May 03, 2006

Colbert Appointed Whitehouse Fool

I keep a collection of quotes in a file on my computer. One of the quotes I've collected was from a New York Times editorial by Nicholas Kristof following the big Shakespeare Festival in Oregon a few years ago:

Indeed, the only person who seems to provide Shakespeare's kings with sound advice is the court fool, who cannot be punished for saying unpalatable truths because jesting is his job. I urge Mr. Bush to appoint a White House fool.

The reason I bring this up, is that Stephen Colbert, formerly of The Daily Show, and now of his own Colbert Report, seems to have been appointed to this position and is doing a fantastic job. Enjoy!

Posted by kpearce at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 29, 2006

Canadian Recording Artists Oppose Suing Fans, DRM

The founding of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a group representing several Canadian bands and recording artists, was announced last Wednesday in response to World Intellectual Property Day. The group, representing some of the most prominent Canadian recording artists, including the Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan, was formed in response to the fact that the intellectual property debate has thus far been controlled by recording industry mega-corps who do not have the artists' interests in mind. Contrary to the claims of said mega-corps, CMCC asserts the following:

  1. "Suing Our Fans is Destructive and Hypocritical"

  2. "Digital Locks [i.e. DRM] are Risky and Counterproductive"

  3. "Cultural Policy Should Support Actual Canadian Artists"

Now, you know I'm not in favor of governments having 'cultural policies' (whatever that means), but hurray for artists actual recognizing what is in their best interest and speaking up! The record labels' day has come: if artists realize what technology can do for them, they will realize that they don't even need record labels at all. Then the record labels will be forced to provide new and different services that are actually useful to artists, and stop pushing them around.

(HT: EFF Newsletter)

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April 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"For tell me, if you saw any two persons, one naked, one having a garment, and then having stripped the one that had the garment, thou wert to clothe the naked, wouldest thou not have committed an injustice? It is surely plain to every one. But if when thou hast given all that thou hast taken to another, thou hast committed an injustice, and not shown mercy; when thou givest not even a small portion of what thou robbest, and callest the deed alms, what manner of punishment wilt thou not undergo?" - St. John Chryosostom (Patriarch of Constantinople, c. 388 AD) on tax-funded welfare programs (ok, so he was actually talking about Matthew 27:6). Full text available from CCEL.

Posted by kpearce at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 06, 2006

Invisible Hand, April '06

The April 2006 issue of the Invisible Hand Newsletter is now available for download. The publishers hope that libertarian groups and individuals at colleges and universities across the country - and perhaps even internationally - will print and distribute this newsletter on their campuses. This latest issue contains an article by yours truly entitled "What Rights Don't I Have?" and based on a post from last October entitled "Why 'Positive Rights' are Stupid." The whole newsletter is worth a read.

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March 23, 2006

The Invisible Hand Newsletter

I was recently introduced to The Invisible Hand, a newsletter being put out by the Rutgers Libertarians (that would be Rutgers University, in New Jersey). The first edition came out last November and was distributed at two campuses in New Jersey. Now the group wants to get a wider distribution, by having individuals and groups on various college campuses throughout the country print the newsletter from the internet and distribute it. I am planning to submit an article on positive rights and why libertarians don't believe in them (based on this post) for the next issue, which is due out in late March/early April.

In the meantime, the the current issue has a couple of very good articles I would like to comment on.

First, the article "The Political Philosophy of Freedom" is a very good overall introduction to libertarianism. However, I have two problems with it: first, it makes it look as though libertarianism requires a very optimistic philosophical anthropology (that is, theory of humanity). This is problematic for me, because, while Christianity is very positive about what man was meant to be and what he can become with God, it is very negative about man's present fallen state, and I believe quite firmly that Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. I thought addressing this would require a whole separate post, but the end of the article came to the point and answered my concern quite nicely with this quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or, have we found angels in the form of kings, to govern him? Let history answer this question." My second, less important, objection is that the author lumps 'anarcho-capitalists' in with libertarians, which I think may be misleading. In general, libertarians believe that the minimal 'night watchman' state is absolutely critical in order to protect us from force and fraud. It is just that when the government goes beyond this mandate and violates individual rights, it becomes fundamentally unjust.

Other articles explain why the government ought not to define marriage (at all) and why the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don't actually want to see in office. The latter seems fairly obvious to me, but then I'm a third party voter, and an intense non-consequentialist. I think I have a moral duty to vote for the best candidate on the ballot regardless of his chances of winning. If you don't believe this, you should read the article, which will give some more pragmatic reasons for voting for third parties (if, that is, you are unhappy with the major parties - but who isn't these days?). The whole thing is worth a read.

Posted by kpearce at 10:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 13, 2006

A Singularly Un-Nutty Gun Nut

Jeff The Baptist is pointing to this opinion piece by one Jim March, apparently an activist concerned with gun policy and electronic voting machines (no, the two don't seem to be connected). After reading the article, I take March to be a singularly un-nutty gun nut. He provides statistics, history, scientific case studies, and personal anecdotes to support his position that keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens (a) undermines democracy, and (b) increases crime. Particularly interesting is his claim that the development of weapons technology that could be purchased and used by the common people was an essential element in the rise of democracy.

In principle, I find his view compelling, although in practice it would make me uncomfortable to know that people around me were carrying guns - even people I trusted, and even in dangerous areas (I've been living on the edge of West Philadelphia for a few years now).

There is also one further theoretical difficulty. When Michael Badnarik was campaigning for president, he had a debate with David Cobb, the Green Party candidate, in which Cobb pointed out that some gun control was certainly reasonable, because people obviously didn't have a right to private nuclear weapons. To my great disappointment, Badnarik did not have a chance to respond. What are the levels of gradation between ownership of nuclear weapons (which I take NOT to be a right of the individual) and ownership of small knives (which I take to be a clear and obvious example of a right of an individual)? Perhaps an account could be developed based on Nozick's discussion of the prohibition of risky behavior, such that we can prohibit the individual ownership of nuclear weapons provided we compensate the individual for the loss of utility (what legitimate utility could he get from ownership of nuclear weapons?), but then why could we not prohibit him from owning guns? Perhaps the utility gain from owning guns is so great we could not possibly compensate him for it, but the utility gain from owning nuclear weapons is small. For instance, the government is capable of providing the kind of defense (namely, counter-strike, mutually assured destruction, etc.) that nuclear weapons provide, but it cannot provide the kind of defense provided by a personal hand gun in an acceptable way. Still, this seems like a "slippery slope" for a libertarian and it is difficult, I think, to draw a principled line anywhere along it. Perhaps someone else has a better idea?

Posted by kpearce at 11:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 05, 2006

Rights, Obligations, and Abortion

A while ago, in a post on abortion, I had a brief discussion with Jeremy Pierce about the distinction between rights and obligations. Since we are discussing abortion again, I thought now would be a good time to clarify what I mean by this distinction. I will also discuss briefly how this applies to the abortion debate.

First and foremost in this distinction is this: rights belong to the province of public or political morality, whereas obligations belong to the province of private or individual morality. Political morality has to do with the existence and nature of morally appropriate government, what it may and may not do, what people may do to one another, etc. Rights belong to this realm, because it is morally permissible, in terms of political morality, for you or your agent to enforce your (negative) rights against me. If I violate your negative rights, you or your agent (e.g., the government) may punish my transgression. Obligations do not belong to this realm, because it is not morally legitimate for you to force me to fulfill my moral obligations, even my moral obligations as regards you - with the exception, of course, of my obligation to respect your rights.

That paragraph might be a little opaque, so let's take a real example. I believe that the rich have a moral obligation to help the poor, but the poor do not have a right to the assistance of the rich. What this means is that if a rich person fails to use his wealth to help the poor, this is a moral imperfection, i.e., a sin. However, because the poor do not have a right to his assistance, they have no legitimate political grievance against him, and neither they nor the government may justly punish him for his immoral behavior, because this is a matter of personal morality. On the other hand, the poor have a right of self-ownership, which includes a right not to be forcibly enslaved by the rich. If the rich do enslave the poor - literally enslave them, and not merely "exploit" them in the Marxist sense - the rich not only act immorally, but transgress the rights of the poor, and therefore the poor or their agents may justly punish them.

Now, the situation begins to get sticky when individual morality and political morality cover the same area in seemingly contradictory ways. For instance, Christians are commanded to "turn the other cheek" to someone who assaults them (Matthew 5:39), but, according to my (libertarian) political theory, they have a right to exact punishment. What this means is that there is a case in which a person has a right to do something, but an obligation not to exercise that right. This is indeed a little sticky, as I said, but it is not terribly troubling. After all, it is easy to see other similar cases that are more straightforward. For instance, I have a right of free speech, but there are some things that it would be immoral for me to say. So there may be some cases where a person has a right, while at the same time has an obligation not to exercise that right, or perhaps not to enforce that right against those who violate it. No problem.

Now, as to abortion, like I said I just want to sketch how this distinction will apply to the debate, not develop a detailed account of the morality of abortion. I think it is absolutely indisputable that a couple who voluntarily and intentionally brings a child into being has a moral obligation to care for that child and bring it to healthy adulthood insofar as they are able, even from before it is born. I think that, while not as indisputable, this is equally true in cases where the couple did not intend to create a child, but nevertheless does so by engaging in consensual sex. In fact, I think it is probably the case that the parents of a child have such obligations in all cases, even rape and birth-control failure. However, in order to justify illegalizing abortion (or even exposure of infants!), it is not sufficient that the parents have such obligations; the baby must have a right to their care, or at least a right to the use of his mother's womb until birth, and this is difficult for libertarians, because this looks, on the face of it, like a positive right, which libertarians, including myself, don't believe in. In order to establish such a right, we would either have to say that the parents somehow took that obligation upon themselves voluntarily (which will be difficult to say in the case of failed birth control, and impossible to say of a woman who was raped), or that this is somehow, contrary to appearances, actually a negative right.

If we wish to take the second route, it may have profound consequences for our overall understanding of private property. For instance, we may say that if someone comes to be on your property through no fault of his own, expelling him from your property in such a way as to physically harm him constitutes an act of aggression against him, and therefore violates his (negative) rights. This will then also apply to the fetus's presence in the womb. This doesn't seem like a bad position for a libertarian to take overall, but I'm having trouble seeing clearly what, if any, are the ramifications for the case of, for instance, forcibly expelling a burglar from one's house. In this case, you are defending against an act of agression, and this makes our exercise of force acceptable. If the person didn't know he was trespassing, or something, he wouldn't be agressive, and therefore we couldn't expel him by force in such a way as to harm him. Sounds good to me. Interestingly, the Talmud (don't ask me for the exact citation, but I know I read this in Jewish Law class freshman year) says that when the mother's life is endangered, the fetus becomes an agressor, and describes in graphic terms cutting the fetus to pieces in the birth canal in order to save the mother's life, saying that this is not only permissible, but obligatory, but nevertheless prohibits abortion in the general case.

At any rate, my general point is this: if the parents have an obligation to the fetus to care for it, abortion will be immoral, but only if the fetus has a right to the care of the parents will the illegalization of abortion be legitimate. I do, in fact, think that the fetus has such a right, in addition to the parents' obligation, but I think that the right is much more difficult to establish than the obligation.

Posted by kpearce at 03:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 03, 2006

John Stossel on Education and the Free Market

Syndicated columnist and ABC news reported John Stossel has an editorial at (HT: WorldMagBlog) on the benefits of introducting free market competition to the primary/secondary education system through a voucher-type system. Most of the points he makes are obvious - as economists say, idealized free markets lead to Pareto-optimal states, and competition brings a system that much closer to the idealized free market - but the article is nevertheless worth a read. In short, under the competitive system "Bad schools will close and better schools will open. And the better schools won't all be the same." Stossel points out that no one can predict exactly what will happen in a free market, but we do know that the best ideas win out. He also gives some helpful real world examples of things that have already been tried. Check it out.

Posted by kpearce at 01:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 09, 2006

Cardinal Frances George Was Right

The New York Times is reporting that Cardinal Francis George of the Catholic Arch-Diocese of Chicago, is being heavily criticized after a local priest, Daniel McCormack, was arrested on charges of sexually abusing young boys. The allegations were brought to Cardinal George's attention last August, but no action was taken by the diocese at that time. In 2002, the Catholic Church instituted a policy that a priest should be removed immediately if "there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred." Cardinal George, it is alleged, failed to follow this guideline.

While I don't know the specifics of the situation or the history of Cardinal George or Father McCormack, I want to advance the controversial thesis that in this case, Cardinal George was right. The church's guidelines say that a priest should be removed when there is "sufficient evidence," and this with good reason! Anyone can accuse someone of sexual abuse, and pastors are often particularly embroiled in political struggles. If one unsubstantiated allegation of sexual abuse could remove someone from the ministry, then any controversial pastor would likely be accused. Because the allegation didn't have to be substantiated or come with any evidence, people could threaten allegations against priests as a sort of blackmail. In short, it would create an utterly ridiculous situation. Instead, very sensibly, the Catholic Church has decided that a priest should be removed only when the allegations are actually credible.

In this particular case, the family of the victim went to the civil authorities. The civil authorities were prohibited from giving any information to the church, and they determined that the evidence was not sufficient to press charges. The church had no way of pursuing its own investigation, as it didn't even know who the accuser was, and it had it on the authority of the police that there was not enough evidence to prove Father McCormack's guilt. So the church did the right thing: nothing. The family of the victim was given contact information for the ecclesiastic authorities, and should have contacted them, so that the church could determine the credibility of the allegations, but they did not.

Clearly, a terrible thing has happened here, and, if he is proven guilty, Father McCormack should be disordained, perhaps excommunicated, and certainly put in jail. However, even if the charge that an additional instance of abuse occurred after the arch-diocese was notified of the early allegations is true, I do not believe that Cardinal George can be held responsible for what has happened here. We simply can't destroy the life/career/ministry/etc. of every individual who is accused of this sort of thing. We must investigate the charges and find out whether they are true. Certainly, if the charges are even remotely credible the individual should be removed from contact with minors until the investigation is concluded, but in this case, the church had no way of judging whether the charges were remotely credible. The information was simply not released to them.

Posted by kpearce at 01:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Update on Washington Primary System Case

Update (2/9/2005, 11:23AM, Athens time): The Court did not release its decision yesterday, as I had expected it to. Hopefully it will be up tonight.

Update (2/9/2005, 8:06PM, Athens time): Still no decision. I've noticed that some of the opinions that have been published have been published months rather than days after the hearing. I find this very strange, since, as I understand it, the Supreme Court publishes its decisions usually a matter of hours after oral arguments (or perhaps the next morning). At any rate, I'll continue watching for any new developments.

The Ninth Circuit has still not released its decision in the Washington primary system case (when it is released, the decision will be available here), but a WMA of the oral arguments is now online. The 45 minute audio file is worth listening to for a summary of the arguments. There is not a lot of legal jargon, and it is not boring. On the other hand, there is really nothing new here. All five lawyers (representing defendants the Grange and the state, and plaintiffs the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the Libertarian Party) and the judges agree that a completely non-partisan primary would be constitutional. The political parties contend that the initiative was presented to the voters in such a way that it was clearly believed not to create a non-partisan election system. The state and the Grange insist that the plain language of the initiative redefined the term "partisan office" to mean simply "an office for which a candidate may indicate a party preference and have that preference appear on the ballot," and that the voters of Washington understand that this differs from a non-partisan election only in the inclusion of an additional piece of information on the ballot, and the elimination of this piece of information would not undermine the effect of the initiative as understood by the voters who passed it. Furthermore, the state and the Grange hold that the parties have no right to control what candidates are placed on the ballot, or what information about the candidates is included; this is up to the voters. The parties' counter-claim is that they do have a right to control what candidates are identified as members or nominees of their party. This is part of their freedom of association. The state and the grange respond that the parties are free to nominate whomever they wish, but this nomination will not affect the ballot or the election process. It is up to the parties to use their right of free speech to tell voters who is the "real" Republican on the ballot, etc. The state has no obligation to fund the parties' dissemination of this information. Furthermore, the plain language of the statute says that the letter next to the candidates name represents only his political party preference, not the party which nominated him, or the party of which he is a member, and the candidate has a First Amendment right to say that he likes the Republican Party, even if the Republican Party doesn't like him. The political parties point out that one of the statements made in the voters' guide in support of the initiative was that the ballot will look the same as the old blanket primary ballots, and this clearly means that the voters will have no way of knowing that some of the candidates were not actually nominated by, or perhaps are not even members of, the parties they indicate as their preferences. The Grange's lawyer was rebuffed by one of the judges near the end of the hearing when he pointed out that when he tells people that his football team preference is for the Seattle Seahawks, no one believes that he is a member or representative of the Seahawks. I think this is a perfectly analogous case, but at least one of the Circuit judges did not.

So that's the state of things. After listening to the defendants' arguments and the judges' comments, I thought that the judges might or might not overturn the portion of the statute permitting candidates to list their party preference, but certainly not the whole statute. After listening to the plaintiffs' arguments and the judges' responses, however, I am no longer certain. This could go any which way. If the judges rule that the portion of the statute permitting candidates to state their party preference is unconstitutional, but uphold the rest of the system, I expect that the case will not be appealed to the Supreme Court, but the parties may introduce a referendum to go back to the Montana-style primary used in the 2004 election (I don't think such a referendum would pass, and they wouldn't dare try to do it, even if they could, without a referendum, after the last time they passed it and the voters implemented the new system on initiative with 60% of the vote). If the statute is entirely overturned or entirely upheld, I expect the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court. If the decision is posted today, it will be posted by 10AM PST, which is 8PM my time. I'll still be where I have internet access by then, so hopefully I'll be able to post on it this evening.

Posted by kpearce at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2006

Status of Washington's Primary System

In September, I blogged on the present state of Washington's "top two" primary system. In brief, after being sued by the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties to invalidate the "blanket primary," which allowed voters to vote for any one candidate for each office in the primary, regardless of party, and then sent the top vote getter from each party to the final election, voters passed on initiative a "top two" primary which permitted candidates for so-called "partisan" offices to list their party preference, but otherwise ignored parties, sending the top two vote-getters to the final election. In this system, we do not, properly speaking, have a nominating primary. Rather, we have a general election in September (as of yesterday, I guess it's in August - see here), and a run-off in November.

As I reported in the previous post, the political parties have sued again. The parties argue that the top two primary infringes upon their freedom of association by forcing them to endorse candidates not chosen exclusively by their members, and therefore the entire system should be struck down. The state and the grange counter that (a) the parties do not endorse the candidates; the candidates merely state their preference for one party over another, and (b) the portion of the act permitting candidates to state their party preference could be struck down, if unconstitutional, without striking down the entire system.

The case was heard by the federal district court for western Washington, beginning May 19, 2005. On July 29th, Judge Thomas Zilly issued a permanent injunction against the enforcement or implementation of any portion of the top two primary initiative (I-872).

This Monday, February 6, oral arguments in the case will be heard by the Ninth Circuit. I'm not a legal expert, and I don't necessarily know about the history of Ninth Circuit rulings, but I can't see how they can (or, for that matter, how the district court could) strike down the entire statute on the basis of a minor provision relating to a statement of party preference. Furthermore, I must again (and again) state my utter disgust at the Libertarian Party of Washington State's decision to participate in this lawsuit. The Libertarian Party doesn't participate in state run primaries, even in states where it has major party status (as it did in Washington until recently) because it opposes the idea of states running primaries. Here, the Party has decided to oppose a measure which it should, according to principle, support, because before the measure was passed, it had a gauranteed place on the November ballot, and with the measure it won't! Well, now it doesn't anyway, because it has lost its major party status, but it continues to pursue this extremely unprincipled lawsuit. If the Libertarian Party wishes to pass itself off as "the party of principle," it MUST hurry up and back off of this lawsuit. I discussed in my previous post the ways in which the Libertarian Party can exercise "quality control" over candidates running under its name in this kind of "free market" context.

I will try to post news as soon as I'm able to find it regarding the outcome of the arguments on Monday. In the meantime, all the official documents are here.

Posted by kpearce at 04:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

On Public Education

In the comments to this post on recent attempts to insert intelligent design into public high schools as philosophy, Ed Darrell and I have been having a discussion about more general questions of public education. I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece about my general view of this subject here, since the discussion is looking like its about to get quite long and detailed.

As I see it, there are two issues here: the government's use of tax money to fund education, and the government's exercise of power over how education is done. Furthermore, there are two facets to each of these issues: the legal question (does the US Constitution grant the government this authority?) and the theoretical issue (should the government have this authority?). This makes a total of four topics for discussion. First, however, let's look at a more general question about taxation and the moral justification of government.

Mr. Darrell recently commented, "Paying taxes to education [of] children is not confiscation. Government by consent of the governed is not despotism. Democracy is not dictatorship." Now, there is a sense in which all of this is true. That is, there is a real difference between having your money stolen and used for private purposes for the benefit of the thief, and paying taxes to government which are used for the general benefit of society. There is a real difference between a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" and a despot who holds power by force. There is a real difference between power being vested in the people, and power being vested in a single man.

However, I believe there is also another sense in which these distinctions are not so pronounced as people generally think. If we choose not to pay for the education of others, we are thrown in prison. In this sense, this type of taxation IS properly described as confiscation; the government applies coercive force to get our money and give it to someone else. "Government by the consent of the governed" is a misnomer: many years ago, the people of this country willingly established our government, but people today are not permitted to "opt out." If someone attempts to remove himself from the social contract (as people, in fact, have), the government applies coercive force to them. I, personally, were I offered the choice, would choose the US government as it is presently constituted over anarchy (although I see much room for improvement in the present government). However, the fact that I would give you money if asked gives you no right to steal it without asking. My rights are violated simply because I have no opportunity to make the choice of whether to give it to you or not. Not ALL of the governed consent. Absolute democracy has been called "the tyranny of the majority," and it might as well be called "dictatorship of the majority." This is why we have a constitutionally limited republic instead. Only those constitutional limitations ensure that our democracy is better than dictatorship. Democracy can, in fact, be worse than dictatorship, because the mob has no direction. It is entirely unpredictable and sways back and forth depending on the mood of the moment. Dictators tend to at least pursue definite ends (although, of course, this can make them worse rather than better, if those ends are evil), rather than to act completely at random. It is the constitutional limitations of our republic, protecting unpopular opinions and limiting what the majority may dictate, that ensures the superiority of our form of government over ditatorship.

Back to the issue at hand. Public education is obviously a good thing. That is, it is good for just anyone to be able to go get an education, and not only the rich. But in this country when we speak of "public education" we don't just mean education available to anyone, we mean socialized education. There are other ways of implementing public education that don't invovle government control, as for instance scholarships offered by private universities and independent charities. These have existed on the primary and secondary education levels as well. However, they have never been good enough to make education truly public, as the socialized system has. I believe that they could be good enough in a culture that placed enough value on education that many many people gave to these charities, but they never have been. As such, I want to make clear that, despite the discussion below, I wouldn't want to suddenly abolish the current system. However, I do think that it is deeply flawed, both in areas of legality and in areas of political morality. Let us discuss the issue at each level off government at which it might be addressed, in turn.

First, the federal government. The federal government has only the authority explicitly granted to it by the Constitution (as the 9th and 10th amendments make clear). The Preamble to the Constitution does not give the government an unlimited power to, for instance, "promote the general welfare." Rather, it merely states that the founders believed that by organizing the government in the way they do in the main body of the Constitution they could "promote the general welfare" and acheive the other ends listed in the Preamble. The subtext, it seems to me, is that if they have failed in these ends, they invite us either to use the amendment process, or to get rid of the Constitution and start over. The Preamble is merely a statement of purpose. Nor does the federal government have unlimited power to make laws which it deems "necessary and proper" - if this were the case, Art. I Sect. 8 of the Constitution would be unnecessary. Rather, Art. I Sect. 8 Para. 18 says that the legislature may "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." (emphasis added.) That is, it may make the laws that need to be made in order to make effective use of the powers given to the federal government elsewhere in the Constitution. In a recent marijuana case, Justice Scalia, who has a very conservative (not in the sense of Republican, but in the sense of restricted) reading of this section in general, ruled, for instance, that prohibiting the transport of marijuana across state lines was part of regulating "interstate commerce," and that, because the government could not easily do this without prohibiting marijuana altogether, prohibition of marijuana was "necessary and proper" to "regulation of interstate commerce." But the necessary and proper clause doesn't just say the the government can do whatever it deems necessary and proper. It must be necessary and proper to the exercise of some authority the government has elsewhere.

Now, there is no mention of education in Art. I Sect. 8. I therefore conclude that, on the legal issue, the federal government has no power to give money to education or to regulate it in any way, except of course for regulations on interstate commerce, which may cover "distance learning" programs where the student and the university are in different states, or boarding schools paid for by parents living in another state, or similar circumstances.

Now, how about the moral issue? One person is forced to pay taxes to finance another's education. I see no moral justification for this whatsoever. Sure, I ought to be willing to voluntarily assist with the education of others, but this doesn't justify the government in forcing me. Furthermore, education, especially at the primary level, necessarily involves some degree of indoctrination, and government control of how children are indoctrinated is a serious violation of the rights of parents, especially when the governnment requires children to attend school. Since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, the federal government does exert a degree of control over primary and secondary school curriculum, and this is a bad thing.

On to the state level. The 10th Amendment makes it clear that the state governments have powers which the federal government does not. As such, it may be the case that a state is legally justified in running a public education system, depending on how its constitution is written. Nothing in the Federal Constitution seems to prohibit this, as long as it cannot be construed as depriving anyone of liberty, which would make it run afoul of the 14th Amendment.

As for the moral issue, I don't see how it is any different on the state level than the federal level, so I must continue to, in principle if not in practice, oppose (socialized) public education, even if it takes place entirely at the state level.

Finally, what if education was handled on the city level? This, I think, would be a great improvement. In fact, most control over education is on this level, and much of it is funded by property tax levys. If a person doesn't like living in a city, there are many states, especially in the western US, that have large areas that are not governed by any city council. This gives the "implicit social contract" argument real application in this situation.

Suppose public education was controlled and funded entirely on the city level. Here I believe that, because of the extra strength granted to the "social contract" argument by the possibility of "opting out," the system could have moral justification. If you don't like what one city does, there are many cities and there are areas that are not in a city. Furthermore, cities could choose whether or not to admit people who do not live in the city and do not pay property taxes. Some cities who were feeling charitable would no doubt admit everyone. Others might not admit outsiders, or might charge them tuition. This would also create better free market competition between schools, since every one could do essentially whatever it wanted. They would all want to have better placement records in colleges and jobs, and parents would want their children in the best one. Schools would be free to innovate in order to acheive this end. This, I believe, would be much better than what currently exists certainly morally, and possibly also practically.

Posted by kpearce at 12:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

Can High School Students Handle Philosophy?

Brian Leiter, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas Austin, points to an LA Times article about a lawsuit against a California public school district over an attempt to introduce an elective course entitled "philosophy of design." The suit charges that the course is about promoting a particular religion, rather than looking at the issue in the sort of balanced way a permissible "comparative relgion" course would. Now, if the charge is true and the course teaches only one viewpoint and seeks to convince students of that viewpoint, then it is a bad philosophy class (the constitutional issue is, of course, also somewhat important, but I tend to ignore it since the federal deparment of education is unconstitutional anyway). However, evaluating the course is not my primary interest. What I'm interested in are Leiter's comments. He says,

Of course, there are real philosophical issues about naturalism and intelligent design, but they have nothing to do with the proposed course in California, and, indeed, they are far too hard for high school students. ( ... It would be a marvel if there were high school students prepared to sort through the issues about substance dualism, antirealism about material objects, and the theory of perception that are implicated in genuine philosophical discussion of the issue.)

Are high school students prepared to handle these issues? Can they be taught on that level without doing more harm than good? The thing about philosophy, in my view, is that, at least historically, the questions have been more important than the answers. This is certainly true pedagogically (consider the "Socratic" method). Furthermore, the questions philosophers consider are the questions that any deep thinker will eventually get to, with or without actually studying philosophy. If you start from any observation and ask "why" enough times, eventually you will get to philosophy.

Nevetheless, there is a strong temptation toward elitism in philosophy, and it is very understandable. For instance, I can personally attest that the more I study philosophy the more I become irritated with people who refuse to think. Also, because of the universal availability of the questions, there are a lot of people out there who want to call themselves philosophers but have had no schooling, and this is something of an affront to someone who spends 8 to 10 years studying to become a philosopher (I guess I belong to the former group, since I call myself a philosopher after not even 3 full years of school, but I'm working toward that latter). However, I hold that this usage of language is legitimate. A "philosopher" is just that - a lover of wisdom. The term was used by Socrates/Plato to contrast with the sophists who claimed to actually have wisdom. The philosopher claims only to love and pursue it. Now, some people have pursued it farther than others, and they want a little credit, and they deserve more than a little, but does that mean that no one else is competent to think about philosophical issues? No! In many cases, the same evidence is available to all of us, so it would in fact be a logical fallacy to believe something just because some philosopher says it; everyone has to think about it for himself.

Now, back to the issue at hand: Leiter asserts that it is highly unlikely that any high school student could grapple adequately with the issues involved. Do they need to grapple adequately? Is it not of pedagogical value just to have them start thinking about it, and wanting more information? Intelligent design might even become an entry for a general introduction to philosophy since it has bearing on issues of metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of language (via questions of whether religious texts are consistent with evolution), and so forth.

Leiter lists three issues as examples of things that intelligent design is related to, and I say that they are all things that high school students could benefit by asking questions in relation to. This is not to say that everyone is equally good at answering this question, or that there is no priveleged place for professional philosophers, it is merely to say that high school students could benefit from being trained to ask the right kind of questions, and to start looking at a few possible answers, and anyone willing to put in the work is capable of accomplishing at least this much under a competent teacher (or perhaps just with a good book on the subject).

The first issue is "substance dualism." This view is also known as Cartesian dualism. It is the view that there are two completely different types of substance in the universe: the physical and the spiritual (or mental). That is, the physical world is one type of substance, and minds or souls are another. This is a question everyone is capable of understanding. When you ask "do I have a soul?" you implicitly ask the question of substance dualism. Descartes' Meditations are not difficult to read; motivated high school students with good teachers could easily get through it. That is not to say that there are not difficult problems in the text that have been debated by philosophers for centuries, and that people have devoted many years of scholarship to solving, but the basic outlines of Descartes' thoughts are within the reach of any thinking person. So is the question of substance dualism. Now, the contemporary philosophical literature on the subject is much more difficult, but that does not mean that high school students can't "sort through issues about substance dualism." They won't do it as well as professional philosophers, but then they don't understand Newtonian mechanics as well as professional physicists, but no one thinks they shouldn't be taught Newtonian mechanics. In fact, in many high school physics or chemistry classes the very most basic principles of quantum mechanics and relativity are at least mentioned in a qualitative sort of way, and these are extremely difficult issues! But that doesn't mean high school students can't start trying to wrap their minds around ideas like superpositions or wave-particle dualism or "warped" space. Likewise, high school students are equipped to start asking questions about substance dualism, if they are sufficiently motivated and well taught.

Leiter's second issue is "anti-realism about material objects." What he means, I think, is basically the same idea as "representation dualism" (there are a lot of "dualisms"). This is a concept which I personally believe (a) to have been pioneered by a favorite of mine, Parmenides, and (b) to be the really foundational question that makes it possible to start doing metaphysics as something distinct from physics. Representation dualism claims that the world we see (the representation) is not identical with the "ontological ground-floor," as it were, of the universe. That is, if the world we see is real at all there exists something that is more real. If one takes the description of the universe from, e.g., particle physics to be fundamental, one is already endorsing representation dualism, because the particles are not the things that we are aware of experiencing in every day life. In fact they are not even similar. This issue really isn't that hard to start inquiring about either, as you can see.

Finally, he mentions "theory of perception." Now, I don't even want to begin to discuss theory of perception, because there are so many issues and I'm not sure which ones count as "basic," but clearly we all know what perception is, what it means to perceive, and we are all equipped to at least start asking questions.

I hold that asking these questions is greatly beneficial to intellectual development, even if one doesn't arrive at a good or satisfactory answer. However, there is the issue of whether the students can apply these issues to intelligent design. I think the answer is yes. Going from "are there non-physical substances?" to "is there a God?" is not hard. Seeing the difficulty of interaction between substances, particularly unlike substances, is also not hard (but solving the difficulty is; that's what makes i a "difficulty"!). Asking questions like, "if the world has a Creator, what kind of being is it?" is also not hard (but, again, answering them is). Asking whether the world we see is the fundamental reality, and understanding the arguments of Berkeley and Hume that it can't be, is not hard. Answering that question is. Asking all these questions, and making first halting attempts to at least understand what the possible range of answers is is of great benefit to one's intellectual development. If the class was taught well, I don't understand how anything other than excessive academic elitism could motivate an educator in the field of philosophy to oppose it.

Now, Leiter does go on to charge that "this course is obviously just masquerading as philosophy in order to present crackpot theories as though they had scientific support or standing," and perhaps he is right. Perhaps the course doesn't exist for the purpose of an examination of the philosophical issues surrounding intelligent design. Perhaps, instead, the "philosophy" label is merely an excuse to push religious indoctrination into public schools. If he has good reason to believe that this is the case (and, as I said, I haven't investigated this issue), then Leiter is quite justified in his opposition to the course. As I said, IF it is taught well, there is no good reason to oppose it. However, given the degree of knowledge about philosophy found in most public school teachers (and most people, in general), and given the (lack of) availability of good textbooks, it may be highly unlikely that the class will be good. I merely hold that Leiter greatly overestimates the amount of difficulty there is in bringing difficult philosophical issues to high school students.

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January 12, 2006

Propaganda, Abortion, and the New York Times

I am a regular reader of the New York Times, and I must admit that I often sympathize with the assertion of many conservatives that the Times is biased toward the Democratic party. However, I think this concern is much overstated. The Times routinely portrays both sides of issues on the Op-Ed page, and also in factual reporting. Biases of omission, or phrasings that seem to make value judgments rather than report fact, do occur and tend to occur in a decidedly liberal direction, but if there is real persistent bias in the Times, I would say that it has to do primarily with the persons they choose as representatives of various positions and people-groups. For instance, the Bush administration is taken to represent all conservatives (sometimes even all non-Democrats), Pat Robertson is taken to represent all Evangelicals (sometimes even all Christians), etc. When the debate on certain issues is represented as being between the Bush administration and a few leading Democrats in the Senate, without considering other positions, biases of omission that make both sides appear extremist and tend to motivate alarmist positions are a common result. What I want to point out here is a one-line comment about abortion in this article about the Alito hearings. After reporting some sensationalist remarks by Senator Durbin to the effect that Alito might become a decisive vote illegalizing abortion because of his statement some years ago that abortion was not consitutionally protected, the Times comments, "Overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal but would leave the question in the hands of states."

Now the staff editorialists of the Times are, I would say, even more vehemently anti-federalist than anti-Bush. I remember seeing a staff editorial during the Roberts hearings about how the increasing federalism of the Supreme Court could undermine all the functions that we have become used to the "national" (I hesitate to use the word "federal") government performing. However, this comment is very well placed, and brings about a very important question. Why is this outcome so unacceptable? After the re-election of President Bush, many liberals began to make sarcastic remarks about "blue states" seceding. If liberals are so opposed to living under the rule of the Republican leaders the majority of the nation elects, why is it that they are also opposed to limiting the power of those same leaders, and leaving decisions about these divisive issues on the state level? Everyone seems to see the abortion debate as centering around the Roe v. Wade decision and I don't understand it - Samuel Alito doesn't seem to either. Alito keeps saying that Roe was substantially modified, though also substantially upheld, by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Furthermore, these decisions are about what the government can and can't do. Why are liberals so afraid of allowing this issue to be decided by the proper legislative process? Why does it belong in the judicial branch?

The above notwithstanding, I think there does exist a good reason why the Supreme Court has been making deicsions on abortion: it is indeed, just as the fanatics on both sides point out, an issue of rights. The question is really about whether the fetus has a right to life and whether this right trumps the mothers right to exclusive control of her body, and this is a very difficult issue. It seems to me that even if the fetus was not a person but only a potential person, it would have at least some rights, and these rights would probably increase as it went to term (Jewish law sees the issue this way). However, it seems to me that it makes a lot of sense to say that the fetus is a complete person from the perspective of legal rights from the moment of conception (the fetus is at this point a living organism with unique human DNA, and that seems like a reasonable definition of person for the purpose of legal rights), and if not at conception certainly at first brainwave (although this makes the issue far more difficult, as not all fetuses have their first brainwave at the same number of weeks after conception, and detecting brainwave activity is difficult). This makes the case (at least after first brainwave) like the case of an unwanted guest who somehow comes to be in your home through no transgression of his own (e.g. he stumbles in during a blizzard, quite by accident). Now, certainly it would be wrong to actively kill this individual in the course of removing him from your house, which, I understand, is what happens in "partial birth" abortions. But what if you remove him from your house, back into the blizzard, without your personally doing any active harm to him, but knowing that he will die of exposure? Certainly this is immoral, but ought it to be illegal? I lean toward yes on this issue, but I'm not entirely sure. The thing to do, if you are unwilling to take care of this person, is to call the police to come and get him. But what would happen in a "state of nature" with no government? Or what if the police can't get there? How long are you expected to keep him in your house? If there were no police, would you be expected to find someone else to take care of him? If he had a "right" to be taken care of in that way, that would be a "positive right," therefore he has no such right. Furthermore, there is no real analogue to just calling the police in the abortion case (although we can imagine a situation in which the government or some charity will pay for the cost of removing the fetus and transplanting it to a willing host, and technology is not far from being able to make this happen, I think), so what happens here? Does the analogy break down at this point?

Weighing these kinds of questions about rights is one of the primary things that the Supreme Court does, and so it certainly makes some sense that abortion cases would come before them. However, the Supreme Court is only supposed to deal with rights protected by the Constitution, not with all "natural rights" (although one may claim that the 9th and 10th amendments are intended to protect all natural rights) - if we discover new natural rights that aren't in the Constitution, we should amend it. The Supreme Court may be right to say that if a woman is prohibited from having an abortion in a case where she will die if she does not, she is "deprived of life ... without due process of law," but does the fetus have due process rights as well? This at least is an issue of Constitutional interpretation and belongs in the Supreme court. The first section of the 14th amendment reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Now, is the phrase "nor shall any state deprive any person..." intended to set up a contrast with the previous statements which are about citizens, or are we still talking only about people who have been born or naturalized in the U.S.? I don't know. Even if it is talking about all persons, as opposed to just citizens, does the fetus count, legally? I don't know that either.

Suppose, however, that the fetus is not protected by the 14th amendment (or any other part of the Constitution), and that the mother's life is not endangered. How is this now a constitutional issue? Why should the Supreme Court make decisions in this case? Does anything in the Constitution really have to do with this decision? If not, it should be decided by legislatures, preferably on the state level (unless Article I Section 8 gives some kind of authority to the federal government to handle the issue).

These are just some thoughts, and not necessarily a considered position. I think this issue is much more complicated than most people on either side want to admit and, further, that the Bible is not so clear as most Evangelicals want to admit (most of the arguments from Scripture I've heard would lead to the conclusion, once taught by the Catholic church, that there was a moral duty to attempt to ensure that every time a man ejaculates it results in the creation of a child, since the Bible is always saying that God knew us before we were conceived, see e.g. Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:16 - this is of course also connected with the theory of Van Leeuwenhoek and others that humans are "pre-formed" in either sperm or ova). As I said, I lean toward the position that the fetus is a person from conception and should therefore be protected, I just think that there is more room for doubt than most people want to acknowledge. This gives rise to the question of what the government ought to do when acting under uncertainty in cases like this, an issue I hope to address in a later post.

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December 30, 2005

Homeland Security Visit to UMass Student a Hoax!

The story I reported here regarding the UMass Dartmouth student who reported having been visited by federal agents in connection with his request for Mao's Little Red Book has been revealed as a hoax. See here and here. Perhaps he just needed an extension on his paper...

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December 19, 2005

And Here I Thought Joseph McCarthy Was Dead...

From The Standard-Times, via slashdot: A senior at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth received a visit from federal agents two months ago, after requesting a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's Little Red Book through his school's inter-library loan program. Details are sparse, but it appears that some branch of the federal government (presumably the Department of Homeland Security) was monitoring the inter-library loan system, apparently without a warrant. The agents told the student, whom the Standard-Times had the courtesy not to identify, that the book was on a "watch list" (is that the same as a "blacklist"?). Buyer beware! Apparently everyone who reads Communist propaganda is now a terror suspect, since all of the terrorists we're worried about are atheist Commies who read Mao. The student wanted the book for a research paper in a class on fascism and totalitarianism taught by Professor Robert Pontbriand.

Ironic, isn't it, that a student was the subject of domestic espionage in the United States as a result of taking a class on totalitarianism?

Brian Glyn Williams, another professor familiar with the incident, said he had been considering offering a course on terrorism in the history department next semester, but is now concerned that this would put students at risk. He was quoted as stating, "I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that."

This is starting to get serious now. Very serious. Here we have people afraid to teach classes and do academic research because Big Brother is watching. The Senate had better get on top of this in a hurry if ANY of them want to keep their seats. And, in case you hadn't noticed, there is no connection between Mao Tse-Tung and Al Qaeda. Bush had enough trouble getting the public to swallow the alleged Saddam-Qaeda tie; the administration will NEVER convince ANYONE to believe that students who study Mao Tse-Tung are potential terrorists. Ridiculous.

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December 12, 2005

The Myth of Narnia

I'm studying for finals right now, and don't have time for a full discussion, but I want to give a quick note on this New York Times editorial on the commericalization of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," and the ensuing fight between the Christian right and secular Narnia lovers. I think the author of this editorial is right on in taking the middle road with her claim that, on the one hand, the "religious subtext" is obviously present but, on the other hand, C.S. Lewis would not appreciate attempts by Christians to make that subtext overt or to see the purpose of Narnia as "proselytizing" children (much less to capitalize on it financially). I would like to make one further point on this subject: C.S. Lewis would have seen the huge success of Narnia and its ability to reach non-Christians as an argument in favor of Christianity. Lewis believed that God had implanted deep drives and desires in the human soul which are filled only by relationship with God, and that humans have an instinctive understanding of and longing for the things Christianity claims to provide. Lewis, a scholar of Medieval literature, understood myth as being an appeal to these sorts of universal desires and Narnia is, in some degree, a test of this hypothesis (although I do not claim that that is why Lewis wrote them, or what he would have us take from them). The Narnia story takes the themes of Christianity outside of any Christian context, into a fantasy story, and it has been seen that these themes resound deeply with people. Lewis's explanation is that this is due to a deep desire we all have for what Christianity claims to provide, and he hoped that the Narnia stories would awaken these desires in their readers. This may draw people a step closer to Christian faith, and that may have been part of Lewis's intention, but this is much different than "proselytizing" and it is ruined if people go around handing out tracts on the Christian symbolism to secular movie-goers.

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December 06, 2005

Digital Rights Management Software: Everyone Gets Screwed

The New York Times (see also slashdot) is running an Op-Ed by the lead singer of the band OK Go (which I have never heard of) explaining why Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, like the stuff Sony BMG got itself in trouble with recently (see Freedom to Tinker, the blog of Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten, for all the technical details. Professor Felten first discussed the security flaws that got Sony in trouble here.) isn't good for anyone. In particular, the author argues, bands who have DRM forced upon them by their record labels end up being heard by fewer people, and ultimately sales of CDs and concert tickets decrease. We knew this, but it's good to see someone in the mainstream media printing it, and it's good to see recording artists, the people hurt most by the record companies' greed, finally understanding the situation.

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December 02, 2005

Quake Interview

I've just returned from an interview with Philadelphia's CN8 News regarding Quake magazine. The interview will air tonight (Friday) at 7 and 10.

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November 30, 2005

Quake response

I want to draw your attention to a comment on my previous post on Quake magazine which provides this link to a post on Caveat Lector, a blog by Alex Perkins, a friend of mine from Greek class, written in response to the discussion of this topic by Andrew and I. I very much appreciate the calm and rational tone of the post and the fact that Alex has decided to address the topic intellectually rather than emotionally. I have posted a lengthy comment on the subject there. I reccomend that all of you read Alex's original post and my comment.

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November 29, 2005

More on Quake magazine

The Daily Pennsylvanian has published an editorial by Andrew Rennenkamp discussing Quake magazine (which I discussed previously here). As far as I can tell, they have decided not to publish Phil's letter, but I was unable to find out for certain as they do not seem to post letters to the editor online. If you look at the comments to Andrew's editorial, you will find that it is drawing quite a bit of flack, with a lot of criticism (a large percentage of it ad hominem) and relatively little support. This is, of course, typical of the attitude to sex in just about any university environment.

Now, Andrew is a personal friend of mine and on the whole I agree with him, but I can't say I'm 100% in support of Andrew's comparison of pornography to heroin, or of his decision to completely ignore Quake's claim to be "literary erotica" as something distinct from porn. The latter may be attributed to the limited space he has to make his point, but without this discussion commenters may be correct in claiming that Andrew's general discussion of pornography has little to do with Quake. His argument would be much stronger if he successfully collapsed the distinction between "literary erotica" and pornography in the case of Quake, but I'm not sure he can, and the issue isn't even addressed. As to the other issue, the comparison between pornography and heroin, I think that Andrew is correct that pornography is highly psychologically addictive and damaging, and the editorial page isn't a bad place for a bit of hyperbole. But is comparing porn to heroin just a bit of harmless (perhaps even helpful) hyperbole, or is it a gross misrepresentation of the issue? I'm honestly not sure.

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November 23, 2005

Carnivals Galore!

Within the last 24 hours, Philosopher's Carnival XXII has gone up at For Those of You At Home, and Christian Carnival ICVII has gone up at Thought Renewal. The Philosopher's Carnival links to my recent post on judicial activism, and the Christian Carnival is linking to "Ivy League Elitist ... Porn?".

At the Philosopher's Carnival (though not at the Christian Carnival), it is customary for the host to comment on each of the posts. Ian Olasov ends his very kind remarks on my post with the line "Now all we need to do is force our elected officials to speak the way Mr. Pearce does..." Reminds me of Plato: "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who are present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic Book V, 473c-d, tr. G.M.A. Grube). And so your question for the day: is this true or false? Is it necessary for political leaders to be experienced in highly theoretical modes of reasoning? Why or why not?

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November 21, 2005

Ivy League Elitist ... Porn?

Clarification 11/22/05: At one point in the post below I question whether pornography is protected by the first amendment. Obviously, as a libertarian, I believe in the right of consenting adults to create and exchange pornography, commercially or non-commercially. My doubts are about whether the language of the first amendment actually protects these rights, whether pornography counts as "speech," whether the government might be justified in placing restrictions on its public exchange in ways that wouldn't be justified with other types of publications (since my rights would be violated were I somehow forced to view pornography), etc. Lest the clarification should need a clarification, allow me to explain that, while I believe that pornography is bad/immoral/evil/etc., I don't think that this is the type of morality it is permissible for the government to legislate. The below is, however, not about the government, but about a private institution, and it is not about permitting or not permitting an activity, but about funding it.

This September, the Student Activities Council of the University of Pennsylvania approved the funding of Quake, Penn's "literary erotica magazine," and the first edition of the magazine was distributed on Penn's campus last Friday. Phil Gommels, the chairman of the SAC executive, is a devoted Christian and a personal friend of mine. He has publicly stated his opposition to the funding of Quake and plans to submit a letter to the editor for publication in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, in the near future. I have obtained an early draft of his letter, which reads as follows:

To the Editor:

On Friday afternoon, I was deeply dismayed to see the contents of Penn’s “Literary Erotica Magazine,” Quake. As Chairman of the student government body that funds this magazine I am deeply ashamed to be associated with this pornographic publication, and as a student of the University of Pennsylvania I am outraged that my money pays for it.

Last spring when Jessica Haralson and Jamie York came to the Student Activities Council (SAC) Executive Committee for recognition—the precursor to funding—they also had a feature article about their future publication running in the weekly 34th Street Magazine. In that article the founders of Quake noted that the notion that their magazine is pornography was a “misconception … they’ll have to deal with.” To rely on Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 Supreme Court definition of pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it;” regrettably this is it.

This year the student general fee charged to every student was $2,572. A portion of the general fee is allocated each year through the office of the Vice Provost of University Life (VPUL), and the Undergraduate Assembly (UA) to the Student Activities Council (SAC) to fund student groups. The Student Activities Council has a responsibility to the student body to spend their money in a way that is fair, responsible, and appropriate. I believed when they requested funding, and I maintain now, that funding Quake magazine is not an appropriate expenditure of student funds.

It is important that I am clear that, though I wish that these students did not desire to publish this sort of lewd publication, I do not desire to infringe on their right to do so. The first amendment guarantees them the Constitutional right to print this insofar as this constitutes speech. I also understand that the University of Pennsylvania has no mandate against the sort of content displayed in this publication, and so I do not dispute the ability of Quake to publish within University rules (however I wish those rules were different). My issue is regarding funding. That my money and the money of my likeminded classmates (and their parents) is funding this smut is a travesty.

As Chairman of SAC, I waive the right to vote in order to fairly moderate discussion, and vote only in occasion of ties. The other eight members of SAC-Exec vote on all funding decisions in closed meetings, and we present our decisions as a recommendation to the SAC General Body as a united front. I therefore, out of respect for the institution of SAC, enforce the decision of the SAC General Body. This article is my dissenting opinion. The views expressed here are my own personal views and are to be taken as such. They in no way reflect the views of the SAC General Body, SAC-Exec, or the members of either organization.

Quake was earlier reported on by 34th Street and Philadelphia Weekly. According to the 34th Street article, published at the time of Quake's initial recognition by SAC last April, Jessica Haralson, one of the magazine's founders, claims that "erotica" differs from pornography in that "erotica [not only] turns you on physically, but more than that leads you to question and challenge your perceptions about what it means to be a sensual person." She goes on to claim that it "stimulates the mind as well as the body." However, in addition to opposition to the publication of "erotica" with student funds, many Penn students are skeptical about the degree to which Quake has lived up to this statement and so differentiated itself from ordinary pornography.

I am of the belief that Quake's statements regarding the nature of "erotica" are sufficient that, if followed, the magazine would be unequivocally protected by the First Amendment, whereas true pornography - that is, material which does not communicate any ideas (and so is not speech) but has sexual arousal as its sole or primary purpose - may or may not be so protected (certainly it's protection is not unequivocal). I have not looked (and will not look) at the magazine, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as regards their obedience to their stated standards. However, I am nevertheless opposed to the university money being spent on the publication of "erotica."

The SAC funding policy states, in provisions 1-3, that funding will not be denied to groups based on opinions they express, but groups that support certain religious or political ideologies may not be funded. Chairman Gommels has often suggested in meetings of the SAC executive that it may be improper for SAC to deny funding to religious groups while granting funding to, for instance, LGBT groups which have as part of their purpose the promotion of an ideology (namely the belief that homosexual marriage is acceptable and/or that sexual contact between members of the same gender outside of marriage is acceptable) which is in direct opposition to the traditional forms of all three major western religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - all of which are well represented on Penn's campus. This would create an extremely one-sided debate were it not for the fact that organizations like Hillel (the Jewish campus ministry) and Campus Crusade for Christ receive substantial contributions from outside the university. (Note that Hillel represents a wide variety of Jewish traditions, including that of Reformed Judaism, which does not necessarily oppose homosexual practice, so it is not necessarily entirely on the other side of the debate from the LGBT groups, although it is certainly the case that many observant Jews - and all orthodox Jews - would consider Penn's LGBT groups to be in opposition to their religion.) It is also worth noting here that Penn has a substantial Muslim Students Association, which in my experience has never had significant publicity (their annual "Islam Awareness Week" aside).

Like the LGBT groups, Quake exists to promote an ideology antithetical to those supported by these religious groups, which are denied funding. Furthermore, Quake does not merely provide arguments (e.g. from psychology) that the "repressed" nature of traditional sexual ethics is wrong, or damaging, or whatever they think it is. Instead, they go so far as to present a medium which uses graphic depictions to increase the difficulty with which those who believe in traditional moral standards live according by them - and this task is already difficult enough! Ethically conservative students, parents, and donors are now paying for a publication designed to systematically undermine their moral values. This must be stopped.

If you are a Penn student, parent, or donor who opposes this publication, you may contact the SAC executive to express your opposition at The Penn administration has the authority to overrule the student government in this matter, so you may also wish to write to university President Amy Guttman via email at or via conventional mail at:

Office of the President
University of Pennsylvania
100 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

You may also call President Guttman's office to register your protest at 215-898-7221.

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November 16, 2005

Republican Opposition to Privacy Amendment Would Alienate Libertarians?

Today's New York Times has an Op-Ed entitled "Can I Get A Little Privacy?" in which Dan Savage argues that Democrats should propose a constitutional amendment to gaurantee a right to privacy. He goes on to claim that Republican opposition to the amendment "would alienate not only moderates, but also ... libertarian, small-government conservatives." Really? As I've discussed before, right-libertarians (and he certainly isn't talking about left-libertarians of the ACLU variety - what do the Republicans care about them?) are by definition opposed to the concept of "positive rights." Now, perhaps Savage has in mind a wording that would turn privacy into a negative right, as in "the right of the people to be secure against invasions of their personal privacy shall not be violated" (isn't that already in the fourth amendment?), but this has little to do with Roe v. Wade. In fact, the fourth amendment (and any amendment creating a "negative right" to privacy) makes enforcement of laws against abortion singularly difficult, but not impossible. The governnment would be required to show probable cause that something illegal had been done before looking at medical records, and this would be overseen by the judiciary. This means that a law prohibiting early abortions would be almost entirely unenforceable, but that does not make the law invalid. For instance, it is almost impossible to convict someone of treason in the US because of the criteria and standards of evidence involved, and these criteria are set up by the Constitution, but that doesn't make treason laws invalid.

Now, perhaps the liberals have in mind an amendment specifically keeping the government "out of the bedroom," as it were. This would be likely to garner support from libertarians. Would this cover a right to abortion? It would be debateable. (If it obviously and straightforwardly did, then it would cut down on the number of libertarians who supported it, because libertarians are deeply divided on this issue, due to the difficulty of determining whether the fetus is a person with rights.) To his credit, Savage does acknowledge that even with whatever amendment he has in mind, the issue would remain unsettled.

Personally, more in light of Guantanomo Bay than in light of the abortion issue, I've been considering the possibility of an amendment defining precisely who the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections apply to, and this would certainly have some bearing on this subject, but that's another topic for another post.

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November 04, 2005

What is Judicial Activism?

An article in today's New York Times about the continuing Supreme Court confirmation process discusses the degree to which "ideology" should or does play a role in judicial confirmations. In the course of this discussion, both Democrats and Republicans are accused of hypocrisy in this area, and they are obviously guilty on this point. Virtually all senators claim that ideology shouldn't matter for their own party's nominees, but should for the other party's. It goes on to discuss the question of "judicial activism." The Times quotes extensively from Professor Lee Epstein of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, who says many interesting things. The point that caught my eye was Professor Epstein's statement: "I told my class the other day I have no idea what judicial activism is. Maybe the best definition of a judicial activist is a judge you don't like." Some 50 years ago, George Orwell argued in a fantastic essay entitled "Politics and the English Language" that political manipulation had left many English language words without meaning: in particular, he claimed, words like "democratic" had come to mean "good" and words like "communist" or "fascist" had come to mean "bad" so that these words were no longer descriptive statements about governments, but merely value judgments. So I pose the question: does the phrase "judicial activist" have a descriptive content today? Did it ever? I believe that it did, and perhaps still does, but the left and the neo-Cons are today attempting to twist it for political purposes in much the way "democracy" and "communism" were once twisted, leading to precisely what Professor Epstein describes: a situation where the term "judicial activist" merely means "a judge I don't like."

The role of the judiciary branch is to resolve legal disputes. It is not, we can all agree, to make new laws. However, by the very nature of this purpose, the court will come across areas where the law is ambiguous. Courts have often ruled that excessively ambiguous laws are invalid. How should legal disputes be resolved by courts, and does interpreting the law really differ from inveting it?

Well, it depends. In an article I posted on earlier, Ronald Dworkin argued that in order for there to be a difference between interpreting the law and enforcing one's own ideology, one must have a comprehensive theory of law, and Dworkin is absolutely right.

The most fudamental principle of a free society is lex est rex: the law is king. That is, the first prerequisite for freedom is that the law be publicly available, predictably interpreted, and changed only according to specified and well understood processes. This is why the Constitution is so emphatic in it's prohibitions on ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, etc. An individual is more free when he is systematically and predictably persecuted according to law (as when, for instance, he is not allowed to enter certain buildings due to his skin color) than when he is subject to the whim of some ruler (as for instance when a dictator may order, after the fact, the imprisonment of all persons of a certain skin color who have entered certain buildings in the past, although they had no way of knowing they were prohibited from entering). The fear of a ruler's caprice undermines freedom even when the ruler does not in fact act in a discriminatory or excessively restrictive way.

However, there is the problem of the difficulty of interpreting texts. How can the judiciary interpret the Constitution in such a way that they will not be capricious and so undermine freedom? As Dworkin's argument shows, only by having a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation which restricts the application of the judges' policy preferences. "Judicial activism" occurs when a judge "legislates from the bench," as we say - that is, when he simply makes up laws according to his preferences rather than according to his unbiased interpretation of the law. Statements like Professor Epstein's stem not only from the manipulation of language by leftists and neo-Cons but also from the postmodern ideology that doubts whether texts have objective meaning at all. In law, they must have objective meaning, or we cannot have a free society.

Today, the left wants to say that anyone who overturns legal precedent is an activist. The right wants to say that anyone who supports liberal policies is an activist. In reality, judges who are not activists must meet two criteria: first, they must hold and consistently apply a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation, and, second, this theory must allow the legislative process to alter the judges' interpretations in predictable ways. To understand this, consider Justice Scalia. Despite his witty remarks and an intellect much sharper than most of us doing the predicting, he remains one of the most predictable judges on the court. He believes in a particular manner of interpreting the Constitution and he sticks to it. Want to change his decisions? Amend the Constitution, and you can trust him to follow it. Justice O'Connor, on the other hand, is an activist. Her decisions are completely unpredictable (more so, in fact, then most judicial activists, because her policy preferences are also rather unpredictable), and there is no way to tell how a new statute or constitutional amendment will affect her decisions, if at all.

So far, I have seen no justification for how "living Constitution" theories can avoid judicial activism. It simply does not provide a comprehensive theory of interpretation that can be used to insulate a judge's decisions from his policy preferences. A "living Constitution" theorist could continue interpreting the Constitution however he wants, even after an amendment was written with the express purpose of making his interpretation incorrect. If the Supreme Court is filled with this kind of capricious interpretation (as, indeed, to some degree it already is), it will fundamentally undermine our freedom. Therefore, if a judge's policy preference's are relevant to his confirmation, he should not be confirmed. Rather, his overall theory of interpretation and his ability and willingness to consistently apply it should be the determining factors in his nomination. In this way, and only in this way, can the phrase "judicial activism" continue to be meaningful, and only in this way can we preserve our freedom.

Posted by kpearce at 12:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 07, 2005

Why "Positive Rights" Are Stupid

They lead to crap like this. According to the mayor of San Francisco, "It is ... a fundamental right to have access universally to information" and providing wireless internet access for free to the city is " a civil rights issue as much as anything else." (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost) Wait, civil rights? Wireless internet? Next you'll be telling me they have a "fundamental right" to own a laptop with which to use the wireless internet. Where the heck does this crap come from?

Libertarian and classic liberal political theorists believe that all of our rights are what are called "negative" rights. That is, we have rights not to have certain things done to us by others. We do not have "positive" rights - rights to have things done for us. The reason for this is that any system of positive rights is necessarily arbitrary, as positive rights will conflict with one another and with negative rights, and they require a government with lots of money to implement, so they cannot be seen as predating government. By contrast negative rights can be formulated in ways that make them perfectly consistent, and it is coherent to speak of them in the absence of government.

The "right" to wireless internet is a positive right. (Note: "Rights" in quotation marks are purported rights that I don't believe in. This is easier than writing "purported" and "would be" all the time.) Therefore libertarian or classic liberal theorists can conclude, just from that fact, that it doesn't exist. Certainly you can see how it is fundamentally different from the right not to have anyone interfere with your religious practices, for instance. Religious freedom is, essentially, a negative right (if there was a positive right to religiou freedom, it would require government to build churches/monuments/whatever as per the requirements of every citizen's religious preference).

All of the rights actually enumerated in the US Constitution are negative rights. The "right" not to be prevented from obtaining an abortion is a negative right. The "right" to be provided with an abortion at state expense is a positive right.

Now for some trickier issues: the "right" to universal healthcare is a positive right. Can you see why it can't work, or at least can't be a "fundamental" right? If there were no government, a "right" to healthcare would mean that one could walk into a doctor's office and demand treatment at no cost, but this would clearly violate the negative rights of the doctor, particularly his right to determine what he does with his time and skills. In the presence of a government, massive taxation would be necessary to pay the doctor enough to support this alleged "right." This money has to come from somewhere, and therefore, again, someone's negative rights are violated when his money is confiscated by force to pay for someone else's healthcare.

On an even more controversial note: the "right" to privacy is a positive right! Now, perhaps when John Roberts discusses the "right" to privacy, he merely means the negative right of protection against unreasonable search and seizure, combined with a few other provisions of the Constitution, but certainly in the Roe v. Wade reasoning the "right" to privacy is positive, and therefore faulty. Why is this? The right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure means that the government (or anyone else) will not come look through your stuff. This is a negative right: it says what other people CAN'T do. But privacy requires a lot more than this. Suppose you bought a glass house, or you live outside in a field, or in a cave without a door. If you have a "right" to privacy, then no one can look into your house, even though it is in plain sight. Furthermore, a "right" to privacy requires the government not just to not spy on you itself, or not to allow others to take certain types of actions, but to take active steps to make sure that you have privacy, as for instance putting a door on your cave. Roe requires that you have this kind of right: the government must actively ensure that no one finds out whether or not you used birth control or had an abortion. It is one thing for the government to protect you from people snooping around through your stuff, but quite another for it to be required to make sure you have privacy.

Furthermore, once you open the door for positive rights, there is no principled way of distinguishing between the "right" to privacy or healthcare and the "right" to wireless internet. Another mayor, somewhere in Colorado if I remember correctly, said a few years ago that cable TV was a basic necessity and not a luxury because some places have very poor reception. When you have a scheme of "positive rights" anything that society decides is a "necessity" becomes a candidates for the status of "fundamental right" and it suddenly becomes coherent to talk about wireless internet or cable tv as "civil rights" issues. How dumb is that?!

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October 06, 2005

Ronald Dworkin on John Roberts and Principles of Constitutional Interpretation

The New York Review Of Books has published an insightful piece by Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant political philosopher at NYU, on what we can expect from John Roberts. For those of you who are on familiar, Dworkin wrote an excellent book entitled Sovereign Virtue in which he develops a systematic political philosophy which is capable (if successful) of justifying the voting patterns of moderate Democrats. This is very impressive, as most political philosophies end up in one of three extremes (libertarianism, Marxism, or utilitarianism), or else are hopelessly unsystematic. However, as you might expect I, having adopted one of the three aforementioned extremes, find Dworkin's theory to be flawed, and I find it to be flawed in two places: first, it requires that we develop moral obligations (particularly the obligation to pay taxes) based on actions we would probably have taken in a purely hypothetical situation (the "hypothetical insurance market"). Secondly, it makes the government very much like the Mafia: they try to sell us insurance against the application of coercive force against our person or property, then apply coercive force to us (throw us in prison) if we refuse to buy the insurance. Nevertheless, I was extremely impressed by Dworkin's book and, accordingly, was very interested in his article. (He also once wrote a paper, which I have not yet read, with a title along the lines of "Objectivity and Truth: You'd Better Believe It" - another reason to like him!) The article basically argues, rather compellingly, that Roberts's assertion that he will just follow "the law" are hollow in that following the law requires and overarching theory of legal interpretation, which Roberts claims not to have. As such, he has left himself with a very great amount of room for subjectivity, and has not successfully isolated his jurisprudence from his personal political views. I, for one, think this was him playing politics with the Senate, and that he does have an overarching theory of interpretation, but we will soon see. I didn't appreciate Dworkin's cynical, sideways remarks at justices like Antonin Scalia (a favorite of mine), but he also makes a good point about originalism, a point Roberts himself made during the hearing: the founders may have originally intended that certain parts of the Constitution be interpreted on the basis of current cultural beliefs, and the vagueness of certain portions of the text seem to bear this out (for instance, "cruel and unusual punishment").

Overall: a long article, but worth the time.

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Recording Industry Counter-Sued for ... Well, Pretty Much Everything

From Recording Industry vs. The People via the Electronic Frontier Foundation newsletter: "Tanya Andersen, a 41 year old disabled single mother living in Oregon, has countersued the RIAA for Oregon RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] violations, fraud, invasion of privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of 'outrage', and deceptive business practices." The suit charges, among other things, that Ms. Anderson was contacted by legal council for the RIAA in regard to music downloading (which she has never done) and offered to allow them to inspect her computer to prove her innocence, only to discover that they already had, by employing a company known as MediaSentry to illegally "spy" on private individuals' computers. An employee of Settlement Support Center, a front for the RIAA responsible for their racketeering activities (that is, for threatening people with baseless lawsuits in order to exact "settlement" money from them), acknowledged that they were aware of Ms. Anderson's innocence but could not drop the suit because that would encourage others to resist the RIAA's "enforcement" attempts. In case you read legalese, the actual court filing is here.

This seems like a big deal. Perhaps the RIAA will finally get it through their head that if they don't stop suing their most loyal customers (and accidentally suing random other people), they will have no more business. Increasingly, people are fed up with them, fed up with the system, fed up with the way they exploit both artists and fans to fill their pockets, when the "services" they supposedly provide, of music recording and distribution, have been rendered all but obsolete by technology. I like having CDs, in nice cases, with album covers, and the whole bit. I'm willing to pay for them. But very few of them are worth $18! Lately, actually, I haven't been downloading music, I've been buying used CDs from When I have a choice between a brand new CD at $18, and a used CD in great condition at $4, what do you think I'm going to do? It costs a few thousand dollars to record a CD. I suppose it can be more in some cases, and they spend money on the album covers, etc., but independent bands who pay for their own recording fees pay a few thousand dollars. CDs then cost about three cents each to mass produce. So you produce 10,000 CDs for a total cost of, say, $3,300, and wholesale them at the modest price of $10 each. That's a $100,000 return on a $3,300 investment and, guess what, the profit goes to record executives, not artists! This is for a relatively small record. As you go up in production and sales, the profit margin gets even bigger. Meanwhile, the artists make their money almost exclusively through concert tickets. Now, true, the record companies invested in the CD production plants, but imagine how much more money an artist could make by distributing directly to the Internet! Unfortunately, most recording artists don't seem to be that smart, and still think they are getting a great deal by getting signed to a record label. Maybe this was the case back when Lynyrd Skynyrd released "Workin' For MCA," but it is certainly no longer true. Artists and fans get nothing but ripped off by the record labels.

I would really like to see this case get some publicity. I think that the actions of the RIAA are both stupid and reprehensible. Perhaps the case will be sufficient to soil their image so that Congress will stop listening to their crap... Although this is probably wishful thinking, since the RIAA and MPAA own Senators Hatch and Leahy, and for reasons I completely fail to understand Utah and Vermont continue to re-elect them.

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September 27, 2005

The Right Way to Introduce Intelligent Design to Public Schools ...

is by teaching philosophy of science. Metaphysics and philosophy of science, no matter what anyone says, are "ontically prior" to experimental science. What that means is that you must have at least a working philosophy of science (with some difficult conceptual work it is possible to abstract away the metaphysics in most cases) in order to interpret the results of observations and experiments. Remember that "scientific method" thing you learned in high school (or, hopefully, middle school)? Scientists hold to a philosophical - not scientific - theory states that that method works. The details of this philosophical position will determine the interpretation of evidence. That is not to say that evidence cannot change the theory (you might find the evidence completely incomprehensible within your theory or, more likely, another theory might turn out to provide a more plausible interpretation of the evidence), but merely that one must have a working version of it before one can begin scientific enquiry.

The occasion for this post was a couple of news articles (NY Times (1), NY Times (2), AP) and an insightful post at Every Thought Captive concerning a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district for attempting to mandate teaching of intelligent design. It is expected that in the course of the case a court will have to answer the question of whether intelligent design is a "scientific" theory.

The answer to this question is, of course, no. Intelligent design is not a "scientific" theory. It is, in fact, a philosophical theory. Of course, as revered philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga recently remarked, the converse proposition, that natural processes are not guided by a higher Being, "is also not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance. That's not empirical science. That's metaphysics, or maybe theology. It's a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn't, of course, be taught in public schools." (Plantinga's quote was discussed at the time, last month, on several blogs, including Parableman and Prosthesis).

Now, I don't necessarily think it follows that it shouldn't be discussed in public schools. (Let me qualify that - I don't really think public schools should exist, I think that in a perfect world all schools would be private and parents would choose any school they liked, and private charitable funds would ensure that children of poor families could afford an education, but leaving that aside, insofar as the existence of public schools must be tolerated in our non-ideal world, I do not think that control by secular government ought to prevent them from discussing these issues). I do, however, think that it would be clearly and obviously wrong for the government to fund the propagation of any particular viewpoint on matters such as these (of course, as I have often said, education necessarily involves some degree of indoctrination, and this is my primary reason for opposing government involvement in it, besides the government having no right to appropriate the money involved).

The solution to this problem, I suggest, is to discuss the philosophy of science and its development at the beginning of every science class (I do remember having about a week on "scientific method" in just about every science class from grades 6 to 12). Students should be informed that today mainstream science accepts a controversial philosophical principle known as "methodological naturalism," and recently many philosophers and popular thinkers, and even a few scientists, have questioned this view. Furthermore, this was not the view of any notable scientists prior to the 19th century. Prior to this time it was assumed by all of the most prominent scientists (Galileo, Newton, Boyle, etc.) that they were investigating the will of God. There was much philosophical debate as to whether God willed once that matter should exist and obey certain laws (and if so, whether He made exceptions to these laws - "miracles"), or whether He continually willed that certain natural laws should hold. Whatever the case, it was assumed that the ultimate explanation, at bottom, for natural laws would come to "God wills that it be so." Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that this in any way hampered the intellectual inquiry of these men by causing them to stop asking why to soon. (See my discussion of Del Ratzsch's brilliant paper "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles All The Way Down'" here). The most important point is that, whether or not the laws of nature are so because God wills them, the truth of this matter is not a "scientific" truth, but a metaphysical one. Perhaps there are some ways the laws of physics could be that might be more amenable to one view than the other, but in general this kind of knowledge must be the product of philosophical reasoning.

Even more ridiculous, apparently some scientists are objecting to a statement the school board is requiring to be read to students saying, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered." Isn't this the way science works? Students given a basic grounding in philosophy of science would not need to be told this; they would see the word "theory" and their first thought would be "a proposed explanation of the facts which has successfully explained a wide variety of phenomena within the realm of its applicability and been accepted by the majority of the scientific community" - and evolution most certainly has this status. (Of course the students wouldn't phrase it quite like that if they are in middle school, but you get the idea).

Where did we ever get the crazy idea we could teach science without first figuring out what science was and how it worked? This debate would be virtually a non-issue if we would figure out these sorts of questions first, as no one but Peter Atkins (a well-respected Oxford chemist and bad amateur philosopher who insists that you are not following the scientific method unless you assume before you start that the ultimate yet-to-be-discovered laws of physics are logically necessary, as is the existence of the universe) should be expected to object to saying "science is agnostic as to the ultimate origin of the laws of physics". Sure, science can tell us about the "big bang" (which I believe in) and evolution (which I don't particularly), but Newtonian mechanics couldn't tell us why force should be equal to mass times acceleration, and in the same way no scientific theory is likely to contain within itself the reason why it must be true (i.e. to be logically necessary), but rather there will most likely always be a deeper explanation. If there is a deepest explanation, it must be metaphysical, and may include God. If there is an infinite regression of explanations, there must be some explanation for why there is an infinite regression, and this explanation must, again, be metaphysical and may, again, include God. These sorts of truths are outside the realm of experimental science, but nevertheless important to think about. Science, especially teaching of evolution on the high school level, often makes non-scientific assumptions about these sorts of truths, and when it does this without explicitly stating its assumptions it is out of line. Students should be made aware of these issues and taught to look critically at all scientific theory in their light.

Posted by kpearce at 03:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 21, 2005

The Establishment Clause, The Vatican, and Diplomatic Immunity

I apologize for not having posted recently. I have been very busy reading Plato's Politicus in Greek at an absurd rate, and various other less time consuming classwork. Here I make time for a brief note regarding this article from today's New York Times discussing a lawsuit which names Pope Benedict XVI as a defendant in a conspiracy to cover up a sex abuse case. On the one hand, I am not convinced that what Pope Benedict (or rather Cardinal Ratzinger, as the incidents in question occurred prior to the death of Pope John Paul II) did constitutes a coverup conspiracy, per se, but certainly it wasn't particularly praiseworthy, and the Vatican should have reported the incidents to local authorities as soon as it became aware of them.

This, however, is old news. What is interesting about this case is the controversy regarding the "Holy See" (i.e. the Vatican) as a sovereign state, while at the same time a church. This makes for very complicated questions as to what constitutes exercises in foreign policy versus what violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The federal government, at the behest of the Vatican Embassy (yes, the Vatican has embassies), has filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds Pope Benedict enjoys diplomatic immunity as sitting head of state of the Holy See. An almost identical motion carried in a lawsuit against Pope John Paul about ten years ago. The lawyer for the plaintiffs, however, is arguing that diplomatic recognition of the Holy See actually violates the Establishment Clause.

The text of the Establishment Clause reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Note the strength of this statement: Congress cannot make a law that has to do with religion; to encourage it, to prohibit it, to treat religious organizations differently from non-religious ones, etc. Laws of Congress cannot talk about religious organizations! Now, I don't know anything about the history of jurisprudence on the subject (well, maybe I know something, but it isn't much), so perhaps I make this overly strong, but at any rate, we should note the difference between this and the "separation of church and state" doctrine so often confidently asserted to be present in the Constitution. According to my reading, which I think is the obvious one, it seems that Congress is also prohibited from saying "no, we won't deal with you because you are a religious organization."

Now, as to diplomatic recognition: the issue remains complicated. Does recognizing a country diplomatically amount to making a law "respecting" it? If so, then it would seem that since the Vatican is also an "establishment of religion," in addition to being a nation, we are prohibited from diplomatic dealings with it. Certainly Congress could not pass a treaty with the Vatican. However, as I understand it, Congress does not pass individual laws recognizing or not recognizing individual countries. Rather, this is handled by the executive branch (specifically the State Department). If this is the case, then Congress would be prohibited from making a law that singled out the Vatican from other nations, whether it did so positively or negatively. The Vatican would have to be treated the same as any other nation. I suspect that this latter interpretation is closer to correct, and in fact is very similar to a series of court rulings regarding religious student groups in public schools (the courts have consistently ruled that such groups must be treated identically with other student groups, including in matters of funding and facilities reservations).

I would kind of like to see this issue make it to the Supreme Court as I would like to see what they have to say about it.

Posted by kpearce at 03:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

Whitman County Special Election

Whitman County, Washington is holding a special election, coinciding with the September 20 primary election (which doesn't seem to have any measures or candidates on it this year) to approve a "budgetary emergency" measure to levy an additional .1% sales tax for the funding of jails and juvenile detention facilitties. I had some trouble finding information on the proposition, so let me point you to item 064927 (it reads 063927 at one point - apparently a typographical error) of the Whitman Country Commissioners' meeting minutes of last August 1, available online here. The county's total budget is available as item 063228 of the December 20, 2005 minutes, here.

Honestly, I must say I don't understand how the county manages to operate at a deficit. They've got a $37M/year budget to govern a bunch of wheat. It seems that the vast majority of the budget comes from federal or state grant money. Most of the line items consist in a revenue and an exactly matching expenditure. I won't criticize this, as it is not relevant to the present ballot measure, and is beyond the control of the commissioners. However, the portion of the budget which does not have corresponding revenues, and thus presumably comes from property and sales taxes (the county sales tax is currently 1.1%), is nearly $10M. To govern a bunch of wheat. Excuse my sarcasm, but I'm frustrated that the use of government to provide ridiculous and unnecessary services at outrageous costs has reached this far down. Now, granted, road repairs are expensive. But, guess what?! County road repairs have an $11M special revenue associated with them! Not a penny of "currentt expense" money is slated for road repairs. Law enforcement? Surely any good libertarian will acknowledge that this is necessary. But the sherriff's department, the court system, and everything else associated wtih law enforcement total only $4M of the "current expense" budget. That's less than half. Now, I'm alright, I suppose, with a government on the county level where voters really have a say, and where implicit social contract arguments make sense, maintaining parks and fairgrounds and things, and I suppose the same is true of "public health" measures (although I'm more skeptical about that one), so perhaps I've been a little hard on the commissioners here. However, I still have two problems. Firstly, how does one spend millions of dollars in administrative costs to govern a bunch of wheat? Second, why sales tax? That's a terrible idea. Don't they know that already everyone does their shopping in Idaho, and every business wants to be located in Idaho, simply because Washington's laws are anti-business (due mostly to the western side of the state)? Don't they see how every tiny increase in sales tax further cripples Whitman county's limited economy? If you really MUST have money for jails, couldn't you have passed a property tax instead? This was considered, but the minutes give no reason that I can find for the selection of sales tax instead.

Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, maybe the county couldn't be run on less money than it is, and maybe I'm projecting my frustrations with the federal government down to my local level. I still haven't decided how to vote on the proposition, because I certainly support funding for jails. This IS part of the purpose of government. But I think it's terrible that Washington's sales tax is so much higher than Idaho's, and Whitman county feels that difference economically, since its largest city is a mere 5 miles from the border. Presumably it is the state income tax that allows Idaho to do this. Now, I'm not a fan of confiscatory taxation in general. I would much rather see the government figure out more ways to charge for services it provides. However, at some point a service effects everyone, even those who don't chose to pay for it (it is what economists call a "positive externality"), and law enforcement is this way, so I acknowledge that we must pay for law enforcement somehow. There are also some good reasons for low levels of government (city or county) to provide certain health services, particularly in rural areas where it would not be profitable to establish such services commercially and where lack of services is unlikely to draw attention from charitable organizations (although I still suspect that a private sector solution might be possible, and if it was it would be desirable). I would also rather pay just about any tax than see the government irresponsibly operate at a deficit. If anyone (especially anyone from the area) should happen to read this in the near future, feel free to lobby for your side. As I'm sure you've picked up, I am currently leaning against.

Posted by kpearce at 06:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

Tierney: Corruption and Pork-Barrelling Worsened Katrina Disaster

In today's New York Times, columnist John Tierney argues that Democrats' attempts to blame Republicans for better preparations for flooding not being made in New Orleans are dishonest, and, in fact, all of Congress is to blame as corruption, pork-barrelling, waste, and partisan politics obstructed the goals of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. For years, Tierney says, money has been being diverted to senators' pet projects in order to bring revenue to their constituencies, instead of being used where it is most needed. Furthermore, Democrats like Clinton and Lieberman who are now pushing for a more independent FEMA are the very same senators responsible for putting it in a new department in the first place.

Tierney's solution? Decentralization of power. Mayors and governors, he suggests, would lose their jobs if they had money given to them for this purpose and irresponsibly diverted it as Congress has done. The senate, on the other hand, always has someone else to blame so that voters don't notice their corruption and incompetency. Business as usual on Capitol Hill.

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September 09, 2005

Washington Initiative 872 Unconstitutional?!

So I got a ballot today for a county special election, and was looking on the web for more information about the proposition when I made a shocking discovery: On July 15, 2005, Washington initiative 872 was declared unconstitutional in federal court! What does this mean? Let me tell you...

The story so far: From its founding until the 2004 election, Washington used an "open" primary system. The law, written by the Grange (which is and always has been a very influential organization in the state, fighting for the interests of voters against the interests of political parties - we hate political parties in Washington), provided for a primary in which voters may vote for candidates in any party, one candidate per office, including mixing and matching parties based on the office and candidate in question. In 2003, the state's political parties sued and the system was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that it forces political parties to run candidates not selected exclusively by their own members (since, for instance, Democrats could vote in the Republican primary for certain offices) and thus violated their freedom of association rights from the First Amendment (made applicable on the state level by the Fourteenth Amendment). The court ruling came down just before the 2004 election, and the legislature hastily implemented a "Montana-style" primary, in which no record of party affiliation was kept on file, but a separate primary ballot was used for each major party (Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian in Washington) and the voter chose which primary to vote in at election time. We the people were not so happy about being forced into this electoral system not of our choosing, so the Grange wrote another initiative, I-872, got it on the 2004 general election ballot by petition, and passed it with 60% of the vote.

Under I-872, voters may choose any candidate in the primary (interestingly, the new language says that primaries no longer "nominate" candidates, but "winnow" them from a larger pool - you know your laws are written by the Grange when "winnow" becomes a legal term!), and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, go to the final election.

Last May, the parties again filed suit against the state, alleging that the new electoral system was also unconstitutional. In July, a federal court sides with the parties. The state appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and the case is expected to be decided in November or December. At issue, it seems, is the fact that the new system still allows candidates to list their party affiliation, so that the parties are still being forced to run particular candidates, they claim.

I am not sure how I expect the Ninth Circuit to rule. On the one hand, the language of the intiative says that is not a process for nominating any particular party's candidates for office (see esp. DEFINITIONS sec. 5 as amended). The argument of the state (the Grange is also involved in the litigation) is that the candidates are already running for office under the banner of some particular party before the primary takes place. Indeed, this seems to me to be the case.

Once again, I can't believe the Libertarian party has joined in this lawsuit (they were in on the last one too). This is a completely unprincipled move; the Libertarian party is not supposed to believe in government suppport for or regulation of political parties.

There is, of course, still a legitimate problem: the system as it stands seems to have as a consequence that a candidate not supporting the platform of a particular party could run for office under that party's name. However (another reason I'm appalled at the Libertarian party's role in the litigation), there is an obvious (small l) libertarian solution to the problem: trademark law. All that a party needs to do is register a trademark on its name, and then enforce the trademark on anyone who attempts to run under the party's name and is not a duly nominated candidate. For instance, the Libertarian Party holds nominating conventions, so they will trademark the phrase "Libertarian Party", nominate a candidate, then use trademark law to prohibit any other candidate from claiming to be endorsed by the Libertarian Party. I imagine that this is already done by, for instance, the NRA when they endorse candidates. The Party could go further by having as a membership condition a contractual obligation not to run for office unless duly nominated by the Party, then no one running could claim to be a member of the Libertarian Party. (Could he still claim to be a Libertarian? Would a trademark on the word Libertarian carry? I don't know what trademark law looks like, but if it was my decision they would be allowed to trademark Libertarian used as a proper name of an organization, but not used as an uncapitalized common noun.) The Democratic and Republican parties might want to hold their own primaries, or allow multiple candidates to run, but only after somehow being approved. The problem (in the eyes of the parties) is that if the approval process was not to the liking of the voters, it would be easy for a candidate to get on the primary ballot and the "major parties" would not have any special priveleges in the election process. Sounds good to me.

When I-872 was up on the ballot last year, I had a discussion with then-candidate for Secretary of State Jacqueline Passey in a pair of posts to this blog. I thought, and still think, that libertarian principles far prefer I-872 over any type of partisan primaries. Like labor unions, political parties do wonderful things as long as they are truly voluntary associations of individuals who wish to work together to effect some end. However, the moment they are recognized by the government and regulations are put into effect giving them special treatment and deciding which ones count as "legitimate," they suddenly become irredeemably evil. I support labor unions and I support political parties, in principle, but I am vehemently opposed to government recognition of either, and I must oppose the parties and unions themselves once they become recognized by the government.

For complete information on the status of I-872, see here.

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August 25, 2005

FDA to Regulate Medical Usage of Maggots and Leeches

No, I'm not joking. It has been decided that both qualify as "mechanical devices" for medical use and will be regulated accordingly. See the New York Times article here. Now if only they'd regulate mosquitos (out of existence)...

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August 20, 2005

The Effects of State Sponsorship of Religion

In a series of posts on their blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker and former federal appeals court judge Richard Posner (both now professors at the University of Chicago) discuss the effects of state sponsorship of religion, and the recent supreme court decisions regarding ten commandments displays. Both argue that state sponsorship of a specific religion decreases "competition" between religious groups and thus decreases the likelihood of any individual having his "religious preferences" fulfilled, and simultaneously decreases the overall "religiosity" of a society. Today, they say, the United States is a very "religious" country precisely because the state does not support any particular religion (note however that Posner argued that displaying the ten commandments does not constite endorsing any particular religion in a way that violates these principles, provided the government does not pay for the display, and accepts such displays from other religions). Compare these arguments to the following quote from 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon that I came across the other day:

What a crying sin is that solemn lie by which our whole population is nominally comprehended in a National Church! How fearful it is that ordinances should be pressed upon the unconverted ... To adulterate the Church is to pollute a well, to pour water upon fire, to sow a fertile field with stones. May we all have grace to maintain in our own proper way the purity of the Church, as being an assembly of believers, and not a nation, an unsaved community of unconverted men.

This is why Christians like John Locke were the first proponents of separation of Church and state. When the Church and the government are mixed, the purity of the Church is sullied. It comes to be full of members who are not true believers. In fact, the same thing happens in any situation where there is major social or political pressure to identify oneself as a Christian. These situations must be fought against. "Pop culture" Christianity is the enemy of true Christianity. Any attempt to enforce Christian behavior (in manners of private morality - that is, matters that do not directly affect third parties) on a society ultimately corrupts the church. This is the foundation for separation of Church and state. This is why Christianity and libertarianism can be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory, belief systems. If people are to freely choose Christ (sorry, my Arminian is showing) and become true believers, they must not be compelled by the culture around them to put on the appearance of Christianity.

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August 17, 2005

Independent Commission: London Police Lied About Jean Charles de Menezes

The New York Times passes along a report from British news outlet ITV (see also the longer article in The Observer) which obtained leaked documents from the Independent Police Complaints Commission suggesting that the London Police lied about the circumstances surrounding the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian man who was executed without trial on the Tube last month in connection with the terrorist attacks of July 21.

If you are about to complain that the phrase "executed without trial" is excessive hyperbole, or somehow misrepresents the situation, don't bother. The new report states that Menezes was not wearing a heavy coat (only a thin denim jacket), did not react to being followed, did not flee from police, and was already seated on the train when the police boarded. He did not trip and fall to the ground as was previously suggested, nor did he jump the turnstile. The police shot him (no less than 8 times) because they mistook him for a suspected terrorist. According to the Times article, and unidentified police officer told the independent commission, "I grabbed the male in the denim jacket ... then pushed him back onto the seat where he had been previously sitting. I then heard a gunshot very close to my left ear ..." There does not seem to have been any evidence that Mr. Menezes was an imminent threat to the passengers on the train but, because he was mistaken for someone else who was wanted in connection with the terrorist investigation, he was shot to death on the spot. This is outrageous. I want to see criminal charges pressed against the police officers involved.

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August 01, 2005

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia Dies (For Real This Time)

On May 27 of this year, the Washington Times hastily reported the death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, after he had suffered yet another major stroke. The Times also made various speculations about political struggles going on behind the scenes, as explanation for why the Saudi government insisted that Fahd was hospitalized and in stable condition. Turns out, the Saudi government was telling the truth.

Today, the BBC is reporting that the Saudi government has announced that King Fahd has died this afternoon and the Crown Prince Abdullah has succeeded to the throne with no major incidents. It will be interesting to see the outcome here, as Faud was a friend of (or at least cooperated with) the West in a country that hated foreign influence. He promoted peace in the region and, at least to some degree, opposed Islamic terrorist groups. What Abdullah will do is an open question. He has been the de facto ruler of the country for some time, but as long as he ruled in Faud's name he had to remain true to Faud's policies. Interesting times.

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July 31, 2005

Five Years Later, Kenyan City Councilman Still Left in Suspense

From Philadelphia's own NBC 10, via WorldMag Blog: A Nairobi (yes, the one in Kenya) city councilman told a local newspaper today that five years ago he wrote to former president Bill Clinton, offering a dowry of 40 goats and 20 cows for the hand of Clinton's daughter, Chelsea. The letter also told of plans for a large and expensive wedding presided over by Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mr. Chepkurgor, the councilman in question, says he will reman celibate until receiving a response, for which he is still waiting. An anonymous security official said that Clinton most likely never received the letter, because his staff probably regarded it as a joke. Mr. Chepkurgor's offer is very generous by local standards. This might be viewed as a rather tragic case of cultural insensitivity if it wasn't so funny.

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July 25, 2005

British Police Refuse to Apologize For Death, Defend "Shoot to Kill" Policy

"It wasn't just a random event, and the most important thing to recognize is that it is still happening out there ... Somebody else could be shot." - London Police Commisioner Sir Ian Blair, in an interview with Sky News.

The New York Times is reporting on a statement issued by London's Police Commissioner in which he defended the "shoot to kill" policy he instituted following the bombings on July 7. Speaking of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, a man who was shot to death on the Tube, London's subway system, last week by plain-clothes police men and later discovered not to have been related in any way to terrorism, Sir Ian insisted, "There is nothing gratuitous here in what is going on." Excuse me?! Nothing gratuituous? The man was frightened by his pursuers who, let us recall, were not in police uniform, tripped hurring on to the train, and was subsequently pinned to the ground and shot five times in the head. Gratuitous? Of course not. The most serious charge that can be made against Mr. Menezes is that he was wearing something similar in appearance to a detonator belt used by suicide bombers and, being frightened, did not immediately obey orders when his pursuers identified themselves as police officers. Now he is dead. Unnecessarily. That's gratuitous, and it's indefensible. If I was in London now I can tell you I would probably be more afraid of police than of terrorists, and that is a horrible situation for all. The police need to work with the people who - let me remind them - actually want the police to succeed in capturing terrorists, rather than becoming enemies of the populace and engaging in random acts of violence then justifying them by some nonsense claims about showing the terrorists we are serious. It is time for the British police to apologize and more. It is time for them to demonstrate to the family of Mr. Menesez that they take this death and their culpabilty in the matter seriously, and work to ensure that the incident is not repeated. This is in stark opposition to Sir Ian's words, as he stoicly accepts the possibility of more gratuitous deaths due to police action. The British people are just beginning to react to the matter. Their reaction had better become stronger before more of them die.

Posted by kpearce at 07:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 24, 2005

Man Shot to Death by London Police: Not a Terrorist After All

WorldMagBlog is linking to a New York Times article, published this morning, reporting that Scotland Yard admitted yesterday that the man gunned down by London police on the Tube last Friday was not connected to the terrorist bombings of July 7, or the attempted bombings of July 21st. The mayor of London, Ken Livingston, had issued "shoot to kill" orders for police, who previously did not carry firearms at all, in regard to terror suspects under certain circumstances. (For a good, short summary of events so far, see this post and this one by Josh at "Freedom Of..." He has yet to comment on the discovery that the man was innocent.)

Interestingly enough, before the announcement was made I had a discussion with some friends of mine as to whether or not the orders were justified. The ultimate outcome just shows the need for a fair, public trial in which an individual can defend himself. Police seem to have thought this man was wearing a bomb, and the shoot-to-kill order seems to have had to do with fear of detonating an explosive device if police shot to wound the man in the trunk, rather than shooting him in the head. What I want to know is how did it come about that the man was shot at all? According to this BBC report, it seems that the man was followed by plain-clothes officers from his home. When they identified themselves and issued instructions it is unclear to what degree he followed them, but he was clearly very frightened. Eyewitnesses reported that the man was already restrained before he was shot! An eyewitness interviewed by the BBC, Mark Whitby, said "they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him." This occurred on the Tube in front of a large number of passengers. If the man was already restrained and under the control of police, why on earth was he shot? Whitby described the man as "Asian," but, according to the New York Times, he has been positively identified as a Brazilian.

This story is typical of the type of panic that the terrorist attacks in the United States previously and in Britain now are intended to engender. They have, in that regard been very successful. In the US, immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Congress hastily passed the horrifically misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, apparently without reading it. The fear seems still to be here (or the federal government is making a shameless power grab, which I consider just as likely), as the House passed a bill to reauthorize the excessive law enforcement powers of the PATRIOT Act last Thursday (you can find out how your representative voted here). London is feeling the same kind of panic, and this is the reason for the arming of police in the first place. I certainly don't oppose arming the police (except that Britain has disarmed the populace, which makes armed police scary), but the police seem to be panicked as well. If we lose our heads we lose our freedom. We must opppose terrorists while also opposing excessive government power, and maintaining our rights. Even had Mr. Menezes been guilty, he would have deserved a fair trial. All the more so due to his innocence. There is a long tradition in English Common Law, later enshrined in the US Constitution, of "rights of the accused." Police in a free country cannot execute a man like this without a trial (particularly if the man is innocent). It seems clear and obvious that the force used was excessive. Britain has a tradition of criminal prosecutions against police in cases like this, and, since the officers were clearly at fault, I can only say that I hope it continues.

Posted by kpearce at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Richard Stallman Compares Software Patents to Literary Patents

In an article in The Guardian, Richard Stallman argues that software patents are more like literary patents than technical patents, and that had literary patents been in effect in the 19th century, great novels like Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (which I have not read) would have been impossible. It's a good read and, though Stallman can sometimes be a bit nutty, he isn't here. Take a look.

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June 12, 2005

Gonzales v. Reich: Antonin Scalia on the Commerce Clause and federal drug law

"John the Methodist" of Locusts and Honey (the other Evangelical Libertarian blog) is upset about Justice Scalia's concurring opinion in the recent Gonzales v. Reich case. The Court ruled that the federal government has authority to prohibit medical use of marijuana, justified by the rather frightening effects of the Commerce Clause (I.8.3) when combined with the Necessary and Proper Clause (I.8.18). The two together, says the Court decision, give Congress the power to place serious restrictions on intrastate activities when these regulations are necessary to make legitimate regulation of interstate commerce efficacious. After reading the majority and Scalia's consent (I didn't look too closely at the Thomas/Rhenquist dissent; Supreme Court opinions tend to be very long), I find that I have mixed feelings about the decision. The opinion I'm leaning toward is that the Constitution does in fact support the majority's opinion, but it shouldn't.

The key idea is that the Commerce Clause states quite explicitly that Congress may regulate any commercial activities that involve more than one state (subject, of course, to the restrictions imposed by other sections of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, the prohibition on bills of attainder and ex post facto laws [I.9.3], etc.), and the Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress authority to do what it needs to to make those laws efficacious. Scalia interprets "necessary" in a very straightforward sense, as meaning the need above, and "proper" as meaning not imposing undue restrictions on rights, state sovereignty, and so forth. The minority seems to have essentially argued that the law in question was not "proper." I might agree. At any rate, some sort of protection needs to be put in place to stop the absurdly enormous effects of the Commerce Clause as it is currently applied. However, I think that I'm forced to agree with Scalia that such protection is not already in the Constitution. Congress may prohibit interstate trafficking in marijuana, and do whatever is necessary within a state to acheive that end, subject to the Bill of Rights. This includes illegalizing possession of marijuana. It shouldn't, but it does. I think a constitutional amendment may be in order, perhaps one explicitly limiting the types of laws the government may impose in order to regulate interstate commerce, and the types of regulation of interstate commerce allowed period. We do not want a constitution that permits the government to regulate just any economic activity for just any reason, but Scalia has me convinced that our current Constitution does just that.

Posted by kpearce at 05:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 07, 2005

Rossi Lawsuit Dismissed

I blogged earlier on the lawsuit filed by Republican Dino Rossi challenging the election of Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. Today the New York Times is Judge reporting that Judge John E. Bridges of the Chelan County Superior Court in Wenatchee has dismissed the case, and the Rossi campaign has decided not to appeal to the state supreme court. A most unfortunate development.

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May 31, 2005

Blind Mind's Eye on Christian Libertarianism

Christian blog Blind Mind's Eye has a great post on the compatibility of Christianity and libertarianism. Worth a read.

Posted by kpearce at 07:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Christine Gregoire, Legal Challenges, and I-601

Kevin Hamilton, the attorney for Democratic Governor (maybe) of Washington Christine Gregoire in the ongoing election battle, is quoted in today's New York Times stating that "imperfection is not enough to overturn an election." An astute observation. After all, every election is imperfect. But is Mr. Hamilton not aware that the "imperfection" in the election amounts, at the very least, to thousands of votes, and Ms. Gregoire's alleged victory (after losing the first two counts) was by a margin of precisely 129 ballots?! Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reported earlier this month, Christine Gregoire is "governing as if she won by a landslide." This month, she is attacking one of the most important distinctive legal traditions of the state of Washington. "The first power reserved by the people is the initiative." (Washington State Constitution, 2.1a, emphasis added). In the state of Washington, we don't trust party politicians (yet somehow, we can't seem to elect independents or third-parties... hmm...), so we make laws ourselves - of the people, by the people, for the people. Not long ago, we decided to pass a law called Initiative 601 requiring a 2/3 majority of both houses of our legislature to increase statewide taxes, because we like to keep our government on a leash so it doesn't get out of control like the feds (not that it isn't already, but we can still try). As the politically important Washington Farm Bureau states in a recent press release, the people are a "a co-equal legislative body ... who in this state constitute a fourth branch of government." Meanwhile, Christine Gregoire and the Democrats of the state senate have passed Senate Bill 6078, effectively (and illegally) overturning the initiative (Ms. Gregoire signed the bill the same day it was passed; there seems to be some sort of "emergency clause" floating around). My Republican representatives in the House are vehemently opposed to the measure.

So, to sum up, the Democratic governor we may or may not have elected is, along with her supporters in the legislature, illegally overturning our laws so that she can spend our money against our will. Isn't this fun! I voted for Ruth Bennet.

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May 08, 2005

Spokane Mayor Sex Scandal Makes New York Times

The Times has picked up a long-running story from the Spokesman Review on a sex scandal involving the mayor of Spokane, Washington (close to home). It seems this is all the Spokesman has been writing about for a week or two. There is a summary here. The Times interviewed a Gonzaga political science professor, Blaine Garvin, who said he was uneasy with the ethical implications of the investigation. Apparently the Spokesman has been tracking this story for years and finally hired a forensic computer expert who had worked with the feds on child pornography cases who posed as a 17 year old boy on the web-site and was propositioned by the mayor. He is also accused of molesting several boys when he was a scoutmaster years ago.

Now, the reason I've decided to pick this up is simply that a political scandal so close to home made the national news. It's rare for eastern Washington to be discussed in the New York Times (although over the past year there has been some controversy about the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the gubernatorial election). The ethical implications of the mayor's actions (assuming he really did what they are saying he did) are obvious. He is clearly wrong on a number of levels, and this will not make for an interesting discussion. But what about the Spokesman Review's actions?

The Spokesman is clearly engaged in a mudslinging campaign, which is puzzling because it seems that they supported Mayor West's election. If the mayor is guilty of anything illegal, he should be investigated by law enforcement, not journalists. This kind of prying into the mayor's private sexual life is not something I like to see in the newspaper, particularly not with this "sting operation" they set up. Furthermore, this story appears to contain private information not fit to print based on a confession West made in confidence to a city council member, Cherie Rodgers. The fact that the mayor was using city computers makes it, to some degree, public business, but it remains unfit to print. It is part of a newspaper's proper role in electoral politics to give us the truth about our leaders, and if one of them is living a life that doesn't line up with his political stances, as Mayor West apparently is, we ought to know about it, but the Spokesman Review has overstepped its bounds here with a relentless smear campaign and an unconscionable invasion of privacy. The mayor should resign, and the police should investigate him for any criminal conduct, in case any of his "partners" were minors or were enticed by abuses of his authority as mayor, but the Spokesman also needs to cut the crap.

Posted by kpearce at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

Republican Theocracy the Cause of Liberal Bias in Academia?

The Times is running an editorial today claiming that Republicans are under-represented in academia because "today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general." I blogged earlier on this sort of problem (not that trust in revelation is a problem, but disrespect for science, research, and learning in general is) leading to the low number of Evangelicals in academia. Which is the more fundamental cause? Are there few Evangelicals in academia because most are Republicans and Republicans have this problem? Or are there few Republicans because most Republicans are Evangelicals? The article also discusses a bill being introduced in the Florida legislature by Dennis Baxley to allow students to sue professors who don't respect their conservative views. Ironically these are being referred to as "academic freedom" laws.

Conservatives need to start looking more seriously at the principles they claim to espouse and hold onto them consistently. Conservatives are supposed to believe in the free market. Here's how the free market works: a service is being provided, and it is not of the quality you want? A service is not being provided at all? DO IT YOURSELF. Don't think that if you don't, someone else will. If Evangelicals and Republicans begin to really value academic pursuits and see higher education as a worthy vocation, then their views will be expressed in the classroom. If they don't, liberals will continue to dominate. (Allow me a momentary digression: the same principle applies to the Calvinist domination of academic theology. It's not because people who study the Bible become Calvinists, it's because the Presbyterian Church places a higher value on academic theology than other denominations, and so, for the past few centuries, has been producing all the greatest theologians. Want seminaries to teach Arminianism? Start studying, and go teach them yourself.) It's time for people to stop whining, and stop legislating, and take action where they can. It's time for conservatives to wake up and see that screaming about liberal bias and making laws to put an end to it is not the answer. It's time for Evangelicals to begin to see the value of the work of Christian academics, the way so many early Christians did during the Renaissance and Enlightenment (Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Locke, the list is endless). It's also time for conservatives to realize that, sometimes, the "liberal mainstream media" gets it right.

Posted by kpearce at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Postcards From Buster

A New York Times article, and also a WorldMag Blog post are reporting today that the airing of an episode of the PBS childrens' program "Postcards From Buster" was cancelled due to the presence of a lesbian couple. The show was schedule for February 2, but was not distributed to affiliates on time due to controversy surrounding its content. One PBS station, WGBH-TV Boston, has decided to air the program anyway, and distribute it to other PBS stations. According to the NYT article, "'Postcards From Buster' is a spinoff of 'Arthur' that combines live action and animation and went on the air a year ago. In the series, aimed at young elementary schoolchildren, Buster travels to 24 different states with his father and sends video postcards home ... One episode featured a family with five children, living in a trailer in Virginia, all sharing one room. In another, Buster visits a Mormon family in Utah. He has dropped in on fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as well as American Indians and Hmong. He has shown the lives of children who have only one parent, and those who live with grandparents." Strangely enough, I've decided that I support the airing of this episode. Let me tell you why.

The purpose of "Postcards From Buster" is to expose children to the cultural diversity of the United States. As I quoted above, Mormons, "fundamentalist" Christians, and Muslims have already appeared on the show. Exposure to other cultures and beliefs is a healthy part of a child's development, and Arthur's target audience, 2nd - 4th graders (which I presume is the same as Buster's audience), are about the right age to start begin being exposed to a wide variety of different cultures and lifestyles. We need to come to terms with the fact that there exist people, living in the United States, who live in homosexual "civil unions" and believe that their behavior is morally acceptable. This is a fact. The content of the episode was not sexual in any way. The lesbian couple are merely in the background - Buster's own parents are divorced, and he has visited children who live with one parent, both parents, or one or more grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The focus is on the children. Now, Buster visits a family in Vermont in which the children, for reasons left unexplained, have "two mommies." There really are such families, and they really live in Vermont. We need to come to grips with this. Children who see this program will probably ask their parents about it (if they even notice), and the parents are free to explain it to them in the same way they would explain polygamy if a child saw it on the Discovery Channel: "Yes, Johnny, some people in some parts of the world believe that it's ok for women to marry women and men to marry men, but we don't believe that." Provoking children to ask questions that help them learn about the world is exactly what public television children's programming has always been about, and it's good. So stop freaking out.

Posted by kpearce at 06:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Penn For Life in the Christian Science Monitor

This morning WorldMag Blog is linking to an article in the Christian Science Monitor on the explosive growth of Penn For Life (of which I am not a member, due partially to lack of time and partially to their anti-death penalty demonstration last year). Now, I'd provide this link anyway, just because it made me happy to see Penn's name in the WorldMag headlines on my desktop, but as though that wasn't enough, the article quotes Penn Crusade's own Natasha Mooney! And as if that wasn't enough, she has wonderful things to say:

"Natasha Mooney, a soft-spoken freshman whose roommate is 'very much pro-choice,' says the two remain friends because neither believes she will convert the other.

"But Ms. Mooney does plan to speak up, if gently, should the classroom conversation turn to abortion. 'I feel this is the truth, and I feel called to uphold truth in any way I can.'"

Posted by kpearce at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

Why Gonzales Will be Better Than Ashcroft

The New York Times is running two editorials on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney-General, expected to occur after senate hearings today. The wide-spread criticism of Gonzales for the opinions he's given the Bush administration is justified to a certain degree, but I think (I HOPE) that these editorialists go a bit too far. I'm reasonably confident that Gonzales will be better than Ashcroft. Here's why:

Gonzales is disadvantaged by coming from a position as White House general counsel. He's being criticized for coming up with legal justifications for questionable portions of the Bush administrations political agenda (ok, "questionable" is an understatement). This is really unfair, because that is the jobof the White House general counsel! He's supposed to make up legal justifications for whatever the White House feels like doing. If the White House asks him what kind of interrogation techniques they can get away with, and he comes up with legal reasoning to justify throwing the Geneva Convention and federal torture statutes out the window, that doesn't say anything except that he's a good attorney. The administration, of course, should have said "that's very interesting. If the law technically allows this sort of behavior by some kind of loophole, we shall have to change the law, because torture is simply morally reprehensible." Instead, the administration decided to take advantage of the legal loopholes that Gonzales found. Now, it does appear, fortunately, that the courts are interpretting the law differently than Gonzales' legal memoranda and condemning the administrations behavior, but this doesn't count against Gonzales: He came up with the best legal reasoning possible to argue the administration's way to the widest lattitude possible with regard to interrogation techniques. That was his job, and he did it well.

So he was a good White House general counsel (to a bad White House, unfortunately). How will this make him a better Attorney-General than Ashcroft? Well, the Attorney-General is not (at least in theory) a personal employee of the administration. He works for the people, as our attorney, to enforce our laws. Ashcroft didn't know the difference between enforcing the law and advancing a political agenda. Does Gonzales? I think he does, and I think his record as a Texas Supreme Court Justice proves it. Gonzales was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas by then-Governor Bush to fill a mid-term vacancy. Justices are ordinarily elected. It is interesting (ok, frightening) to note that every justice elected by the people of Texas was more conservative than any of the ones appointed by W. Anyway, Gonzales made most notably several pro-choice votes as a justice, sticking to the law in contrast to the judicial activism of another justice, Priscilla Owen. I think (I HOPE) this indicates that Gonzales truly does understand the difference between enforcing the law and advancing the Bush administration's political agenda. There is still cause to be concerned about the direction the government is headed, but I would venture to say that, in the next four years, the Attorney-General is going to be the least of our worries.

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December 15, 2004

Ever Wondered What Things are Like Where I Come From?

You can read about it in the Times today. This is an excellent and accurate description of what things are like in Eastern Washington (in the context of a discussion of the Washington gubernatorial election, in which, according to the Secretary of State's office, Republican Dino Rossi won the machine recount by a mere 42 votes, the closest election in Washington's history, and a manual recount is now underway). Enjoy!

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December 09, 2004

Politics, Sex, and Indoctrination in the American Education System

Today's arts section of the New York Times contains an article (more of an opinion piece, really) entitled "The Plot Against Sex in America" (how's that for a provocative title?). The article discusses the decision by New York City's public broadcast television station not to run "Kinsey," a movie about zoologist Alfred Kinsey, who famously published on human sexuality in the 1940s and '50s. I'm not going to talk too much about the film, other than to say that candor about sexual practice is better than hypocrisy, even if the sexual practice we're talking about is blatantly immoral. Instead, I would like to focus on another point brought out in the article: The politics of education in general, and sexual education in particular.

Education is a problem. There are all sorts of disputes about it. Sex ed, evolution, using the Bible in the classroom. When I was a senior in high school, which was only two years ago, we read a few passages from the King James Bible in the course of a unit on Elizabethan literature and no one complained, as the King James Version represents the height of English Renaissance literature, rivaled only by Shakespeare. Despite the literary and historical signifcance of various versions of the Bible, even these purely scholastic uses are controversial in some locales.

I posted last month on the subject of education and made reference to evolution, so I'll ignore that one, but the point is, we have a problem, and the root of the problem is this: all education necessarily involves some degree of indoctrination. Period. There is no getting around it. The earlier education begins, the more indoctrination is involved, and the more there's just no avoiding it. So here's modern America, a pluralistic and, at present, deeply divided, society, and the government is dictating what children are indoctrinated with. "Wait a minute," you retort, "can't parents who don't like the system just decide to put their children in private schools, or home-school them?" And they can. But parent's don't have a choice about giving their money to finance the indoctrination of this country's next generation with views they don't necessarily agree with, and not every parent has the time to home-school or the money for a private school, particularly not after paying taxes greatly increased by the government providing "services" like public schooling.

Now to the specific topic of the article: Sex ed. There is a lot of disagreement right now over these courses. I can see the rationale behind both sides: On the one hand, having as much information as possible before making a decision about anything is good. On the other hand, "how-to" information about specific sexual acts is generally agreed to be inappropriate for public high schools (although I'm told that one lunatic-fringe gay advocacy group, I don't remember which one, did propose a curriculum that contained a lot of that sort of thing, but it wasn't adopted anywhere), and I definitely agree with that, mostly because I don't think students should be required to learn that sort of thing. Use of contraception is to some degree a "how-to" - how to have extramarital sex without experiencing the consequences. The article cites some disturbing research that I have seen before, indicating that while individuals who take "abstinence pledges" do, on average, have fewer sexual partners in their lifetime than the general public, they are almost as likely as anyone else to have sex before marriage and, what's more, they are so much less likely to use contraception that despite having fewer partners, waiting longer to have sex, etc. they have the same rate of STD contraction and pregnancy outside of marriage. Disturbing is an understatement. The article also claims that abstinence-only education is based on "fictions of junk science," apparently in reference to these statistics. This is ridiculous. No program works if it's not followed. Abstinence is the best way to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies - but only if you actually do it. That's sound science. But I don't know if logic or "sound science" has ever had a real place in politics. That would require political leaders or, in this case, a country's citizens, to act rationally. So much for that idea.

So what to do. No matter what is done under the current system, someone will be upset, because we live in a pluralistic culture and we have the federal government dictating exactly what is taught in the schools that everyone is required to pay for, whether they use them or not. There's only one solution: Get the government OUT! The government must NOT make decisions about what children are to be indoctrinated with. This is a violation of parents' rights. Obviously, a parent does not have the right to brainwash a child and deny him contact with the outside world, where he might hear opposing ideas, all the way up until he's 18, but parents do have a right to determine what their children will be taught in school, and not to pay for schools teaching as truth ideas they disagree with.

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November 20, 2004

Greenspan, International Investors Question The Dollar's Continued Viability

The New York Times is reporting today that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, along with his Japanese and European equivalents and various international investors, are questioning the continued viability of the U.S. Dollar. It seems that the fact that the nation has accumulated $2.6 trillion, 23% of our GNP, in debt to foreign investors is scaring some of them away. The European Union is concerned that the drop in the value of the dollar is leading to deflation of the Euro, which is apparently bad for the economy (I guess because it decreases the value of goods while increasing the value of money? I don't know, I'm not an economist). They also say that they alone are feeling the brunt because Asian bankers have artificially inflated their currency in order to follow the dollar's decline and shield themselves from damage. So basically, the rest of the world doesn't want to deal in US Dollars any more, because they're afraid they'll lose their value. This news comes on the heels of an announcement from Bernard von Nathaus that, as the spot price of silver approaches $10 (it's at $7.63 today) the American Liberty Dollar, a privately owned alternative currency backed by precious metals instead of guns and debt, will switch to a $20 base, effectively doubling its value relative to the US Dollar. Silver, anyone?

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November 05, 2004

Education, Democracy, Moral Idealism, The Church, and Academia

There are lots of current events I could be blogging about right now (I still haven't commented on the election results, and two news items totally made my day today: John Ashcroft is retiring and Yasser Arafat is dying. Also, Dr. Faustus opened this evening). However, none, of them is particularly inspiring at the moment. Instead of venturing into the wacky world of real politics and the present (which I have done too much of the last few months leading up to the election), I've decided to venture backward in time some 2,500 years, and comment on Plato's Republic, its ideas of the connection between education/philosophy and the ability to rule well, and what that has to do with America. Enjoy the ride.

Plato famously claimed that "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide ... cities will have no rest from evils" (473d). What Plato means, is that people who rule, in addition to being practical, need to understand theory, and be interested in abstract truth, and truly love learning. They must prefer knowing their errors and being brought closer to truth rather than appearing to be right all the time (ok, so I guess I am talking about current events and contemporary American politics). They must have a firm grounding in every kind of knowledge, in order to understand all of the diverse interests of the people they rule. Plato goes on to claim that no one who has a "philosophical nature" will seek to rule a city, and thus that no one capable of becoming a ruler (under the present system) should be allowed to do the job (a principle humorously picked up by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Trilogy in which a man who lives alone on a far away planet is completely unaware that he is actually the ruler of the Universe).

Fast forward 2,000 years. It is now AD 1776. John Locke has come and gone, and the seeds of discontent and "classic liberalism" have been sown. An idea is running through the Western world that perhaps people have individual rights which come directly from God, and aren't merely priveleges granted to them by some divine-right monarch acting as an intermediary. A militia man in Massachusetts fires his rifle. And now, for the first time in some two millenia, we have an attempt at implementing Plato's idea.

"Wait just a minute!" you object, "Plato favored an oligarchic system based on the idea that the majority has no idea how the city should be run, and only the few have the ability to truly practice philosophy or care for the truth." Good point. But let's look at what those crazy Americans did, shall we? Because those starry-eyed idealists had this idea that everyone could practice philosophy. John Adams once said "I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." As a result of this sort of thought, and the influence of philosophers like John Locke, these people decided to found a country based on the ideas "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happines, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," etc. These are all philosophical principles! Suddenly, we are not concerned, in organizing a government, with Thrasymachus' "advantage of the stronger" but with basic philosophical principles, life, liberty, and property (aka "the pursuit of happiness"), which purport to be fundamental truths about the universe, about absolute right and wrong. People who care about truth for it's own sake are founding a nation-state.

What's more, these same people believe that everyone can practice philosophy and thus that everyone should have a say in the government (yes, I realize that only male property owners were allowed to vote, but there is an explanation for that, and it wasn't that no one else could practice philosophy: There was a further division of the government of the land into units of households, each household being governed internally however it wished and getting a single vote which the male head was to cast as its representative. Was this actually what the founding fathers intended? How should I know?! It makes sense to me anyway). This is extraordinary! It even worked for a while...

What happened? We stopped caring about education, the way we once did. We stopped viewing voting as a responsibility to exercise with the utmost deference and caution, not applying our voice until we were certain we were making the correct decision. We traded our ideals in for "practicality" and thus lost the philosophical nature. Today we make decisions without looking at the bigger picture, or at the abstract. Pro-choice activists hold to Roe v. Wade as to their very lives, not paying attention to the fact that the Constitution gives the federal government no authority over issues such as abortion, freeing the states to make whatever laws they choose about it, and furthermore that that decision is not based on sound legal reasoning: it claims that laws against abortion somehow violate privacy. They trade in their idealism for practical result. Likewise, people across this nation vote for the "lesser evil" between the two major parties, choosing a result they think might possibly be a little closer to what they want, rather than using their vote for what it is: A feedback mechanism to inform the government of the political preferences of the populace. They've lost their idealism. Politicians get elected by pandering to special interest groups and seeing which demographics they can win - they can't get elected any other way. We've all lost our idealism. We don't care about the U.S. Constitution. 31% of the population believes America is becoming a police state, but the country nevertheless raises not a finger to protect free speech and the right to privacy, because we fear terrorists. We've lost our idealism. "Give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry once shouted. It looks as though that may be the very choice we are faced with: The choice to die in liberty rather than live in relative security in a police state. I'm an idealist. Give me death. I'll gladly keep my free speech at the expense of dying in a terrorist bus bombing in the morning, thank you. Because we've lost our idealism and our concern with the abstract, because we vote based on "what works" rather than what is morally right (and don't tell me that the election results show that we vote based on what is morally right - the election results show that people vote based on what will lead to the nation behaving outwardly in the fashion they see as most moral, but these people have not had their "philosophical nature" cultivated and can't see that this is not necessarily the most moral way to make laws for the nation). We shrug off the few dreamers, not realizing that the theoretical, the a priori, the abstract is what formed this nation the way it was formed, and it's the only thing that can preserve our freedom. Without the philosophical nature, we will have "no rest from evils," just as Plato says.

What's the solution? First and foremost we've got to stop the war between academia and the Christian Church. Both sides are in the wrong, at least to some degree. The academics are right to universally condemn any church that asks its members to hold views that it admits are blatantly contrary to reason. This is not faith. This is lunacy. C.S. Lewis once said "Faith ... is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." Holding on to beliefs against all evidence and all reason is no virtue. It is, in fact, a terrible vice. This is not to discount the fact that most Christians, myself included, hold their beliefs due to evidence which is purely subjective, that is, their own life experience. This is not fundamentally irrational, for the same reason that if I clearly saw the Sasquatch or Loch Ness Monster at a time when I had every reason to believe that I was in my right mind I would be perfectly rational to believe in whatever thing I had seen. Of course, I must not expect anyone else to believe if this is all the proof I offer (although the testimony of many such witnesses, when all of the witnesses were trustworthy and respectable might be sufficient to persuade a rational individual).

The Church, on the other hand, is right to universally condemn academics and institutions who are dogmatic and closed minded - the very things said academics accuse the Church of. How can I claim academics are dogmatic and closed minded? At most institutions throughout the country, those who don't agree with Darwin's theories, or who question prevailing leftist political thought, or who believe in absolute morality, or in some extreme cases even those who believe in any absolute truth at all, are ridiculed. Now, I think that this is sometimes exaggerated, but the fact remains that many academics would do well to remember that 500 years ago Ptolemaic (Earth-centered) astronomy was at least as well established as Darwinian evolution is today, and natural philosophers almost unanimously believed it to be correct. Copernicus and Galileo met with extreme opposition in their challenge to this theory. In order to truly advance science we must have biologists willing to question Darwin, physicists willing to question Newton and Einstein, and computer scientists willing to question java (I don't like java. Why are all computer science departments switching to java?).

Now these two issues aren't the whole problem. For instance, Evangelicals feel betrayed by our theologians who are far more liberal than the average member of our faith. There is also an environment of immorality at most universities (this has been the case since the invention of the university in the middle ages - it comes from gathering lots of young people who have just escaped their parents, just began drinking alcohol, and have lots of hormones together in the same place for several years at a time).

Furthermore, ending the war between the Church and academia won't solve everything. The Church alone cannot create a culture of learning. America already sees itself as having a strong culture of learning, but it means learning what is concrete and practical. Everyone goes out and gets a degree to get a better job and make more money. Philosophy departments across the country remain all but empty, or if they are filled they are filled by students who think it will help them get into law school rather than by students who simply love learning. Students in other disciplines often don't study any philosophy at all (to be fair we should expand this to include theoretical education in general, rather than what is now called philosophy, but the point stands). And what of what is taught before college? The government has too much control and is seeking to standardize everything, leaving everyone, eventually with the same background, and much less to learn from each other. We need diversity of view-points and diversity of educations if we are to become a productive and functional democracy again.

I could go on much farther, but I'm going to stop and go to bed now, as it is approximately 1:30 AM. Good night.

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October 25, 2004

In Defense of Washington State Referendum 55

I got my hometown newspaper today (it's a bi-monthly that I get by mail a week after it comes out), and they are running a letter to the editor in opposition to R-55. Unfortunately, there will not be another issue put out before election day, so I am writing here instead of placing my own letter in the newspaper. The letter, from Garfield school food services supervisor Cindy Dvorak, notes that charter schools have already been rejected by voters twice in the past eight years, and claims that "it's still bad for kids." I feel the need to respond to this, because charters are NOT bad for kids - they are bad for the unions representing public school employees (since, if the employees of a charter unionized they would form their own collective bargaining unit separate from the rest of the public school employees) and they are bad for legislators in Olympia and Washington, D.C. who want to control education on the state and federal level.

We need to recognize the education system for what it is: A service provided to parents and students. When a service is insulated from market forces, it inevitably reduces it's quality. Ms. Dvorak and other opponents of R-55 bemoan the lack of accountability of charter schools. The truth is, charter schools are more accountable than traditional public schools, because if they lose their students or mismanage their money, there is no one to bail them out. Failing public schools get propped up by public funds - charters don't. We need to restore market forces to the education system by giving parents more choices and allowing there to be an actual difference between those choices. This can only be done by diminishing the amount of regulation schools have to put up with, and allowing parents to choose which school to send their kids to.

Furthermore, the Garfield-Palouse school district does not need accountability to Olympia or DC to make it a success. Parents, teachers, and administrators in the district care about their students and their education system and will do whatever they can to make it the best it can be. We need to free these people to make the decisions that effect their children and students, because they know the needs of those students better than the politicians do. We also need to free the schools from dependence on state and federal funds. For nearly one hundred years, the federal government hasbeen using the threat of reduced funding of programs to force states in ways that it has no Constitutional ability to force them. Now Olympia wants to use the same tactics to manipulate our school system. We need to say no, we need to convert to a charter system, so that the school district can raise money by essentially any means other than charging tuition, and so that we can be free to create the best educational opportunities possible for the needs of our community without being forced to conform to "one-size-fits-all" educational programs like President Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act."

It is also of note that, while charters will take money away from traditional public schools, this is not a problem, because the money is still going to fund education. In fact, more is going to fund education and less to fund bureaucracy.

We need to realize that the goal of our education practices should not be to make sure that every school stays in business, but to make sure that every child has access to a quality education. We need to allow failing schools to fail, and get children out of them and into successful schools. Thus far, Garfield-Palouse has been one of the successful ones, but we need to continue to work to improve the educational opportunities afforded students in our area.

Grafield-Palouse schools worked for me. If you are a resident of Washington and want this school and other small rural schools like it to continue to be successful I urge you to vote yes on R-55 and against I-884 (which will ultimately harm our economy and especially our small businesses, while not really helping schools, since it only makes them more dependent on outisde funds, and since throwing more money at a problem is not the solution), and to work to convert your local public schools to charters as quickly as possible following the passage of the referendum.

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October 18, 2004

Sorry Washington Libertarian Party: I'm Officially for I-872

It's official. I support Washington State Initiative 872. I blogged about this issue earlier prompting Libertarian candidate for Washington Secretary of State and former Washington LP chairman Jacqueline Passey to comment that it has produced terrible corruption in Louisiana and it restricts voter choice. It doesn't restrict voter choice, and it's probably not responsible for the corruption in Louisiana. Washington's primary election turnout is high, and will probably continue to be if this initiative passes. It doesn't restrict voter choice, it lets voters choose ANYONE THEY WANT - provided they are smart enough to pick up a primary election ballot. Most importantly, this system does not favor any one political party over any other political party, or even an independent candidate. If the Libertarian Party's opposition to this initiative is merely because Instant Runoff Voting is better, I can respect that (because it is better - much better), but I think it's better to vote now for the best measure on the ballot now, and vote for I-318 when and if it is on the ballot (there is now considerable doubt about whether we will meet the signature requirements for the 2005 ballot - I'd help collect if I was there!). In this election, I-872 is the ONLY electoral reform measure on the ballot. As a result of this, a vote against 872 is a vote for the current system, and the current system is terrible. Of course, 318's being better does not seem to be Ms. Passey's reason for opposing 872, and this smacks of the Washington Libertarian Party seeking to preserve and increase its (extremely limited) institutional power, which is profoundly un-libertarian. Under I-872, there will be no institutional reasons for Libertarian candidates not getting elected. If they fail to get elected, it will be only because the people chose not to vote for them (in the primary), and if that is our only problem, we can't work on it institutionally, we've got to simply change people's minds.

Incidentally, while I haven't decided exactly how I am going to vote yet, I have no other immediately obvious with the voting recomendations on the Libertarian Party of King County web-site which is posted on Ms. Passey's blog here. To all those reading: take a look at the voter information guide, take a look at the web, make an informed decision, VOTE, and vote smart.

(Hint on how to vote smart: Michael Badnarik for President!)

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October 16, 2004

America Becoming a Police State?

I just saw on the Badnarik Campaign Blog the results of a new Rasmussen survey. There are all sort of interesting data on here. For instance, 76% of Americans have heard of the Libertarian Party, and 32% have heard of Michael Badnarik. However, 73% of the country says that the national media has not given them enough information to determine if they agree with Badnarik's positions or not. All of this is very intersting, but one point stuck out to me: 31% of those surveyed believe that America is becoming a "police state". This can mean one of two things: Either many of these people do not understand the meaning of the term "police state", or else 31% of Americans are actually aware of the results of the Patriot Act, etc. and concerned about them. Let's hope it's the latter! 31% is not enough to effect changes without first persuading others, but it is enough to get attention from politicians and the media, which is what is needed to persuade others. Here's hoping!

Note (11/9/2005): Comments have been disabled on this post due to excessive spam.

Posted by kpearce at 09:35 PM

October 15, 2004

When Will the Media Get It? Ralph Nader is OVER!

The New York Times is reporting today that Ralph Nader is expected to be "the threat Democrats feared." They make no mention of any other third party candidates in the article. This is utterly ridiculous. Take a look at this Zogby poll. Between August 30 and September 19, Nader's support fell by more than half, from 3% to just 1.4%, while Libertarian Michael Badnarik's support QUADRUPLED from .3% to 1.2%. I haven't been able to find any current polling data, but if the trend has continued, the results should be obvious. Furthermore, according to Ballot Access News, Michael Badnarik will be on 49 ballots, compared to only 35 ballots confirmed and five more contested for Nader. Even while being almost completely ignored by the mainstream media (even when his campaign sued Arizona State University and the Commission on Presidential Debates to block the third Bush/Kerry debate and he and David Cobb of the Green Party were arrested when they crossed a police line while attempting to serve a court order on the Commission on Presidential Debates at the second debate in St. Louis), Badnarik will take significantly more votes than Nader. As of this moment, the campaign has raised $64,713 for a massive ad campaign in battleground states to be purchased Monday. The campaign had originally hoped to raise $53,200 for this purpose. When they exceeded this amount a week in advance of the deadline they raised the goal to $70,000. Donations continue to pour in. With only $5,000, the Badnarik campaign was able to double name recognition (raising that number to nearly 50%) in the state of New Mexico in only ONE WEEK in August. Ever since his own party refused to nominate him, Nader has been officially over. Turning in ballot-access petitions signed "Fred Flintstone" here in Pennsylvania didn't help his cause any either. It's time for the media to wake up and cover a real third party contender. No more blackout. There IS a third option. His name is not Ralph Nader. Vote Michael Badnarik, Libertarian for President, and tell the major parties that they can't just go on nominating bozos and expect your continued support!

Note (11/9/2005): Comments have been disabled on this post due to excessive spam.

Posted by kpearce at 03:58 PM | Comments (2)

October 13, 2004

George W. Bush Has a Good Idea

Mark your calendars. You'll want to remember where you were on this day in history. Today, the New York Times is reporting, President George W. Bush has a good idea. Read the article here.

The idea is for what the President calls "health savings accounts". This is the way it works: You get health insurance with high deductible (say around $5,000) and a very low monthly premium. The rest of the money you would spend on health care, goes into a special tax-free savings account, which you can withdraw from for any and all health-related expenses. If you have a healthy family and don't spend the money, then at the age of 65 you can withdraw the money and use it for any purpose you wish. This puts the people and the free market, not the HMOs in charge of the kind of healthcare we get. It also rewards people (and, through them, doctors and pharmacies) who find the best value in health care, as in other areas. Were it widely adopted, the plan would be able to lead to further deregulation of the health care industry. Power to the people!

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October 02, 2004

NYT: Bush/Kerry Debate NOT a Clash of Ideologies (I Could've Told You That)

The New York Times is running an editorial
today pointing out that the first Bush/Kerry debate "wasn't so much a clash of ideologies, or a clash of cultures." We knew that. Was I the only one that noticed that the most repeated phrase in the entire debate, by both candidates, was "I agree with my opponent"? Bush and Kerry agreed on almost every issue, then split hairs over the exact implementation of the policy they both agree with. This is more pronounced in the area of foreign policy than any other area I can think of, which is why it was a terrible topic for a debate, and the candidates spent the whole time trying to convince the audience of their (false) belief that they are not exactly the same. Think the U.S. military ought not to be a tool for manipulating the internal politics of foreign countries? Think that when the government makes mistakes (as at least Kerry acknowledges was the case with Iraq) it should recognize them and STOP (as Kerry doesn't seem to think it should)? Want a real choice that's actually different from what we've had the last four years? Vote Michael Badnarik Libertarian for President.

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October 01, 2004

More Lawsuits from the Libertarian Party - Good Ones This Time

My last post may have made it look like I was altogether opposed to the use of lawsuits for purposes such as advancing the Libertarian Party. This is not, in fact, the case. When rights are being trampled on and electoral systems are truly unfairly slanted, taking it to the courts is often the best course of action. The Libertarian party has taken two such actions which I agree with in the very recent past.

First, the Libertarian Party of Washington State recently won a lawsuit against Secretary of State Same Reed forcing the Party's senate and gubernatorial candidates on the ballot (this entry and this other one on Jacqueline Passey's blog are actually more informative than Sam Reed's official press release). Bravo. As I blogged previously, the Libertarian Party was in danger of being excluded due to a loophole introduced by Washington's terrible new electoral system. Judge Richard Shepherd of Washington's Superior Court for Thurston County ruled that the new electoral system implicitly removed the 1% requirement left over from the previous system.

A second lawsuit has been filed by the Libertarian Party of Arizona, seeking an injunction blocking the third Bush/Kerry debate. The reasoning is based in an Arizona law preventing public funds from going to political campaigns. The Libertarians have "major party" status in Arizona, as in Washington, and so, the Party says, by holding the debate at Arizona State University and funding putting it on with public funds, the state would be donating to candidates from two of Arizona's three major parties, unfairly favoring Democrats and Republicans over Libertarians. Again, bravo. Best of luck on this lawsuit. It has the potential to generate lots of media attention for Michael Badnarik and the Libertarian Party nationwide. Here's hoping!

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September 28, 2004

More Primary System Silliness (Not in Washington This Time)

According to this story on the (new and improved) Michael Badnarik campaign blog, yet another primary system is being challenged in the Supreme Court. The Libertarian Party has sued the state of Oklahoma on the grounds that its primary system violates the Party's right of freedom of political association by not allowing the Party to invite registered members of other parties to vote in their primary. I find this very curious, as the Libertarian Party of Washington State seems to have been a party to the lawsuit which invalidated Washington's old primary system (the press release from the Secretary of State's office says the suit was brought by Washington's "major parties;" the Libertarians are technically a "major party" in Washington and all of the subsequent press releases, such as this one include the Libertarian Party along with the Republicans and Democrats). In that case, the parties sued because the primary system forced them to allow non-party members to vote in their primary. Now, I understand that the Libertarian Party doesn't like government funded primaries - I'm right there with you! - but c'mon guys, when are you going to be happy? We've got to work within the system. That's why in order to join the Libertarian Party you have to sign a pledge that says "I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." Now, granted, lawsuits don't amount to "initiation of force," at least not in the way that pledge means it, but serious, this isn't accomplishing anything. It would be far better to try to get elected and actually change the law by legislative means than to keep going to court. There was nothing wrong with Washington's primary system (yes, I suppose there is something wrong with Oklahoma's, but it's not THAT bad), although Instant Runoff Voting would be much better. It gave an equal chance to all candidates. And why do we oppose I-872 so strongly? There's not really anything wrong with that either, although, again, IRV is better. Let's work within the system, guys. I-318 and the Badnarik campaign are great examples of attempts to do so, so stop the lawsuits. They waste everyone's time and money, and invalidating Oklahoma's primary system won't get Badnarik on the ballot this year.

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September 27, 2004

Interesting Tidbit

An interesting tidbit: According to this
article, Michael Badnarik's mother, Elaine, is running for Liutenant Governor of his home state, Indiana. Mrs. Badnarik is also a Libertarian. Guess it runs in the family.

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September 20, 2004

Badnarik Finally Comments on IP

On Slashdot today, Michael Badnarik finally comments on intellectual property law (see my earlier post on this here). The issue came up in the seventh question of the slashdot interview. While he doesn't give quite the answer I'd like, he does say that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was a mistake, and he seems to think that the market should sort things out, rather than corporations lobbying the government to preserve artificial monopolies. He also seems to come out in support of file-sharing. Good stuff, overall.

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Censorship and Internet Porn

Ed Felten is blogging today on obscenity laws and the possibility of regulating online pornography, and in particular access to it by children. This is a difficult issue for me, as I often find myself, in the ordinary course of living my life, watching television, using the Internet, accidentally exposed to content I find offensive, despite making an active attempt to avoid it. However, as a libertarian, I generally oppose government censorship, and don't trust the government (or myself) to distinguish pornography from art correctly 100% of the time, and I wouldn't want any true art permanently destroyed because of anti-pornography legislation. I also wouldn't want such legislation to result in the government monitoring the communications of private citizens, or artists of any variety having to clear their work with the government before publishing. I do, however, have some idea as to how to reconcile these issues to one another.

First, what is art, and what is pornography? Are the two mutually exclusive? These are, at core, philosophical questions, and the definition of art is something that has been debated by philosophers for centuries. The debate usually involves a technical definition of the word "genius". Genius, in this context, is the ability to create art. Because it is not my purpose in this entry to argue for a particular theory of art, I will merely state mine briefly, with no justification: Art is the product of genius. Genius is the drive to create. What this means is that the "genius" is driven to create something, and the drive is its own motivation, such that he would create even if there were no other pleasure of benefit to be derived from the creation of his art.

This definition, of course, excludes much of popular music, movies, and television, because these are often created for profit by people who would otherwise feel no urge to create them.

Pornography, by contrast, is created for the purpose of sexual arousal. Any image, verbal description, or whatever, that a person looks to for the purpose of sexual gratification is to that person pornographic. Of course, it may not have been created for that purpose, and it may not have this effect on everyone. In a perfect system, where the government was run by perfect people, I wouldn't see the need for First Amendment protection of truly pornographic works. However, we live under an imperfect system, run by politicians (read: idiots), and I don't trust them to correctly distinguish between art and pronography, as I have already said. As a result of this, I must oppose the idea of completely eliminating pornographic content.

This doesn't solve anything. I still don't want to see it, and if some day I have children, I imagine I won't want them to see it either. One of Professor Felten's readers, Roland Smith, pointed out that protecting children from offensive content is the job of parents. I couldn't agree more. Essentially then, I don't want pornography to be censored completely, but I demand that individuals have the ability to voluntarily censor themselves and their children. How can this be implemented without a bunch of ridiculous overhead and government intervention?

The answer is simple, really: Civil liability. Let's make a law that says that if I view or listen to some work (movie, web-site, song, etc.) and it contains something I deem offensive, and I had a reasonable expectation that I was not going to contain that sort of thing, the content provider should have civil liability; after all, he has essentially infringed on my rights by deceiving me into viewing some content I did not wish to view (and probably paying for it, too!). How will the movie/recording/video game/television/etc. industries shield themselves from ridiculous lawsuits under this system? Easy. They'll just have to create rating systems that are based on actual empirical measurements, and publish how those measurements are made. There are already movie review sites that do things like this. For instance, they count the number of minor and major obscenities (having an established list of which fall into which category) and give the movie a profanity rating. The current movie and television rating systems are ridiculous and don't actually measure the offensive content. Movies frequently intentionally seek R ratings to appeal to older audiences, and sometimes end up getting them despite the fact that some PG-13 movies contain more offensive content (The Last Samurai, though violent, is an excellent example of an R-rated movie whose content fails to justify its rating).

Anyway, that's what I have to say on the subject. Thanks for reading.

Posted by kpearce at 03:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2004

The Present State of Free Speech in America

We all heard about the "free speech zone" at the Democratic National Convention (in case you didn't, it was an area surrounded by razor wire under a freeway overpass). Well, today, the New York Times is reporting that at least 900 protesters were arrested yesterday throughout New York City, where the Republican National Convention is being held. Police broke up protests, often violently, before the protesters had a chance to do anything illegal. Ever heard of the First Amendment? No? Didn't think so...

And to think that this crap cost tax payers $80 million... (That's just for the two conventions, not the police and the prisons)

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August 31, 2004

Electoral Reform in Washington

Alright, the time has come for me to comment. If you live in Washington, you've no doubt heard of the crap that's gone on. The Republicans and Democrats (acting together, to preserve their shared dominance over the American political system) sued the state over its "blanket primary" system, and the system was declared unconstitutional, because it is a "nominating primary" and yet it does not give the parties any control over who is voting to nominate their candidates. Washington never had a presidential primary, due to not having a valid electoral system in place.

Under the original system, Washington voters did not register a party affiliation. They could vote for any candidate in the primary, as long as they only voted for one candidate for each office, and the highest vote-getter from each party went on to the main election. Minor party candidates needed 1% of the vote.

Following the chaos, the legislature hastily adopted a "Montana-style" nominating primary so that an electoral system would be in place for the main primary for state offices in September. Under this system, which will be used in a few weeks, voters will receive three ballots, one Democrat, one Republican, and one Libertarian (the Libertarians are a "major party" in Washington, even though they rarely actually get elected). Each voter must pick only one ballot to vote on in the primary.

There are huge problems with this system, especially among Washington's proudly independent voters. For instance, here in Palouse, our mayor, Michael Echanove is running for the state legislature. He is very popular in town. There is probably more than one staunch Democrat and Kerry supporter in town who will be voting in the Republican primary in order to support Michael. These people will most likely vote for the weakest candidates available for every other office, in the hopes that the Democrats will defeat them, which is of course exactly the sort of 'cross-over' that the major parties were hoping to prevent by their lawsuit. As if this wasn't bad enough: The Libertarian party is always standing on principle to their political detriment, and for this I applaud them. Just as they refuse to receive government campaign funding, although they are often eligible, they also refuse to participate in government funded primary elections. Instead their candidates are elected at conventions. When Washington created it's new electoral system, it didn't eliminate the 1% rule. Because of the nominating convention, there will be only one candidate for each office on the Libertarian ballot in the primary. What this means is that in order for their to be any Libertarians on the ballot for state office in Novermber, 1% of all Washington voters must pick up the Libertarian ballot and vote the straight party ticket. No one in Washington, of any party, votes down the party line. Secretary of State Sam Reed says his office is receiving about 1,000 calls per day from voters who are either confused or angry about the new system. As if this wasn't bad enough, he says that he expects this primary system to be declared unconstitutional as well following the resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Libertarian party, but the lawsuit won't be resolved in time to invalidate the results of this election.

Because we don't trust our legislature with the task of adequately reforming the electoral system for the next election, it looks as though the new system will be brought about by means of initiative. The first contender is Initiative 872, brought by the Grange (which, for you city folk, is a large special interest group representing farmers. Despite the "special interest group" stigma, they tend to actually be a lot closer to what the people want than other special interest groups, such as, say, the major political parties). The Grange designed Washington's original electoral system 70 years ago.

I-872 would establish a "Louisiana-style" blanket primary. This system has already stood up to constitutional challenges. In this system, the government does not officially recognize the existence of political parties at all. Instead, all candidates are listed on the ballot (in Louisiana they don't get to list their party affiliations) and people can choose any candidate they like, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, get on the final ballot.

Despite opposition from groups I like, namely the Libertarian party, 872 is a huge step up from the current system. In an SMDP (Single Member District Plurality) voting system, voters (theoretically) vote for the candidate, not the party. Unless we switch to a Proportional Representation system (which we should for the lower house, on both state and federal levels), there is no reason for the government to officially recognize the parties. If they want to pick only one candidate and choose, voluntarily, not to run Republicans against other Republicans, that is their right, as independent, non-governmental organizations. However, it's none of the government's business.

I-872 still has some problems. For one, there is still a primary, and voter turnout for primaries is low. Furthermore, the primary determines more than it does under the current and previous systems, and so a lower percentage of total registered voters are making decisions. Of course, this is the fault of the people who don't vote, not the system. Primaries are also expensive. Then there is the fact that this system doesn't address the (alleged) problem of "spoilers". People will still feel compelled to vote in the primary for the "lesser evil" among the candidates they view as the real contenders.

Enter I-318, Instant Runoff Voting. Under IRV, voters may vote for as many candidates as they like, provided that they rank these candidates in order of preference (try it out here). All of the first-choice votes are counted. If no candidate has a strict majority (>50%), the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated and his votes are redistributed to the voters' second choices. This continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote. This eliminates the (alleged) "wasted vote" problem, and also the need for a primary. All candidates who get enough signatures would be on the final ballot. I-318 is the real solution. Unfortunately, it won't be on the ballot until next year.

This presents me with a dilemma. I-872 would really be a huge improvement over our current system. However, I am afraid that if we successfully reform the electoral system this election, voters will not want to change it again next year. Voting against 872 would be a gamble. If it gets voted down, 318 may or may not get voted in in the next election, and who knows what we could end up with for next year if the current system is declared unconstitutional. In the end, I think I'll probably have to vote for it, and just hope I'm not the only one who still votes for 318 next year. What a mess.

Posted by kpearce at 03:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Download Music and ... the Government Will Steal Your Computer?

Also on slashdot today, a pointer to a Reuters story about a justice department raid on the homes of peope accused of the vicious crime of ... file sharing? Four raids took place, computers were confiscated but not arrests were made. John Ashcroft reportedly made idiotic and generally fascist statements to the affect that it would be "inappropriate" for the justice department to "stand by while such theft is taking place." Give me a break! Allow me to let you in on a little secret: If I can take it from you, without depriving you of it ... It's NOT STEALING! Don't believe me? Let's ask Mr. Webster:

Theft \Theft\, n. [OE. thefte, AS. [thorn]i['e]f[eth]e,
[thorn][=y]f[eth]e, [thorn]e['o]f[eth]e. See Thief.]
1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious
taking and removing of personal property, with an intent
to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Note: To constitute theft there must be a taking without the
owner's consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious;
every part of the property stolen must be removed,
however slightly, from its former position; and it must
be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of
the thief. See Larceny, and the Note under Robbery.

Note that in order to qualify as "theft", according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) I have to physically remove something with intent to deprive it's owner of it!

Calling file sharing "theft" or "piracy" is utterly ridiculous - as is treating it as a criminal offense! To whatever degree copyright infringement (which is what we are dealing with here - not theft, or piracy, but copyright infringement) is a real crime which is actually to the detriment of society as a whole, and not just big record execs and movie distributors (which is not to a very large degree), it is definitely the place of a civil suit to resolve the disagreement. There is no reason why tax payers should be paying to prosecute what really amounts to breech of contract (read the Constitution - Article I Section 8 Clause 8 clearly indicates that intellectual property law is a contract Congress creates between content creators and the people at large).

John Ashcroft is a fascist. Under his eye, we have had the Dimitry Sklyarov affair, the Patriot Act, all kinds of ridiculous "war on filesharing" crap, and now this. Any president who would appoint John Ashcroft as attorney general is not fit to govern - whether it be through idiocy or actual evil (and who knows which it is with our friend George W.). Vote Ashcroft out! Vote Michael Badnarik and tell the establishment politicians you won't take any more of their crap.

PS if you think John Kerry will be any better on this stuff you are either among the most optimistic people living in this country, or else you are on crack.

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August 22, 2004

Props to Joe Lance of The Chattanoogan

Props to Joe Lance for his great opinion piece in The Chattanoogan. Mr. Lance has an excellent list of the "un-Conservative" things done by the Bush administration and points out that "In far too many cases, the phrase 'conservative values' refers only to the candidate's views on aspects of social interaction or religious concepts. The hype surrounding the so-called 'culture wars' is a distraction and a ploy to ensure that the rural, lower middle class votes for a feeling about morality rather than for an economically sound administration" concluding that the only way for a true political conservative to go is with Michael Badnarik. This is, of course, the truth. Don't be manipulated by political rhetoric about conservativism and false morality any longer! Vote for a candidate who says what he means and means what he says, who supports real individual responsibility and morality and not just pseudo-moral behavior under threat of force, who will let you live your own life, and not let the government live it for you. Vote Michael Badnarik for President!

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August 13, 2004

Interview with Michael Badnarik

The Augusta Free Press has a great interview with Michael Badnarik today. Some of my favorite quotes:

On the 9/11 Commission Report: "The 9/11 Report reads sort of like a Rogaine prescription for a chemotherapy patient. Yes, the patient is losing his hair, but that's the least of his problems. The report talks a lot about enhancing the nation's ability to collect and analyze intelligence, but it doesn't get to the real problem, which is an interventionist foreign policy that needlessly creates enemies."

On the Federal Department of Education: "I've read the Constitution many times. No matter how I read it - forward, backward, upside down or with my Captain Liberty Secret Decoder Ring - I can't find anything in it that empowers the federal government to be involved in education."

On Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives: "Not only do I approve of churches undertaking to provide welfare services, I want to hand the job over to them entirely. The difference between President Bush's proposal and mine is that mine doesn't include a taxpayer handout. Charity should be private. The churches can ask people to provide. My job is to cut taxes so that they can afford to provide."

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August 11, 2004

Badnarik Campaign: Now is the Time. Speak up on Intellectual Property Law!

The Badnarik campaign is reporting on their blog today that their site's Alexa stats are continuing to climb. If you examine the statistics closely, you will note that has already exceeded in total pageviews per day, and is poised to defeat that site in "reach" (the number of internet users out of every million who view the site each day) as well. There are thousands (and that's a conservative estimate) of avid Internet users who are eligible voters disenfranchised by America's two-party system. This force being mobilized by the Badnarik campaign could, at the least, really shake things up (imagine a Libertarian winning a couple of Electoral votes!). However, there is one issue very near and dear to the heartss of these would-be voter computer nerds which the Badnarik campaign has completely failed to address: Intellectual property.

Without addressing this issue, Michael Badnarik will have little chance of reaching these voters. Now, granted, it will be a difficult task. As a Libertarian, Mr. Badnarik strongly supports personal property, but he must also support free speech and the freedom to innovate and market your innovations, so allow me, as a Badnarik supporter, to outline some considerations which are relevant to the discussion of a Libertarian stance on intellectual property:

First, the concept of physical property makes a lot of sense. A certain person can control a physical item, that item can be "his". There are no problems making this work. It requires very little government intervention to defend the physical property of individuals. A very small government can very easily do this, and it makes sense for a minimalist government to choose this as one of its essentials, because without it people must find (possibly violent) ways of defending their own property from others, or else the concept of property would collapse altogether which would, at least initially, plunge society into complete chaos and any order that emerged from that chaos without the reintroduction of property would be bizarre and unrecognizable and, unless "Communist Utopia" sounds appealing to you, I can think of no benificial outcome of such a revolution.

Intellectual property is a very different matter. This is not an obvious, simple idea - although it is based on one. Intellectual property comes from the idea of authorship. Now, authorship is a very sensible idea: if you are responsible for creating something, it makes sense that we should recognize that in some way. Based on this idea, the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to create a social contract relating to authorship in order to "promote the progress of science and useful arts" (Article I Section 8). This also makes sense. "The progress of science and useful arts" seems beneficial to society and, while a truly minimalist government might leave this to private organizations, it is a fairly sensible thing for the government to have a hand in. The specific social contract that Congress is authorized to create, is one in which authors and inventors have exclusive rights for a limited time. So far so good.

But this is not "intellectual property". The Constitution does not say that authors and inventors "own" their ideas in the same way a person can own physical property. No minimalist government could possibly enforce a system of ownership for ideas - that would require a totalitarian regime on the level of Orwell's 1984!

This is the direction the RIAA wants to take us. They demand that the government enforce their "intellectual property rights" against private individuals, and defend the information they "own" from use by other people. No Libertarian (and no sane individual, for that matter) can support this. Besides the fact that it is obvious nonsense, it violates the Constitution in several ways. Firstly, if any law really says this, it was not created to "promote the progress of science and useful arts," it was created to line the pockets of already wealthy record and movie executives. Second, the language of the Constitution, "securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries," doesn't sound like the producer "owns" his product and can license it as he chooses; it sounds like Congress, acting on behalf of the people, is licensing it to him! That is, after all, what a social contract is. Because we want people to continue producing this sort of content, we will all agree to let you have certain exclusive rights over it for a certain amount of time. That sounds reasonable. But, as I have said, that is not intellectual property, it's just an agreement meant to encourage content creation. Additionally, there is the "for limited times" part. Congress, in the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) actually increased the length of term for the copyright of already created works ex post facto. This has yet to go before the courts (though there is talk of lawsuits regarding it), but many experts (such as Lawrence Lessig) think that it may be unconstitutional.

If Michael Badnarik took all of this into account and formulated a reasonable and coherent view on intellectual property, articulating it as well as he has articulated all of his other views, he could win a lot of votes from disenfranchised internet users. Just recently, Princeton professor and respected blogger Ed Felten was bemoaning the lack of a pro-innovation candidate sparking a debate as to which of the two major parties was most likely to support innovation (there was no clear winner in the debate, but Ralph Nader's name was mentioned in passing).

So, in conclusion, this entry is a plea to Michael Badnarik and his campaign: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE define yourself on intellectual property! You have never been known to skirt the issues; do not skirt this one, it matters!

Posted by kpearce at 08:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 10, 2004

In Case There Was Any Doubt: IRS Shows True Colors As Illegal Extortion Racket

The New York Times is running an article today entitled "Tech Company Settled Tax Case Without an Audit". The text basically shows how a secret agreement between the IRS and a minor semiconductor firm allowed said firm to avoid paying some $51 million in back taxes on shady stock option packages given to employees. Frustrated with the failure of the internal chain of command to address the illegal nature of the deal, Remy Welling, the auditor who was asked to approve it, took her case to the FBI, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), and the press. She will lose her job for her honesty.

This deal is made even more questionable by two additional facts: first, it was negotiated by a retired high ranking IRS official who now works for the company, and, second, the deal was made before an intended audit of the company was carried out, and the audit was stopped as a result. IRS policy dictates that, while such deals are allowed, they must be made after the audit is complete. This company's audit will never be carried out. At least two similar incidents have been exposed to the press in recent years.

This comes on the heels of a claim by Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R, Illinois) that his party would support the abolition of the IRS and its replacement with a federal sales tax (see here), in accordance with reccomendations by an organization known as Americans For Fair Taxation. This has met with skepticism from libertarians who have long supported the abolition of the IRS which is illegal and unnecessary (see esp. question 4 and question 11a) anyway.

If ever there was ever an opportune time to abolish the IRS and stop them from illegally extorting money from the American people, this is it. This is just one more area in which the American people find fault with how the Republicans and Democrats have been running this country. Perhaps Hastert will really carry out this plan, but, since Bush will not go on record on the issue, this is just one more reason to vote for Libertarian Michael Badnarik.

Posted by kpearce at 10:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

Rights for Authors - Not Publishers

Tim Wu, guest blogging forLawrence Lessig, notes that the JibJab parody of "This Land is Your Land" is actually supported by the family and estate of Woody Guthrie, the now deceased author of the song. Asked about the parody, granddaughter Cathy Guthrie reportedly responded "this parody was made for you and me."

The rights are controlled by a company known as The Richmond Organization, and they are threatening to sue JibJab. The parody is hilariously funny and highly reccomended. The family's decision ought to stand, and the rights of individuals ought to triumph over the rights of huge corporations. After all, it was an individual who wrote this song, not a corporation. Copyright law and publishing contracts as they presently exist favor these corporations at huge expense to both authors and consumers. Something must be done.

Posted by kpearce at 08:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Bush Campaigns Active Targetting of Conservative Churches - An Outrage!

The New York Times is reporting again (free registration required) on the Bush campaign's active targetting of conservative churches. One Assembly of God near St. Louis, Missouri is reported to have sent out so many political mailings to its members that the postal service denied it the free postage priveleges generally given to non-profit organizations.

This is an outrage. The Church is a place for morals, but not for politics. The two are not the same.Churches endorsing particular political leaders was a large part of what led to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The authority of the Church is spiritual, not political. An individual's faith should effect every aspect of his life, including how (and whether) he votes, but to say that George Bush, or the Republican Party, or whoever, is the only "Christian" way to vote is utterly ridiculous. Mr. Bush, as an individual, may very well be a devout Christian, but the fact remains that his administration has done a terrible job running this country.

Vote Michael Badnarik!

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July 12, 2004

Check out this ad!

This ad was entered in the Michael Badnarik photoshop contest on I love the copy!

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July 10, 2004

New Badnarik Ad

Check out this cool new ad from Michael Badnarik's web-site:

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July 09, 2004

Idiocy and the Gay Marriage Debate

The New York Times is reporting that the senate will soon be holding it's debates on President Bush's "Federal Marriage Amendment." I'm now going to tell you why every side of this issue (or, rather, every side that is being heard in the mass media) is dominated by idiots.

The most frustrating part of the whole issue is the Bush administration, which is trying to abuse Christian morality as a tool of political manipulation for their own advancement. As part of their "target demographic" I am personally offended (I'm a supporter of Michael Badnarik). While they are essentially correct that the view of Judeo-Christian morality, based strongly in both Scripture and tradition, is that marriage is by definition a heterosexual union (Genesis 2:24) and sexual activity between members of the same sex (just as between unmarried persons of opposite sexes) is "an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), It does NOT follow from this that there ought to be a constitutional amendment on the subject! Lying is wrong, but there is no need for a constitutional amendment banning it. Law and morality certainly ought to be related, but they are not the same thing. I will discuss my view of what ought to be the law on the subject a little later.

Then there is the "conservative Christian lobby." The Times cites Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tom Perkins of the Family Research Council. I am not familiar with the latter group, but the former represents a major voice in contemporary Evangelicalism, and both took the Bush administration's bait, hook, line, and sinker. Next we get Christian radio hosts ranting about the "culture wars" and how we are going to lose them if this amendment is voted down. This is not a Biblical view of the Christian's relationship to the world. The Church and the world system (Greek - "kosmos") are seen in the Bible as arch-enemies, the Church belonging to God, the world belonging to Satan. This is not to say that the Church ought to help the world be evil, on the contrary we are to fight it, but the view of the Scriptures is not that there is some kind of "culture war" going on that will be won or lost by human actions, but that the Church and the world find themselves in conflict as the result of a spiritual war which will continue until the end of the world. What's going to happen, though, is that anyone who opposes the amendment will be branded an enemy of the faith. As we will see later, there are good reasons for even those who support Biblical morality to oppose this measure.

Then there's the homosexual lobby. The group the Times cited, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, does not seem to be among the most extreme (which adds some slant to the article, because the conservative groups cited were among the most extreme). What they say is exactly what I am trying to say: "People's lives and families are being used as political fodder here." This is not about morality - it is about political manipulation. However, the homosexual lobby is essentially wrong as well. They distort the issue by making it one of civil rights. Even assuming that homosexuality is genetic (and I am still highly doubtful of this), defining marriage as essentially heterosexual would still not constitute discrimination. Why? Because gays have the same rights as everyone else - no one is telling them they can't get married because they are gay. They can get married to a member of the opposite sex, just like everyone else. The advocate then says "yes, but they don't want to marry a member of the opposite sex," but this is immaterial to the point. Kleptomania is something beyond the control of those who suffer from it (I'm not sure if it is due to heredity or environment or what, but it is certainly beyond their control), but no one is arguing that the majority of people, who don't want to steal (at least not very badly) are discriminating against this minority, the kelptomaniacs, by making stealing illegal. And yet, this is exactly the same circumstance. A group of people want to do something that is illegal, and they are claiming that the law discriminates against them because they are the only ones who want to perform this particular illegal act and their desire to perform it is (they claim) beyond their control. This is ludicrous.

Which brings us to the courts, who for the most part have bought the homosexual lobby's bait, hook, line, and sinker, which is what got us into this mess in the first place. Where the heck do the courts think they get off ruling laws against homosexuality unconstitutional?! Where in the constitution does it say ANYTHING about the issue?! The courts have absolutely no authority to overturn legislators decisions on this matter on the basis of "freedom" or "equality" or "discrimination" or anything like that, because the constitution does not say anything about marriage yet, and I hope it never does.

There is, however, one piece of the constitution that may be relevant: "Congress shall make no law respecting religion or the free establishment thereof." Which brings me to my real point. Separation of church and state was invented by Christians who in today's nomenclature would be termed mostly as Evangelicals who wanted to make a deal like this: "I'll be happy to keep my church out of your government as long as you keep your blasted government the heck out of my church!" Some of us still think that sounds like a good deal. Now, I consider marriage to be a religious institution, and should this amendment (or some other law) pass and marriage become a constitutional issue the government will be implementing what I (and many others like me) see as a religious doctrine as a part of "the supreme law of the land," which is wholly contrary to the intent of the first amendment. However, if the amendment should fail and the courts should continue in the direction they are headed, and the activists continue to lead them, and the law continue to liberalize, I will be even more upset, because at that point it will be my religious beliefs that the federal government has declared to be incorrect, or discriminatory, or whatever. In the former case, the government is telling liberal religious institutions that their definition of marriage is wrong, In the latter case they are similarly vexing conservative religious institutions. Neither is acceptable. To my fellow Evangelicals, I have this to say: a forced conversion is no conversion at all. No one ever got to heaven by being threatened with prison time if he didn't accept traditional Christian morality. Now, certainly morality ought to influence the law, but marriage is a place the government simply cannot intervene. To those who oppose my ethical views I have Voltaire's words to give you: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." You have the right to believe what you believe, because God created you with free will, and if you ever change your mind (and I pray that one day you will) it must be as a result of evidence or experience and not deception or threat of force.

Now, anyone who cares enough to read this far must be wondering what kind of solution to the problem I would favor, so I will tell you. The government ought not to define marriage at all. If a church wants to recognize gay marriage, I as an individual will never be a member of that church and I will exercise my right to free speech vigorously in opposition to it, showing it's mistakenness from Scripture, but the government ought not to quash that church. In Michael Badnarik's position paper on the subject he says:

"Each marriage should be what the partners want it to be—no more, no less. Ideally, the terms of marriage should be defined ahead of time with procedures to modify them as necessary.

"Just as anyone can engage in a business relationship, any individuals should be able to enter into a marriage. Government's role in a business partnership is to simply enforce, not dictate, its terms. Government's role in marriage should be the same."

While he seems a little more favorable of homosexuality than I am, I agree with the essence of his view. If marriage is to be recognized by government at all, it ought to be recognized as a contract between two individuals defined by those individuals (perhaps their church might be a party to the contract as well, if they so choose) and the government could enforce such contracts. However, I don't really see a need for government involvement even on that level, and if the government must define anything I would much rather it be a "household." A household would be a group of two or more people who live at a single physical adress and have common assets. Such a group could be formed or dissolved simply by registering with a government office. Of course, there might be disputes about where the assets went in the dissolution of a household, and then a court would be required to make a ruling, and the government would have to enforce it, and I think this is the sort of situation Mr. Badnarik has in mind in his statements.

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June 08, 2004

Badnarik Victorious!

After being rated third in the polls throughout most of his campaign for the Libertarian presidential nomination, Michael Badnarik has come away fromthe Libertarian National Convention in Atlanta as the official Libertarian candidate for president of the United States. Hurrah! Now we all have someone to vote for in November...

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Free Cascadia!

Click herel

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May 31, 2004

Anti-Plagiarism Legislation as an (Almost) Adequate Replacement for Intellectual Property Law

I spend a lot of time here railing against the RIAA, et al., and it may sound as though I am opposed to intellectual property law altogether. This is pretty much the case.

How, you may ask, can someone who is such a big fan of books, and plays, and science, and movies, and music think this way? The truth is that intellectual property law does help encourage production in these fields. I believe that people who create really outstanding works in these fields have a drive to create, and would do so even if they received no compensation whatsoever, but if they received no compensation, they would have to get "real jobs," and this would be bad, because it would diminish their output. To solve this problem, in the Renaissance "'patronage" was developed. Under this system, an artist was sponsored by a wealthy patron who paid his living expenses so that he could devote himself full-time to the creation of art. The earlier development of the university had provided the same sort of support to the early scientists and various other scholars.

Intellectual property law is essentially a system by which governments manipulates economies in such a way as to create an income for content producers that comes directly from the consumer. This is the type of government intervention that I generally support. The government is using the supply-and-demand system that exists naturally to acheive a desirable end. It's a good idea.

However, with the advent of the Internet, the rise of software patents, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and so forth, today's world has become such that the degree to which intellectual property law is enforced has become excessive, and this enforcement has become so difficult that it cannot be done without an unacceptable amount of government control being exerted over communication and the creation of content. Intellectual property law as it exists today is simply unacceptable and, it turns out, there is a different approach which might have been better all along. This is simply anti-plagiarism legislation.

I am of the belief that the really important element of copyright law is the requirement of attribution, which is to say that what is really necessary is that everyone exposed to a work knows who originally created it. How, one might ask, does this benefit the artist? It's quite simple really. Think of Bob Dylan. Even his greatest fans admit that he was never particularly talented as a singer, but he has sold an unspeakable number of concert tickets over the years, and that is where recording artists make the most money. This is because everyone recognizes that he is a great song writer. Everyone wants to hear the original song writer performing his own songs. Likewise, if a scientist creates a process or a programmer creates an application he then becomes the chief expert on whatever he has created, and any company wanting to use his process or application will want to hire him, and if his process or application is particularly good the companies will begin to compete with each other for his services so that supply and demand will create for him a very high salary. This is clearly evident in several cases related to open source software, for instance Linus Torvalds, MySQL AB, and Ximian (recently purchased by Novell for a lot of money). Also consider the case of a painter. I imagine his primary source of income would be the sale of originals. So, if prints are sold in massive quantities all over the world so that his paintings are easily recognizable, and his name is affixed to them all so that he is widely known, his originals will fetch an extravagant price.

Here ends my little rant about why intellectual property law is unecessary. Goodbye.

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April 29, 2004

ACLU Suing FBI over Patriot Act

So apparently the ACLU is suing the FBI. The matter contested is a provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing law enforcement to use "National Security Letters" to obtain information about individuals from ISPs and so forth without any judicial oversight when investigating terrorism or espionage. Besides lack of judicial oversight, there are three big problems with the Patriot Act's modification to the National Security Letter law. First, there is a strict "gag order," so that after your ISP releases information on all the web-sites you've visited and comments you've posted and so forth they can be prosecuted if they tell you they have done so - ever. Second, as a result of this, there is no way to challenge the letter, as there would be in a normal subpoena. Third, there is no requirement that the individual whose information is requested actually be suspected of terrorism or espionage, there merely has to be some terrorism or espionage investigation going on that is somehow related, however tenuously. Wow, isn't it great to live in a free country with constitutional protection against "unreasonable search and seizure"? Well, MAYBE the ACLU will win the lawsuit, and MAYBE Congress will not listen to Bush (who, by the way, by conducting himself in this manner with regard to this issue, has lost any chance he had at getting my vote) and will let Patriot "sunset". MAYBE someone somewhere has some sense. I kind of doubt it, don't you?

Check out the ACLU press release here.

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March 26, 2004

A Decent Presidential Candidate?

Ever hear me talk about politics? I generally answer questions about my political leanings one of two ways, both of which are rather vague and obscure. The first is "I hate the Republican Party slightly less than I hate the Democratic Party." The second is "I am a right-leaning minarchist." The meaning of the first statement is obvious, it just doesn't say anything about what I like, only what I hate less, which is a very different thing. The second term is confusing, because these terms are not often used in this way. To explain this, I understand the right-left distinction to refer to the government's use of power, and to be completely independent of how much power the government has. A leftist thinks the government should use it's power to create equality. Note that this is equality in actuality, not just equality of opportunity, hence the extreme left being Marx who wanted to ultimately abolish all currency and all class distinctions, so that everyone would truly be on equal footing. Rightists want the government to use its power to establish order, justice, security, etc. Wanting equality of opportunity is not inconsistent with rightism, but neither is it required by it. Thus the extreme authoritarian right is fascism in which class distinctions are preserved and the wealthy and powerful ruthlessly dominate the poor and weak for the alleged benefit of society at the expense of the individual.

The "minarchist" distinction, however, throws a wrench in the works. A minarchist is one who wants the smallest government possible without complete anarchy (hence min, as in minimum). That's me. So what is my political view overall? The government's power should be almost completely non-existent, but what power it does have should be used for order, justice, and security, and not social programs. Now, don't get me wrong, social programs are great. Someone should feed the poor, and absolutely everyone should have access to education and health care, and the arts should be supported, and universities should be funded (after all, someone has to foot the bill so we philosophers can philosophize instead of ... well ... actually working), it's just that the government does a terrible job of all of these things. Think of how much more efficient the Red Cross is as compared to government disaster relief. The Red Cross is great. The government sucks. What would happen if the Red Cross had all the money the government spends on disaster relief? The same goes for education. Education in particular is extremely important to me, and that's exactly why I say the government can't be trusted with it.

That said, there are practical issues with eliminating government social programs. We ought not to do it rashly. We have to make sure that the private organizations who are supposed to pick up the slack exist and have the resources to do it.

So I've been looking for a presidential candidate who fits these kinds of political ideas. I was very discouraged. I can't possibly cast a vote to keep Ashcroft in office (and were it not for all of his civil liberties issues, Bush would still be just the lesser evil, and not actually a good), and I can't possibly vote for a Democrat, and the independents are mostly crackpots (not to insinuate that I'm not, but ...), and the Constitution Party is full of crackpots and they propagate (and embody) that "Religious Right" stereotype I hate so much, but I guess they are better than the Republicans or Democrats. Did I mention that I really don't like our two party system?

So anyway, the first time I was looking, I missed the Libertarian candidates, because they haven't finished their primaries yet and they still have three candidates to choose from. All are better than the other parties, and, in particular, Michael Badnarik looks like an excellent presidential candidate. Badnarik said something particularly cool when he was talking about education on his web-site. He said that the separation of church and state doesn't mean that we have to get Got out of schools - on the contrary it means that of God and government schools can have at most one. Now, even if you are an atheist, why on earth would you choose schools run by bureaucrats over schools that teach about God?

Anyway, just remember, if you vote for a third-party you are not throwing your vote away. The only way you are throwing your vote away is if you are voting for the lesser of two evils.

Posted by kpearce at 08:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2004

EFF Proposes Solution for Online Music Downloading

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization which focuses on technological issues, has proposed a very sensible solution to some of the problems related to peer-to-peer filesharing, in hopes of stopping the Recording Industry Association of America from suing more users. Check it out here.

Posted by kpearce at 03:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2003

Some Political Ramblings - "Controlled Anarchy"

It's been just over a month since I've written here and I noticed that according to my web-server logs, somebody actually looks at this page (specifically, twelve unique IPs hit this site in the last week - only one can be mine). I was most surprised at this finding, and so, when I determined that there was, in fact, something to be written, I decided that I had better write it.

I had just come from a few hours spent in Leon Uris's Trinity, when I got up to check my e-mail and noticed in the RSS feeds that Evolution gives me on my summary page that slashdot was running some rant about Lawrence Lessig predicting the imminent death of the internet. It turns out that slashdot was citing The Register, and The Register was citing Lessig's blog, and there was considerable misquoting going on.

However, regardless of any such considerations if a person such as myself who considers freedom of information particularly important and tends toward political discontent spends an entire afternoon reading Uris and Lessig, he is bound to come away ranting about some kind of oppression or another.

Of course we all recognize that the government is involved in only a trifling amount of oppression in the United States. The government is a pawn manipulated by greater and far more evil forces, such as Microsoft and AOL/Time Warner. This is a government "of the money, for the money and by the money", and of course it always was. The men who started the Revolutionary War and founded the United States were not particularly concerned with human dignity, but rather with not giving their money to an English government that didn't serve them as they thought it should. So much for idealism and America as the "white knight" out to show the world what democracy is really about.

So what's to be done? Well God once established a government of His own choosing, and it operated in a fashion surprisingly similar to Wikipedia. You're laughing, but I'm serious. Let's call the concept "controlled anarchy". It works like this: you have a set of rules or laws and provisions for what is to be done (by the people themselves, not some central governing body) if someone breaks these rules or laws. The vast majority of people agree on these rules and enforce them appropriately. This gives rise to all the "Law and Order" needed without any type of central government whatsoever! This is precisely what went on in ancient Israel during the period of the judges, and it is how Wikipedia operates. If you don't think a reliable encyclopedia can be created by a bunch of mostly untrained and unqualified people operating under these principles, go there and look up a topic you have personal knowledge of and check the article for accuracy. You'll find it's every bit as accurate and reliable as anything on the internet can be (which is to say it's usually right, but you should always consult more than one source), and probably less biased than anything you will find in print, due to being worked on by people of diverse ideological persuasions. If you don't think a country can run on these principles, brush up on your Jewish history and you'll notice that Israel was quite well governed during that period, by people who were followed out of respect for their skills and without any type of coercion. Justice was seen, attackers were fought off, and the nation prospered. You will also notice that God, through Samuel, objected quite strenuously when the people demanded a king.

Now of course the important questions is whether or not this can be done in the modern world. The answer? I don't have it. Go ask someone else. What I do know is that this represents the best government possible (if, that is, you can call it a government at all) and we can certainly move closer to it than we are now. Minarchism, then, with the (possibly unattainable) ultimate goal being this "controlled anarchy". The best of luck and the help of God to the world in getting there.

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