Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Saturday, December 30, 2006

    The Good Shepherd

    Oh my God this movie is dull. Seriously, I've had more excitement while unconscious. Pass on it if you can, rent it on DVD only if you can't sleep.

    Posted by Tom, 12/30/2006 4:56:38 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, December 28, 2006


    Don't believe the hype.

    You've probably heard of the reviewers who are all in a tizzy about the violence, the gore, and the heavy-handed cultural and religious overtones. Well, I'm here to tell you... it's all overblown. Violent? Gory? Overbearing? I can think of half a dozen movies right off the bat which were far worse in each of these categories. The Passion of the Christ was far more graphic. Robocop was more violent. Any Holocaust-themed movie was far more disturbing. Want heavy-handed morality plays? Watch Finding Nemo.

    No, all of these complaints are basically unfounded, when considered against other films from the last couple of years. Worse, they miss the point. Apocalypto is boring and lame.

    I was not particularly enamored of the main character, mostly because in his first scene he's a real jerk to his brother, playing a mean-spirited prank on him. My concerns for his survival were mainly motivated by his wife and son, who were hiding and waiting for his return.

    Beyond that, I have a real hatred of plots that revolve around coincidence. I despise it when the hero or any other character is saved from certain death by nothing more than blind luck. Gibson commits this sin not once, but twice, AND allows the character to survive being gut-shot with a frickin' broadhead in a time when the best medical care available consisted of rubbing bark on boo-boos. I want characters to survive as the result of purposeful action, not because the writer couldn't think of anything better than a thinly disguised deus ex machina. Twice.

    If you absolutely must see it, wait until it's in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, or on a dollar rental special at the video store. Don't pay full price.

    Posted by Tom, 12/28/2006 6:20:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 27, 2006

    Home again

    Family's fun, but there's nothing like being back in your own space. The chairs are more comfortable, the shower's just the right temperature, the allergens are under control, and most importantly...


    It's the little things.

    Posted by Tom, 12/27/2006 2:46:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Eragon, Revisited

    I've just finished reading Eragon, after having been inspired to do so by the movie. I have to say, my initial impression has been proven correct: the script writer had a serious drug habit.

    While not the best work of fantasy I've ever read, Eragon is a strong showing, especially given the author's youth and inexperience. The story is solid, though occasionally requiring the reader to refer to the included world map as Eragon zigzags all over the place in search of his destiny. Some of the continuity feels a little off, and Eragon's travel speeds seem to vary wildly, if the map's scale is to be believed. Fortunately, none of this seriously detracts from the overall tale being told, and I found myself engrossed.

    The book is divided into a multitude of chapters, some of them extremely short. At first I found it annoying, as it seemed the author couldn't figure out how to write a decent transition between scenes. After a while, however, it grew on me. The short chapters made the book easy to digest while on vacation, when one only has a few minutes at a time to sit and read before being interrupted by the next activity.

    Overall, I was impressed, and am looking forward to picking up the next chapter in Eragon's story, apparently titled Eldest. As for the moviemakers and their hideous jumble bearing only passing resemblance to the book, I shudder to think that Christopher Paolini may be going the way of Stephen King or Robert Heinlein when it comes to adaptations of his work. I urge him to wrest control back before it's too late.

    Posted by Tom, 12/27/2006 2:33:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, December 25, 2006

    Merry Christmas!

    That's me in front, licking the guy's face.

    Posted by Tom, 12/25/2006 5:18:46 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    The Probability Broach

    I've been reading this in graphic novel form over at Big Head Press, who is posting it a page at a time on their website. There's quite a bit that is science-fictiony, and the history of the "alternate earth" differs radically from our own.

    In it, America fought 2 revolutions: the first against the British, and the second against the federalists when they tried to re-impose government. The War of 1812? Civil War? WWI? WWII? Korea? Vietnam? Never happened. Monkeys & such were taught sign language a century earlier than in our world, and by the time they got up to speed, they stepped up and demanded equal rights.

    The full Austrian vision is on display, as people make more money than they can really spend, and lack of interference in business makes goods cheap and abundant, with brief explanations for most of it. The graphic novel is of course skimpy on the details, being a comic book and all, but it's a great introductory work so far (only 100 pages have been posted to date, out of's reported 192).

    Anyway, check it out. I'm certainly enjoying it.

    Posted by Tom, 12/21/2006 6:58:09 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    I can't believe I missed this

    I just now caught on to Heroes, NBC's drama about ordinary people discovering they have superpowers. All the current episodes are available online, and after watching the first one, I'm so totally hooked I can't stand it. I've already set the DVR to snag every episode available, and it looks like there's a marathon New Year's Day to catch everyone up on the storyline. This is truly great stuff.

    Posted by Tom, 12/20/2006 6:21:48 PM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What is a libertarian?

    I was recently asked what it means to be a libertarian. Here are the responses of some famous and not-so-famous people:

    One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation. -- Thomas B. Reed (1886)

    If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all. -- Jacob Hornberger (1995)

    There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him. -- Robert Heinlein

    When the government's boot is on your throat, whether it is a left boot or a right boot is of no consequence. -- Gary Lloyd

    Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. -- H.L. Mencken

    Where morality is present, laws are unnecessary. Without morality, laws are unenforceable. -- Anonymous

    Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. -- Barry Goldwater (1964)

    Liberty is not a means to a political end. It is itself the highest political end. -- Lord Acton

    Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property. -- Lysander Spooner

    In order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning, and cruelty. -- Leo Tolstoy

    The desire to rule is the mother of heresies. -- St. John Chrysostom

    It is not the responsibility of the government or the legal system to protect a citizen from himself. -- Justice Casey Percell

    Give me liberty or give me death! -- Patrick Henry

    When important issues affecting the life of an individual are decided by somebody else, it makes no difference to the individual whether that somebody else is a king, a dictator, or society at large. -- James Taggart (1992)

    The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another. -- Milton Friedman

    There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. -- P.J. O'Rourke (1993)

    There are just two rules of governance in a free society: Mind your own business. Keep your hands to yourself. -- P.J. O'Rourke (1993)

    Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others. -- William Allen White

    Whoever prefers life to death, happiness to suffering, well-being to misery must defend without compromise private ownership in the means of production. -- Ludwig von Mises (1920)

    Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? -- Thomas Jefferson (1801)

    The difference between libertarianism and socialism is that libertarians will tolerate the existence of a socialist community, but socialists can't tolerate a libertarian community. -- David D. Boaz (1997)

    We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill (1903)

    Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. -- George Bernard Shaw

    Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H.L. Mencken

    Liberals want the government to be your Mommy. Conservatives want government to be your Daddy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult. -- Andre Marrou

    Why doesn't everybody just leave everybody else the hell alone? -- Jimmy Durante

    What's *just* has been debated for centuries but let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn *belongs* to you – and why? -- Walter Williams

    No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: "But what would you replace it with?" When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with? -- Thomas Sowell

    One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license. -- P.J. O'Rourke

    So long as we need to control other people, however benign our motives, we are captive to that need. In giving them freedom, we free ourselves. -- Marilyn Ferguson

    If men are good, you don't need government; if men are evil or ambivalent, you don't dare have one. -- Robert LeFevre

    The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. -- Ayn Rand

    The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within. -- Mohandas Gandhi

    It rankles me when somebody tries to force somebody to do something. -- John Wayne

    The proper direction of man's thought is not toward the creation of new laws for government, but toward the acceptance of every person's moral dignity. -- Edmund Yates

    One who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence. Coercion is inhuman. -- Mohandas Gandhi

    Wealth comes from successful individual efforts to please one's fellow man … that's what competition is all about: "outpleasing" your competitors to win over the consumers. -- Walter Williams

    Live and let live. -- Friedrich von Schiller

    It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. -- Emiliano Zapta, Mexican revolutionary

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. -- The Declaration of Independence

    Everything government touches turns to crap. -- Ringo Starr

    A government is not legitimate merely because it exists. -- Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

    Man must have the right of choice, even to choose wrong, if he shall ever learn to choose right. -- Josiah C. Wedgwood

    If you would not confront your neighbor and demand his money at the point of a gun to solve every new problem that may appear in your life, you should not allow the government to do it for you. -- William E. Simon

    My answer: being a libertarian means that I refuse to use government as a solution to problems. It takes intelligence and creativity to find free-market solutions; aggressive force requires only a callous disregard for one's fellow man.

    Posted by Tom, 12/20/2006 6:40:59 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006


    Reason has an interesting article about the Right vs. the Left when it comes to charity, based on a study by professor Arthur Brooks at Syracuse University:

    Brooks shows that those who say they strongly oppose redistribution by government to remedy income inequality give over 10 times more to charity than those who strongly support government intervention, with a difference of $1,627 annually versus $140 to all causes. The average donation to educational causes among redistributionists was eight dollars per year, compared with $140 from their ideological opposites, and $96 annually to health care causes from free marketeers versus $11 from egalitarians.


    The people who give the least are the young, especially young liberals. Brooks writes that "young liberals—perhaps the most vocally dissatisfied political constituency in America today—are one of the least generous demographic groups out there. In 2004, self-described liberals younger than thirty belonged to one-third fewer organizations in their communities than young conservatives. In 2002, they were 12 percent less likely to give money to charities, and one-third less likely to give blood."

    I wonder if there would be a way to check on libertarians, but I'm actually fairly certain that libertarians give less, due to the broad antipathy towards "conventional morals" you find in this demographic. That's why I spend so much time harping on charity and philanthropy -- I'm convinced we're probably between liberals and conservatives in our giving, and I want us to be on top.

    Posted by Tom, 12/19/2006 6:48:34 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    Great stuff

    Here's a hilarious video about how Microsoft absolutely positively and under no circumstances whatsoever stole any ideas from Macintosh OS X for Windows Vista.

    Posted by Tom, 12/18/2006 8:36:20 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Unconventional thinking

    I'm a big fan of thinking unconventionally, even when the subject is as arbitrary as playing a video game.

    On Saturday morning, I was playing some World of Warcraft with a friend and my wife. We decided to get a 5-man group together to do one of the dungeon instances, called Stratholme, which is a town infested by undead. The main "boss" is a guy named Baron Rivendare, and he's kind of a tough fight.

    Anyway, I started advertising on the chat channel that we needed 2 more for "Strat". A couple of guild members responded, and wanted to know what we had in the group.

    "Two paladins and a druid."

    "No way dude. You're never going to make it. Count me out."


    "Dude, you can't do Strat with 2 pallies. 1 is good, but you have to have a warrior and a priest. Priests can shackle undead, and you can't survive Strat without shackle. Ideal group is warrior, priest, paladin, mage, and maybe a rogue. Baron will own you."

    I neglected to respond to this comment, because I was online to play, not bicker. The other guy who responded decided to join anyway, and we eventually found a fifth. Final group: 2 Paladins, Druid, Mage, Warlock.

    Not only did we kill Baron Rivendare, but we never wiped the whole group, and several said that it was the easiest run they'd ever done.

    Fast forward to Sunday morning. A guild member needed to do a particularly bothersome quest called "Jailbreak!" in another dungeon, Blackrock Depths. Again, conventional wisdom says you have to do this with a mix of several different classes. Our group: 3 Paladins, 2 Druids. Again, we sailed right through.

    I was a big fan of the "backbone theory" of Priest + Warrior for a good group. I'm changing my mind. Yes, you still need a healer, and you need someone to "tank" (take all the beatings the monsters dish out). But you don't have to have a rigid formula to make that happen.

    I'm starting to think I want to do all my dungeon runs with unconventional groups. It makes you think your way around problems, rather than mindlessly bulldozing through them. Screw people whose minds are locked in a box. Give me people with enough patience and freedom of thought to try it a new way.

    The same goes for business. People who don't accept the limitations that other people put on them, and are not afraid of failure, are the ones who make the giant leaps forward that produce miracles. Think outside the box whenever possible. That's where the magic happens.

    Posted by Tom, 12/18/2006 6:45:06 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    In China, where gun control is almost total, they've still got 194 illegal factories making guns, presumably for sale to criminals. And that's just the ones they found. Kinda shoots holes in the logic that says making them illegal is the same as making them unavailable.

    Posted by Tom, 12/18/2006 6:18:29 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, December 17, 2006


    There's a good hero story here somewhere, I just know it. It must be hiding behind the bewildering script, the utterly incomprehensible time compression, and the occasionally dull dialogue.

    Pros: It will make you want to read the book, and the dragon visualization is absolutely awesome.

    Cons: The script is horrible. There's this bizarre time-compression scheme going on that doesn't make any sense. The dragon grows inexplicably from baby to adult literally in flight, without any explanation whatsoever. And then there's the part where we're told over and over again that the dragon "isn't old enough to breathe fire", and literally overnight apparently becomes old enough. Anyone who complains that their kids "grow up so fast" should be glad they don't have a dragon.

    Verdict: 2 stars. I wanted to like this movie, and the viewing, while disappointing, at least didn't kill the desire to like it. It's worth seeing the effects on the big screen, but the story has been mangled so much you can't figure out what is the original vision of the novel's author and what is the fevered ramblings of the crackhead they hired to adapt the screenplay. I'm looking forward to reading the book and getting the real story.

    Posted by Tom, 12/17/2006 7:44:43 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Deja Vu

    Deja Vu is a cop drama with a minor sci-fi twist. The government has built a machine that allows them to look at a point exactly 4 days in the past, and police are using this machine to try and discover the identity of the person who bombed a ferry full of people. We're off to a good start.

    Unfortunately the movie begins to break down at about the time that "looking through time" moves to "traveling through time". The time theory is kept pretty tight until about the last 15 minutes, at which point it starts to severely unravel, and you're wondering what the heck is going on. Cause and effect are thrown out the window in favor of a Hollywood ending, and we roll credits.

    So it winds up being a "not bad, not good" film. It could have been better, but it also could have been much worse. Denzel Washington does the Denzel Washington "thing", with that peculiar interrogation and investigative style that makes him seem like a black Columbo. For me, the worst part is that he plays a BATFE agent. Is it just me, or has Denzel gone into the business of making the government look good? Lately he always seems to play the heroic law enforcer, selflessly looking out for the little people, wanting us to believe that it's only in an alternate universe where people get beaten down by the Man. I suppose Training Day was an exception. I just wish he'd find some other archetype to play. Why can't he do the Will Smith thing and play the heroic businessman for a change?

    Anyway, I'd call the movie 3 stars out of 5. It's worth watching, but possibly worth watching on DVD as opposed to at the theater.

    Posted by Tom, 12/17/2006 6:51:57 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Upcoming movies

    Well, I've got some movies waiting for me at the theater. Here they are, in no particular order:

    Hopes: A good fantasy film, maybe even a great one.
    Fears: Dungeons and Dragons
    Mood: Cautiously optimistic.

    The Pursuit of Happyness
    Hopes: A great story about daring to aim high and do what it takes to succeed
    Fears: An overbearing, overacted tearjerker
    Mood: Confident

    Hopes: It won't suck
    Fears: Mel Gibson is turning into Kevin Costner (who is getting better with The Guardian, I must admit)
    Mood: Kissing 8 bucks goodbye

    Rocky Balboa
    Hopes: A good endcap on the franchise
    Fears: A hackneyed regurgitation of all the previous movies
    Mood: Cringing slightly

    I need to start thinking about my "top 5 movies of 2006", coming after Christmas.

    Posted by Tom, 12/15/2006 7:02:12 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Republicans and libertarians

    Reason has an excellent article posted about how the Republicans have completely misread the libertarian vote.

    “The libertarian West,” Hotline Editor Chuck Todd wrote in a post-election column, “is a region that is more up for grabs than it should be. And it’s because the Republican Party has grown more religious and more pro-government, which turns off these 'leave me alone,' small-government libertarian Republicans.”

    As I noted previously, libertarians were almost certainly responsible for getting Jon Tester elected, among other election-day influences.

    I honestly believe that one or the other of the two major parties could dominate the political landscape if it just started espousing libertarian ideals. Unfortunately, freedom isn't in vogue in the beltway, so instead we get to try shepherding our freedoms between the ravaging influences of a modern-day Scylla and Charibdis. What fun!

    Posted by Tom, 12/14/2006 7:05:46 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth commence!

    Predictably, the anti-gun municipalities in Ohio are all in a tizzy over the veto override on the state's new pre-emption law:

    Cities upset by veto override
    Gun veto, city ban both tossed
    Anti-gun mayors contemplate legal challenge to Preemption Law
    Media promotes anti-gun poll to accompany veto override news
    Ohioans Overrule Gov. Taft
    Intellectually Bankrupt Arguments Pouring In
    Sore Losers Just Don't Get It

    And of course, the tin pot dictators in these little fiefdoms are already planning a lawsuit to protect their ability to continue oppressing people. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Posted by Tom, 12/14/2006 7:03:02 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Stickin' it to the man

    Ohio's legislature has defied their governor by overriding his veto and protecting the right of self-defense for all citizens, not just those who live and work outside anti-gun municipalities. Occasionally, legislators do something right for a change.

    More links:

    Toledo Blade
    Ohioans for Concealed Carry
    Volokh Conspiracy
    Buckeye Firearms Association

    Suck it, Taft, and good riddance!!!

    Posted by Tom, 12/13/2006 7:09:33 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006


    I absolutely cannot believe the idiocy of Verizon. You just have to read this article and listen to the audio. It will have you tearing your hair out.

    Posted by Tom, 12/12/2006 6:45:05 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    What the...

    I'm sure this makes perfect sense to some liberal ninny out there, so feel free to explain it to me in the comments:

    The Cherokee County woman who killed the man who raped her most likely will be able to take her daughter home with her, probably by next week.

    First the mother has to complete a psychological evaluation.

    "They want to make sure I am of no harm to myself or anyone else," the woman said Friday after a hearing in Juvenile Court in Cherokee County. She hopes to celebrate Christmas with family in Ohio.


    The youngster was in their rural Cherokee County home when her mother was raped. Authorities have said Gerald A. Lee, who was armed with a shotgun, broke into the house and raped the 38-year-old mother. A fierce battle between Lee and the woman began when he threatened to also rape her daughter. She stabbed Lee several times and was severely injured during the struggle.

    Let's see, get raped, defend yourself and your 7-year-old daughter, and the child gets taken away from you and you have to complete a "psychological evaluation" to make sure YOU, the VICTIM, are not a danger to your child. That's what America is coming to, folks. We're not fighting a "war on terror", our government IS the terror.

    Posted by Tom, 12/10/2006 7:48:47 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    ...and then some days...

    ...the train wreck is me.

    Posted by Tom, 12/10/2006 7:47:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, December 8, 2006

    Coward of the County

    Ev'ryone considered him the coward of the county.
    He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong.
    His mama named him Tommy, the folks just called him yellow,
    But something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong.

    He was only ten years old when his daddy died in prison.
    I took care of Tommy 'cause he was my brother's son.
    I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy:
    "Son, my life is over, but yours is just begun.

    Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done.
    Walk away from trouble if you can.
    Now it won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek.
    I hope you're old enough to understand:
    Son, you don't have to fight to be a man."

    There's someone for ev'ryone and Tommy's love was Becky.
    In her arms he didn't have to prove he was a man.
    One day while he was workin' the Gatlin boys came callin'.
    They took turns at Becky.... n' there was three of them!

    Tommy opened up the door and saw his Becky cryin'.
    The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand.
    He reached above the fireplace and took down his daddy's picture.
    As his tears fell on his daddy's face, He heard these words again:

    "Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done.
    Walk away from trouble if you can.
    Now it won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek.
    I hope you're old enough to understand:
    Son, you don't have to fight to be a man."

    The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom.
    One of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor.
    When Tommy turned around they said, "Hey look! ol' yellow's leavin'."
    But you coulda heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked
    the door.

    Twenty years of crawlin' was bottled up inside him.
    He wasn't holdin' nothin' back; he let 'em have it all.
    When Tommy left the barroom not a Gatlin boy was standin'.
    He said, "This one's for Becky," as he watched the last one fall.
    And I heard him say,

    "I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you done.
    I've walked away from trouble when I can.
    Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek,
    and Papa, I sure hope you understand:
    Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man."

    Ev'ryone considered him the coward of the county.

    -- Kenny Rogers

    When I was a kid, I simultaneously held two competing and incompatible beliefs about this song: First, that it referred to Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Imagine my disappointment, upon reading Twain's novel, when there was no mention whatsoever of bar fights or Gatlin boys.

    My other belief was that it was about me. I'm still not sure about that one.

    Posted by Tom, 12/8/2006 7:26:05 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 6, 2006

    Militarized Police

    Reason has another of many articles up about how the increase in the use of paramilitary tactics and SWAT teams is detrimental to the concepts of life, liberty, and property.

    Forced-entry raids breach the centuries-old idea that a man's home is his castle, and that the government can only violate that sanctity under the most extreme of circumstances. Yet over the last 25 years, we've seen a staggering 1,300 percent increase in paramilitary style forced-entry raids in the United States —- there are about 50,000 per year now. The majority of these raids are for proactive drug policing, such as executing search warrants.

    What's more, the very nature of drug policing requires investigative tools that frequently produce bad information. One example is the use of informants, notoriously shady characters often involved in the drug trade themselves. Police maintain that they rarely use a single informant's tip as the basis for a drug raid, but dozens of botched raids and a stack of innocent bodies over the years suggest otherwise.

    I note that the infamous (and largely forgotten) Ruby Ridge incident was started by just such an informant, although the evil of the day was guns rather than drugs.

    SWAT teams, forced entry and paramilitary tactics should be reserved for extreme, emergency situations where a suspect presents an immediate threat to the community —- hostage takings, armed robberies or apprehending fugitives, for example...


    The tactics the police use to apprehend a suspect ought to fit the crime the suspect is accused of committing. Which means nonviolent suspects shouldn't be met with violent police tactics.

    Ya think?

    Posted by Tom, 12/6/2006 10:12:47 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Watching Train Wrecks

    Lately it seems like I've been watching a lot of train wrecks. Various people I know seem to be hell-bent on destroying their lives in various ways. Every contact and conversation adds another frame to the slow-motion horror unfolding before my eyes. And like the cliche, I find myself unable to scream a warning so that they can save themselves before it's too late. What can I do, when the only thing more obvious than the solution is the fact that the person has no interest in it?

    The best I've found is to shake my head, grit my teeth, and try to make sure I'm assiduously applying the advice I would give to my own life. Maybe one day they'll notice the example I'm trying to set. It's pretty cold comfort.

    Posted by Tom, 12/6/2006 7:36:14 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, December 5, 2006

    Things that make you go Hmmm...

    Clayton Cramer has an interesting piece about the so-called "progressive" movement.

    I've read that part of why Progressives back then took that name is that they believed that the traditional laissez-faire approach to government that we generally associate with "conservatives" was based on a false perception that governments couldn't be trusted with power. Progressives believed that an evolving society required a more activist government, and that human being had progressed enough that the dangers of governmental abuse really weren't present anymore--or at least, not enough to justify being stuck in an Englightenment-era straitjacket. Certainly, the policies that they promoted back then fit this delusion. Progressives today are suffering that same set of delusions.

    I think this comment hits the target nicely. The problem is that Cramer is an ardent conservative, and fails to see just how much of it applies to the Republican party as well.

    Posted by Tom, 12/5/2006 7:09:50 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, December 4, 2006

    Build your own foundation

    While flipping through my latest print edition of Reason magazine, I ran across an ad for Donors Trust. Essentially this is a 501(c)3 charity that holds your donations "in trust", allowing you to manage them as a sort of "virtual foundation". Of course, the initial buy-in is a hefty $10k, so it might take some doing to get started. Donors Trust limits its giving to pro-liberty and pro-free market recipients, which suggests by omission that there are probably other such charities performing similar services for other ideological sectors.

    This interests me because, even as I've maintained an interest in performing pedestrian acts of philanthropy, I've also always desired to do something more -- hence my fascination with Thomas Cannon. But since I was a kid, I've always dreamed even bigger, of giving on the scale of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller. I've always wanted to leave a lasting legacy, devoted to furthering some noble goal or helping those in need or both. So this discovery of Donors Trust gives me pause.

    Without necessarily committing to the sort of thing that Donors Trust does, I've had a seed planted in my head of building not one but two fortunes: one to take care of me in my old age, and one to take care of others. Obviously I'd want to continue pursuing acts of "grassroots" philanthropy. But at the same time, wouldn't it be really cool to retire with the ability to do that (given that retirement savings are intended to replace income) AND the ability to make "serious" gifts AND the ability to leave behind a lasting foundation to carry my values forward into the future?

    It's something to think about.

    Posted by Tom, 12/4/2006 8:21:28 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "You don't have anything I want bad enough to borrow money to get it."
    -- Dave Ramsey

    Posted by Tom, 12/4/2006 5:48:10 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, December 2, 2006

    Why the Democratic majority will suck

    Despite earlier posts, I am not as blase about the Democrats as one might believe. Republicans and Democrats may as well be Demons and Devils, in my mind. Apparently other libertarians feel the same way: Reason has a "top-10 list" of the things Democrats will do or try to do that will make libertarians unhappy. Two in particular jumped out at me:

    1) Americans favor raising the minimum wage to $7.15 per hour, 83 percent to 14 percent, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. Democrats are talking about an increase to $7.25 an hour, and they're promising to push it through in the first 100 hours of the Democratic majority rule...

    Bush has said that he also wants to be sure that the increase is done in ways that won't hurt small businesses. Which is, of course, impossible. Regardless of where you stand in the intense debate over whether increases in the minimum wage reduce the number of jobs available to low wage workers, an increase in the minimum wage will hurt small businesses. Do the math: Suppose you employ ten people, full time, at minimum wage. A two dollar increase will cost you about $40,000 a year. How would we react to a tax of the same size imposed on the same scrappy entrepreneurial grocer or clothing store owner?

    And thus we see how the Democratic party got a reputation for hurting small businesses. Wal-Mart has famously said that it supports the minimum wage increase. Those who have been paying attention know that Wal-Mart's average wage is already in the $8 - $9 per hour range. Small businesses that still compete with Wal-Mart (and yes, they do exist) are going to be destroyed by having to raise their payrolls to match. And since those in the Democrat camp are typically of the anti-Wal-Mart stripe, it will be particularly ironic that they are going to push for a policy that will strengthen Wal-Mart's grip on the retail sector. Way to go, numbskulls.

    3) "Fixing" the prescription drug benefit... The only thing worse than a massive new entitlement ushered in by Republicans? A passel of aggressive Democrats promising to "fix it."...

    ...According to the author of a new study from the Manhattan Institute: "Prices would be driven down by over 35 percent by 2025. The cumulative decline in drug R&D for 2007-2025 would be about $196 billion in year 2005 dollars, or $10.3 billion per year. Because R&D costs for new medicines are about $1 billion, the loss would be about 196 new drugs."

    But to really understand the havoc a Democratic "fix" could wreak, warily eyeball the Department of Veterans Affairs, which already negotiates for its drugs and has been cited by Democrats as a model for Medicare. At the VA, prices for drugs are very low. But one way that the VA keeps overall prices down is by making it tough to get new, expensive drugs. Their formulary includes about 1400 drugs, and they refuse to consider a drug for inclusion until it has been on the market for three years. Compare that with the 4,300 drugs currently listed at (the privately negotiated) Part D formularies. Right now, a third of VA seniors say they would rather be on Part D. If Dems have their way, at least these vets won't have to bother with the paperwork for switching.

    And the beat goes on. Every time government proposes to "pay" for something, choices evaporate into thin air. Rationing is the order of the day, because price caps create shortages. What's worse, this will drive prices up for those who plan for their own retirement / elder care, and incentivize them to jump instead into the already overburdened government trough. And when government controls a critical mass of health care, it's a short step to complete socialized medicine, which spells doom for innovation relative to what the free market could provide. Thanks for nothing, Dems.

    Posted by Tom, 12/2/2006 10:35:23 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...