Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shooting the Messenger in China

I've been very skeptical of the Chinese economic miracle based on the fact that the country is still totalitarian and has little respect for individual rights and law.  This (long) story is an example of the types of things that go on, and which I fear are much more pervasive than generally acknowledged.  (This is all just my personal opinion based on what I read for general investing purposes, I'm certainly no expert on China.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Towards Leviathan

Just as controls breed controls, government power breeds more unregulated government power.  This WSJ piece illustrates the point by looking at the Fed's increased scope and activity.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Defending Direct Pay Practitioners

I enjoyed this "doctors' Galt speech", though the ending paragraph is a bit weak.  I also think that the whole idea of a two-tiered system criticism should be challenged, it exists in every market, i.e. Ferrari drivers have objectively better cars than do most of us, so what?  (The rest of his analysis is true, regarding disruptive processes and first adopters paving the way for mass marketing of most goods.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Daniel Pipes - A Cartoon a Day

Good article and proposal by Daniel Pipes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Activism - Changing Someone's Convictions

Here's another story showing how someone's mind can be changed and what types of arguments and evidence might land.  (This is obviously not an endorsement of his particular conclusions or positions, though I like what he says about Islam and free speech.)

Incidentally, I think the task for Objectivists is both easier and harder for the same reason.  Easier because every argument we offer is integrated and coherent and so over time the logic of the case builds.  Harder because it demands that someone unlearn many of their conclusions and then replace their whole worldview (if they have one) or, if they don't have a worldview, to learn to approach particular issues as related and then to systematize them.

And given this, I think it's hard to tell how far along someone might be to being generally persuaded, hence it's always worthwhile (given your time and context) to continue trying.

Campaigning Instead of Reporting

I agree with this criticism of today's mainstream media.  Tragically, they render the issue of freedom the press essentially moot.
What could be more symbolic of the failures of the Obama foreign policy than the contrast of hearing the president and his surrogates repeatedly touting the killing of Osama bin Laden by a U.S. Seal team with pictures of the American flag replaced by al-Qaida's menacing black standard at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis?
It's the kind of stuff that's made for TV news, and would certainly lead off the Big Three networks' evening newscasts if it were a President McCain or Bush in office.
The photos of a U.S. ambassador dying in the streets would be declared the death knell of any GOP president running for re-election.
But our media, in a chilling threat to voters' ability to choose a national leader based on accurate reporting of fact, used the Libyan disaster to attack ... Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Economic Status Doesn't Determine One's Ideas

Harry Bingswanger has an excellent analysis of Romney's class warfare comments out at Forbes.   Must reading.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Creating a Culture of Dependence

We've all heard of this administration's exhortations to partake in feeding at the public trough, here literally (as much as I hate graphs which don't include zero on the ordinate axis) is the result.

And as much as I dislike Gary North overall, he has some good commentary on the subject.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sam Harris on Freedom of Speech

I disagree with most of the philosophical analysis in this article, but I emphatically agree with one crucial point:
What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.
The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. And Governor Romney, though he is wrong about almost everything under the sun (including, very likely, the sun), is surely right to believe that it is time our government delivered this message without blinking. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Sign of the Times

I have several scrolling news feeds for my work as a trader and every now and then a funny headline catches my eye.  Here's one such:

Calif hockey team mocks opposing city's bankruptcy
FRESNO, Calif.—A hockey game promotion poking fun at America's largest bankrupt city has caused a tiff between fans and newspaper columnists in California's Central Valley.
The Condors, a Bakersfield minor league hockey team, advertised its game against Stockton Thunder on Dec. 27 as "Our City Isn't Bankrupt Night."
The team promises to give away phony million-dollar bills and brand new Rolls Royce automobiles.
Stockton residents weren't amused. The river port city filed for bankruptcy protection in June, pushed over the brink by high foreclosure rates, expensive investments and overly generous retiree benefits.

Creative Destruction includes Layoffs

Yaron Brook and Don Watkins have a good take on layoffs.  I particularly liked this point:
Why is this even controversial? Because we have a weird double standard. When an employee leaves a company for greener pastures—maybe higher pay, maybe more satisfying work, maybe a more pleasant commute—nobody complains. Of course he should do what’s best for him.
But when a business does the same thing? When it judges that some jobs are draining profits and need to be cut? Then it’s as if some nefarious sin has been committed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

“We’re all in this together–so hand over your wallet.”

A great editorial from Harry Bingswanger  (though somehow the first paragraph doesn't really work for me).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Liberal Hypocrisy and Cowardice

The WSJ has a good editorial pointing out the hypocrisy and cowardice of our current leaders. Here's the opening but be sure to read the whole thing:
'Hasa Diga Eebowai" is the hit number in Broadway's hit musical "The Book of Mormon," which won nine Tony awards last year. What does the phrase mean? I can't tell you, because it's unprintable in a family newspaper.
On the other hand, if you can afford to shell out several hundred bucks for a seat, then you can watch a Mormon missionary get his holy book stuffed—well, I can't tell you about that, either. Let's just say it has New York City audiences roaring with laughter.
The "Book of Mormon"—a performance of which Hillary Clinton attended last year, without registering a complaint—comes to mind as the administration falls over itself denouncing "Innocence of Muslims." This is a film that may or may not exist; whose makers are likely not who they say they are; whose actors claim to have known neither the plot nor purpose of the film; and which has never been seen by any member of the public except as a video clip on the Internet.
No matter. The film, the administration says, is "hateful and offensive" (Susan Rice), "reprehensible and disgusting" (Jay Carney) and, in a twist, "disgusting and reprehensible" (Hillary Clinton). Mr. Carney, the White House spokesman, also lays sole blame on the film for inciting the riots that have swept the Muslim world and claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Libya.
So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it's because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons.
PS I should mention that I find it ludicrous to use the Koran as a source for defending the right to free speech.  Indeed the whole defense is too wishy washy and doesn't include the fact that we learn via speech, hence if we're to progress we must protect the freedom of speech.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Newsweek

Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives us a poignant look at those public critics of Islam who aren't killed by its adherents.  Unless we get a large scale commitment to protect these people and to speak out with them, thereby diluting potential targets, expect to have more and more areas and topics where you're no longer willing or able to  voice the truth or express a candid opinion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Learning About Courage from the French

I hope Charlie Hebdo goes through with their plans to publish new Mohammed caricatures.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement expressing his "disapproval of all excesses."
The magazine's editor, originally a cartoonist who uses the name Charb, denied he was being deliberately provocative at a delicate time.
"The freedom of the press, is that a provocation?" he said.
"I'm not asking strict Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo, just like I wouldn't go to a mosque to listen to speeches that go against everything I believe."
More here and here, including:
"We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation," the paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, told the news channel i>TELE.
He said that if Charlie Hebdo stopped printing satirical work because of pressure or fear of offence, it would be reduced to selling 16 blank pages every week.
Cartoons seen by Reuters that were due to be published on the inside pages of the paper included a series of images, including nude caricatures, poking fun at Mohammad.

More on YDBT

Richard Ralston takes up the "You didn't build that" issue.

His editorial reminded me of a related point that I'm not sure I've seen made.  The trend over the past 120 years has been for the government to slowly usurp what had previously been private functions, forcing each of us into increased dealings with the government and then claiming that we're eternally indebted as a result.

So not only did private money pay for the government schools, roads, etc. (a point that's been well made by a few commentators) but the government forcibly shuts down most or all private alternatives and then claims we're indebted when they've left us no other choices.  In the case of schools for instance, "free" public schools displace private ones and we can't even get tax credits if we'd like to choose the few remaining private alternatives -- essentially forcing us to pay twice for private schooling.  Then truancy laws are added to ensure that everyone uses the public schools, all of which then somehow indebts us to government.  It's really  quite perverse.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Too Devasting

Mark Steyn recaps (Obama's) America's response to the acts of war waged against it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Glick on Recent Events

I don't read as much ME commentary as I used to, but for my money Caroline Glick is the best reporter/commentator out there (in fact she may be the best reporter in any field). Here's her (rather long) take on recent events. Essential reading for anyone interested in the topic.

ARI's Commentary

ARI has summarized their commentary on Islam, appeasement and the freedom of speech.  They're all highly recommended, but here's an excerpt from Onkar's The Twilight of Freedom of Speech

Why does a Muslim have a moral right to his dogmas, but we don't to our rational principles? Why, when journalists uphold free speech and Muslims respond with death threats, does the State Department single out the journalists for moral censure? Why the vicious double standard? Why admonish the good to mollify evil?
The answer lies in the West's conception of morality.
Morality, we are told incessantly, by secularists and religionists, the left and the right, means sacrifice; give up your values in selfless service to others. "Serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself," Bush proclaims to a believing nation.
But when you surrender your values, are you to give them up for men you admire, for those you think have earned and deserve them? Obviously not--otherwise yours would be an act of trade, of justice, of self-assertiveness, not self-sacrifice.
You must give to that which you don't admire, to that which you judge to be unworthy, undeserving, irrational. An employee, for instance, must give up his job for a competitor he deems inferior; a businessman must contribute to ideological causes he opposes; a taxpayer must fund modern, unemployed "artists" whose feces-covered works he loathes; the United States must finance the UN, which it knows to be a pack of America-hating dictatorships.
To uphold your rational convictions is the most selfish of acts. To renounce them, to surrender the world to that which you judge to be irrational and evil, is the epitome of sacrifice. When Jesus, the great preacher of self-sacrifice, commanded "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you," he knew whereof he spoke.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Eric Allen Bell

I saw him as part of the Frontpage townhall meeting on Monday night (coincidentally just before this round of hell broke out), and was impressed with his integrity and secular approach.  Indeed I thought he was by far the best member of the panel, so FWIW I've made a modest contribution to his cause.

Malkin on Obama's "Tough Day"

As much as I disagree with many (most?) of Michelle Malkin's positions, I do appreciate her courage (she went on TV and showed the Danish cartoons) and the appropriate anger she levels against the most cowardly and appeasing administration that we've ever had.   I wish more Americans would react with this type of outrage.  (And I too find it amazing that the media can go after Romney not Obama.  Makes me wonder if there's any hope for the nation.)

PS I'll entertain the argument that Carter's presidency was even more cowardly and appeasing, because in fact Obama's anti-Americanism may be so strong that for him it's not appeasement but indifference or even subconscious approval.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Joy of Discovery

Given that most of the news these days is negative, it's nice to see some focus given to the positive.  Here's a short story in the WSJ highlighting some of the successes of those taught in Montessori schools.  Here in Orange County we're fortunate that the Leport Schools seem to be expanding their Montessori offerings --let's hope that that also has a cultural impact down the road.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Killing Freedom of Speech and a Nation

This is the best thing I've read summarizing the events of the past 24 hours.  I wholeheartedly agree with all of it, except the concrete predictions and putting all the blame on Obama; unfortunately he does represent the views of a good portion of Americans.

It's probably also worth re-posting my All For One article.

Update:  Caroline Glick also has some salient facts.

Obamacare 2.0

Paul Hseh shows how controls breed controls in the healthcare field.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Foreign Policy Symposium

Here are some videos from last year's ARC symposium on foreign policy.  Obviously still relevant.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Can't Bypass Education and Philosophy

This article, reviewing the negative impacts of environmental laws in California (published in the NY Times no less) reveals (at least to me) why education and a whole new perspective on the environment and other issues is key to reversing these disastrous policies and trends.  For example, the law under consideration was signed into law by Ronald Reagan.  If he thought it was good, imagine what most Californians thought.

Only a complete re-conceptualization of the whole issue can effect lasting change, and that will also require a different philosophical perspective.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Corrupting Influence of Entitlements

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm becoming more and more convinced that not only are transfer payments and entitlements harmful to those who are forced to fund them, they're also deeply harmful to the newly created underclass of chronic dependents who accept them.

John Allison has often stressed the spiritual value of engaging in a productive life, at whatever level, as obviously has Ayn Rand.  But I'm only now starting to appreciate the full value of their insight.  It is, as far as I can tell, another aspect of the good being objective (not intrinsic).  Thus money on its own is not a value, it takes the whole context, including the reality orientation, self-responsibility, etc. of those who work to earn it, that truly makes it a value. (I don't mean here to discount the value of the material sustenance it provides, but to highlight the larger picture which chronic dependents completely miss out on.)

As a result I now see articles like this one pointing to an even worse problem than I'd previously understood.    Here's a snippet describing the situation today:
What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances. Within living memory, the federal government has become an entitlements machine. As a day-to-day operation, it devotes more attention and resources to the public transfer of money, goods and services to individual citizens than to any other objective, spending more than for all other ends combined.
The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.
And a snippet describing the original American attitude which previously made the existence of an entitlement  state impossible:
The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqueville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830s extended to personal finances. The American "individualism" about which he wrote did not exclude social cooperation—the young nation was a hotbed of civic associations and voluntary organizations. But in an environment bursting with opportunity, American men and women viewed themselves as accountable for their own situation through their own achievements—a novel outlook at that time, markedly different from the prevailing attitudes of the Old World (or at least the Continent).
The corollaries of this American ethos were, on the one hand, an affinity for personal enterprise and industry and, on the other, a horror of dependency and contempt for anything that smacked of a mendicant mentality. Although many Americans in earlier times were poor, even people in fairly desperate circumstances were known to refuse help or handouts as an affront to their dignity and independence. People who subsisted on public resources were known as "paupers," and provision for them was a local undertaking. Neither beneficiaries nor recipients held the condition of pauperism in high regard.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Story Telling

For pure entertainment (i.e. for light reading, not featuring deep themes or philosophy), my favorite author is Guy Gavriel Kay.  I just re-read his Lions of Al-Rassan and still find it to be his best work, featuring interesting characters, a fast-moving and integrated plot, plus extremely efficient world-building.  Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys this genre of novel.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Panel Discussion on Sharia

Though I'm not a big fan of the Pacific Justice Institute, I plan on attending this panel discussion on Monday Sep 10 in Mission Viejo, CA.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Concretizing the Producer's Mentality

Though there's nothing wrong with enjoying the material benefits of one's work (indeed I think there's something right with it), it's really not the driving force behind most producers' love of their work.  This story is another illustration of the type of mentality possessed by the true and typical producer.  A few excerpts:
That’s the way Cheriton prefers it. He still drives the same 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon he had before he made his money, lives in the same Palo Alto home he’s owned for the last 30 years and employs the same barber—himself. “It’s not that I can’t fathom a haircut,” says Cheriton. “It’s just easy to do myself, and it takes less time.”
For a man who works 10 to 12 hours a day, Cheriton understands that time is everything. His investment in Google allowed college freshmen cramming for exams to cut through the junk that had flooded search engines like ­AltaVista. His newest company, Arista Networks, makes a data switch that cuts down the delays between servers, allowing bits to be transferred in less than 500 nanoseconds, nearly twice as fast as Cisco’s fastest switch and Juniper Networks’ best. That gives traders on Wall Street the ability to submit their trades nanoseconds before their competitors and gives doctors the capacity to sequence a patient’s genome in real time. Cheriton has been working on the guts of its operating system since 2004, when the company was founded. Arista, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is adding at least a customer a day. The company says it is operating at an annual revenue run rate of $200 million. “Imagine if cars going 50mph speed up by a factor of ten,” says Cheriton. “It qualitatively changes what you can do.” Arista is that vehicle.
 While Bechtolsheim describes himself and Cheriton as “accidental investors,” others have downplayed the role of sheer luck. “It’s not accidental at all,” says Ron Conway, Silicon Valley’s ubiquitous angel investor whom Cheriton introduced to Google for a later investment. “It’s because of the environment that they’ve built around them. They’re such smart and astute engineers that they attract other engineers to share their ideas with them.”
 Cheriton says he avoids pursuing market whims—he considers social networking one of them—and stays focused on breakthroughs that make measurable improvements to human life, such as the way Google helps a college junior complete a research paper at 3 a.m. He says he has “a belief that if you are providing real value to the world and doing it in a sensible way, then the market rewards you.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Traits of the Successful

Though I don't agree with all of it, I think this list provides some useful bullet point reminders of what it takes to become wealthy.  To me, numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 15, 17 and 19 are the most germane.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Comparing Rand to Ryan

Harry Bingswanger has a good piece out contrasting the fundamental ideas (and their implications) held by Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Activism at the State (and Local) Level

Leaving aside this editorial's pro-Republican bent, I think it illustrates how much impact advocates can have at the lower levels of government, and how those results can then serve as a beacon and example for the federal level.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Welcome Problem

There are so many new news articles on Rand including her influence, legacy and relation to Paul Ryan's thought that it's hard to keep up.  Here Elan Journo ably outlines her (probable) thoughts on foreign policy.