Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"...let our bodies be freely handled and examined by whoever chooses!"

The whole Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screening scandal has put me in mind of Walt Whitman’s dystopic poem “Respondez,” which consists of one nightmarish exhortation after another, among which is this line:

Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked, monthly, at the peril of our
lives! let our bodies be freely handled and examined by whoever chooses!

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I have not been posting here recently because I have been participating in NaNoWriMo, which—if you do not know—is National Novel Writing Month. The objective is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I am up to about 39,000, so I still have a chance of finishing on time. The aim is to make a good faith effort to tell a coherent story but not necessarily to cross every t and dot every i. Rambling is acceptable. What is the prize? A T-shirt. Isn’t that the prize for everything nowadays?

Nevertheless, I have been hankering to comment on the passing scene.

* * * *

I would like to award the Benito Mussolini Fascist Prize to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) for wishing that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would end the journalistic free speech of Fox News and MSNBC in favor of something Rockefeller calls “quality news” which sounds antiseptic enough to kill anything, especially liberty.

I would rather abolish the FCC the very existence of which is an affront to the spirit of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These unelected bureaucrats will soon be regulating the Internet, and I do not mean in some hypothetical future—they are actively planning to do it as you read this. Who gave them the right? No one. That’s the point. They have taken the right.

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WASHINGTON - David F. Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party (LP), died unexpectedly on November 21 in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 66.

Mr. Nolan was also a member of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC). He is survived by his wife Elizabeth.

Mr. Nolan founded the Libertarian Party with a group of colleagues in his home in Denver, Colorado on December 11, 1971.

Mark Hinkle, Chairman of the LP, said, "I am saddened by the news of David Nolan's death. He not only helped found the Libertarian Party, but remained active and helped to guide our party for the last forty years. We are now the third-largest political party in America, and one of the most persistent and successful third parties in American history, thanks in large part to David Nolan. We will feel this loss."

Mr. Nolan ran this year as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senator in Arizona, against incumbent John McCain. In 2006, Mr. Nolan ran for U.S. Representative in Arizona's 8th District, against incumbent Gabrielle Giffords.

Mr. Nolan was also well known for his invention of the "Nolan chart," a two-dimensional chart of political opinion that was designed to get past the more familiar but deficient liberal-conservative paradigm. Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, refined the Nolan chart into the popular World's Smallest Political Quiz with its diamond-shaped chart. ...

Comments from friends and colleagues:

...Wes Benedict, Executive Director of the LP: "While I've admired David Nolan for years, this year I finally had the pleasure of working directly with him. He was an enthusiastic and principled activist doing the hard work right alongside newer members."

Jack Dean, longtime friend and political associate: "David was the conscience of the Libertarian Party. He was always there to remind us what the party was about."

Mr. Nolan had submitted a resolution for consideration at the November 20-21 LNC meeting in New Orleans. Unaware of Mr. Nolan's death, the LNC adopted the resolution, which reads as follows:

"WHEREAS the Libertarian Party can grow only by attracting new members and supporters, and

"WHEREAS libertarianism is a unique political philosophy, distinct from both contemporary liberalism and contemporary conservatism, and

"WHEREAS we need the support of both former liberals and former conservatives who have come to realize that libertarianism and the Libertarian Party offer a better path to achieving a just, humane and prosperous society,

"The Libertarian National Committee hereby reaffirms that the Libertarian Party welcomes individuals from across the political spectrum who now accept the libertarian principles of self-ownership and non-aggression."

—from a Libertarian Party Press Release, 11-22-2010

My comments:

My encomium to David Nolan is that I remember him from the 1993 Libertarian National Convention (when the spirit was still with me). At that time I noted that the uninformed observer--if he thought to pay Nolan any heed at all--would probably have concluded that Nolan was just a regular party member, making occasional remarks from the floor like any other delegate. It was when, late in the three-day proceedings, Nolan was called up to the podium and given an award for his service to the party, that the uninitiated observer would at last have realized who Nolan was. To say that, as a founder, he gave up to others a great deal of control over his creation constitutes an enormous understatement.

As to some of the contentions in the obit, Nolan did not actually invent the unfortunately named “Nolan chart.” Like all great ideas, it was something that Nolan read about. My understanding is that two late-1960s poly-sci professors had developed a questionnaire that teased out people’s political views on a wide variety of issues with great subtlety, but found that when they tried to put the results on a one-dimensional left-right political spectrum, it wiped out all of the fine distinctions their questionnaire had revealed; so they came up with a two-dimensional grid to replace the conventional one-dimensional spectrum. Nolan or Fritz developed this into the “diamond chart” or “political map” that arbitrarily puts the libertarian position at the top and the authoritarian position at the bottom with the conventional left at the left and conventional right at the right. (Of course, this diamond-shaped presentation could also be turned into a square, which is what I believe it originally was.)

There are two Brits who have also popularized this grid model of political charting on the Internet without crediting any other originator, but it is the same idea with their own spin. (I won’t mention them although you can easily enough poke around until you find them.) What really makes the name “Nolan chart” unfortunate is that there is already a Nolan chart that has nothing to do with Dave Nolan’s; it is the name for the probate attorney’s genealogical chart showing the order in which a decedent’s property should be inherited by his or her next of kin.

The important thing is that by popularizing the two-dimensional political grid, the Libertarian party and its non-party allies (such as Advocates for Self-Government, named in the above release) have promoted an improvement in political thought that cannot be underestimated. Any model of political views whether one- , two- , three- or even four-dimensional is merely arbitrary, but the fewer dimensions it has, the more oversimplified the model is. Adding a second dimension reveals the extremely limited and misleading character of the one-dimensional political spectrum. (Show me a three or four dimensional model that works and I'll acceed to its superiority over the Nolan model; but I haven't seen one yet.) In real life, political views are not arranged along a continuum like the color-light spectrum. Even if we allow that we can use the spectrum on an issue by issue basis, people can have conservative views on some issues, liberal views on others and moderate views on still others; to label that person liberal, conservative or moderate on the basis of 40 to 50 percent of their views is to miss the complexity and subtlety of their actual views. So, instead, the two-dimensional model looks at political views as regions of a map. I like to think of it as camps located within an imaginary geographical area:

A camp might take up a quarter of the map where people tend to agree on certain issues, but their degree of agreement is not uniform. We go down the road from one camp and find another camp. There are at least four camps, but depending on how we divide the grid, and how narrow we make each camp, we could group together those who are in most agreement with each other and have five or more camps. The map is made from two spectrums or axes at right angles to each other. You can be equally conservative on both axes or more liberal on one axis than the other. By using both axes, opinions on different topics can be used to plot a position on the grid that is not tethered to one point on a spectrum but rather slides depending on opinions on several different topics.

In light of all of this, it is very ironic that the press release quotes from Nolan's last act, a resolution that speaks of the Libertarian party’s openness to “individuals from across the political spectrum.” Nolan had tried to change the terminology away from talk of a spectrum. This goes to show how very hard it is to kill the notion of a one-dimensional spectrum.

My own favorite line about the inadequacy and misleading-ness of the political spectrum goes: “A political spectrum that goes all the way from communism to fascism is like an alphabet that goes all the way from A to B.”

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