Thursday, July 24, 2008

Meeting Bob Barr

Tonight I attended a meeting where I was able to meet Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate for President. Someone asked him a question that seems relevant to hard-core libertarians who question his move from the GOP to the LP, which is how he could reconcile some of his votes while Congressman and his position now as a Libertarian. The bottom line is that people can grow and change. His answer was a bit more specific. He admitted that as a Congressman he had voted for some things that resulted in decreases in freedom, thinking those small losses weren't much to worry about. But then 9-11 happened, and he witnessed the massive power grab our government made in the aftermath, using it as an excuse. He said it then became clear to him that one could not lose any ground when it came to liberty, that you had to fight to roll back the government everywhere, and not give any ground, that it was important not to lose any liberty. Indeed, one can lose one's liberty through the slow creep of gradualism just as much as through a massive power grab. Worse, when it happens gradually, few if anyone notices. So I'm thrilled to learn Barr has evolved into a true libertarian.

Along those lines, it seems more than odd that there are Ron Paul supporters out there who plan to vote for John McCain rather than Bob Barr. The people who would do that are more loyal to a party that isn't interested in having them than they are to their own beliefs. John McCain is no friend of liberty. And don't let people scare you off with Obama and arguments about supreme court justices. Clinton polarized the true conservatives of the GOP; Obama could do the same thing. McCain will keep both conservatism and libertarianism asleep while he goes about appointing false conservatives to the Supreme Court. (McCain voted for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, after all -- so how can you trust him to put good people on the court?) If Ron Paul supporters are serious about liberty, they need to throw all their support for Bob Barr. If nothing else, a strong showing by the LP will show the politicians in power that there is a significant number of people who do support liberty. Why throw your vote away on someone who does not agree with you? That makes no sense. Quite frankly, if everyone actually voted for the candidate whose ideas most resembled theirs, Bob Barr would win. People need to vote what they believe and not "strategically." Voting strategically is what got the GOP John McCain.

In the meantime, if I were able to advise the Barr campaign, I would advise them to allow Ron Paul to have his moment during the GOP convention, and then immediately thereafter cheerfully announce that Bob Barr is taking up where Ron Paul left off, that he is taking Paul's baton, and that he welcomes all Ron Paul's supporters. ANd if an interviewer were to ask about ron Paul supporters, I would answer, "Why wouldn't they support us? We believe in the same things as Ron Paul. John McCain doesn't. We believe Paul's supporters are wise enough to vote for the candidate who believes what they believe rather than support a party that doesn't even want them around. Except on voting day, of course."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

T. Boone Pickens and the Wind(bags)

We've been hearing a lot from and about T. Boone Pickens regarding wind power. The storyline is a good one: oil billionaire pushes alternative energy. So I looked him up. Turns out, he's building lot of wind turbines. Which is certainly fine with me. Just means he has a smart advertising campaign. However, it turns out that he's also pushing Congress for subsidies for wind power. So he's looking to make billions off of subsidies -- your tax dollars. Further, since wind energy has to be backed up by gas-powered energy, Pickens looks to make even more money from his extensive natural gas holdings. Certainly this makes sense, for someone who is looking to develop wind power to also own gas reserves as backup. What I object to is his seeking subsidies. If he really believes in this project, he won't need government money. If he really believes in this, he should spend his own money and the money of his investors. He doesn't need money stolen by the government. The fact that he's seeking laws to benefit him says volumes about his intentions. He should stick with the moral way of making money -- by providing a service -- and leave theft out of the equation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Form and Experiment in the Arts

When I was taking creative writing classes, I eventually learned that I needed to develop a certain form of short story so I could get the kind of feedback I needed on characters, dialogue, plot, etc. When I turned in my more experimental work, I only got comments back on the experiment. So I started writing the experimental work on the side, turning in short stories written the "right way" for my classes. Those who did not ended up dropping out and failed to turn into good writers. WIth me, though, what I learned in the classroom with the classroom style moved over into the experimental work, and informed it, to make that kind of work, which I preferred, better.

The same thing happened with my brother with his art classes. And the same thing happened to those who did not do as my brother had done.

The same is true of any art form. We have to learn how to do it right before we can experiment. To be a good free verse or experimental poet, you first have to be able to write in form. Otherwise, like an artist who can't draw, you're just a scribbler.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Environmentalism and the Fear of Time

Environmentalists are against oil because it contributes to global warming.
Environmentalists are against coal because it contributes to global warming and acid rain.
Environmentalists are against nuclear power because of nuclear waste.
Environmentalists are against hydroelectric power because it disrupts river ecosystems.
Environmentalists are against wind power because the turbines are "unsightly."
Environmentalists should be against ethanol because it uses more fossil fuels to make the ethanol than is produced, and by turning food into fuel, that harms people worldwide -- the poorest especially. But I haven't heard too much against ethanol subsidies or its use as a fuel.
Hydrogen production still requires more energy than it produces -- but when that changes, you may rest assured that the environmentalists will find something to hate about hydrogen production.
Solar power still costs too much for too little -- but when that changes, you may rest assured that the environmentalists will find something to hate about hydrogen production.

The point for the environmentalists is not and has never been about the environment. Their new complaints about wind power prove that. All of these sources of power help to drive free markets, and it is free markets to which they are opposed. They are opposed to change -- to the passage of time itself -- as is obvious in their rhetoric about "climate change" and "unchanging nature." They are socialists who want socialism precisely because they know socialism stagnates the world. They want to banish time's passage. The constant changing and creative destruction of free markets is what they truly want to banish. They fear time's passage. Do they think that if they can stop change, that they will stop death? This is one of the legacies of atheism: the hopelessness that follows death leads such people to try to stop all change. This is also why Obama's "change" is in fact advocacy for ideas and policies which have already failed repeatedly. Or, perhaps, have not failed -- if your goal is a stagnant economy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Historicization and Dehistoricization

If you asked the average molecular biology student what a transposon was, they could tell you. But how many could then go on to tell you that Barbara McClintock was the discoverer (and Nobel Prize winner for that discovery) of transposons? In the hard sciences, it is more the facts than the people who discovered those facts which are of primary concern, so it should probably not come as a surprise that as psychology and economics become more scientific in their methodologies (consider, for example, the short article in the latest Science: Homo experimentalis Evolves) that they have stopped focusing on personalities, notwithstanding historian Russell Jacoby's complaints. It's not that to some degree he's not right in lamenting the kind of information we lose by not talking about important people in a field, but what are we to do when scientific discoveries end up proving that the ideas of people we previously considered mainstream are in fact extremely marginal, if not almost completely wrong? No biology department is going to talk about the Russian biologist Lysenko or his theories, because they were utterly wrong. His ideas are a historical footnote pointing out some of the absurd ideas that came out of Soviet-style Marxism. Along those lines, what we are learning about economics disproves almost everything Marx ever had to say. We was, besides, a philosopher, not an economist -- notwithstanding Jacoby's mischaracterization of Marx. Freud probably still has some relevance in studying psychology, as the founder of the field, despite one of his main theses, the Oedipus complex, being shown to be completely wrong, as demonstrated by the Westermarck Effect (which can be seen at work in the very play "Oedipus Tyrannus").

I will say, though, that Jacoby is absolutely right about the situation in philosophy. Too many philosophers forget they are in a humanities department, meaning they are necessarily a historical department. It is especially ironic that Hegel is being ignored, as his ideas on dialectics are so important to the burgeoning field of complex systems. Jacoby is also right in suggesting that we need to pay a bit more attention to the history of our fields. We too often come away from university classes thinking that the few scientific heroes we hear about were pure scientists, with no outside interests, and no wrong ideas. We need to understand how they succeeded, which means understanding how they failed, as well. ANd what their quirks were. Newton was also an alchemist, after all -- and that's some pretty interesting information.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How the Rich Can Help the Poor

Nelson Mandela is encouraging the rich to help the poor, and that is something I agree with -- though I am certain that I only agree with him by purposefully misunderstanding what he means. He of course means that the rich should give their money to the poor. I disagree. That's the worst thing the rich can do with their money. Rather, the rich should try to make themselves much richer through opening new businesses and expanding the ones they already own. By doing so, they will grow the economy and provide more jobs for more people. This is how the rich can and will best help the poor. The idea that the rich should give their money away belies Mandela's zero-sum thinking: wealth is only of a given amount, so if the rich have it, the poor do not. But the economy is a positive-sum game, meaning when you engage in economic activities, you are making yourself and the people you are dealing with better off. The way to help the poor is to allow the rich to remain rich through their economic activities. Governments can help this process by getting out of the way of economic activity. It's not the rich who make poor people poor, but governments who prevent economic activity from taking place.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today I've been married 2 years to the most beautiful, wonderful, loving woman in the whole world. (Jealous?) I love you, Anna!

Democrats Oppose Free Trade Agreement that Would Help American Businesses and Workers

Today, in his press conference, President Bush let the Democrats' real motives out of the bag when it comes to the Colombian Free Trade deal. The Democrats are naturally against free trade because they're socialists, and thus they fundamentally oppose all free trade. They use people's economic ignorance to argue against it, arguing that free trade takes jobs away from the American people. However, Bush observed that we already freely accept whatever and however many goods Colombia wants to send us. What the free trade agreement would do, then, was allow American companies to export goods freely to Colombia. In other words, it would benefit American companies and American workers, while benefiting the Colombian consumer by giving them cheaper products and more variety. So why would the Democrats be against such a trade agreement? Notwithstanding their misleading rhetoric to the American people, they do know all this.

The answer is that they don't want to benefit the Colombian consumers. A free trade agreement would benefit both countries, and that is the last thing socialists want: free trade benefitting anyone. Why, happier Colombian consumers might even undermine support for FARC even more, and we can't have that, now can we? Why has Obama avoided traveling to Colombia, while McCain has already gone? Because Obama would be meeting with who he considers the enemy in meeting the Colombian President.

Father Labeled a 'Pervert' for Taking Pictures of Own Children in Park

The article says it all. Seriously, things have gotten way out of hand. I'm only surprised this took place in Britain and not the U.S. first. Personally, when everyone sees a pervert under every bush, it is their mind which is the one that is perverse. Accusations of perversity for innocent behaviors reflect the perverse souls of the accusers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Advice to the Barr Campaign

If Bob Barr is smart, he will be trying for the people at the center of the "Conservatives for Obama" movement, written about by Thomas Sowell. I mean, if this isn't a group of people ripe for the picking by the LP, I don't know what is.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Greens Pick a Candidate

So the Green Party (who should call themselves the Christmas Party, since they are just as Red as they are Green) has nominated Cynthia McKinney as their Presidential nominee. You may remember her from the time when she assaulted a U.S. Capitol Police officer who failed to recognize her. Should make for an interesting race. One can only dream that she does well enough to get in the debates.

Friday, July 11, 2008

$6.9 Million for an American Life

So the federal government has determined that your and my life is worth precisely $6.9 million. This is a drop of about $1 million over 5 years. This number is used to calculate the cost of regulations. To give the example from the article: "Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted." This raises a few questions. First, how do they know that a given regulation will prevent 2,500 deaths? And if it turns out that the regulation doesn't prevent that number of deaths, shouldn't they then logically get rid of the regulation? Second, do they calculate the number of deaths a regulation will cause? I'm almost certain that they do not -- and to the extent that they do, my guess is that it's greatly underestimated. I'm sure some statistical methods are used, but how much of this is just someone's best guess? I also wonder if they take age into consideration. Surely a younger person is "worth more" than an older person, if we're calculating this according to number of years left to live. On the other hand, middle aged working people are contributing more tax money, so they might actually be worth more. But who can calculate the worth of the elderly in family and social contributions? (With the elderly, should we calculate it as age brings wisdom, or there's no food like an old fool?) Also, this seems like a number that applies to everyone. Certainly in certain spiritual calculations, all people are worth the same; however, in society, that's just not the case. Isn't someone who starts a company that ends up employing thousands to hundreds of thousands of people and provide a product that makes peoples' lives better worth more than a crack whore? And if that's the case the numbers should be more personalized. This would mean, then, that a regulation that prevented a high death rate among crack whores perhaps should not be adopted, while a regulation that prevented the death of just one CEO should.

The point of all this is that this is patently absurd. I don't buy what the government is trying to sell me with these numbers. This is a bookkeeping trick designed to justify regulations that more often than not have no demonstrable benefit, and more often than not harm people. After all, driving up prices is a harm that I'm guessing isn't properly calculated in justifying regulations either. So the FDA can continue to keep drugs off the shelves that could save millions of peoples' lives, and not have to worry, since nobody is going to call them out on it, since those deaths are certainly not calculated. Certainly we should not expect the news to announce with every drug that was approved by the FDA that, "If they had released it ten years ago shortly after it was first created, 10 million lives would have been saved."

BTW, why don't they use this calculation for murderers and make them pay the families of those they killed that much?

Natural Economy vs. Manmade Economy

There is something faintly ridiculous in defending a naturally occurring system against artificial constructs. Free market economies are bottom-up, productive, complex, creative systems; all man-made (developed first in the mind of man rather than occurring through human interactions -- such as socialism, welfare statism, fascism, and communism) are top-down, entropic, simplifying, dehumanizing systems. So supporting free market economics -- the form of economy which emerged naturally through voluntary exchange first in northern Italy, and then in the Netherlands and in England -- is not ideological any more than supporting the heliocentric view of the solar system is ideological. Saying "I support free markets" is a lot like saying, "I support the ecosystem," or "I support the planets orbiting the sun," or "I support atomic theory," or "I support evolutionary theory." In other words, expressing support for free market economics is expressing support for a naturally-occurring system. What we really don't like is that free market economies are outside of our control, and we hate to have anything not in our control. The opposition to free markets is all about control and power. We have learned that we can't take that attitude toward the ecosystem -- when will we learn that we can't take that attitude toward the economy, either?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Nation of Whiners

Phil Gramm is right. We are a nation of whiners. One can tell from the context of his remarks that he did intend to mean the leaders of the country, and that those whiny "leaders" have resulted in people perceiving a recession where there isn't one (thus his phrase "mental recession"). However, if Gramm has been teaching at a university lately, he would know that he was right in the broader sense -- at least among those getting educated, and those who are already educated. Most of the political whiners are in fact demagogues who are whining just to get more power. But there's an entire generation -- the post gen-x'ers -- who are about the whiniest bunch of people I've ever come across. Worse than the Boomers. My generation, gen-x, were cynical -- but it seems my generation has raised another one that is more whiny than the generation of our parents. Give me cynical over whiny any day. Cynical may be defensive, but at least it isn't weak and lazy.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Idiot as an Existential Category

The word "idiot" comes from the ancient Greek word "idiotes," which was used to refer to those people who were not socially engaged, but were rather solely concerned with themselves. Socrates referred to himself as an idiotes, as any true philosopher is. After all, "philosophy" comes from the Greek words philos, so, and phos -- love, inner, and light, respectively -- meaning philosophy is love of the inner light. Philosophy is self-regarding.

I start with a positive example because we are all familiar with the negative connotations of the word "idiot," to which I plan to contribute. Certainly, most people not socially engaged are not philosophers. Like "philosopher," "idiotes" is a composite Greek word. "Id" means "I" and "iota" means "one." An idiot is thus an I-one, a person entirely focused on his or herself at the expense of society.

The modern world seems full of idiots. Anyone who says, "You cannot possibly understand/sympathize with what I am going through" is an idiot. No one is terminally unique. More, neuroscientists have shown that when we witness someone in pain, our brains light up the same location and with almost the same intensity as when we actually experience the pain ourselves. Empathy -- "to suffer in" -- and sympathy -- "to suffer with" -- are real.

Another kind of idiot are those incapable of considering anyone's position but their own. I've tried to have discussions with people who won't consider a single fact that goes against what they believe (or even try to reinterpret the fact to support their position) or who do not read or hear what you actually wrote or said, but only respond to what they expect you to write or say. Such people are not even arguing with you -- you don't exist; you don't even matter; only their preconceived notions and rigid categories matter. Only they themselves matter. People who engage in such arguments are idiots.

Our schools have been turning out armies of idiots. We have a generation who have been taught to feel good about what they know, although they don't actually know anything; they've been taught to feel good about themselves, although they have been deprived of the necessary life lessons needed to have and develop a self. We have a generation who break down over the least bit of criticism. We have a generation of narcissists and idiots.

Actually, several generations now. The Baby Boomers were the first generation of idiots -- though for different reasons than subsequent generations (though still caused by those same Boomers). Existentialism argued for the alienated, angst-ridden idiot. Postmodernism is idiotic to its core. If I were to be optimistic, I'd say there were a half-dozen members of Congress who weren't idiots. Power-seekers are all idiots.

An idiot is self-regarding to the point that (s)he harms others, either directly or indirectly. The answer to idiocy is not the subordination of the individual to society or government, as power-seeking idiots would have you believe. The answer is to be socially engaged, not completely dissolved in the social until you lose your identity. To be socially engaged is to acknowledge your position within society, that you are a member of a social species and of a social body. Engagement means treating people in their full complexity and not ignoring their good aspects (or their bad ones). It means giving what someone says full consideration and trying to learn why they are saying what they are saying. It means being skeptical enough to be open to the possibility of being wrong, but not so skeptical as to not believe in truth at all (both extremes are idiotic). It means thinking of someone other than yourself (which is why we have such high divorce rates, as we have high idiocy rates as well).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Idiots at the Park

Sunday my family and I went to the part for a cookout with a friend and his family. While there, I took my daughter, Melina, down to the lake to look at the ducks and geese (she loves birds). There were people feeding the ducks and geese, so there were a lot of the birds on the shore. A woman and her (I'm guessing) ten-year-old son and a younger daughter were there, and the boy started chasing some ducks. Two older ladies told him to stop. This is how the subsequent conversation went:

Mother: Don't tell my child what to do.
Lady: He shouldn't be chasing those ducks.
Mother: I don't care. I'll get after my kid if I want to.
Lady: Ducks are a protected species. If a ranger saw him doing that, you would get a fine because he was harassing them.
Mother: I don't care. You don't tell my child what to do.

When the DNA-donor and her brats left, I went up to the ladies and said, "If you ever catch my daughter doing something she shouldn't, please do tell her not to do it."

The ladies thanked me, and we had a good time feeding the ducks and geese.

Those ladies were in the right, and that mother was in the wrong. Absolutely. If you and your children are out in public, in a public place, then you should expect people to help keep your children well-behaved. Otherwise, keep your brats at home. That is part of socialization. We go through life having others tell us what to do and not to do, subtly or directly. We obey traffic lights and speed limits. We dutifully get into a line at Starbucks. We do what we are told by our bosses at work. This latter is one of the main reasons why we should discipline our children and let them know that there are authorities out there, for without the lesson that you should listen to authority figures, your child is going to grow up to have a hard time keeping a job. And when a parent lets a child know, as this mother did, that (s)he doesn't have to listen to anyone, she is doing that child a disservice. That woman is raising an anti-social, narcissistic child who won't learn a thing in school and who will grow up thinking the world revolves around him. The problem with that is that it's not true and, being not true, it will result in someone who is seriously dissatisfied with life, since nobody's going to think he's as special as mommy does. In other words, this mother -- and all the mothers just like her, who seem to be dominating nowadays -- is raising an idiot. But that is an existential category you will have to wait until tomorrow to learn more about.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy July 4th!!!

Happy Birthday America!

My wife just observed that there are July 4th celebrations on all the Spanish-language channels, but no indication that it's Independence Day on any of the English-language channels, like ABC, NBC, CBS, or even Fox. I guess celebrating the birth of the U.S. is too politically incorrect for the Leftists running those stations. Don't want to offend themselves (the only people who would be offended to see such celebrations). Why does anyone want people with such an anti-American attitude either giving them their news or, worse, running the country? We're not talking about jingoism here, just an acknowledgment of our Independence on the 4th.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Left, Right, Gay, Lesbian

Homosexuals are imprisoned in Cuba.

This fact confused my wife, who wondered why a Leftist regime would care whether or not you are a homosexual. She could understand why religious conservatives would care, but a Leftist government?

That does, admittedly, seem a bit odd on the surface of it, but it's really not if you understand that one of the goals of the Left is to undermine all forms of organization other than the state -- and that includes the family. In other words, the Left agrees with the Religious Right that homosexuality undermines the family. The difference between the two is that the Right thinks this is a bad thing, while the Left thinks it is a good thing. Of course, once you do have a communist country in place, you no longer need to use homosexuals this way, and the fact that the country is now interested in 1) population increase, and 2) suppressing artistic creativity now puts homosexuals in a very precarious position. Leftist regimes are also notoriously against anything that might even come close to decadence, and homosexuality has historically been associated with decadence.

What the Left is doing in the U.S. and what the Left is doing where it is in complete control in relation to homosexuals should make people realize that the Left is only using homosexuals to forward their own agenda, and will be more than willing to do away with this group once their goals have been achieved. The Left believes the same thing about homosexuals that the Religious Right believes: homosexuals undermine families. I don't believe this to be true any more than my wife does, but that fact has nothing to do with what the Left in fact does believe.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Arctic Volcanoes

This article on volcanoes erupting under Arctic Ice warns that the heat from the volcanoes only warmed the water, and didn't have any effect on the ice. Yet, the volcanic eruptions coincided perfectly with the melting of the Arctic ice (Antarctic ice meanwhile has been accumulating). Why do I find it hard to believe that eruptions that warmed the water of the Arctic Ocean didn't affect the ice at all? Global warming really is a religion if scientists are making such an absurd claim to avoid any suggestion that other factors could have had a role in melting Arctic ice.

Anthropology and Melina

My daughter, Melina, has a plush multicolored snake. Several days ago, Melina pulled it out of her toy box and held it up, pointing it at her mom, and began making a hissing noise and pretending to make it strike at her mom. She had a big grin on her face, clearly delighted that she was "scaring" her mom with the snake.

The thing is, Melina has never seen a live snake, let alone seen one do this, and we have never played with her plush snake this way with her. In fact, it was in the toy box, unseen, since we bought it a few months ago. So how did Melina know that it would/might scare her mom? Or that she should make it strike to make it scary? We know that primates have a natural fear of eagles, large cats, and snakes -- but even if she was tapping into this instinct, this seems pretty specific. Could our instincts be that incredibly specific? I mean, this is a pretty innate "idea."