Not of this Earth?

— Steve Sailer on amnesty and fertility.

New book on the way about the Matthew Shepard story.

— A great Burgess Shale website. Drill down for the animations.

— Speaking of exotic fauna, longtime readers may remember our mentioning the tardigrade,here and here. Now, an amazing photo, here.

— And if that weren’t enough: dinosaur feathers!

— Upscale vending machine.

Nice digital graphics.

— From the one and only Lileks: Starfish Hitler.

— Feeling the need to “give something back”? Go crowdsource some plankton.


— Hail to thee, blithe spirit.

Weird snakes.

What’s in a name?


“Is this America?”

Related content from Sphere


  1. JK says

    Well Malcolm, I’ll admit to only clicking on your Yikes! link. Figured if it was on your post it’d be on Yikes!–politics.html

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    Even more links:

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Yeah, yeah. I could take up each of these, point by point (and there are some fair points made in some of these links, along with a lot of what I consider to be rubbish). Then we could have another 5,000-word harangue in this thread.

    But it’s nice outside.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    “I ceased in the year 1764 to believe that one can convince one’s opponents with arguments printed in books. It is not to do that, therefore, that I have taken up my pen, but merely so as to annoy them, and to bestow strength and courage on those on our own side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.” – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    When you’re up against thinking like this — when the axiomatic divide has become so wide and so deep — and when confronted with a personality cult like the one surrounding the One, arguing becomes, to put it as kindly as possible, unproductive. The Left and the Right have got to the point where they no longer live in the same world, or speak the same language. That they cannot simply get away from each other is a terrible tragedy; we are now in what really feels like a cold civil war. I’m afraid it will get even less civil, and less cold, over the next few years.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Oh, I see. Progressives have no right to be upset that Republicans are threatening economic catastrophe in an attempt to extract unilateral concessions and effect policy changes which they cannot achieve through the legislative process. (I thought we had an election about this last year. Silly me.) And why should progressives be upset about taking money away from hungry families to subsidize wealthy farmers? (If that’s not class warfare, I don’t know what is.) Republican state legislatures, in their continuing effort to sabotage Obamacare, refusing to license navigators to help people through the health care exchanges? (Geez, last May we kept hearing about the evils of government interference in free expression, when it was the IRS and the Tea Party involved).

    But, hey: you can dismiss all of this as the effects of a “personality cult.” No reason to pay any attention to what they have to say: they’re cultists!

    I would have kept my pie-hole shut, but the piece in Breitbart really cheesed me off. (Hint: if it’s in Breitbart, it is as likely to be true as anything in National Enquirer or Pravda).

    Having a graduate of the Jerome Corsi School of Journalism use half-truths and innuendoes to slander someone who died a horrifying death – and who isn’t around to defend himself – is despicable. There is nothing more shameful than wrongfully exploiting the death of a murder victim, as well as gratuitously offending his survivors, in an effort to sell books and push an ideological agendum. It would be shocking if it were not so pervasive.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    All I did was mention that there’s a new book coming out. If the Shepard story is not what we’ve been told it is, that’s interesting. I don’t know what the truth is. Neither do you. There’s nothing about being dead that exempts a person from historical inquiry.

    There is nothing more shameful than wrongfully exploiting the death of a murder victim, as well as gratuitously offending his survivors, in an effort to sell books and push an ideological agendum.

    That’s pretty rich, amigo. If the Left hadn’t relentlessly exploited Shepard’s death for the past fifteen years, to the limit of their ability, in order to push their ideological agenda by vilifying traditional Western culture, nobody would even have bothered to take a second look.

    Oh, I see. Progressives have no right to be upset…

    You kidding? Sure they do! Go right ahead. Knock yourself out. It’s expected. (It’s still a free country, sort of, for now at least.) Just don’t expect us to agree, because you guys are coming from a completely different set of axioms and assumptions about how the world works, about human nature, about what makes for happy societies, about how to interpret the Constitution, etc..

    I’d list all the things we on the Right are upset about, and point out that as far back as Federalist 58 the idea has been in place that the House’s expected role is to use the “power of the purse” to exert the will of the people:

    The house of representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government. They in a word hold the purse; that powerful instrument by which we behold in the history of the British constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people, gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse, may in fact be regarded as the most compleat and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

    But what would any of that accomplish? We’d just be talking past each other. So I won’t.

    Short version: This is politics.

    (I thought we had an election about this last year. Silly me.)

    We did! You guys lost the House, precisely on account of Obamacare. The House, who by design are the closest representatives of the people, has now presented a CR that funds the government, and said “these are our terms.” This sort of adversarial opposition is how the system is designed to work.

    A large segment of the population thinks Obamacare is a catastrophic policy, and wants it gone. They don’t want a health-care system made so grotesquely vast and incomprehensible that a whole new government-licensed priesthood must come into existence just to lead the sheep through it on their way to the slaughter.They don’t want able-bodied single people living ad infinitum on food stamps, while at the same time flinging open the borders to millions more low-wage workers. They don’t trust government much, and want less of it, not more. They want power to be less centralized, not more. Et cetera. And this is why the House is doing what it’s doing.

    Deal with it. But sure, get upset if you like. It’s your right! Have fun with that. We’re upset too.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Seriously, though, I am not going to get into another extended harangue here. (Readers are more than welcome to — by all means, please do! — but I’m not going to bother this time.)

    Rant on. Doubt I’ll add anything more.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    That’s fine. I can understand your reluctance to defend the indefensible.

    I would simply note that Democratic candidates for the House won 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates. Ergo, Democrats in the House represent 1.4 million more constituents than Republicans do. If House members actually were “the closest representatives of the people,” then Nancy Pelosi would be Speaker.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  10. JK says,33903/

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says


    Ya think? Call 867-5309 and ask for Jenny. She hates that song.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    If House members actually were “the closest representatives of the people,” then Nancy Pelosi would be Speaker.

    You seem confused.

    If the House, which has the most “granular” representation — 435 electees representing local districts, allocated by census, and subject to replacement by their constituents every two years — isn’t “closest to the people” of all their elected Federal proxies, then who is?

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    I can understand your reluctance to defend the indefensible.

    Do you really need to be so fatuously, childishly, petulant? Have you completely missed the point here?

    There can be no agreement about what is “defensible” when there is insufficient agreement on axioms.

    For example: some people value “liberty” more than “equality”. For others, the priority is reversed. They are, however, antagonistic principles.

    When you say “indefensible”, therefore, you assume — wrongly — that all the rest of us share your axioms. Isn’t this obvious?

    Without a commonality of fundamental principles against which competing claims can be weighed, no productive debate, or agreed-upon judgment, is possible. This is why I worry about civil war.

    Please spare us, by the way, the response I already see forming in your mind: which is something like “Oh, well, if it’s axiomatic to you that forcing children to starve is OK, then I guess you’re right.” We don’t see it that way. Not even close. Which is the point. Just let it go.

    Now I’m really done here. Going out.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    The Presidency is the closest to the people, as it is the only office which is elected by national vote.

    The Senate is the furthest from the people, because of the inherent advantage given to small states. A vote for a Senate candidate in Wyoming is equivalent to 65 votes in California. When the Constitution was written, the ratio of the largest to the smallest state was 12:1. However, giving an advantage to smaller states was part of the grubby deal-making which was necessary to get all of the states on board – and we’re stuck with it.

    Granularity does not equate to equitable representation. Nor are House seats “allocated by census.” Census figures determine how many Representatives a state will have, not where the district lines are drawn.

    When voting patterns are used by state legislatures to segregate the opposing party’s voters into oddly drawn districts- so they run up the score in a small number of districts, while the ruling party spreads their voters over a greater number of them – the illusion of democratic representation is shattered. For example, Democrats won the majority of Congressional votes in North Carolina, but have only four out of thirteen seats. (The estimable Nate Silver calculates that with current districting, Democrats hve to win 7% more votes than Republicans to recapture the House.) Your assertion is that North Carolina voters are fairly represented in Congress?

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    The fact that two opposing groups have different axioms does not mean that they are equally valid.

    Galileo had one axiom. The Church had a different one.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says


    Funny thing about that number. I once worked at a place where everybody’s phones had extension numbers – one day I was asked to “fill in” for somebody else.

    Every time the phone dinged I picked up and the first thing I’d hear was, “Jenny?”

    Took me awhile but finally I (knowing who I’d relieved was definitely not a Jenny – for sure not even in the cross-dressing sense) hollered across the all – “Why in the hell is everybody calling me Jenny?”

    The extension number was 675309.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    I have a friend who owns an ad agency who requested that number for his cellphone, figuring.that people will always remember it. regrets it, due to the number of midnight drunk dialers who call it.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    The Presidency is the closest to the people, as it is the only office which is elected by national vote.

    I realize you are just trolling — or at least I will assume, charitably, that this is mere trolling and not early-onset dementia — but this is obvious nonsense. I wasn’t even going to write any more here, but this howler is so over the top, even for you, that I just can’t help myself.

    A Representative lives and dies by the approval of the voters of a small, local district. If Matthew A. Cartwright, for example, doesn’t make sure to keep the good people of Pottsville, Kunkletown, and Tobyhanna happy enough to reelect him every two years, he’s gone.

    Nothing else matters. He doesn’t even need to concern himself with the voters of nearby Shamokin or Shickshinny. His political career, and his grip on what power he has, depend entirely upon how well he represents the needs and interests of his own constituents, and upon nothing and nobody else.

    How often do you suppose the lame-duck President of the United States, who will never answer to another voter for as long as he lives, thinks about Kunkletown, PA? I’ll bet Matt Cartwright, on the other hand, knows many a Kunkletonian on a first-name basis.

    The average Congress-critter represents a few hundred thousand people. The President of the United States “represents” three hundred and sixteen million.

    Barack Obama, Leader of the Free World, lives in a fortress in Washington, D.C.

    Representative Matt Cartwright, his wife, and their two sons make their home in Moosic, a bucolic suburb of Scranton in the northern part of his district.

    Tell me again who is “closer to the people” of Pennsylvania’s District 17: Matthew Cartwright or Barack Obama? I really must have misunderstood you, somehow.

    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Permalink
  19. JK says

    Nahmostest Malcolm,

    Peter sets of course, alwayest the highest bars. Cut the Liberal a little slack woncha?


    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  20. the one eyed man says

    You could not possibly be more wrong, even if you were Rand Paul.

    The issue is which branch of government is most representative of the people. Hence any reference to the House refers to whether Congressmen in aggregate represent the popular will, not as individuals. Whether a Congressman is aligned to his district is irrelevant when the districts are deliberately drawn so that the voting power of one party is minimized.

    The four Democratic Congressmen and the nine Republican Congressmen of North Carolina may all be close to their constituents, but the fact that Democrats won the state’s popular vote proves that North Carolina voters are not fairly represented. The individual Congressmen may all be “close to the people,” but the state’s representation in Congress is not.

    When one party has to win 57% of the vote to control the House, Congress quite clearly does not reflect the sentiments of the national electorate. When one party has 1.4 million more constituents than the other party and is the minority party, the House cannot claim to represent the people. If all states adopted what we do in California – where impartial boards use algorithms unrelated to voting patterns to draw districts – then the House would be more representative of popular will. However it doesn’t, and the pernicious effects of gerrymandering makes a mockery of any claims to be the People’s House.

    By contrast, the election for Presidency is a national poll. You can’t possibly reflect national sentiment any better than that. Moreover, the results of the Presidential race were consonant with the popular vote for House and Senate, as Democrats won all of them by convincing margins. If you want to know which party is “closest to the people,” it would be the one which got the most votes.

    If you are going to point out non-existent “howlers,” let’s review some which actually exist.

    1) The Matthew Shepard Foundation was set up by his survivors in an attempt to avoid other deaths like his. If that is “exploiting his death, then it’s exploitation in the same way that the parents of Polly Klass exploited their daughter by setting up the Polly Klass Foundation to try to stop more kids from being abducted.

    How trying to prevent people from dying horrible deaths because they are gay is “vilifying Western culture” – or even why it should be controversial in the first place – is beyond me.

    2) Shutting down the government or defaulting on the debt is not “just politics” and it is certainly not “how the system was designed to work.” We have had divided government more often than not in the modern era, and no Congress ever shut down the government until the Republicans did it in 1995, and no party ever nearly brought the government in default until the Republicans did it in 2011.

    By your logic, if Nancy Pelosi in 2006 refused to raise the debt ceiling unless President Bush ended the war in Iraq and brought all of the troops home at once, that would be A-OK. If President Obama were to refuse to sign any defense spending bills unless House and Senate Republicans resigned tomorrow, that would be fine too. If troops didn’t get paid, it would be their fault for not resigning.

    If Congress wished to jettison Obamacare, we have a process for that. It is called “repeal.” House Republicans don’t have the votes for that, so instead they are threatening to crash the economy if they can’t get their way. That’s not politics or “adversarial government.” It’s nihilism.

    3) It is not indefensible for the government to let people starve. You can have a principled (albeit heartless) approach to government which says that the government should stand idly by when people can’t get food on the table. However, you cannot have a principled stand to both deny food stamps to the hungry while simultaneously increasing subsidies to wealthy farmers.

    We don’t subsidize barbers for cutting hair, and we don’t subsidize bartenders for pouring drinks. We don’t subsidize the jizz-mopper at the Lusty Lady Lounge for cleaning up after the wankers. However, we subsidize farmers, simply because they raise animals and grow crops. We do this because agricultural votes sway farm states, and because Big Ag is part of the Republican base. People who can’t get food on the table are not. If you think that denying $4.40 a day to a hungry man is hunky dory, while providing lavish subsidies to farmers who don’t need them, is a defensible position, then I urge you to defend it.

    5) It is an axiom of Western civilization that Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife. It is an axiom of some Islamic cultures that wives are basically chattel and can be stoned to death for things like adultery. By your logic, there’s nothing about this which can be criticized. Hey, we have our axioms, they have theirs, and they’re just living by their “completely different set of axioms and assumptions about how the world works, about human nature, and what makes for happy societies.”

    Posted September 22, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  21. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg got it right two and a half centuries ago. More recently, Steven Landsburg also got it right:

    Most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” The rest is commentary.

    So when it comes to arguing with idiots, it suffices to ask, “How’s that hopey-dopey workin’ for ya?”

    All the rest is wasted energy and time.

    Posted September 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    A-a-and there, folks, is why argument without a minimum of common ground is, indeed, futile. It is also why I doubt this nation is going to hang together much longer.

    I give up.

    To our readers:

    Note the characteristics, here displayed, of the statist, collectivist mind. To a mind so constituted, the people is a “mass noun”, like sand. Put some of it in this pan, some of it in the other. What, thus considered, comes “closest” to representing the people? The needle of the scale.

    To a mind not so constituted (and this nation itself, readers, was constituted by minds not so constituted, who recognized the terrible dangers of this sort of raw, numerical democracy) the people means this person over here, this person over there, and that person someplace else. It means Russell Weiss, of Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, and Donnie Baker of Pottsville, and it means Dr. Arthur Tripp of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Gabriela Rodriguez of Fresno, California.

    These are not quantities of sand, who are only to be considered top down, i.e., from the perspective of the needle on the scale. They are individual citizens, who actually live in particular placeslocal, different places, with local interests that comprise, in actual fact, the great majority of what matters to individual people living individual lives. America was built on this principle — that what mattered most to the people, as individual citizens, was first their family, then their relations with those others with whom they had frequent contact. Then came their town, then their county, then (and we are already at some distance here) their State, and last of all, that small residue of remote and exceedingly general matters that were to be administered, by a correspondingly small Federal apparatus, on behalf of the nation as a whole. This pyramid of interests is naturally broadest where it is most local, and tapers sharply skyward, toward the distant Federal sovereign. And why should it be otherwise? To Tocqueville, this natural and organic ordering of American society was the nation’s greatest strength.

    To represent these local interests, and to be accountable only to his neighbors, is the role of the Representative. His horizon extends no further than the boundaries of his little district, and he will remain, if he wants to keep his job, faithfully and attentively sensitive to the concerns of its people only, forsaking all others. Where the interests of his parish come into conflict with those of some community of strangers thousands of miles away — which they often will do — it is only he who will champion them in Congress, because that, and only that, is his job. (To the extent that he is willing to prostitute himself to “Big Ag”, and other external interests, he betrays his constituents, and should answer for it in the polls, if not the dock.)

    Moreover, it is his job only. Nobody else in Congress, and certainly not the President, places the local concerns of Kunklestown and Tobyhanna above all others. (Nor should they.) Indeed, to be blunt about it: pretty much nobody, anywhere else in America, and certainly not in the upper echelons of the Federal government, gives a rat’s ass about Kunklestown and Tobyhanna, or even Pottsville.

    And so it is the Representative — the individual Representative, representing the individual interests of his district — who is closest to the people of his district, whether they voted for him or not. But you will only be able to see this if your mind is not constituted so as to think of the people of America as an undifferentiated, continent-sized aggregate, something functionally equivalent to sand.


    It is an axiom of Western civilization that Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife. It is an axiom of some Islamic cultures that wives are basically chattel and can be stoned to death for things like adultery. By your logic, there’s nothing about this which can be criticized.

    Note the fundamental confusion here, which fails to distinguish between:

    A) acknowledging the futility of productive dialogue where there is no agreement on axioms, and

    B) simplistic moral relativity.

    Nothing to criticize in Islam? Our commenter must be joking; I have excoriated Islam at length in these pages. By all means, go right ahead and criticize away, with my blessing, and give ’em one for me. It’s a “target-rich environment”.

    The point, however, is simply this, and this only (as I’m sure most of you realized): that given the incommensurability of my own moral, social, and metaphysical axioms with those of Islam, my criticism of Islam cannot rationally be expected to have any traction with Muslims.

    And so on (and on). Thus the quote from Herr Lichtenberg. I really must keep it in mind henceforward.

    Having said all that, I should just add, however, that I do agree with the One Eyed Man about farm subsidies. (And quite a few other things besides, including the evils of gerrymandering — which of course is just as popular with Democrats as Republicans, and is used by them to create convoluted minority-majority districts.) But it is evident that when it comes to fundamentals about politics and social order, we simply do not have enough common ground — whether in our beliefs about the proper role and scope of government, the meaning of the Constitution, liberty vs. equality, centralization vs. local government, diversity vs. homogeneity, culture vs. multiculture, Keynes vs. Hayek, “progress” vs. decay, and so on — to have a productive discussion.

    We both, of course, believe ourselves to seek “the good”. Even though I am certain that my friend Peter is profoundly misguided, and advocates terribly destructive policies, I cannot for a moment imagine that he actually seeks to do this nation harm for harm’s sake — but we have almost no common ground when it comes to exactly what “the good” is, or how best to achieve it. And without that, “debate” is futile.

    Were the problem confined only to Peter and me, thrashing away ad nauseam in the pages of this obscure blog, it would be a trivial matter. At national scale, it is a catastrophe. It is increasingly obvious that the halves of the nation on either side of this unbridgeable divide cannot understand each other, cannot reason with each other, cannot appeal to each other’s intuitions, and — worst of all, by far — cannot get away from each other.

    This will not end well.

    Posted September 22, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  23. the one eyed man says

    So your assertion is that my representative in Congress should have voted against aid following Hurricane Sandy, because what happens in Breezy Point is far removed from the parochial interests of Silicon Valley?

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Peter, you stun me again. Of course not, unless the people of your district are so mean-spirited as actually to want him to do so.

    I’d have thought it obvious that a local community is perfectly well entitled to consider humanitarian assistance to their fellow Americans to be among their interests.

    A final point about gerrymandering and proportional representation: the problems of gerrymandering notwithstanding, it is not so easy to find the perfect solution, because in a purely algorithmic districting, minorities can easily find themselves completely unrepresented. A purely majoritarian system in the U.S., for example, which you seem to think would hew “closest to the people” (I’m still utterly gobsmacked by your assertion that one inaccessible man in a fortress in Washington is “closer” to each of his 316,000,000 subjects than their local representative), could easily be used to favor white interests at the expense of all others.

    If Congressional gerrymandering inevitably skews proportional representation, so that the Federal leviathan is unfairly controlled in service of one faction over another, then that’s just yet another argument against concentrating more and more power in Washington.

    “The bigger the state, the smaller the citizen.”

    The Founders saw all of this coming, of course, and knew that democracy tilts inevitably toward majoritarian tyranny. The word “Democracy” appears nowhere in the Constitution.

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  25. the one eyed man says

    67 Congressmen – all Republican – voted against Hurricane Sandy aid. I guess their constituents are pretty mean-spirited.

    Those of us in the reality-based community got a good chuckle when we saw a number of them plead for federal aid when a disaster struck their districts – as three Colorado Congressmen did a few days ago, and as a number of Midwestern Republicans did when the hurricanes struck.

    By your logic, they should have voted down Sandy aid if their constituents opposed it, because helping New Yorkers is exogenous to “what matters to individual people living individual lives” in those districts.

    There are two problems with your argument. The first is that Congressmen have a responsibility to their constituents which (in my view) is trumped by their responsibility to the country as a whole. Hence my representative should vote for drought relief for Midwestern farmers, and Iowa representatives should vote for earthquake relief for California when the Big One comes, regardless of whether their constituents are for it or not.

    The second problem is that leadership is not the same as following poll results or popular consensus, and a leader by definition is someone who will make tough and unpopular choices when the situation requires it.

    As Edmund Burke wrote: “your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  26. the one eyed man says

    I would add that “if Congressional gerrymandering inevitably skews proportional representation,” it’s an argument against gerrymandering, not an argument against “more power in Washington.”

    I would further add that Bill Clinton was an “inaccessible man in a fortress in Washington” who had an extraordinarily perceptive understanding of the pulse of the country. Ditto for Reagan, de Gaulle, Churchill, and plenty of other national leaders. Being close to the people has little or nothing to do with how many people are involved, and has much more to do with the abilities and leadership qualities of the guy in charge.

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    I was speaking in general terms. The reason that many Republicans voted against that particular bill was that it was a Christmas tree of unrelated pork, not because they didn’t want to help Sandy victims.

    The first is that Congressmen have a responsibility to their constituents which (in my view) is trumped by their responsibility to the country as a whole.

    Not in the Founders’ view. That’s what the Senate is for. The House is there, first and foremost, to represent the people of their local districts. The terms are deliberately made short so that they will be reactive to the popular mood.

    Hence my representative should vote for drought relief for Midwestern farmers, and Iowa representatives should vote for earthquake relief for California when the Big One comes, regardless of whether their constituents are for it or not.

    No, frankly, they shouldn’t. If their constituents are really so opposed, there’s obviously a serious problem there, because Americans are generally a generous, caring people. (Essentially, what you are saying is that what a Congressman ought to do should coincide with your opinion of what he should do, rather than that of the district he represents.) The problem is complicated further by the fact that these relief bills, as the Sandy bill was, are often just excuses for raiding the public fisc in service of unrelated interests. If there were a rule that required all disaster-relief bills to be “clean”, you’d see a lot more altruism, very quickly.

    The second problem is that leadership is not the same as following poll results or popular consensus, and a leader by definition is someone who will make tough and unpopular choices when the situation requires it.

    …Being close to the people has little or nothing to do with how many people are involved…

    Well, which way do you want it? You’re the one who just told me that the President, whose job is to do exactly what you describe here, is “closest to the people”, due to his being selected by a “national poll”.

    Executives lead. Representatives represent. This is Civics 101.

    I would add that “if Congressional gerrymandering inevitably skews proportional representation,” it’s an argument against gerrymandering, not an argument against “more power in Washington.”

    Right. I’m hardly shocked to hear you say that. I have to ask, though: what, in your opinion, would be an argument against more power in Washington? Can you conceive of one? (Just wondering.)

    I’m curious, because your years of commenting here have made it clear that you consider it self-evidently true that the Federal sovereign is, and will always be, wise and benign, and that the more power ceded to it by the American people, the happier we all will be, world without end, amen.

    I think that to believe any of this one must either be insane, or deeply ignorant of history and human nature, or both. And so we never get anywhere in these arguments.

    But good luck with that gerrymandering thing.

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  28. JK says

    Those of us in the reality-based community got a good chuckle


    Crap! Where’s some dry skivvies!

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  29. the one eyed man says

    Having lived through eight years of George Bush, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the federal government is “wise and benign.” However, there are plenty of things which the federal government ought not to do.

    The federal government should not violate the Bill of Rights. It should not forbid the free expression of ideas by criminalizing anti-Muslim propaganda (as Denmark does) or pro-Israeli expression (as Saudi Arabia does). It should not limit religious freedom (as France does to its burqa wearers) or provide an exemption from real estate taxes to churches and synagogues (as we do). It should not violate search and seizure laws by searching without a warrant (except in carve-outs like security checks at airports). Etc.

    The federal government should not interfere in the states’ domains: speed limits, most criminal law, most civil law, and so forth. If Texas wants to ban abortions, they should be able to do it. If Vermont wants to allow them, that’s fine too. Ditto for capital punishment. I may believe that abortion should be available on demand, and capital punishment (with one exception) is a moral outrage, but these are decisions for the states to make. These are the sorts of issues where the schism along regional lines suggests that they are best resolved by the states and not the federal government.

    Where the federal government should be involved is in those things which affect us all. We all share the same environment, so the federal government should regulate the effluvia which comes from coal plants, so the people of New Hampshire do not have to breathe foul air from Kentucky. We share the same banking system, so the government should regulate financial institutions. We take the same (licit) drugs, so the government should make sure they are safe. We all want to live long lives, so the government should ban Big Gulps. (OK, just kidding.)

    Where we differ is that when the national interest is involved. There is a national interest in reducing energy consumption and mitigating global warming, so I am more than happy to give the government broad powers to regulate individual behavior. For example, I have no problem with banning incandescent bulbs, while this is a big problem for Rand Paul and his amen chorus (let’s just call them the electric light orchestra).

    To Rand Paul, Freedom is embedded in Americans’ sacrosanct right to use inefficient and outdated technology. To me, Freedom is the right to breathe clean air, and to be free from lung diseases caused by the coal plants which are effluviating so Senator Paul can use his preferred form of lighting. In reference to the food stamp program, Paul Krugman today distinguishes between what FDR called the “freedom from want” and the conservative drive to deny food stamps to hungry Americans, where “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to eat.”

    While the government may not always be wise and benign, it often is. Social Security and Medicare have saved millions from early deaths and living on Alpo. I can send a letter from my house to yours for 44 cents, and it will get there in two or three days. The Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 are brilliant pieces of legislation, which enabled generations of entrepreneurs to succeed and prosper. We have the world’s strongest military, its most transparent financial system, a great interstate highway system, and so forth – all of which is brought to you by Uncle Sam.

    Government is not intrinsically good or bad, wise or foolish. Reasonable people will disagree about where to draw the lines. In my view, when there is a bona fide national problem, the federal government should have the tools to solve it. Whether it does so successfully, or whether it shouldn’t even try, is something for the electorate to decide.

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  30. JK says

    Where the federal government should be involved is in those things which affect us all.

    Just so as The Enumerated Powers says.

    Or Constitutional Amendments.

    Posted September 23, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink