The OC Blog Back Issues Our Mission Contact Us Masthead
Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

Randites of the World Unite

Attention objectivists: The Ayn Rand Institute is looking for college students to submit essays about the Atlas Shrugged for a contest. First prize is $5,000, though one can assume that once the federal government extorts its unfair share spending it on something ridiculous like tsunami relief (seriously, what were those people doing there in the first place? Its not our fault theyre stupid) — the amount will be far less.

The contest requires college students to respond to one of a number of quotes from the book. For example:

Galt: Which is the monument to the triumph of the human spirit over matter: the germ-eaten hovels on the shorelines of the Ganges or the Atlantic skyline of New York?*

A surefire way to win this contest is to stick to a script, a template:

1) Use the term moral certainty at least three dozen times on the first page alone. In fact, this could be your entire essay. Refer to yourself as “Moral Certainty” for good measure
2) Insinuate, but do not state explicitly, that feelings are, you know, totally for the weak and shit.
3) Affluence is the sole defining feature of a man. Without affluence, a man might as well be holed-up in some hovel eating germs on the shoreline of the Ganges (even in this case the germ-man relationship has been reversed).
4) Big buildings are beautiful.

* Does anybody else want to read the submissions for this particular quote as badly as I do?

  1. Timbo says:

    The problem with tsunami warning systems, as I understand it, is that people tend to flock TO the coast to witness the awesome power of nature. I know I would love to see 20 foot waves (just not from below)

    I have also been told that scientists at the Pacific monitoring stations picked up some disturbance in the Indian Ocean and tried to warn the countries surrounding it, but were unable to get the word out with enough speed and authority.

    As Nathaniel mentioned, even if word could have reached coastal residents, there wasn’t enough time to get away. Coastal roads tend to follow the shoreline, with only sporadic routes inland. Given adequate warning, more people would have been washed off the roads instead of out of their homes — but the fatality rate would not have changed significantly. gives an account of an American living in Thailand who got washed 1 km into the jungle.

  2. Melissa says:

    I would be willing to place a bet, I have no data to back this up because I am too lazy to search, that more people die in the region effected by the tsunami from a lack of basic necessities every year

    Ah, yes, but the problem with the body count isn’t so much the numbers it’s (1)over 120,000 (2) waterlogged (3) buried in debris (4) leaking into ground water bodies. When people die over a year, they can be appropriately buried. When thousands upon thousands of people die at once, and can’t be recovered but decompose into the ground water and soil resources, major health hazards become an issue. There’s a reason those Zorostrian religions dispose of the dead by putting them into towers and let ceremonial carion birds take care of the rest: in a region so dry where groundwater is precious, it isn’t very smart to have your dead leakin’ into it.

    Word has it that Thailand had plenty of warning. The government didn’t want to scare the tourists away.

  3. Pete says:

    Nathaniel, I think the cost of a warning defense system wouldn’t be as much as you think. And some sort of emergency warning infrastructure should already be in place. If not, then building such a system and testing it regularly is an essential part of making the leap from second world (or third) to first world status. I’m still baffled that no warning whatsoever was issued. Even without a billion dollar network of earthquake and tide level monitors, you should have some idea when islands to the south of you are being wiped out. I would image that there was at least a half hour delay between Indonesia being demolished and India being hit with a somewhat less devastating wave.

  4. nathaniel says:

    You still didn’t address my main point, such a warning system is not cost effective. Inevitably, maybe even tomorrow, there will be another tsunami that fucks shit up, but it still won’t change the basic fact that it is increadibly rare. The millions of dollars it would cost would be better spent, by that I mean it would save more lives, if it was spent on food, water, doctors for the region. Most of that region was not a pretty place to live and its populace are lacking many of these things before the tsunami. I look at a warning system like I look at missile defense, if every thing else is taken care, by all means do it. With missile defense I think the chance of the US being attacked by an ICBN is so remote, those resources should be spent on things like more intelligence to prevent other forms of attack. Clearly there are many more threats to human life in South and SE Asia then only tsunamis. I would be willing to place a bet, I have no data to back this up because I am too lazy to search, that more people die in the region effected by the tsunami from a lack of basic necessities every year, without a doubt during the interval between tsunamis in the region, then have been killed by this event. It is a matter of resources allocation and I just don’t believe that a warning system is a good use of limited resources.

  5. melissa says:

    Nathaniel the Grublet

    It has nothing to do with what I’m about to comment on: Just the immediate thing that pops into mind whenever I see/hear that name. Evidence of a horrid childhood.

    Not only were there no tsunamis in that region recently, there haven’t been any though out RECORDED HISTORY of the area that were caused by earthquakes.

    Yes, that’s what I just said. Just because there isn’t an earthquake/tsunami in the region’s recent history doesn’t mean there won’t be one… recent history being a blip on a blip of a fraction of a blip in geologic history. As far as folklore, there’s a good reason Dravidian groups tended to live inland and at a higher elevation on that portion of coast. Pre-tourism, of course.

    As to the last US tsunami? April 1992 Wanna dig further? I was there. I was in the fifth grade. I was sleeping over at a friends house when the first earthquake hit, and they continued to hit during the night.

    Now if you want to get into recorded history, whose are we going to talk about? Western science? Religions? Oral history? The mentality of basing predictions of natural disasters on human recorded history leads to the hubris of man and the apparent “control” humans have over their environments. Irony is what makes this particular event a tragedy.

    Fact remains that a huge tourism boom in that coastal ring should require a warning system. Flat land or not, it still could have saved a few thousand lives.

  6. nathaniel says:

    The reason there was no warning system is it would have been a waste of money. Not only were there no tsunamis in that region recently, there haven’t been any though out RECORDED HISTORY of the area that were caused by earthquakes. (There was one caused by a volcano) As best as I can tell this includes a lack of folk legends. What would a warning system cost? I would be willing to bet a lot of money that has better uses then this. I would imagine if you would use that money to feed the population and provide drinking water, doctors, etc, you would end up saving more people then a warning system would have saved. Plus a warning system wouldn’t have been effective as most of the area affected is flat, so even if people had a 5 minute warning, which is what they would have got in Indonesia, there is no where safe for them to go. Also, Aceh isn’t exactly under control of the Indonesian government, they have been having a little problem with insurgents there.

    To me this is the main problem with humans, we react to what has already happen instead of figuring out what might happen in the future. An obvious example if when they didn’t allow metal silverware on planes because they were afraid of highjackers. Don’t spend money on a warnign system in the Indian Ocean until all of the damaged area has been rebuilt. Also, it is not like every time there is an earthquake in the ocean there is a tsunami. There are tons of earthquakes every year in the pacific and I don’t know when the last time the US coast got hit by one.

  7. Melissa says:

    One would think that with that much coastline and all the tourism (read: foreign lives at stake in event of a disaster) there would be a tsunami warning. For that matter, when Muffy and Buffy Megabucks vacation in Thailand or on the southern shores of India, their demise/experience is made out to be more horrific than the destruction of villages and families that have existed there since the Mongol and Aryan invasions.

    I was watching one of Prez Bush’s statements the other night, and he mentioned that he didn’t understand why there was no warning system in place. Same here! Someone dropped the ball on tsunami warnings for (1) such a populated coastal region on (2) a long inactive continental plate and fault system where “earthquakes never happen!” In a human lifespan, they may not have, but in geologic time, a generation of humans is nothing. Repeat: nothing.

    Above and beyond the money, the help, and the tragedy of the death toll, the lesson the world needs to learn from this is that it simply isn’t wise to underestimate huge slabs of earth crust that float on a layer of molten rock and crash into one another.

  8. Timothy says:

    Well, okay, that’s total hyperbole, but that $350million is just government money, the private donations are close to $158MM by some estimates. PLUS all of the military aid, and that’s not exactly cheap. How dare we only help as much as we reasonably can, we should go bankrupt cleaning up after a disaster that is in no way our fault and, honestly, isn’t even really our problem!

  9. Timothy says:

    A leftist who is sort of a friend of mine said that we’re “only sending $350 million to East Asia”. Yeah, you know, only more than the rest of the world combined. Stingy Americans!

  10. Pete says:

    Check out the comments thread at Daily Kos. The left (I hope Im right in choosing the term left over liberal… a diminishing distinction) has found a jugular in East Asia to leech on while the wound is fresh.

    Common Post:

    Oh, and I’m waiting for a pundit to point out that the number of Americans missing and feared dead is approaching the death total from the WTC…connect that to Bush’s slow response…connect that to weak leader.
    Americans are cynical. You’ve got to show them; not tell them. This is an opportunity to SHOW them that Bush is a weaker leader than they think.

    I know these people dont pray, but if they did Id speculate it would be about poor Bush PR rather than poor dead east asians.

    Keep those donations going to MoveON!

  11. Tyler says:

    Melissa makes a good point. Private organizations that set up relief funds are privy to fiscal chicanery, as weve seen with the Red Cross. Having said that, I am in favor of private organizations over government bureaucracies for obvious reasons.

    My problem with the Rand Institute, however, is that theres no sense of perspective (especially historical perspective) in their OP-ED piece. For Gods sake, these people still think the Marshall Plan was a bad idea, born of altruism rather than pragmatism. Their argument that relief is inherently altruistic is flat out wrong. Sometimes a country must make a cost/benefit analysis; would it be more cost-effective to have a major, developing part of the world ravaged by the effects of a tsunami than to spend a very small percentage of tax revenue on relief and rescue efforts?

    Im against doling out money willy-nilly in order to help foreign economies because this action rarely works. But when a region important to U.S. interests is ravaged by war or natural disasters, and when Americans are suffering in this region, I believe the pragmatic thing to do is help out. Plus, couldnt the Rand Institute have titled their piece something more nuanced than U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims? Jesus.

  12. Melissa says:

    Don’t forget: the American Red Cross doesn’t want any donations unless they’re cash. Because we all trust the Red Cross with our money, and it always gets to where it’s intended.

    Right? Eh, no. It would be more helpful immediately to send forensics, medical professionals, disaster ecologists, and culturally specified professionals to each region to handle the issues of: grief, burial procedures, appropriate food distribution, housing, and health care. Naturally, there are several of these groups that have already mobilized, but the media chooses to focus on the dollar amounts and body counts, instead of what’s already in motion.

  13. Pete says:

    I’d also mention the political payoff, but our quake relief efforts in Iran seem to have been forgotten.

  14. Pete says:

    Yes. Yes. We can AT LEAST concede that giving money to a tsunami ravaged east asia is a good thing.

  15. Timothy says:

    Here’s how I look at it:

    1) The government should not dispense aid.

    2) It is a popular thing for the government to dispense aid.

    3) Therefore the government will dispense aid because it seems to be the majority will.

    4) Given that aid will be dispensed, what is the best use of the (hopefully) finite amount of aid to be dispensed and how can this aid be dispensed in a utility maximizing manner?

    It seems to me that helping victims of a natural disaster that altered the rotation of the planet is a fairly worthy thing to do with US aid dollars. Sure, all-private donations would be preferable (hell look at the Amazon donations page), but if the government is going to be in the aid business we can at lease concede that some uses are good.

  16. Pete says:

    Great post Tyler. I can’t believe they actually have an Op-Ed titled “U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims.” I know it’s coming from an anti-tax angle, but is it really any different from liberals bemoaning money spent rebuilding schools in Iraq when “our own schools are inadequately funded?” I’m not big on state sponsored humanitarianism either, but let’s show a little fucking discretion eh’. 100,000 (or more) people are dead.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.