Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Ominous Parallels, book recommendation

I just finished reading "The Ominous Parallels" by Leonard Peikoff and I can't recommend it highly enough. It is subtitled "The end of freedom in America." The parallels of course are those ideas that exist in America today and the German people in the 40 or so years leading up to the arrival of the Nazis and Hitler.

He showed how pragmatism destroyed the Germans' ability to think in terms of principles just as it's doing in America today, and how it reduces a human mind to the perceptual level of animals. But it isn't just pragmatism. Dr Peikoff discusses dogmatism, subjectivism--both individual and social versions, nihilism, romanticism, relativism and others.

I've heard people say that Hitler was insane, a madman. This is a mistake. Hitler was loyal to his principles. He and his lieutenants studied philosophy, mostly that of Plato, Kant and Hegal on whose principles Nazism was based.

If there was ever any doubt about the power of philosophy to create of destroy an entire nation, this book will remove it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Anti-Social Medicine?

The Telegraph.co.uk in their 'your views' section asks "Should doctors be paid bonuses for saving lives?" This isn't just a rhetorical question. British hospitals are planning to do just that.

All the government has to do is get out of the way and the doctors will have all the incentive they need and then some. Sad.

(Right now there is about 160 comments but I especially like #5 by Pinkie
Nurse: Doctor, this patient has a cut on his leg which could get infected.

Doctor: we'd better act straight away before it gets any worse.

Manager: Our life-saving target is down this month. You know what it would mean; our funding could be cut.

Doctor: Hmmm... and with Christmas on the way... could do with that bonus. On second thoughts, leave it till it gets gangrene. We can then lop it of and save his life.

How to bring out the worst in people. Labour knows how.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Electoral College Under Attack Again

The 7/20/08 Detroit Free Press has its Sunday editorial section On Point mostly devoted to getting rid of the Electoral College. Its main editorial "Graduate the Electoral College" is mostly a plea for straight 'democracy,' the so-called one man,one vote idea. The editorial looks at the recent efforts of the NPV (National Popular Vote) movement where states would form co-ops and all their electoral votes would go to the popular vote leader. But it correctly points out:
"And it could mean that a candidate gets the votes of a state he or she didn't carry."
The paper's solution then is a plan of reapportionment.
"Apportioning electoral votes is a compromise between direct election and preserving the Electoral College. It would force candidates to pay more attention to every state and give voters on the short side of politically lopsided states a chance to have their ballots count for something."
I'm not an expert in Constitutional Law so I can't say if any of these apportionment plans are even feasible. My own guess is that such plans will get knocked down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

The editorial is joined by an op-ed by Clyde Frazier, professor of political science at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. who argues a justification for this side-stepping of the Constitution:
"State action has one enormous advantage over constitutional amendment; it is much more easily reversible. The most serious concern about any change in election procedures is the possibility of unintended consequences. If NPV does cause problems, individual states can withdraw from the compact at any time, except right before and after an election, forcing a return to the current system. We aren't locked into change, as we would be with an amendment."
Personally, I don't like the idea of a 'living constitution' of which this set up smacks. It also introduces pure democracy into the voting process. Eventually such democracy will spread to other voting issues and eventually our Constitutional Republic will be replaced by a full democracy. These always devolve into chaos or dictatorship.

Offering the contrary view is Robert Hardaway, professor of law at the University of Denver and the author of "The Electoral College and the Constitution: the Case for Preserving Federalism" who writes:
"In 1956, a Republican proposal to abolish the Electoral College was defeated after a vigorous defense by Sen. John F. Kennedy, who declared that "direct election would break down the federal system under which most states entered the union, which provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that no area or group shall obtain too much power.""
This idea of breaking down the federal system under which most states entered the union is the right argument and is elaborated upon by Jeff Jacoby in a July 16 Boston Globe op-ed. Mr. Jacoby says:
"Such concerns didn't trouble the framers of the Constitution, who did not believe that political contests should be decided by majority rule. They rejected "pure democracy," as James Madison explained in Federalist No. 10. They knew that with "nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual," blind majoritarianism can become as great a menace to liberty as any king or dictator. The term "tyranny of the majority" was coined for good reason."
And also points out:
"The Electoral College (like the Senate) was designed to preserve the role of the states in governing a nation whose name - the United States of America - reflects its fundamental federal nature. We are a nation of states, not of autonomous citizens, and those states have distinct identities and interests, which the framers were at pains to protect. Too many Americans today forget - or never learned - that the states created the central government; it wasn't the other way around. The federal principle is at least as important to American governance as the one-man-one-vote principle, and the Electoral College brilliantly marries them: Democratic elections take place within each state to determine that state's vote for president in the Electoral College."
I agree. To do away with the EC is to dissolve state borders and I think any politician who gives it a second thought would reject the idea. I urge reading all of Mr. Jacoby's article.


Update. Gus Van Horn comments on this subject here. Thanks Gus

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Confusion is Illegal?

The Detroit News of 7/15/08 has a front page article titled "New Law: gift cards to be good for 5 years." Aside from the fact that this is just another violation of businessmens' rights, this is also clear evidence of how government regulations create an ignorant, helpless and irresponsible citizenry utterly dependent on the government to do their thinking for them.

Governor Granholm signed the bill into law saying it will "...protect citizens pocketbooks and makes sure consumers are getting the most from their dollars." This is precisely the responsibility that should lie on the shoulder of every citizen, not the government. In a laissez-faire economy, papers, like the Detroit News for example, and magazines would report on whose gift cards offered the best or worst value. People who cared about their money and their gift giving would make the effort to learn this information. Those who don't care deserve to get burned.

The new law says:
"Among provisions of the new laws:

• Michigan retailers can't alter the terms or conditions of a gift card or certificate after it's issued.

• Inactivity fees and other charges can't be applied.

• Stores can't refuse to accept cards or certificates during sales, close-outs or liquidations.

• Retailers can't refuse gift cards or certificates as partial payment for items that cost more than the remaining balances on them."
Proof that this law is not about justice or fairness of any kind is found in the last paragraph:
"The legislation responded to complaints that some retailers issue gift certificates or gift cards with expiration dates, and some charge fees or discount the value if a card isn't redeemed by a certain time. The bills' sponsors said that's confusing and inconvenient."
The Governor and the Michigan legislature are catering to and encouraging one of the worst elements of human nature, laziness.

I don't know if they'll print it but I sent the following LTE to the News yesterday:
Dear Editor:
"The Detroit News Article of 7/15, "New Law: gift cards to be good for 5 years" is a violation of every businessman's rights. It denies him the right to decide how to run his business as he sees fit. This law is not about justice or fairness of any kind. It's about the State government's desire to exercise political power (force) on behalf of the confused and inconvenienced. Perhaps there should only be one kind of tomato or car on the market because having to choose between many can be confusing and inconvenient. When the government is eager to initiate force against businessmen for something as frivolous as 'inconvenience', it is no wonder Michigan's economy is in the tank. It is of such seemingly trivial laws that the destruction of America will be made."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stealth Advertising?

For those who worry that cell phones will fry their brain, and haven't seen the CNN report on it, check out this video. Then see what Snopes says about it here. To see the CNN report on how it was done scroll down to the last paragraph to the CNN link. I gather this is called 'stealth advertising.' Seems quite irrational to me. I didn't see a product identification in the video.

I agree with Dr. Piekoff in his lecture "A Picture is not an Argument" (which can be purchased here) in which he opined that today's advertising looks the way it does mainly because of our income tax laws. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pants pull-up law or Bag the sags.

The July 9th Detroit Free Press has a front page article titled "Flint police crackdown on saggy pants." The city of Flint Michigan has a new police chief, David Dicks, who issued a memo to all officers informing them that:
The crime, he says, is disorderly conduct or indecent exposure, both misdemeanors punishable by 93 days to a year in jail and/or fines up to $500.
The chief's justification is:
On June 27, the chief issued a departmental memorandum telling officers: "This immoral self expression goes beyond freedom of expression."
The new law's form will be:
Dicks, 41, broke down his interpretation of the laws as such: Pants pulled completely below the buttocks with underwear showing is disorderly conduct; saggy pants with skin of the buttocks showing is indecent exposure, and saggy pants, not completely below the buttocks, with underwear exposed results in a warning.
As a rule, I'm against any laws that try to legislate 'decency.' I can see laws that prohibit genitalia exposure, maybe even underwear exposure on the grounds of a threat to the health of others. But if this new rule on pants is accepted, what will be next? Skirts and/or shorts above the knees being deemed indecent? In the same paper, Freep writer Rochelle Riley op-eds that she hopes thongs will be next.

My main point is that if the pants law can't be based on the principle of protecting the rights of citizens e.g. a health threat, it shouldn't exist. The pressure to wear pants above the hip should come from the private sector. An example of this would be a sign I saw on the door of a family owned grocery store which read, IIRC, "Pull your pants up before entering or no service." That is a proper use of private social pressure.

Some of these kids will out grow this fad as did the black chief. Others won't but all are second handed conformists. They can't wait to 'fit in' to the latest socially tolerated method of expressing their social independence or individualism.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Is Free Speech the Issue This Election?

Gus Van Horn has a post on the continuing persecution by the Canadian Human Rights commissions against Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. My concern is how do our presidential candidates view this Canadian attack on free speech? As things stand right now, I think free speech is the big issue. If free speech is destroyed, or even thwarted, Objectivism will have a much harder time spreading through academe and the culture.

As far as I can tell, McCain has a nonchalant attitude toward free speech. He may regard it as a value but further down on his priority list; something that can be sacrificed away to achieve a higher goal like campaign finance reform. But I don't know where Obama stands. If he comes out for hate speech legislation, I would consider it to be a frontal assault on free speech and would consider him more of a threat than McCain. Even though McCain would be a longer term threat, Obama would be a serious short term one.

So what if Obama declares he will fight for hate speech legislation? Will McCain oppose him? Join him? How much will the Dem controlled congress let him have his way? Will the Republicans find a spine someplace and resist him? (At a recent objectivist study group meeting in the Detroit area this election was discussed. One thing we all agreed on was the fact that the only time Republicans fight against anything is when Dems are in power. When Repubs are in power they enact the Dem agenda of bigger government and more regulation.) So the question becomes, how much will Obama actually be able to get away with? McCain too for that matter?

Then this voice in my head keeps telling me that I can't trust anything either of them says because they are pragmatists and don't use words to convey meanings but to evoke emotional responses. It gives me a headache thinking about it. There are lots of reasons to vote against both of them.

Darren Cauthon posts on an excellent reason not to vote for McCain. Evidently, McCain thinks innovation can be spurred by tougher 'penalties.'

Myrhaf has good reasons not to vote for Obama pointing out that Obama is just as adamant about mandatory national service as McCain is.

As the election draws near, the two may become more committal, maybe. I'll see.

(If you live in the Detroit area and would like to attend one of the study group meetings, send me a private email and I'll get back to you. It's in my profile)