Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Your Daily Muslim: Europe & Islam

Your Daily Muslim: Europe & Islam

I follow Murtada Shah's blog pretty regularly, and I wanted to comment on it in a more expansive way than I could in a comment.

He says "From one perspective, Muslims are taking a severe hit in Europe, but I'd place at least half the responsibility, if not all, squarely on our own shoulders." I'd keep it to half. The other half goes to a culture (a collection of sub-cultures) that has failed to adopt ideas that flowed in its own midst probably two-hundred years ago. Religious tolerance is not unknown in Europe. Cultural diversity is not unknown. The separation of church and state is not unknown. Indeed, those ideas were first spawned there, though they never took root, as they did in America. Europe has a hostile attitude toward aliens, plain and simple. The Muslim experience in Europe is not new; it was once called the Jewish experience, and look what happened to them!

Simply put, Eurpope has, as it did in the time of Rome, a strong "Cult of State." Back in the old Roman Empire, one could worship any god one wished to, so long as one honored the Emperor over all (other) gods. So long as one participated in the Imperial ceremonies when it was called for, one could continue to worship one's own gods without interferance. This was a problem for those whose gods demanded to honored alone, such as the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jaccob (and Ishmael?).

Jews had the advantage of being a small and stubborn minority. They were often given an exception to the requirements, being required to pray for the Emperor, rather than to the Emperor, as others were required to do. Not so for early Christianity, which grew too much for it to be anything but an enemy of the State. Now, Christianity was corrupted when it was co-opted by the State, in the person of Emperor Constantine, and so became a part of Europe's cultural heritage... unless, of course, you are a heretic. In Europe, so long as you follow a watered-down version of Christianity that places the State above God, you can be accepted. Any other sort, and you are shunned. France claims to separate Church and State, but from what I hear, what they actually do is subordinate Church to State. Islam, of course, cannot be tolerated under these circumstances.

Aliens who come to the US can generally make a place for themselves here. Immigrant districts are tolerated, and when they prosper, they are even celebrated, such as the China Towns scattered across the West Coast. There are, of course, ghettos with higher crime rates due to a disfunctional reaction to different circumstances, but that's nothing new in our experience. It started with the Irish, moved on to the Italians, on through a kaleidescope of immigrant groups that had a difficult time adapting their culture to the circumstance of freedom. If there's a bunch of North Africans, Arabs, or Turks in a particular section of town, causing problems for themselves, the city will likely wring its hands, the police assigned to that district will probably be a frightened group, but its nothing new. The only group that has failed to integrate is the group that was brought here against their will.

This is because we don't "integrate" them. We have no official programs. Though freedom erodes in this country, traditionally, we have said, "You may come here, but don't expect a free ride." We have no official language teaching programs, no official cultural indoctrination programs, no requirement except that the people that come here respect our laws, and our laws are traditionally matters of personal justice, of protecting the rights of individuals against the encroachments of others, both foreign and domestic.

Properly, the murder that occurred recently in France and has stirred up so much turmoil ought to be regarded as a murder. The boys who are involved ought to be brought to trial and punished for murder (we'd call it first degree murder here in the States). It doesn't matter that they had some kind of "religious justification" for it. If anyone from the community tries to help them escape justice for the same justification, they ought to be brought to trial for obstruction of justice. Very simply put, it ought to be treated as a felony, not as a crime of thought, religion, or culture; however, the reaction in France shows very clearly that the majority in that country are less interested in justice than in submission to the Cult of State.

If that were not the case, then I'm sure most Muslims could integrate themselves into European society. It may take a few generations, but it could be done. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the Qur'an that justifies that killing. And if there is, I could probably find a way to justify it using the Christian Bible, as well!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Bush Considering Amnesty

I have recently learned that George W. Bush is currently planning to try to reintroduce an amnesty bill to Congress. This gets my mind whirring.

My first thought is, what the heck is Bush? Is he a Conservative, or a Liberal? He certainly isn't scoring any points with his conservative base by trying to do this. They'd probably like to kick out even the legal immigrants, if they could. He certainly won't win any liberal bleeding hearts by trying to do this, though he may confuse them for a bit. Perhaps it's that he has no political needs now. He's in his second term, and it really doesn't matter what he does. He doesn't get to be president again. Perhaps he has another reason.

Here's one possibility. Border Republicans tend to see the immigration issue differently from other Republicans, so far as I can tell. Interior Businessman Republicans probably don't care much one way or the other about the issue, so for Interior Republicans, it's probably the National Purity folks who control immigration issues. However, on the border, immigrants are often a significant economic resource. In addition, influence from more recent citizens may be felt in the Republican party of that state, meaning Nationalism is weaker there. Perhaps this is why Bush is doing this. He's trying to secure cheap labor for his original supporters back in Texas.

But there's another possibility. Perhaps he is actually being principled, now that he no longer has to be a politician.

Illegal immigration is an issue I have always been concerned about. Personally, were it up to me, immigration would be restricted only by the rate people could be checked in at immigration and customs ports. (Along with this, people who crossed anywhere but a legitimate port of entry would be treated as a foreign invader, and could even be shot on sight by military personnel posted along our borders, rather than in foreign countries.) The acquisition of citizenship is another matter, but I believe that if someone wants to live and work here, he should be entitled to do so. This country was built by immigrants, has a history as being held up as a beacon for the oppressed masses of other countries, and has long reaped significant economic benefits from a steady stream of new people. Natives tend to get fat and lazy; it's immigrants that come to work hard, and they probably value our freedom more than the natives do.

It's a hard life for an illegal immigrant. They have access to jobs only when someone is willing to risk it, they have to find ways to slip through the cracks where driver licensing is concerned, they are generally exploited as cheap labor and have nobody to turn to. They have no access to the protection of the law, because any contact with law enforcement may result in deportation. So why do they come? Why do they stay?

Because staying here illegally is often better than staying somewhere legally, especially if you desire what we call the "American Dream." I know a man who was born in a rather nasty, violent country, who went to Europe as a refugee. He was naturalized, became a citizen of said European country. Then he came here illegally. Why?

He wanted to own a business, his very own business. He wanted something he could share with his sons, a way to support his family, he wanted the pride of ownership, of being able to say, "Look at me. I have succeeded where others have failed. I am my own boss. I am a free man." In the country where his presence was legal, due to harsh government controls on business and property ownership, he could not do this. Oh, he and his family did well enough. They had a place to sleep, food to eat, decent education for their children, and his wife could stay home and take care of the children. They had access to some kind of medical care. For most of us, this would be enough. Many of my readers would probably say he was crazy to turn in that life for the one he chose, life as a fugitive from immigration law. But for him, and for many in this country, it isn't enough to have material comforts. Those things don't make one free, they merely make one a well treated slave.

So he came here, and you know what? He succeeded. He had a better chance of living his dreams here as a fugitive from immigration law than back in Europe as a citizen. Mind you, it took years of struggle and privation. His family went for some time without enough to eat, but in the end, he was supporting them well, with the work of his own hands, as a small business owner. Most Americans today probably don't understand what the big deal is; this is why I favor free immigration. This man is, in many ways, far more "American" than most people who are born in this country! He desired freedom, he acquired freedom, and we condemn him for this!

Perhaps Bush is looking at the people—these decent, hardworking people, and realizes, deep in his Compassionate Conservative heart, that it is unjust that people who have made a life here should be persecuted for it. After all, the Feds simply haven't been doing their job; how else could these people have come here so easily? How is it they remain without being caught, without even being investigated? We pass tough immigration laws, then fail to enforce them, and continue to be the best place in the world to live for those who desire freedom; can we blame them for coming here, when their home country probably persecuted them for that desire? Don't tell me about not "respecting the law." Laws exist to serve the cause of justice, and since this situation is unjust, the laws ought to be changed, and the victims of the unjust law granted relief.

Monday, December 06, 2004


A response to the above.

A friend of mine recommended I read this, and at this time, I am glad I did. At first, this article angered me. The writers' attitude displays a typical hostility toward suburban and rural types, the sort typified by the following:

Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers.

The whole thing goes on like this. If you, being offended by the attitude these people have toward small towns and rural areas, fail to read the whole thing, you might miss the ending:

These, of course, are broad strokes. We all know that not everyone who lives in the suburbs is a raving neo-Christian idiot.
Gee, thanks. I feel so much better now. I'd drop points from this paper, were it not made clear throughout that this is not intended for people who are not part of the club. It's a call to action and redefinition for liberal urbanites, not a retort to the other side. Though I find this sort of hateful arrogance offensive, it does nothing to dilute their message.

Don't get me wrong. I consider myself to be a liberal urbanite, despite my residence in Fresno, CA (a "small town" of 500,000). I admire the cities, I admire sensible, clean high-density living. I hunger for high-capacity data lines, the ability to get everywhere with my feet alone (whether those feet are on the sidewalk or the floor of public transit), and I recognize just how painful the car culture really is (not that I have much of a choice around here). I like recycling, I am not opposed to gay marriage (though I'm not especially supportive, either), I think abortion ought to be legal (whatever my reservations about it), and I am virulently against the Drug War. I just don't think you get anything done by calling other people "stupid."

However, once I reached the following:

In short, we're through with you people. We're going to demand that the Democrats focus on building their party in the cities while at the same time advancing a smart urban-growth agenda that builds the cities themselves. The more attractive we make the cities--politically, aesthetically, socially--the more residents and voters cities will attract, gradually increasing the electoral clout of liberals and progressives. For Democrats, party building and city building is the same thing. We will strive to turn red states blue one city at a time.
I realized what this was really about: minority politics.

When I say "minority politics," I don't mean politics having to do with racial or cultural minorities. I am referring to the sorts of ideas that I am beginning to realize are always promoted by the minority party. The further I got into this article, the greater sense I got that at this point, many Dems would prefer it if the Republicans just got out of our life and let us live as we will. Take this for example:
The lesson is simple for urban residents: Seattle shouldn't cast its lot with the rest of the state. Rural and suburban voters have shown again and again that they aren't willing to fund urban infrastructure. Throughout Washington State, transportation taxes like 2002's Referendum 51 have tanked, while anti-transit measures like Tim Eyman's I-776 have passed overwhelmingly. While that might seem like grim news for cities like Seattle, there's a silver lining: When cities set their own transportation priorities, truly urban systems (like the monorail) get funded and built, while the suburban mega-highways that lard initiatives like R-51 go unfunded. We don't use suburban roads. We can let the suburbs figure out a way to pay for them.
The impression I get is that the writers might actually think the cities can take care of themselves if they just didn't have the interferance, or even the help, of the countryside. Indeed, in this:
We officially no longer give a shit when family farms fail. Fewer family farms equal fewer rural voters. We will, however, continue to support small faggy organic farms, as we are willing to pay more for free-range chicken and beef from non-cannibal cows.
it almost seems that the writers think that the market provided by urbanites might be enough to encourage the sort of agriculture they support! Where's the call for laws outlawing the bad ag? Where's the call for a share of the nation's tax dollars to give to the good farmers? I'll tell you where that call went: it went away with the Democratic majority. Without their realizing it, the debate went from "the progressive party vs. the don't-take-my-money! party" (Dems vs. Repbs) to the "party of middle america vs. that other party" (Repbs vs. Dems). As I have said before, I have found myself with the choice between a party with convictions I don't agree with and a party with no convictions at all. Well, this article is a call for those convictions to be defined, and I can agree with many of them... if they seriously mean it.

It is obvious that the writers of this article belive that the cities can spend their money better than the countryside. The writers say repeatedly that the urban areas should, as far as possible, secede from the countryside (something that would actually be possible under the system I have described earlier, btw). They should promote their own agendas, and forget their bleeding hearts where the suffering of rurals are concerned. They should realize that the health care crisis affects those other people more than it affects urban areas, that federal welfare props up rural areas more than it does urban areas (and are, indeed, siphoning off of money from urban areas to the countryside), that federal programs like Homeland Security are spent disproportionately in irrelevant rural states, rather than being concentrated in the more likely targets and entry points (cities and borders). This all sounds so familiar...

Could it be that it sounds like the Republicans only eight years ago, who accused the Democrats of siphoning capital off of productive people and giving it to people who are not productive, encouraging them to continue to be so? It does to me. It sounds a lot like the attitude "the feds should just get off our backs" that so many Republicans had in those days. In those days, Republicans were all for shrinking a government they thought unneccesary, wasteful, and did nothing but promote urban values very much against their wishes. The Democrats were blamed for the deficit, for "tax-and-spend" policies. Well, what is happening now that they are in power? They probably spend even more that the Democrats did when they were in power!

In short, the Republicans weren't interested in shrinking the government. They only wanted control. They didn't want to end the redistribution of wealth. They simply wanted to redivert it to their own supporters. They didn't actually dislike cultural regulation. Actually, they like it quite a bit, so long as they are in control. Though laws requiring that dark skinned people, women, and gays be respected are instrusive and unwanted, many of them would gladly require at the federal level that the school day begin with the Pledge of Alligence and a prayer, and ban forms of art they find offensive. In short, they don't really want Liberty and Justice for All. What they really want is Control, just like the Democrats did, and had, for a very long time.

So, to the writers of this article I ask, do you really mean what you say? Do you really think the cities could go it on their own, and they we really should leave the country to manage itself as it will? Are you really willing to drop trade barriers to food, so the cities have an alternate source in the event that the countryside of this country goes up in smoke? Are you really willing to stop trying to regulate guns at a federal level and concentrate on keeping guns out of the cities?

Or is this just a smokescreen you're putting up since you don't really have the power to do what you want, anyway? Have you seen the error of your ways, or are you just a bunch of hypocrites, like the Republicans? You talk this way now, but what will you do when you have regained control? Will you begin the process of dismantling the machinery by which the Republicans now opress you, or will you gleefully take control of it, forgetting the rhetoric you now employ? Remember: you participated in the creation of this monster. Do you truly wish it were gone, or do you just want to get back on its back?

You say the cities need to focus on getting their own tax dollars spend on the cities. Are you willing to take the power of taxation away from the feds and, where desirable, the states, in favor of keeping local funds local? Or do you really want to concentrate all the tax dollars in the cities, believing that city money wouldn't be enough?

Personally, I think there are enough people in both of the major parties that would like to see an end to federal meddling. If they could just realize they have a common cause at the federal level, and that they need not interfere with one another at a local level, they could probably get something done. If these people would just abandon their control-freak allies and join forces, we could finally put an end to this. The larger the government becomes, the more it sucks to lose control of it. At a certain size, the losers lose the luxary of being a "loyal opposition." Let's shrink it, together, and stop meddling in each others lives.

Personally, I've always thought of myself as a Libertarian where federal issues are concerned and a Democrat where local issues are concerned. I agree that cities need decent regulation and public action, but the cities should also foot the bill. There's nothing worse than a society whose urban class has become parasitic, other than perhaps a parasitic countryside (which is a recent phenomenon). If we would just drop federal (and state) taxes to the bare minimum necessary to keep order and defend (not offend) against foreign adversaries, the cities and the countryside would get exactly what they deserve, no more, no less. If the people of the cities and the countryside could just leave alone the question of who deserves what and just trust that each can take care of itself without the other's domination or tax dollars, things would be better.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Story of B

I have encountered the writings of many incredible people over the past few years, but none resonate so greatly with my own view of humankind and what's wrong with it than the writings of Daniel Quinn. In short, his view is that there isn't anything wrong with humankind as a whole, but only with one particular culture: our culture. By "our culture," he is referring to intensive agricultural peoples, East and West. Very simply put, if you put more food into a population than it needs, that population will increase. Our lifestyle is designed to always produce more food than the population needs, so the population is constantly increasing. The problems we see today began thousands of years ago (not tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago), and are simply the result of overcrowding. The other problem is that we could see this for ourselves, if we didn't have such blind faith in our own system.

He suggests that what we need isn't simply a change in what we do; we need a change in the way we think. He doesn't know how the people that think in a new way will live, any more than the people who first began living our way could have predicted the way we live today. The change is that we need to stop thinking that we were created to conquer and rule the world, and that anything we do is excusable, and need to start living in a way that won't end up driving ourselves to extinction.

Unfortunately, this blog isn't flowing like water like I'd hope, so I'll cut to the chase.

Ultimately, the changes we need to make are no longer material changes, they are moral, spiritual changes. We have plenty of food. Indeed, over the whole population of humankind, we have always had plenty of food. How else could the human population have kept increasing as it had? Hunger, starvation, and famine are localized things, limited to specific classes which are denied food by other classes, or specific populations which are denied food by a localized crop failure, and a lack of other food sources to fall back upon.

In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for hunger. In the past, logistical difficulties could be considered an excuse—a food surplus in one place means nothing to a faraway land, due the difficulty of getting it there. But today, we have trains, trucks, airplanes, even spacecraft; there is no difficulty getting food from one place to another, when necessary. We don't need to increase production. We need, instead, to get the food where it needs to be. Probably the best way to go about this is to change the way we go about producing food.

Intensive agriculture is not good. It is probably one of the most pollutive activities we engage in, as my groundwater studying wife knows. It is an undiversified approach, meaning a crop failure is a total failure. When the whole land is covered in farmland and asphalt, a plant disease, a new insect pest, or anything that can cause a crop failure causes a famine.

Probably better is to localize food output more. Rather than relying upon "bread basket" areas to feed entire nations, perhaps we should find ways of getting more food out of other areas, and perhaps getting less food out of the "bread baskets." It might be good to leave more land completely uncultivated, so that, in the event of a crop failure, we can fall back upon the resources the wilderness provides, back on what little hunting and gathering can provide at least until a food shipment can be brought in.

Unlike Quinn, I do not consider the teachings of Jesus to be necessarily a part of the problem. Rather, I think that, were his teaching held to, we would not be in the mess we are in today. We and our ancestors hold to two different ideals: Do not murder, but love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Thus, it is okay to murder our enemies. Do not steal, but love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Thus, it is acceptable to steal from our enemies. Love your neighbor and hate your enemy—but Jesus directed us to love our enemies also! Do not murder—but Jesus directed us not even to think ill of our brothers! Do not steal—do not even covet the things of others.

Were our civilization truly a Christian civilization, we would not be in the mess we are in. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and Moses told the Jews not to steal, and yet we have stolen the land of every people we have ever encountered. Do not even curse your brother, Jesus said, and yet we have declared as unfit for life every person and every thing that is not directed toward the goal of maximum productivity. We continue to do this today—I have little doubt that the primary motivation behind the Iraq war was gaining control over their oil resources. Its the most likely reason Bush will not privatized the oil resources of Iraq: a government can always be pressured, but a private citizen can choose where he sells. The oil, owned by the government, can then be used to pay back debts to the United States, debts which, ultimately, are owed to the corporations the Bush family, and George W in particular (as well as the Saudis and Bin Ladens) have been entangled with for years.

I'm getting off the subject. If we would simply respect the property of others, we wouldn't be in this mess. We would never have reached the population level we have, because there are many cultures that actually prefer living the way they do, rather than maximizing food production. These people are inevitably swept away, though, because that which we cannot trade for we take by force.

Think about it. Back in the early days of the United States, treaties and land deeds were handed out to the native populations. Those treaties and land deeds were then ignored, and the natives expelled from their land. It wasn't ours, it was theirs, and we took it from them. If you believe in property rights, our ancestors had no right whatsoever to do as they did. It doesn't matter that they didn't know to draw up land deeds. Our land deeds merely record and specify land rights, they do not create them. The moral thing to do would have been to draw up a land deed for them, and then respected those deeds and demanded that others do the same. They would have been, of course, transferable, as all property is, and those that sold willingly (and the considerable wealth our culture generates would likely have been a considerable incentive), would not have been cheated. We'd probably still have considerable pockets of land where sustainable food production practices are practiced. There'd be no need for a national park system; they would be the national park system, where they didn't end up adopting our ways.

But, instead, we stole, and we continue to steal. There's something else we're doing today.

I recently heard a story about how a Native American population (in Canada or Alaska?) had to be relocated because the ice on the lake they normally went ice fishing on every year (a vital source of food for them) was no longer thick enough to support their weight. The culprit: global warming.

Now, suppose one of our own farmers noticed that his land wasn't producing the way it had in previous years. Suppose he discovered that the reason was that a nearby farmer was engaging in a practice that not only poisoned his own land, but the first farmer's, as well. He would have standing to file a civil suit against this other farmer, demanding that he cease his activities and/or pay reparations for his actions.

Yet we as a culture readily dismiss the claim that when our activities harm someone who is NOT of our people, it's not our problem. What is the difference, where justice is concerned? Is it that we are so callous and indifferent a people that, without judges and officers, we will quickly fall upon one another in a predatory fashion? That can't be the case, since we established those authorities in the first place.

Hah! My first real ramble in years. Now, where was I going with this?

Don't get me wrong. I think there is a place in the world for our style of civilization, I just don't think the entire world is that place.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

High Tech Barter

I have been considering what a financial system without a "legal tender" would look like. Obviously, it would be barter based, and everybody who is anybody would look at that idea and hold their nose. We all know the benefits of high finance; our economy couldn't function without it—or could it? Journey with me into a fantasyland (or is that science fiction?) of high finance, by high tech barter.

Suppose you work at a factory, say a Capri Sun plant (as I once did). Today, you go in to work, work your eight hours, and go home. You then pick up a check, written in dollars, every two weeks. You then spend those dollars on food, clothing, rent, and whatever else you want or need. Those dollars are backed by the legitimacy of the United States Government, and nothing else. Their value is determined by the combined policies of the United States Congress (who affect it through taxation and spending) and the Federal Reserve (who affect it through the manipulation of interest rates).

Now, imagine there is no "dollar." Imagine, instead, that you have to get paid in Capri Sun. That seems a real inconvenience, since you probably don't have much room in your home to store the stuff, and the time required to sell it off would likely be prohibitive. And without a medium called the "dollar" to smooth that transaction, it's all barter. And since your factory probably makes enough Capri Sun to quench the thirst of an entire state, it likely would have little value in your hometown, making you rely on traders, which is cumbersome... it's all very difficult.

However, you don't necessarily have to be paid in the stuff itself. Instead, you could be paid in "Capri Sun Dollars," or something like that. They'd probably have an expiration, which would preferably be connected to the shelf life of the product. Now, you can store a lot more Capri Sun in your house; they can be redeemed for Capri Sun anywhere they are presented. Shipping them would be easier; you could ship them via first class mail, and let traders and companies worry about getting the product around. But, you still have to trade it yourself...

But how bad would that be? I'd bet there'd be some people who would love the opportunity to try their hand at trading. And in this day and age, they wouldn't even have to leave their home to do it; there'd be plenty of places on-line to do it. They'd just deposit their Capri Sun Check with some financial transmission institution (who'd take a small cut for their service in maintaining the integrity of their network), and transmit it to "bigbarterplace.com" where their Capri Sun share would be registered, and they could engage in an exhilerating round of trading. Ebay is already positioned to do this kind of business; they'd just have to allow bids to be in terms of something other than dollars, and act as a sort of "holding center" for product shares. It'd probably be a lot of fun for some folks, and would result in a vibrant economy.

But for some, bartering isn't exactly their cup of tea. For these folks, we'd have "barter banks." Banks would once again be in the business of issuing their own currency, and would employ barterers of exceptional skill whose sole purpose would be to trade and trade and trade, attempting to accumulate a good quantity and variety of stuff for the bank. People who don't want to barter would go to a bank and deposit their commodity checks; the bank would issue them bank notes in return. They'd probably either have partner stores, or run stores of their own, at which these notes could be spent. They would serve the purpose that "legal tender" currently serves, and the best part is that no central administrative body could influence the system in any particular group's favor (particularly its own). The market would determine any and all prices. If some chain of banks attained a monopoly, that would only smooth the system out even more, but if the monopoly became abusive, people could go back to bartering. They'd still have their commodity checks, and could bypass an abusive system.

So what would government officials get paid in? Well, we refer back to my discussion on a Senate elected by contributors, and the logical conclusion suggests itself: political influence via the Senate.

"Government notes" would be paid to any employee with access to a market in which those notes could be traded. They'd also be paid to any suppliers, whether they be the ones providing office chairs for the bueareaucracy, or bullets for the military. These individuals and companies would then trade these notes on the open market like any commodity note, and anyone with a political bone to pick would very likely be willing to buy it. The value of these notes would be directly related to the demand for seats on the Senate, which would be influenced by how badly people want to tell other people what to do, or else.

The thing is, all the resources the government could acquire would be voluntarily given in exchange for government notes. The government could print them like mad, and all they'd end up doing is inflating the value of government notes, unless there was a real demand for government action. It wouldn't affect the rest of the economy much at all, since the only thing a holder of that note is guaranteed is the right to vote for a Senator, proportional to the number of notes held. In a society that loves government action, notes would likely trade like dollars. In a society that doesn't, they'd be just another low-value commodity.

It's an interesting thought. I'd like to know yours.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Republicans and Democrats

I have long considered the question of which of America's major political parties I should join. Shall I join the Republicans or the Democrats? It's a harder question than one might think.

I believe in the equal protection of civil liberties, but whose civil liberties? Because, when it comes right down to it, joining a party means chosing a side. Shall I consider the civil liberties of the religeous right over those of others? Then I should be a Republican. Or am I more concerned about blacks, or immigrants? Perhaps I should vote Democratic. The rich are a minority who's rights are always at risk in a Democracy, so I should vote Republican. But then again, the Republicans are generally insensitive to women's rights, so I should vote Democratic. Which party shall I choose? Because neither is concerned with civil liberties in general, only pitting some groups against some others.

What about the economy? It used to be that if one cared about economic liberty, one voted Republican. But can there be any liberty in a system which favors shareholders over anyone else? Perhaps I should be a Democrat. This one is the easiest one to dismiss both parties over. The Democrats tend to raise taxes and spending. Republicans may lower taxes, but they end up raising spending anyway, handing most of it over to their supporters in the defense industries. Sometimes I wonder if they do this knowing full well the Democrats will be in power soon and raise taxes for them. Republican-style economic liberty is nice, so long as you accept an economy dependent on and subordinate to the military-industrial complex. Then again, the Democrats aren't planning anything different.

How about foreign policy? Which do I choose, a party that is composed of representatives from the defense industry, a religious element that considers the United States of America to be a holy nation with a mission to punish sinners and keep foreigners out, and an element that blindly follows them—or the party that nominates a man who insincerely mirrors the Republicans' nominee? Shall I vote for a party that has convictions I don't believe in, or a party that has no convictions at all? I might have voted for Howard Dean, on his anti-war stance alone—but that's not what the Democrats are about. The Republicans may be composed of people who blindly follow a cabal of men from the defense and energy industries, but the Democrats seem to blindly follow men who will say anything to get elected.

I've been considering this question for over eight years now, and have not found a satisfactory conclusion. However, the Republicans and the Democrats are NOT the only options available.

I am happy to announce that I have officially joined the Libertarian Party.Link

Friday, November 05, 2004

In Search of a Monotheist Synthesis

Lately, I've been taking the studying of religious texts and praying rather seriously. I have found myself in the company of a wife who is equally inclined to do so (meaning she didn't do so before this, either), and have come to the conclusion that just because one can't be absolutely sure about anything in this area, that doesn't mean one can't behave in a way concordant to that which one is reasonably sure of. After all, engineers successfully used Newton's Laws for centuries, and that didn't turn out to be any sort of Absolute Truth. It was just True Enough For Our Purposes. And I think the existence of a One True God is reasonable enough to act according to.

The upshot of this is that I'll be blogging about religion, as well as politics, in this space. I may even stop blogging about games, which I am starting to think a bit fruitless. This isn't my old Weekly Ramble. So this space will likely take a more serious tone.

The thing is, I have never trusted any Organization of Men to be the sole possessor of the Truth and the People of God. I look around, and I see many people proclaiming the worship of God, people from all over the world, many with different historical backgrounds. I'm talking about Jews, Christians and Muslims, Zoroastrians, Stoics, possibly Brahman Hindus (forgive my ignorance), Sikhs, and so on. I look at the traditions and texts of these peoples, and see similarities. I see decent people in all these groups, and I see really cruel and evil people in all these groups. I can't believe that, for example, God loves all who call those Christians, no matter what they do and think, but hates all who call themselves Muslims, no matter what they do and think, or vice versa, or Protestants and Catholics, or Jews and Everybody Else, or anything like this. The very idea goes against the very core of my being.

I also can't believe that, outside that group of people descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, that the whole world was without any road to "Holiness" (whatever that means), before news of Jesus reached them. I see forms of Monotheism which have sprung up throughout the world and have had features similar to "Judeo-Christianity;" why can these not have been God's way of reaching out to other people? Shall we condemn Others simply because they are not Us? Shall we place the Cult of Nation over the Worship of God?

All this could well be based upon my own ignorance. Seeing surface similarities, I am inclined to lump them together as different people from different places and times, all honestly seeking God. Perhaps I could be wrong. I intend to deal with that ignorance. In the future, I'll be blogging about my experiences studying various religious texts. At present, I am working on the Qur'an.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Redrawing Democracy: The First Defender Revisited

Recently, I've taken to studying up on the history of Islam. In the process, I found myself wondering how a "two branch" government could be constituted, one which lacked a Legislative branch, due to the existence of a corpus of laws (such as the Shariah, if I am spelling it correctly) which a nation believed sufficient for all things, interpreted properly. And, of course, law is interpreted by judges. Most Islamic lands had a traditional body which did just that (which argued continuously over how liberally to interpret the Qur·’an and the Shariah), which, due to the strength of tradition, was a real power to be reckoned with by the rulers of those lands.

With the preexistence of such a body of men, and the preexistent of such a body of law, the only question that remains is how to constitute an executive branch. While thinking on this, I came up with what I think of as a rather novel idea. The basic idea behind it is, rather than directly electing a chief executive, and making all his underlings appointive, why not instead elect the underlings, and have them select a chief executive for themselves?

You start by making a decision as to how large you can make a community without the people totally losing touch with their rulers. You then divide the country up into sections, perhaps using the method I described earlier, perhaps using some other common sense method. You then let them elect one person to serve as their protector, sort of a "chief executive" for that precinct. That person then becomes responsible for law and order, and perhaps services, within his area.

These people make a decision as to whom they need to be able to work with in order to do their jobs properly, say all the "captains" in a city (or even a particular section of the city), or a number of villages in a contiguous rural area. They then elect someone to be in charge of them, and he becomes responsible for the whole area, and coordinates their efforts where necessary. Their votes would, of course, be weighted by the number of people they serve (in the case where you're not trying to actually divide the country into divisions with an equal number of people).

Those people would then do the same thing the people under then did. For example, the guy in charge of a city would get together with the people in charge of nearby towns and rural areas, and *they* would appoint someone over them, on up to the point where the highest men in the country are appointing the chief executive.

What this would result in is the people that are in direct contact with the people are directly responsible to those people. The people above them are directly responsible to them. Nobody is ruled over by anyone abhorrent to them, and the directly elected men could serve as a sort of "buffer" against a chief executive gone horribly wrong.

These men would do their best to uphold the law in the places they are responsible for, but they would still have to bring the accused before a judge to actually enact punishment. "The Law" can have any source under this system (whether created by an elected legislature or handed down by a prophet such as Moses or Mohammed), these executives would still have to subject their judgments to the judgments of learned men selected by one means or another.

Anyway, I thought it was a cool idea. I do hope someone posts their thoughts (preferably about the method for creating an executive branch, rather than my ill-informed comments about religious law).

Monday, July 19, 2004

Copyright Feudalism

Imagine a feudal land, one in which land is held by a coalition of powerful lords and minor landholders. There are many other people under this system, peasants and serfs who are under the nobility. These people are unable to produce anything from the land without the permission of the nobility, and the nobility charges whatever prince they choose.

The land is recorded on deeds, but the deeds are held privately—they are kept by the owner of the land. The responsibility of defending those claims falls upon the property owners as well, which means they all maintain personal armies to defend their land. When someone attempts to work their land without their permission, they send soldiers to take everything they own, leaving them destitute.

There is land out there that nobody owns. Indeed, there is much land which is not presently in use, because it has either been farmed to the point where it was ruined, or it never had any immediate farming value in the first place. There have been peasants who have gone out to this unused—and often unowned—land, with either shovels to remove rocks, or piles of manure to re fertilize the land, and eke out a meager existence, free from the tyranny of the nobility.

The problem is that it is impossible to tell who owns the land. The deeds are held privately, and though there is usually a historical record as to who originally owned the land, one can never tell who currently owns it, if anybody. There have been many such serfs who, seeking freedom, went to what seemed to be unclaimed land, created a life there, only to be persecuted by soldiers of an owner who has neglected the land. As a result, nobody finds freedom on the free lands. Only the existing nobility can afford to even attempt to work the free land, because they have money enough to exploit it.

That's the way they like it; it binds the serfs to them very effectively, and ensures that nobody will ever emerge who can compete with them in the agricultural goods market.

Such a land exists. It is called the United States of America, except instead of land, it's ideas which I am discussing. Instead of a feudal nobility, it is the existing coalition of media corporations. Instead of serfs and peasants seeking the free lands, it is creators who, much like the founders of these corporations, seek to use historical materials (as Walt Disney did with Steamboat Bill Jr.) as a basis for their own cultural creations. Instead of privately held deeds, it is unregistered copyrights. Instead of the great mix of unowned and owned but unused lands, it is the great mass of images and sounds which might be used in everything from documentaries to music videos, but cannot because their copyright status cannot be determined except at great expense (or risked at even greater expense). Instead of soldiers, it is lawyers, both for destroying those who dare seek creative freedom, and determining what of the mix is part of the public domain.

Does anybody else see a problem here?

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Master of Magic 2

First off, an apology to my political readers (there may be two or three of you :p ). This week, I will not be talking about politics or a form of government. I have done little more than play Master of Magic this week, and have had little interest in the outside world.

I was going to talk about what I would like to see in a Master of Magic 2, and I'm glad I decided to do some research into the subject before writing this. It seems that software company Stardock, maker of the 4x space conquest game Galactic Civilizations, it testing the water to see if a Master of Magic 2 would be a profitable undertaking. To me, the answer is obvious. Get the word out, get a big company's marketing department into gear, and MOM2 would certainly be profitable—though one wonders if one can allow a big company to even touch licensed material and not screw the game up. It's a bit of a catch 22. If Stardock makes it, it'll probably be good, but will enough people know about it to make it profitable? If Atari (who owns the license) makes it, it'll probably be profitable, but would the people in charge care enough to make it good?

If you're interested, go here and post about it. Now I'll ramble on about what I'd like to see in a Master of Magic 2.

First off, don't remove anything. Don't reduce the number of wizards, units, races, or heroes because you're doing it in 3d and don't want to have to pay for the sheer number of 3d models necessary to do a game that was originally done with 2d graphics. If it can't be done in 3d on a reasonable budget, do it in 2d. It can be really nice, high resolution, animated, 2d graphics, but if going 3d means reducing content, go 2d.

Don't change the magic system. Change the magic domains already provided, and you change the game. You might as well not call it Master of Magic; please don't corrupt the brand just because it'll bring in more money to call it that. Life, Death, Sorcery, Chaos, and Nature; I can't imagine adding anything to that system, nor removing anything. One might decide to subdivide the system, or perhaps make inter-domain specializations (for example, an Elemental Earth focus that makes it easier to cast Earth Elemental—a Nature spell—and Cracks Call—a Chaos spell, since they are both earth based, but makes it harder to cast wind mastery—a Sorcery spell—and... oh, I don't know, Summon Sprites). But the Nodes system is great as it is, and I don't want to see it altered too much.

I wouldn't even change the races too much. I have read that gnolls are “useless,” but I have also read that gnolls are great if you ignore ruins and nodes, and focus on eliminating the other wizards early on, before they've developed too much beyond swordsmen and cavalry (of which gnolls are probably the best in the game). And, of course, if you eliminate a wizard early on, you get their cities, and can use those cities to develop more advanced armies while your gnolls continue to harass the other wizards.

Don't remove spells. I'm sure one might have concerns about play balancing, but I suggest one of two approaches. If one simply is too lazy to really put the effort into balancing the rather large number of possible spells (and possible strategies and exploits), don't bother grabbing the license. Just make a non-MOM fantasy style civlike game. However, the other possibility is to allow the player(s) to remove spells before the game begins. Just provide an interface by which the players in a multiplayer game can haggle over what spells they will allow and what spells they won't, and let them run with it.

Now, as to what I would add. First requirement is obviously updated graphics, sound that works on modern machines, and better AI. Please don't replace the music wholesale. I can't hear it now, on my modern machine, but I remember it being pretty cool. As to AI updates, simple things like having the AI actually move about strategically even when there is a city wall (sending cavalry forth to fight a bit before returning to the fortress, if such can be done so with the possibility of them escaping alive), making it smarter about having their spellcasting heroes use their missile attack rather than cast spells under certain situations (like a node battle), and a better simulation of diplomatic behavior would do it. Another thing that would be nice is to have different levels of difficulty be based upon different levels of intelligence and aggressiveness, rather than relying so much upon production bonuses and absolute gang-up situations. Watch your people who are totally new to the 4x experience play, and make the computer act like them (less efficient exploration algorithms, squandering of resources, novice tactical mistakes, etc.) Give your Impossible level access to the nastiest exploits the players can find—and don't even *make* the Impossible level until the game has been out for a bit, and the worst exploits (the ones you don't intend to patch) are found. Release it in an update.

One poster at Stardock's Galactic Civilizations forums said something about more than just two planes. I think this is a great idea, but unless the extra worlds have more to them than a palate shifted color scheme and more space to colonize, I'm not really interested. We need more races for each plane, more terrain types, more wizards, etc. All this is more graphics, more play balancing, more work. If Stardock is really up to it, I'd love to see a system by which each magic domain has its own world associated with it. This is how each place would be justified.

Arcanus and Myrror would represent the intermixing of the mundane and arcane magic which defines Master of Magic. Arcanus is more mundane, Myrror more magical, but both contain elements of the other plane, since magic exists in both. These two worlds would remain mostly as they were in the original MOM. Towers would continue to be the chief door between the planes of Arcanus and Myrror.

Nature magic would have an “origin” plane. This plane would be inhabited by faeries, wood elves, maybe stone giants (all summonable creaturs from MOM, except wood elves), maybe beastmen, and other races appropriate to such a setting (two more would be good enough). It would be hostile to organized settlement. Plains would spontaneously change to forests and swamps, limiting food supplies and population sizes. Rampaging monsters would be very common. On the other hand, nature nodes would be 3x in power (while other nodes would have no power whatsoever).

Chaos magic would have an “origin” plane. The landscape would have lots of hills, mountains, and volcanoes. Inhabitants would include wild elves (or gray elves? gotta have some kind of elf in every world), maybe dwarves and trolls, possibly fire giants, definitely efreet, etc. Spontaneous volcanoes would threaten settlement, as well as the rampaging monsters (Hydra and Great Drakes would be a disturbingly common sight).

Sorcery Magic would be a plain of mostly islands (if not a great cloud kingdom), and high mountains would characterize these mountains. Djinn, Najas, sea elves, and others would populate this domain. Freak storms (air elementals) and sky drakes would threaten organized settlement, as would the common lack of dry land.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with Life and Death magic, if anything. Though one can imagine conquering the elemental worlds, how does one enter the world of the dead without actually being dead? Obviously, angels and demons are summoned from somewhere, but how can one tread the world of The Gods (and indeed, they do exist in MOM, since they occasionally give an artifact as a gift). Perhaps this whole thing makes the idea of creating the Magic Planes a bad idea. Or maybe one need only leave out the realms of life and death. Or maybe neither is necessary; perhaps there is a way to do it that is cool, and I haven't thought of it.

One possible way transitioning between the worlds could work is to have magic nodes, much like towers in the first MOM, be distributed evenly between the worlds. The nodes could be the doors between the worlds. Perhaps other types of nodes wouldn't even exist in the magic planes, but rather more of that plane's type of nodes would exist, unlinked to the other worlds. Under that situation, the nodes could be regularly powered (or perhaps double powered like in Myrror), and the reward is access to more nodes in the magical worlds.

The races that correspond to summoned creatures in Arcanus and Myrror would be designed under the assumption that, when you summon a creature, you're getting basically a random group, the “spearmen” of that race (unless the picture very clearly defines a sword, as in the case of fire giants). Actual military units would be potentially even more powerful, though they could only be used on their home plane at cost, which would be high, in gold, and perhaps even in food (like giants). If one wanted to use them on Arcanus and Myrror, one would have to enchant them with a survival spell... every bit as expensive as the summoning spell. The same could be true of units native to Arcanus and Myrror—they could not go through a node without a special elemental survival spell being cast, something that enables them to pass through a volcano into a world of blazing heat, or swim through eldritch waters to the other side of the sorcery node, or disappear, mist-like, into the wild world of the nature node.

But, all this is purely optional. If it's going to bog development, keep it to a slightly updated MOM. Maybe save all that fancy extra stuff for MOM3, if MOM2 is successful enough to justify doing an experiment that may potentially destroy the franchise (as MOO3 seems to have done).

While we're on 3d graphics, how about 3d gameplay? When you've got a combat involving flying creatures and land creatures, it just might be cool to have aerial dogfights and such between angles, demons, cockatrices, units of griffon riders, and such. Maybe even give flying units different maneuverabilities, looking to Master of Orion (2) for examples of how this can be implemented. Make the less maneuverable units also less hardy, able to have their wings clipped. Give them altitudes, and differing levels of advantage depending on whether they are higher or lower. Heck, while we're at it, do the same with hilly and mountainous terrain for ground units. Having the high ground is always an advantage, particularly if you have bowmen in the group. Castle walls can do the same thing.

If not other planes, then how about other areas of the game world? Wouldn't it be neat to have to deal with merfolk and fishmen at the bottom of the sea? Or how about a subterranean realm? Though the extraplanear gameplay seems a bit threatening to me (as something that could seriously ruin the game if done wrong), these areas seem like natural extensions of the existing game, perfectly appropriate to a sequel.

More places to live means you need more wizards, both more options to play with and more competing in the game itself. I was always disappointed with only four opponents (accustomed to seven in Civlization), and if you have loads of other places to go, you definitely need to potentially have competitors in those places.

And, of course, multiplayer mode. At the very least, one should be able to play turn by turn hotseat mode, by email, or over a network (including the Internet, of course). Maybe set up a way to easily hook up with other players, if not running a server themselves, then at least providing a program which interfaces with the game. Timed simultanious turns should be implemented. And while talking about this with my wife, I came up with another idea: the bathroom break button. You hit it, the other players agree to it, and the game is totally paused (ensuring nobody is penalized by answering the call of nature.)

Yes, I am very excited about Master of Magic 2. It should be very cool.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Herbivores, Carnivores, and Nuclear Weapons

So here I am, reading a fascinating book called King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Z. Lorenz, when I find myself thinking about nuclear weapons. What's the connection, you say? Well, I'll tell you.

King Solomon's Ring has little to do with the legend that King Solomon, rather than speaking “also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes,” he spoke “also with beasts, and with fowl, and with creeping things, and with fishes...”, using a magic ring. Rather, it has to do with a man, the author, whose study of animals lead him to a profound understanding of the communications animals have with one another, the combination of instinctive automatic reactions to moods and learned attempts to influence another's behavior. The chapter I am reading is entitled “Morals and Weapons,” in which he discusses the nature of intra-species confrontations, between wolf and wolf, or dove and dove.

He describes beasts with hunting weapons as having remarkable restraint. A wolf will never bite the outstretched neck of a rival, nor a crow peck at the eye of another crow. The reason is obvious. If they did not have such inhibitions, the species would quickly disappear. I am reminded of human warriors, from extensive lines of warriors, well practiced in their weapons, who are capable, in all but the most extreme of circumstances, of settling very angry conflicts with a dual that ends with the cry, “I yield!”

He also spoke of herbivores—of hares, of doves (that ubiquitous symbol of peace), and of roe deer. These are animals which don't possess the weapons of a carnivore, but rather an extraordinary ability to escape harm. If one witnesses a battle between two of these, one can't help but think it couldn't help but be more civilized than the more heavily armed. In captivity, however, their true colors show. For while a wolf would never murder another wolf (or at least, very seldom), if you cage rival herbivores in close proximity, you see that they have no such inhibitions. Lorenz put two turtledoves into a large, roomy cage, went on an errand, and when he returned, found the larger of the two standing over the smaller, the lower one plucked and bloody. Had Lorenz not intervened, the smaller surely would have been killed.

The reason these have no inhibition is also obvious, once one thinks of it. Ordinarily, such confrontations end with one fleeing the other and, when a herbivore wishes to flee, there is generally little the pursuer can do about it. There is no need for inhibition; the ability of the loser to evade damage is far greater than the ability of the winner to cause it. Cage the two, and the loser cannot flee, and the winner has absolutely no concept of sparing the loser, the species having not had a need to evolve such a mechanism.

Where do humans come in? Well, we have two stereotypes of people with weapons: the honorable warrior who would spare an enemy who has surrendered, and the vicious murderer who would flay alive one who screamed for mercy. I would like to advance a theory regarding how these two things occur.

First, you have man in a more primitive state. His chief weapons are fists, sticks, and stones. The population density is such that a confrontation can be ended by the loser fleeing the scene, and the winner claiming his territory. This may describe man at his earliest stage of development, as well as men, in our own era, who still live in the countryside and, if they do have guns, at the very least, when they fire them, they fire them to drive off a rival, rather than killing him. So long as a conflict can end with the loser fleeing, these conflicts can remain relatively bloodless, though the newer brain-based mechanism allows more accidents with newer brain-developed weapons than ancient instincts honed on a biological weapon.

Force these people into the city, and a bloodbath quickly ensues. Every murderous urban underclass that has ever existed has always been a recent, and usually unwilling, migrant from the countryside, whether it be the urban poor of pre-American England or the minority urban poor that haunt the “bad side of town” to this day. These people are every bit as dangerous to their fellow men as flock of doves forced into captivity. Having no experience with the power to kill one who cannot escape, their anger finds no barrier. Attempting to beg for mercy just might be a bad idea, though I am not sure. I have never been in such an encounter.

Fast-forward to the urban warrior, one who has weapons which have been in existence for some time and yet remain the best one can have, and also comes from a family line which has lived under such conditions for generations. Now you might find a code of honor, some dueling system with a clear guidelines on how to proceed, how to fight, and how to end a combat without killing. When one willingly delivers himself into the hands of another, the other is stayed by a powerful cultural obligation to accept that a sufficient victory. However angry he might be with the submissive loser, his honor requires that he spare the life. Once again, the large human brain can find a way around this brain-based inhibition much more easily than the small brain of an animal can find its way around its own biologically based inhibition; nevertheless, it is created by the same kind of evolutionary pressure.

Whence comes war, then? Well, I think there are two impetus to the cruelty of war that even civilized beings are capable of engaging in.

The first is the mob mentality, that aspect of humankind that makes a group of individuals almost like an individual in and of itself. People behave very differently in groups than alone, and a human being, in defense of the group, will go to much greater lengths against an individual of the opposing group than against another individual, as an individual. One can almost analogize the conflict to the groups themselves, which wield their individuals against one another. Individuals within the groups may die in this conflict, and, once it's over, the survivors may grieve, but the groups will survive, nonetheless. When the battle looks hopeless, one group will surrender to the other, and assuming they both use the same signals, the other group will generally permit the submissive party to live.
The other is cultural in nature. Human beings are probably the least biologically diverse of all globally distributed species, and are likely less biologically diverse even than species of a more geographically limited nature. Nevertheless, we have profound differences, ones which are lodged within our brains, rather than our DNA, to the point where very biologically related human beings (an Eskimo is more closely related to an African Bushman than are lions on opposite sides of the same continent) are capable of regarding each other in a way most animals regard creatures of a different species. A band of marauders is often as dangerous to a group of defenseless farmers as a pack of lions is to a herd of sheep, for the simple reason that the two groups are so different in habit, temperament, and language (even within the same language group, inflections and slang can serve the same role) that they may as well be different species.

If we have different surrender habits, that can also cause a problem. Lorenz wrote that wild turkeys and peacocks are capable of getting into fights because they are closely related enough to recognize the other's posturing as threatening, and yet, the fight is invariably dangerous to the turkey. For while the turkey is larger and stronger than the peacock, the turkey has an evolved mechanism for deciding conflicts bloodlessly, and the peacock has no such mechanism. The turkey struts up to wrestle, the peacock takes flight and attacks from above. The turkey, unable to cope with this unorthodox technique, lays his head on the ground in a submissive gesture. Were the other combatant another turkey, he would now be completely unable to attack, held back by thousands of years of evolution which demand that he spare the loser. The peacock, however, doesn't understand. He pecks and pecks and pecks. The turkey is driven by this into further submission, prevented from escaping by thousands of years of evolution. Only intervention by another species (most likely human) prevents the death of the turkey. So it is when humans cannot understand an appeal for mercy due to difference of language and/or custom.

Human beings build weapons with their brains, not of their bodies. Humans must, therefore, develop inhibitions based upon thought, not instinct, for our instincts are based upon a creature which has nothing but his bare hands to fight with. Instinctively, we are as doves who suddenly acquired the beaks of crows and the talons of eagles, and haven't the faintest idea of their own strength. If there is to be peace, it is based upon the mind, not the body. The “soft animal within” (which a minister I know refers to so lovingly) is a clumsy brute when the mind gives him weapons which surpass those of even the greatest of predators.

On to nuclear weapons. Up to this point, whatever the inhibitions of the individuals that make up a group, the group itself has few inhibitions against fighting to the death of the individual within. At its most bestial, such conflicts are rarely destructive to the group as a whole; the rules of victory and submission can generally regulate the outcome of such battles. Genocide is the product of the individual mind, the decision that such conflicts can be brought to an end forever by eliminating the other group. Otherwise, the interplay of bravado and fear can regulate such conflicts, though they be disastrous to the individuals involved.

However, now, we have weapons that frighten even the group mind: nuclear weapons. With one fell stroke, entire cities can be eliminated. What has been the result? On the one hand, some individuals lived through the cold war in a constant state of agitation, while most, due simply to the enormity of the threat, simply did not grasp it, to the benefit of their stress levels. Though guns and bombs have made war between advanced powers more brutal, nuclear weapons have made them more seldom; the fear they evoke is simply too great. Though we may see the day when a truly nuclear war occurs, such would merely be a step on the path toward a day when even mobs treat each other honorably... that, or the human race must perish. I, for one, believe that, given the deterrent nature of the picture the imagination produces, an actual memory of nuclear war may well make all mankind as shy of total war as Old Europe is today.

Personally, I think non-proliferation is a self-serving policy by which those powers which already dominate the world through the thread of nuclear weapons deny other powers this deterrent. We are in the position now that we can invade non-nuclear powers at whim, and the best they can do is fight our troops on the field. If another power attacks us directly, however, we have the option of laying waste to their entire country, leaving nothing left to oppose us. So, we still live in a perpetual state of war. The day every bit of ground on the planet is jealously guarded by a full fledged nuclear power is perhaps the most dangerous day we will ever face. We may end up like doves with teeth and claws, pretending we can still fight as we did before, and eliminating the entire human race in the process—but, if we survive that day, the day after will be a day of true peace. The costs of war will simply be too great, and those high costs will no longer be outside the comprehension of the human animal.

And I am a gambler. I would rather stay than fold. I would rather give up the wars of non-proliferation and roll the dice that have eternal peace on one side, and nuclear Armageddon on the other. I am well aware there are many that would disagree with me on this. I wonder, however, if we can truly stop proliferation. I wonder if, given non-nuclear nations with sufficient determination, we wouldn't end up driving ourselves into bankruptcy making enemies, and then find them with nuclear weapons, anyway.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Redrawing Democracy: The First Defender

I've spoken in previous rambles about how I think revenue collection ought to be handled, and how that ought to affect representation. I've written about how I think popular representatives ought to be chosen. As a result, I now have a legislative branch designed for a new kind of government, but how is execution to be handled? What I will describe is sort of a hybrid of the British and American systems (and their immitators), with a little military dictatorship thrown in--and yet, it should be a more just system. If that doesn't make you curious, I don't know what will.

In any matter of law, of the establishment of bureaucracy that does *not* involve the use of force in enforcement, no entity other than the legislature need be involved. If a welfare administration needs to be established, which will help out the poor while watching for abuses, the legislature could simply declare the chartering of an organization, their duties, how the head of this organization is to be chosen, etc. etc., and there it is. Now there's a welfare administration. Provide it with funding from the general treasury each year, and let them do their job, investigate them if they are suspected of wrongdoing, disband them and establish another organization, or just starve them (cease allocating funds from the treasury) if they aren't any good. The one thing such a bueracratic arm wouldn't have the authority to do is jail anyone or sieze any property... under any cicrumstances.

Examples of functions that cound be done in this way is currency regulation (so long as enforcement isn't an issue), public broadcasting, creation of infrastructure, public education (so long as its not compulsory), or any other thing that simply involves the distribution of funds in payment for a nonviolent service or cause. For anything else, there is the First Defender.

The First Defender is someone who will be sworn to protect and defend the people of the state from malefactors of all kinds, domestic and foreign. He will be the dual head of both any domestic police force or investigative agencies the Legislature chooses to establish, and of any military forces the legislature chooses to establish. He will have primary authority over not only the people that serve under him, but also over the disbursment of funds within his organization. He will have authority to act only within the sphere established by the legislature, to enforce the law and defend the country from foreign invaders. War will be declared only by the legislature; it will be prosecuted by the First Defender.

He will be chosen by a particular subset of the people--all those who have ever served the state in a time of war (whether they were originally a part of the military or just a local militia that assisted), and all who have ever served under the First Defender for a time of two years. His immediate subordinates--those who report directly to him--will be chosen by him, but must be approved by either the House or the Senate. Those who will have the authority to use force within the borders of the state will have to be approved by the popularly elected representatives in the House, the people at large having the most to lose in the event of an abusive domestic police power. Those who's authority will be foreign in nature, whether they negotiate treaties, enforce them, or prosecute war in foreign lands, will have to be approved by the monetarily chosen representatives of the Senate, the monied interests of the state having the most to lose in the event of a war (wars are very expensive). If there is an officer who is to have the authority to act within and without, he must be approved by both the House and the Senate.

ANY use of force in the enforcement of the law will be done within the structure of the First Defender. The only other source of the authority to use force will be that of the substates, by whatever means established in their respective constitutions. The federal government will under no circumstances have the authority to interfere with the substates' authority to have a means to use force in the defense of their citizens, nor to posess and regulate the posession of the implements of force--weapons--save those weapons with the power to damage an area greater than their own area (ie. nuclear weapons, etc.).

The First Defender shall have a veto on any laws that will require the use of force in its enforcement.

My reasons are as follows:

Why is the First Defender chosen by veterans and longtime servicemen, and not by the people at large?

In my opinion, a virtuous citezenry stands ready to defend their country at any time. All who are able should be willing to defend their country (if not necessarily their country's "interests"), and stand ready do do so at some point in their life. If everybody did this, then the "people at large" and "those who have served" would be virtually indistinguishable. In a country that isn't like this, then people who have never served in war or even taken the chance that they might have to shouldn't take part in the selection of the supreme commander of the armed forces.

This ensures that the person who has the primary responsibility in dealing with other nations is someone palatable to people who have actually seen combat. There are two kinds of leaders who are very bad for the country. The first is someone who never served in the military, and yet postures before the nations as a great military power, insulting people, risking war lightly. Few who actually has to do the fighting want to get into a war except when there is no other choice; having servicemen and veterans elect the supreme commander can help avoid this. The other is a supreme commander who avoids war in all circumstances, permitting offenses and abuses which are simply intolerable in the name of avoiding casualties. Men who have fought for their country, or chosen to stand ready, aren't likely to choose this sort of leader, either.

The other thing that this does, though, is that it ensures a bond between the actual head of state and the rank and file servicemen. Though we enjoy a remarkable loyalty of our military forces here in the West, many places suffer under military dictatorships which are often the result of a lack of a legitimate way for civilians and military to negotiate their differences. When the civilian government does something the military doesn't like, the military just takes over. If they had some primary means of having their grievences heard legitimately, they just might use that, rather than a violent coup. Under this scenario, the relationship between the First Defender and the Legislature becomes a point of negotiation between civilian and military interests. Civilians will be unable to force an illegitimate figurehead over a resentful military, and the military will be unable (legally) to either eliminate provincial competition or sieze the resources necessary to maintain themselves.

I'll edit this post to answer any other questions I think are broad enough to invclude here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The US and the World Criminal Court

This will be a quick filler post. Sorry I'm late.

I just read that, once again, the US Government is seeking to exempt itself from prosecution under the World Criminal court. I just want to say that I have mixed feelings on this issue.

On the one hand, this is typical of anybody that has the upper hand. It is very easy for a person to say "Of course people ought to be held accountable for their evil deeds... unless it's me, of course." It is a reprehensible thing to do, to be involved in the creation of a court of law, but then do anything necessary to ensure that this law applies only to ones neighbors, and not to oneself. What conclusion can we reach but that the US expects to use the court as a weapon, and not to allow it to function as an instrument of justice?

Then again, how exactly are the members of the World Criminal Court chosen? What are their interests? One thing that can be sure is that international institutions are not democratic institutions, nor are they responsible to democratic institutions in any real sense. Will this institution actually prosecute genuine human rights abuses wherever they are found? Or is it an irresponsible body that will act only when the interests of its members are served--which are not necessarily the interests of all humankind?

In a slipshod system of international law, I think it is only reasonable for any soverign body to opt out of this system if they choose. Now, if only our own makers of foreign policy weren't total hypocrites where this concept is concerned...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Classic Ramble: From Democracy to Tyranny

The Collapse of a Republic

"It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist. In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to garandeur on the ruins of his country. In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interests of the public is easier percieved, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of corse are less protected." Baron de Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws, chap. xvi. vol I, qyoted from "Brutus" I, new York Journal, Oct 18, 1787, in the book: The Debate on the Constitution, Vol. I. edited by Bernard Bailyn.

If there is any statement about our form of government that could be considered prophetic, the first sentence of the underlined section is it. For the greatest complaint about our government, by those who bother to complain, is that we can't seem to control our upward spiraling debt. The reason for this is that every interest that has the power to do so clamours for government money, while the people typically clamour for lower taxes. Our government is ruled by both, and so we end up with the paradoxical, and self-destructive, behaviour of barely controllable spending that consistantly outstrips the money provided for these purposes.

Even in recent years, with a fantastically robust economy, and a people much more tolerant of taxation, the government barely manages to get by without borrowing further; the accumulated debt remains untouched. What will happen when the inevitable economic crash, or at least recession, occurrs? Or what will we do in the event of an unanticipated emergency of a truely national scale, a major war or something, and our credit is already streatched to the limit? Or have we become so arrogant that we believe we can anticipate everything?

"Brutus" predicted, in 1898 when the Constitution had been written, but had yet to be adopted, a number of things. The one that stands out most were his reservations on the granting of the rights of taxation entirely to the federal government. He speculated that this power would eventually allow the Federal government to absorb all the powers of the states. Because the laws of the United States are supreme, the States must ultimately be second in line for the public revenue. As "Brutus" put it: "No state can emit paper money, lay or imposts on imports, or exports, but by consent of the Congress; and then the net produce shall be for the benefit of the United States. The only means therefore left, for any state to support it's government and discharge it's debts, is by direct taxation; and the United States have also power to lay and collect taxes, in any way they please. Every one who has thought on the subject, must be convinced that but small sums of money can be collected in any country, by direct taxes, when the federal government begins to excercise the rights of taxation in all it's parts, the legislatures of the several states will find it impossible to raise monies to support their governments. Without money they cannot be supported, and they must dwindle away, and, as before observed, their powers absorbed in that of the general government."

Let's look at what's actually happened. The federal government engages in constitutionally questionable activites. The purpose of this government is to do those things the several states cannot do themselves, due to a possible conflict of interests between the several states.

These things include foreign relations; we can't have New York signing an alliance with one nation, South Carolina with another, possily resulting in civil war when the two nations go to war. They include intersate road systems, and especially rail, lest we end up with Austrailia's problem of mismatching rails. They include duties, imposts, tarrifs, since if any one state has lower import taxes than another, goods will simply flow in through the state with the lower tarrif, and then across state borders.

It could include a national system of driver licensing, since a more urban state might have higher expectations in licensing requirements than a less urban one, yet the Constituition expressly requires one state to respect the "Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State" (Constitution, Article IV, Section 1), resulting in a conflict. Internet regulation (while I find such a concept personally distasteful) would fall under this, for the same reason the regulation of commerce and taation of trade is restricted to the federal government.

Road speed regulation should not. Why should the citizens of California care how people are allowed to drive in Montana? The issue is potential loss of life and damage of property, and the risk of this is determined by local conditions. Let California have a 55 MPH maximum, and Montana have it's Montanabaugn. It's a matter of local conditions, not national interest. And yet, there was a time when we had a nationally mandated speed limit.

The methods and content of education are also not properly a matter of national interest. Why should the citizens of one stae care how the children of another state are educated? The only possible excuse is religeous and/or philosophical intolerance, a disagreement on what should or should not be taught. And the state with the best school system only benefits, gaining the best educated and potentially productive citizens. The state with the worst is the one that suffers, but the citizens of that state got what they voted for. Indeed, this is just the sort of competition that induces improvement, as one system proves to be superior to another and one state follows the lead of another. And yet, the federal government is heavily involved in the education of our children.

In both cases, it wasn't a case where Congress passed a law, the president saw that it was enforced, and that was the end of it. Rather, there was an existing law which provided money to the states for as specific purpose (the construction and maintenance of a national road system in the former case, some educational provision in the later; I'm not terribly familiar with the history of national education). They then passed a new law requiering that a new condition be observed in order for the several states to qualify for the grant, the passing of a 55 MPH maximum statewide speed limit, in the former case. This is a constitutionally questionable act, but where exists the mechanism by which to oppose it?

Typically, the constitutionality of a law is challenged in court. A citizen violates the law, challenges it's constitutionality in court, the Supreme Court makes a ruling, and, if found unconstitutional, it is overturned.

If a citizen opposes the speed law, they break not the questionable federal act, but the perfectly legitimate state law (which the state was essentially blackmailed into passing). The citizen has no standing on this issue. I can't see any way a state may oppose such an act, since, after all, it is the federal government's money, though I could well be mistaken. The only option that remains is simply to decline to accept the money, but then, in order to do what needs doing their way, they must collect taxes on top of what the feds collect, which is, short of an extreme revulsion of the federal government, a political impossibility.

This flaw in our system gives the federal government potentially unlimited power over the internal policies of the several states. This power is presently limited only by the political will of the people at the ballot box, which, due to the size of our republic, is "sacrificed to a thousand views," as Brutus mentioned earilier. The lawmakers of the several states have essentially no say in what goes on in Congress, any more than the avarage citizen does. This was not always the case.

At the adoption of the Constitution, the states had one direct link into the federal government. Senators were chosen "by the Legislatures (of the states) therof, for six years." An attempt by Congress to blackmail the several states passing specific laws would result in the several states rejecting their Senators next term around. the People at large won't do this, since nobody wants to vote against their own program, but the legislatures, which ultimately have to cope with the results of such an act, might react differently, particularly in cases where a new requirement is enacted, without providing the money to actually carry it out (which has been the case several times in the past).

With senators elected by legislatures, the several states had a voice in the federal government. However, in 1913, the 17th amendment was ratified, which transferred this power from the legislatures to the people at large. This was hailed as a victory for Democracy, but also had the unintended (or perhaps intended? there have always been those who despised the federal system, preferring a unitary one) consequence of stripping the states of their last remaining shred of soverignty. What authority remains to them exists purely at the pleasure of the federal government.

As I said before, the federal government has it's uses. It is necessary to ensure that commerce can continue and that we can resist the encroachments of foreign nations. However, there are also things which are best handled by the states, for the reasons put forth by baron de Montesquieu. Given the chance, the federal government will ursup these duties, as history has proven. If we are to retain our liberty, this must be prevented. To this end, I suggest we repeal the seventeenth amendment. Since the Sentate, presently dependent on the whims of a million voices, is unlikely to give it's independent and less accountable nature, perhaps it is time for our state legislatures to excercise a power never before excercised. Perhaps it is time to call a Convention.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Redrawing Democracy: Harnessing Capitalism

Skip to the conclusion if you want a quick summary of what this document contains.

If there's one thing most people agree upon, its that our politics has been corrupted by people with lots of money. Elections are largely decided by the economic control of mass media; he who buys the most television hours tends to win. He who fails to buy any is unheard of, and never even makes the nomination. Many politicians, in response to the fact that everybody knows our politics are corrupted by the flow of money through it, call for reforms in “campaign finance,” but they don't follow through with it. Some don't vote for it on principle, saying that “campaign finance reform” is just a sneaky way to deny speech rights to people the campaign finance reformers don't like. Others don't vote for it because it is generally only necessary to make a speech to get people to believe he is for a particular issue; few check vote records. Ultimately, it is because they are dependent upon this system; it's what got them elected in the first place.

Personally, I think that so long as we allow economic inequalities (and I think an attempt to remove economic inequalities only results in other, more sinister forms of inequality), our campaigns are inevitably going to be influenced by the money necessary to control mass media. Wherever it is possible, people with an opportunity for power are typically going to take it. People with money can pay for pamphlets, air time, a network of professional door-to-door advertisers—they can get the word out. People who wish to serve in public office can dramatically increase their chances of being elected by tapping these resources. One can make some speeches to the public about issues they care about, then do favors for the people who paid for the campaign. George W. Bush is doing it now, and elected members of our government that came before him (Republican and Democrat) have done it too.

It's even worse when a large portion of the economy is dominated by government spending. Most of the big companies have some sort of tie to our government through military contracts. These companies then hire lobbyists and contribute to campaigns, which ensures that government spending remains where it is, if not increasing. Thus, they ensure that they make even greater profits. This money can then be used to influence the politicians, gaining the companies more contracts, in a spiral of money, most of which comes not from these companies, but from the rest of the economy through taxation. Very simply put, in a roundabout way, much of the special interest money that goes to corrupt our government was originally tax money.

However, I do not believe that campaign finance reform is the answer. I think that the “free speech” argument is right. The simple fact is that people have a right to have their voice heard, to communicate in whatever fashion they see fit. If they just happen to have enough money to ensure that many more people see their communications than if they had less money, so be it. We live in a capitalist democracy, and the only way to reduce the influence of the rich is to reduce the rich. Make “campaign finance” illegal, and you only exclude the honest financiers. Those that want to buy campaigns will find a way of doing it.

Personally, I think that the problem isn't the money, but the dishonesty that accompanies it. Politicians need votes to get elected. In order to get those votes, they have to say things that people want to hear concerning what they will do if elected, what they believe, their values—and they need to be heard saying it. In order to be heard, they need money to spend on air time. In order to get money, they need to say what the people that have money want to hear. Often, these things are not the same as what is said to the people who provide the votes. So, in order to get elected, they generally have to lie to somebody. Once a person has rationalized such systematic lying, what other forms of dishonesty are they capable of? I am reminded of a movie entitled Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which a politician who is known for honest and compassionate representation turns out to be little more than a stooge to a Tammany Hall style political machine.

Once in office, politicians must take great care not to offend the national news media. Many politicians have had their careers ruined by national networks providing continual, non-stop coverage of some blunder they have made. At the same time, a politician's career can be made by continual, non-stop coverage and interpretation of their better actions. Two presidents, for example, can perform the same action: a bombing that results in the deaths of many civilians. The media's attitude toward that president decides how people see it. For presidents they don't like, it is a horrible atrocity, focused upon exclusively about every five minutes. For presidents they do like, it is downplayed as “collateral damage,” when it's mentioned at all, at this. Then, when victory is achieved, pictures of people dancing in the streets are shown. If they don't like the president, pictures of the wounded and protesters are shown. There is a wealth of pictures on all sides of any issue, and by picking and choosing the images, the national news media can influence almost totally the way people perceive the issue, and how they perceive any politician who could possibly be connected with it.

Ultimately, our politicians must contend with conflicting loyalties involved in getting elected and trying to stay that way. They must say what the people want to hear, what their contributors want to hear, and what the people who—through corporate ownerships—control the national media, want to hear. Ultimately, all they have to do, so long as they have the media on their side, is say what the people want to hear; they don't necessarily have to actually do anything about it. It isn't the money, it's the system. There are probably plenty of politicians who start out trying to do their job honestly, but the honest men are ultimately either corrupted or removed from office. The few who have a constituency that allows them to serve honestly (I'd be hard pressed to identify such a place) are very few, and numerically irrelevant where national politics are concerned.

You can't keep the money out of politics. Money is just our way of expressing the influence that comes from a contribution to a process, and taking the money out will simply result in a more direct bartering of services, off the record. No, we need not to remove the money, but to channel it in a more constructive way. My suggestion is that, rather than piling meaningless law upon meaningless law trying to pretend that our legislature is not influenced by the money that goes into its election, we instead go the other direction entirely. I suggest we literally sell one house in a bicameral legislature.

What I mean is this. Assuming we're doing this U.S. Senate style (this system is applicable to any bicameral legislature), over the course of two years, people would buy “shares” in the Senate. At the time of the election, these contributors would vote for the Senate much like shareholders vote for corporate officers. Their votes would be weighted by the amount of contribution made by the voter. Anybody who wished to contribute could do so. (I would go so far as to permit non-citizens and representatives of foreign governments to contribute.)

I would also abolish internal taxation at the federal level. This would remove the “prize” that can be won though the purchasing of elections. The government would have only the revenues made from these sales, and from tariff collection. I would hope that between a genuine desire of some to contribute to the upholding of justice and liberty, and the desire of special interest groups (everything from military supply companies, to labor unions, to environmental lobbies, and state governments) to dominate policymaking, that the government would have sufficient funds to uphold liberty and justice. At present, I think our government has far more than it needs for this, and that much of it goes against the common good, both in this country, and in many others.

First off, it would end the requirement that people with money engage in dirty dealing to protect their position from a government that would gladly steal from them if it could. No longer would they have to corrupt potentially honest men. Now they could simply hire somebody to represent their interests openly and honestly. With the influence of the wealthy concentrated in the Senate, those who wish to represent the interests of the people likely could do so without having to worry quite as much about being undercut by a less honest, but better funded politician. Those who would represent moneyed interests could do so openly and honestly, as well.

Secondly, it would divert a great deal of the money that would go to the national media under our current system. Making the media more dependent upon their customers, rather than the other way around, seems like a very good thing to me. There has been a lot of media consolidation going on in recent years. Control of the minds of the people who rely upon the media for their information is the product of a media corporation that determines most of what people see and hear. This is not a product conducive to liberty. There is little doubt in my mind that most of the news we get, the commercials we see, even many of the television shows we see are designed to create an electorate which doesn't know any better than to support those the media wishes to be supported. If the money went directly to the government, rather than enriching the major media corporations, we just might see a return to a more competitive, perhaps even a more honest, national mass media.

Finally, taking direct taxation out of the hands of the federal government would re-empower the states to enact their own local efforts. At present, the fact that the federal government takes a much larger share of the potential tax dollars in this country means that the states are reliant upon federal spending for their own revenues. Any time the federal government wants something done that it doesn't have the authority to do, it simply threatens to revoke funding for whatever state project is related if the state doesn't adopt a law having the effect the federal government would like to create. The result of this sort of thing was the nationally mandated speed limit that was in place years ago, and nationally mandated “abstinence only” sexual education at public schools (a policy which causes my home state, California, to simply give up the related federal funding).

Finally, the money that went in would be the money that came out. Election manipulation would no longer be a way to make a profit. Only those providing genuinely necessary services could expect to come out ahead of where they began.

The first thing many would say about this proposal is that it would result in handing the government over to moneyed interests. I remind them of 2 things. First off, moneyed interests already have an indeterminable amount of influence over our government. At least under this system, we would know exactly how much influence they have, measurable in dollars and cents. The second thing is that this system only sells half of the legislature. The people would still have the House of Representatives and, if anything, the easy, public, and honest access of money to the Senate would end up diverting some money away from the popular elections, resulting in a purer representation on that side, as well.

In conclusion, my proposal is to remove the authority for direct taxation from the federal government, and have representation in the Senate be directly connected to voluntary contribution to the treasury of the federal government. This would result in the honest representation of moneyed interests in the Senate, and the honest representation of popular interests in the House of Representatives. It would also result in taking Big Media out of the loop, reducing it, once again, to an outlet for ideas, rather than a creator. It just might return this land to freedom.