Happy New Year

2010 seemed to go by very quickly for me.

I realize that I didn’t blog very much. I guess I just didn’t feel like I had much to share, or many original observations worth recording. Maybe 2011 will see more.

It should be interesting to see how the new composition of congress, and state legislatures, will change next year’s politics. I’m cautiously optimistic about the trend towards skepticism about unconstrained governmental growth. We’ll see if it lasts.

I wish the best to everyone out there.

Happy New Year!


I wasn’t sure what I thought about WikiLeaks, at first.

I understand that there are some legitimate government activities that are best kept secret from the general public, and exposing details could cause severe problems.

On the other hand, if the government can’t keep something secret from WikiLeaks, then they probably can’t keep them secret from other, motivated, interested, parties and we may as well all know about it.

I am quite concerned about excessive government surveillance of citizens, and have never been impressed by responses in the form of “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t be worried about people finding out about it.” I think private people and organizations have a right to secrets. Not everybody has a right to all of our information, and sometimes the truth hurts people unnecessarily.

But, the government is supposed to be operating on our behalf, not its own. Too much government activity is classified. Much of what they do should be subject to public scrutiny; that’s really the basis of the only check we have on them. We can’t effectively decide to change our representatives unless we can judge what they and their subordinates are doing. Some of what is done should be kept secret, but the vast majority of it should not. Most of the time, it would be better if government agents operated under the assumption that what they are doing will become public. Maybe they would do fewer things that they would be ashamed of.

So, a lot of the released information is embarrassing and inconvenient. Too bad. No, actually it’s good! It’s good for the public to be frequently disabused of the illusion that their government operates competently and effectively. This is the myth that many statists operate under and base their arguments upon. It’s wrong and dangerous and the more often people are forced to face its falsehood, the better.

Among other things, these incidents have demonstrated that the United States government sucks at keeping secrets. Maybe this will help give people, at the margins, reason to doubt the wisdom of turning more and more of our liberties over to the state.

So, while WikiLeaks may not have done a perfect job at deciding what was appropriate to release, and Julian Assange may be a wacko scumbag, I’m confident that on the whole they’ve been doing a great public service, and all this talk of it being a terrorist organization is authoritarian crap.

The 2010 Midterm Election Results

I don’t have anything unique to write about the recent election results, but I thought I should write something. If for no other reason than to record my current thoughts and see how wrong they are/were.

Mostly, I’m happy about the new gridlock we’re likely to experience. I suspect that the worst of the socially-conservative legislation that some Republicans might like will be blocked by Democrats and the president, and that the worst of the economically damaging ideas that the president and the Democrats have will be blocked by the House Republicans (and the larger Senate minority that doesn’t depend on Collins and Snowe to threaten a filibuster). Hopefully we won’t see much legislation pass that’s both stupid and evil.

I am heartened that there will be more congressmen who are more sympathetic to my views (although they aren’t coming from my state; so much for representation). And, I’m happy that many more people are willing to speak of libertarianism without pretending that it’s something insanely unrealistic. But, I’m not naïve enough to believe that there’s been a radical transformation in America, or that most of the new politicians will withstand the temptations of power to sacrifice their stated principles quickly. However, I’m glad that the damage may be slowed down, and perhaps some of it will be reversed. The Tea Party Movement has had a big influence on this election and it’s been
impressive how they’ve been able to maintain discipline and keep their focus on economic issues, but I also understand that many of the Republican votes came from independents who were frustrated about the economy and could easily swing back if the economy improves and the Democratic promises seem more attractive.

So, I guess I’m cautiously optimistic, but extremely skeptical.

Just like always.

Bookmarks and Endnotes

I don’t have an e-reader device (I’m afraid I’d spend too much on the many books I thought interesting, and few of these are available for free, electronically, from my libraries. Perhaps everybody will soon have an e-reader that handles this situation seamlessly, and this post will be even more useless than I already suspect it is.). So I read a lot of physical books, and many of these are non-fiction books with useful endnotes.

A few years ago, I changed the way I use bookmarks.

I used to just leave the bookmark where I’d left off in the main text, and when I started to read I’d move the bookmark out of the way (to a random spot elsewhere in the book, or on my lap or side). When I would encounter an endnote reference mark, I would sometimes (if the context was sufficiently interesting) bother to flip to the end of the book and find the corresponding endnote, and then (after reading the endnote) I’d let go of that page and return to my reading in the main text. This system caused me to rarely read endnotes, because there was a non-trivial cost to finding the endnote and risk that the flow would be interrupted so much for trivial endnotes that I’d lose my focus on the subject.

Now, what I do is place (or leave) the bookmark in the corresponding place in the Endnotes section of the book, so that I can easily flip back and forth between the main text and the endnotes. Also, when I finish reading, if my bookmark is long and flexible enough (it’s usually just a slip of paper) I use it to mark the current locations in both the main text and the endnotes.

I find that I now read almost all of the endnotes, and I’m getting more out of books than I would have otherwise. For example, I’m now reading The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris (and enjoying it a lot), and I’m finding the endnotes a very useful supplement to the main text (although I understand why he chose to separate this content).

This all seems like such an obvious thing to do, I wonder if I’m the only person who hasn’t always done this routinely. But, since it did take me so long to adopt it (and because my blog posts have become so infrequent), I figured I’d go ahead an post it so that it might be useful to others.

Happy Halloween


This is not a frightening prospect to me, but I know it terrifies many of my Democrat friends.

I’m not making any election predictions, but I welcome the renewed focus on the unsustainability of the mess being created by the so-called reality based community. I’m generally pretty optimistic, so I’m hoping that genuine changes will be made in time to make the corrections fairly painless. The sooner the better.

And for those who haven’t seen Reason Magazine’s Halloween-themed suggestions for how to slash the budget, please have a look. I know some of the suggestions will seem frightening to many, but I really think delaying responsibly reducing the out-of-control spending will lead to much more misery.

The Tea Party

I haven’t been blogging much lately, so I thought I should weigh in on something, and write down what most of my readers probably suspect.

I am very happy about the Tea Party movement in the United States.

One factor that has made it difficult to limit the growth of government has been the dynamic that each individual representative has had an incentive to increase spending for his own district and to support big spending programs that seem attractive; because failure to do so would make a representative vulnerable to opponents who would promise more. It has been clear that the only way to overcome this would be for popular sentiment against this behavior to grow strong enough to make electability require being more responsible. This might finally be happening. I would have preferred it to happen decades ago, but better late than never.

People finally seem to be doing the math, and getting serious about fixing runaway spending and regulation.

I’m sure that, as with any large movement, there will be supporters who will do and say stupid things, and there will be those who will prove to be disappointments. But, thus far, it seems that most of the criticisms against them have been unfounded or unrepresentative, and reveal both desperation and a level of condescension that will likely backfire.

Other dangers include the movement losing its focus and becoming associated with ridiculous socially conservative causes, or that the promises of significant spending reductions will go unfulfilled.

It’s gratifying to see that some politicians (Rand Paul, in this case) are willing to discuss cuts to popular entitlement programs before the election. That’s a very good sign.

We’ll see what happens after the election.

Some Random 9/11 Thoughts

I’m surprised by how strongly I’m still saddened by thinking about the attacks and the many lives they ended and harmed.

I can vividly remember the horror of that day; the realization of the extent of the pain and suffering that was caused, the anger at those who participated in the attacks, and the frustration that so few crazy people can cause so much damage.

I think this was a reasonable reaction, but the question remains: What was the appropriate reaction after that?

It’s only natural, and appropriate, for people to want to strike back at those responsible, and to prevent similar future attacks. So, I think the strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and trying to destroy the capabilities of al-Qaeda made sense, and were appropriate. Iraq is more difficult. I supported the invasion of Iraq and the ouster

of Saddam Hussein from power. I believed that he had, and sought further, weapons of mass destruction, supported and had some connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, hated the United States and posed a real (if indirect) threat to us. It also seemed plausible that, once Saddam was removed, Iraq could be helped to adopt a better government that would foster better institutions than existed in most of the Middle East, and provide a model that would present a real alternative to those who might otherwise choose terror. So, I thought there was a decent argument to be made that the invasion was a legitimate exercise of defensive power. It seemed to present a way to make future, similar, attacks less likely.

While I don’t think these positions were stupid or crazy, I now regret the errors of fact (about WMDs and about the number of Iraqis ready to adopt more liberal institutions) and my overestimations about the capabilities of the US. government. I, like most people, was too optimistic about the ability of our state to do what I wanted to happen. Many who may have opposed this war, make similar mistakes about domestic policy.

I’m glad that the Taliban was driven from power, Saddam was killed, and al-Qaeda has been driven into hiding with their capabilities vastly reduced. But, I oppose major extended operations with many thousands of troops. I think we’ve already achieved current results using methods that have cost a great deal more than they needed to, and further large operations will continue to cost more than they benefit us. We should probably spend a bit more time and effort training (just training!) the current Iraqi and Afghan forces to try to resist destabilizing attacks, but otherwise we should declare victory and go home.

It’s natural to try to understand catastrophes, and to accept a narrative that makes sense of it, and points to actions that help us to feel like we have some power over events like this. So, many people are invested in the idea that Islam is the enemy; that a Mosque near ground zero is offensive, or that burning Korans might be a sensible symbolic gesture. These things may be emotionally satisfying, but I don’t think they will do more long-term good than harm.

So, what should we do?

We should be careful not to overreact, and not cause more self-inflicted harm than is likely to come from enemies. We should understand that tragedies are not completely preventable. And, while such events are emotionally powerful, cost-benefit analysis should apply to them as well. Some improved measures do enhance security, but most of what we’ve done does not.

We will be safer if more people recognize that liberty is better than tyranny. Those people will make it harder for pockets of tyrannical ideologies and terrorist plotters to operate.

This will not happen by attacking people, or by reducing our own liberty for the illusion of security. It will happen by setting an example of how much better life can be under a system that’s tolerant of differences. A system that recognizes that there should be no guarantee against being offended, but there should be security against being coerced because of your peaceful differences.

Most minds won’t change overnight. But, they do change eventually if they have good reasons to change.

So, we should give them good reasons to change.