Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crimes of Conscience: Antigone and Stealing from the Public Library

The libraries at the University of Texas at Austin shelve 83 volumes by Ayn Rand. Of them, 30 have been stolen. Of those, eight are marked in the catalog as “Missing.” In other words, they left the shelves without being checked out. The others were just not returned by the last borrowers who effectively got away with their crimes.  I identify these facts as evidence of a deeper political problem, first posited 2500 years ago by Sophocles in his drama, Antigone.  More recent, and known well to admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, are the trial scenes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  Not so famous, but cutting more deeply into the fabric of law is Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th. The question is whether or not you have a duty to obey the law.

It is important to understand, first, that Ayn Rand was opposed to duty.
The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest. – “Causality versus Duty,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It?

Obviously, for some admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, the prospect of a free copy of one of her books was stronger than any irrational duty to the public order. However, it is also true that Rand’s dictum above must be placed in its proper context because she was far more eloquent in her condemnation of “looters” and substantially incisive in her praise for their antithesis, the producers.  Moreover, the moral and political aspects of her philosophy of Objectivism were primarily about the positive virtues of production, creation, and active reason, against which are revealed the negative, destructive, and empty actions of the irrational and non-productive.

The essential question here is: “What justifies stealing from the public library?” It leads to a far wider set of questions and actions. I assert that if it is acceptable to steal Atlas Shrugged from the library, then it is acceptable to take a tree from a public park, or a computer from city hall, or the President’s limousine from the White House.  And, ultimately, it would be acceptable to take anything from anyone who accepted any public benefit, whether a social security check, “land bank” payments for not growing crops, sending their children to public schools, or (of course) borrowing books from the public library (and returning them).

Some libertarians claim that it is moral to steal from the library, or any other government entity, because their assets all come from taxation, and taxation is theft. When you steal a library book, you only take back what was yours in the first place. This also applies by extension to stealing back what was yours from any business that benefits from government subsidies, whether General Motors or Tesla, Inc., a local hospital, or the florist whom you spot coming from the library.

Moving right along, for a philosophical Objectivist (or simply an “admirer” of the works of Ayn Rand), such justifications extend to their irrational mystical altruist collectivist neighbors. The theory is that anyone who goes to church or votes for Democrats is fair game, especially when the risks are very low.  Your neighbors who are tax looters or welfare moochers stole from you first; you are just taking back what was yours. If you can get away with it, why not?

Among the many accurate and precise tools of logic that Ayn Rand employed in her expositions was identifying the error of context dropping. In terms of the social consequences of personal morality, it is the error of moral equivalency. It also a powerful tool in Objectivism that moral success begins in metaphysics and epistemology.  So the moral failing of the looter of the library begins with errors in metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn Rand called it “reifying the zero” i.e., attempting to make a “something” out of nothing.  (See “Axiomatic Concepts” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Stealing a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the library is not the moral equivalent of buying one from a bookstore.

The primary concern is not whether the owner of the bookstore sends her children to a government-subsidized daycare center, but where you got the money with which you bought the book.  If you did not buy the book at all, if there was no earned money exchanged, then the failure was yours long antecedent to the gross action of mere acquisition of the book.

It is a perhaps curious fact, revealing the nature of the subject, that generally and historically philosophy is about the individual: you and your place in the universe. Even the weak ones and bad ones attempt some answers to the same question: How do I know what to do? We know many exceptions: Plato’s Republic, the social priesthood of Auguste Comte, Marxism-Leninism, …  But they stand out as exceptions within the 2600-year history of philosophy. Ayn Rand consciously built her philosophy of Objectivism to be the ultimate expression of that discovery: your best experience of your own life.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine was so outraged by the desecration of her brothers’ bodies, whatever their crimes against the city, that she disobeyed the commands of the tyrant Creon, in full acceptance of the consequences. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is prepared to go to prison if fails in his appeal to the creative spirit within each of the jurors.  In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden refuses to hand over his metal and tells the government that he cannot stop their trucks and guns if they come to take it. And he is willing to go to prison rather than to acquiesce in the theft of his property.  In Night of January 16th Karen André has committed or conspired in so many crimes that the play does not even come close to a bill of indictment. She makes no appeal to a higher law or a greater good or a better morality. She does not explain herself at all: no outsider’s opinion is consequential to her.

On the other hand, the hooligan who steals a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the public library makes no public statements, issues no manifesto, and stands not in defiance of authority but slinks away with loot.  It might be informative for a bold privateer to wheel several shelving carts out the door while distributing leaflets condemning the philosophical and economic fallacies of “public goods.” (And when the campus police arrive, he should have a clever cloaking device unless he intends to go to jail for his beliefs.) But that is not the case. Instead, other people whose taxes have paid for goods and services are deprived of the benefit of their bargain by a third party. We call that theft.

"Rand fans" are not the only people given to "crimes of conscience." The Roman republican martyr Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato, Uticensis) became a symbol for Christians and ultimately republicans of the Enlightenment. But, again, Cato the Younger took his own life rather than submit to Gaius Julius Caesar. It remains that the jihadi who kill themselves while they kill others in suicide attacks claim obedience to a higher law, also. But their actions are not  morally equivalent because the consequences are not morally equivalent.

Do you have a duty to obey the law?
 In the explicit sense identified by Ayn Rand, that a duty is an obligation that supersedes self-interest, you do not. But that begs the question: What is self-interest? Rand devoted herself to answering that question. If you do not understand why productively earning the money with which to buy a book is in your self-interest while the easy pickings of the public library are not, you need to do some reading.  It is a common error in our common education that we want even our “story problems” to be short, when in fact, the most important aspects of living well require more than a slogan to explain.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

TDEM 2017 Texas Emergency Management Conference

Laurel and I attended the 2017 Texas Department of Public Safety Division of Emergency Management annual conference in San Antonio. Although it is a four-day show, we were there just for Thursday, May 18. We started with the exhibit hall and attended two break-out sessions. These are some of the vendors whom I met.

Dr. Deb Zoran is the operations supervisor of
VET outreach of Texas A&M University.
They coordinate animal rescue during disasters and emergencies.
John Taylor and Hannah Coffey of BOLD Planning,
one of the providers of mitigation and remediation plans for
organizations that do not have adequate in-house emergency planning.
Sean Scott developed the Red Guide handbooks.
They are available in English and Spanish.
Keith Blaylock of eXpress Sandbag System
did not bring the proprietary machinery with him.
However, I found the sandbags to be portable,
standardized, and stackable.
And he said that he could produce
1000 per hour all day long.
Michael Shanks of LRad explained
that his sound output speakers will cover
huge, city-sized areas with good clarity
for voice notification in times of emergency.
Mike Ross does apps and he has them for
emergency management. In the age of the
smartphone it is an easy and effective way
for jurisdictions to get the word out --
the right information...
from the right source.
Vanessa Forté of ProPac brought a wide range of
pre-packaged emergency supplies from
first aid kits to food and drink for
one person or large groups.
Mark Mathiesen of On the Mark Weather is one of several
commercial meteorologists with his own brand of applied theories.
When I reviewed and edited contracts for TDEM in 2014,
I was surprised to learn that the government agency, NOAA,
as respected as it is, is not the leading edge, and only tells you
what they tell everyone in a wide area all at the same time.
Dr. Mathiesen specializes in micro-events:
he can tell you if your school could be hit. 
Of course, there were many more to be met.  My friends from Intermedix and WebEOC were there. So were the folks from STEAR, the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry for people who want to be helped when getting help is a matter of life and death. I met Major Ernest Branscum of the Salvation Army several times during the day as we toured the exhibit hall. I was happy to be able to add my name to the contact list for the local chapter of the Association of Continuity Managers.   

On Thursday, May 18, at 4:00 PM, Laurel and I attended an excellent session on Insurance Fraud. The presenters were Lt. David Taylor (Compliance) and John Plent (Consumer Protection) from the Catastrophe Response Team of the Insurance Fraud unit of the Texas Department of Insurance. Just to note: The Department of Insurance is one of about 20 state agencies and departments that has its own sworn and weaponized peace officers. As explained below, when on the streets, talking to roofing contractors, he has the full law enforcement authority of any police officer in Texas.

In the aftermath of a disaster, swarms of unlicensed contractors appear, soliciting business, and being paid with money from insurance settlements. The work is uneven in quality. Sometimes, the “contractors” take a “down payment” and never return. Occasionally, they take a partial payment, do partial work, then leave, with a promise to return, which puts the matter out of the criminal law and into civil law.

The TDI catastrophe teams help people work with insurance adjusters; and they can assist insurance companies in the field. They work with consumers to help with insurance claims. Lt. Taylor and Mr. Plent come to your town to mitigate (and ideally prevent) violations and victimizations. They start by meeting with city officials. They acknowledge that after a severe storm which has taken lives, mitigating insurance fraud might not seem highly important. However, they have found law enforcement and other city officials to be very helpful. If the city has regulations, they say, then make sure that all solicitors are registered and licensed. Drive the streets; and where you see roofers working or knocking on doors, ask to see their papers. Municipalities should run background checks for outstanding warrants and sex offender registration. Their primary advice is to homeowners is to never accept a solicitation. You, the customer, should drive the process by seeking out reputable companies and getting competitive bids.

We have no state-level licensing of contractors here in Texas. However, we do have the Roofing Contractors Association of Texas and the Building Officials Association of Texas (BOAT at In fact, BOAT was one of the vendors at the TDEM conference. 

Read about the fraud team here
Watch one of their videos here.

At 2:30 PM on May 18, Laurel and I attended a disjointed, lackluster session on cyber security.  Despite our abiding professional involvement in computer security, this one put us both to sleep. The presenter was David Morgan (CISSP, CNSS NSA Security), who is a cybersecurity officer and information security manager at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He certainly seemed well qualified from his time in the Marine Corps to his experience as a visiting professor at several colleges and universities. The bottom line is that the content of his presentation did not meet the criteria set by the title of his talk, "Cyber Security - A Critical Component for Emergency Management." 

Everything we do in response to a disaster or a community event depends on computers, from smartphones to laptops. To coordinate our efforts, we bring WebEOC into community shelters. Some at this conference had special responsibilities for the emergency bands such as TICP (Texas Interoperability Communication Package) and MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System). David Morgan did not tell us how to secure any of them, or how to detect an intrusion.

Laurel and I were most interested in knowing about how computer hackers have disrupted emergency response. Aside from mentioning the recent incident in Dallas -- (Dallas Morning News here among very many others) -- in which the weather sirens sounded at midnight, he had nothing to say. 

Hackers have been changing traffic lights since at least 2003, though the ability to do so was known in the 1980s. (See Wired from 2005 here.) Recently, the Surprise, Arizona, city 911 was taken out by a hacker (See Washington Times story here.)  Bear in mind, though, that the infamous “Operation Sundevil” from 1990, which alleged that hackers had broken into the nationwide 911, was exposed and disgraced.  (See  “Operation Sundevil” in Wikipedia here and “Jefferson in Mirrorshades” in a hacker archive here. )  None of that was in this  presentation. 

David Morgan did allude to the existence of viruses, worms, trojans, and spyware, but did not differentiate among them, or tell us how to detect, mitigate, remediate, or prevent them. He did say that the Macintosh operating system is easily given to viruses because it is based on Unix, which is the operating system in which viruses were invented. David Morgan defined “Zero day” as the source of unknown vulnerabilities. He explained a “root kit” by saying that if you are “root” then you own the system.

All of that being as it may, I personally benefited by learning about Coming to work the next day, I visited the site, read about it on Wikipedia, and made a note to myself to follow up. 
BSides Austin 2016
InnoTech 2015
CERT: Community Emergency Response Team
The Living Fish Swims Under Water

Monday, May 15, 2017

ANOC: Advanced Non-commissioned Officer Course

On the weekend 10-12 March 2017, I completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Class (ANOC) of the Texas State Guard. Although the J-7 (Joint Training directorate) at headquarters likes to maintain the fiction that their orders and guidance ensure that training is the same for everyone, in fact, it depends a lot on who commands in the classroom.

My third class, BNOC, was dedicated to us: we were all BNOC. However, the second class I completed, Primary Leadership Development (PLDC), was, like this one, held in a joint force, cross-component environment. We did not train with them; but we all socialized after hours. So, I benefited from the opportunity to compare and contrast this ANOC with a previous session for another group. The courses were compatible, but not identical.

We all studied the meaning of Leadership, the principles of Supervision, and the application of Leadership Behavior. We all had lessons in Counseling and Mentoring. We all engaged in exercises in applied Creative Thinking. We placed all of that into a narrative of Teamwork based on Management Principles, tempered by Risk Management. The specifics of the PowerPoint slides and the practical exercises were different for us.

Our ANOC instructor was a Marine. Only about half of us in the TXSG are prior federal military. (I am not. ) While Marines can be found in the Medical Rangers, the Air Component, and the Army Component, most of them are (of course) in the Maritime Regiment. Technically, that is the uniform that I wear. However, I am not in TMAR; I am a clerk in the command group. But I knew our instructor. And in real life, he is a high school mathematics teacher. So, this class went well for me.

Non-commissioned officers are the backbone of the military and the reason our military is the best trained, most professional, and most respected in the world. First-line supervisors execute the day-to-day operations with precision whenever and wherever duty calls. Foreword, Army FM  7-22.7

One of our lessons was on the Abilene Paradox. No one really wanted to go to Abilene, but each of them thought that everyone else did, so they each went along with what they misperceived the consensus to be.

In the other ANOC that I observed the new high-ranking sergeants directed us lower non-coms in close order drill. In this class, the instructor called the commands. However, his lessons included several ways to achieve those troop movements. He even taught us “counter march, right about” which, rolling caissons or not, is not a proper command – but is cool to do and see done.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Nation of Immigrants and Aliens

Enjoying Season 1 of Mork and Mindy has given me an opportunity to revisit 1978. To say that times have changed is to warp past the expansion of Daylight Savings and the appearance of telephones that take selfies. 

In one episode, Mork met a Russian musician who was here studying the cello.  The Russian told Mork that all aliens in the United States must register. I forgot about that. Then I remembered the public service announcements on television. It is a lot more complicated now.  (See here  But if you read the laws, special, organized registration of aliens goes back at least to 1924 though the Alien Acts of 1798 were no laughing matter. (See here: )
Nanu nanu!

Distrust of unwanted immigrants goes back to 1492, but your sense of irony must have been removed at birth if you do not pause at the distinction between Native Americanism and  American nativism. Will the last one in please close the door?

Monday, May 1, 2017

A Century of May Days

The Internationale
(Billy Bragg's Lyrics)

Stand up all victims of oppression,
For the tyrants fear your might.
Don't cling so hard to your possessions,
For you have nothing if you have no rights!
Let racist ignorance be ended;
For respect makes the empires fall.
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all!

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on.
The Internationale 
Unites the world in song.
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place.
The international ideal
Unites the human race.

Let no one build walls to divide us,
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone.
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us;
We'll live together or we'll die alone.
In our world poisoned by exploitation,
Those who have taken now they must give.
And end the vanity of nations
We've but one earth on which to live!

And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields.
We stand unbowed before their armor
We defy their guns and shields.
When we fight provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by like and love;
For though they offer us concessions
Change will not come from above!

Songwriters: Stephen William Bragg / Petrus Christianus De Geyter / Eugene Edme Pottier
The Internationale lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

(I find it ironic that The Internationale is protected by intellectual property laws, and that the rights are not owned by Billy Bragg, but by Sony.  It's a brave new world.)

Previously on NecessaryFacts