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‘Last Call’ delves into Prohibition — and the long hangover it left behind

I’m reading Last Call by Daniel Okrent, an interesting history of the rise of the prohibitionist movement in the 19th century, its culmination in the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, and the inevitable (and gratifying) failure of the once-popular effort to ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The book is of special interest to me not only because of my strong thirst for bourbon, red wine, microbrews, port, gin and, in a pinch, Sterno squeezed through a handkerchief, but also because I’ve long believed that, with all due respect to the folks obsessed by the Civil War/War Between the States/War to Fuel All Overwrought Historical Novels, Prohibition was the defining moment in terms of a shift in the relationship between individuals and the state in this country.

Among the interesting details supplied by Okrent’s book is the degree to which prohibitionism intermingled with, energized, and was powered by connections with other “reform” movements. Specifically, the early “temperance” movement overlapped with abolitionism, then developed major ties to the women’s suffrage movement — to the point that it’s credited with making early feminism politically viable. Religious fundamentalism, unsurprisingly, played a huge role along the way — prohibitionism was overtly a Protestant-Christian eruption, with the Anti-Saloon League calling itself “the church in action against the saloon.” Nativism, of course, figured in the movement against alcohol, with reaction to hard-drinking Catholic and Jewish immigrants (the myth possibly not out-stripping the reality) fueling much of the desire to ban saloons, beer, booze and fun; Frances Willard, long-time leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, favored immigration restrictions on “the scum of the Old World.”

What is new to me (though it makes sense) was the degree to which then-new brands of ideological collectivism played a role. Willard, who often referred (approvingly) to her followers as “Protestant nuns,” was not by any means the only prohibitionist to identify as a “Christian socialist.” The WCTU and the Prohibition Party endorsed a grab-bag of statist policies, including nationalization of major industries.

Prohibitionists, by and large, didn’t seem to be huge fans of sex, either. No surprise, really.

Basically, aside from women’s suffrage (abolitionists may have often been anti-alcohol, but they prevailed on their on merits), prohibitionism was a major player up in a mutually reinforcing whirlwind of statism and intolerance that has done vast damage to the cause of personal freedom and limited government in the United States. Several seemingly unrelated political/cultural tendencies gained energy from one another and went on to transform the country in very important ways.

I haven’t finished Last Call, but it’s already worthy of recommendation. And it will, almost certainly, drive you to drink.

Wikileaks battle tests state vs. individual power on the Internet

I can’t be the only person who grins every time I hear that Wikileaks has released yet another batch of U.S. diplomatic cables as an in-your-face to the governments trying to shut the organization down. Or beams as the government leans on corporations to cut ties to the organization, only to see one Website turn into 1,000 (you, too, can mirror Wikileaks). And I’m sure I’m not alone in endorsing Dilbert-creator Scott Adams’s sentiment that, “The one thing I know for sure is that I’m a fan of the hackers who are dispensing vigilante justice.” Those are the hackers targeting the government agencies and their allied corporate partners who have been trying to isolate Wikileaks, of course.

It’s not that Wikileaks or its creator, Julian Assange are perfect. Assange seems to seek notoriety — though, would any other type of person take on this job? And, as Adams also noted in his blog, the revelation that the much ballyhooed sex charges against Assange are apparently rooted in weird Swedish laws about condom use and jealousy over bed-hopping “turned Assange from a man-whore publicity hound into Gandhi.”

Well, maybe not “Gandhi,” but the charges look like a bullshit effort to discredit the man.

The continuing survival of Wikileaks and its championing by the pro-information-freedom Anonymous hacker group are an ongoing demonstration of the ability of decentralized organizations and grassroots movements to not only prevail against governments, but even to retaliate against state agencies. As the Washington Post notes, “WikiLeaks is now stronger than ever, at least as measured by its ability to publish online… the Web site’s resilience in the face of repeated setbacks has underscored a lesson already absorbed by more repressive governments that have tried to control the Internet: It is nearly impossible to do.”

Which means that all the Internet evangelists who hoped new online tools would help close the power gap between individuals and governments are now seeing some vindication.

Wikileaks apparently not welcome around these parts

I don’t really fear that the apparent abandonment of Wikileaks by U.S.-based host Amazon.com — presumably under government pressure — really means the end of the excellent anti-state, whistle-blower organization. Truthfully, the sudden denial of hosting services seems like a petulant playground kick in a world of potential alternatives, many of them far beyond the reach of embarrassed American politicians (apparently, the group moved back to Sweden, according to NPR).

Isn’t that telling, though? Governments are reduced to symbolically shuttering Websites for a few days, leaving the actual whistle-blowers and their desire to expose information otherwise untouched. Supposedly, Julian Assange and company have a stash of bank-related documents slated for their next expose. In the unlikely event that they can’t get the Website up and running again, what’s to stop them from zipping and emailing the data to media organizations and bloggers, just as they did the U.S. diplomatic cables? Or I suppose they could go so far as to print the juicy data or save it to thumb drives and physically hand it to people likely to spread the information further.

Ultimately, Wikileaks is about the desire to expose compromising secrets, not about maintaining Websites. And Wikileaks is just one incarnation of that push for transparency — taking the Website, the organization or its leader out of the picture only shifts the action elsewhere.

If you don’t like it, don’t fly

The police-state fan boys are quick to tell us that if we don’t like the new and ever-more intrusive security measures at airports, we should just stay on the ground. What they don’t add is that the be-gloved objects of their crushes aren’t content to confine their peeping and groping to the realm of air travel — they want to take the show on the road. Check out the news report below on a checkpoint set up at a Tampa Greyhound bus station by TSA, Border Patrol and local police.

I’ve been stopped at Border Patrol checkpoints within that magic 100-mile Constitution-free zone that runs around the perimeter of the United States, so I suspect that the same Constitutional leeway is being used to justify the Tampa incident — meaning that you might not (yet) encounter such checkpoints in the heartland. But does anybody doubt that it’s only a matter of time?

We miss you, Frank Drebin

I didn’t know this until very recently, but the late Leslie Nielsen’s breakthrough comic movie, Airplane!, made laugh-riot history through spoofing 1970s air disaster films by effectively making a twisted version of 1950s cinematic disaster dud, Zero Hour.

(Hat tip to S.M. Oliva)

Update: Err … To clarify: I knew about Airplane!. I didn’t know it was a spoofy remake of a ’50s flick.

Beat the crap out of him, Danno

Am I the only one who tuned into the the new Hawaii Five-0 to see Grace Park in a bikini, only to be creeped out by the Gestapo-ish, thuggish, statist undertone to the whole cops-under-the-sun enterprise?

The tone was set in the first episode when the elite police unit headed by former Navy SEAL Steve McGarrett was essentially handed carte blanche by the governor of Hawaii (played by Jean Smart) to solve crimes. How could that go wrong? Since then, McGarrett, Danno and the crew have engaged in such interesting means of inducing cooperation in suspects as dumping a man in a cage surrounded by sharks far out in the ocean. In the same episode, McGarrett helps Danno prevail in a custody fight by getting the governor to lean on the new husband of Danno’s ex-wife.

Yeah. Using political connections to intervene in courtroom family disputes is just so cool.

And I just watched an episode (on DVR) in which McGarrett and company sidelined a team of kidnapping and ransom specialists hired by an American diplomat whose daughter had been kidnapped, just because. They then arrested the chief specialist (after rescuing the daughter, of course) because … he’s a competitor? I’m still not really clear on that point.

Grace Park still looks awesome in a bikini, but every time the show theme music cranks up, I find myself bracing to see the team whip out thumbscrews or steal a box of doughnuts — because nothing can stand in the way of suntanned justice!

Yeah, Dirty Harry did it, but there was always a big issue at stake. Not just the intimation that people who tangle with cops in even the pettiest way deserve to get stomped.

No, really. Hawaii Five-0 has turned into an ongoing abuse of power amidst nice scenery. With Grace Park (well, I guess “scenery” could cover her, but she deserves a specific mention). I guess I could just turn off the sound, but isn’t that what Internet porn is for?

TSA pervs get no love

First, let’s acknowledge that the Transportation Security Administration isn’t really the problem. Or rather, it’s not the source of the problem. The TSA goons are just good Germans, following orders issued from up above by politicians and high-level bureaucrats who get hard-ons from the very thought of wielding power over the rest of the human race, and who often wield that power as intrusively as possible just to be perceived as “doing something” to protect the sheep from the panic of the moment.

But you have to start somewhere. So I sent the following email to the TSA:

Dear TSA Goons,

Fuck you very much. Yes, I understand that you didn’t set in place the policies that have set us on the road to a police state — that was the un-American, control-freak politicians who have exploited fear to enhance their own power and erode our liberty. But you have happily taken and held jobs that involve incursions into individual rights and privacy. That’s evil. You and the government behind you are worse enemies of America than Osama Bin Laden ever has been. I look forward to the day that the bunch of you are once again unemployed and back to peeking through bathroom windows to satisfy your urges.

Happy Holidays!

I added the “happy holidays” just so there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. They mean well — or so I’m told of the kind folks who threatened John Tyner with a lawsuit and hefty fine for leaving the security folks so unfulfilled with his gropus interruptus. After all, they did back off (sort of) after a wave of international ridicule made them look like petulant thugs.

Anyway, Tyner threatened to have the TSA pervs arrested if they touched his junk, and at least one California DA — Steve Wagstaffe in San Mateo County — appears willing to make good on that threat. Rep. Ron Paul has now introduced a bill intended to insure that all the usual laws against groping, frottage and making lewd images of other people apply to TSA agents to the same extent as to the rest of us, so they couldn’t claim immunity.

Fair is fair!

I’m still waiting to see how this all shakes out. For Christmas, my family will be driving eight hours rather than going anywhere near a TSA checkpoint. Not only am I not looking forward to a scope-or-grope encounter, I’m also not all that eager to find out how my email has been received by a gang of over-powerful bureaucrats with a history of thin skins.

Light ‘em up, desert rats

Contrary to early claims that Arizona voters had rejected a medical marijuana initiative, state voters appear poised to approve legal use of the weed yet again (third time is the charm!). As early and provisional ballots finally get tallied, Prop. 203, the latest medical marijuana initiative, is sliding from narrowly defeated to narrowly approved.

The latest count has the measure ahead by about 4,400 votes, with little chance for the antis to make up the difference.

What’s that I smell in the air? It must be victory.

Oh hell no. It’s the sweet smell of weed.

Next stop, sniff, is cocaine.

Election horror! I’m moving to (fill in the blank)

Why is is that, after every disappointing election, libertarians generally just grin and bear it (and tunnel a little deeper into the underground economy and counter-culture), conservatives vow to try harder next time (and win back their country for Jeezis), but lefties are forever vowing to toss their Patagonia gear into their hybrid put-puts and flee to Canada or France or some other mythical social-democratic paradise? My Facebook feed is currently speckled with progressive chums contemplating the good life in Toronto, Paris or Lilliput, about all of which they seem equally well mis-informed. This isn’t the first time, either.

Gawker captured the situation nicely with a round-up of five potential cities to which refugees from the recent dastardly Tea Party coup could consider fleeing. Kudos to Gawker for mentioning the uncomfortable truth that much of the world is a tad less lollipops-and-unicorns social-democraticky than progressives might like — less so than the U.S. in many cases. As Gawker points out of our neighbor to the north, “Well, it’s not that liberal. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a conservative leader, after all,” and even “[t]ax-heavy, expensive Sweden is also moving into a more American style of limited-ish federal government, privatizing many formerly state-owned business to stave off economic woes.”

In fact, deprived of the huge line of credit possessed by the United States, many countries to which trendy lefties might flee have long-since started slashing state spending, freeing their economies (a bit, anyway) and turning toward Tea Party-ish smaller-government solutions.

Canada, for instance, is no longer so much the big-government contrast to the United States. Canadian federal spending topped out at over 50% of GDP back in the ’90s, after which somebody went to tap the piggy bank yet again and found nothing but moths and good wishes. Out of necessity, the old Liberal government began cutting spending well before the Conservatives came to power.

Likewise, Britain is only one of the European countries that have explicitly rejected the Obama administration’s hoary Keynesianism in favor of some sort of fiscal discipline. Sweden really is deregulating and privatizing its economy — to the point that the Christian Science Monitor says, “some believe it should be held up as a bastion of market capitalism.”

On a less-encouraging note, the French have their own problems with nativism and immigration fights. There’s no escaping the border warriors in Paris.

I’m not entirely sure what sort of Erewhon the folks on the losing side of the latest election think they’re going to find once they disembark in the imagined promised land, but it’s probably going to leave them a bit disappointed.

It’s not that the latest crop of elected officials won’t be as bad as everybody fears; the last few batches have certainly lived down to expectations, and why should things change now? But, if progressives insist on fleeing the latest electoral catastrophe (after the previous one, which they themselves brought on us) they might trouble themselves to do a little research to make sure that they won’t be greeted in their new homes by poutine-munching, Gauloises-puffing clones of the scary villains they left behind.

Post-election …

… I just feel … dirty.