Tuesday, January 29, 2008


What is odd about this?
A Spanish driver who collided with a cyclist is suing the dead youth's family $29,300 for the damage the impact of his body did to his luxury car, a Spanish newspaper reported on Friday.
Tasteless? Sure - but how many lawsuits are in good taste anyway? Here's what isn't odd about the incident:
The youth had been cycling alone at night without reflective clothing or a helmet, according to a police report cited by El Pais.

His family won 33,000 euros compensation from Delgado's insurance company after the firm acknowledged he had been driving at excessive speed and this could have contributed to the incident, El Pais reported.
If you thought that only automobile drivers could be negligent, welcome outside the cave! I see pedestrians and especially bike-riders being careless and getting in each other's way all the time; when they get in the way of motor vehicles, those vehicles tend to be driving so exceptionally defensively that no serious accidents occur. That's not because the motorists owe you anything, it's because they're nice people. Well, some idiot cyclist pressed his luck too far, and now he's dead. Whoops! You can still be negligent and get yourself hurt at the same time.

Classic(ly stupid):
The family said they had previously pitied Delgado for the guilt he must feel at killing their son but were now disgusted that his greatest concern appeared to be money.
"The guilt he must feel." Well, people often feel guilty about things which aren't their fault. Survivors of disasters feel "survivor guilt" even when their actions contributed not a bit to the disaster nor to the deaths of those who didn't make it out. This is pathology, and something that we indeed pity because it's needless psychological anguish. Given that this family pitied that man whom they thought was guilty without reason, shouldn't they be happy that he's not guilty about something he didn't do?

I love the line "his greatest concern appeared to be money." Well, he has been wronged and must be paid to be made whole. Are all tort victims just concerned with money? Those greedy little people, thinking that, just because they were wronged, they should be compensated!

I pity people who are torn up with pain at the loss of a loved one and want to blame it on a victim of that loved one's reckless behavior. My sympathy for you just rode a bike at night and was hit by reality.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Free money!

This stimulus package is getting better all the time. At first, it was just a simple $400/$800 rebate for singles and couples who made a certain minimum income and paid a certain amount in taxes. Now? Well...

Under the House plan, individuals would receive rebates of up to $600 and couples may get $1,200, plus $300 per child. . . . Individuals must earn at least $3,000 to get a $300 rebate.

So there's still an income requirement, but there's no requirement that the individual actually paid more than $300 in taxes. Also, couples with children receive more money, although there is no indication that children cause couples to pay more in taxes. This is starting to sound like something other than a rebate.

Rebates would be phased out for individuals earning more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000.

Above that, rebates would be reduced by 5 percent for each $1,000 in income.

Now this "rebate" will not apply to some people who most certainly paid more than $600 in taxes. Apparently, this was an intentional change from the original plan to make the "rebates" more progressive.

In a conference call with Finance Committee members yesterday morning, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he hopes to provide checks to low-income retirees, who are left out of the House plan because they cannot show $3,000 in earned income.

Baucus is arguing that retirees who earn less than $3,000 (that is, those mostly living on Social Security, which is not counted when measuring earnings) should still be entitled to a "rebate" of some sort. Is anyone confused on what this stimulus package actually is?

[Senator Susan] Collins said she will push to restore about $12.5 billion in unemployment benefits and $5 billion in food-stamp extensions that House negotiators also eliminated, a call echoed by her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, who vowed to add funds next week in the Finance Committee.

Rebates to people who didn't actually pay the rebated amount in taxes, reduced rebates for high-income households, extra money for people with children, payments to the elderly, unemployment benefits, and food-stamp extensions--I believe that's called "welfare." However, in the three linked articles, the word "welfare" is only used once.

Pelosi, usually a fierce advocate of social welfare programs such as food stamps, pleaded with critics in a speech to the National Press Clube to "think anew and in a bigger way."

So Pelosi is usually a fierce advocate of social welfare programs, but not this time. This isn't welfare, it's a rebate to taxpayers! Yay doublespeak!

The original plan was far from perfect. The amounts rebated were too small to really affect the economy, and there was no corresponding plan for reducing spending. However, it at least was a true rebate since only people paying above a certain amount in taxes would get any money. Now, it's laden with payments to all kinds of people even if they don't pay much in taxes, and those who do pay large amounts of taxes are getting a reduced rebate. Before it reaches Bush's desk, it will probably even contain unemployment benefits, food-stamp increases, and payments to senior citizens. If nothing else, this rebate plan is legislative sausage-making at its finest.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Myth

A perverse eulogy.
I was very saddened by Bobby Fischer's death. Bobby inspired all the young American players of his day and put American chess on the map. From the beginning, his eccentricities pointed to the existence of serious psychological scars from childhood. Had he not been a famous public figure he might have been lucky enough to find people who would take his erratic behavior as symptomatic of an underlying unhappiness and try to help him, but because he was a celebrity he became a symbol and a fair target for political "enforcers." I have to wonder to what extent his early death was caused by mistreatement at the hands of authorities of various lands, including his native United States. I can understand people being outraged by his political outbursts, but Americans come from a society that prides itself on refusing to jail people for either psychological abnormality or outlandish opinions. To engage in a relentless search for ways to hound him without technically violating our Bill of Rights is cruel and reveals contempt for the Bill of Rights. My impression is that the rival he never faced, Anatoly Karpov, is among the many players who have expressed disapproval at the way Fischer was persecuted at the end of his life. Only the kindness of Icelanders spared this artistic genius from meeting his demise in wretched solitary confinement in an American jail cell.
Political "enforcers" being those people who (naturally!) enforce American and international law, I suppose. Bobby Fischer was not mistreated by anyone, much less the United States. He didn't even arrive here, having been taken in by a shameful Icelandic government that would rather harbor an anti-Semite criminal exploiter of war-torn areas than respect the laws of a civilized nation. And the myth continues - that Bobby Fischer was a political target, hunted down because of things he said in 2001. But of course this is nonsense, as anyone with a mind that isn't deranged can discover very easily. Bobby Fischer was a criminal long before his anti-Semite, anti-American ramblings after 9/11, so the very notion that he was pursued for such speech requires a theory of the space-time continuum that is currently incompatible with known science - i.e., that the United States government, having traveled forward in time and knowing what a racist buffoon Fischer would become, charged him with a crime in the past.

Peter Henderson, what color is the sky in your world?

The idea that the United States was searching for ways to hound Fischer (again, enforcing the law = hounding, for some reason) is absurd. Fischer was a nothing to the government, a common criminal with no respect for his country or its laws. He wasn't hounded and nothing approaching a violation of his rights occured. Stop this nonsense. Bobby Fischer was a criminal for what he did, not for what he said.

Anatoly Karpov? I was going to say something critical of him but some agents have my family and won't release them until I lose a match to him. Oh, Anatoly, you so crazy!

I don't see why Fischer would have been given solitary confinement for tax evasion, but then, I'm not psychotic like Mr. Henderson. Further, it must be rather embarrassing for Mr. Henderson to discover that Bobby Fischer actually refused treatment, and in prison he might actually have been forced to receive treatment, so if anything, his life would have been much better and longer in an American prison. But then, Mr. Henderson probably has no further to sink in his ignominious praise for a crackpot thief.

May Bobby Fischer have found the peace of mind he lacked in life. No more eulogies for the evil. Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On the border

I'm tired of the immigration debate. I'm tired of the job market in the U.S. being treated as a zero-sum game, I'm tired of nonsense about border walls and ending birthright citizenship, I'm tired of arguments tying immigration to the decline of the welfare state, and most of all, I'm tired of seeing people who are supposedly in favor of more freedom advocating all those positions.

Much of this can be traced back to one position taken by Milton Friedman. Whenever given the chance, Friedman commented on America's immigration system and noted that open immigration is incompatible with a welfare state because of the financial problems created by such a system. Since Friedman was a Nobel prize-winning economist and generally advanced the cause of liberty, many people consider this as a good position to take on the matter.

However, the problem with the position is that it does not make sense. Open immigration is perfectly compatible with a welfare state: everyone who enters receives a tax identification number/SSN/mark-of-the-beast, and they pay taxes on their earnings. Money is being paid into the system and is being used to fund welfare programs. Of course, the amount paid out ought not to exceed the amount paid in, but that's a problem regardless of immigration.

Even viewing the argument as opposed to illegal immigration, it still does not make sense. If fears of illegal immigrants bankrupting the system are driving opposition to immigration, then the solution is to give amnesty to those present, give them a number, and get them paying into the system. Future immigrants can be given a number as they enter, and most likely would enter through liberalized laws to avoid the creation of non-paying illegals.

Now, that's simply from a monetary point of view, and realistically, fears of illegals breaking the system are unfounded and even backwards. From a freedom point of view, though, it should not matter what happens to the finances. Liberalized immigration laws would increase freedom for millions, and for people concerned with freedom, that ought to be the goal regardless of the welfare state.

The Friedman position is problematic because it conditions one increase in freedom on the reduction of government power in another arena. This does not appear to be a good idea, and it appears especially ridiculous for libertarians. Conditioning freer immigration on reductions in welfare makes as much sense as claiming that one cannot fight for civil liberties until the War in Iraq is ended or that high tobacco taxes and seat belt laws are fine until the welfare state is decreased. An increase in freedom is a good thing, and arguing that freedom should only be increased when it can be done perfectly is foolishness.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beauty vs. Pathology

Before finishing the Ultimate Ron Paul Smackdown, a fulfilled promise! In this post, I review On the Musically Beautiful.

Hanslick despises the "feeling-theory" of music, which is the belief that music's purpose is the arousal of feelings. Under this theory, good music is that which can arouse the appropriate feelings with its notes, making the listener feel what the composer felt. There is an obvious problem with this theory - nothing in the notes and their arrangement necessarily contains a specific feeling, or can reliably induce the experience of certain emotions. Often, the feelings music causes are due to the words of the song - but then, music would arouse feelings as poetry, not as music. Further, different words can be put to the same music, producing different feelings - another strike against the feeling-theory. Finally, the theory has this failing: if music is successful by arousing feelings, then psychoactive drugs would be better substitutes for music. Think of it this way; if music does not have a unique, internal beauty, but derives its value merely by causing an effect in the human psyche, then something that would cause that effect with greater efficiency would completely take the place of music. Someone may object: But music causes feelings beautifully, artfully, whereas drugs are mechanical and utile. If, however, music's value is solely due to the arousal of feelings, the means for arousing those feelings is meaningless.

Enough about the deficiencies of the feeling-theory. What of Hanslick's view? Hanslick located independent and unique beauty in musical arrangement of notes. That beauty is independent because the arrangement of the notes, not their effect on the listener, constitutes the entire range of music's beauty. Nothing in the listener, nor in the words attached to the notes, can inflate or diminish the beauty of the notes; otherwise, music is a less-efficient drug or a mere incident to poetry. Musical beauty is unique because it is purely a product of human creation, having no prototype in nature, but at the same time is entire nonconceptual. To the first half of that description: sounds occur in nature, but those sounds are never arranged in any musical pattern. Bird songs don't qualify for some reason I can't quite remember - presumably they do not include the technique displayed in music. To the second half: music, unlike poetry and literature, does not require the recognition of concepts and the appreciation of beauty mediated by concepts. Musical beauty is appreciated immediately from the sound itself.

This book was a useful counterweight to the overwhelming school of musical aesthetics that equates musical beauty with the arousal of feelings. Further, it was nice to read someone who was both a musician and a philosopher slam those with no such interdisciplinary knowledge. Hegel comes in for criticism; Wagner too; both failed to balance the demands of philosophy and music. Philosophy demands rigor in the location and exploration of musical beauty; music itself demands that the theory of musical aesthetics actually describe concrete instances of beauty in actual pieces of music.

A good, balanced book.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Ron Paul Post: Part I

Note to the readership: This post was intended for release a while back, but finals and vacation sidetracked it. Upon revisiting it, I was conscious that it was getting lengthy; therefore, in the interest of having actual content today, I am making this the first part in a Ron Paul series.

Apparently, 50% of our fanbase (that's two of four people, and I'm generously including the very authors of this blog in the count) supports Ron Paul. I think it important to give a detailed, careful explanation of why I believe Ron Paul is a bad choice for President.

First, the careful part: Ron Paul has drawn a lot of support from crazy, evil people. This does not make Ron Paul either crazy or evil. That's not just a logical distinction, but a real distinction, because the reasons Ron Paul and the crazies happen to believe in the same platform positions are worlds apart. Ron Paul wants strong restrictions on immigration and tighter enforcement. As you can imagine, many people supporting strong immigration policy do so because they dislike racial and ethnic minorities; Ron Paul does so because, among other things, he wants the United States to protect itself from domestic threats and does not believe that it owes any responsibility to the citizens of other countries - perfectly consonant with his foreign policy goal of getting the U.S. out of the world-policing game. Ron Paul explicitly repudiates racism by equating it with collectivism:
Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.
It's sort of hard to call Ron Paul a racist, isn't it?

So, enough about phony criticisms of Ron Paul. If some idiots want to support a candidate who espouses a philosophy utterly contrary to theirs, just because they expect him to do one thing they agree with, let them! It doesn't make Ron Paul a bad person; it only makes those misguided supporters fools. Oh well; it's their money, they can do what they want with it - a very Ron Paul thing to say, don't you think?

So, moving along with the legitimate criticism, I'm using Mr. Paul's own campaign site to provide the material for this treatment. It's the most reliable thing to use, being better than fallacious arguments from association, and better even than dissecting specific comments of the candidate, because sometimes people say things that, in isolation, appear to mean something other than what they were intended to mean. I shall take his campaign page's issue section to be the best-developed expression of the elements of his platform.

Debt and Taxes

There's not a whole lot to dislike about these issues. Both parties are spending too much and having to tax the economy too much to raise revenue for that profligate spending. Republicans are especially to blame because they once ran on a platform of containing spending, but the six years of united Republican rule were awful examples of rampant government waste. However, there are some problems even here:
In addition, the Federal Reserve, our central bank, fosters runaway debt by increasing the money supply — making each dollar in your pocket worth less.
Er, this is wrong. The Fed certainly can print money too quickly, increasing inflation, but it doesn't have to. What's the alternative - deflation? I think Milton Friedman was right, and in any case, Ron Paul is wrong here that the Fed makes each dollar in your pocket worth less when it prints money.
We need a new method to prioritize our spending. It’s called the Constitution of the United States.
I'm not sure what he means by this. The Constitution contains procedures for passing legislation that Congress actually seems to be following perfectly when it spends trillions. If Mr. Paul means that we ought to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, then I can see where he's coming from. Otherwise, the Constitution doesn't say anything specifically about restricting our spending. I suspect this is simply a nice sentiment (obey the Constitution!) with no textual basis.

Mr. Paul seems to view the Constitution like that a lot.

American Independence and Sovereignty

Oh dear.
So called free trade deals and world governmental organizations like the International Criminal Court (ICC), NAFTA, GATT, WTO, and CAFTA are a threat to our independence as a nation. They transfer power from our government to unelected foreign elites.
Free trade deals? Really? This smells of isolationism (already!). I would have thought a conservative committed to free trade. Wait:
If anything, the WTO makes trade relations worse by giving foreign competitors a new way to attack U.S. jobs.
Yep, this is protectionist, and not conservative. Further:
NAFTA’s superhighway is just one part of a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico, called the North American Union.
That is conspiracy-theorizing nonsense. The North American Union? Please. What evidence do you have for that? Why would anyone even want that? For instance, where would Mexico send its poor?

This section is filled with nonsense and common sense. Get out of the UN? Yes, please. The NAU is going to usher in a new era in the West? Uh...yeah.

War and Foreign Policy

Oh boy. It starts out awful:
The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information.
"Sold to us"? Who sold it?
Both Jefferson and Washington warned us about entangling ourselves in the affairs of other nations.
This is intellectually dishonest at best. Mr. Paul surely knows that the world has changed at least somewhat in the past 200 years. If we want isolation again (and that worked perfectly, for some, in the 1920s), we'd have to accept vastly reduced living conditions and the very real possibility that someone could threaten us from outside, no matter what kind of wall we erect around ourselves. You know that they have these missiles that can fly around the world? What an age!
We are spread so thin that we have too few troops defending America. And now, there are new calls for a draft of our young men and women.
We're spread thin; but aren't the troops overseas also tending to aid American interests? Think about it this way: if we have too few troops defending America, what could that mean? To Mr. Paul, it means we have too few troops domestically, I suppose; but then, what domestic threat is there that requires military action? Would we be safer with our military at home, defending against...the South? It seems like the military does a better job abroad, where there are actual threats demanding an armed response.

Oh, and the draft talk - as I recall, the draft got three votes in the House the last time it was proposed. That's less than 1%. There are calls for the draft just like there are calls for imposing Zoroastrianism as the official U.S. religion.
We can continue to fund and fight no-win police actions around the globe, or we can refocus on securing America and bring the troops home.
This is consistent foreign policy - to hell with the rest of the world, and anyone who's killed in violence that is not our business. Would it help our reputation to say that?
Under no circumstances should the U.S. again go to war as the result of a resolution that comes from an unelected, foreign body, such as the United Nations.
Military action was approved by Congress after a request by the President. Is Mr. Paul saying that U.N. approval of anything taints it forever, making subsequent ratification by the elected branches illegitimate?
Too often we give foreign aid and intervene on behalf of governments that are despised. Then, we become despised. Too often we have supported those who turn on us, like the Kosovars who aid Islamic terrorists, or the Afghan jihadists themselves, and their friend Osama bin Laden. We armed and trained them, and now we’re paying the price.
It would be nice if Mr. Paul would consider precisely why we're despised worldwide. I've blogged about this years ago, but it turns out that Anglo-American political philosophy, based as it is upon individual rights, is distasteful to those who think that the people exist for the collective benefit, not government for the benefit of free individuals. Mr. Paul should know that, and know that those who so explicitly refute Locke are the problem, not us.
At the same time, we must not isolate ourselves. The generosity of the American people has been felt around the globe. Many have thanked God for it, in many languages. Let us have a strong America, conducting open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy with other nations.
A call for isolation is followed by this. Isolate, but don't isolate. Don't intervene, don't enter international agreements (including free trade agreements!), don't fight anywhere but American soil, don't send anyone money - but above all, don't isolate yourself! Er...

Life and Liberty

Well, this seems in order. Or does it?
I am also the prime sponsor of HR 300, which would negate the effect of Roe v Wade by removing the ability of federal courts to interfere with state legislation to protect life. This is a practical, direct approach to ending federal court tyranny which threatens our constitutional republic and has caused the deaths of 45 million of the unborn.
What does that mean for judicial review? Judicial supremacy in Constitutional interpretation?

Also, he contradicts himself:
I am strongly pro life. Life begins at conception ... but, I do not believe this should be a federal matter. All issues of life and violence and crime and murder are dealt with at the local level.
In Congress, I have authored legislation that seeks to define life as beginning at conception, HR 1094.
Many abortion opponents are faced with this problem: they're federalists, wanting the states to retain all the powers not explicitly granted to the federal government by the Constitution; but they see abortion as a horrible evil that demands action with a wide sweep.

Is Ron Paul less than pure on the limits of constitutional power? Uh oh!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism...

Jonah Goldberg has a new book out. It's not exactly new ground, and it's under fire for a number of reasons (see here and here for some examples). It's a shame that he managed to screw up such an easy topic. The knee-jerk labeling of conservatives as fascists is a problem that could use a thoughtful examination, but writing the book equivalent of "I know you are but what am I" doesn't count as thoughtful. Then again, the majority of criticism I've seen is the "Nuh-Uh!" variety, so neither side is doing very well.

All this substanceless back-and-forth has a purpose, though. If either side actually addressed the merits of the underlying argument, they would have to admit that there are plenty of fascists filling the ranks of both Team Blue and Team Red. Both teams have prominent members that support increasing the welfare state, restricting speech, curtailing civil liberties, increasing the War on Drugs, encouraging nationalism (or "national greatness"), expanding state surveillance, and enlarging the state's realm of power. Anyone who follows politics should be able to name a number of politicians from both teams who engage in all those behaviors.

However, such an analysis requires admitting that the battle between Team Red and Team Blue is just a bunch of shadows on a cave wall, and no major pundit is going to do that because it's bad business. Calling attention to the cave wall isn't going to sell millions of books, generate TV interviews, and create name recognition. Only properly identifying the shadows will get publicity with the cave dwellers. Everything else is a distraction, and distractions cannot be tolerated when election 2008 is going to be the most important election of our lives. Voting for the wrong shadows will destroy your freedom, and don't you forget it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

For Herr Milne

Happy New Year.

Unlike many other holidays that are at essentially arbitrary times (Christmas, for instance), New Year's Day derives all its relevance from being just this specific day. Because it could be any other day at all, there is no reason it should be celebrated on any day. Compare Christmas. We have agreed that the birth of Christ should be celebrated once a year. We select a day for doing this. That day becomes Christmas. For New Year's Day, there is no thing we want to celebrate at all, nothing to fix to a certain date for convenience. Instead, the calendar is created first, then we celebrate the very fact that we have a yearly calendar. Hooray for us!

In other news, I received On the Musically Beautiful for Christmas and finished reading it yesterday. Review forthcoming.