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Thursday, August 23, 2012

(BN) Paul #Ryan Can Be a #Catholic and Still Worship Ayn #Rand

Paul Ryan Can Be a Catholic and Still Worship Ayn Rand

Will Wilkinson

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate on the Republican presidential ticket, has said that Ayn Rand, the author of "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," lit the inner fire that led him to public service.

Rand's individualistic, free-market philosophy "taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are," the Wisconsin Republican said in a 2005 speech to a group of Rand's devotees.

Trouble is, Rand was a staunch atheist, and Ryan is a conservative Roman Catholic. When a few of Rand's incendiary comments about religion were lobbed his way, he repudiated her aggressive secularism. "I reject her philosophy," Ryan said in an interview this year. "It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don't give me Ayn Rand."

So if Rand is really so bad, how did she manage to work her way into his personal pantheon? Ryan would ban abortion; Rand held that "abortion is a moral right." Ryan aims to save the welfare state by putting it on a sound fiscal footing; Rand would have eliminated it altogether. Why didn't his robust Catholicism reject all of objectivism -- Rand's name for her philosophy -- as a virulent strain of heresy?

Compatible Ethics

The truth is that the ethical philosophies of Rand and Aquinas, the titan of medieval Catholic philosophy, are more simpatico than one might imagine. It's telling that Ryan, in his statement rejecting Rand's philosophy, chose to draw a contrast between Aquinas's and Rand's epistemologies -- their theories of knowledge -- but not between their ethics. The former is where the sharper difference lies.

This difference, naturally enough, does find expression in their moral philosophies. As the philosopher Douglas Rasmussen, a St. John's University scholar of both Rand and Aquinas, told me, "Ultimately, they differ in that Aquinas holds that the ultimate good is God and that human beings cannot find fulfillment in this world but only the next. Thus, Aquinas requires that theological virtues must transform the natural moral virtues." Aquinas held (and Rand most certainly did not) that without divine revelation, we fall short of ultimate truth.

That said, atheist and saint both build from the blueprint of Aristotle's virtue ethics, and thus the contours of their moral philosophies are much the same. "Both Rand and Aquinas believe that the key to understanding the moral good and moral obligation is to be found in terms of what will be self- actualizing," Rasmussen says. "Both think that self- actualization is to be understood in terms of human nature."

For Aristotelians, self-actualization is a matter of functioning well as the kind of creature one is. For humans, that means consistently exercising habits of character, or virtues, fine-tuned to realize the demands of reason, the essential and definitive human capacity. Virtue ethics in the Aristotelian vein differs from theories that begin with a rule of right action (for example, obey divine commands, period; never do things that would lead to disaster if everyone did them), which then place limits on the pursuit of self- realization.

For virtue ethicists such as Rand and Aquinas, the individual human good comes first. Then rules of right conduct are defined and justified in terms of their contribution to the good. This priority of "the good" over "the right" puts the two thinkers on the same team against the mainstream of moral theorizing since the 18th century.

Channeling Aristotle

In "Requiem for Man," a spirited 1967 attack on a papal encyclical, Rand lavished praise on Aquinas and his onetime primacy within the Catholic intellectual tradition. The Catholic Church's "long, illustrious philosophical history was illuminated by a giant: Thomas Aquinas," Rand wrote. "He brought an Aristotelian view of reason (an Aristotelian epistemology) back into European culture, and lighted the way to the Renaissance." She continued: "The grandeur of his thought almost lifted the Church close to the realm of reason."

Ryan's Catholic hero, it turns out, was also a hero to Rand.

Indeed, in early plans for her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged," Rand included a sympathetically drawn character who was a Thomist priest, Father Amadeus. She intended for Amadeus to gradually discover that religious faith hobbles rather than complements reason, which is the springboard toward the full realization of human potential, a state achieved by her story's romantic hero, John Galt. But Rand couldn't make this subplot work, so Father Amadeus was cut from an already overstuffed book.

If we wish to understand how a wholehearted Catholic such as Ryan might also harbor an affinity for Rand, we should look to the ill-fated Father Amadeus for answers. Right-leaning Catholics have long resisted the soft-socialist political economy advocated by church leaders in Rome. Ryan recently offered a Catholic defense of his budget proposals in response to a stern attack from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ryan argued that big government is a misapplication of the Catholic principle of solidarity, and threatens to harm rather than help the vulnerable.

Moreover, Republican plans to cede federal power to state and municipal government embodies the principle of "subsidiarity," or "respect for the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groups."

Yet it seems that a revisionist reading of Catholic social principles can only get the Catholic capitalist so far. What's missing is a captivating, comprehensive moral vision, and that's exactly what Rand hawked.

Capitalist Faith

No doubt, when some conservative Catholics first encounter Rand's moral case for capitalism, they find her Aristotelian language of virtue and self-realization both familiar and attractive. Rand's exciting argument that capitalism alone creates the conditions for full human flourishing (for rich and poor alike!) is most welcome to minds already inclined toward free markets and limited government. If her argument dismisses divinely revealed truth, she nevertheless lays it out in terms that may seem to many right-leaning Christians, especially Catholics, readily amenable to a faith-based reframing.

Purists both Randian and Roman will say that any such synthesis of piety and profits is unstable. That was the point of Father Amadeus, after all, whose Roman faith wavers in the face of Randian reason. But the human capacity for sustaining an equilibrium of incoherence is far greater than Rand allowed, and rather less risky for the soul than the Vatican contends. Ryan's personal philosophy may be plagued by contradictions more severe than any experienced by poor Father Amadeus, but they won't be his undoing, and they won't get him written out of this election's story.

(Will Wilkinson blogs about American politics for the Economist magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Read more opinion online from Bloomberg View. Subscribe to receive a daily e-mail highlighting new View editorials, columns and op-ed articles.

Today's highlights: the editors on why we still need affirmative action and on why the Bundesbank should put up or shut up; Caroline Baum on the free market not working for health care; Susan Crawford on the consequences of the Apple-Samsung patent case; Ezra Klein on Romney's vaporous Medicare promise; Jonathan Mahler on football, concussions and ESPN; William Silber on how Paul Volcker restored the Fed's credibility on inflation.

To contact the writer of this article: Will Wilkinson at

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Katy Roberts at

Monday, August 13, 2012

Divorce Charts Of The Billionaires: George Soros Edition - Forbes

Divorce Charts Of The Billionaires: George Soros Edition

George Soros - World Economic Forum Annual Mee...George Soros (Photo credit: WEF)
UPDATED WITH SOROS CHART: Billionaire George Soros announced at a party on Aug. 11, 2012 at his Hamptons estate his engagement to 40-year-old Internet yoga entrepreneur Tamiko Bolton. Ms. Bolton will be Soros’ third wife if they wed as planned in 2013. She is 42 years his junior. My colleague Luisa Kroll recaps the news here. He joins the rarified Billionaire Third Wives Club, and his pattern of remarrying progressively younger women is most similar to that of Larry Ellison.
Original post from Sept. 17, 2010:
When billionaires remarry for their fourth time, an initial question people ask is, “Oh, how young is this one now?”  This is nothing short of profiling. Stereotypes are tough things to shake, ingrained in us by the society photos we’ve all seen of Donald and Melania Trump. Sumner Redstone and Paula Fortunato. Larry Ellison and Melanie Craft. She’s so young. He’s so vigorous!
Let’s debunk together. First off, the serially divorcing billionaire is a unicorn, a myth. Most filthy rich men are fairly monogamous. Fewer than 100 people on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have been married more than once. Fewer than 20 are on a third wife. The elite four-wife club, which offers your best chance at seeing an old guy marry a woman 30 years his junior, has a mere 6 members. The reality is that billionaires who divorce often tend to remarry women closer to their age, with a few dramatic exceptions.
The charts below track billionaire marital histories. Time is on the horizontal axis, age on the vertical axis. The billionaire’s life line is blue; each of the shorter lines of varying lengths represent a spousal interaction. The shorter the line, the shorter the marriage. The wider the gap between the blue and spousal lines, the bigger the age difference.
Ted Turner, bison rancher, is also extremely age-appropriate in his marital careers. Two of his four wives, including Jane Fonda, were the same age as he.

Ronald Perelman has also shown an impressive adherence to women close to his own age.

Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. has been married four times and thrice divorced, making for a rich data sample. He was 25 when he married his first wife. She was 21. The gap widened with his second wife, the beautiful Lady Carolyn Townshend. It widened further with Georgina Webb, whom he married, divorced and remarried. That gap seemed to work for Bronfman. Fourth wife Jan Aronson is 21 years younger.

With energy man T. Boone Pickens, the earlier marriages lasted longer and were to women of a closer age range—until Boone hit his 70s. Then he went young and stayed there, although you’ll notice the gap is well within reason. Wives #3 and #4 were only one generation away, nothing scandalous here.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison‘s chart shows short marriages and, after his first wife, he put significant distance between his life-line and that of his spouses. Fourth wife Melanie Craft, who is 25 years his junior, was a real gapper.

The new Soros chart is a bit of a guesstimate, as date of birth was not immediately available for Soros’ first wife Annaliese Witschak, whom he married in 1960. Then came Susan Weber, 25 years his junior when they married in 1983; they divorced in 2005. Soros went two generations deep with Tamiko Bolton. They’re not married yet, so her line is a bit of a fabrication, extended into the future a few years for easier viewing. Best wishes to the happy couple, may their lines run parallel for many years to come.

Read the story here: Divorce Charts Of The Billionaires: George Soros Edition - Forbes

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#Gold Trove Found at Israel Castle Reveals Crusaders’ Forex Moves - Bloomberg

Gold Trove Found at Israel Castle Reveals Crusaders’ Forex Moves

Gold coins discovered last month in an ancient crusader castle that lies in what is now Israel provide surprising information on how economic transactions were made about 1,000 years ago.
“The scientific value is unprecedented,” Oren Tal, director of the excavation and chairman of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, said in an e-mailed statement. Crusaders “were not afraid to use older coins to complete large transactions and run large- scale businesses,” he added.
The hoard, which contains mostly dinars dating back to the Fatimid Period that predated the crusaders, was discovered in an excavation of the Arsur castle, also known as Apollonia.
The site was a stronghold between the ancient ports of Jaffa and Caesarea and served as a trading center for industrial and agricultural goods from 1241 until its destruction in 1265, when it was attacked by Egyptian Sultan Baybars and conquered after a 40-day siege.
The crusaders’ use of older coins minted by Egyptians in the 10th and 11th centuries is surprising, given the importance societies placed at the time on making their own coins for economic, marketing and public-relations value, Tal said.

No Barriers

The discovery shows that crusaders, who in Europe used thin, partially silver coins, chose to quickly adapt to the currency of the Middle East, said Robert Kool, curator of coins at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The hoard found at Apollonia is a “massive, wonderful example that for the first time showed the use of gold by crusaders,” said Kool, whose area of expertise is the medieval and crusader periods. “What we see here is that when it comes to economics there are no walls, no ideological or political differences.”
The actual value of the coins, which bear blessings and the names of sultans, can be extrapolated from a document found in the Cairo Genizah collection of Jewish texts that suggests that two gold dinars, the face value on the 108 coins found, can provide sufficiently for an extended family for one month.
“This isn’t a piggy bank with insignificant coins, but quite a lot of gold,” said Haim Gitler, curator of the Israel Museum exhibition “White Gold: Revealing the World’s Earliest Coins,” which runs through March 30, 2013.
Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on theater.
To contact the writer on the story: Gwen Ackerman, in Jerusalem, at
To contact the editor responsible for this Manuela Hoelterhoff at

Gold Trove Found at Israel Castle Reveals Crusaders’ Forex Moves - Bloomberg

Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA #Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on #Mars after a 352 million-mile journey

Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Mars After Risky Descent

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars, after a 352 million-mile journey and harrowing plunge through the planet's atmosphere dubbed "7 Minutes of Terror."

The vehicle, loaded with the most-sophisticated instruments ever used off Earth, touched down at 1:32 a.m. New York time. Scientists developed the $2.5 billion mission to help determine whether Mars has an environment that can support life.

Curiosity landed at a site called Gale Crater, at the foot of a 3.4 mile (5.5 kilometer) high mountain. The crater spans 96 miles, an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, according to NASA. Because of its low elevation, water on Mars would probably have pooled in the crater. Orbiting probes suggest there may be water-related clay and minerals. Curiosity is loaded with equipment to allow analysis of air, rock and soil samples.

"I'm thrilled," said Bobby Braun, a professor of space technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was NASA's chief technologist in 2010-2011. "I'm ecstatic. I can barely talk because I've been screaming. We were tense here, but the mission went like clockwork."

Hundreds of spectators, many carrying cameras, gathered in sultry weather in New York's Times Square to witness the event, which was broadcast on a large electronic screen overhead. The crowd erupted into applause and chanted "NASA! NASA!" when Curiosity's safe landing was confirmed. An electronic sign below carried the message: "Congratulations Curiosity on your successful landing on Mars."

Space, Not War

"I wanted to see the landing in an intensely social atmosphere," said Max Juren, 31, from Austin, Texas, wearing a tinfoil hat for the occasion. "I would rather see billions of dollars spent on exploration than a single cent on war. I am happy they succeeded. I was nervous."

The one-ton rover touched down after hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack. The descent was tracked by the Mars orbiter Odyssey, which was able to almost immediately relay to scientists on earth black-and-white fisheye images of the planet received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.

"It's a really big step outwards, and the only place we can look is out," said Jim O'Reilly, 20, from Redding, Connecticut, who joined the crowd at Times Square.

NASA dubbed the period from entry to touchdown the "7 Minutes of Terror" in a video describing the event. The spacecraft entered the atmosphere and decelerated quickly, deploying a parachute. It then separated into parts, one of which was a hover craft with rockets.

'Footprints on Mars'

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. President Barack Obama laid out a vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030s, "and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal," Bolden said.

The craft lowered Curiosity to the ground using a "sky crane," and then flew away. The new system replaced airbags used in previous missions to lessen ground impact because Curiosity was too heavy to use them.

A 14-minute communication lag exists between the vehicle and the control center 154 million miles away on Earth, where scientists monitored transmissions from the craft. By the time NASA got word the device had entered the atmosphere, Curiosity had already landed.

World Asset

"Some people have been working on this for 10 years," said Braun, the space researcher, in a telephone interview from Mission Control in California. "This is an asset for the whole world, so we're going to be careful."

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms, NASA said.

The rover is currently in a safe state, Braun said. It will be checked out and deployed over several days.

'Complex Machine'

"The cameras have to be calibrated," he said. "This is an elaborate, complex machine."

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, according to NASA. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance.

The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover, NASA said.

The Mars Science Laboratory, the formal name of the mission deploying the Curiosity rover, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Nov. 26, 2011. After Curiosity, the only planned U.S. mission to Mars is an atmospheric orbiter meant to launch next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The high price of #gold for #China - #Olympics The National

The high price of gold for China

BEIJING //When there was speculation that the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen's world record and two gold medals in London might have had some pharmaceutical assistance, the 16-year-old shot back that her success was down to "hard work and training".
There is no doubting the effort and sacrifices Ye made on her way to Olympic glory.
For much of her childhood, she saw her parents only once a week, having left primary school and joined one of China's elite sporting institutions to focus on the gold-medal ambitions realised in dominant style in both the 200-metre and 400-metre individual medley events.
China's state investment in training athletes has paid off handsomely during the past two Games: they secured 51 gold medals in Beijing in 2008, 15 more than any other country, and are vying with the United States for the top spot in London.
Yet there are indications China may have gone too far in search of success.
It was only after she secured gold last week in the women's synchronised three-metre springboard that the Chinese diver Wu Minxia was told her grandmother had died more than a year ago and that her mother had been battling breast cancer for the past eight years.
In unusually candid remarks, her father, Wu Jueming, said his daughter "doesn't call us often because she's busy with training.
"We've known for years that our daughter doesn't belong to us any more," he said.
The contrast with the Olympic hosts could hardly be more stark, with popular British athletes sometimes pictured in the national press with their parents and siblings, relaxing in the front room of the family home.
One Chinese competitor in London has even wondered if there might be more to life than pursuing Olympic gold. "Our way of thinking has many limits," said Lu Ying, 23, who secured silver in the women's 100m butterfly.
In China, she said, all she did was "study, study and train, train and then rest".
In Australia, where many Chinese swimmers have been sent for training, she found a different, perhaps more appealing, approach. "In Australia I've been invited to barbecues with my teammates - that would never happen in China."
The Chinese public have levelled criticism, with one user of the popular Weibo microblogs saying the Olympic strategy "makes people lose their humanity".
Another netizen was even more blunt: "Our national sports system is disgusting."
There have also been concerns raised by overseas experts, among them Sir Matthew Pinsent, the British four-times Olympic rowing gold medallist. When he visited a Chinese sporting academy, children told him their coaches were hitting them.
"It seems the Chinese see this as part and parcel of creating success," he said.
Consisting of about 3,000 elite academies where about 400,000 individuals train, the Chinese system has many parallels with the methods used by Eastern bloc countries during the Soviet era, according to Yan Qiang, former senior vice president of Titan Media, which publishes China's highest-circulation sports newspaper, Titan Sports.
"China's sports system has been influenced by the former Soviet Union system greatly. China has adjusted the system to its own advantage," said Mr Yan, now deputy editor of NetEase, which runs the Chinese news portal
In sports that are popular in China, among them gymnastics, table tennis and badminton, Mr Yan said the country had "a huge pool of talent" from which to select.
"We choose the most talented from a very young age, perhaps 6 or 8. They can be put into state-owned sports schools. They take this training as a job. This can be a great advantage against the athletes from other nations."
There have also been efforts to improve performance in sports in which, historically, China has been weaker. Since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, China has advanced Project 119, which focuses on events such as sailing, swimming and track and field disciplines which, in Sydney, yielded just one out of a possible 119 gold medals for China.
Training complexes have been set up inside China, including high-altitude swimming centres, and China has made use of facilities and coaches from overseas, because in these events the indigenous coaching base is less developed.
Despite the use of foreign coaches and training venues, the system as a whole, said Mr Yan, was very different from that in western nations. The government pays all the bills, so athletes "don't need to worry about other aspects of their life". They can dedicate themselves completely to winning.
There are long hours of training, carefully controlled diets and few distractions, with school work often taking a back seat for younger competitors. The uncompromising focus on success means only the most talented and dedicated make it through.
Parallels are even drawn with the military. Li Chengpeng, a well known Chinese former sports commentator turned social commentator, said competitors who were part of the national training system were described as "special troops in the sports circle".
In a country reluctant to forget its humiliations at the hands of foreign powers, sporting achievement is as much about restoring national pride as it is an individual endeavour.
"The gold medals in the Olympics, and great success, enhance the confidence of the nation," said Mr Yan.
The huge efforts appear to be paying off. When China appeared at the 1984 Los Angeles Games after an absence of more than three decades, it secured 15 golds. In Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, the gold haul reached 28 and 32 respectively, increasing further in Beijing.
Yet the financial cost is significant: the bill for training competitors has been put at more than US$750 million (Dh2.75 billion).
It would be "impossible" for China not to invest heavily in the Olympics, Mr Li said, but it was important not to go too far.
"We need to give it a second thought if the investment exceeds a rational level." The public has come to understand the price of Olympic success and now wonders "how much of our national assets we have to use to achieve these results.
"There might be more important things. Maybe more participation in sport would be more meaningful than the medals."

Read the article online here: The high price of gold for China - The National


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