Wednesday, June 30, 2010


After posting general agreement with the idea that rule of law and property rights must be respected vis-à-vis the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, I also felt it important to highlight Dr. Peikoff’s recent — and strong — denunciation of this view. You can hear his take on the issue at his website.

While I understand and agree with the general points he makes, I don’t clearly see their applicability in this situation. Moreover I worry that his considerations are less important than issues of mob rule vs. rule of law, property rights (and by extension rights to freedom of speech), etc. Indeed I keep picturing what would happen if (when?) a mob decides that Objectivist views are hateful and harmful to the nation’s way of life and founding principles?

But I was having trouble uniting all of these considerations into a comprehensive post, partly because of my great respect for Dr. Peikoff (I’ve learned a lot from his writings and audio lectures and thus wonder if perhaps I'm missing something here), and partly because I don’t know all of the particulars and details pertaining to the mosque. (For example I wonder why existing laws, even without a declaration of war, aren't enough to shut the mosque down if its owners are truly guilty of criminal activity, not just of promulgating ideas we find pernicious? Here a formal declaration of war is relevant, but perhaps not the whole issue as some have intimated. Similarly, I wonder why we wouldn't advocate using this highly controversial and visible event to engage in persuasion and moral evaluation? Expose the tenets and practices of Islam. Repudiate its thinkers and practitioners. Publicly condemn and morally ostracize all those associated with the project, including contractors, real estate agents, lawyers, etc. To me this would be a much more effective route to combat the particular and general threat -- without endorsing political principles and actions with which we disagree.)

In any case, given the complexity of the issue and my inability to grapple with it convincingly, I’m now happy to simply highlight Paul Hsieh’s excellent post on the subject, with which I agree. I find myself having the same attitude that he closes with (his point 5), and sometimes think that it will be a positive sign when not every Objectivist debate is framed as some type of litmus test. (I don’t ever recall running into such tests in my professional engineering life, despite having been involved in some highly acrimonious disputes.) (Of course, by this last observation I don't mean to imply that my level of knowledge is sufficient to qualify me as an Objectivist and thus subject to, or worried about, such a test. I consider myself a student of Objectivism, which means that my views are informed by what I understand of the philosophy and that I'm committed to bettering my grasp of it over time.)

Update: Amy Peikoff provides more arguments and support for Dr. Peikoff's position. I'm still not persuaded however.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beallara Peggy Ruth Carpenter 'Morning Glory'


Monday, June 28, 2010

Voter Intimidation as "Payback"

We've already seen President Obama's abject disdain for the judicial process and for the Supreme Court. Now comes a story of his administration's unwillingness to prosecute voter intimidation. Here's the opening of the recent story:

On the day President Obama was elected, armed men wearing the black berets and jackboots of the New Black Panther Party were stationed at the entrance to a polling place in Philadelphia. They brandished a weapon and intimidated voters and poll watchers. After the election, the Justice Department brought a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party and those armed thugs. I and other Justice attorneys diligently pursued the case and obtained an entry of default after the defendants ignored the charges. Before a final judgment could be entered in May 2009, our superiors ordered us to dismiss the case.

The New Black Panther case was the simplest and most obvious violation of federal law I saw in my Justice Department career. Because of the corrupt nature of the dismissal, statements falsely characterizing the case and, most of all, indefensible orders for the career attorneys not to comply with lawful subpoenas investigating the dismissal, this month I resigned my position as a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney.
Hopefully this story serves as yet more impetus for people to start getting involved in both philosophy and politics. At some point there will be no way to recover from the accelerating attacks on free elections and freedom of speech that we're seeing these days. So don't wait to make your voice heard!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Means Must Be Compatible with the Ends

I enjoyed Steve Simpson's post on the right of property owners to build a mosque near ground zero. This paragraph in particular is a good reminder that there are, and can be, no shortcuts in life, whether it be towards personal achievement or changing a culture:
It doesn't help that the cause may be moral. Morality is necessary to objective law, but it is far from sufficient. Objective law also requires, well, that we actually have objective laws and processes on the books and that we use them. It is not enough--it is never, ever enough--to say that it would be morally appropriate to proceed against someone if we only had the laws to do it, but since we lack the laws or the political will, our ends justify whatever means we decide to use under the circumstances.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

McChrystal's Real Scandal

Elan Journo has the details in his latest blog post. (But the gist is given in his lead quote: McChrystal “shifted the risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants,".)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Cost of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Bailouts

The NY Times has an interesting story detailing the costs of the bailout. I think such costs are almost inevitable in any situation where the ramifications of success and failure are so asymmetrical (in this case managers, owners and recipients of each company's large political contributions stood to gain in good times, while we poor tax-paying suckers were on the hook when things went wrong). You won't find such situations in private markets, only where the government implicitly or explicitly takes on the risk of failure. Throw that in with government incentives and exhortations to buy homes and you have the makings of a disaster. (Of course the housing boom itself came because of the Federal Reserve, which has all these features on a much larger scale -- plus the ability to distort every price signal via its control of the money supply. But even absent it, the asymmetrical nature of Fannie and Freddie's setup was sure to doom them and us.)

A few excerpts from the article:
For all the focus on the historic federal rescue of the banking industry, it is the government’s decision to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008 that is likely to cost taxpayers the most money. So far the tab stands at $145.9 billion, and it grows with every foreclosure of a three-bedroom home with a two-car garage one hour from Phoenix. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the final bill could reach $389 billion.


Rather than actually making loans, the two companies — Fannie older and larger, Freddie created to provide competition — bought loans from banks and other originators, providing money for more lending and helping to hold down interest rates.

“Our business is the American dream of home ownership,” Fannie Mae declared in its mission statement, and in 2001 the company set a target of helping to create six million new homeowners by 2014.


Prices have plunged. So by the time a home is resold, Fannie and Freddie on average recoup less than 60 percent of the money the borrower failed to repay, according to the companies’ financial filings. In Phoenix and other areas where prices have fallen sharply, the losses often are larger.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sarcochilus Hartmanii 'Mother's Day Late'


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Epstein at

Alex Epstein on the essential value oil plays in our lives and our economy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Graphical Representation of People Leaving California

I enjoyed the maps on this site, showing immigration and emigration patterns in various states. You can see more at the Forbes site.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Communicating Political Ideas

I don't know much about governor Christie of New Jersey (other than speeches I've linked to here), but I agree with the commenter on Instapundit who says he's a very effective communicator. For an example, check out the 6 minute video at the the link.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thought Police in Europe

As I've mentioned before, freedom of speech is, and will continue to be, one of the critical issues of our times. To see how it devolves, often under the assault of multi-culturalism and political correctness, read Bruce Bawer's account of his current plight in Norway. (The lesson, of course, is that the longer one waits to speak out, the harder it becomes to do so. So don't wait!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Apt Analogy

I liked this line describing how governments act when faced with crises (in this case of impending inflation):
It's like they're on a train which they know to be heading for a crash, but it is accelerating so rapidly they're scared to jump off.
From an "outside the box" article circulated by John Mauldin.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sedirea Japonica


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Spiritual Value of Work

Daniel Casper has an excellent new blog post on the subject over at The Undercurrent.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Office of the Repealer

This is a good sign. Particularly given the explicit connection given between force and mind:
“People just love this idea,” Mr. Brownback said here the other day, smiling broadly. “They feel like they’re getting their brains regulated out of them.”
I think that this broad movement suggests that now is a good time to get involved in local/state politics; at least with the intention of buying time to make a more fundamental and wholesale philosophical change in the culture. (The lesson of Gingrich mentioned in the article is also germane; without knowledgeable people staying apprised and vetting the process, the danger is that all we'll have is another "failed" attempt at deregulation.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Documenting the “Lottery”

There’s a lot to like about this story. Not just the factual expose of the public education system and its backers, but also the objectivity of the reporter. Would that some in the mainstream media follow her lead.

Here's part of the intro to give you an idea what the story's about:
In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York's biggest lottery. It wasn't the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city's best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren't subject to union rules).

"I was blown away by the number of parents that were there," Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. "I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them." And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free Speech - Use it or Lose It

For those out there too busy to engage in any activism or political discussion, I urge you to read Paul Hsieh's excellent editorial on freedom of speech. If we lose the right to present dissenting views, there's no recourse (except violence, which no one wants). Making time to at least voice opinions on this issue might help preserve an environment in which future activism is still possible.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Principled Letter

Earl Parson has a great letter to his government officials up on his blog. It's the kind of thing that anyone can do (and there are many example letters, like this one, to crib from if you don't enjoy writing your own from scratch). I particularly like how he tackles a very specific and concrete issue, yet brings in the more abstract principles involved.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fall 2010 OAC Applications

For those considering applying to the OAC this year, applications are now available. FWIW, I highly recommend the program (full disclosure, I'm related to several of the principals involved).

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

LC Orange Embers 'Yellow Birds'


Monday, June 07, 2010

When Declining to Trade Becomes "Price-Fixing"

Cultural use notwithstanding, the concept "monopoly" really only has meaning when it refers to people being prohibited from competition by force. And in today's semi-civilized world, that means government force. Unfortunately doctors are now joining other businessmen in learning what happens when concepts are flagrantly mis-used (see particularly the third paragraph):

First, until now the Federal Trade Commission, not the Justice Department, has taken the lead in prosecuting physicians. Since 2000, the FTC has brought about three dozen cases against physicians (all but one of which settled without any trial). But the FTC only has civil and administrative jurisdiction; the Antitrust Division has civil and criminal jurisdiction. The Sherman Act makes no distinction between civil and criminal “price fixing,” so in a case like this, it’s entirely a matter of prosecutorial discretion whether to charge the doctors with a civil or criminal offense.

Based on the descriptions in the Antitrust Division’s press release, there’s certainly no reason they couldn’t have prosecuted the doctors criminally and insisted upon prison sentences — and there’s little doubt such threats were made or implied to obtain the physicians’ agreement to the proposed “settlement.”

The second reason this is a landmark case is that the Justice Department has unambiguously stated that refusal to accept government price controls is a form of illegal “price fixing.”

The FTC has hinted at this when it’s said physicians must accept Medicare-based reimbursement schedules from insurance companies. But the DOJ has gone the final step and said, “Government prices are market prices,” in the form of the Idaho Industrial Commission’s fee schedule. The IIC administers the state’s worker compensation system and is composed of three commissioners appointed by the governor. This isn’t a quasi-private or semi-private entity. It’s a purely government operation.

The only permanent way to prevent these depredations is to correct the conceptual abuses that have been rampant for far too long (particularly for concepts relating to reason, egoism and capitalism).

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Stossel on 'Green' Energy

I enjoyed John Stossel's piece outlining some of the views of Robert Bryce, author of "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy". An excerpt:
One nuclear power plant in Texas covers about 19 square miles, an area slightly smaller than Manhattan. To produce the same amount of power from wind turbines would require an area the size of Rhode Island. This is energy sprawl." To produce the same amount of energy with ethanol, another "green" fuel, it would take 24 Rhode Islands to grow enough corn.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

WSJ: The Lessons of GM's Bankruptcy

Though I disagree with some of this, particularly the last point regarding liquidation vs. bailout, I think the author makes some good observations. The best among them relate to issues of corporate governance:
On paper General Motors was a model of good corporate governance, while Ford was (and is) a disaster. The Ford family's super-voting Class B shares give it 40% of the votes with less than 4% of the shareholder equity. Class B shares get about 31 votes for every share of the Class A stock that nonfamily members own. And the Ford family gets veto power over any corporate merger or dissolution.

This structure seems to fly in the face of what is generally understood to be sound principles of good corporate governance. Such "undemocratic" provisions are sure to be lamented this month at two major corporate-governance conferences: the ODX (Outstanding Directors Exchange) in New York, and the annual confab at the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance at Yale.

But the Ford board of directors and family came together in 2006 to seek a new CEO from outside the struggling company, even though that meant family scion Bill Ford Jr. had to relinquish command. He volunteered to do so and remains chairman, but not CEO. Meanwhile, the GM board, consisting of blue-chip outside directors who chose a "lead director" from their ranks, steadfastly backed an ineffective management from one disaster to another and wrung its collective hands while the company ran out of cash. Some GM retirees dubbed the directors the "board of bystanders."

Ford's governance might be undemocratic. But at least it concentrates decision-making power in the hands of a few people with a significant emotional and financial stake in the company, and they proved willing to act. Absolutely no one on the General Motors board had either such stake, which helps explain why the directors did nothing.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Caulaelia Mizoguchi

A new favorite