Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Culture: What the President won't be talking about tonight . . .

. . . and why Objectivists need to think long and hard about it.

Tonight is President Bush's State of the Union address, where the president will lay out his agenda for the next year. According to Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, it won't be the "ownership society."

When running for re-election in 2004, and again last year as he campaigned for Social Security reform, President Bush repeatedly advocated an "ownership society." It was a bold concept aimed at producing a historic shift in power from Washington bureaucrats to individual Americans. But "ownership society" is not a phrase you're likely to hear from him tonight in his State of the Union address. Instead, he is expected to take a more conventional--and politically palatable--approach. His domestic agenda for 2006 includes easing the burden of rising health-care costs, trimming entitlement spending, increasing economic competitiveness, promoting measures to spur energy independence and making his tax cuts permanent. "No one will come away from the speech with ownership society on their lips," a White House official said. [Wall Street Journal]
So not unlike President Clinton's State of the Union addresses, President Bush is expected to rely upon the "micro-initiative" to sell his agenda. How pathetic.

The State of the Union address offers a president a unique opportunity to communicate directly with the American people. It gives a president the chance to explain the reasoning for his political agenda in as much detail as the strength of his voice will permit. So why not use it to make a case for private ownership that would otherwise go unheard? Why not use it to elevate the argument against statism?

Why not? Because that is not what this President believes.

President Bush has had two major policy thrusts in his administration: the "ownership society" and the "forward strategy for freedom." Both on their face sound noble, yet both have proven to be utter disasters in execution. Despite the nice title--the "ownership society" died before it even went public. By failing to directly challenge the altruistic moral premise of programs like Social Security and government-controlled healthcare, the case for the "ownership society" was never able overcome the inertia these programs enjoy. For goodness sake, Bush has created new entitlements--not repealed them. You can't defeat your enemy by adapting his arguments--especially his moral arguments.

The "forward strategy for freedom" has also come to be a miserable failure. The base premise made sense: free nations don't attack one another. In execution, it has relied upon a fantasy. The president's "forward strategy for freedom" holds the Middle East can be transformed by democratic elections made possible by the blood of American solders. Never mind that nowhere in human history did open election precede the protection of individual rights by a people. Never mind that not nearly enough jihadists have died to discredit militant Islam as a cultural force. And never mind that Hamas was just democratically elected by the Palestinians and that the Iraqis voted themselves into a theocracy. These are just inconvenient facts to be belied by true believing neo-conservatives-and unfortunately, more than a few Objectivists.

Yet despite the outrage of many of us, there is little we can do about our nation's flawed strategy in the near term. The reason President Bush is in power and we are not is because President Bush's views reflect the dominant philosophy, and we (as of yet) do not.

So just what then can Objectivists do in the realm of politics?

Perhaps first would be to admit the utter failure in "Anti-Bushies for Bush" as an Objectivist mantra. There was a lot of debate during the last presidential election in Objectivist circles over who to vote for. The spread went 80%-20% pro-Bush, dominated mostly by "Anti-Bushies for Bush" who could not stomach Kerry as a leader.

I always thought it ironic though that Objectivists who could not abide a Kerry White House nevertheless adopted a key component of Kerry's political philosophy: the position of supporting a thing while simultaneously opposing it. I think one would be hard-pressed to found anyone open to receiving Objectivism who would be taken in by such a position. If Kerry didn't deserve our support, neither does Bush-he is an intellectual nightmare and a proponent of new bad ideas. And if ideas matter, Bush's ideas ought to exclude him from receiving anything from us, whatever it may be in our power to give.

And I'm not saying I don't understand who some people get taken in by Bush. I've been taken in by the man in the past and if you read some of my writings, you'll see just how many times I responded to something he said in a speech only to be let down with him again and again and again. It's been five years now. I'm sick of it.

I think the far more successful stance for Objectivists to take would be to position themselves as what we truly are: uncompromising intellectual radicals for a new philosophy of reason and individual rights. It's that simple.

Objectivists reject the status-quo of sacrifice and self-abnegation, both as individuals and as a nation. Communicate that effectively and we will swell our ranks--get sidetracked and we will fail as a movement.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Culture: This is what American-abetted propaganda looks like

This from Diana Hseih (Hat Tip: Gun Van Horn):

What does Google's collusion with the Chinese government to censor its search results mean? It's the difference between fact and illusion.

The Culture: Jeff Jacoby gets it

Jeff Jacoby thinks that the recent Hamas victory is a useful turn of events:

I think the sweeping Hamas victory is by far the best result that could have been hoped for.

I say that not because Hamas is anything other than a blood-drenched terrorist group, but because its lopsided win is an unambiguous reality check into the nature of Palestinian society. And if there is one thing that the West badly needs, it is more realism and less delusion about the Palestinians.

Some of that delusion was on display at the White House on Thursday, when President Bush painted the Palestinian election as a ''healthy" exercise in civic reform:

''Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo," Bush explained. ''The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find healthcare. And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories. . . . There's something healthy about a system that does that."

Spare us, Mr. President. If a slate of neo-Nazi skinheads swept to power in a European election, would you say that the voters were seeking ''honest government" and ''services"? Palestinians are not stupid, and it insults their intelligence to pretend that when they vote to empower a genocidal organization with a platform straight out of ''Mein Kampf," what they're really after is better healthcare. Islamist extremism isn't needed to fix Palestinian hospitals any more than fascism was needed to make Italian trains run on time in the 1920s. If Palestinians turned out en masse to elect a party that unapologetically stands for hatred and mass murder, it's a safe bet that hatred and mass murder had something to do with the turnout. [Boston Globe]
Amen. Democratic elections are not the cause of freedom and peacefulness, they are the product. I wonder just how long it's going to take the White House to figure this out for themselves--for example, in Iraq.

The Culture: One witch doctor to another . . .

Remember the line that the only three places that understand the world were the Vatican, the Kremlin and the basement of the Empire State Building? Well, the Vatican angle of this story caught my eye:

Pope Benedict XVI believes that unlike other religions, Islam cannot be reformed and, therefore, is incompatible with democracy, according to a Catholic leader who participated with the pontiff in a secretive meeting on the subject.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., and founder of the publishing house Ignatius Press, spoke with talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt Jan. 5 about the gathering with the pope's former theology students, which took place last September at Castelgondolfo in Italy, the papal summer residence.

The pope, according to Fessio, believes Islam cannot become compatible with democracy because a radical reinterpretation of the religion would be required, which is "impossible, because it's against the very nature of the Quran, as it's understood by Muslims."

In July, when asked by reporters, Benedict refused to declare Islam "a religion of peace", a phrase often invoked by President Bush.

"I would not like to use big words to apply generic labels," the pope replied at the time. "It certainly contains elements that can favor peace, it also has other elements: We must always seek the best elements." [WorldNetDaily.com]
Interesting. It would seem that the Vatican understands the nature of Islam better then the government of a nation currently locked in a death struggle with the faith. Not good news . . .

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Intellectual Activism: If I had been president . . .

In a Marine Corps veteran's forum in which I participate, it was recently asked what we would have done had we been president on 9/11.

This was my answer:

I would have declared the enemy to be militant Islam and the states that allow militant Islam to exist.

I would have sought a congressional declaration of war against each of these states and attacked them as a whole.

I would have ruthlessly destroyed each of these Islamic governments and the larger institutions that made these governments possible. I would have dethroned their kings and dictators, leveled their capitals, shattered their mosques, humiliated their mullahs and ayatollahs and eviscerated their ability to project force.

I would have had the US quit the UN, on the grounds that a world forum that includes tyrants is no forum of value to a free nation. I would have acted as if the United States had an unquestionable right to exist--and that no one's religion or ideology gives them just cause to attack us.

Under Islam, it is held that fire belongs only to Allah. Had I been president, I would have taught the Islamic world--and anyone else who seeks to threaten our people--that fire belongs to the United States of America.

In short, I would not have been that impotent coward of a president who now desecrates the most prestigious and important political office in our land.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Intellectual Activism: Famous on TV

I saw BB&T chairman John Allison last night on Hannity and Colmes talking about BB&T's recent stand against eminent domain. Allison had a problem with his earpiece and for about half of the 10 minute segment appeared to be in excruciating pain. Sigh.

TV is hard. That said, let's look at Allison's positives:

1.) A CEO of a major American bank has come out against eminent domain abuse-on the grounds that it hurts his customers. Bravo-it's refreshing to finally see public choice theory gnawing on the leg of a bad law.

2.) A CEO of a major American bank publicly praised the group that is leading the fight. Not once did Microsoft publicly praise CAC for the antitrust work we did on its behalf, but here Allison gave specific credit to the Institute for Justice for its eminent domain abuse campaign. Again-Bravo.

3.) Allison is keeping the eminent domain abuse issue alive. Unlike the "Lost Liberty" goofbags, Allison's statement is simple, elegant, and directed. Can I get another "Bravo"?

It was amusing to see the Colmes sit-in ask Allison if the Hannity and Colmes show had any influence on his decision. I would have loved of Allison would have said no on the grounds that all the rotating and waving and crawling thingies Fox News puts on its screen gave him the creeps-but hey, we did alright with what we got.

Like I said earlier, my opinion of Allison has changed. One more time now: Bravo!

Question for the Tech-savy . . .

Help! I've been coding all day and I can't seem to get the ROR comments thingy to look right in Firefox. It looks fine in IE, just not Firefox. Any suggestions?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Culture: More campus wierdness

It's funny--the Northwestern fiasco reminds me of a lot the time I had taken from me in college by having to study under the professorial version of Mr. Henry M. Bowles, III.

For example, I took this one class where the professor viewed all of existence though a feminist lens--that is, the Marxist theory that life is nothing more then a perpetual struggle between the genders for power and control. I was given an assignment where I had to review an essay written by a feminist author who maintained that the Columbine massacre was caused by "a crisis in masculinity"-that is, football.

Huh? I thought it was because the shooters were friggin' moonbats.

So here's what I wrote:

In their op-ed "The National Conversation in the Wake of Littleton is Missing the Mark," Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally (2000) hold that the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, where two teenaged students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 other students and a teacher before committing suicide is the result of patriarchy. Katz and Jhally argue that Harris and Klebold's rampage is "not a crisis in youth culture but a crisis in masculinity." If it were not, the authors ask, "why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way?"

According to Katz and Jhally, the gender distinction forming men's violent tendencies is shaped by media, arts, sports and other social institutions that produce "a stream of images of violent, abusive men and promotes characteristics such as dominance, power, and control as means of establishing or maintaining manhood."

Yet Katz and Jhally's argument falls flat for the simple reason that Harris and Klebold committed suicide; their rampage was about nihilism and psychopathic contempt for all life-- and not the supremacy of men. Patriarchy, however wrong-headed, at least aspires to empower men; Harris and Klebold, as they drew their weapons upon themselves in their final act of violence, empowered no one.

In "The Depressive and the Psychopath," Dave Cullen (2004) makes a key identification in understanding the motives of the killers. Noting the FBI's analyses of the psychology of Harris and Klebold, the year they spent planning their attack and the failed propane bombs the pair manufactured in their attempt to explode the school and produce a death toll exceeding several hundred, Cullen remarks:

Harris and Klebold would have been dismayed that Columbine was dubbed the "worst school shooting in American history." They set their sights on eclipsing the world's greatest mass murderers, but the media never saw past the choice of venue. The school setting drove analysis in precisely the wrong direction.
The Columbine massacre was not about the conflict between geeks and jocks in high school or the tendency of some boys to rough up their perceived lessors. It was about wholesale elevation of death for the sake of death. Accordingly, a more plausible theory to explain what led Harris and Klebold to choose murder is that they were the consummate achievement of a philosophic and educational system that promotes whim-worship over cognitive ability.

For years, the proponents of progressive education have controlled America's educational institutions. The hallmark of progressive education is the view that children should discover or construct their own knowledge; one thinks of the famous progressive chestnut that the mission of the educator is not to teach school subjects, but "to teach Johnny." In understanding human division, the progressive philosophy of education maintains that the cause of social strife is the unwillingness of an individual to sacrifice his convictions to the group. Glen Woiceshyn (1997) of the Ayn Rand Institute observes that philosopher John Dewey, the founder of progressive education, maintained that it is the insistence on distinctions such as "true versus false" and "right versus wrong" that generates social conflict. Interpreting Dewey's thought, he says, "If only children did not hold strong ideas, disagreement and conflict would evaporate in the sunshine of social harmony. Truth, therefore, is socially fractious - while ignorance is bliss."

Yet without clear instruction in how to think and how to perceive reality objectively--including the recognition that others have rights--Woiceshyn argues that children are vehicles out of control.

"Which feelings will guide [the child]? The fear and anxiety generated by ignorance and cognitive incompetence? The frustration and rage felt when his desires aren't immediately satisfied? The self-hatred that gets subconsciously projected at others? The false security offered by a gang? The desire to control others by force because of an inability to control reality?

What definitely won't guide him is reason - which is why violence is on the rise."
In understanding the violence that animates the seemingly innocent, it is not enough to observe that the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre were boys, or that they played violent video games, or that they listened to dark music. Millions of boys do the same things. One must examine the basic foundation of Harris and Klebold's thinking-the very philosophic choices that they made and that were made for them by others.
My grade for this essay: Zero. Zip. Nada. Why? I was supposed to "review" the article (that is, agree with its arguments), not refute the author's claim with actual facts. Yeah, right. It was too late for me to drop, so I ended up with a C+ for the semester. Still graduated with honors though. :-)

I'm glad that an individual like Mr. Henry M. Bowles, III is getting nuked while he is still in his embryonic stage. Hopefully it will be the slap to the head that will inspire him to get his "dope straight" as we would say in the Marines--or at least remain silent when confronted with his "less intelligent" peers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Culture: Are Servicemen and Women Cannon Fodder?

They are--and they are easily manipulated, according to one Mr. Henry M. Bowles III, a senior at Northwestern University [Hat tip: Best of the Web Today].

Writing in the Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper, Bowles claims:

Protesting military recruiters on campus, so long as they ban open gays from joining, is admirable. But there's a more permanent reason to keep the military away from our brightest students. Young males are easily manipulated during the period of their lives when they exist outside the female domain, after the mother and before the wife. They are above all eager to demonstrate masculinity. With its promises of order, fraternity and cohesion, the military taps into this angst.

A real tragedy occurs when a young man, susceptible to the military's appeal and nonetheless intelligent and creative, signs up to become cannon fodder. He'll probably leave the military alive, but he'll have been irreversibly molded, less inclined to dissent. Less intelligent people are better equipped for most military positions, and have far less to lose.
Needless to say, as a veteran, that's about as insulting as it gets.

Let's buy into Bowles' premise for one moment to understand just how repulsive it is: the military is best staffed with cretins then with the enlightened, because the cretins have less to loose.

Like what? Their limbs? Their lives? Is intelligence now the barometer by which a person values his own life and health? "I'm not as smart as Henry M. Bowles III, so I won't miss my legs as much if an IED blows them off."

Like a lot of leftists, Bowles' has zero respects for individual rights--and individual life. "Hey you, dummy--go risk your life against the jihadists--you have less to lose than me." Being young, he just hasn't learned how to fully camouflage his arrogance.

I encourage readers to contact Bowles and tell him what you really think of his opinion. His email is:

Rights and Reason: BB&T Announces Eminent Domain Policy

A few years back I wrote BB&T off as an ally after it sat on its hands during a Hart-Scott-Rodino review of one of its mergers. Yes, BB&T's chairman, John Allison is an Objectivist, but when I wrote him and BB&T's general consul about actually standing up against unjust antitrust regulation, I didn't even get so much as a "no thank you" in reply. To be honest, I wasn't really surprised: a lot of people talk the talk, but are less inclined to walk the walk—at least when it comes to inconvenient things like standing up to unjust laws.

So imagine my surprise when I read this press release issued today by BB&T:

BB&T Corporation today said it will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain.

The commercial lending policy change comes in the wake of Kelo v. City of New London, a controversial Supreme Court decision in June that said governments can seize personal property to make room for private development projects.

The court's ruling cleared the way for an expansion of eminent domain authority historically used primarily for utilities, rights of way and other public facilities.

"The idea that a citizen's property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided, in fact it's just plain wrong," said BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison.

"One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own. As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won’t help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership."
Well, it looks like John Allison does have some sauce.

Bravo to BB&T for taking such a principled stand—it's a tremendous statement and I applaud them for making it. I guess it's time for me to move my money . . .

Intellectual Activism: Where are all the good blogs at?

I'm in the process of redesigning the CAC website (should be revealed in the next week or so) and as I was updating the template for the Rule of Reason blog, I wondered what other good blogs are out there that I may be missing. So I put it to you, ROR visitors: what's out there these days? If it's a good one--I'll certainly add it to the blog roll.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Intellectual Activism: A call for nominations

I had a vision yesterday: it's awards season and the Center needs to do its share to honor the deserving. We're a small group though and we need to give credit in a way that stands out from the rest. Accordingly, I propose three new awards and ask for your help in finding worthy candidates.

Award #1: The Tonya Harding Award for Achievement in the Advance of Antitrust. The "Tonya" should identify that special someone, perhaps a lawyer, politician, academic, or looting businessman who though their actions last year have busted up some knees in the name of "protecting competition." Had this tribute been around a few years back, US District Court Federal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of Microsoft fame or Timothy Murris of the FTC would most certainly been nominees.

Award #2: The Hypocritical Capitalist Award for Making a Lot of Money While Undermining the System that Made it All Possible. The "Hippy-Capitalist" should bring attention to the businessman or woman who does the most to undercut (or perhaps misdirect) the moral case for capitalism, yet makes a pile of money for themselves regardless. For this honor, its going to be hard to beat Microsoft's Bill Gates, who along with his wife Melinda, have given millions of dollars in handouts to relieve African poverty while simultaneously ignoring the fact that Africa's woes are caused by dictatorship, tribalism and the absence of the rule of law. There are other businessmen and women out there who are at least deserving of Honorable Mentions, and I ask your help in finding them.

Award #3: The Looting Politician Award for Unprecedented Generosity with Other People's Money. Lastly, the "Lootie" should honor the political leader whose leadership has been crucial to out-of-control government spending and outrageous government spending. Ex-majority whip Tom Delay is a strong contender for arguing that there was absolutely no fat in the federal budget, as well Alaska Senator Ted Stevens of the "Bridge to Nowhere" fame.

I ask for ROR visitors to help me with this project by finding the most worthy candidates. Together, I think we could have a lot of fun with this. Nominations will close January 29th.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Culture: The Greenspan Legacy

This gem of a quote appeared in Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein’s article on the legacy of Alan Greenspan:

Greenspan summed up the trade-offs behind his deregulatory philosophy in a series of unusually lucid speeches in London in 2002, on the eve of being knighted by Queen Elizabeth. "The extent of government intervention in markets to control risk-taking," he said, "is a trade-off between economic growth and its associated potential instability, and a more civil but less stressful way of life with a lower standard of living."
Good grief. It sounds to me like Greenspan was a man who never filed his own tax return or ever had to comply with a government regulation.

The real Greenspan legacy is the story of how a man went from someone who wrote an expose of antitrust in “Capitalism the Unknown Ideal” to a man who concluded that government intervention in the economy produces “a more civil but less stressful way of life.”

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Intellectual Activism: ‘Lost Liberty’ Lunacy II

Logan Darrow Clements’ “brilliantly conceived public relations stunt” made the AP wire again:

Angered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sided with a Connecticut city that wanted to seize homes for economic development, a group of activists is trying to get one of the justices who voted for the decision evicted from his own home.

The group, led by a California man, wants Justice David Souter's home seized for the purpose of building an inn called "Lost Liberty Hotel."

They submitted enough petition signatures — only 25 were needed — to bring the matter before voters in March. This weekend, they're descending on Souter's hometown, the central New Hampshire town of Weare, population 8,500, to rally for support.

"This is in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party and the Pine Tree Riot," organizer Logan Darrow Clements said, referring to the riot that took place during the winter of 1771-1772, when colonists in Weare beat up officials appointed by King George III who fined them for logging white pines without approval.

What? Clements new ideal for intellectual activism is an actual riot? The actions of an angry mob is now the tool of choice in order to communicate Objectivist principles to the mass of America? Amazing.

It gets even better:

State Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare resident who is sponsoring two pieces of eminent domain legislation in New Hampshire, said he expects the group's proposal to be defeated overwhelmingly.

"Most people here see this as an act of revenge and an improper attack on the judicial system," Kurk said. "You don't go after a judge personally because you disagree with his judgments."
So the state legislator who proposed the law New Hampshire residents need in order to be protected from the Kelo ruling also thinks Clements’ stunt is “improper”?

What is it going to take for Clements to give his ridiculous anti-intellectual antics a rest? Nobody wants this—at least nobody with a rational clue about them.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Intellectual Activism: Incentives . . .

Antirust law creates huge financial incentives-for the people who file antitrust suits. Consider the case of Lloyd Constantine's recent award of $220 million dollars as lead plaintiffs counsel in the Visa International Service Association/MasterCard Inc. antitrust suit. Constantine sought $609 million plus expenses, but had to settle for the smaller figure after Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York ruled that his request was "absurd." Don't feel too bad though-Constantine and his henchmen have found the will to carry on.

The firm has left its old offices and sublet grander quarters from New York's Davis Polk & Wardwell. Two weeks after he got the money, Constantine gathered the firm together in those offices and handed out checks. An employee in the mailroom got $50,000. So did a paralegal who had worked for the firm for a single year. ("She practically gave up a year of her life. She must have billed 3,000 hours," says Constantine.)

As for himself, Constantine won't say how much he got. And while he's careful to play down the importance of money -- "Before I got this fee, I had everything I needed. I don't need a hell of a lot more now," he says -- there have been changes. Constantine bought his wife a 1921 Steinway grand piano, for example. Also, she recently left her job as general counsel of News America Marketing, a subsidiary of The News Corp. Limited, and is looking for something new. Perhaps teaching, or something in the nonprofit world, taking a pay cut made possible by Visa. [Law.com]
What young law school student is going to read that article and conclude that they want to be a moral defender of capitalism? Precious few I suspect-and proof that of all the looting in the world, it's the legalized variety that offers the best incentives.

So what to do? I doubt too many people who actually make money (that is, who actually create the thing of value that they later sell on the market, over looting it) will look at a case like the Visa/MasterCard antitrust case and conclude that it was a feat of justice. Yet by their inaction, they tacitly support its outcome. Why? Because these people do not grasp the moral basis of capitalism. I've been trying to think of a new name for this kind of thinking-the "anti-inductive mentality" comes to mind. It shouldn't be rocket science for someone to figure out that when a person creates something, they own it. Case closed, period. This is clearly not the situation today.

So yet again, I am reminded that the tipping point in this battle is moral and epistemological. Look forward to some new campaigns out of CAC to help underscore this truth. After all, we have some incentives of our own we can put on the table . . .

The Objective Standard

I just received word that the The Objective Standard, a new quarterly journal edited and published by Craig Biddle has taken its website live and is now accepting subscriptions. I’ve been greatly impressed with Biddle’s work in the past, primarily his 2002 book Loving Life. Reviewing Biddle’s work for our bookstore, I wrote:

The material abundance and individual freedom that is the hallmark of capitalism rests on upon the ethics of self-interest, but today perhaps no code of morality is more misunderstood and maligned. In a profound yet easily accessible text, Craig Biddle demolishes the conventional wisdom that holds sacrifice as a moral ideal and offers a compelling alternative.

Through examples drawn from today's headlines, historical analysis and the examination of leading intellectual thinkers, Loving Life clearly demonstrates that morality is a matter not of divine revelation or social convention or personal opinion—but, rather, of the factual requirements of human life and happiness. Biddle shows how a true morality is derived logically from observable facts, what in essence such a morality demands, and why it is a matter of pure self-interest.

Loving Life exposes the baseless nature of the various moralities that call for human sacrifice and lead to human suffering and shows how a true morality is derived and implies—personally, socially, and politically. With clarity and elegance, Biddle demonstrates the principles, values, and virtues that are essential to human life and happiness; and he defines and defends the social and political conditions that are required for people to live together as civilized beings.
Needless to say, I’m excited about Biddle’s new project and I look forward to reading it. Given the quality and thoughtfulness of his previous work, The Objective Standard looks to be a welcome addition to the increasing world of serious Objectivist scholarship and commentary.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Intellectual Activism: ‘Lost Liberty’ Lunacy

Like most of you, I was appalled at last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, where a 6-5 Supreme Court upheld a local government’s authority to use eminent domain to size private property for economic development. In the face of a patently unjust ruling, the best tactic to adopt now would be to support efforts in the states to pass anti-eminent domain legislation and state constitutional reform. That is, unless you are former California gubernatorial candidate Logan Darrow Clements.

A little bit of a Clements refresher: back in 2003, Clements ran for governor as part of California’s notorious recall election. Clements ran on the Atlas Shrugged platform (as in Ayn Rand’s epic novel was his literal electoral platform). Needless to say, Clements didn’t do to well, placing 131st out of 135 candidates and earning exactly 274 votes (out of the nine million votes cast). Observing Clements’ candidacy at the time prompted me to remark:

I do not know Mr. Clements; I can speak nothing to his intelligence or character. But as a political scientist, I can speak to his judgment: there was no point to his candidacy. It was, truly, an exercise in futility. Clements had zero chance of beating Gary Coleman, let alone winning. Yet by running, Clements made the classic libertarian error—he placed political activism before political philosophy.
After that post, Clements stopped by the Rule of Reason to denounce me as a “hater” and a “destructionist.” Oh well. One can try . . .

So now back to the Kelo decision. Imagine then my utter amusement last summer when I heard about an attempt to seize one of United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter's New Hampshire properties and turn it into the "Lost Liberty" hotel. Who was the architect of such a devilish poly? None other then Logan Darrow Clements.

Recognize for a moment that Clements has now taken his antics to a whole new level. First, Justice Souter didn’t even write the Court’s opinion. Justice Stevens did. Was Clements simply unable to locate Justice Stevens’ property holdings? Do the Court’s other eminent domain supporters get a pass from Clements’ wrath as well?

Second, when did it ever become appropriate to threaten a justice in response to a decision of theirs that you disagree with? I don’t care how bad Kelo’s reasoning is: you don’t get to play ‘lynch the Justice’ because you don’t like the way they rule.

Third, (and most importantly) Clements’ effort took attention away from the real fight, which is passing anti-eminent domain bills in the states. Clements’ visceral and mindless activism got him a heap of press—more in fact, that the Institute for Justice’s real effort to change the eminent domain laws. That’s not just bad—that’s disgusting.

Yet even these problems did not stop nationally syndicated Objectivist newspaper columnist and Intellectual Activist editor Robert W. Tracinski from noting in his e-mail newsletter that despite Clements’ Libertarian groundings, the “Lost Liberty” hotel was a “brilliantly conceived public relations stunt.” Brilliantly conceived? Clements’ plan is an utter abomination. A strategy of “just deserts” doesn’t address larger philosophic problems—it evades them in the name of 'activism.'

So now, a little more than half a year after the Kelo ruling, where does Clements’ “Lost Liberty” hotel stand? From what I was able to reconnoiter, it doesn’t stand at all. Clements’ seems to have been able to raise some money for his ploy, and he apparently has a thousand or so pledges from people promising to visit the “Lost Liberty” hotel should it be built. He’s sponsoring a ballot initiative to force the local New Hampshire town to give him Justice Souter’s property, and he even has a toady running for town council to help him along. Talk about taking a joke to its absurd extreme.

That’s not to say that they thing will ever be built though. New Hampshire is the “live free or die” state, and I suspect the locals are not going to appreciate a California activist trying to loot their neighbor’s property—not one bit. In fact, a July 2005 University of New Hampshire poll finds 93% of New Hampshire residents oppose the Kelo decision. What, is Clements’ aiming to sway that last seven percent?

Needless to say, I will not be visiting Clements’ “Lost Liberty” hotel if it ever gets constructed. Clements’ is misdirecting legitimate outrage over the Kelo decision toward what now is becoming an exercise in rank democracy. Yes, we all know that eminent domain abuse is outrageous. Those seeking justice don’t resolve the problem by joining in on the abuse though publicity stunts—they solve it by passing better laws.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Culture: Intolerant Tolerationists?

Want to enrage a Libertarian? It’s easy. Just have standards. Consider lewrockwell.com blogger Stephan Kinsella’s response to my “Off the Reservation” post.

I refer here to their odd, pompous, self-important, silly habit of offically "breaking" with people who were once in the fold but who start to think for themselves. But I guess, like Muslims, it's worse to be a former Randian than never to have been one at all. As Rush (another favorite group of young Randians) say, "For you the blind who once could see/The bell tolls for thee".
Kinsella’s response is interesting because he refers back to an earlier article he wrote attempting to eviscerate Diana Hsieh for realizing that her previous support for David Kelley's Objectivist Center was misplaced. Hsieh, an Objectivist graduate student in philosophy, grew weary of the Objectivist Center’s lack of scholarship. Upon re-examining the break that led to Kelly’s ostracism from Objectivism, Hsieh concluded that he and his organization’s approach to philosophy was substantively flawed and dishonest. Because her participation in the Objectivist Center was often held up as an example of the organization’s efficacy and because she knew her determination would sever many of her personal relationships, Hsieh felt compelled to make her declaration of independence public.

On one hand, Hsieh’s declaration is refreshing, because it reveals an active mind that reexamines and reevaluates, yet on the other hand it's heartbreaking, because one can easily see that this woman is going to lose many friends as a result.

Kinsella’s response? Venom. He writes:

The more I read Objectivists (sic) trot out their ridiculous stock phrases, the more I realize this aspect of the philosophy is really inapplicable to the real world. Who talks like that? Who even thinks like that? Who goes around talking about "psycho-epistemology" or saying their husband is their "top value"? What the hell is a "top value"? Jeez. In my view, this cliched, robotic reasoning is useless and off-putting.
Off putting, because it reflects a standard? Probably. It certainly explains the miles of hatred heaped upon Hsieh since her break with her former allies.

And perhaps (going back to my post) that’s why Kinsella can’t stand the fact that I indicated my disappointment with Mr. Oliva. Never mind that Mr. Oliva was a personal friend, going back to college. Never mind that I battled with him over the very issue that severed our friendship for hours on end, only to be told that he didn’t want anything to do with me or my philosophy. Never mind that I have my standards. The Libertarian mantra Kinsella echoes is that you must simply get along with everyone, whatever they think, say or do, or shut the hell up.

Yeah, right. And that’s going to lead to capitalism . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rights and Reason: Is 'Intelligent Design' in retreat?

It's starting to look that way:

Under legal pressure, a rural school district Tuesday canceled an elective philosophy course on "intelligent design."

A group of parents had sued the El Tejon school system last week, accusing it of violating the constitutional separation of church and state with "Philosophy of Design," a high school course taught by a minister's wife that advanced the notion that life is so complex it must have been created by some kind of higher intelligence.

In a settlement, the district agreed to halt the course at Frazier Mountain High next week and said it would never again offer a "course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science or intelligent design."

"This sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class," said Ayesha N. Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the parents. [AP]

Green Watch: Tilling at off-shore windmills

Time and time again we hear that the greens are not waging a wholesale war on mankind, but simply want to make the world a better, cleaner place for human habitation. This next story puts yet another monkey wrench in that claim (as reported by the pro-green website Grist Magazine).

A long-simmering disagreement within the environmental community over a plan to build a massive wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., is now boiling over into a highly public quarrel.

The four-year-old battle started heating up last summer when Greenpeace USA staged a demonstration against well-known eco-activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who's been an outspoken opponent of the proposal for a 130-turbine wind-power project in Horseshoe Shoal, a shallow portion of Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod. Kennedy -- a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council and a pioneer in the waterway-protection movement -- was on a sailboat for an event with the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the wind project. A Greenpeace vessel cruised up alongside with a banner that read, "Bobby, you're on the wrong boat" -- a stunt that was part of a larger Greenpeace campaign pressuring Kennedy to change his mind on the development.

In mid-December, Kennedy, wanting to explain his position to critics and the public at large, published an impassioned op-ed in The New York Times in which he argued that the wind farm would mar a precious seascape, privatize a publicly owned commons, and damage the local economy.

That, in turn, prompted about 150 environmental advocates -- including global-warming authors and activists Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, Bluewater Network founder Russell Long, and youth leader Billy Parish -- to circulate a letter asking Kennedy to reconsider his position. "We are, simply put, in a state of ecological emergency," it read. "Constructing windmills six miles from Cape Cod, where they will be visible as half-inch dots on the horizon, is the least that we can do."

Signers of the letter also included "Death of Environmentalism" authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who made the quarrel far more personal -- and nasty -- in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last month. They called on Kennedy to step down from his position at NRDC, and took a swipe at his famous family by criticizing "the privileged patricians of a generation for whom building mansions by the sea was indistinguishable from advocating for the preservation of national parks or big game hunting in the wilds of Africa."

Kennedy shot back this week with his own opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling Shellenberger and Nordhaus's attacks "dishonest vitriol."
Heheh. Yet lest one conclude that the greens opposing Kennedy’s position are a new voice of reason in the green movement, consider this passage from the Shellenberger & Norhaus op-ed:

Environmentalists believe that they are protecting a "thing" called the environment from human intrusion and destruction. Issues such as drilling in the Arctic refuge fit well with these ideas of nature and human intrusion and thus become totemic battles for the environmental movement. The controversy over the Cape Wind project is much harder to fit into the categories either of intrusion or nature and hence leaves many environmentalists paralyzed.

Nantucket Sound is not a pristine wilderness. It is among the busiest shipping channels on the East Coast and is surrounded by heavily populated communities. Cape Wind, at worst, constitutes a relatively minor intrusion upon this already developed landscape. Yet Cape Wind is a project that is vitally important to address arguably the greatest of all human intrusions upon nature, global warming. The crisis results when environmentalists such as Kennedy fail to distinguish between their personal use of the landscape and the ecological issues at stake.
So in reality, all this green “dishonest vitriol” is simply a matter of location. Kennedy is a proponent of “not in my back-yard.” Shellenberger & Norhaus are proponents of “not in any new back-yards.”

Talk about “pick your poison.” Shellenberger & Norhaus fear “human intrusion and destruction” in the environment; that is, they fear human existence, but they’re just more pragmatic about it. Kennedy, on the other hand, simply wants a pretty view from his picture window. Reading though this debate is like watching two killers debate with one another as to how they are going to kill their victim—with a rifle, or a shotgun.

What is remarkable about this fight (beyond its utter contempt for the fact that humans have a right to exist on this earth) is that it is being waged on the op-ed pages of top-ten newspapers. Just imagine the day when Objectivists can conduct their personal squabbles on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Rights and Reason: 'Special-Anti-Special-Interest Extremists'

Oh, the humanity:

Alaska needs a publicity campaign to restore its image after battles over wilderness oil drilling and "Bridges to Nowhere" that have made the state a laughing stock, Gov. Frank Murkowski said on Tuesday.

"Alaska has been held up to public ridicule by the special-interest extremists," Murkowski said in his state-of-the-state address in the capital, Juneau.

The Republican governor is an ardent advocate of controversial development projects including the proposed federally funded bridges and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, both of which the U.S. Congress has balked at.

The bridges -- one to an island of 50 people and the other connecting Anchorage to a little-used port -- have been dubbed "Bridges to Nowhere" by critics of federal "pork barrel" largess and become fodder for late-night television comedians.

Environmentalists have waged a long-running battle against drilling in the refuge, also known as ANWR, which they view as a pristine natural treasure.

Murkowski proposed a two-year public-relations campaign, which he said was "long overdue" and would resemble successful campaigns conducted by groups like the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association. [Yereth Rosen, Reuters]
I don't have to say here that I'm with Murkowski on ANWR. Nevertheless, the whole “bridge to nowhere” thing is quite rightfully a laughing stock. Worse, it’s utterly dishonest to call bridge opponents “special-interest extremists.” “Special-anti-special-interest extremists” perhaps—but the idea that Alaska pork is not a “special interest” is yet again, utterly laughable. And extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, bud. Remember that?

If Murkowski wants Alaska to have a new bridge, I say this: get out of the way and let a developer build one that charges tolls.

Intellectual Activism: Off the Reservation . . .

Like most Objectivists, I take issue with the libertarian philosophy—the philosophy of capitalism without a corresponding grounding in epistemology and ethics. I argue that one can not effectively advocate the principle of individual rights unless one first understands the processes of the mind and its need for freedom, as well as the corresponding need to place the right to retaliatory force under objective control. As has been said many times before, Objectivism is not libertarian. Neither is CAC.

Accordingly, I must publicly indicate my disappointment that in the time since he left CAC, Mr. Skip Oliva, a former policy expert, has chosen to become a contributing writer to libertarian organizations such as lewrockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Why do I take umbrage with Mr. Oliva’s participation in these groups? Because they are proud, outspoken enemies of Ayn Rand and her ideas. They pick and choose ideas of Rand’s that support their myopic obsession with anti-statism, while attacking her larger, more foundational ideas and saddling her and her supporters with smears such as this.

The logical outcome of the libertarian position—the position of trying to secure capitalism without a legitimate philosophic base—is anarchy. I don’t understand why Mr. Oliva has chosen to align himself with such an untenable intellectual position. I can find no innocent explanation.

The tragedy is that during his time at CAC, Mr. Oliva performed heroically, and did so with little or no remuneration. In the time that I worked with him, I found him to be a passionate defender of the victims of the government abuse of power. He was a methodical thinker and a relentless activist and I admired him greatly, even when others questioned—and outright attacked—his style. Some of his contributions were brilliant and have yet to be duplicated, even by those with far more scholastic training than he. My evaluation of his service should not imply that there were not times when I disagreed with him deeply. I often did. At the time, however, I simply thought his head was in it, and the results were usually good, if not great.

I can only think that during that period of unrewarded hardship and effort, Mr. Oliva turned on the movement that he felt had abandoned him. This is tragic, but if so, the mistake lies with him. One’s ultimate justification for being cannot be the sanction of others. The alternative to the current lack of Objectivist political and legal activism is not to make one’s bed with the libertarians, simply because they are anti-state. The alternative to being ignored is not to embrace one’s spiritual enemies as an act of revenge.

Instead, one must live for the truth—the whole truth, even if that means that one must stand alone. And sometimes, regrettably, that really stinks . . .

Accordingly, while I wish Mr. Oliva my best, I must properly disassociate this organization with him on the above grounds.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Intellectual Activism: To write or not to write?

In his comments to an HBL e-mail discussion group post on writing letters to members of Congress, Objectivist philosopher Dr. Harry Binswanger asks how members act upon the letters they receive from constituents. In my work as an organizer of several letter-writing campaigns and through my discussions with the congressional staff who answer their mails, this is what I have determined:

1.) A low-level staffer or intern will read your letter. A member will read it only if a more senior staffer believes the letter writer is a person of influence with whom the member must recon.

2.) Letters only change a member’s view when the member is undecided on a narrow issue; they will never change the member’s larger outlook. As Dr. Binswanger alludes, most letters only serve as a tally of the intensity felt for a particular issue and an accounting of the ideological spread. Since letter-reading is a non-scientific gauge of public perception, opinion polls garner more respect. Additionally, a member will be far more concerned with the demographic make-up of his district then with the content of the letters he receives. There is a reason we have a government of incumbents.

3.) The response most letter-writers receive form their Congressmen have little to do with the original letter. Low-level staffers and interns write most of the replies to constituents. They draw their responses from blocks of pre-written “approved text.” This text is purposefully vague and will typically only indicate the member is aware of your issue.

Therefore, in my view, it rarely pays for Objectivists to write their members. The broad scope of the issues that concern most Objectivists often make it all but impossible to move members on the level we seek to persuade. When mixed with the high organizational cost of getting larger groups of people to focus on a narrow issue that has a better chance for victory, the odds are typically too much against us to merit that kind of political activism.

Additionally, where there was an easy and convenient method for Objectivist’s to contact their members, few Objectivists elected to exploit the resource, or underwrite its management. The reward of saying “So I sent them a letter” only goes so far.

I do believe that there are activist opportunities in politics and law that Objectivists can engage in today, and which will reap a reasonable ROI and grow the interest in our philosophy. Letter writing may play a part in such efforts. However, I believe this activism will have to have to be well-organized, work across several realms and mediums, and be understood as part of a larger, long-range effort to create more Objectivists.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rights and Reason: Alito on commercial speech

More from Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), this time asking Judge Alito about his vote on The Pitt News v. Pap, a commercial speech case involving a Pennsylvania law that allowed newspapers affiliated with colleges and universities to accept free alcohol advertising, but criminalized any paid alcoholic advertising.

Alito’s answer: the Pennsylvania law was too narrowly tailored. My interpretation: good, but not great.

Rights and Reason: Alito on antitrust

Just heard Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) ask Judge Alito about his vote on the 3M v. LePage case. Alito voted in favor of 3M, and said to DeWine that he was not an expert on antitrust, but that he examined what antitrust scholars and economists thought about the so-called intent to monopolize by bundling and thus justified his vote.

What does this mean? Beats me, except I wager that he’s not reading Richard Salsman, Gary Hall, or Dominic Armentano.

Rights and Reason: If I were a senator for just one day . . .

I’ve been watching the Alito confirmation hearings on C-SPAN as best I can. Similar to my inability to sit though a Sunday morning talk show without squirming in abject agony, I find myself having a tough time sitting though this one too. I can yell at the TV all day, but they never seem to hear me . . .

My issue is with the caliber and content of the questions being asked of Alito by the senators. None of the senators seem to grasp the nature of individual rights; they neither understand the rational basis for rights, nor the courts’ role in identifying or protecting rights from government encroachment under the federal constitution.

If I were a senator, I would need to ask only one question in order to form my opinion of a nominee's intellectual qualifications for office. That question would be:

1.) The Ninth Amendment states that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Does this mean that the Ninth Amendment is the “necessary and proper” clause for the protection of unenumerated rights, and that the courts have the responsibility to protect the people when the government violates these rights? If so, by what process do the people properly establish an unenumerated right before the courts? If not, what purpose does the Ninth Amendment serve in the constitution?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rights and Reason: 'Abuse of Popular Belief'

Here’s another story that caught my eye by Phil Stewart at Reuters:

Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution.

An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago.

The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month.

"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told Reuters.

Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona", or impersonation.

"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army.
A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.
What’s wrong with this case? Cascioli is attacking the right to hold a private view. If it's permissible for a government to rule on religion on the basis of “Abuse of Popular Belief,” then it’s permissible for a government to rule on politics, ethics, or any other realm it desires. Did marketing sway you to buy that car on the promise that it would increase your feeling of prestige or personal satisfaction? Abuse of Popular Belief. Did Atlas Shrugged sway you away from religion and toward Objectivism? Abuse of Popular Belief.

There is a reason government must stay out of the realm of ideas, and that is that no man may presume to think for another. Men like Cascioli are only acting against the dawn of a future age of reason, by undercutting the very intellectual freedom that would make such an age possible.

Politics: If they want to get rid of me . . .

This Reuters story caught my eye:

Alaska's Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, vowed on Monday to remain in office until the chamber agrees to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.

Stevens, 82, last month threw the Senate into chaos when he threatened to keep lawmakers in session over the Christmas holiday unless members approved drilling in ANWR, a wilderness area about the size of South Carolina.

He eventually conceded defeat after trying to attach the drilling language to a must-pass Pentagon funding bill.

On Monday, he said he would not give up the fight.

"I'm going to stay and get ANWR, there's no question about that. It's going to happen," Stevens told reporters. "If they want to get rid of me, they're going to pass ANWR."
I'm so used to greens doing things like refusing to come down from trees until their insane list of demands are met that I find it wonderfully refreshing that a US senator considers it his life’s work to open up wilderness to human production, and that he’d rather die before letting the work go undone.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Culture: Worshiping 'Subsistence'

During the American Bicentennial, my family hosted a cadre of Polish sailors as part of Buffalo, New York’s contribution to “Operation Sail.” While they were here, the Poles wanted to see an Indian reservation. Being close to several, my family gladly obliged. There we were able to witness the lives of tribesmen who lived in shacks without running water. In the shack of the tribal chief, there was a wall of law books. As best as I can recall, the chief explained that it was thorough his knowledge of those books that his people would survive.

Since I was only seven, the Poles’ true interest in the Indians was lost on me at the time. Poland lived under communism and the only people free to leave were those who supported the communist regime. The request to visit an Indian reservation on the 200th anniversary of the American founding was merely an attempt to underscore that America is less than perfect, leaving the Indians in abject poverty, as an example.

Even as a child though, I wasn’t sold on the "broken" America message. As I played with the Indian children, I felt no different toward them then I would any other bunch of kids playing in a sandbox. We were only a half an hour or so away from the city. Even seeing things as a child, I had a hard time believing that the Indians had it bad. Anyone who wanted to live, work and be happy in the city could. If the Indians on the reservation weren’t happy, I sure could not figure out why. In the intervening years, my opinion hasn’t much changed.

Yet as difficult as it was to understand the poverty of the Indians in 1976, it is even more difficult to understand it today. We hear a lot about Indian casinos and reservation gas and tobacco, and I look forward to the day some Indian entrepreneur gets smart and builds a WalMart on reservation land, offering tax-free shopping to his non-Indian neighbors. That will be a great day and we will all be a lot wealthier for it.

Yet it seems that some Indians insist on staying poor. Consider the position of the Gwich'in Athabascans in Alaska, who have been outspoken their opposition to the development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production. According to Indian Country Today:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will continue to be locked away to oil drilling, which is a disappointment to the majority of Alaskans who support opening the refuge, but a cause for celebration for the Native tribes who live nearby.

"It was so close, it was going to open, then they fought hard enough and it stayed closed and our prayers are answered," said Margorie Gemmill, an environmental technician for the Arctic Village Council, a tribal council of Gwich'in Athabascans.

. . . [According to the office of Alaskan Gov. Frank Murkowski,] "ANWR is a safe, secure, domestic supply of oil for our nation. It can be developed responsibly, using the most advanced environmental safeguards that ever governed oil development anywhere in the world," the statement read. "This vote sends the world the message that the U.S. supports the production of that oil from areas that lack strong environmental protections and from regions that pose potential threats to our national security."

But Alaska Natives like Gemmill living just south of ANWR fear that opening even the coastal plain to drilling would hurt the Porcupine caribou herd they depend on for their subsistence lifestyle.
“Subsistence lifestyle?” Gemmill somehow considers maintaining a “subsistence lifestyle” the answer to her prayers? You mean to say this woman worships poverty?

The fact is, fully “exploiting” the energy resources of Alaska would be excellent for the Indians—Indians who desire more for their lives then suffering and needless hardship. I, for one would much rather enjoy the beauty of the land from a heated two story winter lodge, complete with picture windows so I could enjoy the northern lights from the comfort of my arm chair, then from a single-wide trailer as I attempt to endure yet another cold, jobless winter.

Yet when one worships the “subsistence lifestyle,” it’s hard to ever move beyond it. It seems that even in the 21st century, some Indians still practice human sacrifice—of the spiritual kind.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rights and Reason: The Virginia Military Institute and Abortion

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a curious institution—it is both a military academy and a state-supported college. Its history draws back to before the US Civil War (future confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson served as a professor) and all of its students participated in the late unpleasantness as confederate solders during the battle of New Market. Previously an all-male institution, VMI was opened to women when it lost United States v. Virginia in 1996.

VMI is governed by an honor code that demands that “cadets will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” There is only one punishment for breaking the VMI honor code: immediate expulsion from the academy in the form of a “Drum Out” ceremony.

Out of curiosity, I visited the VMI website today and was reading through the “New Cadet Handbook” when I found this:

Marriage and Parenthood. All VMI cadets must live in Barracks and participate in a demanding and rigorous military program that does not permit attention to the duties implicated by marriage or parenthood. Pursuant to the policy adopted by the Board of Visitors, any cadet who marries or becomes a parent is expected to resign from the Corps. Absent voluntary resignation, should the Institute confirm that a cadet is married or the parent of a child, such cadet shall be separated from the Corps for failure of eligibility at the end of the semester in which the information is received and confirmed. For the purpose of the policy, the responsibilities of parenthood are deemed to begin upon a cadet’s learning that a child has been conceived as a result of his or her conduct. [Emphasis added.]
Perhaps VMI’s Board of Visitors have never heard of abortion. I suspect the opposite however; VMI’s policy is nothing more then a cheap way of smuggling anti-abortion policy into the Institute.

VMI’s establishment of parenthood at conception is reprehensible and patently absurd. One does not become a parent upon the formation of a clump of cells. Yet VMI denies a cadet or the cadet partner of a female who has an abortion or takes RU-486 from continuing at VMI on the grounds that either scenario nevertheless makes the cadet a “parent.” Talk about twisting definitions. Furthermore, I don’t know how VMI’s militant (for lack of a better word) anti-abortion policy can be legal, given that it is plainly discriminatory and VMI is a state-supported institution.

I think VMI’s current anti-abortion policy is even worse that its previous refusal to grant admission to women. At least that policy could be defended, however benightedly, on the grounds of long-held tradition. VMI’s current policy only serves to destroy the cadet careers of those who have sex, get pregnant, and then choose to abort their pregnancy.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Voice of Reason: Where Science Ends and Faith Begins

NB: This essay is the first installment in a new op-ed program at CAC.

‘Intelligent design’ is not science; it is faith, and it must be treated as such

Advocates of “intelligent design” are gearing up their fight to teach the controversial theory now that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III has ruled that the religious-based explanation for the formation of the universe and human evolution may not be taught in Pennsylvania public schools. The debate over intelligent design is important, because at root is the idea of “certainty” and the method by which scientific truths are established.

Proponents of teaching intelligent design in the public schools argue that evolution is a “theory” and ask why shouldn’t their theory be allowed equal time in a science class. The problem with this position is that a scientific theory and an intelligent design theory are two very different things.

To explain facts, scientific theories rely on observation for support. For example, to explain the origin of species, evolutionary biology draws upon field data from the ongoing changes that occur among populations of organisms, fossil data from plants and animals that no longer exist, data regarding the temporal and geographic distribution of genetic markers, and experiments that attempt to replicate the conditions of species-change in the laboratory. Some facts have yet to be explained fully. For example, we are not yet sure how some of the simplest parts of living things originated nor precisely how spoken language evolved.

Admitting the unknown facts regarding human origins, however, doesn’t mean that the explanations aren’t out there, waiting to be identified. The unknown is the unfinished business of evolutionary biology, a business in which today’s most promising grade school students might one day play a part in completing. Properly speaking, evolution is a “theory,” but it is entirely based on evidence, and an important part of scientists’ jobs is to identify how what is known can be used to discover what is not yet known.

Contrast the theory of evolution with the theory of intelligent design. The proponents of intelligent design argue that the world is simply too complex (or too “perfect,” implying that there could be an imperfect reality) to explain the origins of life and human intelligence. These proponents argue that ultimately only the intervention of a creator can explain man’s existence. Thereafter, there is no unfinished business for the researcher because an intelligent designer is not subject to further observation and experiment.

To evaluate this idea, it is useful to draw a parallel: imagine a scientist trying to find a cure for cancer through such reasoning. Like the origins of life and language, cancer is complex; it behaves strangely, and its nature is hard to pin down. Should the scientist then conclude that only God’s intervention causes cancer? Obviously, no real scientist would draw that conclusion, and it would be absurd to teach an intelligent design theory of cancer. Instead, researchers assume that the cause of cancer is ultimately caused by the interaction of the materials that make up our observable physical world, and they are working to discover what those interactions are so that they can control them and thereby discover a cure for the disease.

Philosophically, the proponents of intelligent design are wrong because they assume the existence or “primacy” of a consciousness that shapes the universe when no such evidence exists, or is even possible. None of the advocates of intelligent design can point to God and say, “Look there—you can see Him” and not rely upon faith to justify their claim. This is why intelligent design theory—whether applied to the origins of life or cancer—is not scientific. It eschews observation, experimentation and any kind of natural causality. What it attempts is to deny the essential process of science—explaining the complex and unknown by means of investigating the less complex and better understood. Because intelligent design theory is simply an article of faith, disconnected from the observation of reality, it should neither be taught in the science classes of public schools (which must maintain a separation of church and state) nor even in the science classes of religious schools that attempt to prepare the scientists of the next generation.

The theory of creationism and intelligent design may be worthy of study, possibly in a class on intellectual history. History, the field of study that examines the ideas held by men and how they act upon those thoughts, might properly document the fate of the theory of intelligent design, its proponents and its cultural effects. However, this hypothetical curriculum must in no way change how science is taught. Competing faiths may belong in a history class, but in science class, only competing scientific theories deserve attention.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rights and Reason: Either Microsoft corrects itself, or it destroys itself

The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism was conceived out of desire to support Microsoft in its fight against unjust antitrust assault. While we were initially allied with Microsoft, we have subsequently parted ways, in part due to the firm’s unwillingness to challenge the legitimacy of the antitrust laws themselves. Nevertheless, we continued to support the firm in principle, as an example of the unjust punishment of entrepreneurial success.

Today, however, I am shocked and utterly appalled that Microsoft has allowed itself to become a pawn for the Chinese authoritarian state. According to Forbes.com:

The MSN Spaces-hosted blog of Michael Anti, a Beijing-based researcher for the New York Times, was closed down after he had posted articles critical of a management purge at Beijing News.

The editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, Yang Bin, and two deputy editors, Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu, were sacked last week after they were called into a meeting by the heads of the parent company, the conservative Guangming Daily.

The management purge then led to a walkout by journalists at the newspaper.

The Beijing News had printed a string of sensitive stories, including on police beatings of villagers, as well as routine scathing editorials on a host of problems including corruption.

Speaking from Beijing, Anti said he has not yet received any response from Microsoft's customer service department on the shutting of his MSN Spaces site.

'I posted three posts about the Beijing news and all posts and articles were deleted inside China,' Anti said. 'MSN Spaces (has) now deleted all of my articles and I have no backup and I'm very angry.'

Microsoft faced an outcry from internet users when it was revealed last year that its Chinese blogging service restricted the entry of terms such as 'demonstration', 'democratic movement' and 'Taiwan independence'.
If Microsoft has allowed the Chinese government control of its servers and products, it has permitted an unprecedented surrender of freedom and personal autonomy, and it deserves our complete contempt.

I am aware that Microsoft is not the only American firm guilty of such a surrender. All American firms must reconcile their desire to do business with the Chinese with China’s authoritarianism. That reconciliation must not come at the price of freedom. The Chinese need us and our money more then we need them—let the Chinese government be the one to bend.

Microsoft must restore Michael Anti’s website and cease allowing the Chinese government to censor the Internet. If it fails to do this, its employees should quit and people should boycott the firm on the grounds that it has ceased to be a company that supports freedom. There is no middle ground on the freedom of speech in question here. Either Microsoft chooses to correct itself, or it chooses to destroy itself.