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Fringe

Fringe is the highlight of this new television season. Though I'm not yet prepared to call it great - I've only seen the second episode and the first few minutes of the season premiere - it has the marks of greatness. With obvious parallels to The X-Files, but with the roles of Mulder as believer and Scully as skeptic seemingly reveresed, this is J. J. Abrams at its best. But be warned - Abrams has a history of taking a neat idea and quickly jumping the shark after a season or two, as happened with Alias and Lost (though Lost returned to its former glory this past season; Alias died a miserable death halfway through its second). I suspect this has something do with Abrams passing on some portion of creative control to other writers and directors in order to free up time to work on other projects, with predictable results.

I had a few problems with the second episode. First, I cannot take seriously anyone who made it big on Dawson's Creek; like James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson can suck it long and suck it hard.

I can't say the rest of the actors are all that great either, but the backstory behind the characters they play holds my interest so far, especially the mad scientist father of Joshua Jackson's Mulder - Jackson is tasked with babysitting the crazy but brilliant old coot. His locker combination is Pi to six digits; he lulls himself to sleep by counting sheep - out loud, in random intervals.

The sci-fi is more techy and futurism-based compared to the X-Files' obsession with aliens and the supernatural, but still somewhat hokey. One scene that would certainly get Daniel Dennett's panties in a bunch involved the recovery of the final images burned into a murder victim's retina. From what I gather of the current scientific understanding of how memory and perception works, this is an insult to the informed viewer's intelligence - it isn't quite silly enough to be written off as overeager sci-fi What-If-ism, but just serious enough to have me saying Whaaa? Really!?! Sadly, no. I can suspend my disbelief only so far - bad philosophy of mind is a hard limit.

That said, the series definitely deserves a Season Pass on Tivo or rental on Netflix. And I saved the best for last; economics professor and libertarian blogger Glen Whitman is on the writing staff, which has got to count for something. Network television could certainly use a change of pace from the conventional anti-market, collectivist shibboleths. Let's hope Glen can provide some libertarian shibboleths of his own, X-Files style.


Religulous

They've been advertising Bill Maher's movie making fun of religious belief pretty heavily lately - it looks fantastic. Religiosity deserves all the ridicule it can get - Dawkins and Hitchens style, with no apologies or reservations.

My favorite part is when the Jesus Christ stunt double asks Maher straight up, "What if you're wrong?", channeling some Pascal's wager in soft, gentle tones. The quick-witted Maher instantly counters with an acerbic "What if you're wrong?" This look-alike has devoted his entire life to dressing up as a make believe character in an amusement park. Pretty fucking meaningful, if you ask me. People who get dressed up as their favorite hero for a comic book convention are dope and all, but you have to start questioning their sanity if they return home still thinking Bilbo Baggins exists and that There and Back Again is the official rulebook for life.

Here is Maher talking about the motivation behind the movie:

Since starting on “Politically Incorrect” in 1993, it has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organized religion one of my favorite targets. I often explained to people, “I don’t need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself.” And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs.

With religious fanatics like George Bush and Osama bin Laden now taking over the world, it seemed to me in recent years that this issue—this cause of debunking the man behind the curtain—needed to have a larger, more insistent and focused forum than late night television. I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny. In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper. Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.

Who could I get to direct me on such an epic quest? In reality, there was only one man, and his name is Larry Charles. I hope that together we fulfilled that quest. Which really isn’t that hard, considering that comedically speaking, the topic of religion is pretty much hitting the side of a barn.

As a comedian, religion has always interested me—it was the single easiest subject to make jokes about. I think that tells us something: comedians look for things that don’t make sense, that are illogical.

Even as a young comedian, routines I did that got the biggest laughs and got me invited back on “The Tonight Show” were the religious ones— like the one about being half-Catholic and half-Jewish and bringing a lawyer into confession: “Bless me father for I have sinned— and I think you know Mr. Cohen...”

Politics is a rich area, but even politicians, although they promise some ridiculous stuff, don’t approach the level of, for example, the Mormon practice of promising couples a planet to rule over in the after life if they have a really good marriage on earth. They give you a planet—kinda like when someone gives you a certificate that says a star has been named after you—except here, they really give you the star!

Join me in the final battle between intelligence and stupidity that will decide the future of humanity. Coming soon to a house of false idols near you.

A longer theatrical trailer can be found here. Here are some additional sneak peaks and media appearances.


The Sociology of the Mises Institute Cult

The Mises Institute has a long history of silencing those who dare to criticize their sacred cows. Obviously, they get upset when people point out the blatant homophobia and racism of some of their members. That much should not be surprising; if I was a bigot or associated with bigots, I would't want that knowledge publicized too widely either.

What is surprising, to me at least, is that they even get offended if you point out their idiotic position on fractional reserve banking. I blogged about this way back when I attended one of their summer seminars four years ago. Walter Block responded to my very reasonable and pointed questions with either obfuscation or silence. He did not have an answer to give me because there is not one; fractional reserve banking clearly isn't fraud if the purchaser of the currency and those who receive it as payment for goods or services are made aware of the risk involved.

Take a look at this thread to see what I mean. Bob Murphy casually mentions that he doesn't agree with the Rothbardian view on fractional reserve banking. Jeffrey Tucker responds:

This is such a nice blog. Why ruin it with a discussion of FRB?

In other words, keep your mouth shut, Bob, if you want to remain on good terms inside our little cult. Don't rock the boat. Don't question our obviously false, embarrassing, and inconsistent position on such a basic issue of economics and libertarian theory as fractional reserve banking.

Gene Callahan, another ex-cult member who, like me, has since parted ways, writes:

The anti-FRB position is so obviously full of holes that Jeff prefers it not to be discussed at all. He would do the same thing on the Mises List -- as soon as this discussion would come up, he would stop it, and say, "This issue is to deep to be settled on a mailing list." But discussion was allowed on other issues just as deep.

They are gradually turning into a cult, if they have not become one already. Which is kind of ironic, given Rothbard's diagnosis of Ayn Rand's inner circle.


Why Exposing Libertarian Bigots Is Important

Here is the blog RightWatch:

Since their guru, Mr. Hoppe, appeared on the scenes to sully libertarianism, the Rockwell position against immigrants has been seeping into libertarian thinking. Not only is that argument attracting bigots and racists to libertarianism, it pushes some libertarians in the racist direction. Not long ago a Libertarian Party elected city council member in Missouri proposed city legislation to confiscate the businesses of anyone who hires an illegal immigrant. This sort of racist thinking has gone so far that it is now deemed “libertarian” to confiscate private businesses for not discriminating. Worse yet, when a libertarian activists in the state tried to get the state LP to disassociate themselves from this act, the party officials refused. At that point I thought the Libertarian Party was too infested to be saved. And every time I would talk with these people they were throwing back at me the exact same arguments that the Rockwell site was promoting.

Over and over I found myself facing Rockwell’s arguments ,and every time it was pushing people toward some sort of bizarre combination of libertarianism, isolationism (as opposed to non-interventionism) and racialism. The threads of hate, that I have exposed here, were coming together and the whole libertarian movement was being effected, even if the people mouthing these arguments often didn’t know where they originated. Eventually it reached the point that Hoppe felt confident enough to openly bring advocates of racial supremacy to speak at his “libertarian” conference -- which is meant to be an alternative to the Mont Pelerin Society, where the Rockwellians have no influence.

Now Paul’s skeletons are partially out of the closet. His newsletters are now infamous. His close connections to the Mises Institute is now public knowledge. For the most part the Mises Institute connections to racists and anti-Semites is still not known, or at least not publicized. Some have noticed and commented on Rockwell’s ties to neo-Confederate (and heavily racialist) groups. But the mentions have been few and far between. At some point some journalist will stumble across that vipers nest and the truth will come out. [...]

Maybe now they will see that some people are very destructive to libertarianism and that they sully the honor of a great man. I do think we need an institute that promotes the thinking and economics of Ludwig von Mises. But what did Mises say about the Confederacy? Mises fled a racialist regime that was about to arrest him. He was long dead when his name was used to promote policies and thinkers who, I think, Mises would have found repulsive. I can’t see the man who fled Nazi prosecution hanging out with people who speak to neo-Nazi conferences.

So this is the opportunity libertarians have to clean house. They must severe their ties to the racialists and bigots. They can end their support of the Rockwellians. Just because these people do some good things does not undo the great harm they are also doing. Disassociation is the only real option that libertarians have. They ought to stop funding this group and stop associating with it -- even if they do like some of the policies or some of the projects. The utter immorality of the racism and bigotry more than undermines what good the MI people do. The good is corrupted because it is associated with the evil. The evil does not bring anything of value to the good but the good policies and projects give credibility to the evil.

Speak out against the bigotry and racism. Disassociate yourself from these people and their projects -- even the goods ones. I hope someone else starts a good institute promoting Austrian economics, without the baggage that some people have imposed on it.

Speaking about the Ron Paul newsletter scandal, David Boaz wrote:

Those words are not libertarian words. Maybe they reflect “paleoconservative” ideas, though they’re not the language of Burke or even Kirk. But libertarianism is a philosophy of individualism, tolerance, and liberty. As Ayn Rand wrote, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” Making sweeping, bigoted claims about all blacks, all homosexuals, or any other group is indeed a crudely primitive collectivism.

Libertarians should make it clear that the people who wrote those things are not our comrades, not part of our movement, not part of the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick. Shame on them.


Another Illuminating Hoppe Quote

This one comes courtesy of Keith Preston:

“…the anarchistic upshot of the libertarian doctrine appealed to the countercultural left. For did not the illegitimacy of the state…imply that everyone was at liberty to choose his very own nonaggressive lifestyle? Did this not imply that vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, drug use, promiscuity, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, polygamy, pedophilia or any other conceivable perversity or abnormality, insofar as they were victimless crimes, were no offenses at all but perfectly normal and legitimate activities and lifestyles?”

Is anyone still in doubt that Hoppe hates homosexuals? I'll be glad to dig up much, much more, for those who still have trouble understanding why we shouldn't give this bigot the benefit of the doubt.

And since when is pedophilia a "victimless crime" or a "nonaggressive lifestyle"? Would you want this man babysitting your children?


Smart Enough To Vote

If people can't be trusted to make wise decisions as customers, they can't be trusted to make wise decisions as voters either. Which is the main reason why democratic reactions intended to regulate market transactions are fundamentally misguided. Donald Boudreaux sends this message to one of those failures of democracy, an elected official:

Because, by introducing this bill, you show that you obviously regard most Americans to be utter imbeciles, you surely cannot fancy that your election to the Senate is the result of a wise, or even defensible, judgment by Florida voters. These people, after all, are among those whom you regard as incapable of sensibly choosing among competing telephone calling-cards.

If you're correct about the (lack of) intelligence of ordinary Americans, then you and other members of Congress owe your political success only to what you, as revealed by your words and actions, believe to be the intractable stupidity of your fellow citizens - which prompts me to ask: Why should anyone take you seriously?

This case is a perfect example of what Roderick Long was talking about in his AotP post: the government raises the barriers to entry, claiming that it will help protect consumers, but having the opposite effect of reducing competition and protecting entrenched business interests:

One especially useful service that the state can render the corporate elite is cartel enforcement. Price-fixing agreements are unstable on a free market, since while all parties to the agreement have a collective interest in seeing the agreement generally hold, each has an individual interest in breaking the agreement by underselling the other parties in order to win away their customers; and even if the cartel manages to maintain discipline over its own membership, the oligopolistic prices tend to attract new competitors into the market. Hence the advantage to business of state-enforced cartelisation. Often this is done directly, but there are indirect ways too, such as imposing uniform quality standards that relieve firms from having to compete in quality. (And when the quality standards are high, lower-quality but cheaper competitors are priced out of the market.)

The ability of colossal firms to exploit economies of scale is also limited in a free market, since beyond a certain point the benefits of size (e.g., reduced transaction costs) get outweighed by diseconomies of scale (e.g., calculational chaos stemming from absence of price feedback) – unless the state enables them to socialise these costs by immunising them from competition – e.g., by imposing fees, licensure requirements, capitalisation requirements, and other regulatory burdens that disproportionately impact newer, poorer entrants as opposed to richer, more established firms.


History Repeats Itself

Now is the time to revisit the great lie of the New Deal:

There’s a popular historical legend that goes like this: Once upon a time (for this is how stories of this kind should begin), back in the 19th century, the United States economy was almost completely unregulated and laissez-faire. But then there arose a movement to subject business to regulatory restraint in the interests of workers and consumers, a movement that culminated in the presidencies of Wilson and the two Roosevelts.

This story comes in both left-wing and right-wing versions, depending on whether the government is seen as heroically rescuing the poor and weak from the rapacious clutches of unrestrained corporate power, or as unfairly imposing burdensome socialistic fetters on peaceful and productive enterprise. But both versions agree on the central narrative: a century of laissez-faire, followed by a flurry of anti-business legislation.

Every part of this story is false.

Expect the same sorts of New Deal-style regulations to be imposed to deal with the current crises, with the predictable pro-corporatist and anti-market results.


Stephan Kinsella Lies To Defend Bigot Hoppe

So far, Stephan Kinsella has accused me of outrageous libel, hurling false charges, making incorrect and woefully mistaken assumptions, being uncivilized and incivil. All this while refusing to discourse with me. A shame he won’t enlighten curious readers who want to know exactly what is incorrect about my statements. Putting one’s hands about one’s ears and yelling “you’re wrong, neener neener, I can’t hear you!” is an interesting argumentative strategy, especially when one doesn’t have an argument. It’s hard to defend obvious bigotry, isn’t it?

Of course Hoppe is not a bigot or homophobe, and nor is this implied by what Ghertner quoted. This is silly. Some libertarians might buy into, and even use, the state’s contorted, PC definitions of “racism,” but sane people do not.

Does Kinsella deny that Hoppe wants homosexuals physically removed from society? Does Kinsella deny that Hoppe believes homosexuals must be physically removed from society if one is to maintain a libertarian order?

Need I remind Kinsella that in Hoppe’s own words:

They-the advocates of alternative, non-family-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.

Does Kinsella really want to deny that Hoppe is a bigot and a homophobe, with the evidence staring him directly in the face?

I happen not to favor the INS or state restrictions on immigration. Nor does Hoppe–he’s an anarchist, for God’s sake.

Another obvious lie. Kinsella knows very well what Hoppe’s position on immigration is. Let’s take a look at Hoppe’s own words, again:

What should one hope for and advocate as the relatively correct immigration policy, however, as long as the democratic central state is still in place and successfully arrogates the power to determine a uniform national immigration policy? The best one may hope for, even if it goes against the “nature” of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if they had to decide who to include and who to exclude from their own personal property (into their very own houses). This means following a policy of utmost discrimination: of strict discrimination in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.

More specifically, it means distinguishing strictly between “citizens” (naturalized immigrants) and “resident aliens” and excluding the latter from all welfare entitlements. It means requiring as necessary, for resident alien status as well as for citizenship, the personal sponsorship by a resident citizen and his assumption of liability for all property damage caused by the immigrant. It implies requiring an existing employment contract with a resident citizen; moreover, for both categories but especially that of citizenship, it implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only (English) language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values – with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.

Not only does Hoppe dislike homosexuals, but apparently can’t stand non-Europeans, either - a codeword among white supremacists for nonwhites. Elsewhere in that same article, Hoppe laments the US immigration laws of 1965 because they “eliminated all formerly existing ‘quality’ concerns and the explicit preference for European immigrants and replaced it with a policy of almost complete non-discrimination (multi-culturalism).”

Apparently non-European immigrants are of lower “quality” than European immigrants, more likely to consist of “bums and inferior people”, unlike the “geniuses and superior people” of European racial stock.

Again, I am not making this up. This is all right there in plain English - a language, incidentally, that must be protected by the government, according to the anarchist theorist Hans Hermann Hoppe.

[Full disclosure: Kinsella and I have some "history". He got me disinvited to speak on a panel at the Mises Institute a few years ago for making essentially the same claims I made in this post on another blog. So word to the wise: anyone who wants to remain on good terms with the Mises Institute, don't be too vocal about pointing out Hans Hermann Hoppe's more bigoted writings. Speaking truth to power will get you squelched.]


Not Your Decision To Make

Despite being a libertarian for over a decade, I continue to be surprised at the sheer gall and error of paternalism and its reversal of responsibility.

Obama, calling for higher taxes:

If I am sitting pretty and you've got a waitress who is making minimum wage plus tips, and I can afford it (the tax hikes) but she can't, what's the big deal for me to say I'm going to pay a little bit more. That is neighborliness.

Of course, charity is a good thing. But forcing someone else to give to the poor at gunpoint is not charity - it is theft, the opposite of neighborliness. It is not your decision to make.

Mark Kleiman, on drug prohibition:

Still, I think Caulkins could make a plausible case that the decision to start to use alcohol or tobacco or cocaine or heroin or methamphetamine (in other than pill form) is an ex ante bad decision, because the relatively modest gain from successfully controlled use, multiplied by the probability of achieving controlled use, is outweighed by the very heavy losses from falling into even relatively transient abuse and the extreme losses from falling into chronic abuse, multiplied by those probabilities. The expected value of the gamble may well be negative, even if most people who take the gamble come out somewhat ahead of the game, because the average loser loses more than the average winner gains.

Thus Caulkins has a reasonable argument that voters might reasonably decide to protect their fellow citizens from the risk of falling into substance abuse disorder, even at the expense of missing the pleasures of moderate use.

No. It may be reasonable to abstain from alcohol or tobacco or cocaine or heroin or methamphetamine use. But this is not the same as saying voters can reasonably decide to make this decision for their neighbors. It is not their decision to make.


Gas Shortages

Gas prices have shot back up to around $4.50 in my area, and the closest gas station to where I live, a QuikTrip, has plastic bags covering all of the pumps and removed all prices from the big street sign. They are sold out.

In completely unrelated news, last Friday (two days ago) Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an executive order activating a state statute against price gouging that allows prosecution of stations that raise prices excessively. Thanks Sonny! I'd much rather have no access to gas at all than be seduced into paying outrageous prices. To serve and protect, indeed.


The False History Of Laissez Faire

Kevin Carson comments in a an inspiring thread on Noam Chomsky and anarchism:

Both the liberal and conservative establishments have a vested interest in pretending that the great trusts emerged from “laissez-faire,” that the economy was largely a “free market” until the turn of the 20th century, and that only state action can prevent the natural tendency of a free market to give rise to domination by big business. The conservative establishment has an interest in fostering this myth because it justifies the present wealth and power of the giant corporations as the result of superior competitive virtue in our marvelous “free enterprise system.” The liberal establishment has in interest in fostering it, as well, because it implies that a regulatory/welfare state (run by them, of course) is the only thing protecting us from domination by big business.

The central fact of American history since the late 19th century has been the mutual support and coalescence of big government with big business, rather than mutual hostility.


A Cold War Dressed Up In Head Scarves

BK Marcus on the clash of civilizations:

Those who want to claim that the clash is religious can point to what the Islamists themselves say about the clash. But so can those who want to claim that US foreign policy is to blame. The whole question is complicated by the fact that the distinction between religion and ideology is one that Islamists (and Christian theonomists and many Orthodox Jews) would reject. The distinction itself is a largely secular one. [...]

What about the idea that Islam is out to destroy the West? I don't deny that it's possible, but it seems to be the old Cold War thesis dressed up in head scarves. Yes, Communist theory demanded worldwide revolution. Yes, Islamic scripture demands the equivalent. But so does Catholicism, and yet the Church has settled into an antiwar position after all these centuries. Why not Islam? And just as the Soviet political class paid lip service to the universalist rhetoric of Marxism while pursuing its own self-interest (and just as the American political class does the same with talk of liberty and the public welfare), so, I'm guessing, must the Muslims in power (or those seeking power) speak to one standard while pursuing a different one. A quick perusal of the Islamic empires of history would seem to confirm this suspicion.


Network Effects and Gay Marriage

Arthur B. commented in a recent thread regarding gay marriage:

The end of words is to carry information, the more generic the meaning of a word, the less information it conveys, the less value it has. The same is true for an institution.

Actually, I don't think this necessarily follows. One of the strongest conservative arguments for gay marriage, made by people like Jonathan Rauch and (I think) Andrew Sullivan, is that marriage has network effects. Like the adoption of fax machines or the Internet, which become increasingly valuable as more people are introduced to the system, so too extending the institution of marriage to gay couples strengthens the value of the system overall to everyone, by reinforcing the social norm of long-term contractual monogamy.

Not that long-term contractual monogamy is necessarily a good thing. Long-term contractual relationships may be a good thing when children are involved, which seems to be the only anti-gay marriage touchstone remaining, at least among the crowd that doesn't feel comfortable appealing to naked bigotry. (Of course, they never actually explain the mechanism behind which extending the institution of marriage to gay couples threatens the raising of children.)

When opponents of gay marriage argue that gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy, it seems to me that the slope is arguably moving in the other direction, by promoting monogamy among a less-monogamous-than-average population, rather than the other way around.

And yes, I realize that using the term "slippery slope" to describe gay marriage is incredibly gay itself, if you catch my meaning.


TAUTOLOGIES

TAUTOLOGIES are somewhat humorous.