Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best Friends Are Bad, Say Educators

I usually push back whenever commenters say that Ayn Rand was prescient. After all, she didn't envision the negative consequences of collectivism and socialism, she lived through them, twice.

The first time was for ten years in Soviet Russia, then again for another twenty during the Hoover and FDR administrations. So, while the episodes in 1957's Atlas Shrugged may look predictive of today's events, they're actually an abstraction of the essentials she observed first hand.

However, she was imaginative and she had a superb ability to project an idea's logical consequences. That's nowhere more evident than in 1937's Anthem. I never expected to see the events of that novella brought to literal life, though. Now, they have been.

A group of 'educators' — and here the scare quotes are well and truly deserved — argue that having a best friend is bad.
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
[S]chool officials admit they watch close friendships carefully for adverse effects. “When two children discover a special bond between them, we honor that bond, provided that neither child overtly or covertly excludes or rejects others,” said Jan Mooney, a psychologist at the Town School, a nursery through eighth grade private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“However, the bottom line is that if we find a best friend pairing to be destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom, we will not hesitate to separate children and to work with the children and their parents to ensure healthier relationships in the future.”
I won't bother to counter their reasons; their pretense at being worried about bullying and unhealthy relationships are blatant rationalizations and not worth the bother. Their actual motives are not hard to discern, for anyone who has read Anthem. They're out to collectivize personal relationships, i.e. to make them impersonal. They are Dewey's heirs.

Choosing a close friend, someone who stands out as special, is to do just that: make that person stand out in one's hierarchy of values. To stand out is to stand apart, apart from the group, to regard one person as more important than another.

That, Progressive educators simply can not abide. It runs wholly contrary to their smothering collectivism and all-enveloping egalitarianism. To not be an interchangeable drone is to threaten the hive and to bring on the stings of the queen and her protectors.

If the parents in those school districts have a lick of sense they'll immediately withdraw their children until all those espousing such views have been completely purged. They should treat their children's exposure to that propaganda as they would an outbreak of small pox.

Sadly, that's about as likely as Obama being impeached. Even though it was a prominent story in the New York Times, most parents will read the story and shrug. Such lunacy has become so commonplace today it raises few eyebrows. When you live in the moral equivalent of the 14th century it's all too easy to get stoic about the plague.

It shouldn't be too surprising. After all, when the parents have themselves been raised by Comprachicos, the concept of a disease that destroys the soul becomes literally unthinkable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Some Questions for the Men in Black

If anyone can help me understand the thought processes of the Supreme Court Justices, I'd be eternally grateful. One day they support the Second Amendment, the next they violate the Fifth. They struck down a narrow (albeit, heinous) accounting rule, but left Sarbanes-Oxley standing.

Sure, I understand that even Clarence Thomas is no intellectual. But how this glaring inconsistency can be justified, pun intended, is beyond me. Even from the standpoint of a Pragmatist, their rulings make no sense.

Have they no understanding whatever of the concept "property rights?" Does the Commerce Clause trump everything? Did they learn nothing from Nixon's disastrous experiment with price controls? Can they not observe the precipitous fall in the rate of new IPOs? Are they completely ignorant of the idea that controls that violate property rights only lead to still more controls, until even the very idea of limited government becomes nothing more than an historical artifact?

Apparently, the SCOTUS majority is no more knowledgeable about economics — and its fundamental support from natural rights theory — than the average Congressman.

Insurers Warned Not to Maximize Profits

The White House has a few words of warning for insurers. Going beyond even Teddy Roosevelt's absurd position, they chose to speak loudly and carry a big, spiked stick.
The White House is concerned that health insurers will blame the new law for increases in premiums that are intended to maximize profits rather than covering claims. The administration is also closely watching investigations by a number of states into the actuarial soundness of double-digit rate increases.

Gasp! Insurance executives want to make as much money as possible for their companies. Outrageous!

Of course, what the rulers are really concerned about is that insurance companies, offering the mildest of objections as they become Federal utilities (they're already state-level utilities), will actually speak the truth. That, we simply cannot have. Hence, the preemptive Chicago thug tactics.

Naturally, those tactics have to be disguised with a spoonful of sugar.
The point is that there are genuine cost-drivers that are not caused by insurance companies. But what is also true is we've got to make sure that this new law is not being used as an excuse to simply drive up costs. So what we do is make sure that the Affordable Care Act gives us new tools to promote competition, transparency and better deals for consumers.

The CEOs here today need to know that they're going to be required to publicly justify unreasonable premium increases on your websites, as well as the law's new website -- As we set up the exchanges, we'll be watching closely, and we'll fully support states if they exercise their review authority to keep excessively expensive plans out of their insurance exchanges.

None of this is designed to deprive insurance companies of fair rates. And as I mentioned when we were meeting with the CEOs, there are a lot of cost-drivers other than those that are within insurance companies' control.
And the Feds have the right to establish price controls, why?

Well, never mind that rhetorical question for now. Observe instead that, once again, the Obamites have declared their social-engineering based view that a company is only entitled to a profit if it somehow represents a public benefit, private benefit be damned.

You have to give them one thing: for politicians, they're astoundingly consistent.

Animal Farm Media

To the modern so-called liberal, it's axiomatic that some pigs are more equal than others.
Rationalizing the President's four hour golf game last Saturday, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said, "I don't think that there is a person in this country that doesn't think that their president ought to have a little time to clear his mind." With tongue nowhere near his cheek, Burton offered the official White House pronouncement that Obama hitting the links "does us all good as American citizens."
But BP CEO Tony Hayward participating in a yacht race, not so much.

Frankly, I wish Obama would play golf all day, every day.

Netanyahu on Mideast War

Can't find where I got this, but thanks to whomever! It's a great quote.
It's a good time, perhaps, to be reminded of a point well made by then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2006 when for a brief period of time the rockets being fired into Israel were coming from Lebanon instead of Gaza:
"Here is a simple truth: If our enemies lay down their arms, there will be no more war. But if Israel lays down its arms, there will be no more Israel. For the crux of the conflict is their desire to destroy us."

[Update: Based on his comment, apparently I got this from the great Peter Cresswell at Not PC. Thanks, PC!]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Property Rights Are Popular?

According to Veronique de Rugy, in a discussion of the Kelo case, "88 percent of the public now believe that property rights are as important as free speech and freedom of religion."

I'm not sure what to make of this, or even where she gets the number. (It doesn't appear to be in the article to which she links.) If property rights are viewed so favorably, the existence of the culture in America in 2010 becomes completely inexplicable.
    The EPA can do anything to anyone for the flimsiest of excuses — whether that's regulating the carbon dioxide output of a utility or forcing farmers to refrain from draining a pond on their own property. No one on right or left talks about disbanding it.
    Cheery Green propaganda is everywhere, even in such odd places as the home page of Wells Fargo Bank's website and TV ads naming a new car model's distinctive value as "Eco-Boost." Yet, there is no mainstream, popular outrage expressed even in the blogosphere.
    Taxes confiscate roughly half the income of the middle class and the money is spent for massive social welfare programs for both rich and poor, or worse goals. Yet, tax revolts continue to attract only small numbers of protestors.
    Millions of individuals on most points of the political compass cheer when the salaries of executives are illegally capped by arbitrary fiat of an unelected bureaucrat in D.C.
    The Feds illegally violate the rights of auto company bondholders in favor of union cronies. There is no large-scale outcry.
And these horrors are just from the past two years.

I'm glad if most people disapprove of the Kelo decision. It sanctioned governments' arbitrarily confiscating private property to give to 'social good enhancing' businesses and is clearly malicious and anti-constitutional. But, if there's popular support for property rights, one has to wonder what opposition would look like. How close would the U.S. have to come to Cuba for the poll to shift?

Apparently, that number — assuming it's at all accurate — means only that most people would disapprove if Federal Black Shirts invaded a suburban neighborhood en masse and forcibly removed three quarters of the owners, then sold their houses for no reason whatever.

Sadly, at best this is just more evidence — sorry to sound misanthropic here, but I think it's true — that the overwhelming majority are simply too often unable to connect words to reality. And, that, in my view, is much more the basic reason for all of our current ills.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Huge Dinosaur Bone Deposits Found

Rounding out a trio of odd news items, here's one about a huge dinosaur grave discovered in - of all places - Alberta, Canada.
The Vancouver Sun reports that the massive dinosaur bonebed is 1.43-square miles in size. Eberth says it contains thousands of bones belonging to the dinosaur Centrosaurus, which once lived near what is now the Saskatchewan border.
So, apparently, Africa is not the only place the overgrown lizards roamed in large numbers. (Yeah, I've heard about Montana.) Frankly I never understood the fascination with massive ancient reptiles - though I'm fond of the smaller, modern variety. I think I was the only kid around who never had dinosaur toys and didn't salivate at the prospect of visting the Natural History museum.

Still, to each his own.

Who Invented the Flush Toilet?

Apparently, contrary to popular belief, Thomas Crapper was not the first inventor of the flush toilet.

Who knew? Who cares? Well, maybe some do. If so, here's a well-written, thoroughly researched short piece on the subject.

Animal Soccer: Dog v Deer

Quite possibly the strangest video ever recorded.

[Update: Sorry I can't embed it. You'll need to click on the link.]

I live around deer. They wander through the yard in the summer evenings, eat apples off the feeder in fall, and show up in winter looking for the corn I give them. But I've never seen one be this bold. They're generally fearful and run away at the slightest sound or movement. This video is simply unbelievable, and there's nothing to suggest the deer has been trained (if that's even possible).

Truly odd.

[Hat Tip Jonah Goldberg at NRO.]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bending the Curve, Not

Obama was fond of talking about "bending the cost curve" on health care before he and his cronies succeeded in foisting the PPACA on a largely unwilling populace. He has claimed also — with the support of what can only be at this stage willfully deluded Keynesians — that so-called stimulus spending would bring down unemployment.

Thanks to the mighty Veronique de Rugy, it is now utterly clear to any honest observer that no bending is in the offing in that curve either.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Brother, You Said It

"Were the tea partiers rabid left-wing professors instead of patriotic Americans, they would receive tenure and places of honor at highbrow luncheons. Were they veterans of UC Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, they would serve as nostalgic subjects for a Time retrospective.

Were Tea Partiers "demonizing" the American government in the deepest sense -- teaching the young to view the Founding Fathers with patronizing contempt and the documents they wrote as reactionary relics to be replaced by a "living Constitution" -- they would have jobs in the Obama administration."

- George Neumayr, From Woodstock to Civility Commissions, American Spectator, April 22

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill Comedy, Episode 95

Yet another absurd episode in the ongoing black comedy that is the Gulf oil spill...
"The Coast Guard came and shut them down," Jindal said. "You got men on the barges in the oil, and they have been told by the Coast Guard, 'Cease and desist. Stop sucking up that oil.'"

A Coast Guard representative told ABC News today that it shares the same goal as the governor.

"We are all in this together. The enemy is the oil," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Lauer.

But the Coast Guard ordered the stoppage because of reasons that Jindal found frustrating. The Coast Guard needed to confirm that there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board, and then it had trouble contacting the people who built the barges.

The governor said he didn't have the authority to overrule the Coast Guard's decision, though he said he tried to reach the White House to raise his concerns.

"They promised us they were going to get it done as quickly as possible," he said. But "every time you talk to someone different at the Coast Guard, you get a different answer."

After Jindal strenuously made his case, the barges finally got the go-ahead today to return to the Gulf and get back to work, after more than 24 hours of sitting idle.
So here we have yet another conservative state governor doing everything possible to respond to the emergency, hindered by the Feds. And some people still believe disaster relief should be part of their purview?

Tragically, I've seen this sort of thing in bureaucracies outside of government, as well. The mentality always insists on following the rules, regardless whether the rule in question serves it's purpose this time, heedless of the emergency status. Such people would forbid manning the Titanic lifeboats until they were certified by OSHA.

Sadly, just about what I would expect under Barack Obama's pseudo-leadership. Appearance is all that counts. Fortunately for those of us who live in the real world, reality is catching up with the Great Pretender.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Predictions About the BP Oil Spill

I generally try to stay away from predicting the future. I find accurately analyzing the present challenging enough. Still, I feel I'm on pretty safe ground with the following:
  • The undersea gusher will get plugged.
  • The beaches will get cleaned up.
  • Obama will take the major share of the credit.
  • There will be onerous and illogical regulations put in place.
  • Those regulations will not only do nothing to reduce the odds of future spills, they'll make them more likely and harder to clean up.
  • The Feds will not permit drilling in safer, easier to extract and protect, easier to clean up areas.
  • BP will pay out far more to politicians in the future than they already have, and the majority of the cash will go to viro-organization-friendly Democrats.
  • BP will pay far more than they are liable for to all manner of individuals, many of whom are only peripherally affected at most.
  • A year from now, very few people outside the southern states will care about the spill, and not many of those.
  • In the coming year, Obama and his cronies will create many new, far worse crises — which partly explains the previous bullet point.
Cynicism? I think not. It's just an instance of the response Hope Lange's character gives to Harrison Ford's in the movie Clear and Present Danger, when he complains: "Senator, I don't know where you're getting all this," after she makes some contentious suggestions. She says, "Long experience, sir."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Smartest Guy In the Room, Not

When I started studying physics in graduate school I initially thought I was one of the smarter guys around. It took less than a day to disabuse me of that wholly mistaken notion.

One of the professors was a woman in her late twenties who had her PhD from Princeton and was already becoming famous for her work on solid state materials. I shared pizza at the faculty-student get together with the man who won the Nobel Prize for proving the existence of neutrinos.

Even my fellow grad students would quickly show that most were far superior to me in the gray cell competition. One Russian kid — I call him that because he was literally about 19 — gave a talk to the professors and showed that he knew more about statistical physics that most of them. He was at the board and wrote something that created a literal, loud gasp in the audience it was so brilliant and unexpected.

Still, woefully inadequate as I was, I did manage to get in and could do most of the homework assignments. So, I have some reason to believe I'm not a complete dunce.

CNN apparently believes otherwise.
Obama's speech on the gulf oil disaster may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday.

Tuesday night's speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. [Ed note: and keep in mind 10th grade ain't what it used to be.]
That is, as the saying goes, effing hi-larious. The day Obama says something that goes over my head — or that of the average American — I will kiss his butt. Somehow, I think the hygiene of my labia are safe for some time to come.

If Obama is the smartest man in the room, someone has been spiking the water supply with lead paint chips.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama the Thug, Part 27

The consensus on the left and right is that Obama's first Oval Office address was a dud. When you're a hidebound leftist and you've lost Eugene Robinson, you know you're in trouble. But I'm sure my beefs are very different from his.

Like any conscious being with some ability to sensibly allocate his time, I didn't bother to watch the speech. But I did read parts of it. What annoyed me was the whining of this part:
"I've talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don't know how they're going to support their families this year. I've seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers - even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected. I've talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists will start to come back. The sadness and anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.
Notice how he always falls back on the stereotypical community organizer's litany of disastrous effects and how the poor are suffering. This is exactly the way those petty thugs use moral intimidation to get their way with banks, mortgage lenders, city officials, etc. The technique is all Obama knows. He must have been a completely inept lawyer in the face of any judge who wasn't instantly impressed by the pity card.

But what truly ticked off me off was the sheer thuggery of this:
I refuse to let that happen. Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."
Notice the sheer lawlessness of his attitude toward BP. He will "inform" them they are going to do such and such, as if there are no laws to follow in the matter, only his dictates. Just as one example, there is a legal – albeit, perhaps foolishly low — $75 million cap on liability. Even ignoring that, there is simply no legal authority on the part of the Executive to force BP to establish such a fund.

Not surprisingly, BP preemptively caved on the threat.
"BP will set aside $20 billion to pay the victims of the massive oil spill in the Gulf, senior administration officials said Wednesday, a move made under pressure by the White House as the company copes with causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history."
As if $20 billion was nothing more than a reasonable, if stinging, rebuke on a company who has been a very bad boy and The One is merely wagging his finger at them.

You can just hear how this crisis is a wet dream for an anti-business leftist (but I repeat myself) who finally has a chance to, big time, stick it to da man.

Anyone who does not now believe that Obama is, in fact, a Fascist doesn't understand Obama or Fascism. Among other characteristics is creating a shadow govt. Michelle Malkin has the lowdown on that.

Finally, be sure to catch some of Kenneth Green's points at AEI about the speech, which outline well just what a dishonest demagogue the stick-figure stick wielder truly is. About the only quasi-positive thing I can say for Obama is that he is fairly consistent. He never lets a crisis go to waste.

[An irresistible update:

"Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America."

Right. That's why China is building about one major coal fire plant per month for the foreseeable future. Of course, they are investing in some 'green' technology: they have planned to build 15 new nuclear power plants in the next five years. That, of course, is one 'green' technology Obama almost never talks about.

So, once again the Thug-in-Chief also proves to be the Misleader-In-Chief.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Don't Like Pamela Geller

PayPal has decided that Pamela Geller is engaging in 'hate speech'.

I don't like her. She's a loudmouth, pushy broad. I'm convinced that the larger share of her popularity is the result of her French Revolution-style appeal to the mindless, angry mob. They're always ready to chop off a few heads solely for emotional satisfaction and rarely bother to understand the issues at more than a gut level. A part of her appeal, I suspect also, is due to her physical appearance. I'm not altogether sure how she can legally employ the blog name Atlas Shrugs, either.

But you know what? None of that matters a whit. She has the right to say any goddamn thing she pleases on her blog. I don't have to read it, nor does anyone else if they don't like what she says. And she sure as hell does a valuable service in repeatedly exposing the horrors of the Islamists and their supporters. I've never read anything of hers that struck me as dishonest in the least.

PayPal has the right not to do business with her, of course. But if they don't they're sheer hypocrites at best and manipulative Progressives at worst. I'm inclined to believe the latter. After all, there are dozens of websites that preach 'tolerance' for jihad and if that isn't hate speech nothing is.

Worse still, to have a corporate policy that refuses to do business with those who engage in so-called hate speech is utterly silly because the very concept of hate speech is silly. It's just another way to suppress through moral intimidation ideas one dislikes. If – as PayPal has demonstrated over the years – it's open to all comers, they should ignore content. Otherwise, it means they're wading into the debate over free speech and choosing sides. If they want to do that, fine. But how about a little consistency?

Unfortunately, from a modern politically correct corporation — i.e. one utterly swamped by cowardice — that's about the last thing one can expect. It's bad enough that publishers knuckle under to Islamist threats when Ayaan Hirsi Ali is out there every day, bravely speaking the ugly truth about Islam. But to preemptively weasel out with regard to one of the blogosphere's staunchest defenders of Western Civilization... That's the lowest form of gutless.

You know, maybe I don't dislike Pamela Geller as much as I thought.

UPDATE: [6/15/2010] PayPal caves! Bravo, Ms. Geller. A victory for free speech, the power of viral Internet protests, justice, and common sense. Now, if we could only get a similar campaign started to get the voters to reconsider their decision to pull the lever for Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Henry Waxman,... Hey, that may already be in progress!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reprise: A Paean For Packaging

Noticing this morning how easy it was to peel off a single slice of cheese, I was reminded of a post I did two years ago on packaging. I thought it was worth repeating.


Sometimes what seem like small things in life are actually of larger significance. Think for a moment about what has happened to packaging over the past 50 years.

The variety alone is stunning. Simple stereo boxes filled with specially shaped foam and bubble wrap keep delicate equipment secure across continents. Soup cans pop open with the lightweight pull of a small metal ring. Frozen orange juice containers open with an easy tug on a plastic strip.

Think of the advances in food safety, weight reduction, and more. A simple plastic mayonnaise jar closes with the twist of a perfectly fitting lid. At the same time, eliminating glass has made them lighter to ship and much less likely to break.

The examples and benefits could be multiplied a hundredfold. All this thanks, in large part, due to the ingenuity of a type of engineer who rarely receives any public notice or praise. Not regarded as glamorous, or even notorious, like structural engineers, they nonetheless make our lives immensely better in a thousand ways.

I've found myself in restaurants wanting to shake the hand of and to pay the bill for a returning soldier. If I could so easily identify a package engineer, I'd want to do the same.

There are some devils among them, to be sure. Whoever designed those seals on the tops of some CDs deserves jail time. But that was as much a marketing decision by someone with a lack of imagination about theft reduction as anything. You shouldn't blame bullet manufacturers for the scum who use a weapon on the wrong person.

On the whole, though, they deserve all the paeans they almost never receive, except perhaps from their colleagues. (And, knowing corporations as intimately as I regrettably do, not often from them, I'd bet.) It's altogether fitting that the word "paean" was coined to describe a hymn of praise to Apollo, the god of reason.

Package designers, I lift my goblet to your divinity.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Folsom Fisks Obama

Dr. Burton Folsom, author of the superb The Myth of the Robber Barons has written a superb fisking of Obama. That's a bit like Roger Federer pummeling me in a tennis match, but never mind that.

In a post on NRO he effortlessly corrects several of Obama's historical errors. (Federer's backhand comes to mind, but let's move on.) Obama said,
“What bothers me,” [he] told the graduating class at the University of Michigan last month, “is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad.”
Dr. Folsom is too classy to say it, so I will: that's a deliberate mischaracterization, known in non-academic circles as a lie.

As Dr. Folsom points out:
Only anarchists think all of government is inherently bad. Government has a useful constitutional function in protecting contracts and providing for the national defense. We need a government strong enough to protect our private property.
It gets better. Obama asserts:
“When we needed a way to reach the Pacific, our government helped build the railroads.” Then [he] added, “When the markets crashed during the Great Depression, and people lost their life savings, our government put in place a set of rules and safeguards to make sure that such a crisis never happened again.”
Dr. Folsom patiently corrects him, thusly:
Wrong on both counts. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific were poorly built railroads, they went broke, and both cost the nation over $60,000,000 to build — a sum higher than the total national debt just a decade before they were built. By contrast, the Great Northern Railroad, which was built with private money by James J. Hill, never went broke and was arguably the best-built railroad in the nation.

On the Great Depression, government intervention did not rescue the nation. The U. S. had more than 20 percent unemployment in 1939, toward the end of FDR’s second term. On the contrary, government intervention — through the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the Farm Board, and the income tax hike to 63 percent on top incomes — triggered the depression, and FDR perpetuated it through failed stimulus packages and higher taxes.
One of the reasons I'm such a huge fan of Professor Folsom is that he backs his assertions with historical evidence, of which he is a master. I'm very big on people who support their statements with facts. What are the odds we could get Obama to do the same? About the same as me besting Roger in the French Open, I suspect.

[Update: Once again demonstrating his mastery of history, Dr. Folsom presents a few case studies in subsidies vs the free market, i.e. political 'entrepreneurship' vs market entrepreneurship. Sadly, plus ca change where Congress is concerned. Enough facts here to give any honest Progressive pause, if you can find such an unlikely creature.]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

David Benatar: Your Life Is Worth Less...

...than you think it is.

Peter Singer, the well-known ethicist and animal rights philosopher (feel free to put the scare quotes wherever you want), has an essay on David Benatar's book, Better Never to Have Been* giving serious thought to whether or not human life is pretty much worthless.
Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states.

If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.
There were times when personal confessions of the utter emptiness of one's life were confined to late-nite conversations in bars or Russian plays. Nowadays, it's just about mainstream moral philosophy. (Singer is a professor of philosophy at Princeton. Benatar is identified as "a South African philosopher.")

I suppose the only worthwhile response to this that doesn't consume more time than it's worth is simply to say: "Speak for yourself, pal." But it might be of some value to add: "Dr. Benatar, if you believe you shouldn't inflict your life on anyone, I can't help but agree. Feel free to excuse yourself from the table anytime."

Such is the (literal and figurative) dead end of Kantian utilitarianism.

[Hat tip: Newsreal.]

*[Here is the Amazon Product Description of Benatar's book:
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence---rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should---they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions.

David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived.

However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence.

The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a "pro-death" view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.]
'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Obama, the Teenage Thug

Obama the overgrown teenager continues to demonstrate how ridiculous he can appear. Trying to pretend he's doing something about the BP oil spill he has declared,
I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago, I was meeting with fisherman down there, standing in the rain... We talk to these folks because they potentially had the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.
How about starting with his own?

Is he responsible for the spill, or even the clean up efforts? No. But he could have ordered the Federal Government to get out of the way and let the grownups do what they need to do. Instead, he dithers while Gov. Jindal frantically begs permission to build sand berms. He sends his enforcer Holder down to threaten BP with possible legal action. He claims he is in charge, on top of it, and to be held accountable. Yet, his idea of what that means is simply to act like an adolescent thug, who strokes his own vanity by making threats and watching his victims jump.

I wish I could say this was surprising. But when a man with zero experience at anything but yakking and gladhanding is faced with a real-world problem this is the almost inevitable result. The "almost" is there only because a man with any conscience at all would at least step aside during a crisis and let those who can, do. But the giant, creme-filled ego of The One simply can't allow that in this case. So, he must make a show.

Unfortunately, when the curtain comes down on this clown's act it will be left to those focused on reality to clean up the extra mess.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Glory of Oil Drilling Technology

I mentioned recently that if anyone wanted to help out in the BP oil spill, he should come up with a technological innovation to obsolete oil drilling. That hasn't quite arrived, but the samples below are the next best thing.

Daniel Foster has written a piece on the amazing technology being used to combat the BP oil spill. It's so chock-full of glorious items I can't even decide what to excerpt. So, here are just two picked at random:
[T]he Deepwater Horizon floated on four massive stabilizing pontoons, which kept it stationary and level as waves washed beneath it. This allowed the rig to move anywhere it was needed, withstand 40-foot waves and 100-knot winds, and operate in water as deep as 10,000 feet.

Powered by two 9,775-hp, 7,000-kilowatt AC generators, and outfitted with awesome-sounding machinery like the “heave compensator,” “cascading shaker,” “hydraulic power choke,” and “iron roughneck,” it obliterated the previous world record — and its own nominal capacities — for offshore drill depth when it hit 35,055 feet in the Gulf.
And, for the cleanup effort,
Essentially powerful vacuums attached to centrifuges, Costner’s contraptions can reportedly remove oil from water at a rate of 200 gallons a minute with a level of 97 to 99 percent purity. Six of them are currently being tested by BP and the Army Corps of Engineers.
What Foster doesn't say much about (it's not really his purpose but is implied by the selections and the style) is just how magnificent are the heroes who designed and deployed these amazing devices. It's really a pity that the Nobel – actually intended for things like this – will never be given to any of the creators.

For anyone interested in how real life sometimes exceeds the bounds of the most romantic fiction, Foster's article is for you.

D-Day, A Tardy Remembrance

I'm ashamed to admit that in the rush of starting work on a new book I entirely forgot about D-Day, June 6th. I often think of this event and wonder how I would have behaved on that fateful day. What I do know is how many others acted then, and the heroic stories available to be told from that historic occasion could serve as material for a thousand novels. There are times when life really is larger than fiction.

It's a pity there's no longer a market for them, nor much of one for the many similar acts of bravery from the current struggle against Islamism and the jihad.

Be that as it may, this is a good time to remember those heroes - some of whom survive to this day.

"Thank you" is so pitifully inadequate, but it's the very least I can offer, even a day late.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Baracko Bamalini Waves His Fist at BP

According to Il Duck-ay (Any Form of Responsibility), BP is wrong to spend money on anything but the oil spill effort and compensation for its victims.
"What I don't want to hear is, when they're spending that kind of money on their shareholders [a $10.5 billion quarterly dividend] and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they're nickel and diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf," Obama said.
Man, this guy's got as big a hard on for rich oil companies as Goebbels had for the Jews. (Come to think of it, his attitude toward the Jews is pretty much the same, too, but that's another post.)

You know what, Benito? It ain't your dough. So long as they meet their legal obligations to cap it asap, clean up the mess, and compensate those affected according to the guidelines in the law, it ain't none of your business how they spend the rest.

Despite his reputed 'cool' demeanor, it's clear what is required to get Bamalini hot under the collar. Just have someone choose to spend a dime of his own money in any way that benefits him, rather than focusing solely on Il Popolo. Then watch the steam come out of the teenage Mussolini's jug ears.

Pathetic. And kind of ironic for someone who has zero qualms about spending a million dollars of taxpayer funds to take his family on vacation while Rome burns. Oops... that was a different Italian fascist dictator. Time to stop.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cheney v Obama Re: Flotilla Attack On Israel

Liz Cheney offers a highly sensible statement, giving actual facts that Obama chooses to ignore, about the recent revolting attack of jihadists on Israeli soldiers.
Yesterday, President Obama said the Israeli action to stop the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was "tragic." What is truly tragic is that President Obama is perpetuating Israel's enemies' version of events.

The Israeli government has imposed a blockade around Gaza because Hamas remains committed to Israel's destruction, refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist and using territory under their control to launch attacks against Israeli civilians.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in order to prevent the re-arming of Hamas, is in full compliance with international law. Had the Turkish flotilla truly been interested in providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, they would have accepted the Israeli offer to off-load their supplies peacefully at the Israeli port of Haifa for transport into Gaza.

... Obama is contributing to the isolation of Israel, and sending a clear signal to the Turkish-Syrian-Iranian axis that their methods for ostracizing Israel will succeed, and will be met by no resistance from America.

There is no middle ground here. Either the United States stands with the people of Israel in the war against radical Islamic terrorism or we are providing encouragement to Israel's enemies—and our own. Keep America Safe calls on President Obama to reverse his present course and support the state of Israel immediately and unequivocally.
Why the Israelis don't nuke Iran, sponsor of Hamas, I can only wonder. At some point, losing America's money and good will has to be too high a price. My patience would have been exhausted years ago.

[Hat tip: NRO]

Oil Spills Compared

I've borrowed something similar before, but this chart strikes me as even better than the last. As is visually obvious, while not a drop in the bucket — particularly to those trying to make a livelihood in the Gulf of Mexico — the BP spill (so far) is relatively mild.

Naturally, no one presently calling for BP's head and an end to all oil drilling off the coast (and everywhere else) will have the least sense of proportion about this incident. But for those who haven't yet lost (or, more accurately, willingly tossed aside) their minds, I offer the following.

[Hat tip to Kathy Shaidle at NewsReal for bringing to wider public attention the efforts of Donna Laframboise on this subject.]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Obama Makes Oil Spill Problem Worse

John Calfee writing at the AEI site has published a highly intelligent essay arguing that Obama has just made solving the oil spill problem harder. Using examples from tort law and medicine he reasons that sending in Holder's minions to look for criminal wrongdoing is bound to make matters worse.

That shouldn't be too surprising. Apart from Obama's near total lack of practical experience at anything but politics, and his colossal ineptness at anything but snake oil sales, government involvement can't improve the situation. It's an engineering problem, and a darned tough one. Politics is about ass covering, not well capping. It's about popping up out of a manure pile looking shiny, not about cleaning up a mess.

More than that, the type of person who seeks power as Obama and his cronies have for decades does not develop the mental skills to solve real-world problems outside of politics. Power corrupts, and long before anyone acquires it. The very act of seeking it injures one's character.

One sees this in large corporations all the time. Even there, where authority isn't coupled with coercion, one can observe formerly decent people change for the worse when they become managers. They become less willing to state the truth frankly and more forgiving of bad behavior on the part of those in charge. It takes an extraordinary kind of person not be corrupted by that and, by definition, few people are extraordinary.

That incentive is all the stronger because of the collectivist nature of most large companies today. Enter a business meeting and suddenly those who were joking with you a moment earlier join the pack. They are perfectly prepared to feed you to the wolves to deflect criticism. The wolves are in turn busy deflecting any potential criticism from themselves by the bears, and so it goes, on up the food chain.

Introducing coercion, as Obama has now done via the prospect of people actually going to jail for negligence — while expecting those same people to solve a highly complex engineering problem with serious environmental implications — is a recipe for disaster.

It may be that Obama honestly believes it's possible to frighten managers into haranguing technicians to solve it more quickly. But I'm willing to go out on a limb here and suggest that Obama really doesn't care if it makes the problem harder to solve. Following his buddy Emanuel's methodology, he can't let this crisis go to waste. It's too ripe with possibilities for furthering his agenda of "weaning us off fossil fuels and our addiction to oil."

Problems of this sort, however, will never get solved until Americans get weaned of their addiction to government solutions.

The World Debt Crisis Explained, Almost

Two Aussie comedians (I think; I didn't Google their names) explain the world debt problem in their own inimitable way. The results are, let us put this as mildly as possible, discomfiting.

The, er, money quote: "How can broke economies lend money to other broke economies who haven't got any money when those broke economies can't possibly pay it back?"

[Hat tip: My beloved Aunt Cita, a kind of personal Ayaan Hirsi Ali to me.]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yet Another Pin-Up Girl: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Robert Andrews has a terrific smackdown of Nicholas Kristof's utterly revolting NYT review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book, Nomad. Defending the uber-heroic Ms. Ali is of course completely appropriate since she is one of the finest public personalities on the planet. Rational, factual, totally dedicated to the right and the true, and with the most horrific bona fides of any public intellectual in memory. Yet, she has never lost her charm and sense of life's possibilities.

How ironic the timing, then, that PBS should choose this week to re-broadcast a documentary called Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain (2007) I confess I haven't even seen it and I can already safely predict it's point of view. There's a big clue in the dead-giveaway title. One usually applies Rise and Fall to glorious civilizations (though there are exceptions, like the Nazi regime). But the "Cities of Light" moniker is the real kicker.

Still, it's the program description that really cements my certainty:
An examination of a time during the Middle Ages when Christians, Jews, and Muslims peacefully coexisted in southern Spain, and what led to the disintegration of the society.
I researched Moorish Spain fairly well for a novel some time back and I can assure you that all was not sweetness and light in early 8th to late 15th century Al-Andalus.

Set aside that nobody had any rights in Iberia during those years. That region had been, and continues to be, dominated by the Catholic Church (now overlaid with a huge dose of modern socialism). The results were not pretty even before the Islamic invasion. But forget that for now. Ask yourself instead what kind of 'peace' individuals in those groups would have enjoyed during the period.

Then, as now, any non-Muslim was a second-class citizen and, at that time and place, "second class citizen" meant something a good deal more onerous than even that of a black person in Georgia circa 1960. To a Christian or Jewish male it was: just pay your Jizya and keep your mouth firmly shut or suffer the consequences.

And what were those consequences? Then as now: imprisonment, beheading, or banishment (which often meant death by starvation). Women, of course, didn't even register on the scale as fully human, a situation that persists in Islamic countries to this day.

And, as a side note, Kristof's (and the filmmaker's) belief that Christians got by real well during that time is belied by the many armed revolts led by Christian kings over almost the entire period. That continued until Queen Isabella and her husband completed the final transfer that ended the Caliphate in all of that region. The fate of Jews, not only in Spain but everywhere prior to the mid-20th century, is too well known to require discussing.

How modern so-called liberals can decry Rand Paul's mild disapproval of one aspect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and enthusiastically embrace Islamic Spain as a garden of delights and an era of religious brotherhood is almost beyond comprehension. It's as if one were to look at the Soviet Union in 1933 and declare that everything was hunky dory because there was 'peace' among Kulaks, Tartars, and Russians. Peace under rule by gangsters is not the same as peace of mind under freedom.

Truthfully, I don't think creatures like Kristof and that documentary maker lack historical knowledge nor are lying. I suspect their minds simply refuse any connection to reality when the facts are not as they wish. It's cherry picking raised to the level of a psychotic break.

Fortunately for us, we have Ayaan Hirsi Ali to keep us grounded, and that slender woman's weighty thoughts far outweigh any foolishness the Kristofs of the world can spew.

Rand Versus The 'Intellectuals'

... even after she's long dead, she continues to be both unfairly vilified and yet still wins.
In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the 20th century.

One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library's Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board's list were Ulysses and The Great Gatsby.

The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were Atlas Shrugged (1957) and The Fountainhead (1943).
By now it will surprise no one who has read even lightly on the subject that most modern intellectuals are radically out of sync with the general public. There are vanishingly few areas where that is to the credit of the so-called intelligentsia. As Rand once wrote, there are two ways to be outside of society: above it and below it.

Fortunately, at long last, a new and more rational, pro-human-life-on-Earth breed of intellectuals is arising in number and influence, as Rand called for in her seminal book For the New Intellectual. Now, it's a race against time to save no less a value than Western Civilization itself, and thereby the chance for a good life of every innocent person on the planet.

Sound overly dramatic? Read Atlas Shrugged, if you haven't already, and then decide.

[Hat Tip: Scott at Powerline.

Note: It's unfortunate that he felt the need to reproduce Charles Murray's scurrilous ad hominem against Rand after the quote. One can't help but wonder why, even if it were true that Rand abused drugs (a charge denied by those who knew her best), anyone should care.

Clearly, contrary to Murray's implication, it had no effect on the sharpness of her mind or the insights of her philosophy. And, in the final analysis, do I have any reason to care that — I'm making all of these up — Wittgenstein smoked too much hash, or Hume drank to excess, or Dewey buggered little boys on Sunday mornings? Their words are what they are, regardless of whether they personally were saints or insane.

Yet, unable to stick to addressing her views, critics feel compelled to engage in hoary distraction via personal character slams. Pathetic, particularly since Murray has done some good work and certainly should know better.]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The 'Real' Obama

William Voegeli, contributing editor for the Claremont Review of Books and author of Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State, has written an interesting essay ostensibly on the Tea Party movement. It's somewhat all over the map, veering often from that theme then coming back, but it contains many interesting thoughts.

One of the side alleys was this:
The question, again, is whether candidate Obama was dim-witted or cold-blooded. Did he really not understand— was there no economist on his campaign staff to help him understand— that all the expensive new things he promised government would do could not possibly be reconciled to his promises to exempt 97% of the population from any new tax increases?

Or was he agnostic all along about his solemn promises, winking in the mirror and chuckling before going out to intone them to the crowds of supporters who stood, cheered, and wept as they beheld, at last, a politician personifying change they could believe in?
Isn't it interesting that three years after Obama's introduction to the public at large, people are still pondering this question? No doubt, that's a tribute to his skills as a politician. However, that hurrah is akin to praising the talent of a superb hit man: one can stand in awe of the ability, but still condemn the actor.

In any case, it occurred to me that there is a way to resolve this question, by asserting both conclusions. It sounds paradoxical but there's a ready resolution to the dilemma: the nearly ever-present modern-day phenomena of what Rand called "the blank out."

Call it rationalization, call it denial, or what you will. It comes down to much the same thing. Many people can say one thing, 'honestly' believe it for a moment, then say the exact opposite and embrace it with equal fervor. I put 'honest' in scare quotes because this is not the mental habit of a person committed to awareness of reality, the basic feature of genuine honesty. At some level, the person knows they're not facing facts, hence the need for rationalization in the first place.

Sadly, this habit is not confined to Progressives, though they practice it with exceptional eagerness. The overwhelming majority of everyone I observe is chin deep in this practice, in former days confined to a much smaller group and indulged in much less often, or at least on less important matters.

That bit of misanthropy aside, it is one of the foremost features of the current occupant of the Oval Office and it's no surprise. Massive evasion is a must when someone as inappropriately arrogant, thoroughly inept, and fully post-modern as Obama has to deal with real problems. The practical problems his job calls for only serve to call forth more, and more glaring, occasions for it.

Just a hypothesis, of course, but it would go far to explain the puzzle that still puzzles many about the man who was supposed to be so different. Turns out, he's pretty ordinary after all, only more so.

al Qaeda #3 Whacked, So?

I wish I could be as pleased as others about whacking al Qaeda's number three ranked leader. Naturally, I'm thrilled that a long-standing terrorist got dusted, like any decent person would be. Still, maybe it's just a half-full glass kind of day for me but I can't help feeling this is far less, far later than it should be.

Eight and a half years after the attacks on New York and Washington and we're still playing whack a mole? Granted the mole in this case is larger and more important, but even so. Worse yet, from my perspective, is that we're still playing footsie with Pakistan over this. Worst of all, by far, Iran is not only untouched but the Feds are actively playing "Please, Mr. Capone, won't you kindly stop machine-gunning down quite so many of those hindering your operations?"

Far past time to let Elliot Ness take over the entire effort. Until then, my cup remaineth far from running over with joy.