Thursday, June 17, 2010

Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset

The federal government would have “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under the terms of a new US Senate bill being pushed by Joe Lieberman, legislation which would hand President Obama a figurative “kill switch” to seize control of the world wide web in response to a Homeland Security directive.

“The legislation says that companies such as broadband providers, search engines or software firms that the US Government selects “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone failing to comply would be fined,” reports ZDNet’s Declan McCullagh.

I don't know if this is true as I haven't yet done my own primary research, but the idea is an illuminating example of tyranny (the negation of liberty) in the name of some collective good. A collective good consisting of private things, not things publicly owned. Actually, the Internet isn't a "thing" at all - the concept is a shorthand name for how a bunch of individual assets behave and are connected to each other. Like an "economy": there really is no such thing as The Internet, it's just a name for how a bunch of real things (or real people) interact. (Don't agree? Does The Internet include pieces in Britain or Russia or China? Does The Internet stop at national (or state) boundaries? No, no more than an economy stops at arbitrary political boundaries. The federal government cannot control The Internet; all it can do is control individual assets, most of them privately owned.)

During a declared war, of course, many liberties are curtailed for the duration. That is one of the reasons it is so important for Congress to formally debate and vote on a declaration of war, and not just leave it to Presidential discretion.

Sure, the internet is a national asset. Actually it is a collection of privately-owned assets cooperating with each other that, in aggregate, can be viewed as a single thing by a metaphysical sleight-of-hand. I'm sure there are some publicly-owned pieces as well.

Our trees are national assets - they provide shade, cover for troops in the field, and generate some of the oxygen we breathe. Should the federal government be permitted to control the trees in your yard because some President decides national security, or some threat (like, perhaps, Dutch Elm Disease) endangers this particular "national asset"?

Surely our automobile fleet is a national asset. And some of the cars are publicly owned. But is there really a "thing" called our automobile fleet? Isn't it just a bunch of individual things that somebody decided to arbitrarily lump together as a form of shorthand? Are cars in a junk yard part of this "asset"?

Or your kids: certainly future adult citizens are national assets. If a plague of dirty jokes threatens the mental and spiritual well being of our kids should the President be able to take control of your kids?

Is there anything positive or productive in America that is not a "national asset"? If identification of some thing as a "national asset" justifies surrendering any liberties or rights we have regarding that thing, then there is no liberty, no personal property, not even our sovereignty over ourselves.

Absent a formal declaration of war. Congress, our elected representatives must vote on and declare war. And the war is for a limited time, only. Then everything returns to normal rights and liberties.

Does this sound paranoid? Only to those people who went berserk when the Bush Administration began intercepting overseas phone calls where one of the parties was an identified terror threat. We were told that Bush was "shredding the Constitution" and that policy would lead to elimination of all phone privacy for all citizens. When a Bush does it, it's a slippery slope to tyranny. But when a member of the other party does it, well that's nothing to worry about.

What do you think? Would it be different if a Republican Senator had proposed giving Bush the power to seize a "national asset" to protect it (and us)? x Is it OK when an angel, on the side of goodness and light, seizes your liberty, but bad when a devil, on the side of darkness and evil, does the same thing?

That's Manichean, a particular religion. Religion should not guide public policy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Biggest Spill in U.S. History my foot!

From the Associated Press, June 11, 2010:

Scientists now say the blown-out well could have been spewing as much as 2 million gallons of crude a day before a cut-and-cap maneuver started capturing some of the flow, meaning more than 100 million gallons may have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since the start of the disaster in April. That is more than nine times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, previously the worst oil spill in U.S. history. (emphasis added)

Hmmm. I guess it's the worst spill in history if you don't know history.

The Lakeview Gusher started in 1910 in Kern County, California. According to Wikipedia, over 18 months it blew 9 million BARRELS - that's about 380 million gallons - all over the countryside. I'd say that's a "spill" and over 4 times the high-end estimates of the current Gulf spill.

I was in the area of the Lakeview Gusher 60 years later, and the only evidence I could find of the gusher was a bronze plaque placed by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). All other environmental impacts had disappeared. Imagine that.

The Gulf spill caused by British Petroleum will have to continue unabated for the rest of the year (very likely) to become the "worst" spill in U.S. history.

The BP spill is a mess now but, like the Lakeview Gusher, we can expect it to have no long-term effect on the environment.

But pointing that out doesn't help the profit-mongering news companies sell their stories.

(Not that I'm against profit-mongering; but the Associated Press and New York Times are no more noble than British Petroleum)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How we behave shows what our values really are

It is my experience that human beings and human organizations act based on their values. Not Expressed Values - what they say their Values are - but what their values actually are: Operational Values. Typically, values can be determined only by an outsider who deduces them from observations of behavior. Few of us are aware of our values, though we usually know what we would like them to be.

If you want to know Expressed Values, simply ask. Corporations delight in publishing their values on their web sites. People will tell you how they value truth even as they lie, how they value loyalty even as they betray and reward betrayal, and how they value initiative as they punish those who actually take initiative.

Determining Operational (or actual) Values requires observation and experimentation. It is a scientific process of hypothesis (I think X is one of the values of this person/organization) and test by prediction (Since X is a value, in situation A the person/organization will do M.) If the prediction is incorrect, the hypothesis is disproved and must be discarded or revised. If the prediction is correct, the hypothesis is not proved, but it does remain a possibility. Every time a hypothesis passes a test it gains strength, but it can never be proven. (see The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper for more on the nature of science vs. metaphysics.)

Postings from the author will be in an order establishing a foundation and building an argument. At least initially.

This author's fundamental principles

Principles are general statements, assertions if you will, or rules.

You may say you value a principle that you don’t actually value, that is your decisions don't align with the principle.

These are the principles which guide my philosophy and should underpin what I post on this Blog. Most of them are things I have discovered, usually from other authors.

A definition:
"By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of political rulers" - J.S. Mill, "On Liberty".
By liberty, I mean protection against coercion by threat of violence - from others, rulers, government, anyone.

Basic principles (that I hope correspond to my Operational Values)

When referring to “human being” or “person” I mean an adult. If the person is an adult, these principles apply. If the principles don’t apply, the person isn’t adult.

Individual living human beings are the most important things there are.

Each person owns himself, his body, his mind, and the products of his labor.

Each person is entitled to decide what is good for him or what he wants. No other person, institution, or organization is entitled to make that decision for him.

Each person is responsible for the consequences of his decisions (more specifically, for the consequences of actions he takes based on his decision).

Not holding a person responsible for the consequences of his decisions/actions amounts to not treating that person as an adult; it diminishes him and shows disrespect.

Intentions are nice. Consequences matter. (I'd rather be saved by someone trying to kill me than be killed by someone who intended to save me.)

You show disrespect when you don’t take someone at his word. If a person says he hates you and wants to kill you, believe him unless you want to dishonor him. When a toddler says “I hate my mommy” one dismisses it as childish, responding “Oh, you don’t really mean that”. When an adult, a country, or a society says “We hate you and want to destroy you”, do we show respect by responding “Oh, you don’t really mean that” as if it were a society of children?

A human being is an end in himself, never to be used as a means for the benefit of another. (from Emanuel Kant, if you want to learn more). While it is a virtue to give of oneself for another, it is immoral to require someone to give, or to take from someone, for the benefit of another. The immorality comes from denying the value and humanity of the one taken from, the one who is used

Humanity, society, the community are all abstractions; they don’t really exist. Only individual persons exist. Society doesn’t feel pain; Humanity doesn’t suffer or experience joy; the Community has no nervous system, emotions, expectations, or fears. Therefore, working for the good of society or working to improve the conditions of humanity is just cant, meaningless drivel to justify sacrificing a real person for the alleged benefit of an abstraction, a fiction.

Popular interpretation of John Donne is romantic nonsense: all men are islands. While we interact with each other and affect each other, we are born alone, we suffer alone, we experience pleasure and joy alone, and we die alone. Of course we recognize that others are like us, if we are healthy; we sympathize, we empathize, we recognize that is happening to another by projection of what we know of ourselves; if we care about another we feel Joy at when he experiences Joy, Sorrow when he suffers Pain or Sorrow, but we cannot ever share the experiences of another. We are alone, and so are those we love.

What Is Classic Liberalism? Isn't Obama a Liberal?

I’ve been arguing the philosophy of liberty and human dignity since the 9th grade – over 40 years. Mostly against people who called themselves liberals. Eventually I learned that my position was called “Liberalism” until American Progressives started calling themselves “liberals” during the 1930s. Progressives are anything but liberal, so that switch was a nice bit of obfuscation: “liberal” connotes freedom and generosity and general goodness; who could oppose those things?

Progressives call themselves "liberals" but they are not. Well, they are if you accept their redefinition of "liberal" as meaning themselves.

I don't. Not any longer.

Progressivism is a form of collectivism (socialism, if you will), a benevolent soft descendant of the Rousseauean thinking that guided the French Revolution. This Progressive thinking maintains that people shouldn't be left alone to live their lives as they see fit because they are happiest when guided by an educated elite that protects them from the machinations of an evil elite. Manichaean, essentially - the belief that humanity is gripped by the struggle between good and evil. More on Manichaean thinking in another post.

For this reason, Progressivism is Aristocratic, substituting an aristocracy of education and sensibility for an aristocracy of birth or wealth.

Anyway, Progressives act on the (perhaps unconscious) belief that people can't be left at liberty because they will be manipulated by the evil elite (capitalists, nobles, bankers, militarists, the wealthy, Darth Vader, whatever) unless guided by the Progressive elite.

To be fair, not all Progressives consider their opponents as evil; to quote Kathy from the movie Spaced Invaders: "They're not evil, they're just stupid."

Progressives know better than the rest of us. Just ask them.

At various times, Progressives have advocated government control of businesses, sterilization of the mentally (or ethnically) unfit – Planned Parenthood was founded by a Progressive who wanted to discourage Blacks and other inferior races from having children (look it up, she was proud of it) – central planning, forcing parents to send their children to government schools, and taking wealth from people and distributing it according to proper Progressive principles.

Of course, Progressives also favored the availability of contraception, wanted to prohibit child labor (ostensibly for the benefit of the children but driven more by the desire to force up wages by taking people – children – out of the labor pool), establish minimum wages (they were quite frank about doing this to keep Blacks and immigrants out of the labor market - see The State Against Blacks by Dr. Walter E. Williams for more on this) and generally changing things. Some good ideas, some that only sounded good.

Progressive President Wilson changed the U.S. military, for example, segregating Blacks from Whites.

Hey, you want change? It was a change. To a lot of Progressives it was a change they could believe in.

Under his administration, Progressive President Wilson imprisoned people for saying they didn’t want to buy war bonds. An important change to the concept of free speech, for the good of society. Cool, ain’t it?

Those opposed to change are called Conservatives. Some Conservatives oppose change for the sake of preventing any change – sort of a “no change is good” policy – while moderate Conservatives wanted to stick to certain principles (or move closer to them) and resist the “any change is good” approach of the Progressives.

After Progressives became known as “Liberals”, Liberals became know as “Libertarians”. More or less.

More recently, “Liberal” has fallen into disrepute, perhaps because of constant hammering from Rush Limbaugh and the realization that some Progressive programs, such as the 40-year war to end poverty within 5 years, haven’t worked out too well.

So, Progressives are dropping the Liberal label and calling themselves “Progressive” again. Name change can be effective for shedding a reputation or escaping indictment.

President Obama calls himself a liberal, but a Classic Liberal wouldn't agree. The President is a Progressive and I haven't figured out whether he is a Right Wing Progressive or a Left Wing Progressive. I'm not sure he knows.

This is not a Right Wing blog. Liberalism is not of the Right nor of the Left (more on Left vs. Right anon). .

This is not a Conservative blog. Liberalism is neither for change nor against change. Liberalism is for certain principles that enable individual liberty. A Liberal is for change if it moves toward core principles and against change if it moves away from them.

A Classic Liberal, that is; not a Progressive who calls himself a liberal.

Maybe it’s a Libertarian blog; I don’t know. Check out and see what you think.

So, what is Liberalism? The notion that individuals should have liberty, that is people should not be subject to the coercive power of the state (the government). More later.

Concepts, not Labels


I’m already getting sucked into labels and arguing about what they mean.

Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, Left Wing, Right Wing, Conservative, etc, etc.

They all are mutable concepts as well as names of movements. Arguing about what “Progressive” does or doesn’t mean is futile: the meanings change over time. Sometimes a the meaning of a term flips completely in an Orwellian manipulation. Freedom is Slavery.

The trap is arguing in favor of or against, or simply about, labels rather than fundamental concepts.

The meanings behind labels change
Take “Conservative”, for instance. Generally it means cautious. Fredrick Hayek, in his essay “Why I am not a Conservative” wrote “Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change.” Fine. What is “change”? Lenin brought change. So did Hitler. FDR, Reagan, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the Wright brothers, Bill Gates, summer, winter, sunrise, sunset all bring (or brought) change.

When Boris Yeltsin restructured Soviet governance, the Conservatives included the remaining Bolsheviks. In 1917 the Bolsheviks were revolutionaries. During the 1930s, European and American liberals lionized the Bolsheviks, hoping to make their societies more like Stalin’s Russia. By 1990 the exact same political philosophy was “conservative”, at least in Moscow. Bella Abzug a conservative??? Go figure.

In 1860, the Republican party was the party of change (elimination of slavery) while the Democratic party was the party of conservatism.

Was William F. Buckley conservative in the same way as the Bolsheviks of 1990?

Progressives believe in progress (hence the name) and the benefits of continuous improvement through guided change. The “guided change” is usually based on some value-driven view of an ideal end state, not necessarily empirical pragmatism.

Change isn’t the issue: who is doing the “guiding” and where the guide is headed are what matter.

Labels can become epithets
Reactionary generally means trying to return to the past. President Obama wants to return to the New Deal. Is he a reactionary? Well, no, but only because “reactionary” has been stripped of meaning, becoming an epithet leftists (statists and communitarians) hurl at those they don’t agree with. Since President Obama is a darling of the left, he cannot be a reactionary, no matter how much he wants to turn back the clock.

Labels can become meaningless and tend to become epithets

You can apply a “New and Improved” label to the box of detergent, but if it’s the same old stuff inside the box, the label isn’t just meaningless, it’s a lie.

I want to deal with concepts, ideas, and principles, not labels. But labels can be useful shorthand. These postings will have to be careful about definitions and sticking to them.

Uncle Milton

A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it ... gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
– Milton Friedman