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Of Cigarette Ads and Squirrel-minded Columnists

April 30, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

According to Ottawa Citizen columnist Dan Gardner:

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to ban “power walls” – the large displays of cigarette packs found in corner stores.

Near the beginning of his column Read more

Anti-Semitism, Tribalism, Irrationalism & the Postal Workers Union

April 30, 2008 by · 4 Comments 

On April 28, 2008, National Post columnist Jonathan Kay reported that:

At its national convention earlier this month, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers passed a resolution that included the following provision: “CUPW will … support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

Kay now reports that he has received an e-mail from CUPW president Denis Lemelin, in which Lemelin says, in part:

CUPW has no plans to block mail to and from Israel as of yet.

I replied as follows:
At the convention where CUPE president Sid Ryan was seeking re-election, he supported (proposed?) a resolution to boycott Israel. He was re-elected.

Trade unionism’s allies in the Middle East are the anti-Semites; those who, truth be told, want the elimination of Israel. Here at home, anti-Semitism’s natural home is in socialist collectivism. To the socialist, it’s all association, not reason: “capitalism” brings to consciousness “banking” and “profit”; “banking” and “profit” bring to consciousness “usury”; “usury” brings up the most paranoid and toxic conspiracy in human history: the idea that “Jews, with the help of freemasons, are trying to take over the world through banking”.

The mentally lazy – those who wish to live life on mental auto-pilot, and who think that they can do that so long as they are part of a “tribe” that maintains old traditions and rejects innovations (innovation requires one to think and adapt) – hate that Israelis have turned a desert into a productive, relatively rational society. Seeing progress, economic growth, wealth, change etc. all as enemies, they take the side of stagnation and tribalism. Tribalists become outraged at the introduction of civility, trade, property, rights, justice and the like, all of which threaten to undermine tradition and tribalism; threaten to undermine a system of life lived on autopilot; threaten to permit competition among rational individuals, each putting his own life and happiness first. Rationality, capitalism, and the individualism implied by each, are the great enemies of the collectivist and, in the Middle East, Israel is rightly seen as the foothold both of reason and of its counterpart, capitalism.


Paul McKeever and Sid Ryan on The Michael Coren Show, a few weeks after the CUPE resolution to boycott Israel.

Bad Arguments Against Censorship: "Better Democracy"

April 28, 2008 by · 3 Comments 

Seeing distinctions everywhere there is not a difference, Canada’s collectivist establishment is desperate to take down the governing collectivist “Conservatives“, and to replace them with the “natural governing party”, the collectivist “Liberals“. They hope thereby to achieve the titanic victory of doing away with the arch evil of redistributing wealth via tax credits to the “poor”, and instead redistributing wealth via righteous tax increases to the “rich”.

Enter Gerry Nicholls, the former chief of the National Citizens Coalition in Canada whose columns now appear in Canada’s major dailies from time to time. In one of his columns, published in the Edmonton Sun on April 23rd, he had the right proposal:

…we should scrap all these election gag laws…

Cutting his rationale down to the essential quotations:

None of this is good for democracy.

That’s why we should scrap all these election gag laws designed to regulate political spending and to muzzle free speech.

[...]

Democracy works best when there is a free marketplace of competing ideas.

(emphasis added).

I want to address Gerry’s rationale but, before doing so, let us try to understand it a bit better.

I begin with Gerry’s use of the word “democracy”. Given how utterly corrupted the meaning of the word democracy has become, it is not entirely clear what concept Gerry is referring to when he uses the word “democracy”. Arguably, the best solution in this case is the process of elimination.

Consider first Gerry’s “minarchist” (as in: “the government that governs least governs best”) libertarian streak. Like many others, minarchist libertarians regard life, liberty and property as inalienable rights; as things that cannot be trumped by the whims of the majority. Therefore, it is extremely doubtful that, by “democracy”, Gerry is referring to “majority rule”.



“Damned to Repeat It: Part I – Libertarianism”

Consider next the idea that “democracy” is a concept that refers to the source of a government’s powers. When used in this way, democracy refers to the idea that governmental authority stems from man, upon whom the facts of reality impose morality. It is doubtful that, by “democracy”, Gerry is referring to the source of a government’s power because the existence/non-existence of a “marketplace of ideas” is as possible in a theocracy (which regards god as the source of a government’s power) as in a democracy.

As I see it, that leaves one likely inference: by “democracy”, Gerry means “elections”. This is a definition of democracy shared by countless talking heads, journalists, and political junkies, and by those who convinced George W. Bush that setting up elections in Middle East countries is the same as making those countries democratic. Although Gerry is free to respond to this article with a correction, I must conclude that when Gerry says that “Democracy works best when there is a free marketplace of competing ideas”, what he really means is that “Elections work best when there is a free marketplace of competing ideas”.

Now, let us consider what Gerry means by a “free market” in this context. In a free market of goods and services, every person gets what he pays for and pays only for what he gets. In a free market of goods and services, one would get only the election commercials one paid for, and would pay only for the election commercials one got. However, Gerry is not referring to a free market of goods and services: the issue here is not, for example, whether regulations have given one television network an unfair advantage over another. Gerry is referring to a free market of ideas competing for the minds and ballots of voters.

Now, forgive me, but I think Gerry is just talking loosely. Too loosely. In fact, I do not believe Gerry really even means “free market of competing ideas” when he uses the term. If he does, I do not believe he has thought it through very well.

Gerry is not alone, however. The reference to a “free market of ideas” is a common libertarian practice. It would not surprise me were I to discover that that practice owes its genesis to the fact that libertarianism is a movement that was spearheaded not by philosophers, but by pro-capitalist economists (such as Murray Rothbard). To the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail and, to a libertarian economist, every philosophical issue is an aspect of the free markets vs. central planning debate. However, applied to the situation of voters weighing arguments during an election and voting accordingly, the analogy proves to be flawed. In a free market, every individual gets the product he pays for with his dollars. In contrast, in an election, an individual does not get the idea he voted for unless the majority of other individuals voted for the same idea. In truth, even that is wrong, because the majority of people do not really vote for ideas: they vote for parties (especially for parties that have no ideas). Therefore, when Gerry writes “free market of competing ideas”, he is either wrong, or he does not really mean it.

Giving Gerry the benefit of the doubt, what he really means is not “a free market of competing ideas” but: the absence of censorship. I do not think I have mischaracterized his argument – “Democracy works best when there is a free marketplace of competing ideas” – when I strip it of ambiguous jargon and loose metaphor to translate it plainly as: elections work best in the absence of censorship.

Assuming my translation is correct, I agree with Gerry that election finance laws impose an instance of censorship, and I agree that election finance laws should be scrapped. However, I submit that Gerry is entirely wrong when it comes to his rationale for scrapping election finance laws. As with all matters of government policy, the essential and defensible rationale for striking down election finances laws is: such laws are contrary to the survival and happiness of human beings.

The facts of reality – including facts that pertain to the nature of man – are such that no man can achieve his own happiness if he is prohibited from acting upon his own rational decisions. Freedom, properly defined, is control over ones own life, liberty and property. Without freedom – without that control – the rational decisions upon which a mans survival and happiness depend cannot be acted upon. Without freedom, a man’s mind is, in effect, paralyzed. An unfree rational man is the functional equivalent of a newborn baby or, worse, a vegetable. His survival is dependent upon the whims of those who feed, house and clothe him. And, though he can be relieved of pain and suffering, his happiness is impossible, because happiness is the result of a personal achievement: the successful pursuit of ones rationally-chosen values. Such achievements require freedom.

The role of government is to ensure that each individual is not deprived of control over his own life, liberty or property without his consent. By so defending freedom, a government defends human life.

Fining or imprisoning a person for spending his own money on a perfectly peaceful service – message distribution – is a deprivation of a person’s freedom; in particular, it is a deprivation of a person’s control over his own property. Such deprivation is wrong not because it prevents elections from working best and not because it is thought to be unneeded, but because it opposes and undermines the living of a rational life; of a human life.

Elections can work better in the absence of censorship, but that is only because the absence of censorship makes rational thought, discussion and action possible…possible, but – contrary to what Gerry implies – not inevitable. If, in the absence of censorship, nobody bothers to think rationally, elections will not – by any rational standard – work any better than they do under conditions of censorship. Irrationality cannot intentionally cause anything good because it cannot intentionally cause anything at all. If all ideas and discussions during an election are irrational, irrationality might cause “democracy” to be worse in some sense or another, but the censorship of some irrational expressions will not: adding more irrational arguments to a debate does not a better democracy make.

Phi Beta Kappa

April 25, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

While getting ready for work today, I had a chance to listen to Dr. Leonard Peikoff‘s most recent podcast about the philosophy of Ayn Rand (Podcast #13). In it, Dr. Peikoff was asked:

What is the purpose of philosophy?

He encapsulated his answer with the first sentence of his reply:

Phi beta kappa: philosophy as the guide to life.

Intrigued, I did a bit of quick googling, and discovered the following, which I now share with you.

Phi beta and kappa are, of course, the Greek letters Phi, Beta, and Kappa, respectively. In this context, phi beta kappa is an acronym for the words: philosophia biou kubernetes.

Philosophia is, of course, a word that means philosophy. Philo translates to “love”, and sophia to “wisdom” or “knowledge”. Thus, you will normally see philosophia and philosophy defined as “the love of knowledge” or “the love of wisdom”. However, philosophia actually refers to the activity or practice of obtaining knowledge, not merely to the passive loving of it.

Biou is a reference to life.

Kubernetes is a reference to the helmsman or ruler of a ship; to that which steers ones course.

Combined with biou, kubernetes, we have a reference to: that which is life’s guide. Combined also with philosophia, we have a phrase that means: the pursuit of wisdom is life’s guide. More succinctly: philosophy is life’s guide. Thus Dr. Peikoff’s answer that the purpose of philosophy is to guide ones life.

All of which suggests a great vanity plate for your car: FI B8A KPA

Last one to the licensing kiosk is a rotten egg.

The Psychology and Morality of Buying Flowers for Your Lover

April 21, 2008 by · 4 Comments 

One of the legal assistants at my office complex (not an employee of mine, but one of another lawyer), Read more

Ayn Rand, in Respect of "Respect"

April 20, 2008 by · 5 Comments 

I today received a message from a youtube viewer, who wrote:

I just came across the work of Ayn Rand. What is the explanation of Ayn Rand about what the word respect means.

I replied as follows:

I don’t believe Ayn Rand gave the word any definition that is peculiar to her philosophy. She pretty much used the word in the various ways it is defined in dictionaries.

Generally speaking, to “respect” is to look at or acknowledge the existence/identity of something (e.g., to “respect”/identify the fact that a man is a man and that, because of what that implies for the rational pursuit of ones own happiness, it is wrong to take his life, liberty, or property without his consent…even if his views/beliefs are utterly irrational).

In some, but not all contexts, the word “respect” means, also, to hold a thing in high regard; to value it. In this latter sense, an Objectivist would (for example) “respect”/value rational egoism, but not altruism or irrational egoism (e.g., hedonism).

In yet another context, “respect” means “concerning” (as in “With respect to his politics, he is black and white. With respect to his ethics, he is many shades of gray”) or “manner” (as in “…the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect.”)

I’m not trying to be obtuse. Perhaps you can give me the context in which you mean the word “respect” to be used?

Cheers,

Paul

Making Better Youtube Videos

April 18, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

An intelligent young fellow with whom I am acquainted recently made his first video production and posted it to youtube.com . In the video, he was well-dressed and delivered a speech to the camera using a teleprompter. He asked for constructive criticism, and I provided him with the following, which I share with you in the hope that you too will find it helpful should you – like me – be a youtuber:

1. Throw away the teleprompter…and the written speech. Instead, if you want to use written materials, use cue cards to structure the key points in your argument so that your argument doesn’t fall into digressions. Use them only to remind yourself of what you wanted to talk about next. And, do not replace a written speech with a memorized one: construct it as you go. The result will be: you will be transformed from a person who we can watch as he reads something to his shadow, to a person who is speaking directly to us.

Test what I’ve just suggested: do a video on the exact same topic, but without any written materials, and imagine, while you are speaking, that 100 people are all watching and listening to you live. Then watch it, and judge which of the two videos you find more interesting, engaging etc.

2. I’ve been a guest/panelist on TV shows since 1999, but I’ve been producing my own youtube videos only since October of 2006. Over the last year and a half, I’ve come to realize the importance of remembering to ask myself this question: “What value does a visual signal add to my presentation?” In other words, I’ve come to believe that reading a speech while standing in front of a camera gives the viewer no value other than that he could obtain by reading your speech on a blog, or listening to it on an audio podcast. I’ve been trying to train myself to make a video only when I think visual information will add value to what would otherwise be a mere textual or auditory presentation.

The value in question might simply be a visual scene that helps to put the person’s mind in the right context to receive your message. So, for example, if you are speaking about the use of nuclear weapons, it might be helpful to show the viewer the weapons, and/or their use, while you are speaking (or interspersed between things you say). If you are speaking about bad art, SHOW some. If you are speaking about “god”, show gods in their various, arbitrary configurations (i.e., from the white-bearded cloud rider, to the sea-dwelling guy with a trident)…and don’t be afraid to make the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. For example, as I was typing about the trident, I imagined Neptune photoshopped into the painting “American Gothic”…silly, but entertaining if one is speaking about, say, “God in America”.

3. If you are the sort of person who uses his hands or other physical gestures while speaking to emphasize points or draw interest: use them in the video. Used appropriately, they are added value. Imagine how much better it would be to actually SEE Ayn Rand explaining her philosophy while standing on one foot!

I do not claim to have followed the above recommendations myself at all times. As video production amateurs, we youtubers are learning as we go. It is certainly the case that many of my videos – especially the earlier ones – failed to keep in mind the importance of using video as a way to add value that does not exist in mere written or audio formats. Hopefully, you will view my suggestions, above, as useful short-cuts along the learning curve.

Cheers,

Paul

P.S., I include a video below as an example of using video to present visual information that adds value to the verbal message.


An example of using video to add value to verbal content.

With "Property Rights" Advocates Like These, Who Needs Tyrants?

April 15, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

In recent years, a group of land owners (mostly farmers) in Ontario, Canada has – largely under the former leadership of an electrician named Randy Hillier – become a voice deemed by the media to be worthy of news coverage. On the surface, the Ontario Landowners Association appears to be in favour of government ceasing to violate their property rights. Their signs – which can be seen all over the Ontario countryside, posted to farm fences, particularly in Eastern Ontario – read: “This is our land. STOP. BACK OFF GOVERNMENT”.

Former OLA chief Randy Hillier wearing
a tee-shirt version of the sign found
on many farm properties in Ontario.

Approximately a year ago, Hillier resigned from the management of the OLA and used his popularity among members and supporters to win himself the nomination of the Progressive Conservative (PC) party in Ontario. Many advocates of property rights were perplexed by the move, given that the PC party historically (but with the brief exception of the leadership of Mike Harris) has been Ontario’s most substantively socialist/collectivist party. It introduced the Human Rights Code, rent controls, and the provincial income tax; it banned private health insurance and set up a tax-funded government monopoly on health insurance, etc.. Rather than conclude that Hillier has given up on advocating property rights, it would appear more accurate to conclude that Hillier’s expectations are merely naive, and that he believes he can (presumably with some ongoing assistance by the OLA) transform the “red tory” PC party into a party that is in favour of government that defends rather than violates, property rights.

That he is likely to fail in his effort to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse becomes even more obvious when one considers the decidedly mixed bag of political wants held by members of the OLA. At times, the mutually exclusive nature of these wants has become high-profile. For example, when the OLA clogged the traffic arteries of Toronto’s core at and around the Ontario legislature, the media did live radio interviews with the many people driving their tractors to the event. There were indeed some libertarian-sounding property-rights advocates among those interviewed, but such members were decidedly mixed with farmers that wanted something akin to tax-funded subsidies for failing agricultural ventures, etc. (Interesting aside: the effort to get headlines by creating a traffic jam and storming the legislature grounds with tractors got overshadowed in two ways: 1. a competing farmer association [probably supportive of the governing Liberal party] pulled the exact same stunt one week earlier, and 2. when the OLA did it, a man pulled up in a truck, babbled incoherently, poured gasoline on himself, and lit himself on fire…guess which story got the bigger headline? It makes one wonder how many “Thank-you” and “Job Well Done” cards the man received from the Liberals).

All of which brings us to the news today that the OLA is – loudly, and with a press release – threatening to “clear cut” 100 square kilometers of wooded land in Eastern Ontario. According to today’s pre-fab report by the Canadian Press (you know the sort: printed in newspapers of every stripe; just add a headline, print it in your newspaper, and pretend that you are still a source of news), the threatened clear cutting relates to a law which violates property rights so as to protect endangered species:

If an endangered bird is found on someone’s property, [the OLA's Jack] MacLaren says their property values plummet and they can no longer use part of the land for farming.

“Ah”, you might infer, “the OLA is objecting to the endangered species legislation, saying that it violates their property rights”. Well, sadly, no. The Canadian Press explains that:

[McLaren] says that’s not fair because the government doesn’t offer to compensate those landowners.

Might I suggest changing the OLA’s sign a bit: “This land is our land. STOP. Back off government...unless you come with gifts of money taken forcibly from other people“.

This is yet another example of people wanting “freedom for me, but not for thee”, and it all results from wanting freedom for the wrong reasons. The rightness of defending ones control over ones own land is properly founded on the necessity of that control if one is to use the land in accordance with ones own rational decisions about its use. In other words: property makes it possible for one to live a rational (hence productive and happy) life. Asking for “compensation” from the government in exchange for the violation of ones own property is not a call for freedom. It is a call to push the costs of tyranny onto someone else’s shoulders. It is not a defence of property: it is a call to tax others and hand the loot over to landowners; it is a call to violate other peoples property; it is a sanctioning of government violations of property; it is a call for the government to protect landowners from the effects of tyranny, by imposing additional tyranny other others.

If the OLA is successful in their bid to loot other Ontarians, one can only hope that they spend a few bucks on a copy of Atlas Shrugged (and that they actually read it), so that they can realize, before it is too late, just how badly they are defeating their stated goal.

Just Right About Environmentalism

April 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

My good friend Robert Metz is entering the second year of his call-in talk-radio show “Just Right”, which airs on CHRW Radio, 94.9 FM (note: every show he has ever done is archived and can be listened to online here).

Today, he had an excellent show (click here to listen to it) about the unholy alliance of Canada’s Liberal Party and Al Gore. I rarely have the chance to listen live, but I managed to do it today. Bob was referring to environmentalism as a religion, and I just had to call in to share with him some key excerpts from a dilly of a speech given by the leader of the Green Party of Canada a couple of years ago (I call in about 20 minutes into the show, in case you are trying to find it).

She opens with a lament that man was kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating of the tree of knowledge, and that that knowledge has allowed man to over-consume earth’s “limited resources” by means of evil industrialization (boo, hiss). She closes with the hope that we’ll give up on industrialization, and return to a more “spiritual” (read “mystical”) state of child-like ignorance that will allows us to return to the Garden of Eden. What’s worse: she talks about the “location” of the Garden of Eden, which leads me to believe that she actually believes there to have been such a place.

I had no idea what Bob had planned for the show but, in a stroke of amazing coincidence (I’m not being sarcastic), it turns out that I called in just before his next audio clip (Bob breaks up segments of his show with topic-relevant, typically educational audio clips from television programs) : John Stossel interviewing people who idolize the idea of eliminating human technology and living ‘at one with the land’. You have got to hear the clips, in which some of the tree-house dwelling interviewees tried to explain the illogical exception they made for things like telephones and plumbing.

Environmentalism. If it is not a religion, it is no less anti-enlightment.

Tribalist/Conservative Watch #2

April 7, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Today, the Barrie Examiner reported that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party leader, John Tory, was in Barrie on Saturday. He made the following comment, among others, which I submit for your interpretation:

The McGuinty government isn’t making it very attractive to do business in Barrie…

This implies that, according to conservative ideology, government should pass laws or spend money in an attempt to encourage persons to open/keep businesses in a given community. In other words: according to conservative ideology, the government should centrally plan the economy. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why you will hear John Tory use the weasel term “free enterprise” (which simply refers to private businesses operating within a centrally planned economy) but not the term “free market” (which refers to a market that is not centrally planned, but shaped by the production and consumption choices of individuals).

The advocate of a free market complains not that the government has not made things “more attractive” to business, but that the government has not “eliminated legal disincentives” to business.

ADDENDUM:

One might ask: “Well, surely the same can be said about the Liberals, so why aren’t you picking on them?”

My answer is: Ontario liberals are openly socialist/corporativist/collectivist.  They’re not trying to fool anyone about their ideology.  In contrast, the conservatives – who likewise are socialists/corporativists/collectivists – try to win the support of capitalists and individualists by using weasel words and by condemning the liberals for being opposed to tax or spending cuts.  Yet, all the while, its a matter of documented fact that the conservatives have raised, not lowered taxes, and have increased government involvement in non-governmental things (like health care), not decreased it.  As a result of this dishonesty and political cross-dressing, the conservatives have achieved three main things:

1. people have been deceived into believing that they are at the “right” end of the political spectrum, even though that is false;

2. the size and existence of the conservatives’ parties have ensured that voters have two choices: socialism/corporatism/collectivism dressed up in red, or socialism/corporatism/collectivism dressed up in blue.

and

3. people have come to associate the word “conservative” with: dishonest, bait-and-switch, say-one-thing-and-do-the-oppositism; with “secret agendas”.

If Ontario voters are going to have the ability to vote for a sizable party that is not socialist/corporativist/collectivist, the the socialist/corporatist/collectivist party that pretends to be a capitalist/individualist party must be exposed as what it really is: pro-socialism, pro-corporatism, pro-collectivism, and willing to falsely claim to be capitalist/individualist in order to ensure that no actual party of capitalism/individualism is believed to be necessary.

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