The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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The Economics of Intolerance

EconomicsPosted by Nico Metten Thu, July 16, 2015 12:37:28
Libertarianism is advocating to maximize the liberty of individuals. The idea is that every person should have the right to be left alone as much as that is practically possible. Originally, I was under the impression that Libertarians must be people who have a lot of faith in human beings. That is because, one of the major arguments against liberty seems to be that a lot of people are simply not fit to make their own decisions in every aspect of their lives. They need to be forced or at least guided with some mild pressure to make the right choices. While libertarians will be quick to admit that people are not infallible and not all of them are decent, they nevertheless believe that even a superior elite group, or a single genius, cannot get the right personal choice better for the average or even below average person than the person can for themselves. They also believe that there are only a small amount of potential or real trouble makers. The vast majority of humans are basically good, trustworthy people. This to me, seems to be a very positive and optimistic view of humans.

Over the years however, I came to notice that libertarianism does seem to attract some people who are not particularity positive about humans in general. Their attraction to liberty seems to be two things. Firstly, they are attracted to the idea of liberty allowing them to reject others so they do not have to deal with a lot of humans that they do not like. In other words, it is the ability to dodge others, to be intolerant of those that they do not like, that is attracting some people to libertarian ideas. And secondly, they seem to have come up with the idea that economic forces will be an even stronger restrain on people's behavior than the state. In other words, they paint the picture of a libertarian society being mostly homogenous and conservative.

Their arguments never made much sense to me and I am going to explain why. I am going to argue that a libertarian society will most likely be very colorful and multicultural.

Let us start with the first argument that liberty is about the right to discriminate. It seems clear that we can only have absolute unrestricted liberty in a world of superabundance. But since we live in a world of scarcity, it is inevitable that our liberty will be limited by the liberty of others. What is the best way of maximizing the ability of people to be left alone in a world of scarcity? The libertarian answer to that is to grant people certain property rights. Only with these property rights, it seems possible to practically leave people alone at least to some degree. With property, I am at least able to do what I like with a small part of the real world, most importantly with my own body and life. Without property I would not be able to make any decision without asking all other people interested in the same property for permission first. Therefore, it seems correct to assume that property really does maximize liberty.

From this, the intolerance crowd will follow, “see, liberty is all about discrimination, therefore a libertarian society will see more of it”. Well, not so fast. Just because in principal you can do something, does not mean that it is always a good idea. Yes, it is absolutely true that liberty entails the right of people to exclude others from their property or business activity for very shallow reasons. But then liberty gives you the right to do all kinds of things. You could restrain from showering and being polite to other people. But from that does not follow that this is a good survival strategy. I would suspect that it is probably not.

People who stress the ability to intolerance through property overlook the fact that property is not absolute liberty. It is merely a strategy to maximize liberty in an otherwise scarce world. As such it also demands a lot of tolerance. While it is true that you can use your property in any way you like, it is part of the property deal that you absolutely respect other people to do the same with their property. That means that you can for example prohibit people from burning the Koran on your property, but you also must not interfere if your neighbor is doing something like that on his. This might not be an easy thing to do. Liberty therefore clearly demands tolerance from people.

Our well being as individuals very much depends on the cooperation of us with other humans on this planet. And the larger the amount of people we are cooperating with the better, in other words the larger the market in which we take part, the better off we are. This is causing a few problems to intolerant people. First, if you really do not want to be confronted with things that you find hard to tolerate, you will have to do more than just own a small piece of property. You will have to find a way to legitimately control your whole neighborhood. There are of course ways of doing that. But no matter how you do it, whether you are buying up all the properties in your neighborhood or join a gated community, the costs for this lifestyle will be higher than for people who are more relaxed about their neighbors. And the more intolerant you are, the further away from other people you will have to move, or the higher walls you will have to establish around you. This however drives up the costs to cooperate with others. This is the reason, why so many people are living in crowded cities. Having a large amount of diverse people around you, opens up a lot of possibilities. That means it is economically costly to pursue an intolerant lifestyle. Sure in a free market, everything will likely become cheaper as productivity rises. But the relative economic disadvantage compared to people who are tolerant remains.

And there is more economic disadvantage. Say you are running a company and you are a racist. In that case you are excluding a lot of potentially helpful people from your business. That should cause you disadvantages compared to a competition that is more open minded. There is a reason why racist societies force people to be intolerant by law. Left on their own, most people quickly start realizing that hatred is not a very attractive philosophy.

What about the claim that a libertarian society will likely see more conservative lifestyles. I don't find this completely convincing either. I think conservatives are right in one aspect. Cooperation on a free market demands responsibility. So some of the irresponsible behavior we see being produced by the welfare state will likely go away. On the other hand however, markets are known to produce a lot of wealth. And particularly creative people are doing well on free markets compared to rigid bureaucratic structures. If people are more wealthy they are less dependent on others approving of their lifestyle. In other words, free markets tent to benefit individualism.

This can be seen historically. For example, to my knowledge it was not so much feminism or the welfare state that made women independent from their husbands. It was the industrial revolution. Factory owners often paid for facilities where mothers could leave their children while at work. That way they had access to their labor, which was needed. Or mothers were earning enough to pay for child care themselves. So it was the wealth production of free markets that allowed women to break out of conservative family structures.

I cannot see much basis for the idea that liberty is about intolerance or that a libertarian society has to be conservative. This seems to be wishful thinking from some libertarians. If that is true, then the question arises, are they really libertarians or are they people who see libertarianism as a means to achieve very different ends? And if the latter is true, are they trustworthy to stick with liberty even if liberty appears to produce different results?

I think a good test to answer these questions is state immigration controls. Are libertarians willing to support getting the state out of the way of the free movement of people or not. It seems to me that people who are arguing in favor of state immigration controls give away that they really are more interested in their conservative/racist idea of a society than in liberty. And they seem to sense that it really needs the state to produce this result. If we get the state out of the way, we will likely see an increase in multiculturalism. The economic incentive of people to mix seems too large.

Since this is not a result that these libertarians expected, they are quick to proclaim that really this is all due to other state policies like non-discrimination legislature or the welfare state. But this is an odd argument in many ways. While these policies are indeed anti-libertarian and have to go, there does not seem to be much evidence that supports the idea that they have a big influence on immigration. At least no were near enough to support the idea that without them, we would not see a lot of movement of people from all over the world. And regardless of how many people will end up moving, it seems false to argue that the state cannot be rolled back unconditionally, as that would lead to problems. That argument can be used to prevent any rollback, as almost any abolition of a policy will cause some trouble for some people. So if this argument sticks, we will be stuck with the status quo forever. No, if the abolition of one policy causes problems with other policies in place, then we just need to abolish more state until the state is no more.

For all these reasons I personally remain skeptical of people who are interested in liberty because it promises them intolerance. Of course it is good when people are interested in libertarianism and want to call themselves libertarians. Any common ground is a basis for debate. However, I don't know how much I can trust them when it comes to the fight for liberty. I also don't believe this image of liberty is helpful to spread the message. We are sharing this planet with a lot of people. And we will have to find a way to live peacefully with them. Our standard of living is also very dependent on a maximum of collaboration with others. I therefore consider tolerance to be an important value. Intolerance simply does not seem to be a good survival strategy. But tolerance can be difficult. It needs to be learned. That will take some training. Telling people that it is perfectly fine to be intolerant is therefore not very helpful.

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Lots of PC controvery

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Mon, June 22, 2015 18:04:47

A weekend of Politically Correct [PC] controversy

What PC controversy the weekend of the third week of June 2015.

We have the continuing reaction of some scientists to the PC anti-sexism against Tim Hunt, for they seem to be attempting to have tolerance instead of strict Politically Correct [PC] equality rules in science, the pro-PC report in the top science journal, Science, on no hiatus in global warming, as they say that, all along the eighteen or so years, there has been a lot of error in the way the data was collected, and this report is just in time to aid the new Green campaign of the current Pope.

Then we have the asking of whether Rachel Dolezal has the right to call herself black, then, later in the week, the very odd question of whether the terrorist who shot the nine people in a church in an attempt to start a race hate war in Charleston USA was truly a terrorist, or not.

Then there is the BBC licence fee coming up for the “left” leaning BBC, though the free access, or price free, London Evening Standard makes it look moderate, but then it could be catering to London, where the Labourites actually won in last May’s General Election, together with the supposed voices appearing in the head of Jeremy Clarkson on being offered his job back, though the BBC aired advertisements all week for his due grand new series, despite its claims never to ever advertise. Tony Hall, the Chief Executive Officer or Director General of the BBC said on Sunday, 21 June 2015 on The Andrew Marr Show that he had not changed his mind since he regretfully parted with Clarkson, but he confessed that he did not know that others might have reopened the offer, and he said nothing about those advertisements, or programme trailers, nor did Marr.

David Cameron’s speech on extremism, that Muslims feel is the position of The Daily Mail but against them, the week-long repeated media of press articles, TV and radio programmes enquiry as to why so many Muslims liked jihad, and why they often liked ISIS too.

Thousands were said to be marching in London, against what they call “austerity”, where Jeremy Corbyn MP, the new star, or so some Labour MPs imagine, says he is due to tell them that austerity obfuscates inequality. Corbyn is said by many to have emerged as a star in the staged Labour Leadership campaign that began earlier this week at Nuneaton, shown on BBC2 at 7pm on Wednesday 17 June and discussed at 10:30pm and in the press the next day. It was the first of many meetings in constituencies that Labour needed and were expected to win in May 2015. On Saturday, the meeting was held in Stevenage, where the Tories increased their share of the vote instead of falling to Labour. At the first meeting, all the reporters credited Liz Kendall as replying to Andy Burnham, who had said that the Party matters most of all, that the country mattered far more than the party. But most of the applause was for Jeremy Corbyn at that, and also at subsequent meetings, like that of the following Saturday in Stevenage, so he has, now, emerged as a star, with younger Labour MPs thinking he might even be the next leader and saying so on The Sunday Politics, such as Clive Lewis, as well as older ones like Diane Abbott.

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Let's do something!

PoliticsPosted by Nico Metten Fri, June 05, 2015 16:21:39
If you attend a lot of libertarian gatherings, you will start feeling like everything talked about is very repetitive. Every argument being made sounds familiar and if someone new might show up you can predict what their objections are going to be. Nevertheless, I am not really getting tired of them for a number of reasons. There is the psychological aspect of feeling sane and understood. I know a lot of libertarians who come to meetings for this reason alone, as it is an experience in contrast to what they are experiencing in their normal environment. And sometimes you might actually come across an interesting viewpoint that you have not heart before. So despite all the repetition, you might actually learn something. In any case, arguing a lot, even if repetitive, certainly trains you in making your points in other debates. In the end it helps spreading libertarian ideas.

But there is a series of talks that come up fairly regularly that annoyed me from the first time I attended one of them. It is a series that I would like to call 'Let's do something'. The 'Let's do Something' talks follow a common structure. Whoever gives the talk will start by saying that he or she has observed that libertarians are arguing too much and spend a lot of time with books. That is all nice and well, but he or she has decided that now the time has come to stop this childish complaining and take real action instead.

The proposal to 'do something' is always presented as some kind of fantastic new break through idea that obviously a lot of libertarians could not come up with themselves. And the moment the words 'Let's do something' have been uttered you will find some libertarians getting overly excited. From this moment, they do not let any argument count, as arguing looks like falling back into the childish complaining status. As a result, any proposal following these words will be seen as worth supporting and superior to talking.

Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of taking action. So are most if not all Libertarians. One topic that is reliably discussed on every libertarian gathering is, how do we get to a libertarian society or at least, how do I get the state out of my life. Libertarians are spending a lot of time trying to figure out a solution to the state problem. However, this problem, not surprisingly turns out to be a very difficult problem to solve. If the power of the state was so fragile that all it needed to topple it was for some people to get together and 'do something' it would have gone away a long time ago.

Having said that, there are some strategies that libertarians have come up with that actually might get us to a libertarian society in the long run. However, the remarkable thing about the 'Let's do something' talks is that they are consistently disappointing in coming up with persuasive solutions. People who start their talks with 'Let's do something' will usually not tell you about strategies like agorism, how to reduce your tax burden, how to use alternative currencies or stop the state from spying on you. No, none of that. People who start their talks dismissing debate and demanding action fairly reliably will give you the proposal to get involved in politics one way or another.

The most common one is to propose a new libertarian party. “Hey guys, a lot of you are just sitting around debating. But a few of us have decided to grow up and we have founded this new libertarian party that will change things in this country”. Sorry mate, but this is not new. It has been tried many times with not very persuasive results. So why come up with the same old non solution?

The last talk in this series that I attended and that inspired me to write this piece was from an MEP of the Tory party who somehow is sympathetic to classical liberalism. Becoming an MEP I guess was his idea of doing something. I could not quite figure out how this action is helping, but then again if I were to fight MEPs I should probably start with the less libertarian ones. At least he seemed like a sincere guy. Although, he did have this typical talking style of a politician of being deliberately vague to please as many listeners as possible.

He thought one of the big problems of libertarianism is that they don't have a good answer to the problem of poverty. They are just assuming that the poor will be better off in a free market, without delivering any proof for it. That is why people do not understand the libertarian solution. So instead of talking, libertarians should practically show how the market helps the poor. He proposed going into the community and help poor people run their own businesses. An example he gave was, how he helped a drug dealer using his entrepreneurial skills to now run a sandwich shop instead.

This proposal is odd on many levels. First it smells a lot like central planning for politicians to go around and tell people how to run their businesses. It does not need the guidance of the state to run businesses. Maybe the drug dealer is now better off selling sandwiches, or maybe not. I don't have a principal problem with either one of those businesses. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how getting him into the sandwich making business is helping Libertarianism. No tax has been reduced, no regulation has been abolished. The structural problem of the state remains. I told him that, but his answer was that regulations, while nasty are not the main problem. There are still many entrepreneurs who succeed in a statist environment. So the problem has to be the attitude of people.

True, people in state education are systematically educated to be irresponsible. But then again, that is a structural problem of state education and the welfare state. To say that regulations are not the main problem, is a dangerously wrong analysis of why the standard of living of so many people is going down. True, there are successful entrepreneurs in this statist environment. Some people are so productive that even after all the taxation and regulations they still are able to run a profitable business. But these are strong people. This is exactly not a solution for the poor, who tend to be a little bit less skilled. The less skilled a person is, the more likely every stone you put into his or her way will kill his or her ability to run a profitable business. It is exactly the poor who are most dependent on us solving the structural problem of the state, for they are the first to suffer under it. And btw isn't 'not letting you being put off by regulations' exactly what drug dealer are doing? Here you can see, how regulations are helping the strong. They get even richer than they deserve to be, because the state has killed the competition.

It is indeed unfortunate, that economics can be counter intuitive, as one needs to understand that a lot of consequences are not directly visible. And to be honest, my suspicion was that the MEP did not fully understand that himself. He seemed to suggest that poor people really are benefiting from the state. Of course it is not intuitively clear why poor people are better off if the welfare state stops giving them money. But it is nevertheless true and therefore there is no alternative to spreading this idea. If you do not spread the idea, whatever actions you take could still produce non libertarian results.

Which brings me to the biggest fallacy of the 'do something' philosophy. Ideas are not useless chit chat. They are the most powerful weapon this movement has. Therefore, spreading propaganda very much qualifies as doing something. And it is probably the best thing most people are able to do. If we look throughout history we see the powers of ideas everywhere. For example, how did democracy or socialism become so powerful? They started out as ideas of a few nutters. These ideas slowly started to grow before their time finally had come. That is why you cannot just implement a democracy in countries that never had any democratic process. People do not yet understand the idea.

Because ideas are so powerful, you will find strong forms of censorship in every dictatorial system. The reason why a country like North Korea is so cut off from everything is not because they fear the nice consumer products from the rest of the world. Their real fear is that ideas will come over and topple the regime.

Ideas are also the foundation of actions. If someone acts against the state he first needs to identify the state as a problem. There might be some people out there who are really able to do something great against the state. But first they need to understand that the state is a problem. Whoever invented the block chain for example certainly was influenced by libertarian thoughts. With these ideas in mind, he then realized that he had some skills that could be turned into action. If it was not for libertarian propaganda, this might have never happened.

In my experience it is not that libertarians are too lazy to act. They are more than willing to do so. But that does not mean they have big opportunities to do so. Most people find small opportunities to increase the amount of freedom in their lives. Few are capable of inventing something big like Bitcoin. I certainly could not have done that. But I don't have to. The division of labor also works for Libertarianism. The best thing most of us can do is to spread ideas, so that those with the exceptional skills to act on it can be influence by libertarianism.

The problem with ideas is that they don't show immediate results. You will not step in front of a crowd of statists, explain libertarianism to them and see them collectively saying 'I was blind, but now I see'. Whether people are listening to you depends on many things like their motivation, their age, intelligence, personality etc. Not everyone can be persuaded and it is a slow process. That makes ideas very annoying for impatient people. They start concluding that spreading ideas is a hopeless exercise. It also makes you feel like you are not in control of the process. However, there does not seem to be a real alternative to ideas if you want social change.

If your ideas are correct and attractive, they will sooner or later win followers. The good thing about ideas is that once they pick up steam, they can grow exponentially. We also don't need to win over everyone. A lethal doses of ideas for the state is far below the threshold of persuading everyone. We just need a significant number of the right people. So let's not complain about people not doing anything. Everyone does what they can do best, just like in the rest of the economy. But one thing that really everyone can do is to continue spreading ideas.

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Is this the end of the Labour Party?

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Fri, May 15, 2015 21:12:24

Are the prospects of the Labour Party to ever rule again now dead?

In Spike, Mick Hume says the election destroyed Labour! Hyperbole? Yes, for it still is the second largest party in the House of Commons. But can it ever win power again? The loss of Scotland makes this question way more pertinent than at any time in the Labour Party’s history. It now looks as if Labour has locked itself out of Scotland and if that is the case then it truly might mean that Labour never wins a UK election again.

It is the way that Labour got thrown out of Scotland that makes a comeback difficult. But in any case, as so many others have said, Scotland was encouraged by Labour in the past to go in for an unrealistic amount of welfare, as Greece did in milking Germany but it was to a much lesser extent milking England by the Barnet formula, that Joel Barnet himself has repudiated, but the SNP under a clear pretence of independence, held the EU gave it Germany as a much better cow to milk if ever it got free of England. But the Greeks, who, despite the wonderful Scottish Enlightenment, courted a fondness in Germany with a far greater cultural heritage of 2500 years back, nevertheless Greece queered the pitch with the Germans not only for themselves but for the Scotch too, in the future, for they ensured the Germans were bitten hard enough to make them more than merely twice shy. But the SNP tend to overlook that.

Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867) held that the largely tacit, or unwritten, constitution had its ornamental and functional parts. There are two sorts of politics, ideological and practical. The major parties are largely concerned to be practical, but ideology itself has some practical or functional parts. If we go back to the UK of the 1960s and 1970s, the two major parties had their ideologues as well as their parties, the Labour Party had Tony Benn as an ideologue as well as a practical Minister for Technology where and when he took advice from the civil servants of the time, that had little bearing on his ideological aspect, though it would need to be roughly compatible with it, if both were to flourish.

Dr Johnson set out to gauge the difference between the Whigs and the Tories in the eighteenth century whilst Sir Robert Walpole was, what historians today agree was the first Prime Minister, up to 1742. When others took over, Dr Johnson was rather surprised that they adopted many of the same positions, apart from opposition to war, as Walpole had taken. There was then, as since, a practical continuity between supposedly distinct ideological administrations that tended to share the same experts in the civil service that may not have been somewhat immune to fashion or to ideology as they were supposed to be, but whom certainly saw themselves as mainly practical or functional. Ideology or fashion was, for the most part, if ever quite completely, ornamental rather than functional.

So we might see that quite a bit of this ideological clash that usually takes place between the two major parties, if not all of it, is ornamental rather than functional. However, it can become rather unrealistically tribal with some politicians and it has tended to do so with the Labourites a bit more than with the Tories. In Scotland it emerged that the Labourites demonised the Tories quite successfully, especially after the rise of Mrs Thatcher, whom many in Scotland detested. They successfully ran the Tories out of Scotland by such demonization. But when Blair, later, adopted many of the Tories policies, as so many parties do in the UK’s two party system, this allowed the SNP to say that the Labourites were quasi-Tories, so they were as bad as they themselves had earlier said that the Tories were. This allowed them to see off the Labourites on their own anti-Tory demonization culture. But it is not going to be an easy culture for future Labourites to counter, as the SNP have no need to adopt any earlier policy changes from the Tories. So it looks like Labour have lost Scotland and that some new opposition might rise there against the SNP rather than ever again either Labour or the Tories. Will Scottish Labour do it? It failed to do so this time, and it might never do it. It does not look easy. It is not impossible but nor is it an ordinary setback.

The Economist holds that the Labourites have a threefold task against the SNP in Scotland, the UKIP in the north of England and the Tories in the south [Friday, 15 May 2015 (p30)] but though the three clash the real problem is in Scotland with SNP. Labour has never won without Scotland before and maybe they cannot do it.

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Beverly Hills Tale

ArtsPosted by David Ramsay Steele Mon, May 04, 2015 22:15:30

I composed this little tale about fifteen years ago, and sent it to a couple of magazines which promptly rejected it. I then forgot about it until recently and thought of sending it to a few more, but upon re-reading it I see it is out of date in many ways but not yet ancient enough for retro appeal (“zero cool” still had a gleam at the time, but is now covered in verdigris). My first thought was that I might update it, but that would actually be a lot of work and I might never get around to it. So rather than just waste it entirely, I’m sticking it here.

I’ve never been to Beverly Hills, except in the sense that we all have.




Lucy moved all her stuff into Dan’s old office. The last item she carried in was the “Under urgent consideration” pile of current scripts. She placed this in the tray on the left of her desk, then gazed with satisfaction at the Sony Pentium notebook, the phone, the bowl of polished stones, the herbal bouquet, and the purplish black candle in the little silver candlestick. This desk would never look so tidy again, until maybe, a couple years down the road, she had her next major promotion, probably to president of the agency. And then someone else would take over from her the office she had now taken over from Dan.

The phone rang. It was Fiona in Human Resources. “Lucy, I have an Officer Martinez here, from the police. Do you have a minute to talk with him? It’s about Dan.”

Ninety seconds later, Fiona appeared at the office door, with a young man, single by the look of it, who was wearing, not a police uniform, but a gray-green jacket and aqua shirt which went quite well with his dark skin tone. Not bad, thought Lucy.

This being her first day, in fact her first five minutes, in her new office, she had a choice of uncluttered chairs to offer Martinez. He was looking at her Welsh brooch.

“Is that . . .?”

“A spiritual symbol. Would you be a spiritual person?”

“No.” And then by way of explanation: “Catholic.”


“Just a few points we need to clarify. This was Daniel Zegarac’s office? Ms. McGregor informs me you now have Mr. Zegarac’s job.”

Martinez’s black eyes darted about like a snake’s tongue. Lucy had been looking forward to a few minutes alone to gloat over her new corner office with the zero cool view and enough bookshelf space to encompass a basic herb garden in seven earthenware pots. It might have been better to have seen the cop in a conference room.

Martinez asked a few general questions about Dan and quite naturally slipped in a few about Lucy. She explained the nature of Dan’s job, now her job. She gave Martinez her routine little chat about the work of the agency, representing creative talent in the Hollywood jungle, getting the most promising scripts to the right people in the studios. Fiona should have taken care of this.

She vaguely wondered why the police were interested at all. Maybe they needed to rule out suicide for insurance purposes, though if she’d considered it seriously, she’d have known that wouldn’t be police business.

Martinez paused and Lucy picked up a hint of awkwardness. She thought she knew what he would say next. She almost helped him along by inquiring “Just what kind of a script is it?”

But she was mistaken. Martinez was not about to mention his screenplay, or his girlfriend’s or brother-in-law’s screenplay.

He said: “We now believe that Daniel Zegarac’s death was not accidental. Mr. Zegarac was murdered.”

His eyes had stopped their restless flickering. They were fixed on Lucy’s face. What he saw there was an instant of pure, unfeigned astonishment.

“We were told it was an accident,” said Lucy. “Wasn’t he working on a boat?”

“He was building a yacht. He fell and broke his neck. Since the autopsy, we now believe someone gave him a push.”

Deftly massaging the truth was second nature to Detective Martinez. He didn’t explain that a witness had seen someone leaving Dan Zegarac’s place close to the time of his fatal fall, and only because of that had the police and the coroner looked more closely for signs of foul play. There was nothing in the autopsy report to definitely indicate homicide. Once they looked, however, they found details of the fatal scene that were atypical in this kind of accident.

She said: “Wow, that’s . . . Why would anyone kill Dan? You have any idea who did it?”

Fortunately, Lucy had not yet put up her movie festival posters. Martinez was sitting in front of a plain peach wall, which made it child’s play to scrutinize his aura. Applying her well-honed technique, she could instantly make out that this aura had blue and turquoise points. Not a man to be taken lightly, but no signs of unusual potency, at least not of a spiritual kind. Years of experience had taught her that by a little deeper concentration she could see beyond the immediate manifestation, to a faint kind of secondary aura, invisible to all save the most spiritually discerning. She perceived a thin brown smoke, some underlying ominous quality, an emanation of violence. Not surprising in a homicide detective, given the kinds of experiences he must be familiar with almost daily. This whole analysis took less than two seconds. Lucy was very good at it.

“It’s early in the investigation,” said Martinez. How well did you know him? Would you know if he had any enemies?”

“Not really. Not that I can think of. A lot of people around here didn’t like him, but not enough to . . . want to hurt him.”

“Not mixed up in anything shady? Drugs or anything like that?” The purpose of this question was to ascertain whether Lucy would snatch the opportunity to send him off in an irrelevant direction; she merely shook her head.

“Did you personally like him? Did you get on well with him?”

He made my life a misery. When I heard about the accident, I felt like celebrating. “Dan could be very trying. We had our issues, work-related issues. But . . . I was just appalled that he died. I couldn’t believe it. I was really upset. We all were.” If Martinez had not already been informed that she had loathed Dan and fought him bitterly over the recent negotiations with Bernstein at Columbia TriStar, someone was sure to tell him.

“Okay.” Martinez made a slight movement in his chair, a hint that he was about to get up and leave. “Uh, one last thing. This is a routine question we have to ask everyone. Where were you on the night of May 6th?”

She checked her palm pilot. Nothing on that night.

“I must have been at home watching TV. Yeah, I’m sure I was. Then in bed. Asleep.”

“Alone all the time?”

“Totally.” She pulled a mock-dismayed face and added: “No alibi.”

Martinez didn’t smile, but his voice was soft enough to perhaps indicate sympathy. “It’s routine. We have to check on everyone.”

Not so routine was the call she took from Detective Martinez a few days later. He asked her to stop by police headquarters. He was ready to say that she needed to be there to look at an artist’s sketch of the person seen leaving the scene of the homicide. Surprisingly, she agreed to be there, without any need to invoke this contrived rationale.

When she showed at headquarters, Martinez had more questions of a general nature. Then: “Would you say you’ve been lucky in your career?”

Uh oh. “Some good luck. Some bad luck. A whole lot of hard work.”

“As a matter of fact, you’ve had some lucky breaks.”

Lucy guessed what was coming next. So they’ve noticed. Well, they can’t know anything. And even if they did, what could they do about it?

“As I look at the trajectory of your career, I see you’ve had three big breaks. And each one of those lucky breaks has been precipitated by the death of a colleague.” Trajectory. Precipitated. Definitely has a screenplay.

Lucy felt slightly dazed but not anxious. If she’d been even moderately perturbed she’d have gone straight into Great Pan breathing for serenity of soul, but this hadn’t been necessary.

Martinez said: “Quite a coincidence.” He paused and looked around the room in an oddly unfocussed way. Lucy abruptly knew that colleagues of Martinez were watching her reactions from an adjacent room and—of course—videotaping them. Weren’t they supposed to warn you in advance when they did that? Or at least tell you they considered you a suspect? This is so LAPD. Either they would swear under oath that they had warned her, or, if they thought they had a case against her—not that this could ever happen—they’d swear that not informing her was a careless and deeply regretted slip.

Martinez had Lucy’s basic bio on a sheet of paper, and was checking off each item. Yes, in her previous job she had worked for the Tom Davenport agency. Yes, twelve years ago she had been assistant to Mary Nolan. She got on badly with Nolan, who had recommended that Lucy be canned.

“Business was bad,” Lucy recalled. “They were looking for headcount reductions.”

“Nolan’s body turned up in her swimming pool. So they got themselves a headcount reduction.” Martinez kept the irony out of his voice. He didn’t reveal that the drowning had been viewed at the time as suspicious and a police report had been generated. An unidentified DNA sample was on file. The report was inconclusive and the investigation had been shelved.

Lucy had taken over Mary’s job, an arrangement that was eventually made permanent. When business improved she got her own assistant.

Five years later, Lucy’s boss at Davenport was Eddie McInerny. Though she had been Eddie’s protégé—Martinez didn’t yet know she had also been his mistress—their relationship soured and they held sharply opposed views on the future direction of the agency.

McInerny’s house burned down. Something fatty had been left simmering on a kitchen stove. He slept through the thickening fumes and was dead of smoke inhalation before his flesh began to char. The body contained traces of cocaine and three other controlled substances.

“He could have been zonked on drugs and forgotten to turn off the stove. Or he could have had help.” Help with the zonking or help with the fire, or both. Still, there was no proof this wasn’t a typical accidental blaze.

So here was a second apparently accidental death of a colleague with whom Lucy had developed an acrimonious relationship. A second career boost, as it turned out, for Lucy had quickly concluded the deal that Eddie had been working on, the deal that turned the Davenport Agency around.

Opinions might differ on whether two deaths and two career boosts were or were not an extraordinary coincidence. Subsequently Lucy, with a number of lucrative movie deals to her credit, had moved into a senior position at the Paulsen Creative Talent Agency. And after five years here, bingo, we have a third seemingly accidental death of a colleague who clashed with Lucy, who quarreled with Lucy, and whose removal would likely help Lucy. Surely this is beyond ordinary coincidence.

Martinez had read about individuals who’d been struck by lightning on three separate occasions. Astounding coincidences could happen, were bound to happen once in a while. Or perhaps some persons had physical qualities or chosen habits that made them unusually likely to be struck by lightning. Could there possibly be people whose personal qualities made it fatal for others to get in their way? Detective Martinez didn’t think so. He was open-minded but not unduly credulous.

Martinez was an excellent listener.

“Yes. I did a good job,” Lucy was saying. “You can’t say I’ve coasted to the top by wasting the competition.” She didn’t intend to sound amused, but a little of that came through.

Martinez was thoughtful: “It could be fifty percent job performance and fifty percent luck.” He might have been speaking of his own career in the police department. “A person could do okay on job performance and still decide on some pro-active interventions to improve the odds.”

Even as he said this, Martinez couldn’t make himself believe it. The story just wouldn’t walk, it wouldn’t bark, it wouldn’t wag its tail. And whether he believed it or not, no one in the DA’s office would want to parade it on a leash in front of a jury. Some link had to be found between Lucy Armstrong and the death scenes. So far, nothing.

Looking at her soft countenance, long red hair, and nicely curved figure, Martinez briefly considered the possibility he was mentally exonerating her because he liked the look of her. He didn’t think so. Only six months before, he had not hesitated to pursue and arrest the mouth-watering Mrs. Mulligan, who had quite understandably, after more than ample provocation, hired a contract killer to dispose of her exasperating but well-insured husband.

Martinez could have placed Lucy as a serial murderer if she’d worn tight black pants, cropped hair, a leaner physique, a bonier face. Or, given her actual persona, if Nolan, McInerny, and Zegarac had been poisoned. Any type of person might commit murder, but he couldn’t see Lucy sneaking out to Zegarac’s house at dead of night and pushing him off a ladder. Also, the DNA found at the Nolan drowning was male. And the person seen leaving the Zegarac homicide scene was believed to be male.

Suppose pure coincidence is ruled out. Suppose also Lucy Armstrong did not kill these three people. What are we left with?

Lucy thought of mentioning that she’d been in Denver when Mary Nolan died, and in Paris when Eddie McInerny died. Did Martinez know that yet? He would find out about Europe first, then about Denver. Let him find out.

Martinez was trying a different approach. “You must have thought about this yourself. What did you think?”

A little shrug. “Coincidence?” There are no coincidences. Synchronicity is a law of nature, just like gravity. That was Zuleika, holding forth in her preachy way. Zuleika had been right about synchronicity, of course.

“Anyone else ever comment about this coincidence?”

One time, just before she’d left Davenport, when someone had gone quiet, tailed off in mid-sentence, and the other two people present had looked embarrassed. As though they had some knowledge in common—probably knowledge of a conversation in which they had speculated avidly about Lucy’s benefiting from two deaths in a row.

Then there was Laura. Laura had said: “So the spells worked, then.” Lightly enough to show she wasn’t concerned. Warmly enough that it could have been more than just a joke. Lucy smiled at the recollection.


He’s sharp. “Someone joked about it. Said the spells work.”


Why not? He can find out anyway. “I was into Wicca.” Blank stare from Martinez. “I belonged to a coven.”

“You’re a witch?”

“We called ourselves students of Wicca. This was a few years back. People around the office knew something about it. There were jokes.” Let the Cowans mock.

“You’re not into this anymore?”

“The coven was disbanded. I haven’t really kept it up.” Like the South Beach diet, except that she really hadn’t kept that up.

Disbanded. You could say the Spirits of Light Coven had been disbanded. Zuleika sputtering with rage, her lips positively frothing. “I offered you the world and you betrayed me, you loathsome creature, you rotten hypocrite.” Her Russian accent thickened as her adrenaline level rose. “Your pathetic little act is finished. You’re under my curse . . . yes, my curse!”

“You worshipped the Devil?” Martinez wanted to know.

A brief exhalation of amusement. The usual misconceptions. “Wicca has nothing to do with His Satanic Majesty. Really. It’s nature worship, not devil worship. Though I do know a couple devotees of Satan, and they’re, like, totally nice people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. . . .”

Lucy found herself parroting one of Zuleika’s set pieces: “Wicca sees the divine manifest in all creation. The cycles of nature are the holy days of Wicca, the earth is the temple of Wicca, all life-forms are its prophets and teachers. Wiccans respect life, cherish the free will of sentient beings, and acknowledge the sanctity of the environment.” That’s about all the Cowans need to know.

Martinez considered this. “So. Did you nature worshippers put spells on people you wanted out of the way?”

“We were so totally not about that. Wiccans believe for every action there’s a reaction. If you send out evil energy, it’ll return to you threefold.” Only if your enemy is protected by a sufficiently strong charm. “Using spells to coerce or injure is always evil.” But possible. And evil’s kind of a relative thing.

“Didn’t stick pins in voodoo dolls?”

The absurd preoccupation with physical props. “Oh no. I respect voodoo as an authentic grassroots religion of the Haitian people and an expression of community solidarity in the face of neo-colonialist exploitation.” Lucy had majored in Sociology at Berkeley. “Voodoo is a totally valid kind of folk tradition; Wicca is different.”

She didn’t mention that the Wicca tradition does involve acquiring some of the enemy’s hair or fingernails, and burning them over a black candle with appropriate incantations, on four consecutive nights when the Moon is waning. Let him do his own research. Why do I pay property taxes? But this was a portion of the tradition that she had repudiated, and the online record of her dispute with the Reverend Zuleika LeGrand would attest to that. In any case, it was all totally academic. The DA’s office was not going to indict anyone, in the twenty-first century, for casting spells.

The meeting had been a formality, the concluding handshake to months of negotiations. In the Paulsen Agency’s glass conference room, amid blue sky and green palms, business was over, the chit-chat was winding down, lunch was in the offing, and there came an unexpected voice.

“Ms. Armstrong, do you have a moment, please?” It was Martinez, standing in the doorway, lithe and springy on his feet.

Around the table were Paulsen’s president, Jay Maxwell, Bill Rescher from Public Relations, the writer Joss Whedon, and, in a rare appearance, the legendary Clyde Paulsen himself. Whedon would rewrite his story along the lines agreed to, and the agency would pay him half a million for the option.

“Just a couple of questions.” The voice was as gravely courteous as ever. Maxwell and Whedon didn’t seem to notice: Martinez might just as well be the limo driver. Rescher looked distinctly annoyed at the interruption. Paulsen appeared fascinated, but then, he always did.

Lucy found Martinez’s feeble ambush both mildly diverting and mildly irritating. For him to appear like this, without prior warning, while she was with other people, was a planned attempt to disconcert her. She was slightly embarrassed for him because it wasn’t very well done.

“How can I help you this time? Why don’t we go to my office?” A warm smile and a cheerful lilt, but in that moment Lucy decided this would be the last interview. Before saying goodbye to Martinez, she would let him know that all future communications had to go through her lawyer. One-on-oneing with Martinez had been fine, but she wouldn’t be Columboed, even ineffectually.

Over the next few weeks, Lucy’s attorney Steve Gordon heard from Martinez a couple of times with what seemed like trivial inquiries. Martinez appeared at the Paulsen offices more than once, and she heard of other people who had been questioned.

Laura was away in Cannes, lucky Laura. In the evenings, there seemed to be more squad cars than usual, making more commotion than usual, near Lucy’s condo. Before going to bed, she would call Laura—it was early morning in Cannes—and exchange reports. They would enjoy a good chuckle about agency office happenings, who was doing what to whom in Cannes, Laura’s own hair-raising adventures, Hollywood scuttlebutt, the hunk Martinez, and the strange investigation into Dan Zegarac’s demise.

The day before Laura was to get back in LA, Gordon took a call from a female cop named Bennett, asking to set up a meeting. Bennett said just enough to convince Gordon that his client was not a suspect, and that she would personally benefit from being present. When Gordon called Lucy, she immediately insisted on co-operating.

So here they were. The two cops, Lucy, and her lawyer.

“We requested this meeting,” said Bennett, “because of a few points we need to clarify, and because we have information Ms. Armstrong needs to be aware of. Let me say right away that Ms. Armstrong is not a suspect. We’re grateful to her for her co-operation. We do have a few questions for her. Then we’ll explain the latest developments in this case.”

Gordon turned to Lucy and was about to whisper something; she held up her hand and shook her head. “I’ll answer. Go ahead.” But don’t trust them.

Martinez asked: “How well do you know William Rescher?”

What the . . .? “I’ve known him for yea long. He was with Davenport.”

“You both worked at Davenport, and now you both work at Paulsen. He followed you here.”

“Yes. He joined us a year ago.”

“Do you know him well?”

“Don’t see much of him. He’s not involved directly with the talent side of the business.”

Bennett asked: “On May 4th, did you tell William Rescher you were leaving town for several days?”

Lucy remembered sharing an elevator ride with Bill. He’d asked her if she was leaving for the airport, “for that Nebraska thing.” She’d said yes. She had been selected as one of the judges at the new Nebraska festival. But the festival had been called off, some scandal about funds.

“I was in a hurry. Conversations with Bill tend to go on too long. I was taking a taxi to LAX but that was to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving for Europe. I didn’t want to take the time to get into the convoluted messy story of why the Nebraska festival was cancelled.”

There was actually a little more to it. She had lied on impulse, not just to save the time of explaining, but because she somehow instinctively didn’t want creepy Bill to know where she was or what she was doing.

It occurred to Lucy that if she’d gone to Nebraska as planned, she would have had a way solid alibi for all three deaths, not just the first two. Yet still the significance of this fact didn’t dawn on her.

“Did you ever date William Rescher?”

Where’s this going? “Yeah. A long time ago. That was, let me see now, twelve years ago.” The week after she started at Davenport. Bill was already there, and that’s where she had first met him.

“Who terminated the relationship?”

“There was no relationship.”

“Can you recall whether one of you wanted to go on dating, the other didn’t?”

“Oh, that would be him kind of wanting to go on, me wanting to stop.”

“He upset about that?”

She had given it barely a thought for twelve years, but now it came back to her. Bill had been younger and cuter then. She’d felt a bit mushy about being so brutal. God, there were tears in his eyes. He was all, “I can’t go on without you. You mean everything to me.” Sweet, at the time, but what a loser. Surely he got over it quickly. Four months later he married that anemic blonde at the front desk, was still married to her, as far as Lucy could remember.

Lucy’s next date was Brad Pitt. It was only once and that was six months before the release of Thelma and Louise, so he wasn’t big BO. But there was a picture in Hollywood Reporter. That kind of publicity never hurt an agency, and Eddie McInerny had been impressed. So much for Bill Rescher.

“William Rescher is in custody, said Bennett. “He has confessed to the murder of Daniel Zegarac.”

What? That’s way wacky.”

“He did it,” said Martinez. “We have independent corroboration.”

“He’s totally putting you on. Did he even know Dan?”

“You’re right. He barely knew him.” It was odd that Martinez said this as though it clinched the case against Rescher.

Lucy sensed that they were now getting to the whole point of the interview. What kind of a trick is this? Lucy was absolutely sure that Bill could not have killed Dan. This just had to be a smokescreen. But why?

Bennett cleared her throat and said: “Ms. Armstrong, we have to tell you . . . because this may cause you some embarrassment when he goes to trial. William Rescher committed murder because of you. He’s seriously . . . infatuated with you. He has been obsessively in love with you for fourteen years. His motive for killing Daniel Zegarac was to help you out.”

Lucy’s head was spinning. She instantly went into Great Pan breathing.

A long pause. Martinez asked, “Did you have any idea he felt this way about you?”

“But that’s just . . . He must be . . . totally out of his mind.”

Lucy was rapidly computing. Numerous little recollections of subtle oddities in Bill’s speech and behavior, at rare intervals over the past twelve years, suddenly made sense. What the police were telling her struck her with stunning force as true, even obviously true, a truth screaming for recognition.

Yet it had to be false, because it contradicted her certain knowledge that she could bring down her enemies by the sheer force of her mind. She knew perfectly well that she had deliberately caused the deaths of Mary Nolan, Eddie McInerny, and Dan Zegarac by her own unique magickal hexing power. Therefore, Bill Rescher could not have killed them.

“This must be a shock for you, and also disgusting, like a violation,” said Bennett, seeking to soften the blow by empathizing. “However the evidence is that you’ve been the center of William Rescher’s thoughts for the past fifteen years.

Don’t panic. Need to think. “You’re saying he did those other killings too?”

“He may never be charged with them, but . . . yes, we believe he did them.” Martinez chose not to reveal that a DNA trace from the Nolan death matched Bill Rescher. Rescher would be offered concessions for confessing to at least two of the three homicides, preferably all three. It didn’t matter anyway: Rescher would likely be acquitted by reason of insanity and incarcerated for life in a mental institution.

In kind of a vertigo, Lucy heard Bennett’s voice, as though from the other end of a long, winding corridor: “Did Rescher ever tell you what he did before he got into the agency business? He worked for an insurance company, investigating claims. Before that he’d been a small-town sheriff for a few years. He knew something about domestic accidents and crime scene investigations. So when he . . . developed this psychotic obsession about you, he could easily see a practical way to help you out.”

It took less than three minutes of turmoil for the mist to be dispelled, for the simple truth to shine forth in all its clarity, and for Lucy to feel once again completely in control. If Bill had directly engineered the deaths of Mary Nolan, Eddie McInerny, and Dan Zegarac, this showed, not that Lucy didn’t have the power to kill at a distance by the trained exercise of concentrated thought, but that this formidable power of hers worked through a human intermediary. Of course. She should have known it. Hadn’t she known it?

Zuleika had once said: “All occult powers work through the human world; all human powers work through the natural world.” Actually the gross old manatee had said this more than once. It was one of her irritating little sayings, as if she could have attained to some kind of privileged wisdom. At the time, of course, they had all hung on Zuleika’s every goddamn word.

All occult powers work through the human world, the mental world. It was true enough, and obvious enough, and therefore it was something Lucy must always have known. Of course Bill was besotted with her and consumed with the mission of serving her interests. Bill was an instrumentality of the hex.

Within a few seconds of this surprising thought, she began to feel that she had never been surprised at all. She conceived that she had been struck with fresh force by a fact she had always taken for granted. The only surprise, it now seemed to her, was the identity of the human agent. And she would soon begin to recall that she had known all along, on some deep level of her being, that it was Bill.

She could picture herself one day explaining the principle of the thing to Laura and a select inner circle of devoted followers: “What’s more in keeping with Wicca wisdom? That a witch might cause the death of an enemy by using mental power to make a ladder collapse? Or that a witch might cause the death of an enemy by influencing the mind of a third person who then kicks over the ladder?” The answer could be no less self-evident to Lucy and her followers than it had been to the sorry old fraud Zuleika.

Now Lucy had Bennett figured out. She was the kind of sympathetic cop who would be first choice to talk to a rape victim or to a witness who had seen a loved one blown away. Probably had a degree in social work.

Okay now, what would they expect me to say in this situation? “This is just awful,” Lucy wailed. “I thought I’d made it this far by my own efforts.”

“It would be unproductive to let that distress you.” Bennett’s tone was almost maternal. “Chance enters into everyone’s life. Many people fail to get the promotion they deserve because someone doesn’t like them, for instance. You didn’t ask Rescher to do any of the things he did. And as far as we can see, he was not mainly concerned about helping your career. It seems he was thinking that each of these victims, at the time, was getting you down, causing you severe emotional pain. The way he thought of it, he couldn’t bear to see you suffer.”

Detective Martinez felt good about the case. Everything, or almost everything, had clicked into place quite smoothly. A week after his first meeting with Lucy, he’d found she had a cast-iron alibi for the death of Dan Zegarac, an alibi she evidently didn’t even know about.

On the afternoon of May 6th, Jordan Pirelli, actuary, e-trader, body-builder, occasional model, and currently unbooked actor, had gone out of town leaving a faucet trickling in his jacuzzi. When wet stuff came through the ceilings of the condos below, the janitor, Frank Vucovic, had to make sure of the source of the flood. Since Pirelli was a security-minded person who had installed additional anti-theft devices, janitor Frank needed to have the fire department break into Pirelli’s condo through the window. Before going to such lengths, Frank wanted to be very sure of the source of the flooding, so he had called the neighboring apartment, Lucy Armstrong’s, at 12:30 in the morning, and when she answered and said she was still up, he had personally gone into her apartment, talked with her, and checked around for any signs of leakage. This had taken about a minute. It wasn’t remarkable that Lucy didn’t recall it—some people do forget unimportant occurrences in the few minutes before they fall asleep. Frank vividly remembered the whole sequence of events, which he was obliged to report in tiresome detail to the building management later that morning.

It was a perfect alibi. Not only did it place Lucy two hours away from the scene of the crime, it was also a purely chance event; there was no way she could have engineered it, certainly not with the required precise timing. This ruled out the possibility that she had arranged to provide herself with an alibi, knowing in advance that the murder would take place. It tended to eliminate her as an accomplice or accessory.

When Bill Rescher displayed an interest in the questioning of Lucy, Martinez, in a reflexive impulse to sow misdirection, hinted that she was the hot suspect. The calamitous look on Rescher’s face intrigued Martinez, who began to feed Rescher with suggestions that Lucy was the investigative target, and to ostentatiously pull her in for questioning. Then Martinez had staged his arrival at Paulsen to confront Lucy in Rescher’s company.

Bill’s pathetic eagerness that Lucy should come to no harm, skilfully manipulated by Martinez, had soon prompted Bill to confess to the killing of Dan Zegarac. Bill knew many details of the fatal scene. It was a couple of days before Martinez mentioned to him that he was also a suspect in the Nolan and McInerny killings. Once this matter was raised, Rescher became exceedingly cagey. He knew that Lucy had excellent alibis for those killings, so he had no motive to confess to them. Martinez had not yet informed him that DNA placed him at the scene of Mary Nolan’s drowning.

Hours of questioning of Rescher and of Lucy had convinced Martinez that they had not been working together. Rescher had acted alone and without anyone else’s knowledge.

There were no major loose ends. Something felt not quite right about Lucy’s failure to volunteer her alibis for the Nolan and McInerny deaths. But she was, after all, a deeply spiritual person, which Martinez quite benevolently took to mean: occasionally out to lunch and in need of a little practical guidance. For all her quick shrewdness, her mind could sometimes be way off someplace on a broomstick.

The Council of Thirteen, the trustees of the coven, were all there. Zuleika screeched: “You’re under my curse . . . yes, my curse!” and slapped Lucy’s face. The next few seconds of intense silence made that slap seem like the snapping of a bone, though some eye-witnesses later argued about whether any blow had actually landed. Lucy didn’t flinch but just glared. Most of the onlookers felt awkward as well as awed. Wiccans don’t talk much about curses, and when they cast them, the entire rigmarole is decorous and painstakingly slow. Yet Zuleika was Zuleika. The members were embarrassed but also filled with foreboding. They fully expected something bad to happen to the delinquent Lucy, though possibly not for years.

That night, Zuleika, never at a loss for captivating words, was paralyzed and rendered permanently speechless by a stroke. Within hours, self-effacing Ben Goldberg, Zuleika’s reliable lieutenant—and heir apparent now that Lucy had vacated this role—was hit by a truck and put out of action. From the following morning when she heard the news, Lucy never doubted her own awesome gift.

No member of the Spirits of Light Coven had any doubts about what these events signified. Lucy didn’t have to say anything. For a few days, she thought she might assume the throne vacated by Zuleika, but most of the members melted away. They were impressed, even intimidated, but having been Zuleika’s apostles they were not ready to switch allegiance to this disconcerting young witch. Only Laura remained. And then, over the years, contacts were made with a few more interested seekers: a new coven was discreetly in the making.

Martinez turned the steering wheel. Bulky shoulders and taut arms, an efficient instrument of justice. He spent some time in Dave’s Gym, no time in Dunkin’ Donuts. He wore a demeanor of solemn dignity like a ceremonial robe. His ancestors, Lucy divined, had been priests of Quetzalcoatl. They could be relied upon to hack out the hearts of an endless procession of sacrificial victims to gratify their ineffably potent god. Lucy was enough of a postmodernist to feel at home with her vision of this vanished mystical empire, with its pitiless established church ever thirsty for more daily gallons of fresh human blood. Our own society is brutal enough in its way, just kind of a different way, what with corporate greed, global warming, and all.

Martinez thought he was beginning to know Lucy better, to pierce beneath her unruffled surface. She had never acted as upset as he’d expected. She was calm; most of the time she radiated an awesome sense of calm; he couldn’t help admiring her amazing calm. Inside of her, she undoubtedly did experience turbulent emotions. Learning of Rescher’s sick obsession had shaken her. The observable signs were subtle, subdued, yet there was no mistaking the juddering impact of tremendous shock, an eight on her personal Richter scale, at the moment when she had learned of Bill’s confession. She definitely had been shaken. She was still shaken. Better see her right to her door.

“For me this is another case to be filed away. For you it must be a little bit traumatic.”

He for sure has a script. Detective Martinez stopped the car right on the corner by Lucy’s condo building.

She said: “I guess you come across some, like, really weird stuff in your job. As weird as anything in the movies. Or even weirder.”

“As a matter of fact . . .,” began Hugo Martinez.

© 2001 David Ramsay Steele

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What is wrong with Democracy?

PhilosophyPosted by Nico Metten Mon, May 04, 2015 21:32:22
This week, on May 7th, the local gang of thieves, also know as the UK government will ask its subjects for approval of their crimes. And amazingly, people will come out in flocks to give it to them. Their motivation for doing so will be different. Many have been promised a share of the booty. Some will have to live with the promise of one party robbing them less badly then the other. And there are those whose survival strategy seems to be, to not think at all and just follow the crowd.

The vast majority of all of them will have in common to dislike my characterisation of the government as a gang of thieves. “No Nico” they will say, “the government is just everyone getting together as a community and figuring out what is best for all of us. Everyone can take part. Everyone has a voice. The government is not a gang of thieves. The government is us.”

I would buy that story, if I was 12 years old. In fact, I did believe it when I was 12. But in my view, it really takes the naivety and life experience of a child to believe it. There are so many holes in that story, it is difficult where to start. Maybe we should start with the idea of the government representing the people.

Who are the people? The people are all of us you might say. Great, so in that case governance by the people would logically mean that everyone has to agree with a policy. I actually like that. The government could never do anything if everyone had to agree with it. The criminals would be stripped of their power and therefore leave us alone.

Unfortunately, we don't have that. Instead, what we have is that a part of the people will be enough to legitimise a policy. Here is my first problem. How can the government act in the name of the people, if a part of the people is systematically excluded? But hardly anyone seems to be bothered by this contradiction. They think they have a solution. The solution is that we can call it the rule of the people, when a majority of the people approves a policy.

But what is supposed to be so magical about a majority? Why should the majority part of the people have a right to tell the minority part what to do and still call this the rule of the people? As a famous saying goes, democracy, that is two wolfs and a sheep voting for what is for dinner. There seems to be nothing moral or logical about the idea that a majority can legitimise the exercise of power. The only thing the majority idea has going for it is that that way the exercise of power becomes possible. But then again, why would we want someone to exercise power over us anyway?

Nevertheless, even though the whole majority story seems very much arbitrary, let us for the sake of the argument assume for the moment that a majority can indeed legitimise power. How is that then been implemented in the current political system?

Currently, you can vote for parties or candidates. Both represent a whole agenda of ideas and political proposals. I shall be surprised if we could find anyone voting for a party or a candidate, who really agrees with the whole agenda. But let us get back to that later. First, let us take a simple example of an election result. Let us say there are two major parties A and B and a bunch of smaller parties. Let us assume 60% of eligible voters show up at an election to vote. 10% of these vote for smaller parties. 26% vote for Party A and 24% for Party B. Pretty much every western democracy has election rules to keep small parties out of the representative assembly. So we now have two parties, representing the will of the people. Party A is going to provide the government.

But wait a minute. Party A only has 26% approval of the voters. What kind of funny world is it, in which 26% represents the majority and 74% the minority? That means that the minority is almost three times as big as the majority. This is the funny world of politics, in which most basic principals of mathematics do not apply.

Right here we can conclude that the whole rhetoric of the rule of the people and majority rule is simply a fairy tale. But it actually gets worse. As mentioned above, most people do not vote for the whole agenda of a party. The system is set up in a way, so that you have to give your vote to a party according to a few issues that are important to you. This issue can be, and very often is as simple as, “party A promises me to subsidies my bus ticket”. Now you have voted for party A to get a cheaper bus ticket (btw who is paying for that?!) and party A interprets your vote as a mandate to do whatever is on their agenda. But since you haven't voted for them because of the rest of the agenda, this claim is simply false.

What does this mean for the democratic legitimacy of party A's policies? Well, it means that many policies on the agenda of party A are actually not even approved of by the majority of voters of the two major parties. If we think this through, that means that it is possible for a policy of the government to be only approved of by a tiny fraction of the voters. In fact not only is that possible, but it is happening all the time.

Almost everyone I talk to seems to agree that the government is putting out too many regulations in some area of their lives. How can it be that people in general seem to agree that there is too much government in some areas and yet we only seem to get more government? After what we have found out above, it should be clear why that is. It only takes a small fraction of the people to grow the government. A small interest group that is giving out their vote only on the basis of a certain regulation being put in place. While most people may disagree with this regulation, they are more concerned with getting their own favorite regulations approved. So this has more priority than to stop other regulations. Politicians know that and that is why they promise everyone their favorite government program.

The government will grow, no matter who wins an election. There is no way the government can be shrunk by voting. If you want to shrink the government by voting, you have to defeat the special interest groups. And since their issues are very important to them, you will likely lose. Even if you do manage to defeat one of them at some point, defeating all of them is impossible.

That means that since most people are not voting out of moral principals, but just for the benefit of their own bank account, the system has become a gigantic exploitation machine. The only question in every election has become, who is going to be the exploiter and who the exploited. And that although the system has become so complex, that it is impossible to really say on which side one will end up on. However, since wealth creation is becoming increasingly difficult in the middle of this battle, it is fair to assume, that we are probably all losing a lot on the whole. Democracy is not the rule of the people. It is not a noble system and the end of history. It is a fundamentally immoral system that deserves to die.

It will die anyway, since more and more people want to be part of the parasites. I don't blame them. As long as the system is set up the way it is, that is, as long as we think we need a government to organize society, taking part in the exploitation seems like a rational thing to do. The problem with parasitic systems however is, that eventually they grow so big that they kill the hosts. That is were most western welfare states have gotten to right now. So either, people start realizing that the system itself is the problem, or things are going to get really messy. Humanity will not make progress until we have slayed Leviathan in even its democratic form.

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Inheritability of Intellectual Property

PhilosophyPosted by Nico Metten Sun, April 19, 2015 17:11:34
Should Intellectual Property be inheritable? Some defenders of IP, like Jan Lester think it should. I would disagree. Why should anything be inheritable from a libertarian point of view? If Libertarianism is all about maximizing interpersonal liberty, should dead people be still considered a person whose liberty is worth maximizing? I don't think it should. Liberty is for the living, not the dead. The concept of inheritance is basically giving a person property rights beyond his or her death. Why is that supposed to maximize liberty, unless we assume that the liberty of dead people still matters?

Having said that, I am in favour of the inheritability of physical wealth. The reason for that is that physical things cannot be in the public domain. That is the reason why property is libertarian in the first place. Allowing the concept of property on some scarce things is actually liberty maximising. With the death of a person, his physical wealth does not go away. If it is true that property in this wealth was maximising liberty before his death, then it is reasonable to assume finding a new owner after his death is liberty maximising too.

To put it differently, physical wealth needs to be inherited to someone. Putting it in the public domain is not really possible because of its scarcity. And if the question is just who inherits the wealth, it seem to make sense to let the previous owner decide who the next owner should be. If not him, who else should decide it? It also seems like a good solution, because the previous owner is likely the best to make an educated decision of who is best suitable to inherit certain things. This is most likely to keep the wealth in the most productive hands.

Things look a little bit differently for IP though. There are certainly many parallels between the concept of physical and intellectual property. However, there are also some crucial differences. In particular there are two differences that make the idea for inheritability of IP look questionable.

The first one is the fact that the usability of physical property is always limited to a few people. For example, if I have a chair, only one person can sit on it at a time. The same limitation applies to every other physical property I can think of. That means that for physical things, it is inevitable to have a rule according to which we can determine, who can use a desired object for which purpose at a certain time. Most of the time, the best solution will be to grand people property rights on these objects. Less often it might be enough to have a simple possession solution in place.

IP on the other hand is lacking this characteristic of physical property. In principal, information can be used by an unlimited number of people simultaneously. There is no limitation on the information itself. For example, me reading The Wealth Of Nations does not limited someone else to read the same book at the same time. This is a big difference between physical and intellectual property. The only limitation would be the availability of the physical medium on which the information are stored. But as I already said, inheritable property rights on the medium are not a problem to me.

The second difference is that physical wealth decays. There seems to be no exception to this, although some things are so robust that for all practical purposes they can be seen as not decaying. This makes it necessary to maintain physical things. Maintaining things usually is a capital intense process. People will less likely engage in this process if they are not allowed to have some control over the result.

Information on the other hand do not decay. The pythagorean theorem for example has not decayed one bit, despite the fact that it is thousands of years old. One might argue that the physical medium it is stored on needs to be maintained otherwise the theorem would get lost with the medium. That is true, but is not much of an argument in the digital internet age. Desired information will be stored in many different locations at almost no cost.

These two differences make the idea of the inheritability of IP questionable. Other than physical property, IP can actually be in the public domain. If that is true, than what justifies giving it a new owner, after the old one has died? This seems to be an unnecessary imposition on everyone who is not the new owner.

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Privilege and under-privilege

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Wed, April 08, 2015 17:42:29

It is the state that is illiberal and the state is the sole source of privilege and, thereby, of under-privilege too.

Statist Political Correctness [PC; the ideologues who push it are PCers] is maybe the chief ideology against liberty today as it is for totalitarian government and for general intolerance. However, if the said current totalitarian ideologues, the PCers, ever gave up their use of the state for protection of their pet groups, if they never sought to privilege them in law and so thereby under-privilege everyone else, then PC would be reduced to mere free speech. Mere mores may set up quasi-privilege but it is the law and actual privilege that is illiberal. So without the use of the state and the law, PC would be not one whit illiberal.

Similarly with the various religions, they are free only, if they are not protected by the state, or if they do not go into politics to dominate others then they will not be against the social liberty of all others, but if ever they do resort to the state then they will be against social liberty.

This is because active politics never can quite be neutral. It always abuses others by using gratuitous coercion against them. As it is today, free speech is the about main thing the PC ideologues want to outlaw. Oddly, they often say they stand for free speech but then they clearly contradict themselves by explicitly listing a long list of exceptions.

The Economist, 28 March 2015, (p35) carried an article on “The right to be rude” on religion and free speech.

This magazine that calls itself a newspaper is mainly concerned nowadays with crass politics, but it began as a liberal journal backing up the Anti-Corn Law League, the great nineteenth century propaganda and pressure group for free trade, that was soon led by Richard Cobden and John Bright. This pressure group aided the Corn Laws to get repealed in 1846 and then it disbanded but the journal continued, largely on economics in those days but since 1945 it seems, at least to this reader of it, to be way keener on politics and it might be clearer if it changed its name to The Politician.

It reports that an “offensive preacher” has acquired some unlikely allies. A Christian street propagandist, Michael Overd, 47, had repeatedly told two male homosexuals displaying their affection in public that they were sinners who would burn in hell. He also said that Islam was sinful in the main High Street of Taunton, Somerset.

Michael Overd had repeatedly told Craig Manning and Craig Nichol that they would burn in hell on seeing them boldly walk around hand in hand on the main High Street where Overd regularly went to peach to all and sundry. They took offence at this, but they nevertheless seemed to repeatedly return to the High Street to get more readings from the Bible on how very sinful they were from Overd.

The BBC news reported from what looks like an earlier court appearance by Overd, and his two “victims”. The case seems to have been in court a number of times, two times or even more, before the session that The Economist reported in March. The BBC on-line news site reports that in his earlier evidence for the court against Overd, Craig Nichols said:

“He said 'I have already told these two sinners over here that they are going to burn in hell'.

He looked at us and pointed at us when he said it. His voice was quite loud and very clear.

I felt angry, embarrassed and ashamed. It was a really busy day and I felt that everyone was looking at us when he was saying these things to us.

I asked him who he was to judge me and he said 'It's God's words, it is in the Bible'. He said I should repent and ask God for forgiveness.”

A Muslim judge, Shamim Qureshi, ordered Overd to pay damages for using threatening and abusive language from the Bible of £250 but the more serious charge of a religiously aggravated offence was rejected. When Overd protested at paying a sodomite such a sum the judge threated him with 45 days in prison otherwise.

Afterwards Overd said: “ If I heard someone preaching the things I am accused of preaching I would talk to them about it.” But, as George Bernard Shaw rightly said, the golden rule of doing onto others exactly as we would have them do onto us can, often, fail to show other people proper personal consideration, as a boxer might have a different idea of that from hairdresser thus either might have starkly inept rules. What is fine for an enthusiastic propagandist, like Overd, need not be apt for Nichols, or vice versa, but, given that the High Street in Taunton normally allows public speaking by tradition then Nichols seems to have had plenty of space to dodge ever being offended by Overd. On the face of it, it seems to have been silly of Nichols to take offence, let alone to repeatedly go back for more. Those who do take offence all too often, thereby, seem to earn it.

Peter Tatchell, a well-known gay-rights propagandist has offered to speak in favour of free speech in court for Overd. He does not agree with the Bible on gay-rights but he feels it should be tolerated as part of traditional civil liberty and free speech. Being spared offence is not a human right. To criminalise traditional religion is a step too far, he says.

What seems yet even more unacceptable to many organisations concerned with civil liberties and free speech is the Politically Correct courts and current totalitarian PC law in the UK. The National Secular Society [NSS] seems to hold that free speech is in danger, and they too have aided Overd in support of the general cause of free speech as a result. They say the PC legislation is too sloppy. Overd was prosecuted under the Public Order Act and it can lead to up to seven years in gaol if the threatening, insulting or abusive language that the law outlaws is deemed to be racially or religiously motivated.

The NSS, and other civil liberty groups, have recently got the law amended such that it is not only up to the police to judge if what is said potentially offensive. It needs, now, to be shown that the language was aimed at a particular person or group and that offence was taken by the targeted person or group. But many want further reform of the law to remove the privilege that religion still has in law, despite the abolition of the common law against blasphemy since 8 March 2008. They hold that the idea of religious aggravation revives this abolished blasphemy law to protect religion from criticism, according to the executive director of the NSS: Keith Porteous Wood.

Prior to this abolition, the law had long been allowed to fall into abeyance, or neglect, until Mrs Mary Whitehouse attempted to revive it in the 1970s, actually being successful in 1977; in the case of Whitehouse versus Lemon.

During the Rushdie affair, many Muslims sought also to revive the blasphemy laws, so that they could be used to imprison Salmon Rushdie, and any others who might write similar books to his Satanic Verses (1988), that seemed to them to set out to deliberately mock Islam.

But they overlooked, in this entire rumpus that the Rushdie affair gave rise to, that the British common law blasphemy laws were quite indifferent to Rushdie’s books but not at all to the Koran, that did indeed flout them in the way it basically rejects the Christian creed. So the Muslims, ironically, sought to revive a law that would effectively outlaw their own religion rather than protect it. When some of them realised that, they sought to change the old common law so it would protect Islam as well as Christianity.

On 5 March 2008, an amendment was passed to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales. The Act received royal assent on 8 May 2008, and the relevant section came into force on 8 July 2008. It was haply thought by the establishment that it would be better to abolish this law altogether rather than to too openly privilege Islam in the UK. The resulting need of the natives to kow-tow to Islam might have been too clearly an under-privilege to impose on the population, even for the increasingly eager UK totalitarian establishment of today.

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