The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. -- Robert A. Heinlein
Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Broadly speaking, Democrats want to protect you from the physical threats posed by habits such as smoking, overeating, and crossing the street while listening to an iPod. Republicans are more interested in protecting you from the moral threats posed by temptations such as drugs, gambling, and pornography. Between them, they've got you covered, body and soul.
Of course, this is all spun positively as being "for our own good", and should never be construed to be an affection for tyranny. Or should it?
Consider my recent exchange with a person on a message forum over this article in which Britain's Prince Charles expresses his desire to ban McDonald's:
"Have you got anywhere with McDonald's? Have you tried getting it banned? That's the key," Charles was quoted as asking a centre nutritionist.
My response to this was typical, for me:
I'm not in favor of banning anything, no matter how bad it is for you. If you want to skydive naked into a vat of urine-soaked pita bread, that's your business, not the government's.
I was complete unprepared for the answering post, which sent a chill down my spine as though I'd just shaken hands with the Devil:
I'd have to disagree once again. People are stupid and need to be told what to do.
A bit more back-and-forth ensued, and it became clear to me that I'd met a True Believer when it comes to government. I've met people who will argue long and hard in favor of government action, but they all seem to have limits on what they're willing to endorse. This does not appear to be the case with my esteemed opposite, and frankly that gives me the willies.
But, as Heinlein said...
The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives.
According to a User Interface analyst, Microsoft's Windows Vista is even more retarded than its predecessor, Windows XP:
In the common desktop task benchmark, which gauged how long it took users to open a folder, delete files, and so on, Vista running Aero was 14% slower than XP. The final benchmark of mouse precision, a test crucial to design professionals and photographers, but also of interest to general users who get frustrated trying to nail submenu commands at the first click, also put Vista on the bottom. Pfeiffer's Vista "mouse precision coefficient" was 30% higher than XP's. A higher coefficient means users found it harder to precisely place the mouse.
"These things are very measureable," Pfeiffer said. "In Vista, a folder fades in, as if it appears out of nothing. It looks great, but after 10 times you realize you're losing time waiting for that."
The killer is this statement:
"Windows XP was a major step forward from Windows 98, but Vista is back to where 98 was," Pfeiffer said.
5 years in development yields a product almost 10 years behind. Way to go, Microsoft.
[George W. Bush], like all Republicans since the 1920s, campaigned as a shrink-the-government man. More incredible to recall, he blasted the "nation building" of Bill Clinton and insisted that the US needed a "humble" foreign policy.
What we got instead is, well, what we got, which is the polar opposite. The man who wailed over Bill Clinton's big government has made Clinton's spending record look great by comparison. The guy who decried "nation building" has decided that bombs and tanks are a great means to inspire a wholesale upheaval in the Gulf region.
After going into the details at some length, he gets down to the business of the core Republican ideology:
Republicans believe that all of society, whether your town, the nation, or the whole world, is divided between those who adhere to the law and those who are inclined to break it. These they define as good guys and bad guys, but it is not always true since the law these days is not the law written on our hearts but rather the rules as laid down by state masters. But this seemingly important point is completely lost on the Republican mind, since they believe that without the state as lawmaker, all of society and all of the world would collapse into a muddle of chaos and darkness.
...They rather accept a popular version of the fundamental anti-liberal idea: society is a wreck without Leviathan...
...Liberty is fine but order, ORDER, is much more important, and order comes from the state. They can't even fathom the truth that liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. That thought is too complex for the Manichean mind.
...they are intellectually wedded to the state in the most fundamental way. They believe that it and not voluntary cooperation is the source of order in society, and what they fear more than anything is revolution. Freedom, to them, is not a right but something conferred as a reward for good behavior.
Bingo! Talk to any hardcore Republican, and this is the view you get. It's wrapped up in vapid homilies like "if you're not breaking the law, you don't have anything to worry about". To hear a Republican tell it, society is on the brink of suffering the wrath of Warhammer-esque gods of Chaos, and only the military might of the United States is sufficient to turn back the tide and preserve the proper structure. You'll hear it especially when you start talking about the War on Drugs, and the dismissive attitude when discussion turns to the horrible conditions in America's prisons. The chaotic elements have been contained. Order is restored. All is well. Move along, nothing to see here.
It even goes so far in some cases that they are willing to ignore the character of their supposed ideological enemies, so long as those enemies preserve Order:
I once heard a leading Republican intellectual, a respected figure with lots of books on everyone's shelves, express profound regret when the Soviet Union was falling apart. The problem, from this person's perspective, is that this led to disorder, and order — meaning control even by the Soviet state — is the fundamental conservative value.
This may explain the utter panic they seem to feel when discussing terrorism. A State-less enemy isn't orderly. There's no capital to bomb. There's no geographical boundary to cordon off. There's no way to know when the war is over. They may as well be literally fighting the Hordes of Chaos.
Backwoods Home has a nice little article detailing Ron Paul's qualifications for the libertarian vote. Among them:
Paul regularly votes against anything that would lead to even bigger government including government spending, initiatives, or taxes. In fact, he votes against anything that’s unconstitutional, even if he’s running contrary to the Republican Party line or his constituents’ wishes.
He has opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement because it will increase the size of government.
According to the National Taxpayers Union, he has no peer in Congress working on behalf of taxpayers.
I disagree with him on a few issues (immigration), but all in all, I think he'd be a fine choice. I'd be happy to vote Republican if the Republican in question is Ron Paul.
Unfortunately, the "watchdog" in question is the perennially fretful Center for Science in the Public Interest, a bunch of hysterical wingnuts whose mission in life is to make sure nobody ever enjoys anything they eat, and that no progress is ever made in the technology of food production. They're the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson of the dietary world, only less likeable. When it comes to legislation, they favor anything and everything that forces people to eat right (according to them), exercise, and pay their taxes (they want high punitive taxes on all the foods they hate). One presumes that the mandatory calisthenics in Orwell's 1984 are a vision of paradise for them.
Now, does the fact that they're a bunch of hateful little prigs invalidate what they're saying? Not necessarily. The items in question at the restaurants in question are in fact monstrous loads of calories. By a variety of measures, they're not all that great for you. Given that CSPI most likely picked the worst of the worst, however, they're probably not representative of the fare at these venues. Almost every restaurant these days serves a grilled something-or-other, without a cream sauce, or something else that would be reasonable for almost any diet.
Also, it cannot be overlooked that for the vast majority of people, a place like the Cheesecake Factory is a "special occasion" restaurant. Despite the claims in one of the articles that average Americans dine out 4 or more times a week, they're not going to the Cheesecake Factory for Outrageous Chocolate Cake all four of those times, though CSPI would certainly like for us to believe that.
As a person who would like the nutrition information for the various restaurant menus listed in the report, I do like the fact that the topic is being brought up in the media. As a libertarian who prefers the workings of the free market to those of government, I hate the fact that CSPI, with all its pro-legislation, pro-tax BS, is behind it. I'll take the information if it's offered voluntarily -- I'm interested in how CSPI, whose report claims the info was provided by the restaurants themselves, got hold of it. As for legislation to "correct the problem", I'd rather the government stay out of the conversation, and CSPI can go jump in a lake. I'm perfectly capable of figuring out what not to eat.
This was a decent film. I'm a big fan of Drew Barrymore, and though I prefer to see her paired up with Adam Sandler, this wasn't too bad in the romance department. The 80's video homage was utterly nauseating, and I'm not a big fan of Hugh Grant to begin with. Nevertheless, he didn't annoy me too terribly much, and I thought the story was well done. It was a solid, if not great, entry in the romantic comedy genre, and it was nice to see Brad Garrett doing some visible post-Raymond stuff. 3 out of 5.
The tobacco wars are back in the U.S. Congress, but the battle lines have shifted and anti-smoking forces are no longer facing a monolithic tobacco industry and loyal legislators.
Marlboro cigarettes maker Philip Morris USA is siding with public health advocates in favor of a bill that, for the first time, would let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products, but not ban them.
Analysts say Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris is protecting its dominant market share, cutting legal risks and making regulation more predictable, possibly paving the way for new tobacco products with less health risk.
On the other side, smaller competitors, such as Camel and Kool cigarettes maker Reynolds American Inc., are fighting not to get left behind by a bill some call the "Marlboro Monopoly Act."
In other words, rather than compete in the relative freedom the tobacco industry now enjoys, Philip Morris is looking to help write the new round of regulations in hopes of getting a sweet deal for itself and a raw deal for its competitors. There's no need to improve your business model if you can get your current business model mandated by force of law, and make your competitors adapt rather than adapting yourself:
...regulation could pave the way for products that pose less risk. Here too, Philip Morris may have an edge.
"We believe (Philip Morris USA) is far ahead of its peers on developing a reduced risk product," Growe said.
Nice move: get a government boost for your new product line, thus mitigating the risks of marketing it and possibly finding out that customers don't really want it. If government is willing to say it's safer/better in some way, it's as close to no-lose as you can get. Government will gain a new tobacco-related revenue stream (the old ones have been looking endangered lately), so it's really win-win for everyone, right?
Let's not forget the economies of scale:
As the dominant U.S. cigarette group with control of half the market, Philip Morris could absorb the added costs of FDA regulation more easily than smaller rivals, analysts said.
Sound familiar? It should. Wal-Mart supported the whole minimum wage hike, precisely because it knew it could absorb those costs more easily than the mom-and-pop shops and other small businesses with which it competes. I'm still wondering if the anti-Wal-Mart Left ever really grasped the irony on that one.
Anyway, manipulating government for competitive advantage is not capitalism. The two main rules of capitalism are those against Force and Fraud, and anytime you involve government, you're using Force. Capitalism would be offering new products to customers, and taking the loss if they don't want them. It would be competing honorably with one's opponents, rather than meekly accepting that nice new muzzle the government Master has for you. It may look good for a while, but ultimately I expect to see Philip Morris wind up like the airlines have: a toothless old dog that consumers and stockholders loathe, with no new tricks except begging for another government handout.
Reason has an article about Uganda's efforts at taking guns away from tribal societies, in compliance with UN arms control recommendations. Of course, any reasonable person would assume that this entails uniformed police officers going door to door, knocking politely and saying "excuse me, but could you turn over all your guns to us, so that we may better protect you", as we are told it will happen by the earnest salesmen of the "arms control = peace" thought process.
Of course, any reasonable person thinking such things would be wrong.
...in its effort to "disarm," the Ugandan army, supported by tanks and helicopter gunships, is burning down villages, sexually torturing men, raping women, and plundering what few possessions the tribespeople own. Tens of thousands of victims have been turned into refugees. Human rights scholar Ben Knighton has used the term “ethnocide” to describe the army's campaign.
So much for gun control being more "civilized". This is all being sold to the tribes as being "for their own good". The government just wants to help them and protect them. Really. Which is why:
The current government has repeatedly broken its promises of goods, services, and personal protection for tribespeople who voluntarily disarmed.
According to David Pulkol, the former Director of External Security Organisation (part of the Ugandan government’s intelligence agency), the disarmament process is a tactic to facilitate robbing the Karamojong of their resources. The Daily Monitor newspaper, for example, reports that the Ugandan government has announced plans to confiscate “about 1,903 sq km out of the total area of 2,304 sq km of the Pian Upe game reserve” for private investment purposes.
And of course the UN people are simply aghast at all this. After all, in "civilized" societies, people just roll over like sheep, so long as them Social Security checks keep coming. The UN stopped funding arms control for a while, because Uganda was going about it in a fashion that was just too icky. But that didn't last long:
In November, Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated: “The actions of the UPDF do not comply with international human rights law and domestic law.” But, she also stipulated, “the decision of the Government to undertake renewed efforts to eradicate illegal weapons in Karamoja is essential….”
Eradication of illegal weapons is an essential task. It makes the aforementioned rapists and torturers safer, so they can continue with the essential work of raping and torturing. One can almost see the Ugandan army's ad campaign: "support the troops, give up your right to self defense".
In the end, if allowing people to keep their weapons could somehow be construed as an "evil", it certainly seems as though it's the "lesser evil":
If the Karamojong didn’t have to worry about the central government targeting them for genocide, or stealing their land, one could possibly make an argument that they would be better off without guns. The various tribes have a long tradition of inter-tribal cattle rustling, and the cattle-raiding would undoubtedly be less dangerous if perpetrated with stone-age weapons instead of AK-47s. But as a practical matter, there have been numerous instances of civilians who have voluntarily disarmed, and were then—despite government promises of protection—robbed by the competing tribes who remained armed. And the loss of even a small number of cattle can place a subsistence level family at risk of starvation. Of course, cattle-rustling never led to the deliberate destruction of entire villages, turning thousands of people into refugees. Nor has it ever paved the way for government theft of the land the tribespeople need to survive.
The number of illegally possessed firearms prior to the disarmament campaign had been estimated at between 50,000 and 150,000. On November 10, New Vision reported that “since this year began, they have recovered 4,500 guns.” So the Ugandan government is wiping out the very people the government ostensibly claims to protect, and that "protection" amounts to just 3-9 percent of unauthorized weapons. And all the while, the Ugandan government is using its own guns to destroy Karamoja, burn villages, slaughter the defenseless, and perpetrate ethnocide.
Let's see... rape, torture, ethnic cleansing, and oppression on one hand, versus a little cattle rustling on the other. I know which I'd pick. How about you?
We watched a video today where an archaeologist or historian of some sort took a trip to the site of Herod's fortress overshadowing Bethlehem. Apparently it was called the Herodian -- Herod wasn't much for creative naming. Anyway, the guy goes on for about 20 minutes about how vast and powerful Herod's kingdom was, and how it was impossible to live in those times and not feel the weight of Herod's influence. He went to all this trouble, as he said, so that we could feel the full emotional and cultural weight of that one phrase in Matthew 2:1...
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem...
He then talked, while sitting on the ruins of that mighty fortress, about the legacy Herod left behind, versus the legacy left behind by Jesus, born in his shadow. All that's left of Herod is some rocks and ruins, while Jesus spawned a religion that has changed the course of history in many different eras. Much was made of the lowliness of Jesus' station in life, in contrast with the greatness of Herod's empire, and how ironic it is that one left so awesome a legacy, while the other is a biblical footnote about a king who killed babies at Christmastime.
Now all this was well and good, and it sparked a fairly decent discussion in the class afterwards, but nobody seemed to recognize the real connection to our time, and the irony of the presentation itself. Y'see, the video was produced by or in association with James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization. I'm not a knee-jerk Dobson-hater like some I've encountered, but he does seem to blow the trumpets for the "Republican Jesus" rather enthusiastically. In fact, while searching for the video series on his website (couldn't find it), I ran across these two items:
I haven't read these books, but they seem to be wearing their messages on their (jacket) sleeves, so I'll just leave it at that. The details don't really affect my main thought.
And that thought is this: in the description of the differences between Herod and Jesus, one a mighty king with a vast and powerful empire, the other a humble man of low status, who said of himself "I am gentle and humble in heart", which man is the better analog for George W. Bush? Which kingdom is more like the United States -- the one that overshadowed the world around it with its military might, or the one that arose from a spirit of humility, gentleness, and forgiveness? Which legacy will the archaeologists of the future be discussing when they discuss the "ancient empire" that was the United States of America?
I don't want to belabor the point any more, but I find it really disturbing that Dobson doesn't really seem to connect the dots on this one. If he did, I think he'd be less concerned with his role in steering the course of the American Empire, and more concerned with the work of Him whose yoke is easy and burden light. Maybe he'd also have a different message for his legions of followers.
I could be wrong, but that's just the way it seems to me.
Wired magazine just did an interview with Zack Snyder, the director of 300. I particularly liked the last question:
WN: In the film, a tiny bunch of European freedom fighters hold off a huge army of Iranian slaves. Everyone is sure to be translating this into contemporary politics.
Snyder: Someone asked me, "Is George Bush Leonidas or Xerxes?" I said, "That's an awesome question." The fact they asked tells me that this movie can mean one thing to one person and something totally different to another. I clearly didn't mean either. I was just trying to get Frank's book made into a movie.
That kind of debate is unavoidable right now. I don't live in a cave, but on the other hand, the film's about a 2,000-year-old conflict. People will say, "You made this because we are going to war with Iran." I'll say, "We are? Not if I have anything to do with it."
I'll step out on a limb here and say George Bush is way more Xerxes than Leonidas.
So Carolyn McCarthy has introduced another Assault Weapons Sham bill. And yes, I previously opined that the Democrats would not be taking up this sort of thing, because they will want to hold the middle for the 2008 election.
First, we have to remember that McCarthy is a complete whackjob with nothing on her mind but guns. She probably saw the Democrat turnover as her opportunity, and had the bill waiting in the wings for it. I haven't done the research, but she probably introduced this same bill every year since the ban sunsetted, only to have it go nowhere because those evil Republicans were in charge.
I'm still betting that it goes nowhere. Democrats lost big last time they passed such a thing, and I don't believe they've got the guts to try a repeat -- just look at the spinelessness regarding the war in Iraq, an issue they collectively campaigned on. I believe they'll put this fight off until after the Presidential election, and then try to hit us with it. Doing it now risks too much, and so far all the signs say they're too afraid to upset the apple cart. I look for McCarthy to get a nice pat on the head while her bill gets tabled or shuffled off into the Committee of Doing Nothing.
Of course, it never hurts to remain vigilant, and maybe stock up on some high-caps.
Jim Shepherd over at the Shooting Wire has posted a commentary on the whole Jim Zumbo problem in the gun community.
Three days after Jim Zumbo committed career suicide via Outdoor Life blog, the shock waves continue to reverberate through the shooting world.
Unless you've been comatose since Sunday afternoon, you've probably seen a small fraction of the furious responses to Zumbo's personal observation that "assault rifles" should be banned because they were "terrorist" weapons with "no place in hunting". Unless you've waded through more than 3,000 emails, fielded dozens of angry phone calls and talked with dozens of people in the industry who are absolutely flabbergasted at the outpouring of anger, you've only seen a part of what's happening.
Yesterday afternoon, I started speaking with contacts in the firearms manufacturing area, asking them if they'd ever seen anything like this controversy. They all agree it was one of the most amazing things we'd ever seen. The almost instantaneous mobilization of AR advocates was breathtaking - and sobering.
After all, we didn't turn out in those numbers when Congresswoman McCarthy re-introduced the Assault Weapons Ban last week. Responses like the ones we've seen over the past two days would have melted down the Congressional e-mail servers.
So what have we learned, I asked Doug Painter of the National Shooting Sports Foundation?
"The important perspective from our side of the street," Painter said, "is that whether you hunt or shoot in competition or for sport with a primitive muzzleloader or the latest high-tech rifle, what links us is more important that what divides us. We may shoot cowboy, skeet, practical or whatever, but our common belief has to be the Second Amendment - everything else is just a matter of style."
He also had a sobering reminder.
"The flip side," he said, "is to remember our opponents have all of us in their crosshairs."
And he's right. Long after the Jim Zumbo controversy is over (it will probably never be forgotten - or forgiven), we will still face the ongoing assaults on our Second Amendment rights.
Now that we've discovered our voice - we must continue to apply it to our opponents.
So I've been doing this diet thing for about 2 months. I started with Weight Watchers, but had some problems with it and converted to calorie-counting, which I find strangely comforting. I'm also doing my "casual vegan" thing, because it helps cut out a lot of crap. I'm also blogging my weight and calories, so I can keep track of things and monitor my progress (no, I'm not giving you a link).
Today, out of curiosity, I went out and started looking for nutritional information for various restaurants. My wife loves dining out, and while we're doing less of it these days, I still wind up afraid to eat anything at the restaurants. A time or two, I've just sat there and watched her eat. So I wanted to see if I could get some info to arm myself with, and perhaps be able to fit something within the guidelines of my diet while not making her eat alone.
It was an interesting experience. I focused on the restaurants where I'd normally eat, from the cheapest crap to the finest dining (a relative term, if you're the snobbish type). Check out what I've found:
Of course, with a name like "Cheesecake Factory", this was probably too much to hope for.
Notice that the more I pay, the less likely it is I'll know what I'm eating, nutritionally speaking. That's a little disconcerting. To hear the food police tell it, fast food places are hiding their information, while "better" restaurants are the ones letting you make healthy eating choices.
I also enjoyed looking at the Lone Star page, because it highlighted an interesting tidbit for me. I found at a nutrition website that a non-athlete needs about half his body weight (pounds) in grams of protein each day. It also stated that a single gram of protein represents about 4 calories. My favorite steak, when I'm ignoring the vegan thing, is the New York Strip, at about 74 grams of protein. This should represent 300 calories, more or less, but the steak itself is over a thousand! In contrast, the grilled chicken breast is 39 grams of protein, about 160 protein calories, and the item clocks in at 186 calories. Then I noticed that all the beef products have more fat than protein, usually to the tune of about 20-25% more. I guess beef is not what's for dinner.
So what does all this tell me? Well, I'm not willing to give up some of the better restaurants, but I can certainly make an effort to only visit them once a month at most. I think for the sake of my sanity, I should probably just go and eat what I want, but not overdo it. I honestly don't believe doing something like that once a month will seriously hinder my progress. As for the rest, I feel more comfortable about knowing what is and is not a good idea to eat at each of these places, and can do so with less stress. That's a big comfort.
CNN has posted an interesting commentary by Stephen Flynn about the need to invest in resilient emergency preparedness infrastructures. It's interesting because he does identify the problem rather well, but completely misses on the solution.
Mr. Flynn is promoting the idea that government should be investing in emergency teams and equipment, hospitals and other medical facilities, and various other forms of "resilience planning", to take care of us in case of another catastrophe on the order of Katrina or a bird flu outbreak or whatever.
The problem with this idea is that his own words show why relying on government doesn't work:
Today, New Orleans would have long ago recovered from Hurricane Katrina had the city's flood control system not been so badly neglected. But throughout the 1990s, the funds that might have been used to repair and strengthen the levees and flood walls were routinely bled off for other projects. In 2004, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked for $22.5 million to make emergency repairs to the storm protection system in New Orleans, the White House cut that figure to $3.9 million. It was New Orleans' lack of resiliency in the face of a foreseeable natural disaster that produced a catastrophe that has practically destroyed a great American city.
In his mind, the correct response is to give government a "do-over". In mine, the correct response is to stop relying on government.
Government is a single point of failure. We rely on it, and if it fails, there are no backups. That is not resilience. Resilience is decentralization and redundancy. Some of the fastest supercomputers in the world are not single computers, but massive collections of individual computers, all working on the same task. If one computer crashes, the rest continue working, and at any given time as many as 10% of the nodes are doing absolutely nothing at all, but the system keeps on chugging along. That is resilience.
Government's death grip on medical care has prevented us from spreading knowledge and skills among the populace by way of the free market. That's why in mass emergencies, there are never enough doctors, nurses, and beds to go around. A free market approach would give everyone who'd ever been a military combat medic the opportunity to keep their skills sharp, open up the practice of lesser medicine (herbs, stitching cuts, treating illness) to those with something less than a full doctor's knowledge, and preserve the valuable time of the full doctors for those who truly need to see the most learned in the business.
Government also sees itself as the one and only savior of those who need saving. Witness the myriad reports of people attempting to help out during the Katrina aftermath, only to be hassled, arrested, or turned away by the "people in charge". Witness the government seizure of guns from law-abiding citizens who were attempting to provide decentralized security services for their homes and neighborhoods. It's not that government can't have and rely on redundant backups, it's that government won't. It won't, because having and relying on such things sends a dangerous message: there are alternatives to government. When people realize they can take care of themselves and each other, it's the first step to recognizing they don't need government nearly as much as it needs them.
I just wish Stephen Flynn and his cheerleaders in the comments section of his article could understand that.
Apparently, the workers of the Burning Man festival, who clean up after all the unwashed hippies, are getting a progressively more raw deal from the Burning Man organization. In true leftist spirit, they started a protest against the working conditions and pay cuts. Of course, the organization doesn't want to hear any of it, and even sent out counter-protestors against the protesting workers. This seems odd for an organization which appears to cater mostly to the left-of-center crowd. I won't go so far as to say Burning Man is a necessarily leftist organization, but its mission statement and 10 principles certainly seem to lean that way.
Anyway, video of the protest (and "counter-protest") can be found here. It's interesting info. I've always said that if you want to know what kind of society someone truly wants to build, watch how they structure their businesses and organizations. It looks to me like the Burning Man people want a society that's basically capitalist, with a fair amount of jerkishness thrown in for good measure.
This leads me to ponder whether the left's visceral hatred for businesses is nothing more than simple projection: they know how they would be in the "boss" role, and they protest against that, assuming it is true for everyone.
Well, I've probably made more hay over this than it deserves. Time to move on.
"Defuse the ticking time-bomb known as your child's imagination before it explodes and destroys her completely," said child-safety expert Kenneth McMillan, who advised the HHS in composing the guidelines. "New data shows a disturbing correlation between serious accidents and the ability of children to envision a world full of exciting possibility."
"...by encouraging your kids to think linearly and literally, and constantly reminding them they can never be anything but human children with no extraordinary characteristics, you can better ensure that they will lead prolonged lives."
..."To truly protect your children, you must go to great lengths to completely eliminate their curiosity, crush their spirit of amazement, and eradicate their childlike glee. Watch for the danger signs: faraway expressions, giggle fits, and a general air of carefree contentment."
Added McMillan: "Remember, if you see a single sparkle of excitement in their eyes, you haven't done enough."
OK, it's not literally true (it's the Onion after all), but it could be substituted for any one of thousands of "Everybody Panic!" headlines we see every day about how our children are so horribly at risk. It makes you wonder how on earth the human race survived through centuries of drinking out of rivers, eating wild game, and crapping behind the third bush to the right.
CCRKBA is reporting that a 5-year study on the effectiveness of gun laws has simply escaped the notice of the mainstream press. Amazing that they have time to report on every last little thing that'll kill you or ruin your life (salmonella in peanut butter, autism in your kids), and even some things that were previously thought dangerous but now are helpful (fish for pregnant women), but they skip right over this one:
For more than two months, a damning report on a five-year study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about how cop-killing criminals ignore gun laws and where they get their guns has languished in the shadows, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms revealed today.
“The public has a right to know the contents of this report, which was revealed to the International Association of Chiefs of Police last year,” said CCRKBA Executive Director Joe Waldron. “According to the Force Science News, research focused on 40 incidents involving assaults or deadly attacks on police officers, in which all but one of the guns involved had been obtained illegally, and none were obtained from gun shows.”
The newsletter quotes Ed Davis, who told the IACP that none of these criminals who attacked police officers was “hindered by any law – federal, sate or local – that has ever been established to prevent gun ownership. They just laughed at gun laws.” The Force Science News is published by the Force Science Research Center, a non-profit institution based at Minnesota State University in Mankato. The newsletter also stated, “In contrast to media myth, none of the firearms in the study was obtained from gun shows.”
Makes me wonder how long until we abandon this whole gun control idea altogether.
I just discovered that one of my main email addresses somehow got backed up and would no longer allow my POP client to download. I therefore had 3 weeks' worth of messages sitting there, over 1800 emails, 98% of it spam. If you sent me an email any time in the last month, it's probably in that mess, and I probably just deleted it because the mountain of crap was too much to filter all at once. So if it was important, send it again. Otherwise, just know that I'm not ignoring you on purpose.
The Miami Herald posted this article recently, about the effects of Hugo Chavez's early policies:
Food shortages follow Chavez price controls
President Hugo Chavez's administration blames the food supply problems on speculators, but industry officials say government price controls that strangle profits are responsible.
Such shortages have sporadically appeared with items from milk to coffee since early 2003, when Chavez began regulating prices for 400 basic products as a way to counter inflation and protect the poor.
Yet inflation has soared to an accumulated 78 percent in the last four years in an economy awash in petrodollars, and food prices have increased particularly swiftly, creating a widening discrepancy between official prices and the true cost of getting goods to market in Venezuela.
Most items can still be found, but only by paying a hefty markup at grocery stores or on the black market. The state runs a nationwide network of subsidized food stores, but in recent months some items have become increasingly hard to find.
After a meeting with government officials Wednesday, supermarkets association head Luis Rodriguez told the TV channel Globovision that beef and chicken will be available at regulated prices within two to three days. He did not say whether the government would be subsidizing sales or if negotiations on price controls would continue.
It's important to note that attempting to influence/mandate prices is also the American system. We simply do it with less of a heavy hand, and mostly through subsidy, but the effects are the same, differing only in degree.
What we have in Venezuala is a sped-up view of what the American economy has done over the history of the Federal Reserve. Rather than 94 years of inflation (with a 95% bite out of the dollar), we have a 4-year period with the same idiotic mistakes. Government wants cheap food (because people are happier when they can eat), so it attempts to manipulate prices, and at the same time prints more money because supposedly "money in the hands of poor people makes them not poor". If their government decides to further subsidize food production, they can expect even more inflation as government prints money to keep the food producers afloat, and this will only exacerbate the problem.
What they need to do is turn off the printing press, get rid of the subsidies and price controls, and allow things to settle. Unfortunately, this looks a lot like free-market capitalism, and Chavez seems particularly allergic to anything of the sort.
Ghost Rider is basically just a rehash of Spawn, only with better-known actors. I have to admit, however, that I love watching Sam Elliott in anything even though he plays the same character in every movie he's in. If you've seen Road House, you've already seen Sam's performance in Ghost Rider.
Anyway, apparently the same director did Daredevil and Elektra, which were also crap. Take a hint: next time Mark Steven Johnson directs a comic-book movie, it'll probably be crap as well. His only good efforts were Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, but since Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are pushin' up daisies, I'd say this guy needs to find a new line of work.
Save your pennies for Spider-Man 3. Sam Raimi did both 1 and 2, and those were spectacular, so I expect 3 to be just as good.
There's only so much about Africa that I can handle at a time, but I think it's about time I revisited the subject. One of my coworkers in the 1990's was from Sierra Leone, and he had several very tense months during that time as he was trying to figure out a way to get his mother out of the country. He and I had many long talks about the role of government, and while I understood his point of view, I couldn't agree with it. Living in a zone of persistent violence, it would be easy to want something -- anything -- that would settle things down for a while.
Places like Africa's perpetual war zones present a special problem for libertarians. It's easy to imagine, given a cultural backdrop like America, how libertarian society might work, especially with regard to the balancing of force and violence. I've read accounts of how it works in practice in what we might call "middle ground" areas like South Africa and Brazil. But what about places like Sierra Leone, Congo, Rwanda, and so forth, where ugliness abounds?
Too often, Christians, libertarians, westerners, and the like throw up their hands and say "I don't know, let them kill each other". Or worse, they attempt to forcefully impose order by choosing a side to win and a side to lose, then invade with all the blue helmeted UN "peacekeeping" troops. I think the issue of "what is to be done about Africa" requires more contemplation and less knee-jerking.
I also believe that because Africa does not yet have the entrenched Leviathan state that the Western world does, it carries unimaginable hope for a truly free, prosperous, and peaceful libertarian society if it could be nudged in that direction. So, while I don't find the experience particularly pleasant, I try to read or watch something every so often to give myself another clue into what makes Africa tick. Thus I'm going to be on the lookout for A Long Way Gone.
I recently got into an argument with someone who believes that food is "a basic human right". This was stated in response to a story about food contamination, and the person's point was that the commodification of food, that selling it for a profit, is somehow evil or wrong. This falls into line with the current argument in the national consciousness over whether health care is also a "basic human right", and I've heard the same said of clean water as well.
The economic issue with these arguments is that all of the items in question are necessarily scarce (meaning not infinite) resources. They have to be produced by the application of someone's labor. Claiming a "right" to the products of that labor, while denying the laborer the right to profit, necessarily means that the laborer has become a slave. How slavery is a preferable state of affairs to the selling of the product for a profit is frankly beyond my comprehension.
Every product requires an exchange, even if one is trading only with the physical world. One cannot say "I have a right to food" and expect food to magically appear in one's hand. One has to exchange labor for food, at a minimum walking over to a tree and picking an apple, for example. The price of the apple is the expenditure of labor. If another is present, but sits on their butt while I go pick an apple, the other has no right to the apple I pick. I may elect to share it out of the goodness of my heart, but I am under no obligation to do so by virtue of their having a "right" to food. I can just as easily say "go get your own" and be perfectly justified.
If the other person proposes, "you pick two apples, and I'll catch two fish, then we'll swap an apple for a fish", that person is proposing a trade. If I agree to the trade, both of us will have profited from the exchange (horrors!). I value a fish more than a second apple, and he values an apple more than a second fish. If we did not value things thusly, no trade would take place. If the deal is struck, and I produce 2 apples, but he produces no fish, I am once again under no obligation to give up one of my apples, for the terms of the deal have not been met; he has no "right" to my apples... no "right" to food.
Any way you slice it, "rights" cannot equate to positive claims on the property or production of another person. Rights, properly understood, are negative powers enabling one to say who may not use or consume a particular piece of property, and they are held by the person who actually does the production, unless that labor (and therefore its products) has been traded to another.
2 young ladies (20ish) come in to my work today. They were going to eat, but had locked keys in the car. They wanted to call to police to come and get them out, however, I informed them that the police no longer do that unless it is a complete emergency.
These two had no idea what to do. I told them they would have to call a locksmith...
One looked at me and said: "do you know his number?"
I said no and gave them the phone book. They sat there for a while thumbing through it and finally asked me where in the phone book they would find a locksmith...
After everyone finished their expressions of shock and dismay, this led into a discussion of "learned helplessness". I've recently stated that I'm no model of good parenting skills, but it seems to me that the parents of these two young ladies have utterly failed. There are some basic skills (using a $%#@! phone book!) that every child ought to know before being allowed out of the house as a "grownup".
If you're having trouble coming up with a list of such skills, start with this one:
A human being should be able to change a diaper,
plan an invasion,
butcher a hog,
conn a ship,
design a building,
write a sonnet,
build a wall,
set a bone,
comfort the dying,
analyze a new problem,
program a computer,
cook a tasty meal,
fight efficiently and
-- Robert A Heinlein
A person who can do at least half this list is at least somewhat competent. The two young ladies mentioned above need to move back in with Mom & Dad.
Daylight Saving Time is one of the worst inventions of government. It wreaks merry havoc on all sorts of systems, and if you ever want to make a programmer tear his hair out, ask him to code around it.
What's worse than the fact that it exists is the fact that it's completely arbitrary, and idiot legislators can move it around at whim. While this article is unnecessarily shrill and alarmist, it does provide good ammunition for why we should do away with the stupid convention altogether.
Personally, my preference would be for everyone around the world to get used to using a 24-hour UTC clock and be done with it. Yes, that means I'd get up for work at midnight (or maybe it's noon) instead of 6 am, but once I adjusted, it'd be really easy to deal with the rest of the world.
Lew Rockwell has written a nice little article about what's fundamentally wrong with the Democratic worldview. He also takes a few potshots at the Republicans, but figures everybody knows why they suck.
In essence, it boils down to this:
...the socialist theory of society still burns brightly. Their model is that in the state of nature, meaning in a state of freedom, all is conflict and cruelty. Pathology and ugliness are everywhere. The government is necessary to step in at every level of society to resolve these otherwise intractable conflicts and manage our way into the new epoch of human well-being.
This compared to the libertarian view:
... that society is self managing over the long term. People can work out their problems. Human relationships are characterized most often as cooperative rather than antagonistic. People, not bureaucrats, know what is best for their own; and pursuing their self interest is compatible with, and even enhances, social well-being.
This coincides with a belief I held long before I ever heard the word "libertarian": the vast majority of people really just want to go about their business. I see this constantly in both the real world, where there are consequences for discordant behavior, and the virtual World of Warcraft, where there are essentially none.
In the real world, for example, look at how people move through a crowded mall. There are no traffic laws, but people will generally form cooperative flows of traffic to route around obstacles, all without so much as talking to one another. Those who attempt to fight the flow tend to find themselves making less progress than those who do not. The behavior is self-correcting, generally speaking.
In WoW, people who compete for resources have evolved a sort of silent "code of honor" when it comes to those resources. A person fighting monsters next to a resource is usually allowed to "keep" the resource even though someone else could easily take it from them while they are engaged, with no consequences beyond a "you jerk!" being posted in a chat channel. Yet, this form of unspoken cooperative agreement has evolved completely without the benefit of any legislation, bureaucracy, or even so much as a "town hall meeting".
People just want to go about their business.
The people with whom one comes into conflict are greatly outnumbered by those with whom one cooperates, most times automatically and nonverbally. A person who finds himself in conflict with everyone he meets is probably the person who's creating the conflict to begin with (George W. Bush, looking in your direction...)
Intel has been researching massively multi-core chips, and now they're talking about an 80-core model. I say it's about time. The future is not bigger and better, it's smaller and more cooperative and interactive. This goes for everything -- many small units do more work than one large one, even though each small unit is puny compared to the big one.
It's been a while since I visited Claire Wolfe's Hardyville tales (previous posts here and here), and I see the story has wound to at least a temporary conclusion, though one of the resisters paid the ultimate price. Ms. Wolfe describes the scene so poignantly it brought tears to my eyes. She also lays bare the essential myth of government, that it promotes "civilization" over "barbarism", when in fact the reverse is true. The truly sad thing about the pro-government big-city folks, as Ms. Wolfe relates, is that even when they "get it", they still don't Get It.
About one child in 150 develops autism or a related disorder like Asperger’s syndrome by the age of 8, according to a study released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study, which looked at cases of so-called autism spectrum disorders in 14 states in 2000 and 2002, is the most rigorous analysis to date of the disorders’ prevalence in the United States. It confirms recent estimates, which put the number at roughly one in 160 children — higher than the one-in-200 estimate made in the 1980s.
Couple dry little articles like this with all the public service announcements being broadcast on drive-time radio, not to mention the really alarmist articles elsewhere, and every parent of a child under 8 years old has just wet their pants.
It should be noted that the Salt Lake Tribune article, with its screaming title 'Wake-Up Call' on Autism: Study shows dramatic growth in syndrome, doesn't really agree with what the CDC is saying, as we'll see below. It's also kind of suspicious that we're lumping in everything from "complete disconnect with reality" to "mild tic" as "Autism Spectrum Disorders". Psychiatric diagnostics have always had a tendency toward ever-broadening definitions, but this is ridiculous.
The CDC is also having some trouble remaining objective. Note the difference between the statements by the CDC:
“Our estimates are becoming better and more consistent, though we can’t yet tell if there is a true increase in autism spectrum disorders or if the changes are the result of our better studies,” the disease centers’ director, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, said in a statement. “We do know, however, that these disorders are affecting too many children.”
And a fellow researcher whose paycheck and prestige depends somewhat less on federal politics:
Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said, “It appears that the rates are unchanged over the past 20 years or so, but it is important to track these numbers.”
One makes sure you have the word "increase" in your mind, and underscores that it's happening to "too many children", while at the same time doing a little chest-thumping over how good a job they're doing. The other states that it's important to track, but doesn't give in to alarmism and maintains a certain emotional distance from the subject.
One person is reporting scientific findings. The other is trying to raise money.
Check out this article on the "recovery" in New Orleans. It appears people are abandoning the area in droves, as they should, but they're leaving despite protests by government officials that recovery is on the way.
...New Orleans' population appears to have plateaued at about half the pre-storm level of 455,000, well short of Nagin's prediction of 300,000 by the end of 2006...
City, state and federal officials have traded the blame over the slow distribution of relief aid.
So far, the federal government has earmarked about $750 million for infrastructure projects. The state homeland security department, charged with distributing the money, has given out only about half that. The governor said the city has been slow to complete the paperwork.
It was that kind of back-and-forth that prompted Ken White and his wife, Kathy, to give up and move to New York last year.
"We came back a month after the flood and thought about what we could do to stay and rebuild, but it became apparent to us it would take a long time and be very difficult," said White, who was director of emergency psychiatry at Charity Hospital when Katrina hit. "We were appalled by the ineptitude of government on all levels."
Unfortunately, there are some who believe that recovery can, will, and must happen. They're called Democrats:
[Louisiana Governor Kathleen] Blanco, on a lobbying trip to Washington, said Thursday that she has received commitments from Democratic leaders that the recovery of the Gulf Coast will be a "front-burner" issue. Blanco also said that she, the mayor and several parish leaders have agreed to work together to break the "bureaucratic nightmare."
Two words: sunk costs. Pun not intended, but appropriate anyway.
Government needs to abandon the area and let it revert to nature. Let the market sort out what recovery, if any, will happen. The "refugees" are at this point essentially permanent residents of their new city-homes, and might as well get used to the idea. Stop pouring money down the toilet and let nature reclaim what it will, while others homestead what they can personally manage, insure, and protect. This won't happen, of course, since government has the tendency to latch onto lost causes like a pit bull going after a jerky treat.
This leads me to believe that the absolute best thing that could happen right now is another Katrina, to underscore the futility of depending on government "solutions". It just might be the final straw we need to give up on metropolitan areas built on silt and sand (Miami, looking in your direction).
The answer came to me, at Pizza Hut's lunch buffet this afternoon. It all depends on where you look.
If you concentrate on the vast array of food, kiss your diet goodbye, at least for a day. You know you want to try a little of everything, and once you get started you'll find things you really like and will have to go back to get more. 10,000 calories later, you're ready for a nap and a zero-gravity chamber.
However, if you look around at your fellow customers like I tend to, you will most likely lose your appetite. Like time-lapse photography of continental drift, you'll see one bipedal landmass after another lumber up to the trough for another shovelful, then lumber back to their booth or table with a plate so overladen that it should come with a heavy-lifting warning label (get a buddy! wear a back brace!).
After hundreds of hours testing Windows Vista during its extensive beta cycle, last year I found myself wondering if it would turn out to be the best operating system choice for most people. That's when I decided to give Mac OS X a fair shake. In early November I began a total-immersion trial of the Macintosh.
I started by making a brand new Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro 17 my primary computer.
That's what I have too!
For a month before the trial officially started in November, and during the two weeks that followed, I worked on selecting products, converting data, and setting up corporate software systems for my company, as well as finding solutions for personal use. Prior to my adoption of the Mac, I had one Windows computer for both business and home, so the Mac had to handle both sets of tasks too.
After living with the Mac for three months and comparing it to my Vista experiences, the choice is crystal clear. I've struggled to sort out my gut feeling about Windows Vista (see "The Trouble with Vista"), but the value and advantage of the Mac and OS X are difficult to miss. While I continue to work with Windows XP and Vista on a number of other machines, I am now recommending the Macintosh for business and home users.
Yep, me too. Except when I did it, XP was the new hotness. My current target for "get a Mac!" is my parents, who are being wowed by demonstrations of video-chatting coolness between my brother and I as they anxiously await the imminent arrival of Grandchild #1.
Get a Mac, and you can see your grandbabies without driving 500 miles... bwahahahahaha
Here's a great article from Guns & Ammo on the subject of carrying a concealed weapon. If you, like me, have decided this is part of your lifestyle, it's a good read. If you're trying to decide whether it will be a part of your lifestyle, it's a near-essential primer.
This article ought to leave anyone who actually cares about science and fact cold:
A dispute erupted this week in Oregon, where Gov. Ted Kulongoski is considering firing the state's climatologist George Taylor, who has said human activity isn't the chief cause of global climate change.
That view is not in line with the state policy of Oregon to reduce "greenhouse gases," which are considered by many researchers to be the chief cause of global warming.
A scientist is being threatened with termination by a politician, not because his views on science are necessarily bad, but because his views on science conflict with policy.
[Alabama state climatologist John] Christie told Cybercast News Service that while research has not been politicized in his state, he's concerned about others. State climatologists in Virginia and Delaware as well as Oregon have faced scrutiny from state government officials for their views on global warming.
Christie stressed that Taylor and others do not deny that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are problematic to the environment, nor do they deny that global warming exists. Rather, he said, they argue that the matter is not as catastrophic as environmentalists argue.
And where is this political pressure coming from? The usual malcontents:
Environmental groups have argued that global warming skeptics should be ignored or marginalized...
Now, this is not to deny or disparage the charges some have made regarding "bribes" for some scientists to challenge the pro-warming agenda. But could "follow the money" be a double-edged sword? Indeed it could:
Former Vice President Al Gore - whose film on climate change "An Inconvenient Truth" has been nominated to win an Oscar for best documentary - is the latest global warming proponent to echo allegations that skeptics are offering money to scientists to debunk global warming claims.
But Christie counters that it's the "alarmist" view that is driven by money.
"Follow the money," he said Wednesday. "To justify their funding, they have to show a huge problem."
Bingo! We have a winner! Government is by its nature interested in catastrophe, because any time catastrophe rears its ugly head, the mindless sheep (each of whom has a vote) all clamor to be led to safety (hat tip, H. L. Mencken). And if an issue rises to the top, especially in the minds that control the world's deepest pockets (the U.S. government), it opens the spigot for grants and cash galore. Which reminds me of this statement over at JunkScience.com:
Regardless, climate models are made interesting by the inclusion of "positive feedbacks" (multiplier effects) so that a small temperature increment expected from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide invokes large increases in water vapor, which seem to produce exponential rather than logarithmic temperature response in the models. It appears to have become something of a game to see who can add in the most creative feedback mechanisms to produce the scariest warming scenarios from their models but there remains no evidence the planet includes any such effects or behaves in a similar manner.
Anyway, more food for thought. I'm still convinced this whole thing is more political than scientific.
Wired has just posted an article on organlegging in India, as though in response to Reason's article, referenced here. Wired's article comes across as fairly pro-regulation, but it does quietly acknowledge that the result of increased market-based activity has been that more lives have been saved by transplantation than otherwise would have. It mainly bemoans the "exploitation" of donors, who are poor people looking to turn a fast buck.
The problem with regulation in the form being contemplated is that it will slow down the rate of transplantation, necessarily meaning that more hopeful recipients will die waiting for an organ. What government needs to do, if anything, is step back and allow the market to function, while being prepared to enforce the contracts and property rights of those involved. A person who signs on to make $5k by selling his kidney should have his right to the terms of the contract protected. That he has decided to sell a vital organ so cheaply is really none of the government's concern.
Climatology/meteorology is science. I have a fairly rational mind, though I have been known to go off on wild tangents here and there. I want to understand things -- to grok them, in Heinlein's terminology -- but I only have so much time in the day. I've learned quite a bit about weather and climate from working with scientists, but I don't know as much as they do and never will. I'm a general practitioner when it comes to science, not a specialist. I know some statistics, some chemistry, some physics, some stir-fry cooking, and now some weather science (which goes great with sweet-n-sour sauce).
I hear this and that, I read this guy's evidence and that guy's rebuttal, and I try as best I can to ferret out who's telling the truth. I listen to every point of view, even the "crazies", because as I understand it, science is about facts, not consensus. Scientific "consensus" used to be that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it, until a crazy man said that it wasn't and defied everyone in his pursuit of the truth. So when I see people intending to persecute, or wishing they could, the "crazy global warming deniers", it does nothing to help the "consensus" side, and instead aligns them with the sort of anti-scientific fanaticism that has plagued humanity since its genesis.
I post my musings here, for all the world to see, forever expecting someone with real credentials to come in and stomp my ideas into the ground. And that'd be OK with me, really. I might stubbornly insist on my point of view out of pride or vanity, but eventually the facts would sink in a little, I'd do more research, and either post a counter-rebuttal or capitulate.
What I can't do, though, is keep speaking into the void. Unless I get some feedback, my mind wanders. I start hating the sight of my own repetitiveness. Sometimes I make a really harsh or overstated post just to try and generate a response. I get tired of my thoughts, and want to hear more of others'. I know there are people in the scientific community who read this blog (cuz I can track you with my super-secret counter at the bottom of the page), but no comments show up, except from a couple of people who are friends, an anonymous reader I haven't identified, and my brother.
I don't know, generally speaking, if I sound like a raving nutcase, or if I'm making any sense. And when I don't have the benefit of years of study in a particular field, I start losing confidence after a while and begin to suspect it's more the former than the latter. Such is the case with the science of global warming. I've reached the limits of my personal knowledge, and don't really feel confident enough to proceed much past "I haven't really been convinced by either side, but it appears one side has enough political support behind it to start making my life hell." So my focus turns to that.
Bottom line: if you want me to say something more about a subject, you have to comment. Agree with me, and I'll get cocky enough to start making proclamations until I say something truly stupid. Disagree with me, and I'll be offended enough to go try and round up evidence that you're wrong. Either way, my narcissism is your key to manipulating what I write about. Stay silent, as so many of you do, and I'll keep hopping from topic to topic like a squirrel on speed.
I'm surrounded by sports fans. This is Oklahoma, after all, where football comes somewhere between communion and baptism on the list of holy sacraments.
I'm told that we had a Superbowl recently, and after doing a little research (like, who played?), I wondered: would Americans accept the outcome of the Superbowl if the referees were solely paid by the Indianapolis Colts? Would they trust the play-by-play calls throughout the season if, in every game the Colts played, the only referees on the field were Colts' staff? Would they disregard suspicions of a conflict of interest if these referees' only paycheck was drawn from the Colts' operational funds?
Then why do they so blithely accept the supposed impartiality of a judge paid entirely by the government, in cases against the government?
The issue of whether or not Congress will create a nonbinding resolution stating disapproval of the war in Iraq drags on. A nonbinding resolution basically amounts to a sternly-worded letter to the editor, or in this case, the President. Whoopee.
I can understand why the Republican'ts are playing games with it, but I don't understand the Democrats motivations. Here they are, the party in power, newly elected and rarin' to go, and they're wasting time on this baloney. I have to give a hat tip to Barack Obama, who's actually proposing to (gasp) DO something:
Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat set to formally announce his candidacy for president this weekend, laid out his plan Tuesday for a gradual troop withdrawal that would begin May 1.
Teaming with two House war veterans, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, a Vietnam War veteran, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, a newly elected Democrat and Iraq war veteran from Pennsylvania, Obama's measure would apply the force of law to Bush unlike the nonbinding resolution stalled in the Senate. It would try to prevent the troop increase by capping troop levels at their level on Jan. 10, when Bush announced his plan. Withdrawals would begin in May with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 2008, allowing a "residual U.S. presence" for force protection, training of Iraqi forces and hunting terrorists.
I'm not saying it's the best plan, or even a good plan. In fact, it might be a foreign policy disaster, but at least it's something more than HOT FARKING AIR!
Thompson acknowledged the impatience his constituents have with the slow pace of Congress.
"The American people are insisting we do something," he said. "People are really looking for change. People are saying do it right now, and it's hard for them to understand why after we just had an election we can't do this."
Why not? Because you're moral cowards who are all bluster on the campaign trail but lose your spine as soon as you're sworn in and start pulling down that big fat paycheck courtesy of my tax dollars? Stand up for something, for God's sake! Quit playing games and acting like a 12-year-old girl wearing her first miniskirt!
The first hundred hours has come and gone, and all we've got to show for it is a bunch of mealy-mouthed, lukewarm expressions of mild disapproval that don't even have the force of law. Where's the firebrands? Where's the attack dogs? You won the election, so act like it already! Take the shot, who cares if you miss? Maybe you'll get beat down in the vote -- so what? This isn't Parliament, life goes on. At least then you will have stood by your convictions and maybe -- just maybe -- demonstrated that you actually have some!
Here's an idea: instead of persecuting the illegal Mexican immigrants who come into our country to mow lawns for 2 bucks an hour, let's swap them with Congress. We need them in Congress because they know how to get some farkin' work done, and we need Congress mowin' lawns so they can learn a useful skill!
ALBANY, N.Y. -- You could get clipped $100 for walking, jogging or cycling across a New York street with an iPod plugged into your ears under a new law proposed by a state senator from Brooklyn.
I could not make this up if I tried. It takes real legislators to be this stupid.
Yeah, I know... they have some examples of people this supposedly "could have saved", and poignant handwringing to make sure "this never happens again". It's all crap. Murder has been against the law since the country was founded, and that hasn't stopped. Stupidity has been against the law of natural selection for all eternity (see Awards, Darwin), and the world just keeps cranking out idiots like they're going out of style.
Wait... I suddenly get it. This guy wants to pass this law to make sure there are enough morons surviving to adulthood to staff future legislatures. And here I was, completely unaware that we were projecting a shortage.
For those who don't know, among the things predicted by the "cyberpunk" genre of science fiction is the illicit sale of no-longer-in-use body parts on the gray and black markets. People who do this are often called "organleggers" and are universally reviled, because (in cyberpunk fiction, anyway) they usually turn to murder to up their productivity.
We're not quite there -- yet. What we do have is a vast engine of commerce around the mortal remains of people. It seems the only person(s) who cannot profit from the sale of body parts is their original owner or his family. Reason magazine has done an extensive article on the body parts market, and it is quite disturbing to read.
The market is thriving and global demand has soared, but almost no one will cop to buying and selling body parts. The 1984 National Organ Transplantation Act outlaws the transfer of "any human organ for valuable consideration" for use in transplantation, a proscription generally taken to include tissues as well as organs. But the law does allow for "reasonable payments associated with the removal, transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, and storage of a human organ." Thus the tissue industry runs on what it deems to be "reasonable" terms. Those who strip skin for sales are "procurers," not vendors; their customers are "processors," not buyers. Tissues are not sold for prices based on demand but processed for a "reasonable price."
This is exactly the same "logic" that I have personally encountered in the adoption market: it's illegal to sell a child, but not illegal to charge various fees for processing, paperwork, advocacy, and (presumably) shipping & handling. As one friend who helped us understand it through her own experiences put it, "if it's illegal to sell or buy a child, why does it cost twenty thousand dollars?" And this is through agencies that supposedly exist to make the process easier or less burdensome financially.
Anyway, after having read through the above article, I'm seriously reconsidering my donor card. Libertarianism starts from self-ownership, and this is as gross a violation of that principle as I've ever seen. I want my surviving relatives to be reimbursed for the parts, not just the people with the bone saws and ice chests.
Q: You report that people who give money charitably are 43 percent more likely to say they are "very happy" than nongivers and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is excellent or very good. Why?
A: Psychologists will say that when people give they are empowered because they no longer feel like victims. They're part of the solution -- voluntary solutions to social problems. It's hugely empowering. In other words, if I can help solve a problem of my own accord, through my own freedom, I can actually make myself happier. This gives me meaning; this gives me effectiveness; this gives me control.
Brain scientists have taken it one step further and noted that when people give they actually get opioids. Endorphins are released into their system. It's called the "helper's high," and it is actually medically observable. That complements the psychological explanations -- there's something incredibly satisfying, inherently, about voluntary giving.
This follows what I've always observed and believed, that being proactive tends to make people (especially me) happier than being reactive. Seizing the initiative gives me more options than waiting for others to do something. As someone once put it, we need to happen to things rather than waiting for things to happen to us. Doing the latter just gives up our control.
Perhaps some of our more educated folks in the mental/emotional health fields would care to comment further.
I know and rub elbows (both virtually and in "real life") with a lot of people who have simply given up control over their own lives. They can usually be identified by a common personality trait: they wonder when government is going to fix the problem. It turns out Mr. Brooks also has a comment for that attitude:
Nobody has ever reported any brain science suggesting that you get an endorphin rush when you pay your tax bill.
I think I'm the last person on Earth (or at least in my office) to start watching 24. I started DVR'ing this season and have finally gotten around to watching the first episode tonight. 2 hours into it, I find this author's perspective pretty accurate: the show is at best cartoonish propaganda, though very entertaining cartoonish propaganda. The heroic government agents chase bad guys, the people at the top pretend to struggle with the balance of security and liberty, and lots of people die gruesomely to underscore the need for more and more police powers.
Overall, it's pretty depressing, from a libertarian point of view -- the watcher is offered the choice of surrendering liberty to help the "good guys", or keeping it and being thrown in prison for "obstructing justice" while watching one's fellow citizens die. No room is left for any other option. And of course, we can watch the current administration play out the same argument on the news, so it's like getting your 24 backstory filler while you're waiting for the next episode.
I don't know if I'll follow it all the way to season's end, but I'm going to keep watching for a bit. Like I said, it's at least entertaining.
I'm not going to talk about the science of global warming any more. It's not because I've bought into either side's story. It's not because I do or don't believe that it's happening or that it is or is not mankind's fault.
I'm going to stop talking about it because it doesn't matter.
Even if global apocalypse is coming due to global warming, and it's mankind's fault, it doesn't matter.
What matters is this: government action is not now and never has been a good solution to problems. I've stated before that my definition of being a libertarian is refusing to turn to government for solutions, primarily because government does not have solutions. Government is the place of broken promises and low expectations.
70 years ago, we had a "New Deal" that was going to put a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, and take care of the oldsters when they retired. We still have people starving and without transportation, and people living on Social Security are among the poorest in the nation. 40 years ago, we started a War on Poverty. We have essentially the same poverty rate now as then. 30 years ago, we started a War on Drugs. By any rational measure, it has been a spectacular failure. 5 years ago, we started a War on Terror. We've managed to beat the crap out of two sandy countries filled with swarthy-skinned people, but terrorists still exist and always will.
Does anyone fault the mechanism of the State? Yes, but they are few. Most people repeat the same tired Statist dogma: it went wrong because the right people weren't in charge. And that's a complete load of crap. It went wrong because the State is not capable of responding appropriately to changing conditions in a timely and rational manner.
Based on the history of government action, a "War on Climate Change" will result in even higher temperatures, more pollution, and fewer freedoms. We'll all be impoverished, our children killed in wars with countries that don't follow the Kyoto protocol or whatever, and untold opportunities for wealth and human advancement will be destroyed or aborted before they get a chance to take root.
I am now and always will be an advocate of letting the Market handle it. The Market is more agile, resilient, and responsive than the State, it responds with appropriate levels of intensity, and it builds wealth for all rather than destroying it for most. So go ahead. Say that anthropogenic global warming is 100% scientifically established fact. It won't change the fact that government is the worst solutions provider for this or any catastrophe.
You are Christopher Landsea of the Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory. You were a contributing author for the UN's second International Panel on Climate Change in 1995, writing the sections on observed changes in tropical cyclones around the world. Then the IPCC called on you as a contributing author once more, for its "Third Assessment Report" in 2001. And you were invited to participate yet again, when the IPCC called on you to be an author in the "Fourth Assessment Report." This report would specifically focus on Atlantic hurricanes, your specialty, and be published by the IPCC in 2007.
Then something went horribly wrong. Within days of this last invitation, in October, 2004, you discovered that the IPCC's Kevin Trenberth -- the very person who had invited you -- was participating in a press conference. The title of the press conference perplexed you: "Experts to warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity." This was some kind of mistake, you were certain. You had not done any work that substantiated this claim. Nobody had.
You then asked the IPCC leadership for assurances that your work for the IPCC's 2007 report would be true to science: "[Dr. Trenberth] seems to have already come to the conclusion that global warming has altered hurricane activity and has publicly stated so. This does not reflect the consensus within the hurricane research community. ... Thus I would like assurance that what will be included in the IPCC report will reflect the best available information and the consensus within the scientific community most expert on the specific topic."
The assurance didn't come. What did come was the realization that the IPCC was corrupting science. This you could not be a party to. You then resigned, in an open letter to the scientific community laying out your reasons.
Next year, the IPCC will come out with its "Fourth Assessment Report," and for the first time in a decade, you will not be writing its section on hurricanes. That task will be left to the successor that Dr. Trenberth chose. As part of his responsibility, he will need to explain why -- despite all expectations -- the 2006 hurricane year was so unexpectedly light, and at the historical average for the past 150 years.
Now, that it is “very likely”, that global warming is caused by human activity, is there a basis for lawsuits against people/organizations who have resisted any early moves to tackle global warming, therefore share responsibility for pollution-related health/environment problems?
Here's my question for the government-must-do-something-about-global-warming crowd: The War on Poverty and the War on Drugs are both spectacular failures. In both cases, government action perpetuated and exacerbated the very thing that was being fought against. The War on Terror is a farce, headed down the same road. What reason do I have to believe that a War on Climate Change will have any different results?
Answer me that, please. The history of the 20th century, indeed the history of humanity itself, is a litany of government policy gone awry, inflicting needless poverty, suffering and death on billions of people. What is it that we can hang our hats on, that will make a War on Climate Change turn out better? Is it merely the supposed good intentions of those pushing for such programs? If so, I'll pass. I'd rather make air conditioner salesmen rich than rely on government's good intentions. Any history book will tell you why that's a bad idea.
I've finished reading Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I found within it two mindblowing (for me) pieces of information that created a total shift in perspective on the subject of money. I also found a bit that I disagreed with.
First, the bad. Kiyosaki can't seem to make up his mind whether debt is good or bad. He cautions the reader to stay out of debt and away from credit cards, but also endorses going into debt on real estate deals, leveraging the mortgage cost against the incoming rent. This makes my skin crawl. Obviously, Mr. Kiyosaki is doing rather well for himself, but I can't make myself believe that having a half-million-dollar mortgage on an apartment building would help me sleep at night. I do think he's very wise in his constant discussion of getting good people to work with and for you (he says this particularly about property managers), and repeatedly states that smart people find smarter people to work for them. I just can't make it past the gut check on huge amounts of real estate debt, especially after Dave Ramsey's tale of how that broke him the first time around.
On to the good. Mr. Kiyosaki's main delineation between the habits of rich people and the habits of poor people is this: Rich people buy assets. Poor people buy liabilities, thinking they are assets. He then launches into a very clear and concise description of what is an asset, a liability, income, and expense. The main revelation here is that a person's home, if they are a "homeowner", is a giant liability, not an asset, because the main feature of an asset is that it earns income. Don't agree? Read the book. Regardless of what you think afterwards, if you don't currently understand assets, liabilities, income, expenses, profit-loss statements and balance sheets, you most certainly will when you're done.
It was Kiyosaki's clear, concise definitions that blew my mind. I'm used to the jargony crap spewed by accountants and tax preparers (meaning I'm used to being confused), but this was so simple a child could understand it. The book is worth its cover price on this piece of information alone.
The second mindblower for me was the bit of advice he gives at the end: Mind your own business. By this he means, when you go to work at your job, you're minding your employer's business, not yours. You should have a business of your own, whether it's real estate, stocks, mutual funds, or whatever. Your business is your assets, and you should be focused on improving the value of those assets, and using the income they generate to buy the things you want. This is one of the "secrets of the rich" he's talking about.
A poor person's cash flow looks like this:
Earned Income (wages) -> Expenses and Luxuries
A rich person's cash flow looks like this:
Earned Income (wages) -> Assets -> Unearned Income (interest, profits, etc.) -> Expenses and Luxuries
He's in the business of educating people, much like Dave Ramsey, and he tells this one wonderful story about a friend of his whose 16-year-old son wanted to buy a car with $3,000 from his college fund. The father didn't know what to do, and Kiyosaki suggested he turn it into a teachable moment. His friend got an idea, and gave his son $3,000 for a car, but with a catch: the son could not use the $3,000 directly. Instead, he also got a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and was told that he had to turn $3,000 into $6,000, buy a $3,000 car and put the original $3,000 into his college fund. 2 months later, apparently the son gained such an interest in the investment process that he lost interest in the car.
Kiyosaki goes on to recommend that the reader of his book do the same thing: any time there's a luxury that you want, put the purchase price into an investment and challenge yourself to generate profits to pay for the luxury. Then you get the luxury item AND you get to keep the price of it, so it's almost like getting the item for free. Of course, the point of this is to get you interested in investing, not to buy luxury items, but both purposes are accomplished.
Anyway, I'd give the book 4 out of 5 stars, mostly dinging him for the debt thing. I'd say it's a must read, especially for anyone who's got a kid at home who needs to learn about personal financial strategies. This book provides such a great example of the differing perspectives between the rich and the poor that I can't help but think it would be a great weapon in any parent's arsenal.