June 2008


Just a little while ago I got back from the wedding of a friend. He’s roughly the same age as me, which I would of course consider much too young. I wouldn’t consider it an instance of a rash decision by younguns that will surely backfire on them, as they had it planned out years ago and seem to know what they’re doing. My friend is something of a screwup and from a screwed up family, but his now-wife is the smart, level-headed and responsible type. I only worry that her very Christian Social Gospel aspects will rub off on him. I was pretty lousy as a friend back in high school, believing he was the jolliest person around up until he overdosed on anti-depressants I didn’t even know he was taking. Apparently the signs were obvious to all but the oblivious. At my current rate of progress I’ll reach that life stage around never. Perhaps its because I’ve been so much better off that in complacency I neglect to seek happiness through others. Ludwig von Mises said something or other about that.

Of course the big news in libertarian circles and elsewhere is D.C vs Heller. I’m conflicted about it for decentralist reasons, as discussed by Stephan Kinsella and Kevin Gutzman. The District is the most local authority, so it has the responsibility to pass laws against things like murder that are beyond Congress. However, not being part of a state it has no state constitution to enumerate its powers and add any extra limitations on those powers. I don’t expect in an antifederalist future that rural areas will have the same gun laws as urban areas, and think that residents of the latter would be more comfortable with lax laws in the former if they needed interfere with their own way of doing things. There has been lots of interesting commentary on it at places like Volokh, though speaking as a layman Scalia’s opinion can be taken straight (D.C’s quasi-state status was not at issue). The case for an individual right not limited to service in any organized militia appears convincing, but perhaps I’m not the best judge since I believed that in the first place. Breyer’s argument for “interest balancing” strikes me as ridiculous for a judge to be engaged in and renders any right moot. It’s fun to laugh at what appears to be his hypocrisy depending on which side of the culture wars a law stands on. I admit though that I didn’t read all of Stevens and Breyers’ dissents, as it was past 3 in the morning and I had to get up early for an aforementioned reason. I might get to them later, but now I have a new distraction. UPDATE: I don’t normally link to Arthur Silber because his posts are long, drama-queen ethical pornography and every once in a while I’ll even disagree with his main point! However, on Heller I’ll make an exception.

Right after I got back I found that Demonic Males had arrived. Though at least co-authored by a scientist and describing some of their own research, judging by the first chapter it’s not at all dry. Though the subtitle specifies only “apes”, it has already let out that only chimpanzees and humans display that level of aggression, offering as a contrast the chimp’s close cousin: the bonobo. I recalled reading a New Yorker article on whether the bonobos are really hippies, but I guess I’ll to wait until much later in the book for Wrangham and Peterson to discuss it. I’ve heard that when brought together in captivity the chimps beat up the bonobos, so I wonder why these doves haven’t been replaced by hawks yet. Just this morning I brought the book to the attention of Mark Crovelli after reading his Austrian-inspired a priori theory of international relations. His theory is that tax collecting and legislation enacting states are the cause of war, with democratic states especially likely to engage in it. Like Pinker I think there is good evidence that war and violence were endemic in pre-state society, but perhaps that evidence will mean little to someone who rejects a posteori reasoning when it comes to human action. That book was recommend to me by Mencius Moldbug, who also rejects positivist “social science”. We argued about that in the comments to this GNXP post about the decline of violence.

On an unrelated note, Odessa Syndicate seems to have dissappeared and have been replaced with Occidental Dissent. I have to say I miss the allusions to Stalinist/Nazi authoritarianism and the dystopian society from the film Equilibrium. Also, I have now updated the previous post about my ban from EconLog with a message from Lauren Landsburg.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for what Lauren Landsburg has to say.

I’ve been temporarily banned a number of times, but this one was the last straw. In this thread about James Hansen’s call for putting global warming denying oil executives on trial I assuaged Arnold Kling’s fears for his freedom by saying “The difference between oil executives and Kling is that Kling doesn’t matter. Also, he has less money.” This was ruled ad hominem, and since it was directed at the host and I had been repeatedly warned, I was banished forever.

I don’t see how noting that Kling has less money than an oil executive would merit that, as he has discussed high CEO pay and oil company profits on his blog. So the ad hominem part was that oil company executives matter and Kling does not. If carbon emissions cause warming, then the work oil executives do has a large impact on that warming. These executives have also been in the spotlight when Congress feels it ought to Do Something and they provide funding to people that spread their desired message. So we can say they matter. Does Arnold Kling matter on this issue? Is James Hansen aware of his existence? If he was, would it be worth his time to concern himself with Kling? My guess is no.

In some ways this reminds me of conversations I repeatedly have with Mencius Moldbug and Hopefully Anonymous. The former is talking about overthrowing the current system of government throughout the First World, a plan which now involves restoring the Stuarts. The latter wants to minimize existential risk and discover how to attain immortality, or something close to it. What I tell them is that you don’t matter, I don’t matter, and all the time we spend on the blogosphere will have no effect on the achievement of your goals. The latter at least will learn a few tips about common health and accident risks, but he’s not going to get a new Dr. Ishii cloning massive numbers of Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrum.

REPLY FROM LANDSBURG: I sent an e-mail when I found my comment was still up, here is the reply.

Hi, TGGP.

> When I checked it out I saw that the comment I was
> banned for was up.

Is that a question? a complaint? a reminder?

Yes, we left the comment up.  Usually it isn't necessary to remove a
comment altogether, even if it's the last straw or the final cause for
permanently banning someone who has been warned repeatedly for crossing
the line.  A comment has to be exceptionally crude or disruptive to be
removed.

It was possible to interpret your EconLog comment in various ways, so
taking it down didn't seem necessary.  In fact, someone pointed out
yesterday to me that you argue on your own blog that you intended it as
illustrative.  That argument seems perfectly reasonable.  I probably
picked the wrong comment of yours over which to ban you; but frankly,
you've been gunning for getting banned for a long time.  You've managed
to drive your benefit/cost ratio for EconLog well below 1.

Having to waste my time moderating someone does not exactly endear him
to me. After someone receives multiple warnings, bans, and
reinstatements, even a semblance of an infraction is enough to make it
no longer worth my time to sort it out.

Were you an iota as articulate and respectable on EconLog as you are on
your own blog, almost surely you'd never have gotten moderated, much
less banned.

However, that's all water under the bridge. In your case, banning you
doesn't mean I don't respect you as a thinker or as a writer.  Quite the
opposite, in fact.  However, it does mean that you've not cottoned to
EconLog's standards and style--not even after receiving two reprieves
more than we give most commenters who violate the rules here.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy reading your blog entries, as I
have in the past.

Best regards,

Lauren

I am a huge fan of Richard Matheson’s horror story “I Am Legend”. The best part of it is the ending. It’s so old it won’t be a terrible spoiler to tell you that the “vampires” have evolved to a point where they have their own civilization which is not simply insanely murderous, though this is unkown to protagonist Robert Neville who goes on merrily murdering them in their sleep. He comes to be regarded as a monstrous figure to the new humanity, just as the vampires of myth were long ago. He is apprehended and executed for his crimes. Shortly after the book was written Vincent Price starred in “The Last Man on Earth”, which took the initial premise but made it into a generic zombie movie. Same thing for Charlton Heston in the Omega Man. The title doesn’t make a damn lick of sense unless you keep the original ending, so I was psyched when I heard about the latest version with Will Smith. The beginning stayed pretty faithful, but the ending just went the same old route and completely pissed me off. The question  nagged me, “Why did they use the original title and stay true to the original in the beginning?”. Now via Cracked, I know. They first filmed a completely different ending, but test audiences received it negatively, so they refilmed the lame ending we saw in theaters. The original “controversial” ending is on the dvd, and also google video (it didn’t work at the Cracked website, so I’ve got a different one below). It’s not quite as good as the book, where the vampires can actually pass as human (there is no human woman to befriend Neville, she turns out to be a vampire) but it’s an improvement.

Pre-order it! It doesn’t really have any details other than the cover right now, those will be added when the Nine Banded Books site adds a page for it. The Hoover Hog has put up plenty of info on the book and the other stuff in it, like an updated version of Lucifer’s Lexicon (think something Ambrose Pierce would have passed around but not published). I don’t have any special info about the rest, but Chip Smith’s editing of my intro has been fantastic and as far as I’m concerned responsible for the bulk of its quality. It’s like a literary version of the philosopher’s stone, turning quickly hacked out page-filler into gold. I’ve only seen the original version of Rollins’ titular essay, but the writing there was good enough that it wouldn’t require much improvement. It’s a shame that someone of Rollins’ talents languishes in obscurity when Ayn Rand attained demigod status among libertarians, but not unprecedented considering that Crazy Frog topped the billboard charts in numerous European countries (which is not even to say that what it replaced was any good). In case some other publisher is reading this, Rollins and his pen are available with a wit as sharp as ever, though what he lacks is an e-mail address for you to contact him at. E-mail Chip from 9BB instead.

On the subject of books, my order for On Power was cancelled because it was out of stock. I should have knwon the $12 price was too good to be true. I bought a gift card with the exact amount ($16.72 due to taxes and shipping) specifically for that purpose, which means Borders still has my money and perhaps due to loss-aversion I feel I ought to get something out of it. I just have a sneaking feeling that if I shell out a little more to order one of the vast majority of worthwhile books priced higher than $12 it will get canceled again and I’ll have gotten sucked out of yet a little more. I guess I could have avoided that possibility if I used credit cards, but whenever I get offers in the mail I throw it out as soon as they mention an annual fee. I know retailers send kickbacks to the credit card companies, who are also standing ready to suck my blood should I miss a payment. I don’t feel like sending them yearly tribute for the privilege.

I recently discussed Pinker on violence and earlier made some references to Foucault. Googling for that link I came upon this idiotic trashing of Pinker. It is asserted that Pinker’s graphs are “biased” without explaining how and accuses him of ignoring Foucault’s point about the importance of threats “institutionalizing” (or preventing) violence, when Pinker advances the same Hobbesian Leviathan hypothesis I discussed here. On the plus side this person claims Pinker has finished a new book soon to come out called “A History of Violence”. If that actually is the case, I look forward to it.

In a list of religious people put up by Walter Block I noticed the inclusion of Pete Boettke. I don’t recall Boettke mentioning religion before and was under the impression he was an atheist. In Brian Doherty’s book Radicals for Capitalism on page 437 Boettke recalls the good old days saying “The typical young IHS turk in the 1980s believed in the three A’s: anarchism, Austrianism, and atheism.” While a few of his peers have dropped the first two, Pete is still proudly Austrian (hence his blog, journal and courses) and perhaps less proudly anarchist. So I wonder about his C.S. Lewis moment. Bryan Caplan’s dissent from Austrianism has received a number of replies (not surprising given the Austrian penchant for argument), but his strident atheism is only even indirectly argued against by Larry Iannoccone. So my question to Pete is, if you were an atheist like your peers, what led you to that and what later made you decide against it?

That’s how fundamentalist Christian libertarian Vox Day describes the Supreme Court’s Boumedienne decision. As extreme an originalist (meaning, not intent) as I am for rule of law reasons disgusted by judges simply making up stuff as if there were a silly law clause in the Constitution, I am sympathetic to that view. It was really the denial of habeas corpus to U.S citizens captured in America (like Padilla) that got my goat the most, and apparently the Supreme Court already prohibited that though I must have forgotten about it. I’m not averse to the use of military courts for some purposes, but the problem administration never got around to setting them up, even preferring to release huge numbers of prisoners without trial (the one person who was convicted of anything is living free in Australia) as even they realize that many have little reason for being there. The President appears to have been fundamentally uninterested in how to resolve the issue and dismissive of the idea that there are supposed to be some constraints on his authority (the Padilla case really did represent a discarding of our fundamental freedoms dating back to the Magna Carta or earlier). John Roberts was right to point out that the Court doesn’t actually specify a clear way forward, which is perhaps a legacy of muddled living-constitutionalism and deference to authorities that fit poorly with an administration that wasn’t even trying to pretend very well. I guess they had a lot on their plate, being busy suckered by a below-average Burger King employee.

I had some good news that day I wanted to share with Vox, but unfortunately his comment section is too popular not to expect it get buried and remained unnoticed. Contrary to his gloomy prognostications, the newest generations are better behaved than their parents. A series has started at Gene Expression titled Previous Generations Were More Depraved. It promises to provide data showing that on a wide variety of measures of social dysfunction things are improving from the bad old days of the Boomers. The first entry is on sluttiness, and brought a smile to this prude’s face. If we look at things from an even larger time scale we may conclude with Stephen Pinker that the Great Sixties Freakout really was an aberration in the long decline of violence. I’m interested in what Randall Colins says about that in his Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory but it will probably be in paperback by the time I get around to it.

UPDATE: A concurring opinion from a Magna Cum Lousy graduate of the I Can Read The Constitution School of Law admitted to bar at pretty much any place he can afford to buy a round.

I’m back from the Upper Peninsula and have access to the internet again. Woo-hoo! Unaware of events going on around me I neglected to raise a pint in memory of Raymond Crotty. I don’t take pride in my own Irish ancestry and don’t think much of those who do, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Hurrah for unanimity rule!

The requirement of unanimity (or rather the absence of any final authority that can say “yes”) is held responsible for many of the ills we ascribe to “bureaucracy” in James Q Wilson’s book, which I have just finished. Wilson is interested in the constraints placed upon government agencies and though he recognizes that those constraints exist for a reason would like to reduce them on the margin. As one who would prefer that they [EDIT: by which I am referring to the agencies, not constraints] not exist at all I consider that a second best outcome. I do think they are given too many goals by the political system that the rationalist economist in me would prefer to be dealt with through a sort of lump-sum transfer payment disentangled from the functions of these agencies, but that is unfortunately politically infeasible.

Wilson tries to point out the good work government agencies do and seems to hark back to the turn of the century when forceful executives created and shaped elite agencies like the Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and FBI though he also recognizes (not often enough) that the imprint folks like J. Edgar Hoover left was not always benign and often hindered their agency’s ability to accomplish some tasks. When a government agency’s performance is looked at favorably, it is usually relative to another government agency (Steve Horwitz stifles his inner libertarian to do likewise for the Coast Guard here) as private organizations are noted at the end to almost universally deliver equivalent outputs with lower costs (the exception between power generation, perhaps due to economies of scale or breaks given by other government officials). The short segment at the end comparing the market to the government really lacked imagination in considering what can be privatized (he unfortunately neglects to distinguish privatization/mutualization from contracting, saying “We could have a small, minimalist government dear to the heart of the strictest libertarian that nevertheless conducted its business entirely through public bureaucracies. Conversely we could have a large, activist government with great powers and vast revenues that hired private firms to exercise those powers and dispense those funds”). I recommend reading this book along with Bruce Benson’s excellent Enterprise of Law, which points out how privately provided legal and security services are not only feasible but have a fairly long and satisfactory track record. Another reason the two books are good to read alongside each other is that Benson rather vigorously pushes the traditional Public Choice analysis of government favored by “economic imperialists”, which Wilson explicitly rejects and provides a decent amount of evidence why we should at least rethink it. Dain provides more here, and notes that Jeffrey Friedman (to which I and Jeff would both add Bryan Caplan) has greatly critiqued the old view of Bureaucratic Imperialism resulting in something I might call New New Institutionalism. An Austrian-Virginian (both schools Friedman happens to reject) history of Public Choice and its mistakes is here.

I’m afraid my own interests are going to give you a warped sense of the focus of the book, which really is about “What government agencies do and why they do it”. It discusses the different kinds of tasks and ways of monitoring performance, the actual employees who implement policy as well as the managers and executives and try to mold their behavior, the environment (Congress and its committees, the White House, interest groups, the press, peers within the profession) that shapes how they operate and more. It explores how different our presidential system is from parliamentary ones and how our “pro-business” government adopts a more adversarial approach toward industry than its Swedish counterpart. All in all a good book I recommend. I’ll leave you with a quote I found amusing

“There is no reason in principle why we could not repeal the laws against homicide and create in their stead a Commission on Life Enhancement and Preservation (CLEP) that would hear complaints about persons who had killed other persons. It would consider evidence about the character of the deceased: Was he lazy or dutiful, decent or disorderly, likable or hateful? On the basis of this evaluation of the lost life and relying on the professional judgment of its staff, the CLEP would decide whether the life lost was worth losing and, if not, whether the person who took it was justified in doing so. By thus decriminalizing homicide, we surely would experience a reduction in the number of events officially labeled murders since the CLEP would undoubtedly conclude that many who had been killed richly deserved their fate”.

Wilson recently (perhaps its still going, I’m out of the internet loop) made a series of posts on Volokh, gathered together here. Now that I’ve finished his book I’m reading Freda Utley’s China Story. On Power is on order and when it arrives for me to start transcribing and/if I take the job in Wisconsin I’ll likely have less extra time to fritter away on the blogosphere. So heads up and sorry in advance.

Check it out.

OB thread on it here. I thought Horgan did a poor job, but I’ve always preferred George Johnson on Science Saturday to him anyway.

Or are you just an idiot for thinking the latter is not a subset of the former?

I’ve long been irritated by the mythologized version of the American revolution in which European armies are supposed to have behaved totally idiotically and done things for no good reason while the plucky colonial irregulars outsmarted them. This ignores the fact that the colonists actually tended to fight in the same style and the British usually won the battles. Now via Sailer I find a good debunking and explanation as to why the tactics people assume were silly were adopted in the first place. I corrected the folks at the Distributed Republic on that war here.

Robert Lindsay no longer supports Mugabe.

Video here. Also watch the police officer after him. Remember that Martha Stewart never actually got convicted of the crime she was being investigated for, just for lying by claiming she was innocent.

UPDATE: See Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters.

A little while back I got into an extended argument with a commenter at UR as a result of which he was convinced of my idiocy. One of the topics we argued about was morale. I took the somewhat Hansonian line that its importance is trumpeted not because it is a great factor in military outcomes (I gave it a marginal role) but because of jockeying for in-group position by signalling one’s loyalty. I did not expect the following though. In chapter 3 of James Q Wilson’s Bureaucracy he writes “Nor can the willingness to fight be explained by general beliefs about one’s nation, the war as a whole, or one’s place in the army. During the Second World War, many observers supposed that soldiers with low morale (that is, they didn’t like being soldiers in general or being in this war in particular) would be less effective in combat than those with high morale. In fact, as Samuel Stouffer and his colleagues showed in their classic study, The American Soldier, there was during World War II no correlation between morale and combat effectiveness.” Instead effectiveness seems to be the result of helping out and fulfilling the expectations of one’s buddies in the squad and respect for one’s officers. The problems in Vietnam were traced to individual (as opposed to unit) rotation out which reduced group cohesion and trust. Soldiers were at their least effective and most cautious as they were about to be shipped back.

I had almost forgotten about I had written a draft just consisting of the post title, but Chip reminded me of the Buckley vs Vidal video, which of course sparked a remembrance of the Buckley vs Chomsky video (both of which can be found in what I am proud to declare the largest gathering of Buckley obituaries), and then in turn Chomsky vs Foucault (part 2 here). That last one I found via OrgTheory and planned to write a post on but for some reason forgot.

As might be guessed, I lean toward Chomsky. I have a disdain for Frenchy post-modernist dreck. Chomsky at least theoretically embraces a decentralist anarchist (though anarcho-syndicalist) vision, though in the near term he has said he’d like to strengthen the federal government (what kind of anarchist says that?). For all his political radicalism Chomsky embraces old school Cartesianism and is firmly in the nature (contra nurture) camp when it comes to linguistics. Foucault in at least one way reminds me of Mencius Moldbug in that he is not focused on the State but has a much broader view of the architecture of our ruling institutions. As a Szaszian I am somewhat partial to his critique of our institutions dealing with mental illness (which are, as RadGeek points out, endowed with the coercive power of prisons).