Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Failed Experiment

In my post "New Blog" I mentioned starting a new blog to gripe about things unrelated to politics and economics. well, having posted twice, I realize one thing, I am really bad at it. I may put up the occasional silly post here (see the last few on Random Notes - "Enough", "Off Topic Endorsement" and "One More Off Topic Post"), but I am just not comfortable exposing myself that way. So, for better or worse, my new blog is gone. Hope no one was eagerly anticipating reading it. (I think I am safe in that regard.) But for now I will put all my energy into actually completing the unfinished posts on Random Notes.


I think the arrogance of government can best be summed up by one simple idea: daylight savings time.

Think about it. Not content with ordering around their fellow citizens, controlling every imaginable facet of their lives, directing the flow of a multi-trillion dollar economy, the government has decided that they want to try to control TIME ITSELF.

That has to be the best example of government hubris imaginable.

Of course, it also shows the utter futility of government activity, because, no matter what they say, they do not "make more daylight" through this law. They may manage to shift around the hours during which it is light, they may disrupt everyone's schedules and deprive us all of sleep, but, despite their claims of unlimited power, there are still the same number of daylight hours as there were before the law was passed.

Now, on a more serious note: Can anyone tell me why we still have daylight savings time? Perhaps before electrification was quite universal there was some argument for it, but today, what is the purpose?

And, I know it is a horrible thought to suggest we solve ourselves something we could cure by government edict, but if we want to use less electricity, can't we just CHANGE OUR SCHEDULES, rather than changing the clock?  It would avoid the headache of manually adjusting every clock in the house, depriving everyone of sleep twice a year, scheduling problems, log file conflicts on computers, etc. but it would require voluntary action on our part. And, which will upset the government, some may choose not to obey. So I am certain this voluntary option will never be accepted. For if the government thinks something is "good" they cannot rest until they have compelled everyone to adopt the practice, whether we want to or not.

And so we are forced to pretend that the US government has control over time itself and dutifully alter our schedules twice a year just so they can feel good about dubious claims of energy savings.(Though if the number of hours of light stays the same, I am not sure how we save power, especially as I seem to be both waking up and going to sleep in the dark, clearly making claims of power saving pretty suspect. But I will keep quiet for now, as it makes them feel good, and keeps the government from engaging in more mischief for the moment.)

Well, I just had to ask. And having written my obligatory fluff piece for the day, I will return to my slightly more serious writing.


For those who care, there is quite a lot written on the topic. I have lost the links I once accumulated (including one or two short pieces I wrote on other sites), but there seems to be a fair number of people who feel pretty strongly on both sides. From my own reading, I see that there is some evidence for some very small benefits from daylight savings (a slight accident reduction, and some very small energy savings), but the evidence is not that strong, and, of course, the same benefits could be gained by just changing our schedules rather than changing the clock.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/07.

Interesting Bit of History

I hate to do it, but I have to admit I was wrong.

Many on the left have said the president claimed Iraq was actively involved with Al Qaida, and I always said they were incorrect. "Where," I would ask, "did the president ever say that Al Qaida was actively involved with Iraq?"

Well, I stand corrected. There is an indictment from a federal grand jury in New York which says precisely that. Presumably, the president knew, or even requested, that the federal prosecutors for the southern district of New York bring charges against Al Qaida and Iraq alleging these facts:

4. Al Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in
the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist
group Hezballah for the purpose of working together against their
perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.
In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of
Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on
particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al
Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq.

So, I stand corrected, the president, or at least prosecutors representing the executive branch of the government did allege that Al Qaida and Iraq were working together. And so I find myself in an uncomfortable position, as I must admit that the liberals were correct.

Correct, that is, except for two little details: The indictment is from 1998, and the president was Bill Clinton. Otherwise, they are exactly right.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/07.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Blog

For those who happen to stumble across this work in progress, allow me to make a small announcement. Today I have started my first non-political, non-economic blog. As I have decided I have no real outlet for all my gripes about my present personal circumstances, I have started "Cheaper Than Therapy", which is much more akin to the traditional "boring personal minutiae" blog, though, I hope, at least a bit more entertaining. I doubt it will have much appeal to my regular readers, but in case it does, I thought I would provide a link.

And for those wondering why there are a slew of posts saying they were written in 2007 and 2008, you can check out my explanation at "A Brief Explanation".

A Small Apology

I feel the need to apologize to those who have visited my site in the past few days and left comments.

In the past I made it a rule that I would reply to each poster the same day they wrote, if at all possible. I also made an absolute rule that anyone who bothered to comment, no matter what they wrote, would get a message welcoming them and thanking them for writing. I felt it was the least I could do for those who took the time to read my writing. After all, no one comes here knowing whether it is worth spending their time going through my thoughts, so the least I could do for allowing me to take up your time is to give you a bit of gratitude.

However, in the past few days I have had a slight increase in traffic at the same time work and home became more busy and I allowed myself to be a little lax. So, while I have eventually responded to each comment, I have done so a bit late, and I have often forgotten to thank the writer, though I have, so far, always gone back and corrected that oversight.

So, my apologies to my new readers. I will try my best to keep my original commitment to letting every reader know that I really do appreciate the time you take to look at my site, and I will also make an effort to reply with all possible speed.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/07.

What About the Crusades?

I keep hearing the same arguments whenever someone brings up the present barbarism of so many Islamic states. "Well the Crusades were pretty brutal, weren't they?" "How about the Inquisition?" "You burned witches, didn't you?" All of which satisfy the questioner that he has proven the nastiness of all religions, but which really prove very little.

You see,  I can agree that Christianity went through an intolerant and aggressive period. So did Judaism. Most religions have gone through a period where they expanded by the sword. To say so is hardly to make a startling revelation.

The difference is that Christianity and Judaism both reformed, settling down into a more tolerant position. Islam has not. (Or mostly has not, see below for the exceptions.)

Judaism lost its militancy early, and abruptly. Judaism was rarely in a position to be intolerant or aggressive, as the Jews were so often slaves of one state or another. But during the period of the Maccabees Judaism did have a land of its own, and was just as intolerant and insular as any religion feeling self-rule for the first time. And, just as quickly, Rome crushed the Jewish state, and, after a series of revolts, dispersed the Jews. Ever since Judaism has lived as a minority religion, forcing Jews to adapt to a pluralist society.

Christianity was not reformed from without, but from within. Yes, Christians were intolerant, and often treated religious minorities poorly. But, first, in the Reformation, and later through the secular reforms of the post Renaissance period, Christianity was separated (mostly) from state power, and broke into a large number of sects, leading those sects to learn how to get along peaceably, without the government giving one or the other power to enforce its will. All of which led to the mature, tolerant Christianity of today.

Islam never really underwent this experience. In the whole of Islamic history, Islam has been the dominant religion of one state or another, and not just dominant, but endowed with state power. There may not have been a formal Caliph for some time, but even without the Caliphate, there are still a number of states where Islam is granted state power to enforce its will. All of which has allowed Islam to continue on with a perspective similar to Christianity of the middle ages. That is, Islam never lost the concept that it could force conversions, kill nonbelievers, and otherwise act with total brutality in religious matters.

One has to only look at modern terrorism, the excesses of the Taliban, the teddy bear event in the Sudan, the Miss Universe riots in Nigeria, Rushdie's death threats, the inability of nonbelievers to visit Mecca, the Mohammad cartoon incidents, etc, etc. No other religion in the West would ever behave this way. And the fact that apologists have to go back to the Crusades or Torquemada proves my point.

The single exception (at least on a national scale) is Turkey. Thanks to Ataturk, Turkey managed to turn into a secular nation. True, Turkey does suffer from a bit of race-based nationalism (though the Kurdish conflicts are part nationalism on both sides, part an attempt to prevent territorial disintegration, and much more complex than most commentators will admit),  but if you look at modern Turkish history, it is clear that by removing Islam  entirely from the government, Turkey has managed to avoid all the religious barbarism that characterizes so much of the Islamic world.

All of which shows that Islam has the potential to reform. Yes, the Koran has a lot of verses which suggest violence is part of the faith. So does Leviticus, yet Christianity and Judaism entered the modern world. And there is no reason to think Islam cannot do so as well. It is nothing more than circumstance that has kept Islam stuck in the dark ages of religious intolerance and violence.



First, let me head off some complaints by saying, if you haven't caught on from my habit of writing "G-d" and my occasional use of Yiddish or Hebrew, I am not  a Christian. I do not defend Christianity out of any partisanship, but because I think Christians are being treated unfairly.

Second, I do not harbor any ill will toward Islam. My wife even accuses me of overlooking faults in the religion. And she may be right. I have something of a historian's perspective on Islam, and I can see both good and bad in the religion, at least as a social force.

Islam was born in violence, and spread through conquest in the early days. But it then settled down into a much more civilized era, especially in those areas dominated by the (then) more tolerant shiites, and established in many places a very cosmopolitan, cultured environment. Yes, there were still excesses, and barbarisms, but it wasn't really until the coming of the Wahabis and the much less tolerant modern incarnation of Islam that we really see the horrors we have witnessed recently. Only for the past two or three centuries has Islam been such a truly violent, barbaric force. Prior to that it was still a rival to Christianity, often violently so, but, strangely enough, Islam was much less barbaric in its behavior in the late middle ages than it is today. Jews lived openly in Baghdad for most of the middle ages, and Christians visited Jerusalem before the Crusades (and after as well), while today Jews have been evicted from much of the Moslem world, and other non-Moslems are barely tolerated. One cannot imagine Saudi Arabia adopting the Ottoman practice of using Christians to fill important ministerial posts today.

Lastly, I have had something of an interest in Islam as religion and philosophy for some time. I am in no danger of converting, but ever since I read Maimonides I have had  an interest in the Islamic philosophers of the 10th through 12th centuries. In addition, I have always had a fascination with the sufi groups and related mystic sects in Islam. Some of their similarities to the ideas of the chassidim and certain kaballists are very interesting.

All of which I mention only to say that I am hardly the bigoted "Islamophobe" so many accuse any opponent of modern Islamic terrorism to be. Just because we agree that Islamic states have turned into terrorist havens and are ruled by crazed dictators does not mean we have any hatred of Islam. Any more than hating Nazi Germany proved someone hated Lutherans.


UPDATED 01/08/2008

The pedant in me requires that I correct one of my statements.

True, Ataturk is largely responsible for the removal of religion from politics in Turkey, but that is not the sole reason that Turkey avoided the excesses of Islamic extremism.

Turkey had three other factors existing prior to the eviction of the sultan which also helped keep them from becoming an "Islamic state" in the intolerant, modern sense of the word. First, Turkey had a very long history of religious pluralism, running back to at least the 14th century. Nor was it just the experience of occupying Christian lands, but of actively working with Christians, and even allowing Christians to occupying high positions within the state. Second, many of the sultans had an interest in rather heretical versions of Islam. Whether it was something as relatively innocent as Persian religious poetry or the practices of the Bektashi dervishes, or something more radical, such as actual shiite theology, there was a clear heretical strain running through many sultanates, which made it quite difficult for the ulema to exercise control over the sultan. Third, the ulema had played a very active, adversarial role in politics (often due to the aforementioned heretical interests of the sultan), which led the sultan to often try to circumscribe the ulema's authority. This led to a much less powerful clergy than in other states of the time.

So, it was a bit simplistic of me to attribute the whole modernization of Turkey to Ataturk. Though he did quite a lot to push Turkey in a secular direction, the groundwork had been laid in Turkey much earlier.

Still, my point remains. Turkey proves that Islam can coexist with a pluralist, tolerant, modern state.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/07.

The Power of Words

Sometimes I don't think that the left truly thinks things through. If they took their beliefs to their logical conclusions they would probably be horrified at what they are truly suggesting.

For example, the "death with dignity" crowd often adopts a phrase used by the Nazis to justify their early eugenics campaign. The euthanasia crowd often speaks of not only "death with dignity" but ending "a life not worth living". What they fail to think about is the final conclusion of that second phrase. It is fine if YOU are the one deciding if your life is worth living or not. But what if you are incapacitated? Then it falls to someone else to decide. And, by that logic, what if you are BORN incapacitated? Who is to say if those born with brain damage have a life worth living? In the end, the logic of "a life not worth living" ends the same place the Nazis took it. Approaching the phrase with flawless logic, the Nazis set up euthanasia programs to eliminate the insane, the mentally retarded, the brain damaged and others who were sufficiently defective that they had lives "not worth living." It is a result most liberals (sadly not all) would abhor, but it is inherent in the logic of their belief in euthanasia, at least so long as they approach it through the lens of "a life not worth living".*

Other times, it is not the conclusion which the liberals ignore, but the contradictions. And that is my topic for today.

You see, the liberals have for a long time campaigned for what is essentially a coarsening of our society. They have opposed the "censorship" of the media, not distinguishing between government or private standards. To them, no standards are good, anything should be allowed. Similarly, the left has opposed any sort of standards of behavior, arguing along with the hippies of old (all of them following the lead set long ago by that proto-hippie Rousseau), that any standards of decency or decorum are just oppression and we should be free to live as we want.  And I admit that in my early life I was even part of this stupidity, both as a young leftist, and a slightly older Rand-worshipper. Admittedly, my arguments changed, my hippie self arguing for a freedom from artificial constraints, and my Rand-idolizing self arguing only against government restrictions, but in both cases I was still an agitator against decorum and decency.

There are a lot of arguments against this libertine position, many quite strong, but one of the most common is that such a brutish media culture has many ill effects on children. And to the specific complaint that foul language is not something we want children to hear, they respond specifically that obscenities are "just words" and incapable of harming children.

Which is where the contradiction comes in.

You see, the left has fought a war on words for some time. We generally hear of it under the rubric "PC". They argue that racial slurs, "insensitive comments", "hostile environments" and other words are so harmful to women, gays, minorities, etc that they should never be allowed in any circumstance. They argue that hearing an off-color joke can so traumatize a woman that she can sue her employer for millions of dollars. They argue that a racial slur can so frighten a minority student that he will fail to succeed in college. They argue, in short, that words have almost unlimited power to harm.

Unless those words are said by a rock star or actor on TV, and the ears listening are less than 18 years old. Then they say the words are powerless.

And so, I ask, how can one person really hold both of these beliefs at once? Doesn't anyone ever notice the contradiction? Doesn't it bother them?

I really have problems understanding the liberal mind at times.


* I speak here of one specific argument for euthanasia, the "life not worth living" argument. I do not speak of euthanasia as a whole. I do have some problems with legally embracing suicide, as it opens up so many avenues for abuse, both by private citizens hoping to eliminate an unwanted relative, or by a state wishing to eliminate costly medical payments for wards of the state, but I am not speaking here of euthanasia as a whole, just this one argument. So, please, no comments here on euthanasia as a general topic, I will be addressing that in more detail later, so withhold comment until then if you don't mind.

UPDATED 01/20/2008

Although my initial comments on the Nazi eugenics and euthanasia programs were not the main focus of this piece, while reading it again, I was struck by the way two modern liberal fixations feed into a revival of Nazi-like ideas. The first being the aforementioned euthansia program. The second is the attempt to find biological causes for homosexuality, insanity, and a host of other behaviors.

You see, the Nazis did not limit their euthanasia to the disabled, retarded and other traditional biological disorders. In the Nazi mind homosexuality, perversion, criminality, and a number of other antisocial behaviors were also biological, and so, quite logically, they began to turn their vast euthanasia apparatus against gays, sexual deviants, habitual criminals and others.

Today we see a similar biological determinist mindset among the liberals. Whether they honestly believe people are "born gay" or they are simply looking for a biological cause to shoehorn gays into the current civil rights legislation, the liberals seem to be following the Nazi model in turning behaviors into biology. Which is actually a pretty ironic position as the liberals of past generations rejected most of the biological explanations of behavior precisely because of the way those theories were abused by the Nazis.

I hope to delve into this in more detail later, as I intend to write a longer essay on our efforts to turn behaviors into biology, and explain away bad behavior with genetics.

Now, I know I am in a minority in supporting not just Stanton Peele, but also Thomas Szasz, thinking that even the category of mental illness itself is suspect, but even if you do not agree with me on that, the whole idea that finding a biological cause for behavior is still obviously suspect.

To give only one example before I write my full essay:

Let us assume that homosexuality is biological in origin. (I think it is not, but just for this example, let us assume it is.) Does that change anything? Heterosexuality is biological as well, yet we expect heterosexuals to refrain from assaulting every woman they find attractive, or from cheating on their wives. So, whether homosexuality is biological or behavioral, does it make any difference? If it is a sin to commit homosexual acts, we would still expect homosexuals to refrain from acting on their desires, whatever the origin of their urges, so finding a "gay gene" would change nothing. Likewise, if gays in the military would disrupt morale or discipline, would that disruption suddenly vanish if the cause of homosexuality were proved to be genetic? None of the arguments for excluding homosexuals from certain activities, as well as religious arguments for limiting homosexual participation, change just because homosexuality turns out to be genetic. The liberal belief that biology equals exoneration is absurd.

Well, as I said, I hope to write much more on that later, I just wanted to point out how frighteningly similar today's liberals are in their fixations to the National Socialist  movement. Not that they are destined to become Nazis, nor do I  claim they have Nazi tendencies, but it is a bit scary that the left wing of today could be setting the stage for a future neo-Nazi movement, and, still more worrying, it is clear they are completely unaware that such a movement is a logical outcome of their beliefs.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/07.


Just a quick note for those who care:

Over the weekend I will be trying to clean up my backlog of half-finished articles. As my son has been demanding a lot of my attention lately, I may have to run into the coming week as well. So if the next few posts seem even less timely than usual please bear with me. I have five or six half-finished essays, running back several months. Some may seem a little out of date coming after the primaries have already started, but bear with me, if I am bothering to finish writing an essay, there is some point I think is still relevant, and, with a little luck, I will eventually make it clear.

Of course, this means I am getting farther and farther away from my published "prospectus" of mid-December. Well, at least I have written about Ron Paul's foreign policy, so I kept half of one promise. Maybe once I clear out my backlog I can finally get back to writing the three promised articles.

UPDATED 01/06/2008

Though I said I was going to do some house cleaning, I actually added two more half-finished topics to my backlog and completed nothing. Between spending time with my wife and son and simple dawdling and procrastination  I managed to get nothing done. Nor does it appear work will be slow enough to let me get much done this coming week. So, I suppose the promised house cleaning will join the earlier promised articles as semi-permanent residents on my "To Do" list. (Hopefully that "semi-permanent" will not become "permanent".)

I will try my best to get SOMETHING posted this week, but no idea whether it will be a completed old article, one of the promised new articles, or something else entirely.  All I can promise is that I will do my best to write something.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/05.

NOTES: The prospectus mentioned in the post is "Prospectus - December 19, 2007".

Unnecessary Legal Concept

I saw the following in Best of The Web (link to the specific day is here, it is the 8th item down):

Brave New World
"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a woman who promised a sperm donor he would not have to pay child support cannot renege on the deal," the Associated Press reports from Harrisburg:

The 3-2 decision overturns lower court rulings under which Joel L. McKiernan had been paying up to $1,500 a month to support twin boys born in August 1994 to Ivonne V. Ferguson, his former girlfriend and co-worker. . . .
Ferguson and McKiernan met while working together at Pennsylvania Blue Shield in Harrisburg and had a sexual relationship that waned before Ferguson persuaded him to donate sperm for her.
Courts found that the two agreed McKiernan would not have to pay child support and would not have visitation rights, but Ferguson later changed her mind and sued.
A county judge said it was in the twins' best interests that McKiernan be required to support them. In addition to monthly payments, McKiernan also was ordered to come up with $66,000 in back support. The appeal reverses that order.
It does seem unreasonable to force McKiernan to pay child support. After all, the [sic] had a deal. On the other hand, it also seems unreasonable to allow him to withhold it:
Justice J. Michael Eakin, in a dissent, said a parent cannot bargain away a child's right to support. "The children point and say, 'That is our father. He should support us,' " Eakin wrote. "What are we to reply? 'No! He made a contract to conceive you through a clinic, so your father need not support you.' I find this unreasonable at best."
The majority made clear that "reproductive rights" trump the rights of the child:
"Where a would-be donor cannot trust that he is safe from a future support action, he will be considerably less likely to provide his sperm to a friend or acquaintance who asks, significantly limiting a would-be mother's reproductive prerogatives," Justice Max Baer wrote in the majority opinion issued last week.
Maybe some limits on "reproductive prerogatives" are not such a bad thing. A lack of them produces cases like this in which no good outcome is possible.
So, why do I bring this up?

My problem is that the court felt the need to bring "reproductive rights" into the matter.

First, reproductive rights are a very contentious field, which seem to vary from court to court, it is not exactly a settled body of law, such as property rights. Some matters are settled, to a degree, but usually only because the Supreme Court has issued a final ruling, and that can change the moment the court's composition changes.

Second, reproductive rights often produce counter-intuitive results. For example, parents are responsible for the support and care of their children, which is why they must consent for any surgical procedure, even something as trivial as an ear-piercing, as they not only have to make such decisions for their children, but are also on the hook should something go wrong and the child require support from a mishap. But, under the rubric of reproductive rights, many argue a 14 year old should be able to have an abortion without even parental notification, much less consent. Nor is this the only case where reproductive rights result in rulings contrary to those produced by a traditional understanding of civil rights.

Third, I just don't see how reproductive rights really figure into this at all. The idea that making donors responsible for support will limit reproductive rights is a bit absurd. It creates a liability for the donors, and likely will limit the availability of sperm donors, but that does not prevent artificial insemination, it simply means that potential mothers will need to pay more to offset the possible liability. That is not a "rights" issue.

So why did this become a reproductive rights case? I think it is just a reflex. Courts have been trained by "reproductive rights" lawyers, and by both the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies to see anything relating to reproduction as a "reproductive rights" issue. The moment it involves conception they are unable to think of anything else, even in a case as simple as this.

Simple? Yes, it is very simple. The case is a contractual dispute, and has nothing to do with reproductive rights. And once we decide to ignore the reproductive rights arguments, and view it as nothing more than a contract  contrary to public policy, and thus unenforceable as written, it is very simple to resolve.

Courts have a long history of rewriting contracts (though they call it "interpreting") when those contracts are unenforceable as written. They are especially likely to do so when they want one party or the other to prevail and the law cuts against them. And as I find it a bit tacky that the mother promised to not seek support only to later sue for support, I think a judge would have no problem "reinterpreting" this contract.

And how easy it is to do. True, the right to support is held by the children, and the mother cannot sign it away. But the judges could decide that, rather than signing away support rights, the mother really meant to say she would indemnify the father against any claims for support. That way she can still pursue this claim for support, but the father will have an action against her to recover the same amount. All without depriving the children of their right to support.

Finally, the best argument, at least from the perspective of the lawyers and the courts, is that, while everyone else (mostly) breaks even, the endless lawsuits this inspires will be yet another pay day for both the lawyers and the courts. So what reason would they have to oppose my logic?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/10/04.

NOTES: The Best of the Web links no longer resolve, yet are also not available on archive.org. It appears archive.org did not spider the opinionjournal article archives prior tot he 2008 redesign, and since the redesign these links no longer resolve, so, unfortunately, all Best of the Web links prior to the redesign are no longer valid.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Brief Explanation

As it appears it may be a few days before I can move more posts, allow me to explain my blog. Normally, of course, blogs require little or no explanation, they are just the accumulated thoughts of one or more individuals, sometimes with a consistent theme, sometimes without one.

However, this blog is actually something of a work in progress. You see, I have written, since 2007, a blog entitled "Random Notes" on Townhall.com. I also created two other shortlived blogs, "Examining the War on Drugs" and "Nation of Whiners", on the same site. I have written on my primary blog pretty regularly for the past three and a half years, most of the time posting one or more essays a day.

But, over time, Townhall has developed some technical glitches. I have had nothing but good experiences with the staff there, and the regular readers I picked up over the years have proven themselves to be great people, so I stuck it out. But in the past few months, two glitches have appeared which forced me to consider moving. First, many readers reported being unable to post comments, which is frustrating for me, as I rely heavily on user comments to develop future essays. Second, it became impossible to link to individual articles from the year 2010, and only 2010. As I rely heavily on links to old articles in my posts, that was simply impossible for me.

And as a result, I have decided to move my blog. However, unlike most who simply begin again elsewhere, I really want to retain my old work, and to cure that problem with articles from 2010. To do that, I have started to transfer my old posts here, as is (well, with some typos corrected), with the intent of going back and fixing links so they point to essays here rather than on my old blogs.

But, as I wrote so much, somewhere around 2000 or 2500 posts, it is a time consuming process. And one which is still underway.

The posts you see here are not my current thoughts, but what I was thinking around the beginning of 2008. Granted, a lot of those thoughts still seem quite valid to me. In fact, a few of them reminded me of topics I had intended to address and failed to do so. My thinking has still developed over the intervening years, so it is not safe to assume these essays represent my thinking today.

As there is no way for readers to know what is and is not still my position, I suppose it is easiest for readers who come across this blog to just act as if these essays were posted yesterday. If my thoughts have changed, I will say so in my response. If they have not, then I will respond now as I would have in 2007. In either case, it will at the very least spark a bit of discussion, which is why I relish comments anyway.

Though these posts are old, and the move is incomplete, feel free to poke around and read what I wrote. If you want, even go to my original blogs and see what I have been up to more recently. I am grateful for whatever time anyone takes to examine my ideas.


For those puzzled by the blog's name, it is explained, as well as it can be, in the first post on this blog.

My First Comment

I was a bit surprised to see that I received my first comment today, at least my first comment on this new blog. I am still in the process of moving posts from my old blog to this new one, and, though I did post a link to this blog, I did not make a big deal about the move. I honestly did not expect anyone to visit until I finally transferred everything and moved my new writing here. But someone found my blog never the less, and left me not just a comment, but a rather nice comment. So, though it is unexpected, I feel I should celebrate this surprising, but quite welcome, development.

It was a bit strange to have to respond to a comment on something I wrote back in 2007, but it reminded me how many good ideas I had even back at the beginning, how, despite all the growth that has taken place in the intervening years, my original thoughts were not entirely worthless. So, should anyone else feel like commenting on one of my old posts, feel free to do so. Good or bad, I always welcome comments from my readers.

Fixing the Primaries

I am not entirely convinced a two-party system is ideal, and I am definitely a bit skeptical that the two parties' primaries should be run as quasi-official undertakings, but as long as both of those are true, I think we can agree that our primary system needs to change.

Why, you ask?

1. Iowa: The fact that Iowa gives an early push to the winner means every politician with presidential aspirations make every effort to rack up the farm subsidies to guarantee a good result in the caucuses. Without Iowa's position as the first primary state I doubt ethanol would be pushed quite as hard, as ADM only has so much lobbying money.

2. Some states just don't count: While technically primaries could occur in such a way that the last few states decide the question of who will run for each party, it is very rare for that to occur. In most primary seasons the first half, or fewer determine the outcome. There are a number of states whose primaries almost never have any real impact on the outcomes. In most election seasons, any primaries after Super Tuesday are very unlikely to have any real impact on the outcome.

So, what do I suggest to make Iowa have a bit less influence and to give some other states a bit more prominence in the primaries?

I would like to see a system of rotating primaries. Every primary season we could set up in advance a calendar of 8 weeks during which all 50 states would hold their primaries.

To keep the primaries relatively evenly balanced, and interesting, we should ideally have a balanced mix of large and small states each week, and a relatively equal number of electoral votes up for grabs each week.

To do that I would propose we break the states up into 3 groups (large, medium, small).

In the large group would be the 8 largest states (CA, TX, NY, FL, IL, PA, OH, MI) for a total of 226 electoral votes.. In the medium group would be the next 16 largest states (GA, NJ, NC, VA, MA, TN, IN, WA, MO, AZ, MD, WI, MN, AL, CO, LA) for a total of 181 electoral votes. The remaining 26 states and the District of Columbia would then form the small group.

Well in advance of primary season we would draw up this list based on the electoral distribution current at the time, and then select states for each of the eight weeks.

For every week we would randomly select one large and two medium states. We would then randomly select small states one at a time until the total electoral votes was greater than 64 votes*. For the eighth week, all remaining small states are used.

Here is an example:

WEEK 1: Select  IL, then NC and AZ. Total votes: 46
                  Small states:    AR total 52
                                              VT total 55
                                              CT total 62
                                               AK total 65
WEEK 2: MI, GA, NJ total 47
                Small states: NE total 52
                                         MT total 55
                                         KY total 63
                                         IA Total 70

You get the idea of how it works, so here are the 8 weeks I randomly generated as an example:

WEEK                       STATES
1                                IL,NC,AZ,AR,VT,CT,AK            --7 States, 65 Electoral Votes
2                                MI,GA,NJ,NE,MT,KY,IA             --7 States, 70 Electoral Votes
3                                CA, MA,MN                                 --3 States, 77 Electoral Votes
4                                PA,IN,MD,SC,OK,WY,OR        --8 States, 67 Electoral Votes
5                                TX,LA,WA,KS,WV                      --5 States, 65 Electoral Votes
6                                FL,VA,MO,NH,ND,DE,NM        --7 States, 66 Electoral Votes
7                                NY,TN,CO,NV,HI,RI,SD           --7 States,  67 Electoral Votes
8                                OH,WI,AL,MS,UT,ID,ME,DC    --7 States + DC, 61 Electoral Votes

As you can see the weeks come out about equal, with the weeks containing the California and Texas primaries having fewer states, but about the same number of electoral votes.

And as this scheme shifts every year, the states each have a chance to be first in the nation, making no single unduly influential in primary elections, year after year.

I still have to think about this some more, and run a number of sample sets of states to make sure that there are no ways the numbers can be combined to shift far too many or too few into a single week. However, for the moment I think that, even with the possibility of some unbalanced weeks, this system is much better than the primary system with which we are currently saddled.

* Why 64 votes? Easy. There are a total of 538 electoral votes. Spread over ten weeks, that leaves us with 67.25 votes per week. The small states average out to 4.85 electoral votes per small state. Since we need an equal number to fall high and low of the 67.25 mark to get a relatively even distribution, I divided 4.85 in half, got 2.425. 67.25 - 2.425 gives us 64.825, which rounds nicely to 65. Thus as soon as the number of electoral votes go above 64 we stop pulling small states. Although, as I said above, there may be some fine tuning if the numbers allow certain configurations where too many or too few elections all fall on the same day.

Originally Published in Random Notes on 2008/01/04.

NOTES: In the comments submitted about this post, it was pointed out that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a number of delegates equivalent to the number of electoral votes. And that is quite true. However, as I hoped for this system to be adopted by both parties, number of electoral votes seemed the most fair way to divide the states into categories and make each day of the primary season of roughly equivalent significance. Since presidential election is the end goal of those running in the primaries, the number of electoral votes is clearly of interest to members of both parties, and thus seemed the most simple way to divide the states without getting into matters specific to one party or the other. I grant it is possible in certain elections it could be possible to have a preponderance of rad or blue states, making that week less important to one party than the other, but there are not that many lopsided states, so it seems unlikely that would be a common event. Most likely in a given week a few states would be more red, a few more blue, the rest pretty evenly split, and the total of all delegates up for grabs would be roughly equivalent for each party, at least as a percentage of all delegates. (I discuss this here, as I doubt many readers will both not only following the link to the original post, but then follow the link on that page to the comments.)

The Problem With Ron Paul

Having debated with lots of Ron Paul supporters, I think I have found the biggest problem with Paul and his supporters: They have decided that there is absolutely NOTHING more dangerous than our government.

Now, I know a bad government can be harmful, and we should take steps to keep our government in check, but I think they take it just a bit too far. They take a good general idea and envelop it in fanatical fervor, making it the entire source of their identity. Starting from the sound premise that we should have a minimal government and maximum liberty, they take it way too far and come to the conclusion that there is NO threat EXCEPT our own government.

According to the Paul-supporters, we need never act in foreign affairs until we are attacked. In other words, had Hitler taken out other nations one by one, we should have just sat still and done nothing until he finally got around to invading us. Or, more currently, Iran can just continue building bombs, developing missiles, equipping Hammas or Hezbollah with nuclear and biological agents, but until the Revolutionary Guard lands in Boca Raton we can't do a thing, we should just sit and dither and turn a blind eye no matter what happens to the rest of the world.

According to Paulists, if we do this, no one will ever wish us ill and we will be safe.

And that is where they go off the beam. They completely ignore the fact that there are plenty of people who do not behave as a (nominally) rational little libertarian would. Some world leaders are just insane and would attack us for no reason. (North Korea has one such leader.) Some have doctrinal differences and would attack us for having the wrong government or worshiping the wrong G-d. (Such as Iran) And some are greedy conquerers who would see our inactivity as a chance to gobble up small countries until they were stronger than us and then would take us out as well. (Putin may very well fall into this group at some point. And others will certainly arise if we drift into isolationism.)

But cutting off all possibility of intervention, Paul makes other countries confident in their evil acts. And it also gives them an easy out. Suppose Libya decides to restart their nuclear program? No reaction. Suppose they develop bioagents as well? No problem. Suppose they give these to terrorists who then set them off in the US? Well, LIBYA didn't attack us, so we can't respond. Paul's response would be to ask Libya to stop the terrorists, and if they say no? Well, Paul and his supporters just assume they will say "yes" and have no plan for the other possibility.

All of which is symptomatic of the Paulist's central problem. They have become so consumed with their own doctrine that they have lost all sense of perspective. To them a nuclear Iran is not a threat, but Orrin Hatch is.

Yes, the democrats have been saying the same thing for years, but from them it is just partisan rhetoric. I don't think most Democrats (outside of the lunatic fringe at moveon.org and dailykos) really think Orrin Hatch is more of threat than Iran is, but for the Paulists it is a true belief. They fear our politicians more than they do foreign aggression.

UPDATED 01/06/2008

In the comments below you can see a response by Darrel. I was just going to leave it in the comments, but think it may be a common enough response, that I feel I should address it in the article itself:

Darrel says that he has been a long time supporter of Ron Paul and does not think I am fairly representing Ron Paul's position. He says that should Israel ask for aid, he is sure Ron Paul would send it.

I think the problem is that Darrel has been supporting Ron Paul for too long. Back when I first heard of Ron Paul, and when Darrel started supporting him, Ron Paul sounded more like a traditional conservative on defense issues. His position changed greatly in recent times, but it appears Darrel, and others like him, have failed to notice.

But you don't just have to take my word for it, or the word of the "non-interventionist" (read "isolationist") followers Ron Paul has attracted here on Townhall, you can read Ron Paul's own words in this interview with John Stossel.

Despite what Darrel says (and what Ron Paul once said), Paul clearly states that he would not intervene in a conflict between Taiwan and China. He also says that Korea was unjustified, so, apparently, simply being invited in by a government is not enough. Same with Vietnam. In fact, from his replies, the only possible conclusion one can draw is that Ron Paul would never use troops unless the United States were actually invaded by a foreign power, and maybe not even then.

I know I sound like I am exaggerating, but if you listen to the man, and to his newer followers, there really is an almost hippy-level distrust of anything having to do with government. You get the impression that they would oppose traffic enforcement for fear that the meter maid might abuse her power. If you read recent pronouncements by Ron Paul it really does start to drift into the tinfoil hat realm.

And I say this form no personal animus. I was once an admirer of Ron Paul in the 1980's, and I really do want to find a libertarian candidate I can like. So I did WANT to like Ron Paul. Unfortunately he made that impossible. He has attracted a body of distasteful supporters (rabid isolationists, 9/11 truthers, antisemites, white power movement members, etc.) but has made no effort to either disavow their support or distance his campaign from them, so I must assume he endorses them to some degree. Worse than that, Ron Paul himself has made statement that I find either disagreeable or just bizarre. I tried to like him, but through his actions in this campaign, he just made that impossible.

I would ask Darrel, and other long time supporters like him, take a second look, and see if the Ron Paul they are still defending is really the same Ron Paul they supported for so long, or if they are overlooking serious changes out of loyalty and supporting a man with whom they no longer agree.

Clarification 01/06/2008

To clarify something I said above: By "libertarian I can support" I mean one who meets the following criteria:

1. A libertarian who does not make drug laws the central issue of his campaign. As someone who has suffered needlessly because the war on drugs has made pain medication difficult to prescribe, I understand opposition to the war on drugs, but making that the central issue of a campaign is a sure path to defeat. America is not ready yet for even serious reforms in the drug war, so starting with that issue is to announce you are not seriously interested in winning any elections.

2. A serious libertarian who understands even liberty has some limits. That is, a libertarian who doesn't feel the need to make common cause with NAMBLA in order to show they "take free speech seriously". Just because you believe NAMBLA can publish their distasteful garbage doesn't mean you need to endorse them. Even if you are convinced they have the right to assemble and publish tracts, they are still disgusting creatures, and deserve nothing but scorn.

3. A libertarian who isn't TOO doctrinaire. Once they quote either Rand or Rothbard, I know a libertarian is going to be so stringently doctrinaire they will have no chance to get anything done. True Bush has compromised far too much, but that does not mean all compromise is bad. Politics is always a game of getting most of what you want, not all. No one, from Washington on, has ever gotten every proposal passed in its entirety without changes. But I am afraid a doctrinaire libertarian president would be unable to accept that, and would end up vetoing everything that failed to meet rigid libertarian standards. In short, a libertarian president of this sort would manage to waste 4 years while accomplishing nothing. And, while I generally applaud government inaction, I would hope that a libertarian president would at least get a few reforms passed. So I can't vote for anyone who is too dogmatic in their beliefs.

4. Last, I want a libertarian who understands there is right and wrong. Far too many libertarians make the incorrect conclusion that since people have the freedom to do almost anything, that we have no right to judge their choices. That is not correct. Yes, under libertarian theories, the government has no right to interfere in their choices, but that does not mean you as an individual can't say that it is wrong. I worry about any libertarian who thinks a belief in liberty means they also have to abdicate their own personal ability to judge moral issues. I don't want them to legislate based on their own beliefs, but I do want them to HAVE such beliefs.

Sadly, those four simple rules have excluded almost every libertarian I have seen running. Most manage to break all four rules, and more besides, asking to free Leonard Peltier, or Mumia abu Jamal, or various Puerto Rican separatists, all of which is more than enough to turn me off immediately. I don't care how much you believe in libertarian causes, to endorse freeing murderers for political reasons is libertinism, not libertarianism. It is an end of any standards in society at all once you can commit murder with impunity just because you claim oppression or a political position as justification. In short, a lot of libertarians take it way too far and end up endorsing the end of society rather than the liberation of society.

But I continue to look for that libertarian who proves me wrong. But in the interim I continue to be ever more convinced that I may not really be a libertarian after all, and should just admit I am really a conservative at heart.

Perhaps it is time for me to stop calling myself a libertarian after all.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on  2008/01/02.

NOTES: Though this brought me a number of angry responses, not only from Ron Paul supporters but also from defenders of Mumia and Peltier (even inspiring a later post on the subject of "political prisoners"), the topics covered here would eventually become very prominent in my later writing. The contrast between fearing government and wishing to limit its powers, as well as the difference between seeing government as a necessary evil and as a tool, would develop into a major theme in later posts. Not only those themes, but also the differences between tolerating something and endorsing it, and the difference between social and political pressure became a major point in my discussion of social conservatism. Oddly, both social conservatives and libertarians seem blind int he same way n that topic. Social conservatives insisting if something is immoral it must be illegal, while libertarians insist if something is legal, they cannot criticize it. Neither seems to recognize that you can accept an act as within the bounds of the law, while openly repudiating it as an unworthy practice.

The Conservative Trump Card

Whenever I listen to arguments, especially those among strict constitutionalists, I hear again and again the attempt to end all argument by referring to quotes from the Founding Fathers. Over and over conservatives will try to win a debate by mining every speech by Jefferson or Washington for that one argument winning quote.

For example: Again and again isolationists (or non-interventionists, as they now call themselves) throw around the quote about "no entangling alliances", hoping to keep us form any involvement in foreign affairs by relying on the authority of George Washington (who entered happily into an entangling alliance with France). Or social libertarians will try to tear down the Patriot Act by throwing out Franklin's quote about the incompatability of freedom and security (though if they knew what Franklin and his contemporaries understood to be acceptable restraints on speech, for example, they would cringe).

Well, I am here to make the sacreligious suggestion that this is all a waste of time.

Why? Well, for several reasons:

1. The Founding Fathers were just men. Yes, they were very clever men who developed a very fine system of government, put a lot of thought into governing, and did a good job, but they were just men. Sorry, but no man is without flaw, and the Founders were no exception. Just because a Founding Father said it does not make it right, or immune from dispute.

2. The Founders DID make errors: Jefferson was prone to silly agrarian and populist flights of fancy, ascribing way too much virtue to people who worked the land. Hamilton had a tendency toward authoritarianism and elitism that sometimes ran counter to his more well known, and more egalitarian, writing. And they were not alone. Given some time I can find a foolish statement from each of the Founders.

3. The Founders were not a monolithic group: It is foolish to say we should support the views of "the Founders" anyway. They were FAR from a homogeneous group. Look just at Jefferson and Adams, or Hamilton and Madison, these men had widely divergent views. So, if we are going to defer in all ways to the Founders, what happens if someone quotes Jefferson and I find a contradictory quote from Hamilton? Which trumps the other?

4. Many fall into anachronism: Many who quote the Founders also do so because they understand the quotes in an anachronistic way. When Franklin spoke about freedom and security, he also accepted that a free society could punish seditious speech and that many constraints on free speech were acceptable. In fact, what Franklin accepted as given, what he saw as allowable restraints on civil liberties would offend even the most conservative jurists of today. So to throw out that Franklin quote to object to tapping phones or getting lists of library books is absurd, Franklin accepted far worse as completely compatible with liberty.

So be on notice: I am no longer allowing anyone to quote the Founders in an attempt to cut off debate. And I suggest all others do the same. It has been too long that conservatives have allowed a (proper) veneration of the Founders turn their quotes into dogma. Most, if not all, of the Founders would not have accepted any mortal authority as beyond dispute, so why should we accept their own words as such?

It is time that we stopped letting the names Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Jay, etc. cut off debate and trump even the most well reasoned argument.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/02.

An Informal Poll

I have found one very simple reason Ron Paul will not win.

Now, my wife, as I have mentioned, is conservative in general, but not terribly political. She keeps up on the big headlines when work doesn't demand her attention, but she doesn't remember all the names of those running in the primaries, nor does she keep up on the minutiae of every bit of legislation sitting in committee. She knows, in general terms, the positions of the front runners and the names of most of the major political players, but that's it. In short, she is pretty much your average voter. (As opposed to the political junkies on Townhall.)

She saw me writing furiously tonight, and asked what was going on. I told her I was debating with some Ron Paul supporters. After a few minutes of watching me type, she asked "What has you so worked up?" I replied that I thought Ron Paul was wrong, that withdrawing our troops to the borders of the US, and staying out of all foreign conflicts, would not make us safe.

She thought for a moment and replied "He's crazy."

And that is why Paul will never win. His supporters may say he REALLY doesn't mean he wants to withdraw all troops to the borders of the US, or he doesn't REALLY mean we should never get involved in any foreign conflicts, but that sure is what Ron Paul seems to be saying. If his own words sound like that to most people, they can certainly be sold that way by his opponents.

And if his opponents can convince the average voter that Ron Paul wants to withdraw the troops to the borders of the US and never use them except if Canada invades, then the average voter will respond the way my wife did:

He's crazy.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Ron Paul will never win. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the merits of his position, no matter how carefully he thought it out, his policy comes across as insane to the average voter. And that is a sure ticket to defeat.

(By the way, it doesn't help that Ron Paul himself comes across as a bit "off" when speaking. Nor does it help that his followers spend so much time telling everyone that he really didn't mean what he seemed to say -- that he isn't a 9/11 truther, that he isn't an isolationist, etc. And the endorsements he is getting from white power and "Christian Identity" [read as "skinhead"] groups don't help either. In fact, except for a knack for fund raising, and having so far avoided any scandalous behavior,  it seems Ron Paul's campaign has every negative one could imagine.*)


* Some will consider this a cheap shot, but Ron Paul is starting to remind me of someone else. A skilled fund raiser, who came out of nowhere, had a strong internet following, fanatical supporters, a sudden surge in the polls, ran a campaign that seemed to be all wrong but still pulled ahead right before Iowa... and then burned out and faded away.

Now all we have to see is if that last comes true. Will we see Ron Paul promising followers "We're going to Florida, going to California, going to Ohio... YEARGH!"?

I can't wait to see Ron's take on the "Dean Scream".

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/01.

Please Get Your Facts Straight

I know it is asking a lot of conspiracy theorists, but would you please get your facts straight?

I hear it all the time, from the leftist Bush-bashers, from the 9/11 truthers, from the Ron Paul fringe of the Republican party, from the Buchananites and the LaRouchers, the same old lies:

"We funded Osama bin Ladin."
"We supported the Taliban against the Soviets."
"We created the Taliban."
"We funded al Qaida."

I would first refer anyone saying this to 911myths.com, specifically to the page about CIA funding and bin Ladin.

I would then like to recap a few historical facts:

1. The CIA did fund some of the Mujaheddin, so did the Pakistani ISI. The al Qaida group of Mujaheddin that would later become our terroist foes of the same name were creatures of the ISI, and, from everything I have read, the funding was strictly segregated. The State Department and CIA funding did not go to the same groups that were supported by ISI. So we never funded al Qaida or bin Ladin.

2. The Taliban, as a formal group, did not even exist at the time we were funding the Mujaheddin. Most accounts attribute post-Soviet fighting between Mujaheddin groups as one of the reasons the Taliban came into existence. So, if they didn't even exist when we supported anti-Soviet activities, how could we fund them?

3. OK. So, seeing #2, some will argue "Yes, but we funded the people who would become the Taliban". And that is true. But so what? At the end of World War II we funded partisan groups who would later form into soviet groups, but that does not mean we had a pro-communist policy. We do not have perfect foreknowledge, so it is absurd to blame us for funding one group, some members of which would later form a group hostile to us. Unless the critic can tell me tomorrow's lottery numbers, I will not accept criticisms based on imperfect foreknowledge.

So, to summarize: We never funded bin Ladin, there was no Taliban in the 1980's, and the worst we did was fund some groups containing members who later joined the Taliban.

Of course, none of this will stop the Hate America Firsters, the hard core left, the Paul-bots, the truthers, and the rest form blaming the US for any and all acts of Islamic violence. In their minds we are clearly to blame, and nothing short of pulling entirely out of the middle east* will ever expiate our guilt for... well, whatever we supposedly did. (I'm sure it has something to do with Israel, as, along with the US, that is the source of all evil, or so I am told.)


* I am sure a few of the "anti-Zionist" groups blaming every problem on us may not want a total pull out, they might allow us to keep a division or two in Israel to assist with rounding up all those darn Jews. After all, the Arabs can't round them up all on their own. But as soon as the ovens cool down, I'm sure we would have to withdraw those troops as well.

CORRECTION 01/01/2008

I am sorry, my memory proved faulty when I wrote the first part of this post. I thought I could rely on it, but after re-reading some sources, I see I forgot one part of the story.

Under item #1, I should have said bin Ladin was funded partly by the ISI, but mostly through the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency (GID). It is still true the CIA had no role in funding bin Ladin or al Qaida, but the GID played a bigger role than the ISI, though I forgot to mention it in my original essay.

Again, sorry for my faulty memory. My point is still valid, but I did make a mistake in some details.

And, yes, I do appreciate the humor in getting facts wrong in an essay about checking your facts. But, to my credit, I did admit my mistake and try to correct it. Not only that, but rather than silently patch my essay and pretend I had been right all along, I did admit to my error. So, amusing it may be, but it doesn't make my point any less valid.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/01/01.

NOTES: As the 911 Myths site is still active, I have left that link in its original condition. The link to the specific page on Bin Ladin has been linked to the Internet Archive in case the site should ever disappear or undergo redesign.

One Year Down, Three To Go!

Having finished transferring all of the articles posted in 2007 on Random Notes, I fell like celebrating. I admit there were fewer than 100 articles in that first year, while there are over 2000 from the beginning of 2008 to the present, but it still feels good to know I have finished one year, as well as my two much smaller blogs. I don't know how long the rest will take, nor how long it will take to fix the links, but I feel like I have accomplished something, and that is inspiring me to continue with the rest of the work.


I intend at first only to fix "internal" links, those are links to essays in one of my three blogs. These I shall be changing to point to the relocated versions. (Mostly because Townhall has had problems displaying articles from the year 2010. Once those are finished, I will begin modifying other links to use the internet archive as I described in "Administrative Note on Dead Links".

No more!

I cringe to think that in several places I refer to our government as democratic. I am sure that sooner or later I will be taken to task by one of those "constitutional republic" fanatics.

Is there anything more annoying than these people? Yes, yes, technically our government is a constitutional republic. It is not a direct participatory democracy. We all know that.

On the other hand, a constitutional republic such as we have, does operate by democratic vote for office holders, and thus does have democratic features. So to speak of democracy as a feature of our republic is not wrong. Nor is it wrong to speak loosely of our state as a democratic state.

It is akin to me saying "As a mammal I have hair and I am warm blooded" only to have you respond "But you are a primate not a mammal!" Yes, I am a primate, but primates are a variety of mammals,and so mammalian rules apply.

Likewise a constitutional republic is one form of democratic government. Participatory democracy is another. You make a mistake by thinking when we say we live in a democracy we mean we live in a participatory democracy. No, what we mean is that we live in a state run by one of the many forms of democratic governance.

Yes our state places checks on absolute democracy, making it difficult for direct mob rule by the majority. But despite that our state is still a democratic one.

So, please, stop lecturing us on constitutional republics whenever we say "democracy" in reference to the United States. It is getting quite tiresome.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2007/12/31.

Mystery Quotes

I was reading my old posts and comments and came across something interesting.

At some time in the past, a commenter mentioned a quote attributed to Jerry Falwell. ("So-called gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you.") At the time I was willing to concede that Falwell may have said it, but wrote it off as heated rhetoric in the midst of a political debate.

Later, I tired to track down the original source of the quote and ran into something interesting. As so often is the case in the internet age, there are quotes that appear hundreds of places, yet seem to have no origin. They are "well documented", as any given article can cite five or ten others as a source, yet none of them ever cite a primary source. Instead the quote is cited over and over, each article citing another, all forming a huge knot of self-reference. If someone wants to "prove" the quote existed, they will have no trouble, a google search turns up thousands of "sources", and those sources cite thousands more, but, if anyone follows the trail, they find that the articles all cite one another, and there is no original source in sight.

Wikipedia has made this even easier. One example, of a non-political nature, brought this home to me. I was reading an article on porphyry, and saw that the rediscovery of a mine in Egypt was attributed to "Bruton". I knew that the name should be "Burton", but, to make sure, tried to search "porphyry and Bruton", to make sure my memory was not deceiving me. However, I learned an important lesson. There are thousands of sites which cut and paste from wikipedia to form their own essays. So, any mistakes in wikipedia, or any deliberate lies, get reproduced over and over, until the web is flooded with disinformation. (And should anyone then use this wrong data for their own independent writing, we end up with even more false citations...) Fortunately, I found a reproduction of a journal from the 1880's online and found the original source (the wikipedia author appears to have actually plagiarized the article, but with a misspelling), and the name was indeed Burton, not Bruton.

I have also seen something similar with "Truther" sites. These sites attempting to show the "truth" behind the events of 9/11/2001 all seem to have copious citations. Some of these citations are to primary sources, though often of rather dubious value. But most are not even that useful. Many of the supposed citations on "truther" sites just point to other truther sites, which, in turn, point to still other truther sites, and, eventually, they point back to the original site itself, forming a massive ring of self-referential "proof". In other words, if one follows them long enough, he will discover that the truther sites often use themselves as sources, though they quote themselves via a long chain of intermediate sites.

I mention all this because I have seen this trap catch many unwary writers. Time after time I have been confronted with "facts" or "statistics" in an argument online which turn out to be of this nature. Yes, they are published, maybe even published several times, Google turns up 100,000 hits or more, and yet they have no original source. They appear to have come out of thin air and multiplied overnight to fill the web.

The quote claiming George Bush called the Constitution a "damn piece of paper" appears to be of this nature, I have yet to find a primary source, even if it is reproduced in thousands of places. Similarly some of the quotes relating to WTC 7 and "pulling it", especially the idea that "pull it" is demolition jargon, are also of this nature. And there are dozens more.

It is a problem which will only get worse as the internet expands, and there is no real cure as far as I can see. So, all I can say is be careful. Whenever someone claims that a statement is true because it comes from wikipedia, or because it produced X hundred thousand google hits, or even if it is cited in dozens of online journals, don't believe it. Hold out for a primary source, otherwise you may be buying in to one of these pseudo-quotes.

UPDATED 01/01/2008

Oddly enough Dennis Prager raised the same point today in an article about Will Smith being misquoted.

I love when synchronicity makes my writing suddenly relevant.

UPDATED 05/25/2008

I found yet another instance of a misleading headline. The Telegraph published an essay under the headline "Pope Benedict Attacked by Catholic Church's Most Senior Theologians". The problem being that the entire article is about a single former theologian, Fr. Kueng, who has been prohibited from teaching theology due to his opposition to the doctrine of papal infallibility. Nor is it even really an attack, but more about a partial reconciliation between the two, despite Fr. Kueng's disappointment that the pope will not adopt the liberalizing  proposals of Vatican II. Admittedly, he followed up the reconciliation with some mixed statements to the press, but even those fall short of being an "attack".

So, while the article claims that several top theologians are attacking the pope, the article is really about a single priest, no longer allowed to teach theology, who has at least partly reconciled with  the pope.But should someone want to write about church opposition to the pope, they could cite this headline and have a fairly good chance of duping at least part of their readership due to the misleading title.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2007/12/31.

NOTES: Two links have not been changed to archive.org links. In the case of Wikipedia because it is my policy to leave those unchanged, since Wikipedia is likely to remain up for the foreseeable future, and the history page allows users to view the version at the time of the post. In the case of the article reproduced in "American Memory", because the robots.txt excluded the archive.org spider.The Townhall and Telegraph UK links were changed to archive.org links.


Let us imagine a hypothetical situation:

You go to visit your brother-in-law. He has just received a brand new shotgun, and is enamored with it. He thinks that shotgun is the best thing in the world, and it can do anything at all.

Someone says the sink is backed up, he shouts "I'll fix it with the shotgun!" Someone else says they have a flat tire, and he grabs up the gun and runs for the door. A third says that his soup is cold, and out comes the gun once more.

You notice the baby has a runny nose, but say nothing, as you know what comes next...

Now, what would anyone think of a man who attempted to fix everything using a shotgun? Who thought his shotgun could cure cold soup, flat tires, a clogged drain and a baby's runny nose?

That man would be insane, would he not? He clearly thinks that one tool can solve every problem, no matter how well or ill suited that tool is for the specific task. And that is certainly a sign of an unbalanced mind.

Well, here is my point: Government, too, is just a tool. It is suited for some tasks (settling disputes in court, protecting us from crime and foreign aggressors) and is poorly suited for other tasks (providing health care, creating jobs).

So, why do we think  a man is insane for trying to fix everything with a shotgun, but we place our trust in politicians who think the single tool of government is suitable for fixing all problems?

Shouldn't we ask our politicians that they use the right tool for the right job and stop trying to use government to solve all our problems?

Updated 12/31/2007

I was writing a comment on an article which was related to this and I think I may need to write a slight elaboration.

Above I make some statements about what I think the proper role of government is, and I probably should not have done that. Instead I should have left it at this: We can disagree as to what the proper role of the state is, but we can all agree that the state is not the proper tool to fix all problems.

Having agreed to that, I think it is clear that everyone can also agree that politicians, for completely understandable reasons, often end up using the wrong tool for the job. Whenever a "crisis" arises, whenever some issue enters the public awareness, there is incredible pressure on politicians to "do something". And so, no matter how inappropriate state power may be as a tool to fix that specific problem, we end up with politicians trying to fix it using the power of the government. Why? Because that power is all that they have, and to do nothing is to risk being blamed should things get worse.

And so we end up with the equivalent of shaving with a chainsaw or planting roses with a backhoe. All because politicians fear having to explain inaction, and cannot bring themselves to admit (or explain) that the state is not the right solution to every problem which comes along.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2007/12/31.

An Interesting Thought

I have often thought that those who would choose to run for office are those we should be least inclined to elect to rule over us.

Think about it:

First, you would have to have passed your entire childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood without anything which may be considered scandalous. Now, many people do this, true. But by (until recently) excluding those who made youthful mistakes, we basically limited ourselves to those who have known they wanted to hold office ever since they were young. That is a disturbing prospect. Anyone who has been enamored of exercising power over others since early childhood scares me to death.

Second, a candidate has to enter a career which earns a lot of money to fund their early campaigns. Yet, they have to care little enough about that career to abandon it to run for a job which pays considerably less. In other words, they have to want nothing more than to hold office and see everything else as a means to obtaining office. Again, a very scary type of person.

Third, the successful candidate has to be willing to toil in the trenches and assist other candidates, and hold minor offices for a long while until their time comes. In short, they have to be willing to do whatever it takes to position themselves for their eventual run for office.

So, basically, if anyone is going to run for office, they have to have shaped their entire life with the end goal of holding office in mind. Of course, there are exceptions, people who end up in office without this past, but most office holders are not there accidentally. Most politicians have spent their whole lives thinking of nothing but running for and holding political office.

So, why is this a problem? Well, because of the old cliche "If you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." If you have spent your entire life thinking of holding office, you are not likely to have done it with the goal of NOT exercising your power. Anyone that interested in politics is almost certain to see the government as the solution to any problem. Yes, some "conservatives" may want to do less and liberals may want to do more, but it is unusual for any politician to suggest doing nothing is the best response. And I think this explanation is the reason why. They have done nothing in life without a political goal, they see politics as the source of all that is good, and they really just cannot conceive of an answer that does not involve the government.

Which is why I said at the start that those who would run for office are the last ones we want to hold it.

So how to resolve this conundrum? I don't have an easy answer. As was said many times, democracy is the worst system except for all the rest. Yes, you end up with professional politicians, who tend to be overly activist, tend to act to feather their own nests, act to aggrandize themselves, take expedient courses of action with only the next election in mind, etc. But the alternatives are even worse.

Sometime, though, I do wonder if we filled offices by lot, how much worse things would be. Yes, the government would no longer be truly representative, as the outliers would sometimes get selected, and, though the odds would favor selecting people who shared the majority view, we would often end up with some who did not.

On the negative side, election by lot would obviously have no screening for competence, or even sanity. We would get truly random people, some of whom would probably do a great job, some of whom would do a dreadful job, and most of whom would just squeak by doing a poor to middling job. Also, without any continuity of administration the bureaucrats would gain even more influence. Lastly, I don't think foreign leaders would take seriously anyone selected by lot to fill an office, at least not at first. Perhaps after a few decades we would be taken seriously again, but for a long time, foreign leaders would tend to look down on our leaders (even more than they do now).

But for all the down sides of election by lot, I do see some points in its favor:

1. There would be no perpetual campaign, in fact, no campaign at all. This would be nice in that we could eliminate the unconstitutional campaign restrictions, get rid of the all the farm subsidies used to buy votes in Iowa, and a lot of other headaches campaigning brings.

2. Everyone is  a lame duck. This is nice as it means the people filling office will be able to act on their beliefs without thinking about winning any votes. And they will have even more incentive, as odds are good this is their one chance, and they will never hold office again.

3. It brings the politician back into the fold of the common man. Our politicians now form something of an elite. Lawyers already think of themselves (with little reason) as better and smarter than non-lawyers, and once they hold office they just get worse. And people let politicians get away with this. True, I think of the congressman, the governor or the president as someone like me, except who didn't have the sense to drop out of law school, and was stupid enough to leave a million dollar a year job for one paying less than half that, but most people venerate every one of them. Election by lot will put a swift end to that. When the guy down the street may be the next president, it makes the office much more approachable.

4. New skills. Right now we elect an inordinate number of lawyers. True, politics is the art of making laws, but, as they want to regulate every field of endeavor, you would think we might want some non-lawyers to hold office. Wouldn't it be nice if plumbers were regulated by a body containing at least one plumber, for example? Well, election by lot will break the stranglehold of lawyers on politics.

5. Lobbying would change. Yes, the lobbyists could still attempt to use cash, persuasion, etc to get influence over an office holder, but ti would be harder for them. Yes, these amateur politicians would probably be cheaper to bribe, but they would also be less accessible. Currently, lobbyists tend to have an "in" with certain politicians, having either served in an elective office or in the bureaucracy, or else knowing one or more politicians. Under the lottery system, there would no longer be any "ins" for lobbyists. Perhaps lobbyists would start to build up some contacts over the term of those selected by lot, but by the time the lobbyists got any purchase with a given office holder, that holder would soon be out of office and an entire new, random person would be filling the office.

6. The greatest benefit will be felt last, but will be the most important. You see, no one will be very comfortable handing unlimited power over to a bunch of people selected by lot. Sure, when it is run by celebrity lawyer/politicians, the government can bamboozle people into handing it complete control of everything, but not when your barber might be the next president. And so we get the greatest benefit of election by lot: Most people will want to drastically circumscribe the areas in which government can act. It may be impossible to rein in government today, but if we tell the man on the street we are holding a lottery to fill the congress, I guarantee there will be a general outcry to keep government out of our lives.

Given that last one, I think I may start again to press for election by lot to become the law of the land.

Corrected on 12/31/2007

I forgot to include item #5 on the list above. I had intended to include it when writing this, but simply forgot. I have restored it and renumbered the list.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/12/30.

Quick Thoughts on the Election

As the first primary approaches, some snap judgments on the remaining Republican candidates:

Huckabee: I have said it many times, but I will repeat, this is Bill Clinton with a Bible. He is s tax and spender who says the right things on social issues. I am also terribly concerned by his statements which sounds soft on Iran and his history of pardoning murderers and others who underwent sudden jailhouse conversions. What killer doesn't find Jesus right before the needle goes in his arm? Especially if "finding Jesus" is a ticket off death row.

Romney: I don't care that he is a Mormon, so that is a non-issue. He did some things in Massachusetts that I don't like (health care, etc.) but he was saddled with a far left legislature, so I am not sure how much was his own belief and how much an attempts to cooperate with the legislature. He says a lot of the right things on war and social issues, but he has changed his tune a few times, so I am not sure if it is an honest conversion, which is fine, or a strategic flip-flop, which is not. Also a bit troubling on the border, though he seems to be very slowly moving in the right direction.

Giuliani: Let us just ignore the "cross dresser" slanders, and his confused personal life, as I am not marrying him, and a man with a messy private life can still be an adequate -- or better --leader. (Julius Caesar, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, all come to mind.)  I find him a likable fellow, though, again, that doesn't matter in a president. I don't have to like the president for him to be a good leader, nor will a likable fellow necessarily lead well. So, his positions: Well, Giuliani is similar to Romney, he did things in NYC with which I disagree, but has since had a conversion, and he is starting to say some right things on the border. So, if he is honest, great, if he is just saying the right things but plans to act differently, that is a problem.

Thompson: I was an early booster of Thompson. He says a lot of the right things, even losing points with the social conservatives to support federalism. He has said a lot of the right things before he announced and since. However, either he has been a bit lethargic or he has allowed the media to paint him as lethargic. The latter is a bad thing, as it means he allows the media to run things. On the other hand, the former is a good thing, in my mind. I would prefer a president who has no passion for running. Someone who accepts office reluctantly, and has no love for either campaigning or politics is pretty much my ideal candidate.

Paul: Paul is fine on domestic issues, as I knew he would be. On foreign policy he is completely insane. I know there will be four or five enraged supporters who will take me to task for that, but I have explained in other posts why I believe that to be the truth. Regardless, if all the other candidates die and leave him the only choice, I will vote for him, but there is no other way I could support him given his mad foreign policy.

Hunter: I have read a lot of glowing reviews from Hunter supporters, and if what they say are Hunter's positions are accurate, then I do like the man on most issues. (Some have suggested a protectionist tendency I do not like, but that could just be the supporter, not the candidate.) But there is a real problem. If Hunter has not managed to get out his message to a political junkie like me, then he really is not getting his word out at all. That leads me to believe he does not have any real chance.

McCain: As it says in the notes below, I forgot McCain entirely when I wrote this, and continued to forget him for seven days. That should say everything you need to know on how I feel about McCain, but if you need a more detailed analysis, here it is. McCain is a media hound who turns against his fellow republicans and his constituents to get media praise and because he enjoys being called a "maverick". Unlike the media, I think turning your back on your constituents makes you a bad senator. He has been wrong on free speech (as "campaign finance" is just a restriction on speech), on immigration, on the supreme court, and probably a few others that are slipping my mind right now. I know he was a POW, but that only gets him so much credit, and McCain spent that a long time ago. He needs to do something pretty impressive to gain any credibility as a truly conservative candidate. (On the plus side, his Barbara Streisand impression*** was hilarious. There, I said something nice.)

The Rest: Gilmore, Brownback, and Keyes all have no chance. Again, I am a political junkie, but I have intentionally avoided going to candidates' sites. I want to experience this election like a normal voter. So I have avoided doing any research on my own and have let everyday media coverage (and some reading on Townhall) form my impressions. And, to be honest, I forgot completely about Gilmore and Brownback, and, though I remember Keyes, I was not certain if he was actually running or if there was just a write in campaign trying to draft him. So, again, if they can't manage to remind me they are running, then I don't think there is much support for any of the three, outside of the tiny circle of true believers every candidate seems to attract.

One word on Alan Keyes here. I met the man back in college, when I was drafted to be vice president of the campus Republicans. He (and Pete DuPont, who I also met at the same event) was one of the nicest people I have ever met. And I support his positions on social issues quite strongly. He is a very smart fellow, and, if he had a chance of ever winning a nomination, he would be my first choice. But even when he is formally campaigning, he just can't seem to get traction. Just like another favorite of mine, Phil Gramm,  Keyes is a man who would make a great president and makes a lousy campaigner.*

So what is the final analysis:

Happy to Support: Thompson, Hunter, Keyes (though he has no chance)

No Tears Over Voting For: Giuliani, Romney

Hold My Nose And Vote: McCain

No Idea Since I Just Remembered They Are In The Race: Gilmore, Brownback

Hillary/Obama '08: Huckabee, Paul

Well, those are my impressions. I am sure I will get a few happy, and twice as many angry, comments about my analysis (if anyone reads it at all). So, go ahead and let loose, I expect to be thoroughly abused over this one.

UPDATED 12/30/2007

I have to admit that the "Hillary/Obama '08" line above is just a joke. Much as I think Huckabee would be a disaster for the US, or Ron Paul would be a foreign policy disaster, I would still vote for either before I would vote for any of the Democrats running. Maybe if it were Joe Lieberman, or, better, Zell Miller**, I would vote Democrat, but not with the lot running now. So, don't write and tell me about party loyalty. After all, I was the one arguing against "sending a message" in 2006, I am quite a proponent of fighting things out in the primaries, not the general election, so I would, in reality, be a very reluctant Huckabee or Paul supporter should either end up the choice of my party. I just wouldn't like it.

Also, before anyone asks: No, I am not going to review the Democrat field. Why not? First, is there really any chance I will like anyone running on the other side? Second, does anyone voting in the Democrat primary care what I think of their candidates? Isn't it obvious that I will rate them from (at best) disappointing to horrifying? So, what would be the point of rating them?


* It is one of the ironies of our system that the traits that make a great campaigner (glib tongue, willingness to promise anything, ability to make 30 second sound bites) make for a lousy leader, while the traits that make a great leader (thoughtful, deliberate, consistent, principled) make for a lousy campaigner. It is a problem, but the alternatives to our electoral system are even worse, so it is a weakness with which we must live, I am afraid.

** If Zell Miller were running, I would probably vote for him over anyone except Thompson, Hunter, or Keyes. If most of our candidates are RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), then Miller is a DINO. The guy fits his party as well as Olympia Snowe fits ours. Any way we can trade a few of our RINOs for Lieberman and Miller?

*** Since YouTube seems to remove links over even the hint of copyright violation, it is quite possible this link will be bad in the future. If so, please post a comment to that effect and I will either remove it, or try to find a good link to the same clip. I try to keep my links working, as I hate sites with broken links, but I can't check all of them every day, so please add a comment if you find a link that has gone bad.


Correction 12/30/2007

I accidentally spelled "Thompson" as "Thomson". As I once worked for the relatively massive Thomson family of companies, and had to train myself NOT to use a "P" in the name, I now have a bad habit of dropping the "P" from the name "Thompson". Sorry about that.

Another Correction on 12/30/2007
Just to show how little impact Keyes' campaign has had, my first draft of this essay had his campaign described as  a "nascent write-in campaign". Only later did I begin to question my assumptions and check on-line references, finding at last that Keyes actually had announced and was formally running for office.

The fact that I thought he had nothing more than a "draft Keyes"-type write in campaign says it all. If people who actually like and would support you don't know whether you are running, then you are doing something wrong, and your chances of winning are pretty remote.

I was a little reluctant to admit to this mistake, as it makes me sound a bit out of touch. But, after some thought, I decided that, whatever it may say about me, it says a lot more about this campaign. That there are a number of candidates that I either forgot, or was unsure whether they were actually running or not,* says something about the field of candidates. If you can't keep people aware that you are in the race, it may be time to call it a day.


* In addition to my mistake about the status of Keyes' campaign, I was also not certain whether Tancredo had finally dropped out or not. About halfway through this essay, I finally recalled an article about him throwing his support behind Romney, making me pretty certain he had actually withdrawn, but, prior to that, I was not sure if Tancredo had withdrawn, or was just doing so badly that I had stopped hearing about him recently.  And, again, as in the case of Keyes, I would be a likely Tancredo booster. He may have been a single issue candidate, but it was an issue I thought important, and I liked him enough in general that I would have given him my support had he remained in the race longer (and a few better candidates dropped out).

As I said earlier, if your potential supporters don't know whether or not you are running, it is time to drop out. And, in the case of Tancredo, it appears he realized this too.

UPDATE 01/06/2008

I just realized I forgot McCain when I wrote this, and then again when I edited it, and yet again when I edited it the second time. It is a little embarrassing, but it took me 7 days to remember that McCain is running. (Wishful thinking, perhaps.) It is funny, but I recalled Alan Keyes, and Phil Gramm's unsuccessful presidential run in years past, but I couldn't recall that McCain was in this race.

So, just to be fair, I will add my McCain entry to the list above, and put him in the list, but I am not making an effort to hide the oversight. I really did forget him for a week. I am not making the change to try to hide my mistake, only to make the list complete.

And, to save a little face, I DID remember him enough to put him in the second list, I just forgot to include him in my first list of candidates. So my memory isn't completely shot, just somewhat defective.

UPDATE #2 01/06/2008

I must have been asleep at the switch on this one. It appears I was evaluating candidates who withdrew. At least I think they withdrew. The media has been so full of Huckabee-fever that I can't find much about who is left in the running.

So, it appears that both Brownback and Gilmore withdrew quietly in the recent past, and I somehow missed it. Shouldn't surprise me, as I didn't notice Keyes' official announcement either. I suppose I have been a bit ill-served by my plan to experience this primary as an average voter would, rather than a political junkie. Without doing any additional research, just relying on the media and some Townhall articles, I appear to have missed some developments.

On the other hand, I now know why the average voter knows so little about Thompson. After the flurry of attention before he entered the race, there has been something of a Thompson blackout. The same way I managed to hear little about anyone except the top 3 or 4 candidates, I also heard very little about Thompson.

So, I suppose my experiment has been informative. At least I now better understand how much the media shapes common perceptions. Except for a few political junkies, the public sees almost exclusively the top 3 or four candidates thanks to media myopia.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/12/30.

NOTES: Clearly reproducing such posts, as well as those predicting the outcomes of elections (as we shall see) has a potential to be quite embarrassing. But, I have promised to reproduce my entire blog here without any corrections beyond links and typos. And, even if I had not,t his article has been visible for more than 3 years on my original blog. So, embarrassing though it may be in hindsight, I will faithfully reproduce every thought I had on the elections of 2008 (and 2010) as I wrote them at the time.

NOTES: I tried to find a substitute link for that provided above, but archive.org does not do a good job of reproducing Youtube. I thought of finding a replacement Youtube link, as the one above is no longer valid, but Youtube changes so regularly, that would probably be futile. So, for now, I am leaving the bad link and suggesting anyone interested simply search Youtube for "John McCain" and "Barbara Streisand".