Archive for July, 2011

When Demopublicans and Republicrats clash, you lose

by David McElroy

It appears that Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal that’s going to let them happily lock arms and express solidarity in their resolve to “take care of The People.”

I’m disgusted, of course.

For decades, politicians of both parties have periodically gone on spending sprees that would make drunken sailors blush with embarrassment. While each accuses the other of irresponsibility — and each has charts and selective memory to prove its point — they’re both willing to spend when it’s politically expedient with whatever group they want support from.

Republican voters think it’s a sin to cut military spending. The fact that the United States spends more on war than the rest of the world combined doesn’t seem to faze them. The only thing that could make them happy is if every last square inch of the country were turned into a military base or weapons system (except their homes, of course).

Democratic voters think it’s a sin to cut social spending or spending that’s somehow, some way supposed to “help” people. Never mind the fact that every responsible, rational and fair piece of evidence shows that their economic approach to the world doesn’t work. (We’ve been fighting the War on Poverty since the ’60s. Is it time to declare victory and go home?)

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Trust and spontaneous order don’t require heavy hand of the state

by David McElroy

What do you do if you want to buy vegetables? If you’re like most people, you head to the grocery store to buy food grown far away from where you live by people you don’t know under conditions you aren’t sure about. What if you had a choice to buy veggies from somebody around the block instead?

Shamefully, I don’t eat vegetables the way I should, so I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in the vegetable section of a grocery store unless I was on my way to the meat counter. But if I did suddenly become a healthy eater, I’d have a choice that a lot of people don’t have. I could walk two blocks to the house you see above and buy fresh vegetables grown in their yard — all without any licensing or health permits.

I feel pretty certain that this must be against city vending ordinances to do it in a residential area, but this older couple have been doing this ever since before I moved to the neighborhood 20 years ago. They’ve lived there in their modest little house since long before an affluent suburb grew up around them. The mayor of this little suburb lives within 50 yards of the house where these folks live, so I’m sure the city knows about it. Even though my little suburb likes to see itself as progressive and upscale these days, it leaves these people alone. Why? I assume it’s because they’ve been doing it for so long and because the people who live nearby actually like it.

This older couple aren’t going to win any awards for marketing or merchandising displays, but there’s something reassuring and honest about their little operation. I was thinking last night — not for the first time — that what they do is a perfect example of how commerce works when the state doesn’t give orders.

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THE McELROY ZOO: Meet Alex, the dog who was dumped with a bowl

by David McElroy

The first time I ever saw Alex, he was lying next to a food bowl outside of the Winn-Dixie grocery store near my house.

He looked up at me with big sad eyes as I walked into the store one night. I didn’t know who he belonged to or what he was doing at the store, so I asked while I was checking out.

“He’s been here all day,” the cashier said. “Some woman put him out of the car this morning with that bowl and a ball. She took off and he’s been here ever since.”

On the way out the door, I stopped to visit him. He didn’t have a real tail, but he wagged a little stump of a tail at getting some attention. Another store employee told me that people had been petting the dog all day, but nobody was interested in taking him home.

As I was petting the dog and trying to figure out whether I could help him, a couple of other customers stopped to talk. They were both big animal lovers, they said, and they both expressed a willingness to help. Each said she knew someone who wanted a dog, but neither had a place to keep him that night.

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Don’t trust this con man — or almost anybody else on ‘TV news’

by David McElroy

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who gets news and information from TV news, please read this and think about it every time you see someone on your screen shaping your opinions. Many of these people are simply performing.

Radley Balko has an amazing little nugget of information at his excellent Agitator blog today that you really need to see. Balko received an email from a TV producer with a promotional email from attorney Jeffrey Steinberger, who markets himself to stations as a “celebrity attorney” and legal analyst. Read the entire post, but here’s the key part:

“Attorney Steinberger is available to discuss all civil matters as well and any other legal matter not mentioned above.

Attorney Steinberger is able to take a position on either side of any case– defense or prosecution.”

He brazenly admits that he’s willing to take either side — depending on which role the producers need him to fill. In other words, when you’re listening to him, you’re not listening to his opinion. Instead, you’re listening to him play a part assigned by a TV producer. He’s using his credibility as an attorney to gain your confidence and sell you a position. It’s dishonest.

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Libertarian freedom vs. conservative tradition leads to culture clash

by David McElroy

JASPER, Ala. — When my family moved to this little town when I was a kid, I thought we’d moved to the end of the world, because I’d never lived in a place this tiny. Although I came to appreciate some things about it by the time I left, I’ll always feel like a stranger in a strange land here. I’m just not a good match for the culture.

Jasper is the county seat of Walker County, about an hour northwest of Birmingham. That’s the county courthouse above, and the clock at the right is also located on the courthouse square. The city is home to roughly 15,000 people today, not much bigger than the 11,000 or so that it was when I moved here when I was 12 years old. After having spent my years before then moving around between somewhat bigger cities all over the South, it was a culture shock to me when we came to live in this place so that my father could take care of his aging parents. I stayed until I left to attend the University of Alabama and even came back to work briefly after that.

I came here today because I wanted to think about how people meld into cultures and how those cultures affect their political beliefs and actions. We like to think of ourselves as individuals — especially those of us who believe in individual freedom — but there’s something that happens to groups of people living and working and raising families together that shapes them in ways that are hard to understand.

More than we sometimes realize, much of what we are is a product of the culture in which we’re raised and in which we choose to live. This has implications for how we need to organize our societies.

I started thinking about this issue last weekend as I listened to a debate between interns from the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation about the differences between libertarians and conservatives. I was stunned at the final point of the opening remarks of the first Heritage debater representing the conservative position:

“Without a free society, you cannot have a free individual. But with an absolutely free individual, you cannot preserve a free society.”

My first emotional impulse was to call the guy an idiot for making such a bizarre and Orwellian assertion. But the more I listened to the speakers from the two sides talk as the debate went on, the more I realized that the differences between these people weren’t primarily their ideas. It was that they were part of very different cultures — and there’s no way to reconcile the two.

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‘American Idol’ for politics? Here’s real democracy in 2012 election

by David McElroy

Have you ever had a hankering to run for president? Well, now you can do it — for just $99.

It’s sort of like trying out for American Idol, it seems. You don’t have to be able to sing, though. You just need a platform and $99 entry fee. The finalists are going to compete on national television — just like American Idol.

I don’t think it’s a gag. It seems like a real effort to get people to plunk down money. But I find myself thinking that someone must’ve dreamed this scheme up while watching “Idiocracy.”

Reminder: Feel free to link up on Facebook for more informal talk

by David McElroy

If you don’t already have enough weirdness in your life, feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook. Although there’s still a lot of political content there — including links to all the articles here — there’s also a lot of informal talk and downright silliness with some bright and funny people all over the world.

You might want to stay away, though, if really, really bad puns bother you. And don’t even look at the page (or the voluminous photo albums) if you hate cats, dogs or sunsets. Or whatever random weirdness I run across.

I appreciate you reading this site and hope you’ll return, but if you’d like to join a more informal conversation, you’re welcome there, too.

Federal debt default? So what? It happened before — in 1979

by David McElroy

If you’ve been listening to any news lately, you know that Financial Armageddon looms if the politicians in D.C. don’t suddenly agree to a plan to raise the debt ceiling. Pretty much everybody agrees that such a thing is unthinkable. The only problem is that it happened 32 years ago — and it wasn’t a big deal.

If you own U.S. government debt, it’s a big deal whether you get paid of not. The security of knowing that the government is going to pay you is the reason so many people (and governments) lend so much to the feds. But in 1979, the government faced a somewhat similar crisis that led to lack of money to pay bondholders for awhile. And what happened? Not much.

Politicians and media like to scare you. Politicians like to scare you because scared people are motivated to support them on whatever crusade they’re on this week. Media like to scare you because it keeps you watching.

(If you really want to learn how the budget process is supposed to work — though I can’t imagine why you would — this week’s episode of the excellent EconTalk podcast covers it in more detail than normal people will care.)

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Be very afraid of men (or women) who question your patriotism

by David McElroy

As a tool of control, there’s perhaps nothing more effective than questioning a person’s patriotism. In every group that I’m aware of, people are taught from a very early age that they have the duty to love the nation and obey its leaders and customs. This sets people up to be duped.

Nobody would accuse Hermann Goering of having been a pacifist or a peace-loving man. In fact, he was a dedicated Nazi who was the vile and contemptible head of the German air forces during Hitler’s invasions of his European neighbors.

After the war — while on trial for his actions as part of the war — Goering was candid during interviews with Gustave Gilbert, a U.S. psychologist who was also an intelligence officer. Gilbert published a book called “Nuremberg Diary” in 1961 based on his interviews with the Nazis who talked with him privately as a confidant during the trial. Here’s an excerpt from the book about a conversation with Goering:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” [Gilbert] pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

When I first read an edited version of this quote some time ago, I thought it must be made up by someone trying to make the case that the wars the United States is currently engaged in are wrong. After all, if you could make the case that even the Nazis knew that war is driven by a political class manipulating the people, you’ve made your case. It turned out, though, that the story was completely true.

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Problem for schools: ‘stop students from becoming this advanced’

by David McElroy

Is it a good thing or a bad thing for students to master difficult material and move on to greater challenges? It depends on whether your goal is to educate children or to run a diploma factory churning out sheep.

It’s no secret that the U.S. school system does a lousy job with kids outside the norm. With kids who aren’t too bright and aren’t too dumb, the system can open their heads and pour in a basic, homogenized, dumbed-down version of an education.

But heaven forbid someone is different — especially if that person is particularly bright. And what if someone comes up with a way to accelerate kids’ learning in a certain area, say, math? Well, that’s a threat to the system, because the system is designed to move the cattle through a certain process at a certain speed in a certain order to produce predictably mediocre results.

A California man, Salman Khan, developed a system that’s become something of an online marvel. His Khan Academy is available for kids (and others) who want to learn math and advance rapidly — and it’s free. It lets students quickly advance beyond their peers who are using traditional systems. But according to a new article at Wired magazine, this scares some teachers:

Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”

These teachers claim that they wouldn’t know what to do with students who were learning so rapidly in math, but are stuck at lower grade levels in subjects in which they’re getting conventional instruction. But that’s exactly backwards. The question isn’t how to dumb this excellent system down. The question is why it took an outside non-educator to develop a system that blows away what the education bureaucracy can design — and why we aren’t finding ways to achieve the same sort of results in other subjects, instead of trying to put the brakes on what works.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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