Black and White

July 24, 2014

There are some conflicts in which neither side is clearly in the right or wrong, in which there is not really a black or white but shades of gray. World War I might serve as an example. Despite propaganda by both the Allies and the Central Powers, neither side could be unambiguously seen as in the right or wrong and neither side was clearly the aggressor. World War II was quite different. The Germans and the Japanese had both begun wars of aggression against neighboring countries without legitimate cause. The Axis powers were ruled by abominable governments that committed atrocities against the people they conquered. The presence of the Soviet Union on the side of the allies might have complicated matters since the Communists were every bit as evil as the Nazis and had, in fact, been aggressors earlier in that war, before Hitler double-crossed them. All the same, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the efforts of the Russian people helped to end at least one great evil.

There are many who would like to believe that the current fighting in the Gaza Strip is one of the conflicts with no clear good or bad sides. If they cannot get away with blaming the whole affair on Israel and the Jews this time, they can at least adopt a position of moral equivalency. Both sides have committed wrongs. There is no black or white here. Such is the attitude of an article in the Christian Science Monitor I have just read.

There are two broad narratives about the current conflict between Hamasand Israel.

The first, presented by Israel and its allies, is that rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militants is an intolerable threat to the country, and that Israel is simply responding in self-defense. The second, presented by Hamas and its allies, is that the economic blockade of Gaza, the arrest of hundreds of Hamas members over the past month, and the heavy ordnance that has pounded the tiny enclave is intolerable, and they’re responding in self-defense.

Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong. They are right in that they are pursuing their interests with the tools that they’ve decided are best suited to the purpose – rockets and bombs. And that both sides would like the attacks from the other side to stop.

The article goes on at some length on the history of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and actually does do a good job of presenting the points of view of both sides fairly. The writer is wrong, all the same. There are  clear right and wrong sides in this conflict. Israel is in the right and Hamas is in the wrong.

I need not go into the entire history of how Israel’s neighbors have tried again and again to destroy the Jewish state or how Israel has been under siege since the day it was founded, nor do I need to to state how the Jews have taken a depopulated wasteland and turned it into a flourishing modern state while the Palestinians remain mired in poverty because their leaders care only for war against Israel. The simple fact of the matter is that if Hamas and the Fatah faction that controls the West Bank were to disarm and ask for peace, Israel would leave them alone. If they would grant that Israel has a right to exist and end their campaign to destroy Israel, Israel would make peace. On the other hand, if the Israelis were to disarm and ask only to live in peace, Israel would be quickly destroyed. One side wants peace. The other side wants genocide. There is no moral equivalence here and only the morally corrupt would suppose that there is.

India, A History

July 20, 2014

It must be a daunting project for a historian to attempt to write a history of India on one volume. The grand sweep of India’s history, stretching back five thousand years with a bewildering diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and ethnic groups provides so much material that it must be very difficult to decide what to write about and what to exclude. This diversity must also make finding a common theme throughout the history of the subject difficult. If a historian wishes to write a history of France, he has only one nationality to examine. Most French speak the same language, follow the same religion and culture, and have a shared identity. China is somewhat more diverse, but a historian still has the cycle of dynasties to use as a framework. India is more difficult. The subcontinent has only been completely unified as one state under the British and as soon as the British left, the former colony was split between India and Pakistan, and later Bangladesh.

Making matters more difficult the indigenous Indians, the Hindus were less interested in dating and precise dating than some other civilizations, such as the Chinese, and more inclined to mythologize their history. Thus, instead of annals of history with more or less precise dating, we have the great Sanskrit epics, which quite possible contain much true historical information. Many of the persons and events in the epics may be historical, but historians face considerable difficulty in determining just when these events occurred and how they are related chronologically, without the help of archeology. It was only when the Muslims invaded Indian that we begin to get reasonably precise dating.

 

India

Despite these difficulties, John Keay does an admirable job of telling the epic story of India in one volume, India, A History.  As someone who did not know very much about this fascinating, and increasingly important country, I was glad to read a history book that lays out the whole story, from its beginnings to the present day, in a way that holds my interest. The maps and charts are adequate, though my Kindle Paperwhite still does not handle graphics very well. I did get somewhat lost in all the exotic and unfamiliar names of princes and dynasties, and occasionally the history of a certain region of India at a particular time, or some of the less prominent kings of a dynasty was somewhat rushed through, but I think that India, A History is an excellent resource for the casual reader to learn about the history of India. Those who wish to study the subject further can use the bibliography John Keay provides. Either way, I think they will find this book useful and interesting.

 

Þornography

July 18, 2014

No, I have not decided to write a post about porn. If you look carefully at the first letter in the title, you will see that it is not a p “pee”. It is actually the letter þ or “thorn” which was used in Old English, but has since been dropped. It has the sound that is represented in Modern English by the digraph “th”, so the actual title of this post is “thornography”. I hope you can forgive me for the word play. I have mentioned that the alphabet we use in English was originally the alphabet used by the Romans to write Latin. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, this alphabet continued to be used as the various dialects of Latin spoken in the former provinces of the Empire slowly evolved into the romance languages like Spanish, Italian , or French. The Latin alphabet was carried North and East by Christian missionaries, and so the various Germanic and Celtic peoples used them to write their own languages. The Anglo-Saxons who spoke Old English were among the Germanic speakers. Naturally the speakers of the various languages adapted the letters of the Latin alphabet to suit the needs of their own languages. Letters were dropped or added or the sounds they represented changed. Some languages added diacritical marks such as the accents, circumflexes, dots or curls you may see when studying Spanish, French or some other language. The Latin alphabet originally had 23 letters, the 26 found in English and other European language minus J, U, and W. Before being introduced to the Latin alphabet, the Anglo-Saxons, like other Germanic peoples had used the runic alphabet. When they switched to the Latin alphabet, they added four letters to the alphabet and dropped K, Q, and Z for a total of 24 letters. Two of the added letters were taken from the runic alphabet and two were adapted Latin letters. The altered Latin letters were Æ or ash, which was pronounced something like between the vowels A and E, and Рor eth, which was a sound close to D, perhaps DH. The two letters taken from the runes were þ, thorn and Wynn Ƿ which was used for the W sound. The letter Œ or ethel was also used. There was also a letter Ȝ or Yogh which was simply the English form of G. Yogh was used after the Norman Conquest along with the Carolingian G with gradually replaced it. The letter þ was used in Old English and survived into Middle English, though by the fourteenth century it was being replaced by the digraph th. The Letter Wynn had out of use already to be replaced by W or double U (UU). Over time þ began to be indistinguishable from the letter Y in handwriting. By the time William Caxton introduced the printing press to England in 1476, þ was only used in a few common words like “the”, which people were unwilling to change the spelling. The printing press had been invented in Germany and Caxton was obliged to import the type fonts from Germany. Since the German language did not use þ, he substituted Y. Over time most people forgot about the letter þ and simply assumed the letter in old printed texts was Y. This is why you will often see something like, “Ye Olde Antique Shoppe” in fake Medieval signage. The “Ye” is supposed to be “The” but since the people who make such signs do not know about þ and “ye” is the archaic second person plural pronoun, “ye” just sounds old fashioned, which is the effect they are going for. þ was used by other Germanic languages, particularly in Scandinavia, but it fell out of use there too. The only living language that uses þ is Icelandic where it retains the pronunciation “th”. In order to write thorn, I had to download an Icelandic keyboard, before I discovered that it is one of the special characters on WordPress’s toolbar. Ð and Æ were also on the Icelandic keyboard but I had to cut and paste Ƿ, Ȝ and Œ. The Icelandic language seems to have retained much of the grammar and vocabulary of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings and modern Icelanders can still read the old sagas with only a little effort. þat is all I have to say about þe letters þat are no longer used in þe English language. It seems a shame þat we lost some letters. Perhaps I should start a movement to reintroduce þ into þe alphabet. Maybe not.

Carolingian Miniscule

July 14, 2014

It is still widely believed that Western Europe during the Early Middle Ages, around AD 500-1000, was an intellectual wasteland, a dark age in which the vast majority of the people were illiterate and ignorant. During this dark age the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans was completely forgotten by the barbarians who overthrew the Roman Empire, and what learning did survive was ruthlessly suppressed by a Catholic Church which worshiped ignorance and superstition. I have attempted to correct these misconceptions in previous posts by writing a little about what historians of the period have to say.

You may be surprised to learn that one of the greatest advances in transmitting the written word from the invention of the printing press all the way back to the invention of writing itself occurred during the so-called Dark Ages. This would be the development of the script called Carolingian minuscule. What is Carolingian Minuscule? In a sense, it is what you are looking at now. That is to say, our modern system of upper-case and lower case letters along with punctuation like periods and commas are derived from Carolingian Minuscule.

The alphabet we use in English comes from the Latin alphabet which the Romans used. They adapted their alphabet from a version of the Greek alphabet, which the Greeks had adapted from the alphabet invented by the Phoenicians. All of these ancient alphabets had only what we call upper-case or capital letters and no punctuation.

THUSROMANWRITINGLOOKEDSOMETHINGLIKETHISEXCEPTINLATINOFCOURSE.

This is a little hard to read. Around the first century AD scribes began to experiment with various forms of cursive writing. Some of the Latin letters, when written quickly with a pen, began to resemble the letters we know as lower case letters. These scribes also developed simple systems of punctuation to indicate pauses when reading aloud. There was no difference in meaning between upper case and lower case letters. The differences in the shapes of the letters were simply the result of the handwriting of the individual writer. There was no consistent use of punctuation. As Christianity grew in numbers and influence, there was more interest in creating some sort of system of punctuation to help the reader when reading the Bible or other religious texts aloud during services. There was also a great need for more texts to be copied and any way of increasing the speed of making copies was appreciated.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the experimentation in developing various scripts continued in the monasteries, particularly in Ireland and England. The native Celtic languages of the Irish monks were quite unlike Latin and they felt the need to make the Latin texts they studied and copied easier to read. This, these monks introduced the idea of putting spaces between words. They also started to use different marks to indicate differing lengths of pauses, something like our periods, commas, semicolons, etc. On the continent, the monks and scribes of the Merovingian Franks also used a wide variety of scripts. Because these scripts varied from region to region and even from monastery to monastery and still didn’t have any consistent system of using upper and lower case letters or punctuation, writing in Western Europe was still a mess. These various scripts were not as clear and legible as they might have been and reading and making copies was still something of a chore.

Austrasia, homeland of the Franks (darkest gre...

Austrasia, homeland of the Franks (darkest green), and subsequent conquests (other shades of green). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, was the king of the Franks from 768 to 814 and the first Holy Roman Emperor from 800-814. His father Peppin had deposed the last of the Merovingian kings of the Franks and Charlemagne had united the Franks and conquered most of Western Europe, including what is now France, Germany, northern Italy, and a part of Spain. Charlemagne was no mere warlord, though he was fond of fighting. He was aware that education and culture had degenerated badly in his Frankish realm since the fall of the Roman Empire and he was determined to do something about it. He reformed the administration of his empire and put it on a more professional level than it had been for centuries. He introduced new coinage with improved trade and stabilized the empire’s finances. He was a pious Christian and tried to reform the Frankish clergy. Although Charlemagne himself was illiterate, he knew the importance of literacy for administration and established schools to educate the young. He himself attempted to learn to read and write. He had some success with reading but he started too late in life and was never able to learn to write. Since there were few teachers available among the Franks, Charlemagne sent abroad for teachers, particularly from the British Isles. The chief of these teachers was a monk from York named Alcuin.

Minuscule caroline

Minuscule caroline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

York had become a center of learning in England and Charlemagne was eager to hire Alcuin to improve the palace school which had been used to train royal princes for rule. Alcuin introduced a liberal arts and religious curriculum at the palace school and gathered scholars  at Charlemagne’s capital of Aachen in the hopes of establishing another center of scholarship in Francia. He also helped to create the new, clearer, more legible script that came to be known as the Carolingian minuscule. This new script included letters with uniform rounded shapes to make reading and copying easier along with clear distinctions between capital and lower case letters, spaces between words and sentences and a standardized system of punctuation. As a result manuscripts produced in any part of western Europe could be read by a scholar in any other part of Europe. Because the letters were smaller, yet more legible, more words could be fitted on a page, thus conserving valuable parchment or vellum. Under Charlemagne and Alcuin’s guidance, scribes made new copies of every Latin manuscript they could find with the result that if a manuscript or book written in Latin managed to survive into Carolingian times, there is a very good chance that a copy made during that time survives today. In other words, if it were not for the reforms in writing that took place in the middle of the Dark Ages, most of the literature from the Roman Empire would have been completely lost.

Carolingian minuscule was adopted throughout Charlemagne’s empire and its influence survived even after his empire fell apart during the reigns of his grandsons.  Over time this script developed into the Blackletter script which was used in Germany until the twentieth century. Italian humanists came to believe that this script was barbaric and “Gothic” and looked back to the original Carolingian minuscule as the way that properly civilized Romans wrote, believing that the Carolingian manuscripts were original Roman texts. The humanists went on to develop new scripts based on the Carolingian minuscule and when printing was invented, printers used these scripts as models for their typefaces. So, if you can read this, be sure to thank Charlemagne and the medieval scholars who invented our modern letters and punctuation.

Charlemagne. Painted in the year of 14. This i...

You’re welcome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obvious Child

July 11, 2014

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.

 

My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.

Keith Ablow’s Homophobia

July 10, 2014

I had never heard of Dr. Keith Ablow before following a link from Yahoo News to this piece at the Huffington Post. I still don’t know very much about him and I am not really that curious. It may be that he has a whole history of saying controversial or even insane remarks in public, but I am only interested in the statements that the Huffington Post considered to be extremely homophobic.

When discussing gay rights on Fox News, who better to consult than the network’sreliable source Dr. Keith Ablow?

“Fox & Friends” asked Ablow on Wednesday for his thoughts on a new California lawthat replaces the words “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” under state laws. The new law has been described as a “milestone in the journey towards full equality” and an end to the last barrier to same-sex marriage in California.

“Nuts,” Ablow said of the new law. “There’s no way that the state of California can deny a marriage license to four spouses now. Eight spouses, or I would say three human spouses and the canine they absolutely love because if love is the foundation of marriage, they can love their dog, too.”

That’s right, folks. You heard it here first. A step forward for marriage equality will only lead to polygamy and marrying your dog.

Most of the comments that followed this piece were of a similar nature, mocking Dr Ablow for his ignorance and bigotry. Yet I want you to observe two things in the article I quoted in its entirety. First, notice that homophobia consists not in making hateful or derogatory comments towards or about homosexuals but in not embracing an entire agenda with sufficient enthusiasm or in raising an obvious, logical point against same-sex marriage.

Second, notice that neither in the article or on the comments are there any arguments presented that show that Dr. Ablow is wrong. If we are going to make a fundamental alteration in the nature of marriage by changing from a particular, and theoretically lifelong, relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and maintaining families into a generic relationship between two individuals, of whatever gender, who feel a mutual sexual attraction, then what is there to stop any further alterations? Why not polygamy? There have been many cultures throughout history that have permitted polygamous marriages. Polygamy is a far less drastic alternation in the essential nature of marriage than same-sex marriage. Why not permit close relatives to marry? If they agree to not have children, there is no possibility of birth defects from inbreeding. Why not marry your dog or cat? There may be some question of consent here, but if that were  resolved, why not? For that matter, since we are separating sexuality from reproduction, why bother with marriage or families at all? Why not go for a Brave New World society in which babies are grown in test tubes?

I don’t believe that the person who wrote this or any of the commenters are in favor of either bestiality, incest or polygamy. They are in favor of  “marriage equality”. This is another example of feeling good without going through the trouble of thinking things through. There is no particular, logical reason why any of the innovations I listed above should not be adopted, once the logic that supports same-sex marriage is accepted, except that these innovations made people uneasy. They seem to forget that not two decades ago the idea of same-sex marriage was considered to be just as insane as anything I listed and even ten years ago, the idea made people uneasy. If such progress in changing people’s minds about same-sex marriage could be made through incessant propagandizing and not a little bullying, why couldn’t similar progress be made in anything I mentioned?

Thinking such matters through is hard work, however. Trying to think for yourself is even harder, and may even take some moral courage. It is much easier simply to insult the person who brings them up and repeat the same slogans and talking points everyone else is saying. If the good people are for  marriage equality, then it is best to fall into line and not think too much on where it is leading.

 

Ignorance is Bliss

July 10, 2014

Two recent e-mails I have received prove this old saying true. First there is one from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

If you thought House Republicans couldn’t get worse, I’ve got bad news. Speaker John Boehner is now threatening to sue President Obama because House Republicans are mad that President Obama is using his executive authority to get things done where Congress won’t act.1

Such a ridiculous lawsuit would be a wasteful and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes, and we’ve hatched a plan to fight back.

Our legal team is investigating options to hold Speaker Boehner accountable if he moves forward—from launching a lawsuit of our own, to filing a formal complaint in Congress, to other responses. And we are planning protests outside of Republicans’ district offices and other tactics that can break into the news. Together, we can help expose the lawsuit for the cynical political ploy that it is and generate press coverage that holds Republicans accountable as the November elections loom.

Because MoveOn is its members, we want to know what you think before we decide whether to proceed. Do you think we should move forward—or do you want us focused on other things? Click to let us know:

Yes, MoveOn should fight to hold Speaker Boehner and House Republicans accountable if they use taxpayer dollars to sue President Obama.

No, I’d prefer for MoveOn to focus on other things (and tell us which other things).

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Bobby, Matt, Amy, and the rest of the team

Checks and balances? What’s that. As it happens, I don’t think Speaker of the House Boehner should sue the president either. There are other options Congress can use to rein in an over bearing president. The House of Representatives, in particular, has the power of the purse. I think it would be better if John Boehner worked as hard as he could to get as many Republicans elected as possible. With a majority in both houses of Congress, they have a much better chance of stopping Obama. Suing him will only fire up the liberal base. I could say something similar about calling for impeachment. The Republicans have a good chance of winning big this year, but both of these tactics could ruin things.

I wish, though, that the people at Moveon.org, and elsewhere, would think very carefully about the statement that the President must act by executive authority because Congress won’t. What exactly do we have a Congress for? If the only legitimate role of Congress is to rubber stamp everything the president decrees,than why bother to have a Congress at all? Why not just make the President a dictator who we elect every four years? They seem to think we should have a system like the old Soviet Union or some banana republic in which there is a phony legislature that pretends to be passing the laws while the Leader is calling all the shots. Haven’t any of these people stopped to think that there may come a time when someone they thoroughly detest becomes president and enacts policies they oppose over the will of Congress, maybe we might even get another Republican as president? When that time comes, they may wish we still had the checks and balances they worked so hard to eviscerate.

The other e-mail is from Organizing for Action.

Friend –

Big news in the fight to raise the minimum wage:

In the last few months, four states have passed laws to raise the wage, and several cities and local governments are following suit.

That’s how we make progress, even if a minority in Congress is blocking it.

OFA’s petition to lawmakers already has nearly half a million signatures on it — yours belongs on it, too. Add your name to the petition today.

A higher minimum wage isn’t just good for workers, it’s the right idea for our economy.

More money in minimum wage earners’ pockets means more money to spend at area businesses.

That’s why governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to raise the wage. Just since May, we’ve seen Maryland, Michigan, Hawaii, and Massachusetts pass higher state minimum wage laws.

This fight is also happening on the local level. Seattle, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California, have all taken steps forward to raise the wage for thousands of workers in their cities.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, supporters delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to put a minimum wage increase measure on the ballot this fall.

That’s grassroots energy, and it’s proof that when we make our voices heard, progress is possible — with or without Congress.

This petition is how we’re going to send a message that the other side can’t ignore. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Right now, it looks like your name is missing, but that’s alright.

You can add your voice today, and tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the minimum wage:

http://my.barackobama.com/Raise-the-Wage-Petition

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Raising the minimum wage helps the economy because people have more money to spend in area businesses. There is something that doesn’t add up here. I have dealt some of the problems with raising the minimum wage before. Yes, the people who work at or slightly above minimum wage will have more money to spend at area businesses. But the increase in labor costs caused by the mandated increased in wages will mean that the area businesses will have a lower profit. You might think, “So what. The greedy capitalists shouldn’t be making such a large profit”. Remember that for a small business owner, that profit is their wage. That is what they are trying to live on. Even for a large corporation that profit is what they use to expand their business and pay put dividends to their stockholders. In order to maintain their profits in the face of rising labor costs, businesses, both small and large, will be forced to consider ways of cutting costs, making do with fewer employees, and increasing income, raising prices. In terms of purchasing power, many of those people who received a raise will eventually find themselves back where they were before.

It must be nice not to have to think things through, to just go with whatever feels good at the moment. You can support all sorts of foolish policies that may ultimately harm the people you intend to help, but if you never stop to consider the unintended consequences of such policies that  thought will never cross your mind. Ignorance is bliss.

 

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

July 7, 2014

I have had somewhat ambiguous feelings about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism ever since I first discovered her in college. I agree with much of what she had to say: freedom, capitalism, and the use of reason are good; tyranny, socialism, and living off others are bad. Nevertheless, I have always felt vaguely repelled by her writings. Perhaps it is because I feel a slight malevolence underlying much of what she wrote. Ayn Rand was never one to forgive an enemy or maintain a friendship with someone of an opposing philosophy. Maybe the figures in her fiction are not much like real human beings. The heroes are completely good with no flaws, the villains completely evil with no redeeming characteristics. I am sure.

It is for that reason that I read Greg Nyquist’s Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Mr. Nyquist is a critic of Ayn Rand, but he takes a different approach than most of her critics. He does not spend much time examining the details of her philosophy, except to note where Objectivism is contradictory or incomplete. He does not refute Objectivism on a philosophical basis. In fact, at some points he concedes, for the sake of argument, that Objectivism is the most ideal philosophy imaginable. He also does not criticize Ayn Rand on a personal basis, except to show where her personality characteristics shaped Objectivism.

download

What Greg Nyquist does instead is ask whether Ayn Rand and Objectivism actually works. Mr. Nyquist does not have much use for windy speculations about metaphysics or wordy conjectures about the way things ought to be. He is a practical man. He wants to know whether the assumptions about humanity and the world made by Ayn Rand that form the basis of Objectivism are actually in accordance with the observed facts. To this end, he has written Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

This book is divided into eight chapters, each chapter dealing with some aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, her theories of human nature, history, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. The final chapter considers the future of Objectivism. It should not be a surprise that Nyquist finds Ayn Rand’s theories wanting. In particular, he criticizes her ideas on human nature as being unrealistic. She was more concerned with human beings as she believes they ought to be rather than how they really are. She believed that human nature can be changed and that the widespread acceptance of Objectivism will cause people to think and act more rationally. Ayn Rand argued that people act according to the fundamental premises of their particular philosophy and if that philosophy is changed from one that accepts mysticism and collectivism to one that follows reason and individualism, then we can create a utopia of reason and capitalism. Nyquist disagrees, noting that human nature has changed little, if at all, throughout the centuries. People do not often follow a consistent philosophy. They act according to desires and interests and adapt their personal philosophy to justify their actions. He notes that history is less the result of various philosophical and ideological movements, as Ayn Rand asserted, but is more influenced by people’s desires and interests, particularly those of the ruling class. There is a lot more to his criticism, but the general idea is that Ayn Rand simply did not seek any sort of empirical verification of her ideas. She preferred to think about things rather than go out and see how things really are.

On the whole, I agree with Greg Nyquist’s criticism. I think that after some point, Ayn Rand lived in an imaginary world with John Galt and Howard Roarke. I have noticed in her nonfiction, she tended to refer to or quote her characters as if they were real people. She tends to make assertions that are completely reasonable and logical, but with she seldom presents actual evidence that these assumptions are true. I have also found her knowledge of history to be shallow.

While Greg Nyquist presents himself as a practical man, he sometimes crosses into cynicism. He seems to have a very negative opinion on human nature and regards politics as nothing more than the elite getting their way. While this is all true, it is not the whole truth. He believes that even if Ayn Rand’ s ideal of laissez-faire capitalism and the minimalist state is the best system possible, they will never come about into actuality because no political/economic elite will allow them to. Ayn Rand and her followers are idealists who fight for a cause no pragmatic politician would waste his time with.

In the end, I am going to side with the idealists. The idealist will sometimes bring about needed change because he doesn’t know it is impossible and even if he fails, he can at least push things in the right direction. The practical man knows it is impossible and so doesn’t bother to try.

The Election of 1816

July 7, 2014

There is not much to say about the election of 1816. There was hardly any campaigning and with the collapse of the Federalist Party, there was little question that the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Monroe, would be elected.

The War of 1812 had ended the year before. The United States hadn’t exactly won the war, but we hadn’t exactly lost it either. The Treaty of Ghent had largely restored the relations between the United States and Great Britain as they had been before the war. Neither side had gained or lost any territory, so the war could be considered a draw. Actually, you might consider the US ahead on points since the last battle of the war, the Battle of New Orleans fought two weeks after the treaty was signed, was a resounding defeat for the British.

In any event, the War of 1812 turned out to be a “good war” and the Federalists who had opposed it were badly damaged by their opposition. The Federalist Party had been declining in numbers and influence for years and the War of 1812 finished them. It didn’t help that the Democratic-Republicans were stealing their better ideas. The trouble the United States had in financing the War of 1812 convinced many Jeffersonians that Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about a National Bank and encouraging American manufacturing weren’t so bad after all.

President Madison decided to follow the example of Washington and Jefferson and did not run for a third term. Instead, he supported the campaign of his Secretary of State, James Monroe. Monroe was yet another of the Virginia dynasty which had supplied the US with every president thus far, except for Adams. He had served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence and had been wounded at the Battle of Trenton. After the war, Monroe entered politics serving as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the US Senate. He was also ambassador to France under Washington, governor of Virginia, and President Madison’s Secretary of State and War. He was an obvious successor to Jefferson and Madison.

Not everyone thought so. Many in the North were wary of another Virginia president and felt it was time to end the Virginia dynasty. There was some talk of nominating another of Madison’s Secretary of Wars, William H. Crawford, but he declined to run and it came to nothing. In the end the Democratic-Republican Congressional Caucus nominated James Monroe for president and New York governor Daniel D Tompkins for vice-president.

 

The Federalists didn’t even bother to have a formal caucus to nominate a candidate. Most Federalists supported Rufus King, the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate from the elections of 1808 and 1812. Former Maryland senator and governor John Eager Howard was the informal candidate for Vice-President.

 

There was hardly any campaigning or excitement in this election, except for a slight controversy about the status of Indiana. When the official count of the electoral votes took place in February of 1817, there were some objections made that since Indiana was not recognized by Congress until December 11,1816 while the Electoral College had cast its ballots on December 4, therefore the State of Indiana did not yet exist and its votes shouldn’t be counted. Others argued that Indiana had been organized as a state, with its constitution on June 29, and that Congress was merely acknowledging a state that already existed. The debate was postponed and since it made no difference to the results, it was never taken up again.

As for the results, it was a landslide for Monroe and the Democratic-Republicans. The popular vote was 76,592 or 68.2% for Monroe and 34,740 or 30.9% for King. At this time only ten of the nineteen states chose their electors by popular vote, while the electors of the remaining nine were chosen by their state legislatures. In the Electoral College, Monroe won all but three states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware for a total of 183 electoral votes. King, with those three states only won 34 votes. This was the end of the Federalist Party and the first party system of the United States.

The Election of 1816

The Election of 1816

 

 

 

Hobby Lobby Hullabaloo

July 6, 2014

 

The Democrats are milking the recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby for all it’s worth. Here is another e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Friend — The Supreme Court just RIPPED away women’s rights:

Five conservative men on our Supreme Court ruled that women must get their bosses’ permission to access birth control.

It is truly an outrage! Women should make their own health care decisions — NOT THEIR BOSSES!

If you support women’s access to health care, ADD YOUR NAME and denounce this disgusting Supreme Court decision.

Your Action History
Supporter Record: VN96C28FDA1
Last Petition Signed: October 24, 2013
Hobby Lobby Decision:Signature Pending >>

This is outrageous: Republicans are GLOATING in the wake of this revolting Supreme Court decision.

Their Tea Party candidates are fighting for EVEN MORE radical policies — a COMPLETE ban on some forms of birth control and EXTREME abortion restrictions.

We can’t stand by as the Republicans rip apart women’s rights. Let’s get 100,000 Democrats on board to oppose them!

Thanks for your support,
DSCC Action Alert

And Organizing for Action.

Friend –

When the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling came down on Monday, I was speechless.

All I could think about was what this ruling means for American families across the country whose employers now have a say in whether their birth control is covered by their insurance.

We’ve heard from countless OFA supporters who are fired up about it — if you’re angry, that’s because you should be. No one’s boss should be able to dictate their health care.

Right now, folks at the White House are working with champions in Congress to look for a solution to fix what this ruling broke. (There’s more to come on that soon.) The most important thing we can do right now is to keep making our voices heard — on social media, with friends at cookouts this weekend, everywhere.

What became crystal clear this week is exactly who’s willing to stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions — like Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who came forward to say they’re going to work to find a solution for the women affected.

It also painted a clear picture of who really couldn’t care less.

Contraception isn’t just a women’s issue — it’s part of millions of American families’ lives.

The court effectively said that some companies can choose which forms of birth control it wants to cover based on no other criteria than what the company’s owners personally feel is acceptable.

If you’re like me, this is pretty straightforward: No one should have their boss deciding which prescriptions are right for them.

Right now, it’s up to the people who are outraged to say so, and keep on doing it.

Thanks,

Kelly

Kelly Byrne
National Issue Campaigns Manager
Organizing for Action

I don’t know which is the more depressing possibility, that these people really believe this nonsense or that they are dishonest and cynical enough to take advantage of people’s ignorance to lie to them in order to raise funds and distract their base supporters from the disasters their policies have caused.

No, the Supreme Court decision does not rip away women’s rights. No, it does not limit access to contraception in any way. Neither Hobby Lobby nor any other employer is preparing to monitor their employees’ personal lives or prevent them from buying any form of contraceptive they wish to purchase with their own money. What the Supreme Court did say was that the owners of Hobby Lobby could not be forced to pay for a product or service that they have religious objections to. Hobby Lobby is not denying their employees all forms of contraceptives, just four out of twenty that could be considered abortifacients. If you do not believe your boss should decide on your health care decisions, then you should not ask him to pay for them. If it is his money, than he certainly ought to have some say on how it is spent.

Why is any of this even controversial? Well, it would hardly be controversial at all if the matter were stated honestly. Should a private company be required to purchase products or services they have a religious objection to, or should the government be permitted to override the religious scruples of private individuals and companies? The obvious answer is no. Few people would be willing to argue that government dictates should override religious beliefs. This is why the progressives are not putting the matter in that way. Instead, they are going into hysterics about employers preventing their employees from getting contraceptives and forcing their religion on their employees. One way to win an argument is to frame the issue in a way that favors your side, even if  this means emphasizing irrelevant side issues or outright lying about the true nature of the argument. Name calling and questioning your opponent’s motives is also useful. Thus abortion becomes women’s health and only sexist bigots would want to restrict it. Changing the fundamental nature of one of the most important institutions of human society by allowing members of the same sex to marry becomes marriage equality and only a homophobe would oppose it. Confiscating firearms is a sensible measure to reduce gun violence which only a right wing gun nut and the NRA would possibly be against. Placing crippling burdens on our economy by regulating carbon dioxide becomes reducing carbon pollution in order to prevent climate change, which only a science denier would oppose, and so on and on.

This is something the left has gotten to be very good at, and unfortunately, it is something the right isn’t very good with at all. I am not advising arguing dishonestly, but it would be better if conservatives knew better what was going on and not take for granted the left’s framing of the issues. As it is, too many times conservatives lose the argument before it starts by fighting on the opposition’s ground and defending themselves against the opposition’s attacks rather than going on the offensive. Let’s stop letting them change the subject. If they want to oppose freedom, hold them to it and don’t let them get away with adjusting the facts with clever wording.

 


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