I've added a new link list in the right column of my blog: The Financial Crisis Hotline.
30 September 2008
28 September 2008
I realize that the passage of a bailout plan by the House and Senate is all but inevitable, but all the same I sent this letter to Senator Kerry, Senator Kennedy, and the Representative of my district.
The notion of using taxpayers’ earnings to “bail out” companies that are going out of business is an outrageous violation of free-market principles. Government intervention in the economy (via the Federal Reserve and innumerable government programs and regulatory agencies) has caused the failures in the first place; it makes no sense to try to cure the patient by adding another gigantic dose of legislative poison.
If you vote for such legislation, you will be adding to your legacy your participation in the most destructive attack on American principles in my lifetime. It would be unforgivable... and unforgettable.
If you wish to correct the problem - and simultaneously grab the free-market baton that the Republicans have long ago dropped - you will refuse to bail out Wall Street firms, work to undo devastating anti-American legislation (such as the Community Reinvestment Act and Sarbanes Oxley, to name just two), and repudiate further government intrusions in economic affairs.
Having finally gotten a chance to listen to the Laura Ingraham interview of Nicholas Provenzo, I thought that under the circumstances, Mr. Provenzo did an admirable job articulating his points. With great determination, he managed to actually complete several sentences, some of them even audible over the voice of Ms. Ingraham. The popular host of the acclaimed Laura Ingraham Show had the curious habit of stepping upon her guest’s answers almost immediately after having asked him a question, leading one to suspect that her purpose in questioning him was more to bestow upon the undoubtedly friendly audience her own opinion than to elicit his. Provenzo could not have expected agreement from Ingraham, of course, but as it turned out, he was not shown even the slightest bit of civility. (Myrhaf and Diana Hsieh wrote good posts on the hostility of Ingraham’s interview.)
This could hardly be otherwise, I suppose. It cannot really be Laura Ingraham’s job to provide an honest forum for intellectual discovery. This is show business. She knows her audience, and it is likely that rudeness and belligerence makes good entertainment when you’re preaching to the choir. In that setting, Ingraham had every conceivable advantage - or rather, every advantage but one (she was on the wrong side of the argument). I have no doubt that Ms. Ingraham herself and her faithful listeners imagined that the mighty host was chasing her guest around the ring, had him backed up against the ropes, and was pummeling him alternately with her left jab and right hook - which is to say, with her witty sarcasm and righteous bullying - but a more careful assessment would show that Provenzo stood the whole time more or less calmly in the middle of the ring as Ingraham flailed about him without landing a blow.
Much has been written in the past few days about the vicious attacks on Provenzo’s Rule of Reason article, but I have not yet seen anyone fully address a particular point about the Laura Ingraham interview (and one that appeared in many of the vilest blog comments) that jumped out at me. I think it is significant that Ms. Ingraham spent much of the interview trying to veer the argument away from abortion per se, even though that was ostensibly its purpose. It is quite clear that either deliberately or subconsciously, she was trying to blur the distinction between aborting a fetus and killing a person.
Now, I know that sounds like it is stating the obvious; the very thing anti-abortionists insist upon is that a fetus is a person. But Ingraham, along with the commenters who brought up Nazis, eugenics, etc., are trying to equate defending the right of a woman to abort her fetus with advocating the murder of full-grown adults.
Notice that right out of the gate, Ms. Ingraham asked Mr. Provenzo for a list of other diabilities (i.e. other than Down’s syndrome) that he would consider to “qualify for preemptive abortion.” When he refused to cooperate with this tack, she began to question him with her own list, which, as was made apparent through her repetition of it, had only one infirmity that she was interested in: Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible and tragic malady that afflicts old people. What is Ingraham’s logic here? Does one test a fetus for Alzheimer’s disease? I suppose it’s conceivable that certain tests could be developed to help predict if the fetus might someday suffer from this ailment some eighty years after it is born, but that’s an incredible stretch. Doctors have trouble diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in adults, never mind in fetuses. Of all the calculations and decisions prospective parents must make to ensure that they are prepared to bring up a child responsibly, Alzheimer’s disease is about the very last consideration. It makes no sense whatsoever to bring it up. Ingraham could not have chosen a more irrelevant infirmity unless - unless - she were hinting at something else entirely. If she were trying to conflate abortion with the monstrous idea that old people should be put to death when they are no longer “productive members of society,” then Alzheimer’s disease is the perfect example for Ms. Ingraham to introduce. It subtly calls to mind eugenics and the Nazi policies of racial purification and extermination, which are evil and are utterly condemned by Objectivism and by all rational people.
If there were any doubts about her intentions on this front, Ms. Ingraham settled them when she said, “I can remember a lot in the media that I worked with that were ‘marginally productive’ but I wouldn’t say that they should be killed.” Then later, “What stops you from killing those unproductive members of society who are languishing in old folks’ homes or in other areas where they have no productive role?
“If you had your way, Nicholas, all these people would be done away with, right?”
People?! This is outrageous. This vicious - and among other things, wholly illogical - distortion, which was central to some of the most hateful comments on Provenzo’s blog, must be exposed and refuted now and forever. There will always be some people beyond the reaches of reason, of course, but I cannot bear to let a single person who is at least semi-rational walk away with the idea that there is an iota of truth in this. Even if a reader does not agree with the Objectivist argument for the morality of abortion, he must understand that there can be no greater defender of every individual human being, from first to last breath, than an Objectivist. For the very reasons a rational person would defend a woman’s right to abort her fetus, he would staunchly defend her right to give birth to her child, whether or not he agreed with those reasons. Above all, there is not an inkling of reason to link the defense of this right to a support of eugenic murder; indeed, Objectivism stands as the only consistent philosophical defense against such monstrosities.
Ingraham’s line of questioning (not to mention many of the blog comments) indicates that she sees murder and extermination as a logical consequence of Provenzo’s position. This makes no sense; in fact, the shoe is quite on the other foot.
An Objectivist holds that every individual is a sovereign being that owns his own life. To live, he must be left free to judge and act as he sees fit, provided that he does not initiate force against others (i.e. because that would violate their freedom to think and act). The sole purpose of a proper government is to safeguard this freedom. Period.
The very notions of eugenics, racial purification, extermination of the weak, or any of the national, tribal, or religious variants of the same are rooted in collectivism. In every case, the justification for such heinous acts is: the sacrifice of the one for the many. Or in one word: altruism. Altruism is unfortunately at the heart of virtually all the philosophical and political discourse in the world today, both on the left and on the right. Historically, it underpins the religious tyrannies (from the Inquisition to Islamofascism) and the “secular” tyrannies (such as Nazism and communism). Grimly, however, it is not merely totalitarian monstrosities that exhibit this selflessness. Altruism dominates the day-to-day discourse in what remains of the civilized world; it is no less apparent in the modern welfare state as it was in Nazi Germany, no less dangerous for being latent. Objectivism stands alone among philosophies to reject altruism, to defend every person’s right to his own life, and to condemn the self-sacrifice that makes the extermination of human beings possible.
If logic is to be applied, one can see that however much anti-abortionists would reject the conclusions, it is their premises - not Mr. Provenzo’s - that can unleash the collectivist horrors of “killing the unproductive members of society.” Naturally, they do not recognize this, for some may be good people who would shudder at the conclusions. I think that many so-called “pro-life” advocates sincerely believe that their defense of “fetus rights” is part and parcel of safeguarding the sanctity of actual human life.
But in fact the opposite is achieved. It’s a simple equation. If a cluster of cells inside a woman’s body is to be treated as an actual person, then it is a short jump to conclude that a person is to be treated as a mere cluster of cells. In other words, the attempt to elevate the status of a fetus to that of a person has this as a corollary: it simultaneously reduces the status of a person to that of a fetus. It does little good to stamp one’s foot and scream, “But I don’t mean this!” If one marries this premise with altruism and collectivism - with the notion that “there is something greater than the individual,” be it a God or an ethnic group or a nation - then the evils follow freely. With altruism as the defining principle of society, individuals may be disposed of for the alleged benefit of the group (the nation, “society,” etc.), and this is only made easier if humans have been relegated to the status of a clump of cells. It is from this position - this allegedly “pro-life” position - that one could easily find a pretext for eugenics, notwithstanding the protests of its adherents.
21 September 2008
The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights recently released a short statement by Yaron Brook that accurately captures the nature of our financial crisis:
I’ve been overwhelmed with work in the last couple of weeks, and have had little time to write. I’ve fallen behind in my reading, too, but I did manage to keep up with some of my favorite blogs. A few articles stood out.
First, on Titanic Deck Chairs, C. August has presented a very thoughtful essay called Palin and the Bush Doctrine in Historical Context. Of course, the impetus for this post was the widely publicized “deer-in-the-headlights” look that Sarah Palin allegedly gave her interrogator Charles Gibson when he asked her if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine. I certainly wouldn’t characterize her response that way - in my opinion, she fielded the question as well as or better than any other politician would - but the moment was jumped on greedily by the left-leaning media. Snotty intellectuals’ guffaws notwithstanding, Governor Palin’s response, “In what respect, Charlie?” is a decent answer. The whole essay is well worth reading, as C. August, who had several months ago posted on Presidential Doctrines, adds serious insight to this otherwise distasteful topic.
(Incidentally, I am by no means supporting Sarah Palin; I am hoping for the defeat of the Republican Party. However, I would like to know how many of the Democrats who laughed heartily at the SNL skit and reveled in their sense of superiority of this “stupid Alaskan hockey mom” when she said, “I don’t know what that [the Bush Doctrine] is,” would themselves have been able to articulate a fraction of what C. August has presented. In my personal experience, the Left’s level of thinking these days is limited to lines that can fit on a bumper sticker.)
Another gem can be found on Applying Philosophy To Life, where K.M. firmly plants the blame for last week’s financial crisis where it belongs: at the foot of the federal government, not of “capitalism.” In a concise article called The end of Capitalism?, he writes (referring to capitalism):
Clearly such a political system does not exist today. The US economy, commonly regarded as capitalist runs on a fiat currency, the price of credit is decided by a central banking system, investments and production are controlled by antitrust laws and regulatory authorities, prices are controlled by tariffs and subsidies, distribution is controlled by federal grants and welfare schemes. This is not a capitalist system by any stretch of the imagination.
K.M.’s conclusion: “The collapse of the financial sector of the US economy is not a failure of capitalism but a failure of centralized control of credit.”
In Biden Plagiarizes McCain, Gus Van Horn comments on the astounding remark by Joe Biden that I heard on the radio when I was driving home from work the other day. Biden had the gall to say that paying one’s “fair share” of taxes is the patriotic thing to do. “What is scandalous beyond belief,” Gus Van Horn wrote, “is that none of this so much as raises a brow of the average voter.”
If ever there was a reversal of the meaning of an American patriot, Biden’s statement is it.
I’m always a little leery of the term “patriotism” by itself because it is a morally neutral concept that calls for support of one’s country, whatever that country may represent. But to be a patriot in America properly means to support the American ideals of rational self-interest - that is to say, each individual’s right to his life, the property he has earned, and the free pursuit of his happiness through whatever means he deems appropriate, provided he respects the rights of others to do the same. Biden’s remark calls for the exact opposite. It demands sacrifice for the collective instead of self-interest.
Finally, Myrhaf has (as usual) been producing excellent commentary on various political topics: the McCain/Palin rhetoric in favor of government expansion in the economy, Barack Obama’s meddling in Iraq, his “rorschach test” nature, the Democrat Party’s ominous trend toward replacing arguments with force and intimidation, etc.
In Season of Mud, referring to the attack advertisements that both major parties run against each other, Myrhaf writes, “Neither party stands for real political values such as individual rights and liberty. Neither side has ideals worth advertising.”:
When you have two parties dedicated to expanding government power in a country that once believed, long ago, in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then it is best to say as little as possible about your true intentions. It is much safer to attack the other party and keep the focus on them -- attack, attack, attack. Rush Limbaugh has made a career mocking liberals, but you’ll notice he says little positive about Republicans these days. What is there to say? ‘The Republicans will destroy your freedom only half as much as the Democrats’? Not many votes in that message.
09 September 2008
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Henry liked walking to work even in unpleasant weather, so on this bright and beautiful Tuesday morning in September, his stride was even more brisk than usual.
As he walked toward the World Trade Center, where he had worked for almost three years now, he watched the people around him attentively. This was an activity that he forced himself to do from time to time. One of the first things he had noticed when he moved to the city with his wife and daughter was that people seemed oblivious to the sights and sounds that had quite startled him as a newcomer. He had been surprised how quickly he himself had grown accustomed to it.
It is easy to ignore the familiar - the cars and taxi cabs, the occasional police siren, and the people hurrying by, carrying the instruments of civilization: briefcases, handbags, coffee cups, and cell phones. The general bustle of human activity represents so much productive energy, it would be impossible for a mind to fathom it all at one instant. In New York City, any one snapshot in any direction captures a thousand stories and logs the progress of a thousand free souls pursuing ... Pursuing what? Life. Happiness.
Henry guessed that few of the New Yorkers that were hurrying to their own destinations would have bothered to give much thought to their surroundings - and that’s as it should be, he supposed. But more than this, he wondered if the people realized what their movements, their freedoms, rested upon. In this, Henry was probably quite unusual, for he gave thought to something that is taken largely for granted in America. He understood that the same familiarity and routine that leads people to not notice their surroundings can also cause them to forget that their lives and livelihoods depend upon a freedom that was earned generations ago.
Like any other treasure, liberty must be guarded and defended.
Why did Henry think about this, when it was the furthest thing from the minds of his fellow New Yorkers as they rushed by? Perhaps it was because Henry was as unusual as an adult as he had been as a child. He had never known his father - not really. When Henry was only five, his father had been killed in the desert near Tehran while trying to rescue American hostages from Iranian terrorists. The actual living memories of his father were blurred and confused. The most vivid image - and the one that was permanently fixed in Henry’s mind as being his father - was that of a photograph Henry’s mother had displayed prominently on the living room wall. (Indeed, it is still there today, in Henry’s boyhood home in the suburbs, where his mother lives alone.)
In this respect, his father had watched over Henry and his mother as they lived on, and had imparted his confidence and immovability. It may seem strange to say, but this photograph played no small part in Henry’s life. In the picture, his father is wearing the white barracks cover - that is to say, the white dress hat - of a United States Marine. The slightly tensed muscles of his neck and his hard jaw emerge above a blue collar. In insignia on the hat and on the collar, golden eagles guard the earth. When Henry looked into the photograph, his father would gaze outward, with a look of supreme confidence, right into Henry’s eyes - a look that Henry was quite sure was meant for him alone. He could not be said to be smiling, though in the hours that Henry would stare at the photograph, a smile would seem to come and go as Henry’s thoughts wandered. It would be hard to overstate the strength that Henry drew from that photograph as he grew from a boy to a man.
Henry remembered being gloomy one night when he was maybe about nine or ten years old. His mother had finally said, “What’s wrong, Henry?”
“Nothing. It’s just… my teacher said today that America was a bad place because we kept black people as slaves.”
“You’ve heard about slavery before.”
“I know, but… I guess I never thought of it as having to do with America.”
“Well, Henry,” she had said, “slavery is very evil. And slavery has existed in every part of the world for as far back as we know about. And it’s true: the New World is no exception. Slavery found its way here in some places when Europeans started to come over. But you must understand this – America is the only country that was ever started on the idea of eliminating slavery. So that’s something. It took a lot of time and a lot of people fought and died to do it. But America got rid of slavery forever.”
This explanation would have satisfied Henry, but he noticed his mother’s face cloud over as soon as she had finished.
“No, not forever,” she added quietly, almost dropping to a whisper. “Your father…” She looked away, then got up and busied herself for a moment with some dishes that were on the counter. “It has to be guarded, fought for. Your father died fighting for that. He died because… because he wanted to live. I know that’s confusing but it’s true. You’ll understand it some day.”
She had suddenly moved to Henry and held his face between her hands, looking right into his eyes. He had been surprised that her expression was almost a smile, because a moment before he had thought she was about to cry. She said with an earnestness he would never forget, “You have to take over where your father left off. Guard it, Henry. Don’t forget that our freedom is not simply something that we have, but something we must work to keep.”
That was long ago.
But it goes far to explain why Henry had few friends, wasted very little time, made neither apologies nor excuses, had earned his advanced degree in engineering, had married the woman he loved, and had moved to New York to work among the best in his profession. It also helps to explain why Henry, walking to work on this bright and beautiful Tuesday morning in September, thought about certain things while others didn’t.
Some eight years prior, before Henry was working at the World Trade Center, Islamic terrorists had attacked Tower One. This event had offered, for anyone who cared to look, a glimpse into the fragility of freedom - and it had also offered a glimpse into the weakness and forgetting in America that Henry worried about. An attack on the United States - an attack with clear ideological roots and state sponsorship - had been treated not as an act of war, but as a crime. And this response seemed to satisfy most Americans.
There is an irony in liberty. The more solidly and consistently freedom is instituted in a nation, the more its citizens can get on with the business of living. They trade peaceably; they do not think about war. This is very good. They become accustomed to this freedom, which is also very good, for it implies an extended period of peace and prosperity.
But there is a danger. The generation that defends its freedom in war understands the alternative to freedom. It fights for its life. It sees its enemy firsthand, in the trenches, in the air, and from the deck of a battleship; it sees the perverse righteousness of the exterminator, the dead glare of the suicidal killer, the murderous, marching drones of the omnipotent state. The next generation only remembers their mothers and fathers talking about these things, and the generation after that disregards them as dangers. It does not understand them; it thinks them unreasonable, exaggerated, impossible. Hence, the peril.
It would be tragic indeed if men could not remain free without having a war to remind them that liberty is the most rare commodity in history. And it would be still more tragic if our freedom - the freedom of the United States of America - perished because men forgot that war is necessary when an enemy has its knife at our throats.
Henry continued on toward the Trade Center plaza.
By now, he had ceased observing the passersby. His mind wandered as he walked toward the North Tower. What is today, the 11th? My feasibility report is due a week from today, he thought. I’ll have to work a little late tonight, maybe. Amid the crowd flowing past him, a tourist was looking up, holding a camera to his eye. A professional-looking woman in heels clicked by. A young man with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, stood up on the pedals of his bicycle as he pumped. He was wearing a New York Yankees cap. Did the Yanks play last night? No, I think they had the night off. They had been beating up on the American League East – the Sox and Jays – but Henry had been too busy lately to watch the games.
He walked through the Trade Center plaza, glancing at the sculpture in the middle of the fountain - a giant gold sphere supported by a dark irregular form of curves and sharp angles. Henry did not particularly like the sculpture as it appeared from the other side because it looked like a great sinister eyeball - a God or state watching him as he walked by. But he very much liked looking at the sculpture from this angle, with the Towers behind it. He imagined the supporting structure to be Atlas, shouldering a great, golden world.
Today, however, the dark form holding the globe did not look like Atlas. It looked like a giant claw clutching a helpless world in its talons. He shuddered and continued on.
For no reason he would have been able to put a finger on, Henry suddenly thought of wife and his little girl. He thought of them in simple detail, as he had last seen them that morning. He recalled that spot on the side of his wife’s neck, how lovely it looked with her dark hair draped lightly over it as she slept, and how it was warm and fragrant as he bent down to kiss her. Going into his daughter’s room, as he did every morning, he remembered being slightly amazed as he stood in the dark watching her sleep, that she really had grown so… long. He had reached down, touched the blanket by her feet to check. Sure enough, she really was that tall now.
He looked at his watch. 6:38.
Looming above him magnificently were the two towers of the World Trade Center.
Henry did not go a day without marveling at this human achievement. This is where he most liked to be. In this city of skyscrapers, he liked to stand at the foot of these two monoliths. Paradoxically, though he was dwarfed by the structures, they made him feel like a giant.
These buildings cannot be compared to the Egyptian pyramids, which, though breathtaking to observe, are fundamentally monuments built to honor death. The awe one feels is at least partially horror. Pyramids are funeral pyres upon which were flung an unimaginable number of slaves pressed into service - whole lifetimes disposed of for the sake of a pharaoh’s corpse. Neither can skyscrapers be compared to the ancient ziggurats of Babylon, nor to the temples of Aztec civilizations, which were devoted to the sacrifice of human beings to their gods, and were built for the ghastly purpose of tearing out the hearts of young virgins or captured prisoners as they writhed in final agony.
What is the purpose of these two pillars, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, upon which Henry gazed? They were built for human life and living.
Every child, given a pile of rocks, will build a pyramid. As he adds each rock to the top, it sometimes stays and more often tumbles toward the base, the likelihood of its vertical position being roughly inversely proportional to its height off the ground. Thus, from one pile of rocks, the child makes another pile of rocks: the pyramid. It is the rare builder who can make that pile of rocks - or steel - go straight up.
A skyscraper is an audacity. It is man shaking a fist and saying, “Nevertheless, I build!” Both Nature in her apathy and Evil in its malice wish to knock the skyscraper down. The one blunders with wind and the force of gravity; the other plots with hatred and worship of the grave. How much easier it is, Henry thought, to knock things down than to build them up.
To think about what was required for these towers to stand: the fits and starts of mankind, as men struggled over the centuries to create the institutions that would free men’s minds; the accelerating advance of science and technology as men were liberated to examine the world and exploit the material of nature; the innumerable calculations, discoveries, victories, failures, inventions, analyses, tragedies, hypotheses, surprises, and arguments that made it possible for Henry not only to be productive himself every day, but to do so while being perched in the sky, so far above the ground, with this purposeful city sprawling beyond the horizon.
The summation of all that mental toil was necessary for these towers to have been raised. The defense of liberty is what props the towers up.
That building, the North Tower, Henry thought, will remain standing only as long as I guard her.
Her? Yes, the building is a woman, he thought. As fragile as she is beautiful. Henry smiled slightly at the thought.
As long as I guard her? Am I alone in guarding her, alone in understanding that she needs to be guarded? Perhaps. His slight smile straightened to something rigid and inflexible, and his eyes narrowed. It was the look on his father’s face in the photograph. The Marine.
By now, Henry had entered the North Tower, and he passed a security guard as he walked towards the elevator. It was still early, but several people were standing there, waiting. Someone had already pressed the button, silently launching the invisible and unregarded symphony of coordinated actions that the complex machinery would perform, to deliver the elevator to the ground floor in the service of Henry and the others.
Henry played a sort of game in the elevator every morning. As the elevator ascended, he would watch the illuminated floor indicators as they rapidly incremented. At each number, he would pretend that the numbers indicated not the literal floor he was on, but rather the chronological foundation upon which this building rested. Thus, he would start at the ground floor: the ancient Greeks, Aristotle. As the elevator rose, he would continue - Magna Carta, Constitutions of Clarendon, de Montfort, the Renaissance, Columbus, Galileo, Newton, Locke, The Declaration of Independence, America, electricity, the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine, and so forth. He would see how fast he could name these to himself, and how much detail he could squeeze in. He loved the irony of counting off the floors so rapidly, when he knew the incalculable effort that each increment represented. How easy it makes it seem, he would think.
The elevator doors opened, and Henry stepped in with several other people on this bright and beautiful Tuesday morning in September, making sure as he always did that he got a good view of the illuminated floor numbers on the panel.
The elevator doors closed.
Henry looked at the numbers, prepared to play his little game. The floor jolted almost imperceptibly as the elevator started its graceful rise. “Simple,” he thought. “As easy as one…”
08 September 2008
"Both the left and the right have been 'putting the country first' for decades -- and that's the problem," Yaron Brook said in a new press release from the Ayn Rand Center.