Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Does this seem sleazy to you?

Does this strike you as a rather sleazy thing to do?

Dwayne Dail was sent to prison 18 years ago, convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl he had never met. At the time he was in a relationship with Lori Michaels, who would give birth to his son, Chris, shortly after he was sent to prison.

Recently DNA evidence exonerated Dail. He was innocent after all. Having been cheated out of his son’s childhood I suspect Mr. Dail was quite happy when Chris, now 18, moved to Florida to be with his father. Under state law he can receive compensation of $20,000 for each year he spent in prison while innocent or around $360,000 in total.

Now Lori Michaels reenters the picture filing a law suit against Dail for back child support. And her attorney is the law partner of the man who prosecuted, and convicted, Dail for the crime he did not commit. Dail said: “To use our son as a pawn in this painful way is an attempt to blame the failures of her life on me. It is beyond my understanding and belief that someone could stoop so low.”

In this case state law says: "A child support payment or the relevant portion thereof is not past due and no arrearage accrues ... during any period when the supporting party is incarcerated, is not on work release and has no resources with which to make the payment."

The quickest way to get sued is to suddenly have a large sum of money.

The law suit, which I read, specifically says that the mother never sought support and is doing so now "based on information and belief the Defendant shall be entitled to compensation in the approximate amount of $360,000 dollars, the amount based on $20,0-00 per year, for Defendant's wrongful incarceration of in excess of 18 years." To pour salt into the wound this woman also wants additional compensation in order to pay the slimeball attorney she hired to sue Dail because she "is without sufficient means where on to subsist during the prosecution of this action..." As if the law suit itself wasn't sleazy enough Michaels managed to find an attorney, who is partners with the man that wrongly prosecuted Dail, to demand that Dail pay for the privilege of being sued for something over which he had no control. I suggest she sue her lawyer's law partner instead -- he was the one who put an innocent man into jail and made it impossible for him to care for his own son.


San Francisco politicians ban Halloween party.

The most famous Halloween party in the world has been cancelled. The party was held on Castro Street in San Francisco. San Francisco is considered the gay capital of the world and Castro Street the epicenter of the capital.

The reality is that the area, while heavily gay, was never exclusively gay and I would say that a third of the residents were heterosexual even within the Castro itself -- with the number of straights rising quickly if one moved a few blocks in any direction.

Some years ago when I moved to San Francisco, the first apartment I found was on Castro, though it was slightly outside the “epicenter”. The apartment was small -- much too small but I loved the Victorian building. Shortly after that I discovered a very large apartment which was on the top floor of one of the buildings in the very heart of the Castro. The rent was rather reasonable, for San Francisco at least, especially since the flat occupied the entire floor. The lounge was double the size of most and had a huge bay window looking down on the street. And off that was the room I used as my office which also had a bay window that butted out over the street below as well.

So the Halloween party in the Castro wasn’t exactly something I could avoid. Well over 100,000 people would descend in various costumes and party, perhaps double or triple that.. And each year it seemed to get bigger. Even with the bedroom at the back of the flat the noise from the party filtered through easily. The street was far too compacted with people to go down, at least not for long. But I didn’t need to. I could watch all the festivities from my front window with no problem. And admittedly every Halloween I got little sleep due to the noise.

Because the party was where it was it has also attracted people from outside the neighborhood who wanted to come in and cause problems. Various gang types would descend in order to win some stripes by attacking people they assumed were gay -- often assumed wrongly I might add. On the other hand that was not relegated to Halloween alone. Two bus routes, the 22 and the 24, ran through the area and both went through some pretty rough areas of the cities. Thugs from those neighborhoods would hop on the bus and sit there in waiting until it got closer to the Castro. They would wait until someone they believed was gay got on the bus and the group of them would pounce. The bus driver usually tried to pretend he didn’t see anything and often the gang just remained on the bus while the victim staggered off seeking protection and medical assistance.

The city always tried to cope with the problem but was typically unable to do much without getting heavy handed. One Halloween I was headed to the flat when I found the surrounding streets had roadblocks with police at each of the main entrances. They were frisking everyone who entered and going through anything they carried.

I only had a briefcase but my view was that I had not committed a crime and their right to search my belongings was dependent on either “reasonable cause” or a search warrant. They had neither. I explained to the officers that they had a problem. They wanted to search me without cause and were preventing me from returning to my home. I also pointed out the obvious: they wanted to make sure I had no weapons that could harm others and I had an apartment that had butcher knives, hammers, screw drivers and other items that could easily inflict harm. In other words what good is it to search people who actually live on the street and can obtain a weapon from their home -- which was still immune to warrantless search -- George Bush eat your heart out.

The police were reasonable about it that evening. One of them figured out an easy solution. One officer would accompany me to the entrance of my building. Since I had the key to the entrance, and since there was only one apartment in the building (the ground floor was a restaurant and the second floor were offices) it was obvious that I lived there. When he saw me unlock the door and enter he was satisfied. The Bill of Rights was preserved, that night, at least for me.

Last year two gangs of youths from outside the Castro were in attendance and it seems they brought their own neighborhood conflicts to the party. They were yelling insults at one another (such class) and threw bottles at one another. One of them pulled a gun and started shooting. Nine people were wounded though none seriously. And the police were unable to do anything. The gunman is still free. At the time the Sheriff Michael Hennessy described it as “just one jerk with a gun who had an enemy there.”

The police didn’t check people for weapons because they said too many people were coming in and it would have added to the congestion.

This year the city just cancelled the celebration entirely. From downplaying the event to overreacting seems to be par for the course, when it comes to politics. Politicians either ignore a problem or switch into panic-mode and use sledgehammers to swat at flies.

This year the sledgehammer came down. Not only did the mayor cancel the party but the politicians did everything they could to shut down the Castro. First the subway lines will stop running at 8:30 p.m. and the BART station will close at 8 p.m. Next the streets will be open for traffic though the police seem to understand that traffic won’t get through as people will turn up anyway.

Next a petty politician, Bevan Dufty, started putting pressure on the 110 businesses in the area with liquor licenses to “voluntarily” close down. All the bars in the area, but one, will be closed. And the city plans to send in 600 law enforcement officials to control everything and everyone. As I said: killing flies with sledgehammers. The Democrats like to think Bush got hysterical. He did. But this is a Democratic administration in San Francisco that is literally closing down the Castro.

For decades the San Francisco police have yearned for the ability to shut down the Castro. I’ve seen that myself. I remember one night suddenly finding the police lined up across the street with batons ready to bash skulls. They marched down the street forcing everyone inside buildings and demanding they be locked in or face a beating. The excuse was an incident that book place elsewhere in the city.

When Dan White, a former cop, received a slap-on-the-wrist sentence for assassinating Mayor Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, riots broke out at city hall. The police responded by swooping into the Castro, several miles away and peaceful, beating in heads and attacking gay bars.

So it is a bit disconcerting to see this mayor doing precisely what the police have tried to do for decades without success. Since Mayor Newsome is perceived as being supportive of gay rights he can trample on the Castro as much as he wants and the toadies to the Democrats, in the community, will praise him for it.

What had started as a neighborhood party did become an event that attracted people from outside the area who often wanted to cause problems. But between the sledgehammer approach and turning a blind eye to violence there is a lot of territory.

One possible solution would be to turn the event into a private party with tickets. That could be done easily as the main party was in a small area with four main entry points. Residents of the street, and actually there were never more than a few dozen people who actually had apartments on the top floors of the buildings right on Castro, could be given passes for themselves and maybe a few extra if they wish to have friends over. Tickets could be sold in neighborhood shops leading up to the event with the number of tickets limited to the capacity of the area. The reality is that 100,000 people crammed into that small area was a problem.

Using the pricing mechanism to ration access works for movie theaters so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for the Halloween Party. If the price is sufficient to discourage low-life thugs (almost any price would do that) most the problem would be solved. Policing the entry points by admitting ticket holders only would allow the neighborhood to have its traditional party while keeping out trouble. And the proceeds from the sale of tickets could be used to fund the event with any left over going to neighborhood charitable causes, of which there are many.

Instead of thinking like entrepreneurs politicians think like bureaucrats. And the Halloween tradition in the Castro is a victim of that bureaucratic mentality. A few police officers at the entrance could handle the situation. And others would be stationed in the surrounding streets enforcing the normal laws. That would keep crowds from gathering on the streets leading into the Castro instead.

Certainly allowing the market to work makes sense. Having an entrance fee would allow the party to return to what it was meant to be -- a local celebration. It is unnecessary to cancel the event and if handled properly, which probably means having it privately run by a residents association or local businesses, it could generate enough revenue to cover the costs of the event and possible contribute to worthy causes. The local businesses would not need to close on one of the most profitable evenings of the year either.

Sometimes a fly swatter is all you need to kill flies.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Warming scares and wildfires.

Columnist Paul Simons, at the London Times, is blaming global warming for the fires in southern California. He says that “much of the western US has been in drought for almost a decade. That has helped to stoke up the wildfires and much worse. Forget talk of what global warming might do in 50 years’ time -- large swaths of the West are parched dry as temperatures grow warmer....” Democratic Senator Harry Reid made similar claims: "One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming."

Of course the American west has been dry, very dry for centuries -- in fact it has been dry for as long as any humans have lived there and long before warming became an issue. Water has to be piped into the west and this has been happening for decades. The water system that pumps the water into the region is not a recent feature. As the Los Angeles Times reported scientists say it would be difficult to make the very case that Mr. Simons has tried to make, “given the dangerous mix of drought and wind that has plagued the regions for centuries or more.” Their headline was to the point: "Global warming not a factor in wildfires."

Scientists do say that long term a warmer climate, with any cause, will make the problem worse but that what we’ve seen so far is inside the norm. And while it has been drier than normal since 2000 “tree-ring records show there have been far drier periods during the last millennium.”

The American West has always suffered droughts and that includes the periods prior to the release of most greenhouse gases. This shows a drought map for the US for the mid 1950s and you can see the West was in trouble then.

And this one is for the late 1930s and again the West is very, very dry.Note both periods are before the major increase in greenhouse gases.

The problems in the West are a bit more mundane and the real issues are not nearly as dramatic as global catastrophe. California is now heavily populated with homes everywhere. People move their because, as the song from the 60s goes, “it never rains in southern California”. The region attracts people because it is warm and dry. When the area was not populated there were frequent smaller fires which burned away lots of brush. But as people move in those fires are controlled so the brush accumulates adding more fuel to the fires -- literally. When the normal heat and normal Santa Ana winds combine with this accumulated fuel the fires we’ve seen are the result.

And at least one study of wildfires in the West, published in Science, recently found no increase in wildfires in southern California.

In addition here are the actual raw precipitation rates for Fairmont, California as provided by the U.S. Historical Climate Network. I don’t see a pattern of increased dryness over earlier years in the last century.And in Brawley, California the statistics from USHCN show the driest period in recent history was from around 1940 to 1975 and that the last 25 years were actually wetter. And both these stations were picked precisely because they are in the midst of the fire regions.The reality is that, once again, any event that is tragic or unfortunate is being exploited to push warming alarmism. Media pundits and environmental activists do this routinely. And what science they may have on their side of the debate is discredited because of it. No doubt they will next trot out Al Gore to preach to the sinners about the evils of consumption and other such vices.

In closing I will note that Mr. Simons also argues that “nature didn’t intend” for people to build cities in deserts. True, nor did nature intend for humans to build cities anywhere. Nature has no intentions whatsoever. It just is. It didn’t intend for people to wear eye glasses, read silly newspaper columnists or fly. It didn’t intend for people to have houses or clothes or for children to be vaccinated against small pox or, well, you get the point. This worship of nature is absurd and deadly and just plain silly.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cousin Jerry! Is that you?

His chance to put up.

Some of the true believers in Ron Paul have insisted that he supports the right of gay people to serve in the military on the same terms as everyone else. This in spite of him calling the policy that excludes gays "a decent policy". When asked about the policy in one debate he rambled on about group rights which is not the issue here. It is not claiming special rights but equal rights and libertarians are supposed to support that -- well libertarians do. The question is whether Ron Paul does.

In his debate answer he went into a diversion about how anyone who is disruptive should be excluded from the military. Who would disagree but then Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the policy that excludes gays, is not about disruption at all. A completely non-disruptive gay person can be thrown out of the military if someone discovers he is gay. At the same time a disruptive heterosexual would not be excluded under the policy. It was never about disruption.

In the public debates Paul has not said anything about gays serving on equal terms in the military and when a reporter, at one debate, asked the Republican candidates to raise their hand if any of them would support that right, Ron Paul looked at the floor and held his hands firmly to his side. Of course, off of national television he can sound very different. Politicians are good at that. In some private discussions he has sounded as if he would support allowing gays to serve in the military. To be precise he sounds that way when when someone who supports equality before the law questions him. So does or doesn't he? Is he a libertarian on this issue or conservative?

There is a bill in Congress to repeal Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell, H.R.1246. It grants no special rights. It merely says the military can't chuck someone out over being gay. Of course they can still chuck out anyone who is disruptive in the real sense of the word. This legislation has 136 co-sponsors. But Ron Paul is not one of them.

I won't believe that Mr. Paul is actually taking a libertarian position on equality before the law until he signs on to repeal this anti-libertarian policy. I confess that I would be surprised if he did, and slightly impressed. I don't think he really has it in him. But time will tell. The bill doesn't raise taxes, it's not unconstitutional, it doesn't grant any special rights. So I can't think of any libertarian excuse to not be a co-sponsor. But I won't underestimate the ability of some people to be creative in such matters -- and that is especially true of politicians no matter who they are.

I would like to see some of his genuine libertarian supporters ask him if he will co-sponsor H.R. 1246. A simple yes or no response will do. I suspect he'll give answers about how he has to investigate it, blah, blah, blah. That is merely diversionary and an attempt to avoid the issue. I say that because the bill was introduced last February. There has been plenty of time to research it. And he has been asked about the issue several times, including in debates, so it's not just some issue that no one is interested in. As a presidential candidate he should know about the policy and the act (though his answer in the debate indicated he had no idea what the policy actually said).

The bill is not long and merely says that the government will treat people who are gay, straight or bisexual the same. It grants no privileges or benefits. It doesn't cost taxpayer money and, in fact, will save millions spent to chuck out gay people. It is about as libertarian a bill as you can expect from government. It just says the government should leave people alone in this one area. So will Ron Paul cosponsor the bill? I would say the odds are against it.

Now I know many of the Paulists will complain because I dared have a negative comment about their beloved Saint Paul. Sorry folks but don't complain to me. Just ask your candidate to give a firm answer on whether he will support the repeal of this very unlibertarian policy. He has refused to support it over the last eight months. And based on his refusal, so far, to support the bill, I think it is fair to say that his position on equality of rights before the law for gay people is a negative one. He doesn't support such equality. All those claims to the contrary are just so much hot air as long as Paul is refusing to actually sign on to the bill.

Paul can prove he supports such a equality very easily, with almost no effort at all. And I think it fair to assume that his refusal to do so, so far, indicates his actual position, no matter what he might say when he thinks it will win him a vote. I won't be holding my breath for the press release that he signed on to the bill.

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A Question for the New York Times

First watch this 14 second video. An armed man tries to rob a store only to find a very small woman with a very big ax and she ain't afraid of using it.

The woman, an immigrant from Turkey, did exactly what any good American would do -- she defended herself against an armed thug. Her family has owned this store for four years and it has been held up four times already.

The New York Times ran the story at their website. They even included the video you see here. What I am curious about is whether they would have run this story with video if the woman had a licensed handgun that scared away the robber instead of an ax. I suspect the story would have never seen the light of day in that case.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How tiny minorities can censor others at Reddit.

It appears that this blog has been banned from the networking group Reddit. This happened in the past when someone didn’t like the fact that we published things they disagreed with. And so they filed a complaint.

Reddit uses a deceptive and sneaky method of banning links. They set their system to show the link as appearing in the users profile but in fact no one else coming to the site actually every sees the link.

The first time they did this they said it was because we had been “flagged for spamming” meaning posting information as to what articles have appeared here. They wrote that their users “don’t respond well to seeing a stream of submissions” from the same site -- the stream of submissions was one link per day out the thousands that appear on the site. Hardly a stream but they were trying to justify their ban.

If once a day is a stream then what isn’t a stream? The only number below that is zero per day. And apparently this is not an issue. For instance one user, “neoronin”, has 22 posts in so far today and yesterday he had 44. Another user, garyp714, has 9 submissions in the last hour alone. This multiple submissions in a short period of time does violate policies for the site -- one submission per day does not.

At this point it was pointed out to them that they actual post user suggestions called “Reddiquette” said that people shouldn’t flag a report merely because they don’t like it. The reply to that was that Reddit doesn’t mind but that an undefined “reddit community” is responsible -- apparently meaning anyone who wants to ban sites that they oppose. And they claimed “the community used our reporting mechanism to vote on your behavior” (Note the behavior was posting one link per day to the site.) And they specifically have posted under their reddiquette section that linking to one’s own site is entirely permissible. As they wrote: “Old content and self-promotion are okay.”

Again an undefined and unspecified community was blamed and Reddit said they have no control over their own site. But they reinstated the account.

It was strange that the community was involved yet we were never informed of any such process nor allowed, as a member of the community, to participate. When I asked about that they said the the “reporting process isn’t transparent” because of technical problems. So how did the community participate in a process that no one could see was happening?

I tested the “report” system on one of the individuals who is actually putting a stream of posts on the site, every few minutes in fact. To report someone all you do is sign in and click the report button by their submission. It then asks you if you are are sure and you press “yes” or “no”. If you press “yes” it says they have been reported and that’s it. There is no need to make a specific accusation of any kind. No evidence is asked for. And if the time our site was reported is any indication the person being accused isn’t even informed about the report and summary judgement is issued.

This system sounds like it was designed by George Bush.

In the final reply with the first incident Reddit wrote: “ Our anti-spamming system is not perfect, but we can make corrections immediately, as our intention has never been to censor individuals on reddit.” Not perfect? Apparently one post per day can be listed as spam while other users can post dozens per day with nothing happening.

The account was reinstated and things were fine for a few months. In fact the reddit readers were giving our stories lots of positive support. They have a point system where people can vote stories up or down. And numerous times a posting from this blog has remained on their front page for an entire day -- most stories remain there a couple of minutes. And the supportive votes were accumulating very quickly. So I assumed the problem was solved.

It is bad enough they have a non-transparent system which “the community” does but which they don’t know about. It is even worse that the person or site being targeted is left in the dark and not told about it. But at least they promised to “make corrections immediately” when this happens.

Once again this non-transparent process, which is never explained on the Reddit site from what I’ve been able to see, was used to prevent other Reddit readers from finding out about articles on this blog -- in spite of the high votes from Reddit readers in support of the blog (that is visible). So on October 20 I wrote Reddit asking them to correct this. They were the ones who said they would “make corrections immediately” when their blocking system was being misused.

And I waited. The block stayed on and the email request was ignored. It wasn’t even acknowledged. Then I waited two more days before sending a second email to them pointing out that the first had been ignored and asking them to solve the problem. And once again they ignored it completely. After two more days I wrote them a third time forwarding the previous email and noting that numerous days had gone by and they were still blocking posts.

As far as I can see, this site has done nothing to violate any stated “reddiquette” for users. It was posting one link per day which is hardly flooding the site. And the reddiquette specifically says “self-promotion” is accepted. It’s not like blogs will have PR agencies to send out press releases for them. But Reddit specifically allows any user to “report” any content for any reason. All they have to do is click “report” which basically gives a tiny number of users, perhaps just one, veto power over what others are allowed to see. But previously when I pointed out that the posts we did were all sanctioned by reddiquette the people at Reddit said that reddiquette was created by the community not the site owners, which seems to dismiss it.

Apparently there are no clear terms of usage at all. Since one can obey the terms written on the site and still be reported and banned. Why bother even posting them? Personally it sounds to me as if Reddit has created an excuse system which allows them to blame non-specific users for banning people for violating rules which apparently have no real meaning anyway. Obeying them doesn't prevent you from being banned and violating them doesn't mean you will be banned. There is a huge amount of arbitrary decision making here.

In this case someone apparently hit the report button. I say apparently since Reddit’s refusal to respond leaves me in the dark.

And Reddit claims that their voting system, called “karma” allows readers to reward good posts since the way to get votes is “making good submissions” and this is a ranking handed out by “your peers”, that is the other users of the site. Since the karma for our posts very quickly went from zero and were starting to approach 1,000 it would appear that the community had approved. Yet apparently one, or a few, “reports” by individuals can trump the karma that one accumulates as well.

Reddit has designed two systems that contradict one another. The first allows all users to push a link up or down the page. Negative votes move it down meaning fewer viewers ever see it. Positive votes move it up giving it more publicity leading to even more positive votes. This does, at least reflect the views of the mass of readers who vote.

But the “report” system allows non-specific charges to be made against a user in a way that is non-transparent to the person being banned and to all other users. In addition it apparently trumps the “karma” accumulated by the system of having links voted up or down. Reddit can argue that the “users” are responsible but the “report” really allows one user to report someone. It is the perfect authoritarian system. No one is responsible, and anyone apparently can censor another person by reporting them without having to offer a specific accusation or any evidence. That is then dealth with in way where the accused is never informed about it. And where Reddit did promise to correct such things when they happen they apparently also are quite happy to just ignore such abuses when they happen. In reality the system does encourage people to report others purely on the basis of disagreeing with the content.

For those who wish to write Reddit regarding this apparent ban (and the pathetic service they give in resolving it) you can email them either at and I suggest sending to both so they have no excuse to claim they didn't receive it. If you have more luck than I have good for you.

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Reinventing history in the Republican primary.

Democrats lie about economics. Republicans lie about other things -- such as history.

Take Theopublican Mike Huckabee for instance. He recently claimed spoke of the signers of the Declaration of Independce as “brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.”

Huckabee made that up out of thin air. One signer was a clergyman when the Declaration was signed and there is some disagreement over whether two or three others had formerly been members of the clergy. There were 56 signatures on the document. For “most” of them to be clegy it would require that 29 of them, at minimum, be members of the clergy. In other words Huckabee was totally wrong about the facts.

Huckabee is a fundamentalist minister himself so his lack of knowledge regarding history is understandable.

One of the more bizarre claim, made in a similar manner, was something Ron Paul wrote to appeal to the religious right. Mr.Paul claimed: “Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be agahst at the federal government’s hostility to religion.” Note: separation of church and state is not hostility to religion but neutrality.

Mr. Paul used a word with a very specific meaning. Replete means abundantly full. This would not be a passing mention but numerous, explicit references. The actual text of the Constitution has all of zero references to God. Mr. Huckabee was actually closer to being right even though he was far off the mark. Paul is always presenting himself as faithful to the Constitution, which would imply he has read it. Curious that he wrote the Constitution is full of references to God when it actually doesn’t have any.

The closest it gets is that the statement attached to the Constitution, verifying it was ratified, used the common dating term “in the Year of our Lord”. Even if you count that it hardly comes close to be abundant references to a deity.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Bureacrats threaten family over child's chalk drawing.

Everything that is not illegal is compulsory. Remember that old humorous line? Well, it’s more and more true every day.

Natalie Shea is six-years-old and she did something that lots of small children have done for a very long time. She used some chalk to draw on the sidewalk in front of her house. A couple of days later Natalie’s mother received a warning letter from the New York City Sanitation Department saying that the “graffiti” must be removed and that “failure to comply” “may result in enforcement action against you.”

Cathy Dawkins, a bureaucrat that speaks for the department, said that if graffiti is placed on private property the city will punish the property owner unless they remove it. In addition she says that even if the “graffiti” is sidewalk chalk “does not matter”. A Brooklyn newspaper interviewed sidewalk chalk artist Ellis Gallagher about the case. Mr. Gallagher says he does sidewalk art all the time and is never arrested and that obviously there is no problem here except an over anxious bureaucracy.

A few days later, while Mr. Gallagher was being filmed by PBS regarding his art the police arrived and arrested him for his chalk drawings. The dangerous criminal was handcuffed and taken to jail where he had to spend the night. Charges were dropped the next day without explanation. Mr. Gallagher wanted to know if the police intend to “arrest all the kids”.

Now what about reverse graffiti? In this case a “vandal” cleans the surface of a wall, sidewalk, sign, etc., but selectively. By removing the grime he creates light spots which contrast with the surrounding dirty areas and an image is created.

Phil Curtins, in Leeds, England, used this technique to create his art and the city has threatened him for vandalism. A bureaucrat there said: “Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without out the relevant permission.”

Where do you start with a comment like that? I assume Leeds residents do want clean neighbourhoods. But Mr. Curtis is actually cleaning not dirtying. Yes, his cleaning only makes it apparent how dirty everything else is but this is like prosecuting someone for painting their home because in comparison the neighbour's house now looks shabby.

And is cleaning away dirt now an “environmental” threat? If selective cleaning of a wall is damaging the environment then I suppose complete cleaning is out of the question. Apparently the people in Leeds want clean neighbourhoods but actually cleaning is a crime.

I suspect the real issue is the last phrase,”without permission.” Bureaucrats get very upset if someone discovers something which they hasn’t yet been regulated. If the reverse graffiti is vandalism, or damaging to the environment, then how does having permission reverse that? Is the city saying they have the right to allow people to vandalize and create harm? Clearly no one seriously thinks that this is either vandalism or harming the environment. The real issue is that Mr. Curtis found something that was unregulated by local bureaucrats and this scares them.

Apparently bureaucrats are mindless numbnuts no matter which country employs them. Now wait for the authoritarians to whine that if we didn't have this sort of Nanny-statism that crime would run rampant and terrorists would be walking the streets free. My favorite moronic replies are those that argue that to oppose stupid actions like this means that one is willing to turn a blind eye to rape and murder. Apparently law-fetishists have no sense of proportion or rights. Laws against real crimes are then used to justify laws against faux crimes.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bush policies sap billions from economy.

The Bush police state marches on imposing billions in additional costs on people. The New York Times today mentioned that US citizens are now waiting hours at border posts before they can return home. People are missing important appointments and businesses along the border are suffering.

Thousand and thousands of American live over the border but work in the United States. They are facing delays of two hours or more when they drive into the United States and this is while the border thugs are merely implementing new policies periodically. When they are fully in place the delays will be longer.

You may remember that the Homeland Security brownshirts pushed through new controls on Americans requiring everyone to have a passport to reenter the US even if they had only been in Toronto for s short visit. (In some places in the US crossing the border may mean visiting the neighbor across the street.)

In addition the border agents are now routinely using the photo ID that you must present to call in your name and have the government run checks on you before you are allowed to go home.

The New York Times reports that the new border polices are “discouraging visitors and shoppers and upsetting local business.”

The paper notes that 234 million crossings into the United States take place every year. Of course many U.S. citizens who live near the border make multiple entries so this is not 234 million visitors. If the wait time averages only one hour that is 234 million hours wasted. Even at minimum wage rates the cost in wait time alone is over a billion dollars at the Mexican border alone. And the government is spending another $3 billion to cause the screw ups.

Reichmarshal W. Ralph Basham, head of “Customs and Border Protection” dismisses the impositions on millions of people claiming, “A safer border is well worth the wait.” Of course he’s not the one waiting and neither is there one shred of evidence that all the controls and costs have increased security. Please remember that all the 9/11 terrorists were given permits to vist the U.S. and that none came in by land but by air. None were U.S. citizens, who are the actual targets of these new controls.

Reichmarshal Basham is not paying the cost for waiting. He’d get a wave through if he ever had to cross by land. And he is a net beneficiary. He is paid to impose controls on others. So not only is he not paying the costs he is profiting because of them.

One American citizen, Wilda Laboy has a job in Mexico, lives in the United States and is studying in the States. She says that she is now routinely late for classes because it can take up to three hours to get home. About $332 billion in trade takes place with Mexico and most of it is moved by truck. In El Paso 21,000 people per day walk across the border for shopping.

If Americans think they are having a hard time the United States travel Nazis are making impossible for tourists and others to visit the United States. Numerous surveys show that tourists, world-wide, say the United States travel thugs treat visitors worse than any other country. One result is that millions of people are avoiding the United States entirely costing billions more in lost income. And some airlines now avoid US airports for stop-overs because all passengers on board must be fingerprinted and pass through passport control, even if the flight is just refueling. Vancouver has attracted flights that used to fly through Los Angeles. I have no idea how much that is costing the economy.

And the Washington Post had a story yesterday about how the Bush control are harming arts and culture. One of the oldest symphony orchestras in England, celebrating their 150th anniversary, was invited to play at Lincoln Center. But to get their visas they were told that every single member of the orchestra was required to travel to London, from their home in Manchester, to be personally interviewed. They also had to fingerprinted like common criminals and have facial-recognition scans taken (it will be a matter of time before the government forces this on U.S. citizens but I predict it will happen.)

The orchestra started looking at the cost to get every member to London, they would have to be put in hotel and they had to pay for visas and interviews and hassles that the travel Nazis are imposing. The additional costs for these people were $80,000 and the orchestra decided that they didn’t want to come to America anymore. Just consider how much income was lost to the U.S. because of that.

It’s a large orchestra. Photos I saw seem to indicate close to 100 members. Cheap airfare would be around $550. Hotel costs would run at least $100 per night per person. Food costs, on a budget would $25 to $50 per person per day. Of course they’d buy other things as well. And an orchestra usually fly around the world for more than just one day. And there is the lost revenue to the Lincoln Center because of concerts where no tickets can be sold.

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage holds a major Folklife Festival every year with performers from around the world. To bring in performers from Bhutan they had to fly them India for interviews in order to obtain visas. Didier Le Besque, agent for Ballet Biarritz said that it cost $48,000 in costs just to get the ballet troupe to the U.S. Embassy in Paris for interviews.

The Post article mentioned that due to these restrictions one $250,000 tour by the Peking Opera of Jilin was cancelled due to the fact the U.S. wouldn’t give visas to the Opera members -- right, bin Laden has trained Operatic terrorists who hit a high note and blow up Washington. It can takes months for visa applications to be processed but wonderful bureaucrats offer an expedited service for visiting artists. And the extra cost is only $1,000 per person.

It can take so long to process the paperwork that a group of business that deal in the performing arts pushed for an allowance that the artist can file for a visa one full year in advance. The normal six month advance permit didn’t give them enough time to get approval and still book their tours. And each time a performing artist wishes to visit the U.S. he must travel to a U.S. embassy, get fingerprinted and have photos taken even if he has already been fingerprinted and interviewed several times. This requirement must be repeated every single time.

The paper says that the $1,000 expedition fee is basically mandatory or the U.S. embassy is unlikely to process the applications in time for performances. The band New Model Army has applied in the past and received their visas in plenty of time for three previous tours so they declined the offer of paying the extra $1,000 for each visa. This year their applications took months to process and when they queried about the delays they were told that it was not possible to trace the applications unless the $1,000 had been paid. The band missed their tour. Their visas were turned down on a technicality that could have been cleared up easily had they been told about it in time. But with the U.S. embassies take months and months to approve one visa application they didn’t find out in time. How many hundreds of thousands, or millions, was lost due to one tour being canceled?

The Post says that there are 7,000 individuals who do the bookings for performing artists. Before the Bush administration 5,250 of them worked with international artists. As the United States becomes more and more aggressive against visitors agents have stopped even trying to bring the performers in. Of those who previously brought in artist one in five have already stopped doing it.

China’s Golden Dragon Acrobats have been performing in the United State for thirty years. But their tour this year is now on hold since the U.S. is refusing to grant them visas even though there have no incidents with the performers in the past. Various music groups have cancelled performing in the United States as a result of these hassles.

I used to routinely purchase and export books from the United States to other countries. After Bush got his ideas to clamp down on freedom one supplier after another just stopped selling to anyone outside the United States. They said that the extra paperwork and regulations they had to go through just to mail one box of books was no longer worth it and the quiet selling to anyone outside the United States. I have no idea how many such distributors have decided to just close down sales to foreign countries as a result. But Bush doesn’t care -- he’s on a crusade against “evil doers” and “terrrists”

Here’s the sickening thing about all this. Bin Laden and the Taliban drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Their strategy was a simple one. They said that one attack in one area would force the Soviets to spend millions of dollars in response. The terrorists can’t defeat militarily and they know it. But for a relative few dollars they can impose millions of dollars in damage -- not direct but indirectly. Bin Laden openly said that any attack on the U.S., even if it had failed would push panic stricken politicians to impose billions and billions in costs on the economy.

Over time the economic damages of these measures add up. It is safe to say that the economic damage directly caused by 9/11 is now insignificant to the economic damage caused by Bush in his panicky response to a problem that he clearly doesn’t understand. His response has already lead to the deaths of more Americans than the attack did. And now he helping bin Laden reach his goal of inflicting massive harm on the American economy by a Stalinist-like crack down that continues to escalate with no regard for the liberties lost or the billions wasted. Bin Laden is clearly smarter than Bush, but then so my sock, and he knows that Bush is the one who can harm America. When the moron in the White House said that our enemies “never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we” it may have been the one truthful statement Bush has made in his entire eight years. If you are one of the Bushites who don’t think he said that play the video for yourself. The best you can say it that it’s a Freudian slip, the unintentional revelation of something that is true.

Democrats: what the hell is your party doing? Why are they letting Bush continue with his disasters? And if you guys are so against this war why is foreign policy neoconservative leading the Democratic pack of candidates?

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cops invent super Prostitute and then raid local newspaper.

Here’s a little story that was brought to my attention. Police in Orlando, Florida claim “a typical prostitute that’s HIV-positive could potentially infect more than 18,000 people a year.” [Please note that this absurd story has turned ugly as police arrest people for working at a local newspaper accepting classified ads. Details below -- but the humor that was intended here turned very serious because of morons with power.]

Wow. SuperProsti really would have to go at it in order to accomplish this. Consider what this would require for a moment.

First, every client would need to have intercourse since a hand job or oral sex are rather inefficient at spreading HIV to men. Next, let us assume that every client is also having unprotected intercourse. So you must have the usual situation where every single client wants unprotected vaginal intercourse. And spreading HIV to men this way is still not particularly effective but let us assume that all the clients want unprotected vaginal sex and the infection rate is 100%.

I don’t know what sort of hours prostitutes work but let us assume they are on duty 12 hours per day six days per week for 52 weeks per year. We will assume they don’t have sick days and are never in jail because the police are "protecting" us from hookers who drag us off the streets and force men to have sex with them. With only one day off per week, working 12 hours non-stop per day the prostitute would work for 3,744 hours per year. To have 18,000 customers, let alone infect all 18,000, she would have to have one client every 12 minutes. This assumes she doesn’t eat lunch or ever use the ladies room.

The reality is that not every client will have intercourse. Some want oral sex or just a helping hand. Certainly my impression has been that these two sexual activities are not uncommon between prostitutes and their clients. So let us estimate that 75% of the customer have intercourse. I suspect that estimate is high but I’m not sure where to find the data on this sort of thing. If one-fourth of the clients are having no-risk or very low-risk sex they aren’t likely to be infected. To infect 18,000 clients per year, as the oh-so-honest police officers contend, that means the 18,000 represent only 75% of all clients thus the total number of clients is 24,000 per year. At this point SuperProsti would have a different client approximately every nine minutes, 12 hours per day flat out, six days per week,, 52 weeks per year.

It is much easier for an HIV+ male to infect a woman than the other way around since infected fluids tend to be transferred from men to women and not the reverse. And I did find some numbers for the risk of contracting HIV, for a male, from an infected woman through unprotected intercourse. The odds of any one episode of intercourse infecting the male participant is approximate 1 in 1,000.

To infect 18,000 clients per year SuperProsti would need to have unprotected vaginal sex with 18,000,000 clients. Let’s be generous and assume that the typical HIV+ prostitute is far more infectious than other infected women, which is highly dubious. Even with a infection rate that is twice the normal rate she would still need around 9 million clients to infect 18,000.

Of course this requires that not one of them use a condom. I don’t know what percentage of men use condoms with prostitutes. but even if it is one in five that substantially increases the number of clients SuperProsti needs in order to achieve this fantastic police claim.

But let’s make it easy. Let us assume the prostitute only has vaginal sex with men, no other form. In addition not one client uses condoms, not one. And let us assume an infection rate that is double that for most unprotected vaginal sex with an HIV+ woman. That leaves us with the 9 million clients per year. So clearly the typical prostitute would need to put in more work hours. Now let's pretend she works 365 days per year. She doesn’t even take Christmas off. That brings her client load down to just 24,567 customers per day.

And with vitamins let us assume she is working 24 hours per day straight through the year. We also must assume no time to eat, no time for the toilet, no sleep, and no time looking for clients. She is now handling 1,027 clients per hour. This also works out to 17 clients per minute or a new client every 3.5 seconds. And it would be important that she not have repeat clients if she is to accomplish the target the police have set for her.

This makes me wonder what her income would be. I don’t know what they get for such things. I would doubt its $10. I went and checked the ads in the Orlando Weekly, the publication the police singled out for running these ads, and only one of them mentioned a rate and it was $150 for an “out call”. Well, clearly with 9 million customers the “typical” Orlando hooker doesn’t have time for “out calls” she is strictly in-house services only. But most the ads say “out calls only”. Let’s assume the “in house” is $50 cheaper. That would means $100 per client.

If the Orlando police are telling the truth, also a very dubious claim, this would mean the typical hooker in Orlando is taking in around $900 million per year without paying taxes -- but then with 24,000 clients per day who has time to file IRS forms! Apparently a typical Orlando hooker has an annual income somewhere in the range of Uganda. With 14 minutes worth of income she could buy Zimbabwe -- though I can't think of why anyone would want it now. Even presidential candidates sell themselves for less than this, just ask Hillary.

Think of it -- 9 million customers. Disney World only manages 27 million. And you thought all those cheap excursions to Orlando were for the theme parks, didn’t you? Disney World manages only 27 million visitors and they have lots of rides. SuperProsti charges about 50% more for admission, has only one ride and apparently the whole thing lasts 3.5 seconds. With that sort of earnings potential she ought to be listed on the stock exchange.

Either the prostitutes of Orlando have incredible stamina, and the males of Orlando are literally lined up waiting, or the police have exaggerated, just a wee bit. Not that they would ever do that. I’m sure that the $600 trillion dollar drug busts that the police seem to have every couple of days are absolutely accurate. And police officers never lie.

The Magic Kingdom in Orlando, indeed it is. Indeed it is.

P.S. There is one fact which makes it obvious that the Orlando cops are lying with this statistic no matter how you try to defend the bogus number. It doesn't matter if you are saying the prostitute infects a man who infects a dozen women. The 18,000 per year figure is still blatantly and obviously bullshit. How do I know? Because it would mean that two hookers in Orlando are responsible for almost all the HIV infections per year in the United States. The total number of new infections per year, for the entire United States is 40,000.

Update: The story is no longer a funny one about mad cops on a power trip inventing phony statistics to justify their Puritanical obsessions. And it’s especially bad if you happen to believe in the First Amendment.

Three employees from Orlando Weekly were arrested by the police because they work in the advertising department. Police have charged them with making money from the proceedings of prostitution because police claim prostitutes bought ads from the paper! I think these cops should be on rafts heading for Cuba -- they'd really feel at home there.

Consider what this means. If accepting a newspaper ad from someone the cops claim is a prostitute means you are earning money from prostitution, which ought not be a crime either, then wouldn’t it be a criminal offense to be the landlord of the prostitute? Should the grocery store owner be arrested since a prostitute might spend money there? If a prostitute rides in a taxi is the taxi driver making money off of prostitution? How about public transit? I like that one -- maybe we can arrest the city council members for living off of prostitutes. And since prostitutes pay taxes, and since cops are paid with that money, the morons in the Orlando police department are living off the proceeds of prostitution. Lock them all up! And the sooner the better.

Police had previously ordered the publication, a legally dubious action, to stop taking ads from specific people. Apparently they didn’t hear of something called the First Amendment. The Orlando police need to get slapped down and slapped down hard. Cops spent two years going after hookers. And it shows. According to the Orlando Sentinel the city, while police where chasing SuperProsti, had the highest murder rate in Florida. Rapes are dramatically up and so is arson. And the police are spending time and money arresting people who work in the classified ad department of a local newspaper. Last year was Orlando’s deadliest year in history but the police sure have their priorities right and to justify their actions they just invent lies. You would think that that would be bad enough but they are so utterly stupid that they can't even invent claims that are plausible. They concoct such fantastic claims as to reveal how stupid they really are. Next thing the Orlando cops will be claiming they found Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

Photo: Orlando police chief, Mickey Mouse, interrogates child in sting operation to prevent prostitution by intimidating potential customers decades before the crime takes place. Chief Mouse claims each "intervention" will prevent 43,783 crimes saving taxpayers $938,284,005.43.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The techniques of bias: how journalists can easily distort your perception of reality.

There is a widespread assumption that the media has a bias. It is one that I believe is accurate. I first noticed it when I was studying journalism at university. Journalists are not unbiased and objective as they like to pretend. They have biases. When I did some work as a copy editor at the daily paper for the University I was constantly having student journalists submit papers that expressed opinions alongside the facts.

I remember one article that was about the debate on the state budget and the Democrats had submitted their proposals that day. The budding journalist who rewrote the wire story on this handed it to me and I was appalled to see that he had inserted the sentence: “And the Republicans had nothing better to offer.” It is one thing to say that the Republicans didn’t submit a proposal and a very different thing to say they had “nothing better” to offer. The term “better” is inherently subjective and was the reporter expressing his personal views not reporting the story.

It was then that I decided that what writing I do will always be clearly indicated as opinion. I felt that what was being submitted as “journalism” was fraudulent in that it was called objective when it clearly was not. And I didn’t want to play that game. So while my material has been published in newspapers around the world it has always been on the editorial page, where I submit it. And a few times it has been in magazines but always magazines that are known to be advocacy publications. I won’t pretend at objectivity.

Journalists come to many stories, particularly those with a political angle, with some preconceived notions. And all the surveys show that the have a left-wing preference. That is not surprising for several reasons. Many of the people I studied with, who are today’s generation of “seasoned” journalists were very open about being advocates for the causes they believed in. Many talked about this as a major motivation for becoming journalists. They wanted “to make a difference” by persuading the public to buy into specific agendas.

And the journalism department at my university was leaning well to the Left. The senior lecturer there was an old newspaper man who made an attempt at objectivity. But when the department head left he was not promoted to the position, as expected. Instead the job was given to a woman whose experience in the field was rather limited to say the least. The consensus in the department was that she was hired to have more women in senior positions not because she was a good journalist.

I took courses under her and the writing samples of her own that she gave us were all fluff pieces -- nothing that required research or digging. The one long piece she submitted was a piece honoring the role of garlic is human society. She was well outside her depth in my opinion. She is still department head, no surprise there, I didn’t expect others to be rushing to hire her away.

Now I could rattle off numerous causes that the media has helped promote where I happen to agree with the values they are promoting. But that doesn’t mean they are honest brokers for those values. I also think that many of there values are correct factually. But this does not mean that they are being unbiased in their presentation of those facts. And there are clearly cases when they omit details or information that would not support their agenda.

The famous case was the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law. A gunman started shooting at students on campus. Two students ran to their cars where they had weapons. Each retrieved his handgun, unbeknownst to the other and then approached the gunman.

They cloak what they do as objective news reporting when it most clearly is not. Just because they may be right on something doesn’t mean they are unbiased. When the shooter realized he had two different men with guns facing him from two different directions he immediately dropped his weapon and surrendered. Armed resistance put an end to the shooting spree very quickly. Other students then jumped the gunman, now that he was disarmed, and held him for police. Journalists around the country made sure that one fact was covered up. That the attack ended when faced by armed students was deleted from almost every story that appeared in the media.

The New York Times prides itself on being a major U.S. paper of record, a repository of the facts on major news stories since 1851. And there deletion of information was typical. Reporter Francis Clines wrote that the shooting ended when the attacker “was tackled by fellow students”. Later it says the gunman was “subdued”. It briefly mentions that one of the students retrieved a gun from his car but it never mentions that the gun was pointed at the killer and that he surrendered at that point. It merely says the attacker was tackled.

Prof. John Lott has a data bank of 218 different stories on this attack. And out of them only three explicitly mention that handguns were used defensively in this case. The Washington Post was another major paper that ignored this key fact. There was widespread outrage when people realized the media was playing fast and loose with the facts. Eventually the Washington Post wrote that the the gunman “was subdued without incident by armed students”. But that was two years after the original story appeared.

In the case of a school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi an assistant principal, Joel Myrick, retrieved a handgun from his car and faced the attacker. His action stopped the attack cold but out of 687 news stories on the incident only 19 mentioned that Myrick was able to do this because he was armed.

I would suspect that sins of omissions are most common in biasing. It is easy to simply leave out inconvenient facts and if called on it you can always excuse it. After all not ever story can contain every fact. Any news story leaves facts out, it has to. And people realize that but the leaving out process gives the journalist plenty of room to bias the report.

Here are some ways a journalist may bias a report and things to look for when reading the press.

One is that they often emphasize stories that fit their agenda more than stories that don’t. This is not a selective presentation of facts as in the shootings mentioned but that certain stories get lots of play while others get none. If you love Al Gore’s agenda you can run lots of stories on global warming. You can find the “warming connection” in lots of stories and explicitly mention it. On the other side there may be lots of stories about nations that cut taxes and saw their economies boom as a result. If you oppose tax cuts then these stories may get infrequent mentions. Just picking what is or isn’t worthy of coverage allows media employees to exert their bias.

One can be “objective” by quoting people on both sides of a debate. But who gets quoted more? Experts who express views conducive with the writer’s values will tend to get quoted more often than those who disagree. People on your side may be quote 80% of the time with opponents only 20% of the time.

You can also bias the report by citing “experts” in the plural being on your side and refer to the one individual who opposes your views. This gives the subliminal message that the vast majority of experts are siding with you whether this is true or not.

Another tactic is to have unnamed sources supporting your position. It is hard to critique someone if they are not named. So you get phrases like “experts claim” or “scientists say”. Which experts? Which scientists? I have seen stories filled with phrases like this without mentioned one expert by name.

Another biasing tactic is to quote individuals supporting your view at the top of the article and put the contrary evidence later in the piece -- journalists know many people only read the first paragraph or two of a story. In fact this is more insidious than it appears at first glance. News stories are written in an inverted pyramid form with the bigger facts at the top and the smaller ones at the bottom. The reason is so that editors can start cutting the report at the bottom to fit the space they have.

The farther down in the story that a fact is the more likely it is that it will be cut from publication. Many wire stories in particular are often cut down substantially with some publications only reprinting the first few paragraphs. Placement within the story directly effects how the facts are perceived even for readers who actually read to the end. Again the placement tells the reader subconsciously that the facts near the end are not important while the facts or quotes near the top are deemed very important.

Another tactic is to portray individuals on your side of the debate as caring while opponents are scrutinized as dishonest or self-serving. Someone with no real knowledge of a topic may be a spokesman for some environmental group yet they are treated as having “no agenda” and being knowledgeable on the topic. On the other side a scientists who works with the item in question is called an “industry spokesman” implying that his views are biased but the assumption is never made that the environmentalist is biased. That an oil company contributes, even in a round about way, is immediately considered suspect.

Yet that many environmental groups are supported by individuals who profit from the regulations they propose almost never gets mention. Scientists who work for a university that go a grant from an oil company can be racked over the coals for it. But if the environmental group receives funds from Agribusiness or Big Energy to push ethanol is not mentioned. Journalists bias their reports merely by subjecting the side they don’t like to scrutiny which they don’t inflict on the side they do like.

Story placement is another biasing technique. Stories that confirm your world view may get front page treatment. Stories that don’t support that view, if they make the paper at all, can be placed farther down on the page or further back in the newspaper.

All these tactics, and more, bias the thrust of the media, and journalists know it, which is why they do it. And yet they pretend that they are an objective profession.


If you need a good laugh today here it is.

Don't worry about the language barrier at all, this clip is very amusing. It's a clever take on an old trick and you can just imagine what the poor victims were thinking. Hilarious.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Annoy the hell out of the travel Nazis.

As you know the travel Nazis from the ominous Department of Homeland Security are spying on everyone who is unfortunate enough to travel behind the Iron Curtain, i.e. in the United States. They collect data on you that they say is secret and which even you aren't allowed to know about. But they also collect data on you that is available to you for the asking. So ask already! Find out how much attention the thugs in Homeland Security have paying you and get some idea of the information that have collected while spying on you!

The mere fact that millions of peaceful, law-abiding Americans are being spied upon by this Orwellian agency is disgusting. You can file a couple of forms with the travel thugs -- they love forms. You fill out the forms and sign them and make copies for yourself. You then send them certified to the travel Nazis and they are supposed to respond within 10 day acknowledging receipt of your request and within 30 days they are supposed to provide you with the dossier they have compiled on you. You may find out more than you realized. And at the very least it helps keep the bastards busy. They can't charge you for the search but may charge you for photocopying expenses. To download the forms and get explicit instructions on how to check up on the people who are checking up on you go here.

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Cheney's Law: Worth watching.

The hallmark of the Bush years has been the creation of an Imperial Presidency, one unlimited by Constitutional restraints, empowered to do what he damn well pleased to do. The documentary Cheney's Law shows that Vice President Chency walked into the White House a believer in expanded presidential powers, far beyond those listed by the Constitution. Every power granted was interpreted as widely as possible. And the Moron in Chief was told he could do whatever he wanted under his powers as commander in chief -- it was basically the creation of a war-time dictator without the inconvenience of even having a declaration of war.

What we have seen is a rerun of the Reichstag fire. In that incident a semi-deranged Dutch Communist broke into the German Reichstag and set it ablaze. (For the definitive story of this incident read The Reichstag Fire by Fritz Tobias.) The fire caught the Nazis unaware, in spite of Communist claims to the contrary. But Hitler was ever one to use unexpected opportunities to grab what he wanted. Using the fire as the excuse he pushed through parliament the Enabling Act which gave the government the power to legislate without parliamentary approval. It was his version of the misnamed and treasonous Patriot Act.

The sad reality is that Hitler was more willing to respect the form of the rule of law (though not the spirit) than the Cheney-Bush White House. His Enabling Act was passed by the Reichstag. The powers claimed by the White House under Cheney's doctrines were seized without such approval. A key claim made by these advocates of Imperial Presidential power is that Bush may take these powers even if the Congress or the Supreme Court oppose them. Hence, Bush has basically said he has the right to ignore the Constitution -- an idea that would strike the Founding Fathers as not only absurd but treasonous. Under Hitler two-third of the Reichstag supported the Enabling Act. Under Bush the U.S. Congress passes laws and Bush signs statements indicating which sections he intends to ignore.

Hitler claimed there was a crisis and asked the Reichstag for the powers to deal with it -- powers which he never willingly surrendered. The Cheney presidency (that is not a typo) acts very differently. It says that when the president claims there is a crisis he automatically has such dictatorial powers regardless of the consent of the legislature. They claim an automatic right to ignore the Constitution, separation of powers, federalist principles, and the Bill of Rights. In essence Cheney-Bush are arguing that when the president says we are at war, without a declaration of war from Congress, against a vague and non-specific enemy, that the president then has the power to do almost anything he damn well pleases. It is an attempt to establish a dictatorship in the United States. And again I state: if the Democrats had any guts they wouldn't hint at impeachment, they would hold a treason trial with Bush and Cheney as defendants. I recommend you watch this documentary from PBS on Cheney's Law. It is available for on-line viewing here.

P.S.: The analogy to the Reichstag fire is a strong one. As Tobias proves the National Socialists did not plan the fire nor did they start it. They used it as the excuse to grab power. Nothing in my comparison indicates that the Bush administration planned the 9/11 attacks. I consider the claims of 9/11 "Truthers" to be paranoid delusions, baseless and indicative of an irrational mind. Just like the Nazis the Cheney regime used attacks conducted by others as the pretense to grab powers already desired. P.P.S.: To the lunatic fringe, please don't clutter the comments section with 9/11 conspiracy garbage, that is a request from the owner of this blog. If you wish to comment on the topic of this post go ahead. If you wish to push 9/11 "Truth" go babble someplace else.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses her journey from faith to reason.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses how she went from Islam to atheism.

This is cross-posted at our video blog, TV Liberty.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Immgrant shoppers help all consumers with lower prices.

Here’s something that is bound to send the anti-immigration crowd up the wall they are building on the border. Immigrants, legal or illegal, can bring down prices for the goods that everyone buys meaning everyone benefits by having more spendable income. The evidence comes from a report by economist Saul Lach.

The Washington Post reports: “For every 1 percent increase in the ratio of immigrants to natives, prices go down by about 0.5 percent, according to Lach's new study about the effects of 200,000 Jews immigrating to Israel from the former Soviet Union in 1990.”

American economist Aviv Nevo said the reason this happens is: “immigrants change the mix of consumers and will likely change the relative prices of different products.” Immigrants are more price conscious and more likely to shop around for bargains. The net result is that more and more businesses find it advantageous to attract these new customers by offering the bargains they are seeking. While the profit margin per item is lower it is made up by increased sales.

The Post writes: “Lach found that new immigrants spend much more time comparison-shopping than natives—perhaps because their economic circumstances force them to look for best deals, or because they have more discretionary time to compare prices, or because they have not yet developed brand loyalties.”

When shops compete by offering lower prices all consumers benefit including those who don’t have time to shop for bargains. It isn’t the extra money that immigrants spend that is the factor here -- though it is helpful in numerous ways. It is simply that the immigrants spend more time shopping for bargains and that increases the likelihood that more bargains will be offered. And when more bargains are offered even the loony Minutemen and the xenophobes benefit -- though of course they are unlikely to understand the economics behind the reason why it happens.


The illusion of universal, national health care continues.

Health care for all: a nice dream that built the Britan's National Health Service. But here is a story from the BBC that once again indicates that this goal still remains firmly a dream.

Don Wilson, from Kent, says that he’d call NHS dentists to see them about a toothache and they’d tell him that it would be weeks before have an appointment.

Wilson tried other NHS options but none were helpful. There are openings at private dentists but not with the NHS. He says: “I went for a rummage around in my tool box and found these fishing disgorgers -- the tool you use to get a hook out of the back of the fish’s mouth. they look a bit like scissors or pliers.”

He just grabbed hold of the tooth and started pulling until he heard a cracking sound. He said it was painful but so was doing nothing. He has pulled five bad teeth this way so far with one still half in.

He said if he could get an appointment with a NHS dentist he would do it. But since he hasn’t been able to he didn’t have much choice. “If you’re in agony with toothache, you haven’t got much choice.”

The NHS did, however, save some money by never having an open for Mr. Wilson. And that gives ammunition to those who want a similar system in the U.S. It's cheaper. Imagine how cheap it would be if they rationed dentists even further.

Around ten weeks ago the Aberdeen Evening Express told of the woes of NHS dental patients in their area. They said that the number of people waiting to get on the list of an NHS dentist has grown from 16,714 one year ago to 25,058 this year. The local member of the the Scottish Parliament noted: “People are not going to dentists because they can’t get to dentists.”

While the NHS tried to open more dental clinics, more and more dentists simply stop taking NHS patients. One cost saving measure for the national service is to try to shift the actual costs for dental care from the NHS to the individual dentist. One dentist complains: “The government sets what dentists can charge, and they are same whether you are in Central London or Skye, irrespective of training or other costs.” Another said: “There are lots of costs for dentists. Some of the equipment is funded, but a lot of it has to be bought by the individual practices, and the maintenance is costly as well.”

So varying costs are neglected. A private patient comes in and pays around £25 for a basic check-up and that helps cover the costs for all the items not covered by the NHS. But for the NHS patient the government pays £7 each. The patient sees the care as free since the taxes he paid have already been taken from him and visits to the dentists don’t immediately result in more costs to himself (long term they do).

This illusionary “free” cost encourages people to make appointments while the very low amount actually paid to dentists discourages actual care. The demand goes up but the supply goes down resulting in long queues of people unable to obtain dental care. One dentist noted that many of the people in on the NHS waiting lists “are quite willing to pay £40 a month on their Sky [cable television] subscription, but not pay £10 a month for dental treatment.”

This would mean that a lot of the equipment used by NHS patients is actually paid for by private patients and that not only are people subsidizing the NHS care through taxes but private patients are paying for it as well through higher dental bills. NHS patients are paying through taxes for care that many of them simply can't get from the NHS. Private patients still are taxed for the NHS care they aren't using and then they pay for their private care on top of that plus some of that is still helping subsidize the NHS patients who are getting care. No wonder nationalized health care is cheaper. It is no mean feat to have a cheaper service if you don't give out the care required and charge people for care they aren't receiving.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Canadian post office upset by Sex Party.

A small political party in Canada is suing the government because the state-owned postal monopoly refused to distribute information on the party. Called the Sex Party the party advocates relaxation of laws on sexuality.

The government said that the brochure of the party included the word “penis” which is offensive, had a photo of penis sculpture and and a painting which SUGGESTED that the people might be having sex. Suggested?

The flyer was an attempt to recruit members and the party did run three candidates. But the post office would not deliver the pamphlet. They say they are obligated to protect people from anything they might find offensive. But they did deliver an anti-gay brochure by a Christian group that was very aggressive in its tone and dislike of gay people.

The head of the post office said they delivered the anti-gay brochure, which she said was vile, because they aren’t in the business of censoring the mail. But when it came to the Sex Party they were in the business of censoring the mail. And since the post office is a legal monopoly the ability to send one’s message another way is very limited indeed.

So individuals offended by sex are protect. Individuals offended by anti-gay hate mail are not protected.

This very idea that one should be protect from offense is absurd. Applied consistently it would ban all speech and activity as one is likely to be able to find some moron offended by something no matter what it is.

An inconsistent application of this principle would give some groups superior rights to others. In this case sexaphobic people have superior rights to everyone else. Individuals who might be interested in this party are not allowed to receive the brochure because other people are offended by it. There can be no such right as the right to be unoffended. If you are living then you will be offended at some point in time. If you are a particularly fragile person psychologically you may be offended most of the time. Sorry, but get used to it.

Photos: The illustrations in question posted here are the brochure that the Canadian post office worried some people would find offensive. If you are one of those people --- tough. If you want to enlarge it (oh, boy do the puns flow here) please just click on the image. If you are from the Canadian post office, bend over, locate anal cavity, insert head. Oh, never mind, that would be redundant.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

New study shows oceans warmed before the rise of CO2.

A professor of paleoclimatology at the University of Southern California, Lowell Stott, says that the last ice age did not end because of a rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. These conclusions are found in study co-authored with Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii and Robert Thunell of the University of South Carolina, which appeared in Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Stott is also an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Using sediment samples from the western Pacific they tested surface-dwelling and bottom-dwelling organisms. They could use the shells to both date them and determine ocean temperatures.

What Stott and fellow researchers found is interesting. The shells of bottom-dwelling organisms show that the temperature rose CO2 levels rose. A press statement from the university says that: “The best estimate from other studies of when CO2 began to rise is no earlier than 18,000 years ago. Yet this study shows that the deep see, which reflects oceanic temperature trends, started warming about 19,000 years ago.”

This goes to the debate on whether CO2 increased the temperature or whether CO2 was released as a result of warming. Stott says the new evidence means: “You can no longer argue that CO2 alone caused the end of the ice ages.” The press statement says: “The finding suggests the rise in greenhouse gases was likely a result of warming and may have accelerated the meltdown -- but was not its main cause.”

The University statement said: “If CO2 caused the warming,, one would expect surface temperatures to increase before deep-sea temperatures, since the heal slowly would spread from top to bottom. Instead, carbon-dating showed the water used by the bottom-dwelling organisms began warming about 1,300 years before the water used by surface-dwelling ones, suggesting the warming spread bottom-up instead.”

Prof. Stott says: “The climate dynamic is much more complex than simply saying that C02 rises and the temperature warms.” He says these complexities still need to be understood to understand how climate has changed in the past and how it will change.

If you have Adobe Flash Player you can hear an interview with Prof. Stott at the University web site here.

In that interview Prof. Stott says that, “In a climate sense most of the work [to create a global temperature rise] was done before the atmospheric rise in CO2 began. Sure the ice began to melt after that, no question about it,” but he says the oceans warmed before the northern ice sheets began to melt. When the interviewer pushed him a bit on on anthropogenic CO2 he hesitated and then said, “There is plenty of room for discussion about the role that anthropogenic CO2 is playing in climate.” He says there is an effect of CO2 on climate but that it is not “the beginning and the end of the climate change” and that we shouldn’t “put all our marbles in CO2”.

If this is a chicken and egg debate then Stott’s research seems to indicate that warming came first followed by a rise in CO2 which then helped produce more warming. In other words the chicken laid an egg that grew into another chicken. But certainly past climate date indicates the warming preceded the CO2 release. We do know the oceans “burped” a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere around the end of the last age ice age. The alarmists like Mr. Gore argued the rise in CO2 preceded the warming and caused it. Stott’s evidence shows that is not correct.

By the way Prof. Stott says this study is very significant in studying climate change. And with warming preceding CO2 increases it creates a challenge for the warming alarmists. So exactly how did the media, which trumpets bogus stories on warming very loudly, such as Kilimanjaro, the Northwest Passage, grape studies, and others, deal with this story? They didn't.

Even though the press statement came from a major US university and was based on the research of an IPCC paleoclimatologist this challenging story to was totally ignored. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on it but gave it a different slant from the one that Stott actually used. They said it "points to the vulnerability of polar regions to increase heat." If you read the headline and the first paragraph it would be the standard warming story in the media. Only farther down do they mention Prof. Timmermann saying that the warming "opened the door for CO2 stored in the ocean to come out. The Honolulu paper no doubt paid attention because Timmermann is a local.

Other than that publication only a small number of minor, insignificant newspapers even mentioned the story. Not a single major newspaper noticed the press release from the University which goes to the core of the global warming debate. The New York Times ignored it. The Washington Post didn't make a peep about it. The Los Angeles Times said nothing. I find no references with CNN or even Fox News.

Compare that to the purely invented stories that warming was melting the snows of Kilimanjaro. When that claim was made it widely reported in every major publication and then turned out to be false. When it was claimed that global warming opened up the Northwest Passage there were hundreds and hundreds of stories in major newspapers around the world. Very, very few mentioned when NASA said it was a wind issue not a warming issue.

Now, I may well be wrong on all this. I make no pretense at perfect knowledge. But when we see the media reporting stories that correspond with what they already believe and ignoring stories that contradict their beliefs, or at least challenge them, it makes me wonder. Surely objective reporting would mention both sides and the mainstream media claims objectivity. But when discredited environmental activists release hysterical, false statement they get duly reported and when someone like Prof. Stott and the University of Southern California mention something that is a challenge to the prevailing theory it is blacklisted.

It is not a conspiracy. What is happening is that the media has this tendency to report that which corresponds with their own predetermined biases. Unfortunately the public tends to have only the media as a source for information and that gives the alarmists like Gore the advantage when it comes to the political debate.