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Leopard looks like ... Tiger

This has already been amply trashed on tech blogs, but it's amusing enough to carry over here: a review of Leopard, Apple's next operating system.

If you're not a Mac user it may not be so funny, but basically the reviewer says that Leopard apes a bunch of features of Windows Vista, when in fact these features were in previous releases of the Mac OS and were swiped by Microsoft. Apple is just continuing on the path they first got on years ago.

This must be how academic libertarian philosphers felt when Ayn Rand said they stole all their ideas from her.


Cockburn against dogma

Alexander Cockburn has an excellent piece on CounterPunch (with a shorter version in the print copy of The Nation) debunking global warming alarmism. Being that Cockburn is radically left, his voice is extra refreshing and is sure to inflame the passions of his more moderate colleagues.

Though they're kind of dry, Cockburn summarizes a great many scientific challenges to the idea of anthropogenic global warming. It's a shame that many of them are probably what was cut out for the shorter version. (For that matter, it's also a shame that more people read The Nation than CounterPunch.) In any event, they will be handy to keep in your intellectual toolbox as you filter all the information about global warming you're sure to be hearing for years.

Link via Mark Brady at Liberty & Power


Richard Rorty, 1931-2007

Richard Rorty, giant among American philosophers, died Friday.

As with Jack Valenti not so long ago, I can't find a single good thing to say about Rorty's life work. But it's important whether I like it or not.

Among philosophical movements, pragmatism seems to me to be the most destructive one of the bunch. His Thomas Jefferson prize citation read:

In recognition of his influential and distinctively American contribution to philosophy and, more widely, to humanistic studies. His work redefined knowledge 'as a matter of conversation and of social practice, rather than as an attempt to mirror nature' and thus redefined philosophy itself as an unending, democratically disciplined, social and cultural activity of inquiry, reflection, and exchange, rather than an activity governed and validated by the concept of objective, extramental truth.

The idea that pragmatism is a distinctly American way of thinking—rewarded with the Thomas Jefferson prize from the American Philosophical Society—feels like cultural vandalism to me. Sure, pragmatism developed here, but this was not the original spirit of America, the one that was uniquely American at the time and the one that was responsible for its greatness. Pragmatism came along with the progressive destruction of that idea and has accelerated it since.


Still more criminal Drug War nonsense

Even though it's Saturday and I wanted to relax, I got steamed when I saw a Washington Post article about the U.S. government having an arms dealer arrested in Spain for almost selling weapons for Colombia. That's right, the U.S. government got this guy arrested in a country that's not in its jurisdiction for trying to sell weapons to people from another country that's not in its jurisdiction.

The reason, of course, is the pointless and criminal "drug war" that the U.S. government has been waging inside Colombian territory. For years its heavy boot has been stamping on legitimate agriculture inside another country in the name of Prohibition. Because of the strategic and public relations difficulties involved with military deployment to Colombia this is largely done by private contractors, but the government calls the shots. These contractors are the ones doing the aerial spraying and getting shot at from the ground, and helping people to resist these invaders is what gets you arrested for "attack[ing] United States interests in Colombia."

There's more:

Since the early 1970s, Monzer al-Kassar has "supported terrorists and insurgents by providing them with high-powered weapons that have fueled the most violent conflicts of the last three decades," Michael J. Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement released yesterday.

Which of course is totally different from what the U.S. government has been doing. When the U.S. government provides weapons, money, or training in torture and murder, it's in the name of peace, stability, and justice. It's the other side whose attitudes and motivations are totally alien to us civilized folk that's interested in nothing but bloodshed. Right?


Russia vs. Aristotle

One of the most important debates about our libertarian future is on the cultural conditions for liberty. Roderick Long's lecture Culture and Liberty (which you can find on the Mises Inst. media page, along with other excellent work) is a better discussion of the topic than I can give, but briefly, one end of the spectrum has people like Ayn Rand, who think we need to agree on a very specific set of cultural conditions, and the other has cats like Walter Block who think we need to agree on very little in cultural matters as long as we don't aggress against each other. As you might expect, Long is sort of in the middle, and he and others (like Geoffrey Plauche) have been arguing for an Aristotelian Liberalism pretty well lately.

Recent news from Russia about widespread anti-gay attitudes, including among the government, made me think of this today.

Basically, Tsarist Russia sucked, and the Communist Russia sucked about as much as is possible, and post-Communist Russia is no great shakes either. I'm not quite the Russian history expert, but it seems like the combined influences of the Orthodox Church and the Tsarist system both discouraged the cultural conditions for liberty, and the Communists persecuted same more vigorously than anyone even thought possible before them. Lifelong Chekist Vladimir Putin has no interest in changing course.

So it's little surprise to read this party of Cathy Young's article:

Sympathy for the protesters seemed scarce. A 19-year-old Russian college student I met on an Internet forum wrote to me that she was nonplussed by Western condemnation of police actions: "The gay parades are forbidden in Russia and to make them without a permission sounds strange and stupid. No wonder that [the police] have to arrest the members." This logic may tell us more about attitudes toward civil liberties than attitudes toward gays in Putin's Russia; but the young woman's specific comments about gays were telling as well. "You see, the gay prides in Russia don't work not because of government but because of people," she wrote. "The majority of citizens truly despise gays. ... I have no idea what will happen if parades become a usual thing in Russia. In that situation gays will be all dead because normal people will just kill them." Ironically, she then added that she couldn't understand what the gays wanted anyway: after all, Russia now has "lots of gay clubs where they can be safe and enjoy their culture."

Such attitudes are fairly typical. ...

Russian culture has produced a lot of deep, moving literature, beautiful architecture, and according to one of my more widely-traveled friends a lot of classy, beautiful women. But the cultural conditions for liberty are in infancy.


Demographic alarmism challenged

In a piece in the WSJ (gated), Linda Chavez discusses the statistical fact that children of people classified as Hispanic in the census are always classified as Hispanic, so that, for instance, even people only as Hispanic as I am Slovakian (1/4) are classified that way. The conclusion:

In other words, the widely cited prediction that by mid-century Hispanics will represent fully one third of the U.S. population fails to take into account that increasing numbers of these so-called Hispanics will have only one grandparent or great-grandparent of Hispanic heritage. At which point Hispanic ethnicity will mean little more than German, Italian or Irish ethnicity does today.

Hat tip to Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek


Atheism, theism, and religious belief

There's been a lot of debate in the media, and even here on Catallarchy/DR, about religion lately. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, are on the offensive. Plenty of other people are counter-attacking. And plenty of people in the middle don't feel strongly one way or another, but get turned off by atheist ferocity and religious dogmatism.

One distinction that I think is important but unfortunately gets blurred in this debate is that theism and religious belief are not the same thing. It's possible to believe in a being capable of doing anything that is metaphysically possible and of knowing all things that are true without buying into the specific historical and ideological claims of any one religion.

I think the case against specific religions—pick one, any one—is pretty strong. Strong enough, in fact, that I'm astonished that people have religious belief at all. This is the idea that really makes me see red. (I might set aside my libertarianism for long enough to legally force everyone in the world to read The Bible Unearthed. Maybe.) I just can't stress my opposition to religion enough.

However, the question of the Man Upstairs isn't necessarily so clearly resolved from the facts. I have some ideas about this, but I'm not officially moving out of the agnostic camp yet.


Appreciating expertise, part 1

I am always happily surprised to encounter a branch of expertise that I never seriously considered before. So if you're like me—and I know I am—you might get a kick out of the discussion about stock sound effects at Hollywood Lost and Found. The three it explains are the "castle thunder," the "universal telephone ring," and the "Wilhelm scream."

There are sound clips available, and when you hear them you'll realize you've heard them all more times than you can remember. I was aware that there are stock sounds from Hollywood movies, but I never imagined the scope of their use, and certainly not of any long and august history behind a single effect.

Also, in the same investigation, I came across a fun list of movie sound clichés. The main page of this site, FilmSound.org, has a huge amount of information about film sound. Frankly, more than I could ever remember. But it's always a pleasure learning about how complex things are that we take for granted.


We cheapen, you lap it up

It looks like the Wall Street Journal is in for hard times: Ruper Murdoch might acquire it and turn it into a comic book.


Stifling academic growth in the name of progress

Over at Liberty and Power Aeon J. Skoble brings my attention to this article:

LONDON, May 30 — The main union representing 120,000 British college teachers voted Wednesday to endorse a Palestinian trades’ union call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The boycott resolution, approved at the inaugural congress of the University and College Union, called on British college lecturers to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions.”

In theory, a boycott could sever academic contacts and exchanges of personnel between British and Israeli academic institutions.

Skoble gives the timeline of the usual boring intra-libertarian debate with pretty good accuracy, but what I'd rather focus on is how silly it is for British academics to force Israeli academics to collaborate with everyone else. They have some smart guys over there, and I'm sure collaborating with the British is unpleasant enough already. Don't make it worse, Limeys.


H-1B what?

While the governments in some countries fear immigration, Singapore's is taking the high road and encouraging it. According to the excellent Vagablogging, they're hoping to increase the population from 4.5 million to 6.5 million. They're starting a program whereby people can stay in Singapore and work for six months, hoping that in the long run this will land many more people in Singapore long-term.

True, they're not encouraging just anyone's tired, poor, yearning to breathe free, etc.

<blockquote>[The program] is open to undergraduates and graduates between the ages of 17
and 30 from universities in eight economies -- Australia, France,
Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United
States.</blockquote>

Hey, it's a start. They might or might not have the typical worries about unskilled immigrants, but at least they aren't worried that educated foreigners might take all the good jobs.

 


Us and the Giro

As you may have heard, the Giro d'Italia, one of the biggest races in cycling, is going on right now. Again, it's time for me to wonder why Americans don't care too much about cycling and Europeans do. Some thoughts:

I. Because Europeans ride bikes more in their daily life, the idea of competitive cycling is more interesting to them. This makes great sense, but most Americans don't play baseball or football in their daily lives and these sports are still popular here, so there must be at least two ways for a sport to get popular, and it seems like the second path should be available for cycling.

II. Cycling was already firmly established in Europe before advances in transportation and communication could get Americans hooked, both as competitors and as spectators. Again, this doesn't rule out cycling's becoming popular here, but this must be part of the explanation.

III. Related to II, the lack of American competitors makes Americans less likely to care about the sport. Lance Armstrong recently gave a lot of people an in on the sport, but he's just one guy.

And don't say it's boring. Tennis is boring. Golf is boring.


McCain: yes, he really is a racist

In the effort to continue to provide you, dear readers, with groundbreaking content, I've hired presidential candidate and total asshole John McCain to say stupid things with a straight face. I've also arranged partnerships with the mainstream media not to bat an eyelash when he says these things to, so that they won't be competing for the same stories.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican presidential hopeful John McCain taunted rival Mitt Romney on immigration Monday, saying the former Massachusetts governor should "get out his small-varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn."

I don't understand the distinction people can make: joking about shooting US citizens is unacceptable, but joking about shooting citizens of other arbitrary geographical areas is fine.

Further, it's somehow acceptable to joke about Hispanics, but McCain would naturally never make the same kind of joke about whites or Asians. Or blacks either, but only out of fear of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton leading the righteous media charge to crucify him. Good thing for him that they can't get publicity from this comment.


Women against women

Christina Hoff Summers writes in the Weekly Standard that the mainstream Western feminist movement is ignoring "the most pressing women's issue of our age": the treatment of women in the Muslim world. And she's right. It's often frustrating to me that one of the biggest issues for college feminists today is The Vagina Monologues and not the fact that women are legally and culturally subhuman in large parts of the world.

The standard diagnosis, which is spot-on, is that the gender feminist movement is so focused on criticizing American culture that it doesn't want to criticize the US government's enemies—wouldn't want any of this enemy of my enemy stuff.

OK, great, but now what? I really like my approach to this stuff: separating governments from cultures. True, they're related, but they're not the same. I love American culture, and at the same time I can't stand and don't support the government that claims a monopoly on justified violence in its territory.

But the gender feminist movement dislikes American culture and American government, you say. That's fine. They can now feel free to criticize fundamentalist Islamic cultures without reference to political categories like states and wars.

Ultimately this would fall short: the government of Saudi Arabia (for example) enforces misogyny with full legal force, and needs to be challenged. But hey, baby steps.

Link via Arts & Letters Daily


W.E.B. DuBois on why he won't vote in 1956

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say....

[H]ow does Stevenson differ from Eisenhower? He uses better English than Dulles, thank God! He has a sly humor, where Eisenhower has none. Beyond this, Stevenson stands on the race question in the South not far from where his godfather Adlai stood sixty-three years ago, which reconciles him to the South. He has no clear policy on war or preparation for war; on water and flood control; on reduction of taxation; on the welfare state....

I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?

--W.E.B. Du Bois, October 20, 1956 in the Nation magazine

Shamelessly taken whole from here.