Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Free at last, free at last ...

Ah ... long day. Long year-and-a-half, as a matter of fact, and long story.

Short version: I am now running a 100% Linux box and happier than ever with the decision to abandon Micro$haft.

Long version: About a year-and-a-half ago, my Windows 98 machine caught a nasty boot sector virus (despite the fact that I was running an anti-virus utility and updating the definitions regularly), which I was unable to get rid of (although I used several reputable tools in the attempt). Every time I started up, the thing started eating files. This happened late one afternoon ... and I had to be online and able to get Rational Review News Digest out overnight.

Fortunately, a friend had sent me the install disks for Mandrake (now Mandriva) Linux 9.0. In a matter of about four hours, I had installed Mandrake on a new partition and was up, running and ready to go. It was the first friendly Linux experience I'd had (I'd tried Red Hat 7.xx awhile back and found it an unuseable pain). As a matter of fact, it was easier and more painless than an install of, say, Windows 95 or 98.

I resolved at some unspecified point in the not-too-distant future, to erase my virus-eaten Windows partition and go all the way with Linux. I only had a few gigs off of my 20Gb hard drive in the Mandrake installation -- that old Windows partition was sitting there hogging better than 60% of my disk space. But I put it off, and put it off, and had problems (probably not Mandrake's fault, but new RPMs didn't want to install -- I was using Mozilla 1.1 instead of Firefox and such for lack of ability to update), and put it off some more.

Anyway, Brad Spangler to the rescue with a CARE package in the mail. My enjoyable Linux experience just got even more enjoyable. Yesterday afternoon, I wiped the whole drive and installed VectorLinux SOHO 5. The install wasn't quite as easy as Mandrake, but it was eminently doable -- if you're a novice, don't let that stop you from going Linux. The bad old days of 800-page manuals just to get up and running are in the past. And it runs like a striped-ass ape, especially now that I've switched to the IceWM GUI instead of KDE (a fine GUI, but I'm running 128Mb of RAM, and apparently it uses about 120Mb ... no wonder my resources were strained!).

Very, very nice to finally have my whole hard drive back, a modern browser (I'll probably install Opera for additional coolness), and a lot of new tools and updated versions of old tools that have been released since Mandrake 9.0. I'm not really a command prompt guy anymore (as a matter of fact, I really haven't been since, say, TRS-DOS), these days you don't have to be to get good performance out of Linux.

Thanks, Brad. And Bill? G'bye. You are the weakest link.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Cruisin' for a bruisin'?

[Note: This piece was intended for publication at Free Market News Network. However, they're doing a big-time -- and very nice -- remodel, including email address changes, and I haven't been able to reach my editor via email or the site contact form ... and the longer an article of mine sits around unpublished, the less I like it and the more I want to tinker with it. So, y'all get it first ... and Earth to Mark, drop me a line! - TLK]

My first piece for FMNN was an entry in the "Is China growing freer than the West?" contest. I held then -- as I hold now -- that the answer is "no" -- that the Chinese Communist Party retains an iron authoritarian grip on the country and that it has no intention of loosening that grip.

One issue I ignored in the piece (as not relevant to its main thrust) was the bearing China's increasingly powerful "private sector" economy has on world affairs and on the prospects of future conflict. However, this is a factor which the US ignores at its peril.

One of the most important facts on the table is that the "free market" economy in China is no such thing. It's not even as mixed a bag as in the US, where "public-private partnerships" and other market-state entanglements increasingly prevail. The "private sector" in China is a fairy tale based on force and fraud. It consists of leveraging Western innovation and venture capital into slave labor enterprises, then using the Chinese share of the resulting profits to modernize the Chinese military and prop up a command economy with the equivalent of a perpetual blood transfusion.

When American consumers buy cheap Chinese goods from American retailers, they insert a vital link into the long chain of transactions by which Western capital is converted into Chinese military might and Chinese Communist Party political dominance.

With the profits generated by its laogai forced labor camp system, the Chinese government is modernizing the People's Liberation Army, building a blue water navy, and even reaching for the stars.

If the connection seems tenuous, it isn't: Until the mid-1990s, the People's Liberation Army directly owned most industrial enterprises in the People's Republic. Since then, a faux "transition to the private sector" has taken place as direct PLA ownership has been replaced with "ownership" and management by "retired" PLA senior officers. The revenue stream has had a link added to it, as the PLA now receives increased "direct" state funding instead of taking profits directly, but it's not too difficult to figure out from whence that state funding is derived. The "privatization" of enterprise in China is mostly smoke and mirrors.

Why is China working so hard to bulk up its military capabilities? "National defense" is an explanation, but not a very good one. The country's vastness and huge population make it virtually invasion-proof; a large basic infantry force could hold any would-be conqueror at bay indefinitely.

Of China's three conceivable competitors for regional "Big Man on the Block" status, one (North Korea) is its client state and subsists almost solely on Chinese aid; another (Russia) is in no shape, nor likely to get in shape any time soon, to contest the Siberian border; and the third (India) seems more concerned with Pakistan and the Bay of Bengal than about conducting war back and forth across the world's most formidable mountain barriers.

"Defense" does not explain China's intense focus on military modernization, especially when one looks into the details, such as the acquisition of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and a surface warfare fleet. It is the Pacific Rim, not Asia's interior, which interests Beijing. To be more specific, in the short term China is interested in settling territorial disputes with Japan in its favor, and in bringing Taiwan under its rule. In the long term, the Communists intend to exercise the primary influence, and preferably political hegemony, over the Rim.

Across the Pacific, of course, lies the primary obstacle to such ambitions -- and it's no accident that China is working hard to field weapons which can threaten that obstacle: The United States. In 1941, the Japanese acted preemptively to remove the US threat to their flank as they conquered the Pacific. China is acting no less directly, although certainly more slowly and less violently -- for now -- toward the same end.

Barring some (literal) sea change, China has the US over a barrel: It's using our economic power to modernize its military, and developing our dependence on Chinese trade as an extreme disincentive to contesting any use it may make of its military power. Every day, the US becomes more vulnerable to Chinese nuclear attack and to economic collapse should trade ties be broken; every day the cost of changing that trend climbs higher.

At some point in the next twenty to fifty years, the US faces the choice of a long -- and ruinous, even to the victor -- war with China, or of abandoning its allies on the Pacific Rim.

As a non-interventionist, of course, I prefer that the US begin disengaging from its expensive alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan anyway ... and the sooner the better, as the disengagement will have fewer ill effects if undertaken freely and on our own timetable rather than under duress and on China's schedule.

Alternatively or additionally, the US should stop funding Chinese military modernization and propping up the Beijing regime with fake "free trade." Chinese products are not the products of free enterprise. They are the products of slave labor, and American consumers who buy them -- myself included, as it's damn near impossible not to right now -- are receiving stolen property, to the slaves' detriment and our own.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Things that bug me, but not too badly ...

"Traditional Red Chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden."

This is sort of like saying "Gravity is defined by the Royal Society as a force which repels."

Chili is ... BEANS, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients. Meat is optional. Beans are not. If it doesn't have beans, it's not chili (although it may be a very nice meat stew).

Friday, September 23, 2005

Vox Dei or Vox Duh?

Steve Trinward, one of my fellow editors at Rational Review News Digest, weighs in on his blog (which I didn't even know he had until now -- gotta blogroll it!), Living Liberty, on the Holy Roman Catholic Church versus homosexual priests.

Of course, I support the right of the Pope and the church to set whatever standards they want, until and unless they start breaking out the auto da fe accessories, but Steve does have a point ... how will they know who's a "celibate" homosexual and who isn't, and won't not knowing make them look something less than divinely wise when it comes to light, either because the "celibacy" is violated or just because the guy comes out and says "oh, by the way ...?"

And, given the Catholic notion that everyone is subject to temptation, how is this temptation any more disqualifying for the priesthood than other temptations? Is there some reason that a person with a constant desire to smoke crack (and who resists that desire) is qualified to administer the sacraments, while a person with a constant desire to fellate other men (and who resists that desire) isn't?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Concerning Al

In a recent post, I suggested that Al Gore might be what the Democrats are looking for in a 2008 presidential nominee. For obvious reasons (and for non-obviously incorrect reasons), several readers took issue with that suggestion, both here and at Free Market News Network.

Herewith are some excerpted comments, followed at the end by my response

Kevin Russell writes at FMNN:

... Al Gore?? He's much closer to being a communist than a libertarian, couldn't win his own state against George Bush, would make a stiff, annoying president (even worse than George), loves the UN and global governance (even more than George), and surely is as much an advocate of sound money as George. If you can't think of anyone better than good old Al, the country really has gone to hell.

From Kn@ppster's own comments section:

Al Newberry -- Okay, Tom. I don't always agree with you, but this time I actually think you've flipped your lid. Gore? You've gotta be kidding or crazy.

Anthony Gregory -- Jeez, it is a sad state of affairs when libertarians are stuck hoping for Al Gore to win the presidency.

I should probably start off with the fact that I'm not backing Al Gore (yet), or "hoping" for Al Gore to win the presidency. I'm "hoping" for the state to collapse and be replaced by an anarchist paradise; or, failing that, for some political party to nominate a libertarian candidate who can win the election.

Now I propose an experiment for your edification: Find a private place. Hope in one hand, defecate in the other. Then come back and tell me which hand got full first.

Done? Good. You should be able to repeat after me three times, with complete belief that what you are saying is true:

The state is not going to collapse and be replaced by an anarchist paradise between now and January, 2008; nor will any political party nominate a libertarian presidential candidate who has a snowball's chance in hell of winning the 2008 election.

This means that in November, 2008, Americans will be left with certain choices. They can vote Republican, they can vote Democrat, they can vote Libertarian, they can vote for an independent candidate or the candidate of another third party, or they can simply choose not to vote.

I'm a libertarian, but I'm also a) still convinced that positive change can still be achieved within the political system and b) a political junkie. That means I'll be voting.

I'm a libertarian, but I'm also convinced that neither the Libertarian Party nor any third party or independent movement will have the horsepower to elect a president in 2008. That leaves the Republicans and the Democrats.

I've chosen -- for reasons I've detailed elsewhere on Kn@ppster -- to cast my lot with the Democratic Party and with the Democratic Freedom Caucus.

As a politically involved libertarian and as a partisan Democrat, my alignment creates tension between two goals -- to "libertarianize" my party and to help my party win elections. In looking at the 2008 presidential election, I conclude that the best prospects for my party to win include having either Russ Feingold or a western governor (New Mexico's Bill Richardson, Arizona's Janet Napolitano or Montana's Brian Schweitzer) on the ticket, and the nominee not being Hillary Clinton.

The question then becomes whether or not Feingold, Richardson, Napolitano or Schweitzer, if any of them choose to run, can beat Hillary for the presidential nomination. I don't know if either of them can. If I had to guess, I'd say not.

To my mind, this means accepting a presidential nominee who's not especially libertarian-leaning, but who can win the general election, and accepting a vice-presidential nominee who's more libertarian-leaning but can't get the top slot.

I have suggested that Al Gore would be such a nominee. Here's why:

No, Al Gore didn't carry Tennessee in 2000. But he can carry Tennessee against George W. Bush's heir apparent in 2008. He can also carry several other states he lost in 2000. With a western governor on the ticket, he would have especially good chances of taking Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. With Feingold on the ticket, he'd almost certainly switch Ohio, probably take Florida, make the Democratic hold on Michigan and Wisconsin more secure, and tie down Iowa and possibly Missouri.

We don't know who the 2008 Democratic nominee will be running against in 2008 ... but really, we do. The Democratic nominee will be running against George W. Bush. Yes, Al Gore lost to George W. Bush eight years ago. But he lost by a few hundred votes in one state, and now Bush has a record to run against that, as I suggested, would make John Lennon's "(Feels Just Like) Starting Over" an apt campaign theme song.

I don't have to like Al Gore to believe that he would be a winning presidential candidate. I don't have to agree with Al Gore on everything to find him preferable to Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, et al. I'm looking for a Democratic victory with libertarian coattails into the VP slot, and I'm looking for a presidential candidate who, on balance, would be better than George W. Bush, better than whomever the Republicans nominate to succeed George W. Bush, and better, more nominatable, and more electable than the other Democratic aspirants.

There are prospective Democratic presidential tickets which I could support, and prospective Democratic presidential tickets which I couldn't support. I could support a ticket with Gore on top and a libertarian-leaning Democrat in the backup spot. I'm not sure I could say the same about a ticket with Hillary anywhere on it. If I can't support the Democratic ticket, then I'll either see what the Libertarian Party is up to or else eschew voting at all.

It is a far cry from saying that I could support a Gore-(insert libertarian-leaning Democrat here) ticket to saying that I am hoping that's the ticket I'll get. Right now, I think it's probably the best ticket that I'm likely to get, though.

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Rolling over for Roberts

USA Today reports that key Democrats will support the confirmation of John Roberts as next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To which I must reiterate: Good move.

We've been around this tree before, but let's go over it again:

- In 2003, Senate Democrats voted unanimously to confirm Roberts to the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit. Less than two years later those same Democrats are going to have some 'splaining to do if they deem him unacceptable. What has Roberts done in the last two years which would disqualify him from the bench?

- We can't assume that those Democrats who supported Roberts in 2003 have since learned something they didn't know then. Intense scrutiny of his record has yet to result in any kind of bona fide "oh shit" revelation.

- Roberts' record simply isn't bad by DC standards. It's not out of the ordinary, except to the extent that he has, to all appearances, done a routinely good job and has rapidly been promoted up the government service ladder. And, finally ...

- As I keep saying, past history is no indicator of future performance. We don't know what kind of Chief Justice John Roberts will be. We can't know what kind of Chief Justice John Roberts will be. Nobody expected Eisenhower appointee Earl Warren to be the creator of the "liberal" Court which handed down Brown v. Board of Education. Nobody expected former Ku Klux Klansman Hugo Black to become one of the Court's premier civil libertarians. Nobody expected Nixon appointee Harry Blackmun to become the architect of Roe v. Wade. And presumably nobody expected the current court, which (including the late Chief Justice Rehnquist) had a 7-2 Republican majority, to be the "liberal" court that "conservatives" perpetually bitch about.

Democrats supported Roberts before. They've dug up nothing since to discredit that decision. He's never publicly stepped on his own crank. And for all they -- or the Republicans, or we -- know he may turn out to be the next William O. Douglas.

Picking a fight on this appointment would be pure unmitigated stupidity. It would discredit future Democratic opposition to far worse nominees, and it might even be a direct, go to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 failure if a filibuster was attempted and if the GOP successfully pulled out the "nuclear option." A collapse into obstructionism at this moment would weaken Democrats' ability to fight the appointment of Alberto "the Geneva Convention is quaint and obsolete" Gonzales, or even John "no king but Jesus" Ashcroft, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

That's why I'm glad to see only token Democratic opposition to Roberts. There will be future nominees, and Democrats will need all their ammunition to oppose the worst of them.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Here's your "sovereignty"

Advocates of the war on Iraq have consistently claimed -- at least since January's elections -- that it isn't a war on Iraq, but rather a war in Iraq, conducted against terrorists and insurgents with the support of a sovereign Iraqi government. In other words, that Iraq is not being occupied, but assisted.

Sovereignty can be a pretty fluid notion, but it has some sharp edges -- and one of those edges cut right through the bullshit yesterday to give lie to that piece of the pro-war case. A sovereign country has its own laws and may enforce those laws upon anyone within its borders ... even foreign soldiers who happen to be there to "assist" its government. A military force which assaults the local government's jail to free some of its members who have been lawfully arrested is an occupying force which considers itself, and not the "sovereign" local authorities, the de facto government in the area. Period.

Advocates of the war can no longer rely on arguments that go to sovereignty and assistance. Yesterday's events establish that Iraq is still a country under occupation, with foreign troops calling all the real shots. The war in Iraq is a war on Iraq, and Iraq's politicians therefore fall into two classes -- the occupation forces' quislings, or the enemy.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Another one bites the dust

A strange end to the marriage of Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney, and after only four months.

Rumors abound, of course, but the most pernicious one -- that each discovered the other was pining away for moi -- has yet to raise its ugly head. I will, however, be calling my security service to have some extra guards added in case those damn paparazzi catch on. If she flees to my home for privacy and, er, comfort, I'll probably just go ahead and double the size of the detail.

Best wishes to both of them, and I hope, unlikely as it is, that they'll be able to avoid the Brad/Jennifer/Angelina kind of circus.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A brief tutorial on phone etiquette for collection agencies

This post is about

2333 Grissom Dr # 100 (Westport Industrial Plaza)
P.O. Box 1839
Maryland Heights, MO 63043

Note: This post was updated on January 30th, 2006 with the language above, per the statement near the end of the original article. Yes, I gave them more than 90 days to reply before outing them. Thanks for playing, CCM.

A friend of mine once summed it up brilliantly: "Just because some asshole can make a bell ring in my house, that doesn't mean I have to talk to him." Time is money, and I don't have nearly as much of either as I'd like, so here are some rules about calling me:

1) Don't call my house with a computer recording which does not identify you or your company and simply demands that I call "customer service."

2) If I respond to such a call -- I shouldn't, but sometimes I do -- don't answer the phone and start asking me questions before you've identified your company or its purpose in calling. And when I explain that you called me and that you won't be getting information until you explain who you are and what you want, don't get in a huff and hang up. I have your number, remember?

3) When I call back and finally compromise (stupid, I know) by telling you what phone number it was you originally called, and we discover together that you are trying to reach someone other than me (but someone whom I know and who has used my phone number as a contact number in the past), don't start asking me personal questions about myself. If you do so, and I decline to answer, don't get pissy with me and start telling me how I am wasting your time and how I have an obligation to answer. I don't. I don't owe you anything, remember? You called me, I don't know you from Adam, and we've already established that you're looking for someone else. I have no obligation to help you reach that person (except to the extent that I may have an obligation to that person -- I certainly don't have one to you), and I'm sure as hell not going to help you reach that person if you piss me off.

4) When you do piss me off, and I say "fuck you, stay off my phone line" and hang up, don't call back demanding an apology for my profanity. You started this, bucko. Saturday morning is not a good time to yank my chain. You haven't heard profanity yet. But it's coming.

5) When I decline to apologize for telling you to fuck off, don't give me your (still-unidentified) company's address, tell me you're getting off at noon, and ask me to show up there with the unstated implication that you're going to kick my ass. For one thing, it's not nice and no way to get what you're after. For another, it's probably illegal. For a third, all 245 ex-Marine pounds of me (for once it's nice to have put on weight) just might turn up there looking for a beef with the caller who calls himself [name redacted -- initials W.F.].

6) Very important: Don't threaten to call me "on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday until I get what I want" after I've told you to cease and desist. That's not just "probably" illegal. It is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and I might get it into my head to cruise over to the Missouri Division of Finance site to file a complaint instead of just writing about you on my blog ... if I figure out who you are.

7) When you're doing all these things you shouldn't be doing, don't assume that I can't figure out who you are or who you work for ... because I can. As a matter of fact, the URL for this blog entry will be inserted into your firm's contact form and sent as soon as I post it. I have your company's name, I have your company's address (you gave it to me when you were wanting to throw hands, remember?), I have your company's PDF brochure about how professional and courteous you are and how that is certain to make you very good at collecting debts for me if I am a company looking for a collection agency to do so.

See how courteous I am? I've declined to publicly name your firm or its agent ... for now. I don't delete my blog entries, but I do add to them. If Mr. E. (the company founder and president) really wants nasty phone calls from regulators in Jefferson City, not to mention his company's name in BIG RED LETTERS at the top of an article which will show up above the company's promotional materials in the search engines, that can be arranged. Or he might consider apologizing to me and teaching his staff some manners.


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Friday, September 16, 2005

Hedging, hucksterism and Hood

It was only a matter of time before the Gulf Coast disaster moved from the finger-pointing stage to the pocket-picking phase. President Bush's speech from New Orleans last night will go down in history as the pivot point of that transition, but it was in Mississippi, earlier in the day, that the tone was set when State Attorney General Jim Hood filed suit against several insurance companies.

Hood's contention is that Mississippians who bought insurance policies really didn't know what they were buying, and that they are therefore somehow due compensation for damages they didn't pay their insurors to cover. Specifically, Hood holds that even though many insurance policies exclude water damage, Mississippians are too stupid to know that those exclusions apply to water damage caused by, say, Hurricane Katrina.

As populist demagoguery, Hood's move makes perfect sense -- but it's flat-out wrong and immoral, and if he succeeds (possibly even if he fails) the consequences will be dire for all involved. In the short term, insurors will lose big bucks paying out on illegitimate claims and their customers nationwide will eventually take the hit in increased premiums. In the long term, Mississippi's families and businesses will find it difficult or impossible to insure their homes, cars and enterprises. Hood the Huckster may benefit politically from this kind of stunt, but nobody else will come out ahead on the deal.

Let's call insurance what it is: Gambling.

When you buy an insurance policy, you're making a "hedged" bet. You're betting a small amount of money that you'll suffer some kind of damage. If you do, the bet pays off and you get compensated for that damage. You don't want to win the bet of course. It's just a way of minimizing risk. Better to pay out $100 a month on a "losing" bet than to unexpectedly "win" the $100,000 pot and not have a bet on the table.

The insurance company, on the other hand, is betting that you won't suffer the damages it's committed to covering. They take your $100 a month, month after month, and only have to pay out if your house burns down or your car gets t-boned by some idiot who runs a red light.

As always, the house -- be it a casino or an insurance firm -- keeps an edge. They calculate the odds and set the premiums such that, on average, they win more than they lose, i.e. they take in more in premiums than they pay out in claims. Sure, they may lose big on some policies, but they win small on enough of those policies to cover their payouts and take a profit.

Yes, a profit -- you didn't think that insurors were in it for the purpose of dispensing charity, did you? Insurance is a business. If a business doesn't make a profit, it shuts down ... which helps nobody, as you no longer have a place to plunk down your hedged bet.

The government of Mississippi, in the person of Jim Hood, is trying to cheat the house -- to change the terms of the bet after it's been made, or to past-post -- to move the bet after the outcome of the game is known.

Life entails risk, and one of the risks of living on the Gulf Coast is that every so often a big storm is going to come through sweeping you, yours and everything you own in front of it. Hedging one's bet against such an eventuality made sense. As a matter of fact, it made so much sense that two things happened:

- The insurance companies decided, for the most part, that covering that particular bet wasn't something they wanted to do -- so they excluded those conditions from their policies.

- The federal government decided that covering that particular bet was imperative -- so they offered subsidized flood insurance for people living in areas of high risk, including Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

Many Mississippians made poor choices. They declined to buy the cheap, government-sponsored insurance, and they either didn't pay attention to what was in their regular policies or decided to shoulder the risk themselves instead of paying more to have it shouldered by someone else. Now they're screwed ... and whatever the solution is, it most manifestly is not to force insurors to pay off bets they never made to folks who never anted up.

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When the system games you

As blog traffic exchanges go, BlogExplosion remains at the top of my list, and the new features they're rolling out are top-notch -- a very nice ping utility, headline indexing and so forth. Part of the site remodel includes an improved version of "Battle of the Blogs" which, after first stroking my ego, is now serving me a big plate of crow.

A little background: Early on, I formulated some simple rules for doing reasonably well in competition (and, more importantly, getting an optimum number of visitors to Kn@ppster) on Battle of the Blogs. For example, I generally wager the minimum number of credits (10) so as to maximize my credit-to-visitor ratio (competing blogs receive 15 visits). I also made a conscious decision not to obsess over my win/loss ratio or my competitive standing versus other blogs. This was going to be friendly competition with built-in advantages, not a dramatic production.

And it worked -- to date, Kn@ppster has, so far as I can tell, won more "battles" than any other blog in the competition. I've also lost quite a few. In the old ranking system, my ratio of about 60% wins to 40% losses didn't place me in the Top 50; when the new system debuted, Kn@ppster rose immediately to #2 in the lifetime rankings, behind one blog which had fewer wins, but also fewer losses (Diner Bitch, which happens to be one of my favorites).

About this time, I started to lose sight of my original goals. It started with the urge to improve my "batting average." Then, when I showed up at number 2, it translated into a crackhead-like obsession with doing whatever I had to do to knock Daria down and become King of the Mountain ("there can be only one!").

I started breaking my own rules. Instead of just posting a challenge and going up against whoever took it, or taking the first available challenge, I started gaming the system -- looking for blogs with less stellar records and swooping in for the easy kill. Why go up against a competitor who wins 2/3 of her battles when you can take on a blogger who loses 2/3 of his? It seemed like a no-brainer ... and it was, but not the way I expected.

[N.B. One thing to remember here is that while there's a connection between quality and competition, the connection is a tenuous one -- some very good blogs just don't do that well for various reasons that I don't feel like going into right now and can't always pin down. For example, Milky Way Diner is one of my favorites ... and loses more battles than it wins. Who knows why?]

I started getting my head handed to me by blogs I didn't expect to have any trouble beating. I dropped to #3 in the rankings, then rose to #2, then fell again.

I know a trend when I see it.

I could write it off, as some soreheads do, to secret conspiracies ("hey, everyone, Knapp's being an asshole -- let's go vote against him, no matter who he fights"), and I wouldn't be terribly surprised if something of the sort is happening. On the other hand, I'm not going to be a sorehead about it. Hell, I deserve it. I've been acting like a boxer who goes out and beats up passersby because he doesn't want to risk getting his nose bloodied in the ring. He thinks he can mug ten people for $50 each more easily than he can win a $500 purse in a stand-up fight. Well, sooner or later, one of those passersby is going to surprise him with a mean right hook ... or maybe they'll just gang up on him. Either way he's screwed, and either way he deserves it.

So, effective immediately, I am back to the straight and narrow (cue the theme from "Rocky"). 10-credit challenges, first-come, first-served. I'll probably continue to take some lumps, but I seem to throw my best punches when I worry more about blogging and less about battling anyway. Let's get it on.

Houston, we are go for launch

I'm terribly excited about the impending launch of Au Contraire! ... and it looks like we're ready to go for late next week.

"Four Americans, four opinions, one blog" -- each week, we'll address one issue from libertarian (me), liberal (Toby), conservative (Morg) and independent/moderate (Barbara) perspectives. We plan to write to newspaper op-ed length with a view toward getting our columns picked up by the "mainstream" media -- Blogosphere/MSM synergy, so to speak.

This is going to be fun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dog Days and Democratic Daydreams

Talk about the political blogging doldrums -- everywhere I turn, it's Hurricane Katrina this and John Roberts that. I've pretty much had my say on them (Katrina is indeed a FUBAR situation, but then what the hell else would you expect?; Roberts will be confirmed and the Democrats are best off getting their perfunctory pokes in, rolling over and waiting for a fight they can win).

Normally when the nation's political focus narrows and I'm done weighing in on the main events, I turn all philosophical. Unfortunately, the topic I'm interested in right now (dialectics) is deep enough, and my thoughts on it shallow enough, that I feel like I'd seriously damage my own credibility by going there (I'm about to freak everyone out anyway, but on politics, not deep philosophical stuff).

I guess that means it's time to punt, so let's start talking about the next presidential contest -- Election 2008. Who's going to run? Who would you like to see run? Who do you think can win?

Here are my gut feelings:

- Hillary would be a poor choice for the Democratic nomination, for a number of reasons. She's a Senator, and they don't do well (no sitting US Senator has been elected president since 1960 and it wasn't a frequent occurrrence before that). She's a Clinton, which carries high negatives along with its high positives. She's worked hard to be a centrist in the Senate, which looks contrived and isn't especially energizing to the Democratic base or to independent voters. And so on, and so forth. Kerry has pretty much the same negatives except for the name.

- The Republicans don't really have anyone standing out yet. Schwarzenegger isn't eligible. Giuliani won't make it past Iowa if he's stupid enough to throw in -- as soon as the campaign heats up, his record and his personal past won't just bite him in the ass, they will devour him whole. Mitt Romney's only distinguishing characteristic is that he really, really wants to be president. Apart from that, he is the tapioca pudding of politics -- bland, lumpy and not very appetizing. Matt Blunt doesn't have the horsepower yet, and may never have it (he's in his first term as governor of Missouri, and the wheels are already threatening to come off his car and dad's, too). The only two interesting names I've heard are Condoleezza Rice and Newt Gingrich. Rice says she's not interested and I'm inclined to believe her; Gingrich is too serious a guy to be taken, um, seriously.

I don't have a "dream ticket" for the Democrats, but I do have a suggestion that I think would be workable:


No, really.

Al Gore will only be 60 years old in 2008, by no means too long in the tooth for another go. He damn near won in 2000 -- as you'll recall, a lot of people think he did win in 2000 -- and he's been working the Democratic speaking circuit, writing books, playing entrepeneur and saving Hurricane Katrina victims ever since. He's tanned, rested and ready and, as far as I can tell, he is not unloved in his party. The meme? Let's just say that the John Lennon song "(Just Like) Starting Over" would make a good theme song for a Gore campaign.

As a libertarian working in the Democratic Party, I naturally want to see that party move in a pro-freedom direction. While Russ Feingold certainly has a mixed record, he's been moving in the right direction for some years on issues like gun rights, and he is the only US Senator who voted against the Patriot Act. He'd be of definite help to the ticket in key midwestern states like Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and of course his own home state of Wisconsin. Feingold has been fairly openly exploring a bid for the 2008 presidential nomination. I don't think he can get that far that fast (and again, sitting Senators don't make good presidential candidates), but second chair ... why not?

Of course, Bill Richardson and Janet Napolitano are possibilities for either spot on the ticket as well, and a western governor still strikes me as a good idea. But let's just play with this Gore/Feingold 2008 idea a bit. It's worth some consideration. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will the Democratic Party wake up on the Rothbardian side of the bed on any foreseeable near-future morning. A ticket with Feingold, Richardson or Napolitano on it would be a huge step in the right direction, though ... and I think that Gore is one of the stronger Democratic contenders for president if he can be prevailed upon to run.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Every time ...

... I make it by Unqualified Offerings, Jim Henley seems to have written something exceptionally profound right after the last time I visited. This time is no exception, as he takes on the "but what about national greatness" whiners:

"[W]e should not leave the definition of 'greatness' to a class of superannuated hall monitors who jack off to Jane's ..."

Not too many years from now, Jim will undoubtedly have his own entry in Bartlett's Quotations. And he'll richly deserve it.

Impeachy keen

There's occasionally value in symbolic gesture; sometimes calling for that which just ain't gonna happen can help bring about conditions for something worthwhile to happen. Other times, especially when it's drawn out over a long period of time, it just gets boring and annoying. Not quite five years into the Bush administration, the calls for Bush's impeachment are beginning to fall into that latter category. Evil right-winger Jamie Jeffords offers a slightly less cynical analysis than mine of why Bush won't be impeached, and gets the hat tip for finally moving me to write on the issue.

I can think of a hundred reasons why Bush should be impeached. Unfortunately, the very people -- of both parties -- who would have to draw up and approve the articles (the US House of Representatives) and who would have to try and convict him (the US Senate) are co-conspirators in the relevant offenses.

The House and Senate (including many Democrats) approved the illegal war on Iraq.

The House and Senate (including many Democrats) and in general the previous (Democratic) administration made, or adopted as true, most or all of the false claims used to justify that illegal war.

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee himself voted for the war and declined to make a serious case against it in his campaign, choosing to kvetch about the details of its execution rather the legality or propriety of its commencement or conduct.

Were FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, or the Lake Pontchartrain levee project underfunded? The budget is passed by Congress before it's signed by the president.

Was FEMA director Michael Brown incompetent? He didn't get where he was without vetting and confirmation by the US Senate (which, as far as I can tell, occurred on a unanimous voice vote).

Graft? Influence-peddling? Corruption? Sure, they're all there -- but you can't swing a cat on Capitol Hill without hitting a lobbyist carrying a brown paper bag full of unmarked, small-denomination bills, either. Congress has a lot of guns to point at the president, but he has a lot of targets to plug with his one little derringer if they get persnickety with him. Nobody on the Hill wants to risk being cast in the role of the fourth crewman who always goes down to the surface of the alien planet with Kirk, Spock and McCoy for the purpose of dying horribly and setting the tone for the episode. A "who bribed who" tit-for-tat would get really ugly, really quick.

Let's look back at the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. There were a hundred reasons why he deserved to be impeached, too -- but he wasn't impeached on the basis of the holocaust at Waco, the murderous bombing of Belgrade, his role in the kidnapping and return to Communist slavery of Elian Gonzalez, the murder of Peter McWilliams, his depredations against the inalienable human and constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms, or any other worthwhile grounds. He was impeached for fibbing about how a stain got on a dress. The whole thing came off as silly political theatre, which is precisely what it was. And that kind of silly political theatre requires a majority in the House to make it to opening night.

The House has the same silly majority it did then -- a silly majority which is probably much smaller than it would have been had they foregone impeachment, btw, and a silly majority which declines to cast its silly leader in the silly role of impeached president. Bush's co-partisans are beginning to realize what a sad sack he is and distance themselves from him, but not so much so that they're willing to remove one of their own from the White House. The Democrats don't have the votes to move impeachment on their own, even if they wanted to ... and too many of them have spent too many nights moaning and bucking on all fours in the Lincoln bedroom to give up the pretense of respecting him the next morning anyway.

Let's just accept it: Barring accident, illness or assassination, George W. Bush is going to serve out his second term as President of the United States. And that's not necessarily a bad thing! Why try to dump the geek after his best days have ended and just when his presidency is beginning to pay off for Democrats? He'll be delivering Democratic gains in Congress next November, and probably a majority in one or both houses, along with a 12-16 year Democratic White House, in 2008. Chase him away now? That would be silly, even if it was possible. And it isn't. So how about a little less concentration on impeachment and a little more concentration on maximizing Democratic congressional gains next November?

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Music for, not from, New Orleans

You're keeping in step
In the line
Got your chin held high and you feel just fine
Because you do
What you're told
But inside your heart it is black and it's hollow and it's cold

Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?

Graphics shamelessly stolen from Wally Conger, lyrics from Trent Reznor -- neither of whom necessarily endorse the message implied in this post.

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, RIP

Not exactly a casualty of Katrina, but pretty much. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is dead at 81.

Oddly enough, the BBC article says that, according to a biographer, "he never wanted to be called a bluesman." He pretty much told me exactly the opposite.

Back in the late 80s, when I worked at the Regency Showcase nightclub in Springfield, Missouri, I was accustomed to talking with the performers. Brown put me in my place when I asked him if he had ever met, or performed the songs of, Robert Johnson (the timeframe was probably off, but not by a lot, and what the hell, I was young and ignorant).

"Young man," Brown said, "I don't do that pop stuff. I play THE BLUES." And off he walked. I don't know if he thought I was asking about Don Johnson or what. It's hard to imagine a Louisiana bluesman who started his career in the 40s being unfamiliar with the King of the Delta Blues, but whatever. He played a mean set and he was, rightfully, cocky as all hell.

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I am not alone!

I was going through Kn@ppster's referral logs, and it seems that at least one reader arrived here by doing a Google search for "Loretta Nall naked."

When there's just one of you, you're a perv. When there's more than one, you're a movement. Take it off, Loretta! You're already part of the way there.

Anniversary re-post: In a libertarian America ...

[Note: I've been planning to re-post some of my old, pre-blogosphere essays here on Kn@ppster, as my old pre-blog personal archive site is on a rather unstable, probably-not-there-forever server. I may edit or update some of those essays to reflect changes which have occurred since they were written. This one, however, I've chosen post un-edited. It was written on September 12th, 2001, in the heat of a very bad moment for America, but upon re-reading it, I stand by it to the last comma - TLK]

In a libertarian America ...
by Thomas L. Knapp

A decade ago, I stood in the ruins of a little town called Khafji, along the Saudi-Kuwait border. I remember at the time fervently praying that no American city would ever have to look like that place. Even though the battle for Khafji was two months past, dead animals still lay in the roads and the buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. Armed men -- both my fellow U.S. Marines and Saudi border personnel -- wandered the streets, fingers on triggers, and one tall building, overlooking the phone center from which I called home to my family in the U.S. -- leaned precariously over me.

Yesterday, Khafji came here.

Like all of you, I watched the events of September 11, 2001, unfold with a growing sense of horror. Four civilian passenger planes hijacked, and three of them intentionally rammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the fourth crashing in rural Pennsylvania. The flames, the smoke, the blood and the helplessness.

I began receiving cautionary notes about this article before I even began to write it. Now, those notes said, is not the time to express any criticism of the government of the United States. Now is not the time to talk about what might have been, or even what might be. Now is only the time to stand behind your government in whatever it chooses to do. Now is the time to bury dissent. Now is the time for unity, wherever that may lead. Now is the time for duty.

It doesn't work that way, however. A position based on principle and fact doesn't change because it becomes inconvenient, or even dangerous, to express it. Change -- necessary change -- is achieved by pointing out the problem. The faint of heart cannot stomach this when it flies in the face of a juggernaut like that about to be unleashed on the world by a wounded nation. The apathetic don't care if it is expressed at any other time. There is no "good" time to say the things that people don't want to hear. But if ever there was a necessary time to tell them what they need to know, this is it.

It is not with a light heart that I write this. Somewhere beneath the rubble, someone I know or who once touched my life is no doubt gasping her last breath or has already descended into eternal sleep. In the air, on land and at sea, my former comrades in the Marine Corps await orders that may send them to their deaths in the necessary task of punishing this crime against humanity. Around the nation and the world, people mourn and I mourn with them -- but duty does not recognize any of these as justification for avoiding the awful truths. It does not recognize any obligation to ignore the facts in favor of feeling better.

The fact is that in a libertarian America, yesterday's attacks would not have happened. The fact is that in a libertarian America, yesterday's attacks couldn't have happened the way they did. To that extent, the libertarian ideal is a necessary component of the discussion that this nation will be engaging in for the foreseeable future.

In a libertarian America, our government would not have its troops stationed around the world, putting out other people's fires and making enemies of those with whom we have no legitimate argument.

A libertarian America would not cheer as its bombs rained down on passenger trains in Belgrade. It would not apathetically accept the deaths of Iraqi children due to the epidemic of cholera caused by our bombing of Baghdad's sanitary facilities, nor would it endure the spectacle of its own young men dragged down the streets of Mogadishu or the broken bodies of its Marines being carried from a barracks in Beirut.

A libertarian America would not cheer, apathetically accept, or endure these things because these things would not happen. A libertarian America would not regard its troops as an international police force. It would not treat them as human sacrifices to some misguided ideal of internationalism, and it would not pile more of their bodies on the altar when the ideal fails to materialize -- as it will every time.

And, consequently, a libertarian America would not face the constant prospect of attack at the hands of those whom it has injured in vain attempts to realize that ideal.

However, assuming that there are those who attack even if unprovoked, it is worthwhile to ask what the attacker would find confronting him in a libertarian America.

A libertarian America would not illegally disarm more than 200 of its own citizens before they boarded an aircraft, leaving them at the mercy of thugs with knives. Any airliner in a libertarian America would no doubt have on its passenger manifest several individuals exercising their inalienable Constitutional and human right to defend their lives by carrying the weapon of their choice.

A libertarian America would not rely on the false security of metal detectors and X-ray machines to preserve the lives of its citizens. It would rely on their natural capacity to preserve their own lives -- and yesterday's attackers would not even consider the possibility of being able to take over a passenger aircraft and use it as a flying bomb.

The evil will always find a way to cause harm. There is no getting around that. A libertarian America, however, would minimize the availability of such methods, and it would minimize the provocations that could be used as an excuse.

Ultimately, of course, the people responsible for the attacks of September 11 are the people who planned them and carried them out. To limit responsibility to those individuals, however, is to ignore the context in which the attacks could and did happen.

Our politicians have acted for years with impunity, citing only our "national interest," as if any legitimate interest could be served by the intentional killing of civilians simply because those civilians have been designated "the enemy" by a vote of Congress. Yesterday's attacks prove that the "national interest" we've been pursuing, and the supposed impunity with which we have pursued it, are illusory.

We watched as those politicians were hustled away to "safe houses," the better to immunize themselves from the consequences of their own actions of years and decades past. No one has asked why Dennis Hastert or Diane Feinstein were entitled to the special protection denied the thousands of people in Manhattan and Washington who were even then paying the price -- in blood -- of an imperial foreign policy crafted by poltroons who hide themselves in bunkers when the bill collector knocks on the door.

Now, they emerge from their hiding places, and they wail and gnash their teeth, vowing revenge and demanding that we surrender even more of our freedoms in order to avoid more of what they themselves brought upon us in the first place. They regard the blood of September 11 not as a horrible payment for their past errors, but as ink with which to write new checks to the order of their power and drawn on the account of our lives and freedoms.

The choice is clear: we can have a libertarian America, or we can have September 11 and all that it implies, over and over again. It's one or the other -- and the price of the wrong decision is more broken bodies, more rubble, more pain and less freedom.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Pictures worth more than a thousand words

Renowned artist (and libertarian) Scott Bieser goes blogospheric. The cartoon above just about says it all, and it's only one small sample from an astounding body of work including numerous book covers, at least two graphic novels, etc. Check out The Time Sink for more.

Hat tip to Wally Conger (I've been woolgathering instead of following the discussion lists where I probably would have seen Scott's announcement).

Friday, September 09, 2005

PSA: Ask the Governator to support a pro-family, pro-America agenda for California

Not sure how effective this will be, coming as it does from a Democrat running against Arnold Schwarzenegger next year, but it's worth a try: An editable form letter to the governor asking him to do the right thing with the Civil Marriage and Religious Freedom Protection Act.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Various and sundry items of interest

- The Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left now boasts 25 member sites. Looks like it's about time to start surveying the scope of opinions BLL represents and see if we can figure out a way to make this jalopy take us somewhere!

- Loretta Nall doesn't wear panties. I meant to link to this item the day it was published, but frankly I got too hot and bothered to remember. Several cold showers and one aggravated Repetitive Motion Injury later ... well ... anyone got a cigarette?

- I'm working with evil right-wing Morg from evil right-wing site The Wide-Awakes on a new project, which we expect to debut in the next couple of weeks. I'm enthused about it and expect it to be a smashing success.

- For the record, I don't blame George W. Bush for Hurrican Katrina, the collapse of the New Orleans levee, or the subsequent relief debacles. This needs to be said, given my propensity to blame Bush for, well, pretty much everything. By definition, emergencies and crises are situations in which things do not go as they're supposed to. If things were going as they're supposed to, it wouldn't be an emergency or a crisis, would it? I'll probably have more to say on this later, but on the whole "if it wasn't for Iraq" thing ... well, if you subtract the pro-war spin, I substantially agree with Christopher Hitchens on the subject (which says a lot about something, but I'm not sure just what).

When democracies attack

The pro-family forces of all that is right and good about our country are about to take another body blow from the America-hating, anti-family lobby.

Yes, you read that right. In vetoing California's pro-family legislation recognizing same-sex marriage -- which he has announced he will do -- governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is bowing to a tyranny of the majority and failing his constituents and his state by abdicating his duty to protect the rights of all versus the designs of those who would enslave and oppress a minority. Schwarzenegger built a career on the basis of his muscles. Looks like he traded in his backbone for an extra inch on the biceps somewhere along the way.

Marriage is partially (in some cases) a religious sacrament, and partially (in all cases) a contractual commitment. To legally discriminate on the basis of gender between who may and may not be legally recognized/licensed in their exercise of that sacrament or contract is to deny the discriminated-against minority their inalienable rights to worship, and to dispose of their property, as they choose.

Same-sex couples are not exempt from the requirement that they pay Social Security taxes. They are, however, barred from claiming the same set of benefits that Social Security confers on others -- in particular, survivor benefits for spouses.

Same-sex couples are required to jump through additional legal hoops, at their own expense, to pass their property on to their spouses at death, where this is the legal default presumption for opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex couples are often denied basic societal hospitalities (in some cases) and rights (in others) accorded to opposite-sex couples: The ability to attend to each others' needs when one partner is hospitalized or imprisoned, the right to work in government service (particularly the military) without hiding their private lives from their co-workers, etc.

In many states, clergy can be fined -- or even jailed! -- for administering the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples. In all states except Massachusetts, same-sex couples are denied the right to engage in one particular form of contract which is available for a uniform (although unjustified) licensing fee to opposite-sex couples of legal age.

The issue of marriage should clarify the root problem with the concept of "democracy." Because a majority of Californians wish to deny a minority of Californians their inalienable rights, Schwarzenegger believes that he is compelled to acquiesce in that denial. Gay men and lesbians today -- but in principle it is absolutely no different if tomorrow the target is Jews, blacks, left-handed people ... or Christians. Either our rights can be disposed of at the ballot box, or they can't. The fact that a particular minority is only now stepping forward to claim its rights after centuries of bowing to social pressures and allowing prejudice to assume force of law by virtue of being largely unopposed, is irrelevant. Slavery was wrong before William Lloyd Garrison decided that he would be heard and made it so, and it was wrong in spite of society's overall negative reaction to the abolitionist movement. Anti-gay discrimination was wrong and un-American in 1789, it was wrong and un-American in 1850, it was wrong and un-American in 1950 and it is wrong and un-American today.

The best solution to the problem of America-hating, anti-family, anti-gay prejudice, of course, would be to get government out of marriage completely. After all, why should anyone need a license to engage in an act of worship, or a special license to enter into a contract? The first would seem to be a clear breach of the First Amendment (assuming that one accepts the doctrine of incorporation which extends that amendment's restrictions to the states and not just Congress); the second is an implicit religious test that militates against America's rejection of such tests for public purposes.

Assuming that government won't get its perverted influence out of others' bridal suites, however, it seems obvious to me that it must be forced to act in an even-handed manner.

If two people of the same sex can't get a marriage license, why should they be able to get a business license?

If more than two people can't get a marriage license, why should they be able to get a corporate charter and sell stock to multiple buyers, or license a limited partnership with more than two partners?

If two people of the same sex can't file one income tax return instead of two, why should two people of the opposite sex be able to do so?

If a gay man or lesbian serving in the military doesn't receive the standard military pay and benefit augmentations for his or her dependents, why should heterosexual soldiers get those perqs?

Don't want same-sex couples to have, or adopt, children? No problem -- exempt them from the portion of property taxes which finances public schools for the children you don't want them to have.

If government is going to dictate the acceptable parameters of the marriage sacrament, it should also promulgate rules governing baptism and confirmation, settle once and for all the question of whether or not the Host really is the body of Christ, and perhaps publish a weekly topic on which all ministers must preach, with doctrinal guidelines for how the topic is to be handled.

If the Jerry Falwells, James Dobsons and Randy Thomassons in our midst hate America's families so badly that they're willing to sacrifice religious and contractual freedom to damage those families, let them sacrifice their religious and contractual freedom along with everyone else's.

Of course, I'm not serious, because I'm not silly (or an anti-family America-hater). Much better to ignore the America-hating, anti-family Pecksniffs and respect everyone's rights, don't you think?

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pure evil exposed!

I'm not exactly a regular on the St. Louis club scene (I get out to see a band a couple of times a year any more -- last time was for the Blue Dixie reunion; that's what getting old and having kids does for you), but even I know who Beatle Bob is. Beatle Bob is the St. Louis club scene. If you're out having a good time, look around and see that Beatle Bob is there, you know that you've picked the coolest possible place to be in St. Louis that night.

Everyone has a Beatle Bob story. Mine isn't anything cute or special -- about the second or third time I ran into him was at a Joe Jackson gig at Mississippi Nights. And what was he doing? Walking up and down the line outside the doors to see if anyone could use an extra pair of tickets he happened to have. I've seen him before, I've seen him again -- out and about, having a good time, people having a good time around him.

So: Who the #$%^ is Wade Alberty and what is his *%)!ing problem?

Thanks to Riverfront Times for getting out the story of this sicko, his co-conspirators, and their attempt to deprive St. Louis of one of its city treasures. Now I know where to look to figure out which bands, clubs and restaurants will never get another cover charge out of me. If Beatle Bob isn't welcome from the Landing to the Loop, the terrorists have won.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

More on Katrina relief

On Thursday, I asked Kn@ppster readers to support relief for those affected by Hurrican Katrina. This post is by way of:

a) Keeping the issue visible on the blog's front page as the first one rolls off; and

b) Mentioning another worthy way to help.

I initially suggested donating to Habitat for Humanity, and I still think they're a great charity. However, I had problems getting them to accept my (PayPal Virtual) credit card, so I guess I'll have to send them a check. In the meantime, Brad Spangler brings up a truly excellent group, Food Not Bombs. He offers to match the first ten $5 donations. I've kicked in $5. Will you?

If Food Not Bombs isn't your cup of tea, check out TTLB's list of charities which are helping with the relief effort.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

William H. Rehnquist, 1924-2005

The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court has died at the age of 80. His death, of course, was not entirely unexpected, and the canned eulogies and career retrospectives are no doubt beginning to pop up already. I don't have one, so I'll keep mine short:

Rehnquist was seldom as bad as liberals feared he might be (and sometimes accused him of being); he was also seldom as good as strict constructionists/original intent advocates hoped he might be (and sometimes claimed he was).

Thin soup? Maybe I'll expand on it later. His body is still warm and I am in no mood for an autopsy.

At this time, I have no real predictions as to whom President Bush will nominate as the next Chief Justice. I'd find it interesting if he'd nominate ... Sandra Day O'Connor. But I don't see that happening. Look for a relatively young jurist -- Bush is likely awakening to the high probability of a Democratic White House from at least 2009-2017, and a Democratic Senate with it or not far behind.

Now, more than ever, the Democrats need to save their ammo and quit kvetching about the relatively inoffensive John Roberts. The Roberts confirmation is mere prelude. The real battle is coming.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

A little to the left

I've been remiss in documenting, for my readers' edification, the developing discussion about "the libertarian left." Time for a small start at a corrective.

Claire Wolfe offers some perceptive comments on the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left and links to an interesting article by James Leroy Wilson.

Wally Conger, as usual, clears up the water more than he muddies it, which is about as much as can be reasonably asked of any writer.

Brad Spangler notes that it's much more a matter of alliances within the political spectrum shifting than a matter of his beliefs changing.

All kinds of good stuff out there. One good way to keep up with it is simply to navigate the BLL blogring, either from the navigation code you see in Kn@ppster's sidebar or by going to the omnibus site list (23 sites and counting!).

Of course, I've been doing some thinking of my own on what it means to be a "left libertarian," and I have some ideas and observations that might or might not seem relevant. Let's see where this goes.

The left is adaptive. The right is adoptive. Or, as Mark Twain put it, "the radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them." The right looks at the status quo, concludes that it is -- in the words of Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss -- "the best of all possible worlds," and strives to preserve it. The left looks at the status quo, concludes that it is imperfect, and strives to replace it with something better.

The period of nominal libertarian alignment with the right was a direct result of the victory of the left in the 18th and 19th centuries. Classical liberalism and its doctrine of freedom smashed monarchy and feudalism and made the Industrial Revolution -- and therefore modern civilization as we know it -- possible. The "conservatives" looked upon what the "liberals" had created, saw that it was good, and sought to freeze society in that mold. Meanwhile, of course, the left had moved off in other directions, many of them (but not all of them) much less amenable to liberty.

Over the course of the 20th century, libertarians tended to find themselves nominally aligned with the political right because the status quo the right was defending was the rapidly eroding status quo of the past ... a status quo of freedom.

Society moved on. As that status quo of freedom eroded, it was replaced piecemeal by a new one ... and as each anti-liberty plank fell into place, the right moved into position to fulfill its historical function of, as William F. Buckley puts it, "standing athwart history yelling stop."

The piecemeal nature of this erosion and rebuilding, of course, obscured affiliations. The right did not abandon freedom in one day, any more than the left did. The left moved in an authoritarian direction one step at a time, and the right followed three paces behind -- ten years, twenty years -- in adopting the prior innovations of the left and demanding that they be kept, in pristine form, as societal dogma.

That process has still not ended by any means ... and that process, as such, presents problems for libertarians who wish to anchor their principles somewhere on the traditionally accepted political spectrum. At what point does what the right defends cease to be acceptable to libertarians? And at what point does the adaptive process of the left begin to turn in directions which libertarians might want to see society move in?

The right values stasis. The left does not -- it values change, or to put a prettier face on it, "progress." Libertarians value liberty. To the extent that libertarians categorize themselves in terms of left and right, we can only align ourselves with the right when the status quo is liberty. Otherwise, we are naturally part of the left, doing our damnedest to steer its adaptive, "progressive" impulse in the direction of freedom.

I finally chose to accept the "left libertarian" label only recently, based primarily on my perception that the status quo created by the left over the last 70 years and now defended with vigor by the right is at the point of crumbling. The left has handed that status quo to the right and is gallivanting off in search of new directions in which to lead society. I believe that libertarians are more fit, both by principle and inclination, to participate in the quest for a new liberty on the left than in the defense of an old creeping tyranny on the right.

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Yeah, what Margaret said ...

Margaret Griffis of Crash Landing (which happens to be the newest member site of the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left) hits the New Orleans nail squarely on the head.

When it absolutely, positively must be screwed up overnight ...

It's bad enough that New Orleans and a considerable stretch of the Gulf Coast got whacked by Hurricane Katrina.

It's even worse that so much of the modern infrastructure we've come to depend upon collapsed under the pressure.

But to add insult to injury, to increase the deadly potentials of the situation and to make an untenable situation downright chaotic, the local, state and federal governments involved seem absolutely determined to plunge the whole region back into the Dark Ages.

What began as a severe humanitarian emergency has now metamorphosed into nothing less than politicians threatening American citizens with murder by American soldiers to make up for the fact that government wasn't ready or prepared to do the things that it has always claimed only government can do.

Let's take a hard look at the situation here:

- Some people in the affected area are no doubt still clinging to survival by a thin rope, awaiting rescue from flooded areas, running low -- or already out of -- food and fresh water.

- Others who have made it to shelters and assembly areas are going hungry, in many cases left without medication for life-threatening injuries or illnesses, and in some cases already dead, their bodies floating in the water or sitting in chaisse lounges outside the goddamn Superdome and raising the spectre of epidemic if they are not gathered and properly disposed of.

- In the shelter/assembly areas, tempers are running hot, fights are breaking out and the criminal element is functioning with impunity, because the police, emergency workers and troops who are supposed to be aiding and evacuating them are busy ...

Shooting salvors.

The government -- and by extension, the media -- are calling them "looters." That lets a prettier face be put on statements like this one:

"Three hundred of the Arkansas National Guard have landed in the city of New Orleans. These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will." -- Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

By "restore order in the streets," of course, Blanco means "protect the goods in abandoned shops from salvage by those who are trying to survive this disaster -- and if that means a few more people die, go hungry or get raped in the evacuation assembly areas, well, I have other priorities."

In another forum, I have suggested that Louisiana could make better progress in addressing the situation if someone would stand Kathleen Babineaux Blanco up on a chair, tie a rope around her neck and to a lamppost, and give the chair a good hard kick.

Of course, I don't really want to see Blanco killed, at least not without a jury trial. I'd settle for her just shutting her trap and letting the grownups get the work done. If anyone even notices what I wrote, I guess we'll find out if I have the same protection for expression of overheated, exasperated opinions as, say, Pat Robertson has for cold-blooded appeals for political assassination.

It's not just Babble-Know Blank-Ho, of course. If you think that New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's crocodile tears are any less hypocritical, think again:

"I have no idea what they're doing but I will tell you this: God is looking down on all this and if they're not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price because every day that we delay, people are dying and they're dying by the hundreds."

... he said, even though he himself just "took 1,500 police officers off search-and-rescue duty to try to restore order in the streets."

Let's get right to the bottom of this whole "looting" canard:

- Substantial portions of New Orleans are under water.

- Food left unconsumed is going to rot if it's perishable, and even if it is canned it is going to be rendered useless for sale as water and humidity take their toll on labels. If it's not eaten, it's just going to go to waste. Either way and any way, it is going to be of precisely zero value to the store owners who abandoned it.

- Clothing? The humidity is effectively 100%. Daily temperatures are close to, if not exceeding, 100 degrees fahrenheit. Ever heard of mildew? Two weeks from now, any clothing left hanging on racks at The Gap will be a slimy black mass which someone, at some point, will have to scrape into a dumpster.

Store owners (intelligently) abandoned their shops and their goods. Right now they are sitting in hotel rooms in Memphis and St. Louis, filling out the paperwork for their (justified) "total loss" insurance claims.

The people grabbing food, clothing and other necessities of survival from store shelves in New Orleans aren't "looters." They're salvaging abandoned goods which will be nothing more than garbage if they aren't taken and used right now. Apparently Mayor Nagin and Governor Babineaux are more intent on preventing this kind of survival activity than they are on helping get people out of the situation that is giving rise to this kind of behavior.

Are there some genuine "looters?" No doubt. Now, which is more important -- getting a starving, pregnant woman the hell out of the city, or busting caps in some yahoo walking out of a store with a television which he can't even watch, which will almost certainly be non-functional by the time he could watch it, and which would be non-functional, useless and covered by insurance whether he took it or not?

As for the looters targeting innocents who are still in New Orleans, the answer is to get the innocents out of New Orleans. Put out the word about where the evacuation assembly points are -- boats with loudspeakers, skywriting, whatever has to be done. Send out patrols to protect people moving to those assembly points as best possible. And let the people who stay know that they're on their own.

Government is spending a lot of money in and around, and making a lot of big, self-important announcements about, the Hurricane Katrina Destruction Area. That's what government does: It spends a lot of money and makes a lot of announcements. And then it screws things up, every time. The people of New Orleans don't need purchase orders from FEMA bureaucrats and pompous pronouncements from mentally deranged governors. They need help -- and the only place they're going to get that is from the private sector.

Click here for a list of charities who are part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help all you can ... and then call your congresscritter and ask him or her to push Adam Bernay's wonderful idea: A 200% tax deduction -- and to make it real, let's make it a deduction from your tax, not from your taxable income -- for donations to these charities.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

PSA: Make today Jeudi Gras for New Orleans

How bad is it in the areas hit by Katrina? Bad. Really bad. So bad that I don't see any need to belabor it, but here's the latest on New Orleans.

Hundreds, probably thousands, are dead. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, at least for the moment, and those clinging to their homes are, for the most part, without power, water or normal modern sanitation measures.

It's a real bitch, folks. Let's do something about it. The Truth Laid Bear has a list of blogs participating in this relief fundraiser if you'd like to read more detailed reports or a more optimistic assessment. They also have a list of charities which are helping out. Will you help them out? Next week, it might be you or me.

I'm about as broke as usual, but I'll find five or ten bucks to kick in one way or another. Match me -- and if you can do more, please make it happen. I favor Habitat for Humanity as a prospective recipient, but choose the one you feel best about. New Orleans has made Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") part of our national heritage. Let's given them a Jeudi Gras (the fattest damn Thursday we can manage) today.

According to TTLB, I'm suppose to link to The Evil One's post on the subject (he's not being evil at the moment, so m'kay); the hat tip for getting me off on my ass to blog this goes to Bob James.

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