Monday, October 29, 2007

How to bring down an airliner II

I didn't try bringing a boxful on board today, but it may be possible to smuggle explosive or poison-gas precursors onboard using bouillon cubes, without requiring the participation of a dozen others as in the full bladder scheme.

The only major terrorist bombing of an airliner was carried out using a full pound of plastic explosive, set off by a barometric fuse, hidden in a fully functional tape deck. Accordingly, the TSA makes us take off our belts and shoes, regards breast milk with high suspicion, and forbids carrying on full bottles of contact-lens cleaner. If we were thinking of bringing explosive or poison precursors onboard as shampoo and conditioner, perhaps to be mixed on the suicide attackers head, it's not going to work. Gel colloids that can be squished out of a tube are out, but firmer gels that look like they're made from salt, hydrogenated oil, and autolyzed yeast extract may just make they cut; they seem solid to most people.

Barring that, bring on something that appears solid, with the chemicals micro-encapsulated inside (like scratch-and-sniff stickers). A plastic cube, a cell-phone case, a foam pillow, all could be insidious when combined with the complementary glass of water or when thrown in the toilet.

In order to keep us safe, TSA is going to have to rule out carry-ons altogether. Banning one phase of matter isn't enough; two others, and an infinite array of colloids, remain.

Those familiar with Frank Herbert's Dune may be worrying even more; not only can liquids be concealed in solids, but gases can perhaps be hidden in tissue. Prepare to get your teeth pulled if you want to fly!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Confusion or bias?

Hostility to foreign trade and worry about trade defecits is cited by Bryan Caplan in his Myth of the Rational Voter as evidence of the "anti-foreign bias". While I don't doubt that such a bias exists, I'm not convinced that this particular case can't be explained at least in part as mere confusion.

Many of today's voters came of age when the Bretton Woods system was still in place, thus in a time when the balance of payments was a serious political issue, and not something that would be smoothed out by the invisible hand of the market. Surely some of them--including commentators--haven't realized that trade defecits are nothing to worry about, and they've perhaps passed their concern down to a younger generation, which worries about trade defecits simply because they don't understand but see other people are worried. Could part of many of the biases cateogrized by Caplan be accounted for by a sort of instinctual, ignorance-driven groupthink, as opposed to innate statist preference?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is David Horowitz hypersensitive about campus bias?

Education gadfly David Horowitz takes issue in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education with the assertion, contained in the American Association of University Professors's Freedom in the Classroom report, that "It is not indoctrination for professors to expect students to comprehend ideas and apply knowledge that is accepted as true within a relevant discipline."

That's so in fields like physics, chemistry, or climatology, but as Horowitz recognizes, it's not cleanly applicable to the humanities and social sciences. The AAUP goes on to say that "Students must remain free to question generally accepted beliefs if they can do so, in the words of the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and
Academic Tenure
, using "a scholar's method and . . . in a scholar's spirit.""

This is ignored by Horowitz, who goes on to find the former statement "deeply troubling", bringing up Women's Studies as an example of what can go wrong and concluding that

If, as the AAUP contends, the assumptions of a certain discipline provide the criteria for what is academically "true," then intelligent-design advocates have only to establish a field of intelligent-design studies in order to teach their theories as truth — and astrologers, Republicans, or communists likewise. Indeed, if the attitude now enshrined in the new AAUP report should become an academic standard, it will spell the end of the modern research university as we know it.

Bombast! Applying the principles of the AAUP report, one must conclude that disciplines such as Women's Studies, based neither on the scientist's concept of truth nor the analytic philosopher's, have no place at the Academy. Disciplines founded on ideology meet the AAUP's narrow criterion for indoctrination

Indoctrination occurs only when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them.

That Women's Studies and most other "studies" departments ought to be liquidated, their faculty merged into legitimate academic departments like sociology, history, and philosophy and judged by those disciplines' more rigorous standards, is a conclusion surely unpalatable to many; there is an unspoken gentlemans' agreement between academic departments that they not attack or interfere with each other. Accordingly, the AAUP report does not explicitly recommend shutting down problem departments.

One who follows Horowitz's work gets the impression that he takes primary issue with the faculty's pronounced leftist tendency. (The report on which the Inside Higher Education article is based relies on self-reporting and the archaic, often ridiculous "liberal-conservative" dimension, but its results give at least a crude impression of the faculty's political tendencies.) As usual, he's missing the heart of the problem. This isn't so much about student freedom as it is about the intellectual integrity of the academy when faced with organized third-rate scholars. As astutely noted by Jacques Barzun, ideologues don't do scholarship, they merely lay a sieve on a problem and see what comes through. We need to quit being "nice" to such sham-scholars, even if they have PhDs and even if they flatter our prejudices. Austrians don't belong in economics departments, Randist Objectivists have no place in academic philosophy, feminist or Marxist critics aren't really critics at all, and Women's Studies needs to die.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cobden Press

I missed the announcement, but found out this morning in a sort of roundabout way that Cobden Press, which in the past brought hard-to-find books of interest to libertarians, ranging from von Mises's Liberalism to Tuccille's It usually begins with Ayn Rand back into print.

In its new incarnation, it is actively seeking original work.