June 19, 2011

Never Judge a Book by its Wireless Connection

The Los Angeles Times takes its op-eds seriously and doesn’t allow just anyone to write them. So when it came time to publish an opinion piece regarding how the Kindle measures up in comparison to printed books, they turned to an expert:

Sara Barbour.

Sara Barbour describes her credentials early in the article:

“I've never used a Kindle.”

This could explain a lot about Los Angeles Times op-ed pieces.

This is a little unfair to Ms. Barbour as she did do some research on the Kindle:

“I've seen them in an over-the-shoulder sort of way”

Well, if that’s good enough for the Los Angeles Times, it’s good enough for us, although you might want to check the next time you read an LA Times piece on the war in Afghanistan that the correspondent didn’t base the story on something he saw on CNN “in an over-the-shoulder sort of way.”

The thrust of Ms. Barbour’s argument for the superiority of printed books is the fact that they are printed books. Coincidentally, this is the exact same argument we used in favor of the Kindle when we wrote our own review a couple of years ago. However, we made the amateurish error of actually purchasing and using a Kindle first.

But then, what can you expect? Planet Moron is just a blog. We never went to J-school and simply don’t understand the important role ignorance plays in informing the public.

Regardless, she makes a strong case for printed books:

“And then there is my childhood habit of making books into companions"

This is starting to sound less like an op-ed and more like a DSM entry.

"It isn't just about reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' — it's about my copy of the novel, with its cover appropriately wrinkled from hours of bathtub steam. I delight in the number of cracks on a spine.”

For the record, my own Kindle has a stain where I spilled a Jack Daniels on it as I passed out trying to make my way through a David Kessler book.  Ah, the memories…

“In eliminating a book's physical existence, something crucial is lost forever. Trapped in a Kindle, the story remains but the book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given or received. We may be able to read it, but we can't share it with others in the same way, and its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that much less powerful.”

She does have a point. By trapping a book in a Kindle, what with its Internet connection, social networking capabilities, capacity to display within the text how many times other people have highlighted and saved certain passages, and ability to access your entire collection through any wireless connection, its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that less much powerful than the printed book, what with its ability to become cracked, wrinkled and steamed.

For Ms. Barbour, printed books set her on her journey:

“If it weren't for the signature in that stolen copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ I wouldn't have felt a personal responsibility for books and their authors, a conviction that led me to New York to study at the only university with a great books curriculum.”

See, a single book established a conviction within her and set her on her life’s journey.

If it weren't for the gift of that galley of "The United States of Arugula," I wouldn't have developed the friendship with my boss, a food editor, and that was what made me realize that exploring the place of food in our lives was what I really wanted to do.”

You know that first book that established a conviction within her and sent her on her life’s journey? Yeah, never mind. Now this book, this one really established a conviction within her, one totally unrelated to that first conviction on which she spent four years of her life and tens of thousands of dollars. 

If we were her father, we’d have taken away her books.

“But once we all power up our Kindles something will be gone, a kind of language. Books communicate with us as readers — but as important, we communicate with each other through books themselves. When that connection is lost, the experience of reading — and our lives — will be forever altered.”

Imagine if the Kindle had been invented first, that you could have immediate access to all the world’s great written works through a small, portable device. One that allowed you to take notes, highlight passages, and tweet or otherwise share those passages with your friends in an instant. And one that allowed you access to your entire collection through a variety of electronic devices, even your phone.

Now imagine that after centuries of that, someone invented the “printed book.” What might a Sara Barbour op-ed look like in this alternate reality?

“But once we crack open our printed books, something will be gone, a kind of language.  Kindles communicate with us as readers—but as important, we communicate with each other through the Kindle’s social networking options. When that wireless connection is lost, the experience of downloading – and our lives – will be forever altered.”

You know how our life has been forever altered?

We’re going to stop reading the Los Angeles Times.

J.

June 19, 2011 at 09:32 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 08, 2010

The Commerce Clause: Is There Anything It Can’t Do? (Plus Book Excerpt!)

Yesterday a federal judge in Michigan, in a ruling finding federal health care mandates constitutional, took an expansive view of the powers granted the government under “the commerce clause,” and by “expansive view,” we mean “they can do anything they want.”

What do you know, Congressman Pete Stark was right after all!

Out: Commerce Clause.
In: Everything Clause!

I thought this might be an appropriate time for a book excerpt from the upcoming, “Planet Moron, How Faux Intellectuals, Hubris, and A Fear of Freedom Mongering Threaten Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Martini,” that addresses the magical mystical commerce clause. 

This is from Chapter 12, “Fabricated Complexity,” the premise of which is that one way to keep the masses in line is to make them believe they couldn’t possibly understand things that are in fact easily understood:

Chapter 12 (Excerpt)

Fabricated Complexity

…As I have already readily conceded, none of this is to suggest that when it comes to interpreting the Constitution you don’t want to hire people with a superior talent to do so on your behalf, but it is quite a leap from there to this:

 “Justice Holmes explained that when it came to ‘the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters.’ (“Master, it’s alive!”) Holmes decided that the decision had to be made ‘in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what said a hundred years ago.’”3

The notion that the meaning of the Constitution should be what the Founding Fathers would have meant had they been as smart as modern lawyers really gained traction during The Great Depression.

A book co-written in 2009 by Goodwin Liu, (as of this writing, a nominee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals), notes that:

“Until 1937, two lines of judicial doctrine often prevented government from responding to pressing economic problems.”4

This “judicial doctrine,” was, of course, based on the old-fashioned notion that easily understood words were easily understood:

“Before 1937, the Supreme Court often applied the federalism principle by adhering to the eighteenth-century understanding of the term ‘commerce.’ As Justice Thomas has explained, ‘[a]t the time the original Constitution was ratified, ‘commerce’ consisted of selling, buying, and bartering, as well as transporting for these purposes. . . . [T]he term ‘commerce’ was used in contradistinction to productive activities such as manufacturing and agriculture.’ Applying this definition, the Court repeatedly struck down federal regulation of manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and other ‘local’ activities on the ground that they occurred “prior to” commerce and affected commerce only ‘indirectly.’”5

That antiquated eighteenth-century understanding of the term “commerce” also happens to be the very modern twenty-first-century dictionary understanding:

The exchange or buying and selling of commodities on a large scale involving transportation from place to place.”6

But that’s too straightforward for Mr. Liu.  It’s better if we have lawyers make up new, improved definitions that only apply to them and that only they can understand.

And while Mr. Liu may have slept through his Early American History classes, it should be noted that “manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and other “local activities” existed in the eighteenth century and so were not new and alien concepts wholly unfamiliar to the people who wrote the Constitution.

So what was the problem? According Liu and his co-authors:

“Under this reading of the Commerce Clause, the federal government could not enact laws to address labor inequities or to establish minimum wages or maximum hours in vast parts of the American economy.”7

Hey, that is a problem!

“Just as narrow construction of the commerce and spending powers limited Congress’s ability to regulate the economy, so too did the Court’s construction of Fourteenth Amendment ‘liberty’ to encompass ‘freedom of contract’ disable state governments from enacting various labor laws, price regulations, maximum hours and minimum wage laws, and other economic Promoting the General Welfare regulations.”8

Wow, this freedom thing sure was gumming up the works. It’s almost as if the Constitution was designed to limit the powers of the government.

From a now-antiquated 1936 Court ruling:

“The right to make contracts about one’s affairs is a part of the liberty protected by the due process clause. Within this liberty are provisions of contracts between employer and employee fixing the wages to be paid. In making contracts of employment, generally speaking, the parties have equal right to obtain from each other the best terms they can by private bargaining. Legislative abridgement of that freedom can only be justified by the existence of exceptional circumstances. Freedom of contract is the general rule and restraint the exception. 9

As Liu explains:

“In these and other ways, the Supreme Court articulated a restrictive view of federal and state authority that blocked measures to reduce some of the inequities, hardships, and economically harmful conditions that accompanied the industrialization and urbanization of the economy.” 10

That damn Constitution was ruining all the fun.

There are two approaches the President and Congress could have taken to address the situation:

They could have gone through the laborious process of amending the Constitution, which would involve the messy and distasteful process of securing the consent of the governed.

Or…

They could just decide that the Constitution is in fact so impossibly complex that it doesn’t say what it says at all, but rather, says something else entirely different and no, there really isn’t any reason to trouble yourself with why, just leave that to the experts.  They went to college!

Of course, they first had to get the Supreme Court to go along, so in 1937, President Roosevelt tried to do what anyone would had they sworn a sacred oath to uphold the Constitution and its tradition of ensuring there were adequate checks and balances in place to guarantee that no single branch of government could intrude upon the liberty of its citizens.

He tried to pack the court with political hacks. 11

But, as Liu explains:

“…before its validity could be tested legally or politically, the Supreme Court handed down a remarkable series of decisions dismantling the jurisprudence that had stymied federal and state legislative action. “ 12

Hey, that is remarkable.  Not to mention wholly coincidental with presidential threats to undermine the sitting justices' authority.

Liu notes that “one leading theorist [argued] that the 1937 change was an unorthodox but valid amendment of the Constitution outside of the Article V process.” 13

You know, “unorthodox,” the way Jeffrey Dahmer had an “unorthodox” approach to menu planning.

But as Liu explains:

“Far from requiring a formal amendment to the Constitution, the legitimacy of such government action rests comfortably on a proper reading of the Constitution as written—that is, as a declaration of general principles ‘intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.’14

Adapted not by you, of course.  Because once you stop seeing the Constitution as “a set of narrow legalisms”15 and instead as “an interpretation… that adapts its words and principles to the actual experiences and changing conditions facing the American people,”16 you need to hand over the work to someone else.

Of course, some sections of the Constitution were purposely left open to interpretation, such as the prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment,” which the authors clearly preferred to leave undefined.  Other sections were much more specific and closed off (or attempted to) the kind of manufactured complexity of “interpretations” that have been forced upon it in the past 73 years.  For example, the stipulation that in order to be eligible for the Office of President, individuals must be at least 35 years old really doesn’t leave itself open to an extended debate over what the authors meant by “year.”

All of which makes the Constitution not so much a “living document,” as perhaps an undead one.

So, yes, under a proper modern interpretation, the United States of America is now governed by:

“Zombie Constitution.”

(I’m thinking George Romero to produce given his extensive experience with zombies and Scarlett Johansson in the leading role given her extensive experience being Scarlett Johansson.)

Incidentally, the reason FDR went through extraordinary measures to bend the court, and through it the Constitution, to his will was due to the fact that he:

“…saw the prospect of amending the Constitution as remote if not impossible.”17

In other words, the way in which the intellectual elite wanted to govern is something the governed would never have consented to, and in fact did not consent to over the first 148 years of the Constitution’s existence.

So the next time someone points out that your restrictive interpretation (as in restricted to the actual definition) of the commerce clause flies in the face of 73 years of Supreme Court precedent, just tell them you’ll see their 73, and raise them another 75.

J.

October 8, 2010 at 12:54 PM in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 30, 2010

Update 7: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Section 1 Chapter Outline and Excerpt From Chapter 3

You thought I stopped working on the book didn’t you?  You thought I was just sitting around drinking lime daiquiris all day?

Lime Daiquiri

Okay, so one out of two ain’t bad.

Regardless, below is the chapter outline for Section 1 followed by an excerpt from Chapter 3.  I’ve got all of Section 1 done, most of Section 2, some of Section 3 and pretty much none of Section 4.  But it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Okay, it’s as bad as it sounds…

SECTION 1

Why They Think You’re A Moron (And Why They Think They’re Not)

Chapter 1
Shut Up, That’s Why

Chapter 2
You Are Ignorant

Chapter 3
You Are Stupid

Chapter 4
You Just Don’t Understand

Chapter 5
You Are A Religious Nut

Chapter 6
You Are A Nut, Period
No, Seriously, You’re Insane

Chapter 7
You Are A Subhuman Fiend And/Or Nazi Appeasing Ghoul

Chapter 8
Your Dry Cleaner Is Not As Good

 

Chapter 3

You Are Stupid

“It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you're a nation of dodos.” – Joe Klein, Time Magazine.

In a piece titled, “Too Dumb To Thrive,”1 Joe Klein, a political columnist at Time Magazine noted with exasperation that nearly three out of four Americans thought the Stimulus package was a waste of money, observing that, “they may be right: it's been wasted on them.”

Like a parent who has lost patience with his children’s lack of appreciation for all he’s done for them, Klein points out that $288 billion of stimulus spending went to tax relief for 95% of the American public and $275 billion went to their state and local governments.

In other words, you should be grateful you got a pair of socks and underwear for Christmas. Now shut up and eat your broccoli.

Klein has two explanations for this “dodo” -like behavior on the part of Americans. (Other Americans.  Not him. )

First:

“The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people...especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.”

Naturally, the only possible explanation for why regular people would disagree with smart people is that the smart people just haven’t explained it well enough. They just need to dumb it down a bit more, perhaps with a puppet show, or coloring book with family fun activities to ensure that the gape-jawed masses are able to understand it.  (This is a common theme to which we will return in Chapter 4.)

What of his point that there have been, “very few documented cases of waste so far?”

That’s “waste,” as far as Joe Klein is concerned.

$6 billion for “wellness preservation?” Unquestionably essential for job growth. $200 million for birth control? How can you have an economic recovery without it?  Millions for new government cars and digital TV coupons?  That’s like a job-generating machine on steroids.2

How about $427,824 to study the unique game-play needs of senior citizens?  $54 million to relocate the Napa Valley Wine Train? $389,357 to compare outcomes of the concurrent and separate use of malt liquor and marijuana? $168,300 for an SBA loan to the Escape Massage parlor in Midlothian, VA?3

You might think these qualify as “documented cases of waste” but then you don’t have a degree from The University of Pennsylvania in “American Civilization,” now do you?4

Mr. Klein’s second point is that:

“This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed...and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.”

Such ill- and misinformed Americans would include Allan Meltzer, an economist at Carnegie Mellon, and former Treasury Department official under John F. Kennedy, and former member of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, who says of the Obama Administration’s stimulus spending:

My advice on the stimulus plan was, don't do it. Let's look at the plan. First, a lot of the money was used to reduce the deficits of state and local governments by increasing the federal debt. It was simply money transferred from the federal government. The economic multiplier effect was zero. Second, the temporary tax cuts went to paying off credit cards and other debts, not spending that would have increased economic growth. “5

Those dumb uneducated Americans, where do they get their crazy ideas that the stimulus money was “wasted?”  Did they sleep through their American Civilization classes?...

J.

August 30, 2010 at 11:00 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 06, 2010

Update 6: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 2

As promised, below is another excerpt, this time from Chapter 2. I’m hoping to post an earlier promised chapter outline in the next few days, mainly because I really need to do a chapter outline.  You’d be surprised how important organization is when you’re writing something longer than a snarky five-paragraph blog post. 

Okay, I was surprised. Be that as it may:

Chapter 2

You Are Ignorant

“You Idiots!” – Cover of Rolling Stone1

Bill Maher, former comedian turned acerbic commentator on the human condition for HBO, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post entitled, “New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country,”2 in which he calls America a “stupid country.”

Of course, he doesn’t mean to imply that all Americans are stupid, just the ones who aren’t him. 

By way of evidence he offers up polling data that found that two thirds of those surveyed lacked sufficient familiarity with Roe vs. Wade, seven in ten couldn’t properly identify the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and two-thirds could not accurately describe the functions of the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Morons.

These are things Bill Maher, knows of course.  That would be the same Bill Maher whose job it is to make witty observations on current affairs, public policy, and politics, and so (and I’m just winging it here) would probably benefit from being thoroughly conversant on subjects that include abortion rights, Janet Napolitano, and the FDA.

By Bill Maher’s standard “Joe the plumber” could just as easily note a survey in which two thirds of Americans lack sufficient familiarity with pipe brazing, seven in ten can’t identify a flaring tool, and two-thirds can’t accurately describe the functions of a spiral ratchet pipe reamer and similarly conclude that aside from himself, the country is full of drooling imbeciles.

Now, I would not mind it if more people took a greater interest in the political process and the functions of their government.  But then, I also wouldn’t mind if more people took a greater interest in bringing back “Xena, Warrior Princess,” but that might just be me.

And while there is no question that as the size and scope of government has grown, it has become increasingly important that people follow public policy more closely, we should appreciate that people who earn their living doing something other than critiquing American public policy initiatives might devote their limited time to honing skills and accumulating knowledge that is relevant to their line of work (never mind spending more time with their family or pursuing other hobbies and interests) as opposed to carefully reading the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

That’s my job.3

And it shouldn’t mean that people less familiar with the minutia of public policy don’t get a say.  Or, as Maher says towards the end of his piece, “And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy?”

Apparently Bill Maher doesn’t want common people on the street carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. He finds it far more preferable to have educated elites carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand.4

After all, who is better equipped to decide whether or not comprehensive health care reform is a good idea?  The people who will be most affected by it, or the people who know how to spell J-A-N-E-T N-A-P-O-L-I-T-A-N-O?...

J.

August 6, 2010 at 01:02 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 29, 2010

Update 5: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 1

A commenter asked last week, “So when are you going to finish [the book]?” 

That’s a legitimate question and deserves an answer:

"I don’t know."

I didn’t say it deserved a good answer.

That said, I think I’m realistically looking at the end of August. However, regardless of where I am on the book, I plan on resuming regular blogging after Labor Day (with the campaign season heating up then, I know I won't be able to resist such a target rich environment). 

In the meantime, I’m going to post excerpts from some of the early chapters, partly because it will give you a better feel for the book itself and partly because they’re done (or nearly done, since I am endlessly tinkering and copy editing).

Today, I’ll start with the beginning of Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Shut Up, That’s Why

“Do You Know Who I Am?” – Senator John Kerry 1

You hear people say it all the time, “everyone is a moron,” but they don’t mean it, not really.  What they really mean is “everyone else is a moron,” which is a very different thing. 

The necessary flip side to believing everyone other than you is a moron is that you yourself are not one. In fact, you are obviously quite smart.

Why would you be anything else?  You’re you, after all.

But where does this attitude originate?

One obvious source is the fact that most people are very good at one or two things.  You can be a moron like the rest of us and still be an imaginative artist, a skilled surgeon, or a mathematical prodigy.  Commerce, indeed civilization as we know it, rests on the notion that most people are really good at a few things, and pretty bad at everything else.  If we were all geniuses at everything we’d do everything, or most everything, ourselves.  Instead, we do the things we’re good at and trade the product of that labor for the things that other people are good at.

You can call it division of labor if you like, or comparative advantage.

I call it the idiot-savant theory of prosperity.

In other words, our modern industrial economy and the unprecedented prosperity it creates, is built upon the enduring principle that people are incompetent.

Inevitably, people who are good at one thing, who excel at doing something all day long, particularly in professions where there are too many opportunities for overt expressions of praise and admiration, come to believe that they are, in fact, so smart that they can do nearly anything. 

This is a universal proposition that spans millennia:

“But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom.” 2

And this is why doctors lose all their money in real estate.  This is why models think they can sing, singers think they can act, and Sean Penn thinks he can think.

This is why lawyers think they can do, well, anything…

J.

July 29, 2010 at 01:39 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2010

Update 4: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Final Excerpt From Introduction

Did I say "brief?"  I meant that ironically. 

Below is the final section of the introduction. I hope to make some real progress the next two weeks, and might have a near-final chapter outline to share within the week.

But then, we've already established that I'm a filthy liar. 

Introduction, concluded:

A few quick caveats:

I am not a conservative, although I share many common causes with conservatives, such as a preference for limited government, a fondness for low taxes, and a possibly unhealthy passion for good gin. Also, mediocre gin.  And in a pinch, bad gin, but only if there is no good and/or mediocre gin available.

Okay, I might have a gin problem. And by “gin problem,” I mean “I occasionally run out of good gin.”

Regardless, given the Sharks vs. Jets dichotomy of our national political dialogue, much of this book will draw examples that sit comfortably along the liberal/conservative fault line.   In most instances, when it comes to economic liberty, I’ll be sympathetic to the conservative view (if not necessarily the conservative practice).

I am also not a populist. 

The term “populist” has taken on some unfortunate baggage of late, much like “socialist,” “liberal,” and “MSNBC news anchor.” 

It is generally assumed (as by Brooks and Kristol mentioned earlier) that populists believe the average person in the street is gifted with wisdom grounded in hard work and simple pleasures, and if only he or she were granted dominion, our republic would flourish anew.

There is a problem with this view.

The average person in the street is an idiot.

But then, my argument is that the average person in the nation’s boardrooms, university faculty lounges and marble corridors of Washington is an idiot too.  The difference is those people don’t know it.

And here is where the average person in the street does have a leg up.  There is a certain humility born of a life spent on a rough and crooked road.  There is a sense of personal accountability that accrues to those who, while well aware that not all of life’s failings and fortunes are within one’s control, they are still one’s responsibility. 

Meaning your average person in the street at least has the wisdom to know he or she shouldn’t be telling everyone else what to do.

I am not a liberal. While perhaps obvious in this context, it might not be as clear if I were writing about the war against some drugs, or other social issues. For the record, though, I fully support the government sanctioning civil unions for straight people.  You want to get “married,” go to a church. You want to enter into a contractual agreement that will be governed by a body of law, go to the courthouse.  Now, can we please get back to important things like hysterical protests over Christmas crèches at public community centers?

I am not anti-intellectual.  I am in fact rather fond of intellectuals without whom my Amazon Wish List would be devoid of obscure narratives on Greek history I’ll never find the time to read.  I am however anti-faux-intellectual, and against the substitution of lockstep collectivist conformity for critical thought. And while I concede there really are “smart” people in the world (more to the point, people who are smart in areas I am not), I still don’t want them telling me what kind of light bulb I can buy.

Finally, I am not anti-government, much in the same way the Founding Fathers were not anti-government seeing as they went through a great deal of trouble creating one. Like the Founders, I recognize that government has an essential role, its only legitimate role, really, in securing individual liberty.  Also like them, I recognize its limits, and the hazards a powerful state poses to individual freedom. And yes, to those of you who maintain that any central government no matter how carefully conceived will inexorably consolidate power to the detriment of liberty, well, fine, you win that one. 

Anti-government zealots: 1
Me: 0

However, I try to stay in the realm of the possible.  The chances of our achieving some anarchic Utopia are about the same as the New York Yankees deciding that “you don’t need money to build a gosh darn good baseball team.”

So, what am I? (Aside from the obvious.)

I am a recovering libertarian with a drinking problem. 

Or a recovering drunk with a libertarian problem.

(I can never remember which.)

I believe retaining personal sovereignty should be a default position, and unless someone can make a really good argument as to why you should relent and cede decision-making authority to the government, just say no.

Foreign powers present an imminent threat to life and liberty? 

Okay, sure, sounds reasonable.

You think maybe I should lay off the salt and French fries? 8

Um, you know what? How about you leave that one to me.

A quick preview:

In Section 1, I review the ways in which those who fancy themselves to be gifted with superior intellect define “superior intellect” to include those people who demonstrate a unique talent for agreeing with them.

In Section 2, I address the ways in which this illusion is maintained and reinforced.

Section 3 explores the very real ramifications of allowing a small group of people who are not as smart as they think are, to run the country.

Section 4 attempts to take the first steps toward addressing this problem.  I say attempt because I admit up front that I don’t have all the questions, never mind all the answers. (Although, I have found “go easy on the vermouth” to come in handy on more than a few occasions.)

Besides, the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.

J.

July 19, 2010 at 12:46 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 12, 2010

Update 3: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With New Excerpt

I just wanted my faithful readers to know that I have been inspired by President Obama’s example and have released the following statement:

I am not going to rest or be satisfied until the book is finished, the manuscript has been edited and cleaned up, and the people of this country can go back to reading my blog.

In that spirit, I promise I will not take any more than three vacations in any given 81-day period until my book-writing crisis has passed!

In the meantime, below is part 2 of the book’s introduction. To my surprise, the introduction is actually useful in providing a decent feel for what the book is about. Sure, this runs the very real risk of suppressing sales, but I’ve decided to call anything over a dozen a resounding success.

Planet Moron: Grading on a curve since 1993.

Introduction, Cont’d

...Before I go further, my apologies for use of the word “they” and its counterparts.  I don’t attempt to define it clearly up front, but rather let its meaning become clear through the course of the book.  This is a respected rhetorical device known as "laziness." Most people will understand it to mean those of influence, liberal or conservative, who believe themselves to be of such high intelligence that they have an obligation to tell the rest of us what to do, from politicians to academics to pundits to, God help us, “celebrities.”  In other words, the “elite,” a word I’m even less fond of, but still find a useful shorthand in this context and use extensively.

How can you determine if you are a part of “they” or a member of the “elite?”  There’s actually a very simple way to tell:

You’re not.

That was probably easier than you thought it was going to be.

Anti-elite and anti-establishment uprisings such as what has been transpiring with both the Tea Party movement specifically and the more broadly growing notion among many independents that perhaps we should start embracing individual liberty over the creeping collectivism of the past seven decades or so is often miscast.

Conservative columnist David Brooks in a March 2010 New York Times column exploring the similarities between the “new left” uprisings of the ‘60s and today’s Tea Parties wrote:

“But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures.” 3

This is what psychologists call “projection.”

It is natural that an establishment member of the elite would assume that those who seek to overthrow the nation’s entrenched leadership structures, would believe, as David Brooks certainly would, that they are uniquely endowed with purity and virtue. 

The late Irving Kristol held a similar view, although for different reasons, elevating the wisdom of the common man above his supposed betters in order to draw a contrast with the “cultural elite” and “intellectuals” of which he was said to be generally scornful. 4

That is clearly not the premise of this book. Nor, I doubt, the premise of those who call for a less activist government.  In fact, if there is one thing I can attest to, it’s that “regular people” mostly lack the arrogance to believe their elevated virtue qualifies them to tell you how to live and tend to hew more closely to a kind of Socratic modesty:

“…So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.” 5

But then, it’s easier to retain modesty regarding your abilities when you work in occupations that don’t include an endless parade of self-congratulatory awards and recognitions.

There are no Nobel Prizes presented for the expert use of a band saw, and no national media adoration when you’re named “salesperson of the month” (although you might find yourself catching admiring glances from Richard in accounting.)

And yet one could argue that my assertion that we would be better off with less government intervention in our lives suggests that I must believe I know better how to organize society, that I am elevating my judgment above those who would argue otherwise.

But that is not my assertion at all. I’m no more or less a moron than anyone else (with the possible exception of the inventor of the vuvuzela, and that cuts both ways). I don’t want to organize society any more than I want someone else to organize it for me. 

Admittedly, there are certain collective endeavors that enjoy broad-based support. Most people would agree that we need, for example, a common approach to national defense, lest the Canadians, drunk with power from their Olympic hockey gold medal victories6 swarm our northern border and force upon us a regime built around ice beer and innovative sketch comedy.

And I concede that there is little doubt that a society with less government intervention will be different from a society with more, that is, I’m trying to convince my fellow citizens to pursue a particular point of view.  However, there is an important difference between what I want, and what the collectivists want.

You can pursue all your wildest collectivist fantasies within a system of government that elevates individual liberty above the collective.  That is, if you want to “share the wealth,” live in a commune, or organize your entire life around “Star Trek - The Next Generation,” you retain the right to do so in a free society.  I have no interest in stopping you.  (Although I might want to know where you got the cool tricorder.)

However, if you live in a collectivist society there are all manner of laws prohibiting your pursuit of individual liberty, and if you insist on running around in your Starfleet uniform all day,7 you run the very real risk of encountering a violent reaction.  Okay, running around in a Starfleet uniform all day is going to increase your risk of encountering a violent reaction no matter where you live, but you get the idea. 

The reason for much of the anger you see today is because broad swaths of people who were sitting at home minding their own business are discovering that there are legions of people who want very much to mind their business for them.

I get into all this, and much more in the pages that follow...

 

The final installment of the introduction will appear within the next week or so.

J.

July 12, 2010 at 03:30 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 06, 2010

Update 2: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt

As part of my Brief Summer Book Hiatus, I went on my annual beach trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my old college buddies last week believing that would be a good opportunity to make some progress on my book.

Spending a week at the beach with your old college buddies is not as conducive to thoughtful writing as you might think. Well, as I might think.  It is, however, very conducive to waking up at four in the morning sitting upright in a living room chair with a half a glass of whiskey at your side.  This forced me to reassess my priorities in life. I mean, really, what a waste. 

Of perfectly good whiskey.

In my defense, I was a little burned out from trying to write the blog and the book at the same time and so a little break will no doubt serve to revive my creative juices.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Regardless, I’ve included a brief excerpt from the introduction, just so you know I really have made some progress, with “progress” loosely defined.  This is actually one of my longer chapters (blogging has made it increasingly difficult for me to sustain a single thought for more than… hey, I didn’t know we still had cheese…) so rest assured, there is much more. 

That’s supposed to be a promise, not a warning:

 

Introduction

You Are a Moron

 “People like blood sausage too, people are morons.”  -- Bill Murray as Phil Connors, Groundhog Day 1

You will find most people in authority and their enablers, whether government officials, opinion leaders, or influential members of the media, operate under the general assumption that you are a moron.  There are two problems with this:

    1) It is insulting.
    2) It is true.

Now, before you get all offended, ranting on about how that isn’t why George Washington charged the Japanese on San Juan Hill to blow up the Death Star, stop and go take a look at yourself in the mirror.  Those shoes?  With THAT belt? 

And do you even own a comb?

But the problem is not that you or I or the guy across the street with the Sierra Club bumper sticker on his Range Rover is a moron (he is). After all, our individual actions tend to have finite, limited ramifications when we are making personal decisions. 

Let’s say, purely as a hypothetical, that you once thought it would be a good idea to consume four cheese enchiladas immediately following a three-mile race during which you had to stop at seven bars and chug a beer.  The only people you hurt are yourself, maybe your girlfriend.  The waiter.  Okay, the busboy too, but you get the idea.  (Hypothetically.)

The real problems begin when people believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they themselves are somehow immune to the general human affliction of universal idiocy and should be put in charge, saving the rest of us from ourselves through the power of their superior intellect.

What do we end up with when we turn decision-making authority over to self-identified smart people, the better to organize our lives?

Sorghum subsidies.  2

This combination of conceit and power is an intoxicating cocktail for those who have imbibed but a dangerous one for the rest of us who are left to figure out how to throw the obnoxious drunk out of the house (a task made infinitely more difficult if the obnoxious drunk happens to be the federal government).

In the pages that follow I make the case for limited government from the straightforward perspective of a person who has met too many morons who are supposed to be geniuses and too many geniuses who are supposed to be morons.  I have seen small handfuls of people assume that they are so smart they can better engineer the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans than the hundreds of millions of Americans themselves.

I have seen martinis served on the rocks.

(I still have nightmares.)

In order to believe that a small group of “smart” people are best equipped to tell everyone else how to live you need to accept three premises:

1) The criteria used to choose the smart people are based on whether the people are actually smart.

2) There actually exist people smart enough that they can substitute their judgment for the judgment of 300 million individual Americans.

3) These smart people, so empowered, will act in the best interest of those 300 million Americans and not in the best interest of the smart people.

This book primarily addresses the fist two (everyone knows you make the big bucks on the sequel)…

J.

July 6, 2010 at 07:56 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 24, 2010

Update 1: Brief Summer Book Hiatus

Progress at start of Brief Summer Book Hiatus:

  1.  First 13 chapters written.
  2. Rough outline for remaining sections completed.

 Progress at Day 3 of Brief Summer Book Hiatus:

  1. First 13 chapters written.
  2. Rough outline for remaining sections completed.
  3. All caught up with Hell’s Kitchen on the DVR.

In other words, I’m doing pretty much as well as you probably expected. 

I should also add that I have thus far successfully resisted writing posts on educators’ attempts to ban “best friends,” a law school’s decision to increase all their graduates’ grades by .333 points in order to make them seem better to employers, and an editorial completely rejecting the notion that private property owners shouldn’t have to bear all the costs under judicial takings.

I have GOT to stop reading the New York Times.

J.

June 24, 2010 at 03:25 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 21, 2010

Brief Summer Book Hiatus

Writing, not reading.

Long-time readers know I’ve been threatening promising to write a Planet Moron book for some time now.  Long time readers also know that I’m a filthy liar.

However, I actually managed to write the first thirteen chapters over the past few months despite my many other obligations including my day job, my drinking, my blogging, my drinking, taking care of baby moron, and my drinking.

Clearly there was only one thing that I could do without for a few weeks to make room for the book.

And yes, I know I listed drinking three times but that’s only because I was afraid if I listed it four times people would start to think I drink too much.

There is a decent chance that, unlike previous hiatuses, I might actually get something done on the book, if only because I already gave the vanity publisher all my money and now they’re just waiting on the manuscript.

I am going the self-publishing route since my experience over the past 17 years strongly suggests that Planet Moron, no matter what its form or iteration, has limited niche appeal (a phrasing I prefer to the more descriptive, "actively repels most readers"). Besides, I’m hoping that what I lose in credibility, I’ll more than make up in desperate futility.

As for the content of the book, it is a philosophical manifesto of sorts, at least in the Planet Moron style. Think “On Liberty,” only not as well written.  Or clever. Or interesting, original, or important.

Okay, I need to work on my marketing approach. 

Working title:

PLANET MORON

How Faux Intellectuals, Hubris, and A Fetish For Democracy Threaten Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Martini

Since site traffic is like crack for bloggers, I would appreciate it if you’d provide me a fix from time to time and continue to check back.  Although I won’t be blogging in my traditional manner (well, mostly, as long-time readers, knowing that I’m a filthy liar, also know I’ll probably still blog a bit not to mention the Twitter updates that you can read in the sidebar), I do hope to put up some posts on my progress and perhaps include some excerpts from the book.  These will be limited as I’m intent on ensuring that the book will contain at least 85% original material and by “original material” I mean "my typical offerings of hackneyed, derivative, and juvenile musings only in a slightly different word order."

Hey, you dance with the girl that brung ya.

J.

June 21, 2010 at 05:43 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack