George Carlin, R.I.F.P.

Fresh off of a week’s worth of hagiographic logorrhea from the chattering class after the untimely death of Tim Russert comes the truly lamentable passing of George Carlin.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Russert will be be missed. I found him an interesting interviewer who did occasionally ask tough questions of his interviewees despite their being his colleagues in the political/media elite.

The loss of Carlin, however, is truly a shame. I know him more from his recent work, as the goofy Archbishop in Dogma and in the work he did for kid’s entertainment, like narrating Thomas the Tank Engine stories and playing the voice of Fillmore the spacey VW bus in Cars — yes, I have a three year old son.

I’m aware, however, that long before this Carlin was a free speech pioneer, that his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV” routine dragged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, leading, unfortunately, to one of their many failures to defend individual liberties. But he didn’t always lose, and comedians have cited him as an influence and inspiration ever since. Carlin’s sort of iconoclasm is vital for avoiding a descent into authoritarian stagnation. He’ll be missed.

Fool’s gold?

Adella and I were recently discussing what currency we’d use for our savings once we hopefully soon can start to accumulate a little. We talked about the practicalities of having a savings account denominated in euros, pounds, or gold (all of which it turns out are essentially impossible with U.S. banks). So right as we were doing that, my Mom forwards me an article from her broker out of the blue arguing against the continued rise of the price of gold.

It reminded me how, because of my prior involvement in online gold-based payment systems, there were a few years there where I would occasionally be asked whether I thought gold was a smart thing to buy. Why they asked me and not someone with actual money, I can’t say. But I remember always making the same two points:

  1. No matter how clever their analyses may seem, no one really knows what the price of gold is going to do.
  2. Anyone who tries to convince you that they really know what the price gold is going to do is at best mistaken and at worst trying to deceive you into buying something.

The author’s point about gold ETFs is a good one, but it’s not like mutual funds that track gold haven’t existed before that, or just stocks like Freeport MacMoRan.

Moreover, if I had to guess, I’d say that the combination of a growing middle class in India, China, Malaysia, and elsewhere, where there’s a strong cultural inclination toward gold as a store of value, combined with the inflation I expect we’ll be seeing here in the U.S. for some time to come, means that $1,000 will not be some sort of magic ceiling for gold.

But then, that’s just my guess. See point number one. Besides, I’m neither licensed nor qualified to give financial advice.

“I will not be silent”

Recently Raed Jarrar, an Arab-American architect, was prevented from boarding a plane at JFK because he was wearing a t-shirt with Arabic script on it. Was the message some anti-American screed or pro-terrorism propaganda? No, it was a simple message that even included a convenient English translation: “I will not be silent”. Here’s more on what happened.

Soon after, a thread was started on DegreeDiscussion, a forum for talking about distance learning, higher education, and accreditation, but which also often delves into a wide variety of off-topic subjects. I was surprised and dismayed that this collection of intelligent, educated people all responded either neutrally or against Mr. Jarrar. It seems that there is support for the idea that people have a right not to be offended and that their ignorant prejudices should be coddled.

I can’t help but wonder, if Western society accepts condemnation of those who are different, isn’t its difference from a society based on Sharia no longer one of kind but only of degree? It is precisely to the extent that we do not act that way that gives us the moral high ground. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that people with minority opinions in the West have a great deal more freedom of expression than people in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and many other places. But when it comes to liberty, it’s not about outrunning the other guy — it’s about outrunning the bear.

As for me, I have ordered a similar t-shirt for myself and will wear it next month when I travel to attend the Pan-Commonwealth Forum in Jamaica. I expect that as a native speaker of English my experience will differ from Mr. Jarrar’s, but at least it means that I too will not be silent.

Dominica: Where the Freedom Is

Note: Recently I was offered a preliminary look at a new index of which countries are the most free, both in terms of civil liberties and in terms of free markets. Here was my response.

I thought your index was interesting, but it had the same problem as all of the indices from which you draw information — small island states are not listed.

For several years I lived in Dominica, the small English-speaking island in the Eastern Caribbean, not the larger Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic on the Northern Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It is on par with anywhere in the world when it comes to liberty.

There is simply no meaningful restriction on civil liberties there. People say what they want, when they want. There’s a guy who literally drives around in a car with megaphones on the roof declaring his opinions on every subject. News media are critical of the government almost to excess, and freedom of religion is respected as well. There are laws against drug use, but few seem to care about them and there are people who smoke marijuana openly. I found more people cared more about the public health effects of drug use than in the use itself.

There is no military, and those in the police service are part of the communities in which they live and work, rather than being militarized and separate as here in the U.S. I found they mostly served to settle individual disputes rather than harass people. (I’ve heard this wasn’t always the case back in the day, especially against Rastafarians, but that things have changed and that the bad apples were dismissed.)

There are controls on immigration, but they are not strictly enforced. Even so, it’s not difficult for foreigners to get a work permit. Their biggest problem with illegal immigration are “Spanish girls” (i.e., prostitutes from Santo Domingo). There are Haitians working there illegally, mostly in agriculture, the island’s dominant industry, but they’re appreciated for working hard, and no one seems to bother them otherwise.

Economics are not quite as good, but still excellent. Taxation is not excessive, and a foreigner coming in to start an international business easily can have a work permit and a ten year tax holiday. There are competitive telecommunications for phone service and broadband Internet, although rates for international phone calls are very high, and it’s well worth using VoIP. There are monopolies for power and water, but thanks to the rainy climate the latter is easily evaded through use of cisterns, and the former is annoying, but nowhere near as bad as in many other developing countries.

So if it’s so great, why doesn’t it show prominently on the indices of free countries? It’s not the only missing entry, as many other Caribbean small islands states are missing as well. I think it’s because their populations are too small. At 70,000 people, Dominica is just 1/3 of 1% the size of the U.S., and some islands are even smaller than that. While that’s bad for the accuracy of freedom indices, I have to admit it’s probably a good thing for those of us who know where the freedom is.