Friday, July 28, 2006

Sneak peek: Without a Net

Since I'm not a "major" writer, I'd be pompous to announce that I'm working on a "major" essay. I am, however, working on a piece that's important to me. I plan to offer it as a "special" to Free Market News Network when I decide that it's fully cooked, but I'm going to throw out a few paragraphs of it here, both as a "teaser" and to get discussion going which may contribute to improving the final product. So, from "Without a Net: Compromise versus Calculation" --

The notion of "reduced net aggression" requires a system for classifying all of aggression's varying forms into commensurable units. It's relatively non-controversial to assert that picking a pocket is less onerous than assault, which is in turn less onerous than murder, but unitizing these forms of aggression for bulk comparison is a different story entirely.

Does it take 2.5 armed robberies to equal a rape, or 3.1?

Is the prevention of two murders a fair trade for 100 unreasonable searches?

Even when aggression is measurable in known units, it's not necessarily true that the factor of aggression itself is quantifiable in those units. If I can reduce the taxes of Person A by two dollars in trade for raising the taxes of Person B by only one dollar, is that a net reduction in overall aggression? What if Person A's two dollars would otherwise have been spent on country club initiation fees while Person B's one dollar would have otherwise been spent buying food for his starving child? Would the decrease in aggression versus Person A truly be commensurate with the increase in aggression versus Person B? The value of a dollar may be uniform for certain purposes, but it is highly subjective for most. Most people would agree that stealing a piece of 18 holes on the golf course is less onerous than stealing a baby's bottle of milk, even if the dollar values of the two say otherwise.

Even leaving such questions aside, precisely why should Person A accept an obligation to be aggressed against more, so that Person B will be aggressed against less, specious "overall net" claims notwithstanding? Under what moral calculus should anyone be considered fair game for aggression in any amount?

Let's talk about it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Musings of Ahmad Scientist

Okay, so the title's weak. Sue me. During the Great St. Louis Blackout of 2006, I had the opportunity to catch up on some reading, including the second edition of a book written by a friend and sent to me by another friend.

Those of you who've been active in the Libertarian Party probably know, or know of, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, who's been a tireless activist on behalf of freedom for many years. I've been privileged to serve on the LP's Judicial Committee with Dr. Ahmad and to have socialized with him a time or two at LP events.

Dr. Ahmad's "new" book (actually a revised and expanded second edition of a previous work) is Signs in the Heavens: A Muslim Astronomer's Perspective on Religion and Science. I'll begin by recommending it without reservation to anyone who's interested in Islam (or religion in general), in science, or in a rewarding read. Having done so, I'll try to justify my recommendation.

Even knowing Dr. Ahmad, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book. Most attempts to square religion and science go in one of two directions: They either attempt to push religion into a small sentimental corner "while the adults talk," or they attempt to indict science wherever it conflicts with the author's (allegedly religion-grounded) prejudices. Signs in the Heavens is blessedly and remarkably free of either of these biases.

Make no mistake about it, of course: Dr. Ahmad is a Muslim. He does not make excuses for his belief, nor does he try to minimize its importance in his life.

Neither, however, does he fall into any of the shell games which seem so tempting to purveyors of "creation science" and other attempts on the Christian side of the religious divide to make scientific inquiry bow before religious dogma.

Instead, he soberly examines the progress of science in the early Islamic period, offering compelling arguments as to why Islam advanced while Christendom languished and why things then began their turn in the other direction.

When I say "compelling," of course, I mean "compelling" to a non-Muslim non-scientist like myself. I plan to drop the book off with a scientist friend of mine the next time I visit Springfield (Missouri), since I'd like a scientist's opinion of it, and I may purchase another copy and ask a Muslim friend or two to read it for their reactions.

Those reservations aside, Signs in the Heavens is simply fascinating from just about every angle I can think of: If you're interested in the history of science, you'll love it. If you're interested in the dynamics of medievalism leading into renaissance, you'll love it. If you're interested in comparative religion, you'll love it.

The reason you'll love it is not because Dr. Ahmad covers all those subjects (he does), but because he does so in an engaging style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking when they wrote on similar topics. As a matter of fact, I'd give this book to a pious friend (of any religion) before I'd offer him Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World precisely because it's just as well-written and effective on many of the same lines without the built-in antagonism toward faith per se. Dr. Ahmad never "writes down" to his presumably lay audience, but neither does he sacrifice detail or extended argument where either is needed.

Five, um, stars, for this astronomer's offering.

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Let there be light

I can't use the Great St. Louis Blackout of 2006 as my whole excuse for intermittent blogging, but for the last five days it'll do: The lights went out last Wednesday night, and came back on yesterday (Monday) evening.

It wasn't that bad. We were out of town a couple of nights, and slept under the stars a couple of other nights in our back yard. All in all, however, I prefer air conditioning, computers that aren't battery-powered, etc.

I'll have something with some meat to it up shortly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bonnie and Clyde were pikers

File under "Reminding the Serfs Just Who's In Charge" --

Shares in UK-listed online gambling companies have sunk after the boss of gaming firm Betonsports was detained in the US on charges of racketeering.

Mr Carruthers, 48, was travelling to Costa Rica when federal authorities arrested him at Dallas airport as he changed planes. ...

US attorney Catherine Hanaway of the Eastern District of Missouri said the indictment was part of a crackdown designed to "punish and seize the profits" of those illegally running gaming sites.

"Illegal commercial gambling across state and international borders is a crime," she said.

Let's talk about the real crimes here: Kidnapping. Extortion. Racketeering.

And maybe: Conspiracy to violate rights (USC Title 18, Chapter 241). Violation of rights under color of law (USC Title 18, Chapter 242).

And no, I'm not talking about David Carruthers. I'm talking about Catherine Hanaway and her (unfortunately) unindicted co-conspirators. Not that they'll likely ever be held responsible for their crimes.

Don't. Ever. Forget:

The state is not on your side. Its laws are for its benefit, not yours.

The state is not here to "protect" you. It's here to shake you -- and anyone you may choose to do business with -- down, and maybe knock you around a little for any perceived uppitiness or defects in the expected bow and scrape routine.

The state is nothing more or less than the biggest, baddest, meanest, most heavily armed street gang on any block in America -- and its power is based entirely on a) making sure you know it, and b) hoping you never let yourself know you know it.

Because if any significant number of Americans confront the reality of what's taking place right before their eyes, the state is royally screwed.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

No, your honor, I'm trying to HIDE it

Because they can, folks -- because they can:

Junior Stowers raised his hands and exclaimed, "Thank you, Jesus!" in court last month when he was acquitted by a jury of abusing his son.

But his joy was short-lived when Circuit Judge Patrick Border held him in contempt of court for the "outburst" and threw him in jail.

Here's the whole enchilada.

Like other bureaucrats, judges seem to be increasingly forgetful of the fact that they're the employees, not the owners. Every time some twit with a big chair to sit in and a black robe to wear pipes up with the idiotic assertion that it's "his" courtroom, he deserves a smack upside his (or, of course, her) empty head. Or maybe just a pink slip and assistance in finding the door.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Public offering: The WSPP

[Update/Note: This version of the WSPP has been superseded]

Hey, y'all -- long time no see. I've been off-blog a lot again lately, but I have my reasons. I should have new material up soon, but the purpose of this post is to handle a tiny administrative detail:

The general content of this blog is published under a Creative Commons license, but I've decided to specifically license the World's Smallest Political Platform differently: Less restrictively in that it may be reproduced in commercial works without special permission, more restrictively in that it may not be modified. I've left the attribution requirement in because I'm vain (it doesn't have to be overdone, though -- once on a site or whatever).

So, let's get this over with:

The World's Smallest Political Platform

"The [insert name] Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose."

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

OK, that's done. Now, why am I doing it?

Well, I've already started one political party based on the WSPP, but I don't see any reason why there shouldn't be others (in the US or elsewhere), or why people shouldn't be able to make a buck off of the WSPP ... and, in the process, publicize it. Hey, it will fit on a t-shirt. It will fit on a bumper sticker. It will fit on a keychain fob. Since I suck at creating and marketing those kinds of things, so go ye forth and profit (for small products on which space is a consideration, attribution on the product site, order form or whatever is sufficient).

I've registered a domain for the purpose of providing information on the WSPP. There's nothing there but a "coming soon" whatsit at the moment, but it will eventually list (and link to) the parties which have adopted the platform, offer versions in other languages, and link to any cool WSPP-related articles, merchandise, etc., that come across my radar screen.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Rhetorical question

Are we to withhold criticism now of all public figures because they might be going through "troubled" times and any call for accountability might send them over the edge?

Well, no, Michelle. You should withhold criticism of all public figures because you are a ten-gallon idiot. Save it for the casting call for Dumberer and Dumbererer. You'll need it if Coulter auditions.

[Hat Tip]

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Time to party like it's 1773

In the heat of the moment, I define the Boston Tea Party thusly:

"The Boston Tea Party is a reaction to the Libertarian Party's decision, at its 2006 national convention, to abdicate its political responsibilities to the American people."

As of this moment, the Libertarian Party appears to have announced that, in the 2006 elction cycle, it takes no positions on several frontline issues facing the American electorate -- specifically, foreign and military policy and internal security.

Believing this to be true, believing the damage to be irreparable in time for the Libertarian Party to exert a significant impact on the 2006 or 2008 election cycles, and believing that the libertarian movement requires and deserves a political party which stands behind its public policy goals, I've decided to run up a new flag.

"In the heat of the moment," however, does mean "in the heat of the moment." It may be that libertarians can find some way to save the Libertarian Party from itself, make it relevant and put its feet back on the path toward organizational success (and, as a result, America's feet back on the path toward human freedom).

I hope that that's what happens. Really. As a matter of fact, I have not resigned, nor do I intend at this time to resign, my membership in the LP. Since I am not a national officer, I have no obligation to belong to only one national political party; and since the Boston Tea Party has, as yet, no state affiliate in my state, I am free to support and serve my state LP until such time as that changes and/or until the LP and the Boston Tea Party nominate opposing presidential slates which I'd have to decide between. Perhaps the Libertarian Party will right itself in some unforeseen and unforeseeable way, and the Boston Tea Party will slide back into, or never emerge from, obscurity.

Now that we're out of the heat of the moment:

What the Boston Tea Party started out as was a cool name (and a lucky domain name snatch) in search of a purpose. Over time, the definition has evolved into something like this:

"The Boston Tea Party is an attempt to prove that libertarian 'purism' is compatible with organizational big-tentism and with an incremental political approach."

One of my goals was putting an end to perpetual platform fights, and that goal was easily realized: The party's platform is the "World's Smallest Political Platform," and the interim bylaws specify that neither it, nor the relevant bylaws article, can be amended.

The platform is "purist" in that it plainly prohibits the party from supporting any increase in the size, scope or power of government, at any level, or for any purpose, and in that it proposes no "end state" for its advocacy of reductions in same. In other words, it accomodates all possible end states from "less government than we have now" to "anarchist or minarchist libertopia."

The platform is, however, amenable to incrementalism insofar as it does not specify what particular reductions in the size, scope or power of government the Party will propose and agitate for at any given time. Those decisions are to be made biennially and entirely anew each time in the form of a short (maximum of five points) program. They may be incremental or "giant step" in character -- the only condition is that they not contradict the platform.

Finally, the platform is "big tent" in that it does not demand that Party members dedicate themselves, as a condition of Party membership, to a particular end state or to a particular reason or set of reasons for supporting the party's goals. When the "train" of party progress reaches the "station" at which a particular member can no longer support the direction in which the platform points, he or she may simply step off, having never been required to advocate, as a condition of party membership, going any further than he or she wishes to go.

What the Boston Tea Party is not, is finished. It is, at this moment, nearly entirely my creation, and I am certain that aspects of that creation are defective. I have furnished the Party non-negotiably with a platform and one bylaws article, and negotiably with additional bylaws. I will shortly (assuming that there's enough interest to justify doing so, and in accordance with what amounts to a "by the bootstraps" process outlined in those bylaws) appoint interim officers to get things moving toward an organizational convention at which the negotiable portions of the bylaws can be modified, a program for the 2006 election cycle proposed and ratified, and a permanent National Committee selected.

As a side note -- but a very intentional one -- I have tried to go out of my way to make the Boston Tea Party inclusive even to those who believe that it's a bad idea, or that I am a traitor to the Libertarian Party or the libertarian movement by virtue of having created it, or that it should not be permitted by its members to continue to exist. Membership requires only endorsement of the platform, not of the Party. The convention procedure specified in the interim bylaws takes place online, which means that all Party members, regardless of their views, may participate rather than being imperfectly represented by delegates. As such, it is entirely possible that the membership will choose to dissolve the Party. I don't regard this as a "risk" -- the site may belong to me, but the Party belongs to you. Do with it as you will.

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