Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Thursday, October 31, 2002

The Futility of Individual Effort?

Jay Manifold links Glenn Reynolds' Tech Central Station column on how common citizens contribute to homeland security. He notes that the recent sniper case was solved because the suspects' automobile and license plate number was leaked to the public, that the Unabomber case was solved because the prose style of the ecoterrorist was made public, and:

Every domestic-terrorism victory so far, from Flight 93 to bringing down the LAX shooter to spotting the D.C. killers was accomplished by non-law-enforcement individuals, after all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Just In Time For Halloween

Trick or treat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Eye In The Sky

Perry de Havilland of Samizdata did the original story on the above poster (he also took the pic). London Transport has recently enhanced its security by, among other things, installing surveillance cameras on all its new buses. It is proudly heralding the CCTV proliferation by plastering these posters around town, evidently thinking that they will make riders feel safe. This Orwellian marketing decision ranks up there with New Coke.

But it's also good for laughs. In a follow-up, de Havilland comments on common remarks he receives from his readers, and displays a couple of my own creations inspired by Samizdata's slogan, "'When the state watches you, dare to stare back." Or, as I like to put it, what we need is not more government surveillance of citizens, but more citizen surveillance of the government.

(The building in the top image is Parliament, naturally.)

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Reach Out And Touch Someone

David Horowitz is sending a message to Harry Belafonte, and invites readers to join the chorus.

"Don't Shoot! We're Only Fifteen Minutes Into This Movie!"

Flashbunny reveals the other reason that Hollywood opposes gun rights. (Found via InstaPundit.)

The feminist organizations ought to reconsider their stance on gun issues. Imagine how differently The Stepford Wives would have turned out if the women of Stepford were packing heat.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Random Thought

Gossip is spiritual arson.

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Thursday, October 24, 2002

Blame The Military

According to NewsMax, media outlets are insinuating that the military somehow bears some responsibility in the sniper attacks. Carl Limbacher reports two such incidents:

Fox News Channel this afternoon showed footage of a reporter asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld if the U.S. military felt responsible for the Washington-area shootings. His astonished reaction to the absurd question was priceless.

Another dimwit who acted like one of those inept anti-American reporters in a "Saturday Night Live" skit asked if Muhammad were "a black eye for the military." Imagine the uproar and condemnation if anyone asked if Muhammad were a black eye for Islam, Farrakhan, black Americans, etc.

John Allen Muhammad is also an America-hating leftist. Is he a black eye for university faculties, CNN, the New York Times, etc.?

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

I Want My MP3

Here's another story linked by InstaPundit. Legendary musician Janis Ian says that Internet music downloading is good for artists but bad for recording companies. The reason for this is that she sells directly to the consumer through, and that making her music available for free download increases her customer base. When musicians can sell their music directly, who needs agents and recording contracts?

Lessons From Computer Gaming

Ranting Screeds blogmeister and fellow Civilization gamer Porphyrogenitus says that the classic computer game's simulation of entangling alliances is a lot like real life.

(Found via InstaPundit.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Academia vs. Popular History

In its latest Communiqué, the Education Intelligence Agency prints this interesting excerpt from a Wall Street Journal column (available here on the Council on Foreign Relations website) written by Max Boot, historian and CFR senior fellow:

Unreadable history books foster ignorance of history. I recently spent a day at an Ivy League campus, where a professor informed me that entering students -- the crème de la crème of our leading prep schools -- think that the Middle Ages began in 1 A.D. This accords with the finding of surveys which show that college students can’t place the Civil War in the correct century. All this ignorance -- at a time when we have more professional historians than ever before. It might lead a disinterested observer to wonder just what we, as donors and taxpayers and tuition-payers, are getting for our money.

After reading the entire article, I discovered that Mr. Boot uncovered two scandals; that many history books have little popular appeal, and that many professional historians like it that way, as illustrated by this passage...

And yet professional historians felt compelled to deride [David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas," a book about the building of the Panama Canal] -- only in a university is "popularity" a term of abuse! -- simply because David McCullough holds no faculty appointment and writes books that reach a large audience. To Mr. Lukacs's unerring critical eye, this represents the height of self-defeating snobbery.

...and this one...

Academic historians are apt to reply that their work is too "sophisticated" for Joe Paperback.

"The purpose of the game is to demonstrate the futility of individual effort." This remark by Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman) in the original Rollerball sums up the attitude that is rampant in academia. Many professors think scornfully of Joe Paperback; to such people he may not be quite a dunce, but he is certainly not capable of the "sophisticated" intellectual depths of The Anointed. Average books for the masses, highly technical books for the elites.

Not A Liberty Prize Candidiate

If anyone thinks the Bush administration is too hawkish, be glad that recording artist Randy Newman isn't running the War on Terror. (Song was released in 1972.)

Monday, October 21, 2002

Liberty Prize Update

The first set of winners of the Henderson Prize for the Advancement of Liberty will be announced on November 5, my 42nd birthday. (There's also some election going on that day.) The official HPAF website may or may not be up by that time. The first slate of awards will follow a theme: unique events in history, including famous firsts, that furthered liberty. I won't be able to get around to all such events, but there wil be plenty of time for that.

The rules for submission are simple. State the name of your nominee, which may be an individual or a group. If the group is a military force, name the force and its commander (such as "Armed Forces of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, commanded by General Snippet"). State how this person or group advanced liberty as it is defined in the third paragraph of this post. "Advancing liberty" includes but is not limited to: replacing a tyrannical regime with a freedom-respecting one, helping people escape from unfree nations to free ones, and peacefully instigating political and/or social reforms that increase freedom. While anyone in the universe can submit nominations, the nominees must be Earthlings; the folks on 40 Eridani haven't done anything for us yet, so they're out of the running.

The name of the prize is not etched in stone, so if you can come up with a better name, give it a whack. Otherwise, HPAF stands.

Ballistic Fingerprinting: Junk Science

The National Rifle Association Institute for Legal Action has a brief, concise statement revealing the futility of relying on "ballistic fingerprinting" databases to solve crimes. The pipe dream is that if we have a database of "fingerprints" (ballistic abrasion patterns unique to each firearm), whenever a victim of a shooting is discovered a trace on the gun will be possible. NRAILA lists the following conditions that must be met for such a system to work:

  • That the firearm barrel and firing pin have not been modified, replaced, deformed from normal use, or intentionally falsified with new ballistic markings.
  • That all 200 million firearms lawfully possessed by Americans are brought into labs and fired to gather individual ballistic "fingerprinting."
  • That all violent criminals, and people who might become one, also bring in their firearms for "fingerprinting."
  • That all ballistic "fingerprinting" files are stored in a national database.
  • That an expended bullet or shell casing be recovered from a crime scene.
  • That the bullet or shell casing conclusively match the ballistic "fingerprinting" of a firearm owned by a person stored in the database.
  • That the firearm has not been sold, transferred, stolen or gifted to another person.
  • That the person, now a criminal suspect, still possess that firearm at a current address.

Maybe I'm a wuss, but I'm not terribly fond of implementing law enforcement policies that require the overthrow of the laws of physics and human sociology.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Just In Time For Christmas

Barbie® has a new friend.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

I've Been Living In The Dark

All this time I thought North Korea had been a nuclear power for quite some time and that everyone knew about it - and now I read this.

Could foreign aid money have been used to pay for Kim Jong-Il's nuke program? Whether or not such is the case, humanitarian aid should never be given to antihumanitarian regimes; such governments almost never use the money as the donors intend. If there's people suffering in some tinhorn thugocracy, either liberate them or go into the country yourself and give them the aid in person. A post from blogger Dean Esmay illustrates my point; last summer he revisited the road to hell that was paved by the good intentions of hunger relief efforts for the benefit of starving Ethiopians in the 1980s.

(Both linked North Korea stories courtesy of NewsMax.)

Friday, October 18, 2002

Dallas/Fort Worth Dreaming

 photo DFW-Slogan.jpg

Virginia Postrel brought attention to this uninspired slogan for the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. (Beware: this marketing malady is spreading.) She asked her readers to submit their own ideas, and the results are in. A few people - myself included - were thinking not of the metropolitan area but the "big, inconvenient, annoying" DFW International Airport. My slogan: "Give up on Love: Fly DFW." (Explanation for those not familiar with our Wright Amendment wrangles is in Postrel's blog.)

In light of this recent development, perhaps the DFW metroplex could go with this slogan: "Fort Worth - Smoking, Dallas - Non-Smoking."

Update: Virginia Postrel has a second and final batch of DFW slogans.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Random Thought

Life is too short to settle for baloney sandwiches.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

What's Wrong With This Critique of Libertarianism

Samizdata contributor Perry de Havilland wrote this excellent fisking of a truly ridiculous essay lambasting libertarianism. De Havilland addresses Zompist's specifics; I'll go after the base assumptions, as listed under the "Dubious origins" heading:

Communism Libertarianism
Property is theft Property is sacred
Totalitarianism Any government is bad
Capitalists are baby-eating villains
Capitalists are noble Nietzchean heroes
Workers should rule Workers have no particular rights
The oppressed are always right
The oppressed deserve their oppression

Point 1: Property is a right. Specifically, people have legal claim to that which they create, extract from natural resources (that are not deeded to other parties), or acquire through voluntary, honest trade.

Point 2: Libertarians don't believe in the abolition of government as anarchists do. Libertarians believe in a certain type of government, one that is decentralized, treats all citizens as being equally subject to and equally protected by the law, and otherwise complies with whatever constitution the nation in question is founded upon (assuming one that limits power and enumerates liberties as the US Constitution does).

Point 3: Zompist needs to learn to distinguish between capitalism and capitalists. Free-market capitalism places both ownership and control of the means of production in the hands of individuals. People work in their self-interest, and cannot achieve it unless they know where to allocate resources, information which is gained through prices, profits, and losses. Some capitalists try to cheat the system by insulating themselves from losses through political means: government grants, tariffs to harm competitors, legal monopoly status, price-fixing cartels, etc. The cheaters invariably wind up misallocating resources, and if they stay afloat they do so only because of whatever de facto or de jure subsidy they are receiving.

Point 4: Commies say that businesses exploit workers. They're half right. Labor and management exploit each other voluntarily because each benefits from the transaction. Some people have money to invest. Some people can make stuff. Some people can sell stuff. Some people can figure out what the public wants. All these people get together to exploit each other's talents and resources, and if they've got a product that enough people want, they all come out ahead in the process.

Point 5. The comparison is nonsensical, because Commies and libertarians disagree on the definition of oppression and the identity of those oppressed. Commies believe that entire classes oppress other entire classes; libertarians recognize that there are oppressors and victims of oppression within all classes. "The oppressed deserve their oppression" is a remark usually heard from those who think that charity is something the State is obliged to force its citizens to subsidize - an act which libertarians view as oppression.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

If You Thought The Catholic Sex Scandal Was Bad...

...check out what NewsMax has to say about the New York City public schools sex scandal.

Give Peace Prizes A Chance

Autumn is often heralded by the absurd pronouncement that some person or organization irrelevant or even antithetical to peace actually deserves credit for advancing such a noble cause. Like a lot of other people, I find myself wishing that there existed an award that honored genuine advancements toward peace. There are probably several such awards out there that don't get a lot of press. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for one more. There's an old saying: if you want a job done right, you've got to do it yourself. Who am I to resist such time-honored advice?

I am officially announcing the creation of the Henderson Prize for the Advancement of Liberty. The award is named after myself because I'm the one who came up with this bright idea, and because I can't think of anything else to call it. The prize specifies liberty instead of peace because the latter cannot last for any significant length of time without the former. The word "advancement" is there because this is an award for people whose efforts bring about actual results.

Liberty represents the rights to one's life and physical safety, personal property, the right to decide one's beliefs and to express them, and the right to decide one's interests and to engage in activities that fulfill them. A society dedicated to liberty is one in which individuals trade possessions voluntarily, associate with others voluntarily to pursue shared interests, and respect each other's four basic rights despite disagreements. Advancing liberty means fighting the crimes that threaten each of these rights: assault against person and property, theft of property, censorship of speech, forced indoctrination, prohibition of pursuit of peaceable interests, and forced pursuit of undesired interests. Sometimes liberty is advanced militarily, other times culturally; this prize will honor both efforts.

I have no endowment and no statuette to offer. What I can offer is a website (probably setting up a second blog under my Blogger account), listing the names of winners with summaries of their achievements. Anyone in the universe can make nominations. There will be no judging committee - I make all the final decisions. There will be an advisory board, though, depending on whether or not I can con persuade a few people to join up. Awards will be announced not annually or monthly but on a random basis.

Monday, October 14, 2002

The Nobel Peace Prize Isn't Worth A Warm Saucer Of Spit

Now that Jimmy Carter has received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 (see here for a list of all Nobel laureates), a lot of people think the prize is losing its respectability - especially after Fidel Castro offered his congratulations. I have news for those people - the prize was a joke from the beginning.

The first prize was shared by Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross (which itself won the prize several times over the years), and Frédéric Passy, founder of the Société francaise pour l'arbitrage entre nations. Passy had founded an earlier "peace society," the Ligue internationale et permanente de la paix, a vain attempt to avert war between France and Prussia. In France's Chamber of Deputies he opposed colonialism and pushed for disarmament and international arbitration of disputes. The French peace evangelist died in 1912, two years before World War I proved that the European peace efforts of that time, his included, were on the wrong track.

Passy is representative of one of the chief failings of the Nobel committee: it often gives the Peace Prize to people or agencies for offering peace plans that have yet to be tested. Many of the early prizes were given to people involved with peace organizations. After WWI, the committee demonstrated that it had not learned its lesson. In 1919 it gave the prize to President Woodrow Wilson for founding the ill-fated League of Nations. Five others received the award for their work with the League, at least one of whom fought for disarmament. Two Nobel Laureates of that time were Aristide Briand (1926) and Frank Billings Kellogg (1929), whose drafted the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty that outlawed war.

After outlaw nations Germany, Japan, and Italy were defeated by the Allies, the Nobel Committee continued to dole out Peace Prizes to people who talk about peace more than they implement it. Cordell Hull (1945) was one of the first of several to win the prize for work with the United Nations, an agency which over the years has waged a sort of diplomatic cold war against the United States and Israel. Ralphe Bunche was the first to receive the prize for negotiating nonexistent peace in the Middle East. [Update: He brokered the end of the 1948 war, but no long-term peace came out of it. Indeed, this was just the beginning of the Arab-Israeli cold war, punctuated several times by brief episodes of hot war, and lasting to this day.] Disarmament - a concept which should have been discredited in 1914 and 1939 - would continue to attract the wooing of the Nobel committee, in 1962, 1982, 1985, 1995, and 1997. And untested peace processes would still be honored, as illustrated by the honoring of Nelson Mandela and F. W. DeKlerk (1993) and John Hume and David Trimble (1998).

So who was the first mouthpiece for murderous regimes to become a Nobel laureate? That would appear to be the only person in history to decline the prize: Le Duc Tho (no biography available). He and Henry Kissinger were awarded the prize for the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War. Kissinger wrote an acceptance speech that was read by US ambassador to Norway Thomas R. Byrne, who represented him at the award ceremony. The message contained this remark: "Certain war has yielded to an uncertain peace in Vietnam. Where there was once only despair and dislocation, today there is hope, however frail." If Kissinger could get an award for peace that might come in the future, can I get an Academy Award for a movie I might direct in the future? (I'd like to thank the Academy for hypothetically granting me this honor, and Cameron Diaz and Edward Norton for their possibly outstanding performances.) Ironically, Le was the honest one of the pair. He knew that North Vietnam wasn't giving up on its plans to conquer the South. His job was to get the US out of the way so the NVA could march into Saigon as it did two years later. If Kissinger didn't understand that, he was utterly naive.

At least two other such thugocrats would receive the prize. Yasser Arafat (1994) is the most obvious, a man who talks peace with the West but organizes terrorism with his comrades. The other is Rigoberta Menchú. In 1992, coincidentally (?) 500 years after Columbus' subjugation discovery of the Americas (or at least the Caribbean portion), she was honored for raising awareness of the alleged abuses against her fellow Guatemalan Mayan Indians. David Horowitz reported the research of anthropologist David Stoll, whose book reveals the fraudulence of I, Rigoberta Menchú, the Marxist-feminist's autobiography which is required reading at many universities. Horowitz writes:

As a result of Stoll’s research Rigoberta Menchu has been exposed as a Communist agent working for terrorists who were ultimately responsible for the death of her own family. So rigid is Rigoberta’s party loyalty to the Castroist cause, that after her book was published and she became an international spokesperson for indigenous peoples, she refused to denounce the Sandinista dictatorship’s genocidal attempt to eliminate its Miskito Indians.

"Yeah, but what about Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa, and Lech Walesa? And don't forget about the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)." Okay, so there's a few good apples. But the roster of Nobel Laureates is dominated by ineffectual stabs toward promoting peace, and a handful of stabs against it. To judge the award by the worthy few who won it is like judging a factory that produces 90% scrap by the ten percent products it manufactures correctly. The award is meaningless.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Who's This Mohammed Dude?

Much has been said about Jerry Falwell's comments likening Mohammed to a terrorist, and the vast majority of those comments have been equally irresponsible. What Falwell and his critics have in common is that they offer no historic evidence for their position. Most Americans know virtually nothing about Mohammed. Anybody remarking on the founder of Islam had better cite historical documents to back up his or her claims.

New Permalinks

Samizdata's Blogging Glossary. The crew at Samizdata put together this dictionary of blogging terms on their site. If you want to know what a blogroll is or what it means to fisk someone, this is the place.

Note that Samizdata is now officially considered an "international" weblog. Like a true American imperialist, I counted the mostly-Brit blog under "US Weblogs" because the Samizdata Illuminatus lives in Arkham, Massachusetts. The one-drop rule has been dropped :-)

Natalie Solent. "Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing." A Samizdata contributor and Oxford Essex native with her own blog. No bio available on website. She appears in the top and bottom pictures (wearing purple dress) in this Samizdata collection of photos from the Second British Blogger Bash. In recent posts she made some observations about Nelson Mandela and the ANC and responded to claims that the West "destroyed democracy in Iraq."

Neolibertarian News Portal. Robert K. Prather displays these two quotes near the top of the page: "The U.S. has no interest in the "stability" of a region that incubated the attacks on New York City and Washington and the murder of 3,000 citizens," and "I have an axe to grind and plenty of fury to turn the wheel." No apparent bio present, but here he lays out his political beliefs and explains the "neolibertarian" label. He posts many quotes from Thomas Jefferson. Recently he had a few things to say about free speech; I'll have to drop a line in the comment box sometime soon.

Tim Blair. "Welcome to the Australia of Tim Blair, journalist, commentator, and oppressor." No apparent bio present. Recent posts explore the Koran's views on motor transport, the party scene in Iran, and, for the few Aussies in my audience, the fate of Sydney journalist Margo Kingston. (A comic once described the folks from Down Under as Texans with British accents. What do y'all think about that?)

Volokh Conspiracy. This site has several contributors. Eugene Volokh is a UCLA law professor. Sasha Volokh is a Reason Public Policy Institute adjunct scholar. Michelle Boardman and Todd Zywicki are George Mason University law professors. Juan Non-Volokh is a mysterious figure lurking on the blog. Recent posts include comments on the Fourth Amendment and Presidential grammar.

The Blogger Pro spell checker is not liking this post :-)

Correction: Natalie Solent is from Essex, not Oxford. I must have been thinking about another Samizdata contributor who is from Oxford and who doesn't look anything like Natalie.

A Woman Needs Ms. Magazine Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle

Catherine Seipp reports the decline (but alas not the fall) of female supremacism modern feminism.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

They're Tanned, They're Ready...

WorldNetDaily has uncovered new evidence that an assault on Iraq is in the works. Even The Onion couldn't make this up.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Adventures In Computer Maintenance

Posting has been nonexistent for several days because most of my free time since the last post has bee devoted to recovering from a system crash. I've been able to recover everything except my email. In the meantime I've been relying on an ancient Dell Latitude CPi laptop for my computing needs - it's nice to have a spare computer in an emergency. My old 500 MHz system is being replaced with a 1.8-gig Pentium 4. On my way to Fry's to exchange a faulty memory module. Hope I can finally get Windows XP to load.

A little computing advice. The most critical files to back up are those you create, copy, and download. Make a bunch of subdirectories in My Documents for your images, spreadsheets, text files, Word documents, etc. so they'll all be in one place and easy to find. If you have a writable CD-ROM, all you'll have to do to back them up is to copy the entire My Documents folder over to CD. If you collect music or video files, due to their large size you may want to store these separately from the My Documents folder. (I'd back up any such file immediately after acquiring it.)

You will also want to back up the files for Address Book, email records (I use Outlook Express), and the Internet links in your Favorites folder. Do a file search on *.wab to find your Address Book data, and on *.dbx to find Outlook Express files. The Favorites folder is at C:\WINDOWS\FAVORITES. If you like to keep old email records, don't save those with attachments - delete them once you've saved the attached files; otherwise your email files become immensely (and unnecessarily) huge. Any games on your system will have saved game files, and sometimes a file with high scores stored. To find the latter file, do a file search keyed on text known to exist contained in the file (like the name of a player known to have a high score).

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Nazism vs. Communism

Found this through InstaPundit. Daniel Drezner reacts to a Brad DeLong post on the difference between the Left's treatment of fascism and its treatment of Communism. Drezner postulates the reason is that "intellectuals are drawn to power," noting that fascism had a relatively brief heyday compared to Communism. One problem with that theory: the Leftist fascination with Communism started very early in the 20th Century, even before it came into power through the 1917 revolution.

DeLong is a little closer to the true answer, but doesn't quite get the cigar: "[T]he Nazis' vision of utopia was ugly. By contrast, it seems to me at least that Russian Communist leaders like Lev Bronstein, Nikita Khrushchev, and Mikhail Gorbachev all had visions of utopia that are very close to those of the rest of us."

These three men shared with the Left not specific policies but general ideas as to what kind of war they were fighting and who they were fighting against. The reason that the Far Left despises fascism, especially the Nazi variety, and is sympathetic toward Communism is because it agrees with the latter and disagrees with the former as to who the good guys and bad guys are. Leftists are largely racist and classist. Unlike the Nazis, who seek the triumph of one "race" over the many, they seek the triumph of the many races over the one (namely, whites - non-liberal ones, anyway). Their socioeconomic bigotry is virtually identical to that of the Communists; each seeks the conquest of the middle and upper economic classes by the "working class" and poor in the name of egalitarian utopia.

Of course, some middle- and upper-class people are more equal than others, as Ted Kennedy reminds us whenever he excoriates the rich.

Update: Daniel W. Drezner and Brad DeLong's Website (the latter formerly known as the Semi-Daily Journal) have been added to the blogroll.

Friday, October 04, 2002

The News With A Twist - - Of Pepperoni

Is Steve Green writing for The Onion? Note the second offering on this menu appearing in the October 2, 2002 edition.

I'll order the #8. Super-sized. With extra cheese.

The New Jersey Ballot Changes Again

(Roiters) The New Jersey GOP announced yesterday that Bruce Willis will replace Doug Forrester in the race for Senate.

This comes only days after Bruce Springsteen took the mantle for the Democrats. The previous Democrat candidate, Frank Lautenberg, resigned after only four hours of his candidacy, citing even worse poll numbers than Robert Torricelli, whose campaign fell apart when it was disclosed that he had received thousands of dollars worth of Martha Stewart linens from political contributors.

Springsteen enjoyed a 17-point lead immediately after entering the race. Forrester, unable to close the gap after three days, decided to drop out from the race and from politics altogether. "It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap, I've gotta get out while I'm young." He offered no answers to questions about his future plans, only that he would be spending more time with his wife and his three children. "Someday, I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place where we really want to go, and we'll walk in the sun."

After three days Willis has been able to close Springsteen's lead to six points. The actor is confident that he will pull ahead. "I'm going the whole nine yards. This campaign is unbreakable." Insiders are worried, however. One GOP strategist is quoted as saying, "An action film star doesn't stand a chance against a guy who sings about flashy cars and Vietnam vets who can't find jobs."

If Bruce Willis' candidacy folds, the Republican Party will face a tough road finding a candidate who can defeat "The Boss" this November. Some have suggested recruiting Trenton-born retired general Norman Schwarzkopf. Others want Jack Nicholson to enter the race. "He's not exactly a staunch conservative," says one analyst, "but how many GOP senators north of the Mason-Dixon line fit that description anyway?"

A campus organization at Rutgers University has started a petition to put Dave Thomas on the ballot, heralding the late Wendy's hamburger restaurant founder as "a man who demonstrated that you can be pro-business and pro-humanity at the same time." When asked about the legality of the deceased running for office, a spokesman responded, "They're already doing it in Hawaii.

Update: Virginia Postrel quotes the latest poll results: Springsteen-Q, Willis-12. Or is that vice-versa?

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Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Space, The Final Suburb

James Lileks makes some interesting observations about Star Trek: Enterprise:

I repeat that the basic theme is Us vs. the Europeans, who are played by Vulcans. There’s a scene at the end in which the Captain argues with the haughty glowering Vulcans that the Enterprise should not be recalled, but must be allowed to continue its journeys until there are enough episodes for a profitable run in syndication. Behind him is the crew - Asian, Black, Southern White, Bitter Brit (I don’t count them as Europeans). As Clinton would say, it’s a bridge crew that looks like America. The Vulcans list off the misadventures the ship has caused, and you can’t help but hear “Unilaterist cowboys” in their voices. Yes, I’m reading too much into this. The original Trek wasn’t about New Frontier technocratic battleship displaying its moral superiority as often as it opened the torpedo bay . TNG wasn’t about a post-detente future with a big ship that had a daycare on board and a diplomat for a captain. Deep Space Nine wasn’t about a Balkanesque outpost in a post-empire world. These things just bubble up out of the culture for no particular reason.

Enterprise accurately predicts, I feel, the chief conflict we will face when space colonization finally becomes practical - with one exception: the combatants will not be cowboy Earthlings and Euroweenie aliens but between statist and individualist Earthlings. There is already a strong sentiment that only the government should colonize space, colored partly by the, ahem, astronomical costs of space travel that (presumably) only governments can afford, and more greatly by the elitist assumption that individuals cannot be trusted to settle a strange frontier.

Like the European nations that claimed possession of entire continents, statists declare that the Solar System rightfully belongs to individual governments or some sort of international trusteeship. There is a significant difference between the two: the other planets of the Solar System are extremely unlikely to have sentient native life. But many of the European colonies had vast regions unsettled by either natives or colonists. Settlers who entered those regions to claim for their own were forced into vassaldom to some European power that had title even though they had no physical presence there.

No matter what any document signed in Washington or The Hague says, the moons and planets rightfully belong to whomever gets there first. The Final Frontier is for those individuals who want to flee to the suburbs to build lives of their own, not to imperialist multinationalists and utopian socialists.

Random Thought

A child is the ultimate construction project.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

EnRon Kirk

There are countless red flags that people should watch out for when sizing up candidates running for national public office. One such omen to be on the lookout for is if the candidate has served as mayor of a major city. Big-city governments are often called upon to fork over tax funds to pay for private business expansion - especially if the business in question is a sports franchise.

The rationale is always the same: if we build it, the business will come. But this assumption ignores two facts. First, raising taxes for government projects takes money out of other economic sectors; projections of income expected to be generated by city-funded artifacts rarely take into account the commerce that taxpayers would have engaged in had they not been hit with the tax increase and must now do without. Second, investors who are accustomed to receiving public funds are usually not as proficient at making a profit as those who abstain from plunder and rely solely on free trade.

What does this have to do with Enron's accounting fraud scandal? Absolutely nothing. It has everything to do with its corporate welfare controversy. The company had relied on billions of dollars of government-backed financing backing for certain projects, some of which turned out to be colossal failures. WorldNetDaily contributor Gordon Prather tells the tale of one such fiasco, its electric power plant boondoggle in Dabhol, India:

Enron had bought seats on the [Clinton] administration's trade missions to India, sitting alongside officials of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

In 1995, in the midst of a trade mission to India, Bank and OPIC officials announced their approval of a package of loans and loan guarantees for the construction of a 740-megawatt electric power plant, next to a liquefied natural gas facility which was authorized in 1993 for construction by Enron at Dabhol, India. Surprise, surprise! The power plant was to be built by Enron, too.

Why did this turkey fail? Because its operations costs were incredibly expensive:

This particular gas had to be pumped out of the ground in Oman, sent via pipeline to the brand-new $2 billion Oman LNG terminal, liquefied at a considerable cost, transported by tankers across the Indian Ocean to the Enron terminal, re-gasified, and then burned to generate electricity. As natural gas prices rose during 2000, electricity became so expensive that Enron's sole customer [the Maharashtra State Electricity Board] couldn't pay for it. The electricity board fell $240 million behind in payments to Enron and then, essentially bankrupt, stopped all payments in early 2001.

(One irony is that the Russians are beating Ken Lay at the capitalism game, by building a nuclear plant with a smaller initial investment, smaller operating costs, and zero emissions - with more electric output.)

Every competent police officer knows that small-time crooks, if not disciplined, will work toward becoming big-time crooks. The same logic applies to politicians. Today it's sports arenas and business parks. Tomorrow it's agriculture subsidies, public broadcasting, and Amtrak. The next day it's boondoggles like Dabhol.

Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who eagerly spent taxpayer money on a new arena (gee, what is Dallas going to do with the old one?), wants Phil Gramm's Senate seat. Message to Texas voters: discipline him. Don't let him anywhere near the national purse strings.

Update: Last August, Virginia Postrel had a little something to say about the former mayor:

In electing fiscal gadfly Laura Miller [who, when writing for the Dallas Observer, had made a career reporting city waste ] his successor, the voters rocked the downtown establishment that adored Kirk, thoroughly repudiating his legacy of big, showy, expensive projects in favor of basic services like better roads. Plus the city now has a shortfall of $95 million and is facing tax hikes and service cuts.

Yeah, this is the kind of guy we need on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Update: WorldNetDaily reports that the Dabhol project is now part of the curriculum at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, serving "as a lesson in bad public policy and business." Links to other Enron stories appear at the bottom of the page.

Run, Forrester, Run!

Robert "The Torch" Torricelli is officially extinguished.

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