Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Separation of Church & State

Thomas Bowden has written an excellent piece on the separation of church and state. I urge everyone to read it.

Onk on BBC Radio

Onk was on BBC radio 3 today discussing altruism. You can listen here (though I don't know how long this link will be up). Be warned that he gets very little air time, but the contrast between his focus on the essentials of the argument -- as against the ramblings of altruism's proponents -- is quite illuminating.

Iran's New President

From Iran Focus (original includes photo):

AP Photo shows Iran’s new President as 1979 US hostage-taker Wed. 29 Jun 2005

London, Jun. 29 - Iran Focus has learnt that the photograph of Iran’s newly-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, holding the arm of a blindfolded American hostage on the premises of the United States embassy in Tehran was taken by an Associated Press photographer in November 1979.

Prior to the first round of the presidential elections on June 17, Iran Focus was the first news service to reveal Ahmadinejad’s role in the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The identity of Ahmadinejad in the photograph was revealed to Iran Focus by a source in Tehran, whose identity could not be revealed for fear of persecution.

Soon after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Ahmadinejad, who was studying in Tehran’s University of Science and Technology, became a member of the central council of the Office for Strengthening of Unity Between Universities and Theological Seminaries, the main pro-Khomeini student body.

The OSU played a central role in the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran in November 1979. Members of the OSU central council, who included Ahmadinejad as well as Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, Mohsen Mirdamadi, Mohsen Kadivar, Hashem Aghajari, and Abbas Abdi, were regularly received by Khomeini himself.

Former OSU officials involved in the takeover of the U.S. embassy said Ahmadinejad was in charge of security during the occupation, a key role that put him in direct contact with the nascent security organizations of the clerical regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which he later joined.

After the 444-day occupation of the U.S. embassy, Ahmadinejad joined the special forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, based in Evin Prison. The “Revolutionary Prosecutor” was Assadollah Lajevardi, who earned the nickname the Butcher of Evin after the execution of thousands of political dissidents in the 1980s.

Defectors from the clerical regime’s security forces have revealed that Ahmadinejad led the firing squads that carried out many of the executions. He personally fired coup de grace shots at the heads of prisoners after their execution and became known as “Tir Khalas Zan” (literally, the Terminator).

For a fuller account of Ahmadinejad’s life, go to the following story: Iran’s new President has a past mired in controversy.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Causeless Self-Esteem

Several times now Onk has written on the subject of progressive educators trying to instill pseudo self-esteem in students , but I think the version currently available at the undercurrent is by far the best of these analyses.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rhetoric From My Other Blog

It's fun to point out this kind of thing, but ultimately it's useless since you can only win by fighting for positive changes, not merely by pointing out absurdity and contradictions in a false argument. But like with an itch begging to be scratched, sometimes I can't help myself....

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Towards a Rational Foreign Policy

Given the series of assaults on our citizens and country, culminating most recently with the horrors of 9/11 -- and faced with threat of yet more attacks to come -- America’s first priority is one of self defense. This requires the eradication of our immediate enemies by an overwhelming military response. But we must not stop there. To safeguard our future, we must recognize that these attacks were perpetrated and sponsored by foreigners and foreign nations, raising the vital question: How should the U.S. properly deal with the world outside her borders?

To begin, we should note that the fundamental role of the U.S. government is neither to act as a peacekeeper to the world, nor to provide for the world’s sick and needy; rather its sole legitimate function is to defend the individual rights and liberty of her own citizens. Understood this way, we can say that the proper purpose of the government is to advance and protect the nation’s self-interest.

This purpose, when formulated as a guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy, would read: “America will intransigently, and without exception, pursue its own self-interest by defending the sovereign rights of her citizens from foreign aggression, whether at home or abroad.” Such a principle is not a call to imperialism, but merely a re-statement of the central idea upon which this great nation was founded.

With our guiding principle thus stated to the world, a foreign group or government has the basic choice to either recognize and uphold the rights of our citizens -- or to threaten and deny them. Our response to their choice is our foreign policy put in practice.

The implementation of a rational foreign policy therefore begins with an evaluation of every foreign group and nation. The standard of evaluation is the advancement of our national self-interest; the body of evidence is the actions, statements and intent of each foreign regime. Those regimes which we identify as friends are to be encouraged, while those which we identify as enemies are to be neutralized. For nations which fall somewhere in between, the knowledge that we consistently uphold and defend our rights will enable them to make their choices without any doubt as to our eventual response.

Once we have identified our friends and enemies around the world, here’s what we can do.

With regard to our enemies:

=> Let reality reign. The anti-life policies that make these countries our enemies, greatly simplify our task of defending ourselves from them. Regimes which threaten us have no life-sustaining values to offer: they are implicitly or explicitly cultures of death. The totalitarian and fundamentalist regimes which head the list of our enemies, consistently substitute dogma for reason, obedience for independent judgment, duty for happiness, and the afterlife for life on earth. Guided by these tenets, they are completely incapable of producing anything of human value, as their histories have so poignantly proven. Left to their own devices, the harsh and unforgiving hand of reality would quickly incapacitate them, thereby negating any threat they pose.

It is only when we allow these foreign regimes to steal and usurp our creations and values, e.g. the nationalization of our oil -- or worse, when we willingly present them with our donations and “humanitarian” aid -- that they come to pose any credible threat to us.

So, to heed the guiding principle of our rational foreign policy, we must protect our citizens’ property, and not permit nationalization or other forms of theft by foreign governments. Equally importantly, we must recognize that providing aid to our enemies is evil. Our “humanitarian” aid postpones their just demise, and the respite we grant permits them the time and means to perform their unspeakable acts of evil. Any government aid is a violation of its citizens’ individual rights, since the funds are expropriated by force -- but the crime is multiplied a thousandfold when the loot goes to supporting our enemies. We would be infinitely better off to take every government-expropriated dollar of aid, and burn it, than to give it to those who threaten and condemn us. (This said, we should continue to allow individuals and charitable organizations to give aid to citizens of neutral or sympathetic countries, but must prohibit any form of aid or trade with our avowed enemies.)

=> Reject the notion that we need external sanction for our actions. Announce to the world what we stand for, what we will accept and what we will oppose. Consistently preach, and then practice, that the U.S. acts exclusively on moral grounds -- not on the grounds of what some coalition of nations, through whatever twists of mind and backroom payoffs, has decided is expedient in the moment.

The defense of our self-interest can not be conditional on the approval of foreigners. In her youth, America acted unilaterally and proudly, because she was convinced of the justice of her cause. It is time to readopt this policy.

=> Immediately withdraw from the United Nations. There can be no unity with terror sponsors like Syria or with perennial human rights violators like China. Any pretense of unity serves only to sully our moral standing and, simultaneously, to legitimize that of evil nations.

=> Discard the idea that having a common enemy creates a friend. Friends and allies are only so by virtue of accepting the basic principles required for a free and lawful society. We must be extremely wary of “pragmatic alliances” with those with whom we share no basic principles, as these have often resulted in new, and graver, problems for the U.S.

With regard to our friends:

=> Export capitalism. Lead by example and reaffirm the values which make America great. Eliminate the bureaucrats and the regulators. Allow competition and free enterprise, proudly fly the banner of productivity and success. Then promote these values to the rest of the world.

=> Present the argument that if others enact the same causes, i.e., liberty, respect for the individual and his rights, a lawful society and limited government, then they too will obtain the same brilliant results. Proclaim that the division of the world into “haves” and “have nots” is not some geographic accident, but the result of actions and policies -- those that are pro-life, i.e. capitalist, create “haves”; while those that are anti-life, i.e., totalitarian, fundamentalist religious, communists and/or fascist, create “have nots”. Be proud (and thankful) to be part of the set who has discovered, and chosen to enact, the causes of wealth, happiness and success.

=> Acknowledge moral countries –- those which promote liberty and individual rights -- not by aid and handouts, but by free trade on free markets. Explain that free trade is mutually beneficial to every productive person, and that it is the only proper way for peaceful nations to interact.

Only by establishing and consistently practicing a principled foreign policy dedicated to America’s self-interest can we secure the rights and safety of our citizens from foreign enemies. Erecting such a policy would have the immediate benefit of putting our mortal enemies on notice that –- until and unless they radically change course -- we will use every means at our disposal to eradicate them. In the mid-term it would prevent the rise and empowerment of hostile, but impotent, nations such as North Korea had been just a scant few decades ago. And in the long term, it is the only way to foster a peaceful global environment: one in which those who choose to embrace the values of the Enlightenment –- reason, freedom and progress –- will flourish.

Naming Your Principles

Today's NY Times had a news story about the emergence and rise of a very misleadingly-named group called the "Islamic Thinkers Society". As far as I could make out, the group's raison-d'etre is to oppose everything that America stands for. With that in mind, you would think that they would be on the defensive and have to hide or smuggle-in their principles, while those who are pro-America would proudly state theirs. Instead it is they who try to name the essential difference between them and the pro-life, secular West; while people like President Bush either evade or make excuses for it (e.g. his comments about "hijacking a great religion").

This particular fundamentalist group puts the conflict in these terms:
"Wake up and realize that the line has been drawn between the camp of Emaan and the camp of Kufr and there is no middle ground as of right now," reads a glossy publication by the group that is titled "Islamic Revival." In Arabic, Emaan can be translated to mean "faith" and Kufr, "disbelief."
Of course the crucial difference is not between "faith" and "disbelief"; but between "faith" and "reason" (or between "belief" and "thought" - which is why the group's use of "thinking" in its name is so inappropriate). But it is telling that the religionists are comfortable trying to name their principles, while most of their supposed opponents are not.

Although this particular group appears to be on the fringe, until those who oppose them are willing to name the essential conflict, and to proudly champion the antithesis of faith, viz. a rational philosophy (including its corollaries of individualism, secularism, etc.); the fringe groups will continue to make progress and to gain sway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Secrets of Success

In my youth, I thought that the most important factors in being successful were one's intelligence and the number of facts one knew. While I still think these are extremely important factors, I'm now of the opinion that consistency and persistence are more important - and definitely less appreciated - traits. For example, I've read a number of stock and futures traders comment: "Even if I gave you my complete system, you would fail because you wouldn't have the discipline to follow it." In other words all the relevant knowledge isn't enough, it also takes consistency ("discipline"), to succeed. Similarly, for my own trading, I find it much more difficult to stay the course with certain trades, and not over allocate, or get bored, than I do to come up with reasonable ideas.

As to persistence or perseverance, almost every biography of successful people has those traits as a central, or at least very important, leit-motif. There are many moderately intelligent people who succeed through consistency and perseverance, while there are few, if any, highly intelligent people who succeed without them. (And if you have both, then you may do some truly great things.)

So with these thoughts in mind, I'm always on the lookout for more examples of consistency and persistence to help fuel my own. Here is a short post from Mark Cuban's blog illustrating this.

P.S. If you were to ask me what is the single most important trait for success, I think it would be a proper method of thinking and approaching life. (This answer may not be completely distinct from those discussed above, as I think the proper method definitely involves consistency.) However, at present I'm nowhere near having mastered or even achieved a good overall method, so can't really comment, other than to say that learning such a method is the primary reason why I recently applied to OAC. Rob, imo, is much closer to having learned and adopted a proper approach, so perhaps he can comment further.....

Monday, June 20, 2005

Prequel to a Post

Shortly after 9/11 I wrote, but never distributed, an article/editorial on foreign policy. The piece was styled as a "punch list" or "action list" of the principles to keep in mind when pursuing foreign policy. At the time I thought and hoped that our military response would be much stronger, and better directed, than it has been, so I did not include short term military principles in it.

Overall I was happy with the piece, but would welcome feedback, both negative and positive, including whether or not it might still be worthwhile for a broader audience (say for example Capitalism Magazine). So, to this end, I will post it here in the next few days. Depending on feedback, I will edit it and re-post, noting any changes in the comments.

Thanks in advance for any feedback and constructive criticism....

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Real Estate - Is It a Top?

Three weeks -- three magazine covers. First, Fortune magazine has a cover article on America's real estate mania. The next week, TIME magazine. This week, the Economist reports on the worldwide housing boom.

Anyone familiar with the financial markets knows that popular press magazine covers are famously contrarian indicators. When something becomes so-well "known" that it warrants cover-stories in the popular press, usually the trend has reached its end.

However, the odd thing is that all three magazines struck a skeptical tone. In fact, the Economist's cover story was entirely negative, with the cover reading: "House Prices: After the Fall", and the first two sentences read: "The worldwide rise in house prices is the biggest bubble in history. Prepare for the economic pain when it pops."

Fortune and TIME both dutifully reported on the mania and excitement (e.g. people buying a condo for $425,000 and then turning and reselling it for $525,000 literally an hour later. No joke.) But both wondered if things might not be getting a bit too 'crazy', and if there might be any similarity to the Nasdaq bubble and subsequent burst.

So here's the question: if the popular magazine covers are still skeptical, then, by contrarian logic does this mean that the housing boom still has a ways to run?

One interesting fact: An increase in real estate bank loans account for about 2/3rds of the increase in overall bank credit over the last 12 months. Real estate bank loans have increased an astounding 15% year-over-year. Meanwhile, the median house price in the US has risen a record 15% over the past year. Coincidence? Well, there's no necessity for the numbers to be identical, but it makes sense that they would be somewhat proportional -- and both at record levels.

It's a classic credit boom in progress, exhibiting all the characteristics that Austrian business cycle theory describes. (See Ludwig von Mises, "Human Action" and "Theory of Money and Credit"; and Friedrich Hayek, "Prices and Production")

Friday, June 17, 2005

Religion Taken Seriously

The fundamental argument for rejecting religion - of any denomination - is that its essence is the reliance on faith (with the concomitant repudiation of reason). These days we tend to think of fundamentalist Muslims and Christians as the only examples of what happens when religion is taken seriously. But there are other forms of religion, having equally terrible results, as shown by today's horrifying news from London:
'Child sacrifices in London'
Boys Trafficked for Human Sacrifices
Black Churches Attacked Over Child Ritual Killings
Hat Tip: Onk

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Moral Values Without Religion

I think that Peter Schwartz is far and away the best editorial-writer of all the Objectivist authors, and this editorial helps confirm my belief. The piece is excellent on several levels.

First, rather than just condemning some current outrage, it reaches out to those who are actively searching for something good and moral, and offers them a new and positive alternative. In my opinion, the bulk of editorials should be aimed at showing that the positions espoused by the two dominant philosophies today do not span the full spectrum of possibilities, and that to achieve the proper goals that many people already have, necessitates stepping back and fighting for something completely revolutionary. (E.g. that was my goal in this piece, but it will take a lot of practice for me to write at the level Peter does.)

Second, Peter manages to tie-in topics ranging from welfare to the moral standing of the UN to stem cells,without leaving a million loose ends (which would undoubtedly be the case were I to try to write something of this scope in this length).

I recently received Peter's taped lecture course on non-fiction writing, and given my admiration for his writing ability, I'm really looking forward to listening to, and learning from, it.

News Links

I prefer to include links to anything I comment on, but sometimes it's just not possible. The biggest reason for this is that in my capacity as a daytrader, I have several scrolling news sources which allow me to read the news, but not to cut and paste it. The news is very "fresh" and typically won't yet be available on any free web site. Thus in cases where I'm citing such news releases, e.g. the one below regarding Hydro One, I won't be able to include any source. If I find one subsequently, I'll post it to the comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Futile Argument

I just read a short news release from Hydro One which "condemns the Society of Energy Professional's picketing activity at the Nanticoke Generating Station".

Was it because they believed they had the right to set the terms by which they would operate their own business? No. Was it because they saw that many workers were crossing the picket lines - implying that these workers felt that they were being fairly compensated? No. Instead, here is their reasoning:

"The union's behaviour today sets a new low and is tantamount to industrial terrorism" said Peter Gregg, VP of Corporate Communications. "They are essentially telling Ontarians that the union's self-interested demands are more important than each Ontarian's right to electricity."

So they are condemning self-interest and upholding "Ontarian's right to electricity" (which they themselves help in providing). It will be hard to shed a tear for them, if and when they have to defend themselves against future government regulations and expropriations.

We sure have a long way to go....

Saturday, June 11, 2005

'Political Correctness' Kills - NYT Reports

Yesterday's (6/10/05) NYT had a front page article headlined "Report Details F.B.I.'s Failure on 2 Hijackers", detailing "a series of bungled opportunities in an episode that many officials now regard as their best chance to have detected or disrupted the Sept. 11 plot."

Citing a Justice Department report released on Thursday:

"The report provides new information about the bureau's mishandling of a warning from an agent in Phoenix in July 2001 about Middle Eastern extremists connected to Osama bin Laden using American schools to receive aviation training.

"The F.B.I.'s cumbersome computer system - still beset by problems today - did not automatically forward the agent's memorandum to bureau officials who were supposed to receive copies of it, the report found. Those agents who did see the warning did not have the time to follow it up, or disregarded it because they felt the presence of Middle Eastern flight students was already commonly known. The agents were also concerned that racial profiling had become so "hot" an issue that they could not pursue the Phoenix agent's suspicions, according to the report." [italics added]

In other words, if it weren't for 'political correctness', chances are greater that 2800 people would still be alive, the airline industry wouldn't be entirely bankrupt, the economy wouldn't have taken a $100Bln hit, and New York's skyline would be intact.

One of the most important principles that Ayn Rand has always stood for is that: ideas matter. In other words, having and acting on true ideas is an issue of life and death. Unfortunately, Americans have long been non-intellectual or even anti-intellectual, shrugging off and ignoring the nonsense that spews out of our leftist colleges. It is nonsense, but it's also dangerous nonsense. These ideas need to be confronted head on -- not left to surreptitiously infiltrate our culture and ultimately tie the hands of our law enforcement officials.

Of course, we still haven't learned our lesson, as any 85-year-old Chinese grandmother who has had her shoes searched at airport security could attest. We waste tremendous resources searching those who pose an impossibly low probability of being a threat, 'going through the motions' so as not to 'offend' anyone.

So it could easily happen again.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Earlier this year, when the Ward Churchill essay became news, my initial reaction was that he should be charged with a crime such as ‘treason’ or ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’. But through discussion with friends, I realized my reaction was wrong, and that his comments were covered by his right to free speech - no matter how despicable his ideas were.

So, since it would be improper to prosecute him criminally, the alternative is to ostracize him. (By ostracize I mean to exclude someone from society by neither communicating nor dealing with him in any form.) Now, in a truly free society, there would be many types of immoral actions which would nonetheless be legal, so I think the concept of ostracizing, or shunning, is one worth exploring. Consider for instance another type of immoral action which would be legal: that of a man who abuses and tortures animals for no reason other than his own sadism and cruelty. Since animals have no rights, such a man could not be charged with a crime, yet he certainly could be, and should be, shunned.

When people are informed that this is how a free society would deal with such immoral men, many object that ostracism is both unrealistic and unpractical. But there is historical precedent for the practice - the Greeks did it all the time, both formally by vote (which is not what I would advocate), and informally by consensus and common values. It is this latter type that I consider a model for a free society. In fact, the example which got me thinking about the whole subject comes from Herodotus’ Persian Wars. In it, he recounts the story of the famous battle of Thermopylae, at which two Lacedaemonians (Spartans) were ordered out of the battle due to them suffering from eye disease. One of them, Eurytus, upon hearing that his compatriots were in the thick of battle, rushed to join them and was killed. The other, Aristodemus, remained on the sidelines and survived. He was the sole Spartan survivor of the battle, and when he returned home he was shunned. In Herodotus’ words:
“When Aristodemus returned to Lacedaemon, reproach and disgrace awaited him; disgrace, inasmuch as no Spartan would give him a light to kindle his fire, or so much as address a word to him; and reproach, since all spoke of him as the ‘craven’.”
Now personally I wouldn’t shun a man who didn’t fight because he was afflicted with a disease(!), but the point is that ostracism is both realistic and practical. All it takes is a society of individuals who value morality and who have the right to act in accordance with it. The Greeks had both. As I noted in a previous post, they valued honor and acting for the good above all else. And they had no government regulations to prevent them from honoring those whom they found noble nor from shunning those whom they found immoral.

In today’s world both requirements for successfully ostracizing people are not only lacking, but even reversed. Consider that the subjectivists on the Left continuously cry that free speech means not just respecting a person’s right to voice his opinion, but actually respecting the opinion itself – no matter what its content (“everyone’s opinion is equally valid”). In so doing they don’t just deprecate morality, they actually eradicate it completely. For if every opinion is equally valid (which means that there is no truth), there can be no science aimed at discovering and defining the proper code of values necessary for man to succeed and prosper on earth – i.e. there can be no morality or ethics.

And when they’re not busy attacking morality, they’re assailing property rights by claiming that only by providing a man with the means to express his views, can he truly have free speech. So in the case of Ward Churchill, they not only defend his vitriolic attack on America as morally equivalent to those who defend it, but then they advocate the transfer of private property (via taxes) to allow him the podium and position by which he makes those views known. And to the vast majority of us who do not want our property stolen to support such an atrocity, they say that such is the price of free speech (with the implication that property rights are not valid, but their version of the right to free speech is).

Similarly, if all the inhabitants of the town in which Ward Churchill lives were to decide to ostracize him – say by not serving him at the local markets, gas stations, restaurants, hospitals, and not providing him with electricity, gas and water – under current law he could sue them for discrimination … and win! When a government prevents people from using their property as they see fit (of course excluding instances where they use it to initiate force against others), the government violates property rights and thereby indirectly allows abominations such as Ward Churchill to exist.

Reflecting on these issues confirms to me yet again that only a proper definition and implementation of rights, viz. prohibiting the initiation of force, and a general appreciation for the role and importance of morality in life, can foster a good and benevolent society. For in a truly free society, one in which men are held accountable for their actions and views, a Ward Churchill would never have the moral support, nor the material means, to attack that which makes life possible. Only when morality is abandoned, and individual rights violated, does a monstrosity such as Churchill continue to survive and spew his venom to the detriment of us all.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Private Health Care in Canada

Good news for Canadians (or at least Quebecers) in that their Supreme Court today struck down a law forbidding private health care -- deciding that doing so would be a violation of Quebec's charter of rights. Of course it says a lot about the country that this could even be an issue...

P.S. It is always funny to me to see quotes about the "free" or "fair" health care system, followed by the seemingly unrelated observation that there exist chronic shortages and huge waiting lines, as exemplified in a paragraph from the link above:
"But the universal health-care system — while considered one of the fairest in the world — has been plagued by long waiting lists and a lack of doctors, nurses and new equipment. Some patients wait years for surgery, MRI machines are scarce and many Canadians travel to the United States for medical treatment."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

WSJ Editorials

The Wall Street Journal carried a couple of interesting editorials today. The first deals with the Supreme Court's ruling in Gonzales vs. Raich (which is a case about medical marijuana). The editorial rightly points out that the biggest danger with the ruling is that it establishes a further precedent allowing the federal government to regulate any matter (i.e. regardless of whether or not the subject is one enumerated in the Constitution as falling under federal jurisdiction).

This quote from the editorial summarizes the danger:

"If, as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his majority concurrence, non-economic activities can be regulated so long as they are part of a "comprehensive scheme of regulation," there would appear to be no federal power the Commerce Clause couldn't theoretically justify. "

The second editorial provides more evidence on the deterioration of health care (and the increase in costs) in our current highly regulated and litigious environment, as well as providing some foreshadowing of what it will be like as it becomes more nationalized.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Colorado Book Project

As a follow-up to this post, I'm happy to report that FRO's book project succeeded in raising enough money to sponsor books for the entire state of Colorado. Congratulations on the great work!