26 August 2008

Coalition for Secular Government on Amendment 48

The Coalition for Secular Government (CSG) recently released an excellent paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh.  The paper speaks for itself and ought to be read carefully in its entirety, but I wish to highlight a few ideas that I found to be particular insightful.

First, for readers unfamiliar with it, the proposed amendment to the Colorado constitution known as Amendment 48 would add the following text to define “personhood”: “As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”[Emphasis mine.]  The referenced sections include basic inalienable rights, such as the right to one’s life and property, and the right to due process and justice in court.

The consequences of defining a fertilized egg as a “person” vividly illustrate why the abortion issue is not merely a minor political “hot button” for women, but is a matter of life and death for all rational human beings.  To extend the rights of a human being to human cells is to dispense with rights altogether.

One profound insight of the CSG paper is a general one, applicable beyond the content of this particular law: when a measure is passed that so egregiously violates individual rights, the rule of law itself is strained.  Armstrong and Hsieh write, “The more consistently Amendment 48 were enforced and interpreted by the courts, the more ghastly its implications would be.”  And later, “The legislature and courts in Colorado might be strongly tempted to pretend that Amendment 48 doesn’t mean what it plainly says in order to avoid its absurd implications.  Such a course of legislative and judicial winking might save Colorado from the worst effects of the measure, but it would do so by undermining the basic principle of rule of law so essential to a free society.”(Note 1.) 

This is a critical point.  The implications of Amendment 48 are stunningly wide-reaching if one takes the law for what it says.  So, either the law means what it says, which if enforced would impose shocking and outrageous limitations on human activities, or the law is to be applied selectively, which would subvert the rule of law itself.  

The truth is that the passage of such an amendment to the Colorado constitution would achieve both disadvantages simultaneously.  Not every implication would come about at once, of course.  At first, the public would challenge some of the ramifications, such as the banning of birth control pills (and perhaps wonder how on earth an “abortion” law could be used in such a way).  But once the measure is passed, it is too late.  The law would always be there, a guillotine blade hanging ominously over citizens’ heads.  Challenges to abortions, to the use of birth control, to experiments with stem cells, and to fertility procedures, would take the form of particular battles waged in court that get successively more difficult to defend against.  The public will have lost the opportunity to dash the amendment at its inception, to excoriate it in principle.  That opportunity is here now, and must not be missed.

If there is a benefit to the proposed Amendment 48 it is that it draws the advocates of a religious state out of the woodwork, exposing their goals in an unusually pure form.  But this clarity exists as a benefit only insofar as we take the religionists seriously and vehemently denounce their attempts to inject religion into the law.  Most importantly, the religionists must be challenged on the proper grounds - specifically, their superstition must be met with the facts of reality, and their morality of sacrifice and altruism must be met with a morality of rational self-interest.  The CSG paper succeeds on both counts.  In its presentation of the biological facts, Armstrong and Hsieh write:

[S]o long as the fetus remains within the woman, it is wholly dependent on her for its basic life-functions.  It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes.  It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body.  It is wholly contained within and dependent on her for its survival.

This is the crux of the matter, the primary relevant fact.  There is simply no fact of nature that would account for a fetus (not to mention a just-fertilized egg) being imbued with the status of a rights-bearing human being; this is why the religionists necessarily introduce arbitrary and supernatural pretexts (such as “God-given rights” and eternal souls) for their position.  In every real, natural, biological sense - that is to say, in any sense that should be considered by the law - the fetus is part of the woman’s body.  They are her cells, not God’s or society’s, and she may dispose of them as she judges best - and if she is moral, she will base this decision on her own long-term self-interest.  

This brings me to the morality of abortion.  The CSG paper makes clear the stark difference between a morality based upon self-interest, which requires an embrace of reality, rationality, and a long-range view, and one based upon sacrifice, superstition, and passive obedience to scriptural command.  “Responsible adults do not allow themselves to be buffeted about in life by accidental circumstances,” write the authors.

The victims of Amendment 48 would be men and women who seek happiness in life; couples who wish to enjoy a rewarding sexual relationship; those that must use fertility techniques to help them have children where none could be expected; people who plan and properly consider all the ramifications of starting a family; women who wish to flourish and be productive in their careers before having (or without having) children; and the untold number of men and women that want to survive the diseases that would have had cures if stem-cell research had not been thwarted.  In short, it is moral people who are victimized by Amendment 48.

In contrast, the advocates of Amendment 48 are profoundly immoral.  For them, a woman is not an independent, rational being who owns her own body; she is merely a sacrificial vessel for God’s plans, an incubator for God’s children.  If she has sexual intercourse - whether or not she has used birth control, whether or not she has been raped, whether or not she can afford to raise a child, whether or not her life’s plans will be ruined, whether or not the delivery will kill her - the consequences must be left in God’s hands.  In the same breath, the religionists claim that a clump of a woman’s cells constitutes a being with rights while the woman herself has no rights.  They hold that a woman cannot remove a part of her body that is deleterious to her life, but a government (in particular, one sanctioned by God) can dispose of the woman as it chooses.

The title of the CSG paper makes a key identification: that the allegedly “pro-life” anti-abortion crusaders are actually anti-life - or more specifically, anti-life qua human.  The religionists smuggle in their advocacy of force under the pretext that “all human life has value,” but in fact it is precisely living a human life that is surrendered.  The woman herself is sacrificed upon the altar to save a group of cells in her body. 



1.  Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, Coalition for Secular Government, August, 2008.  (http://www.SecularGovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf)

25 August 2008

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 27

Leonard Peikoff's podcasts are now available on iTunes and via an RSS feed!  Here is the latest:

Teasers: reproduction as the "ultimate goal," status of book (The DIM Hypothesis), the next generation, DIM question, Ominous Parallels revisited, goal of education.   

18 August 2008

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 26

The latest audio from Dr. Peikoff:

Teasers: Aristotle's doctrine of the "golden mean," born indirectly from evil, ethics for the terminally ill, "none of the above" on a ballot, the universality of philosophic ideas. 

17 August 2008

The Numbers Guy on Obesity

In an article called “Obesity Study Looks Thin” in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik makes a grimly amusing observation:

In 40 years, every single American could be overweight, according to a recent study.  Employing that same logic, 13 out of every 10 adult Americans by then won’t have landlines. (Note 1.)

This ridiculous prediction made by the Nature Publishing Group journal Obesity - that literally 100% of Americans will be obese by 2048 - was made by plotting points representing obesity data from the last three decades, finding the slope of the trend, then simply (and brazenly, as Bialik aptly put it) extending the line into the future.

It is no wonder the study stopped the prediction at 2048, since beyond that, even the most gullible of readers may have suspected the results: they would have showed that there would be more fat Americans than there would be Americans.   

The fact that there was little justification for dropping a straight-edge on a graph and drawing a line did not prevent the study from circulating widely.  Apparently, it appeared online not only at the Obesity web site, but on the web pages of Reuters and Matt Drudge, and it is to be printed in the October issue of Obesity.

Now, the point I want to emphasize here is not that every claim of obesity is overblown.  Clearly, many Americans eat too much and have unhealthy eating habits.  What I am concerned about is the numbers game itself.  If the prophets of doom had wished to show a trend not toward American obesity but toward American starvation, they had little to do beyond finding some pretext to draw the line with the opposite slope. 

Furthermore, I am concerned with the way these numbers are used.  This has become the pattern:  Fantastic predictions such as these are published in the news today, are digested uncritically by the public tomorrow, and end up appearing in the abstracts of bills on legislators’ desks the day after that. 

Following every whiff of a problem in the realm of personal responsibility comes the public cry, “There ought to be a law!”

It wasn’t so long ago that I used the poor eating habits of Americans as an argument, in the form of reductio ad absurdum, to defend the tobacco industry in conversations with colleagues.  My case would go something like, “People choose to smoke, so they have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences.  To blame the tobacco companies is like blaming fast food restaurants for making people fat, which is ridiculous, right?”  At the time, it seemed completely absurd to think that legislators would come to assail restaurants for using “trans-fats.”  Reports like this one from Obesity pave the way for this intrusion into our lives. 

Incidentally, the author of the WSJ article, Carl Bialik, has an interesting blog called The Numbers Guy, in which he covers the way numbers and statistics can be used to convey information... and sometimes deceive.


1. Carl Bialik, “Obesity Study Looks Thin,” Wall Street Journal, 15 Aug 2008, p.A11.

11 August 2008

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 25

Here is Leonard Peikoff's latest:

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 25 (11 Aug 2008)

Teasers: fewer female than male Objectivists, retirement, role of philosophy in history, collective pollution, the future and impact of podcasting, "pure" science, LP favorites, homosexual Objectivists.

Faith in the West

Rob Moll, a writer and editor for the Evangelical Christian magazine Christianity Today, wrote an article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal that repeats an idea that quite frankly makes no sense whatsoever: that the prosperity associated with free market economies is somehow a result of westerners being Christian.   

He writes:

One of the most important dissenting voices in China today belongs to Peter Zhao, a Communist Party member and adviser to the Chinese Central Committee.  Mr. Zhao is among a group of Chinese intellectuals who look to the West to find the key to economic success.  Mr. Zhao in particular believes that Christianity and the ethical system based upon its teachings are the reason that Western countries dominate the global economy. (Note 1.)  [emphasis mine] 

Mr. Moll heartily approves of Mr. Zhao’s assertion, but the argument fails utterly.  

The question arises: why would anyone even attempt to make this case, which is absurd on its face?  The answer follows easily: to try to square the obvious benefits of living in the modern western world with one’s Christian faith, which demands quite a different life.


The incompatibility of Christianity and capitalism is identical to the incompatibility of faith and reason.  In fact, the former is simply a special case of the latter.  Christianity is a particular application of faith; capitalism, an application of reason.  The two are contradictions.  

This contradiction presents itself to the Christian, and the choices are three: reject the altruism of Christianity in favor of capitalism (i.e. live and flourish); reject the selfish and worldly benefits of capitalism in favor of Christianity (i.e. become a monk); or let the contradiction exist in one’s mind without resolution, pitting altruism side by side with self-interest, compartmentalizing the ramifications, excusing the needs of the flesh, apologizing for the weakness of humanity, finding solace in bromides, rationalizing the profits as being beneficial for the meek, and continually assuring oneself that the automobiles, television sets, and full bellies enjoyed by oneself and by everyone else with access to economic freedom is indeed what a simple Jewish carpenter, who some two millennia ago lectured his followers on the virtues of self-sacrifice and submission to God, would have wished for if he had been lucky enough to live after the Industrial Revolution.

The acceptance of such a manifest contradiction requires a massive and sustained evasion.  The fact that the historical Jesus and his missionaries would have despised and rejected the western world - the United States in particular - must be suppressed if one is to hold Mr. Zhao’s premises.

Mr. Zhao writes, “[F]rom history we see only Christians have a continuous nonstop creative spirit and the spirit for innovation.”[again, emphasis mine]  This must be a selective “history” indeed, ignoring, for instance, the Dark and Middle Ages in Europe, 19th century Russia, and the entire continents of South America and Africa up to the present day.  The logic of Mr. Zhao, such as it is, is that the creators of western prosperity were nominally Christians, and thus the prosperity came about because they were Christians.  

To conclude this is, among other things, to fall prey to the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc; it takes mere correlation as implying causation.  Yes, the creators of capitalism - the Enlightenment thinkers, the English and Dutch traders, the American colonists, the capitalists of the Industrial Revolution, and even many of the entrepreneurs of the last century - were for the most part nominally Christian.  But it does not automatically follow that their Christianity was even a motivating factor, never mind the essential factor of their success.  With this logic, it might equally be concluded that the prosperity of the west is a result of certain men being relatively tall, living in non-equatorial climates, having white skin, being conversant in classic literature, using combs in their hair and forks at the table, eating cooked meat, speaking English, or being fond of music with stringed instruments - all characteristics which, like being nominally Christian, are generally true of westerners.  Needless to say, these attributes cannot logically be said to have contributed to the growth of capitalism without demonstrating why it may be so.  

To show that western prosperity occurred because its advocates were Christians, it is necessary to examine the tenets of Christianity and demonstrate a one-to-one correspondence with the requirements of capitalism.  And, in fact there is a one-to-one correspondence - but it shows the exact opposite of Mr. Zhao’s thesis.  On every point, Christianity is antithetical to capitalism.  Where Christianity requires altruism, capitalism demands self-interest.  What Christianity accepts with blind faith, capitalism confronts with open-eyed reason.  Where Christianity asserts the sovereignty of God, capitalism claims the sovereignty of the individual.  Where Christianity postpones rewards until the grave, capitalism lets men reap what they have earned in life.  Where Christianity demands obedience so that men may be commanded by God, capitalists obey Nature so that She may be commanded by man.  When the Christian bows his head, the entrepreneur raises his.  Christians kneel before God and raise the sword against non-believers; capitalists shake hands cordially.

One could hardly pick a more antagonistic pair of ideals than Christianity and a free market.

If as Mr. Zhao states, the dominance of Christianity with its ethical teachings is the reason for western prosperity, then why was there not a capitalist boom seventeen hundred years ago?  Or a thousand years?  Or five hundred?  Why did Augustine bewail a vale of tears and not trumpet a cornucopia of goods?  Why did Torquemada deal in souls instead of sous?  Why is the gaberdine despised and the frock admired, when the one means profit and the other penance?  Why did Martin Luther, in nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, condemn the fraud of indulgences instead of offering a better product for the money?  Why, instead of accepting cash in through a window as is done at fast food restaurants today, did Protestants choose to toss Catholics out of a window in Prague in 1618?

The fact is that the economic explosion in the west waited for the decline of strict religious thought as it was displaced by the ideas of the Enlightenment.  This transformation accompanied, by no mere coincidence, the urgent need for colonists to survive in a hostile new world, to think, to innovate, to trade.  It accompanied, again by no mere coincidence, the emancipation of ordinary men from kings and popes and feudal lords.  As political freedom rose, religion fell away, leaving its shell.  Individuals discovered that they had the ability to read for themselves not only the Bible, but other things as well.  When Luther and Calvin shook the minds of men in order that each may contemplate his own sinfulness, they inadvertently freed those minds for other, more worldly thoughts.  This could not be taken back.  The Tree of Knowledge had been shaken, and it was apples everywhere; Sir Isaac Newton happened to be watching one of them as it fell, much to the benefit of mankind.  

As the Enlightenment glowed brighter, Christianity dimmed.  There is nothing unfair about this.  Christianity had had its day – more than a thousand years of days, and what historian Daniel Boorstin aptly called the “Great Interruption” of recorded history – and humanity suffered and prayed and sacrificed and accepted worldly misery just as Christian doctrines prescribe.  Now, however, there was a New World.  Superstition was useless; humility, impractical.  A monk perishes where a frontiersman survives.  The sailor has his superstitions, but they are put aside while navigating.  When starvation loomed, fasting was something to be avoided.  Did Jamestown overcome famine and disease because of prayer or because of industry?  Conversely, did Salem hang its women because it was profitable to do so or because Christian fervor demanded it?  

The band of separatists that leaped onto the deck of the Speedwell in August of 1620 and stepped off the deck of the Mayflower in November were likely seeking a heavenly paradise very different than the earthly one they found.  Launched by faith, they nevertheless landed with two feet on the ground.  They tilled the earth and planted when they arrived, and fortunately, the Puritan dourness and piety never really took root as well as did English commerce and good governance.  Piety is something of a weed.  It existed and was even cultivated by habit in some places, but only where it could not choke off commerce.  The churches were built soon enough… but only after the houses were up.

And of these churches: Mr. Zhao writes, “In the U.S., the spires of churches are more numerous than China’s banks and rice shops.” However one may point to the many steeples in America, one may just as easily point to the vermiform appendix in the body.  It is as absurd to claim that the churches account for our riches as it is to claim that the appendix accounts for Homo sapiens.  Perhaps both of these vestigial organs – faith for the masses and appendix for the man – had a purpose in pre-history, but neither is needed or wanted today.  Indeed, if either rises out of dormancy to make itself known and felt now, it is only to inflame and infect and kill.

And this brings me to the purpose of this post.  If religion were merely irrelevant to the ideals of America, I would direct my attention elsewhere.  But it is not.  Religious faith is hostile and antagonistic to the ideals of free men everywhere, and in America today it is Evangelical Christianity that most directly threatens our freedom.  (Yes, even more so than Islamic totalitarianism.)  To claim that western prosperity is a result of Christianity is an outrageous distortion based, at best, on superficial and selective observations.  To recommend that we revive these superstitions in a modern world is unforgivably reckless.


1.  Rob Moll, “Want More Growth in China? Have Faith,” Wall Street Journal, 8 Aug 2008, p. W9.  (available online, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121815556386722667.html?mod=taste_primary_hs)


Rev 1: Changed "burn" to "hang" per Comment 1. 

09 August 2008

Note to the Republican Platform Committee

Inspired by Paul Hsieh’s note to the Colorado Republican Party, “Why The Republicans Have Lost My Vote,” I jotted down some of my own thoughts on the matter below.  The point made by Dr. Hsieh that is particularly crucial is that wherever Republicans are ousted from offices in November, they must be made to understand that they lost because they were too religious.  Above all, they must not think that they lost for the opposite reason - that they were not religious enough.

For this reason, it necessary to communicate these ideas to them before and after the elections.

The text below is fine for a blog post, but is too long for my activist purposes.  I submitted heavily edited versions to the Republican Platform Committee and the Massachusetts GOP.  Though these versions were briefer, I believe they retained the essence of this message: the Republicans are too religious, they are violating the proper purpose of government, and they can win back my vote by rejecting, in word and action, the injection of religion into politics.


For all of my adult life - from the Reagan years until the 2000 election - I voted exclusively for Republicans because they were (at least nominally) the party that respected and defended freedom.  While Democrats intruded into every aspect of our lives with their “progressive” paternalism and cradle-to-grave welfare programs, Republicans advocated a limited government devoted to preserving the rights of its citizens.

However, in the last decades, the Republicans have betrayed their freedom-loving supporters as they have steadily turned their backs on the founding principles of America.  

For one thing, they can no longer pretend to be the defenders of individual rights and laissez faire capitalism.  Indeed, under the cover of an undeserved “pro-business” reputation, Republicans have gone on a spending spree and imposed a regulatory assault on the free market that Democrats would hardly have dared mount.  A Republican president signed the campaign finance reform bill, the Medicare prescription drug bill, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; Republican governors lead the way in compulsory medical insurance and capitulation to environmentalists.  In this betrayal, the Republicans have become approximately as bad as the Democrats, so this alone would not necessarily have driven me away from voting for Republicans.  

But there is one respect in which the Republicans have become far more dangerous than Democrats: their embrace of religion.

The proper purpose of a government is to defend each citizen’s right to his life, property, thoughts, and choices, as long as he does not physically harm others.  Any attempt to impose religious views on its citizens converts a government into a menace, a violator of rights.  I cannot blame honest Americans for being disgusted with the moral relativism of the political left, but it is not the purpose of a proper government to impose religious values.  

Contrary to some religious conservatives’ view that America was founded upon “Judeo-Christian values,” the strict separation of church and state was emphatically insisted upon by our Founding Fathers, who viewed rights as natural and inalienable, not as privileges granted by either god or government.  Furthermore, this principle is amply reinforced by logic and by history.  Simply being secular does not ensure that a government is good, of course, but being religious makes it impossible.

Observe the inroads that religious conservatives have made in America today, driven by Evangelical Christians.  We have “faith-based initiatives” that fund religious organizations with taxpayer money.  A woman’s right to abort her fetus - or even to use birth control - is under varied and repeated attack from all angles, motivated by religious considerations.  Religionists are trying to use legislation to smuggle creationist theology under the scientific-sounding moniker of “intelligent design” into classrooms, and are now aligned with environmentalists to submit to the duty of being “stewards of God’s earth.”  Almost daily, we see new attempts to inject religion into government activities - from stem-cell research to school prayer to “gay marriage” to religious symbology in government buildings - a trend that is steadily eroding the freedoms that were so dearly earned by our forefathers.

The issue of religion is now the single characteristic that distinguishes the two major parties.  Democrats are enemies of Americans’ freedom to be sure, but they are generally disorganized, inconsistent, and pragmatic - and the far left is too nihilistic to receive much serious mainstream support.  In contrast, religious Republicans tend to be highly organized and motivated; they are intelligent, moralistic, and crusading enemies of America’s freedom.  A righteous antagonist is far more dangerous than an apathetic one.

For many Republicans today, the government is an institution that has one primary function: to impose their faith-based views... by force.  I cannot and will not continue to support such fervent hostility to America and Americans.

The Republicans must reverse this trend toward religion and recover the proper and sole purpose of government: to protect individual rights.  They must both explicitly declare support for the separation of church and state, and act to defend this principle.

If they do this, they will not only win back my vote, but will save America.

04 August 2008

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 24

Hot off the presses...

Teasers: "inherent" non-conceptuality, smoking, culture and objective knowledge, treason in times of peace, contextual absolutes, private ownership of government property. 

03 August 2008

Obama Tests the Waters for Nationalizing the Oil Industry

On the way home from work Friday, I heard something on a radio news summary that I thought I must have misunderstood.  When I got home (Note 1), I looked for it online at The New York Times... and there it was, buried innocuously in the fourth paragraph of an article called “Obama and McCain Confront Troubled Economy”:

Addressing a crowd gathered at a high school gymnasium, Mr. Obama unveiled what he called his emergency economic plan to address the nation’s economic woes, including a $500 energy rebate for individual workers and $1,000 for families... and a surtax on oil profits to pay for $50 billion in new spending, half of which would go to state governments that are also hurting and the rest to the depleted highway trust fund. (Note 2.)

The essence of Barack Obama’s message is: “I declare a state of economic emergency.  I shall seize the profits from greedy oil companies and return this money to my people, who need it.” 

What sort of a man issues such proclamations?  A dictator.

Who uttered it?  A man who wants to be the President of the United States.

Why did this catch my attention?  After all, there is nothing new about the redistribution of wealth in this country.  Legislators for the last century or so have spent most of their time doing just that.  The population is largely inured to it, to the point where many or most Americans hold the vague notion that it is the governments’ very raison d’etre to provide stuff for the citizens.  The “public debate,” such as it is, has descended to the level of arguing about who should get the loot, not whether or not it is proper to seize it in the first place. 

But in this instance, Barack Obama’s declaration is a remarkably distilled application of his worldview.  It is unusually clear.  The mainstream American politician will generally take more care to conceal the true meaning of his words.  He may not even know that he does so - he may do it subconsciously, instinctively sensing the limits of what he can get away with.  Perhaps he even couches his words out of a sense of decency, and to evade in his own mind the horrors, consequences, and betrayals of his policy.  Barack Obama evidently has no such decency and knows he can get away with anything.

I wonder: what policy would not be acceptable to the masses if it were uttered by this charismatic, undenouncable Messiah?  How does Mr. Obama’s “emergency economic plan” differ from say, Hugo Chavez’s nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry?  It differs only in degree, not in kind: he plans to use government force to seize the assets of private citizens in one particular industry, for the purpose of advancing his socialist agenda (an agenda opposed by almost nobody today).  If Mr. Obama becomes our next president, what is to stop him from wielding the entire executive branch to implement a de facto, if not de jure, nationalization of the oil industry?  Then, after oil, how about steel?  Pharmaceutical drugs?  Automobiles?  Insurance?  Corn?  Wheat?

Notice the precision of Mr. Obama’s policy.  It specifically targets not merely oil companies but the profits of oil companies, which he characterizes (as any Marxist worth his intrinsically-valued salt would) as “excess profits” and “windfall profits.”  Incidentally, these outrageous profits that Mr. Obama laments happened to be, on average, only 8% return on sales in 2007 (Note 4), but that is not the point.  Even if the oil companies had made an 800% return on sales, there is no justification for seizing their profits.  There is no economic justification, for in a free market higher profits invite competition and investment, and above all their is no moral justification, because these profits are earned.

We should not conclude, however, that Barack Obama is demonstrating a stunning ignorance of economics with this ham-handed, closed-fisted emergency economic plan.  It is true that the plan itself is appalling and even a partial implementation would be detrimental to the economy and a disaster for America.  But to conclude that Mr. Obama must be simply stupid is to take the man at face value, to pre-suppose that it is a goal of his to actually improve the economy.  If he wishes to bring everyone to the same level - the same low level - then he is quite on the right track.  If he cares not a whit about the economy but simply wants to become President of the United States, then his words reflect wisdom, not ignorance.  Sure, his plan is a naked power grab, but the man knows his audience.

No, I do not think Barack Obama is ignorant at all.  I cannot confirm the same for the idolators who swallow the words he bestows upon them like so many loaves and fishes.  


1.  Here’s an interesting personal anecdote.  When I arrived home after hearing this radio report, I saw that my wife was on the telephone with one of our friends, one who happens to be reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time.  She was telling my wife, “Did you hear this thing about Obama that just came out?  I had to call you right away when I heard it.  It’s right out of Atlas Shrugged!”

2.  The New York Times, Obama and McCain Confront Troubled Economy,” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/us/politics/01cnd-campaign.html?hp, 1 Aug 2008. 

3.  Barack Obama’s Emergency Economic Plan, http://www.scribd.com/doc/4385783/Barack-Obamas-Emergency-Economic-Plan.

4.  Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, Oil Industry Profit Review 2007, 8 Apr 2008, Table 1, p. 2.

01 August 2008

Thanks for the Memories… and the Championships

At the last minute of yesterday’s trading deadline, Manny Ramirez was sent to the Dodgers in a three-way deal that brought the Pirates’ Jason Bay here to Boston.  I don’t think there is any way to construe the Red Sox as “winners” in this exchange – they paid an awful lot to get rid of one of the best hitters in our generation – but they did manage to salvage some last bit of value from Ramirez, who has suddenly become even less reliable than he has always been.  Though it is hard to put a finger on exactly how and why, his presence on the team has undoubtedly hobbled the Red Sox since the All-Star break.  He had to go.

My assessment is that the Sox management did the right thing - but in the manner of pulling a tooth that must come out, as opposed to buying a shiny new toy.

photo from The New York Times, credit Jim Davis, The Boston Globe 

Actually, the amount that the Red Sox paid to get Bay – moving Ramirez, plus Brandon Moss, a backup outfielder who would be a starter on many teams, plus Craig Hansen, a young right-hander who has struggled in the Majors but has upside, plus $7 million – speaks volumes about how badly the trust in Ramirez had deteriorated in the corner office.  The Red Sox management is terrific at staying focused on winning championships; they are conspicuously unemotional in dealing with players.  There could not have been anything personal in this trade, no intent to “punish” Ramirez for his recent transgressions. 

Indeed, Ramirez seems like a big winner in deal, getting everything he wants, since he apparently does not care if he ever returns to the World Series.  (He made the crass and somewhat perplexing comment that he “can even play in Iraq if need be.”)  The Sox clearly calculated that unlike past episodes of the last seven and a half years, this time they could no longer count on Manny stepping it up in September and October.

During the years that Manny was merely lazy, it was frustrating to watch him but I could accept this as part of the “Manny-being-Manny” package, as it came to be known.  He limited himself to being a two-tool player, but those two tools – batting for average and power – were so valuable it was worth it… I suppose.  At least he seemed like a decent person, if immature.  

But this season, especially recently, Manny’s antics took a turn toward actual malice.  It seemed a little different than past years, in subtle but important ways.  My brother pointed out to me how quickly and accurately Boston fans in general seemed to detect this change.  After putting up with Manny for almost eight years, in the last two or three weeks it is as if a switch had just been flipped.  There are still some Manny defenders, but for the most part, the fans have gone suddenly cold.  He was heartily booed the other night at Fenway Park when in the seventh inning, while the slumping Sox were being no-hit by the Angels’ John Lackey, Ramirez didn’t bother to exert himself past a trot up the first base line after hitting a ground ball to deep third.  He was thrown out by a few steps when with a little effort, he should have easily beaten the throw to break up the humiliating no-hitter.  (Dustin Pedroia eventually did so in the ninth.)

Not that the blame should be deflected from Ramirez, but I do not discount the possibility that his new agent, Scott Boras, could have played some part in the turn.  Of course, I don’t think Boras told Manny to start shoving old men to the ground or taking swings at his teammates as a strategy for making more money, but it seems that it would have been a simple matter for Boras to manipulate Ramirez with a few well placed comments – Wormtongue whispering in the ear of King Theoden.  Boras may have had much to gain by shaking things up.  I don’t think he could have expected much of a commission with Manny playing happily on the Red Sox for the next two option years.  In any case, it’s obviously Manny’s decision to act as he did.

Just before the trade, Ramirez had the gall to say, “The Red Sox don’t deserve me.”  He’s right about that, but not in the sense he intended.  Indeed, the Red Sox do not deserve him: the ownership and management have strained too much to accommodate him and have worked too hard building a team around a collection of hard-working veterans and talented youngsters to be dragged down by one guy who can’t be bothered to run on ground balls or to show up for a game against the Yankees in a pennant race.  The Red Sox of the last decade have been built on good men who consider hard work a matter of honor: Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Bill Mueller, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and many others.  Boston fans will grudgingly tolerate laziness and goofiness in special circumstances, but bad guys are chased out of town.

Thanks for the memories, Manny, and thanks especially for the two World Series championships.  But I’ve already moved on, and all I feel is relief.


1.  photo from The New York Times, “Red Sox Send Ramirez to Dodgers in 3-Way Deal,” http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/31/sports/01trade_600.jpg, 1 Aug 2008.