Monday, April 30, 2007

Notice from the Undercurrent

Dear friend of Objectivism,

The Undercurrent is now welcoming orders for its upcoming issue. The issue will be mailed out at the end of April, and is intended for distribution from May through September. Orders can be placed at

The issue will feature a penetrating interview on freedom of speech with Onkar Ghate, the Dean of the Objectivist Academic Center. The interview discusses, in depth, the nature and philosophic justification for the right to free speech.

In addition, the issue will include a campus commentary (by Kelly Cadenas) on recent free speech violations, an article arguing that capitalism is not only practical but moral, Peter Schwartz’s excellent ARI op-ed, “In Defense of Income Inequality”, and our regular ad for the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest. Please visit our website to preview this content.

Remember, distributing the Undercurrent is not a major time commitment. All you need to do is take a few minutes once or twice a week to drop off the paper at a campus newsstand or coffee shop. If cost is an issue, let us know and we will work with you to find a sponsor in your area to pay for your copies.

Because May is exam period at most schools, it is a time when students are spending more time on campus, studying, meeting professors, waiting before and after exams. For this reason, it is a time when they are more likely than ever to pick up and peruse a paper like the Undercurrent. Please help us maximize this opportunity.

Please help us bring Ayn Rand’s ideas to your campus,

-The Undercurrent

Sunday, April 29, 2007

John Lewis at George Mason

Nick Provenzo has two reports (1, 2) on the rescheduled John Lewis talk at GMU (read the comments to get a feel for the intellectual level of the opponents). I'm glad that our local universities seem to do a much better job of policing events than did the GMU officials.

As always, many thanks to Dr. Lewis and the event organizers for their courage to stand up to the barbarians.

(BTW, given that the opposition always resorts to force and intimidation to suppress discussion, I think it's imperative that anyone who can attend such events do so to offer moral support. Failing to do so reduces both speakers' incentives to continue fighting and university officials' interest in hosting similar events.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Virginia Tech Shootings -- Who's to Judge?

I probably should be beyond shock by now, but this article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer ("32 Memorial Stones? Or 33?") shocked me. Virginia Tech student Katelynn L. Johnson added a 33rd stone to a memorial consisting of 32 stones, one stone meant to commemorate each victim of the shootings. The 33rd stone she added was meant for the shooter.

When there was an outcry and someone removed the 33rd stone, this was Johnson's reaction:

"'To see this community turn on one of its own no matter what he did is heartbreaking to me,' Johnson said. 'If we're a community, we're a community. If we're a family, we're a family. You can't pick and choose your family.'

"'We lost 33 Hokies that day, not 32,' she wrote. 'Who am I to judge who has value and who doesn't? I am not in that position. Are you?'"

There you go, folks, the perfect ultimate product of Progressive education. Identification with the collective as a primary which trumps everything; and the complete inability and unwillingness to make any moral judgements whatsover. You can't even really say whether a mass-murderer is, well, maybe, a "bad" person.

I have to believe that Katelynn is still a somewhat extreme example. But if she is not, America is now primed for dictatorship -- give it one or two more generations. Who can judge if a Hitler or a Stalin has value, or doesn't? If he's part of our community, then he's one of ours, and when you're family, you're family. Let's stick by 'em. Doesn't matter what they did.

Not exactly the kind of principles that would send you to the ramparts, willing to fight to the death for what's right. Who are you to judge?

Update: Apparently in my naivete, I was still in my own mind overestimating Katelynn Johnson's character. The article describes Ms. Johnson counting out the 32 stones, and then reacting as follows: ""I just lost it. I broke down. I was seething. I remember saying . . . 'How could people be so mean?'"" I initially had assumed she 'broke down' as a result of contemplating the tragic killings of 32 people, and that her 'how could people be so mean' comment was directed at the shooter. As it turns out, what caused her to break down was simply the absence of a 33rd stone, and her 'so mean' comment was directed at those who only placed 32 stones. I guess that's the real tragedy and injustice here. (But then again, who are you, Ms. Johnson, to judge who is 'mean' and who isn't? Are you really in that position?)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Peter Schwartz on CNBC

Not sure how long this video clip of Peter Schwartz on environmentalism will be available, so watch it while you can.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dendrobium Atroviolaceum v. Pygmy

Gone for the week, blogging will resume next weekend.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Global Warming - Some Good Reading

Highly recommended article by Prof. Bob Carter on Global Warming.

HT: Not PC (see his post for article excerpts and an audio interview with Dr. Carter)

Also, Richard Lindzen in Newsweek. (HT Art De Vany)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Totalitarian Islam's Threat to the West - Recording

Video of last night's event is now available here.

UCLA Panel Discussion Coverage

A bit of coverage from last night's Panel discussion:
LGF, Infidels are Cool, Student of Objectivism

Public Beating of Critic of Islam in Norway

Another example of what happens when societies fail to oppose the ideas, goals, motives and methods of the Islamists. How long before it begins to happen here?

A Few Lonely Voices

Though commentary from the mainstream media and government officials on foreign policy is almost universally bad, there are a few exceptions. For example this story describing John Bolton's principled and insightful comments on the most recent Iranian act of War:
Britain's "weakness" in standing up to Iran in the detained sailors stand-off handed Tehran an improbable victory and left it dangerously emboldened, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Monday.

Iran was deliberately probing for allied weaknesses and found them in abundance, Bolton wrote in a hard-hitting article in the Financial Times newspaper.

"Against all odds, Iran emerged with a win-win from the crisis: winning by its provocation in seizing the hostages in the first place and winning again by its unilateral decision to release them," wrote the 2005-2006 US ambassador to the United Nations.
The lesson for Iran was that "it probed and found weakness." Ahmadinejad could now "undertake equal or greater provocations, confident he need not fear a strong response," Bolton wrote.

"Emboldened as Iran now is, and ironically for engagement advocates, it is even less likely there will be a negotiated solution to the nuclear weapons issue, not that there was ever much chance of one.

"Iran, sensing weakness, has every incentive to ratchet up its nuclear weapons programme, increase its support to Hamas, Hezbollah and others and perpetrate even more serious terrorism in Iraq.

"The world will be a more dangerous place as a result.

"The only thing risen from this crisis is Iranian determination and resolve to confront us elsewhere, at their discretion, whether on Iraq, nuclear weapons and terrorism."

Much less good, but noteworthy because it appears in the NY Times, is this editorial describing the reaction to a German trial 10 years ago which found the Iranian government involved in, and responsible for, assassinations on German soil. The piece has the merit of recognizing the value of moral principles, the effect that upholding proper ones can have on a society, and the underlying assumption that not all political systems are equal (nor are they relative).
By extending its laws to these immigrants, by giving them justice, the German judiciary gave Iranians a taste of what they could never have in their own country.

More than any assimilation program possibly could, this event turned ordinary Iranian immigrants into loyal German patriots. Former political prisoners, whether under the shah or the current regime, saw how a real court operates. Democracy, many of them believed, was a superior system, the right way to run a society. In this particular case, it was also highly therapeutic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

UN's Continued Subversion of Free Speech

ARI put out an excellent press release yesterday. I like it so much I'm reproducing it in full:
The U.N. Human Rights Council's War on Human Rights
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

IRVINE, Calif.--The U.N. Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution urging nations to pass laws prohibiting the dissemination of ideas that "defame religion." It appears that the resolution was partly a response to last year's Danish cartoon crisis, where hordes of angry Muslims rioted in violent protest of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

"The advocates of this resolution perversely equate those who drew the Danish cartoons with those who rioted and threatened to murder the cartoonists," said Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. "Both, they say, are guilty of a crime and should be restrained and punished by the government--with the unstated caveat that the cartoonists are guiltier, since they allegedly incited the violent mobs by defaming Islam.

"To morally equate the Danish cartoonists with the Muslim rioters is to wipe out the distinction between speech and force. It is to declare there is no essential difference between the filmmaker Theo van Gogh,and the Muslim who murdered him for producing a film that 'defamed Islam.'

"Freedom of speech means that individuals have the right to advocate any idea, without the threat of government censorship, regardless of how many people that idea may offend. To silence individuals in order to protect the sensibilities of mullahs and mobs is to wipe out this crucial right--and it is to whitewash the blood-stained hands of killers by declaring that they are no worse than those who peacefully criticize them.

"Yet this disgraceful moral equivalence is a symptom of the larger moral equivalence that pervades the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is based on the gross pretense that its members--including belligerent regimes such as Iran and Syria, and oppressive dictatorships such as China and Cuba--are champions of peace and individual rights. As a result, its main function is to provide a forum for thugs and dictators to criticize free nations such as the United States and Israel, while pushing their anti-freedom agendas.

"The United States should condemn this resolution--and the morally corrupt organization that produced it."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BLC Unknown

My friends and family often consider my home to be a "pound" or "hospice" for wayward orchids. This is one that was left on my doorstep (though it wasn't quite as pretty at the time).


Socialized Medicine

Paul Hsieh has a good letter up at Noodlefood opposing Colorado's march towards socialized medicine. The post includes many references as well, so is an excellent starting point for anyone who wishes to inform himself on the issue(s).

As an aside, it's interesting to me that more and more I see the only argument for bad policy being "there's a consensus afterall". (The global warming "debate" is noteworthy in this regard.) From Paul's letter:
On January 25, 2007, the CMS submitted those "Guiding Principles" to the 208 Commission, portraying them as the consensus of the doctors of Colorado. They have also stated that the "CMS believes, after extensive vetting and a unanimous vote at the 2006 House of Delegates, that the Guiding Principles represent a compelling consensus of Colorado physicians"
In previous decades there was at least some attempt made to justify a position, however shoddy the arguments. E.g. with the anti-nukes they pointed to the waste problem, radiation leaks, terrorism, etc. None of these arguments were offered in good faith (i.e. none were presented compared to the alternatives), but at least there was some hand-waving at facts. Now it's sufficient that others are of the same opinion without any reason. Not a good sign for the culture or the nation as a whole, in my opinion...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Price - and Cause - of Skilled Labor

I think this story on the rapid increase in labor rates for skilled workers around the world illustrates at least two important points.

First, for anyone who still has honest doubts about the power of capitalism and egoism vs statism and altruism (i.e. of trade vs aid) to improve the lives of all involved, this shows not only that only capitalism enables production and wealth, but also how quickly it occurs, e.g.:
IT directors in Poland can cost companies more than $100,000 a year. That approaches Silicon Valley levels.
Similarly, given the freedom which is the essence of capitalism, employees can and do quickly move around to seek new and better paying employment -- a fact which belies the "exploitation theory" of economics which so many leftists promulgate incessantly as an argument for the institution of statist policies.

Secondly, I think the story underlines the under-appreciated fact that a commitment to engage one's mind is the essence of a productive person (a.k.a. a good worker) and that this type of commitment is rare because it requires choice, effort and a sustained reality-focus. Thus just having a large body of educated workers to draw from doesn't necessarily translate to an unlimited pool of cheap and skilled labor as so many (materialist) economists would have us believe. (This is not meant as a disparagement of education, education of some type is of course necessary for most skilled jobs, but moral character is both a prerequisite for benefiting from education -- and more importantly it is the fundamental quality which determines a man's value, including his value qua worker.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

ARI's Panel Discussion at UCLA

I'm glad that LGF is helping to publicize Thursday's panel discussion on Totalitarian Islam's Threat to the West -- hopefully it will increase attendance at the event.

Update: If anyone is a registered user at LGF, please post a comment to let people know that a video of the event will be available at the ARI site early next week.

Use GoodSearch to Help ARI

Mike over at Mike's Eyes explains. I for one will try it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Stealing Credit Ex Post Facto

Galileo Blogs (who has left quite a few insightful comments here) has an interesting post looking at another facet of regulation. It reminds me of the securities analysts who downgrade a stock in the pre-market after a company has announced disastrous news the night before (never mind that obviously no one can act on their "advice").

Craigslist Looters

I'm probably over-reacting, but I found this news story which Gus Van Horn posted last night to be very depressing. It makes me wonder if the American sense of independence, self-reliance, honesty and responsibility have completely vanished? If so, there's not much hope left.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dendrobium Sirirattana X Compactum


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

NJ Pension Fund Shenanigans

Imagine if any business were to practice this type of behavior. The government and the public would call for their necks -- and probably get them. Yet no such calls go forth when the actors are government bureaucrats.

As far as I can tell, no one's ever answered the question of why people should be considered evil, incompetent and requiring oversight if engaged in private business, but beyond question if working for the government. If anything it should be the opposite as market forces tend to ensure competence, while lack of accountability encourages incompetence and fraud.

The sad truth is that under altruism results don't matter, only motivation counts. So private businessmen who are pursuing their own values are evil by definition while conversely every bureaucrat can simply wave his "for the public good" wand to avoid any further questions.

To right this wrong requires nothing less than challenging the morality of altruism.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Trouble With Islam - WSJ

I'm not particularly convinced that Islam can be "reformed", but this article in today's WSJ brings up some excellent points about Islam and its defenders. E.g.:
But indeed, there is much that is clearly wrong with the Islamic world. Women are stoned to death and undergo clitorectomies. Gays hang from the gallows under the approving eyes of the proponents of Shariah, the legal code of Islam. Sunni and Shia massacre each other daily in Iraq. Palestinian mothers teach 3-year-old boys and girls the ideal of martyrdom. One would expect the orthodox Islamic establishment to evade or dismiss these complaints, but less happily, the non-Muslim priests of enlightenment in the West have come, actively and passively, to the Islamists' defense.
It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the "end of days." The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.
Politicians and scholars in the West have taken up the chant that Islamic extremism is caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict. This analysis cannot convince any rational person that the Islamist murder of over 150,000 innocent people in Algeria--which happened in the last few decades--or their slaying of hundreds of Buddhists in Thailand, or the brutal violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq could have anything to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Feelings over Facts

This is what happens when sensitivity to people's emotions trumps objectivity. (And don't forget, the single biggest argument against the right to free speech is "the right not to have one's feelings hurt". Please keep the link above in mind when you hear such attacks on our freedom of speech.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Income Inequality

This story on income inequality appeared in the business section of Thursday's NY Times.

There are many things wrong with the article, but I want to focus on the way its author uses concepts to slant the story and thereby advance his moral views. Economists and reporters often claim to be "morally neutral" in the pursuit of their professions, but I think this article (which is a business story, not an editorial) illustrates how false this is -- and must be -- since some view of man's choices, motivations and actions is a precondition for operating in any of the more specialized branches of the humanities. (Reporting on the metaphysically-given can perhaps be "neutral", but any report on human activity or its results requires some moral view, otherwise there is simply no way to even know what's relevant and what's not.)

The key concept in the story is that of a "national income" -- a concept whose cause is evaded and which is treated as a kind of pre-existing common good to be "shared" among all people. Note how the reporter carefully chooses to use the causally empty term "income" rather than one which would capture the causal relationship between effort and wealth, e.g. "earnings" or "production". (For reference, the term "income" appears 28 times in the story vs. the term "earnings" which appears once and vs. the term "production" which never appears). And if you think I'm overplaying this, I'll refer you to the fifth pargraph where our supposedly objective reporter shows that he appreciates the importance of the distinction when he subtly uses the term "earn" to describe what the average person does to obtain wealth, but the term "receive" to describe how the rich obtain it!

After evading the cause of wealth by his choice of terms, our reporter then asks the loaded question of how in fact is the "nation's" wealth "shared" or "divided"? A reader not aware of the dropped context and misapplied concepts underlying this question is of course seduced into thinking that any inequality must be condemned.

To further push the reader to this conclusion, our reporter then goes on to quote an economist who hasn't the courage to provide his moral evaluation outright (being neutral and all), but instead resorts to implications followed by veiled threats:
“If the economy is growing but only a few are enjoying the benefits, it goes to our sense of fairness,” Professor Saez said. “It can have important political consequences.”
Tellingly, there is not a single line or footnote analyzing whether the income of the poor went up (though there's a begrudging mention that the income of "average" americans did rise). For reporters and economists such as these, all that matters is that the "gap" has increased. By their logic, if everyone were equally destitute, the world would be a better place.

All of this slanted reporting is based on specific views of productivity, justice, independence and rationality; and more generally it is written from a definite perspective on the issue of which is proper: altruism or egoism. In other words, the reporter's implicit views on moral subjects thoroughly shapes his reporting, from deciding what's important and what isn't, to choosing his language, to the questions he asks of his contributers.

The article continues in this vein, treating the concept of tax cuts as equivalent to alms, i.e. completely failing to distinguish that a tax cut is merely a reduction in the amount that is stolen from the producers, it is not a gift to them.

I could go on, but fortuitously, just a few days ago ARI published an editorial by Peter Schwartz which looks at the moral implications of the egalitarian view of income differences. Read it for an alternative and cure to the NY Times' story and its implicit moral view.