Now What?

Ok. So, now that the Democrats seem to have won thin majorities in both houses of congress, what will happen?

We’ve already had Rumsfeld resign (something I consider a loss, but I’m glad he’ll be spared the inevitable circus if he’d stayed).

I’m sure that congressional committees will waste a bunch of time trying to score political points by harassing Republicans. That’s not too bad.

It seems like a good situation for gridlock. Hopefully, Bush will veto (or threaten to veto) any outrageous new laws from Democrats, and Democrats will obstruct stupid laws from Republicans. Also, I’m hoping that Republicans, and Bush, will find it easier to oppose the kind of big spending that they have been engaged in, now that it will be Democrats proposing it.

It’s kind of fun to see incumbents having to worry about holding their seats; and also to see congressmen witness the failure of the spend-your-way-to-re-election tactic.

I guess the interesting questions revolve around whether the Republicans will move towards more pro-liberty policies, or away from them (which didn’t work for this election). I’m not holding my breath waiting for Democrats to improve much.

There are also the questions around the effects on national security. I suspect that not much will change. Perhaps getting out of Iraq will become a little more urgent than before, but nobody wants to be responsible for a disaster-laden premature evacuation. And, Iran and North Korea will be demanding more attention anyway.

All in all, I don’t expect any horrible effects in the short-term, and there may be some long-term benefits.

The problems will come if we get a Democrat president and a wider Democrat majority in congress in 2008. But, I’m confident that they’ll find ways to screw up their chances of that between now and then.

Kerry’s Offense

I’m perfectly willing to believe John Kerry’s explanation that he meant to tell a joke insulting George W. Bush rather than members of the military.

Apparently, when he said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

He meant to say: “… you end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

It’s much more plausible that he meant to insult Bush, rather than military personnel. He might actually believe that most members of the military are there because they weren’t good enough students to have better options; I just don’t think he’d intentionally make that case publicly, right before an election.

Now, I’m not one to endorse being easily offended by jokes. But, I wonder why it’s so much more acceptable to insult President Bush and, indirectly, the 62 million people who voted for him than it is to insult the military.

The Mid-Term Congressional Elections

I have no expectation of influencing the balance of power in the U.S. Congress either with my vote or my blog writing.

And, while I agree with many that the Republicans don’t deserve to retain power, I don’t think the Democrats deserve to gain it, either.

So, what I’m wondering about is: What outcome I should be hoping for? What outcome will lead to the best long-term prospects for liberty and progress?

If the Democrats gain a majority, we might have gridlock (if Bush is willing to use his veto to override bad Democratic laws), and perhaps they won’t force horrible national security policies, and we might be better off in the short term.

But what about the longer term?

How will the outcome (either way) affect the behavior of future Republicans? Of future Democrats? How will it affect the 2008 elections? Is it predictable? Does it matter?

I’m not sure about any of this.

My hunch is that it probably won’t matter as much for us as many would have us believe. I suspect that other variables will swamp this outcome in terms of shaping the future.

So, I’ll probably just remain amused by the show rather than concerned about the dire consequences for civilization.

Let me know if you have a different theory, though.

Sex and Violence and Paternalism

I admit it.

My heart is warmed a little by the study reports that Glen Whitman relayed recently:

Two studies to warm libertarian hearts:

David Friedman reports on a study showing that increased availability of pornography (specifically via the internet) decreases the incidence of rape.

And Tyler Cowen links to a study showing that violent movies decrease the incidence of violent crime.

Mostly, I’m happy about these results because they partially take away the most powerful-sounding arguments for regulating access to these things. And, it’s nice to see another case where increased liberty correlates with better results. But, my opposition to such regulations doesn’t depend on these results. I would oppose such regulations even if studies showed a correlation with worse results.

I’m a libertarian because I value human flourishing, and in my opinion the nature of human beings is such that they do best when they have autonomy; when they’re free to think and act and communicate however they choose (so long as they don’t infringe on others’ ability to do likewise).

I know that people will make mistakes, and poor choices, and get hurt by actions that they take that might have been avoided by limiting their autonomy. But, I’m confident that, in the long run, people are better off with the freedom to make those poor choices than by institutionalizing having other people make (often poor) choices for them.

Anyone can choose to let someone else make choices for him. For some people, in some limited domains, that’s probably wise.

What’s vitally important, though, is that we can choose for ourselves as well.

SQUARED, Dammit!

I love the Straight Outta Lynwood album, but I just can’t seem to get past one thing.

In Pancreas, Al sings: “My pancreas attracts every other pancreas in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the distance between them.”

And, he doesn’t go on to sing:squared“. What’s up with that?

I’m hoping that this is just Al trolling his nerdy fans to see if they’ll bite. Otherwise, it’s a pretty severe disappointment.

Disingenuousness Unbound

Over at Cato Unbound today there is an article by Daily Kos’ (sorry, no link from me) Markos Moulitsas making The Case for the Libertarian Democrat.

I’m far from convinced.

Yes, the Republicans have proven incapable of living up to their libertarian rhetoric. And, there’s a case to be made that libertarianism would be helped by shifting the congressional majority to the Democrats because then we’d have some gridlock to slow down the damage.

But, does anybody with a brain buy the idea that there’s a real phenomenon in the Democratic Party that libertarians can identify with and support?

Libertarianism is about individual autonomy and property rights. The Democratic Party is still hostile to these things.

Yes, they oppose some of the unlibertarian projects of the Republicans (like anti-gay and anti-flag-burning amendments to the constitution), but it’s not because they have libertarian values. It’s just that they have a different unlibertarian agenda. They want to soak the rich, kill Wal*Mart, regulate economic activity, prohibit risky behavior, seize guns, socialize everything, etc.

Do we hear Democrats talking about reducing (non-military) spending, reducing the tax burden on everyone, allowing the free market to operate in areas where government programs and regulations are manifestly failing?

I don’t.

If Moulitsas wants to garner votes from libertarians, I think he would have been better off if he’d appealed to the tactical value of splitting the power between the branches. I suspect that trying to sell this load will backfire, and only serve to remind libertarians of what a bunch of lying weasels many Democrats are, and what vile instincts they appeal to.

Don’t Buy This Album

“Weird Al” Yankovic has a new album coming out (Straight Outta Lynwood) on the 26th. He’s ironically promoting it by making a featured single: Don’t Download This Song available for downloading.

Another place you shouldn’t download it from is his myspace site where you can also see and hear another great new single “White & Nerdy“, as well as “You’re Pitiful” which won’t be on the album and “Hardware Store” which was from his Poodle Hat album, as well as getting access to his

I’ve been a huge Al fan for a really long time. He’s incredibly clever, and talented.

I don’t listen to very much new music these days. Sometimes, I only find out about recent songs from an Al parody.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the new album and suggest you all check it out as well.

Root Root Root

I was inspired by this glowing post by Julian Sanchez to read Chuck Klosterman IV.

So far, it’s a lot of fun. Klosterman is a really good writer, and he’s both thoughtful and funny. I’ve only been reading the book for a short while. I skipped most of the first part (Things That Are True) with pop-culture profiles, and jumped into the second part (Things That Might Be True) that has more opinions and speculations (kind of like blog posts). I suspect that the writing is so good that I’ll probably go back and read the entire first section, too, even though I’m not currently fascinated by the people profiled nor am I in the target demographic.

One of the opinion articles struck a familiar chord with me. He was writing about the Olympics and described the strangeness of being expected to root for athletes based on geography. Klosterman’s writing is so much better than my ability to paraphrase it, I’m going to do some fair-use transcribing:

The only thing the Olympics ever do is reinforce my dislike for a particular kind of American sports fan: people who like the home team simply because the home team is, in fact, the home team.

This is when I started to realize that the Olympics are designed for people who want to care about something without considering why.

In order to enjoy the Olympics, you can’t think critically about anything. You just have to root for America (or whatever country you’re from) and assume that your feelings are inherently correct. It’s the same kind of antilogic you need to employ whenever you attend a political convention or a church service or movies directed by Steven Spielberg. When Savannah, Georgia, power lifter Cheryl Ann Haworth tries to clean-and-jerk the equivalent of a white rhino, we (as Americans) are obligated to pray for her success, despite the fact that we know nothing about her or any of her foes.

This is what I can’t stand about the Olympics, and it’s also what I can’t stand about certain sports enthusiasts: I hate the idea that rooting for a team without any justification somehow proves that you are a traditional, loyal, and “a true fan.” All it proves is that you’re ridiculous, and that you don’t really consider the factors that drive your emotions, and that you probably care more about geography and the color of a uniform than you do about any given sport.

This is how I’ve always felt about blind support for the home team. I understand that there’s a tradition there, and that many people enjoy the shared experience of being in a united crowd.

Not me.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the mob mentality that I encounter at large sporting events. Mobs are stupid (and sometimes dangerous). It’s the kind of behavior one finds in over-zealous nationalism, and I’d prefer it if people tried not to cultivate a taste for it.

So, I prefer thinking for myself and choosing whom to root for.

If you’d like to enjoy watching a game, and you can’t think of a reason to root for one team over the other, but you think that such a preference would make the game more interesting…May I suggest: gambling?

Sentimental Irrationality

Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels, who normally has little patience for the irrationality of religious belief, has been denying the irrationality of attaching sentimental value to objects (here,
here, and here).

I agree that it’s not exactly the same thing. Religious belief is actually claiming that certain facts about reality are true, while sentimental attachment (or repugnance) to objects is more of a feeling than a statement of fact.

However, they both can affect behavior. One could risk injury or death trying to salvage a sentimental object when a physically identical object is easy to acquire. Wouldn’t that be irrational? If so, couldn’t we justly consider the idea that causes someone to make such a choice irrational?

I think that ideas are very important. And, I understand that symbols are very useful and important, too.

But the symbol and the idea it represents are different things! Damage to the symbol is not damage to the idea. Thinking that it is actually does remind me of the same sort of magical thinking that one finds in religious belief. It’s the kind of thinking that causes people to support an anti-flag-burning amendment to the constitution [update: and censorship].

I know that it’s very common (and usually harmless) to value (or disvalue) certain objects because of their associations. It’s such a common and reliable phenomenon that it’s rational to invest in various collectibles, knowing that other people will value the items much more than physically identical facsimiles. Such things actually are more valuable because of what you can trade them for; not because of anything intrinsically superior about them.

Being common doesn’t make something rational. It makes it less likely to be criticized, but not necessarily less deserving of criticism.

You could say that it’s not a big deal, and we should ignore the apparent irrationality because people find it comforting and pleasant. But, I often hear the exact same thing about religious belief.

I’m not condemning anybody for their irrationalities (large or small). I’m just trying to honestly evaluate whether sentimental attachment belongs in that category.

UPDATE: My son reminded me of Penn Jillette’s observation that this sort of over-identification of a symbol with the thing it represents is Voodoo. That’s the sort of thinking I’m talking about. And, Damn! I wish I’d thought of that yesterday when I wrote this post.

Targeted Killings

Here is a very good Washington Post article about Israel, and its policy of targeted killings.

I’ve said before that I favor assassinations over wider wars (which kill more, and less guilty, people).

It’s a very important tactic to help prevent innocent deaths. The
Israelis practice it very carefully and should be respected for their
moral approach to defending their people while taking great pains to
avoid as much innocent death as possible.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to avoid all of it.