Students as Consumers

Sep 302006

Shawn Klein, one of the editors of the Harry Potter and Philosophy volume to which I contributed, has some interesting comments upon the myriad complaints about “consumerism” in education. The problem, he observes, isn’t that students regard their education as a service for purchase, since it obviously is just that. Rather, the problem is that students are often confused about what they’re purchasing: they’re not purchasing the diploma or good grades or even the education. Instead, they’re purchasing an opportunity to educate themselves, just as a person who buys a gym membership or personal training sessions is purchasing an opportunity but not a guarantee of getting in shape.

If that sounds interesting, I’d recommend reading the whole post. It’s interesting enough that I’d love to see the future Dr. Klein publish a revised version as an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education or somesuch.

Innocents in Islam

Sep 292006

In the course of some arguments on SoloPassion about moral conduct in war, I wrote the following post about the supposed multitudes of innocents oppressed by dictatorial regimes. I thought it worth reproducing here:

[Someone unworthy of identifying by name] said: “Bearing in mind that most Iranians loathe and despise their enormously repressive theocratic regime and its puritans and religious police and love America…”

If that were true, the Iranians would have overthrown that theocratic regime ages ago. (In fact, it never would have come into existence at all.) No government — no matter how repressive — can possibly maintain its grip on power when actively, seriously opposed by a majority — or even a dedicated minority. The fact that people in Iran might grumble about the concrete policies of their government does not mean that they oppose it in principle. Sure, a few do that — but the sputtered-out student revolts of a few years ago indicate that they were nothing more than a small minority.

The history of the 20th century proves that people willingly submit to the most horrifying dictatorships — but not from fear alone. As Ayn Rand illustrated in We the Living, people will accept vicious regimes as fundamentally moral or justified — and/or they passively submit to the horrors perpetrated by it. In Russia, autocracy was the only respected form of government — and crushing government interference in economic affairs had a long history. Communism was merely a more extreme version of the kind of government widely accepted as right and proper. Moreover, one basic ideal of the culture — instilled in substantial part by the Russian Orthodox Church — was the passive resignation to the evils of this world. The people who accepted and perpetuated those ideals made possible all the evils of Soviet Russia. They cannot rightly claim that they ought to be exempt from the consequences thereof, e.g. in war with free countries defending themselves against Soviet aggression.

Contrary to [quoted person's] fantasies, governments are not imposed upon a people from another dimension against their will. If the Iranians are genuinely opposed to their regime, it’s their responsibility to overthrow it. If they fail to do that, then they have no grounds for complaint when the nations threatened by that regime act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the threat. American soldiers certainly ought not be put in harm’s way so as to preserve the lives of Iranians who either support their belligerent, theocratic regime, passively accept its evils, or cowardly refuse to act to overthrow it.

In his lecture course on “The Rise of Totalitarian Islam” at OCON this past summer, Dr. Yaron Brook made a good case against the standard view that Iran was substantially pro-Western and pro-American at the time of the seizure of power by the Ayatollah — and remains so to this day. I won’t reproduce my full single-spaced page of furiously-typed notes, but I will highlight a few key points. (Remember that these are just my lecture notes, so I can’t guarantee full accuracy in reproducing Dr. Brook’s points.)

  • Iran was actually one of the least Westernized countries in the Middle East at the time of the Revolution. French and English colonization substantially impacted the cultures of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. Iran was not so affected: it was in the middle of nowhere, left alone to indulge in its own primitive culture.
  • The Shah of Iran attempted to Westernize Iran during his rule from the 1950s through 1979. In particular, he tried to aggressively secularize and nationalize Iran. He was also very oppressive, alternating between appeasement and oppression of religious leaders. Notably, the vast majority of the Iranian people never benefited from that Westernization. In fact, the traditional middle class traders in the bazaars were very threatened by the imported Western companies and goods, as well as by Western values. They funded the religious leaders opposed to the Shah. So very few Iranians were actually Westernized. Mostly that influence was limited to just students attracted to communism or socialism. At the time of the Revolution, the country was predominantly Muslim and oriented toward its religious leaders.
  • Unsurprisingly, many of the pro-Western Iranians left Iran after the Revolution. Many of the student opponents of the regime are just slightly more moderate Islamists. The genuinely pro-Westerners are (1) a very tiny minority and (2) usually socialist. So why is Iran so widely regarded as pro-West? It’s due to (1) the rosy memories of pro-Western exiles and (2) Western desire for a better government in Iran without the blood of military conflict.

    I’ve omitted much of great interest in Dr. Brook’s presentation, particularly regarding Khomeini’s ideology and its relationship to Shiism. Those interested should order the course when it becomes available sometime in the next year.

Early Registration

Sep 282006

Early registration for The Jihad Against the West: The Real Threat and the Right Response ends on October 1st. The conference will be held in Boston from October 20th to 22nd. Don’t miss out on the discount!

Ever since I started listening to Leonard Peikoff’s major lecture courses, I’ve regretted that I never saw him speak at the Ford Hall Forum. That feeling has only grown since I listened to audio recordings of all those lectures, since they were consistently fantastic. So when I heard that Dr. Brook was speaking at Ford Hall Forum, I was determined to attend come hell or high water! The weekend conference on the Middle East is just icing on that delicious cake!

Gamey Rabbits

Sep 282006

In sending me the link, Paul said that this FAQ contains “more than you ever wanted to know about Peeps,” but I really don’t think that’s possible! Personally, I’d say that the best tidbit is found in this question about flavor differences between kinds and colors of Peeps: “Although you might expect Bunnies to have a somewhat gamey flavor, they taste identical to Peeps.” Alas, everything really does taste like chicken!

The 21st Century Comprachicos

Sep 272006

Those who have read Ayn Rand’s essay, “The Comprachicos” know that the title refers to a barbaric group of nomads in the 17th century that used to specialize in the deliberate mutilation of children’s bodies. Rand goes on to argue that the crippling of a child’s mind via progressive education is the 20th century version of this practice.

Well, in the 21st century, the comprachicos have returned to crippling the body. According to this recent report on the genetic testing practices in US IVF (in vitro fertilization) clinics,

Some prospective parents have sought [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to select an embryo for the presence of a particular disease or disability, such as deafness, in order that the child would share that characteristic with the parents. Three percent of IVF-PGD clinics report having provided PGD to couples who seek to use PGD in this manner. (Page 5 of the report, page 7 of the PDF file.)

Now I can understand why prospective parents might choose to screen their embryos so that their future child won’t have a certain crippling disease. But to deliberately select an embryo so that it will seems incomprehensibly monstrous.

Or as this Slate article puts it, “Old fear: designer babies. New fear: deformer babies.”

Diversity, Dischmiricity

Sep 262006

Bloggasm recently published its informal survey on diversity in the blogosphere. I did participate, mostly because I wished to express my opinion that such worries about racial and sexual diversity are seriously wrong. That’s particular true in a medium like the blogosphere, since readers don’t know your race or sex unless you choose to disclose it. So here are my answers to the survey:

1. What niche does your blog fall into (if more than one, please list)?

My blog is mostly read by Objectivists and others interested in Ayn Rand’s ideas.

2. What are the genders of all the bloggers who write for your site?

Three male, 1 female.

3. What are the races for all the bloggers who write for your site (if there are any that you’re not sure about, just indicate that you don’t know)?

Three Caucasian, 1 Asian.

4. This last question is optional to answer. Please indicate whether or not it’s fine for me to quote you for this question: What do you think of the diversity of the blogosphere, both in your niche and as a whole?

You may quote me.

I would NEVER EVER EVER choose my co-bloggers based upon race or sex, nor choose to read or link to other blogs on that basis. There’s a very simple reason for that: it would be racist and/or sexist to do so. I judge people by the quality of their writing, their insights, their characters. I do not judge people worthy or unworthy — in any way — based upon race and sex.

Moreover, I would be thoroughly insulted if someone read me (the woman) or my husband (the Asian) for that reason. It would be patronizing. I’m a good writer by human standards, not feminine ones.

In short, the racial and sexual diversity of the blogosphere cannot be some kind of noteworthy controversial issue. People of any sex and any race are free to blog if they so choose. If they’re good, they will gain an audience. If not, they won’t. That’s how the blogosphere works. To act on any other basis is racism and/or sexism.

That’s not terribly eloquent writing, but I think I got my basic point across.


Sep 252006

I recently received the following e-mail. I don’t have time to answer it in any kind of detail. However, I thought some NoodleFoodleDoodlers (i.e. commenters) might be interested in doing so. As for my sketchy reply, suffice it to say that I certainly don’t reject Christianity on the basis of anything so specific as Calvinism. I find the ideas in the New Testament utterly repugnant all by themselves. More generally, the demand for faith in the supernatural found in all religions is not just unnecessary to understand the world, but outright antithetical to reason.

Here’s the letter. I’ve told its author to check the comments.

Dear Diana,

You have my apologies in advance if any part of this letter offends you in any way as such would never be my intention. You must forgive me if I have overstepped any boundaries in this, but I recently came across a web page about original sin, specifically referring to John Calvin, and it seemed that this particular doctrine solidified your resolve in that you do not think that Christianity is a religion that loves humanity.

Strangely enough, I have been doing much research on the concept of election and this is the reason I came across that particular page. If you are not familiar with the doctrine of election, it is a doctrine referring to the manner by which one is saved, or chosen, and so forth, and this definition is by no means conclusively definitive.

The first I feel it is imperative to alert you of is this. John Calvin’s view of election does not represent Christianity as a whole. While it is true that there are some staunch reformed theologians that hold to this no matter what, not very many people take this view of election. I am one of them and I am particularly saddened to see that it seems to have to done to you what most of its opponents are afraid it would do.

This concept of election, by which you have judged all of Christendom, I find to be biblically inaccurate, as do many theologians across the globe. I won’t bore you with the details and alternative viewpoints on this, but I do have a request of you. This same page mentioned that you were raised an atheist. I wasn’t raised much of anything and only became a Christian later in life, of my own accord, and always find it strange to see Christians that seem to forget who they are. My point is, if you were raised an atheist, I would like to know why you held to this belief, why you rejected any of the major religions, and so forth. In other words, why do you believe you are right? I should inform you that I would expect an answer far more elaborate that just John Calvin’s veritable infanticide. I ask completely unbiased, so please, if you see fit to answer, please respond in like manner.

The reason I ask is because I have never found an atheist that has been able to defend such a position logically, and I would venture to say that I have done a great deal of looking. Ninety percent of all of them eventually just storm off and get mad when philosophically cornered and eventually just fall back on an ‘I just can’t believe’ attitude. The rest fail to understand the flaws in their own argument. If one can’t believe, then it logically follows that there is a reason; a quantitative as well as qualitative reason. I am merely looking for these, what have been to me, very elusive antecedents. If you can, please heed my request or feel free to forward this request to a friend or colleague, or anyone at all, that wishes to voice their opinion on this matter and can defend this position logically.

Furthermore, I did notice that this page was made quite a number of years ago. If such a late response proves inconvenient, you have my apologies for this as well.

-Daniel Marcus Manifestation


Emergency Radiology Case Of The Day

Sep 242006

Today’s diversion from heavy philosophical topics comes from the emergency room.

A young woman “was brought in from the county jail by correctional officers. They were concerned about her altered mental status, and suspicious of drug use. They had a reason to think she was concealing drugs ‘on her person’.” Among the various tests performed was the following abdominal x-ray:

As the blogging ER physician reports:

Yes, that’s a pistol completely stuffed into the vaginal vault. All of a sudden her agitation and thrashing about seemed a lot more important than it had a few minutes before. How the hell were we to get the gun out without the damn thing discharging?

In the end, there was no real option. She was sedated and taken to the OR for an exam under anesthesia. They put a bulletproof vest over the patient’s body to protect the anesthesiologist in the event the gun went off, and had general surgery standing by. The OB-GYN who did the extraction reported a very tense moment when he perceived that the hammer was cocked and there appeared to be a shell in the chamber. An uneventful removal was followed by a moment of letdown when they realized that the device was not, in fact, a gun, but rather a butane torch/cigarette lighter shaped like a gun.

This actually makes sense when you look at the X-ray and realize that the other item in her vagina is a glass crack pipe and its rubber tubing. What good is a crack pipe without a lighter?


Sep 242006

Does anyone want a free trial month of NetFlix? If so, use this link.

I Laughed, I Cried, It Changed My Life!

Sep 232006

Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard, sent out this announcement:

The print version of the Fall issue of TOS has been mailed, and the online version has been posted to our website. The contents are:
From the Editor

Letters and RepliesThe Decline and Fall of American Conservatism by C. Bradley Thompson

19th-Century French Painting and Philosophy by Dianne Durante

The Jihad on America by Elan Journo

For promotional purposes, the online version of “The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism” is accessible to all.

If you’ve not yet subscribed to TOS, now is the time to act. While supplies last, you can still begin your subscription with the inaugural issue. Subscribe today and we’ll mail the first three issues to you right away.

Remembering rave reviews of C. Bradley Thompson’s lecture at the last OCON, I was eager to see what he would say in his TOS article, “The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism.” I read it just now. Wow.

Wait, let me try that again: freakin’ wow!

It is eye-opening and jaw-dropping, a stunning analysis that gathers up the oddities we have been seeing in the rise of the Republicans, explains them with some wonderful philosophical detective work, and frames it all in terms of fundamental principles having life and death importance to us all. C. Bradley Thompson brings the goods, and I now understand the cryptic, stammered, rave reviews of his lecture — along the lines of, “It was amazing: I kept thinking it couldn’t get any worse, and then he would reveal a whole new level of badness!” But don’t take my word for it: go see for yourself.

If this doesn’t cement TOS’s place on the map, I don’t know what will. Thanks and kudos, guys!

Update from Diana: Brad Thompson will be speaking in Boulder on October 5th and in Denver (Arvada) on October 7th. Both talks will be on education. For more information, see this page and/or e-mail Lin Zinser.

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