Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Richness of Experience?

Well, well, well.

We are to have a new SCOTUS Justice, Sonia Sotomayor from The United States Court of Appeals, District 2.

In many ways, she appears to be a very good pick.

She has many years on the bench, and prior to that, she was a prosecutor.

She has a good academic record, and although she is not known for legal brilliance, she is the child of immigrants and has the rise from the bottom story that is inspiring to all.

As a citizen, viewing this process from afar, my hope is always for a Supreme Court Justice who reveres the Constitution of the United States, and understands that she (or he) is not a maker of laws, but an arbiter of the Rule of Law, interpreting to us how our legislation relates to the Constitution. And I wish for someone humble as well as smart, someone who recognizes that justice is blind, and is no respecter of persons.

This last is why this Sotomayor quote is troubling:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life . . ."

(Sonia Sotomayor, at the 2001 Judge Mario B. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture, University of California, Berkeley. Quoted in The New York Times, May 14, 2009).

Judge Sotomayor said this in the context of a remark attributed to Sandra Day O'Connor that "a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusions when judging cases."

In my reading of her speech (the whole of which can be found here), I understand that Sotomayor is talking about the idea that women and certain minorities bring their experience to their work, and in this case the work is judging.

But this is true of every individual. All of us who have lived life for a while have rich experience and the potential for wisdom. Those old white men Sotomayor disparages also have the richness of their experiences, as do the five Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant that Sotomayor will serve with on SCOTUS.

I am NOT concerned that diverse judges will bring their life experience to their work as arbiters of the Constitution. I AM concerned that they should remember that Lady Justice is blind; she is no respector of persons, and that each person's case deserves equal respect under the law.

I am NOT concerned that our SCOTUS justices are individuals from diverse rich backgrounds. I AM concerned that we may have a justice who believes that her background is richer and more "diverse*" than that of the others. Her statement makes me think that she believes that some backgrounds are more equal than others. And if that is her understanding, then how can Sotomayor possibly judge all cases equally under the Supreme Law of the Land, as her oath will require her to do?

*This is a poor, but common use of the word 'diverse.' Diversity means a range of differences, and so any one thing by itself cannot be 'diverse.' That this word is used this way by the progressives suggests an agenda whereby some people are indeed 'more equal' than others.

Certainly, Sotomayor has earned the right to be proud of her life's course and her accomplishments, attained through the surmounting of barriers that others on the Court may not have experienced. But those others may well have surmounted barriers of their own; some barriers of which she may know nothing, and some of which she may share with them.

Each individual has a unique background and set of life-circumstances, unique capabilities and limitations. Our very individuality makes it impossible to fairly judge who has done better or worse, who has had more difficulty or more ease in the attainments of life that can be observed. And this is why, in our Western culture, we have the concept of the Rule of Law: that the law should apply equally to the homeborn and the stranger; that you shall not favor the poor over the rich in judgment. Because we cannot see into the lives and the hearts of individuals, this is the only way to render justice--we make everyone equally accountable under the law.

I am not sure that Judge Sotomayor is willing and able to do that, given her remark that her personal life experiences make her better suited to make judgements than the life experience of others. As time goes on, I hope that we will learn more about her decisions from the bench, thus gaining a richer context for what she has said. In the meantime, we have reason to be concerned.

One Hundred Species is Back!


Although the weather lately is acting like the Monsoon a month early,
the ubiquitous "they" say that there is
not enough moisture in the atmosphere for it.

Instead, we have an "entrenched depression pattern." Whatever "it" is, we have been getting rain nearly every day for the past week, and we are expected to get seven more days of it.

This is unusual, but we'll take it!
With the flowers blooming and the plants loving it, it's time again for the One Hundred Species Challenge.

30. Oenothera missouriensis: Missouri Evening Primrose.
This showy flower is not a primrose, and it opens in the morning, fading in the hot New Mexico afternoons. It is growing among:

31: Stipa tennuissima: Thread grass.

And here is another false primrose:

31: Oenothera albicaulus: Prairie Evening Primrose. On the blooms in silhouette, you can see the very inferior ovary (way below the calyx) these plants have. This one does seem to open in the evening, after the heat of the day.

Last, we have a non-native ornamental, growing in front of the native Opuntia (Cholla), that was counted last summer on Ragamuffin studies.

32: Aloe aristatus: One of approximately 500 different aloes, this one hales from somewhere in the Pacific regions.

If I am ever going to identify up to 100, I think I need to look at animals as well!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: Freedom is Not Free

The sun has returned today, after three days of clouds and rain.
So today, as we go about our picnics and barbeques, shopping and summer fun,
we will pass by Old Glory, flying in breeze outside Ragamuffin house,
and take a moment to remember those
who gave their lives in battles on American soil, and in foreign lands.

Freedom is Not Free
by Kelly Strong

I watched the flag pass by one day.
fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud,
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.

I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.

Picture Credits:
Soldier Salutes Flag in Iraq, Baristanet
Bugler at Memorial Service, Vietnam: Army Quartermaster Museum

Friday, May 22, 2009

Expendable: The Moral Bankruptcy of Appeasing Evil

This week has brought some news out of Iran that ought to concern us all, but especially concerns Israel. Iran has tested an intercontinental rocket capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. The Jerusalem Post reports it here. And in another story, the same paper reports that prior to Bibi's visit to Washington, President Obama sent CIA head Panetta to Jerusalem specifically to warn Israel against a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear program. And then Obama used Bibi's visit to announce that he would continue his policy of talking to I'manutjob . . . er, Achmadinajad for six months, and when if that doesn't work, he'll convince the UN to strengthen sanctions against Iran. By then, it may well be too late for Tel Aviv.

Evidently, Obama has been reading his Ghandi:

"The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah (sic) had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the god fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep."
--Mahatma Ghandi, 20 Nov. 1938

The moral bankruptcy of this statement is self-evident. To Ghandi, the lives of others are expendable, a sacrifice to his ideal world where evil is not to be resisted. Thus, to him, those who would fight to protect their lives and those of their innocent children have the obligation to lay down their arms and submit to terror and death or be considered less moral than the murderers, who apparantly are doing G-d's work by murdering Jews. This is the most profoundly immoral statement I have ever read.

And President Obama? Certainly he has no obligation to come to the rescue of Israel if there is no threat to the United States. And if this is the case, then as President, he should state this clearly. However, he has a lot of damn gall insisting that Israel must not defend her own people against a clearly defined threat to their very existence. I'manutjob has clearly stated his goal to wipe Israel off the face of the earth numerous times. He is a religious fanatic who wants to bring the Caliphate on Earth through the 12th Iman.

Evidently, Obama's moral bankruptcy extends to the sacrifice of the lives of 5 million Jews in order to preserve his fantasy that evil can be negotiated with rather than confronted. It is easy to let others be first in line to face evil in faith, with no resistance, even to death by fire, while hiding behind one's own self-righteousness.

It is a fine thing for President Obama to lecture Bibi Netanyahu, making moral equivalencies, as the world turns inevitably toward nuclear war at the hands of a madman and tyrant. To take a page from the Other Testament: "They cry peace, peace when there is no peace."

Israel's population, which comprises nearly half of the Jews left in the entire world, is on the front lines. And clearly, just as in they were in Europe, they are expendable.

The Wrong Side of a Do-Gooding Law

It is interesting to see what strange bedfellows the current rush of the federal government toward fascism* is creating. Yes, fascism. I am tired of self-censoring, and I think it's about time to call a spade an F'ing shovel.

*Fascism is here defined as the control of capital and those who manage it by the government, through the use of central planning, although the actual companies remain nominally in private hands.

In the past few weeks, I have been thinking about how those of us who oppose any part of President Obama's* monster government have been cast. I have seen it in the comments to this blog. The progressive bloggers and the lefties have consistently labeled concerned citizens as partisan, and have cast all arguments into the major party straightjackets. Obama's minions are every bit as eager to use the "if you're not for us, you're against us" cannard as were G.W.'s hacks.

*Yes, I am aware that Obama "inherited" Mr. Bush's monster government and trashed economy, but Obama has set out to grow government even bigger much faster, and he is trashing the dollar at an even more alarming rate. This is now his government, and two branches are controlled by one party. They cannot excuse their behavior by blaming the previous administration forever. And for the record, I was just as opposed to Bush's big government as I am to Obama's mongo-sized one.

Consider this statement from comments to my blog, by way of example.
About the Tea Party:
"In this case, it was instigated and coordinated by right-wing lobbyists, the Republican Party and Fox News as well as the rest of the conservative media as a means of bashing Obama and rallying support to an otherwise floundering GOP."

If you disagree with any part of the Vision of the Annointed, not only are you "seen as being in error, but in sin" (as Sowell writes in The Vision of the Annointed, p. 3), and further, you are seen as being unable to think for yourself, and told that you are being manipulated; the Annointed worry about you, concerned that you might "get mixed up with these people." But actually, their whole purpose is to paint those who disagree as partisan and manipulated, so that discussion never rises to any meaningful level where opposing views are seen as equally sincere. As Sowell says about the level of argument:

"What is remarkable is how few arguments are really engaged in, and how many substitutes for arguments there are . . . Many of these so called "thinking people" (EHL: the Annointed) could be more accurately characterized as articulate people, as people whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic." (p. 5-6).

So what happens as more and more people run afoul of the maze of contradictory regulations and limitations to our liberty imposed by the well-meaning Nanny State?

This month, I opened my copy of Reason Magazine to read about some at least slightly granola DIY'ers who have run afoul of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the purported purpose of which is to protect our kids from lead-laced toys from China. Like many recent regulations however, the law actually has the result of destroying of American-based small toymaker's businesses because of the onerous and expensive testing requirements. (For much, much more about CPSIA link through here and here). Need I say that these American small businesses, run by crunchy capitalists, have never marketed products containing lead?

The DIY'ers, who believed that the harm the regulations would do to their businesses was an oversight by Congress, formed organizations, like the Handmade Toy Alliance (the second "here" in the paragraph above), to get the law amended. And they found out that the party they usually supported was not on their side. Consider the hipster mom and home-based businesswoman Cecilia Leibovitz:

"Before the legislation," says Leibovitz, “I’d never really gotten involved politically. I’ve just tried to work in my own life.” But a lot of what she thought she knew about the political process turned out to be wrong. She was discouraged to discover how little power citizens, and even individual lawmakers, have over legislation. Consumer safety groups, she says, ended up getting exactly what they wanted.
“I’ve been supportive of some of these groups,” she says. “I actually blogged about this safety issue in 2007, thinking we were just focusing on problem products. I didn’t realize how massive the law would be and how many products it would cover.” " (Reason Magazine, June 2009, p. 44)

And she discovered something else:

"“What it looks like is that our needs are largely being responded to by Republicans. Most of the people in the Homemade Toy Alliance are probably more aligned with the Democratic side. And people in the Homemade Toy Alliance kind of like the things that these consumer groups are touting, like safer products and natural things.” But now she finds herself in this “weird alliance.” " (ibid).

Leibovitz is still seeing this as a partisan issue, and it's hard for her not to, because Congress has very few members who are not allied with the major parties. But this is really an issue about the power of government, and like many of us before her, her awakening is beginning as she understands that the Congress is more concerned about the big lobby groups and multinational corporations that they represent, than they are about her freedom and prosperity.

To add insult to injury, as children's toys and clothes are being pulled from thrift-store shelves, and are even destroyed, and children's books are being targeted, the political activities of these small business owners is being cast into the standard partisan rhetoric by the progressive media. The very real concerns of opponents to this very bad piece of legislation have been labeled as "alarmist" and the people themselves have been called "conspiracy theorists" and "fear-mongers" by such progressive media as the New York Times.

As Jennifer Grinnell of posted:

". . .The sad fact about larger public discussions in the US these days is how politicized almost every subject has become. In an ‘us’ and ‘them’ environment, we seem to have lost [sight] of the fact that perhaps we, the citizens who find fault with this law, actually have a legitimate point and are not trying to advance an ideology or nefarious political agenda.” (As quoted in Reason Magazine, June 2009, p. 47).

Their sense of betrayal towards their government, and their awakening understanding that their concerns are being cast as a "nefarious political agenda" is well understood by many of us who have trod the same road in years past, awakened by other issues. I was a more than slightly crunchy mom, and my awakening and return to my libertarian roots (second generation and proud of it!) was catalized by 9-11 and home education. As I began to realize that Annointed statists and do-gooders wanted to control what I teach my children, and how I raise them, I understood that all that stands between me and absolute tyranny is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And unless I am willing to trust my fellow citizens of all beliefs and walks of life to manage their own lives, I will not have the freedom to manage mine.

The rhetoric of the Obamaniacs is wearing thin. The tea parties, the 9-12 movement, and patriot groups springing up everywhere understand that this is not about partisan politics, and take no regard of what the vaunted Fourth Estate is saying to itself. (No wonder they aren't making any money). As the toymakers will find out, the Republican party is as morally bankrupt as are the Democrats. They are, with very few exceptions, self-aggrandizing statists whose whole agenda is power and privilege. And they have bought the "opinion makers" with the bread and circuses inside the beltway.

Out here in "flyover country", we don't want to be ruled by the Annointed. And we are tired of paying for their folly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

South Mountain Moods


Nearly Wordless Wednesday is back.
And today, Ragamuffin Studies presents South Mountain.
I am fascinated by it because every day, South Mountain has its own special beauty.

Summer dawn and mist.
July 2008

Autumn clouds, harbingers of the winter to come to South Mountain.

October 2008

When the snow matches the sky, foreshortening the mountain.

December 2008

South Mountain, before dawn on a misty
first day of spring.

March 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ferrari Hind-Brain, Dune Buggy Frontal Lobes

Fads in education tend to be oversimplified, and the newest of fads is no exception.
Think about this current catch-phrase in education for a moment: Brain-based learning.

People are writing curricula and textbooks and making a lot of money from this phrase.

Whenever I hear it in a seminar or discussion, I am always tempted to raise my hand and ask, "Isn't all learning brain based?" Because it is. At least the learning we are supposed to be talking about when we are talking about educating children in school.

The other one--and it's been around for a while now--is the whole left-brained vs. right-brained cliche. You know it: right-brained people are so much more enlightened and spiritual than those who dwell in the concrete-sequential left brain. Except . . . it appears the religious experience is partially mediated by the left temporal lobe. Sorry, wrong hemisphere.

There is some truth to the idea that there is a hemispheric division of duty in the brain. In males, language processing is normally in the left hemisphere, whereas certain associations of the images that language evokes take place in the right hemisphere. But females tend to distribute language processing across the two hemispheres, and since the female corpus collosum tends to be larger and denser and signals move across it more rapidly, why shouldn't they?

Guys, this may be why you cannnot win at verbal tete-a-tete with your mothers. But I digress . . .

Consider the paragraph above the digression about guys. The word "normally" is operative there. Because neuroplasticity is such that people do all kinds of things with parts of their brains normally reserved for something else. And there are those on the autism spectrum that make an art of it, experiencing synasthesia, the ability to smell color, for example, or hear shapes.

The semester's work that I just finished (thank Heaven and the PsychInfo data base) was about differences in sensory processing between people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and typically developing individuals (NTs). I looked at visual processing, but I could have just as easily looked at other senses. In all of them it is the same. Autistics process differently, using different parts of the brain on both the right and left sides, because the real difference is between front and back.

Uta Frith, one of the researchers about this, says that non-autistics have a drive towards central coherence. NTs will look at the picture, and initially see the parts and then the whole, but they do it very quickly, and then prompty forget the details in that drive to the big picture. Many with ASD do not. Rather, their focus on the local processing is intense, and they remember the details and focus on them, sometimes not seeing the big picture at all. This makes them very good at the Block Design subtest on the Weschler Intelligence Scales (WISC or WAIS) and very bad at the Comprehesion portion.

And what portions of the brain light up on fMRI when these kids are doing tasks like BD? It appears that they shift their function backwards, to more local function. Some researcher think they mentally move shapes needed to match detail to the whole, rather than place the figure in working memory, like NTs do. The NT strategy for embedded figures and block design has many more top-down features, and thus on these kind of tasks, individuals on the spectrum are more efficient and work faster. And in time-constrained situations, they also tend to be more accurate.

These visual processing differences appear to be primary in nature, by which I mean that they show up on both social and non-social tasks. It is true that autistics process faces differently, with much of the activations happening outside the fusiform gyrus' face area. But in ASD samples, processing of right-side up and upside down faces is equally as fast, whereas in NTs it is not. This may mean that it is perception that is fundamentally different, and that it is possible that many of the other characteristics of autism flow from it, rather than from a fundamental difficulty with social interaction.

Some researchers believe that these perceptual differences are the root of savant skills like card-counting, calendar calculating, or perspective in drawing.

There are still arguments in the field about whether of not this "weak central coherence" is compensation for a deficit or whether it is an enhanced perceptual function in its own right. There is evidence that those with ASD do engage in top-down control (from the frontal lobes), and that the local perceptual functioning (bottom-up) is more efficient. But there is also evidence that the observed top-down processes are qualitively different than those in NTs.

But it is safe to say that perception in ASD (and to some extent in ADHD as well) is fundamentally different than in NTs.

fMRI activation maps do show difference across the hemispheres, but also from the back of the brain to the front. In autistic perception, the activated areas are more scattered throughout the brain, and different areas light up for perceptual tasks than in NTs.

All of this means that the structure of intelligence is different in ASD. On the new WISC and WAIS scales, the Working Memory and Processing Speed indices result in much lower scores than the norm, whereas the Perceptual Organization and Verbal Comprehension are much higher. This is true within the individual scores, so that any full-scale IQ score is essentially meaningliess. When fluid intelligence, which is the ability to reason abstractly, is measured alone, as it is on Ravens Progressive Matrices, scores are generally very high in high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome (AS).

One problem with intelligence testing done by educators as opposed to those done by professional psychologists, is that they often calcuate a FSIQ when the gaps between subtests and indices are so wide as to make that number meaningless. This meaningless number is then used as a measure of a child's potential, and is attached to him/her, sometimes for years, and limits what the child is allowed to do in school. To add insult to this injury, schools are designed for the average (and with NCLB, the slightly below) child, and instruction is auditory-sequential in nature, which relies heavily on auditory working memory and processing speed. This is why school is a difficult place for a child on the spectrum to actually get an education.

The rules are made for NTs. Thus one has to memorize math facts before being allowed to take higher math. And one must take algebra before geometry. Neither of these Stupid Neurotypical Rules (SNTR: coined by Temple Grandin) make sense for kids who see the world through such different perceptual lenses. The should use a calculator. And take geometry first. And then use hands-on equations for algebra. Even so, the teacher must be able to teach math outside the SNTR box.

Here's the bottom line:

It's not about right- or left-brained people. But we could say that Aspies, Autistics, and ADHD's, all have Ferarri motors in the hind brain, but with a dune buggy control system in the frontal lobes, the drive for them is anything but smooth in the narrowly defined normal of the typical school.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ahhhh! (Blogger Withdrawal)

Since I blogged last:
1) I finished a paper entitled: Evidence for two different visual processing theories in ASD: A comparison of neuroimaging analysis (It took forever, because I am clearly a novice at this! I took the class in order to be able to tell how good the claims are for neuroimaging studies. I'm not sure I should say this, but . . . there's a lot of crap out there. I suffered but I learned a good deal).

2) I finished a paper entitled: Seeing the trees before the forest: the structure of visual intelligence in ASD (This was for my readings course. It was more within my knowledge base and more fun to write. I learned a lot with this one, too. Even if it wasn't painful and I could smile sometimes while writing).

3)The Boychick got his Blue Belt with a stripe, wrote a paper, and took his finals. Today, he slept until 10 A.M. and then we went into town to turn in that last paper and spent three hours at Borders. I read an entire mystery novel. Light reading is so nice!

4) I became the Mother of the Revolution in New Mexico. (I'll explain that one . . . someday. Relax, Mark. It's all in good fun).

5) I seriously neglected my blog. I am behind on comments, and lost one of them somehow--sorry again! I probably have it in my overflowing personal inbox. Which I will get to . . .
(But I did discover that I am the only person that gets excited about F.A. Hayek. Ah, well. I did marry a geek. Does that mean I am one?)

But that's a serious question, not one that is appropriate for an end-of-the-semester Friday when all the papers are turned in, and there are no more hanging over my head until August!

Right now . . .

it's Guiness time!


The foam is the best part.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 8, 2009

F.A. Hayek: The Power of His Ideas

One hundred and ten years ago today, F.A. Hayek was born in Austria.

Growing up in that place at that time, he was educated in the socialist ideas that were then being developed in the German speaking countries. However, Hayek was a student of the great economist Ludwig Von Mises, founder of the Austrian School of Economics. During the 1930s, when National Socialism was engaging a struggle for the soul of Europe, Hayek was lecturing at the London School of Economics, fighting socialism through his work as an economist. As the lights once again went out over Europe, Hayek began to wed his economic expertise as an exponent of capitalism with the political thought that creates the conditions for it, classical liberalism.* Thus he became one of the most influential economists and political philosophers of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 with Gunnar Myrdal for their joint contribution to the theory of money and its effect on economic cycles, as well as for his lifetime of thought about the interdependence of economics and social organization.

One of his most famous and enduring works was The Road to Serfdom, written in England, and published in 1944. It is an analysis of the ideas that led to the terrible crisis of WWII in Europe. The central thesis of the book is based on Hayek's analysis of what he called the fatal flaw of socialism, that it "presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of the different ends than actually exists, and that, in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must impose upon the people that detailed code of values which is lacking."
(F.A. Hayek (1938). Freedom and the Economic System. In Bruce Caldwell, (Ed.) Socialism and War: Essays, Documents and Reviews, The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, Volume 10, 1997).

*Unfortunately, the word liberal, which used to describe proponents of liberty and government limited in scope to the ennumerated powers of a constitution, was co-opted by the progressives of the early 20th century and has come to mean the opposite; big government with evolving power to meddle in the lives of the people. Our founders were classical liberals. Certain non-anarchist, small 'l' libertarians hold the political philosophy closest to that of certain founders, and conservatives to others. They would all be considered classically 'liberal', if the term had not be co-opted.

Currently in the United States, there is among patriots and patriot groups, the tendency to concede the world of ideas to the collectivists who wish to irrevocably change our Constitution and the system of government that it established. The progressives wish to do this, not by the means established in the Constitution itself, but through political machinations, judicial "legislation" and admininstrative dictates, all of which deprive "we the people" of any above the board discussion and debate. Indeed the progressives impose their programs and ideas upon us through politically correct redefinitions of terms, as well as through demagogery and strong-arm tactics. (Consider how the Bush administration dealt with the bankers, when he imposed TARP; how Congress dealt with AIG last February, and how Obama is currently dealing with the non-TARP secured creditors in the Chrysler Bankruptcy).

Although I do not agree completely with the Objectivist ideology, I have come to understand more and more that they are right in insisting on the importance of the ideas that drive history. Human beings are not blind and impotent in the face of events, unless they choose to be. Rather, the human being, alone of all of the animals, is endowed with a mind capable of reason, and free-will capable of choice. Indeed these endowments are what makes our liberty precious to us. In historical times, at least, we know that it has been ideas that drive human events. And this is why a man like Hayek has been so much admired. It was not his ability to get his way through force, like the politicians of history, but his ideas that have made him great.

Therefore, in honor of Hayek's birthday, I offer the following excerpt from The Road to Serfdom. It is about ideas:

"When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn--when instead of the continuous progress we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism, we naturally blame anything but ourselves. Have we not all striven according to our best lights, and have not our finest minds incessently worked to make this a better world? Have not all our efforts and hopes been directed toward greater freedom, justice, and prosperity? If the outcome is different from our aims--if, instead of freedom and prosperity, bondage and misery stare us in the face--is it not clear that sinister forces must have foiled our intentions, that we are the victims of some evil power which must be conquered before we resume the road to better things? However much we may differ when we name the culprit--whether it is the wicked capitalist or the vicious spirit of a particular nation, the stupidity of our elders, or a social system not yet . . . fully overthrown--we all are, or at least until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which in the last generation have become common to most people of good will and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our part and that pursuit of our most cherished ideal have apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected."
(F.A. Hayek (1944). The Abandoned Road. In Bruce Caldwell (Ed.). The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents (The Definitive Edition). p. 65-66).

This statement comprises the beginning of The Road to Serfdom. The leading ideas of the last generation, the cherished ideals that Hayek was talking about were collectivism and socialist economic theory, imposed in Germany, first with a velvet glove under the Wiemar Republic, and later by the iron fist of the National Socialists. Hayek does not leave the reader to the fantasy that this was particular to the German people; rather he says:

"We still think of the ideals which guide us, and have guided us for the past generation, as ideals only to be realized in the future and are not aware of how far in the last twenty-five years they have transformed not only the world but also our own countries. We still believe that until quite recently we were governed by what are vaguely called ninteenth-century ideas or the principle of laissez-faire. . . . But although until 1931 England and America had followed only slowly on the path on which others had led, even by then they had moved so far that only those whose memory goes back to the years before the last war know what a liberal world has been like." (ibid., p. 66)

How much the more so, the past several generations in the United States?

Hayek was a man whose wisdom was gained by watching his world in Europe descend into totalitarian hell. The ideas prevelent during his childhood are responsible for the deaths of more than one hundred million people, if we count just those killed in WWII and those killed during Stalin's purges and the deliberate starvation of the Kulaks in order to seize their land.

Ideas matter. And the power of Hayek's ideas are extraordinarily important for lovers of liberty in our own time and space.

Hat Tip: Cafe Hayek: Hayek on the Totalitarian Surprise

See also: The Objectivist Round-Up and Rational Jenn.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Chicago Boss in the White House

We all knew that President Obama was in bed with the Chicago mob. Nobody rises that far that fast in Illinois politics otherwise. And the Chicago mob is in bed with the Unions. (For a comprehesive list of sources, see David Horowitz's The Shadow Party, chapter 9).

What did Obama voters who were fund managers or worked for them, or who were bond holders expect?

Those of us who read Mike Royko's Boss tried to tell them. (Yes, I'm that old and yes, I grew up in Illinois. New Mexico's corrupt patron system seems positively amateurish to me).

From The Business Insider:

" . . . sources familiar with the matter say that other firms felt they were threatened as well. None of the sources would agree to speak except on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of political repercussions.

The sources, who represent creditors to Chrysler, say they were taken aback by the hardball tactics that the Obama administration employed to cajole them into acquiescing to plans to restructure Chrysler. One person described the administration as the most shocking "end justifies the means" group they have ever encountered. Another characterized Obama was "the most dangerous smooth talker on the planet- and I knew Kissinger." Both were voters for Obama in the last election."

More links at the Wall Street Journal.

And here is an excerpt from a letter written by Clifton F. Asness, the founding principal of AQR Capital Management, and a man unafraid to speak his mind:

"The President has just harshly castigated hedge fund managers for being unwilling to take his administration’s bid for their Chrysler bonds. He called them “speculators” who were “refusing to sacrifice like everyone else” and who wanted “to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout.”

"The responses of hedge fund managers have been, appropriately, outrage, but generally have been anonymous for fear of going on the record against a powerful President (an exception, though still in the form of a “group letter,” was the superb note from “The Committee of Chrysler Non-TARP Lenders,” some of the points of which I echo here, and a relatively few firms, like Oppenheimer, that have publicly defended themselves). Furthermore, one by one the managers and banks are said to be caving to the President’s wishes out of justifiable fear.

". . . Let’s be clear, it is the job and obligation of all investment managers, including hedge fund managers, to get their clients the most return they can. They are allowed to be charitable with their own money, and many are spectacularly so, but if they give away their clients’ money to share in the “sacrifice,” they are stealing. Clients of hedge funds include, among others, pension funds of all kinds of workers, unionized and not.

"The managers have a fiduciary obligation to look after their clients’ money as best they can, not to support the President, nor to oppose him, nor otherwise advance their personal political views. That’s how the system works. If you hired an investment professional and he could preserve more of your money in a financial disaster, but instead he decided to spend it on the UAW so you could “share in the sacrifice,” you would not be happy. " (Emphasis mine. EHL)
Hat tip goes to Cafe Hayek: Speaking Truth to Power.

The Committee of Chrysler Non-TARP Lenders statement ends with the most important point:

". . . As we all appreciate, laws are the foundation of our economy and society. Despite recent travails, our country remains the economic envy of the world and the United States remains a vital engine of global growth. The rule of law made it that way. We urge that people remember this and not succumb to unproductive and unwarranted finger pointing."

With his statement calling these organizations (who represent "teachers, pensioners, and retirees") "speculators" who are "unwilling to sacrifice," Obama clearly demonstrates that he may be a lawyer, but that he does not respect the rule of law. We learned this when we heard his Chicago Public Radio interview, when he stated that the Constitution is flawed because it does not allow the government to take your wealth and redistribute it to others. Normally, we call that theft.

Well, those Obama voters with money are learning. They will always lose to the Progressive thuggery that now resides in the White House. They will lose, no matter how pristine their political credentials are, no matter how they protest. They will lose, because they have something to loot. In the immortal words of Willie Sutton, "That's where the money is."

And nobody knows how to loot like a Chicago politician.

Welcome to lawlessness, Chicago Mob style.

Who will Obama come after when he is finished looting Wall Street? He and his ilk will come after you and me. And our children.

He is already doing it. He is going after the funds of teachers and retirees in order to pay off his political obligations. Politicians and mobsters will take from us what they cannot produce.

Get ready to be looted.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Navy Jack for the EG

At the Albuquerque Tea Party, we saw many flags, including the Gadsen "Don't Tread on Me" Flag, which has a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow field, and the First Navy Jack "Don't Tread on Me" Flag, which displays an uncoiled rattlesnake on Union--13 red and white stripes.

Being a Navy Veteran (USS Hepburn), the Engineering Geek wanted a Navy Jack. I looked on line and found many very inexpensive flags, but ended up ordering a quality flag from an American flag maker (made in the USA) through Amazon.

The EG would have objected to an American flag made in China.
I ordered the flag and a spin-free flag pole separately.

The flag arrived first, along with a decal of the same, and we hung it up on the wall in entryway.

The First Navy Jack is exactly that: first. It was first hung from the jackstands of the Continental Navy in 1775 by order of the first commander of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, as the fleet stood ready on the Delaware river.
NOTE: Please see the comments. There is evidently some controversy about this story concerning Esek Hopkins regarding what flag was the first Navy Jack. More information can be found here. I will leave the story above, but this history is hard to verify. The rest of the history interwoven below is not in doubt.

The rattlesnake was a popular symbol of colonial resistance to British tyranny before and during the Revolutionary War.
The rattlesnake, as an anonymous letter to the editor (now attributed to Benjamin Franklin) explained, is the perfect symbol for America. A rattlesnake does not strike without warning first, but when it strikes it is swift and deadly.

Last night, the EG picked up the flag pole at the Tijeras Post Office, and this morning he put it together in preparation for hanging the flag outside.

He said he'd like me to order another flag pole like this one, as it is of good construction and it is spin-free, so that the flag will not roll around the pole in the ever-present mountain winds. I am also to order another bracket, so that we can fly the Navy Jack and the Stars and Stripes on national holidays.

Another interesting piece of history about this flag is that the Navy ship which has been commissioned the longest and is still serving, flies a special Navy Jack from her jackstand; the flag is special because it is passed to the next ship when the oldest ship is decommissioned.

Here the EG puts the new First Navy Jack onto the jackstand of the USS Los Pecos. When he hangs the ship's bell and the boatswain's pipe from the USS Constitution in the front hall, we will have to have a showdown. Is he the captain and me, the Exec? Or vice versa?

When he puts a lectern on the driveway, and makes us face the flag as we enter--excuse me, cross the quarter deck-- while he stands watch, then I will know he has read How to Simulate Navy Life at Home. Oy.

Another point of information about this flag: since 2002, it flies on the jackstands of all United States Navy ships for the duration of the current hostilities. (I can't remember this weeks politically correct term for the WOT).

Seriously, though, we got this flag because I wanted a "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and the Engineering Geek wanted a Navy Jack.

As more and more taxpayers understand what has been done to our liberty in the last 100 years, we all feel a bit like rattling the rattle and hissing "Don't Tread on Me!"

Like Ben Franklin's rattlesnake, we won't strike without warning, but our patience is not infinite.