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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Doing the Good

"Doing the good is an art and a balancing act, not a neat, tidy science whereby we simple-mindedly carry some one principle toward infinity." -- Jerry Salyer

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Who's Sending Me the Traffic!

I don't check my blog stats often, but I just did, and my number two referrer since the blog began is... Silas!

Imagine that.

What Do These Songs Have in Common?

Help Me Rhonda, Sloop John B, I Get Around, Wouldn't It Be Nice, California Girls, Little Green Apples, The Way We Were, Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, Suspicious Minds, Wichita Lineman, Last Train To Clarksville, Homeward Bound, I Am A Rock, Scarborough Fair, River Deep, Mountain High, Love Child, Baby Love, Stop In The Name Of Love, Back In My Arms Again, You Can't Hurry Love, Midnight Confessions, Light My Fire?

Interpreting Statistics

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Most Annoying iPhone Feature?

My vote: The fact that the button on the map that tells the software to center the map on your current location also causes the map to re-size! What the hey? It as though recalculating a spreadsheet also rounded off all of the numbers, or printing a document also converted it into a PDF file.

Worse yet: The software actually fights the user over the map zoom level. The level it chooses when you hit the "current location" button is way more zoomed in than I usually want (because most often I am using it to see the traffic ahead of me, and I already know where I am and am going), so I zoom out. But as it locates me, the software zooms back in. I zoom out again. It zooms in again.

All this while one is rapidly approaching the fork in the highway where one has to choose a direction based on the traffic.

Well, as Yogi Berra used to say, "When you see a fork in the road, take it."

The Impotence of Pure Reason

Another good one from PSH.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reference Management Software

I now have a large base of references in my various papers and forthcoming book. I'd like to start using a reference management tool to manage this, but when I look at their import options, they mostly seem to want to be handed a file marked up in some database format for importing.

Is there any software out there that parses your existing references and imports them? I used to write these kind of filters when I worked for Ntergaid, one of the first PC hypertext companies, and I know they are error-prone. But cleaning up 5% of my references is better than trying to put 100% of them in some tab- or comma-delimited text format.

I'm Not Sure...

I've ever seen so bold a claim put forward by a respected academic backed by so little evidence. (Note: Perhaps Ferguson has TONS of evidence and it just didn't make it into this piece. But this piece is all a reader of it has to go upon!)

Let's take a quick look at what seems to Ferguson's sole piece of evidence for his claim that Turkey's leader is looking to establish a new Ottoman empire:
In his early career as mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan was imprisoned for publicly reciting these lines by an early-20th-century Pan-Turkish poet: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.” His ambition, it seems clear, is to return to the pre-Atatürk era, when Turkey was not only militantly Muslim but also a regional superpower.
Well, there you have it: Early in his career, Erdogan recited a few lines of controversial poetry! Clearly, those lines were his Mein Kampf.

Having erected a mansion on a column of sandstone, Ferguson now is proud of what it would explain:

"This explains his sustained campaign to alter the Turkish Constitution in ways that would likely increase his own power at the expense of the judiciary and the press as well as the military, all bastions of secularism. It explains his increasingly strident criticism of Israel’s “state terrorism” in Gaza, where pro-Palestinian activists sent a headline-grabbing flotilla last year."

Well, or maybe he just wants to alter the Turkish Constitution because, like most leaders, he likes power. Maybe he is criticizing Israel's state terrorism because he objects to state terrorism?

Here is my hypothesis: Ferguson intends to build a second British empire in the Middle East and appoint himself as its ruler. This would explain this load of codswallop.

Ah, to Fan the Flames of Controversy!

Reading about some of the controversy surrounding Tristram Shandy made me recall the controversy that swirled around my first novel. Here are some of the comments that came out at the time:

"Arse-wiping would have been a better use for this paper!"

"No author should be allowed to assault his readers sense of taste in such a fashion."

"To be forced to read this book to write this review was akin to slowly peeling off one's own skin."

"I used to be a first amendment absolutist, but I have changed my mind: this book presents a drop-kick case for censorship."

"I would rather cut off my testicles with a stone axe, liquefy them in a blender, and then drink a testicle martini, than to have to read another page of this book."

Sterne, Joyce, Lawrence, Nabokov, Rushdie... the name Callahan will soon be added to that illustrious list!

(Thanks to Eamon for help compiling this list.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's All or Nothing!

Aristotle taught us that the art of politics consists in knowing how to balance the "admitted goods" of the polity, one against another, so as to best promote the flourishing of its members.  This is a tricky matter, calling for experience and judgment. How much simpler if one can forgo any balancing, and declare only one type of good -- equality, property rights, productivity, scientific advancement, military readiness, etc. etc. -- to be a true good at all, and create a politics that makes the pursuit of that good absolute and ignores every other one! This leads to an all or nothing attitude: if there is any compromise in pursuit of the supreme good, then all is lost!

For example, here Ryan Wills looks at my first blog post on obligations. (Funny, unlike some people, Ryan had no trouble figuring out just what I was talking about!) Now, I don't mean to pick on Ryan: he has seemed like a very decent fellow when he has come around here to comment. But he displays the tendency of which I wish to speak very clearly in this post, so, with apologies, let me proceed.

Ryan begins by accusing me of misunderstanding the scope of libertarianism: "Libertarianism, in the strictly political sense, is concerned with justice and the (property) rights that govern it."

Ryan here is stating the very problem I was noting as though it were something I had overlooked! The problem with libertarianism, I was suggesting, is precisely that it thinks justice is only about property rights. They are a part of justice, but just a part.

"While I'll offer that, in order to claim ANY rights outside of property rights you must dismantle property rights altogether..."

Well, what can one say to this other than, "You're political ideology has made you somewhat mad"? (Ryan, I don't doubt you're as sane as most -- and saner than me! -- when it comes to not seeing purple elephants, holding down a job, etc. This is a very specific madness.) If we say someone has a legal obligation to help someone in mortal danger when the person is right in front of them, there is no one better positioned to help, and there is no risk to the rescuer, then... That's it? That person no longer owns their home or their car?

"Let's say that we all have a positive right to be saved. Well, we can go ahead and throw self-ownership and property rights in general out the window at that point - as clearly if there are stipulations and conditions to such rights, then they are not truly rights at all in any real sense, but rather individual privileges bestowed upon us by some exogenous authority."

Again, we have madness posing as thought. ALL rights anywhere ever have had stipulations and conditions on them, as they always must. The right to free speech famously does not extend to the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. But to Ryan, that condition "throws that right out the window": not being able to start a stampede that might kill people is exactly the same as the total censorship that existed in the USSR.

"then extrapolate the drowning child analogy into its intended application through the polity."

Intended by whom? By the strawman builder, that's whom.

"It seems like such a principle would call us to give as long as one needs. But the world isn't a pond with a single drowning child. The world is a pond with hundreds of millions of "drowning children" and we are billions of passersby. As I type this, thousands upon thousands of people are dying from starvation and disease. I could be using this time, marginally, to save them. Am I guilty of injustice? Should I be punished? Should I be locked away in a cage?

"And this is where things stop making sense..."

Well, all-or-nothing thinking makes it very hard to make sense of much of the real world, I grant you. For instance, it can make you believe nutty things like having a very limited obligation to help very specific people in very specific circumstances is exactly the same as having an unlimited obligation to help all people in all circumstances.

My Libertarian Strawman Has a Firstname...

it's 'M' 'u' 'r' 'r' 'a' 'y'. My libertarian strawman has a surname...

When I posted this about positive obligations, several libertarian commentators could not imagine what in the world I was talking about. My suggestion was 'absurd' to one commentator, but at least another was merely puzzled. These guys really know libertarian theory, so I must be wrong. Where in the world would I have gotten such a strange idea?

"In the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former’s rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man’s rights." -- Murray Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty

Mamas, Don't Let Your Changes Grow Up to Be Highlighted

I have a large MS Word 2011 document in which I have now turned off highlighting for tracked changes about a dozen times. But every time I pull it back up the highlighting is turned back on! The problem is, if I forget to turn it back off before I print, I may get a couple of hundred useless pages printed out, because all of the text is too small to read (because it is made smaller to allow room for the change comments to show in the right margin).

Help! Is there a way to get this turned off for good? (I have already turned off track changes itself: it is the highlighting by which I am troubled.)

Yes, the Wild West WAS Wild

with homicide rates seven times the US average!

And violent otherwise:
"One almost cannot speak of western history without taking into account the place and power of violence in the heritage of the West."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thomas Sowell on Writing

Here.

I really like this bit, since it is how I write:

"Instead of trying to be someone that you are not, be the best at what you are. My own writing practices are the direct opposite of that followed by these prolific and renowned writers. I write only when I have something to say. The big disadvantage of this is that it can mean a lot of down time. There are manuscripts of mine that sat around gathering dust for years without a word being added to them. How then have I managed to write more than 20 books within the Biblical threescore and ten years?

"My own particular idiosyncracy is writing several books at once. I may reach the point where I have nothing whatever to add to a manuscript on Marxism or affirmative action, but am bursting with things to say about late-talking children. I go with what has seized my attention and inspired my thoughts at the time. There are days, perhaps even weeks, when I have nothing worth saying in print about anything. I keep a backlog of unpublished newspaper columns on hand to send out to the syndicate during such times, while I go to Yosemite or just hang around the house printing photographs or otherwise trying to keep out of mischief.

I believe I have five books in progress at the moment.

Bad Weather

Is the title of a great song, but also the subject of today's meditation on how one can pick up a bad attitude in seemingly innocuous places. Consider weather forecasts that tell you "Tomorrow is going to be a miserable day." At first, you might think, "Well, they don't mean you have to be miserable! They just mean the weather is going to be lousy." But that, my friends, is the real problem! Who are we that we should sit in judgment on the weather?! As my friend Clayon used to say, whenever he heard a remark like that, "Personally, I don't criticize any weather, because I can't make any myself."

Dumbest Pundit Remark Ever?

"Democrats are channeling their frustration with America's imminent military victory in Afghanistan into hysterical opposition to reasonable national security measures at home. (Incidentally, this ought to prove once and for all what a bunch of paper tigers the Russians are. What were they doing over there for 10 years? It hasn't taken us 10 weeks.)" -- Ann Coulter

Crackerbox Palace

For some reason I suddenly remembered today how much I like George Harrison. Here's a great tune and video.

"While you're a part of Cracerbox Palace
Do what the rest all do
Or face the fact that Crackerbox Palace
May have no other choice than to deport you"

Or how about this one:
 

"Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with
Heart and soul"

Jonathan Chait

I've been led to Jonathan Chait, of whom I was blissfully unaware until today, by the hub-bub over Stephen Metcalf's Nozick piece. Chait seems to be very much a style-over-substance kind of guy, ready with a quick zinger even if it makes no sense:

"Of course, pitting Brooks against a Nobel prize winning economist (Krugman) in a debate over public policy is about as fair as making Krugman debate me about the University of Michigan football team."

Yes, because, you know, being a top economist who won the Nobel Prize gives one clear-headed insights into policy issues. That is why top economists always agree on those issues. Like Paul Krugman and, say, Milton Friedman.

What Is It...

with journals that like to run photos sans captions? For instance, here Reason runs a photo next to a piece that mentions at least nine living people. (I'm pretty sure the photo is not of Mises, Hayek, or Keynes.) How in the world are we supposed to know which of them is pictured in the photograph? And if we don't know who the photo is of, what is the point of it? "Ooh, someone probably mentioned in this story looks like this!"

How to Win Friends Around the World

"You see, these nations, these new emerging nations, these new shining cities, we hope they will join us, but they can never replace us. Because their light is but a reflection of our own." -- Senator Marco Rubio

You see, you puny lesser nations, the very best you can hope for is to be a second-rate imitation of the United States.

(Hat tip to Daniel Larison.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Comment Rules

From here:

1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.
2. Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.
3. You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.
4. Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.
5. Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.
6. Civil speech and impassioned speech are not opposed and mutually exclusive sets. Being interesting trumps any amount of conventional politeness.
7. Things to cherish: Your regulars. A sense of community. Real expertise. Genuine engagement with the subject under discussion. Outstanding performances. Helping others. Cooperation in maintenance of a good conversation. Taking the time to teach newbies the ropes.
All these things should be rewarded with your attention and praise. And if you get a particularly good comment, consider adding it to the original post.
8. Grant more lenience to participants who are only part-time jerks, as long as they’re valuable the rest of the time.
9. If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it’s important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There’s no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can’t. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.
10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
11. You can’t automate intelligence. In theory, systems like Slashdot’s ought to work better than they do. Maintaining a conversation is a task for human beings.
12. Disemvowelling works. Consider it.
13. If someone you’ve disemvowelled comes back and behaves, forgive and forget their earlier gaffes. You’re acting in the service of civility, not abstract justice.

Rule 10 is especially important. I already have Silas. Other jeering, unpleasant jerks will have to go elsewhere.

I Ratify That Issue!

Nelson Lichtenstein, writing in today's NY Times, claims:

"The underlying issue, which the Supreme Court has now ratified, is Wal-Mart’s authoritarian style, by which executives pressure store-level management to squeeze more and more from millions of clerks, stockers and lower-tier managers."

So, the Supreme Court was asked to approve or disapprove of Wal-Mart's authoritarian style? I had thought, and apparently the justices had thought as well, that the question was one of when a class action suit is appropriate. What fools we were! The case was actually all about style!

A Caveat

While Metcalf's article was crap, indeed, here Brad DeLong masterfully deconstructs Nozick.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Old Friend PSH

speaks wisdom on theodicy.

A Gift to My Libertarian Friends

This article is crap.

Now you can write, "Even Gene Callahan, a critic of libertarianism, acknowledges that Metcalf's article on Nozick is 'crap.'"

UPDATE: From Steve Horwitz: "But one point that hasn't been made enough is the way in which Metcalf and some of his defenders including Jonathan Chait are abusing and misreading the famous Wilt Chamberlain example in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The point of that example was NOT to justify all forms of wealth acquisition and not even voluntary ones as Chait seems to think. It's not an exercise in justification, moral or otherwise. The point was to demonstrate a problem with what Nozick called 'pattern' theories of justice such as that of Rawls."

Yes, exactly right. Metcalf completely botched (or deliberately misrepresented?) the purpose of that example.

I Used to Think It Was Turtles All the Way Down...

but now I realize it is frogs:



Creating a Windbreak

Part of maintaining an ideological cadre is sheltering it from the destructive criticism to which every ideology is vulnerable. One way to do that is to make anyone leveling such criticism out to be such an idiot that they aren't even worth reading. For instance, Geoffrey Plauche recently posted the following:

"Another irony: someone..."

"Someone"? To Plauche, I am apparently he-who-must-not-be-named: he periodically references something I have just written without naming me or linking to my post.

"enamored of Voegelin recently attempted to use a Hayek quote to argue, in effect, that liberals/libertarians are no different than statists, "

This is a favorite netwit tactic: When someone makes a comparison between A and B, the netwit comes back with: "So, you think A is the same as B!"
Me: Dogs are like porpoises in that they nurse their young.
Netwit: So you think dogs are no different than porpoises?!
Well... NO. That's why I compared them:  because, while they are different, they share certain things in common. I would not bother comparing a dog with itself: there would be nothing to say. You'd think an Aristotelean scholar would be comfortable with such ideas.

Sounds So Nice...

I had to blog it twice:

The rationalist finds "the intricacy of the world of time and contingency so unmanageable that he is bewitched by the offer of a quick escape into the bogus eternity of an ideology."-- Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So...

It turns out that being violently abusive to your customers is NOT a good business practice!


Dumb TV Dialogue

"It's 6:15 in the morning, and you're getting calls about terrorist threats?" -- Aaron Hochner's wife to Aaron Hochner on Criminal Minds, after he has just received a call about a looming terrorist threat.

OK, let's set aside the issue of whether or not the US government is really dealing with terrorist threats properly. (And, my libertarian friends, I'm totally down with you in believing that our current polices tend to produce, rather than to alleviate, terrorist threats.) But what the hell is this statement supposed to mean? That she thinks, "OK terrorists, well, you're going to kill a few thousand of my fellow citizens... but couldn't you at least schedule their death at a decent hour of the morning?!"

Friday, June 17, 2011

And This Is a Good Thing?

So, OK, our lefty military can produce vast death and suffering abroad.

And this is supposed to be an argument for leftist policies?!

I Thought Vancouver Was All Mellow

But I guess not. This is especially disturbing:

"The riots began around 8:15 p.m. local time as fans spilling out of the arena and bars started overturning cars and lighting them on fire."

I hate it when bars light cars on fire!

The Earth, Moving Onwards and Upwards!

On a water bottle today I saw the slogan "Less Plastic Moves the Earth Forward." So the earth itself is now a progressive institution that can "move forward," or perhaps, regress to the Devonian.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What to Do If Your Kid Becomes Hispanic?

Who Is This Interventionist Fool?

"Economics neither approves nor disapproves of government measures restricting production and output. It merely considers it its duty to clarify the consequences of such measures. The choice of policies to be adopted devolves upon the people. But in choosing they must not disregard the teachings of economics if they want to attain the ends sought. There are certainly cases in which people may consider definite restrictive measures as justified. Regulations concerning fire prevention are restrictive and raise the cost of production. But the curtailment of total output they bring about is the price to be paid for avoidance of greater disaster. The decision about each restrictive measure is to be made on the ground of a meticulous weighing of the costs to be incurred and the prize to be obtained. No reasonable man could possibly question this rule."

He thinks each government intervention should be evaluated for its own particular effects, and no general rule can be established as to when to intervene and when not to! Is this some follower of Keynes? Is it Krugman? Brad DeLong?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why Is It...

that the .1% of the population that are anarcho-socialists and the .1% that are anarcho-capitalists like to battle each other over rights to the word "anarchist," when to the other 99.8% of the population it is a synonym for "kook"? Wouldn't both sides be better off getting a wholly new name?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

When anarchists want to point to working, stateless social orders, one the frequently point to is the great medieval trade fairs. Well, oops"It finds that contract enforcement at the fairs did not take the form of private-order or corporative mechanisms, but was provided by public institutions."


(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)

Locke as a Thinker

"A study of Locke as a thinker would have to explore the vast shadowy field of half thought that sur­rounds the rather small nucleus that in itself is not too clear. His mode of philosophizing was characterized by a good deal of whim.

"Spurts of irritation by contemporary evils would push his thought in a direction he would not have moved, could he have seen the end of the road. And he could follow the road with complacency because the energy of the push gave out long before the end came into view. It is an interesting mental constitution. The men who have the happy gift can indulge in irresponsible boutades of thought, can pro­duce considerable havoc and misery, and can nevertheless sincerely protest that their intentions have been misunderstood when the mischievousness of their indulgence is held up to them.

"Speaking less metaphorically: Locke's spiritual gifts and intellectual abilities were no match for the problems he tried to solve, and his ethos as a thinker was deplorably weak."

Read more.

The Purpose of Property Rights

So I read that "the purpose of property rights is to permit conflicts over scarce (rivalrous) resources to be avoided." This idea caught my fancy, so I called my friend, Furcifer, over to my house to have a discussion about this, as I knew he, as a libertarian, was well-versed in property rights theory.

Eugenius: Furcifer, let us stroll by the Gowanus Canal while we reason together, as I always like to take the air there at this time of year.

Furcifer: Yes, but shouldn't we first lie upon couches with some beautiful young men for a spell?

Eugenius (sotto voce): Furcifer, this is a family publication! Wait until later!

Furcifer: Right you are. So, we are together today to discuss the notion that private property exists to prevent conflict, an idea I certainly endorse.

Eugenius: The idea sounds nice. I don't like conflict, not one bit! But I note that property rights don't prevent conflict with thieves.

Furcifer: No, only with sincere people who are willing to make their own behaviour a universal law.

Eugenius: OK, fine, I will accept that some scheme of property rights is a good idea, since even a thief presupposes such in his thieving. (But for present I withhold my consent to the proposition that property exists only to prevent conflicts!) So let's adopt this scheme: Whoever has a property title gets eighty percent of the proceeds of their land. The other twenty percent goes to government taxes, to pay for public goods and so on.

How to Defend Your Ideology Against All Comers

Anytime someone raises a devastating objection to your position, which has never been defeased, call it a "tired old chestnut" and tell the person they should look "in the literature."

This comes up sometimes in a more personal form: Someone will say to me, "Gene, I can't believe your are bringing up that objection. Don't you even remember how you used to answer it?"

Well, yes, I do. And the reason I don't hold that position any longer is that I came to understand that answer -- the same one you are about to give me -- was woefully inadequate to meet the objection, was, in fact, typically a way of dodging it or defining it away rather than meeting it. And I realize what enabled me to blind myself to those answers' inadequacy was my desire to sustain my belief system as it was, since I had become comfortable with it.

A Challenge to Roderick Long, Rad Geek, et al.

So, as I understand them, the libertarian defenders of abortion as a right in this thread basically take the position that the fetus is an unwanted interloper using the body of the woman desiring an abortion for its sustenance, and therefore she is entitled to "evict" it from her body, just as anyone of us would someone who jumped into our car and demanded to live there for nine months and be fed in the meantime.

Now, surely, given this view, we are not allowed to do any worse to the unwanted passenger than is necessary to evict them. So, for instance, if we can simply lift their passive body, which is giving us no resistance, out of the car and place it on the side of the road, we would not be allowed, instead, to take a chain saw to them and chop them to bits inside of our car, right? (Let us posit we have a healthy back, they are a light person, etc.)

Then let us imagine a surely conceivable scenario from the "not-too-distant future." In this future, bioengineering has advanced to the point where viable artificial wombs can be created, and fetuses can easily be extracted from a pregnant woman without harming her--the process is, say, clearly safer than an abortion. Given this reality, some anti-abortion multi-billionaire sets up a fund that creates a worldwide network of clinics. For the same price as an abortion, and for free if the woman is destitute, any of these clinics will extract the fetus from the woman, place it in an artificial womb, and then put it up for adoption when it comes to term.

Do you agree that if this became a reality, abortion would be completely impermissible, and would be the equivalent of hacking to pieces your inert automobile passenger when you could easily have just lifted him out of your car?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Prognosticator of the Century!

Challenging Krugman and DeLong, Mario Rizzo claims he saw the future too.  I say all of these guys prognosticate like my mother plays left tackle. You want prognostication? Then check out this post from two years ago!

How Socrates Dealt with Annoying Blog Commenters

"[In Gorgias,] Polus will have to restrain the prolixity of his speech (makrologia) in which he indulged earlier, because the interminable suave flow of clichés in his speech makes discussion impossible. The condition of Socrates touches upon a problem, familiar to all of us who have had experience with rightist or leftist intellectuals. Discussion is indeed impossible with a man who is intellectually dishonest, who misuses the rules of the game, who by irrelevant profuseness seeks to avoid being nailed down on a point, and who gains the semblance of victory by exhausting the time that sets an inevitable limit to discussion. The only defense possible against such practices is the refusal to continue the discussion; and this refusal is socially difficult because it seems to violate the rules of comity and the freedom of speech... [But Socrates] reminds [Polus] that his freedom to be prolix would destroy the freedom of the interlocutor, if the latter were not permitted to simply go away when he was sick of the oration." -- Eric Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Obligation II

When I posted "Obligation," some libtertarians pretended not to know what I was talking about. (Even though I could have clarified my point better, I think it was obvious enough what I was referring to: Plauche was only interested in trying to make an opponent of his ideology look stupid, and not in discussing what he knew me to be saying. It is also humorous that Plauche decides I am a communitarian: ideologues cannot stand the thought that it is possible that others are not ideologues, and so the urge to slap on a label as fast as possible.)

So let me make this very clear with an example. Let's say you are walking along the road on a cold winter night, on your way to an opera you very much want to see. Halfway there, you hear a cry. You look down, and there is a baby lying there, shivering in the cold. Otherwise, the road is deserted.

The baby needs medical care. The problem is that the hospital is in the opposite direction from the opera house. If you take the baby there, you will miss your opera and your ticket will be worthless.

Do you have an obligation to take the baby to the hospital? You bet you do. Should you be legally punishable if you fail to do so? You bet you should. (We might posit, for instance, that your actions are being caught on CCTV.) But I don't see how any strict libertarian could agree with me on these points. Which is a very good demonstration that strict libertarianism is mistaken!

Libertarians are to be applauded for the genuine and admirable devotion to liberty. But they should be called to task for the failure to acknowledge the sort of obligations I outline here. And I'm just the guy to do that!

And the relevance of this to how many libertarians go so tragically wrong on abortion should be obvious: I suppose Long would claim that a law requiring a passerby to aid the infant would be "forcing him to use his body as a taxi to ferry around unwanted infants."

Mother Teresa on Abortion

"I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child—a direct killing of the innocent child—murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?…
"By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion."

War of the Blogs

PSH responds to my recent posts on Lockean property theory here. (By the way, certain people who occasionally comment here might look to PSH as a role model: although often tragically mistaken, PSH is unfailingly polite in error, and is an honest participant in discussion.)


I feel that PSH is missing the point of my posts, which is that no current property has this pristine Lockean past, and, as he points out, instead it is owned by a pragmatic compromise that decides that social order and prosperity should trump redress for far distant crimes. THEREFORE, the libertarian claims of injustice at the slightest encroachment upon property rights is invalid. ALL of our current property rights are social creations, therefore society may adjust them without any necessary injustice. (That is NOT to say that all possible adjustments are just!)

Property rights and governments arose together out of already existing tribal social arrangements, and not out of Lockean homesteading or Hobbesian bargaining by individuals who appeared on the scene mysteriously, with no social ties or context.

This Post Needs a Title!

What is absolutely remarkable in this argument is that first, libertarians justify unrestricted private property rights by citing Lockean theories of homesteading and voluntary title transfer. But then, when you point out that pretty much no property in existence has such an unsullied past, they respond by essentially saying, "Well, now, that's hardly important, is it?"

They have missed their calling as sleight-of-hand artists!

The Debased Culture of Economism

In which two sides blithely discuss what kind of "good" kids are without any hint of self-awareness that they have reached the moral basement.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Miracle of the Market

I just bought a 4 GB memory stick for $10. Buying it made me think of my first large storage purchase, a 10 MB drive for my Tandy 1000 that cost me $500. If I am calculating correctly, the cost of 1 MB of memory has dropped from $50 to 1/4 cent (and that's in a much more flexible form in the contemporary case). The price has dropped by a factor of 20,000.

How to Teach the History of Economic Thought

I discuss it over at ThinkMarkets.

The Mysteries of Mobile Phone Reception

Our house in Milford, PA, is in a ravine. So I understand why mobile phone reception is bad. But what I don't get is why it is so fluctuatingly bad. From second to second, without moving at all, I will go from three bars, to zero, back to three. Does anyone understand the physics of cellular reception well enough to explain what might cause this? Silas?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Life Was Different Then

Queen Anne of Great Britain had been pregnant eighteen times when she succeeded to the throne in 1702 at the age of thirty-seven... and had no surviving children.

Monday, June 06, 2011

You Don't Need to Have an Opinion on Everything!

Over at another blog I sometimes read, in the comments I ran across: "I admit that I’m commenting as someone who’s not intimately familiar with Keynes’ work..."

My interpretation: "not intimately familiar" can be translated as "I have not read a single word of Keynes's." So why does he have any opinion on it at all?

I recall from another blog discussion someone saying, "I don't think that attitude of treating animals as mechanisms started with Descartes... it goes back to Aristotle."

At that point, several people noted how he was about as close to 180 degrees wrong as it is possible to be in a discussion like that. And then he piped in with, "Well, I've never read Aristotle."

So... kj*a8iu^gfhb$cv0wefg4afc@g?! My brain starts to short circuit at that point. "Aristotle" seems to be just a word he throws in a conversation to show he went to college.

There is no shame in not having read Keynes or Aristotle. Or, at the very least, there is far less shame in simply not having read them than there is in not having read them but then spouting off about what they thought!

What It Feels Like to Get Your King Back

"This day came in his Majestie Charles the 2d to London after a sad, & long Exile, and Calamitous Suffering both of the King and Church: being 17 yeares: This was also his Birthday, and with a Triumph of above 20000 horse and foote, brandishing their swords and shouting with unexpressable joy: The wayes straw'd with flowers, the bells ringing, the streetes hung with Tapissry, fountaines running with wine: The Major, Aldermen, all the Companies in their liver[ie]s, Chaines of Gold, banners; Lords & nobles, Cloth of Silver, gold and vellvet every body clad in, the windos and balconies all set with Ladys, Trumpets, Musick, & [myriads] of people flocking the streetes & was as far as Rochester, so as they were 7 houres in passing the Citty, even from 2 in the afternoone 'til nine at night: I stood in the strand, & beheld it, & blessed God: And all this without one drop of bloud, & by that very army, which rebell'd against him: But it was the Lords doing, et mirabile in oculis nostris: for such a Restauration was never seene in the mention of any history, antient or modern, since the returne of the Babylonian Captivity, nor so joyfull a day, & so bright, ever seene in this nation: this hapning when to expect or effect it, was past all humane policy." -- John Evelyn

A Dose of Political Realism

From Roderick Long: "Why Neither 'Libertarian' Nor 'Left' Values Can Be Achieved." (Roderick tacked a few more words onto the end of his title, but they were not necessary.)

How My Day Went Today

Not so well. (Hat tip to John Payne.)

Believe It or Not

One of "my" colleges (both as a student and as a teacher) recently gave out a prize for the best fourth novel!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

If You DO Decide to Drive...

Make sure to bring a designated drinker with you.

Lockean Original Acquisition


“For central to Nozick’s account is the thesis that all legitimate entitlements can be traced to legitimate acts of original acquisition. But, if that is so, there are in fact very few, and in some large areas of the world no, legitimate entitlements. The property-owners of the modern world are not the legitimate heirs of Lockean individuals who performed quasi-Lockean… acts of original acquisition; they are the inheritors of those who, for example, stole and used violence to steal the common lands of England from the common people, vast tracts of North America from the American Indian, much of Ireland from this Irisih, and Prussia from the original non-German Prussians. This is the historical reality ideologically concealed behind any Lockean thesis.” -- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

So if libertarians who make the "mingle one's labor with the land" argument take it seriously, what they ought to be doing right now is calling for the most massive property re-distribution program ever seen in history. How about it: are you game for that?

Now, That's Some Serious Intolerance!

During the seventeenth century in England, dissenting Protestants (Adamites, Anabaptists, Barrowists, Behmenists, Brownists, Diggers, Enthusiast, Familists, Fifth Monarchists, Grindletonians, Muggletonians, Philadelphians, Puritans, Quakers, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Seekers, and Socinians*) were twice offered toleration, once by Charles II and once by James II, in a package deal that included toleration for Catholics as well. Both times they rejected the offer, preferring to be persecuted themselves than to see Catholicism tolerated.**

* -- Source: Wikipedia.
** -- Note to methodological individualists: by "they rejected the offer," I mean enough of them that the deal collapsed.

Most Efficient Mass Murderer in History?

Oliver Cromwell, in roughly one year of campaigning in Ireland, succeeded in killing off about 600,000 Irish out of a population of 1.4 million (mostly due to famine resulting from his scorched earth campaign, although he did have the entire population of a couple of towns butchered).

The English, in shame, have never mentioned him again.

Ha! Just kidding! In 1899 they put up a statue honoring him in front of Parliament.

But since then they came to their senses, and now that they are an ally and fellow EU member of Ireland's, they have pulled it down.

Just kidding again. It's still there:


Friday, June 03, 2011

The Glorious Revolution

The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 is often viewed as having protected the traditional liberties of Englishmen. The chief two liberties being protected seemed to be those of persecuting Roman Catholics, and persecuting dissenting Protestants.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Moral Culture of Modernity

"It is only possible to understand the dominant moral culture of advanced modernity adequately from a standpoint external to that culture." -- Alasdair MacIntyre, "After Virtue after a Quarter of a Century:

A Reader Request

Antiahithopel asked if I could post some of the books I have found to be "most enlightening." OK, I'm going to give this a whirl, although it's a rather off-the-cuff effort, and I'm sure I've missed many items I shouldn't have:

After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre
Whose Justice, Which Rationality?, MacIntyre
The Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor
The Idea of History, R.G. Collingwood
The Idea of Nature, Collingwood
Experience and Its Modes, Michael Oakeshott
Rationalism in Politics, Oakeshott
On Human Conduct, Oakeshott
The New Science of Politics, Eric Voegelin
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley
The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkein
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa
Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead
Language and Myth, Ernst Cassirer
Personal Knowledge, Michael Polanyi
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn
The Fatal Conceit, FA Hayek
Politics, Aristotle
The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle
Philosophy in a New Key, Suzanne Langer
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu