Sunday, December 30, 2007

How do you know you’re a geek?

I’ll tell you how. You know you’re a geek when you and a friend of yours meet to give each other Christmas gifts, and you have both, unbeknownst to the other, bought Robert E. Howard books.

Though not the same book, sadly. That would have been cool; like an O. Henry story, but with more brutal violence and rippling thews.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New libertarian science fiction forum

This is very neat - via Geoffrey Plauche comes news of the Libertarian SF Forum. It’s always nice when two of my nerdly interests combine. If, like me, you always find yourself finishing a new science fiction book and thinking, “You know, that was cool, but there weren’t enough privately owned arbitration firms,” check it out. This could be great if it takes off.

Cross-posted at In Darkest Geekdom.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

A woman's body, a government health regulator’s choice

I suspect far more people would be libertarians if they actually thought through the possibility of the statist measures they support being put to use by their opponents. Coyote Blog points out an interesting incongruity. The National Organization for Women is adamantly pro-choice, and vehemently opposes any attempt to have the government restrict a woman’s right to have an abortion. This is usually phrased in libertarian terms- it’s wrong for the government to deny a woman control over her own life and body.

But NOW also supports universal government-provided health care. In other words, NOW (and I would imagine most pro-choicers who aren’t libertarians), wants to create a system where the government will have massively increased incentives and justifications for controlling private decisions affecting health- what people do with their own bodies, in other words.

Now, in purely philosophical terms, there’s no contradiction, slogans like “A woman’s body, a woman’s choice” notwithstanding. Feminists, being predominantly liberal/leftist, generally don’t derive the right to abortion from some broader right to control your life and body in general, a few libertarian feminists excepted. On the contrary, abortion is a rare exception to the general rule that the individual doesn’t have any right to control those things.

It does, however, strike me as a potential strategic risk for feminists, and for anyone else who doesn't want the government controlling women's reproductive choices. If we had a Canadian-style system, where the government not only provides health care but outlaws private alternatives, it would be a quite simple matter to make abortion de facto restricted or illegal. Don’t outlaw abortion- simply make all health procedures a government monopoly, and then refuse to fund abortion in some or all cases. This would, I suspect, be quite popular, at least for more controversial areas like late-term abortions or abortions for minors. Such a result would be appalling to members of NOW, but it would hardly be the first time liberals found themselves unhappy when someone else managed to seize control of the oppressive state machinery the liberals built.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

To be fair, they DID teach me to cope with spirit-crushing boredom

In the comments section of his blog post about home education, Rad Geek says something that brought back some old memories:

"My main memory of third grade is all the time I spent sitting around after having finished worksheets of division problems that I learned how to do in second grade, and multiplication problems that I learned how to do in kindergarten."

That takes me back. It's depressing to think of the hours upon hours wasted doing absolutely nothing because I always finished my reading assignments ahead of time and wasn't allowed to do anything else-and what we read in school was usually a dumbed-down version of something I had already learned from all books my grandfather had given me. I was lucky: my grandfather gave me dozens of history and science books, so I maintained a positive attitude towards learning despite my hatred of school. But it makes me wonder how many kids are soured on it forever.

At conferences, the teachers would tell my parents, “John’s such a bright boy; we don’t understand why he always seems so unhappy in school.” Well, the constant bullying (y’know, the valuable “socialization” public school advocates are always talking about) I faced because I was the class nerd/weirdo and the teachers didn’t really give a damn didn’t help, but above all there was the fact that I was bored out of my mind. Luckily, I was pretty good at escaping into my imagination, otherwise I would have snapped.

In a sense, I was lucky: my grandfather gave me dozens of history and science books, so I maintained a positive attitude towards reading and education despite my hatred of school. But it makes me wonder how many kids are soured on learning forever because of the way the educational system works.

In my more cynical moments, it also makes me wonder whether the architects of our educational system would consider that result a good thing, or a bad thing.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

And Pat Buchanan is a liberal, too!

One of the principal reasons I lost respect for the Right and ceased to consider myself a rightist was the realization that so much of what I hated about leftists was reproduced on the Right. It irritated the hell out of me that liberals would invariably accuse me of being a Republican because 1) I had the temerity to disagree with them about something, and 2) they couldn't comprehend the difference between Pat Robertson and Murray Rothbard. The realization that most conservatives aren't any brighter (or more honest) was a bit of an eye-opener.

This comment thread at Unqualified Offerings, (and now this one as well) was a valuable refresher course. (Background: Jim Henley misattributed a quote to Mark Steyn in the course of calling Steyn a racist, National Review linked to the post pointing out the error, and a battalion of NR readers came swarming like a plague of locusts.) I spend so much time bashing the tyranny of leftists, I sometimes forget how goddamned stupid the average warmongering conservative is. I know it's hard for some people to understand that people who dislike George W. Bush are not all part of some monolithic bloc called "liberals" that agrees on every issue, since that requires the ability to mentally divide the world into more categories than "us" and "not us," but at least make an effort. It's not terribly hard.

Previous comments on this issue here.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Great moments in political rhetoric

In a Wall Street Journal editorial that was excerpted in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, torture apologist Alan Dershowitz defended the efficacy of torture by writing the following:

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

Now, guilt by association is of course fallacious- the fact that Nazis tortured people doesn’t prove it’s wrong. Still, if I were to offer one suggestion to Dershowitz-or, for that matter, anyone trying to influence the public- it would be this. Saying that something is a good idea because it worked when Hitler did it is probably not the best way to convince people. There’s a reason Mothers Against Drunk Driving generally doesn’t play up the fact that Hitler didn’t drink, for instance.

Of course, I’m not the one getting space in the Wall Street Journal, so what do I know?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Hidden ideology

This is long and a bit rambling. You’ve been warned.

A while back, I wrote an article for, in which I argued that government education creates social disharmony because it forces people to fight over which views will be taught in the government schools. I was surprised, actually, at how little negative mail I got. I did, however, get upbraided by one reader, who remarked that she had taught in public school for a considerable length of time, and that she and her colleagues had never pushed a particular viewpoint on the children.

I have to say, first, that this certainly clashes with my own experience, in which I got the standard good government center-left view of history. (The Progressives and the New Deal saved us from the evils of laissez-faire, and so on.) Dueling anecdotes won’t get us very far, of course, though I have to say that I don’t think my experience was at all atypical. I would be very surprised if there were large numbers of public schools giving interpretations of history based on public choice theory or the work of Gabriel Kolko.

Second (and this goes to the heart of my original article),I don’t think that value-free, unbiased teaching of history is possible, except with a very basic list of names and dates, with no commentary or interpretation. Even that is likely to express a particular viewpoint or bias, since choosing which events to include and which to exclude from the account requires a judgment on which events are important and ought to influence the student’s view of the world. (In my history classes in public school, for instance, we were taught repeatedly about the Holocaust, but never heard a word about the Ukrainian terror famine or the death toll of the Great Leap Forward. Some atrocities were considered important to know; others were not.)

I am not making some sort of postmodern claim that we can never know anything objectively true about history; rather, I am saying that any historical narrative, even a very accurate one, will inevitably support some views over others. That’s why the problem described in my original article is unsolvable within public schools.

Even offering multiple interpretations does not solve the problem, because even the choice of which competing views to air is not a neutral one. Since there is a finite amount of time in the school day, you must judge which viewpoints and theories are deserving of consideration, and which are not. You must anoint some interpretations as legitimate or reasonable, and implicitly denigrate others. Even if we had school administrators and teachers who had no agenda, beliefs, or prejudices, this problem would not go away. And in practice, of course, we are quite far from that situation.

So, I doubt very strongly that what the writer said was true, because she claims the impossible. However, I also don’t think she’s willfully lying; that is, I think it very likely that she truly believes that she taught an unbiased, value-free history to her students, not based on any particular doctrine. I suspect the same is also true of journalists, to name another group that often expresses obvious pro-big government bias while claiming objectivity.

The reason is simple: I think that many people who profess the center-left/corporate liberal viewpoint that dominates public education and mainstream journalism don’t know they’re expressing a particular ideology. They’ve spent so much time surrounded by that particular viewpoint, going back to childhood, that it no longer seems like a particular viewpoint based on claims that may be questionable- it’s simply The Way Things Are.

Consider how statists of this type often talk. It is very common among “vital center” types to claim that their own views are somehow free of any sort of ideological slant. (Barack Obama is especially fond of talking about “getting past/beyond” ideology.) The views of others are based on ideology or political doctrines; their own are somehow self-evident, arising directly from the facts without any mediation by normative beliefs or philosophical views about government. One example: when smoking bans are debated, opposition to smoking bans if often painted as ideological or based on doctrinaire political philosophy, whereas support of smoking bans is purely a matter of “science”, without any ideological element. Believing that controlling smoking on private property is not a legitimate function of government is “ideological,” but believing that it is a legitimate function somehow isn’t. And in general, the belief that it is acceptable for the state to control vast swathes of people’s lives is not ideological or the expression of a particular philosophy-it’s just being pragmatic!- but principled opposition to government control in any given area is.

(There’s also conservative strain of this kind of arguing, which I’ll get to in a different post, both to keep length under control and because it takes different forms.)

To some extent, of course, this is rhetoric, a way to seem more reasonable than your opponent. But I don’t think it’s all done cynically; I think a lot of liberals and centrists really believe that their policy views are somehow ideology-free.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Takeru Kobayashi, to the barricades!

Sometimes its the little things that get to you. Every day, I read the Chicago Tribune editorial page. I usually come away dismayed, and today was not an exception. Recently there was a letter to the editor published which struck a nerve with me. The vital issue? Eating contests.

The author of the brief letter thought that eating contests were immoral, in light of the problem of hunger in poor countries. Her solution? Make them illegal.

Why did this set me off so much? I have absolutely no interest in eating contests. However, it struck me as an ideal manifestation of the mentality that threatens liberty in our day-to-day lives. Absolutely nothing is considered too picayune or obscure to be controlled by the government.

Its very pettiness and irrelevance revolts me. I can understand people who are willing to use state violence on big issues and grandiose projects, even if I intensely disapprove. It’s much harder for me to relate to someone so lost to any regard for the liberty of others or the idea of limited government power that they’d be willing to use the force of law to prevent eating contests. This mentality- the idea that all your little annoyances and pet peeves and dislikes should be dealt with by the government- is not as obviously corrosive to liberty as the grandiose schemes of utopians and moralists, precisely because it manifests in little things, but it’s just as important to resist.

In a way, in fact, it may be a more dangerous, precisely because it seems so petty. If the government threatens to institute mandatory attendance of Catholic Mass or starts hanging people without trial, there would be an uproar in the public and media. These things are too big to sneak past.

But how many people will get worked up over little things? After all, how many people give a damn about eating contest? How many people would care if they really were outlawed, or if any of dozens of other little activities were outlawed? Not many. It’s a small issue, nothing to get worked up over. And the same will be true of the next thing outlawed, and the next, and the next, because none of them individually will inspire more than token resistance. America’s freedom will not be swallowed whole; it will be nibbled to death.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Sad news

This is a real shame: Laissez-Faire Books is going out of business. When I was a newly minted libertarian, and libertarian books were hard to find in my local stores, discovering them was a godsend. (I got some weird looks reading Law, Legislation, and Liberty in the high school cafeteria, but it was worth it.) They'll be missed.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I guess I'll have to drop out of that ass-kicking contest

Sometimes life takes a crap on you. I just got out of the hospital, after a minor blister on my right big toe became badly infected and refused to respond to the antibiotics I was originally prescribed, developing into an abscess and leaving me unable to walk. It was huge- it looked like I had sprouted an extra toe. By the time I was admitted to the emergency room to have it lanced, it looked like it was about to gain sentience and subsume the rest of me into its own malignant consciousness.

I'm okay now, though I was in the hospital for five days on IV antibiotics and, I'm told, came close to losing the appendage in question. My foot is none too pretty after having my big toe cut open and drained, but at least I can walk now. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I'd like to find a way to blame the state for this unpleasant experience, but I'm coming up blank at the moment.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

A valuable "socialization" experience

It's usually left to law enforcement to brutalize and humiliate innocent people to appease the public's hysteria over the War on Drugs, but our educational system is doing its part too:

Safford Middle School officials did not violate the civil rights of a 13-year-old Safford girl when they forced her to disrobe and expose her breasts and pubic area four years ago while looking for a drug, according to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The justices voted 2-1 in favor of the Safford School District on Sept. 21. The decision upheld a federal district court's summary judgement that Safford Middle School Vice Principal Kerry Wilson, school nurse Peggy Schwallier and administrative assistant Helen Romero did not violate the girl's Fourth Amendment rights on Oct. 8, 2003, when they subjected her to a strip search in an effort to find…

To find what? Heroin? A gun?

…Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug sold over the counter and in prescription strengths.

Thank God! Without the timely intervention of the school authorities, it might have gone off and killed somebody.

Seriously, though, you what the worst part of this is? I'm sure the majority in this case did make the legally correct ruling. Hysteria over drugs in this country has reached the point where both the law and public opinion will tolerate virtually anything government officials do. People will ridicule some of the goofier examples of "zero-tolerance" enforcement, but few have any meaningful opposition to the basic principles of the thing. Sexual humiliation and degradation of little girls is a small price to pay to keep the dread menace Ibuprofen off the streets. If anything, the girl got off lightly; she's lucky they didn't send a SWAT team to kick down the doors of the school and "accidentally" blow her brains out.

Hat tip: Radley Balko.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Next, I want the "Jem" theme in Sanskrit

You may, if you're around my age, remember the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. You may also remember the intro sequence. Now, revisit the magic… in German!

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The danger of assumptions

Over at Unqualified Offerings, Mona raises a question: why do so many liberals and leftists have such wildly distorted views of what libertarians believe? The subsequent comment thread, ironically, consists in large part of liberals and leftists answering this accusation by… expressing wildly distorted views of what libertarians believe. So, what’s the cause?

Part of it probably comes from the use of libertarian-sounding rhetoric by conservatives. If most of the antigovernment rhetoric you hear comes from mendacious conservative statists, it’s understandable that you’ll associate the two. This hardly absolves liberals of blame, however; the confusion this creates is readily overcome if you read what libertarians actually say on various issues instead of taking the caricatures produced by statists on faith. If you can’t tell the difference between Murray Rothbard and a standard-issue Republican because both of them say they like private property, or you think George W. Bush is pushing a libertarian agenda (I’ve actually heard people say this), that doesn’t speak well of your powers of observation.

(Liberals aren’t the only people who do this, alas- see, for instance, the bizarre spectacle of a libertarian accusing left-libertarian anarchist Kevin Carson of being a statist because of his belief that current state interference in the economy gives employers inordinate power over employees. Whether you think this is the case or not, accusing Carson of being a state socialist is just baffling- unless, of course, you notice that Carson happens to use language that state socialists sometimes use, and draw conclusions solely from that.)

There are two other factors which I believe to be more important. Both, to a large extent, flow from the fact that many people don't or can't understand that not everyone is like them, or shares their assumptions.

I think differing philosophy plays a part. Liberals often seem to think, or at least strongly give the impression of thinking, that only statist means of pursuing desirable ends truly “count” as a way of showing that you value something, and seem largely incapable of understanding the idea of truly caring about something without wanting the government to support it, so it’s not surprising that they’d be aghast at people who don’t want the government supporting various desirable ends. In this respect, they are much like conservatives who think you can only meaningfully express disapproval of something by outlawing it. Similarly, when liberals hear libertarians (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) defend big business, I suspect some of them assume that libertarians therefore want business to be state-supported, because they assume that everyone shares their "If you like something, you must want it subsidized" mentality.

However, based on my own experiences and observations, I think the most important factor is the historical mythology accepted by most of the left in this country. The story goes that once, we had laissez-faire in this country, and it was horrible for everyone except a few malevolent capitalist fat cats, because the natural tendency of free markets is to create exploitative monopolies. Then the benevolent government stepped in, led by noble people like the progressives, and, motivated by idealism, compassion, and a passion for what’s right, saved us from the evils of unrestrained capitalism and created a more humane system through government regulation. Big Business fought against the creation of the regulatory state, because it stopped them from exploiting people and so lowered their profits, but they were defeated by the forces of good embodied in the state. If our government protectors are ever weakened by the malign forces of Big Business, however, the wolf Skoll will eat the sun all the evils created by unrestricted free markets will be unleashed and we would be ruthlessly exploited and dominated by big corporations.

Mainstream liberals believe this almost by definition, and it seems to be fairly commonly accepted further left as well; even a lot of avowed anarchists I’ve encountered seem to accept it, despite the extremely rosy portrait of the state it creates. Much of the right accepts it as well, at least to some degree. It is the doctrine taught in schools, universities, and popular culture.

The problem is that many libertarians who take an interest in history don’t accept this narrative, with good reason. The economy prior to the Progressive Era wasn’t laissez-faire, the economy of the late 1800’s wasn’t moving towards centralization and monopoly, and, most importantly, the laws created by the progressives benefited established plutocratic interests, rather than restraining them; indeed, they were often encouraged by those very interests. Aside from the historical record, libertarians have sound theoretical reasons for believing that unregulated markets don’t lead to monopoly and exploitation, that economic legislation will be subverted by the rich and powerful, and so on.

If you accept the official view of history taught by mainstream culture, libertarianism is at best folly. History clearly shows that the unrestricted free market is bad. Furthermore, the progressive good-government version of history is so ubiquitous- you could easily go your whole life without hearing any significant challenge to it, (except maybe Marxism, which of course paints the market in even darker tones)- that a lot of liberals probably don’t realize that alternative schools of thought even exist; if they do, they must be big business apologetics and not something libertarians actually sincerely believe. And if you assume that libertarians believe the same historical narrative that you do, since “everyone knows” what the pre-Progressive era was like, it must seem incredibly perverse that they advocate a system that that narrative portrays as cruel, exploitative, and beneficial only to the rich and powerful. From there, the only reasonable explanation is that libertarians are fools, tools of big business, or simply wicked- everyone knows that the regulatory state is what saved us from the horrors of capitalism, so why else could anyone oppose it?

That, at any rate, is what my experiences reading and arguing with liberals has led me to believe. There are liberals with more sophisticated understandings, certainly, but they don’t appear to be in the majority, and they certainly aren’t the noisiest. Thus, libertarians are monsters, and no amount of argument or explanation is going to convince liberals otherwise. As long as the good-government liberal historical myth remains dominant, that won’t change.

For some good reading on the issue of mainstream liberals’ misunderstanding of history, I suggest this compilation of Mutualist Blog posts by diabolical archsstatist Kevin Carson. Lots of good stuff there.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Keeping rent-seekers fed

This is quite old now, but I want to go back to it; quite often, I read something and my thoughts on it don’t come together until much later. Some time ago at Hit and Run, there was a post commenting on this New York Times article (registration required.)

The gist of the article is that some health groups are unhappy about federal farm subsidies to grain growers, which they claim encourage bad eating habits by encouraging the production of things like high-fructose corn syrup. Their solution is to start subsidizing fruit and vegetable growers, too.

These groups’ desire to fight bad effects of statism with more statism is unfortunate but not really surprising- that’s the instinctive response of most people, and it’s to be expected that this would be especially true of health advocacy groups. There’s something that is interesting about this, though.

I'm embarrassed to say that the rent-seeking opportunities created by the nanny state had not really occurred to me until recently. I say I’m embarrassed because it should have been obvious- expansions of government power frequently create opportunities for politically connected economic interests, and that doesn’t stop being true just because the expansion is in the area of “personal” rather than “economic” liberty.

The possibilities are considerable, especially when you look beyond direct subsidies. For example, we often hear proposals for “fat taxes” and the like, to discourage the purchase of unhealthy food. I am quite confident that such taxes, if created, would quickly create a new battleground, as company lobbyists fought to have their opponents’ products taxed and their own excluded. Restrictions on advertising, also frequently proposed, would create a similar struggle over precisely which products can be advertised and which can’t be. Tariffs could be increased on foreign food products to “fight obesity.” Whether or not a given food counts as “junk” is far less objective than, say, whether or not a product contains tobacco, so there’s plenty of room for careful manipulation of restrictions by whichever food conglomerates get the upper hand.

I’m just an amateur, of course; I’m sure people accustomed to manipulating the machinery of state for a living could, and will, multiply my list of ideas many times over. Big business’s past successes at exploiting the coercive schemes of moral crusaders shows no shortage of skill and creativity in that department.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Superfluous Man, unmasked!

Via Brad Spangler, I found the South Park Character Generator. Here I am, in all my glory:

You can make your own here.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sick as a dog...

... and thus not clear-headed enough to to go on a proper tirade about the fact that Governor Blagojevich has signed a statewide smoking ban. Perhaps I'll have something to say once I am hale again.

In cheerier news, at my other blog I've got a review of the excellent Solaris Book of New Science Fiction. Have a look.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

I must save you from my products!

It should come as no surprise to the seasoned libertarian that "public-spirited" efforts to protect or expand state power are often in the financial interest of some politically connected business interest. Still, I have to confess I was briefly taken aback by the jaw-dropping cynicism of this. Who's proudly protecting our children and communities from the evils of liquor deregulation? Deregulation that would just coincidentally cut into the profits of alcohol wholesalers by reducing the need for middlemen? Why, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America! Hat tip: Agoraphilia.

This may be my all-time favorite example of "politics makes strange bedfellows." The realization that paternalist, moralistic anti-liquor types are actually the unwitting tools of liquor distributors gave me a chuckle.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Maybe if there had been a junior high paper...

I spent three semesters as editor of my college paper's editorial section, and two years doing the same for my high school paper before that. That meant looking over article submissions from fellow students. I had to read some embarrassingly bad screeds in my time. I can honestly say, however, that even in high school I never had to read or edit anything as brain-shreddingly bad as this editorial, which was published by an actual regular newspaper. Apparently, the whole "provide arguments and/or evidence for a position when writing an editorial" thing is not the hard rule I thought it was.

Hat tip to the Mises Institute Blog, which has some good stuff in the comments thread.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm not dead!

Lest my three readers think I've dropped off the face of the Earth, I just wanted to check in. I've been kept busy lately with friends coming in from out of town. I've also been intensifying my exercise routine, which has been eating up some free time. (I'm insanely buff now. Don''t laugh, or I'll crush your skull with my tree trunk-like arms.)

I'll be back in action starting this weekend.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

I would abuse my blogging license horribly

According to Reason, the new owner of a drug store in Montana has announced that he will no longer sell birth control pills. This has caused an uproar among some groups, with a Planned Parenthood representative calling it a violation of a woman’s right to birth control.

This is to be expected; while most libertarians are pro-choice, most pro-choicers are not even remotely libertarian, and often have the assumption that if you have a right to do something, you have the right to make others provide it for you. What is surprising, though, is that I have heard some ostensible libertarians claim, in that post’s comment thread among other places, that pharmacists should be legally required to carry these products.

The argument, in its more sophisticated form, goes like this. In a free market in medicine, it would be wrong to force pharmacy owners to sell products they don’t want to sell. But pharmacists are beneficiaries of state privilege, since only they can dispense prescription drugs. This gives them an unjust amount of control over the distribution of prescription drugs, which includes oral contraceptives. Therefore, since we’re not going to get the ideal situation of a free market in medicine in the immediate future, forcing state-licensed pharmacists to sell birth control in privately owned pharmacies is legitimate, since they shouldn’t be allowed to abuse their monopoly privileges.

The first objectionable thing about this is that I see no reason why the logic of it wouldn’t also apply to medical procedures; if this line of argument is valid, it would also be illegitimate for hospitals and doctors to refuse to perform abortions, for instance, and it would be okay to conscript doctors to perform them if you can’t find someone to do it willingly. There are probably people on the left who would like that, but it certainly wouldn’t be a libertarian outcome.

But it has problems that go beyond medicine. By this principle, the government could legitimately control any profession or business if it first required a license for that field, since such licenses would give illegitimate and potentially abusable powers to the licensed.

Suppose we licensed publishers in this country, the way we licensed doctors, so that only they could print and sell books. And suppose a publisher decided that it would no longer publish any book that promoted Christianity. Under the principle described above, it would be legitimate, from a libertarian point of view, to force the company to start printing Bibles and Jack Chick tracts, in order to stop them from abusing the power that state licensing gives and ensure that such materials remain available.

That is where the argument leads, and it goes to similar places in any other field. Licensed professors would lose the right to teach what they want, and refrain from teaching as they wished. Licensed newspapers could be compelled to cover certain stories. Licensed bloggers could be required to blog on particular topics. We can’t have any of them abusing the powers government licensing brings, can we?

Like the notion that the government has the right to control activities it subsidizes, this is a potential backdoor to total government control. (Albeit one less likely to be embraced by statists, since to use it you have to acknowledge that government licensure is a form of monopolistic privilege.) Both arguments use the destructive effects of past statism to justify even more statism. It’s troubling to see people who identify as libertarians embracing this sort of thing.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

The state is a jealous God

So, I was reading Kathleen Parker’s syndicated column (God knows why) in the Chicago Tribune a few days back (online here) about American Muslim’s attitudes, according to a recent poll. Parker takes the results to show that Muslims aren’t assimilating as well as one might hope. I’m not particularly interested in that question here, but something she said jumped out at me.

Parker notes of young Muslims, disapprovingly, that “Sixty percent of the young group consider themselves Muslim first, American second.” This is shocking or offensive to a supposed conservative? I’m surprised it’s only sixty percent. If you told a devout Christian he had to either renounce Jesus or forfeit his American citizenship and move abroad, he’s going to put his God first. That hardly means that Christians aren’t assimilated, or are a pack of potential traitors.

If you believe in a monotheistic religion like Islam, and if you believe loyalty to that religion means loyalty to the Supreme Being, and if you believe your eternal salvation or damnation to be based on following the precepts of that religion, then of course that religion is going to be more important to you than a nation-state, and more fundamental to your identity. Muslims, I'm given to understand, are averse to the whole "idolatry" thing. Conservatives used to understand the value of intermediate institutions.

Parker's dismay at this shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, in light of the way more and more conservatives have been treating the government and its personnel and officials with a sort of religious adoration. Libertarians don't talk about the "cult of the state" for nothing.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

On fighting for "petty" freedoms

Russell Roberts at Café Hayek raises an interesting question: are defenders of freedom picking the right battles? Roberts says:

Their argument goes something like this: there are so many important issues to fight for, why fight over these nanny state issues? What's the big deal about mandatory seat belts or motorcycle helmets or the ban on trans fats. They basically do more good than harm, goes the argument, so why get worked up over something so trivial? Plus, they say, it turns off those who are skeptical about freedom. They think I'm crazy for getting excited over something so innocuous.

I disagree with these arguments. I think it is a big deal for many reasons. But before I make my case, I'd like to hear you make yours on either side of this issue. Is this kind of seemingly petty regulation worth fighting? Or should we just ignore it and save our breath and energy for more what are perhaps more important issues?

This is something well worth discussing.

First, I would dispute the notion that these sorts of nanny statist measures are in fact "petty." The right to eat or smoke what you want, or other rights to do as you will with your own body and health may not be as glamorous as free speech, but I would argue that they are far more important than people usually acknowledge, because they are pervasive in people's lives in a way that the sexier freedoms usually aren't for most people. The rights interfered with by nanny state laws, such as the right to consume what you want, are rights exercised (or infringed) virtually every single day of every person's life.

That aside, though, there is another point. Big oppressions don't arise from nowhere, especially in a country that still retains some tradition of a liberty; they pile up over time from "little" oppressions. Ten years ago, the sort of measures now being taken against unhealthy food were the stuff of parody; they were what conservatives and libertarians said, sometimes jokingly, would result from the attacks on tobacco. Now they are reality. They have been made possible by past precedent. Slippery slopes are very real in this area.

Past oppression serves as the justification for future oppression. In the golden age of eugenics, people like Oliver Wendell Holmes who wanted to justify things like forced sterilizations justified it by pointing to the existence of conscription- we've already established by accepting conscription that the state can demand the bodies of its citizens, so the legitimacy of forced sterilization for the good of the state naturally followed- it's just another sort of conscription, and often a less onerous form then the military kind. If the state can do A, why can't it do B, which is the same sort of thing as A?

We see the same sort of reasoning used by nanny statists all the time, though thankfully not (as of yet) on such extreme matters. We restrict tobacco advertising; why not advertising of unhealthy food to children? Dangerous drugs like heroin are restrictedl- why isn't tobacco? (Not making that one up.) If the state can do A, why can't it do B, which is the same sort of thing as A?

People hear this and think, "Well, A wasn't so bad." (Remember how people think that these issues are "petty" and "innocuous.") "So, why not B?" And the same thought process will apply for C, D, E, G, and F. The solution is to prevent A, so that the statists can't say, "… so why can't it do B?"

There is a related reason that is not logical or philosophical but psychological. People give up their liberty more readily in small steps than in not big jumps, because that's how beliefs in general usually shift. If the status quo in a particular area of life is little or no government interference, moving to heavy or total government control is a big jump- people will recoil from it, because they haven't been psychologically prepped for it. If the status quo is already a degree of government control, however, moving to even greater control is easier for people to swallow.

The more statism we have, the more psychologically palatable an even greater degree of statism will seem. The first concession to the nanny state seems inconsequential- and each additional concession seems the same way, because the baseline of normality grows more and more statist. Again, the solution is to nip the problem in the bud.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

My ideology is in no way ideological!

Here's something that nicely demonstrates a pet peeve of mine. From a letter in today's Chicago Tribune from the "Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence" advocating more gun control in Illinois:

It's time to put ideological and political views aside and start passing stronger and more effective laws to reduce the accessibility of guns in our communities.

Apparently, the belief that the right to bear arms should be restricted further is not an "ideological and political view." This is a classic rhetorical trick: opposing a particular statist measure is being "political" or "ideological," whereas supporting an expansion of state power somehow isn't.

I've seen this in other contexts. When public smoking bans are being discussed, the discussion is often framed as a struggle between nonideological supporters of Health and Science (the ban proponents) and anti-government ideologues. The underlying premise of ban supporters, the idea that the rights of private property owners should be abrogated at will, is in no way "ideological." It's just sort of a brute fact of existence.

I'm sure a lot of this is just a sleazy attempt to manipulate the reader, but in some cases I suspect that the statist honestly doesn't realize what he's doing; that is, he really thinks his own ideological and political views constitute "putting ideological and political views aside." He's spent so much time in an environment where everyone takes statist positions for granted that they seem like self-evident truths that don't even require arguments.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Enhanced interrogation techniques, ooohhh yeah!

Julian Sanchez has a nice video blog on the last Republican debate. I was dubious of the whole "vlogging" concept when I heard about it, but Sanchez is doing neat stuff with it. Have a look. One criticism: while I applaud Sanchez for seeking out the wisdom and counsel of "Macho Man" Randy Savage on our current foreign policy crisis, he commits a serious lapse by failing to give equal time to the Ultimate Warrior, whose theory of "destrucity" could be the key to leading our nation through the troubled years to come. Maybe next time.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thomas Sowell: A cautionary tale

My usual lack of timeliness strikes again, but I can't go without commenting on the Thomas Sowell kerfuffle. For those who didn't already know, the evil parallel universe duplicate that kidnapped and replaced Thomas Sowell shortly after 9/11 recently wrote:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.
A few thoughts, a personal one and a bigger one. On a personal level, its difficult for me to describe how depressing Sowell's descent into warmongering policestatery in the past few years has been. When I started to become a libertarian, Sowell, along with Hayek, was hugely important to me. I ultimately became more radical than he ever was, but he was one of my biggest influences.

The larger point to take from this is that
a mixture of libertarianism/classical liberalism and militaristic modern conservatism is not likely to be stable. In the face of crisis or heavy strain, one or the other will win out, and it probably won't be libertarianism. Whenever trouble looms, the temptation to run screaming to the state for promises of help can be very strong, and even people with libertarian sentiments are not guaranteed to be immune. Sowell clearly wasn't.

What a damn shame.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Public smoking ban in Illinois

The Illinois legislature has passed a bill, which governor Blagojevich is expected to sign, that will ban smoking in all bars and restaurants in Illinois. I was struck by a quote from the Chicago Tribune article about the bill, because it seems to capture so much of the statist approach to the subject.

The bill’s sponsor, Karen Yarbrough, is quoted as saying, “Smokers have a right to smoke, but… they should not have a right to force others to breathe their smoke.” This is an argument often made; allowing smoking in privately owned bars constitutes “forcing” nonsmoking patrons to suffer smoke exposure. When someone wants to claim the right to control smoking on someone else’s private property, this argument is almost always deployed.

I hear this so much, you’d think there were press gangs roaming the streets of Illinois, kidnapping nonsmokers and dragging them in chains to smoky bars. Apparently, in the worldview (or at least the propaganda) of the smoking ban proponents, entering a bar or restaurant where smoking takes place is not a voluntary act- it is forced on you, or just sort of happens at random.

This fits in well with a common liberal worldview, I suppose, where normal people are helpless and devoid of all volition, and thus need their liberal betters save them. On this view, people can’t be trusted to make their own choices, and expecting people who dislike smoke to seek out alternative forms of entertainment on their own is too much to ask. Instead, the state has to save them by stopping the people who are “forcing” them to be around smoke.

On a less theoretical and more purely self-interested level, of course, are the people who like going out for food or drinks, but dislike the odor of smoke, and so want to use the government to force bars and restaurants to be more to their liking. This is quite common; I’ve heard people admit to it without any sense of shame or embarrassment, and I’m sure there are many more who think it but want to sound more high-minded. They're about as public-spirited as I would be if I lobbied the legislature to force my local bar to play only music that I like.

The ban takes effect on January 1st. It is, I'm sure, only a matter of time before some public health crusader proposes extending this to private homes. Why not? It follows logically from Yarbrough's argument. Can't have me "forcing" my cigar smoke on my guests, after all.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The unlimited possibilities of nannyism

There’s a great post by Julian Sanchez at his site, taking Ben Adler to task for saying this:

This clearly expresses a fundamental tenet of conservative/libertarian thinking: that engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement. People who are injured by metal bats, or fall ill from smoking or fatty food, cost the rest of us money. We pay their emergency room bill, their Medicare bills or their Social Security disablity insurance.

Which leads Sanchez to remark:

You start with a paradigm case of a self regarding act—choosing to engage in risk behaviors with your own body—which traditional liberal principles would place outside the sphere of state regulation as a core component of personal autonomy. But throw some public funds into the mix and—Abracadabra!—what had been the exercise of an individual right is transformed into the "imposition" of a cost on society. No behavior is so private that you can't regulate or ban it, so long as you're willing to subsidize it first!

This is, of course, exactly how it works. There are limits to how far the average “liberal” wants to take it (though that seems to change every year as they grow ever-bolder), but the idea that the state can regulate whatever it chooses to subsidize is implicitly totalitarian.

Now, there are probably plenty of liberals who consider this potential for unlimited statism to be a feature, not a bug. But liberals never seem to imagine the possibility of someone other than them using the wonderful machine they’ve built. Consider just one possibility.

Is there any principled argument a liberal nanny statist could make against conservatives who want to regulate consensual sex between adults, if such regulation could be dressed up (as it sometimes is) in public health language? The liberal might claim that controlling sex is fundamentally different than controlling smoking or eating, but I don’t see why; both involve state control over what an adult peacefully does with his or her own body. If there is a difference at all, it is one of degree rather than kind. (If anything, I would say that state control of food is more intrusive, since it means losing the right of choice over something virtually everyone does everyday.) The principle that justifies one justifies the other.

The taxpayers often end up paying a financial cost because of sex- medical expenses for sexually transmitted diseases, and of course the cost of caring for the children of people who can’t support their own families. Clearly, a great deal of sex is “risky behavior with serious social costs.” If we don’t have an “entitlement” to do such things, and if one accepts the view that the state should force us to refrain from peaceful but potentially risky activities that might impose a cost on the government, I see no principled reason why the state shouldn’t step in. (This line of argument could be especially lucrative for antigay types who want to bring back sodomy laws.)

What can the liberal nanny statist say? He can make pragmatic arguments against regulating- he can say that the enforcement costs of policing bedrooms will be too high, or maybe driving illicit sex underground would have other bad social consequences- but if he’s consistent he can’t simply say, “It’s just not the government’s business.” If he does say that (as liberals, not the most consistent of people, often do), the conservative can point to the long line of arguments and precedents provided by liberals. Because if you take the underlying premises of the nanny state seriously, everything is the government’s business.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

War and the need for meaning

Here's an interesting bit of psychological data I just learned at Marginal Revolution:

The public's opinion of past wars improves as a new war approaches. Thus, after Vietnam most people thought the war was a mistake and this held true for decades until the beginning of the Iraq war when the opinion of war in Vietnam suddenly improved! Even more dramatically, a majority of people thought that World War I was a mistake until World War II approached when the percentage thinking it was a good war doubled.

Irrational as this is, it makes a certain sense. Here's my theory: In the face of something as awful as war, it's comforting to think it will actually mean something worthwhile. But people judge by past performance, and if America has fought wars it shouldn't have in the past, that raises an unpleasant possibility- maybe this war isn't worth fighting, either. Maybe the suffering and death won't mean anything worthwhile, after all.

That's an unpleasant thought. Thus, a good way to maintain the consoling belief that a current or upcoming war and its attendant horror is worthwhile and meaningful is to convince yourself that America's past track record in picking wars is a good one, even if you didn't believe that previously. People are pretty good at believing what they want to believe.

This desire to get meaning out of senseless tragedy has consequences beyond bad historical interpretation. In my own experiences, I've heard a number of people argue for staying in Iraq on grounds that boil down to (and are often explicitly expressed as), "If we quit now, the Americans who died there will have died in vain. Therefore, we must keep fighting to make their deaths worthwhile." The cost of war thus becomes its own justification: In order to give meaning to the thousands of deaths the war has already brought, even more lives must be fed to the fire.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

New article up

I have a new article up at Feels good to be back at it again.

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Man's Quest for Knowledge, Part IV

For the second time in a few months, Site Meter has informed me that someone has come to this site via a Google search for "John Markley+Murder." Apparently I'm not as lovable as I thought.

First prize, however, goes to the guy who came here while searching for "saddam throwing man in acid video." Unfortunately, I haven't yet had time to transfer my extensive collection of Middle Eastern execution videos from VHS, so I don't have any of that footage available online yet. Sorry, buddy.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

The missed opportunity of free trade

In a great post at Rad Geek People's Daily, Charles Johnson examines the response in The Nation to story about illegal immigrant workers, and offers a nice takedown of those on the left who wave the banner of the "working class" while calling for the state to take away opportunities from poor and working-class people from the wrong country. Best part:

Among the worst of the lot, because they are the most insidious, are those who propose walling off labor at national borders in the name of labor solidarity, and attempted to tie nativist policy in with pseudo-populist economics. But of course international apartheid does nothing to benefit workers as a whole; at the most, it only benefits the most privileged working folks...

Those who consider native-born American workers more important or more deserving of an opportunity to work without being shot or jailed, just for having been born here, would do well to shut the hell up about the working class and just admit that they are not Leftists but rather belligerent nationalists.

Be sure to read all of it.

This puts me in mind of another discrepancy between the professed ideals of many on the left and the actual policies many of them support, in the area of free trade. A common argument against free trade is that it will supposedly cause wealth and jobs to flow from America to other, poorer countries, enriching them at our expense. I don't think that's true, but it's a common idea.

I'm not surprised that hardcore nationalist types who believe this to be true would oppose trade because of it. If you're largely indifferent to the well-being of people outside your own nation-state, the last thing you'll want to do is lower the wages of some Americans to provide jobs to starving peasants on the other side of the planet. Say what you want about this position, it makes internal sense.

Now, a lot of anti-trade leftists have other stated reasons for opposing trade. (Dependency theory and so on.) I think they're mistaken, but they're not included in what follows. However, in my experience, a lot of avowedly internationalist leftists oppose free trade for the same reason right-wing nativists do- because it will supposedly hurt the American economy by sending American jobs and wealth to other, poorer countries. But, based on the avowed beliefs of many of these people, that ought to be precisely what they want.

After all, what do many of them speak in favor of? Internationalism. Redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Using the riches of the West to help those in need around the world. If what these people believe about free trade is true, it should be a slam dunk for left-wing causes.

Now, anti-trade leftists are hardly the only people who don't follow through on their own professed ideals. But it's interesting, and disappointing, to see how readily this segment of the left seems eager to reject (or not even notice) something that could greatly further their values. The reasons for it are probably complex, and I can think of several besides this one, but I'm sure part of it is the same sort of nationalism Johnson talks about in the context of immigrant labor. Talk and talk and talk about helping workers as a class, until faced with the prospect of competition from workers outside America.

There is a bit of hope: in college I convinced a left-leaning fellow student of the value of free trade on essentially leftist, redistributionist grounds. I think Brad DeLong may have taken a position something like this, if memory serves. So, it may be possible to win some left-wing support for free trade by showing how, even if libertarians are wrong about it's mutually beneficial character, it's still better in accord with left-wing values than protectionism. I'm not hugely optimistic about how many people that would win over, but it would be worth trying.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Invasion of the Demon Spiders, in 3-D!

So, I wake up in the middle of the night, as sometimes happens. I look up at the low, slanty ceiling above my bed, and see, or think I see, a huge damn spider, body bigger than a man's fist, legs spanning more than a foot, on the ceiling above me. I run hollering out of the room. ("Hollering" sound tougher than "squealing," right?)
It then occurs to me that the suburbs of Chicago are not generally known for harboring spiders large enough to eat small rodents in one sitting, and I cautiously venture back into my bedroom. There was nothing there.
So, I've started to hallucinate giant spiders. No more scotch before bed, I promise.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I was kind of a stupid kid

Here's a neat thread at Marginal Revolution: what weird or silly things did you believe as a child? I've got a couple:

My birthday falls exactly six months from my father's (November 7 and May 7, respectively.) I thought this was normal, and that all boys' birthdays synched up with their fathers' in this way.

Due to my tendency to literal-mindedness, I spent over a year thinking my father (an attorney) worked for the U.S. Mint. I had asked him why he had to leave me and mom to go to his job downtown every day, and he replied, "To make money." I thought this meant he actually physically constructed U.S. currency. I didn't have have any concept of printing presses, either; I envisioned him cutting out green pieces of paper with scissors and drawing the portraits on the bills freehand. (I don't think he made coins. Some underling probably did that for him.)

Well, those are mine. Anyone else got any good ones?

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Learning nothing

This post by Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings got me thinking: how likely is it that the present Democratic/mainstream liberal hostility to unchecked executive power, police statism, and warmongering currently on display will "take" and continue to be an influence if a Democratic administration takes power in the next election?

I raise the question because my memory of what liberals were generally like during the Clinton years makes me question the sincerity of many of the people currently railing against the evils of Bush; I suspect a lot of them would be fine with it if President Gore or President Kerry were incinerating foreigners and destroying civil liberties. As anyone who followed politics in the 90's no doubt remembers, only right-wing nuts distrust the government when Democrats are in power!

I'm extremely pessimistic. I acknowledge that people can learn from experience; I used to be a conservative. But most people generally don't seem to learn where politics is concerned; most of the conservatives who deeply distrusted the government during the Clinton years changed their tune quite quickly once Clinton was gone, despite the sharp lessons in the evils of statism provided by things like Waco. And if most conservatives didn't learn any consistency in their distrust of statism, despite being loudly antigovernment (with other elements mixed in, of course, but with antistatism being a part of the stew) throughout the 90's, it seems even less likely that liberals, members of a movement unabashedly based on faith in government, are going to remember any of their current fear and distrust of state power beyond the current administration. I firmly expect Bush's incursions on civil liberties and expansions of executive power to be at least kept and probably furthered once Democrats are in power.

I miss the old anti-government conservatives a great deal, even after more than half a decade. I will miss the state-fearing liberals, too, when they are gone.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Paradox Interactive has stolen my very soul

I apologize for my lack of activity lately. I bought the game Europa Universalis III last week, and it's been sucking up my free computer time. Being a peace-loving libertarian is all well and good in real life, but being a warmongering tyrant on the computer is much more entertaining.

I'll finally have some new stuff here this weekend.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Subsidizing disaster

This is utter insanity: faced with the fact that the market rate for insurance in the more hurricane-prone areas of Florida is making people less willing to live there, the government of Florida has decided to back hurricane insurance with state money in order to lower insurance costs, and thus the cost of living in dangerous areas.

In other words, the state of Florida is actively encouraging people to live in more dangerous conditions than they would subject themselves to under free market conditions. Insurance costs provide a nice way of getting people to weigh risks and benefits, but it only works if the government doesn't have its finger on the scale.

Usually, state interference in the economy is damaging because it makes us poorer. This will do that, but it will do more; people who would otherwise have lived in safer areas may very well die because the government has needlessly urged them into harm's way. And for what gain? None, except to give some state legislators a chance to buy votes, and most likely benefit some developers and building contractors.

Can you imagine the uproar if anyone from the private sector recklessly endangered lives in this fashion? They'd be lucky to stay out of prison.

One of statism's chief legitimizing myths is the claim that it protects us from harm. Think about this the next time you hear that.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

New stuff

I have a new article up at

I've got several things up at my other site, including a review of Peter F. Hamilton's Mindstar Rising. Check it out.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Apparently I'm a liberal. Who knew?

This is just beyond parody: Sean Hannity has called the John Birch Society- the John freakin' Birch Society- "liberal" for being opposed to the war in Iraq. Apparently, that's the deciding factor that decides a person's ideology. Economic systems? Social structures? Views on the nature of justice and the proper sphere of state action? Mere frippery! It's all about Iraq. I was thoroughly dismayed to discover that I'm a liberal, though I suppose this saves me the expense of buying those Michael Oakeshott books I was interested in.

Sadly, I think this is symptomatic of why mainstream American conservatism has lost its last libertarian elements: conservatives have become so single-mindedly focused on war and closely related issues to the exclusion of all else that they have lost all interest in the idea of limiting government power. In fact, it seems like a continuation of the Cold War situation, when the respectable Right excommunicated non-interventionists like Murray Rothbard but embraced social democrats as long as they were sufficiently bellicose on foreign policy. Now that mainstream conservatism has given up even the pretense of trying to limit the state, we see where that sort of "pragmatism" leads.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Man's Quest For Knowledge: Imminent Doom Edition

A few days ago, Site Meter informed me that someone came to this site via a Google search for the phrase "John Markley murder." I had been planning to do a series of posts about the Chicago South Side's scenic sniper nests and and historic garrote shops, but I think I'll hold off for a few days.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

I feel safer already

An appalling but not atypical story from Radley Balko: A man is seen through a window cleaning his legally owned guns, and before long there are sixty police, including the local SWAT team, in a standoff at the house to stop this menace to society. (Though I suppose the police deserve credit for not killing any innocent people, shooting any dogs, or setting fire to the house, for once.) Flashbang grenades and rubber bullets were used liberally. The man was ultimately convicted only of a misdemeanor weapons charge, and he won a lawsuit against the city, though he won only a token sum.

As I said, this is not atypical, as anyone who has followed the increasing militarization of domestic law enforcement knows. This particular story caught my eye, though, because of the fact that it was about guns with no drug war angle. This makes me wonder what the response among mainline conservatives will be. The incident brings into conflict two things that are both dear to the hearts of many conservatives: support for the right to bear arms on one hand, and love of brutal displays of militarized police violence and intimidation on the other. (With some honorable exceptions, conservative outrage at jackbooted thuggery is highly selective and generally limited to select acts committed by liberal administrations, in my experience.)

I'm curious to see which value will win out among conservatives as more law-abiding gun owners are inevitably terrorized or killed by police as the militarization of law enforcement spills over from drug war enforcement into the rest of society. I'm not optimistic, though maybe four or eight years of President Obama or President Clinton Mk II would teach conservatives some useful lessons. Then again, they didn't seem to learn anything from the first Clinton.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Selling monopolies in Illinois

The state of Illinois is apparently going to sell off the its lottery to a private business to raise some quick cash. Presumably they'll hand over some of the physical lottery infrastructure to the buyer- that number-selecting machine with the swirling balls that they show on TV, for instance- but the real asset being sold here is simply the right to forcibly exclude competitors, and have the state of Illinois provide the muscle. If someone tries to compete with Lottery Inc., the cops will throw them in jail.

What will follow is predictable. The "private" lottery company will use its monopoly power to exploit the lottery-playing public. People will get angry, and what will they say? They'll hold this up as proof that the private sector doesn't work. Yet again, the free market will be blamed for the failings of interventionism and cronyism.

Hat tip: Hit and Run.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007


For once, the featured letter in the morning's Chicago Tribune didn't make me cringe. It's a nice criticism of the Chicago media's infatuation with Senator Barack Obama. The letter writer points out the elephant in the room- for all the yammer about Obama rejecting "ideology" and being some sort of universally appealing figure, Obama is a resolute big-government statist who would further the erosion of our liberty. And he's right- the media has been so focused on the man's ethnicity and skill with crowd-pleasing platitudes (Mr. Obama approves of hope, apparently) that they seem to keep sliding over his actual beliefs. The writer gets a nice whack in at the supposed goodness of "bipartisanship," too.

If you're not from Illinois, you may not understand why I found this such a breath of fresh air. It seems pretty rare to find any reference to Obama in the mainstream press here that isn't fawning over him. I don't know what the coverage is like in other states, but in Illinois it's absolutely relentless. You can't open the paper without some article or column about how unifying or caring or bipartisan or hopeful or positive or charismatic Obama is. It's like being force-fed cotton candy. Kudos to the Tribune for prominently featuring some dissent.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

New stuff

I've got new articles at Strike the Root and The premise of the latter is rather inflammatory, but I stand by it.

Meanwhile, over at my other blog, I've got a review of Gridlinked by Neal Asher. (New and slightly improved from the old version I posted a few months back.)

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

We are not amused!

The featured letter to the editor in the Thursday edition of the Chicago Tribune was a saddening example of what might be called the monarchical view of the American president. The writer was quite angry about the fact that, since the Ford administration by his reckoning, the president has often been a figure of amusement and fun. Laughing at the president, the way one would laugh at a commoner- outrageous! The author was quite angry, and considered this a serious ethical lapse. It's ironic- the author of the letter was clearly quite a supporter of the American form of democratic government, and yet held an attitude better suited to the subject of a king ruling by divine right than a citizen of a republic.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

New libertarian resource

This is pretty cool: there's a new site called Liberty Loop that's a sort of for libertarians, where you can post and vote on articles. It's just starting out, but it looks pretty good so far. Have a look.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fetch me some ipecac

According to an article at, some folks at a website called HotSoup have created something called the "Ford Pledge," which goes as follows:

"In honor of Gerald Ford, his decency, and the tremendous sacrifices he made to heal this country at a time of division, I pledge to spend 2007 working towards a similar depolarization – by cooperating with peers from opposing camps, by putting my countrymen’s needs before my party’s, and by making sacrifices if necessary. We stand stronger when united, and I pledge to lead my country by good example, just as I have been led by Gerald Ford’s good example. I pledge to spend 2007 working towards that strong unity, and I dedicate that work to Gerald Ford’s memory."
As is made clear in the rest of the article, the "tremendous sacrifice" was Ford's pardon of Nixon. Yep, we're deep in vital center, big government, "Ford preserved the public's trust in the state by concealing the crimes of its officials and thank God he did" territory here.

Fortunately, this will almost certainly die at the pretty platitudes stage, for which we should be grateful. Each party is damaging enough when it is alone, and partially opposed by the other party; the sort of unity proposed here would be a nightmare for any lover of liberty.

Hat tip: Hit and Run.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

The decline of the right, Exhibit A

In a move that seems almost calculated to showcase the degeneration of the Republican Party and American mainstream conservatism, Fox News talking head and conservative commentator Sean Hannity has a feature on his new show in which he declares whoever has pissed him off that week an "Enemy of the State." This week it's Sean Penn, for calling Hannity mean names. There's a video at the link.

Actually, this isn't the first time conservatives have been tossing this phrase around as a term of abuse. About a year ago, at (the neoconservative web magazine edited by David Horowitz), they were advertising T-shirts with the slogan "ACLU: Enemy of the State." That certainly wasn't as prominent as this, though.

You know, I first became politically aware early in the Clinton years, and I can vividly remember a time when many conservatives would have reveled in such a designation. They weren't as radical as I am now, and obviously a lot of those people are now raving statists, but there was nonetheless a lot of intense hostility to the state among many conservatives back then that is all but gone now. Too bad.

Hat tip: Hit and Run.

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