Sunday, June 06, 2010

Activism: Israel Solidarity Rally in Los Angeles

I attended the Israel Solidarity Rally in Los Angeles today wearing a "Who is John Galt?" t-shirt and handed out Ayn Rand Center literature in the form of a still relevant Elan Journo article. This was my first rally in recent memory and certainly the first one I remember where I handed out literature. I had about 100 copies of the article to hand out and had 8 left when I departed. Most people were friendly and receptive to Ayn Rand. Many came up to me and said they had read her before and enjoyed it. Some were curious who John Galt was and, of course, I encouraged them to read the relevant book. One person said he had seen Ayn Rand speak many years ago during one of her last public appearances. I met PJTV personality Joe Hicks who also took a copy. I had one or two negative responses as well but nothing too drastic. I'm not sure how to estimate crowds but I guess it must have been in the hundreds, perhaps low thousands. Governor Schwarzenegger spoke, Jacob Dayan, the head of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, as well as others, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, though the sound was bad and most speakers were difficult to hear.

Here are some pictures from the event.

A couple of signs I found interesting:

After I took somebody's picture, I asked them to take mine:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

On the Failure of the Current US War Strategy

Barry Rubin recently wrote a very important blog post entitled "What's Wrong--and Dangerously So--With U.S. Strategic Policy in the Middle East". In the post he praised two important articles highly critical of US strategy, which originated with the Bush administration and is now still substantially continued by the Obama administration. Echoing themes that are detailed in Elan Journo's Winning the Unwinnable War, as well as John David Lewis' Nothing Less than Victory (I highly recommend both books!!!) , the articles decry the counterinsurgency methods of General Petraeus, as well as the continued refusal of the US to strive for victory by making the sources of the problem, namely Iran and its allies pay for their instigation . Rubin writes that in retrospect:
All these points will be very clear in 20 or 30 years as people look back on these mistakes but are powerless to change them. It would be far better if they were understood and corrected right now.
The first article referenced is Spengler's General Petraeus' Thirty Years War (Spengler is an alias for David P. Goldman, senior editor of First Things). Goldman argues that the apparent stability created by arming the various militias in Iraq and elsewhere is a big mistake:
Petraeus created a balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites by reconstructing the former's fighting capacity, while persuading pro-Iranian militants to bide their time. To achieve this balance of power, though, he built up Sunni military power to the point that - for the first time in Iraq's history - Sunnis and Shi'ites are capable of fighting a full-dress civil war with professional armed forces. "Nation-building" in Iraq failed to construct any function feature of civil society - a concept hitherto unknown to Mesopotamia - except, of course, for the best-functioning organized groups of killers that Iraq ever has had.
Read the whole article, in which Goldman covers the ominous implications of similar policies in the Palestinian territories.

The second article, published on Michael J. Totten's blog, is Lee Smith's The Trouble with Proxy Wars. In a key paragraph Smith writes:
If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won. Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win. [emphasis added]
Smith's article is even more important than Goldman because it drives at what ought to be the key goal in a war: Victory.

Update 11:48am: Fixed grammar.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Blogger Gus van Horn has published an excellent op-ed at Pajamas Media on the topic of the recent Arizona law on illegal immigration. Gus writes:
SB 1070 deserves only one fundamental criticism: It would fail to protect the individual rights of American citizens –even if it hermetically sealed our borders and the police never touched a single American hair in the process of enforcing it. This is because the biggest headaches attributed to illegal immigration are not caused by it at all.
The biggest headaches are the freebies as well as restrictive laws that the government provides and imposes. I commented on the article as follows:
Gus van Horn has it right! I appreciate that most of the people of Arizona are not racist and do not hate Hispanics but the net effect of their law is to impose an unjustifiable burden on anybody who will seem suspicious to the police. The problem, as Gus points out, is the number of freebies our government provides as well drug laws that generate crime, as well as laws that require the provision of services without pay, not illegal immigration as such. The freebies and laws create unnecessary but justifiable resentment. We should work to phase out these items so that no one pays for other people’s education or other service unwillingly and so that our freedoms are no longer restricted. Residency (though not citizenship, which should be a much longer process) should be an option available to all newcomers who want it, barring obvious infectious disease, or other danger to the public such as terrorism.
For a couple more detailed presentations of the rational case for immigration see the following:

Immigration Quotas vs. Individual Rights: The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration by Harry Binswanger

Immigration and Individual Rights by Craig Biddle

UPDATE 4/30/2010 8:20AM:
See also The Rights of Man, the Privileges of Citizen, a very good clarifying on this topic by blogger Jim May of The New Clarion.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Peikoff-Kelley Dispute

Those new to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism are no doubt a bit mystified by the fact that there appear to be two rival "camps" that both claim to represent and promote Ayn Rand's ideas, namely the Ayn Rand Institute, still influenced by founder Leonard Peikoff, and what is now called The Atlas Society, whose senior intellectual is David Kelley. The dispute between the two sides is now over 20 years old and is certainly not easy to understand for new students of Objectivism.

Fortunately, blogger Roderick Fitts of Inductive Quest, has now written a series of essays that clearly, carefully, and in some detail lay out why Kelley is wrong and Peikoff is right. He has written four parts so far:

Closed vs. Open Part 1: Introduction, and the Issues

Part 2: The History of the Dispute, and the Closed and Open Systems

Part 3: On Moral Judgment

Part 4: Moral Sanction

I think these essays will be useful not only to newcomers but experienced Objectivists as well because they do an excellent job of clarifying and concretizing the issues involved. As someone who has at various points in time struggled with these issues, I highly recommend this series of essays.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

For the record, I really hate South Park, but the producers of the show, like everybody else in this country have the right to express themselves without intimidation, including about the subject of the alleged prophet Mohamed. That is why I support Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. See also Ari Armstrong's arguments for a further defense. Above is my entry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nothing Less Than Victory

Last night I finished reading John David Lewis's excellent book Nothing Less Than Victory. I posted the following review at amazon:

John David Lewis takes the reader through the important steps of six separate wars in ancient and modern times ranging from the Greeks and Romans to the U.S. Civil War and World War II. In each case he illustrates in detail the importance of moral ideas as the necessary motivating factors in a decisive defeat of an enemy. Only a consistent, principled commitment to the rightness of one's cause and therefore a willingness to take the fight to the "center of gravity" of the enemy will result in the enemy's permanent surrender. The rightness of one's cause should not be arbitrary but be based on a rational, fact-based recognition of the moral superiority of one's civilization. Highly recommended!

One hopes that today and tomorrow's policy makers will read this book as well as Elan Journo's Winning the Unwinnable War: America's Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Outrage of the Day

General Stanley McChrystal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that it remains the goal of U.S. troops to capture Osama bin Laden alive and "bring him to justice."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Repeal the Amazon Tax!

It seem Colorado has decided to make life more difficult for online retailers such Let's help fight this new injustice before other states begin to copy it. Details can be found in the following links:

Repeal the Amazon Tax.

At Diana Hsieh's Noodlefood:
Colorado Screws Amazon and its Affiliates.

And at Ari Armstrong's blog Free Colorado:
Stop the 'Amazon Tax!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Capitalism Unbound

Andrew Bernstein has written a new book called Capitalism Unbound that, in his words:

...offers a focused, essentialized, and condensed argument ideal for the layman who admires capitalism but lacking a succinct, accessible explanation of its moral and economic virtues.
I have just finished reading it and I heartily agree. The book is an excellent shorter and updated presentation of the historical, moral and economic case for capitalism already presented in his book The Capitalist Manifesto. It is, as Dr. Bernstein put it on Facebook, "best book [he's] ever written." I think the organization of the book, in particular, is very effective in conveying the link between the historical facts and the ideas, both moral and economic. There is also enough myth busting to challenge those unfamiliar with the details of economic history, particularly the history of pre-capitalist and early capitalist eras. There are also interesting thoughts on charity as well.

Highly recommended!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A question on killing civilians in war

Someone identified as "Curious" has posted a comment asking for my comment on an article by Justin Raimondo which is entitled "The Objectivist Death Cult". I'm afraid the limits of my tolerance do not extend to analyzing articles that refer to Objectivists as a "cult," never mind a "death cult."

However, I realize the specific issue that he asks about is not obvious. I recommend you take a look at the Morality of War section at the Ayn Rand Institute which has a wealth of analysis and explanation. I also highly recommend Elan Journo's new book Winning the Unwinnable War.

Let me add that I also struggled with this issue immediately after 9/11. When I first heard Peikoff speak on O'Reilly, I was not at all convinced he was right. Frankly, perhaps I had gotten too used to the way war is portrayed in movies with the good guys always taking care not to harm any civilians. However, I became more and more convinced that Peikoff was right as I watched how we fought both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and how both efforts were severely hampered by an excessive regard for the enemy nation. It also helps to remember the details of how World War II was fought and won. The point is the primary consideration ought to be what is necessary to achieve quick and complete victory (which would also require a much more exact identification of the enemy to be defeated). Crucially this means crushing the will of the enemy to fight.

Morally, when a nation goes to war, it should value the lives of its citizens, including its soldiers, above the lives of the enemy civilians, and of course soldiers. War is a collective endeavor -- nations go to war and each side must treat the other as the enemy until hostilities cease or one side wins. To the extent that the enemy population is opposed to the enemy regime, then of course, the rebels (assuming not also directly hostile to us) should be encouraged and it would be counterproductive to attack forces that are potentially allied with us. However, to the extent that the population is united behind the regime or neutral or opposed to us as well then their deaths may be necessary to destroy our enemies and thus win the war.

Unfortunately, all wars result in truly innocent persons such as children getting killed. The moral blame lies with the initiator of force and those who made him possible. The nation engaged in defense ought to fight to defeat the enemy as quickly and as convincingly as possible so that there is no mistaking who is the victor. Only then can the killing stop and the rebuilding begin.