Divorcées and Social Engineers

Cathy Young bends over backward to be fair in "Divorcées and Social Engineers" (December), and as usual she mostly succeeds. But we may be missing an opportunity to probe deeper into a perversion of government power without precedent in our history.

Young characterizes some of my views as "extreme." But my argument that government's ever-expanding family machinery has developed a vested interest in removing children from their fathers was recently documented in Political Science and Politics, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Political Science Association not known for airing extremist opinions. The argument is in fact a commonplace of political science: Bureaucracies often perpetuate the problem they are created to address. 

My charges are corroborated by a feminist insider. In the October issue of the same journal, St. Olaf College political science professor Jo Michelle Beld confirms that the livelihoods of child support officials depend on broken homes, that these same enforcement officials set the child support levels they collect, and that "high child support orders, in combination with other child support enforcement policies, have a negative effect on contact between non-custodial parents and their children."

Perhaps it is not my rhetoric but what the government is doing to its citizens that is extreme. We are talking here about the forced removal of millions of children from parents who have done nothing wrong; mass incarcerations of those parents without trial; forced confessions; government seizure of the private papers, property, and homes of citizens accused of nothing; children used as government informers against their parents; doctored court records; involuntary litigants shaken down on pain of incarceration for the fees of lawyers and psychotherapists they have not hired; and much more.

Oddly, nobody has written more eloquently on many of these abuses than Cathy Young. But now she asks blithely, "Is there any way to avoid that?" and expresses a truly astonishing pathos for "people forced to choose between losing their children and remaining in an emotionally intolerable marriage."

No one today is "forced" to contract a marriage agreement, which is designed to provide an emotionally tolerable environment for children. To avoid this intolerable choice for parents who lack grounds to break their contract, parents who remain faithful currently must lose their children without being given any "choice" in the matter. They may then be expropriated for not only everything they have but most of what they will ever earn, coerced into signing a confession, criminalized in ways they are powerless to avoid, and jailed indefinitely without trial.

By the way, I have never advocated that a parent should have no access to his or her children. What I advocate is bringing questions of justice, rather than therapy or social engineering, back into courtrooms. This certainly includes the joint custody (properly understood) that Young proposes. But any solution will effectively minimize divorce damage only by identifying the interests inflicting that damage and vigilantly monitoring them.

Reason and Cathy Young deserve credit for opening a dialogue, but they would be doing a greater service through a more extensive investigation into this hijacking of the justice system.

Stephen Baskerville
Howard University
Washington, DC

Drug Rush

Jacob Sullum rightly suggests that the strongest argument in favor of letting Rush Limbaugh keep his freedom after he admitted abusing prescription painkillers is that, so long as he's not hurting anybody else, it's nobody's business what he puts in his body ("Drug Rush," December). Drug abuse is a personal medical problem just like alcoholism, and we should treat it the same way.

Regardless of the total social harm attributed to alcohol (which is considerably higher than that attributed to all illegal drugs combined), attempting to jail anyone who consumes or possesses alcohol in order to redress that harm would be inconceivable. The government's interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens is better served by simply prohibiting public intoxication, driving while impaired, or selling alcohol to minors. Likewise, focusing on irresponsible drug users, rather than all of them, would save our nation billions of dollars every year—money that could be better spent on realistic drug education and treatment on demand. 

Julie Ruiz-Sierra
Davis, CA

As a police officer, I would rather go after public safety threats, like drunk drivers, than Rush Limbaugh. As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for him to go to prison; I want my tax dollars to help the schools. As a humanitarian, I want Rush to get medical help for his addiction, using doctors, not prison guards.

Howard J. Wooldridge
Fort Worth, TX

The Smaller the Better

Ron Bailey's look at nanotechnology ("The Smaller the Better," December) takes both its most ardent cheerleaders and its most ardent opponents a bit too seriously. As early as 1951, the mathematician John von Neumann laid the groundwork for nanotechnology by showing that a machine can always be designed to build any describable device, including itself. In Profiles of the Future (1963), Arthur C. Clarke wrote at length of the "replicator," which would solve all problems of material demand by producing any desired product on request—including beefsteaks and cheese omelets. Eric Drexler's "assemblers," described in his book Engines of Creation, are similar.

In recent years, the term nanotechnology has become merely a fashionable buzzword for work with thin films, microscopic fibers, and fine powders. Examples include the self-cleaning windows and spill-resistant pants that Bailey mentions. Their manufacturing processes in no way resemble those imagined by Clarke and Drexler, which call for precise atom-by-atom assembly of products.

No one knows how to do this. Even if it becomes feasible, it may well take too long to be of practical interest. For instance, coral polyps amount to natural assemblers as they build their reefs. Engineers might use them to build a dam. Still, even under the best conditions, coral reefs grow at only three inches per year. At that rate, it would take 3,000 years to build the Hoover Dam.

On the other hand, the Precautionary Principle has little if any legal standing in the U.S. Regulators are not free to impose sweeping bans or moratoria on new technologies merely because they stir poorly defined fears. Instead, the laws governing federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration call for science-based regulation, with a focus on specific, well-defined measures of hazard and risk. Thus, if von Neumann machines indeed become feasible, they will not be outlawed; they will merely be regulated.

T. A. Heppenheimer
Fountain Valley, CA

35 Heroes of Freedom

I'm baffled by the list of great freedom fighters in the December issue ("35 Heroes of Freedom"). If reason wished to include entertainment celebrities, why Madonna, Willie Nelson, and Dennis Rodman? Why not Charlton Heston, who was active in the civil rights movement and later headed the National Rifle Association? Why not Jackie Robinson or George Carlin, whose "up yours"-es to their respective establishments were far more political and influential than any of the above three?

If the point is the pushing of the cultural envelope, why not honor HBO or the creators of South Park, both of whom have pushed the cultural and political envelope a lot more effectively than Rodman or Nelson? I'm not opposed to porn, pot, and body adornment, but they're hardly heroic acts.

Tim Lee
Alexandria, VA

In some cases, it seems reason picked the more prominent person for its "35 Heroes of Freedom" list, rather than the one who really fit the criteria best.

Larry Flynt got the glory, but it was Screw publisher Al Goldstein who supplied the guts. Goldstein even dabbled in Libertarian politics in New York and Miami. Seems the story of Goldstein's life has been overshadowed by Flynt, as when a documentary movie about him, Screwed, came out the same time as The People vs. Larry Flynt.

Similarly, I think Dana Rohrabacher has been a more effective force for freedom in Congress by not sticking out as the "one" in "all-but-one" votes like Ron Paul does. Sure, Paul has a greater following outside Congress and his district, but by going along with the GOP leadership when it was futile to do otherwise, Rohrabacher had more leverage where it counted.

Why no mention of Howard Stern? Surely he's done more to bring pro-freedom ideas before the masses than some of the other figures of popular culture and entertainment that made your list. Stern and Goldstein don't have the liberal cachet of Flynt or Madonna, I guess.

Robert Goodman
Bronx, NY

I just completed reading your article on the 35 heroes of freedom since reason's founding. While I enjoyed the article, I noticed two glaring omissions from your list: Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard. I understand there wasn't room for everyone on the list, but these two men are giants of modern libertarianism.

Nozick accomplished the previously unthinkable when he made libertarianism philosophically acceptable in the academy by publishing Anarchy, State, and Utopia. As for Rothbard, there is probably no one except for Ayn Rand who brought so many people into the libertarian movement, and there is probably no one who has done more for the building of libertarian institutions. Personally, I have found no greater tool in my outreach to friends and neighbors than Rothbard's For a New Liberty.

John Payne
St. Louis, MO

I nominate Greg Ginn of the seminal punk rock group Black Flag and, more important, founder of SST Records, one of the first and most successful of the new breed of independent record labels that transformed the American musical landscape in the 1980s. By bringing a new generation of American rock 'n' roll to a young audience bored with outdated baby boomer butt-rock bands in the '80s, SST was critical in the development of the indie rock DIY movement and brought needed authenticity back to the notion of "rock stardom." Lots of young punks cursed the bane of corporate rock. Ginn actually did something about it.

Rob Salkowitz
Seattle, WA

Kudos for including Curt Flood on the list. But come on guys, including Goldwater, Thatcher, and Havel without the guy who did the most to bring down communism—a fellow named Reagan—is like having Peter, James, and John without Jesus.

Paul Trampe
Fredericksburg, VA

Poor Man's Hero

It is fine for Johan Norberg to say "people are dying" because of the West's trade policies ("Poor Man's Hero," December), but he seems to have missed the point of the various successes he cites: The poor countries have something to do with making it work.

Norberg tells us that Taiwan, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore have achieved success by going global and developing broad-based economies and that Kenya is now moving in a similar direction. Good for them. But shouldn't their success provide a model for those countries that slavishly adhere to inefficient economic policies? Could he at least tell us why those countries maintain outmoded systems when they, too, could make significant transformations?

Finally, Norberg is too sanguine about the pain suffered when jobs disappear, destined to reappear in cheaper economies. While he did express concern, it was almost pro forma, without any suggestion about how the pain might be minimized. It is, after all, the pain of economic disruption that produces much of the resistance to globalization.

Bertram H. Rothschild
Aurora, CO

Bob Barr, Civil Libertarian

"Bob Barr doesn't fit most people's image of a civil libertarian," writes Jesse Walker ("Bob Barr, Civil Libertarian," December).

I'll say. He certainly hasn't struck the Libertarian Party that way. In fact, the L.P. found Barr's record in Congress to be so odious that it specifically—and successfully—targeted him for defeat in his most recent race. I do not dispute Walker's claim that Barr has done his share on behalf of civil liberties. Unfortunately, I also have been forced to conclude at this point that his cheerleading for the drug war has been so vociferous and so relentless that it more than cancels out whatever good he has done.

Like many conservatives, Barr clearly believes that there should be a "drug exception" to the Constitution and Bill of Rights and that this exception can somehow be codified in laws that mete out punishment to (illicit) drug users and traffickers with draconian efficiency while leaving everyone else free to go about their business. It's a big lie and always has been. That Barr believes it so passionately, even as he talks up liberty and occasionally fights on its side, may make him an interesting tragic figure. But a civil libertarian? No. Sorry, but no.

Ethan Straffin
Palo Alto, CA