Threesome Liberation

Defenders of traditional marriage have lost, alas. Rather than just sulk, I suggest that conservatives, especially those from Utah, respond by promoting legalization of polygamous marriage. This will put “progressives” in a lovely bind.

They will have a hard time opposing the idea because it is supported by the same arguments they used to support gay marriage. Why is love among threesomes any less valid than love of couples? Surely it’s past time for threesomes to come out of the shadows and break free of the yoke of suppression! End triophobia!

They will also have a hard time supporting it because almost all plural marriages, whether among Mormons in times past or in Islamic countries currently, feature one man with multiple wives. Clearly these are exploitative sexist unions! Most un-progressive!

Conservatives, don’t get mad, get even! Put it out there and watch ‘em squirm.

Greece Needs a Radical Transformation

Having rejected austerity with the “no” vote on the referendum, Greece now sits on the edge of an even worse recession and economic collapse, unless the lenders write off or postpone the debt payments even further. The problem is that the Greek politicians have not provided a program of major policy reforms.

Only with radical changes could Greece rise like a phoenix from its economic mess. These are the measures which could quickly make Greece the most prosperous economy on earth.

1. Amend the constitution to eliminate all restrictions on peaceful and honest enterprise and human action. There would be free trade, without tariffs and quotas, with all countries.

2. Leave the European Union.

3. Crank up the printing presses and give each Greek citizen 10,000 new-drachma in paper currency. The new-drachma would be payable for taxes at a one-to-one ratio to the euro. One new-drachma would also pay for first-class postage to European countries. No new-drachmas would be created after this distribution except to pay previously-existing governmental pensions. Banks would be free to issue private currency redeemable in new-drachma.

4. Immediately replace the income tax, the value-added tax, and all other taxes with a tax on land value and a pollution tax. Replace judicial environmental restrictions with the levies on pollution based on the measured damage. Enable citizens to sue polluting firms that are not paying a pollution tax based on the damage. Allow real estate owners to self-assess their land value with the condition that the state could buy their land at their assessment plus 25 percent, and lease it back to the owner of the building at current market rentals.

5. Decentralize all government programs and bureaucracies other than the military to the 13 provincial “regions.” The Greek constitution already prescribes that the administration of the country be decentralized. The land value tax would be collected by the regional governments, which would then pass on a portion to the national government.

6. Pay the foreign lenders with futures contracts payable in new-drachmas maturing in 2025.

Greek democracy was restored in 1974. The politicians sought votes by legislating a welfare state funded by borrowing. With radical reforms, national welfare programs can be phased out as employment increases and programs are shifted to the regional governments.

A prosperity tax shift would bring in massive investment and quickly eliminate unemployment and tax evasion. Billions of euros held in foreign banks would come back to Greece to finance investment and production.

Without radical reforms, Greece will be stuck in debt, austerity, and poverty. Radical reforms are the only way out.

Flag Burning, the Bill of Rights, and Leaving America Behind: Fourth of July Special

Yes, the American Revolution was special. It’s not yet uncool to recognize facts. You are entitled to your mistaken and unsupported opinions, however; this is a free country. (Not thanks to you!)

First, there were no massacres. It may have been different if Britain had won, I don’t know. The Loyalists were treated harshly in many places. Many lost their property. Many became the English-speaking root of that milder version of ourselves, Canada. Americans were so generous-minded however that they even allowed Hessian (from Germany) mercenaries from the defeated British army to settle among them. Try to imagine any of the formerly occupied countries in Europe in 1945 allowing Russian SS from the German armed forces to stay behind and prosper! (Yes, there were Russian SS, thousands of them.)

Second, the US Constitution was and probably remains the most clear, exemplary embodiment of the healthy political idea of separating powers, a major step in uprooting the habit of despotism. (I may be wrong but I think the desirability of the separation of powers my have been enunciated earliest by the French philosopher Montesquieu. The French themselves mostly made a mess of the idea.)

Third, it took an embarrassingly long time but American constitution-builders eventually produced a wise list of specifically enunciated rights. A bill of rights is a necessity to protect political, intellectual, and religious minorities and, especially, individuals from the potential, and the very real, threat of tyranny of the majority.

The next to try a bill of rights, the French, did it only a few months later, also in 1789. With the privilege of having Ben Franklin right there in Paris to lend a hand, with Lafayette – who understood the idea well – involved, they also screwed up that one. Most of them don’t know it to this day, I think, but the insertion of one sentence in their Bill has the potential to nullify the whole: “Art. 6. La Loi est l’expression de la volonté générale.* “The Law, is the expression of the general will.” This general will, the will, the will of all, has the power to eradicate any of the individual rights carefully enunciated elsewhere in the same document. Correspondingly, today in France, there are concrete limitations on freedom of speech, for example, although freedom of speech is specifically guaranteed by the French Bill. These limitations were imposed in a carefully legal manner via acts of parliament, and signed by the president yet, they are still a form of despotism and a slippery slope. The little sentence above makes a constitutional challenge on these restrictions on speech difficult, if not impossible.

Incidentally, and going back to the US, there have been recent episodes of US flag burning by activists protesting – somehow – the Charleston church massacre. Go ahead, burn away, it’s your right so long as you don’t accidentally set afire a neighbor’s or public property! I feel forced to link this kind of petulant, childish behavior to a poll I saw recently that describes 50% of millennials as wishing to emigrate, to leave this country.** So, after voting massively for Mr Obama seven years ago, they want to escape the massive failures of his administration instead of staying put and contributing to reverse them. One the failures imputed to Mr Obama is wage stagnation. It has frozen many thirties-something in place, economically speaking. I am not sure it’s fair to blame Mr Obama but it’s done to every administration.

I know quite a bit about emigration/immigration as you might guess. So, I will presume to give potential emigrants advice: You may move to Australia, my friends. Australia will be glad to have you. The country is an admirably successful redneck project. You will enjoy the Australians’ great pubs. Of course, there is a good chance that the first night out to one of the pubs, you will open your mouths too wide. Then you may well end up beaten to a pulp in some dark alley. I don’t wish you such a fate; I disapprove of such rowdy behavior. If it comes to my attention, in the news or in the newspaper, I will not laugh openly. There will just be a little smirk on my face.  Have a good trip.

* 1789 Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme et du citoyen

** Ordinarily, I am the first one to point out that fewer than two convergent polls from respected sources is nothing. So, take this with two grains of salt.

Global Warming, Soot Pollution, Mayor Bloomberg, the Paris Conference (forthcoming): So Confusing, So Confused!

So many inane things have been said about climate change by silly unqualified sources and so many others by dishonest qualified sources that it’s hard to keep separating the wheat from the shaft (Ah, ah!)

On the Monday June 29th of the Wall Street Journal, former Mayor Bloomberg of New York City delivered himself of advice about the forthcoming 2015 fall United Nations conference on climate change. It will take place in Paris. Right there, you know they are not serious. At any one time, half the delegates will be seeing the sights, or tasting the flavors.

Below is the excerpt that flummoxed me. I am retired, I have the time to be flummoxed. Other readers may not have had the time or the peace of mind to notice. This is for them.

“…The Paris conference has already proven successful in one respect: It has pushed heads of state to prioritize climate action” (Bolding mine.)

And further down:

“Whether they live in a capitalist or communist society [sic], people want to breathe clean air. They know that air fouled with carbon pollution causes death and disease,….” (Bolding mine, again.)

Wait a minute, I have been told a thousand times if I have been told once that CO2 is the primary cause of “climate change”! I flunked high school physics (not bragging, just admitting the facts) but I am sure that CO2 does not cause disease. And, I remember from a diving class long ago that it does not even cause death except insofar as it physically replaces oxygen. That’s hard to do in your lungs, by the way. It takes practice. Accordingly, suicide by CO2 is extremely rare!

So, is Mr Bloomberg referring to another kind of carbon pollution? Is there a faction of the Warmist Movement that’s on the edge of admitting that mere CO2 is just plant food, as we believed before the Apocalypse began? I ask because if the real enemy is either carbon monoxide or any of the visible sooty components that result from burning coal, I am not sure which side I am on anymore. Speak of agonizing re-appraisal!

I don’t know which side to take because I am squarely against both carbon monoxide and particulate (soot) pollution. The only people who are in favor of carbon monoxide are people who failed physics even worse than I did and confuse this deadly gas with the innocuous plant food CO2. As for particle pollution, the only ones who would say a single good thing about it, don’t. They are power industry spokesmen and other users of coal. They are not even arguing that they are good; they asked for more time to clean up their dirty act. The US Supreme Court declared last week that they were actually entitled to more time.

I remember well breathing the heavy smog in Paris in the fifties; I remember seeing pictures of the even worse smog in London. I remember the largely automobile-based smog in LA in the sixties. All these cities cleaned up their act. They did it to a large extent under demanding legislation. That legislation was not very controversial because it did not rest on mysterious, esoteric, contorted, and ever-changing science largely propagated by the incompetent, the irrepressibly stupid, and those who leave political judgment to experts. Besides, the application of the legislation walked in lockstep with perceptible progress. The air in Paris cleaned up in a few years during my childhood even while the population grew. The air in LA improved quickly after unleaded gasoline was introduced, etc. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think the research involved or its presentation comprised crude fraud as in the “hockey stick” scandal about global warming.

If they were concerned with CO1 (mono) or with particle pollution, there would be no struggle, or little resistance. They invoke CO2 threat because cleaning up carbon is not going to give them the de-industrialization and the government control they crave. Think it through.

Incidentally, we wouldn’t even have this discussion if the US had continued building nuclear power plants twenty years ago. I mean, like France, where absolutely nothing dangerous happened. Like Japan where the worst happened in Fukushima and nothing happened. Nuclear energy releases no carbon particles, no carbon monoxide, and negligible amounts of CO2. Want to save the planet or not?

So, is mayor Bloomberg calling for UN conference in Paris re-dedicated to better breathing rather than to the never-ending struggle against “climate change’? Is he honestly confused? (Wouldn’t be the first time.*) Is he a dupe or a fiendish accomplice? Is he aiming for a typical “liberal Republican” middle course between truth and falsehood? Or, he is pushing forward a genuine Trojan Horse to finally reduce the already tottering, rickety citadel of misrepresentations, exaggerations, conflicting truths, bad measurements, worse logic, unscientific reasoning, an outright lies of Warmism?

* I am not casting the first stone, in this case. I demonstrated that the UN “Summary” for officials and political decision-makers was incomprehensible.

Kling and Henderson on intervention and blowback

David Henderson, an economist at the Naval Postgraduate School’s GSBPP and also the Hoover Institution, alerted me to a remark made by another economist, Arnold Kling, about libertarian foreign policy. Both posts are worth reading, of course, but in the ‘comments’ thread of Henderson’s post, Dr Kling elicited a terse response from Dr Henderson for arguing the following:

David, the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear–there are plenty of other causes, and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think you have proved my point. Your preferred policy is non-intervention, and so blowback is your desired cause for terrorism. But you only look for evidence that confirms this. Go through the thought experiment of believing that terrorism is not caused by blowback, and then look for evidence from that perspective. That is what I ask for when someone has a “desired cause.”

You can read Dr Henderson’s response here, but I thought I’d go in a different direction with this. First, though, I’d like to thank Dr Kling for broaching this subject. Few libertarians do so (our own Drs Delacroix and van de Haar being two stubborn exceptions).

What I’d like to do is take Dr Kling’s second paragraph to heart and try to pin down some relevant facts I think are missing from his first paragraph, which I’ll break down, for the sake of dialogue, piece-by-piece.

the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Kling left off Africa from his list of places the US government has intervened in. This is a huge omission because there has been plenty of terrorist attacks (successful or otherwise) aimed at US targets on the African continent, from Nigeria in the west to Kenya all the way in the east (a span, via each state’s respective most populous city, of 5,328 km; Los Angeles to New York City is about 4,500 km).

We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear

Again, the US has been the target of terrorism in places other than the Middle East. Aside from Africa (the 1998 embassy bombings being perhaps the prominent examples, though there are more), the US has been the target of terrorism in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. I think much of Dr Kling’s confusion regarding blowback in due to his poor geographic knowledge. The Middle East (or Near East), for example, is also a part of Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan, where many terrorist attacks against US targets have been undertaken, are not considered to be a part of the Middle East by specialists. Below is a partial list of terrorist attacks against US targets in the past:

  • In 1927, the US embassy (along with other foreign embassies) in Nanking, China came under sustained gunfire from both state and non-state actors, and at least one American died (“the Nanking Incident”);
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, many American institutions – public and private (or ostensibly private) – were bombed by left-anarchists upset over the unjust executions of two prominent Italian anarchists in Boston (“Sacco and Vanzetti”);
  • In 1964 the US embassy in Gabon was bombed twice in the same month;
  • In 1965 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, and Leftist factions claimed responsibility;
  • In 1984 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Bogota, Colombia, but no faction came forward to claim responsibility (it is largely attributed to one of the drug cartels in operation there);
  • In 1985 a Left-wing terrorist organization attacked the Soviet, Chinese, and American embassies in Peru;
  • In the mid-1980s a Leftist terrorist organization attacked US embassies in Indonesia and Italy.

Again, this is just a partial list. In the spirit of Kling’s argument, what I suggest we do here is divide up terrorist bombings into two segments: 1) the period of 1945-1991 (the Cold War), and 2) everything else. I think this is a fair move because during the Cold War the line between state and non-state actors became especially blurred.

Even if we decide to ignore my suggestion of dividing terrorist attacks into two segments, one picture that becomes much clearer is that all of the attacks are political, and terrorism against US targets does not come solely from the Middle East (or even states with large Muslim populations). I hope these two issues are conclusions that we can all agree upon. If this does not nudge the evidence in favor of the intervention-causes-blowback thesis, I don’t know what does. I think Kling’s next line of reasoning will help us elaborate on this a bit more:

there are plenty of other causes [of terrorism], and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think this statement actually breaks the back of the hawks’ argument. First, though, when did we move from a discussion about intervention causing terrorism to a discussion about invading and occupying Iraq causing terrorism? Is Kling guilty of the bait-and-switch fallacy here? I am forced to conclude that he is, although in fairness his point was raised in a ‘comments’ thread rather than in a post of its own.

His bait-and-switch aside, Kling’s point about “plenty of other causes” of terrorism is one worth thinking through a bit more. There are four lines of thought that I’d like to explore here: 1) Now would be a good time to draw up a distinction between intervention and occupation. Up until now, we have been discussing foreign policy colloquially and ostensibly in terms of intervention, but the difference between the two concepts I just highlighted is huge and needs a bit of clarification. Some of the fuzziness surrounding the two concepts has to do with Kling’s charge of normative libertarian foreign policy. Dr Henderson, for example, cites the scholarly work of Robert Pape and Ivan Eland (as well as the observations of Paul Wolfowitz) to bolster his claim that intervention leads to blowback, but those guys are referring to the explicit occupation of territory, not intervention. This does not mean Dr Henderson or libertarians more broadly are wrong, of course, but only that dialogue on this topic suffers from a lack of detail. The Cold War-era bombings I listed above can be attributed to intervention. The terrorist attacks pre- and post-Cold War can be attributed to intervention as well, but also to occupation. Does this make sense?

2) While Kling is lazy in his assertion about “Middle Eastern terrorists” being “perfectly happy” with attacking states that did not invade Iraq, he has a really good point, albeit one made unintentionally: terrorism is an international phenomenon, and not something that can be attributed to a specific region (or religion). If we take a step back and look at terrorism more broadly (i.e. not just in a US context, which I think highlights well the consequences of intervention and occupation), what do we see? I don’t know about you, but I see terrorism in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, the US, Europe, all of Africa, Latin America, and, just for good measure, the rest of Asia, too. This leads me to train of thought Number 3: terrorism is political, as even death cults like Aum Shinrikyo in Japan or lone wolves like the Unabomber or the white nationalist shooter in Charleston are overtly political. I know I’ve harped on this already, but Dr Kling’s point helps make this much easier to understand.

Much of the terrorism, if not all of it (I hope readers will provide counter-examples), not directed at the US and its allies (which do intervene and do occupy) is done in the name of separatist movements within a state. While states claim sovereignty over their territories, and use IGOs such as the United Nations to bolster these claims, the separatist movements believe themselves to be occupied by a foreign power. Pape makes this crystal clear in his work on the (nominally Buddhist but militantly Left-wing) Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.

If terrorism is political, but it is not aimed at foreign intervention or occupation/separatism, what would terrorists hope to accomplish by murdering people? Given the calculated political nature of terrorism highlighted above, I fail to see how terrorism could be carried out randomly, except in works of fiction like Batman comics or old James Bond movies. The fictional nature of random acts of terrorism leads me in to my fourth and last train of thought, namely that I think Kling is introducing a red herring when he states that “there are plenty of other causes” of terrorism. This is simply not true. Since Dr Kling didn’t provide any examples, and since I don’t want to attempt to read his mind, I can only hope he reads this post and provides me with some examples that I can proceed to debunk.

While I think Dr Kling raises an excellent topic that needs to be discussed way more often, he, like Dr Delacroix, simply does not have his facts straight when it comes to foreign affairs. Ideology and dialogue are important components of the free and open society, but without a good grasp of the relevant facts of a matter those tools for improving our livelihoods become worthless, at best.

What would I ask the president in an interview?

My favorite podcast really hit the Big Time this week. Marc Maron interviewed President Obama last week and released the episode today. Marc Maron does a great job interviewing his guests but this episode is (naturally) pretty different. Obama mostly gives a lot of fluff, but he did make some interesting points on the role of political institutions in polarizing politics, as well as the role of [implicit] property rights in shaping political outcomes.

While I was waiting for this episode to be released I wondered what I would have done in Maron’s position. It’s tempting to say “just scream non-stop for an hour until the president agrees to be better.” But of course, that wouldn’t do anyone any good (although I think it would sell advertising on cable news). The question is then “how do I avoid throwing softballs, maintain a good conversation, and still nudge in the direction of change I’d like to see?”

One thing I think would be important were I in that position is to restrict the number of issues I bring up. The limits of human attention mean that we simply can’t handle more than a handful of things at once. Piling on all the issues and complexities of the world would only serve to reduce anyone’s ability to do anything positive. Another thing I think would be important is focusing on areas where we already mostly agree. Nobody over the age of 25 is likely to change their opinion on just about anything, so why waste your energy. That’s sunk ideology. And besides, even if you’re talking to a real piece of work, you have some obligation to do a good job of being a conversationalist, and focusing on differences is less likely to lead to a good conversation.

So what would I ask Obama in an interview?

  • What do you see as the path forward to immigration liberalization?
  • Will you please push for a bill that allows any law-abiding person to work in the United States without giving them access to the Welfare state? (I would word that differently if I were actually interviewing the president, but you get my drift…)
  • Would you please let Nassim Taleb explain his risk-management argument for climate change interventions? And can he please also be required to comment on his argument’s relationship to the Law of Unintended Consequences?
  • What is your favorite episode of South Park?

That third point should be at least a little bit controversial. I’m agnostic on whether there’s anything to be done about climate change (although I’m all for using it as an excuse to liberalize immigration for the world’s poor). I’m seriously skeptical of governments’ ability to do any good in that arena. I’d really rather not add fuel to the fire, but I think it’s important to raise the standards of debate, and I think Taleb’s argument* is the most sensible one. Not only that, it has wide applications that should push (benevolent/benign) politicians to support simpler rules and fewer interventions.

Oh yeah, and I’d ask him if he’s a secret gay muslim. (“Does your mom know you’re a secret gay muslim?” Anyone else remember playing that game?)

* Taleb’s argument goes roughly as follows: We face uncertainty, but there is a non-zero probability of a catastrophically bad outcome. Maximizing expected utility is not the appropriate risk-management strategy in this case. Our most urgent need (our highest marginal benefit course of action) is to eliminate the possibility of the catastrophic outcomes–and perhaps after that start thinking about maximizing expected utility. Essentially the argument is “don’t play Russian Roulette!” But an essential underpinning is that a probability distribution describing outcomes in complex systems often exhibits “wild randomness”. In contrast to the “mild randomness” of the normal distribution, in wildly random situations it’s difficult or impossible to even have an expected utility. The conclusion I would hope they would draw is that intervening in complex systems (and particularly creating new complexity through increased regulation and more tax loopholes) is best avoided, and particularly at the national level.

Gay Parade: a Conservative Take

So, last Sunday was Gay Pride Parade downtown Santa Cruz. I am all for parades in general. It feels good for people to march, no matter the cause. In this case, I am a little perplexed at first. I don’t know what the marchers are addressing. This is Santa Cruz, after all, where no one is ever judgmental, except against those who are judgmental. Where is the potential gain in tolerance, I wonder?

The parade does not even succeed in browbeating me by making me feel “what it’s like to be a minority.” After all, most of the women in the parade are a lot like me. They like what I like. We may have been rivals once but I was not even aware of it until my wife brought home – in all innocence – an obviously lesbian admirer. My wife is from India. She was young then. There were many things she did not understand. Also, she was striking. Of course, I threatened the woman with beating her up with my big fists. No, I was not acting intolerant. I treated her the way I would have treated any sexual rival. I treated her equally, you might say. (Yes, she quickly vanished.)

The Santa Cruz parade is puzzling in other ways. One small tight group carries two signs. The first shows a Star of David in several colors. The second sign shows a small number of abstractly rendered fish in the same colors. I can’t bring myself to believe that this is a plea for support of Jewish homosexual fish. Yet, I have no other interpretation. The Santa Cruz parade also leaves me a little frustrated because it’s frankly scruffy, overall. I feel parade envy vis-à-vis the flamboyant and perfectly groomed San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. I am not sure but I think the difference is due to the fact that the Santa Cruz event is dominated by lesbians. Many (not all) lesbians make it a point of pride to wear sloppy t-shirts, like guys. Some aspire to be male rednecks and are fast getting there.

Toward the end, I enter into a conversation with two older woman, one costumed. It turns out they are leaders of the local Medical Marijuana Alliance. One is a retired nurse. They both like guys, one of the biddies reassures me unhelpfully. They are there because there is an alliance between the Alliance and lesbian and gay organizations. They support one another politically. This is good American politics at work. Mutual support is set up peacefully, without acrimony, to gain influence over rules and over how public funds are spent. I often complain about the policy results of such coalitions but I can’t think of a better way, in the short term, that is.

I still dislike taxation and I dislike even more large segments of law and order. I detest above all the so-called War on Drugs, a true catastrophe for this whole society. In the short term, though, I don’t see the path forward to doing away with these gross limitations on individual freedom. So, I rejoice in every item of evidence that we could do worse.