Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Unholy Alliance: Randians and the Atheist Left

In the year of Our Lord 2007 the preeminent work of Ayn Rand turns 50 years old. "Atlas Shrugged" is as relevant today as it was in 1957. Nearly every libertarian and a large portion of us fiscal conservatives have been profoundly affected by this book. "Who is John Galt?" was the question that was answered by this 1,000 page philosophical statement that masqueraded as a novel. It was Rand's masterpiece.

To this day the names Dagney Taggart and Hank Rearden still play in mind. The terms looters and prima movers have been etched permanently into my subconscious. It is a deep, richly layered look at the people pulling the wagon that is our modern world - and those hanging on for the ride while actively tearing the wagon apart. Atlas Shrugged asks the question: What if the Prima Movers go on strike?

So who is John Galt? He is every liberty loving, hard working entrepreneur and businessman, every self-made man and woman who is the part of the machine of our modern life that actually gets things done. John Galt is a doer, a mover, a shaker, inventor, architect, entertainer, carpenter, tradesman, artist, builder, engineer... You get the picture. You know who these people are, you may be one of them. As well, you know the ones who hang on, the ones who don't do much except complain.

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905. She came to America and 1926 and never looked back. Years later when she was asked to describe the essence of her personal philosophy she made these four points:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

Metaphysics in Rand's case is a philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being. There is no room for God or religion or any supernatural nonsense in Rand's philosophy. In her youth she studied Aristotle, Victor Hugo and Nietzsche. Hugo was well known in his later life as being very hostile toward the Roman Catholic Church and one need not describe Nietzsche's view of religiosity. It is really no surprise that Rand herself became an atheist.

It was her love for individualism and capitalism that drew her to America and America to her. These very attributes are a complete anathema to leftists and socialists. However, many leftists and socialists are also atheists. Atheism has always been the great divide between objectivists/libertarians and conservatives/Republicans. Fiscal conservatives have more in common with objectivists than any socialist ever had, yet there has been an antagonism between conservatives and Randians for decades.

With the recent spate of anti-God bestsellers in the nation's bookstores the Randians detect a sea change in America. They long for the day when America becomes post-Christian just like Europe. I find this extremely short sighted and ultimately destructive to the cause of liberty, individualism and capitalism. Be careful what you wish for.

Atheism is the ONLY thing that hard-core leftists and objectivists share. Objectivists are reality based, rational thinkers. Leftists operate on pure emotion and irrationality. I personally think that the world without Christ will be a far less hospitable place for objectivists, libertarians and all freedom loving people.

Much of Rand's ideology is laudable. I too believe in the power of self-interest and individualism on the grounds that we are human beings and not bees or ants. We don't work for the good of the collective - we work for ourselves and our own families. I don't find that at all at odds with Christianity. My work-a-day life is separate from my spiritual life. One may inform the other but I don't spread it out so that it is one and the same. Jesus himself said render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's. Essentially a directive to keep your earthly concerns of citizenship separate from your spiritual yearning for your Heavenly citizenship.

I don't think the objectivist movement, which needs all the friends it can get, should cozy up to leftist atheists in some odd desire to see religion disintegrate in the greatest bastion of economic liberty and individual freedom the world has every known. On the flip side conservatives should seek out this natural ally by trying to get religion out of the machinations of politics and public policy.


Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bhutto Love Fest: A Fly in the Ointment

Wow, just watching the news and hearing the presidential candidates fall all over themselves with praise for the slain former Pakistani leader one would get the impression she could have saved the world right after saving Pakistan. It is a tragic thing, terrible, no one deserves a fate such as that. My heart goes out to those who knew and loved her.

Her physical body had barely reached room temperature before the mud slinging began. Since I knew next to nothing about her other than she had been run out of the country and sent into exile on charges of massive corruption many, many years ago - I can't really offer anything one way or the other.

Ralph Peters in his New York Post column takes off the gloves early and often:



December 28, 2007 -- FOR the next several days, you're going to read and hear a great deal of pious nonsense in the wake of the assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Her country's better off without her. She may serve Pakistan better after her death than she did in life.

We need have no sympathy with her Islamist assassin and the extremists behind him to recognize that Bhutto was corrupt, divisive, dishonest and utterly devoid of genuine concern for her country.

She was a splendid con, persuading otherwise cynical Western politicians and "hardheaded" journalists that she was not only a brave woman crusading in the Islamic wilderness, but also a thoroughbred democrat.

In fact, Bhutto was a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord amid bleak poverty. The scion of a thieving political dynasty, she was always more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani. Her program remained one of old-school patronage, not increased productivity or social decency.

Educated in expensive Western schools, she permitted Pakistan's feeble education system to rot - opening the door to Islamists and their religious schools.

During her years as prime minister, Pakistan went backward, not forward. Her husband looted shamelessly and ended up fleeing the country, pursued by the courts. The Islamist threat - which she artfully played both ways - spread like cancer.

But she always knew how to work Westerners - unlike the hapless Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who sought the best for his tormented country but never knew how to package himself.

Jeez, was the devil herself? Peters needs to speak his mind and stop beating around the bush.

Doing a little more digging around looking for a counterpoint I found a piece by Mansoor Ijaz, someone who actually knew her.

His piece in the Christian Science Monitor was titled:
The Benazir Bhutto I knew

Mansoor, I suspected, would come to her defense and offer a balance to the biting commentary Ralph Peters dished up. I was wrong:

During her two terms in office as prime minister, Ms. Bhutto earned a reputation among many as an imperious, venal, and corrupt politician, bringing Pakistan to the brink of financial ruin on more than one occasion.

Ijaz continues: I knew Benazir well. I am often blamed by her supporters for having helped bring her government down in 1996 by exposing her hypocrisy and corruption in two Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces. We remained in touch over the years after she went into exile, even developing a begrudging respect for each other over time. She struck me as a terribly conflicted person who deep in her heart wanted to save Pakistan from its evils, but was unable to put her personal lifestyle choices aside in doing so.

He concludes on a hopeful note: Benazir Bhutto was a brave woman. She was the face of modernity that Pakistan needed to salvage its descent into a sea of Islamist darkness. She should be remembered as a guardian of Pakistan's identity as a modern Islamic nation. Her death need not be the beginning of Pakistan's end.

Obviously Benazir Bhutto was a complicated woman and like all people in positions of power, men and women, corruption is the sea they swim in. The question is did she leave her country better/safer than it was before she came to power? Most serious commentators say no. If Mansoor Ijaz is any kind of prophet maybe this time she will.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

May the Merry Bells Keep Ringing!

Merry Christmas to everyone. In case I don't see you before the end of the year have a fun, exciting and safe New Years celebration. Get yourself a designated driver. In fact, I will drive for you and yours on New Years if you need me to - I don't drink. I will have to limit it to the greater Minneapolis-St Paul area... Anyway have a good time. See you soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Baby It's Cold Outside!

Turns out that sunspot cycle 23 has ended. Can cycle 24 be far behind? It has been known for a long time that temperatures on Earth are affected by sunspot activity. When sunspot activity is low so are our temperatures. Apparently as of right now there are no sunspots at all.

Here is the Solar Update from
12/19/2007 by VE3EN at 22:20

The solar wind has dipped below 600 km/s and the sun is now blank of any sunspots. It also looks like the northern reverse magnetic region continues to decay. Things should remain quiet.

We have not heard much about it up here in the north but the southern hemisphere has just come off one of the coldest winters in memory. A co-worker of mine spent several months in his native country of Australia and reported that he doesn't ever remember it being that cold.

South America had one of its coldest winters on record. Winter in the northern hemisphere starts officially in a few days, but I can assure you it's already here. I think this just adds to the supposition that the Sun has so much more to do with the warming and cooling of the Earth than SUV's and coal burning. Somehow, someway no matter how cold it gets or how long it stays cold the doomsayers will continue to rant on about "global warming deniers". As this winter drags on (and possible many more before sunspot cycle 24 peaks sometime during the next 11 years) with these sub freezing nights from Oklahoma to Maine the hysterics will begin to fall on deaf ears.

Here is a chart showing sunspot activity over the past 14 years. Note that this cycle nearly matches the precipitous rise in Global Warming hysterics... Interesting, huh?
Over at NASA the Solar Climate Physic Community is very excited as signs point to the beginning of sunspot cycle 24 just around the corner

It may not look like much, but "this patch of magnetism could be a sign of the next solar cycle," says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

For more than a year, the sun has been experiencing a lull in activity, marking the end of Solar Cycle 23, which peaked with many furious storms in 2000--2003. "Solar minimum is upon us," he says.

The big question now is, when will the next solar cycle begin?

It could be starting now.

"New solar cycles always begin with a high-latitude, reversed polarity sunspot," explains Hathaway. "Reversed polarity " means a sunspot with opposite magnetic polarity compared to sunspots from the previous solar cycle.

I think the next few years will make or break the veracity of the CAGW theory. The problem is that the politicians and policy makers from the international level all the way down to local community councils are already crafting rules that will both cost (waste) billions and lower the standard of living we have all worked so hard for. We need to put the brakes on these people...


Friday, December 14, 2007

Hardwired to God

It was something Tim Birdnow said in a comment thread on his blog that got me thinking. Are humans hardwired into God? Is it in our blood or is the God concept an evolutionary coping mechanism? There have been numerous articles published and biological studies conducted on this subject. But what Birdnow said that struck me was this simple question: Where are all the successful atheist cultures?

The two largest atheist societies are rather recent anomalies and both were forced. The Soviet Union enforced an oppressive secular society on populations that were (at the time) profoundly religious. China continues to violently suppress religious activity, particularly in Tibet and, of course, the new Christians. Neither society can be considered truly successful. China is making great strides economically, coincidently enough, just as Christianity is on the rise there.

But throughout recorded history and even deep into pre-history the evidence of God/spiritual worship is overwhelming. One could ask why these cultures of antiquity no longer exist and isn't that evidence that God centered cultures are also failures? Most, if not all, of these so-called extinct or failed cultures were supplanted by a more successful or more aggressive religiously based cultures. For instance, it is widely believed that Christianity helped deconstruct the mighty Roman Empire.

Humans cling to the God/spirit concept for a variety of reasons and comfort in a cold, hard, cruel world is not the least of it. Until about a hundred and fifty years ago daily life was so hard and uncertain that getting on ones knees and begging for mercy and grace helped make it bearable. Religious traditions helped develop the rhythm of societies throughout history. Fear of God, fear of being shamed and fear eternal damnation also helped civilize wild and violent men. It's easy to see that religion and belief in God was absolutely necessary to get us where we are today.

Many brilliant men have pondered the meaning of God over the centuries. Some of the greatest thinkers and writers have weighed in on the subject. C.S.Lewis and G.K. Chesterton instantly come to mind. Immanuel Kant engaged in many debates under the heading “philosophy of religion.” He authored numerous arguments for the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the problem of evil, and the relationship of moral principles to religious belief and practice.

On the other side of the coin were men like Marx and Nietzsche. Marx, of course, had a profound influence on the world, and not necessarily a positive one. He was clearly a brilliant man but produced a severely defective philosophy that when practiced was destructive and, of course, devoid of God. Friedrich Nietzsche's view that "God is dead" was the basis for much of the secular sentiment that developed throughout the 20th century. Nietzsche referred to himself as an immoralist and was critical of the prominent moral schemes in the 19th century: Judaism, Christianity, and Kantianism.

Contemporary philosophers and theologians with the far reaching impact of modern media suffer in the din of "StaticNoise" that will ultimately cause them to fail to have the impact of the earlier heavyweights mentioned above.

Simply put, as our modern world frees us from having to scratch out our existence from the hard ground, and as our "nanny state" governments care for us from cradle to grave, we find less and less need to turn to God. When the news on the television displays carnage and war day after day we become more convinced that no merciful God could possibly exist. Many people feel empty inside and don't know why. Eventually "things" won't make then happy anymore. Money doesn't make them happy. Sex doesn't make them happy. In their boredom they turn to comfort food or worse, drugs and alcohol.

Some people do just fine without a closeness to God. Somewhere inside them an inner strength buoys them (maybe the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit has taken root in them???) and carries them through life. Intellectually gifted people often have this strength. Fact and logic are the only guidance they need. They don't often wonder about "meaning" - they know what they know and the rest is unimportant. The rest of us can take clues from them on coping in this crazy, modern world. If their is a God He smiles down on these people too, they are some of his best work.

As reluctant as the intellectually gifted are to admit it they know that modern society needs God now more than ever. The evidence for the need of a broad religious underpinning for modern society is astounding. In a post-Christian Europe and Russia, in techno-savvy Japan the modern secular society has left entire populations so disappointed and depressed they have embarked on the path of self extinction. People without faith in a hereafter bathed in the presence of God don't care enough about the future to have children. Without children there is no future.

Facts and logic are hard things.

People who live only for the here and now, for their own self gratification leaving nothing for the future are dooming their societies to extinction.

Yes, indeed, where are all the successful atheist cultures?


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is the Stem Cell Debate Over?

In a remarkable turn of events one of the most contentious political issues of our time became a moot point overnight. This happy news was published online Tuesday (Nov. 20th 2007) in two journals simultaneously, Cell and Science. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University reported this breakthrough in Cell; the paper published in Science was headed up by Junying Yu. Yu's team was working in the lab of stem-cell pioneer James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The reprogrammed cells behaved like just stem cells in a series of lab tests.

President Bush, who had vetoed bills that allow for federal funding of controversial embryonic stem-cell research, was described as "very pleased." The President had taken the slings and arrows from what seemed the entire Hollywood establishment and now stands vindicated.

"The president believes medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life," his press secretary said.

Charles Krauthammer writing for declares:

the "embryonic stem cell debate over". He continues: The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president -- so vilified for a moral stance -- been so thoroughly vindicated.

Why? Precisely because he took a moral stance. Precisely because, as (James A. )Thomson puts it, Bush was made "a little bit uncomfortable" by the implications of embryonic experimentation. Precisely because he therefore decided that some moral line had to be drawn.

This is a good point that can't be emphasized enough. Sure, one can make the case that most of these embryos probably faced destruction whether or not they are used for research. It's that it represents the slippery slope that uses any argument necessary to justify ethically questionable practices. Isn't the President now under fire for his administration's "ethically challenged" view of torture? Waterboarding enemy combatants under the guise that the information devulged has averted attacks and saved innocent lives. It so easy to judge something when it's your Ox being gored...

Lost in all debate and self righteous rhetoric from all the President's detractors is the fact nothing useful had come from embryonic stem cell research. Not one therapy or treatment was ever applied to a dying child. However, real treatments and therapies developed out of Adult Stem Cell research were relegated to page A11 in the newspapers. With each of these stories in the main stream media we were treated to regular diatribes against the President when the story had nothing to do with embryonic stem cells. The imprecise language conveniently let the reader believe that Bush had banned stem cell research altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I doubt that the debate is really over. Ultimately my gut tells me that this breakthrough is so revolutionary that the money will follow this path and cloning guys and the embryo guys will fade quietly away.

Still, don't expect anyone in the main stream press to to tip their hat toward the President anytime soon...


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Barracuda and the Bluetails

Here is a new painting I just finished. (Click on the image to see a larger version...)

"The Barracuda and the Bluetails"
30" x 40"


This neat picture was inspired by a nifty shot by National Geographic photographer David Doubilet. Apparently Bluetail Unicornfish are not all that bothered by a sharp-toothed predator in their midst. Working from the inky black background I added layers of fish on top of each other hoping for a 3D effect... I hope you enjoy this. Be sure to visit my online art gallery to see more of my art work. click here


Saturday, December 01, 2007

All's War the Ends War

Quite possibly the American "occupation" of Iraq will end before George W. Bush leaves office in Jan '09.

It was quietly announced that the American and Iraqi governments will start negotiations early in 2008 to bring about an end to the allied occupation. This will in essence bring to a formal conclusion the U.N. Chapter 7 Security Council involvement in the occupation and administration of Iraq.

Lieutenant General Douglas Lute told reporters in the White House: "The basic message here should be clear. Iraq is increasingly able to stand on its own. That's very good news. But it won't have to stand alone."

The number of American troops in country will drop to something like 50,000 troops. Out of sight, out of mind - the remaining troops will be permanently stationed at bases outside of the large cities. This is similar to the way it has been done in Japan, Germany and Korea. Having a large well armed troop presence should discourage internal or external forces from threatening the fragile government there.

Thankfully this should remove the Iraq war as a major issue from the upcoming presidential election.

How history will judge this war and the President's decision remains to be seen. If Iraq becomes the successful model for the rest of the region as Bush and his advisor's claimed it would be then history will be kind. The fact that South Korea became a powerful economic force in the modern world took the sting out of an unpopular conclusion to an unpopular war and left Harry Truman well regarded in history's bloodshot eyes.

The Butcher of Baghdad is dead and so are his sadistic sons. The Iraqi government will never gas the Kurds again. The Shiites in the south are free from Saddam's boot. These are all good things. Thousands have died on all sides, this is regrettable. That there will be no more mass graves filled with the bodies of the innocent means at least in some way none died in vain.

As for America's so-called imperialistic designs the fact that we actually can't wait to turn over sovereignty to the locals should put to rest any comparison to the Roman or British Empires of old. Surely America is imperialistic in our desire to make the world safe for business and trade. How horrible.