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Tuesday
Jul152014

The Beginning of the End for the Bearded Boob of Princeton?

Never has a more overhyped, undersmart, recklessly misguided, destructively wrong-headed oaf of a putz been accorded more baffling status or inexplicably unquestioned street cred than Paul Krugman.  Which is why it's with no small amount of delight (and yes, hubris) that I observe rose and bloom separating at excruciatingly long last. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/07/14/is-paul-krugman-leaving-princeton-in-quiet-disgrace/

Sunday
Jul132014

Of Weed and Wheels

The July, 2014 edition of Reason magazine contains a lengthy piece detailing many of the struggles Washington State faces as it transitions to legal status for the purely recreational use of marijuana. One particular problem area concerns setting the presumptive THC levels in a driver’s blood that will constitute prima facie evidence of impairment. Many pot advocates are pointing out—correctly—that regular users, including most “medical” users, will generally be above the presumptive level (currently five nanograms per milliliter) most, if not all, of the time, and that most regular users of marijuana are unlikely to be substantially impaired at this level. Yet as things currently stand, thousands of individuals in Washington are at least theoretically never legally capable of driving.

I note with interests that potheads are coming up against the same issue we drinkers have dealt with for years: Pot affects different users differently, therefore “impairment” can’t be determined via the expedient of simply looking at ratios of certain substances in a user’s blood. I live in Washington’s neighbor to the south where, as in most jurisdictions, a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater creates a rebuttable presumption (which, in practice, is virtually impossible to actually rebut) of impairment. The trouble with this is that while the town librarian who ties one on once or twice a year might be flat on her ass giggling hysterically at .08, those of us who hold our liquor well are only slightly affected at that level, and by no means dangerously impaired. 

One hopes, though perhaps in vain, that the issue Washington is now grappling with might ultimately shine a spotlight on the inherent problems with hard, prima facie numbers like .08 or five nanograms per milliliter in a legal system predicated on presumption of innocence and requiring that the state meet a strong burden of proof in order to obtain convictions against citizens. One further hopes, though almost certainly in vain, that the problems inherent in such shortcuts might prompt a trend away from them, particularly as it becomes more common for police to overreach and seek out convictions even for drivers who are below the presumptive limits. In short, the object of the game in a system grounded in individual liberties emphatically should not be to allow those acting on behalf of the state to short-circuit the laborious process of doing thorough investigative police work and building a case. It should never be about making things easier for cops and prosecutors. Those empowered to take citizens’ property, freedom and even their lives should always have the heavy lift, and should be expected to rise to the challenge of putting up or shutting up if they think they have the goods on a citizen with constitutionally guaranteed rights. This is true regardless of how annoyed we all get at impaired drivers.  Most violations of the law are annoying to the law-abiding, yet this doesn’t mean cops and prosecutors get a pass when it comes to jumping through the often tedious hoops required to make their case. 

Unfortunately the broader trend appears to be in the opposite direction. Oregon passed a bill a few years back banning driving while talking on a hand-held cellular device.  Distracted driving was already illegal, but before the cell phone ban, cops actually had to do the work to prove a driver was distracted to a degree that made his driving unsafe. Now all a cop has to do is show the driver was talking on a cell phone—even if there’s no evidence the driver was actually distracted while doing so and, for that matter, even if the driver was doing nothing else wrong.  Yet another shortcut for cops and cash cow for the state.

Saturday
Jun282014

“In fact the European Left has a grudge against the United States mainly because the latter has succeeded by means which were not laid down in the revolutionary code. Prosperity, power, the tendency towards uniformity of economic conditions–these results have been achieved by private initiative, by competition rather than State intervention, in other words by capitalism, which every well-brought-up intellectual has been taught to despise.”
–Raymond Aron

 

Friday
May092014

What I Hate About Moral Grandstanding In 250 Words Or More

So the other day I had to take a significantly circuitous route to the post office because a main artery of the downtown area of my (formerly dignified, working-class, redneck) home town had been blocked off for an event foreign to my experience. It involved a couple hundred otherwise normal-looking men awkwardly stumbling down the street in high heels, some of whom were carrying signs that said things like “Stop Rape Now!” I hesitated to let fly with my usual torrent of irreverence when first I saw them, fearing there might have been an actual rape in our ordinarily placid community which might have been the raison d’etre of this public display of righteousness. I don’t take the local paper, so there’s a good chance I may not have known. Otherwise I almost certainly would have followed my first impulse, which was to exasperatedly exclaim to nobody in particular in the crowded post office that I was sure grateful these noisesome, disruptive asses were out actively countering that nefarious pro-rape faction that had, of late, been terrorizing the realm. Somebody has to.

The high-heeled men, several of whom were obviously firefighters, bankers, high-fallutin’ power execs, Community Leaders and other alphas of a manly nature, congregated in the lawn in front of the court house, whereupon one or several of them ascended a makeshift stage and set to speechifying. I couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, so my mind went to work a-speculating. Based on the signs I saw, I imagined it to have gone roughly thus: “Are all of you disgusted by rape?” Crowd: “Hell yeah!”  Speaker: “Well alright then. I guess let’s go home now.”

I later determined that the event was, in fact, a fundraiser for the Battered Persons Advocacy, a local group which does the Lord’s work trying to prevent domestic abuse and to help its victims when it occurs. The idea was that by donning high heels for a few city blocks, these men were “standing in the shoes” of battered persons.  Or at least persons who got their feet battered by punishingly impractical footwear.  It was unclear how the other battered “persons” were being accounted for in this symphony of substanceless symbolism. Any notion of equating “women” with “high heels” as being “profoundly and self-evidently sexist” was apparently suspended as well. Finally, since none of these men had ever likely been battered themselves apart from drunken brawls in which they’d voluntarily participated, equating an ungainly walk over a block or two of asphalt to the daily hell lived by helpless victims seems insulting to any lingering intelligence still floating about the ether of this dumbed-down world.

So I was inconvenienced on my way to the post office. Was it for a worthy cause? Maybe. Were the men who were very obviously having a lot of laughs attempting to negotiate city streets in hooker shoes “raising awareness” of something? If it was that rape and domestic abuse are Very Bad Things, thank you, but as a minimally sentient being, I was aware already. But hey, if it boosted your already inflated opinion of your own righteousness . . . did I mention it frustrated my access to the post office?

In the current narcissism pandemic, moral grandstanding is just another selfie. Instead of “me in some exotic locale–ain’t you jealous?”, it’s “me standing next to an ennobling cause, absorbing its healthful rays–ain’t I saintly?” No. But hey, at least you’re really, really annoying.

Grandstanding, of course, also serves as a shoddy stand-in for actual moral acts which are, let’s face it, work. Making a big, righteous noise takes minutes. Living a moral life takes a lifetime. This isn’t to say that many, probably most, of the high-heeled awareness-raisers aren’t moral men, but that anything noble residing within them is somehow diminished by the loud quackery of a demonstration. It’s an adult acting out–a behavior differing in degree, though not kind, from the same one we discourage in our children.

And it made getting to the post office annoying.
Thursday
Apr172014

Bundy vs. The Bureau of Land Management: An Overbearing Government?

 - By Larry Huss

The gap between what is right and what is legal is often a chasm of cultures. – Anonymous

Recent events involving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are a case in point. The BLM seized Mr. Bundy’s heard of cattle that were grazing on BLM land in an effort to collect nearly $1 million in back grazing fees. A confrontation ensued between federal law enforcement, Bundy and local citizens and supporters from surrounding counties and states. It is easy to dismiss this kerfuffle as wing nuts creating a dust-up, but that glosses over several relevant points.

Bundy may be part of the sovereign citizen movement; he has used language and rationale akin to their pronouncements. I am not. He may be a part of the militia movement, which has appeared in support of his cause. I am not. He may be a member of the Tea Party, which has have sounded off in support of him. I have been supportive of many efforts of the Tea Party. Or he may simply be a citizen expressing his outrage at an overbearing federal government that too often sacrifices the well-being of its citizens for the ambitions of its politicians and bureaucrats. In that, we are one, and I am not the only one. Bundy was joined by state officials from Nevada and surroundings states and even members of Congress during his protest.

I don’t pretend to know what drives Bundy, but there are two major issues that lie at the center of this conflict. The first is the corruptive influence of an overbearing federal bureaucracy and the second is the hypocrisy of a government’s willingness to prosecute its citizens for disputes over the fairness of a law, while at the same time choosing to ignore laws that it deems unfair.

A third issue might also be the wisdom of the federal government to own and administer such a substantial portion of America’s landmass. The BLM administers approximately 1.8 Billion acres of land. For those forced to endure a teachers’ union-dominated public education in the Portland Public Schools, that is 2,812,500 square miles – roughly 28.5 times the size of Oregon. Most of it lies west of the Mississippi River and in Alaska, yet most of the decisions relating to its administration are made by faceless bureaucrats in D.C. Most of them wouldn’t know a cow from a cockroach. I take that back; cockroaches are one of the few animals that thrive in D. C. But they sure as hell couldn’t pick out a desert tortoise from a pet store box turtle. Yet they disrupted the historic grazing use of the land in question for the tortoise – an animal that has co-existed with cattle, coyotes, mountain lions and other large mammals on this land for over a hundred years with no adverse effects. But in the bureaucrats’ one-size-fits-all world, no regard is ever given to the effects on adjacent humans or their livelihoods.

Here lies the distinction between what is legal and what is right. There is no question that it is legal for the BLM to “manage” the land in ways that limit permissible uses in favor of the tortoise. That does not make it right, particularly absent evidence of actual harm to the tortoise population on the land in question or that such specific harm is detrimental to the population generally. Nor is there any shortage of examples in the history of the republic of protests being used to highlight the difference between what is legal and what is right.

As a person raised in the West who has lived with and owned guns virtually all of my life, I am less than enthused by the fact that many chose to bring arms to the protest. I understand that absent the threat of armed conflict the BLM agents would simply have ignored all and had their way with Bundy and his cattle, using their own show of arms to intimidate those who protested. This must be weighed against the inherent danger and heightened risk of sparking violence should one fool with his own agenda decide to act out his freedom-fighter fantasy. Most of the farmers and ranchers present own firearms and most, like me, have grown up respecting them and their use. But there is also an element amongst those in attendance that neither respects the use of weapons or the devastating toll they can exact.

On the other hand, that most, not just a few, of the protesters should have taken up arms is a clear indication of the growing frustration citizens feel toward a government that neither listens to nor cares about their concerns. The faceless bureaucrats who have such a devastating impact on the lives of those of us in the West remain studiously ignorant of the size, shape and use of the lands they are charged with administering. Worse, they remain studiously ignorant of the very people they are supposed to protect – choosing instead to yield to the chorus of well financed special interest groups who use the government to impose private agendas on the public at large.

The second aspect of this dispute has come more brightly into focus under President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Under their watch, they have refused to enforce the Voting Rights Act against the Black Panthers, immigration laws against Hispanics, federal drug laws against marijuana growers, and on and on. They have chosen to capture and surveil the phone calls and internet usage of citizens and our allies, exact punitive measures through the IRS on their political opponents, stonewall legitimate Congressional inquiries into a host of issues, and unilaterally alter the terms of Obama’s singular legislative achievement – Obamacare. More than any president since Richard Nixon, Obama has chosen to ignore laws that he does not favor and impose laws by executive fiat that he is unable to convince Congress to adopt, at the same time bringing the full weight and resources of the federal government to bear against those the administration opposes.

Among those protesting at the Bundy confrontation with the BLM were any number of people who do not believe that the federal government, particularly in the form of the BLM, should exercise jurisdiction over such vast swathes of the West. They believe that the land should be ceded to the states and that state governments are closer to the people where such lands lie. They believe that the states should have that choice in administering those lands and that the West is under siege by federal land regulations – regulations by many who have never journeyed west of the Adirondacks, let alone the Mississippi. The vast expanses of BLM land yield little in net revenues to the government. They are held in isolation to ensure the primacy of the federal government rather than the well-being of its citizens. There needs to be a change.