Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
   looking for risks in a risk-free world
Friday, February 8 2002
World history is chock-full of instances where extremism, bigotry, and overreaction were enshrined in law. The present is not really any more enlightened than the past in this regard; just the other day a court was forced to rule that imprisoning someone for life on a shoplifting charge is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. This court wasn't in Turkey or Singapore, mind you, it was in California. An overreaction to a perceived plague of "habitual offenders" had resulted in an irrational law that no legislator would dare vote to revoke. Similar legislative and executive irrationality underlies the War on Drugs, child pornography legislation, and the new standards for dealing with terrorists. These are just the latest mileposts down the trail blazed by the 1980s satanist childcare worker scare (some of those people are still rotting in jail), McCarthyism, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Spanish Inquisition.
What's really interesting about draconian laws (or any extraordinary laws, for that matter) is how society, in its infinite flexibility, quickly molds itself around them and finds ways to exploit them either politically or financially. Whenever things are far askew from the pragmatic path, there's money to be made. For example, according to a show I watched today on the Discovery Channel, the Spanish Inquisition provided a means for many Spaniards to escape debt (that's what happens when your Jewish creditors are burned at the stake). Meanwhile, Turkey welcomed a massive influx of highly-educated Jewish exiles from Spain, an influx that buoyed the Islamic Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years. Similarly, modern draconian drug laws serve to greatly inflate the profitabilty of drug trafficking, especially if risk can be delegated to people who have no influence or stake in the operation.
There are other cases of extremity in law that might not strike the casual viewer as extreme but nonetheless have extreme effects. One class of such laws involve those where risk is legally delegated from individuals to a government, often (unlike insurance) without cost to those individuals. Studies have shown that when the government takes on risk, people compensate by acting more recklessly. Eventually, under a government like ours, one where there's a pervasive though not-entirely-justified expectation that the government has accepted all risk, people's behavior can become irrationally reckless. People step out in front of oncoming traffic, they invest all their 401K money in Enron, and they build way out into the floodplain, things people would never think of doing in, say, Mexico. Or France. (Large fragments of this point were made in a recent article in the New Yorker, though I expanded on it somewhat.)

I learned today that Scott Evertz, the Bush administration's AIDS Czar, though an "out" gay, does not believe in condoms. His preferred method for preventing the spread of AIDS is abstinence. We're not talking about abstaining until marriage, mind you, since he doesn't believe in gay marriage either. We're talking about abstaining for life. Have a nice life!
Is there a word for "Governance by Irrational People"? Dementocracy perhaps? What else but Dementocracy could explain the call to increase the American military's budget 12% now that the war is over?

Put the flags away; the war has been won.
Humility is a virtue, even among cowboys.

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