Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sacred Silver from the Roof of the World: Tibetan Tangkas

Virtually devoid of natural resources, the wealth of Tibet stemmed from providing hospitality to pilgrims and other travelers.

Tibetan tangkas were minted from 1792 to 1948. They exhibit a wide array of varieties and yet maintain a consistent fabric and type. Generally, they are thinner than modern coins, and about 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter.  Early examples were hammered. Later coins were struck by machines. The tangkas that make their way to the Western collector usually were minted between 1900 and 1924. The commonest of these can be had today for $5 or $10, though some rarer varieties fetch $100 or more. A few are so rare that the catalogs give no price for them. 

Craig 13. 1890 AD.
Year 15-24 Giamda Mint Obverse.
4.37 grams. billon. 
The first Tibetan tangkas were struck in 1772. They followed the Nepalese fabric and type with minor differences to assert their local origins. The kingdom of Nepal briefly reclaimed their prerogatives, but their debased coins were extremely unpopular. China sent help to Tibet in its war against Nepal; and the Chinese stayed on afterwards. The sho is a coin that was issued with Chinese and Tibetan legends from 1792 to 1820. In fact, like the tangka, the sho is very close in style and weight to the Nepalese mohur, itself a local variety of the Indian rupee.

At first, the Tibetan tangkas remained nearly invariable for several decades. Cataloguer Eduard Kann identified five different types based on details of design, but all bear the same date, regardless of when they were actually struck. (This is called a “frozen date” in numismatics.) Colin Bruce II told me that while editing the Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins he devoted a lot of energy to Tibet. He cited two Kong-par tangkas that are dated 13-46 and 13-47 (1792 and 1793 AD) and which were struck into the 1820s and 1860s.  The Kong-par tangka preserved a very old fabric and some issues have the “Lansa” (or “Lant-sha”) holy script which has yet to be deciphered as it is written on coins.
K&M Y-3.1 Tapchi Mint. 1946-1948.
For presentation to monks.
Reverse. 3.63 grams. silver.

The Ga-den tangka dates from about 1850 and it is the one you are mostly likely to find, especially from its later years. Thirteen major varieties have been catalogued. In all, there are at least 37 known minor varieties, but possibly 50 or more that could be noted.

Six mints have issued tangkas in volume: Dodpal; Giamda; Dode; the Tip Arsenal; Ser-Khang; and Tapchi. (One issue from the Lhasa Mint is known, from 1792, and it is listed as rare.) Differences in type and fabric are minor and there are no mintmarks. 

The obverse shows eight lucky symbols from the lore of Lhasa Buddhism:
  • umbrella of sovereignty
  • two golden fish of good fortune
  • amphora of ambrosia
  • lotus
  • conch shell
  • emblem of endless rebirth
  • banner of victory
  • wheel of empire
 These are usually arrayed around a central lotus. Their actual order and specific designs vary over time. Many differences are recognized as varieties by different cataloguers.

The two sides of the coin have the same orientation. To read the reverse, rotate the coin about its vertical axis. Starting from the top, the reverse says: RNAM RGYA-LA DGAH LDAN PHO BRANG PHYOGS LAS. Literally, this means: “In the Cycle, Rebirth Palace direction from.” Or, as Eduard Kann rendered it: “In the year (year) from the Palace of Celestial Beatitude.” The legend is written in such a way as to fit into eight circles. These are actually derived from an earlier style in which the characters were inside lotus petals.

In 1949, China again invaded Tibet. In 1958 the communist Cultural Revolution closed temples, outlawed Buddhism and executed monks. Today, the Dalai Lama is in exile. However, totalitarianism is a wholly urban phenomenon and Tibet is hardly an urban society. The Nepalese and various Chinese warlords have often impressed themselves on the town of Lhasa and its environs. The British staged a bloody but pointless foray in 1904. Though China has modernized parts of Tibet, even today, in a climate as cold as the Hebrides and as dry as the Sahara, the men sleep outdoors under animal skins, giving the tents to the women and children. Conquerors come and go.

(This was based on an article that I wrote for Coin News, Devon, UK, January 1996. An abbreviated version was posted for several years on the Coin Newbies website.)


Friday, September 27, 2013

All Volitional Beings Deserve Rights

It is only a matter of time until an “artificial” intelligence – a robot, computer, or program – achieves enough sentience to sue in court for its rights under law.  That was the point of the 1984 science fiction novel, Valentina: Soul in Sapphire by Joseph H. Delaney and Marc Stiegler.  She is intelligent enough to be self-aware; and to protect herself she incorporates herself.  She first gains the rights of an artificial and eternal individual under the law.  Then she extends those rights to empower her own emancipation. When the book was written, electronic filing of such papers and forms was still science fiction. Today, it is commonplace. The government has no way to know how the forms originated, as long as they are complete and the fees are paid.  

San Paolo Composite
In the science fiction novel is an obligatory court room conflict. Again, 30 years ago, it was a problem. Today, it is not. Criminologists who focus on the problems of prisoner rights have been fighting for almost 20 years against hearings and trials where the accused remains locked up but appears only on closed circuit television. It would be pretty easy today for an intelligent program to present an avatar of itself.  

South African art student Mike Mike went around the world taking pictures of people to build composites. (See the Business Insider story ‘The Faces of Tomorrow” here. 

I believe that software viruses are as alive as their organic analogs.  My essay “Computer viruses. A new life form to serve you” appeared in the 1989 catalog of Loompanics Unlimited; and was reprinted in their anthology, Loompanics’ Greatest Hits in 1990.  Since then, programs have become far more advanced.  In that article, at that time, it was radical to suggest that self-operating programs would be beneficial.  People were panicked about viruses – and viruses, worms, etc., are still with us, worse and worse. But we all get automatic updates to the programs on our computers. 

Computers on and around Mars
In 1966, in a “Basic Principles of Objectivism” lecture, Nathaniel Branden tackled the problem of “rational being.”  He considered a "Martian."  Branden said that if a "Martian" perceived by infra-red through sensors on its cheeks instead of having eyes, etc., etc., the essential distinguishing characteristic of humanity would not be addressed.  What counts is the ability to reason. By that standard alone we judge who or what has rights.

Of course, merely asserting your rights may not be enough. It takes the force of law by government to protect those rights. But, that, itself, rests on common assent. Governments violate rights and usually get away with it, except in countries where the general population resists such crimes by the state. Finding a government that recognizes the rights of cybernetic beings is also only a matter of convenience. Small nations were among the early providers of Internet domain names for people whose own governments were too restrictive. 

The Best FREE Software

Whether animated and mobile or residing within stationary systems, for them, as for us, the essential distinguishing characteristic must be evidence of self-awareness.

The problem of “residing” is also interesting.  Today, nearly two billion (2*10e9) personal computers are deployed. Today, over 500 supercomputers exist.  The largest has 3 billion cores, the second largest half a billion.  In addition, we carry around 6 billion cell phones. Those, plus 1.27 billion landline phones, all need switches; and those switches are computers. Those are just one class of “business” computers.  The best guess is that the world has one million mainframe computers, “big iron.”  
1318 Interconnected Corporations
mapped by New Scientist here

Networks and cloud computing are the state of the art with such stand alone mainframes being a detail, perhaps.  We do not consider our automobiles to be computer networks, but they are, and those cars are connected to external networks.  In truth, it is not the “computers” per se, but the networks of them, that are salient.  

If we consider the entire capital-I Internet as a single entity, then it has to include all the satellites in orbit here as well as all the explorers rolling around Mars and orbiting other planets and moons. Voyager 1 left the Solar System on September 13, 2013.  Where does an intelligent program “reside” if it can access all of that?

Gregory M. Browne's Necessary Factual Truths
More on Necessary Factual Truths
The Sokal Affair
Ground Truth
Metaphysics and Politics

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kicking Nuns for Fun and Profit

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens (Verso: 1995) is an exposé of the greatest fraud and swindler in the 20th century.  Mother Teresa was a double-dealing hypocrite who ensured that millions would suffer so that she could watch over their final pains, torments, agonies, and despair. Mother Teresa sought and gained the approval of dictators such as Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and Ramiz Alia, the successor to Envar Hoxhia of Albania.  

They were only points on a line that included the Reagan White House, Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, the British Royal Family (who are legally prohibited from marrying Catholics), and countless others.  Near the bottom of the list is Charles Keating, the convicted savings and loan swindler of the 1980s.  A devout Catholic, he donated over a million dollars to her charity. She sent him a special crucifix. When he faced sentencing, Mother Teresa sent a letter to judge Lance Ito begging for clemency for Keating.  The prosecutor, Paul W. Turley wrote back asking Mother Teresa to return the $1,250,000 that was stolen by Keating and given to her.  She did not reply. 

 Hitchens, of course, was proudly an old-school liberal who also had harsh words for Ayn Rand’s Virtue of Selfishness.  Hitchens was less concerned with the success of capitalism than he was with the civil rights, civil liberties, and civil sensibilities upon which it ultimately depends.  The fact remains that while Christopher Hitchens wrung his hands over Mother Teresa’s duplicity, it was Ayn Rand who explained quite clearly why no disconnect existed: the swindle began with mysticism, grew with altruism, and therefore of necessity enveloped the poor in even worse circumstances. In India that hardly seemed possible. But the Missionaries of Charity ran 102 missions in 40 countries back then and has continued to grow.  When Hitchens wrote 20 years ago, his best guess was that $50 million sat mostly idle in bank accounts.  Mother Teresa had no use for money, though she attracted it. In our common culture that makes her some kind of saint – which the Catholic Church may well do: she has been beatified.  But it also meant that no resources were spent on the poor who were sick and dying.  Mother Teresa needed their suffering. 

Christopher Hitchens was a brilliant polemicist, and a deft, insightful writer.  He never wasted words.  Here in just 98 pages, Hitchens destroyed the myth of Mother Teresa.

About the same time that this book appeared, T. J. Rodgers, the president of Cypress Semiconductor made the news with a letter to Sister Doris Gormley, OSF, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.  The letter is easy to find online.  Cypress is proud to let you read it here.  Basically, Rodgers told the good sister why her advice would bring nothing but headaches and heartaches, including a loss of comfort for those in her order who depend on the profits from their stock holdings in Cypress.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

World Peace through Massive Retaliation: Educating the Gifted and Talented in Cleveland, Ohio

We met on Saturday mornings from September through May in the headquarters of the Board of Education. Each science class was allowed to send two pupils. Most did not; but other classes sent six or eight. We were crammed for space with people standing for two-and-a-half hours for the first meeting.  Six weeks later, our numbers were thinned by attrition.  

College professors and working scientists came to us to lecture. We learned about sickle cell anemia. We saw an air-powered pistol for mass inoculations.  Ohio Bell brought in a laser.  Sometimes, we went to them. We visited the Sohio Satellite Tracking Station.  Why Standard Oil of Ohio tracked satellites was not clear, but it was cool.  We observed an operation on a dog at the Cleveland Clinic. We went to Union Carbide and saw a battery that was powered by sea water to be used on lifeboats. In 1966, James Bond and Get Smart were in full swing and three of the boys in our group attacked every lock with their homemade picks.  They called their club WPMR: World Peace through Massive Retaliation.  We had no idea what they meant, but it sounded really neat. And it was a triumvirate: they never let anyone else join. They socialized with the other kids in talented and gifted programs - and were even wider in their affiliations, the Kiwanis Key Club, for instance - but they kept WPMR to themselves. 

Like many others in the Saturday Science Workshop they were in “Major Work” a Cleveland Public Schools initiative to segregate and nurture the gifted.  My brother qualified; I did not.  I went to summer school classes to catch up and qualify for Advanced Placement programs.  

Cleveland Public Schools established its first program for "super normals" in 1922.  The  Cleveland major work program was established in 1929 for children whose Probable Learning Rate was 125 or higher. (I was in the X-group, P. L. R. 105-124.) In addition, the school board measured nutrition, health, sleep, and peer-approval. Major work kids were pre-selected to be leaders in their generation. In fact, one hurdle my brother had to jump was the presence of a heart murmur. As it did not prevent him from gym class, they accepted him. In addition to the studies of Lewis Terman at Stanford to identify and track cohorts of children with high IQs, the program was influenced by eugenics theories.

That was fine for the 1920s, but through the next 30 years, Major Work took major criticisms from democratic elements in progressive education. Then, the USSR launched Sputnik.  America was in a blind panic. But Cleveland was prepared.
“Obviously a superior pupil in a class with average pupils leads the class and attains success easily. There is no challenge. When he is pitted against like or higher achievement of other superior pupils, he learns to place  accomplishment ahead of excelling over his associates. 
“The desire to bluff his way is lessened and there is an incentive to work because of the competition offered by his classmates. The purpose is not to segregate the mentally superior pupil nor to keep him from those with whom he may ultimately lead. This plan is only a means to an end. It appears to be a more effective way of fitting the gifted child to become a positive factor. In the main, children of high intelligence need less drill, have a wide diversity of interests, and an innate ability to grasp what they are doing. The hope is to give them many rich experiences, a thorough knowledge of tool subjects, and the ability to use their leisure time wisely. The organization of the junior high school lends itself to these factors. These pupils are usually superior in ways other than mental. 
“They are healthy, have more energy, and live well, with some trace of culture, if not in the present environment at least in the background. They do not necessarily come from well-to-do homes. Is this plan democratic? It is more democratic to group than to allow heterogeneous grouping or no grouping at all. Equality of opportunity, which alone gives the bright pupils the chance, is what we offer them, not identical opportunity.” (Lanphear, 1937)
A thousand years later, I was dating a girl who was obviously whole head taller than me. When I asked her about it, she said that in South Bend, she had been selected for their “Cleveland Program.”

In fact, the Cleveland program met resistance in Cleveland because “progressive” education had two different, competing philosophies.  Opposed to the elitism were other progressives who wanted a democratic classroom where given their skills, the brighter kids would become local leaders, “like Councilman Belinski,” said the principal who tried to keep my brother out of major work. To find out anything about John T. Belinski, you really need to look for the early career of Dennis Kucinich.

Major Work continues in Cleveland today.  No doubt it is X-men, Avengers, and the Justice Society of America who continue their pursuit of the unexpected and uncalled for. 

  • “What Cleveland Is Doing for Superior Pupils,” by Prudence T. Lanphear. The English Journal, Vol. 26, No. 9 (Nov., 1937), pp. 723-728
  •  “The Cleveland Experiment in the Development of Health, Character, and School Citizenship,” by William L. Connor, Gertrude C. Hawkins, Katherine A. McCarty. The Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Sep., 1938), pp. 23-34
  •  Sixty Years of Programming for the Gifted in Cleveland,” by Suzanne Gold. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 65, No. 7 (Mar., 1984), pp. 497-499.
  • “Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child,” by Stephanie S. Tolan.
  • “The Vanishing Genius: Lewis Terman and the Stanford Study,” Gretchen Kreuter. History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 6-18  


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Objective Intellectual Property Law

Our ideas about intellectual property are rooted in medieval law about real estate.  Patents are given to the “first” inventor (which is defined differently by different laws) and deny the reality of independent invention. Rational law would recognize that all independent inventors have the rights to the products of their own minds.  Also, rather than expiring, intellectual property would continue forever, like any other kind of property.

Johanna Blakely of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California has a TED Talk about the importance of copying to the multi-trillion dollar fashion markets.  Copying is how trends develop. The buyers of originals are not the buyers of knock-offs (and vice versa). In fashions no patents or copyrights exist. Only trademarks are protected.

We still think of property as if it were land. You cannot copy land. Therefore, you must not copy an automobile transmission. No two farmers can plow the same land at the same time, so no two engineers can be allowed to develop the same process at the same time.
Great Artists Steal - it still took
three point one tries to get it right.

On a deeper psychological level, our laws on intellectual property are founded on a false doctrine of jealousy in love, which is based on a lack of self-esteem, and the desire to own and control another human being. “This is mine and no one can have it.” That is fine, for things that really are yours. Other people and the content of their minds are not yours.

We have examples of the value of the opposite mindset.  In 1661 Robert Boyle's "Sceptical Chymist" explained why the secretive methods of alchemy had to be replaced by open publication of reproducible results. It was a radical idea.  The proud (arrogant, in fact) creative people in the Homebrew Computer Club came together to show off their work. They shared ideas by implicit trade. Those who had something cool were highly regarded. It made the computer revolution possible.  However, it was not to last.

Look at your computer display. Open a window. Make it smaller by dragging the corner up. That is a logical XOR, either the bit is on or the bit is off. From that, one window overlays another, wholly or partially. That became a patent. Someone claimed it, years after it was standard operating procedure.
    “Ever since Autodesk had to pay $25,000 to “license” a patent which claimed the invention of XOR-draw for screen cursors (the patent was filed years after everybody in computer graphics was already using that trick), at the risk of delaying or cancelling our Initial Public Offering in 1985, I've been convinced that software patents are not only a terrible idea, but one of the principal threats to the software industry. As I write this introduction in 1993, the multimedia industry is shuddering at the prospect of paying royalties on every product they make, because a small company in California has obtained an absurdly broad patent on concepts that were widely discussed and implemented experimentally more than 20 years earlier.”  Read here “Patent Nonsense” by John Walker. 
 Patents are defined as broadly as possible in order to secure their rights against any and all similar but different competitors. Take xerography, for example. Many different chemical combinations and many different processes can be engaged to create copies of images. Xerox wants (wanted) not just a patent on the one they actually developed, but they use the one they actually developed as evidence of their claim to all other possible variations. Then when someone else does the same thing a different way, suits at law are supposed to sort that out, as if courts (judges, juries) are competent to evaluate any and every new technology. 3-D printing is now being developed by independent technologists in many different ways. Will someone then be able to claim the rights to all of them?

I see Henry Ford in his motorcar. I can build one, too. Of course mine will be materially different for many basic reasons - basic, metaphysical reasons from the nature of human intelligence.
A generation ago, computer programming instructors figured out that in any average introductory class, no two students will ever (likely) produce similar programs, even for the most basic of assignments. Therefore, any two programs that are arbitrarily "too similar" may easily be evidence of copying (cheating).  So, too, with other inventions. It would take an intellectual effort - having first stolen the plans - to slavishly copy without making any changes. 
Even when you have the Blueprints ...
(Memory Alpha)
Even when you have the blueprints, you may well lack the special insight of the original inventor. A process could be documented completely but its failure modes might be known only to the inventor. 

Enter “early automobile patents” (and similar phrases) into your search engine. The internal combustion engine itself was patented, of course, even though it is only a recombination of James Watts' steam engine. I mean the valves and chambers. The only new idea was putting the flame inside the engine, a tough nut to crack, indeed, but many ways to achieve it. Sparkplugs are the common solution, but Rudolph Diesel's engines achieved combustion by pressure alone, though modern engines do have "glow plugs." And on and on it goes.

Some libertarians attempt to justify property rights on the assertion (from John Locke) that you "mix your labor" with it to earn the right to it.  Undeveloped frontier land is offered as an example.  But what if you choose a buy-and-hold strategy, keeping the land as wilderness to watch its value increase as other property is developed?  
Anonymous and created for Loompanics Unlimited, 1991, for my article, "Did Thomas Jefferson Wear Mirrorshades? - or - Why is the Secret Service Busting Publishers?"  I was inspired by the cyberpunk story, "Mozart in Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner (Omni, September 1985). I found this image shrunken to an avatar by a patriot named "Fegeldolfy" on the Ron Paul Forums Liberty Forest. 
Also, applied to commercial and financial markets, this "mix your labor" theory would nullify any buy-and-hold investment strategy. Applied consistently in a libertarian utopia, you might lose your ownership in a joint-stock company if you fail to vote your shares, or otherwise display an active interest in the company's operations.  

Finally, when you steal someone's invention - unquestionable theft, let us grant: you steal the blueprints from the bedroom vault - if you have only stolen the ideas, then in order to profit from them, you must also "mix your labor" even if only to sell the plans to someone else.  Clearly this "mix your labor" theory cannot support even the right to land. It surely cannot be used to define and protect intellectual property.  

Read about the case of Charles M. Gentile and the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. It is an example of the false philosophy behind such laws. 
NYSE Facade:
a copy of a copy of a copy
(Wikimedia Commons)
Gentile was sued for his images of this public building. Architect I. M. Pei claimed all rights to the image. The museum was built with public money. It sits wide open to be seen from anywhere. After being sued, Gentile was ordered to destroy all copies of his work. Eventually an appeals court reversed the ruling at a cost of about $2 million to the artist. Interestingly, about 100 such buildings are protected by similar copyrights, including the New York Stock Exchange and the Chrysler Building.

Alternately, if an invention is property then, it never ceased to be property.  The government would act like a land office, registering the ownership deed. But land is finite and limited in occupation by the laws of physics. Ideas have no such limitation. So, independent invention and discovery must be allowed. But granted that, the property exists forever.  Instead we have a mystical fiction that 17 years or some other magic number is the correct length of time for a patent.  Right now under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a work is protected for the life of the artist plus 75 years, or plus 90 if the work is sold to a corporation.   That is not rational, but just arbitrary.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Ayn Rand versus Conservatives

Ayn Rand said that labor unions are the only decent group today and hold the greatest potential for saving our society from economic collapse. She suggested that any business that offers unsafe working conditions should be punished under law, whether or not any actual injury occurs. Ayn Rand also said that the only purpose of a handgun is to kill another human being, and no one has that right.

From Ayn Rand:
A Sense of Life

by Michael Paxton
Ayn Rand continues to be popular. Sales of her books always were steady over the past 50 years. None went out of print. Then, the tallies spiked in 2008-2009 with economic crisis and the Bush-Obama bailouts. Between the release of the movies Atlas Shrugged Part 1 and Part 2, Paul Ryan accepted the Republican Party nomination for the vice presidency in 2012. Although he previously had been a guest of the Atlas Society (February 2, 2005), Ryan told National Review (April 26, 2012) that he is a practicing Roman Catholic who rejects Ayn Rand’s atheistic philosophy. 

Ayn Rand would have predicted that. However, because of the obvious political message in the movie, many conservatives continue to be drawn to websites and discussion boards hosted by committed Objectivists. New to the works of Ayn Rand, they do not know of her animosity toward their deepest beliefs.

Ayn Rand’s own published works include four novels and seven collections of essays taken from her three newsletters. Over 40 more books by and about Ayn Rand have appeared. Of these, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and The Virtue of Selfishness are easily the most visible, while the others remain obscure or apocrypha.

So, many of the Christians and constitutionalists who claim to admire her do not know of “Conservatism: an Obituary.” That essay began as a speech at Princeton University, December 7, 1960, and was reprinted first as a pamphlet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1962; and then was added to the anthology, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal published by New American Library in 1966. 
In that she said: “There are three interrelated arguments used by today’s ‘conservatives’ to justify capitalism, which can best be designated as: the argument from faith – the argument from tradition – the argument from depravity.
[…]“Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies—that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’ ” claim that their case rests on faith means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic, the enemy is right, but that men must hold faith as superior to reason.”
Rand explained that the argument from tradition ignores the truly radical nature of the American Revolution. Moreover, arguing from tradition grants all claims to progress and the future to the very people who would return us to primitive, village collectivism. She called it “grotesque” that conservatives offer stagnation as a defense of capitalism which is the one truly dynamic economic system.

She said: “The plea to preserve 'tradition' as such, can only appeal to those who have given up or to those who never intended to achieve anything in life. It is a plea that appeals to the worst elements in men and rejects the best: it appeals to fear, sloth, cowardice, conformity, self-doubt – and it rejects creativeness, originality, courage, independence, self-reliance.”

The argument from depravity says that no one can be trusted to rule. People are weak, capricious, and fallible: “since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.”  Thus, the conservatives grant the premise that dictatorship is based on human potential. From that it follows that it is wrong to enslave the depraved, but morally proper to enslave the virtuous. Moreover, the conservatives claim that the disasters and horrors of the 20th century were the punishment we suffered for the sin of attempting to devise a rational society. Ultimately the argument from depravity rests on the argument from faith, of course.

For Ayn Rand, faith and force were reflected images. She explained that in detail in an essay “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World” which was originally a set of lectures delivered at Yale, Brooklyn College, and Columbia University in 1960, and republished after her death in the anthology Philosophy: Who Needs It? (New American Library, 1982). In the very first issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1962, and reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness and again in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal Ayn Rand wrote: “We are not conservatives. We are radicals for capitalism.”  She meant it.

Beyond condemning the mystics, Ayn Rand also proposed, considered, and reflected on many issues, some of which were tangential for her. She was a philosopher.

In 1972, Edwin Newman interviewed Ayn Rand for his show “Speaking Freely” on NBC-TV. Among other statements, Ayn Rand said: “I am not an enemy of labor unions. Quite the contrary. I think that they are the only decent group today, ideologically. I think they are the ones who will save this country, and save capitalism, if anybody can.”  She went on to say: “But the one flaw is that labor unions are government-enforced and become a monopoly and can demand higher wages than the market can offer. This union power creates the unemployable. It creates this vast group of people, the unskilled laborers who have no place to go for work. The artificial boosting of the skilled laborer’s income causes unemployment on the lower rungs of society. Every welfare measure works that way. It doesn’t affect the so-called rich, if that the humanitarians are worried about it, always affects the poor.”

A few minutes earlier, on the same show, speaking of the proper role of government, she said
“But on the matter of protecting people from physical danger, if certain conditions of employment, let us say, are unsafe and it can be proved that there is a physical risk – I don’t say that we have to wait until somebody dies – then the employer who is creating this risk can be sued, and can be severely punished financially. In other words, there can be a law protecting a man from physical injury by another man. In this case, the employer who puts men into conditions of danger – not accidentally, but intentionally or carelessly – can be penalized because he is infringing the right of his workers not to be injured physically.”  
The entire interview and many others are collected in the anthology Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz (Lexington Books, 2009).

Ayn Rand did not cite Max Weber or John Stuart Mill when she said that the government holds a legal monopoly on force. It is a subtle point. John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, Aristotle, and Plato, (among many others) all suggested different reasons for the origin of government, and its purpose today. For Aristotle, the state was a union of families. Max Weber spoke in language closest to Rand’s when in a speech to the Free Student Union at the University of Munich in 1919, he said that the government holds a monopoly on force. If the government holds a monopoly on retaliatory force, then why do you want a gun?

From Ayn Rand Answers: the Best of Her Q&A, edited by Robert Mayhew (New American Library, 2005) come two questions and answers.
Q: What is your opinion of gun control laws?A: I do not know enough about it to have an opinion, except to say that it is not of primary importance. Forbidding guns or registering them is not going to stop criminals from having them; nor is it a great threat to the private, non-criminal citizen if he has to register the fact that he has a gun. It is not an important issue, unless you're ready to begin a private uprising right now, which isn't very practical. [Ford Hall Forum, 1971]Q: What's your attitude toward gun control?A:  It is a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people -- they are not carried for hunting animals -- and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don't know how the issue is going to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim. [Ford Hall Forum, 1973]”
When I cited this, some of my conservative comrades online insisted that handguns can be used for hunting, even deer, and for all I know, perhaps even for killing elephants and dinosaurs, but that evades the salient problem. According to Ayn Rand, it is perfectly reasonable for the government to know who owns a handgun. Ownership of an unlicensed handgun would be a crime in Ayn Rand’s perfect capitalist society.

Ayn Rand believed that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy. Conservatives disagree. Among them are Congressman Ron Paul, MD, and his son, Senator Randal H. Paul, MD, who introduced a “Life at Conception Act” to make abortion a federal crime.

These are the most visible problems that conservatives face when attempting to assume that Ayn Rand supported their cause. Whether they can support hers is for each of them to decide.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

William Sheldon: Psychologist, Numismatist, Thief

Dr. William Herbert Sheldon, Jr., (1898 – 1977) created the 70-point grading scale that is the standard in modern American numismatics.  He also pioneered the study of Early American Copper, the Large Cents and Half Cents struck until 1857. He also stole coins from the American Numismatic Society; and he defrauded other collectors.

black and white photograph of heavyset man about 40 years of age
Dr. William Sheldon
Sheldon came from a privileged family. The philosopher William James was his godfather. He earned his bachelor’s at Brown University and went on to complete a master’s at the University of Colorado. Returning to the east, he was granted a Ph.D. by the University of Chicago in 1925, which he followed in 1933 with an M.D. degree. Studying in Europe, he met with Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. He developed a theory of personality “somatotypes” that were similar to the theories of Ernst Kretschmer under whom he also studied.  During World War II, Sheldon served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Medical Corps. He taught psychology at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago before joining the faculty of the University of Oregon Medical School as a professor of medicine. He returned to CambridgeMassachusetts, and founded his own research organization.

According to Sheldon, people could be classified as ectomorphs, mesomorphs, or endomorphs: skinny, medium, fat.  Ectomorphs are stingy and mean while endomorphs are jolly.  Mesomorphs are a little of both. 

Sheldon developed his measurements deeper than those crude labels. Writing for the E-Sylum mail list of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, Denis Loring said: “I was somatotyped by Dr. Sheldon himself. I used to visit him and Dorothy Paschal (“Dr. Dorothy” as he called her) at their home in Cambridge, Mass. On one occasion the conversation turned to somatotyping, and the fact that I went to Harvard but had not participated in Sheldon's photographic somatotyping project. He promptly got up, told me to stand straight and face 90 degrees away from him. He inspected me carefully and pronounced me a 4-6-1, (4 endomorphic, 6 mesomorphic, 1 ectomorphic), a solid rarity 6 in the somatotype world.”

The “Harvard Study” that Denis Loring referred to was one of a series in which Sheldon photographed Ivy League and Seven Sister School students, typically in their underwear, against a grid. It was alleged that many were nude, but this may be an urban legend; or it may be that the nudes in his files were from different studies; or that photographs in his collection which were labeled “nudes” were not. It remains true that among those whose somatotypes were recorded were Hillary Rodham, Diane Sawyer, Warren Beatty, Nora Ephron, and Meryl Streep.

The 70-Point Grading Scale
Sheldon had a passion for Large Cents and related coins in the “early American coppers” series. He wrote Early American Cents 1793-1814: an Exercise in Descriptive Classification with Tables of Rarity and Value (Harper & Brothers, 1949). Working with Dorothy I. Paschal and Walter Breen, Sheldon then updated his research as Penny Whimsy: A Revision of Early American Cents 1793-1814 (Harper & Row, 1958). Penny Whimsy became the standard reference for these coins with several reprints issued over the years by Sanford Durst (1965 and 1990) and Lawrence Quarterman (1976). To establish the values of the coins, Sheldon created a 70-point scale, based on a convenient fiction that if a Large Cent were graded Fair (1) and were sold for one dollar, then the same date, type, and variety, in Uncirculated (60) should sell for $60. A perfect example would be priced at $70.

Inflation long ago erased the baseline for such calculations. Also, the arithmetic was never intended for any other series. Still, over the years, numismatists accepted the numerical ranges for grading all American coins. Today, it is used in every American catalog or reference. The scale even shows up in American catalogs for ancient Roman coins. However, hardly any European dealers or collectors recognize the scale, and prefer nicely descriptive adjectives that translate well.

Sheldon’s drive to acquire the coins he loved to study crossed all lines of common decency among numismatists. All collectors (coins, stamps, furniture, automobiles, rock ‘n’ roll records, …) know the foibles of passion, in others, if not themselves.  William Sheldon did not optimistically over-grade his coins. He did not carefully clean and nicely retone them, and then fail to mention the fact. Beginning no later than 1949, Sheldon visited the American Numismatic Society collection often and swapped his lower grade examples for their better ones. He also exchanged his lower grade coins with better examples bought from other individuals, placing his in their holders without annotation, and then selling those to other collectors.

Like the infamous “Western Assay Bars” of John FordSheldon’s thievery was revealed when later collectors bought the inventories of famous numismatists at highly visible auctions by important firms. Then, the coins, their photographic history, and their auction pedigrees could be examined as a body. Also, like those pioneer gold fakes, the highest echelons of the numismatic community long suspected the problem; but talking in private for decades achieved nothing and only a suit at law in federal court forced the correlation and recognition of all the facts. Ten years later, the ANS was still pursuing its lost property.

Dr. William Sheldon is not alive to defend himself. No one else rises to his cause. The evidence is damning. Much of it is physical, and of a quality that would be the envy of any prosecutor. The coins in question were pedigreed, catalogued, photographed, displayed, admired, and bought and sold among the highest echelons of American numismatics. While Dr. Sheldon did write the standard reference, he was not alone at his level of expertise. His crimes were exposed by other authorities.

Sheldon also was not alone in profiting from his crimes, which is why the American Numismatic Society had to go to court.

Delmar Bland is widely regarded as the “Expert’s Expert” for Large Cents. The ANS hired him to investigate the problem of William Sheldon in 1991. That also raised some questions from another aficianado of Early American Copper, John Adams who claimed that the ANS may not be the helpless victim of a predator. The ANS waited 20 years (1973 to 1991) between the time that it first investigated the problem until it sought to recover its property. “… torpid if not supine…” Adams said. Adams suggested that some of Sheldon’s ill-gotten gains may have come from undocumented sales by unidentified ANS curators. We may never know. We do know that an overwhelming inventory of coins not matching their supposed provenances were in the collection of Dr. William Sheldon.

Notes (This was edited from a two-part article in the Winter 2013 and Spring 2013 issues of the Mich-Matist magazine of the Michigan State Numismatic Society.)
  • Jess Patrick of the Patrick Mint brought to my attention the apparent error in the obituary published by Nature and reprinted in The Psychiatrist. Sheldon probably did not study under Jung and Freud.
  • Denis Loring’s reminiscence appeared in the E-Sylum mail list of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society (Volume 11, Number 50, December 14, 2008, Article 16).
About the suits in federal court: 
  • “ANS search for 129 missing cents becomes legal battle: Society attorney names late William Sheldon as suspect,” by Bill Gibbs, Coin World Aug. 23, 1993. 
  • ANS Magazine, vol. 3. no. 2, Summer 2004, by curator Robert W. Hoge. 
  • “More on Collector Ted Naftzger and the Switched Large Cents,” by John Kleeberg, The E-sylum, Vol. 11, No. 24, June 15, 2008, Article 17.) 
  • Maine Antiquarian Digest (February 1998) by David Hewett.
  • Adams wrote to the Maine Antiquarian Digest (March 1998) as he has also published later in the E-Sylum, (Volume 11, Number 24, June 15, 2008, Article 17).  
  • Maine Antiquarian Digest. April 1998 by Lawrence, Susan, and Harvey Stack.
Forgery and Fraud in Numismatics
Murray Rothbard: Fraud or Faker?
The Fallibility of Fingerprinting
Junk Criminology in the Courtoom
Is Physics a Science?