Friday, November 08, 2002


David Brooks has a great article in the Weekly Standard, via Little Green Footballs, about the ultimate collectivist regime, merging Lenin and Hitler, Trotsky and Goebbels. Surprise! It's Iraq! Historical inevitability and all. It only makes sense, then, that they should be crushed by the two hundred ton historical gorilla that is Capitalism, as exemplified by the United States Armed Forces, George W. Bush and Israel! Gotterdammerung time! Twinkle, twinkle!

We win - again!!

And this is better than the election. Robert Fisk is blowing his top, beside himself (no, not two of them!!) that the US has had its way with the UN Security Council. Maybe now the conservatives will concede that Colin Powell has some real skills - and some political instincts! I'm jumping to conclusions there. He may not get credit for the new resolution that in every way surpasses anything the US was able to get out of the UN about the Iraq mess in the last eleven years. But what the heck? He's Secretary of State. The combination of Powell and Bush has turned the world upside down. Does everybody realize that the vote for the Iraq war powers resolution was considerably more lopsided than the one Bush 41 got in 1990? That the unanimous Security Council resolution (including SYRIA!! I'm still boggled) was more unexpected than Max Cleland losing his Senate seat in Georgia, less probable than Walter Mondale losing an election in Minnesota? What a week. I need a bourbon. Wild Turkey 101.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

We win!! - or something

Despite my inability to figure out a reason to vote, I still get that glow of satisfaction when the candidates I have backed publicly and secretly cheered for win. I found a fascinating bunch of comments on a Democratic-leaning website that give a well-rounded idea of the mess the Democratic party is in this morning. They literally haven't a clue. I'm not sure yesterday's results will make a difference, but at least it diminishes the possibility that I'll have to look at Al Gore or Hillary Clinton in the White House two years from the coming January 20.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Double Delusion

Despite all the ranting and threats from the pro-delusion factor, I persist in laying out my analysis of voting as a rational pursuit. Majoritarian democracy consists of two interwoven delusions. The first, as I have been saying, is the delusion that one vote counts. It doesn't. End of story. Oh, all right, if you want to go beyond that, if you are determined not to think about that topic, if you insist on taking the leap of faith and voting, because of stupidity or emotional fragility or fear of social disapproval or greed for power, let's pretend. Let's pretend you have enough political influence to sway the vote one way or the other. Should you vote Democrat or Republican? Does anyone delude himself to the extent that he thinks his political influence can make the Libertarians or the Greens or the Independents into a majority party? Let's ignore him. Does a vote - no, ok, we're pretending you've got thousands, what, maybe millions of votes? Does going for the Donks or Pachyderms make any real difference?

So now we get to the issues. What we care about:

Drug war. Democrats have to be better on this, right? The Republicans are the "social conservatives". Wrong. Bill Clinton doubled the number of people in jail for marijuana crimes. No powerful politician supports drug rights. Chucky Schumer and Joe Biden are some of the most ferocious drug totalitarians. Putting Dems into power would not change the drug war perceptibly. After all, it got going under Roosevelt - a Dem - and was cranked up tremendously under Kennedy and Johnson. The neo-Puritan consciousness purses its lips with disapproval at those skanky heroin addicts and tries to forget its hash parties in the Sixties.

Taxes Republicans, right? Sure. Under Reagan the government expanded as much as it did under any two-term Democrat. Whenever a Democrat tries to crank up taxes, as Clinton did in 1993, he gets hammered at the polls. But our wonderful democratic system allows a slow, inexorable increase in the money going to government, and therefore its power.

Political correctness Republicans will take care of this, right? Sure, they'll prevent the drift toward neo-Puritanism? They wouldn't , for instance, let a bill go through that mandates tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money for "disabled rights". Wrong. Bush 41 did, and he lent his support to the ridiculous Rio Summit. And the notion of "family leave" under penalty of law? Wrong again. Bush 41. The idiocies of recycling and wetlands confiscation and pollution controls never seem to get better no matter who's in power. They just keep ratcheting up, choking entrepreneurship and property rights. The present regime has not done anything to stop the war on smokers or the racism of "affirmative action".

Defense Well, surely, the Republicans will go after those Islamofascists like the Dems never would, right? Sure. Like Reagan did anything about the blowing up of the Beirut US embassy and the Marine Barracks. Like Bush 41 knocked off Saddam. Like Nixon crushed the North Vietnamese. Even Bush 43 has been hogtied by the hysterical UN-lovers and those in his own party who don't want to make the French or the Germans or the Mauritians mad. Oh, yes, Mauritius is on the Security Council this year. It's an island group in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar with fewer than one million people. Think Orlando without Disneyworld. I have no confidence at all in the Republican vision of national defense. The Republicans are cheap isolationists. The Democrats are wimpy appeasers. Neither way works very well.

Abortion Now if abortion rights are your hot button, you'd have to vote for the Dems, right? Hmm. Roe v. Wade happened under Nixon. Since 1972 Republicans have had the White House for eighteen of thirty years. The result? No change at all in abortion rights. Anti-abortion terrorism has arisen and has not been dealt with any better by Democrats than Republicans.

Crime Both Dems and Repubs have fumbled around trying to blame crime on drugs, poverty or social incivility. The improvements of late haven't had much to do with either party's policies. The bipartisan impulse, also known as the bandwagon effect, makes sure that any effective measure is trumpeted by pols of both parties. Perhaps only capital punishment is identified more closely with the Republicans than the Democrats. And capital punishment is inflicted on so few of the monsters our wonderful system has produced that it's less than a joke.

I can find no key issue on which either party would be markedly better than the other, even in the vanishingly unlikely event that one party controlled the Presidency and the House and two-thirds of the Senate. And even if I could, that issue would no doubt be balanced by another just as important that the other party dealt with better.

There's another problem. Politicians lie for a living. Even if I could doubly delude myself into accepting the system as it is, I would not vote for a pack of liars. But go ahead, delusionists, vote away. It's your "right", after all. It makes you feel good. Just keep telling yourself, "It's only a game. It's only a game!"

Political rush

Despite my previous post, I have to admit I'm a political junkie. I can think of few thrills greater than watching numbers bounce back and forth election night and having the final tally come down on your side. Why - it's almost as good as football! The great example is, of course, 2000. Living in Tallahassee, Florida, election night was something special. The Capitol was surrounded by TV trucks from everywhere, from Cairo, Georgia to Tokyo. I had a trip planned for December 5, by which time I had every reason to think the election would be long over. Of course, it wasn't. The attention of the whole world was on Tallahassee, and Palm Beach. I jetted off to Cairo, Egypt, to see my sister still not knowing who won. It was especially poignant because on election night Bush had been declared the winner, Gore refused to concede, then wasn't Gore declared the winner by someone too? Ah, how quickly memory fades. So during my journey I would, every so often, see an English-language newspaper with a headline about the dramatic battle. I followed the punches and counterpunches on my sister's internet connection and CNN World. It was weird to see the Florida Supreme Court building in front of which I walked so often featured on Egyptian news. Even though I couldn't understand much of what they were saying, I did pick up references to "Al-Bush" and, of course, "Al-Gore"! Finally, I think it was on the steps outside the fabulous Egyptian Museum downtown, I saw the Cairo News with a second-coming headline, "Bush Wins". And it was just as good as if I'd been in Tallahassee jumping up and down in front of the TV screen. I looked around at the guys in dubious suits trying to get you to hire them to guide you through the museum - " A very big museum, sir!" - and watched the whirl of crazy traffic, including horse-carts and overloaded microbuses. I knew few of these people understood how much this meant to me. I knew it shouldn't, that it didn't make any sense. But the ancient victory song sang in my blood, just as when one's tribe pulled down a mammoth after losing many men to its tusks, as when the Nazi standard was blown from the Reichs Chancellery in 1945, the same feeling as when Armstrong stepped onto the Moon and when the Berlin Wall fell, hammer blow on hammer blow. We had won. Feasting and celebration!

Monday, November 04, 2002

Football, Who-ville, voting and the nature of Space

I put in a couple of comments on Rachel Lucas' blog about the futility of voting. They seem to have stirred up a bit of a hornets' nest. I swear I wasn't trolling. The principles are, to me, anyway, so clear I can't understand why everyone doesn't see them.

If you asked a football fan, "Does your individual cheering help your team to win?", he might say "yes".

"How about if you're watching the game on TV?"

Most fans would easily if somewhat ruefully admit, no, their individual cheers, however raucous, do not have any real effect on whether Randy Moss catches the critical touchdown pass if they're watching on a screen from a continent away. If you asked a fan at a game, though, he might contend that he was having an effect.

The appropriate cliché might be "The crowd is the twelfth man!!" or something more pungent if the beer were freely flowing. But even if you ran across a rational, thoughtful football fan -OK, no sarcasm - he might well say, "I am fully aware that my cheers, however hoarse they make me on the day after, do not really have any effect on the team, when thousands of other individuals are cheering. My one voice is drowned out. If I should suddenly go mute, no one would really notice. But that doesn't matter!" he might protest, "I don't really do it for that. I do it because it makes me feel good. I cheer because the team is doing well. The team isn't necessarily doing well just because I cheer." He would then walk away, looking back at you reproachfully with that look that says, "Party Pooper!!". The psychology of sports spectatorship is intricate and full of interesting angles. The point is, though, that it is easy to get caught up in crowd enthusiasm and make invalid judgments.

Our American mythos is full of such enthusiasms. The guru of our mythology is no doubt Theodore Geisel, the inimitable Dr. Seuss. And the crowning glory of his theology is, with even less doubt, "Horton Hears a Who". In this work, Horton the Elephant becomes aware that a thistle blossom contains a whole little town of "Who's", tiny creatures who are, none the less, human. The thistle is about to be eaten or burned or something by some awful creatures, no doubt Republican, who profess not to be able to hear the town full of creatures shouting "We are here!!" Horton tries his best to rouse the Who's to their loudest shouts, but is giving up in despair. The little Who-ville is about to become collateral damage. Every little Who is screaming at the top of its lungs. The Who-bureaucrats are frantically searching through the town for anyone who might not be contributing to the noise level. Then, finally, just before disaster strikes, one little sick Who-kid is roused from his bed and manages to utter a "Yawp!"

This one little sick "Yawp" did the trick. The noise passed a critical threshold and the awful creatures do hear it and do have a heart or enough of one to refrain from eating or burning or whatever the Who-ville thistle. The lesson is clear. Even your tiny sick little "Yawp" of a vote can save the entire community. So get out there and "Yawp!" or bear the guilt of being responsible for mass destruction. It's a nice story, but does it have anything to do with reality?

I don't think so. One vote/yawp has never really saved any community from anything. The nature of voting is that of football. It feels good to cheer for your team. If your side wins, you glow with satisfaction, despite having contributed nothing, even if you're watching from a thousand miles away. You've taken a stand, you've put your yelling where your mouth is and by gum the tailback skittered through the metaphorical hole off-tackle and scored. Tonight I shall watch the Dolphins play the Packers at historic Lambeau Field and root for the Packers, for no very good reason except memories of Paul Hornung and Bart Starr and admiration for Brett Favre, none of whom I've ever met or am ever likely to have any real effect on.

Going to the ballot box isn't as exciting as passing through the hallowed doors of Lambeau Field. My memories are less glorious than those of the Packers. I remember Gene McCarthy, whom I wasn't old enough to vote for, but I worked for, or McGovern, whom I blush to admit I did vote for, even for Jimmy Carter, whom I voted for because I could have sworn I heard him promise something called "zero-based budgeting", which would return the government to zero expenditure every year, and which sank without a trace in the Washington morass. Since 1980, after reading Harry Browne's "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World", I haven't even been tempted to vote. I was convinced that my one vote could not and did not matter as a political act. I was aware that voting had other benefits. My sister told me, "If you don't vote, you can't complain!" So there's a reason to vote, so people will let you complain!? And I knew that if I ever wanted to run for political office, or get a job from a politician, it would be better if I voted. And who should run for President in 1992 but Harry Browne, who had spurned voting for decades. And that didn't help him, not that he had a chance anyway, on the Libertarian ticket. I guess he just got bored being free.

So I could vote. It would be easy. People would approve. Maybe I could work in a campaign, meet women. But I would always know that what I was doing was nonsensical. And it would be hypocritical, given the way the system is set up. My problem always was that my vote/yawp was NOT going to be the one that pushed the Who-voice over the critical edge and saved the community. There was no chance. I'd have to vote Republican, because the Democrats are no better than failed Communists and voting for any of the small parties would make my hypocrisy even more obvious without the saving grace of allowing me to claim the benefits of being a partisan of a major party. The problem is not whom you vote for. The problem is voting.

But, as Rachel and duToit have pointed out, what else do you do? How do you govern a polity? And I don't know. I just know voting has proven incapable of preserving freedom and keeping the size of government to a reasonable level. So that brings me to the nature of space.

Somewhere in my lost blog-archive I talk about my problem, my insoluble dilemma relating to space. In a nutshell, space is supposed to be empty. And yet we say that it separates bodies. And this cannot be. It is and it is ridiculous. You have the moon, for instance, and 240,000 miles of emptiness and then you have the Earth. But why isn't that the same as saying that the Earth and the Moon are right smack dab together? The language is impossible. "Separated by nothing"? But that means "together". And yet, no, we see one body over here, one over there. And in the middle? Nothing but far away stars. So that little problem is as vexing as the impossibility of voting for a society that would do away with the idiocies of voting. I have no other interpretation to suggest, but I cannot deny the existence of a conundrum. And, who knows, maybe that's a good thing. If I thought I knew everything, I would be insufferable.