I've been enjoying these quizzes, recommended by Bookworm.  She warned me I'd waste a bunch of time on them.

You Heard It Here First:

Nature magazine discovers the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

You got to read about it here almost a month ago.  I think that may be the first 'scoop' I can remember us having here -- one from the year 774, at that.

Owning choices

Cassandra links to a Bookworm piece lampooning the incoherent conspiracy mutterings about Chief Justice Roberts, whose Machiavellian prowess enabled him to pull off a plot so intricate, so varied, so internally contradictory that it simultaneously outraged everyone from one end of the political spectrum to the other.  And the piece is very funny.  To tell the truth, though, I enjoyed another of Bookworm's Obamatax pieces even better.  She follows Charles Krauthammer in stressing Roberts's insistence on leaving a political mess in the hands of the voters who must remedy it:
The American voters, by putting Democrats into Congress and the White House, broke the American system.  They now own that broken system and it’s up to them to fix it.  In this case, if the voters are smart enough, they’ll elect Republicans by a large majority.  If they’re not smart enough, we’re in for a lot more breakage. 
Viewed this way, Roberts did the right thing.  He protected the Supreme Court’s integrity and he made the American people responsible for their own stupidity.
Even so, like me, Bookworm worries about the principle that, even if Congress must not regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause, it can still tax inactivity to its heart's content.  I would prefer to see taxes returned to their revenue-raising function.  We should stop using them as a coercive tool to implement one utopian scheme after another, generally involving a redistribution of wealth from "them" to "us."

Nevertheless, the honest truth is that my strongest objection to Obamatax is not a Constitutional one.  If I believed that single-payer healthcare made sense, in the same way that I believe a unified and coherent national defense makes sense, I'd have no problem financing the system with a tax that fell most heavily on free-riders who weren't already bearing their share of the tab.  How is that much different from making people pay for a police and fire department?  The problem is that I think a single-payer health system is a good way to destroy what's left of the rational part of our healthcare system.  Competition and other private-sector tools are the only way to fix the mess we've already gotten ourselves into by flirting with top-down solutions.  So naturally I don't want to fund the healthcare system with a tax, or to see Congress take any other action that tends to get the government even more deeply involved by any means it can dream up, Constitutional or otherwise.

But that is a political choice reflecting values and opinions about what works.  So get to the polls this November.  There are lots of issues we can't and shouldn't expect the Supreme Court to resolve for us -- either because that's not its proper role or, if you don't believe that, then because it's too likely to disappoint us.

And in the meantime, if you are inspired to attend some spirited town hall meetings, go for it.

Holder held in contempt

Well, we knew that already.  But now he's been held in criminal contempt by a formal vote of the House of Representatives, on a 255-67 vote.

You can tell all those lies again...

...about them things you did  and the medals you got for them  and not get hauled into court anymore.

But, you'll still be a liar. I think I tend to agree with the decision, because the public shaming when it all comes out, (as it invariably does) is probably punishment enough.

And, if you defrauded people with those lies of yours, you can always get hauled into court for that.

As the saying goes: "I like free speech, because then I know who the idiots are".

Breaking news on Fast & Furious

BREAKING: Eric Holder releases new statement: Fast and Furious was a tax.
H/t Ace.

Nur über meine Leiche

Angela Merkel warned earlier this week that Germany will bail out the rest of the EU over her dead body.  A Citadel CEO and University of Chicago economist argue today in the N.Y. Times that the solution to the Eurozone problem is not for Greece to abandon the Euro, but for Germany to do so.

I've often confessed here that monetary theory confuses me.  People act as though currency were a magic wand.  I see it as a kind of promise, and therefore something that's incompatible, long-term, with lying.  The proposal for Germany to re-introduce the Deutschmark at least has the advantage of uniting words and reality in the combination we often describe as "honesty."

Obamacare lives

Roberts is no judicial activist, I'll give him that.

What a disappointing week.  Well, I suppose the lesson is the usual one:  some of the these problems have to be solved with the ballot box, not with the courts.

Update:  It's a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts joining Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor in construing the individual mandate as a tax rather than a penalty for Constitutional purposes.  (It's still treated as a "penalty" for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act; if it had been a tax for that purpose, the Court could not have heard the case.)  The Court rejected the attempt to justify the mandate as an exercise of either the Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause, stating that the Commerce Clause cannot regulate passive non-behavior.  Instead, it's simply a tax imposed on people who decline to buy insurance.  The penalty is not so harsh as to constitute an absolute prohibition of the decision to go bare.

The Court struck down the portion of Obamacare that funds an expansion of Medicaid, but threatens states with the loss of all of their traditional Medicaid funding if they opt out of the expansion.  As it stands, therefore, states will have a free choice whether to participate in the expanded Medicaid system.

A Dissent from Hume

As part of a discussion on another subject in the company of a bunch of Villains (that post and its extensive discussion are well worth reading in their own right), Grim pointed out a David Hume claim known today as Hume's Guillotine, or the is-ought problem.  The link, provided by Grim, presents a good summary of the question; it's also laid out, of course, in Part III, Section 1, "Moral Distinctions Not Derived from Reason," of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature.  Grim asked what I thought of the matter.

The short answer is that Hume was wrong.

This post attempts to show how.

The salient parts of Hume's argument, as concerns this post, are these:

He states his problem:

Now as perceptions resolve themselves into two kinds, viz. impressions and ideas, this distinction gives rise to a question, with which we shall open up our present enquiry concerning morals. WHETHER IT IS BY MEANS OF OUR IDEAS OR IMPRESSIONS WE DISTINGUISH BETWIXT VICE AND VIRTUE, AND PRONOUNCE AN ACTION BLAMEABLE OR PRAISEWORTHY? … In order, therefore, to judge of these systems, we need only consider, whether it be possible, from reason alone, to distinguish betwixt moral good and evil, or whether there must concur some other principles to enable us to make that distinction.

Hume then makes this claim:

Since morals, therefore, have an influence on the actions and affections [through opinions of injustice or through a sense of obligation], it follows, that they cannot be derived from reason; and that because reason alone, as we have already proved, can never have any such influence.  Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions.  Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular.  The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

Hume notes, of Reason:

Reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood.  Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact.  Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason.

with this about morals:

Now it is evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement; being original facts and realities, compleat in themselves, and implying no reference to other passions, volitions, and actions.  It is impossible, therefore, they can be pronounced true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason.

An administrivium: Hume makes a distinction between Reason and moral, identifying the moral as a passion.  For this post, I'll write about rational reason(ing) for Reason and moral reason(ing) for the moral.

Hume's proposition, itself, flows from a false dichotomy.  Our reasoning and moral capacities are gifts from God—indeed, they are the same gift.  The split between them is a wholly human-originated partition, which we generate strictly for the purpose of better understanding the gift.  Thus, rational and moral reasoning begin (its) existence in us, not just inextricably intertwined, but as one and the same.  We can move between them as easily as we can move from our front yard to our back. 

With regard to a part of the second above, concerning the claimed inability for rational reasoning to motivate behavior, this also is wrong.  Consider a game of poker (which, when I was actively playing it had no relation with gambling whatsoever).  A coldly objective—rationally reasoned—assessment of my hand, of the hands of my fellow players, of their betting histories, and so on, takes me to executing a behavior: fold, call, or bet, with a subset under betting of adjusting the size of these bets.  Each of these behaviors is originally motivated by a reasoned assessment the data at hand; moral reasoning has not entered into it at all.  A couple more examples: a man has a pistol and confronts a home invader who holds a weapon to the man's wife, threatening to her unless the man complies with a demand.  This is a highly emotionally charged situation, yet the man can—and a trained man does—observe the factors, sees the wife does not cover very much of the home invader, the range is short, the invader's weapon is not an immediately lethal one (a knife, perhaps, or the finger is not on the trigger), assesses his own marksmanship, and makes a decision to take his shot—or not.  Rational reasoning has determined the shot; rational reasoning has motivated the action of shooting or holding fire.  So it is in another wholly unemotional—dispassionate—activity, like driving: an action of taking this route, or that one, based on the purpose of the trip and the relative efficiencies of the two routes.  Rational reasoning determines the action of the choosing of the route and spurs the driver to act on the choice.

In the fourth above, concerning morals, his claim is internally contradictory.  If we can say that a passion,  a moral, is originally true, originally a fact, then we fact…identified it so.  While we have not identified a falsifiable alternative, we have identified a truth, a fact.  This, comports with rational reasoning: a truth has been discovered.  In this case of origin, that a falsehood is not present to be discovered in no way invalidates the rationally reasoned discovery of the original truth.  A agreement or disagreement (the third above) is simply the agreement/disagreement that this discovery is an original fact.  Of course, a first principle—an original fact—cannot be proved from within its own logical system, but if Hume is correct, rational reasoning is separate from moral reasoning, and it is this separate logical system that has discovered the original fact—from without that other system.

Moreover, if the moral is always, of origin, true—a true fact, as it were—and rational reasoning can distinguish between the true and the false, then it is eminently possible for rational reasoning to recognize the moral, when it recognizes a particular truth.  Nor does rational reasoning need to be a (the) source of good or evil, as Hume decries it for not being: it need only be able to recognize the two and distinguish between them—as it does with any truth or falsehood.

Hume also proceeds from a minor false dichotomy: that it is "possible, from reason alone..." or "…whether there must concur some other principles…."  Yet this is not an either/or proposition; both can be in play.  Moral vice and virtue—morality—can be discerned through rational reasoning, but doing so does not preclude the same distinction by moral reasoning: that is, a virtuous end can be developed by rational reason, and that same virtuous end can be developed by moral reason.  In short, we can, from rational reason alone, distinguish betwixt moral good and evil, and we can make the same distinction from moral reasoning, also.  And, just to dot the i and cross the t, rational reasoning remains fully capable of discerning non-moral truths and falsehoods, as well.  A couple of examples from our Founding will illustrate.

A rational reasoning argument for an economic exchange between free men that improves both men's well-being might go something like this.  Each man has something of value that the other wants.  The two freely and of their own volition agree on a medium of exchange and a value of the objects desired, and they execute the exchange.  As a result of that exchange, both men are better off: both have gained something of value that they did not have before, and neither has not given up anything of greater value in order to realize the gain.  But this is a free market. 

A moral reasoning argument for an economic exchange between free men (keeping in mind the free will He has imbued in us), equal in the eyes of God, might go something like this.  Each man has something of value that the other wants.  The two freely agree on a medium of exchange and a value of the objects desired, and they execute the exchange.  Neither man has gained dominion over the other as a result of the exchange, and neither man has used dominion to force the other into an exchange to which he would not otherwise have agreed.  As a result of that exchange, both men are better off: both have gained something of value that they did not have before, and neither has not given up anything of greater value in order to realize the gain.  But this is a free market.  And in both free markets, the increased well-being of the two men has facilitated their ability to satisfy other moral obligations: they have, for instance, more wherewithal with which to help those less fortunate than they. 

The other example concerns a type of government.  A rational reasoning argument for a government suited to preserving the freedom of men, vis., the freedom of exchange economy described above might go something like this.  What sort of government will best preserve that sort of free market economy?  One such is a government that leaves the people sovereign over that government, easily able to draw the government back when it becomes too overreaching.  This would include, especially for large populations, an electively-oriented representative sort of government at a local level, and groupings of these local governments into a larger, still electively-oriented, representative government at a national level, where the power of the sovereign people is preserved, and so is the power of their more-or-less local governing jurisdictions.  With another little fillip: divide the government into equal, competing sections so as to make it yet harder for that national government to accrete power to itself.  But this is, roughly, a republican government.

A moral reasoning argument for a government suited to preventing some men from gaining dominion over the rest—and so of preserving the morally-derived free economy described above—might go something like this.  What sort of government preserves the essential equality of men before God?  One sort is a government that leaves the people sovereign over that government, and so directly responsible for their own behavior, rather than surrendering that obligation to another—rather than ceding dominion to the men populating that government.  This would include, especially for large populations, an electively-oriented representative sort of government at a local level, and groupings of these local governments into a larger, still electively-oriented, representative government at a national level, where the power of the sovereign people is preserved, and so is the power of their more-or-less local governing jurisdictions.  With another little fillip: divide the government into equal, competing sections so as to make it yet harder for that national government to gain dominion.  The men of the governments at any level are thus prevented from gaining dominion over those whom they purport to represent.  But this is, roughly, a republican government.

With these two examples, we see that rational reasoning and moral reasoning arrive at the same Reason and moral truths.  Having achieved the crossover between Reason and moral at both endpoints, it's easy to see that the crossover can occur at any other place in the chain, as well.

Eric Hines 

"Selfishness as Virtue"

Such is the title of an excellent article from The American Interest, which addresses the change of focus in American society to the fulfillment of the individual.  I won't excerpt it, although I'm inclined to do so, because it's worth reading from front to back.

A question that might open the discussion is whether "selfishness" is the right word.  The author of the article prefers it; the sociologist he is critiquing prefers "the virtues of living lightly."  Is "living lightly" in this sense an actual virtue?

Nazi Concentration Camps, After the Nazis

Via the Chronicle of Higher Education, a history lesson.
[I]t took place by order of the United States and Britain as well as the Soviet Union, nearly two years after the declaration of peace. Between 1945 and 1950, Europe witnessed the largest episode of forced migration, and perhaps the single greatest movement of population, in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians—the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16—were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. As The New York Times noted in December 1945, the number of people the Allies proposed to transfer in just a few months was about the same as the total number of all the immigrants admitted to the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. They were deposited among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could. The number who died as a result of starvation, disease, beatings, or outright execution is unknown, but conservative estimates suggest that at least 500,000 people lost their lives in the course of the operation. 
Most disturbingly of all, tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies' cynical formulation, "reparations in kind") in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war.
 Emphasis added.  Read the rest.  The Chronicle is a respectable publication:  you may trust, though you may not like, what you read.

Arizona immigration law mostly gutted

I'm seeing this decision described some places as one supporting "key" provisions of the state law, but as far as I can tell, the Supreme Court found that the strongest portions of it were impermissible invasions of federal prerogatives by state law.  The police can still check the immigration status of someone they're detaining on other grounds, but they can't do much about it -- that's still left to the feds, who have decided not to do anything about it.

...And At the Other End

A retired gentleman saves a lady from a mugger, just down in Athens, Georgia.  Turns out the attacker was armed, but lacked the guts to go for his gun in the face of resistance.  Like many a criminal, he armed himself to make himself even stronger against the weak -- not to face the strong.

Way to go, son

A 14-year-old takes good care of his siblings, 8, 10, and 12.  Someone in the article comments that they're not sure whether the boy had been trained in the use of his father's gun.  I don't know:  Assuming they're talking about a handgun, that's a pretty good shot under stress from the top of a staircase.

Loose Talk

Allahpundit at Hot Air loves to twig his predominantly-believer readership with periodic atheist headlines.  Here's the latest, which is nothing new for us.
"The Big Bang could've occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there," said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. "With the laws of physics, you can get universes."...
"The 'divine spark' was whatever produced the laws of physics," Filippenko said. "And I don't know what produced that divine spark. So let's just leave it at the laws of physics."
Just being "there"?  That's a fairly loose way of speaking.  Where exactly were the laws of physics before the creation of the universe?  What is this "there" where they were?

For that matter, where are they now?  In the same place as before the creation of the universe -- that thing that metaphysically prior to every place, as we usually use the term?

Or should we say that the laws are in every place?  That makes no sense, because they must have existed prior (again, for Joe, in the metaphysical sense) to creation:  creation was enabled by their existence.  Thus, they can't exist in 'every place' in the ordinary sense of the word -- indeed, they can't exist in any place in that sense, as the laws are prior to the places.

But what sense does it make to say that the laws exist in no place?  How do you have laws with universal effects in every place, if the laws exist in no place?

It seems you have to say that they belong to the thing.  Which thing?  The thing that is the field of action in which the universe came to be, and within which it is sustained.  That is to say that this universal container is a thing that has a nature:  a nature in exactly the terms Aristotle offered in Physics II, when he defined nature as when a thing has "within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness."  That's exactly what we want this thing to have:  a principle internal to itself that defines how motion operates.  (We tend to dispense with 'stationariness' in modern and contemporary physics).

Because this thing is the container for our universe, its internal principle is a safe location for the laws of physics to be written.  They can exercise both the creative function he wants, and the universality we seem to observe.

That's an answer to the question of where the laws are located.  It's located in a thing that has no place, because it is the container of every place.  The existence of this container is certain, as is the fact that it must have a nature.

Thus, we don't have to stop with "A" because "A" was caused by a "B" with an unknowable cause "C."  We may stop with "A" as a matter of science, but we can rely on the existence of "B" as a matter of logic.  As to C, well, that's just where I differ with the good astrophysicist.  Rather than wishing to stop at the last safe place before risking that escalation, from my perspective, that's just where it begins to get interesting.

Summer is the Angry Time

Not much to love about heat and humidity, even when things aren't hard as they are for millions of our brother and sister Americans this summer.  Good time for some angry blues.


I suspect a lot of Republicans are reading this question as, "Do you consent to what the government is doing?"  But the unaffiliated number is alarming.
Only 22% of the nation’s likely voters believe the government today has such consent.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds a wide partisan gap on the question. Democrats are evenly divided as to whether or not the government has the consent needed for legitimacy. Only eight percent (8%) Republicans and 21% of unaffiliated voters believe it does. 
A better question, maybe:  what percentage of the people do you think consents to the government?  And, by the way, what percentage does it take to make the government legitimate?

My answers would be:  if you mean consenting to continuation of highway, police and fire services, probably 90%; if you mean consenting to 'a fundamental transformation of America,' probably 22%.  As to the second question, I have an answer I'll keep back for the moment, because I don't wish to prejudice your answers.