Friday, November 27, 2009

Why Ayn Rand Still Resonates

Onkar has a new editorial out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Government 'Science'

The Washington Post provides a revealing look at how a consensus (backed by government force via grants and educational appointments) is made. In the long run, in my opinion, the absolute separation of state and science is as important as the separation of state and economy, or state and religion -- for basically the same reasons.

HT Crossfit

August 2009 OActivist Compilation

August's compilation is now available.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nothing Less than Victory

Diana has good news on John Lewis' forthcoming book. I must say that I can't ever remember looking forward to a new book as eagerly as I am this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Government 'Independence'

Gus Van Horn has a good post today which includes an excellent quote from Stephen Bourque.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Concepts as Tools of Thought

This article on, of all things, lego naming, is interesting because it confirms the Objectivist view that concepts are primarily tools of cognition, not tools of communication. (In other words, even on a desert island, you'd have a crucial need of concepts held as words.) Here's the salient paragraph (emphasis added):
Our small, international cast (half Brits, half Americans) is made up of four children. First, my seven-year-old son Barney, who surveyed the list as if it was another piece of homework. His friend, Jem, also seven, went through the list and then wanted to do it again. Five-and-a-half-year-old Max didn’t hesitate to name every piece. Six-year-old Raimi often builds spaceships, but has never referred to the pieces by name, until prompted by his father—at which point he revealed that he possessed names for all of them in his head.
HT: TUEditors

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cascades or Consensus by Secondhandedness

In going through some of my papers I ran across an article I'd meant to blog. I think it's still relevant in explaining how a consensus by itself doesn't mean much, and how having government enforce a consensus makes it that much more difficult to correct. The article in question is by John Tierney introducing Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories". Here's an excerpt of Tierney's lucid writing:
He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group’s members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let's End the Fed

It still amazes me how intellectually corrupt that paragon of financial wisdom, the Fed, truly is. How anyone can maintain that we need a Fed because somehow a few men behind closed doors can successfully machinate the economy is beyond me. Or hold that such politically appointed men can remain politically independent. A few excerpts from today's NY Times story:
Voters had become suspicious and unnerved by the Fed because of its trillion-dollar efforts to bail out the financial system, Mr. Frank warned. If the Fed really wanted to survive the disgruntlement in both parties, he continued, Mr. Bernanke would have to step back and let him devise a compromise.


"Ben Bernanke turns out to have better political instincts than anybody thought," Mr. Frank said in an interview last week. "They accept the fact that I know what I'm doing up here."


At one recent meeting, Senator Sherrod Brown challenged Mr. Bernanke's bona fides as a regular guy by giving him a pop quiz on baseball statistics. Mr. Bernanke, a passionate fan, passed.


To fight illustrates Mr. Bernanke's political challenge better than the one over Mr. Paul's bill to audit the Fed.

The maneuvering is still under way, involving intricate negotiations outside of public view. But, aided by the pledge of help from Mr. Frank and backing from the administration, Fed officials cautiously predict they will get what they want.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Peddling Pull in Healthcare

The WSJ has an good editorial out showing how the new health bill will create dependence on government and thereby increase what Ayn Rand termed "Pull Peddling" (see her essay in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal). A few excerpts:

The vote was 220 to 215, with 39 House Democrats joining all but one Republican in opposition. Mrs. Pelosi had to cajole and bribe her way to the magic 218, and the list of her promises must be stacked to the ceiling.

The lone Republican, Joseph Cao, represents a Democratic-leaning Louisiana district and extracted a promise that Mr. Obama would increase Medicaid payments to his state, and even then he only voted after Democrats had already hit 218. Let no one suggest this was the "bipartisan" health reform that Mr. Obama has long promised.


The real importance of the abortion uproar is as preview of the politics that will dominate every medical coverage issue if ObamaCare becomes law. Every decision of what to insure or not—when an MRI can be used, or whether a stage-four breast cancer patient can get Avastin or some future expensive drug—will become subject to political intervention over moral disputes or budget constraints. Heretofore, these decisions have largely been made between a doctor and patient. This is the real "right to life" issue.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Krening on Health Care

Congrats to Hannah Krening for having this excellent editorial published in the Denver Post! I particularly enjoyed this section, but be sure to read the whole piece:

What kind of health care will this system provide to you when you have a life threatening condition? How will it compare to what you have come to expect? I can tell you.

During my months of treatment for breast cancer in my early forties, my caregivers used their minds to make hundreds of important decisions that helped me win my battle. Their focus was on me, not government bureaucrats looking over their shoulders. Without their ability to freely exercise their judgment, I would not have survived.

Ask yourself: who do you think should be in charge of these kinds of decisions and work? Our smooth-talking president and his minions? Or medical personnel thinking and working for the benefit of their paying patients? Is it really in your best interest as a patient to have your doctor's mind forced by government?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Von Mises in the WSJ

It's nice to see Ludwig Von Mises getting some attention.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Virtuous Advice

Here's a second passage from William Zinsser's On Writing Well. I think his advice illustrates the importance and practicality of the four derivative Objectivist virtues which, to me, are most central in living one's life (independence, productiveness, integrity and pride). (Set aside the fact that it's written in terms of competitiveness, the same ideas hold without that element.)
[...] We're all working with the same words and the same principles.

Where, then, is the edge? Ninety percent of the answer lies in the hard work of mastering the tools discussed in this book. Add a few points for such natural gifts as a good musical ear, a sense of rhythm and a feeling for words. But the final advantage is the same one that applies in every other competitive venture. If you would like to write better than everybody else, you have to want to write better than everybody else. You must take an obsessive pride in the smallest details of your craft. And you must be willing to defend what you've written against the various middlemen--editors, agents and publishers--whose sights may be different from yours, whose standards not as high. Too many writers are browbeaten into settling for less than their best.

I've always felt that my "style"--the careful projection onto paper of who I think I am--is my main marketable asset, the one possession that might set me apart from other writers. Therefore I never wanted anyone to tinker with it, and after I submit an article I protect it fiercely. Several magazine editors have told me I'm the only writer they know who cares what happens to his piece after he gets paid for it. Most writers won't argue with an editor because they don't want to annoy him; they're so grateful to be published that they agree to having their style--in other words, their personality--violated in public.

Yet to defend what you've written is a sign that you are alive. I'm a known crank on this issue--I fight over every semicolon. But editors put up with me because they can see that I'm serious. In fact, my crankiness has brought me more work than it has driven away. Editors with an unusual assignment often thought of me because they knew I would do it with unusual care. They also knew they would get the article on time and that it would be accurate. [...]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Send your Congressmen a NO on Socialized Medicine

Here's a link to make sending your congressmen a NO on socialized medicine easy. Please use it (it allows you to put in your own text or use theirs if you don't have time to compose your own). I used Jason Crawford's succinct message (via OActivists) which he has graciously allowed others to use too:
The Wall Street Journal calls Pelosi's bill "the worst bill ever". I agree.

Please vote NO to socialized medicine, to "universal coverage", to any "public option" or "single-payer" system, and to any expansion of government control over health care.

Please vote YES for real reform and increased *freedom* in health care, especially repeal of insurance mandates, opening insurance across state lines, and opening HSAs to everyone.

Please do NOT help pass a compromise bill! We don't need compromise with socialized medicine, we need to defeat it.

Health care is not a right! It is a service to be bought and paid for. And doctors, hospitals, and patients should have the right and the freedom to deal with each other any way they want.

Learning from RomneyCare

Paul Hsieh has another valuable editorial out. Check it out and feel free to leave supportive comments.