Thursday, November 20, 2008

Values Versus Principles

While commenting on the propriety of banks (such as BBT) accepting federal money, someone wrote: " . . . I'd bet there's a lot more to the situation under the covers." There sure is.

Here's how it works(ed). ("BR" is bank regulator, from FDIC or SEC; "BP" is bank president -- not of a private bank, but of a publically traded one.)

BR: We would like you to accept this money and its conditions.

BP: But we're solvent and don't believe in such government programs.

BR: Yes, but the treasury secretary, Federal Reserve, FDIC, and SEC are 'encouraging' banks such as yours to accept the money.

BP: All well and good, but we'll respectfully decline.

BR: If you don't accept the money, the FDIC auditors will be there tomorrow to audit you.

BP: But they just audited us last week.

BR: In these risky times, the government must reassure the public. [Government auditors can show up anytime and demand access to a bank's books.]

BP: Well, that will be a hassle and waste of time, but so be it.

BR: This time they will find that your bank is undercapitalized, will have to report such to the proper government authorities -- all of which will undoubtedly be leaked to the markets and to the public.

BP: But how do you know that the government auditors will find problems? Just last week, they concluded that we were capitalized as required by the regulations. In fact, we're one of the most solvent financial institutions in the entire country. Depositors have been flocking to us from failed banks such as Wachovia.

BR: Things change. Auditors make mistakes. This time, they'll find problems.

BP: But if you do that, especially in this frenzied market, the rating agencies will drop us immediately to junk status, shareholders will sell at firesale prices, and there will be a run on the bank. Our shareholders will be wiped out, our employees will be unemployed, the people who could have gotten loans from us won't, and the company will be bankrupt.

BR: Maybe now you are sufficiently "encouraged" to accept our terms.

That is not fiction. That is what happened to BB&T and to many other financial firms. The CEO's of those companies saw what the federal government did to perfectly healthy companies such as Arthur Anderson -- and they did not want to suffer the same fate.

When the government coerces a man to choose between his values and his moral principles, you cannot judge his choice. "Morality ends where the point of a gun begins."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Eminent Domain Abroad and at Home

From today's NYT, an article filled with indignations from "human rights" experts about the "tens of thousands" of Cambodians who have suffered "land seizures that lead to evictions." The confiscations, derided as "serious human rights abuse[s]," are justified on the grounds that the property is needed for "modern buildings, modest malls and plans for skyscrapers."

For any defender of property rights, the moral outrage is justified. But it is difficult to see the difference between this "human rights abuse" and those committed in the U.S. by "redevelopment agencies," coastal commissions, and looting politicians doing the bidding of developers and corporations.

If you are interested in helping to defeat such violations of an individual's right to property, I suggest that you support the "Institute For Justice." (See

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Heidegger Does Retail

Heidegger, the rabidly anti-reason philosopher of "nothingness," has inspired a new approach to the "design" of luxury retail stores: empty space. "The new Jil Sander store in Manhattan takes a novel approach to merchandising -- no merchandise displays." Raf Simons and Germaine Kruip "designed" a space where customers "walk in and find the place totally empty." [I]t's a form of luxury," said Simons, "not to open the door and get hit over the head with a bag." (Today's The New York Times Magazine, p. 51, emph. added)

So as with non-representational "painting," and a reality without entities, we now have non-merchandise retail "design." This folly, of course, allows frauds to gain unearned money and undeserved publicity.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Commencement Chaos

One can tell a lot about the state of higher education by looking at its commencement speakers. Here's part of the Bottom Ten, with editorial comments to correct falsehoods, skewer inanities, and mock the absurd. (All quotes are from today's NYT, p. A16)

At Carnegie Mellon University (known as a top science and engineering university), Al Gore. Al Gore -- the purveyor of environmentalist nonsense that seeks to destroy the fields of science and engineering. This is like having an anorexic speak at the graduation ceremonies of a culinary institute.

At Harvey Mudd College (another top science and engineering college), Bill Nye the "science guy." Seems like a good choice. Guess again. His advice? Stop procreating, stop producing, stop consuming, live like people do in the Third World.

Nice choice. A college devoted to the field of engineering -- a subject that uses basic science for the purpose of transforming nature into products that improve man's life -- invites a man to spit in its own face and to deride its own students for the careers they've chosen. If Mudd is now teaching its students that engineering is compatible with the Malthusian claims of environmentalism, then the College is guilty of a far greater sin than just inviting a life-destroying speaker.

Nye noted that "half the world's people have never made a phone call," and bemoans the fact that "[p]eople are walking less and driving more." As he sees it, the former is a problem only because the phoneless see that we have phones, and want them, too. His Malthusian conclusion is, predictably, that we need to stop consuming because, allegedly, we are destroying the planet.

To be accurate, he should have said: Stop producing dams, cell towers, refineries, machinery and tools (production precedes consumption), and stop using engineering to improve production, i.e., shut down the field of engineering and turn Harvey Mudd College into a School for the Preservation of Smelt.

Then we have actress Jessica Lange at Sarah Lawrence College whose "wisdom" consists of: "Be present." As opposed to what: be absent? (Actually, absence from many of today's liberal arts classes is an act of self-preservation because so many of them are mind-numbingly boring.)

Continuing with her theme, she warns students against the so-called danger of "anticipating the future" -- as if the abundance of now-oriented students and professors need further encouragement to ignore the future consequences of their choices and actions. (For the proper view on man's need to "anticipate the future," see "Man's Life as the Standard of Moral Value" in Chapter 7 of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff.)

Finally, there was, at Williams College, Richard Serra -- a (con) artist whose work is indistinguishable from construction-site trash. (Some PGLers have requested links. Please just do a Google search.) Anyone who knows the underlying epistemology of nonobjective "art," or the modus operandi of a fraud, can anticipate Serra's comments. Frauds always need to jettison facts, reality, reason and logic: "No one perceives anything alike; . . . it is our individual reality that counts."

Now imagine if he had said to these college students: "There are no objective standards by which to determine what is and is not plagiarism. The only thing that counts is that you wish to pass off other people's work as your own. If you get busted, tell the administration that it's my 'individual reality that counts.'"

Given the facts-be-damned message peddled to so many college students, it is always surprising to me that the peddlers express outrage and shock when their graduates act deceptively and dishonestly in their respective careers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

They Are Where We're Headed

Europe and Canada are killing free speech, and the U.S. is not far behind. The late Oriana Fallaci was indicted by an Italian judge for the "crime" of vilifying "any religion admitted by the state." The censorship-seeking religion is Islam. Recently in France, the actress Brigitte Bardot was convicted and fined about $25,0000 (the prosecutor asked, unsuccessfully, for jail time) for expressing the view that Muslims are wrecking France.

Canada, ever since the infamous "Butler" case in 1992, has been on a similar anti-free speech campaign. This time, Maclean's magazine is being prosecuted by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for the alleged crime of publishing an article that argues that the rise of Islam is a threat to the West. Islamic leaders in Canada want the government to bar the magazine from expressing similar opinions in the future, publish a rebuttal, and pay monetary "damages." (For more on this, see the 6/12/08 NYT article "Outside U.S., Hate speech Can Be Costly.")

In the U.S., we have PC-driven "speech codes" at government colleges and universities, various feminists pushing the government to ban images and words that they deem "degrading" to women, and militant Muslims filing bogus lawsuits in the attempt to silence their detractors. (For more on the last item, see the work of Daniel Pipes.)

All of these assaults on free speech are a dramatic illustration of how epistemology -- in these cases, the corrupt epistemologies of mysticism and emotionalism -- is fundamental to politics. If free speech, the last pillar of freedom in this country, is destroyed, it will be because two false and destructive epistemologies undermined its philosophic foundation of reason. (For more on how a corrupt epistemology such as emotionalism harms a culture, see Chapter 8, "The Emotionalist Republic," of The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Evil of Moral Agnosticism

I had a professor in graduate school who argued that there is no moral distinction between Hitler and Louis Pasteur -- that if they both came to an emergency room with equally critical medical conditions, morality said nothing about which one doctors should treat first.

Contrary to the widespread myth that philosophy has nothing to do with real life, this evil idea -- moral agnosticism -- governs the field of medicine. Consider this from today's NYT ("Senator Asks About Surgery on Gangsters").

A few years ago, the "executive chariman of U.C.L.A.'s surgery department" performed liver transplant surgery on four Japanese gangsters. To justify keeping killers alive, the U.C.L.A Medical Center said "that they do not make moral judgments about patients . . ." To echo this moral agnosticism, the senator investigating the surgeries (Charles Grassley, R-Iowa) agrees with the view that "surgeons do not seek to pass moral judgment on the patients they treat . . ."

Of course, moral agnosticism -- as with every form of skepticism -- is self-refuting. The moral agnostic is quick to judge as wrong those who do in fact pass judgment, with silly notions like: "Who are you to judge?" And in fact, no man can escape the power of morality -- as the agnostics in this case rely on the talent-destroying view of Rawlsian "justice" called egalitarianism.

As is striking in this case, the moral agnostic seeks undeserved values for losers and nihilists. Given the severe shortage of livers available for transplant, one can only wonder whether there were truly talented, intelligent, productive individuals (a young Michelangelo or Ayn Rand) who died because a liver they deserved was used to save the life of a gangster. And one can partly blame moral agnosticism, the professors who peddled it, the surgeon and the hospital's management for any robberies, rapes, and murders committed by those gangsters since the surgeries.

Disarmed by the moral agnosticism in medicine, it is no wonder that so few doctors are protesting against the creeping socialization of their careers and practices. How are they to get righteously indignant over that when they have been taught by their professors that "surgeons do not seek to pass moral judgment"?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How Not To Add Two Headlines

A striking example of how our political and economic leaders cannot connect two -- let alone three and four -- economic phenomena. From today's NYT:

Headline One: "Jobs Down for the 5th Month"

Headline Two: "In Turnabout, Antitrust Unit Looks at Intel."

Obviously, the first article is about the dismal economy.

The second is about the fact that "the Federal Trade Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation of the Intel Corporation." Intel's mediocre and envious competitor, AMD, can't compete on the free market, and so -- in an all-too-typical Tanya Harding move -- is seeking to knee-cap Intel. The hobbling campaign "has cost both companies tens of millions of dollars in legal and public relations expenses." (For an explanation of the injustice and impracticality of the antitrust laws, see my book The Abolition of Antitrust.)

If our country's leaders were able to integrate, they would realize that the second headline is a cause of the first. They might see that such trust-busting drains the wealth of an economic prime mover, which means in turn that Intel cannot create as many jobs.

And if their minds were on the premise of linking facts and knowledge, they might integrate two more headlines from today's NYT:

Headline Three: "As Ills Persist, Afghan Leader Is Losing Luster"

Headline Four: "Water-Starved California Slows Development"

Three is about Afghan's request for $50 billion, a significant portion of which, no doubt, will come out of the pockets of individual Americans and American corporations. The connection between three and one should be so obvious as to not require explanation.

Four is about how California's water shortage is causing many municipalities to stop residential and commercial development. As an example, of what is in fact a country-wide problem (see for instance the southeast), a "1,500-home development project" was halted by government authorities. Environmental controls on water are partly responsible for this wealth- and job-destroying shortage. (See the NYT article.) The primary cause is that governments (state and local) control the water supply. If the creative intelligence and wealth of entrepreneurs were unleashed, we would have water flowing through the streets, and more economic development and jobs -- and might even be able to water our lawns.

If we had leaders who understood Ayn Rand's point that "integration is the essential part of understanding," then just maybe those leaders would grasp that there's a link among those four headlines: A country loses jobs because the productive businessmen who create them are being bled dry by confiscatory taxes and fees, and are being strangled by government controls.