Friday, February 26, 2010

Oops! Is This Green Math?

New Zealand's Green Party issued a press statement attacking any expansion of mining in New Zealand. In their press release they said:
It was reported by Radio New Zealand this morning that Cabinet will consider a mining proposal on Monday. This was going to lifting (sic.) mining protection from half a billion hectares of land with high conservation value, but would now only propose lifting protection from around 7,000 hectares.
Of course they meant to say "was going to lift mining protection" but the grammar aside (I won't through rocks from my glass house) they did protest removing "protection" from "half a billion hectares of land."

One hundred hectares are one square kilometer. Half a billion hectares, or 500,000,000 hectares is equal to about 1.9 million square miles. The problem with the Green Party math is that New Zealand is only around 103,000 square miles in size in total. It sounds to me as if the Green Party was tutored in math by the IPCC.


He won't be there, but I will.

I have had two short discussions of the Brendan Burke story, here and here. You will remember that Brendan is the son of Brian Burke and that the family is well-known in the field of hockey. Brendan was himself a hockey player in high school and worked with his university hockey team as student manager. Brendan told his father that he was gay and ESPN carried a story about how his family and his team mates responded. Brendan was recently checking out law school when the blizzards hit the Midwest and he was killed in a highway accident as he was trying to return to his university campus for a hockey match. He was buried only two weeks ago.

Brian Burke buried his son but had no time to himself. One week after Brendan's tragic death Brian was in Vancouver. He is the general manager of Team America, the US Olympic hockey team. An upset victory over Canada means that Burke's Team America is in the semi-finals where they are favored to win over Finland.

This walking stereotype of masculinity, this bear of a man, loved his son. When Branden's body was being flown home, Brian sat with him, his hand resting on son's chest, the whole way. Brian told Sport's Illustrated that he had told Branden that when Toronto's gay Pride Parade would be held this year, that he would be there. Brian said: "I'd promised him I would march with him. He won't be there, but I will."

I believe him.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Anatomy of how to bias a news report.

The New York Times has an article about opposition to a municipal bus service that the city of Johannesburg wants to open, that will run from Soweto to Sandton. The article presents opposition to the bus service as racist. In my opinion the article is a bit biased and presents a distorted picture of the situation.

First, the story they run focuses on a black woman who lives in Soweto and travels daily to the Sandton area. The article refers to Sandton as the business center. This is now true since the former business center is central Johannesburg was destroyed by crime. Sandton, which had primarily been the shopping center of the northern suburbs took on greater importance as the government allowed Johannesburg to slip into chaos. Even the Johannesburg Stock Exchange left Johannesburg for the safer climate of Sandton.

The article refers to the long trip that Susan Hanong takes from Soweto. Depending on where in Soweto she lives she could be as close as 15 miles away from Sandton. Soweto is a massive township so, if she lived on the extreme south eastern side of the side she would be a long distance away. The article refers to how apartheid is responsible for causing "millions of blacks" to to "still live in townships far from centers of commerce and employment."

That is only partially true and in this case not true at all. Remember that while Sandton is now the business center of the Johannesburg area this simply wasn't the case that many years ago. The business center used to be central Johannesburg, which is as close as 7 miles from areas of Soweto. Out-of-control crime, under the African National Congress drove the business center of Johannesburg out of the city center. That doubled the distance to the business center for Sowetans. Quite truthfully, one reason that Sowetans have to travel so far to the business center can't be blamed on apartheid.

There is another important point missing from the article entirely. While the whole scenario they present is of blacks from the townships having to travel so far to get to Sandton they neglect to mention that another, very large black township, is literally minutes from Sandton, that is Alexandra. It is only 3 miles from Sandton. I have been to both Alexandra and to Soweto and have some idea of the distances from both to Sandton.

The article implies that Susan Honang is forced by the legacy of apartheid to live in Soweto and travel long distances to Sandton. This simply is not the case, not with Alexandra just a short distance away. But, more importantly, all the so-called "white suburbs" have large numbers of black residents even if we exclude the wealthy ANC elite who got rich through politics and bought homes there.

And, since the end of apartheid some years ago the entire central part of Johannesburg is now mainly black. When I first stayed in the Hillbrow section of Johannesburg it was about 60% black at the time. It is only about 4 or 5 miles from Sandton.

The idea that the legacy of apartheid is somehow responsible for forcing black South Africans to live a great distance from Sandton simply is not true. If Susan Honang's salary is sufficient for her to live in Soweto it is more than enough for her to live in Alexandra which is a a few minutes from Sandton. Apartheid was an evil system, that did many horrible things. It deserved to die. But Honang's travel problems are not a result of apartheid, not in this case.

The article focuses on a few residents of the northern suburbs who opposed the bus system. In fact the main opposition won't be from whites. It will be from the black taxi industry which is a large, thriving business. These are not taxis as we know them, but more like shuttle buses. They are minivans that crisscross South Africa offering a relatively inexpensive form of transportation. There was a municipal transit system which was boycotted by blacks. These municipal services were terribly run and the reason the taxi industry burst into existence was precisely because such government services did not meet the needs of black South Africans.

A friend of mine took the municipal service to work in downtown Johannesburg every day. And without fail I would get phone calls from him asking me to pick him up because the bus driver for that route simply didn't turn up for work that day. On pay days the drivers showed up in the morning, got their pay, and they took off for the weekend to spend the money, leaving riders stranded. This was not unusual with government transit in South Africa.

The taxi industry, however, has been rife with violence, as the Times accurately portrayed. But that violence is the direct result of the collapse of policing since the ANC took power. Law enforcement doesn't exist to a large degree so taxi drivers will fight for territory because there is nothing to prevent it from happening. If the Johannesburg metro worked on policing more it would make transit much safer for everyone involved.

The other thing that struck me as strange is that the salary listed for Honang seems to be on the low side. They say she makes $160 per month. If she worked six day weeks, as a domestic cleaner, that comes to about R50 per day. That is less than what was paid domestic workers over a decade ago. When I left Hillbrow, due to the crime, for the eastern suburbs I rented a property near Rhodes Park and within minutes of moving in had a woman at the door asking for a job. I paid her the salary that is mentioned in this article, but then it was almost two decades ago and in addition she had living quarters on the property, rent free.

I also checked the rates being requested, and offered, for domestic workers in the norther suburbs of Johannesburg. And they are well above R50 per day. One job offered R90 per day. One domestic cleaner was asking R160 per day. A houseman, who was working for an American family was looking for a new live-in position at R2500 to R3000 per month. The lowest salary I saw offered was R850 per month but that include housing and food. Another asked for someone for 25 hours per week for R1800 per month, about 33% higher than Honang supposedly gets for her full time job. I couldn't find a single domestic job, where salary is mentioned, that paid as low as what Honang was receiving.

It simply seems to me that the New York Times reporter used an atypical situation to illustrate the story, thus distorting the facts. Honang lives much farther from the business center than would have been the case during apartheid, because the business center moved northward under ANC control. The article made it sound as if there were no "black townships" near the Sandton area when one of the largest, unmentioned in the story, is literally adjacent to Sandton. And the article picked a woman who seems to be earning unusually low wages as a domestic worker, a salary that is literally two decades out of date. What is surprising is that Honang salary, supposedly after 25 years of employment for the same family, is barely above South Africa's minimum wage. And, if you want some politically incorrect information, a researcher with the University of the Witswatersrand, herself black, spent two months interviewing domestic workers in Soweto and found that most preferred white employers over black employers. (There is a large, wealthy class in Soweto who hire domestic servants.)

And, for a very funny comic strip, which looks at the relationship between domestic in South Africa and their madams (the lady of the house), see Madam & Eve. I always found the strip humorous and somewhere ought to have an autographed collection of some of the book versions of the strip. The archives are great.

Illustration: A cartoon from the Madam & Eve strip humorously looks at the plight of downtown Joburg as crime chased business away. Below is another, just because it's so true, and so funny. Clicking should enlarge the images.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just for the Joy.

There is no reason for this but the sheer joy that it brings. Considering how dark the news has been lately I wanted a pleasure break. You may have seen it before, but it's a pleasure to watch again.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who will protect the kids from them?

Fundamentalist Christians like to pretend that marriage equality will lead to child abuse. They want to protect the children. But who will protect the children from them?

I attended a fundamentalist seminary for two years and a Christian high school for two years before that. I know what these people believe and how they act. Typically they teach that children should be beaten to discipline them and that the Bible commands this.

Consider this story out of Oroville, California as an example. According to the Chico Enterprise Record, "a fundamentalist religious philosophy that espouses corporal punishment to 'train' children to be more obedient to their parents and God is now being investigated in connection with the death of a young Paradise girl and serious injuries to her sister."

The born-again parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz are being held on chargers of murder and torture. Reports indicate the parents used a rubber hose or tube to beat their kids. They had three adopted children and six of their own. Their own children have told investigators that the religious beliefs were behind the beatings. But remember, we must never question deeply-held religious beliefs!

The newspaper reports:
Prosecutors allege the two victims were subjected to "hours" of corporal punishment by their parents on successive days last Thursday and Friday with a quarter-inch-wide length of rubber or plastic tubing, which police reportedly recovered from the parents' bedroom. Police allege that the younger girl was being disciplined for mis-pronouncing a word during a home-school reading lesson the day before she died. The two young girls reportedly sustained deep bruising and multiple "whip-like" marks on their back, buttocks and legs, which authorities believe resulted in significant muscle tissue breakdown that impaired their kidneys and possibly other vital organs, said Ramsey.

Of course, the same parents, being fundamentalists would argue that gays shouldn't be allowed to adopt like they did because those nasty homosexuals might abuse the kids. Investigators say that a Christian website recommends the use of the rubber hose "as an appropriate tool for biblical chastisement... to train a child from infancy to make them a happier child and more obedient to God because they are obedient to the will of their parents."

The attorney for these parents says they are shocked and "are grieving the loss of their daughter and (ask) that people of faith pray for everybody involved." To refer to this as the "loss" of their daughter is a misnomer. A car accident would be a loss, a deadly disease would be a loss, beating a child until their organs shut down is murder.

The seminary I had the misfortune of attending taught that beating children was demanded by God. The pastor who ran the sect produced books on Biblical child rearing advocating such methods. Let us consider the case of a preacher and his wife, who had taught at the same seminary. Rev. Joseph Combs, and his obedient wife Evangeline, had adopted (unofficially) a girl named Esther. Esther was also home schooled and was kept isolated from everyone but the church, making her abuse harder to detect. The Baptist Children's Home, where she had been placed by her mother, gave the girl to Combs without any formal proceedings. The girl had no birth certificate, school records, or documentation that she existed. No actual legal adoption took place either.

She was tortured by these people for 19 years, in the name of Christ of course. Esther was admitted to a hospital and told the authorities there that the Pastor Combs and his wife tortured, abused and raped her. A medical report said the girl had "numerous scars involving scalp, face, neck, trunk, and extremities.. some of which show an appearance suggestive of burns... the girl suffered from several broken bones—hands, leg and arm—some of which did not heal properly." Doctors said they found "layered scar tissue over much of the girl's body."

Esther was hospitalized because she tried to kill herself and it was during that hospitalization that doctors saw the results of two decades of child abuse. They said Esther was emaciated and had more scars than anyone they had ever seen. Pastor Combs said the girl "fell" a lot.

Esther, who later changed her name and moved out of state, said she "was beaten, cut, burned and chocked" as a form of discipline. Mrs. Combs once took pliers and pinched the girl's arm and twisted the skin until she ripped off a patch of skin, calling this the "mark of the beast." When Esther forgot to throw out a can lid she was disciplined by having the lid used to cut her. She was beaten with a metal baseball bat and burned with a woodworking tool. Doctors counted 410 scars on the girl's body.

She had tried to escape the torture on several occasions and ran away from home. She ended up in a children's home only to have the Baptist parents retrieve her and beat her with a rubber hose. She says she drank anti-freeze in order to die and escape the torture. Church members testified that the Pastor had told them that God had revealed the girl was brought into their life to serve them as a full time servant. The two were convicted, Joe Combs was sentenced to 114 years in prison, his wife to 65.

Amazingly, after the suicide attempt, Esther was returned to the care of the couple while police investigated. Because the pastor and his wife feared the investigation they had Esther moved out of state to hide her away. She was first sent to South Carolina and then Georgia, I would suspect this was done with the cooperation of other fundamentalist pastors.

I am racking my memory, with no luck so far, to remember some details but there was a situation that happened when I was attending the school. A Baptist evangelist from Texas ran a " home" for children where beatings were typically used, as the church taught should be the case, to teach children obedience. The home was exposed for abusing these children and the authorities began an investigation. Baptist churches and pastors throughout the country rallied behind the evangelist claiming that investigating child abuse violated their religious freedom and their rights. The Bible says, "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." Elsewhere it says, " The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil" and "He that spareth the rod hateth his son."

James Alexander, a former fundamentalist pastor, explains that Christian fundamentalism is directly tied to abusive action toward children. He says he when he married and had children, he and his wife "followed the teachings of the fundamentalist Christian 'gurus' and were quite strict with our children. I saw much of the same in our church associations—all young adults with kids, all towing the line in regards to child discipline. I have no doubt that what I saw and was rapidly accepting bordered on abuse—which was one of the reasons I repudiated fundamentalism when my sons were quite small." Alexander goes further. He contends "fundamentalism naturally places children at danger and naturally tends to abusiveness." This corresponds with what I saw within fundamentalist circles, especially among the Baptists.

Lynn Harris reported on a fundamentalist book on child rearing, written by a fundamentalist minister and his wife, To Train Up a Child. According to Harris, the book recommended using corporal punishment on infants only months old. It says if an infant tries to touch forbidden objects to use a switch and slap their hands. "They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence."

In Raleigh, North Carolina four-year-old Sean Paddock, adopted by his fundamentalist mother, died when he was suffocated. Police found signs of abuse on two of the children; the result of beatings with the type of "rod" that these church leaders recommended,: a piece of quarter-inch hosing.

The Christian website, No Greater Joy, has a piece by this minister, Michael Pearl, which tells parents:
You must also condition their bodies to obedience by seizing many opportunities throughout the day to walk them through acts of obedience. As the military drills their soldiers, you must drill your children. We have discussed this many times, and since our subject is the rod, we will not go into the training aspect here, but we want you to see training and discipline in perspective.
These Christians say: "The ultimate child motivator is the rod." They say that the smallest infraction should result in a beating with the rod:
On the other hand, if you seize the smallest disturbances as opportunities to train, you will use the rod more frequently but with no stress or significant pain for either you or the child. For example, one mother is out in the yard having war with her four-year-old, trying to make him sit in the car seat. She has taken him in the house and spanked him until his legs are striped, but he still resists. She is mad. He is angry. They are fighting. Her neighbor sees it and calls the authorities. She was practicing “corporal punishment.
Rev. Pearl says:
The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line.
The one restraint Pastor Pearl advises:
Don’t be so indiscreet as to spank your children in public—including the church restroom. I get letters regularly telling of trouble with in-laws who threaten to report them to the authorities. Parents have called the Gestapo on their married children. Church friends who have noses longer than the pews on which they perch can cause a world of trouble.
Who will protect the children from these people?

I should also note that this indoctrination of "obedience" is a recipe for authoritarianism. If a free society requires us to question authority, what happens if entire generations are taught to never question authority but to obey instead. The wide ramifications of this world-view are frightening.

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The ugly face of conservatism

The bigots on the Right (and yes, there are bigots on the Left as well) are not a pretty sight. Behold one Ryan Sorba from the misnamed Young Americans for (sic.) Freedom. Sorba does not want social freedom but state control. He is also an antigay political activist who goes around given lectures on the evil nature of gays and has written an antigay polemic as well that seems to be published only in pdf format. Sorba is clearly obsessed with the issue and seems intent to make gay baiting his full time occupation. The boy has issues.

The American Conservative Union puts on a conference that tends to be attended by a younger crowd. And while a lot of these students see themselves as conservatives (they'll learn) they don't hold the hateful agenda of people like Sorba. The conference, CPAC apparently allowed a Republican group for gays (similar to a Nazi group for Jews) to have a table in the display hall. And Mr. Sorba got his panties in a knot over the idea. So he went to the podium and denounced the conference for allowing gays to attend.

He ranted about "natural law" confusing it with theology, which is supernatural law and has no relationship to natural law theory. What is interesting, and this should worry Maggie Gallagher and her Mormon funders, is that the most younger audience started booing him. No doubt some of this was due to his being such a flaming asshole in public, but a lot of it appears to be because a lot of conservative youth don't share his prejudices and were appalled by him. Watch the video and see how vigorous a send-off Sorba received. Keep reminding yourself that these are the young conservatives.

If the anti-gay bigots have lost their own young activists they have lost the war. Maggie ought to go back to her church, Sorba back to his closet, and contemplate what this sort of response means for the future of social conservatism. For what it's worth, based on years of observing the crazy Right, I would say that if there exists a betting pool on which conservative is most likely to be caught in a sex scandal, I know where I'd put my bet.

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CBS News report on cyberspying school district.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

CBS News has reported on the cyberspying school district that we reported previously.

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Conservatives, gays and überbitches

The above discussion is of some interest, but also, in some ways, very unsatisfactory, at least to a libertarian. The topic itself is of zero interest to libertarians: "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?" Libertarians simply are not conservatives. My only regret about the way modern conservatives view gay people is that they have pushed a large number of people into alliances with the Left and thus many gay people end up buying the entire Left agenda, even when they shouldn't.

The second problem is that conservatism is an incoherent, unspecified, every-shifting set of values. As Hayek noted, conservatives may hold to certain "moral" values very strenuously but they lack any clear cut set of political principles. David Boaz, in his introduction of the discussion, referred to that when he noted that conservatives spent much of the last century opposing equal rights for Jews, blacks, women and gay people, and then wonder why those groups are reluctant to vote for them. He also noted that conservatives today go as far as pretending they never opposed equality for said groups once equality is accepted by most people. Conservatives like to rewrite their bigoted history in order to appear to be classical liberals. They aren't.

The third issue with this debate is that the participants were 2/3rds unsavory and 1/3 coherent and interesting. The 1/3 that was worth listening to was Nick Herbert, Conservative MP from the UK. The worst aspect of the debate was having to listen to Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher. Certainly if I were the deity I sentence them to spend eternity together—now that's what I call hell.

Sullivan's problem is the same one he always has. As for as Andrew is concerned there are only two topics of discussion: those that deal with him, and those that should deal with him. I find him incredible nauseating since he seems incapable of discussion anything unless he can make it about himself. In this debate he was überbitch. It is one thing when he's being rude and nasty to Maggie, since she actually deserves it, but Sullivan was the pompous ass with everyone. He was particularly snippy because he has created a fake conservatism where he supports Obama and Obama's big government agenda. When Dave Boaz asked a question regarding Sullivan's support of the president and his agenda Sullivan denounced the question instead of answering it.

When James Kirchick asked the same question and how Sullivan's views qualified as conservative, Sullivan responded by invoking authority: himself, of course. He merely said he knows more about the topic than Kirchick and then refused to answer.

I found Sullivan tedious in print and in person and can't think of any good reason that anyone should care what he thinks. His solipsistic view of politics screams self-esteem issues to me. Quite honestly, I can't stand the man. Watching him spar with Gallagher brings no pleasure as I don't want either of them to come out on top. Sullivan's prime point, when he wasn't pitying himself, was that conservatives are nasty. There is no serious debate there, at least not from me.

Gallagher was her usual self as well except she kept trying to emphasize that making gay people second class citizens doesn't mean she's a bigot. She kept whining that it is unfair to say that people are bigot if their views are deeply held, religious views. Of course, bigotry is bigotry, regardless if the the justification of it is theological, racial, or political. That her church, Roman Catholic, had promoted anti-Semitism for centuries is no less repugnant because they thought it was based on the New Testament. Gallagher is basically arguing that religious arguments ought to get a "free pass" in the realm of debate and politics; that one should not question them because they "are deeply held." Sincerity is the same thing as reasonable and sincerely held, wrong beliefs are still wrong. Just because you didn't believe a bus was turning the corner doesn't mean it won't flatten you.

The great problem with the Gallagher's religious nuts is that they honestly believe two very bad premises. First, they assume that religious beliefs hold some sort of protection from scrutiny, debate or even ridicule, not afforded to any other belief. Second, they then assume their religious beliefs should be the foundation for the law. This is a recipe for authoritarianism. A creed can be claimed to be religious, thus unavailable for debate or discussion. Then that creed should serve to regulate the lives of everyone else, even those who don't hold to the creed. This is really what Gallagher is asking for.

She also spends a certain amount of time saying that because evangelical Christians are fearful that we should placate them politically. She, of course, does her best to fan the fear any chance she gets. And she did it again in this discussion by lying about legal cases around gay issue. For instance, she claimed that Catholics in Massachusetts stopped adoption services because they were forced to allow gays to adopt. She neglected to say that the law on that matter only applies to agencies who are state funded. Mormon adoption services still operate in Massachusetts without having to be non-discriminatory because they weren't ripping off taxpayers to fund their activities. One can still discriminate in adoption if one is privately funded. But if gay taxpayers are forced to pay the bills they should have equal access to the services.

The problem is that the Catholic Church wanted tax funds, not that it was handling adoptions. If the church was willing to do that with it's own money (if it has any left after paying victims of abuse by Catholic priests) it would be free to do so, without having to consider gay parents. This was precisely the situation in Washington, DC. The church wanted taxpayer funding with the restrictions on their ability to discriminate that comes when you are a tax supported agency.

Sullivan did call Gallagher on this question and asked her if she were aware of this. She said she didn't know what the facts where even though she had just used this case as an example in her campaign of fear. Galllagher has regularly lied about situations to make them sound like a violation of private rights, when they were regulations on how to use taxpayer funding instead.

Gallagher's big claim was that when gay people make liberty claims they are on strong ground but when they make equality claims they are not. The problem is that she doesn't actually define equality and it can mean several different things. Equality of rights is very different from equality of results. Hayek noted that in The Constitution of Liberty that the two types of equality are incompatible. But what of equality of liberty and equality of rights before the law? Gallagher seems to think the two are at odds with one another.

They are not, for in many ways, they are one in the same thing. Gallagher is free to marry her partner, a gay person is not free to marry their partner. Gallagher has freedoms that gay people do not enjoy. The state treats gay people differently and at a disadvantage. In fact, many of the ways that the state treats gay couples differently means a direct transfer of wealth from gay couples to straight couples. Gallagher, in essence, has certain benefits (which I would abolish) that come to her because gay people are partially subsidizing them. She, for instance, will be able to collect social security benefits when her spouse dies. For gay couples, they pay in equally but collect unequally so that Maggie will be eligible for higher benefits than if the system didn't discriminate. I also believe her husband (who is not the father of her first child), a Hindu, is a immigrant. She is allowed to marry a foreigner who can live with her in the US. Gay men and women are not given the same freedom.

The only interesting aspect to the debate came from Nick Herbert and I found myself agreeing more with his comments than with anyone, other than David Boaz, who I only disagree with advisedly, since I respect his opinions highly. Herbert did say a few things that would set conservatives to howling, but that is a good thing. He also said a couple of things libertarians would disagree with and in fact, Nigel Ashford, who is a good guy and a friend, did disagree with Herbert on the issue of hate crimes.

Part of the problem with the hate crime debate in the US is that the Right intentionally confuses hate crime laws with hate speech laws. The two are not the same. Secondly, legal precedents from other nations don't apply here as they have different constitutional systems. Gallagher, of course, equates the two as if these different systems have no impact on how law is interpreted in other nations.

But Herbert raised an interesting reply, and one that has me seriously rethinking my views on hate crime legislation. Herbert noted that hate crimes are not like most crimes in that they are also a way that bigots inflict distress or trauma on a larger group. When a man is attacked for being gay, the attacker wants all gay people to be fearful. His direct assault may be on one individual but a hate attack is meant as a message to all other members of that group. It is, basically, a threat intended to instill fear in the hated group. Certainly if that is the case, and it typically is in hate attacks, then threatening many individuals, though immediately attacking the one, may well deserve a greater penalty. The greater penalty is not one for attacking a person who is gay, but for engaging in an activity that is meant to threaten all gay people.

For a libertarian, the first question is whether a "threat" is plausible and believable. In the case of hate crimes they clearly are since the attacker only faces such penalties after actually carrying out the kind of attack he is threatening.

Nor am I particularly bothered when groups of individuals who are particularly vulnerable are afforded extra legal protection from actual crimes. I would not be bothered if a violent attack on an elderly woman were punished with greater severity than one on a football player. It is not because the football player has few rights than the grandmother but because he is more capable of protecting himself and less vulnerable. Ditto for laws that inflict higher sentences on attacks on children. I would most certainly feel comfortable sentencing a man to a much longer term in prison for bashing an infant than for the same act in a barroom brawl. I can also see why some groups are simply more vulnerable than others. A person may be more vulnerable simply because they are part of a group that a significant number of people hate and that group is simultaneously a small portion of the population.

Herbert brought up antigay bullying in schools and on the sports field. Now, the school aspect I can immediately understand. Government schools should not tolerate bullying—neither should private schools by the way. Bullying should not be permitted in schools. The sports issue had Maggie implying this is a violation of private life. But this would need to be clarified.

Certainly I' ve lived in countries where sports was heavily subsidized by government and sometimes directly, or indirectly, controlled by government. National teams were not private entities at all. The distinction between private and public is more murky and without clarification from Herbert, and knowing more about the state of sports in the UK I simply can't agree or disagree. Unfortunately sports today is substantially a government enterprise. Even in the US sports teams, while privately owned, are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. These teams actively seek state funding. Again, if that is the case, then I don't see a problem with government saying that all taxpayers must be treated with respect at events they are forced to fund. If a team wants to allow verbal harassment of gay people at their events, then should refuse all state funding. Of course they won't do that, they want taxpayer funding too badly.

Enjoy the discussion. Please remember that Sullivan and Gallagher are on you computer screen and that if you smash your fist into the screen it will hurt only you and your pocketbook. Running time is about 80 minutes.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Bob Barr is at it again.

For a brief period of time Bob Barr pretended to be a libertarian so that the desperate Libertarian Party would nominate him and fellow con man, Wayne Root, as their national candidates. That was the absolute low point for the LP ideologically and one that can only be made worse if they nominate Root again.

One of Barr's campaigns, when in Congress, was to bash Wiccan. Of course, he was most famous for being the author of the viciously antigay Defense of Marriage Act. Barr had argued that the US military shouldn't allow individuals to practice Wiccan beliefs. He says he later rethought the matter and decided that being Wiccan doesn't necessarily mean one is bad for the military. But he says he was always worried "just how far such tolerance should extend." Yep, Bob, wouldn't want too much tolerance around, would we?

I wish Barr would get a life. I won't say get a wife, he's had three, hence his desire to protect marriage so badly.

Now Barr is whining that the US Air Force Academy "has taken the notion of religious tolerance to a new level." What is Barr saying by calling religious tolerance a "notion?" A notion is fanciful idea, or a whim. It's just an opinion and not a very serious one. Barr dismisses tolerance of the religion of others to be just a "notion."

The Air Force Academy, allowed some of the Pagans who attend there, to set up an outdoor worship site. Paganism, is a earth religion. Sure, it's silly, but no more silly than the other beliefs that are widespread. Pagans at the academy used to hold worship indoors and prefer the outdoors so the Academy accommodated them. Barr is outraged.

Barr wrote a column attacking this notion of tolerance. He launched an attack on the Academy by defining Pagan in his own way. He says a Pagan is someone who has "little or no religion and delights in sensual pleasures and material goods." This is just not an accurate portrayal of the Pagans at the Academy. Actually I think this version of "pagan" makes a lot more sense myself.

Barr then bitches about "being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion." But again, this isn't Paganism. Barr's entire attack is based on a false interpretation of the religion that these folk are practicing. Barr says, of their religion,"this truly is hilarious." Sure it is. Religion itself is hilarious.

A con man claims to have peep stones, gets visited by an angel and says he given golden plates, that is hilarious. It is also Mormonism.

People claim to worship a god-man, who was born of a virgin, died but rose from the dead. This is hilarious. But it is Christianity.

Some claim, that the god-man gave them wafers and wine but these things magically turn into the actual, physical body and blood of the god-man, which his followers are supposed to eat. Hilarious, and a tad bit gross, but this is Catholicism.

All of it is a bit silly, if you ask me. But, if the magic wafer eaters can have services at the Air Force Academy I don't see why people worshipping around a circle of stones should be denied the right to practice their beliefs.

Tolerance doesn't mean you have to like it. But Barr seems to be implying that these Pagans shouldn't even be allowed in the the military. Or perhaps he just wants a Don't Ask, Don't Chant policy for them. Barr says that if he were in the military he'd "be more than a little worried about following" a Pagan into battle. Personally, if I were going into battle I'd have a slightly different priority about what things would worry me, and the religious fantasies of others, wouldn't be very high on the list. The Paganism of the commander seems no worse to me than if the commander were a Baptist, a Catholic, or a Mormon.

All of them practice things that seem absolutely hilarious to me—come on, baptism for the dead! I find the non-religious, hedonist who likes the material world and pleasure, a lot more palatable than that.

Thomas Jefferson, someone Bob Barr should study, put it well: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

When it comes to practitioners of earth-based religions, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If anything I prefer these Pagans to Catholics, Baptists and certainly, to Mormons. After all, these Pagans aren't engaged in any concerted campaign to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us. I can't say the same thing about the three sects that I just mentioned.

Photo: Barr with his most recent wife, I think, but I haven't checked lately.

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If this is true—it's damn frightening.

This is one of the more troubling stories that I've read in a long time. What I'm reading is the court filing in a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, on behalf of the minor, Blake Robbins, filed by his parents.

The school district issued laptops to the students. The laptops had webcams installed. In legalese the suit contends that the school district has "been spying on the activities of Plaintiffs and Class members (Blake and other students)" through the "indiscriminant use of and ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students by the School District." '

The law suit contends that none of the literature given to students and their parents contains any reference "to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webacam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera at the time of the activation."

In other words, the government school district issued laptops to students and the district could activate the webcam and use it to spy on students anytime the computer was turned out. This was done without informing people this was possible and can be done without the knowledge of the computer user. Consider where students are likely to have their computers. It is not unusual for a student to take a laptop into their bedroom, where they undress, change clothes and engage in otherwise, very private activities. Yet school district bureaucrats can remotely use the students laptop to watch these activities.

This new method of spying on students, in the privacy of their home, was revealed when Blake was told by the Assistant Principal of Harrington High School, Lindy Matsko, that he "was engaged in improper behavior in his home." As proof of this improper behaviour the school showed him "a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the School District."

Blake's father, Michale, "verified, through Ms. Matsko, that the School District in fact has the ability to remotely activate the webcam contained in a students' personal laptop computer issued by the School District at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer." Equally important is that this can be done so it "will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it."

The suit says: "As the laptops at issue were routinely used by students and family members while at home, it is believed and therefore averred that many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress."

Unless the allegations in the suit are entirely invented by the family, which seems unlikely, this indicates a dangerous new method of putting the public under surveillance. The law suit is making claims based on laws that are supposed to protect privacy, due process for surveillance, and similar manners. I think they should go for the jugular.

Let us make a few points to law the foundation for having the School District arrested and tried as sex offenders. The District gave laptops to 1800 teenage students. In the laptop was a webcam that could be turned on by government bureaucrats to observe those students at any time, including in the privacy of their home. Almost 100% of these students will, at one time or another, engage in legal sexual activity in the privacy of their bedroom. By legal I mean either with another teen considered legally capable of consenting, or in masturbatory activity. With 1800 students engaging in such sex acts the possibility that computer will be sitting there is very high. And government bureaucrats may be watching said activity. Thus the School District has created a webcam operation which shows teens engaged in sexual activity.

It is entirely possible that the signals could be intercepted as well, by others, who may view these "sex webcam shows" that the School District created. The School District officials who set up the program, those who implemented the system, and all school officials who may view these webcams should thus be investigated immediately for the production and dissemination of child pornography. All those found involved should be required to register as sex offenders. In teens who engage in "sexting" voluntarily are arrested then why wouldn't it be a crime for school officials to drag teens involuntarily into something equally explicit?

This is precisely what these School Districts do to teens who engages in "sexting." School Districts, that discover that students voluntarily, and consensually, photograph themselves in the nude, routinely have those students arrested as child pornographers. So why should school officials, doing the same thing, but without the consent of the teens involved, be treated any differently? Criminal charges should be filed immediately.

In fact, along with the law suit, I think parents should file criminal complaints against the School District for the recording and dissemination of child pornographer because the District could watch underage students in the nude, or engaged in sexual activity.

The School District admits that the computers came with the remote webcam feature, which it claims, is only used "to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen" and that it is not used "for any other purpose." But Blake was disciplined for improper activity at home, which had nothing to do with a lost, missing or stolen computer. A photo, taken using the webcam, was provided to him as proof of his action. This indicates that the feature was, in fact, used for purposes other than tracking missing computers.

And while the School District says that the webcams will only be turned on, in the future, with the "express written notification to all students and families"—notice it doesn't require their consent, only that they be told it will be done—there is nothing to prevent school officials from turning on the feature, without notification, if only to browse for titillating scenes. What parent would take this sort of assurance seriously?

What the new policy boils down to is that the school district, or individual employees of the district, will have the ability to turn on the webcam at will, but promise they won't do so without warning students in advance. And, if the officials, don't announce they did it, but still do it anyway, how is that monitored? What assurances do parents have that school officials aren't getting their jollies by turning on the webcams during the hours students would be preparing for bed? The School District continues to have the ability to spy on students anytime it, or any one with access to the systems, wishes and all parents get is the promise that this won't be done. In other words, there is absolutely nothing to stop it happening but the solemn promise of a bunch of government bureaucrats—and we all know what that is worth.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Orwell is alive and well and living at Amazon.

In George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, the totalitarian regime uses a form of English called Newspeak. Newspeak was the use of language in a way to mislead and manipulate the public, usually by making things mean their opposite. Thus freedom is slavery and war is peace.

This sort of misleading language is now being put to use by Amazon. My readers will know that I have little regard for Amazon as a company. And I am aware of how they work insiduously to screw their vendors as much as possible. One complaint I've had is that Amazon intentionally makes it difficult for vendors and customers to communicate directly with each other. Consider the following problem: a customer inadvertantly types in the wrong address. The vendor, using electronic postage, realizes that the address is wrong since he/she gets an error message. The vendor is not in a sticky situation.

They may send the parcel out with the bad address knowing it will go astray but that doesn't help anyone. He could try to contact the customers but Amazon insists all communications go through them so the vendor never knows if his message reaches the customer. But when it does reach them the customer can respond directly. But vendors tell me that customers routinely do NOT respond to the messages because the messages don't appear to be important. They get lost in the clutter and the customer and the vendor have no way to contact each other directly to solve problems.

But, if they leaped that first hurdle that Amazon puts between vendor and customer they were able to deal with one another directly and solve problems. The vendor, if he can't solve the problem is required to cancel the order within two days. So a small question, that could be resolved with a quick phone call, may not get resolved and may lead to a cancelled order, frustrating both the buyer and the seller. The cancellation is required by other Amazon policies.

The good news was that once the customer contacted the vendor the first time, they could communicate directly.

I received a copy of an email that Amazon has sent vendors. In it they announce a new police to "increase the privacy and security of buyer-to-seller communication." Here is where Orwellian newspeak comes into play. The way that Amazon will increase privacy is to ensure that Amazon "reviewers have access to all buyer-seller communications."

Amazon is increasing buyer-to-seller privacy by making sure that there are no private communications between the buyer and the seller and that all communication will go through Amazon reviewers who can read what is said! If that isn't Orwellian newspeak, what is?

What they will do is give every buyer and seller an email "alias" and neither the buyer nor the seller will ever be allowed to know how to contact the other directly. Amazon also uses electronic censoring to detect attempts to ask for direct communication, so phone numbers or direct email addresses are detected and the email is blocked from the intended recipient. Greater privacy is obtained by making sure that Amazon reviewers can now see every communication. And Amazon will decide whether or not the recipient is allowed to see the email or not. Amazon says this eliminates "unneccessary contacts." But by whose defintion?

This is not enhanced privacy and security. It is the exact opposite. Amazon is lying by pretending that this improves privacy. Amazon acts with a heavy hand, or a heavy boot depending on how you look at it. This isn't the first time they've acted more like the Soviet Politburo than like a business and as they grow the similarities will no doubt increase. But now they have taken to blatant distortions of the meaning of words.

If the Obama administration followed the same sort of twisted defintions used by Amazon they could give us total privacy by having everything we do reviewed by a government bureaucrat while we are doing it. Increased surveillance is not greater privacy and you should tell Amazon so. They ask for "feedback" though they have a tendency to ignore it, much the way politicians ask for feedback on new taxes and then pass them regardless of the outcry. You can contact the Amazon Politburo at Of course, in order to enhance your privacy, you should have it reviewed by a third party first.

And just think, for all those years George Bush was actually increasing our privacy and I never realized it. Thank you Amazon, for enlightening me. Surveillance is privacy. War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery. Now all Amazon needs to do is institute two minutes of hate daily.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bigot backdowns, admits lack of evidence.

A couple days ago this blog reported on the absurd lies of State Rep. Nancy Elliott, a conservative Republican in New Hampshire. Elliott is one of those newfangled "libertarian" Republicans who thinks bigotry is "libertarian" and gets applauded by the Republican Liberty Caucus for doing so.

Elliott made claims in the state legislature that the Nashua school district, as a result of same-sex marriage, was given 5th grade children naked photos of gay men having anal sex—for the record, Elliott is obsessed with anal sex, it is one of her favorite topics. I presume from her conversations on it that she assumes it is not something that heterosexuals couples ever do. To top things off, she claims the school told the kiddies that they might want to try anal sex themselves.

This blog noted that Elliott had zero evidence. Her entire proof for this absurd claim was that some unnamed individual told her it had happened at some unspecified school. After being told of the story, Elliott was never curious enough to verify it. She sought no evidence to substantiate the story but then shot off her mouth making the claim public. Now she admits there is NO evidence for it.

Elliott said she wants to apologize and that if the future she "will try much harder" to "verify fully my statement." Well, that should be pretty easy since she made no effort at all to verify the first claim. She says she went back to her unnamed source and "found that I could not confirm the accuracy of the information."

Elliott, the fake libertarian, said: "I was told shortly before the hearing on HB 1590 that what I later said had happened and I firmly believe it to be so." Really? Why "firmly?" Considering that she was told an outlandish story, with zero evidence offered, exactly why was she so firm in her belief? She never says why she was so firm in her belief about this ridiculous claim.

Let me tell you why she was so firm. She was firm in her belief for precisely the same reason that any derogatory claim about a black man is considered true by the Klan. She was firm in her belief for the same reason that Julius Streicher was firm in his belief about the evil nature of Jews. Elliott was firm in her belief that the statement was true, not because she had evidence, but because it confirmed a pre-existing prejudicial viewpoint that she holds firmly. She didn't try to confirm the story because she didn't care if the story was true. It told her what she wanted to hear and that was good enough for her.

The only reason she has backed down was that she created a storm with the claim which was harming her career. She could have backed down quicker but didn't. I suspect her prejudicial beliefs are so firmly entrenched that she was also firmly convinced that the claim would be confirmed. I would even bet there is a decent chance that she still believes it was true, just that the evidence was covered up so she can't find it. She's probably a "Gay Truther:" that's someone who believes absurd and silly claims about gay people the same way the lunatic fringe believes absurd and silly claims about 9/11.

Will this hurt Elliott's career? In a rational world, it should. But she's a Republican and the GOP is far from a rational world these days. It is the last refuge of Neanderthal fundamentalists, Truthers, Birchers and other bigots and morons. So, within the dark recesses of the Republican Party her lying claim will probably help her. Her challenge will be convincing voters in general that she isn't crazy, while convincing her Republican constituency that she is.

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Climate U-Turn or Explanation?

The controversy around climate alarmist Phil Jones simply won’t die. But this time he is feeding the flurry of reports with his own admissions. Meanwhile, defenders of Jones argue that one reason he can’t comply with Freedom of Information Act requests is that Jones is a sloppy researcher who has piles of unsorted paper and data just sitting all over his office.

BBC interviewer Roger Harrabin, who held the enlightening interviewer with Jones, says that colleagues of Jones said he was unorganized and careless with files and data. Jones admitted as much himself and said that helped explain his refusal to share data—he couldn’t fill the requests. Asked if he lost track of data he said: “There is some truth in that. We do have a trail of where the weather stations have come from but it’s probably not as good as it should be.”

Warming Trends

The interview with Jones is worth reading because Jones makes some public concessions that isn’t heard often from the IPCC crowd and the politicians associated with the warming controversy. For instance when is the last time you heard admissions that the warming trend from 1975 to 1998 was identical to earlier trends that could not be attributed to human causation? The BBC interview said:
Do you agree that according to the global temperature record used by the IPCC, the rates of global warming from 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 were identical?

An initial point to make is that in the responses to these questions I've assumed that when you talk about the global temperature record, you mean the record that combines the estimates from land regions with those from the marine regions of the world. CRU produces the land component, with the Met Office Hadley Centre producing the marine component.

Temperature data for the period 1860-1880 are more uncertain, because of sparser coverage, than for later periods in the 20th Century. The 1860-1880 periods is also only 21 years in length. As for the two periods 1910-40 and 1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly different.

I have also included the trend over the period 1975 to 2009, which has a very similar trend to the period 1975-1998. So, in answer to the question, the warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically significantly different from each other.

Next Jones conceded that there had been “no statistically-significant global warming from 1995 to today. He said that the warming failed to be statistically significant “but only just.” He said: “I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

Since 2002 he also says there has been a trend toward cooling, not warming, but it was also not statistically significant. “The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.”

Asked if “natural influences could have contributed significantly to the global warming observed from 1975-1998” Jones pleaded ignorance, saying this “is slightly outside my area of expertise.” He said that natural influences “could have contributed to the change over this period.”

Jones says he is “100% confident that the climate has warmed” but when asked how confident he is that humans are responsible his response is significantly weaker, saying only that “there’s evidence” that could be the case.

Medieval Warm Period

One of the problems for warming alarmists has been the Medieval Warm Period, which previously was widely believed to significantly warmer than today. Alarmists have worked very hard to make the MWP disappear and Michael Mann’s famous, but discredited “hockey stick” graph showed no MWP so that today’s temperatures appeared unprecedented. Whether or not such a warm period existed is thus important. Jones conceded: “if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.”

It appears that Jones is skeptical of the MWP being global because: “There are very few palaeoclimatic records for [the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere].” As a result: “We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that the temperatures in the global average would be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.” Fair enough, if true. But neither can we assume that a similar trend didn’t happen, which is what the alarmists seem to do. A lack of evidence is a lack of evidence, not proof of an alternate theory.

This is like UFO theory. A UFO is an “unidentified” flying object. It simply means something in the sky, which can’t be identified. The lack of identification is used by UFO loons to claim that unidentified objects are then proven to be space aliens.

Jones is then asked: “If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?” His reply is revealing: “The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing.”

Jones seems to assume that only solar and volcanic activity, outside of carbon dioxide emissions, can cause warming trends. His interview, at the very least, gives the appearance he is saying, that since he dismisses solar and volcanic activity as the cause of warming, then only human action remains. That climate change may be caused by dozens of factors interacting with one another doesn’t seem considered. Climate change may not be mono causal at all. It may well be that numerous causes, none of which are individually significant, could work in concert to create shifts in planetary climate.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Where will Nanny State Conservatism End?

Conservative Nanny Statists want to regulate marriage. So where will it end? Onion News Network has an idea.

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The tyranny of dreams

It is often said that the free society, as envisioned by passionate libertarians, is insufficient to take care of the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Often this point is driven home by someone comparing an ideal socialist society, where all personal agendas and politics have vanished, to the harsher reality of modern society. In other words, they compare an ideal, unrestricted by reality, to how things actually are. In such a comparison between fantasy and reality, reality will always loose.

There is a place for such comparisons in human understanding. Literature is such a place to fantasize about utopias unbridled by the inconvenient facts of human nature, politics, scarce resources and other such road blocks. The danger from such dreaming is that many political activists confuse their dream with the real world and then try to force the real world to fit their dream.

Frederic Bastiat warned of this problem almost two centuries ago. He said that the Utopian "reserves all his love for the society that he has dreamed up; but the natural society in which it is our lot to live cannot be destroyed soon enough to suit them, so that from its ruins may rise the New Jerusalem." Aldous Huxley made the point more strongly: "[F]aith in the bigger and better future is one of the most potent enemies of to present liberty: for rulers feel themselves justified in imposing the most monstrous tyranny on their subjects for the sake of the wholly imaginary fruits which these tyrannies are expected to bear some time in the distant future."

Socialist Utopian Robert Owen advocated, what he called" the scientific arrangement of the people." In such Utopian visions people are tools to be used, clay that formed at the hands of the visionary to fit his ideals. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The road to tyranny is similarly paved.

One of the reasons that the poor and vulnerable are better off in a free society, even if it were to be less "charitable" than a socialist society, is that they don't get "scientifically" arranged according to the whims of a bureaucrat or politician.

It is not my contention that the social dreamers start out intending to arrange people according to their own values. Most, I suspect, actually do want to help people. The problem is that people act in ways which frustrate the dream. Consider a problem the South African government had when it built houses for the poor. Now these houses were not much to talk about but better than the huts in which the poor were already living. Much to the chagrin of the government the recipients of these homes sold the houses in order to spend the money on things they wanted more. One government official complained that home owners traded their homes for cases of beer.

Now put yourself in the place of the designers of this program. How do you solve this problem? The only way to solve the problem is to think of ways to restrict the freedom of the very people you wish to help. You have little option but to substitute your values for theirs.

Imagine if, by some miracle, that all the wealth of the nation were evenly distributed at the stroke of Midnight. How long would it remain so? Certainly by 12:01 you would be well on the road to inequality of wealth once again. Some of those who awoke to find their new found wealth would immediately set about finding ways to spend it. Some might even do so wisely. They would invest it, or save it. Others would head to Vegas for a holiday and the slots, returning home exhilarated but much poorer.

Wealth inequality exists because people are free to make decisions for themselves. Some choose wisely, some not so wisely. If equality of substance is to be maintained the ability to choose must be curtailed.

Similarly consider the desire of politicians to give everyone "health". Some people are healthier than others and governments want us to be as healthy as possible. So the state begins providing health care, in some form or another. But once the government is paying for your health then the choices you make, which impact your health, are suddenly their concern as well. You make made choices, so your liberty must be restricted. You have to be controlled and regulated.

A plethora of rules and regulations appear to control your personal habits. Government forbids you to smoke in more and more locations. It imposes heavy taxes on tobacco in order to force you to stop smoking. It regulates what sort of restaurants are allowed in your neighborhood, in the name of health. It bans certain food products because food activists say they are bad for you. Whether or not you want that produce is immaterial. The goal of society is no longer freedom but health and freedom is secondary. Your wishes or desires no longer matter because a higher good is at stake.

FA Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom, said that once a society adopts "one common over-ridding end, there is no room for general morals or rules." When a "few specific ends dominate the whole of society, it is inevitable that occasionally cruelty may become a duty; that acts which revolt all our feelings... should be treated as mere matters of expediency.... because the common end of society can know no limits in any rights or values of any individual."

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Nanny State: It's not just for Democrats anymore.

If you thought that when the Republicans got their claws into regulating marriage, to stop those nasty gay people from committing themselves legally to each other, that the GOP would stop there, then think again. The theocratic agenda of the Religious Right doesn't stop with some old fashioned queer bashing. Nope, they want to regulate every marriage.

Now that they have people scared, mainly by falsehoods, about gay marriage and "saving the family" they are turning their guns on heterosexuals who marry, or more specifically, on heterosexuals who want to divorce.

Rep. Nancy Barto, a Republican from Phoenix, has introduced legislation in the Arizona state legislature to have government step in to try and stop people from divorcing. Under Barto's bill couples wanting to divorce will have to wait an extra four months for their divorce to take effect legally. And, if the couple have children, Barto wants to force them to attend government-run indoctrination classes on why they should not divorce.

Barto's legislation was spoon-fed to her by a Religious Right outfit known as the Center for Arizona Policy. While the name sounds policy oriented the group is actually a front for fundamentalist Christians wanting to use state law to impose fundamentalist morality on everyone. They are part of the American Taliban. They promote Focus on the Family, the outfit that recently called for the forcible incarceration of gay people into sexual reeducation camps, where Christian "therapists" will covert them to being heterosexual. CAP has nothing but a moralistic agenda and that means that the Theopublicans are lining up to sponsor their Big Government agenda.

A local family court judge has lashed out at the bill saying that in her experience this sort of legislation will lead to more abuse of women. Apparently the Christians weren't happy with laws stepping in to stop people from marrying they do love and now want to force people to stay married to people they don't love—or worse, to people they fear.

Deborah Sheasby, who is paid by CAP to lobby for laws giving government more control over people's private lives, chimes in with the claim that the new restrictions are only: "Allowing couple more time to work out there differences..." The current law doesn't place any restrictions on how much time people take to "work out there differences," so Sheasby is being dishonest—a common trait among fundamentalists. People have all the time they want to work out differences but this legislation forces people to wait for a divorce. A couple, for instance, might be in counseling for two years voluntarily and then decide to divorce. The law would delay that divorce by an extra four months, on top of the current two month waiting period. And, if the couple have children, they would effectively be sentenced to mandatory sessions with a bureaucrat for the state who is supposed to change their mind.

This is what freedom looks like when the theocrats sink their fangs into the neck of liberty. The Republicans won't be happy until their regulate every aspect of your private life in the name of Jesus.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

When you lack facts—LIE!

I am always astounded at how the Religious Right will resort to open deception and dishonesty in the name of morality. Apparently, in their stinted, little world, morality is exclusively focused on what one does with one's own genitals, and has little to do with the old fashioned virtues of truth, honesty, kindness, etc.

This was most recently obvious in the campaigns against marriage equality, where Christian conservatives ran television ads that were filled with blatant lies and distortions, as part of a strategy to scare voters into supporting Bible-based bigotry and religiously-induced hate.

Now the Republicans, having abandoned any desire to fight for limited government anymore, in New Hampshire are trying to repeal marriage equality there. One Republican legislator, Nancy Elliott, was speaking in favor of a bill to repeal gay marriage and she made some astounding claims in the process.

She claimed that fifth-grade students in Nashua were show photos of naked men and taught how to engage in anal sex, presumably by their school. Of course, this is unrelated to the marriage issue, even if it were true. But what evidence did Elliott have to substantiate this extreme claim.

Her entire evidence was that she claimed to have a phone call from a Nashua parent informing her of this form of sex education. That's it! She didn't make any effort to verify whether the claim was true or false. It was extreme, it was scary to parents, and it was politically useful. Why should truth matter when you have political battles to win? This is Republican, Christian morality at work.

Elliot was quite clear. She told the legislature that kids "were given as part of their instruction naked pictures of two men showing a presentation of anal sex." Elliot went on to explain why she made this unsubstantiated claim: "Because we have made a marriage of same sex, they are now teaching it in public school. They are showing our fifth grades how they can actually perform this kind of sex. And they are condoning, they are saying this is normal and this is something you may want to try." Of course, since male/female marriage is allowed we have the schools showing kids how to give blow jobs or use a vibrator on a woman. Get real. The logic is pathetic and Elliot has no facts. So she lied.

The only evidence she offered was a claim that an unnamed person told it happened in an unspecified school. But Elliott, finding the claim useful, made it public without any attempt to verify it. The Nashua school district was shocked by the claim and superintendent Mark Conrad says he has contacted every school principal asking them about the incident. He says he has been unable to find evidence that this ever happened and that not a single parental complaint has been received.

Conrad also called Elliot and left a message for her, as well as emailed her, asking for any information. So far she has refused to reply. Conrad said: "As a state representative, if she became aware of a concern from a parent about inappropriate subject matter, I would think she would have a responsibility to call us. To my knowledge, she hasn't done that."

Consider Elliot's actions: Is she acting the way a person would who has evidence? She is acting the way a liar acts. She makes the claim, refuses to substantiate it, and then refuses to answer questions about the claim. If pornographic photos were being shown to children, because gays are allowed to marry in New Hampshire (a totally bizarre claim) then why didn't Elliott report this to the school district itself?

Conrad says that the entire claim is strange since the school district doesn't have any classes that deal with sexuality or marriage at the elementary school level. He says they have health and nutrition classes but nothing on relationships.

Based on the evidence, I would have to suggest that any sex involving Elliott would be, by definition, anal sex. After all, an ass is an ass.

By the way, you may remember we have discussed the so-called Republican Liberty Caucus, which purports to promote libertarian ideas within the GOP. They list Elliott as as "Republican Liberty Caucus Elected Official" on their web site. I've argued before that this Republican group is not libertarian. Apparently the "libertarians" in the Republican Party aren't much better than Republicans in the Libertarian Party—just witness Root and Barr as examples.

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When no rational reason can be found, look for an irrational one.

It seems to be true, that anytime you can't find a rational explanation for the way someone behaves, look for an irrational one. And that usually means religion. A case in point was the recent death of Congressman John Murtha.

Southern Baptist minister Wiley Drake suggested to his congregation, in an email, "Maybe God took him (Murtha) out. Maybe God answered our imprecatory prayer that we prayed every 30 days." Apparently Drake and his congregation put Murtha on a divine hit-list. They would ask God to kill people and in their prayers would name who they wanted the God Father to bump off.

Before you think that some supernatural assassin was at work, remember that Murtha was 77 years old. Really now, that sort of "prayer" was bound to be answered eventually. These days miracles have a very low threshold, nothing like parting the Red Sea, or raising Lazarus from the dead. God, apparently in his old age, has grown feeble and now resorts to striking down old people. One good loud "boo" in the dark probably would have done it.

Wiley "God is Love" Drake previously prayed that his deity would kill President Obama. He stopped doing that, not because he doesn't want the Secret Service arresting God for murder, but because he wants Obama to stand trial for not being born in the United States but serving as president anyway. Alas, scratch a nut and you find a variety of lunacies. Rarely are the insane just crazy about one thing. And often real fringe crazies change obsessions the way Paris embraces a new fashion. One week they're a Truther, the next a Birther, then a Bircher.

Apparently Rev. Flake has a history of being insane in the name of Jesus. Not-s0-Wiley said he could see the logic in Pat Robertson's claim that a pact with the Devil is the reason Haiti had its earthquake. Flake said that the pact with the Devil was set to expire in 2004. Imagine that: Satan puts a use-by date on his pacts. How considerate! Faced with expiration Haiti renewed the contract in 2004 but the renewal never took place. Apparently God sent the quake to smite the Haitans AFTER they let a pact with the Devil expire?? Rev. Put-Me-in-a-Straightjacket said: The pact may not be there, but the results of it may be."

Rev. My-Medication-is-Wearing-Off was a plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen. He also served as "chaplain" to the campaign of the Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the anti-immigrant Minutemen. He used his church to endorse the campaign of fundamentalist nutter Mike Huckabee, and when Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS, since tax-exemptions means non-partisan, he put AUSCS on his divine-hit list as well. It might be easier for the good reverend to just remind God of those people who shouldn't be bumped off.

If you think he's just fringe remember that Rev. God-is-Hate was the vice president of the Southern Baptist convention—which makes me wonder how insane you need to be to qualify as president?

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Brendan Burke buried today.

Brendan Burke, whose story I told earlier this week, was buried today. Press reports say the large Catholic Church, where the funeral was held, was packed full well before the start of the funeral and that people lined the walls to pay their respects. Attendance was close to 1,000 people. The mourners were a who's who of the world of ice hockey.

The majority of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team were present. Reports were that the team decided they wanted to attend. At the front of the church were the members of the hockey team from Miami University, where Brendan had been student manager. Members of Branden's high school hockey team also attended. The sports columnist for the Toronto Sun reported:
As the services progresses, Brendan Burke is portrayed as a big-hearted kid who could be described by three Cs — caring, compassionate and courageous.

It was his courageousness that was on display when Brendan first admitted he was gay, a story that received national fanfare back in November. It was that same courageousness, the packed house is told, that is helping those in the hockey world to look at the complex issue of sexual preferences and gay rights with more open minds.

On this day, there are plenty of hockey’s movers and shakers on hand to heed that message.
Former NHLers Mark Messier and Brendan Shanahan are in attendance, as are GMs Doug Wilson (San Jose), Darryl Sutter (Calgary), Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota), Glen Sather (Rangers), Bob Murray (Anaheim) and Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey), just to name a few. Rangers coach John Tortorella, commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHL COO John Collins and a host of other league executives are sprinkled throughout the church, too.

“It shows what Brian means to people and how they want to support him in this time of need,” Bettman says.

On this day, hockey disputes are irrelevant. That’s why two normally bitter rivals in the Battle of Alberta, the Oilers’ Quinn and the Flames’ Sutter, are sitting next to each other. That’s why Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson shakes hands with Team USA co-GM David Poile, just 12 days before the Canadians and Americans face off against each other at the Vancouver Olympics.

On this day, losses in the standings mean nothing. On this day, it’s all about the loss of a young man, Brendan Burke, who left this world far too soon.
Brendan's brother, Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, delivered a eulogy. He said Brendan was "strong and unyielding in his convictions but soft, sweet and gentle in their application. He said his brother "was the face of a movement and will always be the soul of a family. To many of us, Brendan's world was a dream world. Brendan had the courage to transcend cynicism and fear and live for 21 glorious years in that dream." Patrick then said: "Through all of us, his hope still lives and his dream will never die." The mourners erupted in applause of support.

Some of Brian's friends, who had gone to elementary school with him, were there as well. One said that: "He was a very good friend to all of us, always trying to make us laugh, always put us first and he was always there for us where we needed it." The friend, Steve Ivanoski, said that he knew that when Brendan told his story about being gay he "was getting emails" from others. Brendan had mentioned this himself on other occasions. Burke, said Ivanoski, "was helping out anyone who had any problem with it," and who had written him.

Meanwhile, at Wikipedia, some individuals have filed complaints trying to get the entry about Brendan Burke removed from the site. Justin Bourne, sports columnist and former hockey player, whose column condemning homophobia in hockey caught Branden's attention, and lead to the article published by ESPN that told Branden's story to the world, pointed to a genuine response by a 17-year-old hocked play in Minnesota. The anonymous player has a blog about his life as a gay hockey plaher. I have taken the liberty of adding punctuation, some the young in government schools seem to have not been taught. Beyond punctuation and some type corrections, I have not changed these sentiments in any way. But this young man deserves to be heard:
"I wanted so bad to talk to him and tell him how much he meant to me, but I never did get ahold of him. I wanted to tell him that he's my hero that, like Bobby Orr changed the game, Brendan Burke changed the game too, for thousands of kids like me. But now he's gone... this brave, strong, kid is gone and all the scared kids like me are left with no one to lead us. Yea, the world's a lot crappier place this week because of this. Life's totally unfair. The kid died before he got live his full life without lying, he died before he got to lead a team to win that cup he's hugging, he died before ever got to realize how much of a difference he made to a stupid hockey kid in Minnesota."