Quotulatiousness

April 29, 2016

QotD: American liberty

The American of today, in fact, probably enjoys less personal liberty than any other man of Christendom, and even his political liberty is fast succumbing to the new dogma that certain theories of government are virtuous and lawful, and others abhorrent and felonious. Laws limiting the radius of his free activity multiply year by year: It is now practically impossible for him to exhibit anything describable as genuine individuality, either in action or in thought, without running afoul of some harsh and unintelligible penalty. It would surprise no impartial observer if the motto “In God we trust” were one day expunged from the coins of the republic by the Junkers at Washington, and the far more appropriate word, “verboten,” substituted. Nor would it astound any save the most romantic if, at the same time, the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas-relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet. Moreover, this gradual (and, of late, rapidly progressive) decay of freedom goes almost without challenge; the American has grown so accustomed to the denial of his constitutional rights and to the minute regulation of his conduct by swarms of spies, letter-openers, informers and agents provocateurs that he no longer makes any serious protest.

H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind, 1920.

April 6, 2016

QotD: “Cultural appropriation”

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

The whole notion that culture can be “appropriated” in any negative sense is one of the most absurd notions being bandied about (and that is really saying something given the carnival of absurdities that passes for critical thinking these days).

Such ideas about culture are profoundly fascist in origin, a collectivist notion that somehow culture and identity must be preserved in a “pure” state from outside influences and somehow “belongs” to an ethno-national grouping. It is very much akin intellectually to abominating miscegenation. Yet strangely the same people who spout such arrant nonsense tend not to picket performances featuring oriental ballet dancers or black opera singers (as well they shouldn’t). Sorry (not really) but the future is cosmopolitan and voluntary. I will take whatever aspects of any culture I think are worth incorporating and there is not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me.

Perry de Havilland, “No one owns a culture”, Samizdata, 2016-03-26.

April 1, 2016

QotD: The real purpose of the TSA

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

The big pretend that costuming and repurposing mall food court workers as “security” will be anything approaching that has fooled the lazy American public that takes its civil liberties for granted.

They miss most of the items in DHL tests of their detection abilities, and really, it is clear that this is not security but a jobs program for unskilled earners, a cash program for former government employees like Michael Chertoff and the companies they are associated with, and obedience training for the American public — to be docile in the face of their rights being yanked from them.

Amy Alkon, “The Tragedy In Belgium Shows Up The Utter Fallacy That The TSA Will Keep You Safe”, Advice Goddess Blog, 2016-03-22.

March 31, 2016

QotD: The radical soul of science fiction

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

SF fans and writers have always instinctively understood this. Thus the genre’s long celebration of individualist anti-politics; thus its fondness for voluntarism and markets over state action, and for storylines in which (as in Heinlein’s archetypal The Man Who Sold The Moon) scientific breakthrough and and free-enterprise economics blend into a seamless whole. These stances are not historical accidents, they are structural imperatives that follow from the lust for possibility. Ideological fashions come and go, and the field inevitably rediscovers itself afterwards as a literature of freedom.

This analysis should put permanently to rest the notion that hard SF is a conservative literature in any sense. It is, in fact, deeply and fundamentally radical — the literature that celebrates not merely science but science as a permanent revolution, as the final and most inexorable foe of all fixed power relationships everywhere.

Earlier, I cited the following traits of SF’s libertarian tradition: ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that values knowing how things work and treats all political ideologizing with suspicion. All should now be readily explicable. These are the traits that mark the enemies of the enemies of the future.

The partisans of “Radical Hard SF” are thus victims of a category error, an inability to see beyond their own political maps. By jamming SF’s native libertarianism into a box labeled “right wing” or “conservative” they doom themselves to misunderstanding the deepest imperatives of the genre.

The SF genre and libertarianism will both survive this mistake quite handily. They were symbiotic before libertarianism defined itself as a distinct political stance and they have co-evolved ever since. If four failed revolutions against Campbellian SF have not already demonstrated the futility of attempting to divorce them, I’m certain the future will.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

March 20, 2016

Apple software engineers threaten to quit rather than crack encryption for the government

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

It’s only a rumour rather than a definite stand, but it is a hopeful one for civil liberties:

The spirit of anarchy and anti-establishment still runs strong at Apple. Rather than comply with the government’s requests to develop a so-called “GovtOS” to unlock the iPhone 5c of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, The New York Times‘ half-dozen sources say that some software engineers may quit instead. “It’s an independent culture and a rebellious one,” former Apple engineering manager Jean-Louis Gassée tells NYT. “If the government tries to compel testimony or action from these engineers, good luck with that.”

Former senior product manager for Apple’s security and privacy division Window Snyder agrees. “If someone attempts to force them to work on something that’s outside their personal values, they can expect to find a position that’s a better fit somewhere else.”

In another instance of Apple’s company culture clashing with what the federal government demands, the development teams are apparently relatively siloed off from one another. It isn’t until a product gets closer to release that disparate teams like hardware and software engineers come together for finalizing a given gizmo. NYT notes that the team of six to 10 engineers needed to develop the back door doesn’t currently exist and that forcing any sort of collaboration would be incredibly difficult, again, due to how Apple works internally.

March 6, 2016

QotD: The difference between liberals and libertarians

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

Until about 1910, in both England and America, a liberal could be defined as someone who believed in limited government under the rule of law, and who opposed state regulation of interactions between consenting adults. Since then, the word has been applied to various kinds of statists – some of them rather totalitarian. One day, it may come back to us. But there really is no point in sharing a word with people like Nick Clegg and Hillary Clinton. For this reason, we grabbed the word libertarian back in the 1960s. It had been coined by, and was first attached to, leftist anarchists in the 19th century. However, they did little with it after about 1917, and it was almost bona vacantia when we took it up.

There is a further difference between us and the old liberals. Twentieth century statism was so frightening that many of us lost all faith in even a limited state of the 19th century kind. I don’t know what proportion of self-defined modern libertarian are anarchists. But it might easily be half.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

February 27, 2016

In Scotland, singing a song can get you sent to jail

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Religion, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Spiked, Kevin Rooney tells the tale of a young soccer fan who faces jail time for joining hundreds of other fans in singing a song:

Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.

So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.

Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’

Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise — the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

February 9, 2016

How John Perry Barlow might have revised his 20-year-old Declaration

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

From a short interview in The Economist:

I probably wouldn’t have imitated the grandiloquent style of a notorious former slave holder. And I would have been a bit more humble about the “Citizens of Cyberspace” creating social contracts to deal with bad behavior online. The fact remains there is not much one can do about bad behavior online except to take faith that the vast majority of what goes on there is not bad behavior. Yeah, I hate spam, and viruses, and worms, and surveillance [by America’s National Security Agency], but the fact remains that if you can censor one of these bad behaviors, you’ve endowed yourself with the ability to censor almost anything you don’t like online. This is not an ability I wish to extend to any existing government in the physical world. If we assert it, what’s to prevent Saudi Arabia from doing the same.

And I would make it more obviously clear that I knew that cyberspace was not sublimely removed from the physical world, with which it has exactly the same relationship that the mind has with the body: deeply interdependent but qualitatively different. I think that point often got lost.

Over the decades, it has been continuously fashionable to make a straw man of my declaration, to hoist it up as the sort of woolly-headed hippie nonsense you’d expect from techno-utopians like me. This is done largely by people who have never read it, or take a strong interest in believing that government is about to come stomping into town, there to “civilize cyberspace.

February 4, 2016

QotD: How to use your vote correctly

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

I won’t advise you on whether or not to vote. Libertarians are split pretty evenly between “Don’t vote, you are just giving authoritarianism your blessing”, “Vote Libertarian because it is a useful protest and message”, and “Vote for the major party candidate who has a hope of getting elected who is least bad.” I will leave parsing all that to you.

However, if you do vote, I have one bit of advice I always give on propositions: Your default vote for any proposition (as it should be for legislators) should be “no”. If its purpose is unclear, if you are not sure of the full implications, if you don’t know how it is funded, if you haven’t thought about unintended consequences, if you haven’t heard the pitch from both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps — then vote no. Also beware that many Propositions that seem outwardly liberty-enhancing are actually Trojan Horses meant to be the opposite. Vote yes only if you have thought through all this and you are comfortable the new law would have a net positive benefit.

Warren Meyer, “Voting Advice”, Coyote Blog, 2014-11-03.

February 3, 2016

Brace yourself for the predictable bullshit about “trafficked” prostitutes at the Super Bowl

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

In Reason, J.D. Tuccille explains why the usual media coverage of underage/trafficked/sex slave prostitutes being shipped in to cater to the depraved masses at the Super Bowl are so much hysterical nonsense:

When the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos face off in San Francisco, experts warn us to expect Cam Newton and Peyton Manning to face burial under a tidal wave of human flesh — not the opposing team’s defensive line, as you might expect, but a writhing mass of sex slaves inundating the Super Bowl and the Bay Area.

Or so government officials and moral panic types would have it.

“Super Bowl host cities typically see a jump not just in tourists, but also in some crimes, including human trafficking and prostitution,” San Francisco’s KGO warned earlier this month on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, an annual event held every January 11.

“The good news is that we are continuing our efforts to fight human trafficking,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said the same day. “The bad news is that the problem continues to increase.”

Gascón made his comments at a press conference deliberately tied to the big game, in anticipation of a wave of “trafficked” sex workers descending on the area.

That term – not “prostitution,” but “trafficking” — is a deliberate choice, selected to confuse people accustomed to the plain language established over the long history of the buying and selling of sexual services. The reason why is obvious. While the trade in sex was once frowned upon in itself, that’s no longer necessarily the case. A YouGov poll published this past September found Americans almost evenly divided, with 44 percent favoring legalization of prostitution, and 46 percent opposed. That’s up from 38 percent support for legalization in 2012. Amnesty International is among the organizations seeking to recognize people’s right to, in the organization’s words, “the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”

Opponents of commercial sex find themselves on the wrong side of shifting public opinion, so they pull a little rhetorical sleight of hand to get around that inconvenient word “consensual.” The implication of the “trafficking” terminology is that prostitutes are slaves — and they’re being hustled off to a major sporting event near you.

“Coercion is much rarer than ‘trafficking’ fetishists pretend it is,” insists Reason contributor and former call girl Maggie McNeill. “The term ‘trafficking’ is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative.”

January 31, 2016

“To be honest, the spooks love PGP”

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

If nothing else, it’s a needle in their acres of data haystacks. Use of any kind of encryption doesn’t necessarily let CSIS and their foreign friends read your communications, but it alerts them that you think you’ve got something to say that they shouldn’t read:

Although the cops and Feds wont stop banging on and on about encryption – the spies have a different take on the use of crypto.

To be brutally blunt, they love it. Why? Because using detectable encryption technology like PGP, Tor, VPNs and so on, lights you up on the intelligence agencies’ dashboards. Agents and analysts don’t even have to see the contents of the communications – the metadata is enough for g-men to start making your life difficult.

“To be honest, the spooks love PGP,” Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, told the Usenix Enigma conference in San Francisco on Wednesdy. “It’s really chatty and it gives them a lot of metadata and communication records. PGP is the NSA’s friend.”

Weaver, who has spent much of the last decade investigating NSA techniques, said that all PGP traffic, including who sent it and to whom, is automatically stored and backed up onto tape. This can then be searched as needed when matched with other surveillance data.

Given that the NSA has taps on almost all of the internet’s major trunk routes, the PGP records can be incredibly useful. It’s a simple matter to build a script that can identify one PGP user and then track all their contacts to build a journal of their activities.

Even better is the Mujahedeen Secrets encryption system, which was released by the Global Islamic Media Front to allow Al Qaeda supporters to communicate in private. Weaver said that not only was it even harder to use than PGP, but it was a boon for metadata – since almost anyone using it identified themselves as a potential terrorist.

“It’s brilliant!” enthused Weaver. “Whoever it was at the NSA or GCHQ who invented it give them a big Christmas bonus.”

January 18, 2016

“Prohibition, in its essence, was a deeply progressive movement”

Filed under: Books, History, Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Joseph Bottum reviews Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol:

We all know the story: At the beginning of the 20th century, a handful of killjoys, prudes, and pinch-faced puritans began to campaign against liquor. And in 1920, against all odds, they managed to sneak through a law that banned alcohol in the United States. Thirteen years, it took, before we managed to rid ourselves of the absurd regulation, as the corrupting money of gangsters and the intransigence of true-believers — the famous pro-regulation combination of Bootleggers and Baptists — colluded to keep the nation in loony land.

At last, however, we did return to sanity. The forces of right-thinking liberalism in America finally shook off the influence of its nativist bigots and pleasure-hating schoolmarms, and Prohibition was overturned in 1933 to great celebration — celebration so great, so overwhelming, that never again have the conservative know-nothings and religious troglodytes succeeded in forcing the nation to take such an enormous step backward.

It’s a great story, both a cautionary tale in its beginning and uplifting proof of liberation in its conclusion. The only trouble is that it’s completely wrong. Is there another American story, another account of a major American era, that has been so completely hijacked and turned against its actual history?

The truth is that Prohibition, in its essence, was a deeply progressive movement. Thus, for example, the forces of women’s liberation backed Prohibition — and the suffragettes were backed in turn by the Temperance Union, whose support (in the certainty that women would vote to outlaw liquor) helped gain women the vote. The goo-goos, the good-government types, similarly aided Prohibition, seeking to purge the rows of rowdy saloons that cluttered the major cities of America — and they enlisted the help of the Prohibitionists to create a national income tax, ending the federal government’s dependence on liquor taxes.

The health fanatics, the social-service providers in the churches and city governments, the Protestant elite of the Social Gospel movement: Prohibition was supported by majorities in all the social groups who today would be faithful allies of the left. Combine that with rural Protestants, who saw the big cities as dens of Satan, and nativists, who saw drunkenness as an Irish sin, and Prohibition was a moral juggernaut rolling through the nation — as unfathomable as it was unstoppable.

January 7, 2016

QotD: The right to record police officers

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

Some advice for the beleaguered and backward states of Illinois, Massachusetts, et al.: If police are not obliged to ask our permission before recording their public encounters with us, then we should not be obliged to ask their permission before recording our public encounters with them. That states generally dominated by so-called progressives should be so insistent upon asymmetric police powers and special privileges for government’s armed agents is surprising only to those who do not understand the basic but seldom-spoken truth about progressivism: The welfare state is the police state.

Why Illinois Republicans are on board is another matter, bringing up the eternal question that conservatives can expect to be revisiting frequently after January: What, exactly, is the point of the Republican party?

Illinois is attempting to resurrect what the state’s politicians pretend is a privacy-protecting anti-surveillance law; in reality, it is the nearly identical reincarnation of the state’s earlier anti-recording law, the main purpose of which was to charge people who record police encounters with a felony, an obvious and heavy-handed means of discouraging such recording. Illinois’s state supreme court threw the law out on the grounds that police do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when carrying out their duties, though police and politicians argued the contrary — apparently, some part of the meaning of the phrase “public servants” eludes them. The new/old law is, by design, maddeningly vague, and will leave Illinois residents unsure of which encounters may be legally recorded and which may not.

Here is the solution: Pass a law explicitly recognizing the right of citizens to record police officers. It is important to note that such a law would recognize a right rather than create one: Government has no legitimate power to forbid free people from using cameras, audio-recording devices, or telephones in public to document the business of government employees. The statute would only clarify that Americans — even in Illinois — already are entitled to that right.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Prairie State Police State”, National Review, 2014-12-10.

December 24, 2015

So what about that Mens Rea stuff anyway?

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

Scott Greenfield on an important legal quirk:

The inclusion of a specific mens rea requirement is common in criminal laws. For example, first degree murder usually requires the “intent to kill,” whereas lesser degree murders or manslaughters may only require “recklessness.”

So why do some laws lack a mens rea requirement? They tend (though are hardly so limited) to be regulatory laws that are backed up by criminal sanctions. There are tens of thousands of laws that demand people do or not do some remarkably inconsequential act, such as not throwing undersized fish over the side of a boat.

The way Congress compels compliance with these trivial regulations is to enforce it with a criminal sanction, such as “failure to do X is a felony punishable by up to seven million years imprisonment.” And there are, literally, tens of thousands of opportunities to visit Club Fed.

These laws have been subject to strict liability, not because they are so evil and harmful, as they are almost invariably malum prohibitum laws, wrongs only because Congress says so, not because they reflect some inherent immorality. The problem, as was made clear in the fish case or the Gibson guitar case, is that no one knows all the tens of thousands of regulations the government enacts, creating a trap for the unwary when there is no rational reason to believe that conduct is wrong, no less criminal.

Of course, as the DoJ points out, the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” (except if you’re a cop) has been around for centuries. What hasn’t been around for centuries, however, are the tens of thousands of trivial regulations that can land someone’s butt in prison just as well as a nice drug conspiracy. So Main Justice didn’t show Sensenbrenner’s bill the love.

    If the bill passes, the result will be clear, said Melanie Newman, the Justice Department spokeswoman. “Countless defendants who caused harm would escape criminal liability by arguing that they did not know their conduct was illegal” she said.

By “countless,” she means too few to count. Or she means nothing other than a new law would limit prosecutors to only those defendants who deserved to be prosecuted. That would cause sad prosecutor tears.

QotD: Ayn Rand’s view of the commercialization of Christmas

Filed under: Business, Economics, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ayn Rand, the poet-theorist of capitalism, had a clever Lucy-like line about the “commercialization of Christmas”: she said it was the best thing about Christmas. “The gift-buying … stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure,” she said in 1976. “And the street decorations put up by department stores … provide the city with a spectacular display which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us.”

Rand saw exchange as the ideal model for all human relationships. Sometimes the free-marketeers who have borrowed her style and her ideas are accused of heartlessness for this attitude. Things like holidays and families, they say, should be shielded from the supposedly brutalizing effects of mere trade. What one notices about these arguments is that they smuggle in the notions of exchange and mutual advantage by the back door: everyone benefits selfishly from having havens from selfishness.

What one notices about the people who make these arguments, on the other hand, is that they have an excuse for not being attuned to giving as much as they get in personal relationships or social environments. If you’re exchange- or trade-minded, you will usually be asking yourself whether you’re paying your parents back well for raising you, doing right by your friends, being a good guest when hospitality is extended, observing implied social contracts correctly.

As Rand said, there is a Christmas ideal of “goodwill toward men” that is connected with all these things, and not exclusive to Christianity. The gift-giving part of Christmas, the part where silly mammals rummage in the marketplace trying to please and surprise one another by selecting shiny material objects, has swallowed the part in which we celebrate rescue from hell. It’s a good thing, Charlie Brown. Or a very entertaining sort of racket, at any rate.

Colby Cosh, “Good grief! The commercialism of Christmas isn’t so bad”, Maclean’s, 2014-12-25.

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