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Archive for September, 2008

“I don’t care what somebody on some college campus says.”

— President George W. Bush, on hearing last week that more than 200 eminent economists had signed a letter expressing concern about the White House’s proposed bailout plan.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator)

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“May you find what you are looking for;
May you come to the attention of those in authority;
May you live in interesting times.”

Ancient Chinese curses.

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I wrote earlier about Obama’s attempts to silence ads critical of him by legal intimidation.

His “truth-squad” at Missouri is, however, no less disturbing. [However, see update below]

Perhaps we are getting overworked about the whole thing and this “truth squad” is simply there to issue rebuttals and not actually engage in prosecutions.

Perhaps Obama really does not believe in free speech and like Stalin, Che Guevera or Hugo Chavez has no qualms about crushing dissenting voices using all the force and cunning at his disposal.

The truth probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. I think Obama does generally believe in free speech and civil liberties but he also believes it is of paramount importance that he get elected. And he probably thinks that if some false propaganda against him can be silenced only by intimidatory tactics, it is not such a terrible thing.

That brings one to an interesting moral question. To what extent should one be willing to compromise one’s principles for some ‘greater good’?

I know where I stand, at least with regard to this particular issue. But Obama, and surely over 70% of the country, would probably view me as a free speech radical.

[Update] Eugene Volokh has another post on the issue. Perhaps, as he suggests, the “truth squads” are nothing worse than an apparatus to systematically rebut falsehoods. If so, I have no problems with the principle. The devil however lies in the details: to many ordinary citizens, the sight of officials such as sheriffs and prosecuters forcefully countering claims might seem rather close to intimidation.

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Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

One of the major surprises I received when I moved out of childhood into the real world, was the degree to which the world is stratified by genuine competence.

Now, yes, Steve Jurvetson is not just a randomly selected big-name venture capitalist.  He is a big-name VC who often shows up at transhumanist conferences.  But I am not drawing a line through just one data point.

I was invited once to a gathering of the mid-level power elite, where around half the attendees were “CEO of something” – mostly technology companies, but occasionally “something” was a public company or a sizable hedge fund.  I was expecting to be the youngest person there, but it turned out that my age wasn’t unusual – there were several accomplished individuals who were younger.  This was the point at which I realized that my child prodigy license had officially completely expired.

Now, admittedly, this was a closed conference run by people clueful enough to think “Let’s invite Eliezer Yudkowsky” even though I’m not a CEO.  So this was an incredibly cherry-picked sample.  Even so…

Even so, these people of the Power Elite were visibly much smarter than average mortals. In conversation they spoke quickly, sensibly, and by and large intelligently. When talk turned to deep and difficult topics, they understood faster, made fewer mistakes, were readier to adopt others’ suggestions.

No, even worse than that, much worse than that: these CEOs and CTOs and hedge-fund traders, these folk of the mid-level power elite, seemed happier and more alive.

This, I suspect, is one of those truths so horrible that you can’t talk about it in public.  This is something that reporters must not write about, when they visit gatherings of the power elite.

Because the last news your readers want to hear, is that this person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier, and not a bad person morally.  Your reader would much rather read about how these folks are overworked to the bone or suffering from existential ennui.  Failing that, your readers want to hear how the upper echelons got there by cheating, or at least smarming their way to the top.  If you said anything as hideous as, “They seem more alive,” you’d get lynched.

Worth quoting, I think, especially in an era where much redistributionist logic stems from an assumption that money and ability have little relation.

We all have different goals in life, and some, like I, choose to do something out of love or reverence and perhaps a shot at greatness. In doing so, we often renounce the opportunity of doing something else that might have led to more money. However, it is important that we do not confuse this voluntary decision with some sort of moral superiority. There is nothing wrong with the fact that people with more money have better healthcare, better food, better recreation and better opportunities in life. Money may not be a perfect denomination, but it is the best that exists. And there is nothing more important, in these troubled days, to reaffirm the morality of a world that deals in it and rewards some more than others.

Let me end this post with an excerpt from a glorious passage by Ayn Rand, who expresses this idea more eloquently than I ever can.

To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a COUNTRY OF MONEY—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist.

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to MAKE money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.

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And thuggishness by, well, see below…

A month ago, I wrote critically about Obama’s attempt to silence advertisements that opposed him: using a combination of his passionate supporter-strength and legal threats.

Sadly, it was not a one-off incident.

The latest targets of the Obama campaign is an advertisement by the National Rifle association (NRA). Obama claims that the ad misrepresents his position, which may well be true. But his response goes beyond that.

The Obama campaign has written radio stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, pressing them to refuse to air an ad from the National Rifle Association.

“This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience about Senator Obama’s position on the Second Amendment,” says the letter from Obama general counsel Bob Bauer. “For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”

As the letter makes clear, it’s not just a request but a transparent legal threat.

Yes, Obama, and indeed every individual has the right to make legal threats. But this issues isn’t whether Obama did anything illegal in sending that letter (he didn’t) but whether you want a president who lacks the basic respect for the First Amendment and free speech that was displayed here. Can you imagine what it would be like if in an Obama administration, the people sending these letters are not lawyers but Federal investigators?

Yes, the First Amendment is too precious to take a chance with. So, despite the fact that I am an Obama supporter, I’ll respond to him in the only way I can think of — by linking to the NRA ad that he hates.

Update: I now see that David Bernstein at Volokh had the same idea. Good for him and I hope more people do this. The small difference is that Prof. Bernstein titles his post “Doing my patriotic duty”. I am not American, and in any case, this is not about a country. So let’s just say I am being true to my beliefs.

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A month an a half from now, when John McCain’s team tries to pinpoint the reason they lost the election, they will eventually stumble upon a date: September 24.

It was a day that saw McCain making his disastrous debate postponement offer (stellarly countered by Obama) that saw him mocked by Dave Letterman and much of the National Review crowd. It was also the day when Sarah Palin’s unbelievably bad interview with Couric started airing on TV.

Make no mistake, unless something spectacular happens for him in the debates, or a devastating event, like a terrorist attack on US soil takes place, John McCain threw away his shot at the presidency yesterday.

For more evidence, check out the amazing videos below:

First, Palin’s interview. It is, by turns, depressing, hilarious, embarassing and ends on a surreal note.

Next, watch Dave Letterman eviscerate McCain. It’s funny and truthful. The ultimate salt on the wound is at the very end, when he uses CBS’ in-house cameras to expose McCain as a liar, who cancelled his show with Letterman citing the need to rush to Washington, but ended up rushing to Ann Couric to give an interview.

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Sarah Palin met with world leaders for two days, presumably to educate herself on foreign policy. So what’s the only news we have about the affair? Click here for the answer.

Well, sex sells, I guess. Now only if Dubya was hot, the world might have been such a peaceful place…

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