Freedom ain't free

A short note on “gun violence” and the idiotic tallying thereof

October 4, 2016

We are not gun people in the Blueberry Town household, but neither are we fans of gun regulation that is not closely tailored to solving a specific problem at a reasonable burden, as most proposed gun control is not. And, no, being a lover of freedom your Editor does not believe if it saves one life is ever a reason to regulate anything, even if the object of the regulation is not a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution. Freedom ain’t free, dude.

So if you believe that if it saves one life is all the reason we need to ban something, carry on. You are unlikely to give up your safety-first authoritarianism on account of this post.

Regardless, one of the reasons we end up with silly gun regulation is that the media is not, in the main, intellectually honest on the topic of “gun violence.” Urban liberals, in particular, have long been irritated that we devote massive national resources to combating terrorism but will not pass “common sense gun control.” This morning’s CNN feed brings us a typical story — American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence in one graph!

The linked story is especially precious, insofar as CNN published it because “[President Obama] asked news organizations to tally the number of Americans killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and compare it with the number of Americans who have died in gun violence.”

Seriously. That was the reason. President Obama asks, and CNN is right on it! This approach will pay huge dividends during the next Clinton administration, required kneepads notwithstanding.

But we digress.

Never mind the free-floating factoid that deaths from “gun violence,” however counted (of which more below), overwhelm deaths from terrorism. One cannot leap from that fact to what we ought to do even if one promiscuously traffics in “is/ought” violations in one’s daily life. No doubt more Americans died of “gun violence” in 1941 than at Pearl Harbor on December 7, but that was not a good reason to confiscate civilian guns that year, either.

The smoking gun — if you will — in the story is CNN’s use of the “gun violence” metric promoted by anti-gun activists, of which Barack Obama is now the leading light. It is a grossly inflated number, because it includes suicides, which account for more than 60% of the total per CNN’s own data. Even those of you who deny Hume’s guillotine and believe that the fact that there is “gun violence” inexorably means that we ought to enact “common sense” gun control cannot possibly believe that we will meaningfully reduce suicides even on the small chance that gun control “worked” otherwise.

Wait. You do?

Then consider this: The suicide rate of the United States is 50th in the world, behind such gun-free socialist paradises as France, Finland, Belgium, and Japan, among others. Sure, outright confiscation of all guns in private hands might prevent a small number of American suicides, but the vast majority of that “gun violence” would pretty quickly convert to “rope violence,” “razor-blade violence,” “pill violence,” or “carbon monoxide violence.” Unless, of course, you believe Americans are more easily frustrated in their suicides than, er, the Belgians.

In other words, including suicides by gun with “gun violence” figures to “prove” that we need “common sense” gun control is the tell that you are reading the transmitted talking points of activists rather than journalism, even when the author doesn’t admit that is what she is doing.

Beautiful Austin

A whole buncha ACL Fest pictures

October 2, 2016

The annual Austin City Limits Music Festival is one of our favorite weekends of the year, not because we are a music aficionado — we are not — but because we love roaming around Zilker Park drinking beer, eating food, and watching the people incidentally to listening to music that we might not hear otherwise. For those of you who missed it this year or have not done in the past, here are a few pictures of Austin this weekend.









Freedom ain't free

Hillary’s cabinet: The Facebook connection?

August 16, 2016

Among the many grounds for worrying about our democracy, there is the fear that the social media channels through which most Americans under the age of old now get their news may not be, shall we say, as neutral as implied. If you were not under a rock this spring, for example, you recall the controversy that exploded around Facebook, when several former Facebook “news curators” told Gizmodo that they “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers.” This shocked exactly nobody, but was a useful reminder that culturally powerful businesses punch above weight in our democracy.

For the conspiratorially minded, the under-reported news of the day may therefore be this list of “7 Executives Who Could End Up in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Cabinet.” At the very top? Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.


All very unfair of me, we’re sure. Why would the chief operating officer lean in on something as trivial as the management of the “news curators”?

If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, which is looking less and less likely, this should at least make for an amusing confirmation hearing.

Freedom ain't free

The Washington Post gives away the game

August 15, 2016

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post gave away the game in the opening sentence of an unsigned editorial titled “A porous ethical wall between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department“:

IN ANOTHER election year with an opponent who is not so obviously unqualified, last week’s revelations about connections between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation would have been bigger news.

Bold emphasis added, just to raise the odds you read that carefully.

Our question is the obvious one: Who, other than the editors of the major news organizations, is going to determine whether or not a story is “bigger news”? The editors of the WaPo are, effectively, confessing that they have decided not to make big news of this story because Hillary Clinton’s opponent is “so obviously unqualified.”

We are of course not surprised, and indeed all is proceeding as we have foreseen: Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton’s get-out-of-jail-free card. The national political establishment, whether the “editors” of the mainstream media or the formerly principled leaders of our law enforcement agencies, are pulling out the stops to stop Trump. For good reason, they will say to themselves in those quiet moments when they know they have compromised what they claim to be their most cherished beliefs. Or at least what remains of their professionalism.

We wonder, however, whether this will not backfire, insofar as it makes Donald Trump’s invidious claim that the election is “rigged” seem true. We are confident that many Americans know quite well that it is going on, and that this heavy-handed partiality will register, unconsciously if not explicitly, as another example of cultural and political elites stiffing the average Joe.

Donald Trump is beating himself soundly, and will not be the next president. That is no reason to give Hillary Clinton a free pass, or manufacture for her what will be an entirely unearned mandate to govern.

Freedom ain't free

Against voting for the “lesser evil”

August 10, 2016

If you are actually for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the sense that you are delighted the GOP or the Democrats nominated him or her and you look forward to the next presidency as the dawning of a new day — or, in the case of Hillary’s supporters, the afternoon of a glorious one — this post is not for you. You will find no affirmation here. If, however, you support one of them only to prevent the election of the other, and you are filled with trepidation that you will then own a catastrophe or with the sickness of the soul that comes with any expedient cop out, we are here to lift your burden and show you the sunlit path to voting for a candidate that you might actually support, such as Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, or the equally respectable abstention at the top of the ticket.

There is the widespread view that in the electing of our next president, failure to vote for one candidate is effectively a vote for the other. The argument is essentially this: If A and B are detestable or unqualified, and if under duress to choose between only A and B you would vote for A on the basis that A is in some regard a “lesser evil,” or lower risk, than B, then any decision to vote for C is equivalent to a vote for B. See, e.g., this essay (“There is no such thing as a protest vote”) or around a grillion comments on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook pages. In short, the “lesser evilists” claim that the collective action required to elect a third party candidate poses an insurmountable hurdle, and that therefore such a vote is “wasted.”

There are both philosophical and factual — essentially utilitarian — reasons why this “lesser evil” calculus is just wrong. We will start with the utilitarian reasons, since they seem most persuasive to the despairing voters to whom we write this modest note.

The utilitarian argument against “lesser evil” voting

The utilitarian reason not to vote for the lesser evil is simply this: Your individual vote cannot, under any circumstances, affect the outcome of the election, so there is no reason not to vote for a candidate you actually like. Since this seems contrary to everything we might have learned from, er, politicians (and every-vote-is-sacred activists) we will take the argument from the ground up.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. If you live in a decidedly “blue” or “red” state, your vote cannot make a difference because if your state is in any way in play the national election will be a landslide. We exercise the great boon of the franchise in Texas, and if Texas is close Clinton will win an Electoral College landslide. The same applies if you live in roughly 40 other states comprising approximately 80% of the population that have voted for one party and not the other in every presidential election since the Reagan landslides.

But what if you live in a “battleground” state? Sad to say, your individual vote still does not matter. There is no chance that a state, even the decisive marginal state, will be decided by one individual vote. And by no chance, we don’t mean a super-small highly improbable chance, we mean no chance.

But what about Florida 2000?

Florida 2000 is exactly the practical proof that the outcome of a presidential election cannot turn on a single vote cast, and not only or even because the margin of Bush’s putative victory in Florida was by some indeterminate number bigger than one. The lesson of Florida, if we needed to learn it, is that there is a margin of error embedded in voting, and that there is no absolutely perfect counting of the results. Once an election is so close that it is within the margin of error, which is definitely more than one vote, political and judicial mechanisms kick in to determine the victor, who may or may not have received a plurality of votes cast and counted as such. Those political and judicial mechanisms are creatures of law and politics, and they do not necessarily arrive at the same answer as a theoretically perfect tabulation of ballots. Any individual vote, therefore, would never get to the point of significance at the margin, which is what matters.

But what about all those people who voted for Nader?

Lesser evilists of the left love bringing up Ralph Nader, who picked up more than 97,000 votes in Florida, presumably mostly from would-be Gore voters. (There were in fact no fewer than eight third-party candidates who collected more votes than the margin between Gore and Bush, but Nader and the Greens had by far the biggest tally among the also-rans.) Were not those third-party voters in some sense “responsible” for Bush’s election? Well, not individually. No one of them would have helped Gore. They only would have had an impact if they had acted collectively. But wait. Isn’t the collective action problem the big reason why a vote for a third party is “wasted”? You cannot magically erase the collective action problem in the case of Nader voters in 2000 and at the same time claim that it is insurmountable for a third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states. So it remains the case that no individual voting for Ralph Nader tipped the election to George Bush.

There is, therefore, no circumstance under which your vote can change the outcome of a presidential election, even if you happen to live in a swing state in a year when the national Electoral College majority comes down to a single state. That should make you feel a lot better. But it does invite an interesting question…

Well, then, why bother to vote at all?

Philosophers, political scientists, and the League of Women Voters have written vast tracts on the question of voting, whether it is a right or a duty, that every vote is sacred (which nostrum, by now, you should have concluded is basically a crock), and so forth. Our purpose is not to argue them all here, but to assert that among the many reasons for voting there is a dominant one: Voting is the act that gives democracy its legitimacy, and legitimacy is pretty much the only advantage that democracy has over other forms of government (there being no evidence that it is by its design less corrupt or more effective or efficient than than other systems). We believe our government is legitimate because we vote, and there is tremendous value in that. When you vote you help your country no matter whom you vote for, because you increase the legitimacy of the government that is eventually convened. And, it should be said, you as a citizen ratify that legitimacy by voting for someone you actually want to occupy the office in question, whether a major party nominee or your brilliant Uncle Fred. Otherwise, you are letting vested players in the system neutralize your sovereignty as a citizen.

(We should not pass this point without saying that politicians and activists who challenge or dilute the legitimacy of votes or elections with no real basis, such as Donald Trump in the current moment or bitter partisans following the 2000 election, are hurting the country rather than helping it. Richard Nixon was in 1960 more concerned with American greatness any of these clowns.)

Now that you are fully persuaded that your vote, as a factual matter, cannot change the outcome of the presidential election but that your vote nonetheless matters, we should consider the philosophical or, rather, logical objection to lesser evilism.

The logical objection to lesser evil voting

There is a logical objection to lesser evilism, and we might well have written it up in our own fancy words, but it seems much better to quote Christopher Hitchens, who taught it to us in an essay written about the Clintons back in the fall of 1996, when progressives were to some degree in the position of Republicans today (insofar as they felt betrayed by Clinton’s center-right triangulations). Apologies for the long quotation, but it makes for better reading than our poor effort to summarize it would do:

Whenever A and B are in opposition to each other,” wrote George Orwell in 1945, in “Through a Glass, Rosily,” “anyone who attacks or criticizes A is accused of aiding and abetting B.” He added: “It is a tempting maneuver, and I have used it myself more than once, but it is dishonest.” Orwell lived and wrote in a period when the pressure on intellectuals to “take sides” was ostensibly much more palpable than it is now, and when with that pressure came a surreptitious invitation to moral blackmail: the element that tells thinking people that the less adventurous the use they make of their ratiocinative capacity, the better. When the big decision has already been taken, what need of paltry misgivings? Who desires to be called a wavering intellectual dilettante when grand enterprises are on foot, and when the engine of destiny has gone to all the trouble of revving itself up?

In our time, of course, the great question has become more banal. It is most commonly stated as the theory and practice of the “lesser evil.” And, as argued in its conventional form, it has become worn as smooth as a stone. Thus A will exhort B, how can you vote for Clinton when…(list of betrayals and depredations follows) and B replies, without the slightest rehearsal, do you suppose that the right wing (taxonomy of depredations and fell intentions ready to hand) would be preferable? And that’s the whole exchange. And not just in a nutshell either, since the amount of time and of mental effort expended is usually less than it has taken me to set it down. However, as Prince Hamlet once exclaimed, one may be confined in a nutshell and still count oneself a king of infinite space. Folded inside the “lesser evil” argument, there is a worthwhile confrontation waiting to be enacted. The smooth stone can become an effective projectile, to be employed with care by either antagonist.

If one divides the contending parties into the purists and rejectionists on the one hand, and the pragmatists and lesser-evilists on the other, one can discover at once that neither really means what they say. Out of respect for Orwell, and for the sake of sheer convenience, let us call these respective debaters A and B for now. A does not really maintain that it makes no difference which party wins the election. It must be agreed for one thing that no outcome is identical to any other. Nor does A usually like to argue that it would be better for “the other side” to win, because it is that “other side” that anchors the concept of “lesser evil” to begin with. (There used to be a subset of A, which said with contempt that the worse things were, the better. Tanto pio, tanto meglia, as the Italian Red Brigades once happily intoned. But this faction no longer exists for our purposes.) Thus, B starts with the advantage of being able to address A in pitying tones, as if A had a lesson still to learn from that great moral tutor, “the real world.” Yet B would never be caught arguing in favor of permanent one-party rule, in the real world or any other. One-party rule does not work in practice or in principle. Why, then, does B argue that it is always better for the Democratic party to win an election, whether congressional or presidential, and that it always has been better? If the “lesser evil” argument is not an axiom, it is nothing. It cannot be true only some of the time, without losing all or most of its force. Furthermore, surely B would generally scorn anyone whose vote was, so to speak, mortgaged in advance. How can you be an autonomous and free citizen if your franchise is pledged to one machine, without conditions, whatever happens in the course of the election or in the conduct of the argument? (bold emphasis added)

In other words, “lesser evilists” are peddling a logical fallacy and are actually just unreconstructed partisans, which makes them narrowly oriented toward a result that benefits their tribe, rather than in the legitimacy of the government to come. There is nothing wrong with that orientation, but it does mean that “autonomous and free citizens” need not, and ought not, pay them any attention.

Where lesser-evilism has taken us

While we cannot prove it, we believe that the legitimacy of American government is in sad shape. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but among them is the idea that certain culturally influential or economically powerful interests have increased their stranglehold on the two major parties and alienated huge numbers of people, and (further) that the two major parties are the only device by which we may form a government. This alienation led to the Sanders insurgency and the Trump revolution, and it will not go away when Hillary wins in November, as she will almost certainly do. We believe that lesser-evilism has played a major part in bringing us to this sad place, because it confers greater legitimacy on the winners of elections than is otherwise earned or warranted. If you deplore our state of affairs, ask yourself whether casting your vote for the “lesser evil,” which cannot affect the outcome of the election, will have the unintended but real effect of increasing the legitimacy of the winner (if by an individually small amount) and thereby strengthening the control of the elites over the parties and the parties over the citizens that confer legitimacy on our government. The answer is to vote your conscience, and confer your legitimacy as a citizen only on leaders who have earned it.


My whereabouts

August 9, 2016

No, we have not forgotten our bounden duty. We have, however, been otherwise engaged, including on a long trip to Italy, three weeks working like a banshee out of town, and then another ten days in the Adirondacks. Photographic evidence of each. You can guess which is which!










Austin controversies

Prop 1 fallout: The Austin fuzz crack down on the working folk

June 21, 2016

More or less the entire world knows that Austin imposed such onerous regulations on Uber and Lyft that they withdrew from the city rather than suffer under the burden. Since taxis are too expensive for many people, generally suck, and in any case are in short supply in Austin because the local politicians have so decreed, a massive black market — a fleet of “gypsy cabs,” to those of us of a certain age and incorrectness — has emerged. More than 30,000 people (as of early June) have joined a Facebook group and arrange for entirely unregulated rides off the grid, thereby vitiating the disingenuos “safety” rationale put forth by the “progressives” on the Austin city council.

Well, apparently the Austin Police Department has decided, or been instructed, to put its jackboots down on the necks of the now illegal — or, because it is Austin, perhaps “undocumented” — drivers trying to recover some of the income they lost.

The city of Austin is using sting operations to crack down on drivers working for unlicensed ride-hailing companies, issue fines and seize cars, authorities told the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

The cars of four drivers for Arcade City, a peer-to-peer service that connects passengers with drivers through its Facebook page, were impounded Friday after the city’s Transportation Department conducted a sting.

Yeah, don’t issue a ticket to these poor slobs. Impound their freaking cars so they cannot get to any other job, either. That’ll fix ’em just right.

Addendum: Here’s an interesting post with a lot more detail around the illegal ridesharing cooperatives. The significant safety issues compared to Uber and Lyft ought to make anybody realize how much safety the established companies imposed by the operation of the apps.

Freedom ain't free


June 20, 2016


towers omitted

Context here.

The battle over the narrative expands ever thus, so rapidly it will eventually eclipse the borders of the known universe. But consider, is it not at least possible if not likely that all the following factors played some role in the Orlando mass murder?

  • Jihadi ideology, infecting Mateen — there, his name — from abroad or from radicals of his acquaintance, even if he was not “directed” as the president suggests;
  • Rank homophobia, picked up independently of Islam, in the great cosmopolitan pine forests of central Florida;
  • Craziness, meaning Mateen was fucked in the head, manifesting as a lunatic’s craving for immortality;
  • Publicity of past mass murderers, both of the terrorist and loose-screw variety, enabling such craving; and
  • The relatively easy availability of guns in the United States.

Why does our politics require that it be only one of these things? Probably because we no longer teach nuance in our endless “national conversation,” probably because nuance does not bait clicks, but that’s a different subject.

Regardless, obscuring Mateen’s religion and expressed political opinions by editing offending words from the 911 transcript seems like management of the news cycle in furtherance of the war over the narrative, rather than an honest attempt to limit the publicity that might encourage more of these d-bags. One almost — almost — believes that the DOJ is trying to switch the conversation from the FBI’s failure to do anything about Mateen after the G-men had identified him as sufficiently dangerous to interview. Unfortunately, believing that conspiracy would require us also to believe that the president’s own strongly professed desire to deny the Islam in Islamism did not determine the redaction of the transcript, and that requires magical thinking far beyond our own trifling capabilities. We do offer this parting shot, though: Why is it that the partisan left no longer refers to itself as the “reality-based community”?

UPDATE: Well, now, the Obama administration changed its mind and released the full transcript. Good for them, but then why the redaction nonsense in the first place?


Reasons to be happy for Cleveland

June 19, 2016

There are many reasons to rejoice in the NBA Championship of the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. Among them, Cleveland itself has had an epic championship drought in all sports and had a tough run otherwise for something like 60 years, LeBron James had never delivered a championship for his hometown, and Golden State is named after California. All outstanding reasons to cheer the Cavs, especially if you are not from Cleveland. But that is not why we are so happy tonight.

It must be confessed that we are not a true fan of NBA basketball, or at least have not been since we lived in Chicago during the Jordan years, and now probably watch no more than three games in a season. We nevertheless read, virtually against our will, this article in the New York Times Magazine from a few months back, “What Happened When Venture Capitalists Took Over The Golden State Warriors.” Why were we compelled? Because the aggrandizement of Silicon Valley venture capitalists — who have accomplished many important things but are not nearly as godlike as they suppose — is such a banal elite media narrative that we were wondering if the Grey Bitch could possibly find anything new or interesting to write on the topic. It couldn’t, but it did mine this bit of championship class self-important douchebaggery from the majority owner of the Warriors, Joe Lacob:

But Lacob won’t accept that what the Warriors have achieved is a product of anything but a master plan. “The great, great venture capitalists who built company after company, that’s not an accident,” he said. “And none of this is an accident, either.”

There is no trash talk like VC trash talk, apparently. Suffice it to say, it was at that moment on a Sunday morning in late March, reading that paragraph with a great cup of coffee and a Spaniel by our side, that we resolved to cheer for whatever team was playing against the Warriors.

Here’s to the Cleveland Cavaliers, authors of the greatest and most just sports miracle of the decade.

Beautiful Austin

A jog along Barton Creek

June 16, 2016

A couple of days ago I went for a noontime jog along Barton Creek, just west of Mopac, to the big live oak. The creek was running strong, even though it had not rained for more than a week.