Friday, December 4, 2009

Little Guy Beats Ivy League Land Grab

For once, we have good news on eminent domain from the Empire State:

A state court ruled on Thursday that the state could not use eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University to obtain parts of a 17-acre site in West Harlem, dealing a major blow to the university’s plans to build a $6.3 billion satellite campus.

Nicholas Sprayregen, owner of a self-storage company who fought the taking, knew the odds were against him as he took on the prestigious university and the state of New York. He is understandably pleased with the decision:

“I feel unbelievable,” Mr. Sprayregen said following Thursday’s decision. “I was always cautiously optimistic. But I was aware we were going against 50 years of unfair cases against property owners.”He and the gas station owners challenged the state’s finding that the neighborhood was blighted and its decision to condemn property in the project area on behalf of the university.

One wonders how successful businesses magically become “blighted” when high profile people or entities utter the words “new development.” So what now?

The court’s decision is not fatal to its expansion plan. It already owns or controls 91 percent of the 17-acres–61 of 67 buildings–in the project area. It can simply build around the other property owners, or come to some sort of agreement. But the state and the university had always sought the entire site. 

It bought most of the land between 125th Street and 133rd Street, between Broadway and Riverside Drive. But the university failed to work out a deal with Nicholas Sprayregen, who owned four Tuck-it-Away Self Storage buildings in the area, and the owners of two gas stations. At one point, Mr. Sprayregan offered to swap his properties for other land owned by Columbia nearby, but Columbia refused to do a deal. He said the state never came to him asking to work out a solution. (Emphasis added)

While the blogpost is unquestionably fair to Mr. Sprayregan and his fight, I couldn’t help but notice the language in the headline of the story: “Court Deals Blow to Columbia University.” Maybe it’s just my partiality to underdogs, but I think the hook of the story is that the little guy won against heavy odds fighting a privileged and powerful bully and the State of New York, not the misfortune of the poor little rich school with the seven billion dollar endowment.

Just for Fun Friday

Surprisingly safe for work.

Via Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Me Email Pretty Someday

A friend of mine just sent me the subject line of an email she received promoting continuing online education (name X'd out):

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Edulocate News <>
Date: Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 7:10 AM
Subject: XXXXX, are online classes are right for you


Race and Drugs in NYC

It's stuff like this that should continually remind you that the 'post-racial society' rhetoric is a cruel joke.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mood Music Monday

I really detest pop sensations. Not out of some hipsterish I'm-too-cool-for-anything-anyone's-ever-heard-of sort of reason, but rather that I have come to terms with the fact that I am, indeed, getting too old for this shit. (This may also be reflected in my general resentment towards hipsterism while I simultaneously maintain good friendships with a few hipsters. Everyone has their irrational prejudices, I suppose.)

But my good friend Libby has become enamored with the music and image of one "Lady Gaga." When I first came across the sensation in question, I sorta rolled my eyes and was thankful for no longer owning a radio on which to hear said contrived music and blatant image shaping.

But, alas, I read Libby's blog and caught the new song (I had, to this point, ignored the link on her gchat status) out of idle curiosity.

Damn it, it's catchy.

She says:
Lady Gaga with her extreme appearance and over-the-top fashion, seems to be the female answer to Marilyn Manson. Her music is much more accessible and mainstream than MM’s ever was, so I’ll say she’s like a love-child between MM and Madonna.
Personally, I thought it more resembled Annie Lennox's Eurythmics years with an updated beat, but essentially provocative, intelligent, and alluring to a unorthodox and semi-prurient interest. (It does not escape my attention that Mr. Manson covered the Eurythmics' version of Sweet Dreams linked above.)

Anyway. Here it is, my reluctant surrender to the pop sensation Lady Gaga.

Quote of the Day

The Obama Administration continues to leverage heavily on the growing cult of personality surrounding Obama — much like the one surrounding Bush in his first term. For many, Obama’s popularity is unaffected by the fact that he is pursuing the very same hostile policies as Bush on civil liberties, privacy, and open government. More importantly, there appears no reaction to the disconnect between his rhetoric and his actions. Once again, liberals are committing the same mistake that conservatives committed with Bush. Many continue to display blind loyalty and offer little criticism of the President while core values are continue to be challenged by his Administration.

-GW Law Professor Jonathan Turley on Obama's grandstanding hypocrisy viz. "government transparency" on human rights violations.

Please Give

I never really said anything about the ads and donate button I put on my blog because, well, I hate asking for money. I figure: it's there, you know what it's there for, if you want to give, you will. (If, like me, you're reading this and almost all blogs in an rss feed: fyi--there's a donate button and ads on my blog. You know what it's there for.)

Anyway, I'm writing this not to ask you to give money to me...well, directly* anyway. I want you to give to my former colleagues over at reason some cash. They are great people and great writers. Surviving in today's media market is hard enough, let alone as a non-profit outfit.

Their pitch is hilarious, by the way. I invite you to read it here. And, as Radley points out, you can be funny as you want to be when you give.

*Not only will you be supporting reason staffers, but writers like me unable crank out pieces for a living who can find a libertarian outlet to publish in when the conservatives and liberals pass on our work. And you can give money to them as a way to incentivize me to write more for them and rationalize to yourself why you're not giving money to me directly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just for Fun Friday: Veterans' Edition

In recognition of the sacrifices our veterans have made--and the fact that i didn't put up a jfff last week, here are two vids that show the funnier side of our soldiers in uniform:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strictly Speaking

Strict liability is bullshit.

An ex-soldier handing in a found sawed-off shotgun faces five years in an English prison for illegal possession of a firearm. Of course, he only possessed it in order to get it off the streets and turn it into police:

A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty".

Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.

The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five year's imprisonment for handing in the weapon.

In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: "I didn't think for one moment I would be arrested.

"I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets."

The court heard how Mr Clarke was on the balcony of his home in Nailsworth Crescent, Merstham, when he spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden.

In his statement, he said: "I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges.

"I didn't know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him.

"At the police station, I took the gun out of the bag and placed it on the table so it was pointing towards the wall."

Mr Clarke was then arrested immediately for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station, and taken to the cells.

The story goes on to say that Mr. Clarke's intent is irrelevant because gun possession is a "strict liability" offense, meaning that no matter how one comes into possession of a banned item or substance, or whether or not one had mens rea--criminal intent--he is technically guilty.

This is doubly frustrating because he faces "at least" five years in prison. Like some gun and other criminal offenses in the United States, Mr. Clarke is poised to lose five years of his liberty for doing the right thing because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

One-size-fits-all laws are pernicious. While most of these laws were crafted to bring uniformity and fairness to criminal sentencing--consistency , generally speaking, is a good thing--they become inflexible barriers to true justice in many cases. As I have said before, judges should be allowed to assess the facts of any given case to bring about a just conclusion to a criminal matter. Statutory constraints like "strict liability"--particularly when coupled with mandatory minimum sentences--cross the line from proper legislative decisionmaking into what should be exclusively judicial purview. Stripping judges of their ability to judge mitigating factors--or, in this case, undisputed facts that should have led to immediate dismissal--can result in the state committing crimes against its citizenry.

While I'm not familiar with the English criminal justice system, given that America's common law is a direct descendant of English common law, there has to be some executive or other official that can issue a pardon for this man. They should issue that pardon immediately, in addition to an apology.

Last year, I wrote a piece for reason on mandatory minimum sentences as they applied to ex-(and hopefully future) NFL star Plaxico Burress, that can be found here. Also, in today's WSJ, the feds are rethinking mandatory minimum policy. Let's hope (against hope, probably) that they get this right, at least on a federal level.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank You, Veterans

I just saw this video from As Radley has said, there's something in my eye. Both of them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mood Music Monday

In addition to the 20th anniversary of perhaps the greatest single day of the 20th century, this is the one year anniversary of me quitting smoking. Woo, freedomz.

It very well may be that the most appropriate music for the day would be Winds of Change by the German band Scorpion or something by German superstar and official hero of bad American television David Hasselhoff (I refuse to link anything by him, look it up your damned self), and while I believe in free trade, any music composed after 1900 is not in the German's comparative advantage and thus I don't want to leave you with a negative impression of the German people.

So, in the spirit of freedom's triumph over tyranny and personal victory over addiction, I give you this uplifting song by the decidedly non-German "Ladies Love Cool" James Smith:

UPDATE: So, I had NO idea this interview existed, but check this interview with the baddest rapper in the history of rap itself here. Libertarians Love Cool James? H/T Mary Katharine Ham's twitter feed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

White House's Over-the-Top Message Control

At first, I dismissed the importance and relevance of Robert Gibbs's remark about Fox News Channel. I figured it was a one-time jab and that would be the end of it. Then, as members of the "real" media followed-up and Gibbs still didn't back down, I began to think they were approaching a very fine line to "chill" Fox's First Amendment protection, which is very dangerous ground to tread.

And now there's this:
At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration.
This news is brought to you not by Fox News, National Review, or the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, but the Los Angeles Times.

So, let me get this right. Not only is Fox News just an arm of the Republican party to attack all things Obama, but now the administration has decided to tell it's own supporters that they shouldn't appear on Fox to give their views--in essence, enforcing the one-sidedness of their channel?

Look, nobody with a brain thinks Fox doesn't cater to the Right. But this doesn't automatically disqualify them from being a news organization any more than MSNBC's leftward tilt disqualifies it. Fox is the highest rated cable news network, which means that the White House's efforts are aimed at depriving the largest single cable news audience of certain points of view and information. Why on Earth would the White House do this?

As I've said before, I abhor most television news. It's shallow, vapid, and more style than substance. That said, this continued assault on Fox begins to look less like a petty vendetta than it does programmatic message control. I'm not going Godwin again, I'm just saying that nothing good can come out of stifling discussions and threatening your own partisans for appearing on a network that caters to a wide audience.

I have no particular affinity for FNC--indeed, I find some of their programming repugnant. But these efforts are moving beyond spin control and are moving ever-closer to illegal and immoral governmental disruption of activities explicitly protected by the First Amendment.

This needs to stop now.

Free Kareem!

When I first came to DC, I was told about the plight of an Egyptian blogger named Kareem Amer. Kareem has been shunned by his family and imprisoned in Egypt for nothing more than publishing unpleasant but true complaints about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and some of the more oppressive aspects of Islamic law.

Can you imagine being incarcerated for speaking your mind--in defense of freedom, no less? Needless to say, this young man should be freed.

Yet, he still sits in an Egyptian prison--as he has for the past 1,096 days.

There is a protest scheduled at noon in D.C. at the Egyptian cultural center in DuPont Circle. If you can make it, I strongly encourage you to attend. I have attended several and helped organize one of the protests (I am unfortunately unable to attend this one). You'll meet some great people for a good cause--and it'll get you out of the office for a bit too.

Our current administration has already demonstrated its endorsement of curbing free speech rights around the globe, so you'll sooner see Hillary Clinton in a skirt than hear her so much as reproach Egypt for this crime. Someone has to stand up for what is right.

You can visit for more information about Kareem's plight and the facebook event page for info on today's protest.

Free Kareem!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cut the Taxes. Cut the Spending. Cut the Jesus.

So, what can we learn from the three two and a half electoral contests of note last night?

The gubernatorial victories for the GOP in Virginia and New Jersey showcased explicitly free market conservatism with a muted tinge of social conservatism. That, I think, is a good thing.

As for the NY-23 election, the Tea Partiers and talk radio yahoos put all their chips in against a Republican in favor of a guy whose first issue on his website is "Gay Marriage." He lost, and thus another Democrat holds a seat in the House. The nation's two newest governors-elect did have social conservative messages on their sites, but they certainly weren't highlighted and considerably down the list of priorities.

Lesson: Cut the taxes. Cut the spending. Cut the Jesus.

Jesus is all well and good for emulating his life and taking his lessons to heart. But until he starts feeding the unemployed with fishes and loaves, best leave him at home and at church on Sunday. Whether you think Jesus was just a wise man, a prophet, or the Savior of mankind, a politician he was not. Keep him in your heart, if that's your thing, but leave him out of politics.

The pundits will say what the Dems need to learn from yesterday and what it means to the president and health care and all that, but I think the Republicans should take heed as well. Last night's victors were decidedly not Huckabee and Palin Christian populists, yet all signs point to those two in leading the GOP in 2012.

Let's hope the Republicans get the message from yesterday too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Further Empowering the Most Powerful Man on the Planet

Over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Jamelle has an idea to "address long term challenges" through "meaningful legislation": fundamentally change the structure of Congress so that it's "more responsive." To wit:

Accountability is nice, but absent further institutional reform, it still leaves you with that basic problem (albeit slightly reduced). Better would be to reduce or eliminate some of those barriers, as to make better legislation possible in the first place. A system where committees are weaker, majorities are stronger and obstructionism harder is a system that incentivizes better legislation, as each member knows that their bill can make it to the floor in more or less its original state. It’s a system where there are fewer opportunities for capture by special or parochial interests, and it’s a system that actually empowers presidents to pursue their agendas.
(Emphasis mine.)

Jamelle starts off his post saying that the conventional wisdom among Lefty bloggers is that Congress is "broken" and thus needs fixing so that the president can get his important agenda through past all those darned obstructionists.

First of all, it isn't the job of Congress to enable the president to do anything. In fact, bold, lame, or otherwise bland legislative agendas are, indeed, the sole prerogative of the, er, legislature. The very first legally binding part of the Constitution reads:

Article 1 Section 1. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Not most. Not some. Not 'all but those the president or the party of greater assumed moral right feel necessary.' All. This isn't some obscure, buried clause of ambiguous meaning where intelligent people can differ. This is the first word of the first line of law that establishes our current form of government.

And it isn't that I'm naive as to 'how government really works.' Nor would I even imply that extra-constitutional power grabs are the exclusive domain of one party. Indeed, I oppose the expansion of executive power because of the fact that presidents of any party seek to enlarge their power--and whatever power you give to one president, you give to his opponents who will, eventually, succeed him.

The naivete, I would argue, is in the assumption that these heightened powers would always be used for good, or even assumed that they would be used for good on net. Despite the disarray of the current GOP, the notion of a permanent Democratic majority is just as fanciful as the permanent Republican majority imagined in the early Bush (43) years. Political tides change and, invariably, the party in the White House changes also. I can't imagine Jamelle or Yglesias or any number of Lefty bloggers arguing for this power four years ago. The reason for that is, of course, their compatriots would have looked at them as if they were mentally defective to argue to give W. more power. Yet, for some reason, there is a consensus among these same folks that we do exactly that today as if a Republican will never come back into office.

Whatever power you give the guy you agree with, by way of our precedent-based system of laws, you give them to your political adversaries. Furthermore, the precedent given is not only that of the explicit power granted, but the power to expand the limits of power generally. Thus, by saying this or that constitutional limit doesn't apply because you have compelling reasons, any other constitutional limit is therefore vulnerable to the same argument, rendering the Constitution itself moot.

You would think that adherents to the party that has one--ONE!!--president elected twice since FDR (who governed much like a Republican after the first two years) would be wary about vesting too much power in the presidency. But, ah, how short-term our memories are when your guy (or gal, I suppose) gets in power.

A Republican case in point: Yoo'll never guess who lamented the extra-constitutional executive powers of the Clinton administration:
"President Clinton has exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the upmost ... [and] undermine[d] notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law ... ."
Of course, this is from the same man who would write this with a straight face, just two years later, what later became known as a "Torture Memo":
“our Office [of Legal Counsel] recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Emphasis in original)
Even if one was so naive to think that every president from their party was a politician with the heart of gold and the wherewithal (i.e., superhuman knowledge) to effectively implement the "meaningful legislation" Jamelle et al. would like pass, such contortions of our rule of law leads to the unraveling of our most fundamental protections against state encroachment. This isn't some reductio ad absurdum argument: this is a playing out of rights preferences of one political party over the other. One party is marginally better on property rights, the other on civil liberties--or at least, they pretend to be. But if you grant one of them the power to run roughshod over the rights and liberties they find less compelling, you grant the other side the very same. Such actions, by either party, are inimical to individual liberty.

Because of, not in spite of, Congress's numerous abrogations of its Constitutional duty to act as a check on the Executive and punting its prerogative to declare war by writing Bush a blank check on the Iraq invasion, we're facing many of the problems the so-called "Progressives" have been complaining about for years. And it's not all the Republicans fault: one only has to look to the recent half-assed "debate" on PATRIOT Act reforms and State's Secrets protections sought by the current administration to show that civil liberties and transparency aren't much more popular at either end Pennsylvania than they were last year.

Nevertheless, the "Progressive" idea is to further empower the most powerful man on the planet to charge headlong into some new foray of ill-conceived and expensive adventure in the name of what's best. How this ever got the label of "progress" is fully beyond me.

Congress wasn't meant to work efficiently. (and thank Madison for that!) The fact the president can't just come up with an idea and make it so is the essence and beauty of deliberative democracy, not some sort of calamity.

In the future, as a practical matter, the next time Jamelle et al. want to give Obama more power, perhaps they should stop and think, "What would W. do with it?"

UPDATE: It should be noted that weeks ago, I happened upon a blog entry Yglesias wrote in 2005 arguing for the rejection of the filibuster. I never changed the post to reflect that, and since have. 10 points for consistency, but still 0 points for efficacy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Just For Fun Friday

A Public Service Announcement from the most discriminated against people in D.C. (Audio NSFW.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Three Books, Part 1

Tony Woodlief, Megan McArdle, Ilya Somin and others tackle the question, "what three books would you recommend to someone who disagrees with you?" Although Tony frames it as a left versus conservative/libertarian discussion, given the sort of "I don't agree with either party" mindset most small-L libertarians share, I think this would be more dependent on where that disagreement is than it would be a standard three books that could possibly wrap up the strongest arguments for an/my individual way of thinking. I mean, a free market conservative with social conservative biases would get much different treatment than a traditional ACLU-type liberal lacking a decent respect for property rights and economics. Indeed, I could probably come up with a list for a lot of traditional libertarian types, especially the consequentialist economist types.

It is assumed that these books would be more friendly to the intelligent layperson than some of the books that cater to the wonkish types that are typically answering this question on their personal blogs.

Staying within Tony's framework, however, I would give:

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice by Gordon Tullock et al.

The Cult of the Presidency
by Gene Healy

I picked Gene's book not because of any personal or collegial affinity I have for him, but because I think it is an excellent, non-partisan attack on the absurd heights we have taken the expectations of the most visible political office in America. I picked Hazlitt's book because it is a concise explanation of fundamental economic concepts--and fallacies--that have been prevalent in modern Western economic discourse. And Tullock's book, I think, is a nice bridge between the other two because it explains the confluence of the political and the economic arenas that make sense on an almost intuitive level. They are all eminently readable--I dare say "enjoyable" in regards to Gene's book.

I will soon post books for the Right and the "Libertariat" in the next day or two.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Just for Fun Friday

I'm relatively sure that, as I watched this video, the feeling I had will probably be the closest thing I could come to what it must have been like for black people in the 1950s to see the likes of Pat Boone cover songs from the often-bawdy black roadhouse music scene that would become Rock n Roll.

Before you write me/comment about how it's not remotely similar and how Little Richard et al. were robbed, check the title of the post and chill out. I get it, but it's not like it's 'too soon' or anything.

via Daily Dish.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spit-take Funny

A friend of mine just turned me onto a blog that happens to be written by a former intern at my job who's teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to young children in Korea. I just added it to my reader--you should too.

It's basically Kindergarten Cop meets Kids Say the Darnedest Things, only in this scenario, it's the students and not the governor teacher that speak broken English.

A taste:

In which the author obnoxiously says "in which the author" and is a pig being eaten by a dinosaurmonster

In my 5 year-old class we have been reading a story book called Monster, Monster for Halloween. We had some extra time today so I decided to have a contest to see who could draw the scariest monster.

The girls all drew three-eyed princesses. A couple other kids drew three-eyed aliens. A few more drew ghosts, but the democratically-chosen winner drew a house with a pig in it getting eaten by a dinosaurmonster.

He brought it to me and said, "Teacher I am finished. This is dinosaurmonster. This is Kaylin Teacher."

"Really? Because it looks like a pig."

"Yes it is pig and Kaylin Teacher. Kaylin Teacher is pig."


Hilarious stuff. I wish Kaylin the best of luck.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me."

H/T: Daily Dish


Despite Godwin's Law, there comes a point when analogies to certain vicious security states of the 20th century are appropriate. This video has made me so angry that I'm gonna "go there" to make my point.

There is something so fundamentally wrong with this campaign that I'm getting a migraine from trying to figure out where to begin.

Even at the height of the Third Reich, there were very few Gestapo officers relative to the population of Germany and, subsequently, German-occupied Europe. Thus, to get information, the government relied heavily on everyday citizens reporting to the Gestapo's local and regional offices. The files recovered after the war document the copious amounts of information they had collected, most of which was voluntarily given by citizens about other citizens. Like today's "fusion centers" that aggregate data on Americans, the Gestapo had too much information to run efficiently. (Former FBI agent Mike German has done invaluable work on fusion centers at the ACLU.)

Collecting information this way is not only a threat to individual liberty, but it also is counter-productive to law enforcement's legitimate and necessary counter-terrorism efforts because the resources required to investigate so many bogus leads. Thus, informing on fellow citizens actually helps terrorists because law enforcement agents are too busy wasting their time with superfluous allegations. (Of course, law enforcement will happily arrest and prosecute people for whatever non-terrorism related information they find as they dig into the lives of those people unlucky enough to be reported on.)

Our police should do their jobs and our citizens should mind their own damned business.

H/T: Allison Gibbs

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mood Music Monday

The intro is a bit long-winded. If you want to skip it, the song starts around 2:40.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just for Fun Friday

I'm on the road, so I'm pre-posting this Thursday. The last time I tried a Hulu link, it failed. So, if the following embed doesn't work, check it out here.

Have a good weekend, and LET'S GO YANKEES!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mood Music Monday

Had to replace some old music that got lost between iPods and PCs.

I was running through my recent purchases on my new player (yeah, I know--but it beats getting sued like my friend did.) and this came on over my lunch break. This song makes me think of my last day at IU my freshman year. Three or four guys on our dorm floor had acoustic guitars and we all sat in the floor lounge for a going-away meeting and the 25 of us or so sang this song together. I'm sure it didn't sound half as good as I remember it, though I remember being surprised by how bad we weren't.


And remember kids, always back up your music.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just for Fun Friday

As a facebook friend noted earlier, this video got even funnier after the news came out today.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Novel Idea

Pundits of all stripes keep lamenting the death of intellectual conservatism, as the brainier Right is reportedly "retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas."

I think those conservatives who spent the past eight years as apologists for Christian Big Government are indeed struggling to find some sort of fiscal credibility, but that hardly diminishes the intellectual power of the ideas espoused by Friedman, Hayek, Buckley, Goldwater, et al. of generations past. Their ideas were, are, and will continue to be sound in reasoning and powerful in practice. The problem is the people who were elected to implement those ideas failed miserably in living up to the standards laid out in the countless works of free market capitalism and conservative governance.

But if you need an idea that will engage the attention-deficient masses that sums up principled conservatism, may I humbly suggest:

Leave me the hell alone.

I know this hasn't the slightest chance of being heeded right now, but it's really the basic principle undergirding classical liberalism, the intellectual foundation of the Right: you know, that freedom thing. The fact that the Right is expected to develop "new" ideas implies that it needs to come up with some sort of grandiose plan of action--some bold legislation that will transform our current circumstance into a new era of peace, wealth, and harmony--with the explicit understanding that government is both responsible and capable of such miraculous works-of-wonder is misguided fantasy.

Good ideas don't lose their relevance because the advice they contain isn't followed. It's sheer stupidity, then, to revert to the old, discredited ways of thinking--increasingly centralizing economic control, for one--and then calling those ideas "new" or "progressive" with the expectation that they will work this time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Just for Fun Friday

I don't remember where I found this/who sent it to me, but I love a good smack-down by witticism, so letters full of them make my day. Enjoy.

Reprinted in full, without permission, from the website: Chilling

Letter to Warner Brothers: A Night in Casablanca

Groucho Marx

Abstract: While preparing to film a movie entitled A Night in Casablanca, the Marx brothers received a letter from Warner Bros. threatening legal action if they did not change the film’s title. Warner Bros. deemed the film’s title too similar to their own Casablanca, released almost five years earlier in 1942, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In response Groucho Marx dispatched the following letter to the studio’s legal department:

Dear Warner Brothers,

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.

I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim that you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye, and even before there had been other brothers—the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (This was originally “Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?” but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one, and whittled it down to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”)

Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well it’s not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks—Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are impostors. I can think of two Harrys that preceded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, Appelbaum wasn’t too well-known. The last I heard of him, he was selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner.

Now about the Burbank studio. I believe this is what you brothers call your place. Old man Burbank is gone. Perhaps you remember him. He was a great man in a garden. His wife often said Luther had ten green thumbs. What a witty woman she must have been! Burbank was the wizard who crossed all those fruits and vegetables until he had the poor plants in such confused and jittery condition that they could never decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the dessert dish.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but who knows—perhaps Burbank’s survivors aren’t too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank’s name and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the Burbank family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than they are of the fact that your studio emerged “Casablanca” or even “Gold Diggers of 1931.”

This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you it’s not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and that you, yourselves, know nothing about this dog-in-the-Wanger attitude. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that the heads of your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that out-Saroyans Saroyan.

I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well—hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool.


Groucho Marx

Unamused, Warner Bros. requested that the Marx Brothers at least outline the premise of their film. Groucho responded with an utterly ridiculous storyline, and, sure enough, received another stern letter requesting clarification. He obliged and went on to describe a plot even more preposterous than the first, claiming that he, Groucho, would be playing “Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart.” No doubt exasperated, Warner Bros. did not respond. A Night in Casablanca was released in 1946.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Only 1.5%-5%...'

Today is apparently 'International WTF Day':
The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was "busy cleaning its own house" and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

Oh, only 1.5%-5%? Substitute "my friends" or "my colleagues" or "my employees" for "Catholic clergy" and one starts to get the idea of how repugnant to all moral decency this release is.

The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.

"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."

Oh, well. Once you put it that way...

Politically correct terms cannot and should not be used to obfuscate the plain and simple truth that the Catholic Church aided, abetted, transferred and gave shelter to hundreds (or perhaps thousands, given their own numbers) of known child molesters...for decades. That they still have the nerve to publish garbage such as this is a testament to the wicked obstinacy of its hierarchy and is further proof that so many who have suffered by their hands will not receive justice in this life.

It's people like this that make me hope there is a Hell.

H/T: Democracy in America

Nota Bene: This condemnation has nothing to do with God or individual Catholics' relationship with their God: this is about a specific organized religious order. The Catholic Church is a globally recognized political entity that is so morally bankrupt that it passes itself off as the collective voice of God on Earth while issuing press releases that rationalize child molestation.

Empire State Building to Celebrate the Starvation and Murder of Millions

No, really:

NEW YORK — New York's iconic Empire State Building will light up red and yellow Wednesday in honor of the 60th anniversary of communist China.

The Chinese consul, Peng Keyu, and other officials will take part in the lighting ceremony which will bathe the skyscraper in the colors of the People's Republic until Thursday, Empire State Building representatives said in a statement.

The upper sections of the building are regularly illuminated to mark special occasions, ranging from all blue to mark "Old Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra's death in 1998 to green for the annual Saint Patrick's Day.

I'm all for trading with China because it enriches our country and helps get their hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But that in no way should be viewed as an endorsement of, let alone celebration of, their government.

ESB, seriously, WTF????

H/T Kevin Williamson

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Christian Fundamentalism

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a religious person, or even a man of faith. I avoided writing about religion because I never wanted to turn into one of the proselytizing pedants that harassed me about my atheism in grade school. Their ungracious efforts to prove their own faith by converting me embittered me toward religion and most people with any sort of pronounced faith. (Thankfully, I have since made my peace with religious people--some of my best friends are Christians--and religion generally.)

I don't usually like reading about religious debate either. Political or otherwise interesting bloggers that engage in theological navel-gazing usually drone on ad nauseam, offering less information about God than their own departure from reason and their rationalizations for preferring one strain of ancient demagoguery to another. I'm all for faith if you can muster it, but I'm not at all interested in mundane personal journeys of people I don't know.

I also didn't really feel like 'coming out' as an atheist to my more religious family members in order to prevent any lectures on Jesus at family reunions, but I read something so menacingly stupid today that I felt compelled to comment:

When author J.K. Rowling was proposed as a recipient for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Bush [43] nixed the idea because Rowling’s Harry Potter series “encouraged witchcraft.”

While I am no fan of Bush, I always assumed he was smarter than his popular image. And, given the undeniably high intellect of William F. Buckley, Jr. and his unquestionable faith in God, I usually tread very lightly in associating intelligence and religious/spiritual belief. But anyone who believes that Harry Potter encourages witchcraft is an imbecile, period.

The books' popularity doesn't negate the assertion of 'pro-witchcraft' leanings--common sense does. God or no God, the fact that whomever suggested it wasn't immediately mocked and thrown out of the room makes me shudder that the corridors of power were ever staffed with anyone so asinine to believe it or so spineless as to know its absurdity and ignore it.

Seriously, though, I know that this way of thinking represents a much higher number of people than I like to admit. I was once placed into a Mennonite youth group and was thereby introduced to the surreal worldview of Christian fundamentalists. I won't go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that anything secular was treated with suspicion, and anything in fiction that paralleled God in any way—e.g., the Force in "Star Wars"—was evidence of the Devil's workings. I don't know which was more ridiculous: their belief that fantasy fiction was intentionally meant to subvert Christianity or that they were actually afraid of it. (I know Darth Vader was evil, but damn.)

This ingrained fear of fiction spilled well-beyond fantasy and into other works that dealt with unpleasant (esp. sexual) subject matter. These See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil types are the book burners of old. They are the censors. They are the people that perpetuate ignorance, in the name of public morals. They look to quash anything that challenges their worldview, and thus, their control over others. They are, in short, evil in their own way.

The fact that these people ever rose to such power in this country actually scares me. The fact that I ever voted for them makes me sick.

Who Gives a...


Jenny Slate, one of two actors hired over the summer to join the repertory cast, was making her "SNL" debut in the sketch, called "Biker Chick Chat," which aired in the last 20 minutes of the season premiere. Slate and Kristen Wiig played surly motorcycle babes who used the substitute words "frickin' " or "friggin' " in every sentence they spoke.

But when, at about 12:43 a.m., Slate was supposed to say to Wiig, "You stood up for yourself, and I friggin love you for that," she mistakenly said the real f-word instead. Slate made a face -- puffing up her cheeks, basically -- but the sketch went on with no other problems.

Lorne Michaels, the show's executive producer, said from New York late yesterday that the moment was especially traumatic for Slate because "it was literally her first time on the show. There was nothing dirty, just a slip of the tongue. It was 'frickin', frickin', frickin' ' and then boom! The pain that Jenny is going through is, I'm sure, considerably worse than that experienced by anybody who saw it."

Michaels indicated that times may have changed enough since 1981, when "SNL" player Charles Rocket uttered the word, so that the incident may not cause the uproar it did then. He said the NBC switchboard did not "light up" with angry viewer phone calls. And because "SNL" is tape-delayed to the West and Midwest, the word was only heard in the Eastern portion of the country.

...the FCC went wild doling out enormous fines for alleged obscenities during the George W. Bush era, it's believed in some circles that the Obama administration will have less interest in such matters.

The fact that it's ever a concern for the federal government what naughty words are said on television ? There was a recent case FCC v. Fox, where the Supreme Court upheld speech restrictions imposed by the FCC because, in effect, harm is caused by people hearing expletives during certain times of day. To which I say, to quote Eric Cartman (link not remotely safe for work):


What part of "Congress shall make no law..." was unclear? We have Americans dying and being maimed daily in wars overseas--and, in the process, inflicting death and suffering upon others--we have a criminal justice system that incarcerates more than any other nation on the planet (hundreds of thousands of which are imprisoned for crimes against no one, it should be noted) and our government is nearly criminally borrowing money against wealth not yet made by generations not yet born and someone saying "fuck" is somehow important?

I will write more on the supposed decline of civility (e.g., Kanye, Joe Wilson, Serena, etc.) and what it means to American society today soon, but this is just absurd. You can debate the propriety of using terms like that all you like--and there is an excellent and persuasive argument for not swearing--but that anyone would even consider getting the government involved over an uttering of certain phonetic syllables that only offend sensibilities (as opposed to threats or 'fighting words,' for example) is wholly offensive to mine.

The government should stick to what it's good at its job and leave people to their own language choices. I hope Shales is right in thinking that Obama will pull back the reins on the FCC, but I'm not holding my breath.

Mood Music Monday

Long distance dedication to a friend going through some very rough times right now.

Get better, BG.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just for Fun Friday

Because every day needs a gimmick, this is my first "Just for Fun Friday."

Yeah, I know. I don't need gimmicks, I just need to post more. I've been busy, dammit.

Anyway, a friend of mine linked this on facebook today and I just about lost it. As if I needed another reason to be glad I'm not a single woman...

Enjoy your weekend!

H/T: Cordell Eddings

Terrorists Foiled Plot for "Darwin Award" Immortality

At least the foiled terror plots are getting more entertaining. From the DOJ press release:

First, the superseding indictment charges Daniel Patrick Boyd, aka "Saifullah," and Hysen Sherifi with conspiring to murder U.S. military personnel, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1117. The superseding indictment alleges, among other things, that in furtherance of this agreement, Boyd undertook reconnaissance of the Marine Corps Base located in Quantico, Va., and obtained maps of the base in order to plan an attack on Quantico. According to the superseding indictment, Boyd possessed armor piercing ammunition, stating it was "to attack the Americans." A conviction for conspiring to violate Title 18, United States Code, Section 1117 has a maximum penalty of imprisonment for any term of years or life, and/or a $250,000 fine, followed by five years of supervised release.
Let me repeat that: the plot was to, among other things, storm the sprawling military complex full of gung-ho Marines in Quantico, Virginia. I've been there. It's in the middle of nowhere. It is a place that is perfectly suited for "Surviving the Game," and these idiots were gonna walk right into it voluntarily, guns blazing.

I saw a Marine veteran interviewed about the plot on the news last night. I don't know if the reporter was that naive or just playing straight man, because the vet looked rather incredulously at the him when he asked why a handful of self-trained nitwits attacking a base full of Marines was, in the vet's words, a "bad idea." He tempered himself by saying (paraphrasing) "because [the terrorists] would get their brains blown out."

I've never served in our armed forces, and I have nothing but respect for those that do so don't take the following the wrong way: having met my share of Marines, I don't think it's any stretch to say that hunting down a merry band of shit-brained terrorists on the grounds of Quantico would brighten more than a few of their days. I, obviously, don't want to see any of our servicemen hurt. But I just find it unlikely the Marines would have any trouble whatever dispatching Boyd and his crew of bearded misfits, with a tad bit of glee to boot.

To wit, instead of life in prison, maybe they should be sentenced to be dropped into the middle of Quantico with a couple rifles and a "good luck, dumbass" from the USMC.

Headline reference here. And no, for the love of reason, I am not remotely serious about attacks on military bases.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Myles Brand (1942-2009)

My mother always said if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all....


Friday, September 11, 2009

Situational Constitutionalism

In recognition of the anniversary of the 2001 attacks today, I wrote in my Twitter feed and similarly on my facebook status:
Trampling on the protections provided by the Constitution is no way to honor the fallen.
While I intended it to reference those who are wont to say "9/11 changed everything" or some other pap to justify torture, wiretaps, indefinite detention without charge etc. initiated by the Bush administration and--for the most part--wholeheartedly continued by the Obama administration, it dawned on me that some may take it as some sort of backhanded slap at the health care reform plans currently festering in Congress. Well, it wasn't, but since we're on the subject...

I am sick and tired of the Left (I patently refuse to refer to people who work to reestablish the age-old power of the state over people's lives as "progressive") complaining about the unconstitutionality of Bush administration actions while simultaneously holding in contempt those of us who read Article 1,§ 8 of the Constitution and Amendments 9 and 10 of the Bill of Rights as limits upon government action. If the Necessary and Proper, General Welfare, and Commerce clauses are to be read so broadly as to nullify the major safeguards against tyranny (e.g., arbitary seizure and reallocation of wealth and property) enshrined in our Founding documents, then those documents cease to mean anything at all. Explicit directives from the document upon which all federal laws are (meant to be) built are not to be casually tossed aside because legislators or presidents purportedly mean/meant well.

The Left is just as guilty as the Right of situational constitutionalism--standing by the document when its suits their particular policy interests, but ignoring it when the unambiguous meaning of the text prohibits the excessive power the government needs to implement their preferred goals. Either the Constitution grants the power or it does not. If it does not, the government does not legitimately have that power, in spite of what they or anyone else thinks is the "right thing to do."

If you don't like it, change the Constitution. Short of that, simply ignoring the text to play Robin Hood (or Jack Bauer, for that matter) is sickening and ignominious hypocrisy.

Update: Further comment on the Millhiser piece I linked to above, here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Perhaps the Most Preposterous Thought Ever Printed in the New York Times

And that is saying something.

But, without further ado, I present to you the unfathomable Thomas Friedman:
There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China's leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down...Our one-party democracy is worse.

For some reason, when I think of China and green automobiles, I think of this:

'Benevolent' dictatorship/autocracy beats the deliberative process of democratic republics because, dammit, those people can get things done!

Just don't look at the man behind the curtain jailing, censoring, beating, and executing untold numbers of dissenters, choking-off less desirable political content on the internet, forcing abortions on families, and only allowing markets to flourish in certain geographic locations while so many people still live in the countryside without basic amenities those contemptible and inefficient free nations have had for, oh, about 100 years.

There aren't words in our language strong enough to describe the abject imbecility of this column.

H/T: John Tabin and Matt Welch

more on this by Will Wilkinson and Kenneth Anderson.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Quote of the Day

We ought to ask kids to think critically about presidential rhetoric, instead of prodding them to burble appreciatively about his compassionate plans for everybody.

-Gene Healy, author of "Cult of the Presidency," in today's Washington Examiner

Mood Music (Tuesday)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Words Fail Me

I give you, the Snuggie Sutra.

H/T: Daily Dish

(I'll do a 'Mood Music Tuesday' tomorrow when everyone goes back to work.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Unfortunate Update

I hate it when I can see something like this coming:

I'm glad that a story of a (presumably) squeaky-clean white baptist minister is out to bring light to abusive officers--if we assume it's true. (There is no confirmation on the story I can find yet) I just hope he's got no terrible skeletons in his closet (e.g., militia organizations/fringe Minutemen, racist, etc.) because, if he does, the officers' lawyers will eat him for lunch--in spite of what appears to be a detailed and legitimate complaint.
Because our friend Rev. Stephen Anderson is back in the news...(::smacks forehead::)

Pastor Steven Anderson has used his position at Faithful World Baptist Church, in Tempe, Arizona to bring just a little more hate into the world. Pastor Anderson is praying for the death of President Obama and an eternity in hell.

“Nope. I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. When I go to bed tonight, that’s what I’m going to pray. And you say, ‘Are you just saying that?’ No. When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.”

Reminds me of this classic from the Onion:
We're not all "Jesus Freaks" who run around screaming about how everyone should "Judge not lest ye be judged," whine "Blessed are the meek" all the time, or drone on and on about how we're all equal in the eyes of God! Some of us are just trying to be good, honest folks who believe the unbaptized will roam the Earth for ages without the comfort of God's love when Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior returns on Judgment Day to whisk the righteous off to heaven.

I am not insane. I am not racist. I do not hate the president. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do not think Obama is the devil incarnate. I do not speak in a language that makes it sound as if "government" is just another word for "evil cabal hell-bent on taking away the god-given birthrights of affluent and middle-class white Americans." But, unfortunately, so many of the people who grab headlines with legitimate accusations of state overreactions and outright intrusions upon liberties indeed fit one or more of these descriptions.

Think about it this way: what if everything you believed was most popularly represented by screaming Code Pink yahoos (I've seen them up-close and personal...scary folks.) They are anti-war, among other things, but not everyone anti-war is like this. But, of course, libertarians are anti-'security state', inasmuch as it intrudes upon our constitutional rights.( N.B. This is not to say I am anti security of the state. Big difference.) But it seems the only people standing up to the injustice of overzealous cops and invasive and illegal searches are criminals, half-wits, and/or crazy bastards. And, of those who grab headlines, they tend to be white, middle class, with a touch of Southern 'States Rights' animosity that is thinly veiled, if veiled at all, racism. (I tend to refer to myself as a Federalist.)

To paraphrase William F. Buckley, speaking about Sen. Joseph McCarthy who led the infamous committees to uncover communists in the government--which, incidentally, had indeed infiltrated high levels of the U.S. government--"just because he's crazy, doesn't mean he's wrong." So too are embarrassments to liberty like Rev. Anderson.

But, alas, many mock our position on this, and health care, and anything else that has been shouted loudly by less-than-informed people on half-assed assumptions by good ol' boys and religious nuts and militia members and...well, the list goes on.

You'll notice that at the American Prospect, they're even mocking those of us who still believe the Constitution is the law of the land by comparing us to Orly Taitz and the "Birthers" by calling us "Tenthers"--we, so naive to support the anachronistic 10th Amendment to the Constitution. What crazy fucks we must be for taking the Constitution at face value.

*I am not accusing Anderson of racism, by the way. He may be, he may not be. It's irrelevant to my overall point because if it's not him, it's someone else.

Mood Music Monday

Nanny State Strikes Again

Of all the things in New York City the government should be worried about, having a cup of coffee--yes, just coffee--with a cigar is an offense that could allow the city to shut down a business that has been operating for nearly a century:

Vince Nastri III, the third-generation owner of Barclay Rex -- where bankers, City Hall staffers, lawyers and detectives smoke while sitting in plush leather chairs or browsing in the walk-in humidor -- complained that the city is "trying to take away my livelihood over a cop[sic] of coffee."

Health officials had no problem with all the cigars his customers were puffing on -- a handful of businesses, including Nastri's, are exempt from Mayor Bloomberg's anti-smoking laws -- but decided a $9,000 coffee machine was grounds for closing the place down.

"We didn't survive in business for 99 years by breaking laws. But this is just petty," said Nastri, whose shop's past customers have included Frank Sinatra, James Cagney and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

You may finally sleep soundly, New Yorkers, knowing that the coffee machine is gone and the streets of New York are safe again thanks to Michael Bloomberg's nannytopian policies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Treat Kennedy's Death

My friend Elizabeth Nolan Brown had this to say about the way the American chattering and political classes are handling Ted Kennedy's death:

Maybe I’m just being falsely nostalgic, like when I wish ladies still wore hats and pretty stockings even though I can hardly be bothered to comb my hair and apply mascara on a daily basis; maybe it’s just, as the[LA Times] article goes on to point out, the “more elemental … difference between knowing someone as an individual rather than a political caricature” … but maybe it really is a sad, sad [indictment] of our current political culture and the kind of respect and diplomacy that’s been lost …

I found myself vacillating on how to treat Teddy in death because of my contempt for him while he was alive. Save one rather nasty tweet I wrote while somewhat intoxicated--that I subsequently deleted--I have been quite reserved in my public criticisms. The respect and diplomacy of which ENB writes I think is--like nearly any 'good ol' days'--indeed a 'false nostalgia' for things that never really were. But, nevertheless, I decided to hold my contempt for Teddy at bay, for the most part.

Most of my venom, instead, has been directed at the glowing obituaries that mention his most tragic act as nothing more than a political misstep for him--likening the death of a young woman to Gary Hart's pictures that cost him the nomination in 1984. That, I think, has been the most reckless part of this Kennedy media overdose.

But as this two-decade old profile in GQ illustrates, the man of the people wasn't really one of the people. Like the aristocratic politicians that counted plebes as their patrons in ancient Rome, the Kennedys' modern day Julio-Claudian mythology belies their personal, decadent, self-involved natures. The legendary personal "foibles"--as many are wont to use so-milquetoast of term--of the lot of the Kennedy men were stunts of such depraved indifference to other people that only those immune to laws of government and the judgment of society could survive politically. Yet, they are widely held to be "America's Royal Family," known for their empathy toward the downtrodden and helpless that could never approach them in their personal lives, lest they be molested on a restaurant table or hit in the face with a flying drink.

Obits like this one, penned by another friend of mine, J.P. Freire (who is, by the way, an unapologetic conservative), project a fragile humanity onto the man that,--while J.P.'s article was moving to read--I don't think was really there. Matt Yglesias, a proud "progressive", responding to some "right-of-center" rebukes this week for being confounded by modern politicians' motivations, wrote:

The formal model of the self-interested legislator is very easy to understand. What I’m saying is hard to understand is the actual psychology of this kind of behavior. I think I now have a much better grasp than I once did of what’s going on inside the heads of people who have ideological beliefs I disagree with. But I find it very difficult to extend my powers of moral imagination to the kind of people who hold high political office in the United States.


Instead, we’re fated to be ruled by the sort of people who are really desperate to cling to power. But it still strikes me as a very odd mentality.
If prostitution is the oldest profession, then man maneuvering to rule/control his fellow man is a close second. (Of course, the line between the two is hardly clear.) Governing politics embodies ideas so old and basic they've made it into the religious canon, and suffice it to say one doesn't need a degree in psychology to figure them out. What I want to know is how, after we have known how corrupting power is for--quite literally--thousands of years, intelligent people, especially those of us who live and work near the locus of political power, could ever be so naive as to happily grant the governing authority more power over our money and individual liberty, whatever the politicians use for their stated motivation.

Some may state that comparing today's politicians to Rome is not fair, given the great societal changes of the past two millenia. But I ask, has human nature changed in that time? Have the Seven Deadly Sins been erased from the human heart? And more concretely, have these things changed since the days of Mark Twain?H.L. Mencken? Sinclair Lewis? Will Rogers? Woodward & Bernstein? How politicians grab and cling to power is far less mystifying to me than someone as intelligent as Yglesias looking at the bloated bureaucracy of government, the dog-eat-dog fights that we call "election cycles," the cloakroom logrolling deals "to get things done"and then attempt to rationalize and assign any moral commitment to the people whose ability to lie to your face is a career necessity. (And while a perhaps noble gesture on J.P.'s part, I also have a hard time imagining the quiet torture of life as Ted Kennedy, especially after reading and hearing this).

I'd like to think that Yglesias's overall point is what he said it was in the follow-up post: that he just can't get into the mind of a politician. However, it still seems to me that there is a dramatic cognitive dissonance between what he--and, extending it further to most well-meaning "progressives"-- feels politically and what he painfully admits to knowing about politicians when he writes sentences like this about the departed senior senator from Massachusetts (who indeed was excellent on trucking and airline deregulation in the 1970s):
The moral of the story isn’t that “regulation is bad” but that progressive politics at its best isn’t about bigger government but about attacking privilege and power.
Thus, to his way of thinking, one must give more privilege and power to the privileged and powerful to take away privilege and power from others, who happened to be the government who you gave the privilege and power to in the first place. Like the man it praises, this aim of Matt's sentence is undercut by the means to achieve its stated goal.

In the end, Ted Kennedy was a deeply flawed man, of flawed moral and political character. He was bred for power, he attained it through legacy, and he used it to ends that suited him, for good and ill. With more Bushes, Clintons, and Kennedys still on the political horizon, I don't think we've seen the last of the political dynasties. But I sincerely hope that we have seen the end of the likes of Ted Kennedy.

Edward M. Kennedy, R.I.P.

Funding Something Does Not Make It Viable

For those who believe the government needs to "invest" in green technologies, let's see what bipartisan consensus in this area has yielded so far:
The biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out.

Two-thirds of U.S. biodiesel production capacity now sits unused, reports the National Biodiesel Board. Biodiesel, a crucial part of government efforts to develop alternative fuels for trucks and factories, has been hit hard by the recession and falling oil prices.

The global credit crisis, a glut of capacity, lower oil prices and delayed government rules changes on fuel mixes are threatening the viability of two of the three main biofuel sectors -- biodiesel and next-generation fuels derived from feedstocks other than food. Ethanol, the largest biofuel sector, is also in financial trouble, although longstanding government support will likely protect it.

Earlier this year, GreenHunter Energy Inc., operator of the nation's largest biodiesel refinery, stopped production and in June said it may have to sell its Houston plant, only a year after politicians presided over its opening. Dozens of other new biodiesel plants, which make a diesel substitute from vegetable oils and animal fats, have stopped operating because biodiesel production is no longer economical.
Basically, it's been a disaster. So, what's the solution? More government funding, duh:

Critics of the biofuels boom say government support helped create the mess in the first place. In 2007, biofuels including ethanol received $3.25 billion in subsidies and support -- more than nuclear, solar or any other energy source, according to the Energy Information Administration. With new stimulus funding, this figure is expected to jump. New Energy Finance Ltd., an alternative-energy research firm, estimates that blending mandates alone would provide over $33 billion in tax credits to the biofuels industry from 2009 through 2013.

Not all biofuels may be worth the investment because they divert land from food crops, are expensive to produce and may be eclipsed by the electric car. One fact cited against biofuels: If the entire U.S. supply of vegetable oils and animal fats were diverted to make biodiesel, production still would amount to at most 7% of U.S. diesel demand.

Producers and investors now are pushing for swift and aggressive government help. Biodiesel makers are lobbying to kick-start the delayed blending mandates immediately and extend biodiesel tax credits, which expire in December.

The organization (i.e., government) that routinely compounds bad investments by 'infusing' more 'investment' is trying to take over more and more of our economy. And, now officially in the OED under the term chutzpah, people with straight faces are still using the term "fiscal responsibility" when talking about this administration's economic plans.

H/T Jonathan Adler