The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights just released a brief video of Yaron Brook discussing sacrifice versus trade.
28 February 2009
25 February 2009
In this New York Times article, one of my culinary heroes, Tom Colicchio, talks about cooking for his teenage son. This resonates with me because I have experienced some of the same things. My kids will eat junk, given the chance (as will I, frankly, though junk food is far less attractive to me now than it used to be), especially if it is convenient. LB and I really make an effort to have the right things in the house, so that is at least as easy to grab an apple or a banana as it is to dig into a bag of tortilla chips or cookies. And every day, I try to get home in time to make a respectable dinner with real food - some kind of meat, poultry, or fish and lots of vegetables (real vegetables, not the canned and soggy things that used to be vegetables, or the reconstituted Hamburger Helper-style morsels that expand like sponges when they cook).
Using real food - not counting calories - is what I consider to be healthy eating. Colicchio says, “You can buy a box of low-fat macaroni and cheese made with powdered nonsense. I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat. It’s real food. That’s what’s more important.” I completely agree with that.
I cook with butter and olive oil. I season with salt. I occasionally render the fat from bacon and fry my eggs in it. When I cut up a chicken, I do not throw out the organs; I saute the livers in butter and use the rest of the giblets and bones to make stock. I drink skim milk, but when I cook, I use heavy cream and crème fraiche. I cook poultry with the skin on. In virtually every dish I make, I end up making some sort of pan sauce. I know a lot of these practices would be frowned upon by health-food enthusiasts (and I acknowledge that it could be unhealthful for people with special health issues), but I stand by them.
My hypothesis is that as long as I am making real food taste good, it will never be a chore to eat it. My meals probably have a few more calories than say, a tofu “burger” or wheat-germ pancakes, but so what? My family and I will simply have more energy to use for thinking and moving, and we won’t be laden with all the stuff that is put into processed foods. Also, I think my cooking has made junk food binges less tempting; I can’t even imagine eating a McDonald’s hamburger, which seems about as appealing to me as a rice cake. If someone in the family starts to have weight problems, we can consider changing the quantities or balance of certain foods, but until then we’ll enjoy our well-prepared proteins and vegetables.
I still get occasional grumbles, of course, but I think my kids have really come to appreciate good food. And they are all the better for it.
1. The New York Times, “Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids,” 19 Feb 2009.
24 February 2009
I had fallen behind a bit with Leonard Peikoff’s podcasts, and when I visited his site today I found that it has a very cool new look! Check it out.
Podcast 50 (23 Feb 2009)
Teasers: Handling acute grief, doubts about career choice.
Podcast 49 (16 Feb 2009)
Teasers: Objectively Speaking, mandatory helmets for children, Dagny in love.
Podcast 48 (09 Feb 2009)
Teasers: Working for a campaign with which one does not agree, Stoicism, swearing on the Bible, pornography, private security guards, another lifeboat ethics question.
Podcast 47 (2 Feb 2009)
Teasers: Conflicted feelings about visiting horribly injured friend, consciousness after death.
23 February 2009
Dennis Prager’s Point #7:
Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men's and women's natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm. (Note 1.)
I agree with this (except for the last sentence), and above all I appreciate Mr. Prager’s frank admission that religious belief is irrational, which will make this post much briefer than it would otherwise have been. (It requires no elaboration.) The subjectivism and moral relativism of the left is also irrational, in some cases just as irrational and destructive as religion.
But as I’ve pointed out many times, most recently in Part 6, the secularity of the left is utterly irrelevant. It is an incidental, non-essential characteristic. Socialism in its various forms (communism, fascism, democratic welfare states, etc.) and other left-leaning views like multiculturalism and environmentalism may nominally reject religion, but they certainly do not embrace reason.
Because I’ve covered all this in such detail before, I’ll not repeat it here, but will spend the rest of this post on Prager’s last sentence. I must say that the logic of it is a little bizarre. He seems to be saying that because being irrational is an unavoidable condition of being human, using religion as an outlet for one’s irrationality tends to confine it to one’s personal activities, which is inherently less harmful than aiming one’s irrationality at society.
For one thing, this is not very reassuring, for what do we do when religious people decide to, say, purposely fly commercial airplanes into buildings for God? More than this, though, Prager’s statement is stunningly immoral. Sure, we are all fallible and thus capable of irrationality - but virtue consists of pursuing reason to the best of our abilities, for it is via reason alone that we can grasp reality, sustain our lives, and achieve our values. It is incumbent upon us to continually check our ideas (“Check your premises,” Ayn Rand would frequently say), and the instant we find that we are wrong, we must change our course and set things right. It makes no sense to identify some behavior (such as being religious) as irrational - to know that it is irrational - but persist in that activity all the same.
There is another aspect to his last sentence that I find interesting in light of the very next point Mr. Prager makes regarding free will. To assume as given that everyone must hold irrational beliefs reflects an improper view of human nature. Prager doesn’t exactly deny free will outright, for he seems to admit choosing between secular and religious forms of irrationality; but to hold that irrationality is a necessity is to deny a vital part of free will. At every turn a human is capable of choosing to be rational or not.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.
21 February 2009
In this video, Penn and Teller explain the seven basic principles of magic: (1) palm, (2) ditch, (3) steal, (4) load, (5) simulate, (6) misdirect, and (7) switch.
I found this video to be not only amusing, but quite helpful as a guide to explaining the bewildering activities of our noble leaders these days. Up to now, I’ve been regarding the government’s activities, as well as the commentary of esteemed media experts such as Paul Krugman, to be the result of serious economic thinking. However, if one views all this as mere theatre, a sort of grotesque and fascinating vaudeville act, it renders it comprehensible.
Now, ladies and gentlemen - if I may have a drum roll, please - let us sit back and watch agape as The Amazing Federal Government makes our livelihoods, liberties, life savings, futures, and our children’s futures disappear...
“I look forward to working with Secretary Geithner and his team on the details of the Financial Stability Plan to produce for the American people a program that is more open, works better, produces more lending and reduces foreclosures,” writes House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, as he deftly closes his fingers about the tens of billions of dollars of pocket change he has just liberated from taxpapers, with the caveat that “we need some assurance that, assuming this works as we hope it will, there will be more money available.”[Note 1.]
"‘My goodness, I can't stand here as a member of Congress and vote to release the second half of this money [i.e. $700 billion TARP bailout] without knowing what happened to the first half of it,’ said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.”[Note 2.]
“President George W. Bush signed into law an unprecedented $700 billion plan to rescue the U.S. financial system...”[Note 3.]
“President Obama has not ruled out a second stimulus package, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said on Tuesday, just before Mr. Obama signed his $787 billion recovery package into law...”[Note 4.]
"Our nation has come to expect the Federal Reserve to step in to avert events that pose unacceptable systemic risk," said former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. “We should quickly consider how to appropriately give the Fed the authority to access necessary information from highly complex financial institutions and the responsibility to intervene in order to protect the system.”[Note 5.]
"I do not think the Fed could fully meet these objectives [to promote ‘financial stability’] without the authority to directly examine banks and other financial institutions that are subject to prudential regulation," said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.[Note 6.]
“[T]he American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will start having an impact as soon as a few weeks from now, in the form of the quickest and broadest tax cut in history,” reports the White House blog.[Note 7.] (For the government to put $65 per month, on average, into the pockets of people who did not pay taxes in the first place is not a “tax cut,” even if the President knits his brow in great earnestness and uses convincing hand gestures while calling it a tax cut.)
“For years, too many Wall Street executives made imprudent and dangerous decisions, seeking profits with too little regard for risk, too little regulatory scrutiny, and too little accountability. Banks made loans without concern for whether borrowers could repay them...,” writes Mr. Obama, (without mentioning the explicit and implicit pressure exerted by the government to drive them to do so - from the FDIC, the Community Reinvestment Act, the actions of the Federal Reserve, compulsory accounting practices, etc., etc. To claim that there is too little regulatory scrutiny of business in America is a falsehood that at one time I would have believed to be too brazen and apparent to be uttered seriously by anyone other than a fictional villain in a novel.)[Note 8.]
“Aside from creating $787 billion in extra welfare costs, both versions of the ‘stimulus’ bill would abolish the historic welfare reform of the mid-1990’s that led to a dramatic reduction in welfare dependency and child poverty.”[Note 9.] (Under the cover of alleged “stimulus” spending, Democrats are now unrestrained in their expansion of the welfare state.)
“[Secretary Paulson’s proposed lending program], still in the planning stages, would for the first time use bailout funds specifically to help consumers instead of banks, savings and loans and Wall Street firms.”[Note 10.]
“President Bush and the Treasury Department signaled on Friday morning that they would consider dipping into the $700 billion bailout program for financial institutions to aid the Big Three car companies.”[Note 11.]
1. “Statement of Chairman Barney Frank in Reaction to Remarks Made by Treasury Secretary Geithner,” 11 Feb 2009, http://www.house.gov/frank/geithner021109.html.
2. Money News, “House Rejects Obama’s Request for More TARP Funds,” 23 Jan 2009, http://moneynews.newsmax.com/economy/tarp/2009/01/23/174498.html.
3. The Wall Street Journal, “Historic Bailout Passes as Economy Slips Further,” 4 Oct 2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122304922742602533.html.
4. The New York Times, “Signing Stimulus, Obama Doesn’t Rule Out More,” 17 Feb 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/us/politics/18web-stim.html?scp=2&sq=Obama%20signed%20stimulus&st=cse.
5. The Washington Post, “Paulson To Urge New Fed Powers,” 19 Jun 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/18/AR2008061803225.html?hpid=topnews.
6. MarketWatch, “Bernanke Seeks New Powers,” 8 Jul 2008, http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/bernanke-seeks-new-regulatory-powers/story.aspx?guid=%7B7DFB82A4-1E02-4F50-B445-B8E68B8E0EFD%7D&dist=msr_1.
7. The White House Blog, “The quickest and broadest tax cut ever,” 21 Feb 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/02/20/The-quickest-and-broadest-tax-cut-ever/.
8. The White House, “The President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan,” 8 Jan 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/economy/.
9. The Heritage Foundation, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Recovery,” http://www.heritage.org/research/economy/upload/Heritage_stimulus_spending_2_11.pdf.
10. The New York Times, “U.S. Shifts Focus in Credit Bailout to the Consumer,” 12 Nov 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/business/economy/13bailout.html?scp=5&sq=Congress%20TARP&st=cse.
11. The New York Times, “White House Considers Using TARP for Auto Aid,” 12 Dec 2008, http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/white-house-considers-using-tarp-for-auto-aid/?scp=6&sq=Congress%20TARP&st=cse.
20 February 2009
19 February 2009
Not to be left behind by LB, C. August, Kim, Fiddler, Rational Jenn, etc., below I’ve applied the appropriate bolding and italicizing to the list of 100+ books that has been bouncing around the Internet.
1. Start with the list below in plain text.
2. Bold the ones you’ve read.
3. Italicize the ones you plan to read.
(As you might guess, bold and italicized means that I plan to re-read it. Oh, and watching a movie based on the book doesn’t count as having read it!)
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 * The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (I read a children’s Bible, but that probably doesn’t count.)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 * 1984 - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 * Complete Works of Shakespeare (I’ve read somewhere between half to two-thirds of the plays and sonnets. That’s close enough to count!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (LB did not mark this as having read it, but I know for a fact we read at least some of it together years ago. It was awful and we gave up on it.)
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 ** War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 ** Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (I love Steinbeck and have read several of his books, yet somehow managed to not read this one.)
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 ** Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (I read five of the seven, starting with great enthusiasm, but wearying of the Christian moralizing by the end of Dawn Treader.)
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (This was already counted in 33.)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres (The book I read is called Corelli’s Mandolin. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is the movie!)
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 * Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 ** Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (I tried but didn’t succeed.)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 * Hamlet – Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 ** Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
I borrowed Rational Jenn’s method of applying an asterisk (*) to indicate supremely marvelous books that stand out even among very good books, and I’ve used a double asterisk (**) to indicate books that would fall in my top ten list.
As C. August pointed out, there are some glaring omissions in the list. The most significant to me are Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which are my three favorite books. I don’t know how you can make a list of novels without including those. Also, apart from Shakespeare, there was no drama; I think Schiller, Shaw, and Ibsen could have appeared on the list.
17 February 2009
Dennis Prager’s Point #6:
With the death of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many Westerners believe in little. That is why secular Western Europe has been unwilling and therefore unable to confront evil, whether it was Communism during the Cold War or Islamic totalitarians in its midst today.
The accusation in this is largely true. What Mr. Prager refers to as “secular Western Europe” is the collection of “free” democratic welfare states that have for a century been dominated by socialism, and which since World War II have increasingly added apologetic self-hatred and multiculturalism to its body of ideas. Broadly speaking, the intellectuals behind this “secular Western Europe” are the subjectivists and moral relativists that both Prager and I are opposed to (and which I have written about in some detail in other posts). I completely agree with Mr. Prager’s observation that European culture has rendered its nations unwilling and unable to stand up to evil.
During the cold war, Western intellectuals could not effectively criticize the Soviet Union because they accepted - and even admired - its basic premises. Even when they explicitly denounced communism, they conceded the virtue of its altruistic underpinnings and rejected it only because it was “good in theory but bad in practice.” On top of that, the left-leaning Western elite have spent the last few decades flagellating themselves in the most pretentiously vain self-abasement, finding every excuse to denigrate the West (especially America), and all the while enjoying the fruits of the freedom they despised. Today, these self-proclaimed “liberals,” who would not recognize actual liberty even if it cried out from under their shoes, find themselves in a peculiar position. They must advance their “enlightened, humanitarian” agenda by defending thugs who beat and murder their way into public office (as long as they were democratically elected), by supporting dictators who spray poisonous gas upon their own citizens (as long as they are anti-Bush), by cheering environmentalist saboteurs (as long as they destroy the products of industrialists), and by turning a blind eye to morality police that stone young girls to death for the crime of having been raped (as long as the killers denounce Israel).
In the face of self-righteous evil, the meek Western intellectual is utterly powerless... and our enemies know it. “A liberal,” Robert Frost famously said, “is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
However, despite my general agreement with Prager in his estimation of the feebleness of “secular Western Europe,” I reject his implication that secularity itself is the source of the West’s impotence. In fact, insofar as secularity is an indication that the West has embraced reason, it is (or it would be) a positive sign.
Unfortunately, the embrace of reason and the rejection of religion are two entirely different things. The former is a positive, systematic, constructive, and ultimately life-sustaining activity, while the latter is simply a negative, a void. It is true that atheism follows from reason (as does the rejection of all other types of arbitrary assertions), but atheism is not itself a philosophy. No positive values come from simply rejecting religion. A man who adheres strictly to reason is always an atheist, but an atheist is not necessarily a man of reason. (Far from it, as we can see in the “secular Western Europe” that Prager rightly condemns.) Secularity in Europe seems little more than a symptom of the subjectivist rejection of all principles, all systems. It tells only of the penchant to disintegrate and analyze, and to scoff at absolutes as outmoded prejudices. [Note 2.]
The key to Prager’s plausibility on this point is the ambiguity of the word believe when he writes, “many Westerners believe in little.” Principled, reality-oriented people who do not hold religious faith will still feel that they believe in something, though they may sense that it is of a significantly different nature than that which a religious person believes. In its strictest connotation, belief means faith - and this is surely Prager’s deepest meaning. After all, the entire point of his article is to show that a belief in God is needed to avert the evils he enumerates. But I think he is taking advantage of the less strict, non-religious meaning of belief (i.e. a firmly held opinion or conviction) to make his point persuasive.
No, it is not faith that Western intellectuals lack but convictions. The West must not only identify facts, but have the courage to declare them to be true.
By veering toward a faith in God, as Mr. Prager recommends and as many Americans have done in recent years, the West may very well become less apathetic and powerless toward evil, but it wouldn’t make us right. On the contrary, it would make us dead wrong - wrong for the very same reasons that our enemies are wrong. It would be a disaster if Americans turn to religion as the antidote to subjectivism and multiculturalism. The proper alternative to our cowering before crusading, irrational, medieval fanatics is surely not to become crusading, irrational, medieval fanatics ourselves.
The reason that America and the West is right and good - and ought to be defended with righteous conviction - is that this nation was founded upon Enlightenment values: an embrace of reason, logic, and science; a passion for discovering the natural order of things; a lust for living in this world; the toleration of conflicting opinions and beliefs; and above all, a respect for the individual, his property, the free use of his mind, and his unfettered liberty to act as he sees fit, provided he respects everyone else’s right to do the same.
The United States of America remains history’s best exponent of these values. It is impossible to square religion with America’s governing institutions. [Note 3.] To attempt do so would be to destroy freedom, to rip it from its moorings in this world in the hopes that a supernatural anchor is more secure. To replace reason with God, discard earth for heaven, reject logic for dogma, sacrifice the individual for the flock, surrender liberties for commandments - is to do more damage to the West than the “secular Western European” could ever do.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.
2. In this, I refer only to modern intellectuals. I do not think this explanation applies to communists - at least not the early communists. For all my denunciation of them, I do not accuse communists of being disintegrators in the realm of ideas; they were system builders. Their rejection of religion was probably based more upon a desire to seem “scientific” and to distinguish themselves from reactionary, “bourgeois” tradition, than to rejecting principles outright.
3. This is not to be confused with individuals’ right to practice whatever religion they wish, which I defend absolutely.