Archive | September, 2009


To anyone wondering why I haven’t been reading and responding to blog comments as much lately as I usually do (or why I’m even farther behind on email than usual) – both my car and my home computer are currently malfunctioning, plus I’m teaching a course overload this semester, so my time on the computer is limited to a few hours caught between classes at the office. Hope to have at least some of that fixed soon.

Justice As Squareness

The Pythagoreans held that “justice is a square number.” There’s dispute about what this meant. But just in case I ever decide to write about it, I hereby lay claim to first formulation (at least I can’t find precedent on the internet) of the ideal title for any such discussion: “Justice As Squareness.”

(Note: by laying claim I don’t mean, of course, forbidding anyone else to use it. I just mean that if I do eventually decide to use it, and someone else has used it in the meantime, they won’t be able to claim that I swiped it from them.)

(Note deux: and for those wondering why this title is ideal – “Justice As Fairness” is the title or partial title of four (well, three and a half) different works by John Rawls, as well as a phrase used frequently throughout, and made famous by, his entire œuvre.)

The Perils of Low Time-Preference

Ayn Rand and the World She Made

Anne Heller’s new bio Ayn Rand and the World She Made comes out next month, but Amazon has already posted the first chapter, and it looks pretty interesting. If you think that after reading Barbara Branden and Chris Sciabarra there’s nothing new to learn about Rand’s early years, think again.

I was especially struck by this passage:

When Rand was five or so, she recalled, her mother came into the children’s playroom and found the floor littered with toys. She announced to Rand and Rand’s two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Natasha, that they would have to choose some of their toys to put away and some to keep and play with now; in a year, she told them, they could trade the toys they had kept for those they had put away.

Natasha held on to the toys she liked best, but Rand, imagining the pleasure she would get from having her favorite toys returned to her later, handed over her best-loved playthings, including a painted mechanical wind-up chicken she could describe vividly fifty years later.

When the time came to make the swap and Rand asked for her toys back, her mother looked amused, Rand recalled. Anna explained that she had given everything to an orphanage, on the premise that if her daughters had really wanted their toys they wouldn’t have relinquished them in the first place.

Yup, her mother couldn’t have done better if she was deliberately trying to create Ayn Rand.

Dictionaries Are For Lesser Mortals

From George Stephanopoulos’s exchange with Obama. (CHT Tom Knapp.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably the most definitive promise you made in the campaign is that no one in the middle class would get a tax increase on your watch. … Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don’t. How is that not a tax? …

OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. … For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. … [R]ight now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase. People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I’m not covering all the costs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy …

OBAMA: No, but – but, George, you – you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase. …

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: “Tax — a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition ….

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.

OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy. You know that. Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we’re going to have an individual mandate or not, but…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you reject that it’s a tax increase?

OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion.

Because, y’know, when the President uses a word, it means whatever he wants it to mean. And if someone points out that his usage violates the accepted dictionary definition, they’re the one doing the “stretching.”

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