Monday, January 31, 2011

The future of Mubarak.

For several days now I have thought that Egyptian dictator,
Hosni Mubarak, has been destined for the rubbish heap of history.

The first indication has been the size and number of protests against the man. But that is insufficient. The strongest indicator has been how the police and the military have responded. These are the strong-arm men of any regime, these are the people committed to violently attacking people in order to secure a governments power. Without them it is only a matter of time before a regime falls.

Early shots of protests showed some attempts by police and the military to break up demonstrations but there were also many shots showing protesters and their "controllers" chatting and smiling together. In some places the protesters were climbing on tanks and having their pictures taking with the troops sent to stop them.

One incident I remember was when a police officer tried to break up a group of protesters, who turned on him. He was overpowered quickly and some of the protesters were inclined to continue their attack. But the man was sitting on the sidewalk and one of the civilians had come to him and put his arms around him, holding him close and telling other civilians to leave the man alone—and they did. One photo showed an elderly woman protesting who kissed a soldier on the cheek.

Those images told me that this is the end for Mubarak. The UK's Sky News reports: "The Egyptian army has said it will not use force against protesters calling for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak ahead of a "million people" march. The military said it considers the people's demands 'legitimate.'" Sky News also said that when the military made this announcement tanks that were blocking access to Cairo's main square pulled back opening access. A reporter from Sky says: "Mubarak is no longer calling the shots, quite literally."

Israeli reports that army spokesman Ismail Etman appeared on television telling protesters that "the army understands the legitimacy of the demands of the protesters in Egypt, adding that the army does not intend to use force on them." They quote a police officer who resigned his position saying, "I was asked to kill protesters, so I decided to resign from my post. The head of our unit ordered us to kill protesters who endanger us but I told him I could not confront my own people. I threw my weapon down, took off my uniform and joined the protesters. Their demands are just. The Egyptian government has no compassion for the people; they treat us like we're not human." I would note this officer has more decency than the typical employee of the TSA.

Mubarak can call elections and make a dignified exit or he can depart in a less dignified manner, either with his tail between his legs fleeing for some friendly country, or hanging from the nearest lamppost à la Mussolini.

A report I saw from Sky says that the military is making it clear that this refusal to shoot is under all circumstances. As the reporter says, this seems to indicate that even if the presidential palace were under attack and Mubarak being dragged out to hang from the nearest lamppost, they would sit by and watch.

The first incidents I recounted indicated to me that Mubarak had perhaps days in office. The latest reports indicate it may be just hours. It also appears that the demographics of the demonstrations have been changing, which I think is an important indicator. Early demonstrations were conducted almost exclusively by men, mostly younger men. Older men joined in along with many younger women. Recent photos that I surveyed show more elderly women and people bringing their children to demonstrations.

When demonstrators start bringing their kids and grandmothers they are no longer acting out of fear. The demonstrators clearly believe that they have the upper hand and that they are no longer at significant risk.

I would suggest paying more attention to Iran over the next few weeks. The end of the government in Tunisia and the imminent collapse of the Mubarak regime in Egypt has to be an inspiration to the Iranian people who have long ago had enough of the Islamist regime there. Iranian demographics lean heavily to the young and young Iranians tend to like western culture and want more freedom for themselves. They are rather unhappy with the rule of their version of the Religious Right: a collection of dour old farts steeped in the Koran and bursting with a desire to destroy the enjoyments of most people. Gee, maybe if Iran gets the courage to finally throw out the Ayatollahs the Republicans will finally get the courage to tell the Religious Right to take a flying leap, but don't count on it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Here, there and in-between.

First, this blogger has felt negligent of late when it comes to the blog, particularly to the comments. The reason is simple: I have been in a bit of pain of late due to a back problem which has severely limited mobility and requires I lie down periodically. That means all work is getting shunted aside and since some work is more important than other, such as that which pays the bills, it has to come first and blog comments are rather low on the list.

Those pesky Himalayan glaciers.

You may remember the rather humiliating incident where the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a 2007 false claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Scientists in India refuted the claims and the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, who has no credentials in a related field, attacked them quite publicly. It later turned out the 2035 was about as bogus as one could expect. Pachauri eventually admitted his error but made dire predictions.

The general retreat of glaciers began when the Little Ice Age ended, long before carbon emissions were an issue. So, in some ways predicting retreating glaciers is a pretty safe bet. They were retreating prior to the global warming scare and will most likely continue retreating, in general, after the scare is replaced by something else.

But glaciers are troublesome things, they don't always act to pattern or according to human predictions. So scientists from the University of California and the University of Potsdam have just finished a study of 286 glaciers in the Himalayas in order to find out precisely what is going on. They studied six regions of the Himalayas and found that the key factor regarding glacial retreat was debris such as rocks and mud strewn on the top of the glacier as a result of movement. In some areas this is common and other areas it is not. Where it is uncommon glaciers retreat.

In the Karakoram region the majority of glaciers are actually advancing, not retreating. The report of the scientists says, "there is no uniform response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change and highlights the importance of debris cover for understanding glacier retreat, an effects that has so far been neglected in predictions of future water availability or global sea level.." Dr. Bodo Bookhagen, one of the scientsits says "there is no stereotypical Himalayan glacier" and said the IPCC "lumps all Himalayan glaciers together."

The Hindustan Times, notes that officials and scientists from India, have long questioned the IPCC claims about glaciers in India. They write that this new report "support India's opposition to claims by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Writing Funny, Talking Funny

I periodically go through old posts on the blog catching typos I previously missed. One of the great problems I've noticed, and tried to correct, is an unsteady application of spelling. I often use the British spelling for a word though the blog is published in the United States. It wouldn't be so bad if I were able to apply one spelling consistently. But I confess, that I can't do so easily.

The main problem is that I have lived in the U.S., several nations of the British Commonwealth and a non-English speaking country as well. So I will often write labour, not labor, for instance. I periodically refer to the "boot" of the car and have to consciously stop and consider whether the front window of the car is a windscreen or a windshield. I continue to look for the "lift" to go to my room in hotels.

One humiliating incident took place at a restaurant that served pulled pork sandwiches. I asked for the sandwich with chips. The woman at the counter told me that they don't serve chips. I insisted that they did, I had them on my previous visit. She insisted I was wrong. How could I be wrong? I clearly remember sitting there and eating them on my last visit and several before that. Of course, I realized I meant to say fries, not chips. At least I didn't say: "Eine pommes bitte."

Issues get worse when it comes to what might be described as "slang" terms that are used. So I have slang from several different countries accumulated in my brain. I remember one incident where I used a word and was asked what it meant. I could define it rather easily but when asked where the term was from I couldn't remember. At least regionalism in the U.S. aren't so bad. I do get the "pop," "soda" thing here, which then gets compounded by the fact that overseas it was called a "cold drink." The later phrase seems to be the one I use most now. And I still tell friends I have to stop for petrol. But my "tomato" sounds particularly British unless I catch myself before hand and change the pronunciation.

It is my writing that is most problematic. And that is why I mention it here. In most of these countries I wrote for various publications. And that would mean I had to use the local spellings. Sometimes I rewrite an older piece I wrote and thus end up with different spellings for the same word. I might "subsidise" where I meant to "subsidize." I "went to hospital" instead of "to the hospital," or went to the theatre instead of the theater. Sometimes the boats were in harbour and sometimes in the harbor. There is Labor Day and Labour Day. And then there are the times I just can't remember if the word is US English or British English or slang. And each of the Commonwealth nations were multi-lingual as well, having other languages widely used. And many of those words cross over in English there.

The net result of all this is I often find myself using words from five different countries, at least seven languages, and with multiple spellings.

And to make it worse my computer is so confused by spelling in multiple ways it tends to spell-check in British English when I need American English. It's bloody useless in that sense.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Egyptian Meltdown

The situation in Egypt is dire indeed. President Mubarak has just addressed the nation and pathetically tried to pretend that the protests are not over himself, but over his government, which he says he is ordering to step down. He then will establish a new government tomorrow.

But the problem is that Egyptian protests are directed at Mubarak in particular, more so than his government.

Protests slowed down during Mubarak's public address but even before he had finished they resumed as protesters realized it was all a charade.

Like every politician seeking power he invoked the poor and needy over and over in his address. He also claimed that all the protests are allowed because of the "reforms" that he established. So everything good came from him, everything bad came from his government, which he was not responsible for.

Mubarak has been in power, as a virtual dictator, since 1981. And he has been cemented in power by billions of dollars in direct aid from the United States. The US gives the Mubarak dictatorship about $1.5 billion per year, most of that in military aid.

This is precisely how US foreign policy encourages the Islamist fundamentalists. Our government, in our name, props up vicious, vile dictators who suppress their people. The only organized force of opposition is found within the mosques because all other forms of civil society are tightly controlled. Within the mosques the Islamists come to dominate as the strongest opponents of the dictatorship. And this forces moderates into an alliance with Islamists to overthrow the government.

We saw this with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the purported Shah of Iran. Pahlavi was a cruel dictator who used torture and terror to impose his will on the people of Iran. Civil society was suppresses and only the mosques were given some liberty. Ayatollah Khomeini was the leading voice of opposition to Pahlavi and when the people finally rose up and overthrew the government it was Khomeini who was able to sweep in and take power. And his anti-American tirades struck a cord with the population precisely because the United States, instead of siding with liberty and freedom, has been supporting the Shah and his military dictatorship.

Iran was one of the most modern Islamic nations at the time in terms of cultural values. There was no widespread support for the Ayatollah's Iranian version of the Moral Majority. What there was, however, was opposition to the Shah. And that is what Khomeini was able to use to take power and that what kick-started the modern Islamist fundamentalist movement that now poses a threat. Jonathan Kwitny once wrote a book, Endless Enemies, which looked at how American foreign policy seemed to create new enemies to combat. Each intervention creates the need for more interventions. And so it goes, endlessly.

This problem was well expressed by Spencer Day in his song Better Way:

Too many soldier marchin off to war
Too many nations tryin to settle a score
When every battle only leads to more
We gotta find a better way.

Of course, it is not just soldiers and battles. American foreign intervention is often done when the US channels billions of taxpayer's wealth to tyrannical dictators. American politicians believe it is their divine right to rule the world, passing laws that they they force weaker governments around the world of enforcing. Our government made US drug policies the policies of the world by pushing other governments into adopting them through a combinaiton of carrot and stick policies.

Just as politicians screw up everything they touch in America, they screw up everything they touch globally. We need non-intervention, not only abroad, but at home as well.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why is the New York Times so silent?

Where is the New York Times when it comes to the testimony regarding Obamacare that was heard yesterday in Congress?

The Story

Associated Press reports that Medicare's "indepedent economic expert," Chief Actuary Richard Foster was testifying before Congress yesterday. He was asked about two of the major selling points that Obama has attached to his health care regulations. Obama has repeatedly told the public that his measures would reduce health care costs and that people would be able to keep the insurance they have. Critics, including this blog, have said that neither of those points are true. They are selling points, political campaigning points, etc., but they are not accurate.

Asked if he could give true or false assessments to these claims the government's own expert said that regarding costs, "I would say false, more so than true." In other words, the health care reforms will actually push up health care costs, not reduce them. As for keeping their own insurance, he said that is "not true in all cases." It certainly isn't. But to be fair no one said that everyone would lose insurance they like. Over time more and more will but certainly in the short term it will be limited numbers. What will happens is that insurance options will be reduced on a regular basis and you will face a dwindling pool of options, making it harder and harder to find one that fits your needs the best. Government is notorious at believing in one-size-fits-all" theories. It does with education, social security, welfare benefits, etc. It really has to since government is like a lumbering dinosaur moving about in a small space, it can't make individual exceptions because it wouldn't be able to move fast enough to make decisions. They would accumulate and backlog the system. So, everyone is forced into tiny boxes.

When You're Good to Mama, Mama's Good to You

The problems with the tiny boxes is that they are designed by special interest groups that most directly benefit by changes in the system. If the pharmaceutical lobby wants to push certain types of drugs, over others, they lobby for coverage for those drugs while others, which may be cheaper, are ignored. Consider the expansion of medicare that Big PhRMA pushed during the Bush administration.

Take an opportunist politician like Billy Tauzin as an example. Tauzin had been a Congressman from Louisiana for years, as a Democrat. When the relgiously-motivated Southerners decided to use Big Government to regulate morality more the South went Republican. So did Tauzin who quickly switched political parties so he could stay in office. Tauzin was a major player in Congress on pushing through the Medicare drug expansion and was co-sponsor of the bill. Before his term in office was finished, but after the "reforms" were law, Tauzin announced his resignation from the House, where his salary was $174,000 per year. He already had a new job lined up with PhRMA which would pay him $2.5 million per year. As USA Today reported at the time, Tauzin, "stepped down earlier this year as chairman of the House committee that regulates the pharmaceutical industry, [and] will become the new president and CEO of the drug industry's top lobbying group."

Tauzin had survived cancer and was recovering when he made the announcement. He said: "The question is what I wanted to do with the new life God had given me. This is the mission I want to take on." I'm thrilled to know that Jehovah—God of the universe —is concerned about lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry.

This illustrates a key fallacy in progressive thinking. Progressives are right on many, many things. They generally want the right results but they simply don't know how to get there and are blind to the institutional failures of big government. They demanded lots of regulations on the pharmaceutical industry and political oversight of the industry. They got it. Then it turns out that the head of the committee, who had been both a Democrat and a Republican, was so much in the pocket of the industry that they rewarded him with a $2.5 million per year position. Tauzin worked for them for five years and then retired with a cushy nest-egg not counting the pension he'll collect from Congress for all his valiant efforts at regulating Big PhRMA.

The sad reality is that the regulatory state almost always ends up in the hands of the people it was set up to regulate. There is a species of businessmen who long ago discovered that they can increase profits more through manipulating the political process, and skewing markets, than they can do in markets that are not open to political manipulation. Right at the birth of the Progressive Era, when these regulations were created, this sort of manipulation was taking place. Big Business was a major funder of efforts to regulate Big Business, because they knew they would effectively write the regulations.

Why Big Business Promotes the Regulatory State

Left-wing historian Gabriel Kolko did an exhaustive study of the origins of the regulatory state in America and says most people view the period as if it were a mirror image of itself. For instance, "it was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it." He wrote: "It is business control over politics (and by 'business' I mean the major economic interests) rather than political regulation of the economy that is the significant phenomenon of the Progressive Era." The reason for that is not hard to understand, "regulation itself was invariably controlled by leaders of the regulated industry, and directed toward ends they deemed acceptable or desirable. In part this came about because the regulatory movements were usually initiated by the dominant business to be regulated."

My guess is that Obamacare will end up dominated by a few big insurance companies who will continue to tweak the system to shut out smaller competition. While the insurance industry appears competitive it is largely illusionary in that, in regards to health insurance, individuals are forbidden to buy from out-of-state insurers, which dramatically limits the options given the consumer. Limiting options is what the insurance industry has demanded and what the politicians want. Sure, the industry will scream and holler during the forging of the regulatory chains but that is to help guarantee the chains will quite profitable for themselves while restricting the movement on smaller competitors. Regulation, in reality, leads to de facto cartelization, which is why I support depoliticized markets instead.

Foster said that around 7 million Medicare recipients who are in private "Medicare Advantage" programs, will have to find other coverage because the new policies will raise premiums and causes some insurers to drop coverage completely.

So Where is the New York Times?

This is a major story in regards to Obamacare, so precisely who is covering it? We had the Associated Press report, which means it went out on the wires to the major media outlets of the country, yesterday. A conservative columnist at the Washington Post blogged about it. The Tucson Citizen didn't actually report on it, but they did link to a blog talking about it on their own blog. The Boston Globe did run a truncated version of the AP story. However, the story was not run in the main news section, or even under the politics section. It was isolated in the "Home/Lifestyle/Health" section instead.

The so-called "newspaper of record," the New York Times doesn't appear to have anything about the story. An on-line search, at their own website, indicates that "Richard Foster" has not been mentioned by the paper in the last 30 days. The Associated Press story was yesterday so clearly they decided NOT to report to the public that two major talking points of Obamacare were wrong. The Los Angeles Times ran the AP story saying: "The landmark legislation probably won't hold costs down, and it won't let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it." So did the San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald. But no matter what search terms I use, the New York Times site shows nothing about this important testimony.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What passes as obscene in Arkansas.

Elton John and spouse, David Furnish recently had a child using a surrogate. US magazine ran this cover of the couple and the baby.

In Arkansas, a small state located between Mississippi and the 4th Century, a local grocery store got complaints that the cover was offensive to the good Christian folks that inhabit the thriving metropolis of Mountain Home, where men are men and their sisters are nervous.

Harps grocery store decided that since some good Christians were unhappy they had to take immediate action. This is what they did.

The "Family Shield" says it is there to "protect young shoppers." I'd bet a doughnut that no "young" shoppers actually complained. Of course, in Mountain Home, the median age is 53 and 36% of the population is over 65, so young is relative there. The town, which has a population of just over 12,000, has 15 churches, 10 of which appear to be fundamentalist.

A spokesman for the grocery store said they put the "Family Shield" up because of complaints. Asked if they would have done the same regarding a complaint about a straight couple and their child the spokesman lost his voice after saying, "no comment." After that all journalists calling for information received a curt "no comment" and phones were hung up on them.

Our man-on-the-street interviews (notice to the humorously challenged, satire to follow) got the pulse of the town. We interviewed Darryl Dungswamp and Cheryll Dungswamp. Since this was a "Family Shield" we asked them if they were a family.

Darryl: "Well, we is married if that's what's yer asking. But Cheryll here is a liberated woman and used her maiden name."

Us: (Not to be confused with the obscene magazine) "Okay, but didn't you say Cheryll's last name is Dungwamp as well."

Darryl: "That's right. Her maiden name is Dungswamp, just like mine."

Us: "Isn't that confusing?"

Darryl: "Round these parts it is. You could just call her Cousin Cherryl, I do."

Us: "What do you think of the controversy about the magazine cover at Harps."

Cherryl: "I knew it would only be a matter of time before godlessness would creep in to the city. Let in filth like magazines and pretty soon they'd be perversion all over the place. Right Counsin Darryl?"

Darryl: "You's said it Cherryl. It all started when the library went out and added books to the shelves. Reading ain't natural, you have to recruit kids into doing it. If God intended us to read we wouldn't have to be taught how to do it."

Us; "So, is it true that you required black folks to ride at the back of the bus."

Darryl: "Course not! We''s enlightened. What's a bus?"

Cherryl: "What's a black folk?"

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

In summation: Peter Hitchens vs. this blog.

Peter Hitchens is still not pleased with my reply to his comments. The first article regarding Mr. Hitchens and his views on marijuana is here. His reply to that, along with my rebuttal is here. Below, in red, are his most recent comments with my reply in black. I fear that this will need to be the last such public discussion as I do not wish to make the blog “Peter Hitchens, every day, all day.” There are many other issues to address and too much time on one makes Jack, or Peter, a dull boy.

On the question of the enforcement of laws against cannabis possession, the crucial information is not the number of arrests, but the sanctions applied to those convicted, and the number of cases actually proceeded against in the courts. In England, the great majority of persons arrested for cannabis possession are given an informal 'cannabis warning' which entails no penalty and no record of any kind, and has no legal status. (I can supply figures on request and recently published them on my blog in an item about Professor David Nutt and accuracy) In effect, the English authorities have abandoned attempts to prosecute or punish the possession of cannabis.

I do not claim to know the situation in every state or jurisdiction of the USA. We do know that Loughner, found by police in a car stinking of marijuana and in possession of drug paraphernalia, was merely sent on a 'diversion programme'. We also know that 'medical marijuana' is about to be permitted in Arizona. I think this gives a pretty clear picture of the real state of affairs. Laws can exist which are not enforced, and are in effect dead.

I addressed this in both my previous replies. Mr. Hitchens ignores the actual statistics about imprisonment in the US for marijuana use and continues to pretend the laws “are not enforced, and are in effect dead.” I wish that were the case. Even after I pointed out that 47% of the 1.8 million people arrested for drugs were arrested on pot charges, Mr. Hitchens continues to claim that the laws are not enforced. After I pointed out that a person is arrested for marijuana in the US every 38 seconds, Mr. Hitchens continues to say the law is, “in effect dead.” I wrote that in 1992 there were 342,000 people arrested for marijuana in the US and that by 2007 it had increased to almost 830,000. Approximately 12% of all federal prisoners are in prison on pot charges, 88% for mere possession. The evidence shows the law is enforced and that Mr. Hitchens’ assertion that it is not enforced is grossly in error.

The list of events provided at the end of my critic's post is not referenced, the events are not dated, and I have no idea of the detailed circumstances involved. It is at least open to question as to whether they give an accurate picture of law enforcement in the US in general, in respect of cannabis possession.

The events listed, which were of people killed in raids by the Drug Warriors, did have some links included. But, most importantly, it gave the names of the victims of the Drug Warriors. A simply Google search would turn up the news stories outlining the circumstances. Mr. Hitchens could find any one of those stories in a matter of seconds were he inclined to do so. I suspect he is not inclined to do so because it is best to selectively ignore evidence that contradicts one’s own views.

I mentioned my critic's error over my newspaper (which is in itself unimportant) to make the point that errors such as mine (over the confusion between Pima County and the town of Pima) are easy to make at a distance. My critic does not understand the way newspapers operate in Britain. I mistook a county for a city of the same name in the same state. These are comparable errors. I admit mine and regret it. He tries to argue that his (equally minor) error wasn't an error. This is significant, as we shall see, for my critic ( who also doesn't seem to have withdrawn his early and self-serving rush to judgement on this site that the politically incoherent Loughner was 'right-wing') is a little less rigorous about accuracy when it comes to himself, than he is with others.

His critic, me, does understand how papers work in the UK. He seems unaware that I did live in the UK for some time, along with other Commonwealth nations. Mr. Hitchens did more than confuse the town of Pima with the county of Pima. He also wrote that the shootings took place in the town of Pima and labeled the town council of Pima as “liberal” for passing an ordinance they were required to pass by law.

Second, I did not make an error regarding The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday. Mr. Hitchens is adamant that they are separate newspapers; I insist they are two editions of the same paper. I listed the reasons for this including they are both called “The Mail,” both owned by the same individual, both run out of the same building, and share numerous staff members with each other (though editorial staff is separate) and are found on the same web page with no distinction between which is which.. That some staff is separate doesn’t mean other staff is not shared. One is the weekly edition of the Mail and the other is the Sunday edition of the Mail.

If you wish to check this out for yourself go to and do a search on "Peter Hitchens." The Daily Mail includes all of Mr. Hitchen's columns on their site. They only do this for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Clearly the Mail on Sunday is not an entirely separate newspaper but is seen by the Daily Mail as another edition of what they publish, just one distributed on Sunday. It should be also noted that the Daily Mail website, when it shows you articles by Mr. Hitchens makes no clear distinction that they were published in Mail on Sunday. They don't seem to think the difference is very significant, neither do I.

And nowhere have I “withdrawn” my “early and self-serving rush to judgment” on Loughner holding right-wing views. I see no reason to do that. My position was explained in detail for those caring to read it, both in my main blog posts and in comments. I said that Loughner’s views, as he himself explained them in his rambling tirades, were right wing. I also said that it was schizophrenia, not politics that caused him to kill. That is not retreating from saying his views were right wing. I never said his politics inspired the shootings, only that his politics, in his own writings, were right wing.

One difference between what I what I wrote and what others have written, is that I am absolutely convinced Loughner killed because he’s crazy, not because he’s right wing, or because he smoked pot. Others are looking for a scapegoat, in order to further their own political agendas. I am not. I do not think marijuana is to blame, as Mr. Hitchens does, nor do I think Loughner killed because of his politics, as many on the Left have claimed. Loughner killed because he’s crazy.

Why do I object to the way in which he portrayed my article?

Let's look at what he said:

"Hitchens argued ... that the cause of the shooting was marijuana."

No. I said it might be.

My words: "From this, and from many other things we already know about this man, it seems likely that he has lost his reason. Why and how? The most likely cause is Loughner’s daily cannabis-smoking habit. "

There is a bit of bait-and-switch in Mr. Hitchens’ reply. He says the argued that marijuana “might” be the cause, not that it is the cause. First, when you say something “might” happen you are stating a very high degree of uncertainty. The term “most likely,” on the contrary, means one of very strong certainty. Mr. Hitchens writes using terms that convey very, very strong certainty as to his theory.

Mr. Hitchens claimed the link between marijuana and “serious mental illness grows clearer every day,” and then calls libertarians supporting legalization “wicked” for denying this. I address the evidence that no such link exists; Mr. Hitchens ignores what I said on those matters. Hitchens said, with no equivocation, that “Loughner is a marijuana victim.” What does that mean, in this context, if not that Loughner is where he is today because of marijuana? He didn’t say Loughner “might” be a marijuana victim, nor did he use the stronger term “’most likely’ a victim of marijuana.” He said he “is” a victim, a term of absolute certainly.

And victim can only refer to the present state of affairs for Mr. Loughner if it is to have any meaning whatsoever. To say he is a “victim” merely because he smoked pot, with no connection to the current situation, is to strip the term “victim” of meaning. Hitchens meant to imply, and did, that Loughner is a “victim” because marijuana put him the situation he is in today.

Another expression of certainty, that marijuana causes mental illness, is Hitchens calling pot “the little packets of madness on sale in every school.” He didn’t say that these “might” be packets of madness, or are “most likely” packets of madness. There was no equivocation in his writing. He made similar statements as facts, which are not facts. For instance, he said that it is new that America “now has legal dope as well.” First, America does not have legal dope now. That is a gross exaggeration of the facts. And, if it did, it would NOT be new. The first regulation on marijuana came in 1906 in Washington, DC. The first state prohibition was in California in 1913. The first federal attempt to regulate drugs was the Harrison Act of 1914, but it was the Narcotic Act of 1925 that really put prohibitionist policies into effect. Prior to these regulations there was pretty much laissez faire regarding marijuana. Marijuana might be relegalized someday, but contrary to Mr. Hitchens’ claim it is not now legal nor would relegalization be the “first time” in American history for pot to be legal.

The difference between an assertion of proven fact, and a suggestion that something is likely is important to me, even if it is not to my critic.It is at least partly important because my critic assails me for (amongs other things) ' poor reasoning, 'hysteria' and 'paranoia'.

Mr. Hitchens again uses terms of great uncertainty to describe what he said; yet his original article did NOT express such uncertainty. Hitchens said the “most likely” cause of Loughner’s act was marijuana and that the evidence is mounting to prove a connection between pot and mental illness. He didn’t just suggest that might be possible but said it was the "most likely" reason: thus the reason at the top of the list, ahead of all others, including the one that Loughner might have been destined for schizophrenia all along, whether he smoked pot of not.

Similarly, while purporting to quote from what I said, my critic wrote suggesting that I had said the following :' the smiling indicates "he has lost his reason." '

What I actually said was :"Look at the strange picture of the alleged killer Jared Loughner. He has just been arrested for a crime for which he could be put to death, if convicted. And he is smiling. From this, and from many other things we already know about this man, it seems likely that he has lost his reason."

My critic once again makes my conclusions harder, and my reasoning less cautious, than is in fact the case.Note, again, the conditional nature of the statement, the words 'it seems likely'. All my thoughts on this subject are expressed in this way. All my critic's summaries of them suggest a certainty which I did not express. Why? Because if he had reproduced what I actually said, his accusations of 'paranoia', 'hysteria', etc would have looked a little slender. Why cannot he just say that he disagrees with me, and explain why?

I did say I disagree with him and explained why. Oddly, it is the areas where I explained why I think Mr. Hitchens is wrong, that he completely ignores. I outlined why I think he is wrong that pot is all but legal in America. I explained why the evidence shows that there is no link between schizophrenia and pot use. Yet, in his replies, Mr. Hitchens never addresses those rebuttals. Apparently explaining why I disagree with him has no effect on him. His replies have not, to this point, addressed any of my explanations as to why he is wrong. He instead “pounds the table” and concentrates on minor points and not the substance of my rebuttal.

I agree that my critic doesn't directly state that my article was plagiarised. He manages, however, to suggest that it may be, being willing to wound but afraid to strike. Since he is such a stickler for accuracy in others, I urge him not to adopt this unlovely technique. The insinuation is without foundation, and an ad hominem trick which has no place in a serious discussion.

I said Mr. Hitchens borrowed an argument, not that he plagiarized. Kincaid’s article appeared first and used the same arguments. Kincaid, unlike Hitchens, actually tried to make more substantive claims about the link between pot and schizophrenia. I then replied to Kincaid’s piece and not to Hitchens, at that point in my article. I am not suggesting plagiarism, which would mean he borrowed Kincaid’s actual writing. I merely said he borrowed the argument. Similarly when it comes to business cycle theory I borrow Hayek’s insights, when it comes to guns I borrow the insights of John Lott, when it comes to religion, I borrow the insights of Mr. Hitchens’ brother, Christopher. We all borrow arguments and there is nothing wrong with that. Borrowing other people’s writing is plagiarism and a quite different.

He also attempts to attribute to me a claim made by someone else in a newspaper for which ( as it happens) I have never written . This is where it is slightly more important for readers to understand that the 'Mail on Sunday' has a separate staff and a different editor from the 'Daily Mail'. In this it is quite unlike the Sunday editions of North American daily newspapers. In any case, I am not responsible for, and cannot reasonably have attributed to me, claims made or opinions expressed by other writers in other newspapers. Or indeed by other writers in the same newspaper, if my critic wishes to persist in his mistaken belief.

He quotes as follows :"Hitchens' paper, the Daily Mail, has pushed this hysteria before. They previously said "a single joint of cannabis raises the risk of schizophrenia by more than 40 per cent." By the way the "more than 40 per cent" means 41 per cent. Why they couldn't say 41 per cent I don't know, other than the term they used sounds scarier. Percentages are funny things. For instance, if 50% of the population was going to die from cancer, and if going to Sunday School increased that risk by 41% it would mean that out of 100 people, instead of 50 dying then 70 to 71 would die. That is a huge increase. It is huge because the percentage is based on a large base."

I addressed this matter above. The Mail has a daily edition and a Sunday edition and has some staff that are different and some that are the same. They are two editions of the same paper. But, oddly Hitchens argues that he is not “responsible” for the other article in the Daily Mail. That’s fine and dandy, but then I never said he was responsible. Nor did I say he wrote the article, or wrote for that edition of the Mail. What I said was that the Mail “has pushed this hysteria before” and then linked to an article where the newspaper did precisely that. It is just to false to claim I tried "to attribute" to Hitchens a claim someone else made. I attributed the newspaper as the source, not Mr. Hitchens.

I should note that the Mail is a really sleazy newspaper, in my opinion. It mostly focuses on hysterical stories and celebrity gossip. It shouldn’t qualify as journalism. Its history is as pathetic as its current style. The publication was one of the few to openly praise Hitler and Mussolini and was sympathetic to the British Union of Fascists. Lord Rothermere said BUF leader, Oswald Mosley should be prime minister because he "is willing to act with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Mussolini and Hitler have displayed." Science writer Ben Goldacre calls it “the home of the scare story.” Hitchens' piece on Loughner is a good example of such a scare story. Another example from the Mail was their distortion of the “sun rise” incident in Greenland, which I discussed yesterday. Light refraction caused it to appear as if there were some sun rise in Greenland two days earlier than normal. The Mail, contrary to the evidence, announced “the most likely” explanation was that the horizon was lower due to melting ice global warming. It was not the most likely one at all, but one of the least likely, and one that evidence easily disproved.

Or, get this “scare story” from the Mail Online. “World’s youngest pole dancer: Two-year-old boy’s shocking performance in New York park – under his mother’s proud gaze.” In typical sleaze fashion the Mail Online, which does publish Mr. Hitchens, describes the incident thus: “He grips the pole, gyrates his body then lies on the floor with his legs apart — all under the approving gaze of his mother.”

You would think he was doing a “pole dance,” as in a strip club. In reality there was a pole fitness exhibition in the park. People now use similar poles as a form of exercise and it has nothing to do with sex. The paper claims the boy “slides up and against it on his groin.” Video of the incident shows something that isn’t quite the way the Mail Online describes. As for it being “shocking:” shocking to whom? The audience in the park was laughing as this child tried to mimic the adults using the pole to work out. I suggest the video is not shocking, only that the Mail Online wants its readers to think it is shocking. The Mail Online implies this is “sexualizing” children. (See the video yourself below.) This is an indication of the kind of scare stories that is the currency of the Mail. I dare say that Mr. Hitchens original piece fits the genre perfectly.

As it happens I make no such claim. I refer only to the work of the noted British psychiatrist, Robin Murray, whose research on this matter is easily accessible to anyone interested. I recommend that my critic looks at what Professor Murray has to say.

In his most recent article my critic continues to suggest that I have made this claim about Schizophrenia, thus :'The question in the Loughner case is whether pot smoking caused him to become schizophrenic. There has been no evidence offered to show that to be the case, only wishful thinking on the part of the Drug Warriors enablers, such as Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Kincaid." And thus :'Even by his own theory, which I think is wrong, he says [ it is not clear in this passage who 'he' is, but it seems possible that it is meant to be me] that pot use doubles the risk of schizophrenia, that is from 1 to 2. He then equates that risk with the risk of lung cancer from smoking, which is actually 20 to 30 times higher. That is a tad bit dishonest. He doesn't give the actual numbers, he just implies they are equivalents. Why did he give that false impression?'(This passage also repeats a mistaken claim, explored below, about my comparison between the dangers of tobacco and cannabis).

My critic also manages to suggest that I posit that the risk of mental illness to cannabis smokers is equal to the risk of lung cancer for cigarette smokers. He asks "And are the risks equal as Hitchens implies?"

What did I actually say? This :'Not all cannabis-smokers lose their minds. And not all cigarette-smokers get cancer. But in both cases the risk is enough to cause concern.' It seems to me that nothing in these words 'implies' , let alone explicitly states that the risks are equal. It states that there is a risk. It makes precisely no claim about the size of it. In my view one person losing his reason because of cannabis use is cause for concern. I am not sure what my critic thinks, or how many people he is prepared to sacrifice on the alter of cannabis decriminalisation.

Odd, that when I list people killed by Drug Warriors, Hitchens dismisses it because it wasn’t linked, even if the names of people were listed and could be Googled. Yet, he never linked to an article by Murray, he merely says it exists. And I dealt with the argument Murray makes by noting that there has been no rise in rates of schizophrenia, even as pot smoking increased. Neither do rates of schizophrenia differ from nation to nation, regardless of the individual consumption of marijuana in those nations. The failure to see a rise in the rate of schizophrenia, over the last fifty years, in spite of greater consumption of pot, disproves the theory.

Mr. Hitchens doesn’t know who the “he” is that said pot use doubles the chances of schizophrenia. I should have been clearer there, but my original article said, “Kincaid claims “People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.” Remember that a good portion of my first article was not about Mr. Hitchens, but also include Mr. Kincaid’s similar claims. Oddly Mr. Kincaid also likes to cite Robin Murray as evidence for his attacks on the “drug lobby,” just as does Mr. Hitchens. However, numerous conservative anti-pot articles make the same claims as Hitchens and many claim the doubling. So, the reference is to the theory in general, more than to what Mr. Hitchens may think the increase is. Whether he thinks it is .4 or 1 he can explain himself. That is actually rather immaterial since no increase of any size has been detected.

Now, since my critic's attack is largely based on the suggestion that my article is unreasonable, short on logic and (he uses the expression twice, once in the headline and once in the text) 'paranoid' it seems quite important to me that my words, when examined are in fact cautious, conditional and reasonable. Yes, I know he made the link available, but as he well knows, there will always be plenty of people who will be happy to accept the poster's version of the article without checking the link. As for the use of the word 'paranoid', is my critic a qualified psychiatrist? Has he ever met me? Or must we conclude that the word was employed as cheap, ad hominem abuse?

In conclusion, Mr. Hitchens seems upset that my readers may not actually read his article, in spite of my linking to it. Well, that is not something I can do anything about. What I did do was give his rebuttal prominent display on my blog, twice. And in the original article I wrote I also added a link to his rebuttal. I dare say that is more than Mr. Hitchens does for his critics, but I could be wrong.

I also note that describing his arguments as hysterical and paranoid is NOT an ad hominem argument. I describe the arguments, not him. As I said, I don’t know him and don’t pass judgment on him as a person, only on his writing. Since I explicitly said I was not addressing him as a person, and since ad hominem quite literally means ‘to the man,’ a description of his writing cannot be an ad hominem attack.

Ad hominem is a form of argumentation that says you can’t believe someone because of who they are, or something personal about them. To say that their arguments are paranoid, hysterical, wrong, mistaken, in error, etc., is not the same thing. I laid out precisely why I think Mr. Hitchens was wrong. In other words, I did discuss the evidence, but in his rebuttals he oddly avoids all that material, as if it were never said. There is the maxim: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” I pounded on the facts, Mr. Hitchens pounded on the table.

We are now at the end of Mr. Hitchens’ second rebuttal to my reply to his original article. At the end of my reply to his first rebuttal I outlined several questions of fact that I thought he needed to address. They still need addressing. The most important is addressing why there has been no increase in rates of schizophrenia even as pot use increased. Such an increase should be apparent if the theory that Mr. Hitchens is promoting is correct. The absence of such evidence is a major hole in the theory. Mr. Hitchens has avoided that topic completely, in both his rebuttals. Similarly he has offered nothing to indicate that the “most likely” reason Loughner had mental problems was because he smoked pot. The links simply have not been produced and instead addressing factual issues, we got lots of table pounding.

While I do not feel that more space on the front page of the blog for this issue is warranted, Mr. Hitchens is free, like other readers, to post in the comments section. Or, he is most welcome to take the debate to the website, where his articles appear regularly. But, this blog has to move on to new issues, in order to avoid being tedious.

PS: In the comment section Mr. Hitchens left a reply suggesting that I should publish his comments without any reply on my part. That is a very odd way to have dialogue. He also says his comments are "still not posted on the thread concerned." The original post I made regarding Hitchens has a link to his comments which are published in full on the same blog. Mr. Hitchens complained that the blog only allows 5,000 characters in comments. That is true, and is the highest limit I can set, beyond that is out of my control. So he was being forced to send in multiple comments per reply. I gave his comments more prominence by putting them on the front page with all the comment in one post instead of three posts. He's still not happy. Well, he was given more space on my blog than I was given on his (zero), but still he complains. However, the idea that he should be allowed to say anything he wants, without a reply, is ludicrous, if not downright Stalinist.

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