Dynamist Blog

The Libertarian Turnip Truck, Cont'd

In response to my post below about Ron Paul, reader Bill Sullivan writes:

My wife and I were big Ron Paul supporters (until yesterday, in fact). We're also 29 and 30 years old, which means we weren't paying attention to Ron Paul in the 90's. We donated money to the campaign, and I suppose we failed to do the due diligence on Paul, as we didn't dig through archives of his old newsletters. We feel terrifically betrayed, not only by Ron Paul, but by older libertarians like yourself for not publicly warning us about him. If you knew he was such bad news and that he was becoming one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought, why didn't you warn us? I've been reading your work for about ten years, and I consider you a very fair and smart writer and if you had given a public warning about Ron Paul, I, for one, would have listened. But now my wife and I and probably thousands of other young libertarians and libertarian sympathizers have been tricked into supporting something that sickens me. Even your colleague at the Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, was taken in among lots of other public people. I'm stunned by what Ron Paul turned out to be, but I'm also stunned that waited to mention him until it was too late to do any good.

Bill makes a good point. Someone should have told him. There are plenty of people who get paid to do that sort of thing. I did not mean to criticize the essentially apolitical people like him and his wife who heard some good things from Paul and decided to support him.

As I told Bill in an email, I was never particularly interested in the Paul campaign, which I considered a fringe effort in both its chances (nil) and much of its rhetoric (too many conspiracies). Rightly or wrongly, I didn't consider Paul "one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought." I'm not sure whether I would have written about him if I had. Life is short, I don't make my living as a professional libertarian any more, and I don't feel responsible for commenting on every libertarian-related development that comes along. These days, I am more interested in understanding culture and economics than focusing on policy, much less policing the libertarian movement. Plus, as the Paulites will be quick to note, I disagree with Paul on his sexiest issue, the Iraq war (and on his second sexiest issue, opposition to immigration).

I do fault my friends at Reason, who are much cooler than I'll ever be and who, scornful of the earnestness that takes politics seriously, apparently didn't do their homework before embracing Paul as the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. For starters, they might have asked my old boss Bob Poole about Ron Paul; I remember a board member complaining about Paul's newsletters back in the early '90s. Besides, people as cosmopolitan as Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch should be able to detect something awry in Paul's populist appeals. (Note that by "cosmopolitan" I do not mean "Jewish." I mean cosmopolitan.) I suspect they did but decided it was more useful to spin things their way than to take Paul's record and ideas seriously. As for Andrew Sullivan, his political infatuations are not his strong point as a commentator.

UPDATE: I've found the Texas Monthly Ron Paul profile, alluded to in the earlier post.

UPDATE 2: Tim Cavanaugh has a smart take on the Paul controversy, made all the better by his swipe at Jim Crow-lover Woodrow Wilson. [Via Hit & Run.]

Who Needs 1,000 Typefaces?

My new Atlantic column looks at today's profusion of typefaces (and it's not behind the dreaded wall this month! UPDATE: Wrong. It is behind the wall, but this link is good for three days.). Here's the opening:

Given its subject, Michael Bierut's Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design, published last May by Princeton Architectural Press, is remarkably plain. It has no pictures. It isn't oversized. It doesn't even have a dust jacket.

Yet the book is a graphic extravaganza. Each of the 79 essays is set in a different typeface, ranging in age from Bembo, designed in 1495, to Flama, created in 2006. This profusion of typefaces would have been inconceivable when Bierut, 50, was starting out as a graphic designer. "I'm not sure in 1982 I could have come up with 79 different text fonts," he says.

Nowadays, even nonprofessionals take an abundance of typefaces for granted. My computer includes about 100 English-language fonts, many of them families encompassing multiple weights—Baskerville in bold, bold italic, italic, regular, semibold, and semibold italic, for instance—and all available instantly. Basic cultural literacy now demands at least a passing familiarity with typefaces: witness a November episode of Jeopardy that featured the category "Knowledge of Fonts," with correct responses including "What is Helvetica?" and "What is Bodoni?" A thoroughly entertaining (really) documentary called Helvetica, tracing the rise and fall and rise of the 20th century's most ubiquitous typeface, played to sold-out crowds on the film-festival circuit last year.

The profusion of fonts is one more product of the digital revolution. Beginning in the mid-'80s and accelerating in the 1990s, type design weathered the sort of radical, technology-driven transformation that other creative industries, including music, publishing, and movies, now face. Old business models and intermediaries disappeared seemingly overnight. Software replaced industrial processes. Tangible products—metal, film, computer disks—dissolved into bits and bytes sold over the Internet. Prices plummeted. Consumers started buying directly. From their kitchen tables, independent designers could undertake experiments that had once required bet- the-company investments. "Having an idea for a typeface used to be like having an idea for a new-model car," says Bierut. Now the distance between idea and execution, designer and user, has contracted.

Though still a tiny number—maybe a couple hundred worldwide—more people than ever are making a living designing type. Many others, mostly graphic designers, have turned type design into a profitable sideline. And more people than ever are buying fonts. Tens of thousands of fonts already exist, and more are created every day. The question is why.

Read the rest here, and be sure to check out the online sidebars, including my interview with Helvetica director Gary Hustwit and this terrific video of Michael Bierut.

Libertarians Fall Off Turnip Truck

Thanks to The New Republic, libertarians who weren't paying attention in the 1990s, don't read Texas Monthly, and didn't do their candidate research have now discovered that Ron Paul said--or, more likely, allowed to be said in his name (probably by Lew Rockwell)--nasty things in his newsletters. Much reaction can be found at Hit & Run, as well as Andrew Sullivan's blog and The Volokh Conspiracy. The disclosures are not news to me, nor is the Paul campaign's dismissive reaction a surprise. When you give your political heart to a guy who spends so much time worrying about international bankers, you're not going to get a tolerant cosmopolitan.

Nobody Knows Anything

I like Robert A. George's comment on the New Hampshire primary:

Anyone who thinks they know how the presidential nominating process is going to play out is full of sh**.

Two months ago, John McCain's political obituary had been written; Rudy Giuliani led the national polls and Mitt Romney was the runaway leader in New Hampshire.Two days ago, Hillary Clinton's political obituary was being written: The dynasty was over, the queen was dead; the question was not whether Hillary should withdraw, but under what circumstances; George W. Bush was asking President Obama if he would consider starting a year early.

The rest here.

The 16-Year Itch

Michael Barone makes a provocative argument about the electorate's periodical zeal fo "change."

My thought is that, over a period of 16 years, there is enough turnover in the electorate to stimulate an itch that produces a willingness to take a chance on something new.

Over time, the median-age voter in American elections has been about 45 years old. This means that the median-age voter in 1976 was born around 1931--old enough to have experienced post-World War II prosperity and foreign policy success, and then to have been disgusted by Vietnam and Watergate.

The median-age voter in 1992 was born around 1947 (the same year as Dan Quayle and Hillary Clinton, one year after Messrs. Clinton and Bush, one year before Mr. Gore). These voters came of age in the culture wars of the 1960s. They experienced stagflation and gas lines of the 1970s, and the prosperity and foreign policy successes of the 1980s. Mr. Clinton persuaded these voters to take a chance on change by promising not to radically alter policy. They rebuked him when he tried to break that promise, then for 14 years remained closely divided along culture lines as if the '60s never ended.

The median-age voter in 2008 was born around 1963, so he or she missed out on the culture wars of the '60s, and on the economic disasters and foreign policy reverses of the 1970s. These voters have experienced low-inflation economic growth something like 95% of their adult lives--something true of no other generation in history. They are weary of the cultural polarization of our politics, relatively unconcerned about the downside risks of big government programs, and largely unaware of America's historic foreign policy successes. They are ready, it seems, to take a chance on an outside-the-system candidate.

I was born in 1960 but remember well the "economic disasters and foreign policy reverses of the 1970s." On my pessimistic days, it worries me that not only voters in general but the young pundit class don't understand how much worse things can be. On my optimistic days, I think the lessons of that period have been largely internalized. After all, you don't hear people proposing wage and price controls. Except on doctors and medicine.

In Memoriam: Andrew Olmsted

Blogger Andrew Olmsted has died in Iraq, killed in an ambush. Knowing him was one of the many benefits of my blogging life. Steve, my mother, and I were privileged to have dinner with him on a trip to Dallas before he deployed. He left a moving posthumous post here. Our thoughts and best wishes are with his family.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the Rocky Mountain News obituary.

Help Wanted

My friend Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Cambridge-based criminal-defense and civil-liberties lawyer, activist, and writer and the chair of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is looking for a research assistant. Here's a job description:


HARVEY A. SILVERGLATE -- a lawyer, writer, lecturer, and advocate -- seeks a relatively recent college graduate to work with him, primarily out of his Cambridge, Mass., home-office, as a researcher and paralegal on a variety of criminal law and civil liberties projects. This is an ideal position for someone considering a career in law, advocacy, writing, or journalism, but who wants a year or two of unusually interesting and challenging work experience before returning to school or the regular job market. A major component of the job will entail editing/revising, working with the publisher's editors, and, upon publication, promoting a book about how the U. S. Department of Justice uses vague and broad federal criminal statutes and regulations to harass civil society. Applicant would also assist Silverglate writing newspaper columns (with shared bylines when appropriate), articles, and lectures; working with the ACLU of Massachusetts (on whose Board of Directors Silverglate serves) and with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, www.thefire.org (of which Silverglate is cofounder and current Chairman of the Board); and implementing a civil liberties-oriented blog jointly undertaken with another civil liberties advocate and culture critic. In addition, applicant would assist Silverglate with criminal defense and civil liberties litigation cases done in collaboration with a small Boston law firm. Applicants for this demanding, unconventional, and interesting position should be creative self-starters and be able to focus on projects with a laser-like intensity, and must be well-organized, energetic, computer and Internet savvy, deeply devoted to liberty, decidedly politically incorrect, independent, and an excellent writer and editor. This is a job for a Type-A personality with real passion and high-octane. Salary is competitive for this kind of work; full medical insurance benefits provided.

Send inquiries, cover letters, and resumes to: hill-at-GoodCormier.com, with a copy to wolfe-at-harveysilverglate.com. Peruse www.HarveySilverglate.com for a sense of the variety of work involved. No phone calls or agencies.

The Worst Student Sentences

Dan Drezner asked professors to send in the worst student sentence they've read in a paper. He now posts the winners--a three-way tie, with representatives of three different types of badness.

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