The NSA Knows


The NSA Knows

(Sung to the tune of “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter)

Times have changed,

As I’m sure we can all agree,

Since the Americans rebelled

And they created a country.

If today,

They should list several Rights of Man,

Instead of answering the call,

They would be tossed into the can!

 

In olden days the Fourth Amendment

Was looked on as something sacred,

But Snowden showed,

The NSA knows.

 

You thought your email, text and Facebook

Were safe from some spook taking a look.

Under your nose,

The NSA knows.

 

The world has gone mad today

And good’s bad today,

And black’s white today,

And day’s night today,

When warrants today

Are issued today

By secret courts today

And though I’m not a philosopher

I know that it’s unpopular

When you propose,

The NSA knows.

 

When grandmama whose age is eighty

In night clubs is getting matey with gigolo’s,

The NSA knows.

 

When something’s done in South America

Particularly Brazil and Mexico,

The NSA knows.

 

If driving fast cars you like,

If low bars you like,

If old hymns you like,

If bare limbs you like,

If Mae West you like

Or me undressed you like,

Watch for agents in plainclothes!

 

Your Google drive

Has tax returns

Or your Flickr account shows your friends in nude photos?

The NSA knows.

 

If saying your prayers you like,

If green pears you like,

If old chairs you like,

If back stairs you like,

If love affairs you like

With young bears you like,

Watch out for privacy’s foes!

 

And though I’m not a philosopher

I know that it’s unpopular

And I propose –

The NSA goes!

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As Far as the Tank Will Take Me


A friend of mine recently moved from DC to Northern Virginia (and we’re very glad to have him back), but there was a side effect I wasn’t expecting. While I was aware his kids had all grown up in DC, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t appreciate car culture, particularly his eldest. She’s in her late teens, and yet the other day she complained about several people nearly running her over. I actually had to pause to think about this for a minute, because the very idea was so alien to me. Then it registered: she was on foot – OUTSIDE.

The very idea of it honestly came as a complete shock at first. I mean, sure, intellectually I know people do that sort of thing, but you so rarely see it around here that it just doesn’t occur to me as something normal people do. I had to explain to her that she doesn’t live in the city anymore, and the rules are a little different out here. And for my money, thank goodness for that.

I honestly can’t imagine what my life would have been like without cars; especially from the time I became old enough to drive them solo. While I’ve never been a gearhead, I’ve always had a special attachment to the cars I personally have owned. They have served me in every conceivable way: as transportation, storage, even shelter at need. They may or may not have aided me in the acquiring and hiding of street signs, and more than once I used them as a means of enjoying a romantic rendezvous away from the prying eyes of inquisitive parents and a nosy sister. Ever since I first got my license cars have equaled autonomy, or at least the potential and promise to have it. All you needed was enough money for gas and you could just go as far as the tank would take you, and the only thing that would bring you back was your own decision to turn around.

My friends and I always had special names for our cars, names that reflected our personalities, our feelings about our cars and our relationships with them. I have owned such delights as Casper (the Not So Friendly Child Eating Ghost), Cheshire, Lincoln, and Alice. Another friend owned various incarnations of The Road Smasher, and one notable friend and former roommate owned Zippy Blue Unfaithful. (If you ever have a few free hours, you should buy him a beer and ask him to tell you “The Story of The Death of Zippy Blue Unfaithful”. I was there, and I can promise he sticks to the facts… mostly.) This ritual of naming our cars did more than give us something to talk about and a way to distinguish one used hand-me-down from another. They distinguished us, identified us, and helped us to shape ourselves and our environment at a time when we had precious little control over our circumstances.

I’m not as free now as I was when I was a teenager, but every once in a while I still feel the urge to hop in my car late at night, pick a direction and just drive. Maybe it’s nostalgia for a time in my life that I can never capture again, or maybe it’s something deeper, more primal. Either way, I’m glad to have my car, to have that option should I choose to take it. All I need, even today, is enough money for gas (even if that is a lot more than it used to be) and I can go as far as the tank will take me, and the only thing that will bring me back is my decision to turn around.


Special Bonus Post: Free Freedom (That’s Really Free!)


Full disclosure: The following is a personal endorsement for the Institute for Humane Studies Summer Seminars. I love them so much I actually spend my days promoting them. That being said, this is a personal blog, and has nothing to do with IHS. All of the ideas and opinions expressed herein are my own. Seriously, any attempt to tie any of my personal views to IHS would be inaccurate and could have very bad consequences for me personally and professionally. So don’t do it.

 

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love liberty. But what does that mean? It’s a good question, and to be honest it took me a long time to sort it out for myself. I’ve spent the better part of a lifetime working on it, and it wasn’t until I got to IHS that I finally started developing a cohesive philosophy of liberty. One of the best resources for that has been IHS Summer Seminars.

If you’re a college student interested in the ideas of freedom, or you know someone who is, I highly suggest checking them out. They’re a full week of fun, discussion (oooh, discussion!), and ideas. There’s great faculty and students at every seminar and an open atmosphere of investigation and exploration.

If you’re looking for specific recommendations, I would have to point you toward either the Liberty & Society seminar at Chapman University July 13-19, where you can enjoy the company of the always fantastic Tom W. Bell, or the Exploring Liberty seminar June 15-22 (also at Chapman University) so you can get to know my good friend (and brilliant economist) Mario Villarreal-Diaz, the only man who could ever manage to explain marginal value in a way I could understand.

The application deadline is March 31, so make sure to apply today!


Anarchy X: The Ninth Amendment


“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

At last we come to what I have to admit is my favorite amendment. If for no other reason, I love this amendment because it is the final answer to every question asked by most of the self-proclaimed “strict constitutionalists” I have met. In most cases these would be people who are looking for excuses to legislate their own petty meanness on the rest of the world, and when you call them on it, they have a standard fall back: their shield, their shelter, their raison d’étre almost universally seems to consist of “where do you find that right in the Constitution?”

Right here. Here it is. In the same way that the justice system lays the burden of proof on the prosecution, and for many of the same reasons, so too is the burden of proof that the government, that we the people have the right to take an action against other people. For my money this is the defining feature of the Bill of Rights, and in many ways the Constitution itself.

It is worth noting that the Ninth Amendment only exists in large part because of the debate about the Bill of Rights itself; by the very notion that there should be no need to specifically enumerate rights that would accrue to the people in a country where the powers of the government would be spelled out quite specifically, and the government would have no further or additional powers beyond those that had been granted to it by the very document that was being amended. It’s a nice thought. Any student of history, classical or modern, political or otherwise, should know it’s also a naïve one. So should anyone who has read Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.

Call me cynical if you must, but it is my belief born out of study and experience that any human system built for managing people will do two things: grow and accrue more power unto itself. It is not (necessarily) some corrupt plot, it is simply the spontaneous order of human systems. Governments are designed to govern; that is their purpose. They can only do that so long as they are either stable or growing. No system can remain viable if it is stagnant. Therefore, for a government to remain viable it must continue to grow, and the only way for a government to grow is to become more powerful, and thereby more intrusive.

Having delineated specific areas and ways in which the government can’t grow in the first eight amendments, there are two possibilities left. The first is the Federalist assertion of a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” of government, that the rights of the people would be implicitly protected simply by virtue of having delineated the powers the government has. Which has worked so well up to now. The second possibility is finding new and interesting ways to interpret the powers granted by the Constitution, including simply ignoring any rights people might reasonably expect to enjoy, including those grounded in the common law tradition from which the Constitutional government evolved.

The modern upshot of this is widespread. As society has evolved, we have changed in our expectations of what it means to be a part of that society; we have even (thankfully) changed in our attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be human. We have recognized and defended rights along the way that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, but that are grounded in the same tradition as the other rights that are. One example is the right to privacy, which is often assailed by the aforementioned “where do you find that right in the Constitution?”

Let me be clear: I believe that all the rights that are defended and provided for by the Constitution, regardless of what philosophical approach you may take to it, derive from the following:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to
ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America.

That having been said, I see nothing that runs counter to a right to privacy. On the contrary, privacy in one’s person and effects seems to me to be eminently just, promotes tranquility, adds to the common welfare, and is one of the greatest blessings of liberty I can imagine. If you don’t believe me on that last point, throw wide the settings on your Facebook profile and wait five minutes.

Not everything people claim as a right truly is one; I get that. But to say that it must be spelled out to exist is absurd. The law is and always has been a lagging indicator of the culture at best, and a drag on the culture at worst. Far better to put the burden on those who would control us than on those of us who would be free.