October 2004

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Sunday, October 31, 2004


That was the scariest post title I could think of.

I was considering going on with fake stories about Kerry opening peace talks with Osama Bin Laden, and appointing three young Supreme Court Justices, but I didn't want to be responsible for any serious injuries.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Vote or Die!  

Check out this South Park video explaining the meaning of the Puff Daddy (or whatever he's calling himself these days) Vote or Die campaign.

UPDATE: Yes, I know the link above is dead. If someone sends me a working one, I'll use it.

UPDATE: I finally came back to this and changed the link to point to a valid video on youtube.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Federal Restaurant 

I recently came across this nice, short, old article by Russell Roberts. It contains a great analogy explaining why it's so difficult to constrain federal spending:

This destructive justification reminds me of a very strange restaurant.
When you eat there, you usually spend about $6—you have a sandwich, some fries and a drink. Of course you'd also enjoy dessert and a second drink, but that costs an additional $4. The extra food isn't worth $4 to you, so you stick with the $6 meal.
Sometimes, you go to the same restaurant with three friends. The four of you are in the habit of splitting the check evenly. You realize after a while that the $4 drink and dessert will end up costing you only $1, because the total tab is split four ways. Should you order the drink and dessert? If you're a nice person, you might want to spare your friends from having to subsidize your extravagance. Then it dawns on you that they may be ordering extras financed out of your pocket. But they're your friends. They wouldn't do that to you and you wouldn't do that to them. And if anyone tries it among the group, social pressure will keep things under control.
But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners that evening across all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only 4¢. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact you won't just add a drink and dessert; you'll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine. Suppose you and everyone else each orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Here is the irony. Like my neighbor at the theater, you'll get your "fair share." The stranger at the restaurant a few tables over pays for your meal, but you also help subsidize his. It all "evens out."
But this outcome is a disaster. When you dine alone, you spend $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats are not worth it. But in competition with the others, you've chosen a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment falls far short of its cost.
Self-restraint goes unrewarded. If you go back to ordering your $6 meal in hopes of saving money, your tab will be close to $40 anyway unless the other 99 diners cut back also. The good citizen feels like a chump.
And so we read of the freshman Congressman who comes to Congress eager to cut pork out of the budget but in trouble back home because local projects will also come under the knife. Instead of being proud to lead the way, he is forced to fight for those projects to make sure his district gets its "fair share."

This problem can't be solved unless people's attitudes change. We need to get to a point where lining up at the public trough is seen as a source of shame, rather than pride; when people would prefer to be productive participants, rather than parasites.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Who's Smarter? 

If you think IQ tests measure something interesting (I think they do, but there's a lot more that they don't measure), then you might find it interesting to read Steve Sailer's analysis of what a few published test scores can tell us about the intelligence of the young John Kerry vs. the young George W. Bush.

I'm pretty confident that I'm smarter than both of them. Partially because of my higher test scores, but mostly because I have no interest in obtaining that awful job!

A Libertarian Call to Vote For Bush 

Robert Bidinotto has posted this Open Letter To Libertarians by the first Libertarian Party presidential candidate, philosophy professor John Hospers.

Hospers makes a passionate call for libertarians to vote for Bush this time. In closing he writes:

When the stakes are not high it is sometimes acceptable, even desirable, to vote for a "minor party" candidate who cannot possibly win, just to "get the word out" and to promote the ideals for which that candidate stands. But when the stakes are high, as they are in this election, it becomes imperative that one should choose, not the candidate one considers philosophically ideal, but the best one available who has the most favorable chance of winning. The forthcoming election will determine whether it is the Republicans or the Democrats that win the presidency. That is an undeniable reality. If the election is as close as it was in 2000, libertarian voters may make the difference as to who wins in various critical "Battle Ground" states and therefore the presidency itself. That is the situation in which we find ourselves in 2004. And that is why I believe voting for George W. Bush is the most libertarian thing we can do. [emphasis mine]
We stand today at an important electoral crossroads for the future of liberty, and as libertarians our first priority is to promote liberty and free markets, which is not necessarily the same as to promote the Libertarian Party. This time, if we vote Libertarian, we may win a tiny rhetorical battle, but lose the larger war.

For what it's worth, I bit the bullet and voted for Bush (absentee ballot) last night. I urge those of you who wish to express your support for liberty to do the same; and to encourage others to follow suit.

I have many problems with Bush, but I'd rather have those problems than count on Kerry's consistently worse policies being stopped by gridlock. I'd rather have better policies that we can continue to improve on than horrible policies that we might be able to recover from.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Minimum Wage Laws 

Somebody mentioned to me today that there is a Dutch phrase for the concept of a mnemonic that translates to "Bridge of Asses" (Pons Asinorum). I thought that was interesting but that I recalled that this phrase meant something else: a concept that separates those who have the potential to understand a topic from those who don't.

A quick Google search confirmed my understanding of it. Apparently it was first used to describe Euclid's Fifth Proposition (that base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal) because it is the first serious proof and those who don't get it will probably not be able to grasp the theoretical ideas behind geometry.

While searching, I also came across this great article by Llewellyn Rockwell about minimum wage laws. Everyone should read it.

I think that people who continue to support minimum wage laws either know they're doing something bad, or they are the sort of person who will probably never grasp the ideas of economic liberty.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Damn You Michael Badnarik! 

I was all set to fill out my absentee ballot and vote for, among other things, the Libertarian candidate for President, Michael Badnarik.

Then I read his statement in the Voters' Pamphlet.

It said some reasonable things about problems with both Kerry and Bush, runaway spending, the War on Drugs, voting for the "lesser of two evils", etc. But, it also said this:

If we leave Iraq now, bad things will happen and people will get killed. But if we stay, bad things will happen to Americans and more American kids will get killed. The proper role of government is to protect American lives and property, not to squander both on adventures abroad. We can bring the troops home safely in ninety days; voting for me is the only way to show you want a quick end to this war.[emphasis mine]

Now, I'm actually sympathetic to the argument that we should strongly limit the use of our armed forces to missions important to our own national defense. But I disagree with Badnarik about the wisdom of a quick withdrawal, about what actions will get more Americans killed in the long run, and about whether or not the Iraq conflict constitutes "squander[ing]" or "adventures".

I was willing to accept these differences with Badnarik and the Libertarian Party leadership and proceed to vote Libertarian as way of expressing my desire for more libertarian domestic policies. My rationale was that everyone would expect Kerry or Nader (and some other leftist wacko candidates) to get the anti-war votes, so people analyzing the election results would understand that Libertarian voters were expressing dissatisfaction with the way the major parties were dealing with taxes, and spending, and regulation, and civil liberties, etc. If enough people voted Libertarian to be the balance of power in several state elections, then perhaps both major parties would see the wisdom of moving in a libertarian direction to attract such voters and win more elections.

But then Badnarik had to go and undercut my expression by declaring, in a voice louder than mine, that a vote for him shows that I want a quick end to this war!

What an idiot!

I have many disagreements with Bush, but I support his approach to the war on terror, as well as many aspects of his Ownership Society plans.

If the Libertarians won't let me express my support for libertarianism by voting for them, then expressing my support for the Bush policies that I agree with is getting more attractive all the time.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Debates 

Now that I've watched them all, I thought I'd add a few more comments about the debates.

First of all, I came to the debates already thinking that the positions of Bush and Cheney were better than those of Kerry and Edwards. The debates didn't change my mind and I'm not sure if they will change the minds of many people who had initial preferences.

Kerry is a better public speaker than Bush. This showed clearly in the first debate. But, I think that Bush did much better in the second and third debates than he did in the first. Also, I think that Bush proved to any fair observer that he's not the idiot that many claim him to be. He had a strong command of a lot of facts, and was very capable at responding to criticism, making his points, and delivering fine closing statements without helpful material available.

Cheney and Edwards are very different sorts of speakers, but I really thought that Cheney did a better job at expressing his positions in the Vice Presidential debate than Edwards did.

Again, I'm not sure how many people's minds will be changed by the debates.

One thing that I can say is that I have come away from the debates liking Bush and Cheney and disliking Kerry and Edwards more than I did at the start. I think I could really enjoy spending a day with Bush, but I don't think I could stand being around Kerry for more than five minutes.

So, if the debates are really all about making people more comfortable with having the candidate represent them as president, it seems that people like me will be more comfortable with Bush, and less comfortable with Kerry. But, I'm not sure how many of the undecided likely voters are like me.

Team America: Fuck Yeah! 

I went to see the movie Team America: World Police today. I liked it a lot. I don't usually laugh out loud at movies, but I think I laughed out loud at least twice today.

It's not for everybody (lots of vulgar language, sex, vomitting, etc. but remember it's all done with marionettes), but if you like South Park then I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy this movie. It has fun with lots of bad action-movie cliches, and it has some funny songs (stay until the end of the credits for an extra one). If you don't like South Park (after having given it a fair chance), then I feel sorry for you. I admit that I don't appreciate the extended vomitting (I didn't appreciate it in Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life either), but there's plenty of other stuff in the film that made it a lot of fun.

As for the political content, it tried to appear critical of all sides. Perhaps it's my own bias, but I really think that it was harsher on the liberals (the "pussies") who want to deal with terrorists (the "assholes") by talking to them, than it was on the more agressive people (the "dicks") who prefer to use force.

The "dicks" might often be stupid and reckless, but the policies of the "pussies" lead to greater disasters.

UPDATE: In the comments, Elliot links to this great interview with the creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, where they lay things out explicitly.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Goodbye Superman 

Christopher Reeve died yesterday.

Here is a nice commentary about him.

I can only echo the sentiments of many that he was a very admirable figure who met disaster with incredible grace, determination, and optimism.

One thing to add, perhaps, is that I liked his performance in Deathtrap, as well.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bremer Clarifies His Statements 

I'm sure you're aware that the press and John Kerry have used recent statements by Paul Bremer, that he would have liked to have seen more troops on the ground in order to better control looting and similar activity in Iraq, as representing a major criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq occupation.

Well, Bremer has made it clear in a New York Times Op-Ed that he was just describing an issue, that was a typical sort of disagreement between reasonable parties, not a major criticism of the administration.

Here's a key quote, though:

Mr. Kerry is free to quote my comments about Iraq. But for the sake of honesty he should also point out that I have repeatedly said, including in all my speeches in recent weeks, that President Bush made a correct and courageous decision to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein's brutality, and that the president is correct to see the war in Iraq as a central front in the war on terrorism.

I guess we'll find out whether or not Kerry will bring up Bremer's statements in the debate tonight in a way that tries to "Mislead the american people".

UPDATE: It seems that Kerry didn't repeat his line about Bremer during the debate. Perhaps it was because of Bremer's clear statement here, and Bush's likely strong comeback.

Kerry did choose to repeat his lie about the administration forcing the retirement of General Shinseki for suggesting that more troops were needed:

General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him he was going to need several hundred thousand. And guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The VP Debate 

Who won the Vice Presidential Debate last night?

I guess it depends on what "won" means in this context.

I, personally, thought that Cheney was more persuasive. He came off as intelligent, thoughtful, in command of the facts and arguments relevant to the topics. I thought Edwards was just mouthing slogans that were either wrong or misleading or content-free.

But, then, I came to the debate finding the Cheney line on Iraq, for example, to have merit. If I hadn't, I suspect that I would have been more likely to see Cheney as misleading and deceitful, and Edwards as an effective critic of the mistakes and proponent of a better alternative.

So, I don't think many people who had a preference before the debate will have changed it because of the debate (even if they thought that the opposition candidate performed better technically).

So, who won? I guess it depends on which was more effective at swaying undecided likely voters to prefer his side. I don't claim to understand those people well enough to know which way they are more likely to have been pushed. If they haven't decided about Iraq by now, they either haven't been paying attention or they just don't think about these things in a way I understand.

So...I have no idea. And I don't have enough confidence in polls to tell me.

The bottom-line, I think, is that neither did so poorly so as to lose existing support. I suspect that it won't really cause much of a change in the election outcome one way or the other.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Rodney Dangerfield, RIP 

Rodney died today.

I was a big fan of Rodney. I enjoyed many of his TV appearances, and I saw him perform in Vegas, too. But, I think my favorite memory of him will always be of his role in Caddyshack. So many great lines...

Hey, I've got the DVD, I think I'll go watch it.

"Hey Whitey! Where's your hat?"

Monday, October 04, 2004

X Prize Winner!!! 

Congratulations to Burt Rutan, Paul Allen, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, and everyone who contributed to today's achievement!

It's a spectacular demonstration of the power of a small group of private, creative, people to overcome huge obstacles and do great things. I hope that the government clears the way for more private progress (by clarifying liability issues, granting rights to allow these flights, and otherwise generally staying out of the way). The attitude of NASA seems very positive thusfar.

It's a great day for mankind.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The First Debate  

Ok, now that I've watched my recording of the first debate, I thought I'd make a few comments.

I didn't think that the debate was likely to change very many minds about this election, and I still think it won't. Kerry is a better, more polished, public speaker than Bush; but people already knew that, so they'd forgive Bush minor inarticulateness. The only chance that this debate would have made a difference would have been if one of them (probably Kerry) had made a major gaffe. I don't think that happened.

The only surprise for me was Kerry's mention of a "global test", that seemed to be a pre-condition for the president to order a pre-emptive strike:

"Where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Bush did question this, but I would have liked to see a call for further elaboration.

What does "can prove to the world" mean?

Does "the world" mean every other country, or all UN Security Council countries, or what?

Does "can prove" mean that you must first get their agreement, or that you believe that you have a strong enough case to convince a reasonable foreign leader who takes our security seriously?

If Kerry means that the president must first get the agreement of some set of foriegn leaders, how is that different from the veto power he claims he would not grant them?