Friday, May 07, 2004
I find very interesting the following comments by the lawyer of one of the American soldiers accused of abusing the Iraqi prisoners:
Graner has yet to publicly comment on the allegations. But his lawyer, Guy Womack, claimed that he was "following orders".
"I think when you see the photographs, you can tell these were obviously staged. They were part of the psychological manipulation of the prisoners being interrogated. It was being controlled and devised by the military intelligence community and other governmental agencies, including the CIA."
(The humiliated man beneath the hood, The New Zealand Herald.)
These words have the ring of truth to them. As I understand it, humiliation techniques are a standard way in which interrogators get prisoners to cooperate.
I confess to not quite understanding the moral outrage. It's OK to drop bombs on soldiers and kill them, or maim them for life, even though soldiers are often unwilling conscripts who would rather not be fighting. But somehow it's a horrible violation of human rights when we use some hardball psychological tactics against the worst enemy prisoners. War isn't supposed to be pleasant. Pundits in the United States, living safe lives in upper-class communities and working in plush offices, are a bit too eager to dish out tongue lashings to soliders in Iraq who are risking their lives to keep America safe.
The very same Arabs who turn a blind eye to physical torture of prisoners by Arab governments (such as Saddam Hussein's former regime) are outraged when the U.S. uses tactics that are far less brutal. The Arab street will find any reason to hate the United States, and there really isn't anything we can do that will make them like us.
Democrats who are calling for Rumsfeld's resignation are mostly interested in making the President look bad so he will lose the election to John Kerry. It's disgusting that they put politics over our nation's security.
I suspect that a few low level soldiers will be court marshalled because someone thinks that we need to have some scapegoats. And the lesson learned by "the military intelligence community and other governmental agencies, including the CIA" is that in the future they must not allow the participants in psychological manipulation of prisoners to take photos.
I just discovered this hilarious web page, The Fountainhead - A Parody. Don't bother to visit the page if you haven't read The Fountainhead, you simply won't get it.
And talking about not getting stuff, I thought there was something wrong with me for not getting The Fountainhead at all, but the parody does a better job of illustrating why the book makes no sense than I could ever do by writing about it.
So why am I bothering to slog through Atlas Shrugged? I'm not sure, but I feel an obligation to finish it, as if it's necessary reading on the part of someone who claims to be a libertarian.
Also, I recall reading somewhere that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a fan of Ayn Rand. It's bad enough that he lifts bigger weights than me, but the thought of him reading bigger books than me is just too much to take.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
I discovered yet another special interest blog, and this one is a lot more interesting than the Walmart blog mentioned earlier. Last One Speaks - Voices of Reason in the Cacophony of Drug War Rhetoric is devoted entirely to the war on drugs, with frequent posts linking to various sources.
Reading the posts on this blog, and the linked articles, makes me really mad at my fellow human beings. How can the country continue to support an unwinnable drug war that's costing us billions of dollars and creating a whole host of problems that are far worse than damage that would be caused if we let people legally smoke some joints?
Hopefully blogs like this can turn the tide of public opinion, but for some reason I doubt it will happen. The war on drugs has lasted far longer than the Prohibition of alcohol, which only survived fourteen years. Why does the war on drugs have such staying power in comparison to Prohibition? The answer lies with the power of the mass media to control the way we think. A large part of the war on drugs is devoted to brainwashing America into being opposed to drugs. Back in the 1920s, there was no television, and although there were movies and radio, Hollywood and Madison Avenue back then were only beginning to learn how to use the mass media to control the way people think. Unfortunately, there is no way that a small number of libertarian blogs can fight back against the huge amount of government money being spent to make people support the war on drugs.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
It is a common saying that “money is the root of all evil.” According to the Random House Dictionary of Proverbs and Sayings, the phrase first appeared in English circa 1000 A.D. The saying originated in the New Testament. “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Timothy, 6:10.
It’s obviously one of those sayings that has as great deal of staying power, having been around for two thousand years and still going strong. But how fair is it to blame all evil, or even any evil, on a medium of exchange?
I think it would be a much more accurate statement to say that the root of most evil is man’s desire for status; either greed to increase one’s status, or jealousy over losing in the status game to others. Money is the most obvious measure of one’s status, so it’s easy to confuse the two, but they are certainly not the same thing at all. Money is just one way of keeping score. Blaming money for evil is like blaming the scoreboard for the baseball game.
It’s easy to point to many evils committed for the sake of status in which money wasn’t involved at all. For example, figure skater Tonya Harding conspired to have Nancy Kerrigan assaulted so she wouldn’t be able to compete in the Olympics. Now it’s true that there is some money involved in winning an Olympic medal, but Olympic athletes are mostly motivated simply by the desire to be the champ, and that status that brings them in their own world of athletics.
Then there’s the story of O.J. Simpson, who killed his ex-wife and the man he thought was her boyfriend. O.J. was motivated by jealousy over the fact that some other man was more successful with his ex-wife than he was. Jealousy over women is a very common cause of evil. It has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with status and being jealous of another man’s greater success with a particular woman.
One should never expect the Bible to be consistent, and sure enough, it isn’t when it comes to evil. One of the very first acts of evil committed in the Bible has nothing to do with money. In the Book of Genesis, Cain kills his brother Abel because he is jealous that Abel’s offering to God was better received than his own. He is jealous that Abel has achieved higher status than him.
Idealists wonder why we can’t live in a world where everyone is equal, and therefore where there is no greed or jealousy resulting from status differences. Unfortunately, they overlook the fact that our desire to have higher status than others is part of our human nature, and nothing can change it. The goal of communism was that an economic system would be created where no one would be rich or poor, where everyone would have equal wealth. The problem is that such a system is impossible. Man’s desire to rise ahead of others is too strong, and money is not the only thing that man competes over. And because all men are not equal in ability and other characteristics, no matter what the playing field is, some will rise ahead and others will fall behind, and those who are behind will feel intense jealousy, even if the competition is about something other than money.
One might even say that communism itself is a great evil, and the root of communism is jealousy on the part of its adherents that others have more money than they do.
Desire for money, or greed for money if you prefer to use stronger language (reminiscent of a scene from the movie Wall Street), is a good thing when people play by the rules, and when their desire for money and status results in better ways of doing business and in inventions that help people and that make the world a better place. Desire for money and status is only bad when people do bad things in order to obtain what they desire. And even then, it’s not “greed” that’s really bad, but the person who’s doing the bad things who’s bad.
The goal of a just government should not be to punish people for being successful in obtaining money, but to create rules to ensure that competition for money results in good for society.
A Walmart blog? That's right, there's a blog, maintained by multiple people, strictly devoted to Walmart. I'm jealous, too, because although the Walmart Blog has free Blogspot hosting and an ugly format, it has four times the number of daily visitors of my blog. Not fair.
This is just another example of how a blog that has a tightly focused niche can attract a lot of readers. Also, having many people post to a single blog is a good idea. It's hard for one person to keep up with a blog on a daily basis.
Monday, May 03, 2004
There’s an article in todays Wall Street Journal, “Student Loans Take Political Stage”, regarding some of John Kerry’s proposals with respect to student loan programs.
Almost half of all college students borrow tuition money from the federal government's student-loan program. That's why two ideas to change it suddenly are making political waves.
Sen. John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, is talking about trimming the role banks play in the student-loan program, and using the savings that would result to fund public-service jobs, an idea he took to attentive audiences on a campus tour last month. At the same time, House Republicans, the White House and some Democrats are talking about making recent graduates pay more in interest as a way to ensure there's enough money for current students to borrow.
All that is making political fodder out of a 39-year-old federal entitlement that has helped put about 50 million people through college, and now has a powerful constituency. Last year, 6.2 million students attended college on federal student loans, which are the government's major vehicle for helping families pay for college and account for almost half of all student aid. Any student is entitled to a loan, and for low-income families, the government defers interest on that loan while the student is still in school.
First of all, let me point out that I am totally opposed to some kind of new program to “fund public-service jobs.” This is typical liberal thinking, always trying to find new and unnecessary ways to spend the taxpayer’s money.
And regarding whether or not banks that participate in the student loan program are ripping off the taxpayer, it’s probably true. Most government programs create new ways for the taxpayer to be ripped off. In the case of student loans, banks get to loan money at a good interest rate, and with no risk to the bank because the loans are guaranteed by the federal government. There was an in-depth article about this in one of the weekly news magazines a few months ago.
But what I wish is that our politicians would have the courage to re-examine whether we need student loans at all. Student loans are based on two assumptions which are not proven: (1) the more people who go to college the better; and (2) student loans make college more affordable.
It’s undisputed that people with college degrees, on average, earn more money than people without college degrees. But that doesn’t mean that college has made its graduate’s more productive workers. It more likely means that (1) those who are destined to be more productive workers (because they have achieved previous academic success, and are ambitious) are more likely to graduate from college; and/or (2) businesses prefer to hire college graduates because they value the credential, not because college makes people better workers.
College graduates today are, for the most part, taking jobs that in previous generations would not have required a college degree. But the college graduate is burdened with paying back the money he borrowed to attend college. Thus the college graduate today is not better off than his non-graduate peer from previous generations, he is worse off. The student loan program is not creating opportunities for young people, it is limiting their opportunities, and forcing them to start their lives already in debt.
Our government, instead of encouraging thrift, is encouraging people to be spendthrifts.
Furthermore, it seems to me that student loans are not making college more affordable at all. The cost of college tuition has been rising faster than the rate of inflation for many years. By providing additional funding to students in the form of student loans, it increases the amount of money they can afford to pay, thus giving colleges the leverage to raise their tuition. If student loans did not exist, colleges would be forced to either reduce their tuition, or to lend their own money to students. Although I’m opposed to students being forced to start out life in debt, at least under a private funding scheme, the most marginal students and marginal education programs wouldn’t receive funding.
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After writing the above post, I discovered that I wrote something very similar a few months ago, Student loan rip-off. It looks like I've now reached the stage of blogging where I am just repeating myself.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
As a birthday present, my sister sent me the book How to Get Rich, by Donald Trump. Sadly, the book did not reveal any roadmap to getting rich, nor even any tidbits of advice that have not already been written before by others.
. . .
After reading the book, it occurred to me that the movie Wall Street is a better and more entertaining source of information on how to get rich. Most of the important pieces of advice covered by Trump are also covered in the movie.
Read the rest of my essay, Donald Trump vs. Gordon Gekko, by clicking on the link.