Lunchtime Links

  1. High Hitler (drugs, drugs, drugs!)
  2. every generation gets the drugs it deserves
  3. Lawsplainer on federal and state marijuana laws
  4. why illegally obtained evidence is generally inadmissible in court
  5. Putin and patriotism: national pride after the fall of the Soviet Union (excerpt)
  6. long, fraught history of Pakistan and the US
  7. Old Dogs, New Tricks: Turkey and the Kurds
  8. Good piece, but I’m still waiting for a great book (or article) on the Hanseatic League. All the great ones are probably in German…

Communist Yugoslavia

Below is an excerpt from my book I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography. You can buy it on amazon here.


I was led into a large cell with an arching stone ceiling I would have called a dungeon except that it was harshly lit. There were about twenty-five men in the room, mostly in their late twenties. They greeted me loudly in their language. An older man who looked vaguely middle class because he wore a suit (without a tie) asked me in Italian where I was from. There were five or six blankets altogether. A tall, bony guy with the ravaged face of an operetta brigand requisitioned two and handed them to me. Then, we all lined up for whole-grain bread and soup. (Yes, whole-grain used to be the cheapest before it became fashionable, in the seventies.) The brigand pushed me to the head of the line. Then he showed me that you had to dunk the hard bread into the soup to soften it. After dinner, I had a long, civilized conversation with the old man, he speaking Italian and I, French. He told me that most of my cellmates were returning from Germany where they had gone to work without a proper Yugoslav exit visa, and that they were awaiting trial for that low-grade offense. “Why don’t they look more worried?”- I asked. (The mood was, in fact, downright merry.) He told me each would get a few months in the poker but that the cars they had bought in Germany with their earnings would be awaiting them when they got out. In fact, he said, the jail had a parking lot reserved for that usage. Real communism, communism as it existed, communism with a small “c,” was not simple!

As evening came, the inmates prepared for bed in their own rudimentary ways. There was tenseness when the brigand signaled for me to set down my two blankets next to him, on a raised wooden platform. I was old enough to doubt a free lunch existed. I perceived that I was the cutest thing in the joint, and the youngest! With no gracious way to escape, I did as he suggested. Tension turned into panic when he took my head into the crook of his arm. I withdrew brusquely. He delivered himself of a vociferous and loud speech that I guessed was at once re-assuring and reproachful. There was probably no ambiguity in his gesture. Yugoslavia was the beginning of the mysterious Orient, deep into Western Europe, with different customs. Later, I saw soldiers, and once, a pair of policemen, walking peaceably hand in hand. The brigand had just adopted me as a brother. He was no jail predator. For all I know, he had protected me from the real thing.

Strange Historical Facts

Not long thereafter, they erected the first sawmill in what was to become the state of Washington on a site by the lower falls of the Deschutes River. Much of the capital for erecting the mill apparently came from George W. Bush, Washington’s first black resident. The cut of this mill, it has been claimed, was marketed through the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Nisqually and found its way to Victoria and the Hawaiian Islands. The first shipment was supposedly made on the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Beaver in 1848.

Um, wow. I don’t know where to begin. This excerpt comes from page 25 of a 1977 book by historian Thomas R Cox titled Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900. Aside from the interesting anecdote quoted above, it’s not very good. I picked it up because of the possibilities associated with such a subject, but instead of a theoretical narrative on globalization, identity, state-building, and property rights, it is a book that reads a lot like the excerpt I quoted above (the local history aspect I have enjoyed, though; local history is one of my secret pleasures, the kind of stuff that never makes it into grand theoretical treatises but always lights up my brain because of the fact that places I know and places I have lived are the focus of the narrative).

I blame it on the year it was published, of course. 1977 was at the height of the Cold War, which means that scholarly inquiry was inevitably going to be policed by ideologues, and also that works appraising global or regional scales and scopes just weren’t doable. For instance, there was virtually no mention of Natives in the book. (See archaeologist Kent Lightfoot’s excellent, highly-recommended work – start here and here – for more on how this is changing.)

Gun Rights, the Black Panthers, and ‘the South’ in the United States

From a report by Aaron Lake Smith in Vice:

The Dallas New Black Panthers have been carrying guns for years. In an effort to ratchet up their organizing efforts, they formed the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, uniting five local black and brown paramilitary organizations under a single banner. “We accept all oppressed people of color with weapons,” Darren X, who is 48, tells me in a deep, authoritative baritone. “The complete agenda involves going into our communities and educating our people on federal, state, and local gun laws. We want to stop fratricide, genocide—all the ‘cides.”

Interesting, and brings up the question: will the NRA support their right to bear arms, or will they revert to their early 20th century stance and begin supporting gun control again? Also in the article is a bit of history:

The seeds of what was to become the Black Panther Party lie in the 1940s, when black veterans returned to the South after fighting in World War II and found themselves dehumanized by segregation.

I’ve often wondered about this. The desegregation of the South and the achievements of the Civil Rights movement were perhaps the greatest human accomplishments to come out of World War 2 and the Cold War, and this has startling implications for libertarians who advocate for a hardline non-interventionist foreign policy. Libertarians in the US point out that worldwide empire is bad, even a liberal empire, but without it I don’t see a Civil Rights movement happening (which in turn means nobody in the developing world has a model to look up to).

After Germany and Japan surrendered Washington was forced to cede political rights to blacks because of the hypocrisy that pro-rights marches highlighted to the world. The US was engaged in a propaganda war with the USSR, and the segregation of blacks and whites in the US was very bad press. Without the Cold War, blacks would probably have remained official second-class in the US (and the world). Libertarians should be proud of the Civil Rights movement, even if the legislation passed didn’t conform perfectly with individual rights (i.e. affirmative action instead of reparations, or nothing but individual rights!) and even if blacks got their individual rights through legislation rather than law.

Smith’s reporting in other places is less than convincing, though:

Shootings of civilians by police officers reached a 20-year peak in 2013, even as the incidence of violent crime in America went down overall.

I believe that the shooting of “civilians” by police officers is a violent crime, but unless I am missing something Vice simply treats the data as if shootings by police officers are different from shootings by people who are not police officers. Nothing will change as long as this kind of mindset is prevalent in the US. I understand that police officers have a job to do, and that their job makes them different from people who do other jobs (say, a doctor or a lawyer), but it does not place them above the law.

Also, a more disturbing implication of this would be that a more violent police force decreases crime. This is not discussed by libertarians or left-liberals. I don’t like it, but it cannot be ruled out as a possibility just yet. I hope somebody will debunk my notion in the ‘comments’.

One last fascinating tidbit from the article is the difference between the old leaders of the Black Panthers (one who claimed that the Koch Brothers are behind everything, thus showing – to me, anyway – that hippies and Black Panthers have more Baby Boomer similarities with each other than they’d like to admit) and the new leaders (“all power to all people,” including gun rights). Racism is so interesting to me in the American context because of the demographic perceptions amongst other reasons). My parents and grandparents have very different types of racist assumptions than I do, but I’m getting way too far ahead of myself. More on American racism later, or just take me to task in the ‘comments’ section!

(h/t Chris Blattman)

Anti-Sikh Riots, Eastern Europe’s Normalcy

Here is a pdf from economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman on life in Eastern Europe 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall:

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a sense of missed possibilities hangs over the countries to its east. Amid the euphoria that greeted the sudden implosion of communism, hopes ran high. From Bratislava to Ulaan Bataar, democracy and prosperity seemed just around the corner.

Yet, a quarter century on, the mood has changed to disillusion. With a few exceptions, the postcommunist countries are seen as failures—their economies peopled by struggling pensioners and strutting oligarchs, their politics a realm of ballot stuffing and emerging dictators.

Wars—from Nagorno-Karabakh to Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and now Eastern Ukraine— have punctured the 40 years of cold peace on the European continent, leaving behind enclaves of smoldering violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of autocracy and imperial aggression seem to many emblematic of a more general rot spreading from the East.

[…]

We find that objective evidence contradicts the conventional view. Media images aside, life has improved dramatically across the former Eastern Bloc. Since the start of transition, the post-communist countries have grown rapidly. Their citizens live richer, longer, and happier lives. In most regards they look today just like other countries at similar levels of economic development. They have become normal countries—and in some ways “better than normal.”

If only this picture would garner as much attention as wars, protests, and economic downturns.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the vicious anti-Sikh riots that occurred after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Akhilesh Pillalamarri has a thoughtful piece.

From the Comments: Western Military Intervention and the Reductio ad Hitlerum

Dr Khawaja makes an excellent point in the threads of my post the libertarianism of ISIS:

As for the Hitler comparison, I think that issue really needs to be opened and discussed from scratch. One relatively superficial problem with the Hitler/ISIS analogy is that ISIS is not plausibly regarded as the threat to us that Nazi Germany was, or could have been. But at a deeper level: instead of regarding war with Nazi Germany as beyond question, we ought to be able to ask the question why it was necessary to go to war with them. Once we grasp that nettle, I think the Hitler comparisons really lead in one of three directions: either they show us how different the Nazi regime was from ISIS, or they cast doubt on the “need” to fight the Nazis in the first place, or they prove that we “had” to fight the Nazis only because we put ourselves on a path that made fighting inevitable. But we shouldn’t walk around with the axiom that if x resembles the Nazis, well, then we better fight x…or else we’re dishonoring our forbears. Which is about the level of neo-conservative discussion on this topic.

The reason why we went to war with Nazi Germany is that the Nazis (credibly) declared war on us after we declared war on Japan–after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor (after we challenged Japanese imperialism in East Asia…etc.). Granted, there was naval warfare in the Atlantic before December 1941, but we might have avoided that by not supporting Britain (and the USSR) against the Nazis in the first place. War with the Nazis became an inevitability because of our prior involvement in a European quarrel, not because of the unique turpitude of the Nazis (much less because of the Holocaust). I don’t mean to deny that the Nazis were uniquely evil. I mean: that’s not why we fought. The reasons we fought were highly contingent, and might, given different contingencies, have led to not fighting at all.

The preceding suggestion seems off-limits to some, but I don’t think it is. Suppose we had not supported Britain in 1940-41, not had a Lend-Lease program (“An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States”), and the Nazis had not declared war on us after Pearl Harbor. Was war with them necessary or obligatory? I don’t see why. If we could go decades without hot war with the USSR or China, why not adopt a similar policy vis-a-vis Germany? (Yes, Korea involved some hot war with China, but my point is: we could have avoided that, too.) And if there is no good case for war with the Nazis under a consistently isolationist policy, the Hitler comparisons in the ISIS case are worse than useless.

What we have in the ISIS case is just an exaggerated version of the “inevitabilities” that got us into war with Germany. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we ourselves created the path dependency that gives the illusion of requiring war against ISIS as a further “correction.” In that sense, the Hitler comparison is quite apt, but entails the opposite of what the hawks believe. We’re being led to war to correct the disasters created by the last war, themselves intended to correct the problems of the war before. Isn’t it time to stop digging? Perhaps we shouldn’t have gotten onto any of these paths. The best way to avoid traveling down the highway to hell is to take an exit ramp and get the hell off while you still can. Not that you’re disagreeing, I realize.

Indeed. Be sure to check out Dr Khawaja’s blog, too (I tacked it on to our blogroll as well). My only thoughts are additions, specifically to Irfan’s point about taking an exit ramp. I don’t think there are enough libertarians talking about exit ramps. There are plenty of reactions from libertarians to proposals put forth by interventionists, but there are precious few alternatives being forth by libertarians. Dr van de Haar’s (very good) point about alliances is one such alternative. (I wish he would blog more about this topic!) Another option is to initiate deeper political and economic ties with each other (through agreements like political federations or trading confederations). Libertarians rarely write or talk about realistic alternatives to military intervention, especially American ones.

Short blurb on Murray Rothbard

Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) was an economist at UNLV and is considered to be one of the most important figures of the post-war libertarian movement. Rothbard earned his BA and PhD from Columbia (his dissertation on the banking panic of 1819 is still cited by economic historians), so it’s not like he was some hack with an unwarranted vendetta against the government. His contributions to a more libertarian world can be felt in numerous ways, from think tanks to economics graduate programs to the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. His daring foray into anarchy is, of course, his most important contribution to the scholarly world. However, I don’t see why this man has such a cult classic following within the libertarian movement. Could somebody explain this to me?

My best guess is that Rothbard’s strategy of appealing to the intelligent layman with well-disguised fallacies instead of discussing his research with the scholarly community has something to do with it, but this is only a guess.

His work just has “Cold War” written all over it. For instance, the first book of Rothbard’s that I cracked open, Conceived in Liberty Volume 1, read like a 1970s Marxist diatribe on economic development (by the way: see Dr Delacroix’s “The Export of Raw Materials and Economic Growth: A Cross-National Study” in the American Sociological Review for an excellent rebuttal of Marxist development theory). Again, I think part of this can be blamed on the time period he was writing in (mid-1970s), but even though it must have really sucked to be a scholar during the Cold War era there is really no good excuse for Rothbard’s present-day status as a saint within libertarian circles.

Not only has his scholarship become a stepping stone rather than a shrine (as all scholarship inevitably becomes), but the cult-like attitudes of some of his fans makes me cringe as a libertarian. At any rate, I’d really like to know why he has such a devoted following, and why his followers seem to think that their devotion to him is a good thing for the movement.