Quotulatiousness

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.

March 24, 2015

The Thought Police on the academia beat

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

A fascinating … and disturbing … post from a Tumblr blog called White Hot Harlots on the pervasive fear among some academics. Not fear of the troglodytes of the right, but fear of their own students:

Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip — not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery — and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

Is paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.

There are literally dozens of articles and books I thought nothing of teaching, 5-6 years ago, that I wouldn’t even reference in passing today. I just re-read a passage of Late Victorian Holocausts, an account of the British genocide against India, and, wow, today I’d be scared if someone saw a copy of it in my office. There’s graphic pictures right on the cover, harsh rhetoric (“genocide”), historical accounts filled with racially insensitive epithets, and a profound, disquieting indictment of capitalism. No way in hell would I assign that today. Not even to grad students.

Tim Worstall on the economic emancipation of women

Filed under: Economics,History,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his Forbes column last week, Tim Worstall made the point that perhaps the biggest economic story of the last century has been the economic emancipation of women:

There’s an interesting little rumpus going on over the new book by Robert Putnam on the class divide in American lifestyles. Put very simply, the middle and upper classes seem to take marriage and child rearing seriously and the poor have a more, umm, chaotic approach. Looking at the various think pieces that have been done on this book I find myself astonished by the way that the most important salient and relevant fact is simply not being mentioned. Marriage is many things but among them is that it is an economic contract. And the terms of that contract have changed: thus it’s not even remotely surprising that behaviour has changed too.

[…]

Which brings me to that headline: that the economic emancipation of women is the most important single fact of the past century. That past really was a different place. We can argue if we want to about whether that economic emancipation is complete (the famous womens’ 77 cents to mens’ dollar, or is it a motherhood pay gap and so on) but let’s leave that for another time. What is obviously and glaringly true is that women are much freer economically than they were a century ago. Wages for women back then were distinctly lower than they were for men. And no, this wasn’t particularly discrimination: some large part of what most people were hired for was physical muscle. Men have more of this so they got paid more. There were also strong social norms: I’m not quite sure of pre-WWI America but in my native UK the only respectable jobs for an adult woman (ie, something that the bourgeois would be happy to see their daughters go into) were nursing or teaching. And as a result of this paucity of choice the wages were low in both professions (there’s a strong truth to the point that the rising wages of both teachers and nurses in recent decades are the result of their being free to work in other sectors these days).

The result of both of these things was that the wages of a female worker were not, except at the most basic, basic, level, sufficient to raise a child let alone support a family. I’m not saying that being a single parent these days is easy but it is at least possible as tens of millions of people are showing us.

Which brings us to marriage: yes, this is many things. Love, sex, companionship and so on. But it is also an economic contract (the only proof we need of this is to read some divorce settlements)
and marriage always has been an economic contract. Pretty much since humans arrived as a species it has been necessary to have two parents around in order for a child to have a reasonable chance of survival to an age where it would have its own children. This was true of hunter gatherer societies, of agricultural ones, of industrial ones, feudal and so on. It really is only in this past century, more so in the past 50 years, that it’s been possible for one person to both earn a living and raise a child or children. Yes, obviously people did do so as a result of having to do so but it wasn’t something that anyone did by choice simply because of the penury that resulted from their doing so. And yes, all of this is much more true of women than men.

Everything’s Awesome and Camille Paglia is Unhappy!

Filed under: Liberty,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Mar 2015

Growing up as “a gender nonconforming entity” during Eisenhower’s America wasn’t easy for cultural critic and best-selling author Camille Paglia. Her adolescence in small-town, upstate New York was marked by rejection, rebellion, and cross-dressing—all in reaction to the stultifying social norms of the 1950s and early ’60s.

So what does Paglia think of contemporary culture, with its openness to a wide variety of ever-proliferating gender, racial, and sexual identities?

Not much.

“I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion. It is impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation of human life.”

Whether the subject is feminism or the fate of Western civilization, Paglia is no Pollyanna. In this wide-ranging discussion, she says higher education is going to hell, the Fourth Estate is an epic FAIL, millennials are myopic, contemporary criticism has croaked, and Hillary Clinton might singlehandedly destroy the universe. Even Madonna, once Paglia’s ideal of sex-positive feminism, seems to have lost her way.

Does the celebrated author of Sexual Personae and Break Blow Burn have any reason to get out of bed in the morning? Does she have any hope for the universe at all? Watch the video to find out.

March 18, 2015

This is not how a justice system is supposed to work

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

Nathan Robinson points out a key finding from the Ferguson investigation … that in a municipality of 21,000 people, the police have outstanding arrest warrants out for 16,000:

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases (i.e. people with many cases are not being counted multiple times). However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

March 10, 2015

Magna Carta in the modern world

Mark Steyn talks about the decline in state observance (and in David Cameron’s case, even awareness) of the significance of Magna Carta:

Real rights are like Magna Carta: restraints on state power. Too many people today understand the word “rights” to mean baubles and trinkets a gracious sovereign bestows on his subjects — “free” health care, “free” community college, “safe spaces” from anyone saying anything beastly — all of which require a massive, coercive state regulatory regime to enforce.

But, to give it is full name, Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics – I don’t think they had ‘em back then) gets it the right way round. It was in some respects a happy accident. In 1215, a bunch of chippy barons were getting fed up with King John. In those days, in such circumstances, the malcontents would usually replace the sovereign with a pliable prince who’d be more attentive to their grievances. But, having no such prince to hand, the barons were forced to be more inventive, and so they wound up replacing the King with an idea, and the most important idea of all — that even the King is subject to the law.

In this 800th anniversary year, that’s a lesson worth re-learning. Restraints on state power are increasingly unfashionable among the heirs to Magna Carta: in America, King Barack decides when he wakes up of a morning what clauses of ObamaCare or US immigration law he’s willing to observe or waive according to royal whim; his heir, Queen Hillary, operates on the principle that laws are for the other 300 million Americans, not her. In the birthplace of Magna Carta, a few miles from that meadow at Runnymede, David Cameron’s constabulary leans on newsagents to cough up the names and addresses of troublesome citizens who’ve committed the crime of purchasing Charlie Hebdo.

The symbolism was almost too perfect when Mr Cameron went on TV with David Letterman, and was obliged to admit that he had no idea what the words “Magna Carta” meant. Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of Liberty. I’m happy to say Mr Cameron’s Commonwealth cousins across the Atlantic in Ottawa are more on top of things: One of the modestly heartening innovations of Stephen Harper’s ministry is that, when immigrants to Canada take the oath of citizenship, they’re given among other things a copy of Magna Carta.

Why? Because everything flows therefrom — from England’s Glorious Revolution to the US Constitution and beyond. It’s part of the reason why the English-speaking world, in contrast to Continental Europe, has managed to sustain its freedoms across the generations.

On the topic of Cameron’s inability to say what Magna Carta translates to in English, Richard Anderson is convinced it was a deliberate ploy by Cameron to downplay his (expensive) educational background:

A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a graduate of Eton and Brasenose no less, no more forgets stuff like this then he forgets his wife’s name or his archenemy’s personal weaknesses. He flubbed it on purpose. Boris Johnson, the rather eccentric Tory mayor of London, figured out Davy pretty much from the start:

    Johnson, a classics scholar, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means. It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

A bit of context is required here. Since the Roman Empire went the way of all flesh Latin has been the language of the European elite. At first this was for practical purposes. For centuries any useful knowledge that had survived after the fall of the Empire in the west was in either in Latin or Greek. But long after Gutenberg, whose revolution made the vernacular languages of Europe important stores of knowledge, Latin remained the mark of a gentleman.

[…]

Mr Cameron is a graduate of Eton, an Old Etonian as they say. What is Eton? It makes Upper Canada College look like a cheap poseur. It is a super private high school that has produced nineteen of Britain’s fifty-three Prime Ministers. Harvard has produced a mere eight American Presidents. The University of Toronto a corporal’s guard of four Canadian PMs. Harold Macmillan, Britain’s snottiest modern PM, once derisively quipped that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet had more Estonians than Etonians. A meritocratic break from an aristocratic past. At least it seemed at the time. Cameron’s particular team of rivals is decidedly Toff heavy. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a descendant of Henry III and his father was a baronet.

And what distinguishes the education of a Toff, even in these fallen times, is a sprinkling of Latin. Two millennia after the Romans decided the British Isles, or at least the warmer bits of it, were worth conquering the language of Cicero is still the mark of the Great and Good. Boris Johnson was perfectly correct. David Cameron almost certainly knew what Magna Carta meant. He was pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending not to know.

But knowing the meaning of the name of the foundational document of British liberty, and by extension the liberty of the English speaking peoples, isn’t quite like being able to translate Virgil from the original into the Greek. It’s not specialized knowledge and should never be seen as such. This is what every schoolboy should and did know until the day before yesterday. That the Prime Minister of the day should think it politically advantageous to pretend not to know basic historical information is a chilling thought. That he was pandering was disgraceful but hardly shocking. That such pandering would be successful is a condemnation of modern Britain as severe as anything found in the works of Anthony Daniels.

There is stooping to conquer and then there is surrendering to the modern Vandals. David Cameron is the man holding the gate wide open.

March 9, 2015

Brendan O’Neill defends “drunk sex”

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

Writing in Reason, Brendan O’Neill laments “the state’s intervention into private life”:

Is it acceptable to have drunk sex? Most people who aren’t citizens of the Islamic State or followers of some frigid Christian group will answer with an emphatic: “Hell, yeah.” Not only is it acceptable, they’ll think; it’s good, one of life’s great pleasures, a rare moment when you can ditch the pesky rational thinking required in everyday life and instead abandon yourself — mind, soul, and genitals — to a moment of dumb, beautiful joy.

Well, enjoy it while you can, folks. Because like everything else pleasurable in the 21st century — smoking in a bar, complimenting a lady on her looks, drinking a bucket-sized Coke — drunk sex is under attack from that new caste of killjoys who wouldn’t recognize fun if it offered to buy them a drink (“unwanted sexual advance.”) Drunk sex is being demonized, even criminalized: turned from something that can be either wonderful or awkward into, effectively, rape. They warned us for years, “Don’t drink and drive.” Now it’s, “Don’t drink and fuck.”

[…]

On both sides of the Atlantic, campuses that were once hotbeds of anti-The Man radicalism have become conveyor belts of conformist policymaking, particularly in relation to anything that has what these prudish heirs to Andrea Dworkin consider to be the rancid whiff of s*x. And what kind of sex do they loathe most? Drunk sex.

Numerous colleges now insist that it isn’t possible to consent to sex if you’re three sheets to the wind, which means that all sexual acts carried out under the influence are potential crimes. The University of Georgia warns students that sexual consent must be “voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest.” There are many problematic words in that — “imaginative”? Can’t we consent to sex unimaginatively, maybe by saying “Oh, go on then”? — but the most problematic is “sober.” Apparently sex must always be booze-free.

[…]

It’s hard to know what is most repulsive about this creeping criminalization of shit-faced sex. Is it the way it infantilizes women with its sexist implication that they are less capable of negotiating sexual encounters while drunk than men, hence the drunk man must shoulder responsibility for these apparently depraved shenanigans? This echoes the temperance movements of the late 19th century, which likewise warned dainty ladies that getting blotto would lead to sexual misadventure and downfall. Or is it the way it demonizes men, turning even the sweet, utterly non-violent young lad who has to have eight vodkas to buck up the courage to sleep with his beau into that most heinous of criminals: a rapist? Or is it the fact that its aim is to deprive us of one of the great hoots of human life: stupid sex, where you don’t know or care what is going on, where the condom is, or even if she’s on the Pill? That moment of madness, that instant when feeling takes over and your brain has a night off, that time when you can’t string a sentence together but somehow you can still have sex… seriously, students, you should try this.

The big problem is the shift in recent years from talking about rape to “sex without consent.” Rape is a violent word that describes a conscious act by a wicked man (usually) to defy a woman who says no and to force sex on her. Disgusting. Lock him up. But “sex without consent” is a totally different phrase: it’s more passive, signalling an act that doesn’t require criminal intent and which can cover everything from rape as it was once understood to drunk sex, drugged-up sex, or regretted sex. We’ve gone from punishing those who rape to casting a vast blanket of suspicion over anyone who has sex. But the fact is — and please don’t hate me — sex isn’t always 100 percent consensual. Especially after booze. Sometimes it’s instinctual, thoughtless, animalistic. Sometimes it just happens. It’s sex without consent — that is, without explicit, clearly stated, sober consent — but it ain’t rape. It’s sex.

The Anarchist Cookbook

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

I first found a copy of this book at a friend’s place in Toronto in the late 1970s and wondered a) how it had managed to get published in the first place and b) how it had found its way into Canada (of all places). In Harper’s Magazine, Gabriel Thompson talks about the author’s attempts to get the book out of circulation:

Written by nineteen-year-old William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook included sections such as “Converting a shotgun into a grenade launcher” and “How to make TNT.” The book’s message wasn’t subtle. In the forward, Powell expressed “a sincere hope that it may stir some stagnant brain cells into action.” The final sentence reads: “Freedom is based on respect, and respect must be earned by the spilling of blood.” When it was published, in January 1971, Powell was young and angry in a country where the young and angry had started to blow things up. But by the time the bomb detonated in the Bronx — marking the first of many connections between the book and real-world carnage — Powell had become a father and converted to Christianity and was having reservations about what promised to be his life’s most enduring legacy.

Powell is now a sixty-five-year-old grandfather. He still speaks with a slight English accent from a young childhood spent in London and has the professorial habit, before answering a question, of raising his eyeglasses to his forehead and pausing a beat to think. In 1979, he left the United States and has made his home in outposts throughout the world: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has become a respected leader within the field of international schooling, heading several schools before launching an organization called Education Across Frontiers, which seeks to support international students with special needs. A recent book of Powell’s is entitled Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Teacher. Much of his work has been funded by the U.S. Department of State.

When I first contacted Powell, he didn’t sound interested in revisiting the past. “The AC story is old and I’m not sure I can add much to it,” he wrote. This wasn’t surprising — he rarely speaks to the media. But as we continued to exchange emails and then talk over Skype, I learned that he had recently been working on a memoir. He later shared the manuscript, much of which deals with the circumstances that led him to his writing the book, along with his inability to fully get out from beneath its shadow. “The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years,” he wrote, “and has the annoying habit of popping into mind every time I am about to be absolutely certain about something.”

[…]

Powell’s politics were vaguely left but sharply antiauthoritarian. He considered the older Hancock, a dedicated anarchist, “a trail guide” to the chaos of the times, where people were taking to the streets, marching and publicly burning draft cards, with some promising to “bring the war home.” Hancock was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and told Powell about a plan the group once discussed to post recipes as broadsides throughout the city, instructing passersby on how to make everything from Molotov cocktails to LSD. Nothing came of it, but Powell filed the idea away in his head, intrigued by the possibility. Together, they attended a number of antiwar protests. At Grand Central Station, they watched police attack people with clubs. During the melee, officers shoved a Village Voice reporter into a glass door, bloodying his face. Hancock went out and purchased two motorcycle helmets for future demonstrations. The scene was turning heavy.

Dropping out of school meant that Powell was eligible for Vietnam, and he met three times with the Draft Board’s psychiatrist. While he’d been granted extensions — he showed up drunk and on speed and mouthed off during interviews — by 1969 he felt the walls closing in. “Get your ass prepared for Vietnam” is how he remembers the last interview had concluded. He didn’t believe in the war, didn’t want to move to Canada, and certainly didn’t want to spend time in prison. His personal life was slowly stabilizing: he had a girlfriend and, after a long struggle, finally kicked his speed habit. He purchased a used typewriter for twenty-five dollars and dreamed of becoming a writer. Yet the government seemed intent on tearing everything away by sending him across the globe to an early grave. (His fears were, in fact, unfounded: the government eventually classified him as 4-F, or unacceptable for military service, for reasons he never discovered.) On a return trip from a demonstration in Washington, D.C., Powell concluded that peaceful protest was too easily ignored to be effective; he decided instead to write a book that expanded on the broadside idea he’d heard from Hancock, teaching ordinary people how to blow things up.

March 8, 2015

The War of 1812 as a statist enabling event

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

On the right side of the border, the War of 1812 is viewed as a key event in the progress towards independence. On the south side of the border, the war is usually considered to be a minor error, but as Sheldon Richman points out, it was an inflection point in the road to bigger, more coercive government in the United States:

In 1918, having watched in horror as his Progressive friends gleefully jumped onto Woodrow Wilson’s war wagon, Randolph Bourne penned the immortal words: “War is the health of the state.” As he explained it,

    The republican State has almost no trappings to appeal to the common man’s emotions. What it has are of military origin, and in an unmilitary era such as we have passed through since the Civil War, even military trappings have been scarcely seen. In such an era the sense of the State almost fades out of the consciousness of men.

    With the shock of war, however, the State comes into its own again,…

    [I]n general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty—or mystic devotion to the State — becomes the major imagined human value.

An earlier group of Americans would have agreed, although they would not have shared Bourne’s horror. These are the men who sought war with England in 1812.

[…]

The retired founders were not the only ones who worried. They were joined by the men who still exercised power, especially Republicans James Madison and James Monroe, and such influential men of the next generation as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. As war with England approached, Republicans (as opposed to the Federalists) had no problem finding silver linings. War would not only inject government with a new dynamism—with important implications for trade policy, money and banking, and internal improvements — it would also give the people a shot of badly needed national spirit.

Thus the War of 1812 is an underrated turning point in American history, rivaling the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the two world wars. Indeed, the War of 1812 helped to launch the empire that manifested itself in those later conflicts. In its aftermath, America’s rulers could believe that their continental and global ambitions, backed by the army and a global navy, were fully realizable. They just needed a government equal to the task.

Every generation thinks they invented (non-vanilla) sex

Filed under: Health,History,Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Maggie McNeill can definitely confirm that your great-grandparents knew more about sex than you give them credit for:

group-sex-statueEvery generation thinks it invented sex, or at least non-vanilla sex. And I don’t just mean teenagers who are squicked out by the idea of their parents shagging, either; among vanilla folk and/or those outside the demimonde, the delusion seems to persist through life that nearly everybody who lived before a moving line (hovering like a will-o-the-wisp exactly at the year the believer reached puberty) only had missionary-position sex for the purpose of procreation. Even if the individual is familiar with the Kama Sutra, knows about classical Greek pederasty or has seen the menu of a Victorian brothel, these are likely to be dismissed as islands of kink in a vast sea of unsweetened vanilla custard stretching back into prehistory. Even doctors quoted in newspaper articles are wont to make incredibly stupid, totally wrong statements like “the concept of having oral sex is something that seems less obscure to you than it did to your parents or grandparents.” Well, my dears, I’m old enough to have given birth to many of you reading this, and I can assure you that oral sex was not remotely “obscure” to us in those long-ago and far-off days of the early ‘80s; nor was it “obscure” to any of the older men I trysted with in my late teens, many of whom are now old enough to be your grandfathers; nor was it “obscure” to my own grandparents’ generation, who came of age in the Roaring Twenties; nor to the 5.5% or more of the female population who worked as whores in every large city of the world in the 19th century, nor the 70% or more of the male population who had enjoyed their company at least once; nor to any of the long procession of harlots and clients stretching back to before busybodies invented the idea of policing other peoples’ sexuality. Know what else wasn’t “obscure” to them? Anal sex. BDSM. Role-playing. Exhibitionism & voyeurism. Homosexuality. Cuckolding. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Here’s a hint: most lawmakers have always been pompous ignoramuses too obsessed with telling other people what to do to actually have normal lives, so by the time they get around to banning something it’s a pretty safe bet the majority of everybody else in that culture over the age of 16 already knows about it, and many of them are doing it.

Chief among the popular sex acts that modern mythology pretends were “obscure” is masturbation, at least for women. The common delusion is that because a culture didn’t like to talk about something, it must not have existed; accordingly, the idea has arisen that Victorian girls were somehow so carefully controlled that they never discovered that touching oneself between the legs (or riding rocking horses) feels good. And because many women have difficulty reaching orgasm without some form of masturbation, that must mean that pre-20th century women all went around in a perpetual state of sexual frustration. In the past few years, the ridiculous myth has arisen that Victorian doctors actually gave women orgasms without knowing what they were, and that the vibrator was invented to speed up what they viewed as an odious task.

March 7, 2015

QotD: The “true meaning” of Starship Troopers

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

The central theme is expanded in many ways and many sub-propositions consistent with or corollary to the main one are shown: (a) that nothing worth having is ever free; it must be paid for; (b) that authority always carries with it responsibility, even if a man tries to refuse it; (c) that “natural rights” are not God-given but must be earned; (d) that, despite all H-bombs, biological warfare, push-buttons, ICBMs, or other Buck Rogers miracle weapons, victory in war is never cheap but must be purchased with the blood of heroes; (e) that human beings are not potatoes, not actuarial tables, but that each one is unique and precious … [sic] and that the strayed lamb is as precious as the ninety-and-nine in the fold; (f) that a man’s noblest act is to die for his fellow man, that such death is not suicidal, not wasted, but is the highest and most human form of survival behaviour.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Alice Dalgliesh 1959-02-03 (but marked “Never Sent”), quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

March 6, 2015

Las Vegas, home to “the country’s most developed surveillance state”

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

Megan McArdle recently visited Las Vegas and her reactions were recorded pretty much everywhere she went:

So this weekend, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. I’m not much of a gambler — I quit playing when they raise the minimums past $5 — but there’s enough of a theme-park aspect to the place that a few friends and I managed to have a terrific time. Two things immediately stand out to the libertarian visitor: In some ways, it has the most liberty of any place in the U.S. — and it also has the country’s most developed surveillance state.

First, the libertarian aspects: All sorts of things that aren’t allowed in normal cities are positively encouraged on the Vegas strip — gambling, obviously, but also things such as drinking and smoking in public. The casinos still allow smoking, and every bar is happy to give you a to-go cup if you don’t want to linger. I’m a little old for all-day drinking, but I did wander around an arcade with a frozen margarita, reveling in my newfound freedom.

[…]

Now for the creepy aspects: There are cameras everywhere. In the casinos, obviously, but also on the streetlights, the walls and every overhang. When I asked the cab driver whether there was much crime on the Strip, he laughed and pointed to the cameras. “No crime,” he said. “No point. Cameras everywhere.”

So I left Vegas with a question: Is the friendly police state the price of the freedom to drink and gamble with abandon? Whatever your position on vice industries, they are heavily associated with crime, even where they are legal. Drinking makes people both violent and vulnerable; gambling presents an almost irresistible temptation to cheating and theft. Las Vegas has Disneyfied libertinism. But to do so, it employs armies of security guards and acres of surveillance cameras that are always and everywhere recording your every move.

This is a question I’ve asked myself before, funnily enough, when arguing with anarcho-capitalists. For those who do not follow the ins and outs of libertarian sectarianism, anarcho-capitalists want to replace the state with private institutions, with insurance companies and private security forces substituting for most current government functions. But when I’ve probed into the actual mechanics of this, I’ve often found that anarcho-capitalists end up describing something unpleasantly like a police state, only not called “the government” — like giving insurance companies and private police forces the ability to perform warrantless at-will searches in order to prosecute crimes. One way or another, society is going to protect itself against theft and violence, rape and murder, and putting those tools in the hands of private parties causes much the same trouble as they do in the hands of the police.

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