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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    Tuesday, September 30, 2003


    This article represents all that I hate about government. A new technology isn't even devoloped yet, and politicians are slavering to be the first to regulate it. Maybe it's my cynicism talking, but I can almost guarantee they'll bungle it. Whatever is useful about the technology will be banned outright. Whatever is useless or dangerous will be allowed, and the rest of us will have to suffer for decades waiting for them to fix it.

    Adding insult to injury is the nitwit reporter, a person who supposedly makes regular use of the English language, but still can't seem to figure out how to choose between two homonyms:

    Grossman says most businesses aren't aware how nanotech will effect key sectors of the U.S. economy.

    "Affect" is the verb you're looking for, bozo. "Effect" is a noun that makes your sentence look like it was written by a 3rd grader.

    Posted by Tom, 9/30/2003 1:30:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The Nanny State

    Neil Cavuto has some harsh words for people who want government to take care of them and for the government that is all to eager to do it. One of his closing lines caught my eye:

    I think most adults in this country want to be treated like adults in this country.

    Apparently he hasn't heard the latest news about the next generation of statists, the millenials, or as I like to call them, the "Britney" generation. One can only hope and pray that they wake up before it's too late.

    Posted by Tom, 9/30/2003 8:28:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 29, 2003

    Sneezy Pleezy

    Allergy season is in full swing, at least for me, so I can't form a coherent thought to save my life. So I will return to my 4th reading of Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, and leave you with the following from one of my readers...

    The subjects of danger, power and control come up tangential to several other subjects on which I comment converse and complain, such as computers and the internet, guns, lending and borrowing, government authority, taxation, monopolistic power, police force, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. The reason I want to look at tools and power semi independently of specific subjects is that the real question turns out to be how much you trust yourself, your friends and family, your government, and complete strangers with any given theoretical power over yourself or any of the others listed.

    I have a theory, I donít know if itís terribly original, and I have no proof, but here it is. Any tool that has any real use can be misused equally well. Guns can be used for good, deterrence, self-defense, revolt against corrupt government, pest control. They can also be used equally well to threaten attack, install a dictatorship, or kill the last living whooping llama. There are positive and negative uses for all of the other subjects listed above too. Monopolies simplify otherwise impossible logistical problems such as power and water distribution in cities, but they also almost always lead to inflated prices as the monopolists realize that to get a competing service you have to leave town for another state or country.

    But I digress. The real questions at hand, and the ones you can really only answer for yourself are; How much power do I feel competent to have over others? And how much power am I willing to give over others me? The safest and sanest answer to both questions is ďvery littleĒ. Assuming power over others is assuming that you know more about their lives, needs and desires than they do. It also assumes that you have the real ability to enforce your own authority. For this you need more than just the stated desire to do, youíve got exercise some effort both in convincing others that youíre right, and making the unbelievers miserable for not listening. As you move to exercise this authority you are also setting up the organizations that can be used later to make yourself miserable.

    Another important thing to realize is how you weaken trust in authority by passing regulations you really donít want to enforce. The public smoking bans are perfect examples. Nobody is ever going to be sent to jail over smoking in public. Weíre already hearing complaints about the amounts spent on incarcerating drug and alcohol addicts, so that limits us to fines, also known as ďsin taxesĒ. The detestable practice of fining someone fordoing something which is not really criminal sets the government and policein a very bad position with respect to citizens. The police wonít enforce the rule because they have REAL problems to take care of, which in turn leads to A: selective enforcement, or B: Flat out non enforcement. Now weíre demonstrating that weíre not serious about the law, and if weíre not going to enforce certain laws, then the population is forced to ask itself just which laws itís really going to be asked to obey. Is murder okay? Is burglary? O.J Simpson proved that murder is okay if youíre just the right kind of person. Janet Reno and Wesley Clark proved that itís okay to violate Posse Comitatus. What we have been setting up for decades now is a government that can at any time select itís enemies and attack them for mopery and dopery, or ignore the legal violations of itís friends.

    I feel safe with the patriot act today because the current government is vaguely right wing. But the Clintons proved that my rights are just an election away from vanishing. Indeed, you have only to talk to anyone two steps off of political center to find that people really donít trust the government any further than they can throw it.

    Never give power to your political friends that you wouldnít give your political enemies, because power changes hands. Never pass a law that you arenít willing to enforce with jal time, because it proves you arenít really serious. Never give up personal power for the delusion of safety, because itís just that. Never vote to spend anotherís money, itís not ethical. And never vote against anotherís bad habits, because we all have them and it makes life unnecessarily miserable. -- Thomas

    Posted by Tom, 9/29/2003 11:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 26, 2003

    Funniest thing heard all day

    "The UN couldn't find weapons at an NRA convention." -- chatter on Yahoo politics board

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2003 4:02:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Feel Safer Yet?

    Weapons still getting past airport screeners: Shockingly, the creation of a "vast bureaucracy" didn't result in the wonderful security we were promised. Apparently, it either wasn't vast enough or bureaucratic enough. So it's obvious that what we need is "vaster" bureaucracy.

    Hey, here's a money-saving idea (not that government wants one): eliminate all these rules and just let people carry guns on planes. The bad guys already have them, so this wouldn't change much on that end, but at least the good guys would be able to shoot back. Exaggerated fears of explosive decompression aside, at least the passengers would have a chance, which is more than they have now with Uncle Stupid -- er, Sam taking care of things.

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2003 11:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Random Shots

    What is Evil?: Great article.

    The Grasso Affair: Commentary on the hubbub surrounding the NYSE chairman.

    Killing them softly: The FDA's obstructionist future in the tobacco business.

    Lawmakers say gun check bill ready to move through Congress: "Financial Incentives" is apparently the new euphemism for bribery.

    Our Over-Budget Government: Self-explanatory.

    Can we Democrats be your next province?: If the Democrats move to Canada, half our problems will be solved. Will the Republicans move to Mexico?

    ... Ouch.

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2003 9:52:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 25, 2003

    School Choice

    Apparently the voucher argument is back in full swing, with the usual gang of idiots both supporting and opposing it. Among the refuse is this little barb:

    As one choice opponent put it, "there are too many parents who are ill-equipped to make intelligent choices, even for their own children."

    The rising tide of my anger in response to this cannot be overstated. The pretentiousness! The gall! Government, which can't even begin to balance a checkbook, is supposed to be better at picking places to educate children? Pardon me while I engage in some primal scream therapy.

    For all my disgust at these people, we do agree on one thing: vouchers are a bad idea. The difference is, they don't want vouchers because they want to "save" public schools. I'd rather see the public schools gone. It's only a matter of time until someone figures out a way to franchise private schools at a reasonable cost, and I think that person is going to be very very rich.

    The reason vouchers are a bad idea is basically the "federal funds" argument. I believe it will be very soon that we start seeing the ACLU types going after private religious schools for receiving federal funds and using them to promote religion. They'll fight it up to the Supreme Court, which in its brain-dead state will throw another log on the funeral pyre of our personal freedoms. I do wish that vouchers would pass nationwide, but only because for the immediate future the kids who are being damaged by our pathetic public schools need to be rescued. So yes, get the vouchers passed, prepare for litigation, and help out when the "McSchool" starts up. It's our only reasonable hope.

    Posted by Tom, 9/25/2003 4:57:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    There Ought to be a Law...

    ...against saying "there ought to be a law". Last night I got into an argument with a government worshipping statist. It was not an edifying experience for either of us, and I'm kind of ashamed of having participated. My own personal struggles leave me open to failings in the area of grace, which is probably how I should have responded to him.

    Anyway, at the end I think I may have scored one point in favor of making him think about my point of view when I asked him if he would hold a gun to his own mother's head to enforce the laws he was defending (the debate was mostly over drug decriminalization). He didn't like the question, but I think it's a fair one. So I asked again, "let's say your mom has a marijuana cigarette in her hand. Would you hold a gun to her head and tell her that if she takes a drag on it, you'll blow her brains out?" He replied in the negative. I responded, "that is the essence of government."

    I first heard of the gun-to-mom's-head test in PJ O'Rourke's book Parliament of Whores. He was talking about taxes, but it seems fair to use it for all government policy. The argument is simple: government is force. George Washington knew it and said as much. The Supreme Court stated in American Banana Co. v United Fruit Co., " Law is a statement of the circumstances, in which the public force will be brought to bear upon men through the courts." Even the etymological core of the term "law enforcement" recognizes this basic fact.

    The ultimate expression of force is the power to take a life. So when we ask for or vote in support of a particular government policy, we are in essence asking the government to hold a gun to somebody's head, including our own dear mother's, to make sure that the policy is enforced. We cannot separate our demand for a policy from those enacting it, so it is morally equivalent to hold that gun ourselves. This is where the gun-to-mom's-head test comes into play. The next time you feel like government just needs to "do something", ask yourself if you would hold a gun to your own mom's head to see that it gets done, because this is precisely what you would be doing through government. It's amazing what government policies you can live without once you recognize the true nature of demanding them.

    Posted by Tom, 9/25/2003 8:54:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 24, 2003

    Money? What Money?

    As my own personal finances get whipped into shape, I can't help but cast a glowering eye at our government, who at this point ought to be declaring bankruptcy, both morally and financially. The Mises Institute published a good article today which details, from one of the government's own, some of the irresponsible idiocy being practiced. Accompanying the disgusting examples of fraud and malfeasance was this little gem:

    GAO (The General Accounting Office) was unable to express an opinion as to whether the U.S. Government's consolidated financial statements were fairly stated for a sixth consecutive year.

    Unfortunately the article does not dig much deeper into the reason for this. Consider the following from James Bovard's seminal work Freedom in Chains:

    The General Accounting Office (GAO) released the first consolidated financial report on the federal government as a whole in early 1998. GAO found that "significant financial systems weaknesses, problems with fundamental record keeping, incomplete documentation, and weak internal controls ... prevent the government from accurately reporting a large portion of its assets, liabilities, and costs." GAO concluded that "amounts reported in the consolidated financial statements and related notes do not provide a reliable source of information for decision-making by the government or the public."

    So the government doesn't know what it makes, what it owns, or what it spends, yet we are expected to continue footing the bill. This is government of, for, and by the people? How do we fix this? According to some politicians, the answer will magically arise out of a "balanced budget amendment". The problem is that while a balanced budget is an important first step, it doesn't actually do the work of accounting.

    As I clean up my own financial house, the second thing I had to do after making a budget is FOLLOW IT. The raids on Social Security funds alone are enough evidence that the government is incapable of this. When I follow my budget, it means that I look at the figure that I planned to spend on something, and I don't spend any more than that without taking money from something else. In order to achieve this, I need the "fundamental record keeping" that GAO says government doesn't have.

    One of the things we need to get past is the idea that the size of the government's budget, in total dollars, makes a difference. It doesn't. They are just numbers. There is no difference whatsoever between 1 million dollars and 1 billion dollars when it comes to accounting for it. A small businessman with Quickbooks could probably manage the government's accounts if they gave him appropriate access and control. So there's our solution. Hire the lady who runs the Campus Corner Market in Norman, Oklahoma, buy her a copy, and get the job done.

    The problem is, this solution is too simple and makes too much sense for government, which is the number one answer for "how do we waste as much time, energy, and money as possible to accomplish the simplest task?"

    Posted by Tom, 9/24/2003 10:13:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 23, 2003

    Garrett Hardin, R.I.P.

    I've just read a couple of essays by the above, and thought I'd pass them along:

    The Tragedy of the Commons
    Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor

    Reason contributor Matt Welch's mean-spirited (but humorously titled) obituary for Mr. Hardin notwithstanding, his essays are interesting and thought-provoking. It is a little disconcerting to see that Tragedy, written earlier, seems to lead in one direction (socialism and authoritarianism), while Lifeboat seems to lead in the other (libertarianism). I also found it strange that Mr. Welch claimed Lifeboat turned him into a socialist, when I found it an extremely libertarian work.

    Lifeboat is interesting in that he does not appear interested in following his metaphor far enough along its own logical path. He makes the argument that the guilt-ridden in the lifeboat can always trade places with people in the water, rather than endangering all by continually pulling newcomers aboard. What he doesn't do is follow that argument later on and recognize that private citizens contributing their own funds voluntarily to foreign aid through various charities are doing essentially that -- trading places with people in poorer countries by giving up some of their advantage for the benefit of another.

    I don't understand Mr. Welch's implied derision in calling Hardin a "zero-sum" ecologist. It seems axiomatic to me that discussions of this sort are zero-sum in nature, even when one accounts for the advances in technology. Given a technology level, there is a finite maximum carrying capacity for an environment. That capacity should not change unless technology does. The fact that technology is currently increasing at an extremely fast rate does not mean that it will always do so, an erroneous assumption that Mr. Welch has apparently adopted.

    Posted by Tom, 9/23/2003 11:59:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    NASA's safety panel jumps ship

    So occasionally somebody in government does lose their job over a screwup. Too bad it's the exception and not the rule.

    Posted by Tom, 9/23/2003 11:02:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Eco-Nazi Fundamentalism

    In today's Reason Online Cathy Young, one of my favorite writers, takes a look at the extreme environmental movement, and points to the way to an apparently reasonable alternative. She dances around the issue of environmentalism's link to pagan religions (which I suspect is probably more than just a link), and hints at some of the more anti-human rhetoric going on in the movement.

    While I certainly don't believe we're in for a Tom Clancy-esque plot from the envirowackies, there can be no doubt that they can be quite dangerous. It is only a matter of time before they move from destruction of property to killing people. They already have the rationalization for ignoring property rights figured out, and it's only a small step from there to rationalizing assault, and from there to murder.

    Posted by Tom, 9/23/2003 8:49:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 22, 2003

    A Joke

    I don't know why, but this strikes me as funny.


    Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to leave Italy. There was, of course, a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with a leader of the Jewish community. If the Jewish leader won the debate, the Jews would be permitted to stay in Italy. If the Pope won, the Jews would have to leave.

    The Jewish community met and picked an aged Rabbi, Moishe, to represent them in the debate. Rabbi Moishe, however, could not speak Latin and the Pope could not speak Yiddish. So it was decided that this would be a "silent" debate.

    On the day of the great debate, the Pope and Rabbi Moishe sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Rabbi Moishe looked back and raised one finger.

    Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head. Rabbi Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and chalice of wine. Rabbi Moishe pulled out an apple. With that, the Pope stood up and said, "I concede the debate. This man has bested me. The Jews can stay."

    Later, the Cardinals gathered around the Pope, asking him what had happened. The Pope said, "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us of our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"

    Meanwhile, the Jewish community crowded around Rabbi Moishe, asking what happened. "Well," said Moishe, "first he said to me, 'You Jews have three days to get out of here.' So I said to him, 'Up yours'. Then he tells me the whole city would be cleared of Jews. So I said to him, 'Listen here Mr. Pope, the Jews ... we stay right here!"

    "And then?" asked a woman.

    "Who knows?" said Rabbi Moishe. "We broke for lunch."

    Posted by Tom, 9/22/2003 1:29:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What He Said

    Account Balance: Can the government really ensure "corporate accountability"?

    In case you're too busy to follow the link, the answer is no.

    Posted by Tom, 9/22/2003 1:22:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Government Graft

    So the "faith-based initiatives" are initiating. This is of course a bad idea on several fronts.

    First, it stirs up the freaks at the ACLU and their bedfellows at AUSCS even more than they already are with the whole Roy Moore flap. Quite frankly, the Christians of America have better things to do than fight these ultimately useless battles.

    Second, it opens the door for the government to tell churches what they can and cannot do with their grant money. If you are even remotely paying attention, the idea of government dictating to churches ought to send a chill down your spine.

    Third, with Pres. Bush's focus on "what works", he misses the opportunity to do something really useful and eliminate the government programs completely in favor of deeper tax cuts. This would allow we the people to individually support private charities like the churches he's wanting to fund, and keeps the aforementioned nitwits out of our hair. His label might say Republican, but he's still a big government liberal when it comes to this crap.

    I don't know who thought this would be a good idea, but it isn't.

    Posted by Tom, 9/22/2003 1:13:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Who Killed Jesus?

    I'm getting kind of tired of all the hand-wringing over Mel Gibson's new movie about the last twelve hours of Christ's life. The professional victims at the ADL want to make a big issue out of the fact that Gibson's movie portrays the Jews as having demanded the crucifixion. I have just finished reading the book of Matthew, and it seemed pretty clear who was demanding what. Chapter 27, verse 25 pretty much seals the deal, as the people accept the responsibility for His death.

    The problem with this whole debate is that it misses the point. YOU killed Jesus, just as surely as if your hand swung the hammer that drove the nails into His hands and feet. So did I. We are all murderers. It doesn't matter who demanded it, because we are all responsible. Jesus died a horrible, violent, messy death because we are sinners. If we were not sinners, He would not have died. He took our sin upon Himself and paid the ultimate price as though He had done the things that we have done. Every sin we have ever committed and will ever commit was taken by Him as His own, even though He never committed any sins. The ADL should stop and remember that even if they could somehow change the Scriptures and not be responsible as the children of those who did it, they are still responsible. Just like the rest of us murderers.

    Posted by Tom, 9/22/2003 8:55:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, September 20, 2003

    More on Power

    "In a social system in which power is open to all, the posts which confer power will, as a rule, be occupied by men who differ from the average in being exceptionally power-loving."
    -- Bertrand Russell

    Posted by Tom, 9/20/2003 10:54:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 19, 2003

    For the Last Time...

    People, especially modern Democrats who vociferously attack Bush and defend Clinton on the financial front, need to learn the difference between a debt and a deficit. A deficit is what happens when the government spends more than it steals -- er, collects in taxes. A debt is what gets created as a result of a deficit -- a lump sum that is owed to someone. I've about had it with the poorly informed Clinton apologists on the political chat boards who want to claim that Clinton paid down the debt. He did no such thing. The national debt has risen every single year since 1970, and possibly before, as the graph in this article clearly shows. The public debt has risen every single year since 1970 and possibly before, as the Bureau of the Public Debt's website clearly shows. The only thing that Clinton can claim partial credit for (since he had a whole lot of help from Newt Gingrich) is the elimination of the deficit during the latter part of his second term.

    This is not to be taken as a defense of Bush. Deficit spending stinks. Bush should have cut taxes further than he did, and cut spending on various forms of welfare (corporate, personal, and so forth) by twice as much, which would have left a budget surplus to pay for the "War on Terror". The problem was that he wanted some political cover for his war, so dropping all the welfare slurpers on their heads was out of the question. A truly moral person would have done it anyway, and darn the reelection.

    Posted by Tom, 9/19/2003 1:27:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Ashcroft the Unthinking

    So our Attorney General wants us to be at ease, because while the tyrannical PATRIOT Act gives him all kinds of power, he's not using it. Apparently we are supposed to infer from this that he will never be interested in using it, and that his future replacements will never be interested in using it. (Um, question: then why have it in the first place?)

    Until, of course, some dork like Orrin Hatch decides that the War on Drugs needs a boost from the War on Terror. Or a malicious demon like Dianne Feinstein decides the same for her War on Guns. Or someone in Congress decides to start playing the "Christians are Terrorists" game. Ouch, that one hit close to home, didn't it?

    So let's say you, in your position as principled Christian or libertarian or both, decide to vociferously support drug decriminalization, gun ownership, or Christianity in the editorial pages of your local newspaper. Maybe you put up a website. Let's say you go to some marches. Let's say maybe you even get involved in a little peaceful civil disobedience. Then some future Attorney General (or maybe even this one) decides that you're a danger because you've got this crazy idea that the First Amendment to the Constitution actually means something. So they freeze your bank accounts, seize your house and everything in it, toss you in jail without possibility of even contacting an attorney, and to the rest of your friends and family it looks as though you were abducted by aliens or something.

    At that point, it won't matter that a court -- if you manage to get to a civilian one -- will probably eventually let you off the hook. Your life is already ruined, too bad so sad, have a nice day.

    Far-fetched? Paranoid? Yeah, that's what I thought too. It's a good thing nothing like that has ever happened before.

    Posted by Tom, 9/19/2003 8:51:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 18, 2003

    Non-profits Get the Beatdown

    The non-profit sector is apparently getting into some trouble as a result of their own scandals and an unhealthy appetite for government funds. I find this incredibly funny, since I've worked for non-profits before, and government funds are utterly unnecessary, not to mention immoral. When an organization depends on government funds, they're depending on the government to continue stealing money from the taxpayers in ever-larger quantities. They're encouraging it. They see hearing after hearing on IRS abuses, and never make the connection that their demand for that money fuels such abuse.

    In contrast, the organizations I've worked for get their money directly from the people. Here's a concept: if the product or service you wish to provide is really something people want, just ask them and they'll give you money to fund it. What's even better is that they'll give the money directly to you, instead of running it through the government filter that will wind up straining out half of it. And if people aren't willing to fund it, maybe your product or service isn't really all that important and you need to find a real job.

    Posted by Tom, 9/18/2003 9:03:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Nuke NASA

    So the big "solution" to NASA's woes with Columbia is to switch to 40-year-old technology. This is like saying that because we have the occasional meltdown with a computer virus, it's time to return to using slide rules. I love the part where they spent "billions of dollars since the mid-1990s trying unsuccessfully to design a new winged spacecraft". Hey, that was my money. Thanks for nothing, you twits! In contrast, the X-Prize has spawned prototype after prototype, and it looks to be the last best hope of someone who's not a government lab rat ever getting off this sorry rock. Here's an idea: dump NASA's funding for a year and add it instead to the X-Prize. At least then we taxpayers will get something for our money.

    Posted by Tom, 9/18/2003 8:52:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 17, 2003

    Brain Break

    Here's some fun quotes from Homer Simpson. Why? Because sometimes even I get tired of complaining.

    Posted by Tom, 9/17/2003 3:32:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Show Me the Money

    Newsmax is a pretty blatantly pro-Republican site, but this article makes a good point. Where's the money? I'm constantly told that my taxes are necessary for this and that, and with government-sponsored education generally being a sacred cow of the tax-defending types, where's the money? There's no secret that our public schools are a shambles, and it seems pretty clear from this article that we're spending quite a bit on it. So where did the money go?

    My suspicion is that it's being eaten by the bureaucratic machine. Does anyone know how much of its budget the federal Department of Education consumes rather than passing it back down to the states as its supposed purpose would have us believe? I have no idea what the percentage is, but I guarantee that it isn't zero. So why not cut out the middleman and just keep the money with the states to begin with? Or with the people?

    As previously mentioned, the government has no incentive to get any "bang" for our bucks. It thrives on our low expectations. I know that if I spent $10k sending a kid to school, I'd expect him to learn something, because I'd know what it took for me to earn that money in the first place. The government has no desire to make sure the money is spent wisely because it doesn't care what it takes to get the money; government just sticks a gun in your ribs and says "pay up or else". Once you disconnect the work that earns the money from the products or services that it buys, the earner can have no expectation of quality when the spender does his thing. It is only when the earner and the spender are the same person that any form of economic choice can be made, especially as it pertains to the quality of the goods or services purchased.

    Posted by Tom, 9/17/2003 9:52:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Food Fight

    It seems the modern-day Luddites would rather people starve. Showing up en masse at a charitable food giveaway in Mexico, they started wailing about how dangerous genetically modified food is supposed to be. Sadly, as this article notes, they didn't bother to show up with any unmodified food as a substitute. Score one for free trade and private charity. As Ted Nugent would say, "that's how ya do that."

    Posted by Tom, 9/17/2003 9:00:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 16, 2003

    Somebody's Waking Up

    It seems the states are starting to realize how much trouble tyrannical drug policy can be. Of course, it will be a long hard road to travel before the federal Leviathan is similarly enlightened. At least this is a somewhat satisfying start to the reverse pendulum swing.

    Posted by Tom, 9/16/2003 5:01:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New Lewis Black

    If you know Lewis Black, you know he belongs on this page. He's got a new DVD out, entitled "Unleashed", and a new CD called "Rules of Enragement". Somebody buy me a copy; as previously noted, I'm working on getting out of debt.

    Posted by Tom, 9/16/2003 1:01:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Just Say No

    After all, it worked in Alabama. It seems that the people didn't want the government to filch any more of their money after all. Perhaps Governor Riley (or should that be Governor RINO?) should consider that he's not exactly setting himself up for reelection. This pre-vote article shows some pretty stark contrasts between Riley and what Republicans are "supposed" to be. Perhaps what the good Governor really needs to do is draw more attention to his state's Tax Me More fund. Oh wait, it was started by a libertarian. Silly me.

    Posted by Tom, 9/16/2003 10:53:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 15, 2003

    Financial Woes

    The American middle class is on the road to ruin. The worst part about this isn't that someone has taken so long to notice, it's that they've noticed and are blaming the wrong things. The article goes out of its way to declare that the people depicted aren't living beyond their means, but then slips this little bombshell in there:

    "Middle-class families are using credit cards to fill in a gap between their income and costs," says Tamara Draut, director of the economic opportunity program at Demos. "It's more about maintaining their standard of living than frivolous consumption."

    "Maintaining their standard of living". Notice in the rest of the article it talks about "living in the right neighborhood" and so forth. I'm sorry, but the problem isn't that it's just "too expensive" to live, or that there's a "two income trap". The problem is unrealistic expectations, zero planning and little to no discipline. I know this because I've done it myself. I'm currently working my own finances back into order, and I have no one to blame but myself. I'm the one who decided I just "had to have" a car that required a big loan. I'm the one who got a credit card "just for emergencies" and then kept discovering newer and more elastic definitions of the word "emergency". I'll lay dollars to donuts that these people are exactly the same way.

    Articles like this, with its concerned-sounding counselors and brow-furrowing economists, only exacerbate the problem. They invite the reader to feel sorry for the subjects, perhaps even to imagine some greater conspiracy at work, and only vaguely refer to the behaviors that got the "victims" into this problem in the first place.

    Fortunately, there are ways out of this, and it doesn't take 3 to 5 years. People like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey have it down to a science. All it takes is some tough decisions about what is really important. Not what seems important, but what a person actually cannot live without. Yes, it might mean working 2 jobs, or taking a side job somewhere. It might mean selling that fancy new car, or even moving to a smaller house in a somewhat less desirable neighborhood. But it can be done. Your "standard of living" is determined by you, not your neighborhood.

    Don't feel sorry for these people, and don't feel sorry for me. We're in our respective positions as a result of CHOICE. It is the truly rare person who does not contribute the lion's share to his own hardship.

    Posted by Tom, 9/15/2003 1:49:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Relationship vs. Religion

    We've heard the platitude that Christianity is about "a relationship, not a religion". This is usually said by people interested in distancing themselves from the so-called "fundamentalist" wing of Christianity. At my church, there are many calls to "resist religion" and prayers asking God to "free us from dogma". While it certainly is true that many modern TV preachers bear a more striking resemblance to Pharisees and their ilk than to Jesus and the Twelve, I believe there are dangers in the "Relationship Model" as well.

    First, there is the "voices in your head" danger. This is when, as we try to put distance between ourselves and the "fundies", we believe that we can simply create God's will out of whole cloth, because we're constantly praying and He is constantly responding. We start seeing God's "responses" to us in the purely mundane, and -- here is the danger -- begin to believe that it's not really necessary to read the Bible because "it's apocryphal", or "it's metaphorical", or any number of other excuses. So we settle for this other thing -- this view of the world that says if we take a shower and it's a particularly relaxing experience, God must have wanted us to take a shower at that moment, and by taking that shower we were doing God's will. How is this not paganism masquerading as Christianity? Sometimes a shower is just a shower. It seems to me that reading God's Word is essential, and we must never deviate from this basic truth. If we allow the voices in our heads to say "it's not really necessary to read it, you can know God's will for yourself without it", we are just buying into Satan's lie that we are God, or a portion of Him. Unless we read the Word, and compare what it says with what we believe, how do we know if that voice is God talking?

    Another danger is the human perspective that a "relationship" involves two dynamic entities. As one changes, so does the other. Every mortal relationship we are in involves 2 individuals who change as time goes by. I've seen it with my parents, my brother, my best friend(s), my wife, even my dogs. But we have to suspend the expectation of change when it comes to God, because God does not change. The danger is exacerbated by our tendency to try to change the "other" in the relationship as opposed to ourselves. As above, we pick a belief and try to make God fit it, rather than asking God what we should believe. You can't breezily dismiss God's will, or make one of your sins or beliefs "okay" by wishing it were so. You can't ignore God all your life but be "a basically good person" and expect to be rewarded for it. Alan Dershowitz's protestations to the contrary, God simply wants us to trust and obey, and calls the good professor a fool.

    The last danger of which I'm aware is that of familiarity. We expect, as in our human relationships, to be able to get away some things once we get to know God. As Aesop said, "familiarity breeds contempt". We think, "oh, I'm in relationship now, so if I screw up I'll just ask forgiveness and it'll be cool." We try to bring God down to our level; to treat Him as an equal in a relationship where no equality can exist. We have to remember or be reminded that God is sovereign. He is our King, and His Word is the Law. We are insignificant as dust compared to His Glory, and it is only through His Grace that we are even allowed to speak to Him. This danger leads us to wanting to "help" other people, especially other Christians, by dispensing advice as though we have the inside track on what God wants for them, because we're supposedly eye-to-eye with God. Most of the time it would be much more helpful for us to pray first, asking God to work in their lives, and examine ourselves by asking God to reveal our own weaknesses. It is only after much careful deliberation and prayer, and with all due humility, that we should try to help another in this way.

    All of these dangers are mitigated somewhat by so-called "fundamentalism" or "religion", which teaches that we are to read our Bibles, that God is unchanging and eternal, and that God is unquestionably sovereign. The difference is that "religion" as used in the aforementioned platitude is intended to indicate the Pharisaical mindless adherence to dogma, as though Christianity is supposed to be some sort of beneficial manifestation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The "relationship" tells us that God simply wants us to desire and love Him, and opens the trap of believing that dogma is irrelevant. Not everyone falls into it, but I sure did. It is a narrow tightrope that we must walk, giving God His due while staying in relationship with Him, avoiding the trap of the Pharisees on the one hand and the traps above on the other. But we must walk it nonetheless.

    Posted by Tom, 9/15/2003 9:46:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Political Satanism?

    Vox Day fires broadside at the Schwarzenegger wing of the Republican Party. His prose suggests that he might still believe that the Republican Party is (in principle at least) the party of small government, but he makes good points nonetheless.

    Posted by Tom, 9/15/2003 9:07:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 12, 2003

    What is Interventionism?

    This is a great article on the subject by George Reisman, in which he explores the effects of laws covering zoning, medicine, wages, unions, the environment, and so forth. One of the best sections is where he examines the interventionist portions of the US Government and concludes that were we to return to a basically libertarian form of government, more than 80% of what we now call "the government" would have to be abolished, with a corresponding reduction in the size of the federal budget.

    Among the things that would get abolished are the Cabinet departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, HUD, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Veteran's Affairs. I can already hear the wailing from the various special interests and their pet political parties. Oh, that I might live to see the day...

    Posted by Tom, 9/12/2003 6:47:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The Power Struggle

    As if to underscore yesterday's rant about the government with regards to the WTC, the Mises Institute published this little gem from Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. Mr. Rockwell is not known for mincing his words, and he lives up to his reputation in this article. In it, he succinctly states the true nature and motivation of a libertarian:

    "...the libertarian critique warns against any grant of sovereign power to anyone, for once granted, it cannot be contained and it will be abused."

    The libertarian solution arises out of this: strictly and jealously limit the power we give to anyone, so that the damage they can cause is minimal. And no, the US Constitution is no barrier to power when the Supreme Court refuses to enforce it.

    The wailing of the Democrats after the 2000 election was an utterly useless expenditure of energy. They fail to realize, being worshippers in the religion of the State, that ending the electoral college is not going to fix anything. It doesn't change the fact that the government has too much power, and when your guy loses, that power will be used in ways of which you disapprove. Once the other guy gets in, it's too late to contain his power, and his power will be abused. I've seen it with every administration of which I was old enough to be consciously aware.

    It doesn't matter how cool it is that your guy has the power. It is when your guy has the power that it is most incumbent on you to get rid of that power. If you don't, you have no reason to complain when that power transfers, as it inevitably will, to the other party. Be concerned -- in fact, be terrified -- when your guy has a whole lot of power. If you're not concerned about your guy having the power, because by your measure he's a "decent and moral person", think about that power in the hands of your worst political enemy. Think of how that power might be abused ideologically. Ignore the ridiculous argument "only the guilty have reason to fear" and think of how that power might be used against YOU, even if you are innocent. Then ask yourself if it's right that someone should have it.

    Government power should be minimized at all times. The government should be starving for the ability to accomplish the simplest tasks, and the people should jealously guard against the government gaining any more. With apologies to Peter, be sober and vigilant, for your adversary the government walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour.

    Posted by Tom, 9/12/2003 9:09:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 11, 2003

    WTC Blues

    So today is the day when we put on a pageant of mourning, and a cavalcade of public officials rushes to the nearest PA system to pour out hollow words to remember the dead and blame the other party for their deaths.

    Call me cynical, but all of this would be far easier to swallow if it wasn't for the fact that government doesn't have a great track record of learning from events like this. From the original attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, to the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, to the USS Cole, to 9/11, the government's ability to react seems largely limited to erecting a nice memorial and maybe passing some legislation without reading it. It has all the appearance of doing something useful, with none of the benefit.

    Look at NASA. The space shuttle Challenger blows up spectacularly back in 1986, killing all seven crew members. Speeches were made, astronauts remembered, an investigation launched, and for what? Nothing. A 2 billion dollar space craft and seven people go up in smoke, and NASA didn't learn a thing from it. And yet the tax dollars continue to flow into their coffers.

    Scariest of all is the fact that, other than a ridiculous gang of conspiracy nuts, nobody seems to notice. Government keeps on truckin', and the people eventually return to their apathy. I'm not really anxious to see it, but every time I think of 9/11, I realize that it's going to happen again, and government will as always be surprised and wonder why taking away our nail files didn't solve the problem. Westley's Law gets more supporting evidence, and the people go back to wondering what's on TV.

    Posted by Tom, 9/11/2003 12:31:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Be the First Victim!

    I'm getting really sick of seeing people race to victimhood. I'm also sick of seeing our culture view victimhood as something laudable, which contributes to this problem. The latest stomach-turning example is Schwarzenegger's accusation against the L.A. Times. Somebody please tell me I'm dreaming this. If there is anyone in the California governor's race who does not need more press, it's Arnold.

    He's complaining about HIS press coverage? What about the geek candidate, Georgy Russell? Or Gary Coleman? I'm willing to bet that Larry Flynt and Mary Carey have their own fan base and don't need much help, but what about the other, heretofore anonymous members of the "135 candidates" list? Shouldn't they be getting more press?

    Arnold Schwarzenegger has pretty much given up his legitimacy with this whining. He might as well resign himself to being another Ann Coulter or James Carville -- a vituperous attack dog with little to say other than "the other side is the bad guys, our side is the victims". At least he could do something entertaining with it, like bend some steel bars or break some ice blocks in a mushy-principled Republican version of the Power Team.

    Posted by Tom, 9/11/2003 9:04:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 10, 2003

    Christian Libertarian

    I've been engaged lately in a series of conversations regarding what it means to be Christian, specifically with regards to one's political bent. Allow me to state most emphatically that it is my belief that God is big enough for all political persuasions, and that arguments of the type "Jesus was a Republican/ Democrat/ socialist/ libertarian/ communist" are simply unacceptable. The author of such an argument (and I have been one) presumes to know intimately the nature of God, and demands that others recognize this presumptive knowledge and submit to the authority so conferred. This is blasphemy at best.

    That being said, I believe there is a good case to be made for the compatibility of libertarian politics with Christian morality. I find it difficult to reconcile other political persuasions, which is why I don't adhere to them.

    Here is a brief listing of some rather good articles on the subject of Christian libertarianism. The first is my favorite, and the others simply support the basic premise.

    Why a Christian should be a Libertarian
    Christianity and Libertarianism: Harmony or Heresy?
    Must a Christian be a Libertarian?

    It's interesting to me that I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that Gandhi was right when he said "We must be the change we wish to see in the world". Both Christianity and libertarianism endorse this sort of unilateral thinking. Both endorse charity, which is the unilateral transfer of wealth on a voluntary basis. The "Golden Rule" states that we should do unto others as we would like others to do unto us. Note that it doesn't say, "do unto others, and they will do unto you." It's not a guarantee, it's a unilateral command. If I give money to my church, I am not buying a service, though my money certainly helps in that regard. The money I give goes to the church, and the church will decide what to do with it. I do not have the right to demand my money back if the pastor's sermon doesn't meet my particular standards of quality one week. I give to the church unilaterally, I don't pay admission to a stage show.

    None of this, of course, should be taken as a repudiation of free trade. The Bible also endorses dealing fairly in business, and the libertarians certainly do. But free trade is simply a means to life -- it's the way that we sustain our needs and wants, and the exchange of my dollars for a hamburger makes no real difference in the world and says little about me other than the fact that I wanted a hamburger and not a salad. It's when we go beyond the simple exchange of money for goods and services that the world starts to take notice.

    I don't really know where this whole thought process of unilateral living is headed, but I'll probably have more to say about it in the future. Sorry if I've bored anyone to tears.

    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2003 10:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 9, 2003

    Patriot Smack

    Here's a fairly lucid article on USA PATRIOT. Apparently they're doing a series. Note the handy section entitled "Enough to get you through a cocktail party".

    Posted by Tom, 9/9/2003 1:27:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Take the Social Security Pledge

    A while back I received a letter from the Social Security Administration that basically said they're planning to be broke when I retire. A year or so later, I received another one. I didn't find all this particularly surprising, but it was nice of them to come right out and admit it anyway. Take a look at this little gem from their FAQ page:

    Social Security is not sustainable over the long term at present benefit and tax rates without large infusions of additional revenue. There will be a massive and growing shortfall over the 75-year period.

    Now, of course the government worshippers and party faithful will claim that this is why the other party needs to get serious about "saving Social Security", and how they've got a plan to reinvest (read: raise taxes) in it. Personally, I'm not sold. I want the entire system GONE.

    That said, I've determined that if you're under 35, as I am, it's time to get serious about your retirement. Time is on your side. 30 years of investing can and will provide for your retirement needs. 40 years is even better. If, for example, you start with $10,000 in a Roth IRA and buy stocks, looking for a 5% gain in 3 months then trading into a different stock, you will have 5.6 million dollars in 30 years, or 47 million in 40 years, with zero additional capital invested. If you can make your gains faster, you'll be that much richer -- I currently have a sample portfolio going to test Investor3000, and it is turning around 5% about every 3 WEEKS. My "real money" is invested following the advice of, and they are producing around 20% in 3 months. I'm not going to say exactly what these gains would mean in 30 years, but let's put it this way: I'd be able to pay off the national debt. Get your account open NOW. There's no time like the present.

    Before someone gets their panties in a bunch, I'm not going to take the hardliner route and get the AARP's attack dogs after me. So if you're on Social Security right now, or will be soon, I'm planning to continue paying for it. Consider it charity. You've been duped into believing that this massive fraud is a workable scheme, and as a result you've got nothing to show for your 30 - 50 years of labor but a couple hundred bucks a month. Social Security is its own punishment for you. But the rest of us -- the ones who have our Roth IRA's open and are ready to go after the brass ring, we're going to make some changes.

    Now for the pledge, and it's a tough one to swallow, but I believe it will be worthwhile in the end. Simply say: "I plan to pay for Social Security until I retire, and then I will not collect a dime of it." Write it in an email to me if you wish.

    So why would we do such a thing? The goal here is to have the satisfaction of seeing the system die. If nobody's using it, and the lot of us are then controlling the AARP (among the nation's most powerful lobby groups), we'll have the time (being retired and all) and the drive to harass our elected officials until this massive fraud is gone. It'll be our legacy to the next generation. I can think of no better insult to government than to say "you are unnecessary and irrelevant. Go away." That's exactly what the pledge and its faithful execution is all about.

    Posted by Tom, 9/9/2003 9:26:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 8, 2003

    I want my toy back!

    I can't figure out these nitwits. I spend a lot of time on various chat and message boards, arguing politics with the dregs of humanity, and sometimes I just lose all hope for humanity because of these toads. There seems to be a constant stream of Democrats and Democrat-friendly people wailing and moaning about the Bush administration and how nasty they are, how they're Nazis and fascists and the whole world is coming to an end for this reason or that. I hear a constant stream of vituperation, mixed in with an occasionally lucid thought that hints at the vast amount of power that Bush has, and how horrible it is that he has it.

    What I can't figure out is what makes them any different. Nobody in either of the two major parties is looking to take power away from the powerful. The reason Bush has so much power is because Clinton had so much power, and the reason he had it is because Bush 1 had it, and so on. Just off the cuff (and without doing any serious research), I'd be willing to bet that Presidential power has been increasing steadily with every administration since FDR, possibly even since Lincoln.

    What the anti-Bush crybabies are whining about is that THEY don't have the power. It's not that they've come to the sudden rational realization that nobody should have that much power -- no, that would require more than a few brain cells rubbing together -- instead, they've come to the conclusion that somebody has something they thought was theirs. Congratulations, you have the cognitive development of a 2-year-old. My dogs can do better than this.

    Yes, USA PATRIOT is a travesty. Want to see PATRIOT II passed? Elect a Democrat in 2004. They'll be so worried about appearing "soft on terrorism" that they'll be beating down the doors to get the thing slammed through. And don't count on anyone reading this one either. Every Democrat currently attacking USA PATRIOT will at that point immediately shift gears and start defending PATRIOT II as the greatest bit of legislation since the slaves were freed. What will be really funny is when they have to criticize PATRIOT I but support PATRIOT II. The tragedy will be that they won't suffer the slightest bit of cognitive dissonance as a result.

    I remember railing against government in the 1990's. I remember the Democrats smugly laughing at me because they thought it was cool that their boy was so powerful. I remember Paul "Stroke of the pen" Begala practically jumping for joy when it came to Executive Orders. The only motivation behind all this crying about Bush is the fact that now he's got that power and they're realizing it isn't so cool when it's not their boy pushing people around. They'll stick with this until 0.5 seconds after they get it for themselves again. Mark my words.

    Posted by Tom, 9/8/2003 10:52:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 5, 2003

    Howdy Doody

    Hi. Welcome to my blog. Rude sounding word, isn't it? Makes me think of a trip to the bathroom after knockin' down a bratwurst.

    Anyway, in this space you can expect to find me griping about a wide variety of things. Government, corporations, government, liberals, government, conservatives, and did I mention government? It's not that I hate government -- I'm not an anarchist. I just can't believe how incredibly stupid ours is. Bureaucracy and incompetence seem to have a symbiotic relationship. But I'm sure there's other things that will catch my attention. If you're the type who likes to wallow in the random effluvia of someone else's thoughts, welcome aboard!

    Posted by Tom, 9/5/2003 3:02:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...