A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.

Charles Darwin

Disgusted with being right, with doing what succeeds, with the effectiveness of methods, try something else.

Paul Valéry

Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.

Robert A. Heinlein

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki

Reading: Lever Action

I first encountered L. Neil Smith as an author of science fiction (notably Rosewell, Texas and The Probability Broach graphic novels) and particularly enjoyed his use of alternate historical timelines and variations on historical figures.  What stood out most however, was how consistent the theme of personal liberty was embodied in his characters and narratives.

Recently, I found this collection of his essays on personal liberty and it became quickly apparent to me that Smith is one of the strongest defenders of the Bill of Rights around today (particularly its “enforcement”).  In clear, engaging and often humorous language, Smith will have you questioning some of your basic assumptions about “rights” in America.

I’m sure you won’t agree with everything he says (I found some of his “colorful” language around contemporary leaders and events tiresome and unnecessary), but he will make you think.  As a small tribute to the spirit of the book, I’ve included the text of the first ten amendments below, since I know at least for me, it had been a while since I actually read them:

  • Amendment I – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • Amendment II – A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  • Amendment III – No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  • Amendment IV– The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  • Amendment V – No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  • Amendment VI – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
  • Amendment VII – In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  • Amendment VIII – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  • Amendment IX -The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  • Amendment X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

You can read more about the Bill of Rights, and see the original document, at the National Archives.

Smith, L. Neil. Lever Action

Reading: Atlas Shrugged

“Who is John Galt?”  I’ve been asking myself that a lot over the last few weeks.  Well, more than 1000 pages later, both that question and the world we’re living in are starting to make a whole lot more sense.

This is simply a book you must read yourself.  It’s a compelling narrative, that can stir deep thinking about humanity and change (or confirm) your perspective of what it means to really produce.  It’s timely, given where America is headed politically these days.

I’ve heard about Rand’s novels for years, and have been urged by close friends (including my wife) to read them.  I knew they had philosophical undertones, but they always seemed to get trumped by more obviously compelling material.

That changed over the last few months when Atlas started cropping up for me everywhere.  I noticed it in blogs I follow, in business texts I was studying, even in the mainstream media.  It was time to read it (and I wasn’t alone, see this Wall Street Journal article about a recent spike in sales).  I wasn’t disappointed.

There are several speeches in the book that you’ll undoubtedly dog-ear to reread in the future, particularly Francisco d’Anconia’s about money (rather than quote it at length, you can read an excerpt here).  It’s the kind of story you’ll want to read twice, and I eagerly await that opportunity.

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged