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June 1999
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August 1999

Imperial America?

As you may recall, I wrote about flag burning two weeks ago. Last week, I printed some of the correspondence between Jerry Pournelle and myself. At one point, he mentioned the first amendment didn't apply to the states. I said we'd fought the Civil War over that. We exchanged some thoughts about the Civil War and the current Supreme Court, as well as the Warren and Burger courts. I told him I didn't think much of the way the south treated its residents of color and that the federal government had to step in.

That was when Jerry told me exactly what's wrong with a system that errs too heavily on the side of federal power, and too lightly on the side of state power.

Now your side has won and we have a single national state; I think you will regret that, because rights granted by the imperium in defiance of the provinces can be taken away by the imperium, witness the "hate crime" madness that will soon permutate into a national "hate speech" crime law. ou will live to see political correctness enacted into law and enforced by Federal agents.

You already saw 80 people burned alive at Waco over the crime of not having a Federal Firearms License worth $200 a year; assuming they needed the license, which is not likely. This is the national notion of justice. Just as, once we went in to Kossovo we had to continue according to nearly everyone, because we could not afford to lose face, the same was true at Waco, no? They defied the Feds and had to pay, and no price was too high to e paid for that crime.

States rights protects bigots and innocents alike. National states of a size will become empires; they can't do otherwise. While nationally a majority may approve of one law or another, local majorities often feel oppressed, lose the sense of being governed by consent, and think of the government as a regime with no authority other than force. We are moving that way now. The cynical things said about our government today would have been shocking when I was young. We venerated Washington in those days (both man and city). Now a Congressman is regarded as no better than a thief by a very large part of the population.

Centralization of power has a price, and that price can be high. Yes, it is the opportunity to right wrongs and do good, but the fact is that the places of power are occupied by the people who want them, not by the people who you would want to have them. The best people don't want to be part of government. They can often be persuaded by neighbors to take a turn in the barrel in local government, even state. But to be a National Political Figure is a lifetime decision and no longer made by the Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, James Madison -- we have no people of that stature in national politics and none on the horizon. Why is this? And I think it is obvious.

You create a situation in which the Imperial City is the master of the whole of the nation, and wonder why capture of the Imperial City becomes more and more corrupt and is engaged in by more and more corrupt people? I would have thought it obvious. Indeed, I thought Acton said it well enough a bit more than a hundred years ago:

"All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's a statement of fact, and one need not have absolute power and absolute corruption to have enough power and enough corruption to turn one's stomach. And who is to reform it? Why, those willing to take on that kind of power, of course. There are few, and those arrogant enough to think they can and ought to wield such power for any purpose however noble have gone a long way toward disqualifying themselves from wielding it at all.
A nation state as large as the US will always become an Empire, and I suspect you will live to see that. You won't like it much either. Freedom consists of being able to confront the people who have real impact on your life. Rule by an imperial city far away prohibits that and is the death of any real liberty. You'll come to know that.

I hope I don't live to see it.

Destruction Of The Earth?

Those of you with some knowledge of history will recall that a minority of the scientists on the Manhattan project were concerned that a nuclear explosion would ignite the earth's atmosphere and destroy Earth. Well, those wacky physicists are at it again. Here's the note I got from Craig Reynolds:

Twice in the last few days, I've been sent pointers to this article:

Big Bang machine could destroy Earth

it contains phrases you don't normally hear in staid newspaper reporting, like "...fears that it might cause `perturbations of the universe' that could destroy the Earth...", "...the creation of [a black hole] on [Long Island] could be disastrous...", and "...the big question is whether the planet will disappear in the twinkling of an eye..."
2008 followup:

'Big Bang' machine could destroy the planet, says lawsuit

The Anti-Linux IPO HowTo

Eric Raymond is one of the acknowledged philosophical leaders of the Open Source software movement. Because I have interviewed him on several occasions, I am on his press mailing list. This week, I got a note from him:

I don't normally send pointers to other peoples' writing to this list -- but

The Anti-Linux IPO HowTo

is both hilarious and accurate. Show it to your colleagues; you just might save them from embarrassment later...

Paul Ferris of Linux Today has written a little fill-in-the-blank masterpiece here. It may not seem so funny if you haven't been following the Linux/Open Software field or are unaware of its fight to the death with Bill Gates, Microsoft and Windows NT. But if you're even a little up-to-date on the battle, even if you don't have a dog in this fight, you'll find it amusing. It is certainly (ouch) hard on journalists. The article starts like this:

With a little help here, and some beer (I recommend Fosters), you, yes you dear non-Linux journalist, can score big in the Anti-Linux-IPO article arena. No need to read up on the facts or do heavy research to sound authoritative. A lot of your colleagues aren't doing it, so why should you? Why should you burn your valuable time on something pointless like accuracy, when you could be playing Doom instead?


Web Site of the Week: Movie Sites

Movie Sites

Richard Dalton writes:

Anyone who will spend 90 minutes with Adam Sandler is committed to film. Here's some site you might be interested in:

The Amazing World of Cult Movies
EmpireOnline--The Online Movie Magazine
Cinema 1--Movie Magazine For The Cyberworld

One of those just has to have the definitive Jerry Lewis archive.

As you may know, I spend most of my movie-site time at the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), in part because it is a successful commercial site that grew out of a college personal hobby, in part because it is accurate, large, useful and exhaustive, and in part because I am a creature of habit.

Well, I went to these sites on Richard's recommendation, and I can say with some assurance I will be broadening my reading habits in the future. If you like film (and you know I do), you may enjoy them.

(In particular, try "Star Wars, The Ride" at EmpireOnline.)

Bag O' Humor

Good News/Bad News

OK, I am violating my rule about limiting my humor each week to one entry. But to honor that rule (in the breach if not the observance) I am using one short item and editing the other two to half their full length.

A secretary walked into her boss's office and said, "I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you." "Why do you always have to give me bad news?" he complained. "Tell me some good news for once." "All right, here's some good news," said the secretary. "You're not sterile.

Women's Tee-Shirts

Guys have feelings too. But like... who cares?
I don't believe in miracles. I rely on them.
Next mood swing: 6 minutes.
I hate everybody, and you're next.
Please don't make me kill you.

Bad Metaphors


6) McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.

5) From the attic came an unearthly howl The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.

4) She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.

3) Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.

2) Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:\flw=\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw=aaakk/ch@ung by mistake.

1) Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

Don't Forget Paper

I got a little thrill this week; a paper letter from one of my regular correspondents. He asked me to keep the contents confidential, and so I shall. In fact, although I doubt this was what was on his mind, if you do not wish to see your words redistributed across the world, one of the safest ways to insure privacy is to write on paper. Sure, there are photocopying machines, but they are less convenient than mere electronic forwarding.

Vicki and I still have all the letters we exchanged during our 14-month long-distance courtship (I was in Portland, Oregon, she was in San Francisco). I have looked at them now and then, and I am glad we have them. My mother believes you can achieve much the same effect by printing out email and saving the paper copies. We will see.

Marlow, my older daughter, is about to take off for college. She has explicitly asked that, in addition to email, we send her paper mail now and then. First, she wants something other than bills to arrive in her mail box. But she also wants the heft and permanence of snail mail. This seems apt, since she will be spending much of her Freshman year reading works that are centuries old.

Bottom line: go ahead and use snail mail now and then.

Muppets From Outer Space

Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).

Directed by: Tim Hill; Writing credits: Jerry Juhl and Joey Mazzarino; Plot Outline: The muppets head into space to help Gonzo find his place in the Universe; Jeffrey Tambor : K. Edgar Singer; F. Murray Abraham : Noah; Rob Schneider: TV Producer; Josh Charles: Agent Barker; Ray Liotta: Gate Guard; Andie MacDowell: Shelley Snipes. Runtime: USA:88; Rated: G

OK, I admit it, I like the Muppets. Always have. To me, they have that old-fashioned "appeal to the adults, appeal to the kids" methodology that worked so well for Warner Brothers animation and Sesame Street. Also, Jim Henson, was, in my estimation, a genius.

One element of his genius, which he had in common with Warner Brothers was that his characters had a certain edge. Bugs Bunny was all Bronx attitude. Kermit used to have some 'tude too. But it seems his edges have been burnished off.

All the elements are here from previous Muppet movies: a silly plot, cute songs, funny, over-the-top cameos from topflight actors (although only Rob Schneider gets more than three lines and Andie MacDowell's part is so truncated it must have suffered in the editing room) and pop culture references.

Yet there is a hole in the middle. It is as if the soul was missing. It appears that Henson's son, the producer of the film, used Jim's cookbook, so that he had all the ingredients, cooked for the right amount of time (88 minutes--thank you!), but was missing the creative spark that true genius adds. It's the difference between mind-boggling and just good. This film is just good.