Mark Kleiman is a public policy analyst. He teaches at UCLA, having previously taught at Harvard. Before that he worked at a variety of public-sector jobs, including stints as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill, running a policy shop for the City of Boston, and working on drugs and organized crime for the Justice Department, where he eventually ran the Office of Policy and Management Analysis for the Criminal Division, and one private-sector stint (as Special Assistant to Edwin Land at Polaroid). He is the author of Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results and blogs at Mark A.R. Kleiman.
Why do you blog? > It beats screaming at my television set, especially since I don't own a television set. I find blogging an ideal combination of my two pet vices: self-importance and political activity.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Helping to keep attention on the Valerie Plame scandal.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Denouncing Glenn Reynolds for (as I thought) twisting Ted Kennedy's words, only to have Kennedy come out the next day and say exactly what I'd denounced Glenn for having said he said.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Pick a topic you know and care about, and make your blog the go-to place on that topic.
What are your three favourite blogs? > This is a most unfair question. If I listed only three - say, John Cole's Balloon Juice, Susie Madrak's Suburban Guerrilla, and Lindsay Beyerstein's Majikthise - I couldn't say how much I admire Pandagon, or Making Light, or Talk Left, or Obsidian Wings, or Philosoraptor, or Sisyphus Shrugged. And I'd lose the chance to butter up bloggers better-known than I am, such as Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong and Ana Marie Cox. So I refuse to answer.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Heraclitus, Socrates, Archimedes, Descartes (for his mathematics rather than his philosophy), Newton, Darwin. Among contemporaries, Karl Popper, Thomas Schelling and Richard Neustadt.
What are you reading at the moment? > Churchill's The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his Second World War. To read it is to realize how silly it is to analogize the current situation to the threat of Nazism in the Thirties.
What is your favourite poem? > Auden's 'The Shield of Achilles'. Read it and be warned.
What is your favourite movie? > The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Not only is it a perfect little story about the relationship between violence and law, it's also the most beautiful movie I've ever seen, as if Ansel Adams had been transformed into a cinematographer. I deprecate the tendency of the intellectuals to sneer both at John Wayne's talent and at the virtues of the John Wayne character (which are, roughly speaking, the Kipling/Heinlein virtues).
What is your favourite song? > 'Mo Ghile Mear', as sung either by Mary Black or by Sting with the Chieftains backing him up. It's strange that as fundamentally worthless a character as Charles Edward Stuart should have inspired so much great music and poetry. Backup choices: Mary Black singing 'A Song for Ireland' or Stephen Foster's 'Hard Times', or James Taylor singing 'Hard Times' or 'Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier'.
Who is your favourite composer? > William Byrd. If Heaven had a soundtrack, it would be written by Byrd.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > That truth exists as a regulative principle but that there is no process that guarantees knowledge of the truth about any question.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > That every opinion is equally valid, and that argument is therefore oppression.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations. I know Popper is hopelessly unfashionable, but it still seems to me that his account of the logic (as opposed to the empirical process) of scientific progress must be the right one: take an existing idea, subject it to criticism based on logic and evidence, and try to find another that gets closer to the truth. That seems to me like the right middle term between dogmatism and postmodern believe-whatever-feels-good. If I could pick one essay to make everyone read, it would be Popper's 'Toward a Rational Theory of Tradition', which it seems to me reconciles the competing claims of Burkean traditionalism and liberal progressivism.
Who are your political heroes? > Franklin, Lincoln, and LBJ. But if you ask me who is most responsible for the fact that we live under regimes of ordered liberty, I'd have to say Henry II, who for his own selfish reasons invented the Common Law.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > To govern is to choose between the distasteful and the disastrous.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Abolishing the gerrymander of the Senate.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President or Prime Minister, who would you choose? > It's hard to believe that anyone not more or less a professional politician could do either job.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Proliferation of the capacity to inflict casualties on a mass scale, among both governments and non-state actors.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > You ain't seen nothin' yet.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > It doesn't have a name in English, but in Yiddish it's called menschlicheit: the willingness to accept the responsibility of adulthood and do what seems to you the right thing just because it's the right thing to do, even when that means accepting personal costs and incurring disapproval. A mensch is someone who won't turn the dial in the Milgram experiment no matter what the experimenter says, and who will tell his boss that some basic practice of the organization they both work for is stupid and immoral.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Believing what you want to believe rather than what the evidence says.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > When the person asking the question has no right to the truth.
What is your most treasured possession? > A 19th-century Lobi portrait bust that uses a small number of geometric shapes to show the face of some actual human being.
What talent would you most like to have? > Stand-up comedy.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I love what I do, but I think I'd make a decent journalist and would enjoy the work.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > There's no one working now who seems to me to have the power that Danny Kaye, Buddy Hackett, Bill Cosby, David Steinberg and Richard Pryor had at their peak. The funniest routine I've ever seen was 'Meat Lover's Pizza' by Johnny Steele, who works the Bay Area but has never made it big.
Who are your sporting heroes? > Brooks Robinson at third base, Gino Marchetti at defensive end, and Raymond Berry catching passes. Berry's performance was the most impressive, since he did it without any of the obviously relevant physical gifts: he wasn't fast, or big, or especially agile, and his eyesight was poor.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > Right now, I'd settle for getting rid of the current ruling oligarchy in the US.
What animal would you most like to be? > I think I'd like to try being a human being for a while.