Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ayn Rand

I've had a problem with Ayn Rand for years. My first knowledge of her and her objectivist philosophy was an argument I had at summer camp. This was back in the days when I was very into the Anarchist ideal of a world without government, and while that should predispose someone towards objectivism, I argued bitterly against it. And lost, because I clung to ideals that I couldn't really justify, and because I had absolutely no knowledge of what I was arguing against.

I'd never done anything to follow up, just conceded my points and said that I still didn't understand this worshiping of the ego.

I've now found The Fountainhead thrust into my hands, and have finally gotten around to investigating this whole philosophy. The merit of the philosophy is there - do what you want to do, because if you aren't self-fulfilled in the way that your life is lived, you are wasting your life.
So, it isn't being selfish that's good, so much as it is doing things one wants to do. Which is like being selfish, but less distasteful.

There is no problem with working in a fulfilling way, rather than giving up ones passion for the conventions of society, and the wishes of others. Ayn Rand just doesn't believe that anyone can derive any benefit from altruistic work. Her philosophy is a fundamentalism, and so is flawed as as fundamentalisms are, by exclusion of other possibilities.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, my local paper (Edit-links to the paper still fail to work) ran a series of soundbites from essays written about MLK by in-state high school youth. And I'm of a mixed opinion. Firstly, it is good that thought is being given to King, but when a dozen different children talk about how great ignoring race is, it seems to me that this is a problem.

Priviliege allows colorblindness, since those who are privileged don't have to spend their whole life acknowledging race. To simply ignore this fact of someone's being is to deny them worth as a human. It denies race so that there isn't guilt associated with race. It's the "If you would stop acting Black, we could stop having racism" line of thinking. This is absurd.

Martin Luther King wanted people to be judged by the content of their character, as opposed to being judged by the color of their skin. He did not want people to ignore the color of their skin, he just wanted to make sure that skin color wasn't the determining factor in how people were judged. Ignoring skin color seems to be making as strong a judgement as discriminating because of skin color.

Really, I think the student's essays would have been a lot more valuble if they had to write about Rev. Dr. MLK Jr without citing (or even using at all) his "I have a Dream" speech.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A pinch of salt

I was watching a recent episode of the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart was talking about Bush's new plan for Iraq. While lots of good points were made, what struck me was the ending line. "George Bush cooked up this huge pile of shit, looked at it and said 'Hmmm....needs a pinch of Salt'"

It's a potent phrase. A 15% increase in troops in Iraq is not a huge, significant thing. I mean, it's a lot more people on the ground, in one area. They have no army to rout, no sieges to lay. They are there to be there.

The commentatory on the Daily show said that, while it was a terrible idea from both the tactical and strategic standpoints, it was great operationally. It is great operationally because it can be done, which is really the only reason to justify it.

The war has a stated objective (leaving a stable, Democratic Iraq) but has no effective plan. A strong presence by an occupying military can often force stability. At this point, we don't have the military necessary for the occupation we need, and so instead we are fighting a counter-insurgency, while other competing forces control the course of the war. We have not only lost the initative, but we have no way to regain it. A conventional military can fight a conventional war. We are not in a conventional war, and we cannot fight an insurgency.

Lots of people are probably pointing this fact out. The "Pinch of Salt" approach just cuts through the bullshit best.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Lowell Wood and Geo-Engineering

Global warming itself is better discussed in the climate blogoshpere (check the climate sidebar), but geo-engineering seems to be an under-covered topic, which is unfortunate. Geo-engineering is an idea that has been around since at least the days of Edward Teller, who wanted to make harbors using thermonuclear detonations in Alaska. That was relatively small scale; move this piece of earth, here, and while the notion of using nukes to alter a small part of the earth's landscape is frightening, it is little compared to solutions designed for global warming.

Lowell Wood, a disciple of Edward Teller's, was featured prominently in an article in Rolling Stone, which stated out by describing him as Dr. Evil. Not Dr. Evil in the wacky "I'm a mad scientist teehee" sense, but Dr. Evil in the Dr. Strangelove sense; "I'm a mad scientist people take seriously, watch me say nuclear war is survivable teehee". Lowell Wood has a valid point in saying that all options should be considered. His opinion gets less merit when one looks at the ideas he tries to implement (with Edward Teller he worked on the Star Wars initiative), but when he says he has a cheap, temporary solution to global warming that will not require a lifestyle change, those in power could easily listen.

The solution being considered? Filling the atmosphere with particles to block out sunlight, in much the same way as volcanoes work. This will cool the earth for a bit, and then give us more time to develop a genuine solution to the problem. The particles will fall out of the atmosphere within a years time, and unless a solution has been developed, we can just shoot up more particles for the next year.

It's nutty, and it's out there, and while the potential to go wrong (the particles injected into the atmosphere are sulfur, which seems to be a direct trigger for acid rain) is huge, the idea is oddly fascinating. Not worth risking, of course, but certainly worth a look at.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Student Government, part 2

As hinted at earlier, I have serious issues with student government. It's an organization that should be acting to protect the Rights of students, and it ends up failing wholly at that while instead becoming a dis-empowering force. That is to say, student government doesn't do any governing, and instead, they plan dances and other activities. Now, most people would be content if all their government did was plan parties.

I'm more than a tad annoyed.

What got to me today, however, was this (Edit- this should be a link to "Sandia Senior has Deep Love of Politics" article at the Albuquerque Journal. It worked earlier, doesn't now). A student body president may well have political interests. However, planning "community service projects and school events" is not political interests.. It does not constitute a deep love of politics. Politics, in the strictest sense of the word, is about working with groups. Political interest is almost never interpreted that way, but given the definition, the article's title is justified.

Still, I was looking for some grand idealist, some visionary, or someone with something more valid, more interesting to say than
"That [planning Prom- D.] was a whole lot of work, ...Everyone thinks it's no big deal."

Jimmy Carter vs. the Swimming Rabbit?

Okay, so I am both young and skeptical, so when I saw this xkcd, I figured it was a joke. Surely, Jimmy Carter, the one who will show us the way, was never beset upon by a member of the order lagomorpha?

A quick googling found this. Alas poor Jimmy, it is true.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Atomic Theory, Social Contracts, and Idle musings

I've been reading more of Makers of Modern Strategy, and found myself introduced to ideas of nuclear force as a cost-effective army, and that a balance of destructive forces can produce a stability that overwhelming superiority never could. It's an outdated thing to talk about, but the balance of power is pretty impressive. I mean, it worked. Of all the ideas out there for nuclear conflict, being scared shitless worked best.

And here is the other funny part - excepting the paranoia, large nuclear forces are cheaper to maintain than a comparable conventional force. Also, with the prevention of wars, they are perhaps more effective. I mentioned this to the girl, and she replied that it was still all a waste. Which is a valid point, to a degree. If something isn't going to be used, resources spent on it are a waste. And then, resources spent on world-ending weapons are just never a good idea.

The first potential counter is that even when not fired, nuclear weapons have a point, and that the cost spent on them as a deterrent is much better than the costs of weapons actually fired. So, nuclear weapons were being used, just not launched. So the resources spent on the weapons were not (entirely?) wasted. This certainly doesn't answer the question of the need for force, though.

Force arguments are often weak. The classic is "if we don't, they will", and that's pathetic and circular. If we are afraid of a use of force against us, we should maintain a comparable force to make the risk greater than the benefit of an attack. Without fear of attack, and stable nation has no need for an armed forces. I had originally written more on this, but the core idea is now apparent. Military force is necessary for those who have something to lose. Since government is the surrendering of some rights for the guarantee of something (generally property) people with a government have something to lose.

Military force provides a way to secure what a people, as a collective, hold. Military force also provides a way for people, as a collective, to attempt get what they lack. And these forces can maintain an equilibrium of opposition, but since conflict has a lot of variables, nothing is never nailed down or guaranteed. Nuclear forces, while risking the existence of the world, also prevent conflict, and are an oddly stabilizing force.