29 March 2008

Wyatt's Torch

While many people across the world cheered a return to a prehistoric age by turning off their lights for an hour on March 29th, Lynne and I made our own statement by turning on every light in the house.

If I read the meter correctly, we managed to consume 7 kW-hr in that hour.  At about 10 cents per kW-hr, it cost about 70 cents to make the statement, which was obviously well worth it.

(There are some good postings on Earth Hour by 3 Ring Binder, Kindredist, Rational Jenn, and Rule of Reason.)

I can only imagine the smug self-righteousness that the average Earth Hour enthusiast feels as he sits on a sofa in candlelight with his smug, self-righteous friends, sipping a glass of 1999 Dom Perignon that he cracked open for the occasion.  The really sincere ones probably remembered to turn off their Blackberries for an hour, too.  

Of course, this is the height of dishonesty.  If they really wanted to make an accurate statement of what they are advocating, they would not merely spend an hour in the dark in a comfortably heated home, but would strip naked and spend a year alone in Siberia.  Then the ones that survived can come back and tell us how wonderful and progressive the experience was. 


John Tierney, who is generally far from the worst of the New York Times columnists and has in the past exposed environmentalists’ fraud, wrote a column a few days ago called, “Are We Ready to Track Carbon Footprints?” In the article, he concedes all ground to the “global warming” crowd and the advocates of a “carbon tax,” and takes as a starting point the fact that we need to “make sacrifices for the common good and perform acts of charity that we’d never do for any amount of pay.”  

It’s true that Tierney weakly makes the point that this sacrifice would be voluntary, not forced, but that makes it worse. It avoids confronting sacrifice as evil, and makes him seem practical in a folksy sort of way, not like a crackpot who is trying to abolish automobiles and toilet paper. While reading the article, you get the sense that Mr. Tierney has his arm around you - not about your throat, but around your shoulders, as he gently guides you around the room. Indeed, the purpose of his article seems to be to introduce the idea of “nudging” us foolish humans into doing the right thing, so that compulsion won’t become necessary. (LB has a post on this “nudging” fad here.)  

This got me thinking about the concept of “footprints.”  

We hear a lot about these so-called “carbon footprints,” if for no other reason than it is repeated ad nauseum by the usual media channels, and is digested quite readily and uncritically by the guilt-ridden masses. It’s probably being taught in some form in most kindergartens and elementary schools. Businessmen fall all over each other for the privilege of sliding the “carbon footprint” noose over their own necks. For instance, BP (British Petroleum) has a “carbon footprint” calculator on its web site. Appallingly, not only have many businessmen not outright rejected the notion of "carbon taxes," but have created a new "market" of "carbon offset" indulgences.  

The disgusting idea behind the “carbon footprint” is that human beings, by the very act of living – in particular, living in a civilized manner that requires the extraction of energy from nature – are necessarily trampling upon the pristine Good Earth. The concept is designed to characterize human living as treading, defacing, discommoding. To breathe is to impose. Mere exhalation warrants an apology. And to live above the level of a savage – to light a room with an electric bulb, to drive to work in a car, to fly in an airplane, to cool oneself with air conditioning, to keep one’s cup of coffee warm with an electric heater – is a supreme sin that must be expiated with suitable penance.  

I don’t wish to contribute to the spread of this foul idea by belaboring it, and I am reluctant to even adopt its vocabulary, but it occurred to me that there may actually be a “footprint” measurement that is meaningful. Of course, the idea of a “carbon footprint” is not merely nonsense but is actually evil. It subjugates the requirements of human beings to the alleged needs of an inanimate object, our planet.  

But might there not be a “footprint” that is worth considering? The earth does not care if it is treaded upon, but human beings do indeed care. Manipulating matter for our benefit is necessary for our survival and our pursuit of happiness. Shaping, squashing, pulling, pushing - in short, exploiting - nature is good. But shaping, squashing, pulling, pushing human beings is bad. So, if we are going to talk about footprints at all, perhaps we could talk about a destructive “footprint” that refers to ideas that trample upon human life. I don’t know what to call it - maybe a “malicious footprint” or an “death footprint.” But it would mean this: a measurement of eventual harm caused by an idea or the spread of an idea.  

Let me illustrate with a few examples.  

The environmentalists - the inventors of the “carbon footprint” - themselves have a “malicious footprint” that is off the charts as they struggle (with increasing success) to convince the world that it ought to return to the Stone Age. I doubt that Rachel Carson was particularly malicious personally, but it is dizzying to think of the millions of malaria-infected Africans that have been squashed by the “footprint” of Silent Spring.  

Or consider the “footprints” of the three presidential candidates today, who are each in their own way peddling socialism and sacrifice to a nodding public. Think of the “footprints” of the intellectuals in the universities. Of Kant. Hegel. Marx. To breathe carbon dioxide into the air harms no one; to breathe the Communist Manifesto in a Petrograd parlor contributed to about 100 million deaths in the 20th century.

Or think of the "footprint" of one Jewish carpenter and the men that left their own "footprints" in his wake, from Paul to Augustine to Torquemada.

Now, don’t misunderstand the purpose of my defining this “malicious footprint.” For starters, I introduced it simply to combat the terrible notion of a “carbon footprint” and I’m partially inclined to not even stoop to that level. But above all, it should not be construed as a call to silence anybody. Ideas are not crimes; only actions can be. In no way should force be used to stifle ideas, not even very bad ones.  

On a final and optimistic note, let me point out that this idea of a “footprint” applies in a positive direction as well, though in that case I would hesitate to call it a “footprint” at all because of the connotations I mentioned above. (A “caress” would be more to the point, though that has its own connotations. Perhaps a “beneficial footprint” captures the idea.) This would be a measurement of the sheer good caused by an individual’s ideas. I would be interested to see such a “footprint” calculator applied to Aristotle, Newton, Locke, Jefferson, Adams, and Rand.

25 March 2008

Opening Day

My beloved Red Sox started off the season on good footing with a ten-inning victory over the A’s in Japan. The Tokyo fans were treated to a good game; their national hero, Daisuke Matsuzaka didn’t fare too well in the first couple of innings (though he settled down), but the Sox reliever, Hideki Okajima, got the win.

On a more general note, I wonder how long this adoration of the Red Sox by people outside of the Boston area will continue. I expect that the “tall poppies” syndrome will begin to kick in, especially if they continue to dominate as they have. It has already happened to the New England Patriots, who went from lovable underdogs to (three Super Bowl victories later) hated champions in about half a decade. Champagne in 2002, die Schadenfreude in 2008.

This expansion of “Red Sox Nation” into all areas of the country - indeed, of the world - surely has to do with a tragic past that is unparalleled in any sport that I know of. (Naturally, when I speak of a tragic past I mean prior to October 2004, when the Red Sox quenched the eighty-six year drought by winning the World Series, an achievement they repeated last year.) If this pre-2004 story were told in a novel, it would strain credibility to present such a succession of improbable losses, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as it were. The best comparison I can think of to the cruelty experienced by the Red Sox fan is that of Charlie Brown, who continues to try to kick the football, and really believes he will finally do it, no matter how many times Lucy van Pelt pulls it away at the last moment.

So what is it about the Red Sox? It’s more than simply losing; after all, the Cubs have gone even longer without a championship than the Red Sox had. But the Cubs almost always... well, stink. They are lovable losers. (My apologies to Cubs fans.) The Red Sox weren’t losers - they simply couldn’t win it all. They were almost always good, sometimes very good, fielding teams that got oh so close - but in the end, they would fall like Achilles. They worked so very hard, only to fail in the end, and often because of a fluke or a bad decision. There’s something so deeply rooted inside the Boston fan, I think it would be hard for someone who didn’t grow up with this to understand. All I would have to say is “Bill Buckner” or “Yaz pop up” or “Bucky F’ing Dent” or “Aaron Boone” and these small tags, these leitmotifs of the Grand Tragic Opera that is Red Sox history, will strike the soul of a Boston baseball fan like Thor’s hammer. I guarantee you that of the people now reading this post, you could easily distinguish the Bostonians by observing how that last sentence has caused them to grind their teeth and tug at their hair (hair that perhaps went a little gray in October 1986), while everyone else is apathetic or bewildered by the references. (“Bucky F’ing Dent? Oh, ‘f’ing,’ I get it.”) Let’s put it this way: if SOX makes you think of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, you’re probably not from Boston.

Go Sox!

23 March 2008


I sent the following LTE to the Wall Street Journal on March 18th.

Dear Editor:

The first line of the column just below the fold in Tuesday's issue states, "The past six days have shaken American capitalism."  (The Week that Shook Wall Street: Inside the Bailout of Bear Stearns, WSJ, March 18, 2008)

Capitalism?  Why should capitalism be shaken, unless it is for fear of the next wave of disease that will be administered as a cure?  This is the story of decades of government meddling and tinkering, pushing here and pulling there with an increasingly heavy hand; of the Fed "throwing its rule book out the window," as the article says, in haphazard, desperate, and contradictory fashion.  It is Washington that should be shaken by the failures of its intrusion, not capitalism, which is scarcely recognizable any more.

They didn’t publish it, of course, but I felt better after having sent it.

22 March 2008

Campaign Finance Reform

Yaron Brook has written an excellent article, “War on Free Political Speech," on the restrictions of free speech imposed by “campaign finance reform” legislation.  He points to the ominous trend: as private money is driven out of campaigns, “public” money - that is to say, tax money under the control of the government that is presently in power - rushes in.  It’s a frightening prospect to have politicians controlling the pursestrings of all election campaigns.  They would legally have not only limitless funds for themselves, but complete power to block or choose competitors.

The McCain-Feingold legislation is supposedly designed to attack corruption in politics by preventing wealthy individuals and corporations from purchasing government favors.  But it entirely misses the obvious culprits - the legislators themselves.  The laws simply muzzle private citizens without addressing the fact that special treatment from politicians can be bought.  If the government were limited to its proper function of safeguarding individual rights, there would be no special favors to purchase.  An honest corporation would not have to make large donations in order to defend itself from legal attack by legislators, and a dishonest corporation would have no means of using government pull to achieve what it could not in the free market.

20 March 2008

The Truman Doctrine

On his Powell History Recommends blog, Scott Powell has posted an excellent essay on the Truman Doctrine.  This doctrine committed America to checking the spread of communism by “supporting free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by the communist government.”  The result was that the United States ended up fighting proxy wars that had nothing to do with legitimate American interests, and providing military and financial aid to some dubious nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia.  In broad strokes, Powell surveys the consequences of this doctrine, which we may now look upon from some distance - and the track record is not good.  It's well worth reading the full text:  The Truman Doctrine vs. American Self-Interest .

This topic called to mind an opinion I've been developing over a long time - namely, we never really needed to worry about the spread of communism.  Notice that I did not say we didn't need to worry about communism; I am saying that we need not have feared the spread of communism in the sense of Eisenhower’s “falling dominoes.”

(Let me inject here that I’m not yet certain about my conclusion; it needs more study.  I am certain about both of the individual premises below, but I don’t know if I’m missing some historical details that would change the context.) 

Here are the two main reasons for my position.  

First, quite simply, communism doesn't work.  It’s a disaster in theory and in practice.  (The moral is the practical, as Ayn Rand identified.)  A country that enslaves its citizens simply cannot prosper in the long term.  Sure, it can buy time by invading its neighbors and living parasitically off its new host, but it will soon drain it dry.  One cannot threaten and beat a man into producing anywhere near the value that a free mind can produce; one cannot indefinitely punish the best people and reward the incompetent.  A communist country will inevitably fall of its own weight.  So... let it fall.

In fact, one could argue that containment did the Soviets a favor.  The more the Soviet Union spread out, the more difficult it was to survive as a communist country.  (Notice that China has survived only by permitting some measure of “capitalism,” such as it is, to creep into the mixture.)  In a free nation, every citizen is (on average) a producer who pulls more than his own weight; in a communist nation, every citizen is (on average) a mouth to feed, a burden to the rest.  Plus, the more heavy-handed the communist government would have to be in order to hold everything together, the more it would foment unrest that would accelerate its demise.  Ironically, perhaps the USSR would have been doomed much earlier if it had spread out quicker.  For all the problems there are with Ronald Reagan as a President, at least he seemed to recognize the bankruptcy of communism; his predecessors saw a lion that needed to be caged, while Reagan saw a puny tick that was helpless without a host.

The second reason is that no matter how well intentioned it may be, no free nation can force another to resist communism.  One cannot make people want to be free; it’s a contradiction in terms.  It is possible to crush an enemy so thoroughly that they reject their former ways and adopt relative freedom - Japan after World War II is an example.  But I don’t see how the United States could have hoped to succeed in stopping communism by sending military forces to a remote jungle, to prop up a population that favored some other, perhaps “milder,” variant of socialism.  

This is not to say that no other nations were worth helping: Scott Powell mentioned Taiwan and possibly South Korea as potentially worthy of aid.  Perhaps there were some small number of relatively weak countries that deserved our help.  But the few countries in the world that demonstrably favored freedom, and thus were allies certainly worthy of support, were also not seriously or immediately threatened by a communist takeover.  I'm thinking here of England, Australia, Japan, Canada, and Israel, which were not direct military targets of the Soviet Union or China.     

I also must stress that in any direct threat by the Soviet Union or any other communist country (and a bunch of ICBM’s with nuclear payloads pointed in our direction certainly seems to constitute a threat), I favor a direct strike against them if militarily possible without committing suicide.  Not a proxy war.  A direct strike.  But that is a separate issue.

16 March 2008


I wanted to elaborate upon the point I made earlier about "extremism."  "Extremism" is not merely a concept that has been distorted to mean something else, like the words "selfishness" or "liberalism."  In the context in which it is being used, it is not a concept at all.  In fact, it replaces a potentially legitimate concept, which accounts for its sinister nature - it deliberately deflects and misleads the non-critical thinker.  

The average person hears the word "extremist," looks to his right and left to see if his peers seem to be indignant about it, and follows their lead.  

The damage this type of dishonesty can cause is inestimable.  Perhaps this single word, "extremism," accounts for much of the knee-jerk fear of idealism that we see today.  The word "ideology" is hurled as an accusation in modern political discourse.  Why?  Because it deals with absolutes.  It is inflexible.  It forbids compromise.  If someone will not put aside his principles, he must be "extreme."

15 March 2008

Bear Stearns

As an addendum to the previous post on the Federal Reserve "bail out" of Bear Stearns, I think I may have found a clue with which to decode the obscure, oracular wisdom of this wise federal institution known affectionately as "the Fed."  According to a NY Times article, a certain Douglas W. Elmendorf, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and himself a former Fed economist said, "Modern monetary policy-making puts a lot of weight on rules, but there is no rule book for an economic crisis."  (Emphasis mine.)

Ahh!  I see!  So it is not principles but pragmatism that is required in a crisis.  In the Fed's monetary policy - the very raison d'etre of which is presumably to "manage" the money supply by fiat in order to avert some alleged disaster that laissez faire capitalism would cause - everything is fine as long as... well, as long as everything is fine.  But when there is a crisis (a crisis, by the way, caused almost invariably by other government meddling), the rules simply go out the window.  There are no rules, no principles, no fundamentals.  There are only whims, tea leaves, and coin flips.

Bear Stearns

I'm no economist, so let me take this step by step to see if I understand.  The recent "credit meltdown" is due primarily to firms extending loans in unreasonably risky ventures.  

And what is meant by "unreasonably risky?"  Well, I assume that in a free market, rational people would judge the kinds of activities that are likely to drive oneself into bankruptcy, for instance, to be "unreasonably risky."  

So, when an investment firm like Bear Stearns makes unwise investments, it will go bankrupt, and such a failure is not only just, but is precisely the sort of signal that is required to indicate a danger zone to the rest of the market, in case any other firms happened to be doing similarly foolish things.  

And finally, the Federal Reserve, which is staffed by a lot of really smart people, will see this and realize that the very last thing they should do is jump in and use tax money to "bail out" a firm that made foolish mistakes, since that will only encourage the foolish risk-takers and punish the reasonable firms, right?



While browsing though Wikipedia, I ran across a wonderful quote by the great abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison:

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

– William Lloyd Garrison, “To the Public,” from the Inaugural Editorial in the 1 January 1831 The Liberator[1]

This is a nice quote to keep in mind for the next time I hear someone say that the problems of the world are caused by "extremists."  It's true that the Islamic fundamentalists who murder innocent people are "extreme" in their views, but so are the heroes of history - Galileo, Newton, Locke, Jefferson, Adams, Rand.  "Moderation" has come to be understood as a virtue, "extremism" as a danger.  The importance of an idea itself has been supplanted with its measurement; it is not the concept that matters, but its intensity.  

Thus, we have the perverse condition that the justice or injustice of a policy is irrelevant, so long as it's not "extreme."  It doesn't matter if a man is honest or dishonest, as long as he is not "extremely" so.   

11 March 2008

Client-9 bites the dust.

Just once I’d like to see a menacing government official brought down on grounds that are essential, rather than because of some personal scandal. Eliot Spitzer, who has devoted his career to crushing Wall Street and extorting gigantic settlements from wealth creators – the man who, perhaps more than any other, has cast businessmen, the heroes and lifeblood of the civilized world, into a permanently defensive role and a guilty-until-proven-innocent status – is now being accused of … hypocrisy. After the prostitution scandal broke, Ken Langone, a former NYSE director who was sued by Spitzer said, “I have never had any doubt about his lack of character and integrity – and he’s proven me correct.”

These are very poor grounds upon which to denounce the man. Sure, there may be some relief and even satisfaction that a menace has lost his fangs, but it is only temporary. The implication is that if only Mr. Spitzer did not have sex with high-class prostitutes, if only he had scrupulously maintained his personal integrity as he pursued his power lusting crusade against so-called “white collar criminals,” he would be unassailable. From this viewpoint, it is not his philosophy that is wrong, but simply his hypocrisy; it is not his assault on free citizens that is wrong, but simply his self-righteous glee.