Global Warming? Economic Disaster?

To some, the facts don’t really matter. The important thing is that a crisis, whether real or fabricated, should provide an opportunity for a certain socialist agenda or power play to be advanced. The crisis should be of sufficient magnitude to justify the loss of individual freedom (or national sovereignty) necessary for the agenda to succeed. So if the crisis is not big enough when seen objectively, then it must be artificially magnified, at least in public perception. Compliant news and entertainment media are essential for this to succeed.

Watch the news and listen to political leaders with that in mind.

Webkinz Access

Most of the people in my family use Webkinz, especially the little kinz. My involvement is to provide Internet access only to the Webkinz site for one of the computers on our little home network. I’m accomplishing that by attaching the machine in question via a separate subnet to our always-on server. That is, the server has two Ethernet cards, each with a network address on a different subnet. Through one card it lives on the primary subnet in our home, and through the other it’s attached to the limited-access Webkinz machine. This should be possible with most any operating system.

On that always-on server, I run Squid (which you can Google if you want more information). Following the documentation, I’ve set up Squid to be a caching proxy for the limited-access subnet, and have set up the access rules such that only Webkinz servers can be accessed, and only within a certain window of time. Then, the web browser on the limited-access machine can be set up to get to the Web via the proxy server. All of these machines are running Linux, so in the always-on server, it’s important to turn IP Forwarding off. That prevents it from allowing all traffic from the restricted network online. The result is that only Web requests allowed by the Squid restrictions ever reach the Internet.

The real challenge is to figure out what servers Webkinz uses to provide their online experience. There are many. According to this FAQ, a list of eleven IP addresses will suffice to allow access to Webkinz. (Click the question about Parental Control software.)

Complaints from household Webkinz users have shown that this list is not complete. Looking at the Squid access log, I can find the IP addresses to which access has been denied. Adding those to the list has usually resolved any problems with Webkinz world. Occasionally, however, Webkinz experiences glitches of its own, which can be identified by a lack of corresponding “DENIED” records in the Squid access log.

As of this date, my expanded list of Webkinz servers for Squid is as follows:

The /32 after each “dotted-quad” specifies how many bits in the IP address are significant. Since we’re talking about individual servers here, all of the bits are significant.

Pondering the US Constitution

I wonder about the wisdom of the 17th Amendment. The explanation given was corruption and confusion about the process originally intended to elect senators from each state. Yet changing the election of senators to a state-wide popular vote has the unintended consequence of further empowering the people to place their personal appetites above the good of the state. This tendency is the achilles heel of democracy.

Now I’m all for democracy, yet I believe in Original Sin first. That means the people doing the voting don’t always know or do what’s best for them. The House of Representatives was intended to provide representation for the people, and the Senate for the states. The people and the states are not identical, nor are their interests identical. I don’t mean that only in the sense that senators represent more people than representatives, but that senators were intended to represent the interests of the states themselves. Each senator ideally had one constituent: the state that sent him/her/it. (Dontcha just love inclusive language?)

As for the corruption and confusion, it seems to me that there are other ways to minimize or avoid it. But consider why else a senator would have voted for the 17th Amendment. Instead of answering to each state’s legislative branch, he would answer to the mass of statewide voters, who are much less likely to hold him strictly accountable for his representation, due to the diversity of their interests, and their preoccupation with productive life. Similarly, a congressman would also vote in favor of that amendment, because the people he represents would anticipate — rightly or wrongly — that they would have greater influence over their senators than they had before. The same notion would carry the amendment through ratification by the state legislature, with the added impetus that the legislators would subsequently have less work to do.

All of these practical, though unvirtuous reasons for the 17th Amendment can easily be covered and obscured by the notion that the new system is “closer to genuine democracy,” and that the senators will work “more in line with the will of the people.” Thus have the victors written the history books. Yet who were the real victors here? The people may have thought they were, but though I am unsure of several things, I tend to doubt that more than anything else.

What if the 17th Amendment were repealed? We’d have to resolve the corruption and confusion that supposedly gave it birth. Another good thing I would anticipate is a shift in the balance of powers within the United States, such that the states would have more influence upon the governance of the nation, the particular interests of each state would be better served, and the senators would be held more strictly accountable for these things. I’d also expect the importance of the House of Representatives to increase, as it undertakes in full the representation of our nation’s people. The most promising effect, though, would be a reduction in the tendency of this democratic republic to self-destruct from voters’ desire to satisfy their own appetites without regard for wisdom, prudence and justice.

Government, Economics, and the Public Library

I have to admit that I’m a novice in all three categories mentioned in the title of this post. However, I have taken a more than passing interest in them. Each one is a rich blessing from God upon everyone in the United States. I don’t have much time at the moment, so I will try to be brief. My attempts at brevity always result in confusion, so let me admit at the outset that it’s me. Feel free to ask in comments about anything that doesn’t hang together.

The God-given role of government is to curtail injustice, which naturally occurs in a fallen world with disturbing regularity. Government’s exercise of authority is entirely characterized by force. Laws are non-negotiable, and the best ones require little to no interpretation. They also ought to be just. Those on the wrong side of laws find themselves forced against their will in one way or another. It doesn’t matter if the law is “Don’t steal your neighbor’s car,” or “Pay your taxes on time.” Either way, government operates by force.

Economics is a system that originates with God as a part of His creation, but is often negatively influenced by man. It can be observed, described, and learned by man, but not created or improved. One way to describe it uses the concept of unfulfilled wants or needs. Based upon those wants or needs, people require things or services. That’s demand. Demand makes it profitable for people who can provide those things or services to do so. Based upon supply and demand, a cost may be evaluated, a price may be negotiated, and an exchange may be made to the advantage of all. This exchange is the polar opposite of things where government is involved, because it is 100% voluntary. Sometimes the alternatives to an exchange are terrible, like starvation. Still, the exchange itself is voluntary. By contrast, if paying your taxes would result in starvation, you’d better tighten your belt, because you have no choice. Government operates by force. A system based upon voluntary exchanges, where the people involved use good judgment, tends automatically to be efficient in any circumstance. It’s a glimpse of God’s wisdom in His creation. (See Veith’s book God at Work for more about this.)

The Public Library is a repository for knowledge accessible to anyone in the public. It’s a great force for good, promoting education, providing access to a volume of resources that would be far beyond economic possibility for most people, and allowing those who can afford buy some books for themselves to make those books available to the public (including themselves) indefinitely.

I can appreciate that last advantage especially, because my theological library has certain limits of shelf space, yet there are still many books I’d like to read that I don’t have yet. If I could be sure the public library would place them into its collection, I might donate some of my books to make more space for others. Or, I might find the newer ones already in the public library.

There is a problem with the way many public libraries are set up now. They rely for their operation upon a tax. Here, this tax is levied upon property owners by the local government. While the money is spent for a good purpose, this inevitably produces some economic inefficiencies, which tend to impoverish the entire community. Can I afford to pay the Library Tax? Maybe, but that’s not really the pertinent question. You see, every property owner will pay the Library Tax, whether they can “afford” it or not. The pertinent question is this: what other things will not happen because those property owners have been forced to pay the Library Tax? To illustrate:

  • One neighbor would have bought a new pair of shoes. He would have done this at the local shoe store. Part of the purchase price would have gone to the shoe manufacturer. Part of it would have gone to the retailer, who is saving up to pay for his children’s dental work.

  • Another neighbor would have donated his money as an offering at Church. There, it would have been used partly to pay for the living expenses of his pastor. Another part would have paid for the ongoing cost of operations at the church, which help to ensure that the gospel is preached in that community, which in turn (among other things) enriches the people with faith and enables them to live peacably together.

  • Another neighbor would have spent that money on a new circular saw, which he would have use to enhance his property. The purchase would have been a blessing to the retailer and manufacturer, and the property enhancements would have pleased the community, raising their property values.

But none of those things (or many others) would now be done, having been replaced by the ongoing expense of the public library. Some might think that’s a good substitute, but certainly not all who were forced to pay for it. In the end, freedom was lost, the economy suffered, and so on, in order to pay for that public library. In short: when the government is asked to provide something like a public library, the expense is inevitably much greater than it would be if the economy were used to provide it. The loss of individual freedom bothers me as much as the economic loss.

What if there’s a better way? Can a public library be supported privately? I think it can.

Already, much of the work and many assets of public libraries come from private donations. The only thing lacking is a reason, a supply that the library can offer to private members of the economy, for those members to voluntarily provide for the library’s needs. The question is one of demand: How can the private members of the community benefit from the public library?

I already mentioned a few benefits to individual citizens. If those with the means to donate understood that the library’s existence depends upon their voluntary donations, there would certainly be more donations given. If you want evidence, compare the voluntary offerings given to churches in European countries that are government-funded to the voluntary offerings given to churches in America, that are funded voluntarily. If a Norwegian attends his state church, there’s no reason to put anything in the plate, because he’s already provided money for the church in his taxes. (Of course, taxes aren’t given up voluntarily, which removes any value of that “gift” in terms of sanctification.)

Beside individual citizens, I think local businesses could be enticed to support the public library as well. Make the list of donors public and prominent, including the amounts donated, and allow businesses to use that information in their advertising. Also, work with the businesses to promote the library’s use to their patrons and employees, which would reinforce the advertising done and encourage a better-educated community and workforce.

For acquisitions, the public library could accept just about anything into its collection, providing it does not already have copies in equal or better condition than the ones donated. I would not have such a space crunch in my personal library, and many more people could benefit from my donations.

I think public libraries need not be an extension of government. Now, it’s possible that there are places where there is not enough local wealth to support a public library. I think that would have to be proven by a sincere attempt. Therefore, why not let a library run as a private business venture, or as competing ventures? The management of the collection could be determined by contract with the donors, which could also keep the business in its locality. An early hurdle would be that any such business would have to compete with the government-funded libraries already in existence. It would also need full access to the electronic catalog and inter-library loan systems currently in place. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean the answers don’t exist.

I’d love to hear what you think. Once we solve the public library question, we’ll move on to public schools.