Archive | November, 2010

Ad Valorem, Aïda, and Oligarchy

I’m back in the frozen north (relatively speaking).

Various items, in no particular order:

1. The following proposal appeared on the Nov. 2, 2010 Alabama ballot:

Proposed Statewide Amendment Number One (1)

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that the provision in Amendment 778, now appearing as Section 269.08 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, which prohibits the payment of any fees, charges, or commissions for the assessment and collection of any special ad valorem tax on taxable property levied by the county commission pursuant to Amendment 778 (Section 269.08) shall only apply to any ad valorem tax first levied and collected pursuant to Amendment 778 (Section 269.08) for the tax year commencing October 1, 2006. (Proposed by Act No. 2009-286.)

Evidently the measure failed by 568,861 to 459,917 – which means that 459,917 people not only thought they understood what the hell the proposal meant, but cared about it enough to vote for it.

Abu Simbel2. From an AP story about a cruise on Lake Nasser:

The cruise includes several classy touches, like cocktails at the start of the trip as the ship sails past the Tropic of Cancer, the northern boundary of the tropics. Then as the awesome statues of Abu Simbel rise out of the waters on the final day the triumphal sounds of Verdi’s Egypt-inspired opera “Aïda” burst out of the ship’s speakers.

Because, y’know, nothing says “class” like modern music blaring kitschily at you to jerk you out of the moment as you’re trying to look at ancient monuments.

3. In an interview with Olbermann last month, Nancy Pelosi warned that if the Supreme Court’s horrifying defense of free speech in Citizens United were to enable corporate fatcats to pull off a Republican victory, it “would mean that we are now a plutocracy, an oligarchy.” As opposed to what we’ve been for the last two centuries?

4. A recent “Quote of the Day” from my local newspaper:

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.” — George Eliot

That would be a great tagline for Fantastic Voyage.

5. Damon Root mentions my post on Lane.

6. Check out how you can promote the cause of market anarchy by buying Christmas music.

A Key Text

Key Largo

Hey all. I’m spending a very relaxing but all too short Thanksgiving break in Key Largo.

Ran down to Key West on Wednesday, had a great holiday dinner back here at the Conch House on Thursday. Heading back tomorrow morning, alas.

Jeff Riggenbach quotes me in his piece on Nozick on today.

Lane’s Forgotten Writings on Race

Among libertarians, Rose Wilder Lane is best known as the author of the libertarian classics The Discovery of Freedom and Give Me Liberty. Outside of the libertarian movement, she is known – if at all – as the at least partial ghostwriter of her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular Little House on the Prairie series of books. (See William Holtz’s Lane biography.) A chapter of Lane’s literary career that is relatively unknown to both groups, though it brought her an enormous readership at the time, is her stint as a weekly columnist, from 1942 to 1945, for the Pittsburgh Courier, the u.s.’s leading black newspaper and a prominent voice for racial equality.

Rose Wilder Lane

David and Linda Beito’s article “Selling Laissez-faire Antiracism to the Black Masses: Rose Wilder Lane and the Pittsburgh Courier,” in the Fall 2010 issue of the Independent Review (pp. 279-294), seeks to draw attention to Lane’s neglected work for the Courier. I’ve been hearing about this material informally from David for years, and it’s exciting – though frustratingly tantalising – to see a bit more. (The full article won’t be going online for several months, so consider this an advance plug.)

Before her discovery of the Courier, Lane by her own admission had had a blindspot on the issue of race; she had “heard of lynchings and other racial injustice, but had assumed they were isolated incidents.” After she began reading the Courier’s documentation of the extent of racial oppression in the u.s., she declared that she had been an “utter fool” and a “traitor” to the “cause of human rights.” (p. 284) Soon she had joined the paper’s campaign against racism by becoming one of its regular writers.

Race was not the only topic of her columns; she advanced libertarian ideas across the board, often taking left-libertarian positions. For example, she defended the striking United Mine Workers for “refusing to submit to tyranny” (p. 288); praised Samuel Gompers as a proponent of an antistatist form of labour activism (for Gompers’ actual merits or otherwise, see here); championed “free mutual associations” as an alternative to the welfare state (p. 285); expressed concern about the tendency of women to subordinate their interests and identity to those of men and family (p. 286); and saw the “Big Boys” – politically connected plutocrats – as the chief enemies of the free market, declaring that “they can get themselves murdered in cellars for all I’d care.” (p. 285) (Her views on such subjects could be complicated, though. During her early flirtation with Marxism she’d even written a book praising Henry Ford as a practical implementer of Marxism.)

But her columns did frequently deal with race issues; and in the Beitos’ judgment, “[n]o libertarian has ever more creatively weaved together antiracism and laissez-faire than Lane.” (p. 283) According to the Beitos, Lane “anticipated … the strategy of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s” by suggesting that blacks should “emulate the crusade of … women like her who had once asserted their right to smoke in restaurants.” (p. 284) She also subverted the assumptions of traditional discourse on race by talking about the need to “solve the White problem” (after all, it’s those doing the oppressing who constitute the problem) and parodying stereotypical portraits by writing:

The American White is generally a friendly fellow, good-hearted, generous, and meaning no harm to anyone. His errors, even his cruelties, come from the false beliefs instilled in him by his environment and training. He needs help to overcome them. (p. 284)

Lane rejected the concept of race as a “ridiculous, idiotic, and tragic fallacy” (p. 283) that “did not exist” (p. 291), preferring the terms “dark-skinned” and “pale-skinned”; nowadays she would be called a social constructionist about race, and like today’s social constructionists she wrestled with the problem of whether and how to make use of existing racial categories and identities. Thus, on the one hand, she called on all people, black or white, to “renounce their race” (p. 283) and even rejected “the idea of a Negro novel” as being as irrelevant as the idea of a “blond novel.” (p. 286) But on the other hand, although she “heartily approved ” of calls for the “abolition of the term Negro,” she also “conceded that doing so was not a decision for her to make,” noting that to “millions,” the term represented “pride in achievement and the fellowship in the struggle for human rights.” The strategic choice between renouncing racial identities and embracing them thus constituted a “genuine dilemma.” (p. 284)

Lane’s recognition of the tensions involved in accepting or rejecting socially constructed racial identity anticipates more recent debates over gender and sexual orientation. Judith Butler, for example, argues in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that “the identity categories often presumed to be foundational to feminist politics … simultaneously work to limit and constrain in advance the very cultural possibilities that feminism is supposed to open up” (p. 187/200), and that appeal to such categories “presumes, fixes, and constrains the very ‘subjects’ that it hopes to represent and liberate.” (p. 189/203) Yet at the same time she acknowledges that “it still makes sense, strategically or transitionally, to refer to women in order to make representational claims on their behalf.” (p. 181/194)

Here’s hoping that more of Lane’s Courier material gets made available.

Battlestar West

Wild, Wild West was a terrific series, and one of the first science-fiction westerns. (I’ve long suspected that the show’s “James T. West” played a role in transforming Star Trek’s James R. Kirk into James T. Kirk.) Then it spawned two awful tv-movies, and finally a still more awful theatrical movie. At this point, is there anyone who could possibly revive it and restore its tarnished glory?


Wild, Wild West: cool vs. not cool

Loveless: cool vs. not cool

Boston Anarchist Thinking Brigade

The Molinari Society will be holding its seventh annual Symposium – this time with two sessions – in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in Boston, December 27-30, 2010. Here’s the latest schedule info:


GIV-3. Tuesday, 28 December 2010, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Molinari Society Symposium, SESSION 1:
Author Meets Critics: Gary Chartier’s Economic Justice and Natural Law
Marriott/Westin-Copley, precise location TBA

chair: Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Jennifer Baker (College of Charleston)
Kevin A. Carson (Center for a Stateless Society) [Commentary online: to be read in absentia]
David Gordon (Ludwig von Mises Institute)
Douglas Den Uyl (Liberty Fund)
Douglas B. Rasmussen (St. John’s University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)

GVII-4. Wednesday, 29 December 2010, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Molinari Society Symposium, SESSION 2:
Topic: Spontaneous Order
Marriott/Westin-Copley, location TBA

chair: Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)

Charles Johnson (Molinari Institute)
      “Women and the Invisible Fist: How Violence Against Women Enforces the Unwritten Law of Patriarchy”
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)
      “Invisible Hands and Incantations: The Mystification of State Power”

Nina Brewer-Davis (Auburn University)
Reshef Agam-Segal (Auburn University)

As part of the APA’s continuing policy to prevent free riders, they’re not telling us the name of the room until we get to the registration desk. As part of our policy of combating evil we will of course broadcast the name of the room far and wide as soon as we learn it.

This year we have managed to avoid any schedule conflict with the Ayn Rand Society (Dec. 28th, 9:00-11:00) or Jan Narveson’s author-meets-critics session (Dec. 30th, 9:00-12:00) but not, alas, with the American Association for the Philosophic Study of Society (Dec. 29th, 9:00-11:00).

Down Home on the TARDIS

The forthcoming dvd for the most recent series of Doctor Who includes two extra scenes, which as it happens are also available – at least for the moment – on YouTube, so watch ’em while you can.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there’s a beverage dispenser on the spaceship that Douglas Adams describes this way:

When the ‘Drink’ button is pressed it makes an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what is likely to be well received. However, no one knows quite why it does this, because it then invariably delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Steven Moffat pretty clearly had this passage in mind when he wrote the first scene below. It takes place between “The Eleventh Hour” and “The Beast Below”:

If you’re worried about Amy’s fate at the end there, recall the opening of “The Beast Below”:

The second extra scene takes place between “Flesh and Stone” and “Vampires of Venice,” immediately after Amy’s failed attempt to seduce the Doctor:

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