Friday, December 30, 2005

The second time around

To me, the real test of a book's value is the second reading. Oh, I can tell you after the first time through whether it's good or not, maybe whether it's great or not, maybe even if it's destined to be a classic. But it takes two times for me to be able to tell whether I can live without the book -- stick it in one of the boxes that threaten to crowd me out of house and home, maybe come across it years later and dance around the room with it another time -- or whether it needs to go on a convenient shelf because it's going to be a "frequent repeat" (I've read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at least once a year for the last 20 years or so).

I'm cheating a little here. I read Vin Suprynowicz's The Black Arrow twice in rapid succession as soon as it made its way into my waiting hands. But that was awhile back and in the throes of New Book Rapture, so let's consider this the "real" second reading, and the charm. The signed, leatherbound edition arrived shortly before Christmas (thanks, Vin -- and meow, Cat) and naturally got highly visible placement in my collection. From then until yesterday, I constantly found myself picking the damn thing up, thumbing through it, grabbing a favorite passage at random. Finally, I hit this one:

How could a sane man take this power on himself and not wonder, pacing and snarling in the claustrophobic night, "What if I made a mistake?"

Had Dominic Cantari deserved some lesser punishment? But that was the problem with those who committed their crimes in the name of the consolidated state. What black-robed judge would impose any lesser sentence? What jailer would enforce it?

... and that was the knock-down. Say it again, brother. I had no choice but to pull the trade paperback out and dig in for a leisurely third ... er, "second" ... read, front to back (the leather edition will be preserved as best possible for posterity). I just put the book down at page 259 to tell you about it. Again. This book friggin' sings, and it sings many songs ... songs of freedom, revenge, courage, love and, yes, sex (last time I checked, sex was still considered a healthy interest in some quarters). To put it as briefly as possible, The Black Arrow makes you want to fight for freedom even when you're down ... and makes you believe tht it's actually possible to win. Both of those things are important.

Unlike most links, the following one isn't to Amazon or Powell's. For various reasons -- including the fact that Vin and company have been great friends of mine in so many ways (but never in a way that would make me feel compelled to over-hype their stuff; I'm not sure that can be done anyway) -- I hope you'll get the book, and get it directly from Liberty Book Shop. Don't look for it at Laissez Faire. It ain't there (which, by the way, is a major reason why they're not here).

Food for thought ...

A cup with that only contains half a cup of water is ...

Conservative: half full.

Liberal: half empty.

Libertarian: an example of shortages caused by government control of our water supply.

Communist: an example of inequitable wealth distribution caused by the inherent social injustice in free enterprise.

178 more interesting -- sometimes hilariously accurate, sometimes debatable, almost always worth thinking about -- Qs and As over at Don Hagen's Satirical Political Beliefs Assessment Test. There's no scoring system or "find yourself on the map" stuff, just the content. Neat.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On the other hand ...

Okay, so now I've hacked on the Putin police state a bit, but I'd like to take another look at Russia. Hat tip to Kae (on the fightforliberty list) for posting an article that, in passing, referred to Russia's taxing/spending habits.

From the CIA World Factbook (numbers rounded):

Russia's GDP: $1.4 trillion

US GDP: $11.7 trillion

From the article cited by Kae:

Government revenue is expected to surge 40 percent to a record 5.1 trillion rubles, or $177.6 billion, next year, according to the 2006 budget, which Putin signed on Tuesday. Spending is set at 4.3 trillion rubles, allowing for the country's sixth straight surplus.

Let's see ... the US budget for 2006 is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.7 trillion (maybe -- the figures get fudged with "supplementals" and such so much that it's hard to tell for sure). Divide that into GDP, and it says the US government spends 23% of GDP (i.e. it spends about a quarter of what you, I and every other American produces).

Russia? Based on the conversion factor implied above, their budget comes to about $149 billion ... or about 10.5% of GDP.

Of course, they're taxing at a higher rate than they spend, which explains why their national debt is only 28% of GDP while the US debt is 65% of GDP.

Russia's government spends (and therefore perforce extorts from its population via taxation, inflation and other scams) less than half the percentage of its citizens' resources that the US does.

And that's the difference "relatively speaking." In real terms, the Russians spend about one twentieth as much on government as the US (in US dollar values), for a population about half the size (143 million Russians, 296 million Americans), or about one tenth as much per capita.

Russia -- surrounded by historical enemies on every side -- spends about 1/3 altogether, on its entire government, what the US -- menaced as we are, you know, by Canada and Mexico -- budgets for "defense." And they still have enough left over to put together the kind of police state that the Busheviks have still only realized in their wet dreams!

Yeah, the era of big government is over. Somewhere.

The (libertarian) revolution is not being televised

I wanted to take a few days to cogitate on this article from the Associated Press's Ron Fournier, and on Steve Gordon's response to it over at Hammer of Truth. So I did. Now I'm gonna dive into the dissection.

The danger in thinking that the Internet has "changed things" politically is that it's easy to assume proficiency in its use will automatically change the overall equation of political power. It won't. As I've previously pointed out with respect to blogging in particular, most Internet phenomena are just cheaper, easier-to-use, more accessible versions of long-existing tools.

Reading Fournier's article, I see examples of the same activities that could have been organized -- and 20 years ago would have had to be organized -- via phone, fax, flier and postcard. The cost reduction and time/effort savings represented by the Internet have made it possible for more people to become activists and organizers, but they haven't changed the essential nature of activism and organization.

Here's where Steve makes a tiny, but critical error. He notes that libertarians beat others to the punch in inventing and making use of Internet tools for political purposes ... but forgets that the punch never landed. Yes, the Libertarian Party was the first party on the web. And there it sat. Waiting.

Part of that waiting was involuntary and inevitable, because getting your troops to the objective first doesn't do you any good if you don't have enough troops to assault, overrun and take that objective. The LP was, and is, a small party. It's trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps -- engaging in real, effective activism (to attract the attention and support of voters) with limited numbers of activists, while simultaneously trying to develop a larger activist cadre which can exploit and enlarge its previous accomplishments. That's inevitably going to lead to incidents like -- pardon the military analogies, but they're the best I can come up with -- the Battle of the Crater in 1864, when damnyankee troops blew a hole in the Confederate line at Petersburg, then were thrown out when they couldn't defend the breach and move enough troops through it to break the line completely. The Union defeat seems to have been more a matter of incompetence in command than of lack of troops per se, but you get the idea and I'm not going to extend that part of the analogy to the LP. At least not right now.

Libertarians are very much engaged in an asymmetrical political warfare with the entrenched "mainstream." The mistake is in thinking that the asymmetry which can be successfully exploited lies in the nature of the Internet. It doesn't. Advocates of the other political persuasions have just as much access to those tools -- that weaponry, if you will -- as we do.

What are the asymmetries which libertarians can advantageously exploit? One of them -- exactly as both Fournier and Gordon describe but don't note -- is "stealing a march." The activists described in Fournier's article, and the libertarians mentioned in Gordon's, didn't have access to any tools their opponents lacked. But they used those tools first ... before their opponents did ... and reaped certain advantages of position. Libertarians, being "early adopters," have stolen a number of marches -- first political party on the web, some of the first effective "online petition" drives, etc. -- but as mentioned above, they haven't been able to exploit their position once they've reached it (or, as below, their exploitation ability has been limited).

A few examples from last year, which Steve alludes to but modestly fails to elaborate on:

- Aaron Russo (whose LP presidential nomination campaign Steve managed) hit the issue of military conscription early and hard -- getting mentions in major media and embarrassing Democratic candidate John Kerry into pulling his own "national service" plan out of circulation. The Republicans might have tried it (although they lacked credibility on the issue), but didn't. Kerry could have gone the other way -- anti-draft from the start -- but didn't. Russo stole a march on an issue that resonated, and he was able to exploit it with the public (but not with the LP, which decided to nominate Michael Badnarik instead).

- Michael Badnarik (whose post-nomination LP presidential campaign Steve acted as communications director for) exploited Internet advertising, real polling and TV ad buys (produced by Russo, btw) to drag both Bush and Kerry to New Mexico -- a state which neither had originally intended to spend much much time or money on -- and as part of that showdown, Bush unveiled initiatives (most especially a US troop drawdown in Korea) which were clearly intended to defuse "the libertarian bomb." If they actually eventuate, the promises made for the purpose of crushing Badnarik in New Mexico may be the most significant LP achievement of 2004. Unfortunately, Badnarik was only able to follow half of Nathan Bedford Forrest's directive: "Get there firstest with the mostest." He got there first, but the money just wasn't there to back his play the way he'd have liked. His "5% and gaining" threat evaporated after doing only limited damage to his opponents. He made the breach, but got thrown back for lack of troops to widen and fully exploit it.

- One of Steve's most brilliant ideas -- and one which played a significant role in raising funds and gaining attention for Badnarik's campaign -- was using Internet advertising to raise funds and elicit interest from non-libertarians. He placed Blogads in prominent "liberal" blogs to raise funds for Badnarik to run ads in states where the race was close ... and the "liberals" responded on the (not too terribly inaccurate) presumption that if Badnarik did better in those states, Bush would do worse and Kerry would be more likely to win. Once again, a brilliant tactical move. The reaction wasn't strong enough to achieve the full intended effect, but it did make a significant difference in Badnarik's campaign budget and public profile.

Libertarians have proven their ability to "steal a march" on the enemy, and that's a valuable ability, but it's short by half of what we need. The next step is amassing enough troops -- activists, dollars and voters -- to take, or defend, the hill we reach before the other guys get there too. Figuring out how to take that next step is going to require some genuinely creative thinking, not just an assumption that the tools will get us there. The inability to figure out the other half of the equation is what brought Howard Dean and Joe Trippi to grief in Iowa, and it's what Steve's been breaking lots of skull-sweat over for the last couple of years or so. I understand his irritation at the attention Fournier et al pay to non-libertarians doing the same old things -- and if I was a betting man (I am), I'd bet that Steve will solve the problem elegantly and effectively and hopefully first -- but that irritation is itself evidence of libertarians' forward concentration versus the media's backward gaze. We need more of the former. The latter is to be expected of the media, but is dangerous for us.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A wee bit of a milestone

I admit it. I'm an ad revenue whore. For the most part, if you want to advertise it on Kn@ppster, I'll take your money. Barbed-wire sex toys? No problem. That's why it troubles me to reject an ad ... but today, for the first time, I did.

The representative of the political consulting group placing the ad was courteous in his response to my rejection note (and I tried to be courteous in that rejection note). I actually think that some of you will be interested in their client. But I just didn't feel right about taking their client's money for running an ad which might imply agreement with their client's perspective or support for their client's past actions. So, instead of a paid ad for promotion, they (and you) get a free link for the sake of interest:


Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I was most definitely not on Michael Schiavo's side of the Terri Schiavo case. Whether you'll agree, or understand my reasons, is a different question, and I'm not especially interested in re-hashing it all -- if you're that curious, plug the word "Schiavo" into the search form in the sidebar.

So, there you have it. Kn@ppster turned down $15 out of pure, enlightened principle. Isn't he saintly? Kneel and genuflect, kn@ves.

Russia: Clawing its way back toward the abyss?

When the Soviet Union and its bloc of satellite slave colonies went into political disintegration, most of the "free world" rejoiced.

There were, of course, skeptics.

At the fringe were what my friend David Gonzalez refers to as "tinfoil turban" types who believed (and probably still do) that nothing of the sort was happening -- that those damn Communists were just trying to put the West off its guard and that the T-72s would come rolling across the Fulda Gap some time Real Soon Now.

The more moderate skeptics, on the other hand, had a good case: A resurgence of Communism, or possibly the birth of some other sort of monolithic state, were real risks. As Jean-Francois Revel pointed out in Democracy Against Itself, 70 years of dictatorship had destroyed the very institutions -- a market economy and an open political process -- which these states would desperately need in order to pull themselves out of poverty and tyranny. Until and unless those institutions could be recreated and nurtured to maturity, the constant tendency would be to retreat into the "safety" of the known, however horrible it might be, rather than face the risks and uncertainties entailed by the journey toward freedom.

Those moderate skeptics have been proven right time and again. The rise of KGB strongman Vladimir Putin slowed Russia's sluggish march toward market and political freedom, brought it to a halt and turned it in the other direction.

Putin's ascent did not occur in a vacuum -- polls over the years have shown that a remarkable percentage of Russians view the age of Stalin with affectionate nostalgia. With, to all appearances, the support of most Russians, Putin has ever more brazenly moved to restrict political freedom while simultaneously bringing the market back under direct state control (as opposed to the control of the "oligarchs," all too many of whom ended up as "businessmen" via sugar-daddy connections from their own Communist Party pasts anyway -- the emergence of a free market in Russia has always been two parts wishful thinking and one part shoddy veneer).

Over the last few years, Putin has consolidated his new police state -- and don't believe for a minute that it's anything else -- knee-capping the emerging free press, stealing "free" enterprises after first giving them time to fatten up on foreign capital investments, and, as of this week, ramming through a new "regulatory" regime on "non-governmental organizations" which interest themselves in minor concerns like human rights in the "former" Soviet Union.

Yesterday, the last outspoken advocate of freedom in Putin's administration resigned [hat tip to Tim Starr]. Andrei Illarionov, to all appearances a full-blown libertarian, had found himself in increasing conflict with Putin's policies. Apparently, the breaking point was that he was to be muzzled from further criticisms:

"I considered it important to remain here at this post as long as I had the possibility to do something, including speaking out," he said, according to ITAR-Tass. "Until recently, no one put any restrictions on me expressing my point of view. Now the situation has changed."

Hopefully, Illarionov will be left in peace, or at least allowed to leave the country. But I wouldn't count on it. The archipelago described so eloquently by Solzhenitsyn is still very much in business, and there's a new Stalin in town.

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FMNNClips, Correx and Other Stuff

Still waiting on that new computer system (and waiting impatiently, but recognizing that this is a busy season for sellers and shippers, so not too impatiently. I also finally had to change ISPs this morning -- my old one was down one too many times for two too many hours, but my new one stepped in with quick, efficient account setup and (so far, on the basis of a few hours) fine service. All of this, of course, to further explain why you're not hearing a lot from Kn@ppster this week.

Over at Free Market News Network, I've got a couple of newer pieces up that I haven't blogged/blogged about yet: "Asking the wrong questions, getting the wrong answers" is about the old "liberty versus security" argument, and it produced feedback (included at the bottom of the article) which required a reply (as a matter of fact, it may require more than one!).

FMNN also "reprinted" my earlier Kn@ppster piece "Disturbing? Not" -- which elicted feedback itself, and brought to my attention a correction which needs to be made. I wrote:

The radiation monitoring, by all accounts, has taken place exclusively on 'public' property ...

But as Dale R. points out, I was wrong. According to Newsweek:

In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program.

... and that dog won't hunt. If the feds have probable cause, they can get a warrant -- it's not like the FISA court is a difficult hurdle. If they don't have probable cause, they have no business on private property.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Disturbing? Not

First of all, Merry Christmas! Blogging from relatives', where the computer works just fine even if it is a Windoze box.

Secondly, I wanted to get on the record on this one quickly for reasons of my own -- if I don't bend over backward to give the government benefit of doubt or credit where credit is due ASAP, then it's reasonable to assume that my usual anti-government stuff is just knee-jerkism.

So, some people find FBI radiation monitoring in the vicinity of mosques and such "disturbing." I don't. Here's why:

- It's reasonable to categorize a communications channel -- owned or rented by those using it to send messages -- as private property which a search of would require a warrant for. The radiation monitoring, by all accounts, has taken place exclusively on "public" property, and moreover of the air on that "public" property. I've seen a lot of claims as to the expectation of privacy on "public" property, but none that extend so far as a claim that nuclear particles in "public" atmosphere have "privacy rights" with respect to others finding out what kinds of particles are there and in what quantity (as opposed to analyzing constructed chains of such particles for data content).

- If nuclear weapons material is stored on or adjacent to some of that "public" property, it's highly unlikely that the emissions of alpha particles and such produced by that material are intended for use as message vectors to other parties or for any other "private" purpose. And even in the extremely bizarre scenario under which they might be, there's never been any reasonable expectation that the transmission of such particles across "public" airspace constitutes a proprietary channel (unlike, say, satellite transmissions, etc.).

- Monitoring for radiation on "public" property -- including said property near mosques, Islamic centers, the homes of Islamic activists, etc. -- reveals nothing about those places or the people who own or frequent them except whether or not radioactive materials are present in the locale. It doesn't tell the FBI which imam is screwing around on his wife or which congregation member sneaks a ham sandwich in for lunch once a week, or even which -- if any -- people in the area might be affiliated with al Qaeda, sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, or anything else. All it tells the FBI is "there's radiation present in this public space from a nearby source." Thus there is absolutely no case to be made that any information is being "seized" which the FBI is not entitled to gather (if we grant that the FBI is entitled to investigate threats of violence on "public" property -- something I'm willing to stipulate to within the narrow grounds of the assumed -- although not by me -- legitimacy of the state and of the FBI per se).

This is not disturbing. As a matter of fact, I'd be disturbed if it wasn't happening. I've assumed since I was a kid that one advance countermeasure against nuclear terrorism involved teams in major cities trucking around monitoring radiation levels and investigating when they found evidence indicative of the presence of nuclear weapons material. I'd be surprised if this has only been happening for four years. It's a common-sense, non-intrusive tactic. To the extent that it has any constitutional implications, they are not individual rights/4th Amendment implications, but higher-level "what is the role of the state" ones which, although I disagree with the settlement, are fairly settled.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not so short takes

Sorry about the comparative catalepsis of the blog this week, folks ... I'll explain in a minute.

My "Christmas article" is up at Free Market News Network. It hands out a lot of thankees and blessyas. And the names of all of Kn@ppster's readers are (in some cases explicitly, in most implicitly) are included in those. The thing got so full of names that I had to randomly delete about fifty (by positioning the lists in center screen, closing my eyes, moving the cursor and nixing the name it ended up on). Yours was one of them. Really.

Lew Rockwell just did a very provocative piece on think tanks and proximity to power. Lots of food for thought there.

I guess it's time to comment on the Bush wiretap thing. Here's the text of an email I sent to a list a few minutes ago:

-----BEGIN EMAIL-----

> > The warrantless wiretaps are clearly and unambiguously
> > illegal. I know it. You know it. Babbin and York knew it. And
> > Bush knew it.
> >
> Sorry, the Sixth Circuit disagrees with you.
> Here is the actual decision

And if you'd read the decision, you'd know that:

a) It was relevant to an investigation which took place before FISA was enacted -- the actions in question occurred in 1971, and FISA was enacted in 1978 -- and therefore was ruled upon pursuant to the laws which were applicable at that time, not to laws which were later passed; and

b) That the issue of whether or not the NSA interceptions violated the Fourth Amendment was not ruled upon, since the plaintiffs did not so assert, but was instead accepted as stipulated for the purpose of ruling on whether, IF the interceptions were legal, turning their content over to the FBI was also legal without a warrant ("Jabara, however, does not even contend on this appeal that the interception by the NSA violated his fourth amendment rights; we may therefore take as a given that the information was legally in the hands of the NSA. What Jabara does contend, and the district court agreed, is that his rights were violated when the NSA turned over the information, without a warrant, to the FBI.").

To recap:

1) FISA requires a warrant for domestic wiretaps.

2) FISA protects the secrecy of intelligence operations by having the warrant applications reviewed in secret by a special court.

3) Allegedly, of more than 1,800 warrant requests, this court has denied only five in more than 25 years.

4) Allegedly, this court approves most warrant requests within hours.

5) FISA includes a retroactivity clause -- if there's not time to complete, submit and await a ruling on a warrant request before a wiretap operation MUST begin, it can begin and the application can be made as soon as possible.

Bush has had four years -- during which he claims to have reviewed and re-authorized the program every 45 days -- to get the memo out to NSA's wiretap operators to make sure they filed their warrant requests in a timely manner. He didn't do so, and the administration's reaction to the story -- first trying to suppress it (for more than a year), then trying to blame the messenger, then marshaling an incredibly weak set of arguments to support it -- makes it clear that he didn't do so a) because he didn't want to do so and b) in spite of the fact that he knew the law required him to do so.

The very best argument in Bush's favor was made by Attorney General Albert Gonzales, when he said that Congress's 2001 authorization of military force _implicitly_ included a "George W. Bush can do whatever the hell he feels like" clause. Unfortunately, Gonzales then stepped on his own crank by admitting that if Bush had asked for that authority _explicitly_, Congress would have told him to go pound sand. At this point, our own resident Mr. [NAME REDACTED] might be interested in giving us a Scalia-esque wrap-up of the import of legislative intent in evaluating the scope of law.

Bush is a crook, and he's caught. The only remaining question is which alleged "conservatives" are going to side with the crook, and which ones are going to side with America. The two options cannot be reconciled.

Tom Knapp
-----END EMAIL-----

Anyway, I guess it's fairly obvious where I am on that issue.

Now, as to my low-profile-on-the-blog act: Lots of work to do ... and my computer is dying. Takes 30-40 minutes to boot, runs like a snail with a stomach ache when invoking apps, saving, etc. after that. Works okay within apps, but definitely cramping my style. Presumably this has something to do with some odd hard drive behavior awhile back and/or the penny I found lying on the motherboard when I opened the case. It's also a fairly old machine, and was fairly old before I got it. I'm not putting it down -- 650MHz Pentium, Windoze 98 until the viruses drove me to Linux (where I am very happy to be, thank you), 20Gb hard drive, 128Mb RAM. Solid machine while it lasted. I'm sure I've eventually cannibalize some parts from it, or maybe throw another hard drive in and see if it soars again.

Fortunately, a new job came up, and I asked the client for a computer instead of a check. It should be here between Christmas and New Year. Here it is -- more machine than I've ever had, when it gets here. 2.8GHz, 256K RAM, 40Gb hard drive, CDRW/DVD, and best of all it's a Linux box from the beginning. I'd rather have an AMD chip, but hey, now we're talking about gearshift knob options on a Jag. Don't laugh, geeks -- this is more machine than I need for what I do and will be for the foreseeable future. As recently as about five years ago, I was doing most of the same things ... on a 25MHz Mac IIci with 40MB of RAM and an 800K hard drive.

Out -- for now. But please understand if there's not a lot of major blog action this week. Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Short takes

Iraq -- I've prefaced past elections in Iraq with a "wait, see -- don't write off the possibility that this will work" admonition. This time, I waited and saw without comment. And the winner is ... Iran. Again. To friends like webloafer, who writes "It's really sad to watch the Liberals of America in such a Hate Mode. They are heavily invested in the defeat of freedom and liberty in Iraq ..." I have to pose the question: Why is "democracy" bad when it elects fundamentalist Shiite governments in Iran, and good when it elects fundamentalist Shiite governments in Iraq? More to the point, why is it worth more than 2,000 American lives to bring the same kind of elections to Iraq which some claim produce anti-freedom (and anti-America) results in Iran?

O How the Mighty Have Fallen -- Doug Bandow is in the doghouse. Resigned from Cato. Syndicated column contract suspended for investigation. The problem? He took money from a lobbyist (who happens to be under indictment now) to write some of his op-eds. There's been considerable clucking, not all of it entirely off-point. But I'm going to take the contrary view: If Bandow's agreements with Cato or Copley required some kind of disclosure or abstention from enterprise, that's between Bandow, Cato and Copley. If not, well, his op-ed arguments stood or fell as arguments, regardless of who was paying him to write them. His pieces were usually pretty damn solid, and although I haven't reviewed his stuff from beginning to end, I never noticed any large change in the convictions he expressed. As a working writer (and yes, sometimes a ghost writer), I don't see Bandow's actions as an especially big deal. Matter of fact, if someone offered me $2K a pop for op-eds -- and still left me free to sell them! -- I'd jump on the deal, provided I didn't have to make arguments I didn't believe.

On RW Bradford

I wanted to wait a few days before beginning a "Bill Bradford roundup." Unlike most of my entries, I'll edit and extend this one without "update," "correction" or "added material" as new pieces come to my attention.

A couple of early, brief statements at Hit and Run: One from Jesse Walker, another from Brian M. Doherty. Over at Instead of a Blog, an extended personal remembrance from Tim Virkkala. These three are of special interest, coming from individuals who worked closely, and over long periods of time, with Bill. Virkkala's piece in particular is very much "warts and all" ... and I don't think Bill would have it any other way.

Some other blogosphere notes, from brief mentions to extended reminiscences, in no particular order:

Mike Renzulli
Claire Wolfe
Jeff Schaler
BW Richardson
RJ Lehmann
Keith Rodgers
Jim Henley
AB Dada (hat tip: link to Seattle Times obit)
Gene Healy
Steve Gordon
Gary McGath
Brandon Berg
Doug Woodbridge
Lee Killough
Eric Garris
Timothy Sandefur
John Coleman
Jacque Hamr

... and, of course, one seemingly triumphal mention from the thoroughly loathsome Chris Farris, who seems to think that liking Harry Browne requires hating Bill Bradford or vice versa (disclaimer: I write for a site of which Browne is president, but in the past have been "anti-Browne," i.e. worked against Browne as a pre-nomination candidate and took part in some activities which might have been considered inimical to his interest in the Libertarian Party's direction); I've also written for Bradford's magazine -- and consider both Browne and Bradford friends).

Farris, for those of you who are not familiar with him, was briefly a big fish in the small pond that is the Libertarian Party. He formed something called "Real World Libertarians," the primary focus of which, while it lasted, seemed to be to (successfully) oppose any candidates for national party nominations who had any actual record of political experience or success. Fortunately he left the LP -- as so many of us do -- in a huff before he could do much more damage. Maybe I should write an article for Liberty about scammers who use "real world politics" rhetoric to promote the same old unsuccessful approaches.

Anyway, I'll try to keep track of mentions as they come across my radar screen.

Friday, December 16, 2005

BlogProps x 2: They come, they go

To all the girls I've loved before
Who travelled in and out my door
I'm glad they came along
I dedicate this song
To all the girls I've loved before
To all the girls I once caressed
And may I say I've held the best
For helping me to grow
I owe a lot I know
To all the girls I've loved before

My favorite woman of the right, after carefully sticking a toe or two in to see if she liked the water temperature, has finally taken the dive. Check out Ilana Mercer's Barely a Blog.

Another of my favorite ladies is preparing to take a year off from an exceptionally vigorous Internet-and-phone-driven routine. Don't panic -- Claire Wolfe isn't retiring (she strikes me as constitutionally incapable of embracing the concept!) -- but she is ditching her landline and home Internet connection for a year and will be blogging less. Tune in to WolfesBlog for the last few days before she takes a step back toward the sanity of non-total-interconnectedness ... and then curl up with some of her books.

Which reminds me ... I got a review copy of Rebelfire: Out of the Gray Zone (which Wolfe co-authored with Aaron Zelman of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership) some time ago, and never gave it a full review. Why? Well, I just wasn't seeing anything to say about it that wasn't already being said more smartly ... but I'd hate to have my silence construed as lack of appreciation, and Christmas seems like a good time to give it what little re-boost my endorsement may imply, so here goes:

Rebelfire kicks ass. Its obvious audience is the angst-ridden adolescent rocker crowd, but it's more than good enough to carry its own weight with "adult" audiences. Near-future science fiction in the coming surveillance state, as a young aspiring musician illegally flees his assigned home area to seek stardom (and the book comes with an audio CD including credibly solid renditions of the books theme song, "Justice Day," btw).

Little secret: I hate "juvenile literature." So, I suspect, do most "juveniles." Most of the stuff written for teen audiences is Grade A bullshit. Authors write down to "their" audience -- intentionally or not, it doesn't matter -- and then wonder why kids would rather vegetate in front of the idiot box. The exceptions -- notably Robert Heinlein -- prove the rule. Rebelfire isn't written "down." Yes, it's got an ideological bent to it, but it's a good bent ... and one that's guaranteed to put hooks into the "juvies" who are looking for an answer to the question "why is the world my parents created so screwed up?"

Got kids? Rebelfire will fit nicely into any stocking of reasonable dimensions. Don't got kids? Treat yourself

Thursday, December 15, 2005

BlogProps: Freedom Democrats

Came across this from Logan Ferree in the comments over at BattlePanda's Cory Maye roundup: "Freedom Democrats is a libertarian Democrat blog, similar to Kn@ppster."

Similar to Kn@ppster? Ermmm ... guys, there is just not enough room on the planet for two of me. But yes, the Freedom Democrats are, in fact, libertarians who have chosen to affiliate themselves with the Democratic Party, and they do, in fact, give good blog. I haven't had time to give the Democratic Freedom Caucus the attention it needs for awhile, either -- I have report cards to work up for the Missouri legislature some time real soon now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Usual suspects, usual progression

Some headlines:

- December 8th: Passenger killed by air marshals

- December 12th: Air marshal program under lens after passenger shot

- December 13th: Fatal jetway shooting poses some questions

- December 14th: Air marshals to expand their mission

The "was it a righteous shoot?" angle of this story hasn't received the attention it should be getting, and we'll get to that in a moment. But note the progression. Passenger shot; circumstances under question; responsible agency rewarded. Same ol', same ol' -- if you don't believe me, look at the budgets of the FBI and BATF after their screwups in 1992 (Ruby Ridge), 1993 (Waco) and 1995 (OKC). BATF got so flush that it was able to buy another vowel, and after 9/11 it was cut out of the Treasury Department and given a slot in the sexy new "Homeland Security" bureaucracy.

If the private sector rewarded workers like the feds do, your average factory worker could aspire to becoming CEO in record time -- all he'd have to do is blow up the factory.

But, really, let's talk about the Miami shooting. Like I said, it's not getting the attention it deserves. Becky Akers takes a look at the story as it's actually beginning to trickle out over on LewRockwell.Com. Some trivia you may not be aware of:

- The victim -- Rigoberto Alpizar -- may have suffered from bipolar disorder, but he wasn't an escaped mental patient or anything. He was returning from a stint of missionary work (no, not Islamic missionary work).

- The only people saying that Alpizar claimed to have a bomb are the people who shot him. From Akers' piece: [A]t least seven passengers deny that Rigo mentioned anything about a bomb, and several insist he did not speak at all. "I can tell you, he never said a thing in that airplane. He never called out he had a bomb," an architect named Jorge Borrelli told the Orlando Sentinel. "He never said a word from the point he passed me at Row 9. ... He did not say a word to anybody." So Leviathan now alleges that Rigo shouted about the bomb in the jetway, where his killers were the only witnesses. ... Even if the passengers couldn't see the jetway, they could hear what was going on out there: "I heard very clearly, 'Stop!' and about four to six gunshots," Borrelli of Row 9 told the Orlando Sentinel.

- And after the shooting? Akers again: Another passenger told Time Magazine, "I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official ... They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground. One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel."

The outcome -- at least as we know it at the moment? As a reward for gunning down Rigoberto Alpiraz at the airport, these animals are now going to be given licenses to kill at train and bus depots as well. And don't be surprised when -- not if -- they start issuing them cars and letting them buzz the highways, taking random shots at suspicious drivers.

Billy Beck had it right -- even though he was talking about something else -- yesterday: "Let's get real about this and figure it out: the age-old American abhorence of a standing army is an obvious dead letter, as evidenced by both their words and their deeds. And they're standing on us."

BlogProps: The Brouhah

I really love coming across a blog -- it doesn't even have to be ideologically simpatico with mine -- that I just can't friggin' stop reading. Especially if it's one that everyone else isn't talking about (yet). Check out The Brouhaha. I found it while surfing BlogExplosion, and Technorati says that only 19 other sites link to it.

Make that 20. The Bush public scatology/guys with artificial girlfriends piece alone rates some blogroll love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Killing Cory

Well, Stanley "Tookie" Williams is dead. Guilty or innocent? He stood by his claim of innocence to the end, and who knows -- maybe they did get the wrong guy. Then again ...

Red -- You're gonna fit right in. Everyone in here is innocent. Heywood, what're you in here for?
Heywood -- Didn't do it. Lawyer fucked me.

-- from The Shawshank Redemption

For some reason, apart from my general opposition to capital punishment (which pretty much comes down to "I can't trust politicians to deliver mail on time; why the hell would I trust them to decide who needs killin'?"), I didn't find "Tookie's" case exceptionally compelling. Maybe if I'd studied the case more closely I would have, but I let it go by because ... well, pretty much because a lot of people more prominent, more educated in the facts of the case and more interested had already taken it up. So. Anyway. Another state-sanctioned killing under the bridge.

Next up in the queue -- not necessarily for execution, but for catching public attention because he's eventually going to be -- we have Cory Maye of Prentiss, Mississippi. This one's a no-brainer: Middle of the night. Man, asleep with his young daughter nearby, hears someone breaking into his apartment. Intruder charges into the bedroom. Man kills him.

But ... the intruder was a cop -- as a matter of fact, he was the police chief's son. He'd busted into the wrong side of a duplex while on an official mission to kidnap someone and steal his stash (i.e. "he was executing a search warrant for drugs"), and the occupant of the place he mistakenly burglarized was armed. Oops.

Is it just me, or does this sound like perfect material for the "he needed killin'" defense?

Well, to make a long story short, black men who kill white burglars in Prentiss, Mississippi are pretty much screwed, at least when the white burglars are cops and/or the progeny of solid citizens, and at least when an all-white jury gets its panties in a wad because the defense attorney invokes the wrath of God as a potential consequence of doing something stupid like convicting an obviously blameless defendant.

So, Cory Maye sits on Death Row (presumably at the prison known as "Parchman," vividly described in John Grisham's death penalty novel, The Chamber), because he defended himself and his daughter from the wrong burglar.

Ain't right.

For a more detailed, coherent account of the case, I suggest The Agitator.

For a number of other blogospheric weighings-in, keep an eye on BattlePanda.

What to do? Steve Gordon at Hammer of Truth has it right: Contact the governor of Mississippi and let him know that Cory Maye doesn't deserve to die. Be respectful, guys ... whether you want to or not. There's a life on the line.

Update, 12/14: I expect Free Market News Network to publish my "open letter" to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour some time soon -- and in anticipating linking to that, I forgot to link to their other excellent piece on Cory Maye's case, "Tookie Lives? Maye Should Walk Free." Sorry for the omission. Link love is a good thing.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Quotable Quotes

Richard: He has a knife!

Eleanor: Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183 and we're barbarians.

-- The Lion in Winter

Said memory occasioned by Jim Henley's mention of the flick over at Unqualified Offerings. It's a great movie. There's another version, a TV take from 2003 which I haven't seen -- but let's be serious. I find it unlikely that Patrick Stewart, Glenn Close and Co. can hold a candle to Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins (in his third film) and Timothy Dalton (in his second), even though the late playwright James Goldman was responsible for all three scripts (play, movie script and teleplay).

The rest of Eleanor's monologue (it's easy to miss after Hepburn's straight delivery of the barbarian line -- fortunately I've seen the movie enough times that I dont always end up curled in a fetal position in the corner trying to stop laughing before my intestines run for the exit -- but worth reproducing as well):

Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war -- not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing.

We are the killers.

We breed wars.

We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten.

For the love of God can't we love one another just a little?

That's how peace begins.

We have so much to love each other for.

We have such possibilities, my children.

We could change the world.


Saturday, December 10, 2005


No, I'm not talking about the Cartoon Network -- they're just entrepeneurs responding to market demand. I'm talking about the Drug Enforcement Agency and the IRS.

The thugs brag:

According to the indictment and complaints, the defendants' organization received up to 600 customer telephone calls per day from over 50,000 different telephone numbers through a roving call center and delivered the marijuana via a distribution system of drug couriers.

According to the indictment and the complaints, the defendants distributed more than a ton of highly potent, hydroponically grown marijuana between January 1, 1999 and December 1, 2005, utilizing a mobile call center that regularly changed locations from hotel rooms and apartments in New York City and Long Island. Managers of the drug enterprise operated the call center, which involved multiple pagers, mobile telephones, and computers.

Sound like some motivated businessmen to me -- filling their customers' needs through the most advanced distribution system available. Of course, the thugs don't see it that way:

DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Gilbride stated, "Drug trafficking at all levels impacts the residents of New York and the surrounding area, especially the young and defenseless. Operation Cartoon Network targeted a significant number of drug traffickers who made millions of dollars by luring the weak into drug dens where traffickers pushed their poison for monetary gain."

But the real story is, oddly enough, in the release as well:

Customers typically contacted the defendants through pager numbers. Their calls were then returned by managers at the call centers, who used the codeword "Cartoon." The customers were required to provide identifying information, which the managers checked against their computerized records of all customers. Once a customer's identity was confirmed, the order was accepted, generally in the amount of between $100 to $500. The marijuana was then packaged in plastic vials bearing the Cartoon Network logo and delivered by the organization's couriers. New customers had to be referred by an existing customer ...

So much for "luring the weak into drug dens." These customers had to seek out a supplier for the goods they wanted -- then they had to supply references. And after that, the goods were delivered to them, not consumed in some fictional "den."

Bottom line: The goons stole $837,000 worth of marijuana and $600K+ in cash, and they're trying to steal another $22 million worth of personal and business assets (to add to $40 million they not only admit to stealing, but brag about stealing).

I could make a reasonably good case that the DEA and IRS have killed, or brought about the deaths of, more Americans than al Qaeda over the same time period. The difference, of course, is that al Qaeda doesn't get paid out of the U.S. Treasury, nor do they smother us with a bunch of bullshit about how they're there to "protect" us.

Hat tip to Steve G. and Michelle at Hammer of Truth, who mentioned this story to me and are trying to strike a balance between blogging it and consuming alcohol right now. Link to their version will appear here when it appears there. Here's that HoT link.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

R.W. Bradford, RIP

The following message was forwarded from a source I trust (Jeff Riggenbach) to a list I subscribe to earlier this evening:

Dear friends,

I am grieved to tell you that R.W. Bradford, founder of "Liberty," died on Thursday, December 8, at his home in Port Townsend, Washington. He was 58 and had fought heroically against cancer for many months.

Bill was surrounded by friends and family, and by the good wishes of his many friends throughout the world.

An upcoming issue of "Liberty" will feature a commemoration of Bill's life. His work will continue.

Stephen Cox
For "Liberty"
Stephen Cox, professor of English at the University of California at San Diego and longtime editor of both "Liberty" and the "Journal of Ayn Rand Studies," has been named editor-in-chief of "Liberty."

Bill Bradford is a friend whom I'll miss very much. Condolences to his family, friends and the staff of Liberty.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The problem with Democrats ...

... is that all too often, they back down when they're right. This means you, Howard Dean.

Dean is quoted as saying the following, during a radio interview, with respect to the war on Iraq: "The idea that we're going to win this war is an ideal that unfortunately is just plain wrong."

Bingo. Exactly. You don't have to like the fact that "we" (the government of the United States) aren't going to win in Iraq. But whether you like it or not, it will remain a fact. It ain't gonna happen (I'll explain why for the nth time in a moment, but first, some other stuff). Deal with it.

Which is exactly what Dean should have said when Republicans started tearing into him for talking straight. Instead, he backed down, threw out the old "a little out of context" claim, and is now attempting to "clarify" that which was utterly clear -- and utterly true.

C'mon, Howard. You've had the balls to tell the truth in the past ... more so than a lot of politicians of all parties. If you've got the balls to tell the truth on such a hardcore issue, you should have the balls to stand behind your statement when the Save Us From Our Own Idiocy Party throws a temper tantrum about it. On the war, the Democratic Party -- and its chairman -- need to tell people what they need to know instead of trying to figure out what they want to hear. Please -- get back out there and mix it up. Tell the truth about the war. The weasels can only nip at your heels from behind you, and they will never, ever get behind you unless you run.

Now, to that other subject matter: Why the US will not and cannot win the war on Iraq, and why it has, in fact, already lost that war.

Victory in war is a function of the objectives of the war. If you accomplish the objectives, you can make a plausible claim to victory. If you don't, you can't. It's just that simple. What were the stated objectives of the war on Iraq prior to the actual commencement of the war (dropping objectives after that point doesn't change the definition of victory -- that's simply an acknowledgement of defeat)? There were three of them:

1) To remove Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist regime from power.

2) To locate and secure or destroy alleged stockpiles of "weapons of mass destruction."

3) To eliminate Iraq as a threat to its regional neighbor states and to the US (which, while largely depicted as a function of objective #1, is also a separable objective -- unless you'd have considered having Uday or Qusay form the new "Arab Non-Ba'ath Non-Socialist Party" and just replace Saddam as president a "victory").

4) To turn Iraq into a western-style democracy.

Objective one was mostly met early on. I say "mostly" because significant portions of the old regime -- the Mukhabarat, for example -- ended up being retained, the US initially replaced Saddam with one of his former thugs, there are almost certainly "former" Ba'athists still in key positions of power, and the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party is almost certainly still active and influential in Iraq as an insurgent opposition party (which it has been before and proved reasonably competent at being).

Objective two was not met. We can argue over why it wasn't met (I thought the WMD was there too, guys -- but I'm not going to make up fairy tales about a "convoy to Syria" to cover up my mystification as to why it wasn't found), but it hasn't. Period. It seems likely that objective two will never be met (even if the "convoy to Syria" turns out to be real, the weapons have probably been dispersed by now and any chance of capturing them en bloc is gone).

Objective three has been temporarily and provisionally met, because Iraq is too wrapped up in its own turmoil to present much of a threat to anyone outside its borders -- but whether it can be met on a permanent basis is dependent upon objective four.

Objective four has not been met, and it won't be met. Democracy? Just barely possible. But if so, it will not be democracy western-style. It will be democracy Iranian-style in the south, and democracy "core of a greater Kurdistan"-style in the north, and in case you haven't noticed, that isn't quite what Bush & Co. had in mind.

If you don't achieve your objectives, you haven't won the war. If you can't achieve your objectives, you can't win the war. And the US has not achieved and cannot achieve its objectives. Therefore the US has not won and cannot win the war. Any other conclusion is not just plain wrong, but plain dumb. The only thing thing militating against the complete and permanent collapse of the Republican Party right now is that some Democrats were wrong going into the war, and that some Democrats don't have the stones to lay it out like Howard Dean did, or to back it up like he appears to not be doing.

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QEClip: Contra Milloy

Speaking of "corporate social responsibility," here's my weekly editorial for Question Earthority! (also available at FMNN if you prefer their formatting).

For me, this is very much a process question versus a content question. I could name 50 causes I don't support, but what I do support is the notion that those who favor those causes can work for them via non-coercive means. When people set up "socially responsible" mutual funds or use agit-prop to influence corporate directors, I may or may not support their objectives, but I'm glad they're pursuing them in that way instead of through the legislature.

To the extent that activists are moved to participate in market processes for particular purposes, the chance that they'll end up adopting those processes as the right way to do things in general is greatly enhanced -- means do influence ends. I doubt that Saul Alinsky anticipated such an outcome when he wrote "The genesis of tactic proxy," a chapter of his absolutely essential activism guide, Rules for Radicals, but that's the way I see it, anyway.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BlogProps: Bonanza Jellybean

Yeah, what she said!. Especially about Wal-Mart.

Listen, people, it's not about the "corporate social responsibility" thing -- although Wal-Mart isn't above real "socially irresponsible" conduct like calibrating its wages and hours so as to shift potential employee health care costs onto the taxpayer and such.

It isn't about economic protectionism or knee-jerk "buy-Americanism," even though Wal-Mart's transition to mostly slave-made Chinese stuff doesn't seem to have lowered prices nearly as much as it's lowered quality.

It's not really about politics at all. It's about the fact that going to Wal-Mart is just one big bodacious pain in the ass in about every way imaginable. I don't even find Bonanza's rant to be especially extreme or out of the range of the normal in terms of the situation it describes, based on my own experiences and the descriptions of others' experiences.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Blast from the Past: Let's put organs on the free market

More article resuscitation for archival purposes, folks -- since it's about time for Christmas-type posting, I figure I'll go with something that emphasizes the benevolent without demanding the sacrificial. Here are two articles (original and followup) that I wrote for my former local newspaper a few years ago. In the interim, LifeSharers has emerged as an alternative to the anti-life organ donation paradigm. Check'em out. It's a good thing. Anyway, to the articles:

Let's Put Organs on the Free Market
originally published in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader, November, 1999

The News-Leader reports that "too many people die waiting for an organ donation" ("Don't fear organ donation," November 3), and suggests that responsibility lies with our "reticence to talk openly and become informed about what is an admittedly queasy subject." That may be part of the problem, but the News-Leader, like other commentators, avoids discussing one obvious and eminently practical solution.

The transplant patient or insurance company pays the doctor who performs the operation, the anesthetist who makes it bearable, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures drugs to ensure the new organ isn't rejected, and any number of other parties who provide goods or services to make the transplant possible. Everyone gets paid -- except for the survivors of the donor.

None of the aforementioned parties performs their work solely out of well-intentioned concern for the health of the patient. They all expect to be compensated. Yet the spouse, parents or children of a recently deceased accident victim are expected to hand over the heart, liver, kidneys or corneas of their loved one as a gift.

There is, of course, some merit in doing so. A lot of people will "sell" their organs or the organs of their loved ones in return for the "payment" of gratitude and the knowledge that they've helped another.

But how many more would take the necessary steps to become organ donors if they knew that doing so would help their survivors make it through the perilous economic times following the death of a family member?

If I offered you a $100,000 "life insurance policy," payable to the beneficiary of your choice, on the condition that you designate your vital organs for transplant use following your death, would you not be more likely to do the paperwork?

At this point in the discussion, I usually run into the objection that the selling of organs is "unethical." Yet no one disputes the right of the physician to pay for her country club membership with fees received for performing the transplant, of the anesthetist for making the monthly car payment from his salary, etc. In what way is it unethical for the recently deceased to have arranged for his or her organs to save a life -- and to make life more bearable or comfortable for his or her loved ones?

A great many people do die every year while waiting for vital organs -- organs that would almost certainly be available in plentiful supply if the prospective donors had an incentive other than good will to motivate their donation.

A Reply to My Critics in re Organ Donation

To Whom it May Concern:

I write a lot of opinion pieces. Some of them are published in various newspapers, webzines, or on my personal webspace. I make a practice of replying -- politely -- to anyone who cares to comment on my writings: a note of thanks for compliments, a polite "agreement to disagree" to those who oppose my views, or a personal attempt to resolve particular questions that are raised in their comments.

For the first time, I've found myself stymied in this practice. Recently I submitted an op-ed on organ donation to the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader (this piece was also sent out to the Tilting at Windmills e-mail subscription list and is available on the TLKnapp.Net site.

A few days later, the newspaper published a reply from a person whom I am unable to contact. The writer, Stephanie Scott of Clever, Missouri, does not appear to have either an e-mail address or a phone number listed under her own name. Nonetheless, the reply raises questions and issues that I would like to address; and since the News-Leader doesn't exist for the purpose of printing an ongoing exchange between its readers on specific issues, nor does it have a forum for such exchanges on its website, I am electing to reply in this article, which I will e-mail to the News-Leader for forwarding if possible, and which will be posted on the Tilting at Windmills site.

Since I have been unable to contact Ms. Scott to secure permission to reprint her letter in toto, I will excerpt here, attempting to adhere to the "fair use" criterion. Those who wish to read her letter whole can find it on page 9A of the Wednesday, November 10, 1999 issue of the News-Leader.

First, I will deal with Ms. Scott's immediate reaction to myself and my article. Scott characterizes herself as "disgusted and appalled" by my ideas. I apologize for any discomfiture the piece may have caused, while pointing out that the remainder of her letter establishes that she did not understand those ideas as I wished them to be understood. That, of course, is my fault -- a writer should convey his or her ideas in a manner that makes the reader understand them. Once again, I apologize.

On the other hand, Scott is only partially correct when she states that I "Undoubtedly ... [have] not been in the position to make the donation decision, nor can he comprehend the impact of that decision."

I have not been in the unenviable position of disposing of a deceased love one or his or her organs. I have, however, been in the position of deciding whether or not to donate my own for a bone marrow transplant. A perfect candidate was found before it even came down to testing my marrow for compatibility, but the possibility nonetheless existed, and I had, in fact, decided to do so if necessary. Unfortunately, the transplant was too late to save my uncle, who died of leukemia.

Now, on to Scott's assertions on my idea. "To say that my loved one's organs are worth 'X' dollars is ludicrous." I made no such assertion in the article I wrote. As a matter of fact, I did not approach the issue of financial compensation for organs from the viewpoint of the donor's family at all. The approach I took was that of the donor himself: if, I posited, while still healthy, a potential donor was apprised of the fact that his organ donation in the event of untimely death could result in financial aid to his family, he or she would be more likely to take the time to fill out a donor card, state his or her wish to donate in writing, and discuss the matter with the loved ones who would be called on to make this difficult decision after his or her death.

I stand by this assertion. Too many of us refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are going to die some day. It's easy to put off discussing things like funeral arrangements, wills and powers of attorney, and, yes, organ donation. Discussing these issues brings the spectre of our own mortality to the forefront. It's easier to just ignore the issues -- but it leaves difficult decisions to be made by bereaved survivors.

Now, let's talk about Joe Sixpack. He doesn't want to think about headstones and funeral plots. He refuses to go see an attorney and put down in writing which kid will get the guns, which one will get the tools, and which one will get the farm when he passes on. And he isn't going to give a passing thought to whether or not his heart, liver, lungs, kidneys or corneas might save a life, restore someone's sight, or improve the health of someone who lived while he died.

But what if he knew -- what if he was told -- that his wife, whom he loves very much and would want to provide for, would receive needed money in the event of his death? Money that would cover funeral expenses. Money that would make up for the income lost to the family by his passing? Money that might, in some small way, ease the burdens of that wife, those kids?

I think a lot of Joe Sixpacks would sit down, fill out their organ donor card, and talk with their loved ones about that decision. They would be doing it from the natural desire to take care of their own -- and, in the process, they would hopefully be putting something better than money into a different account: an account of lives saved by their organs, which otherwise would have proceeded from the accident scene or hospital room to the crematorium or cemetery.

Ms. Scott states that she would find it offensive to to feel that she traded her deceased loved one's organs for money and that, "If I were approached in that manner, I would have declined."

Let me get this straight, Ms. Scott. You are saying that you would refuse to save a life if your sister's husband, children, elderly parents or yourself were compensated in any way for doing so? You would LET SOMEONE DIE rather than take money for saving his or her life? You are entitled to this sentiment, but it seems rather counter to the compassion expressed in the portions of your letter preceding it.

But, if you insist, we can deal with this: I don't see that there would be any requirement that you accept this money. If you wish to refuse payment, that is your prerogative, and I compliment you on your willingness to help without financial compensation.

Are you, however, claiming the right to impose this solution on all parties? On the widowed homemaker whose household income has just disappeared with her husband's death? On the teenager who won't be able to go to college because of his father's untimely accident? On the father who is burying a daughter he had expected to outlive him, and who doesn't have the funds for a decent cemetery plot, casket and headstone?

Are you claiming the right to impose death on the patient awaiting a liver transplant -- the patient who will die because that accident victim never had an incentive to think about organ donation? Are you claiming the right to impose a life of sightlessness on the blind child awaiting corneas that are buried in the ground? Are you claiming the right to impose continued dialysis on a patient with kidney failure while two perfectly good kidneys rot in a mausoleum?

Next item.

Scott asks if, given the application of my proposal, organs would become auction items, going to the highest bidder. This strikes me as a valid concern, but I think it can be addressed. Personally, I have no problem with "a market in organs." Generally, when a particular item goes onto a legitimate market, the price steadily decreases. In this case, an increased supply of organs, and an increased number of transplants, would almost certainly reduce the costs of surgery as more practitioners performed the lucrative operations. The increased availability of organs would also mean shorter -- and therefore less expensive -- waits in the hospital for patients; and the increase in organ supply would also pay off in shorter post-operative recovery as better matches, requiring shorter regimes of drugs to stop tissue rejection problems, became the norm.

But I don't think we're going to see human hearts on the block at eBay any time soon. More likely, the medical profession will get together and set a standard compensation package. You won't get that heart by bidding $100,000 versus someone else's $99,999. You'll get it by being the next person on the waiting list who is a viable tissue match, and your insurance company will pay $X for it, just as they paid $X for the one before it and will pay $X for the one after it.

The issue here is not one of "need versus greed." We all agree that an increase in the number of organ donors means that more people can get the transplants they need. Whatever it takes to make that increase possible is worthy of consideration. I respect the right -- and admire the sentiments -- of anyone who, acting selflessly and out of love, is willing to donate their organs and who will take the necessary steps to inform their loved ones of this desire. On the other hand, I am not unaware of the powerful effect that money has in causing people to do things they otherwise will put off and possibly never do.

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... and speaking of Claire ...

... there's another piece that I've been meaning to point people at: Working Within or Violence Against The System - An Alternative by Kitty Antonik Wakfer. It addresses a question I've been giving some thought to, but am not ready to weigh in on at the moment. Your comments and ideas on the piece welcome as brain fuel.

Claire is right

Of course, Claire is usually right (not always, just usually). Consider this a general BlogProps for WolfesBlog, of course, and not just because she says nice things about my "day job". But I do want to direct your attention to yesterday's blog entry. Money shot:

"MISTAKES GET MADE." Yes, all by themselves and always without any responsibility on the part of high government officials or their privileged contractors and friends, "mistakes get made." Or "mistakes are made." And the "appearance of wrongdoing" is created.

Poor slobs from the inner cities or the rural trailer parks of America go to prison or to the graveyard for a few ounces of dope of a little meth or for beating up some other guy on a drunken Saturday night. They're held fully, painfully, miserably, personally responsible for every tiny act they commit. "Mistakes aren't made" by high-school dropouts or people with incomes under $20k. No, the justice system always considers those folks to be bright and knowledgeable enough to be fully aware of and fully accountable for their every deed.

Class warfare? Yes, after a fashion -- a most visceral explication of what's wrong with the whole idea of the state. It's us versus the political class. Knock some guy on his ass at the bar, go to jail. Acting as "National Command Authority" on an operation that flattens the wrong neighborhood (as opposed to the right one, also full of innocent people but maybe, just maybe, the bad guy you're after is there too), then at best your poll numbers go up, and at worst ... "mistakes were made" (if the latter, the slob who actually pressed the button on your orders might spend some time making big rocks into little rocks at Leavenworth, but who cares -- he's nobody, right?).

Being in government means only having to say you're sorry. Or perhaps "I take full responsibility" -- but when you're in government, "taking full responsibility" doesn't mean actually paying the price for, or accepting the consequences of, your actions, it just means there'll be a photo opp on the East Lawn at noon sharp.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lightspeed update

Awhile back, I briefly reviewed Lightspeed Consumer Panel for Kn@ppster's readers. Being an affiliate and all, I figure it's time for another pump.

If anything, my favorable impression of Lightspeed has grown. I've continued to rack up "points" and "prizes" (when you complete a survey, you get points which are redeemable for cash, Amazon.Com gift certificates, etc. -- I usually go with the Amazon certificates). It's typical consumer research stuff (i.e. answer questions about products you use, view ads and give feedback, etc.). If you have kids, there a fairly frequent opportunities to have them weigh in on toys, snack foods and such. No commitment, no obligation; when there's a survey, you get an email, and you can participate or not -- but if you don't respond reasonably quickly, they may reach their quota and you may not get to do it.

As an affiliate, I've received one check ($16.50). They pay monthly, any time your balance is more than $15.00. If someone signs up and completes a survey through my affiliate link (hint, hint), I get a credit of 75 cents.

Anyway, the program is still going, still paying, and still worth your time if you don't mind putting in 10-20 minutes now and then to pick up some neat little spiffs. I participate in other survey programs, but none has had a return like Lightspeed (most of them seem to offer entries in "prize drawings" only -- Lightspeed has drawings too, but there's also a real payoff for everyone, which is a big difference).

Check it out.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Casus Belli Aches

Interesting stuff over at Sunni and the Conspirators -- stuff which has, in some ways, spilled over here already (hell, I guess it actually started here, really) but is definitely worth reading on its own as well.

First post -- Jorge passes on my Veterans' Day suggestion of donating to AntiWar.Com; debate on morality, necessity and other concepts ensues. Featuring Jorge, Sunni, Billy Beck, John T. Kennedy, Mike Schneider and myself.

Second post -- Jorge follows up with his own full piece on "the immorality of war." More debate. Featuring Jorge, Kevin S. Van Horn, Sean, Wolf DeVoon and, once again, myself.

There are some things in both pieces (and in the comments on both pieces) I'd like to argue and/or develop more fully. Weigh in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Under old management?

My reading habits tend to launch themselves in odd, arbitrary directions based on glimmerings, hunches or just plain old "hmm, this sounds interesting." I'm blogging this just as much for myself as for y'all. It's easier to Google and find it here than it is to dig through the stacks of books that keep threatening to push me out the door, and then dig through the books themselves to find those sets of connections that brought up the "I need to follow up on this" impulse in the first place.

First connecting thread:

In the past, I've held that the differences between political systems among the world powers circa the 1930s were differences of degree, not of kind. Some a little earlier, some a little later, some in a tighter orbit around the organizing princple and some a little further out from it, but still more or less the same prevailing ... oh, call it Zeitgeist for the moment, but don't read too much into that, as we're going elsewhere quickly.

The above is not an especially controversial claim if we're just talking about Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan. And most people have come to grips with the similarity between the "fascism" of those four and the "socialism" of Stalin's Soviet Union. I'm not just talking about those five, though -- I'm also including New Deal America, Churchill's Britain, etc. (and let's not forget Ireland under Eamon DeValera). This is usually the point where the same people who freely refer to FDR as a "socialist" start sputtering -- they don't like his social programs and "socialist" is an easy term of oppobrium, but they draw the line at comparing, say, the US and Germany circa 1938.

Still, let's look at it less from a "social programs" point of view and more from a "what are the absolute limits of the power of the state" perspective. A lot of of people (even libertarians, unless they notice one brief reference to it in something by Ayn Rand) don't know that FDR attempted to introduce labor conscription under the rubric of the National Recovery Act, and was only stopped from doing so by the Supreme Court. Few remember that today's Planned Parenthood was founded on the "eugenics" vision of Margaret Sanger, who was awarded a medal by Hitler for her contribution to the theories underlying his monstrous racial programs. Most people write off factors such as the wartime internment of Japanese and nisei, the virtual nationalization of industry, food rationing and other horrors as temporary wartime measures necessitated by emergency and therefore not of great philosophical import. While there's certainly a case to be made for "wartime necessity," it's still true that, according to our own mythology, Americans didn't bat an eye at this stuff, once Pearl Harbor opened that eye. A populace doesn't just jump into that mindset ... insert the old "boiling a frog" analogy here if you like.

Some kind of general political trend was cresting in the 1930s, and while it may have reached its heights of horror in the camps of Stalin and Hitler, it was felt everywhere. What was that trend?

Second connecting thread:

I just finished re-reading Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Trotsky (The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Outcast). I re-read it (the last time was oh, a decade or more ago) for a particular reason: I wanted to trace the elements of Trotsky's influence in the current "neoconservative" movement.

Briefly, the "neoconservative" movement has strong roots in Trotskyism, or at least in the work of Trotskyites, from Irving Kristol's first New York "study group" to the influx of Social Democrats/Shachtmanites into neoconservatism in the mid-to-late 70s -- for example, Jean Kirkpatrick (Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the UN), Paul Wolfowitz (former assistant Secretary of Defense, now president of the World Bank) and Joshua Muravchik (of the American Enterprise Institute) -- and all the way back to the founding of National Review ... by right-wing enfant terrible William F. Buckley, yes, but also by James Burnham, one of America's leading Trotskyites in the 1930s and founder of the Socialist Workers Party.

That Trotskyites have had primacy of place in the neoconservative movement is beyond question, but in precisely what ways and to what extent Trotskyism itself has affected neoconservative theory -- and American political policy -- is a somewhat murkier matter. So, anyway, I wanted to know. While I was aware of the fact that Burnham, while still nominally a Marxist, had written The Managerial Revolution, which had in turn influenced Orwell's 1984 (indeed, Goldstein's book in Orwell's novel is alleged to be a thinly disguised edition of Burnham), I was unaware of the roots of his theory going further back even a little deeper in internal Trotskyite debate, to a tract called "The Bureaucratisation of the World" by Bruno Rizzi.

With me so far? Those of you who knew all of this already, pat yourself on the back for being more well-read than Kn@ppster. Those are the threads. What do they sew together?

Rizzi's work came to my attention via The Prophet Outcast, and a passage jumped out at me that hadn't caught my attention all those years before on my first reading:

"State control and planning were predominant not only in the Stalinist regime, but also under Hitler, Mussolini, and even under Roosevelt. In different degrees Stalinists, Nazis, and New Dealers were the conscious or unconscious agents of the same new system of exploitation, destined to prevail the world over. As long as bureaucratic collectivism stimulated social productivity, Rizzi concluded, it would be invulnerable."

Trotsky took exception to Rizzi. He held that even under Stalin, the Soviet Union was a "workers' state," albeit a "deformed" one for the nonce, and therefore qualitatively different from the Third Reich and New Deal America, which, if also "deformed," were still (in Trotsky's opinion) capitalist. As a Communist, Trotsky therefore held that the Soviet Union must be defended against all enemies by Communists, even while Stalin remained in charge. This argument culminated in the breakup of the Trotskyite movement in the US. Against the background of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland, Burnham and Max Shachtman held that "revolutionary defeatism" a la World War One's Zimmerwald movement, was the proper attitude toward all the belligerents in the coming second world war -- that the Soviet Union was no longer a "workers' state" but rather just another imperialist regime to be overthrown.

I'm waiting to find a reasonably priced copy of The Managerial Revolution -- it's $38.50 a pop at Amazon -- to explore Burnham's take more deeply, but I believe that we can follow this thread a little further without direct reference to it, especially given Orwell's freely available 1946 essay on Burnham. Orwell summarizes The Managerial Revolution as follows:

"Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of 'managers.' These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new 'managerial' societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom."

We know that Burnham eventually served in the Office of Strategic Services in WWII, and that after the war he came out not just as an anti-Stalinist but as an anti-Communist. He went on to play a large role in the "rebirth" of American "conservatism" -- a "rebirth" that looks, in retrospect, suspiciously like a complete re-crafting under entirely new principles. As the Cold War blossomed, the Old Right ethos of "America First" non-interventionism which had dominated the Republican Party before Pearl Harbor virtually disappeared from "mainstream" conservatism. What replaced it? Back to Orwell, this time on Burnham's second book, The Machiavellians (even more expensive -- available used at $60 and up):

"Where the second book departs from the earlier one is in asserting that the whole process could be somewhat moralised if the facts were faced more honestly. THE MACHIAVELLIANS is sub-titled DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM. Machiavelli and his followers taught that in politics decency simply does not exist, and, by doing so, Burnham claims, made it possible to conduct political affairs more intelligently and less oppressively. A ruling class which recognised that its real aim was to stay in power would also recognise that it would be more likely to succeed if it served the common good, and might avoid stiffening into a hereditary aristocracy. ... Here Burnham undoubtedly contradicts his earlier opinion. In THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, which was written in 1940, it is taken as a matter of course that 'managerial' Germany is in all ways more efficient than a capitalist democracy such as France or Britain. In the second book, written in 1942, Burnham admits that the Germans might have avoided some of their more serious strategic errors if they had permitted freedom of speech. However, the main thesis is not abandoned. Capitalism is doomed, and Socialism is a dream. If we grasp what is at issue we may guide the course of the managerial revolution to some extent, but that revolution IS HAPPENING, whether we like it or not."

Apparently Burnham liked it ("in both books," writes Orwell, "but especially the earlier one, there is a note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the processes that are being discussed. ... it is clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power ..."). And, apparently, he went to work to bring the "managerial revolution" into the "conservative" movement, and the "conservative" movement into power.

In 1952, Commonweal (a Catholic magazine) published an article titled "A Young Republican's View." In that article, the author -- a young Yale man who was serving a tour with the CIA in Mexico, a tour he'd signed up for under the auspices of his favorite professor, ex-Trotskyite (and ex-OSS/CIA operative) Willmoore Kendall, and Kendall's friend, ex-Trotskyite (and ex-OSS/CIA operative) James Burnham -- set out a stark political vision for the conduct of the anti-Communist struggle.

... we have to accept Big Government for the duration -- for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores ...

In other words, Burnham's "managerial revolution" -- a "bureaucratic deformation" of American polity under the guise of necessity for the defeat of Communism.

The young Yale man, of course, was William F. Buckley, Jr., who went on (with Burnham's assistance) to found National Review, the de facto journal of record for the "conservative movement" from the mid-1950s through the Reagan era ... indeed, until the current administration, under which the even more overtly "neoconservative" Weekly Standard has gained ground on it.

For 35 years, the formula worked flawlessly: Endless war without victory or defeat, endless growth of the managerial class (which may simply be the "political class" referred to in libertarian class theory as opposed to the Marxist variant), endless growth of government power, endless blurring of the lines allegedly separating the two "parties" within the managerial framework.

Then, the stumble: One of the partners in the enterprise collapsed. The wheels came of the Soviet Union; freedom threatened to break out; even as Europe worked desperately to consolidate its own managerial superstate, the EU, NATO seemed to be fading into obsolescence. The warfare state as an idea seemed to be on life support -- no monsters presented themselves for slaying, and the beast was reduced to feeding on feuds between small Middle East dictatorships and would-be potentates in the Balkans. In the US, the Old Right seemed to be at the edge of renaissance. "Isolationist" Pat Buchanan racked up surprising (and, to the neocons, disturbing) vote totals in presidential primaries as long as he remained within the GOP fold. The Republican congress began to question Bill Clinton's foreign adventurism ... and in 2000, a new president was elected on the platform of "a more humble foreign policy."

The neoconservative vision was on the ropes -- it even looked for awhile as if the "managerial" innovations of the New Deal might eventually come under siege. And the warfare state? Burnt toast. The new president seems to have allowed the appointment of neoconservatives to key defense positions to please his veep, placate a small constituency which had served the GOP for 25 years, and because there was nothing to do there -- no pretext upon which the managerial class could hope to crank up the war machine again in any substantial way.

No wonder, then, that the neoconservatives grasped with both hands for the opportunity which presented itself when Osama bin Laden, the figurehead of an increasingly marginal trend in Islamic politics, contrived to knock down the World Trade Center. Over the course of only two years, the neoconservatives, operating from their remaining bases of power -- the neocon press, "think tanks" like the American Enterprise Institute, and tailor-made bureaucracies such as the National Endowment for Democracy -- managed to turn the suppression of a rag-tag terror network (a military task of at best middling difficulty) into what they like to call "World War Four."

While much has been made -- and much should be made -- of the similarities between Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" and the Bush/neocon horror-hash called "world-wide democratic revolution," it seems to me that we may have missed the point. The situation we find ourselves in may be partially rooted in Trotskyite ideology, but it is, in all probability, in greater measure rooted in a self-designated "managerial" class's desperation for return to power and aspiration to total power.

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