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August 08, 2007

Idle Thoughts

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

  • Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said "Equal Rights for All Species." Um. Even cockroaches?

  • Speaking of species and such, am I alone in finding monkeys not amusing?

  • I hear tell that there are people out there who think government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do. I used to be a government bureaucrat of sorts, but now am retired. Does that mean I knew how to run my life better then than I do now?



posted by Donald at August 8, 2007


" I alone in finding monkeys not amusing?"

No. I find them interesting, but they are enough like us to be seriously disturbing. Also they make destructive and dangerous pets.

"... Does that mean I knew how to run my life better then than I do now?"

Yes. Reductio ad absurdum.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 8, 2007 12:42 PM

..."Equal Rights for All Species." Um. Even cockroaches?

I'd be satisfied with giving the buggers just equal rights. It'd be an improvement on the current situation, where they just swank around everywhere acting like the own the place.

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 8, 2007 1:26 PM

How about bonobos?

Posted by: Searchie on August 8, 2007 1:42 PM

I also find monkeys very not amusing and of all the great things about living in America, not having wild monkeys swinging around in the woods is certainly on the list.

Posted by: Lynn on August 8, 2007 4:01 PM

Did your dislike of monkeys originate in your time as a government bureaucrat?

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 8, 2007 5:00 PM

The first time I lived in an apartment with lots of cockroaches, I felt a little irrational twinge of remorse every time I killed one--just a second ago it was walking around minding its own business, not wishing me harm, and then it's dead. But that feeling went away pretty quickly as I came to understand that I was engaged in a full-scale war.

I hate to be pedantic about a lighthearted post, but come on, that government bureaucrats bit is lame. No one has ever argued that government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do. The disagreements are about whether particular instances of interference by the government actually make us more in control of our lives, or the reverse. For example, government bureaucrats built and maintain the interstate highway system. This is an example of action by government bureaucrats that pretty much everyone agrees actually gives individuals more control over their own lives. A less settled debate would be universal health care: you probably think this is an instance of government bureaucrats running people's lives, whereas those who support it think it, like highways, is a government action that gives people more control over their lives. You can disagree with them, obviously, but it has to be on the merits of the policies in question, not some vague adolescent silliness about "government bureaucrats running our lives."

Posted by: BP on August 8, 2007 5:45 PM

Small point: There are a few of us who think that the Interstate Highway System was a huge mistake that we're still paying for in too many ways ... Here's another posting on the topic.

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on August 8, 2007 6:04 PM

I vote that we give cockroaches the right to contraception and abortion. And the right to die, too. Right Now!!!

Posted by: Adriana on August 8, 2007 7:30 PM

I think that too. But the point still holds--the interstate highway system makes people more in control of their lives than if the government had let us all build our own roads. That would also be true of whatever alternative you or I think the government should have adopted instead.

Also this constant "the government" as opposed to "us" is not totally accurate. We do after all elect our government. Sometimes we can collectively decide we want to do something using the government.

Posted by: BP on August 8, 2007 7:37 PM

BP -- I'm not sure I understand why you think the highway system gives people more control of their lives than they'd otherwise have. Roads would have been built anyway, after all. And, given that it wound up costing something like 8 times what it was projected to cost, played a role in the destruction of many cities, and helped hook us on oil, what's the problem in thinking of it as something "the government" did to "us"? But I may have a little less faith than you do in the idea that the US government is responsive to its subjects' wishes ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 8, 2007 7:51 PM


That people do wish to drive their cars is seen by
their unwillingness to use public transportation, even though it has certain advantages: no need to find parking, a teenager can move about without a car, and therefore is more independent, elderly people can get around without becoming a danger on the road...

See the hue and cry each time they talk about using taxes for public transportation and how
agreeable they are to paying for highways...

Perhaps it would be better if roads were built with local funds. Since people are more parsimonious with their own money than that of an amorphous entity, they'd have built less, and people would have depended more on railways and these would not have decayed as they did.

Posted by: Adriana on August 8, 2007 9:31 PM

Adriana -- Roads were built before the Interstate Highway System, and have been built since! Anyway, my own feeling is that it was a top-down social-engineering project on a really huge scale, and part of an awful time in Americans politics when, along with urban renewal and Vietnam, the feds really thought they could do anything and make it work.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 8, 2007 9:42 PM

You people don't understand. A man and his car. Now that's love!

Posted by: ricpic on August 8, 2007 10:30 PM

Maybe roads would have been built by local, rather than federal, bureaucrats. Maybe they would have been built by more efficient bureaucrats. Maybe we would have trains instead. It doesn't matter. Compare any of these cases to a totally anarchic approach to transit, where people like you and me build little roads and trolleys here and there (though it's doubtful we could get the resources to do even that). I'm only saying that saying "These people think government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do!" is not a real response to any proposal that the government should do something. There are case-specific reasons why the government should or shouldn't do a given thing.

And, like other people said--most Americans really like the highway. I hate highways and cars and driving and wish we had trains instead. Though our trains failed us pretty spectacularly this morning...

Posted by: BP on August 9, 2007 1:22 AM

"No one has ever argued that government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do." Is that why the British like to quote "The man in Whitehall knows best"?

Posted by: dearieme on August 9, 2007 10:03 AM

BP -- You write "I'm only saying that saying "These people think government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do!" is not a real response to any proposal that the government should do something. There are case-specific reasons why the government should or shouldn't do a given thing."

Couldn't agree more. And it's weird in this country, the way debate over politics often boils down to a shouting match between the "I love government" team and the "All government is bad" team. Where does that come from?

On the other hand ... 1) Practically speaking it's probably wise to be wary. Interested parties do love to say "Something must be done!" and then move, without transitioning, to "And the government must do it." Besides, a good case can be made that we're overburdened by government already, and that government is overextended and is now performing even the basics very badly. And 2) It's hard not to be struck by the number of people who tear their hair out over government bureaucracies, from businesspeople wasting time on dumb rules and regs, to people like Gogol, Dickens, and Twain, who made a lot of valid artistic hay about the maze-like self-interested nature of so much government ...

Anyway, why not joke about it? 90% of the time you're going to be right.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 9, 2007 11:37 AM

When government bureaucracy is discussed I often find myself wondering what alternatives there are and whether those alternatives would be an improvement over the government. For example, why should some (local) government bureaucrat be poking around in the kitchen in the restaurant down the street and issuing citations for unsanitary conditions? Shouldn't the free market be allowed to work? If people keep getting food poisoning or discover cockroaches skittering about won't the business fail soon enough? And tort reform should keep those whiners who DO get poisoned from suing; buyers beware after all. And why not have privatized roads? Wouldn't you like a choice between three different highways from NY to Chicago with competing toll structures? I can see it now, The Trump Tollroad, Microsoft Interstate & Internet Highway, Ford Superhighway (no GMC, Chrysler, etc. vehicles allowed) ...

And soon enough we can work our way up to letting private companies take over firefighting and police patrols, maybe even take that next step past the "all volunteer" army and move on to mercenaries. Won't we all feel safer if we just hired Blackwater for allour security needs? And why should a G#@ D#@* Gummint Burrocrat care if I want to dump toxic waste on property I OWN! I mean, where will it all end?

Seriously, however, it is time that we revisit and better understand what Ike was talking about when he warned we were on a path toward the undue influence of the military-industrial complex.

Posted by: Chris White on August 9, 2007 12:50 PM


I got one more unintended consequence to not having bureaucrats inspect kitchens.

Let the buyers find out by themselves if kitchens
are sanitary or not, and choose the restaurants
they think they are safe.

Or, since eating at a restaurant is not a necessity, avoid restaurants altogether. Much easier to remember and much less work than doing
your research.

Never let people choose between good and bad when they can choose neither.

(That was the real reason why FDR had the FEd back up bank deposits. Since there was a not
unconsiderable feeling that putting your money on a bank, **any bank** was risky, people might well
have gone to that old faithful, the mattress).

This can be deadly to new technology. When people are asked to be guine pigs for new technology, they avoid it. But if the Government says it is safe, they will try it.

Posted by: Adriana on August 9, 2007 4:55 PM

Where did you get your hate affair with the government? They never scared me as much as business does.

Posted by: SFG on August 9, 2007 9:40 PM

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