Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cognitive dissonance? What's that?

In an excellent post at Unqualified Offerings, Jim Henley points out something I hadn't really thought of: the crime for which Saddam Hussein was officially executed, the Dujail reprisal massacre, is pretty much the sort of thing a lot of hawks are suggesting we do when they complain about our inadequate ferocity in Iraq. As Henley bluntly puts it:

Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it.
A harsh assessment, but it rings true with several conversations I've had, sadly.

This brings to mind a similar quirk of many hawks, who are generally the people most likely to advocate the use of torture on suspected terrorists. Quite often, their publicly stated position seems to be, "Hussein was a monster who had to be destroyed because he engaged in things like torture. By the way, let's start torturing people!"

To be fair, I'm pretty sure none of the neocons have advocated going to Hussein-level extremes like rape rooms or acid baths. Still, it makes me wonder: Are they oblivious to the fact that they're calling for us to do the sorts of things they damn Hussein for? Or are they just hoping everyone else will be?

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New stuff

Apologies for the dearth of new posts lately; now that I've got my new laptop and the holidays are coming to a close, that situation should improve. Meanwhile, I hope you'll check out my new article at

I'm also happy to say that work on my other blog has proceeded at a good pace, with reviews of Larry Niven, Poul Anderson (who is of particular libertarian interest), and some thoughts on science fiction at the movies. If that sounds interesting, please have a look.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Maintaining the public trust

I have no particularly strong animus against Gerald Ford, and I hadn’t intended to comment on his death one way or the other. But I ran into something that deserves comment.

I just finished reading this morning’s Chicago Tribune’s editorial pages. Most of the letters to the editor and the lead editorial were about the late Gerald Ford. The tone was universally worshipful- he was benevolent, he was wise, he was a compromising moderate who united people. In particular, his decision to pardon Nixon was praised as a great act of statesmanship, a way to restore American trust in government by avoiding the spectacle of a former president being put on trial. That jumped out at me. It is interesting that these people, who consider faith in government and the presidency a good thing, implicitly recognize and acknowledge the fact that to maintain the people’s all-important trust in government it is necessary to distract them from criminal acts committed by their leaders. Letting Nixon go to trial for his crimes like some commoner would have encouraged the public to think about the fact that the state’s highest official had broken the state’s own laws, and we can’t have that!

I doubt they think of it in precisely those terms- few people are that Machiavellian. But it remains the underlying principle of their argument.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

New articles up

I've got two new articles online today: one at Strike the Root, and another one at Hope you like them.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

They just don't give a damn anymore

So, apparently, in the mother of all copouts, the Time Magazine Person of the Year is "You." I would be honored, except that the 2003 Person of the Year was "The American Soldier," which means that I have a cousin who is now a two-time Man of the Year. I'm sure I'll be hearing all about that when I see him on Christmas Eve, the arrogant bastard. I can only hope that 2007 will be the year that Time finally recognizes the Bespectacled Poul Anderson Fanboy and evens things up again, or he'll be lording this over me for the rest of our lives.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Science fiction blog is up!

At long last, my science fiction blog is up and running. It's just getting started, but if the topic interests you, I hope you'll have a look.

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Since I've gotten a sudden influx of hits, I thought I'd provide a little recap of some of my posts and articles from the past for those who are new to the site. Here are a few of my favorites:

The story of how the evils of drug prohibition struck home for me

Thoughts on the nature of neoconservatism

The sad decline of Thomas Sowell

The menace of the center

Some thoughts on libertarian-leftist dialogue

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Thoughts on liberal-libertarian alliance

I've been dubious of the whole "liberaltarian" idea from the get-go. (Despite my sympathy for left-libertarianism, which I consider a quite different thing.) I think reaching out to leftists is potentially quite fruitful, as I've written in the past, but mostly with leftists who already have at least some anti-statist instincts, or who can be turned in that direction; liberaltarianism, on the other hand, seems to be about allying with the Democratic Party and other more-or-less "respectable," mainstream liberals- in other words, people likely to be the most committed statists. (See my post here.)

So, I was reading the comments thread for this post at Unqualified Offerings, and it nicely illustrated why I'm dubious of the idea. The liberals in the comments bemoan the fact that some libertarians, citing liberal support for nanny statism and other attacks on personal freedom, are reluctant to become auxiliaries of the Democratic Party. The basic thrust of pretty much every liberal in the comments section is, "Yeah, we don't think there's anything objectionable about the state micromanaging your life, but who cares? At least we won't have you tortured to death without a trial. Now shut up, stop whining about this childish 'freedom' nonsense, and tell me how grateful you are."

In other words, they're pretty much a perfect mirror image of conservatives who would always tell their libertarian junior partners, "Hey, stop complaining about the theocratic tendencies, the crony capitalism, and the warmongering, and just be grateful we're not the Democrats." You know, the people libertarians are finally breaking away from?

These are the sort of people the advocates of the whole "liberaltarian" thing are contemplating crawling into bed with. It's possible that they're wildly unrepresentative of liberals, but the thread certainly fits my previous experiences quite well. I understood why many libertarians cheered for, even voted for, the Democrats in the last election. (I didn't care either way, frankly.) If you think the Democrats will slow or stop Bush's rampage through American law, temporarily turning to them as the lesser evil makes sense. I also understand the potential value of a brief alliance of convenience during the 2008 election, or temporary strategic alliances on single issues. What I don't understand is why, when libertarians are finally escaping from a long and abusive relationship with one major political party, many intelligent libertarians are now out to forge a similar relationship with a group similarly antithetical to our values.

Yes, the Democrats are complaining about Bush's abuse of government power. That's what political parties do when they don't have control. Remember all the libertarian rhetoric the Republicans threw around during the Clinton years?

For decades, too many libertarians let fear of communists, and then fear of Bill Clinton or Al Gore, turn them into tools of enemies of freedom. Let's not let fear of George Bush drive us to the same mistake again. We've wasted too much time and energy that way already.

More on this coming soon.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

New article

I've got a new article up at

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The ingratitude of peasants

Over at Rad Geek's People's Daily, Charles Johnson relates this quote from a police officer concerning the death of Sean Bell at the hands of police, and in so doing ignites a pet peeve of mine:

I love all you monday morning quarterbacks. You really don’t have a clue. I sometimes wonder why law enforcement officers offer there lives for the likes of you, your not worth it. But, hey, as you go through everyday lives don’t worry we will continue to DIE to protect you so you can make more money and get more things. Because it is our mission to “Serve and Protect”, even you.

I haven't taken a close interest in the Sean Bell case (I'm usually all outraged out after I read Radley Balko in the morning), but this set me off. This is the classic defense whenever armed agents of the state misbehave: if we ever do anything worthwhile, ever, this excuses any and every mistake, outrage, and atrocity we may also happen to commit, no matter how awful. Thus, the state’s agents become completely immune to criticism.

The police killed an innocent man or tortured a suspect? Soldiers willfully murdered noncombatants? Who cares, you ungrateful bastard? Very convenient.

Pity this sort of excuse doesn't work in the private sector. It would certainly make my job easier.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Quick status update

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. I just got a used laptop, and my technological illiteracy has made getting everything ready something of a trial. My home PC has too many distracting bells and whistles, so I decided to get something old and simple to do my writing with. Hopefully you'll see an increase in output here as a result, as soon as I've brought the damnably willful machine to heel.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Article At Strike the Root

I've got a new article, entitled The Art of Libertarian Persuasion, up at Strike the Root. It continues some the ideas I've been writing about here at The Superfluous Man.
I'd like to thank Roderick Long of Austro-Athenian Empire and the Mises Institute and Kevin Carson of Mutalist Blog, whose work was highly influential on me while writing this article. If you found my article interesting, give them a look.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Where's V when you need him?

I'd call this an example of reductio creep, but to the best of my knowledge no one has even jokingly predicted this. British police are calling for for new powers to prevent people from saying offensive things at political protests. Some things are beyond parody. Now, it's not as if Great Britain or Europe in general have been great champions of free speech anyway, but this is pretty blatant even for them. Hopefully the police won't get their way.

Anyone want to start taking bets on when this starts getting seriously proposed in the United States? American liberals are always saying we should be more like Europe, and people on both sides of mainstream opinion are endlessly complaining about "divisive" politics...

Hat tip to Hit and Run.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Thomas Sowell shreds the neocons

"That Thomas Sowell?' You may be wondering. The Thomas Sowell I've previously castigated for being a relentless shill for American militarism in the Middle East and expansion of government power at home?

The very same. From the man himself:

Today, the confusion between freedom and democracy leads far too many Americans, including those in high places, to seek to spread democracy around the world- in complete disregard of the circumstances of the particular countries. In some respects, we may be more dangerous to our friends than to our enemies…

Both freedom and democracy have prerequisites. When those prerequisites do not exist, democracy especially can be a house of cards.

When was this ringing denunciation of the neoconservative project published? In 1999, on page 90 of Sowell's essay collection Barbarians Inside the Gates: And Other Controversial Essays. I hate to speak ill of the man, because he was an enormous positive influence on me, but when I read those lines in my copy of the book just a few minutes ago the contrast was too much to let go without comment. Sadly, like so many others, Sowell was apparently replaced by an evil parallel universe duplicate in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and the sharp critical thinking skills and pro-freedom principles I admired him for are no longer in evidence.

I sure miss the old Thomas Sowell right about now.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006 needs some help

If you haven't done so, I encourage you to consider a donation to so they can meet their quarterly fundraising goal. It really is an excellent resource, and I'd hate to see them have to cut back on what they provide..

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Man's Quest for Knowledge, Part II

I always enjoy seeing what searches have brought people to my site. The past week or so, I've had five hits from people searching Google for the term "commie-Nazis." I'm hoping they're Simpsons fans, though at this point I wouldn't be all that shocked if that turned out to be an actual ideology.

My personal favorite, though, is the visitor who came here by searching for the phrase "tortured muscle man." It goes to show how convenient the internet has made things. Just think- in the days before the internet, you would probably have to drive down to a bookstore or library if you wanted to see muscle men being tortured. I love technology.

Also, I'm switching over to the new version of Blogger. Please bear with me while I figure out the new features and such

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Finding new libertarians

There has been some dispute among libertarians, especially lately, as to whether our best prospects for winning people over to libertarianism come mostly from the left or the right. I myself came from the right, so I'm certainly not going to suggest that trying to persuade conservatives is futile. My suspicion, though, is that by this point, most of the low-hanging fruit on that side of the spectrum has already been picked; I think that most people who still consider themselves loyal Republicans after six years of Bush, the war, the domestic spending increases, etc. are probably not going to be readily converted at this point, even if they agree with us on a few issues like guns. Paleoconservatives and other conservative dissidents are a better prospect, but they don't appear to be very numerous compared to all the Bush fans on the right.

I don't hold out much hope for winning over moderates; they have generally fully absorbed the consensus "vital center" big government view of the political system and of American history, and usually approach seem to approach politics with no strong principles other than a general willingness to use state compulsion for some vaguely defined "public interest" or the latest trendy cause. These people are often the most statist- they have a tendency to support the bad parts of the left and the right in one giant potluck dinner of evil. That's what makes them so reasonable and non-ideological and pragmatic, after all.

I think the left may become a more fertile recruiting ground because, for the last few years, they've learned a hard lesson: sometimes your foes will be in control. Government abuses like Waco under the Clinton administration turned my old Republican self into a libertarian, by showing me how nasty the state can be; I'm hoping Bush will have a similar effect on some people on the left. My observation is that the human ability to learn from experience is not terribly high when applied to politics, but there's a chance.

How likely is it that a significant number of leftists can be won over? That's hard to answer, because the answer depends on precisely what the attitude of the majority of leftists is. I think there are some leftists who are reachable, and some who aren't. There are leftists who value liberty and prosperity for the people but pursue them in a mistaken way, and then there are leftists who are basically throne and altar reactionaries in modern drag- there's a different God on the altar and a different ass on the throne, but the basis of their philosophy remains a belief that the brutish masses need to be dominated by an elite (democratically legitimated or otherwise) for their own good.

Most of the second group can be written off as a lost cause; the first group has potential. I'm less optimistic about our prospects than some, because I think the second group comprises a pretty big percentage of the whole (though I admit the possibility that their noisiness is out of proportion to their size), but I still think there's some potential there. Whether that potential can be successfully tapped will depend on adoption of the proper tactics of persuasion. I'll get into that next time.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, R.I.P.

I found out just moments ago at Reason that Milton Friedman has passed on. Though my own introduction to libertarianism came via Friedrich Hayek and other Austrians rather than Friedman or the Chicago School, I respect Friedman tremendously for the work he he did bringing libertarian ideas to the public. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blog status update

After reading my comments section and getting feedback from various people, I've come to a conclusion about the state and future contents of this blog. At some point in the future, I am going to open a separate site for science fiction. Most of the science fiction commentary I've been working on will go there, and only there. However, due to the positive comments (okay, comment) about the reviews, I am going to cross-post book reviews on both sites, as well as any science fiction commentary that has political or ideological relevance. I will also give periodic updates here about what's going on at the other site.

I'm not starting it just yet, partly because I want to get more written and partly because I'm still trying to think of a name, but it should be up soon. Stay tuned.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Basil Poledouris, R.I.P.

OK, this sucks. While metal is my first and foremost love, I also like to listen to film scores. I was listening to my Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, which I have found to be good writing music, and deiced to find out more about the composer, Basil Poledouris. So I run a Google search to learn more, and immediately discover that he died five days ago! Only 61 years old, too. What a shame. Two of my all-time favorite scores- Conan the Barbarian and The Hunt for Red October- were his work. Rest in peace.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A question for everyone

So, I've got plans to start writing a lot more science fiction commentary that's been percolating in my brain for a while, which raises a question: Do you want to see that on this blog? My concern is that those who come here for the political content (both of you!) may not want to wade through a bunch of posts about British space opera to get to the libertarian writing; likewise, if I manage to attract an audience for the science fiction stuff, most of them probably won't want to read my lunatic fringe political rants.

Therefore, I'm considering starting a separate site for that stuff, with a link to itand occasional updates about it on this site, but I'd like to hear from anyone reading this before I attempt such a project.

All feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

George Bush loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so...

In an article I did a while back, I argued that many modern right-wingers have a love for the state and its symbols that is tantamount to idol worship. This post by Lew Rockwell, which remarks on a quote I've seen all over the internet, brings that to mind again. The quote is:

"Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: 1. Jesus Christ; and 2. The American G.I. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom."

I'm not even a Christian, and I still find that incredibly inappropriate. Even if I really thought what's happening in Iraq had something to do with my freedom, I'd still be disturbed by it. The most outrageous thing is that most of the people who consider this a great line probably are Christians, and see no contradiction between that fact and their idolatrous adoration of the state and its employees. This fits right in with almost messianic status Bush seems to have for some people. If this were the age of ancient Rome, when Christians were being martyred for their refusal to worship the head of state, these folks would probably be lining up in droves to burn sacrifices to Caesar.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some rest so I can go to the mall in the morning. I want to get my Bushmas shopping done early this year, so I don't have to fight the crowds.

Found this fitting, in a grim sort of way: It's gone now, but when I first put this post up and went to view the blog to make sure it went up properly, the first ad listed on the Google Ads bar was for a site selling body bags. I kid you not. Getting smarter every day, these computers...

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Poul Anderson news

Election time is a depressing time of year for a libertarian like me, butnot everything in life is doom and gloom. On the science fiction front, there's very good news on the Baen Books publishing schedule: March 2007 will see the release of another Poul Anderson collection, To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories. The site doesn't say what the contents are, aside from the title story. I don't know if I'll be buying one for myself- it's probably superfluous in my case, thanks to my voluminous Poul Anderson collection- but I definitely expect to be buying a copy or two for the other geeks in my life, who are woefully ignorant of the classics. Hopefully there will be more to come.

In other Poul Anderson news, the Wikipedia entry for Poul Anderson has been greatly expanded and improved since the last time I saw it. If you're not familiar with his work, check it out. He's a truly great and underrated author, and a lot of his work is of particular interest to libertarians.

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The elections contain potassium benzoate! (That's bad.)

Some quick election thoughts:

Santorum was voted out. That good. Big-government conservatives like him are the reason I gave up being a Republican (and eventually, a conservative), and it's always nice to see one of his ilk go. It's worth noting that Santorum didn't even try to hide behind the quasi-libertarian rhetoric many Republicans use: He came out quite explicitly against the idea of small government. I don't know if I should be pleased by his honesty, or disturbed that vice no longer feels any need to pay tribute to virtue.

Joe Lieberman was reelected as an independent, no doubt thanks in part to the fact that the Republican Party seemed to favor him over their own candidate. That's bad. Lieberman is the worst of all possible worlds: in favor of war, in favor of economic statism, and in favor of moralistic intrusions on personal freedoms and free expression. So I suppose it's no wonder that the Republicans are in love with him.

Ron Paul got reelected. That's good. There's an old Jewish legend that if the number of righteous men alive on Earth ever drops below a certain threshold, God will destroy the world. I'm hoping something similar applies to Congress, but I doubt the universe is that kind.

As a whole, I feel pretty much indifferent to the result, for reasons outlined below. I still don't think the Democrats will be any better than the Republicans, but it's hard to imagine them being worse. Of course, I've been surprised before…

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Your Sacred Duty to Vote: A Parable

A most curious thing happened the other day. I was reading the paper one morning when I heard a knock on the door. I hadn't been expecting a visitor, but I quickly got up and opened the door. On my front step, to my surprise, was my next-door neighbor, holding a baseball bat in his hands.

"Uh… Can I help you?" I asked.

He nodded eagerly, and said, "I'm in the mood for a game. You'll flip a coin. If it comes up heads, I'll break both of your legs. If it comes up tails, I'll break your arms. I play this game with all the neighbors every few years. Sounds pretty fun, don't you think? You're lucky; in some places people don't get to play my game." He smiled, clearly quite pleased with himself.

"This is absurd!" I exclaimed. "I'm not playing your game. Get off my property!"

He sighed, looking very hurt. "Fine," he said. "I'll flip the coin." He produced a quarter from his pocket and tossed it into the air. It landed on the concrete path in front of my house, heads facing up. "Well, the coin has spoken." Before I could react, he swung the bat, hitting me in the leg. I gasped and sank to one knee. He swung again and again at my shins, leaving me sprawled on the ground.

Through the pain, I cried out, "You broke my legs!"

"Well, yes," he replied. "The coin came up heads. What are you so upset about, anyway?"

Incredulous, I yelled, "You have no right to go around beating people up!"

He seemed baffled at this. "Sure I do. You consented to this when you chose to live on the same block as me. Besides, you refused to exercise your right to flip the coin, like I offered. If you won't participate in my game, you have no right to complain about the outcome."

His reasoning seemed a bit off to me, but I was in too much pain for any deep logical analysis. "Well," he continued, "It's been a pleasure serving you, but I've got to get going. Lots of houses left to visit today. See you in two years!" With that he smiled, gave a polite nod, and was on his way.
Okay, I'm being a bit silly here. But the "If you don't vote, you can't complain" argument has always annoyed me, and my natural habit is to think in analogies and metaphors.

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Where the real trouble lies

Kevin Carson articulates something I've been thinking but hadn't been able to put in words very well:

What are the most important issues in American politics? The ones you never hear about because the two major parties agree on them.

This points to something related that I've been thinking about: The real threat to liberty, at the moment, isn't right-wing religious fanatics who want to impose the Christian equivalent of sharia, or left-wing nutjobs who want to nationalize the economy; it's the so-called "vital center." Life under Christian reconstructionists or communists would be awful, but the chances of them taking over any time soon are slim. Most of the things I find most offensive, oppressive, and destructive about the state's current activities- the drug war is the big one here, but economic interventionism and public education rank highly too- are, indeed, the things that are simply taken for granted by both mainstream parties.

This seems to lend some credence to the increasingly popular notion that libertarians should try to recruit from leftists- however dreadful their proposed solutions may be, people on the far left are at least aware of the fact there is something terribly wrong with the narrow range of options permitted by "respectable" political opinion. They're less likely to be slaves to what "everyone knows" is acceptable, which creates an opportunity for libertarians. I'm less optimistic on this subject than the left-libertarians are, mostly due to observations made when debating with leftists on mailing lists during my my younger days, but I still think it's worth pursuing.

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Like Alien Vs. Predator, but scarier

I'm torn on how to feel about the upcoming election. On the one hand, I hate the thought of Democrats winning; on the other hand, I hate the thought of the Republicans not losing. It's a quandary. I find it hard to imagine that the Democrats would be worse than the Republicans, but my predictive record isn't good in that regard: I never thought Bush would be worse than Clinton, either. Just thinking out loud here, lots of wishy-washy indecision ahead:

1. When our Iraqi adventure goes down in flames, I think it would be good to have Republicans in full control. Not because the Republicans would handle it better, but so that they take full blame. Ten years down the line, I don't want to see the Republicans justifying some new intervention by saying, "Well, Iraq was going fine until the Democrats screwed it up." This seems like a cynical political calculation, but it could save lives in the decades to come.

2. I'm not convinced that the Democrats would be any less violent abroad. My concern here is that, since they are often perceived as the weaker party on foreign affairs, they might find it necessary to throw American military strength around to prove they're not the pack of wimps the Republicans say they are.

3. I think the Democrats are worse in regards to nanny statism. It seems like it's usually them behind smoking bans, attempts at food restrictions, etc. Republicans are worse on things like sexual freedom, but here's the thing: I don't think a Republican regime would be very likely to succeed in carrying out any significant restrictions on sexual freedom, whereas I think a Democratic administration would actually have a pretty good chance of getting their preferred forms of oppression passed and left intact by the courts. So, regardless of who is objectively more malevolent, I think Democrats are the greater menace in regard to personal freedoms.

4. On the other hand, I would also like to see the Republicans punished at the polls, to discourage them from future warmongering. This is a big consideration, potentially enough to outweigh the others. It is also, of course, incompatible with point #1.

5. It might be good for civil liberties in an indirect way if the Democrats win. More power for the Democrats might make the Republicans a little more cautious in embracing new police state measures, since it would serve as a reminder to conservatives that those powers could be wielded just as easily by some future Democratic administration. I may be giving Republican foresight too much credit, though.

So, who to root for? For the first time in my life, I honestly don't care. In every other election I've followed, I always preferred (or at least hated less) one side over the other, however slightly. My lingering preference for the Republicans has been beaten out of me by the last six years, but I don't find myself loathing the Democrats any less than I used to.

And you want to know what really sucks? The elections fall on my birthday this year, as they did in 2000. So, once again, I'm getting whichever bastards will be screwing my country over for the next few years as my present. Happy birthday to me.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Well, we're doomed

Yeah, this self-replicating robot may seem neat now. But in a hundred years, when they've consumed us all and disassembled the planet to make more of themselves and spread across the galaxy, don't say I didn't warn you.

Hat tip to Samizdata.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Man's quest for knowledge

The best thing about Sitemeter is being able to see what Google searches have brought people to the site. The day before last, someone arrived via a search for "woman grabbing man's ass." I'd be appalled, if I didn't routinely search for things far more offensive. I hope you found what you're looking for, my friend.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

New article, and a welcome

I am proud to say that my first article at has been published. If you've come here for the first time from the link on my article, welcome to The Superfluous Man, my blog about libertarianism, science fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. Here's a few past posts of mine that I hope are of interest:

My introduction

My post on the nature of neoconservatism

Some thoughts on big business, big government, and the inconsistent means and ends of the statist left

A post on the Libertarian Reform Caucus, libertarian strategy, and my case for "purism"

For science fiction fans, my review of Neal Asher's Gridlinked

More good stuff coming up soon, so I hope you'll stick around.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

McBain to base, under attack by Commie-Nazis!

I ceased to think of myself as a rightist years ago, but for some time after becoming a libertarian I continued to sympathize much more strongly with the right than the left. I still do sometimes, but that feeling is rapidly waning. Why? Well, part of it is Bush and the many follies and evils of his administration. But a big part of it is the fact that so many right-wingers seem to have taken on many of the same traits that make me dislike most of the left (a few people excepted) so much.

For example: the leftist tendency to wildly fling the words "fascist" and "Nazi" around at anyone they don't like, a practice which conservatives have embraced. I thought Islamo-fascist" was a fairly silly term. I got annoyed by the constant comparison of anyone conservatives want to bomb this week to Hitler. But this is the best one yet: Michael Medved
has taken to calling Muslim terrorists "Islamo-Nazis." Yes, I thank God every day that my grandfather's generation stopped Hitler from imposing sharia law on all of Europe.

Honestly, do political terms mean
anything anymore? Can I start calling Mayor Richard Daley an "anarcho-Falangist" the next time he does something I don't like? At this point, we might as well drop the pretense that "Nazi" is even a word anymore: after all, words have definitions. "Nazi" has become more like grunting in pain or yelling, "Eww!"; it communicates raw emotion but little else.

With exceptions, liberals and the left shouldn't be too smug about this particular bit of stupidity; it was their relentless overuse of the word that set the precedent for this sort of nonsense, after all. Sadly, one of the harder things I've learned over the past six years is that most conservatives cannot be expected to be any better. I suppose I shouldn't allow myself to be disappointed by anything the right does these days, but old habits die hard.

Hat-tip to the hard-working Whig-distributists at Hit and Run.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jay Leno, Public Menace

Some rather goofy news: Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra has filed a complaint against Jay Leno for having Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guest without having his Democratic rival Phil Angelides on as well, thus violating the federal "equal time" rule which requires TV stations to give equal amounts of time to rival candidates for public office. (Needless to say, this is a privilege exclusively enjoyed by the reigning duopoly.) Here's the quote from the article that I'd like to zero in on:

"Use of the broadcast spectrum is granted as a public trust," Becerra wrote in the complaint filed on Angelides' behalf. "It is not to be used to favor certain candidates."

The article also notes that the networks stopped airing Schwarzenegger's movies while he was running for governor to avoid falling afoul of the equal time clause. This highlights something important: The notion that the airwaves are or ought to be "public" (i.e. government) property is incompatible with freedom of speech. If the airwaves rightly belong to the government, what's so objectionable about government control of what is said or done on those airwaves? After all, virtually no one objects to the fact that various government bodies regulate activities on public roads, in government buildings, on military bases, etc. So why not thegovernment-owned broadcast frequencies?

Ironically, it usually seems to be liberals, who purport to be the country's great advocates of free expression, who seem to put the most stock in the idea of the "public airwaves." Of course, it's hardly the first time liberals in this country have undercut their own alleged ideals.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

"You keep using that word..."

You may have noticed that, in this blog, I have spent very little space making authoritative-sounding statements about Cajun cooking, 18th-Century Belgian literature, or the grammar of sub-Saharan languages. There's a reason for that: I know absolutely nothing about these subjects. Sadly, not everyone shares my restraint.

In one of my periodic fits of self-loathing, I was reading Jonah Goldberg's syndicated column in the Chicago Tribune last week, in which he wrote about the idea of torturing alleged terrorists. (He's for it, not surprisingly.) A lot of it was just standard conservative warmonger stuff, but there was one thing that leapt out at me. He sharply criticized those who said that engaging in things like torture and imprisonment without trial would lower us to the level of some of history's less wholesome regimes. More specifically, he accused such people of "moral relativism." I'm not interested in Goldberg's arguments that torture is okay; I'm much more interested in Goldberg's odd choice of terminology.

Now, I don't claim to be especially bright, but I know what a few basic philosophical terms mean. Moral relativism claims that there is no moral standard that applies to all people and cultures; instead, morality is relative to the actor, and an act that is okay for Bob or an Englishman to do might be wrong for Bill or a Korean to do.

The problem with Goldberg's claim is thus obvious: the argument that torture would lower America to the level of evil regimes like Cuba is fundamentally anti-relativistic. The whole basis of the argument is the idea that morality is universal, and thus as binding on democratic America as it is on a communist, fascist, or Islamist regime. It is arguably Goldberg who is arguing that morality is relative to culture (or perhaps to form of government)- he claims that torturing people without trial is wrong when done by Arabs (or fascists, communists, etc.) but acceptable when done by Americans.

I don't know whether Goldberg's use of the word "relativism" is the result of honest ignorance or willful deception in order to push the reader's buttons. I've occasionally seen conservatives use the word "relativism" to mean "a moral opinion a I don't agree with," (or as a derisive term for tolerance) but this is the first time I've noticed it being used to mean the exact opposite of what it means. Mr. Goldberg should consider leaving the philosophy to others and focusing on things he has actual knowledge of, like The Simpsons and old Star Trek episodes.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

What makes a community

Nice article by Sheldon Richman about community and coercion at the Foundation for Economic Education. His article brings to mind something I've thought about before- the fact that many statists, mostly but not exclusively those on the left, and especially the so-called "communitarians," seem to regard a social/community organization as legitimate or valuable only if it is state-created or enforced, usually because of the high school civics notion that the state represents "all of us" in a way that voluntary groups don't. Social organizations actually created by voluntary society don't seem to count, because they don't have the state's sanctifying touch.

For these people, their ideas seem to imply, all of my town's families, churches, clubs, unions, fraternal organizations, and charity events are less authentic expressions of community than, say, Joliet Prison (Such an awful blow to community and solidarity when that place was shut down!) Which, considering what the "communitarian" types seem to want to turn society into, seems fitting.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Just what are neoconservatives?

Much discussion has revolved around the question of just what neoconservatives are. Are they right-wingers? Leftists claiming to be right-wingers? Trotskyites? Fascists? Claims have been made for all of these. I think they all miss the mark.

Neoconservatives are centrists.

This is not an idea often put forward, but consider- they have no problem with the welfare state or regulatory state if they're the ones running it, they share the corporate liberal's horror of laissez-faire capitalism, their views on social views are comfortably mainstream, and they largely accept the standard center-left narrative about history (laissez-faire was unworkable, Progressives and the New Deal saved capitalism from itself, Truman and JFK were great presidents, etc). I've lost count of the number of times I've read Kristol, Podhoretz, and the like chastise other conservatives (and libertarians, when they notice us) for wanting something so outrageous as to roll back the New Deal or make any significant moves toward greater economic freedom or reduced government power. However rancorous their rhetoric may be, their arguments with corporate liberals on the center-left are merely technocratic quibbling over administrative details, not a clash of ideals or principles.

Remember that they parted ways with the left and the Democratic Party over the issues of Vietnam and Israel, while accepting the same basic premises on domestic policy. Keep in mind, also, that bloody international adventure to enforce "American" ideals abroad is not an exclusive province of the right, as the victims of Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, or Harry Truman could tell you.

Now, there are many factions in politics that have good ideological reason to dislike neoconservatives- libertarians, radical leftists both statist and antistatist, paleoconservatives. But why do their counterparts on the center-left rage against them so? It's not principled opposition to violence- these are largely the same people who think interventionism is just dandy when Democrats do it. My observation is that small differences between people can actually cause more anger than big differences; to see someone come so close to the truth and yet reject it can be maddening. (Look at Protestants and Catholics in the Middle Ages, anarchocapitalists and minarchists, Trotskyites and Stalinists, etc.) I think that this, combined with the childish hysteria many liberals seem prone to, accounts for a lot of the rancor directed towards the neoconservatives by their mirror images on the "respectable" left. The heretic is worse than the infidel.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Damn you, Nippon Ichi!

I'd like to say that my recent lack of output has been because of I've been busy working, or because I've been hard at work fine-tuning some brilliant new post, but I can't. I bought Disgaea 2 on ebay, and it has proceeded to consume huge chunks of my free time. (It's a Playstation 2 game, for you poor souls who aren't well-versed in the modern strategy/RPG genre. You didn't think my "Libertarian, Journalist, Geek" tagline was just for show, did you?) I will, however, have a proper new post later today, so stay tuned.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The innocent have nothing to fear

I just went to to check my mail, and I'm greeted with this:

TORONTO, Sept. 18 - Canadian intelligence officials passed false warnings and bad information to American agents about a Muslim Canadian citizen, after which U.S. authorities secretly whisked him to Syria, where he was tortured, a judicial report found Monday.

The report, released in Ottawa, was the result of a 2 1/2-year inquiry that represented one of the first public investigations into mistakes made as part of the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program, which has secretly spirited suspects to foreign countries for interrogation by often brutal methods.

I encourage you to read the whole article. Here's the quick version: Innocent Canadian citizen Maher Arar is wrongly put on a list of terrorist suspects. The U.S. government snatches him while changing planes in New York and, with no trial, ships him to Syria, where he spent nearly a year being beaten and kept in a dungeon.

This isn't the first time the U.S. has sent alleged terrorists to some foreign despotism so that the locals can do the sort of things that we claim to be too civilized to do ourselves, but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time that an innocent ensnared in this has returned to tell his tale.

When American apologists for torture and detention without due process are challenged to defend their views, the traditional response is something along the lines of, "These people are terrorists! Why are you so worried about the rights of terrorists?" Well, this is why. How many other Maher Arar's are suffering in some foreign hellhole as I type?

For more details, you can check out the wikipedia entry or Mr. Arar's website.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The war hits home

So… a childhood friend of mine has been arrested. For the sake of his privacy, let's call him E.

We met in early childhood because our mothers were friends. He lived a good distance away, but we managed to see each other on a reasonably frequent basis. E had a troubled childhood, raised by a single mother after the family was abandoned by his abusive father. Still, he endured, but unfortunately we drifted apart in high school. This semester, he finally achieved his goal of enrolling in college.

I recently discovered that E has been arrested for heroin possession. You see E suffered a serious shoulder injury from an athletic mishap that left him in continuous pain. Thanks to our hard-working men in law enforcement, doctors are often unwilling to prescribe adequate painkillers for victims of chronic pain because they fear, with good reason based on past precedent, that doing so leaves them in danger of being charged with drug trafficking. (Radley Balko has chronicled this extensively.)

So, with his lawful options cut off and no other source of relief in sight, E eventually resorted to heroin, until he got caught not long ago. I suppose going after a scrawny accident victim with a chronic injury is safer and easier than catching people who might actually be dangerous. Fortunately, the minute amount he was caught in possession of does not rise to the level of a felony in the state of Illinois, so he won't be spending a significant amount of time in prison. He did, however, have to drop out of college, which he had just begun attending. Unless he's willing to risk a much harsher punishment for a second offense, he'll have to go back to living in needless pain. All for trying to relieve his suffering in the only way left to him by the government's monstrous policies on prescription painkillers.

I've been opposed to drug laws for some nine years now. (Thanks to National Review, surprisingly enough. I've been following politics long enough to remember the days when that magazine actually had some worthwhile material.) I opposed them on purely utilitarian grounds at first, then on more principled grounds as I began to shift from conservative to libertarian. I have abhorred the drug war ever since, and mourned the innocents who have suffered because of it, but in a dry and abstract sort of way. E's fate is far less harsh than many drug war victims; he will not spend years of his life in prison or die like Peter McWilliams because he couldn't get the medicine he needs. Still, the petty cruelty on display in his case struck me in a deep way. Though I had no doubt that prohibition was cruel and unjust, it took a personal experience to really hammer home just how damn vile the drug war really is.

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Getting better

In personal news, I am happy to say that I have finally started making some real progress with my health and weight. I was terribly awkward and uncoordinated as a child, and the ridicule this brought kept me away from sports or the playground growing up; as a result, I've struggled with obesity for most of my life. (Pride stops me from admitting my precise tonnage, but it ain't healthy, let's just leave it at that.)

The effort of the last two years is paying off: I'm less heavy (though I still have a long way to go), I can do chores in the house and yard without gasping, I don't sweat when I walk around the house, and I can go though a sparring or grappling round without being half-dead by the end of it. My weight loss has been modest so far (partly because I've been adding muscle as I lose fat, mostly because I still eat too much sometimes), but it is nonetheless the first time in my life that my weight has been going down, not up, and the changes in my strength and endurance are noticeable every day. My progress was slow at first, but now that I have so much more energy, I've been able to really get serious about exercise.

I owe most of it to my study of the martial arts, and to the encouragement of my instructor and fellow students. (It's primarily a kenpo school, but the instructor is a big believer in cross-training, which I also recommend.) For those seeking a motivation to get off your ass and improve your health, it can be a great source of inspiration. It has given me milestones and goals that are more concrete than numbers on a scale- the first time I made it though one of our conditioning sessions without needing to stop and rest midway through, the first time I successfully executed a submission on an opponent, the first time I did all my yellow belt techniques without tripping over my feet, or the first time I finished a round of sparring and realized I still had the energy for another go.

Lifting weights or riding an exercise bike for an abstraction like "health" is boring, at least for me. Lifting weights and riding the exercise bike because it'll make you a little bit better next time you train or spar is much more satisfying, and that means I'm more likely to get off the couch and actually do it. I can't recommend it enough.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

On reaching out to the left

There's a bit of a dustup over at the Lew Rockwell blog, primarily between Anthony Gregory and Stephen Kinsella, over the value of reaching out to leftists. (My own view, for what it's worth, is that such efforts will be more fruitful than Kinsella believes, but probably less successful than the left-libertarian crowd hopes for. Still worth trying, though.) My favorite quote comes from Gregory, who says:

Certainly, the left is very statist, but not all leftists are unreachable. I can sympathize with many of them, when they think the only alternative is the right, which threatens liberty, just as I can sympathize with many on the right, who probably think the only alternative is the left, which also threatens liberty.

This also drives home the great evil wrought by the one-dimensional left-right spectrum that dominates public thought. Attacking that should be a major priority. I'm not sure what should replace it; I dislike the idea of making economic and personal liberties separate axes, partly because the edges are so fuzzy (For instance, is prostitution a personal right or an economic one? For that matter, Isn't the right to sell your labor just as "personal" as the right to choose sex partners or have an abortion?), but mostly because it encourages the idea that these are two different and unrelated kinds of freedom, which I believe to be a major pillar in the ideology of many strands of statism. I don't have any better suggestions, unfortunately, so I suppose it'll have to do for now.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hard at work to keep you safe

From Hit and Run comes an interesting tidbit I had never heard before: in New Mexico and four other states, it is illegal to call yourself an "interior designer" without a state license. You can practice interior design, you just can't tell anyone else that you do.

Actually, despite the fact that this is a clear violation of free speech, and despite the fact that this allows existing state-privileged interior designers to monopolize the market at the expense of the consumer, I'm in favor of this. My Uncle Bob was killed when an improperly placed curtain exploded, so I recognize the pressing public need for this sort of licensing.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

What really matters in life

The government of China has started cracking down on the practice of the "funeral striptease", according to Nice to see that the Chinese government has the same strong instincts for identifying important issues as our own rulers.

The cremation of Baldur on his ship Hringhorni is still the coolest funeral of all time. But this is a close second.

You know what makes me want to buy a new car? Divorce! Hat tip to Radley Balko.

You know, on this blog, I've talked about injustice. Senseless wars that kill innocent people. Stalinist famines. Police state oppression. Ruthless exploitation of the public by corporations with government-granted privelegs. But you know what the greatest injustice of all is? I just found out that the new Iron Maiden album, which won't come out here until September 5th, is already out EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE GODDAMN WORLD. I hate this country.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Link round-up

Excellent post over at Knappster about the foolishness of the idea of a "citizens dividend" (welfare for everyone, basically) from a practical standpoint. The probable effects of the idea are so obvious that I'm frankly baffled how anyone who professes a desire to reduce the state could support it. Anyway, Thomas Knapp puts it more eloquently than I could.

This probably isn't of interest to anyone who isn't a metal fan, but Brian W. Doss has a great post over at The Verse about the suckiness of the mainstream media's coverage of the genre.

At his new blog Pro Libertate, William N. Grigg has a great new post called "The Madness That is War Patriotism." One of the best descriptions of America's post-9/11 madness that I've read.

While our rulers send SWAT team raids against unauthorized gamblers and seek to crush online gambling to save us from gambling addiction, Radley Balko relates this news story of a New York woman who spent six thousand dollars a day on the state lottery, fueling her gambling by embezzling over two million dollars from her employer. Another reminder that anti-gambling laws aren't about protecting public morals, they're about making sure the state gets all the swag.

At, Eric Margolis has written a powerful remembrance of Stalin's victims. Worth reading, even if you already know the relevant facts.

Sad news: voice actor Tony Jay has died at 73. If you share some of my nerdly interests, you might remember his excellent voice acting from such games as Icewind Dale, Fallout, the Legacy of Kain series, and what is possibly my favorite game of all time, Planescape: Torment. Rest in peace.

From Brad Spangler comes this little gem. Just click the link and see.

Apologies for the fact that I have yet to produce that Alastair Reynolds review I mentioned a while back. I found George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones at a used book store, curiosity got the better of me, one thing led to another, and I kinda sorta…Well, all I can say is that you shouldn't become fixated on a four-thousand page fantasy series when you've got something else you were planning to read. Or if you were planning on getting anything else done. Or coming into contact with sunlight.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An intellectual casualty of war

Could someone please tell me what the hell happened to Thomas Sowell? I turn my head for a few minutes, and while I'm not looking the man turns from one of America's most interesting and insightful thinkers to mindless warbot. (Though, to be fair, he does continue to produce some worthwhile material mixed with the dreck.) Perhaps I shouldn't be shocked- he's hardly the only person to lose his mind after 9/11- but I had always considered Sowell to be several cuts above the Horowitz's and Boortz's of the world.

This depresses the hell out of me, because Sowell was essential to my early political development, especially with the books The Vision of the Anointed and The Quest for Cosmic Justice. Indeed, with the possible exception of Hayek, there is probably no one else who was more important in making me a libertarian. It's awful to see him reduced to this. It's like finding out that the girl you were in love with in high school has gained two hundred pounds and developed an interest in facial scarification.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Thought for the day

Something occurred to me while reading the news about Castro's illness. I've thought for a long time that a lot of socialists were basically throne-and-altar reactionaries in Enlightenment drag Thus, I probably shouldn't be so surprised that communist states, those bastions of egalitarianism, have taken on the form of monarchies. Who rules North Korea? The previous ruler's son. When Castro became incapacitated, who did he put in charge? His brother. The fact that these two state's full names are the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" and the "Republic of Cuba" makes it all the more absurd. It's probably only a matter of time before Nong Duc Manh has himself declared Archduke of Vietnam.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chicago summer heat+No electricity=FUN!

Meant to update last night, but the climate intervened. I lost all electrical power for the better part of last night and had to crash elsewhere so I wouldn't die of dehydration in my sleep. You want to know what's maddening? Sitting in your boiling candle-lit living room and looking out the window to see that THE PEOPLE ACROSS THE GODDAMN STREET STILL HAVE POWER.
Actual content of actual interest coming up soon.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Links, science fiction, and a short tirade

Great post at Lowercase Liberty about one of my pet peeves: idiots who try to demonstrate their superior intelligence by making mistaken "corrections" to perfectly grammatical sentences.

Excellent article by Sheldon Richman about the role of business in promoting interventionism. (Hat tip to Mutualist Blog.) The only thing I have to add (building on something I posted earlier) is to comment on one great irony-namely, that "anti-corporate" liberals and leftists are usually the most vocal advocates of the very interventionist state that makes the manipulation and exploitation that Richman describes possible. They probably do more than anyone else to provide the necessary ideological support for the state powers that the rich and powerful use for their own ends.

I have not forgotten how large segments of the liberal/leftist commentariat, both online and off- Matthew Yglesias and the Daily Kos crowd being perhaps the most prominent online examples- leaped to defend the Kelo decision. (Not on federalist grounds, where there's arguably a legitimate case for the decision, but on the grounds that there was nothing objectionable about the government having the power to do what New London was doing.) They were the most passionate defenders of the state's right to forcibly transfer land from one private party to another, because such a power is supposedly necessary for the "common good." If that allows politically connected corporations to rob people of their homes, well, that's a small price to pay for the blessings of "progressive" rule. And they'll continue to bemoan the concentrated wealth and power of those same corporations, even as they cheer on the institutions that make such concentrations possible.

This is why I'm pleased by the emergence of the whole "libertarian left" thing, even though I don't consider myself a part of it. The harder the real effects of state economic intervention are hammered on, the more chance we have that at least some people on the statist left will wake up to the contradictions of their ideology.

Over at Unqualified Offerings, Jim Henley tears quasi-repentant war hawk Brink Lindsey a new one for his recent pseudo-apology for being wrong about the war. Choice quote:

Lindsey’s rhetorical sleights (and slights!) would be merely unpleasant if they didn’t indicate that Lindsey may not have learned much after all. Specifically, he does not seem to have learned the true usefulness of libertarian theory to foreign policy. You can boil it as far down as a single sentence:

National security may indeed be a legitimate function of the state, but it is still the state when it does this.

On a more fun note, my next science fiction review will be Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. That should be up pretty soon. In the meantime, check out this Alastair Reynolds interview.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Big business and the federal highway system

There's a great new post at Mutualist Blog with the details on something Kevin Carson has alluded to before- the crucial role big business played in lobbying for the creation of the federal highway system. This, in turn allows big nation-spanning corporations to dump a big chunk of their transportation costs on the taxpayer. Whether these companies would remain viable if they had to pay the full cost themselves is an interesting question.

It is an amusing (or depressing, depending on my mood) irony that many liberal/"vital center" types who talk about how statism protects us from the depredations and exploitation of big business are the same people who consider the national government highway system a glorious achievement that proves that demonstrates the state's wisdom and benevolence. The people who rage against huge corporate chains are largely the same people who cheer for the many of the government programs that make the huge chains so powerful in the first place.

This suggests a possible recruitment opportunity- awakening people to this contradiction has the potential to lure at least some statist anti-business types to our side. I'm not as optimistic as some about the prospects of winning large numbers of leftists to the cause of libertarianism, but I still think there's some potential there.

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Science Fiction Commentary: Gridlinked by Neal Asher

Today I'll be examining Gridlinked by Neal Asher, who has only been published in America within the last few years, though he has been writing for some time now.

The setting is a futuristic A.I.-ruled human society called the Polity. Travel throughout the Polity is accomplished principally through teleportation devices called "runcibles," which can turn people into energy and instantly transmit them across light-years. When a runcible on the remote world of Samarkand is sabotaged, Earth Central Security agent Ian Cormac is sent on the Polity spacecraft Hubris to investigate. Meanwhile, a ruthless terrorist leader from his last case is gunning for him, and mysterious, inhuman beings are at work.


Ian Cormac: Cormac is a long-serving agent of Earth Central Security. He has been rendered all but emotionless by the 30 years he has spent gridlinked- joined by brain implants with the Polity's computer network and the A.I.'s he works with. This is considered very dangerous- remaining gridlinked for longer than 20 years is highly discouraged. He is encouraged to give up his gridlink after he blows an undercover investigation because of it- he is so emotionally undemonstrative that he is mistaken for an android by the Separatists he was infiltrating.

Cormac is fairly robotic at the beginning- he has very little emotion, and is continuously frustrated by the fact that people are not as reliable or efficient as machines. It's interesting to see him try to adjust to losing his link- for instance, he has to get used to actually talking when he wants information, instead of simply downloading it into his brain. Getting used to relating to people normally is also a challenge for him at first, though he improves as time passes.

Arian Pelter: A ruthless terrorist and Separatist leader, obsessed with getting revenge against Cormac for killing his sister. Utterly ruthless and driven

Mister Crane: A homicidal android two-and-a-half meter tall android under Pelter's command. When not tearing people apart with his bare hands, he likes to examine the various toys and knickknacks he carries around in his coat.

John Stanton: An experienced mercenary in Pelter's service. Stanton isn't a good man by any means, but he still has a few remnant bits of conscience, and working for a man like Pelter gives them quite a workout.

Dragon: A bizarre alien organism/machine of unknown origin, consisting of four linked kilometer-wide spheres. Decades ago, Ian Cormac encountered this enigmatic being on the Polity world of Aster Colora, just before it vanished in a cataclysmic explosion. Now, Cormac sees traces of Dragon on Samarkand. Before it vanished, Dragon claimed to have been watching humanity for millennia. But what is its true nature?


Gridlinked is very solid enjoyable space opera/action story. I found the setting interesting (more on that in a bit), with some interesting locations. The story moves at a nice, quick pace, and made me want to keep reading. In particular, the central mystery of Dragon's true nature and intentions kept me interested in what would happen next. The action scenes are exciting and well done, though not for the squeamish. I liked the characters quite a bit- Ian Cormac is a likable hero who has an interesting psychological challenge to deal with, the psychological and moral progression of John Stanton is well done, and Pelter is very good as a villain.

I have two complaints. First, I wish more had been done with Cormac's adjustment to living without his gridlink. There's a lot of potential in the idea, and I don't think the book fully exploited the possibilities. Second, the ending seemed a bit rushed. These are only minor problems, however, and they don't detract significantly from the book.

Gridlinked is one of the few works of science fiction I can recall that really deals with the implications of a "convert people to energy" style-teleporter- namely, the fact that the mass of an entire human body yields a lot of energy, and that this energy could be incredibly destructive if turned lose. I'm kind of surprised that Star Trek, to the best of my recollection, never did anything with this, considering how many episodes revolved around transporter malfunctions. (Though Trek was seldom very good about thinking through the implications of its own technology.)

The story touches a bit on some of the possibilities of human alteration. Several characters make use of electronic brain implants to enhance their thought processes or help them link to machines. The aging process has been defeated, though some people choose to look old to project more authority or gravitas. (An idea that also comes up in David Drake's Cross the Stars.) Some people have been genetically engineered to live in heavy gravity or in deep space, and many people undergo extensive cosmetic alterations.

As I mentioned above, the Polity is ruled by artificial intelligences. I rather like the way Asher addresses the idea- it is portrayed as neither a cure-all for social ills, nor as some sort of oppressive dystopian nightmare. The A.I.s seem to do a reasonably good job of it- the Polity has a very high standard of living and appears to be fairly free; people can travel anywhere they want in the Polity without restriction, and free enterprise seems to be thriving. This does not greatly affect the plot, but some social effects are briefly touched upon- it is mentioned, for instance that certain humans, including Cormac, have all sorts of wild, larger-than-life legends attributed to them by a public desperate for proof that humans can still control their own destiny. The people of the Polity do not seem to object to their masters- it is mentioned, late in the book, that most people take it for granted that humans are not fit to rule.

The obvious comparison, of course is the Culture universe of Iain M. Banks. The Polity, while portrayed as attractive, is a good deal less utopian then the Culture, where the A.I.s (or "Minds") do pretty much all the work while humans live in total leisure. (By the way, what's the deal with British space opera authors and these incredibly vague names? I half-expect Alistair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton to come out with novels about "The Society" or "The Regime." I kid, I kid.) The only other A.I.-ruled society in recent print SF that comes immediately to mind (I'm missing some, I'm sure) is the Consensus from David Drake's Northworld trilogy, and in those books it's just a minor background detail, albeit an effective and atmospheric one.

I would highly recommend Gridlinked for anyone who likes science fiction, and I look forward to reading more from Asher.

Well, that's my first science fiction review segment. Any feedback would be appreciated enormously.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Quotes from around the internet

Liberals are now rightly accusing Bush of grabbing power, but unfortunately nobody is listening. After all, we’re used to overweening presidents by now, thanks in large part to those same liberals who have celebrated the “strong” presidencies of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, and others. It was only during the Nixon years that they discovered the dangers of the “imperial presidency"... Liberals have been paving the way for a president like this for a long time, and they’ve finally gotten the “conservative” they deserve. They’ve done their best to make the Constitution so malleable as to be meaningless, without stopping to think that two can play that game. Now it’s the Republicans’ turn. Joseph Sobran, "The Lawless State"

Jockey Paul O'Neill apologized Tuesday for head-butting his horse at a race last weekend. AP, Fox Sports

Anyone with half a brain who looks at how international trade has gone since the creation of the WTO would realize its real purpose is not to liberalize trade but to provide bickering grounds as cover for keeping it as restrained as it already was, while loking like they care. You don’t cut subsidies to humble american family farms corporatized agribusiness by having “talks” or trying to wrench concessions out of people who don’t have the luxury of leisure, you do it by cutting the f$@%ing subsidies. b psycho, "No Suprises in Geneva"

Chinese restaurant owners are arming themselves with increasingly dangerous weaponry these days. Saw a story the other day where some guy was murdered with the steamy filling of a hot crab rangoon. Radley Balko, "Fish Raid"

Besides, why should we expect business people to favor laissez faire and to abhor government intervention? Few people outside of business do so. Why would people in business be different? As Albert Jay Nock noted long ago, people tend to favor the path of least exertion. If a business owner can increase his profits with a tax, regulation, or import quota on his domestic or foreign competitors, why not go for it? You and I may expect his ethical governor to stop him. But what if he, like most other people, doesn't equate government action with plunder? In that case he won't see himself as a hooligan once removed. Rather, he'll seem himself as a citizen in a democracy petitioning his government for badly needed relief, which, as it happens, will also serve the general welfare. Sheldon Richman, "The Tariff is the Mother of Trusts"

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