Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part Four: On Natural Law

At last, the fourth in Whittle's superb series on the core concepts of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As usual, Bill states his case in a cool, rational, amiably non-confrontational manner, articulating these eminently sensible ideas in a gently persuasive style which befits their profound reasonableness. As with previous entries, it clocks in just under ten minutes, and is well worth every second:

Now, as someone well-steeped in Post-Modern academic thought, with its hermeneutic approach to texts (broadly defined), I'm disposed to be wary of appeals to "Natural Law." This is not a skepticism which I am inclined to repudiate fully. As a non-theist, it would be bad faith for me to posit some transcendent ontological status for even the most "self-evident" of epistemological constructs. If there is no Divine Firewall behind our concepts, they are, in the final analysis, all relative.

That being said, however, there are legitimate areas in which it is sensible to behave --as mindfully and humbly and self-critically as possible-- as though there were bedrock under our feet. For example, yes I am free to abandon my family and take off across the country to Find Myself. For me to sit here and say that I cannot do this would be bad faith. However, my liberty, my personal freedom as a choice-making agent is but one of the variables that enters into this decision. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don't want to do this (because I am deliriously happy with my family, and far luckier than I have any right to expect that I have it), the simple fact is that such an exercise of my freedom bumps up against the needs and feelings of others, and thus would bring about consequences which I deem adverse out of proportion to the advantages I might glean from such a self-serving journey of discovery. So, I choose to act as though this choice were not on the menu. Indeed, the very notion of contemplating such a step feels absurd. Although, in the strictest sense, this position is a conclusion, it is sensible to behave as though it were a premise.

Similarly, when Whittle makes reference to those "Truths" which we "hold to be self-evident," there is a part of me which cannot help but respond with a hearty "Who says?" After all, I don't fall into the "endowed by their Creator" camp. But let's look at a couple of the truths he is talking about: The rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," are construed as emanating not from the State, but from the intrinsic nature of humanity. Further, it is the role of the State to protect these rights, and not within the power of the State to bestow (or abridge) them. The right is similarly posited as being self-evident to freely enter into contracts, within the bounds of laws which protect the liberty and property of others, and without the fear that those contracts will be abnegated by political fiat. It is eminently sensible to depict these rights as transcendent and true, even though history is replete with examples (many still extant!) of the freedom of humans to behave otherwise. The advantages which derive from treating these "truths [as] self-evident" far outstrip those of leaving them on the deconstruction block.

The concept espoused by the Tea Parties that individuals are free to pursue their interests within a free-market system, and that the State's power to intervene in this marketplace should be robustly curtailed is frequently mischaracterized as "greed" and "selfishness." This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it is the converse view (i.e., that it is within the power of the State to declare something --like, say, health care-- a "Right," and to forcibly extract the energy of the marketplace to fulfill that right) which smacks more of vampirism than altruism, however high-minded the intent behind it.

Whittle makes reference to the fact that corporations are currently sitting on immense cash reserves, rather than investing them and using them to create jobs. This is an observation which is not-infrequently used by critics of free-market capitalism to indict that system, and to posit the need for the State to step in and create and enforce mechanisms for the "equitable" distribution of those resources (e.g., via taxation). It's a fair-ish argument, but too narrow a view. For it would be very much in the interests of businesses to plow their cash reserves back into the operations of their enterprises, and to grow and add value to them (and, in effect, to the economy as a whole)...if they could be confident that their efforts would not stand to be thwarted by the operations of a State which could, by the exercise of political (that is, force-backed) power, act to tap into that value for the sake of the "Right" du jour (and de jure).

The conclusion/premise of the Tea Parties is that the energy which is currently being held off-line is trapped by an all-too rational fear of the overreaching expansion of the public sphere --via political power-- into the arena in which that energy might be liberated...if only the "Natural Law" of individual liberty and the relatively unfettered operation of the marketplace were allowed to hold sway. It is the unpredictability of political processes which creates an environment in which the most rational choice is to hoard capital, rather than unleash it. By contrast, it is the predictability of contract law and a constrained and frugal State which creates incentives to take financial risks for the sake of potentially rich rewards. In the final analysis, it is within the power of private enterprise to throw such caution to the winds, and take its chances that its investments will not be deemed low-hanging fruit for the fulfillment of the State's hunger for energy. They are free to do so, and it would be bad faith to say otherwise. But then they would have to look their stockholders in the face when their balance sheets were raided by those who deem them public property.

As Bill would say, "That's why we have a Tea Party."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part 3

Here's the third in the excellent series by Bill Whittle on the fundamental ideas which animate the Tea Parties (note: neither race nor religion enter into it at all). This time, the subject is the nature of wealth and its creation. (see here for Part One, and here for Part Two).

Once again, this is nothing new for those who grasp even the most rudimentary concepts of free-market economics...and that's pretty much the point: there is nothing particularly novel or radical about the basic tenets of the Tea Parties, however hard a dedicated cadre of spin-sters may be working to paint it otherwise. The 'kernel' of the Tea Party code is as elementary and intuitive as the transaction between two trade partners, both of whom walk away from a voluntary exchange of value with the sense that they got the better of the deal. Wealth is created, Whittle calmly and amiably explains, by the creativity of producers, who add complexity (or information, or value) to the world through their inventiveness and industry...then proceed to multiply that value via free trade.

It is the removal --to the greatest extent feasible-- of Government interference in the operation of this immensely powerful engine of wealth creation which is the main animating principle of the Tea Parties. Government is understood as a necessary set of negative feedback loops in the vast cybernetic edifice of the economy, governing the operation of that system to prevent its collapse into chaos. But an excess of negative feedback will stall and stultify the operation of the system, gumming up the works and diverting its energy into a great bureaucratic heat sink.

This is the principle which is so strongly opposed by adherents of the Liberal, Keynesian model of strong public-sector involvement in the operation of the free market which they so profoundly distrust. Now, it's clear that I have some pretty strong opinions on the topic, but I will not sit here and arrogate to myself some God's-eye view of what is correct (my positions on these things, were you to drill down to specific policies,  would probably engender a hefty dose of annoyance from both sides of the debate). But the beauty of the Tea Parties is that they have focused the attention of the GOP on these core questions, attention which it has been justly lambasted for allowing to be diverted by the K Street culture of irresponsible spending and creeping corruption. Despite the myriad distractions and smoke-screens which have been thrown up in the face of American voters with respect to these matters, the essence of the Tea Parties is the restoration to primacy of these elemental questions of where wealth comes from, to whom it belongs, and what is to be done with it. It really is as simple as that.

And, when you burn away the epiphenomena, when you tune your mind to the signal hiding in the noise, what emerges is a clear choice between incompatible visions of how an economy and a Nation should operate. Such clarity has been sorely lacking from this conversation for far too long, and far too many of the wrong people have been benefiting from its absence.

In that sense, the Tea Parties have already created considerable wealth for us all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There But Not Back Again

Over at, the intriguing (though hardly new) idea of one-way Mars colonization is discussed. The idea does have a certain appeal, once you get past the vicarious dread at the notion of leaving behind the Good Earth for ever. Once you remove the reaction mass and logistical complications of a return trip, you could find yourself in the position to derive far bang per buck of mission cost. There is plenty on Mars for the establishment of a self-sustaining colony, if only the seed materials could be included in the outward-bound leg of the journey. Fuel and shielding and provisions alone would probably be a fair approximation of the mission mass for a greenhouse enclosure, where Mars' CO2-rich environment and roughly 24-hour days would make local food production (and air/waste recycling loops) eminently doable.

The main question in all this is: Who would do such a thing?

Let me go on record here and say, "No exclusively NASA (or any other government agency)-only colonization missions!" If government wants to lend a judiciously-limited hand (say, by results-based matching programs with industry, or by a prize structure, or somesuch), then that's shiny. But we can't afford some sort of Mayflower Project.

Besides, as many others have noted, NASA has proven conclusively that it is capable of rendering sterile and prosaic even the single greatest adventure on which the human species will ever embark. That such a dessicated, risk-averse bureaucratic entity should ever muster the testicular fortitude to send people on a one-way trip is simply incomprehensible. Which is a good thing! The aridity of a Government-controlled mission would rival that of the Martian atmosphere itself. The chances of true social evolution would run constantly afoul of the culture of meticulous regimentation which so characterizes NASA. Any such colony would have woven into its DNA an ethic of control which would put the most grandiose fantasies of Progressive Social Engineers to shame!

Much better would be a colony ship festooned with corporate logos, with ad revenues, reality show and documentary film rights (can you say "Planet Mars," in IMAX?), and the promise of hermetically contractually-protected mining claims (Mars has had some very significant vulcanism in its past, offering the promise of rich veins of precious and "rare earth" say nothing of the downstream value of helium-3 for fusion energy tech). Protocols would, of course, be in place, but they would stand a much better chance of being malleable in the face of local conditions than a military-style State-controlled regime. A society and an economy would arise from the exigencies of the survival situation.

In The Case For Mars, Bob Zubrin said that "the chief export of a Mars colony will be ideas." Now, you'd think that a die-hard Mars colony advocate like Zubrin would be some kind of social-engineering Utopian. In point of fact, he is refreshingly Conservative/libertarian in his thinking, and has some uncommonly intelligent things to say about our energy conundrum. He truly believes that Mars colonists will have to make hard choices with scarce resources, in ways that maximize the value of even more scarce human capital. The result will be a crucible of bold, fast-paced social and technical evolution of the sort which would make Thomas Paine weep with joy.

The kinds of people who would want to go on such a trip stand a very good chance of being precisely the sorts that we'd want on it: intrepid but not reckless, independent but aware of the importance of a chain of command...actually, now that I think of it, I'm not sure we can particularly spare them right now! But they would constitute the ultimate laboratory of what free people can do when their lives depend on it.

The ideas would shoot sunward at a pace which even the editors of high school textbooks would have a hard time buffering for censorship!

H/T to Hot Air for the headline.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part 2

Shivering a bit in my hoodie. I'm going to miss this deck-blogging thing; sipping Jameson, a little Chopin over Pandora, and only the stars for proof-readers. Winter makes me feel like a night watchman for Nature.

I'm braving the chill, though, to bring you the anticipated 2nd in the series by commentator Bill Whittle on the core tenets of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As with the first part, Whittle makes the case with simplicity, humility, humor, and an easy aplomb which eschews any but the barest whiff of demagoguery. It is two for two in the area of dispelling the noxious fog of disinformation and spin which has so stubbornly attached itself (or rather willfully been attached) to the Tea Parties, and the beliefs of their supporters.

In addition to his characteristically clear elucidation of political principles, Whittle hits on themes of complexity and distributed, evolutionary processing which are near and dear to my heart.Whittle does indeed channel Hayek here (as pointed out by Ed over at Hot Air) on the prohibitive information barrier between Central Planning and the indescribably complex topology of something like even a relatively simple economy...let alone that of the US.

However, one need not take recourse in such dusty volumes to find the sense in this vid's point about the preferability of distributed, federalist, free-market decision-making over Central Planning. Mr.Hengist recently turned me on to Orbit At Home, which I plan to set into motion on  my home machine tomorrow.  Like SETI At Home, and a host of other distributed computing projects, Orbit uses the power of large numbers of processors, working snippets of a problem in massively parallel fashion to converge on solutions with a nimbleness and horsepower which leaves even the most powerful centralized supercomputer in the dust. In the case of Orbit, the task is the computation of the orbits (get it?)  of large numbers of potentially Earth-impacting Solar System objects.

The US economy is obviously even more complex a problem than the dance of celestial billiard balls. More bodies in motion. In just over two weeks, the American end users will have some deep thinking to do about how they want to use their clock cycles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ego Ergo Sum

Holy hand grenade! Over at the LAT, Jonah Goldberg drops a daisy cutter of a column on self-esteem of our current POTUS. To wit:
There's an irony to occupying the Oval Office. When presidents think they're bigger than the job they hold, they shrink in office. When they think they're smaller than the honor they've been temporarily bestowed, they grow into it. Obama has done nothing but shrink.
Ouch! Let me be perfectly clear: that's gonna leave a mark. Read the whole thing, if you dare.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


For a while now, the blabosphere and Facebook status-klatches have been sporadically abuzz with the story of the wealthy, conservative Koch brothers. Supposedly they've been busily at work manipulating public disgruntlement by diligently, quietly seeding a little astroturf garden called the "Tea Parties."  The story has never felt especially credible, given the 'epidemiological' patterns of the TP movement's efflorescence, from Santelli's rant, on outward. It just felt too organic for such claims to hold much water with me.

An amusing little editorial by Andrew Ferguson, in Commentary more or less echoes my initial reservations about the story, and provides more context. It deals with the style of meme-weaving which lends itself to the kind of conspiracism that's become such the stock in trade for this administration and its backers:
The story of the Koch brothers and their involvement in politics, unknown as it is to most readers, is undeniably worth telling. But mere interest isn’t the reaction that ThinkProgress and Mayer, who is as much a party apparatchik as a reporter, meant to provoke. This is five-alarm journalism. “In many places,” Mayer told Maddow in a back-scratching interview, the Tea Party movement “has been considered a spontaneous uprising that came from nowhere.” In fact, it is merely one of the Kochs’ “stealth attacks launched on the federal government, and on the Obama administration in particular.” Maddow summed up the theme of top-down manipulation: “Tea partiers who attended these rallies, particularly the early ones, were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change by billionaire oil tycoons.” 
Now, as the editorial points out, the Koch brothers have hardly been shy about their political positions: public financial records, not to mention public appearances...and even one run for VPOTUS on the Libertarian ticket are kinda hard to square with any attributions of attempted stealth!  Nonetheless, the brothers' perfectly above-board contributions to a group which shared their clear political proclivities were reported by "Think Progress"as though they were late-night dead drops of envelopes stuffed with unmarked bills and coded instructions.

But such is the perfectly consistent belief system of the collectivist on proud display. The very notion of the spontaneous emergence of a political phenomenon is anathema for those who maintain that humanity can truly advance (or "progress") only through the deliberate action of duly-designated elites.

And, of course, the irony that the heavily Soros-backed Center for American Progress should be the source of this story is apt to be altogether lost on those who've hitched their wagons to the Statist star. Pretext of principles, indeed!

But Star Chambers and Secret Groves have always been the preferred provinces of those who harbor an unnerving skepticism about the capacity of people to come to their own conclusions without being managed from the shadows...or from the Capitol. Since the Tea Parties arose, they have been: catspaws for the GOP, fronts for racist organizations, and Trojan horses for social conservative groups. Now they're a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Must be quite a challenge for the CAP "idea factory" to have to re-tool its assembly line so frequently!

Quoth Ferguson:

One mark of the paranoid style in American politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous essay, is its concern with “factuality,” a piling up of random details to create a coherence that reality itself can’t provide. Journalism of a certain sort becomes a convenient instrument of the paranoid partisan. “The paranoid’s interpretation of history,” Hofstadter wrote, “is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will,” an “amoral superman” who “manufactures the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.

With the Kochs, the American left gets two amoral supermen in one. Mayer’s article, and the larger campaign it’s a part of, is meant not only to alarm its audience but to soothe it as well. Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it’s a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one’s fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they’re not evil, they’re just stupid. [Hofstadter link added]
A charitable characterization of Progressive thought is that it believes humanity can be remade, perfected by a benevolent and comprehensive manipulation of its environment in order to foster the development of its highest potentials. For one who holds such beliefs, the idea that such large numbers of people can be so thoroughly hoodwinked and herded must at some level be a hopeful one. After all, if they can be prodded over to the Dark Side so easily, then they can be just as easily coaxed back into the light, right?

This endless cavalcade of narratives which opponents --on the Right and Left-- have hatched to try and fathom the Tea Parties resembles nothing more than the twitchiness of a species in response to the appearance and adaptive mutation of a rival species. One might imagine the reactions of Neanderthals, perfectly comfy in their lush valleys, to the arrival of those bald, skinny Homo Sapiens with their silly big heads...

[Shamelessly and extensively edited 10/12/10, to correct grievous violations of proper syntax and other late-night crimes against the English language]

Late update (3/29/2011):  Here is a lengthy, excellent account of the Koch brothers' history, and the evolution of the ginned-up, Outrageously Outraged campaign to smear and demonize them. Worth a read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bamster Bangs Into Facts, Walks it Back

Not much time to post today; used up pretty much all of my available slack giving the 'Cyte a long-overdue facelift (like the light gray on dark gray, Mike?).

But I just had to comment on this article in the NYT (!!) on the richly-deserved blowback from the administration's desperate ploy to gin up outrage over the supposed (but as-yet unproved) "funneling of foreign money" into the political process on behalf of the GOP by the Chamber of Commerce. Well, that, and I couldn't resist throwing down that title (c'mon, tell me you don't hear James Brown in your head when you read it).

Anyway, it'd become clear even to Obama's people that this spaghetti just isn't sticking to the wall.
White House officials acknowledged Friday that they had no specific evidence to indicate that the chamber had used money from foreign entities to finance political attack ads

“The president was not suggesting any illegality,” Bob Bauer, the White House counsel, said. Instead, he said Mr. Obama’s reference to the chamber was meant to draw attention to the inadequacies of campaign disclosure laws in allowing groups to spend large amounts of money on politics without disclosing their donors.

White House officials called on the chamber to go beyond current disclosure laws and establish that no foreign money has been used in its political campaigns. “They can put this to rest,” said Joshua Earnest, a White House spokesman. “They have the keys to the file cabinet.”
Think about that for a minute. The White House levels charges which, if true, constitute a violation of  campaign finance law (yes, even under "Citizens United." Fancy that...). When confronted with the fact that they have no evidence to support the charge, they backtrack, and then suggest that the accused should provide evidence of their innocence. Something smell funny about that to you? It certainly does to Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air:
This is an administration that apparently has never learned the difference between being a political campaign and serving in the government.  In the former situation, this would constitute slander, which is bad enough.  When it comes from the government, it’s a form of tyranny — an attempt to use the power of government to silence dissent.
Ed's not given to histrionics, so this graf rang out pretty powerfully to me, as it should to you. This administration is behaving like a cornered animal, and we need to be very watchful over the next 800-odd days...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down

In a soft-spoken, eminently reasonable tone, one of my favorite commentators, Bill Whittle, of ejectejecteject fame, lays out the fundamentals of the free-market, small-government philosophy which animates the Tea Party movement. Kinda old hat for those like myself who support that philosophy and movement.  But the concision and lack of demagoguery with which he makes the case will make viewing the vid a very well-spent ten minutes or so, whether you are a supporter or --even moreso-- if you are one whose exposure to the Tea Parties' ideas is limited to the very deliberately and disingenuously promulgated narratives of "racism" and "greed."

It is unfortunate in the extreme (no pun intended) that candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Carl Paladino have lurched onto the scene and made it so easy to mischaracterize the Tea Party movement as a whole with their missteps, shenanigans, and outright wackiness (but, it should be noted, somehow the hopefully-soon-to-be-unemployed Alan Grayson has managed to not tar the entirety of Liberalism with his nauseating antics...).

Items like this  vid are essential if the real terms of this conversation are going to have a chance to make their way out to an electorate with the clearest set of choices to make in altogether too long.

Rove Fires Back at Bamster's Blather

Posting from the playground, on my ever-so-shiny HTC Evo, as the Li'l Cyte manages negotiations of dominance, imagination, and assorted rivalries and alliances.

While witnessing the proceedings, it seemed especially apt to read this.

The sooner these ill-bred children are deprived of dominion over the sand box, the better. "Stealing our democracy," indeed! What a bunch of whiney little drama queens!

I mean, if the GOP's "Shadow Organizations" are outspending the Donks' like seven to one, then whose fault is that? ("Dammit, Soros! I need more power!")

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"No Pressure"

This vid has been getting been getting a whole lot of play on the Interwebs lately, of a sort which is engendering a bit of consternation among its makers (though not nearly enough!). It is a perfectly horrid glimpse into what passes for humor in the dark depths of the apocalyptic "environmentalist" mind. Just under four minutes, but you really should not spare yourself. Just keep the kids away, and a tight rein on your lunch:

What can one say about the consciousnesses which hatched and executed this misbegotten bit of eco-snuff? What do you call it when the products of one’s vomitous projections induce projectile vomiting in their viewers? Regurgitation loop? Circle-hurl?

I suppose I could say “the mask has slipped,” if I could only stop giggling at the notion that there was ever a mask to begin with!