I was away all last week, to be honest. I’m sure we all agreed not to do anything weird while I was gone, right?
The Phantom Menace
Now that the election is over and Countess Parkinson von Dracula has been returned to her eternal slumber in the crypts of the damned, the more naïve among us probably expected that the Russian-baiting would recede juuuuuust a bit. Fortunately for America, the Washington Post is too busy seeking out the cold, hard truth to allow made-up fairy tales about evil Soviet hacking teams to die! Here’s an entirely sober story in this entirely serious, respectable paper about how absolutely everything is a Russian plot.
Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human "trolls," and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.
Is that the delicate aroma of sour grapes I detect? Could it be that the professional propagandists at the Washington Post are attempting to cover up their obvious (and hilarious!) failure by inventing imaginary dragons to pretend they weren’t equipped to slay? Is it possible, do you suppose, that this is the passive-aggressive way regime mouthpieces ask for a raise in the face of an embarrassingly bad performance? Further research: learn what a "botnet" is, and then come back and tell me if you really think the Russian government employed thousands of distinct botnets in its attempt to get Donald Trump elected president.
First they came for my beloved puppet mascots, and I did not speak out
I gotta be honest with you guys: those terrorists are no good. I mean, sure, we were all kind of miffed back when they crashed airplanes into notable American landmarks, but fifteen years is a long time, and terrorism has become almost passé. It’s definitely gotten to the point that, whenever a terrorist does pop up to do evil deeds, we libertarians can be so blinded by the fact that the plot was actually dreamed up, funded, and executed by the FBI that we forget to be viscerally offended by the very idea of terrorism and pledge our lives and treasure to the FBI. Last week, that all changed.
A Swedish chef was reportedly assaulted by three Muslim men who punched and kicked him in the face and head, sending him to the emergency room. Writing about the assault on Facebook, he said he was attacked because he looked like Donald Trump.
What? No! Not the Swedish Chef! Terrorists, listen to me: there are some lines that are not to be crossed. When you beheaded Miss Piggy, we could look the other way. When you crashed airplanes into Rowlf, well, the American spirit is one of forgiveness. When you burned Scooter alive, I think we were all secretly pleased, to tell the truth. But the Swedish Chef? Americans will not tolerate this! All I can say is that, if you mess with Sam the Eagle, things are gonna get real.
You’ve probably heard by now, but the next president of the United States will be Hillary Rodham Clinton. We know this because a stalwart bastion of journalistic integrity said so — specifically Newsweek, which made the decision to go ahead and print its special commemorative "Madam President" issues well in advance of the election. Newsweek defended itself by pointing out that this is a common practice; production times being what they are, generally both commemorative issues do get printed, and only the correct one sees distribution. CNN even provided intellectual cover by referencing the true correct fact that MLB produced both Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians World Series championship memorabilia, but only sold the Cubs version (the Indians gear will be offloaded in the third world as discount apparel — no, that’s true). There’s just one problem with the story.
As CNN explains to its slower readers, "this is the media version of World Series keepsakes that were on sale in Cleveland and Chicago last week. Street vendors printed "Cubs win" and "Indians win" T-shirts, then trashed the Indians shirts after the Cubs won Game 7."
There is just one very notable difference: in the case of the World Series, there were two sets of shirts created. However, in the case of the infamous Newsweek special edition, the publishing company Topix, decided to print just one.
I’m assuming you’ve heard, but Donald John Trump was just elected to be the forty-fifth president of the United States. I remain, as I have ever been, hugely skeptical of president Trump; I steadfastly refused to sign on to Walter Block’s "Libertarians for Trump," preferring instead to claim membership in Robert Wenzel’s competing group, "Libertarians Against Trump, Clinton, Johnson, and Stein." Still and all, there is the potential for some good to come from a Trump administration, which statement I would be unable to make about Hillary Clinton. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, consider the few moments of Trump’s victory speech in which he says substantive things rather than merely thanking his staff and supporters:
Walter Block is at it again. I do understand that I’m running the risk of turning this site into a commentary volume on the collected works of Walter Block; I soldier on regardless, since Dr. Block is once again staking out a position that many libertarians find repellent, in this case the spanking of one’s children. Among many libertarians, spanking is held to be an obvious violation of the non-aggression principle, and it’s not hard to see why; the actual hitting of another human being does appear to be a fairly clear case of aggression. Here, however, Dr. Block makes the case that not only is spanking not necessarily a violation of the NAP, but that it would be defensible even if it were.
Children (and the mentally handicapped, the senile, etc.) are not yet (will never be, unless somehow cured) full rights bearing human beings. It is licit to use force, violence, whatever, "against" them, for their own good, of course. To not do so is to abnegate parental, guardianship obligations.
On the face of it, this seems rather stark and no small amount arbitrary. After all, the argument could well run, at what point do "children" become "not-children" and therefore acquire full rights? At what stage of mental handicap do rights begin to decay? Set aside the borderline cases for the moment, though, and consider the other extreme. To allow Dr. Block to explain:
Somehow — and I don’t profess to know how — the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last week. The game itself was utterly absurd, packed with virtually every insane occurrence that can occur in the game of baseball — but isn’t it always? That’s part of the wonder of baseball. Against all odds, it still manages to be full of surprises, even long after we should have seen everything there is to see. For my part, I’ve never seen a wild pitch score two runs before. I’ve also never seen a bunt call as bizarre as the one Joe Maddon put on in the ninth inning, a call so bad it makes one wonder if the game really is rigged for maximum drama. Unlike elections, however, baseball would be too difficult to gimmick, what with the unknown ball position and all.
One might ask, not unreasonably, why I’m writing about baseball on a site about libertarianism. I might respond, also not unreasonably, that this is a lesson in property rights; specifically, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I please.
In the early stages of her career, Agatha Christie was known for writing engaging whodunits full of lively characters and utterly madcap plot twists. As she matured as a writer, however, Dame Agatha became less interested in zany new ways to kill the dead bodies, and more interested in pursuing heady philosophical investigations about the nature of justice. Many of the stories from her middle period have barely any mystery to them at all; the cast is so small and the events so clear that the focus becomes less on trying to figure out who the killer is and more on investigating the killer’s motivation and that of the detective exposing the truth — as often as not that indefatigable Belgian, Hercule Poirot.
All of which brings us to Curtain. Written at the peak of Dame Agatha’s career (though not published until the end), Curtain opposes Poirot with a villain who is utterly and unapologetically evil, who commits heinous crimes for the sheer pleasure of it, who cannot be dissuaded, and whose crimes, by their very nature, are beyond the reach of the law. If you’ve never read Curtain, beware the rest of this post, as it will be filled with spoilers. If you have, however (or if you don’t care), read on as we explore what Dame Agatha had to teach us about the relationship of justice, the non-aggression principle, and morality.