Glenn Reynolds: Liberty on Earth or Homesteading on Mars?

Mickey Kaus now provides usable links!

I haven't read Glenn Reynolds' book, and there's a good chance I never will.

Kaus emphasizes two somewhat distinct themes in the book. On the one hand, the Internet along with other recent developments provides evidence for what might be called a libertarian thesis: a large number of individuals, freely pursuing innovations that benefit themselves and others, can advance society better than a centrally planned or controlled "program"--perhaps especially one from government, but even from a large corporation, the main-stream media--any of the famous bloated dinosaurs. Free yet networked individuals might even do a better job of national security--often considered the one job that only government can do.

I was never certain what "a pack not a herd" meant; now I know. (It means defending against terrorism with self-organizing networks of empowered individuals rather than government bureaucracies ordering people around).

The other theme is that no matter what happens, we are all very vulnerable to one nut using disease or nukes. In a way this danger is made worse by technology, just as many positive developments are made possible. Technology is truly a double-edged sword. I'm still not sure bird flu is that big a deal. Is it likely to kill proportionally as many people as the 1919 epidemic did, given that in 1919, as Reynolds has said, it was largely secondary infections, many of which are now treated with antibiotics, that killed people? Aren't there indications that chemical and biological weapons are likely to do limited damage, and are likely to harm their users as much as the intended victims? Isn't that why there have been so few attacks? Don't we have the means to be more sophisticated than our ancestors, even if millions are killed?

At any rate, Reynolds' "optimism" about empowered individuals, making decisions without any central direction, gives way to a kind of pessimism which then leads to specific hopes:

[blockquote][Kaus quotes Reynolds] In the short term, prevention and defense strategies make sense. But such strategies take you only so far. As Robert Heinlein once said, Earth is too fragile a basket to hold all of our eggs. We need to diversify, to create more baskets. Colonies on the moon, on Mars, in orbit, perhaps on asteroids and beyond ...[/blockquote]

Reynolds has said before that the human race will benefit if we are forced back into a kind of frontier existence of hard work, and limited time for reflection, brooding, or destructive self-centeredness. This is a funny combination of nostalgia for a fairly recent American past, and a goofy hopefulness that everything will work out as long as a hardy or lucky few can climb into a spaceship and escape to Mars. The longing for a frontier life is like wishing we could all lose 20 or 30 points of IQ.

If there is an "old Adam" in human beings that will keep coming out, then having 12 or 6 or 4 people fly to Mars won't avoid the problem. I believe there are many science fiction stories to that effect. On the other hand, if we have some resources to survive catastrophes, as human beings have done many times, then I would say the more people, the better.

Libertarian hopefulness, like a common type of American hopefulness, may be a surface on a deep pessimism--that there is something deeply screwed up about human history in general, and we have to do something dramatic to fix it. Flying to Mars, now that's (supposedly) dramatic. This is lacking a more old-fashioned, I would say philosophic hopefulness--that human life is probably about as good as we can expect. Of course, crazy things happen--the whole place may even correspond, more or less, to a lunatic asylum. But there are good things to be had and enjoyed, and those good things are often threatened by dramatic dreams and plans.

Abdul Rahman

Hmmm... Killing an apostate--simply for being an apostate. Is that completely unheard of in the United States, or in the West more generally?

Isn't there some evidence that Mormons did that in the 19th century? (See also here and here).

Protestants vs. Catholics, ca. 1500 to 1650? Sixteen hundred years after the life of Christ? I believe Islam has still not quite lasted 1600 years since the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

Bush's Condition

I haven't given up my theory that Bush is suffering from a neurological condition, long-term chemical damage, or something. (See here and here).

The official transcript of his presser this past week shows this:

Now, sometimes I didn't -- I like the size of the pie, sometimes I didn't particularly like the slices within the pie. And so one way to deal with the slices in the pie is to give the President the line-item veto. And I was heartened the other day when members of both parties came down in the Cabinet Room to talk about passage of a line-item veto. I was particularly pleased that my opponent in the 2004 campaign, Senator Kerry, graciously came down and lent his support to a line-item veto, and also made very constructive suggestions about how to get one out of the United States Congress.

Let's see here. They told me what to say. David.

(Via Atrios).

Then the new Wonkette catches him in a Tourette-like tic:

I can't find that, but here's an earlier video.

UPDATE: Also K.J. Lopez at the the Corner: "He's in talk-show-host mode again today (I still want whatever he's on)." Part of what I'm talking about is the tremendous gap between Bush at his best and at his worst. When he's at his best, even his fans say it's as if he's found some miracle drug.

How Far Ireland Has Come

A piece in Slate that is a bit amazing--at least to me.

Northern Ireland, traditionally wealthier than the Republic, has now become quite a bit poorer. It depends on a substantial subsidy from Britain, and in fact, one obstacle to a union of the island is that the Republic does not want to assume the cost of this subsidy.

There is a potential upside to unity:

Plunk Ulster into the Irish Republic, with its low corporate taxes, and it starts to look like a Celtic Tiger cub with a hungry, well-educated, English-speaking workforce. The scourge of paramilitaries clouds the North's future, and a mafia empire could emerge, but real economic opportunity would make organized crime less alluring.

Gladstone was proceeding on the assumption that all of Ireland could be granted "home rule," with no special status for counties that happened to be predominantly Protestant. Joseph Chamberlain, father of the famous appeaser, and Randolph Churchill, father of the famous Churchill, united (improbably given their histories) to lead a demagogic campaign to keep the Empire United. "Ulster will fight. And Ulster will be right."

This nightmare may finally come to an end in the near future.

Nobody here but us slightly dull reporters

This is going to be one of the interesting chapters of a book on the Iraq war. Michael Gordon was another NYT reporter who, in the months before March 2003, re-cycled crap from the White House and Ahmed Chalabi about WMDs. There is still a lot of ass-covering going on: honest misunderstanding, we did the best we could; hey, even the CIA was fooled, and who would have guessed that could ever happen?

Actually, I believe the CIA has consistently over-estimated--not under-estimated--the threat posed to the U.S. by various countries. That's what they do. That's how they justify their budget, and ask for a bigger budget. See: Missile Gap in the 50s; Team B in the 80s.

The Times didn't say, as Gordon now says, there was a lot of confusion, a number of different views, some experts, while clear that the aluminum tubes were not for nuclear weapons, then went on to say they thought Saddam was developing nukes somewhere. Hardly anyone who was an expert said both that the tubes were not for nukes, and that Saddam probably didn't have any nukes. Saddam's disinformation worked. Boy, I guess we look like saps now--but it absolutely couldn't be helped.

Glenn Reynolds, who claims to be an apostle of ordinary people using the Internet to question the mainstream media, has never questioned this river of crap.

Amy Goodman does (via Atrios):

...I wanted to go to Michael Gordon and ask you about that September 8 piece that you wrote with Judith Miller, the article that was on the front page of the New York Times, that was cited by Dick Cheney, when he went on "Meet The Press," where you wrote from the beginning -- you said, “More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administrations officials said today. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted, but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

This was probably all that most people remembered about the issue of Saddam and nukes in the months leading up to the war. No: experts disagree. No: one crucial group of experts in the State Department actually thinks Saddam has no nukes. No: it is kind of unlikely that Saddam has acquired uranium. Just: exactly what the Bushies wanted to read on page 1 of the NYT.

Gordon says: when contrary views emerged, the NYT covered them. Goodman says: buried in back pages, and even then, deep in smaller articles. Gordon says: those are editorial decisions, not my decisions. Powell and his people were briefed by the CIA, and they were convinced on the tubes issue! How are we supposed to do better than that?

Goodman closes in:

And in fact, let me make a point, on that weekend that your first piece appeared on September 8th, that was the weekend that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush were at Camp David, and they talked about an IAEA report that showed new information about the concern of Saddam Hussein getting weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. In fact, President Bush said, “I don't know what more evidence we need.” Well, actually, any evidence would have helped. There was no such IAEA report, but few mainstream American journalists, including the Times at the time, questioned the leaders' outright lies.

MICHAEL GORDON: ...You know, I couldn't write what the IAEA’s assessment was before they made it.

AMY GOODMAN: But you could have challenged President Bush at the White House --

MICHAEL GORDON: I wasn’t at the White House, I’m sorry, I wasn’t at the -- can I --

AMY GOODMAN: The article, the Times could have challenged President Bush and Tony Blair, saying that a new IAEA report had showed that Iraq was six months away from building nuclear weapons, when in fact it didn't come out with such a report. And instead, the Times came out with a front-page piece that very weekend, which was yours, talking about Saddam Hussein getting nuclear weapons, the aluminum tubes.

After all this time, Gordon still won't even question Miller's performance, judgment, or competence. Are they all in love with her or something?

On nukes, I venture to say, the Bushies were lying rather than clueless.

IED's from Iran to Iraq?

This is a nice recent example of "are they lying or clueless"?

Bush himself says there is evidence that some of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) being used by insurgents in Iraq come from Iran. Ergo, I guess, all one enemy, let's attack.

At best this is an old story that was investigated in Britain six months earlier and found to be false. The IRA made IEDs from British plans, which were given to the IRA inadvertently. It may be IRA bombs that are showing up in Iraq.

At worst we are just being lied to.

The U.S. Ports

The Democrats surely have a point: if the Bushies were actually worried about Iran or somebody smuggling weapons into the U.S.--indeed, if they were at all serious about homeland security--they would spend more on the major ports--which they refuse to do.

You don't have to be partisan or paranoid to think this is all a sign that the War on Terror is primarily for domestic consumption: cowing Democrats, and getting out the Republican vote.

The major port cities, which are also the cities most likely to be attacked, all voted for Kerry; one can easily imagine Karl Rove and other Republican activists saying these cities can do something anatomically challenging.

WMDS will never go away

The New York Times, which of course published a lot of Judy Miller's re-cycled White House/Chalabi crap about WMDs in Iraq, is now sifting through evidence about what senior people under Saddam knew and believed before March 2003. Remarkably, it is just possible that even some of them thought there might be some WMDs somewhere in Iraq.

Rich Lowry at the Corner jumps on this. See? It was all an honest misunderstanding of evidence which, in its own way, was very real.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan provides an overview.

This strengthens the case that on WMDs in general, the Bushies were not lying, but clueless.

On nukes as opposed to nerve, chemical, etc., as well as on links to al Qaeda, I would venture to say, not clueless but lying.

Videoblogging, etc.

OK, so far I'm not buying videoblogging--the one experiement I've seen is Kaus and his friends. I have no interest in podcasting, and particularly not the Glenn and Helen show linked by Instapundit.

Let's get this straight. Bloggers are interesting and enjoyable when they say what they have to say, fairly quickly, in text format. The headings and opening sentences should give you some idea whether you want to read on or not. This is different from the Main Stream whatever--not necessarily an alternative, or something that is going to take over, but different. You can read different posts during the day--not long, and maybe not all that thoughtful, but something. With old media, you are often waiting for the big shot to get around to writing another column--and with all that waiting, it is not necessarily better than a short and snappy post by a bright person who has studied a new story closely.

The Internet in general, including newspapers and magazines on line, is fantastic in that you can search a lot of stuff quickly, and read only what really interests you. We may have to pay for more and more as we go along, but now I pay for virtually nothing. (I have paid to subscribe to the Globe and Mail on-line--basically to catch up on the new government in Ottawa). This is a super-fast way to go through a lot of information, delivered from a lot of different points of view, quickly, and in a way that is of maximum use to me, the user.

So now bloggers want to be on TV? This is too pathetic for words. They're mostly ugly, or let's say disappointing-looking (except for Instapundit's lovely wife, of course); they have whiny, nasal voices; and they take their bloody time getting to the point. This is some kind of improvement over TV, or whatever? Because they will present bloggy-type interviews and debates that the MSM is not touching, but are way interesting none the less?

I'm not convinced. Somehow bloggers have fallen for the fallacy that they are a whole new medium, if not a replacement for old stuff. So this is a new way of discussing news that we still get from the NYT or whatever. It just seems like self-indulgent puffery to me. Kaus is truly a great blogger. As a video guy? A solid F.

I guess it might appeal to people who do comments, and read through Slate's Fray and all that--which I don't, with very rare exceptions. So the video thing presents a civilized version of comments, unfolding in real time. Still boring, as far as I'm concerned.

Skidelsky on Strauss

Thanks to Alterman: On the whole there is a lot of good in this essay. Strauss never had visions of improving the whole world; his emphasis was on having a place to study; modern democracy supplied that, and perhaps most deserved praise for doing so. Strauss probably judged liberal democracy, as he would any regime, by its results as much as by its claims of justice; and it's even possible that other historically-known regimes, if not regimes of today, have actually had stronger claims of justice. The neo-cons have departed from Strauss.

Apart from benefitting the students themselves, Strauss obviously hoped that having schools of true liberal education would actually benefit democracy. But again, was this really a side benefit, from his point of view? Did he even hope modern democrats would exaggerate how much they benefitted from these schools, so that they would support them or at least leave them alone?

"Liberal democracies," as the Straussians Kenneth Deutsch and Walter Soffer put it, "need to learn standards of excellence that exert an 'upward pull' against the demands of physical gratification."

Strauss's own response to this predicament was, as we have seen, to cultivate pockets of wisdom in the interstices of mass society, hoping that they would, over time, impart their "tone" to the republic as a whole.

Once again, did Strauss really have great hopes about what would happen over time?

Strauss in Natural Right and History, p. 143:

According to a view which today is rather common and which may be described as Marxist or crypto-Marxist, the classics preferred the rule of the urban patriciate because they themselves belonged to the urban patriciate or were hangers-on of the urban patriciate. We need not take issue with the contention that, in studying a political doctrine, we must consider the bias, and even the class bias, of its originator. It suffices to demand that the class to which the thinker in question belongs be correctly identified. In the common view the fact is overlooked that there is a class interest of the philosophers qua philosophers, and this oversight is ultimately due to the denial of the possibility of philosophy.... Now it is an experience of many centuries in greatly different natural and moral climates that there was one and only one class which was habitually sympathetic to philosophy, and not intermittently, like kings; and this was the urban patriciate. The common people had no sympathy for philosophy and philosophers.

Insofar as any students of Strauss think they are changing the world, and are spending their time on that rather than on Plato, it is difficult to believe, to be blunt, that they are his first-rate students. What some of them are is Ivy Leaguers or would-be Ivy Leaguers who have found the elite American universities (obviously, these days, not only the Ivy League) closed to them. Whether or not they are right-wingers in any meaningful sense, they are stigmatized as such, and prevented from getting elite university jobs. They cannot forget the old Ivy League vision, which may or may not have been Strauss's: "to cultivate pockets of wisdom in the interstices of mass society, hoping that they would, over time, impart their 'tone' to the republic as a whole." They are committed to liberal democracy as a fighting faith--and they would say the Ivy League used to be so committed. There may be only a loose verbal overlap with anything in Strauss. On the other hand, denizens of the elite universities may be the closest approximation today to "the urban patriciate"--willing to tolerate liberal education, willing to pay for such education for their children, even willing to believe that liberal education somehow makes the world a better place.

Of course real Ivy League professors today don't admit that they are elitists--this is one of the ways they have diligently dug themselves down below the cave of ignorance.

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