Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sean Penn and Hugo Chavez

One might have thought that with Mao and Che dead and Castro an aging invalid, communist-sympathetic Americans would have no places to which to make pilgrimages in search of budding utopias to admire. But there are still a few who have managed to try to construct a hero out of the thoroughly thuggish Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. most notably Sean Penn, who really is fine actor. Reason ran a rather good piece on the phenomenon by a native Venezuelan that tries to provide some insight, the essence being that voyagers in search of utopia have long been willing to overlook shortcomings and brutality (perhaps even to admire the brutality just a mite?) if they have been able to convince themselves that a utopian foundation is being built. The human capacity for self-delusion is pretty extensive.

Or maybe, as I suggested elsewhere, he's just a fatuous fool.

A constitutional census

I'm not sure if anyone else would be interested but here's how I handled the census this year -- pretty much the same as I have every decade since 1970. I gave the number of people living in our house (2) and scrawled a big N/A after every other question. My reasoning is this. The Constitution does call for a census for the purpose of reapportioning legislatures. All they need for that is raw numbers. Age and gender don't matter, nor does whether one is registered to vote, because districts are apportioned based on sheer population, not the number of registered voters. On the questions regarding race and ethnicity I not only scrawled N/A but "very offensive."

The only time I ever heard from anybody regarding my choices as to what information to reveal was in 1970, when somebody called from the Census Bureau to try to talk me into disclosing more. I was watching a Lakers game and they were not winning, so I was in no mood to be messed with. I went through my argument that a constitutional census would ask only for sheer numbers, and that there was no constitutional warrant for them to know more -- I'm pretty sure I also said something about being offended at the census being used as tax-funded marketing research for corporations, which should spend their own money to acquire such data. When the poor girl asked whether it wouldn't be relevantwhether I was registered to vote or not I came back with the sheer numbers argument. Finally she gave up and that was the last I ever heard from the census people.

Reconnecting with, er, mature libertarians

I put up this post on the Register's Orange Punch blog the other day. Not much to add to it except that I was immensely gratified at how many people expressed an interest, by showing up, in what I had to say. I've had an e-mail to the effect that the talk was recorded, but it didn't have an attachment. I'll try to obtain it and post it both here and at the Register.

It’s been a long time since Orange County has had a libertarian supper club, but if I do say so the one that started last night with Murray Rothbard and Sam Konkin as inspirations and me as speaker is off to a pretty good start. I saw the e-mails to the Karl Hess Club list from Mike Everling on Thursday noting that there were only 22 reservations and urging those who wanted to attend to make themselves known. By last night there were at least 70-75 people in attendance. I saw people from LA and San Diego whom I haven’t seen in years. Like me, come of our local libertarians are getting a little long in the tooth, but the level of enthusiasm was high.

Of course it’s not a hard sell to convince libertarians that war is not healthy for liberty and other living things. I used Robert Higgs’ book “Crisis and Leviathan” to explain how wars and depressions have led to dramatic growth in government and restrictions on civil and economic liberties through the 20th century, with a “ratchet effect:” at the end of a war or crisis government gives back some of the powers it seized on a supposed emergency basis, but not all. At the end of each war government is a little bigger and a little more intrusive, and people have become accustomed to it, so there’s an ideological shift. I also referenced the late Brown political scientist Eric Nordlinger’s 1996 book, “Isolationism Reconfigured,” which argues that the U.S. would do well to declare North America the U.S. sphere of defense and let the rest of the world take care of itself.

Thanks to Mike Everling and Howard Hinman, who have been willing to do the organizational work to get this supper club — which will meet only when there’s a fifth Monday in a month for now and be focused on geostrategy and economics — going. And thanks to all those who came up and said they get something of value from the Register editorial pages. One doesn’t always hear that — indeed, complaints tend to predominate — and I appreciated it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sorry for the silence

Jen and I spent most of the last week babysitting 18-month-old triplets while their mama was in the hospital having another -- in Las Vegas. Mostly had no time or energy for going on the computer. And paid little or not attention - except one day when I had to, for the Register -- to news. Then the computer wouldn't let me log in, so . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Video on Meg Whitman

Brian Calle, a young fellow the Register hired only a few months ago to write editorials when Steve Greenhut left, is proving quite valuable. He is much more comfortable with electronic toys than some of us dinosaurs, and I think his value is shown by the series of videos he took of California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. I don't think there's a better way to get at least a sense of what kind candidate she is at this stage of what has proven to be a successful campaign -- the Field Poll shows her leading Steve Poizner 68-14 -- than these videos. Enjoy.

States' rights now appeal across the spectrum

When I was becoming vaguely politically aware, the only people who asserted states' rights were southern states seeking to resist federal integration mandates. That may have discredited the concept for a generation or more. Now, as the NYT has noted, it seems to be having something of a vogue, and across the political spectrum. Wyoming and South Dakota are seerting it over gun rights while Utah and Oklahoma are over health care. Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconmsin are considering bills to assert gubernatorial control over National Guard members called up to serve in foreign wars.

In some ways California started it with medical marijuana in 1996. The fact that states' rights are being invoked on behalf of causes that could be called "liberal" to me validates the founders' wisdom in creating dual sovereignty guaranteeing a certain tension between state governments and the national government. In some ways it is downright annoying having several levels of government oppressing us and taking our money, but every so often the system works the way it's supposed to and different levels of government check one another's power.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So who needs to vote anyway?

It was another interesting day at work today. RealClearPolitics again picked up one of my blog items, this time one done the day before about the simply marvelous idea of writing a "deem and pass" rule to allow the House to take up amendments to the Senate health bill and deem the underlying bill passed without actually having to take a vote on it. Nancy Pelosi was refreshingly frank about why the idea appealed to her -- it would relieve some House members of actually having to vote on a bill that remains unpopular amongst the public at large (though I have to admit the margins are narrowing) and particularly unpopular in the swing districts occupied by moderate to conservative Democrats who are deeply conflicted about ObamaCare.

Anyway, by mid-afternoon the post had gotten around 7,000 hits. By way of comparison, in a moderate week the entire Orange Punch blog usually gets 7,000-8,000 hits. It lkooks as if the ket to success is getting other sites to link to our material -- but we knew that anyway; the problem has been figuring out how to get them to do so. It turns out that we did little or nothing to urge RealClear to link to us, we just gradually started to appear on their radar. Maybe it's good (or provocative) writing? Maybe it's provocative headlines. Thirty years in this business and I'm still often baffled by what appeals to people or pisses them off.

Debunking the obesity epidemic nonsense

I've never seen a full-figure picture of Paul Campos, so I don't know if he's a chubbo. The U. of Colo. law professor used to write columns that the Register sometimes ran and his headshot didn't make him look especially fat. Whether he is or not, he is to be commended for taking on the obesity fixation that our noble bien pensants are so taken by. He wrote a book, "The Obesity Myth," that makes a pretty strong case that when studies correct for factors such as physical activity weight alone has no particular meaningful correlation with health and morbidity. Both skinny and fat people who d0n't eat well or exercise are going to have a higher rate of troublesome diseases.

So even though it's old news by now, I wanted to commend him for taking on Michelle Obama's exercise in nannyism, her supposedly noble campaign against childhood obesity. When I was in school we used to call it "picking on the fat kids," and nobody pretended it was anything but mean-spirited. (If one wanted to be mean-spirited in return, one might note that Michelle, with her large behind about which she probably can't do anything, might not be the best spokesperson for svelteness.) Campos notes that the marker for obesity was picked arbitrarily, with no attempt even to justify it on the basis of demonstrated effects on health. He also notes that the trends have been that "by every objective measure, including life expectancy and rates of chronic disease and disability, like American adults, American children are bigger and healthier than they were a generation ago."The notion that today's children will have shorter life spans than their parents is sheer speculation, utterly innocent of any supporting demographic or epidemiological evidence.

In short, Michelle Obama is nannying on a totally phony cause. Perhaps you could say it is at least harmless, but there's evidence that social stigmatization is harmful to children and teenagers and there's a real danger that the obsessiveness with food she wants to urge on parents could lead to eating disorders.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Desperation in DC

You know Nancy Pelosi doesn't yet have the votes when she's willing to say that perhaps her favored plan for getting the Senate health care plan to a House vote is -- not to make timid House Dems vote on it directly at all. The idea, of course, is "deem and pass," whereby the Rules Committee writes a rule, called a self-executing rule, for a vote on the amendments to the Senate bill the House wants that declares that by voting on the amendments to be pushed through polarizing "reconciliation" -- funny how political terms so often sound like the opposite of their common-sense meaning -- the underlying bill will be deemed to have been passed. I think it's too clever by half and that using it will discredit the House even more than it's already been discredited and cause millions of Americans to see ObamaCare, if it passes, as fundamentally illegitimate. But I'm not counting votes there and Nancy is prettyb good at it.

Space's future: Cameron gets it

For what it's worth -- perhaps not much, given that I didn't see "The Hurt Locker" -- I thought James Cameron and "Avatar" were a little short-changed at the Oscars this year. "Avatar" might not have had a great story, but the world created through special effects, in 3-D, was something of a revelation. We had an interesting debate in the pages of the Register last year, with Brian Calle of our staff dinging "Avatar" for being a manipulative piece of green leftism and Dave Boaz of Cato saying that on the contrary it was a tale of people, who turned out to be the good guys despite being blue, protecting their land and property from alien invaders. Both had good points but I think Dave had the better of it.

That's prelude to being pleased that in this op-ed for the WaPo a while ago -- I've had it on my stack of stuff for a while -- director James Cameron appears to get it about the intelligent way to go forward with space exploration. He notes that NASA's budget reflects the policy going forward -- knowing the shuttle will be retired soon they're ready to let private companies provide transportation to low earth orbit -- though they might have to rely on the Russians in the interim, while NASA will focus on deep space exploration, both robotic and human. This has made sense for a long time, but it wasn't inevitable that NASA would come to this conclusion.

When I went to Mojave to see SpaceShipOne get into space for the second time and win the X-Prize a few years ago, I was a little surprised to see a high-ranking NASA official take part in the subsequent press conference and sound supportive. I had been to a conference a few years before that at which Burt Rutan, the visionary genius behind SpaceShipOne, was extremely dismissive of NASA, and with good reason. The Space Shuttle was a wasteful detour and he was on the verge of proving that a private company could do low Earth orbit space trips better. But apparently NASA has seen the light, and it's encouraging that James Cameron gets it too.

Of course Heinlein in one of his novels had private companies do almost all the space exploration, and it's theoretically possible for a private companies, or competing private companies, to do deep space exploration, probably better than NASA. But for better or worse NASA is probably not going away, so letting it handle deep space and let the private sector commercialize what has become almost routine may be the least-worst of the readily available policies.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Watershed week for the U.S.

It's hardly news that this is the week Obama and congressional Democrats (well, some of them; the only bipartisan coalition in Washington is in opposition to ObamaCare considering that 39 House Democrats voted against it in the first go-round) will do everything they can, including buying votes with your money, to get something that can be called health-care reform passed. In some ways, however, it's even bigger than that. As this Register editorial from Sunday explains (Pardon me, that's another and I don't know how to de-link; here's the correct link.) It could mark a virtually irreversible step toward a European-style welfare state. It's hardly a secret that that's what a significant number of American "progressives" really want. The traditional Constitution-fearing limited government that kept the U.S. in good stead is simply unbearable to them. It seriously frustrates the impulse to have government do more -- much more -- for us -- and to us.

If health care passes, it will be almost impossible to eliminate even if the Reps take back Congress in November. Obama would veto a repeal of course, and before long, like most entitlements it would be part of the landscape, fiercely defended by recipients even as they complained that it didn't deliver enough or deliver it well. Mark Steyn explains much of the process in this recent column.

Buying health-care votes with your money.

Like the health-care imbroglio that has the White House and congressional Democrats srambling to offer favors and fortune to wavering Democrats? Perhaps you should learn to enjoy it. After all, you're paying for it -- in so many ways.

As this Register editorial explains, the big-ticket bribes in the Senate bill -- the Cornhucker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase and the like -- which have raised so much negative controversy, are supposed to be off the table when the House and Senate get together to pass a "reconciliation" bill when -- if -- the basic bill passes the House. But White House counselor David Axelrod said Sunday that similar stuff might become part of the final package if it isn't targeted at a single state but offers similar taxpayer-paid to two states. Only two states? Judging by what Axelrod said, it could be that. The administration considers your tax dollars an open wallet.

It would be helpful to watch what happens over the longer term, when and if a bunch of Democrats lose their seats. Will those who stuck with the president get sweetheart jobs in the administration or from think tanks or colleges that are aligned with the president. Keep an eye out. I will be.

Dems in swing districts in serious trouble

Nationwide opposition to ObamaCare has been pretty steady at somewhere between 51 to 59% opposed since last July or August, though as shows, the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent weeks as Obama and the rest have put on their full court press. However, as I suggested in my Orange Punch post that RealClearPolitics picked up, the moderate to conservative Democrats in swing districts, especially those that went for Bush or Obama even as they elected pro-gun and/or anti-abortion Democrats, would likely face a different calculus than Dems from safe Democratic districts. For them, the argument that "if we don't get this passed people will see Democrats as failures and punish in November" resonates less than "you may be in trouble either way but if you vote for ObamaCare you're toast."

It turns out that Independent Women's Voice commissioned a poll in 35 swing districts and found even more dramatic results. 60% of those voters want Congress to start over from Square One on health care, 75% oppose an individual mandate, and strong majorities think it will make their immediate families, the economy, and the quality of health care worse. A daunting situation for congresscritters from those districts.

Riding health deform opposition to serious hits

I had another nice experience today with RealClearPolitics picking up one of my blog items from the Register's Orange Punch, vastly increasing the number of hits (more than 10,000) and comments far beyond what is normal for a blog post that is read mostly by the usual gang of suspects that logs on to the Register site most days. Not surprisingly, it was on health care, the hot topic for this week as the effort to ram ObamaCare through comes to a head. It expressed some skepticism about the likelihood of thousands and thousands of Obamaniacs following his call to knock on doors, make phone calls and the like in support of this mess of misbegotten and misnamed reform, as Jonathan Cohn hopes.

(In case anyone has forgotten, I have consolidated my thoughts on genuine reform several times.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Overreacting to an overreaction

So the Obama administration has decided to make a big deal out of the announcement, during VP Joe Biden's visit, that Israel is planning 1,600 new housing unites for Israelis on the West Bank -- close to Jerusalem and as I understand it an addition or expansion of an existing settlement, not a new settlement. There's little doubt that someone in the Israeli government -- it looks as if Netanyahu is still denying personal advance knowledge of the announcement -- did intend to embarrass Biden. For various reasons the Israeli government is not especially pleased with Obama or his administration. Israel is mainly concerned about Iran right now, and in no mood -- and probably no position -- to negotiate with the Palestinians, whether through an intermediary or toherwise. When Obama called on Israel a year or so ago to halt West Bank settlements it was a blunder -- a president sholdn't make such a request unless he has already negotiated acceptance behind the scenes. Oops. Israel wasn't ready for that, though it softened its utter resistance after a while. Somebody was ready to put some egg on the American face.

The mistake is compounded by making such a big deal of it. The U.S. is in the position it has been in through much of the last 30 years or so -- wanting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a two-state settlement more than either of the parties involved want it right now. If Obama were smarter he would say nothing and start cutting off aid -- informing the Israelis but not making a public announcement. But after lookiing "soft" after letting the firm demand to stop settlements wither and die, he has to look "tough" now. Or so the constricted logic of too much of what passes for diplomacy goes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who really opposes communism?

The 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling came and went with not much more than a slioght nod in the direction of an event that may have led to more people being liberated from tyranny than any in history. I've been thinking about this for a while -- sorry I didn't write it earlier -- but it seems to me that libertarians were almost the only ones to try to commemorate it properly. I did a column and Cato had Paul Hollander do a fairly lengthy analysis, and Paul also did a WaPo column. I think it's because only libertarians utterly reject the philosophy behind communism -- every assumption, every premise -- though Karl Marx is still worth reading for class analysis and much else. Almost every other political persuasion, including, American conservatives, who for decades centered their political program around anti-communism, has just a bit of the collectivist taint. They all believe that at least for certain issues and to some extent the individual should be sublimated to the collective and controlled by the wise and responsible elements in society. Bull!

Slim hope for successful DC voucher program

The power of the teachers unions over the Democratic party is clearly illustrated by the sad fate of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, which gives almost entirely poor minority kids a voucher and chance to attend a private school. It's been successful -- a lot of kids have been able to escape dangerous government schools and the parents are just tickled. But the District is a federal enclave, so the budget comes from the feds, and despite all the brave talks about Education Sec. Arne Duncan being a brave and bold reformer, the administration decided to provide just enough money for those already wenrolled and no more.

However, Joe Liebrman and some others have a bill to restore the program. Harry Reid hasn't brought it to a vote yet and seems in no hurry to do so. But there's some hope. I'm a separation of school and state kinda guy myself, but anything that weakens the government monopoly on schooling even a little bit is welcome

Nice, but not holding my breath

I'm trying not to get too excited, but I was inordinately pleased to see the Bruins beat Arizona this afternoon. The loss to them last week was discouraging because UCLA led for so long and showed it could play with them, but give Arizona credit, when they got hot and the Bruins' defense slackened just a bit, they took advantage. It didn't happen today, and I think, even beyond the points he scored, Reeves Nelson was a big factor. There's just something about the energy he brings and the balls-out way he plays that seems to infect the rest of the team.

Wouldn't it be nice? Cal is clearly the class of the league, but UCLA did beat them (and lose to them). Stanford upset Arizona State tonight. I'm not getting my hopes up too much just yet, but all the so-called experts have been saying for a while the tournament is wide open and the winner could be a surprise.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chodorov on Jefferson and the Declaration

"It is not at all the charter of a new nation. It is a rationalization of rebellion. The indictment of the British crown was but a sppringboard from which Jefferson launched a political principle: that government, far from being an end in itself, is but an instrument invented by man to aid him in bettering his circumstances, and when that instrument fails to function properly it is high time to kick it out. And, which is most important, he meant ANY government, not only the particular one which had engaged his attention. Any government. Any time." -- Frank Chodorov From his 1945 essay, "Thomas Jefferson, Rebel"

And just in case you haven't read the Declaration of Indpendence in a while, here's a link. Except for the listing of British outrages, it seems ever fresh to me. And while we're at it, here's an archive of Frank Chodorov's writing, from the ever-provocative Lew

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Iraqi election produces some hope

Although it was certainly marred by violence -- 35-38 dead depending on which counts you believe -- the election in Iraq came off reasonably successfully, at least initially and on the surface. The Sunnis voted in numbers this time, and the two leading coalitions seem to be PM Maliki's State of Law Party and former interim PB Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Alliance. Though both are Shia, they bill themselves as secular and non-sectarian. As I predicted in my run-up piece no coalition is likely to get enough votes to form a tgovernment, so there is likely to be a period of wheeling and dealing that could take up to several months before a government is formed. If that leads to instability, it could lead to more violence. Let's hope it's resolved with a minimum of bloodshed. Getting U.S. combat troops out on a timely basis could depend on it.

For more background, Marina Ottaway, head of Middle East studies at the Carnegie Endowment, who was very helpful to me in preparing my piece, provides helpful context. Carnegie has been monitoring the Iraqi media -- fiverse and surprisingly free-wheeling -- for onths now.

More teacher persecution

It's happened again. a Burbank teacher, 33-year-old Amy Beck, has been arrested for having sex with a student. Why is this a crime? I can understand a school policy and that there can be authority issues, and that teachers who engage in sex with students might be disciplined, even fired. But where's the crime that has to involve government authorities? For there to be a crime there has to be a victim, and I can virtually guarantee that the 14-or 15-year-old boy in this case did not consider himself a victim. If he's anything like most 15-year-old boys -- it's been a while, but I remember -- he figured he won the lottery, not that he was victimized. And the teacher is not at all bad looking, either. The chances that he will be traumatized now or later in life are close to nil. So where's the victim?

The handling of this case was -- so far -- utterly absurd. The teacher apparently felt guilty and turned herself in. The prosecutor wanted bail of $175,000 but the judge said oh, no, it's going to be $400,000. This lady's life is ruined for a mistake in judgment that to my way of thinking doesn't qualify as a crime. She faces a maximum sentence of up to -- get this -- 7 years in state prison! She's unlikely to be good-looking when she comes out if she gets that kind of sentence.

I learned about this from Tim Conway Jr. (son of that Tim Conway from the old Carol Burnett show) on radio KFI. He was outraged too, and good for him. It takes a certain amount of cojones to take that stance in public, on the radio. But this prissy self-righteous attitude that sex is something close to the worst thing people can do to a young man needs to be challenged.

Plenty of social critics have noted that modern America is one of the few societies in world history that artificially extends childhood with adolescence (some would say many Americans extend childhood well into their 40s). My grandfather was sent out on his own to make his way in the world at 15 (he ended up working on the railroad and later became a civil engineer).


What makes you share writing?

John Tierney, science writer at the NYT (and my very favorite NYT writer) suggests in this piece that the kind of things most likely to be shared with others through e-mailing tend to be "articles with with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics." Perhaps most surprisingly, readers like to share an inordinate number of science article, especially those that inspired awe or were on large-scale topics or had to do with surprising research results.

How does anybody know? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania checked the NYT's list of most-e-mailed articles every 15 minutes or so for more than six months and did their best to correct for placement in the paper or on the Web page. They had expected articles with practical tips to be most prominent, or maybe stuff about sex. But they found science articles disproportionately predominant, and not the practical applied-science stuff but the pathbreaking eye-opening, mind-expanding stuff, stuff that invites you to see the world in a different way, on things like paleontology and cosmology.

Maybe there's hope for humankind after all.

Monday, March 08, 2010

So was Eric Massa set up?

The default position for any statement from a politician should be skepticism. However, having listened to most of this somewhat rambling radio comment from Eric Massa, the NY Dem Rep. who announced his resignation last Friday, I'm inclined to think that at he believes that he was set up to some extent by the House leadership because he was a vote against ObamaCare who wasn't likely to be swayed. However, history doesn't entirely hold together either. He says he decided to resign because he has had a recurrence of cancer and his doctor recommended getting away from the stress of being in Washington. But then a story was bandied about that he was under an ethics committee investigation for making sexual comments to a male staffer. He claims nobody told him about any ethics investigation and Steny Hoyer lied about it -- which I'm not disinclined to believe. And the supposed sexual comment to a staffer was a joke at a fairly drunken wedding party that the guy did not find offensive. Then there was that cool story about a naked Rahm Emanuel "son of the devil's spawn," confronting him naked in a shower at the House gym. Delicious stuff.

Still, if he's so all-fired opposed to ObamaCare, why not stick around a while longer and vote against it? Can his cancer be all that invasive that a couple of weeks doing what he thinks is right would threaten his life or recovery? Maybe so. But the case just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Iraqi elections encouraging in a preliminary way

It doesn't change the fact that invading Iraq was a huge mistake that killed thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis unnecessarily, only to create a regime that is more likely than not to be a de facto ally of, or at least not a buffer against Iran. But there was something almost inspiring about the willingness bordering on eagerness of most Iraqis to go to the polls Sunday and at least make an effort to bring a semblance of democratic governance to their country. Given that no party or faction is likely to get a majority or even a strong enough plurality to form a government quickly, it is likely to take months to form a government, there is likely to be a period of instability that will require forbearance that we might not have a right to expect. But we should hope that the Iraqis get through this and form something resembling a stable government if we want U.S. troops to leave on schedule -- or even, if certain factions end up being influential, ahead of schedule. I'm hoping for he best but prepared for something less.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Quote of the Day

"America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." -- John Quincy Adams

It's too bad this wisdom no longer guides U.S. foreign policy. We would be freer and more prosperous if it did.

Trying to control the Internet

The government has wanted to control the Internet ever since it began to achieve prominence in American life. It makes the bureaucrats crazy that there is this enormous area of relative freedom that it simply doesn't/can't control. Well, the Federal Communications Commission, the federal government's most prominent organ of censorship -- which wouldn't exist if they took the First Amendment seriously -- is making a bid to do just that. The way it seeks to get the camel's nose under the tent, as this Register editorial explains, is by subsidizing broadband for rural areas. This makes almost no sense as a critical task for the federal government -- broadband is spreading faster than any previous communications technology without "help" from the government. It might never achieve 100% penetration in rural areas, but that's not really the point. The FCC's broadband initiative, which includes not only subsidies for rural broadband -- which will inevitably bring "he who pays the piper" regulations -- but mandates for "net neutrality," a vision of what should be that differs only slightly from what is developing, but that might provide the rationale for more federal regulation.

A free Internet is one of the great achievements of our time. It would be tragic if the feds started regulating it; you know regulation would increase. I'm a little surprised that more Netizens aren't expressing alarm at the FCC's power play.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Of all enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debt and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few." -- James Madison, Father of the Constitution

Remembrance of pianos past

Years ago, when I was married to my first wife, we came across a little museum in western Pennsylvania -- I think it was just west of Franklin -- full of jukeboxes and music boxes. It turned out that a small-scale farmer and his wife were fascinated with them and started collecting, and after a while they had more than they could keep in the barn. So they built a building and shared their obsession with others. I don't remember if they charged a small fee or had a voluntary donation box at the door, but whatever we paid it was worth it. Hundreds of jukeboxes and music boxes, of every shape and size, decorated in a vast variety of ways. Who knew?

It turns out, as this Slate story demonstrates, that people with obsessions who end up opening private museums are all over the country. Michael Frederick and his wife bought an 1830-era British Stodart piano in 1976 and he restored it -- and thus began an obsession. His private museum is in Ashburnham in mid-Massachusetts. It has 24 pianos, all kept in concert-ready shape, including names like Graf, Boesendorfer, Streicher, Pleyel, Bluthner, some of whom aren't making pianos any more. The phenomenon allows Jan Swofford to muse on the variety of pianos past -- a variety of personality of instruments we may have lost even as our standardized modern pianos are in some ways technologically superior and on balance better. He reminds us that Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Chopin, etc., all had different pianos they used for compsition, and in some sense the pianos are co-creators -- and unless we hear compositions played on the pianos of the era we aren't hearing the music as the composers heard it.

Click on the article. It includes excerpts of pieces played on pianos of different eras to demonstrate just how different they sound.

Toward private arts support in Europe

In an article on health care last year, I remarked the irony that even as countries in Europe are discovering some of the shortcomings of nationalized health care and seeking to remedy them by moving toward a more market-based system, progressives in the United States are going all-out to bring us European-style health care. I think Mark Steyn understands why -- once statist health care is in place it will almost certainly never be repealed, one-sixth of the economy will be effectively socialized, and an individualist order will increasingly be but a dim and distant memory.

Or maybe not. There are those moves away from total government control of health care in Europe, and it turns out there are also moves away from complete government sponsorship and subsidization of the arts as well. The shadow culture minister for Britain's Tory party promises to usher in"a U.S.-style culture of philanthropy" abnd move toward tax breaks rather than government subsidies for the arts. In France Sarkozy is replacing two museum workers who retire with only one. If the museums want to hire more workers, they'll have to raise money through donations. Although some have noticed that when culture is liberated from market forces it tends toward the mediocre and then becomes subject to political and bureaucratic forces, for the most part this liberalization comes from desperation -- the welfare states running out of money -- and is widely resisted: "It gives the impression that culture is merchandise." But it's happening nonetheless.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Iraqi elections and U.S. withdrawal

The elections in Iraq have gotten very little attention until the last few days -- the military cares about Afghanistan and the media care about health care and the implications for elections -- the only thing in American life the media get really excited about, policy being pretty boring. But they'll be quite significant, given that they are unlikely to be decisive. It will probably take months for the Iraqis to form a government. Given that there's been serious violence -- at least 40 dead in the last couple of days -- instability is likely to lead to more violence, which could lead to civil war. I did a piece for the Register's Sunday Commentary section that tries to describe the stakes and the players. If I do say so, I haven't seen anything better, and I read most of what's out there in preparation. Hope for the best but don't necessarily expect it.

Sorry, Karl, Bush did lie

I haven't read the book yet, though I've requested a review copy. But the NYT did a pretty good summary of Karl Rove's new book, "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight" -- rather telling subtitle. It's not a journey of persuasion and argument, but a fight, which is the context in which one should view his WSJ columns and Fox appearances. It's hardly a surprise that he defends the Bush years. But it's not a physical fight but a vicarious one. I met him when he was pimping Bush during the run-up to 2000 and he's not a fighter.

The headline seems to be that he admits not finding weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's Iraq "badly damaged Mr. Bush's presidency," as the NYT puts it. But he insists that Bush didn't consciously lie during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and (NYT again) "he blames himself for not countering the narrative that 'Bush lied.'"

Sorry Karl, that would have been a difficult one to counter, for the simple fact that Bush lied serially. Now it may be that Bush did not consciously lie about believing Saddam had WMD. There are fairly credible accounts that he confronted then-CIA director George Tenet in December 2002, suggesting that the intelligence was pretty thin, and Tenet told him it was a "slam-dunk." So maybe Bush convinced himself -- but the evidence is that he has always been able to convince himself of self-flattering narratives.

Robert Parry of has helpfully provided once again the evidence of one of Bush's repeated post-invasion lies -- one the MSM never challenged him about. Again and again, once he noticed nobody challenged him, he said that Saddam refused to let the IAEA inspectors in to check for WMD, so since he acted so guiltily, there was no choice but to invade.

The truth, of course, is that Saddam did let the IAEA inspectors in for months in late 2002 and gave them full access to anything they wanted to see. The IAEA inspectors kept reporting they had found nothing and urged US intelligence, who seemed so convinced those weapons must be somewhere in Iraq (after all, Chalabi and Curveball said so), to provide them with leads. Nothing panned out. Finally Bush informed thje IAEA inspectors that they should get out of Iraq, not quite saying ec-licitly that the decision to invade had been made, but everybody got the message. So Bush invaded after the IAEA inspectors had been in Iraq for months and found nothing, and he knew that. And every time he told the story afterward, he lied and said Saddam denied access. He may even have c0nvinced himself it was true --he seems to have quite a capacity for self-deception -- but in fact he lied and lied and lied.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Quote of the Day

"It does not take a majority to prevail . . . but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." -- Samuel Adams

Getting some serious hits

It was a most interesting day at the office today. In the morning I posted a little blog noting just how curious -- well, I said breathtaking -- that with the public solidly opposed to the kind of health care reform that has been on offer to date, Obama and the congressional leadership would decide to double-down and just push it, regardless. Without our doing much of anything except that Will put it in the "A" box on the page, RealClearPolitics picked it up and put it at the top of their page today. Well! By the time I left the office today it had more than 5,000 hits and as of tonight - just checked it and approved about 20 more comments -- it had 100 comments. That is far more than is usual for an Orange Punch blog. We're generally fortunate if we get a few hundred hits and a dozen comments. But these came from all over the country. Many of the comments were commenters flaming one another, having forgotten what the original post was about, but that's not all that unusual. Anyway, it was a strangely exhilarating experience. And it might not be done. I think I'll pimp my Sunday column on the Iraqi election to RealClear in the morning.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why Chile's earthquake was not so devastating

A number if people have remarked on the dramatic differences, especially in death tolls, between Chile, which actually experienced a far larger earthquake, and Haiti. Chile had fewer casualties and fewer buildings collapsing -- though it is apparently still experiencing aftershocks. But not many got to the most important reasons. Some cited building codes in Chile, but Haiti could have had the strictest building codes in the universe and they would have been ignored because most people are too poor to build to them. The biggest key is wealth, and Chile is wealthier not only because it has a history of being relatively civilized, whereas Haiti's history is unspeakably tragic, but it had something of a free-market revolution in the 1980s that laid the groundwork for a democratic revolution.

Don Boudreaux at George Mason U also expounded on the differences in property rights. Chile's are relatively secure, while in Haiti property rights are less secure than in almost every country. Who has the incentive to build to high standards when your property can be taken away on a whim?

Welcome to the jungle, Jerry

Heaven help me, I am actually rather pleased that old Jerry Brown -- who now that he is bald looks like the spittin' image of his father -- has finally exerted himself to get into the governor's race in California. Of course, having scared off most of the other Democrats with the rumor of his likely candidacy -- and in the case of Dianne Feinstein being too smart to try fro a job no sane person should want given the mess the politicians have made of the state -- he didn't have much choice if he didn't want to cede the job to Meg Whitman. Unless he's completely lost his touch in his old age, he should at least make the race and, if he wins, the government and all its follies interesting. I expect I'll disagree with some 80% of his policy positions, but it will be fun to have him around. MOst politicians are so careful not to say anything that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as controversial that they are b-o-r-r-r-i-n-g.

Quote of the Day

"There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate government action." -- Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Will Mickey challenge Barbara?

It might be just a publicity stunt or a prank, but Mickey Kaus, the longtime blogger for, has acknowledged that he has picked up filing papers to enter the Democratic primary against Calif. Sen. Barbara Boxer. If he actually turns the papers in, it could be quite interesting. Mickey is what might be called a neoliberal in the tradition of Washington Monthly's Charley Peters -- liberal values and objectives, but little patience for government waste or public-employee unions. He was a big advocate of the welfare reform bill Clinton finally signed in 1996 for the novel reason that it got cheaters off the rolls, provided more effective benefits for those who really needed it, and helped train people to wean themselves from welfare. You'd think any real liberal would be for that, but few were.

It all suggests Babs just might be vulnerable.

Spreading the right to keep and bear

The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in the case of McDonald v. Chicago. I wish I could have been there, but here is the report from SCOTUSblog and here is the transcript and here is some further background. It is hard to believe that the high court, having decided in the DC v. Heller case that the Second Amendment protects an an individual right, not a collective right conditional on being part of a militia (though by common law every adult male was part of the militia and if modern jurisprudence still recognized that it would undoubtedly include women), will not rule that that understanding applies to states and municipalities also. When I talked to Cato's chairman Bob Levy, who financed the Heller case and has been closely invoilved with this case, he said he didn't expect the Supremes to reverse but to remand it to lower courts with instructions to reverse. Chicago's law bans ownership of handguns, even in the home, so it's the kind of prohibitory law that clearly vilates an individual right to keep and bear arms.

This Register editorial explains only fleetingly (we do have space limitations) what may be an even more significant aspect of the case. The Supremes over the years have "incorporated" most of the Bill of Rights into state and local largely by using the "due process" clause of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed former slaves the full rights of American citizens. The Slaughterhouse case of 1873 incorrectly -- even the NYT agrees -- restricted the scope of the clause prohibiting the states from violating the "privileges or immunities" of citizens The framers of the amendment meant the scope of those to be expansive, including an array of rights not necessarily included in the Bill of Rights (unless you interpret the 10th Amendment correctly). The plaintiffs in McDonald have invited the court to use the privileges or immunities clause to apply the 2nd Amendment to the states, and if the court does so it could have far-reaching implications. Arcane stuff, but significant in the arcane world of constitutional law.

That explains why libertarians have been joined by the ACLU and other liberals who filed amicus briefs asking the court to use the privileges or immunities clause. The liberals, of course, have fond dreams of getting a future court to recognize a "right" to health care, housing, and a nanny to wipe your butt furnished by the government. That desire betrays an incoherent theory of rights. True rights are those that can be exercised without violating the equal rights of any other person. If a right requires somebody else to furnish it to you at his or her expense (which means at the expense of all taxpayers if the government does it), then it isn't a right at all, but a privilege and a systematic violation of the rights of others.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Bruins, thy name is inconsistency

Those of us who have followed UCLA basketball since the days of John Wooden -- I remember going to the first game then-Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played as a freshman, when there was a separate freshman team, and the freshmen played the varsity in a fun exhibition. That year the freshmen beat the varsity and all of us looked on in awe. Since then there have been a few lulls and mediocre years -- meaning not going very far into March Madness -- but we all thought Ben Howland had brought back the glory days with three straight Final Four visits (though no national championships.

But this year's team turns out to be one of the down years, as Saturday's game with Oregon showed yet again. Yes, yes. Reeves Nelson, the tough freshman who is going to be a force and sometimes is already, was out with an eye injury. And after trailing badly the Bruins came back and even tied the game -- but eventually lost. Inconsistent defense, a listless offense and bad foul shooting. I do think a foundation is being laid for next year. But it seems very strange to try to get solace from good efforts and moral victories. Ah, well. Next year should be better.

Could old books save Timbuktu?

I really hope this story pans out. Timbuktu (at least for those of us of a certain age) has long been a sloppy synonym for incredibly far away, like at the end of the world. The city was once -- some six centuries ago -- a great center of trade, civilization and learning, but it is now a dusty outpost with few inhabitants and not much in the way of an economy. But it turns out that a number of families have saved old books from the days wheN Timbuktu had a university and was a wealthy town, and now there's hope that those old books could be a source of interest from and revenue from the outside world. In the 1970s and Mali created the Ahmed Baba Institute to preserve and store them. It has 30,000 volumes now and room for 100,000. South African archivists are taking up temporary residence to help. Various families have thousands more books. As they are preserved and displayed, the hope is that they will nonly help to redefine and refine the history of Africa but eventually attract tourists.

As an incurable book man, even in this day of blogs and pixels, I hope it works.