Friday, June 29, 2007

The United States of Xenophobia

This snip from the Washington Post's post mortem on the immigration bill debacle is quite telling:

Stephanie Usrey strode up to her local Wal-Mart store the other morning with the steely look of a boxer about to step into the ring.

A stay-at-home mother of two, Usrey has dreaded shopping at this particular branch ever since a Friday afternoon about five years ago, when she said she suddenly noticed she was the only non-Latino customer.

"That was the first time I looked around and said, 'Man, I didn't realize how many Mexicans there were here,' " Usrey, 39, recalled. "And they don't seem to feel any discomfort when they're, like, six inches from your face and talking to each other in their language, either. I just felt very encroached upon. . . . It was like an instant feeling of 'I'm in the minority, and if we don't get control over this, pretty soon all of America will be outnumbered.' "

That sense of alarm, echoed in communities across the nation, helped seal defeat for the Senate immigration bill Thursday. Fueled by talk-radio hosts and Web sites, Usrey and tens of thousands of other first-time activists bombarded their senators with phone calls and e-mails decrying the bill as an unacceptable amnesty for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. [N.C. Aizenman, The Washington Post]
Let's get this straight. These "Mexicans" did not violate any of Stephanie Usrey's legitimate rights. They merely dared to shop in her presence--and this is what it took to compel this halfwit to think that she had the right to throttle open migration into America.

Was Stephanie Usrey examining birth certificates and green cards at her local Wal-Mart? Did she have any idea who shopping along with her was an illegal immigrant and who was not? No. For Stephanie Usrey, the mere use of a different language and a differing custom regarding personal space was enough to propel her to want to shackle untold numbers of immigrants to a failing state they have no power to repair.

All I can say is "how disgusting." I wish that I didn't have to live in a country where vermin such as Stephanie Usrey and her ilk exist as my fellow citizens.

Well, that's a start . . .

I haven't had a chance to read the whole opinion yet, but it seems that there was a positive outcome in the US Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc..

Striking down an antitrust rule nearly a century old, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it was not automatically unlawful for manufacturers and distributors to agree on minimum retail prices.

The decision will give producers significantly more, though not unlimited, power to dictate retail prices and to restrict the flexibility of discounters.

Five justices, agreeing with the nation's major manufacturers, said the new rule could in some instances lead to more competition and better service. But four dissenting justices agreed with 37 states and some consumer groups that abandoning the old rule could result in significantly higher prices and less competition for consumer and other goods.

The court struck down the 96-year-old ruling that resale price maintenance agreements were an automatic, or per se, violation of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. In its place, the court instructed judges considering such agreements for possible antitrust violations to apply a case-by-case approach, known as a "rule of reason," to assess their impact on competition. The new rule is considerably more favorable to defendants. [Stephen Labaton, International Herald Tribune]
Compelling those who initiate antitrust suits to have make an actual case over merely alleging a per se violation of the Sherman Act is a nice step forward, but the Court continues to give the "Rule of Reason" a bad name. As most regular RoR readers understand in spades, a real rule of reason would lead to the outright abolition of antitrust.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Senate blocks immigration reform

One of the meanest, brazenly irrational debates in recent memory now appears to be over.

The [immigration] bill's Senate supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and clear the way for final passage of the legislation, which critics assailed as offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. The vote was 46 to 53 in favor of limiting the debate.

Some senators in both parties said the issue is so volatile that Congress is unlikely to revisit it this fall or next year, when the presidential election will increasingly dominate American politics. [CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer]
The defeat of this bill is a clear victory for xenophobia and protectionism. While the proposed legislation was far from perfect (I maintain that any immigration quota is a violation of the individual rights of existing citizens to do business with whom they choose) the bill was as least an attempt to recognize reality and acknowledge that as long as America is free and prosperous, there will be a powerful incentive for people to abandon their failed regimes in order to live here. Instead of welcoming such people and integrating their talents and wiliness to work into America, the xenophobes and protectionists have successfully kept them as a criminal underclass.

I think this quote sums it all up quite nicely:

"We were looking to politicians for leadership on this issue, and there has been none and it's deeply disappointing," said Sheridan Bailey, the president of Ironco Enterprises in Phoenix and a co-founder of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.

"It's like in Vietnam when they said 'we had to destroy the village to save it,' well here they are destroying the economy to save the U.S. border," said Bailey, echoing the views of employers from eleven U.S. states, who have formed lobby groups to advocate for immigration reform. [Donna Smith, Reuters]
Except here our government is not just destroying a village of sundry collectivists, it is destroying the lives of people who desperately seek to be free.

More Microsoft antitrust suit insanity

According to the Onalaska Life Newspaper, millions of dollars worth of vouchers that were part of Microsoft's settlement of a Wisconsin class-action antitrust case remain unclaimed.

The settlement requires Microsoft to make available to class members up to $223,896,000 in vouchers that may be used to purchase new desktop computers, laptops, tablet computers, pre-packaged software, printers, scanners, monitors, keyboards and pointing devices. Those products can be from any manufacturer, not just Microsoft.

Under the terms of the settlement, consumers, businesses and Wisconsin state and local governments who purchased Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel, Office, MS-DOS, Works Suite or Home Essentials, or a computer with any of those products pre-installed, between Dec. 7, 1993, and April 30, 2003, for use in Wisconsin is eligible to submit a claim for benefits.

[. . .]

To date, Wisconsin class members have submitted approximately 54,000 claim forms; of those, approximately 4,000 were filed online at the court-approved settlement Web site,
So as part of its settlement, Microsoft gives free money to any of its Wisconsin customers who declare that they purchased a Microsoft product between 1993 and 2003, yet there are only 54,000 takers and millions of dollars of the settlement money remains unclaimed. Apparently the vast majority of Microsoft's Wisconsin customers do not feel themselves misused enough by the company to collect their vouchers.

Lest you think there is a silver lining in all of this, under the terms of the settlement, half of the uncollected settlement money will be given to the Wisconsin public schools. Furthermore, the class action attorneys will get their piece of Microsoft's pie as well; as to be expected, under the terms of the settlement, Microsoft has agreed to pay their fees to the tune of $33 million dollars, plus costs, expenses and a $5,000-a-person bounty to the named members of the class.

I have to admire just how lucrative the antitrust racket can be. Manufacture an injury under the antitrust laws, create a class (however lethargic and unresponsive) and simply stand by to cash in. Why would anyone even bother defend the rights of businessmen when the real money is made in looting them--and the businessmen go along with it?

BONG HiTS 4 JESUS and coercion in public education

If education in America was private and un-coerced (as it should be), the ongoing controversy over the free speech rights of students in the public schools would be moot. Needless to say, we are not so fortunate as to have our rights respected in education; the state chooses its curriculum by majority whim, mandates that the taxpayer pay for it, and requires that our children dutifully attend public classes (or take private instruction elsewhere, mandating that these parents double-pay for their children's education.)

It is not surprising then that an institution built upon coercion often has a hard time dealing with freedom. Consider the US Supreme Court's decision this week in Morse v. Frederick. In its decision, the Court ruled that Juneau-Douglas High School principal Deborah Morse acted lawfully when she ordered 18 year-old student Joseph Frederick to take town a poster saying "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" during the 2002 Olympic torch relay that passed in front of the high school and suspended Frederick when he refused to comply with her instructions. Morse initially suspended Frederick for five days for violating the school district's anti-drug policy, but increased the suspension to ten days after he refused to give the names of his fellow participants and quoted Thomas Jefferson on free speech.

The phrase "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" is inane regardless of whether it was disruptive or not, and had Frederick been a student at a private school, I would have supported suspending him simply on the grounds that his poster was an insult to the educational mission of his school. Yet Frederick was a public school student, and the public schools have the mission of "socializing" students, which includes engendering their support for the illicit drug laws. The Court ruled that the public schools' anti-drug mission and their responsibility as in loco parentis authorizes them to prohibit speech such as Frederick's.

What I found striking about the Court's decision was the view of Justice Thomas, who argued that public school students have no free speech rights at all. For example, in his concurring opinion, he positively referenced a 1915 California Court of Appeals decision that upheld the suspension of a public school student who gave a speech before the student body that criticized the administration for having an unsafe building “because of the possibility of fire.” Wooster v. Sunderland, 27 Cal. App. 51, 52, 148 P. 959, (1915). In Justice Thomas' eyes, even a student's arguing against a materially unsafe condition at his government-run school is uttering unprotected speech.

But why? According to Justice Thomas,

Parents decide whether to send their children to public schools. . . [I]f parents do not like the rules imposed by those schools, they can seek redress in school boards or legislatures; they can send their children to private schools or home school them; or they can simply move. Whatever rules apply to student speech in public schools, those rules can be challenged by parents in the political process.
Justice Thomas' reasoning fails to appreciate the coercive nature of the public schools. If a parent enrolls their child in a private school, they tacitly accept the school's policies. If a parent comes to reject these policies, they may dis-enroll their child accordingly. Yet there is nowhere in America where one can live and not have their income and propriety taxed in support of the public schools. If a person opposes the public schools, yet cannot afford both the taxes to pay for these schools and the additional cost of a private education for their child, the law grants then no option but to enroll their child in the public schools and submit their child's education to the majority's whim. One way or another, we are simply captive to the public schools, whether we like it or not.

Fortunately, the "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" ruling is a minor one. If Frederick's poster was his attempt to challenge norms that he disagreed with, his freedom of speech was squelched, but barely, because his speech was so inane that it barely made sense—if at all. Nevertheless, it angers me that some future John Galt could be left unsupported by the courts if while enrolled in the public schools, he dares to criticize these schools and the morality behind them like they deserve to be criticized.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Founders College announces its 2007 faculty

They are:

Bryan Niblett, Ph.D., Dean of Faculty & Writing and Literature
Robert Garmong, Ph.D., Philsophy
Steven A. Gedeon, Ph.D., Business
Michael V. Kennedy, Ph.D, History
Cindy MacMillan, Fine Arts
Lee Sandstead, Art History

Photos and bios here.

I'm excited for both them and their students. Congratulations and good luck!

Orkut is the West's trick to defame Islam, alleges Muslim group

Remember Orkut, one of the early social networking websites? Well, apparently it is part of conspiracy to discredit Islam, at least according to this news report out of India.

Condemning the anti-Islam messages posted on popular social networking websites like Orkut, All India Minorities Front (AIMF) has alleged that it is a western world's 'trick' to defame Islam.

The Front's president S M Asif said that statements on the Orkut website about Prophet Mohammad were "false and rubbish", and alleged that it was the "handiwork of Western media who are long bent upon to malign Islam by hook or crook".

He also demanded withdrawal of those ant-Islam statements from the website and expressed his disappointment over Centre's silence on such websites.

Ok, sure, but how does that explain how Orkut came to be dominated by Portuguese-speaking Brazilians? And in any case, Asif's claim makes this latest cartoon by the ever-prescient Cox & Forkum ring all the more true.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Something that drives me nuts . . .

As someone deeply interested in the philosophy of Ayn Rand and its various implications upon my life, it drives me silly just how difficult it is to get a hold of the various lectures by Ayn Rand and Rand scholars in a format that I want and at a price that I can afford. It seems that the only option these days is to spend a fortune (for me at least) to go to the Ayn Rand Institutes' yearly conference, or pay nearly as much for the audio tape (and by audio tape, I mean actual cassettes or CDs. Heh—remember those?).

And even when the Institute outright gives away access to speech or lecture (like it does here), I can't download it to my Ipod and listen to it when I walk the dogs or mow the yard. I have listen to it while anchored in front of my computer like a big fat dummy.

Now don't get me wrong. I honor the Institute for the excellent and valuable work it does advancing Objectivism (especially for making these lectures available in the first place), but come on--we live in the Internet age. If I can buy a book by an Objectivist thinker in the $10 to $40 dollar range, how can it profit anyone to charge hundreds of dollars for an audio lecture that same book is based upon? And whatever the price it decides to charge, why can't the Institute put the audio up on iTunes?

I for one would like to see the Institute revisit and rethink its bookstore strategy, and come up with a plan that makes it easier for an even larger audience to get access to Objectivist ideas.

The Great Copyright Debate

In case you did not see it in the commentary, Dismuke, an Internet radio webcaster and Objectivist offers some extensive thoughts on the issue behind my "Save Net Radio" post. While acknowledging the fundamental defects of the "Internet Radio Equality Act," he nevertheless supports the act.

Bills like the "Internet Radio Equality Act" present Objectivists with one of the classic conundrums of living in a mixed economy. The proposed bill fails to address the central problem, but if it doesn't pass, the status quo will certainly ruin net radio. In that light, I can sympathize with those who support the bill's passage as a desperation measure--albeit barely.

At the same time however, webcasters had to know they were operating on borrowed time when it came to the current system's grant of statutory licenses. It was (and still is) in their interest to lobby the government for a fundamentally better system and to my knowledge, Dismuke is the only Internet broadcaster to even attempt to properly address the issue before his fellow broadcasters.

So why then did Dismuke's colleagues turn him a deaf ear and ignore his proposal? In my view, it is because much of the debate over intellectual property is simply out of control. Judging by their actions, it seems half the people on the web don't even believe intellectual property exists as property and that anyone should be free to take it at will. Yet properly defining and defending the existence and scope of intellectual property is critical if we are to see the value of such property grow. Below is my contribution to the debate on an issue that I've been recently trying to process in my mind:

* * *
There is an aspect of copyright that I simply do not understand: the fact that copyrights expire. If I own a house, I can sell it, or I can transfer it upon my death to whom I choose and so on. If I abandon the property or fail to act as if I own it by preventing trespassers, others can come to posses it under the law. This is the legal doctrine of adverse possession.

Yet copyright, which protects intellectual property, is treated differently. Copyright expires after an arbitrarily set number of years after the death of the author. After this time-period, the work falls into the public domain; that is, it ceases to be protected as property and at this time anyone can claim the formerly protected property and develop it as his or her own. The idea is that this system protects the creator's property while simultaneously making older works available to those who value them when the creator is no longer on the scene to enforce his property right.

I don't see why an arbitrarily set number of years should serve as the trigger for the transformation of copyright-protected property into non-property. Why can't my heirs posses my copyright-protected as long as they choose to maintain it, or sell it to others and let them posses the rights to it? I define maintenance here as acting as if the copyright-protected work is still your property by registering your title to the work and protecting it from unauthorized copying, the same way you would put a fence around your yard to prevent unauthorized trespass. If an heir is unable to exercise his property right or chooses not to, only then would the work fall into the public domain. This way, intellectual property is treated no differently than other property.

At root, I see little reason to allow the government to convert private property into public goods just because so many years have passed since the death of the author. I freely acknowledge that I could be wrong and that my current view does diverge from Ayn Rand's essay "Patents and Copyrights" in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. In her essay, Rand argues that there is a fundamental difference between material property and intellectual property, the former representing "a dynamic claim on a static amount of wealth" and the later representing a "static claim on a dynamic process of production."

I'm still trying to wrap my head around just what that means, so accordingly, I ask my readers to recognize that my thinking is not fully formed and that I speak only for myself on this issue and not the Center. Nevertheless, I think a discussion over the shape and form of intellectual property is a discussion worth having, as the impending demise of net radio would indicate.

Rick vs. The Godfather

What a difference sixty-five years makes - in the culture. When Warner Brothers released Casablanca near the end of 1942, America had been at war for a year. Everyone knew we were at war, and knew also that complete victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was an absolute necessity. Casablanca echoed that knowledge.

There was no thought of compromise, of negotiating a "peace," or of "reaching out" to the American Nazi Bund for its help in reaching a trilateral rapprochement with Germany, Japan and Italy. There was not an ounce of angst over collateral casualties among the enemy population. When the U.S recovered from being attacked at Pearl Harbor, it eventually took the war to the enemy, and when it was victorious, and while the enemy's citizens struggled to survive amid the rubble and ashes of their folly, the U.S proceeded to root out that enemy's ideology of tyranny and conquest.

The U.S. is at war again. The culture, however, has not produced anything like Casablanca. (An exception is 300, an allegory on the war, which our enemies immediately protested as "insulting.") It will not, cannot. The dramatization of moral values remains in the hands of Hollywood's nihilists and subjectivists. What we get instead are insipid comedies, computer animated cartoons, the occasional "war" movie that denigrates our military, and a steady parade of forgettable movies. This is because while the U.S. rooted out the enemy's ideology over half a century ago, it failed to eradicate the underlying philosophy that drove that ideology.

A philosophy that remains uneradicated, or is left submerged but intact, will resurrect itself, and take unexpected forms of expression. This is true of a rational philosophy as well of an irrational one. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, reason all but vanished from men's lives as a norm. It began to rise again a thousand years later during the Renaissance. In the ensuing Enlightenment it gradually displaced faith and other forms of irrationality as a philosophical guide for living on earth.

But not entirely. Irrationality in its many forms remained on the periphery of especially 19th century Western culture and its political and intellectual life. It received a boost of energy to re-insinuate itself into men's thinking and lives and policies because reason had no consistent advocates and defenders. The irrational gained more and more ground in Western culture in the 20th century and has certainly infected the 21st.

It has reached its ultimate absurdity: we are at war with Islamism - a political/theological ideology that seeks to either destroy or conquer the West, its proponents have made that abundantly clear - but the West's political and moral energies are focused on irrelevancies elevated to global and domestic crises: AIDS, world hunger and poverty, global warming, the absence of universal health care, and so on.

One might think that our political leaders are in denial about the peril of Islamism, or Islamofascism, or Islamic imperialism. But denial is a conscious action - a refusal to acknowledge the reality of a thing. No, they are oblivious or indifferent to the peril. They are obsessed with other fish to fry other than our enemies. They wish to compel men to submit, not to Allah, but to their own brands of collectivism and tyranny.

Our leaders are paragons of compromise, they wring their hands over real, imagined or projected collateral casualties among the enemy's population, and have no qualms about "reaching out" to organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Fatah to attain some kind of rapprochement with the enemies of the West - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Korea, to name but the larger enemies - in the pursuit of the Kantian ideal of "peace" for its own sake. 9/11 has not been forgotten by our leadership; it has been demoted to irrelevancy.

The irrationalism of President George W. Bush - his refusal to acknowledge the existence and nature of our enemies, because altruism has corrupted his grasp of reality - has played no little role in the creation of the absurdity. His political enemies in this country probably feel grateful that he has made a mess of the war; he has given them an excuse to demote it and abandon it.

But his enemies are also corrupted by altruism. It is through altruism that they wish to acquire and impose freedom-destroying power. Lord Acton identified that fact, and the fact will not go away.

What inspired this commentary was the release last week of the American Film Institute's list of the 100 "greatest" American films, which is apparently compiled every ten years. Casablanca was number 3 on the list, Citizen Kane number 1, and The Godfather number 2. I could not help but note the significance of Casablanca's ranking, which dropped from second place in 1998 to third this year. According to the Daily Telegraph (London) article on the list of June 22, the list "is determined by a jury of 1,500 filmmakers, critics and movie historians."

Of course, a vote of hands cannot establish the greatness of anything, least of all the esthetic value of art. Greatness is something that can only be recognized and established by individual minds, not by consensus. But, one can deduce from the rankings of 100 "greatest" American films that some positive esthetic measurement remained in some of the balloters.

I won't attempt here to second-guess the motives of the AFI balloters. Casablanca could have been appreciated by a large block of voters who valued its story and style. It is not the greatest American film, but it has an integrity to it that is effective and memorable. It is a war film, but the thing most absent in it is the war. The Godfather is virutally unparalleled in depicting the gradual corruption of an otherwise decent man. "It's not me, Kay," Michael Corleone tells his fiancé early in the film, when she wonders if many of the men at the wedding party are really gangsters. "It's my family."

In the end, however, it was him; he had no argument against the family-tribal loyalty that passed as a moral code among the gangsters and which demanded his action. By the end of Godfather II (number 32 on the AFI list), he has betrayed or destroyed everything that ever mattered to him. In the poignant last scene of the sequel, he sits alone in a lawn chair, a shell of his former self, contemplating the desolation of his life, yet still in denial of the fact that he was in any way responsible for it.

Rick, the night club/casino owner in Casablanca, by the end of the story rediscovers the values he thought he had lost, a blow that had turned him into a pragmatic cynic who tolerated the corruption around him. It is in his power to destroy them - Ilsa, his former romantic interest, and Victor Laszlo, the Czech patriot on the run from the Nazis - but his old character reasserts itself and he acts to preserve them. He gives the couple the transit papers to freedom.

About Casablanca, Ralph J. Gleason wrote in 1973, "those were times where things were so much simpler; the good guys and the bad guys were so much more clearly defined and the struggle itself, the moral imperative for man, so much more easily seen." (From the Introductory Note in Casablanca: Script and Legend, The Overlook Press, 1973.) That "imperative," writes Gleason, "is rarer now and in the whole visible world has a kind of institutionalized concrete dimness."

But, it was not a moral imperative that in the end moved Rick Blaine to action. It was a moral choice.

Americans, betrayed by their political and intellectual leadership over the current war, face the choice of becoming a Rick or a Michael Corleone. They can rediscover what it is to be an American, or they can surrender that identity and blame the world for their misery and just drift towards tragedy and an ignominious end. They can redeem themselves, or resign themselves to a logical and merciless fate.

The choice is: liberty, or the lawn chair.

Monday, June 25, 2007

'Save Net Radio' or 'Save the Free Market'?

I am a big fan of Internet radio on the grounds that it offers a wide choice of genres and can be listened to over one's existing computer hardware without the special equipment that satellite radio requires. The problem is that net radio is about to be destroyed by the government.

Here's the rub as I understand it: the royalty rate for songs broadcast over Internet radio is not set by the free market. Instead, the government-run "Copyright Royalty Board" (administered by the Library of Congress) determines the royalty paid to music copyright-holders (or more specifically, the government-created monopoly that represents copyright holders). This spring, the CBR ordered a 300% to 1,200% royalty rate increase on net radio, far in excess of what other transmission mediums are required to pay. Furthermore, the CBR eliminated the ability for webcasters to pay royalties as a portion of their revenue; in effect, it mandates a draconian one-size-fits-all solution that is likely to force most Internet radio stations to shut down their services.

It gets even worse. The webcaster-supported alternate proposal to the CBR's rate increase is a bill before the Congress that mandates a flat-rate revenue sharing model. While the bill restores parity between net radio and satellite services, it fails to address the fundamental problem plaguing the broadcast of intellectual property; that is, it fails to protect the property rights of all parties by abolishing government intervention in the music broadcast industry. Instead, the proposed legislation merely resets the terms of the government's intervention. Talk about unsatisfying reform to save an industry that I otherwise value.

After all, let's look at the issue philosophically. A new technology is developed that promises to enhance people's lives for the better. This nascent technology requires a complex business transactions involving many parties and many interests. Classic "I Pencil," right—complex in form, yet simple in principle. Yet here we have each and every party lobbying for the government control the terms of the transaction. Practically no one argues in favor of voluntary negotiations and voluntary exchange; here everyone seeks to compel everyone else.

So how then did coercion come to define new media? How did the ideas animating this industry become so corrupt that solution is little better than the problem? In my view, the net radio debate underscores one of the most vexing problems of our times: almost every transaction has an element of coercion attached to it and practically no one has a problem with it. In fact, it seems the more novel the transaction or new the technology, the more likely someone will demand the right to impose his will upon others without consent. We live in an era where web-browsers and search engines are scrutinized by government regulators, where medicines are authorized for use only after some regulator gives his blessing, and the royalty paid to a copyright holder is determined by the czars of royalty payments.

I can't blame net radio for this. They are responding to the status quo in intellectually property and government regulation thought, not setting it. Nevertheless, their mantra "save net radio" rings a little hollow for me. Their real headline ought to be "save the free market."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Iranian cleric reaffirms call for the killing of Salman Rushdie

I hadn't planed on coming off my hiatus until Monday, but this AP story made my typing fingers too itchy:

A high-level Iranian cleric said Friday that the religious edict calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie cannot be revoked, and he warned Britain was defying the Islamic world by granting the author knighthood.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami reminded worshippers of the 1989 fatwa during a sermon at Tehran University, aired live on state radio. Thousands of worshippers chanted "Death to the English."

Khatami does not hold a government position but has the influential post of delivering the sermon during Friday prayers once a month in the Iranian capital. He did not directly call for the fatwa to be carried out.

"Awarding him means confronting 1.5 billion Muslims around the world," Khatami said. "In Islamic Iran, the revolutionary fatwa ... is still alive and cannot be changed."

Then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989, calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie because his book "The Satanic Verses" was deemed insulting to Islam. Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade, and the edict deeply damaged Britain's relations with Iran. In 1998, the Iranian government sought to patch up ties by declaring that it would not support the fatwa but that it could not be rescinded.

Queen Elizabeth II's decision to knight Rushdie drew a complaint from the Iranian government and protests around the Muslim world.
The continued existence of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie is more than just a threat against one man and his publisher; it is a threat against a fundamental tenant our civilization, which is that each individual is free to express himself and his ideas without fear of threats or physical coercion. That Iran's clerics continue to attack the very cornerstone of our civilization reveals yet again that Iran itself continues to be uncivilized. No one had the right to coercively edit Salman Rushdie or any citizen of the West. No government cleric had the right to call for any free man's murder.

Rather than continue to sit idly by while Iran's clerics boast of their savage edict, it's high time that the West respond in kind. At bare minimum, if a jihadist issues a fatwa threatening the life and freedom of a citizen of the West, that jihadist must die.

I think a few 1,000 lb bombs would do the work nicely.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of Degrees and Inequities

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, will never be invited to deliver a commencement address at Harvard University, or to address any American university's graduation class. He is likely one of the few living politicians who is not a fool, a huckster, or a "control freak." He believes in man, in man's place and happiness on earth, and in his freedom to live on it unobstructed by fools, hucksters, and those who want to control, guide, or "manage" his existence.

In his June 13th commentary in the Financial Times of London, under the heading, "Freedom, not climate, is at risk," he remarked:

"As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

"Does it make any sense to speak about warming the Earth when we see it in the context of the evolution of our planet over hundreds of millions of years? Every child is taught at school about temperature variations, about the ice ages, about the much warmer climate of the Middle Ages. All of us have noticed that even during our life-time temperature changes occur (in both directions).

"Due to advances in technology, increases in disposable wealth, the rationality of institutions and the ability of countries to organize themselves, the adaptability of human society has been radically increased. It will continue to increase and will solve any potential consequences of mild climate changes."

George Mason University Prof. Walter Williams, another voice lost in a wilderness of "the sky is falling" warnings about global warming, wrote in his column, "Fighting Climate Change, Gun Control and Income Tax Laws" on Capitalism Magazine on May 15th:

"About 65 million years ago, the Earth experienced one of the most rapid and extreme global climate changes recorded in geological history. The period has been named the 'Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.' The ocean was 18 to 27 degrees hotter than it is today. Antarctica, which is today's coldest place on Earth, was home to temperate forests, beech trees and ferns. The Earth had no permanent ice caps.....In the past 65 million years, the Earth's temperature has increased and decreased with no help from mankind....."

What is affrighting the Chicken Littles of environmentalism? An average global temperature rise of a few tenths of one degree Celsius. Cause? Undetermined, but probably related to the natural cycle of earth's atmosphere, which had been going through these cycles long before dinosaurs flourished and long after they all perished, and which will continue to.

But, facts, or their absence, have never stopped power-lusters from concocting a multitude of ways of imposing power. They could more credibly blame the sun or the billions of tons of ash and gases spewed into the atmosphere by volcanoes, but these entities are beyond their control and do not respond well to legislation.

There is a purported "inequity" in the average mean global temperature. Whatever average that might be is open to dispute, but largely up for grabs by the power-lusters who hog the headlines and who are abetted in their fraud by an uncritical news media. Rational, non-politically correct climatologists claim that it is an invalid concept, as invalid and pointless a datum as the average daily calorie intake of an entire population.

That fraction of a degree is allegedly caused by man living on earth, and Al Gore, the European Union, and environmental protection agencies, bureaucracies and ministries around the globe want to put on the brakes now. President Klaus is right that environmentalism has replaced communism as the new totalitarian ideology.

There are other fallacious concepts floating around that center on "inequities." For example, Gary Olson, chair of the political science department at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, on May 17th in the Bethlehem Morning Call under the headline, "Wealthiest Americans owe nation a dividend," denied that private wealth is actually "private." Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet benefited from an undefined "social capital," somehow extracting that "social capital" from everyone to turn it into privately-held wealth. He sneers at private philanthropy.

"Some of these plutocrats utter the phrase, 'I just wanted to give something back.' My reaction: Why not give it all back? Or to be fair and just, give back everything over and above any personal effort expended."

Give back to whom? And how much? How would Dr. Olson propose to calculate the value of the "personal effort expended" once a rich person has been relieved of his wealth? What incentives would he devise to encourage anyone to pursue or accumulate wealth, if ambitious, creative men know that extortion and theft are their ultimate rewards?

Well, that would certainly justify the creation of another government agency, such as the Bureau of Social Capital Reimbursement, to oversee the return of that "social capital" and decide how much anyone gets. But, enough of Dr. Olson, chair of Marxist political science. Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams would mop the floor with him in a fair debate and then wring out the remains of him into the janitor's bucket.

That brings us to Bill Gates, who is doing penance by pouring his wealth into the ever-deepening sinkholes of disease, poverty and ignorance around the world. He could serve as an exemplar of Gary Olson's "giving it all back." On June 7th he gave the commencement address to the graduating class of Harvard University. Although he dropped out of Harvard to begin his career as an innovator, Gates was given an honorary degree by the school. After some jocular remarks about having dropped out and unwittingly denigrating the value of a college education, he moved on to the central theme of his address: "the awful inequities in the world, the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair."

Gates remarked, "I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics." Whatever ideas he learned in economics and politics must not have had much to do with capitalism and limited government, and they could not have been new, but the old chestnuts of watered-down Marxism and collectivized rights.

"But humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement."

Which means: The development of a vaccine to eradicate cancer, tuberculosis, or malaria is not a great advance, but rather it is great in how, in the purest altruistic sense, it can reduce Gates's conception of "inequities."

What are the causes of those "inequities"? As Ayn Rand would put it: Blank out. Is it government controls? Tribal or religious warfare? Tyranny? Statist control of a country's economy? The answers to these questions do not concern Gates, because he has been trained to be oblivious to the questions.

"I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries....It took me decades to find out."

Which means that Gates left Harvard before his mind was completely corrupted by the collectivist doctrines being taught there. And it took decades for the culture to succeed in completely corrupting it. The nail in his coffin was his conflict with the federal government over Microsoft's alleged monopoly of the software market. It was only after that was settled that Gates acquired a "social conscience."

One might possibly call it the Scrooge effect, from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," when the "ghosts" of government power threatened to destroy him and scared the hell out of him, causing him to become a paragon of altruism and "giving back." (Although the seeds of selflessness lay dormant in him all his life, planted there by his parents and the culture at large.)

Gates appeals to the faculty and students of Harvard:

"Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems? Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world's worst inequities? Should Harvard students learn about the depth of global poverty, the prevalence of world hunger, the scarcity of clean water, the girls kept out of school, the children who die from diseases we can cure?

"Should the world's most privileged people learn about the lives of the word's least privileged?"

He did not realize it, but Gates was preaching to the choir. Harvard and other major universities have been churning out professional altruists and collectivists for generations. How else to account for all the graduates who enter government, politics, and "public service"?

Gates approvingly quotes a maxim of his mother's - "From those to whom much is given, much is expected" - in preparation for his concluding remarks:

"I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue, a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist in it....Don't let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives."

But, here is his warning to those who claim that they own their own lives and know that nothing was given to them:

"You have an awareness of global inequity....And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with very little effort...."

Thus Gates ends his address with a plea to the graduates to become guilt-ridden, duty-strapped, "caring" storm troopers of selflessness - just like him.

If fascism ever comes to the U.S., Bill Gates, and Harvard, and all those students who are shamed into heeding his advice, will be partly responsible.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Copyrights: Response to Mark Helprin's NY Times Op-Ed

Mark Helprin, a noted writer whose 1983 novel Winter's Tale was a bestseller, wrote an Op-Ed for The New York Times pleading for perpetual copyrights. What follows is my response to that article.

Dear Mr. Helprin:

Your New York Times Op-Ed of May 20th, "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn't Its Copyright?" intrigued me.

First, I'm assuming that the term of copyright you mention in your last paragraph was extended by Congress in 1998 to the life of the author plus seventy years. I wasn't aware of that extention until you mentioned it, but presumably it would allow one's heirs to benefit as assigned owners of one's copyright for those seventy years after one's decease.

A more difficult issue you raise is the one surrounding intellectual property. You make the statement in your essay that "ideas are immaterial to the question of copyright." As I have always understood the purpose of copyright law, it is to secure one the benefits of originating and publishing an idea. I write novels. Those novels begin as ideas, or they could be interpreted as being ideas, expressed in the specific format of story-telling and (hopefully) concretized in the form of physical objects, books. As ideas, these novels are intellectual property. The Constitution and complementary copyright law secure for me the right to profit or benefit from their publication for the term of my lifetime plus seventy years.

You cite the Barnes & Noble practice of publishing novels whose copyrights have long expired, in cheap editions (but, to my mind, nicely and attractively packaged), and not having to pay royalties to their authors' heirs, as a species of unfairness to those heirs. I'm also thinking of the Dover softcover editions of works long, long out of print and in the "public domain." I think Ayn Rand made a very valid point on this subject, in her 1964 article, "Patents and Copyrights," to wit:

"It is in this issue that our somewhat collectivistic terminology might be misleading: on the expiration of a patent or copyright, the intellectual property involved does not become 'public property' (though it is labeled as 'in the public doman'); it ceases to exist qua property. And if the invention or the book continues to be manufactured [by, say, Barnes & Noble or Dover], the benefit of that former property does not go to the 'public,' it goes to the only rightful heirs: to the producers, to those who exercise the effort of embodying that idea in new material forms and thus keeping it alive."

(Preceding and following comments in square brackets are mine by way of illustration.)

She also notes:

"The right to intellectual property cannot be exercised in perpetuity. Intellectual property represents a claim, not on material objects, but on the idea they embody, which means: not merely on existing wealth, but on wealth yet to be produced - a claim to payment for the inventor's or author's work. No debt can be extended into infinity. [Although the Federal government, the great confiscator you name in the beginning of your essay, believes otherwise.]

"....Intellectual property cannot be consumed [by neither its originator nor its beneficiary]. If it were held in perpetuity, it would lead to the opposite of the very principle on which it is based: it would lead, not to the earned reward or achievement, but to the unearned support of parasitism. It would become a cumulative lien on the production of unborn generations, which would ultimately paralyze them." [Again, much like the Federal debt, footed in a losing battle by the taxes you highlight in your first paragraphs. I share your obvious animus for them.]

I might add that if a novel or other form of intellectual property, such as a philosophical treatise (e.g., John Locke's works), proves its cultural longevity during and even beyond an author's lifetime, the idea is "out there" for anyone with the least amount of curiosity to investigate. It is as much a known entity as the moon or Mars. It remains for anyone to either repair to the library or buy a reprint of such a work. Regardless of one's own estimation of the intellectual or esthetic worth of a novel, its cultural longevity and "public" interest in it moved a producer to go to the effort and expense to reproducing, for example, all the extant plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, which were certainly not copyrighted (although their more recent translations may be).

So, while I agree with you that Congress should again extend the term of copyright to an author's lifetime plus more than seventy years (only because of the increasing, potential longevity of his heirs), I would contest the idea that a copyright should continue in perpetuity, which is what you seem to be implying. You remark at the end of your essay: "Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice."

No, I would say that a perpetual copyright would result in an injustice, that is, it would benefit generations of an author's relatives or a succession of assignees perhaps three times removed, for no good reason other than genealogy or legal fictions. The character or moral stature of the holders of a perpetual copyright is irrelevant. Hypothetically, the cost of paying royalties to the distant relations of Shakespeare, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, James Fennimore Cooper, et al., would discourage the production and dissemination of their works, making their production costs prohibitively high. A perpetual copyright would abbreviate a work's longevity.

Now, I can name individuals I know personally as heirs to my copyright, relatives of mine or not, or assign them the copyright in the event I am incapacitated in some way. However, I cannot know who might be my future relatives or "heirs" beyond my immediate generation. They might be moral, productive people, and I would wish them well in their own endeavors, if I could.

But, they might be parasitical bums whom I would not want to see benefit from my work. For all I know, they might hold my work ransom and demand exorbitant, unearned returns on the copyright. In which case, my work would disappear from the culture. So much for perpetuity.

Your last sentence is: "No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and mind."

I'll let Ayn Rand answer that one, too, from the same essay:

"Intellectual achievement, in fact, cannot be transferred, just as intelligence, ability, or any other personal virtue cannot be transferred. All that can be transferred is the material results of an achievement, in the form of actually produced wealth."

Or literary wealth, if you will, in the form of books. The "work of the spirit and mind" is a personal virtue, and part of my spiritual remuneration is to see it "out there" in the culture, objectified as an entity in reality - the "material results" - to be valued or not by others. No one, not even my most ardent fans, can repay me in that respect. I would not expect them to, and the more perceptive and grateful among them would know they could not.

To paraphrase Howard Roark in Rand's The Fountainhead, when he is asked how he would be rewarded for (secretly) designing a housing project: "What will I get out of it? I'll have written Sparrowhawk."

I highly recommend Rand's article on this subject, which is reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

Edward Cline
Yorktown, VA
7 June 2007

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Our Semi-Comatose Judiciary

Few are the instances when our judiciary emerges from its moral coma to wiggle its toes or blink twice in answer to a question to prove that it still has the capacity to rejoin the realm of the conscious.

The judiciary groaned, wiggled a toe and blinked once within the span of a week.

On May 26 The New York Times featured a story under this headline: "Radical Environmentalist Gets 9-Year Term for Actions called 'Terrorist.'"

A Federal District Court judge sentenced Chelsea D. Gerlach to nine years in prison after she was convicted of "arson and other destructive actions at an electrical transmission tower; timber research centers; a Eugene (Oregon) police station; a ski resort in Vail (Colorado); and other sites in five Western states that they viewed as threats to the environment or their mission" between 1996 and 2001.

In addition to Chelsea Gerlach, Judge Aiken sentenced Stanistas Meyerhoff to 13 years in prison for his role in the crimes, "which included setting fire to more than 30 sport utility vehicles at a dealership," and Kevin Tubbs 12 years and 7 months.

"It was your intention to scare, frighten and intimidate people and government through the very dangerous act of arson," said Judge Ann L. Aiken to Gerlach at the sentencing.

But, to what end were those actions taken? To scare, frighten and intimidate people--especially private property owners--into obeying the wish of the "activists" by not building that property, and ultimately, by ceasing to exist.

The Times article elaborates:

"The cases have provided a window into conflicts in the radical environmentalist movement about strategy and loyalty. They have also highlighted a debate over what constitutes domestic terrorism at a time law enforcement and the military, as well as public attention, have focused on the terrorism of September 11, 2001."
Aye, there's the rub.

Yes, the "intentions" of the defendants were criminal in nature. And they could be labeled "terrorists," since they used terrorist methods to accomplish their ends. But apparently the destruction of property played little or no role in the judge's cogitations and in the court's convictions and sentencing.

That underscores the very low status of private property in the American judiciary today. The only person reported in the Times article who raised the subject of property was a federal assistant defender assigned to Gerlach. Speaking of her actions, Craig E. Weinerman of Portland, Oregon, said, "It was only intended to damage property."

"Defense lawyers had argued that the environmental cases were not terrorism because they did not take aim at people's lives," reported the Times.

Well, not immediately. It is doubtful that the lawyers for either the prosecution or the defense, not to mention the bench, have bothered to thoroughly examine the philosophical and moral ends of environmentalism. If they had, they might have concluded that, yes, fundamentally, and ultimately, those actions were taken against people's lives.

"Last week," goes the Times article, "Judge Aiken rejected those arguments, ruling that some of the crimes could be sentenced under the 'terrorism enhancement' classification, which can add substantial time to a prison term, if they were intended to retaliate against, coerce or intimidate the government."

"For each of the three defendants who had hearings this week," reads the Times article, "Judge Aiken found that at least some of the crimes warranted the 'terrorism enhancement' classification."

"Indictments of most of the defendants [Judge Aiken will sentence six or seven other defendants this week] were announced in Washington in January 2006 by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I. Mr. Mueller said then that prosecuting crimes committed in the name of the environment was one of the bureau's 'highest domestic terrorism priorities.'"
However, Gerlach and his colleagues were not agents of foreign powers seeking the defeat of the U.S. government or acting to facilitate the conquest of America.

Ideally, the defendants should have been indicted, convicted, and sentenced for having destroyed private and government property. Instead of elevating their actions to acts of terrorism, the court should have simply treated the defendants as the criminals they are. Instead of granting the defendants an aura of martyrdom for a "cause," it should have branded them as vandals. No distinction should be made between the criminal actions of non-ideological thugs and those of "domestic terrorists."

Ideally, the best way to rob the environmentalists of their ideological thunder and deflate their cause is to treat their activists as common criminals, and, in the bargain, reinstate the sanctity of individual rights and the sanctity of property.

Any person who initiates force against others can loosely be deemed a "terrorist" who intends to "scare, frighten and intimidate" his victims. But that would be a dangerously improper identification, for the vast majority of criminal acts are not committed from political or ideological motives.

But, the focus in these cases, it seems, was not exclusively on property as such, but on actions that were perceived as having been taken against the state. That is the drift of law today, away from protecting individual rights (and the nominal sanctity of "public" property, such as the Eugene police station) and toward the idea of "crimes against the state." The reasoning of Judge Aiken cannot be construed any other way. It represents the encroachment of statist jurisprudence upon objective criminal law.

Adding to the confusion, however, is the position of the defendants' supporters.

"For some radical environmentalists," the Times reports, "the terrorism label is offensive. 'It's an outrage that they're being put into the same category as Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh,' said Jim Flynn," who was in the courtroom when Gerlach was sentenced. "'It weakens the word 'terrorist.'"

Beyond this individual's grasp is the fact that bin Laden, McVeigh, and Gerlach and Company each subscribed to an anti-life ideology of destruction, and each took "terrorist" actions in conformance to his particular ideology. Islamist jihadists do not like being called "terrorists," either. They prefer the label "freedom fighters." They wish to "purify" the earth of the "infidel" West with the same death-worshipping ardor that environmentalists wish to "free" the earth of man.

Timothy McVeigh conspired against the U.S. government by bombing a federal office building, arguably acting to overthrow the government. Bin Laden is an agent of state-sponsored terrorism.

Bin Laden, however, was not merely attacking real property when his hijacking killers brought down the World Trade Center. He was explicitly attacking everything the West stood for, which just happened to include car dealerships and electrical transmission towers. Compared to him, Gerlach and her Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front henchmen are myopic, obsessive/compulsive amateurs.

In his June 4th newsletter, Daniel Pipes had this interesting development to report:

"Federal prosecutors have named CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] and two other Islamic organizations, the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust, as 'unindicted co-conspirators' in a criminal conspiracy to support Hamas, a designated terrorist group.

"In a filing last week, prosecutors described CAIR as a present or past member of 'the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee and/or its organizations.' They listed ISNA and NAIT as 'entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.' Josh Gerstein of The New York Sun reports that spokesmen for CAIR did not respond to requests for comment.

"This development occurred in connection with the trial, scheduled to start on July 16 in Dallas, of five officials...of the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, accused of sending funds to Hamas. This court filing listed some 300 individuals or organizations as co-conspirators."
Pipes comments further in the article that it "is only logical that CAIR, whose origins lie in the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was founded by Hamas, be legally investigated in connection with Hamas."

That is a step in the right direction, but one that would not need to be taken at all if the Bush administration took military action against the state sponsors of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, namely Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. These states have declared war on the U.S. by ill-disguised proxy through those organizations.

The most perfect outcome of such a legal investigation would be that the federal prosecutors would find that these organizations are waging war against the U.S. and have been for decades, and then send the evidence to the White House with a recommendation that there exist grounds for a declaration of war. It is doubtful, though, that anything more dramatic will happen other than the conviction of the five individuals connected with the Holy Land Foundation and the embarrassment and inconveniencing of officials of CAIR, ISNA and NAIT.

One step forward, two steps back. When the U.S. declared war on Japan and Nazi Germany, did it focus on defeating just kamikaze pilots and the Luftwaffe, or the governments that unleashed them on civilization? When Joe Blow robbed a convenience store or slashed the tires of his neighbors' cars as a malicious prank, was he treated as a national security threat, or as a common criminal?

Before it relapses into semi-consciousness, our judiciary should ponder these crucial distinctions.