Oftentimes people respond to a crisis by claiming that it could not have been foreseen.  (Government officials said this in the wake of 9/11, as one example.)  With regard to the housing crisis, I have an answer: Henry Hazlitt.  From his 1946 book Economics In One Lesson:

The case against government-guaranteed loans and mortgages to private businesses and persons is almost as strong as, though less obvious than, the case against direct government loans and mortgages [for homes]. … Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to ‘buy’ houses that they cannot really afford. They tend to eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief, in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.

Over sixty years ago, and he nailed it.  What a shame nobody was listening.

Do government regulations covering the transportation of human body parts apply to sanctified communion wafers?  (Bonus question for the religious: Should they?)

People on the right like to point out the vile, anti-intellectual behavior of people on the left — with some justification.  But the right has its own dark side.  Recently, Nick Provenzo over at the Rule of Reason blog sparked a firestorm by defending a woman’s moral right to abort a Down’s Syndrome fetus, and boy howdy did the religionists let their inner thug out to play!  (For the record, I agree entirely with the thrust of Nick’s argument.  Some other relevant follow-up posts may be found here, here, here, here and here.  Nick has some follow-on thoughts on intellectual thuggery which are also worth reading, as is Diana Hsieh’s post on the same topic.)

Nick has done a wonderful job standing up to the resulting onslaught, and I’ve been remiss in not noting the fight and providing moral support.  So, Nick, well done.  Well done indeed.  I’ll be backing up my moral support with some financial support.

I have to wonder about people who are willing to support Barack Obama in spite of his thoroughly collectivist political ideas, but who would turn on him over something like this.  Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Every time I think American politics has hit rock-bottom, we start digging. 

The first time I found myself agreeing with former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, I joked that it was a sign of the impending apocalypse.  Now he’s gone and said something else sensible.

The third time is generally taken as a sign of enemy action.  If he does this again I’ll have to wonder if the GOP kidnapped his dog.

Here, for no particular reason, is a list of some random fond memories I have from playing computer games over the last twenty years or so. These were shaken lose by a thread on Usenet, and I figured why not share them here as well. I’m actually surprised in retrospect how significant a value computer gaming has been to me.

  • Playing Wizardry I on the Apple 2 with a friend. We reached the wizard at the end of the game, only to be told “You meet a friendly Werdna. F)ight or L)eave?” Naturally, we left, which we thought was hilarious until we discovered we were stuck at the bottom of the dungeon with no way out. D’oh! I think that’s the first quest bug I ever encountered in a computer game.
  • Finishing Ultima IV the day before an Ultima panel at a local science-fiction convention, only to discover that I was the only person in the room (including the panelists) who had finished the game. Much advice was given.
  • Ultima V. When I found out how Blackthorn had perverted the virtues and oppressed the citizens of Britannia, I got angry. That was the first time a computer game’s storyline evoked a significant emotional reaction in me. In those days, Origin’s slogan (“We Create Worlds”) wasn’t just marketing hype. (Their game Autoduel deserves an honorable mention. Getting as close as they did to a Car Wars computer game, with the technology they had at their disposal, was an act of genius.)
  • Finishing the original Quest For Glory with a different friend at college. The ending of that game, which showed you the impact your choices in the game had on various NPCs and the world, was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The personalization made it far more satisfying than any pre-rendered cutscene ending I can recall, even though the graphics were primitive.
  • The original System Shock. The antagonist, Shodan, had killed everybody on the space station where the game was set. But when I found out she left the muzak playing in the elevators — that’s when I knew she was truly evil. But really the whole game is one entire favorite gaming memory. I wish there were a way to play it again for the first time.
  • Lemmings. The way the game ratcheted up the difficulty was seductive and brilliant. You’d do a level using all the lemmings they gave you and swear that it couldn’t be done with any fewer. Then you’d get the same level with fewer lemmings, and curse, and experiment for hours, and finally figure it out, and feel really clever for a while — until they gave you that level again with even fewer lemmings. And they repeated this cycle many more times than you’d think possible. I still have the theme song stuck in my brain almost two decades later.
  • Getting stuck at the very beginning of Sorcerer, figuring out the puzzle on Friday afternoon and then solving the whole adventure in a single 12-hour marathon gaming session.
  • Solving the infamous “Babel fish” puzzle from Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Without assistance.
  • Writing a character and item editor for the original Bard’s Tale, just because I could.
  • Boot-trace cracking the original Might & Magic. (Not something I would do today, but I was much younger then and my grasp of property rights was shaky to say the least. It’s still a fond memory because the technical problem was interesting and my ‘crack’ required changing literally a single bit of the code. That’s elegant.)
  • Having my roommate ask me for help in a combat in Ultima Underworld II. As I recall, the conversation went something like this.  Roommate: “Hey, Kyle. I’m having trouble kicking Dorstag’s ass. Any advice?”  Me: “Sure. It’s a simple two-step process. You go up to him, and you kick his ass.”  To this day, I find the “simple two-step process” a useful locution for giving useless advice.
  • “Ward Bwitish? I have a cwose personal fwiend, a wuler fwom Bwitannia named Ward Bwitish.” (This will probably only be funny to people who have detailed memories of both Ultima VII: Serpent Isle *and* Monty Python’s LIFE OF BRIAN, but at the time it was hilarious.)
  • The interactive cutscenes in Mass Effect. Sometimes I fire the game up just to give alternative versions of the “pep speech” prior to taking command of the Normandy, because I love the cinematic nature of the experience so much.
  • The entirety of Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate 2. As with the more recent Portal, the only complaint I have about those games is that they ended.

Over on the ObjectivismOnline forum, somebody posted a question from a conservative about some aspects of Objectivism and asked for assistance answering it. My ‘quick’ answer wound up being a bit longer than I originally intended, so I figured I’d cross-post it here. Here’s the original question, followed by my response:

How does objectivism deal with scientific concepts of events or objects that by their very nature cannot be observed or measured? Also does objectivism compensate for issues concerning the potential inaccuracy of the five senses or is it assumed that the senses and the external data that they gather in for intellect and reason to process are always correct? As you can imagine I don’t accept objectivism as a worthwhile philosophy for my life because it excludes too many avenues of discovery. It puts to many limits on lines of though and inquiry and when taking to its fullest potential it seems to be a child of nihilism something akin to atheistic existentialism. I may have misconceptions or a misunderstanding of the philosophy because I haven’t delved deeply in to it but much of what I read I couldn’t agree with.

I’m just tossing this out in a few minutes between other tasks at work, but here’s my thoughts. First, Objectivism definitely takes the position that the senses as such cannot be in error. We draw a strong distinction between the form and object of perception, and between the perception itself and the conceptual identification of the information given in the percept. Let’s concretize this by examining a standard perceptual illusion — the stick in water. We look at it and it seems bent, but we know that it’s really straight. Aren’t our senses giving us incorrect information? No, they aren’t. We are perceiving the identity of a particular part of existence, viz. a stick in water, and the form in which our senses respond to this identity is the perception of the bent-stick-in-water. The object perceived is the stick-in-water, and the form in which we perceive it integrates together multiple causal aspects — the shape of the stick and the refractive index of the water. Our conceptual identification of the percept (which may be in error) is that the stick appears bent because of the effects of the water in which it is immersed.

Because the senses operate causally, they can respond in only one way to any given situation… the way dictated by their nature and the nature of the object being perceived. Since there is no alternative in how they respond, concepts like “error” do not apply. A perception can no more be mistaken than a chemical reaction or a rock rolling down a hill. For a further discussion of the nature of perception, perceptual form and perceptual judgment, see the first few sections of Chapter 2 of Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism, or perhaps David Kelley’s The Evidence of the Senses.

As for how Objectivists deal with concepts of events or objects that cannot be observed or measured — it depends on what is meant by “cannot be observed or measured”. Aspects of reality which cannot be observed or measured perceptually must be dealt with by inference, using concepts which are themselves ultimately grounded in perception. We cannot directly perceive atoms, for example, but we know they exist based on a lengthy chain of scientific experiments the results of which are directly perceived. (See David Harriman’s article on “Proof of the Atomic Theory” in the most recent issue of the Objective Standard for a more detailed explication of this.) If, on the other hand, the question is about concepts of events or objects that by their nature cannot be reduced to the perceptual level, then the Objectivist response is that assertions of the existence of such events or objects is arbitrary and illegitimate. On what basis can such events or objects be claimed to exist? By definition we cannot have sensory evidence of them directly, nor can they have any causal connection to anything else that we can perceive and use to infer their existence conceptually. Such things cannot be identified either through the senses or through reason based on the senses, and there are no other legitimate means of obtaining knowledge about reality. Objectivism rejects faith, innate ideas and speculation absent evidence. The only “avenues of discovery” that are epistemologically legitimate are the senses and conceptual inductions and deductions based on the senses. Anything else is just making stuff up, and while that can be fun as entertainment it isn’t a path to knowledge.

I can’t really respond to the questions about Objectivism being a “child of nihilism” or a form of “atheistic existentialism” other than to note that, yes, it is an atheistic philosophy. I don’t find it nihilistic because it takes a very strong value orientation. Life matters, values matter, happiness matters, morality matters. That’s the opposite of any form of nihilism.

Ezra Levant is currently my favorite Canadian. He’s been fighting a solid, principled battle for free speech in Canada in the face of radical Muslims trying to use Canada’s “human rights commissions” to crush speech critical of Islam. Freedom of speech is the carotid artery of peaceful cultural change — block it off, and the prospects for improving the culture die with alarming speed. The kinds of things Levant is facing are a microcosm of the future we face in the United States unless we are vigilant.

I don’t know much about Mr. Levant or his views apart from the free speech issue, but on that he is dead-on accurate. Recently he testified before the U.S. Congress. He also has an interesting post commenting on testimony by a Pakistani diplomat on the efforts by Muslim nations to twist western legal systems into penalizing criticism of Islam (“blasphemy”) under the code word “defamation”.

Oh, hell, just go to his blog and read the whole thing. It’ll probably scare the pants off you, make you a better person and give your dog a bath, all at the same time.

Earlier today I received a phone call from a polling company. They wanted to ask me questions about my local water district authority. For the most part I was ignorant, but one of the questions struck me as extremely odd. There was a section of the survey in which they read me a series of statements and asked me to indicate whether and how strongly I agreed with them. One of the statements was “The water provided by the district authority meets all federal, state and local quality standards.”

Bear in mind that this was a random survey. I’m John Q. Public to these people. Now ask yourself what information you would need to be able to evaluate that statement. Do you know all of the federal, state and local water quality standards that apply where you live? Do you know the details of the contents of the water and the condition of the water infrastructure? I don’t, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. And without that information, there is no basis to hold any opinion on whether the statement in question is true or false.  The chance of any randomly selected person knowing what they would need to know to give a meaningful answer to that question falls squarely between ‘slim’ and ‘fat’.

If the people who made up these surveys had any grasp of proper cognitive methodology, asking such a question would be simply unthinkable. But, sadly, they do not, and they’re probably no different in that regard than the majority of the people they poll. As a result, these sorts of polls turn into an orgy of mutual subjectivism, in which the emotionally-driven responses of hundreds of people get aggregated together into a pseudo-objective sum. The fact that some percentage of people ‘think’, on no particular basis, that the water district is meeting quality standards winds up being adduced as evidence that the water district is doing its job well.

Collective inter-subjectivity as a substitute for objectivity. I’ve been back from OCON for less than a week, and already I feel like I’m surrounded by monkeys.

Anne comments: I was in a job once where I was tasked with creating a survey for the organization’s membership (approximately 20,000 people at the time). I had no particular experience in creating surveys, but I worked with a consultant who did. One of the things I was very careful about was to ask questions that would produce the data we actually wanted. That’s trickier than you might imagine, and involves taking into account all the possible exceptions that someone might have to a survey question — but without making the question so open-ended that it produces useless results.

Apparently Kitty Genovese died in vain.

That is all.

(Anne speaking):

I’ve already pointed out to Kyle that the Kitty Genovese case has actually been significantly misrepresented in the common mind. But that’s neither here nor there. I can’t speak for everyone, but the fact that I’m a 5’1″ female fatass with no fight training whatsoever would not stop me from leaping on that asshole and doing my best to choke him to death, or at least sit on him. And no, I wouldn’t hesitate. Of course, in an ideal world, I would be permitted to get a CCW permit and would have a gun with me. That would solve the problem and I wouldn’t have to break a nail.

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