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Ron Paul: Goldwater Republicanism

There's a long article in the NY Times on Ron Paul.

Paul represents a different Republican Party from the one that Iraq, deficits and corruption have soured the country on. In late June, despite a life of antitax agitation and churchgoing, he was excluded from a Republican forum sponsored by Iowa antitax and Christian groups. His school of Republicanism, which had its last serious national airing in the Goldwater campaign of 1964, stands for a certain idea of the Constitution — the idea that much of the power asserted by modern presidents has been usurped from Congress, and that much of the power asserted by Congress has been usurped from the states. Though Paul acknowledges flaws in both the Constitution (it included slavery) and the Bill of Rights (it doesn’t go far enough), he still thinks a comprehensive array of positions can be drawn from them: Against gun control. For the sovereignty of states. And against foreign-policy adventures. Paul was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988. But his is a less exuberant libertarianism than you find, say, in the pages of Reason magazine.

I'd say that the lack of exuberance is only for appearances. He's running as a Constitutionalist because it's politically viable. Someone who ate dinner with him a long time ago told me that Paul's true views as conveyed to him by the man himself are extremely exuberant. Overflowing, one might say.


Whoa. Good Myth.

Though my throwaway at the end of the Barnett post had been merely to list 3 things significant about the episode itself, C. J. Trillian earned all 10 points and a place in the culture post hall of fame by coming up with 3 reasons why Barnett's essay was related to the episode in question. It's a must read for any Whedon fan.

My answers, not nearly as interesting as C. J.'s, were:

  1. Musical episode
  2. Spike and Buffy hook up for the first time
  3. The musical truth serum causes Buffy to reveal that she was in heaven and Willow and friends brought her back to hell.

As far as The 'Verse, I've long wanted to have a badass culture blog, but never really had the time to make it work. As soon as we figure out how to use this damn software, we'll resurrect The 'Verse, and C. J. can have his way with it.


Libertarian Class Analysis

Sheldon Richman advocates for class analysis from a libertarian pov.  The concluding quote from the article:

In summary, the taxing power necessarily produces two classes: those who create wealth and those who take and receive it. The producers of wealth naturally want to keep it and use it for their own purposes. Those who wish to expropriate it look for clever ways to get it without unduly upsetting its creators. One way is to teach people that they are the state and that paying ever-more in taxes benefits themselves. The "public" schools have been particularly useful in that mission.

As long as government is in the wealth-transfer business, class conflict will persist. Class in this sense is an important tool of political analysis. It's time that advocates of individual liberty and free markets reclaimed it from the Marxists.

Before I give my take on the article, I want to throw out the following question for discussion:

In modern day America, who are the exploiters?  Please be as specific as possible.


Review: Generic Summer Action Movie 2007

What I'm about to say will not be popular. GSAM2K7 has gotten very positive reviews, and most of the people I know have loved it. So if you can't handle a differing opinion, you can stop reading right now.

Disclaimers:

I'm not a fan of action movies.
I'm not a fan of Michael Bay.

That said, GSAM2K7 sunk below even my low expectations. There's a certain level of idiocy I accept in summer movies, but Bay exceeds it by fathoms. The movie was pure distilled Bayessence: big explosions, in-your-face battle scenes, entire cities being ripped to shreds, seizure-inducing special effects. The plot has all the complexity of a Garfield comic ("Oh no he didn't just eat the lasagna again!). The characters shout loudly at the camera and hyper-project every emotion.

No summer blockbuster archetype goes unused. Unnoticed Funny Nerd falls for Unattainable Sexy Chick who over the course of the movie eventually reciprocates. Big Black Guy who can't resist donuts teams with Sexy Australian Chick to crack the secret code that our Top Military Personnel couldn't. Shouting Bossy Old Man shouts a lot.

Further, every GSAM gimmick from the past decade was re-used. GSAM2K7 wasn't really a new movie. It was more like a sampling of old GSAMs with a few new sequences spliced in. As it turns out, the Bat Signal has been refurbished with the Autobot Face. The Men in Black now work to keep Megatron frozen and hidden from the public in a top-secret location. Interestingly, they choose a desert tourist attraction for this purpose. The military personnel from Armageddon are back in their secret headquarters to figure out how to stop the end of the world. Bay recycles the sequential introduction ("Look at this hilarious motley crew!") of the lesser Autobots just as he did for the lesser humans that were going to help Bruce Willis save the planet. And just like Armageddon, the lesser characters are warm bodies we never get to know. Like in other Bay films, the camera never stops moving and the background music never stops playing. As in non-Bay film King Kong, massive entities stomp through a space crowded with humans who just barely manage to avoid being squashed every single time. Just as in Pearl Harbor and Armageddon, amid the quest to save humanity (or the nation, take your pick) arises a trite love story that provides a Maxim babe's exposed midriff. The height of poignancy is reached when our flawed heroine reveals the reason for her juvie record, "I did it to keep my dad out of jail!" as our hero looks back with guilt-ridden lust. Not satisfied with merely making a bad movie, Bay strokes his massive ego by working in a shameless shout-out to his prior film when a kid yells, "This is easily a hundred times cooler than Armageddon."

What I'm most surprised at is the praise the movie has generated from fans of the Transformers cartoon. Let me state for the record: I am an unabashed fan of the 80's cartoon. This movie did no justice to the cartoon. Sure, just like GSAM2K7, the animated series was an advertisement for toys, but at a time when the Japanese were making the best animation, Transformers was an American robot cartoon that lived up to the high standards set by the Japanese. I'm sure there are many adults like myself who remember getting home from school, throwing off my backpack, and plopping down in front of the TV just in time to watch the show in an afternoon lineup mixed with G. I. Joe and He-Man.

The original cartoon had depth and refinement. The 3-parter "More than meets the eye" set up the overarching plot of the longstanding war between the Autobots and Decepticons. The series came into its own with the two-parter Dinobot island episde that introduced the loyal brawn-more-than-brains Dinobots into the fold. As season 2 progressed, the myth was further developed with background episodes such as "The Secret of Omega Supreme" and "The Search for Alpha Trion". Of course, the best episode was "War Dawn", simply a masterful work of storytelling. The arc climaxed with the real Transformers movie, the one that came out in 1986.

I was initially excited when I saw the boombox because I loved the original Shockwave character but the boombox transformed into a Gremlin-like character. Apparently, they decided to make Frenzy, originally one of the many cassette tapes that Shockwave housed, into a Gremlin that could hack into computers. Shockwave is nowhere to be seen. Other discrepancies:

  • Megatron not a gun, but rather a fancy jet.
  • Bumblebee not a bug (see pic at top of article for details). This was unforgivable. The Volkswagen bug was so fitting for Bumblebee. Much weaker than the other autobots, he was always the little guy that could, Spike's protector, the viewer's vicarious actor. The Camaro destroys his essence.
  • They don't turn into robots, but rather giant insects. See Megatron as an example:
  • Transformers are supposed to transform. The cartoons, the toys -- indeed the word itself -- implies a reshuffling of existing part into a different configuration, a conservation of mass, if you will. So how can Bumblebee, a Camaro, tower to a height of multiple stories? Instead of parts flipping, rotating, and sliding, they instead morphed. Frenzy shrunk to the size of a cell-phone. Transformers are not supposed to morph.
  • Along similar lines, there should be recognizable car-parts even in robot form. Optimus used to have the front of the tractor as his entire chest. Bumblebee used to have giant wheels as shoulders. Today, they're all giant bugs.

Bay's piece doesn't hold a candle to the original. It simply uses the "Transformers" name to recyle movies of the past while adding in a few uninspring frills. But if you're one of the millions who did enjoy it, have no worry. As you know, Starscream escaped in the end, leaving the door ajar for GSAM2K9.


Once more, with feeling!

Randy Barnett, all-around badass and twin brother of Richard Belzer, today re-ignited the debate that has split libertarians since 9/11. The debate was hot when the blogosphere was the new cool thing the cool kids were doing as the Iraq War was just revving up. But it waned in the last couple of years as the War quickly ended and nation-building began. The attention drawn by Ron Paul's candidacy to this strange beast called "libertarianism" seems to have resumed the debate. Round two, if you will.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Barnett speaks for libertarians who don't share Ron Paul's opinion on the Iraq War. Some snippets:

This raised the question: Does being a libertarian commit one to a particular stance toward the Iraq war? The simple answer is "no."

When it comes to foreign policy, libertarians' severe skepticism of government planning in the domestic arena carries over to the government's ability to accomplish anything positive through foreign aid, whether economic or military--a skepticism they share with most Americans. All libertarians, I suspect, oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude. To a libertarian, any effort at "nation building" seems to be just another form of central planning which, however well-motivated, is fraught with unintended consequences and the danger of blowback. And, like most everyone, libertarians oppose any war of aggression. In all these regards, Mr. Paul is a mainstream libertarian.

But like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms. And most also believe that when the territory of the U.S. is attacked militarily, the government--which claims a monopoly on providing for national defense and extracts billions of tax dollars for this purpose--is justified in using the military in self-defense. For this reason, many libertarians (though not all) who now oppose the war in Iraq supported U.S. military actions against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had aided and harbored the al Qaeda network that organized the 9/11 attack.

[...]

Many libertarians, and perhaps most libertarian intellectuals, opposed the war in Iraq even before its inception. They believed Saddam's regime neither directly threatened the U.S. nor harbored or supported the terrorist network responsible for Sept. 11. They also feared the risk of harmful, unintended consequences. Some may also have believed that since the U.S. was not attacked by the government of Iraq, any such war was aggressive rather than defensive in nature.

Other libertarians, however, supported the war in Iraq because they viewed it as part of a larger war of self-defense against Islamic jihadists who were organizationally independent of any government. They viewed radical Islamic fundamentalism as resulting in part from the corrupt dictatorial regimes that inhabit the Middle East, which have effectively repressed indigenous democratic reformers. Although opposed to nation building generally, these libertarians believed that a strategy of fomenting democratic regimes in the Middle East, as was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, might well be the best way to take the fight to the enemy rather than solely trying to ward off the next attack.

Moreover, the pro-war libertarians believed there was "legal" cause to take military action against Saddam's regime--from its manifold violations of the ceasefire to firing on American planes legally patrolling the "no fly" zone and its persistent refusals to cooperate with weapons inspections. Saddam's regime was left in power after its unprovoked invasion of Kuwait on these and other conditions that it repeatedly had violated, thereby legally justifying its removal by force if necessary. Better to be rid of Saddam and establish an ally in the war against Islamic jihadists in the heart of the Middle East, the argument goes, and then withdraw American troops.

While I don't agree with everything Barnett says, I agree with him that it's not a matter of general principle that the Iraq War be opposed. Rather, it's a matter of specifics and weighing of potential outcomes. I'm much closer to his point of view than that of many anti-war libertarians, who at times and at extremes, seem to engage in sloganeering, conspiracy theorizing, and agency hyper-detection.

*10 points to the first person to give three reasons why the Buffy episode with the same title was significant.


More Ron Paul @ Google

Here is the youtube video of Ron Paul's Google interview that Patri referred to below:

I thought Elliot Schrage did a fantastic job leading the discussion. He seemed familiar with libertarian arguments (even though he said the interview was an educational experience for him) and hit on the important highlights as pertaining to Paul's campaign. He even stepped in and gave what should've been Paul's answer to the woman who asked about pharmacists refusing to provide contraceptive pills while Paul seemed confused and tried the employer-employee contract angle, which I don't think would have satisfied the person asking the question. Paul should've just stated point blank, "In a free society, a woman would not need to obtain a prescription to buy pills."

Along with this hour-long interview, I've watched one presidential debate and a few talk-show appearances that involved Ron Paul. He isn't a natural public speaker. He has a tendency to ramble on beyond the scope of the question. The timing on some of his humor is off. Harry Browne was the best libertarian public speaker I ever saw. Still, Paul is much better than I remember him from a few years ago, or from his appearances in Congress berating Alan Greenspan. If he would slow down and be more relaxed, I think he'd make a much better impression.

I've also noticed that Paul himself never uses the word "libertarian". Others may use it, and he may go along with it, but he himself never utters it.

Lastly, I thought his answer about the action of the military in Afghanistan veered into loony-tunes territory (and not just the usual libertarian the-FDA-should-be-abolished loony-tunes territory). His overall stance on the Iraq War and military intervention in general will be a net positive among Republicans because he stands out among the pool of candidates, but no Republican is going to get elected president by claiming that the real reason behind Afghanistan was to build an oil pipeline.

And for all you Patri groupies out there, he makes his appearance at about the 40:00 mark. He's the handsome fellow with the big hair.


Sinners and Saints

Patricia Cohen's NY Times article about "outcast" economists has gotten some play in the blogosphere recently. Note the use of religious imagery in the article:

  • "'What I’ve learned is anyone who says anything even obliquely that sounds hostile to free trade is treated as an apostate,' Mr. Blinder said."
  • "And free trade is not the only sacred subject, Mr. Blinder and other like-minded economists say."
  • "...at the University of Chicago — the temple of free-market economics..."
  • "He added, 'I personally have a lot of faith in the discipline.'"
  • "Dani Rodrik, an economist at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, for instance, said, 'I fall into the methods of the mainstream, but not the faith'..."
  • "So while Mr. Blinder, Mr. Card and Mr. Rodrik might be considered mere heretics, this second group has earned the label 'heterodox.'"

The implication is obvious: Economists who use support free market policies base their views on faith rather than evidence.

Edit: Constant comments.


Choosing the lesser bastard

Peggy Noonan:

But this is a democracy. You vote, you do the best you can with the choices presented, and you show the appropriate opposition to the guy who seems most likely to bring trouble. (I think that is one reason for the polarity and division of politics now. No one knows in his gut that the guy he supports will do any good. But at least you can oppose with enthusiasm and passion the guy you feel in your gut will cause more trouble than is needed! This is what happens when the pickings are slim: The greatest passion gets funneled into opposition.)

We hire them and fire them. President Bush was hired to know more than the people, to be told all the deep inside intelligence, all the facts Americans are not told, and do the right and smart thing in response.

That's the deal. It's the real "grand bargain." If you are a midlevel Verizon executive who lives in New Jersey, this is what you do: You hire a president and tell him to take care of everything you can't take care of--the security of the nation, its well-being, its long-term interests. And you in turn do your part. You meet your part of the bargain. You work, pay your taxes, which are your financial contribution to making it all work, you become involved in local things--the boy's ball team, the library, the homeless shelter. You handle what you can handle within your ken, and give the big things to the president.

And if he can't do it, or if he can't do it as well as you pay the mortgage and help the kid next door, you get mad. And you fire him.


I blogged the whole thing

Creed from The Office must be the character on television with the highest humor:time on screen ratio. He usually only makes a brief appearance saying only a few words per episode, but he always hits a home run. A collection of Creed clips:

One clip not shown in the montage above was the one in which he revealed he has a blog.

NBC has a Creed Thoughts blog on its website. Among other things, it includes the blog entry about the 3rd season Jam beach incident.

Today in my office where I work as Director of Quality Assurance, we went to the beach for some reason that was never adequately explained. When we were there, our manager told us to eat hot coals. I thought that was a little bit untoward so I ate a fish. Then a woman I have literally never seen before in my entire life started talking very loudly about something involving Halpert. She was agitated, I’d say. From what I could guess, she was definitely on drugs of some kind, perhaps cocaine, or maybe ‘drines. Also, she is a knock-out. She reminds me of a young Daphne Du Maurier. Also, I stupidly ate the fishbones. I told myself “never again” after the last time, but then you turn around, and bam, they’re in my mouth. I also ate 55 hot dogs in 15 minutes, which is a world record.


Lawyers do it with appeal

Top-heavy distribution of lawyer salaries:

By accounts from employment trackers, news reports and some law schools themselves, starting a lucrative career as a lawyer these days is easier than ever. Many big law firms are doling out first-year salaries that exceed those paid to seasoned federal judges, and they are bestowing year-end bonuses that rival starting pay for many entry-level professional positions.

But the eye-popping salaries are the reality for a small fraction of law school graduates, and all those stories of big money may be creating unrealistic hopes for the vast majority of law school students. Contributing to the situation is the effort by law schools to portray their employment numbers as robustly as possible to boost their ranking scores.

The upshot means dashed expectations for lots of graduates, many of whom are saddled with high debt as they struggle to start their careers.

Interestingly, it seems that bigger firms pay more, suggesting economies of scale in salaries?

From that number 55.8% — or 22,424 — took jobs in private practice. NALP estimates that about 37% of graduates who go into private practice end up working for firms with 101 attorneys or more. Importantly, the vast majority of the firms paying first-year associates the much-publicized $160,000 have more than 500 attorneys.

The result is that about 80% of law graduates are not working in law firms with more than 101 attorneys, and, consequently, are making far less than the amounts grabbing all the attention.


Ron Paul is no true scotsman

via Instapundit comes this list of why Ron Paul isn't libertarian enough. This seems like fun.

  • A long time ago, Ron Paul aggressed against an innocent party by sneezing on him and giving him a cold. Further, he did not provide restitution.
  • Once, when buying a gift, Ron Paul made an interpersonal utility comparison.
  • Ron Paul thinks L. Neil Smith's writing blows chunks. Actually, that's me. Nevermind.
  • Though not yet to their level of awesomeness, Ron Paul idolizes Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris, both agents of the welfare-warfare state.
  • Ron Paul lost his decoder ring.
  • Despite being a free banking advocate, Ron Paul's deposits are FDIC insured.
  • Ron Paul thinks they hate us because they're a bunch of assholes.

Any more?

 


Site update

Unfortunately, building the hierarchy/architecture is proving a lot more difficult than expected.  We still can't frontpage posts.

All comments now show up on the blog without approval.  But the "recent comments" list on the sidebar does not show the first comment to a post until a second comment is posted.

Design is improving but not quite where we'd like - listing of reader blogs, more aggregators, etc.

In the meantime, head on over to the reader blog aggregator.  Lots of good stuff there.  Both Sarah and rightsaidned pose questions.


From the horse's mouth

The ancient Greeks saw the stars move across the sky every night around a fixed point without changing their positions relative to each other. They concluded that the stars must be located on a Celestial Sphere with the Earth located at its center. The first sentence is an observation of facts: the movement of stars. The second is a mental model of causal relationships to explain the facts. With time, as more facts came out, the model changed to one in which the stars were in fact at varied distances from the Earth which rotated on its axis and revolved around the sun.

Similarly, no matter what our place on the political spectrum, we try to make sense of the facts around us by trying to elicit causal relationships and building a mental model of the world. Thus, we arrive at some basic principles by which we view politics. A basic principle of the left is, "History is a series of power struggles between the strong and the weak." Similarly on the right, "Give tradition the benefit of the doubt because tradition incorporates evolved wisdom."

A fundamental tenet for libertarians is, "Terrorism is in large part a result of US foreign policy." It's become deeply ingrained, a part of the orthodoxy.  Yet, a former British Islamist, Hassan Butt, wrote something quite different last week about the causes of terrorism.

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network - a series of British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology - I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this "Blair's bombs" line did our propaganda work for us.

More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.

The attempts to cause mass destruction in London and Glasgow are so reminiscent of other recent British Islamic extremist plots that they are likely to have been carried out by my former peers.

And as with previous terror attacks, people are again saying that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy.

For example, on Saturday on Radio 4's Today programme, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: "What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq."

I left the British Jihadi Network in February 2006 because I realised that its members had simply become mindless killers. But if I were still fighting for their cause, I'd be laughing once again.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the July 7 bombings, and I were both part of the network - I met him on two occasions.

And though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many others to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain and abroad was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary worldwide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice.

If we were interested in justice, you may ask, how did this continuing violence come to be the means of promoting such a (flawed) Utopian goal?

How do Islamic radicals justify such terror in the name of their religion?

There isn't enough room to outline everything here, but the foundation of extremist reasoning rests upon a model of the world in which you are either a believer or an infidel.

Formal Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of state and religion: they are considered to be one and the same.

For centuries, the reasoning of Islamic jurists has set down rules of interaction between Dar ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar ul-Kufr (the Land of Unbelief) to cover almost every matter of trade, peace and war.

But what radicals and extremists do is to take this two steps further. Their first step has been to argue that, since there is no pure Islamic state, the whole world must be Dar ul-Kufr (The Land of Unbelief).

Step two: since Islam must declare war on unbelief, they have declared war upon the whole world.

The view that Islamist terror is a direct consequence of an interventionist foreign policy is so pervasive among libertarians that it's nearly axiomatic. Many people got into libertarianism from this "gateway" belief. I've never bought it and still don't; it's simplistic and naive. More than that though, it's irresponsible. It avoids any real examination of the true causes of Islamist terror. Before you can fix something, you have to know how it works, and in order to know how it works, you have to look at it closely. You can't look closely if you've already made up your mind for the wrong reasons.

Butt isn't a political theorist or a sociologist, not an outsider looking in. He was there; he was a terrorist in the British Jihadi Network.  What he says should have a lot of sway in what we think about why people from halfway around the world try to blow us up. 


Intelligence and time preference

The article below brings up a belief* that I have (which is no doubt unoriginal): the reason intelligent people do better in life is not (directly) because of intelligence, but because they have lower rates of time preference. Intelligent people plan better, are more patient, and are more likely to sacrifice rewards in the present for much greater rewards in a remote future. Less intelligent people are more impulsive, unable to plan wisely, and don't see the ramifications of their actions as clearly.

As examples, a less intelligent person, when in an opportunity to committ a crime, might only lightly factor in his decision the long years in jail if he gets caught. Or caught in the heat of the moment without birth control, might not take into account the full consequences of having a child relative to the pleasure gained in the immediate from unprotected sex. Or given the choice between putting in years of college for a higher paying job in the future vs working immediately for a lower paying job, choose the latter.

Thoughts?

*A belief based solely on life experience and observations, not on controlled, randomized, blinded, prospective studies.


Lead and Violence

From yesterday's WaPo, looks like neither Giuliani nor abortion get credit:

Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."