27 March 2010

Human Achievement Hour 2010

Lynne and I celebrated Human Achievement Hour tonight by turning on all the lights while watching a DVD on our flat-panel television, and simultaneously posting this photograph, taken with my Nikon digital SLR, on my blog using my MacBook.

22 March 2010


Lynne and I stayed up watching C-SPAN late into the night on Sunday, drawn to the House debacle like spectators at a car crash. The scene––”kabuki theatre,” as one Republican Congressman put it––was almost surreal. Democrats were actually using Social Security and Medicare, the two largest and most crippling wealth redistribution programs in American history, as evidence in favor of the health care “reform” bill. How can this happen here?

Gus van Horn summarized the event perfectly in his post this morning:

In a historic vote yesterday, the Democratic Party told the American people to go to hell -- and tried to send them on their way -- by passing an unpopular bill that threatens to adversely affect the life of every man, woman, and child in this country. Far from being a “credit to Nancy Pelosi’s savvy,” this bill is simply another indicator that something is horribly wrong, culturally, with America. . . It is a manifestation of the cultural rot that occurs when enough people accept or fail to challenge the idea of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

One thing that is encouraging, however, is that the American public is largely opposed to this bill. Of course there are millions who support it––resentful and impotent intellectuals, mediocrities who go along with the crowd, vultures looking for a cut of the loot––but there are many more who know (or at least suspect) that something is very, very wrong. The fact that enough tricks were employed to finally push this bill through shows us that there are a lot of delusional people on Capitol Hill, but it does not necessarily signal a collapse of the American spirit in ordinary citizens.

The real silver lining here is that the takeover is so outrageous, there is already a call for its repeal. This is a huge opportunity. A repeal could trigger more repeals, rolling back the welfare state and restoring freedom. Naturally, there is a lot of work to do in a short amount of time; the whole culture must change. But that change––a turn away from sacrifice and duty, and toward reason and rational self-interest––is something that Americans, more than anyone else in the world, are amenable to. To stand on one’s own feet, to earn one’s own living, to be neither a slave nor a slave-master, is what it means to be an American in spirit.

21 March 2010

The Battered Bulwarks

Just a reminder . . . we're running out of time to oppose this latest and most vicious round of intrusions.

At this point, the prospects do not look good. The latest New York Times account has some dispiriting indicators that legislators, by a narrow margin, are going to be able to pierce the battered bulwarks that have so far held back a complete government takeover of the medical industry. For one thing, Nancy Pelosi is continuing to refuse to make concessions to abortion opponents who are opposed to the bill, which seems to indicate that she is confident she doesn't need them. (This aspect of the story is rich with irony: Abortion opponents are in this case actually on the pro-freedom side of the fight!) Also, the House seems prepared to vote today, and it is clear they will not actually vote on it until they know they will get the answer they want, (which charade will let them pretend that they are imposing the "will of the majority").

At the moment of posting this (Sunday at 10:00 EDT), the Code Red site indicates a dead tie at 212 votes each for yea and nay, with only seven undecided Congressmen remaining. (The seven are: Brian Baird (WA), Marion Berry (AR), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Lincoln Davis (TN), Paul Kanjorski (PA), Michael McMahon (NY), and Earl Pomeroy (ND).)

I called a lot of Congressional offices last week, but I found it to be increasingly difficult to get through as the week progressed. By the end of the week, even when the line actually picked up and directed me to leave a message, the mailbox was typically full. I got through to only four people out of fifteen Washington offices that I called on Friday. So, at this point, email might be the most effective means of communication. Unfortunately, some of the Congressmen have the obnoxious restriction that in order to email them, you must reside in their district; this is an absurd limitation considering that their "Yea" vote threatens the life and livelihood of every American.

President Obama was accurate when he said yesterday, "Every once in a while a moment comes when you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country. This is one of those moments."[Note 1.] These are the "best hopes," of course, of the countless people who have tried to turn America from a nation that defends the rights of individuals into a European-style welfare state that views citizens as little children that must obey their (allegedly) wise rulers. Such a vision is anti-American . . . as is the abominable health care bill that is on the brink of being jammed down our throats.

1. "Democrats, Hunting Final Health Votes, Predict Slim Margin," The New York Times, 21 Mar 2010.

Happy 325th, Johann

To celebrate the 325th birthday of the greatest of all composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, I'll post a video I found on YouTube of Jethro Tull playing a unique version of the Violin Concerto for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo (BWV 1043).

Though I like Jethro Tull and am a big fan of violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson, I would not have been inclined to turn to them in particular for exceptional performances of Bach's music! However, in this video, at about the 4:30 mark, they do something fun and appropriate for the day.

One other point of interest: It turns out there is some ambiguity about when to celebrate Bach's birthday. Wikipedia shows his birthday as 31 Mar 1685, with 21 Mar 1685 corresponding to the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar). I figure no matter which one I pick, I'm accurate to about 84 ppm, which is close enough.

12 March 2010

Julia Fischer Plays Bach Sarabande

Since this is the month of J.S. Bach's 325th birthday, I'll link to this video of Julia Fischer playing the lovely and mournful Sarabande from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004).

09 March 2010

Hooray for the Robber Barons

I like this letter-to-editor that was published in the Wall Street Journal today. A George Cull from Peninsula, Ohio wrote:

Regarding Daniel Henninger’s “Bring Back the Robber Barons” (Wonder Land, March 4) and the benefits bestowed upon us by the rich: For 30 years I posed this question to my eighth graders: In a free enterprise system with incentives and competition, who would be the richest person? The answer: the one who makes the most product for the most people for the least cost. And what’s wrong with that? Why, nothing. Eighth graders understood the concept.


1. Wall Street Journal, Letters to the Editor, p. A20.

07 March 2010

Leftists and Evangelicals Make Excellent Bedfellows

“Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!”

So writes popular columnist Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times article. Lest you think he is poking fun at religious conservatives, however, as one might expect from a left-of-center Times columnist, think again. Kristof does not write it as tongue-in-cheek parody but pines for it with a yearning, dreamy bliss. If faith-based laws can be placed in the service of a traditionally leftist agenda – namely, soaking those who produce wealth – so much the better for Nicholas Kristof.

Setting aside the fact that he would actually favor such a manifestly irrational and unjust policy, Mr. Kristof’s overall argument is right on target. He demonstrates insight that few of his colleagues seem to have when he notices that alleged political enemies – Democrats and “liberals” on the one hand, Republicans and religions conservatives on the other – have much in common and are largely fighting on the same side. He writes:

[T]he divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo . . .

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion.[Note 1.]

To be “pro-life” in this sense means to sacrifice all humanity, not just pregnant women, on the altar. Which altar? That is where disagreement is introduced; some think God or Allah demands their servitude, while others think it is the nation, race, species, planet, or class. Kristof exhorts his fellow “liberals” to put aside these differences and temper their snobbishness toward evangelicals. After all, he writes, “those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals,” and are “less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.” Stop flaying conservatives as mere knuckle-dragging, gay-bashing hypocrites, advises Kristof, when they can be adopted as allies committed to the grand humanitarian goal of universal, voluntary slavery. Similarly, religious conservatives should not hesitate to jump into bed, figuratively speaking, with those contemptibly effete, bleeding-heart save-the-worlders whom they despise; they are, after all, doing God’s work.

I have long argued that for all their superficial differences, the political left and right share the same essential moral foundation. The left sees the right as ignorant, homophobic fascists and the right sees the left as Godless, iconoclastic socialists. But they agree on one thing: all men ought to live their lives in servitude to the needy. The moral underpinning of both conservatives and “liberals” is altruism.

Observe the “debate” over the legislation that threatens the medical care industry today. The Democratic agenda is unambiguously driven by the morality of need. Leftists do not even bother to hide behind lip-service; the justification for the federal government taking over the already over-regulated health care industry is that some people can’t afford the same level of health care as others. Period. The so-called “liberals” assume that “everybody knows” health care is a right, and they need not elaborate upon so uncontroversial a notion.[Note 2.]

What is the Republican opposition to this? Scott Brown, whose recent election in Massachusetts was widely seen as a rebuff of a heavy-handed Congress and Obama administration (and for whom I myself voted for exactly that purpose), believes “all Americans deserve health care coverage.”[Note 3, emphasis mine.] He voted for and still favors “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, an outrageous compulsory insurance plan that is a precursor to “Obamacare.” Such an obscene violation of individual rights, such a naked redistribution of wealth, such a sacrifice of those who have earned to those who have not, is okay, according to Senator Brown, as long as it is not the “one-size-fits-all” plan of President Obama. Behind empty and contradictory platitudes about “private market systems,” Brown and his conservative colleagues cannot escape the gravitational pull of their moral premises. Altruism infests and informs the policies of all parties today - left, right, and center.


As has been pointed out by others, the reason Americans are trapped and paralyzed, frozen into passive compliance as we plunge into serfdom, cannot possibly be because they are wholly ignorant of the superiority of capitalism to socialism. Outside of academia and Hollywood, no sane, sentient person in the modern world could think the facts of history show socialism and collectivism to produce wealth while capitalism and individualism lead to poverty. The primary explanation for the willingness of Americans to sacrifice themselves - to surrender happiness for misery, prosperity for privation - has to be because they think it is moral to do so.

The disaster here is not that Americans are driven by moral concerns, which is a good thing, but what Americans have accepted as being moral. From birth, we are bombarded with the mantra that “Selfishness is wrong,” and scolded with the universal and unquestioned dictum, “Don’t be selfish!” - despite the fact that all life, especially human life, demands the opposite. What Americans need to do is cease to swallow whole the morality of sacrifice and see that altruism is the very opposite of “pro-life.” Altruism, as Ayn Rand wrote, “holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value - and it is logical that renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.”[Note 4.]

I happen to be re-reading Atlas Shrugged and I just came upon a passage that captures the essence of this paralysis, this hesitation of Americans to defend their own lives and liberty. In the novel, Orren Boyle, a villainous businessman who is perfectly willing to play the “pull-peddling” games that arise when the government intrudes into economic matters, makes his choices according to the prevailing ethics - from which we can see the indirect effect upon an economy already crippled by such choices.

Orren Boyle made a selfless sacrifice to the needs of others. He sold to the Bureau of Global Relief, for shipment to the People’s State of Germany, ten thousand tons of structural steel shapes that had been intended for the Atlantic Southern Railroad. “It was a difficult decision to make,” he said, with a moist, unfocused look of righteousness, to the panic-stricken president of the Atlantic Southern, “but I weighed the fact that you’re a rich corporation, while the people of Germany are in a state of unspeakable misery. So I acted on the principle that need comes first. When in doubt, it’s the weak that must be considered, not the strong.” The president of the Atlantic Southern had heard that Orren Boyle’s most valuable friend in Washington had a friend in the Ministry of Supply of the People’s State of Germany. But whether this had been Boyle’s motive or whether it had been the principle of sacrifice, no one could tell and it made no difference: if Boyle had been a saint of the creed of selflessness, he would have had to do precisely what he had done. This silenced the president of the Atlantic Southern; he dared not admit that he cared for his railroad more than for the people of Germany; he dared not argue against the principle of sacrifice.[Note 5, emphasis mine.]

Americans must question the premises that would have us don our own yokes . . . before it is too late.


1. “Learning From the Sin of Sodom,” Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, 27 Feb 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28kristof.html.

2. On this topic of the alleged “right” to health care, I highly recommend these articles:

Leonard Peikoff, “Health Care is Not a Right,” Capitalism Magazine, 27 Dec 2006, (http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4880).

John David Lewis, “What ‘Right’ to Health Care?” RealClear Politics, 3 Aug 2009, (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/08/03/what_right_to_health_care_97742.html).

Paul Hsieh, “Health Care Reform vs. Universal Health Care,” PajamasMedia, 5 May 2009, (http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/health-care-reform-vs-universal-health-care/).

Richard Ralston, “Orange Grove: Wrong way to think of rights,” The Orange County Register, 19 Oct 2009, (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/right-215397-government-care.html).

3. “Scott Brown and the debate over health care,” The Economist, 19 Jan 2010, (http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/01/scott_brown_and_debate_over_health_care).

4. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, Signet, New York, 1964, p. 38.

5. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Plume/Penguin Group, New York, 2005 (originally 1957), p. 499.

I fixed a minor usage error.