Archive for February, 2010


This weekend Peter Somerville and I will continue our abbreviated twitter debate on the concept of noblesse oblige in a long form. I’ll post the results here, but those interested in social cohesion, cooperation, coercion and social obligations are welcome to submit questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments. We’ll get to them if possible.

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Some tasty links!

D.C. enacts cigarette tax. People vote with their wallets; city actually loses revenue. Politicos, journalists shocked.

Oh and there’s a new report, suggesting D.C. could raise $6.8 million more by adding another dollar in tax to butts. It’s nice to see policy suggestions that bear little to no relation to reality.

All evidence points to Marion Berry being a despicable human. And yet a man impervious to criticism or scandal or shame is fascinating.

“[T]he single dumbest article on Cuba in recent memory” in Playboy. If I can dig up a link to the actual article I will. Bonus video of Cuban dissident and punk rocker Gorki Aguila.

For those Mac-heads, download Google books as pdfs. Awesome!

Data suggests that firm size doesn’t have any noticeable effect on job creation. Rather, instead of the big business versus mom and pop narrative, businesses are more closely tied as a community.

Free Speech watch: Unconstitutional? Yes. Impactful? No. Pointless government? Shock.

D.C. government launches transparency website. Marion Berry shrugs; tries to snort it.

Insanely cool video, with a sweet soundtrack.

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Keith Olbermann is a racist. He’s a hate-mongering bigot who lacks any sense of irony or proportionality.

I fully support freedom of opinion, and he has every legal right to espouse his un-researched ill-tempered hyperbolic bat-shit crazy rants. Just as I have every right to think he’s an self-aggrandizing, self-satisfied asshole who can’t see past his own prejudice.

I’m not a tea partier, but I sympathize to the extent they advocate limited government and personal freedom. Freedom means the opportunity to self-select, and to form associations based on commonalities. To claim the limited government movement commonality is racism is either to purposefully set up a straw-man, or to be so dumb as to grasp the most basic and emotional response and lash out violently. Either way, how can anyone take this man seriously?

To be fair, Bill O’Reilly evokes the same reaction. Let’s get them in a gladiatorial death-match as soon as possible, then shoot the winner. I’ll bring the popcorn and foam fingers.

Note: Because of all the bad language and emotion here, please note our new disclaimer.

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Ryan Sorba’s bigoted comments at CPAC have prompted some bloggers to again raise the question of whether homosexuality is a choice.  Is it something behavioral, or predetermined by genetics?

Bryan Caplan points to some evidence that sexual orientation is highly influenced by genes.  As I understand it, it’s not determined by genetic factors, but it’s not a choice, either.  Often these debates about homosexuality are framed as differences between self-aware willful behavior and genetic determinations.  With sexual orientation, it’s neither.

What does the science say?  It’s the prenatal environment.  Scientists now actually understand how hormonal mechanisms in the womb produce sexual orientation.  This pertains to sexual preference, not behavior.  There are heterosexuals who engage in sexual activity with persons of the same sex, and there are homosexuals who engage in sexual activity with persons of the opposite sex.  It’s quite tragic when homosexuals repress their sexuality because of societal pressures, because doing so is quite psychologically unhealthy.

Of course, that sexual preference is not a choice should be completely irrelevant anyway, politically.  It is completely illegitimate to attempt to use the force of the state to prohibit any kind of consensual sexual behavior between adults.

Sorba, and those who share his worldview, haven’t escaped the morality of our evolutionary ancestors.  Modern conservatives assess the morality of homosexuality on a dimension of purity, a value which is easily explained in an evolutionary context, but is foreign to us modern liberals.

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And it was fascinating. Here’s the story. Alexander McCobin, founder of Students for Liberty, spoke yesterday at CPAC about activism and liberty.

In the name of freedom, I would like to thank the American Conservative Union for welcoming GOProud [a coalition of gay republicans] as a co-sponsor of this event, not for any political reason but for the message it sends….Students today recognize that freedom does not come in pieces.  Freedom is a single thing that applies to the social as well as the economic realms and should be defended at all times.

Next, Ryan Sorba, author of The Born Gay Hoax took the podium, and blasted the crowd for so heartily endorsing Alexander’s sentiment.

What an asshole.

I’m heartened that the booing, while loud, was limited, as were the cheers to Sorba’s rant. Judging by the crowd wide-shots, the inverse is true for Alexander’s talk. For those who care, Jeff Frazee is the leader of Young Americans for Liberty, a campus group inspired by/centered around Ron Paul.

Alexander and his supporters in the crowd make me very proud.

Update: Scuttlebutt is that the loud booing you can heard during Alexander’s speech is coming from Ryan Sorba himself. What. A. Prick.

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More Polls than BadaBing

Matt Yglesias gets snarky from CPAC.

I know, I was shocked too.

Recently Matt has been consistently tweeting some variation on this theme:

You would never guess from these CPAC speeches that most Americans think Obama’s doing a good job:http://bit.ly/F3IzuA

I’ve only seen him cite Gallup polls. Putting aside the technically-right-but-overstated “most” (52% = mandate! YES WE CAN!), Gallup has regularly been the poll where the president performs best.

Rasmussen uses much more detailed and accurate methods and pegs him much lower, but we all know how evil and biased and … Republican! Rasmussen is.

How to explain the recent CNN poll that pegs him at either 44% or 49%, depending on how the question is phrased?

Personally I distrust all of the polls, there are too many variables. Revealed preferences are more instructive than stated preferences anyway. And I think the signal that powerful democrat incumbents, Chris Dodd, Evan Bayh, et al, are dropping like flies says a lot more than a random sample of a thousand people.

Moving away from Matt to progressives generally, there’s an interesting contradictory dichotomy in the progressive mind. On the one hand there’s a belief that elites can direct society/government/the economy, while on the other, that apathetic submission to mob-rule democracy is an unqualified good.

Update – 2/19: Demonstrating this contradiction, this morning Matt tweets (without citing):

Outraged by plan to ram legislation through congress through majority vote — what happened to democracy?

On the one hand he’s arguing for mostly uniformed or poorly informed, non-technocratic majoritarian rule, on the other apparently bipartisan elite consensus.

(Aside, I don’t mean to rag on Matt unfairly, his tweets are just consistently interesting and revealing, and often very funny. I especially enjoy his basketball insights. An example of a tweet that made me laugh:

People with many different ideological points of view think I suck, demonstrating my centrist wisdom.

Fair enough.)

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Peter Somerville tweeted an interesting question, and our back and forth has been entertaining. If we continue, I’ll keep updating.

Peter: Question of the day: Is noblesse oblige incompatible with meritocracy? http://ow.ly/18cO3

Aaron: I don’t think so, it’s part of the market-produced incentive to be a good citizen. It can be condescending but not always.

Aaron: to the extent condescension offsets the good-citizenry benefits.

Peter: If you’re in the “deserving” elite, what do you owe the rest of society?

Aaron: does NO have a “deserving” component? Read it more as ‘by virtue of our position’ without regard how position was achieved.

Aaron: my point: markets morally force one to work in community without coercively forcing community. My sense of NO fits that.

Peter: Traditional elites view their status as unmerited, thus NO. If in a meritocracy you “earn” your status, that link is lost.

Aaron: but doesn’t the operative part of NO still apply? Consider Daliah/Caplan’s merit/value argument:http://ow.ly/18nJC and … how that dynamic applies. Duty to fellow man in a market stems not from god (old NO) but from fellowship of market society.

Peter: Markets change behavior… but attitudes? I am forced to buy my coke from CVS clerk, but am not forced to look out for him.

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