to go before the Bundestag tomorrow, a teenage boy up to the age of 17 who is caught ‘fondling or stroking the chest’ of someone younger will be liable to prosecution – regardless of consent.”
Since when did any legislation that was “bizarre and unworkable” ever give pause for thought in those who wish to police and regulate an individual’s thinking and actions? The only pause such statists ever have is dramatized in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in the question asked by Wesley Mouch before he and his fellow dictators pick a date for the “Moratorium on Brains”: “But can we get away with it?”
In an infrequent and out-of-character instance, Europe for once looked to the U.S. for the precedent. “Critics say Germany has gone more than two steps beyond European Union and United Nations’ guidelines in introducing the law, claiming it is copied from the United States. A 15-year-old girl in Pittsburgh faces a long jail term on a charge of distributing child pornography after sending nude pictures of herself over the internet to a friend.”
Regardless of what one thinks of the appropriateness of the girl’s actions, one must ask: How could the authorities have known about the pictures unless the internet police were monitoring the girl’s or someone else’s computer, or unless some “moral uplift’ mentality ratted on her? Internet surveillance by the authorities has either progressed beyond what any government official will admit, or Americans are morphing into “good Germans.”
Speaking of children who commit “crimes” and of those who need to be “protected” against them, the Los Angeles Times also ran a story on December 4, “States Sue R.J. Reynolds Over Camel Ads.”
“Camel ads coupled with illustrations promoting rock music in Rolling Stone magazine violate the tobacco industry’s nine-year-old promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes, prosecutors in various states said Tuesday.
“Attorneys general in at least eight states planned to file lawsuits against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. starting Tuesday about the advertising for Camel cigarettes in the November edition of Rolling Stone, officials said….’Their latest nine-page advertising spread in Rolling Stone, filled with cartoons, flies in the face of their pledge to halt all tobacco marketing to children,’ Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a news release….”
“’They agreed not to do these kinds of things ever since Joe Camel,’ Brown said.” [California Attorney General Jerry Brown]. “’We have to call them to task.’”
Running ads that allegedly pitch smoking to children, by the terms of those who claim to own our bodies and lives, is a “crime” that must be punished, just as pitching unregulated Sugar Pops or Captain Crunch to children is a “crime.” In this instance, the cartoons in question were not pitching cigarettes, but popular music. The cartoons were not designed or supplied by R.J. Reynolds, but by the magazine’s designers and cartoonists.
“David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds…insisted that the Camel ads contained no cartoons and that the ad campaign is aimed at adults. While the company was surprised and concerned by Rolling Stone’s illustrations, R.J. Reynolds bore no responsibility for it, he said.
“’Had we been aware of the graphics prepared by Rolling Stone, we would not have advertised adjacent to the gatefold,’ he said.”
And that is an instance of not only groveling before his looting masters, and letting the statists get away with charging the company with guilt by mere association, but of surrendering again the company’s (and the magazine’s) freedom of speech.
“Other states are reviewing the matter and could join the effort [to sue R.J. Reynolds], said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Corbett. If every state involved in the 1998 settlement [by which the tobacco industry performs a multi-billion dollar penance for existing] files suit, the fines [of $100 per magazine distributed within their borders, as well as $100 per hit on the related R.J. Reynolds Website] could exceed $100 million, he said.”
Does the government wish to regulate the internet? How could one doubt it? “The lawsuits also seek removal of the ad campaign images from all Web sites and promotions, including the packaging of a related music CD that was mailed out in some states, and money from R.J. Reynolds for anti-smoking ads.”
R.J. Reynolds subsequently proved its lack of courage by blocking access to its website.
Again, speaking of children, ABC News of Australia posted this story on its site on December 10, “Put carbon tax on babies: academic.” Read: Loon.
“While carbon trading will no doubt play a key role in curbing emissions, environmental scientists say the politically sensitive issue of population growth also needs to be given more consideration in the climate change debate.
“Now a radical proposal to reduce population growth has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia – a carbon tax on babies….Barry Walters, an associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia, is making that case.
“Dr. Walters says every family choosing to have more than a defined number [defined by whom?] of children should be charged a carbon tax. He goes on to argue that those purchasing condoms or undergoing sterilization procedures should be awarded carbon credits….The proposal is backed by Garry Egger, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Southern Cross University in New South Wales.”
No one could have predicted that the Kyoto Protocols would sire such a bastard son: state control of populations.
“…[W]e’re ignoring the fact that the downside [to having children]…is the pollution and the carbon footprint that’s created by increasing the population,” said Egger.
“Dr. Egger says two people per couple would be a reasonable ‘tax-free’ number, because it represents replacement value.’” To whom? Some future Director of the Department of Births and Deaths?
Another loon, Dr. Jack Pezzey, senior fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, also endorses the proposal.
“Dr. Pezzey says there seems to be a bit of a taboo on talking about population control. ‘If you raise issues of controlling population growth, the accusation is very rapidly made of being an eco-fascist or a racist.’”
Dr. Pezzey, of course, doesn’t want to be accused of being that. He wants to “get away with it” without being correctly identified. Nevertheless, the accusations would be justified. Scratch a wannabe regulator, and you’ll find a fascist. Or even a racist. But definitely someone who claims to own you, and advocates either your “voluntary collaboration” to achieve the statist goal of reducing CO2 emissions by not having children, or a penalty for committing a ‘crime” against the earth by having them.
Australians do not have a monopoly on Mother Earth’s religious loons, however. Americans and Brits have more than an ample share of them. In a December 10th Los Angeles Times article, “Greenness is next to godliness,” writer Gregory Rodriguez reports that,
“Climate change has even entered the realm of sexual politics. Last month, a female Swedish scientist found that ‘women cause considerably fewer carbon dioxide emissions than men, and thus considerably less climate change.’ A green think tank in London has urged British couples to think of the environmental consequences of having more than two children. It released a paper showing that if couples had two children instead of three, ‘they could cut their family’s carbon dioxide output the equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.’
“Similarly, last month a London tabloid featured a 35-year-old environmentalist who asked to be sterilized so she could contribute to the effort ‘to protect the planet. Having children is selfish,’ she insisted. ‘It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet.’”
Rodriguez made this interesting observation:
“Environmentalist rhetoric…constantly reminds us of our own culpability. For that reason, environmentalism is more akin to a religious awakening than to a political ideology. Like evangelicals, environmentalists speak, in their way, of fire and brimstone. Like the preacher, the environmentalist activist demands that we give ourselves to something beyond ourselves and that we do penance for our wasteful, carbon-profligate ways. Like the Catholic Church of old, they even sell indulgences – carbon offsets.” Or what the Kyoto Protocols call “emission credits.”
Is there any doubt that the environmentalists wish to inculcate guilt in everyone for the “sin” of existing, that they hope that individuals will have themselves sterilized, or will commit suicide, and that the rest of the human race will follow suit in the name of “protecting the planet”? And that if someone doesn’t feel guilty for existing and “do the right thing,” the protectors of Mother Earth will come after him with the same fervent, murderous lunacy as was seen in the mobs in Sudan brandishing swords and calling for the death of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher arrested for allowing her students to name a stuffed animal “Mohammed”?
Speaking of anthropogenic global-warming, CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases, and what to do about them, CBS’s Katie Couric on December 11 posed this brain-taxer to ten Republican and Democratic presidential candidates: “Do you think the risks of climate change are at all overblown?”
I would have answered, “Yes, it is not only overblown, but if you’re speaking of man-caused global warming, then it is more than overblown: It is lying propaganda which you, Matt Lauer, Charles Gibson and other so-called journalists haven’t bothered to investigate or examine any further than your teleprompters. It’s a literal article of faith to you, and allows you to be sanctimonious and pose as oracles of wisdom without the risk of rebuttal.”
Every one of the candidates answered in a manner that too scarily recalled the anti-intellectual banality and ignorance of Berzelius Windrip, the 1938 presidential candidate in Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, who became a dictator. (Possibly Lewis meant the name to be a semi-alliteration for “berserk and zealous windbag.) There was not a single suggestion in their answers that any of the candidates had read opposing arguments against anthropogenic global warming, or that they were even inclined to ask themselves why anyone would think the issue “overblown.” Occasionally, one or two of them endorsed nuclear power expansion as an alternative to coal and oil, but that spark of intelligence was lost in the damp mold of meaningless rhetoric, and if any one of them wins the White House, no rekindled flame for nuclear power will result. Not a single one of them questioned the efficacy of “green technology” or the “fact” of man-caused global warming. I cannot decide which candidate most resembles Berzelius Windrip, but here are some answers to Couric’s question as transcribed on the CBS website:
• John Edwards: “It seems to me that every time we get more scientific information it indicates the problem is more severe, more serious than we thought. So, no, I don’t think it’s over-hyped….[I’d] have a national cap on carbon emissions. I’d make polluters pay, people who below the cap are still putting out carbon dioxide….” Comment: His “scientific information” obviously is coming from one side. • Fred Thompson: “There are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know the extent of this cyclical thing…I don’t know the answer to that. I can’t give you a list of specific items….” Comment: He knows nothing, and will know only what his aides tell him it’s useful to know to curry favor with the public, which he believes is tearing its hair out over global warming. A CBS/New York Times poll said it was. • Hillary Clinton: “I don’t think it’s over-hyped….We can drastically lower our use of electricity, thereby drastically lower our use of coal-powered electricity…There has to be change from the lowest level of the family and business level all the way up to the national and international level.” Comment: Her naked lust for power and forcing those drastic changes on everyone could never be “over-hyped.” • John McCain: “I have been to Greenland. I have been to the South Pole. I’ve been to the Arctic, and I know it’s real. I believe that we’ve got to go back to nuclear power. We’ve got to do alternative energy….” Comment: Well, what would be the use of “alternative energy” if we went back to nuclear power? McCain blames “special interests” for the U.S. not going nuclear and green fast enough. “It’s the utility companies and the petroleum companies and other special interests.” He has it backwards: It’s Congress and the federal government, beholden to environmental policies, that have blocked nuclear power and oil reserve development. • Barack Obama: “…I’ve put forward a very substantial proposal to get 80 percent reductions of greenhouse gases by 2050….[W]e’re going to have to charge for pollution and create a market for pollution abatement and create green technologies….” Comment: Yeah, and Berzelius Windrip promised $5,000 to every American if he was elected. The electorate drooled. The money never happened. The electorate got what it voted for. • Mitt Romney: “I think the risks of climate change are real. And that you’re seeing real climate change. And I think human activity is contributing to it….I don’t wanna have America unilaterally think it’s somehow gonna stop global warming….” Comment: He’s for nuclear power, and clean-burning coal, and other things he’d wanna see the government to oversee and regulate. • Bill Richardson: “No, if anything they’re [sic] underblown.” Comment: He would go after 50 miles per gallon, have 30 percent of electricity produced by “renewable” energy such as solar, wind, and biomass, and would penalize any entity that didn’t help reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2040. Nuclear power eluded him. • Rudy Giuliani: “There is global warming. Human beings are contributing to it. I think the best answer is energy independence. We’ve got more coal reserves in the U.S. than they have oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.” Comment: Also more offshore and Alaskan oil reserves that are off-limits because of environmentalist policies. But the manatees and caribou and tundra must remain undisturbed. There were a few sparks of rationality in Giuliani’s answer; he pointed out that 80 percent of France’s power comes from nuclear energy. • Joe Biden: “I think Al Gore has done something really quite phenomenal. He has brought us into the consciousness the reality of what is going to happen.” Comment: None on such bilious language. • Mike Huckabee: “I don’t know. I mean, the honest answer for me, scientifically, is ‘I don’t know.’ But here’s one thing I do know, that we ought to not let this become this big political football and point of argument. We all ought to agree that we live on this planet as guests.” Comment: Of God? Or of Mother Earth? Well, he doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to talk about it. He and Fred Thompson would make perfect running mates. The holy-roller preacher and the actor.
Those are the presidential candidates, every one of them a loon as clueless about global warming as Paris Hilton about checkbook registers and nearly as vacuously inarticulate. And all second-handers to whom reason and an original thought haven’t paid a visit in decades. Some of the ideas floating in their disintegrated minds are lead balloons, others are pure carbon dioxide, but all are there by consensus.
“Junius,” the pseudonymous 18th century British critic of Parliament and government corruption, wrote in the Public Advertiser in November of 1770, that, “The injustice done to an individual is sometimes of service to the public.” The individuals he was referring to were the corrupt, the venal, and the politically ambitious whose dubious characters he labored to expose.
The public would do itself a service next November by not giving any of these loons a clear mandate to own us.
I have maintained that Hillary Clinton cannot win election as President. The Democrat base supports her; the Republicans and independents do not. It's impossible to win without independent votes.
I think the Democrats are blinded to Clinton's weakness as a candidate by their hope for a return that ol' Clinton glory. They have had the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency in their minds since she ran for the Senate. They want it so bad they can taste it.
Two elections on Tuesday provide evidence of Hillary Clinton's weakness.
In Ohio, Republican Bob Latta clobbered Democrat Robin Weirauch, 57-43.
In Virginia, the score was 61-37 as Republican Rob Wittman stomped Democrat Phil Forgit, an Iraqi war veteran.
In both races, the Republican ran an ad linking the Democrat with Hillary Clinton. Ohio is a state the Democrats need to win a Presidential election.
I don't want to make too much out of two races, as the Clinton factor might have been negligible; on the other hand these elections might be a demonstration of Hillary Clinton's unpopularity. We'll see.
I suspect we're heading toward the biggest landslide since 1984 when Reagan demolished Mondale. I don't take any satisfaction in this. I fear the beneficiary will be Romney or McCain -- meaning more big government. Either man might push Congress to send him a bill mandating that young people serve the government for two years of their life in some "volunteer" program.
(And another thought. Given how unhinged the Democrats have been during the Bush Presidency, what will they be like if they lose again in 2008?)
The issue is the prosecution of a black high school student accused of stomping on an unconscious white student -- and the lack of criminal prosecution of white students who hung a noose on a tree, who were disciplined by the school.
Liberals' skills at moral equivalence have been so finely honed during the long years of the Cold War that they have turned this into a case of "unequal treatment," based on race -- as if putting a noose on a tree is equivalent to stomping somebody who is unconscious. [bold added]
Sowell's piece explores the morally outrageous behavior of the corrupt civil rights establishment as well as some some retaliatory thuggishness by some white supremacists, and correctly concludes, "The last thing the South needs is a return to lynch-mob justice, whatever the color of whoever is promoting it."
At the risk of gilding the lily, let me add that "mob justice" is a contradiction in terms.
As if that festival of moral equivalence and contempt for rule of law weren't enough, it would appear that its sub-themes of censorship and tolerance for violent behavior by black youths have been absorbed by the culture and applied. Not to condone race-baiting, but every noose -- and every off-hand remark about a noose -- it seems, gets a government inquiry and national headlines whether warranted or not.
In the meantime, it seems that children of about the same age as those in Jena, Louisiana, have picked up on the implicit message that beating white people up is not really such a big deal. Combine this message with the fashionable notion that whites have it coming to them for past injustices by (other) whites against (other) blacks and almost anyone can see where this was heading.
Twice it appears, black youths in Baltimore have attacked white bus riders recently.
There has apparently been another bus beating on an MTA bus in Baltimore.
WBAL-TV reports that two men aboard the #64 bus in Brooklyn claim they were attacked by a group of 7 black teens. The two men say they were attacked because they were white. They also claim the bus driver refused to call police for them.
The two men suffered cuts and bruises.
The MTA says it is investigating the claim.
This comes less than a week after a white woman was beaten on a bus. 9 black middle school students have been arrested in that case.
As Sarah Kreager, 26, tried to sit down on a Baltimore City bus Tuesday, police say, a middle-schooler told her she couldn't. When she attempted to take another seat, a middle-schooler wouldn't let her. Finally, according to police, Kreager just sat down.
She was "immediately attacked" by nine students -- three females and six males -- from Robert Poole Middle School. They punched and kicked her at 2:59 p.m. at the intersection of 33rd Street and Chestnut Avenue, according to Maryland Transit Administration police.
Kreager was dragged off the bus and her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, attempted to get her back on, police said.
She sustained "serious injuries" and had to be transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, according to a police report.
Except for the races of the victim and her attackers, this story sounds like it comes straight from the annals of the Jim Crow era.
That there has been a massive outrage and a vocal defense of the six hooligans from Jena -- but a deafening silence over this -- speaks volumes about the depths to which the "civil rights" establishment has sunk.
Unfortunately, children from around the country appear to be hearing and applying the message from today's "civil rights" leadership, which I summarize as this: "It's okay to attack white people if you're black."
I somehow doubt that this is the glorious ideal of Martin Luther King's dreams.
As Ayn Rand once put it so eloquently, "The smallest minority is the individual." It is precisely this minority that race-baiting leftist and white supremacist alike seek to oppress. The fight for the only real minority rights -- individual rights -- will not be anywhere close to over until all instances of racially-motivated thuggery are greeted with the same degree of moral outrage by everyone.
This post contains Part 2 ("The Problem of Moral Luck") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
The Problem of Moral Luck
Nagel's case for pervasive moral luck begins with a brief survey of "the ordinary conditions of moral judgment," particularly the "control condition" for moral responsibility. Appealing to the primitive intuition that "people cannot be morally assessed for what is not their fault, or for what is due to factors outside their control," Nagel observes that "the appropriateness of moral assessment is easily undermined by the discovery that the act or attribute, no matter how good or bad, is not under the person's control." So "a clear absence of control, produced by involuntary movement, physical force, or ignorance of the circumstances, excuses what is done from moral judgment." The problem of moral luck arises from the attempt to consistently apply that control condition in our everyday moral judgments. When we look closely, Nagel claims, we find that "what we do depends in many more ways than [commonly thought] on what is not under our control," yet the "external influences in this broader range are not usually thought to excuse what is done from moral judgment, positive or negative." So the problem of moral luck is that our ordinary moral judgments routinely violate the control condition: people are praised and blamed for matters beyond their control.
Nagel classifies the various cases of moral luck as resultant, circumstantial, or constitutive luck--based on that which is affected by luck. In cases of resultant luck, a person is morally judged partly based on the outcome of his action despite his lack of control over that outcome, such as in cases of inherently risky action (e.g., inciting bloody revolution), failed attempts (e.g., shooting someone but not killing him as intended), and negligence (e.g., text messaging while driving). In cases of circumstantial luck, the person's moral record depends on accidental circumstances, as when a person faces a difficult moral test to which others are never put or when a would-be wrongdoer finds his deed already done for him by others. In cases of constitutive luck, a person is praised or blamed for aspects of his moral character imposed upon him by his upbringing or his genes, for example. These cases seem to show that our standard moral judgments of a person--whether for his products, his choices, or his character--are often substantially based on accidental factors outside his control.
Notably, the problem of moral luck does not merely present us with a limited set of puzzling cases about moral responsibility. Luck is a pervasive influence in human life. No one controls the particular family, culture, nation, or era of his birth. No one controls his genetic endowments. Few people have any significant power to influence the economic conditions, political institutions, or moral climate that shape their lives. Our actions often have far-reaching, unexpected, and unpredictable effects in the world. Such external forces seem to influence the thoughts, actions, qualities, and products for which a person is morally judged. If that's true, then the problem of moral luck undermines attributions of moral responsibility generally, not just in a few select cases. That's why Nagel claims that "if the condition of control is consistently applied, it threatens to erode most of the moral assessments we find it natural to make."
 I plan to ignore Nagel's fourth category of "causal luck," since it concerns the broader question of free will versus determinism. Some commenters on moral luck have suggested alternative schemes of classification, but none are more illuminating than that of Nagel. See, for example, Ollila 1993, pp. 19-21. These three kinds of moral luck will be explained in greater detailed in later sections.
 Nagel 1993, p. 60. Cases of resultant luck are also found in Williams 1993, pp. 38-9 and Feinberg 1970, pp. 32-4.
 Nagel 1993, p. 60. Cases of circumstantial luck are also found in Feinberg 1970, pp. 34, 191-2.
Romney is famous for making one of the greatest blunders in the history of Presidential campaigns when he said, "When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." (Apparently, "I've been brainwashed" is not the most effective campaign slogan.)
George Romney was a "Rockefeller Republican," the type of moderate that conservatives used to sneer at. It is interesting to note that his son Mitt is at least as moderate as the father, but the Republicans have become a big government party, so he is considered a mainstream conservative today. A Goldwater Republican, if there were any left, would be marginalized as an "extremist."
But to get back to Novak's statement, it raises the obvious question: why? Why was George Romney not attacked for being a Mormon, but his son Mitt is?
I've considered several closely related answers. Politics is dirtier and character attacks are more common now than they were 40 years ago. With the rise of the Religious Right, religion is a bigger factor in politics today. With the dumbing down of America, voters can't understand abstract issues anymore.
I've come to a broader explanation. 40 years ago religion was not taken as seriously as it is today. Nobody thought to attack George Romney for his Mormonism because nobody thought it was important. Religion was relegated to "church on Sunday" and was not a factor in the rest of life.
Religion was not taken seriously in philosophy departments. Nietzsche's famous line, "God is dead," was a profound statement of the place of religion in the modern mind.
The last 40 years have seen a sea change in our culture. Philosophy has collapsed into the black hole of postmodernism and people are turning away from such nihilism to religion, mistaking its answers for values and ideals they can live by. Most people cannot tolerate the void of values they find in contemporary philosophy.
Today religion is taken seriously. Christian fundamentalists think Romney's Mormonism is of the utmost importance, and some might not vote for him because of his religion alone. Even the secular MSM discuss Romney's religion (although as the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party, there might be some cynicism in this as they work to destroy a Republican front runner).
The change in our culture that Leonard Peikoff warns us of is real and dangerous.
Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.
We have seen a massive cultural change in the last few decades with the rise of religion. Unless this trend is reversed, freedom will continue to suffer. If you want an example of how religion and big government are allies, just look at the current presidency. Under "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based initiatives" state power has grown and individual rights have eroded. (No one uses the banner of "compassionate conservatism" to dismantle the welfare state and ensure the rights of individuals.)
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The Flynn Effect
Having not so long ago considered an oft-ignored aspect of the question of whether intelligence and race are correlated, I was first intrigued and then very impressed with this article on the "Flynn Effect", named for James Flynn, who first noted that scores on IQ tests were rising over time and then asked why that was in a very creative and productive way.
As this article considers the Flynn Effect and the recent revival of the debate about race and IQ, it takes a look at the many pitfalls inherent in attempting to measure intelligence and raises serious questions about more than one popular myth about the genetic basis of IQ. Near the end, it also considers how such factors as the culture in which one is raised can affect one's IQ. Its conclusion was a breath of fresh air:
Flynn then talked about what we've learned from studies of adoption and mixed-race children -- and that evidence didn't fit a genetic model, either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a mixed-race child’s mother or father who is black. But it does: children with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it shouldn't make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born. But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children's blackness, as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their Germanness -- of their being brought up in a different culture, under different circumstances. "The mind is much more like a muscle than we've ever realized," Flynn said. "It needs to get cognitive exercise. It's not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark." The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in. [bold added]
Read the whole thing!
"It was like time stood still!"
If you've ever had a sufficiently frightening experience, you will know exactly what the above title means. Yesterday, I learned from the Houston Chronicle that scientists are attempting to study the commonly-reported feeling that time "slows down" when people are extremely frightened.
Eagleman's research team developed a wristwatch-like device that flashed numbers across a screen at a rate slightly too fast for a normal person to read. He theorized that, if people really could take in more events during times of stress, the free-falling participants should have no problem reading the flashing numbers. But none of them could. "We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets in slow-mo," he said.
The subjects, who had to read these numbers while free-falling backwards, still reported that the fall seemed to take longer, and this study does not eliminate the possibility that the brain can function more rapidly in other modalities during times of stress.
This is an interesting and very difficult problem to attempt to study, and it is far afield of my area of specialization, but one thing immediately jumps out at me: Reading numbers has nothing to do with ending the free fall early. (This is just an observation, not necessarily a criticism of the study.)
If a remembered feeling of time dilation were an aspect of heightened focus as one attempts to quickly find a solution to a life-threatening problem, rather than some fear-induced higher temporal resolution of one's senses, this test, designed to measure the latter, could well have little or nothing to say on that matter.
For those who find this question interesting, the actual paper is available here. And yes, part of the experimental apparatus was an amusement park ride! See Figure 1.
Our source tells us that "when the brain trusts sent out the holiday party email they only sent it to people who would still be here -- even though some of us hadn't been notified we were on the block yet."
That is bad.
I recall hearing awhile back about another firm that laid off some of its employees via a mass memo sent to their PDAs. I never thought I'd see someone equal or exceed even that level of carelessness.
Myrhaf on Reagan's Legacy
Myrhaf considers whether we should include Reagan on Mt. Rushmore:
Reagan's pragmatism toward Iran and terrorism, with his non-response to the Beirut barracks bombing and his Iran-Contra Scandal, makes him the single man most responsible for our feckless Middle East policy. ...
The size of government more than doubled during the Reagan Presidency. You can blame it on Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress, but the fact is that Reagan didn't have what it takes to stand up to the big spenders. Such weakness is the stuff of mediocrity.
Worst of all, Reagan brought the Religious Right to power, destroying the Goldwater paradigm of a party dedicated to individual rights. ...
That same argument would go for the Reagandime -- unless you made things interesting by taking the dime to be a commemoration of our worst president, given the welfare statist currently depicted. But then you might want a bigger field to choose from if don't already consider FDR to be our worst President....
Middle East Milestones: Portugal and the Age of Discovey
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
A good traditional date assigned as the beginning of the Age of Discovery is 1415. In that year, Portugal, having in the past century and half achieved independence from both the Muslims in Iberia and their Christian rivals Castile, initiated a new phase of exploration by conquering the Muslim trading post of Ceuta in northern Africa.
One thing that strikes me about this episode in the history of Western relations with the Middle East is that during the subsequent phase of Portuguese activity, the Muslims were treated as an adversary to be defeated and then circumnavigated. In other words, Prince Henry did not advocate attacking the outposts of Muslim pirates near the Strait of Gibraltar and then settling among them to foster common values. He advocated destruction of any threats to Portugal, but then independence. After exhausting every strategic value he could from Ceuta, his focus shifted to avoiding further entanglements with these enemies, and pursuing profit to empower his native country.
Under his leadership an institute of geography and exploration was founded at Sagres, on the southern tip of Portugal, and wave after wave of Portuguese ships of increasingly advanced design, sought a passage around Africa in order to establish trade with the empires of the East.
The torturous progress of his explorers did not yield that route while he was still alive. They found their way past Cape Verde by 1445, and to the Guinea coast a decade later, but by the time of his death, the Equator had yet to be crossed.
Tragically, Portugal’s kings were not as wise as Prince Henry. His father gradually turned away from the country’s true interest and became entangled in a crusade against the Muslims in northern Africa. Then Portugal’s next king Afonso V, who you might say “stayed the course,” abandoned further exploration in the name of religious warfare. He earned the nickname “the African” for all his efforts, but those same efforts bankrupted his country.
Only after Afonso V died did his successor Joao II re-initiate exploration efforts. Under his leadership the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hood in 1487/88 (more famous than the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas), and reached Asia in 1498, to subsequently enormous advantages. The tiny nation would create an empire spanning from Brazil to the Indies.
Some Republicans want to put Reagan's face on Mt. Rushmore. In our bitterly divided America, in which both sides say 20 words attacking the opponent for every one word they say supporting their own side, I wonder if the Republicans really think Reagan deserves this honor or if they just want to rub the liberal nose in conservative shit.
Reagan was a mediocre President who got a few things right. (You could say the same thing about Teddy Roosevelt, whose image is on Mt. Rushmore; he's the farthest one back, as if the artist knew something was wrong including him among Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.)
The best thing about Reagan was his supply-side economics and tax cuts that spurred an economic boom that, with a few dips along the way, we are still enjoying. He is given credit for ending the Soviet Union, but the fundamental reason it failed is the nature of communism. Socialism, or "planned chaos" as Mises called it, can't create wealth and simply cannot compete with the productive dynamo that is capitalism. Reagan was lucky to be in the White House when the Potemkin Village that was the Soviet Bloc began to collapse and people saw it was an empty facade.
Reagan's pragmatism toward Iran and terrorism, with his non-response to the Beirut barracks bombing and his Iran-Contra Scandal, makes him the single man most responsible for our feckless Middle East policy. Conservatives blame Carter and Clinton, but the enemy knew those men were weak. Reagan is worse because he pretended to be strong but was in fact as weak and appeasing as any liberal you could find. Our pretense at strength convinced people such as Osama bin Laden that America is a paper tiger. We still have not proved him wrong.
The size of government more than doubled during the Reagan Presidency. You can blame it on Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress, but the fact is that Reagan didn't have what it takes to stand up to the big spenders. Such weakness is the stuff of mediocrity.
Worst of all, Reagan brought the Religious Right to power, destroying the Goldwater paradigm of a party dedicated to individual rights. With Reagan, the contradictions in the Republican Party grow. 20 years later we have a Republican President who expands the welfare state like a liberal and brings in faith to work with the welfare state -- and calls it "compassionate conservatism." The Republicans are well on their way to becoming, like the Democrats, a force for tyranny rather than for freedom.
Reagan on Mt. Rushmore? It would be an act of injustice.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
I would have preferred an article that voiced opposition to all government confiscation of property (i.e., taxation as such), or at least took a more consistent stand against the welfare state. Nevertheless, Amity Shlaes raises some objections to the "Fair Tax" which pro-capitalists will find worth considering.
The FairTax does away with the income tax, corporate taxes, estate taxes and just about any other federal levy. It also kills off the Internal Revenue Service. Under the FairTax, Washington would apply a single national sales tax on purchases, whether a DVD player, or a new house. To take the edge off the pain for lower earners, the FairTax offers them a monthly rebate. [A welfare state element like this in an allegedly free-market reform is a red flag, as if proposing a new way to tax isn't a red flag in and of itself. --ed]
[T]his catalog of features doesn't mention one thing: the rate. That's because a national sales that captures the sort of revenue Washington needs requires a 30 percent rate. [She notes, as I have, that the 23% rate proponents cite is really a 30% rate. --ed]
A third and significant FairTax problem also has to do with Europe. Europeans introduced their own version of the Fairtax, the value-added tax, while they talked of curtailing the income tax. But when the time came, they retained that levy, generating the double-tax burden that corrupted Europe in the first place.
To avoid such a dual system the U.S. really has to pass that constitutional amendment, and the chances of that are, well, real low. What else? Even the FairTax needs enforcers, so while the IRS may go, another form of tax police will emerge.
The other source of the FairTax's appeal is more subtle. Tax increases are coming one way or another. Medicare Part D, as well as Social Security, will simply require those increases, not only because of statutes but also because Americans expect ever-greater entitlements.
Even a construct as sturdy as the FairTax can't withstand those expectations. Put the federal tax beast in the FairTax cage, and you'll find the states are the ones raising rates. Or that the bill for it is postponed and shifted to younger generations, as the Social Security burden has been.
So the choice is simple. The country can start thinking about reforming entitlements soon, starting with ratcheting down those expectations. Or it can cheer the Fairtax Bus through November and into law. [bold added]
As one who once fell for a different primary season tax gimmick, I agree with Shlaes. This idea is a gimmick. It is an attempt to evade the fundamental problems posed by the nature of the welfare state as a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth. (The problem of enforcement, which proponents soft-pedal, is just one way this problem rears its ugly head.)
I will say one thing. While it is now highly unlikely we could repeal the 16th Amendment, it is precisely the kind of cultural and political climate in which such would become inevitable that we must work for if we are to ever see a return of low taxes, self-reliance, and economic freedom to America. This is a daunting task, but it will never be accomplished by the evasive quick fixes of the "Fair Tax" brigades or by the resignation of nominally pro-free market economists who discount the need to intellectually defend capitalism.
So, sure, we can't fix the Constitution or the tax code, or rid ourselves of the welfare state.
This post contains Part 1 ("Overview") of my dissertation prospectus, written in pursuit of my Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted to my committee in early December 2007. The full prospectus is available in PDF format and as an MS Word file. Comments and questions are welcome. While they won't change the prospectus, they might be of use as I write the dissertation over the next year.
The problem of moral luck is best understood as a clash of common beliefs about moral responsibility and moral judgment. On one hand, people commonly think that a person cannot be justly praised or blamed for his actions unless he controls them. So if a man releases a critical pulley rope on a construction job due to a sudden heart attack, leaves the scene of an auto accident because he's spirited away by kidnappers, or breaks a vase when knocked over by a strong gust of wind, his lack of control over his bodily movements should absolve him of any moral blame. The same is said of character traits and the outcomes of actions: a person may be justly praised and blamed only to the extent that he exerts control over them. On the other hand, ordinary moral judgments of persons routinely vary based on the actual goods or evils caused by the person, even when partly or wholly beyond his control. For example, the drunk driver who kills two pedestrians is blamed far more than the drunk driver who merely collides with a telephone pole, even if their driving was equally reckless. The only difference in what they've done is due to luck, yet they are blamed unequally by themselves and others. Similarly, the coward in Hitler's Third Reich who betrays his Jewish neighbors to the authorities is responsible for contributing to genocide, whereas a man of identical character in America today might never be guilty of worse than failing to defend his wife from his sniping parents. These two men differ radically in their moral records solely based on the accidental circumstances of their births.
The problem of moral luck is the apparent conflict between the idea that a morally responsible agent must control his actions and the standard practice of blaming people more simply for causing worse results. As developed most clearly and forcefully by Thomas Nagel, the proposed category of moral luck attempts to highlight a range of cases in which "a significant aspect of what someone does depends on factors beyond his control, yet we continue to treat him in that respect as an object of moral judgment." Matters of luck arguably influence all that a person is morally judged for, not only his choices and actions but also his character. Consequently, Nagel claims, "ultimately, nothing or almost nothing about what a person does seems to be under his control," meaning that the consistent application of the principle that responsibility requires control threatens most if not all our ordinary moral judgments.
My thesis, in brief, is that the problem of moral luck stems from a faulty understanding of the conditions of moral responsibility. A person need not solely determine all of that for which he is morally judged, as Nagel supposes. Instead, a person is properly held responsible for his voluntary acts. When a person acts voluntarily, (1) he has the power to act or not and (2) he knows what he's doing. That Aristotelian understanding of the conditions of moral responsibility is not only consistent with standard intuitions but also grounded in basic facts about human capacities and about the purposes and demands of moral judgment. When developed in sufficient detail and extended to responsibility for a person's products and qualities, that theory can effectively solve the puzzling cases of moral luck raised by Nagel and others, such that moral responsibility clearly tracks a person's voluntary actions, products, and qualities.
The basic structure of this prospectus (and ultimately, of the dissertation) is fairly simple. First, I will describe the basic problem of moral luck as developed by Nagel and others. I will scrutinize the standard attempts to solve the problem of moral luck, as well as Nagel's implicit understanding of the kind of control required for responsibility. I will also consider why the problem of moral luck as formulated by Nagel seems intractable. Second, I will develop a broadly Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility based on an analysis of the nature, purpose, and demands of moral judgment and the nature of human agency. Third, I will further develop and refine that theory of moral responsibility in the course of applying it in turn to each of the three basic kinds of moral luck: resultant luck, circumstantial luck, and constitutive luck. My analysis will show that the seemingly hopeless clash of intuitions in the various cases of moral luck can be satisfactorily resolved by a proper theory of moral responsibility, albeit perhaps not always quite as expected.
The dissertation will rely on Aristotle's ethics and moral psychology as a general framework for the development of a robust theory of moral responsibility. While I intend to generally steer clear of substantive moral questions, the work will presuppose a teleological rather than deontological approach to ethics, meaning that "the moral propriety of actions depends on their relationship to [the] overarching end" of the agent's own flourishing. It will also rely on an incompatibilist understanding of free will as the agent's power to perform or not perform some action, independent of prior conditions.
In the following sections, I sketch the core arguments of my analysis of the problem of moral luck. I have chosen to do so in considerable detail because that enabled me to develop my account of moral responsibility clearly enough to test it against the core cases of moral luck.
 Nagel 1993, p. 59. Bernard Williams (1993) and Joel Feinberg (1970) were also instrumental in the development of the problem of moral luck.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Recently, I have taken note on several occasions of the common leftist tactic of using science as part-smokescreen, part-pseudojustification for various proposed forms of government interference in our lives, most notably environmentalist regulations whose stated purpose is to stop "climate change".
A given debate which should be about whether the government ought at all, say, to impose fuel rationing (in the form of "carbon caps" for a whole economy) is entirely swept under the rug of the scientific debate over whether man produces enough carbon dioxide to alter the climate.
And just as the conservatives have adopted big government in recent years, so have they begun adopting this dishonest tactic. Case in point: a recent article in The American Thinker which similarly uses a recent scientific advance in stem-cell research as a means of advancing the so-called "pro-life" position in the abortion debate:
What happens when an unexpected development suddenly makes it no longer necessary for adherents of a certain ideology to engage in conflict? The recent discovery that gives scientists the ability to turn skin cells into cells that share identical properties with Embryonic Stem Cells qualifies as such a development.
Up to this point, many from the left had comfortably seized control of the high moral ground on this issue. With aid from the media, and the assurance by the scientific community of the vestigial healing powers of Embryonic Stem Cells, they piously condemned the supposedly callous ignorance of those who objected to their demand to expedite legislation requiring that federal tax dollars be used to fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research (E.S.C.R.).
For these so-called "progressives", the fact that human embryos needed to be harvested and killed in the process did not pose the least moral quandary. Instead, it was favorably cast as a supremely justifiable means towards an unimpeachably noble end. History will deal with them accordingly. [bold added]
Leave aside, for the sake of argument, both the legitimate scientific question of whether the new technique produces cells that really are identical to embryonic stem cells, and the matter of whether the state should fund scientific research at all.
The propriety of using embryonic stem cells has nothing whatsoever to do with whether there are alternative means of acquiring stem cells with the required properties. It is moral to use embryonic stem cells because embryos are potential -- not actual -- human beings. (To the extent that leftists fail to make this point and rely on an altruistic justification instead, they help the conservatives by playing into their hands, and in more ways than one.)
But when one has science "on his side", one can pretend that such utility was the only real justification -- flimsy as it was -- for using such stem cells, and that one should thus outlaw harvesting embryos. Should a scientist raise an objection that the new cells are not identical to those from embryos, he will be condemned just as roundly as any global warming "denier" is now pilloried by global warming hysterics. And there will be no talk by conservatives such as Miguel Guanipa about whether embryos really are human, or about how damaging to the cause of individual rights it would be for the government to pretend that mere tissue possesses rights.
The left would paralyze us in a debate over the scientifically controversial minutiae of meteorology as they smuggle in government control of the economy as an unquestioned premise. The right would have us fumble around in a specialized area of cell biology as they sneak in a government intrusion justified by their superstitious belief in an immaterial soul. In both cases, laymen, out of their depth, are told to grapple with abstruse points in scientific specialties while steered away from fundamental questions of political philosophy they could much more reasonably be expected to deal with.
I oppose both the drowning of the truth by the left, and the abortion of its pursuit by the right.
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In my day job listening to FM radio stations, 'tis the season for Christmas songs. It's the only time of year commercial stations get to play recordings from the '40s (this ain't Radio Dismuke), by artists such as Bing Crosby and Gene Autry. In this post, however, we'll look at the best rock era songs.
This is a list of my personal favorites, not a list that pretends to be objective by using record sales or number of spins as criteria. These are the songs I like best.
A lot of songs did not make the cut, especially novelty songs such as "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" by Gayla Peevey (recorded in 1953, so it's actually pre-rock). Anything by the Jackson Five is not making my list.
The songs on this list are mostly from the '50s and '60s. The Classic Rock era has failed dismally at Christmas songs. Bruce Springsteen has covered a few standards and the Eagles' "Please Come Home For Christmas" gets a lot of play because it sounds like a '50s song.
10. "Father Christmas" by the Kinks. The only hard rocker on this list. Ray Davies makes it work -- barely. (To be honest, it's only on the list because I couldn't find a 10th song that was better.)
8. "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley. Like most of the songs on this list, this recording sounds like a song Elvis Presley would do, but it happens to have a Christmas theme. That authenticity is the secret to a great Christmas song. Dig the sideburns and his lopsided grin in the video linked to here. He was the King -- for awhile.
Out of all the reindeers you know you're the mastermind
Run, run Rudolph, Randalph ain't too far behind Run, run Rudolph, Santa's got to make it to town Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down Run, run Rudolph cause I'm reelin' like a merry-go-round Said Santa to a boy child What have you been longing for?
All I want for Christmas is a Rock and Roll electric guitar
And then away went Rudolph a whizzing like a shooting star
5. "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms. After 50 years, this and "My Special Angel" are the only songs by Bobby Helms that still get much airplay. It's a Christmas classic now.
4. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon. This antiwar song will be unbearable to many readers. That's the John Lennon package deal: he's half genius and half moonbat. The songwriting is the real thing here.
Now, if you want a Christmas song that is truly bad, try Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." You listen to that treacle and wonder why John was the one who got shot.
(Okay, I'm sorry. I crossed the line with that last joke.)
3. "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys. It's a first-rate Beach Boys song, and pop-rock does not get better than that.
2. "Sleigh Ride" by the Ronettes. This and the number one song have the Phil Spector "wall of sound" style. These songs are the pinnacle of melodic rock. If you want more Ronettes, check out this video of them performing the pop-rock classic, "Be My Baby."
1. "Winter Wonderland" by Darlene Love. There are a lot of versions of this song, but this is the best. It's got beautiful voices singing a great melody to a driving rock beat. (Avoid the Eurythmics' cover, as they do my pet peeve: they slow the tempo down.)
UPDATE: Holy cow, I forgot about "2000 Miles" by the Pretenders. I didn't even realize it was a Christmas song, but it is. It's certainly better than "Father Christmas" by the Kinks.
On Friday, I submitted my dissertation prospectus (or proposal) to my committee. Hooray! My committee will likely meet for my defense in late January.
It took rather longer to write the prospectus than expected, mostly because I found that I had to develop my views and arguments in some depth to determine whether they actually solved the problem at hand. So now, although the prospectus is somewhat long at 55 pages, I'm extremely clear about what I'll be doing in the dissertation. Plus, I've already done tons of work that otherwise I'd have done in writing the dissertation itself. So I'm quite pleased with what I've done so far, and I'm eager to begin work on the dissertation proper.
My dissertation topic is moral responsibility, particularly "the problem of moral luck." The problem of moral luck challenges, via a series of seemingly compelling cases, our ordinary claims that a person is morally responsible for his choices, for the outcomes of his actions, and for his character. The problem was most powerfully developed by Thomas Nagel in his article entitled "Moral Luck." (You can download a PDF of that critical article if you wish to read it). The basic goal of my dissertation is to develop a general theory of moral responsibility able to solve the problem of moral luck. In so doing, I'm articulating the nature and limits of a person's moral responsibility, as well as defending our ordinary moral judgments of praise and blame as just and necessary.
Here's my brief summary of my thesis from the prospectus:
My thesis, in brief, is that the problem of moral luck stems from a faulty understanding of the conditions of moral responsibility. A person need not solely determine all of that for which he is morally judged, as Nagel supposes. Instead, a person is properly held responsible for his voluntary acts. When a person acts voluntarily, (1) he has the power to act or not and (2) he knows what he's doing. That Aristotelian understanding of the conditions of moral responsibility is not only consistent with standard intuitions but also grounded in basic facts about human capacities and about the purposes and demands of moral judgment. When developed in sufficient detail and extended to responsibility for a person's products and qualities, that theory can effectively solve the puzzling cases of moral luck raised by Nagel and others, such that moral responsibility clearly tracks a person's voluntary actions, products, and qualities.
If you'd like to read the prospectus, you're welcome to do so. Here's the PDF file and the Word file. Comments and questions are welcome, of course. They won't change the prospectus, but they might be of use to me for the dissertation. (If you cite page numbers, please cite those of the PDF file.)
I've also decided to post the prospectus slowly on NoodleFood over the next ten days; I'll post one section per day, starting today. So if you wish to read it that way, that's all well and good too.
All in all, I've very much enjoyed my work on my prospectus. On a day-to-day basis, that's largely due to my much-improved work habits. More broadly, however, I'm pretty well convinced that what I have to say about moral responsibility is (1) true, (2) interesting, and (3) substantially original. Philosophy work doesn't get any better than that!
Update: Whoops! I forgot to upload the Word and PDF files of my prospectus. They're in place now.
By Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
As part of an ongoing debate over the morality of the nation's immigration barriers at a Marine veterans' website that I am a member of, I made the following decision graph. I think it's important to name the aims of those who support protectionist quotas to free trade in an open market, and given the response of the pro-barrier side, it has elicited exactly the response I expected: steadfast evasion.
Recently I chatted with three white liberal women, all members of teachers unions -- the Democrat base. I asked them who they were voting for in the primary. Without hesitation they all said "Hillary." None of them was at all impressed by Obama. One of them laughed and said she is not one of those people who do whatever Oprah tells them to do. I don't know if we can conclude anything about the upcoming primaries from this anecdotal evidence.
One of the women asked me why Republicans hate Hillary Clinton so.
"Well," I said, "to begin with, she is a statist."
She asked me to repeat the word. She had never heard the word statist before. She reads the Los Angeles Times and watches news on PBS and CNN. In her world statism is merely the way things ought to be; it doesn't need a name, it's just life. She has never known anything but the welfare state and has never questioned it. As a pragmatist and an empiricist, she regards all theoretical talk of political theory as a nice thing intellectuals do, but not connected to our day to day reality.
Hillary Clinton makes sense to her. Republicans mystify her, disgust her and make her afraid. She doesn't understand them and has no curiosity about their ideas, although she is curious about their emotional hostility toward Clinton. It is enough for her to dismiss them as bad people, or at least blind and unenlightened.
I noted that Hillary Clinton worked for a communist lawyer in her radical youth. The liberal's response? "It was the '60s. Everyone was way out back then." She sees no connection between Clinton's radical past and her policies of today. Any talk of Clinton's radical past strikes her as hysterical smears from the VRWC.
I believe her way of thinking is common among Democrats. Although liberals dominate intellectual professions such as academia and teaching, there is something something anti-intellectual about them. They can be articulate, well read and even brilliant, but intellectual matters are compartmentalized: there's theory and then there's life.
I really think a lot of their lack of intellectual curiosity comes down to lack of motivation. Government intervention in the economy is the reality we live in and questioning it is beyond the liberal imagination. So what is the point in reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand or Bureaucracy by Ludwig von Mises? It seems to them like a tedious intellectual exercise that has no practical value.
Perhaps we are seeing here the fruits of pragmatism -- a philosophy that was influential in American universities a century ago. Liberal thinking is shaped by the ivory tower theorizing they respect (and dominate professionally); but they do not understand its practical consequences.
UPDATE: Minor edits. Sometimes I can relate to Oscar Wilde, who once claimed to have spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out. Now if I only had Wilde's wit...
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
At City Journal is an article by Bruce S. Thornton that both names an important truth about how leftism has damaged the state of free inquiry on our college campuses and yet still makes a major mistake. The piece does this while considering two noteworthy recent cases: Columbia University's invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a guest speaker and the cancellation by the University of California at Davis of a speaking engagement by former Harvard president Lawrence Summers. I'll concentrate on the first of these here.
First, Thornton hits upon a noteworthy fact about the Columbia case that my moral outrage had caused me not to pay much attention to:
The purpose of academic freedom is to encourage the search for truth and the exposure of error, an endeavor conducted through what Matthew Arnold called "the free play of the mind on all subjects." ...
At the same time, since academic intellectuals are supposed to be trained in the principles of sound thinking, one should expect higher standards for the ideas considered on campus than for those that contest in the town square. Not every idea is worth the university’s attention. Today, no one wants to give time to someone arguing for a geocentric cosmos, a flat earth, or space-alien construction of the pyramids. ...
Columbia, then, was terribly mistaken in inviting Ahmadinejad onto campus, for what serious ideas did he present? That the Holocaust never happened, that a cabal of Jews runs the West, and that homosexuals don’t exist in Iran? ... [bold added]
As Thornton's title puts it, the selection of this speaker trumped the pursuit of the truth.
This is the case, but it is in addition to the gross injustice -- the moral treason -- of inviting Ahmadinejad to Columbia in the first place. Oddly enough, there is no sense of outrage in the Thornton piece, or even mention of the moral dimension of this controversy.
One need look no further than how Thornton differentiates between academic free speech and political free speech or, more precisely, how he defines each of them in the process.
John Stuart Mill articulated the rationale for political free speech, with which most of us are familiar: even noxious ideas should be publicly aired so that they can be exposed and refuted. Moreover, ideas that in one era seem pernicious or absurd -- abolishing slavery, or giving women the franchise -- may wind up considered worthy and true in another. This process of refuting or acknowledging ideas requires a "town square" free from censorship or punishment, so that as many voices as possible -- and as many ideas as possible -- can be heard. Political free speech serves a practical end: to discover the best public policies through citizens' raucous, sometimes woolly discussion in the town square. As Mill put it, "We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still." [bold added]
This is mostly good up until the Mill quote. Mill to the contrary, we can, in fact, objectively evaluate an opinion, and it is precisely this fact that makes political free speech necessary and good.
This is because man's survival as a rational animal depends on his having a firm grasp of reality, including how his society ought to govern itself. It isn't that we can "never be sure" whether an opinion is worthwhile or hogwash: It's that we won't have a way to tell without freedom of speech.
Thornton sees that political speech is a call to action and that as such, calls for deliberation. (So he does have a partial, albeit implicit and slippery grasp of this fact.) And yet he sees it as divorced from truth. Conversely, he sees also the quest for truth in academia as nearly divorced from action!
The purpose of academic freedom is to encourage the search for truth and the exposure of error, an endeavor conducted through what Matthew Arnold called "the free play of the mind on all subjects." As such, it is less practical and more speculative than political speech, and more frequently at odds with the accepted views of society. Unlike political speech, its goal is not to persuade fellow citizens to action, but to get closer to truth. [bold added]
On the one hand, it is true that the more abstract ideas typically discussed in academia are not always obviously applicable to politics or other aspects of our daily lives. In that sense, academic free speech is "less practical and more speculative" than political speech. But this does not mean, as many (and it can be argued that Thornton isn't among them) hold, that academia has nothing to do with the real world.
For example, suppose this were still the days of slavery and an academic were holding forth the notion that the black man is, too, a rational animal with rights. Although he is speaking in abstract terms, it is plain that practical discussions of how to implement his position will need to follow swiftly once he makes his case, and that his lectures imply a call to intellectual action on the part of those who agree with him. That is, his views will need to be debated more broadly as quickly as possible.
Lost in this discussion is the fact that abstract philosophical ideas have practical consequences. Indeed, such ideas guide the rough-and-tumble of non-academic political debate as they penetrate the broader culture through the efforts first of academics, then of intellectuals of varying prominence and influence, including authors, columnists, and other political commentators.
And so to invite a speaker like Ahmadinejad was not just a lowering of academic standards as Thornton argues, or a tacit endorsement of his views as rational as I did here. It was a display of contempt for the truth as such, and therefore of the value and practical consequences of man having a better grasp of the truth.
To fail to seek the truth is immoral. Even setting aside for the moment my own original reason for outrage at Columbia University (related as it is to the additional one I am about to name), there remains much to be indignant about. Thornton is right that the left has trod the truth underfoot, but a longstanding confusion about the relationship between the abstract and the concrete causes him to miss the fact that that's our neck down there under the hooves as well.
Real entrepreneurs don’t take bribes from the state
By David from Truth, Justice, and the American Way,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The Israeli government is trying to lure back some of the hundreds of thousands of Israeli expatriates with “tax breaks, employment and small business loans.”The campaign is set to cost $36 million a year.Israeli politicians must realize on some level that their best and brightest citizens are leaving in growing numbers because their grant experiment in utopian socialism has turned out to be a total failure.What they failed to consider however, is that to the extent that the campaign is successful, it is will bring back the wrong kind of people: those who value a short-term bribe over freedom and entrepreneurship unhindered by the interventionist state.
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The LA Times carried an article yesterday that touched on an interesting theme relating to the importance of the history of the Middle East, and the importance of history in general. In essence, that theme is the weight of un-integrated history.
As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German “Weltschmerz” (”world weariness”)? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the “sense of life” of a culture.
The emotional burden that people carry when they fail to integrate the past of their nation is just one of the costs of not learning from history, and really just a symptom of a more tragic reality. When history goes unlearned, as George Santayana was wont to say, the same mistake keep getting repeated. And worse yet, this iterative process of failure compounds the context of historical-psychological baggage that people carry with them.
Witness the Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans in the latest round of “peace talks.” It’s been forty years since the UN Resolution 242, which proposed “land for peace.” Everybody says they want peace, but no one seriously believes they will find it now, or in the near future. The so-called “road map” put forward by President Bush sets out conditions for peace that are not being met by the Palestinians, and that no one can foresee being met.
The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the “peace process.”
Until the historical record of the Middle East is set straight, predicting the outcome of the latest round of peace talks is depressingly straightforward. Whatever commitments are stated will not be met, whatever hopeful sentiments are expressed will be repudiated in action; and there will be no peace.
By Edward Cline from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Unlike the “debate” over anthropogenic global warming, the “debate” over the alleged health risks of secondhand smoke (environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS) is apparently over, not because the advocates of smoking bans have proven their assertions, but because: first, the advocates wish their allegations to be true; and, second, government force is backing up those assertions, thus giving them an aura of legitimacy in the name of “public health.”
At least, in public, the debate is “over,” but there is a kind of samizdat that runs counter to the prevailing, “official” opinion on the subject. Those arguments rarely surface in the mainstream press, but they do surface, chiefly on the Internet (whose regulation, not surprisingly, Congress is also contemplating).
In an Op-Ed distributed by the Ayn Rand Institute, “Doing Violence to Free Speech” (November 30th), Don Watkins, writing about the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to regulate “excessive violence” on television, noted:
“What made this trend toward increasing censorship possible – and inevitable? When the FCC assumed power to subordinate free speech to the ‘public interest,’ it declared, in effect, that individuals are incompetent to judge what speech they and their children should be exposed to, and so their judgment must be usurped by all-wise FCC bureaucrats, who will control the airwaves in their name. Given this disgraceful principle, it did not matter that the FCC’s initial restrictions were supposedly limited to speech concerning sex: if the government knows what’s best for us in the realm of sexual speech and can dictate what we watch or listen to, then there is no reason why it should not control what ideas we should be exposed to across the board.”
To be “declared incompetent” in any form of judgment or action, of course, means, in effect, having to be supervised, controlled, herded with numerous other mental incompetents, and chained to a warden’s dictates of what is best for one. It means that a bureaucrat or some other government functionary will do one’s thinking for one. To dare think and judge independently is to risk being punished and spending a month, a year or perhaps a lifetime in the “cooler,” to borrow a term from The Great Escape.
Censorship also includes the censorship of advertising, especially advertising cigarettes and smoking, the subject of this commentary. Watkins writes that in 1927, “just as radios were becoming widely used, the government seized control of the airwaves, declared them ‘public property,’ and assumed the power to regulate them in the name of the ‘public interest’ – an undefinable term that can be stretched to mean anything. Thus broadcasters’ right to free speech was cut off at the root….”
In 1927, Philo T. Farnsworth, an American pioneer in television technology (he ultimately held 165 television-related patents), successfully broadcast a signal that featured the dollar sign, which heralded the philosophy that television was to be a commercially, for-profit enterprise, not a “public service.”
It was Farnsworth’s dollar sign that was cut off at the root in the beginning.
It is not only broadcasters who face incremental censorship, but others who offer values, including advertisers.
This philosophy was in fundamental conflict with that being advocated by champions of the “public interest,” such as Herbert Hoover, who, as Secretary of Commerce in 1922, at the Radio Conference in Washington, stated that it was “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news and for entertainment and education to be drowned in advertising chatter.” The concept of service in both radio and television over the decades since then trumped the commercial ends of broadcasting. Service is incompatible with self-interest – or the dollar sign – which the regulators wished then and still wish to limit and ultimately eradicate.
We are seeing the consequences of allowing the altruist idea of service to remain a moral imperative, which is gradually suborning the general idea of free speech. In the view of the regulators, however, all else is superfluous “chatter,” including the practice of free speech.
The censors wish to banish the dollar sign from not only the airwaves, but from the Internet, cable and satellite transmission, as well, if they can persuade or pressure Congress to do their bidding in the name of the “public interest.”
In 1971, cigarette advertising was banned from television and radio, thus violating not only the tobacco companies’ freedom of speech, but also the right of the broadcasters to accept paid sponsorship or advertising from tobacco companies. Years later, tobacco ads were banned from billboards, violating again the tobacco companies’ diminishing freedom of speech, and the rights of the billboard companies. As for the print media, only a few periodicals are left that dare accept advertising from tobacco companies, and these ads must carry the mandated health warnings dictated by the government, as well as on tobacco companies’ marketing materials, in a form of inverse self-censorship. Incrementally, and inevitably, only the government is retaining freedom of speech.
The health risks of smoking, aside from the issue of ETS, is itself open to debate. No valid, scientific, medical conclusion has been reached. The deleterious effects of smoking all depend on any individual’s physical condition, or his susceptibility to any harmful consequences. There are sundry stories of men and women who smoked a pack a day or more and lived passed the age of 100, longer than many health-conscious individuals obsessed with exercise (and many of the latter, such as joggers, Lance Armstrong wannabe cyclists, and frequenters of gyms, develop serious medical disabilities later in their lives, as a result).
I particularly recall seeing a gallery of daguerreotypes of Revolutionary War veterans, taken in the 1840’s, every one of whom smoked, drank, and certainly ate food that was more risk-laden than any of the food purportedly saturated with ingredients deemed “dangerous” or “unhealthy” by the government, which regularly warns and scolds Americans about them today. Every one of those men was in his 90’s or 100’s when his image was recorded.
What can account for the longevity of individuals who indulge in such a heretofore-unregulated “life style” as smoking? The medical science jury is still out on that question, but the nanny-state regulators and advocates are driven by their statist premises that action must be taken. The jury is not likely to return a rational, objectively arrived at verdict for as long as science and medicine are influenced or even partly dominated by government power and money.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between the wholesale seizure of private property under the current practice of eminent domain to benefit private interests (such as real estate developers) and the partial, de facto seizure of property by government to benefit non-smokers (such as restaurants, office buildings, and, in some localities, such as Belmont, California, residences).
The tobacco industry (or at least those companies party to the extortionate “master agreement” of 1998) must share the blame for its virtual nationalization by the federal and state governments. It has done little other than cringe in the face of charges that it deliberately sets out to make people addicted to smoking and otherwise “profit” from alleged smoking deaths and disabilities. It has complied with the government’s edicts with little more than a whimper of protest.
Of course, it makes as little sense for the tobacco industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people’s health is damaged by smoking as it would any other industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people die or are injured by driving cars, using cell phones, consuming pepperoni pizza, or using guns to commit crimes.
I have often tried to imagine the kind of society in which all the government’s health concerns were imposed by law across the board on everyone and everyone complied with them, either voluntarily or by threat of penalty, a society in which no one smoked, consumed trans fats or any amount of cholesterol, drank coffee, or ingested any other “dangerous” food; a society in which everyone took only government-approved medications and observed government-mandated diets; a society in which it would be deemed “anti-social” and even criminal to endanger anyone else’s life or health by smoking or taking any other government-prohibited action.
Feelings and emotions would be protected, too, so everyone would be required to keep his mouth shut or his pen idle lest the “self-esteem” of any person or group be damaged by careless speech. Obese people would be specially taxed and sent to reeducation camps. Those with mild or severe allergies would be the especial objects of legislative dotage. Restaurants would not be allowed to offer a menu that did not also warn customers that everything on it could kill them. And so on.
To escape such a suffocating society and re-experience freedom, one might contemplate venturing into the wild, beyond the reach of the FDA, the CDC, and the Health Police, but only if one was willing to risk discovery by armed EPA sheriffs and environmentalist bounty-hunters, whose mission would be to maintain and enforce a pristine, man-free wilderness.
It would be a stale, static, short-lived society, for, in reality, it would simply stop functioning. Such a society is possible only in the realm of science fiction or political satire. Hospital ward societies, in which mental incompetents are shepherded through their lives by bureaucrats and strong-arm nurses, produce nothing, and so would go bankrupt, starve and collapse.
The effects of ETS also belong in the realm of science fiction. Audrey Silk, a former New York City cop and now head of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.), recently provided the links to several medical papers that contest, if not refute, the assertions of government that ETS is as harmful as smoking. “Three research papers, one magazine article, and one newspaper Op-Ed all came out within weeks of each other – each screaming the same thing: The Anti-Smokers are Liars.”
In a New York Post Op-Ed of October 23, “Smoke & Mirrors: Butts, Lies and Public Health,” Jeff Stier writes that Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University’s School of Public Health published a report in Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations (10 October 2007) that anti-smoking advocates “are wildly inflating the health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. In doing so, they tarnish the very credibility that the public-health community must have in order to save lives.”
Siegel, “no friend of Big Tobacco,” writes Stier, “is pointing the finger at the well-intentioned likes of Action on Smoking and Health, the politically powerful Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and New York City’s Department of Health.
Stier writes that there “is evidence that long-term, high-dose ETS exposure increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. And there is speculation that even short-term exposure may be unsafe to those with severe coronary artery disease. But the evidence does not support the claim that more than 100 groups are wantonly making – which is that acute, transient exposure to ETS increases heart-attack risk in healthy individuals.”
Evidence? Speculation? One supposes that the “evidence” is collected from volunteers locked in a room into which smoke is ventilated. And should society become a hospital ward in deference to those with severe coronary disease, or asthma or other ailments that may be exacerbated by ETS?
“The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped Commissioner Thomas Frieden at the city Health Department,” writes Stier, “which is buying ads in The New York Times claiming that ‘just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke produces some of the same physical reactions that would occur from long-term smoking, and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers.’
“The ‘evidence’ behind that assertion is so flimsy that it would be laughed at if it supported the finding that smoking is less dangerous than we once thought. The clear implication is that some anti-smoking activists have adopted an ‘ends justifies the means’ approach in pursuit of their noble cause.”
The cause cannot be “noble” if it requires the suspension of civil liberties based on the wishes of neo-puritans, backed by government force. See my commentary, “Our Lying, Cheating Do-Gooders” of November 23 for insights into their ruses and stratagems in the name of “science.” Remember, too, that the New York Health Department’s very expensive ads in the Times are being paid for with tax dollars.
“This is what makes Siegel’s report so troubling,” writes Stier. “No longer can we rely on the public-health establishment for scientifically accurate information. They’ll fudge the numbers if they have to, so long as it promotes their overall agenda – in this case, the drive to outlaw smoking in all public places.”
Yes, they will fudge the numbers – just as the advocates of anthropogenic global warming have fudged the numbers. And since when was a government science organization ever consistently reliable? Power can corrupt scientists as well as politicians.
“Even more disturbing,” continues Stier, “is that some in the tobacco-control community are attacking those raising questions. Siegel was banned from the primary tobacco listserv for simply sharing his dissenting views….UCLA epidemiologist Dr. James Enstrom has been personally vilified for, in his words, ‘questioning the lethality of ETS, such as a claim in the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report,’ which alleges that ETS kills about 50,000 Americans per year.”
Just as skeptics and “deniers” of man-caused global warming have been ostracized and vilified in the realm of climatology. ETS “kills about 50,000 Americans per year”? Surgeon General Richard Carmona reported in 2006 that it was 49,000. Another report cited 63,000. Pick a number. It will be as suspect as any public health official’s.
Stier unfortunately ends his illuminating article with a second-hand assertion of his own: “Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States….” Yesterday, it was not wearing seatbelts. The day before it was obesity. The week before it was….You name it.
Enstrom published his own protest on the Epidemiologic Perspectives site on October 10, “Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience,” in the form of a provisional abstract of a longer article.
“This analysis presents a detailed defense of my epidemiologic research in the May 17, 2003 British Medical Journal that found no significant relationship between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality….In order to defend the honesty and scientific integrity of my research, I have identified and addressed in a detailed manner several unethical and erroneous attacks on this research….I refute erroneous statements made by powerful U.S. epidemiologists and activists about me and my research….Finally, I compare many aspects of ETS epidemiology in the U.S. with pseudoscience in the Soviet Union during the period of Trofim Devisovich Lysenko….Overall, this paper is intended to defend legitimate research against illegitimate criticism by those who have attempted to suppress and discredit it because it does not support their ideological and political agendas….”
Another researcher, Carl V. Phillips, on October 22 posted his own protest on Epidemiologic Perspectives, “Warning: Anti-tobacco activism may be hazardous to epidemiologic science.”
Finally, Sidney Zion, in Skeptic Magazine ((Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007, 20-27), in his article “Science and Secondhand Smoke: The Need for a Good Puff of Skepticism,” opens his scathing examination of the ETS hoax with “There is nothing more powerful than a lie whose time has come. Thus, the smoking bans.”
Zion’s eight-page, double-columned article contains a wealth of information about the ETS myth, but perhaps its most startling revelation is that the wannabe health gauleiters dug and dug and dug and found nothing:
“In 1993, to bolster the case (that ETS was causing thousands of Americans to drop dead every year, or at least giving them lung and heart problems), Congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House subcommittee on Health and the Environment, commissioned the universally credible Congressional Research Service to produce the final, definitive study on the perils of second-hand smoke. For nearly two years, CRS considered the whole canon of studies and interpretations, reporting:
The statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking. It is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS. If there are any lung cancer deaths from ETS exposure, they are likely to be concentrated among those subjected to the highest exposure levels…primarily among those non-smokers subjected to significant spousal ETS. The results are not definitive. And even at the greatest exposure levels, the measured risks are still subject to uncertainty.”
This news was not welcome to Henry Waxman and his cohorts, just as the truth about global warming was not welcome to Al Gore and his bevy of believers. What did Waxman do? He lied, and his subcommittee issued a press release that gave the impression that just the opposite was found by the CRS, that ETS was a mortal danger that ought to be outlawed, which predictably, was headlined by most American newspapers. And the CRS report, writes Zion, was intended to back up a 1992 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that was as skewed and dishonest as a pack of marked cards on “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
“Thanks to Waxman and a compliant press corps,” however, writes Zion, “the CRS findings were ignored by the media. When the EPA report got to court, it was thrown out as an outright fraud. Federal Judge William Osteen interviewed a range of scientists for four years, writing a 91-page opinion in 1998.”
Among other things, Osteen found that the EPA had “failed to disclose important [opposing] findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers,” and “publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and “adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion, and aggressively utilized the Act’s authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme….”
Another nail in the coffin of the ETS myth was hammered by no less a guru than the World Health Organization of the U.N., which in March 1998, before Osteen released his opinion, concluded that there was “no statistically significant risk for non-smokers who lived or worked with smokers.”
What were the Monty Python-esque knights of ETS to do? Well, they didn’t “run away.” In defiance of reality, they pressed on with their attacks, aided in large part by a friendly, crisis-obsessed news media. The EPA report claimed that 3,000 Americans a year died from ETS. That un-impressive number was increased to over 50,000. And if countries like France, Britain, Ireland, Australia and Israel can act to ban smoking in “public places” (that is, on private property), so must the U.S. if it doesn’t want to be seen as backward and non-progressive and hostile to tut-tutting nanny states.
Zion’s article recounts just how corrupt and power-hungry anti-smoking zealots have become. They are, after all, do-gooders – What have reality and truth to do with our noble cause? they assure themselves – and they will not hesitate to stoop to any tactic, including lying and cheating, to impose their wishes on the rest of the country. Their tactics not surprisingly include the virtual censorship of dissension by laymen and scientists from their apocalyptic assertions.
Audrey Silk, whose signature C.L.A.S.H. battle cry is “No Retreat, No Surrender,” asked of Thomas Frieden in a CBS News article, “New York’s Doctor Crusades Against Fat” (October 14), “Why do you have to make sure that I conform to your way of life? I don’t understand it.”
One could say it is because she is not “community-oriented.” That she is “anti-social” and must be socialized for the good of all, even if it means applying a cosh to the back of her head. That she is independent, and independent minds cannot be ruled or told what to think. That she is a wild card in the rigged poker game of pseudo- or junk science who could rake in all the chips. That she is guilty of advocating “excessive” individualism and must be put in the stocks of statism.
Or, she can share H.L. Mencken’s definitive observation on Puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s why.
Human happiness, contrary to all their “chatter” about public health and the public good, is not the goal of the do-gooders. The do-gooders with the guns and the laws seek power, and the power they seek requires the obedience and deference of men who want to live but who are afraid of living. Such men are not happy, and are incapable of being happy. Writing in 1918 about the clamor for the prohibition of alcohol, Mencken also observed, “The alcohol myth is such a bugaboo. The sort of man it scares is the sort of man whose chief mark is that he is scared all the time.”
He could have said the same thing about the current bugaboos of smoking, obesity, trans fats, cholesterol, sugar, coffee and every other vehicle of human happiness the alarmists draw their swords against – including sex and “indecent” television programming.
Congenitally frightened men are the cookie-dough of our elected and non-elected censors and tyrants past, present, and possibly future. Audrey Silk and millions of Americans like her refuse to be eaten. Ultimately, that may result in more “excessive violence” than the five wise men of the FCC could ever imagine.
It might mean the true completion of the American Revolution.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The Objective Standard has just published to the web "Moral Health Care vs. 'Universal' Health Care" by Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh. This is the most thorough and accessible pro-free market (which is to say, pro-health and pro-life) article I have ever seen on the current government-caused crises in the economy that threaten your ability to protect your life from threats to your health.
Crises? Yes. Among the many virtues of the piece is that it explicitly distinguishes between the twin catastrophes of government interference with medical insurance and government interference with the practice of medicine. Although these are related and feed off one another, the authors' approach makes it significantly easier for a reader to mentally grasp how government interference has damaged each industry and therefore, to comprehend the greater whole, which would otherwise be cognitively overwhelming. Just as the human body is an integrated whole, we must study its individual parts separately to understand it.
For example, they briefly assess the state of our medical insurance industry before moving on to explore the further difficulties presented by government-run insurance programs:
The current system of employer-sponsored health insurance is a catastrophe, and it is a result of government intervention in the free market. Such intervention violates the rights of insurance companies, employers, and consumers by granting special government favors to certain insurance companies or plans, by forcibly eliminating options that would exist in a free market, and by forcibly seizing money from insurers and the insured. It artificially places employers and insurers between doctors and patients and leads to innumerable economic distortions. Employers and insurers dictate everything from which doctors and specialists employees will be permitted to visit under the plan, to the kinds of benefits that will and will not be provided, to the co-payments and deductibles that will be paid. Because third parties are paying for both insurance and health care, the employee-patient-customer has little choice in what kind of insurance or who provides the health care he receives -- and plenty of incentive to visit a doctor anytime he has a runny nose. The fact that third parties pay for all health care increases the administrative costs for doctors as well as insurers, and those costs are passed on to consumers.
Note the explicit identification of this system as immoral and impractical, along with arguments to back up those assessments. This paragraph also foreshadows the other half of the problem: This system is making physicians unable to practice their trade as they should.
In addition to making this public debate easier to understand, Zinser and Hsieh, by examining these crises separately, name a fact that all too frequently goes unnoticed: Even ignoring Medicare and Medicaid, our medical insurance system is not currently capitalistic.
Americans typically purchase health insurance from increasingly government-controlled insurance corporations, giving health insurance in America the veneer of a free-market industry. Behind the veneer, however, the industry is subject to countless state and federal laws, regulations, and taxes -- which do not apply to all insurance companies equally.
This identification is crucial for reasons that they make abundantly clear. It will not be enough to stave off the current push for complete nationalization of medicine. We must get the government out of two industries.
This is a brilliant article and a must-read. If you do not have time to read it today, make it a point to come back to it later.
Mitt Romney's speech, "Faith In America," is offensive, wrong and un-American. Romney reveals in the speech that he understands neither freedom nor America. The speech alerts us that a President Romney would be statist and collectivist.
Romney makes the common mistake of equating religion and freedom.
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
This is false. Religion destroys freedom and leads to tyranny. Throughout history, from the Aztecs to the Roman Empire to the Inquisition, religion and state have cooperated to form dictatorships that control both body and soul of the citizens. Religion is one of the few institutions that thrive in tyranny.
Freedom can only exist to the extent that people use reason in social interactions. Romney's statement could be rewritten as: Freedom requires reason just as reason requires freedom.
Reason is the epistemology based on the facts of reality perceived by the senses. When two people have a dispute, reality is the court of final appeal. In a free country with the rule of law, people do not use force on one another, they use reason. They attempt to persuade. Arguments come down to one question, "What is the truth?" Or, "What are the facts of reality?"
Faith is the epistemology based on knowledge that does not come through the senses, but through revelation from God. In any dispute concerning faith, reason is useless because the facts of reality are useless. Since faith comes from the supernatural realm, there is nothing in reality a faithful person can point to as evidence he is right.
When reason is out, force fills the void. The more consistently and seriously a man believes in faith, the more he will support the use of force to work for faith. If faith reveals the truth and there is no way to persuade the unfaithful of this truth with reason, then force is justified. Throughout history there are countless examples of the faithful using force against the unfaithful. Faith leads to force.
America was not founded on religious values, as Romney asserts. America was a product of the Enlightenment, which was the apex of reason and the nadir of religion in history. The values mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are not religious values. Consistently religious people spurn this world as the realm of Satan and turn their eyes to the supernatural world. Religious ascetics do not pursue happiness, but deprive themselves in this world so that they can get to happiness in the next world.
Religion holds sacrifice, the opposite of "the pursuit of happiness," as the moral ideal. This puts religion at odds with capitalism and liberty, both of which allow individuals to pursue their self-interest. The more consistently religious a man is, the more he supports the state suppressing liberty and forcing individuals to sacrifice.
This brings us to the most startling aspect of Romney's speech, his specific advocacy of altruism, statism and collectivism.
We believe that every single human being is a child of God - we are all part of the human family....
The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day, here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or nationality.
Romney believes that Americans have a "responsibility" and "obligation" to all humans. This is a prescription for American sacrifice to the world, a far cry from "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty....
Romney sees our participation in the 20th century's world wars as sacrificing to serve God. Freedom is not a selfish value in this world, merely a value because it is what God wants for man. Romney's words signal that, like George W. Bush, he would follow the neoconservative nation building to bring the "gift of God" to the rest of the world.
Domestically, religious ethics lead Romney to a vision of sacrifice for the needy:
These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord's words: 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me...'
Can the man who says these words oppose the welfare state in any consistent, principled way? Or would he rather follow George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism, uniting faith and welfare state? Romney's philosophy spells the death of individualism and egoism, the ideas that underlie "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
And notice that he brings up "national volunteer movements." Would he be able to resist using the state to force young people to "volunteer" in service of others? If God demands sacrifice, why shouldn't the government serve God and make people do their moral duty?
Finally, there is this problematic passage from the end of the speech:
...Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.
What of those of us who refuse to kneel in prayer to the Almighty? Does Romney consider us his friends and allies? Or is there no room at Romney's inn for atheists?
The best we can hope for from a Romney presidency is that he doesn't really mean what he says -- that he is pandering to the religious right to get elected. I raise this possibility because he has a record of opportunism. His principles are formed by his political need of the moment. As Ron Fournier writes,
[Romney] campaigned for governor of Democratic-leaning Massachusetts as a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control — only to switch sides on those and other issues in time for the GOP presidential race. The first thing he did as a presidential contender in January was sign the same no-tax pledge an aide dismissed as "government by gimmickry" during the 2002 campaign.
Romney does not deserve the support of anyone who values individualism, egoism and capitalism. His stated beliefs, if he were true to them, would continue America down the path started by George W. Bush toward a religious welfare state.
In light of some of the recent discussion in this comment thread about quantum mechanics, I asked Adam Reed the following question:
I'm exceedingly puzzled -- as I have been for quite some time -- by the attempt to make the concept "information" independent of consciousness. I cannot understand the concept except as a plethora of facts, as grasped and processed by human reason. Can you please define and explain what you mean by "information"? How is it distinct from and/or related to facts, qualities, causal powers, etc.?
For example, I know that people speak of genes as "carrying information," but I cannot see that as much more than an imprecise and potentially misleading locution. Genes aren't really the same as blueprints, for example. Rather, they simply have some very distinctive and fine-tuned causal powers.
(It's not the best-worded question ever, but in my defense, it was only a comment at the time!)
Adam replied as follows:
Your question might go a long way toward clearing up what I see as a persistent misunderstanding of the concept of information (as it is used in the information, cognitive, biological, and increasingly in the physical sciences) among philosophers, and even among scientists who were educated before this concept was identified and applied in their fields. Since in English linguistics we do without a mechanism for coining new words with clear semantics, scientists have no alternative but to label new concepts with words that in common, non-scientific usage already have other meanings, related distantly or closely to the new concept.
The new concept of "information," as defined by Shannon 1948, refers to what makes that which you call "some very distinctive and fine-tuned causal powers" distinctive in a specific way: their potential for being encoded in the attributes of more than one physical medium. For example, I might build a machine to decode an organism's DNA, send its sequence to another place by encoding it in photons carried by fiber-optic cables, and re-constitute it there as DNA, and even grow an organism, genetically identical to the original one, from this tele-replicated DNA in that far-away place. Similarly, what I am typing now on my keyboard will be sent through several media - electric currents and potentials, photons in fiber-optic cables, and so on - from my computer to yours. Then it can be printed with ink on paper - and from that medium scanned back into the form of electric potentials and currents, stored as polarities of magnetic domains on a disk, etc. etc. etc. The concept of information, in its scientific and technical sense, omits the measurements of specific media carrying a given sequence of attribute values - while retaining that which remains the same about the given sequence regardless of which specific physical medium that sequence is imposed on.
The attributes that remain the same include the quantity of information in the given sequence - so that, for example, I can calculate how long it will take to transmit one typical human genome at 400,000 bits per second, or how many bytes of disk space it will take to store it. There are other related measurements - Kolmogorov complexity, discriminability and so on - that are used in various scientific and engineering contexts.
The important thing here is that many information processes do not involve knowledge, or consciousness, in any way at all. The alignment of a mis-aligned part on a computer-controlled assembly line, for example, may involve the collection, transmission, processing and use of many, many bits of information without ever involving consciousness or knowledge.
I'm not yet sure what I think of that explanation. I perfectly well understand the concept of "information" as data independent of medium, as in my voice transmitted over telephone wires, my blog posts stored on the hard drive of the server. That concept is dependent on the human mind, in that the stuff stored must be somehow meaningful to humans. It must have some intentional content, even if not accessible without some "translating" devices, e.g. the telephone, the server. I can see a good analogy between such phenomena and genetic codes, for example. That genetic code is "translated" into its familiar form of a living organism by complex causal processes. Yet that partial similarity doesn't seem to warrant the integration of the two phenomena into a new concept.
I'm not decided against such a concept, however; I'm just skeptical. Heck, I'm not even sure that I fully understand Adam's explanation yet. That's why I've made this topic into a new blog post, as I'd like to give it a more prominent airing.
Middle East Milestones: The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
The Hapsburg Sandwich:Take a deep breath: In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile became joint rulers of Spain, creating a personal union for that kingdom. In 1477, Maximilian I Holy Roman Emperor married Mary of Burgundy, bringing a patchwork of states under direct Hapsburg control in central Europe. Then, these two families, so recently brought together themselves, were joined by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter Joanna to Max and Mary’s son Philip. Their son first became Charles I of Spain, and, then, in 1519 was elected Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. Phew!
Why do I call this the Hapsburg Sandwich? Well, Charles thus inherited a large portion of Europe, seen in the following map:
This raised the prospect of a universal monarchy for Europe.
In the middle, however, “sandwiched” by the Hapsburg lands, was a strong, unified Catholic France, possessed of a distinct national identity (born of the Hundred Years’ War), which had no intention of being subsumed by this imperial behemoth. Hence…
The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich: In 1529, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith, laying siege to the Hapsburg capital of Vienna, leading Catholic France to ally with the Muslim Empire in 1536 in an attempt to counterbalance Hapsburg power. In 1543, a combined Ottoman and French fleet captured Nice. In 1544, the Ottomans, at France’s request, also took Naples from the Emperor. They would continue to project power into Europe for another 150 years!
The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich is thus a major historical example of Western nations being absorbed by the question of the temporary “balance of power” while discarding ideology and common values.
Of course, it’s true to say that the only integrating ideology that Europeans had at the time was Christianity, and that the Ottomans did not really have the ability to conquer Europe, so one might argue that what France did might actually have been for the best–in the moment.
However, viewed in its full historical context, one sees that what followed was a wholesale abandonment of principles in European foreign policy. In that regard, the Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich seems to be a watershed point. Once the Reformation had done its work of disintegrating Christendom, Europe regressed into a period of pragmatism characterized by the projection of power for its own sake. Its “grand” monarchs, Louis XIV of France, Peter “the Great” of Russia, and Frederick “the Great” of Prussia, would initiate countless wars of aggression against their neighbors and their imperial targets.
And–which only made matters worse–it was at this point, when Western politics was devoid of principled guidance, that Europe became entangled by the “Eastern Question,” i.e. the question of what to do with the Middle East.
Course Announcement: The Islamist Entanglement (Pre-Registration Opens Today!)
By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Americans are deeply divided over the direction to take in the Middle East. Must we “stay the course” in Iraq, “cut and run,” “change course” and attack Iran, or something else–and how do we decide?
This February, Powell History presents The Islamist Entanglement, the third installment in the acclaimed A First History for AdultsTM curriculum. Finally, you have a chance to understand the historical context behind the most critical foreign policy challenge of our times, and bring this knowledge to bear to help steer America in the right direction.
For over 200 years the policies of Western powers have profoundly affected the development of the Middle East. Indeed, during that time, the West’s answer to the “Eastern Question” has been the single most important factor in determing the history of the region and its impact on world affairs. In the Islamist Entanglement, we will examine the how the West, and especially America, has perceived the Middle East in connection to Western interests, what policies have been attempted to mold the region according to wider objectives, and what their results have been.
Without the answer to these questions, any proposal for dealing with the Middle East today is little more than a historical “stolen concept,”–a proposal torn from the context necessary to validate it, and one which probably contradicts the centuries of precedent that this context provides!
So isn’t it time you armed yourself with the understanding that only history can provide? Untangle yourself from the moment, and get the “Big Picture”! Join Powell History for The Islamist Entanglement! (Classes start February 6th)
10 lectures, each 1.5 hours, for a total of 15 hours of instruction
your choice of live teleconference instruction or digital recordings
unlimited access to web-based recordings for repeat listening
“fact sheets” that summarize the history of each of the major Middle Eastern nations
tips and unique exercises to help you integrate and retain the material
Be sure to return to PHR later today, when pre-registration opens, and save an amazing $60 OFF the regular price of $249. (You pay only $189!) Just type “Monroe Doctrine” into the pre-registration password box.DON’T DELAY, THIS OFFER EXPIRES “CYBER MONDAY,” November 26th!
Irvine, CA--King Ranch and the environmentalist coalition Coastal Habitat Alliance are suing Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in an attempt to stop the creation of a windmill farm along the Gulf Coast in Kenedy County. According to the suit, the wind farm could kill migrating birds and damage the bay.
"From fossil fuels to nuclear energy, environmentalists have consistently opposed the development and use of every practical energy source," said Dr. Keith Lockitch, resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. "For decades they have been urging us to find viable sources of 'alternative energy.' Yet now that wind farms have become just such a source, environmentalists object to them as well, making it unmistakably clear that enabling us to efficiently power our industrial society was never their goal.
"All of the wealth Americans enjoy--the computers, the cars, the homes, the food, the medicines that enable us to live longer, healthier, happier lives--depends on large-scale creation of energy. To demand that we scale back on energy production and willingly accept crippling privations in the name of 'conservation,' is to demand that we return to pre-industrial squalor.
"Might that be what environmentalists really want?"
One county has banned rinsing car-wash detergent down storm drains; another city plans to restrict Boy-Scout car-wash fund-raisers; another has proposed to ban washing your car at home. Potential penalties include tickets or jail. Reasons: detergent pollution and water waste. Alternatives: commercial car-washes or "waterless" soaps that require no rinsing.
William Saletan of Slate then links to a detailed news account and goes on to list five complaints about such legislation, not one of which is that such intrusion violates individual rights. (The first is close, but not explicit enough about the principle. Some of the rest are worse than saying nothing at all.) Until and unless that objection starts making lists such as this more often than not, we won't have to worry about detergent going down the drain. Our freedom will already be there. File another one under "Why I Write".
For anyone who happens by and thinks that environmentalists are genuinely interested in saving the earth for future generations, I ask you this: What good will a pristine earth do them if they haven't the freedom to enjoy it?
We are at the point where the government sees fit to meddle in the most mundane and even personal areas of our lives. This is not government fulfilling its proper purpose, which is the protection of individual rights. This is tyranny, camouflaged as a concern for nature.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
My Time Crunch and Blogger's Comment Delays
My time crunch continues and may extend through the weekend, which would be good for me in the long run, but a big pain in the ... mean time.
And then, on top of that, I noticed this morning that my Blogger comments queue had something like six comments from yesterday in it awaiting moderation. These should have shown up in the Gmail account I normally monitor for blog business, but they did not for some reason. (Google has been tinkering with Gmail quite a bit lately.)
In any event, if you tried leaving a comment yesterday and wondered why I didn't post it, that's why.
Via email, I received the following ad.
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In this context, the following turn of phrase is very funny, but it still fits: This one's a no-brainer.
What's Spanish for "Meltdown"?
Hugo Chavez continues to reel from his electoral defeat. Those of you who know Spanish may enjoy the below video even more than the rest of us, who merely get to enjoy the facial expressions:
President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday called the Venezuelan opposition's unprecedented victory in the weekend's referendum "shit," signaling the firebrand former soldier was back on the offensive after initially humbly accepting his loss.
The self-styled socialist revolutionary was angry at a local newspaper report saying he had conceded victory in the narrow vote on expanding his powers only after the military pressured him. He called the report "shit," too.
It's calm, so keep it calm," Chavez said at a news conference in a message to the opposition. "I wish you knew how to manage your victory. But you are already covering it with shit. It's a shit victory and it's yours."
AddsThe Devil's Excrement, "[S]aying that word [i.e., "shit"] is against his own muzzle law, which bans the use of such language on TV and radio." So much for Chavez's professed concern for children and his claims of reverence for the "will of the people". (HT: Dismuke)
A decade ago, I lived in a crime-infested apartment complex where muggings, break-ins, vandalism, and car thefts occurred like clockwork. Ever since then, I have been extremely careful to gather all the crime information I can (e.g., from police reports) before relocating to a new area.
But what about annoying neighbors? The next complex I lived in was safer, but after a time, someone moved in who, for whatever reason, tended to take visitors during the wee hours. They'd drive up and blare their horns at two or three in the morning. And then, after I'd already decided to leave, a large family moved in next door and continually occupied the porch my unit shared with theirs. Every day, coming home from work, I felt like I was walking through someone else's living room on my way to the front door.
Complaining about the car horn did no good, and the big family wasn't really doing anything I had legal grounds to complain about. But still, if only there were a good way to warn others (and be warned) of annoying or intrusive neighbors as I wanted to when I was preparing to leave....
Now, there is a way! The Houston Chroniclereports that a web site, RottenNeighbor.com allows users to post their rotten neighbor stories to the web for the edification of others. The address of the offending neighbor is shown on a Google map of the area in question.
The article goes on to note some of the obvious legal issues such a site raises, but as someone who has had my share of real winners over the years, I plan to stop by there the next time I move. Why not have some quiet to go along with my peace of mind?
It happens every election. We get pieces written by Democrats about how their party -- a party full of naive saints who have dedicated their lives to helping the less fortunate -- must learn to be as mean as the Republicans in order to win.
And they're serious. They think they're good, moral people and Republicans are bad, mean-spirited people. They think Republicans are naturally "tough," but Democrats, being altruists, must make a conscious effort to fight back against their fellow man.
Peter Fenn has written the first such piece in this election cycle, titled, "Do Democrats have the backbone to win?"
The one concern gnawing at Democrats is the burning desire to nominate a candidate who can go head-to-head with the Republican nominee and pin him to the mat.
My other concern, I have to confess, is that a lot of Democratic presidential operatives may not be tough enough to handle what the Republicans have dished out.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, Swift-Boaters and the religious right have all proven that a “take no prisoners” approach really can work.
Now, remember that the Democrats are the party that invented Borking. For the last 20 years they have depended more and more on character assassination, smears and lies to win political contests. The Clinton White House looked through over 900 FBI files to dig up dirt on their enemies. The Clintons were willing to ruin the lives of the people who worked in the White House travel office in order to get their cronies in there. The Democrats have perfected the art of releasing dirt late in an election; just ask Bruce Hershenson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Dole and George W. Bush.
None of this dents the liberal self-image as a combination of teddy bear, Mother Teresa and Boy Scout. Because they are altruists and collectivists who want to use state power to help everyone, they believe they are good people, unlike those selfish, unenlightened Republicans.
The great thing about being good-hearted altruists is that nothing they do can be bad. The end justifies the means, so they can lie and smear Republicans -- whatever it takes -- and still be good and noble. Besides, those evil right-wingers deserve whatever they get.
Mr. Fenn gives examples to support his argument from recent elections.
Looking back at the 2000 and 2004 elections, a main conclusion that many come to is that Democrats did not respond well enough, did not fight back and did not take on Bush and the Republicans.
Al Gore was on the defensive on stories that were blatantly false — from Love Canal to “Love Story,” from “inventing” the Internet to wanting to destroy Detroit’s automakers.
I don't know if Bush and the Republicans were behind all of those stories about Gore. I think David Letterman is more to blame than the VRWC. But why did they stick? Because voters sensed that Gore is an enormous phony who never seems sincere and authentic. And as an environmentalist, his policies would end up destroying Detroit's automakers (and western civilization) if they were allowed to go to their logical end, whether Gore wanted to destroy them or not.
John F. Kerry, too, saw a record as a war hero turned upside down, impugning his patriotism and questioning whether he deserved his medals.
Maybe that's because he threw his medals away when he was a young antiwar activist and accused American troops of behaving like Ghengis Khan. The Swift Boat attacks were effective because they confirmed what people already suspected about Kerry. They made sense, given Kerry's radical, anti-American past.
Both Gore and Kerry were poor candidates who didn't respond to Republican attacks because they couldn't.
All the while, Bush, Cheney, John Ashcroft and the crew had avoided service in Vietnam. ... and blatantly.
None of that "chickenhawk" blather matters a whit because people know who is strong on defense. People know that the Democrat Party has many leftists in it that are outright anti-American. People aren't stupid: they can think abstractly; they understand that what Republican politicians did during the Vietnam War really doesn't matter.
So Mr. Fenn hopes the next Democrat running for President will attack like a Republican. Time to drag out the bean bag line.
This election year has to be different for the Democrats.
Politics ain’t bean bag, as they say.
I knew he wouldn't fail me. Mr. Fenn's thinking is so stale and cliche, he had to use the bean bag line.
My sense right now is that Clinton has an operation that can truly take on the Republicans...
Gee, ya think? Ya think Hillary Clinton has it in her to say a negative word about a fellow human being? Now, are you sure about this, Peter?
The Democrats do not help themselves by looking at the world through glasses that turn politics into a cartoon in which Republicans are these fat guys who smoke cigars and eat babies and Democrats are Bambi. The "reality-based community" is so out of touch with reality that it's amazing they win any elections at all.
A subscription to The Objective Standard is the perfect gift for your active-minded friends and relatives. The journal presupposes no specialized knowledge and will be appreciated by anyone with an interest in cultural or political issues. (While supplies last, we can even provide recipients with the complete set of back issue.)
The page on gift subscriptions also notoes: "Gift subscriptions can be given to institutions, such as libraries, too. And, although institutions pay the institutional rate, gifts to institutions are sold at the regular rate of $59 for a one-year subscription ($109 for two years). Promote your values widely; give liberally!"
We argue that the current crisis in American health care is the result of decades of government interference and violations of individual rights in health insurance and medicine. Hence the solution to the problem is not more government controls but instead to gradually and systematically transition to a rights-respecting, fully free market in those industries.
Normally, the articles are available to subscribers only, but the editor has made the full text of the article available for free online.
Officer Tazers man during traffic stop: reasonable, or unreasonable?
By Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Down at the Volokh Conspiracy, legal scholar Orin Kerr posts a video of a recent police stop in Utah where the officer electrically shocks the driver with a Tazer for failing to comply with his instructions. Was the officer's decision to use the Taser a reasonable use of force? Here's the video:
I say the officer's use of force was unreasonable. The police officer was not clear about his intention to place the driver under arrest. The driver, albeit confused and mildly agitated, thought he was negotiating his citation throughout the encounter. The police officer did not refute this mistaken, yet not dishonest premise. The police officer did not indicate the offense the driver was charged with, or that any further discussion or debate should be saved for a judge. Lastly, the police officer did not in any way indicate that the driver's signing of the citation was not an admission of guilt, but instead allowed the officer to release the driver without arresting him.
Knowledge of this incentive would likely have led to marked change in the driver's reaction. Instead, the police officer used his weapon to subdue a man who presented no immediate physical threat to him. I say his actions fit the definition of unreasonable to the letter.
Furthermore, as part of the practical aspect of policing, the officer's conduct escalated the situation rather then subdued it. If I were his superior, I'd fire him for recklessness and unprofessional conduct.
How do you call it though? Was the officer's use of force reasonable, or unreasonable?
By David from Truth, Justice, and the American Way,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Thanks to recent technological innovations, companies like 23andme are now able to offer comprehensive genetic profiles that can reveal predispositions towards certain health problems, and allow patients to take proactive measures to prevent them.Unfortunately, this potentially lifesaving diagnosis will not be available to most individuals because of so-called “genetic privacy” laws, such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed by the House earlier this year.One common argument used to justify such laws, is that genetic profiling will lead to a “second-class” of people who cannot obtain insurance or employment.Like most “ethical dilemmas” attributed to technology, this “Gattaca argument” demonstrates a lack of understanding of individual rights and basic economic principles.An analogy is useful to understand its flaws:
Suppose that you wanted to buy a used car.You have a choice of two dealerships: One dealership will provide the full specifications of the car, offer a test drive, let you look under the hood, provide a complete history from a trustworthy third-party, let you take it to your own mechanic, and even let you take the car back after a few days if you don’t like it.The other dealership tells you the year and model of the car and allows you to look at it, and that is it.Take it or leave it.Which dealership would you prefer?
Suppose that used car dealerships lobbied for a law that limited your information about their cars.(Such laws are common for doctors, lawyers, and drug companies, who face numerous restrictions on their freedom to advertise.) Who benefits from such a policy? First, due to the increased risk of purchasing a lemon, the value of used cars will fall dramatically.Owners of reliable cars will now prefer to keep their cars longer, while owners of lemons will prefer to sell.Less people will be able to afford a decent used car, and more will be stuck with cars they don’t want.There will be less incentive for car owners to maintain their cars, since their resale value will fall, as will the quality of used cars on the market.The auto dealers margins will go up, but their sales will shrink.New dealers will find it more difficult to enter the market because reputation will become more important than the prices and quality of individual cars.Much more effort will be spent on both advertising and researching reputable dealers.The overall effect will be to raise costs for everyone, discourage responsible ownership, increase fraud and deception, and benefit incumbent dealers at the expense of newer competitors.
Consider the consequences of such an egalitarian policy if it applied to health insurance.If the government completely outlawed discrimination based on all risk factors, insurance companies have to offer all customers a single rate.Healthy young women would be quoted the same rate as overweight, elderly men.What would be the result? It does not take an economist to predict that rates would rise immediately rise, as healthy people refuse to pay for their neighbor’s health risks.As the healthier people jump ship, insurance companies would have to increase rates, accelerating the trend. Without further government interference, the health insurance business would disappear completely, shortly after millionaires on their deathbed become the only people able to afford policies.
While such drastic restrictions on the ability of insurers to discriminate seem unlikely, the same principles apply to less restrictive measures, as well as “universal” insurance schemes. In response to the higher insurance premiums that these laws create, the public lobbies legislatures for price controls on health insurance and subsidies for the uninsured. Insurers and taxpayers respond to the growing costs of health welfare laws by pushing legislation that makes unhealthy behaviors and products (such as smoking and fatty foods) illegal. The more the government restricts discrimination based on health risks, the more pressure it faces to regulate and provide subsidies for health providers and forbid “unhealthy” behaviors by the public. Each additional restriction of insurers requires a corresponding subsidy or restriction of consumers, controls breeding more controls, until the entire healthcare industry is nationalized and freedom sacrificed for the “common good.”
Industries that do not face the odious regulatory burden of the healthcare industry have strong incentives to compete on the quality of their product.As their margins have shrunk, the total size of the market has grown.In competitive markets for used cars, some dealerships give cars expert inspections, refuse to buy lemons, and advertise their pricing up front.
If discrimination based on comprehensive genetic screening is legal, we can expect health providers to tailor plans according to our individual risk factors.That might be to the disadvantage of a minority of high-risk individuals, but greater information about risk factors will lower uncertainty, and thus lower rates overall.Furthermore, insurers will offer incentives to people who take proactive steps to discover health risks and take steps to alleviate them. Expensive procedures such as frequent biopsies or preemptive removal of organs might be fully covered for individuals whose genetic profiles uncover a high cancer risk.
If individuals are concerned with keeping the results of their genetic screenings private, they should ensure that screeners like 23andme are contractually obligated to keep their test results private, and prosecute them for the full damages resulting from an intentional or accidental disclosure. While the supposed purpose of genetic anti-discrimination laws is to “protect genetic privacy,” the actual effect is to remove the ability of insurers to provide financial incentives for people to get screened for potentially fatal genetic risk factors.This will only lead to unnecessary deaths from treatable genetic disorders and higher health insurance costs.
The Government Makes Mortgage Lenders an Offer They Can't Refuse
Irvine, Calif.--President Bush has just announced a plan that would freeze interest rates on many subprime loans that would otherwise reset to higher rates. Treasury secretary Hank Paulson says that such freezes are in everyone's interest because "foreclosure is expensive for all participants--lenders and investors--and this expense is an incentive to avoid foreclosure when a homeowner has the financial wherewithal to own a home." According to the Wall Street Journal, Paulson got lenders and investors to support his plan by "using moral suasion" and "prodding."
But "the government has no business getting involved here," said Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. "If it is in the interest of Countrywide, Citigroup, and investors to temporarily freeze certain borrowers' rates because foreclosure would be more costly, then they are perfectly free to do so. But this new government scheme will undoubtedly induce lenders to freeze loans when it is not in their interest--because the government's so-called prodding is backed by the threat of coercion. Does anyone doubt that if the lenders did not 'agree' to this scheme, they would be faced with some new punishing legislation, or be deprived of some backroom bailout bribe the government is offering them?
"The only variable the government adds to today's mortgage market equation is force--the ability to compel lenders, investors, and borrowers to act against their own judgment. Whether and when to renegotiate loan terms should be up to those who signed the contracts--and no one else."
Free the market; Government interference hampers healthcare reform
By Yaron Brook and Keith Lockitch
The Democratic presidential candidates are agitating to have the government do something about the spiraling cost of healthcare, especially the cost of health insurance, which is becoming prohibitively expensive for millions of Americans.
Insinuating that the free market has failed to produce affordable health insurance, they offer a variety of government "solutions," including proposals for universal coverage that range from systems of mixed public and private insurance plans to the outright socialism of a single-payer system.
But these proposals cannot and will not cure our ailing medical system because they misdiagnose the disease: It is not the free market that has caused the healthcare crisis, it is government interference in medicine.
The notion that America has a private, free-market medical system is a widespread misconception. More than 45% of total spending on healthcare in 2004 was government spending. Our semisocialist blend of Medicare, Medicaid and government-controlled, employer-sponsored health plans-with its onerous system of regulations and controls on medical providers-is the opposite of a free market.
Our system is built not on the premise that each individual is responsible for his own well-being and healthcare, but on the premise that healthcare is the collective responsibility of "society." Our system aims to relieve the individual of the "burden" of paying for his own healthcare by coercively imposing its costs on his neighbors. Far from being consistent with American individualism, this is the essence of collectivism.
In a system in which medical care seems free or is artificially inexpensive, with someone else paying for one's healthcare, medical costs spiral out of control because we are encouraged to demand medical services without having to consider their real price. For every dollar's worth of hospital care a patient consumes, that patient pays only about 3 cents out of pocket; the rest is paid by third-party coverage. And for the healthcare system as a whole, patients pay only about 14%.
Government-run healthcare, in particular, has fueled explosive cost increases. Prior to the inception of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, healthcare spending was less than 6% of the gross domestic product. Today, it is 16%, one-sixth of the U.S. economy-with Medicare alone accounting for half the growth in healthcare expenditures. As spending explodes, the government cracks down by enacting coercive measures: price controls on medical services, cuts to medical benefits and a crushing burden of regulations on every aspect of the healthcare system.
These controls and regulations make it harder to offer medical services profitably, burying doctors, nurses and other providers in bureaucratic red tape and ultimately driving them out of the field. Drug companies are forced to cut back on the development of new drugs. Insurance companies are forced to restrict their policies. The shrinking supply of medical services, combined with an artificially increased demand, drives costs and insurance premiums still higher. This leads, in turn, to cries for still more government controls, which cause even more problems, and so on and so on, in a vicious cycle of destruction.
The Democratic candidates' proposals are just the latest iteration of this cycle-an attempt to solve the problems in our healthcare system by enacting the same kinds of destructive measures that caused the problems in the first place.
Although the proposals are couched in such positive-sounding euphemisms as "guarantee universal coverage," "ensure better preventive care," "modernize record-keeping," and "reduce waste and inefficiency"-there should be no doubt that what they would mean in practice is a massive expansion in government interference and further distortions of the free-market mechanisms that keep quality up and costs down.
Consider, for example, the goal of modernizing the healthcare system. It would be one thing for hospitals, doctors' offices, and insurance companies to modernize their procedures and record-keeping voluntarily, because they judged it an effective way to boost their productivity. It is a very different thing to attempt to impose "modernization" by government decree. All it can possibly mean in practice is a new flurry of regulations forcing medical providers to adopt government-approved technology, whether they have a use for it, overseen by a new government bureaucracy with all of its inevitably attendant inefficiency and waste. This would be like putting Amtrak in charge of modernizing train service.
Or consider the issue of universal coverage. A proper approach to healthcare reform would address the problem of skyrocketing insurance premiums by uprooting its fundamental cause: the shifting of responsibility for healthcare costs away from the consumers of medical services. A proper approach would remove the bizarre incentives that created our current employer-based system; lift the regulatory chains stifling the health insurance industry; and inaugurate a gradual phase-out of all government insurance programs, especially Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, the Democratic candidates propose to force businesses, insurance companies and taxpayers to simply shoulder the extra costs of herding every single American into our current collectivist system.
The solution to the healthcare crisis brought about by our hyper-regulated, collectivist medical system is not more regulation and more collectivism. We must remove government from medicine and put an end to the system that forces us to pay for other people's healthcare.
In freer industries, such as computers or shoes, there is no crisis of affordability or quality, because people don't demand free computers or shoes as a "right" to be enforced by government decree. We need to recognize that the same should apply to medicine; there is no right to healthcare-to be provided at others' expense. We must reject the proposals to expand collectivized healthcare-the Democrat proposals as well as those of the Republicans, who pay lip service to the free market but offer no fundamental changes to our current collectivized system.
What we need is a true free market in medicine, one in which the government's only role is to protect the individual rights of doctors, patients, hospitals and insurance companies to deal with one another voluntarily.
Yaron Brook is president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, Calif. Keith Lockitch is a resident fellow at the institute.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
This morning, a quick skim of the Houston Chronicle led me to a story (alternate link from the Washington Post) that immediately reminded me for more than one reason of Michael Berliner's essay, "Against Environmentalism", particularly the following passage:
The fundamental goal of environmentalists is not clean air and clean water; rather it is the demolition of technological/industrial civilization. Their goal is not the advancement of human health, human happiness, and human life; rather it is a subhuman world where "nature" is worshipped like the totem of some primitive religion.
If the good of man were the aim of environmentalists, they would embrace the industry and technology that have eradicated the diseases, plagues, pestilence, and famines that brought wholesale death and destruction prior to the Industrial Revolution. They would embrace free enterprise and technology as the only solution to the relatively minor dangers that now exist -- minor compared to the risks of living in a non-technological world.
But by word and deed, they demonstrate their contempt for human life. [bold added]
Given that our public policy "debate" is so often premised on making a "scientific" case for more government intrusion into our lives -- and that science, being government-funded, is sometimes highly politicized, little else could explain the motivation behind the scientific study described in the Chronicle:
Divorce isn't just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study authored by two Michigan State University researchers.
The analysis found that co-habiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water.
Their paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, also found that if the divorced couples had stayed together in 2005, the United States would have saved 73 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water in that year alone. [bold added]
"Divorce isn't just a family matter." So the woman who wakes up and realizes that she should take control of her own life and leave the sodden, abusive lout she married as a foolish girl should worry instead about the total of their separate electric bills should she do so? The man who learns that his wife has been sleeping around should remember that, at least when she isn't "saving water" under some other guy's roof, she's reducing water consumption under his? The couple who realize that, while they are both decent people, but just don't belong together, should take a life-long vow of unhappiness and frustration for the sake of a smaller "footprint" on an inanimate and uncaring Earth?
The examples above may sound ridiculous, but they are the logical conclusion of the unstated premise of the study, which is that preserving nature (whatever that means) is intrinsically important, and so outweighs man's desire for happiness. Environmentalism doesn't just threaten to make it impossible for man to live. It also threatens to make us miserable while we are still around. This is because environmentalism has nothing to do with furthering man's life.
The next thing you know, we're going to have to force young couples to undergo marriage counseling before they tie the knot -- or make it harder to get a divorce -- so they'll be less likely to harm the environment by doing so later on. Sorry! The religious right already came up with that one! (Including the following money quote: "It's in the state's interest for marriages to be saved.")
But on a more serious note, what other purpose could such a study (whose results a five-year-old could predict) have in today's context than to motivate a hue and cry for the government to "do something" so "society" won't have to pay so dearly for failed marriages?
The frequent coincidence in the approaches of the environmentalists and the religious right in calling for prescriptive law lies not just in the fact that both view the government's purpose as guiding human behavior (rather than protecting individual rights), but also in the fact that both share the same fundamental outlook on morality, which Berliner identified as intrinsicism. The intrinsicist views some actions as good regardless of motivation or consequences. The environmentalists and religious right differ only in which particular things they view as intrinsically good.
But not always: Diana Hsieh recently discussed a convergence between the two, the religious adoption of environmentalism as "stewardship", including the fact that environmentalism could become more dangerous as part of a religious outlook.
Note that she emphasizes a nihilistic animus behind environmentalism. I think that this is true of environmentalist intellectuals, but not so much of the rank-and-file, who take the professed motivation of "saving the earth" at face value. This is what makes the notion of "stewardship" so dangerous: Past a point, the nihilism of the left becomes impossible to ignore. But religion is much trickier, as Diana points out, and I have also indicated.
Iran has been at war with America since November 4, 1979, when Iran seized the U.S. diplomatic mission in Tehran. Since then Iran has been behind numerous terrorist attacks, including the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed 241 American servicemen, 220 of whom were Marines.
This was the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima (2,500 in one day) of World War II and the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the 243 killed on 31st January 1968 — the first day of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war. The attack remains the deadliest post-World War II attack on Americans overseas.
Reagan's response was in effect the same as Carter's response to the hostage crisis: nothing. America continued its pragmatic policy of hoping to appease Iran and avoid war.
The war has continued to this day. In Iraq Americans are being killed by weapons provided by Iran. And yet, we continue to respond with the same pragmatic appeasement as we always have. Currently, our state department is hoping for a "diplomatic" solution with Iran. It seems that as long as Iran keeps the killing of Americans to an acceptably low number our government will continue to appease on a day-to-day basis.
Iran is the fountainhead of totalitarian, militant Islamic fundamentalism. As Leonard Peikoff put it in "End States Who Sponsor Terrorism,"
If one were under a Nazi aerial bombardment, it would be senseless to restrict oneself to combatting Nazi satellites while ignoring Germany and the ideological plague it was working to spread. What Germany was to Nazism in the 1940s, Iran is to terrorism today. Whatever else it does, therefore, the U.S. can put an end to the Jihad-mongers only by taking out Iran.
Only by ending decades of being a "paper tiger" by destroying Iran's regime of the mullahs will Islamic fundamentalists understand that we are serious about fighting back in the war they started against us.
When America invaded Afghanistan and Iran after September 11, 2001, I supported those actions. Not only were the Taliban and Saddam Hussein dangerous, anti-American dictatorships, but by gaining Afghanistan and Iraq we would have Iran surrounded. We are now in an excellent strategic position to finish off Iran.
U.S. troops were sent, not to crush an enemy threatening America, but (as Bush explained) to "sacrifice for the liberty of strangers," putting the lives of Iraqis above their own.
Unlike Mr. Journo, who holds that invading Iraq was worse than doing nothing, I held out hope that Bush would go on to attack Iran. That hope has now been crushed:
A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.
Norman Podhoretz notes that the report's conclusion is the opposite of what they concluded just two years ago. He thinks the intelligence community is being too safe in light of their embarrassing mistakes regarding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. And worse:
But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations.
This report comes at a moment when the idea of attacking Iran was beginning to gain some momentum. As Robert Tracinski wrote on September 23, 2007,
For more than a year now, I have been arguing that war with Iran is inevitable, that our only choice is how long we wait to fight it, and that the only question is what cost we will suffer for putting off the necessary confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
Now, finally, there is evidence that some of our leaders are beginning to recognize the necessity of this war and are preparing to fight it. And so for past few weeks, as I have been documenting in TIA Daily, the newspapers have been filled with rumors and speculation about an American air war against Iran.
How is it that the greatest state sponsor of terrorism remains untouched by the "war on terrorism?" It is because America lacks clarity of thought about the war and is guided by faulty philosophical premises. This philosophic failure is not primarily the fault of the anti-American left -- if the right thought clearly and well about the war the left would be ignored and forgotten -- no, the problem lies with the Republicans who claim to be fighting terrorism.
60 years ago we soundly defeated fascism and left Germany and Japan free countries in four short years. That was before the rise of the New Left, altruism and multiculturalism. You could think of WWII as the last gasp of America's Enlightenment heritage of individualism and rational self-interest. Today we're incapable of fighting a serious war and doing what it takes to destroy the enemy.
This latest NIE report effectively stops our war effort as a result of our confusion of purpose. Imagine that Bush had said, "Saddam is a dictator who threatens America and we have right to destroy all dictators who threaten us. We will use Iraq as a base from which to destroy all states that sponsor terrorism." Everything would be different today. The UN would have squawked, as it is full of dictatorships that hate America, but who would care?
Instead, the Bush administration unwisely fomented WMD's as a cause of war in Iraq because it deferred to "world opinion" and wanted the UN to endorse the invasion. Bush set the precedent in Iraq: America would not pursue its self-interest, but would let the UN set the terms of the war. Since WMD's seem to be the UN-approved justification for war, a report that says Iran has halted its nuclear bomb program means the world would shriek if America now attacked Iran. Never mind that our intelligence is uncertain or that Iran might restart its program tomorrow.
What does this mean for the future? The enemy lives on to attack us another day. Sooner or later he will attack. As Andrew McCarthy writes,
Khamenei has reaffirmed that "Death to America" is Iran's motto, Ahmadinejad says a world without America is achievable, we have 30 years of evidence of the Iranian regime acting on those assumptions...
Iran is ideologically committed to destroying the Great Satan, America.
A liberal once told me that America must learn to live with terrorism as Israel has. To this altruistic liberal America seriously asserting itself and destroying our enemy was inconceivable. To the left our only conceivable future is one of long-term terrorism appeased by American sacrifice to the rest of the world.
I worry about what "learning to live with terrorism" would do to the American character. Cynicism and defeatism would spread through our culture as it did in the Hellenic Age and in the Roman Empire. I fear that mysticism would spread as Americans react to hopelessness in this world the way Augustine reacted to the sack of Rome.
[Augustine's The City of God] was written soon after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. This event left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many saw it as punishment for abandoning their pagan religion. It was in this atmosphere that Augustine set out to provide a consolation of Christianity, writing that it was the City of God that would ultimately triumph — symbolically, Augustine's eyes were fixed on heaven, a theme repeated in many Late Antiquity Christian art forms.
Hopelessness and cynicism would be good for the worst elements of the right and the left. They would increase mysticism and religion; and they would play into the New Left's project of replacing America's heritage of individualism with collectivism and statism.
When you think of the long-term stakes in this war, it really would be better for us to take it seriously and win the damn thing. We cannot afford to "learn to live with it." Such a lesson would cost America its soul.
AUSTIN, Tex., Nov. 29 (AP) -- The state's director of science curriculum said she resigned this month under pressure from officials who said she had given the appearance of criticizing the teaching of intelligent design. The Texas Education Agency put the director, Chris Comer, on 30 days' paid administrative leave in late October, resulting in what Ms. Comer called a forced resignation.
The move came shortly after she forwarded an e-mail message announcing a presentation by Barbara Forrest, an author of "Creationism's Trojan Horse." The book argues that creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Ms. Comer sent the message to several people and a few online communities.
Ms. Comer, who held her position for nine years, said she believed evolution politics were behind her ousting. "None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses," she said. Education agency officials declined to comment Wednesday on the matter. But they explained their recommendation to fire Ms. Comer in documents obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act. "Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that T.E.A. endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral," the officials said. The agency documents say that officials recommended firing Ms. Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination.
The officials said forwarding the e-mail message conflicted with her job responsibilities and violated a directive that she not communicate with anyone outside the agency regarding a pending science curriculum review. The documents criticize Ms. Comer for giving a presentation and attending an off-site meeting without approval. It also said she had complained that "there was no real leadership at the agency."
This incident speaks volumes about the commitment to teaching religiously-motivated pseudo-science in the state government of Texas. Creationism has become dogma. To dissent -- to even suggest some exposure to criticisms of creationism -- is unacceptable. That's not good news.
By Dan Edge from The Edge of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog
In my last blog entry, I presented an example of the ‘cash value’ of mind-body integration.I showed how an understanding of one’s own psycho-epistemology could help him train his emotional responses to values.Also in that entry, I promised another example of the benefits of mind-body integration -- this time related to sexuality.I will fulfill that promise here.
Let us consider another example:A young man discovers Objectivism as a freshman in high school.He dives into Rand’s philosophical works with gusto.On the weekends, while many of his peers are competing in sporting events, or going to dance clubs, or going out on dates -- he is cloistered in a local coffee shop with Atlas Shrugged.
Intellectually, he is light years ahead of his classmates.But (in part) as a consequence of his self-imposed isolation, he becomes socially awkward.He has very little experience talking to women, especially in a romantic context.This awkwardness continues into young adulthood, even after he graduates college and develops a healthy self-esteem.He continues to have difficulty attracting the kind of woman he desires.His romantic life is suffering.What can he do to improve this situation?
Obviously, he must continue to broaden his mind and practice a rational philosophy.This will ensure that he has all the tools he needs to live productively and foster a healthy self-esteem.Additionally, if he is a student of mind-body integration, then he can focus his productive efforts on developing his sexuality – to become more desirable to his ideal woman.He can learn to become more masculine.
How is this possible?
As I argued in my essay The Psycho-Epistemology of Sexuality (from part 6), “Men can develop masculinity, and women femininity, by automatizing physical motions that are consonant with one’s distinctive physiology.”A man can become more masculine by learning to act, physically, like a man.He can train his body to automatize expressions of masculine power.
As a responsible and avid reader of The Edge of Reason, the young man in our example begins to think of ways to develop his masculinity.He joins a gym and takes the free lessons that teach him how to use the equipment.He goes 3 times a week to make his body strong.Every now and then, he changes up his workout and experiments with different physical activities (swimming, climbing, kettle bells, etc.).He takes a martial arts class and practices the movements at home.He takes dance lessons and learns how to lead a woman gracefully across the floor.
Each of these activities involves a repetition of physical motions, which are then automatized by the subconscious.Whether one is aware of it or not, this automatized physicality travels with him wherever he goes.It effects the way he walks down the street, the way he stands in the subway, the way he holds his body while he’s reading, everything.If one has learned to lead a woman around a dance floor, those instincts are with him as he leads her into his arms for their first kiss.
There are psychological benefits to this kind of self-training, as well.If one is training his body with the conscious effort to improve his sexual physicality, then it can enhance his self-esteem and give him more confidence in romantic situations.As any man will tell you, it can take large kettle bells to kiss a woman for the first time.It takes courage, and being comfortable with one’s own body is crucial.
To conclude our example: It should come as no surprise that our young man, having developing his body along with his mind, has become more attractive to women.Not only does he look more desirable, he moves and feels more desirable.He begins to meet women at the gym, at the swing dance club, and at NYU Objectivist Club events who notice and appreciate his new physicality.His confidence soars, and he emails Dan Edge to thank him for his advice.;)
I hasten to add that physical training alone will not “cure” a socially awkward personality.I offer here only one method in what must be a life-long series of conscious, continual self-improvement.That said, I hope you would agree that working towards mind-body integration most certainly has ‘cash value.’
“The poll of 1,239 adults was conducted by Zogby International between October 10 and October 14, 2007 at the request of Freestar Media, LLC. Among the poll’s 80 questions was ‘Have you everread the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand?’”
“Could reading Atlas Shrugged promote financial success? The poll found that 14% of those earning $100,000 a year or more have read Atlas Shrugged while only 2% percent of those earning less than $35,000 a year have read it. ” [It worked for me!]
More interesting tidbits:
About the same percentage of men and women have read Atlas Shrugged, 48.2% men vs. 51.8% women. However, respondents living in the east (11%), west (10%), and south (9%) are about twice as likely as those living in the central/Great Lakes region (5%) to say they have read the book. Among the poll’s other findings: 38.7% of passport holders have read it, as have 10.8% of people who visit YouTube.com a few times a month.
By Kendall J from The Crucible & Column,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Big Oil, that pejorative used by today's politicians to refer to large petroleum companies such as ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, needs an overhaul. While our politicians today continue to point fingers at private oil companies as an example of capitalism run amok and the source of significant global disruption, from global warming, to price gouging to globalization, a new specter has been rising.
Diana Hsieh over at Noodlefood had a nice post showing where the majority of the worlds oil reserves are located. The follow-on implication to that is that today, the bulk of the world's oil is controlled by state-owned companies. 16 of the 20 largest oil companies are state-owned. They control over 90% of the worlds oil reserves. In the mid-20th century, the Seven Sisters that made up Big Oil were all private. With the advent of nationalization of many of the developing worlds oil fields, and the rise of state owned petroleum companies, the new Seven Sisters (as named by the Financial Times). They are, in order of prominence: Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), JSC Gazprom (Russia), CNPC (China), NIOC (Iran), PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrobras (Brazil), Petronas (Malaysia). Saudi, Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela; this is not a list of freedom-loving countries, and it is no accident that totalitarian regimes hold power in each. Aramco, by far the largest of these, by itself produces 5-6 times more oil than either BP, Shell, or ExxonMobil. And it has some of the lowest production costs of any oil producing venture, probably in the single digit $/barrel. That means it pockets over $90 of every barrel sold (at today's prices), where private companies don't make nearly that much money. Compared to the multi-national private companies, these state-owned firms are behemoths.
That much money serves as the national bottomless well in many of these countries, and it is what funds their statist ambitions. With the nations so well-endowed with resources, the negative effects of their totalitarian regimes are masked and, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, the country is able to prosper in spite of the politics driving it. Leaders are able to effectively buy their population's passivity.
The basic requirements of capitalism; long term planning, re-investment of resources, and expansion will ultimately be the undoing of these statist regimes. It already shows. Only three of the new Sisters has become a global players, the rest confined to their home fields as their surplus assets are siphoned off. But the downfall of these regimes will not come for a long time, and the threat they pose until that time is great.
While our politicians still hound Big Oil, they fail to see the rising threat and prefer to continue to hobble our own industry with extra gas taxes, environmental regulations, supposed price-gouging restrictions, restrictions on oil futures markets, and drilling restrictions. The answer is laissez faire; free up our own oil industry to compete aggressively; and defend the rights of private oil companies when bullied by the nations who deal with them.
"The United States has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Canada, which has national health insurance."
"Some 47 million Americans do not have health insurance."
"Health costs are eating up an ever increasing share of American incomes."
The author concludes by saying that, "As we look at reform plans, we should be careful not to be fooled by statistics into thinking that the problems we face are worse than they really are."
That's true, but it does not go far enough. Neither gloomy statistics nor scary anecdotes could ever justify violating the rights of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, as well as insurance companies, patients, and taxpayers. The government should protect everyone's rights to property and contract -- not violate them with burdensome entitlements, regulations, and taxation. That's the only possible solution to the problems in today's health care system.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Stopping by Powell History Recommends this morning, I encountered blog postings from around Thanksgiving with the above three words in them. Yes, they have a common theme, but no, the posts do not discuss a loosening of the belt after a prolonged Thanksgiving feast on sandwiches of leftover turkey. In other words, the posts aren't about the Battle of the Bulge in a figurative or even a historical sense.
But just as overindulgence during the holidays can result in extra poundage, so can the past events of history result in weight (of the psychological variety) for those who live in the present, shaped as it is by those past events. That is the valuable insight Mr. Powell offers us in these posts.
To start with a simple example, Powell considers the controversies (inspired by religion and inflamed by the taunts of multiculturalism) surrounding the holiday America just celebrated in "Happy Thanksgiving!":
The real problem with America's traditional Thanksgiving is not, however, that the Indians don't get enough credit for giving corn and fowl to a few starving Protestant zealots, or that eventually, as growing numbers of Europeans arrived, they engaged in various means–some odious–of taking over "Indian land." That's a complex question that can't possibly be answered in a one-line rebuttal, but again, it's just not the issue.
By the time Thanksgiving became a regular, national observance, and President Lincoln issued his "Proclamation of Thanksgiving" it was already obvious that the source of America's copious abundance–including the disproportionate "bounty" enjoyed by the North over the South–was human productivity (made possible by political freedom), not some divine bestowal. [bold added]
My regular readers already know, even if only from yesterday's post, that I agree with Mr. Powell on the significance of Thanksgiving. But note that when one considers the origins of the holiday in their full historical context that additional facts supporting our point of view become apparent.
A knowledge of history here has two benefits. First, one has more intellectual ammunition to use against America's obvious detractors on the left and her false friends on the right. Second, one is more certain about the justice of the holiday and so is better able to enjoy it free from the guilt that these modern-day Puritans would have us feel about celebrating anything. You can better defend and enjoy a great value.
But knowing history is far more valuable than just getting to enjoy a guilt-free holiday. Powell demonstrates the full extent of the power of knowing history in two other posts about the dealings of the West with the Middle East. Yesterday, in "The Weight of History", he considered the Palestinian "peace" process, which has gone on for four decades since UN resolution 242:
The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the "peace process." [bold added]
Not to discount the role of philosophical ideas in guiding the actions of men, but if more people would only put two and two together in a historical sense, we'd have stopped playing this deadly game decades ago. Terrorists belong at the business end of a gun, not at the negotiating table. Ignorance of (or a failure to learn from) history can be -- and is -- deadly.
Powell's further exploration of this failure to evaluate historical events over time in "Middle East Milestones: The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich" shows that our present actions in the Middle East are just one small example of a kind of approach to foreign policy that has been tried and failed for ages, and that really ought to be questioned by now as a matter of civilizational survival.
Not only that, but in addition to hampering the West whenever it confronts the Islamic world, failing to learn from history, and so to be better able to avoid the mistakes of the past has shaped the character of countless individuals across an entire continent over vast stretches of time:
As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German "Weltschmerz" ("world weariness")? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the "sense of life" of a culture.
History as taught by Mr. Powell is not just fascinating. It is powerful stuff!
This week, I have a particularly evil near-convergence of two deadlines. The second (but more labor-intensive) of these had me in the lab all day yesterday, causing the first to keep me up until four in the morning last night (on a less arduous, but still-challenging task). So much for having made up for a big sleep deficit Sunday morning!
In any event, if posting is sporadic over the next few days, that would be why!
Jason Roberts has returned!
Jason Roberts, a very promising blogger whose classics-centered blog, Letters from an Enthusiast, was a favorite of mine, has returned after a two year absence!
And he's back with a bang, too. I found this article on the influence of Plato on Western philosophy very thought-provoking:
The significance of this passage is far greater than an understanding of justice and happiness (Socrates) or a link between metaphysics and ethics within a philosophical system (Plato). It is that, for the first time in Western history, a philosopher has posited the idea that man can understand his nature by inquiring within, and from this knowledge act in a manner which allows him to attain a state of happiness. Put more simply, Plato internalized ethics. A simple way to prove this is to examine the ethical philosophies of philosophers before and after Plato.
The evidence almost speaks for itself: the pre-Socratics viewed ethics externally, the post-Socratics (or Platonist) viewed ethics internally. Plato's revolution was ultimately a fundamental shift in thought and focus which allowed all subsequent philosophers to debate the details: Who gave man the form and function? God, the gods, or evolution? (Metaphysics) What is man's function? Reason, faith? (Epistemology) What are man’s virtues which allows him to act excellently in regards to his function? (Ethics). How ought man to apply these virtues in regards to other people? Tyranny, Oligarchy, Democracy? (Politics). Plato gave his own view under the name of Socrates.
It's long, but worth your while. He's posted another long article on Plato's concept of the tripartite soul, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.
Welcome back, Jason!
You can visit his blog from here any time by looking in the sidebar.
Meanwhile, those of us lucky enough to be here already should "keep rowing" as the saying goes, by speaking up for open immigration. It is ridiculous that someone like Martin is having to enter a lottery to reach America.
Technology in Prudhoe Bay
This Saturday's Houston Chronicle had a brief, but mostly good article on how technological innovation is keeping Alaska's oil flowing even beyond the predicted life span of the reserves:
Prudhoe Bay was originally expected to produce about 9 billion barrels of oil when it started sending crude south to the lower 48 in 1977. At that rate it should have been tapped out by 1997, but today it has topped the 11 billion barrel mark and looks to have billions of barrels to go thanks to the new technologies.
Coil tube drilling is used in Midland and in the Middle East to reduce well costs. ConocoPhillips has even moved its most experienced coil tubing staff to the Houston headquarters so the technology can be applied worldwide.
"Alaska's North Slope has become a sort of playing ground where new technologies can be tried out and then used elsewhere," said Michael Rae, an analyst with Aberdeen, Scotland-based consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Now, would someone please explain to me by what right thugs from around the world claim the right to steal oil fields from their rightful owners -- the companies whose hard work and expertise make them valuable in the first place? This is one of the clearest examples of the point that man's mind is what creates value in the economy, even in the case of the natural resources that are supposedly there "for the taking".
And Speaking of Looters...
... I laughed out loud when I saw that the people of Venezuela shouted, "Por que no te callas?" so loudly that Hugo Chavez had to publicly admit defeat in his own socialist pesthole!
President Hugo Chavez suffered a stunning defeat when voters rejected sweeping constitutional changes that would have given him new powers to turn Venezuela into a socialist state, according to official results announced early today.
With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, the "no" vote beat the "yes" vote by about 51 percent to 49 percent, according to the National Electoral Council. Tibisay Lucena, who heads the council, said the trend in the voting was irreversible.
"Today we begin a new path, a democratic path," opposition leader Manuel Rosales told a news conference.
Shortly after the announcement, jubilant supporters of the "no" vote set off fireworks and honked horns in the streets of Caracas.
"It was a microscopic difference but the 'no' won," a somber Chavez admitted in a pre-dawn speech. "We recognize the decision of the people." [bold added]
Translation: "We lost by such a wide margin that it would have been my ass in a sling if we tried to cook the books any more than we did."
Re: Vancouver Prostitutes Lobby Ottawa To Permit Co-op Brothels, Nov. 12.
Just as women have a right to marry for money, they have a right to have sex for money. The fact that most people would find both decisions objectionable does not constitute grounds for making either one illegal. Consensual sex between adults--for free or for money--violates no one's rights and is therefore none of the government's business.
Anyone who considers prostitution, gambling or smoking to be immoral and self-destructive is free to not engage in these practices--and is also free to speak out against them.
No one has a right, however, to force his moral views on others.
By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog
Dick Morris, writing at RealClear Politics, argues that although Huckabee is a strong religious conservative, he is also a fiscal conservative. Too bad this doesn't mean that Huckabee wants the government's hand completely out of your pocket, and too bad his idea of keeping the government theft to a minimum involves ordering people around:
A recent column by Bob Novak excoriated Huckabee for a "47 percent increase in state tax burden." But during Huckabee's years in office, total state tax burden -- all 50 states combined -- rose by twice as much: 98 percent, increasing from $743 billion in 1993 to $1.47 trillion in 2005.
In Arkansas, the income tax when he took office was 1 percent for the poorest taxpayers and 7 percent for the richest, exactly where it stood when he left the statehouse 11 years later.
But Huckabee's strength is not just his orthodoxy on gay marriage, abortion, gun control and the usual litany. It is his opening of the religious right to a host of new issues. He speaks firmly for the right to life, but then notes that our responsibility for children does not end with childbirth. His answer to the rise of medical costs is novel and exciting. "Eighty percent of all medical spending," he says, "is for chronic diseases." So he urges an all-out attack on teen smoking and overeating and a push for exercise not as the policies of a big-government liberal but as the requisites of a fiscal conservative anxious to save tax money. [bold added]
So this guy did nothing to eliminate taxation -- or even to reduce the tax burden. In fact, on that score, he looks good only because everyone else is so bad. And to top it all off, he plans to pretend he's saving you money by limiting your freedom. How the hell is that supposed to be "exciting"?
Here's an exciting idea: People don't get medical care if they don't make their own arrangements to pay for it. Not only would that respect my individual rights, it would prevent me from paying taxes to bail out smokers and it would give them incentive to quit, not that the government would any longer make their foolishness my problem any more.
Dick Morris sounds like he is reassuring us about Mike Huckabee when in fact he should be sounding the alarm! Since I therefore doubt he has read "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism", let me pose the following question: What good does a steady (or even declining) tax rate do me if I lose my freedom? How is it really "my money" if I cannot spend it as I please -- say on a pack of cigarettes?
The various elements of "fiscal conservatism" have all become over time mere bromides in our sloppy political discourse thanks to the fact that so few understand the nature of individual rights, and so fail to see each freedom as part of an indivisible whole. We have seen "privatization" come to mean "fascism", "law and order" come to mean unnecessary restrictions on immigration (motivated largely by non-citizens using social services whose very existence depends on massive government looting), and "libertartian" to mean Big Brother making personal decisions for you).
It is in this same Orwellian sense that Mike Huckabee is a "fiscal conservative": He makes lots of noise about not raising taxes, but he challenges not one single solitary premise of the welfare state. As a result of not challenging the welfare state, he accepts its methods and goals, so long as they don't interfere too much with his ability to purchase votes from suckers by not raising tax rates.
Before you vote for Mike Huckabee, you should first consider becoming mydo-boy!
As much as I know about the rise of religion in America, the idea that tithing is a subject of public discussion in a well-respected national newspaper still floors me:
God Is So Reasonable, Only Asking For 10% November 28, 2007; Page A21
We encourage tithing at our church, not as a legalism, but as a means of grace. Indeed, not just tithing, but what our pastor terms "hilarious generosity," to the church, to the poor, to worthy God-centered causes ("The Backlash Against Tithing," Weekend Journal, Nov. 23). Why? First, God is worthy of our best. Giving is an act of worship that, at its best, reflects a genuine response to God's many gifts to us, including the gift of his Son. Perhaps the proper question to ask isn't "how much of my income do I need to give to God?" but "of all God has entrusted to me, how much can I justify spending on myself?" Second, the needs are great. It doesn't take much analysis to notice that small shifts in our own consumption can make a huge difference in the lives of many who are in need. Finally, giving, with tithing as a discipline, helps us unhook from the grasp of our materialistic culture. Give until it hurts? No, give until it helps! God's grace, our gratitude, generous giving: a recipe for a life of great freedom and joy.
Margaret L. McKinley Elder Narberth Presbyterian Church
Despite those stellar arguments, I must wonder: Why does an omnipotent God need my money? Is he somehow lacking in resources?
The Federal Communications Commission recently asked Congress to hand it broad powers to regulate "excessive violence" on TV, the way it currently restricts "indecent" speech: broadcasters who violate the FCC's limitations on "excessive violence" will face crippling fines and, potentially, the loss of their broadcast licenses. Isn't it time to ask: How did a country that reveres free speech end up with a government agency that imposes continually expanding speech restrictions--and where will those restrictions end?
Free speech means the right to express the products of the mind (scientific conclusions, artistic creations, political views, etc.) using whatever words or images one chooses over a medium one can rightfully access, without interference by the government. It means the right of a publisher to publish a controversial novel; the right of a newspaper to run an article criticizing the government--and the right of broadcasters to decide what content will flow over their airwaves.
But in 1927, just as radios were becoming widely used, the government seized control of the airwaves, declared them "public property," and assumed the power to regulate them in the name of the "public interest"--an undefinable term that can be stretched to mean anything. Thus broadcasters' right to free speech was cut off at the root, as the government, having irrationally barred broadcasters from owning the airwaves they made valuable through their technological innovation and broadcast content, went on to dictate how those airwaves could be used.
Initially the government pledged that only "obscene" speech--materials that "depict or describe patently offensive 'hard core' sexual conduct"--would be barred from the air. But having abandoned the principle of free speech and established itself as the unchecked arbiter of what could be said on the airwaves, the government was later able to ignore its pledge and, in 1978's FCC v. Pacifica ruling, expand its speech restrictions to include the broader (and even more nebulous) category of "indecent" speech. Thus, broadcasters could be fined for anything from profanity to sexual double-entendres, to vague references to sexual acts. Now, advocates of censorship are appealing to this precedent in order to justify regulating "excessively violent" content as well.
Moreover, Americans had been assured that speech restrictions would apply only to broadcasters operating on the "public airwaves." But now, in its quest to regulate "excessive violence," the FCC is insisting that its regulatory mandate be expanded to cover subscriber-based media such as satellite and cable TV.
If we allow this progression to continue, it is only a matter of time before the FCC starts restricting "offensive" philosophic or scientific views (as some religious opponents of evolution would like). And having gutted free speech on radio and television, what is to stop the government from censoring the Internet, books, and newspapers?
What made this trend toward increasing censorship possible--and inevitable? When the FCC assumed the power to subordinate free speech to the "public interest," it declared, in effect, that individuals are incompetent to judge what speech they and their children should be exposed to, and so their judgment must be usurped by all-wise FCC bureaucrats, who will control the airwaves in their name. Given this disgraceful principle, it did not matter that the FCC's initial restrictions were supposedly limited to speech pertaining to sex: if the government knows what's best for us in the realm of sexual speech and can dictate what we watch or listen to, then there is no reason why it should not control what ideas we should be exposed to across the board. To reverse this destructive trend, therefore, we must do more than resist new speech restrictions--we must abolish existing ones and restore our commitment to the principle of free speech.
Does this mean that parents must be forced to let their children view programming they regard as indecent or violent? No. It is a parent's job, not the government's, to decide and control what his child watches, just as the parent is responsible for deciding what he himself watches. If a parent determines that a show is not appropriate for his child, he is free to change the channel, turn off the TV, or block his child's access to it in some other way. His need to monitor what his child views on TV no more justifies censoring broadcasters than his need to vet what his child reads justifies censoring authors.
Americans face a choice: free speech or censorship. There is no middle ground.
Don Watkins is a writer and research specialist at the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead."
Copyright (c) 2007 Ayn Rand(R) Institute. All rights reserved.
About the Republican You Tube Debate on CNN, John Fund writes, "Almost a third of the questioners seem to have some ties to Democratic causes or candidates." I noticed something funny after the debate when they interviewed their focus group of "undecided Republicans" and a woman announced she favored John Edwards. A Republican who wants to vote for John Edwards?
I caught a few minutes of Keith Olbermann last night as he and John Edwards mocked the Republicans because they are outraged that they had to answer a question from a Democrat. If they can't do that, do they have what it takes to be President of the United States? Of course, if an unidentified Republican asked tough questions of a Democrat during a debate, Olbermann would lead the charge against "Republican dirty tricks."
In addition to Gen. Keith Kerr, who turns out from to be connected to the Clinton campaign, the list of Democrat questioners is raising suspicions.
Now it appears that an amazing number of partisan figures posed many of the 30 questions at the GOP debate all the while pretending to be CNN’s advertised “undecided voters.” Yasmin from Huntsville, Alabama turns out to be a former intern with the Council on American Islamic Relations, a group highly critical of Republicans. Blogger Michelle Malkin has identified other plants, including declared Obama supporter David Cercone, who asked a question about the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans. A questioner who asked a hostile question about the pro-life views of GOP candidates turned out to be a diehard John Edwards supporter (and a slobbering online fan of Mr. Cooper). Yet another “plant” was LeeAnn Anderson, an activist with a union that has endorsed Mr. Edwards.
How could CNN let this happen? Was it planned? Is it some sort of conspiracy?
I don't think so. I believe we're seeing the power of philosophy in action. The liberals at CNN would pick liberal questioners because they would think those questions are the best, most challenging ones to ask Republicans.
Remember, liberals think alike to a degree that it is hard for the rest of us to understand. They have a homogenous ideology, from which they do not stray for fear that they will be denounced as bad people. Progressive education is designed to destroy the virtue of independence; it creates me-too mediocrities who are terrified of thinking different from the group. Political correctness explicitly directs liberals on what they can think. They are accustomed to picking up the cues of what is acceptable thought and what is not.
So when the people at CNN hear questions about God, guns and gays, they think, "Yes, those are the pertinent, challenging questions we must ask of these religious conservatives." And those questions are not unreasonable. But questions regarding individual rights, liberty, the validity of the welfare state, the threat of totalitarian Islam, the anti-progress threat of environmentalism and so on do not occur to liberals. These questions are so far from altruist-statist-collectivist premises that liberals don't understand their importance and might not even be able to understand them at all.
CNN failed to examine the questioners because they failed to examine their bias. The liberal imagination cannot fathom ideas outside the ideology approved by the group. To the people at CNN there is their way of thinking and then there are those extremist wingnuts that no reasonable person takes seriously.
Once again, no conspiracy is necessary to explain suspicious leftist action. Conformists don't need to coordinate their actions, they need merely to act on the premises they hold in common.
Irvine, CA---At the opening of the Middle East conference in Annapolis, President Bush stated that the time is ripe for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. "The Palestinian people," he stated, "are blessed with many gifts and talents. They want the opportunity to use those gifts to better their own lives and build a future for their children."
But do Palestinians really want peace with Israel?
According to Elan Journo, resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, "On the day the Annapolis conference opened, more than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets to protest the peace conference." Gaza is the stronghold of Hamas, the Islamist group that denies Israel's right to exist. There were also demonstrations in the West Bank city of Hebron, organized by another militant Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, that regards Hamas as a sell-out for stooping to take part in elections. "The Palestinians who demonstrated," said Journo, "refuse to contemplate the possibility of peaceful co-existence with Israel; they're ideologically committed to replacing Israel with an Islamist regime."
"Yet despite the popular support for Islamists--Hamas won a landslide victory in the 2006 elections--Washington insists on regarding them and their many avid followers as fringe elements.
"The Bush administration and the Israeli government evasively claim they can marginalize such fringe groups by supporting the supposedly 'moderate' Palestinian faction Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has removed 178 Fatah militants from its wanted lists and Washington has bolstered Abbas with money and arms so that his faction can maintain order in the Palestinian territories. But Fatah 'security forces' refuse to pursue militants wanted by Israel. Why? A recent story in the New York Times explains: as a governor of the West Bank town of Nablus put it, 'We don't want to look like collaborators with Israel.'
"That these 'security forces' policing towns fear being branded 'collaborators' with Israel tells us a lot about what the supposedly 'moderate' Palestinian public expects them to be doing. Not 'collaborating' can mean only one thing: abetting the militants in attacking Israel--as the Palestinian Authority has done for years. This is the goal that has inspired Palestinians across the political spectrum for decades, and the reason they idolized the arch terrorist Yasser Arafat (who led Fatah before Abbas), and continue to glorify and support the legions of suicide 'martyrs.' The so-called moderates of Fatah, who have pursued the phased destruction of Israel, share the same goal as so-called radicals like Hamas, who openly seek to liquidate Israel; they differ only in the means and timeline they choose for their common goal.
"The conference in Annapolis is based on a lie," said Journo. "What kind of accommodation is possible between the state of Israel and the Palestinians who want to destroy it?
"Washington is urging Israeli concessions of land for the 'promise' of Palestinian peace, but such appeasement can only harm U.S. interests. By fostering such a deal, Washington will encourage the Islamists and help establish a new terrorist regime in the Middle East."