Monday, March 31, 2008

Connie's mad at me

My column in the Sandusky Register on Barack Obama apparently has annoyed at least one reader. After I mentioned a recent column by Connie Schultz, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, she sent me an angry e-mail accusing me of misrepresenting what she wrote.

Well, one of the virtues of the Internet is that often you can see for yourself. Here is my column; here is the Schultz column I referenced, and here is the speech by Obama I urged everyone to read.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

George Washington, traitor

When you read debates about the Iraq war, it's striking to see which opinions are considered respectable and which are considered beyond the pale.

Here's a quote from an isolationist kook who sounds like Ron Paul: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible." Here's another from the same guy: "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them."

As you can guess from my headline, both quotes are from George Washington (the 1796 farewell address.)

Megan McArdle knows what to do with people who oppose roaming the world looking for wars to get into -- dismiss them. On her blog, she concedes that the people who opposed the war turned out to be right, but then warns that many such weren't the right kind of people: "Other peoples' opposition was animated by principles that may be right, but aren't really very helpful: the pacifists, the isolationists, the reflexive opponents of Republicans or the US military. Within the limits on foreign policy in a hegemonic power, these just aren't particularly useful, again, regardless of whether you are metaphysically correct."

Note the presumption that if you have doubts about the wisdom of hegemonic power, you aren't useful. As Thoreau writes at Unqualified Offerings, "If the most thoughtful critics of a disaster, the ones with the best track record of predictions, are also the ones with ideas that fall well outside the status quo, well, maybe that means something!"

Meanwhile, over at Instapundit, Charles Martin weighs in on a depressing choice: Who is more libertarian, McCain or the two Democratic front runners? Martin writes, "I can see a libertarian case against McCain, but you go to an election with the candidates you've got. Does Matt [Matt Welch] really think McCain would be *more* of a libertarian disaster than "It takes a village"/"We're doing it for your own good" Clinton or the "it would be a mandate, but it's a *voluntary* mandate" Messiah of Change?"

Well, Charles, it's arguable that McCain is the biggest disaster of all, because he's the least likely to do anything about the war machine and the ongoing slide into a National Security State.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prometheus Award nominees listed

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced the following nominees for the Prometheus Award:

RAGAMUFFIN, Tobias S. Buckell


FLEET OF WORLDS, Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner;

THE GLADIATOR, Harry Turtledove, and

HA'PENNY, Jo Walton.

Winners will be announced at Denvention 3 in August.

The Hall of Fame nominees this year are A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Anthony Burgess; "As Easy as A.B.C.," Rudyard Kipling; THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, C. S. Lewis; THE LORD OF THE RINGS, J.R. Tolkien, and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, T. H. White. (Kipling rendered differently here because it's a short story, not a novel.) The latter award may cause me considerable soul-searching; I love the Tolkien, but I'm not convinced yet of its Libertarian bona fides.

The Hugo nominees came out recently too; you can keep up with all this stuff at the Science Fiction Awards Watch blog.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Five years in Iraq

At the five-year anniversary of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Cato Institute's Justin Logan, associate director of foreign policy studies, has posted a tough, well-worded comment on the disaster that deserves to be quoted here:

"Five years ago, few predicted that the Iraq war would turn out this way. (My Cato colleagues were notable exceptions.) The war's supporters, like Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, issued endless false assurances to the American people before the war that 'we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.' Senator Hillary Clinton could not be bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before voting to send U.S. troops into battle. The bipartisan foreign policy community in Washington that urged the American people to support this war has studiously avoided introspection over its consequences. Al Qaeda has been strengthened, Iran's regional stature has grown, our allies have been alienated, and our adversaries have rejoiced.

"Today, Senator McCain chortles about staying in Iraq for 100 years. The American people shrug their way to the next Britney Spears story. The sad fact is that until the American people demand more from their political leadership, there is no hope for a meaningful change in policy. In all likelihood the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war will come with U.S. troops patrolling Iraq. Perhaps that anniversary will precipitate a genuine change in policy."

More on Iraq from Cato, at the organization's home page, located here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

When I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, the school would bring in noted scholars for intensive, several-day seminars.

I desperately wanted to be admitted to the Arthur C. Clarke seminar. I was just a freshman or a sophomore, though (I can't remember which anymore) and upperclassmen were preferred, so I didn't make the cut.

A couple of days before the seminar, though, someone dropped out, and I was allowed in. I skipped all of my classes the day before, and spent all day in the library, reading Clarke's just-issued brand new novel, IMPERIAL EARTH. It was a very interesting seminar.

Clarke, still one of my favorite people, died yesterday, as I'm sure you've heard by now. NY Times obit is here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How much does it cost?

The Eliot Spitzer scandal has provoked the reactions you would expect: Republicans are attacking the guy, Democrats are defending him and the news media is following the circus.

Best observation comes from blogger Tim Ferris: "It's part prurient interest on my part, part an inquiry into the value 'proposition' of the service, but what makes it possible for this sort of traffic to demand $5,500 an hour?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Award finalists

The finalists for the Arthur C. Clarke Award have been announced; list here (via Instapundit).

I've read none of these books, but when I read the all-British Hugo ballot for best novel about three years ago, thereby discovering how great Iain M. Banks is, I was startled by how much better it was than the average American-dominated Hugo ballot.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Libertarians for Obama

I've noticed quite a few Libertarians lately expressing sympathy for Barack Obama.

A couple of examples: Over at, Justin Raimondo argues that the peace issue outweighs all others:

"In an emergency, it is necessary to focus on the immediate issue at hand: if your car is parked on the railroad tracks, and the train is barreling toward you, everything else must be put aside in the interest of survival. There's no time to think of the fate of the car, which you still owe money on, or whether your insurance will cover the damage. There's certainly no time to make a phone call, or to finish listening to your favorite song on the car radio. You must instead focus on the immediate priority, which is hightailing it to safety.

"That is the situation we face today."

It wouldn't be a Justin Raimondo post if it didn't have a moment of looniness; this time, he claims, apparently with a straight face, that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, "the Internet will be reined in." Still, his column is mostly reasonable and well-argued and worth reading in full.

Reason magazine's blog recently ran a post about Freedom Newspapers CEO Scott Flanders endorsing Obama: "Flanders reasoned that Obama is the best candidate to work on four top libertarian reforms: 1) Iraq withdrawal, 2) restoring the separation of church and state; 3) easing off victimless crimes such as drug use; 4) curtailing the Patriot Act."

Not a bad argument. I'd like to see the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, win this fall, although I also hope the Libertarian Party will come up with a reasonable candidate.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New 'Firefly' novel available

SF author Steven Brust has released a "Firefly" novel. It's available on Brust's web site.

Thanks to Interrociter for the scoop.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New Neal Stephenson novel!

Amazon is listing a new Neal Stephenson novel, ANATHEM, which the site says will be released on Sept. 9, 2008. The list price is $29.95, but Amazon is accepting pre-orders for $19.77.

A bit of hunting around turns up this Sept. 22, 2007, blog entry from Gretta Cook, which reveals the following details about ANATHEM, gleaned from Stephenson's visit to Google's Seattle-area offices: "He's writing a science fiction novel unrelated to Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle. It's set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It's really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books. He's nearly finished writing it, and if he doesn't finish by the end of the calendar year he'll have to give some money back. If everything proceeds according to schedule, it should be available in stores in about a year."

Apparently if you work at Google, cool science fiction authors drop by every once in awhile to keep the employees happy. Miss Cook also has a Charles Stross entry. Her excellent list of favorite SF novels is here; she lists THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS as her favorite Heinlein novel. Nice call.

So....a new science fiction novel this year from Iain M. Banks, and a new SF novel from Neal Stephenson! Looks like a pretty good year.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

World's best science fiction author?

I've read a lot of science fiction in my time and I've voted many times for the fiction categories on the Hugo Awards ballot. And lately, I've become convinced that one of the best science fiction novelists is a Scottish writer who doesn't have much of a following in the United States, Iain M. Banks.

Although I consider myself fairly well-read in the SF genre, I had never read anything by Banks until THE ALGEBRAIST appeared on the Hugo ballot for the 2005 Worldcon in Scotland. The book wasn't even available in the U.S. yet, and I had to order my copy from Canada's to be able to read it in time.

THE ALBEBRAIST turned to be wonderful, literate space opera, somewhat in the vein of Vernor Vinge's longer novels but (this will sound like heresy) even better.

Most of Banks' science fiction novels are part of a loosely-connected future history called The Culture, although THE ALGEBRAIST is not a Culture novel. Culture novels I've read so far, all of them brilliant, include LOOK TO WINDWARD, EXCESSION and INVERSIONS.

There's a brand new Culture novel, MATTER, that I will begin reading this weekend.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cleveland writer on Nebula ballot

Mary Turzillo, a Cleveland-area science fiction writer who won a Nebula Award for her story "Mars is No Place for Children," is on the Nebula ballot again this year, for her short story, "Pride." There's a link so you can read the story, and most of the other works on the ballot seem to come with links, too. (Via Instapundit.)