Wednesday, February 28, 2007

They said he was hero, now what will they say?

Here is a powerful story on several levels. According to ABC News, Staff Sgt. Eric Alva was the first U.S. Marine to be seriously wounded in Iraq. He enlisted when he was fresh out of high school -- just 19-years-old. His father had been in the Army and served in Vietnam and so had his grandfather who served in World War II and Korea. He said: “I wanted a bigger challenge” so he joined the Marines.

A decorated officer Alva had done duty in Japan and Somalia and was then sent to Iraq by President Bush. He was leading his men to Basra from their base in Kuwait. The desert was dark that night and the sand blowing made it difficult to see. They stopped momentarily and Alva went to retrieve something from his Humvee when the explosion went off. It was a land mine that changed Alva’s life.

Evacuated to Kuwait Alva awoke to find his leg was gone. “It was like a nightmare. And I remember just crying for a few minutes, and I fell back to sleep because the drugs were really heavy.”

The Department of Defense has a web page dedicated to Eric Alva with this headline: “’Credit to the Corps,’ Hispanic War Veteran Honored.” They have a picture of him receiving he Heroes and Heritage Award from Major General Christopher Cortez. It was Cortez who said that Alva was “a credit to the Corps”. He also said: “We are grateful for his faithful service and proud to honor him today.”

Alva was touted as a symbol by the pro-war crowd. President and Mrs. Bush paid him a visit when he was transfered to Bethesda Naval Hospital . Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stopped in to say hello. So did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

Another visitor, one not noticed so much by the media, was Lois Alva, his mother. Eric’s first impulse was to apologize to her. Two weeks before Alva was sent to Mr. Bush’s war he decided to fly his mother out to California to see her one more time before deployment. He hadn’t been able to go home for Christmas. The one thing he promised her, as he dropped her off at Palm Springs Airport for her return flight to Texas, was “I’ll come back. I won’t get hurt.”

From Kuwait Alva was sent to Germany for surgery but before his surgery he asked to call his parents. He said he wanted to speak to them and to tell his mother he was sorry for not keeping his word. He hadn’t kept his promise to her. He couldn’t keep his word. He told her: “I’m so sorry I got hurt.” Lois said she could barely breath at that moment and told him all she cared about was that he was still alive.

That night in the desert Alva’s friend, Brian Alaniz, rushed to his side to help his comrade. "I knelt down to put together a suction device,” said Alaniz. Alva was in such pain he couldn’t understand what was happening and he temporarily lost his hearing from the force of the explosion so he couldn’t hear what anyone was saying to him.

As Alaniz was helping his friend there was another explosion. He said, “the second explosion went off underneath me”. Alaniz lost his leg in that explosion. “I didn’t realize that it was -- that it was -- that it was Brian that actually got hit that time,” says Alva.

Lois says that Eric feels bad and blames himself for Brian’s injuries because he thinks “if it hadn’t been for him, [Alaniz] wouldn’t have stepped on the mine.” Eric told one news crew: “You think of the what-ifs in the beginning. And if I hadn’t gotten hurt, then Brian would still be -- have both legs... I felt responsible for what had happened to him.”

Alva says: “I went through countless nights of agony and tears but there was never any doubt, I kept faith that I could recover, and I’m still recovering.”

Lois said that lying in the hospital Eric had already been contemplating his future. “I look at Eric having a strong heart; he’s very strong-spirited and not the type to easily give up. He’s talking about working with children with disabilities.” He is now studying for a degree in physical therapy.

Brian Alaniz says he’s learned so much from Eric Alva. “Eric’s a hero for everything that he’s accomplished since his injury. It’s easy when you’re on top. But when you hit rock bottom and then try to climb back up, you know, it really defines who you are and -- and what you stand for.... He inspires me a lot.” Eric says the same of Brian. He says he has become the brother he never had. “I thank him every day for -- for -- for the effort and the job that he did that day.... To me he’s a hero.”

Eric Alva is putting his life back together. He was a marathon runner in the Marines and has been learning how to ski again, without one leg. He’s been asked to join the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. “It’s amazing how quickly I was able to get back into skiing. Cross country skiing was a bit tougher than downhill, though, because I had to use a lot more upper body strength and I’m still getting used to my right arm not being as strong.”

Each week Alva takes time out to speak to various groups about the war. He says at the schools children always want to talk about he guns but that he tries to steer them away and toward more important things. “I want to get across to them that I was lucky to make it home, and others were not so lucky. I also want to motivate them do something with their lives.”

Perhaps that ought to be the theme for Alva’s own life. Here was a young man who wanted to do something with his life. He wanted to make an important contribution. And certainly he has inspired people. The testimonies of his friends and family bear witness to that.

Alva dreamed of running again in the Marine marathon. And he seems like a man who can do whatever he sets him mind to do. But he can’t. He is no longer considered fit to be a Marine or to serve his country in the military. And it's not because he lost a leg.

He was home one evening spending time with the love of his life, who said to him that Alva lost his leg defending freedom and rights that he himself will never be allowed to enjoy. He was told: “Look at the rights that people are being denied. And look at the rights that you are fighting for. Look at the rights that you put your life on the line for, for this country. And yet you don’t get any of them.”

Alva was shocked, perhaps a little hurt, but he realized it was true. His partner is another man and Alva is gay. That night he realized: “I’m just a second class citizen who isn’t going to get anything unless I say something. And I’m in a position to do something.”

So war hero Staff Sgt. Eric Alva publicly announced he was gay and that he would fight for the repeal of government policy that prevents men like himself from serving in the military. “There are certain things you do in life at a certain time and a certain place. In my heart, I this this is the right time.”

Some of his friends in the Marines knew his secret. He tells of a night when he was having drinks in a bar with a fellow Marine who commented on some of the women. Alva didn’t say anything and the other Marine made a remark: “Dude, what’s the matter? Are you gay or something?” With two margaritas under his belt he was feeling bold and replied “As a matter of fact I am. So what do you have to say about that, jerk off?”

When the other Marine realized he was serious he told Alva he’d keep his secret. He didn’t. He would tell others and repeatedly he found himself shot down because the other service men didn’t care.

Eric says he just want to “be your regular, average American citizen who has a voice, who has a point to make and wants to empower other people about the rights and equality of what people really deserve in this country.”

Eric Alva is truly a second class citizen. His sexual orientation makes him ineligible to serve the country which honored him for the very service they say he is incapable of giving. He can’t marry his partner. As Eric says: “Any American willing to serve their country shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the government will give them fair and equal treatment when they return home.” Of course he is right but then neither should it deny them fair and equal treatment even if they don’t enlist in the military.

Equal rights before the law ought to be the birthright of every American. Jefferson’s magnificent Declaration didn’t say that “all men are created equal (except for homosexuals)”.

In one interview he was asked about the wedding band he wears on his hand. He told about his recent flight to Washington to speak out in favor of equal rights for gay military personnel. He was waiting to board the plane: “This very nice woman next to me said she recognized me. She looked at my ring and asked about my wife. I told her I have partner. His name is Darrell. She paused and said, ‘Good for you.’”

Good for him, indeed.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Police chief eyes crotch, arrests pelvic thruster

What can you say about the Theocratic Republic of Texas? Here is a state that works very hard to prove that their average intelligence is so low that any of them could be the current occupant of the White House. As one Texas newspaper recently admitted: “Every now and then, a city somewhere in Texas gets all wrought up with moral outrage and does something really stupid.”

Don’t sell the state legislature short. They are leaders of the ban dildo movement in America.

Recently the Men of Chippendales made the mistake of performing in Lubbock, Texas, Lubbock is the 11th largest city in Texas and is situated between Dallas and the Dark Ages. Considering that geography you can see the dancers were asking for trouble.

The men were dressed. By virtue of state law and the holy edicts of the Southern Baptist Convention even children are born fully clothed in Texas. This is a state where a nudist is defined as woman who shows her ankles. But the men sinned! A couple of them opened their pants to reveal --- black boxers!

Now you know they are dancing on thin ice. Dancing indeed. At this point Police Chief Claude T. Jones (didn’t you know he’d be named Claude or Homer or Jethro) had his eye on those crotches. Yes sir. When it comes to protecting the virtue of the Lubbock lady-folk Claude will not let any male package go unwatched. Every male crotch on that stage was under police surveillance.

And then he saw it. Right there on the stage in front of God and the women of Lubbock, who forked over ridiculously high fees to attend the show, Chief Jones saw a pelvic thrust. You heard me right. A pelvic thrust!

And it was then that the Chief insisted that a heinous crime had been committed. He says Texas law forbids dancing with the intention of providing “sexual gratification.” And no woman will ever be sexually gratified when Claude T. Jones is on duty. He’ll see to that personally.

Apparently the police chief doesn’t realize that it usually takes a bit more than a pelvic thrust to sexually gratify a woman. Wouldn’t you hate to be Mrs. Claude T. Jones?

Some residents of the town questioned the police using their time to spy on male crotches and police pelvic thrusts. They tried to bring up the topic at the city council meeting when the mayor and council suddenly adjourned the meeting and headed off to prayer meeting or something.

Now one local publication in Lubbock, The Daily Toreador, a university newspaper ran a story that one might find of interest in light of the police chief’s intention to protect women. It reported that “Self Magazine ranked Lubbock as the third least safe U.S. city for women.” Now they have people who are killed in Lubbock. They have people who are assaulted. They have armed robberies that take place. But never will they have sexual gratification if Chief Jones is on the job.

If he had his way you wouldn’t have your way.

City officials, when they came out of hiding, did defend Ol’ Claude and his crotch-watching officers. Mayor David Miller said: “The council supports the Lubbock police department including the actions of last Friday. We feel there was probably cause as well as praise the officers on the scene as well as Chief Jones.”

I wonder how the Mayor knows there was probable cause? Was he in drag in the audience crotch-watching as diligently as the police were? The police insist that the dancers “sexually stimulated and sexual gratified” the female members of the audience. Even worse the police insisted that women in audience had been “aroused and gratified” by the dancing. Please note the women did not complain though I suspect some did when the police got involved.

Now let's be honest here. The typical man is not exactly the most perceptive person when involved with women. He is often oblivious to whether or not a woman is gratified. Men, if you don’t believe me, do your own poll. Now if this is the case when men have the woman naked, right in front of them, it would be almost a miracle if a man could tell a woman was sexually gratified when she was fully clothed. And considering the women were not just dressed but sitting in chairs at the time the ability to discern that they were aroused and gratified is utterly astounding.

Now this is where I’m confused. The officers were staring at the bulging, thrusting leather-bound packages of the male dancers. At the same time they could see through the women’s clothes and could discern immediately, not only arousal, but gratification. Something they rarely do when at home, in bed, with their wives. Or with their girlfriends when the wives are at church.

This talent is actually useful. Instead of expensive scanners at the airports, which now peep through you clothes (they have to make sure you don’t have bin Laden in your panties) the US government could just deploy Lubbock police officers. They have x-ray vision that would make Superman jealous -- of course with his tights they'd arrest him if it looked like the thrusted!

Apparently the city attorney won’t be going ahead with a court case. It seems there is a lack of evidence that any of the women in the audience were sexually satisfied. So the good news is that the women are still as unsatisfied as before just the way God and the Lubbock city council intended.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Republican revolt that hasn't been noticed. Yet!

It was a Republican revolt that hardly anyone noticed. It was a revolt against the intolerance of the Theopublican movement. It was a revolt in favor of equality of rights and individual choice. It wasn’t huge. It wasn’t earth shattering but it was important.

In Wyoming the Republicans rule. Theopublican Owen Peterson had introduced a measure that would have barred Wyoming from recognizng equal marriage rights for gay couples legally married in other states. It was the sort of bill the Religious Right would assume would sail right through the legislature. Peterson said Wyoming law recognized marriages from other states and that would mean recognizing gay marriages from Massachusetts. Horrors! Hide the children in the storm cellar it’s the end of the world.

And while the Theopublican movement is strong in the Republican Party across the country the West is not the brain-dead American South. The West is the home of old fashioned small government Republicans -- a kind not found in the authoritarian South.

The first anti-marriage amendment to fail a popular vote was in Arizona, the Goldwater state. Even though Republicans are a majority of the voters, and most major elected officials are Republicans, the measure was defeated. It was that libertarian sentiment, something Reagan once said was the real heart of conservatism, that was the final nail in the coffin of that bigoted piece of legislation.

In Wyoming the measure was being debated in the House Rules Committee. It needed to pass here or die. Dan Zwonitzer, a young Republican legislator stood up. He says he had heard all the remarks made by the proponents of the bill and he got angry. He said: “when one of the proponents of the bill said some very infuriating things, it triggered something in me and I went a bit overboard in my off-the-cuff speech, but so many people came up to me afterwards to than[k] me.”

He hadn’t planned on speaking and had no prepared notes but he wrote down later, as best he could what he remembered saying. Here are most of those remarks.
I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.

It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.

Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.

In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn’t until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I’ve read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.

Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society.
I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.

And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.

I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.

I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won’t because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.

That’s the pre-theocratic Republican Party reasserting itself. Read what these words carefully.

He says he wants to speak about history and philosophy. Republicans don’t do that anymore. They speak about “the base” and God and the Bible. He spoke about “the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights”. What! These kinds of words have been missing from the Republican Party ever since Ronald Reagan retired.

He recognized the immorality of “one segment of society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment os society” and he called that “wrong”. Wrong? Republicans gave up the morality of equality rights for the morality of theocrats long ago. But I guess there was always a Remnant of Republicans clinging to the old ideas.

And what politician, in either party, tends to say things like “If standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it.” I mean say it and mean it! Not many.

And it had some impact. Republican Pat Childers spoke out about his lesbian daughter and said that she was born gay and that bills like one “would be violating my daughter’s rights.”

House Speaker Roy Cohee, a Republican, spoke on the bill as well. “Is it a responsible thing of government to say that, OK, as a government, we’ll provide certain benefits, and entitlements and rights to the people of this country and of this state, unless you are this or that? Is that our responsibility to do that? I don’t think it is.”

And Cohee cast the tie-breaking vote defeating the measure. Even one Republican supporter of the bill seemed to be having second thoughts before he cast his yes vote. Tom Lubnau said: “Maybe the right thing to do is stand up for tolerance.” He didn’t in the end but it seemed to be on his mind.

Carrie Evans, the local representative of the Human Rights Campaign, which purports to support gay rights, but is really a lobbying group for the Democratic Party, admitted that conservatives in the state are not quite the same as elsewhere in the country and said the state is of a “special few states that doesn’t already deny recognition to same-sex unions from other areas.” She says that Wyoming is “not very reactionary in terms of social issues. There’s no horrific anti-gay laws on the books, but they also don’t have any laws banning hate crimes even after Matthew Shepard’s death.”

Good! While I can’t watch The Laramie Project, the film about the Shepard case, without breaking down, I vehemently oppose these ill considered hate crime laws. What was down to Shepard was already a crime. Hate crime laws don’t ban the crimes, they are already crimes. Murder is murder no matter the reason it is committed. Assault is assault no matter the thoughts of the criminal.

These laws do not punish people for assault or murder. Other laws already do that. They punish people for having the wrong thoughts. Additional penalties are applied because of the values and views of the criminal. Now I happen to think those values and views are wrong. But we do not punish thoughts in America -- at least we didn’t used to. We punish actions and we should only punish actions that violate the rights of others. The boys who cruelly and viciously killed Matthew Shepard are in prison. They got the punishment they deserved.

Evans said: “There will be a discussion that probably won’t happen for decades about whether it is legal or not for the full-faith-and-credit laws to extend to marriages between same-sex couples.” Well, I think she was wrong. That debate took place. Apparently she missed it.

People need to understand that the Republican Party does have an old-fashioned conservative wing that actually does believe in limited government. And that reflects a lot of the Western values of “live and let live” or “leave us the hell alone or we blow a hole through you” attitude. It is in conflict with the Southern Bible-thumpers who are Johnny-come-latelys to the GOP. And the more the Republicans make the Theopublicans happy the more unhappy they make the West. That is one reason that the Democrats made gains in the West.

The Theopublicans have already made California a fairly safe Democratic state. Now they are seeing states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada becoming hard and harder to win. So the Republican Revolt in Wyoming does have some national significance. It symbolizes the bigger conflict within the Republican Party between the more libertarian wing and the socialists of the soul like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.

Photo: The photo is Don Zwonitzer.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Egyptian govt. proves it is uncivilized.

Egypt has confirmed for the world that it is not a civilized country. Kareem Amer, 23 has been sentenced to four years in prison for his blog which has criticized the uncivilized actions of the Egyptian government.

Karrem was thrown out of university because he criticized Islamic teaching and promoted a liberal view of the world. Other bloggers have been detained by Egypt’s thuggish police, who have been implicated in cruelty and torture incidents. But this is the first time a blogger has been sentenced to prison.

Information on Kareem’s case can be found here.

Protests were held around the world over the trial. In the United States I suggest that people write their elected officials and demand the end of all foreign aid to the Egyptian government. To imprison a young man for his blog writings is barbaric. Egypt should not be receiving a single cent from American taxpayers. It is a barbaric regime and tyrannical and this case is the proof. I also suggest people avoid visiting Egypt if at all possible. Decent people are not safe in Egypt as long as tyrants rules. I also urge bloggers to immediately post a message denouncing the authoritarian nature of the Egyptian government and calling for the end of all aid to Egypt from their nation and from various world bodies. If Egypt wishes to act like a dictatorship it should be treated like one.

One reason that governments attempt such measures is to stifle criticism and dissent. They must learn that dissent is a Hydra. Each time a head is cut off another or several grows in its place. Attempts by Islamist Nazis to ban cartoons they found unappealing resulted in more people seeing those cartoons. Each attempt to stifle freedom of speech must result in the same thing. Let the tyrants learn that they only spread the message further through their actions. I hope that hundreds and thousands of blogs, a medium that depends upon freedom for its very existence, will denouce the Egyptian government so that they learn that this action only spread Kareem's criticism further than he ever dream possible.

Kareem was sentence to prison for criticizing Islam and Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak. If this is what Mubarak's government does to critics then Mubarek is a dog and a pig. In fact to call him such would be to insults dogs and pigs the world over. Murbarak proves he deserves to be insulted. People have tried to be respectful to the Egyptian government and they ignored decency because they themselves are indecent. I think bloggers should not only denounce the Egyptian government but make sure they add an insult to Mubarek to the pot to let him know that this is what happens when one acts like Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Castro.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kid jailed, charge with felony, for slingshot. Restaurant threatened with felony charges for novelty bag.

Meddlesome bureaucrats and would-be bureaucrats make life a living hell for anyone who comes in touch with them. And that is today’s sad tale tales in this case. One victim this week is small boy another a restaurant chain and the third another child. (Bureaucrats really must hate children.)

Let us start with the story of a young boy who was dragged off to jail by the local sheriff. The kid was going to sit in jail for three weeks awaiting trial until his mother got some publicity for the case.

The boy, Kevin Cottle, took a milk bottle (plastic I believe) and cut it up. He added a rubber band and a balloon and made a very weak slingshot. It shot small plastic pellets. The local television station, WFTV, took the device and tested it. They saidn was arrested.

The sheriff said this was “a deadly weapon” -- I’m waiting for the White House to call it a weapon of mass destruction myself. The boy faces felony charges for firing a “deadly missile”. Okay, so the sheriff of Lake County, Florida is a moron. And poor Kevin was between a rock and a hard place. He was dealing with the dumb PC types that run the schools and the dumb thug types that so often are police officers.

Mike Herring,the school principal, a.k.a. the head moron, says they think the boy was hit on purpose. And he supports the arrest. He says they take things very serious because one decade ago a 13-year-old shot and killed another student. Apparently the moron can’t tell the difference between a kid playing with a weak, home-made slingshot and a kid with an AK-47 terrorizing a school. That’s pretty much par for the course for principals these days. Herring says that they have started the "expulsion process" by which I assume they are expelling the boy and not the idiots running the school. If parents knew what kind of idiots were running the schools there would be rash of mysterious fires and not a government school would be standing in the morning.

The sheriff’s office says they did the right thing and stand by the arrest and charges. Again no surprise there. Real morons never admit mistakes and always stand by wrong decisions -- just ask Bush.

The kid was suspended from school which may have been appropriate but even that strikes me as a bit too much. I would have put him on detention and, with his mother's knowledge, had him do some cleaning up around the school. But arresting him, especially on felony charges is just another indication of how authoritarian America is becoming.

Our second story also comes from Florida. Hey, they elected the president’s brother as governor so you didn’t expect intelligent decisions did you? First watch this somewhat silly TV commercial for a chain of fast food restaurants. Actually the commercial is enough to cause me to give the restaurants a miss but you decide for yourself.

Rap by itself is a cultural monstrousity but a fake cat rapping is just bad taste doubled over. But the Checkers food chain is using this as a promotion. And as part of the promotion they are giving people cloth bags designed to look like the item the cat wears in the commercial. The bag has holes in it for the feet and a hole at the back for the tale and the cat’s head goes out through the main hole of the bag.

It’s a novelty and it does have a warning for idiots (as I said they elected a Bush so there are enough of them in Florida) which says “not all cats will be down with wearing this bag. Do not harm or endanger any cat.” Other than the bad English, par for Florida, especially for this part of Florida, the warning is fairly standard and pretty much common sense. Some cats would love this and some wouldn’t.

I’ve had cats my entire life so I know cats pretty well. And there is nothing in this novelty that is inherently cruel to cats. I have had cats that would love being inside this thing and others that wouldn’t. And the typical cat is not shy of letting you know which it is. And one pissed off cat can do a lot of slicing and dicing with human skin.

Into this rather lame publicity campaign steps the bureaucrats at the Hillsborough County Animal Service who said that putting the bag on a cat “could be considered a felony.” Apparently just about everything is a felony in Florida. Some spokesman for the agency, Marti Ryan said that her agency would be willing to go to court to stop the campaign. She ought to go court but not for the reasons she thinks.

For our third case we move to Kansas City, Missouri where school officials, once again proving only idiots run state schools, suspended a six-year old boy from school for 10 days. His crime was a squirt toy shaped only loosely like a gun. The boys mother was told by school officials that the toy, which shoots water, was a weapon and violated school policy. Phyllis Budesheim of the school district says that the school will automatically suspend any student for having a toy shaped like a gun. Arrest all the kids, I say. I've seen it myself. They can point figures and yell "bang" at each other. So until Islam takes over and starts hacking off hands every kid in the system has a toy which can be shaped like a gun. The boy's deadly weapon is pictured above.

So this week’s moron of the week award goes out to the hapless fools who run government in Florida. It’s a four way tie. The sheriff of Lake County, Principle Mike Herring, Marti Ryan and the Kansas City School District (collectively) each worked hard to win our “Moron of the Week” award. They truly are worthy of this honor and no doubt will receive many more just like it.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Empire vs. Liberty and the liberal socialist divorce.

The Imperial President is building an American empire. While today’s empire building is Bushian what does that mean? After all Bush is merely pushing the foreign policy of FDR to its logical conclusion. And FDR was just another version of Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and McKinley.

Author Chalmers Johnson’s new book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic says that the Defense Department’s own records now show the US has 737 military bases which are located in other nations. He says the US has 32,327 barracks, hangers, hospital and buildings owned by the military overseas and another 16,527 that are leased: a total of close to 50,000 buildings in foreign nations.

And he says the list in incomplete. He says the official statistics fail “to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999...” Nor does this include US military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Usbekistan “even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11.” And he finds it does not include 20 sites in Turkey used jointly by the US and Turkey but officially owned by Turkey.

In the end Chalmers concludes: “If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas but no one --- possible not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.”

Imperialism and war making have always been the enemy of constitutional government. War is, and always has been, the health of the state. War making and limited government don’t go hand in hand. And the Republicans under Bush loved war more than they loved liberty.

They can no longer argue that they are defenders of “civil society” since society is that sphere of human interaction which is voluntary and outside the coercive sphere of the state. When state power is expanded it is civil society that must surrender territory.

This was understood by prominent members of the “Old Right” like Felix Morley, one of the founders of Human Events, the conservative journal. Morley wrote his classic book The Power in the People where he warned: “the strength by a victorious State through war is in large part taken not from the enemy but from its own people. All the private elements in Society——the family, the church, the press, the school, the corporation, the union, and other co-operatives——are subject to special discipline by the State in wartime. ...And it is scarcely necessary to emphasise that once an emergency control has been established by the State, all sorts of arguments for making permanent are forthcoming.”

But Morley was not really a conservative. He said that it was only “with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of ‘liberal’ to the socialists. I was, and continue to be, strongly opposed to centralization of political power, thinking that this process will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so.”

The late 1890s saw the US embrace imperialism in a big way. America engineered a fake crisis in the Kingdom of Hawaii to take over there, eventually making it a US state. It intervened in the Philippines and took over there. It found excuses to march into Cuba. It was most certainly engaging in conscious empire building then.

Now before the Left gets too excited, and down on the Right, these imperialistic ventures were mostly pushed by the American Left. And the Anti-Imperialist League which opposed the move was made up of many businessmen. One of the strongest critics of US imperialism at the time was William Graham Sumner, a man the Left loves to hate -- in fact they hate him so much Left-wing academics simply make up false claims about him.

Economist and Edward Atkinson was a businessman and advocate of laissez-faire but he helped lead the Anti-Imperialist League along with numerous other limited government liberals. And the socialists were keenly aware that many prominent businessmen were opposed to empire building. Historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the Imperialist Socialist Left accused business “of a characteristic indifference to the interests of humanity.”

And many of the most fervent advocates of empire building, both in the United States and England, were prominent socialists. The Left justified imperialism as merely another government program to help poor people.

The Socialist Left argued that small government liberals didn’t care about the downtrodden but this was false. Take Moorfield Storey as an example. Here is one of the founders, and president, of the Anti-Imperialist League and a staunch advocate of laissez faire capitalism. He opposed socialist/fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan. He supported free trade, the gold standard and peace. He was also the first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was lead counsel before the Supreme Court in a case which overturned a law that forcibly segregated blacks in Louisville.

Also serving with Storey in the NAACP was Oswald Garrison Villard, a laissez faire liberal and fellow “anti-imperialist” and the founder of The Nation, and friend of Felix Morley.

But the socialist Left was fervent in their advocacy for imperialism. Hofstadter says that with “few exceptions” the socialist Progressives “supported the imperialist policies of the era or quietly acquiesced to them. The majority of them voted for increased naval expenditures leaving to conservatives the task of leading the opposition to big-navy measures.”

Morley saw how the period from the Spanish-American War to World War I was one where power was centralized in America and the nation embraced imperialism. The newly passed income tax amendment, pushed by the Left, “provided the means whereby the central government could finance colonial operations, or any other undertaking deemed desirable for the general welfare.”

He noted that the direct election of Senators was pushed through “to break down the recalcitrance of the undemocratic Upper House, which in its old unregenerate condition had rejected acquisition of Santo Domingo in Grant’s Administration and almost repudiated the annexation of other Spanish colonies after the war of 1898.”

It wasn’t only in America that liberalism divided along these lines. The classical liberals embraced small government and non-interventionism while the socialists wanted state control and imperialism. The Liberal Party in England split between the “Radicals” and new socialist imperialists. The leading British socialists of the day, the Fabians, were supporters of imperialism. Beatrice Webb, famed Fabian leader, attacked the Radicals as “laisser faire and anti-imperialist”. The Fabians released the book Fabianism and Empire edited by George Bernard Shaw, England’s most well known socialist at the time.

Shaw and the Webbs argued that a “great nation” must rule its empire “in the interests of civilization as a whole. Tory imperialist Leopold Amery worked closely with the Webbs and wrote of them that there is “nothing so very unnatural... in a combination of Imperialism in external affairs with municipal socialism or semi-socialism at home.”

To further promote imperialism the Webbs formed a group they called the Coefficients whose express purpose was discussing ways to further empire building. One member, who resigned in opposition to the imperialism, was Bertrand Russell who wrote: “ 1902, I became a member of a small dining club called the Coefficients, got up by Sidney Webb for the purpose of considering political questions from a more or less Imperialist point of view.” It was hardly a coincidence that many Left liberals argued that imperialism and socialism went hand in hand. Each was a system by which the benevolent elite would rule for the sake of the masses. Each amassed state power and feed the other. This was the very point that John T. Flynn was making in his work As We Go Marching -- the warfare state and the welfare state are the children of the same mother.

War and imperialism was one of the major causes of the end of the old liberal/left alliance. The liberalism of men like John Cobden, Richard Bright and Frederic Bastiat was one that was pro-peace and pro-free trade. The socialists said they wanted to achieve the same goals as liberals but that state power was the best means by which this could be achieved. And while they enthusiastically embraced the use of power they soon forgot the goals.

Their journey is not hard to understand. If state power is acceptable to achieve liberal ends then global state power, or empire building, is equally desirable. This, out of necessity, will require war and conquest. And war is the health of the state and leads to authoritarianism and dictatorship. So many Fabians and socialist rushed to embrace one dictatorship or another. Some like Shaw managed to embrace, at one time or another, not only Soviet authoritarianism but Hitler, Mussolini, and the fantasies of Oswald Mosely and British Union of Fascists, as well.

Meanwhile many of the old liberals were men like HL Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Felix Morley, John T. Flynn, Oswald Garrison Villard, and Frances Neilson. They remained committed to small government liberalism and their opponents were the socialist imperialists. These men were later given the inaccurate label “Old Right” but they were never conservatives.

Liberalism, properly understood is anti-imperialist, antiwar and it is inherently anti-state. It wishes to limit state power not expand it. And if the antiwar Left today is serious about ending imperialism and war then they need to reconsider their domestic policies as well. Much of what passes as the Left today is merely conservatism in drag.

Photos: US solider, Moorefield Storey, George Bernard Shaw

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US threatens legal action because Japanese TV ad violates US law!

There are times when you look at the idiocy of government bureaucrats and have to wonder how these people every finished school. They certainly didn’t walk unescorted since they are clearly too dense to cross a street alone. And when you saw those signs that “Slow Children ahead” these were the slow children they were talking about.

Here is a television commercial. You won’t get much out of it unless you read Japanese. But this commercial has bureaucrats in Washington in a tizzy and they threatening criminal charges.

So what did you see? A baseball player drinks some beer. End of story. Not particularly remarkable. But these days Washington, DC, from the top bureaucrat in the White House on down, thinks they rule the world. It’s Pinky and the Brain all over again.

The baseball player is Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher for the Red Sox. The bloody Nanny nuts in DC have said that the commercial is unacceptable. Arthur Resnick of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau, another agency that ought to be closed down, is threatening to go after the player. He says the may “merit punitive action”.

He whines that his bureau “would consider unacceptable any ad ‘which depicts any individual consuming or about to consume an alcoholic beverage prior to or during an athletic activity or event”. Whoopee! Some moron in some meddlesome department in a more meddlesome government says they don’t like the commercial. So what?

First, the ad is not playing in the United States though now this controversy means lots of Americans have watched it on the internet. So if numbnut Resnick didn’t want the commercial seen he has just given it a far bigger audience than ever. When will these mullahs learn that to attack something is to publicize it.

But the fact remains that this commercial is not under the jurisdiction of the American government.

They really need to learn, in Washington, what jurisdiction mean. It means that when they try to run other countries they are not acting as the government. They are criminals trespassing on the rights of other nations and the people of those nations.

This ad is fully legal in Japan. The US doesn’t have the same freedom that the Japanese have. In Japan if someone drinks a beer in a commercial buildings don’t collapse, the gate of hell don’t open up and consume people. Life goes on as normal. Life in the US doesn’t go on as normal because people like Resnick are constantly interfering.

So what authority does Resnick, or any other moronic US bureaucrat, have over the matter? None. Nada, Nothing. Zilch, Zero. Ah, remember the days when bureaucrats like this were tarred, feather and rode out of town on a rail. Resnick makes me nostalgic. Every official in the US government should be reminded very strongly that their jurisdiction ends at the US border. And no further.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If the world must end please start here!

There is a one in a million chance that on April 13, 2036 an asteroid may hit Earth. At least one big enough to do serious damage, smaller ones hit all the time.

First, a word to the asteroid, if one can speak to asteroids. Ours is a very big planet and if you must strike us may I at least direct your attention to potential targets. Look at these pictures carefully. If you must hit us and damage our planet these might not be a bad place to start. I provide several options since you may not know exactly what continent will be underneath you as you plummet to earth. So throughout this post you will find photos which you can use to pinpoint a landing spot.

Of course when there are remote possibilities of danger politicians go into first gear looking for new programs they can run, new conferences they can attend and ways to spend lots more of your money. And they particularly like problems that are not likely to be problems at all -- those are the easiest kind to solve. Real problems scare the hell out of them since they are particularly bad at dealing with those.

Now this article suggests that the threat, even a remote one, is a good thing because then politicians spend lots of money and if that “dramatically speeds up the development of the required technology, turning science fiction into science reality, we’ll be better off -- and who doesn’t want that?” Spoke like someone who knows zilch about economics and nothing about radical environmentalism.

The radicals don’t want us to all be better off. They have pushed quite hard an agenda geared to reduce humanity to more primitive levels of existence. And it is simply false to assume that spending money on this technology will necessarily makes us better off.

It’s an old fallacy but one used by politicians constantly. They spend a billion here or a trillion there and some technology comes out that. Now it usually goes a way to compensate for the money wasted but that is only half the story. And the article linked to here only tells half the story as well.

That billion or trillion was taken from the private sector which produces products, technologies, techniques, etc., which benefit people as well. And when you sap their R&D money through taxes you reduces technological advancement in other areas. There is no indication we end up better off since we have no idea what technologies were cut off because their funding was diverted.

And there is good reason to believe that there is a net lose in all of this. The private sector produces things people are willing to pay for, and that means they produce things people value. Government produces lots of things that people don’t want. One clear indication is that government knows it can’t sell many of it’s “services” so they don’t even try. They simply take the funding coercively. I use a Mac and Apple doesn’t have to tax me, or steal my money, in order to get me to purchase my computers. I do it voluntarily. I value the computer and don’t value George Bush. So Apple sells and Bush taxes.

Because government produces things people actually don’t want, or only want if they can force someone else to pay the costs, it is a pretty safe bet to say that the political black hole sucks in more value than it creates. And that makes us worse off not better off. Of course we will always be able to point to cronies or the privileged groups who have government largess sprinkled on them. Those people are easy to see, just as any new technology that is produced is easy to see. But to benefit the few the many were disadvantaged and they don’t get noticed. And to create the new technologies other technologies were stifled.

One final word to our asteroid. Please note that some of these individuals are in the advanced stages of senility and may not be around when you arrive. Please get in touch closer to the your arrival date for an updated list. I think there is one L in Hilary but I'll check. Thanks for your help.

Photos: From top to bottom. United Nations, King George, the United States Congress, Robert Mugabe, Pat Robertson, Hugo Chavez, Alexander Putin, Kim Jong-Il

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Religious Right distorts facts about Scottish report.

The story is going about the internet that the British National Health Service has put out a report stating that using words like “Mommy” and “Daddy” is offensive to gay people and homophobic. An outfit called “Family First” (it’s always a dangerous sign when any political group says it is “pro family” since that almost always is code for “we hate gays”) claimed “Use of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ Too ‘Homophobic’, Scottish Nurses Told.”

Family First repeats the story from LifeSiteNews, another Religious Right bastion of distortion, bias, and inaccuracy. And LifeSiteNews claims to get the story from one of the most anti-gay groups in the United States, Americans for Truth. These are people so anti-gay they ought to wear pink sheets and burn Lamdas on the front lawn. They said this new report was “a revolutionary assault on sex and gender norms”.

Sounds scary. Except I actually went and read the report that has the fundies in such knotted knickers. And I don’t think it’s all that scary or wrong. In fact it doesn’t really do what has been claimed. Surprise, surprise, Religious Right groups lie! They certainly know how to exaggerate and distort. They are masters at that skill.

Consider what is being covered here. This is for health care professionals who are dealing with the public without knowing lots of things about these people. Say that you are a nurse and a woman has brought her child to you because of a medical problem. Do you know if the woman is in a relationship or not? You don’t. If in a relationship do you know if she is married or not? You don’t. And do you know if the partner is a man or a woman? You don’t. In light of a lack of knowledge the wisest policy is one that doesn’t presume because such presumptions can cause discomfort for the person you are treating. It simply isn’t necessary. It's bad customer service.

At no point does the report say that terms like “mother” are homophobic or offensive. That was the spin put on the report by some religious extremists. The report is suggesting that people realize that they are making presumptions about others that may not be true and which may cause discomfort to them. Nothing more.

There is no blanket condemnation of using the word mom or dad. The problem is if make assumptions which often happens and which can often be uncomfortable for the patient.

It used to be widely practiced to refer to a person’s first name as their “Christian name” which was discomforting to anyone who was not a Christian. To ask someone who is Jewish or Hindu or an atheist what their “Christian name” is would be inconsiderate. It isn’t a sign of bigotry just a sign that you aren’t considerate and cognizant of the situation.

This is basically the point of the material in the report. And they note that if a health care worker does this it “is also inclusive of all heterosexual couples regardless of their marital status.” That disarms the claim that they are saying the word is “homophobic”. That is not their point at all. They say such terms exclude people and is uncomfortable for them and suggest ways to avoid this. Since when was it a revolutionary assault on gender to suggest to health care workers methods which help their patients feel more at ease in what may be a stressful situation.

They also mention the term “next of kin” and advise language to avoid problems with this term. I’ve been asked for “next of kin” on forms and have left it blank. I’ve been told I had to fill it in but I had to tell them I had no next of kin that I wished listed. I could do something like list an elderly aunt but since she has been living thousands of miles away from me for much of my adult life that would be silly. I would replace the term with “emergency contact”. When it was insisted I list someone anyway I usually list a friend. What they really want is someone to contact in case of an emergency not someone who is literally your closest living relative. Again the manual says using other more neutral terms includes all couples including straight couples who are not married. Consideration is not revolutionary. (Well maybe it is in certain Right-wing circles.)

The final recommendation the report made concerned talking to children. I think they are on the right track but don’t know how to handle the problem. They suggest: “When talking to children, consider using ‘parents’, ‘carers’ or ‘guardians’ rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’.”

One in five of Scottish gay people have children. But more importantly we also need to realize that some children don’t have fathers, or might not have a mother, or have no parents at all. My father died when I was young. I regularly had people asking me about my father when I was a kid. It actually was painful to constantly have to tell people he was dead.

Some children are raised by grandparents or by older siblings. Now I can see why the term “parents” makes some sense and the child would understand that. But “carers” and “guardians” are silly. A child wouldn’t necessarily know what “guardian” means. I think a better way of handling the problem would be to ask the child right off: “So tell me where you live and who you live with?” A few quick questions like this will elicit the information needed. If he says “I live with my mommy and daddy” you know those terms are fine to use. If he says, “I live with mommy and mom” you know what terms make the child comfortable. He might say, “I live with my gran” or something else that gives you some idea what terms are correct and make the child comfortable.

That is what is key here. You are working with children and you use terms that the child is comfortable using. But suddenly helping children feel comfortable while being treated at hospital, or the doctor’s office, ---which is a scary time for many children--- is another revolutionary assault by gay radicals. Please!

Nowhere does the manual say that the words “mom” and “dad” are homophobic or offensive. What it said was that in many, many cases they are inaccurate and not indicative of the situation of the people who are being treated. And it suggests terms which don’t exclude people needlessly.

I can relate easily because I was raised by a single mother after the death of my father. I know what it’s like being asked for “next of kin” without really having a next of kin that it would be useful to list. I know what is like being asked my “Christian” name when I’m not a Christian. I know people who were raised by grandparents or older siblings. Asking them about their “mother” or “father” is possibly painful to them. This isn’t about homophobia or political correctness. This is about being a good nurse or doctor, treating people well and not causing them undo discomfort of pain.

This is really what the small section on language is about. It is rather disgusting that some anti-gay groups would distort that sort of issue to create a political football so they can do some anti-gay propaganda on the net.

And to illustrate the point and annoy these groups here is a music video from a Dutch television show. The boy singing is a regular on the show and he's being rased by "two fathers" as he sings about here. There are subtitles in English if you don't speak Dutch. And the kid can actually sing and I like the tune. I know this will give the Right something else to bitch about. I can hardly wait.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

The high cost of gun control.

I have been a victim of violent crime. On one occasion a bullet narrowly missed my head. Yet I have never owned a handgun though I was considering it seriously at one point. The truth is that not someone inclined to purchase a firearm.

Now the horrific shooting in Salt Lake City did cause me to consider that situation. And I can not but conclude that lives were saved because one shopper was armed, in apparent violation of shopping mall policy. But there is another side to the debate as well.

Would a systematic attempt to disarm people prevent violent crime or reduce the rate of violent crime? In fact, does it reduce the rate of violent gun crime?

Recently there were several murders in London as the result of gun violence. And the BBC’s web site ran some information on gun crimes in England and Wales. And the truth is that gun violence has escalated dramatically. Look at this chart that they ran today.

You can see how dramatically gun crime escalated in England in recent years. Yet, I distinctly remember that not that long they imposed what amounted to a total ban on private possession of firearms. I did a check at the London Telegraph and found that one columnist wrote a column in 2003 about what he called “the Government’s ‘total ban’ five years ago”. That would be 1998.

Now I assume the BBC chart accurately reflects gun crimes. And I see the following. There is a major spike from around 1988 to about 1992. Then gun crimes begin to slowly drop only to have another major spike, bigger than the previous one. So some history on recent gun control legislation in the UK.

In 1988 the Conservative government pass new legislation would banned all semiautomatic and pump-action rifles,short shotguns and several other kinds of weapons. Gun crime rose as a result, it didn’t decline. That was a reaction to man going on the rampage and killing several people.

In 1996 another man went on the rampage and did the same thing and in 1997 the government passed new legislation that virtually banned ownership of handguns except for very old, collectors guns. The measure is so extreme that not even the British Olympic shooters can't train inside England. And the government had to pass legislation granting an exception for the 2012 Olympics otherwise the shooting events would have been illegal.

So two major pieces of legislation followed by two major spikes in gun crimes.

Professor Joyce Malcolm is the author of Guns & Violence: the English Experience. On the BBC web site she wrote, “violent crime in America has been plummeting for 10 consecutive years, even as British violence has been rising. By 1996 English rates of violent crime were already far higher than America’s for every major violent crime except murder and rapes” But as the chart we ran in a previous article showed more and more US states have been allowing citizens to carry firearms on their person. So more guns in the general public but “plummeting” crime rates while in England fewer guns increased violent crime.

Malcolm writes that: “The price of British government insistence upon a monopoly of force comes at a high social cost.”

Malcolm notes that cultural factors more than gun ownership effects crime rates and that for most of the last two hundred years guns were equally available in the UK as in the US yet the US still had gun crime rates five times higher than in the UK. But in recent years as weapons have been banned in the UK, but become more prevalent in the US, crime rates in the UK rose while falling in the US.

Certainly the gun control culture has taken over the UK. It is illegal to even own toy guns. And it is basically illegal to defend your own life with a weapon even if the weapon is not a gun. When Eric Butler was being strangled and attacked by two men he used an ornamental sword to defend himself. He was tried and convicted for carrying an offensive weapon. When a toy gun was used to fool two burglars and hold them at bay until the police arrived the police arrested the homeowner for intimidating the burglars. And in another case an elderly man living alone had his home broken into repeatedly. And in his area there were no regular police. During one break in he shot the two men robbing him. He went to prison for life and the government gave one of the attackers legal assistance to help him sue the victim.

Malcolm also makes an important point about British crime figures.
“The murder rates of the U.S. and U.K. are also affected by differences in the way each counts homicides. The FBI asks police to list every homicide as murder, even if the case isn't subsequently prosecuted or proceeds on a lesser charge, making the U.S. numbers as high as possible. By contrast, the English police "massage down" the homicide statistics, tracking each case through the courts and removing it if it is reduced to a lesser charge or determined to be an accident or self-defense, making the English numbers as low as possible.”

Homicides, even with the more expanded definition in the US, have fallen dramatically over the last 15 or so years. Homicides rates are now justly lightly higher than they were in the 1950s, a period that has often been idealized for Americans. If you look at this chart from the Bureau of Justice Statistics you will see that the homicide rate in the 50s was just under 5 for each 100,000 population. It doubled during the late 60s and early 70s and then fluctuated until about 1990 when it declined again leveling out at slightly over 5 per 100,000 population.

The evidence doesn’t seem to support the idea that gun control is the same thing as crime control. There is an old slogan “that when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns”. Certainly the criminal class don’t worry about breaking laws so gun control tends to be victim disarmament. And the knowledge that the population is disarmed only gives criminals peace of mind and assurance that their occupational choices are a lot safer than before.

Guns are inanimate objects with no will or life or their own. They do not act. They are acted upon. And their “only” purpose is not to kill but also to protect and prevent killing. Certainly in Salt Lake City the presence of one armed man prevented a killer from taking more lives. And in England restricting firearms has lead to a dramatic rise in violent crime while in the US the greater availability of firearms corresponds with a dramatic decline in crime rates.

And history is filled with incidents which also show firearms to be a virtue and sad tales where the lack of firearms was deadly. I doubt that anyone would literally argue that the people of Warsaw would have benefited if they had fewer guns on August 1, 1944 when they rose up against the Nazi oppressors. They faced an occupying army 15,000 but they were 40,000. But of those 40,000 only 2,500 had guns. This was the same fate one year earlier of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. On April 19, 1943 Nazi troops entered the ghetto to round up the last remaining Jews for deportation to the camps. A relatively small band 750 fighters chased the Nazis out. For one month the people of the ghetto held out. But the ruling regime won and 7,000 Jews were executed on the spot and the rest send to the concentration camps where most died.

Certainly there is a truth, as we have seen, that when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. But it is also true that when guns are outlawed only governments will have guns. And governments have been responsible for more murders than all the private criminals put together. Often oppression has won because the state had the monopoly on force.

I am uncomfortable owning a firearm so I don’t. I never have owned one. I would prefer to live in a world where it was unnecessary to do so. But I would also prefer to live in a world where tax shelters were unnecessary but that isn’t likely anytime soon. I am a realist when it comes to firearms. And as much as I wish they were not necessary the evidence is too strong that they are.

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Dildos and Darwin and Jews, oh my!

What do they put in the water in Texas? Here ia a bit of video from something called The Dildo Diaries. It seems the good Christianists in the state legislature have passed God-fearing laws and you know what the Bible says about dildos? (You don't? Actually I never could find anything either but the Theopublicans in Texas are convinced its somewhere in there.) In Texas it is illegal to sell a dildo. Owning six of them is considered a very serious felony. Yet the state keeps electing them! Here is a bit of a documentary about the criminal dildo conspiracy. By the way the Theopublican featured in this film, who is protecting the good folk from sin, recently got into a bit off trouble. He was disseminating flyers urging other state legislators to go to a web site that warned them of the evils of evolution and exposed the century old Jewish plot to take over the world! If you think this moron is funny here wait until you read about his pampleteering.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Everything is taxed and subsidized.

The bureaucrats in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, are just as anxious to micromanage the lives of others, and to dictate to them, as those in Washington. In other words the people in Brussels are just another version of George Bush -- that ought to upset both Bush and the EU-acrates. Admittedly the Europeans aren’t as likely to torture you but sometimes you’d wish they would as that might be an improvement over the constant Nannying and harassment.

EU bureaucrats spend millions per year to “educate” people. Now I think there is very little doubt that smoking is bad you. You really ought not do it.

The EU claims that “some 80,000 people a year in the EU” are killed by “passive smoking”. No source for that is listed. And from what I’ve seen it is very tenuous to claim that passive smoking is this dangerous. Suffice to say the EU is intent on making Europe smoking free.

Oddly the EU benefits from people smoking. Most EU countries are welfare states that are in deep trouble. They promise pensions to their citizens along with health care and can’t deliver on the promises without constantly raising taxes higher and higher. But by doing that they destroy jobs and create high unemployment requiring massive welfare benefits. And they end up on this downward spiral. Smokers actually offer them some relief. One is that they pay massive taxes for the “privilege” of being allowed, by their political masters, to smoke. The other is that smoking does, on average, shorten their lives and that benefits the welfare state’s bottom line. While there are increased health costs due to smoking the reduced life expectancy means they collect pensions for a shorter time than non smokers. The result tends to be a net gain for the welfare state.

While the EU spends train loads of money to make Europe smoke free it then spends more train loads of money to subsidize tobacco production.

In an exchange in the British parliament one House member asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “what subsidies are available at (a) EU and (b) national levels to producers of tobacco in the European Union?”

The answer was that: “The European Union adopted budget for tobacco premiums in 2006 was € 920 million...” That’s a lot of cash folks. But we are assured that these subsidies are tied to “a quota system” and that “any tobacco grown beyond quota will only fetch market prices and no premium.” Now don’t you feel better?

The first 350,600 tons of tobacco produced fetches the farmer market value plus extra money from the European Union. And then anything over that will “only fetch” market prices. Oh, those poor farmers! They only get paid above market prices for their tobacco on 350,600 tons. The subsidy to grow tobacco is about 20 times higher than the subsidy to grow grain. There are something like 135,000 people, in Europe, paid by the EU to grow tobacco. You’d think with all these subsidies they could grow decent farm produce in Europe -- but from what I see they can’t. Vegetables are awful in Europe and the meat quality is pretty low. I’ve concluded that one reason the French use so many sauces is to cover up the quality of the meat.

But then subsidies tend to lower the quality of one’s goods and ultimately make one less competititve and more likely to fail.

The EU-acrates will note that a good deal of the tobacco is exported, much of it to poor nations. So the EU subsidizes cancer for the world’s poor. How nice of them! Of course, because of the higher death rates, they also send foreign aid to these countries to try and reverse some of the effects of smoking. It appears that the EU subsidizes everything! But to even things out they also tax everything! And Europeans like to think Americans are stupid?

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Funny houses and the taxman.

The world is filled with some odd architecture. Consider two forms of housing found in New Orleans: the Camelback house and the Shotgun house.

The Shotgun house is said to have earned that label because one could fire a shotgun in through the front door and have the pellets exit the house through the back door. It was narrow but long. It was one room wide at most. You would enter into the living room and find a door from that room into the bedroom behind it and there was another door into the kitchen behind it. The rooms would be in a long row with no hallway at all.

Similar was the Camelback house. This was basically a Shotgun house with a second floor but not a second floor as you might expect. At the rear of the house would be stairs going to the second floor. But the second floor never extended to the front of the house. People said this truncated second floor looked like the hump of a camel hence the name.

Both of these oddities are the creation of local government policy.

Some have argued that the Shotgun house exists because land in New Orleans, where they are mostly found, is scarce. But the extended length of these homes would not justify that argument. After all a house that is half as wide but twice as long still covers the same amount of land. Lots could have been wider but less deep and still have used the same amount of land.

The alternative theory, and a popular one, is that the houses were narrowly built because land width was a factor in taxation. The wider the house the more highly taxed it was. It was noted that such narrow houses were frequently built in poor areas. Exactly what we would expect. Taxes drive up the cost of housing the people least likely to afford housing are the poor so they would be most negatively impacted by property taxes.

The Camelback house was routinely taxed as a single-story house because the second floor was only partial. This is why they were designed that way.

This would not be the first time architecture was distorted by taxation.

Amsterdam is famous for it’s very narrow, tall, long buildings with narrow, steep stairways. This was done because property taxes depended on the frontage of the residence.

Anyone who gone up or down those stairs will tell you that it impossible to bring in furniture. So Amsterdam houses were built with hooks at the top of each and windows that were almost as wide as the house. Furniture would be lifted by a hoist to the window and then pulled into the house.

The length or height of the house didn’t matter, only the width so, of course, homes were very narrow. The narrowest in Amsterdam is found at 7 Singel where the the front of the house is barely wider than a front door. The entire frontage is just one meter wide.

In England taxes made housing worse for people for a very long time. Politicians wanted to tax income but they weren’t sure how to do it back in the late 1600s. People felt that government knowledge of one’s income was an intrusive violation of their privacy. So the politicians decided to tax windows instead.

The assumption was that wealthy people had bigger houses with more windows. And since glass at the time was not cheap they also assumed this indicated wealth. This tax was in effect from 1696 until 1851. One result was that even as glass dropped in price English housing often remained dark and dingy and lacked fresh air. In some of the older buildings you can see where windows that once existed were bricked up in order to lower the taxes.

Taxation distorts human action and causes people to act in ways that sometimes are counter productive to everyone.

One lesson of my youth, that I have never forgotten, was the strange December we had in our home one year. My mother was widow, a single-parent who worked full time, and more, to pay the costs of raising four sons.

One December she was home the entire month. It wasn’t a Christmas present of some sort. The progressive income tax system means the more you earn the more you pay. She was told by the hospital, where she worked, that she was on the cusp of a higher tax rate. If she put in any more work she would lose the extra income for that month through increased taxes.

The net result was that she was just as well off by staying home for one month, without working, as she would be by working. Her extra work would have earned no additional income at all and actually have increased her tax obligation. The hospital was short one nurse for December. The income she had hoped to earn would have been taken from her so she didn’t work. That didn’t make it easier to pay our bills.

I remember her trying to explain to me how this tax thing worked. It struck me as bizarre that it penalised a single mother for working. But certainly that year, in our case, it did just that.

Taxes distort. Tax the width of a house and you get narrow houses. Tax windows and you get dark, dank houses.

It’s not that hard to understand. So why don’t politicians get it?

Why do we tax employment? Do politicians really think people would be better off with fewer jobs? We tax investment. Do we actually want to encourage people to squander their income instead of reinvesting it back into the economy?

We tax income from people. We punish them for working. Do we want fewer people making an effort to care for themselves? Apparently we do, not only do we penalise people for being employed we reward them for being unemployed.

It might be amusing to read how taxes have distorted architecture around the world. It might even be entertaining to photograph the Camelback houses or the house as wide as it’s front door in Amsterdam.

But forcing people in England to live in dank, darkness for a century and a half wasn’t so amusing. Neither is the higher unemployment caused when taxes lower the demand for labour.

We have things being produced that people don’t want, or need as urgently, as other things because the things people do need or want are more highly taxed and the unwanted is subsidised. Sometimes in a fit of genius governments do both at the same time -- such as subsidising tobacco growing while taxing cigarettes to discourage smoking. They subsidise rice farms in deserts while penalising people for using too much water!

Politicians cry crocodile tears over “poor people” who “don’t have enough to eat” and they they pass additional sales taxes on food reducing the amount that people can afford to buy. They point to the homeless as a great tragedy and then take people’s homes from them if they can’t afford the high property taxes. They lament the high cost of health care and then tax health care driving up the costs even further. They say we need more physicians but then have such high marginal tax rates for physicians that it isn’t worth working that extra hour a day -- no wonder they play golf.

Most of the negative results of taxation were not anticipated by the authorities who pass the taxes. But they are predictable. It might win votes to tell people you intend to tax the investments of the rich. But those investments create new industries, products and new jobs -- and new jobs help push up wages for everyone.

Each tax is a distortion to the economy and to human action. Sometimes the distortions are small, barely perceptible. And sometimes they are large. But over time they accumulate and grow. And the distortions they produce in the economy become larger and more noticeable. Eventually you end up with rather strange and unproductive things happening as a result. That means people get hurt.

It’s one thing to take a picture of the narrowest house in Amsterdam. But if you want to see how taxes really distort go take a photo of the business that closed down because it could no longer remain profitable. Take a photo of the sick people who can’t fill prescriptions because they are taxed. Take a picture of an old person who can’t afford all the food they need because sales taxes cut into their limited income. Or maybe take a photo of the couple living in their car because they no longer could afford the property taxes on their home. These things aren’t as quant and amusing the odd architecture but they are just as much a result of taxation.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gun free zones and mass shootings.

One thing about the tragedy in Salt Lake City was bothering me. Something didn’t make sense.

We know the basic facts. One individual decided to kill lots of people. He went to a crowded, confined space to do so -- the Trolley Square shopping mall. Within seconds he killed five people. An off duty cop from another city was having dinner with his wife. He hears the gun shots and confronts the killer. The off duty officer is armed. This stops the rampage, and from that point on the only additional death was that of the killer.

What bothered me was why this off duty cop was the only individual to respond. There were a large group of people in a card shop, where the most deaths took place. Why were none of them armed? In fact why were all the other shoppers apparently unarmed? Or was everyone too frightened to confront the killer?

The fright theory doesn’t work well. If you are standing in a crowd and someone is randomly shooting into this crowd even if terrified you shoot back.

Could the gun owners have all fled the scene seeking safety? All the indications are that people were trapped. People in shops couldn’t get out except by running past the gunman. So they hid, they sought cover, they couldn’t flee for the most part.

It is also possible that by some bizarre coincidence people in that general vicinity were all unarmed. Even in the West, where carrying a firearm is legal, it is possible that one could gather a group of a few hundred or thousand people in one spot and have none of them armed. Possible just not likely. We even know that lots of supporters of gun control routinely arm themselves!

So what explained the derth of armed citizens at that moment? Why was there only one person in the entire mall, other than the killer, who was armed?

And the answer came by reading a secondary article in the Salt Lake City Tribune. I always prefer going to a local newspaper as their coverage is usually more detailed. In this article they discuss the debate on gun control -- though in Utah there is not much of a debate. They quote one opponent of victim disarmament as asking: “How many people left their firearms home Monday night because they were afraid of violating a rule?”

Rule? What rule? The paper clarified, “referring to the signs at Trolley Square prohibiting firearms.”


Now mind you I acknowledge a property owner’s right to restrict access to his property contingent upon certain limits on behaviour. A shop owner may prevent smoking in his shop. He may forbid weapons in his shop. When I owned a business I stopped smoking in the shop but never restricted people from carrying a firearm.

This choice ought to belong to the owner of the mall. And apparently they restricted the carrying of firearms. I don’t know if that meant the off-duty officer was in violation of the rule but off hand it sounds as if he was. Good thing too! And I suspect the mall won’t be having a go at him for being armed.

From the description of events it is unlikely anything could have been done fast enough to save the lives of the people outside the mall who were killed first. But I can see that, had shoppers been allowed to carry guns, this would have ended sooner than it did. Certainly the people trapped in the card store, who were picked off and shot, would have fired back and there is a good chance the horror would have ended then.

Had that have happened a couple of lives would have been saved. Tthe incident would have ended before the one armed shopper had time to arrive.

The mall was basically a private “gun free” zone. Of course the problem is that individuals who want to kill people usually don’t worry about violating rules like that. And this raises a question. Was this mall targeted by this young man because it had signs up saying guns were restricted?

If you want to kill a large number of people you really don’t want them shooting back at you. Even if you are intent on dying their action can prevent you from accomplishing your goal. If mass killing is your goal you want your victims to be unarmed. And if you want unarmed victims then you are attracted to a “gun free zone” of one kind or another.

So to accomplish your goal you are looking for several things. One is to find a crowded location. You can’t kill lots of people if there aren’t lots of people. You need a confined space. Otherwise your targets can escape too easily. And you want people who are unarmed.

Not a lot of places fit that bill. Certainly shopping malls, if they restrict firearms, fit that bill. Schools would qualify as well.

It seems that most the “mass shootings” we have witnessed in the United States take place within gun free zones. I know people say guns are the problem. But oddly these mass shootings don’t occur at gun shows. And there is a reason for that. Consider the man in New Zealand who decided to rob a gun store with a machete. That didn’t work out very well for him.

And whatever perverse motives these sick killers have it doesn’t work out very well for their plans if they attack people who are armed. They prefer unarmed victims and a sign proclaiming a specific location as one where guns are not allowed is like a magnet to such lunatics.

The signs forbidding firearms may have disarmed the shoppers for the most part. But it had no impact on the killer nor would it. Breaking a rule like that is the least of his concerns. But it did mean that the shoppers were a prime target and that may explain why the Trolley Square Mall was targeted in the first place.

Note: For information on the Virginia Tech shootings go here.

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