Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is the Robin a Sign of Impeding Doom?

Here is an older story that I missed at the time. It seems that Senator John McCain went after some warming skeptics. He said the proof was overwhelming that the world was warming and he had his own cutesy story to prove it---these sorts of stories are popular with those on that side of the debate.

McCain said that warming is so rapid that robins are now appearing in the Arctic. He said: “The Inuit language for 10,000 years never had a word for robin and now there are robins all over their villages.”

McCain got this from a news report by Alister Doyle for Reuters entitled: “As Ice Thaws, Arctic Peoples at Loss for Words”. It claimed that “many indigenous languages have no words for the legions of new animals and plants advancing north as global warming thaws the polar ice....”

The Globe and Mail in Canada ran a story on the alleged problem entitled “Some like it hot -- but a robin in the Arctic?” It too claimed: “The Far North is being introduced to the robin, the South’s harbinger of spring and a bird so rarely seen above the tree line that the Inuvialuit don’t even have a name for it.”

The BBC jumped in to repeat the story in their piece, “No Word for Robin: Climate Change in the Canadian Arctic.” They quote a “bird enthusiast” as saying: “I don’t know if there’s a word in Sachs Harbour for robin. They’re so rare here, we don’t have names for them.” The report says “warm temperatures are enabling new species, such as robins... to adapt to their habitat.”

The problem with all of this, like so many other warming “examples” is that the media reports are wrong. One could read Laurence Irving’s 1953 article: The Naming of Birds by Nunamiut Eskimo to find that out. He spent with the Indigenous tribes to learn what words they used for the various birds. He describes the area as “about one hundred miles north of the arctic circle”. And from his research he said the names used for the birds “are from the usage of older Nunaimiut people” -- meaning the words are much older than what he was finding in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

On page 43 of the article you will find the Eastern Robin listed. The transliteration of the Nunamiut name for the bird is Koyapigaktoruk, a word which means song. Irving did say that there were numerous species present in the Arctic for which the native people did not have words, at least no one he spoke to could name the birds. The unnamed birds tended to be rarer but the robin was not one of them. It was common enough that it was named. Solomon said they nested in the area and were a migrating species.

In 1913 Vihjalmur Stefansson wrote a book, My Life With the Eskimo where he mentioned the Eskimo name for robin. He described the bird life that he found living in the Arctic. I quote him directly from page 493.

Planesticus migratorius migratorius (Linnaeus). Robin. Kre-ku-ak'tu-yok (Mackenzie Eskimo). Shab'wak (Alaskan Eskimo). Nesting commonly all along the Athabaska, Slave, and Mackenzie rivers, a little beyond the northern limit of trees. At Fort McKay, on the Athabaska River, found nest with two eggs May 18th ; at Smith's Landing, Slave River, nest with young June 7th. At Fort Simpson, Mackenzie River, Robins were abundant ; one nest with four eggs under steps of the Hudson Bay Company's museum and another on a fish stage. A nest containing four young birds was found June 22d, on the east branch of the Mackenzie delta. The first Robin of the season was seen on Dease River May 10th, and one specimen was taken June 19th, 1911, near the mouth of Kogaryuak River, on south side of Coronation Gulf ; the only Robin which I have seen on the Arctic coast, although one specimen was seen at Herschel Island several years ago (according to accounts of the whalers). Robins are fairly common in the spruce timber on Horton River fifteen or twenty miles south of Langton Bay.
As this range map of the American Robin shows the bird's range, during the Summer, has always included northern Alaska, north of the Arctic circle. Click on it to enlarge it you wish.

Once again another warming example is proven to be false. The New York Times reported on it, The Globe and Mail reported it, the BBC reported it, Senator McCain obviously believed it. Yet the story was not true. We have a book that is almost a century old describing the robins found in the Arctic and giving the indigenous names for those bird. It is important to remember that 1913 is long before “man-made global warming” was supposed to have started. Yet this sign of C02 induced warming was spotted in the same regions a 100 years ago. But today they are alleged signs of warming.

There was one source for this story which I haven’t quoted yet. That is the site “In Defense of Marxism”. They too quoted the claims about the robin appearing in the Arctic for the first time due to global warming. At least they make their political agenda crystal clear:

It is this process of climate change (along with many other things) that clearly demonstrates that capitalism has outlived its historic usefulness. Capitalism cannot deal with global warming, because to make the necessary changes to production, transport, and our way life is a direct attack on the very heart of capitalism.

It is on the question of the environment that socialism proves itself an absolute necessity. It is the anarchy of the market, and the never-ending pursuit of profits that has put the environment under tremendous strain, and put the planet and humanity at risk. Some people get squeamish when Marxists speak about using science and technology to increase and extend “humanity’s mastery over nature”. This statement is not a negative statement, and should not be seen as meaning destruction. In fact it is positive and means the opposite.

The development of society and industry, under capitalism, is destroying the planet. Under socialism, if we wish to improve our lives and standard of living, if we wish to raise millions out of poverty, we must develop industry. But the point is to develop industry in harmony with the environment. This is possible, the scientific knowledge and capability is there. The world must develop a rational, harmoniously planned economy, using all the scientific knowledge and technology available to us. Only the public ownership of the land, the major industries, oil, mining and logging companies, along with sources of energy and transport, can form the basis of a genuine socialist approach to the environment. Environmental plans would be measured in generations, not fiscal quarters.

Whatever you think of these Marxists, and I don’t think much of them, they are outlining what is being offered as the solution to this alleged crisis: “a rational, harmoniously planned economy” which “is a direct attack on the very heart of capitalism.”

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All eyes on Zimbabwe.

All indications have been that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has overwhelming support from the voters of Zimbabwe. But that doesn't mean they will "win" the election. They have already out-polled Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in the past. And each time Mugabe rigged the election results and announced he was the winner. Adding his percentage at the polls, albeit a fake percentage, to the seats in parliament that he appoints personally has always given him a comfortable majority.

I believe Zimbabwe could be on the knife's edge. Mugabe and his socialist followers have utterly destroyed the country. Even in the districts where his party has dominated the people are lined up to oust Mugabe from power. But there are also indications that Mugabe is planning to commit fraud again, with hundreds of thousands of dead people appearing on the voting rolls and almost an equal number of "extra" ballots being printed up by the government. While an amazing number of deceased are appearing on election rolls equally large numbers of previously registered voters have been told they can't vote for various reasons.

The question is whether Mugabe has enough sanity left to realize that if he defrauds the voters that they may will rise up and remove him violently -- something he well deserves. But Mugabe's sanity has long been suspect, with inside speculation attributing his madness to advanced stages of syphilis. It is questionable whether he can count on the loyalty of the police force or much of the military anymore. He has become increasingly unable to hand them the bribes they want to keep him in power.

It could be that Mugabe realizes he has lost. In which case he will leave the country or risk his life if he tries to stay in one of his many mansions. If he tries to hold on to power revolution could result. With hatred being so widespread he may meet the fate that men like him deserve, unless he flees before the angry mobs can hack him to death. Many Zimbabweans realize that a revolt may take place and are leaving the country.

But just as this election will tell us much about Zimbabwe it will actually tell us more about the African National Congress in South Africa. While the West refuses to criticize the party of their "saint" Nelson Mandela the reality is that the ANC is an authoritarian party very similar to Zanu-PF. And South Africa's regime, dominated by the Communist Party, has continued to help keep Mugabe in power and lied on his behalf. The South African government notoriously declared one election in Zimbabwe "free and fair" before the voting actually started -- yet the election was dominated by Mugabe's thugs beating and killing opposition party supporters.

I remember an old advertisement in a South African magazine some years ago. It was from the Zimbabwean tourist agency encouraging South Africans to come vacation in Zim. This was at the time when everyone was pretending Zimbabwe was the model for reconciliation and successful governance. The headline to the ad said: "Come to Zimbabwe. See your future." And that headline echoes the thoughts of every South African at one time or another. Is the future of South Africa going to be that of Zimbabwe? Hundreds of thousands have answered "yes" to that question and left the country. Millions more would leave if they could. And so far President Thabo Mbeki has only given his people more reasons to worry.

UPDATE: MDC poll watchers have said that their party is winning an overwhelming majority at local polling stations. They said that all the Harare based seats in parliament went to the MDC as well as all the seats in Bulawayo but one. Mugabe's cronies, especially those in the military, are calling the announcement a "coup d'etat" which is a dangerous sign. They are indicating, by this, that they will not respect the vote results. They insist that only the results that Mugabe's regime announces on Monday will be legitimate. But in district after district local counting is showing Mugabe losing and the public is celebrating. If Mugabe tries to steal this election that celebration will turn to rage and Zimbabwe could explode. 

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tolerance does not require silence.

No doubt you have heard of the controversial film, Fitna. It isn’t very long but it has Islamists upset. And that means Left-wing politicians are running in terror. (You may watch if below if you wish.) UPDATE: Liveleak which hosted the film said they have pulled it because extremists in Islam have threatened to kill them. This fact alone better illustrates the dangers of irrational religion than the film could ever do. FURTHER UPDATE: I have added the film here from Google video. Watch it now of you may never see. The Islamists may threaten Google and they may cave in as well.

The European Union president came out with a particularly stupid remark but I should note their position is not very different than the nonsense that comes out of the Vatican. The position of the EU presidency was they respect “freedom of speech”. Of course this followed by a “but”. To say the least European concepts of freedom of speech is often voiced with some very big buts (and you can spell that either way).

“However, [freedom of speech] should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions.” So it is okay to say what you want provided what you say doesn’t offend a religious whackjob.

What is never explained is why religious beliefs deserve any more respect than beliefs about UFOs, the Abominable Snowman, the nature of money, or anything else for that matter. What makes religion the exception?

If we study the difference between religious beliefs and other beliefs we see that religion claims exemptions from the normal scrutiny applied to beliefs. It asserts the right to claim as “true” anything it wishes without evidence simply because it “religion”. And it demands that others not question it or its results. It is inherently authoritarian in that it demands obedience and acquiescence.

The modern Left surrenders to religious demands when those demands are made by non-Westerners. When made by Western religions they have no problem standing up to it. But they cave in when some “Third World” type demands respect for some absurd, false idea.

The modern Conservative is basically the opposite. He demands the right to question Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc but has fits when his Jesus myths are questioned. Of course some rabid conservatives like Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t want even Islamic beliefs questioned.

Both the modern Left and the modern Conservative claim roots in classical liberalism. And each has adopted some true liberal values though neither does so consistently and both are fundamentally illiberal. The classical liberal or the libertarian is not entirely at home with either camp. Which is worse for freedom depends on the circumstances of the day. Certainly from the Russian Revolution to the collapse of Communism the Left was a bigger threat. Since then conservatives have stampeded toward authoritarianism and the bigger enemies of liberty.

True liberalism does defend the rights of religious folk to assert any belief they want no matter or absurd or unfounded. J. Salwyn Schapiro, in his little book, Liberalism: It’s Meaning and History, noted that liberalism placed stress “on intellectual freedom” and held that the top freedom was “liberty of though and expression.” Liberalism was “fundamentally rationalist” and “view religion from a secular perspective advocating freedom of religion but the separation of church and state.”

Throughout its history classical liberalism has questioned the authority of the church. It demanded the right to disagree with, to challenge, or to deny the faith -- any faith! But it has also defended the equal rights of the religious to uphold their faith and preach their gospel. The weak-kneed modern Left seems to think that “respect” for religion requires not just liberty, but silence. But silence in the face of irrationality is surrender.

This is not furthering the principle of toleration at all. It allows any religious thug to preach his authoritarianism and disarms the forces for individual rights. It gives the irrational a leg-up on reason. Even under the best of times reason has a hard enough battle. But what the EU president wants to do is disarm reason and give the forces of intolerance an advantage.

It is absurd to think that the peaceful presentation of a controversial film is intolerant especially in the face of the hysterical cries of jihad from butchers and killers.

The EU president is not supporting liberalism or tolerance but betraying both.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

What are we protecting them from?

We often hear that censorship is necessary to “protect the children”. There is a now a new law in Indiana which requires any bookstore, with any sort of material that the Puritans find sexual, to register with the state and pay a registration fee of $250. The idea of the registry is that the police can use the list to regularly monitor the stores.

This bipartisan legislation was justified as a means of regulating porn shops that have popped “up in rural areas along interstates”. The problem with that is that all existing porn shops are exempt from the legislation. Worse yet the legislation is so badly drafted that any book on sex qualifies a bookstore as an “adult” shop. Even sex education books or novels qualify.

Prof. Henry Karlson of Indiana University Law School says that the law defines something as sexually explicit if it is “harmful” to minors or “appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors.” He notes: “The problem is, minors have an interest in sex, prurient or otherwise and how do you distinguish what is normal and what is prurient?”

A typical bookstore is going to have material that has sexual content. If a minor finds it sexually enticing then the store has to register. But if they register they get lumped in with all the porn shops. If they don’t register they can fined for violating the law. Booksellers are now deciding on whether to take the law to court. Of course, another strategy would be for all bookstores to register as a precaution. If every bookstore were on the list it would make the list basically worthless.

As silly as this law is it raises a question that I will ask, and no doubt be condemned for asking. Why do minors need protection from sexual material?

Studies of individuals who were real sex offenders showed that they were exposed to less erotica than most people and saw it for the first time later in life. People who were NOT sexual predators tended to see such material earlier in life and saw it more often.

Freud came up with a psychosexual development theory that said that there were five stages of sexual development. And during the latency period, about ages 3 to 12, sexual feelings are repressed and sublimated. That idea was pretty much blown out of the water. From very early in childhood humans have a sexually curious nature and they express that curiosity frequently in sex play. The idea of latency inspired a lot of the logic behind “protect the children” theories. It was said that exposing children to sexual material would suddenly awaken them to their innate sexuality and the latency would end prematurely.

Of course, if there is no latency period, if Freud were wrong, then the matter has to be reappraised.

The big fallacy in this censorship campaign is that you don’t need sexual material to stimulate sexual feelings in human beings. The censors have it completely backwards. Erotic material is produced because people are sexually interested. People are not sexual because of erotica.

The source of sexual interest, prurient or natural, comes from within. Shocking as it might be, humans are hardwired for sex. They are given bodies that respond to sexual stimulation and touch. They are given minds and desires that cause them to seek it out. This interest does not begin at puberty. The deluge of hormones intensifies sexual interests that were always present. Long before puberty humans engage in sexual play with themselves and with others -- mostly their own age. The ability to experience orgasm exists long before puberty starts -- probably from birth.

In most of human history the young were regularly exposed to sexually explicit conduct. We evolved as an agricultural species with barnyards. At one time the Puritans referred to human sexual activity as “barnyard practices.” The reason for that is obvious. Animals copulate and do it right in front of God and the world. When our species was agricultural all children saw sexual conduct among animals on a regular basis.

But they were also exposed to human sexual activity. Separate bedrooms are a modern luxury. It was not present for most people throughout most of our species’ evolution. It was typical for children and parents to share one room which served as kitchen, living room and bedroom. In addition it was not uncommon for children to share the same bed as their parents. They were exposed to nudity on a regular basis and when their parents had intercourse it was usually done a few feet from the children. Kids didn’t accidentally walk in on their parents having sex. They were always there.

Until the mid to late 1800s it was not uncommon for youngsters to marry and have children of their own. Such marriages could take place before they entered their teens. But certainly marriage at 13 or 14 was not uncommon. What this means is that during most of human history the “kids” we are protecting from sexual material were allowed to be sexually active. and were. Only in our more recent history did this change. We are the exception.

In medieval England the age of consent for girls was 12. And in the United States, prior to the Progressive Era, many states had no legislation on the matter and the common law age of consent prevailed. That was 10. California had an age of consent of 10 until 1889 when it was increased to 14. In 1897 they raised it again, to 16 and then in 1913 they raised it again to 18.

The reality is that our sex laws have never been in tune with actual human sexual practices. We have laws which classify as “sexual offenders” teens caught having sex with other teens. Potentially a third to half of all teenagers in America are sex offenders. If the police ever prosecuted all the teens, who are legally defined as sex offenders, those laws would be repealed overnight.

By the time American young people reach 19 years of age about 70% of them have had sexual intercourse. One in seven have done so by age 15.

With the internet any teen who wants to view sexually explicit material can do so within seconds at little or no cost. Polls of young people show that large numbers admit to having watched porn on-line. These surveys were done with parental consent so the young people knew their parents were aware they were taking the poll. I wonder what would have happened to responses if the kids polled knew they parents wouldn’t know about the survey. I suspect the numbers admitting to viewing porn would have been substantially higher. Young people who want to view sexual material can easily do so.

What poses a puzzle for the erotiphobic crowd is that while young people today are more exposed to pornography than ever, they are actually acting more responsibly than previous generations. Sex researcher David Finkelhor says: “There have been drops in crime, drops in teen pregnancy, increases in the number of kids who say they’re virgins, declines in various kinds of victimization and less running away.”

So while availability of erotica has increased young people have become more sexually responsible in recent years.

What exactly is supposed to happen to young people, who view erotica, that requires all this protection? They don’t need porn to become sexually aroused. It doesn’t compel them to go out raping one another. The reality is that most sexual material is used to help reduce sexual feelings that already exist, not to create feelings where they do not exist. If anything, porn discourages sexual activity for young people because it is a low cost substitute for intercourse.

A teenage male who is feeling sexually needy could go out seeking a live partner to help satisfy those urges. Or, he can view some pornography and satisfy himself. The first activity is more labor intensive and costly in all ways. The second is relatively easy. Perhaps one reason for the decline in teenage sexual activity in recent years is the wider access to porn among teens. That access means the low cost substitute is more readily available discouraging them from going on the prowl.

It is claimed that erotica “objectifies” women. Apparently males can’t be sex objects in this thinking. But this theory is really an idea from the feminist movement and they tend to ignore males in their theories, except to describe them negatively. The fact is that men and women are “sex objects” to one another because that is how we are built. We are visual creatures. Evolution has instilled certain triggers to sexual desire which are largely visual in nature. Both men and women can become sexually stimulated by how another person looks and this true regardless of the prevalence of pornography. That men are more visually stimulated than women is true which is why men are the main consumers of pornography.

Human sexuality, out of necessity, existed before the human brain developed. If our ancestors didn’t see one another as sex objects we wouldn’t exist today. It is unlikely that “consciousness raising” is ever going to extinguish that trait. Yet humans did evolve into a higher species with a wider range of emotions and with values. That someone becomes aroused sexually by the body or looks of another person does not make them incapable of romantic love or all the other values that civilized people tend to support. Many successful relationships started out purely because one of the partners was sexually attracted to the other. That they saw the other as a “sex object” is what brought them close enough in order to develop these “higher” emotions which can only develop through intimacy (and I use intimacy in a non sexual way here). Sexual desire brought about the intimacy which helped create the romantic inclinations and the cherishing of one another.

Does porn treat the participants, both men and women, as sex objects? Yes. It does so because men and women are sex objects to other men and women.

Banish all porn and men will still look at women as sex objects. Men don’t look at women as sex objects because they have seen porn -- this trait is true even among men who rarely, or never, have viewed porn. It’s natural. And most of us, under the right circumstances, enjoy being seen as a sex object. We want others to desire us. We may not want it on a 24-hour-per-day basis but we do want it and when we receive it we feel good about it. That it is sometimes unwelcome doesn’t mean that sexual objectification isn’t natural, normal and beneficial.

The justifications for protecting the young from erotica are often vague and imprecise. I have only discussed a couple of them. What is often missing from the debate is the real reason that many want to “protect” young people. It is the idea that sexuality is sinful, dirty, disgusting, evil, or immoral. I suspect this is the motivation behind many a crusade to “protect” people from sex. Our Christian heritage has left the Western world with a schizophrenic view of sexuality. It can be encapsulated this way: many people view sex as sinful and disgusting and therefor it should be reserved for marriage.

You can see it in the campaigns to force pregnant girls to carry the fetus to term or in campaigns to deny teens the use of contraceptives. The idea is that sexuality must be risky and that individuals who have sex deserve to be punished by the act itself. This phobia is present in the idea that the only justification for sexual expression is reproduction. That is the Vatican’s view in a nutshell: there is no justification in the sheer pleasure of the sexual act. Even conservative Protestants have unwittingly bought into that doctrine with their antigay marriage campaigns. They deny the validity of gay marriage because it is not reproductive -- that is a basic acceptance of the Catholic view that all sex must have the potential of creating life or it is sinful.

I am not convinced that “protecting” young people from sexuality material is a good thing. That is, I’m not sure it actually protects them. The harm of such exposure seems extremely limited. That young people today have unprecedented access to pron, without it apparently creating a social crisis, seems to indicates that censorship campaigns, no matter how well intentioned, don’t actually produce any good. And when you think about the stupid Indiana law you realize how out of touch the politicians are. I suggest that few young people in Indiana who view porn are heading down to the bookstores to do it. They can find it much more easily at home or from their friends.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blame it on global warming. Ski seaons's records.

The cold spell that gripped the world last year appears to be continuing. The latest indication is that the skiing season in Europe is being extended for weeks this year. St. Anton in Austria plans on staying open until April 27, Tignes in France is planning to close on May 11 and Engelberg in Switzerland plans to stay open until May 25. Skiing one week before the start of June!

In addition to an extended winter these resorts saw record snow falls for the year. And skiers in Europe are being urged to take advantage of this. Most are used to a skiing season that would be closed by now. Ski Club Great Britain says that the skiing is great. Vanessa Fisher, of the club, said they had another cold weekend with more snow. Normally the slopes start to warm up and the snow gets mushy “but for the moment it’s great--which is very unusual for this time of year.”

At Tignes the average snow depth is 230 cm on the higher slopes and 158 cm on the lower ones. Normally it would be 213 cm and 118 cm.

All this has the resorts singing on the way to the bank. This snow season started much earlier than normal. Resorts were opening in October and November.

How do you think the media would be covering this story if the resorts opened late and closed early due to warmer weather? Do you think that would generate lots of news coverage and scary predictions coupled with demand for "urgent" action?

On the other side of the globe Vietnam is also having problems with cold. The Thanh Nien Daily reports: "A record cold spell in northern Vietnam has killed 31,000 heads of cattle and destroyed more than 11,000 hectares of paddy and rice-seeding field."

In Kansas the Morning Sun reports that farmers aren't sure when to plant corn this year. Last year they planted early and but that was "a total disaster" because the "Easter freeze killed the corn that was up and also some that had only sprouted. The freeze last year was something we had never seen before. We had February weather in April."  With records snows across America this year this does put farmers in a conundrum as to when to plant. 

So far we've had record colds in various U.S. states, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argetina and Chili. Baghdad saw its first snow in recorded history. 


Zimbabwe's crisis.

The New York Times has an editorial regarding the sad situation of Zimbabwe. With elections coming up in a few days the question is how will Robert Mugabe steal another election?

First, some basics. Zimbabwe was a relatively prosperous country when Mugabe took power. The West, including Maggie Thatcher, praised Mugabe as a wonderful leader. This in spite of Mugabe’s open praise for one-party rule and his advocacy of Marxism. If questioned about this problem Mugabe’s supporters assured us that “he didn’t really mean it.” He meant it alright. And the last 28 years proves it.

For much of that time Mugabe felt safe in power so he left a lot of the economy alone. The areas where he was most “concerned” were also the areas he screwed up the worst. He was quite openly raiding the state treasury for his own personal gain and used to commander Air Zimbabwe jets so he could fly to London and spend his foreign aid at Harrod’s on goodies for himself, his wife, his mistress and other members of family.

Unemployment continued get worse under Mugabe’s rule. And he sent his troops into the Congo to pillage mines there promising proceeds to his generals. In addition Mugabe engaged in some genocide against the Matabeles. It is believed that his troops killed around 10,000 people in that massacre. The result was that the military was firmly committed to Mugabe. They fear that the election of anyone else would subject them to the courts for their executions. In addition the goodies that Mugabe was giving them would dry up.

In 2000 Mugabe put a referendum on the ballot which would change the Constitution in ways he found favorable to himself. He was shocked when he lost that vote. Two things were immediately apparent to him. One was that the voters in the major cities were firmly against him. But he knew that. It was his control over the rural areas that kept him in power. But he also lost a lot of votes in rural areas. And he knew why.

A few hundred thousand rural people lived on farms, most farms owned by white people. These farmers provided housing for their employees and their families -- entire villages sprang up on these farms. The farmers also built schools for the children and provided medical care. And these farmers protected their workers from squads of Mugabe’s thugs who would beat people up for voting the wrong way or supporting the wrong party.

Mad Bob had to get his hands on these rural workers. And to do that he had to get rid of the white farmers. All the talk about redistribution of land was so much window dressing. When property was redistributed it went to ZANU-PF (Mugabe’s party) cronies, relatives of Mad Bob and the generals. In very few cases was the land “redistributed” to poor people. When that was done it was turned into a “collective” and the farmers on these collective farms couldn’t even feed themselves -- they required food aid in order to survive.

The “white farmers” were never Mugabe’s target. It was their workers he was after. And when the farmers were destroyed Mugabe unleashed his thugs on the workers who were beaten, tortured and murdered for their disloyalty to Mad Bob.

Next he turned his attention to the urban residents. His troops went through the cities and the massive squatter camps and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. The people were forced back into the rural areas where it was easier for Mugabe to keep control of them. Next Mugabe turned on the educate blacks, business owners, teachers, etc. These people were staunch opponents of Mugabe and he had to break them as well.

One of the worst things about media coverage on Zimbabwe, at that time, was this continual harping about attacks on white farmers. And they did suffer badly. But they were not the targets. Mugabe’s thugs killed thousands and thousands of blacks and only a handful of whites. The media seemed to see this as a racial war. It was not. Mugabe’s racism was the excuse not the reason. Whites were pushed out of the way so he could kill his real opponents -- black voters who had shunned him. After that campaign Mugabe literally stole the election because, in spite of his rampant intimidation, he still lost the election.

The Times calls on “South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki” to make it clear that Mugabe’s henchmen will be denied visa and have their bank accounts frozen. Wishful thinking. Mbeki will not do much. The African National Congress has actively worked to enable Mugabe and keep him in power.

If there is one clear sign of the ANC’s authoritarian streak it is Mbeki’s support for Mugabe, and the tactics he has used to stay in power. In my opinion Mbeki’s support is there because he knows in his heart that the ANC would use the same sort of tactics if they were threatened with losing power. The top ANC leaders are happy with democratic elections provided they win. Given a scenario where the ANC would lose you see the same tactics trotted out in South Africa post haste.

Mbeki is leading South Africa down the drain. The country already suffers from rolling blackouts as the electric company is unable to provide power for much of the day. Factories and major companies close down with no notice due to power cuts. Yet as South Africa has been plunged into an electricity crisis the government still provides electricity to Mugabe’s regime -- even though he has been unable to pay for it. Calling on the ANC to do something here is a waste of breath.

Where the Times editorial goes most wrong is that it calls for “generous aid” to the hoped for new government. No! A thousand times, NO! Giving aid to governments in Africa is responsible for much of the harm that is inflicted on the poor. Mugabe sustained himself on generous aid from the West for decades. Foreign aid paid for the weapons used to kill his people. Foreign aid financed his secret police.

I remember one incident that is indicative of the foreign aid lunacy. A demonstration in Harare against the government was broken up by the police. One participant who was attacked by the police was the cousin to Queen Elizabeth. Simon Rhodes is Elizabeth’s second cousin and had spent much of life in Zimbabwe. When he marched for freedom in Zimbabwe the police grabbed him, roughed him up, and then threw him in the back of a Landrover used by the police to round up dissidents. The Landrover was provided as foreign aid by the British government.

Foreign aid does not help the poor. It would be far more useful for the West to fly over the poor villages and just dump cash out out of the helicopter windows. Money that goes to African governments goes to the vampire elite who rape their nations. It does not go to the people. This does not mean that the people of Zimbabwe don’t need help. They do. But it must be provided by private groups to people and villages directly. No such aid should go through government.

I would love to see the opposition Movement for Democratic Change take power. But I wouldn’t shower them with aid -- though I am sure that will happen if they win. Instead empower the people themselves not the politicians. Power in Africa is heavily centralized and that is destructive. Add the tribal rivalries and centralization of power inevitably leads to civil war and conflict as each tribe attempts to gain control of the State in order to prevent their enemies from gaining control of them. Africa needs local power not centralize power. Foreign aid just does more to centralize power in the central government. And it makes loyalty to government the one sure way of getting rich.

All of this exacerbates the problems in Africa. Foreign aid is about the worst thing you can do.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Senator Gravel joins Libertarian Party

Technically speaking Mike Gravel is still running for president as a Democrat though everyone knows he won't be nominated. Yesterday Senator Gravel announced he was joining the Libertarian Party. He said:

I'm joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can't be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America," says Gravel. "My libertarian views, as well as my strong stance against war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American; elites that reject the empowerment of American citizens I offered to the Democratic Party at the beginning of this presidential campaign with the National Initiative for Democracy.

Senator Gravel, however, has not just joined the LP. He has announced he wants to be the Libertarian candidate for president. I quote the Senator's press release:

The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.

By and large, I have been repeatedly marginalized in both national debates and in media exposure by the Democratic leadership, which works in tandem with the corporate interests that control what we read and hear in the media.

I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.

What would qualify someone as a good candidate for the Democrats is a different matter than what would make him a good Libertarian candidate. Gravel is unlibertarian on some issues and depending on which issues that may mean he is unacceptable. So let's look at his views

I still stand by the view that the LP is not in a position to win elections given the way the system is rigged against them. But it is in a good position to push the case for liberty. If the party can't be a vehicle for getting elected then it could be one for education. But to do that it has to take a pretty consistent stand. Admittedly some issues are more important than others. Gravel is good on Iraq and good on the war on drugs. The presidential candidate is the main voice for libertarian ideas for the LP. This is the reason I've been despondent about the quality of LP candidates up until Mary Ruwart entered the race.

Here is a run down on some of the issues Gravel has campaigned on.

He is a proponent of something he calls the National Initiative for Democracy which promotes direct democracy such as initiatives. If such measures allowed voters to veto legislation they would be useful. If they allow voters to pass legislation they would encourage assaults against the rights and wealth of minorities by majorities. Witness how the Right used such measures to stip gay couples of equal standing before the law. Direct democracy is not a panacea and historically has been used to expand state power. A very bad idea but not a deal breaker.

Gravel "believes that global climate change is a matter of national security and survivability of the planet." This sort of scaremongering might be necessary in the Democratic Party but it over the line for the LP. If someone argued that it was a problem I'd probably ignore it. If they turn it into issues of "national security" and argue it will kill the planet I think that is just extreme fear mongering.

In matters of taxes Gravel wants to abolish the IRS and income tax and replace it with a sales tax. A sales tax to replace the income tax might be alright but the level of taxation would be very high. Any tax reform has to be accompanied with spending cuts. Gravel realizes that this proposal is very regressive and hits poorer people the hardest so he wants the government to give out rebates on the taxes paid for food, lodging, transportation and clothes. This rebate would come in the form of a monthly check from Washington. This is a really bad idea. It acclimates all Americans to the idea that D.C. is the place to get financial support. Surely it would be less cumbersome to simply exempt these items from the tax in the first place. Nothing is so daft as sending lots of money to Washington so they can process it and then send it back. This is like a blood transfusion from the left arm to the right arm while letting the doctor keep 50 percent.

Gravel "advocates a universal healthcare system." He wants to pay for it from the sales tax. If you think the sales tax would be huge just to cover current expenditures it would be much larger to cover this program. What I find ludicrous is that Gravel says "Citizens would pay nothing for health benefits." What exactly does he call the taxes he would impose? That is paying for the "benefits". There is no such thing as free health care. For me this issue is one of the litmus issues. It is not just a bad idea but a deal breaker.

On abortion Gravel is alright. He certainly is better than Ron Paul on such matters. But when it comes to free trade Gravel is not so good. He refers tot he "the concept of 'free trade'". Yes, he puts free trade in scare quotes. He says that the free trade agreement "has been a disaster for the working class of both the U.S. and Mexico". He quotes a left-wing group claiming it has destroyed 1 million U.S. jobs and 1.3 million jobs in Mexico. Apparently Senator Gravel believes that the amount of trade increases substantially but everyone lost jobs in the process. It is not true. He then blames free trade for "the wave of immigrants looking for work in the U.S." He is not bad on immigration per se but his grasp of the economics of free trade is very weak. This is another one of those deal breaker issues.

Senator Gravel supports marriage equality for gay couples and is against Bob Barr's Defense of Marriage Act. Here Gravel is pretty good. I don't agree with his desire to expand hate-crime legislation but don't see it as a deal breaker. He wants to repeal Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military. This is a good position.

Regarding social security Gravel wants to reform the system so that funds are invested and identify specific amounts to individuals and allow them to "leave surplus funds to heirs". This is a good reform for a bad system. It could be better but it is a step in the right direction.

In education Gravel wants to add "universal pre-kindergarten" to the system. Handing over kids to the education bureaucracy for more years is no solution -- it is the problem. Gravel says he wants more flexibility in the education system but none of the measures he lists increases choice for parents. He doesn't challenge the educational monopoly at all. He is very weak on this issue.

In a nutshell Gravel is excellent on the war, abortion, gay equality and the war on drugs. He should be applauded in particular for that last issue. Very few candidates are brave enough to speak out on this matter. In truth no other presidential candidate did. Even St. Paul has backtracked saying that he wants state regulation not federal regulation and that he was "misinterpreted" in the past when he actually did support legalization.

I'll even give Gravel good marks for his social security reform. His proposals would be a big improvement even if they don't go far enough.

On the issues of direct democracy and tax reform Gravel proposes reforms that would create new problems. The direct democracy initiative is very dangerous to individual rights. His tax reforms replace one mess with another one and are not an improvement. His scare mongering on climate plays into the far Lef't's calls for state central planning. And his education positions don't improve anything. Increasing the amount of time kids have to suffer under the education monopoly is actually a step backwards. These are all matters where Gravel is bad but not necessarily worse than the status quo or not worse by a significant amount.

But there are two issues where Gravel is horrendous. His positions on free trade and socialized health care are bloody awful. His positions would mark a major assault on individual freedom and are deal breakers. I would welcome Senator Gravel as a party member but this sort of statist position should disqualify him from being a candidate. What worries me is that the Libertarian Party has a large number of individuals who are whoring after office and are willing to take any statist proposal on board if they think it will give them the baubles of office. And they are willing to overlook horrendous positions by individuals in order to do so.

That strategy is doomed. First, they won't win office by becoming political whores. Second, all they will do is undermine the ability of the party to spread libertarian ideas. In other words they would destroy the one justification for the party without gaining anything in return. And that is really stupid.

Senator Gravel would be a vast improvement for the Democratic Party especially over the current front runners. But as a Libertarian candidate he would be a step backwards.

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Hillary lies about lying.

It is increasingly difficult to take Hillary seriously when she continues to lie about this incident. She is now claiming that the was "sleep deprived" and that is why she misspoke. That she told the same falsehood on two other occasions is ignored by her. Here is a video tape of another time when she made the same false claim about sniper fire when she was in Bosnia. The whole story is a lie, fabricated by Clinton. Below is the video of one of the previous times when she made the same claim that she now blames on lack of sleep.

It should be noted that when Hillary first made this claim that the comedian Sinbad, who was performing for the troops in Bosnia when Hillary was there, said publicly that the claim was false. When Hillary was asked about Sinbad's comments she dismissed him because he was a comedian and she was implying that he was telling a falsehood for laughs. She was the one lying and she continued doing so.

If you want some idea of how Hillary sees herself consider this comment from a radio interview where she was asked about the porker she was telling. "I did misspeak the other day. Occasionally, I am a human being like everybody else." Occasionally?? She also claimed, "for the first time in 12 or so years I misspoke." Somebody slap the woman and wake her up. The second video proves that this didn't happen just once and the press reports at least a third campaign speech where she told the same lie. One incident might be "misspeaking" but three times is intentional.

UPDATE - NEW EXCUSE: Hillary has a new excuse for distorting the facts. When reporters questioned her about her claim that this was the first time she "misspoke" in 12 years she lectured them to "lighten up" because she was joking. But that was my take on her health care plans! Remember that Hillary got into this mess for vastly exaggerating the facts. So how does she defend her self now? Here is her most recent comment: "Obviously I say millions of words every week. There is a lot mroe room for error when you are talking as much as I am talking."

So to cover up one exaggeration she comes up with another exaggeration. Hillary claims that in a week's time she speaks millions of words. At a minimum that is 2 million words since she used the plural of million. One week has 7 days each with 24 hours. If you never sleep or never shut up that gives you a maximum of 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes, or 604,800 seconds. That is 3.3 words per second for every second of the day without sleeping or shutting up. If the woman spoke only two-thirds of that time she is up to five words per second for 16 hours per day. Now I know it seems like she never shuts up but this really would be 300 words per minute for 16 straight hours per day, seven days a week. I don't think so.

And her constant use of the word "misspoke" is absurd. If she meant to say she flew out of Dulles but said she flew out of Dallas that is misspeaking. Saying you ran for cover from snipers is nothing like saying that nothing happened. That is not misspeaking. That is lying.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

The following video tape is rather humiliating to Hillary. She is so anxious to claim "foreign policy" experience that she exaggerates. Remember the first class bull she was spreading about her role in the Northern Ireland peace process? She claims she was instrumental in it and the record shows she did nothing. Now CBS unpacks Hillary's claim about being Bosnia and having to run for cover due to snipers. CBS was there and still had the film. Hillary's story was pure rubbish. Her handlers tried to cover up by claiming that what she really meant was that there were snipers off in the hills somewhere. Right!

Given my choice between Obama and Hillary I'd take Hillary, though neither one appeals to me. But Hillary is such a nasty character that I can't help but enjoy it when she is shown up this way. Watch the video for yourself.

Update: It appears the more Clinton's campaign tries to justify this the worse it gets. Her campaign staff claimed she really meant there snipers in the hills nearby. But Hillary herself had a different excuse. She claimed "we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire." So first we had sniper fire taking place and running for cover. Then we had sniper fire but somewhere else while moving quickly. But Major General William Nash, who welcomed Hillary that day said there wasn't even the threat of sniper fire. And the video of the event didn't show a hurried event as they moved indoors for safety. The reality is that the vist came five months after the conflict ended.

Elsewhere Clinton claimed she merely "misspoke" and to prove it she said that in previous descriptions of the event she said nothing about running from sniper fire or the threat of it. And in her overprice biography that was the case. But on the campaign trail, in two other incidents, she did describe it this way. In Texas she told a crowd the welcoming ceremony had to be moved inside due to snipers -- that wasn't true. It appears she has made the sniper claim before so this hardly qualifies as misspeaking. I think she trotted out the calmer version of the story first to see if she got any flak. When it didn't happen she ratcheted it up a notch or two to be more dramatic thinking it was safe. Only she got caught. The first lie was a problem but the lies used to cover up the original lie only makes it worse.

Hillary's problem, when it comes to image, is that she doesn't have a good reputation when it comes to her character. She is too easily portrayed as a power-hungry politician who will do anything to get what she wants. And incidents like this only feed that image.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Was Bastiat a "devout Catholic"?

I have always been interested in the life of Frederic Bastiat, perhaps because it was cut so short. Bastiat was a fighter for classical liberal values in France during some of the most tumultuous years in French history. He was a member of the French Assembly where he sat on the Left with Prodhoun. But Bastiat was no socialist -- on the contrary he was a fervent opponent of socialism.

I was reading an article by Prof. Brian Baugus for The Independent Journal regarding Bastiat. And I was a bit baffled by the claim that Bastiat was “a devout Catholic.” Very little that I have read on the man seems to affirm that idea. Certainly; like most Frenchmen of his day, he was born a Catholic, but I never found any indication that he was particularly religious. His writings refer to a deity in the same sort of vague generalities as used by most Enlightened deists of the time.

In fact, prior to this statement by Baugus I’ve only run across one indication that Bastiat was religious. The Catholic Encyclopedia claimed that while Bastiat “was fitted to understand and defend Catholic truth” that was not the case. Instead “the prejudices in the midst of which he lived kept him aloof from the Faith until the very eve of his death.”

When the Catholic Encyclopedia says Bastiat was “aloof from the Faith” that hardly sounds as if he were a “devout Catholic.” They claim that only “in his last hour” did Bastiat become a Christian. Of course, last minute deathbed conversions, most of them invented by the faithful and not by the dying individual, are easy to manufacture. The evidence to support such death bed conversions are usually lacking in substance. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives no source for the claim that Bastiat converted before his death.

The Right-wing, anti-Semite Joseph Sobran, himself a traditionalist Catholic, says that Bastiat was “a devout Catholic” but he offers no source for this assertion. Certainly Bastiat attended a Catholic school but other options didn’t exist and one doesn’t judge an adult’s religious views based on his childhood education. Another Right-wing blog calls Bastiat the “the great Catholic liberal” but again they don't even attempt to substantiat this claim.

While it is easy to assert that Bastiat was a devout Catholic, there is no evidence presented to substantiate the claim. Most those making this assertion seem to be conservative Catholics though Baugus is a evangelical Baptist.

Bastiat did not live much like a devout Catholic. He did marry very briefly. Just before he turned 30 he married Marie Hiard but they separated almost immediately and no other romantic incidents are documented. His one lifelong relationship was with Felix Coudroy. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Coudroy as Bastiat’s “able, dearly loved and lifelong friend.” While none of this is definitive, it does raise the question as to whether Bastiat was a gay man but, like most of Bastiat's private life, there is precious little actual evidence beyond the circumstantial.

The circumstances of Bastiat’s death are tragic. Still a young man, he suffered from tuberculosis. His physicians recommended he seek a warmer climate for his health and in late 1850 he went to Rome. It was there that he died on Christmas Eve. While the Catholic Encyclopedia claims he had a deathbed religious experience I have never been able to find an independent account of this alleged incident.

The evidence that Bastiat was a “devout “Catholic seems non-existent. By the Catholic Encyclopedia’s own assertion he remained “aloof from the Faith” his entire life, until he allegedly had a conversion minutes before he died. But we can find no evidence for this conversation. I have not even been able to find a description of Bastiat’s last minutes of life. Other than the fact that he was in Rome, I don’t know where in Rome. I don’t know if he died in a hospital, or in a hotel where he was staying, or in the private home of a friend. There is no account that I’ve seen of who was with him during these last moments and I know of no contemporary account describing his death except in the most broad terms.

Bastiat is one of the great mysteries of libertarianism. Much of his private life remained private and apparently so did his death. We don’t know why he married or why his wife left him almost immediately. Most of Bastiat’s relationships were of a political nature. He was an avid debater for libertarian ideas but his private life remained relatively secret. Outside his political activities the only person he spent much time with was Felix Coudroy. And where Coudroy was, when Bastiat died, doesn’t appear to be known. We know little about Coudroy himself other than he was Bastiat’s neighbor and that the two men spent a considerable amount of time in one another’s company.

There are many things we don’t know about Bastiat. But I can not find evidence that he was devout Catholic and the Catholic Encyclopedia implies he wasn't. Other than an undocumented claim of a last minute conversion we have no indication that Bastiat was anything more than a deistically inclined son of the Age of Enlightenment.

Bastiat is one of the most well-known figures of his day. His writings still influence people today. Yet no major biography has even been published. The closest to it is George Roche’s Bastiat: A Man Alone. Yet Roche spends much of the time describing Bastiat’s writings and beliefs on economics. We have a rudimentary description of his life but what is missing is the kind of detailed discussion that most biographies contain. One could say that Bastiat is one of the most obscure, well-known figures in libertarian history. And, unless someone uncovers new evidence, there is little reason to describe Bastiat as a “devout Catholic.” Such a description seems more like wishful thinking than history.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Warming models baffled by a cooling ocean.

National Public Radio has an interesting report on global warming and the oceans which, if my link works correctly, you can hear it here. Here are the basics.

A few years ago scientists put 3,000 “robots” into the oceans of the world, which are all part of the Argos System to monitor world climate patterns. NPR says that “Josh Willis at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the oceans are what really matter when it comes to global warming.” They go on:

In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of global warming involves heating up ocean waters. They hold much more heat than the atmosphere can. So Willis has been studying the ocean with a fleet of robotic instruments called the Argo system. The buoys can dive 3,000 feet down and measure ocean temperature. Since the system was fully deployed in 2003, it has recorded no warming of the global oceans.

Got that? Since 2003 there has been no discernible warming of the oceans which defies the theories. In fact, Willis says: “There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant.” Of course when all your models tell you that there ought to be warming and you get “very slight cooling” that in itself is significant. Certainly, it is troubling.

Oddly, while Willis tells NPR the cooling was "not anything really significant" the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said otherwise. "The average temperature of the water near the top of the Earth's oceans has cooled significantly since 2003." Two years ago Willis was dismissing the cooling as just "natural variability" implying that this would end very soon. But another two years have gone by and the data still shows a cooling trend. Even more oddly, a pdf of a paper prepared by Willis and others for Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 33 says: "A new estimate of sampling error in the heat content record suggests that both the recent and previous global cooling events are significant and unlikely to be artifacts of inadequate ocean sampling." They wrote: "The decrease [in ocean temperature] represents a signficant loss of heat over a 2-year period amounting to one-fifth of the long-term upper-ocean heat gain between 1955 and 2003..." They emphasized "the cooling event is real". They also argued this heat probably is not being stored anywhere on earth but "could be the result of a net loss of heat from the Earth to space."

The problem is that the experts simply aren’t sure what is happening or why. They think it might be something to do with El Nino. It gets more confusing because warming is supposed to increase sea levels while cooling would reduce them. While they can’t find any warming they do find sea levels have risen and they can’t explain why. “One possibility is that... scientists are somehow misinterpreting the data...”

But if the data is correct they have to figure out where the heat has gone. And right now they don’t know. One theory is that is going back into space. NPR reports:
The Earth has a number of natural thermostats, including clouds, which can either trap heat and turn up the temperature, or reflect sunlight and help cool the planet. That can't be directly measured at the moment, however.

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research confesses: “Unfortunately, we don’t have adequate tracking of clouds to determine exactly what role they’ve been playing during this period.” Clouds have always played a major role in climate change but there is are lots of holes in human knowledge regarding clouds and their impact. If humans don’t have the information it doesn’t get factored into their warming models. NASA said: “clouds are not well represented by the models... Yet clouds clearly play a crucial role in climate change due to their influence on humidity, precipitation and albedo (the percentage of solar energy reflected back into space as light.)”

And the report in Geophysical Research Letters noted that interannual variability in ocean heat content "are not yet well understood" and that this "variability is not adequately simulated in the current generation of coupled climate models used to study the impact of anthropogenic influences on climate."

At this time the slight cooling of the oceans over the last few years raises many questions and provides little answers. It is a phenomenon which shouldn’t exist given current warming models yet it does exist. Of course, a re-examination of the data must take place to see if this discrepancy holds up. If it does then once more the models failed to account for reality and that implies there are problems in the models. Perhaps they can be fixed, perhaps the entire climate is far more complex than the models we are capable of building.

Economies, it has been noted, are like miniature ecosystems with all the feedback loops and intricacies of nature. Since the rise of “scientific Marxism” it was believed that man could create models which would allow him to scientifically plan the economy. These models were to lead to greater prosperity for all. But, even in the relatively small economies of many of the nations where this experiment was tried, the models failed. In the great economic calculation debate a bevy of socialists held out the hope that with the rise of computers centralized planning would become more and more accurate.

With great amusement it was discovered, after the collapse of central economic planning, that the Soviets were convinced that U.S. prosperity resulted from a secret, central planning agency that had to be directing everything. Their mindset was such that they couldn’t conceive of things working any other way.

It may be that all the factors which play roles in the complex system we call “the climate” are, in fact, much simpler than the economy of some place like Albania. Or, perhaps there really are modelers out there who are far more capable than any turned out under socialism, who will be able to turn that complex system into a series of equations that will accurately portray what is happening and explain why it is happening. On the other hand the data may determine that no matter how often the models are tweaked, changed, or modified the climate is still far more complex than the model is able to understand.

Science magazine published a study by Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker of the University of Washington. Nature magazine described that report: “Over the past 30 years, climate models have not appreciably narrowed down the precise relationship between greenhouse gases and the planet's temperature — despite huge advances in computing power, climate observations and the number of scientists studying the problem, say Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker. The researchers now argue that this is because the uncertainty simply cannot be reduced.”

So there are serious scientific arguments to made for the inherent unreliability of climate models. I happen to have a lot of confidence in the growth of knowledge but I’m not convinced these models will every be accurate.

For me that means cautionary actions not brash ones. For many warming alarmists it means the opposite. They argue that the uncertainties of the models means that policy has to be set as if the models are correct because they just might be. As Nature reported these individuals “are now calling on policy-makers to make decisive policies on avoiding dangerous climate change, even if we don’t have perfect models.”

I’ve run into this argument before. There is a perceived danger to the world. Experts believe the danger is real and that it must be addressed. Policy-makers argue that even if their information is wrong the risk of not acting is too great to contemplate waiting for more information. It was incumbent upon us to rush in and take action to solve the problem, even if the problem didn’t actually exist, merely because we thought it could exist. The net result of that thinking was the war in Iraq.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cold weather a sign of warming?

Last year was an usually cold year. And things may stay that way a bit longer. So what caused the cold snap? At least one politician is attributing the cold weather to global warming. Suresh Prabhu is India's minister for the environment. He was rec ntly at a "Combat Global Warming" conference. According to one local news source: "Prabhu said the cold wave that swept Maharashtra and other parts of India could be attributed to the phenomenon of global warming."

Global warming is an interesting theory. I have failed to find any advocate of warming who can tell me what it would take to disprove their theory. I don't pretend to "know" what the precise cause of global climate changes are. I suspect they are natural because such fluctuations have been taking place for as long as we know. I don't rule out that it could be man-made, that certainly seems like it could be a reasonable theory. I just have no idea what proponents of man-made warming would accept as evidence contradicting the theory. As far as I can see everything that happens is either caused by man-made warming or unrelated to it. Some, such as this environmental minister, go so far as to attribute global cooling to global warming.

It is at moments like this that I have to suspect that what we have is a political "solution" looking for a problem. That is the advocates of this theory have "solutions" already outlined, most of which require large amounts of new regulations, controls, taxes and central planning. And now they are coming up with a "problem" which will justify the "solution" they wish to impose. Of course not all warming theorists think this way but I suspect that much political support for theory comes from that motivation. If any readers knows of a post by warming theorist which indicates what sort of evidence would be sufficient to disprove the global warming theory I'd like to know about it. And to be precise, I'm not saying that no such statement has ever been made, I'm just say that I have yet to come across it. And no advocate of the vogue warming theory has yet pointed it out to me.

The Indian article also quoted an environmental scientistsk, Emmanuel D'Silva, as saying: "It is estimated by the year 2050, another seven million persons are expected to take refuge in Mumbai after global warming leads to either a drought or deluge in their village or city elsewhere in the country." I think it pretty safe to say that this statement will easily be proven true. Sometime over the next 42 years, someplace in India will have either a drought or flooding. You can bet on that.


Away for a few days.

It is time for some more dental work. And that means I will be in Mexico for the rest of the week. My access to the net will be very limited due to a flaw in my computer. It will only work with wireless and not with cable and I don't have wireless in Mexico. So unless I work on someone else's computer I may not have access to the site. Actually I will be pretty cut off from my emails and everything else related to the Net. I will try to update things but I can't promise anything. So if you don't see anything for a few days don't worry.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

British cops want to target children as "future" criminals.

One thing I have long thought is that when it comes to burgeoning police state that the British are slightly ahead of the United States. Both are headed down the road to serfdom and both are moving at a rapid pace. But the Labour government of England has actually had more contempt for human liberty than the Bush regime -- as hard as that is to believe.

I have mentioned three issues which I think make England a dangerous place to live if you value freedom. Those are the fact that the government has disarmed the law abiding populace -- criminals are still armed of course. History is filled with instance where governments become so intolerable that the people rise up and depose them. The English will never have that option.

Second, the government has people under constant surveillance. And I mean quite literally under surveillance. The government runs thousands of surveillance cameras which film the public throughout the day. Add to that the odious monitoring of people’s financial records, something that is rampant in the United States and the British people are thoroughly monitored by the State throughout their daily activities. Of similar vein is that the British, like the Republicans in the United States, have pushed through a national ID, which amounts to a government issued travel permit to move about in one’s own country.

The third trend in England that should scare the hell out of anyone with an ounce of brains is the drive to set up a DNA data base that will eventually trace every person in the country.

Now a top police official in England is floating the idea to begin collecting DNA samples from children. Gary Pugh of Scotland Yard is the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers. He is also a disgusting man with utter contempt for human liberty -- just in case you didn’t know what I thought of this man. When police start acting in this manner they are violating the rights of people, individuals who violate the rights of others are criminals. The reality is the the police have become another criminal gang just more pervasive and deadly.

This police official says that children should be monitored and if they exhibit any behavior that is consider worrisome their DNA should be taken from them and stored for use later. He says this is a way “of identifying people before they offend”. Notice he is not even arguing that the State should collect DNA after they commit a crime but before hand. How young should this be done? Pugh says. “You could argue the younger the better.” His justification: “We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.”

Please note again the future tense. Pugh is arguing that the police should take evidence involuntarily from individuals who have NOT committed a crime but who are merely thought to be possible, future criminals. Who will be fingering these children for apprehension at such a young age? Why state schools, of course. I quote the Guardian:

Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database - the largest in Europe - but police believe more are required to reduce crime further.

The Guardian says that government “criminologists are understood to be confident that techniques are able to identify future offenders.” Sure! Government never screws up. What a minute? Wasn’t it the British police who followed the wrong man, thought he was a terrorist, and then executed him in his seat on the Underground in front of a train full of people?

Jean Charles de Menezes was a 27-year-old young man from Brazil who didn’t realize he was being followed by armed police officers in plainclothes. The officers said they got him confused with someone else. They followed him onto a bus and then into the London Underground. He boarded a train and sat down to read a newspaper when the police officers rushed the train. The officers tackled the seated man and then shot him to death. Police then lied to the public repeatedly to justify their execution. They claimed Menezes had vaulted over the ticket barrier and ran into the train. Video footage proved that he used his ticket like everyone else and walked calmly. Police claimed he was wearing bulky clothes which they suspect had bombs underneath. He was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a relatively tight short jacket. They claimed that when they boarded the train that the victim went after them. Eyewitnesses on the train say that never happened.

In the end the police just said it was a “tragic” mistake. It wasn’t tragic for them. No wonder they want to disarm the public. Any decent person witnessing what the police were doing to this man, who was armed, would have pulled some shots off at the criminals executing an entirely innocent man. And investigations show that he was being held in his seat when he was murdered. This man was shot eight time, seven of them in the head.

Yet the police in England are demanding that the public trust them and allow the collection of the DNA of schoolchildren based entirely on the suspicion that the child might, years in the future, commit a crime.

Police are already routinely collecting DNA from people in England at every turn they can. If you witness a crime they may take DNA. If you are a “suspect” they can take DNA and they keep it even if it turns out you are entirely innocent. The Brown government wants to take DNA samples from every visitor to the country, even those just changing planes -- showing they are going even farther than the traitorous Bush Administration that forces all visitors to submit fingerprinting and mug shots.

What we are facing is two governments, one in England and one in the United States, that have come to the conclusion that citizens must be treated like criminals. Both are stripping people of their privacy and subjecting them to constant monitoring as quickly as they can.

The reality is that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom are now threats to the life, liberty and property of every decent person. The police no longer act to protect you from criminals. You are the criminal and they are protecting their real clients, the political class, from you. You are their enemy. You are their target. They have little interest in criminals. They have a great deal of interest in you.

They want to know about every cent you earn. They wish to be able to tap your phone anytime they wish, with the necessity of a warrant. They want to monitor your e-mails, you mail, your computer usage. They have turned your bank into police agents who report on how you spend money so that they can investigate anything they deem “suspicious”. They want to force you to get a state permit to travel on any road, any plane, any public bus. The police can demand that you show them ID even if you are just walking on the sidewalk. You can no longer move about the “land of the free” without a state issued permission slip. And to make it worse they are raping you pocketbook in order to pay for this assault on you.

Any interaction with any government employee, from the local school teacher, social worker or beat cop to the highest office in the land is potentially a threat to you. Even the most innocent looking bureaucrat can start a process that will destroy your life. And if someone mistakenly thinks some oregano that you have in the kitchen is marijuana you can suddenly find armed men breaking down your doors in the middle of the night. If you are lucky they won’t kill you -- but don’t count on it. That sort of mistake happens all the time.

It didn’t used to be this way. But today more and more people are suffering death by government. If you want to trust the State go right ahead. I’m sure Mr. Menezes didn’t think he had anything to worry about either. In fact they executed him so quickly that he probably never knew what was going on.

I could easily list hundreds of people who have been subjected to incredible injustices. Hundreds have died at the hands of police agents. Every single day millions of air travelers are barked at, ordered about and frisked like common criminals. These days they mostly stare at the ground quietly enduring the humiliation afraid to say anything. If you say something you can be hurt, you might be killed.

Exactly how much of this will people put up with before they throw the bastards out.


Stossel must be insane to tell the truth.

John Stossel must be mad. Only insanity of the most severe kind can explain his compulsion to tell the truth. I have long argued that the one thing the public will never forgive is the truth.

Normally the media plays into every panique du’jour since they are good for ratings and sell copies of papers and magazines. Politicians love these panics, especially the bogus ones, because they earn political capital by appearing “concerned” and “doing something”. It is much easier to “do something” about bogus problems than real ones. With real problems your solution might not work. With fake problems your solution is guaranteed to work -- at the very least the problem can’t get worse.

Stossel took on a topic that this blog has regularly tackled -- I never said I was sane. You can’t be sane and right anymore, not in modern America. I prefer the latter.

Stossel basically looked at sex laws and sex offender laws. What he exposed was a viper’s nest of stupd laws supported by individuals, who in my opinion, came across as either irrational, stupid or just malicious. One woman in particular, seemed borderline demented to me. I also got the impression she was doing nothing more than trying to further her “career” as a second-rate singer. Stossel eventually told her that he thought she was “bully”. I thought he was being kind.

Unfortunately television news shows like this are not well geared for in-depth looks at the issues that they raise. But what Stossel did discuss seemed on target to me. These sex offender laws, like most government programs, have done nothing more than create injustice on a massive scale and, where there is a real criminal problem, only make the situation worse. They are bad laws inspired by fear-mongering that were passed in a panic without any consideration to their consequences. That, to me, is pretty typical of how politics works. These laws bring to mind what David Mamet said: “I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the govenment led to much beyond sorrow.”

I salute John Stossel for having the courage to tackle a topic that is surrounded by fear and loathing and very little reason and logic. This is one reason why the real scum of politics love these laws. Once they throw out accusations revolving around these issues they know the rational faculties of the minds of many people are shut down and that a totally irrationl fear take overs. They count on precisely that happening in order to pursue their other agendas.

This blog has dealt with such topics in the following posts:

The “sex offender” madness continues.

Is breast feeding pornogaphic?

The grand inquisition: destroying teens to save them.

Sex offender lists make reoffending more likely.

Sex offeder status leads to murder.

The face of paranoia.

High school streaker faces jail and sex offenders status.

Outraged public making sex abuse DA rethink his strategy.

How a district attorney can legally abuse children.

Sex offender laws create more victims


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cheers for Sir Roger Douglas

I see that Sir Roger Douglas, the architect of the reforms that put New Zealand's economy back together are years of destruction by the welfare state, has announced that he will stand for parliament again with Rodney Hide's Act Party.

New Zealand is heading into another election and it is clear that the corrupt government of Labour's Helen Clark will be ousted -- so no doubt Clark will delay the election to the last minute. Unfortunately the National Party, which was revived under the libertarian leadership of Don Brash, now has a weak-kneed leader who thinks that being in the "opposition" means adopting all of Labour's policies but just a bit less. Kiwis need Act since National is useless again. Act deserves the votes of any Kiwis concerned about individual freedom, both social and economic. No other party in New Zealand, in my humble opinion, is worth supporting.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Welcome Home: the journeys of David Mamet and George McGovern.

A few days ago this blog discussed the new George McGovern -- the former far Leftist who now saw government as too obtrusive and invasive. Many people took this as some sort of major conversion. And while I applaud Mr. McGovern’s new insights I don’t think the conversion is nearly as dramatic as many people assume. Mr. McGovern has moved toward a classical liberal position from that of a contemporary liberal.

Joining Mr. McGovern on this journey is David Mamet, playwright, novelist and film director. Mamet wrote of his journey in the March 11th issue of The Village Voice. He said:

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

...What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

Mamet says he went on to read Thomas Sowell, who Mamet called “our greatest contemporary philosopher” but also writers like Paul Johnson and Milton Friedman. He concluded that “a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.”

Mr. Mamet seems to see his change as rather dramatic. I’m sure that many of his contemporaries on the Left will see it that way as well. But I don’t believe that Mr. McGovern and Mr. Mamet have really strayed that far from their previous beliefs. Their ends for society remain pretty much the same. They want peace, prosperity and the maximum amount of human well-being. What has changed is the means they wish to use to achieve those ends.

When real liberalism, the original kind of Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Adam Smith and the Age of Enlightenment, came onto the scene it was a radical change. It attempted to smash the power structure of the day, which was feudalistic and built on the use of state power. Raw power was used to protect the privileges of kings and priests, of church and state. Liberalism demanded reform. It called for separation of church and state. It pretty much called the separation of everything and state. It argued that individuals were best able to improve their own lives if they were free.

Liberalism argued that state power was the enemy of peace, prosperity and the people. And it sought ways to limit the state and to free the individual. This was considered the Left in those days as evidenced by the esteemed libertarian thinker Frederic Bastiat sitting with the Left in the French National Assembly. Classical liberalism was a truly revolutionary movement.

But a third force arose. It was one that adopted the goals of liberalism but also adopted something from the conservative side of the spectrum. This was socialism. The socialist hardly differed with the liberal when it came to the primary goals. He wanted peace, he wanted prosperity and he wanted equality. Liberals agreed though they had a different view of equality.

The socialist brought with him two conservative traits. He adopted the view that an elite knew best and needed to control the populace in order to protect them from exploitation and themselves. This was the old feudalistic view of the people revived. But even more importantly he embraced the use of state power to achieve liberal ends. He did not abandon the goals of liberalism but felt that the conservative means of state power was a better method of achieving those goals. The old classical liberals believe that this was a fatal compromise. They felt that means and ends must be brought into line with one another. More importantly they felt that state power wouldn’t achieve liberal goals but conservative goals.

Mamet said that he looked at the presidency of George Bush, who he despises, and found it wasn’t that different from the president he admired. The reason is that Mr. Kennedy, like Mr. Bush was wedded to the use of state power. State power is an excellent method for achieving illiberal goals but a rather poor way of promoting peace, prosperity or equality.

Statism and war are inherently connected and history bears this out. As for prosperity the state is not an engine of wealth creation but of wealth consumption. It might redistribute what wealth is created but in the process it destroys the incentives to produce wealth. State benevolence turns too easily into state dependency. And it is not the poor and powerless who see their welfare promoted by government but by the rich and powerful who have easy access to the political elite. Progressives and socialists felt that the good intentions of the Left were sufficient to reign in the conservative nature of state power. But good intentions, when mixed with state power, too easily turns into the Gulag or the Killing Fields.

A failure to understand basic incentives and the feedback loops of markets meant that the economic ecosystem was tampered with in ways which produced results contrary to the goals that the planners had in mind. Each manipulation produced unintended consequences which were addressed by further interventions which only created more unintended consequences. The good intentions of the planners were irrelevant because they failed to understand the ecology of markets. In addition they confused markets with state privilege. They failed to see the difference between the producer and the rent-seeker, the latter being those who use political means to obtain wealth for themselves through subsidies, protectionism, or redistribution. The modern Left assumed that all “business” was the same, failing to note that the one segment earned profits through production of goods and services while the state capitalist redistributed wealth through political means.

For the first time Mamet and McGovern are seeing the need to use liberal means in order to achieve liberal ends. Previously they followed the fallacy of the Socialist left in adopting conservative means to achieve liberal ends. Mr. Mamet said, “I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of he government led to much beyond sorrow.” That encapsulates the transformation. He is recognizing that the use of power, the conservative means, did not lead to the liberal ends that he sought.

What is happening with Mr. McGovern and Mr. Mamet is that they are once again bringing ends and means together. Neither has ceased to be a liberal in the true meaning of the word. On the contrary, they are more liberal than ever. Perhaps they still have further roads to travel and more understanding to gain, but I think it is time to say, “Welcome home.”

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