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Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 06:42 AM PDT

Maybe 9-11 Can Be Over Now

by Pericles

Here's my hope for the Boston Marathon bombing: Maybe it can mark the end of the 9-11 Era. It feels so different from 9-11. Maybe it can exorcize the demons that have haunted us these last dozen years.

9-11 was a wound that refused to heal. Even the heroic stories that came out of 9-11 -- and there were many -- invariably got subsumed by the larger tragedy, like the first responders who charged up a burning tower and died when it collapsed. We could not identify with them or feel connected to their courage, because we lived. To have survived on a day when the real heroes died ... it felt almost shameful.

In addition to shame, the overwhelming emotions of 9-11 were depression and anger and fear. So it's understandable (though still not excusable) that America came out of 9-11 looking for somebody to blame, and wanting to mess them up as badly as we could. If we killed or maimed or tortured innocents in the process, so be it. Collateral damage. Our people had been innocent too.

9-11 was a monstrous act that we couldn't resolve in our hearts, so it turned us into monsters.

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Wed Mar 13, 2013 at 12:21 PM PDT

I Read Paul Ryan's Budget

by Pericles

Last week, when I talked about ideological bubbles and how to tell if you're in one, I should have mentioned the best single technique for staying out of bubbles in the first place: Expose yourself to as many original sources as you can, especially the ones you know you're going to hate.

With that in mind, I read Paul Ryan's budget yesterday. In telling you about it, I'm going to try to keep my commentary as close to the text as possible, with quotes and page references as appropriate. (I wish I had the time to do an end-to-end annotation, but I've got some big deadlines looming.)

If you think you can stand it, follow me past the squiggle.

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Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 07:11 AM PST

How is the NRA governed?

by Pericles

I keep seeing references to polls like this one, saying that NRA members support at least some reasonable changes to gun laws that the NRA's leadership opposes. (The NRA struck back against this by polling a bunch of straw-man issues and reporting widespread member agreement. 92% of NRA members oppose confiscation by mandatory buybacks!)

Does anybody understand how that works? How does the leadership continue in office if it doesn't represent the members?

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Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:05 AM PDT

Ayn, Paul, and Me

by Pericles

A year ago, when I posted Why I'm Not a Libertarian, I thought I was done talking about my misspent Objectivist youth. Yes, I read Atlas Shrugged six times, and all of Ayn Rand's other published works at least twice. Yes, I now understand that I could have invested that effort more wisely. Let's not dwell on it. What's done is done.

So in April, when Paul Ryan's love/hate relationship with the Catholic bishops led me to write Jesus Shrugged -- Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don't Mix, I left my personal history out of it. Ryan's policy proposals were the issue then, not his personality or character, so any insight I might gather from our common obsession was beside the point.

It's not beside the point now.

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Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 11:44 AM PDT

How Lies Work

by Pericles

If you've ever seen a five-year-old stand over a broken vase and say, "I didn't do it", you might think lying is easy. But as Mark Twain observed: "An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth."

Effective lying in a political campaign is very hard work. The soil has to be tilled and the lie planted just so. You have to water it over and over again. And then, at just the right moment, you add that special ingredient that makes it sprout and flower.

Let's look at the most effective lie currently spreading: President Obama is a threat to your Medicare. I live in a swing state (New Hampshire), so I've been seeing it in this ad.

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Much ink was spilled this weekend about Paul Ryan. OK, maybe I didn't read all of it, but by the time I quit it was all starting to repeat.

Here are the ten best observations I found. Let's start with:
1. This was Plan B for Romney.

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Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 01:00 PM PDT

Monopoly's Role in Inequality

by Pericles

For several years I've been dipping into the subject of rising inequality, usually in book reviews like this one of Hacker and Pierson's Winner-Take-All Politics. But all along a mystery has been nagging at me, and I think I'm finally getting to the bottom of it.

It's not just taxes or education or globalization or any of the usual suspects. Monopolies and near-monopolies, and the opaque markets that make them profitable, are the factor we hardly ever talk about.

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A couple months ago, I ran into an article on TechDirt that linked to another guy's post on his personal blog, both making the same ridiculous point: Shaving technology hasn't really improved since World War II.

Anybody who watches sports in real time (when you can't fast-forward through the commercials) knows this is crazy. For decades, shaving has had a "revolution" every two or three years: disposables, cartridges, comfort strips, double-blade, triple-blade, and now even 5-blade cartridges. Each revolution makes shaving a little more expensive, but it achieves the perfect comfort and safety that the previous revolution fell short of.

Or so the ads say.

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Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 04:56 AM PDT

The Economics of Leviticus

by Pericles

Culture-war conversations often end with a verse from Leviticus, the old testament book of laws. After the verse has been quoted, it does no good to point out that the implied solution is impractical or unfair or causes needless suffering. God has given his command and we should be carrying it out, whether it makes sense to us or not.

Strangely, though, the economic parts of Leviticus aren't quoted with the same air of ultimate authority. If they were, Biblical literalists might have to become radicals rather than reactionaries.

Let's look at specifics ...

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You may not think much about government as you push your shopping cart down the aisle of your local supermarket. But nothing the government does affects your life more often and more directly than food policy. What food is available, what it costs, what's in it, what you can find out about it, and whether it's safe - the government has a hand in all of that.

Given its universal importance, you might expect the food policy of a democratic government to work out one of two ways: Either food would be hotly debated in every election, or our common interest as eaters would produce a completely non-partisan pro-consumer consensus.

Strangely, though, our government has a pro-food-industry policy which is often anti-consumer, and that policy is hardly ever a major issue.

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Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM PDT

Rich People Don't Have Jobs

by Pericles

The news hook for this post is the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney flap, but in truth just about every week offers some hook for the following observation: Rich people don’t have jobs, they have hobbies.

If any multi-millionaire CEOs and investment bankers read my stuff (love to hear from you), they’re probably screaming: “What do you mean I don’t have a job? I have the toughest job in the world! I work 80 hours a week, and the stress follows me home. Waitresses and coal miners are slackers compared to me.”

We'll examine that objection below the squiggle.

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As you may have noticed, the general election campaign started last week. The Republicans understand Romney is it, no white knight is coming. And Tuesday President Obama made what sounds like a keynote address for his fall campaign.

From the way Romney has campaigned so far, and the amount of money both candidates are raising, you can guess that it's going to be ugly. You you really can'€™t spend that kind of money on warm, fuzzy stuff. Constant advertising annoys people, so the best you can hope for is to transfer their annoyance to your opponent.

Ugly campaigns usually lack substance. And that's unfortunate, because an honest debate between liberal and conservative worldviews, resulting in a clear choice by a well-informed electorate, would be a tremendous plus for this country.

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