Concerning Rand Paul and related topics

As I write there is controversy surrounding Rand Paul and comments he made concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This act has many provisions but the provision that is the focus is the provision making racial discrimination in public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc) illegal.

First there needs to be a bit of clarification. Rand Paul is not a libertarian. Neither is his father Ron Paul. And I do not find anything libertarian about the Tea Party. There are a lot of people who try to pass themselves off as libertarian when really they are just conservatives; often confused and uniformed and perhaps on occasion because they are too embarrassed to call themselves conservatives.

I think it is instructive to make a short and admittedly incomplete examination of Rand Paul's positions (and changes) on public accommodations and related topics because it demonstrates some of the problems with his position and some of this harshest critics. From what I see in the news reports Rand Paul originally had a position that the Federal government should not pass a law that prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations since he felt that it was unconstitutional. One thing which is important here and which Rand Paul either forgot or failed to articulate is that context matters. In the context of the current USA the current interpretation per the SCOTUS of the constitution does allow the Federal government jurisdiction. Now Rand Paul may disagree with the SCOTUS and if that is the case then he needs to say that very clearly. Just coming out saying what he did just made him look silly. Then later he reversed himself opening himself up to charges of being an opportunistic flip-flopper.

From what I gather Rand Paul is much like his father is thinking that certain topics like separation of church and state as related to school prayer should be outside the jurisdiction of the Federal courts. For example from this article which quotes Rand Paul as saying "I think some religious communities might have prayer in the schools. I don’t think that’s any business of the federal government. The first amendment says that Congress shall establish no religion, it doesn’t say that Congress shall tell the local school district whether it can have any kind of religious activity in their schools." If a person is running for the US Senate I would think they realize that it is a long settled legal point that 14th amendment extended the 1st amendment protections to everyone in the USA. Now Rand Paul may not like the 14th amendment or may not like the interpretation of the SCOTUS and other Federal courts but to make his statement as he did in a political campaign makes him look silly and uniformed.

And to use a colloquialism; it seems to me that Rand Paul just does not have a clue. Rand Paul does not appear to realize what can happen to a student who does not join in a prayer at a school event. Bigotry and intimidation are not supposed to be part of school; Rand Paul should remember that and should realize that mixing religion into the public schools is both illegal and unwise. Rand Paul needs to understand that the level of government does not negate the issue of freedom from government mandated or sponsored religious activity or messages.

And another thing that Rand Paul should remember is that Blacks in the south for years had their private property taken as taxes to pave the roads and streets, to fund the fire departments, to fund police (usually racist) and other state and local services. The very services that segregated hotels and restaurants enjoyed. Based on what I have read of his views Rand Paul would approve the taking of private property from one group (the Blacks) and using it to provide services that enhance the private property of another group (the Segregationists)? But I suspect that he and his fellow conservatives would say "But it is just taxes and everyone pays taxes so it is all OK". Well no it is not OK. If Rand Paul wants to make a property rights argument then he needs to really understand what that means and where it leads. A logically consistent theory of property rights would not lead into his murky conservative swamp of hypocrisy and confusion.

Sometimes a historical document is useful and thus I recommend that Rand Paul read Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail and reflect upon it and see why Dr. King wrote those words and the point that Dr. King was trying to make. Rand Paul does not need to agree in total with King but it would be very useful for Rand Paul if he understood the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Understanding context is a good first step to getting a clue.


The Unicorporated Man - Book Review

Title: The Unincorporated Man
Authors: Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
Publisher: Tor

This novel is about a man with a terminal illness who is revived about 300 years after having himself cryonically suspended. The technology of the time is able to cure his illness and restore him to vigorous health. However this man Justin Cord is different in one remarkable way from everyone else. Every other person is incorporated at birth with at 100,000 with the government getting 5% of the shares; the parents getting 20%. Other shares are sold to pay for raising and educating the child. When the individual becomes an adult the control of what stock remains is in control of that individual with the proviso that no person can own less than 25% of themselves. But not Justin Cord since he in unincorporated because he was cryonically suspended prior to the incorporation. And this seems to cause a lot of consternation. Particularly in one of the higher level employees of the largest corporation who early in the novel is attempting to trick Cord into voluntarily incorporating.

Cord has several sources of assistance in his adjustment to his new world and explaining the disasters that wiped out huge portions of the humans while Cord was suspended. One is a DijAssist which might be considered a cross between a smartphone, networked PDA and personal computer in a small portable form factor that has all data and personal information stored on the network so that if the unit is lost you just forget it and obtain a new one. Other assistance comes from a cast of characters; Omad who finds the cryonic chamber in an abandoned mine, Neela the "revive specialist" and others. At times the novel suffers because these characters are just a bit too stock and a littel too predictable.

Which brings me to one of problems I had with the book. The book makes the point that a romantic connection between a revival specialist and a revivee is considered a serious problem in the new society. Yet here we have the revival specialist and the revivee falling for each other and it is obvious that it is going to be an issue right from the beginning. It was so obvious that it detracted from the flow of the story. Why have the stereotype of woman as nurturer? At times it was almost painful to read. Why not have Neela be the person out exploring in the mine and have Omad as the revival specialist. That would have been a fresher approach.

Another problem with the book is that it needed another pass by an editor. There are several places where I think the authors were too close to their text and thus did not spot some lines that detract from the flow of the novel. As a reader I find it annoying when authors drop in a line which kicks the reader out of the reading experience with a "What???" reaction. Unfortunately the authors have a dozy in this novel where in discussing the issues related to destroying one system without considering what would replace it there is this: "It's almost always something or someone worse. Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and Ahmadinejad, to name but a few." Ahmadinejad??? Give me a break. First let us be clear that I think Ahmadinejad is a very dispicable person. And it is possible that in the future Ahmadinejad might do actions which justify placing him on a list with Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler and Stalin. But Ahmadinejad has not done those actions yet and is not likely to do so. First remember that Ahmadinejad is not changing a society he maintaining the status quo. Secondly consider that Ahmadinejad is more of a threat to start a war with neighboring countries than do internal purges in Iran on the level of a Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin.

In addition to the above example about where another pass by editor would be helpful there is the section about the DijAssit and their association. Was the DijAssit section included as a hook for the next novel? Supposedly the authors have a three book contract with Tor so there are still two more novels and it makes sense that one or both might be sequals to this one. But that section is not well integrated into the book and is rather distracting.

The novel seems to have generated interest partially because it deals with the concept of incorporation. As a general concept selling shares in future income is not a new concept and the novel does pay homage by quoting Milton Friedman discussing financing education by shares in future earnings. But note the difference; Friedman is discussing shares in future earnings not shares in the individual. And this makes a big difference since in the system described in the novel where a person lived or worked could be determined by the shareholders with a majority of that persons shares. Which is why owning a majority of your own stock is a goal for many in the novel however unrealistic that goal may be. Of course Justin Cord does not want to be incorporated.

The issues of liberty, social organization and other topics from political philosophy are a backdrop for the novel and are sometimes discussed explicitly by the characters. One of the difficulties with writing this type of novel is providing information to the reader without a series of obvious "As you know Bob" sections. The authors did fewer of these than I expected and the opening pages of the book which introduce the characters of Omad and Neela show a lot of work went into introducing the characters along with a basic outline of incorporation.

The initial concept behind this novel might be interesting but for me the novel just does not meet my expectations. For people like me who are already familiar with the idea of shares in future wages the idea of shares in a individual is not that much of a leap. It takes more than interesting ideas to carry a novel and in this case some of the novel seemed at times formulaic and the characters too stereotypical.

I will close this review with a little thought experiment. Recall the end of the novel where the crowd is chanting "ONE FREE MAN" and then Cord gets them to chant "ALL FREE MEN". Consider for a moment that instead of the protagonist being a man named Justin Cord that the protagonist had been a woman named Justine Cord. The initial chant would have been "ONE FREE WOMAN"; how would the chant have been changed by a Justine Cord? Perhaps to "ALL FREE WOMEN"? This would have made for a very interesting twist.


2081 - A Movie Review

Title: 2081
Length: 25 minutes
Website: http://www.finallyequal.com/

This film is an excellent adaptation of the short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut.

I suspect that most people are like me in having read the short story years ago and thus the general structure and end of the story are known to most viewers. Yet the movie is riveting due to the extra dimension that the visual impact of the handicapping devices and the uniforms of the police.

This is a movie where all of the pieces work; the director does a great job, the actors are excellent, the costuming and sets hit the mark. The movie is visually excellent; it enhances not detracts from the story. The movie follows the original work by Vonnegut where appropriate but differs and introduces new elements that give it a more urgent flavor.

I highly recommend this movie. Very seldom do I find that a movie adaptation surpasses the original written work; however in this case I think this movie really builds on and enhances Vonnegut's work.


A Great Weekend

This was a fine weekend. It began with Friday evening with Nancy. We had a wonderful meal at Yulong Cafe in Mountain View. We had some delicious wonton soup followed by very tasty Hunan Lamb and rice.

Saturday I slept a bit late and then got up to take care of a few errands. One of which was to pick up a camera extension at REI in Fremont. One of the email list I am on had mentioned that there would be model railroads operating at Niles. I am not a big rail fan like some people but I do find it occasionally interesting so I headed to Niles. Niles is one of the smaller areas which was incorporated into the larger city of Fremont. Niles was where Charlie Chaplin and others did much of the early film work. The Niles Celebration was being held over the weekend. I paid a reasonable $3 for entry to the old train depot which is now a museum of railroad items such as tools, equipment and uniforms. Also there were a couple of model railroads setups. While I was in the Depot an Amtrak train passed by on the tracks. Outside they served free cake and cookies. I opted for some cake. Adjacent to the depot was a "garden scale" model railroad which actually used steam rather that electricity. Unfortunately it was not operating because of a damage to the rod connecting to the piston which seems to have occurred during a collision earlier. The model locomotives were about 18 inches long and looked interesting. A replacement was being setup but I did not stick around because I was getting hungry for some substantial food.

I have been trying to eat somewhat healthy but I treated myself to a tasty Angus burger with cheese, sweet potato fries and a coke at the Essanay Cafe across the street from the depot. I walked around Niles for a bit and then headed home. That evening I went down to the Hedley Lounge and had some Guinness and listened to live music. The Hedley has live music on the weekends usually jazz or some jazz influenced variant.

Sunday I slept late and then got up and finished the book I was reading. I have written a review of the book. The book is titled Why American History is not What They Say. It was a really beautiful day. I went out for bicycle right and really enjoyed the fine weather. I also did a few small chores. The evening was spent working. Yeah, working. There were some work related items that need to be finished by tomorrow and I had indicated that I would start on them Sunday evening. And things went faster than planned so I completed them.


Book Review - Why American History Is Not What They Say

Title: Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction To Revisionism
Author: Jeff Riggenbach
Published: 2009
Publisher: Ludwig von Mises Institute
The book may be ordered directly from the publisher.
It is also available as a complete download:
PDF Version
EPub Version
Also available are:
various podcasts by Riggenbach.

First let me begin with the obligatory disclaimer that I am reviewing a book written by a friend. I have known Jeff for many years.

With the disclaimer out of the way let us turn to the work. This work covers a lot of ground touching on the nature of history as a scholarly pursuit, how novels and novelists have addressed historical issues in their fiction and an interesting discussion of the shifting meaning of political labels in the USA.

The book opens with a discussion of history and how it has changed over time from being a "literary" activity to becoming increasing rigorous as it began to conform to the standards of modern scholarship. Some of the events, issues and persons mentioned in the first chapter were familiar to many and some were not. For example I was not aware of Peter Novick and his work on history and now I hopefully recognize the name and the nature of his contribution when I encounter it again. This is one of valuable features of the first chapter that while it covers and attempts to relate many different views it provides enough specific information to assist those who want to follow a specific figure.

The second chapter deals with the historical fiction of Gore Vidal and his "American Chronicle" novels. I must admit that I have not read these novels although they have been on my "to read" list. Unfortunately the list gets new additions at a faster rate that I can read. Fortunately Riggenbach has done a wonderful job of describing Vidal as a novelist and the nature of the novels in the series. If I ever do begin to read the Vidal novels I am sure that having read this chapter.

The third chapter covers the development of American Revisionism in essentially three different waves. I was aware of some of the historians mentioned here such as James J. Martin whose book Men against the State was a fascinating read for me back in the 1970s. Others such as Charles Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes I was more vaguely aware of as scholars but I did not know how they related to each other and historical revisionism. The development and intellectual connections from the "New Historians" such as Barns and Beard to the New Left Historians such as
Gabriel Kolko and William Appleman Williams useful for quick overview for the non-specialist wanted to quickly orient themselves to the figures. The discussion of the career of James J. Martin is a very engaging look a unique individual. I was vaguely familiar with some the aspects of Martin's career and the Riggenbach's discussion of James J. Martin fills in some very interesting details. The chapter ends with a discussion of the "Libertarian" historians such as Martin and "New Left" historians on several issues and set the stage for the following chapter about the wars of the USA.

The fourth chapter covers revisionist viewpoints of the wars of the USA; the Civil War, both World Wars and also the Cold War. This is the chapter with the fewest pages in the book but it is not short on substance. For those raised on the regular high school history class version of the history of the USA this chapter will be an awakening. It is not common for people to be aware of issues related to Lincoln and violations of civil liberties or the issues related to Wilson and the entry of the USA into WWI. This short chapter should quickly alert everyone that the simple narrative stories of one's youth may not be complete or accurate.

The fifth chapter covers politics and the revisions and a general discussion of issues related to the shifting meaning of terms such "Liberal". Understanding these issues helps put Hoover and Roosevelt in a more understandable framework. Others besides Riggenbach have discussed this shift in the meaning of "Liberal" but I find his one of the most concise. Riggenbach provides a very clear and cogent explanation of why the Libertarian movement is not a movement of the Right. All of the misguided people who think that Libertarianism is "Right-wing" should read the clear and well framed discussion.

The final chapter in the book discussed the current state of history and textbooks. Textbooks have long been an area of contention and not just in the area of history. Textbooks in biology and geology have had conflicts over their content. There conflict about history textbooks will likely continue for a while. The recent events in Texas concerning high school history, humanities and social science curriculum will likely not be the last.

This is thought provoking work and I recommend it to anyone interested in history, politics, social sciences and humanities or even historical fiction.