Charlie Hebdo: on “hate crimes” and blaming the victim

Few people outside of jihadist circles have any reaction besides horror and condemnation for the January 7th attacks on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in which two masked gunmen shot and killed 12 people, including nine members of the magazine’s staff and two police officers. The horrific act sparked a nationwide manhunt that culminated today in the deaths of the two suspects, who were holed up with a hostage in a shop north of Paris. The two, who claimed to be trained by al-Qaeda, wished to become martyrs for their Islamist cause, and their wish was granted.

If the goal was to silence opponents of religious extremism (to “avenge” attacks upon the prophet Mohammed, as one of the gunmen stated), this was a senseless and ultimately futile act of murder; no sooner had news of the attack spread than media outlets were retransmitting many of the cartoons which Charlie Hebdo had published and allegedly so offended the perpetrators. But just as senseless were the reactions of some Westerners — even writers, whose livelihoods depend on free expression — who questioned the wisdom of Hebdo in publishing such provocative material in the first place. One stunning example came from Joyce Carol Oates, who wondered if the paper had indeed committed a “hate crime” (update: the tweet has since been deleted; you can view a screenshot here):

This is one of America’s most prolific writers and a recipient of numerous literary awards, someone who has not shied away from controversial subjects herself, and she believes it’s possible that writing or pictures could be considered a “hate crime.” Oates is not alone in this sentiment; one-third of Americans, and over half who identify as Democrats, favor hate crime legislation, including some forms of speech.

Let’s back up for a minute and consider the concept of a “hate crime.” This is a product of a politically-correct social climate which seeks to expunge unpopular thought by attributing to it the magical power of violating other people’s rights, which, for the purposes of so-called hate speech, must include the right not to be offended. Apparently, those who are affronted by rude commentary suddenly lose all agency and are unable to turn away from, or condemn with their own rhetoric, the mean things other people say about them or any group they identify with. It might even drive them to commit murder, and who’s to say their blind rage didn’t play a role? Charlie Hebdo’s editors should have known that their deliberate provocations of religious extremists would lead to their deaths. How irresponsible of them!

This is what is known as blaming the victim: finding them guilty to some degree for crimes committed against them by others. Imagine telling a rape victim that it’s terrible she was raped, but why on earth did she go out in public dressed like that? Some men just can’t control themselves! And this sort of shaming happens all too frequently to victims of sexual assault.

It shouldn’t happen to them, nor to victims of other crimes. But the politically-correct crowd in particular seems incapable of unreservedly condemning violence aimed at suppressing speech, if its victims don’t fit their favored ideological mold. There is little doubt that the content in Charlie Hebdo is often crass and confrontational. But that is precisely what satire has to be, if it’s to be successful. And it is simply not up for debate whether the cartoons and columns they published justified massacring the editorial staff. They didn’t. It is entirely possible, and indeed necessary, to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to exist against violent thugs, even if one can’t endorse its content. To decry their material as “racist” or “Islamophobic” in the context of Wednesday’s shootings misses the point, and worse: it provides the enemies of reason and tolerance with the very ammunition they need to continue their bloody jihad.

Green Shoots Among the EcoReds

A Brief Background

 

I recently began leasing a Nissan LEAF. The $7500 Nissan takes off the top of the price, along with the $5000 tax credit issued by the state of Georgia, which is available even to lessees, made the car economically attractive for my daily commute. For those who are unaware, the LEAF is a fully electric vehicle which, when fully charged can provide 60-80 miles of range in typical driving. With practice, and with the right mix of traffic flow (electric vehicles typically benefit from stop and go traffic due to the regenerative braking they employ to recover power back into the battery), it is possible to go over 100 miles on a charge. But, range anxiety is a factor, and few people are willing to push the battery so much as to go so far between charges.

The Charging Issue

 

The Time Factor

Charging electric vehicles is the blessing and the curse of employing one as your daily driver. On the positive side, you can fuel your vehicle more cheaply, and from the comfort of your own home. On the negative side, charging takes much more time than filling a car’s tank, and the charging rate is much more important than the flow rate on a gas pump, as a 20% increase in time matters little when the difference is 10 seconds on gas, but becomes a big deal when the difference is 10 minutes to half an hour. Still, with planning, that issue is not as huge a deal as it seems. I’m comfortable with 90+% of the driving I do being in the LEAF. As I’ve looked to avoid having car notes, I keep one more car than is absolutely needed, so that one can be undergoing maintenance while I drive another. This lifestyle choice works well when owning a LEAF.

The Tragedy of the Commons

Many businesses offer free EV charging. That was the norm, outside of the home, a few years ago. Free charging, of course, caused paid options to be adopted more slowly. As the vehicles have become more popular, however, the crowds at the free charging stations have become larger, and the waits to use them have become longer. Waiting for an hour so that you can charge for another hour and go home is not a terribly appealing scenario. This fact has not been lost on LEAF aficionados, and many are now praising the availability of pay-to-charge sites. Many are lamenting the overuse, with people using the free chargers for too long, simply because they are free. Additionally, while Nissan’s own navigation system, included in some LEAFs, will direct drivers to a nearby Nissan dealer when the battery level becomes dangerously low, there are some dealers who apparently restrict the use of the EVSEs to their own customers only. And this phenomenon has generated some interesting discussions on forums such as My Nissan LEAF Forum. While there is outrage, there is also the understanding that businesses have the right to dispose of their own property as they see fit.

Welcoming the Free Market

The immaturity of the EV market has led to something of a crash course in economics for many on the left. Rather than decrying “money grubbing corporations,” many are celebrating the end of the scourge of “free” charging. There is finally recognition that resources are finite, and must be allocated through some means, and that trade is a vastly superior method for that allocation than “first come, first served.” Around Atlanta, there are pay stations popping up in various places, including in places where they used to be offered for free, such as at businesses. When businesses offer free charging, we see the same kind of resource hogging and lines that we see under socialism. When there is a fee, even if that fee is very modest, we see much more efficient allocation of resources. The difference in attitude between free and $3.00/hr is much greater, effectively, than the difference between $3.00/hr and $10.00/hr would be. When I took my family out last weekend to Ikea, we used one of the pay stations in the parking lot. There were two. They were both unused and available. A short walk away, at a free group of chargers, there was a significant line which would have required a wait (I only found out about the free charging after the fact, but it does fit in with my wife noticing a bunch of LEAFs grouped at one location as we were driving to Ikea). Charging the LEAF is typically not pricey. It costs less than $3.00/hr for “level 2” charging, which will typically add 20+miles/hr to the range. This works well for charging while you shop. There is also an option for very high speed DC charging, which can accomplish that same level of charging as L2 in a quarter of the time. Most of these stations are pay stations. The ones which are not are typically at Nissan dealers. There is also a free one at Agnes Scott. The usage on these chargers is lower because the ability to utilize them requires a paid-for option on the LEAF, and many owners do not have this option. One thing which I have noticed about the free DC chargers is that they tend to be broken much more frequently than paid ones. The equipment itself may require more maintenance, and it is certainly the case that an owner who generates income from the equipment is much more likely to provide that maintenance than one who does not.

Economics in One Lesson

 

The development of electric vehicles has been good. While not superior to their petroleum-fueled brethren, there is a role for the EV in cities and for people with very regular, predictable, and short-range driving schedules. The experience of owning or leasing one is also something of a crash course in economics for many who do not normally ruminate on such matters. This awareness may well mitigate some of the most socialist impulses among the environmentally conscious moving forward. Certainly, learning the lesson through such an experience is better than never learning it at all. The actual experience with poor resource allocation does more to increase the understanding of the importance of market forces than any textbook.

Salon’s Seven Misconceptions About Libertarianism

Lately it has become fashionable for political partisans to bash libertarianism. These “critiques” are vacuous and do nothing but demonstrate that the authors haven’t bothered to do basic research about what libertarians believe and why.

A recent example of this is Salon’s list of 7 strange libertarian ideas. Every single one misses the mark and requires only a limited response. More in depth information on these issues can easily be found with Google.

  1. “Parents should be allowed to let their children starve to death.”
  2. First off, most libertarians don’t actually think this. The issue is a strawman. Second off, even the people who believe that parents have no obligations to their children also believe that other people should be allowed to take custody of the neglected kids and care for them.

  3. “We must deregulate companies like Uber, even when they cheat.”
  4. Libertarians don’t think taxis should be regulated either. So the idea that it’s unfair that Uber isn’t regulated while taxis are cuts the other way for us. Nor does libertarian opposition to regulation imply approval of Uber interfering with Lyft’s business operations. Rather, libertarians think that violations of terms of service should be private and not state matters.

  5. “We should eliminate Social Security and Medicare.”
  6. These are massive transfers of wealth from the young and poor to the old and rich. We oppose them b/c we oppose intervention and wealth transfers (and the state in general). Of course the practical way of getting rid of them does it in a way that phases them out without leaving the poor who do depend on them hanging.

  7. “Society doesn’t have the right to enforce basic justice in public places of business.”
  8. We believe that people have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t involve using aggression against others. That doesn’t mean that we think racism is okay, it just means that we don’t think that a civilized response to racism is threatening to shoot the racist or to lock him in a cage against his will unless he does what we want.

    Furthermore the argument Salon gives is wrong and circular. Wrong b/c the constitution doesn’t apply to private citizens and so private acts of discrimination can’t be “unconstitutional” (and for most of the country’s history, the constitution was read as preventing this kind of legislation). Circular b/c you can’t say it’s “against federal law” when the argument is about whether such a federal law should exist in the first place.

    [click to continue…]

Of Morality and Failed Business Strategies…

Some time ago, back in 2013 in fact, Richard Branson published a piece on LinkedIn, under the heading of “Big Idea 2013: This Year the Drug War Ends” wherein he positied, among other things, that if the War on (Some) Drugs was a business strategy, it would long ago have been scrapped.  He’s absolutely correct. And he’s also absolutely incorrect.

The War on (Some) Drugs is not a failed business strategy, and it is dangerous to even suggest that it is. Instead, it is a failed moral strategy. If it seems counter-intuitive to you that the government should be in the business of applying moral strategies, you win a prize. The control of what enters one’s body is, at root, the very basis of self-ownership. (Admittedly, the phrase “self-ownership” is not quite the correct nuance. I don’t “own” me, I “am” me, but anyway…)

The apparent failure of the War on (Some) Drugs speaks just as much to its actual goals as to its legitimate chances for success. In other words, if the goal was to criminalize large portions of an entire generation, then it has been a raging success. However, if the goal was to prevent people from freely consuming that which they know is their right anyway, it had no hope of success in the first place, and that lesson was obvious from alcohol prohibition.

On the more general issue of business strategies, why is it is dangerous to draw such a parallel to the War on (Some) Drugs? Such a suggestion–that just because the War on (Some) Drugs is failing that we should stop it–is a trap. It is a great example of the argument from effect, a veritable fat, shiny, Red Herring waiting for the obvious, “well, people still murder each other…” retort. Let us be clear, murdering someone is an attack on them, which is morally prohibited, dare I say malum in se anyway. Me putting a substance that you don’t like into my body has nothing to do with you.

Drug prohibition is unarguably malum prohibitum and therefore simply the attempt–misguided and puritanical–to impose the choices of some on the behavior of all. Ergo, it was destined for failure. By the way, this in no way suggests that drugs are good, but then again, neither are Twinkies. Now, if one wants to argue about the possible negative results of drug usage–crime, sickness, whatever–those ostensibly resultant actions, at least those that actually infringe on others, are ALREADY against the law. They are, in fact, malum in se regardless.

If you’re in your own home getting baked or shooting up, and don’t bother anyone else, it should be no one else’s business. I might also argue that most, if not all, of the crime supposedly endemic to illegal drugs occurs commensurate with the distribution of said substances despite their illegality. Make it legal on one day and that crime stops the next day. And, if the lessons of places like Portugal are any indication, with very little, if any, increase in widespread drug usage.