Author Archive | Roderick

Sock Puppet

A War of Gifts Orson Scott Card has a new Ender story out – a Christmas-themed novella, just in time to buy as a stocking stuffer. A War of Gifts takes place (mostly) in the Battle School, contemporaneously with Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. The book’s final moral is perhaps politically suspect (I won’t say more, in the interest of avoiding spoilage – but I’m talking about pp. 115-121), but it’s such a fun read that I can’t complain.

Is this book in the same league as the highest points in the Ender saga – which for my money are Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender’s Shadow? Well, no. But it’s better than, say, Children of the Mind.

Cruising for Hitler

Cruise as Stauffenberg This upcoming Tom Cruise movie about Claus von Stauffenberg’s failed (do I really need to say “failed”?) 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler is worth a look, and AICN’s comments are interesting:

It is a pretty subversive film, the suggestion to – during a war time situation – to assassinate and kill not just the leader of your country, but the entire top level chain of command. But that’s exactly the situation that this group faced during one of the darkest periods in modern history.

There’s a sad irony in the fact that Cruise’s efforts to get the film made have been impeded by the German government (see here and here) on the grounds that under German law Scientology (a belief system of which Cruise is a prominent adherent – just in case any extraterrestrials are reading this blog) is regarded as not a “real” religion but only an insidious swindle cloaking itself in the trappings of faith. I seem to recall some previous German government dude saying the same thing about Judaism….

Rage for the Machine

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Thanks to the Mises Institute, Isabel Paterson’s 1943 classic The God of the Machine is now online (as a honking big PDF file). The book’s central thesis is that there are systematic analogies between political structure and engineering structure, and that the freest and most prosperous societies historically have been those which adopted the appropriate structure. But such a bald description of its thesis falls short of conveying the brilliant, fascinating, witty, eloquent, insightful and sometimes frustrating character of this libertarian masterpiece.

Isabel Paterson and the glowing ovoid When I first read this book, probably around 1982, I thought it was one of the most exciting books I’d ever read, and it had an enormous influence on me – for better or worse! Paterson’s arguments were in fact one of the reasons it took me so long to convert to anarchism (not till 1991, from having first become a libertarian in 1979); she’d convinced me that a free society requires the right political structure. She was perfectly right, of course; her mistake, and mine, was thinking of political structure solely in terms of state structure, and so failing to see that an anarchy has political structure too. I have plenty of other beefs with the book (her analysis of the role of big business in American history, for instance, is sometimes too right-libertarian, albeit not consistently so), and I still don’t know quite what to make of her engineering analogies (which she denied were analogies!). For some of my skirmishes with Paterson’s ideas see here, here, and here. But the book still rocks.

The Toilet Zone

Kevin Carson writes:

One thing that large institutions seem to have in common is public restrooms with completely unusable toilet paper dispensers. The typical public restroom in a large organization of any kind has one of those Georgia Pacific monstrosities (or something similar), encased in a plastic housing that makes the toilet paper roll difficult to reach and often almost impossible to turn. The housing is locked, so that an empty roll can be changed only by a housekeeper with a key, and it’s impossible to just take the roll out for easy use. The worst part of it is, these toilet paper dispensers probably cost $20 or more each. … [Y]ou can probably go to Home Depot and get a toilet paper spool that actually works for less than a dollar. …

So why do we find so many examples of this sort of thing? Why does just about any large institutional building have toilet paper dispensers that seem deliberately designed, at enormous cost, to perform their function as badly as possible? The answer lies in the nature of large organizations.

For his explanation, check out the latest chapter of his forthcoming book. But the following cartoon may give you a hint:

Dilbert comic

(This isn’t the first time I’ve used a Dilbert strip to illustrate Kevin’s organisational theories. They’re a natural fit, because they’re tracking the same insane reality ….)

Burkes Semi-serious Anarchism, Part 2

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In a recent post I described the problem posed, for the prevailing interpretation of Burke’s Vindication of Natural Society as satirical, by similarly radical passages occurring in Burke’s nonsatirical writings.

Edmund Burke Most of the writings I cited in that post are on the web (and I provided the relevant links), but one – a brief editorial on Irish poverty from Burke’s 1748 journal The Reformer – has not thus far been available online. Now it is.

As you’ll see, there’s nothing anarchistic on offer here; and real radicals will find Burke’s explanations of poverty too vague and his proposed remedies too modest, especially by comparison with, say, Spooner’s Revolution the Only Remedy for the Oppressed Classes of Ireland.

Nevertheless, in its sympathy for the poor, indignation against the rich, and affirmation of the “natural equality of mankind,” Burke’s editorial certainly resembles the Vindication more than it does the Reflections on the Revolution in France. The same applies to the editorial’s endorsement of such classical liberal doctrines as that the function of government is to “secure the lives and properties of those who live under it” (which had been a central theme of Locke’s Second Treatise) and that the “riches of a nation” consist in the “uniform plenty diffused through a people” rather than in the “luxurious lives of its gentry” (which was to be a central theme of Smith’s Wealth of Nations).

In short, the existence of this early editorial is indeed awkward for those who insist that the radicalism of the Vindication could only have been intended ironically.

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