Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Culture: Smearing the Marines

In 1987, Time magazine ran an infamous cover that consisted of a Marine in his dress blue uniform—with a blackened eye upon his face. The cover was intended to depict the shame befallen the Marines after the Clayton Lonetree spy scandal and it was met with outrage—how dare Time sucker-punch the entire Marine Corps because of the crimes of just one of its members? Yet after seeing the movie "Jarhead," Anthony Swofford’s autobiographical representation of the Marines during the first Gulf War, a black eye is the least of the Marines’ problems.

The fundamental theme of Jarhead’s portrayal of Marine life is that heroes do not exist. One cannot depict the Marine Corps accurately without noting that at least some of its members perform feats of strength, endurance and bravery, and that to build an entire institution of such men, certain virtues are required. Yet like Stanley Kubrick’s "Full Metal Jacket," a movie acclaimed for its supposed depiction of Viet Nam-era marines, none of these men and certainly none of these virtues are to be found.

Instead, what one finds in Jarhead are empty men who drift though life, denied of what they truly want, and who choose to make up for it in emotional outbursts and sadistic and debased pleasures. Again and again, this is what Hollywood sees when it looks at the Marines.

Yet as far as I can tell, there’s no massive backlash by Marines against this movie—in fact, I’m amazed at the positive reaction many Marines have had. Are these Marines so starved for heroes—so hungered for a portrait of their lives in uniform that they will find merit with those who portray the character of their commitment as utterly bereft of meaning or purpose, simply because the actors put on a Marine blouse or use a jargon that rings familiar?

I served five years in the Marine corps during the time Jarhead was set and I can certainly recount stories, both humorous and horrific. But overall, if I had to characterize my and my fellow Marines’ service, it would be the honorable commitment to the betterment of one’s self and the defense of the American nation. The men I worked with might not have talked about it everyday. There might have been the occasional breach of conduct or character, and some may have even failed miserably in achieving the standard of excellence that is the hallmark of the Corps. Yet overall, (and in the metaphysically significant sense—the only sense that matters in art) almost every Marine I knew was in the corps for a purpose and that purpose was good, noble, and just.

That’s why I, for one, was proud to wear the Marine uniform, and that’s what no Hollywood movie that I know of has ever been able to accurately capture in a film about the Marines. Given the freedoms the Marines have fought so valiantly over their history to preserve, it’s a tragedy they haven’t received better from Hollywood in return.

Friday, May 20, 2005

New addition to the "bio" page . . .

>Provenzo graduated cum laude from George Mason University, receiving a Bachelor of Individualized Studies in the theory and practice of capitalism. [Link]

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Luke Skywalker vs. Han Solo

Jim Geraghty takes on the real Phantom Menace:

Let me get this straight. With villains in Attack of the Clones that consisted of the "Trade Federation", "Commerce Guild", "Techno Union" and "Intergalactic Banking Clan", etc., I'm being warned about the dangers of capitalism from a man who made perhaps more money from merchandising than any other man in history. I'm getting lectured about the dangers of greed from man who authorized, "C-3POs" breakfast cereal, "The Star Wars Christmas Special" featuring Bea Arthur's musical number, and not one but two Ewoks made-for-TV movies.

I'm being warned about the dangers of technology, and the glory of primitive cultures like the Ewoks, who are able to defeat the "technological terror" of the Empire, in what is supposedly an allegory of Vietnam. Technology is bad, soulless, dangerous, and dehumanizing. Mmm-hmm. This from a man who replaced a tall man in a hairy suit, a projecting the human-eyed loyalty and sadness of Chewbacca, with the CGI cinematic war crime that is Jar-Jar Binks. A man who tossed aside the Yoda puppet, the spaceship models, the stop-motion animation of the Imperial walkers to go all-computer-animation-and-green-screen, all-the-time.

I'm being warned about the dangers of a "you're either with me or against me" attitude, and the viewing of the world in a black and white morality, from a filmmaker who has his villain dress entirely in black, choke the life out of helpless pilots, and blows up entire planets. This from a man whose nuanced moral view required an edit to make Greedo shoot first.
Ha! Lucus utterly fails to grasp the portrayal of heroism that made the first Star Wars successful in the first place. My pet theory: like a lot of people who make a lot of money, Lucus has been atoning for it ever since, and his art has suffered accordingly.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Use Value of Art

The George Mason University Objectivist Club proudly presents a live lecture:

"The Use Value of Art" by Lee Sandstead

8:00 pm, Wednesday, May 4th, George Mason University, Fine Arts Building B106

Art Historian Lee Sandstead will discuss the importance of art under the concept of "use value." This lecture will view the history of art from the standpoint of what that art can do for us, living today, striving to be happy. Starting with the Ancient Greeks, we will focus on how the everyday man used art in his own daily life—and how we can use their art in our own daily lives. Significant discussion will be given to the idea that art can be used by an individual as a technological tool--then we will springboard through art history looking for the best tools.

For Campus Map/Directions, see:
http://www.gmu.edu/welcome/Directions-to-GMU.html

Monday, April 25, 2005

Un-Taxing the Rich

Nick Woomer of the Minnesota Daily (the University of Minnesota student newspaper) writes:

Freedom for the vast majority of us means that we should all be entitled to live at a certain level of comfort in spite of how the economy is doing: We should be guaranteed access to health care, to decent unemployment compensation, to be able to retire at a certain age and to have a say in our workplaces.
Typical fare. Freedom means to be provided with a laundry list of nice things regardless of one’s individual choices--with a clear implication: those who choose wisely have a moral obligation to provide for those who don’t.

But just how is Woomer’s gift to the "vast majority" to be met by the un-vast minority? Recent legislation proposed by the state of Connecticut offers a hint. There, the Connecticut General Assembly's Joint Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee has passed SB 1321, a bill which would raise the existing 5 percent state income tax rate for high-income residents to as much as 6.75 percent for those individuals earning more than $1 million a year. Dubbed the "millionaire tax," SB 1321 targets the wealthiest of Connecticut’s residents at a time when Connecticut is enjoying a $417.8 million dollar surplus in state tax revenue.

Not surprisingly, the legislation enjoys broad support.

Those polled were asked whether they favor or oppose four different tax increase proposals. Three-quarters (75%) of residents say they support an increase from 5% to 6% in the income tax rate on single filers who make over $500,000, and 81% support the same tax rate hike on the income of joint filers making over $1,000,000. [University of Connecticut]
Or more honestly, three-quarters of Connecticut residents say they support increasing taxes on people other then themselves.

I'm not too worried about Connecticut's wealthy; many of them will simply switch to tax jurisdictions that don’t penalize wealth. But in a larger sense, what is one to do? Obviously, this is a moral fight that needs to be fought on moral terms. Yet one can easily target the forces that seek to punish achievement with a simple political reform that would reap tremendous benefit. Where our opponents seek to make state taxes more progressive, we should seek to make state taxes flatter.

Why do I think we should make moral augments and expect political change as a result? Because somewhere in the history of Objectivism’s rise, pioneers are going to translate Objectivist ideas into concrete political action. If it were up to me, the sooner this is achieved, the better.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Day America Lost its Soul

This makes me sick:

Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban castaway whose international custody battle ended in his dramatic seizure from a Miami home five years ago, addressed a crowd of thousands Friday, thanking Cubans and Americans alike for fighting for his return to the island.

Elian, now 11, read a speech at a televised event in Havana marking the fifth anniversary of the April 22 raid in which armed U.S. federal agents snatched him from his Miami relatives in the first step to getting him back to Cuba.
It gets better:

Elian's father also spoke at Friday's event, which included dance and music performances as well as speeches by young Cubans.

"I have enjoyed the happy childhood of my son," the father said. His presence in Cuba "is proof that the mafia in Miami lost again."

Cuba's state-run press on Friday accused Elian's anti-Castro relatives in Miami of a "cruel kidnapping," and referred to Elian's seizure from the house as a rescue from "the hands of the terrorist Miami mafia."

One young Cuban girl speaking Friday said she was happy Elian has spent these last several years on the island, where he "has the privilege of living in a socialist country." [AP]
The article was headlined "Elian Gonzalez Thanks Americans for Help" but the more honest headline would be "Castro Puppet Thanks Americans for the Betrayal."

I was active in the movement to keep Gonzalez free and in America, on the grounds that returning him to Castro’s Cuba was tantamount to sentencing him to prison. Looking back, I ask myself why the "Free Elian" movement failed.

There has never been the same revulsion in America against communism as there has been with Nazism. Even though communists murdered far more people then the Nazis and held on to power far longer, a portion of their message has resonated with America. While many object to communism’s practice, not so many object to communism’s moral message, even in the light of its fantastic failure. Communism's alleged concern for the meek still speaks to many, even as its means of implementation are acknowledged to be unworkable.

In the case of Gonzalez, the side dedicated to preserving the boy’s freedom needed to demonstrate clearly that communism itself was child abuse. And its not as if we didn’t try. Both Leonard Peikoff and Ed Locke spoke passionately in defense of Gonzalez’s rights, Peikoff in Miami in front of the boy’s family and Locke on the steps of the Justice Department here in Washington, but even their words were not able to carry the day.

Why? Americans are lousy thinkers when forced to confront the abstract, and for most Americans, the difference between communism and capitalism is an abstract difference that lies outside their immediate concern. When they receive conflicting evidence, they all to often write off the debate and run with what works—that is, they run with pragmatism.

After all, we did present our claims. In his speech in front of the Department of Justice, Ed Locke noted that 15,000 to 17,000 Cubans have been killed for political reasons; that more than 100,000 people have been sent to prisons or concentration camps for political "crimes"; in prison they are often beaten, tortured and starved. He noted how youths are forcibly removed from their homes and made to work in the countryside for 45 to 60 days each year and that Cuban parents have been so desperate to save their children that more than 14,000 of them have been smuggled off the island unaccompanied by their parents. I was there—it was a brilliant speech.

Others spoke out too. Famed Soviet defector Walter Polovchak, who broke free of communism as a teenager in a harrowing escape said that if his parent’s rights had been placed first and he had been returned to the Soviet Union, "the plan was to place [him] in a mental institution, because [he] was deemed unfit to live in a normal society." Evidence was presented everywhere about the horror that awaited Elian if he was returned to Cuba.

Yet in the American mind, these arguments were reduced to a mere political debate when press reports highlighted the allegedly high literacy rate in Cuba, or the myth of "free" healthcare under communism (as if slavery comes without a price). Instead of reconciling the contradiction, a pragmatic America chose to ignore the political evaluation it needed to make and instead choose to focus on the parental right of the father to his son. In the process, America revealed that it had lost its soul.

In the years since, our nation has suffered. Whether it suffers more (and us along with it) depends on our ability to communicate a proper defense of the good. While I remain hopeful for the future, in that regard, much remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oh, Yeah . . .

Where have I been? Been busy with school (I graduate in May), just finished a move, and got engaged (did it at St. Paul's in London, where my paternal grandparents first met during WWII).

How about them apples?

"The Unregulated Offense"

There’s already been a lot of chatter over GW Law school professor Jeffrey Rosen's portrayal of the "Constitution in Exile" movement in the New York Times, but here’s what I consider to be the million dollar line:

All restoration fantasies have a golden age, a lost world that is based, at least to a degree, in historical fact. For the Constitution in Exile movement, that world is the era of Republican dominance in the United States from 1896 through the Roaring Twenties. Even as the Progressive movement gathered steam, seeking to protect workers from what it saw as the ravages of an unregulated market, American courts during that period steadfastly preserved an ideal of free enterprise, routinely striking down laws that were said to restrict economic competition. [Emphasis added]
Rosen is not so coyly trying to portray those who seek to "restore" the Constitution (which by my definition means the rejection of huge swaths of law, starting from the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act) as proponents of the fantasy of economic competition—yet this fantasy belongs to Rosen.

If you read any of CAC’s amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court, you will find that we don’t argue once that competition is primary. We argue that individual rights come first and that government’s sole legitimate mission is the protection of those rights. In a free society, competition is a consequence of the freedom to enter markets, but competition is not in and of itself the justification for anything. If it were, we’d be the "Little "D" Democrats in Favor of Antitrust" instead of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism. Yet in this essay, Rosen tells us what our position is. I think there is a reason for this. A few paragraphs later from the above quote, Rosen tips his hand:

Today, the conventional wisdom among liberal and conservative legal thinkers alike is that Lochner was decided incorrectly and that the court's embrace of judicial restraint on economic matters in 1937 was a triumph for democracy.
Rosen is referring to Lochner v. New York, a 1905 Supreme Court case which overturned a New York law regulating the working hours of bakers. By claiming bi-ideological support for democracy (and seemingly pooh-poohing anyone who strays from conventional wisdom), Rosen only proves what Objectivists have been saying for years; the battle is not between liberals and conservatives, but between individualists and statists. (And conversely, by highlighting the lead the libertarians have taken in this fight, Rosen’s article shows Objectivists the ground that’s being lost by the libertarians in legal activism.) Any movement that claims a "restoration" of the past as its goal forgets the conditions that led to its replacement in the first place.

In the end, I do agree with Rosen, albeit perhaps not as he intended. There is an ongoing battle between democracy and freedom. Rosen’s cheap shot of an article, with its menacing photos of "exile" thinkers and its stacking of its facts is just another piece of evidence that reveals how hard the upcoming battle will be—and the desperate need for a body of people who can cogently explain the principle of individual rights to a culture dominated by those hostile to its precepts.

And just in time for Earth Day . . .

"I won't ever even jaywalk again." [AP]

--Convicted environmental terrorist William Jensen Cottrell, trying to weasel out of being thrown into the slammer. According to the AP U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner sentenced Cottrell to more than eight years in federal prison and ordered him to pay $3.5 million in restitution for an August 2003 vandalism spree that damaged and destroyed about 125 SUVs at dealerships and homes in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles.

The only disappointment in this story is that two of Cottrell's accomplices have yet to have been brought to justice, having fled the country in order to avoid arrest.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The culturally stability of the American civilization

According to Reuters, “Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe said he may have been a target of an al Qaeda kidnap plot in early 2001, part of a bid by the militant network to "culturally destabilize" the United States.” The report quotes Crowe as saying the plot may have involved other actors as well.

I can’t imagine the conversation within al Qaeda. “Without their manly heroes of Hollywood, the Americans will surely capitulate.” Nevertheless, I'm quite relived to see that the culturally stability of the American civilization endures.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Greenwatch: Kyoto protest beaten back by inflamed petrol traders

Looks like the militant greens got a taste of their own medicine:

WHEN 35 Greenpeace protesters stormed the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) yesterday they had planned the operation in great detail.
What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

“We bit off more than we could chew. They were just Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs,” one protester said, rubbing his bruised skull. “I’ve never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view.”

Another said: “I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot.” Behind him, on the balcony of the pub opposite the IPE, a bleary-eyed trader, pint in hand, yelled: “Sod off, Swampy.”

Greenpeace had hoped to paralyse oil trading at the exchange in the City near Tower Bridge on the day that the Kyoto Protocol came into force. “The Kyoto Protocol has modest aims to improve the climate and we need huge aims,” a spokesman said.

Protesters conceded that mounting the operation after lunch may not have been the best plan. “The violence was instant,” Jon Beresford, 39, an electrical engineer from Nottingham, said.

“They grabbed us and started kicking and punching. Then when we were on the floor they tried to push huge filing cabinets on top of us to crush us.” When a trader left the building shortly before 2pm, using a security swipe card, a protester dropped some coins on the floor and, as he bent down to pick them up, put his boot in the door to keep it open.

Two minutes later, three Greenpeace vans pulled up and another 30 protesters leapt out and were let in by the others.

They made their way to the trading floor, blowing whistles and sounding fog horns, encountering little resistance from security guards. Rape alarms were tied to helium balloons to float to the ceiling and create noise out of reach. The IPE conducts “open outcry” trading where deals are shouted across the pit. By making so much noise, the protesters hoped to paralyse trading.

But they were set upon by traders, most of whom were under the age of 25. “They were kicking and punching men and women indiscriminately,” a photographer said. “It was really ugly, but Greenpeace did not fight back.”

Mr Beresford said: “They followed the guys into the lobby and kept kicking and punching them there. They literally kicked them on to the pavement.”

Last night Greenpeace said two protesters were in hospital, one with a suspected broken jaw, the other with concussion. [TimesOnline]
I don't know how to view this, but I do have to admit that a part of me laughed when I read about the Greenpeace thug talking about the "Cockney barrow boy spivs." Takes one to know one, eh?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Leave it to the Libertarians

The Ludwig von Mises Institute has reached an all time low, equating the Bush administration’s proposed increase in Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) benefits for solders killed in combat to the money Islamic dictatorships pay out to the families of suicide bombers. According to N. Joseph Potts, a former Viet Nam-era Navy disbursing officer and contributor to the Mises Institute’s weblog:

Now, it won't just be Islamist suicide bombers whose families are limned and paid off for the death of their fighters—American warriors, too, will have a rather similar emolument, which for the economically disadvantaged families so overrepresented in the ranks of the armed forces may bulk quite as large economically as do those received by the survivors of their adversaries. If it works for Islam, maybe it will work for democracy as well. [blog.mises.org, February 11, 2005]
Potts’ premise is appalling. The SGLI program was developed to provide insurance benefits for service members who may not be able to get insurance from private companies because of the extra risks involved in military life. SGLI is a benefit of military service, providing service members with the piece of mind that their loved ones will not be destitute in the event of their death and is no more an inducement to kill one’s self than any other form of life insurance. Yet Potts holds otherwise, claiming that since most of the fallen are without spouses or children, SGLI is little more than hush money for bereaved parents.

Potts’ view is an affront to the men and women who have fallen in combat; it impugns their act of valor as little more then death-worship and abject self-sacrifice. For all of America’s ills, only a Rothbardian-addled libertarian could claim that suicide has now become the American way.

If our nation is to have an army dedicated to protecting freedom, those who serve in it must be offered values in exchange for their service. As I observed in 2003 in a blogpost that became a letter to the Washington Times opposing calls for re-instatement of the draft:

To convince men and women to serve in the military, [y]ou need to impress upon them of the gravity of the threat today and the manner in which it impacts them. You need to convince them of the benefits of the martial lifestyle, and pay them enough so that the cost of their service is not the derailment of every other aspect of their lives. And lastly, you must keep the promise that if they are wounded or fall in battle, they and their loved ones will be cared for by a grateful nation.
If N. Joseph Potts wants to condemn statism for leading to needless warfare, he is right to do so. If he wants to condemn the low pay servicemen receive (as he attempts in his essay), he is also right to do so. But to claim that there is no justification for an increase in the death benefits offered servicemen is utterly unfounded. It blames the solder who fights and dies to protect the Constitution for the larger cultural shortcomings that prevent its more perfect interpretation. The attempt is vicious and detestable, and it serves as yet another indictment of the libertarian ideology and those who hold it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I see Paris, I see France . . .

I see that the Virginia legislature has utterly lost its marbles about people’s underpants:

Virginians who wear their pants so low their underwear shows may want to think about investing in a stronger belt.

The state's House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday authorizing a $50 fine for anyone who displays his or her underpants in a "lewd or indecent manner."

Del. Lionell Spruill Sr., a Democrat who opposed the bill, had pleaded with his colleagues to remember their own youthful fashion follies.

During an extended monologue Monday, he talked about how they dressed or wore their hair in their teens. On Tuesday, he said the measure was an unconstitutional attack on young blacks that would force parents to take off work to accompany their children to court just for making a fashion statement.

"This is a foolish bill, Mr. Speaker, because it will hurt so many," Spruill said before the measure was approved 60-34. It now goes to the state Senate.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Algie T. Howell, has said constituents were offended by the exposed underwear. He did not speak on the floor Tuesday. [AP]
What’s next? A bill that outlaws plumber butt?

UPDATE: Thankfully, the state Senate had droped the bill today:

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia lawmakers dropped their droopy-pants bill Thursday after the whole thing became just too embarrassing.

The bill, which would have slapped a $50 fine on people who wear their pants so low that their underwear is visible in "a lewd or indecent manner," passed the state House on Tuesday but was killed by a Senate committee two days later in a unanimous vote.

Republican Sen. Thomas K. Norment said news reports implied that lawmakers were preoccupied with droopy pants.

"I find that an indignation, which dampens my humor," Norment said.

Republican Sen. Kenneth Stolle, the committee chairman, called the bill "a distraction."

The committee hearing drew a standing-room-only crowd that included about 75 government students from Surry County High School.

"If people in Florida can wear bikinis, a little underwear showing isn't going to hurt anybody," 17-year-old Elvyn Shaw said.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Delegate Algie T. Howell, declined to answer reporters' questions Thursday but issued a statement saying the bill "was in direct response to a number of my constituents who found this to be a very important issue."

He has said the constituents included customers at his barber shop who were offended by exposed underwear. [AP]

Virginia is for Lovers (Who Are Not Gay)

Welcome to the new Puritanism:

The Virginia House approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage Tuesday, despite a warning from the state's first openly gay legislator that the measure will one day prove as shameful as slavery and segregation.
The House voted 78-18 in favor of a resolution similar to one easily approved in the Senate on Monday.

If negotiators can reconcile the two versions this year, and the measure passes both chambers again next year, it will be put to the voters in November 2006.

"Today is one of those moments for which we shall one day be ashamed," said Democrat Adam P. Ebbin, who is gay.

Supporters of the amendment contend it is vital to warding off court rulings such as one in Massachusetts that made gay marriage legal there.

The Family Foundation's executive director, Victoria Cobb, said Ebbin's remarks about Virginia's racist past were unseemly.

"This is not a case where there are separate drinking fountains. There are no lack of voting rights, no segregated schools," she said. [dailypress.com]
No, it's just a case where consenting adults are barred by law from codifying their relationships under the law. Combine the proposed constitutional amendment with the recently passed Virginia statute that voids partnership contracts between persons of the same sex and it becomes all too clear just how deeply Virginia has descended into the Dark Ages.

In 1776, George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which affirmed that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” Over the many years, Mason’s sentiments were extended, first to women and then to blacks. It is high time Virginia recognize that these rights apply to gays as well.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Microsoft's Moral Sanction II

In response to my earlier post on Microsoft, ROR reader Ryan Jensen posted a link to a seven page memo Microsoft has produced titled "The European Commission's Decision in the Microsoft Case and its Implications for Other Companies and Industries." This memo helps illustrate the deficiencies with Microsoft's defense of its rights. In a series of points illustrating the harm caused by the European Commission's antitrust enforcement efforts, Microsoft offers the following argument:

Fifth, the Decision rejects Microsoft's desire to maintain its intellectual property for its own use, adopting an impressionistic analysis that would enable the Commission to order compulsory licensing in virtually any market and in any case. The Decision pays little regard to the incentives that intellectual property rights create for a company to invest in product improvements and for a company's competitors to invest in their own innovations rather than simply copying from others. Instead, the Decision opts for compulsory licensing on the basis of an assertion that "on balance" innovation in the industry overall would be greater if the technology and IP rights were shared with competitors. (Para. 783.) Such an approach clearly creates new law and economic policy for Europe. By casting aside the exceptional circumstances test of Magill, the Decision obligates dominant firms to license their technology to competitors whenever the Commission determines that reducing a dominant firm's incentive to innovate would nonetheless be good for an industry overall. This unbounded test would have a profoundly negative effect on innovation and investment by market leaders around the world who sell their products in Europe.
Earlier and subsequent points illustrated in Microsoft's memo are:


  • The Commission's decision does not confine the use of the compulsorily licensed intellectual property to a secondary market.
  • The intellectual property rights at stake are the essence of Microsoft's business, the development of operating system software.
  • There is no basis for concluding that the use of Microsoft's proprietary communications protocols is indispensable to the creation of competing server operating systems.
  • The Commission's decision rests on a very narrow product market definition that bears little resemblance to the real world.
  • The Commission's decision ignores international treaty obligations designed expressly to prevent this type of broad-based compulsory licensing of intellectual property rights.

So in a list of six key points, the right to property ranks fifth, and only in so much as property creates "incentives [f]or a company to invest in product improvements," i.e., only in so much as the right to property serves the needs of others.

If service to others is Microsoft's best argument to the public in defense of its rights, Microsoft will continue to see those rights eroded. Microsoft's arguments are dishonest; everyone knows Microsoft is a profit-making company that exists for the sake of its shareholders--welcome to capitalism. Yet once again, Microsoft is attempting to prove otherwise. I don't think it can succeed, and in even trying, the firm looks foolish.

Microsoft has already paid out billions in unjustified antitrust claims. We are told that it must take such action in accordance with its fiduciary responsibilities. Yet how many of these responsibilities will be left if Microsoft refuses to defend against those who loot the firm on the moral grounds the looters operate? If Microsoft's looters claim that the firm has an obligation to sacrifice to its competitors, why can't Microsoft, just for once, defend its right to exist for its own selfish sake?


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Microsoft's Moral Sanction

This from AFX:

Bill Gates, chairman of US software giant Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ: MSFT - news) , said he is 'very responsive' to the European Commission's demands concerning the implementation of the EU's antitrust ruling against the company.
Gates was speaking to reporters after attending a session of the European Parliament. He said: 'Anything they (the commission) want us to do better, I will listen very carefully and make sure we are very responsive.'

The company is under fire for failure to implement sanctions imposed by the EU in March 2004 in a satisfactory way. The company, ruled to be abusing its dominance in the market, was ordered to disclose business secrets and sell its windows operating system and media player separately.
"Very Responsive?" How about saying that the European Commission's antitrust demands were a mountain of bull and that neither Gates nor Microsoft would lend them any credence by even attempting to comply with them.

If Microsoft is going to be looted, it should at least have the moral fiber not to pretend that the looting is legitimate.

The New Right’s Veneer of Freedom

John Lewis sees the New Right exactly for what it is:

The evidence of the past two decades is unimpeachable: the political right in America no longer stands for individual rights, limited government and capitalism. The “rightists” now advocate expanding the welfare state, increasing government intrusion into our intimate private affairs, and sacrificing American lives to foreign paupers. They call it “advancing the cause of freedom.”

This is not what the right once stood for. Fifty years ago one could recognize serious problems in their positions, but also that by and large they favored individual liberty, opposed the growth of government beyond necessity, and advocated a strong military defense. In contrast, the left wanted socialism, the welfare state, and, following Vietnam, military humility.

Historically, and in broad terms, the right often tried to uphold the virtues of productiveness, independence, self-reliance, and American self-interest. They opposed the New Deal and the Great Society, as well as foreign wars that were not in America’s interests, as assaults on freedom. It was Democrats such as Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson who brought America into such wars, and who institutionalized massive redistribution of wealth at home. The right co-opted many statist measures of the left—such as anti-trust—but they generally saw America’s proper condition as peaceful production and free enterprise.

When the socialist assault began, the right became the opposition, facing a tide of motivated leftists who claimed that science and history were on their side. But what arguments, and what moral principles, did those on the right have for their own programs? Only vague statements of American ideals and virtues, held as floating ideas rather than with secure understanding. Consequently, “normalcy” in the 1920’s was accompanied by huge increases in foreign aid, and ever larger infringements on domestic, especially economic, affairs.

They called on “Rugged Individualism” as an ideal—but could not say why this was morally right. They said “the business of America is business,” but had no answer when told this was rule by robber barons. They proclaimed that “what is good for GM is good for America,” but could not defend GM’s profits. They spoke up for “capitalism” but wilted when told that it did not make everyone equal. They often maintained that America should pursue its own interests, but could not say why those interests did not include American soldiers dying for foreigners overseas.

Implicitly, they admitted that individualism unredeemed by sacrificial handouts is selfish, and everyone knew that there was no moral goodness in that.

So the right grew shameful of its own principles. In order to be moral they said “me too” to the demands of the left, bickering over methods and degrees. The welfare state grew exponentially under both parties, since the right could not oppose it on principle, and often tried to pre-empt the proposals of the left. All the momentum was on the side of increasing redistribution and foreign sacrifices. Opposition was fleeting, and coalesced only vaguely when the Republicans were forced into opposition.

The twentieth-century marks the Triumph of the Left. Everywhere socialism was tried openly it failed openly—but wherever it was smuggled in, it became the new norm. Those on the right became the most expert smugglers, for they had the most to hide.

The right failed to comprehend fully that by the time of Vietnam, the left—now the New Left—was intellectually and morally bankrupt. Outside of Berkeley and Boston, no one believed in socialism any more, and the New Leftists had only the appeal to altruism (and opposition to the “establishment”) to disarm their opponents. But this was enough, for the right agreed with this basic moral position. In the following decades the ideal of socialism died, exposed as nihilism, but the leftists achieved a Pyrrhic victory, for the right continued to accept the principles established by the left. The Republicans saw no place else to go.

Under the leadership of Ronald Reagan (once a New Deal Democrat), they equated freedom with economics, admitted their obligation to help the oppressed world-wide, and accepted Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms as institutionalized by Johnson’s Great Society. Morally, they accepted the righteousness of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” a corollary of “give unto the poor.” Coming to see the welfare state as an irrevocable fact of nature, they acted pragmatically. Ceasing to oppose it, they set out to manage it. Their gang, they said, could do a better job with the nitty-gritty of running it.

The result has been further decay of political freedom, in thought and in practice. As President Bush said in his second inaugural address, “In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time.” This is an explicit statement that the “broader” idea of freedom is not political, but economic, and that freedom is implemented by extending the scope of coerced redistribution.

Recognizing the need to defend America, they accepted the foreign policy vision of Wilson, and set out to bring freedom and prosperity to overseas peoples. “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon,” Mr. Bush continued. “In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another.” It means exposing the checkbooks—and the bodies—of individual Americans to foreign strangers in need, while making deals with our enemies. This, we are told, is advancing freedom across the globe.

They differentiated themselves by opposing abortion, defending prayer in government schools, advocating grants to faith-based organizations, upholding censorship of the media, and making a federal case out of personal marriage decisions. These once-marginal issues have become the issues of passion for the right. Their traditional principles—limited government, and defense of American interests—have mutated into alien forms that once gestated in the left. The clarion call of religious altruism as a principle of government policy has become the moral standard by which they now claim political superiority over the old, Marxist altruism.

Accepting the surrender terms dictated by the left, and in search of a moral center to justify them, the right focused tightly on its fundamentalist core, and redefined itself, into the New Right. This moral center is found in what can now be called civic religion: a new infusion of religious faith into American politics as an ideological principle. No longer is one’s faith—or rejection of faith—a personal matter. It is a matter of political principle, a campaign slogan and the sine qua non of a successful election strategy.

This is the New Right.

The tattered remnants of individual liberty still appear in their words—sometimes spoken with passionate eloquence—but always lying in the Procrustean bed of governmental altruism. Calling it “freedom,” they further socialize America from the inside out, under the impetus of “compassionate conservatism.” Calling it the “free market” they rip out the economic heart of capitalism—private property—and replace it with a new fascism: private “ownership” with a government subsidy. Calling it a “strong national defense,” they excise the motive of self-interest, replace it with responsibilities to others, and extend the welfare state globally.

This is the key to the Redefinition of the Right. Their language continues to pay homage to liberty, but the meanings of its concepts are now quite different. The confusion flowing from this redefinition is nothing less than an assault on our cognitive capacity to grasp the meaning of freedom.

With the collapse of the New Left and the rise of the New Right, the political scenario today is the reverse of fifty years ago. Although the Republicans are split on many issues, the New Right is in a leadership position. It has claimed the moral high road, and is setting the agenda for the next decade at least. It is now the left that seeks to co-opt the moral position of the right, and is beginning to “me-too” their mantras. Suddenly Hillary Clinton is a “praying person” who sees support for “faith-based initiatives” as a means to victory.

Looking ahead, as the left struggles to claim the moral ideal of the right—the same altruism by decree, now sold in even older bottles—it may mutate into a form sculpted by the right. If no rational alternative comes to the forefront, the twenty-first-century may mark the triumph of the New Right, wearing the cloak of freedom’s name but meaning something very different.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Take a bite out of PETA

The Center for Consumer Freedom is running a petition calling for on the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of the "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

Despite its deceptively warm-and-fuzzy public image, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has donated over $150,000 to criminal activists -- including those jailed for arson, burglary, and even attempted murder. In 2001, PETA donated $1,500 to the North American Earth Liberation Front, a criminal organization that the FBI classifies as "domestic terrorists." And since 2000, rank-and-file PETA activists have been arrested over 80 times for breaking various laws during PETA protests. Charges included felony obstruction of government property, criminal mischief, assaulting a cabinet official, felony vandalism, performing obscene acts in public, destruction of federal property, and burglary.
I support and have signed the petition, but I would take it one step further: if PETA is funding domestic terrorists, it should be held accountable under the laws that punish criminal conspiracy.

To sign CCF's petition, visit here.

UPDATE: Regarding some of the comments to my post, I wondered when I wrote it if it would be misconstrued as support for taxation, but I assumed most readers would recognize otherwise. Affirming an individual’s right to their wealth free from confiscation will not be achieved by allowing PETA to serve as a front group for green terrorism as an exempt organization; no one has a right to the irrational nor is the irrational the justification for freedom. Under existing law, tax exempt groups are not permitted to propagandize nor fund criminal activity. In this case, I agree with the Center for Consumer Freedom that PETA’a actions place it outside of the 501(c)(3) rubric and that PETA’s exempt status should be revoked.

The larger battle for emancipation from taxation is just that: a larger battle that will require a philosophic revolution to precede the law being made consistent with the principle of individual rights. In the interim, I support obeying the laws on the grounds that to do otherwise is an invitation for whim-worship and betrayal of the principle that the establishment of a moral government must be founded upon reason and persuasion.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Moral Basis of Mindlessness

An anonymous visitor pointed me to the following criticism of Robert W. Tracinski’s "The Moral Basis for Capitalism" by South African writer Trixy Honore at "Africans.co.za":

[W]hat possible moral basis there actually may be for capitalism is badly let down by the author's shambolic arguments. Robert Tracinski rejects the notion that capitalism is a system we must tolerate simply because it's proved the most practical - he wants to make the far stronger claim that, far from being a necessary evil, capitalism is moral. As he does so, he bemoans the intrusions of government into the generous, life-giving projects of the all-healing market.

Simply put (though I don't think I can put it quite as simply as the original article), all the great things of our world are the product of capitalist freedom of thought and action, as Tracinski explains in his gauchely sexist language. Scientists cure us of disease, farmers grow us an abundance of food and business people create jobs and a panoply of terrific products. It's a jolly old world, isn't it?

Even better, less you suspect that this capitalist dream-world involves a nasty, immoral lust for money at any point, Tracinski hastens to point out the overarching moral of the story. Where business and the freedom of capitalism intersect, there blossoms virtue. It is the careful thought each business leader puts into their work, in order to prevent that ever morally watchful capital going elsewhere, that is the essence of this virtue.

Further more, as we learn, "The only way to respect this virtue is to leave the businessman free to act on his own judgment." And so, children, I hope now you can see the godless folly of interventionist government.
The author later goes on to attack CAC’s capitalism FAQ, particularly where we identify that the economic and technological advances made possible by the free market have reduced the ranks of those truly unable to sustain themselves, and CAC’s amicus curiae for the University of Michigan admissions cases, where we argued against the government’s use of racial proxies and for equal protection under the law.

Most ROR readers are familiar with the argument that under capitalism, there will be "market failures" that will lead to poverty, environmental degradation and "social injustice." It is interesting that Honore attacks a businessman’s right to freedom of thought as the most significant market failure. The theme of Tracisnki’s article is that an unshackled mind acting out of self-interest is necessary to produce material benefits; just as one can not expect a scientist to produce under restrains, one can not expect a businessman to produce under restrains either. Yet more than any other point, it is Tracinski’s identification of this fact that most enrages Honore.

Yet despite Honore’s flip attitude and snide tone, she never provides any evidence to refute Tracisnki; she never justifies her attack against individualism, provides evidence for her moral claim in favor of controls or shows how controls lead to greater prosperity. If an individual does not have a right to life for his own sake, just who’s sake does he live for then? If self-interest is myopic and brutal, why is it that the cultures that embrace it are prosperous and free, while the cultures that reject it are stagnant and impoverished? Honore offers no answer, but the assumption is plain: we are our bother’s keepers. If Tracinski’s article is titled "the Moral Basis of Capitalism," Honore’s article should be titled "the Moral Basis of Mindlessness."

I’ve visited three African countries: Tunisia, Senegal and Liberia. In each I witnessed a quagmire of hopeless poverty; in the case of Liberia, brutal and pointless war. We’ve already seen what tribalism and dictatorship have wrought Africa. Won’t it be a great day when we can witness what individualism and the rule of law would bring?