Thursday, December 30, 2010

What doesn't prove global warming?

As much as I try to follow the global warming debate I have yet to find one succinct article that outlines precisely what we should expect to see if there were NO global warming.

The last few winters in Europe have been colder than normal and rather snowy. The Telegraph reports: "The average temperature of the season so far has be -0.8C (32F), colder than any year since 1683/84 when the mercury plunged to -1.17C (29.9F)." So, the UK is headed toward the coldest winter in over 300 years! Met Eireann, the Irish weather office says that temperatures in Ireland are at the lowest they've been for 130 years and "December has officially been the coldest month ever on record." Gerald Fleming, of the Met office says: "At all our stations thus far it has been the coldest December on record. Those records in some cases go back to the the mid-1850s." Ireland also recorded the coldest day ever in its history. You should realize this is the third very cold winter in a row for the UK.

Chattanooga, TN, has had the 4th coldest winter ever on record. In Hong Kong, a sub-tropical city, "temperatures feel to six degrees Celsius" allowing the formation of ice and frost which is "hardly ever seen in the sub-tropical city." Sunny Tampa, Florida, is also facing "the coldest December on record for Tampa." So far this frigid weather has hit North America, Europe and Asia. And it is coming with heavy snowfall.

The left-wing Democracy Now site has any interview by Amy Goodman with Paul Epstein of the Center for Health and the Global Environment. He wants to make it clear that while natural variability is never absent the colder weather IS a result of warming. There has been no shortage of pundits and prophets explaining how warming is increasing the snow levels and decreasing temperatures.

But, if we go back just 10 years, we find that the same gang of pundits and prophets were arguing that the evidence for global warming would be warmer winters and less snow. Consider this article from The Independent, in March of 2000. It was entitled: "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past."

The article laid out the "consensus" "now accepted as a reality by the international community," that global warming was happening and it was "manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers." So 10 years ago the consensus was that warming would mean "less cold" winters. After three years of colder-than-normal winters the media is now telling us the consensus is that warming will cause colder winters. So warmer winters proves warming and colder winters prove warming. Exactly what doesn't prove warming?

The same article not only said warming would cause warmer winters but would mean that snow would become extinct. They wrote:
Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only few white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.
David Viner, a global warming "expert" at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which is a major center of the warming hysteria, told the Independent that thanks to warming snowfall will be "a very rare and exciting event." He lamented: "Children just aren't going to know what snow is." David Parker at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research confirmed that warming will mean warmer winters and much less snow. according to him "British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via they internet, they might wonder at polar scenes - or eventually 'feel" virtual cold."

The Independent sadly reported:
The chance are certainly now stacked against the sort of heavy snowfall in cities that inspired Impressionist painters, such as Sisley, and the 19th century poet laureate Robert Bridges, who wrote in "London Snow" of it, "stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying."

Not any more, it seems
Not any more? Well, unless you count this year, last year, and the year before. Like temperature it appears that any level of snow proves global warming. If snow is absent then global warming is the reason. If snow is overly plentiful then global warming is the reason.

Let me state what I think happens. The warming theorists make predictions and when the predictions turn out wrong they revise them to fit what actually did happen. So that, the current state of warming theory is always "proven" by the past record. But a theory that can't predict the future is useless. The most blatant example of changing forecasts after the fact came from the British Met Office in 2008. In September they sent out a press release forecasting a "milder than average" winter for the UK. In the middle of December they acknowledged "the UK has had the coldest winter in over 30 years." Instead of admitting they got it wrong they sent out a press release claiming: "The Met Office seasonal forecast predicted the cold start to the winter season with milder conditions expected during January and February."

But January remained cold without the milder conditions they predicted. No worries, a new press release announced: "The Met Office correctly forecast the spell of cold weather and kept the public informed via our various forecasts."

In the past I've reported on how increased rain was caused by global warming but when the same areas experienced dry conditions the media reported that too was the result of the warming. More snow in the UK is proof of warming, but warming will also mean snow disappears in the UK. Winters in Europe will be warmer because of warming except for those years when they will be cooler than normal.

I also note that when weather patterns go contrary to warming theory we are reminded that we shouldn't confuse weather with climate: which is good advice. But when weather patterns appears in line with warming theory they are presented as proof that the theory is correct.

I admit I'm a layman just trying to figure out the facts. But what really makes me skeptical about the whole warming theory is the way that everything proves warming. Global warming causes warmer winters, until the winters get colder and then they too are the result of warming. Global warming causes snowless winters and threatens to make snow entirely extinct, until there is massive amounts of snow which are then attributed to warming as well—and in the same area. Dryer summers in one country are the result of warming, but when the same country has wetter weather that too is the result of warming.

Apparently any outcome is proof that warming is happening and that mankind is responsible. Global warming causes everything and everything proves global warming.

Now to explain the photo. That photo was taken today in Scottsdale, Arizona. The white flakes you see on the picture IS snow.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grandma Got Molested at the Airport.

Here is one Christmas song that does resonate. The message is spot on.


The Desperate Ones: Jacques Brel's music

I recently got back a box of CDs that were mine but left someplace by accident. Among them was perhaps my favorite album of all time: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Brel, I regret to say seems fairly forgotten these days. Yet I find his lyrics haunting and meaningful. Brel tells stories with his music. The poetic nature of his lyrics means they can be appreciated even when the music is absent.

One of the new songwriters and performers
that I like is Spencer Day. Day's style reminds me of Brel is some ways. While their music is different their lyrics both tell stories and the story-telling aspect of music has often been lost with contemporary artists. After attending a concert by Day in Los Angeles I suggested he give Brel some consideration. He wrote me saying that he just flew back to the U.S. from Paris and had been listening to Brel on the trip. I certainly hope to see him do a revival of the famed Brel album. So many of the Brel songs fit Day perfectly.

I am relistening to the Brel album this week while running errands. And I am trying to specially concentrate on the words that Brel uses to convey his ideas. His message is often dark but always important. His thoughts on death and war resonate more and more each day. Much of what he wrote was about the 60s and 70s. But those messages remain pertinent today. His song about the youth movement, Les Timides, is wonderfully descriptive of the anticipation of the young in light of the world they faced. It was the era of hippies and yippies and anti-war protests, it was the age of making love not war. Brel tells the story of a young girl, Frieda, who leaves home to join the youth movement. He describes her appearing on the street in an unnamed big city where the young congregate

On the street where young strangers travel
on magic carpets
floating lightly in beaded caravans.

He repeatedly describes the street corners where the young meet and each time he gives a slightly different image, but relevant one:

On the street where the new dreams gather...

On the street where she's lost in wonder...

On the street where the beat's electric...

On the street where the future gathers....

Just that last image alone is incredibly powerful. The very idea of the future gathering seems counter-intuitive but makes perfect sense. The young are the future and the young do gather in various places. To describe is as "where the future gathers" brings home a very different view of the young than we usually get, especially when we consider young people who are just "hanging out" someplace.

Brel did not perform in English, though the English translations of his songs are available. He was a Belgian but lived much of his life in Paris. He performed in French and periodically in Dutch, such as his Marieke. Brel died of lung cancer in 1978 of lung cancer. Brel did receive some recognition in his lifetime, but not enough in my opinion. One of his songs was translated into English as Seasons in the Sun and it became quite popular. In 1968 a revue of his music was performed in Greenwich Village under the title Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The performers were the wonderful Elly Stone, Mort Shuman, Shawn Elliot and Alice Whitfield. In my opinion the version they did of Brel's music remains the best in English and other versions pale in comparison. And I really can't recommend Marc Almond's renditions of anything by Brel, they were musical massacres.

The collection was released as one of the first "music videos" in 1975 as a joint French/Canadian production, long before the music video genre was widely accepted. The film has no dialogue, just the music of Brel and critics were not pleased, perhaps because the genre was so new. It was the film version that first introduced me to Brel and I will be looking for a copy of the film for my library. I still have a copy I taped off of television somewhere in boxes of old VHS tapes but I think a fresh copy is worth getting.

One song I listened to today and that I found particularly meaningful was The Desperate Ones (Les désespérés). Just as Les Timides focused on the promise and optimism of the youth movement of the 60s I suspect this song looks at the dark side of the same movement, those who dropped out, got high and then never were able to get their lives together again. Even without the music the words evoke powerful responses, at least they do in me. Elly Stone said of Brel's music: "It makes people feel."

They walk without a sound
Down forgotten streets
Their shadows kiss the ground
Their footsteps sing a song
That's ended before it's begun
They walk without a sound
The desperate ones

Just like the tiptoe moth
They dance before the flame
They've burned their hearts so much
That death is just a game
And if love calls again
So foolishly they run
They run without a sound
The desperate ones

I know the road they're on
I've walked their crooked mile
A hundred times or more
I drank their cup of bile
They watch their dreams go down
Behind the setting sun
They walk without a sound
The desperate ones

And underneath the bridge
The waters sweet and deep
There is the journey's end
The land of endless sleep
They cry to us for help
We think it's all in fun
They cry without a sound
The desperate ones

Let he who threw the stone at them
Stand up and take a bow
He knows the verb to love
But he'll never know how
On the bridge of nevermore
They disappear one by one
Disappear without a sound
The desperate ones

Here is Brel himself singing Les désespérés.

While much of Brel's lyrics are often dark but he did not leave his fans in hopeless despair. In what could be his most beautiful song, and one of the most beautiful songs of all time, Quand on n'a que l'amour (If We Only Have Love) Brel lays out the importance of love in human existence. For me this is one of the most meaningful songs I have ever experienced.

If we only have love
Then tomorrow will dawn
And the days of our years
Will rise on that morn

If we only have love
To embrace without fears
We will kiss with our eyes
We will sleep without tears

If we only have love
With our arms open wide
Then the young and the old
Will stand at our side

If we only have love
Love that's falling like rain
Then the parched desert earth
Will grow green again

If we only have love
For the hymn that we shout
For the song that we sing
Then we'll have a way out

If we only have love
We can reach those in pain
We can heal all our wounds
We can use our own names

If we only have love
We can melt all the guns
And then give the new world
To our daughters and sons

If we only have love
Then Jerusalem stands
And then death has no shadow
There are no foreign lands

If we only have love
We will never bow down
We'll be tall as the pines
Neither heroes nor clowns

If we only have love
Then we'll only be men
And we'll drink from the Grail
To be born once again

Then with nothing at all
But the little we are
We'll have conquered all time
All space, the sun, and the stars.

Below is Johnny Mathis doing his rendition of the song.

My last comment is for Spencer Day: do it! Brel is a perfect match for you. Below is some vintage Brel for those who want more, many will find the English version far more interesting however.

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The loss of a friend: Denis Dutton, RIP

Today started with a shock as I opened my web browser and quickly discovered the loss of a friend, Denis Dutton.

I well remember the first day I met Denis. A friend of mine, Michael, is an astronomer who frequently works at observatories around the world. While we met in the U.S. we next saw each other in Africa where he was working and where I was then living. And in-between we corresponded while he was working in Sri Lanka and hanging out with the likes of Arthur C. Clark.

I had promised Michael that I would visit him in Christchurch, which is where he made his home. So one week I flew to Christchurch to visit and stayed with Michael. We debated the issue of “over-population,” and were at complete opposites on the matter. Michael had drunk long and hard at the poisoned well of Paul Ehrlich and other such doomsday prophets. Michael was absolutely convinced that I was as wrong as I could be.

That day he suggested that we go to the University of Canterbury and drop in to see Denis, a friend of his. Denis was a widely esteemed philosopher and thinker. Michael was absolutely convinced that Denis would set me right, verify the disaster-in-waiting that Ehrlich breathlessly warned us about, and set me on the straight and narrow. I told Michael I had my doubts that would happen. By that I meant that in reading some of Dutton’s material in the past I suspected he would not necessarily agree with Michael. But Michael assured me that Denis would agree with him and reminded me that they had been friends for some time while I have never met Denis.

We made our way to the philosophy department and found the office of this esteemed man. Michael introduced me and then immediately sought verification that my thinking on population was completely wrong. Denis listened to Michael and then asked me what my conclusions were. I explained the basic assumptions I started with, what the evidence showed me, and what my conclusions were. Denis listened, nodded and then told Michael he was in full agreement with what I said. Michael was astounded and I suspect was now more willing to consider the arguments I made, now that someone with the stature of Prof. Dutton had signed on board.

We were then scheduled to have dinner with Dutton and his wife but something came up at the last minute and we had to cancel. The next time I ran into Denis was a dinner for Bjorn Lomborg. I well remember that day; it was October 7, 2003. It was one time I was a bit disappointed with Dennis. Californians were voting in a special recall election to fire Governor Gray Davis. Davis had been a disaster and voters wanted him gone. They voted to remove Davis from office and also voted into office his replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Denis, who was a Californian himself, was thrilled to see Davis gone, as was I. Our big difference was that he was enthusiastic about Schwarzenegger and I had no such delusions.

Later Dutton and I spared in a series of debates, though it was hard debating as we were in fundamental agreement. He had written a column on capitalism, praising the economic system but arguing that it lacked the moral grandeur of competing philosophies. I, in turn, argued that it did not lack such moral grandeur at all. That two confirm “capitalists” were debating the virtues of a depoliticized economy drove the pro-socialist intellectuals crazy. They were quite livid about the whole debate. Of course they never screamed when two leftists would argue variations of Marx but this was just too much for them to endure.

One of these Lefties then wrote a rebuttal to both Dutton and myself and a friend of mine then responded to him. Another publication got into the act when a writer for that publication took on both Dutton and myself, disagreeing with us both rather strongly. And that publication printed a lengthy rebuttal from myself. At that point the Left intellectuals decided to beat a strategic retreat and figured they were better off keeping quiet. Thanks to the debate that Denis started the final toll were 3 to 2 for the advocates of depoliticized markets.

Denis was one of those people who I like instantly and with whom I found myself in virtual agreement. He taught the philosophy of art and philosophy of science: two topics that interest me greatly. He was a well-known skeptic, someone who disputed claims of the supernatural and deities, another area of agreement. His philosophy of science studies had made him skeptical of the modern environmental movement, another area of broad agreement. He was a great fan of evolutionary theory, as am I. And he was basically a libertarian in his political outlook, another area of agreement. (See his video below where he lectures on the Darwinian explanation of esthetics.)

His death came as a great shock because I didn’t know he was sick. Apparently neither did he until rather recently. Just this last semester he was still teaching at the university when he informed his students that it was discovered that he had cancer. From that point onward his decline was rapid indeed and he died Dec 28, 2010.

Dutton argued that art and beauty were things necessary for survival. He says that there is universality of esthetics that is cross-cultural and cross-generational. Because of this it is of “particular interest to Darwinian literary theorists.” The evolutionist would ask why something evolved as it did, what use did it fill. Dutton’s answer is one that resonates with my own views:

“The usefulness of the arts for survival is demonstrated by the universal human tendency to reconstruct reality in the imagination. The rehearsal of dangers and conflicts in fiction is a way of learning about the world without having to take actual risks. Those of our ancestors who derived pleasure from fictional ‘practice’ for real life gained an evolutionary edge. They were better prepared to deal with the world.”

I have long argued about the important of fiction in teaching moral values. I have, in fact, argued that humans get their perspectives about morality from the cultural myths that permeate all societies. I never got around to reading the book on esthetics and Darwin that Denis wrote. Now I will have to. Goodbye my friend.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Remembering the randomness of life.

For much of the British world today is Boxing Day, an odd holiday, the origins of which seem lost in obscurity. Having lived in three Commonwealth countries it was one of the quirky holidays I got used to. It is also the anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami that struck six years ago today, killing almost one quarter of a million people.

In light of that tragic anniversary I am reprinting my piece on the the tsunami and the randomness of life, that I had previously published.

It was five years ago, and it had been a stressful week. I decided that I wanted to get away and that I would take a friend on a Christmas vacation, just to have some time away from life as it had been. I looked at the various vacation packages available and realized that being only a few days before Christmas I was setting myself up for an expensive trip.

I figure to hell with it. So I started plotting and planning. My first choice was Thailand. I had never been and wanted to go. And I started scouring for a resort in Phuket that still had a vacancy. I had two or three travel agents working on it as well. I pursued every possible option. It wasn't the price that was the problem—it was the lack of space. It seemed that every resort was full for the Christmas season.

I must have checked a dozen resorts in Phuket myself. Not a one could accommodate us at any price. I certainly wasn't going to sleep on the beach, and without a vacancy at the resorts I finally gave up the pursuit and looked for alternatives.

The Pacific islands were a possibility, but once again waiting until a few days before Christmas was not conducive to finding vacancies. I gave up on Fiji and a few other islands. Australia's Gold Coast had some appeal so I tried that, once again no vacancies could be found, or if they could be they were not at a place where I wished to stay. In a few cases I could find a vacancy but the flights were full. The gods were not smiling on me I thought.

I then decided to look at Sydney. I wasn't that keen on Sydney as a city. It just doesn't have much appeal for me. But I found a hotel and I could get a flight. So we packed our bags and headed to Sydney for a few days. All I could think was that I'd rather be in Phuket.

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel seemed too long. The hotel was downtown and we checked in. I thought the lobby a bit small and started to wonder. We went up to the room and went straight back down to the lobby. It just wasn't acceptable to me. It wasn't dirty but it was incredibly small. The problem was that I had paid the travel agent for the hotel and the flight. This made things difficult and it was now Christmas Day—not a good time to call their office to discuss the matter.

The hotel manager was helpful. He suggested that the hotel chain had a much larger, much nicer hotel a short distance away overlooking Darling Harbor. And they could take the payment we made for the one hotel and apply it to the other as well. Clearly it would cost more, but that was fine. We took the monorail to the new hotel and checked in.

The room was more than spacious and the view was perfect. We were near the very top of the hotel and looked down on the harbor. Across the water was the skyline of Sydney, a site to behold at night. We were hungry and headed down to the waterfront to take our pick of bustling restaurants that were full of Christmas sightseers like ourselves.

We booked a cruise on the harbor for the next morning, had a lovely dinner, and took a walk around the harbor area before retiring. More than once I lamented our bad luck in regards to Phuket.

We watched that Christmas recede into history from the large window of our room before getting to bed early. We had an early cruise on the harbor to catch. The cruise began without any problems. The boat took us around Darling Harbor and then headed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House, and into the larger harbor. That was when I realized we had a slight problem.

Every December 26th, Boxing Day, is the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race and the harbor will filled with 100+ yachts for the start of the race. Accompanying the yachts were hundreds of other boats of all sizes. The harbor was experiencing a traffic jam as it filled up with boat loads of anxious people wanting to watch the start of the one of the most famous yacht races in the world. Our one-hour tour lasted about three hours. We just ended up floating there watching the yachts pass by and head toward the open sea.

Afterward we took a water taxi to the Sydney Zoo to spend the afternoon. Sunburned and exhausted we headed back to our suite, grabbing some dinner along the way.

When staying in a hotel I tend to check the news, so I flipped on the television and tuned into CNN and then sat back on the bed, exhausted and ready to sleep. What I saw shocked me.

The screen was filled with the most horrific images of the Boxing Day Tsunami that had struck that morning. Then the images of Phuket came on the screen; the resorts along the pristine coastline had been wiped out. An earthquake had hit the ocean floor off Indonesia that morning. It was about a 9.2 magnitude, the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded. And it lasted a long time.

The big quake that hit San Francisco was something I experienced first hand. But it was relatively short, though deadly. But the Boxing Day earthquake lasted almost a full ten minutes. It was so powerful that it caused the entire planet to vibrate slightly. In places the earth's plates shifted as much as 20 meters as a result. The force of the quake is said to have been 1502 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Ground movement was recorded as far away as Oklahoma. The news showed film of the massive waves swallowing Phuket. That day almost a quarter of a million people died because of the quake.

Of course, I was horribly aware that Phuket was where I would have been had I been able to arrange a reservation at one of the resorts. It is something I often remember.

I wondered about my reservation. I didn't get one. I looked hard, but somebody else got it. I wondered who they were. I wondered what happened to them. How narrowly did I miss getting a reservation? Where would we have been that morning had I succeeded in finding an opening? What would have happened to us?

To this day the tsunami illustrates for me the randomness of life. Leave your driveway two minutes later and you could be killed in a horrific mult-car accident on the highway. On September 11, people missed flights they intended to take, and lived because of it. Others managed to get on at the very last minute and died because of it. Small choices in life, when mixed into the randomness of so much that happens, can mean life or death. And there is no way of knowing in advance.

This is just how it is in life. Two people meet entirely by accident, they fall in love, they have a family. Generations later their descendants are living full lives as a result of that chance meeting.

The German military once decided to spy on a radical group of nationalists. They sent a nobody to gather evidence on the nature of the group. He was impressed by what he saw and so Adolph Hitler joined the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany. He rose to lead it, to take control of the country as a result, and to help plunge the world in a war that killed millions. How different things might be if the German military had decided to send someone else that day.

For the most part we never know what tragedy we missed. We are not aware of how the change in some small detail could dramatically alter our life and the lives of so many around us. It is truly astounding. I can understand why people want it all to make sense, it just doesn’t. I can understand why they invent explanations for things so random.

Phuket that morning.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Concerns for a friend.

The situation in Belarus has me concerned for the safety of a friend, Jaroslav Romanchuk. Belarus is run by the iron-fisted dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, a throwback to Soviet-style repression.

Lukashenko rigged the election with the typical absurd election results that accompany such attempts, claiming that he won 80% of the votes. Thousands of demonstrators thought otherwise and Lukashenko had them bludgeoned and imprisoned.

I have only followed events in Belarus off and on and while I was aware of the recent rigged election the US media outlets didn't give a huge amount of information. Apparently I had missed that Lukashenko was running against a few candidates, including Jaroslav. I knew Jarsolav was a leader of one of the United Civil Party there, but I hadn't paid that much attention to the race, so I was unaware of his presidential run.

Apparently hundreds of opposition leaders have been arrested and some sites are now reporting that Jaroslav is hiding out in fear of his personal safety. During the campaign a car, driven by a police office smashed into a car that Jaroslav was riding in.

I last saw Jaroslav in Los Angeles about two years ago and before that we spent a few days together as speakers at a conference together in Germany. Now I'm unsure as to what is going on and how safe he is. I've dropped him an email today, but if things are as dire as the media reports I have to wonder if he will receive them.

Tonight my thoughts are with Jaroslav.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Two of those evil gays that God warned you about

What happened when a gay couple, minding their own business, living in New York City, suddenly and unexpectedly started getting hundreds of letters addressed to Santa Claus?

Aren't you glad the Christian Right wants to protect children from monsters like this?

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Lose Friends and Offend People

Dale Carniege wrote a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. Apparently the people who took over Laissez Faire Books read a different book, How to Lose Friends and Offend People. Read it? Hell, I think they wrote it. The new owners sent out a newsletter discussing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, which eventually gets around to supporting the repeal (sort of) but does so in a way pretty much guaranteed to offend anyone who supports their position. One prominent libertarian noted, "It's not exactly Roy's LFB any more," referring to Roy Childs, who used to the intellectual light at Laissez Faire Books, back in the good old days. Roy, as most people knew, was a gay man.

The repeal of DADT was ushered through by Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME). When they did this end run around Obama's refusal to lift a finger to repeal DADT, and succeeded, they came out of the Senate chambers with smiles on their faces and Lieberman gave a thumbs up to the press.

The new LFB, under the guise of one Gary Gibson, who is listed as "Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder/Laissez Faire Books," has a headline: "If it makes Joe Lieberman happy, be very afraid." The "it" would be repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Now, to be clear they eventually get around to somewhat supporting the repeal but it appears they would rather it not be repealed. Please allow me to dissect what they said, from start to finish, to show you precisely how offensive their position happens to be.

Remember the repeal stops government from booting people out of the military merely for being gay. The managing editor at Laissez Faire Books calls repeals "a progressive take on homosexuality" and quotes someone I've never heard of speaking as if repeal is "making progress" for the rights of gay people "through 'big' government." Actually, that is not the case as DADT repeals a power of government, it doesn't give it new powers at all, but takes away a power to go on attacks against military personnel merely because they are gay. That is the opposite of big government, that is limiting government and doing so for the right reason: because it violates the rights of individuals.

LFB describes this as how the Left "just have the government force people to behave the way you want!" Who are the people being forced here? Government agents, not the people in general. So yes, all limitations on state power "force people (when government agents) to behave in the way you want." That is precisely what limitations on government power are meant to do. The new, shall I say conservative, management at LFB seem to have things completely backwards, at lest backwards to libertarian thinking.

Then they argue:

And anyway, what’s this nonsense about gay rights? You court trouble when you try to assign rights to groups, sort of like when you try to assign legal personhood to corporations. Rights belong to individuals. Rights are as natural as skin and present from birth.

Again this is mixed. Yes, all rights belong to individuals. But the "nonsense" about gay rights is actually rather sensible given that gay people are not thrown out of the military due to their individual misconduct but because they are members of a collective called "homosexuals." The anti-gay Right denies people rights because of collective traits and then whines about individual rights when people challenge their actions.

People discuss gay rights precisely because gay people are denied rights as a collective body. This is the fake "individual rights" view of the Right at work. They target people for special legal oppression due to a collective trait (in this case sexual orientation, but in the past it was race or gender as well) and then pretend that anyone who wishes to end that collectivist oppression is a collectivist. It is they who are guilty of collectivism.

Let us move to the next paragraph where Gibson goes out of his way to defend individual bigotry, even though that was not the issue in DADT. It wasn't that individuals were not free to be bigots, the issue was whether the federal government should enforce that bigotry. DADT was never about private bigotry, but only about state oppression of people in violation of basic Constitutional principles and accepted views about individual rights. LFB launches in a discussion that the "Constitution protects the natural right to hold unpopular, even ugly, opinion." But certain "progressive folks would ignore those cumbersome Constitutional principles in order to force other people to think properly."

Clearly that is not the case in the DADT repeal. The only people being "forced" here are state agents, not private citizens. This seems to be an intentional nugget being thrown to the bigots and hate-mongers by the new LFB. Virtually all libertarians I know wanted DADT repealed. Even the conservative, but libertarian-leaning, Ron Paul voted for repeal. This description of the repeal by Gibson is dishonest.

Gibson said: "I'm all for private individuals discriminating in matters of employment, purchasing, selling, mating or associating in any manner based on whatever grounds they wish..." I suspect this is just piss-poor writing. As it is stated Gibson is not defending the private right to be bigoted but actually saying that people ought to be bigoted. That is what "I'm all for" means. I don't think that is what he meant.

After letting all the bigots know he's with them, he points out the military is not private but a public institution and arm of government. So, instead of discussing the individual rights of people who are gay he avoids that sort of individual rights and looks at the bogus issues the bigots bring up: "troop morale and cohesion if there were a chance of a stray glance in the communal showers."

Okay, this stupid argument angers me because the bigots seem to be under the delusion that they have not already showered with gay men. This view that gay men are predators of some sort really does underlie the bigotry of many on the Right. Consider that ever grade level in any school has gay students. Consider that in virtually every school the students are required to take gym class. Consider those classes often end with communal showers. Do these morons really think that everyone they shared a shower room with is heterosexual?

Apparently they do. But if they do, and given that facts are contrary to their assumption, that would indicate that most bigots have showered with gay men and never noticed a "stray glance" or experienced predatory behavior. That they make this argument is self-contradictory, unless you really do assume that they lived in some heterosexual "utopia" for their entire lives. Given how many millions of men shower communally in gyms, racket ball clubs, tennis clubs, school, etc., for decades of their lives, the assumption that showering with gay men is not a common practice already indicates that they are absolutely clueless about reality. My school had swimming in the nude. With 240 boys on campus it quite a few were gay and we boys actually knew that. Odd that we kids, at the time, had more sense about this sort of thing than these conservatives who are now running Laissez Faire Books.

Gibson then wonders "how many soldiers are more worried about sharing barracks with dagos, bog trotters or jigaboos?" I'm not making this up. Apparently to prove he's not PC he goes out of his way to dredge up offensive insults about people. I confess that I'm so PC, apparently, I don't even know who is supposed to be slandered by "bog trotter" remarks. I guess the circles I travel in are a bit more civil than those Mr. Gibson frequents. Gibson? Any relation to Mel, other than intellectually?

Gibson then says that he knows for a fact that "surely a great number of servicemen" are worried about these groups, especially "the last group." Of course "jigaboo" is a highly insulting term for black people. It is usually considered so insulting that one would only quote the term if context were necessary. In Gibson's article context did NOT require the use of the term, while unfortunately. explaining how insulting the article was, does require quoting it precisely.

Gibson says that he was told the story of a "white recruit who didn't want to sleep next to any negroes and respectfully told his commanding officer, "I ain't bunking next to no nigger... sir!"

Again, does using an insulting word like that actually contribute to the argument that Gibson is making? I don't think so. It seems to be his attempt to prove exactly how uncivilized he can be in the name of being anti-PC. And, who has used the term "negroes" to describe black people anytime in the last several decades. Mr. Gibson seems to be living in 1950.

Gibson then asks: "Who would you rather have running behind you with a gun if you were a white man: another white dude who thinks your ass looks amazingly good in combat fatigues...or a member of race (sic) your own people has spend (sic) a few hundred years abusing... and who is very likely harboring some serious racial grudge..."

Wow! Just when you thought he would be most insulting about gay men he turns around and spouts some stuff that is clearly going to offend a huge percentage of black people, and most decent people of any race.

First, notice the string of bigoted stereotypes. A gay man, running behind another soldier, presumably in combat, is not going to be thinking about another man's ass but about survival. Yes, Mr.Gibson, gay men do not think about sex 60 minutes per hour and are about as likely to be thinking about a man's butt during combat as straight men would be obsessing about breasts while being shot at. Second, even with a hell of a lot of racism around for centuries, it is not my experience that black men are "very likely harboring some serious racial grudge."

I do think a lot of black people would be very insulted by the claim that they are "very likely" to have racial grudges against whites. I have little doubt that victims of bigotry may be more sensitive to bigoted remarks, but that is very different from saying they are "very likely" to harbor a "racial grudge" against whites. However, I have noticed that white bigots tend to think that whichever group they are bigoted against is actually more bigoted than they are.

Also notice the silly assumption that the gay man who can't stop thinking about his fellow soldier's ass is going to be "white." That's just daft. A black recruit has the same chances of being gay as a white one, there is no difference due to race when it comes to sexual orientation.

But what argument is Gibson really telling his readers here? He seems to be arguing that one reason to have gay men in the military is that is will reduce the chances of having a black man serving with you. Is he trying to lessen anti-gay bigotry by appealing to racist sentiments instead?

Gibson almost moves toward decency when he then notes that "closeted gays and bi-sexual men have been ogling their comrades in arms and later enthusiastically fantasizing about them for as long as there's been a military." True gay men are served in the military and were forced to be closeted. But really, is their military career just a series of ogling and fantasies? The Klan used to promote the theory of the oversexed "negro," now the Right trots out claims of oversexed gay men.

Gibson then says that these fantasies have existed for centuries and that what matters isn't what people thin,k but what they do. And he quotes a Marine who said: "People who waste their time worrying about who might be staring at their asses in the shower don't have what it takes to be Marines."

So where does Gibson finally end up after this insulting romp through the bigoted mindset? In a "parting shot" at the bottom of the e-newsletter, Gibson says: "At the end of the day, one has to wonder what all the hubbub is really about. Gays and bisexuals have always served silently alongside their straight brothers. Can't they just stay quiet and keep serving?" Ah, but isn't that what DADT was supposed to do, keep people from knowing who was gay and force all gay military members to "serve silently" or, as Gibson puts it, "just stay quiet and keep serving." So, his last comment seems to imply he wants to keep the DADT policy and that gay members of the military ought to stay closeted. Whatever that view is, it isn't libertarian.

The newsletter has a second piece on DADT as well, by one Linda Brady Trayham who trots out some typical conservative laments about morality in general, unbecoming a publication that has the name of Laissez Faire Books attached to it. She says she doesn't mind if same-sex couples "live in sin" but "I am against that for heterosexual couples." She complains about illegitimacy and calls these children "little bastards" because she finds it odd the term is insulting but "no social force is leveled against those who bear children out of wedlock." Hmm, an interesting new twist to libertarian thinking for straights as well.

She refers to the argument for gay people serving and describes it this way: "The arguments are that a sexual deviant can be just as patriotic and competent as anyone else..." Referring to gay individuals as a "sexual deviant" seems to imply that Mr. Gibson, with his "negroes," isn't the only one living in the 1950s. I assume Trayham's piece is supposed to balance out Gibson's piece, lest they be considered too "liberal." Of course they aren't liberal at all, or libertarian for that matter.

Traynham once again trots out the absurd "shower" argument saying: "I think all of us can agree that we would find it uncomfortable to shower in mixed groups whether that meant those of both genders or those of our own who saw us as sex objects." Again, we run smack dab into the delusional argument that straight people and gay people don't share showers by the millions every day of the years in schools, gyms, etc across the country. Exactly how far up their asses are their heads, as to allow them to be so absolutely clueless about this? Wow, LFB used to present intellectual libertarianism, instead it is now promoting mindless dribble from conservatives.

To find out if her prejudices are unrealistic Traynham consulted three ex military men. One told her all gay men should be killed." She found that "a little severe, given easier solutions." Just a "little severe? Easier solutions? Is she for real?

The second man she consulted didn't want to risk his life in a tight situation with someone who found him desirable. Ah, the fantasy of straight men that all gay men desire them. First off, a word to most straight men -- most gay men don't desire you. That doesn't men they don't desire some men but really, gay men tend not to be interested in morons who actually think all gay men desire them. If you think this is how gay men, chances are you are more than safe, even if the gay man were desperate.

Then this "officer" told a story about a gay man who caused a gun on the U.S.S. Wisconsin to blow up because he was jealous over a boyfriend and how this wouldn't happen with straight men. In fact this case didn't happen with gay men. This officer called it the well-known incident on the Wisconsin. Actually the incident was on the U.S.S. Iowa. And the despite Navy officials trying to leak claims the man involved was gay the actual investigation said that he was NOT gay but was suicidal. But further investigations showed it to most likely be a tragic accident. This is what passes as expert consulting in anti-gay circles.

Traynham then quotes her friend who suggested gays be killed. He also suggested that if gays are allowed in the military that they be branded in some way so everyone can know who they are. Maybe they should be forced to wear pink triangles, he suggests. Of course, pink triangles were used by the Nazis to demarcate gay men in the death camps. Lovely isn't it? Traynham says this friend of her's "asks good questions." Now you know her standard of "good" as well.

Traynham then argues that if you can't discriminate against gay people then all grounds for military acceptance have to be abolished. That is an absurd claim. All relevant grounds remain, the issue is whether being gay is relevant and most Americans and most people in the military don't think so. She wants to know why people can't join over 35 years of age, for instance. Well, being a senior citizen does impact on ones physical ability to do the job, being gay does not! That's why and if she took off his bigoted blinders she would see that.

So, to counter Gibson's view that gays should be allowed to serve if they just keep quiet, Traynham argues for banning gay men completely. No one here took the libertarian view yet we have Laissez Faire Books connected to this bigotry.

This newsletter is edited, and described as such, by the "Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder/Laissez Faire Books," Gary Gibson.

Real libertarians should be outraged by this disgusting turn of events. No, it certainly isn't Roy's LFB anymore. He would be livid about it.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Scoundrels and Cops: Liberty Sides with the Former

Phillip Greaves II got some infamy a few weeks ago when his book advocating pedophilia was "outed" on Amazon, forcing the book giant to take contradictory views in a few short days. First, Amazon defended freedom of speech and then caved on the issue. I said nothing because Amazon has the right to make any decision it wanted there.

But now the real scum of society are getting involved, by that I mean low-life, publicity-seeking, red-neck sheriffs from some backwater county in Florida. The sheriff of Polk County, one Grady Judd, had Greaves arrested on obscenity charges because of the text in the book—there were no photos.

Spitting out some "tabaca," the doughnut muncher said: "You're not going to write a book where you violate the obscenity laws of Florida. Clearly, this violated the obscenity laws."

You might think about this for one second. Mr. Greaves was arrested in Colorado because this descendant of a long line of cousins, thousands of miles away, found the book obscene. No doubt this sheriff finds any book with words of more than three syllables to be obscene.

Sheriff Barney Fife asked Greaves for an autographed copy of the book and offered him $50 for it. This was clearly entrapment. Judd sent a book to this bastion of imbecility and now will face trial in a county that I doubt he has ever visited in his life.

The "book" was only in e-format before and Greaves told the sheriff that he had only one copy in print format and that he couldn't get any more. So clearly Greaves was not intending to distribute copies in Florida, or in this hell hole of a swamp where the Sheriff and his deputies lurk. This was the ONLY copy of the book around.

The book was inscribed, "For all of your encouragement," which shows that the Sheriff intentionally "groomed" Greaves into sending the only copy of the book in existence. And when the controversy erupted about this work, the local Colorado police investigated and did nothing because the book is NOT obscene and Greaves had not broken the law.

Judd said he is a crusader for children—which means he wants massive destruction of the Constitutional rights of adults—that seems to come with the territory. He said he was personally offended that Greaves was allowed to write his "book" and wasn't arrested for it, so he decided to do something about it personally.

Hey folks, do we really want backwater Southern Sheriffs determining the limits of free speech for the entire country?

This has nothing to do with Greaves, or his book. The First Amendment, which applies to the states and has since the 14th amendment, clearly says that there should be "no laws" regulating free speech. This was pure speech, written words alone. That some hick Sheriff got a bug up his ass over it shouldn't give him the right to impose his view of the First Amendment on the entire country. Whether the book is "obscene" is impossible to say as the word has absolutely no rational, objective meaning. Obscenity is anything that offends some tightass somewhere. And, of all the tightasses in the world, the worst are Southern sheriffs with messianic complexes, who think they are out defending morality. They are the tightest asses of the lot.

As Oscar Wilde would say, the real crime of the book was that it was badly written. And excerpts the media mentioned previously, were just that, extremely badly written. But bad writing is not a crime, if it were the authors of most federal legislation would be serving life sentences. It seemed apparent to me that Greaves, by his demeanor in interviews, has limited mental abilities and simply wasn't all there. He couldn't string together a coherent sentence yet write a book that threatened children.

The Constitution of the United States should not be held hostage by Southern swamp rats in a Sheriff's uniform.

The Supreme Court ruled that what makes child pornography illegal, is not the content or the ideas being conveyed, but the use of children to produce the images. But there were no images here, just ink on paper, a combination of letters conveying ideas that the Sheriff, and most of the rest of us, would find problematic. But, even if it conveyed an idea that we all find offensive, it is protected. Rights are not determined by majority support. You do not need community approval before speaking. Rights should never be determined by the most ignorant, bigoted elements of some backwater community, even if the individual in question is wearing a uniform—especially if wearing a uniform. The only legitimate function of a sheriff is to protect rights, not to violate them. And given that Mr. Greaves had never been in Polk County this Sheriff is acting against the Constitution, a document he has sworn to uphold.

You don't have to like Mr. Greaves. You don't have to like the "book" he wrote. He is immaterial. What counts is the First Amendment and individual rights. Trust me, the rights of all of us are in danger when ignorant cretins from some rural southern county can impose their sense of "morality" on the rest of us.

In closing, I give the last words here, to H.L. Mencken: "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why charity is not a virtue, even if it is a good thing.

I was ruminating about the concept of charity as a primary virtue. And, while I am a strong advocate of charity and have urged my fellow classical liberals and libertarians to be more charitable themselves, I have to agree with Ayn Rand that charity is not a major issue of virtue. I do think compassion and charity are part of the good life, that is, they make your life better and make you a happier person. In that sense, however, charity is rather selfish in the Randian sense of the word.

However, I think people will find the way that I came to my conclusion as bit unusual. And that is what I wanted to share with you.

First, I think that the major virtues are open to everyone. No matter who you are, you can be virtuous in your own life. Virtue does not depend on your level of intelligence, your occupation, social standing, material wealth, or any of these side issues. If you live as rationally as possible, if you consciously make every effort to respect the rights of others, if you try to avoid inflicting needless pain on others, and take responsibility for your own life and decisions, then I would say you are virtuous. In this sense we can all be equally virtuous.

A great mind is not a virtue. It is beneficial but not a virtue. Some great minds have been put to very evil purposes. And some very simple, in the intellectual sense, people live virtuous lives. If we were to make intelligence a virtue it would exclude them. And, to a large degree, intelligence is not something you possess due to your own efforts. You may choose to avoid thinking but you can't choose to have an IQ of 75 or 150. The virtue is not found in the intelligence itself but in the purposes to which intelligence is put. Similarly great mental achievements are not themselves a virtue. They are beneficial to humanity but discovering something of great value does not automatically make the discoverer virtuous.

A beautiful singing voice is a great talent, but it is not a virtue. At least I hope not, given my complete inability to hold a tune.

Virtues are not talents or abilities, but they are part of what you do with your talent and abilities.

Wealth is quite similar to these talents. It is unequally distributed in the world. And, unlike these other talents, wealth is something that one can create. Some people have great wealth, others have moderate wealth and yet others are impoverished and verging on starvation, if not actually starving.

To a large extent charity is something that individuals can indulge in with their surpluses. Steve Forbes and Peter Thiel, both very nice men in my opinion, have the ability to be extremely charitable. Josephine, who worked for me cleaning my house in Africa, was poor, elderly and lacked any substantial material surplus. When violence forced me to leave I gave her months worth of income in the hope of sustaining her as long as possible. What I gave her was charity. What Thiel and Forbes donate to worthy causes is charity. But Josephine's ability to be charitable was small if not non-existent.

We often think of charity as what we to do help people, like Josephine, who are impoverished. And that is charity. But if that is a virtue as well, then it is a virtue which is denied to the recipients of charity. Josephine, who had so little and no surplus, couldn't give to others less well-off than herself. Thus she would be denied the ability to be virtuous.

Virtues, I believe, are universals. They are something that we all can practice. Josephine might be poor but can take responsibility for her own life—and she did. She worked hard to keep her head above water. She may be on a very different level than Mr. Forbes or Mr. Thiel, but she can be equally as virtuous as they.

If virtues are moral values, and charity is a virtue, than it would be a moral requirement to be charitable. If one were not charitable it would mean one is immoral. The poor find it impossible to practice charity much of the time, if not all of the time. This would mean that they are immoral because they are poor. I can't accept that conclusion. If intelligence were a virtue then a lack of intelligence would be immoral, but I can't see those born with limited brain functions being immoral simply because they lack a capacity. Virtues are not dependent on capacity. But charity is intimately linked to capacity.

A morality that makes charity a central moral value implies that those who lack a surplus, with which to be charitable, are inherently immoral. And that is rather odd since so many promote charity as a virtue because they wish to help the poor. But, under that moral code, their help bestows the label "moral" on themselves, while simultaneously labeling the object of their charity as immoral.

Charity I engage in does not make me more moral. Neither does the inability of others to be charitable make them immoral.

Update added 12/19: There are other aspects to charity that should be considered as well. For instance, the primary virtues are virtues one could practice in isolation. If you were stranded on an island you can still be virtuous. You can still take responsibility for your own life, you can still be honest, albeit with yourself, you can still engage in productive work to sustain yourself. In fact these virtues would be necessary for your survival. But with no objects of charity present you can not be charitable. You might argue that I earlier stated that one should not do harm to others or inflict needless pain upon them and that on the island there are no others. But this is a "negative" obligation, not a positive one. You refrain from harming others and on your deserted island that is quite easy to do. You are still refraining from harming others. But charity as a virtue would be a positive obligation requiring you to act on the behalf of others. With no others present you can not act on their behalf. It would be the one virtue that would be impossible to practice.

One additional point is that the primary virtues of life can be practiced in an ideal world. Imagine the utopia we all yearn for: a world where disease, poverty and hunger have been distant memories, a world where all people have the good life. In such a world you could not be charitable as there would be no objects of charity. What a strange virtue charity is. It would be the only "virtue" that requires others to be in pain before you can practice it. The ideal world is not one where everyone is charitable but one where no one is because it is a world where the need for charity has ceased.

Charity is part of living the good life. It is good for one to be charitable with certain provisos, that are too long to go into here. In a nutshell, I think it is good that you try to help others as you are able to do so. I don't think it a moral obligation, but I do think it a benefit to the giver, as well as the recipient, at least when done rationally. I live in a world that contains many things I find repugnant, things I don't want to see. And by wise charity I can help eradicate those things and create a better world, which would be a world that makes my life a happier one. That is what my charity does for me. What it does for the recipient depends entirely on their circumstances. But rational charity is, to me, a win-win situation.

Virtues are available to everyone but the ability to be charitable is not available to everyone. Virtues can be practiced anywhere at any time, charity can not. Charity would be the only "virtue" that requires others to be in need or pain before it can be practiced. It is dependent on others suffering. To claim charity as a virtue is to claim that the poor are unable to be virtuous. And that seems a rather uncharitable thing to say.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome to Homeland America: Big Sister is Watching

What more needs to be said. The indignity we are subjected to by an aggressive, uncaring, bureaucratic political machine is too much.

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Right-wing flake wants the rainbow.

The increasingly flaky antigay activist, Jennifer Roback Morse, is now mounting an effort to "reclaim" the rainbow as a symbol for her and her fellow religiously-motivated bigots. Morse, who runs a front group for the misnamed National Organization for (sic) Marriage.

Various groups defending the rights of gay people started using the rainbow flag almost four decades ago as a symbol of diversity and tolerance. Morse thinks that Right-wing loons like herself should claim it back because bigots also come from various backgrounds. She claimed that because antigay bigots of all colors voted for Prop 8 that proves: "We are the real rainbow coalition."

Morse, who long ago was once a reasonable libertarian, reconverted to extreme Catholicism and has increasingly become more intolerant, bigoted and a defender of state control of gay people in the name of her imaginary friend. She won't be marching in the Gay Pride Parade again, as she did in 1980. This anti-libertarian wore her "rainbow" scarf (not quite as you will see) to the Prop 8 appeal trail before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Morse claims that the rainbow was given to "God's people" and that having it associated with gays is a problem because: "Families put rainbows in their children's nurseries. Little Christian preschools will have rainbows..." I see her point. I heard that allowing gay groups to use this symbol is confusing children and that is why some grow up gay. Or has Morse adopted the "recruiting" theory of her fellow hate-mongers.

I am sorry to say it but Morse is becoming a clownish caricature of the old "Church Lady" skit from Saturday Night Live. Sad, she was once a relatively decent person but that was before she suffered from religiously-induced dementia. Isn't she special!

Morse's group organized itself deceitfully as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization which would not engage political campaigns. Apparently the moralistic Morse lied on her application. A NOM press release stated that "Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the The Ruth Institute, a project of NOM's" would be campaigning to help elect Carly Fiorina" in the her unsuccessful Senate race. At another campaign rally Morse was introduced in her capacity of running this "non-political" charity telling the gathered Republicans "We're the Ruth Institute.... We're here, and we're here to serve, we're hear to serve the whole body of Christ. That's what we're here for, and we're very proud to be part of this electoral effort." The Ruth Institute website actually once described itself as "an independent expenditure group supporting Carly Fiorina's bid for California Senator."

This clearly shows that Morse applied for a 501(c)3 status under false pretense. The requirement for non-profit status to stay out of the campaigns for political candidates is widely known and made perfectly clear to any organization applying for tax-exempt status. Apparently Morse is not restricted to being dishonest about gay people.

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