Quotulatiousness

May 18, 2015

Death rides a pale horse … called “Binky”

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Liberty,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the June issue of Reason, Scott Shackford talks about the work of the late, great Terry Pratchett:

Terry Pratchett may not have been the first writer to personify Death as a walking, talking skeleton tasked with reaping the souls of the living, but he was the first to give him a horse named Binky and a granddaughter named Susan.

This Death was no less efficient or inevitable despite all the whimsy, of course. As various characters in Pratchett’s long-lasting, wildly popular series of fantasy novels passed on, Death traveled across Discworld — a flat planet resting on the backs of four elephants who stood on a giant turtle that swam through the universe — to ferry the newly deceased to whatever came afterward.

So it was highly appropriate that after Pratchett’s death at age 66 on March 12, following a long and deliberately public faceoff with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the novelist’s official Twitter account described his passing as Death gently escorting Pratchett from our rounder, less turtle-dependent world.

But let’s not dwell on Death. Pratchett’s Discworld books, all 40 of them (not counting short stories and related works), teemed with messy, disorganized life. And because he wrote in the fantasy genre, they were also packed with wizards, witches, dwarves, dragons, vampires, zombies, demons, werewolves, and the occasional orangutan. His books were humorous in tone, but tackled weighty matters of self-determination, identity, innovation, and, above all else, liberty.

“Whoever created humanity left in a major design flaw. It was the tendency to bend at the knee.” That piece of insight came from Feet of Clay, a book from right in the middle of his series, published in 1996. The witticism encapsulates a consistent theme in his books approaching how humans (and other sentient species) struggle between the desire to be free and the comfort of letting somebody more powerful or smarter (or claiming to be smarter, anyway) call the shots. In Pratchett’s books, both the heroes and the villains tended to be people in positions of authority. What separated his heroes — people like police commander Samuel Vimes, witch Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, and even Patrician Havelock Vetinari, an assassin turned ruler of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork — from the villains was their insistence on letting people live their own lives, whatever may come of it, even when they made a mess of things.

May 16, 2015

Charles Murray and Jonah Goldberg on civil disobedience in America

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 11 May 2015

The American ideal of limited government on life support. Is it time for civil disobedience? Charles Murray says yes. Murray has been writing on government overreach for more than 30 years. His new book, By The People, is a blueprint for taking back American liberty. Jonah Goldberg sits down with Murray to discuss civil unrest in Baltimore, the scope of the government, and why bureaucrats should wear body cameras.

According to AEI scholar, acclaimed social scientist, and bestselling author Charles Murray, American liberty is under assault. The federal government has unilaterally decided that it can and should tell us how to live our lives. If we object, it threatens, “Fight this, and we’ll ruin you.” How can we overcome regulatory tyranny and live free once again? In his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission (Crown Forum, May 2015), Murray offers provocative solutions.

April 29, 2015

A simple, four-step plan to assist African-Americans

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer lays out his simple but effective plan to help African-Americans:

  • Legalize drugs. This would reduce the rents that attract the poor into dealing, would keep people out of jail, and reduce a lot of violent crime associated with narcotics traffic that kills investment and business creation in black neighborhoods. It would also reduce the main excuse for petty harassment by police that falls disproportionately on young black men. No its not a good thing to have people addicted to strong narcotics but it is worse to be putting them in jail and having them shooting at each other.
  • Bring real accountability to police forces. When I see stories of folks absurdly abused by police forces, I can almost always guess the race of the victim in advance. I used to be a law-and-order Conservative that blindly trusted police statements about every encounter. The advent of cell-phone video has proven this to be supremely naive.
  • Eliminate the minimum wage (compromise: eliminate the minimum wage before 25). Originally passed for racist reasons, it still (if unintentionally) keeps young blacks from entering the work force. Dropping out of high school does not hurt employment because kids learn job skills in high school (they don’t); it hurts because finishing high school is a marker of responsibility and other desirable job traits. Kids who drop out can overcome this, but only if they get a job where they can demonstrate these traits. No one is going to take that chance at $10 or $15 an hour**
  • Voucherize education. It’s not the middle class that is primarily the victim of awful public schools, it is poor blacks. Middle and upper class parents have the political pull to get accountability. It is no coincidence the best public schools are generally in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Programs such as the one in DC that used to allow urban poor to escape failing schools need to be promoted.

You could argue that decriminalizing drugs is somehow wrong … but if you’re looking at the harm inflicted by drug abuse and comparing it to the harm to African-American communities in particular, you would have to admit that it’s significantly worse with drug prohibition than it would be under a legal drug-use scenario. Reforming the police? Check what kinds of stuff show up in my Militarization-tagged posts — if that doesn’t convince you, you can’t be convinced.

The minimum wage is one of those issues that seems beneficial to the poor, because it means they get a higher wage on the job than they might get otherwise — what isn’t seen is that this limits the number of jobs that a poor person may have access to. Our education system is not adequately equipping people for the working world, and the more we expect the schools to teach, the less they can teach in the way of life-skills. A bad school can negatively impact someone’s entire working life. In education especially, one size does not fit all. Having more varied educational offerings makes it much more likely that children will be able to get the kind of education they need to succeed in life.

April 24, 2015

Junk science watch – lie detectors

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Gavin McInnes on the polygraph machines and their questionable accuracy:

I met Doug Williams in August while developing a pilot for a TV show about myth busting. He’s the most vocal critic of polygraph machines in the world and authored the book From Cop to Crusader: My Fight Against the Dangerous Myth of “Lie Detection.” Williams’ history in law enforcement brought him from the Oklahoma City Police Department to the White House where he served under Johnson and Nixon as a communications advisor (Johnson was cool, Nixon was a dick). He has issued thousands of polygraph tests over the years and even helped make the test part of federal law.

Doug started to realize the whole thing was a scam in the late 1970s and since then has devoted his entire life to giving everyone else the same epiphany. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t see it the same way and on May 12th, his trial will begin for the crime of “train[ing]… customers how to conceal misconduct and other disqualifying information.” He was busted by two undercover federal agents who took his course and decided the class had gone from simply “debunking” to “aiding and abetting.” The Feds are trying to say that Williams is hampering investigations, but all he’s doing is proving these machines don’t work by presenting evidence. 60 Minutes did the same thing in a 1986 episode where three out of three experts failed their own test. People are losing their jobs and going to prison based on the findings of a machine that appears to be totally unreliable. The only thing he’s hampering here is the abuse of power. The irony is, if it’s possible to beat a polygraph, it clearly isn’t a reliable piece of equipment. If it’s not possible to beat, his courses are irrelevant. You can teach someone to trick a police radar all you want. It’s still going to clock you if you’re going over the speed limit. This seems like common sense yet the state has won cases like this before. In 2013, an electrician named Chad Dixon was sentenced to 8 months in jail for helping people beat the machine.

April 23, 2015

Rand Paul against the machine

Filed under: Liberty,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Timothy Carney says that the “war on Washington” that keynotes Rand Paul’s nomination campaign is “the fight America needs”:

Rand Paul launched his presidential campaign Tuesday, skewering the “special interests that use Washington D.C. as their own private piggy bank.” His campaign home page blared the headline “Defeat the Washington Machine.”

This sort of campaign against Washington is a cliché these days, but for Paul, it’s a real thing. He’s been fighting this fight since he entered politics. And that’s why the Republican Party needs him today.

Recall how Paul won his first political race: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had handpicked Secretary of State Trey Grayson for Kentucky’s open Senate seat in 2010. Eighteen Republican senators funded Grayson in the primary. Only one funded Paul. Grayson raised half a million dollars from PACs in the primary — 20 times what Paul raised from them. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Grayson in the primary. Paul attacked Grayson for the “AIG Lobbyists” who threw fundraisers for him, which were swarming with lobbyists.

This was the K Street/GOP Machine. Rand Paul demolished it, beating Grayson by 23 points. That victory, on May 18, 2010, was the day the dam broke in the Tea Party flood.

Since he’s come to Washington, it’s been the same story: Rand Paul against the machine.

April 20, 2015

The Wright Brothers – early practitioners of lawfare

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren casts his thoughts into the air, but a hundred years ago the Wright Brothers’ lawyers would have been doing their legal damnedest to bring him back down to earth in a hurry:

Work on powered, controlled flight in the United States was far behind that in France, or England, but fell farther behind thanks to the Wright brothers. Fixated on the problem of converting invention into wealth, they pursued rival aviators around the USA with teams of lawyers. Their numerous, voluminous, cumbersome lawsuits were based on often fanciful patent claims, emerging from their own intensely secretive research.

One thinks for instance of the great aviator, Louis Paulhan (first to fly London to Manchester), who arrived with two Blériot monoplanes and two Farman biplanes to give flying demonstrations across the USA. Amazed at the workings of the American judicial system, but ignoring legal injunctions to prevent them from flying their machines, they took every prize at the Los Angeles Air Meet in January 1910, setting new records for altitude and endurance.

The Wrights were present, there as elsewhere, though never competing. They and their gaggle of lawyers followed Paulhan and the other foreigners around the country, serving them with process papers, and demanding unbelievably huge sums to call off their dogs, in vile and obvious attempts at extortion. And then they’d hit the local impresarios with additional suits to impound all the cash from ticket sales, &c. Truly: vicious and contemptible men.

To avoid fines or imprisonment in backwoods American jurisdictions, the visitors took to giving their demonstrations entirely for free, but still the lawsuits kept coming. Finally they gave up and went home.

And there’s even a maple-flavoured sidelight in the story:

Part of the reason for Canada’s early advances in aviation (first flight of the Silver Dart at Baddeck in Cape Breton, with its ingenious ailerons, &c) was the migration of American inventors, such as the brilliant motor-mechanic Glenn Curtiss, to safe territory away from the corrupt and unpredictable U.S. courts.

This, I suspect, was among the reasons that the spectacularly inventive Scotchman, Alexander Graham Bell, re-located from his grand mansion in Washington, DC. At first he went north, back to Canada (where he had settled before), only for the summers; but soon he was staying through the winters, too. Not only in flight, but in all the many other areas of his pioneering work (he invented the telephone, &c), he was afflicted with lawsuits from American cranks, with those dollar signs twirling in their eyes and the slick lawyers lining up behind them, ready to exploit a patent regime wide open to political manipulation. For apart from the beauty of the Bras d’Or landscape, Bell was back under the protection of British Common Law.

Everything is “interstate commerce”

Filed under: Business,Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported on another case where the “interstate commerce” excuse is used to justify federal charges for a purely intra-state activity:

Until 2010, Oregon entrepreneur Lawrence George Owen, 73, owned one restaurant, eight strip clubs, and two adult-video stores in the Portland area. At these businesses, Owen installed ATM machines in case customers needed to take out cash. With that cash, customers could do an assortment of things — tip dancers, buy food and drinks, leave the establishment and go grocery shopping. And sometimes, customers used the cash to privately pay some strippers for sex.

Now Owen faces federal charges for “conspiring to use interstate commerce” in promotion of prostitution.

The charges are the results of a nine year joint-effort by Portland’s vice squad and the FBI. Between 2006 and 2009, undercover Portland police officers arranged for 18 acts of prostitution with dancers at three of the clubs. After that federal agents took over, searching Owen’s businesses and the homes of his alleged co-conspirators and seizing $843,000 in cash.

Owen, it should be noted, was living in Mexico most of this time. He is currently on a U.S. Marshall’s hold in a Portland jail, after being detained by federal agents in late February.

You might be wondering how Owen faces federal charges if all of the alleged prostitution-promoting took place in Portland. Promoting prostitution is only a federal crime under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator transports or coerces an individual across state lines for prostitution purposes. Using mail, telephone calls, or other “facilities of interstate commerce” in service of prostitution will also do the trick. But the FBI has no evidence that Owen enticed or transported strip-club employees from outside Oregon, nor that he used mail or telephone calls to help facilitate their prostitution efforts.

When the FBI wants to make a case against someone, however, they’ll find a way. In this case, the FBI decided that ATM machines count as “facilities of interstate commerce.”

April 19, 2015

We must reject Rand Paul for his lack of libertarian consistency

Filed under: Liberty,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

No matter what, we must ensure that Rand Paul does not get support from small-L libertarians because he has not sufficiently supported large-L libertarian issues! Purity above all electoral considerations!

Rand Paul is the Republican son of a longtime Republican House member, but let it never be said that he is not open-minded. In 2013, he confided to Sean Hannity, “I’ve been kind of disappointed, because honestly there were certain aspects of President Obama that I wanted to like.”

I know how he feels. That’s how I feel about Rand Paul.

My old friend David Boaz, author of the excellent new book The Libertarian Mind, told NPR that Paul is “the most libertarian major presidential candidate that I can remember seeing.” I’m a more moderate libertarian than Boaz — or a squishier one — but my general framework is the same. I have a strong preference for free markets, civil liberties, personal autonomy, limited government and a foreign policy of restraint.

I’ve voted for several Libertarian presidential candidates. The biggest single influence on my policy views is Milton Friedman. I absorbed Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand in college. My columns appear regularly on the website of Reason, the nation’s premier libertarian publication.

So I should not be a tough sell for Paul. He sounds pretty libertarian when he says, in reference to the National Security Agency, “the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business.” He shows a refreshing open-mindedness on criminal justice by envisioning an America where “any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.”

Libertarians are their own worst enemies when it comes to actual political campaigns. Rand Paul probably wouldn’t win the US Libertarian Party’s nomination as he’s not “pure” enough (and his chances of winning the Republican Party nomination are thin enough as it is). Yet he’s the most prominent enunciator and exemplar of the small-L libertarian vision in the current electoral cycle. And libertarians are already denouncing him for his deviationism. Remind me again why we bother with election campaigns if appealing to a wider voting base with more freedom-oriented issues is somehow “anti-libertarian”? Rand Paul probably won’t win the Republican nomination — this isn’t exactly news. Even if he did win, the establishment GOP would probably do to Rand Paul what they did to Barry Goldwater. The raison d’etre of the party hierarchy is to ensure that the “fringe elements” don’t raise too much of a ruckus or (far worse) get their own candidates on the ballot.

I’m not an American, but given the choice of voting for Barack Obama or John McCain, I’d have voted for Obama without hesitation … McCain was almost the perfect anti-libertarian candidate for that electoral cycle. In the next presidential election, could the GOP have come up with a more inappropriate candidate than Romney? I don’t think so, unless they’d somehow nominated a Grand Dragon of the KKK (and I think Senator Byrd was dead by that point). And who does the establishment want as their presidential candidate this coming election? Jeb Bush? Ugh!

April 13, 2015

Will it be principle or will it be power?

Filed under: Liberty,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson looks at the Rand Paul campaign:

The question before Senator Rand Paul is whether Republican primary voters — and voters in the general electorate, if it should come to that — are in the market for libertarianism by the bushel or measured out with coffee spoons.

For those seeking a general validation of libertarian principle as the guiding light of the Republican party and the conservative movement, there’s no improving on a man called “Rand” who launched his campaign at a hotel called “Galt.” But the fact that there is no improving on him is no guarantee that Senator Paul can count on the enthusiastic support of doctrinaire libertarians, who are a cranky bunch, extraordinarily particular and already grumbling that the gentleman from Kentucky is not ready to go the full Rothbard — or even as far as his cult-figure father did.

There are several reasons for Senator Paul’s moderation — or deviation, as the hardliners would have it, from the pure faith of his father. One is that he is not a crank; another is that he does not want to finish in third place, well behind Rick Santorum; a third is that he can tell a windmill from a marauding giant; a fourth is that he understands that in the context of a democratic republic a leader leads and is led in turn.

When my friend Ramesh Ponnuru writes that the senator seems to be “of two minds” about judicial power — and when similar, more worrisome criticisms are made of Senator Paul’s foreign-policy views — that seems to me correct, but as a purely political matter not necessarily a bad thing. The American public is of two minds about a great many things, too, and has rarely punished a candidate for lack of absolute intellectual consistency. Pandering and flip-flopping? That’s one way to put it. But only the most hopeless sort of ideologue refuses to accommodate the fact that there is a limited real range for effective political action, and that range is defined by what the electorate is willing to accept. There is much to be done, and one can hardly blame Senator Paul for fishing where they’re biting.

April 6, 2015

QotD: Conscription

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Military,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Poul Anderson pointed out to me that he rather doubted if this country could survive through purely voluntary military service.

Perhaps he is right. I care not. If there are not sufficient Simon-pure, utterly uncoerced volunteers to defend a country and save it … [sic] then let it go down the drain! And that applies just as much to my own beloved country as it does to the Roman Empire … The thought of a draftee being required to die that I may live is as morally offensive to me as that of galley slaves, chained to their sweeps, and drowning in battle not of their choosing.

If the United States goes under (as I am inclined to think she will), I will be inclined to blame it on moral decay rather than on the superiority of our enemies … [sic] and, to me, the gravest aspect of that moral decay lies in the fact that we have elected to depend on human slaves as cannon fodder.

But I suppose that my opposition to a democratically accepted and publicly approved social institution such as the National Selective Service Act — having the gall to label this flag-bedecked and chaplain-blessed custom “human slavery” — is still another of “Heinlein’s dangerous ideologies” as seditious as my unspeakable notion that the franchise is not a “natural right” to be handed out as freely as favours at a children’s party, but to be earned by toil and danger at great personal sacrifice.

Well, if my teachings are now to be indicted as “dangerous”, tending to “corrupt the youth of the land”, I will be in most noble and distinguished company. Pass the hemlock, please —

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

April 5, 2015

The war on drugs in two charts

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

I saw this on Google+ and thought the two graphics included in the post were interesting enough to present on their own — because they pretty much tell the whole story in a glance:

Drug addition rate and drug control spending

State and federal incarceration rates

In 1969, the prison population was 200,000 and the overall population was about 200 million people. This means that approximately 0.1% of all Americans were in prison in 1969. As of 2010, the prison population had expanded to 1.6 million while the overall population was 309 million. Therefore, the current prison population is 0.5%. The prison population has expanded 5 times when adjusted for population size while the rate of drug addiction has remained largely constant. I do not believe that any reasonable person can look at the statistics on incarceration versus drug usage and come to any conclusion other than that the Drug War has been an immense cataclysm for the American people and that this cataclysm has fallen horrifically and disproportionately upon the poor. From a drug usage standpoint the inner cities have not improved in the slightest when it comes to overdoses and other tertiary consequences of drug use and we have simultaneously turned our inner cities into armed police states where the inhabitants are frequently terrified of the police, where the police engage in the worst sorts of paramilitary tactics, and where a large portion of young men are hurled into prison cells and ruined in the prime of their lives.

But none of these bourgeoisie facts and evidence shall deter Mr. Walters from his noble, righteous quest! No, he knows the evils of marijuana which shall be visited disproportionately upon the poor, and he will not rest until such toxins are driven entirely from the field:

    The focus on marijuana legalization trades on the public perception that the drug does little damage, and hence, that any criminal justice penalty for its use is an unnecessary affront. In fact, marijuana use does serious harm, and its legalization promises more use by the most vulnerable in communities like Angela Dawson’s Oliver neighborhood.

Personally, and I do realize this would shock Mr. Walters, I actually don’t care how damaging marijuana is to its users. Provided its users are of legal age and therefore are capable of consenting to its use, whether or not it is ‘damaging’ is of no relevance to me — consuming massive quantities of sugar is damaging, large amounts of fat is damaging, failure to exercise is damaging, drinking to excess is damaging — yet none of these are, or should be, illegal. Even if you prove the negative consequences of weed, it doesn’t matter — it is not the responsibility of the state to treat its citizens like children in need of mollycoddling and governmentally sponsored salvation and it certainly is neither the duty nor the purpose of the state to save us from the consequences of our own decisions.

March 28, 2015

Is Clean Reader a form of censorship?

Filed under: Business,Law,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow are both professional writers, both write science fiction and near-future stories along with contributing to magazines and other publications. They both have strong feelings about a new app called Clean Reader, which “sanitizes” eBooks by bowdlerizing the text on the fly to allow sensitive (or neo-Victorian) readers to avoid getting the vapours by being exposed to foul language. Charlie thinks this violates the writer’s Moral rights:

Mangling an author’s text is a clear violation of the author’s Moral rights, an element of copyright which is very weak in the United States and very strong elsewhere (primarily in civil law jurisdictions). (The moral right is the right of an author to be identified as the creator of a work, and for the work represented as their creation to be unaltered by other hands, so that the relationship between creator and created work is clear.) Mangling an author’s text may be legal or illegal in the USA, depending on whether it occurs before or after sale. After all, I can’t stop you buying one of my books and editing it with a sharpie: it’s a physical object and according to the first sale doctrine, it’s yours to do with as you wish. I may be able to legally stop you modifying an ebook, though: ebooks are not sold but a limited license to download and use them is granted in exchange for money — a fine legal distinction that was borrowed from the software business’s tame sharks — and that limited license may permit or deny such usage.

Clean Reader claim to get around this by (a) being a licensed distributor (they provide the app and sell books for it sourced from PageFoundry, a distributor who back-end onto various publishers), and (b) the censorship is performed on the reader device by the reader app, once the book has been purchased and downloaded. There’s a bunch of case law around whether or not it’s legal to do this to movie rentals or downloads, or legal to skip advertisements in recorded programming on your TiVo—it gets murky fast. But let’s suppose they’re right and what they’re doing (“protect the children! At any cost! From naughty words like ‘breast’ and ‘fuck’!”) is legal.

Speaking as an author who deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents (hint: I write for adults — if you don’t think my books are suitable for your or your child’s tender eyes, don’t buy them), what can I do about this?

On the other hand, Cory also hates it but will “defend to the death your right to censor”:

It’s a truism of free expression that if you only defend speech you agree with, you don’t believe in free expression. That doesn’t mean you have to defend the content of the expression: it means you have to support the right of people to say stupid, awful things. You can and should criticize the stupid, awful things. It’s the distinction between the right to express a stupid idea, and the stupidity of the idea itself.

I think Clean Reader is stupid. I think parents who want to ensure that their kids don’t see profanity have fucked up priorities.

I think readers should be allowed to skip my foreword and author bio. I think they should be able to search out their favorite passages and read them out of order.

I think racist readers should be allowed to make an index of “scenes that racists find disturbing,” so that other racists can avoid them. I think those racists are fools and worse for doing it, and I will condemn them if they do. I just won’t say they’re not allowed to do it. A rule that says this kind of list is prohibited would also prohibit a the same list, compiled by anti-racist activists, under the heading, “Scenes with which to annoy racists.”

Shortly after putting this post together on Friday, I got a link from John Lennard to this article in the Guardian:

The Clean Reader app, launched by a couple in Idaho in the US, has announced that after significant feedback from authors, many of whom did not want their work being sold in connection with the app, it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.

Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.

Update: Added the link to Cory Doctorow’s post at Boing Boing.

Singapore

Filed under: Asia,Government,Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Back in 2009, the government of Singapore used some of Bryan Caplan’s writing to defend their policies against accusations of authoritarianism. In return, Caplan pointed out some aspects of Singapore’s government he finds appalling:

1. Conscription. Though they laughed at me in Singapore, this is clearly state slavery — and there are plenty of less draconian means to defend the city-state from conquest. (Like… paying soldiers market wages). Only a democratic fundamentalist would imagine that the right to vote is more important than the right to say “No” to a job offer.

2. The death penalty for drug trafficking. Jailing people for capitalist acts between consenting adults is bad enough. Murdering people for selling intoxicants to willing buyers is sheer barbarism.

3. State ownership. While Singapore’s state-owned companies act surprisingly like capitalist firms, why settle for second-best? And if you needed further empirical evidence that state ownership undermines personal freedom even if it is “run like a business,” take a look at the Straits Times or Singaporean television.

4. Defamation law. Letting people sue people who badmouth them is bad enough. But Singapore takes defamation law to its logical, absurd conclusion: You can’t even badmouth government officials unless you can prove that your charges are true. The problem with these laws isn’t that they’re undemocratic — after all, Singapore still allows criticism of policies. The problem is that they violate human freedom. People should be allowed to say what they like about whoever they like, whether or not they can prove it, and whether or not they’re right.

5. Censorship. The Internet has made Singaporean censorship largely obsolete, but it’s still an outrage that you need the government’s approval to stage a public performance.

Bottom line: Singapore’s critics have plenty of genuine grievances to denounce. (And under Singaporean law, it’s legal to do so — just don’t get personal!) So why do the critics keep complaining about “lack of democracy” when the real story is that most Singaporeans persistently prefer the PAP to the opposition?

March 27, 2015

Keeping people out of jail isn’t quite as easy as it seems

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle is being a downer about the idea that if we just stop throwing people into jail for non-violent drug possession, it’ll make a big dent in the prison population:

De-incarceration is clearly an idea whose time has come. But doing it means thinking clearly about de-incarceration. And as I discovered when I went to a recent event on the topic, most of us in the media don’t.

We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.

I wasn’t shocked, but not because I am somehow immune to this delusion. Rather, I had it stripped from me a few years back, when I went to Hawaii to report on its innovative probation program, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. HOPE has sharply reduced the number of people who “flunk” probation and end up with long prison terms. To study it, I sat in a courtroom for a week and actually watched how the process worked. I’ve written about it in my book, but here’s something I didn’t write about: how shocked I was by the composition of the docket. I’d been expecting a lot more simple possession — and a lot less robbery, assault, domestic violence and burglary.

Even the most dedicated anti-incarceration activist would call these “real” crimes, and they were numerous. Even the most dedicated advocate of drug legalization — such as, say, me — would have to admit that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of the people who committed “real” crimes had some sort of a drug problem — not as in “smokes more weed than they really should” but as in “admitted to the judge that they had smoked crystal meth recently enough to flunk the drug test they were about to be required to take.”

March 26, 2015

QotD: Picking sides in historical struggles

Filed under: History,Liberty,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All laws and regulations have unforeseen consequences. That usually means unintended damage, but there’s no law of history that says every unplanned outcome is pernicious.

If you’re an advocate of a free society — one in which all arrangements are voluntary and there is the least coercive interference from governments or other thugs — history will present you with an unending series of conundrums. Whom do you side with in the Protestant Reformation, for example? The Catholic Church banned books and tortured scholars, and their official structure is one of hierarchy and authority. Easy enemy, right? Clear-cut bad guy. But the Church had kept the State in check for centuries — and vice versa, permitting seeds of freedom to root and flourish in the gaps between power centers. Whereas the Protestant states tended to be more authoritarian than the Catholic ones, with Luther and Calvin (not to mention the Anglicans) advocating orthodoxy through force. There’s a reason all those Northern princes embraced the Reformation: they wanted a cozier partnership of church and state.

This is certainly not the history I was taught in my Protestant private schools.

Similarly, most of us were schooled to side with the Union in the Civil War, to see Lincoln as a savior and the Confederacy as pure evil. But as much as the war may have resulted, however accidentally, in emancipating slaves, it also obliterated civil liberties, centralized power, strengthened central banking and fiat currencies and — to borrow from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s great book title — enslaved free men.

“Father Abraham,” as the pietists called him after his assassination, was a tyrant whose primary goal was always what he actually achieved: central power over an involuntary union. Recasting this guy as an abolitionist hero is one of the many perverse legacies of America’s official history. But it’s a mistake to simply reverse the Establishment’s verdict and claim that the Confederacy was heroic. Plenty of Johnny Rebs were fighting a righteous battle against what they rightly deemed to be foreign invaders, but even if you ignore the little problem of the South’s “peculiar institution,” the Confederate government was no more liberal than its Northern rival. “While the Civil War saw the triumph in the North of Republican neo-mercantilism,” writes Hummel, “it saw the emergence in the South of full-blown State socialism.”

Reading history without taking sides may fit some scholarly ideal (actually, it seems to be a journalistic ideal created by the Progressive Movement to masquerade their views as the only unbiased ones), but it is not a realistic option. We cannot do value-free history. If we try, we instead hide or repress our biases, which makes them a greater threat to intellectual integrity.

Neither can we say, “a plague on both their houses,” and retreat to the realm of pure theory, libertarian or otherwise. We have to live in the real world, and even if we are not activists or revolutionaries, the same intellectual integrity that must reject “neutrality” also requires that we occasionally explore the question of second-best or least-evil options.

BK Marcus, “When evil institutions do good things”, Libertarian Standard, 2014-06-12.

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