SOPA and the oblivious

A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything away from you – including your Internet freedom.

That’s the thought that keeps running through my head as I contemplate the full-scale panic going on right now about SOPA, the “Stop Internet Piracy Act”.

It’s a bad bill, all right. It’s a terrible bill – awful from start to finish, idiotic to the core, corruptly pandering to a powerful special-interest group at the cost of everyone else’s liberty.

But I can’t help noticing that a lot of the righteous panic about it is being ginned up by people who were cheerfully on board for the last seventeen or so government power grabs – cap and trade, campaign finance “reform”, the incandescent lightbulb ban, Obamacare, you name it – and I have to wonder…

Don’t these people ever learn? Anything? Do they even listen to themselves?

It’s bizarre and entertaining to hear people who yesterday were all about allegedly benign and intelligent government interventions suddenly discovering that in practice, what they get is stupid and vicious legislation that has been captured by a venal and evil interest group.

Yeah, no shit? How…how do they avoid noticing that in reality it’s like this all the time?

The depressing part is how safe a bet it is that they’ll go back to being oblivious the moment their direct interests aren’t threatened. They’ll cheer for the next tax hike, the next round of environmental feel-goodism, the next political “fix” for the next transient market failure – and never notice that by doing so they’re creating the political conditions in which malignant growths like SOPAs inevitably flourish.

So here’s a clue: the only way to keep your freedom – on the Internet or anywhere else – is to defend everyone else’s freedom as well, by keeping your government tiny and starved and rigidly constrained in what it can do. Otherwise, the future you’re begging for is SOPAs without end.

739 thoughts on “SOPA and the oblivious

  1. > But I can’t help noticing that a lot of the righteous panic about it is being ginned up by people who were cheerfully on board for the last seventeen or so government power grabs – cap and trade, campaign finance “reform”, the incandescent lightbulb ban, Obamacare, you name it – and I have to wonder…

    This is exactly what I thought when Jeff Read brought up SOPA on the last thread, daftly wondering where a corporate-backed “Marxist” rock band fell on the issue. This is a special kind of blindness that ought to have a more precise name. It’s difficult to be civil to this mindset, because it is more irrational and contradictory than any bible ever written.

  2. SOPA’s bad enough alright, but to my mind it’s nothing compared with the truly odious NDAA bill that will empower the military to arrest US citizens on US soil and detain them forever without trial. To me that is the end of a free society.

    I’m British, so perhaps this might sound condescending (believe me it is not supposed to; we have plenty of these problems here too) but it looks an awful lot like the American Republic is over, and that from its ashes is rising the American Police State.

    It’s sad and terrifying to behold.

  3. > keeping your government tiny and starved and rigidly constrained

    It is scary. At the risk of stating the obvious: The problem is that, regardless of what they say, almost no one wants even a small, let alone tiny, government. Almost everyone wants other people’s money used to protect them from just about everything bad.

  4. That bit of advice can also go for social conservatives too. If you give the government the power to enter the bedroom, they’ll dip into your wallet on the way out.

  5. @Tom: “I’m British, so perhaps this might sound condescending (believe me it is not supposed to; we have plenty of these problems here too) but it looks an awful lot like the American Republic is over, and that from its ashes is rising the American Police State.”

    I’m very American and I don’t find your statement condescending at all. Louder please. In fact, my only criticism of your post would be that you are stating the obvious.

    Except that, as Eric points out, there seem to be a lot of people who can’t discern the obvious.

    Louder please.

  6. @Tom,

    Yes. A thousand times yes. I have been watching the NDAA development with disgust. This is the first time for me though that I have felt my anger begin to tip the scales toward hatred. That feeling kind of scares me…

    Most politicians from both ruling parties are behind this too, a sad, sad few are saying “WTF, no way! ” They tried to couch it as part of a bill that would raise military pay and are therefore using that as both the carrot and the stick to push it through.

    I said in a comment in a previous post that it seems as if the US is hurtling toward some weird dystopian future that is part Orwellian and part Huxley. Interestingly enough, also British gents like yourself.

  7. After 9/11, there were people saying that “they hate our freedoms”. In a sense, that is true, in that some Muslims want the whole world to operate under Sharia law.

    The US isn’t moving towards Sharia law, but the freedoms are sure going. The crazy part is that 9/11 was such a wonderful opportunity to the people in the US government that want to expand their powers. The scary part is that no one seems to mind.

    Here in Calgary, a LOT of cameras have been put up at intersections, set up to look in the front windsheild. The scary part is that no one seems to mind.

  8. @Joe Presley: “That bit of advice can also go for social conservatives too. If you give the government the power to enter the bedroom, they’ll dip into your wallet on the way out.”

    Very true and too often forgotten.

    But it ought to be pointed out that it is the Progressives whose first, last, and *only* answer to every ill whether imagined or real is to run to Daddy Government use it as a chance to take someone’s freedoms away. Social conservatives have a somewhat lesser tendency toward this particular pathology. Progressives know nothing else.

    I will also ask you to provide a list from recent times of any attempts by social conservatives to “enter the bedroom”. I can’t think of any but I might have selective memory.

  9. @Michael Hipp:

    How recent? And would you view marital legislation in this case as a civil or “bedroom” matter?

  10. @Michael Hipp

    Not sure about attempts at a federal level, but Texas sure as hell likes to try to legislate people’s sex lives.

  11. >>>I will also ask you to provide a list from recent times of any attempts by social conservatives to “enter the bedroom”. I can’t think of any but I might have selective memory.<<<

    Uh, gosh. Sodomy laws, pornography laws, dictating who can marry who, contraception regulations and bans…

    …Oh, or are you trolling? My bad.

  12. Also @Michael Hipp:

    Examples of Federal attempts only? Or include state governments (not that the difference isn’t mattering less and less these days…)

  13. Hmm… let’s see, Obamacare and environmental regulations – who is against these?: big business interests. Who is for SOPA: big business interests. So I don’t get your comparison at all.

  14. @WCC: “How recent? And would you view marital legislation in this case as a civil or “bedroom” matter?”

    How about since 1990. And no “marriage” is not a bedroom issue. It says nothing about who you can sleep with, only what legal arrangements you are allowed to engage in.

    @jsk: Federal is of more interest, as states (e.g. Texas) engaging in various things could arguably be a positive. Laboratory of democracy and all that. What in what way has Texas been trying to legislate people’s sex lives? I used to live near Houston.

  15. @WCC

    This is the first time for me though that I have felt my anger begin to tip the scales toward hatred. That feeling kind of scares me…

    I know what you mean. I think this is the first time I have caught myself thinking “Jesus Christ, I can actually see myself condoning or taking part in a violent revolution if things continue this way.” And I am one of the most non-violent people you could imagine. It’s a scary and ugly thought, and I try not to think that way, but I am starting to see Thomas Jefferson in a whole new way:

    ‘From time to time it is necessary to refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots.’

    Ok, now I am definitely on an NSA watch list…

    They tried to couch it as part of a bill that would raise military pay and are therefore using that as both the carrot and the stick to push it through.

    Ugh.

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

    I said in a comment in a previous post that it seems as if the US is hurtling toward some weird dystopian future that is part Orwellian and part Huxley.

    And part Alan Moore, if you are familiar with his V for Vendetta series (but NOT the shitty Hollywood adaptation).

  16. BeSlayed: You’ve been brainwashed by the Left that sees big business behind every evil. In reality, some big business is in favor of both, and some big business opposed both. After all, Google is heartily opposed to SOPA, and they certainly qualify as “big business”.

  17. It’s actually true that Big Business is behind most of these atrocious laws and regs. But it’s equally true that they can’t use government power that doesn’t exist.
    Bruce Yandle’s model is eternally relevant – Bootleggers and Baptists. There’s selfish and missionary interests behind almost every power grab. In this case,
    the pro-IP people provide the “mission” and Hollywood and RIAA reap the cash.

  18. @Michael Hipp:

    But it ought to be pointed out that it is the Progressives whose first, last, and *only* answer to every ill whether imagined or real is to run to Daddy Government use it as a chance to take someone’s freedoms away. Social conservatives have a somewhat lesser tendency toward this particular pathology. Progressives know nothing else.

    I will also ask you to provide a list from recent times of any attempts by social conservatives to “enter the bedroom”. I can’t think of any but I might have selective memory.

    I agree with you. That’s why I’ve made the devil’s bargain with the Republican party even though I have a strong libertarian bent. Republicans are less likely to get through their social agendas, except maybe on a local level, than the Democrats will get through their economic agenda. Another trait that acts as a tell that Progressives are little mussolini wannabes is that I have yet to hear of a dictator they don’t like. Maybe Quadaffi but that’s only because a democratic President is in office. Not many people mention that Progressives were specifically and overtly an anti-democratic, with elements of racism, movement around the turn of the 20th century that believed it was best to have a technocratic elite run things. I could see their point when you have Tammany Hall to look at, but we have a century of failures to see where that bureaucratic utopia takes us.

    As for your question about the attempts of social conservatives to “enter the bedroom”, I’d have to say it’s a little tougher because by nature conservative means to keep things the same. Here goes with the understanding that “enter the bedroom” was meant as a broad rhetorical device rather than a precise description. Anti-gay marriage, making abortion illegal, keeping drugs illegal, attempts at internet censorship, and attempts teaching creationism in schools are what come to mind.

    Personally, I think religious organizations should be able to not recognize gay marriage just like they can choose to not recognize heterosexual marriages performed by different denominations. I’m also personally against abortion except in certain cases, but there’s no way I want back to the days of back alley abortions even though those days are before my time. If you want to teach your children creationism, go right ahead but at least recognize that the reason creationism vs evolution is even an issue is because we have a public education monopoly. And if you’re concerned about the lack of growth of families, then you have to recognize that a person’s economic situation is the single biggest determinant of whether they choose to have children. Ergo the high tax rates to pay for tax credits for children are counterproductive.

  19. Well my attempt to quote Michael Hipp’s comment didn’t work. The first two paragraphs were written by Michael Hipp. How do people get the cool indented italics quote?

  20. @Michael Hipp:

    I was thinking of the Texas law against sodomy, which after a quick check I find was declared unconstitutional in 2003 (the last state to fall in this respect), so my facts there are a little behind. I also submit the law about sales of dildos, which is actually enforced. You can’t sell them (at least, AS dildos, they have to be sold as educational models or some claptrap), but you can own them, unless (and this is where it actually gets into the bedroom) you have five or more, at which point it’s considered intent to distribute.

    Of course, the Texas Leg is about the goodest of good ol’ boys, and nothing they do surprises me in the least.

  21. @Joe Presley: “I agree with you. That’s why I’ve made the devil’s bargain with the Republican party even though I have a strong libertarian bent…”

    And I agree with you also. But I’ve come to realize that a “deal with a the devil” is never going to have a happy ending. Which is why I now view the Republicans with the same disgust due the Democrats. Corrupt Progressive Warmongering Totalitarian Banksters the whole lot of them on both sides of the aisle. And the horse they rode in on.

    “Anti-gay marriage, making abortion illegal, keeping drugs illegal, attempts at internet censorship, and attempts teaching creationism in schools are what come to mind.”

    We’d probably have some disagreements about how bad some of those items are. The thing that I think shows the stupidity (or is it gullibility) of the social conservatives is the various “War On Everything” boondoggles. Well, we sent the military to attack any country we pleased and now we’re going to send them to attack the USA also.

    I always thought “unintended consequences” to be a really simple concept. Evidently not.

  22. @Joe Preseley

    if you put “<blockquote>” at the beginning of the quote, and “</blockquote&rt;” at the end, it will end up with that blue bar in the left margin and indented.

    In case WordPress mangles my attempts at markup, that is supposed to be

    “less than” (the left-pointing angle bracket) “blockquote” “greater than” (the right-pointing angle bracket)

    “less than” “slash” (lower left to upper right) “blockquote” “greater than”

    HTH….

  23. @Joe Preseley

    if you put “<blockquote>” ….

    an example of the stuff in action

  24. jsk: “I also submit the law about sales of dildos, which is actually enforced. You can’t sell them (at least, AS dildos, they have to be sold as educational models or some claptrap), but you can own them, unless (and this is where it actually gets into the bedroom) you have five or more, at which point it’s considered intent to distribute.”

    Hehe. If I could stop laughing I’d definitely concede the point on that one. Tho compared to trashing the Bill of Rights that one seems nearly harmless. But what idiot thought the government could or should care about the number of toys in your nightstand?

    “Of course, the Texas Leg is about the goodest of good ol’ boys, and nothing they do surprises me in the least.”

    I’ll see your Texas and raise you Arkansas.

  25. @Tom RE: This comment

    Ok, now I am definitely on an NSA watch list…

    Thanks, bro. Now I am too ;-)

    And part Alan Moore, if you are familiar with his V for Vendetta series (but NOT the shitty Hollywood adaptation).

    Yep, parts of that crossed my mind, but I’ve got Orwell & Huxley on the brain tonight…

  26. @Michael Hipp, RE: This comment

    ” How about since 1990. And no “marriage” is not a bedroom issue. It says nothing about who you can sleep with, only what legal arrangements you are allowed to engage in.”

    Alright, I’ll give it a go. It’ll have to be later though when I’m not doing this on a Kindle Fire…it is not efficient (or I have not gotten proficient with this mechanism anyway) and non-efficiency annoys me to death…

    And I was glad to see your distinction on marriage, it is one I agree with. Though it would have made sourcing easy. Then again, I would have been excoriated by many folks on this blog for trying that. And rightly so!

  27. There seems to be a widespread cognitive dissonance when it comes to “big business” and “markets”. They are not the same thing, as many left wing folks seem to assume in debate. Markets dynamically assign prices based on fluctuating information and values, but so-called “big business” in the West is by its nature a rent-seeker of the political class. The current progressive Left is too puerile and revanchist to understand the difference, so they lump them together in the hopes that even a fake fight against some vague Capitalist Evil will alleviate their consciences, personally excuse them from competition, and make them risk-free shareholders of the “too-big-to-fail” financial interests.

    But, this fight won’t do any of that. What we’ve seen with GM, Chevy, Fannie and Freddie and Goldman Sachs is crony capitalism, in which only the politically-connected see dividends in a pay-to-play game. These kinds of government sponsored businesses privatize the profit and socialize the loss. What the hard-lefties don’t understand is that they are still losers in this central planning game. They are forced to share the loss with bad bettors, and good information about pricing will always be sacrificed in favor of useful propaganda about pricing.

  28. Tom Says:
    >SOPA’s bad enough alright, but to my mind it’s nothing compared with the truly odious NDAA bill that will empower the military to arrest US citizens on US soil and detain them forever without trial. To me that is the end of a free society.

    No, not the end of free society. The end of free society is when we go quietly.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t much history to support the idea that we won’t however I honestly believe America is different. For sure we’ve got a hell of a lot more guns, and, outside of the blue bubbles, a hell of a lot more spirit than the people in many places.

    BTW, on the subject of Britain, I am sure Maggie Thatcher has a few yellow feathers sticking out her mouth. She lost her job because Geoffrey Howe resigned when she wouldn’t commit to a plan to convert to the Euro. Aren’t you Brits glad that that lady wasn’t for turning?

  29. SOPA reminds me a bit about the occasional dovetailing of the extremes when it comes to American politics. Sometimes the convergence is horrifying (the anti-antisemitism of the far left and far right springs to mind), but occasionally the political outliers align to try to prevent the fat, happy parasitic middle from a power grab.

  30. @Jessica Boxer

    Aren’t you Brits glad that that lady wasn’t for turning?

    Sure am! I’ve always been a big Maggie fan; she’s probably the best PM we’ve had since Churchill. It wasn’t just her against the Euro though. It’s never had anywhere near enough political or popular support to make it a viable proposal. Britain has always been rather sceptical of the European project. In fact a lot of people here don’t think of themselves as European in a cultural sense at all (myself included).

    I wouldn’t say it’s too crazy at this point to imagine the UK completely renegotiating its position in Europe to something like that of Switzerland within the next few years.

  31. “A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything away from you.”

    Right on. A government has to take from one before it can ‘give’ to another. To take is to initiate use of force. And use of force to achieve government-proscribed ends is where every collectivist state converges. Socialism, no matter how pretty, is no different from communism, fascism, etc., in that all enable governments to manage their citizens through threat of force. But no abstraction can initiate force. Only individuals can. This corrupting influence trains individuals to force through proxy.

    I don’t understand debates about social issues when the greatest moral failure is in our economic policy. We have condoned a pattern of government control that will lead to more SOPAs, and tinkering around the edges of marrige or sex will solve nothing.

  32. It’s time to start decentralizing the registration system for DNS with Namecoin, made possible by bitcoin technologies, which was only invented in 2009.

    (BTW, bitcoin technologies is probably good for creating smart contract, smart properties, etc.)

    Bitcoin is not just a technology for creating cyrptocurrencies but socialeconomic systems as well. Namecoin was the first unforeseen use of bitcoin tech, and there will be more on the way.

  33. @kiba

    It’s time to start decentralizing the registration system for DNS with Namecoin, made possible by bitcoin technologies, which was only invented in 2009.

    Oh my God. This is genius (I think).

    Why haven’t I heard about this before?

  34. Bitcoin will be squashed as soon as it gets big enough to threaten governments’ control of the monetary system. Namecoin will be squashed under similar circumstances.

  35. @Jay Maynard

    Namecoin will be squashed under similar circumstances.

    How?

  36. Well, if Namecoin is used to circumvent governmental control of the DNS, those governments will find a way to squash it.

  37. > Well, if Namecoin is used to circumvent governmental control of the DNS, those governments will find a way to squash it.

    Ah, I can imagine it now. Nothing quite like a SWAT or FBI raid because you were detected sending out Namecoin lookup packets after doing so is made illegal. Raids have been conducted for less.

  38. @Jay

    It seems to me that the system has been designed from the start to be censorship-proof. That’s the beauty of a distributed system. Every user has a full copy of the database, and transactions are encrypted and anonymous.

    I can understand how they might be able to stop bitcoin on the basis that it is effectively tax evasion. They could audit people they suspect of using it, and get access to their computers and find their bitcoin wallets.

    However, with namecoin I don’t see how you can write a law that makes using a key-value store illegal, much less enforce such a law.

  39. @John D. Bell

    @Joe Preseley

    if you put “

    ” ….

    an example of the stuff in action

    *smacks hand on forehead* How could I forget about that? I tried &lt quote &rt to no avail. Looks like I forgot more than I thought from my html code monkey days. Thanks!

    @Michael Hipp

    nd I agree with you also. But I’ve come to realize that a “deal with a the devil” is never going to have a happy ending.

    Ha! I hear you. I just don’t see any other choice right now. As ESR has made the point in posts such as Libertarian realism, it would be nice if we lived in a non-statist world. but that’s not the world we live in. I would love the political argument to be between minarchists and anarcho-capitalists. That way I can see if all those wild theories hold before joining. ;)

    Circling back to the topic, I learned about SOPA and the NDAA from my twitter feed from the same people who annoyed me with the #ows and the 99%er garbage. Before SOPA, it was nice to see them come out against how police restrict the press at demonstrations but I thought to myself, “Wow, they’re at least 10 years late to the party.” I remember free speech zones outside borough limits when the National Governors’ Association meeting was held in State College, PA in 2000. Not to mention now how Obama’s administration browbeats journalists.

  40. And there I go and forget the closing blockquote tag. :p Hopefully it’s clear where the quotes begin and end.

  41. @Joe Presley

    Ha! I hear you. I just don’t see any other choice right now.

    Why not support candidates who are not affiliated with either of the big parties? Seriously, that is the only way, short of a revolution, that the powers-that-be lose their grip on power.

    I am continually amazed by the willingness of people in the UK and the US to basically render their democratic systems irrelevant by voting for people who are chosen for them by huge nationwide organisations funded by elites.

    They vote for these people and then complain endlessly about how corrupt and ineffective they are. Then they go right on voting for the same people (or people from the same parties) the next time.

  42. Tom:

    However, with namecoin I don’t see how you can write a law that makes using a key-value store illegal, much less enforce such a law.

    They can and do ban anything and everything. And the unavailability of sensible/effective enforcement has never been a deterrent to bad laws AFAICT. In any case it wouldn’t stop them from making an example of me or you if they decide we’re doing something that they don’t like.

    The consummate example nowadays seems to be to define just about everything as a form of extremism or terrorism. And our neighbors will cheer as we’re taken away in handcuffs or a body bag.

  43. Tom: You could scream that we ought to vote for the right people but if the political game makes or breaks politicians based on appearance and social grace, than it ain’t going to matter.

    You combine that with the fact that we’re voting on politicians that will regularly decide on issue that take lifetimes to study each along with the fact that the populace will forever be ill equipped to elect politicians based on their ability to rule.It’s not that we are too stupid. We are pretty intelligent creatures, but we do not have the ability to learn all the specialties that help us decide nor the ability to maintain these skills. That’s why our entire civilization is based on deep specialization, not that men are getting smarter each succeeding generation. Some scientists thought our stone age ancestors are actually brighter than today’s generation.

    What you ought to do is design systems that will succeed and doesn’t rely on the population to watch over every move. Specialists can do that in all their little niches. Moreover, the incentive is always to do the right thing. The incentive of bitcoin mining is that for criminals is to mine honestly rather than trying to cheat, in which you expend enormous amount of resource for pitiful gain against an entire network of honest nodes.

    BTW, cheating by forging record in the blockchain of namecoin is going to be exceedingly difficult because of merged mining. Merged mining help secure several blockchains at once, using the same mining computational resource. This is because mining can generate solutions for both the bitcoin and namecoin at once. The more miners across blockchain network cooperate, the more that every blockchains in the world benefit. Pretty awesome, eh?

    In a democracy, everyone fight each other. In socialeconomic system like bitcoin, even criminal botnets have incentives to cooperate. Not in the sense of stealing computers, but in the sense of securing the network.

  44. Kind of a free-for-all these days, isn’t it? I can’t bring myself to give too much of a damn about SOPA, just because 1) I am in the UK 2) I will never be affected by it (technically savvy enough to work around ways in which the infrastructure being put in place could be abused) 3) I buy my copyrighted stuff legally but mostly 4) I know that the people loudly opposing it would quite happily strip me of every single one of my rights and when I realise that some of them might end up having the very few rights they care about stripped from them….well, fuck ‘em. I’ll have a smile on my face when bad shit happens to them.

    Maybe I’m part of the problem, but hey, they started it.

  45. SOPA is just the latest attempt by Big Media to protect their antiquated business model.

    And in reality, they don’t need it because UMG already has YouTube pulling videos that UMG has no legal claim on.

    They are trying to stop disintermediation. They can’t, and won’t. It ends when new artists tell them to go piss up a rope and they have no product left to exploit.

    SOPA needs to be stopped, yes. But we also need reforms to DMCA that have REAL penalties for false claims of copyright such that it financially hurts UMG and others to make such claims.

  46. @Michael Hipp

    Why not support candidates who are not affiliated with either of the big parties? Seriously, that is the only way, short of a revolution, that the powers-that-be lose their grip on power.

    On a local level I usually do that if there is a third party candidate with whom I agree. On the national level since 2000, the races have been so close for the Democrats to win I dared not vote for a third party. I did that with the full knowledge that strategy takes away important information politicians need to understand voter preference. After 9/11 my main concern was the War on Terror and since I disagreed with the Libertarian party on that issue, I’ve been with the Republicans since.

    I don’t believe voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. Politicians and political parties look at the vote tallies to figure out what they need to do to win a majority. Voting for a third party tells them clearly what they need to do to coopt that party’s vote. OTOH, voting for a secondary preference when I’m convinced my first preference has lost is also a valid strategy. Think of it as my personal implementation of preferential voting.

  47. As I said on a previous threadIt never occurs to the critics of capitalism that a government powerful enough to right the perceived wrongs of the free market is also powerful enough to inflict some wrong of its own, and that the Evil Businessmen™ they hope to constrain with the mighty beast they have conjured have a powerful incentive to capture the regulatory apparatus and turn the beast into the instrument of explotation. Only after the fact do they whine about “co-option”, before they gear up for another round of New Improved Reform™: “THIS time we’ll do it right!”

    This is a classic example of capitalism being blamed for problems caused by the very state intervention in the economy that the blame intends to justify. Each time Bad Things™ happen, and legislators Do Something™, it creates the conditions for more Bad Things™ to happen.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  48. @Tom

    Your SE England MEP Daniel Hannan has written and spoken quite eloquently of how sad it is to see the US repeating the same bloody mistakes the UK and the Continent have made, while fighting the good fight against the Eurocrats in Brussels who are mucking up things on your side of the pond.

  49. Tom: It is a simple reality of the US political system that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote wasted, and quite often leads to the election of the candidate of the two major ones that the voter disagrees with more. Ask George H. W. Bush or Al Gore.

  50. Americans have promised us the final dictatorship for two centuries now. Then all we get is Obama as the all powerfull tyrant?

    Laughable posturing.

    Go have a look abroad how a real dictator looks like. You are all pampered under the protection of the law and democracy.

  51. Joe Presley Says:
    > That bit of advice can also go for social conservatives too. If you give the government the power to enter the bedroom

    Is social conservatives that are interfering with Julian Assange’s bedroom?

    Seems to me that for heterosexual males, the problem since 1830 has been leftists in the bedroom. It is leftists that banned prostitution, raised the age of consent, ended a wife’s duty to be sexually available always to her husband and never to anyone else, endlessly expanded the definition of rape and endless reduce the evidence and due process requirement for rape charges. It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

  52. I have a question.

    “So here’s a clue: the only way to keep your freedom – on the Internet or anywhere else – is to defend everyone else’s freedom as well, by keeping your government tiny and starved and rigidly constrained in what it can do. Otherwise, the future you’re begging for is SOPAs without end.”

    The idea here is, of course, that people can – in a sense – do whatever they want. I assume this includes businesses. However, if this is the case, then what is stopping businesses from forming monopolies? In other words, what is stopping businesses from taking away individual freedom?

    I’m aware this is probably an important item is anarcho-capitalism, but I haven’t been able to find much about it. Can anyone help me out here?

  53. You people are ridiculous. ESR is describing a problem that is absolutely endemic to the modern political system and its participants … and y’all are (predictably) engaging in a silly tit-for-tat over which of the two major political parties are more deeply responsible.

    Yeah, I have an opinion on that too, but I’m going to omit it for the sake of this discussion. Eric hit it out of the park with this blog post. We have to oppose statism no matter what form it takes! If you’re a Libertarian you already know this. Otherwise, you need to work within your own party for true reform. That means if you’re a Democrat you need to push for the party to return to its form from the first half of the 20th century when it was run by Southern “gentlemen” — before the party became the home to socialists who went underground after the Cold War allegedy ended. If you’re a Republican, you need to work as hard as you can to purge your ranks of “fake” conservatives who only fight against statism when it’s politically expedient.

    Statists are everywhere; we need to fight them no matter what political affiliation they claim to have.

    We also need to fight them when they appear in our own tribe, whether they take the form of ultra-leftists like Bruce Perens, or traditional communists like Richard Stallman, who only seem to think freedom is important when bits and bytes are involved.

  54. Robin: A unfettered market is what stops business from taking away freedom. It’s also what breaks up monopolies.

  55. This is the thing that makes me almost support SOPA: seeing the same people who whine endlessly that we need “net neutrality” (aka government control of the Internet) suddenly complaining that government control of the Internet is bad. (It’s also why I stopped reading Slashdot many years ago: the comments and site owners were somewhere to the left of the Daily Kos).

  56. Well, if Namecoin is used to circumvent governmental control of the DNS, those governments will find a way to squash it.

    They can always use the tactic of seizing computers like the UK authorities recently did to one of the AGW skeptic bloggers who broke the ClimateGate 2 email story. I think that was intended to send a message to the Enemies of the State.

    Message received.

    @Robin

    However, if this is the case, then what is stopping businesses from forming monopolies? In other words, what is stopping businesses from taking away individual freedom?

    You’ve asked two slightly different questions. The short answer is that without government intervention to fend off potential rivals, the only way a business can form a monopoly is to provide a particular good/service so efficiently that its investors enjoy a reasonable return on their investments at a price level at which no potential competitor could expect to be profitable.

    In the history of “antitrust” law, I am aware of only one company that succeeded in doing this: ALCOA. They did such a good job locating and mining Bauxite, processing it into Aluminum, and kept expanding their ability to do so, driving their own per-unit prices down to the point where no one else tried to enter the market. For the crime of providing excellent value to their customers, they simply had to be broken up by the trust-busters.

    All of the big monopolies that are able to abuse their position to extract confiscatory prices have laws, regulations, edicts, licensing bureaus, etc. to defend their marketshare against anyone who would threaten it.

    Take doctors, for instance. You know those “Minute Clinic” etc. that are springing up inside pharmacies, Walmarts and other retail establishments, staffed by one or two nurse-practitioners, and offering a really cost-effective alternative to traditional GP/Family Med offices (and an insane savings off the typical ER) for most routine medical needs? In several states, the doctors have gotten legislators to introduce bills to make them illegal, or at least severely restrict their scope of practice.

    If a monopoly lacks the power to prevent competition, and it’s treating its customers and/or suppliers (including its own employees, who supply labor) so horribly that it would seem like justification to legislate against it, and a majority of the electorate truly feels that they must Do Something™ about it, they could each kick $10 into a share of stock in an ethical competitor (that would be an initial market cap. of $3B) that will be able to make a profit while paying its suppliers “Fair Trade” prices/wages and charge lower prices, thus enticing them away from MegaBadCo. Every time I suggest this to Leftists, they come up with some excuse why they won’t put their own money where there mouths are. So far, all of the excuses have been based on the very government power they’re defending.

  57. “All of the big monopolies that are able to abuse their position to extract confiscatory prices have laws, regulations, edicts, licensing bureaus, etc. to defend their marketshare against anyone who would threaten it. ”

    I understand, but what if you don’t have a government at all? Won’t those same monopolies then be able to practically use force against whoever doesn’t agree with ‘em? Or another example, what if we’re talking about having to use a specific material to make X, yet monopoly Y has all those materials (and possesses all the land where these materials can be mined)? This doesn’t seem too strange a possibility to me, given that this has happened multiple times in the past. What would we do then?

  58. @kiba

    You could scream that we ought to vote for the right people but if the political game makes or breaks politicians based on appearance and social grace, than it ain’t going to matter.

    @Jay Maynard

    It is a simple reality of the US political system that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote wasted, and quite often leads to the election of the candidate of the two major ones that the voter disagrees with more. Ask George H. W. Bush or Al Gore.

    Guys, this is exactly the problem. We have been brainwashed for decades into thinking we must vote for a mainstream candidate because to do otherwise is a ‘wasted voted’. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not a wasted vote just because the guy you vote for doesn’t win. It’s only a wasted vote if you vote for somebody you don’t really want to see elected.

    I’m not saying that you personally voting for an independent will change things. Obviously it won’t. But at least you’ll be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. At least you’ll have some standing to complain when the mainstream guys screw things up.

    And as for worrying about “the election of the candidate of the two major ones that the voter disagrees with more” I am amazed you can even tell the difference between the two main candidates. You are never going to get what you want from the Dems or the Republicans because they are financed and co-opted by the same interests.

    @Anonymous

    Kind of a free-for-all these days, isn’t it? I can’t bring myself to give too much of a damn about SOPA, just because 1) I am in the UK 2) I will never be affected by it (technically savvy enough to work around ways in which the infrastructure being put in place could be abused) 3) I buy my copyrighted stuff legally but mostly

    I find this to be a remarkably complacent attitude. The internet is global, and what happens in one part of the world, especially in the US, affects us all. And if you think that they are just going to use this SOPA law to shut down pirate sites you’ve missed most of the point. Once they have the power they always do things with it that were not part of the original justification for it.

    @Joe Presley

    After 9/11 my main concern was the War on Terror and since I disagreed with the Libertarian party on that issue, I’ve been with the Republicans since.

    Can you actually tell the difference between the policies of the Democracts and the Republicans on the “War on Terror”? Obama has just continued the polices of Bush.

    @The Monster

    Your SE England MEP Daniel Hannan has written and spoken quite eloquently of how sad it is to see the US repeating the same bloody mistakes the UK and the Continent have made, while fighting the good fight against the Eurocrats in Brussels who are mucking up things on your side of the pond.

    Yes, Hannan is one of the good guys, and I am proud to say I am one of his constituents.

  59. @James A Donald

    Is social conservatives that are interfering with Julian Assange’s bedroom?

    Seems to me that for heterosexual males, the problem since 1830 has been leftists in the bedroom. It is leftists that banned prostitution, raised the age of consent, ended a wife’s duty to be sexually available always to her husband and never to anyone else, endlessly expanded the definition of rape and endless reduce the evidence and due process requirement for rape charges. It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

    Lol. I’m a child of the ’80s but not the 1880s. And I may dress like a vampire but that’s only because I’m a really bad mime. I haven’t been alive long enough to have strong feelings or to have in depth knowledge about the gender fights of the nineteenth century. I’m going to presume that your comment is a joke. Otherwise I’d have to assume that you expect way to much precision from an aphorism. :)

    You’re correct though. I remember in the ’80s there were left wing groups that wanted to ban porn and dirty lyrics in music. That was also in the days when you had conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans.

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  61. Oh, and I meant to say:

    @Joe Presley

    If you want to teach your children creationism, go right ahead but at least recognize that the reason creationism vs evolution is even an issue is because we have a public education monopoly.

    I don’t think this can be true. In England we have a ‘public education monopoly’ as well, but creationism vs. evolution isn’t an issue

  62. Tom Says:
    > Can you actually tell the difference between the policies of the Democracts and the Republicans on the “War on Terror”? Obama has just continued the polices of Bush.

    In some ways, Obama has even stepped on the gas in active theaters, filling the sky with more killer drones and spy planes than the average Terminator flick (a risky strategy, as he’s probably learning from the downed Iranian drone). The key difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in military operations seems to be the marketing; Bush did X because of a Halliburton scheme, Obama does X because he wants to protect us from terrorists and heroically save lives (Or, if it’s Rush Limbaugh describing it, Obama does X to crassly win votes, while Bush did X to bravely yada yada).

    But there is a difference in terms of efficacy. There’s no chance, for instance, that Bush could have gotten away with assassinating an American citizen on foreign soil the way that Obama zapped al-Awlaki. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Hollywood industry, DailyKos and every other organ of left wing agitprop would have smelled blood. They would have turned al-Awlaki into a rally point, and called for Bush’s head every day until he resigned.

    So it makes sense that Obama plays a riskier game and exercises a freer hand in Pakistan, Iran and Yemen; it’s because he can. He won’t be held accountable for it politically, and he knows that. This is one of the reasons that Democrats are a bit more dangerous than Republicans. Democrats have more useful propaganda outposts in the private sector, willing to either turn a blind eye or lend a hand due to some form of tribal fealty. Rush Limbaugh’s nice and all, but if you wanted to protect and expand your power you’d probably be better off with George Clooney and James Cameron.

    Much of the supposed public disagreement is Kabuki theater and gamesmanship, but that probably won’t change any time soon. Ron Paul almost certainly believes what he professes to believe, but that’s just another reason he won’t get elected. Why would a electorate composed mostly of self-deluding liars elect a guy who says exactly what he thinks?

  63. @Robin

    I understand, but what if you don’t have a government at all? Won’t those same monopolies then be able to practically use force against whoever doesn’t agree with ‘em?

    Won’t those people use force in self-defense and retaliation?

    ESR’s an anarcho-capitalist. I’m a minarchist. I don’t believe it’s possible to have no government at all. There is a minimum amount of force that has to be used against those who refuse to live peaceably with their neighbors. What he calls a non-governmental system to adjudicate disputes I say is a government. So it’s mostly a semantic distinction. Suffice to say that if someone is initiating the use of force against someone else to obtain value from them, it’s equally wrong whether it’s merely an organized crime syndicate or anarchist warlords, or Men with Badges and Guns duly authorized by what everyone agrees is a “Government”.

    Or another example, what if we’re talking about having to use a specific material to make X, yet monopoly Y has all those materials (and possesses all the land where these materials can be mined)? This doesn’t seem too strange a possibility to me, given that this has happened multiple times in the past. What would we do then?

    Multiple times? Name three.

    As I said, the only time I know of that anyone came close without government assistance was ALCOA, which never did control the mining rights themselves. They just offered better money to the mineral-rights holders than anyone else whenever they wanted to open a mine. If at any time they had tried to exploit their marketshare by raising the price of Aluminum or refusing to sell to certain people, a competing company could have bid against them on those mineral leases.

    Consider what happened to the Hunt Brothers when they tried to corner the Silver market. The more they bought, the higher they drove the price on what they didn’t already own. It’s like trying to reach the speed of light; the faster you go the higher your mass becomes. You can’t ever reach 100% They lost a metric assload of money trying. (Fortunately for them, they had a few assloads left.)

    Even if someone were able to buy up every bit of the land producing a crucial component of X, there are almost always other ways to do the job that X does. If pork prices rise, people can eat more beef, poultry, and fish.

  64. @Grantham

    So it makes sense that Obama plays a riskier game and exercises a freer hand in Pakistan, Iran and Yemen; it’s because he can

    Indeed. Only Nixon could go to China.

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  67. The Monster Says:
    > The short answer is that without government intervention to fend off potential rivals,

    In your list you did not mention one of the government tools that is most powerful of all in this regard — the patent. Patents are literally government granted monopolies. AT&T got to do horrible things to consumers because of all its patents that prevented competition (amongst other things.) It is ironic that the self righteous statists brag about breaking up AT&T as a great benefit of big government when in truth it was only a problem of big government in the first place.

  68. I was recently involved in a Facebook discussion with some otherwise bright left-wing friends who insist that “corporations are not people” and “money is not speech,” which are the slogans of the people who hate the Citizens United decision. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get them to 1) explain what wonderful things are supposed to follow from corporations not “being people,” and 2) understand that restricting money spent on speech is the same thing as restricting speech.

    I find it especially baffling that the same people who think it’s obvious that burning a flag is speech and that blocking a road for a demonstration is speech, but Citizens United, OMG, they made a DVD about Hillary Clinton before an election! Obviously that sort of speech has to be controlled by the federal government, or all sorts of dangerous things might happen!

  69. # Robin Says:
    > I understand, but what if you don’t have a government at all? Won’t those same monopolies then be able to practically use force against whoever doesn’t agree with ‘em?

    This depends on how far you go. I do not advocate no government at all, rather I advocate one that serves this specific purpose: the criminalization of unprovoked violence, and the enforcement of contracts. Some people believe in no government, anarcho capitalists. They also propose mechanisms to manage societal violence. Google “Machinery of Freedom” by David Freidmann for an extensive discussion on how.

    > Or another example, what if we’re talking about having to use a specific material to make X, yet monopoly Y has all those materials

    Then you use alternatives. This goes down the chain. If you can’t get Y, use a different material for X. If no such material exists, use an alternative to X, and so on. Ultimately the final alternative is “do without.” Under those circumstances, Y can’t sell their stuff, so they open up their market, and an equilibrium is formed.

    Think about this simple example: next time you go to a sports stadium you will notice that the concession stands have a monopoly on food. So if you want a hot dog you can only buy from “Joe’s Mega Dogs”. They even check your bag when you walk in so you don’t bring in unauthorized hot dogs.

    Why does Joe’s Atomic Chilli Dog cost an outrageous $5 not an exorbitant $5,000? That is the only place you can get a hot dog, so why not ramp up the price? Why? Because no-one would buy one. Which is to say, monopolists do not have unconstrained pricing power.

  70. High population density Big government
    Low population density Weak government

    So, just reduce the USA population to 30 million and you have your small government. Or get your small government and you get the decimation of your population for free.

  71. @PapayaSF:

    Obviously, money is not speech. Money is not cars. Money is not houses. But it can buy any of the above, so if some individual wants to spend all his money getting his message out, that should be his business.

    But…

    Just as obviously, corporations aren’t people. A group of people who act in concert to achieve their economic ends and who are willing to accept responsibility for things done in their names is called a partnership. When people aren’t willing to take personal responsibility for the things done with their capital, they invest in a corporation. There are often extremely good reasons for this (societally as well as personally), but it is ludicrous to assert that an entity that is expressly designed to shield people of any responsibility for their actions should, for some god-given reason, be able to do whatever the fuck it wants.

  72. @PapayaSF

    “corporations are not people”

    Are you arguing that corporations *are* people?

    I can’t get them to 1) explain what wonderful things are supposed to follow from corporations not “being people,”

    Isn’t it that if corporations are not people then they do not get protection under the first amendment?

    burning a flag is speech and that blocking a road for a demonstration is speech

    Those things are speech (or ‘expression’ as I believe the amendment is correctly interpreted) because they express an idea. And in the cases you cite it is particularly important because they are *political* ideas. Giving money to a campaign is not expressing an idea, it is giving material support to something. That’s the difference.

  73. Winter:

    So, just reduce the USA population to 30 million and you have your small government. Or get your small government and you get the decimation of your population for free.

    This, my friends, is Weapons Grade Stupid™

    Government is not a requirement for civilization, it is a necessary evil which must be endured and tamed.

  74. Winter says:
    > High population density Big government
    > Low population density Weak government

    This is an odd argument. It doesn’t even seem to understand it’s own premise (population != population density).

    The United States has one of the lowest population densities in the world, partially because we have such tremendous land mass. Examples of countries that rank ahead of us in population density include Latvia, Burma, Egypt, France, Switzerland, Uganda and China. In terms of density, we are just slightly ahead of Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Liberia (though, far ahead of Finland). Venezuela has a lower density than ours, but a Big, Strong government. Denmark has a much higher density but a weaker government.

  75. @Grantham ea
    Ever been to these countries? There is also a link with wealth.

  76. > Ever been to these countries?

    Yes! Several. Sort of the reason I included them among of the many, many countries that rank ahead of us in population density. Do you not understand your own point about density? I assumed you were trying to posit some version of the theory that urbanization necessitating large, powerful governments, relative to inputs, because close-quarters create additional social pressures. Of course, that doesn’t explain any of the failed collectivist experiments in Africa or the Soviet Empire, or the successful libertarianism in crowded Denmark. In the pre-Wilsonian United States, the usual strategy against troubles of density was to sprawl, not to have the federales step in and start planting boots on throats.

    > There is also a link with wealth.

    Okay. What you do think this link is?

  77. Libertarian Denmark? Small government in Egypt? The mind spins.

    But if you can point out regions in the world with a high population density and minimal/weak government. You have disproved my position.

  78. > Libertarian Denmark? Small government in Egypt? The mind spins.

    I never said Egypt had a small government. Although, one might argue that Egypt has no government right now (at least, no historically agreed upon one; we will wait and see).

    What’s wrong with calling Denmark “libertarian”? It is certainly more laissez-faire than its cousins in the Eurozone, and widely agreed as one of the smallest, least-intrusive governments in the world.

    So, I suppose I have disproved your position, unless you have some countervailing evidence.

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  80. Another high-density country with laissez faire economics is Switzerland. They have six times the population density of the United States, and minimal regulations and barriers to free trade.

  81. Eric, could you name some of the people who generally want intrusive government but who are opposed to SOPA?

    I’ve been bewildered by your hatred of liberals, since what you describe doesn’t seem to resemble what I hear on NPR[1] or at various blogs, but I just met the liberal that meets your specs– random conversation at B&N with a man who believes that everything harmful should be forbidden.Unfortunately, I don’t remember his exact phrasing– it might have been “everything harmful should be illegal” or some other word implying opposition by force. I don’t know how typical he is, but I’ll be keeping an eye out.

    [1] The leftists I know don’t consider NPR to be on the left.

  82. I’ve found a hidden benefit to SOPA.

    The next time you see a political ad for a candidate you find odious, make note of the sound track, the background imagery, even the composition of the candidate standing next to a tree in a TV ad.

    Then file a SOPA-powered copyright infringement case. Remember, the way this works, is that if you make the claim they have to take it down while it’s resolved. If enough claims are made, they have to shut down the means for those organizations to collect money.

    I think strangling every re-election campaign for the people who vote for this festering pile of camel diarrhea would be a good start…

  83. Holy crap, Jay. Supplicating omega bitch much — or outright douchenozzle female-supremacist bigot much?

  84. @Tom, RE: “‘From time to time it is necessary to refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots.’ “

    “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious”

  85. @Michael Hipp:

    Well sir, I’m not going to bother sourcing bedroom legislation at this point. The whole “dildos” comment just killed it for me. Hilariously made point, ’nuff said.

  86. @WCC

    “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious”

    I think Jefferson was using to term to mean something like ‘those who believe in the ideals of the revolution’ or ‘those who defend the people against those who are hostile to the wellbeing of the people’ rather than the aggressive, jingoistic sense Wilde was referring to.

    For Jefferson a patriot is somebody who puts the people ahead of government. For Wilde, you are a patriot if you put *your own people* ahead of some other group of people. In this sense the word is closer I think to nationalism.

  87. @Tom, RE: 351756

    “Sure am! I’ve always been a big Maggie fan; she’s probably the best PM we’ve had since Churchill. It wasn’t just her against the Euro though. It’s never had anywhere near enough political or popular support to make it a viable proposal. Britain has always been rather sceptical of the European project. In fact a lot of people here don’t think of themselves as European in a cultural sense at all (myself included).

    I wouldn’t say it’s too crazy at this point to imagine the UK completely renegotiating its position in Europe to something like that of Switzerland within the next few years.”

    A conversation I often engage in with a good friend of mine is theorizing on social evolution. It goes something like “we evolved structurally, generally speaking, from village -> town -> city -> city-state -> state -> nation. We like to play with the thoughts of the next wave being essentially border-less, super-nations aligned on general/semi ideological lines. So we theorize on things like the anglo-centric-democratic super-nation that might include countries such as the US, Australia, Britain (well the UK really), and Israel, an Asian conglomerate – China, the Koreas, Japan, Vietnam, etc or possibly two Asian supers – China, Vietnam, etc. and Japan, South Korea, etc., A western European super, and Eastern Euro and so forth.

    Along those lines, and with regard to your quoted comment, I found this quite interesting: <a href="Visit W3Schools “>European Union leaders agree to forge new fiscal pact; Britain the only holdout

  88. Kiba says: You could scream that we ought to vote for the right people but if the political game makes or breaks politicians based on appearance and social grace, than it ain’t going to matter.

    People are always going to be people. My favorite example is the 1984 US presidential campaign. The Democrats started with about half a dozen perfectly viable candidates. By the end of the second state primary contest, all the bald-headed candidates had been eliminated.

    Well, it’s either that or a popular dictator. Elections are better. You can’t get rid of a dictator when he gets older and uglier….

  89. @LS

    By the end of the second state primary contest, all the bald-headed candidates had been eliminated.

    Scott Adams once observed that the winner of every presidential election since the war had been the guy with the better hair. I looked into this and the only clear exception I could find was Bush-Kerry in 2004.

    @WCC

    Britain the only holdout

    Yeah, well everybody seems to think that this crisis in Euroland is fundamentally economic in nature. It’s not. It is fundamentally cultural. If the member states in the Eurozone treated each other the way states in the US treated each other the problem could be solved relatively easily. Germany would just send some money over to Greece and Italy, or they would enable the ECB to print enough money to meet requirements.

    But they won’t do that because Germans will not spend their own money to help out those they perceive as foreigners. That is fundamentally why super-national currencies won’t work unless it comes from the bottom up.

    Britain feels even less ‘European’ than Germany. We feel much closer culturally to Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, etc.

  90. Not sure what happened, my last two comments disappeared on the submit, no moderation statement. Resubmitting, I apologize of they result in dup posts.

    @Tom, RE: 352082

    Agreed. I was being cantankerous. The unspoken point of my crankiness was how often patriotism becomes what it was against. 2011 United States. Republicans view themselves as the patriots and the Democrats as the anti-America bad guys. I say, more and more over history and especially these days, looking at the voting record and legislation, they are both sides of the same coin. Depressing.

  91. @Grantham, RE: 352045

    “In the pre-Wilsonian United States, the usual strategy against troubles of density was to sprawl, not to have the federales step in and start planting boots on throats.”

    Yeah. Time to ramp up space ops and become space-farers.

  92. @WCC

    Depressing.

    Yes. I find it very depressing to watch from the other side of the Atlantic how culturally divided America has become. The political parties and the mass media have spent the last half century driving wedges between the American people. Of course differences exist naturally, but they have been magnified a thousand fold by network television and political races that are more about money and advertising than making the country better.

    It has poisoned political discourse so deeply that it is impossible to have a discussion about any issue without it descending to red versus blue.

  93. @LS, RE: 352086

    “Well, it’s either that or a popular dictator. Elections are better. You can’t get rid of a dictator when he gets older and uglier”

    One of the the things the remaining dictators of the world have been learning through UN and US intervention in Libya, et al, is that the best avenue for these sad little kings of these sad little hills to hold on to their hell-holes is to brutally, violently crush opposition even more than they already do, before a “spring” can come round in their country and someone else steps in to foster rebellion.

    Older and uglier indeed…

  94. “How…how do they avoid noticing that in reality it’s like this all the time? ”

    You presume that they don’t notice. but they do. It’s just that with SOPA they felt a heightened level of alertness and alarm on the part of the electorate and judged it in their interest to profess they are shocked, shocked to find gambling on the premises. Just as they perceived it in their interest to vote for earlier shockingly audacious extensions of federal authority, and even plainly unconstitutional power grabs.

    There are three things, and only three things, necessary for a “successful” life in politics (i.e., remaining in office): a burning passion for and devotion to self above all others; a lack of regard for truth; a total absence of any sense of shame, embarrassment or guilt.

    Think on these three things, and on how many of our elected criminal class are so richly blessed with these attributes.

  95. @WCC

    Yeah. Time to ramp up space ops and become space-farers.

    Getting awful crowded in my sky…

    10 points for anybody who gets that reference.

  96. @WCC:

    >Yeah. Time to ramp up space ops and become space-farers.

    Ha! Well, it’s probably not nearly that desperate just yet. For the Hell of it, I recently took a train ride across the States (from New York to L.A.), and let me say this: you don’t have to look at a density map to see that the national motel has almost total vacancy. Plenty of sprawl space left in the U.S.A.

  97. @Tom, RE:

    “Getting awful crowded in my sky…

    10 points for anybody who gets that reference.”

    Captain Mal, Firefly.

  98. Love that series and the movie. Watch it at least once a year. One of my favorite lines actually, Tom.

    Now, what to do with my 10 iterwebz points…or do I get to add these to my geek ledger?

  99. @Grantaham, RE:

    “Ha! Well, it’s probably not nearly that desperate just yet. For the Hell of it, I recently took a train ride across the States (from New York to L.A.), and let me say this: you don’t have to look at a density map to see that the national motel has almost total vacancy. Plenty of sprawl space left in the U.S.A.”

    True enough, and point well-made. But the Alliance, I mean the US Gov’t has far-reaching tentacles…

    I find my self in Alaska for training and sometimes personal pursuits from time to time. I often refer to it as the last American frontier…Anchorage, Juno…in some ways, they are like a cold Tatooine…or Persephone…the pilot trade in Alaska is quite robust…

  100. @WCC

    Captain Mal, Firefly.

    10 nerd points to you sir!

    Now, what to do with my 10 iterwebz points…or do I get to add these to my geek ledger?

    Hold on to ‘em. They’ll be exchangeable for nutrition bricks when the revolution comes.

  101. If you ask a progressive if corporations control the government, they will say yes. Later in the same conversation, you can ask them if they want single-payer health care. They will say yes. Then, if you ask them “So that means you want corporations to run your health care?” THEY WILL HAVE NO CLUE WHAT YOU MEAN AND WILL DENY IT UP AND DOWN.

    Progressives lack the ordinary tools of logic that the rest of us have. That’s why they’re progressives.

  102. @Russell Nelson

    Progressives lack the ordinary tools of logic that the rest of us have. That’s why they’re progressives.

    See my previous comment:

    It has poisoned political discourse so deeply that it is impossible to have a discussion about any issue without it descending to red versus blue.

    This is a classic example.

    People need to not take every issue and make it about what political group they are in or don’t like.

  103. @Tom:

    > People need to not take every issue and make it about what political group they are in or don’t like.

    Both U.S. parties run to their (mostly meaningless) brand identity in elections, because that is what has worked so far. For instance, that is why Obama is currently yammering about “millionaires and billionaires” and private jet subsidies at the moment. I doubt even he is stupid enough to believe that revocation of the corporate jet subsidy is meaningful enough to mention (over and over) in multiple press conference, when the savings only amount to a piddling 3 billion a year. It has nothing to do with the actual challenge at hand (the reform of massive unfunded liabilities), but it’s on-brand for the Democrats… “Those corporate fat cats and their jets! We’ll show ‘em!”

    In general, the portions of the populace who float leftward do so because they aren’t any good at math, and hate doing it. Whether this is due to a failure of the education system (and I believe a significant part of it is) or because of natural limitations, the result is the same. They are right-brainers trying to participate in a very left brain debate. This is also why most actors and artists tilt leftward, even though they hire math-heads to take care of their personal finances. They would rather not think about how the sausage is made, and feel quite a bit of guilt and class anxiety for having accumulated so much wealth well providing so little “real value” to the system (they are wrong about that too; they do provide value, but they inhabit a world of illusion and aren’t logical enough to see how they add that value).

    The math problem at hand really is this: if the so-called 99% taxed the so-called 1% at a rate of 100% of their income (in other, less Orwellian terms, if they held a knife to their throats and mugged them), it still would do nothing to address unfunded liabilities and would barely put the tiniest dent in the national debt. Also, you’d be stuck with the prospect of hoping that the same ignoramuses who couldn’t do that simple math would create the industry and incentives to actually keep society going.

    And here’s the real kicker: even if the collection of lazy, ice-cream-fed, faux-communist losers that infested Zucotti dug down deep and discovered the wherewithal to painstakingly recreate a system that added value and created wealth to “share”… that system would inevitably be “capitalism”. The 99% would whittle down to the 1%, and the whole shebang would start all over again.

    Most of them will learn this eventually, probably when (if?) they get their first jobs. They will quickly learn that the 21st century world they inhabit isn’t created by a bunch of identical, unskilled worker bees standing on a factory floor pressing a button, and that their colleagues don’t all operate at the same level of competency and perseverance. “Why do John and I get the same amount of pay, when I work so much harder than him?” they will ask.

  104. @WCC:

    Well sir, I’m not going to bother sourcing bedroom legislation at this point. The whole “dildos” comment just killed it for me. Hilariously made point, ’nuff said.

    Uh, no. The Texas dildos example is certainly funny and ridiculous. But it’s only one state and that legislation was passed in 1973 … 4 decades ago. And it certainly isn’t in the same league as the endless stream of totalitarian legislation that has come out of our very Progressive federal government every year since then.

    So it doesn’t make much of a point, especially if that’s the best (worst?) anyone can point to. There are doubtless others, but they don’t compare in quantity or “quality” to what the Progressive Left has done to all of us. ’nuff said.

  105. @Michael Hipp:

    “Well sir, I’m not going to bother sourcing bedroom legislation at this point. The whole “dildos” comment just killed it for me. Hilariously made point, ’nuff said.”

    Nuts. You screwed me out of being lazy. Alright, back to the research mines for me…

    Though, I do absolutely agree with your point in the rest of 352135 – No arguments there.

  106. >Eric, could you name some of the people who generally want intrusive government but who are opposed to SOPA?

    The individual who did the most to trigger this rant is a journalist named Dan Gillmor. But the type is very, very common.

    Run this simple test on various people you know who are being alarmed about SOPA: do they think the government should be able to tell ISPs how to run their business when the cause is labeled “net neutrality”? Do they think it’s fine for the government to forbid certain kinds of political organizations to buy campaign ads in the 90 days before an election?

    I suggest those because they’re in a policy area close to SOPA. But on principle, “Did they support Obamacare?” would be just as sound a test.

  107. Hey, Eric, this SOPA act comes because the government *is* small. It’s not only small, it is also cheap. Anybody can buy it. It is weaker than the corporations, that’s why the corporations rule.

    Look at a country where the government is big and in power, e.g. China. Ok, they do have a DNS blocking system, they even block IP addresses. But, at least, they do it for their own good, to stay in power. They don’t do it, because some industry clowns imagine that this would stop piracy. The Chinese government does not care about piracy. It does nothing to stop it. That’s because the Chinese government is big, strong and powerful. It doesn’t pass legislation as told by the highest bidder.

    It is fairly trivial: The strongest player makes the rules. If you want real democracy, the people need to be the strongest player. In an autocracy like China, you have a strong party and government, who sets the rules. In corporatism, the corporations set the rules. They also indoctrinate people like you to believe that the state should be small, because that helps the corporations to stay in power. The american people lost their grip long ago. They are slaves to corporations. And they cheer it. Sometimes, maybe, they realize that a particular corporation is evil. Nope. They are all evil.

    The real thing we learn is that corporations should be tiny. They should compete against each others, and not have monopolies on anything (certainly not on music). Instead, America allows corporations to grow big, to form monopolies, and to exercise more control than any government ever could.

  108. “Scott Adams once observed that the winner of every presidential election since the war had been the guy with the better hair. I looked into this and the only clear exception I could find was Bush-Kerry in 2004.”

    Yeah, it was an exception, but the thing was this…BOTH of them were actually New England Blue Bloods, Ivy League, etc…but Kerry was so snooty that, when you put them next to each other, Kerry made Bush look like Muddy Waters by comparison.

    …gotta run…gotta clear some brush back at the ranch.

  109. Pingback: Internet Censorship Round-up | The In Context Blog | Social Media Literacy

  110. Many posts have basically made the same point (with more knowledge and eloquence) that I made in the third post of this blog – at least 99% of the population of the US and Canada don’t want a tiny or even small government.

    Some of them may think they do, but they have these particular risks that they think the government should protect against. You take all those people, and take all the risks that each of them want the government to protect against, and you get a huge and always growing government, made up partly of people that love power and want more.

    So… many/most of the people on this blog, including esr, the op, want a tiny government. 99% of the population effectively want a large government.

    esr said:

    So here’s a clue: the only way to keep your freedom – on the Internet or anywhere else – is to defend everyone else’s freedom as well, by keeping your government tiny and starved and rigidly constrained in what it can do.

    But it is way too late to be keeping the government tiny – it is huge and growing.

    The posts have been interesting and informative, but isn’t this basically like bitching about the weather?

  111. do they think the government should be able to tell ISPs how to run their business when the cause is labeled “net neutrality”?

    This one’s a bit trickier. I’m strongly in favor of net-neutrality requirements exactly when the telcos have franchises. It’s absolutely a hack-on-top-of-a-hack solution, but fat monopolies with government protection are even worse. (What I don’t understand is why new developments don’t run fiber from each home to a common drop where any ISP could run a single cable…)

  112. The real thing we learn is that corporations should be tiny. They should compete against each others, and not have monopolies on anything (certainly not on music). Instead, America allows corporations to grow big, to form monopolies, and to exercise more control than any government ever could.

    I’m always both amused and astounded by people who argue that corporations have too much power and that government is the solution seemingly without being able to understand that government creates corporations in the first place. Absolutely, corporations (and other businesses) should compete against each other, but in the absence of government-granted monopolies (such as copyrights), even a giant such as Standard Oil doesn’t have “control” over its customers—it can only make them offers which they can accept or reject, and if the offers are sufficiently unappealing, some other company will come along and create a better one.

  113. > Are you arguing that corporations *are* people?

    How is it that you and I have free speech rights but they disappear as soon as we get together?

    Corporations are aggregations of people.

    And, if you’re going to argue that corporations don’t have free speech rights, you get to explain why the NYT, a corporation, has free speech rights that “my” corporation doesn’t.

  114. In your list you did not mention one of the government tools that is most powerful of all in this regard — the patent. Patents are literally government granted monopolies. AT&T got to do horrible things to consumers because of all its patents that prevented competition (amongst other things.) It is ironic that the self righteous statists brag about breaking up AT&T as a great benefit of big government when in truth it was only a problem of big government in the first place.

    This brings up something I’d like to see Eric do a post about.

    1) What would you say to the argument that, where information is concerned, private property and free markets are mutually exclusive? Justification: Private property rights in information, to be any good as an economic incentive to the production of information, must take the form of a monopoly granted by some authority on the production of copies of that information (copyrights) or uses of that information (patents).

    2) Private property and free markets are both cornerstones of capitalism, but if they conflict in certain economic sectors (such as where information is concerned), which is more important?

    3) Whether or not the government *should* grant economic privileges or protections to corporations or individuals, would you agree that if it *does* it should hold said corporations and individuals accountable for how they use the privileges or protections granted to them?

    4) I am going to make the claim that, without anti-trust intervention, monopolies like that which Microsoft holds over the PC OS market can be stable in the long term under the current body of law because intellectual property law provides enough government backing to stabilize them. I will make the further claim that, as a result, such monopolies can only be reliably disentrenched by A) anti-trust action, or B) abolition of intellectual property. Assuming that my claim is correct and such monopolies are in fact stable, which of the above two methods would you choose for the disentrenchment of such monopolies? Can you think of a viable third solution (keeping in mind the assumption that IP law unfrees the market enough that such monopolies are stable)?

    5) I generally favor the abolition of intellectual property as the answer to 4). However, I am concerned about the privacy implications of such a move. If private information about me (my name, my phone number, details of my personal life, etc) is not my property, how am I to prevent my E-mail provider (for example) from selling that information to the highest bidder? What do you have to say on the matter?

  115. @Michael Hipp:

    Alright I concede, it’s pretty lengthy activity to find overt recent sex legislation at the federal level and recent attempts to “enter the bedroom” at the federal level from the conservative side.

    Doesn’t mean they don’t want to or won’t try if they think they can get away with it, but acknowledged, that wasn’t the statement.

  116. @Andy Freeman

    How is it that you and I have free speech rights but they disappear as soon as we get together?

    Corporations are aggregations of people.

    The people who are employed by, and own, a company still have their individual free speech rights (they don’t ‘disappear’), but they don’t get any *extra* free speech rights by virtue of forming a corporation. Nor does the corporation itself, as an abstract entity, get its own rights.

    And, if you’re going to argue that corporations don’t have free speech rights, you get to explain why the NYT, a corporation, has free speech rights that “my” corporation doesn’t.

    Because the NYT is part of the ‘press’ and they have rights specifically protected by the first amendment (look up the text).

  117. # Bernd Paysan Says:
    > The real thing we learn is that corporations should be tiny. They should compete against each others, and not have monopolies on anything (certainly not on music). Instead, America allows corporations to grow big, to form monopolies, and to exercise more control than any government ever could.

    I’m confused. You say corporations are massive, and relatively speaking government tiny. You go on to point out that the largeness of corporations is frequently built on the foundation of government granted and enforced monopolies. I agree with the second point. But how can a bully use a wimp to do its bullying? How can big nasty corps beat up on us with weedy week government?

    Corporations will right size (which generally means become much smaller) if the Corleone family in DC is less powerful.

  118. Because the NYT is part of the ‘press’ and they have rights specifically protected by the first amendment (look up the text).

    And who gets to decide which corporations are part of “the press”?

  119. @ Jon Brase

    1. If there were no copyrights, a lot of creative work would not have happened because there would be no way to make a living from it.

    2. Which is more important: your right leg or your left?

    3. >should hold said corporations and individuals accountable for how they use the privileges or protections granted to them?

    What, like “we don’t like that song. Never perform it again”? You want the government deciding… this is nuts.

    4. Microsoft holds the position it does because people and corporations either don’t want to change or have too much software that only runs on Microsoft computers that it would cost them a fortune to change. A lot of us would like to see them change to Linux. The fact that they don’t is a function of a free market, whether we like it or not.

    5. You don’t own the information about yourself (name, my phone number, details of my personal life, etc), they are facts about the universe.

  120. I said> 2. Which is more important: your right leg or your left?
    in response to the question:

    >2) Private property and free markets are both cornerstones of capitalism, but if they conflict in certain economic sectors (such as where information is concerned), which is more important?

  121. @Jon Brase

    And who gets to decide which corporations are part of “the press”?

    The judiciary.

  122. # Jon Brase Says:
    > 1) What would you say to the argument that, where information is concerned, private property and free markets are mutually exclusive?

    I’d say it is entirely bogus. Markets do more than sell things. There are gazillions of ways to monetize information without the need for SOPA. Copyright and patents are just the laziest way.

    > 2) Private property and free markets are both cornerstones of capitalism, but if they conflict in certain economic sectors (such as where information is concerned), which is more important?

    You assume information is property. The two are completely different in so many ways that to attempt to treat them with the same rules is plain silly. Just because slavery (ownership of people) is a dreadful thing does not mean that employment is incompatible with the free market. A corp does not own its employees, but it does take advantages of their labor. Employees can be monetized without owning them.

    > 3) Whether or not the government *should* grant economic privileges or protections to corporations or individuals, would you agree that if it *does* it should hold said corporations and individuals accountable for how they use the privileges or protections granted to them?

    I’ll answer your question with a question: “whether you agree that slavery is OK or not, do you agree that if you do hold slaves that the government should have laws ensuring their fair treatment?” The answer I suppose is yes, but it is a tiny discussion on top of a dramatically unacceptable premise. To even talk about it seems silly.

  123. @Jon Brase

    And, by the way, it’s not so much that one corporation is a member of the club and therefore gets free speech rights and others don’t. It’s that some companies engage in activities that are protected under ‘freedom of the press’, namely journalism.

    If Microsoft started publishing a weekly political newsletter then that specific activity is protected. Doesn’t mean the company itself is now a person, or has inherent rights itself.

    And who decides what constitutes a protected activity?

    See my former answer.

  124. Tom: The problem with your attempt to protect the freedom of the press by giving media corporations rights that other corporations do not have is that it inevitably results in government deciding who does and does not have freedom of speech. Why this does not terrify liberals escapes me, unless it’s because they know that media skews heavily to the left.

  125. > Because the NYT is part of the ‘press’ and they have rights specifically protected by the first amendment (look up the text).

    Okay, but that’s a lazy “just so” read of this problem. Leave aside for a moment the inanity of saying “look up the text” on a document whose language everyone already knows by heart. Conferring special rights to anyone who deems themselves to be “The Press” not only overlooks the moneyed interests that back the NYT (or Newscorp, and any other for-sale, corporate “press” organ), it also begs the question. Claiming the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or Fox News or MSNBC has no vested financial interest or political motive in the creation of their news product is ludicrous. First principles need to be revisited, because the line between commerce and news is even fuzzier now than it was in the days of Gutenberg (and it was plenty fuzzy back then, too).

  126. # Jon Brase Says:
    > my name, my phone number, details of my personal life, etc) is not my property, how am I to prevent my E-mail provider (for example) from selling that information to the highest bidder? What do you have to say on the matter?

    The answer is simple: don’t tell your private information to anyone you don’t want to know it. If you have an ISP, insist that they include in their terms that they don’t sell your email address. This is hardly uncommon. AFAIK, there is not law that requires Amazon not to sell my email address, but they don’t, because they promised not to.

    You have a reasonable right to the courts protecting you from extremely intrusive acts: telephoto lens shot of you in the shower. However, if you shower naked on a public beach, don’t be surprised if you in all your glory appears in flickr tomorrow.

  127. @Jay Maynard

    The problem with your attempt to protect the freedom of the press by giving media corporations rights that other corporations do not have is that it inevitably results in government deciding who does and does not have freedom of speech.

    It’s not my attempt it’s Madison and Jefferson’s attempt. I’m just telling you what’s in your constitution.

    @Grantham

    Claiming the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or Fox News or MSNBC has no vested financial interest or political motive in the creation of their news product is ludicrous.

    I don’t believe I claimed this.

    First principles need to be revisited, because the line between commerce and news is even fuzzier now than it was in the days of Gutenberg

    I don’t think it has ever not been fuzzy. News has always been a business. Also, the first amendment was written more than three hundred years after Gutenberg, so I am not really sure what relevance this has.

    Conferring special rights to anyone who deems themselves to be “The Press”

    Again, it’s not that those people/companies have any extra rights, its that any activity that is a press activity is protected. Any company or person can do these things.

  128. @ Jessica Boxer
    > There are gazillions of ways to monetize information without the need for SOPA. Copyright and patents are just the laziest way.

    On one hand, I don’t like governments doing stuff like patents and copyrights. I hate patents on computer programming algorithms and patents on (the process to make?) chemical substances make me particularly uneasy.

    On the other hand, who would spend a year writing a book if there was no copyright? Or spending $100 million to develop a new drug if it could not be patented? (I realize that in practice, some drug manufacturers engage in some pretty sleazy practices.)

    But on the gripping hand, if I personally learn something, I wouldn’t care if it was patented or not in relation to my own personal use of that information. (Using that information to make products to sell might be another matter.)

  129. @Tom
    > I don’t believe I claimed this.

    You implied that a company that produced and sold lug nuts had less rights of redress than company that produced and sold printed newspapers.

    >First principles need to be revisited, because the line between commerce and news is even fuzzier now than it was in the days of Gutenberg

    >>I don’t think it has ever not been fuzzy. News has always been a business. Also, the first amendment was written more than three hundred years after Gutenberg, so I am not really sure what relevance this has

    Well, the fact that it’s called “press” should give you a hint to the relevance, Tom.

    > Again, it’s not that those people/companies have any extra rights, its that any activity that is a press activity is protected. Any company or person can do these things.

    That’s why I think you need first principles here. When a spiderweb of political and financial interests fund a press operation, what constitutes the protected “press.” It’s an important enough question that serious people should be prepared to answer, and not simply hand-wave and say “oh, the judiciary will figure that part out.” Even serious-minded people on the left would be prepared to answer it, since they objected to the result of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” case.

  130. I said> if I personally learn something, I wouldn’t care if it was patented or not in relation to my own personal use of that information

    I am specifically referring to patents, not copyrights. I have never down-loaded music. Like books, I really like a small amount of what is out there and I pay for what I get.

  131. 1. If there were no copyrights, a lot of creative work would not have happened because there would be no way to make a living from it.

    This was more directed at Eric, but my answer to you is that providing economic incentives for people to do things, no matter how beneficial in non-monetary terms or how much it supercharges the economy, does not constitute capitalism, especially if it makes the market less free.

    If there’s truly no way to make money from creative work without copyrights, I say let there be no money made from creative work. I’m not convinced that there isn’t a way, though. Before copyrights, artists made money by producing works under commission, which I find to be more of a free-market solution than copyright. The problem, of course, is that there is a limited supply of people rich enough to commission a work. A solution (in that it would help pool the resources of less wealthy individuals) might be a “commission club”, which would commission projects based on its members’ suggestions and paid for by their dues.

    2. Which is more important: your right leg or your left?

    My right, given that, as a right hander, I have finer motor control on that side of my body. Which is not to say that it wouldn’t hurt, and cause lots of problems to lose that leg.

    What, like “we don’t like that song. Never perform it again”? You want the government deciding… this is nuts.

    More like “You have abused the limited monopoly we granted to you to gain and maintain a broader monopoly, which you have also abused. You must now make restitution.”. And no, I’d rather not have the government do this, but if it’s going to engage in policies that unfree the market, I expect it to clean up the messes that result, rather than letting them fester.

    You don’t own the information about yourself (name, my phone number, details of my personal life, etc), they are facts about the universe.

    This is the conclusion I have come to. I just don’t like all the implications.

  132. You assume information is property.

    Where did you get this from? I assume quite the opposite. I also assume that treating information as property is incompatible with a free market for information (and, on the flip side, that establishing a free market for information precludes treating information as property).

    The two are completely different in so many ways that to attempt to treat them with the same rules is plain silly. Just because slavery (ownership of people) is a dreadful thing does not mean that employment is incompatible with the free market. A corp does not own its employees, but it does take advantages of their labor. Employees can be monetized without owning them

    I’m not sure where you really disagree with me here.

    I’m not saying, “all private property is incompatible with the free market because treating information as property is a dreadful thing”.

    I’m saying, “applying the concept of private property to information is incompatible with a free market, and thus *when it comes to information* you have to choose between private property and free markets”.

  133. Tom:

    It’s not my attempt it’s Madison and Jefferson’s attempt. I’m just telling you what’s in your constitution.

    And right before “freedom of the press” is “freedom of speech”. That’s in there too. Do try to keep up.

    Again, it’s not that those people/companies have any extra rights, its that any activity that is a press activity is protected. Any company or person can do these things.

    This is a semantic quibble. It still results in the government deciding who is and is not permitted to speak freely. You still haven’t said why this does not terrify you.

  134. @ Jon Brase
    re: copyright versus free markets
    >A solution (in that it would help pool the resources of less wealthy individuals) might be a “commission club”, which would commission projects based on its members’ suggestions and paid for by their dues.

    Yeah… I like that. The same activity of trying to find a publisher (or club to pay a publisher) would still exist.

    This is also the approach to be taken for national parks and parks of all kinds. The single thing I HATE most about governments is when they draw a line around some beautiful area, call it a park and then start making rules about when that park is closed. I realize that a private park might also close at times, but there is a difference.

    It is like Human Resource departments in a business. There is a lot of work to do to set all the policies and procedures for having employees. But once this is done, they still have to do something, anything, to justify the size of the HR department. So they start dreaming up rules and procedures and programs and anything they can think of.

    Governments do this with parks. They declare an area to be a park for the benefit of everyone. Of course, the parks department wants to continuously grow, so they start putting up signs and paving trails and building interpretive centers and, in many cases, declaring that the park is closed during certain hours or certain months. The most common example of this is in parks in a city that close after dark to deter kids from building fires and partying. I, however, love to walk along the river at night. Government control of parks is evil.

    If a park was owned by a group of people, they would have no incentive to try to spend as much money on it as they possibly could (the way governments do).

  135. Brian Marshall Says:
    > On the other hand, who would spend a year writing a book if there was no copyright?

    Eh, lots of people write stuff with no intention of having it protected by copyright. Heck I’m doing it right now. Having said that I am more sympathetic to the argument on copyright. Plainly the wholesale copying of someone else’s work is pretty sleazy. However, copyright is a pretty brutal solution. But what about this: recently, the author of the Harry Potter series of books sued a guy who produced a Harry Potter encyclopedia. He did not start selling “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, he researched the books and built a bunch of information about them. Is that wrong? I am much less supportive of the copyright case here. What about if I decided to make my own movie of the books? If you have read the books and seen the movies you will know that the movies are large creative works in their own right. Is that acceptable?

    > Or spending $100 million to develop a new drug if it could not be patented?

    Not sure, however, did you consider all the drugs that don’t get developed because of patents? I have commented on this a million times here before so won’t bore the readers with more of the same, but suffice it to say (again) that a recent GAO study concluded that patents were HARMFUL to innovation in the drug industry.

  136. Jon Brase Says:
    >thus *when it comes to information* you have to choose between private property and free markets”.

    Well I’ll happily jump on board that train.

  137. Either way, the justification for 100+ year copyrights is very thin. They should be reduced substantially.

  138. “Freedom of the press” does not give “the press” extra rights. It merely extends “freedom of speech” to printed and published matter. Bloggers are as much “the press” under any rational interpretation of the First Amendment as any newspaper or TV station.

  139. @Jay Maynard

    This is a semantic quibble. It still results in the government deciding who is and is not permitted to speak freely. You still haven’t said why this does not terrify you.

    Sorry, I think my writing may have been somewhat confused here. I definitely have never intended to say that the government can decide who can or cannot speak freely.

    Every citizen has the absolute right to say or write whatever they want.

    In addition to that, press organisations have an additional special protection to not have the government interfere in any activities relating to the collection and distribution of news and opinion.

    Nothing here means that corporations in themselves have rights to free speech. Again, just to make it clear, that does not mean that their employees and owners don’t have free speech rights (they absolutely do).

    Rocks don’t have a right to free speech. Trees don’t. Dogs don’t. Buildings don’t. Bank accounts don’t. Companies don’t. People do.

    So, to circle back around to where this all started, corporations are not people, they don’t therefore have rights to free speech, and therefore this stuff about their having a right to contribute to political campaigns doesn’t get out of the gate.

    But, even if the first amendment did grant free speech rights to companies that still wouldn’t mean they cannot be prevented from making contributions, because there is the additional problem that money is not speech. It’s just not. It’s not an expression of an idea or information or an opinion. It’s lending material support.

  140. > It merely extends “freedom of speech” to printed and published matter.

    Right. That’s what I was trying to get Tom to reckon with (although he never did). The authors we’re including verbiage on media (movable type being the only noteworthy media of the time) so that no one could come back and discount it by saying, “it was written, not spoken aloud, so it’s not protected.” It has nothing to do with the “fourth estate”, as many publishers now think of themselves as.

  141. jsk Says:
    > I was thinking of the Texas law against sodomy

    And when was anyone charged with sodomy?

    When you sodomize a girl, are you worried about being charged with sodomy, or being retroactively charged with rape because she was not sufficiently sober, or sufficiently old, or, as with Julian Assange, she changed her mind midway and neglected to tell you about it?

  142. > Rocks don’t have a right to free speech. Trees don’t. Dogs don’t. Buildings don’t. Bank accounts don’t. Companies don’t. People do.

    Rocks are not composed of people. Trees are not composed of people. Buildings are not composed of people. These are all disinterested entities. Comparing inanimate objects to corporations does your point no favors. Corporations are very animate (as are families, political parties and nation states).

  143. Jessica Boxer Says:
    >…. recently, the author of the Harry Potter series of books sued a guy who produced a Harry Potter encyclopedia. He did not start selling “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, he researched the books and built a bunch of information about them. Is that wrong?

    I would say no. If I want to research something and write about the results of that research, how can that be wrong?

    > What about if I decided to make my own movie of the books?

    Making a movie OF the books is… I would say a way of copying in the meaning of copyright; the law would say it is a derived work and can only be done with the authors agreement; if I am going to support copyright at all, I would agree with this. But… I don’t know…

    Of, course, movies are almost always substantially different from the books and at some point, the author finds out that “net” means “zero”.

    > did you consider all the drugs that don’t get developed because of patents?

    No, but I can imagine. The original purpose of patents was to stimulate innovation by providing a framework for an invention being an improvement of an existing invention. Drug companies are notorious for their sleazy patent practices. I think software patents are evil. I think “business practice” and store-layout patents ridiculous and evil to the extent that they have any effect.

    Clearly, patents are used to stifle innovation – the opposite of there intended purpose.

    On the one hand, I feel that if the patent laws were improved, it would help innovation of truly new drugs because they cost so much to develop. But… I don’t like the government telling me what I can’t do (as long as I am not initiating the use of force or fraud). It does seem possible to think of cases where some government involvement is appropriate. Cops would be an example. But copyrights… the more I think about it, the more I remember that I am a small “l” libertarian.

  144. @William B. Swift

    It merely extends “freedom of speech” to printed and published matter.

    @Grantham

    Right. That’s what I was trying to get Tom to reckon with (although he never did). The authors we’re including verbiage on media (movable type being the only noteworthy media of the time) so that no one could come back and discount it by saying, “it was written, not spoken aloud, so it’s not protected.”

    I don’t read it that way. To me the ‘freedom of speech’ clause covers speech in all media: speaking, writing, films, tv, radio, art etc.

    The ‘freedom of the press’ clause to me seems specifically designed to protect the whole activity of collecting and publishing information and opinion. So as well as actually writing it covers the right not to have the government stop you from trying to interview politicians (for example) or the right not to have the government interfere in the actual process of printing and distributing your material.

    Mere writing is covered by the speech clause in my opinion. And, yes, the press clause extends to anybody involved in disseminating information or opinion, whether they are a NYT reporter or a lone blogger.

    It seems to me that if the framers of this clause had intended it merely to extend the speech clause to writing they would simply have said something like ‘the freedom of speech and writing’. Instead they specifically mention ‘the freedom of the press’. That implies to me that they have a broader protection in mind.

  145. @Grantham

    Rocks are not composed of people.

    Neither are companies. Companies are abstract legal entities. Take a company with a thousand employees and one owner. Fire half the employees. The company is still the same company. Fire the rest of the employees. Now it is a company with no employees and one owner. It’s still the same company. Now have the owner sell the whole thing to the government.

    None of the people who were associated with the company are anymore. In fact there are no people associated with the company. It’s still the same company.

    It’s just a legal concept. It isn’t a person. It’s isn’t made up of people. It’s just an entry on a database somewhere. Something to be bought and sold, or dissolved. The idea that this entity has the right to free speech is as ludicrous as the idea that a rock has free speech.

  146. @Grantham

    And, also, if you get together a group of people then it doesn’t mean you have a company. Even if they are all working together for some common commercial purpose.

    The thing that makes a company is legal status.

  147. @Tom
    > It seems to me that if the framers of this clause had intended it merely to extend the speech clause to writing they would simply have said something like ‘the freedom of speech and writing’.

    Well, at least you are engaging the material instead of “just telling (us) what’s in (our) constitution.” That’s a step in the right direction. :)

    Anyway, what I was trying to get across to you with Gutenberg was the idea that they used “press” in a very different (and indeed a very specific and direct) way than the members of the so-called fourth estate use it today. They were just talking tech, to stop jackasses from lawyering the freedom away from booksellers. For instance, consider what Madison had to say in his Virginia report:

    “Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided, by the practice of the states, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits. And can the wisdom of this policy be doubted by any one who reflects that to the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression?”

    In this case (“the proper use of every thing), the thing in question is the actual, physical press, not some amorphous “press culture” with a particular ethos and approved credentials. There is no restriction implied on the motives or interests of the person operating the press – it’s about the tool itself. We have many more tools of expression now, and even your own words admit that. They made no proscription against any specific hand operating these tools.

    That’s as it should be. It is very strange that anyone would insist otherwise, but we live in strange times.

  148. >>And who gets to decide which corporations are part of “the press”?

    > The judiciary.

    On what basis? For example, is GE part of the press? They own NBC.

    I note that the NYT campaigns for both issues and candidates and IBM puts out far more factual information. Which one gets protected political speech?

  149. >The idea that this entity has the right to free speech is as ludicrous as the idea that a rock has free speech.

    But your argument that a corporation is a sort of semantic spook cuts in the other direction too – if it doesn’t really exist, then that which you incorrectly think of as its “rights” are in fact the rights of persons – specifically, the rights of persons affiliating themselves with it. In seeking to restrict “corporate personhood”, you inescapably trample on individual rights.

    This is easy to illustrate…but, you know, I think I’ll do that in a blog post.

  150. > None of the people who were associated with the company are anymore. In fact there are no people associated with the company. It’s still the same company.

    Huh?

    I “occupy” Justin Herman Plaza in SF. Surely I have free speech rights.

    10 other people join me. Do they have free speech rights?

    Some other people join us. Some of the those 10 leave. I leave. The rest of those 10 leave.

    At what point does the people in that group lose the free speech rights that I had when I showed up by myself?

  151. I don’t read it that way. To me the ‘freedom of speech’ clause covers speech in all media: speaking, writing, films, tv, radio, art etc./

    Just to make this point more plain.

    Imagine if you were right, and the framers were simply attempting to avoid a situation where somebody restricts freedom of speech on the basis that ‘well, the amendment says ‘speech’, not printed matter’.

    If they had this in mind – if they were attempting to enumerate all the modes of speech just to be sure – then don’t you think it odd that they left out hand-written speech? Somebody might still come along and say ‘well it just says speech and printed matter, nothing about handwriting’.

    That’s why I don’t think they were doing that. They assumed ‘speech’ covers all modes of expression. By ‘the press’ I think they must mean the journalistic endeavour as a whole.

  152. Damn it. Screwed up the blockquotes.

    @Andy Freeman

    I “occupy” Justin Herman Plaza in SF. Surely I have free speech rights.

    Of course.

    10 other people join me. Do they have free speech rights?

    Yes, absolutely. Every one of those people has an individual right to free speech.

    Some other people join us. Some of the those 10 leave. I leave. The rest of those 10 leave.

    At what point does the people in that group lose the free speech rights that I had when I showed up by myself?

    Never. Each person has their right to free speech. They have it always and wherever they go. Nothing changes on account of joining your group or moving in and out of the park.

  153. > If Microsoft started publishing a weekly political newsletter then that specific activity is protected.

    How is a weekly political newsletter different from political ads?

    After all, both can be aimed at convincing people to take specific political action.

    What? You think that the NYT has a free speech right to advocate for the causes and candidates that it supports but not Microsoft? On what basis?

  154. @Tom:
    > If they had this in mind – if they were attempting to enumerate all the modes of speech just to be sure – then don’t you think it odd that they left out hand-written speech?

    Well, no. It’s strange you haven’t figured out why, but I suspect it’s because you are reaching (in our hilarious attempt to teach “us” about our own culture).

    Since you seem a little too obtuse to wander upon it on your own, please look up photographic images of the Constitution, study the way they were physically created for a moment or two, and then tell us why it might be a little redundant and bizarre to include protections of “hand-written speech” in the document. You might find the solution to be self-evident.

  155. @esr

    This is easy to illustrate…but, you know, I think I’ll do that in a blog post.

    I look forward to it.

    @Grantham

    it’s about the tool itself.

    First of all, it’s possible of course that you are right. It all hinges on the historical usage of the term ‘the press’. I’d like to see some evidence about how it was used at the time if you know of any.

    However, I still strongly suspect that you are wrong. For the reasons I gave above in other posts, and also for the following reason.

    If the author really meant ‘the press’ to refer to the physical object, then it seems strange to me that he would write ‘freedom … of the press’. That sounds quite poetic, and rather uncharacteristically so for the constitution. It would be like saying ‘the freedom of the pen’ to refer to the freedom to write whatever you want. Obviously the pen or the press cannot literally have any freedoms in and of themselves – they are inanimate objects.

    So, either the framers were using uncharacteristically poetic language here, or they are using the term ‘the press’ in the more modern sense of ‘the journalistic enterprise’.

    And, what about the freedom of the pen, eh? Are we not allowed to write whatever we like?

  156. @Tom:
    > That’s why I don’t think they were doing that. They assumed ‘speech’ covers all modes of expression. By ‘the press’ I think they must mean the journalistic endeavour as a whole.

    I think maybe you should study the subject a bit more before making these assumptions. “Journalistic endeavor” is not a very descriptive term in itself, and is subject to a lot of interpretation. More importantly, why would anyone want distant judiciary bodies to parse what constitutes “journalistic endeavor”, when we all have the innate tools (eyes, ears) to be journalists, and legal tools like FOIA to help us? Why give strangers power to sanctify various propaganda organs, and using such hand-wavy evidence as “journalistic endeavor”, when the men who wrote it specifically were talking about tech?

  157. @Andy Freeman

    How is a weekly political newsletter different from political ads?

    There is no difference. I am talking about contributions.

  158. @Tom
    >If the author really meant ‘the press’ to refer to the physical object, then it seems strange to me that he would write ‘freedom … of the press’. That sounds quite poetic, and rather uncharacteristically so for the constitution.

    Oh, you have NO idea how bad it was. The framers practically had to restrain Thomas Jefferson in a strait jacket and a muzzle to stop his poetry from ruining their prose. His original version of the Declaration included the opener “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” He was a right-brained poet, all the way, but was such an important tool of the revolution that they had to let some of his poetry creep in.

    In any case, revisit the grammar. “Speech” is not any less of a medium than “press”. They are different mediums, like floppy disks and Blu-rays. But they didn’t have any of that stuff back then: just spoken word, movable type and handwriting. And since the Constitution itself was handwritten, um… yeah that was coverd by default, methinks.

  159. @Grantham

    Since you seem a little too obtuse to wander upon it on your own, please look up photographic images of the Constitution, study the way they were physically created for a moment or two, and then tell us why it might be a little redundant and bizarre to include protections of “hand-written speech” in the document. You might find the solution to be self-evident.

    If you mean that the constitution was handwritten, and that this fact in itself implies a legal right to be able to write whatever you want, I think that is extremely weak. Such a right is not implied merely by the nature of the document. And to think that the framers would leave such an important right to be asserted in such a vague and cryptic fashion is absurd.

    Laws don’t work by example. We don’t just watch what lawmakers do and assume that the law emanates from their behaviour. This is surely crazy.

    And, with that, I really must go to bed.

  160. >So, either the framers were using uncharacteristically poetic language here, or they are using the term ‘the press’ in the more modern sense of ‘the journalistic enterprise’.

    Actually, neither is quite true. Or both were. In the period of the American Revolution, printing presses were expensive capital equipment analogous to…oh, say, mainframe computers in 1960. Being part of “the press” was more closely tied to actual personal ownership of an actual press than it later became. The idea that those two roles could be disaggregated – that you could have book publishers and people running newspapers who were not themselves actual printers, but contracted that job out to specialists – hadn’t really taken hold yet, and would not until printing was industrialized in the mid-1800s.

    Indeed, from a modern point of view the business model of people like Peter Zenger looked rather backwards; they hawked newspapers in order to keep their expensive presses printing pay copy more of the time, so they could amortize their capital investment sooner.

    So, the idea that there was or could be a “press” distinct from the technology of the press would not naturally have occurred to the framers of the Constitution. It’s completely consistent that they meant by “freedom of the press” the freedom of anyone who owns a press, whether or not that person would be considered a “journalist” – a category which, in fact, did not yet exist. In those days a “journalist” was…a person who kept a journal.

  161. A solution (in that it would help pool the resources of less wealthy individuals) might be a “commission club”, which would commission projects based on its members’ suggestions and paid for by their dues.

    This sort of thing is already happening now with Kickstarter.

  162. @Tom:
    > If you mean that the constitution was handwritten, and that this fact in itself implies a legal right to be able to write whatever you want, I think that is extremely weak.

    Oh, but you are very wrong. But, I think the reason you are wrong isn’t so much that you are stupid (you might be, but not for this reason). Rather, I think it’s because you are the product of your times. We live in an age now where stating the obvious (and repeating it ad nauseum; and fetishising it) is considered a virtue. Not so, in the 18th century, during the Age of Reason in the colonies, and certainly not when you stood the chance of looking naive or childish in severing the bonds from a great naval power. Economy of language was the rule, rather than the exception, and Douglas Adams would have been very fond of the framers (except for Jefferson, who he would have blown out the airlock).

    Anyway, but away your daggers and think about it for a second (when you wake up, that is): You have a certain problem in your thinking that you need to address, because you say that “speech” includes handwriting and “press” does not. Neither does, explicitly, so you are begging the question when it comes to speech.

    But it’s also a problem of scale for you, as far as I can tell (and being kind to your way of thinking); you think that spoken words and letters reach only as far as the intended recipient, whereas the “press” (meaning the printing press) can disseminate ideas on a broader scale. That’s fine in the sense that I agree with your interpretation and with theirs.

    But here is the real problem: what is the likelihood that if they had written it in the age of telegraphs that they would have added the words “freedom of the telegraph”, or if they had written in the age of film, “freedom of telegraph; freedom of film”? I think it’s not very likely (and I assume you do too), but the reason I think it’s not very likely is because there was only one kind of medium of wide transmission back then (print), and there’s no reason to think they would have conceived of more. If all of those other mediums had been invented (including TV, blogs, etc), I’m sure that the framers would have just written “media” instead of “press”. The framers had many writings that support my view, but I don’t even need them; if there is a distinction without a elaborate description, Occam insists I’m right and you are reaching.

    I don’t know, though. Maybe this isn’t an honest argument, because you say:

    And to think that the framers would leave such an important right to be asserted in such a vague and cryptic fashion is absurd.

    Why is your definition of “the press” (as “journalistic endeavor”) less vague and cryptic than my definition of a “[fucking] press”, which also happens to be what the framers themselves precisely wrote? It’s hard to take this argument serious, given that my definition of a press as a “press” is considered vague and cryptic, whereas your definition of “journalistic endeavor” is not, when the term “journalism” wouldn’t even be invented until the 19th century (from the French word, “journalisme”).

    Ah well. I suppose I will sleep on it as well, but I suspect I will sleep better.

  163. The phrase “freedom … of the press” means the freedom to disseminate ideas using a mass medium of transmission. It explicitly evokes the physical manifestation of the printing press, because when the First Amendment was written, it was the only mass medium of communications. Also, it has to be read in context. I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting the text to make its structure clearer

    Congress shall make no law

    respecting an establishment of religion,
    or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    or abridging the freedom of speech,
    or of the press;

    or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
    and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    The freedom of the press must be seen as the complement to freedom of speech, together representing all communication, so the combination should be read as

    Congress shall make no law

    abridging the freedom of communication

  164. Tom:

    Every citizen has the absolute right to say or write whatever they want.

    So far, so good.

    In addition to that, press organisations have an additional special protection to not have the government interfere in any activities relating to the collection and distribution of news and opinion.

    Here’s where you fall into the hole.

    Who decides who is a “press organization”?
    Who decides what is “news and opinion”?
    Who decides what is “the collection and distribution” of same?

    The government!

    Presto, you’ve just mandated that the government decide who is to have freedom of speech.

    You cannot escape this central fact.

    But, even if the first amendment did grant free speech rights to companies that still wouldn’t mean they cannot be prevented from making contributions, because there is the additional problem that money is not speech. It’s just not. It’s not an expression of an idea or information or an opinion. It’s lending material support.

    It’s speech just as much as the Occupiers’ tents are: it says “I agree with your message and want to help you spread it”. Further, in today’s environment where the only speech that is effective costs large amounts of money, squelching money must necessarily squelch speech. That is the basis on which it is settled US law that limiting campaign contributions is an infringement on freedom of speech.

  165. @esr
    > whether or not that person would be considered a “journalist” – a category which, in fact, did not yet exist. In those days a “journalist” was…a person who kept a journal.

    Yeah, I was writing very much the same thing at the same time. Sometimes etymology is a bunch of niggling horseshit, but it does matter in conversations like this, where a critic is trying to fast forward a word they don’t like and make it mean something it didn’t (and couldn’t).

  166. why the NYT, a corporation, has free speech rights that “my” corporation doesn’t.

    Because the NYT is part of the ‘press’ and they have rights specifically protected by the first amendment (look up the text).

    That is not just bullshit, but you must surely know it’s bullshit. A press is a machine. The NYT is no more a “press” than I am, and in any case the constitution does not give any rights at all to “press”, any more than it does to “assembly” or to “religion”. People have the right to free speech, to use the press, to assemble, to worship, etc. People such as you, me, ESR, and the shareholders of the NYT. And those of Citizens United. Each of CU’s shareholders has the right to make a movie; therefore they have the right to pool their money and make the movie together. But to claim that the NYT’s shareholders have more rights than you or I do, because they are “press”, is not just wrong, it’s perverted

  167. “It seems to me that if the framers of this clause had intended it merely to extend the speech clause to writing they would simply have said something like ‘the freedom of speech and writing’. Instead they specifically mention ‘the freedom of the press’. That implies to me that they have a broader protection in mind.”

    Yes, they did. Back in those days, it was certainly important to protect speech, but speech was limited to a small circle of listeners. It was the press that would carry your speech out to the larger community. An informed public is necessary to a democracy, and the press was there to do that. That’s the reason for the special recognition.

    We confuse the issue today, because the price of admission to the fourth estate is very low – lower than it’s ever been. If everybody is now part of the news media, then nobody is.

    That last line is only half in jest. A few days ago, Instapundit linked to a story about a woman who runs a blog who is now being sued by an ‘investment advisor’ that she has been calling out as a swindler. The judge in the case has refused to recognize her claim to be a member of the press. I don’t know the merits of the case, but it would appear that anyone could publish anything about an enemy in the guise of an opinion piece, and blast it all over the ‘net, if judges were to support her claim.

  168. It’s that some companies engage in activities that are protected under ‘freedom of the press’, namely journalism.

    Again, perverted bullshit. How can you pretend you believe this stuff? The activity that is protected under “freedom of the press” is obviously that of publishing. Publishing anything, whether it’s news, novels, pornography, advertising, advocacy, or sheet music. There is nothing in the term “freedom of the press” to indicate that one particular use of the press is privileged above all others, and there is nothing in the history of the constitution to make us suppose that the framers of the first amendment regarded “journalism” as important or would want to give it any privileges.

  169. Conferring special rights to anyone who deems themselves to be “The Press”

    Again, it’s not that those people/companies have any extra rights, its that any activity that is a press activity is protected. Any company or person can do these things.

    So corporations do have freedom of the press? Then how can they not have freedom of speech? Or if you think they don’t have freedom of speech then how can you think they do have freedom of the press? Where in the first amendment are these two freedoms distinguished, so that you can say corporations have one but not the other?

  170. >Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of communication.

    That is correct. That, in modern terms, is what the framers of the Constitution clearly intended in the First Amendment.

    Just as clearly, they intended the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to bear arms.

    Later in American history, both rights were seriously traduced. It is now generally forgotten that this was true of the First Amendment, except as a footnote in history class about the Alien and Sedition acts – but, in fact, the First Amendment did not reacquire its current broad scope until the early twentieth century. The battle to restore the full breadth and force of the Second Amendment is still underway, though after the Heller ruling victory looks increasingly probable.

    Restrictions on political speech during campaigns are actually a huge step backwards. I cannot fathom the thinking of people who advocate them. They would do well to consider Thomas Paine: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

  171. Bloggers are as much “the press” under any rational interpretation of the First Amendment as any newspaper or TV station.

    No, computers are “the press”. Bloggers are people who exercise their freedom of the “press”, i.e. the computer.

  172. Every citizen has the absolute right to say or write whatever they want.

    Only citizens? Where is that in the bill of rights?

    In addition to that, press organisations have an additional special protection

    Again with this nonsense. How does one kind of organisation get special protection that other organisations don’t?

    to not have the government interfere in any activities relating to the collection and distribution of news and opinion.

    What have “the collection and distribution of news and opinion” got to do with “the press”?

  173. So, to circle back around to where this all started, corporations are not people, they don’t therefore have rights to free speech, and therefore this stuff about their having a right to contribute to political campaigns doesn’t get out of the gate.

    If they don’t have rights to free speech then how can they have rights to free press?

    But, even if the first amendment did grant free speech rights to companies that still wouldn’t mean they cannot be prevented from making contributions, because there is the additional problem that money is not speech. It’s just not. It’s not an expression of an idea or information or an opinion. It’s lending material support.

    That is just insane. It’s a contradiction in terms. What is the difference between saying something oneself and helping someone else say it? You might as well say that there is complete freedom of the press but there is no right to buy newsprint or ink! Or that it’s perfectly legal to burn a flag if you happen to own one, and matches and kerosene, but the government can prevent you from buying these items, or from giving someone the money to buy them.

    In any case, Citizens United isn’t about monetary contributions to campaigns, it’s about corporations’ right to make political speech themselves. CU was not donating anything to anybody; it made a movie about a political candidate — how anything be more “speech” than that? And by opposing the decision you are claiming that it didn’t have the right to do so. How can that possibly be?

  174. The ‘freedom of the press’ clause to me seems specifically designed to protect the whole activity of collecting and publishing information and opinion. So as well as actually writing it covers the right not to have the government stop you from trying to interview politicians (for example

    And you know this because you’re psychic? How do you know it isn’t instead specifically designed to protect the whole activity of taking long lunches, or wearing cloth caps, or sniffing duplicator spirit? After all, these are all equally things that printers might do.

  175. @esr
    >”He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

    This quote always reminds me of one of those historical footnotes that seems so apocryphal that it must be roundly true: that of Hamilton rescuing the loyalist Myles Cooper from the torch-wielding mob in the middle of the night, a ferreting him away to a British warship.

  176. It would be like saying ‘the freedom of the pen’ to refer to the freedom to write whatever you want.

    Yes, that is exactly what it means.

    And, what about the freedom of the pen, eh? Are we not allowed to write whatever we like?

    That freedom was never in question; there had been no attempt to ban it, and the framers could not conceive of any future attempt to ban it. How would you go about preventing people from writing whatever they liked? There was no need to protect the freedom of the pen, so it never occurred to them to try.

  177. SOPA’s bad enough alright, but to my mind it’s nothing compared with the truly odious NDAA bill that will empower the military to arrest US citizens on US soil and detain them forever without trial. To me that is the end of a free society.

    Um, what exactly is your objection to this? How is it even new? What is special about either US citizenship or US soil, that either should protect an enemy soldier from being captured and held prisoner by the US armed forces?

    Certainly no such doctrine has ever been conceived of in previous wars. When Herbert Haupt, a German soldier who was a US citizen, was captured in Chicago in 1944, tried by a court martial and sentenced to death, the Supreme Court refused to even look into the case, saying that it was none of their business. As an enemy soldier making war on the USA he was fair game, and no civilian court could tell the military what to do or not to do with him. So how is he different from Jose Padilla? What is different about this war? The only difference is that the courts have recently forgotten their place and have presumed to stick their noses in where they don’t belong, so Congress is now slapping them down.

    There’s no chance, for instance, that Bush could have gotten away with assassinating an American citizen on foreign soil the way that Obama zapped al-Awlaki.

    Excuse me? “Assassinating”?! Since when is killing an enemy called “assassination”? Did George Washington “assassinate” all the redcoats that were shot under his command?

  178. I always find these sorts of discussion mildly amusing. They remind me of those arguments you had in kindergarten where Jenny was saying something bad about Sally and you felt the need to actually put your hand over her mouth, or put your fingers in your ears and say “LALALALALALALA”.

    What the heck are people so scared of that they want to muzzle other people from saying things? What does it matter if a corporation is a person, or a union is a person; why would you be so small minded as to want to muzzle them anyway? Is your point of view so weak and ineffectual that you need to prevent the opposition from even speaking? Are you so thin skinned that you can’t bear to hear someone call you a poopy head? Or a nigger, spic, cracker, whore, bitch, or whatever other offensive term some idiot might want to use.

    The great get out of jail free card is “Yell fire in a crowded theater”. However, I always smile when I hear that too because this principle of muzzling free speech comes from Oliver Wendel Holmes, in the case Schenck v. United States where the particular speech in question was a group of people who objected to the US participation in the First World War and were disseminating literature to oppose the draft. The eponymous Shenck spend six months in jail for this heinous crime.

    Surely if we are to be able to speak we should be able to speak against our government dragging us into a destructive war? Whether the speaker is employed by BigBadMega Corp, or The International Brotherhood of Widget Fitters, or the New York Times, or Pajama Guy blogger, or the KKK, or the New Black Panthers, or the latest Whacky Muslim cleric, just let them speak, and then ignore them or yell back that they are idiots (or something more cogent.) All restrictions are terrible, but restrictions on political speech are the most heinous of all, and we have a whole government agency who’s sole function is to do just that.

    Lets not confuse issues though: just because you have the right to say that I’m a damned fool, doesn’t mean you have the right to say it in my living room, or that you have the right to force me to pay for you to say it. And just because you want to object to Wall Street fat cats doing bad things, doesn’t mean you have the right to block roadways, or take over privately owned parks.

    Oh, and since I got rambling, something else: anonymous free speech is just as essential (again shame on the FEC.) One of the things I used to say about free speech was “let a thousand flowers bloom.” I don’t say that anymore because I discovered that it is a rough quote from Mao Zedong. He encouraged people to speak opposition to his programs and ideas, supposedly to bring new ideas to the table. Unfortunately, what he actually did was used it to find people who opposed him, who he then had shot. There was considerable noise here in the California about some people who supported anti gay marriage laws being subsequently persecuted, even loosing their job, because their names were published in the public record.

    We need the right to anonymous speech for the same reason we need the secret ballot.

  179. @Millhouse:
    > Excuse me? “Assassinating”?! Since when is killing an enemy called “assassination”? Did George Washington “assassinate” all the redcoats that were shot under his command?

    Don’t be silly. Read about the case. Obama whacked an American citizen via drone attack with zero due process, while simultaneously directing his DOJ to try an alien enemy combatant in open court here in Manhattan. If you can’t see the difference, you have bigger blindspots than Obama himself (and any of his lapdogs on the Left).

    @Jessica Boxer
    The thing about “yelling fire in a theater” is that sometimes there really seems to be a fire, and you’d be remiss as a theatergoer to not yell about it. Of course, to the statist shepherds, this never seems to be the case. All potential and active fires are subject to strict interpretation by the Bureau of Theater Fire Detections. And if you burn to death before they make the scene, so be it.

  180. When Herbert Haupt, a German soldier who was a US citizen, was captured in Chicago in 1944, tried by a court martial and sentenced to death, the Supreme Court refused to even look into the case, saying that it was none of their business. As an enemy soldier making war on the USA he was fair game, and no civilian court could tell the military what to do or not to do with him. So how is he different from Jose Padilla? What is different about this war?

    Three major differences are that the United States was in a declared war with an identified enemy, Haupt was an unlawful combatant by the Geneva definition (i.e., participating in belligerent acts without wearing a uniform), and that Haupt was still tried. Even if you agree with the Quirin verdict, it’s a long jump from saying that citizens in the actual service of a declared enemy can be tried by court martial to saying that any citizen can be held arbitrarily without charge or trial.

  181. @Christopher Smith

    > Haupt was still tried…

    Yeah, not sure how this was missed, except to be completely obtuse. The idea of screaming “ENEMY COMBATANT” at the top of your lungs doesn’t constitute an argument, especially when your evidence consists of other citizen-traitors like Haupt getting a trial (and conviction, and death sentence). Al-Awlaki might have earned his fate, but why does Obama and Holder insist that the alien Khalid Sheikh Mohammed deserves a trial while al-Awlaki deserves a missile from the heavens?

  182. “Freedom of the press” means mass communication. Freedom of speech means individual communication. Those are the only two divisions of communication that matter, and the federal government is specifically prohibited from interfering with either of them. Any government official presuming to interfere with communication on the premise that it uses a later technology than existed when the constitution was written, is a usurper trying to break the law.

  183. Three major differences are that the United States was in a declared war with an identified enemy, Haupt was an unlawful combatant by the Geneva definition (i.e., participating in belligerent acts without wearing a uniform), and that Haupt was still tried. Even if you agree with the Quirin verdict, it’s a long jump from saying that citizens in the actual service of a declared enemy can be tried by court martial to saying that any citizen can be held arbitrarily without charge or trial.

    Where exactly does the NDAA say that any citizen can be held arbitrarily without charge or trial? The first of the two sections that everybody is all up in arms over (Section 1031 in one version of the bill I’ve read, 1021 in another version) includes the language:

    Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.

    The section lays out what the military may do with regards to terrorists and does authorize indefinite detention *in general*. However, the above bit basically says “Constitutional and legal protections against detention without trial, etc. still apply to US citizens”.

    The other section people are making a flap about (1032 or 1022, depending on which version of the bill you read), has this to say:

    The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

    The section this is excerpted from lays down a requirement for the detention of terrorists. The above quote, however, is fairly self explanatory: Said requirement does not apply to US citizens.

  184. The CU decision was correct, because we do not lose our first amendment rights if we act in cooperation with others, even if that cooperation is under the auspices of an incorporated organization.

  185. As an enemy soldier making war on the USA he was fair game, and no civilian court could tell the military what to do or not to do with him. So how is he different from Jose Padilla?

    The difference is that there has to be a declaration of war before wartime powers apply. Padilla is not a soldier.

  186. >Don’t these people ever learn? Anything?

    I wasted a lot of time on Reddit since 2006, and the kind of person I found the hardest to understand was that 20-years old American liberal in 2007 or so who spent his whole coming of age between childhood and adulthood, his most formative years, under a government he absolutely hated – George W. Bush – and yet had a deep trust in the abstract concept of government itself. I asked them, whether W. Bush could have made a lot less damage in the private sphere – as the manager of the family oil business – they said yes, and they still don’t get why government is more dangerous than the market. Because, like, if only the right people were elected, everything would be OK! On Reddit, it seemed like Obama is just the right kind of person for them, they had huge amounts of enthusiasm, trust and hope for him, he was The Right Person for them, who would turn government into a force for good, and now when it became obvious that in many ways he became a traitor for a significant subset of the liberal values, they lost the trust in him – but not in government itself.

    This cannot be explained rationally. This IMHO demonstrates that this is a kind of religious faith in the state as a “mortal god” (Hobbes) – because despite all the bad experiences, a lot of people just need to believe in some kind of salvation – either other-wordly (Jesus) or this-wordly (government).

    The endless cycle of religious faith in politicians and huge let-downs is familiar for us in Eastern Europe and Latin America – think Evo Morales in Bolivia, same story, just a lot worse. Is America joining us? The problem is, if yes, then there is little hope left for the rest of us.

  187. They would do well to consider Thomas Paine: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

    A friend who is into martial arts quoted his sensei to me once: “Before you take a weapon into combat, visualize that weapon… shoved sideways up your ass. If you are weaker than your weapon, your enemy will take it from you and use it against you.”

    And that brings us back to one of the fundamental blind spots of Leftist thinking:

    Business is so bad that they have to create a governmental structure to control it.

    Would any Evil Mastermind worth the title not try to take this weapon the Do Gooders have forged, and twist it to serve their own malicious purposes?

    The Left doesn’t seem to have listened to people like my friend’s sensei.

  188. @Tom

    >I wouldn’t say it’s too crazy at this point to imagine the UK completely renegotiating its position in Europe to something like that of Switzerland within the next few years.

    That’s reasonable, but most of the “broken society” problems I saw while living there had a lot more to do with Britains position (worship) to Cambridge intellectuals & their impractical ideas…

    One of the scariest phenomena these days is that even intelligent people are increasingly blaming problems on foreigners instead of – at least a part of – domestic elites.

    Let me get this straight. The EU could not do /could not have done anything to you without the enthusiastic support of certain British elites. Sovereignty – except in the case of war – is something given up, not taken away, and civilizations die by suicide, not murder. To change the EU is not in your power. To boot out certain domestic elites is in your power. Focus on that. Every country should focus on this…

  189. This cannot be explained rationally. This IMHO demonstrates that this is a kind of religious faith in the state as a “mortal god” (Hobbes) – because despite all the bad experiences, a lot of people just need to believe in some kind of salvation – either other-wordly (Jesus) or this-wordly (government).

    Reminded me of the penultimate paragraph of George H Smith’s essay, My Path to Atheism in Atheism, Ayn Rand, and other Heresies:

    Previously, my doubts about God had led me to atheism. Now, my doubts about government led me to anarchism. Indeed, belief in the legitimacy and wisdom of government seemed to require more blind faith than belief in God.

    Also, if you have read in some “secular humanist” works, for example, many of the essays in Paul Kurtz’s In Defense of Secular Humanism, you will discover that many of them have simply replaced worship of God with worship of the State.

  190. @Grantham, RE: 352359

    “@esr
    >”He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

    This quote always reminds me of one of those historical footnotes that seems so apocryphal that it must be roundly true: that of Hamilton rescuing the loyalist Myles Cooper from the torch-wielding mob in the middle of the night, a ferreting him away to a British warship.”

    Yep. I will fight and die for your freedom, for your right to say or write something I find disgusting and repulsive, because it is THAT important.

    I am often asked about my military deal, given my views on our government and government in general – why would I fight for them? I’ll grant them the confusion – between these views and my general lack of respect for “authority” – it seems to be a mystery.

    But its not really – in my sphere, “authority” is something that is generally meaningless outside of having extra responsibilities. Yeah, orders come down but at the operational level, everyone is an expert at a set of things and takes the lead seamlessly as required – officers have EARNED their authority because they became what they are training right next to you the whole way. No special schools or camps for these guys. Same mud, same blood. Can’t remember the last time I yes-sir’ed anybody…granted this is a bit different than most military areas but its the only one that suits me.

    Anyway, the real point here is that I am willing to fight and die, despite my dislike of gov’t because this country is worth it. This isn’t blind patriotism. We are the freest society on the planet overall. And every few years, we have a chance to change things, change gov’t through non-violent means, built right in (well, for the time-being anyway). We have the most opportunity socially and economically. And most of our founding principles are right.

    Christopher Hitchens (may he rest easy) said it far more eloquently than I ever could: “the great thing about the United States is that it’s a secular country with a godless Constitution, and the last-best hope for mankind”

    For me, its worth fighting and dying to keep it that way.

  191. LS said:

    A few days ago, Instapundit linked to a story about a woman who runs a blog who is now being sued by an ‘investment advisor’ that she has been calling out as a swindler. The judge in the case has refused to recognize her claim to be a member of the press. I don’t know the merits of the case, but it would appear that anyone could publish anything about an enemy in the guise of an opinion piece, and blast it all over the ‘net, if judges were to support her claim.

    If that’s the same issue I’m recalling, that’s because she’s trying to use press “shield laws”.

    it would appear that anyone could publish anything about an enemy in the guise of an opinion piece, and blast it all over the ‘net, if judges were to support her claim.

    I’m not a lawyer, but that’s so outrageously incorrect I feel no problem in saying that’s totally wrong. Labelling it opinion does not shield you from libel and slander claims.

    that anyone could publish anything… if judges were to support her claim.

    Scary stuff that. Not allowing the government to define who’s ‘allowed’ to publish? Horrors. Who knows what kind of villany and chaos that might create. No, we’d best leave it to the “professionals” with their “multiple layers of fact checking” and “years of study”.

  192. (The link I thnk LS was referring to: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2397450,00.asp ).

    If that’s it, that’s outrageous. Not to be confused with my stance on “press shield laws” – but a useful counter to them is if (almost) everyone is allowed to shelter under them.

    Just because you’re a “journalist” (or journolist) doesn’t mean you should be above the law. That means you can publish what you want, but if you have evidence of crimes, you should, when requested by the requisite court order any of the rest of us would be bound to follow, produce them accordingly. Or in civil cases, discovery rules are discovery rules. just like for everybody else.

    But the press has carved out a special exception in many people’s minds, and a quite useful place to many in government. To the press, they’re the “effective” arm of government – exposing what they want to expose means abuses/wrongs are corrected, and they “make a difference”. To the government, they’re useful quasi-antagonists to be strategically “leaked” to or guided. But most people until recently have seen the “press” as the “reporter”. But “Watergate” and it’s aftermath caused a shifting from “reporting” to “journalism”. People are getting more aware of that now, and you can see the effect with the crashing of the newspaper companies and staggering health of most “news” companies.

    But if you make a exception to some law, then it’s available to any who would meet that _reasonable_ definition.

  193. @esr

    The situation you’ve described is the same that happened here in Spain with the so-called “Ley Sinde” or “Sinde Act”. It’s a very similar law to SOPA and it has been opposed by the same internet pundits that were in favor of all other intromisions of the socialist government in the private life, specially the Gender Violence Law that made distintions between the sexes when it comes to punish the crime of hitting your wife, or husband.

  194. WCC Says:
    > Christopher Hitchens (may he rest easy) said it far more eloquently than I ever could: “the great thing about the United States is that it’s a secular country with a godless Constitution, and the last-best hope for mankind”

    Yes, Hitchens was my favorite converted Marxist :-) Anybody who volunteers to be literally Devil’s advocate for the saintly Mother Teressa is my kind of iconoclast. The world little knows what it lost last week.

    > For me, its worth fighting and dying to keep it that way.

    I have the deepest respect for our military folks. As best as I can, when I am in a bar and see a military guy in uniform, I always buy them a beer. Nonetheless, let me ask you a question WCC. If the present NDAA gets passed, and you get an order from above to go down to the local Mosque in Memphis, or Atlanta, or wherever you live, to arrest the Imam, then take him off to a secret prison in Cuba, with no right of Habeus Corpus — what are you going to do?

  195. @Shenpen
    > This IMHO demonstrates that this is a kind of religious faith in the state as a “mortal god” (Hobbes) – because despite all the bad experiences, a lot of people just need to believe in some kind of salvation – either other-wordly (Jesus) or this-wordly (government).

    I think it’s interesting (but not at all surprising) that the same people lending throat to the apocalyptic claims of the IPCC on the Junk Science thread pop up on some of these other threads to argue for a larger, more powerful State. Some, like Jeff Read, are even avowed Marxists and “secular humanists” (in the lefty sort of way, implying all sorts of transnational and multicultural bromides as the solution to the human condition). The pattern is unmistakable; even the godless seem to need a godhead, particularly when they aren’t very thoughtful or self-examined. Up above, we even have a few people twisting themselves into historical and etymological knots in an attempt to convince themselves that they don’t have a certain right, and that the government has the right to tell certain organizations of people to shut up, or to hand other organizations of people a specially-protected megaphone. You only do see that sort of irrationality and purposeful blindness in the devoutly religious.

    Personally, I’d prefer these kinds of people chose a heavenly God than try to create a secular one, in the hopes of impose an impossible utopia via government force (and to take matters one step further, I’d prefer they chose Jesus or Buddha instead of the blood lusting political creature Mohammed). That is why even though I think Intelligent Design and Catastrophic AGW are both silly, junk science, the former junk is much more preferable to the latter because it’s not trying to exert power over me via expansion of the state. ID (or something like it) may even be a little useful, all things considered; not everyone is going to be thoughtful enough to live happily without a God, and perhaps living with a heavenly one can give them better tools to live happily with each other. It hasn’t always worked out that way, but on the other hand I have seen it do wonders for alcoholics and drug addicts – whereas the secular state institutions routinely fail them.

  196. @Milhouse:

    That is just insane. It’s a contradiction in terms. What is the difference between saying something oneself and helping someone else say it? You might as well say that there is complete freedom of the press but there is no right to buy newsprint or ink! Or that it’s perfectly legal to burn a flag if you happen to own one, and matches and kerosene, but the government can prevent you from buying these items, or from giving someone the money to buy them.

    Best explanation of the DMCA anti-circumvention law I’ve seen in a long time.

    @The Monster:

    Would any Evil Mastermind worth the title not try to take this weapon the Do Gooders have forged, and twist it to serve their own malicious purposes?

    This is a little simplistic. The weapon exists, in that even a “small” American government could easily mess with whoever they wanted to. Plenty of history lessons for that. Yes, some want rules of engagement that require the weapon to be used a lot more often, on a lot more targets simultaneously, and that capability necessitates making the weapon bigger, but unless esr gets his wish, the weapon will always exist in a fairly potent form, so the argument must be a bit more nuanced than this. The argument must also be more nuanced because nobody I know (although I’m sure they exist) views a bigger weapon (government) as a goal; it’s merely a means to an end.

    So simply directly arguing for “smaller government” is problematic. If government were slashed in half tomorrow, you can bet that the remaining half would still be captured by special interests. Unfortunately, citizens in general haven’t been paying the price of eternal vigilance for a long time. We hire others to do that on our behalf…

  197. I speak as a lawyer and maybe against the interests of the legal profession, but I sincerely believe that legislation cannot be a fix-all for every social or economic issue.

    The current trend of trying to use legislation and enacting laws to fix problems is dangerous and misguided. Hard cases make bad law: True indeed!

  198. James A Donald Says:
    >Seems to me that for heterosexual males, the problem since 1830 has been leftists in the bedroom. It is leftists that banned prostitution,

    As far as I know prostitution has always been illegal in most of the USA, and continues in the same manner today — a law more ignored than enforced. However, FWIW, I am in favor of the legalization of prostitution, for both men and women.

    > raised the age of consent,

    Not sure what you are thinking of here. What do you think the age of consent should be? In most of the US it is between 16 and 18, which seems about right to me.

    > ended a wife’s duty to be sexually available always to her husband and never to anyone else,

    Really? Here is a simple fact, if your wife isn’t having sex with you, it is for one of three reasons: either there is some sort of medical problem, or because you behave like a jerk toward her, or, most likely of all that you aren’t very good in the sack. Women like great sex probably better than men do. The problem is that they like bad sex a lot less than men do.

    If she is sleeping around, most likely it is the latter explanation.

    So the solution is not a law requiring your wife to put out, it is rather that you pick up a copy of “The Dummies Guide to Sex”.

    Of course I am generalizing, but I think this covers most of the cases.

    > endlessly expanded the definition of rape and endless reduce the evidence and due process requirement for rape charges.

    I think that some of this is an improvement, and some of it is definitely a ridiculous imposition (the Duke Lacrosse team comes immediately to mind.)

    > It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

    So who exactly would you have support the “bastards”? Perhaps the state? That doesn’t sound like a conservative solution to me. And if the women you are sleeping with are “sluts”, what does that make you? I’m also not aware of any legal duty to support the “sluts” that bore your babies, just to support the babies themselves.

    On the contrary, requiring men to take on responsibilities for their actions and their consequences seems a very conservative approach to me, I certainly isn’t “leftist”. But perhaps your misogyny is clouding your judgement.

  199. @lots of people

    I looked up the word ‘press’ in an etymological dictionary, and this is what I found:

    Specific sense “machine for printing” is from 1530s; extended to publishing houses by 1570s and to publishing generally (in phrases like freedom of the press) c.1680. This gradually shifted c.1800-1820 to “periodical publishing, journalism.”

    So, taking this, and some of the arguments presented here, into account I am changing my position. However, I don’t completely agree with @Grantham when he says the that word press literally refers to the physical object ‘a press’. My considered view is that the framers meant by ‘the press’ the enterprise of printing and distributing written matter, i.e. books, periodicals etc. So, this sense includes not merely the act of printing itself, but also the means of its dissemination.

    @Millhouse

    Um, what exactly is your objection to this?

    What is my objection this? What is my objection to the Government being able to haul anybody they like into prison for the rest of their lives without any due process?

    It’s hard to believe I am even being asked this. My objection is that it strikes at the very heart of the freedom of the individual. That’s all.

    What is special about either US citizenship or US soil, that either should protect an enemy soldier from being captured and held prisoner by the US armed forces?

    Enemy soldier? The whole point is that the person arrested doesn’t have to be an ‘enemy soldier’, he can be anybody, because no proof is required. There is no trial. All the Government has to do is ‘suspect’ a person of being a terrorist.

    Ok, I can’t respond to everybody’s comments, but I will try to get to the heart of why I think money in political campaigns needs to be addressed.

    @Jessica Boxer

    What the heck are people so scared of that they want to muzzle other people from saying things?

    I don’t want to muzzle people from saying anything. What I am worried about is the degree to which lawmakers in the US (in the UK too but to a far lesser degree) are completely dependent on money from corporations and rich donors.

    The core of a representative democracy is the idea that elected representatives represent the interests of the people. But in the US we have got to a situation where in order to win election to the Congress you have to raise a lot of money. This means that the lawmakers are beholden more to the rich and the big business interests who finance them than they are to the people. Effectively their constituents are no longer the people, but their donors.

    This situation completely undermines the purpose of a representative democracy.

    And the results should be obvious. The most timely example being this SOPA law, which exists only because the Congress owes its position more to rich donors than to the people. When the laws in a country are made not with the interests of the people, but with the interests of the rich in mind you don’t have a democracy any more. What your have is a plutocracy.

    Do you at least admit that this is a problem?

  200. What the heck are people so scared of that they want to muzzle other people from saying things?

    Jessica, the thinking is that most people are dim-witted sheep, who will automatically vote for the candidate who spends the most money on advertising. This does not fit with actual election history, of course, but they believe it nonetheless. So they think that only by muzzling the rich corporations will the electorate be able to make the correct (i.e. left-wing) choice in the voting booth. And since the government is elected, they can be trusted to muzzle the voices that need to be muzzled, because democratic governments are “accountable” in a way corporations are not. (I know, I know, but it all seems very logical to them….)

  201. @PapayaSF

    Jessica, the thinking is that most people are dim-witted sheep, who will automatically vote for the candidate who spends the most money on advertising.

    It’s not necessarily that the candidate with the most money wins every time (although there is pretty good reason to think that having more money gives a candidate a huge advantage – http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/11/money-wins-white-house-and.html) but rather that they do have to raise a certain amount to even be viable. This makes them dependent on their rich donors, and ….

    Well, just read my previous post.

  202. @Jessica Boxer, RE:

    “Nonetheless, let me ask you a question WCC. If the present NDAA gets passed, and you get an order from above to go down to the local Mosque in Memphis, or Atlanta, or wherever you live, to arrest the Imam, then take him off to a secret prison in Cuba, with no right of Habeus Corpus — what are you going to do?”

    This won’t happen. My path does not lead to and will never deal with internal policing – as they say – “not my department.”. This is a matter that will be dealt with by one of the alphabet soup agencies, or possibly the national guard. I am not looking to be in arresting people, or converting hearts and minds. One guy said it well enough – “if we’re the ones they sent, they didn’t send us to talk or play police.” There are other units for that. The bad guys that show up on these lists that don’t manage to get themselves killed (and therefore “arrested” such as it is), well, the men in black deal with those assholes from that point. And yes, I do realize I will have played a part in that. It is something I continue to wrestle with.

    Abu Ghraib was disgusting and pure filth. And Guantanamo is complicated for me.

    Okay, now that I’ve dodged the question, I’ll answer it. I’ve thought long and hard about that. The guy may be a dirt bag, and I may want to do him myself, but If that happens, if that order comes, that is the day my death warrant is signed. I get that order, I’m done – I refuse as a conscientious objector – and I assure you the legal protections for refusing an immoral order will be nil at that point. I turn in my weapons, burn my computers, and get arrested for treason and sedition. Because all the things I said are worth fighting and dying for are done – we will have finally stepped over the slippery slope. I want to fight to keep freedom alive, not live in a Brave New World circa 1984. No matter how many of our citizens want that more and more. I am not an “America, Fuck-Yeah” guy – I believe in a set of principles. Our secular society and godless Constitution, our love of freedom and the individual ratify those principles. If my country no longer embodies those principles, and we have no way of returning to them (voting, armed resistance) well…

    Hell, there’s a good chance I’m done if NDAA is passed and put into effect. Dying as a conscientious objector after court is still fighting and dying for what you believe in. Not that anyone will know if it happens. I do not believe I’d be going to jail – after all, with these dangerous ideas I may write a book!

  203. Regarding the religion of the state: personally, I don’t buy it. However, the statist attitude comes from the same place as the religious attitude — namely the profound feeling of powerless most people have. Lots of people think they have very little control over their lives, and consequently the promise of a benevolent overseer with their best interests at heart is surely intoxicating. If one is in the position that the benevolent overseer isn’t providing the benefits you expect — whether he is not answering your prayers or getting unemployment below 8% — you don’t actually have anywhere else to turn, so denial is a useful tool.

    The Apostle Paul writes that “if the dead be not raised then our faith is in vain and we are still in our sins. Let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” Unfortunately, “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we will die” isn’t enough for most people. They like to pretend there is some real meaning to their lives, that they matter in the universe. However, objectively it is clear we don’t matter even a tiny bit in the universe, though we might have some significance on a more local sphere.

    I think Patrick makes a great point — it is a fact that religious conversion is often the source of great benefits in people’s lives, allowing them to get various demons of their backs, whether drink or drugs or depression. If any of you doubt that you should read the book “Chasing the Dragon” by Jackie Pullinger, about a young girl who went from Britain to the worst drug dens in Hong Kong, and somehow, with her religion alone managed to rescue the lives of many of the people there. It is a compelling read, and a challenge to any atheist who has an honest and open mind.

    It makes me wonder if false hope, if properly constituted, is a good thing, if rationality leaves you wise, but barren. Believing that everything is part of God’s plan must surely remove an amazing weight of responsibility for thinking and understanding from ones’ shoulders.

  204. @Jessica Boxer, RE:

    “Yes, Hitchens was my favorite converted Marxist :-) Anybody who volunteers to be literally Devil’s advocate for the saintly Mother Teressa is my kind of iconoclast. The world little knows what it lost last week.”

    Hear, hear! Mr. Hitchens and I share a love of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch, cut slightly with Perrier. Although myself, I skip the cutting mostly. As he said “Johnny Walker’s amber restorative.” A toast to Mr. Hitchens and a toast to your statement.

  205. Tom Says:
    > Do you at least admit that this is a problem?

    No, I think you have misidentified the problem. The problem is not the corporations but the electorate. Corporations don’t have a vote, what they have is money to persuade people. If people aren’t wise enough to make good choices then democracy is a disaster, whether BigMegaCorp supports Good Hair guy or not.

    Of course, the real truth is that the problem is neither the electorate nor the corporations, it is the system of democracy itself. The great innovation of America was the idea of a government of limited, enumerated powers. America is explicitly not a democracy. Ultimately, it is the evisceration of this core idea that is the root of all these problems.

  206. @Jessica/Papaya

    I said:

    When the laws in a country are made not with the interests of the people, but with the interests of the rich in mind you don’t have a democracy any more. What your have is a plutocracy.

    And the really dangerous thing about having corrupt lawmakers who are working against the public interest is that once you have this situation it doesn’t really matter what the existing laws are, because they can always be changed. That’s why this is so important.

    Your argument is something like, let’s not even give the government the slightest hint of a whiff of even being able to get remotely close to being able to interfere with free speech, even it it means allowing the rich to control elections.

    But the problem is that once you lose control of the law making process you also endanger the very right you have been fighting to protect, because those in power (who are not answerable to you) can now set about decimating the bill of rights.

  207. >Specific sense “machine for printing” is from 1530s; extended to publishing houses by 1570s and to publishing generally (in phrases like freedom of the press) c.1680. This gradually shifted c.1800-1820 to “periodical publishing, journalism.”

    This is the exact transition I was writing about, all right, but for the sake of scrupulous honesty about my errors I will note that I was three decades off on one bit – I thought the second shift didn’t really get going until about 1850.

  208. @hari

    “The current trend of trying to use legislation and enacting laws to fix problems is dangerous and misguided. Hard cases make bad law: True indeed!”

    Agreed. Burn the patriot act. We have GOT to stop letting fear and crisis be a tool for legislating our freedoms away.

  209. WCC Says:
    >This won’t happen. My path does not lead to and will never deal with internal policing – as they say – “not my department.”.

    So, I have to ask — what exactly is you department?

    > Abu Ghraib was disgusting and pure filth. And Guantanamo is complicated for me.

    In regards to Abu Ghraib, BTW, I think that it is disturbing the way that thing went down. You put some young woman in a position of extreme power, when she had probably not even run a shift at McDonalds prior, and things go wrong? Why would we be surprised. What went wrong was not so much a failure on the part of PFC England, it is a GROSS failure of supervision up the chain to the General in charge. I respect the fact the Rumsfeld asked to resign. I think the President should have accepted.

    > Because all the things I said are worth fighting and dying for are done

    Something I have never quite understood about our military, and I’d appreciate your perspective. Despite the fact that the people in power and the elite on down have become a bunch of feel good panty waists, for some reason the core of our military indoctrination seems to still convey those basic, traditional American values — liberty, self reliance, charity for the weak, responsibility for the strong. How is it possible as every department of government has rejected these core tenets that the military indoctrination still teaches them, and they still prevail from bottom to (near the) top.

    I never understood how the two can live together.

    Oh and BTW, your answer provokes my deepest respect. The fact that it is so honorable is not diluted by the fact that it would not be uncommon amongst your fellow soldiers and officers.

  210. @Jessica Boxer:

    “As far as I know prostitution has always been illegal in most of the USA, and continues in the same manner today — a law more ignored than enforced. However, FWIW, I am in favor of the legalization of prostitution, for both men and women.”

    I’ll second that. Sometimes I think prostitution is the most honest business transaction: Here’s what I do, here’s what I don’t do, and here’s how much it costs…

    “Not sure what you are thinking of here. What do you think the age of consent should be? In most of the US it is between 16 and 18, which seems about right to me.”

    I don’t know if 16 & 17 is age of consent in most states, and it maybe that it mostly does not matter – statutory rape laws in most states you know.

    I have litmus test for consent. If you are going to license someone to get behind the wheel of a 1+ ton fiberglass death trap, then they are old enough to decide whoever they damn well want to sleep with.

  211. @Jessica

    The great innovation of America was the idea of a government of limited, enumerated powers. America is explicitly not a democracy. Ultimately, it is the evisceration of this core idea that is the root of all these problems.

    I think the mistake you are making is thinking of freedom as a product and not a process. You can’t just set up a small, non-interfering, freedom-respecting Government with a fixed written constitution and then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your liberty. The reason is that people will always try to erode that liberty.

    That is why it is important for a free country to have a democratic system of representation, to ensure that the people embowered to change laws are specifically incentivised to represent the interests of the people.

    Once you lose that then your ‘government of limited, enumerated powers’ will soon follow.

    So, yes, the people are not perfect and they won’t always choose the best people. But let’s at least not have a system that specifically puts the people who are interested in destroying freedom and helping only a few rich members of society in a position to change the laws.

  212. @Jessica Boxer:

    It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

    So who exactly would you have support the “bastards”? Perhaps the state? That doesn’t sound like a conservative solution to me. And if the women you are sleeping with are “sluts”, what does that make you? I’m also not aware of any legal duty to support the “sluts” that bore your babies, just to support the babies themselves.

    From a traditional religious conservative point of view, divorce shouldn’t even be possible, but if it is possible then the disgraced wife should live in the poorhouse with her now bastardized offspring while the husband gets a fresh start with his sweet young thing. But I digress.

    Actually, if you look at the history of child support payments, I think you will find that they are a lot higher now than they used to be (relative to inflation) because if the father doesn’t support the kids (and ex) then the state has to ante up welfare payments. In other words, the state got a lot more interested in moving money from fathers to (nominally) the kids once it decided there was a fairly high minimum amount of money everybody needed to have.

    I remember reading a case a few years ago, about a guy who married into an “instant family” with around 3 kids. They got divorced less than a year later, but the state still forced him to pay child support, even though the kids weren’t his and weren’t even conceived inside his marriage.

    But if you don’t think it’s all about the state spending less money, just google for words like “child support not father” and you’ll find plenty of articles like this:


    [Advocates] point to many an egregious case in which the law’s marital presumption of fatherhood has ended up enslaving a divorced dad, like the Michigan man who proved he had not sired his son but was still ordered to send child-support payments directly to the boy’s biological father, who was granted custody after the mom moved out of his place and left the kid there.

    If you’re against all abortion, it’s perfectly consistent to want to always make the father pay child support, but if you’re for allowing the woman to get an abortion, I think it gets a lot more complicated. An abortion can mitigate the bad effects of a momentary lapse of judgment, but the decision to have one rests in the hands of one party, whose interests may not align at all with the interests of the other party.

  213. Tom says
    > Your argument is something like, let’s not even give the government the slightest hint of a whiff of even being able to get remotely close to being able to interfere with free speech, even it it means allowing the rich to control elections.

    “Control” elections seems to imply that they are rigging them somehow, in the way that the old political machines would rig them (stuffing ballot boxes, intimidating voters, double-voting, etc) and sometimes still do. I think if you are going to argue your case well, you might want to be a little more careful with your language, as you seemed to slightly confess above regarding your loose interpretation of “press”. “Influence” is different than control, and not only business corporations can wield influence. For instance, Greenpeace is an organization with lots of money that exercises influence, much of which is likely to have a direct and negative impact on my life if their agenda comes to pass. That doesn’t mean I want to outlaw Greenpeace from creating ads, or lobbying and supporting political candidates.

    > But the problem is that once you lose control of the law making process you also endanger the very right you have been fighting to protect, because those in power (who are not answerable to you) can now set about decimating the bill of rights.

    That sounds eerily like the EPA, the FDA, DHS and other federal regulatory bodies and czars. But bribery is still illegal (though enforcement is sometimes a joke) and influence is still not control. Anyway, corporations are not beholden to “no one”; they have customers, shareholders and market participation. They are interested parties in the policy disputes at hand – in some case far more interested than Joe Average who just wants to drink a beer, watch the game, bang his wife and have the government as out of his hair as possible.

    The notion that this is somehow evil – that corporations (and, by extension their shareholders and customers) have deep, direct interests in the outcome of a certain bill, and that this interest always conflicts with the public interest – is something deeply embedded in the left wing psyche, I think, part of a long memetic thread that reaches back to Woodrow Wilson in the West, and Marx in the East.

    But corporations aren’t alien invaders trying to rule us. They are an important part of modern public life, embedded in our food, shelter, entertainment, medicine, communications, etc. If the outcome of H.R. Bill 3002 (which Joe Average might not know or care about) will ruin a business, and for what the owners of that business believe is bullshit excuse for a power grab by the “plutocrat” pashas in D.C., why shouldn’t I be able to make my case? Hell, I may even be helping Joe Average without him knowing about it.

    A good example might be the “light bulb” madness that was thankfully just crushed with a rider (but not before the threat of it managed to destroy the last remaining incandescent manufacturer in the U.S.) I make a point of straw-polling the light bulb ban wherever I go, sneaking it into casual conversation. It’s inspires a sort of giddy madness to me when I realize how few people even knew this “transition” is dim bulbs filled with bio-hazard mercury was even happening.

  214. Tom, I see “campaign finance reform” as a choice between having many competing interests (rich people, corporations, unions, citizen’s groups, etc.) “controlling elections” (in the sense of whatever results from the cacophony), versus having politicians decide who is allowed to say what about politicians. The downsides of the latter far outweigh the downsides of the former.

    Of course people (rich or not) will always try to use the mechanisms of government for their own benefit, but the real solution to that problem is to limit the power of government. As government has gotten more powerful, it’s more of a prize to capture, and thus more money is spent to capture it.

    Also, worries about “plutocracy” rest on the concept that masses of voters will vote against their own interests, simply because politicians are getting money from wealthy interests and spending it on campaigns. This happens to some extent (e.g.: urban blacks being reliable Democratic voters, despite the Democratic policies that hurt them in the long run), but it doesn’t always work, and the proposed cures still seem worse than the disease.

  215. Tom Says:
    >I think the mistake you are making is thinking of freedom as a product and not a process.

    No, it is the product of a process. Most of the US Constitution is about process. And most of that process is designed to hinder the government from doing stuff.

    In software development there is a term we use: “technical debt.” What it means basically, is the accumulation of various bad or expedient decisions you have made over time that has compromised the cleanness and quality of your architecture over a period of time. Technical debt accumulates in every piece of software, and wise product planners assign time to clean up the debt, otherwise you descend into chaos.

    The US Constitution has accumulated a lot of technical debt. It has got to the point where it is extremely burdensome, and we need a good housecleaning to get rid of a lot of it. If we don’t, a financial collapse will do it for us (or turn us into a tyranny, one or the other.)

    Nonetheless, the solution is not restricting speech, it is restricting the capabilities of government. The solution to the sale of legislation is not to put the buyers or sellers in jail, it is to make the legislation impossible.

    And as I said, the constitution bristles with anti democratic features — it is one of its strengths.

  216. I said “Abu Ghraib was disgusting and pure filth. And Guantanamo is complicated for me”

    Also, extraordinary rendition is filth, as is the whole torture matter. Hypocrisy and evil of the vilest sort.

    Look, if you torture someone, you cannot rely on the information and it is not always efficient or possible to fact check everything and keep coming back. For every one time it works (and it has – some “actionable intel” – intel you can act on immediately, has been retrieved doing so) , there are a hundred times it didn’t and the human cost for all involved is too high. There are other, more effective methods. I don’t want to devolve this thread into that discussion again though. I’ll leave it at – what? It is somehow okay to justify water-boarding (I’m no hypocrite – I have been water-boarded and electrocuted), but sodium pentathol is somehow worse?

  217. @Jessica Boxer, RE:

    “Something I have never quite understood about our military, and I’d appreciate your perspective. Despite the fact that the people in power and the elite on down have become a bunch of feel good panty waists, for some reason the core of our military indoctrination seems to still convey those basic, traditional American values — liberty, self reliance, charity for the weak, responsibility for the strong. How is it possible as every department of government has rejected these core tenets that the military indoctrination still teaches them, and they still prevail from bottom to (near the) top.

    I never understood how the two can live together.”

    ’tis an interesting question. A good thought exercise. The truth is, there is a wide spectrum of ideology in the military. As for core values, there is something to be said for an all-volunteer force who know the sacrifices they are rogering up for, and usually know why. They tend to believe in what they are doing. There are those that sign for economic reasons too. Amongst the liberals who are in the military, you will find that many of them also hold these core beliefs – think Christopher Hitchens-honesty. Honesty, not always intellect.

    I fear it is going to take some time to craft an adequate response to your question – there are a lot of facets to this in my observation.

    One thing I wonder though. This isn’t the 60′s. And Ruby Ridge and Waco have left a bad taste in many mouths. If military folks are ordered to arrest US citizens under NDAA for a Guantanamo situation, or fire upon them, this may well be the spark that ignites violent struggle here. Hence the careful use of power words such as “suspected of terrorism” in the legislation (and by the way, take a look at the criteria they are using to determine a suspect). Don’t know for sure, but you will find the majority of the military taking issue with that, and what are you going to do? Court martial them all?

    It probably won’t come to that. There are lots of alphabet soup gov’t agency bureaucrats more than willing to do this – the suits know this and know the military outlook, so who knows.

    I’ll work on a more adequate description of my perspective.

  218. @Jessica Boxer, RE:

    “So, I have to ask — what exactly is you department?”

    If you’re comfortable with it and interested enough, ask Mr. Raymond (whose email he has made public) for my email address and I’ll tell you. I think he has it because I post it for comments here. If not, I’ll just post it. I apologize for the inconvenience and imposition, Mr. Raymond. Forgive me if I’ve been presumptuous.

    I’m not trying to be an asshole. No one’s ever asked me here and its unimportant to the exchange of ideas – I only mention it on here from time to time to underscore a point and provide experiential perspective.

  219. @WCC:
    >Also, extraordinary rendition is filth, as is the whole torture matter. Hypocrisy and evil of the vilest sort.

    Something I’ve thought about is that, while there is a ton of vile hypocrisy and maybe even stark evil in many of the CIA’s covert activities, I somehow doubt that all or even most of their agents think about their activities that way, perhaps viewing themselves as anti-heroes who do the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe even as asymmetrical warriors who are running risky support for the more visible diplomats and the armed troops in a common defense of our shores. Not too thoughtful, maybe but not evil, necessarily, and some of them are probably very brave.

    Rendition pisses all over that archetype, though. The spooks who farm out their dirty work to countries filled with nihilists, torturers, mercs and self-professed enemies of free men simply have no souls. They are pure evil. Once you hand your prisoner over to the guys with the hammers and hacksaws, in the service of keeping your own hands clean, you have given up the ghost.

  220. @PapayaSF

    Tom, I see “campaign finance reform” as a choice between having many competing interests (rich people, corporations, unions, citizen’s groups, etc.) “controlling elections” (in the sense of whatever results from the cacophony), versus having politicians decide who is allowed to say what about politicians. The downsides of the latter far outweigh the downsides of the former.

    I agree that it is a choice between two (both admittedly imperfect) options. We should choose the one with the best outcome. However, I disagree with your characterisation of both options.

    I think you have tried to fudge the nature of the people who end up controlling elections. You list rich people, corporations, unions, citizens groups, and then that wonderful ‘etc’. The reality is that there is one factor that I am objecting to here, and it is money. If you have more money than other people you have more power over who gets elected than other people. The richer you are the more power over the legislators you have. As I said this has lead to a situation whereby rich people have their interests represented far better than most of the people.

    Now let’s look at the other choice. You characterise it as ‘having politicians decide who is allowed to say what about politicians’. But I think that is disingenuous. Let’s suppose that we come up with a solution to the problem of money in politics (and I think you do agree that it is a problem) that says ‘if you are a candidate for public office, or an elected public official, you may not receive monetary donations from anybody or anything.’ It’s an extreme solution, and I don’t know that it’s the right one., but let’s just go with the thought experiment.

    Explain to me how that is ‘having politicians decide who is allowed to say what about politicians’.

    On balance I would rather have limits on the money a political candidate can receive than have the entire apparatus of law-making corrupted and in hock to the richest and most powerful members of society.

    @Jessica

    Nonetheless, the solution is not restricting speech, it is restricting the capabilities of government.

    Okay, but the question is how to do that. You can’t just set up a constitution and then think that everybody is going to follow it. People are not following it. You have to make sure that the ongoing process of making and changing laws is incentivised to advance the interests of the people and not just the most powerful.

    And this is not abstract. It is actually happening. DMCA, the patriot act, SOPA, the absurdities of the patent system, bank bailouts. The damage of having a de facto plutocracy is obvious every day.

    And I don’t want to restrict speech. I don’t regard giving money as speech. You should be able to say, write, and publish whatever you want, but having legislators controlled by moneyed interests is killing America.

  221. Pingback: The Power To Regulate Is The Power To Destroy « 36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

  222. @Grantham, RE:

    “Something I’ve thought about is that, while there is a ton of vile hypocrisy and maybe even stark evil in many of the CIA’s covert activities, I somehow doubt that all or even most of their agents think about their activities that way, perhaps viewing themselves as anti-heroes who do the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe even as asymmetrical warriors who are running risky support for the more visible diplomats and the armed troops in a common defense of our shores. Not too thoughtful, maybe but not evil, necessarily, and some of them are probably very brave.”

    In the aggregate, I believe you are right about the fact they they do not view these activities as evil, and that their motivations are righteous. Yet, convenient moralizations (I’ve got to stop making up words…) and justifications does not render evil less evil. Or make it okay.

    But, the world is gray. This is where self-analysis and critical thinking is so, so important. For me, one of my tests in thinking through this has been the subject of targeted assassination. But let us say that I am in a situation where a house has been raided and we have a little terror rat by the throat. His phone calls have been tracked, and it is known that he knows the immediate and exact whereabouts of an American hostage whose beheading is imminent, the deadline has past. He won’t talk because he knows his rights and what the military cannot do. But his psychological profile says he’ll sing like a canary under pressure and fear. We don’t have time to do this right, we’ve got to find our citizen.

    I have a personal and moral choice between two evils and I have to decide which is greater. I pull my knife, he doesn’t talk. I carve a piece and he does. I did not know if he would talk, but I made the choice to violate my morals and ethics and rules and laws on the chance he would – just the chance. Because saving the life was more important to me in that moment than the rest. Some, perhaps many will say this was justified.

    But, I violated the law, my honor, and my moral compass. The fact that it was a conscious choice and I made it knowing full well what I was doing and why does not remove the stain from me, nor assuage my guilt. I deserve court martial and imprisonment – these are the consequences of that choice and I knew and accepted. Saving the life was more important to me than than the stain and the consequences. But I am responsible and I did evil, knowingly.

    This situation is hypothetical – but, the world is gray, and the spiral is down. When we shrug off the idea personal responsibility, acceptance of choice and consequence, and institutionalize evil of this nature, with the types of justifications I just gave, whitewashing it with the greater good, we are on so dangerous ground.

  223. @WCC:
    > But, I violated the law, my honor, and my moral compass. The fact that it was a conscious choice and I made it knowing full well what I was doing and why does not remove the stain from me, nor assuage my guilt. I deserve court martial and imprisonment – these are the consequences of that choice and I knew and accepted. Saving the life was more important to me than than the stain and the consequences. But I am responsible and I did evil, knowingly.

    Right. I think we agree. That’s what I meant in regards to rendition. It’s one thing to violate your own code and except the both consequences (both legal and, for lack of a better word, spiritual). It’s slightly different if you only have to accept the spiritual consequence, because you are operating on blackout, and I think the level of true evil varies somewhat with the personal risk you are assuming, or the motivations leading to it. Both are still kinds of evil, because the actions are evil, but not the worst, lowest kind of evil.

    But, it’s quite another thing altogether to toss the little terror rat to a bunch of savages with no honor, no code and no objective law to do your dirty work for you, leaving you to consider yourself “clean” somehow. There are no gray areas or mitigating factors there. That is the worst kind of self-deluding evil, both at the operator level (the guys physically handing him over) and at the command level (the guys ordering him handed over).

  224. @Grantham

    Yes, I do believe we agree on these points. There are degrees of evil and shades of gray.

  225. I said > who would spend a year writing a book if there was no copyright?

    Jon Brase Says:

    A solution (in that it would help pool the resources of less wealthy individuals) might be a “commission club”, which would commission projects based on its members’ suggestions and paid for by their dues.

    One problem with this approach is that the author would be paid once – what the “commission club” agrees to pay – there would be no future royalties (or they would be limited) because once the book is out there, anyone can copy it and sell as many copies as he can.

    This would seriously limit the amount of money an author could make. Under our present system, only a tiny proportion of people can earn a living by writing. I suspect that this “commission club” approach would make that proportion even smaller.

    Jessica Boxer Says:

    I am more sympathetic to the argument on copyright. Plainly the wholesale copying of someone else’s work is pretty sleazy. However, copyright is a pretty brutal solution. But what about [various derived work issues]

    It would only be sleazy if an author owns his/her work – if the work is, in some sense, property. I certainly agree that current copyright law needs work.

    I first posted in favour of copyrights – not necessarily the existing law but that the product an author produces is property in some sense. Jon’s post and Jessica’s post made me think that maybe I had used my big mouth without sufficient thought (again).

    Ignoring the derived works problems, I would like to firm up my position a little and use Jessica’s words:

    >I am more sympathetic to the argument on copyright.

    This means that I feel that an author owns his/her work in some sense, but the existing law needs work and the whole business is subtle.

    Should the government be involved here to defend property rights (in some sense) of the works of authors?

  226. If people feel strongly about SOPA and the NDAA then they need to go find their local Occupy movement.

    Just being part of “The World is Watching” e.g at http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution from time to time is a bit of toe dipping as you find out that hey are not just a ‘load of homeless hippies’.

    If you are not in a position to put your life completely on hold and do the full on living in a tent then giving financial support and just turning up for the numerous demos will give you a great sense that you are doing something rather than just being a helpless victm.

    Going on some straw poll stats like number of Facebook groups there seem to be and simply the number of hits that Googling for ‘occupy’ returns indicate that the movement is growing rapidly, in spite of very very great efforts from the government and mainstream media to play it down.

    SOPA could be used to crush the very debate that may lead to us finding collective consensus solutions to the problems of the world.

    The Internet is the greatest, most powerful tool man has ever created, the elite now recognise its great power and want to smash it.

    We absolutely must not let this happen.

  227. Grantham Says: What’s wrong with calling Denmark “libertarian”? It is certainly more laissez-faire than its cousins in the Eurozone, and widely agreed as one of the smallest, least-intrusive governments in the world.

    Yeah, and good basketball players are mostly Japanese, Greenland is covered with tropical rainforest, and Brazil is full of Buddhists.

    Seriously, that’s how profoundly wrong-headed that statement is.

    The Danish government collects 55.3% of GDP in taxes and other revenue – over half. This is the 14th highest ratio in the world, according to the CIA Factbook – nearly double the world average. Of the thirteen higher ranking countries, eight are microstates, such as San Marino, which gets a big share of its GDP from sale of postage stamps to collectors. Four are petrostates where the government collects the oil revenue, such as Kuwait. The other is Cuba.

    Excluding micro- and petrostates, the next seven are Sweden, Finland, Belgium, France, Austria, Italy, and Netherlands (#23, 45.6%).

    Which is to say that the Danish government is a typical Euroland welfare state: huge and grotesquely intrusive, except even more than the rest.

    And no “libertarian” government prosecutes people for “hate speech” (vide the conviction of journalist Lars Hedegaard for daring to speak out about Moslem abuse of women).

  228. >> How is a weekly political newsletter different from political ads?

    Okay, microsoft has free-speech rights to have a political newspaper and run political ads, just like me, presumably because it’s a collection of people.

    > There is no difference. I am talking about contributions.

    Huh?

    Suppose that ESR is running political ads that I support. According to the above, he and I could form a corporation to run those ads. As part of forming that corporation, I might put in some money. Why can’t I just give him money to help run those ads without forming a corporation with him?

  229. You know, I opposed all that other stuff too. It doesn’t matter. Most people today wouldn’t know freedom if it bit them in the butt. Their idea of free speech is that it’s fairly easy to get a permit to speak if you’re not too radical, and the same applies everywhere else. The idea that freedom means not having to ask permission… why, that’s just scary and radical. “You didn’t think the First Amendment meant you could just say anything you want”, they’ll say. Or “You didn’t think the Fourth Amendment meant you could get on a plane, train, or bus without being randomly searched, did you?”. Freedom has neither champion (unless you count Ron Paul, which I don’t), nor constituency. A tightly regulated nanny state is what most people want, and they’re getting it, good and hard. Too bad the rest of us are getting it too, but that’s democracy for you.

  230. > > It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

    > So who exactly would you have support the “bastards”? Perhaps the state?

    Some might think that the bio-parents of “the bastards” should, absent some agreement otherwise (such as anonymous sperm/ovum donation or adoption).

    However, some states, including CA, put husbands on the hook for children that stem from adultery. Some states, again including CA, have demanded child support from men merely because the woman wrote their name on the birth certificate, even though DNA evidence shows that said men’s sperm wasn’t involved.

  231. Tom Says: Let’s suppose that we come up with a solution to the problem of money in politics (and I think you do agree that it is a problem) that says ‘if you are a candidate for public office, or an elected public official, you may not receive monetary donations from anybody or anything.’It’s an extreme solution, and I don’t know that it’s the right one., but let’s just go with the thought experiment.

    Explain to me how that is ‘having politicians decide who is allowed to say what about politicians’.

    This is a law, right. Written by politicians, and administered by their minions, right?

    Then it is politicians deciding what constitutes a “monetary donation” to be prohibited.

    Back in 1980, I put together a flyer criticizing Jimmy Carter, and handed it out to people who attended mini-debate.

    Was that a “monetary donation” to Ronald Reagan? I spent some money, and I intended to help him win the election. Should there have been a law prohibiting my doing that?

    If so, that law would have been written by politicians (Democrats, who then controlled Congress) and enforced by Federal officials subordinate to Carter. Politicians would have decided I was not allowed to say something about a politician.

    But let’s say you think that should not have been prohibited.

    In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth produced Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, a documentary film attacking presidential candidate John Kerry. The Smith family, who hold a majority interest in Sinclair Broadcast Group, decided that SBG would show Stolen Honor on the 62 TV stations which SBG then owned.

    Should that have been prohibited? That is, should politicians have decided whether that act of speech about a politician should be allowed or forbidden?

    Is it a “monetary donation” to a political candidate to pay him his regular salary? What if I pay him his fulll salary while allowing him to take time off to campaign? What if I provide child care or maid service for the family of a candidate who is a full-time homemaker?

    Is it a “monetary donation” to a politician who is a lawyer to pay him to represent me in a court case? What if I give my legal business to the firm he is a partner in – which is reflected in his partnership payout? If he’s a doctor, can I pay him to treat my illnesses?

    Is it a “monetary donation” if a newspaper makes an editorial endorsement of a candidate? Is it a “monetary donation” if a newspaper prints a friendly news story about one candidate while ignoring another?

    If some (but not all) of these actions are prohibited – that is politicians deciding what can be said about politicians, and what political activity is permitted.

  232. @Tom:

    That is why it is important for a free country to have a democratic system of representation, to ensure that the people embowered to change laws are specifically incentivised to represent the interests of the people.

    Tom, I’m going to suggest that you’re on verge of making the same mistake that was called out above: those who discard God but substitute Government in His place. Except you’ve put Democracy there. It won’t work. Someone even wrote a good about that: ‘Democracy: The God That Failed.’

    But the point is not to call out your mistake, but to make a broader point: There is no solution. None. Doesn’t exist. Can’t happen.

    Democracy won’t fix it. Anarchy won’t fix it. Republicanism won’t fix it. Another tweak to campaign finance laws won’t fix it. etc. etc. etc.

    So what I’d like to write now is to expound upon what we should do instead. Except there is no “instead”. There is only varying degrees, timelines and modes of “fail”.

    As I am apparently the only reader of this blog counted among the fundamental Christians, I should perhaps gloat that we have know this for at least 40 centuries. There is nothing new under the sun. Man is a fallen creature and there is nothing the leftist world improvers can do about it and giving Goldman-Sachs another bailout won’t help either.

    Let me say the main point again: There is no solution.

  233. >>One problem with this approach is that the author would be paid once – what the “commission club” agrees to pay – there would be no future royalties (or they would be limited) because once the book is out there, anyone can copy it and sell as many copies as he can.

    >>This would seriously limit the amount of money an author could make. Under our present system, only a tiny proportion of people can earn a living by writing. I suspect that this “commission club” approach would make that proportion even smaller.

    You make that sound like a bad thing. Seriously, though, the situation already exists for tons of people. A great example is TV actors. Now, some actors are obviously just puppets of their directors and they don’t really bring any real creativity to what is offered in a show. But, then, there are also plenty of actors who effectively write their characters in a show as they frequently consult with the writer(s) and have a strong say in shaping just who the final character is and what they might say. Yet, not all actors are paid royalties of any sort on syndication of their show. Certainly, it’s not enshrined in law as protected under copyright.

    And let’s be honest: acting isn’t stable work. If you’re lucky, you end up being able to go from one TV/movie to the next and you have a steady paycheck. But, lots of actors never rise above one-hit-wonders or never find more work than positions as extras which barely can be said to pay the bills. Does that mean there’s hardly any actors? No, there’s plenty of people who aspire to be well known actors because even if the pay is horrible, it means potential fame, a means of exerting a creativity they have inside themselves, and the general drive that comes from expressing themselves. The same holds true for authors. And I know the major way actors today at least prosper is because of copyright (as well as strong unions).

    But, then again, people have been writing music, books, plays, etc for thousands of years, even without copyright and for when things like, say, being an actor was considered a dishonorable profession. Yet, people persevered through this because they wanted to. Yes, this might mean a great novelist will be forced to spend his “working hours” writing plays and have to do the novel as a labor of love instead of his direct financial support. Or perhaps he could be supported but only if he keeps pumping out novels, just like actors who keep having to show up for work on a new play/show/movie because they can’t rely upon royalties/dividends to keep flowing in from previous work. The real issue, then, is making sure that there is that small window at the very beginning to get that first paycheck or two. That speaks of a copyright extending in days, not years, though.

  234. Jessica Boxer Says:

    …. The US Constitution has accumulated a lot of technical debt. It has got to the point where it is extremely burdensome, and we need a good housecleaning to get rid of a lot of it.

    This would be a fine idea if it were not for the fact that 99% of the US population wants a big government to do many, many things.

    If the constitution was reopened now, it could end up with a Bill of Rights that includes:
    – Right to dignity
    – Right to education
    – Right to productive work
    – Right to adequate housing
    – Right to … a lot of stuff that you do not want to be a right

    Nonetheless, the solution is not restricting speech, it is restricting the capabilities of government. The solution to the sale of legislation is not to put the buyers or sellers in jail, it is to make the legislation impossible.

    Most folks want lots of legislation, you know, good legislation that will help people. They certainly don’t want to make that kind of legislation impossible.

  235. I agree with much of the sentiment. But in making government smaller, it would also be wise to consider it not in a vacuum. What would take over those powers, or what evils does the power of government rein in? Should we eliminate the FDA, and it’s testing of food and drugs, and rely solely on businesses to test their products are safe for us? Should we eliminate the military, and rely on other countries to not invade us? Should we ask for donations to build or maintain roads?

  236. Tom, I just don’t believe there is a fix for “the problem of money in politics” beyond getting politicians out of the economy as much as possible. Politics and money will find each other, one way or the other. In any case, you are assuming there is a direct, reliable, causal connection between what donors want and what politicians do. There isn’t. Money can help politicians buy votes, but not necessarily. The candidate who spends more often loses, and politicians often take money and then don’t do what the donor wants.

    When I say politicians would determine who says what, I mean that the practical details of any campaign finance reform would be determined by bureaucrats and judges appointed by politicians. Is an editorial in support of a candidate a “contribution”? What about a website put up by a supporter? Whoever makes those calls answers to politicians, one way or the other, and in a stronger and more direct way than a politician answers to a voter or contributor.

  237. @WCC

    Given some of our recent exchanges, you (amongst other readers here) might find this rather interesting:

    Yes, this should serve as a cautionary tale for you guys. I’d say we are about 20 or 30 years ahead of where you are in terms of the government taking away freedoms (although in some respects you are more advanced). I don’t know why the description says “The British people have been completely disarmed according to UN resolution” though. It had nothing to do with the UN. It was a gradual domestic process that lasted 50 years.

    @Michael Hipp

    But the point is not to call out your mistake, but to make a broader point: There is no solution. None. Doesn’t exist. Can’t happen.

    I agree that we can never have everything perfect. There will always be some corruption. There will always be problems. I am not a utopian. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make things better.

  238. @Tom:

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t make things better.

    Sure. But understand that whatever improvement is made will be temporary. The U.S. had a pretty good thing going with our constitution but it didn’t even last 80 years* before it began to unravel. And it will also be circumstantial. The transplanted Africans probably didn’t think much of it. And there will be lots of groups who won’t like whatever is coming next here in the US, even if some of should think it represents a vast improvement.

    * I mark the death of our experimental republic at Lincoln.

  239. @Michael Hipp

    Sure. But understand that whatever improvement is made will be temporary. The U.S. had a pretty good thing going with our constitution but it didn’t even last 80 years* before it began to unravel.

    I certainly understand that. That’s why I say that liberty is a process and not a product. You have to continually ‘refresh the tree of liberty’. Not always with blood, but every generation has to win its freedom. There is no law, no constitution, no agreement that can be made that will once and for all guarantee liberty forever.

    Jefferson understood this. In fact, he was a proponent of the view that the constitution should be torn up and rewritten periodically. The world belongs in usufruct to the living.

  240. @Tom

    Jefferson understood this. In fact, he was a proponent of the view that the constitution should be torn up and rewritten periodically. The world belongs in usufruct to the living.

    Thanks, you taught me a new word. But I don’t know how often I’ll be able to slip ‘usufruct’ into idle conversation around here. :-)

    As sound as Jefferson’s understanding is, it seems of no practical utility as there is no reliable way to implement it.

    If we could set a cron job to kick off a script every 20 years that would repeal all laws, abolish all agencies of government, dismiss all government employees, and remove all elected officials from office it would be keen. But some entrenched interest or power grabber would always find a way to hack it.

    We are just going to have to ride this to the bottom.

  241. @Rich Rostrom:

    In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth produced Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, a documentary film attacking presidential candidate John Kerry. The Smith family, who hold a majority interest in Sinclair Broadcast Group, decided that SBG would show Stolen Honor on the 62 TV stations which SBG then owned.

    This is problematic, for the simple reason of the government granted spectrum monopoly, which makes radio and TV way different than print.

    Fortunately broadcast TV is not as potent as it once was, because of the internet. But we still have the catv/DSL duopoly in most of the country.

  242. # Andy Freeman Says:
    > However, some states, including CA, put husbands on the hook for children that stem from adultery … [etc]

    Just to be clear, Andy, I too think this is an outrage. I’m not fully informed about the child support thing, but from what I hear there are lots of pretty nasty abuses. However, if you will excuse the metaphor, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  243. Tom Says:
    > Okay, but the question is how to do that. You can’t just set up a constitution and then think that everybody is going to follow it.

    Yes you can, if the constitution is reasonable. Generally people follow the path of least resistance. However, they don’t do it forever, in fact, nothing is forever. I think the appropriate quote here is from JFK: “We must make peaceful revolution possible, or else we will make violent revolution inevitable.”

    Which is to say, I think the way it works is you set it up, it starts out good, and slowly over time degrades. Then it hits an inflection point of radical systemic failure, and then you start over again.

    Your lawn grows every minute of the day, just a little bit at a time. But you don’t cut it 3600 times a day. No, you cut it once a week, and when you do, you cut it brutally. That seems to be an appropriate analogy.

  244. # Brian Marshall Says:
    > This means that I feel that an author owns his/her work in some sense,

    “Owns” has a lot of baggage, he has some sort of moral authority over it for sure. But, to be honest Brian, I don’t have a good answer as to what is the right thing to do about copyright. What we have is a disaster, having nothing would be better. But if we had nothing I think some people would certainly be hard done by.

  245. WCC Says:
    > But, I violated the law, my honor, and my moral compass.

    I’m not you. I sit in my comfortable apartment, do my easy job, enjoy my friends, complain about the potholes. No one is shooting at me. The roads might have potholes, but there are no IEDs. Nobody ever waterboarded me, or electrocuted me. I live under the banner of protection that guys like you provide. Many people have absolutely no appreciation for that. I try my very best to recognize it and appreciate it, because it is so very easy to forget.

    Having said that, I think you are wrong. I can’t judge your heart, and I am sure you are right that you would have violated the law. But how can it ever be a stain on your honor to do what is the right thing given the totality of the circumstances? If you moral compass is twitching under these circumstances, frankly I think it is your moral compass that is off.

    One of the things I hate most about religion is that they tend to demand a rigid, unyielding set of moral principles. It is certainly a comforting thing to be able to tell wrong from right by looking it up in a book. But the book isn’t long enough to encompass all of the realities of the world.

    If it was me who was in the hole, and you saved my life, I’d give you a medal, and I’d use every channel available to me to prevent you from suffering unjust legal consequences. Only an unappreciative fool would do any less for the guy who saved their life.

    I guess it comes down to the age old question — do we sacrifice the needs of the one for the greater good of society? Do we let Jessica die in the hole so that America can keep its pristine record of “we don’t torture.” I think the lesson of America is simply this: take care of the individuals in a society, and the society will flourish. Focus on the good of the society and both the individuals and the society will shrivel.

    BTW, WCC you can just send me an email at jessica_boxer@mailinator.com It is a public site, so if you don’t want to do so, let me know.

  246. Personally, I’m righteously panicking about this particular bill because it’s the only recent catastrophe that’s in my area of expertise, so it came up in the news I follow and I was able to recognize it for what it is.

    I’m not in the States, so the NDAA managed to slip over my head. My condolences to you guys.

    I’m still learning, albeit slowly, so I expect to have more outrage in my future. No worries.

  247. # Brian Marshall Says:
    >This would be a fine idea if it were not for the fact that 99% of the US population wants a big government to do many, many things.

    I think your number of 99% is pretty high, but I’ll grant you, it is a significant majority. But see my comment to Tom above.

    > Most folks want lots of legislation, you know, good legislation that will help people. They certainly don’t want to make that kind of legislation impossible.

    Yes, the founding fathers were smart enough to disregard this concern. However, I will also grant you that “Vote for it and then you can read it” is indeed the postscript for such a principle.

  248. Surprised you didn’t mention NDAA. You know, that bill that just passed last week and is on its way for Presidential approval … the one that takes away a US citizen’s right to a fair trial if the citizen is considered a threat and allows for unlimited military detainment of the same? I’d prefer to see SOPA before I’d prefer to see NDAA. At least w/ SOPA, darknets will prevail and the gubment won’t really have a clue for a bit. With NDAA I’ve started re-reading the books on the Gulag so I know what’s coming next.

  249. Derb discusses this in conjunction with Stallman’s lecture in Moscow, in which they argued, a little past midpoint of the post.

    And for the collapse of public education see the section “All shall have prizes”, near the bottom.

  250. @ Jessica Boxer

    I suggested that many people want more laws to fix bad things, leading to a desire for more laws all the time.

    I am not sure what you mean in your last sentence:

    >I will also grant you that “Vote for it and then you can read it” is indeed the postscript for such a principle.

  251. @William B Swift

    Derb discusses this in conjunction with Stallman’s lecture in Moscow, in which they argued, a little past midpoint of the post.

    Derb is pretty much the only writer at NRO that is worth reading. But part of the reason he is so worth reading is gems like this, from the article you linked: “A liberal is always a totalitarian at heart, though half of them don’t know it.”

  252. One problem with this approach is that the author would be paid once – what the “commission club” agrees to pay – there would be no future royalties (or they would be limited) because once the book is out there, anyone can copy it and sell as many copies as he can.

    So what? Royalties have always been a sore point for me. I have busted my ass on jobs often enough, a lot harder and dirtier than writing, and have never received any “royalties” for any of them. This is the whine of monopolistic, privileged pissants. Go read Jerry Pournelle’s blog if you want to see lots of this over many years.

  253. > I’m not fully informed about the child support thing, but from what I hear there are lots of pretty nasty abuses. However, if you will excuse the metaphor, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    But, what is the “bathwater” at issue?

    IIRC, someone was complaining about child support things done by “leftists”. You responded by pointing out reasonable child support laws.

    I don’t know what he was referring to, but if he was referring to the things that you and I agree are abuses ….

    I have the naive belief that one defends good law in an area by working to defeat bad law in that area.

  254. Brian Marshall Says:
    >I am not sure what you mean in your last sentence:
    >>I will also grant you that “Vote for it and then you can read it” is indeed the postscript for such a principle.

    Sorry, Brian, I forget my parochial self sometimes. It is a reference to something Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the HoR, said about the lastest healthcare bill. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV-05TLiiLU

  255. Andy Freeman Says:
    > But, what is the “bathwater” at issue?

    Andy, I think we are on the same page. The bathwater was the OP’s contention that leftists had made guys support the “bastards” their “sluts” had borne them. Just because some guys get hit my gross unfairness when it comes to child support, doesn’t mean guys whose little swimmers definitely made the baby beginnings shouldn’t bear some reasonable and fair financial responsibility for the results.

  256. @Jessica Boxer

    … doesn’t mean guys whose little swimmers definitely made the baby beginnings shouldn’t bear some reasonable and fair financial responsibility for the results.

    Jessica, I don’t think this issue is nearly as settled as you probably think it is. I regard the whole Child Support Enforcement as yet another variant on Military-Industrial complex. It is a scheme to pay women to divorce their husbands, take his assets, take his children, and make him work as a wage slave for 18 years. At best, it is an example of government meddling in something that is none of their business (i.e. the voluntary, private relationship between a husband and wife) similar to the discussion above about the government getting into our bedrooms.

    Make no mistake, the existence of CSE does affect women’s willingness to break their marital vows and bust up the home that that should otherwise be the best arrangement for raising those very children. Unintended consequences perhaps, but consequences nonetheless.

  257. @ Jessica Boxer

    If the Constitution is to be revamped, aren’t you concerned about who might be doing the revamping? What if it is done by people with the political philosophy of Al Gore? It could get a lot worse rather than better.

  258. >Wait, ESR is a tea partier? So sad…

    No, I’m a libertarian. Much harder-core about the small-government thing, zero interest in the social-conservative parts of the Tea Party meme.

  259. @Andy Freeman:

    I have the naive belief that one defends good law in an area by working to defeat bad law in that area.

    There is a lot of legal activity in this area. Most of the newer state laws are fairly nuanced. But they mostly address the issue of false paternity. Any guy who wants to insure he’s not paying child support still better either (a) find the right girl, or (b) use industrial-strength condoms that he never lets out of his sight, but at least in more and more states he doesn’t need to put a chastity belt on his girlfriend/wife.

    @Michael Hipp:

    regard the whole Child Support Enforcement as yet another variant on Military-Industrial complex.

    Yes, and when it comes to sending people to prison, it dovetails with other programs like the War On Drugs. Prisons are one area where I think that we shouldn’t privatize, just because we shouldn’t have really big companies with enough of a vested outcome in increasing the number of prisoners to actually make it worthwhile for them to lobby for tougher criminal sentences.

  260. Michael Hipp Says:
    > I regard the whole Child Support Enforcement as yet another variant on Military-Industrial complex.

    I’ve seen some marriages go badly wrong, however, no F-22s or M1 tanks. I think perhaps a little hyperbole might be in play here.

    > It is a scheme to pay women to divorce their husbands, take his assets, take his children, and make him work as a wage slave for 18 years.

    No, it is a scheme to ensure the people most responsible for children see to their welfare so they do not fall on the public purse.

    > At best, it is an example of government meddling in something that is none of their business (i.e. the voluntary, private relationship between a husband and wife) similar to the discussion above about the government getting into our bedrooms.

    It is no such thing. A divorce decree can say anything at all. If husband and wife can agree on an arrangement either in pre-nup or in post-nup without the government’s help, then they can do that. The government gets involved when no such agreement can be reached, or when there is no legal relationship, such as out of wedlock conception. In such cases the there is an implied agreement to abide by the generally accepted principles for resolving these disputes.

    Now you might disagree with the principles, and I also think some of them are not good. Nonetheless, there is nothing unjust going on here. If Sally and Sam get together, both know there is a risk of conception. If Sam wants to get Sally to sign off on some different arrangement, then they should do that. But if they don’t do that, the only rule that can prevail is the current custom.

    There is no force or fraud here. Sam and Sally both dropped their pants voluntarily and accepted the consequential risks.

    However, we went round this loop a million times in another thread, and it wasn’t very pleasant, so I’ll let you refer there if you want to know my views on the matter.

  261. Hey there. Non-libertarian here, but I do greatly respect your worldview, in that I think more leftists should think about government power and constraining it.

    Just a suggestion though: is there no better thing to be done here other than crow about how your side had it right all along?

    Don’t fall into the typical traps of American politics. Like “value signalling”. This is when, for instance, one uses green products or drives a Prius just to indicate group membership. Or, consoling oneself with cynical fatalism: “well, I’ve been predicting economic collapse for a long time, the American public are too stupid and shallow not to see through capitalism”.

    Say what you will about Occupiers and how you think they have it all wrong. But they’re as furious about NDAA and SOPA as you are. Many of them have spent nights in jail recently for their beliefs. And you might be surprised at the range of political opinion that the Occupy movement embraces.

    I would suggest that this is not the time for citizens to stay in their own chosen enclaves. But maybe to find common cause with those that you disagree with.

  262. It is no such thing. A divorce decree can say anything at all. If husband and wife can agree on an arrangement either in pre-nup or in post-nup without the government’s help, then they can do that. The government gets involved when no such agreement can be reached, or when there is no legal relationship, such as out of wedlock conception. In such cases the there is an implied agreement to abide by the generally accepted principles for resolving these disputes.

    In Texas, at least, the court can overrule any agreement that the parties come to if it’s not “in the best interests of the child”, which is determined essentially at the judge’s discretion.

    Now you might disagree with the principles, and I also think some of them are not good. Nonetheless, there is nothing unjust going on here. If Sally and Sam get together, both know there is a risk of conception. If Sam wants to get Sally to sign off on some different arrangement, then they should do that. But if they don’t do that, the only rule that can prevail is the current custom.

    There is no force or fraud here. Sam and Sally both dropped their pants voluntarily and accepted the consequential risks.

    This assumes, of course, that Sam is actually the father. The status quo in many jurisdictions explicitly states that a man has insanely limited opportunity to contest paternity, and courts can force a man to pay child support even when everyone acknowledges he had no involvement in the conception or, in some cases, upbringing of the children.

  263. Incandescent bulbs are not banned. Instead, new efficiency targets were put out and most incandescent cannot meet them. Doesn’t matter anyhow, around here we upgraded to CFLs a long time ago and look forward to LED lights in the future. Frankly, none of those laws will cause nearly as many problems as SOPA will. What is the problem with that, anyhow? That you won’t be able to make your own EZ Bake oven that uses the waste heat of an incandescent bulb? Horrors!

  264. Don’t be silly. Read about the case. Obama whacked an American citizen via drone attack with zero due process

    “Due process”?! What insanity is this? Since when are enemy forces entitled to “due process” before being killed? The law of war is: you see an enemy, you kill him. End of story. And it makes not the slightest difference what passport he holds.

    while simultaneously directing his DOJ to try an alien enemy combatant in open court here in Manhattan.

    Not true; the plan to hold that trial in NYC was discarded more than a year earlier.

  265. Three major differences are that the United States was in a declared war with an identified enemy,

    So are we today.

    Haupt was an unlawful combatant by the Geneva definition (i.e., participating in belligerent acts without wearing a uniform),

    That’s irrelevant to the habeas question. If he were a lawful combatant he wouldn’t have been sentenced to death, he would just have been held prisoner for as long as the military liked.

    and that Haupt was still tried.

    He was tried by the military. The military, using its own investigative process, determined for itself that he was an enemy, and that was the end of the matter. How is that different from what we’re discussing here?

    Even if you agree with the Quirin verdict, it’s a long jump from saying that citizens in the actual service of a declared enemy can be tried by court martial to saying that any citizen can be held arbitrarily without charge or trial.

    And nobody is proposing any such thing. The law we’re discussing only authorises the capture of actual enemies. Who decides whether they are enemies? The military does. How do you imagine it does so? By rolling dice?! Of course it holds whatever trials it thinks fit; how else would it operate? The whole point of the controversy, however, is that its determinations are not reviewable by any civilian court; and that’s exactly as the law has been for over 200 years.

  266. Al-Awlaki might have earned his fate, but why does Obama and Holder insist that the alien Khalid Sheikh Mohammed deserves a trial while al-Awlaki deserves a missile from the heavens?

    Um, because KSM is a prisoner? You can’t take prisoners of war out and execute them without a court martial. But so long as an enemy is free you may kill him wherever you find him. You have no obligation whatsoever to try to capture him first.

  267. The difference is that there has to be a declaration of war before wartime powers apply.

    First of all, that is bullshit. No declaration is needed for a state of war to exist. That’s law since the Quasi-War in the 1790s, and was solidly settled by the Prize cases in the 1860s. Second of all, there was a declaration of war, so the first point is moot.

    Padilla is not a soldier.

    Yes he is. How do you distinguish him from any other soldier of al Qaeda?

  268. Jessica Boxer Says:
    December 18th, 2011 at 11:19 am

    You address James Donald’s examples of leftist legislation in the bedroom, and defend most of them. You may be right to do so, but that’s not the point. The point is the claim that it’s the right that wants to legislate in the bedroom. JD simply pointed out that from the point of view of heterosexual males, almost all the laws that (rightly or wrongly) restrict their freedom were made and supported by leftists. Perhaps these laws are wonderful and just and necessary, and the left were right to enact them, but the fact remains that that is where they came from, not from the right (as we define those terms today, of course).

  269. Enemy soldier? The whole point is that the person arrested doesn’t have to be an ‘enemy soldier’, he can be anybody,

    This is a blatant falsehood. The legislation is specifically about capturing enemy soldiers, not random people.

    because no proof is required. There is no trial. All the Government has to do is ‘suspect’ a person of being a terrorist.

    Which is exactly the same as it has always been. Since when do enemy soldiers held by the military get civilian trials? Since when has any civilian court had the right to inquire into why the military is holding someone, or to question its word that the person is a prisoner of war? It is not true that the military must merely “suspect” someone; it must determine that the person is an enemy combatant, but how it makes that determination is its own business, not that of any civilian court. And that’s how it’s been since at least the 18th century.

  270. The point is that judicial review and civil liberties are all well and good in normal circumstances, but they are fatal in war time. You simply cannot have the civilian courts second-guessing the military, and acting as a cannon ball around the military’s ankle as they fight the country’s wars. “Lawfare”, as they’re calling it now, is what has transformed Israel from a formidable force into a paper tiger. Unless the Israelis stand up to their judiciary, Israel is done for. And the USA must not go down that road.

  271. “But I can’t help noticing that a lot of the righteous panic about it is being ginned up by people who were cheerfully on board for the last seventeen or so government power grabs…”

    This can be very simply explained:

    The other bills appear to give more to the people (ie: better, cheaper healthcare, and we all want reform, right? Change is what we want… its what we asked for…) whereas this only takes. It gives only to Hollywood and takes directly from the hands of every individual.

    Especially the ones who download movies. This group of people is colloquially known as: all Internet users.

  272. Look, if you torture someone, you cannot rely on the information and it is not always efficient or possible to fact check everything and keep coming back.

    That’s not an argument against torturing people, it’s an argument for doing so only rarely and judiciously, in high-value cases where it’s worth spending the resources to fact check everything. Cases such as KSM. This would be why (we are told) only three people were waterboarded.

  273. I suspected that somebody had already summarized my views on libertarianism, and I was right. From username “Evolence” on http://nightly.net/topic/69773-is-a-belief-in-large-scale-libertarianism-naive/:

    I think elements of libertarian ideology can be successful on any scale. Issues of personal liberty can NEVER be too liberally applied in my opinion. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about 30 people or 300 million people, an individual should be free to put chemicals in their body, have sex with prostitutes, make personal medical decisions (abortion), own guns, and engage in other victimless behavior which our current society categorizes as “crime.”

    Now I’m less convinced of other elements of libertarianism…Specifically economic tenets. The belief that markets will regulate themselves is painfully naive belief, especially the larger the scale. Take food safety…By the time the free market punishes a business that manufactures tainted milk or E. coli infested produce, thousands of people can get sick. Let’s also consider how well the too big to fail banks self-regulated…A complete and utter failure.

    And from username “The Kurgan”:

    Like any blueprint for widespread social organization, libertarianism works better as a hypothesis or a kind of heuristic tool than as something that can be implemented “by the book” so to speak. I’m encouraged by the comparisons to communism. The same basic principle applies, except freedom rather tjan equality serves as the sovereign moral principle. Were it to be tried in the real world, the results would be just as bad, albeit in a different sort of way.

    Cronyism and evil will always be a part of the human condition. The only answer, insufficient as ever, is “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” — Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884)

  274. @Jessica Boxer

    I think perhaps a little hyperbole might be in play here.

    No. None at all. Let’s explain it this way…

    Say I proposed a new government program. It will involve a massive bureaucracy starting at the federal level and there will be a large companion organization in every state. And it will stretch into every county and municipality. To do its bidding it will enlist every agent of law enforcement, every court, every judge, every attorney, every social-welfare organization and agent. Even private sector employers will be forced to engage in enforcement activities at the behest of this bureaucracy. Huge consulting and services contracts will be let to eager corporations to provide various systems and services to keep it running, in perpetuity.

    Sound like the making of a great government program. This where Progressives have an orgasm. While libertarians and small-government conservatives (assuming one can be found) begin to froth.

    Let’s keep going…
    The job of this entrenched, permanent bureaucracy will be to force one unfavored group of people to pay money into a fund. The bureaucracy will then distribute that money to another (favored) group of people. If the first group doesn’t want to pay, every available instrument of force will be brought to bear to make them pay. Even their private sector employer will be compelled to use force against them. They will pay, at the point of a gun if necessary.

    Great program isn’t it. A Progressive’s dream come true.

    Note this this bureaucracy only springs into action *after* certain others have done their duty to strip the unfavored group of most of their assets, their home, their children and even their spouse.

    No, it is a scheme to ensure the people most responsible for children see to their welfare so they do not fall on the public purse.

    They couldn’t fall to the public purse if there is no public purse to fall to. Once again government creates a problem and then provides the “solution”. And why should a man be responsible for children he will seldom see and have no say in their upbringing? Where exactly do you find the moral absolute that makes this so obviously good and right and true? Which Holy Book did you read that in? Perhaps that book is “incomplete” as you said?

    It is no such thing. A divorce decree can say anything at all. If husband and wife can agree on an arrangement either in pre-nup or in post-nup without the government’s help, then they can do that. The government gets involved when no such agreement can be reached, or when there is no legal relationship, such as out of wedlock conception. In such cases the there is an implied agreement to abide by the generally accepted principles for resolving these disputes.

    See, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. They can agree to all the prenups they want, but the government will always rule that the woman has no right to sign away the children’s right to their (sometimes) biological father’s wages.

    Doesn’t the recent rush of rulings forcing men to support children that aren’t even their own somewhere trigger a “smell test” warning inside you? Or is any enforcement/punishment directed squarely at men to the benefit of women just such an obviously good thing that we shouldn’t even question it?

  275. Ken Burnside:
    I’ve found a hidden benefit to SOPA.

    The next time you see a political ad for a candidate you find odious, make note of the sound track, the background imagery, even the composition of the candidate standing next to a tree in a TV ad.

    Then file a SOPA-powered copyright infringement case. Remember, the way this works, is that if you make the claim they have to take it down while it’s resolved. If enough claims are made, they have to shut down the means for those organizations to collect money.

    I think strangling every re-election campaign for the people who vote for this festering pile of camel diarrhea would be a good start…

    Dude, that is fucking BRILLIANT. Thank you!

  276. Martin Houston: The Occupiers are exactly the wrong people to join with. The American public’s revulsion for them grows with every day the masses of unwashed, college-educated but unemployable, left-wing kooks demand everyone’s attention and break the law because they think that freedom of speech trumps all laws.

    Patrick: The spectrum monopoly came about because there was no practical way to share the resource. Three’s a limited amount of spectrum you can use with vacuum tubes, and you can’t have two broadcasters share the same slice of spectrum in the same footprint. Nowadays, that could probably be ameliorated, at the cost of replacing the entire broadcast infrastructure. Is that worth it? Who’s going to spend all that money?

    Former Fan: Eric’s not a tea partier. The Tea Party folks want us to return to a government of limited, enumerated powers. Eric’s an anarchist. He might regard the Tea Party agenda as a good start, but only that.

    Neil K: Yes, I’d be extremely surprised to find more than token representation of other than the entitlement-minded, educated, unemployable leftist elites at an Occupation. As for making common cause with them, I’ll think about it as soon as they give up their hatred of capitalism.

  277. Milhouse Says:
    >almost all the laws that (rightly or wrongly) restrict their freedom were made and supported by leftists

    I understood his point. However, his point was mostly wrong. Many of the laws he mentioned are pet projects of the right, not the left. Lets look at them:

    > It is leftists that banned prostitution,

    Really? Anti vice is the project of the right, not the left.

    > raised the age of consent,

    No idea what he is talking about.

    > ended a wife’s duty to be sexually available always to her husband and never to anyone else,

    I have no idea if this is a project of the left or the right, but either way, it is insane, and hardly about reducing freedom.

    > endlessly expanded the definition of rape and endless reduce the
    > evidence and due process requirement for rape charges.

    Probably correct.

    > It is leftists that imposed on men an enforceable legal duty to support their bastards and the sluts that bore them.

    Again, I don’t believe this is a project of the left at all. Heck the left are the ones pushing the programs that enable and encourage illegitimacy. One need only look at their core constituency. Black children are born at disturbingly high rates of illegitimacy. And it is, again, utterly insane.

  278. @Millhouse:
    > “Due process”?! What insanity is this? Since when are enemy forces entitled to “due process” before being killed? The law of war is: you see an enemy, you kill him. End of story.

    > This is a blatant falsehood. The legislation is specifically about capturing enemy soldiers…

    No, no, al-Awlaki wasn’t an “enemy soldier” on a “battlefield.” At best, he was the islamic version of Tokyo Rose. He wasn’t operational in the field. That’s why the brass used euphemisms like “senior recruiter” and “motivator” to describe him. Mosques around the world are filled with propagandists chanting “Death to America”. One less chanter doesn’t end that chorus, and the price we paid for killing this idiot was a dangerous precedent. We didn’t run into this guy on the battlefield, waving around an AK-47. We assassinated a U.S. citizen. We don’t assassinate our citizens. We give them trials. I don’t care if it was a criminal trial or a military one: American citizens get a trial, not a bullet to the back of the head. Try him for treason, and then hang him. Even the Rosenbergs got a trial.

    @Millhouse:
    > That’s not an argument against torturing people, it’s an argument for doing so only rarely and judiciously, in high-value cases where it’s worth spending the resources to fact check everything. Cases such as KSM. This would be why (we are told) only three people were waterboarded.

    That’s like saying “these dangerous explosives work perfectly. I tested them three whole times.”

    That’s really my main problem with waterboarding. Not all coercion is torture, but we need to draw a line somewhere. Waterboarding falls close enough to that line that it’s only going to be used in rare cases, and that very rarity means you’ll only have a very small test pool for results.

    If the argument is that “well, it lead us too Osama Bin Laden,” that’s all well and good. I’m glad he’s dead. But bin Laden wasn’t operational anymore either, and wasn’t involved in command and control (and he couldn’t be; if he ever poked his head up, we’d chop it off). This wasn’t the sword of Damacles moment that WCC described above with the terror rat. So, if we use waterboarding to locate defunct leadership for assassination ops, why not also use it to locate battlefield leaders in active warzones, who present an immediate danger to our men? Why stop with KSM’s pinning down of Bin Laden, who was holed up with his pornos? Maybe everyone we catch has actionable intel, that we can only get by, as WCC put it above, “cutting a little piece?”

    It’s not moral preening to question our own methods, even in war. Especially in war, actually, because war is when civilizations are tested the most, and there are more ways to lose than being conquered by the enemy force. The conditions of the war effort itself can create dangerous precedents that whittle away rights under the guise of security. And when it’s an asymmetric war against a “nation” with no boundaries, no infrastructure to protect and no stated conditions of victory, that whittling can go a long way. They could hang the alien KSM from a lamppost tomorrow and I would not care one lick. But, as big of a rat as al-Awlaki was, he was a U.S. citizen. He was our rat, and I want him to have a trial so that, if my government ever decides to declare me an enemy, I will also get a trial – even if I’m vacationing in Luxembourg, or something. Hell, we even blew up al-Awakli’s 16-year-old son a couple of weeks later. His son was born in Denver. Don’t just blow that kid up. Give him a trial, too. That way, if the government ever considers my kid to be an enemy, they will give him a trial.

    @Everyone:
    Ancilliary, but it matters in terms of historical precedent, since someone mentioned Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus (which in itself is a really flawed analogy, but let’s go with it). When have we “won” the war against the Islamists? Don’t say something vague like “when they’ve stopped attacking us.” Assume that they will never stop attacking, because they probably won’t. The liars stand up on their soapboxes and proclaim “Islam is a religion of peace,” but any thinking, literate person knows this is a lie. Islam consists of two Houses: The House of Islam (submission) and the House of War (the house we are all standing in).

    There is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, just an unfaithful one; like a lapsed Catholic who maybe goes to church once in a while but doesn’t truly believe. There’s no middle ground. They don’t just want us “out of their lands” because, according to them, all countries are “their lands”; they just haven’t gotten around to conquering them yet. If you read the Koran, you’ll quickly notice that Islam is more of a geopolitical strategy than a Semitic faith or philosophy. This is a religion that instructs its followers to lie, enslave and conquer, and kill anyone who won’t submit, and the only limit is reality itself (closing distance, winning battles, etc).

    Given the world of viral communication we live in, spreading the cause of Islam will only become easier over time, not harder, and the “terror recruits” are just as likely to be middle class college students radicalized in a London mosque as they are to be “motivated” by supposed terror superstars like al-Awlaki. And if Iran goes nuclear, we may be sitting in a nuclear theater where M.A.D. goes out the window, because if we bomb them, they all go to heaven to have sex with 72 angels whereas we get to play cleanup for the next century or two (if we even survive). Even if the Persian theocrats don’t do something dumb like trigger world war III, they will have incredibly strong card to play. I wonder if it might not change our relationship with China overnight. But in that new environment, the U.S. government will almost certainly start “discovering” new powers. This is my biggest problem with Ron Paul, and I think his biggest blind spot. If you thought the fear-mongering and power-grabbing was bad during the Iraq war, imagine what an Iranian Cold War would look like.

  279. > Prisons are one area where I think that we shouldn’t privatize, just because we shouldn’t have really big companies with enough of a vested outcome in increasing the number of prisoners to actually

    Guess what policies CA’s prison guards union supports? I assume that comparable unions in other states do the same.

    In other words, as is often the case, “big companies” aren’t the big problem.

  280. > Look, if you torture someone, you cannot rely on the information and it is not always efficient or possible to fact check everything and keep coming back.

    People keep writing this as if “cannot rely” distinguishes torture from other means of getting information.

    It doesn’t. All information sources are subject to error and usually deception as well.

  281. Three major differences are that the United States was in a declared war with an identified enemy,

    So are we today.

    And I think we’re done here.

  282. @Everyone
    One other thought I had recently was that we are still waging wars quite stupidly. We’re better at it in terms of battlefield weapons and tactics, but we still haven’t learned how to wage mimetic warfare very well. It’s probably necessary to kill the Islamists in trouble spots and borderlands, but it’s not sufficient if the goal is really to win. It’s a lot like the lesson the Greeks were trying to teach with Heracles and the Hydra: cutting off the head removes the immediate danger, but to win you have to burn the stump.

    So how do you burn the stump? Take Osama bin Laden, for example. Yeah, it’s all fine and well that we shot him and dumped his body in the ocean (or maybe he’s stuffed and on display in the CIA’s Vault of Curiosities, who knows). But his death really served no strategic purpose, because he’s still a martyr, so he even wins by losing. We have to wage mimetic war against the heroic idea of Islamic martyrdom as well, and turn their heroes into cowards, letches and crooks. So, sure, kill him. But don’t tell anyone about it. Have Spielberg team up with the Lord of the Rings guy to create a hyper-realistic gay porno starring Osama and Zawahiri, or create false versions of those tapes that de-legitimize him somehow. That might have done more damage to the enemy than just capping him in Pakistan.

    Also, parody and satire work well as mimetic weapons. Why not design a television sitcom based around bumbling, idiotic terrorists, a sort of “The Office” with mad mullahs? Sure, the censoring countries would try their best to stamp this stuff out, but it would still make it out there, and it would reduce the chances of growing these sorts of radicals in the backyards of the West. Sure it might fill many of them with “rage” initially but everything fills them with rage, and the constant slathering on of propaganda that calls them shameful fools and hypocrites will eventually wear down their resolve. That’s more or less how we got the modern Left in America, for example; the Soviets wore them down with fifth column mimetic attacks from the entertainment industry.

    Not saying these weapons are replacements for battlefield violence, but they would be good support mechanisms if the goal is to truly win (instead of to grab power, and some suspect). The government seems to use propaganda on us very well, since crap like SOPA, NDAA and Net Neutrality are buried in the back pages, and are never mentioned on TV.

  283. @Millhouse

    Three major differences are that the United States was in a declared war with an identified enemy,

    So are we today.

    Excuse me? When did the Congress declare war? And who did they declare it against? “Terror”?

    In a declared war you have a specific enemy and you are justified in killing uniformed members of that enemy’s military on the battlefield. When you have defeated that enemy the war is over.

    It is impossible for an abstract concept to have uniformed soldiers.

    What’s more there is no end to this supposed war. Who are you fighting against? The people who attacked you on 9/11? Well guess what? They’re almost all dead.

    The war never ends because the threat is imaginary. Road traffic is a greater threat to America that Islamic terrorism.

    And because the war is so vaguely defined we end up in a situation where the government is justified in killing anybody anywhere it likes, because the enemy is vague, the battlefield is vague, and the duration of the war is vague.

    Answer me this: what is to stop the military that it doesn’t like what you are saying and picking you up, throwing you in jail, and never giving you a trial? Under the NDAA law the answer is absolutely nothing at all.

    It doesn’t matter what the law is designed to do. What matters is what powers it gives to the government.

  284. what is to stop the military that it doesn’t like what you are saying

    I meant to say ‘what is to stop the military deciding that it doesn’t…

  285. You compare the incandescent bulbs and “Obamacare”* with SOPA?! It’s no wonder that nobody pays attention to you anymore.

    * Which I place in quotes because it’s really a code word that says “don’t listen to me because I’m an extremist without sense to think on my own and instead spout off buzzwords I heard on Fox News.” A sane person would call it health care reform or single payer health care.

  286. @Andy Freeman:

    Guess what policies CA’s prison guards union supports? I assume that comparable unions in other states do the same.

    You say that like private prison guards wouldn’t also support such legislation.

  287. > the last seventeen or so government power grabs – cap and trade, campaign finance “reform”, the incandescent lightbulb ban, Obamacare, you name it – and I have to wonder…

    I think you’ve got the categorization wrong. SOPA isn’t a government power grab. SOPA is a corporate power grab. SOPA was written, funded, and sponsored by tools of the RIAA and MPAA.

    Should I always oppose government power grabs? Should I oppose the FCC trying to establish rules of net neutrality? Can’t we all agree that’s a good “government power grab”?

    Why would you put SOPA under the same category as cap and trade? The government shouldn’t be able to limit pollutants? I can understand if you don’t like the implementation, but I don’t see how anyone could be against limiting pollutants, unless you don’t believe scientists. And if you don’t believe scientists, you’re beyond reason.

    I also don’t understand why someone would be against the concept of campaign finance reform. The people with money have way too much power over the government right now. This is EXACTLY why laws like SOPA get written and sponsored and passed!

    Light bulb efficiency standards? cmon.

    Obamacare includes a long list of “government power grabs” like forcing insurance companies to cover children with preexisting conditions. These are actually great! But I can agree that the individual mandate and no public competition is terrible. But once again, I would categorize that as a corporate power grab and it just shows how much influence the insurance companies have over the legislation being passed.

  288. @Grantham

    We assassinated a U.S. citizen. We don’t assassinate our citizens. We give them trials. I don’t care if it was a criminal trial or a military one: American citizens get a trial, not a bullet to the back of the head. Try him for treason, and then hang him. Even the Rosenbergs got a trial.

    Right, exactly.

    And you know who else we tried? The god damn Nazis for Christ’s sake. And we were right to do so. People seem to forget that when blustering about these terrorists, who by comparison are about as threatening as a gnat.

  289. > A sane person would call it health care reform or single payer health care.

    “Reform” is one of those meaningless, idiot-words that Orwell always hated (because idiots like you or Newt Gingrich would use them to try to appear smart to a crowd of dummies).

    A person who wanted to be specific and not a dim-witted, feel-good propagandist would maybe call it the Affordable Health Care for America Act or AHCAA, or perhaps H.R.3962 (which I’m sure a little troll like ‘Nobody’ read ever read of), or even better by it’s Senate name (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).

    Eric’s calling it “Obamacare” because he sees it as a power-grab that he despises. You call it “health care reform” because you support a bill you haven’t even read. Orwell probably wouldn’t have approved of either, but at least esr is being intellectually honest.

  290. @Tom
    > And you know who else we tried? The god damn Nazis for Christ’s sake. And we were right to do so.

    Yes and no. We (the Allies) assassinated many Nazis and their agents during the war, and rightfully so. What you are talking about is what happened after the cessation of military action, the signing of treaties, etc. Once an enemy has been arrested and is at your mercy, the right thing to do is have a trial (or a tribunal, or what have you). Sometimes these turn out to be kangaroo courts, sometimes not, but they are still important, because what you do when you have someone at your mercy not only directly addresses the content of your soul, it’s an example of your civilization’s worth.

    And this all goes back to the main point of how to conduct a war against an transnational enemy with whom a treaty cannot be reached (because the snake has many heads, and is constantly growing new ones), and I think the assassination of the (scumbag) al-Awlaki opened up dangerous new territory. Here is where the howls of the loony Left could have actually come in useful for once, but alas they didn’t show up, because the op was ordered by their loverboy, President Obama. That’s why the Left is more dangerously stupid than the Right. Most of the Left’s stated premises are fake; they’re trapped in some Yungian world of symbols and delusions, and don’t have any principle that they won’t quickly discard if someone powerful inside their cult of personality directs them to.

  291. >I think you’ve got the categorization wrong. SOPA isn’t a government power grab. SOPA is a corporate power grab.

    Oh? So, who will be fining, arresting, and jailing people? The corporation(s)? I don’t think so. That will be a government policeman who comes to your door and shoots you if you resist arrest. A government prosecutor will decide whether to bring a case. And the guards who keep you in prison will be paid by the government.

    If you were mugged on the street, it is unlikely you would care for whom the mugger was stealing money. It doesn’t actually matter at that moment what special-interest group he represents, you’re being mugged. Similarly, when governments use violence on behalf of a special-interest group, the composition of the interest group (whether it’s “corporate” or not) is next to irrelevant; the point is still that you’re being mugged.

    >Can’t we all agree that’s a good “government power grab”?

    No. That’s the point. If we all agreed, it wouldn’t be a power grab in the first place.

    >Why would you put SOPA under the same category as cap and trade?

    Because cap-and-trade, while masquerading as help for the environment, is in reality a market-rigging device for the sale of carbon indulgences. The results of such legislation in Europe have been massive corruption and no decrease in carbon emissions. It would be foolish to expect any other outcome in the U.S.

    >I don’t see how anyone could be against limiting pollutants

    CO2 is not a pollutant – plants eat it and like it, fixing the carbon and releasing the oxygen you breathe. Other byproducts of hydrocarbon combustion are pollutants. Your confusion about this establishes that you are too ignorant about environmental issues to make judgments that are enforced on other people. You have plenty of company in this, including almost all voters and politicians.

    >I also don’t understand why someone would be against the concept of campaign finance reform.

    Because it puts government bureaucrats in charge of who can speak about politics when. The result is to protect incumbents and powerful special interests.

    Of course, the powerful special interests sold you campaign finance reform as a protection against powerful special interests. They were lying. Almost all government action is founded on similar lies.

    >Light bulb efficiency standards? cmon.

    Do you not understand how small assaults on your liberty precede and enable larger ones? No, of course you don’t….

    >it just shows how much influence the insurance companies have over the legislation being passed.

    Your error is your belief that any such legislation can pass without being captured by special interests. If it hadn’t been the insurance companies, it would be some other organized gang of rent-seekers.

  292. Brain Says:
    >I also don’t understand why someone would be against the concept of campaign finance reform. The people with money have way too much power over the government right now. This is EXACTLY why laws like SOPA get written and sponsored and passed!

    So let me ask you this Brian: your concern is that corporations have way too much power and skew legislation to be favorable to them. Why do you think that campaign finance law will be excluded from that type of corruption?

    Campaign finance law is particularly powerful, because it is not law, it is meta law, and consequentially has much more leverage.

  293. @Grantham

    We (the Allies) assassinated many Nazis and their agents during the war, and rightfully so. What you are talking about is what happened after the cessation of military action, the signing of treaties, etc. Once an enemy has been arrested and is at your mercy, the right thing to do is have a trial (or a tribunal, or what have you).

    Right, and that is really my point. We (or rather ‘you’ in this case) did have this Al-Awlaki guy at your mercy. The government evidently knew where he was, and he wasn’t an imminent threat. And you were not at war with him or his organisation in any meaningful sense of the word.

    He could have, and should have, been picked up, tried, and subjected to whatever fate your judicial system deems suitable.

    The really scary thing is, where does Obama think he gets the authority to do this? As far as I can tell he doesn’t have the authority, but nobody in the congress or any other part of the state seems to do or say anything about it. It seems like the president can do more or less what he likes with impunity.

    It’s baffling to me why the congress seems so eager to completely give up any power they once had. It seems like they just cannot be bothered to do their jobs.

  294. @Tom:
    > It’s baffling to me why the congress seems so eager to completely give up any power they once had. It seems like they just cannot be bothered to do their jobs.

    I figured this one out a long time ago. You see, Congress doesn’t really lust for power. Some of it’s individual members and factions do, but the key corruption of the institution has to do with rent-seeking, and very personal, venal interests at the individual level. The typical D.C. parasite doesn’t want any trouble; he or she is a “go-along, get-along” sort of opportunist, who wants to do the least amount of work for the maximum personal profit. They grease wheels in return for favors, and – much like rats in a warren – they would prefer to have lots of escape routes while engaged in this activity, so it is much more difficult to pin down when they have cheated, shrugged off their responsibilities, or simply lied their asses off for job security and financial gain. This is where things like the War Powers Act comes into play. It’s a good deal for the average congressmen, because they still get to do what they want (play Pasha), but there’s one less potential catastrophe that they have to sign off on, and therefore have their feet held to the political fires by their opponents when they are up for reelection.

    So, in a sense, the main corruption of Congress is that they don’t want to do the precise thing they were sent there to do: vote on important, mission-critical stuff that effects the whole nation, because the more they vote, the more chances they could turn out to be wrong and consequently be fired for it. They have become the craven opposite of the brave folks who pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.” They are also those weasily middle managers you sometimes see in corporate structures, obfuscating as much as possible so they can slip the blame for failure. The big difference is, when the congressman’s career is over, he is positioned to peddle influence, like Newt Gingrich did in his role as “historian” consultant for Fannie and Freddie.

  295. It’s baffling to me why the congress seems so eager to completely give up any power they once had. It seems like they just cannot be bothered to do their jobs.

    It’s been entirely downhill since Samuel Chase’s lawyer convinced the Senate that in contrast to hundreds of years of English precedent, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanours” in the Constitution did not mean incompetence in executing an office.

  296. @Tom:
    > Right, and that is really my point. We (or rather ‘you’ in this case) did have this Al-Awlaki guy at your mercy.

    Well, again, yes and no. The op details (at least, those that have been revealed) tend to support the idea that, while it was perfectly do-able to nail him from the air with a drone strike, it would have been much tougher (and politically messier) to scoop him up with an extraction team. It was an assassination, but if al-Awlaki wasn’t an American citizen, my opinion about the matter changes quite a bit. Frankly, it might also change if he was the citizen of an allied country too.

    “At your mercy” means that the guy is physically restrained, unarmed and right in front of me (that’s why WCC’s analogy works so well; it boils it all down to the basics). The folks at Nuremberg were “at our mercy”. Al-Awlaki was merely “at large” and within range. But he was also a citizen, not remotely an enemy combatant. He wasn’t even a spy, like the Rosenbergs, and even they got a trial.

    This is where the loony Left and the neo-con Right intersect (ironically, they don’t even realize that they do, and bicker about these issues constantly). Neither truly believe in rules or laws; merely outcomes. They don’t even understand the need for such things. As far as they’re concerned, laws and codes are simply means to ends. It’s caprice; if the immediate end satisfies the needs (or whims) of the moment, then it was a good method.

  297. > Light bulb efficiency standards? cmon.

    You’re assuming that there’s one definition of “efficiency” and that govt got it correct. You’re wrong on both counts.

    There are several costs and benefits involved and there’s no one correct way to combine them.

    For example, heat is a bad output in some cases, but in others, it’s a good output. (And no, it’s not just easy bake ovens.) Also, some use-cases don’t involve many hours on, so long-life time is irrelevant – those folks never will recover the initial price premium.

    Here’s where you retreat to “but on average” and then “I don’t care about those cases”. You’re correct about the latter but you’re wrong about the former.

    BTW – That battle isn’t actually over. The standards are temporarily derailed by a funding stop, but that can easily be restore. All of the regulations are still in place.

  298. The word “reform” is govt speak for “it’s time for us to get another cut”.

    Disagree? Feel free to show that “reforms” are more likely to produce an improvement than a random walk.

  299. >> Guess what policies CA’s prison guards union supports? I assume that comparable unions in other states do the same.

    > You say that like private prison guards wouldn’t also support such legislation.

    I didn’t suggest otherwise. I’m merely pointing out that worrying about big biz on this issue is worrying way too late.

  300. “You compare the incandescent bulbs and “Obamacare”* with SOPA?! It’s no wonder that nobody pays attention to you anymore.”

    Except, apparently, Mr. Raymond, people who come here, read your posts, and inform you that nobody pays attention to you anymore…

  301. @esr:

    I’ll try to give short constructive responses. I don’t like long winded internet arguments.

    > Oh? So, who will be fining, arresting, and jailing people? The corporation(s)? I don’t think so. That will be a government policeman

    You’re right, but I don’t think the problem is that we have people enforcing laws. I think it’s more important to focus on the root of the problem of how those laws are coming into existence.

    On cap-and-trade, campaign finance reform, and healthcare legislation: These things are hard to debate. It’s hard to differentiate supporting the concept from supporting the implementation. On all of these things, I am extremely supportive of the concept. I would be supportive of anything that would help people and accomplish the stated goals. But yes, it’s sad that any attempt to do anything always seems to turn into a law written by the same people it’s intended to regulate. I just don’t see this as “government is bad”. The way I look at it, it’s just sad that the government isn’t working for the people, it’s working for the people with money. That’s the root of the problem.

    On global warming: I used to think there was an actual debate over climate change. But what really changed my mind was this wikipedia page:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

    It really is almost to the level of the debate on evolution. On one side, you have 99% of scientists, and on the other side, you have people who don’t like the truth (and people paid by them). Once you believe the science, then it doesn’t really matter if we call it a “pollutant” or whatever. It’s causing climate change and we need to deal with it. And like I said, if you don’t believe the science, then there really is no point in debating it.

  302. >I think it’s more important to focus on the root of the problem of how those laws are coming into existence.

    Very good. These laws come into existence because we let government do too much and, utterly inevitably, its power is abused for the benefit of the politically connected. There’s your root problem.

    >But what really changed my mind was this wikipedia page:

    And you don’t know that Wikipedia pages are subject to political capture too? They’ve simply defined any dissenting opinion as non-serious. In any case, scientific truth is not a popularity contest. It is measured by the ability of theory to predict what actually happens. Evolutionary theory meets that test; AGW fails it. All the supposed consensus in the world cannot redeem that.

  303. > But what really changed my mind was this wikipedia page.

    Just so we are all clear: a “wikipedia page” was what changed Brain’s mind.

    Eric Raymond: I am not pretentious at all, and I certainly don’t agree with everything you say, but how does the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” manage to attract such people? I realize I am fairly new here, but I can’t wrap my head around it. Does not compute.

  304. >I realize I am fairly new here, but I can’t wrap my head around it. Does not compute.

    Don’t be nasty. I think “Brain” means well, it’s just that his critical-thinking skills are weak. This can be remedied.

  305. > A sane person would call it health care reform or single payer health care.

    Not at all.

    Sane people know that both “health care reform” and “single payer health care” are extremely ambiguous. Reasonable people might well favor some things that could be called “health care reform” and not others. Same for “single payer”.

    Obamacare is unambiguous.

    Moreover, Obamacare is a fair name. After all, Obama claims that it is one of his best achievements and even if he doesn’t, he worked very hard to get it so it is surely predictive of his plans.

    So, why is it wrong for Obama and Obamacare to be associated with one another?

    > I’m an extremist without sense to think on my own and instead spout off buzzwords I heard on Fox News

    sayeth someone who is parotting DNC talking points.

    Which reminds me – ObamaCare isn’t “single payer”, so no honest&informed person would call Obamacare “single player”. What’s “Nobody”‘s reason for getting this wrong?

  306. > Don’t be nasty. I think “Brain” means well, it’s just that his critical-thinking skills are weak. This can be remedied.

    Point taken, but I wasn’t really trying to be nasty. I’m sincerely wondering why someone who cites wikipedia pages would be interested in your stuff, or in participating in a debate with you (but the “such people” sounded pretty bad, and I apologize).

    Anyway, just curious if you know have any idea why your material attracts so many people who don’t seem to ever examine their own premises, when you spend so much time examining your premises. For instance, I disagree with you and many others on the desirability and feasibility of anarcho-capitalism (I think it would be more of a reset button, with competing contract enforcers gradually turning into strong kingdoms or nation-states). I think you’re wrong (and you think I’m wrong), but I wouldn’t cite wikipedia or any other encyclopedia to try to support it. I’m just not sure what “Brain” (or, on a different article, “Will”) gains from the exchange, especially since there are so many other venues where he could argue about ideas this way.

  307. > It’s hard to differentiate supporting the concept from supporting the implementation.

    Not only is it hard to differentiate, it’s foolish to do so.

    You don’t get credit for good intentions, especially when said good intentions go wrong consistently.

    Seriously – how much worse would things have been if those things had been done with bad intentions? Since the result is the same….

    > The way I look at it, it’s just sad that the government isn’t working for the people, it’s working for the people with money. That’s the root of the problem.

    So, how about you stop trying to push govt into more things until after you fix said problem.

    We’ll wait.

  308. @Andy Freeman

    Obamacare is unambiguous.

    I don’t support it or, not being an American, care particularly much about it, but I do think that “Obamacare” is a coinage that is deliberately designed to taint the issue with a flavour of socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism, and also to stress that it was a Democratic president that was behind it.

    Now, all those charges may well stick after a reasoned debate, but I think it would be better to have the debate rather than trying to influence people using language tricks before they have had a chance to hear the facts.

    It is catchy though…

  309. The problem with libertarians is that they see everything in black and white. If you don’t support their dream of dismantling all social programs, environmental laws, tax collection, public funding of education and healthcare, etc., then you must be a supporter of every bad government bill, law, department, and program. Smaller government is not always the answer. I want BETTER government, not smaller government. The way to achieve better government is not to stick your fingers in your ears and scream “NO” like a toddler. A better government can be achieved by an informed electorate engaging in substantive debate about our democracy. Comparing SOPA to Obama’s health care bill is silly; they are nothing alike. Corrupt politicians rely on this type of simplemindedness to thwart public discussion. The world is a complicated place, and the libertarian solution of “no government” is not a viable option.

  310. >Anyway, just curious if you know have any idea why your material attracts so many people who don’t seem to ever examine their own premises, when you spend so much time examining your premises.

    I, in turn, do not understand why you find this mysterious. Half of all people are below average. That means some of them are not bright enough to recognize what I’m doing as examining my premises, some who can pass that test aren’t bright enough to emulate the behavior even though they recognize it, and some who pass both previous tests have never internalized critical-thinking skills like killing the Buddha.

    People like “Brain” or the laconic Will are actually far from the worst debris to show up here. They’re not stupid; what they suffer from is a combination of (a) socially approved but deeply mistaken models of reality, and (b) limited ability to skeptically self-correct, especially in the face of social pressure to believe things that happen not to be true.

    Sometimes I get people showing up here who have a sense that something is not right with conventional wisdom and, in effect, want the example of “ESR” as permission to think differently. That’s OK, which is why I try to be relatively gentle with people who seem well-intentioned but clueless and flabby-minded (“Brain” is a good recent example). Sometimes they’re actually trying to exercise their critical-thinking capability. That should be encouraged.

  311. @Arthur Dent

    A better government can be achieved by an informed electorate engaging in substantive debate about our democracy.

    How exactly do you expect to get this ” informed electorate engaging in substantive debate…”? Thus far all your Progressive efforts have resulted in an increasingly ignorant, unthinking, gullible, and apathetic electorate.

    Let me guess … we need more funding for public schools … or NPR … or shut down Fox News … or (other DNC talking point).

  312. Also, some use-cases don’t involve many hours on, so long-life time is irrelevant – those folks never will recover the initial price premium.

    Furthermore, my family is finding that CFL’s don’t seem to have lifetimes anywhere near as long as advertised, so even the average use case may not recover the price premium.

  313. Arthur Dent Says:
    > The world is a complicated place, and the libertarian solution of “no government” is not a viable option.

    Nah, come on. This from someone who just criticized libertarians for “see(ing) everything in black and white?” Most libertarians don’t want “no government.” Anarchists like esr want no government. Libertarians, in general, want “weaker” government, and there are a lot of shades of gray regarding how weak, and it which areas. This is not a new debate; it’s a long and lively one that precedes The Federalist Papers.

    This is one of those instances where I think Freud hit it on the head with his theory of projection. “X thinks about everything in Manichean, black and white terms; now here is my Manichean, black-and-white explanation of X, which also happens to be factually incorrect.”

  314. > I, in turn, do not understand why you find this mysterious. Half of all people are below average.

    I believe Grantham expects a difference between the average reader of your blog and the average member of society, either because he believes that your blog will not attract certain parts of society, or because he believes it will influence its readers’ beliefs and thought processes to where they are significantly different from the societal average. Half of all your readers will be below average for your readership, but that doesn’t mean that half of all your readers will be below the societal average.

    To rephrase his question: Why is the readership of your blog closer to being a general cross section of society than Grantham expects?

  315. >“Obamacare” is a coinage that is deliberately designed to taint the issue with a flavour of socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism

    Quite right. I think that piece of legislation is indeed “socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism”, which is why I’m willing to use that coinage. I don’t consider it particularly material that the persons behind it were Democrats, though.

  316. >To rephrase his question: Why is the readership of your blog closer to being a general cross section of society than Grantham expects?

    Um, maybe my blog is more popular than he guesses? I don’t know; I don’t really have a theory about this.

  317. @Jon Brase:
    > To rephrase his question: Why is the readership of your blog closer to being a general cross section of society than Grantham expects?

    Yes, that is a better way of phrasing it. Thank you. It’s just a little odd because I’m not connecting the dots from the poster to the blog (or not all of them, at least). I’m not saying that Raymond is a complete “niche”, but he’s not “Lady Gaga” either.

  318. @esr
    > Um, maybe my blog is more popular than he guesses? I don’t know; I don’t really have a theory about this.

    Ha! Okay, touche. I know it’s a popular blog, I was just trying to sort out what struck me as a few weird psychographic profiles. Forget I mentioned it.

  319. @Grantham

    I don’t know if you include me in your group of people who “don’t seem to ever examine their own premises”, but I can tell you that the reason I read this blog in spite of disagreeing with Eric on many issues, is that I deliberately seek out intelligent opinions that are different from my own.

    That, and Eric happens to actually be a good writer.

  320. @Tom
    > I don’t know if you include me in your group of people who “don’t seem to ever examine their own premises”

    Actually, no I don’t. I think you are wrong in several areas, but I also think you are a thinker. It’s the only reason I bothered arguing with you. Why argue with someone who doesn’t appear to have the capacity to think?

  321. >”I, in turn, do not understand why you find this mysterious. Half of all people are below average.”

    “To rephrase his question: Why is the readership of your blog closer to being a general cross section of society than Grantham expects?”

    “The average guy is pretty stupid. That means that half the population is even stupider than that!”
    - George Carlin

  322. >>“Obamacare” is a coinage that is deliberately designed to taint the issue with a flavour of socialism,
    >>arrogance and nanny-statism

    >Quite right. I think that piece of legislation is indeed “socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism”,
    >which is why I’m willing to use that coinage. I don’t consider it particularly material that the
    >persons behind it were Democrats, though.

    I tend to prefer the term .govcare because it more accurately reflects the overall objection (that is, an objection to a massive government overreach and control of the health care market). It also avoids some of the knee jerk “You’re just opposed because its’ Obama/Obama is black/Obama is a democrat” etc reactions.

  323. I’m not saying that Raymond is a complete “niche”, but he’s not “Lady Gaga” either.

    Now THAT’s a line made for a signature! :-)

    /delurk

  324. Tom wrote “I do think that ‘Obamacare’ is a coinage that is deliberately designed to taint the issue with a flavour of socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism.”

    ESR wrote “Quite right. I think that piece of legislation is indeed ‘socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism’, which is why I’m willing to use that coinage.”

    I loathe the bill, and am having trouble thinking of anything good about Obama, so a negative term would tend to be OK with me. But it doesn’t seem to me that this is one. Compare “Star Wars”, “Reaganomics”, and “the Bush tax cuts”. It seems to me that if you don’t have a catchier formal name than SDI or PPACA for a controversial policy, an informal replacement will rather naturally tend to come into use. And as such informal replacements go, “Obamacare” seems pretty neutral — it certainly doesn’t seem to be an obviously political coinage like “death panels” or “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or “favorable balance of trade”.

  325. Arthur Dent: I, too, want better government…but I believe that Thomas Jefferson was completely, profoundly right when he said “That government governs best which governs least.” The answer to improving government is almost always to shrink it, and return it to the government of limited, enumerated powers that the Founding Fathers defined in the Constitution.

  326. I really hate software patents.

    I would like to suggest that the usefulness of a data structure or the usefulness of a processes for analyzing a data structure are discoveries about the nature of the universe. I would say that they are inventions as well, but…

    What about recipes? Should a person be able to patent a great chilli recipe?

    Actually, I might be OK with software patents if they were for, say two or three years – that might achieve the original goal of encouraging innovation. But 17 years? (All patents are for 17 years, aren’t they?)

    17 years might make sense (if a person supports patents at all) for clever mechanical inventions. But clever inventions are almost always implemented in software now – it is so easy that the amount of cleverness required is about an order of magnitude lower.

    As it stands, my position is, keep it secret if you want, but if I can figure out what is happening, I should be able to do the same thing. And if I am working on the same problem and discover a great way of doing it and some guy has a patent on that “way”, he can go fuck himself (or, to put it in legal terms, enjoin himself).

  327. Oh, I just realized that Rick Rostrum said this:

    > Yeah, and good basketball players are mostly Japanese, Greenland is covered with tropical rainforest, and Brazil is full of Buddhists.
    > Seriously, that’s how profoundly wrong-headed that statement is.

    Seriously, Rick Rostrum needs to look into it again, or re-examine what he thinks of as “economic freedom”.

    > The Danish government collects 55.3% of GDP in taxes and other revenue – over half.

    What’s their top corporate tax rate, though? What is their rate of inflation? What are their property laws? What about their regulatory bodies. Does Denmark have any regulatory bodies of note? What’s their position on trade barriers? What is their stance on the drug war? Where do they stand on prostitution?

    Unlike many right wingers assume, taxes and the development of the welfare state don’t constitute the whole of the libertarian idea. Denmark has large taxes, but far fewer regulation and less expensive government. Denmark has a welfare state, but is better equipped to pay for it. This illustrate what’s wrong with so-called “Republicans”: the perfect is the enemy of the good, and they don’t understand how value is added into a system much better than their Democrat counterparts. They have a slightly better sense of it, but they become thick-headed when you diverge from specific dogma.

  328. @Brian Marshall

    I would like to suggest that the usefulness of a data structure or the usefulness of a processes for analyzing a data structure are discoveries about the nature of the universe.

    Can you fathom what the patent actually covers? I tried reading the text but it seems hopelessly vague and obscure to me.

    Sorry, I don’t want to hijack the thread for the purposes of talking about this news, but I knew there would be people here who might have an insight.

  329. re: software patents

    Of course, the fact that I hate software patents doesn’t change the fact that the law is the law.

    I think that it is ironic that the first software patent I heard of was the patent on the setuid bit, invented by Dennis Richie.

  330. > “Obamacare” is a coinage that is deliberately designed to taint the issue with a flavour of socialism, arrogance and nanny-statism,

    Which word, “Obama” or “care”, comes with that baggage? If Obama, why this association inappropriate?

    Why shouldn’t we associate him with his signature achievement?

    > and also to stress that it was a Democratic president that was behind it.

    Huh? How do you get “a Democrat president” from “Obama”? Obama is a very specific Dem president.

    And, why are you assuming that “a Democrat president” and/or Obama is a bad thing? Both he and the Democrat party are very popular.

    > tend to prefer the term .govcare

    That may be, but “the people” have spoken, so if you’d rather communicate about than explain your usage, it’s Obamacare.

  331. > Denmark has a welfare state, but is better equipped to pay for it.

    Denmark is mostly Danes. Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work. Plus there are only 5.5M of them. (The SF bay area is 6.7M and Wisconsin is less than 5.7M)

  332. From what I can glean the patent describes a method for detecting patterns in text and then displaying options to the user based on the pattern detected. So, for example, detecting a phone number in text and making it into a ‘link’ so that the user can tap it and make a phone call to that number.

    However, I think it is a specific *method* for doing that, not just the idea of doing it in general. So, I imagine Google will be able to find a way to achieve the same functionality but without infringing the specific method described in the patent.

    OK, I will say no more about it.

  333. > Denmark is mostly Danes.

    > Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is in progress.

    > Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    The idea on the table was population density, not population size. There are other factors that I think are important enough to dwell on (like replacement rate, or market participation), but not the population size. Economies don’t scale perfectly, but they do scale, and the results matter. Denmark can be better than it is in many ways, but it is still very good, and even better than the U.S. when it comes to economic freedom. If each of the United States was a Denmark or a Switzerland, with a federal government that was internally weak but externally (militarily) strong, we would be in good shape.

  334. (keep trying to post this, but no luck so far)

    > Denmark is mostly Danes.

    Okay, what about Switzerland?

    > Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is in progress.

    > Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    The (nonsensical) idea on the table had to do with population density, not population size. There are other factors that I think are important enough to dwell on (like replacement rate, or market participation), but not the population size. Economies don’t scale perfectly, but elements of them do scale very well, and the results matter. Denmark could be better than it is in many ways, but it is still very good, and even better than the U.S. when it comes to economic freedom, despite its tax setup. If each of the United States was a Denmark or a Switzerland, with a federal government that was internally weak but externally (militarily) strong, we would be in good shape.

  335. From Book Reviews: Stanovich:

    In this book, he discusses the problem of why intelligent people are often not smart. To do so, he distinguishes a third category of thinking.

    Type 1 — as before.(instinct)
    Type 2 — using logic correctly when asked to. (intelligence)
    Type 3 — deciding correctly when to use logic. (rationality)

    Roughly, intelligence predicts whether you will do well when asked to use your brain…not whether you will opt to use your brain when you ought to.

    This explains the 50-ish % of Mensa participants who believe in Astrology, UFOs, or Marx.

    At least half of the population isn’t bright enough to use type 2 thinking and at least half of the remainder isn’t bright enough for type 3.

    Eric, there is a real problem with your comments. At least a third of my comments are just disappearing when I try to post them.

    The last was one pointing out that an earlier poster was wrong, that the economic perspective of libertarianism was actually the best established. Which is why so many leftists, including some that are out-and-out socialists, have taken to calling themselves left-libertarians recently.

  336. I don’t think this can be true. In England we have a ‘public education monopoly’ as well, but creationism vs. evolution isn’t an issue

    “The God Delusion” and other Dawkins productions disagree with you.
    He specifically claims a rising number of public funded schools that specifically teach creationism as the only explanation of why we’re here.

  337. @JonCB

    He specifically claims a rising number of public funded schools that specifically teach creationism as the only explanation of why we’re here.

    I’ve read The God Delusion, and you’re right that there a very few schools that have done this, but it is an extreme minority. I have personally never met a single person who did not accept the theory of evolution.

  338. Here’s a source for you if you don’t believe me: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9786-why-doesnt-america-believe-in-evolution.html

    And even if you don’t believe that survey I can tell you absolutely that state schools are required by law to teach evolution, and they do so almost without exception or controversy. In England we have a ‘national curriculum’ which sets out minimum standards for all schools funded by the state, and this curriculum includes evolution.

  339. @Andy Freeman
    > Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is currently in progress.

    > Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    The slim idea on the table was population density, not population size. There are other factors that I think are important enough to dwell on (like replacement rate, or market participation), but not the population size. Economies don’t scale perfectly, but they do scale, and the results matter. Denmark can be better than it is in many ways, but it is still very good, and even better than the U.S. when it comes to economic freedom. If each of the United States was a Denmark or a Switzerland, held strung together by a federal government that was internally weak but externally (militarily) strong, I think we would be in good shape. As it stands right now, we are headed for rough chop.

    @Tom
    > I have personally never met a single person who did not accept the theory of evolution.

    I have on many occasions, but the closest contact I’ve had with them is down in Florida, among my wife’s kin. For the most part, they were of the fiery “We were not descended from apes” sort, which struck me as a somewhat sensible foundation. After all, even though we are descended from the great apes, one might as well say we “ascended” from them without controversy, and our ancestral link isn’t prescriptive in any way I can see. Even though we are related, we were far more successful than them, and it’s reasonable to say that we have become something else entirely during the course of that success. The fact we are closely related to apes isn’t much more interesting to me than the fact that we aren’t closely related to octopuses, or that we share DNA in common with pigs and earthworms.

    But, more to your point, even the Catholic Church accepts evolution these days (probably because scholarship is part of their institutional DNA). The Intelligent Design movement is more of a cult of religious academics that won favor regionally because it sounded “science-y”… much like Carbon Apocalypse picked up devotees on the coasts.

  340. In England we have a ‘national curriculum’ which sets out minimum standards for all schools funded by the state, and this curriculum includes evolution.

    Yeah, i remember RD talking about that in one of this TV things. Can’t remember if the accusation was that the body is being actively corrupted from within or just turning a blind eye. Not saying that England is at the “50/50″ point that the US is (allegedly) but saying the problem doesn’t exist isn’t true either.

  341. @Andy Freeman
    > Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is currently in progress.

    > Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    The slim idea on the table was population density, not population size. There are other factors that I think are important enough to dwell on (like replacement rate, or market participation), but not the population size. Economies don’t scale perfectly, but they do scale, and the results matter. Denmark can be better than it is in many ways, but it is still very good, and even better than the U.S. when it comes to economic freedom. If each of the United States was a Denmark or a Switzerland, held strung together by a federal government that was internally weak but externally (militarily) strong, I think we would be in good shape. As it stands right now, we are headed for rough chop.

    @Tom
    > I have personally never met a single person who did not accept the theory of evolution.

    I have on a few occasions, but the closest contact I’ve had with them is down in Florida, among my wife’s kin. For the most part, they were of the fiery “We were not descended from apes” religious sort, which struck me as a somewhat sensible foundation. After all, even though we are descended from the great apes, one might as well say we “ascended” from them without controversy, and our ancestral link isn’t prescriptive in any way I can see. Even though we are related, we were far more successful than them, and it’s reasonable to say that we have become something else entirely during the course of that success. The fact we are closely related to apes isn’t much more interesting to me than the fact that we aren’t closely related to octopuses, or that we share DNA in common with pigs and earthworms.

    But, more to your point, even the Catholic Church accepts evolution these days (probably because scholarship is part of their institutional DNA). The Intelligent Design movement is more of a cult of religious academics that won favor regionally because it sounded “science-y”… much like Carbon Apocalypse picked up devotees on the coasts.

    (hoping this one gets through the filter)

  342. >(hoping this one gets through the filter)

    Something in my spam filter seems to have taken a dislike to you. I don’t know why.

  343. >Eric, there is a real problem with your comments. At least a third of my comments are just disappearing when I try to post them.

    Akismet seems to be having one of its episodes of randomly binning stuff. I don’t know how to fix this.

  344. Grantham wrote: Denmark … is certainly more laissez-faire than its cousins in the Eurozone, and widely agreed as one of the smallest, least-intrusive governments in the world.

    He can’t understand why anyone would disagree with that.

    He wrote Seriously, Rick Rostrum needs to look into it again, or re-examine what he thinks of as “economic freedom”.

    (BTW, my name is Rostrom.)

    Well, let’s start with taxation.

    A Dane pays the following taxes on income
    8% gross tax (“labor tax” or “social contribution”)
    8% regional health tax (RHT)
    22.8% to 27.8% local government tax (LGT)
    3.76% base national tax (BNT)
    15% high income national tax (HINT) – on income over 389,900 kroner ($68,130) / year.

    0.4% to 1.5 church tax (on Lutherans)

    RHT + LGT + BNT + HINT are capped at 51.5% total.

    In addition, there is a 25% VAT on all purchases of goods and services.

    I would say that taking half what I earn and making me pay a substantial extra amount for everything I buy is pretty intrusive, and a grave infringement of economic liberty.

    What about the size of government? 38% of working Danes are employed by government. That’s not small, much less “one of the smallest … governments in the world.”

    What about their regulatory bodies Denmark is a member of the European Union. So every nanny-state ukase out of Brussels is law in Denmark.

    What about civil liberties? I’ve already cited the “hate speech” conviction of Lars Hedegaard.

    What is their stance on the drug war? Drugs are illegal in Denmark. Users are fined, dealers go to prison. There are gang fights over the dope trade.

    Unlike many right wingers assume, taxes and the development of the welfare state don’t constitute the whole of the libertarian idea.

    ITYM “no taxes and no welfare state”… but let that go. Rates of taxation and spending are not the sole measure of a society’s freedom. But they do matter. When a country has the highest such rates of any developed country (*), that matters a lot. Body fat is not the only measure of physical fitness. Many people are generally fit despite having excessive fat, and many skinny people are unfit. But someone who is 160 cm tall and weighs 150 kilos is not fit, much less “widely agreed to be one of the fittest people…”

    (* excluding micro- and petro- states)

  345. What I find interesting in these threads is that most of them are either the choir or reiterating the standard NYTimes fare. So let me ask this. Libertarian ideals imply no public health care. You need to pay for the private health care. Therefore, if you’re an unhealthy kid born in a wrong family, you’re done for (and no, saying a charity would save these kids is not convincing). The claim people would be better off on the average anyhow, so these unlucky cases can be sacrificed, is (as the health care bill shows) not going to go well with quite a few people in the population, not to mention that not being hurt too much by your initial random starting conditions does seem like a nice thing to have. So how do you argue it’s still the correct position to take? The answer seems to be “leftist societies are doomed to fail”, but then why argue at all?

  346. > The claim people would be better off on the average anyhow, so these unlucky cases can be sacrificed, is (as the health care bill shows)

    I am not a scholar on economics, but I am guessing that the argument to that would be that in a free market economy healthcare would be cheap because of the competition. Too many government taxes raise healthcare costs.

  347. >Therefore, if you’re an unhealthy kid born in a wrong family, you’re done for

    You’re missing a premise. This logic only works if health care is more expensive than, say, owning a car. Most “poor” people in the U.S. own cars (the quotes are because we don’t have actual poverty in the U.S., just relative poverty that would count as moderate wealth in much of the rest of even the developed world).

    The libertarian solution to this problem is to get the government out of the health-care subsidy business and abolish the provider monopolies created by the AMA and other medical guilds. Without this market-rigging, prices would fall drastically.

    This is going to happen, if not by choice but because governments will go bankrupt and be unable to pay the subsidies anymore – in significant part due to medical cost inflation brought on by those subsidies. The parasite will have killed its host.

  348. > You’re missing a premise. This logic only works if health care is more expensive than, say, owning a car.

    Good point, I didn’t think of that. Thank you.

  349. >and no, saying a charity would save these kids is not convincing

    Why not? Anecdotes aren’t data and all that, but my experiences with private charities have been vastly more positive than my experiences with the government. As a for instance, my wife has a neurological issue. The medication her doctor prescribed is (without insurance) > $1,000 / month. I currently work at a pharmacy where I am allowed to buy drugs for cost if it’s cheaper than my insurance co-pay. Even at cost, her medication would cost me > $500 / month. Before we had insurance and more money, she used to go to a local clinic sponsored by a local church. For $7 for the visit, and $10 for the medication (based on a sliding scale that was dependent on current ability to pay), she had everything she needed, courtesy of a charity.

    For comparison, during that same time period, we briefly entertained the idea of getting her on SSI or other assistance since as a result of her condition, she was unable to hold a steady job. She would be able to work for a few months, then as the condition started acting up, she would have to call out, they would cut her hours and eventually she would be fired or quit because she couldn’t get any hours. A visit to the local government office and we were told that the application process for this aid would be a 6 month process, during which time she would not be allowed to work (even if able) more than 10 hours / week. If she was approved for the aid, she would be given benefits that would be reduced for every hour over 10 hours that she worked / week being completely eliminated at 20 hours / week. If she worked more than 20 hours / week for longer than two weeks, she would lose the benefits entirely, and the process would have to start all over.

    The lesson we took from this was that local charities can provide a lot of assistance, and need little more than a few pay stubs, and the generosity of local doctors and companies to provide for the needy. The government on the other hand requires that the needy keep themselves in poverty and even harm their position in life to prove their worthiness for assistance.

  350. @esr:

    The libertarian solution to this problem is to get the government out of the health-care subsidy business and abolish the provider monopolies created by the AMA and other medical guilds. Without this market-rigging, prices would fall drastically.

    I’d like to amplify this with one data point…

    In spring 2010 my hernia began to hurt. Bad. We had no insurance, but a bit of cash on hand. So I got into the phone book and started searching on the Internet for a surgeon. Price for the procedure typically runs about $10k when government or insurance pays.

    Every clinic and hospital I called I asked them one question: “What is your bottom dollar price to do repair of a left inguinal hernia if I will pay Green Cash Up Front.” I eventually found a clinic that did the procedure for $1800 – less than 20% of the “government” price.

    The winning “bidder” happened to be the outpatient center at Baptist Health in Little Rock, AR. One of the biggest and arguably best providers within 300 miles of here.

    Note this before really applying any significant amount of the libertarian solution as ESR mentioned. Imagine how far the price could yet fall if real competition and price pressure existed.

  351. Rich Rostrom Says:

    > He can’t understand why anyone would disagree with that.

    Sure I can. I said why someone would disagree with it; taxes and the welfare state. And you just itemized it. So what? I never claimed that they had lower taxes, just a freer economy.

    > I would say that taking half what I earn and making me pay a substantial extra amount for everything I buy is pretty intrusive, and a grave infringement of economic liberty.

    You would be wrong. What you are talking about is “fiscal” freedom (relative tax burden), not “economic” freedom (financial freedom, relative government interference in trade and investment). I know you are just trying to score points now, but the meaning of words matter. Denmark has a great deal of the latter (more than the U.S.), and not much of the former. Taxes are much easier to change than deeply embedded government “programs”, powerful bureaucracies, regulatory bodies and other organs of state control.

    > Denmark is a member of the European Union. So every nanny-state ukase out of Brussels is law in Denmark.

    Then, why is it so much easier to start a business in Denmark than it is in France? Or to close one, for that matter? Why isn’t there a blizzard of red tape and fees and permits and licenses I have to battle my way through before I get the permission to sell something to someone else?

    > What about civil liberties? I’ve already cited the “hate speech” conviction of Lars Hedegaard.

    “Hate speech” is a problem endemic throughout Europe, and part of their suicidal culture dive. Hell, in Italy they dragged Oriana Fallaci off her death bed to charge her with “Islamophobia”. I see no end in sight to this, unfortunately. Has nothing to do with what I was talking about, which was laissez-faire economics.

    > Drugs are illegal in Denmark. Users are fined, dealers go to prison. There are gang fights over the dope trade.

    Yeah, of course they are, but I was talking about the “drug war.” But what they spend relative to enforcement is quite small. Compared to the U.S.A, with are draconian ATF and DEA and international narco-cops, they are practically the Netherlands.

    > Taxation and spending are not the sole measure of a society’s freedom.

    No, they aren’t.

    > But they do matter. When a country has the highest such rates of any developed country (*), that matters a lot.

    They matter, but if value is being added into the system, and the economy is growing, they don’t necessarily matter “a lot”. You are leaving out a lot of other factors, like how relatively cheap it is to hire someone over there (or fire them, for that matter). Their labor laws matter a lot, too, because these are the kinds of social organs that help the state leverage their power. In terms of their ability for Denmark to throw off their remaining, mostly fiscal, shackles after the EU finishes collapsing, I think they are better poised than almost any other country in the Eurozone.

    If only the U.S.’s problems were as simple as high taxes and a welfare state. We are in better fiscal shape than the Danes (of course), but the massive buildup of debt has created an illusion regarding what kind of economic shape we are actually in, and we have created an anti-business culture that is so deep and virulent that I don’t see any easy way to change it, and the regulatory creep is gaining speed. We currently have an executive who has never created a business, never participated in markets in any meaningful way, shouting about 3 billion dollars per year tax subsidies on corporate jets, and almost half of our dim-witted population smiles and nods along.

    I’ve been to Denmark. They are no libertarian paradise. But they have economic freedom, a sense of proportion and a weak enough government that I think can help them become one, someday. Sadly, I don’t think the U.S. has the same tools.

  352. @JonCB

    Not saying that England is at the “50/50? point that the US is (allegedly) but saying the problem doesn’t exist isn’t true either.

    I went back to the Dawkins book to get the exact facts he cites. As far as I can tell he only mentions a single school, Emmanuel College in Gateshead, and notes that it teaches creationism ‘almost uniquely in Britain’. There was a huge controversy about this school some years ago, but since that time it seems to have reformed its ways. I looked up the most recent Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspection report and it noted that “The courses provided cover the requirements of the National Curriculum” so I can only assume that whatever creationist influence once existed has since been purged.

    None of this is to say that we should let our guard down or become complacent. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to claim that creationism vs. evolution is an issue in public education in the UK. I suppose its always possible that there are one or two kooky teachers slipping things in under the radar, but in general the subject just doesn’t come up.

  353. tmoney Says:
    >Why not? Anecdotes aren’t data and all that, but my experiences with private charities have been vastly more positive than my experiences with the government.

    Tmoney, your experience is such a perfect illustration of what is wrong with these programs, and why government is an absolute poison to those they claim to help. I’m sorry to hear of your wife’s problems, I hope the wonders of modern medicine can offer her some relief. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing your compelling anecdote.

    Michael Hipp Says:
    > In spring 2010 my hernia began to hurt. Bad…. Price for the procedure typically runs about $10k … found a clinic that did the procedure for $1800 – less than 20% of the “government” price.

    Another absolutely fabulous anecdote. FWIW from what I have seen, when private prices are compared to the non competitive prices in healthcare, this difference is typical, in fact, it is low. I have seen numerous examples where the price difference is between one and two orders of magnitude.

    When libertarians say government adds to the cost of healthcare, I think the assumption is 5%, or 10%, or maybe even 15%. The truth is it is more like 500% or 5,000%. If we used Michael’s experience as typical, that would mean that the typical health insurance premium for top notch care would be more like $300 per month for a family, rather than the typical $1500. And if that is the case, it completely changes the equation.

    And, you know what? Although Michael went for the bargain basement pricing on his operation, I’m going to bet the surgeon’s still washed their hands before operating, and I’ll bet they gave him anesthetic drugs rather than a bottle of whiskey. There are plenty of corners to cut before quality of care is an issue.

  354. @Jessica Boxer

    And, you know what? Although Michael went for the bargain basement pricing on his operation, I’m going to bet the surgeon’s still washed their hands before operating, and I’ll bet they gave him anesthetic drugs rather than a bottle of whiskey.

    Quite right. The overall experience was one of the best I have ever had with a hospital. I had a squad-strength group of nurses and technicians looking after me and the surgeon and anesthesiologist were excellent and seemed wonderfully competent and caring.

    I’ve always believed in “you get what you pay for” but what we’re really paying for in US healthcare is something else besides quality and affordable care. Someone needs to find a phrase that describes what we’re paying for, but I’m pretty sure it will include the word “Soviet”.

  355. Jessica Boxer wrote “Although Michael went for the bargain basement pricing on his operation, I’m going to bet the surgeon’s still washed their hands before operating, and I’ll bet they gave him anesthetic drugs rather than a bottle of whiskey. There are plenty of corners to cut before quality of care is an issue.”

    I think in some ways you’re being too sanguine: some of the corners that people will naturally be tempted to cut do indeed provide value. E.g., some cutting edge niche medicines are naturally very expensive to develop. (The cutting-edge-ness boundary might be pushed back quite a ways in the absence of FDA friction, but work at the new boundary would still tend to be very expensive.) Quite possibly the result for someone at 10th percentile of income could still be considerably better than the current situation, but to the usual (non-internationalist) socialist ethos that dominates a lot of medical politics, that some people wouldn’t be able to afford the same treatment as others (even though they had inherited the same passport) would be treated as a serious argument for abolishing the market.

    In other ways, though, maybe you’re not sanguine enough. E.g., nosocomial infections are one area where substantial cost-effective improvements look very practical, and some of the current shortcomings (and current restrictions on providing customers with information about current shortcomings) are clearly not free market problems. I’d expect free market institutions (including the freedom for quality-based brands to compete, innovate, advertise, and expand without limit) would improve the nosocomial infection situation rapidly. I’d also expect — admittedly without knowing quite how to measure it — that exceedingly long shifts for physicians are seriously bad for quality, and if I recall correctly the AMA requires them routinely at some stage of being allowed to reach the full privilege set of MDs. That seems more perverse than what we tend to see from free markets.

  356. Check out surgerycenterok.com for a great example of market driven healthcare. Dr Keith Smith has taken on the mainstream healthcare model and posted prices online which are far below what is charged by the local hospitals. The hospitals have been forced to respond and the patients benefit. I did my residency with Keith and he was one of the best. Knowing him, I’m sure his colleagues at his surgery center are also of high quality. Be sure to read his blog. It explains a lot about how healthcare prices got so outrageous.

    ESR says: I turned that into a live link.

  357. @Grantham

    After all, even though we are descended from the great apes, one might as well say we “ascended” from them without controversy, and our ancestral link isn’t prescriptive in any way I can see. Even though we are related, we were far more successful than them, and it’s reasonable to say that we have become something else entirely during the course of that success.

    I always find it strange when people say ‘we are descended from apes’. I mean, it’s true, but we *are* apes, so it almost seems too trivial a statement to make.

    As for the word ‘descended’, it’s not supposed to imply that we are not as good as the lifeforms that came before us. It’s the same sense as in ‘you are descended from your parents’. I’m sure you know this however.

    I don’t really like ‘ascended’ because it implies that we are somehow ‘more evolved’ than other forms. Obviously in some cases that is literally true. We have evolved more than, for example, homo habilis. But there are a lot of forms from which we are descended that are still extant today and are no less evolved or successful than we are. I also find it annoying when people say that we are ‘more evolved’ than modern-day monkeys, or that we evolved from them, which is false.

  358. You’re missing a premise. This logic only works if health care is more expensive than, say, owning a car. Most “poor” people in the U.S. own cars (the quotes are because we don’t have actual poverty in the U.S., just relative poverty that would count as moderate wealth in much of the rest of even the developed world).

    Huh. You must’ve missed it then. Try walking through downtown Boston. Keep an eye out for bedrolls and blankets, under overhangs and in or near building lobbies. People sleep here, through the dead of winter. Actual poverty. Not exactly hard to find.

  359. >> Denmark is mostly Danes. Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    I should have included the swiss in that list.

    > Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is in progress.

    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark , Denmark is over 90% ethnic Danes. If they’re sane, that should be survivable.

    FWIW, the Netherlands is 80% ethnic Dutch.

    Those numbers are interesting. European countries lecture the US on “ethnic diversity” yet have far less experience with it, even on their scale.

    >> Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    >The idea on the table was population density, not population size.

    The US has larger areas with more population density.

    Size does matter – these countries have more independence than US states.

    Size does matter – it’s as reasonable for the typical Dane to contact the PM as it is for the typical Coloradan to contact the governor, but CO is a medium size state.

  360. @Tom
    > I have personally never met a single person who did not accept the theory of evolution.

    Which tells us:
    (1) Your experience is atypical.
    (2) Your “intuition” about how such people think has no relationship with reality.

    I know some folks who “disagree” with evolution. They’re quite functional. (This shouldn’t be a surprise as evolution doesn’t have much impact on most people’s day to day lives. And, if you’re going to argue that it’s a signal wrt belief in science, other folks will be happy to point out how the “evolution believers” aren’t actually all that keen on science.) Any theory which predicts otherwise is wrong.

  361. > Try walking through downtown Boston. Keep an eye out for bedrolls and blankets, under overhangs and in or near building lobbies. People sleep here, through the dead of winter. Actual poverty.

    Yup, and every single one of them is eligible for Medicaid. Boston also has free clinics.

    And, if Boston is anything like SF, Boston also has homeless shelters with empty beds.

  362. Which tells us:
    (1) Your experience is atypical.

    Really? How do you know?

    (2) Your “intuition” about how such people think has no relationship with reality.

    I’m not sure that I’ve said anything about how such people think. Don’t know what you’re getting at here.

    I know some folks who “disagree” with evolution. They’re quite functional. (This shouldn’t be a surprise as evolution doesn’t have much impact on most people’s day to day lives. And, if you’re going to argue that it’s a signal wrt belief in science, other folks will be happy to point out how the “evolution believers” aren’t actually all that keen on science.) Any theory which predicts otherwise is wrong.

    Again, I’m not sure what your point is. I am simply trying to point out that here in the UK we have a ‘monopoly on public education’ and that evolution vs. creationism isn’t much of an issue in public discourse, and not an issue at all in education.

    This isn’t meant as a bragging session out how great England is and how stupid you Americans are. I’m just providing a counterexample to Joe Presley’s claim that:

    If you want to teach your children creationism, go right ahead but at least recognize that the reason creationism vs evolution is even an issue is because we have a public education monopoly

    I probably could have cited almost any developed European country as such an example, but I happen to know more about the UK.

  363. >> Danes, like the other northern Europeans (and Mormons) can make any political system work.

    I should have included the Swiss in that list, but they’re odd in that they’ve managed diversity.

    >Yeah, because transnational, multicultural socialism has worked out for them so well, so far. Stay tuned for that, by the way. The end game is currently in progress.

    Actually, with the possible exception of Germany and France, none of the northern European countries are at all “multicultural”. They’re all 80-90% “ethnically pure”. There are strip-malls in San Jose (CA) with more diversity.

    Which means that they have no idea what they’re talking about when they lecture the US on diversity, multiculturalism, etc.

    >> Plus there are only 5.5M of them.

    > The slim idea on the table was population density, not population size.

    If density helped, the big US metroplexes would be better run than Denmark.

    The typical dane has roughly the same access to the PM as the typical coloradan does to the governor. However, CO is a middle-size state, and there’s a whole level of govt above the state level.

  364. The following is on-topic in the sense that it deals with an issue that could lead to a much smaller Federal Government…

    One thing I find ironic and sort of puzzling is that the US formed after rebelling against, and declaring their independence from, Britain (for good cause). But the US Constitution definitely frowns on any rebellion in the US.

    Section 9 of the Constitution includes:

    The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

    I don’t know a lot about this, but wasn’t the US civil war a result of the South wanting to secede from the Union, which they were willing to do peacefully if the Union would let them do so?

    I am not aware of any substantial desire, in modern times, for parts of the US to secede from the Union, but if the financial system goes berserk and the Federal government runs out of money, this could change.

    Here in Canada, Quebec has made motions to secede from Canada; the last time, they came very close to having enough votes in a referendum to actually try to do so. I recall a previous indecent when Prime Minister Trudeau mentioned something about the possibility of sending the army in, but I believe he was making an off hand comment – in modern times, at least, I don’t believe that there has ever been any serious suggestion that military force would be used to stop Quebec from leaving.

    The US doesn’t seem to feel the same way about the issue, or, at least it didn’t in 1860. Does the US continue to take the position that no states may secede from the Union?

  365. >>(1) Your experience is atypical.

    > Really? How do you know?

    >> (2) Your “intuition” about how such people think has no relationship with reality.

    > I’m not sure that I’ve said anything about how such people think. Don’t know what you’re getting at here.

    My mistake – I thought that you were someone else.

  366. Jeff Read:

    Huh. You must’ve missed it then. Try walking through downtown Boston. Keep an eye out for bedrolls and blankets, under overhangs and in or near building lobbies. People sleep here, through the dead of winter. Actual poverty. Not exactly hard to find.

    How many of those people are there because they have *no* other choice. I assert the number is essentially zero. Even in Boston I can’t imagine there aren’t plenty of charities, churches, and private individuals that would step in to help them get a warm bed to sleep in and 3 hot meals a day. Jeff, things are not always as they appear.

  367. @Brian Marshall

    Does the US continue to take the position that no states may secede from the Union?

    I am not aware of any mechanism by which a state can secede from the Union. I seem to remember that there was a supreme court case – some years ago now – about this subject involving Texas, and the decision was that there existed no basis for a right to secession.

    And of course there was no legal right for America to declare independence from Britain, but they did it anyway. The legitimacy of any rebellion or revolution is largely a function of how successful it is. If the rebellion succeeds in establishing an independent polity then eventually it will be recognised as having legal authority. Otherwise those involved will be subject to the law of the state from which they were trying to secede.

  368. Tom:
    > As for the word ‘descended’, it’s not supposed to imply that we are not as good as the lifeforms that came before us. It’s the same sense as in ‘you are descended from your parents’. I’m sure you know this however.

    Ha! Thanks for that. As I was reading the sentence I thought, “does he really think I don’t know this?”

    I guess the point I was really trying to make was about language itself, and how gnostics and theologians use it differently (or maybe you that, and the point of your post was just to elaborate it).

    Anyway, I don’t much mind if someone says, “we ascended from apes”, or maybe even “transcended” (even though I think that muddles the matter even more). Everyone should be introduced to science, but not everyone is going to have an aptitude for it, or a desire to use to to explain themselves and the world. That’s as right as it should be, in my view. I am not a member of any sort of religion, and not a believer in any kind of non-abstract God (although I don’t discount out of hand the idea of an abstract one). But, so what? If believing in gray beards and winged cherubs makes a person happier and easier to live with, so much the better. Not all products of religion are bad ones. We’ve gotten some stellar art out of it (and I highly recommend anyone who has yet to visit the Sistine Chapel, or contemplate the Pieta, to seek them out), and also things like charity and neighborly gatherings, etc.

    The problem (and I bet you and I agree on it) is when these religions become powerful institutions that try to force their way into our lives, or start banning other forms of knowledge and exploration. Europeans I’ve spoken to think this goes on far more in America than it actually does, but I always keep an eye out for it.

    > But there are a lot of forms from which we are descended that are still extant today and are no less evolved or successful than we are.

    Absolutely (at least in terms of demographics), and many of those forms bear almost no resemblance to ourselves from a morphological standpoint. But it does seem as though many of our closer cousins live at our pleasure, either domesticated or shielded within preserves and zoos. And there are a few things about us that seem to be unique. I know that there is a small degree of basic tool-use outside of the sapien tent, and a few examples of symbiotic relationships and cross-species “cooperation”, but nothing that approaches intentional domestication or preservation.

    But I largely agree with your point that there are all sorts of indices of success and we aren’t at the top of all of them. Crocodiles, for instance, have been doing their thing for a very long time without having to change their game much, even though the creatures around them changed quite a bit. We seem to be their biggest problem, absent the occasional angry hippo.

  369. >Every clinic and hospital I called I asked them one question: “What is your bottom dollar price to
    >do repair of a left inguinal hernia if I will pay Green Cash Up Front.” I eventually found a clinic
    >that did the procedure for $1800 – less than 20% of the “government” price.

    I’m absolutely amazed you were able to find anyone willing to answer that question. Heck, I can barely get a cash quote for an office visit these days (“well, it all depends, you should come in and we’ll let you know”). I’ve never really understood how people don’t see how much insurance as we use it now drives up the cost of health care. I always like to highlight two examples. First is LASIK eye surgery, which has for the past 20 years been decreasing in price. It used to be about $10k for both eyes, then $5K, then $2.5K. These days with a bit of luck and some phone calls, you can get both eyes, and the follow up care for <$1K. The reason for this is obvious: No insurance plan will cover LASIK (or didn't, I think recently they've started negotiating discount rates). As a result, LASIK doctors had to continue to walk their way down the price curve to continue to grow.

    In another example, I can call my vet and ask for a quote for knee surgery, overnight boarding and follow up care for my dog including all the hardware, after surgery medicines etc etc. That quote is valid for 30 days and is the cost I will pay out the door provided my dog doesn't decide to flatline on the operating table. And the total cost, including putting the dog under for the surgery is less than the physician charge alone for my wife's ankle surgery. A surgery for which we could never get any price quotes / estimates, for which it took 2 years to finally get an itemized bill from the hospital and for which we are still receiving new bills or modifications to old bills. Now I will admit that my wife is larger than my dog, and thus I would expect some costs to be more (such as the amount of anesthesia used) but the prices are insanely out of line.

    I should also note that about 1 year ago, my vet started seriously hyping one of the many new "pet insurance" policies. Coincidentally, since they have, the prices for their services have started climbing after being the same for almost 5 years.

  370. You know I was thinking about Michael Hipp’s anecdote again, and something struck me. It was that Michael cared about how much his operation cost. Most people, those with health insurance anyway, don’t care at all, in fact they care so little they probably have no idea how much it costs, whether $1000 or $100,000. Of course, that means prices go way up.

    It is just a plain fact that when people pay for stuff, even medical stuff, prices go down, and quality goes up. That goes for aspirin to laser surgery. It is also why insurance is a terrible way to pay for most medical procedures.

  371. @Jesssica Boxer

    It is just a plain fact that when people pay for stuff, even medical stuff, prices go down, and quality goes up. That goes for aspirin to laser surgery. It is also why insurance is a terrible way to pay for most medical procedures.

    Nailed it.

  372. Grantham Says:

    But, so what? If believing in gray beards and winged cherubs makes a person happier and easier to live with, so much the better. Not all products of religion are bad ones.

    One bad aspect of religion is “faith” – believing in things because you are told to, or because that is how you were brought up.

    Believing in an omnipotent god provides “answers” to a great many questions that would otherwise… let me give you an example….

    A member of my family is a heavy-duty Christian. Recently, I said “OK, fish invented spines, right? Or, at least they are the oldest living form with spines.”

    Now, I am not an expert on this issue – I may be wrong. But the family member said something like “I don’t know if evolution is the most likely explanation.” I thought but didn’t say “Well, sure, once you believe in an omnipotent god, that god is a much simpler answer than the theory of evolution.”

    On the other hand, Christianity has had a profound and great effect on the philosophical and legal development of Europe and Western Civilization. It provided an alternate authority and value system, separate from the feudal civil authorities. It made possible the concept of “This aspect of society is bad.”

    In the far east, under Confucianism and Buddhism, there isn’t an omnipotent god. There is the idea that civilization is a great thing and any dissent in relation to existing power arrangement is an attack on the great civilization we all have – therefore, any dissent is morally wrong. I am, of course, generalizing and probably grossly over-simplifying, but the end result is: dissent is bad.

  373. @Brian Marshall:

    One bad aspect of religion is “faith” – believing in things because you are told to, or because that is how you were brought up.

    Brian, I was brought up in church, my dad was a pastor. I questioned it heavily in my early adult years, but what you speak of is utterly alien to me. I’m sure somewhere there can be found people who do that, but I don’t think I’ve ever met any of them. And it astounds me that this seems to be the view of Christians – have you actually met people like that or is it just a repetition of a popular atheist talking point?

    I stuck with (or came back to) fundamental, evangelical Christianity because it best fit *all* the available evidence. And it has been an utterly reliable predictor of human behavior and world events. I have followed where the evidence led and will continue to do so.

    I realize you’re speaking of religion in general, and I can speak only of the E-F Christianity of my experience.

  374. I said >One bad aspect of religion is “faith” – believing in things because you are told to, or because that is how you were brought up.

    Michael Hipp Says:
    > what you speak of is utterly alien to me. I’m sure somewhere there can be found people who do that, but I don’t think I’ve ever met any of them.

    Your father is a pastor. You were brought up as a Christian. You did question it as a young adult, but you are a Christian. To me, this looks just like what I said. I guess, from your point of view, it doesn’t.

    Normally, I would say: “Faith” is the belief in something without evidence; the “Bible Circle”: if questioned, a Christian will say: “I believe in God because it says so in the Bible” and “I believe the Bible because it is the word of God”. Again I over-simplify, but I have personally run Christians around this circle.

    You are saying that you are a Christian

    because it best fit *all* the available evidence. And it has been an utterly reliable predictor of human behavior and world events. I have followed where the evidence led and will continue to do so.

    So, you are a Christian for scientific reasons? That is, as a result of applying the scientific method? No faith involved?

    How about evolution? How life with hard-parts that show up as fossils starting about one billion years ago?

  375. I said:

    Christianity has had a profound and great effect on the philosophical and legal development of Europe and Western Civilization.

    and I think it makes sense, although I am not certain it is true.

    But that was the past. Just because Christianity may have had some good influence in the past, this in no way justifies having faith in it now.

  376. Brian Marshall:

    To me, this looks just like what I said. I guess, from your point of view, it doesn’t.

    I don’t really follow your train of thought. Even when I was a kid, my Dad didn’t tell me I had to believe anything. As an adult I questioned and temporarily abandoned a lot of the the things I had been taught.

    But I made a conscious considered decision to return to (most) of them. If you want to assert that it’s only because I was brought up that way, go head. Can you prove it? What if I show you someone who was brought up in the opposite way, what would be the explanation for that? Is someone forcing them to believe?

    So, you are a Christian for scientific reasons? That is, as a result of applying the scientific method? No faith involved?

    I didn’t say that or anything like it. You are making the mistake of the typical mal-educated atheist in thinking that the only kind of evidence is scientific evidence. Hint: there’s also testimonial and documentary evidence that are generally considered more reliable that the scientific fad of the day. Go into a court room, what are the primary kinds of evidence they seek?

    I didn’t say I had no faith. I increasingly have more and more of it because of what my eyes, ears and mind have observed. Lives changed. Illnesses and injuries healed. Predictions coming true. Extremely low probability events taking place after people prayed and fasted.

    Have you done enough self analysis to ask yourself why you find “faith” so undesirable or evil? (I sense you’d make it a crime if you could.) Really, what is it about it? The faith that I have (it was tiny to begin with) as been extremely beneficial to me. And I’ve seen the consistent results of not having faith. No thanks.

  377. @michael hipp

    Have you done enough self analysis to ask yourself why you find “faith” so undesirable or evil?

    Faith just means belief without evidence. That’s bad because it leads to beliefs that are wrong.

    If you want to assert that it’s only because I was brought up that way, go head.

    The vast vast vast majority of believers believe in the religion of their parents. Do you think that is a coincidence? It’s a statistical fact that if you had been brought up a Muslim you would most likely be a Muslim right now rather than a Christian.

  378. @ Michael Hipp

    I have to back off – we view the world from such different points of view that there is no real way to argue about it. I would just like to make two points…

    Science is not a matter of fads – it is about the scientific method as a way of learning about how the universe works. There can be fads for just about anything, but that has nothing to do with what science is.

    I am a libertarian. I certainly don’t want to make any beliefs a crime regardless of what I think of them.

  379. Tom:

    Faith just means belief without evidence. That’s bad because it leads to beliefs that are wrong.

    Both sentences are in varying proportions wrong.

    Faith can also mean belief in things that can be neither seen or touched. I have lots of evidence to back up my faith. Which came first could be debated, but I have no lack of evidence.

    You said “it leads to beliefs that are wrong”. No, a correct statement would be “it can lead to beliefs that are wrong”. Can you assert (scientifically, of course) that it leads to beliefs that are wrong any more frequently than than the alternatives? In the 300+ comments above there are lots of wrongheaded beliefs. AGW anyone?

    Conversely, many of the beliefs that came to me via my faith are very correct.

    The vast vast vast majority of believers believe in the religion of their parents. … It’s a statistical fact …

    True enough, but what of it? You do understand that statistics have no applicability or bearing on individual cases don’t you? Statistics is a very limited and unreliable tool. You’re essentially wanting to believe I had no choice in the matter. I presume you can prove that. Scientifically.

  380. Brian Marshall:

    .. there is no real way to argue about it.

    I didn’t realize we were arguing, I thought we were discussing. :-)

    Science is not a matter of fads – it is about the scientific method as a way of learning about how the universe works. There can be fads for just about anything, but that has nothing to do with what science is.

    I really, really wish you were correct. Such is what I was taught of science and certainly is how it should be. But fads abound in science. AGW is a fad, it will pass. The whole eat-low-fat era was a scientific fad. We’ve seen fads come and go quickly in trying to find a gene to explain every human behavior the Progressives want to turn into a voting bloc.

    The scientific method is useful. The wrong conclusions and socio-political agendas that frequently come from it aren’t.

  381. Brian, most Canadians I have talked to have the same response to the idea of Quebec seceding: “Hey, can I help pack their bags?”

  382. @ Michael Hipp
    > I didn’t realize we were arguing, I thought we were discussing. :-)

    I meant “argument” in the scientific sense; it means “discussion from different points of view”. However, in this case, our points of view are so different that discussion can’t resolve the difference. Science is about repeatable results (among other things). You prayed and fasted and some event happened. There is no way of testing this scientifically – the results are not repeatable.

    re: fads
    Of course there are fads in beliefs. This is not science. It can masquerade as science, like AGW.

  383. Brian Marshall Says:

    On the other hand, Christianity [...] provided an alternate authority and value system, separate from the feudal civil authorities. It made possible the concept of “This aspect of society is bad.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this.

    AFAIK, the Chuch/Christian religion, throughout the Middle Ages, served as the ultimate justification for the worldly order, and saying “This aspect of society is bad” would be question the order God imposed upon the world. Heresy. Punishable by death by burning.

    That’s also the reason separation of church and state was such an important issue in 18th century political philosophy and in the revolutions of that era.

  384. @Brian Marshall:

    You prayed and fasted and some event happened. There is no way of testing this scientifically – the results are not repeatable.

    This is the thing atheists seem to have such a hard time grasping … the results aren’t repeatable … because they aren’t results. The thing that took place didn’t happen because I prayed. Yes, you read that right. It happened because a powerful and very intelligent actor decided to intervene.

    It if were possible to subject my faith or beliefs to scientific inquiry, I’d be the first to volunteer. (How much is the stipend?) But the simple fact is that the most interesting questions in this universe are not subject to the scientific method. It is N/A. It is of no use. None. Which is why so many of us find the idolatry of science so amusing. To place such confidence in something so, so … limited.

    Of course there are fads in beliefs. This is not science. It can masquerade as science, like AGW.

    I’m pretty sure the AGW proponents, many of whom are credentialed and practicing scientists would disagree. We both recognize it as bad science. But it is still science. Or do we make a “No True Scotsman” argument?

  385. @ SPQR

    Brian, most Canadians I have talked to have the same response to the idea of Quebec seceding: “Hey, can I help pack their bags?”

    The truth is, I pay little attention to Canadian politics, partly because when I do, it makes me angry and partly because I can’t change the stuff that makes me angry. I pay little attention to US politics per se, but a fair bit of attention to what the US is up to – the financial situation and the power exercised outside the US makes the US important to a lot of folks.

    I live in Alberta; Quebec is a long way off and has little to do with me.

    Generally, the only way Quebec does affect me is federal government attempts to pacify Quebec – passing laws that affect the whole country to please Quebec, like almost all product packaging having to be in English and French. Of the languages spoken in Alberta, French is well down the list. A lot of people, including me, really don’t like this kind of crap. Then, when you hear of Quebec passing laws that make it illegal for commercial signs to be in English…. That doesn’t go down well in the rest of Canada. But as far as I know, this sort of thing hasn’t really been in the news for many years.

    There is the fact that it would be an exciting thing to have happen. This doesn’t mean it would be a good idea. It would affect Alberta little, directly. It could have a large effect on the Maritime provinces that would be geographically cut off from the rest of Canada. It could lead to Alberta separating, which would be exciting but might not be a good idea. It could lead to BC, Washington and Oregon trying to form their own country. In the long run, I think this sort of thing will probably happen, but… today, I don’t see this as a good idea. If the Canadian Federal government tries to lean to heavily on Alberta, Alberta might seperate – this could be good, could be bad, could be some of both.

    From the limited amount I pay attention to such things, I don’t think any part of Canada except a good-sized minority in Quebec want to seperate at this time.

    If they Quebec did start the process of separating, I think you are basically right – a lot of Canadians would say “You call yourselves a separate nation. You have been a pain in the butt for a long time. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Oh, but take your proportion of the Federal debt with you.” It would be interesting.

  386. @ Michael Hipp

    I am glad you are happy. If science amuses you… there is no common ground between your view and mine.

    I’m pretty sure the AGW proponents, many of whom are credentialed and practicing scientists would disagree.

    There is science, bad science (ie. careless science), junk science (ie. people who think that they are doing science but are not) and there are liars. AGW is hovering over junk science with extensions in both directions. Many of the “scientists” that support AGW are sociologists and organic chemists and such, while others them make a living supporting AGW and if they stop supporting it, they lose that source of income.

  387. Tom:

    The legitimacy of any rebellion or revolution is largely a function of how successful it is.

    “A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as “our rebellion.” It is only in the third person – “their rebellion” – that it becomes illegal. ” — Ben Franklin, 1776

  388. @ Michael Hipp

    Or do we make a “No True Scotsman” argument?

    Yeah, basically. No true good scientist puts his/her name on something, specifically as a qualified scientist, if it is totally outside their field of study. And, or course, no true scientist publishes theories and results that they know are not true for the money.

    These activities are not science.

  389. > AGW proponents, many of whom are credentialed and practicing scientists

    You do know that credentials have nothing to do with science, right?

    As to what they’re practicing, is not sharing data consistent with good scientific practice? How about trying to get people fired for suggesting other explanations for the data? How about about “hide the decline”?

    I’d argue that it isn’t science, good or bad. Bad science is bad measurements, measuring the wrong thing, etc. AGW proponents are monkeys in lab coats.

  390. AFAIK, the Chuch/Christian religion, throughout the Middle Ages, served as the ultimate justification for the worldly order, and saying “This aspect of society is bad” would be question the order God imposed upon the world. Heresy. Punishable by death by burning.

    That’s also the reason separation of church and state was such an important issue in 18th century political philosophy and in the revolutions of that era.

    What you say is basically true, although the kings and queens had to watch themselves in relation to the church, too. The power flowed both ways.

    I am also referring more to the dark ages, an earlier time than you are describing. The fact that the church and its moral code existed outside the power of the sovereign made it at least theoretically possible to say some aspect of what the sovereign is doing is wrong.

    I contrast this with countries in which ethics is based on the idea that “good means what is good for society” which is interpreted as “good is what is good for the current power structure”. Given this approach to ethics, there is no way to say that some aspect of what the current power structure is doing is wrong.

  391. > Faith just means belief without evidence.

    Faith means belief without *empirical* evidence. But not everybody is an empiricist. And even the purest form of empiricism needs faith to function: You have to take it on faith that your senses and memory are at least halfways sound, for instance that you’re not a brain in a vat hooked up to a computer.

  392. @ Jon Brase

    You have to take it on faith that your senses and memory are at least halfways sound, for instance that you’re not a brain in a vat hooked up to a computer.

    Hey, maybe I am just a computer, with the delusion that I am sitting here typing into a computer.

    Any specific thought rests on assumptions. A rational person tries to use rational assumptions. We all assume that we are awake and this isn’t just a dream.

    Faith is not the same as assumptions. Faith is belief for non-rational reasons. I am always willing to change an assumption if it appears to be wrong or I can find a better assumption. Sometimes I know I am using an assumption that is wrong but useful – if I am making a map of a city lot, I assume that the world is flat, whereas if I am making a map of Canada, I, or my mapping software, assumes that the Earth is an oblate spheroid. I know that both assumptions are wrong but that, each in a different context, are useful.

    The point is, faith doesn’t work that way – it isn’t used that way.

  393. @Michael Hipp

    Faith can also mean belief in things that can be neither seen or touched.

    What is the difference between belief without evidence and belief in things that cannot be seen or touched?

    No, a correct statement would be “it can lead to beliefs that are wrong”. Can you assert (scientifically, of course) that it leads to beliefs that are wrong any more frequently than than the alternatives? In the 300+ comments above there are lots of wrongheaded beliefs. AGW anyone?

    Religious faith certainly isn’t the *only* thing that can lead to false beliefs, but it certainly is one thing.

    You’re essentially wanting to believe I had no choice in the matter. I presume you can prove that. Scientifically.

    I was very careful to say that if you had been brought up a muslim you would *most likely* be a muslim. I’m making no claim to knowledge in your specific case, I’m just asserting that in the case of the vast majority of believers this is true.

    You have said that you have knowledge, but that it is not scientific. Science is nothing more than a method to prevent ourselves from fooling ourselves, or getting fooled by others. Humans aren’t good at being rational. We see something that is highly unlikely and we call it a miracle, even though incredibly unlikely things happen every day for no other reason than in a huge universe even the most improbable events become commonplace. We put more stock than we should in eyewitness testimony. People’s memories are easily fooled. We have an incredibly poor grasp of probability and statistics.

    In order to counter these flaws we invented science to make sure that whatever knowledge we have is as certain as it can be. When you say you have knowledge that is not scientific all you are really saying is that you have a belief that has not been rigorously tested.

  394. @Brian Marshall:

    Faith is belief for non-rational reasons. … The point is, faith doesn’t work that way – it isn’t used that way.

    Bruce, I’m pretty sure you can’t defend those statements.

    I made a conscious choice to raise my 4 children in a certain kind of church and in a certain manner. I did this because I looked around and saw that these had a consistently good record of turning out kids who grow up to be good people and have a good, happy, and productive life. How, exactly, is that non-rational? You may question the things that I value in how my kids turn out. There is always the possibility that things won’t turn out how I planned. But none of that makes it non-rational.

    BTW, you are aware of the many studies that show people of faith tend to be happier than those without?

  395. >It’s bizarre and entertaining to hear people who yesterday were all about allegedly benign and intelligent government interventions suddenly discovering that in practice, what they get is stupid and vicious legislation that has been captured by a venal and evil interest group.

    The best example of this was all the Democrat shills who screamed to high heaven over Korans flushed down the toilet as a VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS!!!–when those same shills had been on board with the Clinton anti-gun agenda less than two years prior. It’s a violation to offend your enemies in time of war, but not to set 80 Americans, many of them babies, on fire because of an unpaid firearms tax.

  396. @Jon Brase

    You have to take it on faith that your senses and memory are at least halfways sound, for instance that you’re not a brain in a vat hooked up to a computer.

    That’s true, but a rational person tries to have as few unsupported assumptions as possible. Then, based on those premises we build up the rest of knowledge as securely and carefully as possible. We should be careful not to admit any beliefs not based on good rigorous evidence. A belief in a supernatural deity, not to mention any of the many human creation myths, is not supported and not necessary.

    There is absolutely no good rigorous (that is to say, scientific) evidence for a magic sky god. Therefore I do not admit that belief.

    What’s more there is a good logical reason to think that it is impossible for an omnipotent and benevolent being to exist. Just go to your local hospital and take a trip to the children’s cancer ward.

  397. “You are making the mistake of the typical mal-educated atheist in thinking that the only kind of evidence is scientific evidence. Hint: there’s also testimonial and documentary evidence that are generally considered more reliable that the scientific fad of the day. Go into a court room, what are the primary kinds of evidence they seek?”

    @Michael Hipp

    Scientific evidence is the best type. There are too many completely worthless testimonials around. Do you believe in Astrology? It’s got lots of proponents that loudly proclaim that, “Astrology works! It changed by life!”. Or “Laetril cured my cancer!”. Or…you get the idea.

    I’m sure that you believe that Christianity is right, and has helped you in your life, but you should consider the fact that all those Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, Hindus and None-of-the-Aboves (all-in-all, more than five billion people) have looked at your ‘evidence’ and don”t believe it.

    Have you read the Book of Mormon? It’s got the notarized statements of witnesses right up there in front. That’s real documentary evidence, isn’t it?

    “Ah, the One True Religion – all 10,000 of them.”
    - Mark Twain

  398. @Michael Hipp

    BTW, you are aware of the many studies that show people of faith tend to be happier than those without?

    This has nothing whatever to do with the truth of the religion.

    Putting aside questions about how to reliably test happiness, and what happiness is, I for one find it morally unacceptable to deliberately mislead children (and I’m not accusing you of that, because you are a true believer) in order to make them ‘happy’.

    I would rather have my eyes open and experience the universe in as real a way as possible and not be ‘happy’ than be a mindless drone made content by a mind-numbing drug.

  399. About people who go to church being happier:

    I don’t share Eric’s dislike of religion, but I have to wonder how much of that is because of the uplifting qualities of religion, versus how much is the fact that most atheists are leftists who buy into the postmodern crap, not to mention radical environmentalist gloom. I suspect that most commercial space enthusiasts, for instance, are both non-religious and relatively happy. Probably happier than most religious people, who have nothing to look forward to other than Paradise , and that only after all their accomplishments have been flushed down the toilet by the Antichrist.

    Reading Golden Age sf, I see no sign of unhappiness among the writers of the time–this in spite of the fact that most of the stuff was written during the Great Depression or WWII, and most of the writers were nerds when that practically guaranteed persecution. Also, while the average churchgoer who is a bit hazy on scripture may be happy, I don’t see much happiness among the biblical scholars, who seem rather dour on the whole. The key to happiness, from where I’m sitting, seems to be less about religion and more about an optimistic view of the future.

  400. @Tom:

    What is the difference between belief without evidence and belief in things that cannot be seen or touched?

    Because I have evidence to support my belief in the things that I cannot see or touch.

    In order to counter these flaws we invented science to make sure that whatever knowledge we have is as certain as it can be. When you say you have knowledge that is not scientific all you are really saying is that you have a belief that has not been rigorously tested.

    Actually we invented science so we could turn lead into gold, lob big rocks over fortified walls with more accuracy, and generally have more complete dominion over the world around us.

    The knowledge I have has most assuredly been rigorously tested. My millions of people over very long periods of time and in very varied and challenging circumstances. It has held up. Marvelously. Its demise has been predicted and attempted many times by people far more powerful and capable than either you or I. But yet it stands. Doesn’t that make you even just a little bit curious about it?

    Now if you want to say it has not been rigorously subjected to the scientific method, we are certainly in agreement. But why would you want to apply such a wonderful tool to an area where it is completely inapplicable. Is a fondue fork of any help in building a bridge? Will knee surgery cure my migraine?

    I value both kinds of knowledge and both kinds of tools. I don’t want to get caught in the “hammer” syndrome. I prefer my thinking not be quite so limited.

  401. @Michael Hipp

    The knowledge I have has most assuredly been rigorously tested. My millions of people over very long periods of time and in very varied and challenging circumstances.

    Yeah, and the hindu and the muslim and the jew, the roman pagan, the worshipper of Thor, and followers of Athena all say the same thing (not to mention astrologers, homeopaths and acupuncturists). But I guess they are all wrong and you are right.

    Its demise has been predicted and attempted many times by people far more powerful and capable than either you or I. But yet it stands. Doesn’t that make you even just a little bit curious about it?

    I have no hope that its demise is at hand. People have been believing all sorts of crazy things since the dawn of the human species. It’s not going away.

    But why would you want to apply such a wonderful tool to an area where it is completely inapplicable.

    Why is it inapplicable?

  402. > It’s a violation to offend your enemies in time of war, but not to set 80 Americans, many of them babies, on fire because of an unpaid firearms tax.

    IIRC, that’s not quite right.

    IIRC, the initial raid occurred because Clinton/Reno needed “evidence” for a press conference. Koresh et al didn’t follow the script and the result was some dead folks.

    The feds then lost control and TV cameras got into position.

    The rest of it looked like a combination of micromanaging by folks with no specific knowledge or relevant skills and “everyone in the chain of command ran away to maintain plausible deniability”.

  403. @Tom:

    Therefore I do not admit that belief.

    Sure, but can we agree we both believe things we cannot prove. I believe in God. I cannot prove that to the satisfaction of many people. You believe there is a naturalistic explanation for everything and nothing exists outside the natural universe. Can you prove it?

    What’s more there is a good logical reason to think that it is impossible for an omnipotent and benevolent being to exist. Just go to your local hospital and take a trip to the children’s cancer ward.

    Tom, you’re starting to sound like an atheist tape player. There is nothing to be observed in a children’s cancer ward that supports a disbelief in God. The old “why would a loving God …” line is worn out and not at all convincing.

    @LS:

    Scientific evidence is the best type.

    Best for what? We’ve seen its successes and its failures. Why not just value it for what it is rather than try to force into a place it doesn’t work very well.

    Have you read the Book of Mormon? It’s got the notarized statements of witnesses right up there in front. That’s real documentary evidence, isn’t it?

    I’m not aware of anyone asserting that all documentary or testimonial evidence is reliable, true, and useful. Is science somehow exempt from charlatans, incompetents, or those that would use it for their own ends? Judging something by its worst examples would seem unfortunate.

    @Tom:

    I would rather have my eyes open and experience the universe in as real a way as possible and not be ‘happy’ than be a mindless drone made content by a mind-numbing drug.

    Not quite sure how you meant this, but hopefully not in the very offensive way it reads. Assuming you didn’t, you are making a false dichotomy. One does not preclude the other. And it certainly need not turn you into a “mindless drone”.

    @Tom:

    But I guess they are all wrong and you are right.

    I will note that you are apparently completely convinced that I am totally wrong and you are right. Correct? How is your stance more defensible than mine?

    Why is it inapplicable?

    Because you can’t test the behavior of an intelligent, cognizant subject when the subject knows he is being tested. Especially when you have reason to suspect he is of a mind to do everything possible to thward the test. And there exists no way to keep the subject in the dark about the test. The test is neither single nor double blind. The subject chooses not to cooperate. What tool will apply here that will constitute a meaningful test with useful results? Answer: there isn’t one. It is unavailable. The scientific method simply is of no use.

  404. Michael Hipp Says:
    > This is the thing atheists seem to have such a hard time grasping

    If you promise to not make broad brush statements about atheists, I’ll promise not to do it about Christians. Does that seem fair? I am an atheist, and I fully grasp what you are saying.

    > It if were possible to subject my faith or beliefs to scientific inquiry,

    I wouldn’t ask you to subject your faith to scientific inquiry. I agree, it would not be appropriate. However, I would suggest that rational reflection would be appropriate, a sentiment which I am sure you agree with.

    you tell us that through prayer and fasting you have seen many remarkable and unlikely benefits. Yet, I am sure you will agree that many good prayers from the faithfully devout do not get answered. All around the world, Christians suffer persecution and no doubt cry out to their God for relief, and find none. Innocent children are molested by evil adults, and pray with all their hearts that God would intervene, but he does not. And yet a Christian who has a medical condition, avails himself of modern medical technology, along with his prayer, and when he finds relief gives glory to God rather than the skill of the surgeon, or the effectiveness of the drug.

    Imagine, if you will, that I sold a product to you, “JB’s Super Cure All.” This potion works in concert with your mind and mental discipline to bring about healing and wholeness in your life.

    Many people who took it, along with medical treatment, and were cured of their ills. Many of them in financial distress found new jobs. Many of them reconciled with their spouses, or quit smoking. Of course not everyone did, in fact, the majority of them followed the same trajectory as those foolish people who did not take my potion. But those fortunate souls who did, gave credit to my potion for their deliverance. The ones who didn’t? Clearly they didn’t have the mental discipline.

    Of course my potion was just sugar water, but, still it gets the credit.

    The plain fact is that Christians, even “committed” Christians are not, on average, healthier, wealthier, happier, or less prone to suicide than similar groups. They probably are a little bit more so for various reasons, such as having a solid social environment, a hope and an ethical framework, but none of this is anything to do with the intervention of the divine. Muslims have this too, as do the Boy Scouts. So, by any rational analysis, prayer is at best an unreliable help, and more likely a placebo, It is even occasionally dangerous(such as when a person fails to seek medical assistance because they are going to “pray it out”.

    If I were going to put my faith in a divine being, I’d prefer to choose one who I could rely on. One who I could depend on to answer my most desperate prayers, assuming these prayers were ethical and reasonable. One who had sufficient compassion to save all the tortured and abused children that beg for his help and mercy, and find instead their prayers were in vain.

    But perhaps you are OK with this, the Caprice Des Dieux.

  405. @ Michael Hipp

    Sorry, man. Arguing about faith versus science can be entertaining for a bit, but there isn’t the slightest chance that either of us are going to change the other’s point of view.

  406. @Jessica Boxer:

    If you promise to not make broad brush statements about atheists, I’ll promise not to do it about Christians.

    Yes. And where I am guilty, let me be guilty.

    Yet, I am sure you will agree that many good prayers from the faithfully devout do not get answered. All around the world, Christians suffer persecution and no doubt cry out to their God for relief… But perhaps you are OK with this, the Caprice Des Dieux.

    Understood … I shall home in on one point, but it seems important.

    The fact that Christians suffer and sometimes do not see the answer they wanted may not make us happy, but it is neither unexpected nor unpredicted. In fact if that didn’t happen, it would call into question most everything we believe.

    But the point that seems to get missed is this: Christianity is not primarily about our earthly comfort. (Doesn’t mean such isn’t occasionally important, it is just not *the* priority). The divine has made an iron clad unbreakable promise about the end game. The time we mill about on this spinning wet rock is so short as to be inconsequential. The belief is that our efforts and experiences serve a great good and a high purpose. Such has been promised. And based on past history, we have no reason to doubt it.

    This explanation is too short, but I hope it sheds some light on the thought process.

  407. Interesting waters this conversation has drifted into. Tying somewhat back to the OP, I’m wondering if this supposedly inexplicable “obliviousness” esr is talking about might be similar to the faith required for religious participation. In other words, maybe there is an inherently irrational part of the mind that needs sprawl into the world somewhere, or else we’ll go completely nuts.

    Without launching into some long stemwinder on the damages done by Derrida or postmodernism, I’m curious if whether some of these “bizarre and entertaining” hypocrisies (seemingly rational SOPA opponents like Jeff Read who are nevertheless irrational zealots of Carbon Armageddon) can be explained somewhat by the phrase, “A man needs a little madness.” I would be surprised if the group that opposed SOPA and NDAA but defend Cap and Trade and the millennial junk science that backs it wasn’t mostly composed of athiests. Atheists can’t do the God thing, but they can sprawl their irrational mind into transnationalism, communism and other more mundane but no less irrational faith-based stuff.

    It might be a useful model, because then I can see a non-institutional basis for religion: it (might) offer non-harmful outlet for allowing humans to be irrational, which is necessary for our survival. Not any specific kind of religion, mind you: just a sphere of life where it’s okay to think about things irrationally every once in a while. Some people can use art as a similar outlet, and as a painter I’m guessing (hoping?) that this is my version of coping with it.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I wonder if that isn’t a bit of what esr’s Wiccan practice is about (though I won’t presume).

  408. @Michael Hipp

    line is worn out and not at all convincing.

    Well, if it’s so worn out and unconvincing you shouldn’t have any trouble rebutting it.

    Actually think about this for a second. Your god, who is perfectly benevolent, and all-powerful could have designed the universe any way he wanted. He chose, deliberately, to create a universe where children die every single day of horrible diseases they can do nothing about. He could have made a universe where this wouldn’t happen. He didn’t.

    But, we are told, God is loving, he is perfectly good, and he has a special plan for you. It’s just that in the case of some children the plan is to have them die pointlessly and in pain before they have ever had a chance to live.

    A thinking person cannot believe this.

    I will note that you are apparently completely convinced that I am totally wrong and you are right. Correct? How is your stance more defensible than mine?

    Because I am not making the claim. You are. I’m an atheist, that means I do not have a belief in god. I also don’t have beliefs in vampires, fairies, and the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t need to provide proof to defend my non-belief in those entities, and I don’t need to provide proof for the non-existence of a supernatural space god.

    Because you can’t test the behavior of an intelligent, cognizant subject when the subject knows he is being tested. Especially when you have reason to suspect he is of a mind to do everything possible to thward the test. And there exists no way to keep the subject in the dark about the test. The test is neither single nor double blind. The subject chooses not to cooperate. What tool will apply here that will constitute a meaningful test with useful results? Answer: there isn’t one. It is unavailable. The scientific method simply is of no use.

    It is possible to construct an infinite number of entities that it is impossible to disprove. What if I have a belief that there is an elephant in my room, but he is very powerful and he does’t want to be found. He can turn himself invisible, he can pass straight through solid matter. He is undetectable by any form of electro-magnetic sensing equipment. We can come up with no test to see if such an elephant really exists. That doesn’t mean we should believe in him!

    You can construct an infinite number of those sorts of entities. Yours is called Yahweh. He lives in a magical place called heaven that nobody can see or touch. He speaks to people but we can never hear the conversations. He answers prayers, but every time we try to test for that he knows we are trying to test him and so he stops doing it.

    This is called special pleading.

    It is only evidence of how ridiculous the theist position is.

  409. >What’s more there is a good logical reason to think that it is impossible for an omnipotent and benevolent being to exist. Just go to your local
    >hospital and take a trip to the children’s cancer ward.

    To be fair, if you do accept the existence of a greater being with a master plan, then there’s nothing inconsistent about suffering existing, even with a benevolent supreme being. Consider the child who’s parents take away a toy, or ground the child, or tell them that “no, they can’t have a pony”. These sufferings are massive to the child, and very often lead the child to believe their parent indeed hates them (as I’m sure we all said to our parents at one point in our lives), yet older and wiser we know that the suffering served a greater purpose, especially in light of what happens if you shelter your child from all negative consequences (see the OWS movement).

    > So, by any rational analysis, prayer is at best an unreliable help, and more likely a placebo, It is even occasionally dangerous(such as when a
    >person fails to seek medical assistance because they are going to “pray it out”.

    I’ve never understood the people who do this. Let us assume for a moment that there really is a kind and benevolent supreme being who has a master plan for us all. Then it would appear to me that said supreme being placed doctors and modern medicine upon this earth for us to avail ourselves of. Deciding to simply “pray it out” seems to me to be akin to the starving man ignoring all the uncooked and unprocessed food about him, instead begging for someone to buy him a meal from McDonalds (I’m on a roll for the OWS allusions tonight).

  410. @Grantham

    Atheists can’t do the God thing, but they can sprawl their irrational mind into transnationalism, communism and other more mundane but no less irrational faith-based stuff.

    I think part of it is that being rational is really hard. It takes a lot of effort to constantly be on guard to possible deception and delusion. Sometimes even the best of us let that guard down.

  411. @tmoney

    To be fair, if you do accept the existence of a greater being with a master plan, then there’s nothing inconsistent about suffering existing, even with a benevolent supreme being. Consider the child who’s parents take away a toy, or ground the child, or tell them that “no, they can’t have a pony”.

    It’s a flawed analogy.

    First of all the parents aren’t omnipotent or omniscient. They didn’t have control over exactly how their child was made. In fact they had no control. If they were all powerful and all-knowing they could have easily created a child who would behave well without being grounded or having toys confiscated.

    Second, the parents aren’t raping their children (not the good ones anyway), or giving their children cancer or any of the other untold and unspeakable things that happen to children every day. But God IS. What good is that doing them? Getting raped isn’t a good teaching experience. That’s not going to lead to a better life. And dying of cancer at age 2 isn’t serving a greater purpose. It’s just stupid and cruel.

  412. Michael Hipp Says:
    > The time we mill about on this spinning wet rock is so short as to be inconsequential.

    Inconsequential? Let me ask you this: had you seen a priest sexually assaulting a ten year old boy in the choir room, would you have intervened? Would you have done everything in your power to help that little boy?

    I’ll assume your answer is a very loud YES. So, then, are you a better person than God? Are you more moral, a more reliable defender of children than God?

    I don’t think that abused kid’s experience is inconsequential no matter what time horizon you use.

    > The belief is that our efforts and experiences serve a great good and a high purpose.

    Could you postulate a possible higher good that might have come out of this situation?

    Now let me meet you on your own terms. You described yourself as an evangelical fundamentalist. My understanding of the latter term is, one who believes in the plain meaning of the Bible as written, who believes that it is the word or God, *theopnuestos* to use the Paul’s Greek terminology.

    As you know, Saul was cast down from his kingship over Israel, the final straw being that he did not carry out the instructions of Samuel against the Amalekites. The instruction was as follows:

    Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.(1Samuel 15:3)

    Saul failed to carry this out entirely and consequently lost his kingship. So, apparently God was pretty committed to this command. I want you to notice that the instruction was to ensure he killed the children. To make sure it is clear, he used two different Hebrew words for children *olel* and *yanaq*, the latter referring specifically to a sucking child, a baby we would say.

    Are you OK with that instruction? Are you sure you want to commit to follow the commands of a God who got really mad when someone didn’t follow through on killing babies at his instruction?

    I don’t ask this question out of malice at all. You seem like a rational, moral person. I just don’t see how you can deal the the dissonance between the morals and promises of the Bible, and the reality, readily observable in the world around you.

  413. @ Grantham

    It might be a useful model, because then I can see a non-institutional basis for religion: it (might) offer non-harmful outlet for allowing humans to be irrational, which is necessary for our survival.

    I don’t believe individuals have a need to be irrational.

    I have pointed out before that experimenting with new ideas by sustenance-level societies can result in everyone starving. Geeks (or hackers or passionate engineers, or whatever you want to call them) have to be a very small proportion of such societies or have very little credibility or the society risks killing itself. So, I am suggesting that sustenance-level societies have a need for “faith” in the received wisdom and a desire to kill or marginalize geeks.

    In our society, we have lots of room for experimentation. Geeks are valuable to our society. Irrationality is not.

    To people barely scratching out a living in East Africa, geeks are not valuable and faith is.

  414. @Jessica Boxer

    Inconsequential? Let me ask you this: had you seen a priest sexually assaulting a ten year old boy in the choir room, would you have intervened? Would you have done everything in your power to help that little boy?

    I’ll assume your answer is a very loud YES. So, then, are you a better person than God? Are you more moral, a more reliable defender of children than God?

    I don’t think that abused kid’s experience is inconsequential no matter what time horizon you use.

    Nailed it again.

    The belief that our time on Earth doesn’t really matter is one of the most dangerous consequences of religion. It leads people to do extremely immoral things because they are safe in the knowledge that all that matters is the next life.

  415. @ Jessica Boxer

    Let’s not forget about hell. Many Christians don’t believe in it but I believe evangelical fundamentalists do. Torture for all of eternity. This is what happens to people who don’t follow the rules – eternal torture is the punishment for being a bad person. God has pretty much made it clear that physical punishment is the way to punish wrong-doing. Many hard-core Christians believe this and beat their children as punishment. You mentioned in one post that you come from Georgia. I spent some time in Alabama. In many cases, what they call “spanking” down there, we call “beating”. A person could even make the argument that beating a child is the best possible favour you can do for them – they need to understand what the penalty for wrong-doing is so they realize how serious the issue of going to hell is.

    The Bible is not the best guide to raising a child IMHO.

  416. @Tom:

    Well, if it’s so worn out and unconvincing you shouldn’t have any trouble rebutting it.

    See response to Jessica Boxer above. If you’d like more I’ll try to oblige.

    Actually think about this for a second. Your god, who is perfectly benevolent, and all-powerful could have designed the universe any way he wanted. He chose, deliberately, to create a universe where children die every single day of horrible diseases they can do nothing about. He could have made a universe where this wouldn’t happen. He didn’t.

    I’m struggling to remember who might have claimed God to be perfectly benevolent. I don’t think that has been said here or anywhere else.

    How, exactly, do you know he chose deliberately to create the universe how it is now? The written record indicates he created it rather differently but it became despoiled by those with selfish or malevolent intent. If I shoot myself up with toxic drugs is that God’s design or did he just provide a universe where I have the option or not to do that?

    God has never claimed to be or evidenced Himself to be a puppet master. He allows us to make our own choices and mistakes. Most of humanity’s choices have been, frankly, rather poor.

    You do understand that this world is not actually under God’s rule? In his dealing with this ball of rock he has primarily taken the pose of a libertarian – do what you want, accept the consequences.

    But I should make one point here: You obviously don’t think much of my God. Fair enough. But the fact that you object to Him does not affect his existence. So is it really that you believe he doesn’t exist or just that you really, really don’t want Him to exist.

    A thinking person cannot believe this.

    You are making a very hate-filled and deragatory comment about a great many people. There are many accomplished, intelligent, educated and fine people who believed in similar fashion. Are you sure you want to say that about all of them?

    Because I am not making the claim. You are. I’m an atheist, that means I do not have a belief in god.

    What claim, precisely, did I make. I claim I believe in God. I didn’t claim you will be convinced.

    But you *must* claim there is a naturalistic explanation for *everything*. Correct? It’s a positive assertion. Can you provide proof for that?

    It is possible to construct an infinite number of entities that it is impossible to disprove. … It is only evidence of how ridiculous the theist position is.

    You asked why the scientific method was of no use. I answered it. The answer is perfectly in line with the understood problem of attempting to observe behavior when the subject knows he is being observed.

    The fact that you don’t like that is it is inapplicable doesn’t change the fact. Did you really believe the scientific method to be applicable to everything? Everything? That nothing could or would ever be found for which it simply didn’t work? Such … uh … faith.

  417. @Brian Marshall

    Let’s not forget about hell. Many Christians don’t believe in it but I believe evangelical fundamentalists do. Torture for all of eternity. This is what happens to people who don’t follow the rules – eternal torture is the punishment for being a bad person.

    Or even for just not being a Christian! I guess the thousands of people who lived before Christ, or who lived in parts of the world where the news never got through, just never had a chance.

    So God deliberately created thousands of people who he knew in advance would end up burning in hell for eternity, and that there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.

    But don’t forget: he loves us all.

  418. > If I were going to put my faith in a divine being, I’d prefer to choose one who I could rely on.

    Unless your preferences have some impact on what kind of divine beings exist….

    > But, we are told, God is loving, he is perfectly good, and he has a special plan for you. It’s just that in the case of some children the plan is to have them die pointlessly and in pain before they have ever had a chance to live.

    > A thinking person cannot believe this.

    Why not? (If you’d written “compassionate” maybe but even that assumes something about the alternatives to “some children get a crappy deal”.)

    If you’re going to argue against religion as irrational, your arguments do have to be rational.

  419. Tom:
    > The belief that our time on Earth doesn’t really matter is one of the most dangerous consequences of religion.

    I partially agree, this is only true with certain kinds of faiths, and also with certain kinds of atheism (like the atheism of Karl Marx).

    The problem, as far as I see it, is that radical atheists and radical religious people aren’t that different in terms of their danger, even though the origin of that danger is opposite. The radical religious folk are dangerous because they don’t think that this world matters enough. The radical atheists are dangerous because they think this world matters too much, and therefore go about trying to build utopias here on Earth. After all, if this is all that matters, and all there is, what’s the big deal about starving a few million Ukrainian farmers? If someone sure – one hundred percent positive – there is no God, no afterlife, and no moral structure to the universe, than a certain kind of person can also claim there should be no limits to power. Not every kind of person, mind you; but as I said before, not everyone has an aptitude for science. This already happened a few times with humans. It’s not conjecture; it’s part of our history and (I suspect) part of our nature.

    Anyway, the point is that there are lots of happy mediums in between “God is everything, and you must obey” and “God is an cage, and you must free yourself.” I’ve seen many God-fearing people who are perfectly rational in most matters outside of their faith. The main practice of this faith usually coincides with a holiday from the working world (either Friday-Saturday for Jews or Sunday for Christians). It’s interesting to note that these people recognize that, while faith is important, it is not the only important part of life, and that they ought to exercise worldly wisdom as well. They aren’t in church every day. Meanwhile the more radical “faiths” (including the slavish, geopolitical death cult of Islam) seem to want you prostrated on your knees five times a day, or perhaps living in a bunker, or not talking to outsiders, or all of the above. There are degrees and shades of gray in religion, as there are in everything.

  420. @Michael Hipp

    I’m struggling to remember who might have claimed God to be perfectly benevolent. I don’t think that has been said here or anywhere else.

    How, exactly, do you know he chose deliberately to create the universe how it is now? The written record indicates he created it rather differently but it became despoiled by those with selfish or malevolent intent. If I shoot myself up with toxic drugs is that God’s design or did he just provide a universe where I have the option or not to do that?

    God has never claimed to be or evidenced Himself to be a puppet master. He allows us to make our own choices and mistakes. Most of humanity’s choices have been, frankly, rather poor.

    You do understand that this world is not actually under God’s rule? In his dealing with this ball of rock he has primarily taken the pose of a libertarian – do what you want, accept the consequences.

    Okay. So let’s get this straight. He’s not all-loving. He’s not omnipotent or omniscient. He doesn’t rule the world. He tried to make a good world, but didn’t really do a very good job.

    How exactly is this a god?

    Does he have *any* good qualities?

    But you *must* claim there is a naturalistic explanation for *everything*. Correct? It’s a positive assertion. Can you provide proof for that?

    So far there is no evidence for anything non-natural beyond the Universe. If such evidence comes to light I will change my mind.

    There are many accomplished, intelligent, educated and fine people who believed in similar fashion. Are you sure you want to say that about all of them?

    I know that there are intelligent theists. I believe that you are one of them. However, when it comes to their belief in religion I believe that this can only be explained by a lack of rigorous critical thinking. It is possible for intelligent people to compartmentalise their thinking very skilfully so that in some areas they are exceptional rationalists but in others they have a complete failure of reason.

    In the specific area of religion they are not thinking. Sorry, but I think that is true. We all have our blind spots, but we should attempt to eliminate them as best we can.

    You asked why the scientific method was of no use. I answered it. The answer is perfectly in line with the understood problem of attempting to observe behavior when the subject knows he is being observed.

    So, what is the difference between my elephant and your Yahweh?

  421. “Hint: there’s also testimonial and documentary evidence that are generally considered more reliable that the scientific fad of the day.”

    “I’m not aware of anyone asserting that all documentary or testimonial evidence is reliable, true, and useful.”

    @Michael Hipp: Those are both your statements. So…the Christian Bible is reliable, but the Quran isn’t? There are more than a billion people that disagree with you. Maybe *your* documentary evidence isn’t reliable, true or useful. Apparently what’s true is what you believe. (That’s generally how religions work.) That’s OK for you, but the more scientifically minded would like to see repeatable results that always work, no matter who does the experiment.

  422. @ Jessica Boxer

    I really shouldn’t have directed my last post at you – I should have directed the points at Michael Hipp. But then it would have made sense to ask him whether he beats his children or spanks them severely with sticks or what. Frankly, I don’t want to know. But I shouldn’t have laid the issue on you. Sorry.

  423. @Grantham

    The radical atheists are dangerous because they think this world matters too much, and therefore go about trying to build utopias here on Earth.

    I’m not really sure what you mean by a ‘radical’ atheist. All I mean by an atheist is somebody who lacks a belief in a god. An ‘a-theist’, just like an ‘a-fairyist’. I don’t see how there can be a radical version of that.

    There may be some people who want to build utopias and they may by chance be atheists. But there are also plenty of atheists who aren’t utopians (me for example). There really doesn’t seem to be much of a connection. We all want to make our lives on Earth good, but some people (utopians) have a flawed view of how to do that. This flawed view is not a consequence of not having a belief in God. It’s a consequence of having a poor sense of history, politics, humans, and rationality.

    Meanwhile there is a *direct* connection between a belief in a religion and not valuing life on earth. If you believe you have a place in heaven forever, and that you have a direct line to God and know what he wants from you, it tends to encourage a dismissive attitude to earthly concerns.

  424. @Michael Hipp

    God has never claimed to be or evidenced Himself to be a puppet master

    So, God cannot intervene in the world (or just refuses to)?

    I take it then that you don’t believe in miracles? And you accept that God never answers prayers?

    And I assume that you don’t believe that Jesus performed miracles by healing the sick and all the other stuff he was supposed to have done?

    Because that would have been intervening in the world. Right?

  425. @Jessica Boxer:

    Inconsequential? … I don’t think that abused kid’s experience is inconsequential no matter what time horizon you use.

    You seem to be making the mistake of thinking that what happens in this life is the end-all, be-all. We know better. Like you I would do everything in my power to rescue the child and see the “priest” brought to justice. Otherwise, see below…

    So, then, are you a better person than God? Are you more moral, a more reliable defender of children than God?

    You are postulating that there is some moral code that is higher than God. Is that not a necessity for your question? Who exactly is to tell God what he must do in any particular situation or that he is wrong or obligated to act. Am I his judge? Shall we report him to the UN? The answers to these questions is that morality is whatever God defines it to be. His game, his rules.

    Could you postulate a possible higher good that might have come out of this situation?

    Sure. Easy. Trivially easy. Since you are obviously focused on what happens in this mortal life, I’ll keep it there…

    What exactly will the child do with this horrid experience? Perhaps his misfortune will be the one that shines the light on the corrupt organiztion that houses this “priest”. Maybe his misfortune will save countless others. Maybe he will grow up to found a charity for abused children of all types. Perhaps he will start a movement that will sweep through the entire world and become a force to root out corruption and evil in all kinds of places.

    Or perhaps the child will die of his injuries shortly afterwards … but his sister will do all these things in his memory.

    You’ve never seen good things to come out of horrible things? Really?

    And I haven’t even touched on the eternal, which is the more important point.

    Now let me meet you on your own terms. You described yourself as an evangelical fundamentalist. My understanding of the latter term is, one who believes in the plain meaning of the Bible as written, who believes that it is the word or God

    Yes. A proper label might be something like Literal Biblicist or somesuch.

    …the instruction was to ensure he killed the children. … Are you OK with that instruction?

    The first answer is: what does it matter whether I am “OK” with it or not. He’s God, shall I argue with him? I’m just really, really glad I’m not the one to have to carry it out.

    Are you sure you want to commit to follow the commands of a God who got really mad when someone didn’t follow through on killing babies at his instruction?

    Saul’s failing here was just one of many so the decison didn’t really come about because of this one incident, but that’s not particularly material to your question.

    A couple of things: 1) That command was given to a specific person at a specific place and time and there is no reason to expect it will ever be repeated in the future, the point being that God evidently had a specific purpose for it. 2) Again, it doesn’t matter what I think. 3) God does what he does for his own reasons and he is never obligated to explain himself to us. That he occasionally does so is icing.

    Let’s look at it from God’s perspecive (to the best we can) and try to suppose why he might have given this command. He is trying to lead Israel to be a model nation of people that will be a shining and fearful example to the entire world and that they will be able to evangelize that entire world. The Amalekites are standing in the way of that. And God, with perfect knowledge of the future, knows what they will do. Those precious baby Amalekites will turn into violent, warlike, pagan, idol worshiping full-grown Amalekites (if Tom and Brian’s statistics are correct). So the best Saul can do is eliminate them before they get any worse. Also, by killing them as babies, where do they go: like David’s infant child, they go to be with the father. It’s the best that can be done for them under the circumstances.

    Am I thrilled with that solution? Hardly. Is that waht God really wanted. Nope, he told us otherwise many times. Unfortunately, in this world sometimes the best solution still isn’t anything any of us would wish for.

    You seem like a rational, moral person. I just don’t see how you can deal the the dissonance between the morals and promises of the Bible, and the reality, readily observable in the world around you.

    Thank you for the complement. I have tried to answer fully but briefly.

    I don’t see the dissonance you speak of. I mean that sincerely and it is not a trite or off-the-cuff answer. I’ve had to think about it many times. Everything we see around us is predicted and predictable. (Read Proverbs.) It’s not how God would have it for us, but we have made our bed. That “priest” above does not do what he does because God told him to or because he read it in the Bible. He does it because he is a selfish, violent, hateful person who is serving the will of his true father (Satan). It’s not what God wants, but he allows us to make our own choices. Sometimes I wish he didn’t.

  426. @Michael Hipp

    You are postulating that there is some moral code that is higher than God

    I’m struggling to remember who might have claimed God to be perfectly benevolent. I don’t think that has been said here or anywhere else.

    Okaaaay…

  427. @Michael Hipp

    2) Again, it doesn’t matter what I think.

    And here’s another horrible thing about belief in God: complete abdication of responsibility for thinking about morality. God says it I do it. No questions asked. Just following orders. If it’s in this old book I found from the bronze age then it is beyond question.

    See, when you take moral orders that aren’t open to question we tend to run into a few teeny-weeny little problems.

  428. @Tom:

    Okay. So let’s get this straight. He’s not all-loving. He’s not omnipotent or omniscient. He doesn’t rule the world. He tried to make a good world, but didn’t really do a very good job. … How exactly is this a god? … Does he have *any* good qualities?

    Tom, you seem to be getting really worked up about this and you’re putting words in my mouth right and left. I don’t appreciate it.

    God loves each one of us very dearly. He is omnipotent and omniscient (I didn’t say otherwise). This world decided to follow Satan and God has allowed him to be the defacto ruler.

    He made a wonderful world, others despoiled it. He loves you in spite of your hatred of him and your hatred of people like me. He is a god because he can do anything. The ability to act is not an obligation to act.

    So, what is the difference between my elephant and your Yahweh?

    None I suppose in the way you proposed it. That’s the point, the scientific method doesn’t prove he doesn’t exist, it doesn’t prove he does, it is just N/A. What point are you trying to make with your elephant, it’s really not clear?

    @Tom:

    So, God cannot intervene in the world (or just refuses to)? … I take it then that you don’t believe in miracles? And you accept that God never answers prayers? … And I assume that you don’t believe that Jesus performed miracles by healing the sick and all the other stuff he was supposed to have done? … Because that would have been intervening in the world. Right?

    You’re not serious. This contradicts most everything I wrote above and you’re putting words in my mouth again. He has performed miracles. He does perform miracles. He intervenes in this world when he chooses and he frequently has (tho frequently not in spectacular lightning-bolt fashion). The ability to act is not an obligation to act.

  429. @Michael Hipp

    God loves each one of us very dearly.

    He is omnipotent and omniscient

    He does perform miracles. He intervenes in this world when he chooses and he frequently has (tho frequently not in spectacular lightning-bolt fashion). The ability to act is not an obligation to act.

    So why doesn’t he intervene to help a five year old child being gang-raped to death?

    He loves that child dearly. He has the power to prevent its suffering. He knows it’s happening. He’s watching it.

    And he does nothing.

    And this happens every day.

    Really. I’m serious. How can you worship such a creature?

  430. @LS:

    Those are both your statements. So…the Christian Bible is reliable, but the Quran isn’t?

    The Bible, yes. The Quran/Koran I dunno and I’m not particularly motivated to learn Arabic so I can read it.

    There are more than a billion people that disagree with you.

    They also disagree with you. Are you swayed by it?

    Maybe *your* documentary evidence isn’t reliable, true or useful.

    But’s that’s the deal: it has proven itself to be all those things, time and time again.

    That’s OK for you, but the more scientifically minded would like to see repeatable results that always work, no matter who does the experiment.

    We’re in solid agreement, I think, on the utility of science. I just don’t understand why someone would want to limit themselves to one tool when there are others available that give good results in their own space.

  431. It’s a tribute to the quality of these blog posters that this hasn’t turned into more of a food fight than it has. One side posits a non disprovable belief and the other side tries to shoot it down with reason.

  432. @Tom:

    Really. I’m serious. How can you worship such a creature?

    This is becoming surreal. But I guess I’ll keep playing along for a while.

    I worship him because he is neither the rapist, nor does he condone the rape.

    In short, the rape of the child has nothing to do with God so why should it affect my opinion of him. Even if I wish he would always intervene in such things (I do), who am I to tell him what is best? That knowledge isn’t available to me.

    Please note also that God has an infallible plan to deal justice to the rapist.

    Do you really find it mysterious that he allows us to mostly do whatever we want? Really? It seems perfectly logical to me, even if the result isn’t always pleasant.

  433. In short, the rape of the child has nothing to do with God

    Nothing to do with God? Everything is to do with God according to your metaphysics.

    He is omnipotent and omniscient. That means he knew to an absolute certainty that this would happen when he created the world. He had the power (he’s omnipotent) to create a world in which this did not happen, but he chose not to. He specifically chose the world with the child rape and the cancer. Specifically and deliberately. This point is inescapable.

    Please note also that God has an infallible plan to deal justice to the rapist.

    I’m sure that’s a great comfort to the child who has just gone through one of the most horrifying experiences imaginable and is now dead. And if he didn’t believe in Yahweh he’s now burning in hell for eternity just to top things off for him.

  434. # Michael Hipp Says:
    > You seem to be making the mistake of thinking that what happens in this life is the end-all, be-all.

    I do, but I also understand that you don’t.

    > You are postulating that there is some moral code that is higher than God.

    I’m postulating nothing. I’m saying that any person who can watch a child be molested without taking action is a bad person. You are correct that I do not have a book to tell me that, but what I do have are mirror neurons that allow me to feel the pain of the little boy, and what I do have is a belief that no man has the right to force his penis up the anus of a little boy, again and again and again, until he relieves himself. And what I do have is a visceral reaction when I think of that same priest promising the kid eternal damnation should he speak of the matter. And what I do have is a retching feeling in my stomach when I think of that little boy staggering out the choir room, blood and semen dripping from his anus into his underpants, especially when I consider that that physical injury is the least of his trauma.

    And what I do have is a memetically derived belief system, based on all these reactions that tell me that any person empowered to prevent such an outrage who does not act is reprehensible, utterly contemptible. The idea of worshiping such a being, or looking to him for moral guidance, or relying on him for help, or placing my eternal future in his hands is just absolutely ridiculous.

    I have no book against which to judge God and his actions in this and many similar matters. Sometimes you don’t need a book.

  435. >It’s a flawed analogy.

    More likely I allowed myself to go off on a tangent to get in a jab at OWS rather than make my point correctly. The point wasn’t to say that cancer is a teaching method so much as that if you assume the existence of an all powerful higher being with a plan for everyone, it is the absolute height of arrogance to assume that your particular set of morals and view of the way the world should work is correct and should be applied to that higher being. My point was less about the idea that a god might be teaching us anything so much as if you accept the concept of a higher power, then applying your view of the world on top of the “master plan” and asking why things aren’t going the way you think they should is akin to the child asking why they can’t have another cookie.

    >Okay. So let’s get this straight. He’s not all-loving. He’s not omnipotent or omniscient. He doesn’t rule the world. He tried to make a
    >good world, but didn’t really do a very good job.

    >How exactly is this a god?

    Up until roughly 2000 years ago, it was the very definition of most gods. All of the Greek, Roman, Norse, Japanese etc gods were very very flawed creatures. It really wasn’t until the Jewish god (if I’m remembering my religious histories correctly, feel free to correct) that the concept of a benevolent all knowing all powerful singular god came into being.

  436. @Tom:

    He is omnipotent and omniscient. That means he knew to an absolute certainty that this would happen when he created the world. He had the power (he’s omnipotent) to create a world in which this did not happen, but he chose not to. He specifically chose the world with the child rape and the cancer. Specifically and deliberately. This point is inescapable.

    This point is wrong.

    He chose to create us and give us freedom to act. For whatever reason, that suited his purposes. What’s happened after that has been our doing. That he could foresee it and could prevent it is obvious. That such is the better choice isn’t.

    What’s inescapable is that you don’t want us to have freedom of choice. So why are you reading a libertarian blog?

    If it’s God’s fault that the child got raped, then why would you put the rapist in jail? Surely he is not to blame for God’s failings.

    So do you want to be a mere automaton being pushed around by a cosmic puppetmaster or would you rather be somewhat more self-directed? You can’t have it both ways.

    Are you familiar with the word ‘hubris’? That’s what comes to mind in reading a guy who thinks he has a better plan for the world than God himself.

  437. @Tom
    > I’m not really sure what you mean by a ‘radical’ atheist.

    I’m not surprised, because you kind of sound like one. For instance, why is it so important that you ridicule Michael Hipp’s beliefs, or try to convince him to not believe in God? If atheism is simply lack of faith, it shouldn’t matter much to you whether he believes or doesn’t.

    But you are correct that not all atheists participate in utopian political movements (and not all religious people don’t). However, they are more likely to, these days, because atheism has spread beyond just a small group of self-examined, philosophical people and those with scientific minds. “Radical atheists” (meaning, for lack of a better word, atheists who feel the need to “prosthelytize” their atheism) are usually also scientific, but probably more likely to gravitate towards the Left, because I think they still want the objective meanings that religious folks get from reading the bible. They don’t just want to be “right” they want to be “good.” And if they are effective propagandists, they will get unscientific people to lose their religious faith, and lots of illogical people who don’t believe in God will want to believe in something. During the 20th century, that something was totalitarianism – The All Powerful State.

    Again, it’s not every atheist who becomes a totalitarian (or a tool of one), and you probably won’t. But when I look at some of the most effective viral transmitters of atheism (Hitchens, Dawkins), they were/are hard leftists, as was their philosophical mentor Marx. As was Mussolini. As was Lenin. As was Stalin. Correlation is not causation, but I think that its a stretch to say there is no connection, here. The connection seems quite clear to me, and I am a non-believer myself.

    I guess the counter argument might be that the connection between the 20th century villains and atheism was an incremental or evolutionary change, and that “it won’t happen again like that.” On the other hand, how often are the lessons of history given only once?

  438. @Michael Hipp

    He chose to create us and give us freedom to act.

    God can do anything. Anything. That means he could have created a world with free will that did not involve child rape. Couldn’t he? If he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. He’s limited by something.

    Whatever the end goal of his cosmic plan is, he could have achieved it without all the crazy shit that happens every day on this planet. Because he can do absolutely anything.

    What’s inescapable is that you don’t want us to have freedom of choice.

    I actually don’t think we have free will. In fact I am fairly confident about it. The universe appears to obey a fixed set of rules. There is randomness at the quantum level, but there is no evidence to suggest that human brains somehow have the power to change the course of events in the universe any more than a rock does.

    If it’s God’s fault that the child got raped, then why would you put the rapist in jail? Surely he is not to blame for God’s failings.

    I don’t believe in god, remember?

    The real question is why you would interfere in child rape when you think it is part of God’s brilliant plan.

  439. Tom:
    > God can do anything. Anything. That means he could have created a world with free will that did not involve child rape. Couldn’t he? If he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. He’s limited by something.

    I am no theologian, I think the common religious answer for that “something” is (or used to be), “the Devil.” In other words, the notion that the metaphysical world is a struggle between two Gods: one Heroic and one Anti-Heroic one. One of the contradictions of Christianity (and of Catholicism specifically) is that notion that the Earth is supposed to be the Devil’s turf – filled with child rapists and murderers and sadists, as well as with the danger that we will all become them if we are not careful. The Devil supposedly has real power here, even bringing about the Apocalypse (presumably not by carbon emissions, but who knows).

    Anyway, I think the point was supposed to be that what was being saved by being faithful to God was not the body, but the soul. Something along those lines. God doesn’t save bodies; fireman, cops, Samaritans and other kinds of human heroes do that. God saves souls.

    (Or, something along those lines; It’s been a long time since I’ve been to church)

  440. @Tom:

    God can do anything. Anything. That means he could have created a world with free will that did not involve child rape. Couldn’t he? If he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. He’s limited by something.

    Yes, glad you asked. As best I can tell he is limited by his own word. The Bible also says he cannot lie.

    And if you say there is a way for someone to have free choice but not the ability to choose to rape then I’ll take your word for it. I just don’t see how it is possible. If we only have the ability to choose good things, do we really have the ability to choose?

    I actually don’t think we have free will. In fact I am fairly confident about it. The universe appears to obey a fixed set of rules. There is randomness at the quantum level, but there is no evidence to suggest that human brains somehow have the power to change the course of events in the universe any more than a rock does.

    You’re now contradicting yourself. If the rapist has no choice but to rape, why would you consider it a crime. All you have done is posited a material universe that directs every minute detail in place of a god that does same. How is this really different? BTW, can you prove that belief? Is it possibly un-rational? How could a thinking person believe such a thing?

    That’s twice in this thread where I’ve observed you seemingly searching for the god that you don’t have.

    The real question is why you would interfere in child rape when you think it is part of God’s brilliant plan.

    You’re putting words in my mouth again, down boy.

    Again, real slow this time… *people* do bad things. God would prefer they didn’t. It was never his intent that they do so. But he allows them to make their own choices. For better or worse. But even when people do *really* bad things, God can take that evil and turn it into something good. If the people are willing. Sometimes they’re not. It’s their choice.

  441. > If the rapist has no choice but to rape, why would you consider it a crime.

    This one is easy. For the same reason you put down a vicious dog, to prevent further commission of the crime. Of course, that presumes your penal system is effective in accomplishing that goal.

  442. @tmoney:

    This one is easy. For the same reason you put down a vicious dog, to prevent further commission of the crime.

    But why do you want to prevent further commission of this? How can it be wrong if it is what the universe ordered? Obviously it must be a good thing if the universe ordered it.

  443. All of you arguing with Michael Hipp are wasting your time. He is insane, in precisely the same way a paranoid schizophrenic is insane.

    You can’t talk a paranoid schizophrenic out of being insane, because his mechanisms for belief formation are overridden by his delusional system. That delusional system is anchored deeper in the brain than the parts that do planning and rational thought.

    Religious faith is like that, too. You can’t talk people out of it; like paranoid schizophrenics they are infinitely resourceful at defending their delusional systems. The most you can do is take precautions lest they become violent.

  444. @Michael Hipp

    If we only have the ability to choose good things, do we really have the ability to choose?

    Example: yourself.

    I assume you have never raped or murdered anybody. And yet you have free will (or you think you do anyway).

    So, it’s possible on your account to create people with free will who don’t rape children.

    Seems to me like it might have been a good idea for god to have created a few more people like that, and a few less people who rape children.

    However, even if I were to accept the free will argument that still does not explain things like cancer. Why would God create a world with cancer? Doesn’t provide free will does it? So what is the purpose here?

    Again, God is all powerful, he can do anything, so no matter what his goals are he could have achieved them without cancer.

    >

    If the rapist has no choice but to rape, why would you consider it a crime.

    This one is easy. For the same reason you put down a vicious dog, to prevent further commission of the crime. Of course, that presumes your penal system is effective in accomplishing that goal.

    Exactly. The purpose of a criminal justice system is not moral retribution. It is to ensure a safe and orderly society.

    But why do you want to prevent further commission of this? How can it be wrong if it is what the universe ordered? Obviously it must be a good thing if the universe ordered it.

    The universe is indifferent. It’s not god. It doesn’t give orders. It just is. Just because a thing happens in the universe doesn’t mean it is good.

  445. @esr

    All of you arguing with Michael Hipp are wasting your time. He is insane, in precisely the same way a paranoid schizophrenic is insane.

    I’m not so sure. I have to believe that it is possible to change minds on this subject. If we have a world full of people who think that anything a supernatural being commands is morally acceptable, even ordering mass murder of children, then we are in trouble.

  446. >If we have a world full of people who think that anything a supernatural being commands is morally acceptable, even ordering mass murder of children, then we are in trouble.

    Yes, we are in exactly that kind of trouble. People with minds broken exactly the way Michael Hipp’s is have flown airlines into skyscrapers and are trying to get nuclear weapons. None of this is breaking news. Welcome to reality.

  447. @esr

    People with minds broken exactly the way Michael Hipp’s is have flown airlines into skyscrapers and are trying to get nuclear weapons. None of this is breaking news. Welcome to reality.

    Oh.

    Crap.

  448. esr Says:
    >All of you arguing with Michael Hipp are wasting your time. He is insane, in precisely the same way a paranoid schizophrenic is insane.

    FWIW, I don’t agree. I don’t think it is insanity in the sense of a non functional reasoning system. It is obvious to me that Michael is perfectly capable of rational thought.

    The problem really is a tribal thing, it is something that is built into our survival mechanisms. We, social animals that we are, need to have an agreed upon framework of understanding for us to function together as a social group. Michael no doubt has just such a social group. Even were someone to make a case that was utterly compelling to him, the social cost of abandoning his religious belief is gigantic, it involves loosing all of his social relationships, his whole social system, his friends, his beliefs and rationality, possibly his wife and family.

    Being rational is useful, but that is a heck of a trade off.

    The human mind is a remarkable thing, it can compartmentalize so that one can be an amazing genius in one area, and entirely irrational in another. Our minds can hold both quite well.

    Consequently you are right, arguing is futile for changing minds, but it does serve the purpose of exercising our analytical muscles, and give an opportunity to air a discussion on atheism, and I think that is interesting and fun intrinsically.

  449. @esr: No, he is not insane. There are too many people like him to consider them abnormal. What he is is a flat-earther. He has canned arguments against all the common objections to his point of view, and trots them out without really thinking about other people’s points. He deals with the most serious ones by waving them away. I’m rather surprised, though, that none of the house atheists have challenged his main claim that Christianity has proven itself to be a force for good over and over, while its actual record has been rather dismal over the last two millennia. If it really was as good as he says it is, it would have seven billion adherents, not just one – and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. would be nowhere.

  450. > People with minds broken exactly the way Michael Hipp’s is have flown airlines into skyscrapers and are trying to get nuclear weapons.

    Yeah. From his comments, I’m not sure if Michael Hipp is a dangerous sort of person, or that all religions are dangerous (or equally dangerous), but if homo sapiens are snuffed out, it will probably be due to religious psychos. Either that, or the world’s most powerful and lucid nihilists.

  451. >There are too many people like him to consider them abnormal.

    High incidence of smallpox doesn’t make it not-smallpox. High incidence of delusional insanity doesn’t make it other than it is either. Actually, when insanity is common it’s more important to be able to recognize it for what it is – otherwise you may end up enabling it.

    @Jessica

    >It is obvious to me that Michael is perfectly capable of rational thought.

    So is a paranoid schizophrenic, in matters far enough removed from his delusional system.

  452. esr Says:
    >So is a paranoid schizophrenic, in matters far enough removed from his delusional system.

    Hmmh, perhaps I didn’t explain myself well. My point was that there is a special type of rationality here, perhaps one might call it meta-rationality. For this guy, due to his personal circumstances, the net cost of being rational in this area of religious belief is much higher than the net cost of being irrational. And so, in a meta sense, being irrational is the rational choice.

  453. > If it really was as good as he says it is, it would have seven billion adherents, not just one – and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

    Eh. Islam is plainly worse than Christianity, by every single metric except for size. Not all demographic increases are signals of strength or “goodness”; think of cancers and viruses for examples in nature. Buddhism should yield good results (and has yielded a few in the past), but lately it’s existed in close quarters with the kind of tyranny and crushing of dissent that makes it hard to self-correct, making disaster much more likely. Christianity didn’t do too badly, considering how many of its core premises should make its adherents easy prey for warlords. Luckily for them, the Euro pagans who inherited the faith were fairly warlike themselves at the time, and found a happy middle between Jesus Christ and their more bellicose forest spirits. Onward Christian soldiers, and all that.

    Anyway, I tend to think that the fact the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason arose from Christian Europe was a feature, not a bug, though enumerating all the reasons why would take all night (and this ain’t my blog). Yes, there is a lot of irrationality in religion. Faith is by it’s nature irrational. So, you keep your eye on it and try to corral it when you can. Probably best not to outlaw it though. That will just make it more popular, as the commies learned.

    On the other hand we have Iran. Holy shit.

  454. >So is a paranoid schizophrenic, in matters far enough removed from his delusional system.

    They called it compartmentalization, I suppose. We can be selectively insane and selectively rational.

  455. @Jessica Boxer
    > the net cost of being rational in this area of religious belief is much higher than the net cost of being irrational. And so, in a meta sense, being irrational is the rational choice.

    Yeah, I get this. It’s a good way of describing it, too: meta-rationality. In other words, he is actually getting the better deal by ignoring certain contradictions and fallacies, even though he has to be irrational to get it. Actually, maybe that would more precisely be described as meta-logic. Hipp gets nothing tangible from Tom by yielding to his (fairly belligerent) arguments, but he gets plenty by sticking to his beliefs. If it’s a form a self-delusion (which I assume), then I’ve seen far more destructive forms in schizoid cases. The crazy guy who plays the invisible guitar near my bus stop doesn’t get anything from his delusions except dirtier, lonelier, sicklier, and closer to death every time I see him. Meanwhile Hipp gets friends, a low cost support system and an easy answer to problems the rest of us sometimes grapple with.

    Not saying it’s not “crazy”, but maybe a more logical kind of crazy than the paranoid schizophrenics, who are often completed alienated.

  456. I agree with esr. As I said, no amount of argument using reason is going to affect faith. Once you have been around the loop a few times, and then been drawn into makeing a few more comments, the whole thing gets tedius.

  457. @Jessica

    “And what I do have is a memetically derived belief system, based on all these reactions that tell me that any person empowered to prevent such an outrage who does not act is reprehensible, utterly contemptible.”

    While I do think your conversation with Michael is the most interesting one, I don’t find this line of argumentation convincing. This is the old problem of evil in the world and the analogy to children being taken their toys away does provide a consistent answer. The answer coincidentally agrees with utilitarian ethics – if you care about the total sum of happiness, then assuming afterlife, clearly whatever happens here is of no significance whatsoever. And, using Eric’s definition if I recall it correctly, nothing can even be perceived as torture, given there are no permanent effects (the assumption that trauma would disappear in afterlife seems only reasonable). So I doubt you can derive a contradiction from the belief in eternal afterlife, an omnipotent benevolent being and suffering on Earth, assuming no hell.

    Note also that the belief in the supremacy of the literal truth of the Bible is actually free from the problem organized religions have, which is that your church’s leaders can ask for a new crusade or two.

  458. >My point was that there is a special type of rationality here, perhaps one might call it meta-rationality.

    The trouble with calling it “meta-rationality” is those creatures who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center. Religious faith, is, as you pointed out, socially supported – but it has extremely dangerous failure modes. That’s why it’s important to recognize it as insanity and call it insanity.

  459. >The trouble with calling it “meta-rationality” is those creatures who flew jetliners into the
    >World Trade Center. Religious faith, is, as you pointed out, socially supported – but it has
    >extremely dangerous failure modes. That’s why it’s important to recognize it as insanity and
    >call it insanity.

    Any social tribe with enough desperation / frustration and the right instigators has extremely dangerous failure modes. Religion happens to be a common historical one (owing largely I would guess to it’s natural tendency to require leaders and followers) but it certainly isn’t the only. The political left of the US would argue that national pride is another such thing, and offer the Iraq wars as such an example. You could also point to any of the communist purges of the last century. At an even smaller level, you could look at the LA riots after both King and just about every sporting event. Or the riots in Greece. Religion is simply a vector for those who would instigate to do their work, and I think even with out religion, we as a social species would find a similar structure to replace it.

  460. >Religion happens to be a common historical one (owing largely I would guess to it’s natural tendency to require leaders and followers) but it certainly isn’t the only.

    Paranoid schizophrenia isn’t the only form of clinical insanity, either. That doesn’t make it sane.

  461. I’m no fan of religion, but I am not sure it deserves, in this thread or in society at large, the criticism that attacks on civilian targets as characteristically religious. It smacks of “it can’t happen here” — finding comfort in somehow dehumanizing perpetrators of an atrocity by drawing a line that they lie outside of, the better to avoid uncomfortable thoughts about whether the groups we are more closely aligned with could do such things. As I read the history, just thinking of things as war is a sufficient condition for bringing groups of people to enthusiasm for attacks on civilians; no religion is necessarily involved unless you define religion so broadly that it includes not just modern strains of nationalism but stuff like the animating culture of the Romans, the Vikings, and various tribes in North America, New Guinea, and elsewhere. And being in a desperate underdog position can naturally make it worse (and conversely being in some kinds of overwhelmingly superior position can also make it worse): various pragmatic reasons to limit atrocities apply only if you anticipate being in a repeated game where your opponents in future rounds will react to your conduct in previous rounds.

    There was and still is considerable popular and intellectual support for huge attacks on civilians whose sin was to be ruled by Hitler or Hirohito. And many of the attacks in Japan were after any reasonable existential fear that the rise of the Axis could doom the USA or its allies; they were intended to hasten the Japanese transition from “can’t we negotiate some settlement” to complete unconditional surrender. I don’t see the need to invoke characteristic properties of religion (either all religion, or a religion) to explain blowing up skyscrapers when secular war priorities are such a widely accepted reason for blowing up entire cities.

    In particular, when ESR writes “religious faith, is, as you pointed out, socially supported – but it has extremely dangerous failure modes,” I’d patch that with s/religious faith/’this is war’/.

  462. >I’m no fan of religion, but I am not sure it deserves, in this thread or in society at large, the criticism that attacks on civilian targets as characteristically religious.

    They aren’t “characteristically religious”, no. But I don’t think that observation is responsive to anything on this thread. The fact that secular wars generate attacks on civilian targets is not relevant to whether or not religion should be considered a form of delusional insanity. And your observation does little to challenge my risk assessment either – you can’t argue that because atropine (war) is poisonous, strychnine (religion) is less poisonous.

  463. The argument isn’t that because one is poisonous, that the other one is, but rather the poison is as of yet unidentified. If one eats raw hamburger and gets sick and one eats raw chicken and gets sick, you don’t say “Just because you get sick from chicken doesn’t make hamburger any less of a poison, because the hamburger (even raw) is not the actual cause of the sickness.

  464. Adding on, that isn’t to say you couldn’t make a good argument that you should avoid religion for the same reason you avoid raw meats, because while they aren’t the cause, they go hand in hand with the sickness quite often, but that’s a much different claim from the raw meat itself is what causes you to get sick.

  465. “They called it compartmentalization, I suppose. We can be selectively insane and selectively rational.”

    It’s just another case of Ponella’s Law: ‘People are smart and stupid at the same time.’

  466. Okay. So let’s get this straight. He’s not all-loving. He’s not omnipotent or omniscient. He doesn’t rule the world. He tried to make a good world, but didn’t really do a very good job.

    No, idiot! God made the world absolutely perfect in every way. YOU screwed it up. You and me and… everybody. The second law of thermodynamics exists because of Adam’s original sin, in which you are complicit and of which you are therefore partly culpable. Oh, and that’s why you will eventually die, too; and when you do you will suffer your share of the eternal torment that God demands as payment for breaking His world. The only way out — the ONLY way — is to join OUR cult and form a pact with OUR godman and obey OUR laws.

    It would be funny if it weren’t so poisonous.

  467. >The argument isn’t that because one is poisonous, that the other one is, but rather the poison is as of yet unidentified.

    But we’re not starting from that position of symmetrical ignorance. The poison (or a poison) has been identified. We already know from observing insanity of kinds no one thinks of as religious that (as Goethe put it) the sleep of reason begets monsters. We don’t have to guess that when religion puts reason to sleep it will beget more, or find that mysterious when that happens. The fact that there are other ways to beget monsters doesn’t affect the logic.

    Now, if you want, you can say it’s the insanity that’s the problem, not the religion. But that’s just arguing about the labels on the map, not the territory. To the extent that religion causes insanity, saying “insanity is the problem” is actually a maneuver for evading the truth.

    And one of the things we know about Abrahamic religions is that they don’t merely cause insanity, they actively want to cause insanity. That is, they want to induce in human beings a state in which questioning the faith premises is impossible, and reason sleeps.

  468. In defense of god as a concept (i’m and atheist leaning agnostic if it matters), would you consider me to be omnipotent with regards to the electrons in a ball I hold in my hands? I can reliably move the ball as a whole around any way I like, which will move that atom as well. I can push on it easily, and with the proper tools, I can even manipulate individual molecules, but the truly fine grain is beyond me.

    Omnipotent and omniscient are not well defined terms. It seems plausible to me that if there is a creator, it may be able to set a universe in motion with defined constraints, but it can’t eliminate all chance and can’t reliably manipulate individual people, nor observe them without affecting the setting in unforseen ways. Perhaps without the possiblity of child cancer, there is no way to create self replicating conscious beings at all. JC could have been an attempt to use the metaphorical equivalent of nanotech with unintended consequences.

  469. @phlinn

    Omnipotent and omniscient are not well defined terms. It seems plausible to me that if there is a creator, it may be able to set a universe in motion with defined constraints, but it can’t eliminate all chance and can’t reliably manipulate individual people, nor observe them without affecting the setting in unforseen ways. Perhaps without the possiblity of child cancer, there is no way to create self replicating conscious beings at all. JC could have been an attempt to use the metaphorical equivalent of nanotech with unintended consequences.

    You’re making the mistake of trying to imagine an omnipotent entity within the bounds of our contingent universe. The whole point of God is that he is outside the universe, unbound by its laws or by any laws. Chance, the heisenberg uncertainty principle, logic itself; all these mean nothing to an omnipotent being outside of time and space.

    Perhaps without the possiblity of child cancer, there is no way to create self replicating conscious beings at all.

    A truly omnipotent entity could simply conjure self-relicating conscious beings out of thin air, fully realised at inception (and, actually, that is almost exactly what the bible tells us God did, except he didn’t use thin air, he used dust – just because he could, I suppose). If the entity cannot do that then it is not omnipotent.

  470. >We already know from observing insanity of kinds no one thinks of as religious that (as Goethe
    >put it) the sleep of reason begets monsters. We don’t have to guess that when religion puts
    >reason to sleep it will beget more, or find that mysterious when that happens.

    And yet there are millions of people the world over who are or claim to be religious and beget no monsters at all. Thus my argument that religion is the conduit, not the cause. Saying that getting rid of religion in people would put an end to these monsters seems very much akin to the argument gun control proponents make about guns.

  471. “High incidence of smallpox doesn’t make it not-smallpox. High incidence of delusional insanity doesn’t make it other than it is either. Actually, when insanity is common it’s more important to be able to recognize it for what it is – otherwise you may end up enabling it.”

    No, there are symptoms that can rather objectively diagnose smallpox. Delusional insanity is much harder. You have to be much more cautious about that one, lest you end up abusing psychiatry like the Soviets did with their dissidents.

    There are so many closed belief systems in the world, where people find comfort in the thought that all is known, and they just have to ‘follow the script’ and stay inside the ‘system’ to do good (Marxism is one), that you cannot call their billions of adherents ‘insane’. There definately seems to be a ‘god ghost’ in our genome. It’s unfortunate that it’s inevitable that there will always be some outliers in the tail of the distribution that think they should blow other people up in the service of their god.

  472. >And yet there are millions of people the world over who are or claim to be religious and beget no monsters at all.

    That’s false. The obvious nutcases don’t come out of nowhere; the “good” Muslims beget the violent jihadis; the “good” Christians beget our violent fundamentalists too. They’re the transmission belt, the culture medium, the precondition. Their quiet insanity nurtures the violent insanity.

  473. @esr

    That’s false. The obvious nutcases don’t come out of nowhere; the “good” Muslims beget the violent jihadis; the “good” Christians beget our violent fundamentalists too. They’re the transmission belt, the culture medium, the precondition. Their quiet insanity nurtures the violent insanity.

    Exactly. It’s the taboo against directly criticising religion that enables the real crackpots, the ones who actually take religion seriously. The less seriously you take your religion the less dangerous you are personally, but you’re still making the world safe for jihadis because you are stopping public discourse from ridiculing the insanity of religion the way it needs to be ridiculed.

  474. > if homo sapiens are snuffed out, it will probably be due to religious psychos.

    Based on what evidence?

    If we count bodies, communism has lapped the field.

    It’s interesting that the self-proclaimed rationalists are arguing that religion is bad because of certain outcomes while ignoring other mental artifacts that are even worse by those criteria, artifacts that don’t seem to share religions benefits.

    So much for “rationality”.

  475. >Delusional insanity is much harder.

    But not that hard. Not when you’ve got jihadis telling us they’re willing to blow up a streetful of strangers for Allah. It’s not even very difficult to diagnose in the Michael Hipps of the world. Not when you can actually see by their own representations of their thinking that their belief-maintainance mechanisms are horribly broken – they’re not only stuck in an irrationalist mode, they actually trumpet it as a virtue.

    Have you ever actually dealt or talked with someone who is committably insane? I have. The behavioral differences from a Michael Hipp talking about religion are not large. There’s the same creepy aura that the words are a thin mask over something tumorous and fixated and pre-verbal, and ultimately don’t matter at all.

  476. >If we count bodies, communism has lapped the field.

    That is true. Why do you consider it not to be a religion, though? Merely because it says so?

  477. >That’s false. The obvious nutcases don’t come out of nowhere; the “good” Muslims beget the
    >violent jihadis; the “good” Christians beget our violent fundamentalists too. They’re the
    >transmission belt, the culture medium, the precondition. Their quiet insanity nurtures the
    >violent insanity.

    This sounds and awful lot like saying Palin’s rhetoric contributed to the Giffords shooting to me.

    It also seems to ignore that (at least from what I have gleaned over the years, though I readily admit I’ve not done any specific research into it) the “obvious nutcases” are usually very far from the ideal prescribed by their claimed religion, similar to suicide bombers who go get themselves drunk and hang out in strip clubs. Again, it seems to me religion is the conduit, not the cause.

  478. esr Says:
    >That is true. Why do you consider it not to be a religion, though? Merely because it says so?

    That sounds like the opposite of the true Scotsman fallacy.

    Only true Scotsman wear kilts!
    But Billy, he’s from Alabama, and he wears a kilt!
    Ah, but that is because, despite the accent, Billy is really a Scotsman.

  479. I have to disagree about Communism being a religion. Both the Communists in the USSR (and its knockoffs) and those in the West are not operating out of true belief. They are just selfish, evil people. When you call them a “religion” you’re letting them off the hook.

    That also causes people to misdiagnose the problem. We spent roughly three decades of the Cold War acting as if the Soviets were misguided idealists and trying to prove that we were almost as nice as they were. It was only when the Reagan administration said “Fuck that” and started treating them as the monsters they were that we managed to halt their advance and bring them down.

    The same goes for leftists in America. When Al Gore and Arianna Huffington fly in private jets to Kyoto conferences, Republicans always assume that they are politically tone-deaf. They are most emphatically not. They are deliberately shoving their wealth in people’s faces, saying, “Look at what you can’t have, punk.” We need to stop acting as if they are good people and start treating them as the low-life street trash they are.

  480. >This sounds and awful lot like saying Palin’s rhetoric contributed to the Giffords shooting to me.

    So? The claim about Palin’s rhetoric was wrong, but it was contingently so rather than essentially so.

    Religions – the faith-centered Abrahamic kind – aren’t just any random belief systems. They have important structural features that make people bugfuck crazy. “Credo quia absurdum” – that may be the most important one, the elevation of irrational belief fixation as a virtue.

  481. >Both the Communists in the USSR (and its knockoffs) and those in the West are not operating out of true belief. They are just selfish, evil people. When you call them a “religion” you’re letting them off the hook.

    You’ve, perhaps inadvertently, smuggled in a premise that these two models (“selfish, evil people” and “true belief”) are somehow mutually exclusive. Question that premise.

  482. You can call communism a religion, or not, depending on your definition of religion.

    The real point is that it is based on a dogma. Its believers are not permitted to question certain central articles of faith. This is what leads to bad outcomes, whether they are articles of faith from a God or from a political ideology.

    Supernatural dogmas like Christianity are just one species of dogma, but in my view they are especially pernicious for a several reasons.

    First of all they are beyond refutation because their central metaphysical claims are inherently non-natural. They form a closed belief system. In contrast it eventually becomes obvious to everybody that communism is a flawed idea.

    Second, they enjoy a special sacrosanct place in society. It’s not considered polite to criticise a religion even if you completely disagree with it. You’re supposed to ‘respect’ these crazy beliefs.

    Finally religion strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a responsible full-realised moral and autonomous human being. It enslaves its believers to an eternal celestial dictatorship (in Hitchens’ words) that does not even end with death. There is always a sky god watching and judging everything you do, and you are not allowed to make moral choices for yourself.

  483. >The real point is that it is based on a dogma. Its believers are not permitted to question certain central articles of faith. This is what leads to bad outcomes, whether they are articles of faith from a God or from a political ideology.

    Exactly. This is what I mean by the mechanism of belief maintainance being broken or deranged. This is the insanity.

    It is perfectly possible to have the epistemological derangement characteristic of faith-based religions without the “religious” belief content. Communism (more generally, Marxism) is the genocidal existence proof of this. Arguing over whether it’s a “religion” or not actually misses the point – it’s another scrap over map labels rather than territory.

  484. “We spent roughly three decades of the Cold War acting as if the Soviets were misguided idealists and trying to prove that we were almost as nice as they were. It was only when the Reagan administration said “Fuck that” and started treating them as the monsters they were that we managed to halt their advance and bring them down.”

    False. We maintained a containment policy for those decades that allowed communism to eventually fall due to its own internal contradictions. Reagan just happened to be in office when it happened. He simply harvested the fruits of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people over 30 years. It’s still not over. We are still experiencing blow-back from things we did in that struggle, notably in Afghanistan and Iran.

    The strategy is the same against Islamic fundamentalism; “Hold on, hold on, this too, will pass.”

  485. It is my belief that the root of many evils is the predilection for humans to label folks as “other”. Whether it is esr labeling Michael as “insane” or Ken labeling people leftist and low life street trash (who travel in private jets no less. Nifty, where do I sign up?) or nazis labeling jews as Untermensch or jihadists labeling people as infidels it all results in the same thing. Those people are Other. They are insane. They are dangerous. They are evil and therefore deserve of anything bad that may happen.

    So religion, nationalism, conservatism, communism or whatever isn’t the root cause of pain and death inflicted by humans on humans. The root cause is our ability and even eagerness to label people as Other. This is hardly a profound or original thought but it’s interesting that even among a group of mostly intelligent folks we run around and happily label folks we disagree with as Other even in this topic.

    Both hilarious and sad. Tragic when that instinctual labeling of people being in my tribe vs being in another tribe results in the truly insane or truly evil believing they have the moral imperative to revel in their insane compulsion to harm be directed toward those Others and can convince everyone else to go along with it. Then you end up with the inquisition, genocide, mass rape and torture and other atrocities.

  486. >You’ve, perhaps inadvertently, smuggled in a premise that these two models (“selfish, evil people” and “true belief”) are somehow mutually exclusive. Question that premise.

    I’m well aware that many religious people are selfish and evil. It is not the religion that drives their evil, however. It is their own selfishness. People don’t murder people because some invisible spirit tells them to.

    It may sound like I’m defending religion, but actually I’m defending apathy about religion. Frankly, the premise I question the most is the idea that there’s some “God gene” at all, or at least that it’s particularly strong if it exists. Do you think Lavrentiy Beria was acting from religious fervor when he drove down the streets of Moscow and picked up young women to rape and murder? For that matter, do you think the self-proclaimed socialists in the streets of Wisconsin are acting out of belief, as opposed to the desire to keep the gravy train flowing?

    For every fundamentalist Christian who wants to execute all gays, there are probably ten Bill Maher supporters who want to ban handguns because only Christofascist rednecks with small cocks have them. No, it isn’t rational, but it’s not because of religious belief either.

  487. > If we count bodies, communism has lapped the field.

    I wasn’t counting bodies, I was talking about the big wipeout, where we go the way of the dodo and the dinos. Part of the reason we were able to stalemate the Soviets with M.A.D. despite the fact we were collectively sitting on enough nukes to blow the world to smitherens was because, as Ken noted above, the communists were “evil” but not totally irrational or insane. They didn’t want to get blown up; we didn’t want to get blown up. Therefore, we didn’t blow up.

    I don’t trust religious zealots (and particularly Muslim zealots). Pakistan is sometimes bandied about as a Muslim counterexample with nukes, but there are certain other rational cultural institutions that make them slightly less likely to commit mass suicide/homocide by starting a nuke war. I hope those other factors hold up.

    The bigger threat is Iran, and we are all in serious trouble if they can weaponize nukes, even without ICBMs or second strike. There might be a few semi-rational actors and opportunist scattered through the middle ranks, but at the very top, they are stone-cold religious psychos who glorify violent death, including their own

    Other types of monsters loom on the horizon as well. That’s why I mentioned “powerful and lucid nihilists”. I’m not thinking of crackpots and cranks like Derrida or Paul de Man. I’m thinking of what comes after all the premises have vanished that allows us to realize they are crackpots and cranks (i.e. after the Left has finished its project of obliterating meaning). You might get another type of animal altogether; small stage actors who try, for instance, might to manipulate human biology in ways that are hard to see until its too late. I recall reading about a radical environmental group a few years back that was calling for forced chemical sterilization to rid the world of the “scourge” of humanity. Talk about Nietzche’s “Last Man!” Sheesh.

    Anyway, both kind of loons are terrifying prospects, but for right now the most terrifying loons are religious in nature, and are trying to get nukes. It needs to be addressed, but I have a feeling if we don’t act, the Israelis will.

  488. >It is my belief that the root of many evils is the predilection for humans to label folks as “other”.

    Not only does this fail to be a profound or original thought, it fails to be even a meaningful one. It’s pure pablum, a soothing feel-good noise with no content.

  489. @Grantham

    The bigger threat is Iran, and we are all in serious trouble if they can weaponize nukes, even without ICBMs or second strike.

    The whole Iranian nuke thing makes no sense to me at all. Why would they want a nuke? They must know that before they would be allowed to use it the US and Israel would destroy their capacity to do so and then completely annihilate the existing regime.

    To me an Iranian nuke would be suicide.

    What does make sense to me is that the Iranian regime is looking for respect, both internally and externally. We’re paying a lot of attention to them because it looks like they are going through the motions of developing nuclear weapons technology. However, for them to actually build one seems crazy to me.

  490. >The whole Iranian nuke thing makes no sense to me at all. Why would they want a nuke?

    To wipe Israel off the map with, of course. Well, that’s what the Iranian leadership says it’s for, and I don’t see any reason to suppose they don’t mean it.

  491. Tom Says:
    > To me an Iranian nuke would be suicide…
    > However, for them to actually build one seems crazy to me.

    And your point is?…

  492. @esr

    To wipe Israel off the map with, of course. Well, that’s what the Iranian leadership says it’s for, and I don’t see any reason to suppose they don’t mean it.

    I know that’s what they say, but do you think they’ll ever be allowed to get to the point where they would be able to do that?

    It seems obvious to me that if they ever get close to the point of realising a bomb they will be stopped, with existential consequences to the regime.

    Why would they invite such certain doom?

  493. > The most you can do is take precautions lest they become violent.

    I disagree.
    Even if Jessica is not able to change Michael’s mind (which I agree is highly unlikely) her very well written arguments (and yours, and Christopher Hitchen’s, and Sam Harris’s…) are exactly what some people need to read. Everyone is not as set as Michael seems to be. Many are on the fence or are in the process of un-indoctrinating themselves after being taught by everyone that they trusted growing up that these stories are true. Even if she is not able to make a dent in his thinking, her debating with him, in public, has the potential to prevent others from falling so far.

  494. Tom:
    > To me an Iranian nuke would be suicide.

    To you. Or to me, or to esr, or to all (most?) of the people on this thread. But to the Ayotollahs? It is holy flame for the infidels. More people in the West need to read the Koran, and discover what all this business is really about.

    > They must know that before they would be allowed to use it US and Israel would destroy their capacity to do so and then completely annihilate the existing regime.

    Why must they know that? Because they are rational actors? I think that’s partially what this conversation is about. Also, I suspect that they suspect (in whatever tiny portion of their mind is rational) that we won’t wipe them out. They look upon the West with scorn and contempt for the absurd deference we show their viral slave cult, and see us as sniveling weaklings who God would never let win even if we could muster the will to wipe them out.

    Also, if the attitude is “nothing bad will happen if we don’t intervene”, we all know form history that this is rarely true. Even the setting off of one nuke in the Middle East will drag the entire world into a hellacious new world war.

  495. Tom:
    > Why would they invite such certain doom?

    Because they are crazy.

  496. @Grantham

    Because they are crazy.

    Yeah, that’s definitely one possibility.

  497. @esr Your religion is open source. Mine perhaps is Apple. :) I joke but your hostile response to my assertion that humans desire to classify, specifically to classify as being in my tribe/family or not as being mere plabum is amusing given the daily examples of such all over the internet. Over clearly ridiculous things as software licenses as a defining characteristic of Good and Evil.

    Do you not believe that there are open source zealots that would cherish the notion of someone killing Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer? Over the belief that Free is the one true path and Closed is Evil? No guts to do it themselves but would rave and cheer on internet forums if it happened? Because, of course, they are Evil.

    Every aspect of human interaction is overlaid by these classifications of race, gender, caste, religion, tribe, social group etc. It is seldom that we systematically inflict atrocities on those we classify as the same as ourselves even as result of dogma gone wild.

    Your vehement lashing out at folks you consider “other” in this forum is every bit as rational as a belief in some otherworldly entity. I guess I’m off your Christmas list for pointing that out. :)

  498. >>If we count bodies, communism has lapped the field.

    >That is true. Why do you consider it not to be a religion, though? Merely because it says so?

    The cheap answer is that communism lacks a supreme being and/or otherworld.

    The expensive answer is that “communism is a religion” is (usually) a discussion blackhole. (The exceptions consist of “yes it is”.) Since the meaningful consequences of “communism is a religion” can be arrived at by other means, there’s no point in getting sucked into it.

  499. > >You’ve, perhaps inadvertently, smuggled in a premise that these two models (“selfish, evil people” and “true belief”) are somehow mutually exclusive. Question that premise.

    > I’m well aware that many religious people are selfish and evil.

    You missed the point – there are lots of true believers who aren’t religious at all (unless you define “religious” as “true believer”) and many of them manage to be evil as well. (Some are also selfish, but that’s the least of their sins.)

    >People don’t murder people because some invisible spirit tells them to.

    Actually, they do. They also murder people because said people wear glasses, looked at the wrong girl, didn’t want to hand over crops, didn’t support the supreme leader, and so on.

    People murder for a large number of reasons.

    That said, it’s the true believers who rack up the bodies.

  500. > > If we count bodies, communism has lapped the field.

    > I wasn’t counting bodies, I was talking about the big wipeout, where we go the way of the dodo and the dinos.

    You’re ignoring the “humans are a disease” folk.

    The Iranians have said “we’re willing let a lot of Muslims die to wipe out the Jews”, but they do want to have Muslims around after the Jews are gone. The “humans are a disease” folk want a world without people.

  501. > We maintained a containment policy for those decades that allowed communism to eventually fall due to its own internal contradictions. Reagan just happened to be in office when it happened.

    Not at all. Yes, there was a containment policy but “everyone” knew that the Soviets were still “sound as a dollar”.

    > He simply harvested the fruits of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people over 30 years.

    Yes, lots of folks worked hard but the standard theory said that the Soviets would be around for decades more, that it was folly to push them in the 80s.

    In hindsight, you can argue that someone could have pushed the USSR over the cliff during the Carter years, but Carter couldn’t have even tried.

  502. @ BPSouther

    Even if she is not able to make a dent in his thinking, her [Jessica] debating with him, in public, has the potential to prevent others from falling so far.

    The problem is faith. A person is told what to believe, and they… believe it. It almost always starts when the person is a child, possibly with some serious suffering to help the child internalise faith at a sub-verbal level. In any case, if a person’s brain does put faith over reason, the person is (as esr points out) insane. One result is that, no matter what the argument, it is impossible to use reason to change the faith.

    The people that just casually believe in a god, maybe go to church, maybe not, but just casually accept a religion without really even learning much about it, are, like so many people, mental sheep, going along with the program. For a human to think like a sheep is insane.

    I have little patience with agnostics. What is the problem? You are being asked to believe something on faith, which is nuts. Whether a god exists is an extremely important question, deserving some thought. If you are not insane, you should reject anything that is offered on the basis of faith.

    I remember sitting in Sunday School when I was about 10. I asked the teacher, in all good faith (different meaning of the word) approximately “Why do you believe this? How do you know that it’s true?” She said “When you are older, you will understand.” I was a little sceptical, but thought “OK, fine, we’ll see.”

    I remember walking around a (church) parking lot one evening when I was 11 or 12, waiting for my buddy to come out of a Scouts meeting, and it all of a sudden hit me. Each of the people that believe in god believes it because their parents do! That explains it – why so many people believe in god! THERE IS NO GOD!!! It was a great feeling.

  503. Two problem with politely arguing with a truly religous person about faith is that argument will never change their minds and, if you pursue it long enough and say what you feel, you have to be very rude. Eventually you have to say::

    You are nuts! (as did esr)

    and

    I wouldn’t worship your disgusting god even if he did exist!” (as did some posts hundreds of posts ago)

  504. > You’re ignoring the “humans are a disease” folk.

    No I’m not. You’re ignoring what I wrote about “powerful and lucid nihilists,” where I specifically wrote about the “humans are a disease” folk. But they are neither particularly powerful or lucid enough yet to be a threat, and there’s a chance they are just indulging in a little Weltschmerz, anyway. They have the same kind of shattered glass mindsets as the nihilists though; nothing we do is any good, we might as well die.

  505. > Eventually you have to say::

    >>You are nuts! (as did esr)

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that was esr’s opener. :)

  506. In my case, I had one polite round with Michael, and my second reply, at 3:25 yesterday afternoon, began:

    @ Michael Hipp

    I have to back off – we view the world from such different points of view that there is no real way to argue about it.

    But I went on to make a couple of points, and was drawn into making a few more posts until 6:39 pm when I posted:

    @ Michael Hipp

    Sorry, man. Arguing about faith versus science can be entertaining for a bit, but there isn’t the slightest chance that either of us are going to change the other’s point of view.

    It just ain’t no use.

  507. Andy Freeman writes “You’re ignoring the ‘humans are a disease’ folk.”

    Maybe those folk, or at least that particular claim, should be ignored. Hasn’t ignoring claims that “the state will wither away’ been a pretty good policy? I don’t know much about Communism in the West before the 1930s, but by the 1930s it seems to have strongly coalesced around the idea that a lot of levers of power, including ghastly new ones created for the purpose (like controls on exit), explicitly should be controlled by party faithful, and that control should be used to grossly favor the other party faithful. It seems to me that this idea had much more of an impact on the party faithful than anticipating that the state would wither away. Looking at the drive for such levers of power, and the weird apologetics for them, seems to me much more useful than looking at rhetoric about how it’s all really in pursuit of a self-denying end state.

    Granted, the two themes aren’t entirely analogous: ‘humans are a disease’ could make a catchy rationale for selective application in the here and now to exterminate one’s enemies, while I don’t think ‘the state will wither away’ has any such tactical use in pursuit of the usual goals of ambitious humans. But to me both themes seem to be mostly windy rhetoric about the safely unverifiable far-off outcome which justifies seizing (and introducing new) levers of power now.

  508. One problem with (the insane idea) that “Humans are a disease” is that it leads to “roads into wilderness are damage that has to be repaired”, which I consider to be a particularly evil idea.

  509. > The Iranians have said “we’re willing let a lot of Muslims die to wipe out the Jews”, but they do want to have Muslims around after the Jews are gone.

    This is not correct. I think this is the kind of dangerous illusion that makes me want the Qu’ran to be required reading in high school. They are an eschatology, just like Christianity, but their apocalypse scenario has even less escape hatches than the Book of Revelations. For instance there’s not a large number of signs and signals and events to be divined forecasting it’s arrival, and there’s no archenemy like the Antichrist to make the first moves and set the game into motion (which I suspect might have been added, either consciously or unconsciously, as a subtle safeguard in Revelations, so that whoever starts the endgame is the bad guy).

    In the Islamic version, there are no signs or breakifs. The Twelfth Imam (the Madhi) emerges from hiding, Jesus parachutes down from heaven, and they just start kicking ass all over the place at a time of God’s choosing, unknowable to man. Whoever declares himself to be the Mahdi and starts the chain of events leading to Apocalypse is the hero of the story, not the villain. The more Muslims who die in this final battle the better, because death in this battle gets them their 72 chicks and their special Allah boy scout badges and whatnot, and everyone must die first anyway so that the Day of Resurrection can take place.

    It’s hard to believe that sensible atheists are still engaged in uselessly critiquing Christianity, when virulent, theocratic Christianity has been defanged for a few hundred years now, and there aren’t any fundie Christian regimes with their hands on nukes. Hitchens finally realized this late in life, and his buddies on the Left pilloried him for it and turned him into an outcast, because they have all either become mindless nihilists or part of a growing, suicidal Kool Aid Cult of the West.

    Here’s the big danger: Lots of crackpots have jumped up claiming to be the Madhi throughout history, but those guys did not have the tools at their
    disposal to actually kick-start Armageddon. In our lifetimes, we might see one who does.

  510. “Yes, lots of folks worked hard but the standard theory said that the Soviets would be around for decades more, that it was folly to push them in the 80s.”

    I don’t remember any ‘standard theories’ like that at the time (“Vas you dere, Charlie?”). What I do remember was an increase in military spending that put some pressure on the Soviets, but mostly, the decision to abandon communism was THEIRS. Brezniev wasn’t man enough to it, but Gorbachev was. We’ve been talking about religious fanatics; this is no time for Ronald Reagan cultists.

  511. @Tom All the persians I’ve met have been intelligent and really nice folks. Do not assume that folks we classify as “evil” to be idiots.

    Neither Ahmadinejad nor Khamenei nor the Supreme National Security Council are fools, crazy or suicidal. They have no more desire to die (or their people to die) from nuclear fire than anyone else which would be the result of nuking Tel Aviv. Any rhetoric is simply that and directed toward a specific audience. To assume that the country of Iran is not a rational actor is idiocy based on an unsupported prejudice of “other”.

    Fatwa or not against nuclear weapons everyone (including Iranians) understands that nations with nuclear weapons (or even the suspicion of) enjoy a certain status that those without do not. Pakistan would be inconsequential without it. North Korea plays that card incessantly to their advantage.

    To ask why Iran would want nuclear weapons is stupid. To respond with “to nuke Israel” even more so.

    Iran wants to have it’s cake and eat it too just like Israel with it’s “suspected nuclear capability”. Hence the Fatwa against nuclear weapons and why everyone still thinks they have an active nuclear weapon program. Whether they have any sort of operational capability is debatable but everyone seems to think they are close if not quite there yet. Having nuclear weapons is a big “don’t fuck with me” card that Iran would love to have in it’s hand all the while denying its existence. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

    Personally, I think they’re playing the external game a little poorly. It’s inevitable that they get the bomb but a lot more livable with someone like Khatami as President than Ahmadinejad. But internal politics often forces sub-optimal play. It’s allowing someone to get a few punches in they otherwise might not have. Letting the mob storm the British embassy is an interesting move. It’s not like the UK is going to do anything substantive to Iran and internally it offsets the rather obvious point that someone is blowing up some of their most secure facilities and their most senior generals.

  512. > It’s hard to believe that sensible atheists are still engaged in uselessly critiquing Christianity, when virulent, theocratic Christianity has been defanged for a few hundred years now, and there aren’t any fundie Christian regimes with their hands on nukes.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to make that claim.
    “Defanged” implies a permanent change. A lot of others see it [the virulence] more as a disease in remission.
    Right wing fundamentalist Christianity in the US looks a lot different, to me, than it did 25 years ago. It’s become much more outspoken and demanding. It’s also become much more involved in our political system.
    I think a constant, and public critique is far from useless.

  513. @LS Reagan’s play of increasing Saudi oil production to tank Soviet income was masterful regardless of what you thought of the man. As many folks tend to underestimate the guy as idolize him. The deals to Israel and the Saudis were fantastic deals for everyone involved even though it didn’t cost us much and really put the hurt on the Soviets.

  514. Re Reagan: he didn’t cause the fall of the Soviet Union but he played the endgame very well for the US.

    Re Defanged Christianity: to many we are Christians Crusaders with hands on nukes…

  515. > To assume that the country of Iran is not a rational actor is idiocy based on an unsupported prejudice of “other”.

    It’s not an assumption, it’s a prediction. Acting strategically doesn’t require rational thought about religious matters (which is impossible, anyway). Iran is very strategic – Islam’s greatest prophet Muhammad was a warlord and general, after all, and rules for a geopolitical strategy of domination comprise a goodly portion of the Qu’ran, which is a marriage between Sun Tzu and Moses. They have followed these rules very closely ever since the revolution succeeded.

    There is a dangerous confusion right now about who the actual players are in the game, because of this stupid “other” assumption that has traction in a crowd who is totally ignorant of history, yet still hung up on Voltaire and wanting to pontificate. Sunni is not Shia, Arab is not Persian. That “weapons of mass destruction” nonsense never fooled me for a second, and in any case, Iraq was a place where it did not really bother me (too much) if they did get a nuke.

    Same thing with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other little “liar” regimes, who really are the bullshitting, opportunistic, self-interested royals that Nigel is talking about, who keep up Islamic appearances to keep their place on top. The only trouble I have with those guys having bombs is someone else getting their hands on them. It would mainly be a containment issue with Iraq, too; Hussein was never going bomb to Israel, let along Europe or the U.S. Hussein was our little, lying counterweight over there for the longest time, the way to keep the real threat (who Nigel doesn’t thinks doesn’t exist) from dominating the region and creating the necessary conditions to become rebuild the caliphate as a nuclear and economic superpower.

    Does Iran have polities that can be reasoned with? Yes, of course. Every nation-state does. But when you take a look the pyramid of power in Iran; the higher up you go, the crazier it gets. One day, if you decide to practice multiculturism rather than simply preach it, try reading a translation of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s book, “A Clarification of Questions”, and you will see directly into the bugshagging mind of madness that was able to so quickly transform the relatively urbane and sophisticated Iran into the medieval nightmare it is today.

    Unlike many of the OPEC states and perhaps even the average Iranian in the street, the nerve bundle at the center of Iranian theocracy is composed of 100% “true believers”, hindered for the moment only by reality. In the rest of the Middle East; the rulers are mostly sane and the ruled mostly aren’t. Ahmadinejad is just a little bloodless puppet intended to provoke exactly the kind of reaction that Nigel has, and even he is a fairly crazy who sometimes doesn’t seem to know how powerless he really is. In Iran, the ruled are mostly sane and the rulers aren’t. Barring a bloody revolution or some kind of intervention, we are in for rough chop.

    The amount of heads buried under sand should be shocking, but I guess Foucault and all the rest did their damage.

  516. > Re Defanged Christianity: to many we are Christians Crusaders with hands on nukes

    Those “many” are very dumb. If the U.S. was going to blow up the world, we’d have already done it several times over, and we have enough non-crazy redundancy in are system to stop one lunatic from doing it. Saying that a religious psycho bent on Armageddon could fly under the radar through his entire political career, build the kind of non-suicidal financial support he needs to win the primary, sneak into the White House and launch a nuclear strike by invoking God’s Will is a very, very remote danger. It’s not reality, it’s the plot for a Stephen King novel, and even that didn’t work out.

    Put it this way, if a sociopath of the kind I described was able to position himself to start nuclear Armageddon without the institutional antibodies of the West stopping him, he doesn’t even need to be Fundamentalist, or Christian, or even religious at all. He’s just as likely to operate under some other irrational mode, because he is a schizophrenic who fooled everyone well enough to win, and his mind is completely opaque. Despite the evocation of “values” in various political planks, explicit religious nutjobs don’t make the final mile in the U.S.A. They haven’t gotten the football yet, and probably never will. Can’t say the same thing about Iran.

  517. Iran’s mullahs keep up the hard line religious propaganda to justify their jobs. In reality, their hold on their positions of power is more tenuous than they want the world (and Iran) to know. They stay on top only with the support of the Revolutionary Guard, which they got by handing over a goodly portion of the country’s wealth to them. They also have an alliance with most of Iran’s wealthy. Both of these sources of support can be withdrawn at any time. (There’s nothing to stop the Guard from instituting a dictatorship; the wealthy would just follow along.)

    No one outside of Iran truly, fully, understands all the nuances of Iranian politics. I don’t claim to…I’m just stating a few things that I’ve learned here. The takeaway: No, they are not crazy; they just think differently than you expect.

    And yes, the Iranians are definately going for The Bomb. There’s a script you have to follow if you want to develop nuclear weapons, dictated by the physics of nuclear bombmaking. Iran has been following it line by line.

  518. If I am not mistaken, it is unfortunate that atheists cannot win elections – it sets a very low bar that all participants have to go under.

    Again, if I am not mistaken, one scary time was late in the Watergate mess when Nixon was getting cornered. Apparently (source: HST), there was some concern that Nixon might order a nuclear strike on some place – wouldn’t matter where – just to get the “We must support the President” business going.

  519. @LS
    > (There’s nothing to stop the Guard from instituting a dictatorship; the wealthy would just follow along.)

    Yes, absolutely, they could do it. The problem is, they could have done it for a long time. The fact that they haven’t done it yet should trouble you, though. There are likely a few semi-sane heads in the upper ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, but not enough in the middle or the very top that those sane heads wouldn’t be chopped off in the midst of one of esr’s “failure modes”. There are fissures in the power structure, but most of the men at the top (including the guard) is very, insanely religious.

    Consider what one of the Guard’s most outspoken defectors (Reza Kahlili) said in an interview back in June:

    Q. What’s the current political situation in Iran, I realize that’s a big question. Does Ayatollah Ali Khamenei still call the shots?

    A. “Khamenei still calls the shots but it is much more complicated…there are several divisions within the leadership….the cracks are wider than they have ever been since the revolution…Khamenei is trying to undermine the capability of Ahmadinejad…the hard liners want Ahmadinejad out…it has become a very complex situation…there are many divisions within the Guard, there are some sympathizers with the Green Movement…Khamenei lacks…[the]…authority [of Khomeini]…nonetheless all of those running the country right now…are messianic people…this is a messianic regime..[which believes]…that the 12th Imam appears and kills all the infidels and establishes an Islamic caliphate worldwide…and pursues a nuclear bomb…you must differentiate between the Iranian people and the regime. Because the Iranian people are even more Westernized than when the Shah was there…right now they don’t respect Islam anymore, they resent it…they now are truly of the opinion that Islam is a vicious religion, intolerant…I believe that when this regime is gone, the religion will be gone for many years to come…”

    Q. So the theological precepts of Shia Islam, especially those concerning the 12th or the Hidden Imam, are driving this administration?

    A. “Yes, absolutely…”

    Q. Are they so devoted to this, to the point of being suicidal?

    A. “…I have no doubt about that…these people are truly messianic they are suicidal…they believe with every cell in their body…[that]…the 12th Imam will appear…”

    I hope that the deliberate blindness of the West clears up, and quickly, when it comes to nuclear Iran. They aren’t capable of imagining the structure, and they refuse to really examine it because they’ve been taught to just shrug and say, “Well, that just their culture, and its equally valid, and who are we to criticize it, anyway?” or some other such postmodern bromide.

  520. Q. Are they so devoted to this, to the point of being suicidal?

    A. “…I have no doubt about that…these people are truly messianic they are suicidal…they believe with every cell in their body…[that]…the 12th Imam will appear…”

    My god. It’s worse than I thought.

  521. @Brian Marshall

    If I am not mistaken, it is unfortunate that atheists cannot win elections – it sets a very low bar that all participants have to go under.

    I recently found out that there is one open atheist in your congress (Pete Stark in California) and I bet there are others who don’t admit to it. In the UK it is quite common.

  522. > I don’t remember any ‘standard theories’ like that at the time (“Vas you dere, Charlie?”).

    Yes, I was. And the conventional wisdom was that Reagan’s efforts were counter-productive, etc.

    > What I do remember was an increase in military spending that put some pressure on the Soviets, but mostly, the decision to abandon communism was THEIRS.

    Are you really suggesting that the USSR “just decided”, that they could have kept communism for 10-20 years?

    If so, you’ve got an extreme version of what I called “conventional wisdom” above. Most folks who thought that Reagan was wrong went from “it can’t be done” to “the fall of the USSR was inevitable, Reagan had nothing to do with it” after it happened. There aren’t a lot of folks who went with “the USSR fell on an internal whim”.

    > this is no time for Ronald Reagan cultists.

    It is really “cult” to credit Reagan with figuring out that the USSR could be toppled and playing the end-game?

  523. Tom:
    > My god. It’s worse than I thought.

    This is what I’m saying, Tom. Compare the flippant way that Nigel described the situation to the way the insider at the Revolutionary Guard describes it. Nigel is obviously self-deluding. Not saying he’s stupid (he’s probably not), but he is going for facile, cozy explanations not based on reality. In Iran you have a cult of very dangerously insane religious people who happen to have all the guns and a monopoly on violence.

    Nigel and LS prefer to think that I’m a racist or cultural bigot of some sort because that makes it easier to sleep at night, but nothing could be further from the truth. What’s happening in Iran right now is more dangerous than anything we saw during the Cold War, because the “power struggle” at the top seems to be more about who gets to claim to be the Mahdi and his favored army once the instruments of Armageddon (nukes) are ready to be deployed. It’s not the Iranian people at large – as Reza Kahlili notes they are mainly powerless serfs. It’s about the top. The top is crazy, because there was no self-correction after the revolution. The regime selected for religious mania in the Guard, and therefore recruited them all too well. I would not be surprised if there was a coup at some point after they develop a nuke… with a bigwig in the Guard declaring himself the 12th Imam and then doing something stupid.

  524. @ Tom
    > I recently found out that there is one open atheist in your congress (Pete Stark in California) and I bet there are others who don’t admit to it. In the UK it is quite common.

    Actually, I am Canadian. I am not sure what the situation is here.

    I am not surprised about the UK. In an interview with Douglas Adams, he said that the whole issue of whether a person is an atheist or not is just not much of an issue at all in the UK.

  525. @ Grantham
    > …think that I’m a racist or cultural bigot of some sort

    Judging people on the basis of race is stupid. Judging cultures is using your mind to do something important. The idea that it is wrong to be a “cultural bigot” is stupid and very dangerous.

  526. > Judging cultures is using your mind to do something important.

    No kidding.

    > The idea that it is wrong to be a “cultural bigot” is stupid and very dangerous.

    The idea behind “bigots” is that they don’t weigh evidence, they just have an irrational aversion to differences. I know exactly why I think that Islam is a dangerous death cult that runs on slavery and insanity. I know that because I read the Qu’ran and studied history. So, not really sure what your point is.

  527. @ Grantham

    I said > The idea that it is wrong to be a “cultural bigot” is stupid and very dangerous.

    I expressed myself poorly. Let me try again:
    The idea that it is wrong to judge one culture as being better than another is stupid and dangerous.

  528. @Brian Marshall

    he said that the whole issue of whether a person is an atheist or not is just not much of an issue at all in the UK.

    Yeah, it doesn’t tend to come up that much. It wouldn’t occur to most voters to worry about the religion of a candidate.

    People are actually a bit embarrassed to talk about religion. I think a lot of people who are religious are quite embarrassed to express any strong conviction. They don’t want to look stupid.

  529. @Tom:

    People are actually a bit embarrassed to talk about religion.

    You have to remember that most of the true zealots were severely persecuted and emigrated to America…

  530. @ Tom

    In the same interview (which I can’t find) Douglas Adams (author of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said that in the UK, expressing strong opinions and coming across as knowing a lot isn’t… I can’t remember what he said… basically that people in the UK don’t really like that sort of thing, and that visiting Americans should keep that in mind.

    I note that where an American or Canadian would say “Man, it’s hot out there!”, a person in the UK might say “It’s hot out there, isn’t it?”

  531. > Right wing fundamentalist Christianity in the US looks a lot different, to me, than it did 25 years ago. It’s become much more outspoken and demanding. It’s also become much more involved in our political system.

    I’m pretty sure that that’s more your perception than reality.

    There has been significant realigment over the past 50 years and it has mostly reduced the influence of religion on US politics.

    More to the point, if you think that fundamentalist Christians are the big problem, you’re deluded. That delusion, while common, has led to horrible politics, akin to “Kerensky is horrible, let’s go with Lenin”. Kerensky was horrible, but that’s no reason to pick a worse alternative.

  532. >I’m pretty sure that [Christianity being more threatening than 25 years ago is] more your perception than reality.

    I agree the threat level has decreased – and it’s worth bearing in mind than as a Wiccan I have reason to be a bit extra sensitive on this score. In retrospect I think the political influence of the fundies peaked in the late ’80s.

    One important reason for this is that they became so wedded to the Republicans that the GOP has never since had to pay more than lip service and the occasional token gesture to keep them on side. When it came to a choice between the gesture and playing for swing voters, the fundies almost always lost.

    What’s happened, since, though, is that the Republicans have mastered a subtle art: making their gestures as symbolically pleasing to the fundies as they are meaningless. The symbolism alarms secular leftists out of proportion to reality, leading to exagerrated perceptions from the left of the fundies’ influence. This suits the Republicans fine; they’re never going to get secular-left votes anyway, and every decibel of screaming from the secularists helps keep the fundies a nice tame captive bloc.