Saturday, December 29, 2007


16-0! Patriots closed out the regular season perfect. Wasn't always pretty, but always exciting. Now the real season starts. Go Pats!

Friday, December 28, 2007

My Daemon

If you are not familiar with The Golden Compass of His Dark Materials series (now a movie), then this will be totally lost on you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More Concerns about Paul

I don't mean to be constantly harping on Paul. There is a lot wrong with the other candidates. I just keep coming back to Paul because 1) my libertarian friends keep tauting him; 2) I had higher expectations before I knew anything about him; and 3) the more comes out the more ridiculous he is.

At some point folks are going to have to realize 1) this guy isn't the pro-liberty guy everything thinks he is and 2) even if he is, he's a loon who's giving libertarians a bad name.

The latest: Paul doesn't accept evolution.

Hat Tip: Timothy Sandefur

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing: Steroids and HGH

The NY Times has an interesting Op-Ed on the effects of the use of steriods and HGH in baseball. In "More Juice, Less Punch," Jonathan Cole, a sociologists, and Stephen Stigler, a statistician, looked at the stats of players named in the Mitchell Report and found that the players' numbers (ERAs, batting avgs, home runs) do not show any statistically significant increase and in some cases show a decrease.

They do note that steroids and HGH might have aided a player to stay in the bigs and continue to perform longer, but haven't found a way to test that. If this statistical analysis is accurate, it adds more to my growing skepticism about the reasons for prohibiting the use of these technologies. If we have technologies that can prolong the careers of the game's greatest players: why prohibit them? Think of what Koufax could have done if his career wasn't cut short by injury!

Steroids raise serious long-term health risks and so that may be a reason for a private league to prohibit its use. But HGH, to my knowledge, doesn't have as significant long-term health risks. HGH is less studied, but the reported side effects are supposed to be rare (grain of salt warning: this is mostly from Wikipedia). Moreover, both steroids and HGH probably could be used safely under the direction of physicians for short periods of time to help with injury recovery (after all, this is how they are actually used in the medical establishment). And how is this any different than any other, non-prohibited, technologies used to help players recover from injury quicker?

I also think there are some arbitrary distinctions in this debate. Why ban HGH but allow cortisone shots? Big Papi got a cortisone shot near the end of the regularly season that allowed him to overcome a knee injury and perform in the playoffs. How is this any different than a player using HGH under doctor's supervision for overcoming an injury more quickly and effectively? The league bans amphetamines but not caffeine? Why allow Tommy John surgeries? For that matter, why allow weight training or physical therapy? These all help a player perform better for longer.

The argument appears to be some mix of the following:
1) The prohibited technologies are more dangerous and riskier than other technologies
2) The prohibited technologies are much more effective than other technologies

The first is more plausible, though paternalistic. The second is either arbitrary or just plain kooky. Why ban a technology that is more effective? One argument for 2 is the so-called history of the game argument. That is, in order to be able to compare the numbers of players from different eras (Ruth to Bonds), we prevent the use of certain technologies that would enhance the numbers of current players. One of the problems with this argument, however, is that it introduces the arbitrary element. Why HGH but not cortisone? Why not, then, also prevent the use of the much greater athletic training and medical knowledge we have now? Should we be using the technologies of the 20s to protect the history of the game? As this NY Times article shows, the use of HGH and steroids doesn't appear to have effected the numbers, but surely the knowledge athletes have about training and nutrition has effected these numbers to a significant degree. So this argument seems to work better if we ignore the use of HGH and focus on preventing players from using the gym and eating properly.

Friday, December 21, 2007

An Inconvenient Fact

Here's an inconvenient fact for you: world temperatures have not increased this decade. That's right, there has not been any global warming in almost 10 years.This is not predicted by the so-called skeptic-proof global warming theories. And guess what? The so-called consensus doesn't know how to explain this. They don't know if this is temporary or permanent. They don't know how to explain that while the theories say there should be consistently increasing temperatures, the temperatures haven't increased.

What does this mean? I am not sure, but I hope this data can allow for a more open and rational approach to climate change. One not based on intimidation and demanded obedience to a politically based consensus. And please, Al Gore: Go away.

Pat has chimed in.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time: Dictators are cool!

Time Magazine has declared Vladimir Putin as the 2007 Person of the Year. The argument is that Putin has shown great leadership in bringing stability to Russia.

I'd argue by retreating from liberty and rule of law, he's done more long-term to undermine the Russian state and its stability. Truly great leadership would have been to bring stability to Russia without authoritarianism.

Time claims that the the Person of the Year award "is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse". Certainly, one would hope so, given that Stalin (twice!), Hitler, and Ayatollah Khomeini have all been named Person of the Year. (Past Winners)

Nonetheless, I think most people think of this title as an award or honor and despite Time's protests people will continue to think that way. I certainly was surprised to see Putin picked until I read the article and saw the history of the title. I still disagree with the choice of Putin, even by their standards. The runners-up were: Al Gore, JK Rowling, General David Petraeus, and Hu Jintao (President of China). I'd probably go with Investors Business Daily and chose Petraeus. By most accounts, he's doing a tremendous job in Iraq, bringing some order out of the chaos and fighting the enemies of the entire free world. Now that is leadership that will have a profound effect on America and the World.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paul: Nazis are ok!

Little Green Footballs is reporting several stories about Ron Paul's ties to Neo-nazis and white supremacists. The first story was about donations from such groups and Paul's refusal to return the donations. Then, after distancing himself from these groups, some in these groups were feeling betrayed and are now claiming closer connections with Paul.

I guess Paul is for liberty as long as you're are white and Christian. That's not my kind of libertarianism.

Some light-hearted material

First, forwarded from Virginia (originally from KELO-FM 92.5 in South Dakota):

The next time you hear a politician use the word 'billion' in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money. A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A. A billion seconds ago it was 1959.
B. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.
C. A billion hours ago our ancestors were
living in the Stone Age.
D. A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth on two feet.
E. A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.

Second, from Philosopher Stone:

A funny (if you're a philosopher) parody of presidential attack ads: Kant is Bad for America

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Thoughts on Iliad

In the lull before the storm of finals grading, I wanted to make sure to put up a post that's been waiting a few weeks.

Over Thanksgiving, I finally was able to get some time to finish the Iliad. I am really glad that I reread it after all these years. Reading a work like this in high school is important, but it is hard to appreciate it at that age and in that context. With so little life under one’s belt, it is hard to take to heart many of the lessons this book teaches.

My reaction to the book was something of a surprise to me. There were many aspects of the work that I found I didn’t like. I found myself bored in the middle books with the endless give and take of the battle. The endless list of names of the killers and the killed--and their genealogies. Moreover, I didn’t find that I connected or empathized with any of the characters, even the main ones. The constant intrusion of the gods into the affairs of the mortals also bothered me a lot.

That said, I have a greater sense of the importance of this work and the themes it discusses. I was never quite sure of the point of the Iliad other than being a great mythological/historical epic tale. Now, I can appreciate some of the themes that have made this story immortal.

The primary theme is, I think, the human condition of facing mortality. This seems to explain and integrate most of the story, from Achilles' actions and his contrast with Hector to the role of the gods in the story.

One of the things that had always bothered me about the Iliad was the point at which it started and ended. It starts with the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon that leads to Achilles withdrawing from the fighting. It ends with Achilles reintegration into the Greek fighting force and the death of Hector. The ending bothered me more. Why this point? Why doesn't the story continue to Achilles' death or the Greek victory?

After this reading, as well as listening to the wonderfully insightful The Iliad of Homer by Elizabeth Vandiver, I think I understand why it ends here. Hector is presented as the most human of all the characters. While he is helped by the gods, he is not related to the gods. He shows the range of human emotion and virtue: he demonstrates courage and wisdom but also fear and hubris. We see Hector interacting with his family; in particular, his wife and child. No other character gets that treatment. If the major theme of the Iliad is human mortality, then Hector's death--the paradigmatic human-- as the climax and ending of the Iliad makes sense.

One of the main pieces of understanding this theme came from Vandiver's lectures. She explains that Achilles doesn't accept his humanity. He pulls himself from the battle and separates himself from his community. For the ancient Greeks, this separation would be symbolic of renouncing one's humanity. He even seems to reject the mores of his culture when he rejects the honors to be bestowed on him by Agememonon if he rejoins the fight. Honor and glory are held up to be the ultimate ends of this society and Achilles casts them aside as unimportant. This is more god-like. The gods don’t need or care for honor and glory--they live forever, they don’t need, as the human hero does, the epic poem to give immortality.

Then there is Achilles near superhuman fighting ability. After he finally rejoins the fighting he goes on a killing rampage. Vandiver notes that during this rampage no other character kills another. Achilles also rejects the norms of fighting as well: he shows no mercy, indeed, no humanity. Achilles refuses to eat or bath while on this rampage. He is nourished by the gods so that he can continue to fight.

The most significant fact about Achilles, however, is that he knows his fate. He knows that he will die in Troy. This unique knowledge marks Achilles as different. Hector and the other characters do not know their future and when or how they will meet their end. Knowledge of fate is something the gods have, not humans.

Achilles doesn't seem human until he meets with Priam after killing Hector. It is then that he eats and sleeps. He shows to Priam kindness and empathy. Vandiver explains that Achilles has reintegrated into his community—and with his reintegration Achilles accepts his human condition and with it his own mortality. And so the Iliad can end.

The role of the gods makes more sense in the context of the theme of human mortality. As immortals, the gods offer a contrast to humanity. The gods are also petty and lack nobility. Only the humans can attain glory, honor, and nobility. That is, only humans have the need and capacity for morality. It is our mortality that gives rise to morality.

On a different note, I wonder to what extent Homer sees himself as a critic of the culture he is writing abut. He presents the fighting in a way that almost makes it seem futile and wasteful. During the longest day, where the Greeks and Trojans fight brutally, with the battle going back and forth with no progress for either side, there is a general sense of meaninglessness to the fighting. Homer paints us the scene of the fields are littered with the dead – he shows us that on both sides the dead are honorable and noble men. There seems to be an implicit question: but to what end and for what reason are they dead? This is probably my modern sentiments coming in, but I wonder if it is “really” there in the text.

I was also struck by Achilles’ refusal of the new and greater honors offered to him by Agamemnon if he returns to the fighting. He says that these don’t mean anything to him anymore. The greatest hero in the greatest story is rejecting the morality of his society. That strikes me as a criticism of that morality and society.

As I said above, I was annoyed by all the interferences of the gods in the battle. Each time one of the heroes seems in trouble the gods swoop in and save him. Or the hero is made stronger by the gods and goes on rampage. This undermines human achievement and autonomy. Why do we praise a great warrior if his greatness is the result of a god? This raises a variant on the Euthrypho dilemma: are the heroes great because the gods choose them or do the gods choose the heroes because they are great?

If you haven’t read the Iliad or haven’t read it in years, it is worth a new or first look. And I can’t recommend The Teaching Company’s course strongly enough as a companion piece.

Select a Candidate

Minnesota Public Radio has a decent presidential quiz. It asks you a bunch of questions about your views on the main topics of the day and then calculates your match. Unlike most quizzes of this sort, the MPR quiz actually has some variety in most of the answers and isn't just yes/no or favor/oppose (although there are some annoying ones like that).

I matched best, not unsurprisingly, with Giuliani. I was a little surprised by just how closely I matched with Giuliani. I am not quite sure what the score means, but I got a 28 with Giuliani. 23 for McCain. Interestingly enough, I only got 14 for Paul (same as Huckabee). Hillary came in second to last, only in front of Dodd, at a 6.

Hat tip to Virginia.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to cover the elections

The most honest news story on the presidential elections:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Nayrot!

Tonight, Dec 3rd, starts Hanukka (how do you spell it?).

As a kid, Hanukka was a time of presents and yummy latkes. In Hebrew school we were taught that Hanukka is the celebration of the miracle of the lamp oil: there was, the story goes, oil enough for one day, but the oil burned 8 days and allowed the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabees victory over the Greeks. Hanukka means dedication.

Interesting story, but it's not what makes Hanukka interesting to me--or it seems to Jews in general. Hanukka has a rather surprising checkered past, but the Jewish people never gave up on it.

Hanukka replaces the ancient holiday of Nayrot. Nayrot was a winter solstice holiday that like most solstice celebrations involved lights (Christmas lights anyone?). The winter solstice is the darkest time of the year and so ancient cultures would light fires and have festivals involving lights and fires to fill the dark winter period. This also probably involved a little of what the late Rabbi Wine called "imitative magic." The mystical hope was that by lighting fires this would inspire the sun to rekindle, get brighter, and lead to spring.

The Israelite priests weren't big fans of this holiday because it was part of an older Sun-worshiping religion and not the Yahweh worship they were pushing. They tried, but couldn't wipe it out. Then, the Maccabees used the holiday to solidify the memory and glory of their victory and Hanukkah was born.

Problem was, the Rabbis, who would replace the priests as the religious leaders after the destruction of the temple, weren't fans of the Maccabees. This is why the holiday and The Books of the Maccabees are not in the the Jewish Bible. The Maccabees, you see, didn't only fight the Greeks, but Hellenized Jews. When the Maccabees came to power, they were a bit on the fundamentalist side stamping out any form of Judaism that didn't fit what they thought was correct practice. This ended up pitting them against the Pharisees who would later grow into the rabbinical tradition.

Still, the ancient ritual of lighting fires in the dark winter months continued; the priests couldn't get rid of Nayrot and the Rabbis couldn't get rid of Hanukkah. Some argue that the Rabbis invented the story about the miracle oil in order to make Hanukkah fit more with the Rabbi's vision of Judaism. If you can't beat them, assimilate them.

So, Hanukkah isn't interesting to Jews because of some tale of oil. We love Hanukkah for the same reason our ancient forebears did: it's dark and cold outside (here in Roscoe, it's snowing!) and the bringing of light and warmth into the home at this time is joyful. It is also a moment of pride. We can conquer the winter, control fire, and be warm and prosperous even as the natural world (temporarily) dies.

And, of course, there are those latkes smothered in apple sauce.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Isolationism Confusion

Some readers have expressed concern about my referring to Ron Paul as an isolationist. (See my post) To be clear: I did not use this term as a pejorative or as means of shutting down discussion. I used it as a term that best describes his view.

I understand isolationism to be the foreign policy view that a country should isolate itself internationally. That is, isolationism is the view that a country should not engage in alliances, not provide support for allies, not participate in international organizations, and (or) not get involved in foreign conflicts. It is often used to mean neutrality, non-involvement, or non-interventionism. This looks to me like Paul's view; therefore I am not attributing to him a view that misrepresents him.

The first principle of the foreign policy of free country ought to the protection of the individual rights of its citizen. This view necessitates neither the isolationism as described above nor a policy of involvement. Different historical and circumstantial contingencies will require a consideration of how to best implement the principle of protecting individual rights. At times this might call for neutrality or non-involvement; but it might equally require entering into alliances or providing material and financial support to allies. Indeed, it might require attacking a professed and dangerous enemy.

Given the complexity of recognizing and properly appreciating these different contingencies as well as thoughtfully applying the principle of individual rights to these circumstances, it is no surprise that intelligent, honest, and rational individuals can disagree about what specific policy is best for protecting rights. What I find worrisome about Paul's view, as well as many libertarians, is that the answer appears always to be neutrality and non-involvement. What looks like consistency and principled policy is really just concrete-bound obstinacy regardless of the policy's relation to the principle of protecting individual rights.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who kidnapped Ben Stein?

I used to get a kick out of Ben Stein, he was a funny, nerdy guy who appeared to understand economics and markets. He was a pop culture voice for freedom and economic education.

Now he's claiming that Darwinism is just a form of imperialism that has no proof and gave us the Holocaust.


There might be intelligent critiques of Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, evolutionary theory, but Stein demonstrates that he knows neither about the theories nor the criticisms.

He should clearly stick to economics and Ferris Bueller movies.

NY Times article about the movie.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bidinotto goes after Ron Paul

Robert Bidinotto has his take on Ron Paul and why his foreign policy view "is sufficient to completely disqualify him for any American public office, let alone for the role of commander in chief of the U.S. military."

Bidinotto frames his analysis in a unique and interesting way, comparing non-interventionist libertarians to those who are always making excuses--sociological, environmental, or otherwise--for domestic crime. He argues that at root both views share an attack on American culture and values because these are held to be the causal factors behind the terrorists and the criminal. It is our cultural 'imperialism' that causes the terrorists to attack us and it is our culture that causes the criminal to be a criminal. The analogy is a bit of a stretch, but I think it does provide some food for thought on parallels between libertarians like Paul and Rothbard before him and modern liberals.

(See my post on Ron Paul).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

CFP: What is Liberty Studies

What should undergraduate college students be learning about liberty? That's a great question, one posed by the The Center for Liberty Studies at the first Liberty Studies Conference. Below is the CFP for the conference.

First Conference on Liberty Studies

What is Liberty Studies?

5 - 6 April 2008

The College of New Jersey
Ewing, New Jersey

Call for Papers

The first annual Liberty Studies Conference, sponsored by The Center for Liberty Studies, will be held this April 5 - 6 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing New Jersey. The theme of our conference is "What is Liberty Studies?" This conference will put forth various ideas of what would constitute Liberty Studies by starting a debate and discussion concerning what undergraduate students ought to be learning about liberty. We are looking to disseminate substantive ideas that professors can consider for their own classes and home institutions.

Papers are welcome on any topic in liberty and from any discipline. We are looking for submissions that are accessible to a wide audience. Bibliographies and works cited should be limited to those works that either will be directly used in the classroom or are deemed important for instructor reference. Reading time of papers should be approximately 20 minutes. Accepted papers will be published in the new online Journal of Liberty Studies.

Abstracts of no less than 250 words are due by January 15th. Email submissions to Early submission is encouraged.

For more information about Liberty Studies and The Center for Liberty Studies, please visit our website at

This year we are holding our conference in conjunction with the 35th Conference on Value Inquiry "Values and Medicine". For information on the Conference on Value Inquiry go to

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Orthodoxy to Humanism

Here's an interesting post by Rabbi David Gruber explaining why he left Orthodox Judaism for secular humanism. He starts with the growth of his misgivings and then goes into detail on why he thinks the main claims of Orthodoxy are wrong--even immoral, because, as he says "it had robbed me of my individuality."

His new philosophy of life is:
I wish to base my life on a non-theistic world outlook that recognizes the supremacy of reason, and the dignity of the human being, who can and must stand alone in this world, and whose accomplishments and perseverance in an incredible and beautiful, while hostile and indifferent universe can and should be celebrated.

Hear! Hear!

Friday, November 16, 2007

More Python...No it isn't

The famous Argument Sketch:

Nietzsche's piling up the yellow cards

Monty Python's International Philosophy Match sketch:

Favorite Line: "Aristotle very much the man in form"

Hat tip: Philosopher Stone

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Memoriam: Sylvia (2001-2007)

Our little Sylvia is gone. She died Monday evening.

Sylvia was battling cancer since August. She had a brief remission after chemo treatment (from the wonderful UW-Vet hospital and Mostly Cats) and seemed to be doing better until about 2 weeks ago. The cancer was back and she began to regress quickly. There just wasn’t anything more to be done for her.

Kristen called me around 5pm and told me Sylvia was fading fast. I canceled class and rushed to the vet’s office to meet Kristen. When Kristen and I met there, Sylvia was already gone.

Sylvia will be cremated and buried with a perennial plant as memorial.

She will be greatly missed by Kristen and I, and Malcom and Bella. There is a void in our hearts that will never be filled.

Update: Added the link to Mostly Cats on 11/14, 5.36 PM

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Meme Part two

Patrick added some books to the book meme, So I thought I’d add them to my list as well.


The Lord of the Rings

Harry Potter (1-7)

The Wheel of Time

To Kill a Mockingbird

I am embarrassed about not having ever finished this.

The Great Gatsby

First read for school, but have since reread and still like it.

A Room with a View

Read for a girl. Have to say from what I remember, I didn’t like it. As a man of more mature taste, I’d like to give it another shot at some point.

The Princess Bride

Does the movie count?

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I Know. What kind of libertarian am I??!

Smilla's Sense of Snow

Animal Farm

Gone With the Wind

Lord of the Flies


A Passage to India

I saw the movie and liked it. This is what makes me want to give E M Forester another chance.

Heart of Darkness

The World According to Garp

The Cider House Rules

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Stranger in a Strange Land

The Stand



The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

On the Beach

The Sun Also Rises

Women in Love

The Trial

As I Lay Dying

The Tin Drum

The Tropic of Cancer

Fahrenheit 451

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

Ah the simpler times of Judy Blume

Naked Lunch

The Big Sleep

Chandler’s great and is a must read for anyone who likes mysteries. And of course Marlowe is the inspiration for Spenser.

The Maltese Falcon

See the previous entry but change Chandler to Hammett. Is anyone as cool as Sam Spade?
Never Let Me Go

Remains of the Day

The Red Badge of Courage

Kill me now!

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Hunt for Red October

The Dark Knight


Invisible Man

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Read for school during spring break trip in Jamaica. Clearly I recall nothing.

The Stranger

Bonfire of the Vanities

The Right Stuff

Things Fall Apart

The Way of All Flesh

The Wizard of Oz

Little Women

Tom Sawyer

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

And I was an English major. Go figure.

Charlotte's Web

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

James and the Giant Peach

Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh

The Little House Books

Remembrance of Things Past

Tom Jones

The Wings of the Dove

Brideshead Revisited


The Hound of the Baskervilles

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Paul Follow-Up

Several readers have charged me with misunderstanding or misconstruing Paul's position on some or another area, usually citing some op-ed or other piece Paul has written. Now these may be Paul's positions; however, I really only know what is on his campaign website and his statement on the issues posted there. I have not followed Paul's career and writings.

I find it curious, though, that his campaign website doesn't make Paul's best case. Several readers have indicated that Paul is all about free trade, not protectionism; so why doesn't he say this on his campaign website? He focuses there only on international agreements and how they undermine our sovereignty. Why doesn't he say, Social Security is unconstitutional and we should work to replace it. Instead he focuses there on keeping our promises to our seniors.

This may just be campaign rhetoric, but then where is the great principled defender of liberty? He hides his most important liberty views on his official campaign website statement of the issues. How odd.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Meme

These meme is making its way around. I got it from Freespace.

1. Bold what you have read
2. Italicize what you started but couldn’t finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment
Started for some class, but never finished. I intend to finish at some point.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi: a novel

The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote

Moby Dick
One day, that's right, read it one day for a class in college. I remember being more interested that I expected too. Skip the chapters that covering the history of whales and whaling.


Madame Bovary

The Odyssey
Audio books count, right?
Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Really wanted to like this, but just couldn't get through it.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies

War and Peace
BBC radio dramatization count?
Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Iliad
Currently making my way through Lattimore's translation.

The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged

Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books

Memoirs of a Geisha



Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales

The Historian: a novel

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World

The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum



The Count of Monte Cristo


A Clockwork Orange
Hated it. Too violent and weird.
Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible: a novel


Angels & Demons

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time


The Prince

The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes: a memoir

The God of Small Things

A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present



A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Always heard such wonderful things. Couldn't get through the first 20 pages.


The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Should be mandatory reading for anyway who ever uses the English language.

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake : a novel

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Cloud Atlas

The Confusion



Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye
Holden was my hero when I first read this as a young teenage. Totally connected with him when I reread it in high school. Thought he was silly when I read it again in college.
On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values

The Aeneid

Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

White Teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ron Paul: More Robertson than Goldwater

We inaugurated The Rockford Individualist Collective (TRIC) on Saturday, October 27, 2007. Our discussion was on Congressman Ron Paul and whether Objectivist or “Objectivish” folks should support his president candidacy. The informal consensus appeared to be a ‘no.’

I thought I’d share some of my reasons for not supporting Congressman Paul. My read is that Ron Paul is more Pat Robertson than Barry Goldwater.

His campaign website presents 11 issues. I’ll comment on each of the issues below.

Debt and Taxes

I don’t have any serious objections to Paul’s view here. Essentially, he seems to want to limit and control federal spending by sticking to the Constitution and powers expressed granted by that document. He does some overly worried about foreign banks owning Federal debt. This fact, in it of itself, doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, it seems to show a fundamental long-term soundness to the American economy because foreign banks are willing to buy US treasury bonds and the like.

My worry here with Paul is that he appears to be striking an anti-foreigner note. “It’s those pesky foreigners!”

American Independence and Sovereignty

This section raises some red flags. Paul believes that various free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico are threats to our freedoms, in part, because there is “a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico” and “create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system.”

Besides the worrisome and loony conspiracy-theorist elements, this highlights one of Paul’s great weaknesses. He’s against opening up of trade. He worries that foreign companies will take U.S. jobs and that free trade undermines sovereignty. This protectionism alone undermines the claim that Paul is a libertarian.

War and Foreign Policy

Though this is where much of Paul’s growing popularity is coming from, this is where I have the biggest problem with Paul. His isolationism is dangerous and unrealistic. He appears to accept the view, unfortunately peddled by the otherwise great Cato Institute, that if only we would leave the Islamists alone they would not attack us.

No. This is not a case of ignore the bully and hope he leaves us alone. Nor is this a case where the Islamists have legitimate or reasonable gripes against American foreign policy--certainly nothing that remotely justifies taking up arms against Americans. These Islamists are in this fight to destroy us because we are free and secular; because we are not strict Muslims. (See David Kelley's "The Assault on Civilization" They will not quit this fight because we leave Iraq or even stop our important support of Israel.

Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of invading Iraq when we did, it would be foolish and dangerous to leave now. It would quickly become a dangerous Islamist state. Also, we need to be there to attack Iran before it goes nuclear, but that’s another story.

I’ve always differed from the mainstream isolationist view of many libertarians. I believe we need a principled foreign policy that encourages and supports free societies through out the world. This sometimes requires providing military or other support to such societies: like Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. This is justified on the basis of our self-interest in having more strong free societies through out the world. This also means that sometimes we have to destroy regimes that pose significant threats to ourselves and our allies.

Paul’s foreign policy is essentially: buy our goods but then go away and please don’t bomb us.

Life and Liberty

Another major strike against Paul is his anti-abortion stance. He has sponsored bills that would block Federal courts from protecting the reproductive rights of individuals where state laws prevent abortions.

Besides the problem of being anti-abortion, this points to a more general concern with Paul. He apparently thinks that State’s should be left free to violate individual rights. The Federal government on his view should not interfere with state laws that prohibit abortion, homosexuality, or religious freedom.

Related to this issue, Paul apparently doesn’t support the separation of church and state. He also advocates using federal power to prevent homosexual unions and marriage (and where’s the expressed authority for that in the Constitution, Mr. Paul?)

Second Amendment

No problems here.

Social Security

My biggest gripe here is that for a man that claims that he “never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution,” he does not speak out against Social Security. He merely wants to reform it and make it solvent and he’s introduced legislation to that effect.

Border Security and Immigration Reform

His anti-immigration stance is as unacceptable, and as un-libertarian, as his protectionist stance on trade.

Privacy and Personal Liberty

“The biggest threat to your privacy is the government” Hear! Hear! It is comments like this that attract the attention of libertarians and other pro-freedom advocates. Paul is also a strong critic of the Patriot Act. As a whole the Patriot Act is a dangerous threat to our freedoms, and Paul’s voice is important here.

Property Rights and Eminent Domain

Paul is pretty good here. Though he doesn’t mention any legislation he has sponsored on this front.

Health Freedom

My criticism here is similar to my concerns under Social Security. He appears to accept the current system and doesn’t speak out against the FDA. Most disconcerting, he doesn’t mention at all the plans by most of the other presidential candidates that would nationalize health care. He’s at the forefront of making sure we don’t lose our right to take what ever vitamins or supplements we want to take, but he has nothing to say about HillaryCare or Medicare? That seems out of whack to me.

Home Schooling

I don’t have a problem with his view’s on home schooling. The worry here is that while he wants to prevent the Department of Education from regulating home schooling, what about other types of schooling?

While Paul talks the talk at times for libertarianism and pro-liberty, I don’t think he walks the walk. He is on the side of anti-liberty forces on immigration, trade, reproductive rights, and religion. He advocates dangerous and irresponsible foreign policy views. He is, at worse, a hypocrite and, at best, inconsistent and superficial when he claims he only supports legislation expressly authorized by the Constitution. Legislation that he sponsored and cites on his own website belies this view. He doesn’t speak out against clearly un-constitutional proposals, such as nationalizing health care. Nor does he speak out against already established, yet not constitutionally authorized, programs and agencies, such as the FDA, Medicare, Social Security, and the Department of Education.

I do not see a principled defense or advocacy of liberty here. I see a man using the ideas of liberty to protect his view of America as a white, Christian country. That is not good for liberty, libertarianism, or America.

Update: I also recommend reading Timothy Sandefur's post Ron Paul: a threat to serious libertarians

Update 2(12/28/O7): Since I originally wrote this post, Paul has updated his website and added more issues. I hope to have an expanded analysis soon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Review Online

My review of Tara Smith's Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist is now online at The New Individualist. The review was published in the magazine's Atlas Shrugged 50th Anniversary tribute.

The review summed up in a few words: worthwhile book that has some flaws.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What a Day for Boston!

Sox complete a comeback to go to the World Series and the Pats are winning (No, it is not 2004 again)

Sports are incredible. There are so many "what ifs?" What if Lofton is called safe at second or doesn't hold at third? Things could have turned out quite differently. That is surely one of the reasons fans live and die on every game, every play, every pitch. And it is a good lesson for life: Each little thing you do has an effect: take nothing for granted.

The Sox face a hot Rockies team (at least they were back when they last played). The Sox will have to sit either Ortiz or Youk at Coors Field. They'll might be playing after digging out of some snow. I have no idea what to expect. I have confidence because the Sox don't ever give up, the whole order is hitting well now, Beckett could pitch 3 times, and Papelbon is possessed. I think the Sox take it in 5.

The Patriots offense is downright nasty. I think they could score at will. Moss is just plain amazing.

The defense has me concerned. They gave up 21 second half points. That is not good even if you put up 49. I don't want the team to have to put up 30+ points in order to win. You don't win Super Bowls like that. You need to shut down other teams, and the Pats haven't done that for 60 minutes. The defense has come up with big drive-killing plays when they needed to, so maybe it is not as bad it looks. It might just be that with 30+ point leads, the defense is not playing as hard as it could. When a team starts to threaten, the Pats do start shutting them down. So maybe it's the Milton Berle Stratagem: only show enough to win.

Also, Seymour will be back soon and that'll help. And the defense is still gelling with Harrison now back and Samuel not being there for pre-season.

The other major concern for the Pats is the lack of a consistent running game. Maroney played a little yesterday and looked good, but he didn't play much (he was only in for 7 snaps). Morris is hurt. They need the running game if only to ice games and not give the opposing team the ball back.

That said, 7-0 is great. I hope they keep it going.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wayback Machine: Yom Kippur

It's that time of year again where I repost my article on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah as come and gone, and Yom Kippur started tonight.

Self-Judgment Days

CEE Video

The Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College has produced a promotion video. In the video, Dr. Stephen Hicks, CEE's Executive Director, explains the center's mission and introduces its expert faculty (ahem, that includes me!).

Sylvia Update 9/21

Sylvia's latest checkup provides us with some good news. Her kidney function has started to return to normal and they appear to be returning to normal size. She is still somewhat anemic, but with her kidneys coming back into normal function this should (but might not) get better.

She's being eating quite normally (though not drinking which has us a little concerned). She sleeps a lot--but let's remember that she's a cat after all. She is in the windows a lot and is just generally more 'catlike' as of late.

Because of her improvement, her meds have been reduced to finishing up the antibiotics and administering her daily steroid. This reduces the stress on all of us!!

This is truly wonderful news. We are trying not to get too excited about it, however. Even if she goes into full remission, the cancer will almost certainly return. We are hopeful (and hoping) that she continues to improve and that she continue to be with us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sylvia 9/18

First, I want to thank all those who have emailed Kristen and I with the well-wishing regarding Sylvia. It is always uplifting to know that one's family and friends care about that which one cares about as well.

Second, Sylvia seems to be doing a little bit better. She's been up and around, more alert. She goes up and down the stairs on her own. She sleeps with us again instead of hiding in a closet somewhere. Much of this morning she sat in the front window that overlooks the valley we live in. I take all of this as a sign that she is feeling somewhat better.

All of us are getting a little better at medicine time. Sylvia certainly doesn't like it and struggles with us. But we have learned how to settle her down (relatively speaking) and get her the medicine more quickly and efficiently. This is, I think, helping her overall situation because she is getting more of the medicine in her and the situation is less stress on her.

We struggle everyday with whether we are doing the right thing with Sylvia. We hope we are giving her some more quality of life and not just prolonging her suffering (and ours). Nonetheless, she doesn't seem ready to give up yet, and so neither are we.

Sylvia's next treatment is on Thursday. We are hoping that her blood work will show some improvement. I'll likely blog Thursday evening or Friday with an update.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sylvia Update 9/15/07

On Thursday, we took Sylvia to the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to see an oncologist specialist. VMTH-UW is a leader in veterinary oncology, so we are getting some of the best care possible.

They confirmed the diagnosis and ran some further tests. Sylvia was very anemic and dehydrated. Her kidneys were starting to lose function. They recommended a blood transfusion and keeping at the hospital for a few days so that they get her fluid levels up. They would also start the chemotherapy.

We were able to pick her up today. She was more alert and perky when she got home. She ate some food and walked around. She was still weak, and slept some as well.

Sylvia goes back on Thursday for more chemo. In the meantime, Kristen and I have to administer several drugs and fluids. She’s on anti-acid and anti-ulcer medicine. These are to help with some of the side effects of the lymphoma and failing kidneys. She also gets a daily steroid and some antibiotics. The fluids, to help keep her hydrated, are administered subcutaneously--that means delivered by needle under the skin (between the skin and the muscle). We reviewed this with doctor and he demonstrated. It didn’t look easy, but it didn’t look too bad either. Well, it took Kristen and I about an hour to do it. I couldn’t get the needle in or I went to far and Sylvia would squirm. Finally, I think I got the feel for it, but even then, it was hard. The pill was no easier, she just wouldn’t swallow it! And we have to do this twice a day. I think (hope) it will get easier as all of us get used to it.

After this hour long poking and prodding, Sylvia is definitely stressed and not interested in eating. Hopefully, after a night of sleep in our house, she’ll be happier tomorrow…until I have to poke her again. Sorry Sylvia!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Look Ma! More Quizzes!

Here's one that Patrick discovered. Results are a little surprising, but not that much. I wouldn't have expected that Existentialism would be so high, but the rest of it seems in order.

You scored as Existentialism, Your life is guided by the concept of Existentialism: You choose the meaning and purpose of your life.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

“It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

--Jean-Paul Sartre

“It is man's natural sickness to believe that he possesses the Truth.”

--Blaise Pascal

More info at Arocoun's Wikipedia User Page...



Strong Egoism


Justice (Fairness)












Divine Command


What philosophy do you follow? (v1.03)
created with

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ethical Philosophy Selector

I took this quiz years ago, and had somewhat similar results (though I don't remember the exact ordering).

Here's my Top Ten:
1. Aristotle (100 %)
2. Ayn Rand (97 %)
3. John Stuart Mill (94 %)
4. Epicureans (91 %)
5. Aquinas (86 %)
6. Plato (81 %)
7. Nietzsche (78 %)
8. Thomas Hobbes (78 %)
9. David Hume (73 %)
10. Jean-Paul Sartre (73 %)

Try it and see what you get!

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Kristen and I got Sylvia as a kitten, not more than 6 weeks old, one month before we were engaged. Born to a stray, she came into in our lives by luck, joining Malcom--the cat I had from my bachelor days in Arizona. She stole our hearts instantly and we loved her from day one. Well, maybe not Malcom, but he grew to love her as evidenced by his constant grooming of her and his protection of her from other animals. For the first months that we had Bella (our yellow lab), Malcom wouldn’t let Bella get too close to or too playful with Sylvia.

While Malcom is shy and hesitant around strangers and friends, Sylvia is always friendly and curious, making quick friends of any visitor. There is nothing as inviting and loving as the yellow wide-eyes of Sylvia as her tail flickers behind her.

On Friday, we were told by our veterinarian that Sylvia has lymphoma. She had lost a lot of weight in the last few months and had been throwing up. Her symptoms fluctuated, whenever we thought that maybe we should take her in to the vet, she would appear to get better. We also thought the weight loss was from the stress of the move to IL. But the last few weeks, she lost more weight and was throwing up more than ever. The vet took x-rays and her kidneys were twice the size they should be. After more testing this past week with results that were initially inconclusive, the final terrible results from the pathologist came back on Friday.

The news, as anyone can imagine, is devastating. There are some treatment options, and we will be exploring those, but the outlook is grim no matter what. Apparently, renal lymphoma in cats is one of the least responses types of cancer. Successful treatment might give us another year at best.

If Sylvia can have a decent quality life, relatively pain-free and happy, in that year(or less), it will be worth it. In the last 6.5 years, she has brought joy and happiness into our lives every single day. The mornings waking up with Sylvia sleeping on my chest. Her widened paws and big eyes when she wanted to be pet. The little cry when I would playfully pinch the tip of her tail. Her little pink nose and grey ‘goatie’. How small she gets when she curls up in my lap when I am at the computer. Her white paws so gracefully pushed together as she sits in her ‘paperweight’ position. And, of course, her flirty leg. Nearly impossible to describe, but Sylvia, when she wants to be pet, will stretch herself out against a wall, and push out one of her back legs and hold it there. Once performed, it is irresistible: one must pet her.

We don’t know how we are going to proceed or what will happen. We don’t know what to expect or how to deal with this. But we know one thing for sure: we will always love Sylvia. By sharing our lives, she has made them infinitely better.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sophie's World

Sorry for the long delay in posting, but moving and setting up shop have kept me from my blogging duties. Classes start next week, so I am quite busy. Nonetheless, I have just finished Sophie's World--a book that as a philosopher I am often asked about. I decided it was finally time to read it so I could offer an educated opinion. The following is my brief review:

For the most part, the history of philosophy offered in Sophie’s World is sound, though of course often overly simplified. Such simplification is expected and acceptable in a book of this size and for its intended audience. It is at its best in the classical and medieval periods. As we get into the 18th and 19th centuries, there are some disappointing and questionable choices. There is altogether too much attention given to Marx and Freud, while nothing is remarked about John Stuart Mill or John Locke (his political thought). A reader might get the impression that existentialism was the dominant philosophy of the 20th century and not the analytic tradition that actually does dominate, for better or for worse, the Anglo-American world. The thinkers of great importance for this tradition: Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein, are not mentioned at all. This absence is ultimately forgivable because the book was written by a Scandinavian for a Scandinavian audience. Still, the reader should be aware that philosophy in the English speaking world goes in a very different direction than the direction that Alberto takes Sophie.

The story itself is not all that interesting. There is little in the way of characterization and the mystery and fantasy elements are too forced. Sophie can be annoying in the way a 15 year old know it all can be annoying. The adults, other than Alberto, are hardly more developed than the adults of Charlie Brown. And for all the fantastic elements in the book, the hardest to believe is that Sophie’s mother lets her daughter gallivant around with a 50-year old stranger.

I do not think this is not a book for a seasoned philosopher or really any adult reader. It is just a bit too childish. I would probably recommend it, however, for a young adult interested in learning about philosophy. But, then again, if that young adult were precocious enough to be interested in philosophy at that age, I would rather just hand him something by Plato or Aristotle.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back from Italy, now to Illinois

As my loyal readers will have noticed, for the last two weeks and change there have been no posts. I was on holiday with my wife in Italy and returned last night after 22 hours of travel time. Good to be home, but we move to Rockford, IL on Friday, so no rest. Still going through my inbox...

Harry Op-Ed

My op-ed on Harry Potter, "Harry and the grouches" was published in the Ottawa Citizen on July 20, 2007. The op-ed takes on some of the criticisms that Harry Potter is just for kids and that it has nothing of lasting value to offer our culture.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thoughts on the Last Harry Potter

In the last few days, I've exchanged emails about Harry Potter and Philosophy with Tim LeBon, author of Wise Therapy. I thought I would post some of my thoughts that I shared with Tim on the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. [Edit: Read Tim LeBon's blog entries that incorporate my comments and the comments of Ed Kern and Tim Morris.]

Regarding Snape, obviously, we won't know for sure until we see the last book, but I think ultimately Snape is redeemed. As you said, if Snape turns out to be truly a death eater, then Dumbledore has been made quite the fool. Snape has been the red herring in each of the books, and I think he's still the red herring. Then again, Dumbledore has admitted to making mistakes (at the end of Bk V where he takes some of the responsibility for Sirius death and for placing Harry into more trouble than Dumbledore expected). Moreover, maybe the biggest red herring of them all is that Snape really is evil. As the saying goes, the best hiding place is in plain sight. This scenario is, I think, unlikely. It would end the series on such a sour and malevolent note.

Which leads to the question of whether Harry will die. Harry's death would also end the series with a malevolent feel. Moreover, I think it would be in sharp contrast to almost everything in the series. This series is fundamentally a story about moral development; it is a story about Harry becoming a responsible and mature adult. His death is not the logic progression here. The logical end is his independence and the flowering of his power. Harry's development towards independence has been a central theme: from escaping the Dursleys to losing Sirius and now Dumbledore. I think we will see Harry take full control of himself and his powers and take his place in the adult world.

JKR has left it so that she can really do anything. There are 700 some odd pages left and a lot can be revealed that can up-end the best predications. From a fan point of view as well as philosophical/artistic point of view, I don't want to see Harry die. I say personally because I like Harry and I like happier endings. I say philosophically because I don't think killing the hero of the story is consistent with the kind of story of moral development and growth that JKR has been telling. I say artistically because the ultimate point of art is to uplift our souls, provide us with strength, and give us insight into our selves and to our lives. I don't see how Harry's death would serve those ends.

But if Harry must die, I don't want him to die in some grand sacrificial manner that casts him as some kind of Christ-like figure. Such an ending would be personally unsatisfying, but also against the grain of the whole series. The imagery and symbols have largely been drawn from classical and pre-Christian culture and so pasting a specifically Christian symbol on to it at the end would be incongruous.

If I had to guess, I'd say Hagrid is going to get killed. I suspect possibly a Weasley family member(Percy?) and maybe even a Dursley family member (Petunia?) But these are really just guesses, hunches.

Ultimately, however JKR close the series, the path she takes us on to that end will be more important than how it ends. Whether Harry lives or dies, whether Snape is evil or not, what will matter is if these last 700 pages tell the story in the way that makes it so when the end comes it is what we will need to see.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

sciQ Interview

As co-editor of Harry Potter and Philosophy, I was interviewed by sciQ, a young adult focused science magazine in Austria. Here's the interview:

If they post an English language version, I will post that link as well.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Islamic Fanatic Provides Key Insights

A truly fascinating article by a former member of the British Jihad Network. The author elaborates on why it is that Muslims join terrorist groups and why they attack.

While I count myself a libertarian in political outlook, I generally run more 'interventionist' than most libertarians. Regarding the current war on Islamic terrorism, I have found myself often in sharp disagreement with many libertarians over the causes of the conflict. Most libertarians argue that the primary cause is American foreign policy, indeed many go so far as to blame American foreign policy for 9/11 and other attacks. I disagree. While I am very critical of American foreign policy on many fronts, I do not believe that is the primary cause of Islamic hatred of the West. The cause, I believe, of this hatred and thus the conflict is the radical Islamic view of the West as decadent, materialistic, and secular. I think this article bears this out.

I also direct you to David Kelley's "The Assault on Civilization" for a more elaborate explanation of Islamic hatred of the West.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Disturbing New from Tufts

I just recently learned, for FIRE's website, about a disturbing incident at Tufts University. A student-run publication, The Primary Source, was disciplined by the Committee on Student Life for the following two pieces that ran in The Primary Source magazine:

A Christmas Carol that lampoons race-based admission:

A piece on Islamic Awareness week:

Outraged at this lamentable display of injustice and politically correctness, I penned the following email to Tufts President Lawrence Bacow and Barbara Grossman, the chair of the Committee on Student Life.

Dear President Bacow and Professor Grossman,

As a gift-giving Tufts Alum, I was greatly disturbed to hear about the Committee on Student Life's April 30, 2007 decision on The Primary Source. The decision to punish the student run publication for its two satirical pieces is a grave and profound disregard for free speech and intellectual independence.

I am not a conservative and often found myself in disagreement with material published in The Primary Source. Nonetheless, I think it is important that student publications be at liberty to publish any non-libelous material they see fit. When a publication publishes something offensive or disturbing, this allows an object lesson for students to learn about the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs that exist on campus and in the world and to learn tolerance of this diversity. It also allows students to counter viewpoints that they disagree with in a peace manner. This too provides a lesson of how to respond to those we disagree with in a civil society. Rather then always run to courts to complain about harassment, one learns to counter viewpoints with a positive message of one's own. In the case of the Muslim students, they could have used this incident as vehicle to educate the Tufts community about Islamic history and the differences between moderate Muslims and extremists. This kind of intellectual engagement and interaction is what a liberal arts education is all about.

While the Christmas Carol is certainly in bad taste, there is an important difference between satire of policies of the university and a racially motivated attack on other students. The carol picks out no individual student for ridicule or attack nor is it even targeted at black students. It is targeted at the policies of the university. This makes the punishment of the students look to be more of an issue of stifling speech in order to protect the university from criticism.

I am in many ways more deeply concerned about the punishment of The Primary Source for the The Islamic Awareness Week piece. No where in the news reports or releases about this incident does anyone claim that the quotations and events referred to in the piece were factual incorrect or fabricated. It cannot be an issue of harassment or intimidation to publish disturbing yet factually correct reports. I am not surprised that the Muslim students who filed the case against The Primary Source were angered and embarrassed by what was published, but to punish The Primary Source is a form of shooting the messenger. It serves to stifle independence of thought and belief on campus.

If this is the policy of Tufts, then it is no longer the great liberal arts institution that I thought it was. Moreover, I am not comfortable providing monetary support to a school that no longer values individual liberty nor intellectual independence.

Shawn Klein, Class of 95

Though I have given money over the past few years, it hardly amounts to anything substantial, so I don't expect anything more than a form response. I hope that the pressure that FIRE and the ACLU is putting on Tufts will let cooler and more rational heads prevail.

Update [6/15]: I received a nice response from President Bacow. In the email, he wrote the following, promising, comment: "I disagreed strongly with the substance of the Primary Source message, I also came out squarely against censorship of the Primary Source largely for the reasons you have expressed. I have been very consistent in my comments both in response to this issue and the Christmas Carol parody that the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stossel for President

John Stossel is a great voice for liberty, and one of the few in mainstream media. Based off of one of his "Give me a break" segments on 20/20, he wrote up an op-ed about gas prices and profit.

This is what he wishes oil company execs. would say in response to criticism about their profits:
"What are you complaining about? What do you think we do with our profits? Buy fancy cars and homes? Well, we do, actually, but nearly all the money goes to looking for more oil and following environmental rules that you want us to follow. You should want us to make more profit. Anyway, we make less profit per gallon than your beloved government takes in taxes."

The last bit about taxes versus profit is really interesting. (read more here) First, because so few people know or think about that. Second, most people don't seem to care. The government takes more of their money, but they criticize the oil company profits. There's really an absurd kind of envy going on.

I also think people think that they'll get a piece of the taxes, but the profits just go to the oil company. Well, more likely the profits benefit people in many more ways than they imagine.

First, the profits go to the shareholders (dividends and increasing stock prices) and through mutual funds and pensions, a lot of 'regular folk' are shareholders in oil companies and so benefit from the profits.

Second, even if one is not a shareholder, each of us benefits greatly from a strong stock and capital market: either because we own stock in other companies or because we like to buy stuff from companies and these companies are largely made possible by a strong stock and capital market.

Third, a lot of profit gets invested back into research and development that ultimately makes gas cheaper and cleaner.

Good stuff at Positive Liberty

A very good post from Jason Kuznicki at the Positive Liberty blog. It is a response to criticism that libertarians are essentially corporate/big business shills. Two main points that Jason raises against this view:
1) libertarians argue for policies that make possible increased prosperity for everyone, not just the wealthy.
2) libertarians argue for policies that restrict any individual or groups of individuals (corporations) from making use of the power of government for their own gain.

In short, while many of the policies advocated by libertarians would benefit corporations and 'the wealthy', they also help the 'little guy'(and arguably to a much greater extent). And the justification of such policies are not in order to benefit either group as such, but to allow the greatest extent of individual liberty.

Like many of the posts at Positive Liberty, there is a lot of other very interesting and good thoughts in Jason's post. Read it.

Update 6/7/07 7:40pm: Timothy Sandefur, also at Positive Liberty, has an equally good follow up post. Refering to libertarianism, "We look toward something new–toward the future, not the past. Our ideas are new and untried paths to wealth and peace, and we ought to advocate them in precisely those terms."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

40 Years Later

I might as well keep the Israeli theme going...

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab countries. Israel, facing a massive, unprovoked attack from Egypt and Syria, struck first on the morning of June 5, 1967 and quickly devastated the Egyptian air force. Over the course of the next six days, Israel pushed Egypt over the Suez Canal, Syrians off the Golan Heights, and the Jordanians over the Jordan River. In this dramatic victory, reality and perceptions changed in the Middle East forever. Israel was no longer seen as just a spry, little country fighting the good fight. It was mighty. To paraphrase Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: They had done the impossible, and this made them mighty.

Israel also took control of territory (nearly quadrupling its size) filled with a hostile and growing population of Arab Palestinians. Israel never intended to keep these territories or rule its people. They were offered to be returned on June 19, 1967 in exchange for peace. The Arab League's response was: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." Few in Israel today think that most of these territories will remain a part of Israel permanently. Israel did annex the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem (to create a united Jerusalem). While many would give up the Golan for peace, Jerusalem, as always, is different and a much more complicated issue.

When I was living in Israel in 1993, it was a time of great hope. Peace was finally coming. Peace got sidetracked since then, for any number of reasons. The future does not look hopeful now...though sometimes that is when the greatest breakthroughs can occur.

For a thoroughly researched and detailed day by day account of the war, including what led to it, I highly recommend Michael Oren's excellent Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Here a couple of interesting links (some may require registration):
Q&A with author and scholar, Michael Oren (Jerusalem Post)
Forty Years On (The Economist)
No Pyrrhic Victory by Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal)
Arab armies planned to destroy Israel by Steve Linde (Jerusalem Post)
What if Israel Had Turned Back by Tom Segev (NY Times)
The Heavy Burden of Victory by Jonathan Tobin (Jewish World Review)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fighting the British Boycott of Israel

Since I am on a little kick here of defending Israel, I thought I'd mention the following.

The ADL has started a campaign against the efforts for the British Journalist and Academic boycott of Israel. In addition to a letter that you can sign (click here to sign the letter), they are running a series of anti-boycott ads. Click here to see a PDF version of one of their print ads. The basic gist of the ads is that to single out Israel for a boycott while ignoring brutal and ruthless regimes like Iran or Sudan is a form of antisemitism.

Criticism of Israel can be an important part of social and political discourse, but it is the failure to appreciate the context that is the antisemitism. Israel is a democratic country that values freedom, individual rights, and religious pluralism. It often fails to meets its own ideal, but at least it has these ideals, unlike Iran, Sudan, and countless other countries where differences are not tolerated, rights are not recognized let alone respected, and where the very work that journalists and academics engage in can land you in jail or worse.

The moral inversion of singling out Israel and not countries that are by far and away much worse is why this boycott is rightly called antisemitic.

A related anti-boycott page: An Open Letter to the People Known as Members of Britain's University and College Union

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Don't let facts get in the way

Sunday's Arizona Republic printed a viewpoint article, "Questions remain over 1967 attack on U.S. intelligence ship 'Liberty'". The author, Mark Genrich, leaves out many facts in this near-slanderous piece. I submitted a letter to the editor which I've posted below:

To the Editor:

With all due respect to the servicemen on the USS Liberty, the tale of an Israeli intentional attack is preposterous. Contrary to Mr. Genrich’s viewpoint article (June 3, 2007), there have been a number of official U.S. investigations, including the US Navy Court of Inquiry and House Armed Services Committee, concluding that this was a tragic mistake. No reason is ever given by these conspiracy theorists for why Israel would intentional attack an American ship.

At the time, the U.S. announced that it had no vessels within a hundred miles of the coast and the USS Liberty was directed not to approach within a hundred miles. Nonetheless, likely because of communication failures, the USS Liberty was attacked fourteen miles from the coast. Israeli forces had reported being shelled from the sea and had concluded that this unidentified ship was responsible. Once the Israelis released this was an American ship, they immediately apologized to American officials both in Israel and in the Washington. Also not mentioned in the article is the fact that Israel quickly and willingly paid reparations to the US and the families of the victims.

Shawn Klein

For more information on the Liberty:
The Jewish Library's Myth and Facts article on the Liberty.
Michael Oren's excellent account of the 1967 war, Six Days of War, provides a detailed account of the incident.

Update: Letter published!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lipstick Jihad

The Israeli journal, Azure, has an interesting review of two books on Iranian youth culture: Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni and Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran by Roxanne Varzi. Each of these books, according to the review, provide insight into the complexity and paradoxes of the Iranian youths. Iran, ruled by a click of dictatorial theocrats, is largely inhabited by disaffected and alienated young men and women who want nothing more than to drink alcohol, have sex, and listen to rock music.

The hopeful elements presented in these books are that the youth appear to want liberty and to dislike the authoritarian regime. This holds the promise of new Iranian revolution that could oust the current repressive and dangerous regime. Whether this can happen before Iran must be bombed to prevent it from going nuclear is an important question.

A most disheartening element,however, appears in the review. According to one of the authors reviewed, Varzi, there is a deeply ingrained reliance on authority and little individualism. She describes how even in simple social activities like a ski trip or party, there was "nothing that was done spontaneously or from individual initiative. The group was always consulted; everyone participated once the activity was decided on, and there was always somehow a de facto leader (chosen usually for age and experience) whom everyone deferred to." This is hardly promising. Even if a revolution could occur, it could very well usher in just a different authoritarianism. Nonetheless a more secular authoritarianism might be preferable to the maniacal, death-obsessed Islamic authoritarianism already in power.

The review has piqued my interest enough to add these to my amazon wish list.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Who Needs Philosophy?

As I will soon be losing my web site at MCC, it was time to start up a new website for my classes. To that end, I've started This site is for my students to find out more information about their classes, their instructor, and philosophy in general. Others are welcome to peruse the site as well.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Evil Competition: Nazis and Communists

Stephen Browne has an interesting post , distributed as a column by The Atlasphere, that wonders why Nazis are the epitome of evil while the Soviets and Communist Chinese have body counts that are orders of magnitude larger. Hitler is the ultimate way to call some one evil, but Stalin, Lenin, or Mao are not. This is something that I have wondered myself. I am disgusted by the college students I see wearing t-shirts with Che, Mao, or Lenin on them. Are they just stupid and ignorant or something much worse?

I posted a comment to Stephen Browne's blog along the following lines (I forgot to copy and paste it and the comment is awaiting approval, so I am rewriting from memory).

I wonder if part of the reason that the Nazis are seen as worse, as more evil, than the Soviets, etc., is the systematic, methodical plan to kill entire races of people. The communists had their camps and mass executions, but they generally only murdered their perceived enemies and those that were deemed beyond 'rehabilitation' or 'reeducation'. They didn't target, to my knowledge, people solely because they were Jewish, gay, gypsie, etc.

Another aspect of this is that the Nazis had no qualms about murdering children. They actively targeted and killed children of all ages. (1.5 million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazi's during the Shoah). To my knowledge, the communists usually didn't target children for execution. (not to imply that children weren't murdered by the Soviets/Chinese/etc.)

I think for many people in comparing the Nazis with the Soviets/Chinese/etc. considerations of intentions and goals are trumping the body counts.

Ultimately, both the Nazis and Communists were and are evil. There is a certain point where trying to make distinctions like "more evil" no longer makes sense.