Friday, June 30, 2006

Gum Chewing is Evil

I hate chewing gum. More accurately, I hate gum chewing. I have chewed a few sticks of gum in my lifetime and never really saw the attraction. The flavor lasts for only a moment and then you are stuck with a tasteless rubbery blob. Chewing gum makes you look stupid, like some lobotomized mental patient gnawing his own tongue. I sometimes look out at the congregation from the choir and see a number of gum chewers in the pews. They don’t know how idiotic they appear, surely, so much like sheep that the preacher really is a pastor of a flock of mindless ruminants.

And gum chewers seem to be among the most socially irresponsible people on earth if the amount of gum on the sidewalks of New York is any indication. Gum does not seem to be biodegradable, and it mars the walking surfaces of the city. Before it becomes permanently affixed to the pavement, it represents a hazard to pedestrians. Gum chewers also like to leave used gum bombs in movie theaters and under tables. Do they imagine that their sputum infested refuse will be appetizing to subsequent patrons of the restaurants in which they leave their spoor? Do they not pity the poor soul who will be charged with scraping their leavings from the bottoms of theater seats? Is it too much to ask for them to spend a few extra milliseconds to dispose of their cuds properly?

I’ve had the misfortune on more than one occasion of having someone’s discarded gum stick to my pants or my shoe or even my hair. I am tempted next time to have DNA testing done on the gum and to track down the inconsiderate miscreant who left it behind for the unwary. The gum chewers leave their cuds everywhere from urinals to ash trays to crockery. It is a disgusting habit, and I confess that I discriminate against gum chewers based on the irresponsibility of what is probably fewer than 80% of the breed. I reckon some 20% of gum chewers may be decent people after all who have had the ill luck to fall into a bad habit.

Content to Be a Crackpot

Being the resident anti-state crackpot makes me a conundrum to my conspecifics. They ought to be able to predict my views fairly easily since they almost all boil down to nonaggression and love for my fellow man, but they haven’t figured this out at all. They can’t seem to wrap their minds around the concept that I can disapprove of something, eg chewing gum, without supporting a law about it. Or that I can think that something is a good idea, hybrid cars, without calling for the government to promote it.

Because of my unwillingness to use force to advance my own preferences, folks assume that I have no strong opinions about other people’s behavior. I am pretty much devoted to a philosophy of live and let live, but I have my own tastes and preferences, some of them fairly strongly held, and I will refrain form associating with people who offend my sensibilities in some areas. I will avoid trading with businesses that engage in practices of which I disapprove. I won’t call down the force of the law on folks, and I will defend their right to live as they please even when it offends me, but I nonetheless have lots of scruples about lots of things.

And my conspecifics assume that, because I oppose a particular state activity, eg public schooling, I also oppose the underlying ostensible purpose of that activity, eg education. They can’t imagine being all for education while opposing government schools or being in favor of health while simultaneously opposing health fascism.

I realize that I seem crazy to my conspecifics, but they don’t seem to appreciate how insane their positions seem to me. For example, when talking about rent control in New York City, one woman pointed out that without it her landlord could have raised her rent when her lease ended and that this would have been inconvenient for her. That was all the justification she seemed to need for coercing her landlord with the implicit threat of violence to accept below market rent! To me, she comes off as violent and barbaric, but she certainly doesn’t see herself that way.

I am convinced that for most folks the state is just part of the existential substrate. It is a kind of madness, a mass delusion, but I hold out the faint hope that it is treatable. I was cured, after all. I don’t know if this would have happened for me if I had not been repeatedly exposed to the memes of libertarianism. I will keep transmitting them into the meme pool in my surroundings as long as I have breath.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Suggestions for Fixing Congress

JL Wilson reckons, rightly I think, that there are no Senators fit for their offices In comments, Dr Lenny seconds the sentiment and points out that, but for Ron Paul, the same can be said of the House of Reprehensibles.

I have been thinking of ways to change the system so that we would have a better Congress. I previously opined that a random lottery would result in a Congress at least as good as the one we have through elections. And because there would be no campaigns, the members would not be beholden to campaign contributors. Any money they got from anyone would be a bribe and could not plausibly be characterized as innocent campaign support. Come to think of it, the lottery would result in a better Congress since the odds would be against selection of anyone who wanted the job bad enough to campaign for it.

There are several other ways that we might assemble a Congress that is no worse than what we have now without the expense and invitation to corruption that come with elections. For example, the oldest person in each Congressional district could be made Congressvarmints, and the two oldest in the state could be Senators. Let them serve for life (it won’t be long). Everyone would get a chance with clean living and luck to live long enough to serve, and since they will likely already be retired no working person would be inconvenienced by serving. A lot more women will be in office under this system since they tend to live longer than men.

The hereditary principle could be used with no ill effect on the quality of Congress. Have a final election or other mechanism where the officeholders are selected for life and let their seats be passed down in their families through primogeniture through either males or females until their families go extinct.

Or legislators could be chosen by having candidates fight it out in a cage or by a foot race or a game of nine ball. What do these skills have to do with being a good legislator? What does being a good campaigner and money raiser have to do with legislating? At least wrestling, running and nine ball don’t make you inherently unfit for the job you are seeking.

The recurrent theme in these schemes for selection is avoiding elections and campaigns. The democratic process is guaranteed to produce a collection of wankers just like we have now.

Steve Doocy, Funnyman

You can safely bet that I will never intentionally watch a moment of Fox and Friends. I hate those morning “news” shows, and anything on Fox is bound to be toxic. I caught some brief segments of it on The Daily Show as it was exposed to well deserved mockery. I laughed heartily when I heard host Steve Doocy wonder aloud whether “we’re beginning to see agenda journalism”.

This is funny for a number of reasons. First of all, Fox News is “agenda journalism” (except without the journalism part). Secondly, Steve Doocy is a clown, not a journalist, and he is woefully unqualified to opine about journalism. I remember him from local TV “news” in DC where he did mildly humorous human interest stories from time to time.

I wonder if Steve knows how idiotic his statement was and had a hard time keeping a straight face. He can’t possibly have been sincere. Perhaps, these things are scripted for the “talent” on Fox and Friends, and he was just doing his job and sticking to the script no matter how inane. After a while working for Fox, you have to lose any sense of journalistic integrity (or any kind of integrity) you might have had (and you can’t have had much).

The “talent” on Fox seems to be comprised of second and third stringers, typical of the right wing in other areas such as intelligentsia and academics and punditry, and they probably could not do as well in other media outlets. In a real news organization, Brit Hume would be a bit player, and Steve Doocy would be doing the weather or cutesie stories like he used to do. It is no wonder then that they compromise themselves daily for the sake of their inflated paychecks.

The Centrality of Interstates

Anti-War notes the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway system: This system has been at times a blessing and a curse for me, and the interstates have shaped my life significantly.

Interstate 75 cut right through the family farm back in the 1960s. Half the farm, including a fine orchard and strawberry fields, was cut off from the rest and was accessible by driving to the nearest overpass a couple of miles to the south. We kids just walked through a snake infested culvert that ran beneath the highway. The right of way was blocked by an eight foot fence topped with barbed wire, and it was too scary to try to cross the highway in any event. Eventually, my grandfather sold the land across the highway, and it was ultimately commercially developed. The eminent domain compensation, the proceeds of the land, and income from a Howard Johnson's billboard on the property allowed my grandfather to retire from commercial farming, although they maintained livestock and a substantial vegetable garden for many years. My uncles went to work for wages in town.

A real down side to the highway was the noise from the big rigs. You get used to it after a while and don’t even hear it. My mother’s house was shielded from the noise by a hill and some woods, but the old farmhouse was right next to the interstate.

The overpass down the road became home to a full service truck stop, a couple of motels, a KOA campground, and some more filling stations. I would walk or ride my bike down there and buy snacks from the vending machine at the Marathon station. As a teenager, I would go for eggs and corned beef hash at the truck stop (I also had a thing for the owner’s daughter, Donna). It was at the exit that I became familiar with Yankees, generally Midwesterners on their way to Florida or returning home. They all seemed to wear Bermuda shorts and sandals with dark socks, and they didn’t seem to have any dipthongs in their version of English.

The next exit north became our town’s first fast food row, starting with a MacDonald’s restaurant where I worked for a time in high school. The whole avenue came to be lined with motels, eateries, carpet outlets and stores. Today, it even has a large outlet mall. Lots of folks stopped by and spent money on their way to and from Florida. Local teenagers such as myself frequented the eateries and shopping centers.

The downtown started to die. In addition, the businesses all along Highway 41 closed one by one. Folks used to sell chenille bedspreads and farm produce by the road, and travelers could stop anywhere. Now, the highway funneled them past the town unless they stopped at the exit where commercial property cost way too much for farmers and bed spread makers.

I-75 was incomplete until I grew up and moved away. It ended at Cartersville, and you had to take 41 to Marietta before it resumed on the way to Atlanta. I remember the part of the trip on 41 as the most fun. There were lots of places to stop, lots of souvenir stands and businesses looking to cater for travelers, whereas the interstate was all road, rest stops and occasional exits, all of which looked the same as every other exit. I recall that it was protection of the snail darter that held up the highway. Now, you can drive from Atlanta to my hometown without seeing anything but trees and hills unless you get off the highway. You can even speed up into Blue Ridge, and bedroom communities have sprung up in places that used to be farmland. Folks who live 75 miles away commute to Atlanta now.

Chattanooga was easily accessible by interstate, and we would go there often to shop at the malls on the outskirts. Downtown Chattanooga was pretty dodgy back then, and the highways hastened its decline. It’s much improved these days, and the aquarium and river walks are must sees. Of course, you have to figure out how to get off the highway and into the town.

I have moved across country twice and have traveled by car across the continent many times, and this would hardly have been feasible without the interstates. Of course, I have seen very little of what I drove through. All the truck stops are more or less the same, and every fast food row is like every other whether in Helena or Little Rock. I love to take back roads nowadays to see what the country is really like.

Interstates are still important to me. Mrs Vache Folle takes I-84 every work day to and from the train station. This highway permits us to live in the country while she works 60 miles away in midtown Manhattan. I-84 also puts an airport less than 30 minutes away and allows Mrs VF to visit her family in Pennsylvania in less than three hours. Without the interstates, we would have had to make very different choices about where to live, where to work, and how to get around.

I don’t celebrate the interstates. They represent a massive subsidy of automobile transportation and artificially contribute to sprawl, environmental degradation, and a host of evils. I didn’t make the world with interstates; I just live in it. If the subsidies stopped, we would all adjust, and I imagine that our lives and environment would be very different. Mrs VF would have to work closer to home, or we would have to move closer to work. I bet there would be more small businesses in nearby commercial districts since it would be more convenient to shop there than to slog over to a mall or big box store. Demand for and use of buses and trains might increase.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Will the Media Grow a Pair?

The Attorney General has a perpetual smirk that makes it look as if he is having a hard time keeping a straight face. This must have been particularly challenging when he announced the thwarting of the Miami “terror plot”. The Daily Show, which I still consider the best news program on TV, put the plot into perspective when Jon Stewart remarked that a full ground war against the US, the suspects’ alleged objective, would require at least as many people as a softball team.

I wish that Americans could reexamine earlier “terror plots” the government claims to have foiled with the same degree of healthy skepticism. The press conference where the AG made the announcement about the “Miami Seven” was remarkable, in my view, because the reporters were so clearly and openly skeptical. It is refreshing to see journalists doing their job for a change.

What will the recent attacks on the media bring? Will they silence further an already near impotent media, or will journalists begin to recognize that being lapdogs of the government is no way for them to prosper? As I see it, journalists must not allow themselves to be intimidated. If they do, they may never recover the ability to report freely. Journalists should go even more on the offensive and reveal the corruption of the government in all its hideous detail. They should deny the legitimacy of the current illegitimate attacks on the press and expose every government shill that poses as a journalist.

It is also time that the American people received a refresher course in what constitutes journalism and news, as opposed to entertainment or punditry. Even the line between punditry and entertainment needs to be highlighted. Keith Olbermann has taken to referring to one famous “pundit” as “Comedian Rush Limbaugh”, and I reckon that distinguishing clowns from real journalists and editorialists is a helpful exercise. Bill O’Reilly is a clown; Pat Buchanan is an actual pundit. Fox News and the National Enquirer are entertainment for the semiliterate; the BBC and the Atlantic Monthly are news outlets. CNN is somewhere in between. The cable news shows where “both sides of the story” are encouraged to hash it out in sound bites delivered by a stable of hacks are not journalism; they are prolefeed.

What might it take to get the average American schmendrick to consume real news instead of propaganda? I suggest that it could be read to them by attractive naked people.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Comets and the Constitution

I went to the pet store and bought 50 comets at a dime apiece to put in the pond. If these comets came from out of state, I engaged in interstate commerce even though the pet store is also in New York and is locally owned and operated. If the comets were raised in New York, that’s still interstate commerce, because my purchase of home grown comets has a theoretical impact on the overall comet market and this crosses state lines. If comets are to be had only in New York such that there is no market that crosses state lines, this is still interstate commerce since it is part of the larger market in non-fancy goldfish and that crosses state lines. If I raise my own comets in an aquarium and give them away to my neighbor, that’s interstate commerce because it caused my neighbor to stay away from the market in non-fancy goldfish and has a slight theoretical impact on overall demand. If I raise my own comets for my own enjoyment using specimens I caught in a pond on my own property, that’s interstate commerce because I eschewed the overall market in non-fancy goldfish and reduced demand. Accordingly, Congress may legislate about comets and the trade therein under any conceivable circumstances without offending constitutional limits on federal power.

Since I put the comets in my pond, the federal government has an interest in my activities because of its authority over navigable waters. My pond’s overflow crosses a weir into a culvert into a stream that crosses a dismal, enters several other ponds, follows other streams to Fishkill Creek and ultimately flows into the Hudson River which everyone knows is navigable, what with all the ships and boats on it. Since my pond water becomes Hudson River water, it is navigable water subject to the power of Congress. The pond is fed by two streams and by seasonal runoff from Hosner Mountain. The runoff flows down a gully along the fence line in my backyard. This gully, even when dry, would be navigable waters since it has the potential to contain water bound for the Hudson. The whole of Hosner Mountain which drains into the Hudson through one stream or another would be navigable water even though it is over 1000 feet above sea level and apparently dry land. Dry land to the constitutionally illiterate, that is.

The comets are still alive several days later. So far, neither the Corps of Engineers nor the EPA has expressed an interest in my comet habitat. That’s only because it is not at present convenient for them to do so.

GW Bush and the Benefit of the Doubt

JL Wilson does not find the government credible at all:

That’s because he is not an idiot. On Olbermann’s show last night, I heard Newsweek’s Richard Wolfe say that he was going to “give the president the benefit of the doubt” on something. I knew from that moment that Wolfe was a shill or a fool, or a bit of both. Bush hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt on anything. He has earned our complete disbelief of every utterance form his mouth and should be required to prove his assertions by clear and convincing evidence. Can you go wrong by assuming that everything that comes out of the regime is complete BS?

My father was something of a con man. He could charm the scales off a rattlesnake. I idolized him and was prepared to believe everything he said. I believed every implausible excuse he ever made for standing me up for visitation, and I believed every unfulfilled promise he ever made. I would defend him against anyone who questioned him. This went on for years until I developed a capacity to reason that was sufficient to overcome my blind faith in my dad. I reckon a lot of Americans see the government the way I saw my dad. He is just misunderstood, that’s all. He has our best interests at heart, doesn’t he? The critics are lying, unpatriotic, unable to see the danger the government is saving us from. For about a third of us, this faith seems unshakeable. The government can tell a hundred lies in succession, and this third is still prepared to believe government assertion number one hundred and one.

It takes personal responsibility and maturity to accept that the government is constantly lying to you, that the world does not make sense in the way the government and media have packaged it for you. You have to seek out and filter diverse sources of information on your own and think for yourself. This smacks of way too much effort for most Americans. They want to let daddy take care of such things.

Is it Even Possible to "Desecrate" a Flag?

Has it been a year already? The Senate is engaged in its annual flag desecration kabuki again.

I used to be disgusted by this, but now I have lowered my expectations about the Senate further than ever. Moreover, since it will always be with us, I have decided to use the flag desecration issue to my advantage. If you are for the amendment, I don’t need to bother to get to know you better, and I can move on to other potential friends without wasting any time on you. It would be really helpful if you announced your support for the amendment with bumper stickers or t-shirts or some such thing.

If you think the troops in Iraq are fighting for the flag, please say so right up front in our initial conversation. That way, I can make a quick excuse and beg off talking to you any longer than courtesy requires. Seriously, fighting and risking life and limb for a dyed piece of cloth? Riiight.

By all means plaster everything you own with flags of all shapes and sizes, with pictures of flags, with bunting, and anything suggestive of the flag. Wear flag clothing. Wrap a flag bandana around your dog’s neck. Put a flag pin on your lapel and on your fishing hat. That way, I can see you coming and avoid you.

Display your flag worship prominently at your place of business so I’ll know to take my custom elsewhere. If you are a politician, take a stand for the amendment so I’ll know never to vote for you. If you are a preacher, sermonize in favor of the amendment so I’ll know right off that your church is no place for me and mine.

Monday, June 26, 2006

SCOTUS and Navigable Waters

The Washington Post doesn’t like where the Supreme Court seems to be headed on environmental protections:

The interesting thing about the Supreme Court decision for me is that the “conservative” wing voted for a restrictive ruling of what constitutes “waters of the United States” for the purposes of federal protection of wetlands. These guys, whom I have often said never saw an exercise of federal power that they did not like, voted to restrict federal power in this case by a strict reading of what constitutes navigable waters. Presumably, this is because they object to environmental protection and not out of any scruples about the exercise of federal power. If the US was looking to drain these waters or enforce drug laws on them, you can bet Fat Tony and his cadre would fall all over themselves to find that my backyard pond constitutes waters of the US.

Demystification of the American Revolution

I’ve never watched more than three minutes of Joel Osteen, whose sermons I sometimes chance upon while channel surfing, but he is always saying something I regard as stupid. This weekend, I caught him expounding on the relationship between “righteousness” and “loyalty”. Loyalty to one’s “country” was included as one of the indicators of righteousness, and the congregation was admonished not to be one of those disloyal folks who go around “bad mouthing people in authority”. It fits in with the whole feel good message of Osteen and his ilk to embrace the government and go along with its shenanigans without complaint. Like a dog who learns to love his leash, those who accept their bondage with gladness enjoy a kind of perverse “liberation”. They enjoy the illusion of freedom, of living under laws of their own making. The illusion is comforting.

The process of disillusionment can be difficult. I am still undergoing it. The more disillusioned I become, however, the easier it gets, and I even take pleasure in it sometimes. At the moment, my profoundly held views about the cause of American independence are being challenged as I read Simon Schama’s “Rough Crossings” about the role of slaves in the Revolutionary War:

To make a long story short, Schama’s book leads me to conclude that I can plausibly claim that the most significant principle upon which the independent United States of America was founded was hypocrisy. The Founding Fathers complained that they were treated as slaves by the British, all the while keeping thousands of their fellow men in actual slavery. And they did this with little apparent appreciation of the irony of their claims.

I have learned that one of the propaganda tools of the “Patriots” involved the fear that the British would promote a slave uprising or would emancipate the slaves of the colonists (recent events in England had called into question the legality of slavery there). Liberty loving “Patriots” increased surveillance and control of slaves and free Negroes and hanged a number of alleged conspirators. To them, slaves who wanted freedom were ingrates, while they themselves were heroic defenders of liberty.

The slaves seemed to think that their hope for freedom rested with the British, and they defected to the King’s forces by the thousands even before any offer of emancipation had been made. The British ultimately did use the offer of emancipation in exchange for service to the Crown as a means of crippling the “Patriot” planters and gaining allies in America. Many of these defectors, including slaves of many of the Founding Fathers, found their way to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone when the British withdrew. Others found themselves back in bondage. The Revolutionary War, for slaves, meant the continuation of slavery long beyond its abolition in Great Britain and for a long generation after its abolition in the West Indies.

For slaves, the forces of liberty were those of the Crown, and the forces of tyranny and oppression were those of the Revolutioners. Victory for the Crown meant emancipation, whereas victory for the “Patriots” meant continued slavery. I can plausibly make the claim that the Revolutionary War was “about” slavery in much the same way as the War Between the States nearly ninety years later was “about” slavery. The offers of emancipation made the war “about” slavery for many slaves and doubtless many slaveholding “Patriots”.

As Independence Day approaches, I am coming to realize that the mythology of the Revolution and the apotheosis of the Founding Fathers serve to obscure inconvenient facts about that struggle. They also serve to obscure the truth about the American state and are part of the present day process of manufacturing illusions. “Rough Crossings” is a powerful book. It has demystified the Revolution for me, and I am only halfway through it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Report from the Yard

The deer flies are back, but they don’t seem to be as numerous in our yard as last year. The bad news is that they are present all up and down the road so as to make dog walking fairly unpleasant. The fly repellent we bought for the dogs seems to work for them, and I just have to remember to apply the OFF insect repellent before I go out.

These devils come at you in swarms of five to ten flies, and it hurts when they bite. Their saliva inhibits blood clotting and makes some people sick. The bites raise itchy welts on me. Mercifully, their life spans are brief, only a few weeks.

The consensus seems to be that there is not much that can be done to control deer flies, so I aim to do nothing except keep them off of me and the missus and the dogs. I set out traps last summer, but aside form the vengeance factor this seemed to have little impact on the flies. I took to putting fly paper on my hat and found that I could catch a hundred flies an hour while gardening.

On a more positive note, Jasper seems to have been broken of his obsessive frog stalking. He still hunts frogs on occasion, but it is no longer an all consuming non-stop obsession. We interrupt him whenever we notice he is in the pond, and this seems to have done the trick. We repaired most of the damage he did during his frog stalking mania.

There are at least three downy woodpeckers who frequent the woodpecker feeder and a pair of red bellied woodpeckers. So far, no pileated woodpeckers have appeared. The dominant bird in the yard lately has been the common grackle. Swifty, the ruby throated hummingbird, seems to have lost his mate Christine as she has not made an appearance at the feeder for several weeks. Perhaps she is nesting.

Brad and Janet, the water snakes, have been scarce this last week. Some of the shiners we introduced to the pond survive yet, and I am contemplating adding another couple of dozen. I’d really like some sunnies and perch, as they would be more visible, but I would have to catch them somewhere.

My Murder Solving Hobby Didn't Pan Out

Some time ago, I resolved to undertake as one of my new hobbies to solve murders. Unfortunately for my hobby, neither my job or my life outside my job brings me in contact with any murder victims. In fact, I have not had a close connection with a murder for over 10 years now. One of my co-workers was a victim of a serial killer in Florida (recounted in the film “Monster”). One of my clients in Seattle was stabbed to death by her estranged husband after she let him back in the home (we had gotten a restraining order against him). Since then, none of my acquaintances has been whacked. It’s too bad really as I think I would have made a pretty good amateur consulting detective.

I don’t want to be a cop or anything so I have to rely on murder coming to me, and I fear that my social circle is insufficiently murderous to keep me busy. Back to the garden, I reckon.

Does the Minimum Wage Really Cost Folks Jobs?

Don Boudreaux likens arguments about the minimum wage to arguments about used car sales:

“The market prices of most used-cars are too low for sellers of those cars to support their families. This fact is especially true for poor people, who, when they sell their old cars, almost always have only old, high-mileage, often dilapidated used-cars to sell. These people aren't selling two-year-old Lexuses or BMWs. They're selling 15-year-old Chevys and 20-year-old Hondas. So let's enact legislation mandating that no used-car can sell for less than, say, $25,000. That way, anyone who sells a used-car is assured that he or she will earn at least enough money to support a family for a year.

I doubt that many people would argue that government should legislate a minumum price for used-cars. But why not? If merely identifying a problem with a low price (such as "At the current minimum wage, even full-time workers can't support a family of four") is sufficient to justify legislative action to raise that price, why won't such action work for used-cars as well as it will work for labor hours?”

He’s right; nobody would argue for minimum used car prices (except maybe used car dealers). That’s because it would be disingenuous to do so and because the analogy is so inapt. I might buy his argument that increases in the minimum wage would result in a loss of jobs for unskilled workers, but the used car analogy blows his credibility. I begin to doubt that his economics are sound when he displays such detachment from reality. Show me that increases in the minimum wage over the years have, in fact, caused higher unemployment among the unskilled. That should be simple enough since the data is available for several decades, but don’t insult my intelligence with the lame “wages are the same as used car sales” argument.

Wages are different. They are recognized in society as different from other types of income. The due process requirements for attaching wages are more stringent than for other types of property or income streams, and every state recognizes exemptions from garnishment for some minimum level of wage income. The fact is, that for most folks, wages are the sole attainable socially approved means of subsistence. Most folks find themselves structurally forced into employment for wages or salary.

If you are an average or below average schmendrick with a high school diploma or less, not cut out for college, you have almost no options other than wage earning as a subsistence strategy. You can’t forage off the wilderness, since the land is all claimed, and you don’t know how to forage. You can’t engage in subsistence farming since you don’t have land or money to buy land. Besides, you don’t know how to farm, so even sharecropping is out of reach for you. The road to entrepreneurship is full of obstacles and barriers to entry such as licensing requirements and regulations and a lack of capital or know how. If you enter the underground economy, society will lock you up or kill you. You can forage in the urban environment, I suppose, and be a homeless dumpster diver, but society will tolerate only so many of these foragers, and the carrying capacity of the environment is limited and doubtless all used up by other foragers.

Moreover, I am not convinced that there really is a free market in labor. Does not the Federal Reserve conspire to maintain a certain level of unemployment so as to suppress wages as an anti-inflationary measure? Isn’t immigration policy, at least in part, designed to keep wages from increasing by maintaining an increased supply of labor? Moreover, it isn’t at all easy for workers to relocate for employment opportunities. If you are a low wage earner, it might very well be insane for you to move away from your family and social support system in search of a few extra cents an hour. And God forbid you should be marked as a “job hopper”.

Maybe the minimum wage is a bad thing, but make the argument from compassion, not from ignorance of the actual conditions and circumstances of wage earning. Certainly, try not to appear that you don’t care about working men and women. Try to sound more like Commander Data after he installed his emotion chip.

I had a business client some years ago that wanted me to draft a letter to the government stating that an increase in the minimum wage would force them to cut jobs. When I asked what specific jobs would be cut, management admitted that there were not any superfluous workers and that nobody would really be laid off if the minimum were increased. Efficient companies don’t have a lot of expendable staff, especially at the low wage end of things. They will cut administrative or management costs before they will get rid of the folks who do the actual work.

Can some libertarian leaning economist craft an argument against the minimum wage that takes reality into account? Until they do, opponents of the minimum wage will always come off like corporate shills.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Congress Makes 15.7 Times the Minimum Wage

So there’s no increase in the minimum wage for like the tenth year in a row, but there is an increase in congressional pay for the sixth time in the same period. I have mixed feelings about the minimum wage (it’s not the first thing I would abolish), but I am definitely against congressional pay raises. How does congressional pay compare to the minimum wage over time?

This site shows the federal minimum wage since 1955 and in constant dollars. In 1955 it was 75cents an hour, or $4.39 in constant dollars. Today, it is $5.15, or $4.04 in constant dollars, and it has never been lower. The highest was 1968, when $1.60 an hour meant $7.21 in constant dollars.

Meanwhile, congressional pay has skyrocketed. This site shows the ratio of minimum wage to congress salary in 2005 dollars since 1938. In 2005, congress earned 15.7 times minimum wage, based on a 2000 hour year. That’s the highest since 1944. In the early 1950s, congress was content to earn 8.3 times the minimum wage. (Then again, wasn’t that the “do-nothing” congress Truman complained about?)

This site advocates tying congressional pay to the minimum wage and capping it at no more than 10 times the minimum. If that were the case, congressional pay would be $103,000 per year instead of more than $168,000.

Since 1981 when Ronald Reagan came to DC on promises of getting government off the people’s backs, minimum wage has increased 66% from $3.10 to $5.15 while congressional pay has increased 167% from $60,662 to 162,100 in 2005. It’s up again in 2006 to more than $168,000.

Based on what I’ve seen on C-Span, the news, and in meeting congressvarmints, most of the bozos in congress could not earn anything like what they are getting as legislators in the real world. Higher pay is not attracting better quality legislators, and I reckon that we could get the same quality for less than half the price. I could get behind tying congressional pay to the minimum wage and would support paying congressvarmints no more than 10 times the minimum wage. They would still be overpaid in most cases.

Would this makes congressvarmints more likely to raise the minimum wage? I don’t think the business community that owns congress would allow it to go up much. Rather, they would find a way to slip their pet legislators a little extra something to ease the pain. These are their legislators; they should be paying them instead of sticking the rest of us with the bill.

Fans of Malkin and Coulter are Slack Jawed Yahoos

Hume’s Ghost explains why he reckons liberal bloggers need to respond to Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin:

The only good reason I can think of for responding to their toxic, whacked out diatribes is that these are just the kind of low hanging fruit for liberal bloggers that makes for easy and humorous posting on an off day. Heck, the posts practically write themselves.

But seriously, the argument that Malkin, Coulter, and their ilk should be responded to because they are influential does not hold up in my opinion. They are only influential with the subspecies boobus wingnuttus, and nothing any liberal blogger ever writes will persuade followers of Malkin or Coulter of anything. There are no reasonable people out there who follow these harpies, and none of their followers is amenable to reasoning or persuasion.

This is especially true of liberals whom boobus wingnuttus has been conditioned to revile and distrust. It may be possible for a handful of Malkin or Coulter fans to be turned from the darker side by someone on the slightly less dark side among conservative pundits. But that would hardly be worth the effort.

I hope the left blogosphere will keep making fun of Malkin and Coulter and Fred Phelps and the whole gaggle of right wing nut cases. This has been a source of constant amusement. Nobody beats Tbogg and World O’ Crap for mocking these “people”, and my day is not complete without visiting their sites. But don’t start taking these clowns seriously.

Support the Culture of Life or We'll Kill You

A number of my wingnut conspecifics claim to have consistent principles and to adhere to a “culture of life”. They oppose abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened; however, they also support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and are apologists for military actions that result in collateral damage. So far, none has been able to reconcile these views with the so-called “culture of life” or to establish an internal consistency.

I strongly suspect that their antiabortion stance has less to do with protecting the unborn than with punishing non-procreative sex. How at risk must a woman be before it would be acceptable to have an abortion? Must her risk of death exceed 50%? Should she be required to assume a risk of death of 10% or 5% despite her own wishes? There is always some risk in pregnancy, and antiabortionists are willing to coerce women into assuming at least that baseline risk. Most of the ones I know are willing to force women to assume a much higher level of risk, say on the order of 75%. Otherwise, it isn’t really self defense, they argue.

But when it comes to soldiers (and even policemen in some instances), the same wingnuts claim that they should not be required to assume any additional risk in order to avoid killing children and other noncombatants during military operations. It is entirely acceptable to firebomb an entire neighborhood and kill scores of children in order to kill some of the “enemy” so that troops will not be put at additional risk. Under this reasoning, even the avoidance of the remotest risk counts as self defense.

As I see it, the main difference in the two scenarios is that the military situation does not necessarily involve sex. Oh, and the soldiers are men, not women. Evidently, men have more leeway to defend themselves than women, and it would be wrong to second guess men on their choices.

This is one of the main reasons that I don’t believe womb control advocates really believe that embryos are people. They just want to control wombs, and the "embryos are people" argument is a cynical ploy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Meme of Fourz: The Mutant

Brewrunner tagged me with the Meme of Fours

I have already had this meme and am immune, but I reckon that a mutant form could re-infect me. Here’s the “Meme of Fourz”:

4 jobs I have pretended to have when out of town and talking to strangers:

(1) Fighter of oil fires.
(2) Paleontologist.
(3) Evolutionary psychologist.
(4) Pastor (insures a private seat on the bus).

4 movies that I wish I had never seen:

(1) You Can’t Stop the Music
(2) Caddyshack 2
(3) Jaws III in 3D
(4) Humanoids of the Deep

4 places where I lived but wish I had not:

(1) Dunbar WV
(2) Ft McClellan AL
(3) Clearwater FL
(4) Silver Spring MD

4 TV shows that I deny that I ever watched but which I actually watched regularly:

(1) Melrose Place
(2) Dallas
(3) Beauty and the Beast
(4) Gilmore Girls

4 popular TV shows that I just don’t get the appeal of:

(1) The Cosby Show
(2) Murder She Wrote
(3) Law and Order
(4) West Wing

4 godawful vacations I have endured:

(1) Club Med in Martinique.
(2) A fly infested campground in the Cascades.
(3) A cabin in Maine with feuding in-laws and their devil spawn.
(4) A Delaware Valley resort at my stepfather-in-law’s regimental reunion, also featuring feuding in-laws and their undomesticated offspring.

4 dishes that make me want to retch:

(1) Puddin’ and souse.
(2) Possum, however prepared.
(3) Tripe.
(4) Ethiopian food.

4 web sites that I avoid at all costs:

(1) WorldNetDaily.
(2) National Review Online.
(3) Red State.
(4) Little Green Footballs.

4 places where I am glad I am not:

(1) An Amway recruiting presentation.
(2) A funeral.
(3) The hospital.
(4) Kmart.

The mutant meme tags all who come upon it. There is no escape.

Facilitating Resistance

An aspect of cultural studies that I always enjoyed was the analysis of popular culture/dominant culture and the concept of resistance. I have no illusions that such analyses result in models that represent anything in the real world, but performing such analyses can be helpful in reframing issues and looking at the world differently.

In my experience, cultural studies enthusiasts are almost universally leftists, not surprising in view of the contributions of Marx to the field. They tend to characterize “left wing”, “progressive”, or “liberal” ideas or cultural expressions as popular culture in opposition to a dominant “conservative”, “right wing”, “reactionary” culture. In my view, this is misguided and leads to confusion. Why are so many working class people so conservative or part of the religious right? Is it false consciousness? I reckon that some aspects of conservatism are more usefully regarded as expressions of popular culture and reactions to the hegemony of bourgeois liberalism and modernity.

For example, a working class woman might like to stay at home with her children and be a homemaker instead of toiling at a crappy low-paying job, but the dominant culture tells her that such a choice must be inherently unfulfilling and that it makes her dependent and vulnerable. Moreover, the world conspires to render her choice unaffordable and perilous. The woman reacts by adopting the view that her choice is morally superior, that the sacrifices she makes to realize her preferences are what any good mother would endure. Her position, seemingly a throwback to the days before women were liberated, may be viewed as opposition to the prevailing notion that women should strive to have it all, etc. I contend that the latter is now dominant and the former is a form of resistance.

Another aspect of cultural studies that leads to confusion is a tendency to view society as comprised of classes with a single “culture” in each class. The popular culture and the dominant culture are sometimes spoken of as if they were real and more or less uniform within each class. I reckon that it is more useful to imagine that each class is fragmented and marked by disparate cultural strains. The popular culture takes on many forms, from hip hop to fundamentalist religion to separatist movements, all of which resist the various strains of dominant culture. The dominant class is not entirely united, either, and the different factions within the ruling class exploit and co-opt different strains of popular culture for their own ends. The elites in the GOP, for example, play on the fears of the religious right and their resistance to modernity, rationalization, and individualization.

Libertarianism can, I believe, appeal to folks in the working class of almost every persuasion by pointing out how the dominant culture dupes and exploits them and by emphasizing how folks in a free society can live as they please without hindrance. The culture war, on which the politicians rely, does not have to be fought on the basis of compelling one’s neighbor to adopt your preferred cultural forms. Rather, let every strain of culture compete in a marketplace of values and mores. The “superior” cultures will prevail and become more widespread, but every culture will be free to preserve itself and persist if its carriers work at it. Best of all, nobody has to like what his fellow citizens are up to, and they are free to hold illiberal or ultra-liberal values as they see fit.

Those who are devoted to central planning of values and mores will never be won over, but I reckon that these folks are more numerous in the dominant class and among the intelligentsia than among ordinary folks. I suspect that ordinary folks are more interested in living as they please than in forcing others to conform.

The concept of multiculturalism, currently used ironically as a bludgeon by the left to impose tolerance of favored values and lifestyles and used as a bugaboo by the right to stir up a defense of a unitary national culture, could very well be turned to the advantage of libertarianism. Let’s take it away from the ruling elites and reframe it in terms of liberty. In a real sense, every individual is a “culture of one”. Every family has its own culture, as does every neighborhood, workplace, community, what have you. Culture isn’t real. It’s a concept used to describe the set of commonalities among an aggregation of people. Culture talk by politicians is always collectivist talk. No misuse of the concept of culture should be allowed to slide, and the people should be reminded constantly of what culture talk really means.

The people aim to resist. We should show them how.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Riff Raff Removal Referendum

“Nobody wants property taxes to go up, but why take it out on the children?” That’s how a radio ad framed the issue of the school budgets up for a vote tomorrow. A majority of districts in the county (unfortunately, mine was not one of them) rejected the school budgets, and alternate lower budgets have been worked up. The PTA, teachers’ union, and other constituencies devoted to fleecing the public through the schools are working night and day to frighten and guilt the voters into approving the new budgets even though they still represent tax increases and do nothing to cut the fat.

One of the more idiotic reasons for a tax increase is that the population has grown. This argument might support a budget increase, but tax rates should not be impacted since all the new taxpayers will be contributing to increased revenues. But the school districts are not content unless they encumber us with higher school taxes.

Another argument is that better schools translate to higher property values. It is assumed that higher taxes translate to better schools, but I have never seen evidence of anything but a spurious relationship between per pupil spending and “quality of education”. The fact is that more affluent people tend to take more of an interest in their children’s schooling, that their children are well nourished and equipped, and that they tend to have higher IQ’s than children in poor communities. They will test better than their poor counterparts no matter what.

The argument ought to be reframed in more realistic terms:

-Richer people produce better students who make their schools look better.

-If we raise taxes, we can drive the riff raff out of our district. They will take their stupid children with them so test scores will rise.

-This will make our real estate more valuable.

The way the issue is framed now, the riff raff will probably vote themselves out of the district and feel good about doing it.

My Parents Were Monsters!

A friend relates that his sister left two of her children (8 and 5) in the car for two minutes while she ran an errand. It was April, and the weather was neither too hot nor too cold so as to endanger the tykes. Some jackass called the cops, and the cops deemed it worth their while to respond. This strikes me as incredible. I spent a lot of time alone, or with my sister, in the car, and nobody thought anything of it. I never realized until now what monsters my parents were.

And we didn’t have car seats! At least not once we could sit up on our own. When we were real little, we had one of those plastic seats with a little steering wheel that went beside the driver. Maggie Simpson has one, come to think of it, in the opening credits of The Simpsons. The safety advice we got was from Romper Room’s hostess who taught us to sing: “Don’t be a car stander; do be a car sitter.” I ignored this and stood on the hump looking forward whenever I was in the back seat. If the front seat were available, that’s where I sat. Seatbelts? Optional. Nowadays Britney Spears is criticized as the worst mother in the world for driving a couple of blocks with a baby in her lap or simply because her car seat faced the wrong way. My parents make her look like Safety Mom in comparison. Were they trying to kill me?! We even rode in the bed of a pickup truck from time to time. How medieval!

My sister and I were latchkey kids for a while at the tender ages of nine and six. We would come home, let ourselves in, and make cinnamon toast until one of our parents got off work. Nowadays, this is considered child endangerment and grounds for fosterage. Where was the state when my sister and I were allowed to use a toaster unsupervised?

And we walked and rode bikes great distances unsupervised. I reckon it’s just pure blind luck that we weren’t snatched by a child molester or whomever does the snatching of those kids on the milk cartons. Were our parents trying to get us snatched? Come to think of it, we never heard of any kid getting snatched in those days. We were told not to get in cars with strangers in case an invitation was made, but nobody ever offered me a ride until I was old enough to hitchhike.

It’s a miracle we made it to adulthood. It’s an even greater miracle that no kid we knew got killed or maimed before adolescence when the hazards of driving too their toll. Nowadays, we don't need miracles because the state is there to keep children safe.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In the Dictionary, Next to the Word "Wrong" is a Picture of Fat Tony Scalia

The indispensable Radley Balko is all over the Hudson decision:

I don’t know what to make of Fat Tony Scalia. Is he just a complete fascist, or is he out of touch with reality? I suspect it’s a lot of both. Of course, it’s entirely conceivable that he knows what he writes is complete crap and doesn’t care as long as the state gets to walk over you with impunity.

Is it possible that Scalia really believes that cops are more professional now and more sensitive to civil rights than in the days when the exclusionary rule was put in place? Where does he get his perspective on cops? “Law and Order” reruns? Fat Tony is going to get more innocent people killed, and some cops could get killed, too, now that there is no incentive to knock and announce or otherwise refrain from violations of rights.

This is what comes of stacking the Supreme Court with people who have no experience with real life whatsoever. Fat Tony never did an honest day of work in his life and is so out of touch with reality as to be certifiable.

Bush Deficits as Odious Debt

Alexander Sack’s definition of Odious Debt pertains, in my view, to the deficits run up by the Bush Crime Family

"When a despotic regime contracts a debt, not for the needs or in the interests of the state, but rather to strengthen itself, to suppress a popular insurrection, etc, this debt is odious for the people of the entire state. This debt does not bind the nation; it is a debt of the regime, a personal debt contracted by the ruler, and consequently it falls with the demise of the regime. The reason why these odious debts cannot attach to the territory of the state is that they do not fulfil one of the conditions determining the lawfulness of State debts, namely that State debts must be incurred, and the
proceeds used, for the needs and in the interests of the state. Odious debts, contracted and utilised, for purposes which, to the lenders' knowledge, are contrary to the needs and the interests of the nation, are not binding on the nation – when it succeeds in overthrowing the government that contracted them –unless the debt is within the limits of real advantages that these debts might have afforded. The lenders have committed a hostile act against the people, they cannot expect a nation, which has freed itself of a despotic regime, to assume these odious debts, which are the personal debts of the ruler."

My nephews (11, 10 and 8) set me to thinking about this when I explained that they would be the ones paying for current federal spending. They blithely declared that they weren’t going to pay it, that they didn’t authorize it, and that those who spent the money should pay it. In sum, they intend to repudiate the national debt. Maybe they will get the chance to act on their instincts someday.

The only hitch in declaring Bush debts Odious is the point about “lender’s knowledge”. Savings Bond buyers and individual investors are not necessarily aware of the odiousness of the debt. Certainly, the Social Security “trust fund” managers are aware. Surely, the other nations who hold US debt are aware.

Wherein I Embrace Secessionism Wholeheartedly

I think it was a big mistake for California, Texas, and Vermont to give up their status as independent republics. What has it gotten them that a defensive alliance couldn’t have provided? If these states opt to go their own way, I would support that move wholeheartedly. If any state seceded, I would cheer them on.

I hope that Americans have advanced enough now not to fall for the “preserve the union” line of crap, that they would not support the use of force to keep a state in the US against the will of its people. Now that the whole campaign of oppression would be televised, could you really see the American people turning on Texans or Vermonters or whatever you call folks from Delaware?

Of course, if the secessionist movement could be reframed as advocacy of some pernicious cause, folks might be duped into suppressing it. Red Staters might be convinced to fight to “save the unborn” or “stop the homosexual agenda” or “win the culture war” or some such idiocy. Blue Staters might fight to “stop the hate” or some such thing. Secessionists should be careful to make it clear that their movement is not about any particular policy; rather, it is about self determination and freedom from centralized power.

The US is just too big now and is characterized by too much central power. Does it really make sense for New Yorkers to meddle in the affairs of Californians or for folks from Kansas to tell New Englanders what marriage should be like in their region? I don’t think so. I sure don’t want some fundamentalist nutbar from Wyoming dictating how I live here in New York, and I am sure the nutbar would not care much for my imposing my values on him either.

The state sovereignty card gets played too often in the case of some fairly illiberal causes. It’s hard to get behind a “states’ rights” argument when it is invoked to justify state sponsored discrimination or slavery or some such thing. Moreover, it is used in a hypocritical manner so much that folks may have become completely cynical whenever the card is played. If I’m for states’ rights on abortion, why wouldn’t I be for it in the case of marriage or medical marijuana or assisted suicide? Advocates of state sovereignty have got to be consistent across the board and to articulate why states’ rights are so important for freedom.

In terms of federal jurisprudence, state sovereignty is dead. The federals will never again acknowledge limitations on their power, and the Supreme Court will never again be manned by justices who give a rat’s patootie about federalism. Forget the Constitution in exile; it’s the Constitution in the trash heap now. Devolution through secession is about the only way Americans will ever see a return to decentralized, smaller government.

I don’t expect independent states to be especially liberty oriented, but I know that the huge, centralized US government is a threat to liberty in and of itself. And if there were 50 independent countries, I could vote with my feet and move to a state that was more free. The nannies could congregate in nanny states and regulate the crap out of themselves.

I am now a secessionist through and through, and I thank JL Wilson for his well reasoned arguments about this for my full conversion.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What's the Difference Between an Unannounced Cop and a Home Invader?

Cops still have to knock and announce, but if they don’t the evidence will not be excluded. According to the Supreme Court, your remedy is a civil suit. Earlier courts who came up with the exclusionary rule realized how idiotic it is to think that a potential suit will deter a cop from wrongdoing. Of course, cops should keep in mind that some folks will shoot home invaders, and a cop who has not properly announced himself is a home invader. I wouldn’t convict anyone who shot a home invader if I were on a jury, would you?

Driving While Pregnant

Hit ‘n Run reports on Arkansas lawmakers’ discussions of outlawing “smoking while pregnant”:

Naturally, Arkansas will not stop there and will likely ban drinking while pregnant, bungee jumping while pregnant, and any activity that puts the fetus at risk.

On Countdown last night, it was reported that the US HHS has an interest in convincing women to breastfeed. In PSAs, not breastfeeding is likened to mechanical bull riding or log rolling in the late stages of pregnancy. HHS tells mothers that their children won’t be smart and healthy if they don’t get breast fed exclusively for six months. (Why stop at six months, HHS? Some folks go for four years. It’s the teeth thing, isn’t it?) If HHS wants women to breastfeed on demand for six months or more, maybe they should promote smaller government and lower taxes so that families can afford for mothers to stay at home until their children are weaned.

I don’t reckon that the state has any business in the womb or at the teat, and I see the concern for fetuses (feti?) and newborns as just another hook to meddle and oppress. Moreover, these are examples of health fascism.

When I prosecuted child abuse cases in Florida, the social workers were keen to snatch babies from women who had ingested any illegal substance during pregnancy or who had consumed alcohol. The theory was that the woman put drugs or alcohol into her baby’s bloodstream during the brief interval between birth and the severance of the umbilical cord. I declined the honor of pioneering this novel theory; however, I was willing to consider cases against women whose addiction to drugs could be shown by admissible evidence to put her children at eminent risk of abuse or neglect. The mere ingestion of drugs or booze was not enough in my view to warrant state meddling. Not that I had much in the way of scruples about state meddling in those days.

Perhaps the state should just take pregnant women and enclose them in bubbles until they give birth, then oversee six months of lactation, then take the weaned children off to boarding school. That’s the only sure way to protect fetuses and infants and children from families.

Rebranding the State

Thomas “Next Six Months” Friedman was on The Daily Show the other night. He proposed that a solution to American dependency on oil would be to slap an additional dollar of tax on each gallon of gasoline. When Jon Stewart asked how that would fly politically, Friedman suggested that the tax be called the “Patriot Tax” and that revenues from it be earmarked for Social Security. Also, lower income folks would qualify for tax rebates.

This is brilliant! If you rename taxes, folks might be happy to pay them. The federal estate tax isn’t a “death tax”; it’s the “Honor Thy Father and Mother Tax”. Let’s have no more talk of “income taxes”; rather, let’s pay “Love the Children Taxes”. FICA can be the “We Love Grandma Tax”. We will get all warm and fuzzy thinking about writing those tax checks once we rename the taxes. Politicians will be able to run on raising taxes.

The same thing goes for government agencies and programs. If we rename them, maybe folks will be more supportive of them. Let’s be sure to call every piece of legislation “family friendly”, especially if it puts the screws to families. This makes it easier to sell to constituents and provides legislators with a good laugh. Even military conscription should be marketable if we name it right. Let’s call it the “Strengthening America’s Young People Act” or the “Young People’s Free Travel and Cultural Exchange Program”.

Military operation names have been, in my opinion, unimaginative and crappy. “Enduring Freedom” doesn’t work at all. There’s no feel good factor, and it is even possible to find it ironic; so we need something that makes folks feel good about it and which is unassailable even when reality bites us on the ass. “Operation Wonderama” works for me. Or how about “Operation John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt” or “Operation Boy Howdy”?

The illegal NSA spying doesn’t go down any easier if you call it a “Terrorist Surveillance Program”. Are you calling us all terrorists? Let’s call it the “We’re Looking Out for You Program” or the “We’ve Got Your Back Program” or some such thing.

When we rename things, the state starts to seem like fun.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why Do Democrats Hate Libertarians?

Tristero has me wondering whether there is any room for libertarianism in the Democratic Party:

Tristero seems to suggest that Democrats should woo libertarian votes, but only as a cynical ploy:

“If this kind of relabeling helps attract more voters, I'm all for it. Nevertheless, actual libertarianism - with its radical emphasis on the elimination of government regulation, coupled with a frankly naive attitude towards the obvious potential for such policies when implemented to create a profoundly illiberal society - remains a political philosophy which most liberal Democrats will find rather unhelpful. "

Some of the statements of the commentariat in this post and the previous post Tristero refers to make me think that libertarians are decidedly unwelcome in the Democratic Party. I was taken aback by the depth of the contempt and the complete misapprehension of libertarian ideas. This commenter, for example, equates libertarianism with authoritarianism in a series of logical gyrations that would not be out of place in the Cirque du Soleil:

"A libertarian is often someone who wants the power we now delegate to "government" to be concentrated in his own self. And it really is a power issue. But watch out. Once that libertarian actually has the power of government, s/he is likely to turn into quite the little authoritarian/totalitarian. The other thing is that to many libertarians, the "underlying problems" we seek to address through government (AA and SS as examples) are NOT problems that need addressing. Those underlying problems are "features not bugs." So of course government is interfering in the little libertarian shit's power trip, and that's a no-no.

Libertarianism relies on the fact that some people never outgrow adolescence. But most people do outgrow it, which is why libertarianism is always a radical fringe ideology at best.

Libertarianism relies on a deep misunderstanding of -- and contempt of -- democratic self-government. One reason why Democrats have been unable to mount a clearheaded opposition to the Bush regime is that they believe in the ultimate goodness of governmental institutions as constituted through our forms of democratic self government. So in that idealistic way of looking at things, Bushevism is a phase that will pass, not a fundamentally subversive seizure of power that's undermining the very foundations of democratic self-rule.

A libertarian has no faith in governmental institutions to begin with, so the obvious subversion being carried out by the Busheviks is neither surprising nor particularly worrysome to the libertarian, at least not until the tipping point into totalitarianism is reached. That is where we may be now, and that is why some Libertarians are taking a second look at the Democrats as potential allies in reversing the slide toward totalitarianism, just as they might have looked to Republicans as allies when Roosevelt was thought to be dragging the nation to Dictatorship.”

Here’s another cynic that would treat libertarians the way the GOP treats the religious right:

“While the progressive movement can benefit from the votes of libertarians, it cannot benefit from libertarianism because the two positions have antithetical starting points. In libertarianism, negative rights are king, whereas progressives recognize the necessity of government intrusion and reorganization. Progressives = Rawls. Libertarians = Nozick.”

Here’s someone who thinks libertarians hate freedom:

“Actually, many or most libertarians despise freedom; they think privileged ndividuals should be allowed to deny others freedom of access to land and other
natural resources, without any mitigating compensation.”

I don’t know what to make of this one. Don’t libertarians reproduce?

“I've never met a libertarian whose political convictions survived the birth of his or her first child.”

This guy hates him some libertarians:

Every Libertarian I've ever met fell into one of two categories.Weak, spineless republican that wanted to pretend they were something else, usually for a good reason.


Just plain selfish. Self-centered people who felt that neither party served them because the only rule of law should be whatever they liked and to hell with the rest.I flirted with the libs as a kid. An interesting idea conceptually but in practice, it's really just another version of "gimme mine now".

This guy gets out his DSM to diagnose libertarians:

“The libertarians I've met all struck me as borderline sociopaths. They have no sense of community or altrusism. They remind me of spoiled babies who constantly cry to get their own way. As such libertarians will always be Republicans because they party, too, lacks a sense of community and altrusism”.

I learn from this guy that I also hate the earth:

“They are a self-destructive lot, seeking to exploit and destroy habitat and species with wild abandon in the name of personal "liberty" and absolute private property worship, damn the consequences.”

Where do these folks get these impressions of libertarians? I know for a fact that we’re no more likely to be assholes than folks of other political bents. In fact, I reckon that we are less likely to be jerks because we aim to live and let live. It's time to fire the PR department.

My Pit Bull May Have OCD

Jasper is seriously obsessed with frog hunting now. First thing in the morning, he runs to the pond and starts rousting frogs. He does this for an hour and a half straight until I drag him away to take a walk with Jesse down the road. As soon as we get back, he makes a beeline for the pond, and I have to drag him inside when I leave for work. Come evening, he’s right back at it, and if we don’t interrupt him, he will hunt frogs until we drag him in at night. Walks, car rides, kong chasing, monkey in the middle, food all come after frog hunting in Jasper’s hierarchy of priorities now. That boy ain’t right.

I’m not ready to diagnose him as having OCD, but if this keeps up I’m going to have Mrs Vache Folle take him to the animal behaviorist. We had good results last time we consulted him about Jesse’s anger management issues.

Our friend in Yonkers consulted an animal “communicator” when her rescue dog became distracted by deer during training sessions. According to the communicator, the dog wanted his owner to know that she failed to recognize that there were lots of deer that he did not chase, that he chased only a small percentage of deer. What might Jasper tell the communicator? “I like frogs! Frogs are great! I’m gonna get me a frog! Boy Howdy!”

The thing is he never catches a frog. They always get away. Yet he never tires of the chase. I get exhausted just watching him.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Will the Democrats be Willing to Pretend to be Libertarian to Get Our Votes?

Tristero leads me to despair of libertarians’ finding common ground with Democrats:

“What libertarians fail to understand - and it is what makes me characterize libertarianism as utopian and naive - is that essentially *all* political action is social engineering.

Neither conservatives nor the extreme right - neither of which is naive - make that mistake, even if, for polemical reasons, they reframe what they're up to as not social engineering. The argument between liberals, conservatives, and the extreme right revolves around what kind of social engineering is best. Tax breaks for corporations? Affirmative action? Coathangers? A strong FEMA? But the reality of government as social engineer is accepted as a given.

Libertarians were sold a bill of goods by Republicans. As all, repeat all, recent Republican history has shown, they are as much the party of Big Government as the Democrats. Before going blue, however, libertarians will need seriously to refine their notion of what government is. Make no mistake: Democrats do not loathe government. They recognize that there are some functions a government must do. And they are honest - unlike their red counterparts - about their belief that there are some things governments should do.”

I would rather Democrats discover liberty rather than having libertarians embrace the state. Tristero also suspects that libertarians’ advocacy of federalism is disguised racism rather than a commitment to decentralization as a check on government power. I fear that many liberals share this view, and it may be necessary for libertarians to allay these suspicions in order to win support for federalism. The most high profile appeals to states’ rights have involved states’ wanting the power to oppress people, and a lot of folks conflate the argument with the worst uses of it.

Change is Bad

Folks who live by the chase aren’t usually all that enthusiastic about becoming agriculturalists. They usually resist. You have to force them to make the change by taking away access to the hunting grounds, by killing the game, or by outright repression. Sometimes, you just have to kill every last one of the foragers if they cling to their way of life. You can’t have bushmen stalking game across your back yard. Essentially, hunter gatherers are just organized bands of homeless people, hobos if you will. Getting them to settle down is for their own good, you know.

And once you turn folks into farmers, they are not all that keen to leave their plows and take their places in the mills. Sure, they’ll work seasonally, or some of the family will work for extra cash, but it’s hard to subject them to harsh conditions because they’ll just quit and help out on the farm. As long as farming is an option, you have to pay more and treat folks better to keep them on the line. What you really want to do is drive folks off the land. Then they have to work for you or die. Human resource management is so much easier when you have the workers by the short and curlies.

Land Theft

I read the Stromberg article everyone has been raving about:

It was fascinating and touched on a subject with which I have long been fascinated, the enclosures of the commons. My ancestors, and more recently (early 19th century) the ancestors of Mrs Vache Folle were screwed by the enclosures. Some of Mrs VF’s other ancestors were serfs, and the discussion of how peasants are exploited by revolutionaries was quite interesting.

I was taken by the notion that no large estate in land was ever founded on honest labor, that they all had their origins in force and fraud. Every gentleman supported by an estate had a murderous ancestor or other predecessor to thank. I suppose a rich merchant who bought an estate with his honestly gotten wealth might be absolved of the guilt of the seller.

Inasmuch as it seems almost impossible, in a truly free society, to accumulate a great estate, I do not reckon that there is much need for concern about the possibility that someone might own land which he does not presently use. One might peaceably let his land without creating much risk of concentrating wealth. One might also pursue preservationist impulses peaceably by acquiring rights in land and leaving it fallow and undeveloped.

Suppose that a family did, in fact, accumulate a great estate through hard work, pooling resources, good luck, or what have you. I am not sure that I should be concerned about this. In fact, I reckon that they might be just the right kind of people to constitute a gentry. A gentry built on peaceful accumulation might be a marvelous thing. Such gentlemen will doubtless be such a rarity that they will be unable to work much mischief

Then again, I am not versed in the arguments concerning land tenure.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Charles Murray's Ponies for Everyone Plan

From Crooked Timber I learn that Charles Murray, putative libertarian, proposes a guaranteed basic income in lieu of the current entitlement structure:

In a nutshell, every citizen 21 and older would get $10,000 a year, of which $3,000 would be spent on a medical coverage program. All other programs, from welfare to social security, would be abolished. It does not appear that this is needs based, so even Donald Trump would get a check. This looks to me like it would cost a couple of trillion bucks a year at the outset and increase with the population. As the folks at CT point out, it is inevitable that politicians would run on increasing the amount of the guarantee.

I reckon we could do an end run on the politicians and set the basic income guarantee at $100,000 per year from the start.

Fun With Labels

Labels are susceptible to misuse. More often than not, they increase confusion rather than illuminating the situation.

Thomas Knapp sums up how I feel about Glenn Reynolds’ silly threats against opponents of war: . He also makes me think about my self-identification as a “pacifist”. I won’t initiate aggression, but I will defend myself and my loved ones and my property with lethal force, if necessary. I am not morally strong or courageous enough to obey the stricture to “resist not evil” in every case. In the right circumstances, I might even be willing to take up arms with like minded folks in furtherance of the cause of freedom or in defense of my community.

Despite my willingness, if cornered, to fight, I reckon that I am a “pacifist”, and I aim to increase my peacefulness as much as I can. Violence sickens me. Strife annoys me. I see so much untapped potential for cooperation and collaboration, and I celebrate the unheralded cooperation and collaboration that we engage in every day in peaceful commerce and relations in civil society.

I aim to love my neighbor, as my Lord commands, and the more I love my neighbor, the more committed I become to individual freedom. When I did not love him so much, I reckoned that my neighbor was not to be trusted with too much freedom, that he wanted watching and regulating lest his thieving, murderous true self become manifest. When I grew to love him a little more, I reckoned that my neighbor deserved solicitude and regulating for his own best interests since he probably was not as well positioned as his betters to judge what these interests might be. Now, I love my neighbor enough to let him alone to do as he pleases. The more I love my neighbor, the less I am able to contemplate the application of force of any kind against him.

BK Marcus has a good point about the label “extremist”: . The term extremist has come to have a pejorative connotation as if moderation for its own sake were the highest virtue. Like BK Marcus, I am a political extremist. I want as much freedom for myself and my fellow man as possible. I want an extreme amount of peace in the world, not a moderate amount.

But the term “extremist” is one of those conversation stoppers that help to suppress any ideas out of the “mainstream”. The charge of extremism is enough to preclude a discussion of the merits of the supposed extremist’s ideas. Can you imagine criticizing a dish because it was too delicious, extremely delicious? Extremely salty, yes, but food can never be too delicious. Or criticizing a work of art because it was extremely beautiful? Extremely loud, perhaps, but never extremely beautiful. Aren’t political ideas the same? It may be bad to be extremely stupid, but it is good to be extremely well reasoned. It’s not the extremely part that should concern us; it’s the adjective that is modified.

Report from the Yard

Lately, some varmint has been stealing the woodpecker food. This comes in the form of a block of seed, nuts and suet that we put in wire mesh container hanging from a hook on the back fence. It’s too heavy for squirrels, so we reckon that it must be a coon or some such thing that is making off with it. The thief leaves the wire container behind and just takes off with the goodies.

This had happened three nights in a row, and Mrs Vache Folle suggested that we might want to bring the thing in at night. I proposed that we get some hooks and hasps and secure the heck out of the thing. I wrapped the chain around the lid a coupe of times in a kind of Gordian knot and figured that would stop the larceny until we came up with a more permanent solution. The next morning, not only was the woodpecker block gone, but the varmint had left a couple of turds on the wire container, as if to scoff at our feeble efforts to thwart him. I started bringing it in at night. The woodpecker food is not cheap.

We bought a few dozen shiners at a bait store over in Wappingers Falls and introduced them to the pond. A few hours later, I was convinced that they had all been eaten or had escaped over the weir. I could not see them anywhere. Later, when I wasn’t really looking, I glimpsed the school, and I realized that they are going to be hard to see except in full sun. After three days, the fish seem to be thriving.

Jasper has developed an obsession with the frogs. If we did not interrupt him, he would wade and walk around the edge of the pond trolling for them for hours on end. When he sees one, he leaps in the water after it. I wouldn’t care about this if he didn’t wreck the rock wall on the edge or trample the perennials. I aim to reinforce the wall and train Jasper to keep off the perennials (there’s no frogs by them anyway). He seems to enjoy his frog hunts a great deal.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Victory in Iraq; Troops Can Come Home Winners!

I heard on the radio on the way in this morning that the head of “Al Qaeda in Iraq, Ltd.” was assassinated yesterday by US forces. Unfortunately, several other folks, including a woman and a child, were also whacked in the process.

I wonder how this will be played. For a while, the US was touting Zarqawi as a super villain in the mold of Lex Luthor or Professor Moriarty. Then, a few weeks ago, they showed a video of him and ridiculed him as a bumbling fool. Now that he’s been assassinated, it sounds like he is back to being an evil genius.

It’s hard to tell how a good propagandist should spin this. Any spin could backfire. And you have to take into account that the politicos back home will be spinning it for their own ends, war effort be damned. And then there’s the pesky truth to worry about rearing its ugly head. What’s a PsyOps pro to do?

If Gays Marry, Then My Marriage Will Suddenly Fall Apart? Is That How it Works?

I’m with Anthony Gregory ( and JL Wilson in favor of separation of marriage and state (

Anthony and James are right, yet again. They set me to thinking whether I am obliged in the interests of avoiding hypocrisy to renounce the benefits that my own District of Columbia marriage license confers on me. Our situation is such that our marriage does not impose much in the way of obligations on unwilling third parties. I can sue anyone who sleeps with my wife for “criminal conversation”, but I don’t think I would ever do that anyway. I get to file my taxes jointly, but this actually costs me money. I get to own my house jointly with the wife, but we could have done this anyway.

We both have jobs and our own health benefits, but I am on the wife’s dental plan. I’m going to say that this couple of hundred bucks is cancelled out by the higher taxes. Moreover, it is conceivable that Mrs Vache Folle’s employers would pay for my cleanings as an inducement for her to stay on board. We don’t have to have wills because it is assumed that we would leave our stuff to each other, but we could make wills and bring about the same result. Other people are obliged to acknowledge our rights to visit one another in prisons or hospitals and to act on one another’s behalf in some cases, but we could arrange for most of these things by power of attorney if need be. So, we don't really get much in the way of state imposed benefits.

Have I rationalized my moral dilemma away sufficiently? I’m going to call it good for now.

Meanwhile, let me relate a conversation I had with a wingnut conspecific of mine:

ME: Why is it important to preserve marriage as it is rather than letting it evolve?

WC: Because marriage is so important to society. It is the basis of society and is a blessing to married people.

ME: Then why shouldn’t gay people be encouraged to marry if marriage is so great?

WC: Because that would undermine the institution of marriage and weaken it.

ME: How is your marriage damaged by a gay couple’s getting married?

WC: My marriage is not going to be damaged at all. It is strong. I’m worried about other people.

ME: What other people?

WC: Poor people are already avoiding marriage and having children out of wedlock at a record rate, and changing marriage will just make the situation worse.

ME: How so?

WC: It just will. Look what happened when divorce was liberalized.

ME: Maybe there was a big pent up demand for divorces and the divorce rate reflects what people want for themselves. Maybe poor people don’t get married sometimes because the marriage product as it is currently offered doesn’t work for them.

WC: People can’t just be allowed to do what they want.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Try Some Curry

Some of us at the office are going out for Indian food today for lunch, and I can’t think about much else. There’s a pretty good place with an eat all you can lunch buffet just down the road in Elmsford. I prefer the buffet to ordering from a menu because I am just not knowledgeable enough to pick what I like without seeing it. I am partial to chicken vindaloo, and I love curry and lager as much as Lister from Red Dwarf . I also love the vegetable dishes, especially the creamed spinach dish the name of which I cannot recall.

Some years ago, Mrs Vache Folle ordered a set of curries from Penzeys, and she has been cooking with them ever since. Various curries, Vindaloo, Rogan Josh, Maharajah, and sweet curry are staples in our kitchen, and we now order them in bulk. Mrs VF makes a mean curry dish with a variety of ingredients, including lamb, chicken, shrimp, and okra. She has taken to spicing up non-Indian dishes with curries now and then and uses them to make rubs and marinades for roasts and grilled meats. Mrs VF is a helluva cook, and I am honored to serve as her sous chef in charge of chopping and peeling stuff.

There are lots of curries to try out, and I recommend adding them to your spice rack.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sarbanes-Oxley Not All Bad

Karen De Coster reports that the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley are driving public companies to go private:

If that’s the case, then it is fair to say that something good has come of Sarbanes-Oxley. Privately held companies are managed better and are more accountable to their shareholders than public companies. Public companies tend to be playgrounds for management, whereas private companies require management to add value.

Who Gets Custody of the Prussian Blue Twins? None of My Business.

Jennifer, guest blogging at Unqualified Offerings, posts about the custody battle over the little girls who comprise the white supremacist singing group Prussian Blue:

I don’t know much about these girls, but apparently they are the Olson Twins of the neo-Nazi movement. Their mother’s political views and immersion of the girls in the movement will doubtless be raised as an issue in the custody case. Jennifer asks what a libertarian position on this would be, and the commentariat’s consensus is that using a parent’s nonconformity with mainstream opinions and lifestyles against her rubs them the wrong way.

The problem, as I see it through the lens of many years as a “family” lawyer, is that custody and visitation matters are decided on the basis of an amorphous standard: “the best interests of the child”. The parents in the case can make just about any argument and use just about any set of facts to make their cases for custody. In the end, the judge will decide on the basis of his or her gut reaction to all the information and mudslinging. The judge’s personal values, preconceptions and prejudices will play a huge factor as he or she determines what the child’s “best interests” might be. A parent’s political or religious views might very well factor into the decision, especially if they are seen to be repugnant.

I have heard of cases where Wiccans were deprived of custody because of their unusual religion, and I had to work hard as a prosecutor to dissuade the Florida child welfare thugs from snatching Wiccans’ children solely on the basis of their religion. If my client’s ex was a Nazi, you better believe that this fact would make it into the record and that the fitness of Nazi’s as parents would be called into question.

My objections to the situation as a libertarian is not so much that judges might use someone’s nonconformist politics or religion against them in a custody case; rather, I don’t think judges should decide these matters at all. In the first case, it is an imposition on the rest of us to maintain a family court system to resolve such issues which ought to be resolved by agreements between parents. Secondly, it is disturbing to me that the state assumes to have any legitimate interest and authority whatsoever in parenting and custody arrangements.

Since most folks will not be bothered to make contracts about custody and visitation in advance (assuming as most do that all will be well with the family forever), one solution may be to assume a default contract with uniform terms from which parents can deviate by mutual agreement but which judges may not alter except in the most egregious cases of danger to the child. This would spare us all the expense of maintaining the dispute resolution apparatus, the state would be less involved in private familial relations and arrangements, and folks would have an incentive to resolve conflicts amicably, something from which children would benefit greatly.

The default arrangement might well be joint custody, share and share alike, with joint financial responsibility. The details of holiday visitation, education, and what have you would also be provided for in the legislation so that no petty disputes might emerge.

An even simpler solution would be to provide that, absent an agreement in writing to the contrary or a finding by clear and convincing evidence of unfitness, custody belongs to the mother in all cases. Moreover, visitation would be at the discretion of the mother. Fathers would have no support obligation imposed by courts except in accordance with the agreement between the parents. This would get the rest of us out the dispute resolution game and would get the state out of families.

Whatever happens in their custody case, I predict that at least one of the girls in Prussian Blue will date a black man and have a mixed race baby out of wedlock.

Monday, June 05, 2006

They Died to Defend my Freedom in the War of 1812

We get an e-mail newsletter from our church at intervals. Before the Memorial Day weekend, the church administrator exhorted us to remember and pray for those who had “died defending our freedom”. I can’t think of a single person that I know of who died defending my freedom. None of the troops who died in Iraq or Afghanistan were involved in the defense of my freedom. The same goes for the Balkans or Somalia or the First Gulf War. I can go all the way back to the 1950s before it even becomes arguable that s soldier, sailor or airman died defending my freedom. I suppose that a service member who got killed while training could indirectly be said to have died defending my freedom since his service may have acted as a deterrent to an invasion by some foreign foe, but this is something of a stretch.

The Korean Conflict, in which my Pappy served, was supposedly meant to forestall the expansion of Communism so as to keep it from our shores. If that’s so, troops who died in Korea might be said to have died defending my freedom (or my future freedom, my having been born later). But what if that rationale was so much hooey, as it seemed to be in the case of Vietnam? I am not sure I buy that the North Koreans threatened our freedom or even the Red Chinese. I don’t think they could have pulled off an attack on the US. If anything, having to pay for the Cold War militarization and living under the supposed threat was more of an affront to American freedom than anything the Communists ever did.

I don’t necessarily buy that WW2, where many of my family members served, was to preserve American freedom. We fought two brutal dictatorships in Germany and Japan in order to replace them with just as brutal dictatorships in Russia and China. In what sense did any of the massive expenditure of lives and money and curtailment of liberty add to our freedom as a nation? If anything, we came out less free, permanently militarized and mobilized for war.

Don’t get me started on the interventions in Central America and the Caribbean. And nobody even argues WW1 was anything but a colossal waste all around. I don’t think Pancho Villa aimed to oppress us, and the insurgents in the Philippines seemed to want freedom for themselves, not to take ours away. Spain was no threat to American freedom. I suppose the Indians of the West were conspiring to impose their will on the rest of America? I don’t see any freedom defenders at the Little Big Horn other than the Sioux.

I seem to have gotten all the way back to the War Between the States without a credible defense of freedom. I don’t know how to call this one. The Yankees aimed to deprive the Rebels of freedom and did their best to destroy the Constitutional Republic that the founders had constructed. But I reckon the Confederates were no lovers of liberty, what with conscription and slavery, and I have no confidence that a South Victorious would have been any more freedom oriented.

Mexican War? Freedom was not implicated. Earlier Indian Wars? Again, I’m not aware of a threat to American freedom from Indians. War of 1812? Eureka! If the US had lost the War of 1812, it might have been reabsorbed in to Great Britain; therefore, this was a fight in defense of freedom, albeit unnecessarily provoked by the US government. Not quite 200 years did it take to get back to a freedom defender.

Certainly, folks in later wars may have been led to believe that they were defending freedom, and this doubtless motivated many of them in their fighting. But they were wrong.