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Speculation, but you know I'm right

Via Clara, an article at the new New York Times about the conspicuous consumption of pools.  The article includes this gem:

“We didn’t want the typical tropical lagoon that everyone else has in
the backyard,” Mrs. Chamitoff explained. “I think it was important to
Ken that Sophia could talk about having a dolphin pool with her friends
at school.”

A common criticism of actual free-marketism (by way of its parody in actual practice) is that 'capitalism' forces the great mass of people to unwittingly stooge for an elite handful, who have completely frivolous concerns like this.

This is the part where I have to resort to conjecture, but hear me out: I bet a million dollars--that I don't have--that these people don't vote Libertarian, i.e. for free-market candidates.

My soul is on the ground when I'm walking down the street

There's a great post up at Rough Ol' Boy about his experience at the Bureaucrash table at the Warped Tour in St. Louis.  Warped Tour, if you don't know, is a huge festival featuring a lot of the better known good punk and punk-related bands, and a shit ton of awful punk-related bands.  That sounds negative: overall, I'd love the chance to go (which I missed twice this year).  Anyway, one would expect this crowd to be largely lefty whenever its members had political preferences at all.  Not entirely so, says R.O.B.  He concludes:

Finally, I need to add that young people really do know about Ron
Paul.  As a representative of Bureaucrash, a non-partisan group, I
couldn’t endorse Ron Paul with the imprimatur of the organization, so I
didn’t say anything about him unless someone asked who I personally
supported.  People usually knew who he was if his name was mentioned,
but even more than that, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many
times people brought him up themselves and said they supported him.  It
just goes to show, there’s support for Ron Paul all over the place.

This has pleased me a lot about the Ron Paul campaign: it looks a lot like the Goldwater campaign.  A lot of young people are only now becoming politically aware, and it's because they haven't heard a message like Ron Paul's before.  And they like it.

Go read the whole thing here

Joy in Increments

Via Chris Gray at Vagablogging, this article in the NY Times about how Americans are taking fewer and fewer of those classic 50s-style vacations. You know, where you load up the car and drive out of cell phone range to an awe-inspiring canyon somewhere. Walter Kirn, the author of the article, spells out several reasons commonly used to explain this: we don't feel that we can risk that much time off work either out of competitiveness or out of our desire to have more, more, more money; or because the family is disintegrating and dad just doesn't feel like going to Jellystone Park with us anymore; or something else about American culture that's no good.

His own guess is a lot more interesting (and a lot less tendentious): Americans can recharge in all kinds of ways now that we couldn't back in the day. Now we can take yoga classes any and every day if we want to, if we're into that. There's a lot more leisure in our lives these days, spread out over nights and weekends rather than stored up for a few weeks in August. I suspect also that many more people take vacations by flying to some large foreign city for a few days rather than by driving across the whole country and back with a camping trip in between.

I'm sure snobby Europhiles can find a way to spin even this against American culture, but we're still ok to my satisfaction.

Still the most sensitive issue in America

Via the ever-awesome Radley Balko, this story in the Washington Post about how two former XM radio talk show hosts allege that they were fired for questioning something called "Memorandum 46".  The item in question is supposed to be a memo issued by Zbigniew Brzezinski, "outlin[ing] a sinister 1970s government strategy to undermine black leadership in the United States and sow discord with Africans abroad".

As the article points out, Brzezinski's name is misspelled, a curious mistake if he wrote it.  A quick read of it makes it look rather like a forgery, and the evidence on the first pass looks pretty convincing that this memo is not genuine.

The WP article is worth a read if you have a few minutes.  One thing I never understood about the conspiracy-theorizing by certain elements claiming to speak for "the black community" was why anybody would spend time developing these ideas when the things the US government has done right out in the open were blatant enough to merit attention before anything else.  Drug Prohibition, targeted military recruiting, petty licensing, etc.?  These aren't bad enough?  Let's try getting rid of these and see how much destruction is left to find reasons for.

Close the door behind you

First thing Monday morning and it's good news: Karl Rove is leaving the White House.  Rove has been working long and hard for years to make Bush's terrible ideas into reality.

Have a nice day! 

A hypothetical I like

Once again, Bryan Caplan wrote something I wish I had written first.  Here he asks how the world would change if everyone shared your factual beliefs.  I started wondering this when one of my lefty friends started learning more and more econ and realizing a few things that typical lefties don't like to acknowledge.  In tandem with this, he grew more and more philosophically along Rawlsian lines, so he still advocated things I thought were bad ideas.  It came to me that convering lefties to my way of thinking wouldn't be enough to get all the way to the end of the line I wanted to go down; I'd have to convert them to my values, which is much more difficult.  In the meantime, I'll take agreement on facts.

But as for Caplan's question, my answer probably isn't much better than this is.  The world would still be far less libertarian than I'd like given the juxtaposition of my facts and their values.

But we wouldn't see Che's mug everywhere, or the hammer-and-sickle on patches and posters.  We would probably have an education system like David Friedman's recommendation in The Machinery of Freedom: students would be allotted X dollars for education, which would cover the cost of a publich school.  By adding some of their own on top of that, they could attend private schools, and these would be the vastly more widespread.  This could very easily go wrong, but I'm willing to try it.

My view of the facts of the undeclared Iraq War doesn't make me think U.S. armed forces would be hanging out there for long.

As for the Drug War, who knows?  The average person doesn't care too much about abstract legal questions, and the Bible-thumpers probably do prefer fascism to a world where people make choices they don't like.  I suppose now that I think about it, historical and archaeological facts make what I consider to be a supremely damning case against the major monotheistic religions anyway.  I didn't think of it when I started this post, but that being a pretty damn good result of the world sharing my factual beliefs, I suppose I can stop speculating and have you check out Caplan's post.

One time I yoinked this monkey from the zoo and took it to my girlfriend's parents' house, but they didn't like it that much

In totally awesome news, a man took a monkey with him on a flight from Lima, Peru, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. (Not so awesome is how the jerks at LaGuardia stole it from him.) Something's not right about this case though, and I smell a cover-up:

According to Ontario Now:

The man put the monkey under his hat to get through customs and no one
asked him to remove teh [sic] hat. The monkey was spotted when it because
[sic] restless and the man had to hold it in his arms.

But according to Forbes (and everyone else running the AP version):

A man smuggled a monkey onto an airplane Tuesday, stashing the furry
fist-size primate under his hat until passengers spotted it perched on
his ponytail, an airline official said.

They're calling you a "smuggler," but sir, I think you're cool.

Militaries are instruments of war

Via Francois Tremblay comes an article at the Washington Post discussing a startling report by the RAND Corp. indicating that the U.S. military's "'show of force' brand has proved to have limited appeal to Iraqi consumers".

Many of the study's conclusions may seem as obvious as they are hard to implement amid combat operations and terrorist attacks, and Helmus acknowledged that it could be too late for extensive rebranding of the U.S. effort in Iraq. But Duane Schattle, whose urban operations office at the Joint Forces Command ordered the study, said that "cities are the battlegrounds of the future" and what has happened in Baghdad provides lessons for the future. "This isn't just about going in and blowing things up," Schattle said. "This is about working in a very complex environment."

In an urban insurgency, for example, civilians can help identify enemy infiltrators and otherwise assist U.S. forces. They are less likely to help, the study says, when they become "collateral damage" in U.S. attacks, have their doors broken down or are shot at checkpoints because they do not speak English. Cultural connections -- seeking out the local head man when entering a neighborhood, looking someone in the eye when offering a friendly wave -- are key.

Apparently RAND was paid $400,000 for this study! Pentagon, if you're listening, I could have done it for half that. Remember me next time you want something really obvious told to you in an expensive way.

The U.S. military is in a situation similar to the one the British government found itself in back in the Anglo-Irish War. The IRA's violent tactics were supported, at first, only by a small minority of Irish people, but as the British cracked down harder and harder they only converted more people to the IRA's side.

There was really almost no way for the British to emerge successfully from that conflict. The main advantage the irregulars have in guerrilla conflict is that they blend in with everybody else. When the occupier is attacked it can retaliate against everybody or against nobody. It's a lose-lose situation for them.

If the mission had ever been about helping the Iraqi people, there are plenty of ways that could have been attempted. If you think, as I do, that the war was first and always about the New American Century, you see that helping the people was never really a concern. More from the study:

At the same time, Helmus said, U.S. military and civilian authorities must stop thinking of themselves as a "good-idea factory" whose every thought has greater merit than those of their customers. "Procter & Gamble doesn't even do that," he said. 

This is exactly what the architects of the war did. And on their assumptions the military carried out the first several years of the war. Anything now in another direction, I am sorry to say, is too little, too late.

War injustice

In other war news, today is the anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima.  Dulce et Decorum Est has more.

Field justice?

Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a bomber pilot on the German side of the Eastern Front in WWII. And not just any bomber pilot, but the most successful during the war and possibly ever. He wrote a book called Stuka Pilot in which he described his war service. It is pretty interesting as a mostly apolitical inside view of the Nazi military. Most of it is just descriptions of battles and such, with opinions thrown in every so often. At the end there is rather more opinion sprinkled in. It's not the fastest read, but given that I've been pondering the question of guilt by lower-level participation in some immoral endeavor a lot lately it fit right in.

There's plenty to write about, but for now I'll just give a part from the end. Rudel relates how one of the terms of the unconditional surrender is that the Germans have to turn over their arms to the Soviet military. After this, when a column of his unit is marching back towards Germany (they were in what is now the Czech Republic at the time) they were ambushed and many were killed by Czech partisans--Rudel called them terrorists.

Given that Czechoslovakia was terrorized by the German military for several years prior, that doesn't bother me one bit. Likewise with all the concentration camp guards lined up against the wall at newly-liberated camps. As a political issue I oppose the death penalty, but I could never bring myself to oppose these kinds of wartime actions.

Briefly, I think that there are some actions which, in classical Icelandic fashion, put someone outside the protection of the law--not Congress's made-up law, but the law in the sense of the right way to treat people. The state is only occasionally on the side of the right kind of law. Hell, lately it's only occasionally on the side of its own laws. It doesn't seem to have any kind of moral clarity to make life-and-death legal decisions, even without the selective enforcement that angers so many anti-death-penalty people.

But a man not drunk with power might have the moral clarity to do this. In general he ought to exercise restraint, but I find the impromptu execution of concentration camp guards completely acceptable.

It may be defensible on an emotional level but is my middle-of-the-road position defensible in a purely consistent way?

As a last quick note, Rudel's book mentions the evils of Bolshevism pretty clearly, but does not mention a single world about Jews. I wonder if he self-edited that part out or if an editor did so. It seems pretty strange for a man who became a far-right-wing political hero in Germany later not to have opinions about Jews.

Death Match: mi vs. km

I know the metric system makes more sense than the English system in that its units are proportioned on an easy pattern and all that.  Celsius is part of that more rational system but it really doesn't matter what the standard is (i.e. where freezing and boiling are placed and how many paces one counts in between), so I don't really have a dog in that fight.

One thing I never did like is the European/South American way of writing dates: the third day of August is 3/8, and not 8/3 as in the U.S.  The idea, I have been told, is to start with the smallest unit and work up: 3/8/2007 follows a more rational pattern than 8/3/2007.  I suppose that's true, but I still think the U.S. way is better.  Having the month first gets your mind closer to what the actual date will be, as the days of August are more similar to each other than the thirds of each month are to each other.  Then you identify the specific part of that hot and sunny month (or that chilly and rainy month if you're in the Southern Hemisphere).  The response to this could be that we should write the year first, but I already prefer that way so ha!

What am I failing to consider here?

Bonus points: do Randians favor the metric system because it's more rational, or favor the English system because the metric system is for socialists? 

Insert drug reference into the name 'Barack Obama' in a clever way here

It's very interesting that Barack Obama is considered a serious contender in next year's presidential election, being black and all. American voters were halfway ready for a black president, he just couldn't be someone scary like Snoop Dogg. It's also interesting, to me anyway, that Obama has already admitted to using drugs, and that people now can't jump him with that issue.

I'm glad that he's frank about it. That kind of candor is just what we need...

...except, damn it, he just had to qualify it. According to his WikiPedia page,

The book describes his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage. He used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years, Obama writes, to "push questions of who I was out of my mind."

This sounds just like an older, lamer man's attempt to rationalize what at the time was just plain fun. Millions upon millions of people at one time or another tried drugs and then used them a second time (or more) because they liked what happened.

Maybe he was just self-medicating, but most people use drugs because they like using drugs. Is that so hard to acknowledge?

The winner of the double-take contest

I was checking the updates from Shorpy just now when I saw this cartoon:

Yeah, I know the United States were at war, and the design actually looks pretty good (however racially offensive), but what the hell?

Le Tour

This time of year is great for many reasons, but the Tour de France is my personal favorite. I love the idea that there is an event that demands such rigour consistently for hours at a stretch. It is hard to throw a ball past a team of guys with bats, and it is hard to hit a ball thrown by a professional. But baseball has only a few bursts, and the rest is standing around (and me watching, drinking much beer). Cycling is consistent demanding action, and the Tour de France is three weeks of ballbusting endurance tests with a few time trials thrown in.

The Ancient Greeks would object, no doubt, to such dedication to one single specific thing, but at least we know that the winner has muscles of crazy steel and lungs to breathe a storm. Rasmussen is a great rider and looks excellent this year, but even if someone beats him, we'll know he didn't do it relying on the chance that the ball fell three inches on this side of the line. The winner has to be a furious machine, more than all the others.

If I ever do anything half as well as Eddy Merckx rode a single race that he doesn't even remember, I'll be a proud, proud man.

More Ron Paul

We're all excited lately about Ron Paul, and with good reason.  In interviews and debates he's been spouting libertarianism like it hasn't been spouted publicly for a long time.  But interviews and articles aren't the only place Ron Paul Mania exists; many people I know are asking me about him.

This is a strange phenomenon.  Usually for the last several years it's been me who's discussing the libertarian angle in political conversations.  Some apolitical friends I hadn't talked to in a while told me the other day there was something they were getting pretty excited about: Ron Paul.  Really? says I.  Really.

Apparently, at least for a small portion of people, Ron Paul is awakening a "constitutionalism" they didn't know they had.  Plenty of people oppose the war, but aren't too keen on Hillaryism either.  As strategic as I try to be about introducing them to libertarian thought, some just weren't going to take it from a regular schmuck like me.  But now they see Rudy's and Hillary's horns sticking out through their hair and Ron Paul there to point out what seem like perfectly good ideas.

We radicals ought not oppose libertarians in politics too much, because for some people that's the only way they are receptive to our ideas.  For instance, this couple I know has heard me hammering away on polycentric constitutional order for a while (not all the time, I should add, but sometimes) to little effect.  But a little Ron Paul exposure and they're on CafePress ordering a RP maternity shirt for the lady and a RP onesy for the forthcoming little one.

That kid won't grow up cheering SWAT teams.  Thanks Ron.