Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Happy 90th Birthday, Milton Friedman!

In honor of the Nobel-winning economist's birthday, I will post my first book review. Of all his books, Free to Choose, co-authored by his wife Rose, is perhaps the one that most Americans are familiar with. It could be described as an illustration of how governments pave the road to economic hell with their good intentions. The parts of that book that were of special interest to me were:

Free trade. One key point on this subject is the futility of retaliatory protectionism - "if you raise your tariffs, we'll raise ours." Countries with high import tariffs hurt their own citizens by making goods more expensive. Friedman's prescription for "getting even" is unilateral cuts on tariffs. One of the first concepts I learned in economics is "comparative advantage." Each nation has certain industries in which it is particularly efficient and others in which it is not; free trade guides people toward the more efficient (i.e. more lucrative) industries. We're better at beef production than the Japanese, and some of their high-tech goods are better than ours. By being less protectionistic than the Japanese we enjoy affordable electronics while they shell out well over ten bucks for a pound of beef.

The Interstate Commerce Commission. In the late 1800s people complained that the price per mile of long-haul rail shipping was "unfairly" lower than that of short hauls. Many short hauls were serviced by only one rail connection; such lines had no competition to worry about, unlike trans-regional railroads, and could therefore charge higher per-mile rates. The ICC was formed to address the "problem." It was "solved" by raising the long-haul rates to match the short-haul rates, making rail transport (and thus the goods it delivered) more expensive. Later the ICC was given jurisdiction over the trucking industry. It sold to trucking firms very expensive licenses to ship over certain geographic areas, inflicting the double whammy of high costs of entry into the market and regional trucking monopolies.

The Great Depression. Friedman dispels at least two myths: that Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire capitalist, and that the depression started in Europe and spread to the States. He puts the blame squarely on the Federal Reserve: it was created in part as a sort of insurance company for banks and failed to provide that monetary insurance when the banks started to fail. The unanswered question in the book is: what caused the banks to fail? In Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell identifies the culprit: deflation. (Dr. Sowell, coincidentally, is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.) Deflation drives most wages and prices down. One of most significant expenses for both businesses and consumers is debt. Monthly loan payments are set at fixed rates that are unaffected by inflation or deflation. As incomes went down, making debt payments became increasingly difficult, eventually leading to many defaults. The banks took their hits, and the rest was history.

Inflation. One of the biggest economic myths is that rapid economic growth causes inflation. The 1980s proved that wrong; the inflation rate dropped like a rock while the economy soared. Friedman illustrates how inflation has one cause and one cause only - expansion of the money supply. Currency obeys the same laws of supply and demand that affect all other commodities; it goes down in value when more plentiful and up in value when scarcer. The blame for inflation (and deflation - see previous paragraph) belongs to whomever controls the money supply. At times in history when gold or tobacco or whatever were accepted as currency, the power belonged to anybody who could get their hands on such commodities. In most parts of today's world the only accepted legal tender is that created by governments. Friedman spelled out the simple solution to inflation: cut the money supply to the level where it should be relative to the size of the economy. Unfortunately, the immediate side effect would be a sharp but temporary recession, but the short-term pain could not be avoided if inflation were ever to be brought under control. Free to Choose was written in 1979, a few years before Fed chairman Paul Volcker slashed the money supply, precipitating the brief recession of the early 1980s and ending inflation.

Traficant Gets Eight Years

District Judge Lesley Wells says make it so.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Elián Must Be Smiling

Reuters reports: "At least 23 young Cubans from a group who traveled to Canada for Pope John Paul II's visit have decided not to return to the communist-ruled island, Roman Catholic Church officials said on Monday."

New Permalinks

Samizdata has graciously added my blog to its permalinks, so I'm returnig the favor. Named for a Russian word meaning "a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR," this site expresses a "rational libertarian perspective" and has several contributors. The eye-in-the-pyramid logo is explained briefly in this post about government surveillance: "When the state watches you, dare to stare back." Like I said earlier, we need more civilian surveillance of the government.

blogs4God. Formerly known as Martin Roth's "Semi-Definitive List of Christian Blogs." I discovered this site from this post from Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit (which is also among my permalinks). Blogs4God is a Christian blog with permalinks to other blogs run by Christians. The permalinks are arranged in several categories: Apologia, Church Polity, Journals, Metablogs (blogs about blogs, like Blogs4God), Ministries, Pundits (where mine is listed, along with Anne Wilson's), TechBlogs, and Zines.

Update: A previous post has been edited. The World After WTC is located in Norway, not Sweden. My mind must have flashed back to some other guy named Bjorn (although he spells it "Björn," not "Bjørn."

The Guy Certainly Doesn't Deserve The Promotion

In an earlier post I made a reference to archbishop John Shelby Spong. A reader pointed out that Spong is a bishop, and that the Episcopal Church's one and only archbishop is always a Brit. I remember coming across references to Spong as an archbishop before, but I don't recall from where. Evidently this is a not-too-uncommon mistake; a Yahoo! search on "archbishop spong" cranks out five matches (nine on Google), and "archbishop john shelby spong" gets four.

Monday, July 29, 2002

But Who Should Try Them?

In my previous post I leveled the charge of war crimes. I am certainly not the first to do so. Alexander Cockburn and Amnesty International are among those who raised the "war crimes" specter in criticisms of NATO's intentional attacks against civilian targets. Accusations that NATO violated its own charter aren't unique, either; those making such claims include the Libertarian Party and members of Greece's Council of State.

What should be done about it? The remedy must consider two basic principles of law. First, a person can be held legally accountable for a crime only by those government bodies with jurisdiction over the plaintiff, the defendant, or the scene of the alleged crime. Second, a court may judge only the laws of its jurisdiction. Serbia cannot prosecute violations of the NATO charter - the charter is not a matter of its own law - but can prosecute any murders committed on its soil. Murder is illegal in the US, so the US can prosecute any American commanders who order attacks against civilian targets overseas. NATO isn't a government, so it can't prosecute anybody. (That should make my opinion of the UN's International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court obvious.) NATO's charter is the law of 19 nations; any of those nations can prosecute charter violations committed by its own citizens but not by other member nations' citizens.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Update:Hamas, Israel, and Kosovo

David Harsanyi wrote this column for FrontPage Magazine on the recent bombing of the home of Sheik Salah Shehada, founder of the military wing of the terrorist group Hamas. The column addresses the way that the usual suspects (including and especially the UN) excuse Palestinians' intentional killing of civilians but not Israelis' unintentional killings of civilians.

I'd like to compare and contrast this to two incidents during the Kosovo War: the intentional bombing of television station RTS, and the unintentional bombing of the Dragisa Misovic hospital, both locations in Belgrade. The latter was the unfortunate victim of bad aim; the intended target was a nearby barracks. Of the former attack, Amnesty International reports: "NATO justified the attack in the context of its policy to 'disrupt the national command network and to degrade the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's propaganda apparatus.'" Under that logic George H. W. Bush could have justified bombing CNN's headquarters in Atlanta during the Gulf War.

So where am I going with all this? The majority of the leftist elite exhibits outrage over Israeli attacks against criminals that accidentally kill civilians, but not over NATO's intentional and unintentional attacks against civilians. There are exceptions; the Guardian reported UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson's comment that "Nato's [sic] bombing campaign had lost its 'moral purpose.'" Unfortunately, as Harsanyi's column points out, she doesn't question the moral purpose of Palesterrorist suicide bombings.

This reference to the Kosovo War raises another issue. Refer to Article 5 of the NATO treaty:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Israel is fighting a war against organizations that seek its destruction. In violation of its own charter, NATO declared war against a country that had not attacked any of its member nations. Ariel Sharon is not a war criminal. Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, Tony Blair, and Gen. Wesley Clark are.

Harsanyi's blog will now be added to my permalinks - as soon as Blogger will let me access my blog template.

Update: I really must distinguish between a war criminal and a treaty criminal. Clinton, Albright, Blair, and Clark are clearly the latter. But the blame for the RTS attack falls on whomever made the order to strike a civilian target.
Update: A reader alerted me that the link to the NATO treaty had been broken. That has been fixed.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

You're Politically Dead, Jim

 photo BeamTraficant.jpg

Yesterday the House voted 420-1, with nine voting present, to beam James Traficant out of Congress.

Traficant is the fifth person in the House's history to receive expulsion. The last one was Pennsylvania Democrat Michael Myers (not to be confused with this guy - or this guy), convicted in 1980 on charges related to Abscam. The other three were charged with treason during the Civil War.

Voting "present" were Democrat Harold Ford Jr. (Tennessee) and Republicans Roscoe Bartlett (Maryland), Michael Bilirakis (Florida), Sonny Callahan (Alabama), John Hostettler (Indiana), C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), Ron Paul (Texas), Mike Simpson (Indiana), and Don Young (Alaska). The one who voted against expulsion? Gary Condit (D-California).

Update: The above image originally showed an empty transporter room. Since then, my Jasc Paint Shop Pro skills have improved...

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Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Private Enterprise vs. the Vampire L'Etat

On his radio program today, Sean Hannity interviewed Gary Gensler, deputy undersecretary of the Treasury during the Clinton era. During a dispute over tax policy, Gensler defended the estate tax by stating that the Founding Fathers didn't envision America as a place for "nobility and landed gentry." (Never mind that some of them were landed gentry.) The conclusion of Gensler's arguments is that our tax code must keep people from becoming "too rich."

Let me ask this question: who inflicts more damage on this country - rich private citizens or rich government? Who is bleeding us dry out of half of our incomes? Who robbed the Social Security trust fund? Who makes airliners defenseless against guys with boxcutters? Who tried to nationalize medicine? Who successfully nationalized most of education and tells those who can't afford private-sector alternatives that certain courses have to be taught one way and one way only whether parents like it or not? Who burdens domestic and international trade with unnecessary regulation and exorbitant taxes? Who gives money the the International Monetary Fund to subsidize the whims of Third World dictators? Who eviscerates domestic logging and energy production on the basis of crackpot environmentalist junk science?

Yeah, some businesses do bad things, too, but the sum of corporate damage is far less than the sum of government damage. And some corporate transgressions require government assistance.

Sodomy Laws

The Dallas Morning News reports that Lambda Legal is appealing to the United States Supreme Court to challenge the Texas sodomy law.

The sheer irony of this issue is that most of the people who get involved - on either side - are on the wrong side.

Gay activist organizations insist that sodomy laws are unconstitutional. Such arguments typically rely on Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment: "No state shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri are the only four states that have same-sex-only sodomy laws; several others ban both its homosexual and heterosexual practice. The legal definition of "sodomy" covers oral sex as well as the usual connotation. The Fourteenth Amendment can be applied to this case legitimately if one of two situations can be proven (guess which one Lambda Legal will pursue):

  • Homosexuality is not inherently dysfunctional; therefore the law should not treat homosexual acts differently from heterosexual acts
  • Acts of both heterosexual and homosexual sodomy are necessarily symptomatic of sexual dysfunction; both forms can therefore be legally banned (Update: If homosexual sodomy is banned so must heterosexual sodomy, and vice versa)

This places the judiciary in a position that it must never ever be in: arbitrating scientific dispute. Many behavioral scientists accept the evidence (much of which was produced long before NARTH ever existed) that casts homosexuality as a psychosexual dysfunction; many others do not. Courts must judge the law, not science; interpreting science for the sake of policy falls under the jurisdiction of legislatures.

But just because a law is allowable under a constitution doesn't mean it's good, and just because an activity is bad doesn't mean it should be illegal. This WorldNetDaily poll accurately displays the reasons most people give to justify their support of sodomy laws: it's immoral - biblically or otherwise - and it's unhealthy. Let's look at drug prohibition for a moment. Support for the federal drug war hinges on the claim that it curtails the spread of drug abuse; if this claim is discredited, the argument for prohibition collapses. This issue is debated hotly by intelligent people on both sides, and isn't about to be settled any time soon. But can anybody with half a brain say with a straight face that sodomy laws have had any value as a deterrent?

Virtually no social conservatives clamor for criminalization of unmarried adult heterosexuals having sex. Such people view that participation in the Sexual Revolution tends to dissipate one's ability to establish intimate, secure relationships. But they see something wrong with arresting people for it; probably very few of them can really put their finger on what it is that they find troubling. Perhaps they fear that if law enforcement is encouraged to interfere with social trends they don't like, it might eventually interfere with those that they do. Perhaps they sense that criminalization will actually reinforce this social phenomenon, breeding among sexual moderates and liberals a resentment that would vastly increase their alienation toward social conservatism. These are valid concerns, whether the Revolutionaries are gay or straight. When people refrain from turning to the law to settle cultural disputes, building bridges is easier and violence is less likely.

One other consideration must be aired: that the issue of sodomy laws distracts attention from significant political problems that affect more people than just a few opportunistic lawyers and spin doctors and the tiny handful of people who actually get busted on such charges. There is a vast array of gay-related political positions, some directly or partially affected by the question of whether or not homosexuality is dysfunctional, and others in which the real issue is something else entirely. (The sex education debate as a whole, for instance, revolves not around whose view of sexuality is right but whether the choice of what to teach children belongs to the government or to parents.) Each one should be assessed individually, not according to where "those people" stand on the issue. Everybody is wrong about something, and almost everybody is right about something - and every once in a while "both" sides are wrong.

Ooh, America! Skyscrapers! Statue of Liberty! F-16's!

Overseas actress receives unexpected publicity.

So far we're profiling everybody but Arabs :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2002


From the London Telegraph:

"Church of England clergy who deny the existence of God could soon find themselves facing heresy charges in new courts headed by bishops and advised by panels of theologians.

"Plans for the special tribunals, which critics fear will lead to 'witch-hunts' against liberal clergy, have been drawn up by a committee of the House of Bishops."

Hey guys, this isn't some esoteric side issue such as sprinkling vs. full-immersion baptism or the proper use of vestments. This is about whether or not the supreme authority over humanity is who the Bible says it is; if not, then the Bible has no authority and Christianity has no reason to exist. Might as well try to suggest that Hinduism can exist without the law of karma, or that Marxism can exist without the abolition of personal property rights, or that Rush Limbaugh could be a chapter president for NOW.

All churches should be careful as to what offenses they treat as the rough equivalents of misdemeanors and felonies. In my congregational Protestant mindset, I regard the vestment issue (see article) as the rough equivalent of a misdemeanor; evidently some in the Church of England disagree. As for "felonies," those who teach against those portions of doctrine immediately relevant to salvation (Articles I-V of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion) should be ousted; disbelieving in the existence of God certainly qualifies. Some lesser heresies may also necessitate ouster, depending on the degree to which the church's ability to function is disrupted, but the majority probably do not; such should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

My advice: if you don't believe in Anglicanism, don't join the Anglican Church. Religions and secular ideologies do not exist to be defined by people who don't believe in them.

Update: If all this seems rather harsh, consider a comment I made in an earlier post: "It is the height of religious intolerance - and intellectual dishonesty - for one to expect to serve as an official in a religious organization or to teach that religion in its seminaries if one disagrees with that religion's central creeds." Retired Episcopal archbishop John Shelby Spong is an example of the intolerance and dishonesty to which I refer. He prescribes for his church a "new reformation" that would discard all notions of the existence of the supernatural, including a supernatural God. Most atheists have the common decency to simply disagree with Christianity rather than insist that Christianity take on assumptions that its founder and early disciples never intended.

On another note, "heresy" is not just a nasty label that people place on ideas they don't like. It is the act of claiming that a belief jives with a particular worldview when in truth it does not. Drawing on a previously cited example, personal property rights is a heresy under Marxism. This doesn't mean that Marxists or Christians or Hindus should each be of one mindset. There's plenty of room for disagreement under each of these philosophies. But each philosophy has its non-negotiables, and any organization dedicated to furthering specific ideologies is justified in making sure that its officials support the mission statement.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Lying With Statistics

Andrew Sullivan uncovered a choice bit of junk environmental science in a recent post on his blog. Linking to this chart, he demonstrates how the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research misrepresent climatic data.

By the same method I can claim that the NASDAQ has been fairly stable over the last ten months, with only a slight down trend. Observe the list of closing NASDAQ averages below:

21-Sep-01 1423.19
19-Oct-01 1671.31
19-Nov-01 1934.42
19-Dec-01 1982.89
18-Jan-02 1930.34
19-Feb-02 1750.61
19-Mar-02 1880.87
19-Apr-02 1796.83
20-May-02 1696.11
19-Jun-02 1496.83
19-Jul-02 1319.15

See? Only a 7.32% decline over that period. No need for alarm.

Homeland Security and TIPS

One of the arguments for establishing a Department of Homeland Security is that we need more people working on securing the homeland. This is a half-truth; in reality, the government has too few field agents collecting data and too many bureaucrats processing it. Information gets lost and delayed within the Byzantine channels of our intelligence and security agencies. Agencies fail to coordinate properly. Dead hijackers get approved for student visas.

As for TIPS: aside from the dangers, which columnist Paul Craig Roberts and Libertarian Party executive director Steve Dasbach address, one should note that our government that can't even do a decent job of surveilling itself much less the general population (see previous paragraph for evidence). Actually, we need more civilian surveillance of the government; Larry Klayman can do only so much.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Beam Him Out of There!

A House panel says James Trafficant must go. Hey, if a sexual harasser doesn't deserve a seat in the Senate, a bribe-taker and racketeer doesn't deserve a seat in the House.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

This Day in History

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the invention of air conditioning. Grab a frosty milkshake or an iced cappuccino and toast the memory of Willis Haviland Carrier.

Update: Original press release from Carrier's website seems to be a dead link. Replacing it with a link to an article at the Contracting Business website that notes the anniversary.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Unlikely Song Remake

If there hadn't been a market for backwards-playing CD players in the past, there is now.

Update: For a little history on this song and its notoriety, click here. This site discusses the subject of audio reversal.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

More Weblog Links

Thought I'd take a little Internet cruise around the world (well, Europe) and see what interesting blog sites are out there.

The Edge of England's Sword. "A site for musings by commentator Iain Murray on British and American events and politics." One of the most highly respected blogs out there. This page has a bio and some background on the poem that inspired the name of the site. Murray worked for the Department of Transport in his native England and now serves as the Director of Research at the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, DC. He has written articles for various magazines and newspapers. His recent musings include recent criticisms of the Euro from a British socialist and an American Nobel laureate capitalist.

Live From Brussels. "Musings from a bored programmer." Maarten Schenk works for a large ISP in Brussels near NATO headquarters (see bio here - second to last post on the page). One recent post is about fun with Legos.

Norwegian Blogger. No apparent bio on site editor Vegard Valberg. He is rather puzzled that he isn't inundated with hate mail from angry readers about controversial topics. (Quite frankly, I'm curious that my website has yet to attract such attention.) If you ever thought my posts were long, check out this post on Saudi Arabia and the War on Terror, or his very entertaining recipe for America's diplomatic woes - this is the kind of thinking we need in the State Department.

The World After WTC. Still in Norway. Bjørn Stærk started this blog eleven days after 9/11. In his earliest post he writes, "At a time of war, even one my country is not directly involved in, voices of intellectual honesty and clarity are needed more than ever, and it is my goal to find those voices on the web, and perhaps be one of them." Occasionally he veers into other topics such as protests in Oslo. He also found a site with a great advice column.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Leapin' Lizards

British customs intercepts undocumented passenger.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

More Self-Parody

CNS News reports that Cuba's official newspaper Granma hails Ralph Nader as "a well-known defender of consumer rights, the environment and public participation in national decision-making" (emphasis mine). Gee, you'd think a Commie newspaper would want to play down that last item in Nader's resumé. reports that Jesse Jackson says George W. Bush is "unliterate." At least he didn't call the President "unarticulate."

In the Darkest Depths of Mordor...

Yet another reason to oppose the International Criminal Court, courtesy of Cold

Monday, July 08, 2002

Self-Parody Alert

Greenpeace has a page on its website about the upcoming Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Given this crime statistic, one wonders if there will be very many female delegates in attendance.) Look to the left at the image of the person in the red jacket looking up at the hot air balloon being used as a billboard for Greenpeace's campaign against global warming.

Next thing you know they'll be powering their fleet with nuclear reactors.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Pledge of Allegiance - a Good Idea?

Ignoring the constitutionality issue for now, I'd like to pose this question: was the Pledge of Allegiance, in any of its past forms, a good idea to begin with? Jay Manifold suggests that the Pledge represents "veneration of a secular emblem" and, more importantly, "modern-day emperor-worship." An article on the Foundation for Economic Education's site follows a similar line of reasoning. The author states:

"If one swears an oath to the Constitution it implies limited government by definition. It also implies that individual rights are paramount in the American system of governance. But when one swears to support the government instead of the Constitution, those principles disappear."

Certainly not everybody who recites the Pledge, or leads such recitations, believes the subliminal message that the government comes first. (The guy who invented the pledge, discussed in detail in the FEE article, most certainly did.) But as Rush Limbaugh often says, words mean things. If one of the ideas behind the Pledge is to encourage patriotism than the Pledge had bloody well better describe patriotism accurately. Jay likes this creed. When you get to the "defend it [the country] against all enemies" part, remember what Teddy Roosevelt said:

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country."

Jay also refers to public-sector Pledge recitation as a "faux religion" (emphasis his). I think I know where he's coming from. If government functionaries lead a pledge of loyalty to a nation under a generic God - the state holding no official position as to the identity and nature of that God - aren't they playing a little fast and loose with the Third Commandment?

None of this means that God gets "taken out of the schools." I will elaborate on that point later.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Odes to Liberty

WTC-United photo WTC-United.jpgThrough these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I've watched all your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

Dire Straits, "Brothers in Arms"

"Then I will live in Montana, and I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck, or possibly even a recreational vehicle, and drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?"

Vasili Borodin (played by Sam Neill), "The Hunt for Red October"
"With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

Martin Luther King
"The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden - that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time."

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
"[W]e recognize that we are living in the middle of the most overwhelmingly successful experiment in human history. Not perfect. Just the best place in the world to live in, that's all."

Jay Manifold
"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own."

Number Six (played by Patrick McGoohan), "The Prisoner" TV series
"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country."

Theodore Roosevelt
"So this Jefferson dude was like, 'Look, the reason we left this England place is 'cause it was so bogus. So if we don't get some primo rules ourselves - pronto - then we're just gonna be bogus, too."

Jeff Spiccoli (played by Sean Penn), "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
"Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude."

Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America Vol. 2

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Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Flag Burning

In some years in the past, early summer set the stage for yet another piece of legislation taking aim against flag burning. Many of those cherished values and institutions that the flag symbolizes have been vilified and forced into cultural banishment by the leftist elite. Many who see that symbol torched feel that legal protections for the flag is a line in the sand that must be drawn in order to stop the advancing assault.

Conservatives will argue that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech does not cover flag burning. They are correct. The Framers of the Constitution wanted to assure that people would be free to state their ideas in the two media that existed at the time - speech and the printing press. There is no constitutional guarantee of "freedom of expression." Every action that a human being makes is an act of expression, whether it's passing out tracts, running after a bus, buying Sprite instead of 7-Up, or bombing a government facility. (If expression is speech, does that make Tim McVeigh a performance artist?)

But people want flag burning to be made a federal crime for one reason only: because of the message that such activity implies. (There's also people like me who want it banned by cities simply because it's a fire hazard.) One anti-desecration law will serve as legal precedent for the passage of others. If nonspeech can be banned because of its message, speech can be banned, too. Proposals to curb "hate speech" and perhaps even criticism of the government will soon follow. Imagine what that would do to the Internet. (If the International Criminal Court ever gets bored and starts mulling over the definition of "mental harm to members of the group" - which one of its chief governing documents lists as an activity that constitutes genocide - we may not have to imagine for too long.)

Consider a symbol that to many of us is more important than the flag: the cross. The attitude I sense from many is that anyone who wants to desecrate a cross, as insulting or downright blasphemous it is, can do so legally as long as they're using their own resources. (Message to the arts community: your right to extend your hand ends where my wallet begins. At least the Klan has the courtesy not to ask for NEA funding for its performance art - even if it lacks many other courtesies.)

Torching Old Glory is a moral problem, not a legal problem. We should worry more about people who torch the Constitution. Let's not give them any kindling, okay?

Monday, July 01, 2002

J. C. Watts Retires

This morning, J. C. Watts announced that he will retire from Congress at the end of this term. Some speculate that he may be setting himself up for the possibility of joining the Bush ticket in 2004; due to health concerns and a lack of desire to run for president in 2008, Cheney is not expected to seek a second term as Vice President.

If Rep. Watts has no immediate White House aspirations, may I suggest that he consider another career move: move to Arizona and seek a Senate seat. John McCain is up for reelection in 2004. The timing is just right.

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