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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