In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the morality of vigilantism. The question was:

Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you’re caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you’d committed a crime against an innocent person?
My answer, in brief:
The vigilante is not an agent of justice, but a threat to innocents and to the foundations of civilized society.
Here’s the video of my full answer:
If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.


In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the morality of breaking the law. The question was:

When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?
My answer, in brief:
A person does not have any moral obligation to submit to violations of his rights. However, the proper course – whether complying with the law, breaking the law overtly, or breaking the law covertly – depends on the particulars of the situation. Mostly, get legal advice first!
Here’s the video of my full answer:
If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.

Federal Court Strikes Down Amazon Tax

Apr 092012

I’m super happy about this news: Federal court tosses 2010 Colorado Amazon tax law:

A federal court has thrown out a 2010 Colorado law meant to spur online retailers like Amazon to collect state sales tax.

The law had already been temporarily blocked in federal court last year, but U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn’s ruling Friday permanently handcuffs it. “I conclude that the veil provided by the words of the act and the regulations is too thin to support the conclusion that the act and the regulations regulate in-state and out-of-state retailers even-handedly,” Blackburn wrote in his opinion. The law and the rules to carry it out “impose an undue burden on interstate commerce” and are unconstitutional, the judge wrote.

It’s not clear whether the State of Colorado will appeal this ruling… but I hope not! Amazon hasn’t yet instituted its affiliate program in Colorado. When Ari Armstrong inquired with them, they said:

Thank you for contacting us regarding rejoining the Associates program. At this point, we’re evaluating the decision from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. We’d welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Colorado residents. We’ll contact you if we are able to re-open the program in the future.

As Ari says in his post, “Hopefully, the Associates program will again become available. Now will the legislature kindly leave us the hell alone to earn money?”

Strip Searches for Everyone!

Apr 042012

Oh my:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Here’s the case that was brought to the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court case arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.)

Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in two counties, and he was strip-searched twice. There is some dispute about the details but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.

“Turn around,” Mr. Florence, in an interview last year, recalled being told by jail officials. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

“I consider myself a man’s man,” said Mr. Florence, a finance executive for a car dealership. “Six-three. Big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man.”

The question before the courts was whether routine strip searches of all inmates — as opposed to strip searches just in cases of suspected contraband — constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Alas, the court decided that the routine searches were fine and dandy… and yes, that means strip searches for people merely accused of petty offenses.

I wonder: If it’s “reasonable” to be repeatedly forced to expose your private orifices to corrections officers, even before you’re ever convicted of the most petty of offenses, then what would possibly count as “unreasonable”? Nothing, I suspect.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator.)

P.S. That’s damn depressing news, so if you want to go crawl back into bed, go read this awesome satire from the Borowitz Report.

Vecchio Video Series On ObamaCare

Mar 302012

Dr. Jill Vecchio, the head of the Colorado chapter of Docs4PatientCare (and a fellow radiologist!), has recorded an informative set of videos on ObamaCare and what it means to all Americans.

One important point: the current system is not a free-market but rather a mixed system with some free-market elements but also enormous amounts of government regulation. Forthcoming additional government controls to be imposed by ObamaCare will not solve our current problems but rather make them worse. In contrast, there are many good free-market reforms that would lower our costs and improve our health care quality.

Part 1 — Coverage:

Part 2 — Costs, section A:

Part 3 — Costs, section B:

Part 4 — Employers and Exchanges:

Part 5 — Doctors and Patients:

Part 6 — Constitutional Issues:

Part 7 — Real Health Care Reforms:

(Note: I don’t necessarily endorse every single point she makes, but overall I found these extremely informative. Cross-posted from FIRM.)

Jim Manley Scores Big Gun Rights Victory in Colorado

Mar 092012

Ari Armstrong recorded a nice interview with Jim Manley last night on his big legal victory with the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn the ban on concealed carry at University of Colorado (CU). Colorado law allows concealed carry, but CU has refused to allow permit holders to exercise that right on campus grounds, even though state law should permit it:

Diana and I first met Jim several years ago when he was the head of the University Colorado (Boulder) campus Objectivist club. After he graduated from CU law school, he went to work for the Mountain States Legal Foundation (which does the same sort of advocacy work as Institute for Justice, but at the state/regional level).

Jim was the lead attorney on this case against CU’s bad policies. His (and MSLF’s) recent legal victory has made national news, including writeups in the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC.

I was glad to be able catch up with Jim a few nights ago and give him my personal thanks for his hard work on this case. Soon, law-abiding concealed weapons permit holders such as myself will no longer have to disarm when we enter University grounds. (Jim came to Diana’s free public lecture at CU on Ayn Rand’s ethics and moral perfection).

Given how easy it is to be discouraged by current politics, I wanted to highlight another example of successful activism by a determined individual!

Addendum from Diana

When I was a graduate student at CU Boulder, I had to walk a few blocks off-campus, through a residential neighborhood, to get to my car. I took classes in the evening on occasion, and during those times, my walk was dark and lonely. Like other students, I’d receive periodic reports of sexual assaults just off-campus, and that worried me.

The police chief’s advice of carrying a “safety whistle” was pure absurdity to me. If I was attacked, that wouldn’t do me a lick of good. Also, I knew that I couldn’t hope to outrun my attacker: I’m a slow sprinter, and even in elementary school, I only ever beat the fat girl in running the 50-yard dash. Really, I wanted my “safety Ruger” — because that could have actually kept me safe! Instead, I often took Kate, my German Shepherd with me to those late classes. She probably wouldn’t have helped much if I’d been attacked, but she might have deterred a criminal.

Moreover, in the wake of school shootings, I hated to think of being disarmed and defenseless, particularly as a teacher in a classroom full of terrified students. I’d have an obligation to protect my students as best as I could, yet I’d be unable to do much of anything. I hated that with a passion.

Hence, I’m so pleased by Jim’s fabulous work to overturn this gun ban on CU campuses. It’s taken years of litigation, but the results will make a real difference in the lives of students, professors, workers, and visitors to campus.

Thank you, Jim!

Video: Consent in Sex

Feb 292012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed consent in sex. The question was:

What constitutes consent in sex? Can a person give tacit consent by his or her actions? Is explicit consent required for some sex acts? Once consent has been given, when and how can a person withdraw that consent? Does the legal perspective on these questions differ from the moral perspective?

My answer, in brief:

To consent to sex requires communicating a willingness engaging in the act, whether by word or deed. Consent can be withdrawn at any point, and for the other person to ignore that constitutes sexual assault.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

Warning: This video is loooong at 42 minutes. (It’s a new record for me!)

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.

Magic Words Test Upheld by Colorado Supreme Court

Feb 242012

This is really good news: Colorado Supreme Court upholds “magic words” test for political spending by 527s. That sounds strange, but here’s what it means:

Handing political organizations known as 527s a big victory heading into the 2012 election, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the groups should not be limited in how much money they may accept from donors if their political advertisements don’t include so-called magic words such as “vote for” or “elect.”

Ads that simply state a candidate’s position on an issue or that include flattering — or not-so flattering — things about a candidate but don’t include the “magic words” established in an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling are considered free speech, the unanimous court found.

Attorney Mario Nicolais, who argued before the court on behalf of the Senate Majority Fund and the Colorado Leadership Fund, called the case “a complete victory for the defendants and free speech.”

This seems to be a really great ruling for free speech in Colorado’s elections! I loved this quote from “attorney Jason Dunn, who represents the Colorado Leadership Fund”:

“Voters clearly wanted a bright line as to when expressing their opinion about issues of the day crosses into regulated political speech. To do otherwise would chill political speech, resulting in everyday citizens being unable to know when simply expressing their opinion on issues of the day becomes regulated speech subject to the complex world of campaign-finance law and its penalties for any misstep.”

So true!

You can read the whole story here.

Rights Are Inalienable But Forfeitable

Feb 092012

In my recent Philosophy in Action Webcast discussion of the death penalty, I mentioned Craig Biddle’s discussion of the fact that rights are inalienable but forfeitable. As promised, here’s footnote 46 of his excellent essay, Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society

… If rights were somehow inherent in man by virtue of his being man, then we could never punish people who violate rights–because using retaliatory force against them would violate the “rights” that they “inherently” have and that they thus always retain by virtue of being human. Because Rand’s theory is based on and derived from the observable requirements of man’s life, it is not afflicted with contradictions regarding those requirements. On Rand’s theory, rights are inalienable, in that others cannot take away or nullify one’s rights; but they are also forfeitable, in that one can relinquish one’s own rights by violating the rights of others. If and to the extent that a person violates the rights of others, he relinquishes his own rights and may be punished accordingly. His choice to violate rights places him outside the purpose of the principle and thus the scope of its protection. Again, one cannot claim the protection of a principle that one repudiates in action.

If rights were inherent in human nature, based purely on DNA or species-membership, then the advocates of “personhood for zygotes” would be right: the fertilized egg would have a right to life. However, on an objective theory of rights, rights cannot apply until the fetus is biologically separated from the woman. Only then does the fetus — then a baby — enter the social context necessary for rights. For further details, see Ari Armstrong’s and my recently-published essay, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.

Dubai: Slave Society

Jan 112012

Last week, I ran across a fascinating article on the society and economy of Dubai: The dark side of Dubai by Johann Hari. (It’s from 2009, but no less interesting because of that.)

The whole shining metropolis — recently featured in MI4 — is built on a horrifying foundation of slave labor:

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. “To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell,” he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal’s village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they’d pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don’t like it, the company told him, go home. “But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket,” he said. “Well, then you’d better get to work,” they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

Then, at the air-conditioned luxury of the mall:

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. “I love it here!” she says. “The heat, the malls, the beach!” Does it ever bother you that it’s a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. “I try not to see,” she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

That kind of evasion is bad enough. Even worse is the evasion required by the Westerners who actively participate in this slavery:

…one theme unites every expat I speak to: their joy at having staff to do the work that would clog their lives up Back Home. Everyone, it seems, has a maid. The maids used to be predominantly Filipino, but with the recession, Filipinos have been judged to be too expensive, so a nice Ethiopian servant girl is the latest fashionable accessory.

It is an open secret that once you hire a maid, you have absolute power over her. You take her passport – everyone does; you decide when to pay her, and when – if ever – she can take a break; and you decide who she talks to. She speaks no Arabic. She cannot escape.

In a Burger King, a Filipino girl tells me it is “terrifying” for her to wander the malls in Dubai because Filipino maids or nannies always sneak away from the family they are with and beg her for help. “They say – ‘Please, I am being held prisoner, they don’t let me call home, they make me work every waking hour seven days a week.’ At first I would say – my God, I will tell the consulate, where are you staying? But they never know their address, and the consulate isn’t interested. I avoid them now. I keep thinking about a woman who told me she hadn’t eaten any fruit in four years. They think I have power because I can walk around on my own, but I’m powerless.”

The only hostel for women in Dubai – a filthy private villa on the brink of being repossessed – is filled with escaped maids. Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her – and thousands like her. She was promised a paradise in the sands by an agency, so she left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. “But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family – four children – and Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. I was exhausted and pleaded for a break, but they just shouted: ‘You came here to work, not sleep!’ Then one day I just couldn’t go on, and Madam beat me. She beat me with her fists and kicked me. My ear still hurts. They wouldn’t give me my wages: they said they’d pay me at the end of the two years. What could I do? I didn’t know anybody here. I was terrified.”

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. “Well, how could I?” she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. “I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything,” she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. “Oh, the servant class!” she trilled. “You do nothing. They’ll do anything!”

The psychological contortions required to willingly relocate to a slave society, then actively participate in such slavery, is just mind-boggling. As one woman was quoted in the article, “All the people who couldn’t succeed in their own countries end up here, and suddenly they’re rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I’ve never met so many incompetent people in such senior positions anywhere in the world.” That mentality — delusional and incompetent yet ambitious — seems to be fertile ground for embracing the practice of slavery.

I’ve already quoted too much of the article, but so much else in it is deeply fascinating — and heartbreaking. So go read the whole article. You won’t be sorry to know what “exploitation of the workers” and “environmental destruction” really means.

Finally, my friend Kirez posted the following comment on Facebook, which I’m including here with his permission:

I recall reading this article when it was published. I witnessed many of these labor camps firsthand; it was a horrifying experience.

It’s not easy to see if you’re there simply as a tourist. But even when I wasn’t exploring where I wasn’t supposed to be, if I simply went into a grocery near one of these labor camps where the pakistanis and indians and burmese in large groups would go to buy their groceries, the racism (in these places even more than most others) was so palpable, it seemed a theatre spectacle: I would walk into a store, where gangs of pakistanis or indians were trudging along, and the (Indian) owners of the stores would come running, falling over themselves, bowing to me and calling me sir, and offering to help me with my shopping and finding me special products or deals… for no reason whatsoever except that I was white and had honored their store with my presence.

I first noticed the workers when I was acting as a tourist, and went out to the construction sites of the islands to look at the buildings (I saw a lot of really bad construction practices… not only safety issues, which were normal, but severely faulty lack of fortification and structural issues, like neglecting rebar through cinderblock walls, etc.) I saw buses full of pakistani workers coming to and from the work sites. I knew the city (Dubai) pretty well, but these workers didn’t live in the city; the buses went out of the city into the desert. At first I simply watched the buses coming and going and felt very sorry for the workers, because the heat was overbearing for us in an air conditioned luxury car… and I could see them slumped against windows, sleeping, in the burning sunshine. These images burned into my mind, and caused me to start noticing the shanty towns in the desert outside the city. Eventually I would visit several; later I would meet the workers as they worked on projects where I was working — later I even hired some workers to build pullup bars, squat racks, jump boxes and other equipment for me.

The cases of abuse were innumerable; it seemed to be the norm.

But I was overworked with my own projects… in a final, ultimately painful and frustrating insult to my powerlessness there, I learned that the mysterious traffic of men to the apartment underneath ours was explained by the slavery of a 9-year-old girl. They had kept her very effectively hidden from me for months, while I had watched men come to the apartment in singles or couples at all hours of the night, but I never saw them leave with bundles, never smelled anything, never saw weapons… I didn’t get it. I had only 72 hours left in the country when a pakistani tried to steal some of my exercise equipment (outside — this attempted theft was very unusual), and the woman who kept the girl, downstairs, came running out of her apartment to tell me, in arabic, that they were stealing my equipment… and the 9-year-old girl appeared in the door she had left open. I then got to watch local police detectives bumble the investigation, while I was completing my work, packing my household, selling my possessions and preparing to depart.


Home | Live Webcast | Archives | Blog | Question Queue | Connect | Support Us | About Us
Copyright 2012 Diana Hsieh | Email | Twitter | Facebook | Blog
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha