Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Winter Break!

I’m enjoying a vacation from CAC for a little bit, but the following stories came across my desk and I thought they were worthy of some commentary:

On December 7th, the Detroit Free Press reported the death of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel. The Press reported Van Andel’s support for conservatism.

The company also has been controversial because of its almost evangelical zeal in promoting free enterprise, and gained attention with DeVos' and Van Andel's high-profile participation in Republican politics . . . [Van Andel] chaired the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hillsdale College and the Advisory Council for American Private Education.
A businessman willing to defend free enterprise? Sounds like a great thing, right? The trouble is, Van Andel’s supported conservatism.

Much of Van Andel's giving went toward Christian causes, including a creation research station in rural Arizona that sought to prove the world was made in a week.
So Van Andel was willing to pay a team of idiots to confirm the cosmology of a bunch of sheep-herders. And what do you think the chances are that these "researchers" are going to report information that proves to the contrary?

And the defense of the free markets rests here. Brilliant.

On December 10th, the AP reported that the Center for Individual Rights is filing a class action suit for the victims of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies.

The motion was filed Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan in Detroit. It seeks $1 for the nonminority students whose applications were rejected between 1995 and 2003 and asks the university to refund their application fees.
The lawyers also are asking the school to reimburse some of those students who may have attended a more expensive school after being rejected by Michigan and to compensate them for emotional distress, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Developing . . .

The Toronto Star notes that the right has been conspicuously quite about New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer’s run for governor of New York in 2006 (and by implication, his 2012 run for president).

[W]hile Spitzer's designs on Albany were front-page news in the leading business dailies of Britain and Canada this week, they scarcely attracted notice in Gotham.

Even The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has vilified Spitzer as a job-killing publicity hound and sworn enemy of capitalism, joined The New York Times in burying the story Wednesday.

At least on the part of his enemies in the "vast right-wing conspiracy," as Hillary Clinton first dubbed the conservative media-GOP juggernaut in 1998, this indifference to Spitzer's latest move is strategically unwise. The time to stop Spitzer is before he gets to Albany.
Indeed. But that would take a moral argument that defends bussnessmen, something the vast right-wing conspiracy isn’t particularly good at.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chairman Donald E. Powell is on a mission to save capitalism. Consider the following:

Powell told students that as they prepare to teach school, enter scientific research or the business world place they "need to be prepared to distinguish between what is right and wrong."

Distinguishing between the two "will not take place in your mind. The battle between good and evil, right and wrong will be conducted in your heart. So, above all else, guard your heart, for therein lies the wellspring of life." Powell said.

He said a breakdown in public integrity throughout many bedrock American institutions has caused the free enterprise system that made the United States a world leader to be "on trial" and "under question" today.

Scandals in business, media, education, and government "have unsettled the very nature of this nation's soul," Powell said.

He said "making money, making profit, is not evil, because without it there is not much public good that you and I can enjoy. It's the abuse of money and the love of money that we need to distinguish.

"It's very important," Powell added, "that you defend the capitalistic way of life and also the rule of law." [AP]
Let us not forget that at heart, Powell is a regulator. I found this line in a speech he gave this fall before the Florida Bankers Association:

[W]e regulators have a role to play, too. We must ensure that we are competent, we are efficient, we are responsive and we are organized to address and deal with the challenges the marketplace will throw at us. This underscores a fundamental philosophy of mine. The marketplace should decide how the business of providing financial services evolves. The regulators should work to make sure this evolution takes place in a way that protects the public's interest in a safe and stable financial system.
Ah, yes, the regulators—the real judges of the marketplace’s conduct. Heaven save us from Powell’s kind of capitalism.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Intellectual Activism: Economics Professor’s Teaching Inspires Devoted Following

Here's this week's Broadside column (and a little background). When I was a student George Washington University, the student Objectivists on campus made the university a worthwhile place. At George Mason, it is a professor. So when I started classes, practically everyone I knew said I'd want to take economics professor Thomas Rustici (and usually said so emphatically). Now that I've had him for a semester, I'm glad I took their advice.

Objectivists will be pleased to hear Rustici requires Ayn Rand's Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal as reading in his course on economics and public policy that I'm currently taking, and that he offers an extra credit book report on Atlas Shrugged in another. Rustici teaches the right ideas in economics in a truly inductive manner, teaching students how to think scientifically about economics and connecting what they learn in class to their lives in a way I've seen few professors match.

For example, his class on the economic devastation wrought by the minimum wage laws was so compelling that I felt that I had ran a marathon after it, and I am one who hardly needs convincing on the evils of the minimum wage. Rustici illustrated his argument though the story of his blind grandfather during the great depression, a man forced to abandon the in-home labor he had secured for himself because it paid less then the minimum wage laws allowed. Rustici pointed out that these laws effectively made his grandfather's life worthless, and devastated his family's ability to survive in a way that I don't think any of the students in attendance will ever forget.

But for this article, written for a general audience, I chose to zero in on Rustici's teaching method. Rustici is the "total cognitive authority" in his classroom. His class is almost entirely lecture, and he's good enough at what he does to anticipate his students' questions in advance, answer them, and leave students with the skills they need to get to the truth on their own. A lot of students I spoke to described Rustici's class as a transformative experience.

As for me, I think Rustici has reminded me how invigorating teaching can be. Teaching is a realm where people with our ideas can have a tremendous impact and see the results of their work first hand, without having to wait for "the culture to change." Rustici's example has certainly inspired me to think about melding my advocacy for capitalism with teaching in ways I hadn't considered before, and for that, I'm grateful.

So without any further adieu, here's the article:

Good teaching takes hard work. A professor must be an expert on his or her subject, understand the what the audience already knows about it, and be able to present new knowledge in a compelling and informative manner. That might explain why so few professors are good at it.

In many classes, the trend is often away from lecture and toward "discussion," where students, and not the professor, do most of the speaking. Discussion classes work well when students are already well-versed in a subject, but when they are not, discussion easily degenerates into the blind leading the blind. The result may be less work for the professor, but bad news for students, who miss out on the benefit of a solid course of instruction.

Yet not all GMU professors are willing to abandon lecturing; some, in fact, excel at it. You ask students on campus who the best lecturer is-and perhaps the best overall professor-odds are you'll hear one name repeated again and again: Prof. Thomas Rustici of the Department of Economics.

Rustici teaches 100-level micro and macroeconomic theory and 300-level economics and public policy. A one time Mason student government "faculty member of the year" in economics, Rustici's enthusiasm permeates his classroom.

"I love economics and I'm passionate about teaching it," says Rustici. "Too many professors shirk their responsibility to be professors. They don't profess their own knowledge and experience in a way that teaches students how to be scholars."

"Other professors place too much emphasis on what they believe students want, going soft on them rather then challenging them to think scientifically," says Rustici. "A class on current events is of no value if a student doesn't first understand the scientific method of his field."

To teach that method, Rustici relies almost exclusively on lecture, with few, if any interruptions.

"I'm a classical professor," says Rustici. "It is my moral and educational duty to provide my students with the fundamentals so they develop into scholars who know what they think and can think on their own."

Isaac DiIanni, a graduate student working toward his PhD in economics at Mason spent a year as Rustici's teaching assistant. DiIanni says Rustici's teaching method allows students to learn economic principles in a way that shapes their thinking in a whole host of disciplines.

"Rustici's curriculum is such that each student is invited to explore their own ideas, discover how they can pursue these ideas within reality, and use critical thought to observe and learn about the world in which they live," says DiIanni.

"Undergraduates leave his classes with a better understanding of economics and human behavior than many graduate students," says DiIanni. "He covers nearly every important area of economics, from government intervention in the economy to the environment, in a way that is interesting and relevant."

Rustici's classes are not without their controversy though. Students are expected to write cogent papers and sloppy thinkers do poorly on his assignments. Yet DiIanni says Rustici is willing to go the extra mile for a student who is having a hard time but willing to work to learn, or needs mentoring.

"While the queue to his office hours is often filled with students stopping by for advice on an assignment, it is equally filled with students coming by just to chat. Many of his students are regular visitors," says DiIanni.

DiIanni also says some Mason professors resent Rustici's impact on students. "They hate it when one of his students takes them to task for something they teach which contradicts what they learned in his class," says DiIanni.

Yet Senior Tim Bainton, a current student in Rustici's public policy class says that is exactly why he likes Rustici's teaching. "He is passionate and not afraid to express controversial positions," says Bainton.

"I think he is the most amazing professor at Mason," says Bainton. "He gives you a wealth of knowledge in a three hour course that would take other instructors 15 hours to communicate."

GMU alumnus Tim Cheadle (SITE '04), a computer engineer at America Online agrees. "Rustici's classes are as much about reality, truth and morality as they are about finances," says Cheadle.

"Rustici's aim, stated clearly during the first 20 minutes of his first lecture, is to exhibit that economics is the bridge between an individual's values and reality," says Cheadle.

"When I took Rustici's class, I wanted to be there," says Cheadle. "It was like watching a master at work, with the side benefit, of course, being that you left the classroom more knowledgeable and reasonable than when you entered."

"Rustici provided a challenge to think that was unparalleled in any other class I attended in my career at Mason," says Cheadle. "Not only do I still vividly remember material from his lectures I attended four years ago, but they also provided a foundation of discovery that I utilize every day."

"Rustici simply pushed me to be a better person," says Cheadle.

And that, perhaps even more then his lecture method, is why Rustici shines as a professor.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The War: Memo to Ayman Zawahiri

Ed Cline is carrying a message to Zawahiri:

Dear Mr. Zawahiri:

This is a memorandum that should have been served by our President and State Department ten years ago on you, your master, Osama bin Laden, your whole killer organization, and your criminal colleagues in Iran and wherever else the servants of your ghastly ideas murder, torture, imprison and enslave men and women.

This is to inform you that you are wanted, dead or alive, but that we are otherwise not interested in you, your creed, or its political manifestation of global hegemony. Not in your primitive, degrading, barbarous religion. Neither in submitting to it, ever, nor even “tolerating” its rights-violating practice in our country.

This is to remind you that your “jihad” against our country and against any of our soldiers and citizens abroad is no better than a “contract” put out by a criminal gang on someone who refuses to submit to extortion. The viciousness of a Mafia conspiracy, however, pales in comparison to the magnitude of your evil actions and designs. Our measure of man is the degree to which he subscribes to reason and how well he exploits the breadth of his freedom. Your measure of man is the degree to which he quavers before a ghost, and how well he unthinkingly submits to your creed’s “commandments” and lives his life in the barbed wire corral of anti-life Mohammedan ethics.

Obviously, there is no compromise possible between those positions. Nor is one possible between living happily in our country and also being a “moderate,” non-violent Muslim in it. If a “moderate” devoted any thought to the matter, he would either need to sabotage his mind to evade his creed’s fundamental killer premise, or repudiate and abandon that creed. But thought and moral honesty are not what your creed encourages or tolerates.

Several days ago, you sent us another message. In it you presumed to deliver a moral injunction. It reveals that you have forgotten one important fact: You declared war on us, though you speak as though we were the invader. But, it was your mindless minions who drove planeloads of civilized people into our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, our Pennsylvania field. Who have murdered hundreds of people since then, and who wish to erase Israel from the map and initiate a second Holocaust. We have not forgotten, nor have we forgiven.

We have responded in kind. You invaded. We retaliated. We have embarked on a crusade to give you the opportunity to die for your cause -- either by our weapons, or by your own hand in an Afghan cave in emulation of Hitler in his Berlin bunker. If anyone can be characterized as “Satan,” it is you and your master. Like your colleague in malice, the late Yassir Arafat, you and your master are caricatures of irredeemable evil.

In your latest message to us, you state that “we will continue fighting you until the last hour.” So be it. When, in that last hour, you and your master are blasted to atoms, we will be rid of you, and we will have many more hours to live as you do not want us to live -- happy, productive, prosperous, and free.

In that same message, you offer “one last advice” on how to deal with you and your primitive culture: “You must choose between two methods in dealing with Muslims. Cooperate with them based on mutual respect and interests, or deal with them as if they are spoils of war. This is your problem, and you must choose.”

You must believe that we have short memories, or that we know nothing of your creed and political ambition. We know that your creed does not respect Western values -- the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence -- and that you declared war on us in a campaign to deny them in men’s lives.

There are fools in this country who wish to replace our Declaration and Constitution with Sharia law. Does not your Koran exhort believers to murder or enslave non-believers? You cannot have it both ways. You know that. You are hoping that we do not know it, and that we concede that “cooperation” is the best way to ameliorate conflict and avoid bloodshed. But, since you and your ilk have repeatedly proclaimed your goal of destroying us, our “cooperation” with you or with any of your “faithful” would simply guarantee more conflict and bloodshed, and our eventual demise. In such a conflict, “mutual respect” is an oxymoron. We are not buying it.

We have no “mutual interests.” We wish to live on earth. You wish us to exist in a miasma of self-immolation, or die by your swords, guns or bombs. You and your spokesmen have made that eminently clear. The onus of moral choice is on you. You made that choice, and it has condemned you.

You are right. It is our problem. We have chosen. And our solution to it is to exterminate you, your master, and whoever else dares to declare war on us. Neither you nor the numberless obedient manqués who submit to Islam would be “spoils of war.” You are not a value to free men; you offer nothing but negation.

So, please, spare us further messages and your unsolicited advice. We, the people of the United States of America, are not interested.