It Takes One to Know One

Jack Thompson (unhinged anti-gaming activist attorney) shows that his capacity for self-parody is boundless. Here's his fax to the makers of Bully, a game scheduled for release shortly:

Take-Two has until five o’clock p.m., Eastern time, Monday, August 14, 2006, to inform me in writing that it will forthwith provide me with a copy of Bully so that I and others can analyze it to determine whether it still poses a threat of copycat violence in our schools (See Miami-Dade School Board’s unanimous Resolution), or the following will occur:

I shall file a lawsuit against your respective companies to stop the game’s October 1 release.

If I were Take-Two, my whole response would be "It takes one to know one, Jack." Or maybe a retail box that contains only a hand-mirror. The thing is, you just know that Jack is going to sue them regardless of anything they do. They may as well get a dig in while they can.


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16. August 2006 11:36 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Apologies to Canadians

There's a "letter" making the rounds lately on the internet--a supposed "apology" to Americans by a Canadian. It's unbelievably condescending and with a primary purpose of attacking us. Now, I know a number of Canadians of sense and good taste and I say that not just because I tend to agree with them. At the very least, they wouldn't stoop to such ugly tactics as to embed a snide attack in the veneer of humor. Now, the advent of this letter happens to coincide with a number of recent communications I've had with other friends from Canada that contained really cruel comments about Americans--somehow forgetting that, well, I am one. Well, I've had it with that crap so I crafted the following just because I can as a response in kind-sort-of-thing*.

Apologies to Canadians,

On behalf of Americans everywhere, I'd like to offer an apology to Canada. We haven't thought of you much lately, and we're sorry if you've been feeling neglected. It has been shocking the kind of vituperation you've had to resort to in order to get our attention and I guess we have been neglecting you lately.

I'm sorry we can't remember any of your political leaders. I keep looking for them on CNN or at the UN, but they seem to be forever "on break" or to have "stepped out" when world events are heating up or something.

I'm sorry that all you have to offer in trade for our stuff is a bunch of soft timber. I can see how you might be defensive if your most notorious export grows on its own in the wild. I'm sure we could relocate a computer firm, think-tank, or I don't know, religious cult or something to liven it up up there. And I have to give you props for all the artists you keep sending us. I mean, I could take or leave Celine Dion, Loverboy, or William Shatner but it's nice of you to let them come over here to entertain us all these years. And hey, good work on the X-files. Again, I'm sorry they all have to come here to "make it big"--I'm sure they enjoyed being small at home while growing up, though.

I'm sorry the RCMP got stuck with those funny stiff uniforms, though we have to admit that they do set them off from their horses (no mistaking one for the other--a leading design decision, I'm sure). We've tried to spare you having to pay for an actual military all these years to help make up for the embarrassment. Wasting the spare cash on socialized medicine isn't how we'd have spent the money, but there you go. And hey, we're still here for those surgeries that are too complicated or too urgent to bother going through all the paper work.

And I'm really sorry that you got talked into declaring French your national second language. We're all for multi-lingualism if you want it, but who'd have thought you'd pick a cheesy, whiney language like French? I guess it's the fault of all those Quebecoise. Really you should let them separate already and get it over with. Maybe you can throw in a free one-way trip to France and let them truly separate. You know we'd back you on that one.

And I know the metric system never really caught on down here but we all thought it was a joke! A measuring system invented by snooty Frenchmen using metres and litres (I mean, come on don't they have any imagination in frog-land) just had to be a put-on. Sure it made math easier, but scientists and mathematicians are supposed to be smart, ya'know?

And finally, on behalf of all Americans, I'm sorry we can't bother learning all those idiosyncrasies that make you oh-so interesting up there. Sew a zed on a tuch and ship it down on the next dogsled and we'll see if we can't put it in a museum with a plaque or something. We'll even put it in a theatre in a real town centre and won't even ask for a cheque if that'd make you happy.

Hey, don't worry about knocking us when we really need you. We liked being friends and all, but if you feel it's time to move on, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. You want to stand up on your own, please feel free to kick us in the teeth on your way. All the jealousy and feelings of inferiority need an outlet; that's understandable. Turning on our friends isn't how we'd do it, but then, we haven't had to listen to France in their native tongue all these years, either--I suppose it was bound to rub off eventually.

In the meantime, there's some work we've got to do and we can't rely on our friends to do the heavy lifting for us. We'll be a bit more preoccupied than usual and that's bound to exacerbate your need for attention. I'm sorry, can't be helped, there's some bad men trying to kill us and take away our freedoms and force their theocratic fascism on the rest of the world. You've stood with us against tyrants before; we understand if you don't feel up to it this time around...

*thus preserving the right to be petty if I want to

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4. March 2003 13:39 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Third World Aid

The World Wildlife Fund has released a "report" that claims the Earth can only last till 2050 at the most. I suspect that this little cultural artifact will bring much amusement in 48 years time. The details of our "plundering" include things like deforestation, disappearing species, and certain fish stocks dwindling. I'll let Bjorn Lomborg carry the brunt of countering those claims, mainly because he did such a fine job of it. What I want to point out is that the real aims of the environuts is readily ascertained,

Matthew Spencer, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: 'There will have to be concessions from the richer nations to the poorer ones or there will be fireworks.'

There you have the crux and the threat. Their purpose is to extort payments from rich countries to pay off poorer ones. The motives probably aren't bad, I believe they probably really do want to help people. They're just stupid. Money has never been the problem. Neither has resources. My biggest problem comes, though, with their methods. Like making outrageous (and easily disproven) claims. Or choosing a metric that has no meaning,

The WWF report shames the US for placing the greatest pressure on the environment. It found the average US resident consumes almost double the resources as that of a UK citizen and more than 24 times that of some Africans.

Based on factors such as a nation's consumption of grain, fish, wood and fresh water along with its emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and cars, the report provides an ecological 'footprint' for each country by showing how much land is required to support each resident.

America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at 6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for Burundi, the country that consumes least resources.

The report, which will be unveiled in Geneva, warns that the wasteful lifestyles of the rich nations are mainly responsible for the exploitation and depletion of natural wealth. Human consumption has doubled over the last 30 years and continues to accelerate by 1.5 per cent a year.

Now WWF wants world leaders to use its findings to agree on specific actions to curb the population's impact on the planet.

A spokesman for WWF UK, said: 'If all the people consumed natural resources at the same rate as the average US and UK citizen we would require at least two extra planets like Earth.'

You should automatically be suspicious of any metric that privileges Burundi over the U.S. as a model to follow. The suggestion is ridiculous on its face and worse when explored in depth. For one, never, ever forget that consumption has a flip-side—production. The U.S. produces more than it consumes and is a net benefit in all those measurements that show how bad we are. Take CO2 production, for example. The technology of the U.S. has let us give more land to forests than ever before with the result that we are a net CO2 sink (i.e. our forests absorb more CO2 than we produce). If you counted net and not gross, you'd be begging the U.S. to have higher not lower populations for while our consumption might be accelerating by 1.5 per cent a year, our productivity is increasing by over 2 per cent a year.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should simply ignore poorer countries. I'd like them to be as well-off as possible. Economics are not a zero sum activity and their progress is not at all a detriment to us. The problem is that too often, they're not much interested in doing the kinds of things that are needed for the prosperity they claim to desire. That's mainly because the foundation is so unglamorous. I mean, farm reform is the basis of gaining lasting prosperity, but that's nowhere near as cool as building a new soccer stadium or airport. And it means a lot of effort (and money) spent with the 'peasants'—people who don't have the power to reward your generosity even in a democratically elected government. And don't ignore the fact that the very eco-nuts who want us to send aid to foreign countries are often the same people who will oppose exactly the reforms that are needed to produce lasting benefits—we don't dare alter centuries old lifestyle and customs. Well, that's what has to happen if you want a country to pull itself out of the third-world pit.

Anyone who wants to convince me that they want to help the third-world has to pass a simple test—how do they want to help? If they talk about drug and food shipments or they go on about the superb native cultures that must be preserved (and they aren't talking about on film or such), then you know immediately that they aren't being very serious about it and are likely trying to assuage a guilty conscience (their own or in presumptive behalf of others). If, on the other hand, they talk about capital investment, you know that they're probably self-interested and that they mean capital they plan to collect money for in one way or another (like by building an airport they plan on capturing the contract for). But if, slim chance, they talk about sending teachers down there who can help people learn new farm and medical techniques then you have yourself a winner and someone you can back with confidence. Real improvement, real aid, takes actual ground-level knowledge and low-level work in improving the technological skills of the people (as opposed to simply improving the technology of the people).

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8. July 2002 11:35 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


Immigration in general is going to be something that gets a lot of attention in the coming decade so I should probably take some time to articulate my position. The latest census shows that we had a record breaking decade in immigration growth, even when measured in terms of population percentages. Personally, I think that immigrants are what make this country so great. We keep skimming off the risk-takers of other countries and it has rebounded to our benefit a hundred fold. Frankly, immigration stands a good chance of off-setting a small population bomb scheduled to hit us in a few years—you know, when the boomers begin to retire. And I don't buy the whole degradation of society or xenophobic issues of race and culture. We're a richer culture for their additions.

I do have a concern, though, and I think it is an important one. In past generations, new immigrants were encouraged to adapt to the wider American culture. Not necessarily giving up their own, but learning to accommodate ours. This was, in my opinion, a good thing. Now, however, too many misguided intellectuals and well meaning advocates are trying to tell us that we are wrong (they use words like imperialistic or paternalistic) to push for accommodation. Apparently, these elites want to erect some kind of pen to hold new immigrants so that they can cling to the ideas and culture of their homeland—incidentally, the origins of the word and fact of "ghetto".

This policy stands on the foundation of relativism and the belief that no culture or idea is better than any other. This is a corrupt policy. America is great because of the ideals of freedom, responsibility, the rule of law, and private property. We should insist that new immigrants study our founding precepts, that they try to learn English, and that they accommodate our wider culture and not the other way around. I'm not saying that all our ideas are better than theirs, but some of them most definitely are. And I’m not saying that we make it harder for them any more than necessary. But what they are attempting is hard and we make it even harder if our attempts to make it easier mean that they never really do learn to accommodate the culture they now live in.

And really, my concern is that in moving here to find better opportunities, we'll end up adopting the corrupt ideals that caused the problems they are attempting to escape. It would be a bitter irony if they came here only to find that we have recreated the very problems they have attempted to leave behind.

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5. June 2002 11:32 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Teacher’s Reps

I have to admit that I'm pretty antagonistic to teachers' unions. The central truth about teachers' unions is that teachers' unions don't now, and never have, represented the best-interest of children. I don't know how they got this one over on people—this assumption that they are merely seeking to make education better and thus help children—but they have and it is high time they have that mantle of glamour removed. Teachers' unions do not represent, or seek in any way, the best interests of children. Teachers' unions seek the best interests of teachers. If there is any group in the country that has interests opposed to our children, it is teachers. Now, I'm not claiming that teachers are out to destroy children. Most people will hesitate to do active harm to children—and I believe that most people would try to avoid any indirect harm as well. And I personally know a number of fine teachers who try to do the best they can by the kids they teach. My favorite uncle, for one. But those fine teachers are often forced to work against their own union in order to actually accomplish the great things that they do (can't have people destroying the curve or raising the bar for the rest of us, you know). I guess what I am trying to point out is that if there is any group that needs to have their motives and initiatives questioned, it is the teachers' unions. You can see this dynamic in action with the priorities that teachers' unions have. Take classroom size. This is pretty much their number one call for reform. And it's true that some correlation to classroom size and quality of education exists. But there are a billion different things that are a) cheaper and b) more effective than reducing classroom size that would provide better benefits sooner. But that doesn't stop the teachers' unions because the unambiguous thing that reducing classroom sizes does is make it easier on the teachers. The other needed reforms make more work for teachers—work the good ones are already doing and work that the rest of them don't want to even attempt.

And really, when it comes right down to it, the single biggest problem with education today doesn't have anything at all to do with the public schools. The biggest benefit to children—and the single greatest factor in determining success in education—is parental involvement. There's been a big push for homeschooling lately. And I should mention that we homeschool our children, so I'm sympathetic to the 'cause'. Homeschoolers are cleaning clock on most measures of academic success. They're winning national championships, they average higher on standardized tests (even when controlled for ethnic and income factors), and they are entering colleges better prepared than their public schooled compatriots. But most interesting to me is that many of those benefits disappear when studies factor in parental involvement. Involved parents turn out to be the deciding factor in the success of children no matter where they are or where they go to school.

Don't pat yourself on the back too fast, though. Statistically, you probably don't qualify as an involved parent. Being involved means more than just going to the games and recitals. It means more than getting a report card twice a year and meting out punishment and reward. Involved parents help with homework, ask their kids what they're up to, and spend time with their children every day. Being an involved parent is a lot of very hard work, which is probably why it is so very rare. It isn't a whole lot of extra work to go from being an involved parent to being a homeschooling one. It is almost impossible to have a career and be an involved parent. Here's a simple 'involved parent' test—is a parent present when the kids get home from school to ask what they did and how their day went? Anything less than that tells children that they aren't that important and that their concerns take back seat to the important stuff the adults are doing. Being an involved parent is a tangible, scary, large sacrifice—one that I believe to be well worth it, but not in any way I could ever 'prove' and certainly not in any way economic.

4. June 2002 10:31 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


Like so many others this week, I've been stunned as I try to process the enormity of events in New York and Washington D.C. And now, like so many others who are emerging from their ruminations, I feel compelled to add my own thoughts to those churning around on the internet and in personal conversations. Most of you who are reading this have already read one thing after another on this tragedy. In fact, many have already expressed what I am feeling, much better than I could say it. You'd have a tough time not hearing essentially what I am thinking. So I am going to confine my thoughts to the one topic that I think isn't getting enough emphasis. You can go to the Jewish World Review,, or The Heritage Foundation if you really want to read well-written analyses and ideas on what has happened and what should happen. Or watch Fox News if you want the best coverage of events as they unfold.

And I should state up front that I am deeply saddened by what has happened. And I would bend any effort I am capable of if I thought I could help those who are suffering. My heart grieves at the pain borne by innocent families who will have to live with the aftermath of this atrocity for the rest of their lives. But that sentiment has been expressed as well in the links above and this isn't going to be a post that contains my grief and compassion.

Mainly, I want to make a point that is chiefly mirrored by Andrew Sullivan, with whom I have many philosophical differences, but in this matter we are principally aligned. So pay attention, because there is something very important that I want you to understand:

What happened in New York is not a crime. It isn't even terrorism.

We will make fundamental mistakes if we treat this as a crime or as a terrorist attack. We do not want to make mistakes at this important juncture. Or rather, we do not want to pay the price of any mistakes we will make if we come at this from the wrong angle. If this were a crime, we would carefully investigate all that happened. We would gather evidence, find the culprit, arrest them, and bring them to trial. While it may be important to gain evidence of what happened, we already know the important facts and any addition to those facts is extraneous detail with no actual bearing on the decision at hand. Now is not the time to be moderate in our response, to be civil, or even to be careful. Our civility and care are the very tools being used against us and while they are an important part of our society (or any society that wishes to prosper in peace), they are not so important that we can afford to cling to them while we are under this kind of attack.

This is not even a terrorist attack, or at least, treating it as a terrorist attack will prevent us from enacting any meaningful change to the situation. If we treat this as a terrorist attack, we will seek out those who perpetrated it and deal with them as the vicious animals they are. Which is fine as far as it goes, but also misses the point in a dangerous way. We call those who perpetrated this attack terrorists because they have terrorized us in a deliberate, calculated manner for purposes of their own. But to call this a terrorist attack is to make the fundamental assumption that a single, relatively small group of people is responsible for the evil that has been committed. That assumption is wrong. Dangerously wrong. The problem we are fighting is not the problem of Usama Bin Laden deciding to kill as many of our civilians as he can.

What we have is a declaration of war. War sucks. War is the single most perplexing human endeavor. War means death and force and fire and blood and suffering on scales so grand as to defy true comprehension. War cannot be controlled, it cannot be measured, and most importantly (and frighteningly), it cannot be stopped short of the unconditional surrender or destruction of all but one side (anything short of unconditional surrender or destruction is just an agreement to rest a bit until the next war). War is a baseball bat, not a laser scalpel, but sometimes it is the only tool available to do the job that needs to be done. And unfortunately, one thing inescapable about war is that only one side has to choose to start one. Anyone who has been attacked in a war has the choice to surrender, join the attacker, or submit to destruction. Those are the only choices.

Our response should be the response of any innocent nation attacked by violence--righteous reprisal. I use the word righteous because unlike ethical equivalists, I believe that both sides in a war are not inherently equivalent. Oh sure, wars of aggression are wrong and wars can certainly contain two (or more) sides who are equally at fault--there has to be a bad guy in every war, but sometimes there are good guys as well. Protection from tyrants is a perfectly valid and even noble reason to wage war. Certain nations have decided that they hate us enough to encourage their citizens to kill us. They are our foes and while I am reluctant to react to anyone just because they hate me, that hate has been given violent expression and requires a response in kind--not in the same kind of hate, but in the recognition that we are at war and that violence can no longer be avoided. Any nation that harbors and encourages terrorists should be destroyed or required to surrender unconditionally to us. Any terrorists who plot to kill U.S. citizens should be destroyed or forced to surrender unconditionally. If these nations or people do not want to die, they must lay down their arms and submit to us right now. Any other response will only mean that the war will continue. This is not justice. It is not pretty. This is not easy. But it must be done to protect us from the tyrants who would rule us if we do not defeat them. This is no less than a defense of freedom. Make no mistake, our enemies have decided that they will either force us to submit or destroy us. And unless we deal with them on that level, we will continue to suffer and die until we get to that level.

What we have right now is guerilla warfare with the twist that while most guerillas originate inside the target being attacked, these guerillas start out in other countries. Guerillas are the tactic of choice when a weaker foe decides to take on a stronger target. It is a horrible and bloody way to wage war, but terribly effective. Our response must be the complete surrender of our enemies. Our enemies hide behind lies and deceit, but we know who some of them are and should not hesitate to take them out. I'll name names. Afghanistan and Iraq should right now be forced to surrender and accept our troops in their country until we root out every terrorist we can find and the leaders of both countries should be forced to adopt the same reforms we forced on Germany and Japan when we defeated them--free elections, a free market, and a free press. If either country refuses, it is time to treat them as the foes they are and destroy them. Any other country that refuses to cooperate in our war against these guerillas should face similar treatment--they are allies or enemies, their choice which. That likely means attacking Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Oh yeah, and while we're at it, we should aid other free nations in their fight against the same kind of guerilla warfare. Not all guerillas are bad, mind you. Don't forget that our nation started out of a rebel insurrection and was fought by some of the first guerillas in the modern era. The problem isn't war and we should not fall for the trap of moral equivalence that says that all who fight are evil. What we should be unequivalent about is that we support the fight for freedom (note that support is an indefinite term and means anything from our wishes for success to sending in troops--the level of support is dictated by other considerations). This war is about freedom--the only thing really worth fighting for. We are right to fight. The fight for freedom is vitally important not just to ourselves, but for all others who yearn to be free. I'm not saying that we should intervene wherever freedom is oppressed--you cannot force a people to be free. I am saying that anyone who requests our help against tyranny should find a sympathetic response and all the aid we can give them. And, of course, anyone who threatens our freedom should be recognized as the enemy that they are and forced to surrender or die if we have the power to do so.

A final comment on the dilution of language. War and freedom have both been diluted by our experiences with peace and prosperity. We talk about "freedom from poverty" as if such a thing exists. And we talk about "the war on drugs" as if drugs were an enemy state with a standing army. I hate the watering down of words that have such specific and powerful meanings. War is very serious and while we fight drugs, we hardly have a war--for one thing, we aren't killing people and our military isn't even engaged. And freedom from poverty is only possible if poverty were some kind of tyrant conscripting our youth or stealing our property. People use these words because of the very strength that they are eroding in their casual exploitation. The problem comes at such a time as this when we need those words in all their strength to express our true situation.

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13. September 2001 10:26 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Faith in the Real World

I read an interview a couple years ago that has stuck with me in odd ways. Some magazine interviewed the inventor of the Ethernet (not a tool for catching the Ether bunny). Ethernet is the most popular way to network computers in a close geographical area. I have a small Ethernet network here at home, and any of you who have a network connection at work probably use Ethernet, too. Before the Ethernet concept, network traffic was highly regulated in order to insure that no data was lost in transition. There were strict rules--each computer had to know exactly where the data was headed and then wait for the right time to send it that way. In order for a computer to send data to another computer it had to map out the route and then wait for the block of time that the network allocated for data to head to that route.

The Ethernet changed all that. The key change for the Ethernet was nothing less than a leap of faith. In fact, that is the source for the name "Ether"net. In this new network, each computer just sends its data out (into the Ether) whenever if feels like it. Each computer simply exercises the "faith" that the data will be taken up and delivered to the correct destination. It works best when each "node" (computer) just assumes that the other nodes will understand the routing information attached to the data and push it on to the next station. This assumed competence is the heart of the Ethernet. Each computer knows the rules and assumes that the others will as well. Since each computer doesn't have to do all the mapping and routing, a lot of time is saved and the whole network goes a great deal faster. That faith creates efficiency. At the time, many people assumed that this faith would crash the network. Because scientists couldn't see and predict what would happen, they assumed that the result would be chaos. When the pioneer in faith (I wish I could remember his name, he died recently and I should try to at least remember who he was) ignored his critics and simply built his network, he showed that their fears were unjustified and the speed increases were, well, compelling.

The reason this concept has stuck with me so long is that the lesson learned by the Ethernet is not just a technological one. This principle of faith has been used profitably in many networks relying on complex routing. FedEx built a business around it despite the proposal earning a C from the professor it was originally submitted to. Wherever you have systems that interconnect, you will see benefits provided by faith between the components.

Our founding fathers knew this over two hundred years ago. They created a system of faith between interconnected individuals and adopted a system that left each component free to make its own decisions--determine its own route in the network. At the heart of freedom is faith. This fundamental principle is the foundation of our representative democracy. Freeing each individual to their own pursuits in a land rich in resources has created, in time, the most powerful nation currently on Earth. This is essentially the message of the Libertarians.

There are two problems with this over-rosy picture. First, there is a vital companion to freedom that is often over looked--much to our peril. In order for freedom to prosper, an underlying rule of law must exist. This is easy to establish in artificial environments like computer or package networks. Fundamental rules and infrastructure are provided in these systems that allow the faith of the system to have power. In human systems, this rule of law is needed in order to prevent people from having power over others unfairly. Basic guards to our freedom have to exist if our faith is to have any power to enhance our lives. Rules must exist to enforce contracts, prevent coercion, and protect property. The efficient growth of our economy is insured when people are free to contract with each other for their needs and they need to have recourse when those contracts are breached (to prevent swindlers). Leaving each unit (family) to fend for itself can seem cruel or neglectful, but is the key to our prosperity for as long as we remember to provide a system to enforce contracts, prevent coercion, and protect property.

The second problem with this system is our waning faith. We live in an age when people express increasing doubt in the capability and integrity of their fellow citizens. An increasing call in our society is to "protect" various groups from, well, often from themselves. They want to help them, to determine their course for them. Help is nice, but helping people by determining their course breaks the whole system down. If a node (computer) on a network insisted that certain packets couldn't be trusted to arrive safely on their own and decided to regulate the route in order to ensure arrival, not only is the intended packet delayed from its goals, but the whole network suffers a slow down as the route is hardened temporarily and that packet delivered. This is what is happening in our school systems right now as people determine that families aren't capable of determining the best avenue of learning for their children. The result is a hardened system that is frozen in order to hand-deliver certain packets that are feared to otherwise be lost--at a per-pupil cost that is twice the private school average.

And before you think I'm talking about liberals alone, consider that the same fear exists in other industries as they seek the hardening of their own routing systems. The United States sugar industry, for example, benefits from import tariffs that effectively double the retail price of sugar. This tariff limits your freedom to buy sugar at a lower price--oh, and anything that contains sugar is affected as well.

It is no coincidence that lately any new technology that streamlines our economy is introduced to us in terms of how many jobs it will cost. We seem to lack the faith that the people displaced by the new systems will be able to work at other positions in our economy. This lack of faith leads us to make poor decisions that end up hurting many more than it helps by denying new efficiencies that free people to work in capacities that are now more important to all of us. It is good news when the position of a worker in a factory becomes automated, because the labor of that worker can now be utilized in a manner that produces more benefit to all. I know that seems a callous analysis of the despair of a family that must search for new employ. And certainly, there is no small discomfort for those affected as they try to find new positions that will suit them. It would be easier on them if we hand-delivered them to a new destination. But that very hand-delivering (or worse, preventing the implementation of efficient processes) taxes the entire system, slowing everything down and eventually, costs everybody (including those protected) more than a temporary reshuffling will.

Please don't misunderstand. I do not mean that all assistance is useless in our economy and that displaced families should have no assistance. All I am saying is that they should not have protection. By following our instincts to protect (and encouraging the instincts to be protected), we take an inappropriate role in the workings of individuals capable of fulfilling their own routing needs. Displaced families, or even industries, should be left to determine their own course of action given their resources, abilities, situations and inclinations. Any assistance given them should be careful to support that autonomy and very wary of usurping it. Our ancestors understood this principle well when they taught the autonomy of the family and the responsibility of each to look after their own. Looking after your own used to be the way that society showed faith in their neighbors, the faith that they would each route their lives in a way pleasing to them, with an underlying assumption that we could expect them to live up to their promises and contracts. Communities were built and segregated by specialty, not by force and assigned allotment, but by one family choosing to supply food (a farm), one family choosing to buy goods from outside and sell them to their neighbors (a local merchant), one family choosing to pool excess resources to provide them to other families in need of temporary support (a bank). Others chose to ferry goods from one community to another, or connect communities by train, caravan or ship.

Those who consider the "look after your own" principle discredited seek to run the lives of others by restricting what they can or cannot do with their resources. You cannot use your land according to your best judgment because we fear you won't value it highly enough (environmental protection). You cannot use your labor according to your best judgment because we fear you don't value your labor enough (minimum wage). You cannot use imported cars because you do not value domestic cars highly enough (import tariffs). You cannot hire who you want for a job because you might not value the right people enough (affirmative action). You cannot interfere with the established education system because we fear you do not know what is best for your children (don't get me started). All of these represent a loss of faith in the judgment of our neighbors. These are examples where people allow their fears to corrupt the necessary rule of law to purposes that end up weakening instead of supporting our freedoms.

Watch people who want to protect you very carefully. If they aren't providing basic rule of law, then they are sending clear signals that they don't trust you. Beware of any law that seeks to piggyback on the needed functions of government to force people to have the same values they do. It's one thing to protect you from a thug who wants your wallet. It is quite another to want to protect you from the natural vicissitudes of life.

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17. August 2001 10:23 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Voting for Democrats

Some of you will likely be shocked by that subject coming in an email from me. That's right. I voted for a Democrat. You may be asking what it takes for me to vote for a Democrat. Okay. Here it is:

Four elements are required for me to vote for a Democrat. They must *all* be present or my vote goes to the Republican. Even wrong-headed Republicans are preferable to Democrats under most circumstances. That's because I am a conservative and Republicans at least tend in that direction (I know that's a simplification and that there are problems with the Republican party. It frustrates me, too, but at least the Republicans are only questionable whereas the Democrats are actively destroying things I hold dear).

  1. The Republican has to piss me off. That means that the Republican proves him or herself liberal. In my case, we have a Republican who repeatedly called for gun restrictions and ran ads that had a lot of emotional appeal, but only by being unbearably stupid and fear-mongering.
  2. The Democrat has to oppose partial birth abortion. This requirement can be weakened to requiring that the Democrat has to at least match the Republican on abortion, but really, I just want to make sure that a ban on partial birth abortion is in the works.
  3. The Democrat has to at least match the Republican on gun control. No contest on this one. Since my Republican was actively calling for stronger gun control and the Democrat wasn't, it wasn't a tough call to make.
  4. The Democrat has to excite me with at least one of his positions. My Democrat is actively pursuing the local monopolies (you know, the phone, cable and electricity bunch). The Republican allowed these companies to regulate themselves. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Since this is an issue the Democrat actually advertised, I'm hopeful that it will at least enter the public conscience.

Well, there you go. I hope you're not too shocked. As you can see I have two hot-button issues and the rest is just general conservatism. Sure I hate corporate subsidies, but that's not enough for me to abandon Republicans for their baby-killing, soft-headed, gun-grabbing opponents.

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7. November 2000 10:15 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Gore Scares Me

It should be no surprise to any of you that I do not like Al Gore. It will be no surprise if I tell you that I will vote against him in the coming election. What may surprise some of you is that if the current election were between Clinton and Gore, I would chose Clinton and be grateful of the choice.

I'll explain. Clinton is absolutely shameless in his pandering to his special interest supporters. He rewards contributors richly and he lies to every constituency in order to maximize their support for him. The payoff for his pandering has been easily seen. Where else can you find groups ostensibly advocating women's rights vigorously defending a man who obviously had improper sexual relations with a subordinate woman? It isn't even as if there is any question of whether it happened.

But Clinton is just a hypocrite pursuing personal power and we have become inured to finding this out about our politicians. Some of us even believe that it is a good thing to have politicians who will lie for us and to us and gather as much personal power as possible just so long as they support our individual causes.

Al Gore is certainly a hypocrite pursuing personal power. His lies have become embarrassing to the point that he has to make jokes at his own expense in the middle of a political debate with his opponent. And unlike Clinton, at least Gore seems to have some control over his own urges and a healthy paranoia of personal failure.

What makes Gore so much worse than Clinton is Gore's deep seated faith and devotion. I find this aspect of Al Gore more than disturbing. His faith and devotion is, I believe, more dangerous to our country than any threat we have faced in our nation's history.

Okay, I phrased that deliberately to make a point. Most of you are probably thinking I'm talking about Gore's religious convictions and his fidelity to his family. I'm not. My problem with Al Gore is that he has a deep seated faith and devotion to human experts. Al Gore truly believes that handing our affairs over to experts would be a great boon to human existence.

This belief shows itself in all his policies and proposals. For Gore, no problem is too small to ask an expert. And the most scary thing of all is that Al Gore considers himself the man to choose what experts we should give ourselves to. Al Gore openly laments the atomization of our decision making processes. That's sci-speak to say that he doesn't want individuals making their own choices.

In an interview with Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker, Al Gore said that he is a proponent for "distributed intelligence". Sounds like he trusts us, doesn't it? Fortunately, Lemann followed up. And it turns out that what Al Gore is really saying is that he wants society to parallel process all our problems under the authority of a central processor. He uses computer analogies that if put into policy will lead to the federal government defining a problem, handing pieces of that problem to "distributed intelligence" (experts) who will give their solutions back to the central government to choose the best solution to distribute universally for implementation. Federal control over every aspect of our lives is not to be avoided, but encouraged.

You can see this in his policy positions and proposals. I mean, once you strip out the blatant bribes (prescription drugs for all seniors regardless of need), what is left is a man who thinks, truly believes, that the federal government in conjunction with professed experts can and should make our choices for us. Education problem? Hey, we have a union of experts here who will take care of it all. We don't want to give any power to individuals who might ignore the advice of experts! Parents cannot be allowed to chose the education of their children. Terrorist threats? Hey, we'll let the experts in law enforcement and our military tell us what they need to wipe out terrorists. Never mind that their recommendations would require a, uh, softening of certain privacy provisions in the constitution--at least we'll be safe or at least safe from terrorists. Dirty environment? Hey, we have a whole group of environmental experts who will protect our lands in our own best interests. We couldn't possibly allow property owners to make decisions for their own land. While we are at it, we'd better make sure that more land is directly owned by the federal government so that we can deny everyone use of that land--you know, for the future use and enjoyment of that land. Never mind that the future use and enjoyment of that land will be given only to elite crews of the activists who supposedly have our interests in mind and not their own.

The problem with belief and devotion to experts is that there really is no such thing as an absolutely authoritative expert. Anybody who utters the phrase "experts agree" has had no dealings with professed experts. Experts don't agree. Furthermore, experts change. Using experts as the foundation for your decisions is a sure way to waft on the winds of every theoretical change. Experts once believed the world was flat. Experts once believed that gravity was a law. Experts once believed that bleeding ill patients allowed the bad humors to leave a patient so that health could improve. Experts once believed that evolution is a gradual process. Experts once believed that life is fragile and only possible in a very careful and narrow band of conditions.

Experts now believe that you cannot control your sexual behavior. Experts now believe that diversity is a first-order good--that you should pursue it for its own sake. Experts now believe that racism can be best combated by ending racial profiling in police forces, but encouraging it in academic recruiting. Experts now believe that guaranteeing unarmed victims will deter crime. Experts now believe that removing all guns from a society will make women and the elderly safer. Experts now believe that educating children against prejudice will better prepare them for the future than reading will. Experts now believe that computers in the classroom will better prepare children for the future than critical thinking skills will.

Or, at least, that's what Al Gore's experts believe and I didn't even get into his environmental experts--get into the details of those if you want to know real fear.

Al Gore will give us policies with unevaluated costs just to follow his experts. He will give us a rudderless government with a guiding principle that government is good--the answer to all our problems.

I am sick of so-called experts trying to dictate to me what I can and cannot do. Part of this distaste comes of belonging to a religion that just over a century ago was threatened with absolute destruction and confiscation of all our land and belongings by an arrogant federal United States government (lead by Republicans, actually). You might think that it is a good idea to give government unlimited power to pursue terrorists. You may think it is a good idea to give government the power to take kids away from parents who refuse them the latest medical treatments based on religious beliefs. But I emphatically do not. Centralized government has never, in the history of the world, shrunk it's own powers without bloody revolution. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where the centralized government started out so weak that it has taken over two hundred years to get to the size it is now. But if we are going to ever get a grip on our freedoms, those freedoms must be asserted before they are given up--because after is way, way too late.

Please don't misread me. Centralized government is necessary to society. A free people require a centralized government to remain free for reasons I won't go into here. But an unrestrained centralized government has never, ever, been the boon to prosperity and freedom it has promised.

My religion teaches that God has a plan for our salvation and that the plan gives us moral agency and requires a savior to atone for the sins and mistakes of us all. My religion teaches that Jesus volunteered for the position--to be the sacrifice by leading a perfect life and paying for our mistakes and sins. My religion also teaches (and this is my point) that Lucifer, who was second only to Christ among the children of God, proposed an alternate plan. Under Lucifer's plan, God would get rid of that pesky moral agency given to all of us and put Lucifer in charge. Lucifer would see to it that we all lead perfect lives. Not one of us would be lost, and of course, no sacrifice would be needed. And at the end, God would give Lucifer all of God's glory for he would have earned it with his salvation of all mankind.

Lucifer was cast down for his pride in assuming God's authority. He was not allowed by God to be the expert to guide us all in the paths we should go. A role that God himself refused to take. We have our moral agency as a result. We have the power to chose our way. And we have the right given to us to discover for ourselves what is right.

Al Gore believes that he knows better than everyone else how people should live their lives. Which, by itself isn't all that bad and may actually be true. But his pride and arrogance lead him to be a small reflection of Lucifer when he attempts to take power for himself to force others into those paths he believes are correct.

Again, don't misread me. It is important for us to exert power over others to prevent them from really damaging others around them. But Al Gore is not proposing the prevention of damage from one person to another. Al Gore is proposing that he direct our lives with his governmental authority. It is bad enough having Clinton gather from the many to give to the few. It is quite another to allow his predecessor to choose our course for us in the things that we do. As well-meaning as that may be, it is also arrogant and it is also wrong. And he should never be given the power to do so.

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12. October 2000 13:14 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Controlling Government

I've been reading a lot lately about what the constitution does and does not say. So, just for kicks, I went and read the thing (available from the government if you get a similar urge). I looked for two things, mainly. First, I wanted to see in what ways the federal government was justified in taking our money in the first place. Second, I wanted to see in what ways the federal government was justified in spending our money on all the crap currently in our federal budget.

Well, the first thing that occurred to me is that the vast majority of the constitution is concerned with the mechanics of choosing our representatives. Who can vote, who can run, that kind of thing. This is significant, but I'll return to it later.

On the first point, it turns out that the original constitution allows the federal government to make any taxes that are not individual or based on capitation. i.e. no taxes on individuals. It leaves the federal government able to tax literally any transaction if feels like. They can tax sales, or transportation, or mail delivery, or creating a business, etc. A later amendment (the 16th) then gives the federal government the unlimited authority to tax income (business and private) as long as it is based on universal rules and not targeted at individuals. That amendment was, in my opinion, a huge mistake, but there you have it. One article I read said that the 1909 amendment debates considered capping the amount of income taxable at 10%, but that limitation was voted down on the basis that no congress would be crazy enough to raise taxes that high.

So that means that the federal government is perfectly in its rights to raise all the taxes we currently pay to them.

On the second point, I thought I was in the clear for my gripes against continued federal funding of social security, welfare and other poorly run bureaucratic nightmares. I didn't find anything in the constitution that would allow spending outside of the military, sciences, the arts and some other, specific regulatory functions. Unfortunately, I brought this up in a learned gathering. While there, a certain clause was pointed out to me that is very small, but wide in its implications. It's called the general welfare clause and calling it that is pretty much as long as the clause itself. The clause is in the very first article section 8 "The Congress shall have power to ... provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States". Note that the general welfare clause is kind of buried there. That's how I missed it.

The effect of the general welfare clause is that the federal government can spend money on anything it wants to, as long as it can claim it is a benefit. Right now, that is interpreted so wide that literally anything fits under the general clause as long as it isn't targeted at a specific individual or region. That means it has to be based on some governing principle and not on individual instances (for example, disaster relief as a policy as opposed to disaster relieve for Florida residents only). Personally, I'd like to raise the bar (so that general welfare includes at least 50% of the population), but frankly, anything goes under the original wording and the current interpretation is certainly justifiable.

So what good is the constitution anyway, if it gives so much power to the federal government? Well, remember what I said earlier about the bulk of the constitution being taken up by procedural rules? I think that is the real genius of the constitution. Those procedures do two things that are extremely important. The first is that the constitution splits up the power of government in the three branches. This is important because it ensures a great deal of gridlock. I like government gridlock. Every time some media outlet or activist group gripes at gridlock, I am thankful for the foresight of our founders in creating a naturally gridlocked system. Budget battles? Do-nothing congress? Good. Please give me more of the same.

The second thing that occurs to me about the genius of the constitution is that it is designed to make sure we have a better government than we deserve. The federal government has a lot of discretion in interpreting the constitution. They have to have that kind of discretion in order to provide for important things (and some things do need to be handled at the federal level, I just think that it's a lot fewer things than most people think it is). The only check on rampant reinterpretation and grabs for power is that we get to elect representatives. The aggregation of these representatives, coupled with the natural gridlock at that level, conspires to give us a deliberative body that will on the whole tend to be unable to control and limit good people, yet gives them incentives to control and limit evil or corrupting people.

The only thing I can see that would improve the representative system is to take steps to make representation tighter. Right now, we are represented by people we just don't know and have no way of knowing. We are forced to elect people based on their public presentations and the depictions of an increasingly partisan press. I would very much like to explore systems that would make representation a little more like it was originally when it was far more likely to either know a candidate directly or at least know of them through personal channels. With our current population, this would substantially increase the size of congress unless we did something radical like introducing further layers of representation (representatives electing representatives electing representatives etc.).

Anyway, my point has become this: you can stop looking to the constitution to save you. It won't. It has no power to. If you really want to improve our government, you are going to have to first improve the people. It just doesn't work to go the other direction. I really do believe that we have a better government than we deserve. We are very fortunate to live in the United States of America. There is no better country on the planet at this time. I'm very glad I live here. Don't let my griping fool you. I've lived in another (first world) country and there just is no comparison. But we stand in very real danger today and we will feel the consequences of our choices for generations as we work so hard to destroy the moral foundations of our people.

5. October 2000 13:13 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


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