Monday, December 19, 2005

Schwarzenegger's Gesture

Today Governor Schwarzenegger cut ties with his home town after they were upset with his decision to uphold Tookie Williams' death sentence. I like the gesture a lot, and hope that he can take the same attitude towards more weighty issues. Even better would be if other politicians would follow his lead -- starting with the UN. From the article:
"The reason for this action is apparently a decision I reached as governor of California," Schwarzenegger said. "I rejected the clemency of a rightfully convicted four-time murderer after thorough review, and as a result, he was executed according to the laws of this state."

"In all likelihood, during my term as governor I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions," Schwarzenegger wrote. "In order to spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium."

He said he was returning the "ring of honor."

Since "the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me," he said. "It is already in the mail."

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Yesterday's WSJ featured an inspiring eulogy to a Lebanese newspaperman, Gebran Tueni, who was assassinated by Syrian-directed assailants. In reading it, I was touched by his courage and integrity, and was again reminded how difficult a task it would be to regain freedom, if we continue to allow it to evaporate here in the West. The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few quotes from it:
In 2000 he had broken his country's long silence by publishing an explicit call for Syria to get its troops out of Lebanon. He had no patience with the press self-censorship that tends to become the rule under jackboot regimes. "If you accept to enter the game of blackmailing, it's your fault," he said. "We try to have an independent paper."

Asked about the dangers of such a stance, he catalogued quickly that he had been shot twice, in 1976 and 1989; kidnapped briefly, in 1976; and exiled in 1990 for three years.

Tueni's defiance of despotic rule extended not only to Syrian occupation but to the presence of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics. He described Hezbollah as "an imported product from Iran. It has nothing to do with Lebanese identity." He went on to explain that Hezbollah is "a direct threat, acting in Lebanon like a state within a state," with "weapons everywhere." Hezbollah, he said, has its enticing side, building hospitals and schools, and providing free education to children of poor families--"but what are they teaching?" Hezbollah's strategy, he said, "Is to transform us into an Islamic republic." Tueni described Iran as providing Hezbollah's weapons and the funding, and Syria as providing "the cover."
An-Nahar's new building had armed guards and bulletproof security shields and doors. But sitting in his corner office with its big picture windows, not far from the spot where Hariri was murdered, Tueni seemed both brave and terribly vulnerable. I asked him if his own life was in danger. He said he expected a wave of Syrian-backed "assassinations, booby-trapped cars," but did not think that could stop Lebanon's democratic movement. "They can kill one, two, three of us" he said, but then they are "finished."

Cultural Feedback

In what I consider an example of cultural feedback (that is good cultures tend to re-inforce themselves, while bad cultures tend to deteriorate at an accelerating pace), Gus Van Horn shows how French music subsidies support and encourage the Islamists, leftists and nihilists in France. Well worth reading.

Monday, December 12, 2005

In Case There Was Any Doubt About the UN

Taranto points out Eye on the UN's report on the UN's disgusting "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People". The event prominently featured a map of the middle east flanked by a UN flag and a Palestinian Flag. The map had Israel completely wiped off of it!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Starr on the Gilgamesh and the Iliad

A reader asked me to elaborate on my brief mention of Starr’s comparison between the two epics. Here are some excerpts of his analysis:
…”Monsters are prominent in the plot of Gilgamesh’s adventures, and the appeal is rather to emotion and passion than to reason, as is that of the Iliad.”

… “The individualism of Homer’s heroes, their ability to accept human fate while yet enjoying life, their passionate curiosity and delight in the physical world – these qualities which did not exist in early, god-fearing Mesopotamia.”…
Now I don’t know that you could validly jump from epics of 3,000 and 4,000 years ago to an analysis of modern cultures, but comparing the two epics would, I think, be more fruitful than just starting with the Iliad.

Of course Hudgins’ article is much worse than just being nonsensical, it purposely evades numerous differences, beginning with the fact that the Greeks of Homer’s time didn’t reject reason (indeed they took the first major step towards its discovery), while modern Islamists explicitly and categorically reject it to embrace an all-consuming faith. Hudgins then attempts to further appease the irrationalists by pretending that the essential similarity between cultures is brutality, i.e. the manner by which they engage in war! And from this trivial and incidental similarity, while remaining firmly oblivious to all the vitally important differences, he is hopeful that Islam will take the path followed by the early Greeks! As Diana would say: “the mind boggles”.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Snippets from the Dougout

In perusing a relatively new blog, The Dougout, by Grant Jones (former contributor to the Fiftieth Star) I was impressed and/or informed by several posts.

This post describes an organization aimed at divesting from any companies trading with terror-supporting countries. This is a direct link to the organization in question.

This post has interesting figures on the Maoist Death toll, and points out some unrepentant groups still pushing this enormously evil philosophy.

I also recommend this post on altruism vs. capitalism. A few quotes:
Benevolence is derivative of rational self-interest and the freedom to pursue it. When a man’s right to his life as an end in itself is upheld the effect (and cause) is respect for oneself and therefore others. This respect is translated into a general goodwill towards the human race and the desire to help others if it doesn’t require the sacrifice of one’s values or virtues.
If these organizations were doing such a great job why was it felt there was a need for altruism at gunpoint? The Great Depression being judged as too big a problem for private “self help” was one reason. However, Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” was launched during an unprecedented post-war boom.

Perhaps another reason was that private aid groups made the distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. In other words, they were interested in helping those who helped themselves. This distinction is not acceptable to the consistent altruist. It implies that a man’s life is his own responsibility.
Finally, while I disagree with the sentiment expressed in Fallaci's quote in this post, I liked the graphic (reproduced below).

I look forward to reading more of Grant's work.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Starr on Ancient Mesopotamia

I’ve begun reading Chester Starr’s “A History of the Ancient World” and so far am enjoying it. In the second chapter “The First Civilization of Mesopotamia”, he makes a couple of observations that I thought might be of interest to readers here.

Speaking of the early Sumerians, Starr notes that in their view “Everything must have its name to assure its place in the universe, and one who knew the true name of something had power over it.” Now of course theirs is a mystical view of the universe, but it shows the first inkling of men recognizing the power of concepts and the need to put a name to something if one truly wants to conceptualize it and use it in thought.

He also has a short but interesting comparison between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad. If one were to use ancient texts as a jumping off point to comment on modern cultures, I think this comparison would be of much more use than the sickeningly appeasing editorial Diana rightly condemns in this post.

Lastly, in discussing the emergence of civilization, Starr observes:
“In yet another aspect differentiation became evident socially, in the relation of the sexes. Although the position of women was still so high in Sumerian days that they could buy and sell property, their independence tended to wane rather than to rise as civilization progressed.”
I don’t yet know enough about history to say how uniformly that statement applies, but I have often wondered why, until recently, no society appeared in which women were more or less equal to men. It seems to me that this would give the society a distinct advantage over others, and would allow it to ascend relative to others. The argument, as I see it, is similar to that which one would give regarding racism in a free society, i.e. everyone would be free to be racist (not to coerce or initiate force, but to associate with those with whom he liked), but anyone who practiced racism would be at a big disadvantage, e.g. he wouldn’t be able to hire from as large a pool of workers, so he would overpay in wages; he would forego customers that others wouldn’t, etc. and so a free society would assuage the problem. But if this line of reasoning is valid, why then didn’t something similar happen in history regarding the status of women in society? Was it that men considered military power as the foundation of society and because women were weaker they were also excluded from civil power? If that’s the case, then perhaps only an understanding of the importance of the mind in life and living could allow women their proper place in society? In any case it’s an open question that I have, which I hope will be better answered as I gain more knowledge of history.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

High School Genius

This is pretty cool.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Virtue Can Lead to Wealth, but Not Vice Versa

A story in today's NY Times serves as another example of the fact that one must have a moral character worthy of one's money, i.e. that unearned wealth cannot create the virtues necessary to produce it, and without those virtues, windfalls can be more detrimental than positive. From the story:
In 2003, just three years after cashing in his winning ticket, Mr. Metcalf died of complications relating to alcoholism at the age of 45. Then on the day before Thanksgiving, Ms. Merida's partly decomposed body was found in her bed. Authorities said they have found no evidence of foul play and are looking into the possibility of a drug overdose. She was 51.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hong Kong Dollars

While recently in Hong Kong, I was shocked to notice at one point that one of my $20 HKD bills had "HSBC" printed on it (HSBC stands for "Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation", the large multinational bank based out of Hong Kong). As I searched through my pocket, another $20 HKD had "Bank of China" printed on it. The bills, though the same colour, did have different graphics and a different layout to them.

A quick bit of research revealed that HSBC does have the right (along with Bank of China and one other bank) to print money in Hong Kong. The law requires them to have an equivalent amount of U.S. currency to back any money they print, and they must surrender that U.S. currency to the currency authority. (The Hong Kong monetary system works on a currency board system, where every Hong Kong dollar must be 100% backed by the equivalent amount of US dollars, at a ratio close to 8:1.)

This is obviously a far-cry from genuine free-banking. Still, there was something inspiring about holding a 'banknote'--inscribed with a corporate logo--in my hand, as a token reminder of a more capitalist time when every bank was free to issue its own notes.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Williams on "McJobs"

I enjoyed this piece by Walter Williams on work and jobs. In addition to observing that the concept of "dead-end" job is not only invalid but also an attack on honest work, he then provides some interesting statistics to support his argument. For example, I was unaware of the following:
According to Glassman, some 1,200 McDonald's restaurant owners began as crew members, and so did 20 of McDonald's 50 top worldwide managers. These people and millions of others hardly qualify as dead-enders.

Some demagogues charge that jobs at Wal-Mart and McDonald's only pay the minimum wage. That's plain wrong, as are many other things said about jobs that start at the minimum wage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Sixty-three percent of minimum wage workers receive raises within one year of employment, and only 15 percent still earn the minimum wage after three years. Moreover, only three percent of all hourly workers and two percent of wage and salary earners earn minimum wages. Most minimum wage earners are young -- 53 percent are between the ages of 16 and 24.