No Imagination Means No Change

“I don’t mind adopting a policy that seems strange to you if the result of it is going to make society improved…”
– William F. Buckley Jr. re: drug legalization

When drug policy reformers say “legalization”, it strikes fear into persons who have only experienced and imagined society under the effects of modern drug prohibitions. Most cannot picture a world where drug addicts were not safely locked away, criminalized, marginalized and cordoned toward the poor areas of our country. Those who cannot afford to escape those neighborhoods have never known a time when drugs were not so expensive that addicts must rob to afford them; when gangs did not violently compete on their streets for the drug market; when pushers did not offer a free taste to their children or entice them into the trade with easy money; when a large number of their fathers weren’t incarcerated or weren’t trying to find work with a criminal record; when police did not look upon them without suspicion.

None of us have known our southern border without the constant rush of harmful substances into the country, nor the reverse flow of billions of dollars and weapons into the hands of cartels that murder ruthlessly. None of us have seen peace south of our border; the existence of the coca plant seems to guarantee endless killing.

More prisoners; more violence; more harmful drugs; more spreading of infectious disease; more dangerous areas; more damage of foreign lands and peoples; fewer civil liberties; less respect for law enforcement; more assurances from our leaders that “our drug policy is a success”; more promises and goals of a drug-free world; more dire warnings that any alternative would certainly lead to the destruction of society.

Has it always been like this? This is how the world has worked as long as I’ve been alive, so this is surely its most natural and stable state, and how it must continue. After all, I’m told the alternative is unimaginable:

“It is hard to imagine an aspect of American life that would be enriched by millions of new cocaine, heroin or marijuana users.”
– John Walters re: drug legalization

Perhaps our ancestors could survive without a War on Drugs, but humanity simply no longer has the necessary skills to survive in such a free world; we would surely collapse into Mr. Walters’ imagined chaos. We can no longer educate our children that some legal activities are dangerous; we need our government to protect us from ourselves no matter the cost.

Please do not waste any time imagining a different world; our drug czars have done this and it didn’t look good. Definitely do not bother with the fascinating history of our drug laws, or how other civilized countries are having success reducing harm. These countries may save “lives” and money, but they are breaking our treaties.

‘Phlox’ Menace Could Abet Future Enemies

The latest example of law enforcement solutions to reducing drug use.

Police raided the home of a couple in the hunt for a drug factory because a [moss phlox] plant in their garden smelled like cannabis. … the couple, both in their late 70s, returned home to find that the drugs squad had battered down their front door. … No drugs were found…

At least they didn’t have dogs at home.

Retired engineer Mr Wiltshire, 77, who, ironically, has no sense of smell following an operation on his nose, has now pulled up the plant. … [The couple has] lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

This plant could aid marijuana criminals by deterring detection and investigation. Begin the countdown to its restriction near U.K. homes.

Meanwhile the black market contributes to public safety:

The couple’s next-door neighbour was even threatened by a drugs gang who demanded: “Give us the weed, man.”

Commodity cars a challenge worth pursuing

Mr. Obama and members of Congress,

Rather than supplying any current auto manufacturers with a bailout, which I think will only delay the inevitable, please consider investing (and encouraging private investment) in efforts to standardize the components of a new generation of automobiles. With free and open standards, such as those used to build the web and the coming generation of mobile phones, we can rebuild the auto industry by transforming it from a small number of manufacturers devoted to closed designs and increased waste into a greater number of specialty industries that create components of great variety, of guaranteed compatibility, and which will create longer-lasting vehicles. Continue reading  

Mankind is still capable of monstrocity

If you’ve fooled yourself that this is not true, you need only to check yesterday’s New York Times to sober up. In cultures where women still have little value, for at least a dozen years some men have thrown acid on the faces of women, and are rarely punished. In a recent case, girls with the audacity to seek an education were attacked.

Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: they are poor and female. The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.

Since 1994, Ms. Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.

The follow up has a few solutions.

More Drug War Victims Pile Up

Our War on Drugs has turned Mexico into a real war zone. Five more dead in Tijuana; 685 in one city in the last year; young men in rival cartels are gunned down, tortured, mutilated, beheaded, found in mass graves. Those who can afford to have left town, while the rest of the city lives in terror and economic disaster since Americans will no longer step foot there. Continue reading  

Inaction is not action

Many people have well thought out reasons for not voting in presidential elections (some still vote only in local elections or for/against ballot initiatives). This blog post compiles several given by libertarians. Here are my responses to the general themes I see:

Voting, even for a hopeless candidate that aligns most closely with my beliefs, is only a perpetuating endorsement of the hopelessly broken and immoral system.

If the government is the crew of an enormous ship horribly mismanaged and sailing in the wrong direction, despite your best intellectual justifications, inaction does nothing to sink it, redirect it, stop it, or even wound its feelings. Even if you oppose the system completely, voting is the only direct influence you have on it. Every four years one of two imperfect and corruptible people will be captain, and the worse of the two will harm more lives than the other. The very least you can do to mitigate this is to suggest the least harmful choice according to the best information available to you. You don’t have to tell anyone for whom you vote (or that you do), nor can any reasonable person claim you owe any responsibility for another’s actions.

Any positive action you do personally has much more effect than the act of voting.

You can support nearly any inaction based on the weak assumption that the opportunity cost of acting is too great; due to spending your time voting you could not perform one additional good deed. The fact is you can send in an absentee ballot and still have time to (and should) call mom, do good work, help the needy, educate fellow citizens on important issues, and, depending on your mania, begin your move abroad or work on your plan to throw yourself in the gears of the system. Voting doesn’t prevent you from doing any of that.

In my location, my vote is statistically useless to exert change.

This justification definitely carries the most weight with our system, but dissenting votes still give evidence of opposing voices and pool to show opposition on a larger scale. Obama was an electoral vote landslide, but 47% of voters preferred someone else. Only with such dissention can you remind people that no presidential vote should be considered a mandate to support the winner’s policies. In any country where votes are actually counted (we’re lucky we’re in one), you have some non-zero influence in steering the ship. Calculus shows even infinitesimally small numbers add up.

Also, while so many, no doubt, vote based on misinformation, misunderstanding, or even without putting much thought into it, we desperately need critical thinkers and the well-informed to vote.

The French 2002 presidential election is a pretty interesting study of what can go wrong in a direct election. The left wing had splintered so much that the run-off election presented two right wing candidates; leftists called it a choice between a crook and a fascist. Frustrated voters chose the crook by a landslide, but some suggested voting for politique du pire (“politics of the worst”) in hopes that the resulting bad governance would build sufficient outrage to fuel reform. Maybe the presidential system itself is flawed and all reforms will always lead in circles towards or away from more direct elections.

When your campaign needs a plumber

They’ve got to be pretty desperate to put these people out there.

Joe Wurzelbacher twice agreed with a questioner who said that “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death to Israel.” Afterwards McCain’s campaign backed him up: “Joe has offered some penetrating and clear analysis that cuts to the core of many of the concerns that people have with Barack Obama’s statements and policies.” Fox News’ Shepard Smith was almost disgusted when Joe refused to rescind or explain the lie. Joe told him people should “go out and get informed”. After the interview (5 minutes into the video) Smith clears the record on Obama and states, almost shakenly, “the rest of it…man…it just gets frightening sometimes.”

Meanwhile, in her first policy speech Palin mocked fruit fly research as a “pet project” having “nothing to do with the public good”. The public and science, of course, might disagree due to breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s, birth defects, Huntington’s, autism, The irony: This was a speech promoting progress for autism. OK, maybe she read what they handed her; that’s leadership!

10/30 More on campaigning: The Economist’s endorsement of Obama is cautious, but expresses views which seem increasingly common:

… the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated … Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met [Palin] just twice … this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear.

I think he’s been reckless (putting Wurzelbacher on the road), fear mongering (just when the public is more aware what fear got us into), and really a danger to the nation (promising the possibility of a Palin presidency). I have my own doubts that Obama’s plans can turn around our economy (only we can really do that), but McCain gives me even less vision. I expected at some point that he would really attempt to educate people on the theory of trickle-down economics or why it would make more sense than Obama’s alternatives, but McCain seems content to dumb everything down to what would fit on Palin’s cue cards, or just draw naive comparisons to communism and happily let her run wild with these ideas. Basically, he’s giving a lot of reasons to doubt him if his campaign is any indication of how he would run the country. And the Economist on Obama:

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

… In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent.