Fats Waller

Friday, October 30, 2009

I don't recall exactly where I got the idea to post on my favorite jazz musician, but it has already paid off twice beyond the enjoyment that Fats Waller's music always brings me.

Speaking of which, I'll start this post by embedding a couple of videos of his performances of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "This Joint is Jumpin'" from the movie, Stormy Weather, which I'd never heard of until I found the videos. That movie's already in the Netflix cue, though:

[The movie] is considered a time capsule showcasing some of the top African-American performers of the time, during an era when black actors and singers rarely appeared in lead roles in mainstream Hollywood productions, particularly of the musical genre.
In addition to its rarity and its all-star lineup, the film also seems to capture the general benevolence of American culture of the time and with it, that of Fats Waller himself.

Lena Horne shooting down a guy with the phrase, "thank you" is a very amusing touch in the above video.

I'm looking forward to seeing the whole movie.

In addition to learning about a Hollywood classic, I also learned/was reminded about remastering. The audio of the below YouTube video of "All that Meat and No Potatoes" comes from a collection of remastered hits. My next trip to Amazon for music will include some remastered Fats Waller.

I'll close with a vignette from Waller's life that I recall from about a decade ago when I read Ain't Misbehavin': The Story of Fats Waller, by Ed Kirkeby:
As it happened, they got there on time, but even Fats' eyes goggled when he saw, standing awaiting them in the studio, a large Scotsman clad in kilt and sporran, and with a set of bagpipes under his arm. Mr. Watson welcomed the three musicians, then rather hesitantly said, "This gentleman wishes to make some jazz records with you on the bagpipes. The records will be for his private use only -- they will not be released." The three stunned musicians nodded.

After some discussion as to the tunes to be played, the session finally got under way. To the amazement of Fats and Bubber Miley the piper played jazz, and knew what it was all about. Hot bagpipes was not exactly what they expected, but the music began to sound better the longer they progressed. Zutty laid down a solid beat, and with Bubber's growling horn and Fats' pretty figures on the piano, the jive was really jumping. On playback, they were astounded at the good jazz that had been played, and so finally they cut a few more. Later that evening in Harlem, Fats and company found themselves telling their story to unbelieving ears, and it was a long time before they could get anybody to take the story seriously, there being no proof. The records and the piper disappeared, and were never heard of again by either Fats, Bubba, or Zutty -- but the last-named still sticks to the story that this was a session that really happened. The records, if they still exist, probably remain the proud possession of some Scottish collector, who, if he chances to read this, might do jazz a service by making them available for issue. [minor edits]
Waller died young from pneumonia: Louis Armstrong cried for hours upon hearing the news. Fortunately, his benevolent spirit lives on in a highly creative and enjoyable body of work.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 479

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Social Networking Bleg

Apparently, my last post both impressed and disappointed. On the one hand, I got backlinks (that I know about) from Rob and Trey. On the other, I was asked by commenters why I didn't make it easier to alert readers to the post with Twitter, FaceBook, or NetworkedBlogs. Blog template editing time is nigh. If you see your favorite social network missing, let me know.

Thanks in advance.

Precautionary Principle and Pascal's Wager

Via HBL I learned of a ridiculous video whose creator regards it as an unassailable argument in favor of global warming legislation. Binswanger called it an application of Pascal's Wager to environmentalism and notes its more common name: the precautionary principle, which Wikipedia describes as:

... a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. [links omitted]
I find several things interesting about the precautionary principle. First, it basically means that one has to have (or beg for) approval of anything he wants to do from government officials. Second, as it is being used by global warming alarmists, it is clear what the pecking order is between "the public or the environment" whenever there is a conflict. (Just see how little attention the clown in this video pays to the depression he admits these taxes and laws would bring, and note that he makes zero mention of political freedom at all.) Third, this principle is basically a way for people who take Pascal's Wager to force the rest of us to do the same by smuggling in arbitrary criteria of harm to excuse government action in situations where it is not warranted.

Objectivist Roundup

Head on over to 3 Ring Binder!

"GoodThing in Life" Carnival and Chat

Inspired in part by a recent post of mine on cooking as a hobby, Martin Lindeskog is attempting to bring back something along the lines of the old Carnival of the Recipes, but not limited to cooking. He's targeting Thanksgiving weekend as a start date.

Like a Kazoo at a Funeral

The glomming-on-with-cum-backstabbing-of Ayn Rand by Libertarians continues as Reason TV (of all hosts) plans to "celebrate" the enduring legacy of Ayn Rand by interviewing two of her most famous detractors, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.

Maybe it was something she said...

Actually, it wasn't that, but her insistence that the fight for freedom begins with intellectual rigor that earned exposed their enmity.

-- CAV

Free Market Rhetoric, Indeed!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

During college, I had an elderly professor from Hungary who, it was rumored, still had fragments of a bullet in his back because he had the temerity to vote against Communist rule with his feet. That bullet came to mind yesterday when I ran across a pair of news stories about people avoiding confiscatory tax rates in America and what governments are starting to do about it.

First, New York is hemorrhaging productive citizens:

More than 1.5 million state residents left for other parts of the United States from 2000 to 2008, according to the report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy. It was the biggest out-of-state migration in the country.

The vast majority of the migrants, 1.1 million, were former residents of New York City -- meaning one out of seven city taxpayers moved out.

"The Empire State is being drained of an invaluable resource -- people," the report said.
Except for the story's emphasis on how much loot these people are taking with them, I agree with that last line. Were I a New Yorker, I'd be concerned that there were fewer opportunities to trade with those who left. Forget my taxes or the replacement of those who left with the less productive and parasites: These new people would mostly not be a problem but for the fact that the welfare state turns many of them into problems by chaining them to anyone who hasn't left yet.

Fortunately, New York can't prevent people from fleeing, but if you haven't left yet, your state might take a cue from Chicago and do what it can along these lines:
Chicago and Cook County residents aren't the only ones about to get shocking tax news; the city is debuting a "tax whistle-blower" plan that could turn neighbor against neighbor in Chicago's business community. [minor format edits]
The bullets haven't started flying yet, but on a national level, the gun is already cocked. Recall that there is already an emigration charge for people who renounce their American citizenship for tax purposes and that both parties collaborated on the law, which Bush signed. Interestingly, the bill includes a measure to confer benefits to soldiers, giving it a pro-American veneer that will mollify the unobservant.

That bone tossed towards the patriotic and the fact that a Republican President signed the exit tax into law remind me of something else: Glenn Reynolds points to a Libertarian's blog posting on a Robert Samuelson piece about the physician slavery debate in Congress. Specifically, Samuelson notes that Democrats are now using terms associated with the free market to re-brand socialized medicine.

Samuelson calls that "genius," and the Libertarians seem pretty impressed with that observation, but this is nothing new or rare at all. As another example look no further than the Chicago story above, where a tax official quoted about the new tax snitch program refers to the bounties as an "incentive."

More to the point, I've been on this scent for a very long time.

Has anyone ever heard of "cap-and-trade?" That government fuel rationing scheme sounds enough like capitalism for Arnold Schwarzenegger (who once fled socialism himself) to back it and tout it as a "free market" solution to global warming. Or "privatization" of infrastructure that merely replaces a socialist arrangement with a fascist one?

Republicans have been branding statism as capitalism for a very long time. There's no "genius" in the Democrats applying new labels to their various schemes. That's just monkey see, monkey do -- and by a monkey very slow on the uptake at that.

If you want to call a deception that will make America less free if people fall for it "genius," you will have to dig a little deeper. Anyone can see the veneer peeling from the wetted, dripping particle board in the above examples. Think of a freshly-varnished chair made of fine, but rotting wood and you'll get the idea of what "genius" is really like.

For "genius" of this kind, consider a group that makes lots of hay out of the similarity between our two big government political parties and the fact that their policies will lead to tyranny. Consider further that in the process of doing so, this group is constantly plagiarizing the conclusions of a brilliant political philosopher, even to the point of glomming on to the popularity of one of her most famous works -- while at the same time smearing its author as "intolerant" and "dogmatic" as a means of belittling the principles she used to reach the conclusions they're plagiarizing. Such a group will pose as an "alternative" to the main two parties, while selling the exact same product not just in a different bottle, but with different flavoring. That group is the Libertarian Party.

To start to comprehend this deception, one must ask: "What is the essential thing wrong with tyranny?" To appreciate the answer, "It violates individual rights," one must know what rights are, which means knowing what man is and why rights are important. (This is just where one has to begin.) One must also understand the nature of physical force and the moral difference between initiating it against another man and using it in retaliation in self-defense. Only after one has done this can he see why this question is important, consider how best to protect himself from others who will seek to harm him through physical force, and consider whether and how to delegate his retaliatory force to others in order to form a proper government.

The Libertarians pretend that no such careful thought is necessary, and that one can simply destroy all government to achieve freedom. They take the moral principle that Ayn Rand discovered that man should not initiate force against others out of context and misapply it to politics in order to pass off anarchism as capitalism. (The ones who do not actually advocate anarchy help those who do by pretending that this is a minor quibble.) To them, government as such is a bad thing. This is not true.

A hint of the rot comes when one tests the chair: Since Libertarians reject thinking in terms of principles, they frequently react to the fair question of how an individual will be protected from the initiation of force under anarchy any better than under a dictatorship with smears like that the one noted above and with insults. As Nick Provenzo once put it so well, "Want to enrage a Libertarian? It's easy. Just have standards." (Obviously, this is no refutation of Libertarianism, but it should cause one to wonder what exactly is going on.)

Caveat emptor. Just because someone can correctly point out the deficiencies in the products currently on the market does not mean that what he is selling is any good. Just because someone says that freedom is cheap doesn't mean it is. The struggle for freedom is difficult and will be lost without careful, principled thought on the part of pro-freedom intellectuals about fundamental issues, of which non-initiation of force is neither fundamental enough to serve as a starting point nor even meaningful outside such a context.

If a slave market is not capitalism, neither is anarchy freedom. Capitalism does not exist when rights are violated and rights are not protected without a proper government. And I don't care how good that might sound: Do not take my word for it. Do not take Ayn Rand's word for it, either. She can make your thinking easier, but obviously, she can't do it for you. Your agreement will mean nothing unless you understand what all of that means for yourself.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 478

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm more outraged than they are!

The following news story, out of Norway, is impressive (in a very bad way) on several levels:

It's the moment nosy Norwegian neighbors have been waiting for -- the release of official records showing the annual income and overall wealth of nearly every taxpayer in the Scandinavian country.

In a move that would be unthinkable elsewhere, tax authorities in Norway have issued the "skatteliste," or "tax list," for 2008 to the media under a law designed to uphold the country's tradition of transparency.
As outrageous as this Obamaesque variety of "transparency" is, I find the ethical code that makes it possible doubly so. Note the focus on the fact that children of the poor might be taunted at playgrounds, which is bad enough, to be sure. Worse still is the lack of empathy for the successful, for whom the nosy will indulge envy -- exemplified by this "journalist's" serving-up of details on a few notable individuals.

The crowning jewel of the outrage -- as well as my greatest gasp of astonishment -- came, however, from an "opponent" of this law:
"What each Norwegian earns and what you have in wealth is a private matter between the taxpayer and the government," said Jon Stordrange, director of the Norwegian Taxpayer's Association. [bold added]
No. It's nobody's business but his own.

The moment you grant that the government has any business knowing your exact income is the moment you give moral permission for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to paw through your wallet.

Nude at Home

An article at Pajamas Media on a man apparently arrested for being nude in his own kitchen raises some very interesting issues, but the most important is that our privacy at home may no longer be protected by the law as well as it ought to be.

Unfortunately, neither the facts of the case nor Catalano's exact views on indeceny laws are clear to me from the article. I will say that indecent exposure should be illegal, countless "hippies of the right" to the contrary notwithstanding:
Only one aspect of sex is a legitimate field for legislation: the protection of minors and of unconsenting adults. Apart from criminal actions (such as rape), this aspect includes the need to protect people from being confronted with sights they regard as loathsome. (A corollary of the freedom to see and hear, is the freedom not to look or listen.) Legal restraints on certain types of public displays, such as posters or window displays, are proper—but this is an issue of procedure, of etiquette, not of morality . . . "Thought Control," in The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 2, 2.)
If any normal person walking just barely in this guy's yard -- inches from his sidewalk, say -- could see him without making any special effort to do so, it was right that for him to be arrested, or perhaps warned. If not, not.

The moral to this story could be as prosaic as, "If you live near heavy pedestrian traffic, don't forget that people can see through your windows when it's dark out."

The Stages of Man's Life

Sure, we've all seen illustrations of the stages of life like this one, but my Mom recently emailed me the humorous take at right.

Midas Mulligan Shrugs

Memo to Barack Obama: Being a CEO is more than about saying, "You're fired." Gaining and keeping good people is even more important:
The administration had tasked Kenneth Feinberg, the Treasury Department's special master on compensation, to evaluate the pay packages of 25 of the most highly compensated executives at each of seven firms receiving exceptionally large amounts of taxpayer assistance.

But Thursday, he ruled only on slightly more than three quarters of the pay packages that were to be under his purview. The balance reflected executives who have left since he began his work in June or will be gone by the end of the year. [bold added]
Aside from this properly belonging in the "get this off my chest" file, it can also be cross-referenced under, "The fact that you have to say it means it probably won't be understood." Nearly a year after he was "hired," Barack Obama has, in a sense, never actually shown up for work. (But he does know how to look busy!)

And to think this man means to run our entire economy! I blame a poorly-trained and uninformed hiring committee. Fortunately, there is a way to start addressing the problem.

-- CAV

Upstate New York Again

Monday, October 26, 2009

Six months ago, I wrote of a special election in New York's Twentieth Congressional District:

If [Jim] Tedisco is any indication, the GOP has learned exactly the wrong lesson from its resounding defeat in November, and has begun me-tooing the Democrats. This is why Tedisco is not exactly trouncing his Democratic opponent. What does he offer to voters genuinely opposed to Obama? More of the same, at least to the ones who are paying attention. And what about voters who are impatient with Obama for not having already nationalized everything? Tedisco is a good protest vote because, if he wins, he'll probably squeak by, he won't have anything of substance to say against Obama, it's just one vote, anyway, and other GOP candidates fundamentally opposed to big business will be emboldened.
That was then. What about now?

Again, there's an election coming for a conservative district in upstate New York, the Twenty-Third this time. The Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, is atypical for her party, although at least equally offensive at first glance to theocrats as to advocates of individual rights. (As a "social liberal," she supports protecting a woman's right to have an abortion and gay marriage, but she may be inconsistent with this in her economic views: She appears to be in bed with the labor unions.) And, of course, the Obama Administration is stinking up the joint with its blatant statism so badly that one might think that such an election would be a cakewalk for any non-Democrat.

But this time, the Republican leadership does not appear to have all boarded the Me-Too Train. (Predictably, that didn't work too well for them last time.) Several prominent party members are campaigning against Scozzafava by supporting Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. So there's finally substantive debate going on in the Republican Party, right? Maybe, maybe not.

The most prominent Republicans to back Hoffman are Dick Armey and Sarah Palin. The latter correctly notes that, "Political parties must stand for something." But what is that something, and is Palin standing for it, or something else? Let's take a look.

Palin continues. "When Republicans were in the wilderness in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan knew that the doctrine of 'blurring the lines' between parties was not an appropriate way to win elections." So far, so good, but recall that Ronald Reagan did some blurring of his own -- between economic freedom and religion, which is not the intellectual basis of freedom and which has proven no better than leftism when implemented as public policy by the Republicans.

One might be inclined to give Armey, best-known as a fiscal conservative, and Palin, a relative newcomer to the national scene, passes here. Not having thought deeply myself about whether religion and individual rights were compatible at the time, I, too was taken in by Reagan back then. Or maybe Armey and Palin aren't even really thinking about religion at all. To answer that question, we have to consider exactly what the kind of backing they are giving to the Conservative.

In many districts, simply endorsing Hoffman would have decent odds of splitting the vote against Bill Owens and handing the seat over to the Democrats, which is about the extent of what an advocate of individual rights ought to do, if he does not want to endorse the Democrat, assuming Scozzafava's views on economic issues are really that far to the left. I say this because the Conservative Party of New York is not really a "small government" party: It is a religious party, as Ayn Rand has noted on several occasions. At most, one could actively campaign, but properly, only for the Democrat. (The district is so heavily Republican that Armey and Palin might easily cause Hoffman to win.)

Unfortunately, Palin, who has strong grass-roots support and is an excellent fund-raiser, has stated that Hoffman "stands for the principles that all Republicans should share," and Armey plans to campaign for him in New York.

It would be, as Rand indicated ages ago, a major mistake to go along with this:
Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies. (For a discussion of the reasons, see "The Anatomy of Compromise" in my book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) ("What Can One Do?" in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 202)
I never though I'd see the day that I'd agree with Mary Matalin, but that day has arrived: "[L]osing seats to articulate, conservative Democrats has proved to be the best defensive line holding back Obama's expansive ambitions." Conversely, me-tooing socialists (a la Gingrich) or bringing false friends of freedom to power (a la Palin) will not succeed, and runs the risk of prematurely ending a long-overdue debate within the Republican Party and preempting one from ever starting within the Democratic Party.

It is interesting that Gingrich warns renegade conservatives that, "if you seek to be a perfect minority, you'll remain a minority," while others advise "small government" types to avoid "picking a fight" within the GOP for similar reasons. Those are fool's prescriptions, as the eventual abolition of slavery -- due in large part to the efforts of principled Americans who refused to join or form a party -- shows.

Furthermore, we see that neither Gingrich nor Palin has learned to appeal for the votes of individualists by standing up for individual rights. Appearances to the contrary, there is not yet a full-fledged coming-to-grips among either faction of the Republican leadership with the grievances of the so-called tea-partiers.

If you value your freedom, never put yourself in the back pocket of a politician. He'll forget about you soon enough and sit on you. Learn how to defend freedom in an argument. Win the minds of your countrymen. In the meantime, play the politicians off against each other to buy time until there are enough advocates of individual rights that even the politicians understand that if they do not move America substantially back towards greater freedom, their name is mud.

-- CAV

Gus Van Horn Turns Five!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It is hard to believe that I started this blog five years ago!

I've lots to do today, but I would like to take a moment to thank my family and pre-blogging friends; my regular readers, past and present; and the professional contacts, renewed acquaintances, and new friends I've made over the years since starting this blog.

My exploration of writing (from doggerel all the way to professional work now!), the intellectual and spiritual development, and whatever else I may accomplish through this blog or because of it would not be possible without your encouragement, support, and feedback -- positive or negative.

Thank you very much for your support! I really appreciate it.

-- CAV

A Free Press

Friday, October 23, 2009

Today's post will deviate somewhat from my recent practice of making the Friday post about things I enjoy, in part due to an early dental appointment.

Reader Dismuke emails me a link to the following clip and notes:

It is pretty amazing when even other Leftists start to grasp the thuggish nature of the Obama Administration. All of the other television networks stood up against Obama's attempt to kick Fox out of the White House press pool. And that David Zurawick fellow interviewed in this clip - he used to work as the television critic of the old Dallas Times Herald during the 1980s and was and is a hardline Leftist. So when Obama has this man being critical, that is pretty bad. Of course, what all of them have in common is they, on some level, grasp that what is being attacked is the very basis of their livelihood and that efforts by Obama to do a Hugo Chavez on a major media outlet could end up biting them in a very big way[.]
That comes as both a relief and a pleasant surprise after I saw the Obama Administration singling out Fox News as somehow not really being a news organization a couple of times the other day -- and when not paying particularly close attention to the television set either time at that.

It's nice to see evidence that even among some on the left there is some appreciation of the danger posed by the Obama Administration and some resistance to same, although the very fact that there even is an "Executive Pay Czar" has, "You're next," written all over it. That said, just imagine what it would be like if the press were once again predominantly pro-individualist and pro-freedom.

Perhaps this wasn't such a big departure from my new Friday theme after all: I do enjoy good news. I also appreciate tips from readers, especially when I'm in a hurry. And, if the process I'm starting today goes well, I'll enjoy finally having an old, very troublesome injury repaired for good.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 477

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Word for the Day: Repeal

I realize, of course, that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will never attempt to repeal his state's onerous environmental regulations. He favors them even as he tacitly admits that they harm the economy, and the rest of his party is too ashamed of or opposed to self-interest to be of much help, but stories like this offer the opportunity to reintroduce a word to the public debate:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he's going to sign an environmental exemption bill that will clear the way for construction of the LA Stadium.

State senators approved the bill, which would nullify a lawsuit over the project's environmental impact report by citizens in neighboring Walnut. Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the bill in support of the stadium because its impact on the local economy and its ability to generate jobs.[link dropped]
Think of all the other economic development that could occur in California without the initial barrier of having to fund studies that would form the basis for lawsuits to prevent whatever it is one wants to do.

And yet, this did not cause the Governator to question whether the law ought to be on the books at all! Perhaps if enough people start calling for the repeal of regulations such as this, a few astute up and coming politicians will hear the word...

Try Getting out of the Way, Barry.

(To be filed in the "getting it off my chest" folder...)

If it's true in ultimate frisbee, I'm sure it's true in basketball: A big part of learning the game is mastering the art of getting out of the way of your teammates.

It's also true in politics, something even Arnold Schwarzenegger -- but not Barack Obama -- seems to have figured out.
Standing at the site of a highway project funded by his economic stimulus plan, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he is committed to exploring all avenues to create jobs.
When the government stops a thief, it is getting that thief out of my way as I attempt to go about my daily business. When the government commits theft by taxation or inflation, it gets in my way (and violates my rights). Indeed, the government is in the business of keeping people out of each other's way. Unfortunately, every dime spent by Barack Obama to "create jobs" comes from the pocket of someone who might have wanted to do just that or caused that to happen simply by using the money as he wished.

Barack Obama has just pledged to do anything except his job in response to the government-created economic crisis.

Our Preexisting Condition

I recall that Ted Kennedy was a big proponent of making insurance companies pretend that customers with preexisting medical conditions weren't riskier customers, and one of the alleged benefits of physician slavery is that everyone will have "access" to medical care.

It's interesting to see that as the debate over physician slavery develops, not only does the "access" myth fall by the wayside, but so does the egalitarianism that suckered so many people in the first place:
President Obama and members of Congress have declared that they are trying to create a system in which no one can be denied coverage or charged higher premiums based on their health status. The health insurance lobby has said it shares that goal. [This is a very bad concession on their part. --ed] However, so-called wellness incentives could introduce a colossal loophole. In effect, they would permit insurers and employers to make coverage less affordable for people exhibiting risk factors for problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Well. I guess the government can't magically provide the same level of care for everyone for "free," after all. As with any other rationing scheme, people are going to discover themselves being shorted. Wishing away preexisting conditions (or forcing people to act as if they are doing so) -- or the fact that patients with these conditions often cost more than others -- will not make them go away. In fact, here we see people with conditions that simply correlate with preexisting conditions being penalized! (That insurers may choose to do this is immaterial: The point here is that, once again, the government is being caught failing to deliver something it promised.)

And don't forget that proponents of socialized medicine constantly natter that opponents who note that things like this happen all the time in other countries that have enslaved their physicians are lying or being alarmist.

I don't want an entity this dishonest or inept in charge of my medical care.

Objectivist Roundup

Head on over to Rule of Reason for this week's installment.


I found this article about a researcher interested in deducing personality traits from an individual's possessions quite interesting.
"What are the processes by which personality gets translated into physical elements in your space?" [Professor Sam] Gosling asked. That key question can spawn others: How do you define personality, anyway? Can you really separate personality from the person?
One's values and philosophical ideas, explicit and implicit, affect what one does, and part of that "what" would include such things as orderliness and choice of decor. That sounds straightforward enough, but the devil is in the details -- like that bong his group found in the otherwise orderly dorm room of one subject.

-- CAV

The Oath Fakers

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pat Buchanan writes a sympathetic column about a rather disturbing phenomenon emergent in what he calls "the age of Obama."

In the brief age of Obama, we have had "truthers," "birthers," tea party activists and town-hall dissenters.

Comes now, the "Oath Keepers." And who might they be?

Writes Alan Maimon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are "either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia."

Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey. [minor format edits]
Except for the truthers, the groups Buchanan lists here are all examples of rebellion , some more blind than others, to Barack Obama's nakedly collectivist, anti-American agenda of expansion of the role of the federal government into every area of our lives. (Buchanan is wrong to speak of an "Age of Obama:" The inappropriate use and explosive growth of government was going on thanks to both parties long before Obama showed up to cash in on it.)

I sympathize with the last three groups, but emphatically disagree with the way the birthers and the so-called oath keepers are trying to save America from dictatorship. Only the tea partiers are acting in a manner appropriate to the situation we face, although many of them are low on intellectual ammunition.

The birthers, who believe that there is a massive conspiracy to cover up the "fact" that Barack Obama is not actually an American citizen are clearly the blindest of the lot. At best, they're fishing around for a bombshell revelation that will serve as a real-life deus ex machina to deliver our country from this (particular) menace. In the meantime, they waste their effort deluding themselves to the effect that such a huge conspiracy is even possible, as well as time they could spend learning what they can do to slow or stop him (and other dangerous politicians) now.

But at least the birthers, universally dismissed as nuts and impotently spinning their own wheels, aren't really hurting the cause of liberty. The oath takers are another matter entirely. These people are preparing to take action, and their timing indicates that they do not really know what they are doing.

First, consider what they plan to do: They -- members of the executive branch of the government -- plan to disobey orders based on their own interpretation of the law and the Constitution. That is, they are planning to usurp the function of the judiciary branch on a case-by-case basis as they work, and to bypass the legislative branch as well as the electorate, rather than to persuade lawmakers and other voters of the proper course of action for their country. (Part of this work consists of learning for oneself the principles behind proper government.) And, oh yeah, they're setting a very, very dangerous precedent in doing so: They are weakening one of the few good things left in this country: rule of law.

It is not immoral for someone to disobey an order -- in a dictatorship or during an open rebellion against a tyrannical regime. But, as horrendous as Obama is, we do not live under a dictatorship. We still have freedom of speech, and many of our rights are protected enough that we can act to turn the tide of public opinion back towards the direction of increasing government protection of individual rights.

The so-called oath keepers clearly fail to understand this because they are acting as if this is not an option -- as if we are already in a dictatorship. In addition to their failure to appreciate the importance of rule of law, they -- unlike the Founding Fathers -- clearly fail to understand the value of rational persuasion and this is due to a failure to grasp the role of rational principles in guiding man's actions.

To see this, let's do a thought experiment. Sergeant Arnold, a born-again Christian who thinks gambling is sinful and an "oath-keeper," is a member of his state's national guard. Suppose further that his state has passed a law banning gambling, which had just been legalized in the United States. The bill was very controversial, and because the governor knows that a large number of casino owners are planning to defy this law, he has called up the National Guard to keep them closed. Conveniently for the governor, some religious fanatics have threatened to bomb any casinos that remain open, so the governor claims to be "protecting" them from terrorism.

The President federalizes the guard and orders them instead to stand watch over any casino that wishes to remain open. Hoping to provoke a test case, James McGillicuddy, a casino owner, weighs his risks and does just this. Someone calls a bomb threat in to him as soon as he gets wind of it. Unfortunately for him, his business is being guarded by Arnold's unit, which has been briefed about the threat and given instructions on how to head it off.

That night, Arnold, a sniper, relieves watch in a building behind the casino. Just as he was briefed might happen, a bearded man in camouflage carries something out of the woods behind the business. Because he thinks that states' rights (a part of the Constitution) override federal power (another part) in this circumstance, though, Sergeant Arnold has decided he will not guard the casino. He's entertaining himself with an iPhone instead.

So he never sees the man, never calls on anyone to stop him and see what he's doing, and never has him in his sights. Instead, he has decided that not guarding the casino is the best way to protect America from Barack Obama and "secular humanists" like McGillicuddy. Since he happened to be the only person who could have seen the bomber, the casino bursts into flames while he's surfing the Internet on his iPhone. McGillicuddy and twelve of his employees die in the blast. All he had wanted to do was make a living, and to have his day in court.

If that scenario seems contrived, replace the casino with an abortion clinic, and recall the use of the Arkansas National Guard during Little Rock's desegregation crisis. Consider further the fourth item on the list of orders the "oath keepers" will not obey. We are a lot closer to personal harm than we might care to imagine with self-appointed constitutional "experts" like this in charge of enforcing the law.

At least the tea partiers understand that America remains free enough that moral and political debate can preserve the freedom we have left and bring the government back around to its proper purpose of protecting individual rights. Many of them are wrong about particulars, but they at least appreciate the proper approach to political change in a nation founded on the principle -- apparently forgotten by the "oath-keepers" -- of consent of the governed, and in a nation of laws, and not men. The tea partiers offer their views for the consideration of others, and, from what I have heard, many are actively seeking the intellectual ammunition they need to better understand what went wrong with America and what they need to know to appeal to the best within their countrymen before the next election.

Someone who does not understand an oath can only mouth its words: He cannot be trusted to uphold such an "oath." These are not oath keepers, or even oath takers. They are oath fakers.

You cannot protect the Constitution in any meaningful way by subverting individual rights, consent of the governed, rule of law, or any other principle which must be generally accepted in order for it to be anything but words on paper. Mutiny on the part of the armed forces or law enforcement is not the way to protect the Constitution, but -- at best -- a concession that it is no longer in force.

To anyone who has mistakenly joined this movement, I ask that you reconsider: It might help to imagine someone patriotic that you completely disagree with on one issue as an "oath taker" -- and that person being in charge of protecting someone you care about, where that issue plays a role.

-- CAV


: Corrected some typos.

Quick Roundup 476

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Profit vs. Objectivity?

I saw the Barack Obama Administration admit, at least twice yesterday, that it knows it is losing the war of ideas: Two separate clips on the news showed officials denouncing conservative news or commentary outlets as "biased" at least in part because they operate for the sake of earning a profit.

This is very revealing when one considers the further context of the Obama Administration's views on what constitutes "noise" and on the propriety of the government co-opting the news media by controlling its purse strings.

To a decent first approximation, presenting facts and presenting arguments contrary to the agenda of the Obama Administration is the path to profit in the segment of the intellectual marketplace dealing with news and commentary. (The business practices of many leftists outlets are making this approximation look much better than it is.)

Does the Obama Administration rethink its basic premises, try making better arguments, or even welcome the demise of its more inept house organs? No. It shouts louder, talks about "bailing out" the newspapers, and damns success in an economy that desperately needs more of that just about now. To top it off, it insults any voter who seeks out news or opinion from a source that doesn't toe the party line.

Come to think of it, this isn't just a declaration of intellectual bankruptcy. It's a declaration of war against individual conscience, capitalism, and what Obama calls "democracy" -- in short, the United States of America.

Go Green!

It was very disappointing to see one of my favorite blogs on personal productivity mired in intellectual clutter squalor last week. I agree with Martin Lindeskog that global warming was a poor choice for a "blog action day" theme and with Brian Phillips that there are far better ways to "go green."

Exploit the earth or die.

So much for my own belated contribution to "blog action day."

Objectivist Roundup

I'll be back home tomorrow and getting back into my normal blogging routine. In the meantime, I'll make a late plug for the latest Objectivist Roundup over at Titanic Deck Chairs.

The Other Code Talkers

After the movie Windtalkers, many people are familiar with the role of Navajo code talkers in the Pacific Theater of World War II. But did you know that Choctaws and members of other Indian tribes served a similar role during World War I?

I didn't until recently.

[T]he Choctaw code talkers, [Chief Gregory] Pyle said, ... "died with secrets that were never really revealed" in their lifetime so Indian code talkers could be used in future wars, such as World War II.
The Choctaws were among the code talkers in that war as well. At the link is a short, interesting account of how the idea arose and was first implemented.

-- CAV

Cooking as a Hobby

Friday, October 16, 2009

Admin Note: From some time this evening until as late as Wednesday morning, I may occasionally lack Internet access. Blogging, comment moderation, and email correspondence may be slow or sporadic.


Some time ago, my wife and I realized that we had fallen into something of a rut. Both of us being busy, we had fallen into the habit of eating out frequently, or throwing together something like Hamburger Helper or Zatarain's at home. She didn't really cook at all and, although I'd come up with a few really good recipes over the years, I had a somewhat limited repertoire, about half of which she didn't like.

We were spending too much money on food, not enjoying it as much as we could, and not really saving time anyway. Along with the decluttering opportunity afforded by our recent relocation came the added incentive of saving money by eating at home more often. Boston is generally more expensive than Houston, dining out included. We decided that we would start normally having dinner at home, and without Hamburger's "help."

The task of making our own home an attractive dining option fell mainly to me, as I noted a few weeks ago. Happily, what I had initially dreaded as a huge amount of extra work has become instead a very satisfying activity that I enjoy even more than my few flirtations with cooking during grad school. What's interesting to me is looking back at how it came about that, as we now joke, my wife has a "live-in gourmet chef."

Having a time-consuming profession as I do, and liking to write (which is also time-consuming), my initial focus was on finding things my wife and I both liked that did not take too long to make. For example, my wife likes a meat-and potatoes dish called shepherd's pie. Although we are both foodies, we are slightly different kinds of foodies. I like hot spices and seafood more than she does, and she likes things that I regard as bland. Shepherd's pie, for example, is a favorite of hers, but it is not something I would bother to make, left to my own devices.

Initially, I regarded shepherd's pie as something my wife would like and I would just tolerate, so I searched the Internet for recipes to test. I found and tried two of these, and noticed that the more complex recipe was far tastier, and yet, after I simplified a few steps (and did things in parallel when I could), it took only ten more minutes to make. In the process of this early, somewhat trial-and-error effort, I noticed that I was approaching the problem in the wrong way: I was, as a favorite author of mine might have put it, too concerned with avoiding punishment (read: losing time) and not concerned enough about pursuing rewards.

So early on, my mindset changed, and things really started taking off after that. True, I had a limited repertoire, but I had experimented very successfully in the kitchen before. I had developed an intuitive "feel" for what would make a good dish and what would not. I had used the Internet and the techniques of "distributied cognition" for many other purposes, and now I could use them for this.

The fact that I could leverage my earlier knowledge made me able to search efficiently for good recipes, and the fact that I had a system in place to keep track of things I found meant that whatever time I did spend on this research would not be lost. (For example, there's a Moroccan lamb stew with my name on it that I once randomly found sitting in a file folder on my desktop.) I was also becoming more familiar with where my tastes and my wife's intersected, which made me more open to her suggestions than I had been at first.

It has been interesting to look back at how the pursuit of values and mental integration work synergistically. Six months later, I now have a couple dozen new, good recipes in my bag of tricks, and it takes no time to find something new to try, and tweak it so I'm not in the kitchen all day. Usually, even the mistakes are fine for dinner, and most of the time, I'll know what to change or my wife will make a good suggestion.

With that, I present the latest addition to the menu Chez Van Horn: Chicken Tikka Masala. Making this was my wife's idea. We went out for Indian one weekend, and my wife ordered it. "Try to make this some time," she suggested at one point during the meal. Indian cuisine was uncharted territory for me, but one day, I felt adventurous. After a quick web search and some editing for clarity, I made a stop at the grocer and tried Grace Parisi's recipe from Food and Wine.

Here it is below: Aside from my usual practice of breaking things down into ridiculously simple steps, my changes were to: come up with my own garam masala, use light cream, and add green peas to the sauce. I use an old coffee grinder I almost tossed out to grind the almonds and the spices. Both of us really enjoyed it the second time I made this, this past Wednesday.


-- CAV

PS: One last thing just popped into my mind from a conversation I had with a friend up here recently who also enjoys cooking: For someone whose work involves lots of projects that take ages to complete, the sense of accomplishment that comes from starting and finishing something (and doing it well) over a short period of time is a very pleasant side-benefit to this hobby.


Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Grace Parisi)

Preparation Time is overnight for the marinade plus 10 minutes prep on Day 1 and about an hour of cooking on Day 2.

Ingredients (List: ctm)

Masala Marinade

plain yogurt, 1 cup
minced garlic, 2 tsp
ginger paste, 1/4 tsp
cumin, 1 1/2 tsp
coriander, 1 1/2 tsp
cardamom, 1/4 tsp
cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp
turmeric, 1/4 tsp
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Garam Masala -- This can be varied. Grind freshly when possible.

cloves, 5
cinnamon, 1 tsp
cardamom, 1/8 tsp
mace, 1/4 tsp
nutmeg, 1/2 tsp
black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp


chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, and trimmed of fat, 2 lb.
large onion
minced garlic, 2 tsp
ginger paste, 1/4 tsp
black pepper
olive oil, 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp
blanched almonds, 1/4 cup
chili powder, 1 1/2 tsp
cayenne pepper, 1/3 tsp
diced tomatoes, 35 oz can
rice, 1 cup
sugar, pinch
cream, light, 1 cup
green peas, frozen, 3/4 cup


Day 1

1. Prepare the masala marinade by combining those ingredients and mixing them in the marinade bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2. Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken.

3. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat and refrigerate sealed overnight.

Day 2

4. Adjust broiler rack to 6-8 inches from the top of the oven and turn the broiler to high.

5. Chop the onion and set aside in a bowl with the garlic and ginger paste.

6. Remove the chicken from the marinade, scraping off as much of the marinade as possible. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on a baking sheet.

7. In parallel with the next step, broil the chicken, turning once or twice, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes.

8. Toast the almonds.
  • Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small skillet.
  • Add almonds, and cook over moderate heat while stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 5 minutes).
  • Transfer the almonds to a plate and allow them to cool.
9. Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board and cut it into 2 inch pieces. Set aside.

10. In a large, nonreactive pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil until shimmering.

11. In parallel with the next two steps, cook the onion, garlic, and ginger paste in the pot over moderate heat until tender (about 8 minutes).

12. In a food processor or coffee grinder, pulse the almonds until finely ground. Set aside.

13. Prepare the garam masala by combining its component spices in a food processor or coffee grinder and pulse until all ingredients are finely ground.

14. Add the chile powder, cayenne, and garam masala to the pot and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

15. Add the tomatoes (with juice) and the sugar to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.

16. In parallel with the next step, cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened (about 20 minutes).

17. About ten minutes after starting the previous step, bring 2 cups water and a dash of oil to a boil, add 1 cup rice. Cook on low heat for 25-30 minutes.

18. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

19. Stir in chicken and peas. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

20. Serve over rice.


1. Variations: The marinade and sauce here are also delicious with shrimp, lamb and vegetables.
2. Also recommended: Use basmati rice or rice pilaf. Serve with warm nan.

Arbitrary "Excitement"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen celebrates the blogosphere for its teaching potential, although he is only half-right. Yes, there is lots of information out there, and one can profit from studying a given issue from multiple perspectives, but one can do that effectively only with a solid philosophical foundation, as I recently noted was the case with history. The blogosphere does not provide that variable of the equation: Only the reader can, and acquiring that foundation takes more work than firing up a browser and pointing it somewhere. I see the blogosphere as less of a school and more of a hash between a museum and a circus side show.

And only if the reader has rational standards will he know which section he is strolling through at any given moment. Like anyone else, I occasionally decide to entertain myself by slumming through the dodgier sections.

One site I visit, People of Wal-Mart, should illustrate my point about rational standards. As its authors put it:

We are trying to have some fun here and there is a difference between someone who is mentally challenged and a person who has a fu Manchu and is still rocking MC Hammer pants.
In other words, the fun at that site is to be had only at the expense of people who could develop rational standards, but choose not to: not the unfortunate. And, as the fashion catastrophes featured there demonstrate simply by choosing to appear in public in outlandish garb, there are plenty of things that most people would regard as "common sense" that actually do have to be learned.

When I want more cerebral entertainment of the same kind than the visual fare offered by People of Wal-Mart, I will sometimes make a bee line for Beliefnet, where, instead of merely leaving fashion choices up to arbitrary whim, some people put on display the fact that they run practically their entire lives on arbitrary whim.

Deepak Chopra provides us with a particularly amusing example today, one which reminded me of an old Greg Perkins post about Dinesh D'Souza at Noodle Food. In that post, he discusses the notion of the "God of the Gaps" in relation to kinds of "insights" displayed by Deepak Chopra, whom I sight regularly at that Wal-Mart checkout line of the intellect that is Beliefnet:
[T]hese sorts of arbitrarily asserted "explanations" pulled out of thin air should be simply dismissed out of hand -- a principle long recognized in logic and law. When someone brings a baseless charge before a court, it is to be dismissed as beneath consideration (and could even earn penalties for wasting the court's time). Likewise, when someone brings a baseless idea before a rational mind, it should be simply dismissed as beneath consideration. And D'Souza consistently relies on the logical fallacy of the "argument from ignorance," taking peoples' lack of knowledge around this and that as evidence in support of "the God hypothesis." That is exactly the error that dishonest magicians rely on to convince gullible people that they are psychics and mediums and instruments of God. Not knowing how the guy did it is not itself evidence that he is actually a psychic or some sort of divine instrument -- just as our ignorance of why the laws of nature seem so exquisitely fine-tuned is not evidence that "God did it." In all such cases, our ignorance only constitutes evidence that we don't yet understand something.
Chopra revels in exactly this kind of nonsense in his most recent post, titled, "What we don't know is thrilling." I'll give it to Chopra: That's an engaging title, and if I didn't know who came up with it, I might expect it to bespeak excitement at the prospect of new discoveries in science. Indeed, one line even bears a superficial resmblance to a particularly acute observation about evolution I have read before. Quoth Chopra: "Evolution has reached the point where there's no more physical development left for us."

The passage that reminds me of is from Ayn Rand:
[A] certain hypothesis has haunted me for years; I want to stress that it is only a hypothesis. There is an enormous breach of continuity between man and all the other living species. The difference lies in the nature of man's consciousness, in its distinctive characteristic: his conceptual faculty. It is as if, after aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies. But the development of a man's consciousness is volitional: no matter what the innate degree of his intelligence, he must develop it, he must learn how to use it, he must become a human being by choice. What if he does not choose to? Then he becomes a transitional phenomenon -- a desperate creature that struggles frantically against his own nature, longing for the effortless "safety" of an animal's consciousness, which he cannot recapture, and rebelling against a human consciousness, which he is afraid to achieve. ("The Missing Link, Part II," The Ayn Rand Letter, vol. II, no. 17, pp. 203-204)
Chopra's last paragraph provides both an amusing foil and a negative exemplar to this passage, coming as it does after a woozy paean to neuroscience:
Inside the brain there are no sounds or sights. When you hear music, your brain remains completely silent. When you gaze at a sunset, your brain remains totally dark. The study of cells and tissues, like the study of fossils, offers clues about the mystery of consciousness, yet a great divide has yet to be crossed. We need a Darwin of consciousness, a seminal mind who grasps the mind itself. Only then will Ardi and Lucy make sense. Because right now they don't. The creationists are defending a rear-guard position that will never be true. At the same time, so are the materialists they oppose. Consciousness is the creative force we have yet to unravel. It creates sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Which means that the real thrills are yet to come, when we look inward to discover the most mind-bending thing of all: Consciousness is the basic building block of life and the prime mover of the universe.
Translation: We don't yet understand how consciousness is related to the physical structure of the brain, and neither of two major camps can get us there because one denies the scientific evidence that man has evolved and the other denies introspective evidence that man is conscious. Thus the universe is governed by the caprice of consciousness, rather than consciousness being subject to the laws of existence that govern the rest of the universe. QED. Executive summary: I am still free to make things up for a while!

That's not the only half-confession, half-con-job we have here, or even the most amusing. That actually came right after Chopra notes that physical evolution seems superfluous to man:
Escaping the rule of survival of the fittest -- that no longer applies to a species that takes care of its weak and sick -- human beings entered the era of survival of the wisest. Survival of the wisest means using our consciousness in the highest way possible, for peace, shared resources, the eradication of disease, and increased happiness.
Never mind what man is or what consciousness entails. That would harsh Chopra's mellow. Nevertheless, man is an individual existing in this world, and having a whole host of specific things he must do on his own behalf to survive, all of which he must learn. Whether to take care of others is actually a side issue, but Chopra plainly sees it as a moral ideal and just as plainly hopes nobody will ask, "How does one take care of others?" That question alone demonstrates that man is not free of the constraints of the universe and shows that the "ideal" of altruism is actually fair game for the same kind of rational inquiry Chopra pays lip service to, but actually sidesteps in his last paragraph.

And the punchline here is this: "What has Deepak Chopra done for me today?" Ayn Rand once noted that every call for sacrifice implies a collector of sacrifices. Consider that, and her above observation about "desperate creature[s] that [struggle] frantically against [their] own nature, longing for the effortless 'safety' of an animal's consciousness," and you will see that you have a soul on display that puts the most ludicrous get-up you will ever see at Wal-Mart to shame. And that soul wants you to feel obligated to insulate it from the reality it won't deal with.

When you're done laughing, though, don't forget that you are also in a museum. Laugh, learn, and live.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 475

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No (Proper) Purpose to Outlive

A long news article describes one way the Republicans are exploiting the ACORN scandal:

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act was intended to end redlining, a practice in which banks in effect walled off many inner-city neighborhoods from mortgage loans. But some GOP lawmakers say it has outlived its purpose and is being used inappropriately by ACORN to shake down banks for money. They want to repeal the law, scale it back or at least block a Democratic proposal to expand it. [links dropped, bold added]
This one short paragraph accidentally speaks volumes about the root of the ACORN scandal: The inability or refusal of the Republicans to take a principled stand against state interference in the economy.

The "purpose" of the CRA can be put simply: To violate the property rights of lenders when they do not make loans to the same people government officials want them to. To concede that violating freedom ever has one shred of legitimacy is to lose whatever legitimacy one might have had as an advocate of economic freedom.

Or, to put it another way: Where were these calls to repeal the CRA before the unsurprising ACORN scandal broke? What difference does it make that the recipients of government-extorted money and favors are prostitutes rather than the poor? The bankers have already been robbed, depositors shorted of returns, and some borrowers shut out of loans they could have actually afforded. None -- unless you subscribe (or pay lip service) to a moral code that calls for you to police the sexual behavior of others one moment, and steal to provide for the poor the next.

The CRA did from the moment it was passed what ACORN merely glommed on to, and for the Republicans not do make a moral stand against the CRA regardless of ACORN's antics puts them, morally, in the same category of one family of gangsters unhappy that you're being robbed only because another gang is doing it.

Empty Mental Calories

I rarely eat donuts, but when I do, there is no substitute for Krispy Kreme, and I enjoyed the chain's temporary ubiquitousness while it lasted. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this article at Yahoo! Finance that purported to explain what went wrong with the chain.

Don't even bother. It told me only what I already knew: That the chain overreached and that McDonald's is doing pretty well. And yet, it's 740 words long. Reading this article was a little bit like ordering a Double Quarter Pounder at a McDonald's only to find a single, day-old donut in my bag after driving off. I wasn't expecting a gourmet meal, but I thought I'd get something a little more substantial...

Krauthammer on Decline

Dismuke tipped me off to a very long, but rather good piece by Charles Krauthammer about how the Obama Administration is sacrificing our nation on the world altar in to pass out loot at home. I particularly liked the following formulation, which he forms in analogy to a Clinton-era shibboleth: the retreat dividend.

The strongest point of the article is that it mentions that American decline, far from inevitable, is a consequence of political choices we are making. Its weakest point is related: the article fails to note that the conservatives share the blame, and that both sides are informed by altruism, the morality of human sacrifice.

America's national interests are, properly, aligned with the selfish interests of each of her citizens, but we will not see our government furthering either any time soon until more of us unashamedly and proudly stand up for our moral right to exist for our own sakes, rather than simply to serve others.


Here's an excerpt of an excerpt from Thrutch:
[Peter] Bernholz analyzes the 12 largest episodes of hyperinflations - all of which were caused by financing huge public budget deficits through money creation. His conclusion: the tipping point for hyperinflation occurs when the government's deficit exceed 40% of its expenditures.

"According to the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) projections ... the US will run deficits equal to 43.3% and 39.9% of expenditures in 2009 and 2010, respectively. To put it simply, roughly 40% of what our government is spending has to be borrowed.
If there is a silver lining, at least statism seems poised to get the blame this time around, given who's running the show in Washington, if there is a financial catastrophe.

-- CAV

History Worth Repeating

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There is a quotation I've often heard used to encourage the study of history: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Until this morning, I'd never bothered to learn the origin of this saying, but the following exchange from the second half of Bevan Sabo's Free Market Mojo interview with Yaron Brook made me curious about the saying for reasons that will soon become obvious.

FMM: Recently, we've seen -- particularly at town hall meetings -- an outpouring of anger and concern over rapid government growth. Do you believe this rhetoric is capable of bringing about a change in the course of our nation?

Brook: In the short run, yes. In the short run, these outpourings could slow today's anti-freedom trend. But even if you were to kick Obama, Barney Frank, and every other leftist out of office, that would do nothing in the long run to change things. Recall that the size and scope of government grew under Bush, even when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate.

That said, we are working to channel these outpourings into more education and more intellectual activism for a positive ideal, not just anger at the current government. Just as the original Boston Tea party started as in effect an emotional response to British tyranny, it became an intellectual movement committed to the ideal of individual rights. That, in essence, is what has to happen today. People need to grasp what a truly free society would look like, and they need to understand at a deep level why such a society is good. [minor format edits, bold added]
When I read the part in bold, the quote about being doomed to repeat the past seemed quite ridiculous to me. Clearly, not everything man has done in the past has been a mistake.

The full original quote is more along the lines of what I thought "should have" been said, although I must note my strong disagreement with other sentiments of George Santayana's, a thinker unfamiliar to me.
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Santayana -- and many others who toss out the shorthand version of this sentiment -- are right that progress depends on retentiveness, and Santayana is right that direction is needed. But how do we get this direction? How do we know which elements of the past to avoid and which to repeat (or, more precisely, to emulate)? And how do we know how to replicate and build upon the achievements of the past? These are questions best answered by principles, as Brook indicates. Another discipline, philosophy, is necessary to discover these, as Ayn Rand so ably demonstrated in her work.

The shortness of popular quotations often serves a purpose similar (but not identical) to that of concepts: unit-economy. (I would argue that this would be the proper purpose of a quotation.) Where words stand for concepts, quotations can stand for more complex integrations, but for a quotation to do so, speaker and audience need far more shared mental context than for all but the most abstract concepts to understand each other.

However, in today's intellectual milieu, where the approach of pragmatism -- the wholesale rejection of principles -- is dominant, I wonder whether the Santayana quote normally fulfills its proper purpose. Look who got elected on the premise of "change" and yet how similar he is to his predecessors! And think about what Brook says must happen before we can put the brakes on the current trend towards statism and make America fully free again.

Consider Brook's observation to the effect that there is a "tendency" even among those who want freedom to scoff at the need for people to think deeply about America's cultural crisis. And consider further the fact that freedom is both vital to human survival and quite an abstract concept. To keep what freedom we have, and to gain more of it, we have to communicate with others about freedom, but we will be completely ineffective unless we all are talking about the same thing. To wit: There are people who will speak of "freedom" from want -- while ignoring the fact that such "freedom" comes at the expense of the actual freedom of those whose wealth is stolen to pay for it.

History is important, but to learn from history, we need proper philosophical principles, as we see from this interview.

-- CAV

Quick Roundup 474

Monday, October 12, 2009

With "opposition" like this ...

Not long ago, I found an ex-Catholic chastising the officialdom of his former religion for not, "proudly stating the Catholic tradition on universal health care and then demanding that abortion be excluded from public option benefits."

As it turns out, his trigger finger was just a little bit itchy. From George Stephanopoulos:

In a letter just released, the three Catholic bishops leading the Church’s efforts on health care warned Congress that “we will have no choice but to oppose the bill” unless current bills are amended.
Here's the whole letter.

Bush Deserved It

Yes, my current experiment with focusing on things I enjoy on Friday caused me to miss news of Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. But what did I miss? A chance to state the obvious? I can do that just as easily now: The Arafat-inflated moral currency of Norway was just good enough to point out yet another similarity between Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. (Fiat currency has proved similarly suitable as a wallpaper in the past.)

Not so obvious is this: The Nobel, however, weaker and fading faster than the Dollar, was not quite good enough to state what really needed to be stated: That if the Nobel committee were completely forthright and consistent, it would have also awarded the so-called Peace Prize to George W. Bush -- separately, or together with Barack Obama.

On the one hand, Saturday Night Live's gag to the effect that Obama won this award simply for "not being George W. Bush" has a grain of truth to it: Obama is not Bush, at least in the sense that he does not even pay lip service to the individualist political and moral ideals of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On the other hand, Bush did much more to further the causes of serfdom and sacrifice -- which are clearly what this committee is in the business of promoting -- than Obama could have ever done, and he did this by sugar-coating his poison in pro-American platitudes. The fact that Bush set the table for Obama puts either the sincerity or the competence of this committee to the lie.

In the vein of never underestimating an adversary, I'll go with the former. Besides, they're still calling it a "Peace" Prize, aren't they?

Liberty! The American Revolution

I have just finished slowly working through the DVD's of the above-mentioned series. Here's a description from the PBS website:
Liberty! is a six-part series of one-hour documentaries for PBS. It describes how the American Revolution evolved and how a new nation was born in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, using actors, Revolutionary era scholars, and eyewitness accounts of the time. [minor edits]
This started off slow, but the details from a wide variety of accounts from both sides, the generally patriotic tone, and good narrative flow made this series worthwhile.

Especially memorable, because it kept popping up, was the fact that Americans generally lacked the feudal deference that Europeans expected. This came out in the diary of a captured British soldier as he expressed his surprise at the rag-tag group that had succeeded in capturing him. He said he felt like he was seeing "a new race of men."

All in all, this was very enjoyable and unexpectedly good.

Objectivist Roundup

If you missed it over the weekend, head over to Trey Givens.

Rationally Selfish Radio

Like Craig Biddle, Trey Givens has good things to say about Diana Hsieh's new radio show:
I have to give Diana props for her shows. They're always so clear and concise. And she does a very, very good job of avoiding those awful uh, ums, and ahs when she's speaking. They're not just full of great discussion, but they're really well-produced!
Being swamped over the past couple of months and not driving regularly anymore -- in my Houston days, I did most of my radio in the car -- I haven't gotten around to listening yet. However, I am not at all surprised to hear that it is going well. (This introvert is especially intrigued by episode 3.)

I'm glad it's available on mp3 so I can catch up when I get a breather. I'm looking forward to it!

-- CAV

Point. Click. Score!

Friday, October 09, 2009

One of my favorite things about Boston is that it is a great place for a walk, and a big part of what makes it so is the scenery. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that you can just point your camera in some random direction and get a great shot.

For example, I had to go earlier in the week from our place in Back Bay to Downtown for an errand. It was a gorgeous morning and, for a change, I remembered to take my camera along.

These are all the shots I took on the way but one, and that was just a close-up of the last shot. Other than the fact I had to crop two of these, they turned out really well. Enjoy!

I'd wanted a shot like the one below, of flowers along an alley, for some time, but as I walked towards them, the view in an adjacent alley caught my eye. It's the shot to the left above. Its combination of lighting and subject matter make it my favorite of this bunch.

Above and to the right, you can see one of my favorite kinds of view from our neighborhood: brownstones against high rises.

We move now to a few shots from Southwest Corridor Park.

The shot above is intended just to give a feel for what the park is like. It's a linear park between older neighborhoods filled with brownstones, and occupies land that had originally been cleared for Interstate 95. Local opposition killed that project, meaning that 95 would bypass Boston instead. A rapid transit line was re-routed beneath the cleared land and the park created on its surface.

Here and below are a couple of the many flower beds that the park features. It may seem hard to believe, but these are the only shots I have taken of them.

I look forward to seeing these beds blooming in the spring. Impossible to convey through the photos is how pleasant it was in the park on that sunny, autumn morning, with birds flitting about and chirping.

Above, we have one more shot (left) from Southwest Corridor Park, this one showing another of my favorite aspects of our neighborhood: the frequent juxtaposition of plants and interesting, old buildings. Given the combined effects of the numerous botanical features in the old neighborhood and its urban setting, you can see why my wife thinks of our neighborhood as an "island of civility." (And, since she reminds me of a hobbit, I nicknamed it "The Shire" long ago. We both often call it that now.)

The last three shots are from downtown.

I end on a humorous note. That sign in the center of the left of the last shot (above right) caused me to do a double-take!

-- CAV