Quotulatiousness

October 21, 2014

A welcome bit of local by-election news

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:01

I’ve been a bit busy to pay much attention to the by-election going on here in Whitby-Oshawa for the seat of the late Jim Flaherty, but I was delighted to get this bit of news:

At least I know I’ve got someone I can vote for without having to hold my nose.

October 16, 2014

The trouble with “parenting” in 2014

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Jan MacVarish discusses the problems facing today’s parents that inhibit natural parenting instincts and replace them with the diktats of the bureaucracy:

Here are two scenes which illustrate contemporary parenting culture.

In the first, I am called into my son’s primary school by the ‘family-liaison officer’. I am surprised to learn that she is investigating the concerns of a teacher who has overheard my son and his friends discussing their mothers’ favourite punishment methods. Whereas one of the mothers (who I know) reportedly kicks her boy in the privates with her stilettos, and another (who I also know) prefers to administer an ‘African slap’, my chosen method is, apparently, to hit my son with a frying pan. Visions of Tom and Jerry immediately spring to mind, and I laugh at the ridiculousness of the schoolboys’ conversation. The family-liaison officer admits that it is highly unlikely that a mother such as me (white and middle class) would engage in such behaviour, but, she tells me, she is nevertheless obliged to ask if I have ever deployed the family skillet as a weapon. I am now amused, bemused and starting to see that this could have played out very differently if I were perceived to be one of those ‘other’ parents.

Scene two: While swimming in the local pool with frying-pan boy, I notice a mother engage in an exhausting 20-minute argument with her one-year-old baby boy. He had slapped her, so she was asking him in a quiet, controlled voice to look her in the eye and apologise for ‘hurting mummy’. Being a baby, he refused to comply, and became more and more upset as the request was repeated again and again. My sympathy was equal for both mother and child: he was sobbing and she seemed forlornly trapped in some kind of ‘good parenting’ ritual, in which the parent conveys to the child the emotional consequences of their actions – ‘you hurt mummy, that makes mummy feel sad’ – and expects the child to take ‘ownership’ of their actions.

Both of these scenes demonstrate the abandonment of common sense and, indeed, any kind of ‘instinct’ when it comes to adults relating to children. When you remove any element of instinct from parenting, you replace trust, care, love and joy with empty rituals of ‘safeguarding’ or ‘good parenting’. The family-liaison officer’s dutiful yet hollow investigation makes clear just how corrosive the institutionalisation of parent-blaming in schools has become, while the mother’s exchange with her baby in the pool showed how futile and joy-draining following abstract, good-parenting guidelines can be.

October 10, 2014

Reason.tv – The 5 Most Anti-Libertarian TV Shows Ever!

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:57

Published on 10 Oct 2014

A little while ago, we tallied up “The 5 Best Libertarian TV Shows.” South Park, Penn & Teller: Bullshit, The Wire, The Prisoner, House of Cards: They’re all there, along with your abuse in the comments for leaving out Firefly, Yes, Minister, King of the Hill, and all your other favorites.

Now it’s time to list the five TV shows that are the absolute *worst* from a libertarian perspective.

Cory Doctorow – “Information doesn’t want to be free, people want to be free”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Cory Doctorow’s latest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, briefly reviewed by Ian Steadman in New Statesman:

“Information wants to be free” is a rallying cry for many of those who fight against legal restrictions on the internet. The phrase was coined by the tech writer Stewart Brand in 1984 and referred to the way the web reduces many of the costs of producing and disseminating data to near zero. “Free” in this phrase has also come to mean “freedom”, because the internet makes it easy to avoid censorship.

Doctorow is challenging both interpretations – not because he doesn’t agree with them but because he thinks a crucial premise has been lost. “Information doesn’t want to be free,” he writes, “people want to be free.”

The first two-thirds of the book discusses ways in which artists are penalised by the internet’s present regulatory system. He criticises digital rights management (DRM) technology, which limits the platforms digital files can play on; not only does it mean we don’t “own” the files we pay for, but when a company that supports a file goes bust, the culture locked up in their DRM can be lost for ever. Doctorow describes this as “a library burning in slow motion”.

Many companies such as Apple sell devices that block you from downloading non-approved apps. “That is sold to creators as an anti-piracy measure,” Doctorow tells me when we speak on the phone. “But the most practical application has been to allow Apple to exert market power that it would never have had in any other world.”

This links to the final third of the book, which explores how systems for protecting copyrighted material can also be used for censorship.

Jesse Walker’s urban legend

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:49

In Reason, Jesse Walker tracks down the creator of an urban legend, only to discover that it was him:

During Banned Books Week last month, you may have heard that some busybodies banned Green Eggs and Ham because they thought the story was kinda gay. Metro reported that this happened “briefly in the 1990s because of supposed homosexual innuendos.” A Minnesota radio station said the book was targeted for its “homosexual theme.” Feministe announced that it had been challenged in California for, “No shit, ‘homosexual seduction’ on the part of Sam.” Many other outlets have related the same story, not just last month but in years past. In 2013, Dr. Seuss’ classic even made its way into the Oberlin Public Library’s banned books display. “Inside the bright orange book,” a local paper reported, a “slip explains that it was once thought to have ‘homosexual seduction,’ because Sam tried to seduce his friend.”

None of these reports say where or when this purported prohibition took place, other than those vague references to California and the ’90s. A Lexis-Nexis search turned up nothing. I asked the American Library Association, which sponsors Banned Books Week and keeps track of such things, if they were aware of such an effort; they told me it wasn’t in their database. Metro said it got its info from a book called Seuss Facts, which as far as I can tell does not exist — though a Facebook feed by that name did mention the alleged ban without citing a source. I got in touch with some of the other reporters and bloggers who had repeated the story. None of them were certain where it came from. After I contacted BuzzFeed‘s Spencer Althouse, who included Green Eggs in a banned-books list last year, he concluded that the story was “a terrible, terrible rumor” and added a correction to his article. I’m open to the possibility that there’s a real event here that I haven’t been able to track down, but that seems extremely doubtful.

Besides, I’m pretty sure I know where this began. It’s my fault. Sorry. My bad.

October 7, 2014

When the “right to be forgotten” encounters the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick reports on the first New York Times articles to be removed from Google‘s search indices under the European “right to be forgotten” regulations:

Over the weekend, the NY Times revealed that it is the latest publication to receive notification from Google that some of its results will no longer show up for searches on certain people’s names, under the whole “right to be forgotten” nuttiness going on in Europe these days. As people in our comments have pointed out in the past, it’s important to note that the stories themselves aren’t erased from Google‘s index entirely — they just won’t show up when someone searches on the particular name of the person who complained. Still, the whole effort is creating a bit of a Streisand Effect in calling new attention to the impacted articles.

In this case, the NY Times was notified of five articles that were caught up in the right to be forgotten process. Three of the five involved semi-personal stuff, so the Times decided not to reveal what those stories were (even as it gently mocks Europe for not believing in free speech):

    Of the five articles that Google informed The Times about, three are intensely personal — two wedding announcements from years ago and a brief paid death notice from 2001. Presumably, the people involved had privacy reasons for asking for the material to be hidden.

I can understand the Times‘ decision not to reveal those articles, but it still does seem odd. You can understand why people might not want their wedding announcements findable, but they were accurate at the time, so it seems bizarre to have them no longer associated with your name.

October 6, 2014

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Civil Forfeiture (HBO)

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:47

Published on 5 Oct 2014

Did you know police can just take your stuff if they suspect it’s involved in a crime? They can!
It’s a shady process called “civil asset forfeiture,” and it would make for a weird episode of Law and Order.

H/T to Dave Trant for the link.

September 30, 2014

Implementing libertarian principles in practical politics

Filed under: History, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

P.J. O’Rourke talks to Senator Rand Paul:

The Senator smiled and shrugged. “I never really felt like it was a problem explaining libertarian principles in practical politics. Republicans are champions of economic liberty. Democrats are champions of personal liberty. Bring the two back together.”

The Senator said, “The problem is mostly how people characterize libertarianism. But that’s changing. Libertarian has gone from being something scary to something people like as a label for themselves.”

He said, “There are different ways to get where we want to go.” And gave an example of going nowhere. “Nothing good has come out of the war on drugs.”

“What’s a different way?” I asked.

“I like the unenumerated powers.”

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The Tenth Right in the Bill of Rights keeps us from having just nine rights.

“In The Federalist Papers,” I said, “Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that government even mentioning rights like free speech implied government had some power over those rights.”

“But it’s a good thing we did write them down,” the Senator said, “otherwise we’d have nothing left.”

Senator Paul asked, not quite rhetorically, “Is this the ‘Libertarian Moment’? If so, it probably won’t come from a third party. Probably it will come from within a party.”

“From within the Democratic Party?” He didn’t seem to think it was inconceivable. “In New Hampshire,” he said, “even Democrats are against state income and sales taxes.”

But he didn’t seem to think it was likely either. “Republicans are an ideological coalition,” he said. “Democrats are a coalition of ideologies. The only thing Democrats agree on is income redistribution.”

Sen. Paul said, “Republicans have tradition on their side. It’s the American revolution versus the French Revolution.”

This was a switch – a flip-flop if you will – from Thomas Paine’s radical liberty de facto to Edmund Burke’s traditional liberty de jure. But I don’t fault the Senator. No friend of liberty can avoid the tumble back and forth between Burke and Paine.

“Tradition is a good thing,” the Senator said. “Ninety percent of Americans don’t break the law, not because there’s a law against it, but because they have a tradition of conscience. Republicans are traditional. But tradition can be boring. Libertarianism spices things up. Republicans have to either adapt, evolve, or die. They either have to water [down] their message — or extend liberty.”

“…the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:30

Nick Gillespie responds to a really dumb argument against libertarianism:

As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.

Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.

To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”

No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids:

    Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.

    In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.

You got that? An archetypal effort in what Hayek would call “constructivism,” neocon hawks would call “nation building,” and what virtually all libertarians (well, me anyways) called a “non sequitur” in the war on terror that was doomed to failure from the moment of conception is proof positive that libertarianism is, in Linker’s eyes, “a particularly bad idea” whose “pernicious consequences” are plain to see.

In the sort of junior-high-school rhetorical move to which desperate debaters cling, Linker even plays a variation on the reductio ad Hitlerum in building case:

    Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.

    Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”

What nuance: Exterminating Jews may be the worst idea…! When a person travels down such a rhetorical path, it’s best to back away quickly, with a wave of the hand and best wishes for the rest of his journey. Who can seriously engage somebody who starts a discussion by saying, “You’re not as bad as the Nazis, I’ll grant you that”…? I’d love to read his review of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninjas movie: “Not as bad as Triumph of the Will, but still a bad film…”

September 24, 2014

QotD: Privacy and cell phones

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

People who were charged with a crime in England used to be told by the police that they did not have to say anything, but that anything they did say might be taken down and used as evidence against them. I think we should all be given this warning whenever we use a mobile telephone.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Nowhere to Hide”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-02-23

September 20, 2014

CBC warning to Canadians travelling in the United States

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:11

I’ve seen this CBC link mentioned several times by US commentators:

American shakedown: Police won’t charge you, but they’ll grab your money
U.S. police are operating a co-ordinated scheme to seize as much of the public’s cash as they can

On its official website, the Canadian government informs its citizens that “there is no limit to the amount of money that you may legally take into or out of the United States.” Nonetheless, it adds, banking in the U.S. can be difficult for non-residents, so Canadians shouldn’t carry large amounts of cash.

That last bit is excellent advice, but for an entirely different reason than the one Ottawa cites.

There’s a shakedown going on in the U.S., and the perps are in uniform.

Across America, law enforcement officers — from federal agents to state troopers right down to sheriffs in one-street backwaters — are operating a vast, co-ordinated scheme to grab as much of the public’s cash as they can; “hand over fist,” to use the words of one police trainer.

September 19, 2014

Doctorow – “The time has come to create privacy tools for normal people”

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

In the Guardian, Cory Doctorow says that we need privacy-enhancing technical tools that can be easily used by everyone, not just the highly technical (or highly paranoid) among us:

You don’t need to be a technical expert to understand privacy risks anymore. From the Snowden revelations to the daily parade of internet security horrors around the world – like Syrian and Egyptian checkpoints where your Facebook logins are required in order to weigh your political allegiances (sometimes with fatal consequences) or celebrities having their most intimate photos splashed all over the web.

The time has come to create privacy tools for normal people – people with a normal level of technical competence. That is, all of us, no matter what our level of technical expertise, need privacy. Some privacy measures do require extraordinary technical competence; if you’re Edward Snowden, with the entire NSA bearing down on your communications, you will need to be a real expert to keep your information secure. But the kind of privacy that makes you immune to mass surveillance and attacks-of-opportunity from voyeurs, identity thieves and other bad guys is attainable by anyone.

I’m a volunteer on the advisory board for a nonprofit that’s aiming to do just that: Simply Secure (which launches Thursday at simplysecure.org) collects together some very bright usability and cryptography experts with the aim of revamping the user interface of the internet’s favorite privacy tools, starting with OTR, the extremely secure chat system whose best-known feature is “perfect forward secrecy” which gives each conversation its own unique keys, so a breach of one conversation’s keys can’t be used to snoop on others.

More importantly, Simply Secure’s process for attaining, testing and refining usability is the main product of its work. This process will be documented and published as a set of best practices for other organisations, whether they are for-profits or non-profits, creating a framework that anyone can use to make secure products easier for everyone.

September 12, 2014

When the government steals, they call it “civil forfeiture”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:53

In Forbes, Jacob Sullum explains the amazingly lenient rules in most states for the government to steal your property:

Three key features of civil forfeiture law give cops this license to steal:

The government does not have to charge you with a crime, let alone convict you, to take your property. Under federal law and the laws of many states, a forfeiture is justified if the government can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it is connected to a crime, typically a drug offense. That standard, which amounts to any probability greater than 50 percent, is much easier to satisfy than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for a criminal trial. Some states allow forfeiture based on probable cause, a standard even weaker than preponderance of the evidence.

The burden of proof is on you. Innocent owners like Mandrel Stuart have to prove their innocence, a reversal of the rule in criminal cases. Meanwhile, the government hangs onto the money, which puts financial stress on the owner and makes it harder for him to challenge the forfeiture.

Cops keep the loot. Local cops and prosecutors who pursue forfeiture under federal law, which is what happened in Stuart’s case, receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds. Some states are even more generous, but others give law enforcement agencies a smaller cut, making federal forfeiture under the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program a tempting alternative. The fact that police have a direct financial interest in forfeitures creates an incentive for pretextual traffic stops aimed at finding money or other property to seize. The Post found that “298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.”

There’s at least some awareness in the Senate that the civil forfeiture rules are being abused:

The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in July, addresses each of these issues. The FAIR Act changes the standard of proof in federal forfeiture cases from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” That change does not go as far as the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has been fighting forfeiture abuse for years, would like. I.J. argues that civil forfeiture should be abolished, meaning that a criminal conviction, based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, would be required for the government to take property allegedly connected to a crime. But Paul’s reform would make it harder for the government to prevail if a forfeiture case goes to trial, which might deter seizures of large sums in situations where the evidence is weak.

September 4, 2014

Orwellian newspaper editing as a game

Filed under: Gaming, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:22

John Ryan linked to this article about The Westport Independent, which puts you in the position of a newspaper editor in an Orwellian world:

The Westport Independent, a self-described “censorship simulator,” places that editorial power in the hands of players during a time of political unrest in the city of Westport. It’s 1948, and rising rebellions against the government lead to a new bill banning any news outlets that do not comply with the Loyalist Government Guidelines. You play as the editor in chief of an independent newspaper entering its final weeks before the ban.

As editor, you control the censorship of articles, pick headlines, and arrange the layout to tell the truth of your choosing. As with Orwell’s 1984, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Will you abide by rules and force-feed your readers the government’s narrative? Or will you defy their guidelines, and print the rebellion’s perspective instead? The city, divided into class-based districts, dynamically responds to everything you print. By shaping public opinion with the stories you choose, you shape the current events that unfold. And by shaping the events, you affect the stories you can cover.

The new absolutism

Filed under: Environment, Liberty, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:12

Brendan O’Neill on the rise of the absolutist mindset in science:

Who do you think said the following: “I always regret it when knowledge becomes controversial. It’s clearly a bad thing, for knowledge to be controversial.” A severe man of the cloth, perhaps, keen to erect a forcefield around his way of thinking? A censorious academic rankled when anyone criticises his work? Actually, it was Brian Cox, Britain’s best-known scientist and the BBC’s go-to guy for wide-eyed documentaries about space. Yes, terrifyingly, this nation’s most recognisable scientist thinks it is a bad thing when knowledge becomes the subject of controversy, which is the opposite of what every man of reason in modern times has said about knowledge.

Mr Cox made his comments in an interview with the Guardian. Discussing climate change, he accused “nonsensical sceptics” of playing politics with scientific fact. He helpfully pointed out what us non-scientific plebs are permitted to say about climate change. “You’re allowed to say, well I think we should do nothing. But what you’re not allowed to do is to claim there’s a better estimate of the way that the climate will change, other than the one that comes out of the computer models.” Well, we are allowed to say that, even if we’re completely wrong, because of a little thing called freedom of speech. Mr Cox admits that his decree about what people are allowed to say on climate change springs from an absolutist position. “The scientific view at the time is the best, there’s nothing you can do that’s better than that. So there’s an absolutism. It’s absolutely the best advice.”

It’s genuinely concerning to hear a scientist — who is meant to keep himself always open to the process of falsifiabilty — describe his position as absolutist, a word more commonly associated with intolerant religious leaders. But then comes Mr Cox’s real blow against full-on debate. “It’s clearly a bad thing, for knowledge to be controversial”, he says. This is shocking, and the opposite of the truth. For pretty much the entire Enlightenment, the reasoned believed that actually it was good — essential, in fact — for knowledge to be treated as controversial and open to the most stinging questioning.

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