Friday, August 19, 2011

Calculation problem

"Ron Paul has done more for libertarianism than all of his critics, put together."

That statement, or some variant of it, has been a bullet point in pretty much every pro-Paul polemic since he kicked off his 2008 presidential campaign. This time it comes courtesy of Walter Block.

The thing about bullet points is that if they're repeated often enough, they tend to be uncritically accepted by some, and just sort of fade into the background for others. And there they sit, uncontested.

Well, I'd like to contest the claim, or at least suggest that those making it should provide some evidence for it.

Unfortunately, it represents a calculation problem insofar as it's difficult to capture, unitize and valuate the various aspects of Paul's activities, both positive and negative.

I think most of us who call ourselves libertarians with any credibility at all can easily accept Paul's strong non-interventionist position on foreign policy, and his use of a presidential campaign as bully pulpit to promote that position, as a positive.

Ditto for his position on the central banking, the Federal Reserve, and matters of currency in general.

Of course, not everything he does is positive for libertarianism.

Odd as I find it to have to remind a Rothbardian like Dr. Block of this, "no particular orderism" is an important strategic tenet -- one which Paul fails on badly, and at the expense of the credibility of libertarian ideas, when it comes to immigration.

And to boot, Paul's fantasized federal power to regulate immigration, found nowhere in the US Constitution and indeed explicitly considered and rejected by the framers, puts a ding in the reputation of political libertarian "constitutionalism."

Speaking of that "constitutionalism" -- one of Paul's campaign shibboleths -- how much do we deduct from Paul's value to libertarianism for his attempts to get around the Constitution's full faith and credit clause, as modified by the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, with mere legislation (the Marriage Protection [sic] Act) rather than amendment ... especially since he pursues that agenda for the explicit and specific purpose of enabling states to infringe liberty?

And speaking of political libertarianism: Even if we accept that participation in electoral politics is a worthwhile pursuit with positive value for libertarianism, how does such value accrue to a campaign run within the historical party of big government, the GOP? Is it a net positive (using the Republican Party to "get the message out") or a negative (sullying the message by associating it with an organization whose anti-libertarian statist bona fides are impeccable)?

Yes, as a good Austrian, I know that value is subjective, and that Dr. Block may deduct fewer points from Paul's "value to liberty" for this or that than I would. Nonetheless, the question remains: How do we calculate how much Paul has done for libertarianism, how much he's done against it, and what the net balance is?

Fortunately, Dr. Block attempted to preemptively solve the problem for us in 2007 with this declaration:

In my view, the "Ron Paul question" constitutes a litmus test for libertarians. Simply put, the "Ron Paul question" consists of determining whether or not a person supports Dr. Paul. If so, as I see matters, he passes this test and can be constituted a libertarian; if not, his credentials are to that extent suspect.

So apparently you're only qualified to valuate Ron Paul on behalf of libertarianism if you already consider Ron Paul the highest value of libertarianism. Seems kind of circular, but it certainly wraps things up in a nice neat package.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A question for Karen Kwiatkowski

In response to this:

Karen Kwiatkowski writes this:

[Katherine Mangu-Ward's suggestion that she] can confidently say "... and Ron Paul knows he's not going to win," and is planning accordingly are even more outlandish, and fall into the realm of fantasy.

So ... does Karen Kwiatkowski believe that Ron Paul is batshit insane -- so much so and so obviously so that it falls into the realm of fantasy to believe otherwise?

Because that's the alternative to Paul knowing he's not going to win and planning accordingly.

No, I'm not a Ron Paul fan, but neither do I believe him to be either mentally retarded or cuckoo for Coco Puffs. He's not going to be elected president of the United States. He knows he's not going to be elected president of the United States. He's been too successful in politics for too long to have swallowed his own Kampaign Kool-Aid on that subject. Therefore, he has planned his campaign for the purpose of accomplishing other things.

It's not especially strange or unusual to see a Reason editor telling it like it is while still treating Paul respectfully. Unfortunately, it's not especially strange to see the folks at attacking her for it, either. Matter of fact, it seems to be pretty much standard operating procedure.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Election 2012: GOP Handicapping Update

Yeah, it's been awhile since I did one of these, but the Iowa straw poll results are too interesting not to do an update.

Random thoughts:

- I always expect Ron Paul to do well in events like this, where supporter enthusiasm and intense grassroots focus can make a big difference. I didn't expect him to come within 152 votes of winning it. In 2007, he came in a distant 5th place. This time he came in a close second -- and got more votes than the winner (Mitt Romney) did in 2007. I'm not a Paul supporter, but it's certainly an interesting datum.

- I'm well aware of the danger of writing a candidate off this early. Remember, I predicted John McCain as the 2008 GOP nominee in late May/early June of 2007, when everyone else was taking bets on when he'd shut down his campaign and bow out.

That said, I think Romney's done. He's not in the same position as McCain was in mid-2007 -- apparently on his last legs. He's been the presumptive front-runner for months now ... and the old "I'm not going to actively campaign for the Ames vote" gambit just doesn't cover 7th place, 3.4%, 9/10ths of a percent behind write-in candidate Rick Perry, behind Herman Cain, behind Rick Santorum, behind Tim Pawlenty.

A day or so ago -- before the poll began, anyway -- I commented over at Eric "Master Shake" Dondero's site that if this was a keno slip, the four names I'd pick to end up on the 2008 GOP ticket were Bachmann, Perry, Romney and Cain, with Cain the only one not having a real shot at the top slot but a good shot at veep.

Now I'm down to three spots. Romney isn't going to be the presidential nominee, nor is he likely to want to be vice-president, nor is he the kind of candidate you pick for vice-president anyway. He isn't needed to carry Utah, nor can he be expected to roll New England into the Republican camp. Cain, on the other hand, would bring business acumen to the ticket, is from the all-important south, and yes, might put the black vote in play.

Things can always change, but for now at least I'm calling it a Bachmann-Perry contest for the nomination. And no, I'm just not seeing either one of them beating Obama. But like I said, things can always change.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Surprise Not Quite as Unpleasant as Expected

When disappeared for a week, then came back online to announce that it had been hacked and was going into a "receivership" under which customers would be reimbursed at 49% of their account values, I was skeptical. I figured the proprietors were running off with the (digital) money and that the "claims procedure" was just a way of buying more time to get away.

I'm still somewhat skeptical of the hacking story -- it seems to be making the rounds, if you take my meaning -- but I have now in fact received reimbursement as promised. I had BC1 in my MyBitcoin account, and now (less than 24 hours after filing my claim; they promised 48-hour turnaround) I have BC0.49 in hand.

Based on value at time of purchase, etc., I've lost about $10USD on Bitcoin. That doesn't seem like a big price to pay for being part of the advance of anonymous digital currencies toward maturity.

A thought on noodling

Gene Callahan finds "noodling" -- the practice of fishing by sticking your hand in a catfish's gill, out its mouth, and dragging it out of the water -- horrifying.

So do I. But as I mention in comments (not yet posted -- he moderates), it's not the snakes that scare me. It's the fact that you're playing in the fish's environment, by the fish's rules, and any fish big enough to be "noodled" is big enough to decide he'd rather have you stay awhile down there than come up here with you, and quite possibly make that decision stick.

This strikes me as very much analogous to libertarians pursuing social and political change through the electoral process. We're out of our environment; the statists are in theirs. We're trying to drag something heavy to the top of the water; they've got weight and inertia on their side. For us to win requires a great amount of energy and craft. All they have to do to win is chomp down, lie there and wait for us to drown.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"There’s really no excuse for not knowing ..."

... that if you don't check in with the government before wiping your bum, some idiot may blow $9,000 on extra toilet paper and blame you for it.

I've looked and looked and looked, and I can't find anything in the Constitution about the airspace around POTUS being "restricted." Nor are bullshit security theater antics covered in Article I, Section 8.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thought on that Whole Government Budget/Debt Dust-Up

I've heard the lottery described as a tax on people who can't do math.

It seems that innumeracy doesn't just impose a special tax, it also qualifies one for a special job: Member of Congress.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Adventures with the New Computer

Moving to a new machine is always an adventure, isn't it?

My "new" computer is actually a late 2006 model Mac Mini -- Duo Core (not Duo 2 Core), upgraded to its maximum 2Gb of RAM and running MacOSX Leopard (I'll probably up that to Snow Leopard -- it can't handle Lion -- but I couldn't locate a copy today).

Before I go any further, let me reiterate my recommendation for St. Louis area Mac users: Always, always, always visit Mac HQ for your Mac needs. just It doesn't get any faster, cheaper or more courteous.

I walked in there yesterday, made an absurd demand ("get me into an Intel Mac for less than $500"), and they came in more than $100 below that even with the RAM upgrade and had it ready in less than 24 hours even though it was in the back room waiting to be refurbished when I walked in. I'm sitting at about $400 now, including the RAM upgrade (which Mac HQ did for the cost of the RAM, while they were working on the machine anyway) and a purchase from my other favorite store, MicroCenter -- a $25 wireless keyboard and mouse setup.

There's just not much to say about the new machine. It's the next step up from the headless G4 laptop that Morey Straus sent me as a hand-me-down two years ago. That's a fine Mac, too -- if not for so many applications dropping support for the PPC processor (Flash 10 was pretty much the last straw for me), I'd just use it until it finally dropped dead. Yes, it's an older machine, but for the things I do (mostly web browsing and text processing, what we used to call "writing") it's plenty powerful and plenty fast, and $300 cheaper than the cheapest new Mini.

The "changeover" experience, on the other hand, always has its down sides. Here are a few:

- I used to love Sync, now Firefox Sync, but it's gotten just silly complicated lately, often returning sync errors. As a result, I couldn't just move all my account info, passwords, etc. to my new machine.

- Since Sync isn't working, and since I forgot to export my bookmarks to Dropbox before shutting down the G4 for the last time, I ended up with a slightly dated set. No biggie. At least Dropbox works. It's syncing up about 2.5Gb of data from the old machine right now.

- On the G4, I was stuck at Firefox 3.6.x. Now that I'm in an Intel Mac, I've got Firefox 5. So far, I'm not impressed, but it may just be the "strangeness" factor of things like the tabs having moved to the top of the window. Sort of like in Chrome, which is what I'm using now that I can.

- I've been ignoring updates to my favorite text editor, TextWrangler. Obviously I grabbed the newest version for the new machine, and they've changed the way a function I use about a thousand times a day (find and replace text across multiple files) works, so I'll be fumbling around for weeks getting used to that. Feh. But it's still a great app.

OK, so not many downsides. I'm slowly re-creating the important parts of my prior configuration. OpenDNS updater, check. Flash update, check. Silverlight install so I can watch streaming content from Neflix, check -- just had a look at the pilot episode of Twin Peaks. Tor, coming soon.

I'm a happy camper. My computer is newer, faster, runs more apps, uses less electricity, and doesn't have a bunch of cables snagging on everything. Huzzah!