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A solution for Keene's Central Square
The Front Page of today's Keene Sentinel features an article titled: Nudity laws: Change needed? This link will likely expire soon, but the article appears identical to one published yesterday in the Union Leader, which is archived at Free Keene, which also features comments from people close to the actual events.

The summary is this: in response to various protests involving bare-breasted women in Central Square, there is increasing public discussion about new laws prohibiting such behavior.

As luck would have it, last week I wrote about this very topic. In the very same Keene Sentinel that features the above article, my letter is published. It outlines an idea for a solution which would not involve any new laws, but would allow people to participate in Central Square in entirely voluntary ways by privatizing the property. Here is the text of my letter as published in the Sentinel: (Note: this letter represents my own views and not the views of the Free State Project)

READER OPINION: A solution for Keene’s Central Square, by Varrin Swearingen

How do you feel about women choosing to be topless on Main Street in Keene? Be part of the conversation on Talkback
Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some people feel the topless, smoking and drinking demonstrations in Keene’s Central Square have gotten out of hand. Others feel the government and its police are wrong for making and enforcing unjust behavior codes.

So far, this debate has centered mostly around what behavior is acceptable.

Ironically, what some would call immoral behavior simultaneously illuminates and distracts us from the true moral problem. There are two facets of this previously-hidden moral problem I’ll highlight.

First, it is not just for anyone, including government, to coerce support of property from people who don’t agree with the terms.

Second, the government’s right to enforce behavioral standards is justly limited to protecting people and their property from external harm and trespass.

So-called public property, such as Central Square, fails to be moral on both counts: it’s coercively funded, and “the public” cannot, by definition, be external.

In this case, there is a simple solution to both moral failures: privatize Central Square.

What might such a solution look like? Here’s an idea that would retain most of the popular features we would like to enjoy.

The city could deed Central Square to the “Central Square Trust” subject to conditions. Funding could be removed from the current city budget.

The existing mandatory tax associated with that funding could be replaced by an optional property tax to be forwarded directly to the Central Square Trust for maintenance of the property. The Central Square Trust could then contract some or all of its management, including behavioral policy enforcement, back to the city to make it easy. This would keep things more or less status-quo, with a couple of important exceptions.

First, paying for Central Square would become truly voluntary on the part of both parties. Disenfranchised taxpayers could legally stop paying for Central Square, and the Central Square Trust could refuse revenue from uncooperative residents.

Second, as a result of initiating private property rights, “the management” could morally evict people from Central Square for any reason and legitimately enforce eviction using existing trespassing laws.

It could then choose to evict in cases that would be legally and/or morally controversial on public land.

With this kind of setup, users would simply be guests who use the property, not out of right, but out of invitation. Central Square’s revenue would directly depend on satisfying the taxpayers’ actual desires, lest they stop paying.

It could do that systematically without the same limitations burdening public property. To tidy up the transaction, the Central Square Trust could post signs explaining that Central Square is private property, it’s free for use use by all according to its policies, and violators are trespassing.

Instead of arrests for breasts, violators would simply be trespassing — a concept I believe the current batch of demonstrators actually respects.

I’d be happy to participate in such a plan and I bet most others would, too.

We could voluntarily restore a respectful, family-friendly Central Square and morally ask those who won’t cooperate to leave.

When asked, the current batch of controversial demonstrators would likely leave without a fuss and Central Square would be, for the first time ever, truly and rightly “ours.”


Faith and Liberty part two
In response to my previous entry, Tony pointed out my preposterous, if not confusing, statement:

"I'm not shocked that fewer than half of the Denver MSA's 2 Million residents attended this event." (Note: MSA means Metropolitan Statistical Area)

He replies, "This seems to say that although you were not shocked at the number who attended, you had some hope or some sort of expectation that on the order of 1 million people would show up to a conference." Indeed, I seem to imply that.

Yes, a million would be a lot. I was, of course, joking. But consider the importance of the topic. Shouldn't a lot of people show up, if a lot even exist in the first place? Wouldn't it make sense for those who care about Christ and/or liberty to simply attend a local event about faith and liberty? How many people should we expect at such an event? Maybe a little exploration is in order. I'll use a couple of examples from events involving personal experience.

Billy Graham had a crusade in Fresno, California in 2001. The MSA, at the time, had a little over 800,000 population. Saturday night (October 14th), over 60,000 people showed up in person - about 7 1/2% of the MSA population.

Could we estimate the percentage of Christians that showed up using available data? Statistics show about 47% in Fresno County are affiliated with some sort of congregation. For sake of comparison, let's assume that's the percentage that are actually Christian. That would mean that about 15% of the area's Christians showed up. Not bad.

Lest we chalk this up to anomaly, let's look at another large Christian event in Fresno. In 1997 Promise Keepers attracted over 44,000 men (literally, not people, but males). Graham's event was free. As I recall, the 44,000 at the PK event paid for admission. If half of the Fresno MSA's Christians are women, this event was nearly twice as effective as Graham's at drawing Christians, or, as one might hope in either case, creating new ones.

There are two variables, then, that we need to control for. First, the effectiveness of the event at attracting (or creating) its audience. Second, the size of the audience.

First, Billy and his organization are more famous and probably more effective than Alan Keyes or Chuck Baldwin. At the time, Promise Keepers was phenomenally effective, too. This Faith and Liberty Conference, while advertised to the target audience, wasn't advertised as heavily as the 2001 crusade or 1997 PK rally was.

So we shouldn't expect this event to be as effective as those at drawing its target audience all at once. Was this event 10% as effective as those? How about 1%? Worst case, maybe .1%? We don't really know because of the other factor.

Not all Christians care about liberty. Frankly, that is a mystery to me. So the "Faith and Liberty" conference would be drawing from only a subset of all Christians (more like Promise Keepers, who only allow men at their events). We may be able to closely estimate how many Christians are men (helpful with respect to PK attendance), but it's not as easy estimating the subset of Christians that are reasonably libertarian. Would this be half of Christians? Less? More? Obviously, I think it should be all, but it's not.

If all Denver Christians were libertarian, and this event was as effective as the others I mention, the crowd size should have exceeded 100,000. Not quite the million I imply above, but huge anyway.

Here's what we do know. Graham attracted 7 1/2% of congregants and Promise Keepers attracted 11% of male congregants in Fresno. The Faith and Liberty conference attracted less than .02% of Denver's congregants.

What does that tell us? Here are the two extremes of possibilities:

1: If this event was roughly as effective as the Graham crusade or Promise Keepers, then less than .2% of Denver's congregants are both Christian and reasonably libertarian. Pretty depressing, right?

2: But what if it's all the event's fault? What if, instead of Christians being .2% libertarian, they were almost 100% libertarian? In that case, this reasonably well-advertised event with nationally-known speakers held on a Saturday at an attractive local facility was thoroughly ineffective at attracting its target audience. That conclusion would be similarly discouraging, especially given the lack of competing (Christian libertarian) events. If all Christians cared about freedom, they sure don't care very much - not enough to show up to the Faith and Liberty Conference.

The truth is probably somewhere between these extremes. Neither outlook, nor any combination of them, is encouraging, at least on the surface. But, as I said in my previous entry, despite these observations, I'm actually encouraged. My estimation, based on intuition and experience (not hard data) is that very few Christians understand and embrace liberty. While this event might not have been as effective as Graham or Promise Keepers, I think the real problem is mostly the first one above. There just aren't many Christians who understand and care about freedom.

Given the arguably tiny population of Christian libertarians, the fact that any others are ready to speak out is encouraging. In fact, the mere existence of people who care about Christ and liberty is encouraging to me. Seeing some of them coming together at a conference is very encouraging. And hearing that some would consider geographic concentration is even more encouraging.

How encouraging is it? Imagine what could happen if a significant portion of our rare breed of Christian libertarians joined the FSP and moved to New Hampshire? This Faith and Liberty Conference event drew from less than 1% of the U.S. population. Even with its seemingly low attendance, this event suggests over 20,000 people in America might feel similarly to those in attendance on Saturday. That's a small remnant, overwhelmed by over 300 Million who feel otherwise. But what if even 10% of that tiny remnant took up residence in one small state? What if that place were New Hampshire???

Evidence to suggest even 2,000 Christians who value freedom actually exist is encouraging. I'm completely convinced 2,000 strongly committed Christians who understand and care about freedom enough to move to another state would have a radical impact here. I can only hope so many will feel the call to do.


FSP @ Faith and Liberty conference
The Free State Project had a table at the Faith and Liberty Conference in Denver, CO last Saturday, July 24th, 2010. The Faith and Liberty Conference brought together people who have adopted that seemingly rare (these days) combination of Christian theology and libertarian political philosophy. Chuck Baldwin and Alan Keyes were the keynote speakers.

The FSP's interest in being there was in recruiting new participants to our pro-liberty movement to New Hampshire. Some Christians are ready to exert the fullest practical effort towards the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property, and the FSP welcomes them. The Faith and Liberty conference seemed like the kind of place to find such people, so off I went to represent. Indeed, there were several people there who were unaware of the FSP's existence and progress and were very excited to hear about what we're up to in New Hampshire.

As a Christian, my interest in being there went beyond simply recruiting for the Free State Project. The FSP welcomes all sorts of people who are ready to work together to create a freer society, regardless of their theological stance. In fact, some of us agree on only one thing: we want more freedom from government tyranny.

It seems I'm not alone in my acceptance of non-Christian libertarians in the realm of politics. I've occasionally thought that I'd rather see non-Christians actively protecting freedom in the political arena, than Christians who take an oath to defend our Constitutionally-protected freedom only to violate that oath once elected. I was happy to hear Dr. Baldwin, a Christian pastor, clearly assert that very point.

Lately, Christians have a pretty mixed track record regarding their support for political liberty. Often, their preferred solution to the problem of tyranny is more tyranny. I was genuinely curious as to what I would find at this conference. Would I find Christians who think more government is the solution to tyranny? Would I find Christians who view government as an instrument to force Christian morality on the whole populace, regardless of their faith or lack thereof? Would I simply find a group of Christian theocrats? Would I find Christians whose faith in the human organization(s) of the Church was sufficient to rely on its human institutions to solve the problems we face?

I'm pleased to report I found no such things. In fact, what I found was quite the opposite. I found people who understood God's role in America's libertarian heritage, and the role of America's progressive rejection of God in the downfall of our liberty. Instead of blaming the government for its assault on God, they rightly blame the Church (literally, we, the Christian people) for failing to effectively preserve Christianity, thereby undermining the foundation of freedom in America. I'd say they're right.

Both Chuck Baldwin and Alan Keyes delivered what could only be called sermons. They preached to the choir, arguably too small by a factor of about a zillion, and we needed to hear it. They laid responsibility for neglecting our duty to preserve liberty in America squarely on the shoulders of the church. They specifically called on pastors of all stripes not to neglect their duty but to embrace it.

When pastors abstain from preaching important parts of the gospel out of fear of government retribution, they lead their congregations in bowing down to Caesar and not to God. Keyes and Baldwin delivered this message clearly: obedience to government over God, which many people in America readily practice, is the primary cause of our present crisis. While this is made visible in the political realm in the form of ever expanding government tyranny, the underlying problem is inherently spiritual. And there are no effective political solutions to spiritual problems, as the framers of our Constitution clearly understood.

I am encouraged, though, that such an event as this would even happen in the first place. Liberty isn't dead. Even so, I'm not shocked that fewer than half of the Denver MSA's 2 Million residents attended this event. After all, we didn't get to where we are due to widespread adoption of the ideas of Christian self-government and the practice thereof. Though I am disappointed with our present circumstance, I am encouraged that the few of us who were there understand the problem and are doing what we can to correct it.

I am encouraged that the event was organized at great personal cost to the organizers, not because the cost was great, but because they did it despite the cost. I am encouraged that many of the attendees clearly understand the philosophy of freedom, and clearly understand its only stable foundation. I'm encouraged that relatively well-known speakers such as Chuck Baldwin and Alan Keyes continue to address the problem of the church's idolatrous government worship despite the unpopularity of that message both inside and outside the church. And I'm encouraged that a remnant of ordinary people are standing up and taking action to protect and preserve what liberty remains for the benefit of our posterity.

Clearly we're far outnumbered. The idea of concentrating in one geographic location - the very idea the Free State Project is founded on - is appealing to Christians who understand and want more liberty. Not all are ready yet to move, but some are, and some have already.

I hope this conference inspires leadership in the right direction. Specifically, I hope:

1: that more Christians repent of their government worship and work to reach the church with message of Christian liberty,

2: that more non-Christian libertarians exchange the sinking sand of their current theology with the solid rock of Christ, which is the very best foundation upon which to build a philosophy of freedom,

3: and that more people see the benefits of geographically concentrating our efforts, that we may restore proper limits to government and achieve some semblance of political Liberty in Our Lifetime, at least in one little corner of the world.

... And yes, I hope many would do that here in New Hampshire...


Freedom v.s. Freedom
I need help. I need to find two different words to contrast two different ideas. Both ideas are best described as freedom, however, both are different and, depending on your interpretation, contradictory. For now, I'll briefly describe the two ideas using modifiers for clarity.

Political freedom means not being coercively subject to the rule of man, nor coercively subjecting others to the rule of man. The zero aggression principle is a good summary of political freedom.

The idea of political freedom excludes behavior which violates others' freedom, such as stealing or murder. However, it includes, as acceptable, any behavior that does not violate that principle. For example, political freedom allows for the rejection of God and other self-destructive and others-destructive behavior that is consensual (e.g. recreational drug abuse not involving non-consensual violence).

Christian freedom is (probably) a subset of political freedom. It would include freedom from the rule of men, but exclude behavior that would be considered evil, even if it does not involve aggression against other people. Blasphemy and idolatry, for example, would be included in political freedom, but not in Christian freedom.

Fundamentally, both types of freedom are negative in nature. That is to say, both are focused on what you cannot do or what cannot be done to you. I would argue that Christian freedom does not include positive mandates (that is, of course, not all Christianity has to say about behavior).

The primary difference between the two is that political freedom allows evil and/or destructive behavior so long as it is consensual, while Christian freedom does not.

Given those brief and maybe rough descriptions, what words would best describe those concepts?


Flying Cheap and a better alternative
I finally had a chance to view Frontline's special from February entitled "Flying Cheap". This program is a little under an hour in length and is worth watching, especially if you're interested in flying, the aviation business, or government safety regulation.

I spent 4 1/2 years flying for a regional airline in the late 1990's, so I have some personal experience relating to the topic of the show. I thought I'd provide some general and specific comments about the show, and briefly introduce a market-based idea which could better serve the safety interests of paying passengers than the current regulatory model.

Overall, I'd say Frontline did a fair to good job presenting challenges faced by the regional airline industry and the story of Continental 3407 in specific. Their presentation was met with a stern rebuttal from Colgan Air itself, which is also worth reading. As always, there are two sides to every story. That said, the issues of pilot pay, long hours, experience, and training are very real problems for the regional airline industry. The show does a fairly good job outlining those problems and showcasing one example of the adverse consequences that can come from not addressing those problems.

I would not rate the show as excellent or outstanding in part because it does focus nearly all of its attention on the problems with the industry and does not, in my opinion, do a good enough job highlighting the admirable safety record of the regional industry in spite of those challenges. It also contains a level of journalistic sensationalism that seems to fit NBC better than PBS (not quite Fox, but still dramatic).

Around 6:40 comes this quote, "No doubt in our mind that when she's buying this ticket, she's buying a flight on Continental for which she believed she had Continental pilots and Continental safety and Continental service." I was glad to see Frontline point out that the reservation did say the service in question was operated by Colgan and that the passenger was, in fact, given that information. While the quote may accurately represent the impressions of the people involved, the people involved were clearly informed that the flight was operated by somebody other than Continental. This quote, and this whole show, should serve as a "buyer beware" warning. The warnings are there and have been all along. Now you know what that means.

At 18:00 comes this quote, "We ended up with a different structured industry than people have probably anywhere else in the world where these regional carriers are vitally important." This is simply not true. The structure of major carriers partnering with regionals that are either contracted or subsidiaries, but with their own separate employee groups, is not uncommon. That arrangement is fairly widespread in Europe and also exists elsewhere in the world.

At 21:35 and onward, Roger Cohen defends the regional airline industry in response to revelations about pilot pay. He refers to average salaries for Captains and First Officers and is quickly reminded that lower salaries do exist. In my opinion, his defensiveness is very revealing. The facts he states may be true but he paints a picture of the industry that is better than I see it.

The truth is that first year pay is very low. Throughout the show, figures in the low-$20's (thousands per year) were mentioned and those are very common numbers. There are actually a few that are lower than that. Commutair (Continental), Great Lakes (Frontier & United), and Gulfstream (Continental, United & Delta?) have first and second year First Officer pay rates below $20 per hour, which roughly equates to $20,000 per year. There are Captains at those same airlines making less than $40 per hour (roughly $40,000 per year). Those people are the ones working the hardest for the least pay. While there are senior Captains at some regionals working less hard, flying better equipment, and making over $100,000 per year, that doesn't negate the fact that those lower paid, harder working pilots actually do exist.

Around 23 minutes into the show is a description of a crash pad. Those kinds of crash pads do actually exist. Not all crash pads are like that, though. I owned a crash pad (my former personal residence) for a while. I used it myself and rented space out to other pilots. It was a nice 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house with a downstairs family room (I used that part for myself). I only rented to one person per room, so it was far more comfortable than most crash pads. It was also more expensive. My tenants all worked for the same regional airline I worked for, but they all either had other sources of money (income or savings) and/or had no other family obligations. None of them were living that way totally unassisted and solely on their income from our airline. Also, despite its niceness, none of them used my place as a primary residence (that's not what a crash pad is).

At 27:20 comes this gem, "Safety is the number one priority, and there is no airline ... that would ever operate any aircraft ... and risk the safety of the passengers and crew." The implication is that the airline won't pressure the crew to operate unsafely (or illegally). Unfortunately, that's simply not true. Airline managers do sometimes pressure crews into operating unsafely or illegally. Some do it more than others, and it's not isolated to regional airlines. It is true that no airline I'm aware of has as its official policy that pilots should sacrifice safety or legality to complete a flight. However, the idea that no airline (manager)ever suggests or even pressures unsafe or illegal operation is simply not accurate.

Having said that, many (maybe most) people both inside and outside the airline industry are under the impression that safe operation is some kind of black and white, totally objective 'thing' that will result in an accident-free flight. That's also not true.

Safety involves subjective criteria and (virtually infinitely) variable quality. For this reason, the "one level of safety" concept is horribly flawed. It communicates the false impression that if everyone does a certain set of things, there will be this nebulous concept of "safety". There is no such thing as absolutely safe, or totally risk free. In theory, it might be possible to establish a minimum level of safety within a known set of constraints, but "one level of safety" neither means absolute safety, nor even the best safety practically achievable.

Safety does cost money, and in as much as this documentary correlates safety and money ("Flying Cheap"), it hits the mark. Regionals who are cheap on pay and training do increase the risk of competence- and proficiency-related accidents. That doesn't mean that cheap airlines are absolutely unsafe, nor that expensive airlines are absolutely safe. However, regionals do systematically save money by increasing risk factors in ways their major airline partners don't: lower pay attracts less experienced pilots, and harder worked (more productive) pilots results in more fatigue on average. Those are the facts of the regional airline industry and the Frontline documentary describes them reasonably well.

Mary Schiavo is quoted several times in the documentary. What a mistake that was. She's never met a camera she doesn't love and always has some way to twist the truth that makes it dramatic and sensational. She occasionally has some legitimate comment to make but I tune her out at every opportunity and recommend others do the same. Her comments in this documentary mostly live up to my expectation.

Probably the best quote in the whole thing comes about 33 minutes in to it. "Relying on the FAA to ensure that all carriers fly safely has its limits." Never has a truer statement been spoken! Unfortunately, the documentary immediately focuses solely on the FAA not doing enough of what it already does, as if doing 'enough' would somehow result in unlimited ability to ensure safety. Never does the documentary question whether, even under perfect conditions, the FAA could ensure all carriers fly safely.

In fact, it can't. Nobody can. The proposition that anyone could ensure all carriers fly safely requires accepting the false premise that safety is completely objective. It isn't, ergo the FAA can never do what most people presume it's supposed to do. When you follow that train of thought, you come to a bit of a bizarre, but logical, conclusion: The FAA is implicitly and maybe explicitly fraudulent.

The FAA's mission statement, until recently, was "to provide a safe ... aerospace system..." This was recently revised to read "to provide the safest ... aerospace system in the world." While that latter goal is, in theory, attainable, they go on to say, "We work so all air and space travelers arrive safely at their destinations." That goal is clearly unachievable. Furthermore, their historical emphasis on safety, including "one level of safety" (a key initiative starting in the 1990's) gives the impression of an objective and absolute level of safety.

The implication of FAA certification is twofold: That certified operators are "safe", and that non-certified operators are "unsafe" and, thus, prohibited from operating. While there may be early signs of abandoning that irrational view and moving towards a view valuing relative safety, those implications are still ever present. As a result, it's hard to see the FAA as anything other than fraudulent (never mind irrationally coercive). Those who fail to see this are disappointed and confused when accidents like Colgan 3407 happen.

I don't say this to disparage the efforts of many hard working people at the FAA who genuinely want to increase the level of aviation safety. In many cases, they've had a positive impact on aviation safety. Of course, there are those who are just power hungry irritations that exist solely to reinforce the FAA's motto: "We're not happy 'til you're not happy." Despite that reputation, I've interacted with many people in the FAA who seem genuinely interested in safety. I suspect they're doing the best they can and some of them probably do positively impact safety.

None of that fixes the underlying philosophical problems with the entire FAA mindset and government safety certification. This raises the question, "Is there a better way?" I believe there is. The answer to that question involves a paradigm shift in three important ways.

First, a better system needs to be based on the correct premise that safety is subjective and relative. The flying public should be treated like intelligent adults and told the truth. There is no such thing as "safe". There are desired outcomes which are subjective and relative levels of safety quality with respect to those outcomes. Any statement about safety should include both the subjective criteria (e.g. "does not directly cause harm to persons or property"), and a statement about the expected relative level of safety (low, medium, high, etc.). This is, in essence, the exact opposite of "one level of safety." Automotive crash and rollover test ratings might serve as a useful example.

Second, a better system should allow competing safety standards within the arena of allowable operation. This could potentially include two dimensions. First, multiple levels of safety standards could exist without outright prohibition of operation. Using the automotive example, it's possible to buy cars that rate at three stars even though five star cars are available. No such luck with airlines. Additionally, opening the door to competition between certification agencies and the types of safety factors they measure might improve customer satisfaction. Factors could be evaluated based on their effect on outcomes and customer preference could be measured based on what outcomes they want to see more of.

Third, prohibition should be limited to requiring the operator to take complete financial responsibility for their actions (including potential harm on the ground), demonstrating that ability, and truthfully informing the customer with respect to the safety standards they meet. The combination of a variety of certification standards and required financial liability would serve as a practical barrier to operating without certification. Insurance companies might offer discounts for carriers with lots of high quality certification and customers might pay a premium for safer travel. Without that kind of freedom and information, the market is incapable of best serving the needs of the flying public.

The ideas above would not result in a totally unregulated environment, nor would implementation of those ideas necessarily spell the end of the FAA. I don't know how it would ultimately turn out, but I imagine such a system may well result in higher safety standards. Even if it didn't, customers would be informed as to what they were getting. Then, maybe their interview with Frontline might be a different kind of warning to the rest of the world: "Don't choose a less-safe airline just to save a buck." As it stands now, we don't know the difference and we don't have a choice.


Note: I didn't spend a huge amount of time editing this. While I think it's reasonably good, I wouldn't hang on every word. Ask before quoting and/or hanging your hat on anything here... :)

Wikileaks and government power
After a barrage of linguistic assault against liberals and the Obama administration, the closing paragraphs of Justin Raimondo's article about about liberal disdain for Wikileaks forwards this astute observation:

"This is blowback, guys: the very spying and surveillance you wanted as weapons in the "war on terrorism" are now being turned on critics of a liberal Democratic administration."

The article itself describes U.S. Government and liberal media opposition to Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Whether you believe the Collateral Murder video is legit or not, it has certainly stirred up a hornets nest and pro-government types are unleashing their unhappy responses in a variety of ways.

But the blowback point above is not limited to spying and surveillance. Those topics might be brought to the forefront of our minds by this article, but the idea of government power to 'do good' can be applied to just about any topic-du-jure.

Neocons want 'security' and use government power to produce an image of it any chance they get (PATRIOT act, TSA, DHS, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on). Liberals want 'equality' (also known as communism) and use government power to produce an image of it any chance they get (No Child Left Behind, universal healthcare, mortgage bailouts, and so on).

The blowback concept is simply using the other side's 'good' against them. The above example is apt, but there are countless more. How about marriage? Conservatives started using government force with marriage licensing long ago, presumably to 'protect' marriage. Liberals subsequently used the (now) existing government power against conservatives by sanctioning less-appealing forms of marriage such as interracial marriage (gasp) and, more recently, homosexual marriage. Conservatives, with mixed success, have turned around and banned homosexual marriage in some places. The debate rages on with more and more people on both sides harmed by government in the process.

Apply this concept to taxes, education, 'security', healthcare, welfare, or any other topic and you'll see a recurring theme. When government power is used to achieve some presumed good, that same power will subsequently be used against those who instituted it in the first place.

This kind of blowback is made possible by the initiation of government force. Government coercion is where the problem starts and must be stopped to end this kind of blowback. Instead of using government force to achieve our goals, we should use voluntary cooperation. Government should not initiate aggression against individuals and the associations they voluntarily form. Government's maximum role should be to protect individuals from that kind of force.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of Americans fail to recognize this trap. Liberals cried foul for years as the Bush administration used government power to destroy civil liberties and wage expensive and deadly wars. Smug neocons rejoiced in their victory until they became the losers under the new liberal administration. Now liberals are using the existing government tools against the neocons while smugly grinning over their newly created socialized-everything paradigm. Of course, they'll cry foul again when the next administration socks it to them in return - a power shift already in the making.

At every step along this trail, government grows bigger and everyone loses. Until we realize that and start refusing to use government power to get our way, we'll keep losing. The blowback is enormous and it has brought what was once the freest and most powerful nation in the world to brink of destruction in a very short time.

For those who understand that the use of government force really is the problem, one might ask what, if any, role government might play in society? The answer lies in the immoral cause of this problem: government initiates force against individuals and the groups they voluntarily associate with. That initiation of force isn't just wrong when government does it, it's wrong all the time. For a political government to exist morally, it must first not initiate force against individuals, and second go no further than protecting individuals' rights against such aggression from others (usually known as criminals).

When government goes any further than protecting individuals' rights to life, liberty, and property, it does so in violation of those rights and becomes inherently immoral. The example of blowback raised above is just one more reason we should work towards a society governed morally: a society where the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty and property.


Debate on rights in the Keene Sentinel
For the past year, Pam Martens has been on a rampage against the Free State Project and anyone associated with it. It all started with a smear piece in a political newsletter containing so many factual inaccuracies that it took nearly 3500 words to rebut the big stuff. That didn't stop Mrs. Martens from writing a second piece shortly thereafter.

Earlier this year, her husband, Russ, joined the war. He wrote about a candidate for selectman in Westmoreland, saying, "It's Foolish to say [he] is Not a Free Stater." The individual in question isn't actually a participant in the Free State Project, but that fact didn't slow the Martens' guilt-by-association assault. What followed was an attempt to claim said candidate espouses the views Mrs. Martens ascribes to all Free State Project participants, mostly based on the grossly inaccurate ideas she presented a year ago.

All this raises the important question. Why? Why are the Martens' so bent on vocally opposing the Free State Project? I could speculate, but it would be just that, and I don't wish to stoop to their level by assuming I know what they believe. As luck would have it, Mrs. Martens (maybe unknowingly) answered the "why" question in her latest letter to the Keene Sentinel. It appears the answer is simply that she believes government (she calls her version 'participatory democracy') has all the rights and doles them out to individuals at its pleasure. She must see the Free State Project as a credible threat to her crusade against the idea of inherent individual rights, so she understandably attacks.

I expose this conflict of rights in my reply to her letter which was published in the Sentinel today:

READER OPINION: Where our rights come from is key, by Varrin Swearingen

Published: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pam Martens calls for an “untrammeled debate” on the issues (“We have a right to speak our minds,” Keene Sentinel, April 4), but before getting into any specific topic, we need to address the elephant in the room: Where do our rights come from?

Mrs. Martens writes, “rights are derived ... from engaged citizens in a participatory democracy.”

She believes rights are granted by society, and denies individuals any natural rights of their own; what some might call “human rights.”

Her opinion conflicts with the simple idea that each of us has our own inherent, unalienable rights, and that government, democratic or otherwise, should be limited to protecting those rights.

The founders of our state and nation understood that idea and wrote it into the New Hampshire Constitution and America’s Declaration of Independence.

The Free State Project’s Statement of Intent adopts part of that idea, too:

“... the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty and property.”

That is the extent of the Free State Project’s “platform”: encouraging engaged citizens to move to New Hampshire and work to protect everyone’s rights.

If Mrs. Martens wishes to criticize that “platform,” or claim “most people don’t agree,” she’s certainly free to do so, but I have a hunch that most good and honest people in New Hampshire believe they have rights that not even a democracy can legitimately take away.

Note: I write herein on my own behalf, not on behalf of the Free State Project as its president.


METs, Wii Fit Plus, and my routine
When I declared my exercise goal for this year, I specified a minimum of 3 times per week (which I have interpreted to mean seven-day-moving-average), but I did not specify any quantity (time) or quality (exertion?) of exercise I'd get during each of those workouts. I had already developed a routine so I had an idea of what I'd do.

With three successful months under my belt (I had a 2-week sick break in March), and Wii Fit Plus now in the house, I've had some time to ponder just how good my routine is.

Wii Fit Plus uses MET's to calculate the effectiveness (in calories) of their exercises. Most of their exercises are not very vigorous, with METs in the 2-3 range. A few are higher, but I don't think any are over 5. Compare this to Racquetball (my former favorite exercise) which is in the 7-10 range (depending on how competitive you are ... that's a 10 for me), or flying a plane, which I've spent nearly 10,000 hours doing, yielding only a 2. Playing an instrument in church is a 2.5, but playing the drums comes in at a 4 (which do I use?).

My workout routine includes three major sections and averages about 26 minutes. The three major sections are stretching, cardio / whole body exercise, and strength-building calisthenics (using bodyweight). The MET compendium lists calisthenics and circuit training with vigorous effort as an 8 which covers pretty much everything I do in the cardio and strength sections. Stretching and yoga are both listed as a 2.5 which sounds right for my stretching routine.

Of my average 26 minutes, no more than 5 minutes and 15 seconds is stretching (usually a little under 5 minutes). The mathematical formula for calories burned using METs works if you proportionally allocate mets. Ergo, my workout is worth, on average ((5 x 2.5) + (21 x 8)) / 26 = 6.9. If I work extra vigorously and extend the non-stretching portions (say, a 28 minute workout), it's probably at least a 7. If I shorten it up and don't work as hard, it might only be a 6 or 6 1/2. I use those numbers as a ballpark for logging credits on Wii Fit Plus.

But ... Wii Fit Plus only allows you to log time for METs up to 5. Consequently, I have to adjust the time to compensate for the higher MET value (again, this can be done proportionally without violating the formula). Today's 28 minute workout valued at 6.5 METs is worth 36 minutes at 5 METs, so that's what I logged. This gave a caloric burn of 242 if I recall correctly.

Contrast that with yesterday's 50-minute (of actual game play) session using Wii Fit Plus's exercises. Granted I didn't do the most vigorous ones, but in 50 minutes I only burned 109 calories. This suggests my average MET value for that time (which took well over an hour to accumulate) was somewhere south of 2, not much different than flying (should I log that?). It's certainly more fun than my routine, but not nearly as efficient.

Getting back to my original observation that I didn't specify a workout intenisty, should I log Wii Fit time as a workout? I burned 109 calories yesterday, which is almost half of what I usually do (at 6.5 METs that'd be about 12 minutes). Seems like I ought to count it for something anyway. Alternately, should I count all workouts based on (estimated) calories burned rather than time?

I suppose the answers to those questions aren't as important as the fun I had figuring all that out. Call it food for thought... or maybe exercise for thought ;)


Free State Project New Hampshire Liberty Forum Review
Being the President of the Free State Project, I have a bit of a different take on this year's New Hampshire Liberty Forum. On the one hand, I love the event for its effectiveness at attracting new participants to the Free State Project. Showcasing the potential of New Hampshire to lead the world in practical application of the philosophy of freedom is very persuasive to those who come to see it. On the other hand, I like to take advantage of the opportunity to efficiently accomplish meaningful work beyond 'evangelism' given the proximity (everyone in one hotel) of those most active in the liberty movement.

This year, I had very little to do in the way of official duties. I didn't deliver a speech. In fact, this was the first Free State Project event in history where not a single speech focused on the Free State Project itself has occurred. I looked forward to the 'light' schedule providing an opportunity for me to see more of the speakers than I have in the past. I also had more time available for 'doing', which I took advantage of.

The event itself was a huge success. I don't have final numbers yet (attendance or money), but it was, as has been every single event the Free State Project has ever put on, bigger than last year's in terms of registrations (Ron Paul's '08 speech drew a colossal crowd but they didn't register for the whole weekend). Numerical growth for a not-at-all-free ($) event in this economy, in an off year, is a great sign.

Also great was the speaker lineup. We continue to achieve that magical balance of styles, spheres of influence, issues, and notoriety that makes the event a world-class value to those who attend. Speakers and attendees alike say it's their favorite pro-freedom event in the whole world. It's personal, informative, entertaining, productive, and just plain fun!

But behind the scenes, there's more going on, and I'd like to review some of that. The Free State Project's mission is to attract 20,000 people who will move to New Hampshire and exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty and property. The FSP organization's goal is to secure those commitments. That is not a trivial task, mind you.

To that end, I worked a good portion of the weekend on various projects aimed at attracting more participants. One element of that was a meeting of the FSP Board. We meet monthly but usually only in-person once a year (this year might be the first time we'll meet twice given this first-ever meeting at Liberty Forum). We worked on the filling of a board-seat vacancy, and three other items which I want to give a little more detail about. In all three cases, the Board meeting was just one of many meetings and/or conversations I had over the course of the weekend about these topics.

First, some Free State Project participants who are passionate about telephone outreach have been working for quite some time to get an outreach calling program to recruit new participants off the ground. Some of the practicalities of the program they proposed are at odds with, among other things, the Free State Project's protection of it's participant database information and standards for counting participants. In order for them to do their best work to promote the Free State Project, and for us to continue to do our best to maintain the integrity of the project, this particular outreach program is going to be accomplished by a separate organization, not the Free State Project itself.

Prior to Liberty Forum, enough progress had been made that the people working on the calling program had started developing and testing the system. The initial alpha test results were fairly encouraging but the calling program team still has more work to do before the program really gets off the ground. More work was also required on the part of the Free State Project itself if we wanted to enable the calling organization to work more efficiently without, for example, compromising the integrity of the participant database or encouraging fraud. The board decided to take another big step with that work. A fringe benefit of that step is that it formalizes a verification procedure to improve the quality of Statements Of Intent collected indirectly and/or from third parties (i.e. at events and/or otherwise from non-FSP volunteers, which we've done all along).

Second, I discussed a problem we have with Liberty Forum 2011 leadership. The problem is, we've had two outstanding leaders who have, with the help of countless volunteers, produced four home-runs in a row. Their work has turned the New Hampshire Liberty Forum from an unknown and untested idea in 2006, to a world-renowned brand that is hugely beneficial to the Free State Project.

That's a problem because we need new leadership in 2011. Chris won't be back to lead a grand slam, and his wife thanks me from not only not asking him but barring him from such enslavement. Because we're past the experimenting phase, and because both Irena and Chris set the bar so high in every way, we're struggling to figure out a strategy for 2011 (and beyond) leadership.

Fundamentally, the Free State Project is not an event-organizing organization. In as much as that is the case, we shouldn't actually be diverting too much from effective outreach into event organization. Liberty Forum is a very effective (cost and otherwise) outreach tool, but the content-neutral work of organization could be somehow outsourced or contracted. I suggested such an idea and started by suggesting outsourcing that to people who do other pro-liberty events. There's still one internal possibility on my radar, and maybe this message will result in others. Barring that, we might make the transition to outside organization next year and see how it goes. We did all agree that the Liberty Forum brand (including Free State Project 'ownership'), look and feel, style, balance, and so on needs to remain in tact, so no need to worry there. In the end, this was discussion, not a decision, but if anyone out there wants to chime in, now's the time.

Third, I presented the idea of producing a far more substantial print outreach piece for the Free State Project. The piece would have the look and feel of a magazine (think Reason or Republic) but be a single issue, maybe updated every year or two (or when we run out). It's goal would be to communicate 'enough' about the Free State Project to the reader so they would come away with a well-developed picture of what we are and where we're at. We currently have no such piece and a tri-fold just doesn't cut it anymore. This is no longer an idea encapsulated in a paper, but a reality with more information and stories to be told than even a magazine could hold.

Such a publication would be very useful. Currently, the Free State Project website is the best place to go for that kind of information, but it's visual impact isn't as strong as it could be and some people simply don't go there. A magazine can be touched, absorbed over time, visually appealing, and shared easily with real-world friends. It also gives prospective participants and donors (!) a sense of what is actually the case: well established real-world success. They could be handed out at events and maybe even mailed to well-qualified interested parties unearthed by the aforementioned calling program.

Being the ambitious person that I am, I'd like to have the first finished product in hand in time for Porc Fest, which, by the way, is coming right up. I'm not sure we can make that deadline, but that's never stopped me before (really, that means aim to be done by June 1st). We already have a lot of writing, though we need more. Same with photographs. Over the course of the weekend, I secured three more critical pieces: a graphic designer, the story teller (essentially senior editor and producer), and money (the Board is happy with the idea even given its obviously hefty price tag).

We still need some important pieces for this project. Maybe most important and urgent is an overall project manager. The project manager would connect the dots between the story teller and existing and newly-created content (mostly writing and photographs), find new content creators, find content editors (and connect them with the story teller), connect the dots between the story teller and graphic designer, keep the project on time, and keep me in the loop all the while. If anyone is up for such an abusive but rewarding challenge, please contact me yesterday. We also need people to write content, edit content, submit photographs (we already have a bunch but the more the better), and agree to have content written about them (i.e. be featured in the magazine). If you're looking for something to do that's not long term, this is it.

Keep in mind, of course, we have done and continue to do all of this with virtually no 'normal' resources. Throughout the entire history of the Free State Project, we've never had a single paid staff member. Total spending of the project for its whole history, including events, probably lies in the ballpark of $1/2 Million, give or take a bit (outright donations over the last six years has been less than $200,000). This is undoubtedly the most effective shoestring in the history of the modern libertarian movement.

In closing, it's exciting to now have over 10,000 participants on the books and over 800 in New Hampshire. The progress is accelerating and every shred of evidence suggests that achievement of the plan outlined in 2001 will, indeed, eventually lead to enormous success. Even as our nation continues its trend towards tyranny, my excitement grows with increased confidence in the very real prospect of Liberty in Our Lifetime. I hope, somehow, you'll help make that happen, and I thank all of you who already are.


The career choice ... again
I may be writing this a bit prematurely, but I think it's better to think ahead and be prepared for what may come.

A little over two years ago, I started training on the DC-10 as a Captain. I'll skip the details of the history, but I wouldn't have come to the DC-10 if I would have been able to hold the MD-11 at the time I bid for the upgrade. I could have held it both before and after, but that one particular bid I could only hold the DC-10 and wound up stuck on it ever since.

My time on the DC-10 has been a mix of better and worse (compared to First Officer on the MD-11). The airplane itself has advantages (better to hand fly, and a flight engineer) and disadvantages (lousy nav systems, no automation, reliability issues, etc.). The flying hasn't been as good and I've been relatively junior, moving from the middle of the pack at first down to bottom now. The pay has been good, and the heavy international PIC time is worth its weight in gold career-wise. All in all, though, I just haven't enjoyed the job as much as I did before, schedule being the primary reason why. That said, I'm glad I did it for a some of the reasons listed above, and one more historical reason.

World Airways is now, I believe, the 2nd longest-time operator of the DC-10 in the history of the airplane. According to the Jetphotos Census, Northwest took delivery of their first DC-10 in November, 1972, and World Airways took delivery of their first DC-10 in March, 1978. Northwest operated the airplane longer than any of the other early customers, finally retiring their last DC-10 in January, 2007, for a total of just over 34 years of service. World still operates the DC-10 and has now for 32 consecutive years, just 2 years shy of Northwest's record.... and counting! If anyone knows of any other longer-time operator, I'd be interested in hearing about it, but I think now we're in the #2 spot.

Flying an airplane with that kind of history is, if nothing else, entertaining. It'll make for great stories for the grandkids someday. I remember one of my early ground instructors who flew the Connie for Eastern Airlines. He was older than dirt and had some great stories. Ironically, there was a Connie parked at the Sanford Airport at the time I was in that ground school which was eventually restored and flew again. It turns out, that very Connie was leased to World Airways in the 1960's. Small world, eh? But I digress...

I would say "rumor has it", but it's more than just rumor. Flight Operations management has been saying the plan is to park our remaining DC-10's this year. We've been getting rid of DC-10's for a lot of our 32 year history with the airplane, so we'll see just how serious they really are. Whether they actually park the whole fleet or not, they do appear serious about parking the first airplane in June. When that happens, I'll get kicked off the airplane.

Now, again, I'm likely to be faced with a choice. I don't know yet what the plan is for the rest of the fleet. In fact, I don't know if there's anyone in the world who knows, but they certainly haven't shared it with me. If I can hold MD-11 Captain, I'll take that. If not, I'll be downgraded to First Officer again. The choice I'll have to make is whether to take First Officer on the MD-11 (a position I held for 7 years), or First Officer on the 747. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The major advantage to the 747 is that it would involve a type rating on a new (to me) airplane that is fairly marketable to other airlines. If something happened to my job here, I might be more qualified for more other jobs if I had a 747-400 type rating in my back pocket. The downside is that we only have two airplanes, both freighters, and the schedules are awful. I'd be fairly senior, but seniority isn't worth much when there aren't any good schedules.

The MD-11 would be much easier for me. I'm already type rated on it, but due to the time I've been away, I'd have to do all the training over again. When I'm all checked out, I'd be fairly senior (though maybe not quite as high up, percentage-wise as the 747). With 14 airplanes (a mix of passenger and freight) and some really nice flying, I should be able to hold schedules that I'd really enjoy. The pay is the same for both airplanes.

So I'm torn. Looking back on my career so far, the times I most enjoyed my job were as a senior first officer, both here and at Comair. I don't think the 747 will bring me that same level of satisfaction, but I'm sure the MD-11 will. On the other hand, better qualifications would be better for my career. I'm not in a position to retire yet (that'd make the choice easy), so I do need to be mindful of my career. That said, I'm not sure exactly how important that 747 type rating really is. I do know that I miss really enjoying my job. I haven't been as happy with the work since coming to the DC-10, and I don't think I would be as happy on the 747 as I would on the MD-11 just due to the lack of variety in the flying.

There's no bid out yet so I have a little time to decide, but it appears very likely I'll have to make this choice within the next 2-3 months. So... what do I do?