Category Archives: Philosophy

What Is A Scientist?

Some thoughts. I may see if there’s some interest at USA Today to run something in response.

[Update a while later]

You know, in rereading, and thinking about it, that lead is quite fascinating in it’s apparent implications:

Keith Baugues is not a scientist, but that didn’t stop him on a recent wintry day from expressing skepticism about global warming — something that is broadly accepted in the scientific community.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the issue of whether or not Baugues actually is a scientist. Should we infer from this that only scientists are allowed to express skepticism about global warming? Or that “true” scientists aren’t skeptics, and therefore no one can be? Or what?

Scientists Warn NASA

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn what scientists have to say about human spaceflight policy. It drives me crazy that we continue to operate under the delusion that NASA sends humans into space for the purpose of science, and that scientists have anything useful to say about the subject. Someone should write a book about that. Oh, wait.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s a better report on the topic.

Torture

Whether you agree that it is morally acceptable or not, the argument against it that it doesn’t work is and always has been insane. And it now turns out that the CIA lied about its efficacy in getting bin Laden.

[Update a while later]

OK, I misread (or rather, didn’t read) the article, just going by a glance at the headline. Nonetheless, it’s still nuts to think that torture never provides actionable information.

Cosmos

Chad Orzell has some problems with the reboot. So do I and while it’s not his main concern, he puts his finger on it:

The bit where he called out young-Earth creationism for the impoverished scale of its vision was cute, too, though I’m not sure it was all that necessary or useful (in that the people who believe that won’t be watching, and wouldn’t be convinced), but then the show has clearly established a pattern of throwing red meat to the anti-religious from time to time.

Yes, if by “from time to time” he means every episode so far. I’m not traditionally religious, but I find it gratuitous and off putting. The writers and Tyson seem to get some sort of righteous satisfaction from putting a rhetorical thumb in the eyes of believers. It does not advance science, or their own secular religious cause.

The Democrats’ Scandals

They’re all rooted in the evil of unlimited government:

Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity — “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice” — is the very modest ambition that conservatives aim for. Limited government is the tool by which government can be made to do good without necessarily being good, or being composed of good men.

The progressive state, on the other hand, is a state infused with moral purpose. If politics is to be a jihad, then the state must be invested with extraordinary power to achieve its moral mission. There is no way to invest the state with extraordinary power without also investing those powers in the men who hold its offices and staff its bureaucracies, which hold ever more nearly absolute power over our property and our lives. (And given that the Obama administration has made a policy of assassinating U.S. citizens without legal process, we might as well call that power “absolute.”) But if those elective offices and regulatory fortresses are to be staffed with men who are corrupt and corruptible, then the progressive vision of the morality-infused state must falter.

And they — we — are all corruptible.

Lord Acton was right, once again, about the power of power to corrupt.

Clueless Scientists

Some thoughts on their foolish political tendencies. And as noted, this Sagan quote is crucial in the “settled climate science” debate:

Science is more than a body of knowledge, it’s a way of thinking. A way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those that tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious who comes ambling along.

“Scientist” isn’t a profession. We are all scientists to one degree or another, if we are successful at every-day living.

Diversity Of Thought

It’s the most important diversity, but the one that the Left absolutely will not tolerate.

One could easily dismiss these students as part of that long and glorious American tradition of smart young people saying stupid things. As Oscar Wilde remarked, “In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.”

But we all know that this nonsense didn’t spring ex nihilo from their imaginations. As Allan Bloom showed a quarter century ago in The Closing of the American Mind, these ideas are taught.

Indeed, we are now up to our knees in this Orwellian bilge. Diversity means conformity.

And ignorance is strength.

The Risk To Liberty

It doesn’t come from the welfare state, but from central planning:

Obamacare provides the illustration of this, as I think many people have intuited. The “economic problem,” of course, is inescapable in health care. The supply of health care is scarce (only so many resources can be dedicated to it relative to other ends in society) and the demand is pretty close to unlimited. Somehow or other we have to decide how to allocate these scarce means among all the different ends–preventive medicine, end-of-life care, primary research, specialists v. generalists, etc.

Now one possibility that–thank goodness–we have historically rejected in the United States is the idea that certain people should just feel a moral obligation to die for the good of society. You do hear this sometimes–that some people should voluntarily forgo life-extending treatment for the “good of society”–and it sends chills down my spine. This is essentially the Maoist approach.

The alternative is to come up with some way of allocating scarce resources among competing wants. The myth of Obamacare is the same problem repeated: it rests on the idea that we can simply change the means of health care delivery (central planning of health insurance) but it will not require determining the ends at some point–i.e., in the end who gets treated and what treatments are covered and which are not. So, for example, the core of Obamacare is the system of cross-subsidies for some treatments (maternal care) and the expense of others (unmarried or infertile people). So infertile people have less money for things that they want to do (such as join a health club) because they now have to pay more money for things that the central planners have decided is more important than whatever they would do with their money.

And of course, E. J. Dionne remains clueless, as always.

The Fate Of The Republic

Have we already lost it?

Decades from now, it’s possible that historians will look back and conclude that the American experiment, which began with its declaration of independence from and defeat of Great Britain, ended sometime between 1999 and 2014. As with Rome, the pivotal event isn’t obvious, and the list which follows isn’t all-inclusive.

The failure by the U.S. Senate to convict Bill Clinton after his impeachment by the House was the first signal that the rule of law might not matter any more. These days, the law seems to be whatever Barack Obama and Eric Holder want it to be.

President George W. Bush’s formation of the mammoth Homeland Security Department and mission creep at the National Security Agency after the 9/11 terrorist attacks consolidated awesome and disturbing powers in very few hands. Now both outfits are out-of-control monsters.

The 2007-2008 crackup in housing and mortgage lending would be a leading candidate for the pivotal moment prize if one believes that it was the result of decades of conscious effort. Evidence that it was, including the Community Reinvestment Act and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo’s 1990s housing discrimination directives, both of which forced banks to make loans to vast numbers of borrowers who couldn’t repay, is compelling. Compounding the problem, government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “routinely misrepresented” the quality of both the mortgages they packaged for the securities markets and those they kept on their own books for 15 years. The amounts involved were in the trillions of dollars.

It would have been painful in the short term, but the nation’s economy would likely have recovered, as it always previously had, from that Cloward Piven-like attempt to collapse the system if a frightened George W. Bush administration, opportunistic Congress, and conflicted Federal Reserve hadn’t intervened in the fall of 2008. But they did, and heavy-handedly. Congress passed TARP, despite citizens’ overwhelming opposition. Bush’s Treasury Department then used it to “put a gun to the head” of big-bank CEOs, forcing them to accept government “investment” and de facto control, which the Dodd-Frank legislation solidified two years later.

All the while, the Fed engaged in a massive, undisclosed bailout of domestic and even foreign banks, followed by what became known as “quantitative easing.” And $4.1 trillion later, our central bank’s tiny cadre of suits and skirts now has the ability to almost instantly send the economy into a tailspin any time they see federal government policies or actions they don’t like. Don’t think for a minute that the three branches which nominally run our government don’t know this.

Historians may conclude that the presidential election of 2012 was the last chance to undo the authoritarian encroachment. Pervasive Obama administration harassment of political opponents by its Internal Revenue Service, serial lying about the September 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, and the mother of all 21st century lies — “if you like your health care plan, doctor, medical provider, and drug regimen, you can keep them” — inarguably delegitimized its result.

Something that may be rectified this fall. The biggest problem, though, is a low-information electorate. And a government and media that wants to keep it that way.

[Update a few minutes later]

Is peak Orwell sustainable?

Well, Ron Fournier is getting tired of having to defend ObamaCare, so maybe not.

We’re Number 53,000!

[Sunday morning update]

We’re up within 35,000 today, and there are three new (all five-star) reviews.

I think this is the highest ranking the book has ever had on Amazon. Sales must have picked up this week (I hawked it quite a bit while in DC, both at the conference and with a couple think tanks — I’ll probably be doing a ReasonTV interview in the next couple weeks).

Also, it’s once again number one in the category “Aviation and Space Law.” Plus, it’s selling for full retail, which I’d assume means that Amazon thinks there’s sufficient demand for it that they don’t have to discount (not that I’ve given them a lot of room to do so, but they have had it down a buck or so in the past).

[Update a while later]

OK, based on numbers at the printer, it looks like I sold 27 books last week. Compare that to 18 for the entire month of January. Hopefully those will continue to build with more publicity, and good reviews at Amazon (six right now, all five star).

[Bumped]

On Homosexuality And Sin

Andrew Klavan makes a good point, I think:

I did not mean the sentence as the expression of a factual duality: either sex is this or that in actuality. I meant it as a response to Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality — a sort of mental argument with Phil, if you will. Robertson talks about homosexuality as a sin, while describing it in purely physical terms. What I should have said is something more like: “If Robertson thinks homosexuality is a sin, then he should address its spiritual aspects. If he just doesn’t like the physical nature of it, he’s welcome to express his displeasure but he shouldn’t pretend he’s making a larger spiritual point.” I used blogger shorthand and the meaning got blurred. My bad.

I agree. Whether (male) homosexuality is disgusting (as I find it) is a completely separate issue from whether or not it is sinful (I don’t think it is, but I have problems with the very concept of sin). Phil Roberts muddied the waters by conflating them. One can imagine an (unfortunate) homosexual who believes that his behavior is sinful, but by definition, doesn’t have any other problems with it. As I’ve noted in the past, and even the recent past, I think that many people who think it sinful are in fact bi (and therefore are tempted themselves), but consider themselves morally superior to homosexuals who they believe have a “choice” (as they do).

Jasper

The day that the Lileks family has feared for so long has finally come.

We had to do the same thing with Jessica the cat a year and a half ago. She was eighteen, and hadn’t lost bladder control so much as become senile, and willfully doing it in inappropriate places. We probably waited too long for her, but saying a final goodbye to an old friend is never an easy thing to do. She’s in the back yard now, where she used to play.

Left Versus Right

A review of Yuval Levin’s new book, that shows the origins of the fight that goes back over two centuries. Neither Burke nor Paine were Founders, but their ideas strongly influenced the Founding. Fortunately, Burke’s mostly won out in the drafting of the Constitution, but the modern left continues to try to warp it more a Paine direction.