John Lewis Interview in USN&WR

Mar 312010

The March 4, 2010 issue of US News & World Report has a nice interview with John Lewis on his new book Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History.

Here’s a sample:

Why should nations go to war?

The actual goal of war, what we want, what we’re after when we fight, shouldn’t be the destruction of the hostile world. The reason we’re fighting… is because another side has decided to attack. The purpose of a war is to reverse that hostile decision. What we were after in Japan in 1945—and in Germany, for that matter—was to end those countries’ drives for aggressive military dominance.

(Read the full article.)

Open Thread #151

Mar 312010

Here’s yet another Open Thread for your thoughts:

For anyone in the fiery grip of a random question, comment, joke, or link they’d like to share with NoodleFood readers, I hereby open up the comments on this post to any respectable topic. (Please refrain from posting personal attacks, pornographic material, and commercial solicitations.)

OCON 2010

Mar 312010

Remember… today is the last day to register for OCON 2010 in Las Vegas with discount pricing. I’m enthused about all the general sessions, as well as about more of the optional courses than I can possibly attend. In fact, I’m pretty seriously worried that I’m going to burn myself out with this so-called vacation! (I plan to be very careful about eating and sleeping well.)

Here’s my own course:

Luck in the Pursuit of Life: The Rational Egoist’s Approach to Luck:

When most people speak of a businessman’s wealth as “good fortune” or wish a student “good luck” before an exam, they are not speaking in mere idioms. People commonly regard their lives as driven by luck. That’s wrong, yet luck undoubtedly affects us. So what is the practical significance of luck?

To answer that question, this course surveys common false views of luck, focusing on their effects on a person’s ideas and actions. It then develops a proper view, drawing on the insights of Aristotle and Ayn Rand. While Rand’s remarks in her essays are brief, a rich view of the role of luck in life can be unearthed from her novels.

By focusing on the ethics of luck, this course offers fresh insight into the practice of the Objectivist virtues and reveals common errors about luck that hinder us in our pursuits.

I’m going to have all kinds of fun with that!

Update: On FormSpring, I just answered the following question:

OCON prices go up later today. I am thinking of registering but the cost seems so high. I have heard it’s not necessary to register for all General Sessions. Do you recommend this? Any other don’t-miss parts I should consider?

I said (with a few additions):

You can register for the general sessions a la carte. This year, all the general sessions look excellent. (That’s not always true.)

As for optional courses, I recommend choosing two or maybe three courses per session, and choosing courses largely based on the quality of the speaker. Some speakers are consistently awesome, particularly live — such as John Lewis, Robert Mayhew, and Eric Daniels. I’d listen to them speak about varieties of mud, because they’d make that interesting.

I like quite a number of other speakers too, such as Greg Salmieri, Dina Federman, and Brad Thompson. However, sometimes I have to get those courses on audio because my schedule just won’t allow me to take their course live.

(Note: The names I’ve mentioned are people who happen to be speaking this year. Craig Biddle isn’t, for example, but I always love his courses. Oh, and some other good speakers tend to speak on topics of little interest to me.)

I do avoid a few speakers, based on past experiences. (If you want to know who those people are, you can e-mail me. My experiences are somewhat old… and hopefully outdated.)

Of course, much depends on scheduling. I have to miss John Lewis entirely this year because I’m speaking opposite him.

Honestly though, this OCON looks to be one of the best ever in terms of its line-up of speakers. And it’s likely to be Leonard Peikoff’s last speaking event.

I wouldn’t miss it!

(Yes, I will be posting my various FormSpring Q&As to NoodleFood soon. I’ve got some gems!)

Simpson on Free Speech in TOS

Mar 312010

The lead article of the Spring 2010 issue of The Objective Standard is by Steve Simpson of the Institute for Justice. His article is entitled, “Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America“.

The editor, Craig Biddle, has graciously made the full article available for free to non-subscribers.

As Simpson notes:

This is the battle at the heart of campaign finance laws. On one side is the view, held (albeit imperfectly) by most challengers of such laws, that the First Amendment protects an individual right to freedom of speech. On the other is the view, held by advocates of campaign finance laws, that the First Amendment protects speech only insofar as it serves, or at least does not thwart, equality of influence over the political process. In the middle is the Supreme Court, which has wavered between these poles, but, unfortunately, has all too often sided with the egalitarians.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, the latest skirmish in this battle, was a substantial victory for the individual rights interpretation of the First Amendment. To understand the significance of this ruling, we must begin by surveying the most relevant history of campaign finance laws. Then we will turn to the Citizens United decision itself, the controversy it ignited, and what the Court’s ruling means for freedom of speech and the future.

Read the full text of “Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America“.

I really enjoyed this article because Simpson nicely laid out the opposing premises of both sides of the campaign finance debate and showed how they have played out in a series of laws and court decisions. If we have any chance of moving our country in the right direction by peaceful means, it will be by exercising our right to free speech. Hence anyone interested in the future of America should read this excellent article.

(As a matter of shameless self-promotion, the Spring 2010 issue also contains a book review by Ari Armstrong and a health care article by myself. A shorter version of my TOS article also appeared in PajamasMedia with Craig Biddle’s permission under the title, “ObamaCare vs. the Hippocratic Oath“.)

Robert Mayhew: On Ayn Rand Answers

Mar 302010

Robert Mayhew, the editor of Ayn Rand Answers, asked me to publish the following essay. I am more than pleased to do so.

On Ayn Rand Answers
by Robert Mayhew

In the early 2000s, I edited and prepared for publication a selection of Ayn Rand’s answers to questions, mostly from question periods following a number of her lectures. The result was Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A (Penguin-New American Library, 2005).

In her “Essay on Sources”, in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford University Press, 2009), Jennifer Burns writes that Ayn Rand Answers is among those works that “are derived from archival materials but have been significantly rewritten”; and like Journals of Ayn Rand, she says, “they should not be accepted at face value” (pp. 292-93). She does not explain or illustrate what she means by “significantly rewritten”.

Burns was not the first to comment negatively on Ayn Rand Answers. For instance, on June 23, 2008, Roger Bissell posted on the forum “Objectivist Living” a side-by-side comparison of what purported to be a transcript of one of Rand’s Q&A and the rendering of it in Ayn Rand Answers. The differences were glaring. The problem, however, was that what he presented as a transcription of the original material was nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, his ineptness enabled him (in his own mind) to score a big hit against me and my scholarship. Not willing to let incompetent dogs lie, over a year later (Sept. 21, 2009) Dr. Robert Campbell (Professor of Psychology, Clemson University) decided to repost this inaccurate comparison on another forum (“SOLO Passion”).

Campbell saw no need to check the source himself–until Tore Boeckmann pointed out the gaffe. So prompted, Campbell listened to the relevant tape, and a week later (Sept. 28, 2009) perfunctorily apologized for not double-checking. One would have thought that Campbell had learned a valuable lesson–a lesson useful to scholars–namely, always to check one’s sources oneself. But that was not what he picked up from this experience, as we shall see. Rather, what he discovered in the first-hand checking that he did undertake was that I had edited some Q&As, and omitted others. Of course, he could have gleaned that from the cover of the book–from “edited by Robert Mayhew” and “The Best of Her Q&A”–or from the preface; but to him, this was a revelation.

So, armed with a sense of righteousness (and an indifference to copyright law), Campbell made it his mission to demonstrate on “Objectivist Living” the extent of my sins (see here). I spent an unpleasant couple of hours the other day reading his ‘work’, and the sycophantic and malevolent comments that followed most of his ‘revelations’. I won’t be returning.

Now it is worth pausing at this point to ask something that Campbell (and other critics) never stopped to ask: Why would Leonard Peikoff have approved of my editing such a collection? What was his aim? Surely this is necessary for an objective evaluation of Ayn Rand Answers.

When I asked Dr. Peikoff what Ayn Rand’s wishes were regarding this and other unpublished material, he answered that she had told him to do whatever he wanted with it–whatever he thought was best. And he thought it best to make this material available to the broadest audience possible: to those who read Rand’s novels and non-fiction, and would be interested in the additional information that such a collection contained, namely, her views on a wide variety of issues, many not discussed elsewhere. On a related point, Penguin Books would not have published and widely distributed a complete, unedited transcript of the Q&A (nor would any other non-academic publisher). Moreover, such a transcript would not be terribly accessible or as appealing to the general reader–to a typical fan of her novels. And since the book was aimed at such a reader, Dr. Peikoff also wanted to limit its contents to those Q&A that he knew to be consistent with her explicit philosophy, and in some cases to have them edited accordingly. I made this clear in my preface; I did not hide the fact that such editing was done. And of course, I knew that the transcripts and recordings were available at the Ayn Rand Archives (and that many of the recordings would become available online). I’ll add, finally, for what it’s worth, that Rand herself (in her 1969 non-fiction writing course) said of her answers to questions: “Sometimes, I may give an answer that’s almost publishable–but not quite. It might be good for a first draft, but it would still need editing.”

Campbell ignores any such considerations, and simply assumes that what the Estate should have done (if anything) was publish a complete and unedited transcript of the Q&A. This is clear from the level of editing that he regards as objectionable. The following is Campbell’s transcription of one answer, followed by the edited version in Ayn Rand Answers. I’ve placed in bold the differences between the two. They are minor.

“I think Mr. Kissinger is the most disgraceful and disastrous Secretary of State [applause] that we’ve ever had [more applause]. Mainly because of his philosophical views, if you know that he is an admirer and a follower of Metternich, which was the worst of the European approach to foreign policy and to power.”

“I think Mr. Kissinger is one of the most disgraceful and disastrous secretaries of state that we’ve ever had–mainly because of his philosophical views. He is an admirer and follower of Metternich, who represents the worst of the European approach to foreign policy and to power.”

Campbell comments: “Why Dr. Mayhew toned this judgment down is known only to him.” Actually, it is not known only to me (see below). In any case, Campbell clearly objects to anything beyond mere transcription. If he were more scholarly, he could have attempted to level an objection–with civility and arguments–to the very idea of editing this material, and make clear what he thinks should have been done with it. But he does not. Instead, he proceeds as if I were presenting a transcript–one that I have surreptitiously and grotesquely warped.

That a mere transcription of all the Q&A would not get a wide distribution or have a popular appeal, and that such material is already available to scholars at the Ayn Rand Archives, does not occur to Campbell. Instead, he discerns the motives for my editing in what he sees as my personal defects. He assumes that I dishonestly and presumptuously tried to pass off as Rand’s my own thoughts and words, and that I omitted–without explanation, and owing to evasion (“blank out”, he says)–any material that I decided was embarrassing. In his view, I undertook this editing to hide or sanitize what Ayn Rand really said. As I am affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute (Campbell calls me an ARIan, thus comparing me to a Nazi), my sole or primary concern is rewriting history to construct a barrier between the world and the flawed reality that is Ayn Rand. That I’m trying to do so despite the fact that much of this material is available (and all of it exists in the Archives), just shows (I guess) that I’m stupid as well. But I’ve met my match in Campbell: again and again (as he tells it) he catches me trying to pull a fast one.

Campbell and many others (e.g., see George Reisman’s Amazon ‘review’) see no difference between Ayn Rand’s Estate hiring a person to edit her unpublished extemporaneous remarks, after her death, and someone changing the wording of Rand’s published works without her permission while she was alive. Of all the context dropping committed by these people, this may be the worst. Ayn Rand was not alive to edit this material (with a few exceptions–more on those shortly). I regarded the aims of the Estate as laudable, and so I undertook to prepare this material for publication in the way described, under the guidance of Leonard Peikoff (the person alive most qualified to oversee such a project).

Now I mentioned before that Campbell did not learn from his experiences always to investigate sources himself. This failure is especially clear in a few cases (most notably the long Q&As on Solzhenitsyn and on the mini-series Roots) in which he seemed to detect radical additions and departures without parallels in the original recordings. Campbell could have done a more thorough check, looked into the possibility that there was some other source, or sent me an e-mail asking what was going on. (I would not respond to such an e-mail now.) Not Campbell. He accepts one of the policies he falsely attributes to his enemies (the ARIans), at least in the case of his enemies, namely, that wherever there is (what he takes to be) error, the motive must be dishonesty or some other flaw (like arrogance or slavish devotion to A.R.I.). As he explains these revisions, I simply took it upon myself to speak for Ayn Rand–to invent whole sentences and give her the words she was unable to find herself. He could conceive of no other possibility.

In fact, in these few cases I made use of The Objectivist Calendar (twenty issues, June 1976 to June 1979), in which Rand occasionally published (with her own edits, cuts, and additions) some of her Q&A. (Incidentally, the revised version of the above Kissinger-answer comes verbatim from this source.) In retrospect, I should have mentioned this in the preface or in a note. But as Ayn Rand Answers is a publication aimed at the general reader, and not a transcript for historians and other scholars (nor for the many pseudo-scholars who inhabit the Objectivish internet underworld), I regard this as a minor error–surely it pales in comparison to what passes for scholarship in the mind of Robert Campbell. And I can’t help but wonder whether these Q&A were the ones Dr. Burns (who spent years at the Ayn Rand Archives) was referring to when she declared that this material was “significantly rewritten”.

Dr. Campbell is scheduled to give a lecture at the Atlas Society‘s 2010 summer conference. Its title is “Who’s Answering: Ayn Rand or Robert Mayhew?” This speaks volumes about his seriousness as a scholar–and about the stature of the Atlas Society.

Dorm Light Snake Game

Mar 292010

Now, for something a bit more fun… I can’t possibly convey the sheer awesomeness of this trick.

School Dorm Snake Game – Watch more Funny Videos

As Radley Balko said, “Even with video, I’m still not sure I believe that this actually happened. If it did, pretty amazing.”

Damned If You Do…

Mar 292010

As a result of ObamaCare, multiple corporations have recently issued statements about the harmful effects the new law will have on their bottom lines.

According to “The ObamaCare Writedowns” in the March 27, 2010 Wall Street Journal:

Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses.

…On top of AT&T’s $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

Several Washington politicians are mad, making threatening statements against these companies:

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke took to the White House blog to write that while ObamaCare is great for business, “In the last few days, though, we have seen a couple of companies imply that reform will raise costs for them.” In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Mr. Locke said “for them to come out, I think is premature and irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment “appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs.”

But as the WSJ notes, these companies are required by federal law to do exactly what they are doing — namely, to accurately report their financial situation according to their best judgment:

Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don’t like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

(Read the full text of “The ObamaCare Writedowns“.)

Hence, the government is placing these companies in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t position.

If they truthfully report how much ObamaCare will cost them, they’re being “irresponsible” for not agreeing with the politicians’ party line about how ObamaCare will save money — and they could face Congressional hearings.

If they ignore reality and instead report falsehoods to suit the politicians’ wishful thinking, then they could face legal punishment for violating SEC rules.

I can think of no worse perversion of the rule of law than for the government to force honest men into this kind of impossible situation.

[Crossposted from the FIRM blog.]

Another Silent Casualty of Health Care Reform

Mar 292010

One of my PajamasMedia readers recently sent me a moving letter written by his high-school age niece who is thinking of becoming a doctor but who is not so sure after ObamaCare. For now, she wishes to be identified as “Alyssa Z”. Her letter is entitled, “Do I Surrender My Rights?”

She was also going to send it to her Congressman. She has also given me permission to circulate it as widely as possible, so please feel free to blog about it, forward to friends, etc.:

“Do I Surrender My Rights?”

Dear Society,

I am writing you today to express my deep concern. I am but one of the many silent casualties of healthcare reform. Currently I am a high school junior who is considering my future. One path I am pondering is becoming a doctor. I am an honor student, active in sports, and am taking advanced placement college classes. The fact that I enjoy biology, chemistry, and helping others made me consider the long, arduous journey towards a medical degree.

Recently though, I heard a new phrase in the healthcare debate that gave me cause for concern, “healthcare is a right”. My understanding of a right has always been that we were born with it, and it can never come at the expense of others’ rights. How can you now lay claim to my hard work and future talents? I now feel that if I choose the medical profession I would become a second class citizen.

My dear American friend, after eight years of intense study, many more years of internship and residency, not to mention the hundreds of thousands in debt, I feel the price I am being asked to pay not just in dollars, but in my freedom is more than I can bear. I ask how many more silent voices in classrooms, from my fellow students with an equal passion for healing the sick, will never be heard in clinics and hospitals across this great country?

Alyssa Z

All Americans should be asking themselves these questions…

Activism Recap

Mar 282010

This week on We Stand FIRM, the blog of FIRM: Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine:

This week on The Blog of Modern Paleo:

This week on Politics without God, the blog of the Coalition for Secular Government:

Open Thread #150

Mar 272010

Here’s yet another Open Thread for your thoughts:

For anyone in the fiery grip of a random question, comment, joke, or link they’d like to share with NoodleFood readers, I hereby open up the comments on this post to any respectable topic. (Please refrain from posting personal attacks, pornographic material, and commercial solicitations.)

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