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Friday, May 29, 2015
  • Wednesday, May 27, 2015 9:01 PM

    Katherine Rushton of The Daily Telegraph wrote a column trying to embarrass those in America, like Republican lawmaker Kieran Michael Lalor, who oppose bringing in Al Jazeera television on to the American television news market. Ms. Rushton feels such opposition is a kind of ethnic prejudice, not sound journalism. Dubbing Al Jazeera “Al Jihad,” such efforts may well be over the top but not necessarily.

     
  • Wednesday, May 20, 2015 8:51 PM

    There’s been a pretty impressive movement afoot for over a century or even more championing the idea that human beings are but complicated machines, nothing special at all in the world. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) folks tend to hold this view—machines, in time at least, will do whatever people can, maybe even much better than we do it, like thinking, feeling guilt, empathizing, regretting, apologizing, and the whole gamut of stuff many think is unique to human life. No, say the AI folks, it’s just a matter of handling some of the technicalities and then, voila, we will have machines just like us. After all, aren’t machines already doing many of the tasks most of us had once thought only people could do? Sure.

     
  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 10:37 PM

    The New York Times blog featured a debate recently, in the wake of the Tucson massacre, among several people on the insanity defense. One of the debaters, Kent Scheidegger, wrote a comment that included a point that’s often proposed but that needs some amendment.

    Scheidegger said “The traditional test [of criminal responsibility] is whether the defendant was able to understand the nature of the act and understand that it was wrong. This test … remains the proper legal and moral test. A person who understands what he is doing and that it is wrong but does it anyway is morally responsible for his act.”

     
  • Thursday, May 07, 2015 1:00 AM

    The New York Times editorialized in panic, predictably, in the wake of the U. S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Chicago’s ban on handgun ownership. Lamenting the Court’s highly abstract debate about the constitutional clause that needed to be considered, The Times alleged that Monday’s ruling will “undermin[e] Chicago’s [sensible] law” and lead to “results [that] will be all too real and bloody.”

    The Times’ central complaint amounted to the claim that the freedom to own handguns is entirely too risky. It threw out some completely discredited statistics that suggest a link between the striking down of such bans and the fostering gun violence. (This allegation is discredited in part by the failure to compare it with the beneficial results of handgun ownership, a result that has by now been demonstrated and published, for example in John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998].)

     
  • Wednesday, April 22, 2015 9:28 PM

    Though this is a topic that I have visited on several occasions, having recently become an avid fan of the Discovery Channel’s series on life in the deep oceans and other seas, I am motivated to observe just how absurd the notion of animal rights really is.

    Here we have the oceans of the globe teeming with billions of critters of immense variety. Looked at close up these are often very beautiful animals, indeed, and their agility is fantastic, to say the least. Not that people cannot match what these animals can do, although some of their feats are not within human reach except with extensive technological assistance. But it is undeniable that the wales, octopuses, herrings, crabs, seals, sharks; they do have amazing lives and incidentally put on a great show. At times what they do takes one’s breath away!

     
  • Wednesday, April 01, 2015 6:31 PM
    Whenever a good idea surfaces, there will surely be many who will try to hitch their wagon to it filled with corrupt versions that aim to serve numerous purposes having little to do with the original good idea. One example is the idea of individual natural human rights.

    Some simply disagree with the idea, like Jeremy Bentham did, denouncing it in various terms (e.g., "nonsense upon stilts"). Others do not like going about it straightforwardly. Instead they try to recast the idea to mean what it didn't. A good case in point is the idea of welfare rights.

    The rights John Locke identified as belonging to every adult human being are prohibitions, aimed at spelling out a sphere of personal jurisdiction, a private domain, for us all, one within which the individual is sovereign, the ruler of the realm as it were. For example one's right to private property spells out the area of the world that one is free to use and roam with no need for anyone else's permission; to enter this realm one must give one's permission without which others must remain outside. One's right to one's life is similar. No one may interfere with one's life without having gained permission, not even someone who means to do one no harm but only provide help (e.g., a physician).

     
  • Wednesday, March 25, 2015 6:08 PM
    Among the elements of a free society looms very large the institution of private property rights. It is this element that gives concrete, practical expression to a citizen's right to liberty. The reason is that living free means doing what one chooses to do someplace, connected to the world around oneself. John Locke, the major theorists of individual rights in the history of political thought, believed that private property rights punctuate our jurisdiction over our lives since what our lives amount to is to a large extent interacting, mixing our labor, with the rest of nature. If we lack the right to private property, we lack the freedom to live on our own terms. Although he wrote that God owns everything, he also believe that God gave it all to humankind and the principle of private property rights served as the best rationing device henceforth.

    No one who defends freedom suffers from the illusion that free men and women always do what is right. And this is true about how they make use of their property. But in a genuinely free society that is one of the troubling yet unavoidable conditions of living with others people. Just as one is, so are others free to use what belongs to them as they judge proper. If this is undermined, so is human freedom.

     
  • Wednesday, March 04, 2015 4:23 PM
    It is not a waste of time to revisit the topic of business bashing, especially in light of President Obama's current attacks on wealth creation. He says he prefers job creation, as if the latter were possible without the former. (Well, in a tyrannical system it may be, for a while; the population could be coerced to work, in, say, labor camps, even if no one were to want the work being performed! Public works projects have something of this about them, actually!)

    Some might consider it odd to question whether business or commerce are decent endeavors but given that business is held in low esteem by many cultural commentators, as well as by Hollywood, by pulp fiction writers like John Grisham, by famous directors such as Oliver Stone, and playwrights like the late Arthur Miller (whose Death of a Salesman depicts commerce as a pathetic, lowly profession), the question is not at all negligible. And then there are the likes of Harvard University professor of government, Michael Sandel, whose recent book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, 
  • Wednesday, February 18, 2015 4:09 PM
    A vital difference between champions of the fully free society (or libertarianism) and others who are concerned with political economic matters is that the former really do not approve of imposing any kind of agenda on the lives of others no matter how desirable it would be. Not even universal education, let alone universal health care, is deemed important enough for libertarians to assume power over other people - e.g., the parents of children, those with ailing elderly in their homes, etc. Unless there really is negligence involved, such that someone is failing to fulfill a legal obligation to feed his or her children, the government simply has no role. Furthermore, those who really accept the imperative to respect the rights of everyone to live as they choose provided no one's rights are being violated, may not force others to do the right thing in, say, abstaining from racial or gender discrimination at the workplace, just as this is something one may not impose on others in their personal lives. 
  • Wednesday, December 03, 2014 7:13 PM
    I am puzzled that there is hardly any mention in the press - columns, editorials, etc. - about Mr. Obama's executive intrusion in the employment relation. He wants to have overtime pay be higher than it is. He seems to think it is the task of the president to dictate terms of trade between employers and employees. But it isn't, not in a free country. But I suppose "free country" is no longer applicable to the American economy. It has become a fascist system, where the political executive dictates the terms of economic relations. And very few of us appear to mind this.

    I am organizing a panel at my university the topic of which is "Entrepreneurship in a Mixed Economy." The idea is, of course, that when politicians and bureaucrats command the terms of trade among the millions of citizens who take part in market transactions, the normal signals that guide the decisions of entrepreneurs get distorted. What is supposed to be a place wherein the agents carry out their work is not free but managed by a special group of citizens. Why?

    Presumably these citizens have superior knowledge and great measures of virtue than their fellows, over whom they have gained legally backed power. They are the regulators and just what qualifies them as superiors to the rest of us is a mystery.

    This is one of the features of a mixed economy. The arrogance of it is staggering, although historically it is common - kings, pharaohs, caesars, politburos and such have been butting in the economic affairs of men and women from time immemorial. It is this set-up that was supposed to be abolished by the classical liberal - remember "liberal" means "free" - political-social movement.

    Ultimately the only way to combat this reactionary trend led by Mr. Obama & Co., is with the convictions of the citizenry. 

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