Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yes, this is a litmus test

People who refer to themselves as "libertarians" spend a lot of time arguing over exactly what they mean by "libertarian."

Personally, I try to be fairly "big tent," figuring that people who once self-identify as libertarian tend to get more consistently libertarian after doing so, if they're a) accepted and b) encouraged to explore libertarian ideas, instead of just slapped around for whatever deviations they still cling to.

So, when I disagree on this or that issue with someone who self-identifies as a libertarian, I generally try to frame that disagreement not as a negative verdict on the other person's libertarianism, but rather as a possible error on their part as to how libertarian ideas apply to that particular issue.

But the fact is that there are some people who call themselves libertarians who ... well, just ain't libertarians. And the facts on some issues are so incredibly clear that it's possible to use those issues as litmus tests. If you're on one side of the issue, you may be a libertarian. If you're on the other side, no, you aren't.

One such issue is -- to use the phrase fraudulently coined by its opponents -- is the "Ground Zero Mosque."

We'll get to the fraud in a moment, but it's really a secondary thing, a side effect. The important part in treating it as a litmus test is this:

If you support private property rights and freedom of religion, you may be a libertarian.

If you don't support private property rights and freedom of religion, you aren't a libertarian.


Cordoba House, the project being fraudulently referred to as a "mosque" by those attempting to prevent its construction, is planned for construction on private property and with private funds.

The opponents of Cordoba House are attempting to stop its construction by persuading a government board to declare the building currenly standing at the project's prospective location "historic" so that the owners can be forced to "preserve" it and forbidden to demolish it and build a structure more to their liking there.

The opponents of Cordoba House oppose private property rights. Their opposition to private property rights stems from their opposition to freedom of religion. They are, therefore, not libertarians.

They're also either liars or idiots, and the evidence points strongly to the former. Here's the skinny:

Cordoba House is not a "mosque." It's an "Islamic cultural center," which is no more a "mosque" than your local YMCA is a "cathedral."

The construction site for Cordoba House is not at "Ground Zero." It's two blocks away, on Park Place between West Broadway and Church Street (and, FWIW, farther away from "Ground Zero" than St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church or St. Paul's Chapel).

The opponents of Cordoba House generally claim to have knowledge of Islam beyond that of us non-Muslims who don't obsess over who's worshiping where. For example, they like to cite chapter and verse on the historical penchant of Muslim conquerors for building mosques on prominent conquered sites.

If they know that much, then presumably they're not idiots -- and if they're not idiots they also know by now that Cordoba House isn't a mosque. From that, it follows that they are just lying about it because lying seems more likely to get them what they want.

If they can use Google Maps (and if they can blog, they can surely use Google Maps) they also know that Cordoba House's construction site isn't at Ground Zero. From that, once again, it follows that they're lying because they know that the facts aren't as emotionally compelling as the fairy tale they're pushing.

The whole "Ground Zero Mosque" meme is fraudulent in the classic sense: It's an attempt at theft by deception. By convincing people that a cultural center is a mosque, and that "Ground Zero" is located two blocks north of where it's actually located, they hope to build popular support for their call on government to steal some things -- a piece of land, a building, and the religious freedom of the land/building's owners -- for them.

And fraud, a/k/a theft by deception, isn't libertarian either.

Update, 6:55pm, 07/27/10: I wasn't thinking of Wayne Allyn Root when I wrote this piece (one reason for ending my involvement with the Libertarian Party was to minimize the amount of time I have to spending thinking of Wayne Allyn Root, period), but along he comes to drive home my point [hat tip: Jill Pyeatt].

Once you get past the "in a fetal position in a corner, laughing at Wayne Allyn Root calling himself a 'leading Libertarian thinker'" phase, note that Root tries to frame a new argument for governernment intervention:

If it turns out that this project is sponsored by a foreign government -- either directly or through a state-sponsored organization that engages in terrorism -- than [sic] the idea of this being an issue of religious freedom is a sham and an argument can be made that our Constitution would actually prohibit this mosque from being built.

The Constitution in Wayne's imagination, perhaps. The real one ... no. And a good thing for the largest Christian denomination, too, considering that every last Holy Roman Catholic church building in the US is "sponsored" by a foreign state (the Vatican).

Root participates in the fraud aspect of the issue, falsely referring to the cultural center as a "mosque" and pretending that it's at Ground Zero in order to obtain valuable considerations ("public pressure on the property owners to sell" the property to someone besides the Cordoba House project, participation in protests, etc.).

Update, 07/29/10: I see that some people are continuing to refer to a "mosque" at "Ground Zero," so I've gone ahead and made a very bad graphic (with a screen capture of satellite photography from Google Maps) to clarify the geography:

Per the legend, "Ground Zero," a/k/a the World Trade Center site, is outlined in red dots. The Cordoba House site is marked with a blue "X."

As you can see, "Ground Zero" and Cordoba House are separated by three streets, two city blocks, a 15-story building (a Post Office which now also houses the New York State Department of Health) and a 21-story building (100 Church Street, a large office complex).

Not only is Cordoba House not at "Ground Zero," it won't be visible from ground level at Ground Zero, nor (at a planned 13 stories) will it be very visible from higher up at Ground Zero since two taller buildings will block much of the diagonal downward view.

I'll leave it to Islamic authorities to explain the difference between a mosque and a cultural center with a prayer area, but where geography is concerned, calling this the "Ground Zero mosque" is 100% hogwash.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

C4SS Monthly Fundraiser

Guest Post by Brad Spangler

Dear Supporters of the Center for a Stateless Society,

It's time for me to again report to you on our financial situation and ask you to please help us pay some bills. Our fundraising goal this month is $1,320. Please support our work. Donate using the ChipIn widget on any page of our web site. Financial details follow...

We have had $1820 in total expenses for this past month of June. Those expenses are partially offset by $300 in income from recurring donations. Additionally, we've received several hundred dollars in online course fees for the Stateless-U program of online courses. Because those course fees are not a monthly source of income, though, as well as because enrollees can potentially drop classes and ask for their money back during the remainder of the month of July, we're only counting a portion of that money toward the June expenses; $200.

That, then, is how we arrived at our fundraising goal for this month:







The monthly expense breakdown is pretty similar to what you've seen in recent months. Tom Knapp is now our part-time Media Coordinator, so his pay has changed. Although you'll continue to see the occasional written commentary from him, Tom is now mostly doing promotional work aimed at media placement of our content. Darian Worden is now making more money as well because he's taking up some of the writing slack from Tom writing less. Additionally, I'm drawing a $100 monthly stipend now and had $20 in phone expenses this past month. Here's the expense listing:


Research Associate: Carson — $425
News Analyst: Knight — $160
News Analyst: Worden — $260
Web Administrator: Gogulski — $215
Media Coordinator: Knapp -- $640
Director (Stipend & Expenses): Spangler -- $120



That's where we're at right now.

Will you please support our work? Donate using the ChipIn widget on any page of our web site.


Brad Spangler,
Director, Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS)

Monday, July 05, 2010

New Blog Thing

Seldom a month goes by without me starting a new blog or web site.

My strategy here is simple:

If I have an idea, I go with it. If it "takes off" -- by which I mean if it returns significant money or attracts significant interest -- I stick with it. If it doesn't "take off," I let it wither on the vine, or look for someone else who might be interested in nurturing it.

When possible, I go with projects that fit into my existing routine.

For example, I spend a good part of each day surfing/blogging material for RRND. There's a category of stories -- I'll just come out and call them what I call them when I see them, "weird shit" -- some of which fit the RRND bill and some of which don't.

Is Elvis still alive? Did the ghost of Howard Hunt blow up the World Trade Center? That thing up there in the sky ... it's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... hmmm, not really sure what it is.

In other words, conspiracy theories, UFO sightings, etc.

Lately I've been thinking two things.

First, I've been thinking that there's an awful lot of that kind of stuff out there.

Secondly, I've been thinking that that even if the people who are interested in that kind of stuff are a niche market, they're probably a significant and dedicated (maybe even obsessed) niche market.

Which means that instead of just walking on past the stories of that type that aren't RRND material, I should probably do something with them (preferably, something that lets me show ads to and sell books and DVDs to that niche market).

And so, without further fanfare, I give you Tinfoil Beanie: All the conspiracy stuff that's fit to link."

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Creative solutions to America's problems, part 1: The national debt and unfunded liabilities

The US government is in debt to the tune of $13 trillion.

Estimates of the US government's unfunded future liabilities run to more than $100 trillion.

Hey, we can fix it!

The US uses a fiat currency. There's no problem, in theory, with temporarily pegging that currency to another, or accepting/offering another currency in payment of debt.

All Congress needs to do is pass a law temporarily making some other currency legal tender for the payment of debt. If they got really creative, they could get it down to the instant, e.g. "at the moment of payment of government debt, [insert currency here] shall be considered legal tender."

After that, it's just a matter of spending $2.98 on eBay (including postage!), and ...

... problem solved!

N.B. I see from comments that my C4SS colleague, Mike Gogulski, has launched his own site for displaying and selling large-face-value fiat currencies: Big Banknotes. Check it out!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Computer contretemps

Of a minor sort.

The new (to me) laptop is running Firefox 3.6.6 in Linux Mint. It's beautiful ... except that Firefox Sync isn't working right. It sort of half-assed synced with my other machines once (but in the wrong way, opposite my explicit instructions -- it moved some of the new install's default bookmarks to my existing machines, instead of importing theirs -- the only one it imported in the right direction was Gmail). Now when it tries to sync, it gets an "unknown error" then, to all appearances, lies down and dies.

Not a big deal -- I just exported my permanent bookmarks to my Dropbox folder, then imported them to the new machine -- but I'm wondering if the bug is in Sync, Firefox proper, Linux Mint, or my machine.

I must say, the guys at Dropbox are living network gods. They made my life about a thousand percent easier.

In case you were laboring under the misimpression ...

... that the US "won" in Iraq, Voice of America explains that that's not the case:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has arrived in Iraq where he is expected to hold talks with officials on the country's election deadlock.

Biden arrived in Baghdad Saturday on a visit that had not been previously announced by the White House.

More than seven years since "mission accomplished!"

More than three years since the 2nd Brigade of the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division arrived in Iraq to complete the "surge" rollout.

And yet to this very day, the President and Vice-President of the United States still have to sneak into Iraq like Mexicans looking for landscaping jobs in Texas, then spend most or all of their time in the country cowering behind the blast walls and barbed wire of the "Green Zone."

Yeah, that's "victory" all right. Uh huh.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Early adopters, market share and the Libertarian Party

Apropos of nothing in particular -- I just happened to be thinking about this today.

Libertarians, and especially partisan Libertarians (as opposed to "small-l" libertarians), often think of ourselves as "early adopters," and rightly so.

As a matter of fact, when you're part of a political party that's always polled low single-digits in large elections, you remain an early adopter pretty much by definition: You're among the first people to pull that lever. If you were a "late adopter," you'd be voting for a plurality/majority party, one that lots of early adopters had put into the running before you came along, now wouldn't you?

Anyway, we pat ourselves on the back for being early adopters, and sometimes we deserve those pats. We were the first party to "adopt" the Internet, for example.

Thing is, there are two kinds of early adopters.

One kind of early adopter discerns real, abiding value in something and "gets in on the ground floor."

The other kind of early adopter sees Vince Offer flogging the ShamWow® on TV one week and has to have it. The next week, it's Billy Mays selling the Big City Slider Station® that (s)he has to have. And so on, and so forth, world without end.

There's probably a lot of overlap between these two types of early adopters, or at least a lot of the second type who end up picking some of the same things to adopt as the first type, if only through sheer volume.

You see where I'm going with this, right? The Libertarian Party tends to be dominated by the kind of thinking exhibited by the second type of early adopter.

Let's stop now and get a couple of things straight.

First off, I'm not saying the second kind of early adopter is a bad person. I see no reason not to assume that the average Type Two Early Adopter isn't just as solid a libertarian as the average Type One Early Adopter (the one without the garage full of "AS SEEN ON TV!" boxes at home).

Secondly, I'm not saying that any or all of the products/ideas that Type Two Early Adopters tend to jump at are bad products. Hell, I've got a couple of those "AS SEEN ON TV!" items on my counter right now (didn't buy them on TV -- I adopted them late, after they worked their way to the clearance shelves of stores I happened to be in).

What I am saying, though, is that Type Two Early Adopters have a tendency to believe that that thing they have to have is going to be the thing that everyone else will decide they have to have ... if it's sold to everyone else the same way it was sold to them.

And that's just not the way the world works.

Most people are going to continue making their grilled cheese sandwiches in a skillet, not on the Big Boss Grill® ("AS SEEN ON TV!"). Most people are going to live their whole lives without buying a tube of Mighty Putty®, working out on the Ab Rocket®, or squeezing a bag full of oranges through Jack Lalanne's Power Juicer®.

Just like most people are going to continue voting Republican and Democrat if Libertarians keep thinking that a Michael Cloud sales pitch, an infomercial featuring David Ruprecht, or a Wayne Allyn ("RON PAUL ON STEROIDS! RELENTLESS! AS SEEN ON TV!") Root talk TV appearance constitutes a viable political marketing approach.

Those "AS SEEN ON TV!" products make big bucks for the people who sell them, and that's all well and good. They make things that people want, and they can profit by selling any given item to a relatively small percentage of the population.

Let's take a number not quite at random: 8%.

In the computer sales world, if you have 8% market share, you're the business success/comeback story of the decade: Apple.

In most elections for public office, if you have 8% market share, you lose, period.

If you sell your widget to 1/2 of one percent of the US population, you just moved about a million and a half units and probably have a big bonus coming. If you sell your presidential candidate to 1/2 of one percent of the US population, you're that little asterisk in USA Today's election coverage.

The glitzy/glammy/cheesy "AS SEEN ON TV!" approach is guaranteed to work ... on a small percentage of those exposed to it. The huge majority that approach doesn't work on finds it humorous at best and considers it a huge turn-off at worst. QED, absent proportional representation, that approach spells "epic fail" for a political party trying to win elections.

Oddly enough, the Libertarian Party's "winning elections must be the first priority" crowd seems to overlap heavily with its "AS SEEN ON TV!" devotees. Weird. But I guess that's something to figure out another day. For now, I'm going to wrap up in my Snuggie® and see what's on the tube.