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Oh, *that* capitalist West Germany?

You learn something new every day: it's only been 25 years since German TV had private broadcasters.

Vargas Llosa vs. Chávez Frías

Mario Vargas Llosa is a good person to listen to if you need an in on Latin American politics and don't know where to start. In this article he points out that Hugo Chávez's efforts to perpetuate his rule by amending Venezuela's Constitution to allow him to continue to rule after when he would normally have to step down lead right down the path to dictatorship.

A useful primer on the auto industry

I'm a little behind on posting about this, but on Nov. 29 Michael Arrington offered A Modest Proposal For The Auto Industry: Stop Building Cars. He contrasts the computer industry, where the overall design is what the major computer brands compete on, using parts made in their own competitive sub-industries by other firms, with the auto industry, where vertical integration from iron ore/coke milling to car financing is the rule, stifling innovation and running up costs.

A great read now that the automotive bailout is a hot topic among people who don't know any economics.

DIY Astronomy

The Hubble telescope has so far cost between $5 billion and $6 billion. These two got images of the same or similar quality for less than $15,000.

Prohibition and Abuse

I hope everyone had a good Repeal Day. It's fun to celebrate the State's retreat, but as many people wrote yesterday we're still firmly in the grip of a very destructive prohibition that's done far more damage to the country than the first one.

Hard-headed devotion to Prohibition -- and frankly, I don't really see any other kind -- is one of the trademarks of the law-and-order types. Some people are genuinely convinced that certain substances cannot be used responsibly, and that the state should enforce their prohibition. Some people don't feel that strongly about the use of substances, but believe that since they're illegal, their prohibition should be enforced rigorously: we need to minimize these violations of the law in the name of respect for the law. (A large number of these people, when pressed, will also oppose changing the law, putting them back in the first category, but not all of them, and not by necessity.)

Even assuming that it's morally legitimate for the state to enforce the prohibition of some substances, the person with a genuine respect for the law ought to oppose prohibition, because many of the people charged with this crime aren't actually guilty of it. Police abuse is systematic and widespread, and actually does far more damage to law and order than violations of prohibition could. After all, people still recognize violations of prohibition as illegal, even if they think they shouldn't be. Police abuse of the system is often hidden, and so the outcomes of their abuse are illegal, but with the façade of legality. Testimonies are coerced or suppressed. Evidence is planted or mishandled. The Fourth Amendment is parodied. Apparently legally.

Occasionally, a higher-level branch of law enforcement will investigate allegations of police abuses, but normally they're internal investigations, carried out within the department. If there were a better method to insure the vast majority of police officers are cleared of wrongdoing, regardless of actual guilt, I couldn't imagine it. The problem with external reviews is that the people who conduct them are often from the same circles, failing to get around the problem.

Even if Prohibition is a morally permissible action, the effect is that many people who aren't guilty of a crime are punished. A legal system and a legal philosophy that put more people in jail than any other country in the world ought to worry the law-and-order types, doubly when many of those people are innocent. It ought to make them consider legalization, out of respect for the law.

Brother can you spare a weekend getaway?

You know it's tough times when more than 80% of private jet owners with extra-marital partners are having to cut back on gifts.

The evidence is on our side

Roger Koppl has an excellent post about the systematic problem with police forensics: the police run it.

There's a mountain of evidence to suggest that the law enforcement system in the U.S. (and elsewhere) gets it wrong so often—frequently intentionally—that we ought to radically change the way we do it if we value justice at all. I'm afraid that many of us don't.

Ah shit, no we can't

One of the perks of being a radical is that I always get to say "I told you so." Change we can believe in, please. Obama's pick for Attorney General: Eric Holder, Jr., drug warrior extraordinaire.

Bonus: Holder also advised Chiquita Brands International during the legal wrangling over their payments to Colombian paramilitary groups in a process the U.S. government likes to call "Engaging in Transactions with a specially-designated Global Terrorist".

Two pros in the Obama victory

Let's say two positive things about the Obama victory:

First, that means at least McCain lost.

Second, it is a pretty big deal for the U.S. to have a black president. Even though he's got nothing in common with the descendants of slaves who make up the supermajority of American blacks, it's symbolic, and race relations in the U.S. are far from resolved.

Reform, hope, change, whatever. The president, whoever that is, has no interest in too much change. That's up to us, as it always has been.

Secret's out

This ought to be interesting: a book coming out with 400 years of French police archive files in it.

The Palin Age

A good link from Radley Balko about the anti-intellectual right. William F. Buckley, Jr., where has your spirit gone? Today's leader's on the right not only don't mind being provincial, superstitious, and generally ignorant, they make it a virtue.

Two words: Sarah Palin. Case closed.

Sanity down south

Not all the headlines are dire lately: the President of Mexico submitted a proposal to Congress (the Mexican one) to legalize possession of small amounts of a variety of drugs.

I've often been frustrated by how underwhelming the popular support for legalization is in Mexico. The extreme Catholic influence is no doubt responsible for a lot of this, but on the other hand there is an incredible amount of prohibition-related violence that still doesn't prevent widespread drug availability. (The military appears to be somehow complicit in the trade, which might explain something.) Overall, it ought to be clear that prohibition does not work, cannot work, yet somehow drugs remain illegal.

This proposal appears to be a less radical version of one from several years ago which George Bush's influence quashed, but its reoccurrence is cause for optimism. Every important campaign for liberty failed at first.

The proposal emphasizes treating small amounts of possession more like substance abuse, which is legal but discouraged, and less like a criminal offense. In this way it suffers from the same mindset that underlies most official drug policy: certain substances simply cannot be used responsibly; all use is abuse. This is unfortunate, but legalization will gradually erode this political stance, so I won't get too worked up about it.

And yes, we should rejoice if this proposal passes, because it is a gateway to wider decriminalization. What conservatives fear, we should embrace. All drugs should be legal.

Sweet tea country

I swear I've seen something like this before, but not with so handy a map: the (porous) boundary between South and North determined by sweet tea availability. Regrettably they used McDonald's restaurants to draw the map, but that's probably the only realistic way to do it; you wouldn't call up every small restaurant in Virginia, but this information is easy to get from a big company.

For what it's worth, sweet tea is better.

Link via Strange Maps

Trees are alive and well on Planet Earth

The University of Chicago Magazine has a great article about the hidden reforestation going on in a great many deforested places, and why our official attitude about nature has made it hidden. The trees are right out in the open, but they're not the kind of growth that top-down thinkers appreciate.

Via Arts & Letters Daily

Church Sign Generator

It's better than work: the Church Sign Generator. Also comes in Church of Scientology and Westboro Baptist Church flavors.

Here are some examples.