Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Here and There

Life goes well. Among work, writing and acting, I stay busy. We're down to the last two weeks of rehearsal, when rehearsals go a little longer.

I heard about a young Christian couple that have been going together for eight months -- and they've never kissed. All I can say is... that poor guy. When I was young even the Christians were pretty loose. Certainly they kissed. This dedication to chastity is something of a change in our culture. When I hear things like this, I think, "Holy shit -- Peikoff is right!"

I received a book in the mail today, The history of the reign of the Emperor Charles V by William Robertson, a figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. I bought it because I just read a play, Fiesco by Friedrich Schiller and he got the story from this history. Fiesco is about a conpiracy to seize power, like Julius Caesar, but it has a plot twist Shakespeare never would have thought up. When I was in my 20's and avid to read Schiller's plays, I could not find Fiesco. Now with POD publishing, there are two versions available -- yet another way the Information Revolution is making it a better world.

Fiesco is not Schiller's best play, but it is not without interest. Fans of romantic drama would love it, but anyone not used to reading old plays might be bored by it. I love how his characters talk about great or beautiful souls; the noble soul is one of Schiller's themes. The theme of the play is one of the greatest ever: love vs. power-lust; or perhaps the theme is power corrupts.

I must take a break from blogging for a few days.

Unpleasant Business

Diana Hsieh writes,

I particularly recommend [Noumenalself's] two posts (one and two) on Robert Tracinksi's continued defense of the Iraq War. (Then again, I'm not sure that any critique could be quite so devastating as Barbara Branden's hearty endorsement of The Intellectual Activist. As Betsy says, "In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve." So true! The advocates of a kinder, gentler, and more tolerant "Objectivism" (like Barbara Branden and Robert Bidinotto) should be expected to support those defending the ongoing sacrifice of American soldiers in an altruistic-in-design and unwinnable-as-fought war. They should be aghast at those advocating lasting victory over the enemies who actually threaten us. And so they are.)

Barbara Branden also speaks glowingly of Ayn Rand. Should we think less of Ayn Rand for that?

Robert Tracinski wrote "Notes On A Question of Sanction," a detailed critique of David Kelley's tolerationism. He has neither disavowed his essay nor expressed support for Kelley. Why would it be devastating if tolerationists agreed with his position on Iraq? Given that the Kelley faction loathes ARI, it figures they would agree with anyone who disagreed with ARI on Iraq. They might even agree with one of their most prominent critics; that's what toleration is all about. But it does not follow that their agreement with him, which he neither sought nor celebrates, makes Tracinski look bad.

You can criticize Tracinski's stand on the war -- I have questions about it myself -- but to suggest that Tracinski is wrong or somehow tainted because a tolerationist recommends his magazine is not logical.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 17

1. A video of a woman in South Africa who has a hippo for a pet.

2. Senator Charles Schumer says no more judges will be confirmed to the Supreme Court during Bush's Presidency. I can't imagine any Senator saying this in the past. It's an indication of how poisonous relations are between the two parties right now. The hatred runs deep.

“The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts, or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.”

By "out of balance" Senator Schumer means "not liberal." He assumes liberalism is balance and anything else is out of balance.

Senators were too quick to accept the nominees’ word that they would respect legal precedents...

Precedent will become the legal lodestone for liberals in the coming years. They have spent over a century erecting the welfare state/mixed economy, passing libraries full of laws, and they will fight to the death to see that no law is repealed. Liberal was always a meaningless word when applied to the American socialist left; now it is even more meaningless, as "liberals" have become conservatives of the welfare state. Conserving big government is their first principle.

And if you think the left is unhinged now, imagine what it would do if we ever elected a President determined to repeal laws that interfere with the economy. Actually, I don't think anyone's imagination is up to the task, considering that the left is insane in its hatred of George W. Bush, a President who has increased spending, increased government regulations and passed the biggest welfare program since LBJ. A President who fought for capitalism would incite a political-cultural apocalypse, possibly even a civil war if enough leftists were willing to die for their beliefs. (On second thought, the idea of a bunch of aging hippies with rifles is too absurd...)

3.  Walter Williams discusses a lesson that I think is an important step to wisdom: people don't care about you. It's not that they're out to get you, it's just that they have more important things to think about.

4. Should the Republicans do a You Tube debate? It seems like an Information Revolution kind of thing, regular Americans asking questions instead of the gatekeeper big media. The problem is that CNN picks the question, so the liberal gatekeeper is still there, choosing questions liberals think are important. Ed Morrissey has a solution. 

5. California nightmare:

Escheat is a feudal concept that arose from the despotism of the Dark Ages. It stemmed from the principle that property rights depend upon the sufferance of the sovereign, and when a person dies or disappears without heirs, his property reverts to the feudal lord.

California revived this medieval doctrine in 1959 and began seizing personal assets on the smarmy pretext that after a few years of account or safe-deposit box inactivity, property is obviously "lost," and the state needs to "protect" it by selling it off and depositing the proceeds into the general fund.

Today in California, no one's property is safe. When a family sets aside an investment for college or retirement, it may be in for a nasty surprise just three years later. After a lifetime running a small shop, Benny and Sally Fong could have retired on their shares of Warren Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, that had grown in value to more than $1 million. But when they tried to redeem their nest egg, they discovered the state Controller's Office had sold the shares – for just $171,000.

6. Robert Tracinski's case is here. Noumenalself argues against him here and here.


In rehearsal for Cyrano last week the director took a moment to give us a quick, amusing lesson in acting. When the phone rings with bad news, he said, then you should be happy when you answer the phone. When the phone rings with good news, you should be depressed.

By coincidence, I was struggling this weekend with a scene in my play in which a man learns his father has been killed. At first I had the man enter tentatively, unsure of what to say to a woman about the drunken night they just had. Then I remembered the director's lesson and had the man enter bubbling over with happiness, jabbering away about last night -- then the woman tells him the news. Much more interesting that way, especially since the audience knows the father has been killed and they're waiting to see how the man reacts.

By using the contrast of happiness to shock and grief, we can see more clearly what the news means to the character. If the character comes on sad and then learns of his father's death, we can't see it as clearly.

The conflict in the scene helps the actors, also. Instead of just serving as voice of exposition, the woman reacts to the man's happiness. Her job of telling him about his father's death becomes much harder. Every happy utterance burbled by the man becomes more unbearable for the woman. The actress has more to do.

I was writing a scene once, many years ago, that had the worst dialogue I had ever written. I couldn't figure out why. I struggled with the scene, rewriting the dialogue, but nothing worked; it was all flat and dull. After some months passed, when I had forgotten the dialogue problem, I looked at the scene again and realized it needed more conflict. So I rewrote the scene with conflict and suddenly the dialogue sparkled. I was not trying to write better dialogue, just more conflict, but better dialogue resulted. Conflict makes everything better (in drama, not in life).

Why is conflict necessary in drama? Because drama is, as Aristotle said, the imitation of an action. Human action is goal-oriented. Conflict shows how much a character wants the goal he is pursuing. Without conflict the action has no meaning and is not dramatized.

Say a story has a character get in his car, drive to the store and buy milk, the end. You could say that's the imitation of an action, something that happens all the time, but it's not a story. The action is meaningless. People buy milk. So what? But if his girlfriend has told him he better not be late for one more date and as he is buying milk on the way to her house he is hijacked by robbers who want him to be their getaway driver, then you've got the beginning of a story (doubtless a comedy).

If you want to make your drama better, make things worse for your characters.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sick Humor

I deleted the last post, Cat/Gunblogging, which featured a photograph of me holding a gun to a cat's head. Like the photo of the naked fat man at the computer that I had up on this blog -- it seemed funny at first, then less funny each time I looked at it. It was sick humor, which I laugh at, but don't particularly enjoy contemplating.

I do have my limits with sick humor, such as in 2005 when I blogged about Sarah Silverman joking about 9/11. It was not funny to me. It still isn't. As I wrote then,

This is just a hunch, but I'll bet that the overwhelming majority of people who laugh at these jokes are liberals. Yes, they think it's tragic that so many people died, but they don't quite understand what the big deal is. It was just a crime, not an act of war. To liberals, 9/11 is something to mourn, but nothing to get angry about. I have even heard a liberal say, "We just have to get used to living with terrorism the way the Israelis are used to it." That's the attitude that would lead to joking about 9/11.

I remember reading back in the '90s that the producers of Beavis and Butthead got in trouble for a show in which their cartoon stars put a firecracker up a cat's butt. Apparently, some real life adolescents were inspired by the cartoon to abuse a cat thus. After that and other controversies, every episode started with a disclaimer:

Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They're not even human, they're cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested... possibly deported. To put it another way, don't try this at home.

The religious conservative Michael Medved called Beavis and Butthead, "the epitome of mindless and amoral entertainment." I thought the cartoon had some hilarious moments, but got tedious fast.

Another thing I read in the '90s was a piece on edgy comedians in New York City -- comedians who "push the envelope." One of their jokes went, "I think my cat is a homosexual. When I f**k his ass... he kind of likes it." Now, that's sick, twisted humor.

In The Art of Nonfiction, Ayn Rand writes,

When I say it is proper to laugh at evil, I do not mean all evil. It is improper, under all circumstances, to write humorously about tragic and painful events or issues -- about death, cemeteries, torture chambers, concentration camps, executions, etc. This is called "sick humor," and the designation is correct, because although it is possible to laugh at such things, one should not consider them funny. For example, take comedies about the Nazis. I have a strong aversion to war comedies. War per se is bad enough, but war and dictatorship combined are a fortiori not a subject for comedy. This applies to fiction and nonfiction writing.

Laughing at these things, like laughing at 9/11, is a way of saying they are not important. Human foibles such as slipping on a banana peel or misunderstanding the meaning of a word are not important, but an enormity like 9/11 is something that should not be minimized or forgotten. It was an act of war by totalitarian Islam, not to be laughed off.

The growth of sick humor is probably related to the spread of nihilism in modern philosophy. Nihilism is the philosophical destruction of values. Nihilists do not want people to take anything seriously, because doing so implies the existence of values. If nothing is of value, then everything can be laughed at, even the most horrifying destruction of life. To the consistent nihilist, nothing, not even life, is of value.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Bad Day

I just lost my temper. I cussed out a co-worker because he asked me about an issue that I thought had been resolved by our boss. I completely lost it. I yelled at him, "What are you, f**king crazy?!" And on and on. Then the boss got on the phone and explained that she had changed her mind and the co-worker was just asking me how I wanted to handle her new order.

I apologized to him.

Now I feel bad. I almost never do this. It's the first time I've lost my temper in eight years on this job. Why did I get angry? Why did I attack him with profanity? Why didn't I calmly get the facts and then explain my position to him?

It was not my finest moment. I will learn something from this.

UPDATE: I felt so bad about yelling at my co-worker that I went outside and beat the crap out of the first guy I saw. So it turned out to be an okay day after all.

Understanding the American Left's Foreign Policy

Jonah Goldberg notices that liberals used to advocate American intervention overseas for purely altruistic missions, but now they have stopped even that. They are obsessed with one thing, bringing America home, even it will mean genocide abroad.

Liberals used to be the ones who argued that sending U.S. troops abroad was a small price to pay to stop genocide; now they argue that genocide is a small price to pay to bring U.S. troops home.

(I gather from the article that Goldberg is a neoconservative altruist who holds American sacrifice and nation building abroad as moral. Setting all that aside, his observation about liberals is interesting and I want to focus on that.)

If compassion for the downtrodden is what altruism is all about -- and many liberals would tell you it is -- then why don't they care about the genocide that would happen in Iraq if America left? Why is there not a campaign to get America into Sudan the way we intervened in the Balkans?

Some might say that it's all politics. Iraq is Bush's war, a Republican war, and the Democrats hate all things Republican. If Al Gore were President, they would support Iraq as a humanitarian project.

I don't buy it. First, if Gore or Kerry were President, we would not be in Iraq. Second, even if we were somehow in Iraq with a Democrat President, the radical left would still protest. It would be like Chicago in 1968.

No, the explanation goes much deeper than that. Liberals are not being inconsistent when they want America to withdraw from Iraq. They are being perfectly true to their premises. Altruism is not primarily about helping the downtrodden, but about making the able sacrifice. Altruists are not motivated by love of the weak, but by hatred of the strong. Altruists do not want to help the disable live, but to make the able commit suicide.

All the talk about helping the poor and the weak is just rationalizing to disguise the naked evil of altruism's true purpose: sacrifice as an end in itself. They don't really care what practical results come from sacrifice, they just want to see the strong and the capable put chains on themselves -- chains that the power lusters could never put on the strong without the ideology of altruism. Altruism is an ideology of control and obedience; it makes people enchain themselves because they are told it is moral to sacrifice for the other, be it God, society, the planet or whatever.

The liberals do not accept the neoconservative altruistic justifications for American intervention abroad. They don't buy that we're sacrificing to bring democracy to the Middle East. Our war in Iraq is a package deal of sacrifice and national defense, and to the left the self-interested part of the deal is the most important. America, the strongest nation in the world, is asserting itself, defending itself abroad. This is selfish. Altruists cannot allow this to stand -- even it means the death of millions.

Is our tangled, confused mission in Iraq essentially one of sacrifice or self-interest? The left certainly thinks it is self-interest. Maybe they're right.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Few Notes

There are seven family members and friends who are closer to me than is anyone else. Up until the mid-1980's one of that seven was religious. In the last 20 years, two more have become devout Christians. So now it's three out of seven. Purely anecdotal evidence, I know -- but I wonder how many other people have noticed a similar increase in religious friends and family?

On a totally different subject, Robert Tracinski rocked my world tonight with his bombshell essay, "Why Keep Fighting?" He argues that America's justification for invading Iraq was not to establish democracy -- that came later -- but to stop Saddam's aggression and his weapons of mass destruction. These are the same justifications we will need to attack Iran. If we pull out of Iraq, we will be accepting the principle that we shouldn't be in Iraq and shouldn't invade Iran.

If Tracinski is right, then Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein, who argue that the Iraq War is primarily an altruistic mission of neoconservative nation building, are wrong.

Whoever is right, the problem for the confusion goes all the way to the top, to President Bush. He has mixed premises; untangling them is a complicated job.

Around the World Wide Web 16

1. Norway scrambles fighter jets as Russian bombers get too close to the border. I have a few questions: If Russia attacks some European country, does America have to get involved? Must we save France's ass the next time they surrender?

2. Looks good for outsiders?

3. Albert Ellis dies at 93. When I was stationed at Ft. Meade in 1979 I spent an afternoon at the Library of Congress looking through books on Objectivism and Ayn Rand that I did not have; there were only three or four as I recall. One of the books was by Albert Ellis. It was garbage.

4. WTF? If Iran is infiltrating mosques in Dearborn and the FBI hesitated moving for one minute because of civil rights concerns or fears of offending the tender sensibilities of Moslems, it is an outrage. (Not to mention the more important question: Why does the regime of the Mullahs in Tehran still exist? They've been at war with us since 1979. What do they have to do to get us to fight back?)

5. Robert Novak settles scores in Prince of Darkness. David Frum responds in three remarkable posts that 1) put the Wilson-Plame affair in perspective; 2) give us a look at how even journalists can be Machiavellian in Washington, D.C.; and 3) make Robert Novak look bad.

6. Terrorist dry run using cheese? And I like this sentence:

The report states that “individuals involved in these incidents were of varying gender.”

Does "varying gender" mean they were male one moment and female the next?


I got involved in some discussions over at Objectivism Online this week, something I try not to do. Getting mired in a back and forth argument online always takes a great deal of time. And I find it nerve wracking to check a site every few minutes to see if my antagonist (that fool!) has responded to my latest post.

The longer the arguments go, the more absurd they get to me. They devolve into these talmudic discussions of exactly what a sentence meant and how it was misinterpreted and what the grammar should have been and on and on until I forget what the original point was. It's maddening.

There has been some discussion this year as to the value of online forums. Someone said a forum is a poor place to learn Objectivism. It certainly is! As they say, ACPOTI, and you can read everything on a forum from sheer genius to sheer stupidity.

What values have I gained from participating in forums going back to the usenet in 1996? First, learning from my mistakes in arguments. If a mistake can be made, I make it. I get slapped around for it and think, "That was no fun -- don't do that again." There's a Russian play called He Who Gets Slapped. My life story.

For instance, when I first entered into arguments on the internet, I got emotional and insulted my opponents. I got slapped around for ad hominem and thought, "That was no fun -- don't do that again."

A second value in forums, aside from being a place to get slapped: they're a place to find out what other people think about the latest event or controversy. As you get to know people online, you think, "I wonder what Software Nerd has to say about this?"

The worst thing about forums, or the internet in general, is flame wars. Posts are written in the heat of the moment, when people are pissed off, and they express their anger. In writing. That is there to stay on the internet. Until the end of time.

When Isaac Asimov got an angry, hateful letter in the mail, he would type out his angry reply. Then he would set the letter aside and go to sleep. The next day, he would toss the letter in the trash. He had gotten the anger out of his system by writing his reply; he saw no reason to mail it to his antagonist.

Those were the days when people typed letters on paper, mailed them through the postal service and didn't expect a reply for weeks. It seems like something out of a Dickens novel now.

On the internet, it's hard to take time to sit back and reflect. If someone on a forum disagrees with you, you want to correct this injustice, and do it now! It all happens "in real time" at the speed of electrons.

It's all new. We are the pioneers of the internet. We're discovering how it works. We're making mistakes and getting slapped around for them. We're developing new methods of communicating and new modes of etiquette. We're developing practices like Isaac Asimov's that safeguard us from writing something we might regret. One thing forums have learned is that they need to be moderated with a heavy hand.

We are the pioneers of the internet -- good thing to remember.

UPDATE: Revised.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 15

1. It is not often you see an original theoretical idea in a blog post. I think Mike's Eyes has done it in a post on infant epistemology based on first-hand observations of infant behavior. If there were a "10 Best Posts by Objectivist Bloggers" at the end of the year, I believe this would make the list.

2. A look at Hillary Clinton's economics:

Quick quiz: What does Hillary Clinton think is a "great organizing principle" for the American economy? Increasing our standard of living? Maximizing economic growth and economic freedom, maybe? Putting a chicken in every pot, perhaps? Nope, none of those. In a speech to the Chicago Economic Club last spring, she suggested that climate change would be a cool concept to organize an economy around.

And if government is going to make climate change or energy independence or whatever an explicit "organizing principle" for an economy, it means a return to a once edgy concept from the 1980s: industrial policy—government favor and aid to certain "strategic" industries, whether through subsidies or trade barriers—in pursuit of some national goal.

There's another name for industrial policy: fascism.

3. George Carlin on the 10 Commandments. Stand-up comedy at its best.

4. Turkey is voting itself into the Middle Ages.

5. Dana Gioia is Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, a government agency that should not exist. In a recent commencement address he bemoned "The Impoverishment of American Culture." He makes some interesting observations and some inane points.

There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and "American Idol" finalists they can name. Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors and composers they can name. I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.

Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was.

What does Gioia blame for the woeful decline of American culture? First, commercialization. The only problem with this is that culture was freer and more commercialized 50 years ago. He also blames public education for cutting arts funding and he blames intellectuals and artists for not communicating with the middle class. He advocates more arts funding in public schools. He misses the essential cause of our cultural decline, the decline of philosophy.

And why is an understanding of art good?

These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.

By "social responsibility" he means that people who are actively engaged in the arts tend to do more volunteer work. So it's good to teach Dante and Goethe because then we have more altruists serving in soup kitchens!

America's cultural decline will not be halted by the NEA. We would be far better off leaving taxpayers their money to spend as they want. There are many individuals throughout America working for philosophic and artistic change who will do more good than Gioia and his government agency.

6. Hugo Chavez says foreigners who criticize him will be deported. You can't go to Venezuela and badmouth the big guy. I have to think a lot of American politicians look at his dictatorship with envy. If only they could handle their critics so efficiently, then they could really get things done here!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hard Time

Damn you, Gus Van Horn!

Gus put up a slew of links to ska music. I listened to them all and woke up this morning with a ska melody in my head. I immediately went to my guitar and wrote it down, otherwise I would forget. It is so frustrating when I get a great melody in my head and think, "No way I could forget this," then two hours later it's gone.

But ska? I don't do ska. At least, I didn't until this morning.

As I understand ska, it is like double-time reggae. When playing reggae you strum the guitar on the second and fourth beats. You strum up, hitting the high notes; leave the low notes for the bass. If you get the beat wrong because of excessive whiteness (I'm joking, I'm joking), and play the first and third beats, then you are playing a polka. Bob Marley didn't play polka.

Ska is twice as fast as reggae, so you end up strumming between every beat. That's my understanding, but I could be wrong.

I don't know if my band will play this song. I'm trying to focus on a '60s pop-rock style. We don't have horns. The song is a little "out of format" as radio guys might say. After Cyrano I'll be stopping acting for awhile (unless I get a paying gig in Hollywood) so that I can focus on my recording project. A local man has a recording studio in his garage that is completely professional. (My chances of making money are poor, given that 1) the music industry is in crisis and 2) they don't give contracts to 50-year old guys. But maybe I can sell a few CD's over this blog and Myspace and get some word of mouth. I won't get rich, but I'd be happy to get the music out to people.)

Here is the song I wrote this morning.

Hard Time

I have a hard time thinking it's over

Wake up one day, find out it's done

Have a hard time thinking you left me

You and that girl having some fun

Go to my room

Cry a good cry

Waste my time

Asking why

I have a hard time being so lonely

Have a hard time cooking for one

Some of my friends asking about you

All I can say is that you're gone

Taking my time

Easy that way

Change my life

Day by day

(Instrumental verse and chorus)

I have a hard time thinking about you

Now that I've moved, got a new place

It's a good thing I have our pictures

I would forget maybe your face

Taking my time

Easy that way

Change my life

Day by day

UPDATE: The paragraph I wrote about the difference between polka and reggae got me thinking. I came up with idea for a novelty song called:

The Reggae Polka

The bride is black, yeah, but the groom is white

What are they doing on their wedding night?

They do the polka

The Reggae Polka

So what we give them for a wedding gif'?

A keg of lager and a big fat splif

They do the polka

The Reggae polka...

(Maybe I won't finish this one...)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It Takes A Giant

Look at how spending has increased in California since Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor in 2003:

Unlike President Bush, who has contempt for book larnin', Schwarzenegger talked for years about how much Milton Friedman meant to him. Then when he got into power he did the same thing Bush did as President -- he became a big spender. It's almost as if he used free market ideas to gain power, then once in power he abandoned them. As Governor he has acted according to the opposite premise, the premise of state intervention in the economy.

My first conclusion was that unlike Reagan, Schwarzenegger really is as dumb as he looks. But he is a highly capable man who has succeeded now in three different careers, body building, acting and politics, and he is surrounded by the best advisers taxpayers' money can buy, so something other than stupidity must driving the Governor's statism.

The only explanation I can see is pragmatism. A politician in power comes under tremendous pressure from a thousand directions at once. Every pressure group wants its piece of the taxpayers pie. The Democrats pull in 10 different directions while the Republicans pull in 10 other directions. The media have their agenda. The one thing every faction has in common is that it wants the state to intervene in the economy for its sake.

It takes a strong commitment to principle to keep from giving a little to this faction and a little to that faction, and what the hell, let's buy some good press by increasing the budget for x and the powerful Chairman of the Way and Means Committee promised he would support y if I would just throw some money at z...

Arnold Schwarzenegger might have been impressed by the individual arguments for freedom in Milton Friedman's writing, but he obviously never grasped the principles behind the arguments. In applying those principles in action, he has been a complete failure. He has gotten lost in the forest of pressure groups and voices crying "Spend, spend spend!" Without an understanding of principles such as individual rights, he has no map out of the forest.

It takes a man of uncommon integrity and understanding of the principles of liberty to govern well in today's welfare state. To shrink the budget and dismantle the regulatory state would take a giant. Schwarzenegger and Bush are no giants.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 14

1. In a post sneering at Hummers Andrew Sullivan writes, "We have to create a social stigma toward people totally contemptuous of the environment." Sullivan claims that he is a true conservative, and I think he's right. Instead of arguing for government intervention, he wants people to act voluntarily on environmentalist premises. Sounds like a classic conservative compromise to me.

I can't believe I once sent this fool $20 when he begged for donations to keep his blog running.

2. Frontpagemag has a long piece on the intellectual odyssey of Hillary Clinton.

Rodham was deeply influenced by a 1966 article titled "Change or Containment" that appeared in Motive, a magazine for college-age Methodists. Authored by the Marxist/Maoist theoretician Carl Oglesby, who was a leader of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, this piece defended Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Maoist tactics of violence. Its thesis was that "certain cultural settings" (most notably American capitalism) were inherently inequitable and oppressive, and thus caused people to feel "pain and rage" that sometimes erupted into violence -- like that of "the rioters in Watts or Harlem" -- which was "reactive and provoked" rather than evil or malicious. Hillary later said that the Motive article had played a key role in her metamorphosis from Goldwater Republican in 1964 to leftist Democrat in 1968. During her years as First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Clinton would tell a Newsweek reporter that she still treasured the Oglesby piece.

As late as the 1990's she was still publicly glowing about a New Leftist article that attacked capitalism and defended communism. Unlike her pragmatic husband, who seems to have just wanted people to love him more than anything, Senator Clinton is an ideologically committed collectivist. All her husband's presidency did was make her angrier and more bitter about a nation in which evil, selfish right-wingers can say what they want and stifle her benevolent socialism. What a nightmare this woman is.

3. Somebody please spoil the ending of the last Harry Potter book for me, because I'm not about to start with the first book and read through seven volumes just to find out what's so great about this ending. I guess I could wait for the movie, but Harry and that red-haired kid remind me Spanky and Alfalfa.

4. Barry Bonds is better than Henry Aaron. However, Babe Ruth was better than Barry Bonds. Speaking of baseball, the Dodgers have the best record in the National League as I write. And the best record in baseball? The Detroit Tigers?! The apocalypse is nigh!

5. There is a joke in this somewhere:

A French civil servant has been found to have a huge cavity filled with fluid in his head — yet lives a completely normal life. Scans of the man's brain show the huge fluid-filled chamber and the thin sheet of actual brain tissue. ... [T]he man, who works as a civil servant in southern France, has succeeded in living an entirely normal life despite a huge fluid-filled cavity taking up most of the space where his brain should be.

6. Martin Durkin, author of The Great Global Warming Swindle, writes about the documentary's reception on "the ABC," an Australian channel, not to be confused with America's ABC, which lacks the definite article. He makes some excellent points and gives me hope that not all of humanity is bent on suicide and insanity.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Night

It's Friday night and life is good. I received a big box of CD's from Ayn Rand Bookstore. One of the nice things about being single is that I can spend $650 on Objectivist lectures without having a wife scream at me, "Are you f**king insane?! $650 on recordings of people talking?" Hey, it's my money; I spend it how I want. (Might have lost my PG-13 rating with this paragraph.)

I have begun listening to Ben Bayer's Understanding 20th-Century Philosophy: The Case of Quine, Robert Mayhew's Descarte's Meditations and Andrew Lewis's The History of England (part 2), 1215-1341. All three men are entertaining and sound teachers. Lewis avoids the modern historian's fault of miring himself in concretes; instead he induces important trends from the concretes.

Rehearsals for Cyrano are going well. The director got my confidence with the first direction he gave me during callbacks. He had seen me play Falstaff in Merry Wives and he said, "You have to lose Falstaff entirely. Falstaff is earthy; Ragueneau is all air." I found that direction quite helpful. Since then I have worked on keeping my voice in the upper register, I've adjusted my center of gravity and worked on graceful, balletic hand movements. Ragueneau is a poet, a pastry chef, an idealist, a hero-worshipper and an optimist. He is also very emotional, which is good because emotion and energy are among my strong points as an actor.

I'm reading Watership Down. It's a novel about rabbits. Talking rabbits. Like Bugs Bunny, but serious. These are some serious rabbits. I'll write a review when I'm done. I have a few observations that I have not seen anywhere else. I will also try to finish my review of the plays of Roswitha, although entering that medieval chamber of horrors is no treat.

My play in verse, The Lost Princess, set in ancient Greece, is going well. I'm into Act II now. Like the playwrights of the English Renaissance, I switch back and forth between poetry and prose. I find myself writing the heroine Apollonia's scenes in prose, and she comes off rather Shavian: witty, emancipated, vivacious -- an archetype of feminine vitality, like Carole Lombard or maybe a young Katherine Hepburn. Garbo was too stolid to play this character; you need a mercurial actress who can flash into passion mid-sentence. The ultimate character in this vein, Rosalind in As You Like It, also speaks mostly prose.

I follow Ayn Rand's advice and write about characters I enjoy contemplating. It helps motivate me to write.


Here are trends (or issues) I think we should keep track of in the next 5-10 years. Since I'm speculating about the future, I'll probably get much wrong, but I want to get it on record now so I can look back at this two, five, 10 years in the future and see what I got right or wrong. I'm hoping this will make me a better analyst of current events.

1. The war. Will we get serious about destroying the states that sponsor terrorism?

2. The defeatism of the Democrats. The most astonishing development after September 11, 2001 was the Democrat Party tying their political fortunes to America's defeat. If America is victorious, the Democrats will suffer because they have made it clear that Iraq is Bush's war, not theirs; if America is defeated, the Democrats will prosper. It must be the first time in America's history, perhaps in world history, that a major political party wants its own country to lose a war.

3. The retirement of the Baby Boomers. Talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation -- unfortunately. When the Baby Boomers go on Social Security and Medicare, what will happen? Will an economic crisis ensue?

4. The rise of religion. The black hole of nihilism and radical subjectivism must be filled by something; a vacuum of values and beliefs is psychologically unbearable. People are turning to the same thing they've turned to since Plato criticized the sophists: mysticism.

5. The development of the New Left. Since the '60s the New Left has worked its way into every aspect of our culture, from hairstyles to political correctness to recycling to the feminization of Hollywood (women are always with it, men are always befuddled). How does the New Left react to the rise of religion? Does it resist or co-opt?

6. Collectivism vs. Individualism. Will volunteerism turn into mandatory national service? Will the state continue to expand and control more and more aspects of the individual's life?

7. Environmentalism. This is closely tied to #6 and #5. Will the environmentalists succeed in using the bogeyman of global warming to enact massive regulations on industry?

8. Romanticism. Will the revolt against modern art begin in the next decade?

9. The Information Revolution. How do the Internet and digital technology change life? For life will change -- oh, it will! The changes will be so many and so huge that I wouldn't even try to speculate here. Whatever I guessed would be a pale ghost compared to the reality to come.

10. Life extension. How does science extend life? How much? How soon?

11. Mars. Will we get to Mars within 10 years? Probably not.

12. The spread of Objectivism. Recently there have been excellent write-ups on Ayn Rand's philosophy in Israel and Colorado. The next 10 years might not be enough time. But once the Baby Boomers are dead, I see a rational philosophy taking off like a rocket.

Have I missed anything?

UPDATE: Added #11.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Things I Could Never Do If I Lived To Be 1,000

Skydive. I was in the Air Force. I don't jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Teach in public schools. I tried it. I was a substitute teacher at a middle school -- for one day. During that day I did what the regular teacher instructed me to do, and read articles from a science magazine for kids. I found myself reading environmentalist propaganda. As I read, I mumbled a few interjections to the baffled students that contradicted the point of the article. That and the fact that I could not make them shut up -- "Um, could you guys, uh, be quiet? Hello?" -- ended my career as a teacher.

Have sex with a man. Nothing against homosexuals, but men do not excite me. Besides, I know what men are like. They would just use me for my body, then the moment they were satisfied they would be thinking about how they can get rid of me and even if some relationship did develop, they would watch football with their buddies instead of shopping for shoes with me. Why would I want that when I can do all that myself to a woman?

Watch "American Idol" sober. I apologize now to all you "American Idol" fans because I must be snarky. It's glorified karaoke. These crass people warbling in melissmatic excess to boring tunes that drone on and on -- it screams bad taste. It's like something dreamed up by Alvah Scarret in The Fountainhead. Goethe said we are what we turn our attention to. If Goethe is right, then those who watch "American Idol" long enough turn into mediocrities of limited intelligence that are incapable of understanding the finer things in life.

Be a Stand-Up Comedian. Now, this is different from the activities above. There's nothing inherently bad about stand-up comedy, it's just something I can't do, like sing opera or dunk a basketball. I have been paid to write comedy for radio morning shows, but no one would pay me to stand before an audience and tell a joke. The professional comedian has to look at the world in a skewed way. He tends to stick to surface issues and human foibles. I tend to think philosophically, which I believe Aristotle would have agreed means looking for causes. The philosophical way of thinking, when it is a part of one's character, habituates one to seriousness instead of looking for the humorous twist.

Around the World Wide Web 13

1. Smell the summer flowers at Hence the Elizabethan. Also, columbines in Telluride.

2. I'm glad to see that I'm linked to by this German blog. I wish I could read German. I especially wish that when I watch two of my favorite movies, M and The Blue Angel. (Some brilliant acting from Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, Gustaf Gruengens and Emil Jannings in those two films. The moment in The Blue Angel when Emil Jannings crows like a rooster is the most shattering thing I've ever seen in a movie. A middle aged intellectual destroyed by a pretty young blonde... I tried to get some family members to watch these movies, and their response was, "Black and white? Subtitles? Fuggedaboutit." Their loss.) Mark Twain, on the other hand, was no fan of the German language. (Thanks to Inspector for that link.)

3. Dianne Durante posts pictures of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I lived for 11 years. How I miss walking across the Williamsburg Bridge in April or October, when the weather was not too cold or too hot. When the air comes down from Canada and pushes away the humidity and haze, New York City is the most beautiful place on earth. The lines of the buildings are crisp and the deep shadows almost make reality look like a painting by a master. Now I live in California, where the weather is always nice and easy but never thrilling as it can be back east.

4. Ross Douthat thinks blog writing leads to "better punditry, but fewer masterpieces." Writing this blog has made my non-fiction writing better and quicker because it forces me to solve writing problems every day and to solve them fast like a journalist. And yet, I wonder about the long-term effects. If someone wrote a blog for, say, 5 years, might he then be incapable of writing anything better or deeper or more rigorous? If someone drew comic books, I suspect he would soon be incapable of painting a great, profound work of art because he would have the cartoon level of drawing automatized in his subconscious. A writer of TV sitcoms would probably be incapable of writing a philosophical play on the level of Schiller or Ibsen.

5. Politics and Pigskins sees the Raiders winning seven games this year. I would like to see them rise above expectations and win nine games. I would also like to see world peace, FTL travel, time machines and women propositioning me for sex.

6. Dave Chappelle was exhausted so he checked into an emergency room. It seems silly to check into a hospital for exhaustion when you can climb into your bed for free.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Banned From NoodleFood

Diana Hsieh writes,

So, I have a new policy: If you choose to continue posting on The Forum, then however honest and nice you are, please do not post comments on NoodleFood. Do not e-mail me with or for information -- or for any other purpose. Do not talk to me at conferences or elsewhere. Just stay away from me. I want nothing whatsoever to do with the fleas who attack me on that forum -- or the people who sanction such attacks by participating in the pointless bull sessions with the fleas on that forum. I do, after all, prefer to maintain some shred of self-respect.

I find value at NoodleFood, but I also find value at the Forum and I have posted there. Now I can't post comments at NoodleFood. I can't even introduce myself to Diana if we're ever in the same place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Modern Speech

Virginia Postrel links to a piece by Meghan Daum in which she wonders why more women seem to talk like little girls these days. Bob Corff, a speech coach quoted in the article, makes a broader point about men and women:

Corff thinks a high-pitched voice that rises at the end of sentences signifies a lack of accountability for one's words. He also pointed out that in a culture that tends to have a hair-trigger reaction to even the mildest form of dissent, speaking with authority can be a dangerous prospect. "Years ago, people prided themselves on communicating," Corff said. "Today, they're afraid they'll get in trouble for saying the wrong thing. When your speech dies away or goes up at the ends of phrases, you're saying, 'I'm not sure what I mean,' and sometimes people feel safer that way."

I've noticed both the high-pitched, chipmunk voices in supposedly grown women and the rising inflection at the end of every sentence in both sexes.

The Betty Boop voices are probably bound up in the female sex's desire to attract men. They have the perverse idea that talking like a child is more attractive, and it probably is for many young men. A woman who talks like a confident, grown-up woman can be intimidating to a man of low self-esteem. Perhaps the women who speak girly talk are women of low self-esteem seeking someone at their level.

Ayn Rand made a fascinating comment in one of her question and answer sessions that the idea that a woman loses sexual desirability when she ages is a holdover from the middle ages. In the middle ages, when people did not live long, a woman was getting old at 20. As capitalism extends life, I certainly hope our culture revises its thinking about mature women being sexually desirable. It would be a shame if women spent four fifths of their lives being ignored by men. With the current generation of young women talking like Helen Kane, we seem to have taken a step backward.

The habit of making statements sound like questions is, I think, tied into our increasing conformism and the decline of the virtue of independence. When someone turns a statement into a question, he is signaling, "I'm not making a flat statement of what I think, but if you give me a sign you agree, then we'll go with it." This is a person who is more interested in agreement and getting along with other people than in identifying the facts of reality.

Somehow I can't hear John Galt saying, "Er, A is A? Like, existence exists?"

Monday, July 16, 2007

Blog rating

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

This is based on my use of the words sex, crap and dead. Apparently, you can't write dead and maintain a G rating.

Around the World Wide Web 12

1. Anyone who wants to keep up with the latest news on the war in Pakistan should find the Fourth Rail of interest.

2. Ted Rall has written a cartoon insulting our troops and comparing them to suicide bombers. Cassandra says Axis Sally did prison time for less an offense. I guess General Washington would have hanged Rall, but we live in a different time. Is Rall a traitor or is his cartoon covered by our freedom of speech?

3. Deal keeps Internet radio from being muted. Radio Dismuke streams on.

4. Diana Hsieh gave a lecture in 1999 called "Why Be An Atheist?" It is a PDF document (don't want to piss off Billy Beck). It starts with a refutation of the classic arguments for theism and agnosticism. My only criticism is that instead of using Occam's Razor as the first argument for atheism, I would use the Objectivist idea of the arbitrary. If there is no evidence for God, then the concept is arbitrary and can be dismissed without further argumentation. I've seen Occam's Razor used to prove some strange things, so I'm wary of it.

In my 50 years on earth I have yet to see any evidence for the existence of God. The typical theist reply to that statement is, "Just look around, God is everywhere," as if the evidence of the senses somehow proved the existence of a supernatural being. When we just look around we see existence, which does exist. Anything else is the product of man's imagination.

5. So James Hetfield of Metallica "didn't quite agree with what was going on there" (at Live Earth, in which he performed). If I were a recording artist who didn't agree with the politics of an event, I would not lend my name to the venture, even if it promised to boost record sales 800%, as Live Earth did for Metallica.

6. Joe Kane is taking pictures in Australia before he ships to Iraq.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Jerry Kirkpatrick links to the chapter on competition in Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. As always with Mises, the chapter has profound identifications that at first seem simple and obvious, but after some thought one sees the brilliance of Mises -- especially when you consider that economists of other schools completely miss the "simple truth" that Mises writes.

Take these thoughts on competition:

In a totalitarian system, social competition manifests itself in the endeavors of people to court the favor of those in power. In the market economy, competition manifests itself in the fact that the sellers must outdo one another by offering better or cheaper goods and services, and that the buyers must outdo one another by offering higher prices....

In a free market businesses compete against one another for the consumer's money. But when the state intervenes in the economy, businesses must also compete in currying favor with those in power; if they do not, then the state might pass laws that harm or even destroy a business.

Why do corporations give large donations to both major political parties? Those donations are protection money. When a party gets a large sum of money from a company, it knows that if it regulates that company out of business, the party will also suffer. These considerations are part of the politician's thinking.

Although we hear leftists denounce "dog eat dog capitalism," we rarely hear anyone in power denounce the competition to buy their favor. That is what power is all about -- having people grovel before you for your mercy.

What would you rather have, corporations working overtime to make you happy so that you'll direct your money their way? Or corporate lobbyists in Washington, D.C. kissing the asses of John McCain and Hillary Clinton?

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I'm messing around with the look of this blog. Tell me if it's obnoxious.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Plays of Roswitha

Ask any fairly literate person about the history of playwriting and you'll get a list that is something like:

Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson...

Euripides died around 406 BC; Marlowe and Shakespeare were born in 1564 AD. That is a gap of almost 2,000 years!

There were a few great playwrights in Classical Civilization after Euripides, notably the Greek Menander (ca. 342–291 BC), the father of romantic comedy, and his Roman emulators, Plautus and Terence. The Roman stoic Seneca (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) wrote some gory tragedies that were influential in the Renaissance but are read only by scholars today.

After Seneca the record is pretty much darkness until the Middle ages, when guilds started performing religious dramas and then the Renaissance, when writers were fired by enthusiasm for all things classical to write new plays. This new interest in drama led to the glories of Renaissance England, the Golden Age of Spanish drama with Calderon and Lope de Vega and the neo-classicism of Corneille, Racine and Moliere in 17th century France.

It is a long dark age between 1st century AD Rome and the Middle Ages. Drama was more devastated by the Dark Ages than philosophy, history, science or any other intellectual field. I think this was due to two factors -- Augustinian Christianity's hatred of earthly pleasure and the fact that drama depends on thriving theatres, which need a certain amount of wealth that can be spent on them. It was not until the Renaissance that the West had enough wealth and the will to spend it on secular theatres.

The darkness makes Roswitha's story all the more astonishing. (Wikipedia calls her Hrosvit, but I'll use the spelling that is easier to my english reading eyes.)

Hrosvit, also known as Hroswitha, Hrotsvit, Roswitha, and Hroswitha of Gandersheim, (c. 935 to c. 1002) was a Monastic Christian poet who lived and worked in Gandersheim, located in present-day Lower Saxony. She wrote in Latin, and is considered by some to be the first person since antiquity to compose drama.

It is inspiring that this woman who lived at the beginning of the Middle Ages was so delighted by the comedies of Terence that she decided she had to write her own. Following the integrity of her vision she ended up writing dramas that are unlike any that came before or after her. She is a unique voice in the history of drama and for that alone she deserves credit as an innovative, original playwright. Because she dramatized her metaphysical value-judgments, Roswitha must be considered an artist who was true to her vision and certainly not a hack, although her clumsy technique keeps her from being a dramatist of genius.

You see, she faced a problem when she sat down to write. She wanted to emulate the Roman models she had read, but as a devout Christian and a nun she did not want to write anything immoral or pagan. She solved the problem, creating drama for her time, the Middle Ages. Her plays, as I noted, are unlike any others. They are also the most horrifying plays I have read.

What would a nun in the 10th century write about? What would a devout Augustinian Christian think is important? Roswitha's great theme, which can be seen in all of her six short plays, is the evil of sex. Her plays are typically about a woman who wishes to renounce this world and become a nun -- to Roswitha this is the moral ideal. But this woman is tempted by an evil man or by Satan to have sex. The plays are about this conflict.

To give an example of Roswitha's worldview, in two of the plays a woman who has had sex is locked in a small, dark cell, "no larger than a grave" for years -- and this is considered a joyous, happy occasion! The woman, who has renounced her evil ways and wishes to live a good life, enters the cell voluntarily and happily. Other characters react with cheers, praising the Lord, because the woman no longer will be tempted by the evils of this world, and gets to sit in silence in her dark jail cell and pray to God.

Before I go any further, I must say that I do not recommend anyone searching out these plays to read. They're not fun. They're disgusting, really. And yet, they were written by a woman in good faith, so to speak, a woman who strove and succeeded to dramatize her moral ideal and her view of the universe. What makes the plays disgusting is the nature of her philosophy.

The plays do have one value. They show, as do no other documents I know of, the soul of the Dark and Middle Ages. If you have just read histories of this period, you have an intellectual understanding of it, but you have not really seen it before your eyes. Roswitha's plays concretize the sense of life of the Middle Ages; they show what it means to be an Augustinian Christian. They bring the religious hatred of worldly pleasure to life and let you experience this way of thinking. As much as modern playwrights love to shock -- epater les bourgoises -- none of their plays is as disturbing as this nun's.

After reading the plays of Roswitha I have a better understanding of the evil -- no other word suffices -- of the evil of religion.

I will look at of the plays of Roswitha in more detail in another post.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Pointless Story

In high school I was on the newspaper until I quit to focus on drama. I was on the editorial page. I chose that because I was too lazy to do any reporting. I just wanted to sit on my butt and bloviate. (Come to think of it, I'm still doing that!) I also wrote humor and drew cartoons, two other jobs that require no reporting.

My best friend in journalism class was another cartoonist, whom we'll call Stewart. Stewart was a skinny, long-haired stoner. Somehow that figures, doesn't it? I mean, the sports writers were all jocks. The editorial page editor was the valedictorian, a sincere girl who used words like "ramifications" and "importune." She was like Hillary Clinton, but not hideous.

But the cartoonist? Stoner.

Stewart owned an iguana, which also figures somehow. He wouldn't have anything as pedestrian as a mammal for a pet. One night I slept over at his house -- on his bedroom floor, not on anything rational like a couch or a bed -- and awoke to see this iguana staring at me a few inches from my face.

One day the journalism teacher gave Stewart and me free passes to Universal Studios amusement park. I guess the idea was that passes were given to all the high school journalism classes in Southern California in hopes that they would write a story and give the park publicity.

So Stewart and I went to Universal Studios. You could say it was the closest I ever came to doing a reporter's work, except that neither Stewart nor I ever got around to writing a story.

Somewhere in LA, as I was driving us in my father's Chevy pick-up, Stewart gave another driver the finger. Why did he do this? Because he was a teenager, a stoner and a cartoonist with an iguana. I could have stopped at teenager.

I pulled into a liquor store parking lot, probably to buy cigarettes and beer on the way to Universal Studios. This sports car screeched in beside us and a huge body builder jumped out of the car. Yes, this is the man Stewart had decided to flip off.

This guy was furious. It was either road rage or the rage you get when a teenager flips you off. Worse, he had red-rimmed eyes, like he was on something: amphetamines, coke, anything but marijuana. He grabbed Stewart through the open window and started screaming at him.

Stewart was curled up on the seat whimpering. Seriously, I think he was whimpering. I vaguely remember (this was 33 years ago) strange noises coming from throat, the kind of noises a stoned cartoonist makes when he thinks he might die. Call it whimpering.

I was very apologetic and tried to cool the man down. I think it worked because he left without killing Stewart. As soon as the attacker was gone, I kicked myself because I realized that Stewart's death would have been a front page story with my byline.

After that Universal Studios was pretty lame. The best part of the entire park was the shark from Jaws jumping out of the water, but not even that could compare to a raging muscle man on speed attacking Stewart.

I call this a pointless story, but I did learn a lesson that day: the next time Stewart does something stupid for which he might be killed, don't save his ass. Think of the great story you might get!

UPDATE: Slight change.

The New Piety

From Slate:

Why are Prius sales surging when other hybrids are slumping, the Times asked? Because buyers "want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid." According to a marketing survey (which the Times ran in a graphic I couldn't hide from), more buyers bought the Prius this year because it "makes a statement about me" (57 percent) than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent) or lower carbon dioxide emissions (25 percent) or new technology (7 percent).

It makes a statement about me. That's really what conservation or "reducing a carbon footprint" is all about. More than anything, it's a search for moral approval from the group.

In a perverse way "going green" has become a status symbol on the left. But instead of trophies that declare wealth or success in life, environmentalist trophies declare one's willingness to sacrifice for "the planet."

Relatively trivial matters assume huge symbolic importance. Like the case of this woman I blogged about last November:

There’s another arena in which Pearson upholds green values, and it can create a bit of an etiquette problem. “I won’t date a guy who doesn’t recycle,” she says. “He doesn’t have to wear nonleather shoes, but he has to get it.” And woe betide the guy who doesn’t.

For a while she was happily dating a film producer from Los Angeles who, she thought, was definitely on her eco-wavelength. But one morning they went out for breakfast, and Mr. Right ordered an all-meat meal and doused his coffee with several packets of Equal. “I was dumbstruck,” says Pearson. “I think I ate my entire meal in silence. Pork plus NutraSweet? That was definitely our last date.”

NutraSweet is of no importance at all to the environment, but to this woman it is a symbol that a man does not "get it." A man who would use this product does not conform to the morality of the group.

Environmentalism is creating a conformist morality for their tribe, full of taboos based not on science or economics, but on their superstitious belief that humans must sacrifice for "the planet." We're seeing the development of something that could be called a New Age pseudo-religion, with its own standards of piety and moral behavior.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Remember When?

"I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen."

Andrew Sullivan links to a piece from 1982 that reminds us there was once a time when writing on a computer was exotic. Using a typewriter seems like such a hassle now.

Around the World Wide Web 11

1. Bruce Bartlett ends his newspaper column. Looks like the Internet is putting some columnists out of business. Too bad it had to be Bartlett instead of Paul Krugman or David Brooks.

UPDATE: Don Surber is not impressed.

2. For those who care, here is a look at what it takes to build a champion NBA team. The post is on a Laker blog and focuses on the Lakers, but there is enough general info to make it interesting to fans of other teams than the Lakers. I'm told such people do exist.

3. We should be happy the Democrats are terrified of actually doing something for which they would have to take responsibility. The current Congress is doing nothing but investigating the Bush administration. So far this year they have launched over 300 investigations! Imagine all the harm they might do if they were serious politicians who could think about issues that were more abstract than "I hate Bush."

4. Is Tony Blankley right that we must stay in Iraq for our own national security? Iraq is a complicated war -- hard to figure out what we should do.

5. Don Surber writes about the aging Classic Rock artists at Live Earth. Rock is 50 years old now, but still played on radio and still raking in big bucks on the concert circuit. When rock began in 1955, the music of 50 years ago was operetta, which was long dead; the great writers of "American Standards," such as the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, had not begun their careers.

6. Think the Surgeon General is a disinterested scientist (medicine being a form of science) who is above politics? Think again. When science and government meet, science becomes politicized.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Be Proud, America: Don't Recycle

In "Piece Of Crap," Neil Young sings,

Tried to save the trees
Bought a plastic bag
The bottom fell out
It was a piece of crap

Does buying a plastic bag, even one that is not a piece of crap, to use over and over again while shopping save the trees? No. The trees do not need saving because corporations that use tree products understand that if they do not plant new trees, they will suffer a scarcity. Trees are not in danger of disappearing precisely because humans find them useful.

It's the same thing with cows. Why is the cow not an endangered species? Because people eat them.

We live in a time when recycling is pushed on us by the government as moral and necessary. Children are taught throughout their government schooling to recycle. It is assumed that good people sort out their garbage, saving various scraps and containers to be reused.

In California, where I live, government propaganda for recycling says something like, "Recycling. It's good for the bottle. It's good for the can." Apparently, some people find this argument sound or at least clever. Me, I wonder how anything can be good for inanimate objects. It strikes me as very sloppy thinking.

The whole recycling movement is worse than sloppy thinking; it is nonsense. It not only does NOT conserve resources, it wastes them!

In fact, if the environmentalists and the government completely ignored resources and left everyone alone to pursue his own self-interest, then resources would be conserved more efficiently than when bureaucrats tell everyone what to do.

How can that be? If people just consume and consume like pigs, then we'll run out of everything, won't we?

No, we won't. What saves resources is the pricing system in a free market. It works like this. When a resource becomes more scarce, its price goes up. This price rise has two effects: 1) consumers buy less, which helps to conserve the resource; and 2) producers seek ways to produce more in order to cash in on the higher price, which helps to create more of the resource.

In a free market there is never a permanent scarcity of something humans value.

So why do environmentalists and our government spend billions of dollars (of money taken from taxpayers) on campaigns that urge people to waste their precious time recycling? If efficient conservation of resources were their goal, they would shut their programs down, go back to their desks and twiddle their thumbs as they let the market work. Conservation is not their goal.

The purpose of recycling is to make free individuals sacrifice for the collective.

The New Left project is ambitious: they want to transform America from a capitalist nation to a socialist one. In order to do this they must first change the way people think. Americans are accustomed from their 18th and 19th century heritage of individualism and freedom to living for themselves in a free market. This way of thinking must go, and recycling is a way to get people used to sacrificing for the collective. If you could find an honest environmentalist, I suspect he would use the word "conditioning" to describe the process.

With recycling they establish the premise that moral action lies not in acting for one's self-interest, but in sacrificing for the collective. The rest of the welfare state depends on taxation, which is forcibly taken from individuals. Recycling, however, depends on individuals taking action on their own volition for the collective. As such, this program is tremendously important to collectivists -- far more important than conserving trash. Recycling is a revolutionary assault on the American spirit of individualism.

The campaign against global warming -- or climate change or global cooling or whatever it's called now -- is another campaign to get individuals to sacrifice for the collective. Environmentalists hector people to turn down their thermostats, use certain light bulbs, on and on.

These programs can be thought of as "softening" people, getting them used to the idea that they must not be selfish, that they must live their lives for "the planet." It accustoms individuals to follow well-meaning, benevolent leaders such as Al Gore in service to the state because selfish action leads to destroying "the planet."

Recycling is an assault on the virtues of productiveness and independence. But more, I think it is aimed at destroying the virtue of pride. Proud individuals do not waste time sorting out their trash to make politicians happy. They do not endure make work in order to get the moral approval of the collective. Recycling is a way to get individuals to humble themselves for "the greater good."

Once people accept the premise that morality lies in sacrificing for the collective -- and when they live by that premise in their actions -- then statists can proceed to expand the state, increase the weight of our chains and eventually create a dictatorship. It's the old story about the frog: throw him in boiling water and he jumps out, but put him in cool water and turn up the temperature one degree at a time and pretty soon that frog is cooked. Recycling and the campaign against global warming are ways of turning up the heat.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Second-Hander As CEO

Steve Milloy looks at why NBC aired the Live Earth concerts this week.

First, the parent company of NBC is the General Electric Company, a corporation that is aggressively lobbying for global warming regulation. GE belongs to a lobbying group called U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) – a group of regulation- and congressional pork-loving companies that have joined with radical environmentalists to push for mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and a so-called cap-and-trade system under which companies could buy and sell rights to emit greenhouse gases.

Milloy explains that global warming regulation would be bad for GE's profits. So why do they support such regulation?

...there must be more to GE’s lobbying for global warming regulation than profit. That additional motivation may be the self-promotion of GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt.

Immelt inherited the CEO job from the legendary Jack Welsh. But while Welsh famously grew GE into a financial colossus, GE has been treading water under Immelt’s leadership. GE’s stock has mostly traded in a relatively narrow range since Immelt took over and has significantly underperformed the broader market.

So, in 2005, Immelt adopted image-building as his key to success – hence the re-branding of regular GE products into trendy “Ecomagination” products. The idea for GE’s Ecomagination marketing strategy came not from engineers who had new product ideas, but from PR consultants hired to burnish GE’s brand. Immelt then became a global warming regulation advocate, one of the first CEOs to do so.

Immelt has been feted by environmentalists and the media ever since, even being honored earlier this year by the World Resources Institute – a gloom-and-doom eco-advocacy organization that GE supports. At WRI’s 25th anniversary dinner in February, Live Earth concert organizer Al Gore personally presented Immelt with the WRI’s “Courage to Lead” award.


Immelt hasn’t been good for GE’s stock price but he’s been quite adept at assuming the pose of a corporate eco-hero. So there is no need to wonder why a GE subsidiary (NBC) is so heavily promoting Live Earth.

It appears that the successor to the great Jack Welsh has not had much success moving up GE's stock. He has had success, however, playing the PR game with our political-media elite. Thus he is willing to lobby for more regulations of his corporation -- regulations that will hurt profits -- because it will make him look good.

It's like something out of Atlas Shrugged. Is Immelt's real name Orren Boyle?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Robert Heinlein and His Antithesis

Today marks the centennial of Robert Heinlein's birth. He was the world's greatest science fiction writer. His closest competitors, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke, could match Heinlein only in science; in plot, character and style they were by far his inferiors.

John Derbyshire posted a piece Heinlein wrote in the '50s on the goodness and nobility of man. It ends with what could be viewed as the thematic statement of Golden Age science fiction:

I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching oversized braincase and the opposable thumb—this animal barely up from the apes—will endure, will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets—to the stars and beyond—carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage, and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart.

With almost fiction-like irony, the world is celebrating the opposite of Heinlein's view of man in a series of concerts called Live Earth. Their aim is to regulate the economy because the humans that Heinlein glorified are supposed to be affecting the climate. The evidence that the climate is warming is questionable; the link to man's activities is not proven, but is an arbitrary assertion with our current knowledge; and it has not been proved that if the earth is warming it would necessarily be a bad thing. The movement to regulate the economy to stop global warming is not based on science, but on politics and superstition.

I turned Live Earth on and watched a moment. Madonna was onstage in London. She thanked Al Gore for alerting us that time is running out. She said this event was not just entertainment, it was a revolution.

So the revolution has begun, led by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Metallica.

The world will ever be in conflict between science and superstition. Today superstition is in the ascendant on both the left and the right. Heinlein's vision of man would take us to the stars; Live Earth would keep man in chains and mired in the mud.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 10

1. John Podhoretz looks at Bush's disappointing second term.

2. If we socialize medicine in America, then where will rich Canadians go for health care? Sally Pipes looks at Michael Moore's dishonesty. Here is a horror story about an American with an ingrown toenail in Italy.

3. Primacy of Awesome points us to a story about John Lewis being denied tenure by Ashland University because his Objectivism is in opposition to "Judeo-Christian values." Quite fascinating. I suspect that liberals, postmodernists, deconstructionists, existentialists, agnostics, New Age mystics and all sorts of non-Christian leftists have been granted tenure, but Ashland draws the line at Objectivism. It makes sense, actually: Objectivism is the only philosophy that challenges Christianity's moral code of altruism.

4. Bush is worse than Hitler because at least Hitler meant well. No, this is not in the Onion. I shudder to think how liberals would react if we ever got a President who was a principled individualist that set about dismantling the welfare state at home and stopping all appeasement abroad. Not that I expect to see such a President in my lifetime.

5. Independent voters are leaning toward the Democrat Party. A study by the Pew Center found:

Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies....[At the same time] the proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994....Even more striking than the changes in some core political and social values is the dramatic shift in party identification that has occurred during the past five years. In 2002, the country was equally divided along partisan lines: 43% identified with the Republican Party or leaned to the GOP, while an identical proportion said they were Democrats. Today, half of the public (50%) either identifies as a Democrat or says they lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who align with the GOP.

If this study is right, then it looks like liberalism is catching on with the American people. Something to watch in the next few elections.

6. Noumenalself links to a report on a study that shows that the less education a young person has the more likely he is to reject religion. These young people are not getting their atheism from college professors.

My unscientific, anecdotal experience has been that uneducated young people are often in the heavy metal subculture, which is hostile to Christianity. These kids have lots of tattoos, swear a lot and drink heavily. Some of them are attracted to the "wiccan" religion and think of themselves as witches. Some bands, such as Slayer, are satanic -- at least in their image. How prevalent this is and what it all means, I don't know. Perhaps this is the functional illiterate's way of rebelling against Christianity, political correctness and traditional values.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

John Brunner

In Reflections and Refractions Robert Silverberg writes about the sad life of the science fiction writer John Brunner.  At one time he was at the top of his field -- then everything went wrong.

He was a golden boy from the start.  He sold his first novel, Galactic Storm, in 1952 at what seems to me the remarkably young age of 18.  He was prolific and energetic during the 1950's and 60's.  Silverberg writes,

His early work was always competent and professional, and sometimes a good deal more than that; but when he was about thirty he found his mature voice, and gave us a string of significant books like Squares of the City and The Whole Man, and then in 1969 the huge and masterly Stand on Zanzibar, which brought him his first and only Hugo Award. He seemed to build on that triumph in the years immediately following, with such important and well received books as The Jagged Orbit and The Sheep Look Up and Shockwave Rider, in which he invented the concept of computer viruses at a time -- 1975 -- when the computer concept itself was still largely unfamiliar to most people. He was only about forty then; and it appeared that he was staking a claim for himself in the science fiction world as the natural successor to the aging Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke.

It was not to be. Something went wrong in John's life.

What went wrong, in my words, was that he had built a fan base writing science fiction -- and then he found the desire to write something else. He decided around 1975 to write a massive historical novel called The Great Steamboat Race. He worked on it for five years from 1976 to 1981 that were a tremendous drain on his finances. The book finally appeared in 1983 and it sank without a trace.  It was a disastrous failure.  Brunner was never the same again.

In the summer of 1983 he commented that his books were all out of print and no publisher was interested in his future work.  In 1986 he received another blow when his wife Marjorie died.  In 1987 he was only 53 but he looked like an old man.

Because of a genetic predisposition to hypertension and strokes he had to take a blood pressure medication that interfered with his concentration and made it impossible to write.

He began to seem like a lost soul, haunted, despondent.  In an astonishingly sad convention speech... he spoke openly of the collapse of his career and expressed the hope that some publisher might offer him proofreading work to do as a way of paying his bills.

But he had not given up.  After all, he was John Brunner; he had won a Hugo Award. Why couldn't he make a science fiction comeback?  He got an idea for a major new novel he hoped would restore his position in the field and pay off his debts.  All he needed to do to write was stop taking that damned medication.

So he stopped the medication and resumed writing.  At the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, Scotland on August 25, 1995, he suffered a massive stroke and died at the age of 60.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why Does Liberal Talk Radio Fail?

On HBList Joseph Kellard asked, "why does liberal talk radio consistently fail (when not funded by government), while free-market conservative talk radio prevails?"

It's a good question. Recent studies have showed, as I recall, that 90% of talk radio is conservative. Liberals such as Mario Cuomo and Jim Hightower failed at talk radio. Air America has financial troubles. The predominance of right-wing talk radio has some liberals wanting to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

It has been said that conservative talk radio just mirrors America. The people are conservative, therefore talk radio is. If this were true, then why do elections indicate we are nearly a 50-50 nation? Why does right-wing radio prevail even in places such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, where Democrat politicians succeed and conservatives are nowhere to be seen?

It has been said that the MSM is predominately liberal, thus talk radio is a reaction to it. People tune in to hear politically incorrect statements that one would never see in newspapers and television. This might explain some of right-wing talk radio's success, but not all of it. Again, elections would indicate that much more of the country agrees with the liberal MSM than is reflected in radio -- so why can't this point of view find a place in talk radio?

Here is my answer. Talk radio is a forum for opinion, which means rational, logical argumentation meant to persuade. In order to argue well, one must subscribe to and have confidence in reason. One must believe that rational argumentation is not a waste of time. Liberals, succumbing to two centuries of nihilistic modern philosophy, no longer believe in reason.

The Old Left had associated reason with socialism. By the 1960's socialism was discredited and the irrationalist New Left arose to replace the Old Left. By the time socialism received its final death blow in the late '80s-early '90s, the left had concluded from its failure that reason doesn't work.

In the meantime, the 1972 landslide defeat of McGovern by Nixon was a turning point for the Democrat Party. As New Leftists they realized that they could not campaign proudly and openly as who they are and win the Presidency. Since then the only two Democrat Presidents have been Southern governors who campaigned as moderates.

The left's philosophic loss of confidence in reason and the Democrats' bitter experiences with the American electorate have made them cynical about argumentation. To them it is about manipulating the prejudices and irrationality of the American people. They believe that when the right talks about God, guns and gays it stirs up emotions in Americans that overwhelm their capacity to think rationally. Same thing with patriotism. Al Gore's new book argues that right-wing talk is an "assault on reason."

When a faction no longer believes in the efficacy of reason -- despite the title of Gore's book -- what fills the void? Lies, smears and character assassination. Since the advent of Borking, we have seen the left rely more and more on ad hominem argumentation. It has become a regular Democrat tactic to release smears about Republicans late in October before elections. This recent post by James Wolcott, in which he smears Republican presidential candidates as animal abusers, is typical.

In recent years it has been bewilderingly difficult to understand exactly what the Democrats in Congress are fighting for. They attack Republicans, but they don't crusade for anything. I believe the roots lie in that traumatic 1972 election, in which they learned that openly fighting for big government is not the path to success.

After the 1972 election the Democrats did manage to defeat Nixon anyway by using the liberal media to mire him the Watergate scandal. This is another lesson that leftist baby boomers have not forgotten. Since then they have put enormous resources not into fighting Republican ideas, but into catching them in scandal. They had no answer to Reagan's conservative ideology, but they made the most of the Iran-Contra Scandal. Since day one of George W. Bush's Presidency they have struggled overtime to mire him in scandal. The best they've done is the ginned-up Scooter Libby trial. I take such meager results as evidence that Bush is the most honest, least corrupt President of my lifetime. (Bush's problem, in both domestic and foreign affairs, is that he follows his Christian morality too devoutly.)

There is another related reason the left does not thrive in a medium of opinion. Collectivism and statism are at war with reality. Setting morality aside (which the left has learned never to do, as the prevailing morality of our culture, altruism, is on their side), big government is not practical. The conservatives, as altruists, cannot make a moral argument against the welfare state, but they can argue its impracticality all day long, and this fills a lot of air time on talk radio. Liberals are crushed when the debate is about practical results. (Al Gore's crusade to destroy the economy in order to prevent global warming is currently being demolished by rational scientists. The left's best hope is to intimidate their opponents into silence by announcing that they have a consensus and anyone who disagrees is a wacko. When a scientist's career depends on government money, such a tactic is powerful.)

So liberals cannot be honest about who they are and cannot argue that their programs are practically better than their opponents'. They look at the American people with contempt and believe reason is useless with them. Is it any wonder they fail before radio microphones?

All liberals can argue for is the morality of altruism, because 2,000 years of Christianity have made the west equate altruism with morality. Unfortunately for the left and the right, arguing for self-sacrifice makes boring radio. It is about as interesting as a Sunday sermon or a pious lecture in political correctness. No ratings there. For the left that leaves ad hominem attacks and scandal mongering, which might entertain for a few minutes.

An hour is a long time to fill with talk when you really believe, deep down inside, that the only answer is force.

UPDATE: Revision.