Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Busy, Busy

I heard a joke once that went something like this: "Since I've been retired, I don't have time for anything!" Well, I wouldn't use the word 'anything', but I think that when you're retired you have a tendency to pile-on yourself all kinds of things you'd like or want or think you should do. That's why blogging has been slow.

What with getting an early start on spring cleaning, other ongoing projects around the house which will consume most of the year, babysitting, and being a grampa for the fourth time--yep, I now have 2 girl and 2 boy grandkids--there hasn't been much time for blogging.

Also, my stack of books to be read is growing by leaps and bounds again. Last week a local bookstore called and said my copy of 'Comrade J' was in. Comrade J is subtitled "The untold secrets of Russia's master spy in America after the end of the cold war."

The next day my order of books from the Ayn Rand Bookstore arrived. They include 'Ayn Rand Answers', a collection of the best of her Q&A's.

'The Ominous Parallels' by Leonard Piekoff, which shows the frightening similarities between the ideas popular today in America and those of Germany just before the rise of Naziism.

'The God of the Machine' by Isabel Paterson. It's a political and economic defense of free-enterprise. Although this book was originally published in 1943, it can still be purchased at the Ayn Rand Bookstore at a good price.

'The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts" by Harry Binswanger. I want this to clarify my own thinking on such concepts as goal directed and purposeful action.

There is another book on study methods which was out of stock but which I hope to get soon. Meanwhile I'm still immersed in 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' by Gary Taubes.

I don't speed read or skim. I read slowly looking at every word. Oh yes, in between all this I'm still reading my spring edition of The Objective Standard. Right now I'm reading 'Isaac Newton: Discoverer of Universal Laws', an essay by David Harriman. Good stuff. I like the way Mr. Harriman takes the reader through the steps Newton took to arrive at his discoveries. I'm looking forward to the next two essays, 'Caspar David Friedrich and Visual Romanticism' by Tore Boeckmann, and 'The Exhalted Heroism of Alistair MacLean's Novels' by Andrew Bernstein.

So my spare time will be regimented for awhile but I promise to make more time to do some blogging at least once a week if not more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Day After (Earth Day)

If one ever wanted evidence that many in the media see their role as being witch doctors to Attila (the government) this post at Business & Media Institute by Jeff Poor should suffice. (h/t Junkscience.com) A witch doctor doesn't usually have direct power. His job is to provide Attila with justification for whatever Attila wants to do. In Ayn Rand's famous characterization:
"Attila herds men into armies--the Witch Doctor sets the armies' goals. Attila conquers empires--the Witch Doctor writes their laws. Attila loots and plunders--the Witch Doctor exhorts the victims to surpass their selfish concern with material property. Attila slaughters--the Witch Doctor proclaims to the survivors that scourges are a retribution for their sins. Attila rules by means of fear, by keeping men under a constant threat of destruction--the Witch Doctor rules by means of guilt, by keeping men convinced of their innate depravity, impotence and insignificance. Attila turns men's life on earth into a living hell--the Witch Doctor tells them it could not be otherwise."- From her title essay For The New Intellectual
From Mr Poor's article:
Time magazine continued to defend its manipulation of the classic Iwo Jima flag-raising photo – calling it a “point of view.” Managing Editor Richard Stengel said the cover art was part of the publication’s global warming advocacy and a way of forcing readers to “pay attention.”

Stengel defied the traditional notion that journalists should be unbiased. “I didn’t go to journalism school,” Stengel said. “But this notion that journalism is objective, or must be objective is something that has always bothered me – because the notion about objectivity is in some ways a fantasy. I don’t know that there is as such a thing as objectivity.”
So let's all indulge our subjective whims! There is more:
Stengel spoke at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., part of the third annual Stuart J. Bullion Lecture on April 21. He made his remarks in the wake of a controversy sparked by magazine’s use of the iconic image of Marines raising an American flag at Iwo Jima with the flag replaced by a tree. He told the Ole Miss audience it was an attention ploy.

“My feeling is you have to grab people by the lapels and say, ‘Hey, pay attention’ and that was the idea of doing this,” Stengel said. “[I] just think you can’t be squeamish about trying to get people’s attention.”
In other words, if the public isn't paying attention, try a two-by-four over the head. Poor Mr. Stengel. He doesn't know that a picture is not an argument. For an editor, that is a disgrace. He clearly wants the public to fall into line behind government agencies like the IPCC et al. I recommend reading the whole article.

But wait. There's more!
Lubos Motl at the Reference Frame has a short video via News Busters that shows one of the scenes in Gore's AIT was actually copied from a scene in The Day After Tomorrow. Trouble is, that scene in TDAT was computer generated, not real. There is no end to the wholesale indifference to truth with these people. The primacy of consciousness reigns supreme.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Is For Man

Today being Earth Day I thought I would celebrate one of earth's greatest achievements, the evolution of man. We should actually call this Man day. One of the underlying premises of environmentalism is that man is unnatural and is destroying the one true nature by merely existing. But man is natural. He evolved naturally just like all other living things have. If one looks at other life forms, one sees that plants for instance, always act in a self-interested way. They send their roots to exploit water and nutrients and their stems and leaves to exploit sunlight and life giving gasses like carbon dioxide. Everything a plant does it does to maintain and advance its own life. It is a very selfish behavior. You will never see a plant sacrifice itself for another plant. The reason is that self-sacrifice is unnatural. If self-sacrifice were natural, the plant world would soon cease to exist and all other life would follow.

The same is true of the animal world. I've been told that some animals have sacrificed themselves to protect their young. It is true that some animals do die trying to protect their home or young. But defending one's own life is a very selfish action. If say a Wildebeest were to offer its calf, or itself, to a pride of hungry lions, that would be a sacrifice. If you see such a thing, be sure to take pictures. You'll be incredibly rich. Why won't you see it? Because self-sacrifice is unnatural in the animal world too.

And the same is true of humans. There is only one problem. Man's survival was not prewired in any way. As a being of volitional consciousness, he must discover what is and is not in his self-interest. Man is the only creature that can act for his own survival or against it. Every individual human must make this choice. The great philosopher Aristotle identified man as the 'rational animal.' Obviously his mode of survival requires a rational self-interest as opposed to an irrational view of what is in his interest.

Environmentalists don't see man as the rational animal. They only see him as irrational and think that that is the essence of his nature. They want him to sacrifice himself to the wilderness. But sacrifice is not conducive to man's survival. Enviros seem to understand this and that is why they seek it. Most of them refuse even to consider that a rational self-interest will benefit nature in any way.

An even greater philosopher, Ayn Rand, has identified just such a rational self interest, Rational Egoism. So today, I will set aside some time to reread a few passages from her collection on rational egoism The Virtue of Selfishness.

(More info on Objectivism here.)

PS. C august had a good post at Titanic Deck Chairs yesterday on the question of how does a parent defend his kids from the green propaganda they certainly are exposed to. The comments are interesting too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Good Evidence of Bad Science

Right now I'm reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. I'm only starting chapter 9 right now so I'm withholding an overall judgement of the book until I'm done with the whole thing. But I will say this: so far, this book has been replete with concrete examples of the truth of Ayn Rand's identification that "Government encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood."

That quote is from her essay 'The Establishing of an Establishment' now in the book 'Philosophy: Who Needs It' which can be found in most bookstores or ordered here. While Ms. Rand was writing about encouragement of the arts, this indifference to truth is true of many of the different market activities that government today encourages. Why this is so is a topic for another day. Let it suffice to say that dedication to the truth is replaced with dedication to government policy. For now I want to give a few examples of the many instances of indifference mentioned in the book:
"Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all nutritionists knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone whose research did. "To be a dissenter was to be unfunded because the peer-reviewed system rewards conformity and excludes criticism," George Mann had written The New England Journal of Medicine in 1977. The NIH [National Institute of Health--ME] expert panels that decide funding represent the orthodoxy and will tend to perceive research interpreted in a contrarian manner as unworthy of funding. David Kritchevski, a member of the Food and Nutrition Board when it released Toward Healthful Diets, put it this way: "The US government is as big a pusher as industry. If you say what the government says, then it's okay. If you say something that isn't what the government says, or that may be parallel to what industry says, that makes you suspect."" (p-51,52)
Or:
"Those who believed that dietary fat caused heart disease had always preferentially interpreted their data in the light of that hypothesis. Now they no longer felt obliged to test any hypothesis, let alone [Ancel--ME] Key's. Rather, they seemed to consider their obligation to be that of "reconciling {their}study findings with current programs of prevention," which meant the now official government recommendations. Moreover, these studies were expensive, and one way to justify the expense was to generate evidence that supported the official advice to avoid fat. If the evidence didn't support the recommendations, then the task was to interpret it so that it did.*" (P-53,54)
He links to the Honolulu Heart Program which he says is an extreme example of this conflict in 1985.

It looks like starting with chapter 9 Mr. Taubes will be giving more scientific evidence that refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread and sugar are bad for us and our obesity as a consequence of government encouragement to eat carbs in general while ignoring the kind of carbs consumed. We'll see. But the first 8 chapters are a testament to the validity of Rand's identification about indifference to truth.

Friday, April 11, 2008

To BE--lieve or Not To BE--lieve

One of the things I've been trying to do since becoming a student of Objectivism, is to stop using the words believe and belief except when referring to the act of accepting as true an idea for which there is no evidence. I've been trying to replace the words 'I believe that...' with 'I think that...' and while I've had some success at it I still find myself responding to inquires about my ideas with 'I believe.'

I'm trying to do this mainly to clarify my own thinking regarding the difference between knowledge and beliefs. All to often, people have said to me something like "Isn't everyone entitled to their own beliefs?" To which I've usually responded with "Politically, yes, but if those beliefs require action that will violate my or someone's rights, then those actions would be morally and politically wrong, in which case, the beliefs need to remain unrealized." This has resulted in at least partial agreement sometimes.

But these conversations are usually with older people whom I'm not trying to bring around to objectivism. If they were younger and thus more open to reason and new ideas, my responses may have been more involved. For example, a 60ish lady once asked me if I believed in an afterlife. I simply said no. She then asked if I believed that this world is all there is, to which I said yes. "I don't believe that" she said adding that there has to be more, there has to be some reward for going through life in this world. I said that I believed life is its own reward. (Looking back, I should have left 'I believed' out of that sentence.) That's when I knew she was operating, at least partially, on the malevolent universe premise. (This, despite having raised 4 kids successfully to adulthood and having been productive citizens all their lives.) Fortunately, the subject changed with no further questions of me.

Suppose the questioner had been much younger, say 30 or less. I might have answered with something like "Well, there are no facts of reality that give rise to the idea of an afterlife, so I don't give the idea any credibility." In my younger years I would have said something like "I don't believe in an afterlife." In the first response my frame of reference was reality. In the second the frame of reference was just mere opinion not tied or grounded to reality. So I think it is very important to respond to questions with answers that are tied to reality and not in just a belief system. So that's why I'm trying to purge the use of 'belief' from my everyday usage. Even if someone asks me "Do you believe America has a free future?" I will try to frame my answer away from the context of belief and into the context of reality by saying something like "Based on the evidence that..., I think..."

I know, in today's culture that 'I think' and 'I believe' are often used interchangeably. I know that people will often use 'I believe' in reference to something for which there is some evidence. I don't see evidence of a problem here. There is no point in jumping on someone because they're not as precise as we might like them to be, especially since most people have been taught to regard ideas in the approximate.

Even if someone asks for my opinion, "What's your opinion of Fred's honesty?" I would have to respond with say, "Within the context of everything I know about Fred, I have judged him to be an honest man." But, "It's my opinion Fred is honest" just doesn't seem to have the same tie to reality. I sometimes don't care for the word opinion because it can be a euphemism for belief as in "Do you believe in god?" Or knowledge as in "Do you believe two plus two equals four?" I know there are valid meanings for 'opinion' and invalid ones. I'll have to give that more thought.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Blogroll Additions

Lately I've been busy with projects inside and outside the house. That's why blogging has been a little light. But for now I want to inform my readers of some blogroll additions.

First, I've added Titanic Deck Chairs by C. August who comments on anything and everything from an objectivist perspective. Today he reviews a book called The Baroque Cycle.

Second is 3 Ring Binder by LB who says the site is "A place to collect, store and eventually integrate ideas." Also from an objectivist orientation.

Third is another objectivist site called One Reality by SB. In his post of April 6th, he expresses his deepest gratitude to the IRS for throwing him a few crumbs of the money they took from him every two weeks. That's right! Never bite the hand that robs you.

At the website of the same name, evanescent reports on "philosophy, politics, science, atheism, religion, ethics, life, objectivism."

The Objective Standard, already on my blogroll, also has a blog called Principles In Practice. Today, Keith Lockitch posts on the real meaning of last week's Earth Hour.

I've also added a new site Atlas Shrugged. It's about Ayn Rand's magnum opus novel which concretizes her philosophy of Objectivism.

And lastly, I've added The Ayn Rand Lexicon. It's a good reference to Objectivism's position on a large variety of topics. For example, if you want to know Objectivism's position on sacrifice, go to the home page, across the top will be the alphabet, click on s and scroll down to the word sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Return Of The Primitive In Medicine

In the essay What is Capitalism? in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand wrote:
The disintegration of philosophy in the nineteenth century and its collapse in the twentieth have led to a similar, though much slower and less obvious, process in the course of modern science.

Today's frantic development in the field of technology has a quality reminiscent of the days preceding the economic crash of 1929: riding on the momentum of the past, on the unacknowledged remnants of an Aristotelian epistemology, it is a hectic, feverish expansion, heedless of the fact that its theoretical account is long since overdrawn—that in the field of scientific theory, unable to integrate or interpret their own data, scientists are abetting the resurgence of a primitive mysticism. In the humanities, however, the crash is past, the depression has set in, and the collapse of science is all but complete.
We see evidence of the growth of irrationality in the sciences all around us. science no longer relies on experiments and lab tests to prove that x causes (or doesn't cause) y. Instead, statistical studies have replaced experiments. Even in statistics, the move now is to treat correlations as if they were causations.

We see the spread of irrationality in the form of the creation of new diseases that don't seem to have a cause and the addition of many causes to known diseases by way of definitions by non-essentials. I am convinced this is happening with autism, diabetes, ADHD, and many others. As far as "...the resurgence of a primitive mysticism" is concerned, Sandy Szwarc at JunkfoodScience has scary evidence of that:
Once one becomes a nurse or a doctor, it is now possible to get the continuing medical education credit hours required to keep our licenses without ever reading a lick of science. That’s a terrifying thought as a patient and a disheartening one as a medical professional.

For years, professionals have been lamenting the growing pseudoscience and alternative modalities in university curriculums, including medical school and nursing programs. The latest list of continuing educational courses for nurses to maintain their professional licenses, accredited by our state nursing association for this quarter, was just issued. Once again, it was replete with unscientific woo, such as courses in alternative medicine, reiki (8.4 credit hours), Chi Nie Tsang (21 credit hours), energy medicine (35.8 credit hours) and homeopathy (7.6 credit hours). Chi Nei Tsang, nurses are taught, is a deep organ massage that purportedly heals by working “on internal dysfunctions and energy blocks” and includes a variety of energy techniques. A certification in purple light is also offered by the provider which, it explains, will “strengthen the pure alchemical and conscious evolutionary practices using Ancient Taoist modalities as a bridge to connect all lineages, and bring ancient teachings into present day situations. As the earth moves through her evolution, lineage traditions must come forward to clarify and share their understanding of the human experience.”
So what does Ms. Szwarc think of this?
Yikes. If my loved ones land in the emergency room suffering a stroke or massive head injury, I really hope their medical care provider has been studying the latest science and technology and is grounded in evidence-based medicine. The point of requiring CMEs is to ensure us healthcare professionals stay current on the latest scientific developments and keep our skills sharp. Those include skills using our minds and the scientific process to critically examine research, as well as sort through bogus marketing claims. It makes one worry that if energy fields are confused for sound science, how well is unsound information recognized from the sound stuff when it comes to issues like preventive health, obesity and nutrition?
My sentiments exactly. In fact, I'm worried that my grandkids, just toddlers now, will one day wind up in a hospital only to have the doctor or nurse hum incantations and shake rattles over the bed while practicing the new multiculturalism of medical treatment. Now that's scary.