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:: The Rule of Reason ::

:: Friday, April 28, 2006 ::

Teaching impotence 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 6:55 PM

This wonderfully pompus article at Salon.com recounts the chilling steps a leftist parent took to scrub the mind of her young child for his innocent love of America. First, let's set the stage. Author Nina Burleigh would much rather live in France.

Our family first arrived in Narrowsburg [NY] in 2000, as city people hunting for a cheap house. For barely $50,000 we were able to buy the "weekend house" we thought would complete our metropolitan existence. But soon after we closed on the home, we moved to Paris, spurred by the serendipitous arrival of a book contract. When our European idyll ended after two years, and with tenants still subletting our city apartment, we moved into the Narrowsburg house. After growing accustomed to the French social system -- with its cheap medicine, generous welfare, short workweek and plentiful child care -- life back in depressed upstate New York felt especially harsh. We'd never planned to get involved in the life of the town, nor had it ever occurred to us that we might send our son to the Narrowsburg School. But suddenly we were upstate locals, with a real stake in the community.
And Narrowsburg is tough community for an enlightened Francophile such as Burleigh to endure.

[F]or the first few months, we felt uneasy. Eighty of Narrowsburg's 319 adults are military veterans and at least 10 recent school graduates are serving in Iraq or on other bases overseas right now. The school's defining philosophy was traditional and conservative, starting with a sit-down-in-your-seat brand of discipline, leavened with a rafter-shaking reverence for country and flag. Every day the students gathered in the gym for the "Morning Program," open to parents, which began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a patriotic song, and then discussion of a "word of the week." During the first few weeks, the words of the week seemed suspiciously tied to a certain political persuasion: "Military," "tour," "nation" and "alliance" were among them.
One shudders at the thought. How will Burleigh's six year old come to embrace her mother's highbrow contempt for the hypocritical betrayal that is America? This is a deep concern: Burleigh notes that "[i]f you knew nothing else of the world, if you were just 5 or 6 or 10 years old, and this place was your only America, you wouldn't have any reason at all to question the Narrowsburg School's Morning Program routine."

And why should you? There is a reason that we think of our childhoods as an age of innocence. It is a time when we are able to focus our embryonic minds on our relationship with existence. I was six when Saigon fell to the communists and I can remember watching the evacuation on the news and even thinking that it was something that must be important. Nevertheless, the egoistic thrill of riding around the block in my "green machine" and the joy of wiring together my toy train set held more sway for me. During childhood, one's focus is on things far more immediate and it ought to be.

In contrast, Nina Burleigh has Iraq on the mind. She writes,

[j]ust before Christmas, my son and I drove together into New York City with bags of children's clothes and shoes that he and his sister had outgrown. The Harlem unit of the National Guard was putting on a Christmas clothing drive for Iraqi children. On the way into the city, I tried to explain to my son what we were doing, and -- as best I could -- why. As we crossed the George Washington Bridge and the Manhattan skyline spread out below us, I began to give him a variation on the "Africans don't have any food, finish your dinner" talk. I wanted him to understand how privileged he was to live in a place where bombs weren't raining from the sky. It was a talk I'd tried to have before, but not one he'd ever paid much attention to until that day, trapped in the back seat of our car.

In simple language, I told my son that our president had started a war with a country called Iraq. I said that we were bombing cities and destroying buildings. And I explained that families just like ours now had no money or food because their parents didn't have offices to go to anymore or bosses to pay them. "America did this?" my son asked, incredulous. "Yes, America," I answered. He paused, a long silent pause, then burst out: "But Mommy, I love America! I want to hug America!"
Yeah kid, but the president invaded Iraq on a lark and is "bombing cities and destroying buildings" and starving families "like yours" just for the giggles it gives him. Why don't you wrap your arms around that, you little six-year-old twerp!

No wonder so many leftists are so embittered. After all, what is a 6 year-old to do about geopolitics (or his mother's attendant rages) except sit there in helpless impotence? Burleigh has taught six-year old that America is a vicious place controlled by monsters--and that there's nothing he can do about it. And you thought learning that there was no Santa Claus was bad. At least with that horror you learn where the gifts really come from and that you can still give and receive them.

If it were my child, I'd want to teach them that they were efficacious--if they kept their wits about them. During the developmental years, contemporary politics would be off the table altogether. In its stead, I'd share with my child everything I knew about history, be it the history of science, literature, philosophy, or nations. When my child understood how ideas shape both men and civilizations, then we could then talk about politics (and my attendant rages). Until that point, the message would be lost.

Burleigh has one haughty observation to make before she concludes her article. You see, for all its jingoism, life in Narrowsburg actually expanded her child's mind.

Now it has been almost a year since my son scampered down the steps of Narrowsburg Central Rural School for the last time. We've since returned to the city, driven back to urban life more by adult boredom than our children's lack of educational opportunities. Our son is enrolled in a well-rated K-5 public school on Manhattan's Upper West Side; not surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer part of his morning routine. Come to think of it, and I could be wrong, I've never seen a flag on the premises.

My husband and I realized, though, that Narrowsburg did more than mold our boy into a patriot. He can, it turns out -- despite the warnings of other city parents -- read at a level twice that of his new peers. Since we returned to the city, he has learned how to ride a bike, long for an Xbox, practiced a few new swear words and, somehow, learned the meaning of "sexy." He has pretty much stopped favoring red, white and blue.
Not surprising. I hear the culture in Manhattan can do that to you.

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:: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 ::

Intellectual activism in defense of free speech 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 6:26 PM

I firmly believe that there needs to be public outcry over the appallingly week defense of free speech rights in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, especially outcry directed at the Bush administration, which has refused to defend the freedom to criticize Islam without caveats or equivocation. The question is how to engineer it-and evidence the power of Objectivism in the process.

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I want to host a free speech demonstration in Washington. I have received several messages in support and I think the times demand such an act. Yet at the same time, I have several reservations.

Demonstrations are notoriously difficult to organize. I've organized three demonstrations in DC; two "countermarches" in defense of industry and technology on Earth Day in front of the White House and a protest in defense of Elian Gonzales in front of the Department of Justice. Additionally, I participated in a small demonstration in defense of Microsoft in front of the courthouse where the firm's antitrust trial was held and the ARI anti-volunteerism protest in Philadelphia.

Each demonstration that I worked on took about a month to put together. Talking points had to be formulated, participants had to be recruited, accommodations and transportation secured, signs printed and press releases and position papers issued. All the while, the burden of fundraising hung over my head as each demonstration barely paid for themselves, let alone bring in money to be used for future endeavors.

There's also another problem with demonstrations-it is next to impossible to get Objectivists to participate in them. We averaged around 50 participants for each of the demonstrations I organized. While I deeply appreciated every soul that came to march, that's still a paltry sum. I think there's a clear reason for this: many Objectivists are utterly controversy-shy. It takes both balls and a clear head to hold a sign saying that Earth Day or volunteerism is immoral or that Microsoft should not have to suffer antitrust and be able to quickly explain to non-Objectivists why. For some reason, too many Objectivists fail to possess both these attributes in sufficient numbers to bring 500 people to a protest, instead of the usual 50. (Well, that, and the "I have a job" claim that seems to exempt both physical participation in a demonstration and monetary support).

And then there's the claim of anti-intellectualism. Protests are mostly exercises in marching and chanting (that's the charge at least), so what then is the point then in participating in them. Never mind that to be in the news, one often has to make news (which means the willingness to pound the pavement in defense of one's principles from time to time). Every demonstration that I organized had clear talking points and included pre-march briefings to bring all the participants up to speed with how to communicate our message effectively to the media and the public.

So What were the dividends? The press conferences for both Earth Day countermarches were covered by C-SPAN. I was asked by a top-ten newspaper to write an anti-Earth Day op-ed. Ed Locke's speech in defense of Elian Gonzales was heavily quoted in the conservative press, and the protests received other news coverage as well. Young Objectivists who had never met anyone who shared their views in person made friendships that apparently have endured for years.

Yet if all these achievements were valued, we simply would have raised more money. What else must one do to engage in Objectivist activism that is worthy of support-unless any such activism itself is frowned upon?

I don't know anymore. In the case of the Muhammad cartoons controversy, I can't help but think that we need to go to the mattresses in defense of our free speech rights, and that even a protest manned by 50 Objectivists is an important contribution to this fight. No one is taking the administration to task for its failures on this issue. Everyone is terrified of violence if they show the cartoons, yet no one is demanding that the government do its job to protect against that threat. And if we are not free to criticize Islam-if we are not free to illustrate Islam's irrationality and barbarism-we are not free to defend our lives and address one of the central questions of our time. How can we allow this to happen without a fight?

I say we cannot. That said, I'm not sure everyone else shares my enthusiasm. So I put it to you: is a weekend event defending free speech -a mini-conference and protest march-worth it to you? What would you be willing to do to make such an event possible? How hard will you be willing to work to stand up and defend your right to free speech?

I'd like to know. Our rights deserve defending, but there's no point in issuing a call to action that will fall upon deaf ears. So please share with me where you stand.

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Microsoft decries 'free ride' 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:15 AM

A Microsoft lawyer says that EU antirust enforcers are unfairly striping the firm’s intellectual property to rivals.

Microsoft Corp. complained Wednesday that the European Commission had forced it to hand over trade secrets to rivals, effectively giving them a "free ride" on the work the software maker did to acquire new customers and develop new technologies.

But Microsoft's rivals said the company was trying to turn the case into a debate over intellectual property rights and skirt the commission's argument that Microsoft has abused its monopoly.

The European Commission's order for Microsoft Corp. to share its code so rivals' software can run smoothly with Windows took center stage Wednesday in the third day of the company's bid to have a landmark antitrust ruling against it overturned.

Microsoft lawyer Ian Forrester said the order had been an attempt "to handicap the (market) leader in perpetuity."

"The decision condemned a company for not saying yes to a company who requests a huge amount of secret technology for the future," he said.

"The Windows source code is copyright. It is valuable, the fruit of lots of effort," he said, adding that were it printed on paper, it would take up 12,650 pages.

Thomas Vinje, a lawyer for an industry group supporting the commission — the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, or ECIS — said Microsoft was blowing its patent rights out of proportion.

"Microsoft are trying to turn this into an intellectual property case when it's not," he said. "This is a case about abuse of a dominant position, about refusing to provide information to vendors."

Microsoft broke an informal agreement with EU advocates when it brought up the recent dispute over the company's compliance with the order to share its code_ earning them a stern reprimand from Judge Bo Vesterdorf, who told Forrester to stick to the issue at stake.

Forrester had claimed that Microsoft was being threatened with 2 million euros ($2.4 million) in daily fines, backdated to Dec. 15, for not creating "a new copyright work" derived from Windows' secret source code.

EU regulators had asked Microsoft to supply a "complete and accurate" support manual for developers to help them make compatible software.

Last December, they charged Microsoft with not obeying the order after an independent monitor branded Microsoft's 12,650-page technical manual as "unfit at this stage for its intended purpose."

The world's largest software maker says it has the right to guard its valuable intellectual property, and maintains that it has worked strenuously to comply with the 2004 EU ruling that told it to pay a record 497 million euro ($613 million) fine.

The ruling was handed down after a five-year investigation concluded that Microsoft had taken advantage of its dominant position to damage rivals who offered server software and media player programs. [Aoife White and Matt Moore, AP Business Writers]
This is a case of too little too late and it shows why I have a hard time feeling sympathy for Microsoft. Microsoft has existed under the threat of antitrust prosecution for many years. It has paid out billions of dollars in antitrust settlements. By definition, the antitrust laws are predicated that the successful must sacrifice themselves for the unsuccessful. Yet when has Microsoft publicly attacked this premise? When has Microsoft attacked the antitrust laws themselves?

The Center was initially founded on the goodwill Microsoft enjoyed from people who recognized that it was being attacked solely for its virtues and who stood with us when we called for the antitrust case against it to be dropped and that the antirust laws themselves be re-evaluated. Microsoft found support because people supported it morally—they were willing to stand up and defend Microsoft moral right to profit from its employees own hard work.

The irony is that Microsoft is convinced that it could do no more to defend itself. Yet is that belief true? Has Microsoft ever “fully fought” antitrust? Of course not. Almost eight years after the initial “finding of fact” that dammed Microsoft for the crime of improving its products, Microsoft still has not learned that there is no escaping antitrust and that it only grounds it has left in self-defense are the moral grounds. Will Microsoft ever sanction this moral crusade? I seriously doubt it. Instead, Microsoft is utterly content to sanction its victimization, and in that light, the firm deserves whatever punishment it gets. Some other innovator will have to defend his right to exist free of shackles—this one is all too content to be ruled.

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:: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 ::

That pesky oil addiction II 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:38 PM

This report out of California is interesting.

SACRAMENTO — As the statewide average price for regular gasoline passed $3 a gallon Monday, politicians and grass-roots activists pumped up their calls for new taxes on companies that produce or refine oil in California.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the California Energy Commission to investigate possible gouging by gasoline refiners, wholesalers and retailers.

"We must not rule out the possibility of market manipulation, price gouging or unfair business practices employed by oil companies," Schwarzenegger said.

Also Monday, the chairman of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee won a first vote on his latest proposal to slap a 2% surtax on so-called windfall profits from petroleum producing, refining and sales activities.

The bill garnered the minimum four votes needed to move to its next committee.

"It's time we made these companies pay," said Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro), the bill's author. "They can avoid paying the tax by reducing their prices for gasoline."

Klehs' proposal, an outgrowth of a bill defeated on the Assembly floor in January, would earmark proceeds to provide tax credits to middle- and lowincome seniors to buy prescription drugs. He estimates that the tax could amount to as much as $190 million annually.

The new bill has won the endorsement of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles). Nuñez said Monday that he was considering sponsoring his own windfall profit tax on oil company earnings in California.

"We believe oil companies are ripping us off and artificially inflating the price of gas at the pump," Nuñez said. "The 120 legislators in Sacramento ought to be as outraged as the 14 million motorists in California," he said, referring to members of the Assembly and the Senate.

Prices at the pump set a new record in California on Monday, after rising more than 17 cents in the last week, to an average of $3.068 for a gallon of regular, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Citing surging prices across the country, House Speaker J. Dennis J. Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) wrote Monday to President Bush, requesting that he order the Federal Trade Commission and the attorney general to investigate oil company profits and executive pay, as well as the factors behind tight gasoline supplies.

Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) called for a similar probe by the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Oil industry representatives expressed confidence that any new federal or state investigation would reveal no evidence of market manipulation.

"There have been 30 investigations in the last 20 years. In not one case has there been any evidence of wrongdoing," said Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn.

He said gasoline prices were especially high in California because of a precarious balance between supply and demand. The state is served by only 14 refineries, compared with 32 in 1980.

At the same time, U.S. crude oil production has plummeted to 5 million barrels a day last year from 10 million in the 1980s, increasing the country's dependence on supplies imported from often politically unstable foreign countries, Sparano said. California currently produces about 773,000 barrels a day of crude oil. [Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times]
So here we have a story that reports that US oil production has fallen, imports are up and refineries have shut down. What about California’s 7.25% state & county sales tax that taxes people more as fuel prices rise? What about the weak US dollar that makes imports more expensive? Why is the FTC brought in to put oil companies--the actual people who produce fuel--under the lens when the government’s own misguided policies don’t even merit a cursory glance?

Why? Because businessmen are the easy villain in our culture. Self-interest is immoral and any-self-interested act is immediately suspect, while any altruistic act is immediately forgiven—even despite altruism being the source of the problem in the first place. It is altruism that causes high tax rates by giving government the moral case for massive spending and redistribution of wealth. It is altruism that blocks new energy production on the grounds that oil drilling despoils nature and nature must come first—even at the price of human suffering. And it is altruism that gives government license to threaten producers while ignoring the fact that without them, there would be no oil in the first place.

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That pesky oil addiction 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:17 PM

So President Bush makes has made a statement:

President George W. Bush pressured profit-rich oil companies to invest in new refineries on Tuesday and announced steps against any price gouging to contain gas prices that have soared while his popularity plummets.

He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend federal clean-burning gasoline rules this summer that are forcing consumers to buy expensive new gasoline blends.

Bush temporarily halted shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to get more oil on the market and try to combat prices that have soared above $3 a gallon.
But he acknowledged that Americans are in for a tough summer on the road.

"Energy experts predict gas prices are going to remain high throughout the summer. And that's going to be a continued strain on the American people," he told the Renewable Fuels Association, a group advocating expanded use of ethanol as an alternative fuel source.

Bush, his own popularity hitting a new low, is under pressure to do something about soaring gasoline prices in hopes of staving off a potential election-year problem for Republicans trying to hang on to control of the U.S. Congress.

A former Texas oil man who in recent months has advocating curing America of its addiction to oil, Bush was unusually blunt with oil companies enjoying record profits. He said they should use some of their largesse to invest in new refineries and researching alternative fuel sources.

"We expect there to be strong reinvestment to help us with our economic security needs and our national security needs," he said.

He also said he wanted Congress to take away from the oil companies about $2 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, such as subsidizing research into deepwater drilling. He said the tax breaks are unnecessary at a time of "record oil prices and large cash flows."

"Taxpayers don't need to be paying for certain of these expenses on behalf of the energy companies," Bush said.

Bush said Congress should find a way to approve permits to build new refineries a year after they are filed.

The fact that no new refineries have been built in 30 years is frequently cited as a reason contributing to soaring gas prices.

[ . . .]

Before the speech, the White House released a letter in which the federal government urged state attorneys general to vigorously enforce laws against price gouging that may have contributed to rising gasoline prices. [Steve Holland, Reuters]
I read this, and all I have are questions. What about the environmentalists who work to block the construction of new refiners? What about the environmentalists who block oil drilling in California or in Alaska’s ANWR? How is the suspension of a tax credit (effectively a tax increase) going to lower the price of gas? What about all the tax gouging that takes place when local sales taxes are levied upon gasoline? And how, if high prices and high profits are an incentive for existing firms to increase capacity and for new companies to enter into a market, does threatening these profits achieve lower gas prices?

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:: Monday, April 24, 2006 ::

Beyond 'The Twilight Zone' 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 11:05 AM

With profuse apologies to the late Rod Serling, I don't believe he could ever have conceived a more bizarrely macabre and surreal script than the one we see acted out every day in the "real" world. If he had, his producers might have accused him of being on drugs, while his sponsors and advertisers would probably have balked at paying for the broadcasting of such a disturbingly depressing story.

Let's review the script.

Four and a half years ago, the United States was attacked by agents of a totalitarian enemy dedicated to destroying it. To date, the United States has not retaliated against that enemy, but, at great expense of blood and treasure, has sought to plant the dubious seeds of democracy. When "democracy" blossomed in Iraq, its citizens promptly elected a nascent theocracy. Instead of annihilating the enemy, the U.S. has campaigned to convert it to Western notions of peace and plenitude. The enemy is Islam, whose theocratic-political foundation requires submission or conquest in order to establish as much of a global caliphate as feasible. Short of that, Islam would be satisfied with just breaking America's back and wiping the Mideast clean of all Jews.

In the meantime, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, accompanied by all the hoopla of a Busby Berkeley musical, announced his country's entry into the family of nuclear nations, and continues to rant against the U.S. and Israel in the grand old style of Adolf Hitler, except in Farsi, and with no tie. His wardrobe is apparently off the rack of a Tehran thrift shop, he sports more facial hair than did Adolf, and evokes the image of a sneering bum. The creature regularly barks to a cringing world its marching orders. Only in fantasy could such a creature rise to become a nemesis. In the real world, he is a nemesis by default.

Another tyrant, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, found in a rat hole, should have been executed shortly after his capture, but is now grandstanding in a "Judge Judy"- style trial paid for by American taxpayers.

At home, the combined overt, covert, and incremental Islamic jihad in America may collide head-on against the very Catholic migration into the country of countless Mexicans who are as ignorant of and indifferent to American political principles as the average gringo high school student, politician, President or executive of CAIR. One must wonder how Islamists plan to convert them to the Koran, when their La Raza-class spokesmen encourage them to retain their Mexican identity, remain loyal to the country they abandoned, and profess "Chicano culture" to be superior to any other, including Islamic culture.

Well, not necessarily "superior," as "separate." Islam has produced no Nobel Prize winners in any field, while Mexico boasts of a few third-rate, steam-of-consciousness novelists and some communist muralists. If Mexico has any symphony orchestras or art galleries that don't promote the myths of Maya or Aztlan, they are emulations of Western ideas. On the whole, the "Latino" version of ethnicity is similar to the Islamists' preference for an insular identity that refuses to recognize an "infidel" or "European" Constitution. If friction ever occurs between the two "cultures," which for the moment are allies for "open borders" and for availing themselves of the American welfare state, the sparks will fly. Individualism is not encouraged in either "culture."

In Washington, President Bush fetes a totalitarian dictator, President Hu Jantao of Red China, and expresses "embarrassment" and "anger" when a protestor interrupts Hu's speech by calling for religious freedom in China. Bush also stumbled when he referred to Mainland China as "The Republic of China" (forgetting the "People's"), the formal name of Taiwan. And to top that, during a joint press conference with Hu, he betrayed Taiwan by asserting that he is opposed to Taiwanese independence, and hopes that the Mainland and Taiwan can be reunited peacefully, never mind the armada Beijing is assembling against Taiwan.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and master of the mea culpa, betrayed freedom of speech by assuring President Hu at a luncheon -- doubtless screened to prevent the attendance of any embarrassing protestors -- that it was his belief "that industry and government around the world should work even more closely to protect the privacy and security of Internet users, and promote the exchange of ideas, while respecting legitimate government considerations."

Which ideas should be "exchanged,' or how the privacy and security of Internet users can be protected when the thought police are in charge, elude the non-intellectual, pragmatic Mr. Gates. "Legitimate government considerations" is a euphemism for the censorship of ideas Beijing does not wish its dhimmi to consider or exchange. Nor do Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo scruple to facilitate censorship at the behest of China's totalitarians. Industries and governments that work "closely" to implement official policies constitute fascism. But this fundamental truism is over Mr. Gates's head.

Russia, our alleged ally against terrorism, continues to provide Iran with nuclear technology and assistance so that Iran may better terrorize the West, and scolds the U.S. for even contemplating sanctions against Iran. Saudi Arabia, another alleged ally, is raking in the revenue from soaring crude prices, even though it has assured President Bush that it will help "stabilize" the market. The Saudis have just signed a trade pact with Red China that includes supplying the Mainland with oil, and in addition expressed an interest in investing in the creation of a Mainland petrochemical plant.

Iran is also courting China, Iraq and India. But our staunch ally Saudi Arabia, which is likely the sugar daddy of CAIR, its U.S. branches, as well as affiliated Muslim activist organizations -- all of them stealthily probing for holes where Sharia law can be established, and busy opposing freedom of speech -- very probably is a partner in a secret entente cordiale with Iran, having put aside for the time being their differences in Koranic interpretation in order to squeeze the West, particularly the U.S., into submission.

Thanks to environmentalism, the U.S. is at the mercy of a polyphony of other noisily hostile oil-producing nations besides Saudi Arabia and Iran: Venezuela, Nigeria, and the U.A.E. Not to mention the whining spokesmen of the protected manatees of the Gulf of Mexico, the whales of California, and the wolves and moose of Alaska.

In the names of "sensitivity" and multiculturalism, the press and news media are not interested in championing freedom of speech, except perhaps the freedom to report the fading of that freedom and the irrelevancy of the First Amendment. Universities, colleges, high schools and middle schools are largely in the hands of pedagogues who not only indoctrinate American children with collectivist ideas, but dumb them down, as well. Businesses and industries spend fortunes on lobbyists and corrupt Washington politicians to stem the flow of regulations and controls, all to no avail, for they are the first to shout that they are in the market as a "public service."

So, there is the script. Or part of it. The West is laboring under a under siege of its own making, for, as others have noted, it lacks not the means to vanquish its enemies, but the will and confidence in its own value. It has painted itself into a corner of inaction and impotency by relativistic self-doubt and the discarding of reason and the absolutes reason would commit it to.

All in all, it is a grim and discouraging show we are watching, the consequences of the collapse of philosophy, specifically the abandonment of reason.

Beat that, Rod Serling.

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:: Friday, April 21, 2006 ::

On 'Earth Day,' forget enviro-mentalism 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 4:11 PM

Today is "Earth Day", and in honor of the ocassion, I thought I would share this op-ed of mine that appeared in the 2002 Earth Day edition of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

If the welfare of human life was the standard by which we judged industry and technology, there would be no reason to have a day like "Earth Day." Rather than the environmentalists parading their assault on anything and everything that is a mark of human existence on the planet, we would instead celebrate industry and technology as the very means by which mankind has moved into an era of happiness, health and prosperity.

Looking at a figure as basic as life expectancy, it is obvious that people today live a lot longer than they did in the pre-industrialized world of 200 years ago. Today we enjoy such an abundance of foods, medicines and a whole host of labor-saving technologies that if a person from 200 years ago could see us now, he would be amazed that it is even possible that so many human beings can live together for so long and in such splendor.

Yet, the environmentalists tell us the sky is falling. Turning the popular trail mantra "leave no footprint" against all of humanity, the environmentalists say our farms threaten the ecosystem, our cars are destroying the atmosphere and "sprawl" will consume the wilderness. On Earth Day, every aspect of human life and human consumption represents a threat to the Earth.

Notice, for example, that there is not an existing, practical method of energy production that the environmentalists support. Environmentalists oppose gas, coal, nuclear and hydro power. If the environmentalists were honest, they should love nuclear power, for it clearly has the least ecological impact of all the practical means of generating power.

Yet it is nuclear power that the environmentalists despise the most. Consider the argument that the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the 1970's is proof that man can not properly harvest the power of the atom. In fact, the accident showed just the opposite. Three Mile Island showed that man could build a reactor that could survive a near total failure, including a hydrogen gas explosion within the reactor core and still have no impact on the surrounding environment. While Three Mile Island was still a costly accident, it showed the strength of our science and technology, not its shortcomings.

Yet the environmentalists still cry "foul." Why? Because the real premise behind Earth Day is that mankind is an unnatural despoiler and a threat to the earth. Of all the creatures that live on the planet, it is rational, tool-making, resource exploiting man that doesn't quite fit.

There is an alternative to the environmentalist argument. It is one that says the Earth is man's garden and that man's mind as fully competent to meet the challenges of living in his garden, whatever those challenges may be. It is an argument that recognizes that the ultimate resource is not oil, coal, caribou or even the energy of the atom. It is an argument that recognizes that the ultimate resource is a free, unfettered human mind.

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:: Thursday, April 20, 2006 ::

The Moral Lesson of Hiroshima 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 7:28 PM

Here's John Lewis' latest:

On August 6, 1945 the American Air Force incinerated Hiroshima, Japan with an atomic bomb. On August 9 Nagasaki was obliterated. The fireballs killed some 175,000 people. They followed months of horror, when American airplanes firebombed civilians and reduced cities to rubble. Facing extermination, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. The invasion of Japan was cancelled, and countless American lives were saved. The Japanese accepted military occupation, embraced a constitutional government, and renounced war permanently. The effects were so beneficent, so wide-ranging and so long-term, that the bombings must be ranked among the most moral acts ever committed.

The bombings have been called many things--but moral? The purpose of morality, wrote Ayn Rand, is not to suffer and die, but to prosper and live. How can death on such a scale be considered moral?

The answer begins with Japanese culture. World War II in the Pacific was launched by a nation that esteemed everything hostile to human life. Japan's religious-political philosophy held the emperor as a god, subordinated the individual to the state, elevated ritual over rational thought, and adopted suicide as a path to honor. This was truly a Morality of Death. Japan's war with Russia had ended in 1905 with a negotiated treaty, which left Japan's militaristic culture intact. The motivations for war were emboldened, and the next generation broke the treaty by attacking Manchuria in 1931 (which was not caused by the oil embargo of 1941).

It was after Japan attacked America that America waged war against Japan--a proper moral response to the violence Japan had initiated. Despite three and a half years of slaughter, surrender was not at hand in mid-1945. Over six million Japanese were still in Asia. Some 12,000 Americans had died on Okinawa alone. Many Japanese leaders hoped to kill enough Americans during an invasion to convince them that the cost was too high. A "Die for the Emperor" propaganda campaign had motivated many Japanese civilians to fight to the death. Volunteers lined up for kamikaze--"Divine Wind"--suicide missions. Hope of victory kept the Japanese cause alive, until hopeless prostration before American air attacks made the abject renunciation of all war the only alternative to suicide. The Japanese had to choose between the morality of death, and the morality of life.

The bombings marked America's total victory over a militaristic culture that had murdered millions. To return an entire nation to morality, the Japanese had to be shown the literal meaning of the war they had waged against others. The abstraction "war," the propaganda of their leaders, their twisted samurai "honor," their desire to die for the emperor--all of it had to be given concrete form, and thrown in their faces. This is what firebombing Japanese cities accomplished. It showed the Japanese that "this"--point to burning buildings, screaming children scarred unmercifully, piles of corpses, the promise of starvation--"this is what you have done to others. Now it has come for you. Give it up, or die." This was the only way to show them the true nature of their philosophy, and to beat the truth of the defeat into them.

Yes, Japan was beaten in July of 1945--but had not surrendered. A defeat is a fact; an aggressor's ability to fight effectively is destroyed. Surrender is a decision, by the political leadership and the dominant voices in the culture, to recognize the fact of defeat. Surrender is an admission of impotence, the collapse of all hope for victory, and the permanent renunciation of aggression. Such recognition of reality is the first step towards a return to morality. Under the shock of defeat, a stunned silence results. Military officers no longer plan for victory; women no longer bear children for the Reich; young boys no longer play samurai and dream of dying for the emperor--children no longer memorize sword verses from the Koran and pledge themselves to jihad.

To achieve this, the victor must be intransigent. He does not accept terms; he demands prostrate surrender, or death, for everyone if necessary. Had the United States negotiated in 1945, Japanese troops would have returned to a homeland free of foreign control, met by civilians who had not confronted defeat, under the same leaders who had taken them to war. A negotiated peace would have failed to discredit the ideology of war, and would have left the motivations for the next war intact. We might have fought the Japanese Empire again, twenty years later. Fortunately, the Americans were in no mind to compromise.

President Truman demonstrated his willingness to bomb the Japanese out of existence if they did not surrender. The Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 is stark: "The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan . . . Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay . . . We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces . . . The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."

The approach worked brilliantly. After the bombs, the Japanese chose wisely. The method was brutally violent, as it had to be--because the war unleashed by Japan was brutally violent, and only a brutal action could demonstrate its nature. To have shielded Japanese citizens from the meaning of their own actions--the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March--would have been a massive act of dishonesty. It would have left the Japanese unable to reject military aggression the next time it was offered as an elixir of glory. After the war, many returning Japanese troops were welcomed by their countrymen not as heroes, but with derision. The imperial cause was recognized as bankrupt, and the actions of its soldiers worthy of contempt. Forced to confront the reality of what they had done, a sense of morality had returned to Japan.

There can be no higher moral action by a nation than to destroy an aggressive dictatorship, to permanently discredit the enemy's ideology, to stand guard while a replacement is crafted, and then to greet new friends on proper terms. Let those who today march for peace in Germany and Japan admit that their grandparents once marched as passionately for war, and that only total defeat could force them to re-think their place in the world and offer their children something better. Let them thank heaven--the United States--for the bomb.

Some did just that. Hisatsune Sakomizu, chief cabinet secretary of Japan, said after the war: "The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by Heaven for Japan to end the war." He wanted to look like a peaceful man--which became a sensible position only after the Americans had won. Okura Kimmochi, president of the Technological Research Mobilization Office, wrote before the surrender: "I think it is better for our country to suffer a total defeat than to win total victory . . . in the case of Japan's total defeat, the armed forces would be abolished, but the Japanese people will rise to the occasion during the next several decades to reform themselves into a truly splendid people . . . the great humiliation [the bomb] is nothing but an admonition administered by Heaven to our country." But let him thank the American people--not heaven--for it was they who made the choice between the morality of life and the morality of death inescapable.

Americans should be immensely proud of the bomb. It ended a war that had enslaved a continent to a religious-military ideology of slavery and death. There is no room on earth for this system, its ideas and its advocates. It took a country that values this world to bomb this system into extinction. For the Americans to do so while refusing to sacrifice their own troops to save the lives of enemy civilians was a sublimely moral action. This destroyed the foundations of the war, and allowed the Japanese to rebuild their culture along with their cities, as prosperous inhabitants of the earth. Were it true that total victory today creates new attackers tomorrow, we would now be fighting Japanese suicide bombers, while North Korea--where the American army did not march--would be peaceful and prosperous. The facts are otherwise. The need for total victory over the morality of death has never been clearer.

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:: Wednesday, April 19, 2006 ::

A Miscellany of Sacred Cows 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 10:03 AM

At the risk of offending Hindus and provoking further violent demonstrations against the freedom of speech, let us dwell for a moment on a few "sacred cows." In Western civilization, the term "sacred cow" disparages not only a person or thing unreasonably protected from criticism, but the Hindu belief that nasty-smelling, lice-ridden, parasitical, mooching bovines are holy creatures imbued with the privilege of deference because of their alleged association with a deity.

In the April 13th online English language edition of Pravda was an interesting article on the latest instance of the mental gymnastics that European Union officials are willing to demonstrate in their willingness to placate the hostiles, barbarians, and the Borg in their midst. It is to create a whole new herd of sacred cows, represented by a dictionary consisting of an "unemotional vocabulary used in conversations about radicalization." Read Islam. Defying the Aristotelian concept that A cannot be A and non-A at the same time, "Islamic terrorism" will now be called "terrorism which violently appeals to Islam," and "Islamic fundamentalism" will be "fundamentalism based on a false interpretation of Islam." Other proposed terms also dance around the fact that Islam means to conquer and exact submission by legal persecution, intimidation and force.

One cannot fail to see the pointlessness of the new wording. Aside from the fact that it is rooted in cowardice, it lacks economy in its homage to "sensitivity." But, Islam is Islam. Perhaps one could think of it as the difference between a waltz and a minuet.

On to other "sacred cows." Our host, Nick Provenzo, chastised Americans in his "Form 1040 and 'rational ignorance" posting. He justifiably identified the fundamental culprit behind the byzantine Internal Revenue Code and the American penchant for submitting to it: altruism. But as I read it, two questions occurred to me: What is wrong with Mexico that so many people want to leave it? And, what is so attractive about the U.S. that so many Mexicans wish to come here? Why not to Venezuela, or Brazil, or Chile, all Latin countries in which Mexicans would surely feel more at home? And, they are also tax and regulation burdened welfare states. One has yet to hear a Congressman, Senator, or news anchor address these questions.

I recently received an amusing "letter" to the White House urging President Bush to persuade Mexican President Vicente Fox to grant Americans similar privileges and opportunities in Mexico as Mexicans enjoy in the U.S.: free medical services, the observance of the 4th of July, English-speaking teachers, police and bureaucrats, passport-less access to Mexico, class credit for American kids if they skip school (which would teach American history and culture) to demonstrate against Mexico, and other benefits.

If such a proposal were seriously considered, the outcry against American imperialism, racism, and other sins of commission would be immediate and loud. America is a "have" country, and Mexico a "have not," so it is America's moral duty to subsidize its own disintegration. So say La Raza and other nationalist "Latino" organizations, which hope to keep most Mexicans, legal or illegal, as clueless and semi-literate as American kids attending our public schools. Homogeneity and assimilation in the dominant or "host" culture is no more on their agenda than it is on the Islamist. Islamist groups joined Latinos in the recent demonstrations over the immigration uproar. They are allies now, but what will happen when they no longer agree to "divvy up" the U.S.?

But, Mr. Provenzo's comments also caused me to observe that a government that penalizes its citizens for not paying "their fair share" of taxes to pay off a growing debt that can never be paid, and, in fact, mandates the voluntary reporting of all income, whether in profits, salaries, wages, or even tips or gratuities, under penalty of prison and/or financial ruin, is not going to protect their freedom of speech.

Congress has not passed a law that compels citizens to file income tax returns, but rather has danced around that issue by arming the IRS with enforcement powers, powers that are not much different from those of the KGB or other political police apparatuses. If the government does not respect a citizen's right to his property, the issue of his freedom of speech must appear to any politician or bureaucrat as a niggling matter not worth exploring. Taxes are a sacred cow.

Or perhaps the subject is a powder keg.

After all, if the government championed the right of journalists and cartoonists to caricature Mohammed, it must necessarily and logically move to championing the right to one's property. The communication of a disparaging cartoon must employ the vehicle of property. But, to the government -- local, state, or federal -- private property is not sacrosanct. The right is not "inviolable." And so one can understand why the government would not want "to go there." To protect one right, one must eventually acknowledge other rights and act to protect them. To paraphrase Mr. Provenzo, Objectivism skewers that dichotomy rather quickly.

When reading any editorial, or listening to any politician such as the Treasury Secretary on the subject of taxes, one always reads or hears the phrase "your taxes," not "our taxes." Even H&R Block and Hewitt repeat it often, and apparently it has sunk into the psyche of the average productive American. The one phrase implies a moral obligation, the other an imposition. What a trick of semantics! The onus of responsibility, not to mention culpability, is put on the payer, not on the extortionist.

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:: Monday, April 17, 2006 ::

Form 1040 and 'rational ignorance' 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:25 AM

Today, millions of Americans will struggle to bring themselves into compliance with the Internal Revenue Code. Every year the nation goes though the same circus, juggling with its tax forms, groping to find its receipts, and trying to make sense out of a seemingly endless maze of instructions, assessments and deductions. Typically, one overhears people talking about how the whole process is something the government does to us, tormenting us against our will. Such claims forget who it is who ultimately shapes the destiny of this nation.

America is a constitutional republic. Its leaders and the laws they enact are made possible by the will of the majority. Any citizen is free to comment on the affairs of state. So why then do Americans allow themselves to suffer a tax code that is coercive, unfair, needlessly complex, and provides little clarity as to the real cost of government? Because that's precisely what the majority of Americans have chosen to accept.

A just people would demand a government that charges for services rendered and no more. They would oppose the paternalism and retribution of wealth schemes that comprise most government spending today. They would not allow their government to use coercion to pay for the protections government provides. They would demand a moral way to pay for government.

In contrast, the system we have today is a near polar opposite. The government spends money it doesn't have-which only means future taxes down the road. It takes money from producers to give to others. Its taxes are designed to do little more than hide the real cost of government-after all, who, of anyone, knows the sum total they pay the government in income, sales and excise taxes, let alone the cost of the corporate taxes that are passed on to them though the price of the goods that they buy?

What could explain such a tax system? What could explain the seeming inability to reform it even incrementally, such as through the flat tax or a national retail sales tax? Only a moral force could be powerful enough to squelch all debate with the seeming unassailability of its premise and explain the monster that we live with today. Only the morality of altruism explains From 1040.

Altruism holds that the highest moral value is to live for others, and the more that one gives the least deserving, the better. That is why the most productive are taxed at a higher rate than those who are less productive. That is why the owners of corporations-nothing more than people assembled together for a productive purpose-are double taxed.

For such a system to be sustained, two forms of ignorance are required: first, moral ignorance, and second, "rational ignorance." Moral ignorance is simply falling to recognize that you as a person have a right to live your life for your own sake. Objectivism cures that ailment rather quickly.

In contrast, "rational ignorance" is the recognition that the cost of educating oneself about an issue sufficiently to make an informed decision can outweigh the benefit one could reasonably expect to gain from that decision, and so it would be irrational to waste time thinking about it. Rational ignorance applied to intellectual activism is simply recognizing that one can't change the world by oneself, and it explains the people who come to Objectivism, but who are then are content to retreat into their own private worlds. After all, we can insulate ourselves from the world's faults most of the time and be quite happy despite the burdens we have been given.

The problem is, the boot still rests upon each of our necks. It doesn't go away and not to challenge the premise that animates it only allows it to become stronger and more threatening by default. And that's why I launched the Center-to fight back and challenge the wrong-headed premises that nevertheless dominate our lives. But to do it, I need your help. I thought Jim Woods, a long-time supporter of the Center and a frequent commenter on this blog put it quite well:

With the demands of family, work, and taxes, most of us do not have sufficient time to devote to the activism required to insure the justice necessary for our lives. Therefore, financing professional activists is as important to our long term well being as taking out an insurance policy. How much to give? Each of us has to decide for ourselves. I look at it in terms of time; if I contribute an hour of my wages/salary to CAC, then that is an hour that I worked to advance capitalism.
So thinking as Jim does, how much of your time did you spend filing your taxes? How much time did you spend earning the money it took to pay them? In contrast, how much will you dedicate to fighting for your freedom to be released from these burdens?

Or do you instead hold that the battle for freedom is just to big to be won and that there is nothing you can do help change the tide? If that be the case, it is tragic, but it reminds me of a quote by Samuel Adams in 1776, when many in his generation of Americans held a similar view.

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
I'd rather us be countrymen though. Please, make a donation in the name of your freedom today.

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:: Friday, April 14, 2006 ::

Coercing the Pledge of Allegiance 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 5:07 PM

This story caught my eye:

Two Northern Lebanon [Pennsylvania] school-board members object to a revised district policy that makes it optional for a student to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

[ . . . ]

"I respectfully disagree and will not support this policy," school-board member Daniel Martel said. "Every person should pledge allegiance to the flag. The Constitution allows us to have these rights. I understand freedom of expression, but I also served in the military. Some things are sacrosanct."

Fellow board member Stephen Lum joined Martel in opposing the policy. He was the only other board member to vote against it.

"My thing is the new wording. It states that a district 'may offer opening exercises.' The old policy made it mandatory for the district to offer the Pledge of the Allegiance," Lum said.

The new wording, Martel added, makes it "too easy for a student to refuse to do it. Before, they had to list the conviction that prevented them from doing it." [Chris Brown, Lebanon Daily News]
Did it ever dawn on anyone on the Northern Lebanon school-board that any attempt to coerce the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional and has explicitly been so for over 65 years. In its decision on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the First Amendment protected students from being compelled to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. According to the Court:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
So neither Daniel Martel nor Stephen Lum understand the freedom of expression, the role of the Constitution in protecting that freedom, or the role of the courts in checking the power of the public officials to do whatever they want just because they win an election every few of years, but Mr. Martel served in the military.

Well so did I, but in contrast, I realized that it wasn't the Pledge that was sacrosanct, but the principle of individual rights.

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Yes, Comedy Central did squelch South Park's Muhammad episode 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:06 AM

So the reacted airing of "South Park" on Wednesday was no joke; Comedy Central did in fact refuse to broadcast Trey Parker and Matt Stone's representation of Mohammad "in light of recent world events." At the same time Comedy Central was reveling in South Park's prestigious Peabody Award win for being "TV's boldest, most politically incorrect satirical series," its executives had already decided to squelch the Mohammad episode's content.

Note that Comedy Central did not cut South Park's portrayal of Jesus defecating upon the American flag from the episode. Already the Roman Catholics have attacked that representation, with the AP quoting William Donohue of the Catholic League calling upon Parker and Stone to resign. "Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks," said Donohue. "They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus. That's their stock in trade."

Yet what's wrong with that stock in trade? What's wrong with criticizing religion or holding religious figures up to comedic scrutiny? In a sane world, absolutely nothing; speech is protected regardless of how deeply someone may disagree with its content.

Yet we do not live in a sane world. Free speech-the right to have ideas and communicate them to others-is under grave threat. Like it or not, South Park is now part of the front line of the free speech wars. By treating Islam with kid gloves because its adherents threaten violent retaliation if their sensitivities are offended, Comedy Central has signaled that anyone who is violent can control what others may say.

Comedy Central has also signaled the larger problem: our government has not stepped up and properly defended our freedom. No American should ever have to fear violent reprisal for his speech, yet when in recent months has our government unequivocally defended this right?

Remember the tepid stand the State Department took in February when the Mohammad cartoon riots first began? Remember how a State Department spokesman said "anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief" and that "we have to remember and respect the deeply held beliefs of those who have different beliefs from us," only mentioning the "the rights of individuals to express their freely held views" as a seeming afterthought. Or worse, remember when President Bush himself said "with freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."

That is not a vision of freedom. Freedom means freedom from others-if we have a "responsibility to be thoughtful about others," then our own ideas and interests take back seat to their concerns. The right to our life, liberty and the freedom to pursue our own happiness evaporates as meaningless abstraction. And If the president of the United States of America can not articulate the moral meaning of freedom and is unwilling to defend it against mindless savages, this nation has lost its way.

My question for you is are you willing to take it? Are you willing to stand by as your freedom is betrayed? Do militant Islamists now inform what can and cannot be said in public?

Like me, I know a lot of my readers have posted the cartoon images of Mohammad on their websites. Yet at the same time, we are more or less anonymous and we can easily hide behind that anonymity. So I ask my readers directly: would any of us have decided differently if we were presented with the choice Comedy Central had to make in its decision to self-censor South Park? I hope we would have more courage than to sell ourselves so cheaply. I hope that we would fight for our intellectual freedom.

So I propose the following: it's time for each of us to make a public stand. It's time to protest our government for its appalling unwillingness to defend our freedom. I propose that we convene in Washington to protest in defense of free speech. We will show the forbidden cartoons, and as such, we will show that we are unwilling to sacrifice our right to speak freely.

Developing . . .

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:: Thursday, April 13, 2006 ::

Did Comedy Central squelch South Park's Muhammad episode? 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:45 AM

OK, so "Cartoon Wars Part II" of Comedy Central's "South Park" aired last night and I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what was what. The broadcast seemingly never shows Muhammad, claiming that the scene that featured him was redacted by Comedy Central, yet I've found sources that show that Muhammad was in the episode's opening credits, albeit in a manner that one would likely never notice unless they taped the show.

Here's a brief outline of the plot:

As the episode starts, it is announced that Part II will not be seen and that a Terrance and Phillip episode will be shown in its place. The Terrance and Phillip episode also features a clip of Muhammad, but that too is redacted, this time by the Canadian Broadcast Network. Meanwhile, Cartman arrives at the Fox Network headhunters, where he and Bart Simpson from "The Simpson's" agree to work together to get the "Family Guy" episode that will feature Muhammad pulled off the air (and thus fulfilling Cartmam's ulterior motive of getting "Family Guy" off the air outright).

Bart Simpson traps Kyle, who is out to stop Cartman, while Cartman lies to the network president, telling him that he was the victim of anti-cartoon violence in Denmark. Meanwhile, at the White House, President Bush holds a press conference about the impending crisis, arguing that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech; the reporters act as if they never heard of the First Amendment and demand the president stop the "Family Guy" writers.

Back in California, the Fox network president agrees to help Cartman pull the "Family Guy's" Mohammad episode off the air, only to reveal that the show's writing staff are all manatees who don't respond to terrorist threats and won't pick up the random "idea balls" that are used to write "Family Guy" jokes if anyone interferes with them. Cartman tries to persuade the manatees not to feature Muhammad but they are unresponsive, so he secretly steals one of their idea balls and tells the network president that he shouldn't take orders from the manatees anyway.

Bart Simpson has a change of heart and lets Kyle escape to stop Cartman. Cartman and Kyle fight; Kyle wins, and he is able to convince the Fox network president not to cave in to terrorism despite Cartman holding him at gunpoint. The "Family Guy" episode airs, but in the scene that is supposed to show Mohammad, one instead sees a statement saying that the scene was cut by Comedy Central.

The Muslim's all riot again over "Family Guy's" Mohammad portrayal and Al Qaeda retaliates by releasing a carton where George W. Bush, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Carson Kressley, and Jesus all defecate on each other and the American flag.

So what gives? Was "South Park's" portrayal of Muhammad redacted by Comedy Central? What about the fact that "South Park" had already featured Muhammad before the cartoon riots, albeit without any controversy? And most importantly, why is it that South Park is the only show on TV that even broaches the cartoon controversy?

Last week I said that I didn't think that "South Park's" creators could do a good job with the Muhammad carton issue and the larger threat to free speech. If the network didn't redact "South Park's" showing of Muhammad, is the joke then on us? If the network did redact the portrayal, then the issue is no longer comedy and it only underscores the jihadists ability to paralyze American institutions.

It's very hard, if not impossible to satirize a present threat to a fundamental freedom. Comedy seeks to make light of the metaphysically irrelevant by reducing its target to its proper place. Unfortunately, jihad is metaphysically relevant-relevant because the West has given the jihadists a power they ought never to have-the power to threaten our minds and our lives.

Maybe I'm wrong and the threat of West's self-imposed submission to Islam will finally be made clear by "South Park's" stand. At the same time, if "South Park" is now the vanguard of free speech, this nation is deeply hurting.

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:: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 ::

Blogroll updates 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:00 PM

Added:

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Massachusetts poised to betray freedom in medicine--thanks to the conservatives 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:28 PM

The Massachusetts proposal [update: law] for universal healthcare is a boondoggle. Rather than admit that the problems with healthcare in America are the caused by the government's interference with the personal choices of its citizens, the Massachusetts proposal mandates that every state resident and every employer purchase health insurance regardless of whether they want it or not. Yesterday, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pitched his heath care plan at the Wall Street Journal. According to Romney:

I assembled a team from business, academia and government and asked them first to find out who was uninsured, and why. What they found was surprising. Some 20% of the state's uninsured population qualified for Medicaid but had never signed up. So we built and installed an Internet portal for our hospitals and clinics: When uninsured individuals show up for treatment, we enter their data online. If they qualify for Medicaid, they're enrolled.

Another 40% of the uninsured were earning enough to buy insurance but had chosen not to do so. Why? Because it is expensive, and because they know that if they become seriously ill, they will get free or subsidized treatment at the hospital. By law, emergency care cannot be withheld. Why pay for something you can get free?

Of course, while it may be free for them, everyone else ends up paying the bill, either in higher insurance premiums or taxes. The solution we came up with was to make private health insurance much more affordable. Insurance reforms now permit policies with higher deductibles, higher copayments, coinsurance, provider networks and fewer mandated benefits like in vitro fertilization--and our insurers have committed to offer products nearly 50% less expensive. With private insurance finally affordable, I proposed that everyone must either purchase a product of their choice or demonstrate that they can pay for their own health care. It's a personal responsibility principle.
Sure, it's a personal responsibility principle of the "I mandate, you pay" variety. Romney is no dummy though and he has an answer to this point.

Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate. But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.
So why not end the free ride that government made possible in the first place and let individuals make their own healthcare choices--and live by those choices accordingly? Why not encourage people to save for their healthcare, for starters, by not taxing healthcare savings?

That option doesn't even show up on the radar. Offered instead are subsidies for the poor. According to Romney:

Another group of uninsured citizens in Massachusetts consisted of working people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford health-care insurance. Here the answer is to provide a subsidy so they can purchase a private policy. The premium is based on ability to pay: One pays a higher amount, along a sliding scale, as one's income is higher. The big question we faced, however, was where the money for the subsidy would come from. We didn't want higher taxes; but we did have about $1 billion already in the system through a long-established uninsured-care fund that partially reimburses hospitals for free care. The fund is raised through an annual assessment on insurance providers and hospitals, plus contributions from the state and federal governments.
Oh, so it's not a tax--it is an "assessment" matched with a "contribution." The taxpayer can now rest easy. Romney continues:

To determine if the $1 billion would be enough, Jonathan Gruber of MIT built an econometric model of the population, and with input from insurers, my in-house team crunched the numbers. Again, the result surprised us: We needed far less than the $1 billion for the subsidies. One reason is that this population is healthier than we had imagined. Instead of single parents, most were young single males, educated and in good health. And again, because health insurance will now be affordable and subsidized, we insist that everyone purchase health insurance from one of our private insurance companies.

And so, all Massachusetts citizens will have health insurance. It's a goal Democrats and Republicans share, and it has been achieved by a bipartisan effort, through market reforms.
Bipartisan market reforms? He's kidding, right? Mandating more government interference in the market is hardly a market reform. And since Romney notes the "bipartisan" support for his plan, it is interesting to note his citation of one of the architects of his plan:

We have received some helpful enhancements. The Heritage Foundation helped craft a mechanism, a "connector," allowing citizens to purchase health insurance with pretax dollars, even if their employer makes no contribution. The connector enables pretax payments, simplifies payroll deduction, permits prorated employer contributions for part-time employees, reduces insurer marketing costs, and makes it efficient for policies to be entirely portable. Because small businesses may use the connector, it gives them even greater bargaining power than large companies. Finally, health insurance is on a level playing field.
Rather than craft trivial measures, why isn't the conservative Heritage Foundation blasting this proposal for its fundamental faults and arguing for the free market in medicine? Why? Because the conservatives do not stand for the free market and they never have.

The free market works because it recognizes that if we are to prosper, we must take it upon ourselves to create the values we needs in life and it leaves us free to choose our path accordingly. The free market rewards us for our wise choices and does not burden us with claims for the unearned.

The Massachusetts plan does the exact opposite. It fails to address the existing cost of government interference in medicine. It disconnects individuals from the costs they incur. It fails to properly address the problem of poor people being provided free care at the expense of others. The plan's entire premise is predicated on the argument that everyone "needs" healthcare regardless of whether they work to obtain it and thus "need" is a mortgage upon the lives of the responsible and hardworking. It mandates that an entire costly and coercive system be built under the guise of "personal responsibility" and "market reform."

At root, the Massachusetts plan is nothing less that a morally bankrupt and practically inefficient attempt to socialize medicine. That such a plan is being championed by conservatives yet again reveals just how useless the conservatives are in protecting individual rights and advancing capitalism.

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:: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 ::

Who is Mark Pumphrey? 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 9:05 AM

Did you know that "[t]he problem with Rand is easily detectable by careful listeners of this production: a good essayist with a flair for the dramatic turn of phrase, she wasted her obvious writing skills in an effort to support outlandish personal opinions cloaked in the guise of logic."

Or that, "To use one of her own favored words, Rand's political and social philosophy is critically "muddled.""

Or that, "An absolutist thinker, [Rand] devotes one whole essay [in the Virtue of Selfishness] to an effort to persuade us that we really should see things as black and white, with no shades of gray."

These are the views of one Mr. Mark Pumphrey and they can be found here and here on the pages for Ayn Rand's Capitalism the Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness at Amazon.com. These aren't the reviews that you or I write--they are the reviews Amazon highlights to offer an 'objective' review of the work at hand.

So who then is Mark Pumphrey and why is he the voice that appraises the value of Ayn Rand's writings? I did some online research and I found this bio:

Mark Pumphrey is Polk County's appointed e-Champion, and was largely responsible for pulling together the original 22-member e-communities planning committee, and for holding this group together ever since. Mark has been a professional librarian for over 20 years, having worked previously at institutional libraries in his home state of Kentucky, followed by seven years as a library consultant for the South Dakota and South Carolina State Libraries. In 1992, he moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina and in 1994 became the Polk County Library Director. Mark has been a leader in our county's effort to improve Internet access since its beginnings in 2001. Polk County Library, under Mark's leadership, has won Webjunction's first Library of the Month in the U.S. and Canada for Technology Planning." The library also won the "Unstoppable Library" designation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for technology development in their staff online newsletter. An article in the American Library Association's Interface newsletter told our story of technology development through the Gates grant and e-communities effort. Mark was also selected as a speaker on Technology Planning at the American Library Association pre-conference in Toronto, sponsored by the Gates Foundation.
Another bio lists Pumphrey's interests as "[l]ibrary service to special populations: aging, adult literacy students, persons with disabilities, new English speakers and the foreign born, persons in institutions and other long-term care facilities, and the disadvantaged" and the "[e]qualization of access to library services and information."

Ah, it all becomes clearer now. Pumphrey is a government employee and non-profiteer (thanks to a little assist from none other than the Gates Foundation). How that makes him qualified to review books on philosophy or political systems is beyond me; his reviews clearly show he has a philosophic animus against Ayn Rand's ideas and his reviews do little to illustrate what actually appears in the books. After all, contrast what Pumphrey writes in his review of Capitalism the Unknown Ideal with our review at the Center. According to Pumphrey Capitalism the Unknown Ideal is barely a value to anyone:

As an interesting relic of the past, this outlandish piece of propaganda is worth the listener's time, even though the author's overconfident sense of her own rightness and persistence at pressing her points with little respect for opposing views can quickly become more than a little annoying. Using outdated words such as "altruists" to represent the forces of evil who would overburden the poor, beleaguered American business community, Rand "protesteth" far too much. Americans have seen many of the abuses come to pass that Rand, writing in 1946, claimed would never happen if free enterprise were just left to its own devices, so many of her arguments will be lost on a modern listener. For instance, the antitrust laws forced railroad barons to use illegal payoffs to forge ahead with expansion, and they shouldn't, therefore, be blamed the antitrust laws are the real problem. Narrator Anna Field's cold, crisp voice is actually well suited to such a heartless piece as this. Recommended.
If that review is a recommendation, I would like to see what Pumphrey's says about a book he dosen't like. Needless to say, we offer a different view of Rand's text.

This is Ayn Rand's presentation of the moral and philosophical case for capitalism. It includes theoretical essays defining the nature of capitalism and the moral foundation of individual rights, articles outlining the proper application of capitalism to such issues as patents and copyrights and public ownership of the airwaves, essays on the historical record of capitalism, and commentary on specific political events. (Of particular interest are two essays written in the 1960s by Alan Greenspan defending the gold standard and attacking antitrust.) The sum is a refutation of the myriad smears against capitalism and the presentation, for the first time, of a genuine intellectual foundation for the defense of capitalism.
If you didn't know Ayn Rand from Adam, which review provides the more objective statement? Which review would tell you what the book actually features?

Hands down, CAC provides the more useful review. It is short, concise, and explains what material the book actually contains, and not the reviewers socio-political views. Additionally, it is the review that will actually sell books to interested readers, rather than frighten them away.

My view: Amazon.com needs to dump Mark Pumphrey and hire CAC to review its catalogue of Ayn Rand's writings.

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:: Monday, April 10, 2006 ::

Forgiving a bad premise helps no one 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:37 AM

The juggernaut against Ed Hudgins and the "Objectivish Center" goes on unabated. This time, Diana Hsieh dynamites Ed Hudgins' recent defense of David Kelley's remarks explicitly endorsing a Muslim organization.

First, some context. Hsieh writes:

[L]et's remember what David Kelley actually said in support of this Muslim organization: "I salute Kamal Nawash for the absolute, unqualified stand he has taken, and for his courage and commitment in speaking out. I salute the Free Muslims Against Terrorism for sponsoring this rally. I urge everyone to support them and make common cause with them."

So David Kelley did not just offer some qualified praise for a Muslim organization opposed to terrorism. He endorsed that Muslim organization wholeheartedly. Moreover, David never criticized Islam in that speech -- not once. Instead, he argued for an "open system" interpretation of Islam on which the classical liberal values supposedly "transcend[ing] differences in religion and worldview" should be grafted onto Islam -- even though Islam is wholly opposed in principle to all such this-worldly values.
It is one thing to attempt to make "common cause" with others toward the attainment of a specific, concrete goal that you may hold with them in common. It is something altogether different to make "common cause" with their bankrupt ideologues. I am reminded of my collation work on the Elian Gonzales campaign, where I worked with lots of different groups toward the goal of protecting Gonzales from being returned to Cuba.

When I organized the DC protest in front of the Department of Justice here in Washington, participants had to agree to CAC's talking points and promise not to introduce extraneous material. Interestingly enough, they were happy to do this, as CAC had the best arguments in defense of Gonzales' rights. This cemented my view that at least with non-intellectuals, it often can be very easy for Objectivist to lead the way if one is willing to simply take charge and seize the initiative.

Additionally, I made absolutely sure that I didn't praise my temporary allies for their philosophies or their views on other topics. To do so would have been to sanction the very kinds of mixed-premised and wrong-headed thinking that keeps me from achieving my larger political goals. Why? Becasue there's a big difference between a contextual ally and an intellectual ally. Hsieh gets it exactly right when she notes the positives in the Free Muslims Against Terrorism group, yet nevertheless recognizes them to be poor intellectual allies.

I have no doubt that the Free Muslim Coalition is substantially better than most Muslim organizations. They are surely not "hate-filled Islamists." That doesn't make them proper intellectual allies.

Similarly, Mr. Nawash may well be an honest, even admirable man. The fact remains that the approach of his organization is still fundamentally flawed. The Free Muslim Coalition is not a secular organization promoting rational, secular values to Muslims. It is a Muslim organization attempting to convince Muslims that values wholly contrary to their faith are actually compatible therewith. It's an approach doomed to failure.
Indeed, and one would think that the founder of an Objectivist organization would understand such a crucial point, yet David Kelly is no Objectivist, and neither is Ed Hudgins. What then is Hudgins defense of Kelly's speech?

[T]his discussion raises the issue of how Objectivists view social change. Do we expect that in the future millions of Muslims will read Rand, become Objectivists, reject their religion as well as the irrational aspects of their culture and the will lead to a better world? I do want more Muslims -- and everybody else -- to read Rand and change their ideas.

But changes in ideas and culture are a complex process. The process involves introducing ideas into public debates, popular culture, university classrooms, the media, etc. Over time, if promoted well, these ideas can catch on and provide the basis for promoting more good ideas. So if more people understand Rand's notion of the sanction of the victim and thus, for example, more business folks stop accepting unearned guilt for creating the richest country on earth, that's a good basis for promotion other Objective ideas on which this understanding is based.

And this approach means that if you find Muslims who are generally promoting the right ideas but not all of the right ideas, you help them if possible and reinforce the positive.
What is positive about a group that holds the following:
The Free Muslims Coalition does not seek to change the tenets of the religion. However, the Coalition believes that the Koran only provides general principals of governance which leaves the faithful with substantial flexibility to modernize popular Muslim practices and beliefs.
In my view, there is very little that is positive about this group--mere agreement on a few isolated concretes at best.

So how then did David Kelley's speech and the Objectivist Center's watered-down reasoning help this faith-based organization? Where did Kelly note Ayn Rand's thesis that faith and force are corollaries? Where did Kelly introduce Ayn Rand's epistemology and establish the contrast between how faith and reason function? Where did Kelly say anything that even remotely approached a principled stand in favor of Objectivism?

Kelley didn't do any of these things, because that is not how he thinks. Once again, the evidence is plain that the Objectivist Center and its lieutenants are not interested in advancing Objectivism.

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Wal-Mart and permission-based banking 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:06 AM

Wal-Mart wants to provide banking services and the usual suspects are in an uproar.

A parade of objectors spanning American business, unions and charities are going before federal regulators to make the case against allowing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to expand its empire into banking.

The first-ever public hearings by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on a bank application are drawing a wave of opposition to the move by the world's largest retailer.

The company insists that consumers and retail banks have nothing to fear and is pledging to stay out of branch banking and consumer lending.

Some 300 institutions operate branches in 1,150 Wal-Mart stores and the company says it doesn't want to compete with them.

Opponents are not convinced. They portray Wal-Mart's proposed in-house bank — which would handle the 140 million credit, debit card and electronic check payments the company handles each year — as leading eventually to full-scale banking with retail branches that would destroy local banks.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart already is too big, they say, with 3,900 stores nearly saturating the U.S. market and unrivaled dominance — accounting for 10 percent of the U.S. retail economy, according to some researchers.

"Wal-Mart is a company that does not play by the rules," Robert E. McGarrah Jr., a corporate governance official with the AFL-CIO, said in a statement prepared for Monday's hearing.

"That factor alone makes its proposed bank a threat to the taxpayers and the nation's banking system. ... Wal-Mart's record in communities across America reveals a company that ruthlessly wipes out important community businesses," McGarrah said.

In an unusual alignment, the banking industry, unions and consumer groups have come together to make the case that a Wal-Mart bank would unfairly concentrate power over retail and small-business lending in one company that is already the biggest business in many small towns and rural communities. [Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer]
Yet again, the anti-business mentality threatens to squelch the rights of the productive. Just how does Wal-Mart “ruthlessly wip[e] out important community businesses?” By finding efficiencies and providing its customers with better values. The only question in my mind is how has Wal-Mart been able to avoid antitrust.

After all, in his famous 1945 antitrust ruling against aluminum giant ALCOA, Judge Learned Hand wrote that he could “think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organization, having the advantage of experience, trade connections and the elite of personnel."

How could one better describe Wal-Mart’s proposed entry into banking? I predict not to far in the future, Wal-Mart will become ext Microsoft, and in this context, that will not be a good thing.

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:: Friday, April 07, 2006 ::

The Objectivist Center's (latest) jihad against Ayn Rand 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 2:12 PM

If we take it at its word, David Kelly's Objectivist Center seeks to communicate Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism to the world. If that is the Objectivist Center's mission, why then does the writings of its lieutenants have appallingly little to do with Objectivism, either directly, or indirectly?

Take as an example Edward Hudgins recent article "The Jihad Against Free Speech." In his article, Hudgins attempts to examine the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. In the process, he evades the fundamentals of the issue, fails to identify any Objectivist principle that might help clarify the matter, calls upon a wrong-headed argument to justify free speech, and generally presents a watered down series of asides as the Objectivist Center's answer to one of the most pressing challenges of our time. If one were unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, one would have to think that Rand was a mush-mouthed idiot if Hudgins' essay is to be taken as evidence of the caliber of her adherents.

My proof? Take the first paragraph of Hudgins' article:

The West once again has been forced to confront the clash of cultures. Muslims worldwide rage and riot over Danish newspaper cartoons that, in their eyes, commit the double sin of depicting Mohammad and satirizing him disrespectfully. Many Muslims consider any illustration of their prophet to be an insult to their religion. Of course, other religions often find their ideas and icons satirized or criticized. Yet rarely do they respond with death threats, riots, arson, and murder.
So Hudgins' defines the scope of the conflict as being between the West and its religions that do not respond to criticism with threats, riots, arson, and murder and the East with its religions that do. Right out the gate, Hudgins' undercuts the virtue of secularism and the West's respect for individual rights and reason.

It isn't until his fourth paragraph that Hudgins indicates the actual theme of his article.

There are three principles implicitly involved in the current cartoon controversy: free expression, tolerance, and sensitivity. While related, these principles are not identical. Free speech concerns politics, while tolerance and sensitivity concern social relationships and moral evaluations of our fellows. The distinctions and relationships between these concepts must be understood if we in the West, to say nothing of those in the Islamic world, are to get a clear picture of what is behind the cartoon controversy.
Ah, a clear picture. Let's see what Hudgins gives us to that end.

The first point he tackles is "tolerance." Hudgins writes, "many Westerners also think that the principle of "tolerance" requires that we take care not to offend the religious sensitivities of others, as a matter of respect."

No, that's multiculturalism. "Tolerance" means putting up with something that you clearly do not agree with because some larger issue checks your thinking, like respect for individual rights. If people think "tolerance" means "respect," for another's ideas good or bad, it's because the multiculturalists led them to it. Yet does Hudgins explore this point? No. Hudgins instead goes on to tackle free expression.

The human mind is the vital tool that allows us to discover how to survive, achieve values, and flourish. But thinking does not occur automatically, or collectively; we must each choose to focus and employ our own minds. Others ultimately cannot think for us. As individuals, we must exercise our independent judgment concerning how best to meet our needs and direct our lives.
I wonder who came up with that formulation and so will Hudgins' readers, since he never references Ayn Rand as the source for any of his ideas. Don't get me wrong though; this is a good thing, given what Hudgins is about to say next.

[One way ] we could deal with one another [is] by means of physical force and compulsion. The physically or politically strong would oppress others. Free thought, appeals to reason, and free expression would be dangerous to those with power, and thus would be restricted or stamped out.

But such practices would limit all the creative fruits of human intelligence--and the entire legacy of human achievement. A society based on force and compulsion cannot remain modern and productive. Where minds are not free to discuss, share, and actualize ideas, society at best can progress in fits and starts, and usually stagnate.
Heaven help the unproductive society.

Why does Hudgins' base his ultimate justification for free speech on the benefits such freedom brings to society? The mind is a selfish possession; the freedom it requires is just as selfish a value. Objectivism explicitly holds that the individual's life is the standard by which all values are judged, but here Hudgins omits that observation and instead jumps right to "society's needs" as his base value.

Is the omission of the individual and the enshrinement of society important? You bet it is. Which argument offers the essential terms of the debate? Which argument will sway the man on the street that an Objectivist seeks to reach: the one that shows him that freedom is society's collective right, or the one that shows him that freedom is his personal right? Worse, there is an explicit reason Hudgins' slips in the utilitarian argument for freedom over the Objectivist argument, and that reason is none other than John Stuart Mill. After describing the murderous history of religion in Europe, Hudgins brings Mill to the rescue, this time to discuss the "social role of tolerance."

The English thinker John Stuart Mill understood how the free exchange of ideas in a society serves our interests. If we are mistaken in our beliefs, then in open discussion with others we will have a chance to see the error of our ways and come to the truth. If we are right in our beliefs, then we will gain a better understanding of the truth as we confront the errors of others.
John Stuart Mill's "understanding" came from his belief that free speech is justified by its value to society, not by its value to individuals. That's why Ayn Rand--the philosopher the Objectivist Center claims to represent--specifically faulted Mill for his arguments in defense of free speech. Writing in her essay "Thought Control" in the Ayn Rand Letter, Rand observed,

Society, [Mill] argued, has the power to enslave or destroy its exceptional men, but it should permit them to be free, because it benefits from their efforts. Among the many defaults of the conservatives in the past hundred years, the most shameful one, perhaps, is the fact that they accepted John Stuart Mill as a defender of capitalism.
Rand evidences the negative fallout from Mill's ideas by examining a 1957 US Supreme Court obscenity ruling. In its decision in Roth v. U.S., the Supreme Court created the "average man" standard for defining the boundary between protected and unprotected speech. By the Court's reasoning, speech loses its protection if the "average person, applying contemporary community standards [decides that] the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest." Such a standard is utterly unworkable and useless in defending the right to free speech and Rand was explicit in attacking it. Writing in her essay "Censorship: Local and Express," Rand observed.

The intellectual standard which is here set up to rule an individual's mind--to prescribe what an individual may write, publish, read or see--is the judgment of an average person applying community standards. Why? No reason is given--which means that the will of the collective is here taken for granted as the source, justification and criterion of value judgments.
So despite the clear conflict between Objectivism and utilitarianism, Hudgins' nevertheless calls upon Mill's arguments to justify free speech over Rand's.

Hudgins' position reveals yet again how utterly dishonest the Objectivist Center is in claiming that it is a champion for Objectivism. Ignoring Objectivism while embracing utilitarianism is an appalling stand for any alleged Objectivist to take, let alone a man in a leadership position of an ostensibly Objectivist organization. Yet Hudgins is far from finished. Defending the right to misbegotten speech, he writes:

While a civilized order defends the principle of free speech and tolerance, this is not to say that all opinions are of equal value or validity. But because reason is a faculty of individuals, such judgments must be made by each of us as individuals. The value of an expression of opinion--especially an unpopular one--is rarely apparent in advance. Value is also personal: what is useless or offensive to many of us may contain a vital piece of information or usefulness for someone else. These determinations cannot be made before the fact or even after the fact by collectives, or by governments.
At root, the right to free speech rests upon the fact that rational men will not suffer those who seek to squelch their ideas though force, and as a corollary, all speech that does not explicitly violate rights (such as fraud, slander or libel) is protected. Free speech is an objective value for all men.

So what does Hudgins then mean by focusing on the claim that "value is also personal?" That's not the same as saying a value is selfish or objective. A "personal" or "optional" value denotes a non-essential preference that differs among people; for example, I like vanilla ice cream and you may like chocolate. These optional values, i.e. non-essential choices, have nothing to do with the Islamic threat to free speech (unless Hudgins thinks freedom to choose things as banal as our favorite ice cream is also under threat from Islam).

The more realistic appraisal in judging Hudgins' aside is that he is simply afraid to say that all legitimate values are objective, rational and selfish. He tips his hand in the next few paragraphs, where he reveals just how large he thinks the domain of "personal values" is. He writes:

In recent years the Catholic Church has been the subject to harsh attacks for covering up for pedophile priests. Often, rather than kicking them out of the church and turning them over to law enforcement, church officials simply transferred them to other parishes where they continued to commit crimes against children. In the wake of the scandal, some Catholic apologists were offended by harsh, even obscene depictions of their religion. But they should have been more offended--as many Catholics in fact were--by the obscene cover-ups by their own church officials, to say nothing of the behavior of the priests themselves. Catholics should have focused on cleaning up their own house, and fortunately, many did.
How exactly did these Catholics clean up their own house, and how many years too late were they about it? Did they immediately quit the church and condemn the moral code treats a repressed sex drive as holy? Did they condemn the moral code that says we should turn our other cheeks to the priestly pedophiles and thus allowed the scandal to be hidden for over a generation? Did they bankrupt the pope who could barely keep his head up while his priests raped children? Why is Hudgins holding up the massive philosophic defects of the Catholic church as proof of "personal values" while raping Ayn Rand's philosophy in the process?

Yet Hudgins is still not done. Now lecturing on "sensitivity," he writes:

Related but not identical to tolerance is the practice of sensitivity. Sensitivity means taking account of the possible emotional reactions that others might have to the expressions of one's ideas in whatever medium--writing, the spoken word, art, even cartoons.

But should a thoughtful individual take account of the possible emotional reactions of individuals as a principal determinate of how he ought to act toward or speak to them?
No, not in the context of defending one's right to free speech. But here Hudgins seems to imply the answer is "maybe." After acknowledging that Christians and Muslims who seek to impose their creed on others by force are immoral and should be opposed, he backtracks:

In social or private settings, I still might act with some sensitivity when in the presence of a particular Muslim whom I know to be an individual of generally good moral character, who favors a more enlightened Islamic culture, and who shows respect for those who have different religious beliefs. I have no desire to gratuitously insult such a person. But to extend that sensitivity to all Muslims, including the ones who reject the fundamental principles of a free society--to fail to defend the core political and moral principles of a free society for fear of giving offense to religiously motivated opponents of freedom--is to treat faith-based feelings as equivalent, even superior, to a reasoned belief. In fact, it would require the sacrifice of reasoned belief to irrationalism.
So at dinner parties or on the golf course, Hudgins explains to the world how to don the veil of sensitivity when confronted with acquaintances who hold irrational views. Well thank goodness for that, because clearly the epidemic of obnoxious and inappropriately condemnatory dinner guests and golf buddies has been begging to be addressed for far too long.

We, of course, have the present threat to our freedom of speech to contend with. Hudgins now shifts his focus to the question of people who act on vicious ideas and threaten freedom.

In a free society, we can't prosecute individuals merely for holding or advocating noxious ideas. However, a country's policies towards immigration and citizenship, including voting rights, should be informed by the need to protect the values of freedom. And those who act on treasonous viewpoints, actively conspiring to giving material "aid and comfort" to our nation's international enemies, should of course face legal prosecution and, where applicable, deportation.
This is true, but it is unsophisticated analysis and it evidences little understanding of Objectivism. Yet again, Hudgins frames the debate in terms of "society's" rights, but the only legitimate frame is the principle of individual rights. Speech is only dangerous to individuals when it equals an act of force, such as fraud, the attempt to communicate a clear and present violation of people's lives (such as a conspiracy to commit theft or murder), or treason and revolution against a free government. It is our selfish right to our lives that allow us to defend against such attacks under the law.

It is important to recognize that the Islamists are not just attacking our "society," which many in the West may not give a care for one way or another; the Islamists are attacking you, me and our neighbor's individual right to form our own judgments and share these judgments with others. Yes, this time, it's personal, yet Hudgins repeatedly disconnects the debate from the individual and rests his conclusions upon nebulous terms like "society." That is weak--and it is the province of those who are ashamed of selfishness.

After all, if Hudgins was interested in advocating selfishness as a virtue, he would be far more focused on showing that the debate over the nature of Islam is of crucial importance to rational men--the very men the Islamists seek to silence. Hudgins would be focused on showing how the Islamists are exploiting every corrupt philosophic gimmick they can find to justify the West's self-censorship, and how the West's own philosophic failings are allowing them to do it. His article would read like a rallying cry instead of a watered-down slosh of asides, afterthoughts and appeals to conventional ideas.

I have read that the Objectivist Center sent copies of the magazine Hudgins' article appeared in to all the members of Congress and their staffs. This is a problem, because if Hudgins' philosophic mish-mash is being equated with the considered opinion of real Objectivists, our work in changing the terms of the debate in our culture has become that much harder.

I seriously hope that all the recent defections and changes-of-heart among the Objectivist Center's staff and supporters will once and for all propel this organization completely into the fringes where it belongs. The Objectivist Center is of zero service in the advance of Objectivism and it deserves to be identified and treated as such.

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