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Archive | January, 2011

Audio Lecture: The Morality of Exchange in the Ancient World

On Friday, January 12, 2011, Dr. John Lewis — at the invitation of Professor Michael Munger and the support of the Thomas W. Smith Foundation — gave a lecture for the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University: “The Morality of Exchange in the Ancient World.”

You can listen to this lecture online here: http://michaelmunger.com/Lewis1-21-11.mp3

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Ayn Rand’s 1938 Novella Anthem Adapted as a Play

 From Austin360:

Opening tonight at the Long Center, “Anthem” is the first adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1938 novella of the same name. Produced by Austin Shakespeare, the premiere is piquing the interest of Rand scholars around the country — and an important one here in Austin.

[...]

The theatrical version of Rand’s dark tale is by Jeff Britting, manager of the Ayn Rand Archive in Los Angeles. Britting was the associate producer on the 1997 Academy Award-nominated documentary “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life,” composing a score for the film. For his 60-minute stage adaptation, Britting has composed a score as well. The Austin Shakespeare production also employs video elements to augment the story of a man struggling to rediscover a forbidden word: “ego.”

[...]

“I think a common misunderstanding is that Rand is all about politics, or she’s all about ethics, especially a virtue of selfishness. But (her work) is much more than just a political position. (Rand’s) is really a systematic view addressing all the major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, the idea of value and the political.” ["Rand expert at UT discusses a new play"]

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Wither Tea Party?

Thomas Bowden discusses the pros and cons of the tea party movement:

The tea party’s aim to restore America’s founding ideals are commendable, but it still harbors the same moral impetus that’s justified bigger government since the Progressive Era. To deliver on its promise to restore lost freedoms, the tea party must anchor its work in Ayn Rand’s understanding that all schemes that sacrifice the individual to society are morally wrong. ["The tea party will fail -- unless it fully embraces individualism as a moral ideal"]

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Tax Reparations…for the Rich?

Forbes.com has just published the latest column by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, which looks at the role class warfare rhetoric is playing in the debate over taxing the rich.

Americans, historically, have not been envious of wealth. The predominant attitude has been: let a person make as much money as he can, provided he earns it. The reason class warfare rhetoric has been effective of late is because the practitioners of class warfare have largely succeeded in painting the rich as unproductive parasites.

[...] if we’re talking about the creation of wealth in a division of labor economy, the most productive Americans don’t benefit the most: They contribute the most. Thirty years ago, if you were a shop owner, you spent a large chunk of your time poring over inventory, keeping your books, clinking away at your calculator, double checking your numbers, and going through enough correction fluid to whitewash a fence. But thanks in large measure to software pioneers like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, most of those tasks now take a fraction of the time, can be performed far more accurately and have become so simple that you can probably delegate them to an entry-level clerk. You gave Bill Gates a few hundred bucks; he gave you a better life.

Super-wealthy Americans — men like Gates, Warren Buffett and Fred Smith — are predominantly thinkers and innovators who succeeded by contributing new ideas to the productive process. Not just new inventions, but new methods of organization, marketing, worker motivation and production, distribution and finance. That’s to say nothing of the fact that wealthy people are the primary contributors of capital to the economy — the factories, tools and technology that make the average American worker hundreds of times more productive than his Third World counterpart.

This is what John Galt, the fictional character in Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel, Atlas Shrugged, called the “pyramid of intellectual ability” :

In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the “competition” between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of “exploitation” for which you have damned the strong. [Atlas Shrugged]

You can read the entire op-ed here.

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Part 2 of Lisa VanDamme’s Response to “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

Lisa VanDamme takes the Wall Street Journal Article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” to task methodologically, exposing that it is premised on a false dichotomy. Is our choice only to be high-handed or hands-off? Domineering or deadbeat? Abusive or permissive? Or is there another alternative?

Click here for the first video: Lisa VanDamme Slams WSJ Article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, Part 1

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Lisa VanDamme Slams WSJ Article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

Lisa runs the VanDamme Academy, a private school that provides a quality private education for elementary and middle school students, with a Montessori environment for 5 to 7- year – olds. This is the first of several videos in which Lisa VanDamme shares her thoughts about the Wall Street Journal Article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”In this video, Miss VanDamme implores listeners to consider the question on which the whole issue depends: By what standard do we say a child is “successful”?

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WOW! You can read some of her CapMag articles here. You can visit Lisa’s video blog here.

UPDATE: See Part 2 here where Lisa answers the critics of Part 1.

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What Happened To All That Oil That Spilled in the Gulf?

From “Gulf oil spill was abated by bacteria that feed on hydrocarbons, report says” (Washington Post):

No, but the vast majority of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill is already gone, according to a final government report released last month. That report, along with several experts contacted by the Lantern, provides a detailed picture of the oil spill and its aftermath.

Trying to remove all oil from the gulf would be a Sisyphean task. Every year, oil tankers, drilling platforms and boats spill more than 310,000 gallons of oil into the gulf. But even if we halted human activity in the gulf, natural seeps from the sea floor would still send 42 million gallons of oil into gulf waters each year.

These seeps actually prevented the BP spill from being an even worse disaster. The gulf has more natural seeps than any other body of water in or around North America. Because of this constant supply of hydrocarbons, there is always a healthy population of bacteria floating around the gulf looking for more food. When BP’s well blew out, these tiny creatures went into a feeding frenzy. (The lack of natural seeps, and oil-eating bacteria, is one of the reasons that Alaska’s Prince William Sound has been slow to bounce back from the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.)

Related:

BP Oil Spill: Private Property is the Solution
How a Capitalist Government Would Handle the BP Oil Spill

Environmentalists Kill and Maim Dozens in Texas: How Environmental Regulations Reduce Safety and Productivity in the Energy Industry
A steadily-declining number of refineries, coupled with an ever-growing demand for the products of refineries, means companies must push their plants to the limit; many today operate at 95% of capacity, well above the norm for industry in general. That leaves little time for the maintenance, repair or upgrade of existing plants. This necessarily leads, in turn, to less-safe equipment and less-safe operations. Obviously, more regulation and more fines cannot possibly solve this problem.

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Think TSA Groping Was Bad? Search and Seizure Without Warrant

Glenn Greenwald brings to light some scary facts about the so-called Depart. of Homeland Security. In “Homeland Security’s laptop seizures: Interview with Rep. Sanchez” he writes:

For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are.  One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary.  Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security’s practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products — laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like — copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it.  Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime.  It’s completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained.  There’s no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing.  And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse — not even to have their property returned to them.

[...] What kind of society allows government agents — without any cause — to seize all of that whenever they want, without limits on whom they can do this to, what they access, how they can use it:  even without anyone knowing what they’re doing?  

[...] Back then, this was painted as yet another Bush/Cheney assault on civil liberties, so one frequently heard denunciations like this from leading Democrats such as Sen. Pat Leahy:  “It may surprise many Americans that their basic constitutional rights do not exist at our ports of entry even to protect private information contained on a computer. It concerns me, and I believe that actions taken under the cover of these decisions have the potential to turn the Constitution on its head.”  But now that this practice has continued — and seemingly expanded — under the Obama presidency, few in Congress seem to care.

Indeed, even in the wake of increasing complaints, Congress has done nothing to curb these abuses or even regulate them.  But at least one member of the House, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, is attempting to do something.  Rep. Sanchez has introduced a very modest bill — H.R. 216 — requiring Homeland Security to issue rules governing these searches and seizures so that they are no longer able to operate completely in the dark and without standards.  The bill would also impose some reporting requirements on DHS (Section 4); provide some very modest rights to those subjected to these seizures as well as some minor procedural limits on DHS agents (Sec. 2); and would compel “a civil liberties impact assessment of the rule, as prepared by the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security” (Sec. 2(b)(9)). [Glenn Greenwald, "Homeland Security's laptop seizures: Interview with Rep. Sanchez", Salon]

 Search and Seizure without warrant does not need to be regulated, as it is unconstitutional. This is the proper approach.

Related Reading: My TSA Encounter

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The Death of Neoconservatism: Six Questions for C. Bradley Thompson @ Harpers

1. At the core of your book is the notion that neoconservatism is dead. But consider that Politico recently published an analysis of Obama’s Middle East policies in which ten of eleven persons quoted were neocons (the eleventh was a Palestinian). The Washington Post’s editorial page is rapidly becoming a neocon fortress. Is it really time to talk about the “death” of neoconservatism?

2. What do the neocons mean by “governing philosophy,” and how does this affect the way they engage in politics in America?

3. Irving Kristol’s argument for capitalism is, you conclude, remarkably luke-warm. Where do neocons part company with advocates of a pure market economy?

4. You link the neoconservatives closely to the writings of Leo Strauss, and particularly to his book Natural Right and History, which you say “may very well be one of the most profound and deadly philosophic assaults on America ever written.” What do you mean by this?

5. Leo Strauss’s 1933 letter to Karl Löwith, in which he acknowledged his adherence to “fascist, authoritarian, imperial” principles has drawn a lot of attention lately. Strauss adherents treat it as a sort of aberration. Are they right to push back in this way?

6. You suggest that a willingness to prepare for and wage wars lies right at the heart of neoconservatism. Has this affected American foreign policy in the last decade?

Read the answers at Harpers.

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