I’m on a bit of a roll this week, so here’s my latest post for When Falls The Coliseum: “Don’t mind me, I’ll just die here in the dark.”
Viewing the state with disdain, no matter who is in charge
I’m on a bit of a roll this week, so here’s my latest post for When Falls The Coliseum: “Don’t mind me, I’ll just die here in the dark.”
Compare and contrast:
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby’s still-true observation that unrepentant communists are treated differently than unrepentant nazis, despite a remarkably similar track record on life, liberty and mass graves.
IF JOSÉ Saramago, the Portuguese writer who died on Friday at 87, had been an unrepentant Nazi for the last four decades, he would never have won international acclaim or received the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. Leading publishers would never have brought out his books, his works would not have been translated into more than 20 languages, and the head of Portugal’s government would never have said on his death — as Prime Minister José Sócrates did say last week — that he was “one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer.’’
But Saramago wasn’t a Nazi, he was a communist. And not just a nominal communist, as his obituaries pointed out, but an “unabashed’’ (Washington Post), “unflinching’’ (AP), “unfaltering’’ (New York Times) true believer. …
With the Boston-area readers’ furious insistence in the comments that communists really mean well, but seem to have been led astray a few times.
Communism is a textbook example of a concept good at heart corrupted by the sociopaths who put it into practice. Marx would not have imagined leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot murdering millions of their own citizens to achieve a dictatorship of the proletariat. …
None of the regime Jacoby mentions are actually communist, they are perversions of the ideology. Communism is not supposed to have a dictator, it is supposed to be rule by the masses. …
You have based your argument on two demonstrably false propositions: 1) I have known good and decent people who were and are a credit to their communities yet who happened to be Marxists. I only need to have known one, and that countermands your entire thesis. 2) One could argue that religion and empire, each or together, have resulted in more homicides than any other “cause”. I’m not sure it’s much of a sporting contest, and indeed one could weakly argue that Marxism is both a religion and empire. Nevertheless, neither capitalism nor free enterprise have proven to be social panaceas …
I lived in Boston for five years, and the area really is overrun with totalitarian dipshits who think that communism deserves another try, but this time with feeling. Most of them are Cambridge-based, of course, giving me yet another reason to resist ever springing for Harvard tuition for my kid (you, too, can fork over fifty grand a year so your kid can learn to pine for a properly regimented society).
Jacoby’s piece reminds me of a misty-eyed April 12, 1990, New York Times laugh riot, titled, “Political Idealists Trying to Hold Back the Night,” about a failing retirement home populated by aging communists with a lingering nostalgia for Lenin. Oddly, the Times piece, while still appearing as a search engine result, has apparently been scrubbed from the site.
Note: MetaThought points out that the Times piece on a retirement home full of old reds is available here, so my inability to pull it up may have been a temporary glitch (or personal incompetence).
At the risk of mixing oil and water, let me announce here the creation of my new stay-at-home-dad blog, King of the Kitchen (any evocations of Oliver Hardy are purely intentional). With my son about to embark on a new phase of life, in kindergarten, it seems like a good time to start a new forum for unleashing my animal howls of frustration at parenthood, marriage and the non-political aspects of the modern world. My political howls will continue to be found here, and I’ll also still write for When Falls the Coliseum.
I have my fair share of doubts about the tea party movement. Ideally, I’d like it to be a consistently pro-liberty movement, suffused by tolerance, devoid of craziness and respectful of intellectual arguments. Unfortunately, it’s not. As with all grassroots movements, the energy for the movement bubbles up from the base, and brings with it not just a gratifyingly crowd-pleasing push for personal freedom, but also conspiracy theories, the occasional hater and a grab-bag of populist bugaboos — specifically immigration, among Arizona tea partiers. Frankly, that’s the way real political movements that aren’t custom-designed for my convenience work.
But I have to admit, among the concerns that have led to my hesitation to fully embrace the tea party movement, it never occurred to me that partially replacing the religion-fueled nuttiness of conservatism with an impure strain of individualistic, small-government libertarianism would be its greatest liability.
At least, that’s the argument of E.J. Dionne, a once perceptive political journalist who seems to have been replaced by a computer program designed to simulate all the worst stereotypes about the out-of-touch Eastern media elite.
In a recent syndicated column, Dionne claims that the tea party movement’s rise constitutes “a revolution on the American right in which older, more secular forms of politics displace religious activism.” This is good for Obama and company because:
The rise of the tea-party movement is a throwback to an old form of libertarianism that sees most of the domestic policies that government has undertaken since the New Deal as unconstitutional. It typically perceives the most dangerous threats to freedom as the design of well-educated elitists out of touch with “American values.”
In its extreme antipathy to the power of the federal government, this movement may prove to be threatening to the Republicans in what should otherwise be a good year for the party.
As evidence that the return of concerns about secular politics to the conservative movement is damaging to the political right, Dionne points out that “The language of the new anti-statists, like the language of the 1950s’ right, regularly harks back to the U.S. Constitution and the Founders in calling attention to perceived threats to liberty” and “As the scrutiny of the movement has increased, its critics (most recently Chris Matthews in an MSNBC documentary and Jason Zengerle in the New Republic) have noticed how much of this is very old American stuff.”
Nowhere to be found in the piece is any recognition of what may have sparked such a revival in interest — however inconsistent — in individual liberty and limited government. Dionne makes no reference to the massive increases in government spending in the past decade, or the enormously extended role the federal government has acquired in the economy, due to TARP and the resulting leverage over the finance industry, the nationalization of two automobile companies and the massive health care bill. And there’s no discussion of the growth in executive power, the far-reaching surveillance state, or the authority gained by government officials from the seemingly permanent state of emergency (although, granted, these are lesser concerns for many tea partiers). Nor any mention that all of this has coincided with a massive economic downturn, which many people — including well-educated people — consider to be closely linked to those policies.
Somehow, says Dionne, conservatives just dropped the Jesus talk and started sounding like the Founders again. “What’s remarkable is the extent to which the tea-party movement has displaced the religious right as the dominant voice of conservative militancy.”
And this is bad for conservatives.
The key to the Washington Post scribe‘s assertions (and, amazingly in a nationally syndicated column, that’s all they are) are found in his last two sentences:
Thus has Obama brought back to life a venerable if disturbing style of conservative thinking. In the short run, the new movement’s energy threatens him. In the long run, its extremism may be his salvation.
That’s right. Dionne finds the tea party’s views disturbing and extreme, so of course they spell doom for conservatism.
Holy shit. How suffocatingly insular must the world a writer lives in be for him to simply conclude that an ideology that makes him and his friends uncomfortable as they chat over dinner and cocktails must necessarily be a dead-end?
It’s one thing to pen a column saying that you disagree with the general thrust of a grassroots political movement. For my part, I like the pro-liberty activism and anti-government rhetoric and dislike the nativism, and anti-intellectualism of the tea party movement. But whether Dionne and I love or hate the tea party movement’s ideas, they’re clearly very popular and likely to play a major role in politics for some time to come.
Maybe it’s time to feed the ability to remove his head from his ass into Dionne’s software.
Don’t get above yourself and think you can pose questions to your rulers — not unless you want a smackdown. See Congressman Bob Etheridge in action on the streets of Washington, D.C., grabbing a young interviewer by the arm and then by the neck.
I expect that the farewell piece I posted over at The Examiner will be yanked pronto, so here it is in all its wonderful wordiness:
When I first started writing for The Examiner, almost two years ago, I had high hopes. With traditional newspapers across the country failing because of long (for the information age) lead times, high overhead and dwindling readership, The Examiner seemed to offer an interesting model for allowing grassroots journalists to cover and comment on their areas of interest — and get paid for their efforts.
My early experience was encouraging. Not only were my writing samples vetted before I was brought on board, but I was also subjected to a criminal background check. The company seemed to want competent writers and a credible image. Right out of the gate I started building decent traffic, which translated into fairly impressive compensation. I wasn’t pulling anything equivalent to the salary of a full-time job, but I was earning enough to make my work for The Examiner a viable part-time gig — just the sort of thing that writers have long cobbled together with other projects in order to make a living.
But there were early warning signs. The Examiner encouraged its writers, strongly, to use social networks like Digg and Reddit to their advantage by promoting their own and their colleagues’ material. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those clique-ridden services, but the strategy mimicked About.com’s doomed ’90s-era efforts to have its writers game the old Web search engines (I’m a jaded old man, in Internet years). About.com’s scheme pretty much ended the days of Internet users voting on the placement of sites in Web searches, and The Examiner‘s modern plan ultimately got the site’s content booted from many social networks.
Then Google News began to turn up its nose at Examiner content — understandably, considering how much low-quality junk was now turning up in the results as The Examiner went into a quantity-over-quality hiring frenzy. It’s not that there are no good writers at The Examiner — there are, in fact, a lot of good writers working for the company. But their efforts have increasingly been lost in a sea of dreck.
For the first time in any of my writing jobs, my readership (and pay) began to decline instead of increase. For the past few months I’ve been making about 7% (yes, seven percent) of what I consistently earned during the good times.
Some other Examiner writers are still doing well, and I give them full credit for their success. And many writers don’t seem to mind the content-mill aspect of the site, since they have a platform for doing something that they love. To a certain extent, I think that’s a manifestation of the partial transformation of writing from a profession into a social activity — a phenomenon I’ve covered elsewhere.
It’s not like I haven’t written for peanuts — or free. I’m not paid for my work at the excellent group blog When Falls the Coliseum and I make almost nothing through my personal blog, Disloyal Opposition. But The Examiner is a for-profit institution, and if I’m going to help somebody else turn a buck, I’d like to see some reward for my efforts.
Besides, given the low esteem in which The Examiner is now all too often held, I’m gaining no professional benefit from my continued efforts. And as for readership … Disloyal Opposition pulls about ten times as much traffic as my Examiner columns.
So it’s time for me to move on.
I wish my fellow writers who continue with The Examiner the best of luck. Many of them are very good, and I hope their efforts lead to success, however they may define that elusive goal. I also wish profitability to The Examiner; while the company’s evolved model doesn’t work for me, it violates nobody’s rights, and I sincerely root for everybody who makes the attempt to earn honest profits.
And to my readers: Thank you. I hope to see you elsewhere.
Who wrote this?:
A review of the peer-edited literature reveals a systematic tendency of the climate establishment to engage in a variety of stylized rhetorical techniques that seem to oversell what is actually known about climate change while concealing fundamental uncertainties and open questions regarding many of the key processes involved in climate change.
Was it a cranky skeptic grinding away on his personal blog? Or was it a prominent professor at a major university?
OK. I telegraphed that one. In fact, the author of those words is Jason Scott Johnston, Director of the Program on Law, Environment and Economy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in a paper published by The University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Law and Economics: Global Warming Advocacy Science: a Cross Examination (PDF).
Johnston also writes:
Fundamental open questions include not only the size but the direction of feedback effects that are responsible for the bulk of the temperature increase predicted to result from atmospheric greenhouse gas increases: while climate models all presume that such feedback effects are on balance strongly positive, more and more peer-edited scientific papers seem to suggest that feedback effects may be small or even negative. The cross-examination conducted in this paper reveals many additional areas where the peer-edited literature seems to conflict with the picture painted by establishment climate science, ranging from the magnitude of 20th century surface temperature increases and their relation to past temperatures; the possibility that inherent variability in the earth’s non-linear climate system, and not increases in CO2, may explain observed late 20th century warming; the ability of climate models to actually explain past temperatures; and, finally, substantial doubt about the methodological validity of models used to make highly publicized predictions of global warming impacts such as species loss.
Johnston says that establishment climate scientists have taken to cherry-picking data, dismissing information that would bring their models into question and then hunting up evidence that supports their premises. He criticizes this tendency as resulting in a “faith-based climate policy.”
I’ll note here that Johnston isn’t questioning assertions that the climate is changing; he’s challenging the certainty that many climate scientists express in dismissing possible natural factors, such as solar variation, and their enthusiasm for the supposed accuracy of computer models intended to describe what the climate is doing now and will do in the future. He also points to overtly bad science and the substitution of opinion for inquiry in the claims made by many climate scientists.
All of this matters because the bad science and dismissal of contrary evidence and dissenting opinions is useful only for “conveying a very scary and also very simple picture of the state of the science. Such coarse understanding leads to a very coarse policy prescription: ‘Do something, anything, now!’ Such a policy prescription justifies virtually any policy, however costly or inefficient…”
Interestingly, even though the latest version of the paper was published in May, the only mainstream media mention I can find is in Canada’s Financial Post.
I know it’s fashionable among some of my co-ideologists to deride Glenn Beck as a clown who damages the libertarian brand, but just when I think I’m completely fed up with the guy, he does a great service to the cause of freedom. Right now he’s on Fox News promoting F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, along with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He’s also interviewing Thomas Woods from the Ludwig von Mises Institute on the tendency of governments to point to their own failings as reason for more state intervention in the economy, and chatting with Yuri Maltsev (another Austrian economist) about the realities of socialism he experienced in the old Soviet Union.
Does anybody else bring so much advocacy of freedom to such a wide audience? The only other person I can think of is John Stossel — and yes, Stossel is more consistent, serious and intellectual, but he doesn’t have the same following.
Beck may be a clown, but sometimes, it takes a clown.
Note: One day later, The Road to Serfdom has jumped to #1 on Amazon.
There are good people wearing police uniforms and there are bad people wearing police uniforms. More to the point, however, people in police uniforms have willingly chosen to take a job in which they act, at best, as enforcers of laws passed by government officials — and often as agents of the whims of those officials. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that the proprietors of the Red and Black Cafe, an avowedly anarchist establishment in Portland, Oregon, asked Officer James Crooker to take his business elsewhere. If you don’t like governments, why would you want to serve people who willingly work for them?
That gut-level, ideological opposition to the role of police officers likely explains the seeming inability of cafe co-owner John Langley to articulate a clear reason he gave the officer the boot at the time of the incident. Crooker is a cop; in Langley’s mind, that was probably reason enough. Langley’s early lack of clarity has been seized upon and mocked by police supporters — generally in poorly spelled and badly reasoned comments that default to mantras about cops being the thin, blue line that stands between decent folk and howling barbarians, even as they threaten arson against the cafe, urge officers to take their time responding to incidents there, and call for the city to have a politicized look at the cafe’s compliance with all rules and regulations.
If you’re an ideological supporter of government power, it’s easy to fall back on unreasoning support for the state’s servants (and, ironically, validate objections to government power in the process).
Given time to ponder, Langley came up with clearer articulation of his concerns:
I don’t have anything against this particular officer and I don’t know anything about him…A police officer in uniform makes people feel unsafe because of previous experiences…
We’re gonna value the people that have been victims of police violence. Some of them have talked about having their belongings being taken away or sprayed with water. It is exacerbated by the situation in Portland right now. The response to the mental health crisis is shooting people and beating people to death.
The anarcho-entrepreneur didn’t pull his reasons out of thin air. Less than a month ago, after a series of police shotings and complaints about the official response, Portland Mayor Sam Adams booted the city’s police chief and took direct control of the police department. In a press conference, he said (PDF), “Despite the extraordinary efforts of the courageous few who wear the badge, the relationship between the citizens of Portland and their police officers is not what it needs to be. Too many Portlanders express concern about their own safety–not because of crime, but rather fear of their own police force.”
Less dramatically, police are clearly working these days less as a thin blue line against crime than as tax collectors who selectively enforce laws with an eye to maximizing revenue for the government. In 2008, the Detroit News found that Michigan police departments were stepping up traffic enforcement solely to increase the money they collected.
“When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement,” Utica Police Chief Michael Reaves said. “But if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues. That’s just the reality nowadays.”
Officials elsewhere are equally open about their roadside revenue-enhancement efforts. It’s difficult to see a public safety aspect to the use of laws as means for mugging the public. If there’s a thin blue line, it leads directly to people’s wallets — and tags police as, too often, nothing more than agents of state power, for any purpose, good or bad.
Yes, police can do good deeds and often play a legitimate role in responding to crimes against people and property — maybe the critics will be right and John Langley will someday wish a cop were present to deal with a stick-up artist. But he and his colleagues have good reasons, ideological and practical, to object to the presence of a police officer in their place of business.
At least a few people agree with the Red and Black Cafe’s stance — business is reportedly way up since the incident.
I know I haven’t been chatty recently, and now I’ll be even less talkative, since I’m off on a much-anticipated family vacation. I’ll be back to rant and rave on June 7. And, I promise, I’ll become bloggier (if it ain’t a word, it should be) once a big project ends for me in mid-August.
Since the spambots are so super-eager to have their say here, I’ve been moderating all comments. Unfortunately, that means no comments will publish until my return.