Sunday, March 25, 2007

Christian Socialist Authoritarianism

Some of my Republican friends give me a hard time for being so down on Our Fearless Leader. Leo Strauss Stifung put his finger on why I viscerally dislike George W. Bush so much: he's not a "conservative" in any real sense. Instead, he's a Christian Socialist Authoritarian.

UPDATE: Yes, I did originally misspell "socialist" in the title to this post. It's been fixed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Such a Bad Idea?

P.Z. Myers wants a new gender, because some of some recent incidents involving other members of the male gender. With a couple of these incidents, I'm right with him. In one, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report which comes via Feminist Law Professors and Sinister Girl, we learn of a fellow who was prevented from date-raping his date by an alert bartender. In the second, (via Feministing), we learn of a "man" in a pickup truck who ran over a woman, apparently because she failed to respond to his heckling.

An even better example of men behaving very badly comes from StoneCraft, one of Feministing's commenters: a guy named Mohamed Hadfi gouged out his wife's eyes because she refused to have sex with him. I agree with Myers that all these guys are vile scumbags (assuming their guilt is proven). and they should be subjected to the full rigors of the law.

But Myers' third example, which he gets via Bitch Ph.D., involves a proposal by Texas legislator Dan Patrick to pay women who are considering an abortion $500 if they carry the baby to term and put him or her up for adoption. Now, I agree with Bitch that there are some problems with the details of his proposal need work: in particular the amount of the payment seems absurdly low.

But I'm not sure what's wrong with the proposal, in principle. Granted, as a libertarian I would have trouble justifying such government expenditures. But I also have problems with farm subsidies and Social Security. Neither P.Z. Myers nor Bitch Ph.D. strike me as being libertarians who object to spending government money in principle. So if it's OK to subsidize folks who grow corn, and to provide other sorts of social services, what's the problem with paying women to not have abortions?

Lots of people believe that abortion is wrong. What is wrong, in principle, with paying women to not have abortions? In many ways, it seems like the perfect compromise. It's a non-coercive way of reducing the number of abortions. Nor can I fathom why the fact that a male legislator advanced this proposal makes P.Z. ashamed to be a man.

Feeling a Bit Envious, Are We?

P.Z. Myers has a somewhat snarky post about the fact that the new University of Minnesota basketball coach makes $1.7 million bucks a year. Dude, it's not that he's worth more than you in some great philosophical sense. Rather, the job he performs commands a market price higher than yours. That's life in the big city.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just a BIT Excessive

What kind of moron would think this was a good idea?

The City Council of Brooksville, Florida has voted to allow the seizere of people's homes to pay -- wait for it -- unpaid parking tickets. As low as $5.00 (although it ends up being rather more when late fees, interest, and other fines are added on if the ticket isn't paid within 72 hours). If you don't have a house, well, have no fear. They will seize your car instead!

Alas, the minutes of the City Councile meeting where this legislation was adopted are not yet online.

Hat Tip: Radly Balko.

Why Blame Bush?

Frequent commenter Society Girl wanted to know why I ended this post saying that I blamed George Bush.

Well, partly it was a joke. Some bloggers have made a sport out of blaming George W. Bush for things about which he has no possible degree of control or culpability.

At the same time, however, consider Bush's reaction in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- less than a week after the attack, he visits a mosque, kicks of his shoes, and enters the theological debate within Islam, proclaiming that "Islam is peace" and that "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam." And his administration followed through on these politically-correct bromides, making it a matter of policy to not take ethnicity or religion into account in airline security.

Now, maybe as a political matter, Bush had to say these things. But he gave every indication of actually believing them, and the administration made no concessions to reality. The reality is that, while the Bush view certainly has its adherents among Muslims, the opposing view is just as much a part of Islam. And the hard brutal reality is that youngish men who are Muslim are somewhat more likely to try to hijack an airplane than, say, Mormons.

But because he took such a relentlessly PC position, Bush made it clear that Republicans could be Mau-Maued on these issues. Hence the Flying Imams, and their apparent belief that they can provoke an incident and then play the victim.

The Clash of Civlizations

Crunchy Con Rod Dreher is re-reading Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations, and Dreher worries that perhaps the neo-cons are wrong, and Islam and the West really are incompatible after all. Part of what this is about is how people with fundamentally incompatible beliefs can live together -- or whether they can live together.

Recently, (kinda sorta) Catholic Andrew Sullivan and atheist Sam Harris have been having a series of exchanges about the grounds of religious belief. Now, my own view is that Harris has been mopping the floor with Andrew Sullivan, but at the same time, I could well be influenced by the fact that I agreed with Harris before the discussion even began. It seems pretty clear that Harris and Sullivan have views that are fundamentally irreconcilable. At the same time, however, Sullivan and Harris probably have a working agreement on the fundamental architecture of a secular liberal democratic state. They're willing to live in the same country governed by same basic rules and institutions. About religion, they may well disagree vociferously, but they are willing to agree to disagree.

And that is, at some level, the foundation of Western Civilization. People reach a point where their fundamental presuppositions are so different that persuasion and reason simply are not possible. When that happens, they can do one of two things: agree to disagree, or duke it out, using force and violence. The whole edifice of separation of church and state is an agreement to let people disagree about certain fundamental questions.

For many people, religion is about spiritual matters, or questions of how to live one's life. But others see religion as providing "the answer to everything" -- that is, they think that every legal and political institution must flow directly from a certain religious understanding. The Christian Reconstructionists have such views -- they think that literally everything flows from their Christian doctrine. Such views are, of course, fundamentally inconsistent with a secular liberal state.

Now here's the kicker, though. Christian Reconstructionists are scary sorts, but the country that gave us Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Yasmine Bleeth is not going to lapse into a Handmaid's Tale-style Christian theocracy. Really, it ain't. The Christian Reconstructionsists represent a tiny minority, even among right-wing bible-thumping Evangelical Christians.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that the Muslim equivalents of Christian Resconstructionists are pretty common. A politician in the United States who advocated "Biblical Law" would at a minimum be subjected to scorn and ridicule and would probably lose most elections, depending on how nutty he seemed. But there are whole countries governed by Sharia Law, and the view that it ought to be implemented is not considered "nutty" in the Muslim world. The view that every major social and legal institution should flow from religion is quite common among Muslims. Don't get me wrong -- there are undoubtedly Muslims out there who are happy to accept the agree-to-disagree paradigm of Western Civilization. But it's not a done deal.

And if large numbers of Muslims cannot accept the "agree to disagree" position, well, the 21st Century will be interesting indeed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Noah on Goldberg

Tim Noah at Slate writes a weird little entry speculating that Jonah Goldberg's forthcoming book, Liberal Fascism is overdue because it's being withheld for marketing reasons. Apparently January of 2008 will be a better time for its release, because the atmosphere will be more partisan than it is now.

Goldberg denies this claim, saying the book was late because his father died and his wife had a baby -- surely valid reasons for delay. But even if it were delayed for marketing reasons -- so what? Surely a publisher's job is to sell as many books as possible. If these means scheduling books for release before Christmas, or just before an election cycle begins, isn't that, like, their job?

Interestingly Noah refers to "Goldberg's notion that contemporary American liberalism owes a debt to Il Duce," which he refers to as "stupid." But Noah gives no indication that he's actually seen the book, or the manuscript, or even a chapter. Wouldn't it be a good idea to actually, you know, read the book before dismissing its thesis? It might well be a stupid book, but why not wait and see?

Flying Imams

I am shocked, shocked to learn that the so-called Flying Imams have filed suit against both U.S. Airways and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (in Minneapolis, where the incident took place). It's really quite amazing: these guys did everything they could, short of carrying signs saying "WE ARE TERRORISTS" to arouse suspicion:

The imams engaged in a variety of suspicious behaviors while boarding a US Airways flight, according to the airport police report. Some prayed loudly in the gate area, spoke angrily about the United States and Saddam, switched seats and sat in the 9/11 hijackers' configuration, and unnecessarily requested seatbelt extenders that could be used as weapons, according to witness reports and US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader.

If these guys can't be kicked off the airplane and detained for questioning, then nobody who isn't yelling "This is a Hijacking!" can be taken in. Clearly, this whole thing was a stunt, designed to set up a lawsuit and create a group of ready-made "victims" who can then use their victim status as a bludgeon to weaken security where it comes to Muslims.

Of course, the Council of America Islamic Relations is on the case: demanding congressional hearings and legislation to "end racial profiling" against Muslims. As if we were engaged in racial profiling: if we were we wouldn't be searching small children and elderly women, even Al Gore!

So my question is this: why do The Flying Imams think that they can succeed in this stunt? And why is it even possible they will be right?

I blame George Bush.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The Georgia legislature is moving to ban the sale of marijuana-flavored candies to children. Marketed under the name "chronic candy" or "put suckers," you can get gumdrops or lollipops that are suppose to taste like pot. Predictably, some legislators are all atwitter about this new Menace To Our Youth, and they are not the only ones.

Guys, let me let you in on a secret: these are novelties. They are sold as a joke, gag gifts and the like. Nobody just loves the taste of pot, certainly not enough to eat pot-flavored candy. Children are not going to be scarfing these things down, unless they want to get adults riled up. And, predictably, they will succeed. Even if they start distributing these in school lunches, children are not going to Embark Upon a Life of Addiction because they eat some pot-flavored candy.

I'll bet they are pretty vile -- but if they get folks this riled up, well, lick away!

UPDATE: has an article about them which betrays the predictable hysteria. It includes a picture. Check it out!

Monday, March 19, 2007

I've Been Ordained!

That's Reverend Iconoclast to you! I've been ordained by the Universal Life Church!


The Iranian Government, and even lots of ordinary Iranians are apparently outraged over the surprise hit, 300. One fellow even wrote a detailed exegesis outlining the historical inaccuracies in the film. You mean Xerxes wasn't really a seven-foot-tall homosexual?

I kind of thought it was a dumb movie, myself. But I'm starting to like it now.

Libertarians Against Vouchers -- Accepting Members Now

Megan McArdle and Mathew Yglesias are having a back and forth over vouchers. Megan (I can call you Megan, can't I?) continues the debate in her latest thoughtful post. She seems to have gotten Yglesias to agree that vouchers would be a good idea in the abstract, but he worries about various political and institutional barriers. Megan quite reasonably points out that Mathew Yglesias and other like-minded folks are the political and institutional barriers. After conceding that "should not be used at Tom's House of Arithmetic and Billiards," Megan invites Mathew and his ilk to come forward with a proposal she could get behind:

Come over to our side, outline a voucher plan you'd accept, and as long as it doesn't include "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures", I'll sign on. Central testing? Fine. You want to make sure they serve organic seaweed salad in the lunchroom? If that's what it takes to get you and other liberals into the voucher camp, I'll agree to that too. Double spending per student, for all I care. Libertarians and conservatives are standing here with the door open, ready to negotiate, and so far, no one's even wandered by.

Pardon me, but I may be the only libertarian on the face of the Earth who isn't exactly wild about the whole voucher concept, even if the late Milton Friedman (whom I worship as a god) was, if not the originator of the idea, one of its main proponents.

Voucher proponents (and I was one for a long time) like to think that vouchers will make state-funded schools more like private sector schools. My fear is that it will end up corrupting the private sector schools and making them more like government schools. I fear creeping regulations that may start out as being common sense rules to prevent them from being used at "Tom's House of Arithmetic and Billiards," but which end up being "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures."

We're already off the rails already. Look at one of Yglesias's basic principles: "Public money without public accountability: Bad idea." No! NO! A thousand times, NO! The whole point of a voucher system is that it replaces a system of state-based bureaucratic accountability with a market-based system where the consumers -- i.e., parents and their kids -- get to decide what works and what doesn't work. Bad schools are supposed to close for the same reason that restaurants which serve vile-tasting food tend to close: because people won't buy their product.

If we get vouchers-plus-regulations, which Mathew kinda-sorta thinks is a good idea, then instead of working to please parents and children, school officials are going to be spending a lot of time generating reports, filling out forms, doing paperwork, and demonstrating compliance with the regulations. And even if the regulations start as the kind of light generally-reasonable regulations that Megan or I might devise, regulations are seldom repealed and are often augmented. Twenty years after a voucher system is put in place, I can see it being as heavily regulated and bureaucratic as our current system.

Matthew even starts with a poison pill. He says if he were doing a voucher system, "schools would need to do admissions by lottery." I'm sorry, but maybe some schools really will benefit from having selective admissions. I don't think that schools like the Illinois Math and Science Academy could exist if they had to let in just anybody. And we're not just talking about highly selective schools like that. One of the things about our current system that strikes me as regrettable is its one-size-fits-all mentality. I'm quite willing to believe that some kids might thrive under a hippie-dippie wander-around-and-do-what-you-want system, while others might respond better to rigid military-style discipline. Letting some schools select their students is surely part of a good overall system.

And even well-intentioned rules and regulations are likely to stifle innovation and experimentation. We're all worried about a storefront "school" that's a scam to get money from poor people, but how do you distinguish between a scam and a scrappy entrepreneurial little school with few resources but a willingness to really challenge kids? Maybe Tom's House of Arithmetic and Billiards actually will turn out kids who know a lot of math, in addition to being good pool players. Maybe a school-of-the-future might not actually have its own building with kids sitting in neat rows arranged in classes -- perhaps some sort of decentralized system that combines use of computer-based instruction with private tutoring will be optimal.

I don't know what the perfect system would look like, and I'm honestly not sure that I can come up with a set of regulations that distinguish between outright scams and worthwhile experiments. But I'm pretty sure moving to more government funding isn't a step in the right direction.

UPDATE: Micheal Stastny makes similar points about "public accountability" versus market forces.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal

The Rude Pundit is angry (what's new) about the whole U.S. Attorneys firing scandal. Now, I'm not ready yet to comment on the the whole mess -- I'd like to see more facts shake out first -- but he seems particularly incensed about the dismissal of Paul Charlton, apparently because of policy differences regarding application of the death penalty. According to one report, "his insistence on determining whether to push for capital punishment on a case-by-case basis clashed on at least two instances with a Justice Department effort to centralize decisions nationally and to seek the death penalty in a uniform way."

Um, I hate to stand up for Al Gonzoles and the Bush administration, but this doesn't strike me as being a wholly unreasonable position. Any President -- Democrat or Republican -- can reasonably want to have a uniform policy with respect to application of the death penalty. In some cases, this will mean that U.S. Attorneys who would be inclined to be less aggressive in seeking the death penalty will be forced to seek it when they would not. In others, more aggressive prosecutors will be reigned in. In any case, it makes sense that the policy be uniform.

Secret Fear Theory of Politics

Andrew Sullivan points to the irony in the fact that the three leading Democratic candidates for President are all good, faithful exemplars of family values (even Hilary!, who stayed married to Bill despite his serial philandering), while the Republican field is dominated by candidates who have had sordid affairs, multiple marriages, and various other indiscretions.

It may well be ironic, but in fact it actually supports the "secret fear" theory of political ideology. To wit: people want the political system to deal with the ills that they secretly fear themselves. And so, for example, the moral majority types who rail against porn and sexual license are worried that they couldn't keep it zipped absent state intervention. The wealth-redistributionist liberals are worried they'd hoard it all given a chance. And given Edwards' ginormous mansion and Al Gore's profligate energy consumption and dirty zinc mine, is this so implausible? And don't forget our old buddy Ted Haggard -- railing against homosexuals while he himself is on the down-low.

What does that say about me? Well, I'm a libertarian, of sorts, so you'd better not elect me to anything. Or else it's "to the Gulag with you!"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Judicial Pay

David Bernstein thinks that Supreme Court Justices aren't underpaid, because few of them take the Luttig route and leave for private practice. Dahlia Lithwack obviously disagrees.

I suppose Bernstein has a point, and it's certainly true that "qualified" people remain on the courts. But at the same time, I wonder whether there aren't some hidden dangers in making the judiciary so underpaid relative to private practice. Sure, we like to think that judges are motivated by an altruistic love of public service, but, people being people, lots of the folks who really want to be federal judges enjoy the status and prestige and exercise of power. Now some of that is inevitable, but do we want people for whom that's the sole motivation? Aren't the sorts of people who enjoy exercising state power -- or even the altruists -- likely to have un-libertarian notions of the proper bounds of state power? Do we really want a judiciary which consists of a bunch of weirdos like David Souter, single men who live with their moms in cabins in New Hampshire?

And even if judges start out relatively normal, can't knowing their former law clerks do so very much better have an embittering effect? People who don't have much property themselves may well be less likely to be sympathetic to property rights, if nothing else. I mean, Dahlia Lithwack really does have a point that there's at least some risk that our judges will "mov[] way beyond envy, and on into bitter, grinding resentment." Do we really want to risk having people who make some very important decisions nursing such grievances?

Harris v. Sullivan

I've been reading this exchange between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan regarding religion. Harris's basic argument is that there's no particularly good reason to believe the truth-claims of any religion. Sully's response is that he can't come up with a reason, but he wants to believe anyway. In terms of rational argument, Sully is getting his butt kicked, but he has already announced himself to be immune to rational argumentation.

My problem, however, is that many "atheists" who denounce religion get a religion-sized hole in their psyche, which they then fill with a destructive pseudo-religion. So they become Marxists, or radical environmentalists, or just generic statist liberals who attribute to the government attributes that small children attribute to Santa Claus. Perhaps the best religion would be one which allowed people to believe in Jehovah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but which doesn't inspire them to do anything in particular.