Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Libertarian Argument for ..."

As is usual in a presidential election year, I'm seeing quite a few of those pieces. Somewhere out there, I'm relatively certain, there's a libertarian (I won't challenge hir credentials) who would make "a libertarian argument for" an Enver Hoxha / Idi Amin ticket if asked to do so. And I guess that's okay, if you're one of those "minarchist" / "limited government" libertarians who still buys into the idea that electoral politics might somehow be manipulated into delivering the goods.

But let's not get silly about it.

I received an email today -- forwarded from a group that I don't belong to, so I'm going to be a bit cagey about revealing the author except to say that it's a prominent Beltway libertarian -- which included a particular claim that's also become nearly boilerplate in recent election cycles:

[T]he future of the country as even potentially libertarian in the future will hinge on the outcome of this election. ... ONLY the Republicans offer a fighting chance to move the ball in a libertarian direction.

Well ... BULLSHIT. This is not only not the most momentous presidential election in US history, it's not even the most momentous presidential election of the last two. Frankly, it's a snoozer, no matter how much of a ratings-seeking snit Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews manage to work themselves into.

And, let's be clear here, neither major party candidacy for the presidency of the United States offers an opportunity to "move the ball in a libertarian direction." For that matter, none of the "third party" candidacies do either.

The US superstate is long past the point of any kind of "rollback." Its momentum and inertia are well over the runaway threshold. It is not going to be turned more than a degree or two off its present course, and certainly not in the opposite direction, nor is it likely to be significantly slowed in its speed along that course by any plausible electoral development. It will stop when it crashes and explodes in flame and not a minute before.

The only worthwhile "libertarian argument" for Romney/Ryan is one of those quasi-Hegelian "accelerate the collapse of the thing beneath the weight of its own contradictions" thingamajabbers.

Each successive president lately tends to adopt the excesses of his predecessor and add a few new ones of his own. So a Romney presidency might bring the final collapse (and the attendant expanded opportunity to rebuild social relations in possibly better form) a little closer, a little faster than would an Obama re-election (especially one, as seems likely, close enough popular vote-wise that Obama won't be able to claim anything like a "mandate" ratification of his first term's actions).

But I wouldn't even take that argument to the bank. The reality is that it just doesn't matter very much at all whether Barack Obama serves George Bush's fourth term or Mitt Romney serves Barack Obama's second term.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Romney's Dilemma

Mitt Romney can't afford to step off the stump, Hurricane Sandy or no. The election is a week away, he's still 22 electoral votes shy of victory,  Condoleezza Rice and the storm event have washed away the last traces of what little momentum he had developed to this point, and his opponent is out there campaigning like hell just by being the incumbent during a "national disaster" (if I didn't know better, I'd think that Obama's campaign had brought New Jersey governor Chris Christie on as its chief spokesman).

But if he stays on the stump while said "national disaster" is still in play, he's an asshole.

Because he's Mitt Romney, he's trying to take the middle course: Changing campaign events into "relief events," trotting out new radio ads tripling down on his "Jeep is deserting America" lie (knowing Obama can't respond while in "I'm too busy being president to campaign" character), etc., but not doing the full-blown "kiss hands and shake babies" end-of-the-line campaign routine.

I don't see it working. It looks to me like Romney's only hope of winning next week is an assist from Obama -- some kind of massive public presidential screw-up. Absent that, Romney's stuck where he's at, and may even lose his tenuous grip on Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Neither Major Party Candidate is "Anti-War" ...

... but I think there's a reasonable prospect that Mitt Romney would be the less objectively "pro-war" president.

Before going any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear: This is not an endorsement. I do not vote. I do not recommend voting. If I voted or recommended voting, I would not vote, nor would I recommend voting, Republican or Democrat or for Romney or Obama.

BUT! If there is a real foreign policy difference between the two candidates -- a difference not made apparent in the public debates, from which Romney seems just as dedicated to the idea of serving Obama's second term as Obama is to serving George W. Bush's fourth term -- I think that Romney may actually be the relative dove to Obama's relative hawk.

For one thing, Romney's math doesn't add up. He can't get the tax cuts he wants and the spending increases he wants and move toward the balanced budget he claims to want. So he's lying about something. The something he's lying about may be his intentions in foreign policy and his accompanying intention to increase "defense" spending by 18% over the next five years rather than the 10% Obama is campaigning on.

He's got an easy out on that, if he should get into office. As Obama never tires of pointing out, the defense spending he's campaigning for is spending the military isn't asking for. So once inaugurated, Romney could come out with "I sat down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and my new Secretary of Defense, and they convinced me we can do this cheaper than I thought we could."

Secondly, to the extent that US foreign policy is often yoked to the demands of Israel, I think it's quite possible that Romney may be less inclined in that direction than Obama, probably the most slavishly "pro-Israel" president since Harry Truman.

Romney is not an evangelical Protestant Christian. He's not a "dispensationalist" who believes that biblical prophecy refers to the modern re-institution of Israel as a key event which the devout must support.

Romney is a Mormon. The modern, biblically predicted re-institution of Israel is, according to his religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Jerusalem which constitutes the capital of that re-instituted Israel, where the Lord's temple will be re-built and to which Jesus will one day return, is not located in Palestine. It's located in Independence, Missouri.

That's not to say that Romney may not be "pro-Israel." He's still a politician and subject to the usual lobbying and so forth. But at least we know that deep down in his heart he does not believe that the matter of Israel is a setup for the final battle between good and evil.

OK, I guess we don't really know that. His actual belief in Mormonism may be as shallow as his other stated beliefs, and depending on that shallowness of belief to also extend to "defense" spending is far from a sure thing. Still, it's not obvious to me that Romney will necessarily be even more insanely belligerent, warlike, murderous and terroristic than Obama, if for no other reason than that that is nearly impossible to imagine.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Preparing for Departure from Mac

I bought my used Mac Mini (of circa 2006 origin, one of the original Minis, with the Core Duo instead of Core2 Duo processor, etc.) about 15 months ago, in the hope that it would last me two years. Bulked up to the maximum 2Gb of RAM and running MacOS X 10.5.x ("Leopard"), it's served me well for about what I would have spent on a new, but bottom-of-the-barrel, Windoze PC ...

... unfortunately, it's starting to suffer from both software obsolescence (e.g. Google just dropped support for the Chrome browser in Leopard and I'm pretty sure I'm at the version end with Adobe Flash as well) and worrisome hardware behavior (the DVD drive is working only sporadically, I just had to repair the hard drive from a command line boot,  etc.).

My plan had been to get another used Mac (but a newer one, of course) next summer. It looks like I have to move up the timetable, and I decided to think outside all of the boxes I've previously been in (DOS/Windoze, Mac, Linux).

I have several reasons for my selection. Three of them are:

  1. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever go back to Microsoft operating systems;
  2. Apple has pissed me off more times than I can count in recent years. Love the gear, love the OS, hate the company; and
  3. Hey, I like to try new things.
So ...

One of my clients, for whom I work at the most rock-bottom rates I can afford -- precisely so that I can occasionally say "I need hardware help, stat" -- just agreed to order my new machine on Monday:

Poetic justice on the "intellectual property" front, I think -- I'm replacing Apple's offering with a Samsung product ;-)

The reviews I've read are pretty good -- they describe exactly the kind of machine I need for the kind of stuff I do.

Specs: 1.9MHz Intel Core CPU (I'd prefer AMD but I'll live), 4Gb of RAM, 16Gb solid state drive, 100Gb of Google Drive storage (although I'll probably stick with Dropbox if it works in Chrome OS), dual-band wifi (interesting, but it has Ethernet as well and my router sits about two feet from my machine, so I'll be going wired), six USB ports (I've been getting by with four), DVI port, two HDMI ports, allegedly boots in 5-8 seconds, etc.

A lot of my friends distrust the cloud, and I understand their concerns, but frankly I've been doing most of my work online for years anyway. My current hard drive is only 150Gb, and I never get below 100Gb free space, not even when I neglect for months to ditch the boring stuff in my secret porn folder. Since most (all?) apps will reside in the cloud, I expect the SSD will be more than sufficient. If I'm wrong, I can plug an external drive into one of those USB ports, I guess.

I'll review the Chromebox once I get it, but my prediction is it's going to be really cool.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'm pretty sure that this is the second of two debates ...

... in which Mitt Romney has slagged Barack Obama for cutting welfare.

Specifically, corporate welfare.

In both cases, Obama has pointed out that the US is producing more oil and gasoline now than it was producing when he was elected, and that that growth has occurred in the "private sector."

In both cases, Romney has whined that Obama's administration has cut back on welfare checks to oil companies in the form of taxpayer-subsidized drilling privileges on "public" land.

Very strange.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Review: Dollar Shave Club

I have a love-hate relationship with shaving. That is, I love to hate it. It's expensive, I have sensitive skin (in boot camp, my drill instructors accused me of attempting suicide every time I shaved), and I frankly would prefer to have hair down to my ass and a Kropotkin beard.

But every time I try to grow everything out, it bugs me and I end up getting a haircut and a shave (this last time, two weeks ago, at a barber school -- VERY nice and a great price). I'm back to shaved head and goatee, and working on a handlebar mustache to quell the long-hair desires.

So anyway, the "expensive" part. You've probably seen the ads for Dollar Shave Club. If not, here ya go:

I decided to give it a try. Here's my unvarnished opinion, completely uncolored by the fact that I get a free month for every new customer I refer (cough, cough).

First, the one big negative: It should be called "Three Dollar Shave Club." Yes, their cheapest plan (the "Humble Twin") is $1 a month -- plus shipping and handling of $2 a month. That gets you a razor handle and monthly delivery of four twin-blade cartridges.

The next plan up is the 4X. It runs $6 a month with free shipping, and gets you a handle and monthly delivery of five very nice cartridges -- four blades, aloe vera strip, etc. If you don't need four cartridges a month, there's an option for reducing the deliveries to once every other month ... so we're back to $3 a month.

The important question, of course, is quality versus price. I've been shaving (head and face) with this razor for a week now, and have tried it with regular shaving soap (the kind that comes in a mug with a brush), with baby oil, and with tube-dispensed shaving gel. I'll give the canned Barbasol a try some time, too, and report back in an emergency memo if for some reason it turns shaving into a Texas Chainsaw Massacre experience. I'm still on the first cartridge, so I figure I'm not going to max out the four-blade monthly quota.

The handle isn't an el-cheapo. It is solid, has heft, pivots, sports anti-slip grip, etc. I haven't thrown it against the wall or anything, but I suspect that if I do, it will survive.

The shave is close and comfortable, on par with the Schick Quattro (four-blade) or even -- okay, maybe just almost -- the Gillette Fusion/Pro-Glide (five-blade), both of which I have used. No cuts, no nicks, and only one very minimal case of "razor burn" sensation.

In terms of price, I see that Wal-Mart sells Schick Quattro blades in a four-pack for $10.47. A six-pack of Gillette Fusion cartridges will set you back about twice that.

So the bottom line on Dollar Shave Club is that I get a quality razor and quality blades for a little more or less than half the "name-brand price," and I get them in my mail box without having to remember to go to the store for them. Apart from the initial annoyance at learning that I wouldn't be getting all that for the unreasonably low price of $1 a month after all, I'm intensely pleased.

Update, 03/17/15: Dollar Shave Club asked me nicely to add a link to the Wikipedia article on the company. So here it is.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The "Debate" -- My Theory

OK, so, yeah, I watched it. I didn't plan to, but I happened to be near the television and someone mentioned it was coming on right before, so ...

In my own opinion, it was a complete wash. Neither Obama nor Romney landed any serious punches on each other. It came off like two old spinster sisters who live together carping at each other over whether Mama's Watergate Salad recipe calls for half a cup or 2/3 of of a cup of pineapple.

I was mildly surprised that Romney seemed to be trying to run at Obama from the (statist) left, but I guess I shouldn't have been. I mean, it is Romney we're talking about here. He'd put on a crotchless teddy and stiletto heels and sing "Love Me Tender" on live national TV if he thought it would help him pull even in Ohio. The occasion seemed to call for parroting LBJ's ideology in Bush the Elder's peevish voice, so that's how he rolled.

Obama, meanwhile, just played it close to the vest and threw off an annoying Alfred E. Neuman vibe the whole time.

The really surprising part -- and once again I guess I shouldn't have been surprised -- was the after-debate spin. The punditry of both parties, and the media talking heads, all seemed to agree that Romney won.

Why? My theory: Because all three groups needed for him to win.

Obama can't afford for his base to get lazy. He needs them motivated, just in case, so they don't sleep in and forget to actually vote. So he has to pretend that it's a real race and that he doesn't have it in the bag.

Romney's only hope is to fake it until he makes it. Every bowel movement that doesn't end in a cerebral hemorrhage has to roll out as a sign of his "momentum."

And the media need to make this painfully boring election cycle exciting enough to pull viewers away from Seinfeld re-runs, infomercials for testosterone replacement supplements, and other stuff that's more interesting than Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama.

That's the only explanation I can come up with for the claim that the debate was anything more than an incredibly expensive insomnia cure.