A Green for Philadelphia

A Green for Philadelphia

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Interview That Doesn't Deserve to Be Loved

Last night I watched Mike Wallace's 1959 interview of Ayn Rand. It's probably most notorious for the part where Rand says "most people don't deserve to be loved": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ooKsv_SX4Y

The obvious problem on a political level, of course, is that, contrary to her fantasy world, most large private fortunes were not created in any substantial part by the owner's own labor -- either manual or intellectual -- but, rather, by exploiting that of others: workers prevented from accessing the means of production created mostly by past workers, or keeping the full fruit of their labor thereupon, "at the point of a gun" as libertarians like to say -- not thanks to the kind of special government favors she liked to denounce, but through the enforcement of private property itself. I recall that, where in her writings she presents her cartoonish idea of what pre-class society was like, she asserts that the creation of private property in land was the prerequisite of civilization, but conveniently glosses over the question of how this creation occurred. You could call this the "shabby little secret" of her philosophy, to borrow the phrase she used for the state power backing paper legal tender.

On the philosophical level, this interview reminded me of how thoroughly, behind the rhetoric of "reason" and "objectivity," Rand based her doctrine on superstitious premises. For one thing, she repeatedly talks about "free will." I've never even seen an empirical definition of this concept, let alone verification of its reality. Second, there's her assumption that there are objective moral values and objective duties. Since moral statements, unlike physical statements, are assertions of what "should" be rather than of what is, they can have no empirical truth value. So to assert their objective existence as principles, independent of individual human brains, is essentially just a more abstract version of a belief in ghosts.

Given the above statement, you may wonder what my objection is to her saying most people don't deserve to be loved. It's that she's trying to impose her pseudo-objective definitions of "achievement" and "deserts," which simply reflect the bias of her class background, on a species which has evolved the emotion of love for a function that her definition ill-suits. Wallace points out its ridiculousness as applied to infants who haven't achieved anything yet but tend to receive our most unconditional love -- a point she never really answers -- although it was well spoofed in a *Simpsons* episode depicting the "Ayn Rand School for Tots" (http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/A_Streetcar_Named_Marge). The *objective* fact is that we humans have an instinctual urge to help each other that is completely independent of "achievement." This is widely practiced not because of any philosophical doctrine but because it's human nature -- and it's human nature because it's beneficial for our species, and hence has been favored by natural selection. The only reason that, in spite of this, Rand's doctrine enjoys such a large megaphone now is that there's a minority exploiting class with both the means and motive to misdirect people's anger at the institutions this same class dominates -- church and state -- toward further strengthening their own domination over the rest of us.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Nothing Unusual

"False memories are universal, even without prompting or much passage of time. Post-crime eyewitness accounts routinely contradict each other. A poll taken right after JFK's assassination showed that somehow he had picked up an additional 10 million votes."
-- Michael Fumento, author of *Science Under Siege*, *Polluted Science*, and *BioEvolution*, in "Runaway Hysteria," *Skeptical Inquirer* volume 38, issue 5, p. 46.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Regulatory Capture at the Fed

Thom Hartmann had a guest on last night's The Big Picture who laid out some structural impediments to making the Fed independent of the institutions it's supposed to regulate. Of course abolishing capital markets, or at least statizing credit, would render these concerns moot.


The Most Boring Limerick Ever

Completing a bank deposit originating from Limerick, PA, has inspired me to compose a limerick of my own:

Rothman once made a deposit
Of some funds they had found in their closet
Mellon said, "Keep it coming.
All that cash we'll keep summing.
There's absolutely no need to pause it!"

So unfunny it's funny, wouldn't you say?

By the way, Rothman (in)famously sends funds other places too. They were the largest source of donations to the Romney campaign.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I spent a couple hours taking part in today's March to End Rape Culture by Slutwalk Philly in alliance with other groups. Here's a sign I saw, along with both sides of my own.

One person's sign called the term "friend zone" an "attack" on women who say no. I informed her that the term is not an attack, but simply a factual statement of how one person feels (or doesn't) about another. Wherever I see it, it's made very plain that it's a man's responsibility to try and change how a woman feels about him, if he can; it's not her fault she doesn't feel what she doesn't feel.

Biggest Number Yet for a Lower Number

Here's an assortment of pictures I took at the People's Climate March.

This was with Ben and Jerry's contingent. Words around the base: "If it melts, it's ruined!"

To the point:

This one reminded me of a sign in front of the Supreme Court for George W. Bush's Counter-Inaugural. It incorporated an official Mars Society placard in a banner that suggested, "Send Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas to Mars!" apparently with the idea of solving two problems at once. The man holding this sign, a member of a group from Bennington College whose father is a big space enthusiast, was tickled when I recounted this to him. (Technically the slogan might have better been, "Terraform Mars, don't Veneriform Earth," since Venus appears to have suffered the kind of runaway "greenhouse" effect we're trying to prevent here.)

This screen reminded people that this was a global day of action -- 2600 separate actions in 150 countries, as I heard after getting back to the bus.

I liked the sense of humor here. "Cut emissions, or we sleep with the fishes."

This float promoted the campaign for natural history museums to drop donors who promote climate denialism.

Before I had to go back to my bus, I panned as much of the march as I could from where I was standing.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Philly vs. Comcast

Philadelphians rallied today against a Comcast/Time-Warner merger and to preserve net neutrality.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Update on Mental Health First Aid

Good news. The community outreach coordinator responded to my comments and we have a meeting set up for Friday where I can elaborate on my concerns.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ask Candidates Where They Stand on a Constitutional Convention

Now is the time, as the campaign season starts, to challenge candidates to take a stand on government's ultimate accountability to the people through the Constitutional amendment process. A good case can be made that Congress has been remiss on this point for over a century, but as this may seem like a rather arcane and technical argument, I have not chosen to focus on that aspect for now. I've started by writing Ruth Damsker, a candidate for the PA state legislature who spoke last week at a meeting of Philadelphia's Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club. Copied below is what I wrote.

Dear Ms. Damsker,

I heard you speak at Liberty City's State of the Races meeting. I am pleased that you are running as a supporter of our community.

There is something I like to ask all candidates for the state house or senate. Many people are dissatisfied with the way our government works these days, even if there's no consensus on what the solutions are. People may focus on overturning Citizens United, or Hobby Lobby, or some other Supreme Court decision. They may want to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment, or DC statehood, or to repeal the Second Amendment. The Constitutional process for making amendments one at a time may seem laborious, but there's an alternative, specifically intended for times when most people are dissatisfied even though they're not sure yet what the answers are.

One of the Framers (I think it was Madison) commented that the new Republic's government ruled by the consent of the governed, and that the people can withdraw this consent at any time by petitioning Congress for a Constitutional Convention. This is provided for in Article V, which says that Congress, "on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments." It goes on to stipulate that any amendments so proposed must still be ratified by three-fourths of the states, the same as if they had simply been passed by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress.

The advantage of this process over the other one is that it creates an open forum in which every aspect of government that might use revision can be looked at with fresh eyes at one time, in a coherent way, instead of piecemeal. The other advantage is that it provides a way for everyone who's dissatisfied with the status quo to work together, instead of at cross purposes, on the common project of "withdrawing our consent" through the Article V process, and then have a collective discussion at the Convention through which we can seek consensus on what kinds of changes we want.

I am strongly in favor of having the PA legislature petition Congress for an Article V convention, and hope that if elected you will introduce a motion for one. If you need more information, visit Friends of the Article V Convention at www.foavc.org, where you will see that this is an issue supported by people from all parts of the political spectrum. I look forward to hearing your opinion on this matter.

Thank you for your attention.

Having sent the above to Ms. Damsker, I will now write my current state representative and senator as well as anyone who may be running to fill their shoes. I encourage others to do likewise, borrowing as much or as little of the above as you like.