Hard to Imagine

You gotta feel sorry for ‘ol Bill Gates. He has been the richest man in the world since 1998. He’s worth $50 billion now, down from $90 billion in 1999. About being the richest he says, “I wish I wasn’t. There is nothing good that comes out of that.” His reason? “You get more visibility as a result of it.”

Hard as it is to imagine being the world’s richest man, even after dropping $40 billion, it’s even harder to conceive being so put off by the inevitable public awe.

Poor baby….

— Ken

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Laugh Or Get Mad?

I’ve been trying to imagine going to Mexico and demanding citizenship by carrying a sign saying something like “Gringo Power” and maybe waving a flag of the United States. Do you suppose I would be welcomed? More likely, I would be either laughed at or, if there weren’t many of me, beaten.

It’s hard not to either laugh at or be angry with those would-be immigrants from Mexico who are demonstrating in the United States today by stopping work. I want to laugh, because the method they have chosen for gaining acceptance is to harm the very economy that gave them the jobs they so desperately wanted in the first place. I get angry at the demands for unconditional citizenship.

My hope for America is that it move further into capitalism. I don’t see how today’s displays can help that happen.

–Ken

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The Evil Mohammad Cartoons

It was once the case that entertainment shows steered shy of controversial subjects. They did not want to stir the bad feelings that come with controversy, and there are few if any subjects that can be more controversial than religion and politics. When the forbidden subjects were approached, it was with a certain sophistication. (Mort Sahl used to ask, toward the end of his stand-up performance, if there were any groups he had failed to offend.)

These days, Comedy Central’s South Park gets most of its mileage from being coarsely unconventional, from attacking, through sarcasm and lots of bathroom humor, beliefs that people hold dear. They have scathingly treated Christians, Jews, Scientologists, political parties, etc., or so I’m told (I have not watched much of the show, but did see most of the segments relevant to the cartoon controversy). No political or religious viewpoint has been left unsatirized. Except one.

The South Park story, as I understand it, involved a cartoon Mohammad as one of the characters in their show; Comedy Central would not allow it to be shown. Their reason? It came down to fear, as admitted in their form letter to viewers who had written them about the omission. Comedy Central, as did most American media outlets, succumbed to fear of retaliation by Muslims.

Their fear is rationally based; after all, Muslims perpetrated enormous damage and even killings in their outrage over cartoon depictions of Mohammed. The threat of more of the same is real. As with the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, when publishers and some booksellers reacted with fear to Muslim threats, the fault does not lie with those who succumbed. Much as I would have liked to see Comedy Central — and the general media — stand up to the threats they feel, it’s not my place to say how others should react when they fear for their property, their families, and their lives.

Where, oh where is our government in this affair? It seems omnipresent in regulating what we can eat, our health care and medicines, our communications and on, and on. When it comes to real, physical threat, the very thing the government is there to protect against, it is not to be heard from.

All of us, especially South Park with all its smutty obscenity, deserve to be protected by our government from physical harm. (After all, nobody threatens physical harm when they are not offended.) The Muslim threateners apparently know that they can threaten with impunity. Our government has repeatedly shown that it can be counted upon to appease rather than protect. Contrary to Muslim casuistry, it is not evil to show depictions of Mohammad (and it certainly won’t lead to idolatry, the Muslims’ professed fear). The relevant evil here is the knee-bending stance of our government.
–Ken

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Running, Swallows, & A Day of Changes

A lovely day — until 4:15 pm. I got in my first run of the year. Too much cold, snow and rain to do much any earlier. I have contented myself with “running” on the rebounder. It’s very different to get out and actually run, well, walk/run for two miles in about the same amount of time. But, it’s hardly the Boston Marathon, which also happened today. I’ll probably have sore ankles, calves and whatnot tomorrow.

Today the swallows returned! They come every year, of course. We have the violet-green variety. They seem to have a good time, wheeling through the sunshine and chattering to each other. They will nest in a couple of our bird houses.

Starlings are here now, too, but they aren’t nearly as much fun. The bluebirds cased the yard out a couple of months ago, as is their wont. They’ll probably move in shortly.

So, at 4:15 pm, we got a storm. Wind, rain, hail that covered the ground. The weather lady tells me to watch out for a hard freeze tonight, but that isn’t really so different from last night, when our thermometer registered 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Today we have gone from glorious warm sunshine to chilly, windy storm. It must be spring….
–Ken

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Illegal Immigrants

There is much to consider in the current controversy over immigration. I haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions yet, but the hounds are out for the illegal immigrants, and I think many of them are barking up the wrong trees. (Pretty good — I got all the way through a metaphor without mixing it!)

CNN was tsk-ing the other day about how we are becoming overwhelmed with the immigrants’ demands on our resources.
~they use hospital emergency rooms for free health care, costing scads of money and putting our medical care system in jeopardy
~they flood our jails, taking up jail space and costing the taxpayers for their upkeep
~they threaten to swamp our schools, taking up space, teacher time, etc., and costing education dollars meant for our own children.

There are many other facets to the controversy, of course, but these were foremost in the minds of CNN’s commentators. Do you see what’s common to these complaints? No, no — I mean in addition to the money-costs brought on by legions of immigrants.

The “resources” upon which the illegal immigrants are placing demands are either government resources — tax money and infrastructure in the case of schools and jails — or resources over which the government has assumed control. A local candidate for Congress claims that “[p]roviding services to illegal immigrants costs the American taxpayers an estimated $70 billion a year.”

Our government — national, state, local — is the greatest; i.e., the worst, implementor of the altruist philosophy that has progressively infested our culture. Put that $70 billion together with all our foreign aid, and all the government “services” provided by our current welfare state, and the cost to Americans in lost capital is staggering.

Governments have no business providing services. Their funcion should be to provide protection against force and fraud. Whatever the pros and cons of immigration policy, the enormous involvement of our governments in providing other than protective services shows the impact philosophy can have on our lives.

Now, if only a more reasonable philosophy can begin to take hold again….

–Ken

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Lying

There was a comment in NoodleFood the other day, in a thread about lying. The poster told of a girl at college who lied to her parents over the phone. The parents did not believe her lies, and the girl later complained to her friends that her parents treated her like a liar.

The comment ends with the sentence, “Her assessment of her own moral character was totally decoupled from her actions.”

That quoted sentence hit home for me. I used to do psychotherapy with criminals and drug addicts. My clients frequently complained about not being believed, while brazenly denying the actions that had gotten them into trouble.

How does the “assessment of [one’s] own moral character” get “totally decoupled from [one’s] actions?

Liars want to be seen — to be esteemed — as honest people. The importance of this desire is shown in their often outsized anger when a listener shows the “disrespect” of not believing them.

But why is it so important to them to be seen as “good?” Because self-esteem is an important need of human beings. The liar lacks self-esteem, so he tries to make up for the deficiency by influencing others, through lying, to appreciate him, all the while his actions are not estimable. His worst fear is that others won’t think him honorable or worthy; i.e., will see him as he truly is. Hence, his anger at not being taken at his word. He hopes to hide the real him by distorting his audience’s perception.

“Practice makes perfect,” according to the saying. After a time of practicing such deceit, it becomes “second nature” to the liar, and he eventually reaches a point at which he hides himself from himself. At that point, his actual actions have no connection in reality to his self-evaluation.

–Ken

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Wafa Sultan

Wafa Sultan, a courageous ex-Muslim woman who has been interviewed twice on Al-Jazeera television, has justifiably been the subject of various articles and blogs. Typical articles are those by John M. Broder and Mona Charen Both are well worth reading. They note that Dr. Sultan was Syrian-born and Muslim-raised, and that she has come to see the world’s Muslim vs. infidel problems in a different light.

“The clash we are witnessing around the world,” she says, “is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.” Aside from Objectivist writers, I have not seen this level of insight into the current world crisis.

Dr. Sultan said she no longer practices Islam: “I am a secular human being.” Of course, her stand has brought condemnation on herself for being a heretic, and has prompted death threats from Muslims who cannot abide dissent.

I share Mona Charen’s admiration of Dr. Sultan (Mr. Broder does not express an explicit opinion). My lone quibble is with a sentence in her final paragraph. She says, “Sultan doubtless speaks for millions of Muslims who similarly deplore the barbarism that has come to dominate large segments of the Muslim world.” I think rather, if she speaks for anyone but herself, it is for Muslims who, like her, have seen that the barbarism is a result of the religion and who have therefore rejected the religion. My guess is there are few of those.

–Ken

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Ayn Rand and Life

Diana Hsieh recently asked, on her blog, “At what point in reading Ayn Rand did you realize that she had something really significant to contribute to your understanding of the world?”

Several of her many readers responded with their first encounters with Objectivism. Most of them are appallingly young, recounting first experiences during their high school years. Would that Ayn Rand’s works had been available during my high school years!

If I had replied to Diana’s question, it would have gone something like this: I happened on Atlas Shrugged in the early 1960’s. My mother, a voracious and indiscriminate reader of any new library books, had read AS several years previously, but had said something about the story going “on and on,” and she didn’t understand it. The book was huge, and that, along with Mom’s somewhat negative review, made it uninteresting to me at the time.

In 1963 the 13th printing of the paperback Signet edition of AS was in the drug store book racks (price: $0.95). I recall being discouraged about the novels being published at the time. My conscious thought was, “I don’t think I’ve ever read anything worthwhile by a woman author. Maybe I should give this a try.” I was about 31 years of age.

The story was gripping and its ideas were intriguing. As many people have done, I questioned whether people like Ayn Rand’s protagonists were even possible, but I certainly found them inspiring.

The answer to my question (and to Diana’s) happened when I came to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book. The quotation there was, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: ‘And I mean it.’ I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books — and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same.”

It was then that I realized I had not just read a great story. I had happened onto something that would make an enormous difference in my life.

–Ken

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Getting to Essentials

Harry Binswanger exemplifies a method for thinking about an issue that helps one get at its essentials. The issue he deals with is the current contention over placing a Dubai company in charge of U.S. ocean ports. He asks a question ignored/evaded by pundits and politicians (or anyone else, so far as I know). “Why is it an issue at all whether or not a Middle Eastern company runs our ports?” A marvelous set of answers and further questions follows:

“Because we are afraid of the very real possibility of Islamic terrorists doing something like detonating a nuclear bomb in New York harbor.” And “Why is that a very real possibility?” Well, “…we haven’t crushed the jihadist movement.” Why not, since we certainly have the means? “We lacked the moral certainty of the rightness of that course. …the will uncompromisingly to assert our right to self-defense.”

As to the next question, why we lack the will, “…America lost the knowledge that men have rights and that therefore the nation of rights is right. For a long, long time, our intellectual leadership has regarded America as evil. No nation whose intellectuals are solidly against it can act with moral certainty…”

And at last, ” Why have the American intellectuals been anti-American for all this time? Because of the altruist morality and the anti-reason epistemology.”

So, it comes down to philosophy — the essential — the prevailing ethics and epistemology this country has absorbed. If, instead, America were still the country of egoism and reason the question about who should be in charge of the ports would be moot. Harry Binswanger puts it to words:

” You fear a nuclear bomb going off in New York Harbor? Then crush the enemy. End the mullahs regime in Iran. Crush Syria. Whip the Saudis into line. And tell the world that self-sacrifice is evil and religion is a lie. Which means: tell the world that man is an end in himself, that his life on this earth is the only thing that is sacred, that the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, and that reason, not faith or force, is man’s only means of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.”

And thus, through a series of common sense questions and answers, he disposes of the “issue” of what company should be in charge of the seaports and brings the discussion back to the essentials — the ideas behind the “issue.”

–Ken

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Drugs and Gambling

Today’s news is full of: what-to-do about drug gang violence in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Texas, and, the “big” gambling scandal involving the wife of a hockey superstar.

By the standards of Objectivism — and of common sense — neither of these “problems” ought to be a problem. Gambling, for example should never be a concern of the government, if the government is solely concerned with protecting individual rights — the primary concern of government. What a person does with his own money, even if he capriciously loses it, is his own business and responsibility. Government has no proper authority to make him treat his money differently “for his own good.” (Nor should the government have the authority to make others take care of that person when he is broke.)

As to the gang violence at the border, note that what was mentioned is drug gang violence. Like gambling, drug use/abuse should be a matter of personal choice. If it had not been made illegal to buy, sell, or use drugs, it would not be worthwhile to form illegal “gangs” in order to supply drugs illegally.

–Ken

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