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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.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:11 PM | donate | link | |

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 . . .

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 2:07 PM | donate | link | |

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.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:14 PM | donate | link | |

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.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:48 AM | donate | link | |

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 . . .

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:15 AM | donate | link | |

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]

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 4:23 PM | donate | link | |

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.

::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:11 PM | donate | link | |


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